Sunday, October 15, 2017

What Will I Care About Really?

Toni's in Cokato tonight, with our granddaughters. I'm home with Charlie the dog and our renters, who are downstairs in their apartment. After church this morning, I started trimming dead a big spruce in the backyard. I pretty much finished that, managed to attach and program a new thermostat to the space heater our renter uses and did a load of laundry. Yesterday was all about family, so I didn't mind taking care of business today.

While working on things today, I listened to some history, news and political theory. Yup, that's often what I like to do... often I listen to different faith-based recordings, but I didn't do that today. Today I heard a speech given last spring by Michael Goodwin that was given at a Hillsdale College "National Leadership Seminar", a piece on the second amendment on a podcast called "More Perfect," and a fascinating civil war story that I'd never heard.

As I was trimming that tree this afternoon, carefully only getting rid of dead branches, I mistakenly cut a live one off. This big old spruce tree doesn't have many lower branches so I'm sad about it. It's gone, it bothers me. It bothers me partly because I made a stupid mistake that can't be undone, and partly because the tree now, to me, is kind of empty on the side facing the house. As I was over-reacting to that, a verse from the end of the Bible book of Jonah came to mind.

At the end of that book, Jonah is depressed. He's sitting outside the city of Nineveh where he'd been preaching judgment to. But God had changed his mind and decided to be merciful to the people there. Jonah, the preacher, still is sitting there, waiting to see what would happen. As he's there, God had caused a big spruce tree to grow -- no -- just a "plant," but big enough to give Jonah shade. And then God "appointed a worm" to attack the plant, which then withered.

Now Jonah is even more depressed--even angry. He's angry because his favorite shade tree (a "plant" I should say) has died and now he's sitting there in the hot sun and wind. God says, Should you really be angry about that plant? Jonah says "Yes, I should." And then the Lord says this:
“You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”
In my little backyard, I can get torn up about a stupid mistake I made, and the way the tree will look, while there are so many tragic circumstances out there in the world, some of which I can make a difference in. Will I let myself get upset over little things like cutting off a branch that should have been left in place? Or will I turn my attention to what the Lord is doing in the wider world, praying and grieving and doing what I can to help, letting others know about the mercy of God through Jesus.

Tomorrow early I'll get up and go back to work. I can make a difference there. That's where I'll turn my attention. Lord, give me wisdom about what I will care about in the days and weeks to come.

equalsharing.com

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Start with Jesus

I'm up and out of bed on this Saturday morning. I think the digital clock read 5:18 when I first woke. Now I've had a bit of breakfast and a cup of coffee. I'll probably go back to bed soon. Saturdays are the best.

A couple days ago I took a stab at saying some things about Richard Rohr, a spiritual teacher who is much appreciated by at least a few of my friends. I tried to introduce him based on a 2010 interview I found online, and what I learned there about his connection with St. Francis of Assisi's insights. I just scratched the surface of that, and then brought up a "problem" that I have with what I see in Rohr's teachings, that he "doesn't start with Jesus."

This morning, before I go back to bed, I just want to say that the same critique could be made of many if not most Christian teachings in the world. Either Christians don't start their thinking about God with what has been revealed specifically in Jesus of Nazareth*, or they quickly move away from that "self-revelation" of God in Jesus Christ and get caught up in other issues, including legalisms or anti-legalisms (varieties of antinomianism).

yesterday on facebook - click here
I think, though I maybe wrong, that Richard Rohr and many of those who appreciate his teachings, are reacting against those "non-Jesus-centered" messages that they hear in the Church and then flee the Church for their own spiritual paths. What's good about Rohr is that at least he's somewhat connected with Christianity. If Rohr's disciples dig a little, they might find that the basis of Christianity is found, not in a philosophy of life, but in a specific Person: Jesus.

