National Prayer Breakfast, “The Fellowship” or “The Family,” and an undesierable kind of Prayer Power
Actor James Spader and his characters have word gifts. In the scene below, he was losing it (as TV attorney Alan Shore):
Shore’s affliction was word salad. What a concept. It must be very difficult to toss your words around like that if you don’t have an actual mental deficiency.
Linguistic perceptiveness can be a curse, but it can also create joy through heightened understanding. I’m glad my son has some exceptional language ability. FB tells me that, four years ago when he was in 1st grade, he was reading aloud to me and came upon the verb “present.” He mistakenly read it as though it were the noun, i.e, a gift. Then he corrected himself without any help. I asked him how he knew which meaning was the right one. He replied, “You can tell by the surrounding words.”
That’s a gift with words, I’d say . . . and it can help him understand other people, scripture, a homework assignment, the intent of lines in a play, and more.
The Podcast “Way with Words” is a new pleasure. Jedd heard part of an episode for the first time last weekend. I figured 10 minutes would be enough for a 10-year-old and was about to turn it off, but he said not to. He liked it. He too is stimulated by thoughts of words, their meanings, their connections and ramifications, their humor.
In late January, he placed 2nd among all the fifth-graders at his school in the spelling bee. He asked for definitions to check himself on a couple occasions. He made it about 12 rounds before being distracted by someone’s cell phone and missing a double “s” that he would know any day of the week. But no sour grapes. He was happy with 2nd place and was a good sport, congratulating the very capable winner.
I’m happy that I get to share linguistic interests with him often, and I was proud when he almost won the school spelling bee a few days ago, and I hope he places in today’s county-wide spelling bee, which begins in one hour!
Lately there have been several homeless cats darkening paths around me, and one menacing dog. Dogs are categorically better than cats, so I’m naturally more drawn to the former. A friendly dog can make your day, whereas cat pawprints on your motorcycle seat can make you want the sleeping cat not to wake up before the bike screams off into the wind. Hey, they always land on their feet, right? A dog, not so much. A dog needs you, but a cat couldn’t care less. (This may sound dogmatic. So be it.)
What about dogma in churches? Dogma may be deeply held, in the background, or it may turn out to be codified. In churches, I’d rather there not be a statement of beliefs at all, but if there must be one, let it be a simple statement of belief in God and respect for scripture texts. Once it goes beyond that, there are pitfalls. (In a recent “Bible study” visit, I quickly detected underlying, dogmatic assumptions that affected everything the teacher said.)
Below I will paste in a list that comes directly from a Christian university in the Southeast. “Community Covenant” list of expectations for students. That such a list exists may surprise a few. An esteemed former grad professor of mine once also expressed shock that a Christian college could “still” hold certain “Religious Right” positions regarding its employees. Some secularist music people, including a confessed agnostic-or-atheist, expressed (on social media) their incredulity that something like this could exist, and that they would be unwelcome to teach at said university. In so speaking, they manifested their provinciality and lack of tolerance for belief systems other than their own. They themselves actually became dogmatic.
Not only do various positions exist throughout the conservative-liberal spectra, but I suppose they all have “rights” in a society and politic such as ours. Again, so be it.
Now, on the surface, this “Community Covenant” is not a dogmatic statement of beliefs, but it could be said to be just that. Beliefs and dogma underlie such “covenants.” I quote directly here:
Since members of this faith-based community have voluntarily chosen to be a participant, all students are obligated to a code of scriptural and community standards and behavior. As a Christ-follower and member of the community of Southeastern University, I will:
As with any statement of beliefs, list of “community expectations,” or creed, there are strengths and weaknesses in the above list. I note a couple of interesting additions to the norms of such collections, and I wonder if they arose out of past events at this institution. I also note the areas that seem to spawn the most verbiage: substance use/abuse and sexual behaviors.
I take issue not so much with any specific details, but that such statements are made so prominent. They are often required reading, with required signatures. It’s as though one must submit not only to Jesus as Lord, but also to someone’s superimposed codes and opinions.
This meandering little piece could alternately be titled “In the Bleak Midwinter” or simply “Midwinter Melancholy.”
Do you remember the ol’ children’s finger-play about the church/steeple/people? It might have done more harm than good, because it started out wrong with the words “Here is the church,” while indicating a representation of the building. Most folks still have trouble realizing that people are the church.
