Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Pet Peeve regarding COVID restrictions

A lot of people don't get their vocabulary right regarding the kind of guidelines and restrictions they are subject to with COVID-19. Here is a helpful reminder.

If you are in one of about six states that are simply enforcing the CDC guidelines, you are not under quarantine. You are under social distancing guidelines, or laws. You are able to get out. You are able to drive through the drive-thru for meals. You are able to order from Walmart online, and then run to town to pick up your order.

If you are on a stay-at-home order your life may truly suck. But you can still interact with your family. You can go for a walk. You can move freely about your property. You are simply not to congregate with others, and stay home as much as possible.

If you are quarantined, you are generally a COVID positive or a potentially COVID positive person. You are most likely banished to one room of your house, or if you have a big house perhaps the entire basement. You have restrictions on using the restroom, on how you touch door handles, etc. etc. This really sucks.

My pet peeve is persons who get frustrated about not going to church, or being able to congregate in a bar, and then say they are under quarantine. They are not. Quarantine is a much different thing.

End of rant.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Book Reveiw of The Church of Us vs. Them by David E. Fitch

Image result for churches of us vs them

The Church of Us vs. Them: Freedom from a Faith that Feeds on Making Enemies
by David E. Fitch
ISBN 978-1-58743-414-3
Brazos Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Stanley Haurwas is quoted as saying, "I say I’m a pacifist because I am a violent son of a bitch." It is one of my favorite quotes from the highly quotable Hauerwas, and it is even better if it is quoted in its larger context. What he is saying, as I read it, is that the strongest core of his theological convictions are the truths that challenge and convict him the most, and call him into a deeper journey of Christlikeness.

I think if a person caught David Fitch in a candid moment, perhaps while drinking some wine and smoking cigars and swapping stories about fellow practicioners in the missional church movement, he might say something similar to Haurwas as it pertains to the content of The Church of Us vs. Them. Having spent his formative years in the Canadian industrial town of Hamilton, Ontario, Fitch's earthy vocabulary paired with his wiry physique reflect the scrappy nature of that blue-collar town. This book is a more accessible explanation of his thesis in The End of Evangelicalism? where Fitch challenges his readers to not get drawn in to the ideological antagonism that permeates both our political lives and our ecclesiastical enclaves. In both teaching and living these truths, it becomes easy to see how Fitch's naturally contentious temprament is mitigated by his conviction that God calls us to reconciliation and to embody God's gracious presence. 

The Church of Us vs. Them calls us to a place beyond making enemies by making its readers aware of how ideology functions. Drawing closely upon the philosophical work of Slavoj Zizek, he presents examples of how groups of people lift up symbols, place upon those symbols their tribalistic ideology in such a way to where the object being argued over becomes emptied of its original meaning through how it is weaponized in social discourse. 

One example Fitch used to make his point about enemy making and moving beyond enemy making is how we use the language of being "biblical". For most of church history, with some notable exceptions, the authority of Scripture could be assumed. As our culture has changed, and people's assumptions about truth have changed, Christian leaders have weaponized their understanding of Scripture of authority to create groups of "insiders" and "outsiders". 

This is not the only way that the church resorts to idealogical tribalism. There are a number of practices and symbols that should unite believers that have been transformed by Christians, especially those seeking power, to create an "us" vs. "them" divisions among neighbors, friends, and siblings in Christ. 

The position of this book is that we need to step aside from the antagonisms that divide Christian believers and neighbors by getting to know each other, listen to each other, and love one another by being present with each other and truly listening and understanding God and each other together. It is a lot harder to call someone an enemy when you have shared your table with them, and they have helped you reconstruct your deck after last windstorm blew over part of your tree on it. 

I recommend this book highly. Even though it is a "dumbed down" version of another book, it is still challenging to both understand and apply the call that The Church of Us vs Them sets before us. It is not an easy promting from Fitch toward a deeper journey of discipleship, but it is an important one.

Book Review of A Life Without Lack by Dallas Willard

A Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23
by Dallas Willard
ISBN 978-0-7180-9185-9
Published by Nelson Books (Thomas Nelson Publishing)
Review by Clint Walker

This book is a collection of the teachings of Dallas Willard on Psalm 23. It has been published posthumously, and edited by a friend and a family member in order to present the material as a book.
This book shares some themes with many of Willard's earlier books, but with a focus on this classic Psalm as a guide for the abundant life that comes from faith in Jesus.

Perhaps because this book is drawn from a series of talks, it has the feel of a more intimate and personal conversation than many of his other books. It is also immensely practical, challenging his readers to engage in some practices to walk daily with God, the Good Shepherd.

I highly recommend this book!

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Ministry life in the COVID days

Ministry is different these days. We are under COVID restrictions. We cannot gather in groups (mostly), and we we need to stay 6 feet away from one another. Yet, here at First Baptist Church we are soldiering on, trying to keep people connected to God and to one another in love the best we can.

These restrictions mean that most churches, including ours, are suspending our weekly gatherings in the sanctuary. We have been keeping our office open, although this week we did have a person who was potentially COVID positive in our office space--which made things a little nerve wracking for a moment or two. Thankfully that person was negative, and the moment has passed.

There are a few things, as I reflect on ministry right now, that COVID has brought to mind.

  1. Ministry is about presence--I know this truth as a pastor, until you can't be present with one another. Then you realize how important being present, praying face to face, hearing one another's voices, and sharing embraces with one another really is.
  2. Ministry is about touch--I never realized how much I touched people until I could not touch them any longer. On March 15, we had a service together that was very restricted in touch and in movement. It was so hard not to shake hands, give hugs, put hands on shoulders, and have conversations that were socially distanced.
  3. Ministry is about rhythym--I don't mean that ministry has to have a good bass line in its worship sets. I think it does, and most Christian music fails in that regard, but that is another post. What it means is that most of us, despite the interuptions find a rhthym to how we do ministry. We get certain things done at certain times. We have part of our schedule routinized. We have time for study and prayer, and time for visits, time for community involvement, and time for leading meetings, studies, events, etc. And time to prepare for all of that. When COVID came, our rhythm changed. It forces us to be adaptable, which is good. But at times it feels like without a regular structure and rhythym, that my productivity and life-flow is messed up. My wife and I have been sharing, even with both of us working, that each week seems like a month or two when we are social distancing.
  4. Ministry is about relationships--This is so much harder when you can't have your breakfast together as a men's group, or when you can't visit the homebound. 
  5. Ministry is about Jesus--One of the things to begin to consider, and it is hard in a traditional church like mine, is just how much of our experience in faith is grounded in tradition and an attractional business model, and what we should take the opportunity to change to be more about knowing Jesus and making him known in honest meaningful relationships and personal connections. 
I still have hope that we will come out of COVID stronger. But it is, right now, a strange new world.


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