Chardin: The Matter of Man

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin lays the foundation of his theory regarding the evolutionary process currently happening all around with a poetic description of a new way to view the cosmos. Chardin paints a picture from one end of the materiel universe to the other with the hope of broadening our view of reality. He dares us to expand our preconditioned minds, from seeing only those things directly in front of us that are rooted in scientific fact, to imagine where it is we are going. Chardin challenges us to take the knowledge we have learned through science [in particular through evolution], combine it with the hope we find in the New Testament, and use these tools as a means of envisioning the direction we are driving towards in our eternal state of being. Teilhard wants to not only impart such a vision, but more importantly wants to encourage humanity to work together to help bring about that vision.

This vision begins with a fuller, more integrated view of the universe. Chardin bonds together the various ways we currently see reality, in order that the unified whole is replaced as that which is more naturally seen. As we stare out into the cosmos on any given night there are certain things that naturally arise in each of our minds—other solar systems with their own spinning planets, blazing suns being born and dying, black holes, and our dreams of the unknown. Alternatively, we see things in our mind differently when we glance around the very place we are standing or as we look into the eyes of another human. And then there is still another when we ponder those things on the atomic scale. There is space; there is what we see on the scale of the earth and the human race; and then there is the mysterious atomic and mostly undiscovered quantum scale. Teilhard lays this divided spectrum in front of us and then questions the usefulness of such a division. What if the way we viewed the universe could give us a fuller view of the hope we find in Christ? What difference would it make for Christians to regard the physical universe as a whole, rather than a spectrum of divided realities?

The New Testament declares that we are to be built up together to form the body of Christ. This same church that is being built up into Christ also rests upon Christ who is our cornerstone and from which nothing else can be done apart from. This biblical description is echoed in the very fabric of the universe we find all around us. From the smallest and seemingly infinitely divisible molecules, to the massive and constantly expanding universe, each part is both being multiplying and becoming a unified whole at this very moment and in each that follows. And each of these deriving from and hurling towards a singular point (a point later referred to by Chardin as the Omega point). As we begin to grasp the universe as a unified whole of physical matter, rather than in divided spectrums, we can turn our attention to the next layer of reality Chardin asks us to consider. A reality we must become more cognizant of if we wish to work together to build up the body of Christ—the reality of our consciousness.

I love the way the following quote from Chardin encapsulates the beauty that will arise as humanity begins to see itself beyond itself in hopes to become that which we have been called to become: “To see is really to become more … In such a vision man is seen not as a static center of the world he’s for long believed himself to be – but as the access and leading shoot of evolution, which is something much finer.”

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The Harmonious Melody of the Good News

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The following is a reflection on N.T. Wrights article, “How Can the Bible be Authoritative?” practically applied to the parable found in Luke 15:11-32. The article can be found online here and is worth reading through at least once. It is a challenge for Kingdom people to re-think the ‘how to’ when it comes to interpreting and sharing the gospel message. 

The message of grace and forgiveness found in the story of the prodigal son is fundamental. I doubt many people would argue that point. The problem is that the fundamental note—often the only note—our current culture is hearing lacks almost all reverberating overtones. It’s a sure thing for a preacher to deliver the good news that even the worst of sinner only need turn around and can expect to be met with their heavenly Father’s arms wide open, just waiting to lavish forgiveness upon them. The problem is that when we preach only this fundamental note, even if it is because that is what we believe resonates best with the listener or most accepted in our tradition, we are undermining the very teachings of Jesus.

I use the word undermine, because the fundamental note isn’t equal to a false gospel, but it will become eroded without being further built up. There is depth to the story found in Luke 15:11-32.  It is profound and multi-layered. Each layer has a message and Jesus intended that the whole of the story would be heard. There is a power in teaching and interpreting the Bible. There is a power that can be used to elevate certain aspects and pass others depending on a multitude of reasons. This is not the kind of power Jesus came to give us though.

The way the Bible is interpreted and taught is what will eventually become the dominant worldview for a tradition or even larger portions of the corporate church. In our country it is easy to own a Bible and, for many, it is easy to read it as well. The message, fundamental and overtones alike, are right there for all to read and interpret for themselves. The problem is that everyone comes to their Bible with the fundamental notes already sounding …. The parable of the prodigal son is about a broken sinner who turns back to the Father and finds unending grace, love, and forgiveness.

There is a harmonious tale being told by Christ in this story. A story that challenges our ideas about family, motivates us to rethink our ideas about the father, and re-examine our interactions with him. There are cultural overtones worth discussing and knowing; like what it meant to be a Jewish family living in 1st century Palestine. There can be dis-harmonies if the hearer doesn’t understand honor and shame in the same context as Jesus. Jesus was preaching grace and forgiveness, and He was preaching so much more.