I think about church a lot, and not only on Sundays. What is church? What has it been—for me, for others? What could it or should it be? I daydream,¹ and I become disillusioned, and I gain some energy or hope once in a while. A week or so ago, on my go-to “simple church” blog, I read about God’s being on the move, and I was at once inspired and repelled. Inspired, because I like thinking of a God who is as active as in the old times. Repelled, because I don’t sense the motion right now. Regardless, I do like the ideals below, from this blog. Try them on, opposite your concept of “church”:
– Roger Thoman, Simple Church Journal (edited)
So what do you think of those affirmations? I would say very similar things, but I eventually become disappointed by ideals: they only go so far when there’s no motion—or any real hope of motion.
Remember the song “I’m Pressing On”? It begins like this:
I’m pressing on the upward way. New heights I’m gaining ev’ry day.
Johnson Oatman Jr. (1856-1926)
Hmm. I press on most of the time, but I feel like a flatlander, not a height-gaining mountain climber. Another stanza begins,
I have no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay.
But still I’ll pray ’til heav’n I’ve found, ‘My prayer, my aim is higher ground.’
Like Oatman, I have no desire to stay where I am, and my aim is higher. Still, actually, I don’t feel like there’s foreseeable “advancement.” God might well be “on the move,” as suggested in the blog referred to above, but I don’t feel as if I’m part of that right now. I feel like my feet are frozen. Will the frostbite keep me from reaching “higher ground,” or will I deal with the numbness and tingling, brave the headwind, and plod on?
Oh, for like-minded souls—whether we deal more in the personal sphere or the “church” one. Or maybe just a couple good friends who will accompany me across the snowy tundra, sharing struggles and wonderings and possibilities. . . .
B. Casey, 1/11/20 – 1/29-20
¹ See this page as an evidence of some rather intense daydreaming.
I’m having trouble with my thinking and writing, so it’s probably time for a diversion. Look closely at the sign below—the changeable-letters part.
I don’t think they really meant that! I’d like to buy a line space or some punctuation, please. . . .
This post is a kind of interlude within a mini-series on “judging” topics—topics that have been a little dangerous. I don’t want to give the wrong emphasis to readers; neither do I want to paint myself into a corner in anyone’s eyes. Let’s take couple steps back.
Last fall, I wrote a few posts on gleanings from the book of Judges (link opens in a new tab). That book, within the library we call the “Bible,” continues to draw me in. Sure, the stories are riveting, but it’s not that, really; it’s the events described. What happened is revealing: how God’s people’s navigated those events, and how God dealt with them over a period of decades. I think the time of the Judges can be wrongly dismissed as a few cool stories—without apprehending the theological significance of what was going on at the time. My current series on “judging” doesn’t have anything directly to do with the book of Judges, but there’s obviously a verbal connection.
What are “judging” and “judgment” after all? The English word ‘”judge,” when used as a verb, tends to be pejorative, but the corresponding words in other languages might not have the same import. For instance, I suspect the ancient Hebrew word would have had different nuances and implications.
As to this current series on “judging”: I have intended it to deal more in (1) spiritually or logically assessing than (2) legally judging or (3) ultimately condemning. Secondarily, I mean to challenge the notion that judging is necessarily to be avoided. In fact, one well-known personality inventory (non-judgmentally!) validates judging as a neutral trait. The diagram here comes close to representing my own personality, as assessed a couple dozen years ago. I’m largely introverted, intuitive, and feeling. At that time, I came out near the middle of the fourth spectrum that encompasses “judging” and “perceiving,” but my judging tendencies, as defined by Meyers-Briggs, meant that I made many decisions in my outer life based on plans, order, and organization. I liked to “bring life under control as much as possible.” These days, I’m more flexible and would probably be stronger in “perceiving,” at least in some respects. None of this relates too much to what I’ve been saying about judging; it only serves to illustrate that we need to know what we’re talking about when we use a word like “judge.” Context can help.
On the way to work this morning, I judged that a driver was less competent and courteous than I. I judged that based on evidence of how that person treated a stop sign. Yesterday, I judged myself to have enough fortitude to do something that needed to be done. This was perhaps a spiritual prompting to go out of my way to be kind to someone who had not been kind to me. That is a judgment I made, as well. Had I not taken the step I took (which was well received, I’m happy to report), I would have judged myself weak. I judge myself too harshly at times, and too graciously at other times. Judging oneself involves many pitfalls, and as a result, we need accountability within small, organic groups of Christians.
Repeated experiences with individuals may lead us to note inconsistencies, or even hypocrisy, in their character. Less ominously, we may simply assess traits and tendencies and opt out of close association with this or that person. These are all “judgments” that need not be considered malevolent. They may not in fact contain any ill will at all. It may be necessary to judge at times—in order to keep oneself sane or pure. Judging is not all bad. We just need to judge rightly … and not direct all the judgment outward! (See end of previous post.)
