Saturday, August 30, 2008

Clean Rivers and Sound Doctrine - Are they compatible?

Weeks ago I read about Mike Jameson & other legislator's, state and local swim in the Cumberland River. I gotta tell you, I thought as I read it, what will those politicians think of next? The cynicism in my bones rattled . Then, I was convicted. Something about their hope for a better city, for a cleaner river rejuvenated me, at least from a civic standpoint. I've got to confess, my reluctance to live as a better green citizen, is based in my comfort, my pride and my clinging to the notion of independence and freedom from being told how to live. And I suspect, being told how to live is the rub for all of us. We simply resent, at one time or another, being told what to do and how to do it. My resistance has often been so intense, I've resorted to telling folks where to put it, so I know, it is true about me, I wonder if it's the same for you all...?

The worldview to which I am subject, Christian Theism, might seem counter to ecological responsibility. After all, we who would like to be called Orthodox Christians are in a new conflict of sorts with those we call the Emergent Church movement; the new rebels. Those needling Emergents have pointed out to us Ostrich Orthodoxers that we are mistreating the planet, that we have failed our fellow man, and that our failure to change our wasteful, neglectful lifestyle sends a conflicting message to the 'world' as it were. Admittedly, the retorts I've heard some Orthodoxers come up with in response to the Emergents are based in ignorance, fear, and stubbornness.

"We don't have to recycle, God is going to destroy the earth at the end of the age anyway- it's scriptural" or "Jesus said we will always have the poor", (and that he most unequivocally did)
but the Word to which we so dearly cling also says....the earth is the Lord's and everything in it....the implication therefore follows we ought be good stewards thereof
Jesus also said: "when you did it not to the least of these, you did it not unto me, which clearly says when you look the other way to those in need, you ignore Jesus. Conservatives and liberals get so attached their ideaologies that they abandon the truth of the gospel, refusing to be changed. I include my self, Wallace, in this admonition.

Tim Keller has said in the introduction to his book, "The Reason for God", that both the liberals and the conservatives are right. That is a paltry paraphrase, but I think his point is worth investigating. I suspect part of his point is we have something to learn as head in the sand conservative privileged North Americans from the pleading Emergents, who, more often than not tend to be liberally minded.

What, pray tell, have they to learn from us old codgers?

Keeping in mind that it has been said those Emergent Church folk are not likely to take hard and fast stands on the truth, I wonder if maybe, just maybe they might sit a spell and listen. Here's what I imagine they might hear:

Oh hell no, they won't listen, they are stubborn, young, brash whippersnappers that think they know everything....

Well, I'll tell you right now, if I was an Emergent Church goer and I overheard someone in the Orthodox camp say the foregoing, I would be inclined to dig in my heels too. Also, it is good to keep in mind the 12- step wisdom of: You spot it, you got it.

How about a response like: the truth of the Gospel levels us all. all. all. Are you getting the point that all includes us, too? If we claim to teach sound doctrine, to live lives shaped and influenced by the Gospel, we will be undergoing change by the grace of the Holy Spirit until Jesus returns or until he calls us home. The process of sanctification is no picnic, friends.

That being said, and with due gentleness and respect, I cannot sit idly by and watch, mouth agape, as the Emergent movement subjects the truth of the Gospel to its tired old standard of works righteousness. The Gospel will prevail, but I shudder for those unwary who could be caught up in a movement, and lose sight. The four pillars of orthodoxy, the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ; the authority of Scripture; the supremacy or exclusivity of Christ; and the doctrine of original sin are all things about which I cannot negotiate. I cannot budge on them; I am persuaded they are true. These ideas are not true because they work- they work because they are true. From my reading and listening to their theology, it is my understanding these are the very things Emergent Christians tend to discount, to diminish, and to, in some cases throw out altogether all in the name of conversation, intrigue, seeking. Their problem seems to be that the substitionary atonement of Jesus Christ does nothing for the starving disenfranchised in Darfur or in Nashville. The inerrancy of scripture is viewed as a club with which Reformed theologians brow-beat the world. It's funny that the Emergent claims there is no truth to which we must submit. According to their proposition, THAT IS the very truth to which they submit, that there is none.

It is plain the claim of truth of the Gospel rankles the Emergent Christian. That first and foremost, God is perfectly righteous. Second, we, mankind are helpless and fallen in our sinful state. Conversely, God loves us with an everlasting love by providing a way through Christ. It seems they would have me think I can scrub myself clean and worthy by my deeds. That by feeding and clothing the hungry, we are saving not only ourselves, but saving God's name as well. This error in thinking is leading to folks believing the lie that God is who we make him out to be. Here's my response: The truth of the gospel should, yes, should rankle. Does it somehow imply that I'm better or superior to claim I have truth, or that I've found or discovered truth in the Gospel? May it never be. In fact, it is quite the other way around. The Truth of the Gospel as revealed in Christ Jesus has found me/us. Neither Orthodox Christians or Emergents make the truth, the truth is making them. God's truth was, is, and is to come.
The Truth has provided me with the awful glimpse of my sinful nature and in what dire state of need I remain. Poor, wretched, yet beloved and treasured. Sort of like that Cumberland River. It was polluted, undesirable, and desperately in need of cleansing. But she, the river could do nothing to help herself. So, when we analyze these concepts, clean rivers and sound doctrine from the standpoint of Truth, then, yes, I'd say, they are compatible. May the Church do God's bidding in worship in the sanctuary and in worshipping the Lord of Lords in our daily lives.

