Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The New Sacraments: Mystery

A couple weeks ago I was driving near the neighborhood I grew up in and passed an old church we used to attend in the late 1970s. It was called Macomb Christian Community Center back then but the name on the church now was Discovery Church

That got me thinking again on one of the "New Sacraments" I have been writing on recently. Previous sacraments of the church including baptism, marriage and Holy Communion have largely been replaced (at least in priority and importance) with Authenticity, Relevancy, and today's topic, Mystery aka "uncertainty".

Uncertainty and Mystery are BIG in the church today. Like the aforementioned Discovery Church, churches with names like Journey, and The Next Level are increasingly doting the American landscape and for a post-modern generation the message is clear, "I don't know, and you don't know...but maybe we can find out together."

Now, don't get me wrong! Like Authenticity, and Relevancy, I love a little Mystery in my Christianity. I readily admit I don't know everything and fully embrace Paul's admonition to the Corinthians that one day all will be clear but now we see as through a dirty window.

It's just that I'm not sure wearing uncertainty on my sleeve like some badge of honor has any long term appeal. When I attend a college course, I can appreciate the humility of an instructor who admits to not knowing everything about a subject, but at the end of the day, I'm more interested in what he knows than what he doesn't.

Only Socrates knew, after a lifetime of unceasing labor, that he was ignorant. Now every high-school student knows that. How did it become so easy? ---Alan Bloom

For the church, this over-emphasis has, in my opinion, long term consequences. Take for example when Pricilla nd Aquilla approached Apollos and asked him about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and he replied he hadn't even heard of that. They didn't respond that it was OK as each has his own God experience. No, they took him to the side and the Bible says, "expounded to him the way of God more perfectly"

There is a Mystery to be sure but Jesus says in Mark 14:11 "Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God" Again, what we know is more important that what we don't know. Returning to the names of churches, Christians in the New Testament were referred to as members of "the Way". Can you imagine a church or group of Christians calling themselves that today?

Again, I'm not suggesting Mystery in itself is wrong but rather the over reach of the topic, particularly in many younger and / or post-modern church streams, does not bode well for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Much of the pendulum swing is a reaction to the very real (but sometimes imagined) offenses committed by previous generations. Alan Bloom in his book The Closing of the American Mind says it well when he writes:

The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.

In like manner, many of today's Christians with a strong penchant for uncertainty grew up in very dogmatic evangelical Christian homes. Anyone who has been part of this culture for any length of time has been exposed to some forms of self-righteousness, arrogance, and hypocrisy by church leaders who KNEW they were right. Whenever these very human traits are exhibited without the Godly traits of humility, peace, and love our own perception of Christianity becomes distorted. Like Bloom suggests, our goal becomes then not to correct those mistakes and really be right, but to find comfort in not being right at all.

In the days when Christ walked the earth he was always "right". In him there was "no shadow or turning". No uncertainty. He was the straight path in a crooked world, the sure rock in a storm, and the anchor in the waves. I may be uncertain often but thats when I look to the Words of Christ to reset my compass to True North.

The world is looking for answers and we don't do anyone any favors by pretending we don't have one...when we do!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Perfect Game

The Perfect Game is the Royal Flush of baseball. In fact, in roughly 100 years of Major League Baseball there have only been 18.

27 batters...27 outs. Seems easy but so many things have to come together to produce it.

That's why this week Baseball fans around the country celebrated White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle's perfect 5-0 victory over Tampa Bay.

When it happens, its like lighting in a don't happen often...

and that's what makes it special!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Obama & The Daily Show

I caught the Obama press conference on health care this week and witnessed that "final question" he took in regards to the arrest of a black Harvard professor by a white Cambridge police officer.

I almost felt sorry for the president... almost!!

As soon as he said the police had acted "stupidly" I knew he was in trouble. Our first "black" president commenting on a controversial race issue when he was not aware of the facts? Everything he had said in the previous 50 minutes on health care would be drown out in the following day's news cycle. (and it was)

President Obama might have been saved if the history of Sgt. Crowley (the arresting officer) had shown any accusation of previous racist behaviour. Unfortunately, quite the contrary, Sgt. Crowley had once tried to save a black man's life by giving him mouth to mouth resuscitation and had been chosen by his African-American boss to teach classes on racial profiling; hardly a candidate to levy racist charges against.

As the facts began to emerge, Obama was made to look increasingly ridiculous by defending the foolish behaviour of a friend rather than the actions of a police officer doing his duty.

This is what happens when you stop thinking like the President of the United States and more like an urban community organizer with ACORN.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
White House M.D.
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

My sentiments were echoed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show the next evening. Watching Stewart trying to save Obama from himself is hysterical.

(Sorry the video includes all the health care stuff at the beginning. If you have the patience to watch it till the end, its REALLY funny)

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Christian Nation??

One of the themes I have consistently seen arise while viewing the blogs of my peers is the notion of whether America is a "Christian nation" or not. What I find interesting is that the debate's contestants are (typically) not American Christians vs. non but conservative Christians vs. their more liberal brethren.

