Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

In Eric Metaxas' extensive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor, who was executed for his participation in a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, we get some insight into the plot known by the name "Valkyrie." Of course at the time, Hitler was yet to be revealed as the absolute evil he turned out to be, so the international community viewed the assassination attempt with nearly universal contempt. Even the New York Times reported the assassination attempt as something one would not "normally expect within an officers' corps and a civilized government." The father of Bonhoeffer's fiancée, Henning von Tresckow, took his own life after the failed assassination attempt. Tresckow was involved in the plot and was afraid of revealing the names of others under torture. He spoke these words before taking his life:

The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced that we did the right thing. Hitler is the archenemy not only of Germany but of the world. When, in a few hours’ time, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify in good conscience what I did in the struggle against Hitler. God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if just ten righteous men could be found in the city, and so I hope for our sake God will not destroy Germany. None of us can bewail his own death; those who consented to join our circle put on the robe of Nessus. A human being’s moral integrity begins when he is prepared to sacrifice his life for his convictions.  Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, p. 487

There are certainly some challenging questions regarding Christian ethics in all this. However, in reading this excerpt, I primarily thought a lot of the writings of my doctoral mentor Steven Garber who has written about seeing with our hearts to take responsibility for the world as it is and as it should be. Henning von Tresckow certainly seemed to me to be one of these men, like Bonhoeffer, as have been others throughout history such as playwright and former president of Czechoslovakia and the former Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, who famously wrote "the secret of man is the secret of his responsibility."

Every Good Endeavor, by Tim Keller

At the risk of offending some as I share this, I walked into the Grace Chapel office yesterday announcing to the GC Staff, "The Kingdom Has Come! Tim Keller has put out a book on vocation!" Some have jokingly asked me if I was envious that Keller beat me to the punch in writing a book on vocation. I respond, "please don't utter my name in the same breath as Tim Keller!" I would say that the two most influential voices in my ministry to this point have been Tim Keller and Wendell Berry. Well, so I'm off and running on Keller's book. Let me share some of the excerpts I've enjoyed so far:

The work-obsessed mind–as in our Western culture–tends to look at everything in terms of efficiency, value, and speed. But there must also be an ability to enjoy the most simple and ordinary aspects of life, even ones that are not strictly useful, but just delightful. Surprisingly, even the reputedly dour Reformer John Calvin agrees. In his treatment of the Christian life, he warns against valuing things only for their utility:

Did God create food only to provide for necessity [nutrition] and not also for delight and good cheer? So too the purpose of clothing apart from necessity [protection] was comeliness and decency. In grasses, trees, and fruits, apart from their various uses, there is beauty of appearance and pleasantness of fragrance. . . . Did he not, in short, render many things attractive to us, apart from their necessary use?

         In other words, we are to look at everything and say something like:

All things bright and beautiful; all creatures great and small
All things wise and wonderful–the Lord God made them all. 

In Luther’s Large Catechism, when he addresses the petition in the Lord’s Prayer asking God to give us our “daily bread,” Luther says that “when you pray for ‘daily bread’ you are praying for everything that contributes to your having and enjoying your daily bread. . . . You must open up and expand your thinking, so that it reaches not only as far as the flour bin and baking oven but also out over the broad fields, the farmlands, and the entire country that produces, processes, and conveys to us our daily bread and all kinds of nourishment.” So how does God “feed everything living thing” (Psalm 145:16) today? Isn’t it through the farmer, the baker, the retailer, the website programmer, the truck driver, and all who contribute to bring us food? Luther writes: God could easily give you grand and fruit without your plowing and planting, but he does not want to do so.”

Even though, as Luther argues, all work is objectively valuable to others, it will not be subjectively fulfilling unless you consciously see and understand your work as calling to love your neighbor. John Calvin wrote that “no task will be [seen as] so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God’s sight.” Notice that Calvin speaks of “obey[ing] your calling in it”’ that is, consciously seeing your job as God’s calling and offering the work to him. When you do that, you can be sure that the splendor of God radiates through any task, whether it is as commonplace as tilling a garden, or as rarefied as working on the global trading floor of a bank. As Eric Liddell’s missionary father exhorts him in Chariots of Fire, “You can praise the Lord by peeling a spud, if you peel it to perfection.”

