Shame on the Enlightenment

UnknownI have been co-teaching a workshop the past four weeks on the Witness of the Church. It has proved to be a great deal of fun and particularly challenging in a few areas. In any case, we have been unpacking some themes in Scripture that give form to the idea of God’s people as witnesses.

In the first week we talked about how a witness primarily has to do with a way of being as opposed to any of sort of doing that we appropriate to what it might mean to be a witness. Simply put, God has made us witnesses in Christ. It is a part of our identity and therefore it is part and parcel to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Witness as Identity is foundational in understanding what it means for Church as a witness to Jesus Christ. It is all about learning to be what we have already become.

The second week we talked about how a witness is relatable. In our humanity we have the opportunity to relate to people. As we come to recognize our need for Jesus, we begin to have compassion on others because we too see that all need Jesus. D.T. Niles said it best when he quipped “the Church is made up of beggars telling other beggars where the bread is”. This encapsulates what we were trying to get across to our students. We struggle to look for what is common between all humans (oftentimes because it is easier and takes less work to notice the differences) but it is imperative for the Church to recover this mentality if we are to be faithful witnesses in the world.

The third week we discussed how a witness is to be unashamed of the gospel. The reality that many of us are unwilling or ironically too ashamed to admit is that we often find that are ashamed of the gospel. Perhaps more ashamed than we sometimes realize. We can do two things when we realize our shame: 1) we can stuff it and power through or 2) we can acknowledge it, bring it to Jesus, and ask where we have learned to feel shame about Him. We often feel a certain guilt about this, but we cannot shake the feeling when we are put in situations when we are tempted to hide our true selves and the true Jesus. In the beginning of this workshop I offered a historical perspective that attributed much of this internal shame on the influence of the Enlightenment on our culture and in the Church. There are three implications of the enlightenment that I have seen that give way to our feelings of shame and embarrassment when it comes to acknowledging what we believe to a watching world.

The first enlightenment influence that I exposed was the emphasis on the human faculty of reason. During the enlightenment, scientific method, logic, and reason became the primary means toward truth. Empiricism was becoming the primary way of understanding science, history and so much more. If the history you proposed could not be proven without empirical (observable) evidence, then there was no weight to your belief or understanding. Thus, the enlightenment completeley rejected any sort of superstition as valid. This emphasis on reason, scientific method, empiricism, and rejection of superstition or myth is still alive and well in our culture. How has this made us ashamed of the gospel you ask? Could it be that we have become convinced that the gospel cannot stand under the weight of reason, science or empiricism? We have become ashamed of the gospel in part because we believe that it cannot be intellectual, reasonable, or empirically true. Why have we come to believe those things?

Next, I unpacked about the primacy of the individual in enlightenment society. Since reason was elevated as the primary human faculty, the individual was also emphasized in this culture as well. During the enlightenment the individual within society began to trump the community or society as a whole. The needs/wants of the community became secondary to the individual. Thus, these 18th century Europeans detached themselves from tradition and history in order to maintain a more invidualistic understanding of life. Essentially, people of this day began to place more stock in their independence and self-reliance and no longer did they see the value in depending on others. Again we must ask: How has this type of cultural influence made us ashamed of the gospel? We are often ashamed because the gospel tells us that we are needy and dependent. The gospel tells us that we are way more needy than we ever dared imagine and it dismisses the folly of self-reliance and independence. Thus, when we encounter our post-enlightenment culture that thrives on individualism, we also sometimes encounter our desire for that independence while knowing full-well that what we believe directly oppresses such an ideology.

Lastly in this workshop, we talked about the partition that was created in society during the enlightenment. Things that once lived together before the enlightenment soon were separated. For instance, before the enlightenment, math and art lived together in harmony. Da Vinci was a great example of this fusion. He was a mathematician, an inventor, and a brilliant artist. Today, we see this reality in college when math majors and art majors are often on opposite ends of the spectrum. In this time we also saw the beginnings of the separation of church and state. During the enlightenment religion soon had literally no voice in the public sphere of life as it once did. One of the major influences of the enlightenment on our culture was the privatization of religion. At one point and time, religion (namely Christianity) had a major voice in the public and civic sphere of life. No longer was this the case in enlightenment Europe. The rejection of superstition in civic culture played a large part in this. Once again we must ask: How has this cultural influence made us ashamed of the gospel? In short, the enlightenment has made us feel ashamed of the gospel because it taught us to think that Christianity is something not worth sharing. The enlightenment taught us that Christianity was only meant to be practiced in private.

