Posts Tagged ‘Sharing Faith’

 

 

People have different ways of approaching reality. Some are analytical, reasoned, logical, etc. That’s not me. Not that I can’t be analytical, reasoned and logical. But those are deliberate disciplines that I practice; in contrast to my instinctive way of approaching the world which is through my feelings. I’m just a feeling kind of person.

Maybe too much sometimes. When people talk about having certain spiritual gifts I always say I have the spiritual gift of weeping – I cry at weddings and baptisms and movies. I can’t sing Charles Wesley’s And Can It Be without getting choked up. There’s just something about the words, “Amazing love! How can it be, that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” I’m not a very good singer, but I love to belt those words out. And then toward the end of the song when it says, “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” I usually have to keep myself from jumping up and down during that verse.

Jumping up and down to Charles Wesley – go figure.

Not surprisingly, I resonate with Scriptures like Paul’s word in Romans 8 that God’s Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children; and with John Wesley’s experience of having his heart “strangely warmed.” That kind of gut oriented experience of the faith is foundational for me.

So one of the most disorienting moments of my ministry happened when I was approached by a young woman toward the end of a weekend of preaching who earnestly asked how she could really know that God loved her if she couldn’t feel it.

This was a Cornerstone Celebration weekend so she had heard me preach three times already and had been involved in my three-hour teaching session on sharing our faith. Now it was about 5 minutes before the last service was to start and she was desperate to know if what I’d been talking about all weekend long was really true.

Was it really true that God loved her enough to become human in Jesus; was it really true that God’s love for her was radical enough to involve passionate sacrifice. She was sure it was true for everyone else since they could feel it; but it couldn’t possibly be true for her because she couldn’t.

You’ve probably already guessed that I was getting all misty as my mind raced, searching for some way to respond. She continued that it wasn’t just about feeling God’s love. She couldn’t feel anything. Things had happened in her past and she had dealt with them by repressing, pushing down and blocking out any and all feeling within her. I have no feelings, she said and as I looked into her eyes, I believed her.

How is it that we come to know God’s love? Is it only when we feel God’s Spirit “bearing witness” with our spirit? Is it only when our hearts are “strangely warmed?” Is there more to it than that? If we’re not a “feeling kind of person,” does God not work in us and through us anyway?

I was really struggling as the woman patiently waited for my response. My heart was breaking and I was petrified that somehow I would compound her pain. That in my bumbling I would somehow contribute to her certainty that God couldn’t possibly love her since she wasn’t able to feel it.

Way back in the mid-400′s Patrick began preaching in Ireland. He traveled from settlement to settlement, staying with the people, loving them and working among them. Through his ministry, monastic communities sprang up. These communities were different from what we normally think of when we think of monastic communities where monks separated themselves from the rest of society for a life of solitude and prayer. These were communities of committed Christ followers who lived and worked together, sharing resources, love and life together. There were men and women, adults and kids; some were single, some were married, some had families – some were priests but most weren’t, and they were all together in community.

One of the things that made these communities so cool was the way they treated outsiders. There was always a gatekeeper – not to keep anybody out – but to be on duty all the time so that anyone who wanted to come in could come in – no matter what time of the day or night it was. If you visited the community the gate keeper would welcome you first and then call everyone to come greet you. The abbot or abbess (head of the community) would immediately come out to make sure you felt at home. It wouldn’t matter what people were doing, they would stop because making guests feel welcome was more important than anything else. Then they’d show you to the guest house – the best accommodations in the whole place. When it was time to eat, you’d eat at the head table with the abbot/abbess. It would be clear that you could stay as long as you wanted, but you were also free to leave at any time. You could eat with the community, work with the community, worship with the community – always welcome to share in everything about the community. If you stayed for a while they’d assign you a ‘soul friend’ to talk to – no agenda – just about whatever was on your mind. Eventually, if you continued to stay they’d talk to you about God’s love and offer you the opportunity to become more than a guest.

