Thursday, July 31, 2008

Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, Jr.?

This is, in part, a follow-up to my post a few days ago that included a Ransomed Heart letter. John Eldredge makes an excellent (and I believe correct) argument for creating a distinction between people/groups/organizations. Okay, he didn't say that, but in many ways, that's a conclusion from pointing out a difference.

At the same time, there is a TON of dialogue at the moment about reconciliation and bridging differences. How many commercials and PACs are there right now emphasizing a joining of the major American political parties? It's quite amazing, actually. Even my research has focused on interfaith peacemaking and the similarities between disparate people. The movement in American society, it seems, it toward reconciliation rather than emphasizing differences.

And this is often presented in a way that makes comments like Eldredge's seem negative and unholy. Conflict is viewed as evil.

Yet conflict is not evil. Viktor Frankl (I take my psychological theoretical orientation from him) stated that conflict is not only good, but necessary to find true meaning in one's life. A Christian peacemaking organization also recently posted some ideas about the necessity of conflict and adversity. The grant that led to my aforementioned research was entitled the Conflict Transformation Grant. I commented on this during one of our meetings, noting that our goal is not to remove conflict, but transform it into something glorious rather than disastrous.

I begin to think about people we look to as the quintessential peacemakers, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, and Mother Teresa, all of whom won the Nobel Peace Prize. They were not exactly afraid of conflict. In fact, the first two created a LOT of conflict. But it was holy conflict. It was calling out evil for good.

But when it comes to the church, such calling out is not viewed positively in today's time. In never really has. We seek ecumenicism and the breaking down of denominational boundaries (which I largely am a strong proponent of). Yet it seems that we sometimes promote this to the extreme, being more devoted to the organization than Jesus Christ, as Eldredge ends his letter with.

Martin Luther was one individual who faced this exact criticism. Many people agreed with his ideas, but disagreed with his methods because the methods would lead to the fracturing of the church organization. The Catholic Church actaully tried to assassinate him because of his actions. If you ever read his works, he had an incredibly firey tongue. He was not a person I would want to get on the wrong side of. Frankly, I doubt he would ever be a contestant for the Nobel Peace Prize because of these things.

My inclination is to think that is quite sad and wrong. As a Protestant, I think he was a holy impetus to the Reformation (I say impetus because many people for a century had the same ideas, but were often silenced or killed; Martin Luther was in the right zeitgeist). He actually did attempt to the reform the Catholic Church first, but left it when he saw it was a hopeless endeavor (until about 100 years later when the Church accepted most of his reforms). He was more committed to the True Gospel of Jesus Christ than the organization. For that, I kind of see him as a peacemaker.

As I was planning on writing this, I saw more of a dichotomy between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr., with the latter being more "passive." As I'm thinking about this more, I'm not so sure that's the case. However, my sense is that history views MLK as more of a bridger and Martin Luther as more of a separatist. Separatists are not viewed as peacemakers, in part because of biblical versus, like "You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in."

That's fair. However, sometimes separation and divide is necessary. Often we do things to "keep the peace." Is it really peace, or is it maintaining the status quo, which makes things feel more comfortable? For those who know me, I'm often not one to just "keep the peace." I don't like the status quo for the sake of the status quo.

In that way, I feel more like the "insurgent" and "revolutionary" Martin Luther than the "passive" and "peaceful" MLK. I put those words in quotes because, again, Martin Luther wasn't one to pick up a sword; he took actions that seemed a lot like passive resistance. And MLK, while nonviolent, was very aggressive with his words and was a revolutionary. He definitely divided people.

So when is it appropriate and acceptable to be divisive versus unitive?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Important Questions

I came across this video today, which I think raises some very important questions every church and ministry should ask of themselves. I'm quite impressed by the leadership of this church...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Not All Gospels Are Equal

I was cleaning up the piles of paper on my desk this weekend (one of the reasons I hate paper--I put it somewhere to deal with later, and I never come back to it), and I came across this monthly letter from Ransomed Heart again, written by John Eldredge. I remember particularly liking it when I first read it, and I feel the same way again, but it touched me in different ways. For instance, his final sentence particularly resonated with me with regards to my Identity post. I'm planning on writing more about the letter, but since it's longer, I'll leave that for now... :)

Read this document on Scribd: Not All Gospels Are Equal

Saturday, July 26, 2008


I am realizing that a lot of what I do is motivated by obligation. Not by true desire, love, joy, etc., but feeling obliged to do this or that. Especially when it comes to the church (with the little "c," referring to the organization, whereas big "C" Church refers to the large Church, the people, at least in my usage). It's not a great way to live. Actually, it's no way to live at all. It's a way to die under burn out and resentment.

