ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



Heroes of the faith


Job was restored.
Hannah was answered.
Even Thomas got to see.
“Look to them in your arid times!”

Nobody esteems Hagar.
She is forever the slave woman.

But sometimes, it is enough to say
We didn’t die in the desert.


An argument for ordinary

Seven years ago when I started my blog, I dubbed it ‘ordinary (mostly)’. It was supposed to be a self-deprecating name. I described myself as a “run-of-the-mill blogger”—which, of course, was entirely true… maybe even generous.

But the truth is that I wanted to be a little bit better than run-of-the-mill. I wanted people to like what I wrote. So it was a false humility.

I just finished reading Richard Beck’s latest book, Reviving Old Scratch. If you’ve been reading my blog for seven years (an audience of two: my mom and my wife), you’ll know that I love Beck’s writing and thinking. This latest book is no exception. His audience is doubting Christians… people like me who have a hard time believing in God sometimes, let alone the devil (“Old Scratch”). Yet Beck argues that even doubters “need to reclaim spiritual warfare… but not in the way you think.”

So—I highly recommend the book. But that’s an aside, because all I really wanted to share here was an insight from Henri Nouwen that Beck highlights in the book…

In The Selfless Way of Christ, Nouwen says…

Three temptations by which we are confronted again and again are the temptation to be relevant, the temptation to be spectacular, and the temptation to be powerful.

Think about the temptations of Christ:

  1. “Turn these stones to bread” – be relevant
  2. “Throw yourself down” – be spectacular
  3. Accept all the kingdoms – be powerful

Beck observes…

Nobody wants to be ordinary. Or average. Nobody wants to be the last one picked for the kickball game. Nobody wants to be the failure or the loser. And so we push to stand out from the crowd. We crave success, applause, and attention. We want to have influence, a platform, a voice.

But Jesus calls his followers to something else…

Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.

Be ordinary.

A recent letter to the Mennonite World Review (July 18, 2016; print edition, not online) suggested…

God and Jesus did not get all that involved in social matters but did get involved in the salvation of souls.

– Paul D. Flaming

The Church faces the challenge of exegesis—the understanding, explanation, and interpretation of scripture. We have lots of disagreements about divisive issues, but I think many (most?) of them result from the different ways that we read scripture.

I would hope to convince the letter writer that I am also earnest and sincere when I read the Bible, and yet I come to almost the opposite conclusion. Nearly the whole of scripture reached its final form at the hand of writers and editors who were suffering under occupation and oppression. For them, the social and the spiritual go hand-in-hand; they are inseparable. It’s not a question of whether or not to be social or political, but whether how to be social or political. And remember, we (in the United States) are generally the ones in power, not the ones who are suffering because of it. I believe that this must shape our exegesis.

How not to Facebook

I messed up a few days ago.

One of my friends was extolling the virtues of the Trump/Pence ticket on Facebook. He went so far as to say he’d question the salvation of any Christian who wouldn’t vote for them on election day.

I responded with something snarky like, “Better start questioning my salvation then, but just remember Romans 14 as you do.”

I was blocked. Just like that. Not a word in response.

I have lots of opinions about Trump and Pence, but since I’ve already messed up online political talk once this week, let’s not go there.

Instead, let’s talk about hospitality.

You’d think I’d know by now… tongue-in-cheek jokes don’t work online. No one hears your tone of voice when you’re attempting some light-hearted teasing about sensitive topics. But somehow, I forgot once again how the voice in my head doesn’t make it through the ether.

On Facebook, you can’t tell that I’m smiling when I say, “Go ahead… question my salvation. I’m ok with that. It will probably make me a better Christian.” You can’t tell that I’m asking for gentleness and mercy for myself as you judge me, because I’m always in need of a little grace. (If you haven’t already looked up Romans 14 this might be the time to stop and read it.)

I failed to think about context.

I failed to remember the needs of my friend.

I failed to consider that a little teasing among friends that you see frequently is not the same as teasing someone that you haven’t seen for many years.

I failed to extend hospitality.

And that’s sad, because nothing matters more to me than hospitality.

When I fail to extend hospitality, that’s when you can really start questioning my salvation…

“Lord, when was it that we saw you. . . .a stranger. . . .and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

(Matthew 25:44-46, NRSV)

So if you read this, and I’ve offended you, I apologize. I’m deeply sorry.

And if that’s not you—if I haven’t managed to offend you yet—thank God. Maybe you can learn something from my crap, because God knows we need a little grace here.

What is resonating now…

Some things I’m reading that make me say ‘yes’:

From Richard Beck:

Edging Toward Enchantment: From Deconstruction to Reconstruction

…but you can’t go back. I often tell my students that there is a threshold of doubt, that once you start asking certain sorts of questions there is no going back. When it comes to faith there is a class of questions that, once you get to them, just don’t have any answers. When you reach these questions you’ll live with them for the rest of your life…

Something has to give. If you want to maintain a hold on faith the season of deconstruction has to be followed by a season of reconstruction. But a lot of doubting and disenchanted Christians never make the decision–and it is a decision–to commence with the work of reconstruction…

Edging back toward enchantment is practicing faith. Not practicing as faith. But just what I said: practicing faith.

And from Hugh Hollowell:

Why I am a Christian Humanist:

…if there is a God, either that God is way more loving and accepting than I am, or that God can give my spot in eternity to someone else. Because while I do not get to decide what God is like, I do get to decide what sort of God I deem worthy of worship. And if that God isn’t more loving than me, more generous than me, more open than me, more accepting than me, then that God isn’t worth my time or my devotion.

And also from Hugh: today’s thoughts on “Bonds and Betrayal“.

Easter faithfulness

So… may I share a secret?

I don’t know what to do with Easter.

Here’s the thing… I was scientist once upon a time. I still process the world that way. Yes, I may have come out as an ‘N’ the last time I took a Myers-Briggs test. Doesn’t matter. I still have a lot of ‘S’ buried inside. I analyze and test.

Everything. All the time.

And even when I act as an ‘N’ (which may or may not be a lot of the time now), I still have the ‘S’ part of me lurking nearby. And here’s the problem: Continue reading “Easter faithfulness”

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