It was a slow process of revealing God’s love; a process that started with the concept of belonging and acceptance and moved only gradually toward commitment. It was a process that took time because it was about providing evidence of God’s love. Not evidence in the form of skilled argument or tight logic; not even the evidence of any specific feeling even though that was probably part of it for most people. It was the evidence of action – consistent actions of love, continued day in and day out – actions that made God’s love visible and tangible and real through the welcoming, caring, support and nurture of people. Evidence through action that people have value simply because they are.

The minutes were passing faster than I wanted them to. I could tell the worship leaders were ready to get started but couldn’t since the woman and I were standing front and center in the sanctuary. I asked her why she came to this particular church. She said that the people were kind to her and took her in when she returned to town after a long absence. In the few years since she’d been back, they’d consistently helped her and her children. Over and over they had been there for her even in really difficult times. It was kind of like they had made space – just for her.

That’s how you know.

Get Out of the Way

Madeleine L’Engle writes:

Madeleine L’Engle

When the artist is truly the servant of the work, the work is better than the artist; Shakespeare knew how to listen to his work, and so he often wrote better than he could write; Bach composed more deeply, more truly than he knew; Rembrandt’s brush put more of the human spirit on canvas than Rembrandt could comprehend.

When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.

But before he can listen, paradoxically, he must work. Getting out of the way and listening is not something that comes easily, either in art or in prayer.

It’s true in art and in prayer, but also in faith itself – particularly in sharing that faith. When we are ‘servants of the work,’ as L’Engle describes, just as the artist allows the work to take over, so we allow the Holy Spirit, which moves within us and through us, to take over. Just as the artist is enabled to get out of the way – to not interfere – we are enabled to become vehicles of transformation in the lives of others. Not the source of transformation, mind you, but fortunate witnesses of a power deeper that we can comprehend.

Like with the artist’s work, when the Holy Spirit takes over, we must listen – deeply, attentively, openly. Not only to the Spirit, but to the other with whom we share – listening deeply, attentively, openly.

But, as L’Engle says, there is a paradox. Like the artist, before we can get out of the way and listen we must work. To be a ‘servant of the work’ we must launch ourselves into it, trusting that the work is bigger and better than we are. So we make space, build relationships, take risks, share vulnerabilities and allow the Spirit to take over; allow the Spirit to enable us not to interfere, but to be fortunate witnesses of a power deeper than we can comprehend.

Kim Reisman

Kim Reisman

 

 

Out on a Walk…

 

Because I’ve got a hugely busy time coming up during the next month or so, I’m trying to get a head start on some Next Step posts. I was perusing some of what I’ve written in the past & came across some interesting stuff.

Back in March, 2009 I wrote this…

Meister Eckhart

Meister Eckhart

I’ve got a great set of note cards that has a beautiful drawing of African women strutting with baskets on their heads & drums on their hips. The drawing is called Virgins Dancing by Stella Atal.* I love the art, but it’s the quote from Meister Eckhart that pulls it all together:

God is always at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk.

 I wonder sometimes if we in the church haven’t gone out for a walk – a long one. We seem to put our energy into so many things – good things, important things – but then we overlook, or worse, even forget, the foundational things.

I’m lucky to even be writing this given my long absence from the world of blogging. These days it seems that my work demands that I write for every venue but this one. So I won’t waste valuable time lecturing about what’s foundational & what’s not. But here’s a random thought. Is it possible that it’s not really about ‘creating new places for new people & renewing existing ones’ as the bishops & General Conference have said? Could it really be about offering the life transforming grace of God through Jesus Christ to the world?

Stella Atal

God is always at home...

The whole creating new places things sounds like a good idea, but what kind of new places for new people are we talking about? I’d like to assume that when the bishops (or whoever it was) came up with such a catchy phrase they were talking about creating communities of faith living as the body of Christ. Even better, I’d like to assume they were talking about communities of faith living as the body of Christ & committed to proclaiming the gospel of the Messiah Jesus in order to bring people into a life transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. I’d like to think they were expressing a commitment to evangelism. But somehow I wonder. Nobody’s really talking about Jesus in any of this – at least not out loud – & God forbid we use the dreaded ‘E’ word. So who knows? The way things are going these new places for new people could wind up being coffee shops for fellowship (not a bad thing in & of itself). Or free trade stores to promote a more just form of capitalism – again, not a bad thing – but not quite the same thing as connecting people with the source of life abundant.

