The Vision of Flight

I’m looking out my window at 25,000 feet.

To my left there’s a stunning view of the clouds resting upon the ground—a great white cover of translucent down. A river snaking through the landscape in the distance, curling upon itself in the most inefficient way, reversing its course unpredictably across the Texas plains. I see black patches of lakes, nonsensical outlines, like Rourshack tests. Hints of human habitation in traces of roads and the green-brown patchwork smudges of cleared forest.

If I were standing on the ground I never would have seen these visions. I wouldn’t have even known they were there. All I would have been able to see were those things right in front of me, accessible to my immediate senses from my 6’2” vantage point. Granted, flying in a jet still requires me to make use of my senses. I’m never without them and I interpret my surrounding world through them. However, what being in a jet provides is a transcendent perspective over the normal.

I’m privy to a view that those on the ground don’t have access to—unless they also join me in this speeding tube of steel. In order to see all of this in this way requires me to become elevated, and would require you to become elevated as well. There’s only a certain amount of description that I could provide you in order to see what I see, there are only so many adjectives that I can conjur up to help you experience what I’m living at this moment. There is nothing to describe the sense of flying so near to a towering thundercloud that you can feel moved in your bones by both the beauty and the power that you are almost apart of, that you can just begin to taste in the sublimity of seeing.

This very thing happens each week. Every Sunday morning as we enter the basketball court at Harmony School our vision is elevated. What looks to be a building of brick, stone, oak and tile, a basketball court of hardwood, Hoosier basketball backboards, tall windows covered in chain-link, walls of brown tile—this becomes for us our meeting place, and God’s sanctuary, God’s Temple, a thin place where he meets with and interacts with his people gathered in Jesus’ Name, united in one-anotherness through the common sharing in of Christ’s body and blood and participation in the renewal life of the Holy Spirit.

The faith given us by God the Spirit himself, raises us up, causing us to ascend into the heavenlies by virtue of our union with Christ, so that we can see the things before us with new eyes, cleared vision, and hearts attuned to the significance of the gathering of God’s people for worship, and his meeting with us through his means of grace—the prayers, the Word, the sacraments.

I don’t look out my window and see something “pretty” nor do I see something mundane enough for my indifference. I am flying. This is one of the greatest fantasies of humanity since before Icarus, and I have it. I am not watching it, I am not being told about it, I am living it, participating in it. No indeed, I don’t shrug my shoulders unimpressed. I don’t glance at the meeting of the heavens and the earth and offer a consolation wink at the nice view. I am flying. And, so I marvel.

Marvel is meant to characterize the worship of the people of God. Worship is not meant to be something that happens to us, something we go and watch, something we just take part in here and there. Worship is meant to call us out in fullness of participation because it is not a human who calls to us or initiates with us, it is the Living God himself. The Covenant God. The Blessed One. A Consuming Fire.

Do we not marvel at him? Or, do we look with indifference, a shrug of the shoulders, and go back to our SkyMall? Do we fixate on the irritations of the momentary imperfections in our comfort? The context for our beholding may subtly change from week to week—different songs, different prayers, good sermons, not so good sermons, tasty coffee, bitter coffee. Yet, to allow the smudges on my window, or the smells of the passengers near me, or my lack of leg room to become scales over my eyes, or grumblings to obsess over denies the most fundamental reality of my moment—

I am flying.

Leaning In

The articles inspiring this discussion:

 “The Challenge of Leaning Out”  By Olga Khazan, The Atlantic,

“Recline! Why ‘Leaning In’ is Killing Us” By Rosa Brooks, Foreign Policy,

 “The Uselessness of Hating Sheryl Sandberg” By Rebecca Traister, New Republic.

