Waiting For My Son

When I wake up each morning I immediately wonder how my wife is doing and if she’s gone into labor. I furiously look around for any noticeable signs of such a wonderful event. Then, when I learn all is well, my heart-rate begins its slow return to normalcy. When I get into bed each night I lie there wondering if I’ll make it till morning without being woken up with those words I’ve been dying to hear, “I”m going into labor.” While mulling over this soon-coming joyous moment I reach over and place my hand on her stomach so I can feel him squirm and kick from inside the womb “one last time.” As I slowly doze off I can only imagine how great it will be when those squirms and kicks are performed before my very eyes.

For almost a week now that is how I have started and finished my day. What do I do in between beginning and end?

I prepare.

Once I hear the magic words from my wife there are things I won’t have time to do, so they must be done now. Each day I have a checklist of things I run through to make sure we are as prepared as we can be.

Is the driveway clear of snow so we can easily get the car out of the garage? Am I clean shaven so I don’t look like a ruffian when I see my son for the first time? Do the dogs have plenty of food in their containers for whoever ends up feeding them while we’re at the hospital? Are the relevant gadgets – cell phones, iPods, cameras, video cameras – fully charged and packed? Do my parents have all the information they need to get to the hospital and/or house? Is there cash in my wallet to pay for parking at the hospital?

It can be a bit wearisome to go through this list each and every day, but it’s a wearisome chore that is done with great joy. What makes this waiting for my son unique is that I’m always preparing for something that could come in a moment’s notice (perhaps even before I finish writing this) or could come in a week’s time. There are ‘big days’ in our lives that are exciting and require a lot of preparation. In high school there is the SAT (or for my fellow Oklahomans – the ACT) at university it seems there is always a mid-term or final exam to prepare for, and there is perhaps the biggest day of one’s life  his or her wedding. But for each of these big moments in life there is a specific day on which you know the event will happen.

I’ve been struggling to think of an event that is similar in that you are always preparing for it even though you don’t know when it’s coming. Last night I finally found a comparison. An event that I should’ve thought of a long time ago but didn’t. (Perhaps this lapse shows that I haven’t been preparing for it as diligently as I should.) In the same way I’ve been preparing for the arrival of my son, I should be preparing for the arrival of the Son.

My joyous thoughts of my soon-coming son should be based upon the foundation of the soon-coming King. In fact, my son’s very life is dependent upon God’s gracious gift to my wife and me. So what should I be doing from morning to dawn?

Prepare.

Have I been seeking a more developed relationship with God? Have I sought to know him through studying his word? Am I continually trying to live the life that he intended for me to live? Is the life of Christ exemplified in my daily actions? In how I treat my wife? In how I treat my co-workers? Do I seek to glorify God in all my actions? Is he the center of my academic pursuits? Do my goals and dreams reflect God’s desire that all would come to him and have everlasting life?

I am sure that over the next many years I will learn many things about God through my son. I am truly happy that these lessons are beginning even now.

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Matthew 25: 1-13

Thinking of God

This argument,
so brief,
yet so enduring,
makes nothing of sense,
and everything of thought.

Its conceptual point
of departure
is God
as mere idea-
the idea of:
a being
than which nothing greater
can be
conceived-
and moves on to
its referent,
the reality that transcends
the idea that it entails,
God Himself.

It proceeds
going backwards:
a clever move
to catch
the “No”-theist
in a merciful trap:
Think it as
not-real;
then it must needs be
a thought only ….
and yet,
a thought of the greatest conceivable
(being) that does not be,
which therefore is not
the greatest conceivable
being as such.

Could such a thought
proceed from
a saint
Anselm of Canterbury
thought so,
and, please God,
presented it
with solid conviction,
that it was both
proof
of God
and
(of) answered prayer.

-RDG

Thoughts on A Generous Orthodoxy – 3

It is very late here in Toronto, but after several hours of lying in bed staring at the ceiling, I decided to sit doesn and write a few thoughts about chapter 2 in A Generous Orthodoxy. Fortunately this chapter, “Jesus and God B,” is very short and there’s not too much going on here.