I don’t really know what to make of it really. So I wonder. Because as good as it sounds, it still feels like we’re out on a walk – a long walk.

 

Hmmm….sounds familiar…

 

*Sadly, the url I used in 2009 is no longer active – but here’s what I found for Stella Atal.

Tattooed Love

Many of you know how important stories are to me – faith stories, family stories – they’re all significant in shaping us.

Steve Beard

Steve Beard

Here’s one I came across that made me smile. I can just picture my father chatting it up with a bunch of tattoo artists. Steve Beard wrote about it back in 2003 in Good News Magazine. Here’s what Steve wrote:

 

Bobby Doran is not exactly your typical evangelist. He spends most of his time poking people with sharp objects for a living. Ink, blood, rubber gloves—and a smile. Doran is an artist at The Tattoo Shop in Forth Worth, Texas, and recently garnered headlines by becoming the latest record holder for 30 hours of continuous tattooing.

Even though you won’t find his vocation listed in a seminary course catalog, Doran considers tattooing his ministry. “The church for years has looked at tattoos as a bad thing. We are trying to show a different side of it,” he told Knight Ridder News Service. “Ninety percent of the people who walk into a tattoo shop will never walk into a church. So if we can be the only church that they see, well, that’s good.”

Doran is no high-pressure preacher. “I don’t force anything down anybody’s throat, but when God says talk to them, I talk to them,” he says. His wife Tanya reports: “We’ve had people break down and cry and give themselves up to God. If it happens, it happens.”

Doran’s world record reminded me of a story I heard recently from the Rev. Jim Smith, pastor of St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church in Amarillo, Texas. It seems that a few years ago, Smith found himself in an elevator with an exotic couple. The young man’s hair was spiked, his sleeveless shirt displayed his ink-colored arms, and his eyebrow and earlobes were pierced. Her tattoos and piercings were displayed through her less-than-modest leather and denim outfit.

On the other side of the elevator stood Smith in his blue blazer, striped tie, and white starched shirt. He was, after all, on his way to chair the board meeting of the Confessing Movement, an evangelical reform ministry within the United Methodist Church.

In order to break the awkward silence, Smith said aloud, “Well, I don’t suppose we are going to the same meeting.” That sparked a laugh and began the conversation between the buttoned-down preacher and the inked-up couple. It turns out that they were at the hotel for the Old School Reunion—a tattoo artist convention. The couple even invited the pastor to check it out for himself; he thanked them for the invitation and went off to his meeting.

Maxie Dunnam

Maxie Dunnam

After the board meeting, Jim was invited by Dr. Maxie Dunnam, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, to grab a cup of coffee. Smith told Dunnam that he had already been invited to an event at the hotel.

“To what?” asked Dunnam. “To the Old School Reunion,” Smith responded.

The two of them scooted through the hotel in their business suits looking around for the tattoo convention. When they found the registration desk, they were greeted by an older gentleman covered in ink. He recognized that the two men were obviously not there to get a touch up on their dragon tattoos.

Bedecked in a sleeveless t-shirt, black leather vest, and rings wobbling off his earlobes, the man turned out to be the head of the convention and invited Dunnam and Smith to look around as his guests.

Jesus tattooAssuming the pair knew little about tattoos, he held out his right arm and showed the two visitors a picture of Jesus ascending into heaven. They both stared in amazement at the inked forearm.

Unsure if his new friends recognized the figure on his arm, the man said, “Jesus was the son of God. His Father sent him into the world to be our savior. He died on the cross to forgive our sins and was raised from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is praying for you.” He then winsomely asked his two guests, “Have you ever heard this story before?”

The two ministers had just heard the most succinct presentation of the gospel ever. When they confessed they were Methodist preachers, the tattooed man shouted, “Praise God! You’re my brothers!” He proceeded to hug his new friends right in the middle of the convention.