         Your daily work is ultimately an act of worship to the God who called and equipped you to do it–no matter what kind of work it is. In the liner notes to his masterpiece A Love Supreme, John Coltrane says it beautifully:

This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say “THANK YOU GOD” through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Faithful Presence

          I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to live faithful lives "in the world." Wendell Berry writes a lot about loving and serving the world by loving and serving the place that you are. Berry tends to emphasize themes of local economy as well as presence and affection for a people and a place. Also, not too long ago, I finished reading Eugene Peterson's memoirs The Pastor and was struck by Peterson's vision for pastoral ministry, to be personal, present and local with a people. John Stott is famously known for saying that we ought not to blame a dark room for being dark, rather ask, "where's the light?" We shouldn't blame meat for having gone bad, rather ask, "where's the salt?" Our general lack of teaching the central importance of "vocational presence" in all of life leaves the Church implicated wherever we find "the world being the world." What does it mean to live faithful lives in the world? I was re-reading one of my favorite books, I believe for the Church, one of the more important books to come out in a long time. I find myself asking again the shape of faithfulness to God's work in the world. Here's Hunter's answer. Listen to his robust, beautiful and powerful vision of "faithful presence":

I would suggest a theology of faithful presence first calls Christians to attend to the people and places that they experience directly. It is not that believers should be disconnected from, or avoid responsibility for, people and places across the globe. Far from it. Christians are called to “go into all the world,” after all and to carry the good news in word and deed that God’s kingdom has come. But with that said, the call of faithful presence gives priority to what is right in front of us­–the community, the neighborhood, and the city, and the people of which these are constituted. For most, this will mean a preference for stability, locality, and particularity of place and its needs. It is here, through the joys, sufferings, hopes, disappointments, concerns, desires, and worries of the people with whom we are in long-term and close relation–family, neighbors, coworkers, and community–where we find our authenticity as a body and as believers. It is here where we learn forgiveness and humility, practice kindness, hospitality, and charity, grow in patience and wisdom, and become clothed in compassion, gentleness, and joy. This is the crucible within which Christian holiness is forged. This is the context within which shalom is enacted.
In our tasks, the call of faithful presence implies a certain modesty that gives priority to substance over style; the enduring over the ephemeral, depth over breadth, and quality, skill, and excellence over slick packaging or “high production values.” It would encourage ambition, but the instrumentalities of ambition are always subservient to the requirements of humility and charity.
Even if our tasks in the world do not have “ultimate significance,” that does not mean that the tasks we perform have no spiritual significance. To be sure, sin pervades work and, in our own day, capitalism transforms the nature of work in ways that can be profoundly dehumanizing. But this does not negate the dignity that comes from tasks well done or the good done for neighbor and stranger alike. Indeed, when our various tasks are done in ways that acknowledge God, God is present and he is glorified. Such tasks may not be redeeming, but they can provide a foretaste of the coming kingdom. What can be said of tasks generally can be said, for example, about specific professions. To manage a business in a way that grows out of a biblical view of relationships, community, and human dignity before God has divine significance, irrespective of what else might be done from this platform. Policy pursued and law practiced in light of the justice of God is a witness to the right ordering of human affairs. Inquiry, scholarship, and learning with an awareness of the goodness of God’s created order is a discovery of what is truly higher in higher education. And, not least, reflecting the beauty of God’s creation in art or music is nothing less than an act of worship. In short, fidelity to the highest practices of vocation before God is consecrated and itself transformational in its effects.
As to our spheres of influence, a theology of faithful presence obligates us to do what we are able, under the sovereignty of God, to shape the patterns of life and work and relationship­–that is, the institutions of which our lives are constituted–toward a shalom that seeks the welfare not only of those of the household of God but of all. That power will be wielded is inevitable. But the means of influence and the ends of influence must conform to the exercise of power modeled by Christ.
Thus, when the Word of life is enacted within the whole body of Christ in all its members through an engagement that is individual, corporate, and institutional, not only does the word become flesh, but an entire lexicon and grammar becomes flesh in a living narrative that unfolds in the body of Christ; a narrative that points to God’s redemptive purposes. It is authentic because it is enacted and finally persuasive because it reflects and reveals the shalom of God. To Change the World, pp. 253-4

