Category Archives: worldview

Remembering 9-11

[Five years ago, I published this piece. It remains, by far, the most read piece I have ever written on here, not because of any brilliance on my part, but because of the solemnity of the event and the somber reality of loss. Since the original 9-11, the world has only underlined the pain, conflict and brokenness embodied in that day. Walter Brueggemann once wrote that before Israel in ancient times could hear God’s word, they had to grieve in order to understand what they had lost. Forgetting 9-11 dishonors that day. It was a terrible day, not in the way the deluded anarchists intended, but a day that caused the world to stop and consider itself. We should never forget the dead, one or three thousand. They have much to tell us, if we will listen. I hope this might speak to you, to all of us, as we remember today]

So what are you readers doing to remember 9-11?   A few weeks ago our church lead in a community wide presentation on a Sunday evening with joint choirs and full orchestra as a remembrance of 9-11.  It was inspiring, somber, reflective and hopeful.  I expect that this year will be an especially somber time for our nation as we mark a decade since that terrible day.  It has been one of the most challenging decades of our nation’s history.

One of the most intriguing books I have read in recent years is Rodney Clapp’s Johnny Cash and the Great American Contradiction.  It really is not, mostly, a book about Johnny Cash.  It is about the religious, cultural and political ambiguities of the American psyche that were embodied in the life of Johnny Cash.  One of the points he made was that whereas the center of community life in New England was the public square, as expressed in the parade, in the South, the center of life became the church, and the great public event was the revival.

The result of this caused the church to bear all the weight of life, public and private.  It was the center of its members’ lives in a way that did not play out the same in the Northeast.  Therefore, patriotism also had to find its way into the church and live there.  I have thought about this a great deal since reading it, wondering if we do not suffer greatly from the diminishment of shared public life so well-chronicled in recent years.  More and more, we live disconnected from our fellow citizens, isolated into interest groups, religious ghettos and our homes with their entertainment centers.  It’s hard to get us all together.  Even churches need to get out in God’s wider world sometimes…

In 2009, I saw Washington, D.C. for the first time in my life (I know, how DID it take so long!).   I was truly inspired by the experience.  In these cynical times, it is hard to find places to connect to a larger sense of e pluribus unum anymore, but looking at the Lincoln Memorial , close to the spot where Martin Luther King called us to our better selves, I felt something powerful in my heart.  I looked up at the tragic, larger than life statue of President Lincoln, and Read the rest of this entry

Faith Amid Many Faiths

Religion is in the news every day, and sometimes the way politicians and news reporters talk about it

Other Faiths

shows an enormous ignorance.  Religious faith as the media and politicians talk about it sometimes bears little resemblance to the daily lives of billions of faithful people across the world. We live not only next to Muslims, but Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and many others.  Sometimes this diversity is seen as a threat.  But how do we respond?

Most Christians are not hateful or uncaring to their neighbors. But in these fear-driven times, some truth is a welcome friend.  In this study, we will learn a little more about two “neighbors” with whom we share similar ancestry through Abraham—Islam and Judaism—and how Baptists can draw from their heritage to find a way to a more thoughtful and faithful interaction with others.

First, we are affected powerfully by what I have come to call “un-socializing media.”  The web has made powerful and wonderful goods to be available to the planet.  Unfortunately, it also provides terrible temptations and problems.  I’m not simply talking about terrorists and pornographers being able to spread their poison, though that is bad enough.  But the damage of half-truths, uncritical forwarding and the anonymity of the internet enables people to “express” things better left to the Read the rest of this entry

Another Day of Terror: Holy Week Reflection

I woke up to the bad news from Brussels, Belgium today. We are so numbed to the violence on our globe, we have to wonder about the ambivalent gift of “information.” There is no time to digest, reflect, pray, consider. We are, instead, an endless echo of bad news cycles, compounded by the “unsocial media” that encourages the worst among us to speak loudly even if it is unworthy to hear. Here is the reflection I sent to my congregation today:


The recurring horror of terrorism is found in the terrorists themselves.  They are, finally, demented haters of life, of humanity, of our collective existence—that is the essence of terrorists’ acts. There is nothing in them but absolute despair of hope, and the desire to destroy it in all others for the sake of fantastic delusions of forcing the hand of the universe to bend to their will. There is nothing at the end of

Brussels Subway system attacked

their action except death and blood.

