I have been accused of pushing buttons. Not the kind on my computer keyboard or the virtual variety on my smart phone. I am talking about emotional buttons that, when pressed, tend to make people uncomfortable, annoyed, or outright irritated. Those buttons.
I do it for a reason. We all need to get our feathers ruffled every now and then, otherwise we become stale and complacent. Sometimes we need our paradigms challenged so we have a chance to defend and, if necessary, reevaluate them.
I read this short quote in another blog this morning, and I thought it appropriate to the discussion:
The disciples of Jesus remain bitterly divided over protecting their own dogmatic interpretations of the truth, meanwhile neglecting the authentic Jewish core inside the church edifice and scarcely noticing that the whole edifice is in danger of collapse under the weight of modern secularism and disillusionment.
Most of the buttons I like to push tend to challenge theological dogma, most of it millenia-old, man-made traditions that have rendered Scripture and its scholastic study near-obsolete. That might sound a bit extreme as an idea, but in practice it is sadly true. Consider, for example, the massive disengagement with Scripture by the vast majority of professing Christians.
I might be pushing a button there.
Last week, I had the opportunity to dialogue at length with a dear Christian couple about our theological differences. The time was well spent, and I was challenged to present (not defend) my perspectives on a list of very fundamental Christian beliefs, such a the Trinity, the divinity of Messiah, and the function of the Gospel.
I have to admit that I had a lot of fun. The conversation was mature and open-minded, not argumentative or defensive. The husband was very well versed in sayings of the Master while remaining firmly grounded in his Protestant Evangelical interpretations. I, on the other hand, strove to offer insights that only a Jewish perspective on the Scriptures could provide–while admitting that I too had once espoused the same views they shared with me.
At no point did I feel as though I needed to defend myself, and I worked with great effort to reassure the other couple that I was not taking an offensive approach. Instead, we were dialoguing about our differences with the understanding that certain, very basic fundamentals were held in common.
The interaction was refreshing and exhilarating, and it left me convinced that I am prepared–at least on some level–to offer an explanation for the hope that is in me (1 Peter 3:15). We should all embrace these theological conversations with open hearts and open minds. They challenge our faith and our preparedness. And we should not fear engaging with those that see Scripture differently. Iron only sharpen iron when the two engage from different perspectives.
Growing up, I was often made to feel that we should only engage with doctrines we share, as if those who think differently are somehow dangerous. This applied not only to people from other religions but also to other denominations within Christianity. What a notion! What better way is there for the Adversary to foment discord and separation than to convince us that we must isolate ourselves against differing opinions and interpretations?
Today, consider your opportunities to engage with others that think differently. If you are siloed in your own worldview, then it is time to break free of safe-room you have built around your own opinions, interpretations, traditions, and dogma.
This Father’s Day, I will be spending a significant part of my day planning and selecting dual enrollment courses for my 16 year old daughter’s first year at a local state college. On the one hand, the fact that I have a daughter at this stage of life is both daunting and thrilling. On the other hand, a daughter at this age means I also am getting older, and time is moving along at its usual, unstoppable, undeniable, unslowable (that is not a real word) pace.
Ironically, as I drove home from the airport two nights ago, I selected a route I never take and came upon an intersection I have not encountered in a number of years. Just pulling up to that intersection cast my mind into a recollection of my own college experience by such a strong intrusion to my mental state–assisted undoubtedly by fatigue from the long day preceding–that I almost diverted my course home to head to an apartment I have not lived in for over 20 years!
Time is a fascinating study, but I think our perception of time is far more interesting. I also wonder often if my generation has, in general, not aged and matured as elegantly as the generations before. That might just be my perception. It seems as though we lack a rite of passage as we get older, the kind that says, “You’ve arrived. You’re an adult now and responsible for your actions. Go make the world a better place.” I suppose high school graduation my be that for some, college graduation that for others, and for others still marriage or parenthood.
But as marriage and parenthood are arriving far later in life for many in Western culture, those life events are coming too late to be as nearly effective provocateurs to our maturation process into adulthood. For others, parenthood arrives far too early because the necessary information (A + B will eventually equal C if you add them together enough times, and your decisions impact the world and not just you) never came at all and were left for the great hand of experience to convey.
No, we need to take a more active roll in the upbringing of this next generation. Truthfully, we have time to waste. But we have done that and seen where it leads. It is not a happy place for us, for our children, or for our communities. I suspect many of the atrocities the media feels obligated to show us are often perpetrated by individuals to whom is was poorly or never conveyed: your actions matter. Now go and make the world a better place.
I have been considering my priorities. And how they might be, in some cases, misplaced.
What does Yeshua mean when he says that we should first seek the Kingdom of God? I guess we have to determine what the Kingdom is and what seeking it really means, but even if we haven’t determined that precisely, the operative term in the reference for me, right now, is “first.” That means that Kingdom activities should be my top priority.
Can I get an “amen” that that is much harder than it sounds? The real difficulty isn’t in the doing–that part about finding the Kingdom and participating in it–but rather, in making ourselves Kingdom-minded first and foremost. There are just too many distractions, right? And this world doesn’t revolve around the Kingdom yet, which means we’re going to have other challenges to wrestle, such as work and school and friends and family that just do not get it.
