Public Faith in Action

"Public Faith in Action" by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

“Public Faith in Action” by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

I just finished an insightful book entitled Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. This volume is a companion piece to Volf’s 2011 work A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good. In A Public Faith, Volf examines “the place and the role of followers of Christ in pluralistic societies” by arguing “against both exclusion of religions from public space and saturation of public space by a single religion,” (Public Faith in Action, p. ix). This companion piece is intended to spark critical civic-minded (and civil!) conversation among Christians, particularly in light of the looming election.

Although some of the positions Volf and McAnnally-Linz lay out here are bound to be understood tendentiously by those who disagree, I appreciate the theological consistency with which the authors approach these “hot button” topics. The text is laid out in three parts: an introductory section entitled “Commitments” that provides out a Christo-centric lens through which the ensuing dialogue is framed; a lengthier section called “Convictions” which provides the bulk of the text, focusing on a variety of public issues such as education, marriage, borrowing and lending, war, torture, and immigration; and a concluding section on “Character” which provides a brief treatment of five core virtues (courage, humility, justice, respect, compassion) for Christian engagement in the public sphere.

Volf and McAnnally-Linz provide theological and biblical underpinnings for their engagement with each of these topics. And although they do not shy away from drawing their own conclusions on these subjects, I believe they fairly recognize potential areas for continued dialogue as well. Each chapter concludes with a “Room for Debate” section for more nuanced engagement on the given topic.

I benefitted from reading this book and I believe most discerning Christians would as well. I would highly recommend this as a text to be read in community, either in a small group setting or with a few trusted friends. The conversation this text sparks will be a blessing.

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Parenting: The Swimming Pool Metaphor

108572_768In her insightful new book Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood (2016), Dr. Lisa Damour compares parenting to a swimming pool.

Consider the metaphor in which your teenage daughter is a swimmer, you are the pool in which she swims, and the water is the broader world. Like any good swimmer, your daughter wants to be out playing, diving, or splashing around in the water. And, like any swimmer, she holds on to the edge the pool to catcher her breath after a rough lap or getting dunked too many times.

Dr. Damour notes how this plays out in real life. Your daughter inevitably reaches the point where she begins to part with her childhood. She is so busy with her friends, schoolwork, or extracurricular activities that you feel as if you need to reintroduce yourself to her. Then something happens: friend drama, boy trouble, a failed test…and her world comes crashing down. Suddenly she is seeking your advice once again. She sits cross-legged on the couch and shares her heart with you as the tears come streaming down her face. She might even (gasp!) ask you to hold her.

In other words, she’s had a hard time in the water and has come to the edge of the pool to recover.

And you’re in heaven. Your little girl is back! She’s talking to you about her feelings and her heartache. And she eagerly listens when you speak. She craves your embrace, your wisdom, your physical presence. As Dr. Damour says, “Paul Simon’s ‘Mother and Child Reunion’ plays in your head as you start to imagine the many fantastic adventures you’ll share with your new best friend.”

Then she pushes you away. Hard. What just happened? Well, like a swimmer who gets her breath back, your daughter wants to return to the water, and she gets there by pushing off the side of the pool. This often takes the form of picking the dumbest fight ever or being nasty in a way that is both petty and painful (“Please tell me you didn’t actually wear those shoes with that skirt today.”) While you could have hummed Paul Simon all day long, your daughter needs to hurry back to the depths as soon as she feels restored. Why can’t she linger? Because, to her, lingering feels babyish, which is just about the last thing that any normal teenager who is parting with childhood wants to feel. Clinging to you quickly becomes as uncomfortable for your daughter as it is pleasantly nostalgic for you. She rushes back to the work of parting with childhood with an abrupt — sometimes painful — shove.

If you’re the parent of an adolescent or pre-adolescent girl, you probably understand how it feels to be “swimming pooled.” But we should understand that this is normal, even healthy behavior as our daughters continue to chart their course toward adulthood.