Recently, I had a female friend—strong, professional, very successful, successful kids, attractive, civically active—tag me in a post on Facebook. She was interested in my response to Rebecca Traister’s recent article in the New Republic responding to Rosa Brooks’ criticism of Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s philosophy of “Leaning In.” My friend works in a very male dominated context, a “good ‘ole boy club,” plus, she’s a woman, so right away, I gots those 2 things preventing me from identifying more holistically with her perspective. Nevertheless, having (in Ulysses Everett McGill’s words) “the gift of gab,” I couldn’t resist offering a male perspective into the discourse. One of her, very sensitive, initial concerns (out of respect for me) was that Traister was “man-bashing” at the tail end of her article. Here’s what I wrote in response to da whole male bashing and “leaning in” conversation:

“I didn’t think there was any “male bashing” in here at all. In fact, she’s on target in many ways- men in our culture aren’t men at all, but “dudes,” “guys,” over grown boys who’s lack of maturity shows up in perpetual boyish self-centeredness, both in the home, professionally, and culturally. Reminds me of that scene from “Say Anything” where Joan Cusack tells her brother- “don’t be a ‘guy,’ the world’s full of ‘guys.’ Be a man.”

The problem is, guys don’t know what “manhood” is, and our cultural moment and history sure isn’t helping with this journey. Most male authorities our generation was raised under are those baby boomers raised under the tutelage of the world conquering “greatest generation,” who, while making the world “safe for democracy” and establishing ‘merica as an economic powerhouse (see Madmen), also neglected deeper questions related to masculine identity and calling. And in so doing, they failed in honoring women, developing enough emotional and spiritual maturity themselves to actually develop relational intimacy within the home and see that their masculine identity does not, should not, and cannot rest on their outward successes (politically, economically, familially). The “greatest generation” contributed to the emotional insecurity of their own families, and then passed on to their emotionally insecure progeny—the baby boomers—an impossible ideal for self-actualization (borrowing from Maslow), one where one’s identity, value, worth, where a human’s glory is generated, is solely contingent on what one produces.

As the boomers sought to claim some sense of identity for themselves apart from their emotionally distant parents, they ultimately sought to reject this entire identity-constructing-via-success paradigm through the counter-culture movement, yet they themselves eventually bought into this worldview themselves. Though now instead of just men buying into this impossible ideal, call it the “idolatry of self-actualization via success,” 20th and 21st century American women are now liberated to center their lives and identities upon this very same thing that has held a broken masculinity enthralled for so many thousands of years: a drive for power (well summarized in Nietzsche’s übermensch)- accomplished through economic, political, sexual, and familial dominance at all costs.

My pushback on Sandberg is not that she’s a strong, talented, accomplished woman (I’m married to one myself), and I don’t see her as the one person to blame in all of this (she is one prominent public voice in a tidal wave of cultural discourse), rather my area of hesitancy and caution has to do with the spiritual causes and implications of all of this “leaning.” I love to see and work alongside women (and men) of strength, our culture needs to grow in making room for such people, yet I am concerned that the result will be the perpetual reinforcement of our human obsession with power at all costs, and for men this cost has been the loss of any clear sense of a healthy masculine identity. Our tendency toward simplistic black and white thinking, or lack of desire and effort in thinking through more meta-physical causes and implications to cultural shifts and personal decisions can lead us to being reductionistic about any issue, certainly an issue as significant as male and female identity and roles? Again, I respect women of strength and gifting, yet I want to challenge the rising tide in our culture which so quickly tells women to assert this strength and gifting as the basis of their self-worth, their value, their identity. This stereotypical male idol has destroyed masculinity in our culture, and has thus even contributed to the abuse and dehumanization of women (as men have sought to use women in any number of ways to compensate for their insecurities). I’m not saying that Sandberg is doing this, but I wonder if we are culturally moving in this direction: that women are being told to drink the same kool-aid that has left men hollowed out. As one who’s calling is to the business of seeking restoration for the human heart, this is precisely the thing I’m seeing.

Power is a tricky thing. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, or being in positions that require greater degrees of it, and we need both men and women in roles that require us to responsibly steward the delegation of it. It’s when power moves from being a good thing to being the ultimate thing when we (men and women) become endangered to being used by it in order to propel ourselves forward, or assert the self over another for the sake of compensating for our own sense of powerlessness and insecure identity, rather than for the benefit and good of others. Both men and women have been guilty of this in the past, in both the public and private spheres.

A question I’ve learned to reflect on when I’m in a position to assert any form of power is: why? Why do I need or desire this? What are my root motivations here: benevolence?, self-aggrandizement?, mercy?, justice?, acclaim?, fear? When I honestly get into this motivational matrix, things get very cloudy and I don’t see myself quite as righteously as I did before- Nietzsche scholars call this “looking squintingly” or seeking to see the hidden and self-centered motivations that are driving our exercise of power. I’m not a nihilist (far from it!), but I think we can learn from this in looking squintingly at ourselves when it comes to personal ambition, especially when the product of that ambition (success, autonomy, political and social prestige) is what many of us (including myself) can mistakenly lean toward resting our sense of identity, and thus personal meaning, in.”