It's the direct proclamation of the gospel, the good news of Jesus, that we need -- much more than any other sort of spiritual teaching. As I read the "Sounds True" interview transcript, I was dismayed to see that Rohr seems to prefer to speak of "Christ" or "Christ-consciousness" more than he speaks of the historical Jesus. There is truth to what he says in the interview about the incarnation, that "when history was ready for it" that there was an incarnation, that is, a coming of God into human flesh -- though, at least in what I've read so far, Rohr doesn't speak in terms of GOD becoming human in a unique way.

If I could substitute the word God for "Christ-consciousness" in the interview, I'd love what he says about the incarnation as he speaks to Tami Simon, a non-Christian:
We, in the Christian tradition, believe that in a moment of time when history was ready for it, that [God] became incarnate (that's what Christmas means for us) in one human being so we could fall in love with [God]**, see [God], and touch [God], as John's letter says. You can't fall in love with a concept in the Christian way of thinking.
I need to admit that I haven't read much anything of Rohr's own writings. What I know about him is just what others have told me, plus what I've read in his Sounds True interview. It could be that he is more "Jesus of Nazareth" focused in other teachings and writings, and if so, please let me know.

excerpt from interview with my comments
In any case, because Rohr does not begin with God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ, he descends, it seems to me, into mystery and philosophy, instead of giving sure and certain, solid, absolutely true hope that does not come from anything inside me, including the way that I happen to to be thinking at any given moment. Jesus isn't about "consciousness." Jesus is a person who meets me at the moment of my deepest need. Jesus is the "Christ," that is, the One all of us hope for, the one who can save us from despair (now) and from fear about what might happen after we die. And Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead, and so shall we.

Does Rohr teach that the resurrection, historically and physically speaking, is literally true? If so, great. Like I said, I haven't read his work. But if he doesn't preach the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, historically and physically, his teachings are, at best, a dangerous distraction from what we really need. I need solid hope, hope that doesn't depend on me or my fallible brain in any way.

I've sat here long enough. Time to either get moving, or go back to bed.
from Philippians 2

Let me know what you think about this or anything else I write. I hope we can learn together.

equalsharing.com

* Other references to "Jesus" here are about the same historical person, who is God made flesh.

** Rohr uses the word "it" here, referring to the aforementioned "Christ-consciousness." He's quoting, more or less, from chapter 1 of John's Gospel, where it's clear that the "Word" (Rohr's it) isn't an "it" but is a Person -- Jesus.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Rohr's Way

from Sounds True
I was glad, last weekend, to have extra time to do some study, and one of the things I studied was the transcript of an interview by "Sounds True dot com", a website that says it is "for those seeking genuine transformation," and that it is a "trusted partner on the spiritual journey, offering diverse, in depth and life changing wisdom." Sounds True's tagline is "many voices, one journey." Sounds True says it is:
"a multimedia publishing company with more than 80 employees, a library of more than 1500 titles featuring some of the leading teachers and visionaries of our time, and an ever-expanding family of customers from across the world."
I found the interview (at this link) with Richard Rohr as I was searching, on line, for a summary of his teachings. I wanted to know about those teachings because I've come to know, over the last year or so, that he's an influential teacher of the "spiritual wisdom" sought by many in recent years. Richard is a Franciscan priest and, as the Sounds True interviewer says, a "prolific author." He's produced many more books and has taught many more people since the interview was given in 2010.

This spiritual teacher is one of hundreds that capture people's attention these days, but Richard Rohr is of particular interest to me because some dear friends and family members have spent time with him, appreciating, I think his open hearted wisdom and his self-identification as a Christian (a Roman Catholic who is somehow connected with Saint Francis) makes him attractive to Christians who are discontented with the teachings of the churches that they've been connected with in the past. In the interview Rohr speaks of his growing up years in Kansas -- in a part of that state that was overwhelmingly Catholic, and how serious questions arose for him when he was "already in vows as a Franciscan." He says that then, in the 1960s,
I had to do my searching, my experimenting and learning, asking the question, 'What does this all really mean.'"
That questioning is something that a lot of Christians, and, I'm sure, people of other faith traditions, can relate to. Rohr and his theological outlook are very open to questions and searching. I'm sure that's one of the things that attracts some people to him, including some friends and family.

