Reveling in Our Limitations

image“A man’s got to know his limitations.” Harry Callahan

“As you cannot do what you want, want what you can do.” Leonardo DaVinci


We are encouraged to do big things and address the great problems of our time. Poverty, AIDS and war all cry out for our healing touch and, more often than not, we throw ourselves into projects aimed at eradicating these evils only to get frustrated at our progress. Huge organizations are built to plan the attack, organize the foot soldiers and send them into the field to bring the fight to these enemies. The problems are fought from the top down, only rarely reaching the bottom where the problems truly affect the lives of fellow human beings.

What if you turned your calling upside-down and attacked the problem from the bottom up? Instead of viewing the problem you are called to affect, you realize that your best hope for accomplishing anything is at the individual level, one on one with a person who is affected by the problem. No organization needed, no massive plan of attack necessary. Address one person and find out how to help that person. Revel in the ministry to the individual. Throw yourself completely into the life of that person and be satisfied with any progress that you help initiates in that life. Jesus expended his energies on individuals. He healed one person at a time, looking into their eyes as he did so, even though he had the ability to snap His fingers and cure all of the ills of the world at once. The individuals cured became examples of His power among their neighbors.

We all want to change the world. As DaVinci says, there are things we may want to do but cannot because of the scale or our capabilities or any number of other reasons. We could, however, influence change in one person. Perhaps, we should be reveling in these small opportunities.

Get Committed

Bishop Thomas Tobin on Sunday said he made the request because of the Democratic lawmaker’s support for abortion rights. The news prompted debate among Catholics around the country and within the bishop’s flock in the nation’s most Catholic state about whether it was right for Tobin to publicly shame Kennedy for breaking with the church on what its leaders consider a paramount moral issue.

Angel Madera, 20, a Marine visiting his home in Providence for Thanksgiving, said before attending Sunday evening Mass that Tobin was wrong to assail Kennedy’s faith.

"If they believe they’re a true Catholic, who’s to say that they’re not?" he said. From

Well, Angel, God determines who is a Christian and who is not. Since God has proclaimed His human creations to be very good and He participated in the creation of that life from its first moment in the womb I imagine He gets to make the final determination.

The problem here is not the postmodern-no-fixed-point-of-truth philosophy but that we in the Church often fail to take a stand on matters of holiness. Whether Catholic or Protestant, there should be a unanimity of thought and practice regarding abortion; it simply cannot be condoned by any true Christian. Those within the Church who feel that they can sidestep this issue while keeping the others has placed one foot on ice in your Sunday shoes. Valuing life begins at the second that it becomes so.

In Evangelical pastoral circles, the Bishop’s firm stand should cause us to consider how tolerant we have become of other sin within our churches. We should ask ourselves how much the prevailing culture has wormed its way into our churches and made tolerance our driving principle rather than holiness. Confronting sin has gotten a bad rap as we fear being caricatured as foaming at the mouth Fundamentalists. We’re afraid to call sin sin and teach and preach holiness. We’re afraid to take a stand.

Whether you believe Catholic theology or not, you should respect the Bishop’s stand when it comes to profaning the elements of God and what they stand for. There is always a gnawing fear in the back of the pastor’s mind that the congregation will turn on him if he brings holiness to the altar and asks those who truly believe to kneel and allows others to step away. The greater fear should be judgment morning when he is asked why he didn’t care for the flock entrusted to him.

Second Sunday in Advent with Micah – Longing for Justice


The Prophet Micah spoke a message that is ultimately about hope. Though difficult times must come upon God’s people, in the end, the just nature of God will overcome all and His people and His world will be restored to their proper relationship. The advent season can be a joyous, hopeful season but for some people, it can also serve to magnify their distress and hopelessness. There are numerous reasons that people feel this way but one cause that the Bible teaches us to address with His blessing is injustice. We can be the hope bringers in situations of injustice. God’s grace can be transported to these situations and they can be transformed…if we are willing. One of my favorite passages regarding worship describes in the voice of God himself the direct relationship between justice, mercy, and adoration.

He has showed you, O Man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (vv 6:8)

In this season of longing and anticipation, we can turn to one of Micah’s passages of hope as a prayer of our own. We can trust that God will restore justice in His time. Until that day, we can carry His message on our own.

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?

You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.

You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (vv 7:18-19)

The Cost of Compromise

The Wall Street Journal reports that twenty five percent of Protestants and better that fifty percent of Catholics voted for president-elect Barack Obama. They cast their vote despite his clear anti-life record and the agenda of abortion support and economic enslavement that his party has vowed to support. If you identify yourself among these numbers you have compromised your principles, the Church, and your God.

Can someone explain this?

How does one who lays claim as an heir or heiress to Christ support and put in a place of authority leaders who have promised to forward a culture of death at all costs? Does the sanctity of life, every life, that is a reflection of the imago dei in even the unborn child mean nothing? Holiness in a follower of Christ does not compromise holiness in their actions.

