Friday, October 27, 2017

Public Christianity

The conversation I mentioned yesterday has continued, with someone else chiming in:
Steve, actually I've seen atheists and those of New Age thought blaming "All Christians" in a lump sum for Trump's election or call them the "hard Christian right." You say you are a Christian to these folks and they scoff or turn up their noses. Some of my friends on FB are very anti-Christian, so much they won't even listen or believe a real Christian.
I replied:
Hi ____. I've heard "reports" of such things but I've never seen research into such anecdotes. I'm hoping to write more about this topic (of "damage" to evangelism etc.) that results from such "identification" of [white] Christians with Trump.
But there's an even bigger question. What's the relationship between "the Gospel" (the good news of God's grace given through Jesus) and any given Christian's support or opposition to particular governmental officials (or their policies, statements and actions)?

I hope it's obvious that Christians won't want to just decide who and what to support or oppose based on what's popular, but should they at least consider what effect their positions will have on their ability to evangelize? I think I was initially drawn to the good news of Jesus because of the compassionate, racially sensitive and environmentally conscious actions of the leaders of my "home church." They supported generally conservative moral values, but those values weren't trumpeted or pushed out on those who weren't part of our church.

So I wonder, as someone who grew up in a Christian home, whether I would have been drawn to Jesus if I hadn't seen Christian faith and love in action, or if my home church leaders' had seemed mostly "negative" toward the world. And, beyond that, I wonder what I would have thought if I hadn't grown up in a Christian home and the main things I hard about Christians was that they were supporting nationalism, working against widely available health care and governmental aid to the poor and trying to impose their moral standards on others (while being led by a candidate to doesn't seem to care about those same morals).

Last Sunday, at the church that Toni and I are connecting with now, we heard a message that's part of a series on Paul's Letter to the Galatians." In it Paul challenges the idea that Christianity, like Judaism, is a sort of cultural movement, that is, a group that wants to distinguish itself from others through certain patterns of behavior. Instead, Paul says, the only distinguishing feature of Christians is their dependence on Jesus, Jesus who accepts and loves us just as we are. Our preacher quoted someone who said: Jesus "plus" (anything) is no good news at all.

So I ask: Do the public positions of Christians matter? How should our political opinions connect with our primary business of loving as Jesus loved and letting others know who we depend on? Should we hope and pray and work to make our government do "good works" for others? Or should we limit those things to what individuals and non-government groups can do?

Some conservative Christians put such a high value on "limited government" that they don't think that government ought to be in the "loving" or "caring" business in any way. Should we care what non-Christians think about this position?

On the other hand, other Christians
think that the government should reflect what they think of as a basic Christian commitment to the poor and to those who don't have the resources to stand up to evil by themselves. There has been a movement in the United States, and in the world, in that "human rights" direction--at least since WWII and the Holocaust.

I need to go off to work now. Maybe I'll get back to this later tonight.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Christians Identified with Trump?

It's almost 8 o'clock in Roseville. I got off work a bit earlier than usual; in fact, I didn't "work" at all this afternoon. When I got to work and tried to scan in a message popped up saying I couldn't... and the dispatcher told me just to go sit down in the driver room and wait. Soon they called my driver number, a manager met me and led me back to where a "DOT certified collector" was waiting. It was a random drug test -- the third since I've been at Metro Transit -- and that "test" made me just a few minutes too late to do my afternoon routes. I couldn't leave work though, so I waited there until dispatch gave me permission to go. So I came home, did a couple chores, had some supper, and now I (finally) have time to write, something I'm often wanting to do.

At right you'll see an excerpt from a facebook conversation. Writing on facebook (fb) is one of the ways I enjoy writing and communicating because it's a way to interact with others, some of whom I know well. The conversation at right was found on the fb "wall" (a.k.a. "timeline") of a pastor who is living in a distant part of the USA, someone I interact with fairly often. (It's great to stay in touch!)

The topic of THIS particular conversation is the president of the United States, Donald Trump, and the comment I'd like to highlight is the one I've circled.

After someone else wrote "not my poster boy" (meaning they don't particularly care for President Trump), my pastor friend wrote:
Mine [n]either. But since we are both Christians, people identify us with him, since so many Christians support him. The damage to the Gospel is immense.
I wrote back:
[Name], do you know for sure that non-Christian people identify Christians with Trump?
The same "someone else" who said Trump wasn't their "poster boy" wrote that they hope not, saying that "45 is [the] opposite [of] Biblical justice and Christ's inclusiveness." And while that may be true (we could have a long debate about that!), that's not what I asked. I really want to know if "non-Christian people identify Christians with [Donald] Trump," whether most non-Christians somehow connect Donald Trump, his positions and/or way he speaks, with "Christians" in general.

Is it true that, as my pastor friend wrote, "people identify us with him"?

It's probably not a question that can be answered with any precision, but the answer is probably yes. Here are some reasons for that:
I'm still wondering what my pastor friend will say. And then I'll go on to ask what influence that "Christian-Donald Trump" connection has on the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Learning By Leaning

"Problems patiently endured will work for our spiritual perfecting."
- A.W. Tozer via Bryan Lowe at
Spiritual "perfecting" isn't somehow becoming "good," "better," and "best," or becoming so strong that there are no longer moments of stress or worry or dissatisfaction. Spiritual "perfecting" means I end up leaning, more and more often, on the grace and mercy of God, so that I no longer trust in myself. Sometimes it means that I will have to deal with even more trouble of my own making -- so that I'll learn where my strength really is.

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.

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.

* 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. 

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