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My Anniversary Gift 

On our anniversary last week, Sunny was disappointed because her gift for me hadn’t arrived yet. She had ordered something handmade and it was late ending shipped. 
Well, my gift arrived this morning: a wood burned map of the MLB Ballparks, complete with pins to mark the ones you’ve visited. Awesome gift! I already have a spot in my office picked out to display this. Isn’t my wife incredible? Best of all, she actually enjoys visiting these ballparks with me. What a great gift!

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The Mask You Live In

The_Mask_You_Live_In_ImageThe other day I saw a trailer for a documentary entitled “The Mask You Live In.” The filmmakers examine the narrow way we define masculinity in this country and the impact this has on our sons. I’ve not seen the entire documentary, but I intend to do so.

In one scene, a counselor is working with a group of high school boys. The counselor gives each young man a sheet of paper. On the front side, he asks them to write words to describe their image, the image they project to the world. And so the boys take a few minutes to write. Then the counselor has the boys flip over to the back side and to write words to describe how they feel about themselves, the person beneath the mask. He has the boys wad up the sheets of paper and throw them all in a pile on the floor. The counselor picks up the wadded up papers and reads each one aloud.

It probably comes as no surprise that the boys used similar language on the front side of their papers. Filled with the braggadocio and machismo common to teen boys, the front side of the papers were filled with words like “tough” and “fearless” and “fighter.” But the revelation came when the counselor read the information revealed on the back of the page. Under cover of anonymity, the boys used strikingly similar language to describe their “real” selves, the person beneath the mask of masculinity. “Lonely.” “Sad.” “I have no friends.” The boys were stunned to discover that they all felt the same way.

Deep down, everyone is looking to be accepted, received, and welcomed.

Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. — Romans 15:7

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IMG_0598Seventeen years.

In some ways, it doesn’t seem right. Wait, we’ve been married seventeen years? Are we old enough to have been married that long?

Then again, I honestly can’t remember what my life was like prior to marrying Sunny. When I sit with couples for premarital counseling, I tell them to think of their marriage as an altar. Marriage is about sacrifice, but transformation occurs when we become living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2). In marriage, “I” becomes “we.” When you immerse yourself in the marriage covenant so fully, holy transformation is inevitable.

Seventeen years ago, I married the best person I know.

And outside of coming to know Jesus as Lord, it continues to be the most transformative moment of my life.

If you’d never met my wife, I’d have you read a post I wrote for her birthday in 2015 entitled “Her Goodness.” The title says it all. I’m convinced that Sunny’s defining quality is her goodness. Here’s what I said about Sunny in that post:

From day one, I’ve never known anyone more interested in doing the right thing…not the convenient thing…not the popular thing…not the politically expedient thing…but the right thing, in any and every circumstance. She was that way when I met her at age 17. And she’s the same person today.

For seventeen years, I’ve been profoundly shaped by Sunny’s enduring goodness. There’s a certain gravitational pull to her purity of heart; I know she’s made me a better person because of her example and influence. It’s such a blessing to be married to your best friend. She’s been so supportive of me: through my years in youth ministry, through graduate school, through doctoral work, and now in my current role as preaching minister, I’ve always been able to rely on Sunny’s constant encouragement and quiet strength. She makes me laugh more than anyone and I’m so thankful that seventeen years ago, she met me at the altar and said “I do.”

Sunny, thank you for being my wife, my companion, and my friend. Moreover, thank you for meeting me at the altar, for modeling “living sacrifice” every day in our marriage and in our home, and for transforming me through your goodness and your grace. I love you.

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Summer Reading / Playlist

Things have been pretty quiet over here at the blog lately. Between end-of-summer festivities and the start of a new school year, it’s just been awfully busy around here lately. But I decided to take a little time and write about some of what I’ve been reading and listening to this summer.

la-et-jc-city-of-mirrors-20160613-snapCity of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