Those espousing a Christian nation viewpoint produce a plethora of quotes, letters, and articles from America's Founding Father's proving (in their minds) that their intention was to be Christian from the start. The Left then (of course) counters with their arsenal of ammunition arguing that the Founders were more Deist than Christian and producing their own documentation cementing (in their minds) the notion that America is a secular, religiously neutral nation.

There in lies the crux of the issue. There is no singular proof that you can point to and say, "Ah Hah!" that is the end of the debate and the reason for that is because;

The Founding Father's were deliberately vague!

I took a Constitutional law class in grad school and realized that things would be much less argumentative if the Founder's had been a little more specific...but they weren't, and I believe that was intentional. The vagueness, frustrating as it can be sometimes, helps keep issues in balance. Neither side has enough ammuntion to score a touchdown. Instead there is an ongoing scrimmage near the 50 yrd line...which is where it should be

I must admit though that this particular post is inspired by a book I am currently reading by Richard Hofstader entitled, The American Political Tradition.

Hofstader, who certainly was not advocating Christianity, nevertheless begins the book on page one by claiming that the U.S. Constitution was inspired by the idea of original sin and the Fall of Man. Says Hofstader:

Long ago Horace White observed that the Constitution of the United States is "based upon the philosophy of Hobbs and the religion of Calvin." It assumes that the natural state of Man is a state of war and that the carnal mind is at enmity with God. The men who drew up the Constitution in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787 had a vivid Calvinistic sense of human evil and damnation and believed with Hobbs that men are selfish and contentious.

I wouldn't say this proves America a "Christian Nation" but the idea that our founding document was arguably written with the Judeo-Christian belief of original sin should at least give pause to consider where our cultural heritage lies.

I find most people's notions of culture and nations overly simplistic. Americans like to view themselves as this diverse mosaic of culture, ethnicity, and religion. To non-Americans though we are a "white", "Christian" country. Some years ago a missionary I knew was applying for a teaching position in China. The application asked for the applicant's religion and my friend asked what he should put. I answered, "Christian. To the Chinese we are a Christian country, to put anything else is what will get you unwanted scrutiny."

Americans are just as guilty of this overt simplicity. I often get comments from my compatriots like, "China? They're all Buddhist over there right?" When I remark that by 2050 China will have the largest Christian and Muslim populations at the same time, they appear shocked. They've seen David Carradine and Kung Fu and no fact is going to spoil the image that China is populated with millions of wisdom dispensing Shaolin priests.

Is America a Christian nation? Yes...and no. And thats the way I like it. I like the tension it produces. This side of heaven, I'm not looking for a theocracy. When Jesus sets it up, I'm in...until then thanks but no thanks.

On the other hand...

I don't like the direction this country is taking which tries to delink America from its Judeo-Christian underpinnings. We may like to "celebrate diversity" but I have lived and traveled in many places which have as their country's foundations the quaint "diversity" we celebrate here.

It usually isn't pretty!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Apollo 11 Anniversary

Since man began walking on this earth we have looked up at the moon with the dream of one day travelling there. Early science fiction writers such as Jules Verne speculated on what a trip to the moon might be like.

On July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong descended the ladder of the lunar lander and became the first man to set foot on another celestial body. The event is arguably the greatest achievement in human history.

I have always been a strong supporter of the manned space program. I think it is inexcusable that we have spent the last 35 years twittling our thumbs and reducing NASA's budgets rather than celebrating the 10th anniversary of landing a man on Mars!!

I recently saw an interview with an ex-NASA engineer from the 1970's that said the team of engineers were all ready for the challenge of how to land a man on Mars when the rug got pulled out from under them. There was neither the political will nor the budgeted funds to make it viable.

In the meantime, we got a rather uninspiring Space Shuttle program which never reached the potential it was boasted to achieve.

In 2004 President Bush challenged NASA to return us to the moon and use the new technology that would be developed to put a man on Mars.

Finally at least a little vision cast from the White House!!

It would not rival John Kennedy's invoking our reaching the moon by the end of the decade speech, but it was enough to get the ball rolling. However, because of budget cuts due to the economic crisis the new Constellation program to put a man back on the moon will be delayed to at least 2015. Currently the Obama administration is reviewing NASA's budget for possible further cuts. I pray that isn't the case.

Man has to explore. We decline as a civilization when we have no new horizons to conquer. So on this anniversary I want to salute those first brave explorers, Niel Armstrong, Buzz Aldren, and Michael Collins, who left our planet and for the first time walked on the moon.

It was truly "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Checking in

Hey everyone,

Just a little update to apologize for the lack of posts of late. Most of you know I live in China as a teacher at Yew Chung International School. Well, I am REALLY getting into this "teacher summer vacation" thing. We are in America now for a few weeks starting in Boulder Colorado and travelling across the country visiting friends, family...and national monuments. We stopped by the "Field of Dreams" in Iowa and I am currently writing this over coffee at the "Steel Magnolia" house in Louisiana!