Soli Deo gloria.

That Day

Eschatology, the word, sounds like a study of some culinary delicacy; for some reason it reminds me of escargot. The dictionary tells us eschatology is .."any system of doctrines concerning last or final matters, as death, the Second Coming or the Last Judgment"* What I apprehend of both escargot and eschatology is scant. About one, with all due respect to the French and their offerings to the realm of food, I have little desire to know more. On the other hand, as it pertains to the end of the world, I would like to educate myself, at least, in so far as it is possible.

I had a Bible teacher about whom I've spoken here, Mrs. Betty Williams who was the first to instruct me on the rapture, the sweeping up of the Church from earth. The very thought of it as an adolescent was enough to strike in me terrible internal fear. Internal, and temporal, not eternal. She showed us a lot of the places in scripture where the writer or the translation says : ...and on that day.... No matter the reference, her teaching was clear. "That Day" meant a specific date and a specific time- the date and time of the Lord's return. She made no bones about it. She did not pretend to know the day or the hour and explicitly taught it was error to presume that one could know.

I'm no pole sitter either, thanks to Betty and the Holy Spirit's instruction I make no claim to know the date of the return of Christ for his beloved bride. What I do know is this: every man or woman, group, denomination, sect or cult who has made the prediction of Christ's imminent return, has, to date, been wrong 100% of the time.

So, what are we to do? Stare at our navel... pray and cling to the hope Jesus' return will be in the third watch of the night? Hardly, I submit. Nay, we are to be fully alive for the sake of the Gospel, so on that day, when Christ returns we will either be among the dead in Christ or part of the body of believers alive at the time of His glorious appearing. My admonition: let us not concern ourselves with the calendar of days, nor become attached too closely to the wiles of this old world, but instead, long for Jesus return with such zeal that many along the road will be drawn to him for whom we pine.

Saint Augustine

"Men go forth to wonder at the heights of mountains, the huge waves of the sea, the broad flow of the rivers, the vast compass of the ocean, the courses of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering"
- Saint Augustine, Confessions, Book X chapter 8

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Summer Reading assignments

Remember the dreaded summer reading list? Marching into the bookstore under the thumbscrew of one's parent, wagging that mimeographed piece of paper with titles such as Huckeleberry Finn, Moby Dick, For Whom the Bell Tolls, To Kill a Mockingbird,? Those were the days. We groaned or we secretly coveted the time allotted for reading. For some of us, reading was a welcome bliss from the intrusion of melancholy. Isolating in an air-conditioned sanctuary at the public library and diving into classic literature was as close as we'd get to utopia, if there ever was such a thing; and, for others, the 'list' and its demands was a chore that interfered with other activity, like water-skiing until we were raisined, or watching the idiot box all afternoon. Time, when young, seems endless until the hours of summer have waned and there's but a week left before Miss Bradshaw's English class begins. That's when it seems there is no justice. One is confident the whole world does revolve around their doom and dismay.
In the interest of nostalgia and good, old fashioned sweat of the brow thinking for oneself, I've compiled a list for you. Consider this your end of summer reading assignment; and, you better get at it, because there is plenty to pour over. Yes, there will be a quiz. I want you to read the funny-bone tickling, yet somber article of P.J. O'Rourke on science and religion found here in Science and Spirit magazine. To get you started, it is short. Good stuff.
This lengthy essay from City Journal, posted at Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal contemplates Obama's Shamanic nature. It strikes me as prophetic-What do you think? Try out R.R. Reno's essay on permanence as he ponders the tattoo. And, this one is for the skeptic: a piece from Sean Curyn's Right Wing Bob ( relax, it is no Bob Jones University manifesto) that explores what, and for whom Bob Dylan might really stand.
Ok, that's it for now. Turn off the tv. Get a glass of your favorite beverage. Start a load of wash. Put your feet up. Read. (for those of you with children, animals and other worthy time-consuming activities, please don't scoff or shoot me, the messenger.) Reading is a good thing, and so are most of the activities that prevent us from taking time/having time to read. The challenge is in deciding. Believe you me, reading and thinking on that reading has had a significant role in shaping me. If I read less, I'd probably have painted my bathroom by now. If I read less, I would have more new clothing. What I treasure about reading is not simply the doing of it, but the confrontation it most always offers; what happens in me, as a result.
I can still recall the smell the mimeograph machine left in the paper, the reading lists, and the yearning in my gut to get at it. I hope you have something for which you long like reading that hints at heaven.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I'll Fly Away Part 1

Thomas MacKenzie's dad died on July 30th. Decades ago, Thomas' dad was paralyzed by a surgeon's error. This paralysis resulted in his dad having to spend the rest of his life shackled. He was either tethered to a wheelchair or the braces that he fashioned as a remedy. After his dad's death, Thomas took the brace(s) to a high bridge over a serious river and slung them over the rail. His choice to do so was motivated by his hatred for what they, the braces, represent: death, (Thomas used the word 'inability') destruction, maiming, suffering, loss, I could go on, ad infinitum.