I know God does not want us to act from obligation, but from our hearts overflowing with love. One parable (I don't remember the author--perhaps GK Chesterton--and don't want to feel obligated to look it up at the moment :) ) essentially talks about how a king (God) dressed like a peasant to court a girl so he would know she truly loved him rather than showing the appearance of love due to obligation. I'm noticing that as long as I continue to live like I'm obligated to do so many things, it makes it difficult to love God and love others freely.

Writing less and somewhat sporadically on this is a way for me to practice ignoring obligation and listening to my heart more. Every day I think about things I could write. I often feel guilty for not writing more (not sure why). So if I feel God telling me the desire is out of obligation, I decide to not write it. However, other times, I sense God saying it something I should write. Those are the times (like this one) I get more excited to write. They're probably better posts, too... :)

I'd love to hear if others struggle with the sense of obligation (I'm assuming yes) and you handle it...

Friday, July 18, 2008


Identity is a strange thing. It's core to who we are (duh), yet it can be very elusive and confusing. Our identities can change over time, and we can spend a lot of time and energy pursuing a desired identity. Other times, an identity is bestowed or forced upon us.

I think the struggle with identity is core to our faith. The Israelites spent a lot of time struggling with their identities, through the desert and through the time of the judges, requesting a king. Acts and the letters of Paul particularly shows the struggle early Christians had defining their identities.

I've been struggling with my identity recently, yet I only just really realized in how many ways I am. I was debating about writing about this. Then I got a devotional email from Ransomed Heart entitled "Identity is Bestowed" (copied below), which talks a bit about the power of identity in our lives. That sent a message to me that this is an important topic in my life right now and that sharing my struggles with it may help others...

Some history in my conscious struggle with identity. I grew up in a small mountain town in Southern California. It took at least 30 minutes to get to any urban area that included such things as movie theatres and malls. Going to UC Berkeley for my undergrad degree was a big change in many ways. My senior year in high school introduced me to politics through my government class, and this field fascinated me. Going to Berkeley, a politically intense place, would give me a lot of opportunities to engage in a field that I could not have participated in in my hometown.

I joined the Berkeley College Republicans, worked for our conservative magazine, the Cal Patriot, as an editor, and interned in the California Assembly. My political affiliation became core to my identity. I realized this in particular when in my Spanish class I became known as "the Republican." Even the professor would often say, "Well, let's ask what the Republican thinks about this," referring to some political issue.

I didn't like being identified like that. Political affiliation and perspective should not define me; I should define it. Plus, the political realm was starting to really irritate me. I decided that if I was going to be defined by something by others, I would want to be defined by my faith. So I began getting more and more involved in my church. Declaring Religious Studies as my major helped this new identity, which worked well through my graduation.

No big changes or struggles with my identity seemed to occur through grad school, except for normal professional identity development associated with my theoretical orientation and comfort in becoming a therapist. However, less than a month ago, classes ended. For good. I have one year of internship and then I get my doctorate. Yet I realized a huge part of my identity was being lost. I had been a student since age 5. I'd always been in school (minus some summers). School was what I did well in and was something I took pride in and got a lot of confidence, comfort, and identity from. I would need to find a new identity, which would probably be a good thing.

In the last month, I have become more involved in my church. Formal ministry is a great thing and a great way to develop a holy identity, right? In part. But as I have preached for so long, I am having to remind myself that various forms of Incarnational, implicit ministry are just important as being employed by a church. Further, I am realizing my identity, including my faith identity, is becoming too defined by my church affiliation. I think this happens to many of us, unconsciously, because it looks like it's a good thing. However, I am realizing we begin to have problems when we begin to have our identities too tied up with any organization or institution.

This has literally been something that just I realized in the past day. I'm not sure where it will lead me. I think this transition is going to be exemplified by NOTW's "No Religion, Just a Relationship" saying. Unaffiliated faith, being a husband, being a daddy to my kitty. Those are identities that are a lot more meaningful, purpose-driven, and enduring than other identities...

Identity Is Bestowed

Deep within the Arrows stay, poisoning our self-perceptions, until someone comes along with the power to take them away, free us from all the false selves we use to weather the world’s weather, and restore to us our true identity. Identity is not something that falls on us out of the sky. For better or for worse, identity is bestowed. We are who we are in relation to others. But far more important, we draw our identity from our impact on those others—if and how we affect them. We long to know that we make a difference in the lives of others, to know that we matter, that our presence cannot be replaced by a pet, a possession, or even another person. The awful burden of the false self is that it must be constantly maintained.