A Response to “This Verse May Change What You Think ‘Gospel’ Means”

A quick response to “This Verse May Change What You Think ‘Gospel’ Means” article:

Yes, and
Totally understand what he’s saying here. The fulfillingness aspect of Jesus as the ultimate covenant representative for Israel, absolutely is essential to good biblical theology. Missing this is something that Medieval theology, and Lutheran overemphasis on the doctrine justification by grace through faith alone rather than works, which can anachronistically be inserted into 2nd Temple Judaism as this era’s dominant paradigm,  both miss. However, the storied aspect of the gospel, otherwise known as the historia salutis, which is also seen throughout Paul’s letters, notably the first 6 verses of Romans, is not the only aspect of the Bible’s communication and our undertanding of the gospel. The ordo salutis, or order of salvation, (now, cliched and reduced in things such as the Four Spiritual Laws, etc), is still a theological paradigm that seems to emerge from the Scriptures as well. And, it also appears throughout Paul’s same letter to the Romans and the Galatians. Much more to talk about here, but in summary— this guy, and McKnight and others— such as NT Wright, one of my favorite Biblical Theologians, while they do well in seeing and bringing out the historia salutis, history of salvation, they completely toss out the prevalence of justification by grace through faith as understood in the ordo salutis. This is a problem, and is an error of similar magnitude as some of the Medieval and Enlightenment theologians in neglecting the story of Redemption in favor of the system of theology it communicates. Further, as far as NT Wright goes (whose methodology has been a big emphasis of my past study), while one of his strong suits is indeed seeing the big picture, the story— he has great weakness in his exegesis, in the detail of the text. As a result, his interpretation of the big story suffers from a lack of attention to textual detail.
Some of this entire conversation could arise more from our own zeitgeist than anything else. With the vaccuum left behind from postmodernism— in there being no reliable metanarrative— it has been hot, popomo, to return ourselves to some overarching metanarrative and reject the Enlightenment-style strictures of formulas and systems (these just aren’t organic or storied enough). We see this especially among intellectual baby boomers and Gen-Xers both of whom lived and experienced that metanarrative vaccuum of the pomo era. This is not quite as prevalent among Millenials— who, while embracing the storied aspect of Christianity, and other various worldviews for that matter, have also experienced the doctrinal/systems vaccuum that has been created as a result of the rejection of systematic theology in favor of biblical theology alone. What we need as a harmonized approach to theology— systematic and biblical, all based on solid exegesis. Historia and Ordo, both coming under solid textual scholarship. Problem is, we’re impatient, we may be a literate culture, but we prefer non-literacy, and thus reductionistic theologies, to doing the hard work required to enter into the world of the text, and invite it to enter in to our worlds bringing transformation of the heart through the storied and systematic dynamics of the gospel applied by God’s Spirit.
I’m just sayin’.

Weary of Life’s Demands

Hey friends,

I’ve been feeling weary lately, and I know that some of you are as well. If you’re not feeling this right now, it will be coming at some point in this life. I’ve attached a couple of articles for you all to peruse, that could be helpful for any of you wrestling with this very thing right now. And, perhaps my thoughts below may be of some guidance and encouragement as well.

Life is hard. We face opposition in everything we do— from work, to parenting, to friendship, to dating, to exercise, on and on. I write, “opposition” rather than “challenge” because challenge in itself can be a very good thing, something that moves us to press forward, that can motivate us to godly productivity, being what God created us to be— His image bearers as we create and tend to stuff.

Yet, opposition is entirely different. Opposition is feeling the weight of every aspect of life crushing down on you, sometimes all at the same time. Opposition is facing grueling difficulty, both external and within our own hearts, as we deal with the mundane as well as the exceptional experiences of every day life. We can face opposition as we seek to accomplish great things, as we seek to simply manage everyday things, or as we wrestle uncomfortably with boredom.

