A passage here and there from Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five”

He [Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of the book]is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.

Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.

Billy was guided by dread and the lack of dread. Dread told him when to stop. Lack of it told him when to move again.

Earthlings are the great explainers, explaining why this event is structured as it is, telling how other events may be achieved or avoided. I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.” “You sound to me as though you don’t believe in free will,” said Billy Pilgrim.

He said that everything there was to know about life was in The Brothers Karamazov, by Feodor Dostoevsky. “But that isn’t enough any more,” said Rosewater.

Another time Billy heard Rosewater say to a psychiatrist, “I think you guys are going to have to come up with a lot of wonderful new lies, or people just aren’t going to want to go on living.”

The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low. But the Gospels actually taught this: Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected. So it goes.

They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.

There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.

“That’s how you looked—as though you all of a sudden realized you were standing on thin air.”

Alvin Plantiga, Christian philosopher, interviewed on NPR, exploring the real conflict – not faith vs science but naturalism vs science

Alvin Plantiga is a professional philosopher who has made real contributions to the larger field of philosophy, particularly on the understanding of evil. In his latest book, Where the Conflict Really Lies, philosopher Alvin Plantinga argues that religion and science share more common ground than you might think.

Is the church a judgement-free zone where we love people and accept them as they are?

Quick answer:  Yes, of course.      An “on second thought” answer: Yes,but…        Third answer: No

The Bible is the story of grace. There is biography after biography of out-of-luck people who are always getting it wrong.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1Co 1:26-31)

Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text: My house was designated a house of prayer; You have made it a hangout for thieves. Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them. (Mat 21:12-14)

The New Testament is a stunning story of how the dogs eating crumbs from the table are given a seat at the table. (Mat 15:22-28) The New Testament is The Great Reversal. The first become last. The last are first. The in are out, and the out are in. The up then are down, and the down are up. Prostitutes and tax collectors are at the head of the line. Religious leaders bring up the rear. And so it goes.

This is one of the reasons I have participated in Celebrate Recovery. CR is a place were I regularly hear how far God’s grace will go. Sometimes I build up enough hope that even I can be saved. If God can rescue the drink and drug addicted, the gambler, the strung out, then maybe grace is powerful enough to save a religious man, the ultimate cover up.

But then the church becomes a place where the old ways are released, let go of, walking out of darkness, freedom, new life, day by day liberty. The joy of holiness becomes a new way, a wonderful unheard of pleasure. As that process deepens, a church full of people being released from the kingdom of this world are not going to sit idly by as professing Christians live the old life and expect the church to be passive. It won’t. There are too many antibodies in the system. Those white cells will move naturally toward infection points to purify the Body of Christ and make it a place where the new way is like a airport runway with blue lights all fired up. Don’t expect them to sit idly buy when someone wants to dim the lights that point the way to a changed life.

People will cry out that they should not be judged but accepted for just who they are. But deeply changed people know denial when they see it. They lived a whole lifetime that way. It’s a cover. Do they know people can fall? Absolutely. They themselves have done so a thousand times and will do so again. Do they know that people never really get it all right? Surely. Do they understand the continuing power of the flesh? That is what the Serenity Prayer is about.

But recovery people believe in accountability and intervention. These are just part of how sick people get well. And when people refuse this, recovery people move away, always ready to come back when there are signs that a person has come to the end of their rope.

When people who were in darkness have walked into the light, don’t expect them to not care when the ways of the world are openly practiced and even accepted in the church. Some churches are proud of how much they can tolerate, how “understanding” they can be.

It is just here that we must make a necessary distinction. Church services should fill up with practicing drinkers, adulterers, gamblers, serial divorcers, LGBTs, etc. In fact, if such are not in the services, the Gospel has been lost in translation.

