On Human Potential

I just now read a few sentences that express the phenomena of Jesus Christ in a way that makes it wholly new.  That doesn’t often happen.  Observe from Stephen Neill‘s What Is Man?:

[Jesus] came to live in such a way that men could see what it means really to be a man. … This had never once happened in the world. … Now for the first time we are going to see what real manhood looks like. (34)

He continues:

Three times over [Jesus] says in St. John’s Gospel “Of myself I can do nothing (John 5:19, etc.).  If He can perform miracles, that is not because He has any special power in Himself; it is just that His will is more completely submitted to the will of God than that of any other man, and so the power of God can flow through Him as it has never flowed through any other man. (34)

Think about this for a moment.  According to the biblical narrative, humanity had gone on for thousands of years before one appeared that operated as he was meant to.  In the time since, we’ve gone another couple thousand years without seeing another individual do exactly what he was called to do in every instance.

What is possible for a human being?  Observing one another – our greatest athletes, thinkers, scientists, artists – will offer but a shadow of human potential.  Stare, instead at this Jesus and see the human.

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My Conversation with Steve, in which We Explore Our Unique Identities

Yesterday, the aftermath of Irene’s fury had me at a not-so-local Starbucks to do a little work.  As it turned out, I had the most delightful conversation – with a stranger, no less.

Steve (not his real name) sat down next to me with his tea and asked how I had fared with the storm.  After commiserating some, he discovered that I was responsible for education initiatives at a local church, and it piqued his interest.  Steve, too, was an educator.  He was a retired elementary teacher, and I could tell he loved every minute of his career.

He continued to ask how it was that I landed in my career choice, how it was that I came to work in a local church and why I pursued that vocation.  So I shared some of my story.

In the process, I learned that Steve was gay and had been spurned, not surprisingly, by the Catholic church some time ago.  I told him I was very sorry about that, that I had heard similar stories from too many people, and not just gays, and not just from the Catholic church.

We talked back and forth, circling this very issue, of the intersection of homosexuality and the Church.  Steve was genuinely inquisitive and curious about me and my general background.  I hope I returned the favor, for I was similarly interested in who Steve was, how he felt about this and that, etc.  I recall thinking, mid-conversation, how enjoyable and challenging Steve was.

At one stage, I don’t remember the exact question that prompted these thoughts, I expressed my frustration with the whole issue at hand.  I said, “Steve, I really don’t like the way the Church, at large, has approached the issue of homosexuality.  And for that matter, I don’t care for the message I hear from the gay community, either.”

See, the Church has placed one’s sexuality at the center of the conversation, when that ought not be the main thing for us.  At my particular church, for example, our number one goal for everyone walking in the door is to have that person experience a real connection with God, to draw closer to Jesus, regardless of where they begin.  Our goal is not to discover to which club you belong and segregate along such lines.  No one is checking ID’s at the door.

“It would be dishonoring,” I confessed to Steve, “to treat you as if you were only an educator.  You’re clearly a teacher, through and through, but you’re so much more than a teacher.  Neither can I approach you as just a man, for you’re so much more than just your gender.  It would be disrespectful for me to make your sexual orientation the sole descriptor of your identity.  I need to address you as a whole person.”

And the message I get from LGBT communities, largely, is the same, that they are, first and foremost, gay or bisexual or whatever else.  They do themselves a dishonor.  In my opinion, it’s not the most important thing about any one of them.

Nor, as I’ve thought about it more, would I want to be treated in this way.  Sure, I love to teach, but I’d hate to be thought just a teacher.  I’m straight, but I’d hate to be approached as just a simple straight stereotype.  And I wondered whether there was a single category that I would like to dominate my being in such a way.

Steve and I found ourselves on delightful common ground.  I enjoyed who he was, a rich and thoughtful human being.  I hope I run into him again.

Couldabeen Worse

There’s not much to say today.  I mean, Irene blew through Connecticut yesterday, so I’m all frazzled and such.  My home has no power.  My work has power, but no internet.  So this is a Starbucks day.  (The first two Starbucks stops, however, were not open.)

Here’s what I’ll say about Irene: she really wasn’t so bad.  Sure, I don’t have power at home and it could be days before it gets turned on, but the rains weren’t too heavy (Though the power outage, combined with a blown generator, had me bailing gallons of water.) and the winds were pedestrian.  All things considered, this wasn’t such a bad storm.  We had been warned of a Category 2 meteorological wrecking ball.  We ended up, along with New York City and the Jersey Shore, with a heavy rain.

Do what you want with that data, but I’ll attribute that to an act of God.

I haven’t heard of anyone blaming God for Irene in the first place (I’m certainly not), but I did see this graphic this morning at Exploring Our Matrix, which highlights the absurdity of such a theological stance.

A God of All Trades

Set on simmer in my mind for some time now, has been the question of the Christian life for “normal” people.

Perhaps it’s easy to imagine what the Christian life might look like for those who are firmly committed to the life and work of the church, those who commit themselves, vocationally, to church or parachurch ministries.  The increase of God’s Kingdom in our lives, we imagine, results in more people in church, more people coming to know Christ, more powerful worship, more people committing themselves to the service of the church, etc.

It doesn’t take mental gymnastics, however, to consider what might actually happen if everyone actually did commit themselves to the service of the church.  We’d have fewer people left to grow food, build homes, sell clothes, etc.  In short, our worlds would fall apart.

So I have this question.  What does the Kingdom of God look like for the bank teller as a bank teller?  What would it mean for the landscaper to grow more into the image of Christ as a landscaper?  How might the Lord’s increased influence in a biochemist’s life affect her work as a biochemist?  Or insert yourself and your vocation into the question.  What might it look like for you to partner intimately with the Lord in what you do on a daily basis?

