The Glass Darkly

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Creation, Fall and New Creation

I found some pictures again and am missing my past once again!

The International Christian Fellowship was an integral part of my spiritual growth and support during my years in Phnom Penh. I stumbled upon their webpage (amazing - everyone has one nowadays!) and pictures of people made me homesick again. Paul Gioia, a songwriter/singer from Australia, is pictured there because he will be making another visit to Cambodia in September. I miss singing many of his songs in corporate worship.

I also can't adequately express how much I miss our former pastor, Graham Chipps, and his wife, pillars in the ICF community and a tremendous encouragment and example to me personally. I still laugh when I think of Graham's dry, dry Australian sense of humor and his amazing way of bringing unity in one of the most diverse settings I have ever worked and lived. I always appreciated his realistic approach to life that acknowledged the messiness of being human, our innate vulnerabilities and sin and our incredible need for God. He was not afraid to name difficulties for what they were and did not intimidate people with a super-spiritual attitude toward those difficulties or conflicts in life. I think we all need someone like that to help us stay afloat in the torrents of life and stay on course.

Again, as I reflect on my life abroad, I realize how much of a challenge it is to keep from becoming lax and complacent in American culture. Life is too comfortable. I need to keep searching, keep learning, keep longing for something more, for what God's mission is here. Otherwise I feel like my vision becomes narrowed, like blinders control a horse. All I notice is what is right in front of me, my family, my friends, what is going on right here. That's what I need to worry about. It can become an excuse to not notice what is going on in the broader community and the world. And I know that the more comfortable I become and live, the less I can identify with those whose lives are not comfortable, who struggle with pain, and who also need peace.

Graham Chipps once wrote, "Everything human, even when at its best, is a disappointment . . . as we see both Creation and Fall present in everything everyday, we also find in Jesus new beginnings. We make sense of our lives as we hold these three together (even in the worst of hard times); as we see the realities of Creation, Fall and New Creation in the everyday experience of life. As [Paul] Minear ['Christians and the New Creation'] states, 'to let go of any one of these is defeat. To hold onto all is the hope of a new beginning that will not disappoint.'"

I also love the reassuring words to the chorus of a song I learned recently (Billy and Cindy Foote):

You are God alone
Through the good times and bad
You are on Your throne
You are God alone
You're unchangeable
You're unshakeable
You're unstoppable
That's what You are.

I guess I never want to become so comfortable that I lose my sense of Creation and Fall, for then the hope of the New Creation is no longer Good News; we can't experience the Peace in the storms of life if we are constantly working to protect ourselves from the storms. As I look at my life in America, a lot of the focus is on protection - personal protection, property protection, national protection, you name it. Such little trust. It can be depressing, especially when I see Christians adapting that focus too. Remembering my life overseas, especially living in a third-world country reminds me -- I can't give into that attitude . . . I just can't . . . it just seems to de-value the Hope I say I have.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The World Cup

Yes, it is called the World Cup -- but I must admit, until I ventured into the world, I did not know much about it. Soccer has always been my favorite sport -- there is a cleanness about it, few rules and lots of action. But growing up a female in the USA did not help me gain much high-level exposure to the sport. My high school had no soccer team and the few other schools in our league which did have teams only had guys teams. So my playing time was limited to middle school, a co-ed community team in high school and some time in college. And what's more is that I really never watched sports on TV growing up aside from a few glances at the car races my father enjoyed.

When I went abroad, I realized how sheltered from the world of sports I had been raised . . . not only from a significant amount of American sports, but also international sports. Even in a third-world country like Cambodia, many people got to see international football games . . . rooting for teams like Manchester United or Arsenal or Bayern . . . or Brazil in the last World Cup. It was funny to see the incredulous looks on the faces of Americans who taught at the university where we worked. They assumed everyone knew Michael Jordan. Rather they were given names like David Beckham or Djibril Cisse as names of famous sports players. Even out in the middle of the rice paddies, 12-v batteries enabled the families in little thatch houses with antennaes poking up through the coconut leafs to connect to the world through the TV.

I think it is funny, yet sad, that I, an American, can get free visas to most countries of the world???? Do I really deserve it when I consider how little of the world I really know and how much of the world my country influences?

I must say, however, that since I have begun following the international football scene, I have come to love the spirit of the game even more. The passion of the fans, the way whole countries join together in the World Cup and my continued love for the game itself, has captured my attention and enthusiasm. And even though I am not a di-hard fan for any one particular team, I have been impressed with the teams who have defeated the US thus far in the tournament. Good job, Ghana!!! I hope Italy and Brazil keep going too.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Market as God - Living in the New Dispensation

I was looking through some notes from a class I took last summer and came upon an article which relates to some other reading I've been doing lately. Wanted to post a journal I wrote on it. The original article comes from The Atlantic Monthly, March 1999, pp. 18, 20-24.