Some of the things that are intriguing about Rohr are the same things that Rohr himself found attractive as he learned about St. Francis of Assisi.

Here's a bit of the interview's transcript. TS here is the interviewer, Tami Simon, the founder of "Sounds True." RR is Richard Rohr:
TS: What do you think in Saint Francis’ life and message is really relevant for us today, outside of the romanticism, as you call it? What is the actual pith or core of it that is relevant for us now?

RR: I think that probably the most relevant piece is his universalism or ecology, which didn’t just include the Earth and the animals but people beyond Christianity and Catholicism. His vision wasn’t a tribal vision. It was a vision that even included the non-humans and that’s why the church made him the Patron of Ecology.

TS: But by non-humans you mean animals? How far are we going to take that?

RR: He addressed Sister Wind, Brother Fire, Brother Sun and Sister Moon. It was even the physical and vegetative universe that was part of the mystery of God for him. For much of our history we call “pantheism.” Now we’ve refined our language and we call it “Panentheism.” He was able, as all mystics are, to see God in all things. And that seeing is probably what we desperately need if we’re going to survive this six billion people on this one planet, especially when you see the rising fundamentalism between the religions, not just on the earth level but on the religion/biological trust level. [transcript corrected by Steve Thorson]

("Panentheism" is the the belief that the divine pervades and interpenetrates every part of the universe and also extends beyond time and space [definition from Wikipedia]. I think I agree with that position, except instead of the vague word "divine. I'd use the word "God" as in the One True God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, as we know Him uniquely in Jesus. It's that One True God that pervades all that is--as Paul quotes in Acts 17:28 "in him [God] we live and move and have our being. Christians know who God is.
Many Christians today would agree that we need to see God in all things, or at least see everything as a gift from God, if we're going to survive on this planet, instead of just using people and things to make ourselves comfortable. Rohr's teachings in this way are just what we need.

But there are some problems with Rohr's teachings and I'd like to share a bit about that here.

First of all, Rohr doesn't start with Jesus. That's really important because Jesus is the only one who has ever seen God. Jesus is the only true and unique representation of God that human beings have ever encountered. Unless you begin with the once-in-a-world incarnation of God, and God's self-revelation in Jesus of Nazareth, you end up just guessing about God, and getting super mysterious and mystical in your beliefs. Also, and Rohr clearly does this, you end up having a theology that requires you to do something to encounter God, rather than, as the incarnation reveals, having God meet you -- just as you are.

The Christian message is NOT about anything you need to do to get in better with God. The Christian message is that God has already done everything necessary to get "in" with us. There's no preparation needed. There's no "purgation," "illumination," or "perfection" that we need to "do" in order to somehow experience God's love. God simply comes to us, and by His Grace we are lifted into His perfect presence, just as we are. If Rohr had started with Jesus, and looked at how he dealt with broken people, he would have seen that. As it is, he makes it so much work. It looks like another very spiritual form of "works righteousness" to me.

There's more I want to write about this, but I want to lie down for a few minutes before I head off to Heywood Garage for my second shift.

More later.

equalsharing.com 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Rainy Morning

The bird clock sang 7 a few moments ago. I've been up and out of bed for awhile; I woke just after 6. The rain has been coming down all night and still is as the sky lightens up. Toni's dad got up at about the same time. He's at the dining room table making careful modifications to his plans for a new garage - hoping to make enough space out there for sleeping bags. The extended family that gathers here at the cabin will probably need that space, especially as more children come into the world.

I'm glad to be up here and I'm glad it's raining. I love gloomy wet weather. Not more than other sorts, but it's sweet to be "forced" to stay indoors for a time. I love walking in the rain too. I'm sure I'll be doing that later. Maybe I can get Toni to go out with me, or maybe Dan.

Toni and I got here after 10 last night. Dan came first, arriving sometime on Thursday. Dick & Jo came yesterday. It's just the 5 of us here now, and Dan goes back for work later today.