I read Christians who claim that it is Obama and his coalition’s support for the poor that made their compromise valid. They say that government will now do more for the least of these. Sadly, this is not the gospel of Jesus. The fruit by which the orphans and widows are cared for comes from individual disciples transformed by the Holy Spirit into the likeness of Christ . This spiritual fruit is not provided by government. It comes from the capital C Church, the community of saints who together, in their transformed state, seek out the least of these and serve them through the desire of their heart, not a mandate of human authority. Government imposed solutions are nothing more than an abdication of the responsibility given by our Lord. We compromise and we fail.

For those who will respond by saying that God places all of our leaders in their positions of authority, I would ask that they read their bible again. Read particularly in Judges. Not all leaders are in place for the good. Sometimes, leaders and their failure before God cause us to repent and return to Him in our brokenness, despondent and terrorized by the decisions that we have made.


Christians at the Border by Daniel Carroll R.

image You can read my review here of M. Daniel Carroll R.’s new book Christians at the Border. Carroll makes the case for framing the discussion of immigration in Christian terms. His prescription centers on keeping the humanity, the imago dei, in the forefront of our attention as we consider possible responses to the dilemma the country faces in dealing with various mass migrations into the culture. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Danny Carroll was one of the most influential of my seminary professors. He taught me Old Testament and Hebrew but more importantly, his direction toward seeing how important the image of God in people is was deeply challenging to my outlook on social justice issues. He always demands that our theology expand beyond ‘helicoptering’ into a passage and extracting a truth from a proof text without considering the total context of God’s story throughout history. Carroll insists that our vision of God expand and expand as we grow in Christ.

Jesus, Community Organizer – New Extra Large Size!

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. (Ex 20:7)

(Originally posted 11 September 2007)

The American political arena has been treated to yet one more attempt to lift one candidate to Messiah status while associating the other with an incompetent, indecisive, murderer. Donna Brazile, repeating a meme initiated by a Washington Post blogger, gave voice to the line “Jesus was a community organizer, Pontius Pilate was a governor.”

To correct the record, Jesus Christ was God. He is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of all humankind, as they will believe in Him. Jesus was in no way a community organizer in the model of Saul Alinsky, the mentor emeritus of community organizing. The Chicago stre

et agitator following Alinsky’s methods seeks to embed in the minds of the troubled that their condition is not their responsibility, it is the work of some oppressor above them. The organizer will invest as much effort as necessary to make the poor victims so angry with their perceived oppression that they rise up in direct action against those who hold them down. “Militant mass action…fueled by righteous anger.” as described by Dennis Jacobsen.

The Jesus of the Bible, on the other hand, commands a different loyalty. He speaks first of aligning oneself with the Father and His kingdom and then, in a reflection of the love of that kingdom, working to serve others in love. No mass violence; instead turning the other cheek also. Christ’s notion of social justice is to overcome by love and trust in the work of God, not radical mass action. Given the warning of the commandments above, perhaps we should be a bit more temperate in our allusions of a political figure to the Savior of humankind.

Update: It appears that Susan Sarandon received her lines a little bit late! She was parroting this decidedly unbiblical scripted dialogue yesterday AFTER Rep. Cohen delivered the line. Somebody’s head is going to roll for not delivering her script on time. Review here what biblical scholar Sarandon has to teach about Jesus.

STOP THE PRESSES!! The fourth estate senior spokespersons are just now getting their talking points about the similarity between the Savior of All Humankind and the community agitator. Tom Brokaw, the erudite theologian of record, demonstrated physical proof yesterday in the form of this recently unearthed coin of the future realm:

Aren’t there any grown ups in this group of people?

From Whence the Roosting Chickens Came Pt. 1

By now, Pastor Jeremiah Wright and his thoughts about America and her people and culture are well known. Excerpts from sermons have been repeated over and over, both in context and by themselves. He has been interviewed and given an opportunity to explain how the more pejorative statements have been misinterpreted only to stand by them and claim any criticism of his words as “an attack on the Black church.” His most recent speech, opening a multi-day seminar, expanded his victimhood and in the the question and answer session that followed, he was given an opportunity to step back from ideas such as the government created AIDS epidemic but refused to do so. Such is the mind of Jeremiah Wright.

Pastor Wright’s words sound out of place here in the year 2008 since we are to exercise a fair amount of historical reflection and see exactly how much things have changed. The Black Power sentiments echo the demands of a pre Civil rights legislation era and the visions he projects of a corrupt nation run solely by the White Man harken back even further to a time in which those in power might have been rightfully called oppressors. The anger and hatred of America that colors the Reverend’s sermons demands that we stop for a moment to analyze the woes and struggles that have befallen him so that, even if we do not sympathize with him, we are able to have empathy. The trouble is, the more we look at his life, we find that he has led a rather idyllic life growing up unmolested and unable to recount a struggle in the inner city or the hatred of whites.