The next post, I think, will take a while to construct, and it will conclude the series. It will briefly evaluate (assess, judge) one view that’s spotlighted in the book Three Views on Israel and the Church (book title). The format of this book is geared for critique, which is another type of judgment. My particular critique of one of the views is important to me in several aspects:
I’m not sure which of the above will take the lead in my heart or mind. I do look forward to being challenged by the views, the scholarly responses, my intellectual process as I read all the above, and the process of communicating all that on this blog. It may take a bit of time to get it all together, and other posts may come in the meantime, so please stay tuned.
And if you haven’t signed up to received posts by e-mail, please considering doing that.
B. Casey, 1/2/20 – 1/17/20
You know how they pack strawberries in those plastic containers, sometimes hiding the mushy or blemished ones? Well, according to an esteemed opinion, I have a knack for choosing strawberry packages well. Looking at the outside fruits critically can reveal possible issues with the berries within. I can choose a fair blueberry or apple, too. I chose three avocados last Saturday and made my first guacamole—a nice success.
I can also see fruit in others’ lives from time to time . . . and the implications run deeper there.
Long ago, I was acquainted with a charismatic (read: affirms and claims all the miraculous “gifts of the Spirit” now) Christian. He was invited in to guest-teach an adult Bible class in a non-charismatic church. This class was not exactly cutting-edge, but it included some relatively open-minded folks who wanted to grow, so I figure they intentionally reached out to this guy—an acquaintance of a member of the class—so he could instruct them more accurately in the ways of the Spirit of God. Come to find out, he was having an affair with the married woman who was his connection to the class. The activities might not have been sexual at the time he taught the class, but at the very least, being involved illicitly in emotional adultery, he should have judged himself unworthy to speak of the guidance of the Spirit of God in his life.
People who claim to be followers ought not to act or speak in certain ways. Further, the claim that God indwells, i.e., lives in us is a claim with which we ought to be pretty careful. If a guy asserts that he has miraculous abilities given directly by God’s Spirit, I figure that same Spirit ought to keep the person from obvious, egregious sins. A Christian marriage broken by a supposedly Spirit-filled Christian? I judge that fruit decisively.
Here’s another post in a similar vein: https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/inconsistent-behaviors-disrespecting-god/
Some say Christians shouldn’t “judge” but may be “fruit inspectors.” I say that’s probably just a semantic distinction.
That was easy. Now to the hard part: me. Judging within God’s household is entirely appropriate, and I don’t have many people nearby that I consider part close to me in that household, but there are some. What are the people of God seeing when they assess the fruit in my life? It’s also important for me to be cognizant of what nonbelievers and less committed believers are seeing in my “fruit bin.” Even if they are less discerning than I, or though have different baggage (doesn’t everybody?), or if they have wronged me, or if they are moving away from God rather than toward Him at the time they cross my path, they are no less valuable to the Father. I need to bear good fruit in order to be a good representative to all, whether they (1) reject the Christ, (2) claim Him, or (3) claim and intentionally, noticeably honor Him.
I like AccuRadio and have publicly mentioned their diverse music offerings more than once. I’m also impressed that they have (at least two years now) had their listeners vote on charities for the company to support financially. I’m not impressed, however, with the balance of their charity listings on one day in particular:
That was representative of most days I noticed this. 15 charities, and less than half for basic human needs? 4 of them for animals? What are they, in cohoots with Antenna TV with their sad cat commercials? I mean, I like animals as much as the next guy. I particularly like good dogs, I’m generally sympathetic and fond, and I would oppose any cruelty. But when human trafficking and cancer and diabetes lose out to blind cats, something is amiss.
Getting your wish is nice, and purple-hearted people deserve some national attention, but I see many higher priorities in the list than those enterprises and two other top vote-getters (including two non-human causes).
On the positive side of judging: my own votes last month went to causes such as juvenile diabetes and cancer research, human trafficking, and homelessness. Charities that have received other recent attention from our home attention are Second Harvest Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, a nearby family whose 8-year-old girl has a debilitating brain disease, and World Vision.¹ We judge (evaluate) these charity opportunities to be in line with Christian living, and we trust Jesus has been pleased with our meager efforts.
¹ We love World Vision’s opportunity to give animals such as ducks, goats, and pigs to a family or community that needs ongoing food supplies like eggs and goat milk!
Early in life, I learned to care too much what other people think. I think this was one of Dad’s faults, passed on to me. I’m generally private about my business, and I’m usually hyper-aware of talking so loudly that the neighbors might hear. Will someone notice me in jeans on Sunday and think I’m not going “to church”? Will someone notice me in a sport coat and think I’m some haughty Christian who thinks he’s better than everyone else while going “to church”?