The church has been given authority to teach and preach the gospel—fundamental tones, overtones, and harmonies alike. There are sinners who desire to hear the good news that God will be waiting to forgive them on their return. There are others in need of good news as well. There are people looking for the good news of a God who invites everyone to the party. There are people seeking good news about a father who is willing to relinquish his honor, in order to bear our shame. There are people desiring to hear good news about a family that places restoration above reputation and reconciliation above righteousness.

The church can begin by telling the story in a new way, in a way that includes all the harmonies without forgetting the fundamental notes. And then the church can begin living the story until the whole of the message resounds to the world around them. The message that sinners are always welcome is a fairly unchallenged notion of the Christian church, but there are others that aren’t quite as obvious. This message challenges the church to be more—to be a place where you find a relationship with the Father (not just forgiveness), a place where the hope is complete restoration (not defining ‘right’ or ‘wrong’), and a place where the fatherless find their family that is bigger than God the Father alone but the whole church body. It is time for the church to challenge the world’s worldview and become immersed in the melody of the gospel.

A Possible Peace

It is common for contestants in a beauty pageant to be asked what one thing they would change about the world if given the chance. A popular (and often publicly mocked) answer is world peace. To be honest, I don’t know why these young women are coached into given this answer, but strangely I feel a little defensive of them lately. What is so offensive about this topic? Why is it when I think of world peace, the only memory I have of a widely publicized use of the phrase is attached to a beauty contest?

I had to do a Google search for “beauty pageant and world peace” to determine what question they were asked to prompt the answer. The search returned zillions of results regarding the subject; mostly message board comments and blog posts ridiculing the audacity of such an answer. One person stated simply that world peace is unattainable and anyone who believes otherwise is naive. Another person said the answer made them cringe. And apparently, an actress made a public plea requesting for such peace pledges to stop.

My concern here is not necessarily for the contestants–it is a concern about the prejudice towards peace. Too often peace is taught in churches as a feeling individuals can posses as a result of being in Christ, but it is far more. It is a hope we get to display to the world as Jesus did. We display the peace of Jesus in both our hearts and actions, so that the world can have hope that such a peace like His is possible. Inward peace is given to us by Jesus and we get to carry that to the world around us. Peace is given, so that peace can overflow.

To set a hope on world peace is fantastically irrational and annoyingly optimistic, but I guess I don’t really care. The best I can do is try bringing that kind of peace to those around me and do so by living peacefully myself. This is the sermon Greg Boyd gave on December 22 at Woodland Hills Church. The topic was peace–the message was inspiring.  Listen here, then visit here.

Reclaiming the Good News as Good

(A reflection on our Gospel of Matthew course)

“Turn the other cheek”                                                                                             “Go the second mile”                                                                                                 “If they ask for your shirt, give them your coat too”

We have all heard these phrases before; at some point even possibly from our own mouth. There is a risk here though worth looking into. We are in danger of taking this teaching out of context when it is used as a piece of advice in response to someone who has sought guidance on a problem. It could be an example of a Jesus teaching turned into a cliché, quick fix answer.  The method of using these verses in such a light manner strips it of its ability to stir emotion. It causes us to lose perspective on what this means.

What if the problem you were facing with a friend had to do with lusting or a pornographic addiction? Would the words, “Pluck ‘em out,” leave your mouth? Or if a friend who was a recovering alcoholic told you they’d had a drink the night before, would you casually inform them it’s “Time to amputate”? Of course not, because that wouldn’t be helpful at all.

I believe our intentions are good. We see the beauty of the imagery Jesus portraits to us in these verses. We read these words and can almost embody the oppressed in that moment. We are able to envision ourselves summoning up the courage to put Jesus’ words into action. In the light of our active imagination, we’re filled with the full genius of what Jesus is asking us to do. We’re given a glimpse of what it must feel like to take the power from an oppressor by simply going the extra mile.

But there is a chasm between what we have historically done with these verses and the truth found when we allow them to penetrate our minds. The chasm is life experience, and therefore truly knowing the meaning. Without putting our beliefs into action they lack the ability to transform us. Preparing for this message, I tried to come up with applicable examples of when we are faced with an opportunity to live out this teaching—apart from the un-ideal work environment—I was stumped. Through this thought process, what I began to realize is that we cannot relate, because the majority of us are not oppressed.

I imagine the missionaries in China or the Middle East don’t use the phrase “Turn the other cheek” without a heaviness of heart and a fair amount of fear. The reason we don’t say to friend, who just confided in us they are having an affair, that it is time to ‘Gouge ‘em out’ is because this situation is real to us. In that moment, we are living out the implications of a marriage covenant being torn and at a time like these our words matter. Real situations require real responses.

