Archive for November, 2011

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The skewing of masculine spirituality

I came across this video on facebook.  In it the preacher tells young single men to “grow a pair” and be more masculine when relating to women.  In one part he even makes fun of someone he ministers to in his message for not being manly enough.

Yesterday I was talking with someone else about a famous quip made by another famous preacher in which he proclaimed that he couldn’t worship someone he could beat up.  Sad to say the person he claims to worship let himself get beat up and instructed other men to turn the other cheek and follow his example.  Indeed many of them did. 

Can you imagine one of these uber-masculine folks ever say the following?:

“As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but instead we were like children among you. Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.”

That was Paul in 1Thessalonians.

If we are truly following God what should that look like?

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
(Gal 5:22-23 NLT)

What?  Where is toughness, bravado, decisiveness, aggressiveness, assertiveness, boldness, or strength?

How then did Paul and his contemporaries manage to turn the Roman world upside down?

For God, who said, "Let there be light in the darkness," has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.
(2Co 4:6-11 NLT)

What do we see here?  Fragility, pressed on every side, perplexed, hunted down, knocked down, and suffering.  But despite the very real apparent weaknesses they were never destroyed, driven to despair or crushed.  Why?  They had a power inside them that sustained them.  The weaker they were the more God’s power was observed and the more people came to faith in the same power.

That isn’t to say that Paul wasn’t willing to take risks, even bold ones.  That certainly looks masculine.  He put himself at risk because of his faith in God, not faith in his own ability.  The courage he had wasn’t source in self-reliance or personal toughness it was the divinely imparted confidence he had that he would never be abandoned. 

I think there is there is room for masculinity in the Christian faith but it doesn’t manifest itself through pride, bravado or anger.  A truly secure man is at peace inside and isn’t threatened by other opinions or being wrong.  A truly secure man has self-control and integrity and will stand steadfastly for what he believes in.  He will be a true friend to the disadvantaged.   A truly masculine man doesn’t need the leverage of oppressive gender roles that disenfranchise or limit the potential of women.  Why?  Because he is not afraid.

I don’t know the heart of the two guys I referenced in this post but I think that some of these uber-masculine guys get angry at less masculine guys because they perceive a weakness they hate in themselves.   They project masculinity in order compensate for their own weakness.  Instead of accepting their own weaknesses they shame themselves in to pseudo-strength and try to do the same to others.  Many of them aren’t brave at all. They will fight you but only when they have a steep advantage.  They will leverage the pulpit or their organization in order to intimidate.  They might face you, but only after they have stacked the deck in their favour.  Why?  Because they are cowards.

I believe that we could make room for men to be men in the church.  I don’t see how walking in to a crowded room of 1000 people to idolize some preacher with a tattoo making vulgar comments about his sexual prowess changes that.


Faith, doubt, Atheism and Albert Einstein

From Wikipedia

Einstein had previously explored the belief that man could not understand the nature of God. In an interview published in 1930 in G. S. Viereck‘s book Glimpses of the Great, Einstein explained:

“I’m not an atheist. I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza‘s pantheism, but admire even more his contribution to modern thought because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and body as one, and not two separate things.[6]

In a 1950 letter to M. Berkowitz, Einstein stated that "My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment."[14] Author Anthony Alioto has referred to Einstein as an "agnostic theist"[15] sometimes called a form of deism or panentheism.

According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Einstein was more inclined to denigrate disbelievers than the faithful.[16] "The fanatical atheists," Einstein said in correspondence, "are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who—in their grudge against traditional religion as the ‘opium of the masses‘—cannot hear the music of the spheres."[16][17] Although he did not believe in a personal God, he indicated that he would never seek to combat such belief because "such a belief seems to me preferable to the lack of any transcendental outlook."[18]

The problem I have with fundamentalism whether it be religious or Atheistic is that there is no room for doubt or mystery.  There is no acknowledgement of the readily apparent finiteness of human perception and human experience. 

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Random Post-conference reflections and a little venting

I was a church planting conference today.  People might have to take my post here with a grain of salt.  I’ve been a house church guy for a long time and typical patterns and personalities found in conventional church circles are starting to feel foreign to me.  I feel out of place when I go to a place like this.  I tend to connect with the thinker/academic types more but your typical pastor irritates me.

There is a quote that made rounds a few years ago that is supposedly attributed to a Japanese businessman “Whenever I meet a Buddhist leader, I meet a holy man. Whenever I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager.”

I had one encounter over a lunch.  The guy started grilling me about the nature of the house church I’m a part of.  He actually talked about the need for the church to be missional.  I actually confessed that my particular church isn’t terribly “missional” because I refuse to redefine the word so I can label everything we do under a buzzword label.  When I asked about how his church had become “Missional” he couldn’t point to anything.  I wonder why the conversation goes in this direction so often.  I don’t always feel like I’m being inspected when people ask me about my church but when I do it usually is some pastor sifting through the legitimacy the ministry I’m involved with.