Many years ago, I had a discussion with a dear friend about the need to prioritize his reading and study of the Bible, along with prayer and general nurturing of his relationship with the Almighty. He second response, after the obligatory “you’re right,” was that there just isn’t enough time in the day. I responded without hesitation: “The G-d who made time a space can certainly help you make more time in your day (or your existing time more efficient) if you would just put him first.” Queue the crickets…
I sometimes find myself on the other side of that argument, and I have had to remind myself that it is not fair to push G-d out to the margins of my time and then expect him to pop out of my Bible like a genie in the lamp whenever I call. And it really isn’t even about what is fair. It is simply not possible for me to manage righteously my own heart and mind without them being nurtured by the Word, by prayer, and by right fellowship with other Kingdom-minded individuals.
Far more often than not, I think Christians and other Yeshua-followers consign G-d to living in the margins, especially whenever the burden of life bears down. But should it not be quite the opposite?
Perhaps we should stop asking G-d to live in the margins of our stories but instead consider that we are actually living in the margins of His.
I think it started a long time ago, and I believe it is getting worse.
When those who claim to be truth-seekers and Jesus-followers are no longer discernible from unbelievers, then we have a problem. The church has been chasing the world for generations, but it is profoundly obvious now that we see modern forms of worship emulating secular styles and genres that are all here-today-gone-tomorrow.
Is it not possible that instead of trying to look forward to the next big thing, church leadership should be looking back to the practice of Jesus and the Apostles? It seems that by always trying to keep up with the world, the church at large is declaring that the worship of God must evolve and that WWJD is just not good enough anymore.
O. M. G.
I have noticed that there seems to be a trend in Christendom lately of trying to right-size understanding of Torah (law), divine favor (grace), and the message of redemption (gospel). Amusingly, there is way more talking than listening going on. Everyone is so convinced that their own theology is right and remains the sole island-of-truth descended without alteration from the teachings of Paul the Apostle that they therefore refuse to hear any dissenting opinions or alternate perspectives from what they deem as heretical doctrines from outside their closed theological ecosystem.
Did you know that it was once heretical to believe that common people should have access to the Bible? It was once heretical to suggest that the earth was not the center of the universe. What you consider heretical today may one day be an idea accepted as self-evident and axiomatic.
My point? My point is that once you start down the path of claiming everyone else is a heretic, you doom yourself into your own heretical thinking. If you are unwilling to have open-minded dialogue with someone who does not share your perspective, then the cause you are trying to champion has already been lost.
Iron cannot sharpen iron when it sits in isolation.
One of the most faith-defining moments for me has been the simple acknowledgement that the Bible was not written for me. Before you object, I am not saying that it is not useful for me. What I am saying is that neither the authors nor the compilers of Scripture had me in mind. The prophets of old did not know me. The evangelists who wrote the gospel accounts did not know me. Rabbi Shaul–Paul the Apostle–certainly did not know me.
First recognizing that I am not in the picture helps me to realize that not everything written applies to me. It may be useful in various contexts, but applicability and relevance are two entirely different things.
The Biblical authors and redactors and compilers had a different audience in mind: an ancient audience at least 2000 years ago. Modern readers forget this. And modern expositors often fail to mention it.
The first step to understanding Holy Writ is recognizing that we of modernity are not the intended readers. Before you object, I am not saying that it is not useful for you. What I am saying is that asking the question “what does this mean for me” is the wrong way to approach Scripture.
What you should be asking is “to whom was this written and why?” Only then can you possibly begin to align your understanding with what is actually on the page instead of what your modern mindset wants to see there. It is nothing short of astonishing how far afield from the intended message you can get when you fail to ask this simple question.
The book of Leviticus is riddled with details about sacrifice. This makes it mostly untenable for the average, modern reader. It is so difficult for us to understand, let alone justify what kind of deity would require sacrifice of one living thing in place of another.
But I think we are looking at it all wrong. Those details are not about how to offer a sacrifice of flesh, or grain, or wine. They are about how to draw near to God. Maybe if we would change our perspective, we would not only appreciate the minutiae but also see more significance in the offering Messiah makes on our behalf.
I think it is unhealthy to spend so much mental effort engaged with death–an animal’s or ours–and what happens after and not enough time spent fixated on the life afforded us by the spilling of blood. And if you’ve forgotten and need a mundane explanation, go find a soldier and ask her what she fights for. Go ask the sailor why he risks his life for people he has never met.
Maybe that perspective is an unsettling metaphor. And maybe it is inappropriate. Or maybe it is exactly what you need to think about today.
This past weekend, we started the count from Passover to Pentecost: 50 days of counting the omer according to Leviticus 23. It seems like an unusual command, but it is remarkable how challenging it can be just to count to 50, advancing one number each day. It is as if God is saying, “Here, I’ll give you an easy one.” Ironically, I tend to think it gets harder as we get more and more distracted by technology and the fast pace of modern life. This year, however, technology is on my side.
As it turns out, if you are counting the omer, there’s an app for that.
Have you ever been annoyed by endless rambling of a colleague at work, or the hammers and bangs of construction outside your office window, or the nonstop rabble and screams and laughter of children playing in another room? Imagine if you could no longer hear those sounds. It all seems like noise, and maybe some of it is. But if you stop and listen for a moment, perhaps you will be able to hear the sounds of life happening all around you.
I often find myself missing the cacophony of my children when all I can hear is the deafening silence of their absence.