Kim Reisman

Kim Reisman

“That was the first time in my life I’ve been hugged by a man in a leather vest and earrings,” Smith testifies.

The three of them went from booth to booth as the man told his tattooed colleagues to “meet my two brothers.” Pierced ears. Crew cuts. Leather vests. Navy blazers. Sleeveless t-shirts. White starched shirts. Tattoos. Neckties. Two worlds collided and the grace of God settled in some unpredictable directions.

While he was on the elevator first surveying the tattooed couple, Jim Smith had wondered who would be able to witness for Christ to them. Culturally, he and they were from two separate stratospheres. But later as the three new friends went from booth to booth at the tattoo convention, Smith was reminded that God is never left without a witness—even a few colorful ones to keep us on our toes and remind us that he is covering all the bases.

 

God is never left without a witness. What’s your next step?

Interesting thoughts and happenings…

atheist billboards

American Atheists Billboards

 

 

American Atheists, one of the largest atheist organizations in the nations, has unveiled two new billboards in New York and New Jersey which target Muslim and Jews, asking them to reconsider their religion. Read more…

 

 

 

 

Church Life

Check out Church Life, a new open source (meaning free of charge) journal from Notre Dame’s Center for Liturgy. The journal focuses on the “New Evangelization” in the Roman Catholic Church. With an emphasis on catechesis (teaching), discerning vocation and liturgical formation, it’s got important information for Methodists as well. Just fill out the online registration form and you can download or read online for free.

 

 

 

Elon School of Communication

Hyperconnected lives

 

 

Interesting information from the Pew Foundation on millennials and their  hyperconnected lives. How will this unfolding reality affect how we relate to this generation? Read more…

 

Click here to read part 1.

 

Kimberly Reisman

Kim Reisman

…What would it look like if the God of the world – the High God – actually was the God of all nations and tribes? What would it look like if we could get a handle on the fact that the God of the world loves each tribe and nation equally?

 

It’s easy to talk about the world being one, about all of us being children of God and of equal value and importance. But I don’t think we realize how absolutely radical that concept really is. As Christ followers, we don’t realize how radical it is because we’ve inherited the idea from the Gospel – it’s an essential part of the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s one part of the message that turned the world upside down when Paul and the first faith sharers began to witness to it.

This idea that we’re all of equal value and importance isn’t a human idea. That’s why it turned the world upside down when people first started sharing it. Humans could never have come up with an idea as radical as the thought that God loves all of us, regardless of tribe or nation. We couldn’t have come up with it because we’re too focused on tribe and nation. It’s that focus that’s torn God’s world apart. Whether it’s between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, or between blacks and whites in the United States, or between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East; whether it’s because of gender differences, economic differences, religious differences, class differences, the result is always the same – one group positioned against another, violence in body or in spirit always at the forefront. That’s the human idea. That’s the force that Peter and Paul fought against so desperately; that’s the elementary human evil the whole bible squares off against.

A friend of mine tells a story about meeting a Muslim woman from Indonesia on an airplane shortly after 9/11. They struck up a conversation and my friend admitted that he’d been praying a lot in those frightening and confusing days. The woman said, yes, she’d been praying a lot too, and she’d decided that it was time to find out exactly what her prayers really meant. She didn’t speak Arabic, which is the only language of Islam, so she didn’t understand any of the prayers that she’d prayed daily all of her life.

What a contrast to the God made real in Jesus Christ, the God of all languages, not just one. The God who invites us to speak in our heart language, the language our mothers taught us. That God would hear us as we pray in our heart language – whatever language that might be – points to the fact that the gospel, that secret hidden from the beginning of the world, is outside every culture – it’s supracultural. It broke into our world from the outside, from beyond any of us, in order to be offered to all of us.