What If Jesus Did What You Do?

I’ve been rereading a bit of Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy, ten years after my first reading.  Just a few pages in, he makes a comment about Jesus and the life he lived that strikes me as remarkable, in a sense.

If [Jesus] were to come today he could very well do what you do.  He could very well live in your apartment or house, hold down your job, have your education and life prospects, and live within your family, surroundings, and time.  None of this would be the least hindrance to the eternal kind of life that was his by nature and becomes available to us through him.  Our human life, it turns out, is not destroyed by God’s life but is fulfilled in it and in it alone. (14)

We’re fairly certain and comfortable with the notion that Jesus would have worked in his dad’s trade prior to striking off at 30-ish to do what we read about in the gospels.  Few doubt that, as a carpenter’s son, Jesus probably was a carpenter too.

Mulling over Willard’s statement, however, I began to wonder for how long Jesus worked at this trade.  Supposing he began working more or less full-time with Joseph at thirteen, the beginning of his adult life, Jesus may very well have built furniture and homes for 15-18 years before heading off to see his cousin John in the wilderness by the Jordan (Mk 1, parallels).

For 15 years Jesus was doing God’s perfect will for his life by planing tables and chairs.

What does that say about what you do for a living?  Good things, I think.

What’s the Point of Eschatology?

Seriously, what's the point? HT: radosh.net

A friend of mine once asked me, while I was a seminary student, “What’s the point of eschatology?”  OK, maybe he didn’t say “eschatology.”  His point was, what difference does it make what we believe about  the end of our present world-situation?

For believers, we currently live in a world in which we have some moderate semblance (hopefully) of the effect and presence of the Kingdom of God.  At the same time, we also know all too deeply that this perfect Kingdom is not yet fully present today.  Nevertheless, we believers have this vision of a day in which everything will be made right, when peace will abound.  Such, ultimately, is the vision of Revelation 21-22.  Our currently crappy context will be transformed into a new heaven and a new earth, each filled with God’s glory and goodness.

But the question remains: How does that impact the way we live now?

By Michael J. Gorman‘s estimation, the future vision gives us possibilities to which we should live as witnesses.  That is, we ought to live as though that future were already here.  “Christian churches and individuals,” he writes in Reading Revelation Responsibly, “are called to bear witness to God’s present transcendent reality and reign, as well as God’s future eschatological renewal and final victorious rule in which there will be true life, peace, and justice for all” (169).

We don’t have an eschatology so that we can simply gather in the bunker and wait for the end.  This is a fundamentalist tendency.  We don’t have an eschatology that we can somehow force into the present by our own efforts.  This is a liberal, social gospel tendency.  As Dallas Willard put it, either of these options is “nothing less than a standing invitation to omit God from the course of our daily existence” (The Divine Conspiracy, 12; italics original).  God is effectually absent from a life that simply waits for the end.  He is similarly gone if I’m trying to accomplish His plan without Him.

But Gorman outlines the alternative:

Because Christians have the true hope that God will in fact do all those things [in Revelation 21-22], and because they have experienced the early signs of that future, complete transformation in their own lives and communities, they attempt, with the Spirit’s power, to live as an alternative community shaped both by the reality of the new creation and by the promise of the fullness of that new creation in God’s future. (170, italics original)

In other words, the new creation isn’t here yet, but Christians are called to live as though it were.  Our “bizarre” life will awaken the world to its own ingrained hope for that new world.  We point to a greater coming reality.  This is witness, whether through word or deed.

So what’s the point of eschatology?  If it’s a good one, it will cause you to live as though you were in the future.  So what kind of future are you living?

Who’s Punishing Whom?

How often have you heard some say, whether the person was accustomed to the church or averse to church life, that God was punishing them for XYZ?

You know how this goes.  You may have even had the thought yourself.  Something bad enters your life and your blame is immediate fixed on the Almighty.  It could be the response to a minor inconvenience, like locking your keys in your car, to a major trauma, like the loss of a job.  (I’ve experienced both.)  But your blame towards God is really only half-hearted because you reckon that it must be pay back for something terrible (or at least mildly disobedient) you had done earlier.

“Oh, I’ve stepped in organically processed dog food again!” you say to your walking buddy.  “It’s the Lord getting me back for buying that lottery ticket last week.”  Whether it’s conscious, we figure God is exacting comeuppance for XYZ.

It strikes me today, however, that such an approach to God, whether in trivial matters or in the consequential, falls short of God’s entire agenda as we find it in Scripture.  The Lord’s goal has never been to punish the perpetrator of XYZ.

We only need to look at the culmination of the Lord’s story in the Bible to know that this is not His primary agenda.  In fact, God’s purpose, as demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Christ, should be read in one of two parallel and interlocking ways.

First, the Lord has not been waiting for an opportunity to punish evildoers on the earth.  He was, rather, waiting for a human being to step up in righteousness and take on everyone else’s deserved punishment for XYZ.  The glory of Jesus’ story is that he followed that very path all the way to his own death.  (Well, that, and his vindication by the Lord.)

Second, and perhaps more profound, God had been waiting through history for the chance to take upon Himself punishment for XYZ.  One of the more remarkable aspects of early Christian theology is that as they considered what they had either seen or hear regarding the life of Jesus, they began to realize they were witnessing the actions of God in and through this Jesus.  Jesus was a man, yes, but somehow, he was also perfectly representing the Lord as well.

Is God punishing you for XYZ?  Probably not.  He’s gone to great lengths to withhold punishment.  I’d be surprised if God suddenly began undermining His own work.