We Don’t Need More Leaders

birdsRecently I heard what has become a common call to Good: someone working to build up more leaders from a particular group of people. In order to try to keep things objective I won’t tell you the description of the group: it really doesn’t matter. Let’s just call them “The Cohort”. This person was on a podcast describing an effort to have more people from The Cohort become leaders. It should be said that this person was entirely well-meaning. I really don’t think they were twisting their mustache because their evil plot to make new leaders was going ahead according to plan. But the whole idea was never even questioned. It was discussed in that myopic way that “Good” things are thought of these days: the same culture that believes in strict moral relativism largely assumes the good of anything that they assume helps people. What could possibly be wrong about wanting to make more leaders? Not wrong: misguided. We must always defend ourselves against our own assumptions and never contract the illness of someone else’s assumption.

Here is what struck me about the plan: it wasn’t to help people feed their children or educate themselves or die in peace: something that might be valuable in allowing people the dignity they inherently deserve. The call to make leaders is different and yet can be sold as being in the same category. It raises leadership to something that all should aspire to; a calling bordering on a human right.

But leadership is not a right; it is a responsibility. The world system believes we should crank out leaders from a diverse range of people not because of what those people might bring to the table but because they have a right to lead and we have no right to choose only certain groups from which to choose our leaders. Few seem to notice that to pick leaders based on a set of demographics is really no different than the problem they are trying to solve. If we have too many leaders from group “A” we think we should add more from group “B”; but we’re still making a person’s group the criteria for being a good leader. We haven’t made much progress.

Saying we need more leaders is like saying we need more airline pilots: a job inherently dangerous to the pilot and, if they perform poorly, to all the passengers. When I heard someone calling for more of The Cohort in leadership roles I couldn’t help but be concerned for them. “Wait, it’s a trap!” I wanted to tell them! “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into!” Leaders suffer: they are alone, they are questioned, challenged, blamed, and are responsible for themselves and others. Like the first bird in the formation they take the wind resistance. Is what’s best for The Cohort really to draw more of them into that jungle?

Now on the other hand I Timothy 3:1 says, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” So maybe wanting to be a leader isn’t so bad. But then the following verses go on to describe the character required of a leader in God’s Church. This is because while in the Kingdom of the World leadership equals authority and authority is a virtue and virtue is a right, the Kingdom of God has no such view of leaders. Leaders are servants in the dark. They do not seek to be seen but to lead people toward the unseen. They see hidden things in hidden people: gifts and potential. They suffer in sacrifice for the good of those for whom they are accountable. They do not feel entitled to lead but a calling to serve.

We do not need more leaders. We need godly leaders.

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Down to a Science

Fashion_1Art can be weird. But weird always has rules. Fact can be cold, but it unlocks our wonder.

Some things are subjective: they’re really in the eye of the beholder. Some people wear bright pink hats, but I don’t. Fashion can be weird and people like me don’t often get it. To be honest, I don’t think most people do, regardless of what they choose to wear. But when you hear fashion designers talk about style they stand out from the average person because when they describe what they like and dislike they are able to describe why, and they do it in objective terms. Where most people would feel their way through options on a clothing wrack, style professionals understand why certain cuts, colors, patterns, and shapes (or “silhouettes” to use their term) work or don’t work. Clothing is for them an art, but for the person who really understands an art it begins to border on science. Any art at the highest level of expertise begins to arc away from the realm of the subjective into the land of fact.

The reverse is true as well. Areas that deal in hard facts  will stay in that realm at lower levels. No high school or college physics students are encouraged to discover, only to learn (even if a well-meaning educational culture uses the terms interchangeably). But no professional scientist ever became famous for getting all their facts down correctly and acing their exams. Memorizing information doesn’t excite anyone. Those who are highly skilled in their fact-based craft are able to cross over into the subjective. They discover, conjecture, invent, guess, wonder. The invent new theories to describe things and speculate about what may likely be, even if it is just beyond reach. Science done exceptionally well borders on art.

We are often surprised by our own fascination with facts. We say things like, “You can’t make this stuff up!” and “Truth is stranger than fiction.” But the reality is that you can make this stuff up and fiction will always be stranger than reality. But it’s not really the strangeness that so intrigues us as it is the truth of an event. Why do we lap up “true crime” stories and listen with greater intent to a speaker talking about their own life rather than someone telling a story they made up? It is not because truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction is almost by definition stranger and there will always be a market for fantasy stories. But fact is almost by definition more fascinating. We may be entertained and even transported by pure fiction but fascination requires facts.

