Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Ideology, Socialism, and American political landscape

The supervisor of my doctoral program, Dr. David Fitch, wrote a book that I plan on reviewing sometime very soon, that details how ideologies can and often do develop into enemy-making machines. It is a thought-provoking, brilliant book. I have been thinking a lot of it in relationship to the label "socialist", and the difference in policies between more conservative, moderate and more liberal persons in the political arena.

First of all, it is probably appropriate to share where I am coming from in the American poltical landscape. I was a registered Republican until 3 years ago. In truth, I am probably more independent, but I want a voice in the primary process so I chose the the Republican party. My ties with conservatism are fairly straight forward. I am pro-life and anti-abortion. Often I am for lower taxes and smaller government. In my time I voted for Republican candidates and Democratic ones. Where I grew up, Republican was synonymous with populist, and democrat with elitist. I changed my party affiliation a few years ago, reluctantly, because I felt the Republican party had drifted too far to the right, being driven by the racist and xenophobic leadership of Donald Trump.

Anywho, that is just so you know I have a point of view.

So, let me restart, I want to talk about the intersection of ideology and politics. Particularly as it relates to the term socialism. Because language meaning is fluid, socialism has come to have multiple meanings. Because of the nature of ideology, socialism has become a master signifier that has been stripped of a lot of its meaning as persons seek to villify others with the term.

Very few in our political world are completely against integrating elements of socialism into our government and society. Most Americans support social security, medicare, and many support medicaid. Most farmers support farm subsidies. Many businesses are beneficiaries of taxation and financial benefits that support corperations and businesses that could be labeled socialist. Other programs such as food stamps, unemployment insurance, subsidized housing, and help for those with disabilities are not as universally supported, but still offer some element of socialism through providind a safety net for the most vulnerable members of our society.

A majority of our citizenry also remembers Communism, and its toxic effect of nations and the economic engines of societies. Communism, as we know it, is an effort to make a governement purely socialist, with the government controlling the entire economy. As we have seen in the twentieth century in the USSR, China, and Cuba, it tends to breed oligarchical totalitarian regimes. Many conflate Facism and Communism in their totalitiarian nature. Communism, at least as a concept, tried be about making all of the people equal owners of societies resources. Facism was more boldly totalitarian, without a need to have a leveling effect of the citizenry.

In the American political process, socialism is a term that has been bandied about for most of the 20th and 21st century. Since the era of McCarthism, it has been used in every attempt to scare people away from any movement toward equal opportunity, justice, or any government program that attempts to help address issues of poverty.

Racial integration was labeled as socialist. The Civil Rights movement and their leaders were shamed with the label as well. As was the union movement was called socialist (ok, in part because they were infiltrated by socialist activists at times). The list goes on and on.

Here is the rub. Labeling every government program as socialist, which is then communist, which is then totalitarian, which is then Nazi, is unproductive to dialogue on both the conservative and liberal sides of social discourse. And it makes it so that we don't understand really dangerous, destructive socialism when it is right in front of us.

Enter the 2020 presidential election. Conservatives has successfully labeled every possible progressive program as socialist. In doing so, they have blinded a large part of the electorate to the danger of pure socialism by rendering the meaning of the term empty, especially for persons under the age of 40. So, when a socialist named Bernie Sanders comes on the scene, and he promises to nationalize health care, post-secondary education, and over-regulate industry to the point to where we are truly moving in a dangerously socialist, and approaching communist direction, the term has lost its meaning.


Thursday, February 27, 2020

Models of Education

My doctoral program is a different model of education than my Masters and Bachelors degrees. That is as it should be I suppose, but it still, in some ways, took me by surprise.

Both my classes are segmented into three phases. The homework we do before we arrive in class. the work we do during our hour intensives, and the work that we do after class. This is new to me because it is my first experience with any sort of distance learning. It is a change, but not the most challenging change.

What is challenging about classes is how loosely the material before, during, and after class fit in with one another. For instance, in my most recent class we have reading that we did, and then we develioped discussion questions about the text we read based on what we read. Yet, we did very little with discussing the context of our readings once we got to class.