We think we have to keep doing something in order to be desirable. Once we find something that will bring us some attention, we have to keep it going or risk the loss of the attention.

And so we live with the fear of not being chosen and the burden of maintaining whatever it is about us that might get us noticed and the commitment never to be seen for who we really are. We develop a functional self-image, even if it is a negative one. The little boy paints his red wagon a speckled gray with whatever Father left in the can after putting a new coat on the backyard fence. “Look what I did!” he says, hoping for affirmation of the wonderful impact his presence has on the world. The angry father shames him: “What do you think you’re doing? You’ve ruined it.” The boy forms an identity: My impact is awful; I foul good things up. I am a fouler. And he forms a commitment never to be in a place where he can foul things up again. Years later, his colleagues wonder why he turned down an attractive promotion. The answer lies in his identity, an identity he received from the impact he had on the most important person in his world and his fear of ever being in such a place again.

(The Sacred Romance 86, 88)

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

RIP Sir John Templeton

Sir John Templeton, remarkable philanthropist and supporter of the connection between religion and the sciences, died today. I pray that his family and friends find comfort in this difficult time and that the world continues to have people like him.

Sex Offenders

Continuing from yesterday's post on sexuality, I want to make some comments about the way we treat sex offenders. I want to clarify that I am not excusing any of the crimes, but I also do not believe we treat the offenders fairly, in large part because of the taboo on sexuality.

One of my classmates allowed me to upload her presentation on sex offender housing. It includes some stats and background information on sex offenders, which you may find interesting. You may have also seen some articles on a recent law passed in Georgia that bans sex offenders from engaging in church volunteer work. Yes, you read that correctly.

The arguments for these bans and for housing restrictions on sex offenders usually rests on the emotionally-charged plea to protect our children. Fair enough. These people violated others, and children are vulnerable.

It's not that simple, though.

Most sex offenders did not do anything sexual to a child. Most are disgusted by the idea and would defend children against child predators. Yet the law makes no distinction between a child rapist and the college mooner. Both must register as a sex offender for life, cannot live near schools ever, and in Georgia, cannot formally exercise their faith doing church volunteer work.

Something is seriously wrong with that.

I understand and agree with the heart of these laws. However, I believes the laws are wrong. They need to be more specific and tailored to do what they actually aim to do. We also need to remember that sex offenders are still people. If we become a bit more informed as to what qualifies as a sex offense, we may not judge "sex offenders" so harshly right away because many offenses are not as high on our hierarchy of sin...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Dan Kimball & Sex

It looks like Dan Kimball and Vintage Faith are doing a good job of balancing a commitment to their values, accepting and loving people with open arms, and inviting and encouraging open and honest dialogue. Great question at the end of his post!

Taboo: Sexuality

This is a big taboo, particularly within American Christianity. The sexual sins are often considered the worst. Now, I'm not making any comments here about what is appropriate and not appropriate sexual behavior. Rather, I want to focus more on how we treat people who fall outside of our expectations of what is sexually normal appropriate, whatever our norms are. As a Church, we usually get caught up debating the rights and wrongs of behaviors (from a propositional Christianity standpoint) and forget that we still have to deal with the people who fall. Regardless of our judgments of right and wrong, I want to focus on the process of dealing with the people.

A perfect example of this was by someone who once told me, "I could be next to a murderer in church, but I could never stand and worship next to a homosexual." Wow. Again, regardless of perspective of homosexuality, I think this is just plain wrong. It's bad theology and bad relationships.

Where does the Bible state that sexual sins are the worst? My theology has always stated that all sins are equal, the "little white lie" equaling murder because all sins separate us from God. So where do we, as mere mortal humans, get off creating a hierarchy of sin? It's probably safe to say that all societies have a hierarchy of sin (put into other words), but why are the sexual sins so high up in our society?

This isn't anything new, for people who think our society is just prudish. Old Testament theophanies always avoid the genital regions, usually interpreted as occurring because the Jewish people did not believe God could or should be sexualized. God can have a full body, but not genitalia. The asexual perspective of Heaven is satirized in the movie Dogma, with a lack of sexual apparatuses in the angels.

And it's not even appropriate in most circles to think that Jesus may have ever gotten an erection, ejaculated (even in his sleep), or been physically attracted to anyone, despite Him being fully human. Gasp! I think that's why there was so much uproar over the idea that He may have married. That would mean that Jesus had a penis! Oh, my! How terrifying!! I don't think Jesus married, but it's not because of a lack of sexuality (this is another topic for another time).