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Butterfly Circus

At Grace Chapel, we are currently offering a class to equip folks to serving those with disabilities, Clothed with Dignity. Those with disabilities are arguably the least served "people group" by the Church. This short clip was discussed last Sunday; I watched it with my in-laws, daughter Mia and wife Tanya on Thanksgiving morning, and I was left in tears. I thought a lot about my doctoral work and how central having a sense of dignity, worth and "something to offer others" is to our lives as those who bear the Image of God. In a word, our vocations (callings in life) matter terribly to us, to God and the world. Enjoy, but be warned, you'll likely need a box of kleenex.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever."

-Psalm 136:1 (ESV)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Facilitating Meaning and Cultural Renewal

This little piece by one of my doctoral advisors, Steven Garber, is quite good: http://www.washingtoninst.org/2877/facilitating-meaning-and-cultural-renewal/

Be blessed friends.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dignity of Vocation and Unbusy Pastors

Eugene Peterson talks about his twenty-six years serving Christ the King Presbyterian Church congregation in Maryland, a church that was originally started in his basement. Peterson writes at one point, he got tired of being a "busy pastor" and wanted to become an "unbusy pastor," where he was present and available to his family and to the folks in his congregation. So Peterson approaches his elders, and they give him full support to pursue becoming an "unbusy pastor," meanwhile the congregation discovers a kind of "vocational renewal." Peterson writes:

An unintended consequence of this decision, now that I was unbusy was to be the pastor that I had spent much of my life becoming, was that I now had energy and time to pay attention to the work of the men and women in my congregation in their workplaces. They were helping me in my workplace. I developed an imagination now to help them in theirs. Together we were restoring dignity to the term laity: we were in this together. Running the church was not a full-time job for them. They spread the work throughout the congregation, trusting others to help them do the work in the same way that I was trusting them.

As we did this together, the conviction spread through the congregation that one of the most soul-damaging phrases that had crept into the Christian vocabulary is “full-time Christian work.” Every time it is used, it drives a wedge between the way we pray and the way we work, between the way we worship and the way we make a living.

One of the achievements of the Protestant Reformation was a leveling of the ground between clergy and laity. Pastors and butchers had equal status before the cross. Homemakers were on a part with evangelists. But insidiously that level ground eroded as religious professionals claimed the high ground, asserted exclusive rights to “full-time Christian work,” and relegated the laity to part-time work on weekends under pastoral or priestly direction. A huge irony–the pastors were hogging the show, and the laity were demeaned with the adjectives “mere,” “only,” or “just”: “He or she is just a layperson.”

As we together were making the transition, I to unbusy pastor, they to full-time Christian teachers and bankers, homemakers and farmers, I wrote a reflection. . .

Most of what Jesus said and did took place in a secular workplace in a farmer’s field, in a fishing boat, at a wedding feast, in a cemetery, at a public well asking a woman he didn’t know for a drink of water, on a country hillside that he turned into a huge picnic, in a court room, having supper in homes with acquaintances or friends. In our Gospels, Jesus occasionally shows up in synagogue or temple, but for the most part he spends his time in the workplace. Twenty-seven times in John’s Gospel Jesus is identified as a worker: “My Father is still working, and I also am working” (Jn. 5:17). Work doesn’t take us away from God; it continues the work of God. God comes into view on the first page of our scriptures as a worker. Once we identify God in his workplace working, it isn’t long before we find ourselves in our workplaces working in the name of God.

For months afterward when visiting in a home, I would notice that that paragraph had been cut out and pinned on a bulletin board or attached to a refrigerator door. I took it as evidence that we were becoming a congregation of Christians who were confident of the dignity of our vocation, which was identical both within and outside the church sanctuary.

The Pastor: A Memoir, by Eugene Peterson, pp. 280-1