My first instinct when watching Thomas' video blog on the subject, is this is cathartic, it is meaningful to him. Braces, wheelchairs, all tethering of the sort represents the enemy's impact on our bodies, our lives, our world. I've seldom come across a person limited by physical or mental handicap (errrr impairment, impairment I must be p.c. said the roboton) that I did not think on the scar of the fall. In Mr. MacKenzie's case, the fall of a fallen surgeon, apparently. Who knows what caused the surgeon's mistake. A bad night's sleep, the slip of scalpel, an ongoing stress yet to be named...? Who knows!?

I've asked those questions too. My birth's trauma sort of remains a mystery to me. I know what the condition is, but there's not a cause of which I'm aware. Even so, I spent the first quarter of my life with a brace on my left leg, though it was not required for me to stand, or walk. I think the fitting term was therapeutic brace. There was the awful irony. I could do without it, I could drag my weaker leg along without a brace and oh how I longed to do so. Much to my flesh's dismay, my mother faithfully had me fitted for it as I grew-(to the orthopaedist twice a year at least) and saw to it that I wore it every day. Today, without it, I try not to drag my leg, and the constancy of the therapy in my formative years made a difference. My leg was strengthened by the wearing of it- I was, as they say, changed. Changing is probably more accurate, or to use a theological term-being sanctified. So, my being bound in this life is both a dreadful signature of the enemy's destruction and a glorious intimation of that day yet to come, when, like Thomas' dad, I'll be changed on the other side, body and soul.

No more iron shackles on my feet....

There's more to this, and I'm going to post part 2 later.

Go well this Lord's day, worshipping Him whose glory is everlasting.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Rest in Peace

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died today at the age of 89. A man who endured torture in forced labor camps in his native country all for making remarks about "the man with the mustache", (Stalin) in a letter to a friend. I know little about him save that he has influenced countless writers in the west, and that he stood as a conscience of his nation against the raging evil of communism.

In the wake of his death, much will be covered about him, his stamina, his literary genius, and his far reaching effect on other writers. Solzhenitsyn's Christian faith may be overlooked by some media outlets, but it would be hard to miss if they did their research. Time magazine published a prayer of his recently. Read it and marvel that a man whose life included such dire events could exclaim how easy it is to believe in God. May we consider this the next time our American hang-nails of traffic jams, high oil prices, and our team losing the penant again send us into a frenzy.

Rest in peace dear Aleksandr.

How easy it is to live with You, O Lord.
How easy to believe in You.

When my spirit is overwhelmed
within me, When even the keenest see no
further than the night, And know not what to do —
tomorrow, You bestow on me the certitude that
You exist and are mindful of me.
That all the paths of righteousness
are not barred. As I ascend into
the hill of earthly glory, I turn back and gaze,
astonished, on the road that led me here beyond despair,
Where I too may reflect Your radiance upon mankind.

All that I may yet reflect, You shall
accord me, And appoint others where I shall fail.

–a prayer of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s;
* Translation © 1 972 by Patricia Blake


Practicing law leaves one with a healthy respect for history, for the former things, for the roots of the law. Whether the history is case law, statutory law, or executive order, and whether I agree with the premises of those laws or not, the canon is significant. Lay people know in peculiar ways that some laws are preposterous. On the other hand, whether we agree or not, we are all, lay and legal types, bound to live under them. In a free country such as this republic for which we wobble, we can speak out against laws, against persons, and ideas. This proposition is what lead to the two party political system we have today. It is why there are pro-life and pro-choice camps; it explains the pro-death penalty groups and anti-death penalty groups. We are free to choose, so far.

In considering history, and the choices we've made, we leave our pasts, our records. The intangible notion of our reputation will not be buried with us. They remain to speak of us. How then should we live? Dare we ask? Is that our place to question? Aren't we open-minded folk? Does how we live really count? Why should we care?

Save for the fact that truth matters, lives well lived matter, character counts, integrity is of utmost importance, there are no other reasons. But to whom do we turn when those platitudes fail us, when we have exchanged the truth for a lie, when we have failed miserably, when our character is tainted by our behavior, and when our integrity is marred by our gross misdeeds?

I submit we cannot turn to our selves, to our loved histories, our pride in territory, our collective patriotism, our flags, nation-states, ecological sensitivities, all of which compose our deeds. We must bow, and right well on our faces- submit to the one true God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. His legacy-his sinless life, his perfect substitutionary death and his glorious resurrection this is the only one through which there is lasting hope.

What type legacy the church leaves in this generation seems to be bound up in her work. Her work is not to love and minister for the sake of ministry's goodness and rightness, but for the sake of the Gospel- which is to cast a net and save the lost, with the awfulness of the truth- while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
The receipt of life eternal does not flow from accomplished works, but works flow from the life eternal freely given.