Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thoughts, Prayers, Guns and How We See

When mass shootings became part of our culture a few years ago (remember, for those of you a bit older, the shock of Columbine?) it was typically a few days or a week until the battles about gun control started—now it is at best few hours until everyone starts pulling out their statistics and anecdotes and saying “hooray for our side” and “we are more righteous than you”.

Surveying all of this in the news, on Facebook and Twitter I was struck by something that philosopher Charles Taylor talks about. He talks about something called “Social Imaginaries”. A social imaginary is the lens or story that a person sees the world through. That lens or story shapes everything. For instance, think about marriage. Just think about it. As soon as you think about it you reveal the story or social imaginary through which you see the world. For most people in our culture marriage is about love, it is filled with romance, and it is about the two people who are in the marriage and perhaps the children when they come along. When we read the Bible we are tempted to put that picture of marriage into the Bible. But that is not the story that people in Ancient Near East would recognize. For them marriage was about strengthening two families, building ties or even settling a dispute through binding two clans together. Love and romance might show up, but that’s not the first thing marriage would be for them.

All of us have our social imaginaries, the story or lens we look at the world through. That story is so imbedded in our soul that we can’t get out of the story to see through the eyes of another story or perhaps more to the point we think other stories are hopelessly naive or uncaring or stupid or…  If our story is one of the free market we denigrate those who cry out for government solutions. If we are someone who doesn’t trust big business the present sense that the solution for all of the worlds problems from troubles in schools to churches to non profits is to run them like a business seems absurd, but those living the story of trusting business think this is the greatest thing ever. And when it comes to guns those who live out of the story of “the right to bear arms” and the picture of a “good man with a gun” who stops the bad man with a gun is the right story. On the other hand, those who want gun control argue that “the right to bear arms” was never supposed to lead to where we are and that those who want to bear arms are more concerned about their guns than they are about lives lost. 

The trouble with social imaginaries is when they get in us we can’t seem to hear the voices of others. The other trouble with social imaginaries is we often don’t even recognize that we are operating within them. Charles Taylor calls this reality “unthoughts”. An unthought is something we assume to be true, it is a belief that we hold to as a culture. We hear these unthoughts in saying or slogans like, “Question Authority”,  “the government can’t be trusted”,  “human beings are good”, “choice is a good thing”, or “everyone should be free”. An author commenting on Taylor writes, 

"These ideas do indeed have deep resonance in our culture, but Taylor shows why, if any of them are given sustained reflection, we must conclude that “it is absurd to adopt any of these . . . propositions as universal truths. . . . To have any kind of livable society some choices have to be restricted, some authorities have to be respected, and some individual responsibility has to be assumed.”

What are the unthoughts, things we just assume are true because the slogans and saying have gotten deep enough into our lives? One way of discerning unthoughts by the way is to ask if another culture would see these things as true as well (back to thinking about marriage again) or if we look back in history would people assume these ideas are true. 

Our unthoughts that flow from our social imaginaries are just the way we think, just the way we see the world (think about marriage again), and because of that there is little room for putting aside our story, our imaginary to come together with others to find solutions to whatever ails our society and world. 

Into this struggle and into our sometimes unwillingness to uncover or challenge our social imaginaries comes another way of seeing the world that both gives a lens through which to see in a new way and opens the door to working with others to heal what ails our society and world. We can call this the social imaginary of the Bible.

One of the most important parts of this social imaginary that people actually love to hate is something that the 16th century reformers called, Total Depravity. Total Depravity tells the story that everything and everyone has been touched by and twisted by sin. It doesn’t say that every person or everything is as bad as she/he/it could be, rather it says everything has gotten crooked and twisted by sin. This is a critical reality that impacts whatever social imaginary we are living out (think red state, blue state imaginaries or free market, socialism imaginaries) because it tells us that while there are good things in our imaginary something in our imaginary is crooked and twisted as well. Recognizing that things are crooked and twisted in my imaginary allows me to be open to speaking with others who come from a different point of view, who imagine healing the world has to be done in a different way. 

