Villification and the Way of Jesus

More often than not, I find my Christian brothers and sisters uncritically embracing the ways and means practiced by the high-profile men and women who lead large corporations, congregations, nations and causes, people who show us how to make money, win wars, manage people, sell products, manipulate emotions, and who then write books or give lectures telling us how we can do what they are doing. But these ways and means more often than not violate the ways of Jesus. {Eugene Peterson}

With our move to Charlottesville, our book club has fallen behind. However, Eugene Peterson’s The Jesus Way refuses to be ignored. A couple years ago, I heard Eugene give a lecture based on one of the themes he develops in this book, the observation that Jesus lived in stark contrast to all prevailing societal modus operandis of his day, both to the way of the Pharisees (the way of religious rigidity) and to the way of Herod (the way of power). It wasn’t only the message of these groups that Jesus resisted – it was just as much their way, the manner in which they pushed their message. The cliche has truth: the medium is our message.

However, dominant church culture has bowed at the feet of pragmatism. If it works (however that is defined), then by all means, do it. With this conviction, we baptize commercialism and individualism and every manner of gimmicky shlop in the name of Jesus. Art becomes merely propoganda. Friendship and justice and hospitality become merely bait. The Gospel is made subservient to a political philosophy or a theological grid or a historical prejudice.

At odds with all this message stands the crucified and resurrected Jesus. Jesus does not offer merely a message or an agenda or a bullet-point list of cultural ills to eradicate. Jesus offers himself, God made flesh. Jesus offers his words and his actions and his friendships and his conversations and his pains and his love. Jesus is the truth, absolutely. Jesus is the life, thank God. But Jesus is also the way, the how, the manner. It is simply a perversion of Jesus’ message if we assume that message to be codified only by theological assertions. Jesus’ message is himself, the son of God, come to save us.

All this seems timely to me. You might have noticed we are in an election year. Why do politics often bring out the worst in us? I’ve already written about the shameful smeer campain on Obama. Unfortunately (but certainly not surprisingly), it has not slowed. I continue to receive forwards and video links and alarming emails with lots of exclamation marks and capitals. A small bit of it centers on policy, fair enough. Most of it, however, maligns character, distorts positions and uses fear as a prime weapon. The Christian response is clear: none of that is the way of Jesus.

The past few weeks, I have been just as apalled at the vile and venom that has been spewed at Sarah Palin. Again, debate on policy and questions of experience are fair game. But the relentless attack on her family, the cruel mockery and elitist jabs at her rural home are, in my opinion, despicable. Of course, it bears repeating: none of this is the way of Jesus.

Personally, I am disgusted by the villification. I know that both parties have their own blame to bear. And of course both sides will claim the other side fired first (sounds eerily like Russia and Georgia). But when we begin to view the other as our mortal enemy, one who we must crush at all costs, we have truly lost our way.

I return, then, to the subversive way of Jesus. I discover that if I proclaim to be a Jesus-person, then my entire life sits under his authority: not only what I believe – but how I believe, not only what I say – but how I say it, not only the vote I cast – but the way I live toward those who cast their vote differently. As Eugene said, “Once we start paying attention to Jesus’ ways, it doesn’t take us long to realize that following Jesus is radically different from following anyone else.”

Miller Time

Even though Donald Miller has sold more books than me (and when I say more, I really mean more, by like maybe 300:1 – but who’s counting?) and even though Don and I apparently hit a similar theme (that will go unmentioned) at a similar time and now everyone thinks I’m the copycat and even though Don was an unwholesome influence on my wife Miska in her innocent high school years, goading her (at least the way I see it) into an altercation with the Colorado Springs Mall crack security force, I still think that every gifted, artful voice can use all the promotion they can get.

And, anyway, this is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a very long time.

John Blase On Holy Curiosity

John Blase is an editor for a publishing house and a fine writer. You can catch him most days on his blog. He recently wrote some kind words about Holy Curiosity.

