Uncommon God, Common Good

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Posted 4/22/14 at 5:15 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

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

Last week, I wrote a blog post titled "Christian Survival Kits in a Post-Christendom Society, Part I." In that post discussing the loss of Christian cultural influence in American society, I asked the following question: “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?" Several suggestions were offered. One item missing from that initial list was a profound sense of God's providential care.

It has been my experience that when people fear the loss of control, harm or retaliation, they can readily become reactionary. It is very easy to become paranoid. Christians are not immune to such dynamics and reactionary impulses. The only way for Christians to counter paranoia is to develop a healthy sense of God's providential care in the face of loss of influence and an increase in suffering, especially persecution. Here we can learn a thing or two from the Apostle Paul. FULL POST

Posted 4/21/14 at 11:40 AM | Paul Louis Metzger

What Would Have Changed if Jesus had not Risen From the Dead?

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What would have changed if Jesus had not risen from the dead?

Not much.

We would still be dead in our sins (see 1 Corinthians 15:17).

We would lie still forever in the grave. There would be no resurrection for us (see 1 Corinthians 15:12-58).

The universe would inevitably burn up and fizzle out, just like many expect, since Jesus would not be the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn from the dead, and the one through whom God would reconcile all things on earth and heaven (contra Colossians 1:15-20). Until everything decays and wastes away, the creation would simply groan with no expectant hope (contra Romans 8:22).

Jesus' disciples would have stayed locked up in fear behind closed doors (John 20:19-23).

Fertility cults involving resurrection myths would still remain, but with no alternative Christian truth claim declaring what C. S. Lewis realized: Jesus is the myth that became fact (See C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life {London: Geoffrey Bles, 1955}, 222). FULL POST

Posted 4/21/14 at 11:35 AM | Paul Louis Metzger

Holy Saturday—Buried Alive?

Being buried alive is one of the most terrifying things one can imagine. Not being able to trust anyone is also terrifying. It smothers relationships. Relational isolation is a form of suffocation.

People are buried alive because of not trusting others, including God. A lack of trust causes individuals to prize self-sufficiency and self-reliance in our culture today. And yet, there are times when the relational isolation and pressure to make it on their own gets so intense that panic sets in; they start breathing very quickly and high in the chest and fear that they will die. It might seem counterintuitive, but I am told that one way to counter panic attacks is to stop breathing for as long as possible and then take slow, deep breaths.

Jesus did not experience relational panic attacks throughout his life. Nor was he an Edgar Allan Poe-like character who was buried alive on Good Friday, only to die on Holy Saturday. Still, Jesus' death on the cross and burial were bound up with undergoing isolation from God and others so that humanity could experience relational connection and not have to undergo unending relational isolation and chronic panic attacks. FULL POST

Posted 4/21/14 at 11:27 AM | Paul Louis Metzger

Maundy Thursday: Last Supper, Last Stand

On Maundy Thursday, we remember the Last Supper, which was the precursor to the Lord’s last stand. If you were preparing for battle with your enemies, wouldn’t you be padding the upper room, lower rooms and surrounding premises with sandbags while stockpiling ammunition? Jesus was no David Koresh. He wasn’t Clint Eastwood either, if we have in mind the movie, High Plains Drifter (not Gran Torino). Jesus prepares for his last stand with a supper and a foot washing (See John 13).

How do you and I engage in battles with our culture war enemies? Do we sit down for a meal with our friends, wash their feet, and then allow ourselves to be put on crosses outside the city gates? As with crucifixions generally, Jesus’ arms were spread out wide; mine would likely be brought in close for protection in a state of frenzied paranoia. The same open and humble state of being that Jesus modeled in washing his followers’ feet that holy Thursday evening was on display as he hung on the cross the next day for a world full of enemies. FULL POST

Posted 4/21/14 at 11:19 AM | Paul Louis Metzger

Good Friday and the "Man in Black"

I still remember from my childhood the black shroud draped over the cross on Good Friday in my Lutheran church. On Easter Sunday, the cross was draped in bright colors reflecting the resurrection. The stark contrast was important to the cultivation of my theological imagination and faith. Not only did the contrast highlight all the more the amazing miracle of Easter Sunday, but also I realized that one has to go through Good Friday to get to Easter.

Yesterday in my contemporary theology class, we discussed the symbolic significance of the cross for theologies of liberation and the reality of Good Friday. One of the students remarked that he had witnessed similar symbolism concerning Good Friday growing up in the Midwest, but that he found it difficult to find it presently. When he inquired of one Protestant pastor here in the Pacific Northwest, the pastor informed him that his church downplayed the solemnity of Good Friday because it reflected Catholic trappings and associations. Perhaps my student’s encounter with this Protestant pastor was extreme, isolated and unrelated to geography; still, it is worth pondering if we often downplay Christ’s sufferings today in various contexts, not because of Catholic trappings, but because of prosperity gospel trajectories. FULL POST

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

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