The media have correctly attributed Pastor Wright’s roots in Black Liberation Theology but have provided little context as to what this might mean. We could turn to Wikipedia as most Googlers will do but to gain a more in-depth foundation we can turn to one of the seminal works on the topic, Black Theology and Black Power by James M. Cone. Published in 1969, this book practically screams with the anger of the times as it looks at an America on the verge of monumental changes in race relations but with many of her citizens still clinging to old hierarchical notions and a history of attributing second class status to its people of color. It is a difficult book to read, not only because of the humility that non-black readers must bring to the words, but because buried in the paragraphs in the message that in order to restore the image of God within them, Blacks must fundamentally separate themselves from White Americans. Rather than integrate with the ‘oppressor’, they must segregate and do for each other.

It is not easy to come to this message as Cone never writes in one paragraph what he can take ten to do (similar to reading more modern works by Cornel West). He comes immediately to terms with a definition of Black Power which will lay the cornerstone of his theology to follow. He says that Black Power means “black people taking the dominant role in determining the black-white relationship in American society.” Cone warns against seeing black theology as antithetical to the Gospel insisting that it is, in fact, “Christ’s central message to twentieth-century America.” This, he asserts, comes from Jesus’ total identification with the poor and oppressed peoples against the ruling authorities.

Coined by Stokely Carmichael, Black Power is in essence a direct response to White racism which negatively created in the Black population an inconsistency in their image of themselves as men and women and the society’s insistence that they were nothing but ‘things’. This disconnection as it was culturally embedded and passed forward through succeeding generations of black citizens, regardless of their free status, creates the chasm that runs through Cone’s vision of Black-White relations (and possibility). Black Power holds to a position that sees the White vision of the Black man as never changing; he (the black man) will forever be but a thing in the eyes of the White (oppressor). The Black man must fight back against this with all of will and power and insist that the White man see him as he is, as a  man. It is this key tenet that often draws the mistaken label of black racism. Advocates are careful to distinguish between racism ( the assumption of differences between racial groups and the inherent superiority of one over the other), the hatred of whites by blacks fueled by the previous years of oppression, slavery, and domination, and Black Power, which is the insistence that Blacks be restored in their fundamental humanity in the eyes of whites.

What makes Black Power and the theology that supports it so difficult for whites to accept is that it is anathematic to the pursuit of integration. Black power insists that there be no integration if the terms of such are defined by the dominant white culture and values. It insists instead on a restoration of the relationship defined by the Kingdom of God where all men of all races approach one another cognizant of the divine image within each and on equal footing. Though there is verbal assent to this concept, the challenge to see the inherent beauty and strength in Blackness is a challenge that Cone says whites are unwilling to meet. Only when whites are willing to see and treat the Black man for who and what he is as a man can there be a further discussion. The response to accusations that this is simply black racism and is therefore an inappropriate response to the endemic white racism that Cone sees is rebuffed by the statement “It is time for whites to realize that the oppressor is in no position whatever to define the proper response to enslavement.” This reasoned supposition is rooted in the fact that Whites in America cannot know the extent of black suffering, they can only speak from their perspective.

Finally, Black power draws no differentiation between the white liberal do-gooder who seeks to assuage his guilt by trying to integrate the black and white experience and George Wallaces of this older era. Cone states bluntly that all whites are responsible for white oppression. He makes this statement based on his furtherance of Carmichael’s notion of institutional racism wherein every aspect of society with which black men, women, and children must interact is wholly infected with white racism. Until the society changes, Cone states that Black Power is the only way in which a positive image can be restored in a people unfairly oppressed for a good part of their history.

(Next: Black Theology)

Gracism and Equality of Concern

Pastor David Anderson shares the prayer burdening him as the Spirit weighs in on his inequality of concern for others:

Dear Lord, please forgive me for my insensitivities toward the hurting and the downtrodden. Please forgive me for acting like the priest and Levit more often than the Samaritan. Help me to be more gracist in my life, more concerned. Father, I thank you for your grace, mercy and compassion on me. Thank you for not leaving me on the side of the road. Help me to extend that kind of love to more people in my world. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

How often have you and I needed this kind of prompting from the Spirit to become more like the Samaritan than the priest? Probably many as we have been selective in our inclusion and broad in our exclusion. Anderson continues his exposition of 1 Corinthians 12, in this chapter focusing on the verse emphasizing our need to be inclusive in our concern for others.

God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

Pastor David uses the story of the good Samaritan to frame three acts of gracism that we can integrate into our lives as a part of becoming more inclusive of those we might normally be tempted to push to the side or even ignore. First, the Samaritan had a merciful heart as he showed pity to the down man. When he moved him to a place of safety so that he could heal his wounds he demonstrated a shepherding heart. Finally, his generous heart was shown when he invested in the man’s care in order to restore him to his place in community. Anderson points out that we are not looking at spiritual gifts; we are viewing a heart that has aligned with Jesus, transformed and moved to put others under their care and concern. The Samaritan shows us the way to be gracious.

We aspire (or should) to be more Samaritan in our actions but we hesitate to cross over to the other side of the street to help bring those in need back to our side. Often, we see sin in lives on the other side of the street and justify our actions by saying that we are avoiding becoming embroiled in their sin. Doesn’t that make us sinners as well? For God so loved the world…not just the clean, sober, pure….