Opposition, and the negative emotions we experience as a result, come as a consequence of humanity’s fall into sin (cf. Gen 3)— because of sin, all spheres of creation have become alienated from God and alienated from one another, all things are in opposition, all things are at enmity.

Emotions are an important component of our humanity, were created good by the Lord, yet they can become so strong, so dominant, that they can become the primary lens with which we view the things of our lives, and we can begin to lose track of what is true. What we feel as a result of the opposition we face, resulting from our spiritual alienation, can become for us the reality within which we live.

At the same time, these same emotions can be a thermometer for us, they can indicate for us what our hearts are really longing for, if we learn to listen to them, work our way through the various complex layers of emotions, ask questions of our hearts such as: “what am I feeling?” “why am I feeling this?” “is the cause of this feeling true?” “what is true— about this immediate situation, about this person in front of me, about myself?”

We see the Psalmist doing this as he speaks to his own heart, which is in the throes of despair, longing, and loneliness in Psalm 42: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (asking the questions, naming the emotional experience dominating him) “Hope thou in God! For I shall again praise Him my savior and my God,” (speaking the truth of God’s reality to his own heart).

Understanding our own hearts, naming our emotional experience which can become a life-lens, having discernment on the circumstances impacting us through particular forms of opposition, learning to speak God’s truth to our own hearts— the only source of lasting hope and comfort— these are disciplines of the maturing Christian life. Something that requires time, silence, pushing away of distractions (such as more work, more entertainment, more striving).

This is the very thing Jesus spoke to Martha about in Luke 10:38-42, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…” In her anxieties— her emotional lens— she distracted herself with spiritual work, making Jesus comfortable; yet failed to realize that what she needed and what Jesus desires to provide, is rest. In this instance, rest looked like Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to him. In other instances, enjoying rest through Jesus’ grace looks like Elijah being served bread and told to sleep by the Angel of the Lord.

In both instances, the Lord seeks to care for the heart, mind, emotions, and body of His people. Yet, for this to happen, God’s people must detach themselves from the apparent immediacy of all of those impending areas where we feel that continual opposition, and step into a place of silence, where God can remove the scaffolding which we surround our lives with, and bring real rest, His rest, gospel rest for our souls, which begins and ends in our personal encounter with Christ.

TV does not bring rest. More work does not bring rest. More organizing, or pinning more stuff to our Pintrest board does not bring this deep rest that we all need. More likes on our Facebook post does not bring rest. These things can be fun. They can spur on our creativity. They can help connect us with others. But, they cannot bring the rest that Martha longed for, that Elijah needed, that the Psalmist cried out for, “As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee…”

Draw near to Jesus this week. Find a way to draw near to the Lord for an extended period this month. All of us are busy, but none of us feel the necessity for busyness as much as Jesus must have felt, who withdrew regularly to quiet places to pray.

If he was tempted in every way as we are, yet is without sin, do we not think that he felt all that we feel and more? Even our temptation toward acedia (which is what these attached articles are about).

Draw near to the One who has attained rest on your behalf. Let’s pray that the opposition and the accompanying emotions we experience, become opportunities for the Lord to show His grace to us in new ways.

In the love of our Lord,

Dan

articles:

“resistance to the demands of love”

“staying put to get somewhere”