By the way one helpful process for uncovering both the goodness and the crookedness of your social imaginary goes like this

1.  What does the story (the social imaginary) I live by teach about what it means to be a person who lives the good life? How does that compare with what God teaches in the scriptures?
2.  What can I agree with in this story that helps me live as a passionate follower of Jesus?
3.  What do I have to resist in this story because it takes me away from being a part of a vibrant community of passionate followers of Jesus?
4.  What are the “unthoughts” in this story I live by?

Another huge part of the social imaginary of the Bible is knowing that God is on a mission to restore and redeem his world and people in it. As we mentioned yesterday this is the vision of Shalom.

Shalom: where God is our God and we are his people and he dwells with us, where God is King and his son is Lord, a world where the Lamb is our light, where swords are beaten into plowshares, where abundance is enjoyed by all, where our hurts are healed and the crooked is made straight, where people from every tribe and tongue and nation sing the same songs of praise, where justice rolls down like the waters and righteousness like an everlasting stream.

When we look at the world we see that God is on a mission to restore and redeem and that his people are called to join in the mission of God. The Christian Reformed Church’s “Our World Belongs to God” speaks of the mission this way, 

       41. Joining the mission of God, the church is sent 
       with the gospel of the kingdom
       to call everyone to know and follow Christ and to proclaim to all
       the assurance that in the name of Jesus there is forgiveness of sin
       and new life for all who repent and believe. The Spirit calls all members
       to embrace God’s mission
       in their neighborhoods
       and in the world:
       to feed the hungry,
       bring water to the thirsty,
       welcome the stranger,
       clothe the naked,
       care for the sick,
       and free the prisoner.
      We repent of leaving this work to a few,
      for this mission is central to our being. 

Joining in this mission his people know that while God’s mission is never crooked, they are, and so they carry out that mission with humility and in the way of the cross, namely, as those who practice self-giving love as the way to overcome evil.

As followers of Jesus we want to do our best to use the imaginary of the Bible in dealing with the world and with those we disagree with. We want to recognize the total depravity that impacts us, we want to see that we are called by God to be on his mission to restore and redeem all things, and we want to know that even on this mission we need to live as people of humility—who live the way of the cross by carrying out God’s mission in self-giving love. 

But we also own that this this is our first and foremost social imaginary. All other ways we see the world are judged by and filtered by this Biblical imaginary. The mission of God, the reign of Christ over all, and the way of the cross outshines and overrules all else: national imaginaries, social imaginaries, local imaginaries, family, right wing, left wing… 

Which today brings us back to guns and gun control. As the Twitter wars continue, as Facebook calls out, “read my post, because my side is right” how do we, who live out the social imaginary of the Bible, begin to be the prophetic voice in our culture that calls out both the goodness and the crookedness of different perspectives? How do we become the voice of self-giving love? How do we become the voice that sets aside our own social imaginaries for the imaginary of the Bible and so opens a door to solutions?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Guns, Thoughts and Prayers