McLaren doesn’t really say much in this chapter. The first paragraph of the chapter he describes why he is a Christian. In the process he uses Jesus’ name a lot and then has several pages of him justifying why he felt he needed to use the name as much as he does. He then tells us that “son of God”, “son of man”, and “son of humanity” should be thought of in the same way we use phrases like “mother of all wars.” Jesus captures the essences of God and man. We experience God in Jesus. Then there are several pages trying to explain why he has used the masculine pronouns to refer to God and Jesus. Finally, we get to the part where the title of the chapter gets tied in. For many years people thought of God as “God A.” This God was “single, solitary, dominant Power, Mind or Will”. Then after experiencing Jesus, people came to experience “God B” – “a unified, eternal, mysterious, relational community/family/society/entity of saving Love” (76). I would’ve thought the title of the chapter would be worth more than two paragraphs, but hey the guy has sold a ton of copies so he must know more than me about these things.

As I stated a few posts ago, I haven’t read any of McLaren’s stuff before this book. But I have heard many reports indicating he’s not a big fan of exclusivism (the idea that only those who believe in Jesus as Son of God enter Heaven). A Tyndale student reports that during a talk McLaren recently gave in Toronto he said he’d rather someone be a compassionate Muslim concerned about social justice than a non-social justice minded Christian. With these types of stories in mind, my ears perked when I read,

For too many people the name Jesus has become a symbol of exclusion, as if Jesus’ statement “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” actually means, “I am in the way of people seeking truth and life. I won’t let anyone get to God unless he comes through me (pg. 70).

Here it seems McLaren is attacking a straw man. There are many that would say Jesus’ statement was exclusionary, but it’s not because he simply wouldn’t let anyone else come to God (as McLaren suggests). Instead, Jesus is the only way to get to God because all of humanity has sinned and is in need of a redeemer. Jesus is that redeemer but the only way to have access to that redemption is to come through him. There just is no other way about it. It’s not that the Muslim or Jew has walked up to “God’s door” and Jesus is there blocking it. Instead, the Muslim or Jew could not even get to the door without Jesus showing them the way.

I don’t know what McLaren thinks about mankind being in a sinful state, but I hope he clarifies his views later in the book. If he doesn’t think we are sinful from birth, then it makes much more sense for him to think the Muslim or Jew has the same access to God as the Christian.  As I said above, in the opening paragraph of the chapter McLaren writes why he is a Christian. Note what is missing from it.

I am a Christian because I have confidence in Jesus Christ – in all his dimensions (those I know, and those I don’t). I trust Jesus. I think Jesus is right because I believe God was in Jesus in an unprecedented way. Through Jesus I have entered into a real, experiential relationship with God as Father, and I have received God’s Spirit into my life. I have experienced the love of God through Jesus, and as the old hymn says, “love so amazing, so divine, demands my heart, my life, my all.” As I seek to follow Jesus as my leader, guide, and teacher, I believe I am experiencing life in its fullest dimensions – full of joy and love, and yes, full of struggle and challenge, too. For all these reasons and more, I love Jesus. I believe Jesus embraces me, and you, and the whole world in the love of God.

Did you notice that he doesn’t say anything about redemption or forgiveness? Of course if he doesn’t think he is a sinner, then God has nothing to redeem or forgive. To be fair, McLaren doesn’t say these are the only reasons he loves Jesus. He says it is for “these reasons and more.” Perhaps the part about humanity’s sinfulness and need for redemption gets packed into the “and more” part of this, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. The title of chapter four is “Jesus: Savior of What?”, hopefully we’ll get some clarification then.

Thoughts on ‘A Generous Orthodoxy 2’

Last week I published a few thoughts about Franke’s forward to McLaren’s book. This week I read the “Introduction”, “Chapter 0”, and “Chapter 1.” For the most part, each seemed to be created to fill space (this is less true of “Chapter 1”), but there were a few things that would be worth mentioning. Since this week’s readings were split into three categories, there’s not much chance of a single thread running through each, so I’ll just break my thoughts into three sections. Hopefully next week I’ll be able to concentrate my reflection on one or two overarching themes of the chapter.

“Introduction”

This is a book for new Christians, old Christians disillusioned with their church, and people that have yet to become Christian. Because the focus is decidely on these groups of people, it will not be surprising if his generous orthodoxy turns out to be a ‘new’ orthodoxy. Orthodoxy has been around for some time, so if he’s just going to present what people have mostly always believed, he’ll be covering a lot of old ground. If that were the case, then I doubt the book would have been such a hit.

