For the Bride: Too Difficult for Whom?

I have to admit there are days when the candle for preserving unity in the Church burns low in my soul.  Some appear to have already concluded that schism is the only way forward.  Others seem to yearn for continuing unity but cannot agree about what it should look like.  It would be easy to go silent, turn passive, hunker down, and wait to see what happens.  Something surely will.

But I cannot do it–for one simple reason–the Spirit of God keeps repeating these words in my soul, “I am the Lord, the God of all living things!  Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)

These words do not make me feel any better.  They do not make our problems seem less challenging. They do not produce a plan that is any better than someone else’s.  But these words from the prophet do one very important thing: they give me HOPE.

All I can say–and I cannot stop saying it–is that what is too difficult for us is not too hard for God.  Surprise is a word that often describes God’s ability to do things we are not expecting–to do things for us that we cannot do for ourselves.  It happened in Jerusalem’s upper room; it can happen in our ecclesial meeting rooms.  It happened at the tomb; it can happen where we feel dead.

This is not passivity or resignation in disguise.  It is more akin to what Henri Nouwen called “active waiting.”  It means keeping vigil, continuing to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices, and staying at the round table engaging in Christian conferencing.

It means showing up even when we have almost no desire to do so, because we believe God is already present.  It means not allowing critics to tell me who I am, but rather going each day to the feet of Jesus and letting him remind me that I am God’s beloved. 

And all of this in the belief that if enough of us endure and persevere, we will be in an upper room somewhere when the sound of a mighty rushing wind, and the descent of tongues of fire shows us all that the Church is of God, and will be preserved to the end of time.  It means believing that a stone can still be rolled away allowing the Risen Christ to give new life to his Bride.

Too difficult for me?  For any of us?  You bet!!  But not too hard for God.  There are no gurus, only God alone.  And God is not finished with us yet!

(If you do not have my book ‘For the Sake of the Bride’ on which these weekly writings are based, here is the Amazon link for it: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product?ASIN=B00L5KW5HK&force-full-site=1&ref_=kin_tos_tate_appm_bk_sf_dp)

Posted in For the Bride

Ministry Musings: Spiritual Leadership

I am working on two projects that call for a fresh concentration on the term “spiritual leadership.”  And while I have spoken and written about the subject over the years, I have a new view to write about today.

It arises as I recall there is a difference between leadership and management, even if a lot of the time a person will be operating in a combination of both worlds.  But when we focus on the leadership side, I believe that spiritual leaders are those who set key things in place.

First and foremost, they set an example.  This begins with their character and integrity, and then it manifests itself in being a servant.  If leaders do not set an example, those who follow them will not do so out of respect. This means that the atmosphere of support will be artificial and superficial.

Second, spiritual leaders set a tone.  I would use the nine dimensions of the fruit of the Spirit to describe that tone.  A one-word description would be encouragement.  It is a tone that is edifying.  If leaders do not set this tone, those who follow them will do so without feeling affirmed and valued.

Third, spiritual leaders set a course.  They navigate by the stars, not just the winds.  Circumstances vary and fluctuate; principles keep us on course.  The leader never stops saying, “The best of all is, God is with us,” and therefore, all is grace.  We learn and grow in easy times and challenging times.  If leaders do not set a course, every change will either be an occasion for pride or despair.

Spiritual leaders are those who “set” things.  And before anything else, they set God in the midst, leaving no doubt as to where the Center is and leaving no question about Who is in charge.

Posted in Ministry Musings | 1 Comment

For the Bride: Special Report (2)

Like many of you, I am following as carefully as I can the situation currently existing between Dr. David Gushee and notable colleagues within and beyond the Southern Baptist Convention.  I am doing this, in part, because it is good to learn from a situation outside your immediate context.  And I am doing it because Dr. Gushee is bearing witness to his change of view regarding LGBT matters as an academician–a role and a vantage point I share with him after more than thirty years in graduate theological education.  So, I find what is unfolding beneficial and fascinating–and also personally painful.

Let me be clear, as Dr. Gushee is asking for us to be, the best thing we can do is to get his book and read it–regardless of whether we agree or disagree with him.  Many of his critics have not done this, even as some of mine have likewise failed to do.  In some ways, this is the crucial point, given we are only several days into the controversy that his change of views has produced.  At the end of this article, I provide a link to Dr. Gushee’s book, and I have already downloaded it and am reading it.

But in advance of what should be (on the part of all of us) a more mature and reasoned response to him, there are some telling things which need to be exposed so that he can be treated fairly by friends and foes alike.  Here are two ways he is already being caricatured, and we at least need to see the tactics for what they are.

First, it is a typical process to create an immediate “doomsday” scenario, in which our critics try to convince the masses that “the sky is falling,” and nothing short of swift and severe denouncement will prevent utter chaos.  But when placed in the context of academics, this is an odd thing to do–given that we academicians pride ourselves in being both willing and able to engage in reasonable conversations on virtually every topic under the sun.