It has happened again. A person has stepped in and taken lives shooting almost 50 people and killing 26. Sadly it is a headline we know we will see again and again in the coming months and years. We will see them again again and again because at some level we’ve come to a place in our society where we are both horrified by these events and unwilling to come together as a society to find actual ways to stop them or at least reduce the number of times we have to grieve.
Part of the divide we see comes in the call for “thoughts and prayers” for those closest to these horrific mass shootings. As the calls go out again for “thoughts and prayers” those who have been demanding gun control have begun a frustrated push back against those who are willing to pray but not willing to pursue gun control. The sense one gets is “Stop that silly praying and actually do something to end the horror.”
I’ve been reflecting on that perspective for a few days and I have to wonder if the problem isn’t quite the opposite. The problem is not that we’ve been praying too much and doing to little, the problem is we’ve praying and lamenting too little.
Deep in the faith of God’s people is the prayer of lament. A prayer of lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow lifted up to God. In the Psalms the Psalms of Lament rival the Psalm of Praise. For instance Psalm 5 begins this way, 
“Listen to my words, LORD,
consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray. 
In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you 
and wait expectantly.” (Psalms 5:1–3 NIV11)
Psalms of Lament are powerful because in them the Psalmists turn their attention to God who is both the mighty King and their loving Father—it is in him they find their hope. In the lament they identify the crisis at hand, they protest to God about it, and often protest to others and to themselves about it, then they ask God to act even as the Psalmist looks for a solution to the problem and finally the Psalmist usually ends up praising God.
The power of lament in the face of the horrors of mass shootings is that lament forces us to look to God first, the mighty king of the world and our loving Father. We look to him to act in this world understanding that prayer is one of the ways that God gets his work done in the world. This biblical reality is one place where those who denigrate thoughts and prayers get it wrong, prayer is not passive, prayer rightly done in the light of the horrors of a mass shooting is a passionate expression of grief, it is a calling, begging, crying out to God both on behalf of those who have been impacted and for God to stop such things in the future—trusting that the almighty King of the universe can actually do something.
The power of lament in the face of the horrors of mass shootings is also that lament forces us to look at the situation—the people who are deeply grieving, a nation that sees to be unwilling to take on such horrors and most uncomfortably, lament faces us down and asks, “What will you do with all these tears—both yours and others?” Lament never leaves us where we started. Lament reshapes and reforms our hearts and our priorities—for we do not want to weep like this again. 
The power of lament also comes in the vision of what God longs for in his world. The only reason we can truly lament is because we have a deep sense that this is not the way it’s supposed to be. A lone gunman shooting from a hotel or inside a church is not the way things are supposed to be. Lament surfaces the reality that and at the same time trains our hearts and minds on the way things are supposed to be. That this is supposed to be a world of shalom. As one person writes:
Shalom: where God is our God and we are his people and he dwells with us, where God is king and his son is Lord, a world where the Lamb is our light, where swords are beaten into plowshares, where abundance is enjoyed by all, where our hurts are healed and the crooked is made straight, where people from every tribe and tongue and nation sing the same songs of praise, where justice rolls down like the waters and righteousness like an everlasting stream.
The difficultly of lament in our culture is at least twofold. One is the news cycle. It is just a few days since the shootings in Texas but already we are on to other things, other news stories (and Las Vegas—well that was so long ago). Lamenting means staying in place, it means letting the sorrow burrow deep into our bones—we are not good at that in a world of 24 hour news cycles. The other is that we don’t like to lament. We don’t like to do it on our own, we don’t like to do it in our small group, and certainly we are not looking for it in a worship service. We want to be lifted up, encouraged, not pulled down into lament. And yet it is in the depths of lament that we find the Psalmist being lifted up into the presence of God.
So my sense is that in the face of the horrors of Las Vegas and Texas and whatever comes next, the problem is not to little prayer, it is not enough prayers of lament. Lament is the beginning of healing and the beginning of find ways to set the crooked straight. And if we discover that we have to lament over and over again, it is the uncomfortable nudge asking, “Why are we still crying, why has there been no change since last you wept?”

Where do we start becoming those who pray deep prayers of lament that cry out to God for his power and move us to live out God’s vision of shalom?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Books 2016 Part 4

Last, but not least... 

Culture, Philosophy and History

    Rob Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson take us into the world of Zombies and Cylons to understand the world that Charles Taylor lays out in A Secular Age. While the book deals with popular culture it also carries some true heft. A bit of heavy lifting is necessary to digest this one—but worth it!

You are what you Love

   Jamie Smith’s book that points out that we become what we love. While the book is a wonderful look into our lives and the loves that capture us what is most surprising is his solution: right worship week by week with God’s people.

The Half has Never been Told

    This powerful and disturbing book takes us into the history of slavery in the deep south. The author builds his story through the metaphor of a body and shows how slavery is the foundation on which modern prosperity is built.

