Asking the wrong questions

“Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and all the world go free?  No, there’s a cross for everyone, and there’s a cross for me.” —  Christian hymnwriter Thomas Shepherd, 1855

Here is a classic example of a closed-ended question: “Do we sometimes ask the wrong question?” It also fits the example of a rhetorical question. For it is obvious that we humans sometimes get ourselves badly side-tracked by searching for the right answers to all the wrong questions. Side-tracked in the sense that we then miss out on the right answers to the right questions.

My own academic discipline for the career I spent practicing psychotherapy was that of Clinical Social Work. Most folks outside that discipline do not understand the difference between Social Workers and Psychologists. The latter are able to get at the question of what is wrong behaviorally by using psychometric tests in addition to counseling interviews. Social Workers are primarily trained in using the counseling interview alone. (Soon as I say this some MSW will be handing out an MMPI even as a Ph.D. will stay with only an interview process, so there are exceptions indeed.)

The counseling interview aims to identify the correct solution by understanding the correct problem, thus requiring the correct answers to the correct questions. We are trained to accept that we will never find the best solutions in life if we don’t first ask the best questions, to which the counseling interview is then dedicated.

Having later in my adult years added a second career in pastoral ministry that required a different academic discipline, I can safely say that seminaries are also seeking to equip pastors to ask the right questions about God in order to attain the correct answers or understandings. To fully love God, or to love neighbor and self involves the work of understanding. We feel more loved by someone who really understands us far more than by someone who really misunderstands us. The latter triggers our experience of fear, not love.

Okay, so where am I going with all this?

Just as we in the fields of mental health treatment have erred substantially over the years by asking the wrong questions and thus missing the right answers, I wonder if the same is not true in the field of Christian service we call the church. Much time, and money, can be wasted in psychotherapy going over the wrong questions. Likewise, much time and money can be wasted in church going over the wrong questions.

The predominant question, whether asked or unasked, in many churches today is this: “What in the world can we do to save the church?” Maybe you have entertained such a question before in your own mind or been drawn into similar conversations and quests for “help.”

No amount of time, money, or effort at understanding will ever “help” us in the least if we allow ourselves as Jesus followers to take on this question. Rather, it is my passionate opinion that we must ask ourselves this correct question: “What in the church can we do to save the world?”

To ask this question takes on a dramatic paradigm shift. Our old wineskins of theology posit the belief that saving the world is only up to God, not us. God’s already saved the world, we say. That is our present paradigm. But what if instead God has saved only the church, so together we might save the world using not the cross of Christ but the Kingdom of God as represented by Christ’s cross AND OUR OWN CROSSES as well? That requires a resurrection of the theology taught in the old 1855 classic hymn by Thomas Shepherd, “Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?”

“What in the church can we do to save the world?” We can do what Jesus did. We can follow him all the way to our own cross. We can subject ourselves to God’s Kingdom and not the earthly, in our case American cultural, kingdoms. We can die with Christ to save the world.

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Who sinned, Dylan Storm Roof or his parents, that he committed this crime?

pastordanheld

“The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
— Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

Wednesday evening, Sue and I were watching the movie, “Selma,” in the comfort of our own home. Perhaps you’ve seen it as well, and if so you will no doubt have etched in your mind some hateful acts of violence perpetrated by white supremacists against innocent black Christians during America’s so-called Civil Rights era. After one particularly brutal scene, Sue remarked to me, “and to think we were actually alive here in America back when that kind of stuff was going on.” My response to her was, simply, “it’s still going on.”

What I failed to understand at the time was that in those very next moments that evening, a young white supremacist was about to take the lives of 9 more black Christians inside the church building that had welcomed him in just an hour…

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Who sinned, Dylan Storm Roof or his parents, that he committed this crime?

“The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
— Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

Wednesday evening, Sue and I were watching the movie, “Selma,” in the comfort of our own home. Perhaps you’ve seen it as well, and if so you will no doubt have etched in your mind some hateful acts of violence perpetrated by white supremacists against innocent black Christians during America’s so-called Civil Rights era. After one particularly brutal scene, Sue remarked to me, “and to think we were actually alive here in America back when that kind of stuff was going on.” My response to her was, simply, “it’s still going on.”