Our lives are so blessed we fail to understand just how blessed they are. We drive—in a vehicle we own—to a store (a store with shelves full of un-diseased low cost food) and on the way we are cut off by a distracted person talking on their phone while driving. We slow down and move to the other lane, pointing out to ourselves the ability we posses to turn the other cheek … all the while, ignoring our self righteousness of course.

Now, I don’t say this to deter us from continuing to engage in the world by choosing grace over anger. In my own opinion, a Christian with road rage is no Christian at all. I’m also not suggesting we leave the second mile to those in countries where oppression is a far too common occurrence. I believe there is an alternative to be considered within the text that could give us a new way to use the teaching more wisely.

When we study the Sermon on the Mount, we find that these three verses on retaliation are placed among a set of verses in this chapter addressing the Old Testament law. Jesus is giving us an image of the bondage we are living in right now on earth and contrasting that by revealing to us the radical beauty we can expect in the coming Kingdom. And when we hear Jesus speak about the coming Kingdom—we listen. We listen because this should be our template for the life we are striving to live now. By living lives in a coming Kingdom fashion, we are bringing heaven to earth and what could be better than that?

So in verses 17-47, Jesus is speaking about Jewish law and sets up each by giving the traditional mindset for the people of the day. First, he speaks about anger. He tells us murder should be so far off our radar it can barely be seen, not something requiring a stone carving to implicate to us it’s evil.  Smart guy this Jesus. Jesus takes it further though, because that is where we are going in this coming Kingdom … further. He says we shouldn’t be angry … ever. If we get angry or feel anger coming on, we are to drop everything we are doing until it’s resolved.

Second, he teaches on adultery and divorce in marriage. The message is clear … if you feel like meeting your needs outside your marriage, whether it be a temporary fix or a permanent removal, don’t do it. He addresses that maybe there was a time it was done in a different way, but not where we are going it doesn’t. In fact Jesus tells us that if you have to perform eye removal surgery on yourself with a rusted old kitchen knife feel free. Do what you need to do, because these things aren’t coming to the Kingdom.

Then we learn to be a man of good character. Be reliable. Be straightforward. Don’t be the person who “promises to make it happen,” or “puts your word on it”. Apparently, in the coming Kingdom when we say we are going to do something—we do it. End of story.

So Jesus tells us about the old way of life and then about a new way of life. About the old law, then the new law. The old covenant, the new covenant. And it is at this point when we are taught about giving away more than is demanded. Going the extra mile, no matter the circumstance. It would seem to me, however, that with the description he has given us so far in regards to the coming Kingdom this whole idea is pointless. It’s pointless because the coming Kingdom doesn’t have oppression, does it? What is there to learn about the treatment of our oppressors when this won’t even be an issue in the next life? I believe the answer is found in the verses that follow:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”Matthew 5:43-44

In the previous kingdom we loved our neighbor, in the coming Kingdom we will love our enemies. Does this mean we will we have enemies in heaven? I think it is difficult to have enemies without anger, so my thought is no. I also don’t envision us to all be joyful zombies roaming around thoroughly satisfied with the company of every person we are around. We have personalities in this life, and I fully expect personalities to be present in the next life. It is likely that, although all living in peace, we will be among some people we like more than others. What does it look like to live, interact, and spend eternity with people that have starkly different personalities than your own?

I believe we learn what it is like when we take the opportunity to give our cloak when we are asked for our coat, turn the other cheek when were slapped in the face, and when we go two miles instead of one. These things teach us how to live in love and peace, regardless of our genetic makeup and preferences.

Jesus is teaching us about relationships. So the next time I come home after a draining day and my daughter asks me (for the 100th time that week) to play Barbie Uno—instead of saying, “Okay, but just one round” I will respond with “You know it! How about best two out of three?” And I will remember this the next time I’m in line at the grocery store, in a hurry and I’ve chosen the line with the chatty cashier. I will pause and recognize this person as a Kingdom brother or sister and listen to them for a while. And the next time I’m at a church meeting and the hand of someone who seems to always rub me wrong raises their hand; instead of looking for the moment I can jump in with my own thoughts, I will ask them questions to allow them to further clarify their own ideas.

There are opportunities for us to live in coming Kingdom ways every single day. Jesus invites us to live in the freedom of this Kingdom now, but challenges us in the ways we are to go about doing so. We will see His Kingdom come when we seek to be His teachings in what we do. The truth of the good news isn’t found in the ability to repeat pieces of Christ’s words, but rather in the determination to work at living life with the good news as our model.