Between the World and Me 

    Ta-Nehisi Coates takes us on a journey that intertwines the thoughts of body in The Half has Never been Told.  Coates book is written according to the theme of speaking to his son about growing up in America as an African American. It is  power and painful book to read and digest.

Kingdom Calling

   A great book on how to live a those who rejoice the city through our work.

The Attention Merchants

    A painful look at how we are manipulated by advertising. A surprising historical study that show that what we experience today has been around less than 100 years.


    If you ever wonder what life was like in the Roman Empire around Jesus’ day and why his way was so revolutionary this is the book. Long, detailed and ultimately disturbing it traces the Roman Emperors over 100 years—up to the death of Nero.  It doesn’t mention Jesus, but if you know that story it stands in marked contrast.

Punished by Rewards

    Alfie Kohn point out how the rewards we give out often do more harm than good. A great read for teachers and parents.

The Horrors we Bless

    This book is one of the most disturbing on the list. The author takes us into the horrors and injustices that we bless as nations and peoples. The struggle is to to think of the alternatives in a broken world.

The Attention Merchants

    A painful look at how we are manipulated by advertising. A surprising historical study that show that what we experience today has been around less than 100 years.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016 Books Part 3

And now....Church, Preaching and worship


After You Believe

   What do you do “After You Believe” and who do you do it? Those are the questions raised by N.T. Wright as he calls us to be people of virtue (faith, hope, love) and to practice that virtue in the world.

Envisioning the Congregation Practicing the Gospel

   A wonderful book that shows the practices of a congregation that live out the gospel.


    Eugene Cho calls us to not only be concerned about the brokenness of the world but to do something about it.

A Church Undone

    This disquieting book brings us documents from the 1920s and 30s written in Germany by church leaders. It shows how leaders in the church twisted the scripture to support Hitler and how other leaders battled back—but to no avail.

One Nation Under God

    This book presents a picture of how many churches became more conservative in their political leaning and the place of evangelical leaders in this movement.  The book traces this history from the 1930s to the early 2000s.

Imagine Church

    How to make whole-life disciples who see their work, neighborhood, and all of life as a place to live out their faith and to be shaped as followers of Jesus.

    John Knapp’s quick read on how the church ignores the struggles of business people.

Remedies against Satan’s Devices

     A wonderful Puritan treatise on seeing how Satan gets into our lives and how we can recognize and battle his advances.

Preaching and Worship

Preaching: Tim Keller

    One of several books I’ve read on preaching and worship this year. Keller’s book is wonderful in laying out a good method of preaching, but especially helpful in naming the trends of our culture and how they both reflect and reject the gospel.

Worship By the Book

    Gives an overview of different ways of worship in the North American context. Helpfully, it gives actual worship service outlines.


   Using powerpoint in a more effective way.

The Dangerous Act of Worship 

    Since worship is a call to see Jesus as Lord and to follow him as Lord it is a dangerous act. Worship pits Jesus against all others who declare themselves as lord from people to nations and holds that we follow only the ways of Jesus.

The Power of Multi-Sensory Preaching and Teaching

   The title pretty much says it all. This book calls preachers to move beyond monologue preaching into using multiple ways of communication.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016 Books Part 2

From politics and power to Bible and Theology

Bible and Theology
Saving the Bible From Ourselves

     A great look at how we have taken the Bible and turned it into snippets and sayings rather than digesting it as a story. The book is disturbing because it takes on the way we use the Bible and by implication a number of very popular books that people use to take in the scripture piece meal.

The Case for the Psalms

     N.T. Wright lays out the necessity for the Psalms in our lives. The rhythm of the psalms, the themes of the Psalms and the inescapable questions of life in the psalms make them a necessity each day and in the context of weekly worship.

The Day the Revolution Began

     “What had happened by 6 p.m. on Good Friday?” is the question that N.T. Wright addresses in his latest book. Wright holds that a revolution began by that time that has turned the world upside down and moves Christians beyond living with good advice on how to get to heaven.