Harvey Cox, Professor of Divinity at Harvard University, wrote an article a number of years back about how the market economy has become the new post-modern diety, the Market God. He compares his studies of theology to the lexicon of the leading business journals which he says “bear a striking resemblance to Genesis, the Epistle to the Romans, and Saint Augustine’s City of God.”

He found the resemblance interesting and comprehensive to the extent that “there were even sacraments to convey salvitic power to the lost, a calendar of entrepreneurial saints, and what theologians call an ‘eschatology’ – a teaching about the ‘end of history.’” He notes that the qualities of the divinity are found in the Market God, but are also “hidden from human eyes both by human sin and by the transcendence of the divine itself.” The ability to trust in the divine attributes are as much a matter of faith in the Market as they are in a divine God.

What Cox calls the “econologians’ rhetoric” is also sometimes called “process theology,” the philosophy that God does not yet possess all his divine attributes to the full but is moving in that direction. Cox looks at the classic attributes we call omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence and describes how he sees the new Market God as gradually rising above the demigods, or various institutions which once restrained it, to become like the Yahweh of the Old Testament, the one Supreme Diety “whose reign must now be universally accepted and who allows for no rivals.”

Cox's first point is that that “divine omnipotence means the capacity to define what is real.” He says the Market performs a process he describes as a reverse transubstantiation, changing things that are holy into commodities. And though there has been “some opposition from the pews,” Cox gives examples where even human body parts and genes have become commodities. And what about the value of human life itself? He points out how children born with severe handicaps, usually seen as unproductive in society, help feed the Market’s medical fields. This certainly puts a different spin on the human capital theory, in my opinion!

As far as omniscience, Cox compares it to Calvin’s views: “the Market may work in mysterious ways, ‘hid from our eyes,’ but ultimately it knows best.” But he exposes its means of “probing our inmost fears and desires and then dispensing across-the-board solutions” by which it can “further extend its reach.” He states that psychology has replaced theology as the true “science of the soul.” Again, “the metaphysical principle is obvious: If you say it’s the real thing, then it must be the real thing.”

His last point is that the omnipresence of the Market means it is “not only around us but inside us, informing our senses and our feelings.” This new god even has the market on our needs spiritually. “The Market makes available the religious benefits that once required prayer and fasting, without the awkwardness of denominational commitment or the tedious ascetic discipline that once limited their accessibility.” Cox even theorizes, back in 1999, that the clash of religions may be going on unnoticed because the religion of “The Market has become the most formidable rival . . .” He asks, “Will this lead to a new jihad or crusade?” What insight! And what perspective it reinforces in my mind about the war in the Middle East. The US says it’s politics and security; some say it’s a Muslim-Christian conflict; but when it comes right down to it, the oil, land, political power added to the economic boom a war can initiate are all commodities in a market economy.

Cox admits that trusting any religion takes faith, no matter what religion one refers to, but he predicts that the new Market religion will continue a process of possession. He points out that the Market prefers individualism and mobility, having little patience for people who “cling to local traditions.” It will eventually incorporate other or pre-existing religions into its ways, convincing people that we are now in a new dispensation. He concludes by pointing out that unlike many religions which teach the concept of contentment and enough, the Market’s “First Commandment is ‘there is never enough.’” “The Market that stops expanding dies.” I am both amused and saddened by Cox’s final concession that if the Market would ever die, then “Nietzsche will have been right after all . . . he will just have had the wrong God in mind.”

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Is 'Sharing All Things in Common' Socialism?

Not sure where this is from, but I found it in a journal folder. Thought it was interesting and can relate to all kinds of issues around working together, means to unity, using our gifts as a Christian body . . . .

Mathematics of Collaboration:

Add the strength of others;
subtract the differences;
divide the praise;
multiply the benefits

(F.S. Poyadue)

Kind of reminded me of a recent group conversation where I was explaining how I sometimes wonder how my faith should interact with the concepts of independence and dependence or individualism/self-sufficiency and the sharing of life/all things in common concept as found in the New Testament. I gave the example of Asian cultures where hospitality is expected and means you share EVERYTHING of the host. When I lived in Asia, it challenged me when my guests would help themselves to my personal items. I found myself in a cultural battle inside: "why didn't they just ask? I would have been glad to have them borrow that or use that!" "Can't they at least tell me they used that and say thank you???" Furthermore, children are responsible for their parents; I never heard the phrase "I don't want to be a burden on them" from parents. Dependence is actually emulated to a certain extent.

Since the conversation centered around finances and personal possessions, I was just questioning if that is an area where my faith should help me be less selfish of my possessions and time. Is it just a cultural issue where it's OK that Americans are more private just as it is OK Asians are more interdependent? Or is it an example where my faith should critique my cultural behavior and attitudes?