Here we see something about McLaren’s writing style. He writes very humbly. He does not come across as arrogant in the least. It appears that he is trying to make sure the reader feels comfortable enough with the book to disagree with it. This, for McLaren, is a sign of good writing because that is when people will truly learn. Whether or not that is the only way people learn is beside the point.

“Chapter 0”

McLaren writes this chapter as a warning to the reader. He is going to discuss topics that will likely make immature people (Christians?) cringe. If that is you, then you’re supposed to take the book back to the bookstore. Honestly, I found this entire section highly irritating. The combination of “this is going to shock you” and more evidences of his humility made me want to stop reading entirely. Not because I’m not mature but because it was so annoying. I seriously doubt McLaren wants people to actually take the book back. And even if he did, then he’s taking himself way to seriously. We no longer live in a society where questioning the status quo is dangerous. In fact, supporting the status quo is more dangerous that blasting it. Added to that were more self-deprecating remarks intended to demonstrate just how humble of a writer he is and that he is fully aware of his own ignorance. By the end of the chapter it really felt like he was just fishing for complements. If he believed he is as amateurish as he claims, then he should never have written a book.

With these annoyances aside, there is at least one thing worth discussing. On page thirty-five, McLaren writes “Nearly all orthodoxies of Christian history have shown a pervasive disdain for other religions of the world: Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, atheism, etc. A generous orthodoxy of the kind explored in this book, while never pitching its tent in the valley of relativism, nevertheless seeks to see members of other religions and non-religions not as enemies but as beloved neighbors, and whenever possible, as dialouge partners and even collaborators.”

A few things come to mind here. First, what does McLaren mean by “disdain” and how has that been expressed? Does he mean historical orthodoxies have sought the persecution of people belonging to these other faiths? Or does he mean historical orthodoxy has shown disdain by teaching they are wrong? Perhaps he means the disdain has been shown by the belief that other faiths are wrong and those that believe in them will spend eternity in Hell. If it’s the first, then I think the reader is owed some historical examples. (I’m sure they can be found concerning Islam, but that is conspicuously absent from the list.) If it’s the second or third option, then I think we need to be shown how thinking someone is wrong is disdainful. The fact that McLaren believes Barack Obama is the best presidential candidate doesn’t make me disdain him, even though I think he is wrong.

Second, what does McLaren mean by saying participants in other religions are “dialogue partners and even collaborators”? Now I know ‘dialogue’ and ‘conversation’ are big words in McLaren’s world, but what do they really mean? If it means we should sit down and hear each other out, then that’s great. But if it means we should sit down, hear each other out, but not expect one side to convince the other side about the truth of his religion, then this seems to just be religious scepticism. Dialoguing about religious truth shouldn’t be treated different from dialoguing about  mathematical truths. There is a truth to the matter and we should try to get at it. One should only deny this if he thinks there is no truth (relativism-what McLaren specifically denied) or if he thinks there is a truth but we can’t know it. I don’t think McLaren is a skeptic, but I do think he should be clearer about what it means to dialogue with members of other faiths.

Finally, what does McLaren mean when he says members of other religions should be seen as “collaborators”? Collaborating for what? Collaborating implies two or more people working together for something. For what would McLaren have us work together? Fair treatment of the “untouchables” in India’s caste system? Equal rights for women in countries ran by radical Muslims? The abolition of abortion in America? Is it just in the ethical arena that we should collaborate with these people or should we do it in the religious arena too? If so, on what would we be collaborating?

Perhaps these questions will get fleshed out later in the book. If not, perhaps someone reading this blog could help me out.

“Chapter 1: The Seven Jesuses I Have Known”

This chapter has no real thesis, so it’s hard to evaluate. He’s not arguing for something (he may think he’s arguing for something but since there’s no argument here I’ll assume he’s not trying to do so), but instead is giving some of his past views on Jesus. I won’t run down the whole list, but will try to sum it up. He started out seeing Jesus in a very religiously conservative way (Jesus came to die for our sins) and then eventually ended up on the edge of that conversativism (Pentecostalism-Jesus teaches us to have more faith). This was short and he moved on to seeing Jesus through the Roman Catholic and then Greek Orthodoxy lense (Jesus’ resurection defeats death and his birth restores creation). He dabbled in a bit of the Anabaptist movement and then moved on to some form of liberation theology (Jesus came to make peace and confron social injustices). McLaren is careful to point out that the seven ways he has experienced Jesus are just that, his own experiences. Members of each group would probably disagree with some part of his presentation, but he feels he has fairly represented his own experience of each group.