These cultural influences are stronger than we realize and in order to renew our mind with truth we must first do the work of making the implicit, explicit. Oftentimes culture is implicit, meaning if we don’t question it then it is usually assumed and not understood. There is a call for the Christian to know and understand culture in order that we might properly engage in culture and so as to learn the ways in which we have been discipled by our culture instead of Jesus himself.

What We Worship

I just started Center Church by Tim Keller and am thoroughly enjoying it!

Here is a quote by David Foster Wallace that Keller use to promote a Gospel-Centered Theology.

Wallace writes,

Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough…Worship you body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you…Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is…they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

Really appreciate this quote as it unravels the connection between our insecurities and what we worship.

On Turning 23

My 23rd Surprise Birthday Dinner

My 23rd Surprise Birthday Dinner

Well, another year has passed. There is something sad about growing older but I also notice a sense of joy in it as well. For me it means another year of experiences and relationships and goodness. But it is also a reminder that I am not here forever. Death is real, and it is the road we all walk. Somehow, I live in the tension of feeling great joy and great sadness in turning another year older.

While it is typically easy to simply allow another year pass without proper remembrance, grieving and gratitude, I usually try to take time to intentionally reflect on the days God has given me in order that I might understand just a little bit more of who I am and who he has revealed himself to be in my life. Year 22 is a year that has had significant implications on my character, my attitude, my relationships, my disposition and my faith. I am trying to trust that in all ways, God meant it for my good.

I have had a couple other hard years in my life. Year thirteen was one of them, seventeen another, and twenty-two would be right up there in the top three. It has been an emotionally strenuous year for me. In fact, if there was a year that reminded me of my utter frailty, it was my twenty-second year. Here is some of what I remember from the year that unfolded.

I remember struggling to read and be focused this past year. I wanted good work to do each day, but was reminded every morning that that simply was not the reality in which I was living. For those of you who are reading this and know me, you’ll know that it is a rare to not catch me reading something by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I read Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison in late Autumn and I was quite comforted by much of what he had to say as he wrote to dear friends and family. I am not sure if I was being over-dramatic, but I often found myself relating with what he wrote about in regard to being in prison. One day I recorded one of the quotes down in my journal. He wrote this, “Much as I long to be out of here [prison], I don’t believe a single day has been wasted. What will come of my time here it’s still too early to say, but something will come of it”.

I struggled to believe this at times, but I knew and still know that there was purpose in the emotional upheaval that this year contained. God had and has purpose in what this year contained, and I simply must follow Habakkuk in the way of trusting without understanding.

I remember running one wintery day and listening to a sermon from my first pastor in Illinois. I was pounding the pavement and watching my cold breath leave my body. I remember that I was listening to this particular sermon soon before I heard that this pastor’s young wife had passed. Halfway through the sermon  I heard something in my headphones that made me tear up. My pastor said this in a still but powerful tone, “God is too good to be unkind, too wise to be mistaken, and even when I can’t trace his hand, I can always trust his heart”. I recall thinking how true and beautiful but simultaneously knowing how difficult this was. I had been losing any sense of what God was doing in my life during this time in the year, but I was thankful for the truth that I so desperately needed.

I remember being so passionate about what God was teaching me at the beginning of my twenty-second year, but I became less confident and less passionate as the days went on. Joy was escaping me and I struggled to cling to truth.

I have a vivid memory in late winter when my Mom told me that she believed in what I was doing. I remember tearing up, because I had, at times, lost a belief and conviction in what I was doing. She, along with some others, helped me to know deeply that what I was doing was worthwhile even amidst the doubts. I am thankful for such people.

Often I remember some of my best friends reaching out and making a point to spend time with me. I recall one friend who could come over and have lunch with me. We would laugh together because he knew I needed more laughter in my life. Another friend was always present in all my phases. He knew everything that was going on in my life and loved me in it. I remember many talks with some close friends that brought me courage, hope, joy and a sense of belonging.

My twenty-second year taught me my need for community and helped me to recall the beauty of the Church. I was reminded that I belong to a people who love and follow Jesus. I was given great joy and sustenance by such people this year. This year I saw the Church’s potential to meet people’s needs in my own life.

I also noticed the other day that I love to laugh and making others laugh. I now believe that a significant part of building healthy relationships and community is laughter. I am glad to have seen that this year.

If there has been anything God has shown me about Himself this year, it is that he is indeed willing to be patient with me. God was patient with me as I was patient with him. It was hard and strenuous at times, but now on the other side, I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.

I read through Deuteronomy in late Autumn and again a couple weeks ago. Both times I have been astounded by the beauty of that book and both times I remember how the beginning of the second chapter pierced my heart. It read, “Surely the Lord has blessed you in all your undertakings; he knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing”.