My mom, on the other hand, cares far less about others’ perceptions, and this ends up being one of her faults. I suppose I got some of this one, too. Sometimes I’m just going to do the thing I have in mind or heart, no matter what someone might think. This trait, I think, can manifest strength of character. It can also betray stupidity.
It’s with these inherited traits in mind that I mention (and discuss a little) a few book titles that I’m embarrassed about. In other words, I’m afraid these books—and I—will be judged by their covers. I’ve never gone out in public with some of them . . . or I hide them . . . or I at least think twice. For the embarrassment, the caring-too-much-what-people-think, I owe Dad. For the willingness to make it public in this blogpost, not caring too much what naysayers might think, I owe Mom! (Writing was/is a strength for both of them.)
These titles will come in two supra-categories: the negative (those I judge to be not for public view) and the positive.
The Politics of Jesus (John Howard Yoder)
I’ve had this book for a couple years but have barely cracked its cover. It’s written by a now-deceased Anabaptist theologian whose mind has been highly influential but whose character and actions have been seriously (legally) judged. I’m pretty sure this book is going to challenge me with a deeper view of “politics,” dealing with Jesus’ views and ways and means in the areas of social intercourse and ethics. That is a much higher road than the pathway that leads to the polarizing party system and the mixing of authentic Christianity with today’s political “right.”
I’m afraid that when people see this cover, they’ll think I actually align myself with the religious right. Not at all. I’m interested in pretty much anything that deals soberly with Jesus, but I have no time for those who think Jesus wants to change the government of a contemporary country—or that He was at all concerned with affecting the Roman empire in any political sense. My Jesus isn’t in the business of geopolitics or national politics, although He cares about all the business of people’s lives.
Standing with Israel (David Brog)
A real academic is not embarrassed about having books on his shelves that take contrary views. He, in fact, has been intellectually stimulated in dealing with such opposing views, and has incorporated some of their aspects into his own thinking. I, however, am not this kind of academic. Not all the time, anyway. Also, it is not other academic-types who’re likely to see my shelves . . . so I even hide the spine of this book in my own home. The friends who might see it in my living room would not understand why it’s there, or wouldn’t know to ask, or would likely assume something about my thinking that I’d be horrified about. I wouldn’t take Standing With Israel out in public.
I have one book in this camp that’s even worse. I note that it was published by a Time Warner imprint (not a religious publisher such as Zondervan or Eerdmans), and the TW entertainment conglomerate might have been onto something. I consider this title merely entertainment: The American Prophecies: Ancient Scriptures Reveal Our Nation’s Future. One doesn’t have to go beyond the cover to realize this is balderdash. Baseless fiction. Nation Under God is another one I wouldn’t want public, although its content could head in multiple directions. The Great Church-State Fraud is provocative, and I might carry that one around eventually.
I’m proud now to own Three Views of Israel and the Church, a thoughtful debate book that presents representatives of three distinct views and includes scholarly challenge to each view. I’d be cautious about this one—again, because of presumptions about the religious right—but I plan soon to post notes based on gleanings from this book.
Holy Bible (NRSV)
I wish the covers of some Bibles were different. Believe it or not, I’m actually embarrassed at the words “Holy Bible.” For the nonbeliever or disinterested party, I fear the “holy” part sounds presumptuous. And for all of us, I feel a kind of mesmerizing effect that puts us to thoughtless sleep instead of thoughtful introspection. In other words, we can be lulled by having a “Holy Bible” in our hands rather than pondering and dealing responsibly with the varied contents of this library we call “Bible.”
On the other hand, some book titles I’ve been proud to carry around, hoping someone might ask me about them:
Will someone be interested, judging these titles worthy of note? Will we be able to dialogue about the nature of God’s kingdom—and humans as loyal subjects and disciples? Will they ponder the words and work of Jesus just a little more? Do I care too much about what people think? I’m not a very good ambassador in most ways. Far too often, I don’t represent my Lord very well, and maybe, just maybe, someone could see my intent in a book, overlooking my personal failings.
What if I carried around a little book titled The Gospel of Christian Atheism without hiding its cover? Would that start some discussions, or what? I can hardly wait to get into that one. According to a cover blurb, this is no atheist author. Rather, he seeks to promote primitive Christianity; “gospel” and “atheism” are used advisedly, provocatively, in order to attract readers who might not otherwise pick up a “Christian” book. But what is “Christian”? I suspect that this author will use a working definition closer to my own than to, say, most journalists’ or evangelicals’ definitions.