Then, after class we have a large project. While the project relates the previous class content, it has really been, in both classes, a whole different animal. Expectations are communicated (length, some basic expectations), but there are portions of what we do later than we figure out on our own, and are not necessarily clearly communicated or understood. It is more of an art crafting your paper, expanding on what you have learned, and yet in many ways moving in different directions as well.

No complaints in any of this. Except maybe that I like more clarity than what I am often recieving.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Just another awkward moment

So, last Sunday night at a BBQ I was in the midst of a conversation with a number of the forty-somethings from our church. One person was saying that she appreciated my nearly 70 year old mother hanging out with the teens and older kids, overseeing them and interacting with them while they were playing Monopoly. This made me smile. My mom is young at heart and loves kids. I still have a recording of her reading a Christmas book to Karis when she was a baby. Makes me cry nearly every time I hear it. So true to the beauty of who she is.

Anywho, the next thing took me off guard. Dude your mom is nice looking woman. I mean, she is a total MILF (if you don't know what this means it is an acronym, with the first word being mother and the last word a slang term for "relations"), ya know what I mean?

Well, on one hand I was honored that the folks in our church feel so comfortable in laying stuff out there for me. I mean, the language might have been an issue for some, but not so much for me. And I think the world of this person and their family. I feel very honored when people are authentic and vulnerable with me. Wouldn't want it any other way. It is actually a goal in each pastoral relationship to get to that point with people.

However, she was talking about my mother, and so because it was my mother, it was a little bit disconcerting. Just had to share.....

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Review of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Romans 1-8

Image result for romans 1-8 reformation

Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Romans 1-8
New Testament Volume VII
ed. by Gwenfair Walters Adams
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

One of my favorite things that IVP has done with commentaries is when they bring together anthologies of original sources from certain eras to show how people interpreted different sections of Scripture. Intervarsity Press started with the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture and has continued with the Reformation Commentary on Scripture from which this volume comes.

I am glad this commentary came out this year, because it completes the Reformation Commentary on Romans, and this seems to a big year for some studies on Romans. This particular commentary will help with historical context with some of those more innovative readings of the classic book in Scripture.

Romans is a watershed book in many ways for the Reformation, along with Galatians. In Romans, there is a particular emphasis on the primacy of faith, and the importance of salvation by grace through faith. This, as the Reformers rediscovered the text in its original language, brought up many questions about Catholic practices of penance, indulgences, and the like that then catapulted Europe into the Reformation.

This resource uses many of the more well known Reformers as they addressed Romans such as Luther and Zwingli, Calvin and Melanchthon. It also seeks to add diversity to the text with lesser known theologians that not only come from Reformed and Lutheran traditions, but also Puritan, Anabaptist, and Catholic perspectives as well.

This will be a treasured resource for me, and will sit in an easily accessible place in my library. I recommend not only using this as a resource, but also reading the introduction. It is both helpful for the common reader, and insightful for those who are well versed in the history of Biblical interpretation.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Day 1--Part 3--Moving from Christendom to PostChristendom---Examining and Evaluating Practices

Organizing the church for ministry is PostChristendom requires to do some different things. Dr. Fitch shared this slide which was helpful in understanding these changes.

The church needs to be described in what purpose it serves in the world.

Describe churches in terms of community and witness.

Fitch then asked us to decide on an essential practice of the church, one that we felt passionate about and could write our paper on.

(This was my first major panic attack in the class. Already? I am just getting started? What if I don't choose the right thing? Oh no! Oh no! I am not ready for this)

Here were the examples of essential practices from different ministry practicioners throughout history.

Here they were:

What are the Non-Negotiables for your Church?

Biblical Appellations of the Church
Pick one (that best describes your sense of your church)
o   People of God Acts 15:14 1 Pet 2:9
o   Body of Christ 1 Cor 12:13
o   Ekklesia (the called out gathering) 1 Cor 1:2
o   None of the above

Creedal Marks of the Church
Pick One (that drives the values of your church)
o   One
o   Holy
o   Apostolic
o   Catholic
o   None of the above

The Marks (Lutheran/Anapbaptist)
Which one do your start with and why?