But when one is saved, baptized and adopted into the family of God as a Christ-follower and lover, then a covenantal relationship emerges that changes the dynamics. It is not a bait and switch tactic. One minute you are accepted for just who you are and then the next you are given a rule book. No. A thousand times Noooooooo. But, like in marriage, covenantal relationships bring stewardship and accountability. A covenantal relationship has a right to expectations and loyalties.

Baptists, of which I am one, ought of all the denominations, be most clear on this. Sadly, we often are not. In Baptist ecclesiology, the church is a community of believers who consciously choose Christ and who consciously choose membership in a local church. One is not born into the church, by virtue of having Christian parents, or being citizens of a particular country and thereby should be expected to a bit more lukewarm about a holy life.

What this means is that fellow Christians in the bond of membership in a local church have publicly taken on the yoke of Christ. No one forced it on them, expected it of them.  They are, therefore, more responsible for a life and witness that prospers the kingdom of God. If they are careless in this stewardship and treat the Body of Christ as an unholy thing, then the community of faith is charged to heal the wound that has been sustained. Not to do so is to neglect duty. It becomes a hospital with no medicine and no healing. A contradiction in terms.

Of course, what we know is that church people divorce at the same rates as the world, abort at the same rates, gamble at the same rates, drink at the same rates, abuse at the same rates, live with partners outside the bonds of marriage at the same rates, are promiscuous at the same rates, etc. – as professing Christians.  Why would anyone who seeks a life change even go to a church where the same lifestyle they are seeking to change is lived out in technicolor? This is counter-intuitive, not what one would expect. No one expects to see perfect people at church. But should there not be a core of some holiness at the center of the community? Certainly among the leadership.

How this could ever be denied mystifies me. But it is, if not in words, surely in practice.

The church is a family, not a business. It doesn’t just count nickels and noses as the signs of health. It doesn’t equate budgets and attendance as the only signs of how a church is doing. A family is more than counting how many are in the family and how the income is doing. Church is about health and well-being, relational wholeness and well-being. It is about the abundant life that flows from the throne of God. And like any other family it talks about the elephant in the room when a family member damages the exchange of love by seeking self and bringing into the family divided loyalties that cut at the covenant that is necessary for the safety and well-being of all.

Churches just don’t do this. They don’t know how. They think it is judgmental and narrow. Soon those churches fill up with practices and values that mirror the world’s.

There are plenty of errors to be made in trying to walk together in the way of Christ as his new creation. Wisdom is always challenged when the church has to walk the path that includes both grace and truth, free acceptance and moral aspirations. But it can’t avoid this path, not if it is to be a New Testament church. At least we should try.

A remembrance of John Stott

Below is an interview with Alistar Chapman whose book, Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement, has just been published.  The book is a bit too pricey to buy, but I’ll get a copy when I can at the library.

I remember the first time I heard John Stott preach. It was at the missionary convention sponsored by Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, Urbana, 1967. I was a college freshman.

When John Stott spoke each day of the Book of Second Timothy, I was stunned. I had never heard such preaching, and ever since, Stott has been a rich resource for me. He is the example of a broad, main stream evangelical churchman – irenic, intelligent, courageous, Christ centered and Bible focused. He was an Anglican his entire life but served Christ far beyond denominational boundaries. He sought the center even as he practiced his faith as a member of the Church of England. It’s hard to imagine Stott getting caught up in the minutiae of the multitude of internecine strife that afflicts the body of Christ.

He had he moxie to not be moved by Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ separatism. Lloyd-Jones was a fierce force in his day and his full Calvinism and separationism seemed to carry the day among evangelicals in the UK. Lloyd-Jones’ refusal to support the Billy Graham Crusade was a sort of demarcation line. But Stott just seemed to move ahead without rancor or public reference to the inter-tribal disputes.  I look forward to finding out more about this part of his journey in Chapman’s book.

<iframe src=”http://player.vimeo.com/video/35502975?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0&#8243; width=”400″ height=”220″ frameborder=”0″ webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/35502975″>Alister Chapman</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/oakhillcollege”>Oak Hill College</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>