An Easy Answer

I want to share this (rather long) reflection from one of my recent seminary seminars. We had the privilege of listening to Dr. Leonard Sweet for two days. His message, and mind, are gifts from God and if you haven’t yet read this book, “I Am a Follower” I would strongly recommend it.  This reflection is personal and I pray that all of those who have lived life with me will  take heart that I speak to the corporate church as a whole, but still let the Spirit challenge when needed. Grace and Peace

There are three times in my life Jesus showed up in a very physical way and said, “Follow me.” Remembering these times isn’t out of the ordinary for me. I think about these moments anytime I question why God has chosen me to love. What I realized this time; however, was just how easy it had been to say yes to Him. The first request to follow was when I accepted Christ. The last request was my call into ministry. The second time? It came at the end of the ugliest day of my life.

Of course, Jesus is asking me to follow Him every day. What is unique about these times is the added glory of a more physical presence to abide in. Since reading “I Am a Follower” by Dr. Leonard Sweet over a month ago, I have been struggling with my reaction to the book. I have read it a few times since, in hopes of changing my initial review. What was causing me to struggle was the fact that this topic seemed too common sense for me. The issue of leadership within the church is a deadly one, no doubt. The focus on attendance, number of salvation prayers repeated, and the resulting pastoral pride should be a place of shame for the church today. The fact that the average Christian looks nothing like the “Big J”, let alone a “Little J” is disheartening. And then something occurred to me, I was being naive.

As we sat around in our Spiritual Formation group and everyone was talking about how moved they were by Dr. Sweet’s message, I felt almost embarrassed in not sharing in their same sense of excitement. Graeme Seller (our previous instructor) had left me in a state of shock and awe, but Dr. Leonard Sweet speaks and I come away almost shrugging? So I reflected more, re-read parts of the book, looked at the seminar notes, and it finally started to make sense.

Being a Christ-follower first, faithfully, and fervently has been completely missing from my church experience. I identified this issue of lack of “follower”ship a few years ago and studied it in depth. The notion of being a “Christ-follower first” shaped and moved me deeply during that time. This seminar hadn’t challenged me the way it had others, because the story was already deep seeded within my heart. The seminar, and reflection on it, did wake me up to something very important. I can’t let the extraordinary in my life become ordinary. If a fellow Christian’s passionate work changes me to my core, I owe it to the Spirit to continue to fan the flames on my own heart so others might catch on fire too.

The church continuously drove me away during my life due to the issues addressed in Dr. Sweet’s book. I wanted to conform to Christ, and found myself instead conforming to the leaders in the church (who looked little like Jesus from where I was sitting). I wanted to do the things Jesus had created me to do, but I ended up just doing what the rest of the body was doing (which was often what the rest of the culture was doing). I wanted refinement, but was given no safe place to share my confessions. I wanted healthy community, and I was given social cliques. How can I expect to help make the changes I believe God desires to see in the church if I have already chalked these failures up to common knowledge?

It is an honored blessing that we serve a God who shows up in our lives and says, “Follow me.” My calling and salvation prayer are two of those times that embodied His beautiful presence. But as a church, are we allowing Christ to step in at times when it could be us? The ugliest day of my life, as I described it, came during a great time of depression. I was around the age of 23. I was just recently out of rehab for drugs, and I was using again. I had moved three states away from my family, despite their desperate pleas for me to stay. And that’s just the surface of the darkness.

On this day, I was crouched in the fetal position on the floor of my empty apartment. I was begging for an answer from God. I was begging for help. I had no one, and I knew I couldn’t go on. And right then, I heard Him. “Get up. We’re leaving.” I looked up to see Jesus Christ standing there beside me. His hand was reaching out to mine. He was inviting me to follow Him. I said yes to his request that morning without hesitation. I said yes as if I didn’t know that following Him meant doing the most difficult thing I’d ever done before. It was 4 a.m. and by 11 a.m. we—Jesus and me—had packed as many of my belongings into my car that would fit, called my mother to tell her I had relapsed, and drove back home to Minnesota. I experienced, for the first time in my life, complete surrender. I left behind, what I believed, was everything true in my life without as much as a goodbye. I even remember the moment that the palpable presence of Jesus left my car. It was as we crossed that last state line; as if He knew that was my point of no turning back.

Although in some ways I cherish that morning, I have always thought Jesus would have rather shown up as an embodied Christ follower. The Christian should be the place to break strongholds—pride, greed, consumerism, judgment, shame, lust—but too often it is what contributes to them. I want to be a Christ follower first. People say this, and when they do I become to think believers are aware of the problems we’re facing, even when that isn’t the truth. When saying yes to the church’s request to “Follow us as we are following Christ” becomes the easiest yes a person will ever utter is the moment at which we’ll know we’ve finally figured it out. And until then it is up to me [us] to remain actively passionate about the Spirit’s desires before allowing anything so extraordinary to become ordinary ever again.