Thursday, September 29, 2011

How Can I Keep From Singing?

My life flows on in endless song:
Above earth's lamentation,
I catch the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul--
How can I keep from singing?

- Robert Wadsworth Lowry, 1868

I've wanted to start off this blog with a few posts that express where I'm coming from, where my roots and foundations are, and where my passion lies. If you wanted to put labels on me (labels can be useful but also limiting, so I wear them only loosely), you could say I'm an idealist and a synthesist. I look at life not so much in terms of the way things are, but in terms of the way things ought to be: the ideal. At the same time, I have a fundamental urge to bring disparate or conflicting things/people together, to find ways they can relate, things they have in common. Sometimes the two work together: in an ideal world, opposition would not mean conflict, but mutual appreciation and harmony. Sometimes, though, my idealism and my synthesism are actually in opposition to one another. I can't bring something that I feel deeply is fundamentally wrong, into harmony with the good which it opposes. I can only hope that someday the wrong will be made right.

The old song lyrics above represent my basic attitude towards life: a vision of the ideal carries me through opposition to ultimate harmony. My vision strives to be the vision of Jesus: the new creation, the kingdom of heaven, which has come, is coming, and will someday come in completion. The new creation is inaugurated through the New Covenant that Christ ratified with his sacrifice. In the new creation, we "no longer view anyone according to the flesh." 2 Cor. 5:16-17. The new creation destroys the dividing lines of race, gender, class and economic status. The new creation is where idealism and synthesism meet and join hands forever.

This, then, is the light in which I try to live. This is the way I read the Bible: in terms of the grand sweep of God's redemption through human history. God created humankind in God's image-- but humankind, given a choice whether or not to trust God, chose not. God established first an Old Covenant kingdom based on being led by law, into which to bring the Christ. Christ's coming brought a New Covenant based on being led by the Spirit. Gal. 5:18. The New Covenant began to bring in the new creation, the kingdom of God-- and I look at all of the Bible in terms of where each book and passage fits within that grand sweep. Galatians 3:28-4:7 are about far more than our equality in salvation. That passage is one of the central descriptions of what the new creation is all about. We are all "sons of God," because we have all received the "adoption as sons." That phrase "adoption as sons" (Gal 4:5) was understood by the original, ancient Greek audience to mean something special and specific-- and what God inspired is the message that the original author wrote, as the original audience would have understood it. We can't understand what it means to us, until we see what it meant to them. And what they understood was that to be "adopted as a son" meant the granting to an adoptee of full status as a male free-born citizen, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. Paul did not say we were adopted as "sons and daughters," because daughters had far less status, rights and privileges in that society-- and Paul intended to convey that everyone in the groups he mentioned had the same status, the same rights and privileges. And what they all had -- Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female-- was "adoption as sons." That's what the original audience would have understood, and that's what we should understand now.

For too long some Christians have said to others, "We are the ones with the powers and privileges, the spiritual gifts and callings to leadership. You have salvation in Christ, and we are all equal in that-- but if you desire the leadership gifts that belong to us, you're out of your proper place; you're overstepping your bounds. Be content with your salvation and don't sin by thinking you can do what we do in the kingdom." But this is not what the new creation, the kingdom of God, is about. Any interpretation of Scripture that contradicts the essence of the new creation, cannot be correct.

Much of the church is in conflict over this issue as it relates to women's place in the church and home. My synthesistic heart grieves and wants us all brought together. But my idealistic heart will not rest until the kingdom comes as it was meant to be. "Through all the tumult and the strife" -- and believe me, I have been attacked and opposed-- I still hear the music ringing. The sweet, far-off hymn hails the new creation, and someday it will end the strife. But for now, we who desire the new-creation kingdom must stand (in love and a spirit of gentleness, but confidently) against all views that are according to the flesh-- according to race, economic status or gender. And we will succeed.

How can I keep from singing?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Twelve Good Things I Learned From Being in a Coercive Religious Group

When I started college back in 1981, I got involved a Christian group that practiced "shepherding," in which there was top-down heirarchical leadership and which had many characteristics of spiritual abuse. Eventually the group dissolved. I made many good friends there, though, who are my friends still. Those years were certainly not a loss; in fact, they form part of my motivation to see other Christians set free of authoritarian religious structures.

Here are twelve ideas I brought out of those years:

1. I must read and learn what the Bible says for myself, with a mind to context, the original language and cultural understanding, and authorial intent. Anyone, leader or layperson, can be in error. Including myself-- a good reason to keep studying and learning.

2. Every adult's relationship with God is ultimately their own responsibility. Being "my brother's keeper" does not mean being my brother's watchdog.

3. Christ needs to be both Lord and Savior in my life. It is not a good idea to emphasize either one to the point where it weakens the other.

Christ came to set us free of the law. This was not so that we could turn the New Testament into a whole new set of even harder laws-- it was so we could walk in the Spirit and love one another.

5. It is never a good idea to give other human beings power/control over life choices that should be between myself and God. Conversely, I should never assume power over anyone else's life that that person is meant to exercise as an individual before God.

6. When a human being allows him/herself to be elevated above other human beings rather than humbly serving, negative results will almost always ensue. Celebrity status in the Kingdom belongs only to Christ.

7. Talking about negative things that happened is often actually necessary to process them and come to a place of forgiveness/healing. Conversely, silencing legitimate complaints/criticisms from others is a good way to never have to change or become more Christlike.

8. I am Christ's witness, not His salesman. I should always share about my life in Christ with respect for others' viewpoints and needs.

9. Sometimes people who hurt me are never going to say they're sorry. Forgiving them anyway is not a way of legitimizing what they did; it's just a way to leave them in God's hands and walk away free.

10. When I have hurt someone else, I need to take responsibility for my own actions, apologize, and make restitution when I can.

11. The Kingdom of God is not about hierarchy but about humility. It's not about authority, it's about an attitude of yielding, one to another. And it's not even really about leadership-- it's about God taking the lowly (which means every human being) and raising them up tn Christ There really is no such thing as an elite group of His children.

12. True wisdom shows itself in humility, tolerance of others, and receptiveness to new truths, from any source He chooses to use to bring them to us.