It seems to me one of our problems is that we’ve confused the gospel with the church. The church has become the vessel of salvation so that those who are inside are saved and those outside are lost. But salvation isn’t some kind of magic formula. You don’t get it because you discover the perfect mixture of the sacraments and church membership. Salvation is the result of the love of God and God’s grace at work in each of our lives – and God’s grace doesn’t exist exclusively in the United States or anywhere else. Every nation and tribe that would seem “foreign” to us is a nation or tribe already loved by God. Before we ever arrive, before we ever encounter, before we ever begin to build a bridge, God is there, loving and making signs of that love manifest in the lives of all the peoples of the earth. Before we ever make any connection, before we ever attempt to share our faith, God is there and God’s saving work has already begun. If the God made real in Jesus Christ were not already in love with the entire world, he could not truly be the High God we know him to be. Instead, the wise old Masai man Ndangoya would be correct in saying, “This High God of whom you speak, he could not possibly love Christians more than pagans, could he? Or he would be more of a tribal god than ours.”

Vincent Donovan

Vincent J. Donovan

That brings me back to my original question. Do we really know the High God? When others look at us, do they see what Vincent Donovan saw – that we have not found the High God, that our tribe has not known him, that for us, too, he is the unknown God? How would our lives change if we really understood the fact that the God made real in Jesus Christ – the God of the world – loves each tribe and nation equally? How would that understanding change how we looked at other tribes and clans – even in our own communities? How would we act and relate to others? What next step do we need to take so that our lives really reflect the gospel truth that the God made real in Jesus Christ – the High God – actually is the God of the whole world, of every heart language, of every nation and tribe?

Do you know the High God? Are you searching for him? I invite you to search for him with me. Let’s search for him together. Maybe together we will find him.

 

Christianity Rediscovered ~ Vincent J. Donovan

In his book Christianity Rediscovered, Vincent J. Donovan tells the story of his work with the Masai people in Africa.

He begins by telling them about the God of the tribe of Abraham who “had become a God who was no longer free. He was trapped in that land, among that tribe. He had to be freed from that nation, that tribe, that land in order to become the High God.”

He goes on to tell them how God called Abraham to leave his land, his people, his tribe, and travel to a land God would show him and how God promised that all nations would be blessed through Abraham if he did this. Then Donovan challenges the Masai, suggesting that maybe they needed to leave their nation and tribe and land – at least in their thoughts – and go in search of the High God, the God of all tribes, the God of the world. He says, “Perhaps your God is not free. Do not try to hold him here or you will never know him. Free your God to become the High God. You have known this God and worshipped him, but he is greater than you have known. He is the God not only of the Masai, but also my God, and the God of the Kikuyu and Sonjo, and the God of every tribe and nation in the world…There is only the God who loves us no matter how good or how evil we are, the God you have worshipped without really knowing him, the truly unknown God – the High God.”

After listening attentively, someone asks a simple, but profound question, “This story of Abraham – does it speak only to the Masai? Or does it speak also to you? Has your tribe found the High God? Have you known him?”

What a profound question. Do we know the High God? As Americans, we certainly have a history of being supremely confident that “almighty God” was and is on our side – regardless of what war we’re fighting. Which god is that? Is the god we invoked to bless our troops in Vietnam as they “destroyed villages in order to save them,” the same god invoked by the pope to bless the troops of Mussolini just before they plundered Ethiopia? Is it the same god as the French God of glory – le bon Dieu – or the German Gott, der Allmächtige? And which god is it that we called upon in the midst of the turmoil in Iraq or Afghanistan?

Kimberly Reisman

Kim Reisman

None of these sounds like the High God to me, any more than Allah or Buddha appear to be the High God. There seems to be a desperate need to rehear the message of Abraham – leave your land, your nation. Learn of the High God, the God of the world who desires to bless all nations.

Vincent Donovan

Vincent J. Donovan

Do we really know the High God? Donovan’s answer to the Masai question seems like the most honest answer for us as well. “No, we have not found the High God. My tribe has not known him. For us, too, he is the unknown God. But we are searching for him. I have come a long, long distance to invite you to search for him with us. Let us search for him together. Maybe together we will find him.”

Maybe together we will find him…What would it look like if the God of the world – the High God – actually was the God of all nations and tribes? What would it look like if we could truly grasp what Paul was trying to say in his letter to Titus - that the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. What would it look like if we could get a handle on the fact that the God of the world loves each tribe and nation equally? How would it change how we looked at other tribes and clans? How would it change how we acted and related to each other?