Luther’s 7 ‘notes’ On the Councils and Churches 1539
o   the preaching of the true Word
o   The proper administration of baptism
o   The correct form of the Lord's supper
o   The power of the keys  Matt 18 .. binding and loosing … discipline …
o   The lawful vocation and ordination of ministers
o   Prayer and the singing of psalms in the vernavular
o   Persecutions …   sufferings …

Menno Simons .. added the following marks to preaching of the word/sacrament
o   Holy living  - moral non conformity is indispensible to their witness…
o   Brotherly love - moves locus from administration of eucharist meaning of it ..
o   Unreserved testimony -  witness …
o   Suffering    - cross… discipleship

o   Community/fellowship/brotherly love
o   Worship gathering
o   Discipleship
o   Leadership
o   Evangelism (mission?)
o   The ministry to the poor (justice)
o   Catechesis

Dever’s Marks

o   Expositional preaching
o   Biblical theology
o   Biblical understanding of the Gospel
o   Biblical understanding of conversion
o   Biblical understanding of evangelism
o   Biblical understanding of membership
o   Biblical church discipline
o   Promotion of Christian discipleship and growth

o   Biblical understanding of church leadership

Defensive v. Accomodative:
Two ways people engage culture in unhelpful ways

Defensive approach to culture results:

Accomodating approach to culture results:

A missional ecclesiology avoids both of these extremes.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Church is An Action Word

Church is an Action Word

          Last month I spent a week in the suburbs of Chicago taking a class called “Missional Ecclesiology”. That term is a mouthful. So, let me explain the term a little bit. “Ecclesiology” is a combination of two words. “Ekklesia” is one of the words for the church in the New Testament. “Theology” is the study of God. Ecclesiology is the part of theology that studies what the Bible says the church is.

          The word before “ecclesiology” is “missional”. This term has been used so often and in so many ways, people often lose track of its meaning. Most simply, however, it talks about the church being a “sent” people. When people talk about a church being “missional”, we talk about going out in the world around us, led by the Spirit, to live, act out, and share the gospel among our neighbors and friends in their culture and their language and their customs. The opposite of “missional” is “attractional”, which is where the church expects people to come into the church instead of the church going out into the world.

          The church is, as David Fitch says, “defined by practices that embody beliefs”. In other words, church is not a building or an institution. It is a community of practice, or practices. We don’t go to church. We do church.

The practices that embody our beliefs are practices that connect us to God’s faithful presence, that help us care for one another, that help us move out into our homes and neighborhoods, and into the public sphere living our faith in ancient and yet uniquely contemporary way. A church is a group of people who live a certain way in fidelity to their commitment to the Lord, who has transformed and is transforming their lives as apprentices of Jesus. The practices that are most foundational are the practices we have discussed in worship for the last few months, practices that are put in different nomenclature in our mission and vision.

          As I mentioned in worship last Sunday, this idea of a church as a community of practices is not new. Whether is it the Greek word “Ekklesia” that describes the habit of gathering, or the language of calling God’s people the “Way”, Christian people have been known by their lived belief since the beginning.

          So, as we think and dream of ways to move forward as a congregation, and as we consider God’s unique calling on our lives together, let us remember to LIVE JESUS. Living as the body of Christ, exercising our faith passionately and cooperatively will make all the difference.

Book Review of You Welcomed Me by Kent Annan

You Welcomed Me

You Welcomed Me: Loving Refugees and Immigrants Because God First Loved Us
by Kent Annan
ISBN 978-0-8308-4553-8
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Kent Annan has written a thoughtful, grace-filled book on an issue that is difficult for many American believers to come to terms with, namely the issue of how do we deal with immigrants and refugees. He communicates winsomely about the plight of refugees by not only sharing bible verses and statistics, but by sharing stories of his personal experience and the experience of refugees. Throughout the book it becomes apparent that Annan wants us to move from seeing the immigration and refugee crises we face as issues or crisis to opportunities for real ministry with real people that need our support and love. He also wants us to encounter Christ through the practice of welcoming strangers.