For those who aren’t interested in topics of scripture or Christianity: I’m never ashamed of Grisham novel titles; I recently finished Camino Island and have read a dozen others. Most of my baseball books are displayed proudly. Poetry? Short stories? Sure. And I’d be proud to carry The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr). And yes, I just searched the WWW to make sure I have its author’s name correct!
[This is an installment in the very-sporadic Monday Music series, which initially dealt with Christian music topics and has more recently included other music. The MM category of posts may be accessed here.]
Never has a more ridiculous stanza been written than this one:
Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But his smile quickly drives it away.
Not a doubt nor a fear, not a sigh nor a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.
That’s from “Trust and Obey,” otherwise known by its first line, “When We Walk with the Lord.” There are many good thoughts in the song, and I’d sing most of them willingly. But not the above lines. Even if God’s smile drives some shadows away for some people some of the time (a reality I accept), it is patently unhelpful to suggest that there’s no shadow or cloud or doubt or fear that can last while we trust and obey. I know too much about the shadows and clouds to sing such baloney.
Now . . . never has a more appropriate, helpful stanza been written than this one:
The anger of the enemy would have swallowed us alive
Had it not been the Lord who was on our side.
The waters would have engulfed us; we would have surely died
Had it not been the Lord who was on our side,
The above stanzas, being poetic, are probably better interpreted figuratively, and I should be charitable, allowing others to understand it non-literally. Despite the direct reference in the second example to scripture, the first example makes better English poetry. My own introductory expression in each case—”never has a more appropriate/ridiculous stanza been written”—is but poetic hyperbole, too, and I acknowledge that.
Whether we trust and obey, or run and hide, or peek around the corner to see what the next horror or disappointment might be in this life . . . or become overwhelmed by a flood, I affirm what the chorus of the second song proclaims:
Blessed be the Lord, who would not give us up.
– Leonard E. Smith, Jr., “Had it Not Been the Lord”
I’m relieved not to have been subjected to Christmas music yesterday. A couple of weeks’ worth is enough for me. Today, some score study of Dvorak and Carpenter and some fun flugelhorn playing. The musical diet tomorrow will include master Horowitz on the piano.
Not being a bandwagon kind of guy, I prefer (for myself and others) that statements be based on individual thoughts rather than groupthink. I don’t know about you, but it’s not often that I start statements like this:
“Well, as a longtime member of this club, I say we should . . . .”
“As a taxpayer, I demand that . . . .
“As a ____________, I think we have to . . . .
If you begin a statement or demand with an affiliative preface like that, what is mostly likely to fill the blank? What is foremost in informing your philosophy of living? And what does it mean for that thing to be primary?
Depending on the seriousness of the matter, what it comes down to is how we self-identify. What is foremost in your identity? Are you first a husband/wife or father/mother, or daughter/son? Do you identify yourself based on your occupation, e.g., as a teacher, manager, builder, accountant, or chef? Do you think of yourself as a churchgoer? Broader descriptions such as “good citizen” and “good person” may run deeper but also fall short.
It was recently suggested that I could “detach”; I took it that I was seen as too personally involved. The tenor and direction of another conversation surprised me, and the use of a simple phrase revealed a possible difference in operating paradigms. In both cases, it seems to me, it was assumed that one could be someone different in one setting than he is in another. I’ve detected this distinction before, and I’m keenly aware of its depth and breadth. While the difference might go no further than shading opinions, it can also be pervasive and far-reaching. It has to do with what is foremost in our hearts and minds as we self-identify. What affiliation primarily determines our thoughts and courses of action?
Some of us have particularly strong family identities. Did your parents send you out the door to school with the exhortation, “Remember, you’re a Robertson?” After that, do you think of yourself primarily an employee—one who thinks and acts first as a servant of the employer? If you have ever been active in the military, you might tend to identify yourself foremost as a soldier. (I gather there is often a kind of pride in that, and it tends to take precedence over other life-aspects and affiliations.) Are you an artist, an introvert, an entrepreneur? These things may be very important in your self-identification, but are they first for you? Or are you, first, a friend? (Now we’re getting somewhere.)
Many would identify self in terms of country. They would say they are, primarily, Americans (or Argentinians or Greeks or Ghanaians or Iranians or Indonesians). I heard a speech recently that seemed to assume that any American would be, first and foremost, an American.
Not so for the Christian. Not first, anyway.
The loyalty to Jesus Christ, and identification with Him, will not erase all the other identifications. A Christian may still be an American and a daughter and an employee. But the Christian is, foremost and forever, a Christian. That should trump everything else (when we are at our best).