Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Elders

Most of the churches I've attended, in the 25+ years that I've been a Christian, have been "baby boomer" churches. The congregations were comprised mostly of younger people with only a smattering of older folks. By contrast, the church I now belong to has a large number of senior citizens. This has been a revelation to me. I facilitate a Sunday School Bible class in which, at age 47, I am the youngest person there. Many of the attendees are in their 70's and 80's. One of the most loyal and active participants is a gentleman who recently turned 100. I am constantly humbled, amazed and edified by the wisdom and gentle patience of these elders. There is a term that Quakers use to refer to someone who is older, wise and respected; they are called a "weighty Friend."

Our culture tends to idolize youth. Many churches seem to skew that way also. An emphasis gets placed on young, dynamic leaders. Often (at least in my experience) these young leaders have zeal but lack patience, wisdom and gentleness. I've known a few young (and not so young) pastors and elders who did not measure up to the criteria for elders that Paul laid out in his letters to Timothy and Titus. They were impatient, intemperate, pugnacious, unlearned and lacking in self-control. They were elders in name only. I've seen many "sheep" get damaged as a result. I've also known a few "real" pastors and elders.

It has been said that wisdom is perishable. Unlike information or knowledge, it cannot be stored in a computer or recorded in a book. It expires with each passing generation. Elders who are truly elders--older, wise, patient, gentle, humble and learned--are priceless treasures. Sadly, they are often buried treasures--overlooked and passed by. I've learned to eschew the "young and trendy" in favor of the "old and steady" and to seek out the wisdom of these elders.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Quote of the Day:

"When they ask me at the Post Office if my package contains anything dangerous, I never know quite how to answer. It contains books, and if a book isn't dangerous, then why was it written?" - Karen L. Oberst

Monday, January 18, 2010


"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Theology matters.

Everyone has theology.

Theology, in its most basic form, is simply how we think about God. Our perception of God has a dramatic effect on how we perceive ourselves and on our view of mankind in general. As a result, our theology affects how we live our lives and how we treat other people. Even atheists have a theology. Their's is just very short. It drives me crazy when Christians pooh-pooh theology. "We don't need theology," they say, "we just obey God." What nonsense. The very fact that they used the word "God" implies that they have a fairly developed theology. When asked (and sometimes when not asked) these same folks will tell us in great detail about their God and about their God's orientation towards mankind and about their own relationship with their God. In other words, they will describe their theology.

Everyone has theology. The real issue is whether or not they have given their theology much thought. This brings us to the more refined sense of the word "theology": the study of God. Theology in this sense implies a certain degree of intentionality and intellectual rigor, which may scale anywhere from simply reading a C.S. Lewis book (or, God forbid, "Left Behind) to devoting one's entire life to in-depth theological academic pursuit. Of course, in any endeavor one can get lost in the details and lose sight of the big picture. One thinks of the theologians in Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" who hold a convocation to discuss the matter of whether or not Christ owned the tunic that He wore (and end up in a fractious debate about it).

Conversely, there is the story of the great Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth who, towards the end of his life gave a lecture at the University of Chicago Divinity School. At the end of the lecture, Barth was asked by the president of the seminary the following question: “Of all the theological insights you have ever had, which do you consider to be the greatest of them all?” After a moments thought, Barth replied "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” He hadn't lost sight of the big picture.

Still, theology matters. Let me give you an examply of why. Let's say part of my theology is the belief that Hell is a place of eternal conscious torment. Further, let's say that my theology maintains that all people are, by default, bound for Hell unless they subscribe to a particular set of doctrines. Someone who teaches contrary to this particular set of doctrines is, therefore, responsible for causing people to go to Hell and be tormented for eternity. It suddenly becomes fairly easy to justify imprisoning, torturing and executing teachers who "mislead" people by propigating "false doctrines". After all, isn't it better to burn a few heretics than to allow them to lead multitudes into the fires of Hell? Likewise, if we force people--under threat of violence--to accept our doctrines and, therefore, avoid Hell, they'll eventually thank us for it. Right?

History is filled with examples like this. They are the tangible and tragic results of bad theology.

On the other hand, if my theology includes the belief that God loves His creation and values every single person, will that not also profoundly affect how I look at the world and treat people?

Theology matters.

Socrates, when he was put on trial for heresy by the Athenians, famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Along similar lines, I would say, an unexamined theology is not worth having; and it may actually do more harm than good.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Bad Eye

My son once told me that I sometimes look like a pissed off Siamese cat. Upon hearing this, my wife concurred. There's nothing like loved ones to tell it like it is. There is a reason for their assessment of my appearance: When I was a child I had a pretty severe lazy eye--to the point that I was made to wear a patch over my "good" eye in order to get the other one to straighten out. I have very good vision in one eye and very poor vision in the other. The net result, so I'm told, is that I sometimes look like a pissed off Siamese cat. This also, I think, tends to give people the false impression that I'm angry at them or looking at them in a critical way. In actuality, it's just that my eyes are slightly screwed up. Really.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Like most folks, I'm stunned and feel helpless about the suffering in Haiti. Not only the devastation from the earthquake, but the fact that Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. I've researched and written about this in the past.

The question being asked, once again, is "Why is Haiti so poor?" It is not because they "made a pact with the devil" as Pat Robertson stated on the 700 Club (to the embarrassment of every sane Christian in the world) and it is not because of "voodoo" (almost as ignorant a claim as Mr. Robertson's).

The crushing poverty in Haiti is the direct result of European colonialism and slavery. Contrary to Pat Robertson's idiotic statement, the continual suffering in Haiti is not due to the sins of their forefathers. It is due to the sins of our forefathers.

Here's a good summary by an expert on Haiti:

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Holiness and Love

This is an excerpt from the book "If Grace is True", by Gulley & Mulholland:

"What then does it mean to say God is holy?

Holiness is God's ability to confront evil without being defiled. God's holiness does not require him to keep evil at arm's length. God's holiness enables him to take the wicked in his arms and transform them. God is never in danger of being defiled. No evil can alter his love, for his gracious character is beyond corruption. This is what it means to say God is holy--God's love is incorruptible.

Holiness and love are not competing commitments. God is love. His love endures forever. This enduring love is what makes God holy. No manner of evil done to us or by us can separate us from this love. God transforms his morally imperfect children through the power of his perfect love. It is our experience of this love that inspires us to such perfection.

Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). If this verse was a command for moral perfection, our cause is hopeless. Fortunately, this admonition follows a command to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Perfection is demonstrated not by moral purity, but by extravagant love. We are like God not when we are pure, but when we are loving and gracious."