The Divine Trinity  

     Bavinck’s short treatise on understanding the unique Christian understanding of God.

Slow Church

     The authors present another way of doing church that fits well into the present movements of smaller, more participatory churches that are rooted in communities and neighborhoods. 

     Common English Bible Study Bible is another fine addition to the Study Bible world. Since it has more Catholic roots it gives interesting perspectives.

     Yep, John Calvin’s sermons on the ten commandments. The interesting things about reading Calvin’s sermons over agains his theology is that his theology is much more winsome and grace-filled, while his messages are less so.

     J. Todd Billings, professor at Western Seminary in Holland, writes a wonderful book on what Union with Christ is about. While definitely a book for those who love theology it is also an inviting book for those who want to learn more about their connection to Christ.

     Billing’s more theological tome that I believe is the foundation of Union with Christ. This book was pure joy to read. However the joy comes at a cost, the book sells for $130.00 (yep, that’s right $130.00).


     Randy Alcorn holds that happiness and joy in the Bible are deeply connected. He also points out that the idea that happiness and holiness are not connected is false. An in depth study of the Bible and its look at happiness and our need for it.

Who is this Man 

     John Ortberg in his typical engaging style helps us see the impact Jesus and his way has had on the world down through history.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 in books Part 1

I've been asked to do a quick review of the books I've read this past year. Some I read completely, others not so much...  

Here is the first category of the list, I'll add other categories over the next few days.

Politics and Power

Age of Fracture 

       Daniel Rodgers traces the history of the fractures we see in our culture (U.S.). The book lays out differing philosophies and ideas that have battled and led to the fracture.

The Fractured Republic

     Yuval Levin’s book is an interesting contrast with Rodger’s book on fracture. Levin does a masterful job of pointing out that the world both left and right desire and believe existed never did. His solution, however, leads to one of the many differing philosophies laid out by Rodgers. Levin’s book, then, is a treatise leading to a solution while Rodgers gives a more wide ranging picture..

What’ the Heck, Mr. President

     Continuing the above theme, this book focuses on President Jimmy Carter’s time as president and his understanding of how the U.S. needed to be understood in terms of covenant and sacrifice. The book leads to Carter’s speech which has become known as “The Malaise Speech” but was actually a sermon calling Americans to a different future. 

Playing God

     Andy Crouch’s book on power and its right and wrong uses. A revealing book on how we use our power for advantage rather than for service.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution

     If you haven’t read these short documents its worth it to understand the founding ideas of the U.S.

The Assassination Complex

     Few people realize that there is an ongoing Drone war where thousands have been killed. The Assassination Complex traces that war as waged in the Obama administration and calls into question whether such a war can meet the criteria of justice.

Our Endangered Values

     Jimmy Carter’s take on the essential values of the U.S. as a nation and how those values are endangered.


     Traces the rise and fall of Nixon, his policies, politics, and personality. This book also traces the roots of fracture (see books above) in our present culture. 

      A series of essays on the view of Neo-Calvinists on the French Revolution. Just beginning this one, but it points to the anti-revolutionary spirit of Neo-Calvinism when revelation isn’t rooted in  faith.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Letting in the pain of being called a Racist

So allow me to step in where angels fear to tread. I hope you will take the time to read the entire post and use it not just for this moment and situation, but to ask how the pastoral formation model can be used in many situation in our lives—including this post-election moment.
Since the election of Donald Trump many who voted for him have found themselves being called racist, misogynistic, haters of immigrants and more. In response they have called “foul” and spoken of the pain felt at being wrongly labeled because of their vote (I would guess if Hillary had won people would have been labeled as well for their vote for her and would have called foul in some way, but she didn’t win, so this is deals with our present reality). The cry is basically, “I didn’t vote for Trump because I’m a racist, I voted for him because I’m for free markets, I’m pro-life, I want conservative judges on the Supreme Court or I want a strong military etc.  For some this pain is felt deeply and there is a sense of overwhelming injustice at being called these things simply because of a vote for President elect Trump.
There is also, as one might expect, a backlash on Twitter, Facebook, and in blogs telling people to stop calling them racist, misogynistic, etc., that their vote for Trump does not reflect this part of his words and actions, that people have to stop these false accusations and stop bring so nasty.
Into this pain and the desire to have people stop inflicting this pain allow me to introduce something called the Pastoral Formation Model.  

