Sunday, January 13, 2013

Why Preach A Principle?

Jesus preached himself as the content of the gospel--a person, a presence. Why do Christians preach a system or an ethic or a principle? Why is it that we find the dynamic freedom of living that presence so abhorrent?

Maybe it is because the person isn't in your face anymore. Maybe it isn't abhorrence, more like simple common sense...dude isn't standing there. Maybe the real abhorrence comes from people telling you to "follow the phantom." What might be missing is the "system" that teaches one how to believe in a presence--a person who once drank wine with you but now only does it "in spirit."

On the contrary, we have no lack of capacity to believe in presences, the thing is we prefer to reify fictitious phantoms. We find it completely natural to believe that the little green pieces of paper we (may or may not) have in our pockets actually have real value (this, even in the face of inflation and threatened market collapse.) There is not now nor has there ever been anything underdeveloped in the human ability to believe in phantoms, whether it be creationism or evolutionism, causation or the demonic consciousness present in plumbing, the State or grandpa's ghost or progress. However, what I am talking about is an experiential power rather than a spiritualization of demands. I would go as far as to say that either the Holy Spirit is a real, effective power and presence in and through us or Christianity is false and moreover a waste of time and energy.

Why do we so deeply fear the uncertainty of living the presence of Jesus in the deep complexity of the world and instead cower in the false refuge of ethical principles and semi-baptized political or economic programs?

More importantly, how do we become accustomed to, I think that getting comfortable with is a ridiculous hope, living the dynamic freedom of the active embodiment of the presence of Jesus? It goes way beyond what is usually meant when we are urged to step outside our comfort zone. It is actively living without a roadmap, without a system to depend on to tell us what is the right thing to do or to use to judge others. It is living along a completely different tangent than the flow of the world.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Baptism Isn't Magic

The issue of baptism occasionally comes up in several different groups I associate with, from academic theological discussion groups to Christians who have no clue what baptism is about to non-Christians who have no clue what baptism is.

Well here is how I explained it and then did it on my recent visit to Ban Saeng Sawan with The Charis Project.

Now, I don't push baptism. If people ask I respond. I don't push it because I have not yet been in a position where that seemed the right thing to do. I may some time find myself in such a situation and will cross that bridge when I get to it. When I was with my friends up in the hills in Thailand, Judah, the lead guy at the children's home we manage, notified me that there were a number of the kids and one guy from the village who wanted to be baptized and that they wanted me to do it.

So we talked about it for a bit. I started off by saying that there are a lot of different understandings of what baptism is. Many Christians think many different things about it, but this is what I think.

Historically, Christian baptism comes from the Hebrew practice of baptism which was a mixture of ceremonial washing and a reenactment and recapitulation of Israel's passage through the Red Sea in the Exodus, the event in which Israel was transformed from the family of Abraham into the nation of the people of God. In Christian baptism a person is participating in the cleansing redemptive work of Jesus and is going through the "naturalization" process into citizenship in the "people of God." (I take this "people of God" to be a functional designation rather than a designation of status, that is, it is an entry into responsibility rather than into a position of special standing.)

I said that it is a public declaration of solidarity with all the others who have been baptized.

I also said that baptism is not magic. It is not the sort of thing that if you do it wrong, you mispronounce the incantation, you perform the act incorrectly (maybe the water is the wrong sort or or you did it at an age that someone thinks is wrong or whatever), or the wrong person does it, it will not work. It is the one baptism of Jesus that we participate in however we are able.

Then we went out to the lake.

When there, I said that baptism is a public declaration of a person's commitment to be a disciple of Jesus. I commented that different Christian traditions may have a process that leads up to baptism but I will just ask two questions and if you agree to them then I will go ahead and baptize you.

Then with each of the people I asked, "Do you choose today to be a disciple of Jesus for the rest of your life?" Then, "Do you commit to obey his commands and to work for the growth of his kingdom in this world from this day forward?" When they said "yes" to these questions I and Judah then dunked them in the water saying, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit." When they came back up I hugged them and said, "Welcome to the community of disciples."

There has been much ink spilled and blood shed in this topic. I tend to take differences in how one does baptism to come down more to style than substance. As with marriage, it is what you do with it that imbues it with it's lasting meaning and significance.

What has been your experience of baptism?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Jungle House Of God

There is a picture I tell when I am speaking in the rural areas of Thailand, working with The Charis Project, that I have brought back to tell on the US side. I tell it to my children enough that they roll their eyes at me when I start to tell them again. But I will tell them again because I want the picture built deep into how they see the world, I want it to form part of the architecture that makes up the stories in which they live.