Ah, but not so now!  Rather, critics would have us believe that “the end is near.”  But doing this does not speak for the credibility of the critics.  Rather it exposes what is actually going on:  someone has made hamburger meat out of someone else’s sacred cow.  And when that happens, one way to throw the matter off course early on is to “crisis-fy” it with the most emotional rhetoric possible.  And, this tactic almost always includes the critical group’s allegation that if you side with them, you will be siding with Truth.  The sky-is-falling approach almost always includes the assertion that there are folks who can keep it from doing so, and if you join them, there is still time to save the world.  They can do it.

This, however, does not produce a reasonable response, but rather exposes the motive which is driving the criticism.  Turning something into a blur is not an unusual response from those who do not want the larger public to be able to see the actual points.  And making something or someone a tragic crisis misleads others into thinking there exists somewhere a person or group who can guru the rest of us through the mess.

I experienced this while riding the bullet train in Japan.  We shot through villages that were not a scheduled stop.  All I could say was, “Thank God, no one is on the tracks!  They would have been wiped out.”  Villages and villagers were largely unseen as we sped on toward the destination.  And in a similar way that is what happens when we turn a moment into a doomsday scenario.  The speeding train’s agenda overshadowed everything else.  All we could do was ride it out.  But in doing so, we missed a lot.

Similarly, when there are matters about which we seriously disagree, we may not be able to stop the madness, but at least we should remain capable of naming it for what it is.

Second, Dr. Gushee’s critics are saying in effect, “We have viewed him for some time as drifting away from the truth.”   On the surface,  it makes the critics look like keen observers who are amazingly brilliant–that is, to have seen him going down “the slippery slope” for some time–whether he actually was or not.  Folks do not know what to do with those who allege that it is possible to hold an orthodox faith while having social views that are not held by others who are orthodox.  So, one way critics try to put themselves in a superior light is to claim they have seen this coming for some time now–that the person in question has been suspect for quite some time.

But rather than illustrating the critics’ brilliance, it only exposes their hypocrisy.  That is, their willingness to make it appear that they held their friend and colleague in esteem, when they actually did not do so.  And that’s what hypocrisy essentially is–presenting a “face” that is not the real one.  It leaves the larger audience and the person himself unaware of actual thoughts and feelings.  To suddenly, say “we have had doubts about Dr. Gushee for some time now” is only to expose a person or group’s willingness to talk about a person rather than with him.  It reveals the willingness of a group to talk about another person behind their back rather than to their face.  It is a day late and a dollar short.

I was privileged in 1995 to be one of the speakers (along with Gordon MacDonald and Bill Hinson) for the first Minister’s Conference at the new Truett seminary on the campus of Baylor University.  As you may recall, the establishment of the seminary was in part due to a feeling among some Baptists that other seminaries had given way to a fundamentalist mindset in terms of governance and education.  And like what is happening to Dr. Gushee right now, there were critics using the tactic that the President and Faculty at Truett were those who “had not really been true Baptists for some time now.”

But spending nearly a week with many of them clearly showed the error in judgment, and left the reason for it flapping in the wind.  The fact was, the President and the Faculty (at least those I met) were clearly orthodox and they were deeply devoted to substantive theological education.  They just had not sold their souls to the company store.  They had offended the “power brokers,” which is, of course, the institutional unpardonable sin.

But alleging that folks “have not been one of us for some time now,” is one of the things critics do when they have no intellectual grounds (or related will) to engage controversial situations in truly academic ways.  But it does show those criticized how fragile their relationships were over what may have been a long period of time.  It does reveal that they were always closer to the edge than they realized, only being one failure away from being ostracized.  It exposes a non-academic way of dealing with things, when to do otherwise would be to acknowledge (to whatever degree) that the alleged defector has made some points worth considering.  But forums, which might have edified everyone, are never held.

As I bring this update to a close, let me be clear:  these tactics are used by all of us when something throws our world off course–when somebody moves our cheese.  The point is not to say that only conservatives do this to progressives.  We do it back-and-forth when we feel out of control–out of control.

The point of this post is to lament the sins we commit toward one another, and to call them out rather than allow them to further skew what’s happening.  Dr. Gushee is not the creator of a doomsday scenario.  And he is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Rather, he is a devoted Christ follower and respected scholar who (as his book itself shows) has been giving all this long and deep consideration.  He deserves better than the immediate and severe caricaturing he is receiving.  So too do all those who change views without abandoning faith.  Those who caricature others in these ways cannot excuse themselves under robes of alleged self-righteousness.  That’s now how it works in the academy.  That’s not how it should work in the Church.

______________________________

You can secure a copy of Dr. Gushee’s book, Changing Our Minds, in either paperback or ebook formats here: http://www.amazon.com/Changing-Our-Mind-evangelical-acceptance-ebook/dp/B00OVBYZPA/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1414423791&sr=1-8&keywords=David+Gushee

 

Posted in For the Bride

Journey: A Little Is A Lot

Read : Plotting Goodness

Even though I have spent my professional life largely in theological education with all its technical terms and professional jargon, I am still drawn to simple ways of expressing complex ideas.  So, I was immediately attracted to McLaren’s statement, “God is up to something.”  I think that is exactly what the theological word Sovereignty means.

