25 June 2009

A very good gospel

The relational gospel--
two samples:

It was our first morning of our long Father's Day weekend in Pacific City that we heard about the stroke that would take Tom Mullen from us later that same day. We had just seen him and his wife Nancy Faus at Reedwood Friends Church a few weeks earlier, and he was in rare form. Who would have thought we could laugh so much during a Reedwood Forum session on, of all things, planning for one's death?? He and Nancy were great presentation partners for this sensitive topic, speaking candidly of their own experiences and their own preparations. Their central concern was helping relatives, friends, and the church know their wishes and the practical details the survivors will need to know upon their death.

Well, presumably West Richmond Friends do know those details, but there's one thing Tom couldn't help us with: It's simply hard to get around his absence among us! Being halfway around the world from him was nothing compared to having to wait for Hotel Glory to see again his face ripen the way it would before he'd let another joke fly--or, for that matter, to hear the passion in his voice as he constantly and faithfully asserted that grace is the core of Jesus's good news. I cherish my memories of his attempts to get me to take more classes at Earlham School of Religion: "We want you to graduate so we can take credit for you!" I'm sure I am not the only one who got his special brand of affectionate encouragement.

Here's where I find comfort--the encouragement is still there. I feel it when I close my eyes and picture Tom, and hear his voice again.

A couple of days after we got the news of Tom's death, I began reading a book that came out about five years ago. It's my Tom Mullen Memorial Read, and, appropriately, it's more fun than I should have reading theology: Donald Miller's Searching for God Knows What. Miller tenderly but directly diagnoses the control-oriented religiosity that separates too many seekers from the Good News. Central to his diagnosis is his insights about the "Fall" described by Genesis 2-3: God can and does tell us directly how much we are worth, how precious we are to God--but instead we substitute various counterfeits, comparing ourselves to each other according to false scales and values, even using theology to do that when it suits us. Our desire for God, and God's desire for us, are blocked out by all sorts of second-rate desires. (It's not desire that is bad, it's a fatal lack of perspective, lack of understanding that the Gospel is, before everything else, relational.)

Based on this diagnosis, Miller bluntly lists all sorts of terrible consequences, including racism, war, objectification of all kinds. Here's a sample, specifically concerning the misuse of "morality":
I confess, when I was young my mind rebelled from the standard evangelical mantra about morality. My rebellion was reactionary, to be sure. I can't tell you how many times I have seen an evangelical leader on television talking about this culture war, about how we are being threatened by persons with an immoral agenda, and I can't tell you how many sermons I have heard in which immoral pop stars or athletes or politicians have been denounced because of their shortcomings. Rarely, however, have I heard any of these ideas connected with the dominant message of Christ, a message of grace and forgiveness and a call to repentance. Rather, the moral message I have heard is often a message of bitterness and anger because our morality, our culture, is being taken over by peole who disregard our ethical standards. None of it was connected, relationally, to God at all.

In this way, it has felt like one group in the lifeboat, the moral group, is at odds with anther group, the immoral group, and the fight is about dominance in a fallen system rather than rescue from a fallen system. And I wonder, What good does it do to tell somebody to be moral so they can die fifty years later and, apparently, go to hell?

It makes me wonder, and even judge (confession) the motives of someone who wages a culture war about morality without confessing their own immorality while pointing to the Christ who saved them, the Christ who wishes to rescue everybody.

Morality, in this way, can be a circus act, giving a person a feeling of superiority. And while morality is good, anything we do to get other people to clap, or anything that gives us a more prominent position in a sinking ship, runs the risk of replacing a humble nature pointed at Christ, who is our Redeemer. The biblical idea of morality is behavior associated with our relationship with Jesus, not bait for pride.
The next pages are equally good, but I'm already stretching the fair-use doctrine, so I hope you get the book for yourself.

News of Tom Mullen's death in Richmond, Indiana's Palladium-Item, including information on Saturday's memorial meeting.

Judy and I are still prayerfully following the news from Iran as much as possible, including the sources I mentioned last week. We're now back in Portland, Oregon, for a couple of weeks.

Other righteous links: The Quaker Agitator provides a compact presentation of Chris Hedges' well-informed description of what war is all the time, "just" or not: it's sin. ~~ At bitterlemons.org, Yossi Melman comments on the implication's of Iran's internal crisis on Israeli and regional politics. ~~ More from Gene Stoltzfus on "Obama's War." ~~ FRIDAY PS on Guns and God: To balance this article on the New York Times site about the pastor who's asking his flock to bring their guns to church, I offer this rerun: Greenleaf Friends' pastor Alan Weinacht, also in the New York Times: "... How do you say we’re for community, and at the same time, the guns are cocked?"

I almost decided not to provide a blues dessert this week, but blues is what I'm feeling, so here's Dana Fuchs and her band:

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