They are not new. Throughout all of history, they have killed, as governments and society seek to kill them in response. On and on the fatal disaster continues, hopelessly. It is into Holy Week that the latest delusion happens. In Brussels the fanatics strike civilization once more, convinced that they will prevail, and destined absolutely to fail.

Of all weeks, this one should comfort those who believe in Christ Jesus. Of all people, we began in a story of unjust death, amid terrorists who led people into the desert (Acts 21:38) and to the top of Masada only to die for nothing and their hopes dashed. Those who waved the palms would flee for their lives—and for what? The emptiness of a lost cause. Read the rest of this entry

Pat Terry and the Eye of the Artist

 If we learn to look at life with the eyes of the artist, we

will see an entire universe that is “a gift of mercy.”

Workshop

Pat pondering how to help a workshop participants song

It’s odd that a musical preacher who writes songs, cut his teeth and got called to ministry during the Jesus Movement of the 1970s would have met Pat Terry so late in life, but that’s the way life winds sometimes.  I had heard of the Pat Terry group back when he was starting out—Pat is just a bit older than me.  I heard his songs, but my musical journey got put on hold for a long time as marriage and children and years in graduate education and pastoral ministry took me in different directions.  I continued listening to music and playing and singing, sometimes in church and mostly by myself for my own pleasure.

Pat Terry, meanwhile, was on a journey of his own, too.  After many years, first in the very spontaneous and joyful Jesus Movement musical world, and then for a while in the increasingly industry-captivated contemporary Christian musical world, he moved on.  He had a good, long run as a commercial songwriter in Nashville, with a string of songs for many well-known artists like John Anderson, Travis Tritt, Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Tanya Tucker and the Oak Ridge Boys.  He learned the Nashville craft and all the while continuing his own inner journey of writing from the heart.

So it was that a few years ago, Greg Womble, my friend and bandmate who plays the banjo publicly, and I, who play it out of earshot but love it, went to Atlanta to Read the rest of this entry

Simple Things and Joseph Kony

I have not been surprised at the diverse and passionate reaction to the Joseph Kony 2012 video, viewed by more than 80 million people as of last night, with accusations of everything from overreaction to his being a “CIA contractor.”  I can comprehend the anguish.  When I went to Kenya in 2007, I was overwhelmed by the sight of tens of thousands of people living in the slums of Nairobi, and the complexities of a country whose history I only began to understand.  I chose a humble approach, assuming I knew nothing and had few answers.  I also know that only the people of a place can finally discover the answers for their nation. Read the rest of this entry

War of the Worldviews?

Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar, wrote an opinion piece for CNN in the aftermath of the horrendous mass murder in Norway by suspect Anders Breivik.  Breivik set off a bomb and then, disguised as a policeman, infiltrated a youth camp where leadership and politics are taught and opened fire, at this point claiming at least 76 deaths.

Breivik is white, Christian, and released a bizarre 1500 page manifesto in which he advocated a revolution in which the cultural dominance of Christianity might prevail over what he saw as an “Islamic-Marxist” alliance.  He wanted to speak on television in his hearing to plead his case, still apparently seeing that his murders were somehow defensible as a desperate call to arms in a culture war.

No one would defend what Breivik did.  Glenn Beck, whose irrational rantings have gotten even stranger since being booted from Fox, did  offer the most incredibly insensitive (or worse if he believes his own drivel) statement of all when he mulled that the camp itself seemed somehow sinister, like a Nazi Youth camp.  Glenn, did you never go to civics?  Events and summer leadership training happens in the USA all the time, and many of them quite patriotic.   .

The right wing was not alone in its absurd reactions.  Lamentations about “fundamentalist Christians” quickly followed.  If you ever read the comments under the stories online, of course, you can read more visceral reactions to these things.  Religious folk often responded by saying, “No, this is not true Christianity, it is the work of a sick individual.”

Prothro calls all of us who practice religion to task for being inconsistent.  He writes: For the last two decades, Christian students have told me that Christianity had nothing to do with the Holocaust. After 9/11, many Muslims said that the men who flew those planes into those buildings had nothing to do with Islam. When Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot, we were told that the crime had nothing to do with our current climate of political hatred…Yes, he twisted the Christian tradition in directions most Christians would not countenance. But he rooted his hate and his terrorism in Christian thought and Christian history, particularly the history of the medieval Crusades against Muslims, and current efforts to renew that clash.  So Christians have a responsibility to speak out forcefully against him, and to look hard at the resources in the Christian tradition that can be used to such murderous ends.”

