Uncommon God, Common Good

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Posted 4/11/14 at 7:42 PM | Paul Louis Metzger |

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Jesus' Open Posture and "The Open Table"

One of the many qualities that people admire about Jesus was his open posture toward people who were often excluded from the table. Just think of how he engaged the poor, oppressed and Gentiles (Luke 4:16-30), lepers (Luke 5:12-16), the “sinful woman” washing his feet in Simon the Pharisee’s house (Luke 7:36-50), little children (Luke 18:15-17), and the chief tax collector Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10). As in the case with Zaccheus and the sinful woman (a prostitute), Jesus did not ignore or condone their sins. They came forward in repentance; however, it was Jesus’ love that led them to repentance, not rejection of them.

Jesus risked quite a bit in opening himself up to them. Jesus invited himself to Zaccheus’ home to dine with him and his associates. No doubt, Jesus’ popularity dipped quite a bit in the opinion polls, as the people viewed Zaccheus as a traitor to the Romans and a cheat (which he was). Jesus did not shun the sinful woman, who made quite an unwelcome scene at Simon the Pharisee’s house. Simon held Jesus in contempt for affirming the woman’s broken and contrite spirit; Simon determined that Jesus could not be a prophet (Luke 7:39). Little did Simon know that Jesus could not only tell the true state of the woman washing his feet with her hair but also he could sense Simon’s hard heart and read his cold thoughts: those who are forgiven much love much; those who are forgiven little love little (Luke 7:40-47). Jesus’ open posture toward those the system excluded eventually led to his being crucified outside the city’s gates; his exclusion led to people’s radical inclusion by faith—not by human pedigree and bloodlines, as he made them holy through his blood (Hebrews 13:12; John 1:11-13). FULL POST

Posted 4/11/14 at 7:37 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

The Lord's Supper—A Heavenly Happy Meal?

Is the Lord's Supper a heavenly happy meal? What do you think? Here are my initial thoughts.

The Lord's Supper is intended to provide spiritual nutrition so that Jesus' disciples might grow up to maturity in Christ. St. Augustine writes in recalling “as it were” the Lord’s “voice from on high: ‘I am the food of the fully grown; grow and you will feed on me. And you will not change me into you like the food your flesh eats, but you will be changed into me’” [St. Augustine, Confessions, translated, with an introduction, by Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), Book VII, p. 124.].

McDonald’s happy meal adventures are advertised as providing exciting toys and tasty treats. But do they provide nourishing food that will last and grow children to maturity? Here you may call to mind the movie, “Super Size Me.” At the very least, one cannot make a steady diet of such food if one intends to live well and grow up to maturity. FULL POST

Posted 4/11/14 at 7:34 PM | Paul Louis Metzger |

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Racial Fatigue and Energized Suffering

At my multi-ethnic church this Sunday, a white man shared constructively and critically about how many white people speak of racial fatigue: many white people are tired of hearing about racism. For them, the conversation is running on empty.

It is one thing to be tired of hearing about it. It is another thing to be tired of living it. Some of my African American friends talk about the fatigue of having to live in a racialized world where the color of their skin often works against them rather than for them. It affects where they live, go to school, work, and beyond.

We don't live in a post-racialized world. The more we think we live in a post-racialized world the more we reinforce it and intensify others' racial fatigue who live it.

Even so, many white people experience racial fatigue. One white Christian friend of mine who struggled greatly with such reflections as this post reacted strongly, in part because he has experienced reverse racism. He has not healed over it. Until he begins to experience God's sustaining and healing grace for his reverse racism encounters, he will not empathize with what I am writing about here. So, how do we proceed? FULL POST

Posted 4/8/14 at 6:08 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Christian Survival Kits in a Post-Christendom Society, Part I

My theology of culture class at Multnomah Biblical Seminary is addressing the theme of what it means to live as Christian witnesses in a post-Christendom society. For your information, I don’t think America is post-Christian since Christianity is not yet a minority religion, though someday it might be. Having said that, I believe we live in a post-Christendom society, since Christian narratives do not shape the rites of passage culturally for the society at large; in part, the loss of cultural influence is bound up with a loss of credibility. The seemingly hegemonic Bible belt around our societal waste is shrinking by the day.

In light of the preceding, it is worth asking: if the American church were stranded on a life raft out at sea, what would we see as the critical items that we would need to survive as the cultural currents change and as the winds and waves press against us? Here are some of the things the class and I listed that Christians may suggest (right or wrong and with no intended order): FULL POST

Posted 4/4/14 at 11:26 AM | Paul Louis Metzger

Undying Friendship and a Buddhist Memorial

On Sunday, February 23rd, I had the privilege of attending my friend Eugene Woodworth’s memorial service at Dharma Rain Zen Center in Portland, Oregon.

We did not share worldviews or lifestyles, but we did share friendship and a common humanity.

Eugene and fellow Buddhist Eric Marcoux (a Buddhist teacher in the Kagyu/Tibetan tradition) were married in Vancouver, WA on December 12th after being together for sixty years. Eugene died days later of cardiac failure on December 21st.

The temple was filled with people who had come to remember Eugene. Eric, always full of wit and humor, led with reflections before providing the opportunity for all of us gathered to share our thoughts about Eugene.

My colleague, Brad Harper, at Multnomah University, and I sat there as Eric and others shared. We have gathered together for several years at Dharma Rain and other places with our Buddhist friends like Abbots Kyogen and Gyokuko Carlson of Dharma Rain, Eric and Eugene, and fellow Evangelical Christians. We are brought together to discuss our respective convictions and distinctive stories against the backdrop of culture wars that would tear us apart. Tonight will be no different as a small group of Buddhists and Evangelical Christians will come together to talk about our convictions and stories over food and drink. FULL POST

Posted 4/3/14 at 4:39 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

The Cross & the Swoosh

I wonder at times if we have replaced the cross with the Nike swoosh symbol on our church buildings. Just so you know, this post is not about the church if we mean by church those hypocritical people over there; no, I am talking about the hypocritical people who dwell in you and me—or at least me. After all, I am called to take the redwood forest out of my own eye before I take the toothpick out of yours. So, I admit that ingrained on my heart is a scarlet swoosh.