There is a terrible irony to the whole process.  What we do looks remarkably like the churches of the New Testament.  I’m always entertained at the notion that the legitimacy of a house church is in question given that the church met in homes for hundreds of years.

I have to admit I did hold back in the conversation.  I didn’t tell this guy that my primary efforts outside of our local fellowship have been to minister to those who have been spiritually abused by church leaders.  I figured that might be an awkward conversation to have with a church leader.  This ministry is deeply rewarding if not heartbreaking at times.  It isn’t much of a church growth initiative though  as it takes years to walk with deeply wounded people.  Often they never even join us for our gatherings.  I do it because God loves these people, and He is the good shepherd that would leave the 99 for the 1.

This brings me to my major frustration with all our conversation on changing the church.  It is like we have all kinds of thinkers and practitioners offering us new and improved missional pumps or neo-reformed pumps to gather water in our tanks all the while water is gushing out the bottom of the tank through unrepaired cracks and holes.  The biggest crisis in the church today isn’t our lack of willingness to engage missionally in our communities, it is the reality that we can’t effectively engage in the mission  of reconciling people to God in our very own fellowships.

Over the last 50 years church membership among mainline denominations like the Anglican church of Canada or United church dropped about 50%.  Evangelicals have largely stayed the same with most dropping less than 10%.  However the population of Canada has almost doubled in the same time period.  If we were just to keep pace with our birthrate we’d be much larger than we are.

I think one of the presenters, Skye (cool name huh) does nail things on the head when he said we’ve commoditized people and even God.  We care much more about our programs than our people.  The people exist to support the organization rather than constructing and organization that supports the people.  When people fall out the back we return to tinkering with the system.

Now that I’ve vented a bit.  My most memorable part of the conference was the end.  I picked up two homeless hitchhikers and drove them to Regina through terrible weather.  They were musicians, I got to listen to their music, we made fun of Regina!  A good time was had by all.  I even got a CD!


John Piper: Does a woman submit to abuse?

Mr. Piper’s answer surprised me. Be sure to see watch the whole video to pick up how he frames things. There is one section that honestly and truly stunned me. He advises that women should endure a "season" of verbal abuse or being "smacked" for one night before they tell the church about it. He goes on to say that the solution for this resides in the church. There is no mention of where it might be appropriate to call the police, go to a crisis centre or get out of town.

I can’t say I know much about Mr. Piper, let alone his heart or background, but I find this sort of thinking appalling.  I’ll acknowledge that there is a difference between people getting angry and abuse.  Mr. Piper doesn’t make that distinction, he just draws a distinction between more severe and less severe abuse. 

I believe If conflict becomes physical then people need to be held to account.  If a spouse, man or woman, doesn’t feel safe in their own home and refuse to mention it to anyone because they are trying honour God what does that do to their relationship with God?  Regardless of how people want to interpret  biblical passages on gender roles should we not see our response to abuse through the central of theme of sacrificial love for one another?  If abuse of any form destroys people how can we tolerate it? 

If we tolerate physical abuse of any form in our families what message does that send to our children?  Will little Tommy grow up thinking its ok to smack his girlfriend once a year or so?  If there is a “season” of verbal abuse what example does that send?

If we submission  is so important what of the command for all Christians to be submissive to one another out of reverence for Christ.  If a husband can’t control his tongue and is engaging in verbal abuse should he not then be required to open up about to someone that can help him stop?  Would not any wife have the right to call him on it?

I’ve read stories about other church situations where the church surrounds the abusive man and leaves the women and children out in the cold.  In one sense I don’t get it.  If these men are supposed to be leaders in their church and in their family why are they so afraid to be held to account in such serious situations?  Why are other men so afraid to actually dig in to the situation and shed light on everything?

This stuff disgusts me, it really does.

In another sense I do get it.  The apostle John talks a lot about light.  Light shines in to the darkness and if our deeds are evil we fear the light.  We fear being seen for what we are.  We fear the exposure.  So often the people in charge don’t want people to be damaged by the truth of the situation.  They would rather cover it up, hide it, paper over it.  They don’t want the light exposing the faults and weaknesses in their community and in their leadership.

Paul understood that God’s power is best displayed through weakness.   When we are weak, when we are honest, when we are transparent it gives us the clearest perspective on what God is doing in our midst.  Paul had such confidence in the transforming work of Christ he didn’t have to pretend, project or cover up.  His whole life was on display warts and all because he knew people would see God working in him. 

The church would be wise to earn from his example.

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