All of our texts have violent stories in them–Jews and Christians the book of Joshua, Islam has its parallels.  Christians have often been fond of talking about “spiritual warfare” and the world hearing us doesn’t understand that we don’t mean “killing people.”  The “weapons” of Christianity are faith, hope and love.  The way of Jesus is one of non-violence, not killing.  Have we not made this clear?  Apparently not.

So what does this have to do with “worldviews”?  I’ve kept thinking about him writing that 1500 page abomination before doing this.  His “worldview”.  Having a Christian “Worldview” has become a bit fashionable in recent years among evangelical Christians.  We talk of the importance of “examining one’s presuppositions” as though our own are clear and rational and pure and the rest of the world (the “lost”) are corrupt, compromised and sinful.

For more than thirty years I have engaged in many discussions with fellow Christians about “worldviews” and hear many preachers and media personalities talk about the so-called “culture wars” with this language.

“Constructing a Christian worldview” is a large enterprise.  I believe in Jesus as the son of God.  I am a Christ-follower.  I encourage others to follow His way.  Why would I react so negatively to all this “worldview” talk?  Why WOULDN’T I join in the obsession of so many to construct a “Christian worldview”?

Other than my almost automatic dislike of Christian trendiness itself, I would have to say that it’s the “rationality” of it that worries me.  The boundless optimism of naive Christian warriors is astounding.  They read a few books about the “Christian worldview,” and pretty quickly move to authoritativeness about “standing up” against this that or the other. It’s not that I don’t take the Christian view of things seriously–it’s that I do.

First, my “view” begins with the Jesus of the New Testament.  He engaged not in antiseptic schoolboy debates and parlor arguments based on straw men, but pushed deeper, down into human hearts.

Second, rather than seeking some comprehensive, one size fits all “system” that appeals to some personalities (who almost always benefit from it–strange about that), like the Pharisees and Sadduccees of his day, Jesus invited his followers to a Way of surrender to new perspectives, ruthless self-questioning, and humble obedience to his teachings and love for one another.

Third, the Christian “way” is not merely about rationality.  It speaks to the irrational and subrational, too–to things we can’t know and don’t know.  The Holy Spirit has to reveal truth to us, little by little, and so we are invited into this incredible humilty of following and living not from some “top down” system but from “bottom up” surrender.

It’s not very surprising that the bin Ladens, Nazis, Holy Warriors, Klansmen, Inquisitionists, and Breiviks of the world manage to create a god in thier own political, cultural and racial image and then demand that everyone else bow to it.  But it is not the God of Jesus. We cannot assume that the world knows these distinctions.  We ourselves have profaned, ignored and compromised this vision of our Lord too much.  We have explained away his call to peacefulness and created our own many systems.

Prothero is right in that sense. So count me as one who says clearly, “This is not Christian, even if it claims to be.”  The renunciation of violence as a way to resolve disputations, in a time when killing has become so efficient, seems more important than ever.  Be clear–we follow a Savior who laid down His life for the world and refused to take up the sword to save it.  Whatever we think of government, armies, war, executions and every other way of violence, let us at least acknowledge that the taking of life is profoundly serious and something that we accept, tolerate and ignore too often.

We have been too comfortable rationalizing our own way of life and downplaying the difficult and serious things our own Founder said to us.  I speak out to say, “Mr. Breivik in no way speaks for me as a Christian.”  But further, I stand against every effort at a “Christian view of things” that can be snapped together like intellectual Lego bricks, a neat little house of explanation of my own making.

Only a “view of things” that is prayed, agonized and wrestled into being with honest hearing and listening and with surrendered anger and sin, can be taken seriously.  A New York Times piece quoted Breivik as having written an entry in June that said, “I prayed for the first time in a very long time today. I explained to God that unless he wanted the Marxist-Islamic alliance and the certain Islamic takeover of Europe to completely annihilate European Christendom within the next hundred years he must ensure that the warriors fighting for the preservation of European Christendom prevail.”

Those of us who have anguished sincerely for decades to learn how to pray shake our heads.  One does not “tell” God what needs to be done.  This young man knows nothing of the ways of God.  But we offer him too many voices that seem to say these very things–voices of anger, frustration, rage and cultural certainty.  But no one seems to have taught him how to actually pray.

So Christians, speak.  And let’s beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, as the Hebrew scriptures put it.  And maybe while we’re at it let’s refashion those worldviews into calloused knees.   Maybe if we spent the time we were using to argue our “worldviews” praying for our neighbors and for God to have mercy on us sinners we could find a better way.