I am never satisfied by unfinished stories. I want to know if those two characters got married, if that person survived the rest of his journey. When I’m forced to speculate at fiction I never find it really fulfilling. But to speculate at facts is much more intriguing: What happened to the settlers of Roanoke Colony? Is Bigfoot real? How did the Easter Island Heads get there? We enjoy wondering about the truth.

We need both fact and fiction. Fact would be no fun without a little touch of wonder. Pure imagination wouldn’t come alive without some grounding in fact. I can’t help but to think that when God designed into us a hunger for truth and a sense of wonder He wove them from the same cloth, making imagination a door to truth; fact a window to wonder.

Shacking Up with the Truth

Truth is always exclusive. While it’s a big statement it’s been discussed already in a recent post here: https://thinkingbetweenthelines.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/exclusive-should-christians-claim-to-have-the-only-way/.

For now suffice it to say that all religions are making exclusive truth claims (saying that what they say is the only true option. Now, some are more willing to try to take in other beliefs, something like trying to bring a lion into your house because you thought it needed a home. But wild lions make poor pets and religious beliefs don’t live well within other faiths. For example, Hindus have historically tried to see Jesus Christ as an incarnation of Krishna. The omnivorous Unitarian Universalists would bring just about any truth claim into their circle. So when the lion comes to live in your house you must control it; when you take in another truth claim you must castrate it to make it safely fit.

We cannot have non-exclusive truth. Somebody is always wrong. And there is comfort in that: nobody wants to live in a land without borders. But if we cannot have non-exclusive truth would we prefer non-exclusive love? Perhaps.

Think of this: there are different types of love (the Greek language of the New Testament categorizes several – brotherly, romantic, unconditional, and familial). Of these only one is exclusive: romantic love. By its very nature it falls apart if it gets spread around. All the others can go from myself to any number of people and only grow by being given away to all and sundry. But if I tell someone I love romantically that I feel free to love any number of other people exactly the same do I truly love that person at all? How would you feel if the tables were turned on you?

Sometimes we are confused that Jesus expresses unconditional but not un-exclusive love. He loves just because that is His nature (I John 4:8). But love and truth are always wed and God can’t love everything. Would we want Him to? Would we want evil and good to be equal in His eyes? Would we want promises that we are told we can trust but that are not exclusive and can change at any time?

No, love chooses. It is the nature of love. Truth chooses. God chooses. We choose even if we choose to not choose. The beauty is that God chooses us (John 15:6). Truth and love require choice but they also require commitment and we don’t have a God who commits to move in with us but to marry us (in fact this analogy is used across the whole of Scripture). Because of this Love we need not merely shack up with the Truth.

Dark Waters: Is Christianity a Mystery Religion?

719100_reachingThe academic community commonly makes the assertion that Christianity is a fusion of Judaism and ancient “mystery religions”. A mystery religion is one in which only those who are initiated into some esoteric secret knowledge are privy to the true meanings of the religion. Some scholars say that Christianity adopted its themes of resurrection and the savior-god from middle and near eastern sources. They say that Christianity originally contained hidden knowledge that only some people can approach.

There really isn’t space here to discuss the historical intricacies of this question but perhaps a general notion of the nature of the Bible from one who has read it closely will suffice. For a scholarly treatment of the question see Ronald Nash’s article here: http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-jrnl/web/crj0169a.html and perhaps Lewis’ discussion of the corn-god in Miracles.

When Jesus taught he taught the common people. His disciples were not all educated men. When Jesus told them mysterious truths they did not understand them most of time. He did not have them undergo any secretive initiation ritual and what they heard from him was written down in the gospels for anyone to read. Perhaps the most mysterious thing Jesus did was to teach in parables rather than plainly: we know he told his inner circle that it had been given to them to understand but to others he spoke in parables. The core disciples were also allowed to see things like the transfiguration that others did not see, although it should be kept in mind that the accounts of even these things are written into the gospel narratives for all to read.