And through the experience of Abram and Sara, we get a marvelous look at how God chooses and delights to be up to something with and through us.  There’s no need to repeat what McLaren describes so well, so I will only write out a few of my own thoughts to weave together with his.

Like McLaren, I have been gripped when I remember how little Abram and Sara had in terms of religious resources, yet they believed deeply and lived faithfully.  When I think I cannot make it without my study Bible, prayer book, other books, podcasts, YouTube videos, and a bunch of other religious paraphenalia, I am brought to my senses by the power of naked faith.  Spirit-to-spirit; Heart-to-heart cannot be beat.

Abram and Sara also remind me of the greatness of littleness by their down-to-earth response to God’s call.  Moving is not easy.  We can only imagine how many acts it required for them and their entourage to get ready to leave.  But all of them were part of faith–the routine, hidden activities were just as necessary as the allegedly “larger stories” we read about later on.

And these two God followers remind me that we make progress little-by-little.  Genesis says that they journeyed “by stages” (12:9).  And when I have my wits about me, I realize that’s how we all travel.  Our five-year plans have value, but always limited value, because they never turn out exactly as we predicted.  If we learn from our ancestral sister and brother, they tell us that navigation is better than prognostication–that flexibility is superior to forecasting, because life is unpredictable and we are explorers.

Abram and Sara challenge us to do a lot with a little: little resources, little actions, little steps–all essential ingredients in the life of faith–necessary for following the God who is up to something.

Posted in Journey | 1 Comment

For the Bride: Special Report

Prominent Evangelical ethicist David Gushee has announced that on November 8th, in a major address at The Reformation Project conference, he will announce he has changed his mind about LGBT relationships and will now not only affirm them but also work to protect the LGBT community from further harm. He will also release a book putting his considerations into print.

In less than a day, he has received swift and severe criticism from Fundamenlists, who (as always) allege he has defected from orthodox faith.  Additionally, they try to discount his change as being that of a late-comer, adding nothing significant to the matter.  But that’s not true.

When Evangelical Christians like Gushee, holding firmly to their orthodox faith, change their minds on matters of human sexuality, they do, in fact, offer something very significant.  They offer themselves and their scholarly reputations, confirmed by decades of careful and credible work–work which has often been applauded and honored by the schools where they have served. 

They are not people who go off half cocked in the academy or in life in general, but rather do careful study and engage in deep reflection before stating their convictions. And that is what Gushee and other Evangelical scholars are doing now in relation to same-sex relationships.

Over against the lie that they are late comers who add nothing significant, we have only to cite the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), where the owner of the vineyard regards those who work fewer hours as equally valuable to the agricultural effort as those who had been in the field longer–and pays them the same wage.

So, in the current complex and controversial debate regarding same-sex relationships, let’s be sure not to embrace the caricatures leveled against people like David Gushee, who have paid their scholarly dues, and have earned the right to speak with the same credibility as has been characteristic of them and ascribed to them in the past–even if it is a more-recent word.

And just so there is no doubt, I offer my own changes of view in the same context as that of Gushee’s despite the opposition I too have received the past six months.

[To see the Huffington Post Report that prompted my meditation, go to http://huff.to/1t8XR4S%5D

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

For the Bride: Stop Now!

If you have seen the movie “Forest Gump,” you will remember the scene where Forest begins to run.  He runs…runs…runs…and runs some more.  Along the way, he gathers other folks who begin to run with him.

And then…one day…suddenly, and without warning…he stops.  Stops cold.  And with no explanation, he turns around and reverses his journey.  In some sense, he had to run, but in an equal way, he had to stop–to stop now.  Abrupt, but a necessary clean break.  For to keep running would only take him farther and farther away from home.

Forest’s experience mirrors those of historic reformers–men and women who ran in a particular direction for a long time.  And then…the Spirit said, “Stop!  Stop now!”  We are here because of their willingness and courage to do so.  We are here because they listened to the Spirit.

I believe (as others do) that we are in another period like this–in a time when God is calling the Church to another great emergence, but one that begins with God saying, “Stop!  Stop now!” I believe that a fresh Wind of the Spirit is blowing, and God is challenging us to raise our sails and move in the power that the Spirit provides and with the guidance the Spirit gives.

But before we can hear God’s “Go!” we must first hear God’s “Stop!”  It comes to us in one word: repent.  The word (metanoia) fundamentally means to change.  It includes the confession of sin, but it is broader than that.  Essentially, God’s call to repent comes to us in this question, “Are you willing to look at life in a new way?”  It is the question God is asking us, individually and collectively, right now.

Posted in For the Bride

Error in Posting

If you received a “For the Bride: Inevitable Vantage Points” post last evening, it came by mistake.  It is actually scheduled for November 14th, and fits into the stream of writings at that point.

It has been moved to that date, and you will see it again in its proper time frame.  So, stay tuned for the reprise of the post.  It will make more sense in its correct location.

Posted in Site Updates