From the start, Annan wants to ground his readers with empathy for other human beings, realizing that if for the grace of God, "that could be me" (p.5). He cautions us against letting fear blind us to real human connection. Early on, he asks readers to measure their lives by the "Dehumanizing Your Neighbor Scale" ( pp. 19-20) and the "Good Samaratin Scale (p. 20).

You Welcomed Me attempts to not just move us to awareness and agreement, but offers practices of welcome that will move us toward action in the Biblical command of welcoming the stranger. These practices are at the end of each chapter. Also, there are chapters dedicated to practical action, and an appendix with further resources and organizations that help refugees and immigrants.

I think this is a great book for a congregation to read about an important challenge the church faces. I hope small groups, Sunday School classes, and book clubs get a hold of it and take it to heart.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

When a calling becomes a career and a career becomes a calling

So, I was visiting with some friends the other day. They were folks from the church, and they were describing one of my pastoral predecessors (now deceased). They said that one time when they were talking with him about ministry he told them that ministry was a career, a job like any other. They pressed him, insisting that it must also be a mysterious, divine calling that drives his ministry. He insisted, although he did enter ministry with some sense of God's direction, it was a career choice.

I don't know what to make of these stories. I tend to doubt that most previous pastors were as bad or as wonderful as people described them. But, when you sit around people's tables and they tell you stories about previous ministers, they are often not simply telling stories. They are trying to communicate something more. In this case, my friends were trying to communicate what they have shared with me since I arrived in North Platte. They were trying to tell me that they had seen that God had placed his call on my life, that they believe I had embraced that call, and that this calling was evident by the approach I took to my ministerial tasks.

There are times when ministry has to be approached as a job. You have to pay your dues, put in your time, do the grunt work of ministry that nobody notices or remembers. Other times, when you have just escaped a difficult board meeting, or when you are trying to keep going through what feels like the rejection of a family that has left the church, you plod. You show up. You grind out a sermon. You make your visits. You teach your classes. You do your job. For me, ministry is the only career I have ever known.

Having said all that, my friends are right. If it was JUST a job, I would not be doing what I do. I do feel called.

What I did not say to them is this: my calling here has a lot to do with them. When I interviewed and candidated for the position here, it was a struggle to decide to come. More than once, there were times I really wanted to step away from the call to come to North Platte.

I loved Hot Springs and many of the people there. It was not a town I wanted to leave, nor did I want to leave many of the people of my congregation.

I was not sure I wanted to live in Western Nebraska.

I felt badly about having my wife reboot her career.

On the day I preached my sermon to come here, and before I accepted the position, we had a church potluck. As I ate, here came this chubby old farmer, red-faced and in his overalls, to speak to me. He asked to pray for me and my discernment of God's call, which he did. Then his eyes filled with tears as he finished and he placed his hands on my head. He said that he believed that God's Holy Spirit had called me to be this church's pastor, and that his hand was upon me and my life. Tears and snot and sweat dripping from him, he made a half-hearted apology for our awkwardness of our encounter, and then dismissed himself. Between that encounter and the nearly unanimous vote to extend the call to come here, I remember telling my wife that God's call was apparent because of the red-faced farmer who laid hands on me and anointed me with his sweat and tears.

Since I have come, we have become closer. He calls me with health updates. He drops by with produce and poultry from his farm. I have prayed for him and he for me. And now he is dying.

We almost lost the man who laid his hands on me and anointed me for the pastorate of North Platte this week. His blood sugar crashed. The hospice nurse came and got him back on the right track. Later his wife chatted with me. They were ready for me to come visit. I wasn't sure how I was going to fit the visit in this week, but I made it work.

That day, the drive out to the farm, worrying about getting lost, finding my way down dirt roads, that was a job.

Sitting at my friends' table, walking through their fields, taking pictures of their smiling faces and hard working bodies, listening to stories of how they have come to faith and shared it with others, talking about God's faithfulness even in the face of death and dying, and listening to how much a man loves all of his John Deere tractors, well, that is a calling. And, the best part of being called at that.