The taboo on sexuality causes a lot of problems, not the least of which is sexual dysfunction and fears within the Christian community. The need for Christian counselors is huge, probably because people want to talk about sexual issues with someone who shares their values because it is unacceptable to talk about sexuality in the church. How sad. It's a major part of our lives. One could argue an entire book of the Bible (Song of Solomon) was dedicated to sexuality. Yet we can only disucss it in propositional terms. The church does not accept discussion about the mystery and journey of sex in all its forms.

I think we need to re-evaluate our taboos...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Relationships Heal

The most recent newsletter from Emergent Village featured an interesting article about a soup kitchen. I loved the focus on St. Francis Inn's mission statement that emphasizes relationship. It relates to what I said a couple of weeks ago about social work and change. This article reaffirmed my belief that relationships heal.

I hope you enjoy the read. And the colloquial names for St. Francis are just hilarious! :)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Propositional Policy

Okay, I don't really know if those two words go together appropriately, but it sounds cool, right? ;)

I recently received this daily devotional email from Ransomed Heart, which can further the discussion about policy. There is a lot that could be discussed from the email, I'm going to stick with the topic from yesterday: policy.

I believe policy is derived from a propositional approach to life. Make enough propositions and water down life to those propositions, and morality and life can be easily dictated by policy. I'm not going to say that the propositions are necessarily wrong. However, focusing only on them reduces life (and the Gospel) to something too simplistic. It doesn't allow the mystery and journey of life. That's where we find God.

A “Propositional” Christianity

We have lived for so long with a “propositional” approach to Christianity, we have nearly lost its true meaning. As Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen says,

Much of it hinges on your view of scripture. Are you playing proof-text poker with Genesis plus the Gospels and Paul’s epistles, with everything else just sort of a big mystery in between—except maybe Psalms and Proverbs, which you use devotionally? Or do you see scripture as being a cosmic drama—creation, fall, redemption, future hope—dramatic narratives that you can apply to all areas of life? (Prism interview)

For centuries prior to our Modern Era, the church viewed the gospel as a Romance, a cosmic drama whose themes permeated our own stories and drew together all the random scenes in a redemptive wholeness. But our rationalistic approach to life, which has dominated Western culture for hundreds of years, has stripped us of that, leaving a faith that is barely more than mere fact-telling. Modern evangelicalism reads like an IRS 1040 form: It’s true, all the data is there, but it doesn’t take your breath away. As British theologian Alister McGrath warns, the Bible is not primarily a doctrinal sourcebook: “To reduce revelation to principles or concepts is to suppress the element of mystery, holiness and wonder to God’s self-disclosure. ‘First principles’ may enlighten and inform; they do not force us to our knees in reverence and awe, as with Moses at the burning bush, or the disciples in the presence of the risen Christ” (A Passion for Truth).

(The Sacred Romance , 45)

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Friday, July 4, 2008


I think part of the problems with symptoms is that we don't trust our or others' hearts. We don't believe that God really transforms and purifies hearts when we accept Him. Ransomed Heart's ministry is focused on this point.

About a year ago, I listened to a great conversation between some of the leaders of Ransomed Heart. Unfortunately, I can't find it now, so I can't reference it or quote it directly. In any case, one of the men made a comment that policy is created because of this fear of people's hearts. That has stuck with me for a long time. As I have seen more and more policies at work in more organizations, I have realized how true this is and how damaging it is. (There is a similar statement on Ransomed Heart's website under the What We Most Desperately Need section.)

Policy can be helpful to standardize procedures and ensure safety. However, policy is usually taken to the extreme to prevent any risk. As John Eldredge often states, no risk also means no life and no growth. In general, I believe policy is unhealthy and causes more problems than it attempts to prevent. A lot more can be said on this, and again, I do understand the need for policy in some circumstances, but there has to be a better way to create safety.

The implications of this can be seen in politics, organizations, businesses, and THE CHURCH.

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it." --Thomas Jefferson

Happy Independence Day!!

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Yesterday, I talked about my frustrations with the symptom focus of the new hands-free law in California. Today, I want to expand the need to not focus on symptoms.

So one of my struggles in my field (psychology), particularly with the more medicalized aspects, is the over focus on symptomatology rather than the root of the problem (or strengths, gasp). I have found psychiatry (the medical part of the field) tends to focus only on the treatment of symptoms, with little concern for the persistent presence of the actual disorder (slight hyperbole and separating symptoms from disorder is difficult and another discussion). My hyperbolic bias would be to ignore the symptoms and treat the underlying problem. Qualifying this, symptoms must be addressed. Anyone who has had a urinary tract infection would probably be excited that antibacterial pills are treating the underlying problem, but also want something to treat the pain now. The problem is that in the medical field, the symptoms are the primary focus.

