A compelling little video that asks the key question.
I did not see this story about disgraced pastor Ted Haggard when it first came out, but I am glad I did. It is a story about reaching out to Haggard and raising questions about why we Christians seem to turn our backs on the fallen among us.
The author finds himself reflecting on the words of friends who had told him that they will reject him if he reaches out to Haggard. And that stirs thoughts of Huck Finn.
The Ted Haggard issue reminds me of a scene in Mark Twain’s, Huckleberry Finn. Huck is told that if he doesn’t turn in his friend, a runaway slave named Jim, he will surely burn in hell. So one day Huck, not wanting to lose his soul to Satan, writes a letter to Jim’s owner telling her of Jim’s whereabouts. After folding the letter, he starts to think about what his friend has meant to him, how Jim took the night watch so he could sleep, how they laughed and survived together. Jim is his friend and that is worth reconsideration. Huck realizes that it’s either Jim’s friendship or hell. Then the great Mark Twain writes such wonderful words of resolve. Huck rips the paper and says, “Alright then, I guess I’ll go to hell.”
Twain did not believe in Hell, so far as I can tell, so I’m not sure what Twain thought of Huck’s sacrifice. Did he think Huck was taking an actual risk? I also note that the preacher or person who told Huck he’d go to Hell for not turning in Jim was wrong. But all that aside, the author of the article saw this as a case of sacrificial love in the mode of Jesus himself. Huck was willing to risk Hell to remain loyal to Jim.
I may be wrong, but I think this is the kind of sensibility folks such as the Rev. Dr. Thomas Ogletree have about their choices regarding church law and discipline. Loyalty matters more than consequences. I reflect on this because I am working on a post about Ogletree’s argument that takes a look at the structure of his argument (look for it tomorrow). The Haggard story reminds me that these are affairs of the heart, maybe primarily so.
In case you are interested, here is a video of Ted Haggard talking about how Christians become arrogant. Listen and you’ll hear him say “All means all.”
I have been wrestling recently with the meaning of being a pastor. Some of my recent posts reflect some of the questions and tensions. Often in times like these, I pull out well-worn books on my shelf: Will Willimon, Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen.
Here is one passage from Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus:
I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. … The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.
This is Nouwen’s deep conviction. I want to ask if he is correct, but I fear this is part of my recent struggle — the search for certain answers to uncertain questions. So, I will respond without attempting to pretend I know enough to judge him.
I hear in the call to “irrelevance” a different voice than the ones that animate my denomination. And so, I fear that listening to Henri Nouwen will make me an unfit United Methodist.
I see he ends with the “source of all human life,” and so I wonder if he is unconcerned with eternal questions. Is the pastor concerned finally with this life only? Or is eternity assumed by Nouwen and so unstated? Any true human life will extend beyond the grave, he might say. I do not know.
He says we offer our own vulnerable self. But is that true? I recall the painting on the seminary wall of Methodist preachers climbing into a ship with the words “Offer them Christ.” In addition to proclaiming Christ, do we not also offer Christ? And is this not something more important than our vulnerable selves?
Nouwen may have part of an answer to my questions:
The Christian leader of the future is the one who truly knows the heart of God as it has become flesh, “a heart of flesh,” in Jesus. Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begins to invade the human soul, this is not something that comes from God. This sounds very simple and maybe even trite, but very few people know that they are loved without any condition or limits.
Would John Wesley let Nouwen preach to a Methodist society? Or is such a question pointless given the change in time and place between the men? Would the Board of Ordained Ministry approve Nouwen’s candidacy? Would he lead people to Christ?
I am full of questions this week and few answers.
The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” (John 10:24-26, NIV)
Is this saying that we must first be a follower of Jesus before we begin to properly see his works and hear his voice? Belonging comes before believing?
Bob Walters put a link to this interesting Sam Wells article on his Facebook page. In the article Wells argues that the most important word in the Bible is “with” and that we often give ourselves problems because we think the most important word is “for.”
And that is why it is glorious, almost incredible, good news that God didn’t settle on “for.” God said unambiguously, “I am with.” Behold, my dwelling is among you. I have moved into the neighborhood. I will be “with” you always. My name is Emmanuel, God “with” us. Sure, there was an element of “for” in Jesus’ life. He was “for” us when he healed and taught; he was “for” us when he died on the cross; he was “for” us when he rose from the grave and ascended to heaven. These are things that only God can do and we cannot do. But the power of these things God did “for” us lies in that they were based on his being “with” us. God has not abolished “for.” But God, in becoming flesh in Jesus, has said there will never again be a “for” that is not based on a fundamental, unalterable, everlasting, and utterly unswerving “with.” That is the good news of the incarnation.