In the rural areas of Thailand, as in many areas of the world that are prone to heavy rainfall and possibly flooding, the people build their houses on poles set in the ground. They will lay out the shape of the house and dig holes and set hardwood poles in those holes and fill them back in. Then, at a  height off the ground that will keep the floor out of flooding water, they will attach some manner of timbers, maybe wood or maybe bamboo to those poles as the floor supports. Then, higher up at the top, they attach the timbers that make up the roof structure. On the roof structure goes leaves, or plastic, or metal, depending on how much money they have. And on the floor timbers goes the floor of woven bamboo or wood planks. The walls too, between the floor and roof will be made out of woven bamboo or wood planks.

Now, if you cut at one of the poles with a knife or axe or whatever it will become weaker, the cuts will give purchase for mold and termites and eventually the pole will fail. It will fall down and it will not be alone. That pole was holding up part of the house, part of the same house that the other poles are holding up. All of the poles are attached to each other by the house that they are each built together into. When one pole fails it pulls on all the others. If others have also been weakened then they could collapse as well. So cutting at one of the poles puts the whole house in danger.

On the other hand, if you build up that same pole, if your shore it and add strapping and bind additional poles to it it will become stronger. If you coat it with oil treatments rot and termites will not be able to get at it. That pole will become stronger and stronger. When that pole is strengthened it is more able support the weight of other poles if they get damaged and be more resilient to damage itself as well, also as that pole gets stronger it is able to hold more weight, it can hold up a larger structure so the house can be built larger.

building up the pillars
A family, or a community, or a church is like one of these houses. Each person is like one of the poles.

When we criticize or scold or judge one another or gossip or do any such things it is like taking a knife and cutting at one of the other poles holding the house up. The more we cut at the other person the weaker and more susceptible to further damage they become. When we do this we are actively contributing to the destruction of the house, the house that we are built into. Doing such things damages the other's ability to support us when we get damaged.

However, if we build up each of the people around us they get stronger. Encouragement, blessing, holding the sideways tongue and replacing it with speaking good words of truth and actions of support, these things strengthen and shore up and defend the other pillars. Such actions make the house all together stronger. When you get damaged the other pillars will be able to hold you up and they will be far more resistant to damage themselves.

Extend this out. As we all keep building up and strengthening all the other pillars the whole house gets stronger and can grow bigger and bigger until this house of God is big enough to shelter and protect the whole world.

One more thing, this is grace. Grace is not letting people slide, grace is building people up in the power of the redemption.

Now, how can I make a pillar stronger today?

Friday, January 4, 2013

This Is What A Lay Up For A Major Slam Dunk Looks Like

I recently returned from Thailand working with The Charis Project. This is a major highlight from that trip that I recently shared on the Charis Blog. It is so Important to me that I need to share it here as well.

On our Face Book page a short while ago I said that it looked as though we were on a layup for a slam-dunk. This is what I was talking about.

We have been working with a group of people in Mae Sot for about a year. We have been moving slowly and working at getting to know each other and to understand how, and if, our visions intersect and how, and if, we will be able to work well together.

That work is ready to take the next step.

On this last trip we spent an extended period of time discussing in-depth where to move forward and they were already on-board with where we see going.

The de facto leader of the group is named Philip. His father-in-law led in founding a college for hill-tribe peoples and Philip worked there as a teacher. In fact he was one of Judah and Saeng Chen's* teachers when they went there.

This group in Mae Sot is already working responsibly to build up, support, and empower children of the Burmese migrant and refugee community in the area. They have very little in terms of resources aside from the income they themselves earn as laborers and they do not ask for handouts. Instead they have been envisioning businesses that they could start to do a better job of supporting the work they are doing with the children.They are educated, they are motivated, they are hard-working, and they have already begun to innovate.

They do not want to live on donations because they see begging, even for a very good cause, as a weakness that they would very much like to avoid.

Philip and I excited about our vision for moving forward in Mae Sot

They are about the perfect partners for the Charis Project. They are thrilled with our vision for integrating entrepreneurism and the care for at-risk children. They see that what we envision pushes beyond what they thought possible and are excited to bring this all together. They and we are becoming us.

They brought to our discussions two or three business ideas that they had already been thinking about and over the course of our conversations we together came up with half-a-dozen more workable business concepts.

Now, the step we are working on next, is to model, assess, and select the best of these concepts to move forward on, to invest in, and to launch as the financial and entrepreneurial-education foundation of the empowering work with the children living out in the teak plantations and bamboo thickets.

A few of the kids and another of the team members at Mae Sot
Obviously we are very excited and are chomping at the bit to be on site to work directly with them as we launch this new Charis Community and take what we learn here to feed back into the Doi Muser home to build it up even further.

*Directors at the Doi Muser Home
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