If you’re into post-apocalyptic fiction, then you’re probably already aware of Cronin’s masterful Passage series. I picked up a copy of The Passage a few years ago during a weeklong intensive course in Abilene and I devoured it in a week (all 700+ pages of it). City of Mirrors is the long-awaited conclusion to Cronin’s centuries-spanning trilogy in the wake of a viral epidemic (and I mean “viral” quite literally). I won’t give away any of the plot details but this final installment was satisfying on so many levels. Cronin swings for the fences here, aiming at a narrative that works at a meta-level while still delivering epic action and a gratifying end for our favorite characters. In my opinion, he nailed the ending. A great summer read that poses thoughtful questions about life, myth, civilization, and our deep-seeded narratival nature.

kingkiller-coversThe Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

A couple of good friends recommended this series to me after I wrapped up City of Mirrors. Rothfuss’s tale of Kvothe, a valiant adventurer narrating his story to a young scribe, has more of an “old world” feel to it, much like Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. But it’s everything you want in a good story. I just completed the second entry in the trilogy and I can’t wait for the final chapter to be released. If you’re a fan of Martin’s work, you should slip seamlessly into Rothfuss’s fully alive universe.

Sabbath-1Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann

So far, my favorite non-fiction read of the summer. Brueggemann has loomed large in academic theological circles for decade. But this highly accessible little volume deftly weaves biblical insight with pastoral sensibility to produce a prophetic word for an anxious, over-worked culture. Brueggemann gives the Sabbath back to us, not as a commandment so much as an invitation to life:

“The way of mammon (capital, wealth) is the way of commodity that is the way of endless desire, endless productivity, and endless restlessness without any Sabbath. Jesus taught his disciples that they could not have it both ways.”

Elsewhere, Brueggemann notes, “Moses knows that prosperity breeds amnesia.” We see, then, the practice of Sabbath rest as an act of resistance and remembering, keeping the deity of commerce and produce at bay as we embrace the Lord of rest. The book itself is not cumbersome either, an embodiment of the rest toward which Brueggemann directs us. Read these life-giving words.

18d928b0-76c4-11e4-95b5-ff2979de448a_upupandawayUp, Up, and Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos by Jonah Keri

You’ll have to forgive the clunky title. Keri, of Grantland and Baseball Prospectus fame, compiles an oral history of baseball’s red-headed stepchild, the doomed-from-the-start Montreal Expos. This thorough expose (sorry) is immersive and completely fascinating. This was my baseball read this summer and I wasn’t disappointed. Hardcore baseball fans need to read this one.

amoonshapedpool.0.0A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead

I’ve always followed Radiohead from somewhat of a distance. I liked their 90s stuff, but somewhere around Kid A, they kind of lost me. I just struggled to “get” their turn-of-the-millennium stuff. I loved In Rainbows; not so much King of Limbs. But this is the first Radiohead release I consumed in “real time” and I’m pretty sure it’s my Album of the Year. First, the music. This is some of the most beautiful music they’ve produced to date, accented by Jonny Greenwood’s haunting string arrangements. But the real draw here is the message. Filled with evocative allusions to paranoia and panic (what else would you expect from Radiohead), “Burn the Witch” is the most prescient song of 2016. No other set of songs so perfectly encapsulates our collective angst and fears more than this one.

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Already and Not Yet: Becoming a Husband

I originally wrote this for a friend’s blog last month. Decided to post it here as well.

The Kingdom of heaven is like becoming a husband.

Allow me to explain.

Jason and Sunny weddingOn August 14, 1999, I stood before everyone I know and love, in a rented tuxedo, and made a covenant vow to love Sunny until parted by death. We said some magic words, swapped some rings, kissed….the whole thing was over in about 20 minutes. And just like that, I was a husband.

But in the weeks and months to come, I realized how much I had to learn about my new title. Although I was already a husband, it quickly became evident that I was not yet the husband Sunny deserved. Or, to put it another way: I had no clue what I was doing. So even though I already had the title of “husband”, I had much to learn about the way of husbandry.

Thankfully, my wife possesses the spiritual gift of excruciating patience. She was patient with me as I lived into that which I was not yet embodying.

And slowly, I became what I already was.