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As an editor in Christian publishing, I read a lot of manuscripts every week. Some are handsome, some are plain, as we are. But a few, every once in a while, are good. I’d like to go on public record and say that Holy Curiosity by Winn Collier is good.

E.B. White described that pig-lovin’ spider this way: “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” One gets that feel when reading Winn’s new book.

I could go on at length about this book, but I won’t. I’m an editor. I’ve got standards to maintain. So, here’s the approach of “where 2 or 3 are gathered”:

Number 1 – What I felt throughout Winn’s book was “spaciousness, room to grow.” In this age and day of books, most of them tell me what to think or not to think, what to feel or not to feel. Winn’s words allowed me room to ponder; such as he practices, he gives to us. There was no rush to get to the point or make sure I “get it” – no, these pages achieved an unforced rhythm. Permission to think/doubt/and wrestle with angels granted.

Number 2 – Winn quotes his wife and sons just as much, if not more, than he quotes Augustine, C.S. Lewis, or Bruner. Let me raise a glass to that modus operandi and declare HERE! HERE! A thread throughout this book is the necessity to keep on going; not a worship of the future, but an awareness of that’s where we’re headed. By paying attention (a form of prayer) to those voices closest to him, Winn demonstrates the ability to be formed by the past but not live there. No, he’s living with Mrs. Collier and their two sons, now, in the present. You may not think much of this point, but I read authors every day who cram quotes from dead folks in their books like teenagers from the 60s in phone booths. It’s kinda impressive at first and then it’s just weird. Thanks, Winn, for resisting that temptation.

Number 3 – A transparency exudes this book. Winn uses words like “exude” – so hang on. But, it’s a transparency that’s not exhibitionist. Winn doesn’t strip down to the buff, but he does tell us he used to part his hair down the middle and wear pink oxfords. And in the economy of holy curiosity, sometimes that’s enough to satisfy.

O.k. One last word – I was also struck by the belief that this author really loves Jesus. And that is not a slight thing. In fact, it may be the thing.

Thanks, Winn.

Remembering MLK

We drove into Memphis, Tennessee last night, this old south city where some of our family live. Memphis is always bristling with activity and life. Blues clubs on Beale Street. World famous BBQ. Tonight, Memphis plays UCLA in the Final Four, so that adds to the mix.

However, this weekend, Memphis (and the nation) mourns one of our darkest and most tragic days. Forty years ago, yesterday, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down by a sniper as he stood on the third floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
About two years ago, I spent a morning in downtown Atlanta visiting the house where King grew up and sitting in the sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church listening to recorded sermons King preached. The day spent in King’s world profoundly moved me. It moved me because I realized how disconnected I had been from this violent scar in our nation’s history. I knew the story. I was ashamed of our racist past – but I hadn’t really allowed the evil of it all to truly weigh on me.

The experience also moved me because I was inspired and honored to be immersed in the life and memory of a man who deeply believed in human dignity and justice and who had the courage to stand against the Powers in order to speak out for the oppressed. I was haunted by this question: What side would I have been on if I had been alive during the Civil Rights struggle?

I don’t the answer. I pray to God I would have been on the side of those who resisted both the visible and subtle ways that our culture demeaned and subjected fellow human beings created in God’s image. But, truthfully, I don’t know.

I don’t know, in part, because the whole affair raises the memory of one of my deep regrets. In college, I had an African American roommate (a fabulous soccer player by the way) who began to allow me into his world, sharing parts of his story, little bits of what it was like to grow up black in a very white culture. During one of our conversations, we got into a disagreement about MLK. Much to my embarrassment now, I remember throwing out lines about King being a communist and a womanizer, using these liable accusations as wholesale dismissals of King’s life, conviction and legacy.

King was not Jesus. King was not perfect. However, my lines were merely a reaction, blindly parroting rhetoric I had heard growing up. I hadn’t dug into the facts. I hadn’t asked how my white upbringing had colored my historical perspective. Worse, I didn’t stop to listen to my friend who was offering me a piece of his heritage, one of his (rightful) heroes. Truthfully, I was an ignorant white kid spouting trash. And I am so sorry.

