Archive for June, 2005

On Being Authentic

Posted: June 22, 2005 in Everything

Last night was a great blessing for me. It was the second meeting of our summer Tuesday night gatherings for young adults at my church. This summer we are reading through Donald Miller’s, “Searching for God Knows What“.

Instead of meeting at our church building, we have decided to meet at places around town. I think this is good for at least two reasons. One, I have become more and more convicted about taking faith public. I don’t mean shouting from street corners or bothering your co-workers to the point that they all avoid you at the Christmas party. Rather, I’m talking about living and breathing and expressing faith in public places and calling people into the Kingdom of God. Secondly, getting away from the building invites conversation–and more real conversation at that. There’s something about an institutional church building that screams, “BE FAKE HERE!”

Last night’s conversation was great. Miller’s book is a thought-provoking, humorous launching point for discussion, and I have to say that last night’s conversation was one of the most authentic I’ve ever had with a Christian/Church group. As of late, my heart have craved authenticity. The problem is, I’m not sure I know it when I see it.

Lots of churches–especially newer churches–are talking about being more “authentic.”That sometimes means that in a Bible class someone might unleash a small profanity or something like that. But is that authenticity? Is “authenticity” the church’s’ new license to say something profane or ridiculously unorthodox? I hope not, but I can see why that might be a necessary step–kind of a spiritual adolescence–to shake many of us out of our pat, churchy answers and responses to life.

And then there are churches where authenticity means you can wear jeans and not comb your hair. I don’t have anything against jeans, or not combing your for that matter, but I’m starting to sense that authenticity means–to some at least–just NOT doing whatever they do at your parent’s church. Or authenticity means trading the sub-culture of suits and didactic Bible classes from the established church for a new sub-culture of goatees and coffee-house “Bible dialogues” in new churches.

I guess I have a lot of questions about what authenticity really is. Is it authentic to make fun of the traditional, established church or be a Democrat because it seems that so many in the traditional church are Republicans? Is it authentic to have your ipod filled with Green Day instead of Third Day? Is that authenticity? Is that what it means to be real?

Here’s a sad thought: Are Christians and churches struggling with being “authentic” communities of faith because we have had such little practice at it? Or maybe that’s the goal of life; we all struggle to be real and it’s the community of faith that helps us understand what reality is. At the very least, I would hope that that is what authenticity can be.

I would very much like a church dedicated to helping people regain reality. It seems to me that those outside church walls aren’t doing any better at becoming real, at least not in the sense of realizing who we are and why we’re here. Perhaps some our churches need new mission statements? How about something like this: “The Community Church: Working to be Real” or “The Community Church: Journeying Toward Authenticity.”

Like I said before, I’m not sure I know authenticity when I see it. What do you think?

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Below I have posted a recent article by former Republican Senator John C. Danforth. Danforth–also an Episcopal minister–represents an alternative voice for Christians in our country’s current political conversation. Some will ask: “Sean, do you agree with everything in this article?” The answer: “No, I do not!” But what I do like is that many Christians–Danforth included–are beginning to step forward and remind our country and the media that a few proported “Christian” leaders do not represent all Christians, and that there is more than one way to approach faith and politics.

I hope you find the article interesting and thought-provoking. Moreover, I pray that this article cause all of us to think deeply about the way we think Christ-followers should behave in and react to the world around us.

–Sean

Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers

By JOHN C. DANFORTH
Published: June 17, 2005 N.Y. Times

IT would be an oversimplification to say that America’s culture wars are now between people of faith and nonbelievers. People of faith are not of one mind, whether on specific issues like stem cell research and government intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, or the more general issue of how religion relates to politics. In recent years, conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics. With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions.

It is important for those of us who are sometimes called moderates to make the case that we, too, have strongly held Christian convictions, that we speak from the depths of our beliefs, and that our approach to politics is at least as faithful as that of those who are more conservative. Our difference concerns the extent to which government should, or even can, translate religious beliefs into the laws of the state.