Leadership, Authority, and Church Governance

note: This is a response to David Fitch’s blog that a friend of mine passed on to me the other day. I could have written so much more— getting into the details, etc. but I had to cut myself off. Will likely come back to this topic of leadership and authority at a later time.
The leadership thing is big. We need it, a group needs it, the church needs it, but how does leadership function in “real time”? Leadership necessarily involves authority, to deny this fact or reject the truth that the church and her leaders have authority is naïve and neglects the Bible itself. Yet, how is this authority to function?
I love the case study Fitch gives of a leader presenting his/her process to the group for input and interaction. This could work well in a small group setting like a Local Community, the Local Community leader forum, or a Session (the group of elders in a Presb church). It’s in groups like these where all the members are equally engaged in seeking the Lord in prayer and the Scriptures and receiving grace from Him through these means. The trouble is when we try and apply dynamics that are intended to function in a small group of equally committed leaders, into a group of people where some may be committed, some may be on the outskirts, some may be suspicious, some may even be malicious (even unintentionally so), or some may be committed and sincerely devoted to the Lord and the community yet lacking any solid theological/scriptural/Christian-life foundation for guiding a voice of wisdom. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord, so if one has no fear or knowledge of God and His Redemptive-historical self-revelation in the Scriptures, and thus no notion of the gospel of grace applied to his own heart, how could a Christian community look to this person for guidance and input into the missional direction they ought to take, and submit to them— even if their voice is one of several?
This is not to deny that the Holy Spirit can speak through anyone, even an ass (Numbers 22:28). And, a godly leader will seek to hear God’s wisdom in anyone’s input, even if that input is delivered abrasively or without grace or significant biblical/theological knowledge. Yet, because of a lack of one or more of the following: godliness, maturity, whole-life wisdom flowing from the gospel of grace, or commitment to the community—this person’s input (even as a beloved member of the community), ought not have as much gravitas as the insights of others. This is why Paul is so thoughtful as to the type of people who ought to be set aside for the calling of elder. On one hand Paul writes that the one who aspires to the office of overseer desires a noble task (1 Tim 3:1), thus affirming the desire to influence and speak into church direction, vision, and leadership. Yet, at the same time Paul also cautions against ordaining those who are a “recent convert, lest he be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil,” (1 Tim 3:6). Spiritual authority to lead is a real thing, its a heavy thing, and for those who lack wisdom and maturity to rely on and apply the gospel of grace received by faith alone to their heart idols and tempermental tendencies, being recognized by others as having spiritual authority is not only a destructive path for the church, but a self-destructive path for that ill-equipped or immature individual, see Paul’s warnings to his young delegate Timothy in 2 Tim 3 and 4: “…they will have the appearance of godliness but deny its power…always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth…the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will acumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” While we affirm the reformation (and biblical!) principle of a priesthood of all believers (cf. 1 Peter 2), we also must affirm that not every priest is called to lead.
I’m not so much concerned about the inevitable conflict of leadership (this ought to come with any human relationship, and is a part of God’s toolbox for refining his people by grace), but I am concerned about people being given more authority to speak in to leading Christ’s church than they ought to have. Seeking input from everyone, consensus from everyone, leadership from everyone can actually be a very troubling thing, not just for a church but for any organization. Organizationally— for someone to use influence responsibly and well for the sake of the organization, they need to understand and completely own that organization’s guiding purpose, values, foundational principles, and practices— this goes for Caterpillar, Google, and even the church, just from a practical standpoint. Thus, while all members of a church ought to have a voice into the life and leadership of the church, these voices will have varying degrees of amplification based on the life of godliness, wisdom, and personal knowledge of Christ through prayer and Scripture that the speaker’s life displays— this is what we call maturity. Additionally, personal commitment to the particular community is vital for one to have a voice in helping to shape and guide it.
In the American system of representative democracy, we are meant to have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people— people are not meant to serve government, but government is meant to serve the people and be developed from that same populace. The qualifications to govern well cannot include every human living within the borders of our nation. There are certain people (perhaps a majority of people), who simply do not have the knowledge, skills, wisdom, social thoughtfulness, disposition, etc. that could make them competent to work with others in the detailed governing of our nation. Further, the sheer number of people and the difficulties resulting from this should every one person have a voice into every governing decision that needs to be made on a daily basis, could lead to either chaos or an eventual tyrrany of a vocal few. As a result, we function through the process of representative democracy— where people choose to elect who they deem the most qualified representatives on their behalf. And, these elected officials are not meant to have achieved a higher level of value, significance, and power from a hiarchical sense. Instead, their position affords them the opportunity to serve others at a greater capacity, under social contract with the people who recognized their qualifications and elected them to office in the first place. All of this is laid out in the authoritative document for the United States’ system of governance— the Constitution.
This system is not meant to be a model for the church, instead our system of American government finds it’s bearings through the biblical model of the church, actually finding significant roots in Scottish Presbyterianism. Yet, in the system of church governance or authority, how are congregations supposed to recognize the most qualified among them?— we look to our spiritual authority, the Scriptures for this. Who trains potential leaders and presents them to a congregation for consideration?– we look to our authoritative document for life and doctrine, the Scriptures. How are these leaders to govern and lead Christ’s church?– we look to the Scriptures.
This could get so much longer… so I’ll conclude.