When we look at the message of the Bible we find it to be difficult in its fullness of meaning. It is cavernous and layered. It is not always as simple as we might like and even some of its stories, actual as they may be, seem to themselves be parables for cosmic things we don’t understand. It is not simple, but is it beautiful?

When we talk about the things in the Bible we don’t fully understand do we see mysteries or contradictions? Mysteries are difficult to look into as we do not have all the information. Contradictions are inherently flawed logical systems: they cannot be true since they contradict one another. The Bible is laden with paradox, most of which is in the character of God Himself. But a paradox is not a contradiction, nor is a mystery quite the same as a secret. There is a beauty to a mystery; a sense of wonder and even of fear. A paradox is a marriage; a contradiction is conjoined twins; a secret is a snob in his house on the hill.

I don’t remember who it was, perhaps C.S. Lewis, who wrote that water may be dark either because it is murky or because it is deep. Mystery religions are murky. The Bible is deep.

Privacy, please! Why Christianity Cannot be Secularized

Some rights reserved by ell brown on flikr

Today active secularism seeks to push religious practice indoors. I think of France where any public display of faith including a cross necklace or a hijab are illegal under the French law of laïcité. The notion of secularism is that religion is really better left a private affair. It may not be necessarily harmful but is an uncomfortable thing for society, the religious equivalent of going out in public in one’s underwear. The secular approach is to say that because it may be bad manners to discuss religion, being that it makes others uncomfortable, it should be legislated into a private place. “Thou shalt not discomfort thy neighbor”, so to speak.

In places like France the legislation for the privatizing of religion, upsetting as it might be to our American sensibilities, fits in the laws of France. In America, however, we have not only a constitutional right to freedom of religion but of free speech. There is (or should be, according to U.S. law) no rule against public profession and practice of faith, only the government establishment of a religious authority. The sometimes unwritten (and sometimes written) addendum to rules of secularism, not in France but in America, is that one is free to practice one’s religion as long as they do not attempt to proselytize others. But that is really not possible for the Christian. It is contradictory for us because an absolutely key component of practicing our religion is to proselytize. We believe it to be the thing Jesus commanded just before he departed. It is impossible for the Christian to have free expression and practice without proselytizing, but that creates a problem for workplaces, schools, and other institutions that desire a wholesale secular society, whether written or de facto.

I in no way advocate a quiet rollover in the face of curtailed freedom at the hands of country that forgets itself, but allow me to turn the flashlight on the Christian for a moment. Usually the talk about the First Amendment and the separation of church and state is aimed at the public sphere: government institutions to be precise. But the issue for the Christian cannot be one only of the public influence of the gospel without including its private efficacy. So many Christians in America are comfortable voting for someone who claims to be a Christian and makes sure to have cameras document their church attendance but of whom there is no evidence of a new life in Christ (in case you’re wondering I am not writing about anyone in particular). But these same voters would not consider voting for someone who claims to be of a faith different than Christianity, however devoted to family values that candidate may be. We must not call for the Christian faith to be at the forefront of our country’s public stage without concerning ourselves with what goes on behind the door.

The up-and-coming generation of young people has seen too many resignations, lost too many heroes, and ceased to believe in heroes at all, because too many of our leaders were more concerned with their public beliefs than their private beliefs. These young people have become cynical because they want to know if the person is the same person at home as they are on camera. They are asking the right question. May I humbly ask you if you use your right to freely proclaim the gospel? It does not matter if you have the right to share your faith if you do not do so anyway. Do you want to be able to proselytize or do you just want to know you still can? Those who would curtail the Christian from public practice, even proselytizing, do not allow the Christian to practice a most important command of his faith, but those Christians who will not obey the command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth need not take up issue with their country but with themselves.

Do you know what we call people who prefer a public profession and dominance of their religion without any care for the private and internal character? We call them Pharisees. It is time we searched our souls; time the church took back the kitchen table before we worry about the courts and schools, or we will have nothing to offer the country that it doesn’t have already.

 

Exclusive: should Christians claim to have the only way?

All rights reserved by dkhlucyThere is a great outcry against the claims of Christianity to be the one right way and that Jesus Christ is the one true God. How could one religion have the arrogance to say that it is the only right way and that it has a monopoly on truth?