McLaren concludes by saying each of these ways is valuable and we should appreciate each for what they are. We shouldn’t try to make them all one, but should enjoy the differences of each. For example, says McLaren, we enjoy different cuisines: Thai, Chinese, Italian, and Mexican for what they are independent of each other. If we dumped them all into a blender we’d get a pretty untasty meal. In the same way, we shouldn’t just have our Pentecostal Jesus and nothing else, but we also shouldn’t try to make all seven views of Jesus one.

I think McLaren is right that different denominations tend to focus on different aspects of Jesus. I also think he’s right that we should try to learn from other representations of Jesus. But there is a limit to this approach. If one view is mutually exclusive with the others, then we simply can’t accept all of them. We’ll have to decide which is right and which is wrong. I think this decision is what McLaren wants to avoid, but at some point he’ll figure out it’s unavoidable (I hope).

To conclude this long post (the future posts will cover only one chapter and will therefore be much shorter), McLaren is after good things. He advocates showing more humility when discussing theological issues with other people within Christianity and without. But he may not recognize that intellectual humility should lead to the truth. One can be intellectually humble and still think he is right. One can argue vehemently with the Muslim for the truth of Christianity but still be humble throughout. McLaren seems to suggest that being intellectually humble means giving up the right to argue for a truth claim altogether. That is a mistake.

McLaren also seems to want people to step back from what they have believed for so long and to carefully evaluate those beliefs. Here we are in full agreement. But again, we need not be skeptical of those beliefs just because we have believed them for some time. We can start out by saying “This is what I have believed” and move to examine those beliefs. We need not throw them all out even if we hear a new argument that may call into question some of those beliefs.

Emotional Immaturity?

As I type this OU’s defense just gave up another touchdown to Texas Tech. OU finally had the opportunity to control their own destiny when it comes to being national champions again, but in their first game with this new found status they blow it. Sure they could come back and win the game, but that is highly unlikely. What does that mean? Well, it means we’ve blown it again.

After much yelling at the t.v. I’ve calmed down and am beginning to accept the fact that there’s zero chance for us to win it all this year. Turning off the t.v. and turning on some classical music has done much to lower my blood pressure and bring me back to something of a clear mind. But now, there’s something bigger that is beginning to bother me. Why is it that I have so little control over my emotions when it comes to things of no lasting value?

Sure another National Champions sign would look good at Gaylord Memorial Stadium, but does that really matter when we think about it? Florida won the national championship game last year and no one really cares anymore. That was last year. I think any rational person would recognize the little importance of winning games, and I like to think I’m a rational person, yet I still get entirely too carried away in following my favorite sports teams.

This horrific loss at Tech (like all OU losses) causes me to ask all sorts of question about my own spiritual and emotional life. The first one that often comes up I’ve already alluded to above. Why do my emotions run out of control when my team loses a game? If I was still 16 or 17 I could just chalk it up to my young age, but at 27 that’s no excuse. I’m beginning to think that though I’ve grown older, I haven’t grown in maturity. When I think of the man I’d like to become, I never envision him reacting this way to a football game. Are there deeper issues lying under the surface that I need to deal with?

A second question that has begun to haunt me is closely related to the first. Why is it that I don’t get this upset at the sin in my own life or its effects in other people’s lives? No matter how angry I get, I can’t do anything to make OU football or Dallas Maverick basketball any better. I want to, believe me I want to scream at Stoops to JUST GIVE MURRAY THE BALL, but of course I can’t. What if instead of being so angry at our losing a game what if I were angry at the things that anger God? Perhaps I could make use of that energy and do something about it. Perhaps my anger would drive me to pray more, study harder, and engage God with all that I am, all the time. Perhaps it would lead me to do something about those being exploited and oppressed. Perhaps it would motivate me to put to use the gifts and abilities that God gave me.

But instead, I just throw the remote at the couch and yell.

God, please forgive me and give me the strength to look deep within myself and begin to search for the answers to these very questions. Amen.

A Scholar’s Prayer

Lord and Savior, true and kind, be the master of my mind;Bless and guide and strengthen still all my powersof thought and will. While I ply the scholar’s task,Jesus be near; I ask; Help the memory,clear the brain, knowledge still to seek and gain. Bishop of Durham H.G.C. Moule