I never had a chance to apologize. I wish I could find my friend and tell him how sorry I am. Sorry that I was still trapped in my subculture. Sorry I hadn’t gotten enough of the story yet. Sorry I hadn’t seen enough of the world. Sorry I hadn’t realized that the man whose character I assaulted truly is a hero.

In recent conversations, I’ve realized how some of us who are white still think of Dr. King as “their hero.” There are multiple distressful realties to such a posture. However, as a starting point, Martin Luther King, Jr. should be a hero of every person (particularly every Christian) who decries evil and oppression, who believes that the Kingdom of God announces freedom in every human sphere, who marvels at the mystery and beauty of every single human.

The Scriptures forcefully declare that every man and women bare in our body and soul the glory of the image of God Almighty. Dr. King believed this. Preached it. Lived it. Died for it. We ought rejoice in his message and deeply mourn his death.

The Cougar and the DJ

My friend Brandon Loy has long been known as a slambang movie producer. In recent months, he has entered the cluttered world of podcasting to offer a truly distinct, beautiful gift. Every month or two, Brandon offers a feast of new music, taking 45 minutes or so to introduce us to a wide assortment of artists and tunes we might otherwise miss. True to Brandon’s euphonic tastes, his choices provide us with musical and lyrical artfulness. Even better, knowing how Brandon connects with music, his podcast gives us a little glimpse of his soul.

You can download his podcast here or, even better, search for “Brandon Loy” or “notmybrother” on the itunes podcast directory.

If you don’t understand the cougar reference or the “notmybrother” moniker, get to know him. You’ll be glad you did.

peace / Winn

In Memory of Madeleine L’Engle

To her joy and to our sorrow, Madeleine L’Engle died last Thursday at the beautiful age of 88 in Litchfield, Connecticut, near her beloved family home, Crosswicks.

Madeleine has profoundly influenced my wife Miska and me. For my part, she has enriched my imagination as a writer, and she has stretched my calling as a pastor. Madeleine will continue to influence us, and (if we have anything to say about it) she will continue to influence our boys.

In the very young life of this blog, L’Engle has had her say. Among our small scattering of entries, we’ve quoted her and listened to her and reminded ourselves that God used her unique voice and pen to tell us wide, deep and dark truths we might well have missed otherwise.

Perhaps I’m just melancholy, but it seems to me that the elder, wiser voices are leaving us, without persons of their stature and faith and authority taking their place. In an age filled with religious glitz and quick-fix discipleship and all things techno-church, I long for older eyes who have seen the wide world, in all its wonder and all its demise – and will tell me the truth about it. I long for older ears who have heard the shallow truths and the loud noise and the screeching demands (religious and pagan alike) – and will tell me what boisterous yammering I must ignore and what quiet, improbable truths I must pay close attention to. I long for an older voice to tell me plainly, without mincing words and yet heaped high with grace, both where I am living like a fool and where I am being true to myself and to my God. God is kind, and he will help me hear and see these things on my own when necessary. But I am thankful he gives us friends acquainted with truth and wisdom to help us along.

Madeleine L’Engle has been – and will continue to be — one of these wise, elder truth-tellers.

In the spirit of eulogy, I could offer any one of hundreds of L’Engle quotes here. Something on death would be appropriate. A meditation on a theological truth, some notion with real gravity, perhaps. However, today I just want to hear her challenge and guide me, to prod me further on my Christian journey, as she has so many times previous. Along the way, L’Engle has taught me the importance of a Christian imagination, of allowing my soul to be open to things beyond the purely rational. So, may we all heed Madeleine’s wisdom:

It might be a good idea if, like the White Queen, we practiced believing six impossible things every morning before breakfast.

John Podhoretz wrote a warm, personal tribute. Enjoy it, and thank God for having graced us with a dear friend, if for only a time.