The same is true in the Church. We look at people's behaviors and just want them changed. When someone looks holier, then they must have had some powerful influence from the Holy Spirit. And if someone is struggling with some behaviors, then they need to get closer to God. While I would agree there are correlations between relationship with God and behavioral holiness, this is not a 1:1 ratio. We struggle through life and various circumstances, no matter how close we are to God.

We need to qualify the holiness movement with remembering Jesus' words about the inside and outside of the cup. It's a lot more important to have the inside clean than the outside. It's more important to have a sinful-looking person who is close to God than a holy-looking person who doesn't know God from a doorknob.

This is hard to do because a person's relationship with God, the mind, and the existence of a medical problem without symptoms cannot be measured. So we focus on what we can point to, which can be helpful. We have major problems, though, when we reify the symptoms as the problems themselves.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

New Things

This post by Dan Kimball illustrates some of the ideas I had about technology in a different light--music. We are scared of change, and anything new must be bad. Until we get used to it, then it's good...

Hands-free Silliness

Well, those of us in California have now been under the new hands-free driving law for over 24 hours. This is a nice reference from the DMV about the law. While I completely support the use of hands-free devices (I've been using them since I had my first cell phone), I really think it's a silly law overall.

Okay, I might be overstating my position a bit, but this law frustrates me because it shows the focus on superficial fixes to situations. Yes, driving while talking causes accidents, but forcing someone to use a hands-free device won't stop the accidents. Further, this law does not outlaw texting or other uses of a cell phone. You can stare at your phone and use both hands to text, ignoring the road completely, but if you hold your phone to your ear while watching the road, you're in violation of the law. I'm not understanding that.

Further, I think cell phones are not the biggest distractions. Ever ridden with a bunch of kids (or teenagers)? Gasp. Ever sung showtunes at the top of your lungs as you're driving down the road? You are transported to another place entirely. And that's not even talking about food. Two girls from my hometown died when one choked while eating and driving...

Try and outlaw any of these. We're too comfortable with them. We like them too much. But something new, well, that we can blame the problems on.

We do that a lot in society. We go for the quick fix, but it's too often a band-aid, not a true solution. This is like my comments on throwing money at social problems. We do something to make ourselves feel better, but it's really not doing much.

And we cannot scapegoat technology. It may augment or show us problems in a new way, but they are deeper problems than just the technology.

The Church needs to remember this, too, because churches often either over embrace or over reject technology just because it's technology. Now, I love technology, but technology for technology's sake ain't good. We need to find purpose and meaning in what we do. Let's look at our problems, the width and depth of the problems, not just the symptoms and examine what we can do at a soul change level, not a behavior change level...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Taboo: Suicide

Nice happy title, right? :) Being in the field I'm in, I've been educated about suicide more than the average person, which also means I get annoyed more than the average person about misperceptions about suicide.

Suicide is a major taboo, even though many inroads have been gained over the years. An excellent example has been Dr. Robert H. Schuller's response to his friend's suicide a few years ago. Traditionally, Christianity has stated that suicide means a straight line to Hell. Schuller has nicely reframed it as a "cancer of the mind," providing a new way of looking at a horrible situation that gives us a new way to look at our theology. I could say more about this, but it is an interesting topic to struggle with, and I encourage everyone to do so.

I've noticed two in particular that have irritated me a lot. They often happen in the media, so they may not be representative of the general population, but still:

1. Did he/she leave a note?
This is often asked from a skeptical loved one who cannot believe the individual committed suicide. The emotions are fair enough, as is the desire to find any way of debunking the possibility that the death was by suicide. However, most people do not leave suicide notes. Some do, but as satirized in Analyze This, such notes are not definitive of suicide. The presence or absence of a suicide note does not give absolute proof of suicide.

2. But he/she wasn't depressed!
It's amazing how well people can hide depression (it doesn't always look like sadness). But beyond that, suicide is not always caused by depression. Depression is a major cause, but there are many reasons a person may commit or attempt suicide. Sometimes death is even accidental. Some of the other mental illness-related causes of suicide are a manic episode (for instance, a man believes he can fly and so jumps of a freeway overpass to his death--it's suicide, but he wasn't depressed). During a psychotic episode, people can also commit suicide, again for a variety of reasons.

There are volumes and volumes of work on suicide, so if you are interested, do some research. But in any case, please don't assume someone who committed suicide was depressed and left a note. It's a LOT more complicated than that.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please seek help right away. New Hope is an excellent resource. They can be reached online at that link or by phone at (714) NEW-HOPE or (714) 639-4673.


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).