The View from Here

Thursday, January 12th, 2012 | By John Meunier
Filed in: John Meunier, The View from Here

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Are bad habits stopping us from being an evangelistic congregation?

 

This is the question I ask myself after reading James C. Logan’s book How Great a Flame! Contemporary

John Meunier

Lessons from the Wesleyan Revival. Near the end of the short book, Logan, a retired seminary professor, lists six bad habits that prevent local congregations from living out a vital evangelistic ministry.

In short form, these six bad habits are:

  • Leaving evangelism to the clergy
  • Thinking of evangelism as membership recruitment
  • Adopting the attitude “our doors are open, anyone who comes is welcome”
  • Believing that active evangelism is socially or culturally inappropriate
  • Divorcing the saving of souls from social action
  • Turning to institutional survival as our primary purpose

I read this list and find myself examining my own attitudes about evangelism and the attitudes and actions of my congregation. Do we show signs of these bad habits?

Logan writes that there are two ways to drive out these habits. First, we need to stir up a real passion for Jesus Christ in ourselves. If we do not love Jesus, then we will not be bold about proclaiming his name in the public square and to our neighbors. Second, we must convert our local churches from being all about survival to being all about mission. Keeping the doors open is not the purpose of the church. Reaching out and making disciples is.

Easier said than done, of course, but we have to be honest about what we are and what habits and attitudes shape our today before we can start to create a new tomorrow.

I don’t have a complete answer to the question I raised at the top of this post. Is my congregation caught in bad habits? I suspect, at least to some degree, that answer is yes. But I’m still a long way from understanding that fully. Logan gives me some ideas about how to do that. He might help your congregation as well.

Kimberly Reisman

Kim Reisman

What’s Your Next Step?

In the flesh…

An intriguing commonality between those who follow the Jesus way and non believers is a general distaste for evangelism. Certainly this dislike doesn’t apply to everyone, believer or not; nor does it stem from an accurate understanding of what evangelism is all about. But the dislike is there. From the world’s perspective it’s an aversion to anything smacking of targeting, any attempt to “convert,” alter, or change another person in the area of faith. From the Christ follower’s perspective it’s a deep embarrassment about sharing something as profoundly personal as the experience of being in relationship with God through Jesus; it’s a strong fear of being seen as manipulative, coercive or simply overbearing. The negative image of the televangelist looms large in all our consciences. Mary Chapin Carpenter sings about this sense of leeriness in her song I Take My Chances from the CD Come On Come On:

 

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Mary Chapin Carpenter

I sat alone in the dark one night, tuning in by remote.

I found a preacher who spoke of the lightbut there was brimstone in his throat.

He’d show me the way according to him in return for my personal check.

I clicked my channel back to CNN and I lit another cigarette.

I take my chances…yes…forgiveness doesn’t come with a debt.

 

Yet those who follow the Jesus way actually have great news to share – the truth (to mention only one) that forgiveness really doesn’t come with a debt! And that news, when shared as it should be, is not the least bit coercive or manipulative. But our dislike for faith sharing is so great, our fear of being lumped in the same category as the preacher who speaks of the light but has brimstone in his throat is so paralyzing, that Christ followers have abdicated the witness of our faith to others, seeing it as something that happens at special times, in special places, led by special people with special gifts.

How sad that sharing the good news, news the world so desperately needs to hear, has been limited to such special (and seemingly rare) environments, when instead it could be a natural part of the relationships of trust that make up our daily lives. How sad that we’ve missed the foundational concept of faith sharing – that it is incarnational.

As Christ followers, our relationship is with an incarnational God – a God who came to us in the flesh, willingly choosing to become human in Jesus. That’s not just part of the message we proclaim, it’s the model for the way we live in the world and the way we share our faith. When we come to see following the Jesus way and sharing our faith in that way – as an incarnational undertaking – we realize the importance of entering the world of those we seek to reach – being with them in the flesh, not just on the surface. As the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, entering our world fully and completely, we seek to be vehicles through which Jesus enters the worlds of those around us – our co-workers and friends, our neighbors, strangers we meet as we go about our day.