What I failed to understand at the time was that in those very next moments that evening, a young white supremacist was about to take the lives of 9 more black Christians inside the church building that had welcomed him in just an hour before.

It is not long after such evil is perpetrated that we humans begin asking questions about Why? And, naturally, who all is responsible? The world will present a mix of answers in the days to come, many in conflict with the truth. We who follow Jesus might also ask him in this time, “who sinned, Dylan Storm Roof or his parents?”

I wonder how Jesus might answer?

In the Gospel of John, chapter 9, we read of a young man whom Jesus healed of his blindness. Verse one begins with the disciples’ question, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” John uses the entire chapter to reveal Jesus’s entire answer. As the narrative goes, one finds that a simple act of healing by Jesus stirred incredible controversy, much as may happen around this Charleston Massacre of 6/17/15. Most of the tension was around how it is Jesus would dispense with an individual’s apparent sin carried by the common metaphor of blindness. In this simple narrative, Jesus is able to heal the person but NOT the group of Pharisees who are so quick to blame that person and his parents in the first place.

Perhaps the message for us as followers of Jesus today, quite in response to this awful murder allegedly perpetrated by young Dylan, is to be found in John 9:39-41 as the chapter ends with these words: “Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

The guilt that remains among ourselves as Christians in America may well be our own. We who are old enough to remember (e.g., my wife and I) the utter brutality of racism from the 1950’s and 1960’s when our more innocent Caucasian eyes were first opened (by the likes of Selma) are now tied by Jesus to a higher standard.  If we, having seen the violence of racism, now speak with any denial of it in regard to today’s America, it is we who truly ARE blind…………AND guilty!!   My concern today is that if we in any way believe that this young man “acted alone” or came from some “bad family,” or was “mentally ill,” but was in no way acting out the racist norms of our greater culture, then our own blindness and guilt will far surpass his own.

Dylan Storm Roof may find himself healed upon request of the Christ whose forgiving grace was so nobly practiced by his victims’ family members in the Charleston courtroom.  He may change.  The larger question in my own mind is: will we remain the same?

Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim (italics mine) you can see, your guilt remains.”

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IS JESUS REALLY STILL MARRIED TO THE CHURCH?

Last month I blogged on the question of Why Church? and got no response, except possibly a Facebook comment or two. I’m not surprised. But I’m also not through trying. In fact, I’m going to tack on a follow up question today.

Some people understandably don’t subscribe to the metaphor of marriage to describe Jesus and His Church. Same folks probably didn’t care much for the Hebrew prophet Hosea either, as he referenced his own marital problems. But I personally don’t think there’s much wrong with today’s church that can’t be explained by today’s marriages, about half of which end in divorce.

Let’s get one thing clear if comparing the church today to the Bride of Christ per our New Testament scripture’s following of that old Hebrew tradition from Hosea’s time. JESUS HAS A MARITAL PROBLEM AND HE’S NOT IT. He didn’t commit adultery, she did. He didn’t leave her. She left Him. Yet, she’s the one complaining that the kids in her custody are leaving her. Worse yet, some are moving in with Him again and siding with Him against her. Whine. Whine. Whine.

So my calling, if I choose to accept it, is to play the role of outside prophet — i.e., marriage counselor — in hopes the church might seek reconciliation both for her own sake and that of the kids, many of whom have left home. There’s been no divorce; Jesus refuses to sign. Only a separation. There’s still hope!

Session one. Bride has her say. And I hear her telling me there really is no problem. She’s still happily married. She’s done nothing wrong. Still loves her husband. Wants everything to still work out. And it would except that some of the kids have left her because the world has lured them away. Her good kids are still at home. They’re just fine. She’d appreciate Jesus doing something to keep the whole family all together; she’s tired of trying so hard on her own.  In fact, she’d like to still have more kids again  —  Christ willing.

Okay, so now you’re the counselor. You’re the prophet. What do you say next in this session? Where do you go with this one?

Seriously. I’m curious about what you might want to say even NOW to the church. To Jesus. To the kids in this family. The comment line is open.

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