People of faith have the right, and perhaps the obligation, to bring their values to bear in politics. Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God’s truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action. So they have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God’s kingdom, one that includes efforts to “put God back” into the public square and to pass a constitutional amendment intended to protect marriage from the perceived threat of homosexuality.

Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God but because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings. Like conservative Christians, we attend church, read the Bible and say our prayers.

But for us, the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be codified by legislators.

When, on television, we see a person in a persistent vegetative state, one who will never recover, we believe that allowing the natural and merciful end to her ordeal is more loving than imposing government power to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.

When we see an opportunity to save our neighbors’ lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research, and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so.

We think that efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith. Following a Lord who reached out in compassion to all human beings, we oppose amending the Constitution in a way that would humiliate homosexuals.

For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support the separation of church and state, both because that principle is essential to holding together a diverse country, and because the policies of the state always fall short of the demands of faith. Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion in the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility lacking in our conservative colleagues.

In the decade since I left the Senate, American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality. I do not think it is a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two. To assert that I am on God’s side and you are not, that I know God’s will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God’s kingdom is certain to produce hostility.

By contrast, moderate Christians see ourselves, literally, as moderators. Far from claiming to possess God’s truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth. We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. We believe it is God’s work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach out to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome the meanness we see in today’s politics.

For us, religion should be inclusive, and it should seek to bridge the differences that separate people. We do not exclude from worship those whose opinions differ from ours. Following a Lord who sat at the table with tax collectors and sinners, we welcome to the Lord’s table all who would come. Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love. Christians who hold these convictions ought to add their clear voice of moderation to the debate on religion in politics.

A Useful Faith

Posted: June 9, 2005 in Everything

I posted earlier this week that this Sunday’s sermon will deal with the topic of forming a useful faith; a faith that seeks to benefit the world and not just me, my family, and other well-fed American church-goers. In preparation I came back to this quote from Brian McLaren, which may or may not make the cut for this week’s message.

“…I seek to develop virtues not just for my own benefit, but so I can inflict less damage and more blessing on the world. I seek to better understand Scripture not just for my own sake, but so I’ll be equipped to serve God and my neighbors.” (from : A Generous Orthodoxy)

What a great thought! What if there is more to being Christian than just hanging out with other Christians and waiting for the next personal blessing?

I think there might be something to that. How about you?

Mini-Vacation

Posted: June 7, 2005 in Everything

Rochelle and I returned yesterday from a short, mini-vacation. The highlight of our four days was getting to see two movies; Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and the new Adam Sandler vehicle, The Longest Yard. About half-way through every Adam Sandler movie, Rochelle and I remember that our senses-of-humor could not be more different. She’s usually rolling her eyes and I’m usually rolling in the aisle! (“Big Daddy” may be a possible exception. She liked that one.) Well, since we NEVER get to go to the movies, we were glad to pay way too much for popcorn.

On the spiritual/philosophical front, I was continually haunted by one question during my time away. The question: Is my faith useful? I know I have faith, and I know much about faith, but is it useful? And by useful I mean, “Is it useful to anyone besides myself?” Sure, it’s useful to me, but what about the ones around me, and not just to them, but to the world around us all? Is there a way my faith impacts the poor in the inner-city–not just with an occasional check, which you don’t need faith to write, by the way–and is my faith useful to the oppressed around the world, the down-trodden, the hurting?

These questions, hopefully, will occupy my week and the months to come. In fact, that question is the genesis of this week’s not-yet-written-sermon. Maybe by next Monday I’ll be closer to an answer, or at least, maybe I’ll be asking better questions.

Updates

Posted: June 1, 2005 in Everything

Just to let you know, Rochelle and I are out-of-town this week on vacation. Please pray for relaxation–it usually takes me about four days to relax enough to enjoy relaxing.

I also just ordered some “Palmer Perspective” t-shirts from zazzle.com. They’re pretty cool. You can make your own personalized shirts at zazzle for under $20 each. Check it out.

Summer is here. To have a great summer you need to do two things; spend time with your family and read all you can.