When I think of the cross, I think about “Just be it.” When I think of the Nike Swoosh symbol, I think of “Just do it.” Alternatively, we might say, “Just fix it.” If someone has a problem, fix it—fix him—fix her. I don’t think of Jesus coming to fix us, but to heal us relationally. However, Jesus’ model of engagement takes time. One does not heal relationally with a quick fix of “just do it.”

As with the goddess Nike who symbolizes victory, we may sense pride over victoriously fixing someone in need. But what if we cannot fix their problems? Do we distance ourselves from them, discard them, and move on? After all, such inability to solve their problems symbolizes loss and failure, not victory. FULL POST

Posted 4/3/14 at 4:36 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

"Breaking Bad" and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

I don't want to spoil the show Breaking Bad for those who have not seen it, so I won't go into details. However, I don't think I need to worry about spoiling the show of our own lives to say that in more subtle and hopefully less heinous ways we all do what Walter White does in Breaking Bad.

We all do it—do what? Produce the purest form of crystal meth like Walter White does? No, I mean that, like Walter, we all engage at times in rationalization for the sake of self-preservation through the use of manipulation. We so readily rationalize the self-preservation of our careers or whatever else brings us a sense of meaning in terms of “Maslow's hierarchy of needs” through the manipulation of circumstances, people, facts or any other thing that proves useful.

It may not be crystal meth or the production of its purest form that motivates us and keeps us feeling alive and makes us high, but it is something. What is it? You and I may say we work late or study late or watch TV late for the sake of others, but do we? Or do we do it for ourselves? And we might even ask why we shouldn't do it for ourselves—what's wrong with it? Not as much from my vantage point if we don't rationalize it by saying we're doing what we do for world peace or God or family. FULL POST

Posted 4/3/14 at 4:32 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Jesus' Uniqueness and Various Shades of Napoleon Gray

A friend of mine recently spoke of a meeting he was at where every Christian leader in the room was trying to convey how he or she was more unique than everyone else. Upon hearing this, my wife remarked how interesting it is that the more we compete with one another to promote our own uniqueness the more we look just like one another. How true. Indeed, the common fixation with promoting how unique we are clothes us in various shades of dull gray.

This reminded me of a story surrounding Beethoven’s Eroica. I understand that Beethoven initially dedicated the piece to Napoleon for creating the French Republic. However, Beethoven retracted the dedication after Napoleon declared himself to be emperor; the composer remarked that Napoleon was nothing but a man after all. Napoleon's compulsion for self-elevation lowered him to common status. For all his uniqueness, he clothed his being in a shade of dull gray.

John the Baptist was different. He pointed beyond himself. In fact, he always pointed to Jesus. Here are some sample texts: FULL POST

Posted 4/3/14 at 4:20 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Evangelicals, Same-Sex Marriage & Wedding Cakes: Are Evangelicals Trying to Have Their Cake and Eat It, Too?

Evangelicalism is a very diverse movement, contrary to how the media often portrays us. The same-sex marriage debate nationally reflects such diversity. Questions for many Evangelicals revolve around three things: what is constitutional, what is biblical, and what is relational.

Many Evangelicals oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. I believe most would oppose church-officiated same-sex wedding ceremonies based on their biblical perspectives. Still, concerns around how to engage meaningfully gay and lesbian family members, friends and neighbors complicate matters. Many Evangelicals are troubled by our past encounters in failing to engage relationally those inside and outside our churches who claim to be homosexuals.

On the constitutional front, 6 out of 10 evangelicals oppose same-sex marriage according to a Washington Post article: "Despite the changing views, deep chasms remain along religious, generational and political lines. Six in 10 evangelical Protestants oppose same-sex marriage, while about six in 10 Catholics, non-evangelical Protestants and eight in 10 with no religious affiliation support it. Three-quarters of Americans younger than 30 support same-sex marriage, while less than half of seniors say the same." FULL POST

Posted 4/3/14 at 4:15 PM | Paul Louis Metzger |

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Cult of Personality

What do you make of the following point about “brilliant personalities” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together? “The church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words in the section “The Ministry of Authority” in Life Together. Based on this brief section, I am not sure what Bonhoeffer would have made of personality tests. I certainly think they have a place in discerning who we are and how we operate. Moreover, God gave us personalities. We should celebrate who each person is in terms of the uniqueness of his or her personality and gifts. Still, no matter how striking one’s personality and gifting is, what really counts is brotherly and sisterly service. Bonhoeffer begins this section with these words:

“Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister” (Mark 10:43). Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent on brotherly service. Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing, and proclaiming is carried out. Every cult of personality that emphasizes the distinguished qualities, virtues, and talents of another person, even though these be of an altogether spiritual nature, is worldly and has no place in the Christian community; indeed, it poisons the Christianity community. The desire we so often hear expressed today for “episcopal figures,” “priestly men,” “authoritative personalities” springs frequently enough from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive. There is nothing that so sharply contradicts such a desire as the New Testament itself in its description of a bishop (I Tim. 3:1 ff.). One finds there nothing whatsoever with respect to worldly charm and the brilliant attributes of a spiritual personality. The bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the Church. His authority lies in the exercise of his ministry. In the man himself there is nothing to admire (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together {New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1954}, pages 108-109). FULL POST

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