I'm hoping to "get some things done" today. I texted Toni that I was looking forward to being here so that I could do some "non-house project" things. Some practical, like balancing financial accounts, some spiritual and intellectual, reading & studying & just not needing to be on a schedule, and some productive, like writing, writing in a way that, perhaps, will include you.

God's peace to you on this blessed day, wherever you are. Love, Steve

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Back to Self

Last evening Toni and I were at the home of one of the other couples that participates with us in a small group, a small group organized through the church that we've been involved with for a little over a year now. It was good to get together again; we haven't met together as a group since summer began, but, for me, the best part of the evening was when we decided what we'd be studying together this fall.

I made two suggestions and the group decided to accept one of them. It wasn't the one I first thought of, but that's okay. I'm sure we'll benefit by going through Dutch Sheets little book God's Timing for Your Life. (I actually found my copy of this little book as I was searching for my first choice. Maybe finding that other book, and the groups choice to study it instead of the other was an example of God's Timing. We'll see.)

As I think of this now, I realize that both of the books I suggested, plus the other two that I had in my bag but didn't suggest, were about the self. Neither of them go into the more common topics of conversation that Christians, and others, engage in: studies of doctrines or Biblical books or religious practices or church denominations. All of them had as their purpose the work God is doing on our own lives, and, specifically, on the areas of our lives that we have some control over. I think that's good.

Too much of my own mental energy is spent on things beyond my control. It's true that there are some things out there in the world of others, near and far, that the Lord does want me to pay attention to, but when I focus out there too much I get distracted from the work God wants to do in me. I will pray that others learn to focus on themselves too. Perhaps studying and meditating on God's Timing for Your Life will help in that process. But mostly I need to allow God to continue the hard work in me that he is desiring to do, letting go of what He's doing in the lives of others.

equalsharing.com

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Good Mistakes?

What if mistakes and errors are a part of God's good creation? What if the problems they cause are necessary to God's plan? What if God's not interested in "perfection," at least not in the way we normally think of it. What if those challenges have always been a part of the "good," as when God said "it is good"?

I'm hoping to find time to study this in depth. Soon.

equalsharing.com

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Sadness and Encouragement

Happy Saturday! It's a beautiful day here in Roseville, and, I'm sure, in the rest of the upper mid-west*. I've got a pretty long list of projects to take care of here, including picking apples and replacing my bike's front tire tube. (Toni and I are starting to plan a long weekend to go biking and camping, and maybe canoeing too, later this month.) Before I get to those and other thing I wanted to take time to share a bit of encouragement that I received from the Lord earlier this week.

For a long time I've felt melancholy and sad about the ways that our lives have had us moving away from people who mean a lot to us. Personally there are so many that I've worked with and have connected with in other ways in the churches and communities we've served, many that we don't see much anymore. Occasionally we can visit, like we went to visit Ladysmith on a Sunday morning earlier this summer, but, as the saying goes, you can never step into the same river twice. People change and move on. Many I'd like to have seen and connected with there weren't around. And that's just one example of those I miss. ("Saudades" is the Portuguese word for this. Look it up.)

As someone who has worked in ministry for many years, not only do I miss people, I miss seeing the fruit of my/our work in their lives. We've been told, and we've seen, how some people's lives were impacted by our ministry work, but there are many others who we just don't know how it is that they're doing right now. I would love to talk in depth with many of them. That in depth conversation, however, in many cases, probably won't happen. I don't have the time to be together with those individuals and families for long enough to really connect. And some just aren't interested in doing that with me any more. Again, it's sad for me. It's a sadness that overlays a lot of what goes on in the my mostly happy day-by-day life.

That's why I was so thankful earlier this week to read the following spiritual meditation by Oswald Chambers. Maybe it will be encouraging to you too. It was based on a verse from John 7:38 where Jesus says: "He who believes in Me…out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."