Incarnational thinking broadens our understanding of what it means to share our faith, moving it beyond special events and attractions toward a more holistic concept, one that emphasizes entering the worlds of others fully and completely, through word, deed and sign. Our entire existence as Christ followers – the connections we make between our faith and our daily lives, the way we live in the world – should be laid on the holistic framework of word, deed and sign. A deep and lively faith will always hold these three elements in balance.

As we live each day, we proclaim the good news – both formally and informally – in our conversation, in our expression. This is the framework of word. The world hears our words, the words of every Christ follower, not just those of our preachers and teachers. All those beside whom we live and work and play hear and listen. When we struggle, they hear our struggle. When we celebrate, they hear our celebration. When we enter their struggle – in the flesh, not just on the surface – they hear those words as well. When we share their celebration – in the flesh, not just on the surface – their joy is enhanced by the sound of ours. For every divisive word spoken by a Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, the world waits to hear a word from us – what will our word be? A word of confirmation or a word of the gospel?

As we live each day we proclaim the good news and we act – practicing what we preach and preaching what we practice. In this way word and deed come together. They are as intimately entwined as breathing in and breathing out, deciding which is the most important depends on which one you did last. As the world hears our words, the world watches our actions. The world watches as we live out our faith – in the flesh, not in theory – even in the most mundane elements of our lives. The world watches the way we treat or mistreat others, the way we reach out or ignore those who suffer, stand with or against those who are oppressed, work for or against reconciliation, trust and love. What will our next step be? Will our actions reflect our words?  Will our words ring true when illustrated in the flesh, by our behavior?

As we live each day we proclaim the good news, we act in ways that provide evidence for that good news, and we engage in activities of significance that point to Jesus Christ. This is the framework of sign. We participate in and provide opportunities for those around us to experience signs of our living God, those visible tokens of invisible realities that are spiritually significant – Eucharist, prayer, art, music, miracles, healings – any and all pointing to Jesus Christ and his redemptive power.

Word, deed and sign. In the flesh, not just in theory or on the surface. That’s the only way to follow in the Jesus way with integrity and faithfulness. That’s the only way to avoid the world’s image of Christians as those who speak of the light but have brimstone in their throat. So what is your next step? What will you do next? Word? Deed? Breathe in? Breathe out? I suppose it depends on whatever you did last.

Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson

I’ve been on vacation so I’m trying to catch up on things. Andrew Thompson, a friend of mine through the John Wesley Fellowship blogs regularly at Gen-X Rising & he posted a great blog on Friday that I thought was worth a rerun….

Faith: Preach it, or live it!

A news story caught my eye over the past few days. It may suggest something about the current state of Methodism — or at least that Methodism with which I am connected. But it certainly says something about the media perception of “respectable Christianity” in the broader culture. I’ll cite the story first and then offer comments.

Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens (source: Wikipedia)

My interest is in a story by Robert King of the Indianapolis Star on Coach Brad Stevens of Butler University, the  34-year old basketball coach who has taken the Butler Bulldogs to the NCAA final each of the past two years.

King’s article looks at Coach Stevens’ faith, which was formed during his childhood at the United Methodist congregation in Zionsville, Indiana. The coach remains a committed Christian and member of St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis. He inspires his team and his community with his character, and he expresses his faith in practically everything about the way he lives his life. In general King’s story is a wonderful profile of a man who, by all accounts, is exemplary. (I’ve seen other articles online in the past about Stevens’ faith, including this one on the UMC’s website and this wonderful anecdote by blogger John Meunier; all of them have been complimentary without reserve.)