I'm not sure I got any clear answers from that conversation. But I did find it facinating and perhaps a bit shocking that someone responded to my thoughts by linking interdependence or the "sharing all things in common" concept with socialism/communism or the fear that that is the next step from sharing all in common. So I am not sure where that leaves the question.

And there is more I could admit . . . but better not at this point. I just wonder.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Living in the Gap

I caught myself again. I've been doing some reading, some philosophy and some critique on Christian faith. I realized how my training and work experience has ingrained in me the use of reason, analysis and logic to explain the world and what happens in it. But this is only one stream of thought I use!

As a Christian I have also taught myself to allow aspects of mysticism, the notion of a Superior being and the idea of faith to dominate my reason in many cases. What amazes me is my inability to integrate the two. I find myself making arguments for or against philosophical slants from either one or the other stream of thought. It's another example where I feel like I talk out of both sides of my mouth, yet, the truth is, as I live in the real world, where things just aren't the way most people think they should be, logic and reason are not enough to help humans cope. We can use logic or reason to state absolutes that describe how we perceive reality, but under all that calculated analysis remains the questions, "WHY? and what can we do about it?" That's what I think many people are really seeking and where my Christian faith gives answers.

John D. Roth has so many pointed quotes in the last chapter of his book, Beliefs: Mennonite Faith and Practice. "Somewhere deep down we are always aware that the world is badly askew--that there is a stubborn and persistent gap between the world as it is and the world as it ought to be." "To be human is to walk a continuous tightrope between hope and frustration." (daily experiences of disappointment, fear of death, etc.) Roth outlines three responses to this disconnect which our culture offers and then points out the Christian alternative to how we can live within the gap.

1. Pursuing a life of pleasure - "seize the day" - living for yourself/your personal happiness, accumulation of material wealth, recreational shopping, food, addictions, etc.
Christian Alternative: truth-telling, naming things for what they are i.e. a "society full of illusions"
The Bible "invites us to see beneath the surface, to step out of the crazy-mirror appearances of our culture, to a life that is authentic and honest." Christianity points us to a God who gives a life of hope and wholeness in a world of brokeness.

2. Giving up all together - "life is rigged against us" - living in a culture of cynicism, "expressions of hope are illusions, . . . that simply will not stand up to the cold facts of reality." Cynicism leads to a private understanding of truth and lives lived cut-off from others; sees broad ideals, ideas of common good or sacrifice as naive or self-serving.
Christian Alternative: "Life energized by hope and sustained by the support of a broader community" which is the visible picture of Christ -- not against us, but GENUINELY caring and loving.

3. Coersion and Violence - "raw power" - we become desensitized by constant exposure from the media, "By exercising coersive power, we create the impression, if only temporarily, that we can reshape reality according to our own wishes." "Violence offers the fleeting illusion that we can transcend our own mortality. It allows us to think that we are actually in control of our lives -- that we can guarantee the outcome of our desires by bending the will of those around us to our command."
Christian Alternative: "Like the pursuit of pleasure or the lonely fog of cynicism, the intoxicating logic of power is deeply imbedded within our cultural reality." "In the midst of a culture drunk on the twisted logic of violence, Christian faith invites you to a life of compassion, forgiveness and love . . . to incarnate God's love into daily life so that the world might be transformed."

Like many philosophies today, Christianity, "with unflinching insight," describes the human condition. But it goes on to offer meaning to life beyond ourselves, one of joy, hope and healing. "The gap between what is and ought to be remains" but Christ offers a way to live in the gap . . . to live "in a hope that keeps calling us back to the messiness of a fallen world" where, through Christ and the Christian community, power and the messy realities of life can be redeemed.

Though I really enjoy looking at the way people think and react to situations in life based on their philosophical bents or their cultural backgrounds, I cannot deny the fact that my faith has a huge impact in my ultimate interpretation of WHY things happen. And WHY am I here? As a Christian I believe my calling is to transcend the cultural and philosophical explanations for the gap and actually "live in the gap" as one of Christ's agents of peace, hope and reconcilliation.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

And Can It Be . . . ?

That life offers more questions than answers.
That curiosity alone cannot solve mystery.
That pain is a part of growth.
And growth supposedly is only one sign of life.
Is existance possible without growth?
That all the material wealth in the world cannot buy happiness.
Aren't people with wealth more happy than those who suffer in poverty?
That suffering is one of the callings for the Christian.
Do we all really know what it means to suffer?
That we really need each other, to bear one another's burdens.
So why do we persist in our quests toward self-sufficiency and independence
so that we are not a burden on one another?
That unity is really possible.
How can we conquer the sin of selfishness?
Who am I to say, "they are mine; leave them alone!"
That our life can truly be under the Lordship of Jesus.
That we can see the Body of Christ transforming us and the world around us.