Wells’ larger point is to help us change our thinking about service. He wants us to think of service in terms of overcoming isolation before thinking about it as overcoming death.
It is a long but good read.
A man told me a few weeks ago about how concerned he was for another person, who I’ll call Joe. Joe is a good, moral man, but he does not have any particular belief in God. My friend was worried but also confused. He more or less equated “being a good person” with “being a Christian” and did not know how to deal with it when those two things did not go together.
I get the impression lots of Christians feel the same way. You hear lots of testimonies about how Jesus helped people clean up their act and become better people. And I don’t doubt that it happens. I know people who have had that experience. But “becoming a moral person” is not the end or aim of Christianity.
Many moral people are not Christians. I was a pretty good person long before I became a Christian. Christians are not immoral people, but being moral does not make a person a Christian. You can be moral and have no faith at all.
John Wesley often taught this exact thing. Look no further than standard sermon number two “The Almost Christian.” The whole point of that sermon is that you can be a moral, biblically literate, sincere, church going person who truly believes that Jesus Christ was a powerful teacher and prophet and still have missed the central point of it all. Being a Christian, Wesley preached, hangs on whether we have a sure trust and confidence that our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled with God.
Of course, we don’t follow Wesley in most things these days, but I do wonder if that leaves us with little answer to the man I mentioned at the start of this post. If Christianity is about the moral refinement of human beings and the material improvement of life on Earth, what does Christianity offer humanity that is not found in so many other places? If Jesus is a moral example — rather than a means of actual spiritual transformation — then why isn’t Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi just as useful?
If being a good Christian really is about being good, doing good, and showing up at church, then we really have no business bothering upstanding citizens with talk of Jesus. It is only if they are in need of something deeper than they can imagine that we can help them.
In that dream she had met Jesus in heaven. She and Jesus talked for some time, and she had never experienced such peace and joy. “Jesus had been everything I had hoped he would be,” she said. “And his signing was amazing!“
The point of story for Swinton was that for Angela heaven was not a place where her deafness would be healed, but where it would be normal.
I have written from time to time before about the way my son Luc has opened my eyes and raised questions that I had never encountered before. He has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
What will Jesus be like for him? Will they sit down together on a cozy sofa in heaven with a remote control in one hand, a cup of milk with a bendy straw close by, and watch Star Wars movies or Mary Poppins? Will Jesus like the dancing chimney sweeps as much a Luc? Will they laugh together?
These questions delight and perplex me. They call into question my intellectual, cognitive Christianity.
Gustavo Gutierrez writes in his book We Drink From Our Own Wells that following Jesus starts first by having a spiritual experience — an encounter. We have an experience before we develop a theology. Gutierrez quotes Anselm saying that we do not understand God and then believe. First we believe, then we slowly come to understand.
I wonder what experiences God and Luc have shared. I so wish I understood. I am humbled by the thought that my conception of the life of the Spirit is so weak that it can scarcely imagine how Luc and God relate to each other. I am chastened by the arrogance that sometimes leads me to act as if the ways of God are fully understood by me.
I am grateful for another line that Swinton wrote in that book. It is about his own work. It goes like this:
Negotiating the world of disability and the world of people who don’t consider themselves disabled can be tragic, frustrating and deeply joyful at the same time!
Yes, we are all disabled in one way or another. What I do not know is which disabilities God heals and which are little more than labels for people who do not fit our idea of what a normal person is and does.
DATELINE: JERUSALEM, 19th year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius
Today, Jesus of Nazareth issued an apology to all those he offended with his recent comments about the Scribes and Pharisees. He had compared the prominent religious leaders to rotting tombs and accused them of devouring widows. The charismatic, young itinerant preacher’s words at the Temple Mount were recorded by a member of the crowd and quickly went viral.
Jesus issued a statement today that reads in part: “I understand that my words yesterday may have offended some people. While I know people of good conscience can disagree about important issues of the day, I regret that some people were offended by my choice of words.”
High Priest Caiaphas declined to comment specifically on the Galilean preacher’s statement, but did say that it was not unusual for young men from the country to get overly enthusiastic when they come to the big city for the first time.
Spokesmen for Roman Governor Pontius Pilate refused to comment saying he had washed his hands of the local religious disputes.