What gets me is the way in which Stevens is contrasted with former NFL coach Tony Dungy, who is well-known for being outspoken about his own Christian faith and has become a prolific author and speaker on matters of faith and character since his retirement from coaching. (Dungy is also well-known to the reading audience of King’s Indianapolis Star, of course, since he coached the Indianapolis Colts for several years.) In presenting Brad Stevens’ approach to the practice of his faith, King states that the Butler coach “has always thought faith should be something that’s lived out, rather than talked up.” But the journalist is not alone in expressing those views: both Judith Cebula of Butler University and the Rev. Kent Millard (Stevens’ pastor) are quoted making statements later in the article that support King’s initial contrast of Dungy and Stevens.

This sort of thing punches my buttons — and here I’m not talking about Cebula or Millard, who could have been quoted out of context and used to support a point-of-view the article’s author (King) was wanting to advance regardless of their own sentiments. I’m also not talking about Brad Stevens for that matter, who makes no statement at all in the article to support the negative connotations that King is applying to those (like Dungy) who speak openly and publicly about their faith. I’m talking about Robert King himself, who has set up the entire profile of Stevens as based on a view with which he implicitly expects us to sympathize – i.e., that those who are outspoken (read: “preachy”) about their faith are uncouth and probably somewhat inauthentic, since clearly they only care about “talking up” their faith instead of living it out. The positive converse, of course, is the humble and quiet approach of Stevens, who leads by example and supposedly won’t make anyone uncomfortable at a dinner party by bringing Jesus into the conversation.

If you read King’s article and follow what I’m saying here, you can start to see how unfortunate this sort of thing is. First – and most important – it would be entirely possible to profile the faith and character of Brad Stevens on its own merits. That is, after a fashion, what both the other stories I cite above are doing from UMC.org and Meunier’s blog. And anyway, the fact that there are other stories are out there about Stevens’ faith indicates he’s not as quiet about it as King would have us believe: Stevens sat for the interview with the UMC.org author, he’s noted in Meunier’s post that he was appearing in two services at his home church to be recognized for his accomplishments with the Bulldogs, and the photo attached to King’s own article in the Star is of Stevens speaking before his congregation on behalf of his church’s capital campaign. Those might not combine to add up to “preachy,” but I wouldn’t exactly call them “quiet” either.

Second, and most disappointingly, Tony Dungy is used as a complete foil in the article. There is nothing presented as evidence to suggest that Dungy is a hypocritical or inauthentic Christian. There is only the vague suggestion that Dungy’s more vocal approach to his faith is obviously less desirable. That’s unfair to Dungy, perhaps inaccurate to Stevens, and unnecessary in general. If you want to state that Tony Dungy is a loudmouth hypocrite, then state it and offer your reasons. If you want to make the case that Christians are tolerable when they don’t offend polite society, then make it. But don’t use a man like Dungy as a foil to shine a positive light on someone else. Both Dungy and Stevens seem to be positive role models and faithful Christians, each in his own way. Can’t you just let them?

Third, the tack taken by Robert King here represents one of the most oft-cited and most erroneous opinions about religious faith. He’s implying that you can either preach it or live it, but not both. It is clear what he favors, and that’s why I said at the outset that his article is offering us a representative commentary on the media’s view of Christianity in broader American culture. It is okay so long as it is so unobtrusive as to be almost unnoticeable; in fact, that’s when we’ll praise it. The media is tolerant of Christians when it doesn’t see them as threatening in anyway. It wants a Christianity that equates to good, harmless American citizenship and acceptance of the values of a liberal democratic society. Giving voice to faith is what makes it start to seem threatening, and that’s when the forces of culture bear down with persecution and, ultimately, with violence. If you don’t believe me, read the Acts of the Apostles.

Don’t mistake me. I’m not being critical of Brad Stevens or the way he goes about the practice of his faith. I admire the man, and I suspect his character and witness are far superior to my own. I’m simply trying to point out a phenomenon that appears again and again at the intersection between the church and the culture. In the end, it can never be either “preach it” or “live it.” It has to be both. Those who preach but don’t follow up their words with deeds are hypocrites and liars. And those who live their faith but are unwilling to give voice to it are cowards who are ashamed of the gospel by which they claim to abide. The culture will always try to domesticate the church, and for that reason its efforts must be vigilantly pointed out for what they are and resisted at every turn.

 

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