This could not encapsulate my year more fully. God led me through the valley and provided abundantly. I hope that as I look back on this year I will see how his hand provided all that I needed.

Simply put, I am thankful for my twenty-second year.

 

 

Wendell Berry’s Sabbath Poetry

I recently bought A Timbered Choir by Wendell Berry and I am thoroughly captivated by his poetical voice. I have wanted to read some Wendell Berry when I first heard of him about a year ago, but I am just now getting around to it. Here is a poem of his that I have been reflecting on for the past two days.

To sit and look at light-filled leaves

May let us see, or seem to see,

Far backward as through clearer eyes

To what unsighted hope believes:

The blessed conviviality

That sang Creation’s seventh sunrise,


Time when the Maker’s radiant sight

Made radiant every thing He saw,

And every thing He saw was filled

With perfect joy and life and light.

His perfect pleasure was sole law;

No pleasure had become self-willed.


For all His creatures were His pleasures

And their whole pleasure was to be

What He made them; they sought no gain

Or growth beyond their proper measures,

Nor longed for change or novelty.

The only new thing could be pain.

Relational Risk

One of the most powerful fears that resides in the human heart is the fear of being known and then rejected. This is not necessarily a major revelation in my life as of recent, but it is something that I’ve been learning in ministry, in prayer, and in relationships the past few weeks.

I’ve realized this fear in myself and I’ve witnessed this fear in others that I’ve just recently gotten the privilege to know. Of course, the love of God meets us in this fear, but if we read 1 John we also see that the love of God is made manifest through His people. It is crippling at times. This fear keeps us from vulnerability by pursuing others who are also crippled by such a fear.

Sometimes we result in thinking that we actually don’t need the Church- that is, we don’t need deep, meaningful relationships. More often than not, the assertion that we don’t need anyone is merely a way in which we attempt to protect ourselves from hurt and rejection. This mentality tends to nurture the type of relationship that keeps people being strangers. If any community is to war against that mentality it is indeed the Church.

The Church should be a community in which relational risks are able to take place. I’m currently in a ministry setting in which relational risks are being made everyday. I know people here who are pursuing others that they have never met before even though the fear of rejection persists. Others are being honest about things that they have never shared before. It is a beautiful thing when I see God creating a security in our hearts that allows us to pursue others as He pursues us.

In the incarnation we see God’s ultimate pursuit of us and the model for the way in which we are to pursue others. Following Jesus in the incarnation means that we will be made vulnerable, and will need to take relational risks.

I appreciate Psalm 16 when David says “I keep The Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my should rejoices; my body also rests secure.”

I pray that the Church might be a people that risk rejection and vulnerability in our relationships.

 

 

A Beauty to Behold

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My life has undergone a dramatic shift as I have transitioned out of full-time support raising and into full-time ministry. The past few weeks have been a refreshment to my soul as I have engaged in community with the staff team and students at our LT program. Of course, being surrounded by the Rockies doesn’t hurt either.

I think this summer is about God wanting to relentlessly to pursue the students who were prompted to come this summer, but I think it would be foolish to think that God does’t want the same to happen to me. As I grow older, I am constantly having to face the reality that God doesn’t just want to work through me, but also wants to work in me.

As I engage in ministry out here, it is tempting to simply want to forget the year that I spent support raising full-time, but as I look back on it, I am again astonished by the beauty that the last year contained. It is sometimes hard to see, but I trust that it was for good. I think God has something for me this summer as I take time to look back and pray through the past year. Sometimes I am not sure what it all meant, but I trust it meant something.

I am thankful to be able to experience views like the one above this summer. Being above the clouds is a miraculous thing – it also is a beauty worth beholding.

 

TOMS SHOES TAKING ON COFFEE ROASTING

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I am was somewhat surprised to read that TOMS Shoe Company is now dipping into the coffee roasting industry! As a coffee lover and a customer of TOMS, I am skeptical and intrigued all at the same time.

I am even more surprised to read on Fortune that TOMS Roasting Co. is not targeting other companies like Starbucks, but rather specialty coffee roasters like Stumptown and Intelligentsia.

The company still plans on keeping its one-for-one business model with clean water as the commodity that will given to countries in need for each bag of coffee sold. I am not sure how they plan to quantify this transaction, but I would definitely be interested to find out.

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Dear Coffee, I Love You does has a wonderfully balanced view of this business venture and offers some encouragement to the company as well as some critiques to the business model that promotes the “westerner as savior” ideology that is very present in much of humanitarian work today. I appreciate and tend to agree with that critique, but read for yourself and decide whether or not you will enjoy a cup of this new roaster. The coffee seems to be on their main site and ready for purchase! It is fairly priced and I eventually think I may give it a try.