I became a better husband the first time I made her mascara run by making an insensitive comment – something I’ve done far too often in 16 years of marriage. But that insensitive comment was redeemed by the power of God, becoming a catalyst to produce godly transformation in me. I learned to be more discerning in the things I said. And that’s just one example. I became a better husband the time I accidentally broke an entire boxful of her porcelain figurines, knick-knacks, and family heirlooms. (I can tell you that story some other time.) I became a better husband through years of exposure to Sunny’s innate goodness. I’ve never known anyone who wants to do the right thing more completely and more often than my wife. And no matter how long we’re married, I suspect I’ll always be in the process of becoming a better version of myself as I continue to learn to love Sunny well.

Am I a finished product? Absolutely not. Sunny would be the first to tell you that I still have a long way to go.

But I’m grateful that marriage has been the crucible in my life to bring me into proximity to this already / not yet reality. For I believe this dynamic to be at the very heart of what Jesus has to say about the Kingdom of God.

Scholars believe the Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel to be widely circulated among the earliest believers. In Mark’s expression of the Good News, the first words Jesus speaks are concerned with the nearness of the Kingdom.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of god. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14)

The first words Jesus speaks in the first Gospel to be recorded are about the nearness of the Kingdom.

Near the end of his ministry, the Pharisees ask him when the Kingdom would come. He replied:

The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21)

Jesus spoke of His Kingdom as a present reality in the first century. Disciples of Christ participate in this Kingdom, His present reign. Through faith, Christ’s disciples are invited to participate in a Kingdom where peace reigns – where swords are beaten into plowshares (Isa. 2). In Christ’s Kingdom, the “natural” order of enmity is redeemed and reconciled (Isa. 11), as wolf and lamb live together in perfect shalom. This Kingdom life is the product of faith; in a very real way, followers of Christ participate in that Kingdom now, a Kingdom where the first are last, the least are greatest, service is selfless and love endures. We experience the Kingdom already in so many blessed ways.

And yet, this Kingdom still awaits full consummation. Creation waits in eager expectation for a final revealing (Rom. 8:19), God’s final redemptive act to bring history to a just and glorious end. The last enemy to be defeated is death (1 Cor. 15:26) and we hasten the day when King Jesus eradicates death once and for all. John was given a glimpse of this glorious future reality in the final vision recorded in Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making all things new!” (Rev. 21:1-5)

In the Bible’s closing scene, the Apostle John peeks over the fence of mortality to see a new reality, the new Jerusalem, a place of complete communion between God and man, a city unmarred by the ravaging effects of sin, decay, and death. The scope of God’s renewing administration is universal. All things are made new by the power of His decree.

But that day is not this day.

In the last few weeks, we have been met with grim reminders that John’s ancient vision has not fully broken into this plane of existence.

On Stanford’s campus, there are plenty of tears still to be wiped.

In vigils throughout Orlando, the old order of death, mourning, crying, and pain continues to overwhelm.

In places like Louisiana and Minnesota…in places like Dallas and Kansas City…in Istanbul…in Nice, France…

We live with constant reminders of the not yet dimension of the Kingdom. Creation groans a bit longer. Evil is still pervasive. The present order of the sword has yet to be redeemed. Wolf and lamb are still caught in an endless cycle of violence. Shalom is not yet ours.

Scholars use terms like “prolepsis” to describe our present condition. That is to say, we live “between the times.” We live between what Christ has already done and what He’s yet to do. Our charge is to be the in-breaking of the Kingdom in the here and now while waiting for the fullness of the Kingdom yet to come.

The Kingdom of God, much like life itself, is both already and not yet. This is to acknowledge who we find ourselves to be in this moment while simultaneously recognizing that we’ve not fully arrived. It expresses something about how we are to value life lived today with a nod toward the hopeful anticipation of something more on the horizon. It’s acknowledging that I’m a member of a Kingdom that is both a present reality and a future development. It calls me to live faithfully as a member of this in-breaking Kingdom now with an understanding that the beauty of this life is fully realized in a Kingdom yet to come. It is this beautiful tension that most fully expresses the most fundamental truths of the abundant life that is ours in Christ. On my good days and, perhaps most especially on my bad days, I desperately need to be reminded that I am both already and not yet. This is a truth I hold most dear.

Which is how the Kingdom of God is like becoming a husband.

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