Something that must be understood is that truth must be exclusive. If it doesn’t claim to exclude falsehoods it cannot claim to be true. So all statements of truth are exclusive statements. Because of this each religion is making a claim to exclusive truth. Some are more willing to try to include (or really to co-opt)  others but even they do so within the parameters of what they say is true. But no belief system can be a belief if it’s designed to not be believed. That would be a bit silly.

I think one would also find it rather uncomfortable. Nobody wants to live in a land without borders. You see, if Jesus might be admired but is not making claims at the expense of other claims then we cannot even bother to trust him. If we say that there must be another “way” we automatically beg the question: another way to what, exactly? At that point we cannot even say what the goal is anymore. That is because goals that are not exclusive will never be reached. And what about Christ’s claim of love? Would we prefer a non-exclusive love? Would we like it better if Jesus loved not only goodness but also evil? Or that he makes promises we can trust but they are not exclusive? You cannot be satisfied by a belief with which you are merely shacking up.

But the offer of Christ is not exclusive. The gospel is not only for those of the right ethnicity or the right gender. It is not for the healthy and strong or the intelligent or wealthy. You do not have to be good enough for Christ, if anything you might have to be bad enough.

In our world we have “exclusive” clubs making the word synonymous with luxury and elitism. Places are said to be better because of the people they keep out: those who not good enough. The kingdom of heaven could understandably make the same claim. In fact, no institution of man really has the right to call itself great because it keeps out other men. Only the realm of God in all its holiness can do something like that. But God did not choose that way. He made a place that was magnificent not because of whom it kept out but because of who gets to come in.

Of course not all are accepted and this is one of the aspects of the kingdom which many are offended by. But it does not exclude because of who you are; it excludes those who cling to who they are… shall we say “exclusively”.

The truth of Christ is exclusive; the offer of Christ is not.

Still

It is the enduring buzzword of the revolutionary of all stripes and it connotes such a multitude of individual meanings that it is batted about without ever being examined. Struggle: the clarion call of all who would seek to overthrow the perceived overlords in their lives and rise to their own independence.

The word “struggle” is ubiquitous in revolutionary literature. Voltaire said, “My life is a struggle.” Engels wrote that “[T]he whole history of mankind […] has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiting and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes […].” Mao Tse-Tung wrote: “Once all struggle is grasped, miracles are possible.” Hitler entitled his book Mein Kamp (“My Struggle”). And what does jihad mean but “struggle”?

What is the implication of the use of this word in social rhetoric? Just this: that if I try hard enough I can overcome the power over me with my own power or with the collective power of those who agree with me. I can do it. We can do it.

There is something very telling in the depictions of people in socialist propaganda posters. They are always very healthy, strong, intelligent. The farmer with his ramrod posture and sinewy forearms stands in front of a tractor or field of golden wheat. The thinker stands next to the soldier, both robust and enthusiastic. The only people who do not appear as glowing specimens of humanity are the actual leaders. Lenin looks like an old man. Stalin can’t lose the double chin. Mao is overweight. Hitler looks a bit too puny. But these are when photographs are used. When an artist drew the men they looked much more dashing and strong. The depiction of Hitler as a knight comes to mind. The years seem to fall away from a more spritely Lenin. Mao never improved much either way. The strength of the people is highlighted but the inconvenient reality remains: people are still just people. The message that our struggle is enough because we are strong enough does not reflect the reality of who we are.

The Bible holds a quite different message. At the impossible prospect of escaping the pharaoh’s chariots at the Red Sea Moses told the people: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” In Samuel’s last address to the Israelites he said, “Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes.” Before a great battle the prophet Jahaziel told the king, “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.” In Psalm 46:10 the sons of Korah wrote, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!”

“Stand firm”. “Stand still”. “Stand firm”. “Be still”. What the Bible offers is a mighty God, sufficiently powerful to overcome on your behalf. Scripture does not have to alter a person’s image in order to hide the weakness of reality behind the power of the paintbrush. It is honest about the weakness of man and like the father to whom the little child says, “I can do it myself!” is never swayed by vain professions of strength.

When the Jews hailed Jesus as the one who would complete their struggle over their political oppressors they forgot that he had said that the truth shall set them free. When they nailed him to the cross with that sign above his head they forgot that he told them that the one who sins is a slave to sin. When they buried him in the grave the disciples feared both Rome and the Jews under Rome. But when he rose they knew the Son had made them free indeed.