Here's the first part of the devotion:
A river reaches places which its source never knows. And Jesus said that, if we have received His fullness, “rivers of living water” will flow out of us, reaching in blessing even “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) regardless of how small the visible effects of our lives may appear to be. We have nothing to do with the outflow— “This is the work of God, that you believe…” (John 6:29). God rarely allows a person to see how great a blessing he is to others.
You can read the rest of it here. The devotion goes on about the unstoppable power of rivers. Obstacles will be overcome! O.C. writes: "The river of the Spirit of God overcomes all obstacles. Never focus your eyes on the obstacle or the difficulty. The obstacle will be a matter of total indifference to the river that will flow steadily through you if you will simply remember to stay focused on the Source."

That's what I need to do -- to stay focused on the work of Jesus Christ -- the source of all good. When I get discouraged about the lack of contact with people I love, with people I've worked with or been involved in "helping" in one way or another, I will just need to trust that that work of God will not be deterred. It will continue -- in my life, and in the lives of those I have loved down through the years.

God's peace will flow when I trust Him, and when I ground my life in His great promises, like the promises I read in that devotion this week. Time to get to work.

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* This is hurricane season in the southern USA. I've noticed, often, in other years, that it tends to be such beautiful weather when it's stormy down south. Amid all the world's tragedies, of which there are so many right now, there are moments of beauty. I'm thankful for that today. Peace to all of you who are in other situations right now, in Jesus' powerful name. Nothing can stand in the way of His Love -- not even a hurricane.

equalsharing.com

Monday, September 4, 2017

Response to Nashville Signers

I posted what follows just now on the facebook page for the "Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood," the organization that sponsored the "Nashville Statement." Here's [ a link ] to my post on that page.
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Dear Nashville Signers: Where can I go to have some in depth and careful conversation about the various points in your statement? Like you, I see the biological differences between men and women as part of God's good creation. I even see these differences as scientifically self-evident and necessary for the the continuation of life, so it's obvious to me that God wants those biological differences to be honored. That's true even though I don't read the first chapters of Genesis (and the account of Adam and Eve) as history, at least not in the sense that we understand history "normally." Therefore, much of what you say in your statement is something I can resonate with.

I have some questions, however:

(1) I've read that you affirm, and even insist upon hierarchy in gender relations, and that your Article 4 about "divinely ordained differences" includes that hierarchy. Is that true?
(I would have been pleased to see the word "biological" inserted there, as in "divinely ordained biological differences.")

(2) Sin is first mentioned in Article 9. What is your definition of sin? Is sin always blameworthy, or is it sometimes a "missing of the mark" as in the Greek ἁμαρτία, an error, a "problem" that can become rebelliousness but can be, in some cases, more of an inherited or culturally inculcated problem that needs gentle care more than "confession and forgiveness"?

(3) I wonder if you believe that it's sin to be cruel toward those who identify as homosexual or transgendered? Do you?

(4) In Article 10, you say that it's sinful to approve of non-"straight" sexual relations or "transgenderism." What do you mean by "sinful"? Do you mean erroneous or rebellious?

(5) Also in Article 10, you say that approving of "homosexual immorality or transgenderism" constitutes an "essential departure" from the Christian faith and witness. I'm inclined to agree with this, but mostly because many of those who approve of these things evidence departure from Christian faith and witness in other ways, and not because such approval is by itself "heresy." There are many other ways in which Christians disagree with one another, and though I agree that the issue of sexuality is particularly serious, because it ties in with the way that new life comes into the world, other things are serious too. Some Christians, for example, deny the full implications of Jesus' command to "love your neighbor as yourself," and his definition of "neighbor" as those who are essentially different (as in the story of the Good Samaritan), Jesus' command to "love your enemies"  and other portions of the Sermon on the Mount) that also may show that same departure from true Christian faith and witness. Would you say the same of those and other "departures" from Christian faith and witness, or are those things in some ways not "essential."

