Uncommon God, Common Good

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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

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

Posted 4/3/14 at 4:09 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Karl Barth & Genies in Bottles

One of the striking features of Karl Barth’s theology is his emphasis on God’s freedom. For Barth, God always remains Lord in revelation. We never master God. Barth’s adherence to this emphasis helped to safeguard against presumption. While God tabernacles in the flesh, he never resides in my back pocket as a good luck charm; nor is he a genie in a bottle—my wish is not his command.

Barth’s emphasis on God’s freedom bears significance for such subjects as individual and ecclesial parochialism as well as nationalism. Regarding individual and ecclesial parochialism, Barth contended that we must return daily to the Word to be reformed by it. Whether one has in mind personal devotions or denominational affiliations, we must remember that we never master the biblical text; we must always remain students of the Bible in its witness to Christ. On a personal level, I must keep in mind that while it is good that I have a Master of Divinity degree, it is all the more important that I am mastered by Divinity. Readers of the Bible should come to terms with the reality that the God of the Bible reads them as they read the text. God is Lord in revelation. Regarding denominational affiliations, while Barth was Reformed, he did not affirm status quo thinking. He held in high regard the confessions of his tradition as well as creedal statements of the church at large; still, he engaged historical theological reflections in constructive and creative ways. Once again, his open posture was bound up with his conviction that we must return daily to be reformed by the Word. FULL POST

Posted 4/3/14 at 3:48 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Globalization: A World Full of Seinfeld's Close Talkers?

What is globalization? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides popular as well as precise considerations. On a popular level, globalization is viewed as the liberalization of the world economy and westernization of vast domains of culture, including economics and politics; moreover, it involves the spread of innovative technologies and the cessation of main causes of strife and unification of communities across the globe. On a more in depth level, globalization involves “fundamental changes in the spatial and temporal contours of social existence, according to which the significance of space or territory undergoes shifts in the face of a no less dramatic acceleration in the temporal structure of crucial forms of human activity.”

Given this more formal understanding of globalization, an apparent sense of immediacy develops concerning that which would have previously been viewed as remote and mysterious. Since we often measure geographical distance in the time it takes to get from one place to another, the faster we are able to travel from one place to another the less distant the destination appears to be. Borders on the national or local level tend to lose their significance. FULL POST

Posted 4/3/14 at 3:44 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Will Jesus Return as Alec Baldwin's Character in the movie "Glengarry, Glen Ross"?

Will Jesus return as Alec Baldwin’s character, Blake, in Glengarry, Glen Ross? Blake came down from the corporate office to shame the company’s salesmen with his brass balls and talk of real men being closers (selling houses). He sought to shame the salesmen into submission and squeeze from them higher rates of production. Blake could care less about finding faith on earth, only money. The ABC's of Blake's Great Commission to the employees of the real estate firm were: As you are going, “Always Be Closing.”

Is Jesus the ultimate closer? It depends on where we look and how we interpret what we find. In Matthew 25, we find the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Jesus encourages us to be like the servants who invested their master's resources rather than the one who hid his talent. Some may think from what they read here that Jesus looks a lot like Blake. But does he really? The servant who hid the talent had a distorted view of his master. He looked at him as if he were Blake--a greedy and unscrupulous taskmaster. There was no sense of relational connection, as with the other two servants. They do not share his assessment of the master; in fact, it seems as if the servant who hid the talent used his perspective as a cover for doing nothing with the talent other than hide it. FULL POST

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

Nietzsche‚ÄĒChristians' Friend or Foe?

"Sometimes our worst enemies are our best friends." This was the response of one of my Christian colleagues to Friedrich Nietzsche's claim that the doctrine of the crucified God is the most despicable teaching and Christianity is the greatest misfortune in human history. Before explaining the basis for my colleague's claim, let's take a look at what Nietzsche actually wrote:

The Christian movement, as a European movement, has been from the start a collective movement of the dross and refuse elements of every kind (these want to get power through Christianity). It does not express the decline of a race, it is an aggregate of forms of decadence of locking together and seeking each other out from everywhere. It is not, as is supposed, the corruption of antiquity itself, of noble antiquity, that made Christianity possible. The scholarly idiocy which upholds such ideas even today cannot be contradicted harshly enough. At the very time when the sick, corrupt chandala strata in the whole imperium adopted Christianity, the opposite type, nobility, was present in its most beautiful and most mature form. The great number became master; the democratism of the Christian instinct triumphed. Christianity was not “national,” not a function of a race—it turned to every kind of man who was disinherited by life, it had its allies everywhere. At the bottom of Christianity is the rancor of the sick, instinct directed against the healthy, against health itself. Everything that has turned out well, everything that is proud and prankish, beauty above all, hurts its ears and eyes. Once more I recall the inestimable words of Paul: “The weak things of the world, the foolish things of the world, the base and despised things of the world hath God chosen.” This was the formula: in hoc signo decadence triumphed. FULL POST

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