 As you can see a pastoral care model seeks to sooth our pain (something which we do need at times) while a pastoral formation model seeks to make us into better disciples of Jesus. 

I could be wrong, but this moment when there is a deep sense of injustice, especially among white evangelical voters of whom 81% voted for President elect Trump (although this number is a bit misleading—for those who attend worship services weekly the number if more like 55% and for those who attend monthly it is about 51%) this may be a time to put into place the Pastoral Formation Model. So let’s play that out…

  1. How are you feeling?: that I am be treated unjustly because of my vote for Donald Trump. It is not true that I voted for him because I’m a racist I voted for him because….
  2. How can you respond to what is happening?: I can use this as a powerful opportunity to let this painful feeling of injustice settle deeply into my soul and let it stir there, feeling the hurt. As I feel the hurt I can remember people who are African American who feel this sense of injustice regularly as they are stopped and frisked, as they are stopped while driving in the “wrong” neighborhood, as they are called racist names—not because they voted for a certain candidate, but because of the color of their skin. As I feel this hurt I can remember people like my friend Johnny who is Puerto Rican and is regularly profiled and pulled out of line at Airport security because he looks middle eastern. As I feel this hurt I can remember my hispanic, female, muslim friend who is fearful today of the abuse she will take for wearing her hijab. As I feel this hurt I can remember my friend who is of middle eastern descent, a Christian pastor, but who none-the-less is painted with the brush of an Islamic terrorist and is fearful for herself and her children. As I feel this hurt I can use it to understand the pain of injustice that has been felt by others for years not just for a few days.  I can use the pain I feel as a catalyst to read (e.g. The Warmth of Other Suns, The New Jim Crow, Just Mercy, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, The Half has Never Been Told, Nixonland, One Nation Under God) about the pain and history of injustice in our nation. I can use it as a catalyst to watch (e.g. 13th on Netflix, The Day the 60s Died, The Sixties) about the ongoing divide between racial groups in America.  I can use this pain to explore the “Doctrine of Discovery” and discern how that doctrine has shaped our nation. The sense of injustice felt for a vote cast can be a catalyst into the lives of others who feel this injustice not just for a few days after an election, but feel it every day.
  3. What is God doing?: Could God be using this moment of pain to expand my vision of the world, to build empathy in me for others who suffer from injustice?
  4. How do I not miss an opportunity to grow?: By refusing to dismiss this pain, defend myself against this pain, but instead allow the pain and hurt to sink in and call that pain and hurt to mind—even after the election fades—so that I can continually have eyes for those who are suffering injustice.
  5. Who can support me so I can be fruitful?: Who are my African American friends, my friends from the middle east who can walk alongside of me and help you feel their pain? Who can hold me to doing some reading or watching on an ongoing basis so that I am regularly reminded of the injustice suffered by others?
  6. How do I integrate this to become a better disciple?: Perhaps I can integrate this by every time I feel a stab of injustice I use it not to focus on myself, but on those who face injustice every day and to discern how to walk with them through that injustice. 

So that’s the pastoral formation model.  If you are feeling the pain of being unjustly accused in these days after the election how can you use this model to form you into a better disciple of Jesus. Obviously, you could discern different ways to answer the questions than what is written above, but however you answer them what would happen if we took the pain we are feeling after this election and used it —not trying to dodge it or shout out against those who are causing us this pain—but used it to be better disciples of Jesus who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God?