I'd love to talk about these things but don't know who to talk with about them. Let me know please!

equalsharing.com

What Happens When We Know Jesus

There's an excellent and even, dare I say, perfect aspect of life that I've had the privilege of experiencing over the years that I'd like to say something about this morning. This excellence and perfection doesn't belong to me. It's universally available, that is, it can be experienced by anyone who is willing to give up their life and say, in faith, that what is going on with me isn't the product of chance but is a part of God's plan, and that God can use everything about the circumstances of my life for Good. This is a faith-filled position. It's only available when an individual trusts God absolutely. And the only way to trust God absolutely is to know, for certain, that God is Good and that He is personally involved in and interested in every aspect of personal life. And we can only know that when we know Jesus.

Knowing Jesus in this way doesn't mean there will be no problems in my life, but that all those problems are seen, and known, to be ways in which God can and does work through for my good and for the good of others. The frustrations and inconveniences and even the pains of life (not that I've experienced much of the latter) are known to me as tools that God is using to refine and challenge me, making me into more of the person that God wants me to be. Even the sin in my life, both my willful rebellion, the ways in which I choose comfort or distraction over honest character building, and my errors, the ways in which I simply "miss the mark" God would have desired for me--both of these types of sin can and are used by my Lord to deal with me, sometimes harshly, but always in love. But I can only know that when I know Jesus.

I want you to know Jesus too. Jesus loves you with a love that will never stop, a love that is more powerful than anything you or I will ever have to deal with. We know this when we know that Jesus rose from the dead, and that he will work the same resurrection, both literally (in the end) and metaphorically (now). I am praying that He will make Himself known to each and every person that I have known in my life, and to all those I see and deal with everyday now.

If there is any way in which I can come along side you in your journey, please let me know so I can at least pray for you by name, so I can keep you in my mind and heart before the Lord. We are in this together, and someday that's where we will be.

equalsharing.com

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Nashville Statement

The "Nashville Statement" was put together by a group that wants to maintain, or somehow re-establish, the so-called "traditional" roles of men (father and leader) and women (mother and homemaker, etc.), so it's difficult for me to even respond to it. There's too much to say in that regard.

I am interested, though, in a scientific look at sexual differentiation and its role in the conception of each and every human on earth, not to mention all species that reproduce through some sort of intercourse.

I can't personally get past the notion that God's plan for life on earth connects with such differentiation. I don't think the existence of other sexual orientations or the existence of, for example, hermaphrodites, takes away what I think is a logical conclusion that God created sexual differentiation and reproduction as a unique and irreplaceable "blessing."

Do you see this differently than I do? If so, can you help me understand?

equalsharing.com

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Out Flow

Here at the lake the water has been high all summer. At the south end of the lake there's an outlet that only open during summers like this. When the lake is low there's no flow.

Jesus said, as recorded in John 7:38, that trusting in him will allow "living water" to flow out of me and you. When we don't know Jesus, when we don't understand his absolute rock-solid love for us, when we don't know Jesus is God Almighty, then we're prone to worry, and when we worry we're like the lake when the water's low. There's no flow.

When we know Jesus, and when we have the basics of life, many of which are to be provided for us through the community of faith, good will flow from us every day.

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Monday, August 28, 2017

See You Again

Yesterday we said goodbye to Kelly and Abigail. Kelly is someone we've known and loved since we met her many years ago at Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp when she was on staff there. She told her life and faith story the first time we met her, at a campfire, and it was her story that drew us to her. I remember seeking her out right after that campfire. Over time we've become like a second family for her.

After Okoboji, and after some time spent with a production in the Western USA, she came back to serve with Youth Encounter, on staff there, and on a team that traveled to East Africa (not necessarily in that order). Since that time she moved to Africa where she's been working with children, at a quasi orphanage called Neema House. She came to visit us this summer and now is back in Tanzania. We hope to see her and Abigail again in 3-4 years, and hopefully her husband Dixon will be able to come too.

When I get sad about goodbyes, of which I've had to deal with many over the years, I have to remember the promise of the Lord, and of the grand reunion to come. And I still desire, and go out of my way, to make contact with people near and far, with people who have been, and always will be, very important to me. I don't let go.

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