a little r & r

This will be my final r&r with you. Several things come to mind, not all that interrelated. First, René and I thank you for calling us to be your co-interims. We deeply appreciate the reception, cards, gifts, and kind comments many of you shared with us this past Sunday. We pray God’s blessing upon you and Tabatha as you begin your ministry with her next month. Thanks also go to the Rev. Mark Harmon, our dear friend and former associate at St. Andrew, who is preaching the next 3 Sundays and to Sharon Cantrell, Mark Phillips, Kyle Smith, & Cathy Seals leading worship these next 3 weeks.

A different kind of 10th Anniversary: This Thursday, October 22nd I will celebrate 10 years since I had my stroke while living in Omaha and completing my full-time ministry there at First Christian Church. Ever since I’ve often thought of each new day as a gift from God.

Liston Mills, my prof at Vandy once remarked in his Intro to Pastoral Care class: the key to a meaningful life is by defining your life backward from your death to the present. Forty years later his remark finally made sense to me, due to my stroke. He didn’t want us to obsess about our own death, but to let life’s end help us appreciate life until our death comes.

Called to be disciples not fans. Church membership is important because of the increased likelihood a person will be invested in the church where they are a member. But membership is a term better reserved for social service clubs and teams not churches. In fact, the only time I can think of the term “member” being used in the Bible was by the apostle Paul when he described the church as the “Body of Christ” & Jesus’ disciples as “members of it.” He was speaking of the church as an organism, not a club or any other kind of organization or institution.

Sports ball clubs have fans, but those fans usually remain in the stands or on the sidelines. Fans and members of booster clubs almost never get on the field of play. But being a disciple of Christ has to do with getting in the game. Jesus doesn’t want us to be spectators and Monday morning quarterbacks, but players in the field of service in Christ’s Name.

Discipleship isn’t true discipleship unless it costs us something. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined a term as relevant today as when he wrote his classic text The Cost of Discipleship prior to WWII and the Holocaust in 1937. His term was “Cheap grace.” By this he meant a person’s eager acceptance of God’s grace but no feeling of needing to pay forward their gratitude for this grace. Bonhoeffer paid the cost of discipleship with his own life when he joined the Resistance Movement against Hitler, later dying in a concentration camp.

As King David made his offering in the temple, he said in Chronicles, “Who am I and what is my people that we should make an offering to the Lord? I will not make an offering that costs me nothing.” Jesus extols the widow who had nothing but a pittance to give but gave everything she had. Jesus knew that “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” He didn’t say “Where your heart is, there will be your treasure,” a mistake many make in interpreting Jesus’ statement. I’ve known several widows & widowers like the widow in Jesus’ remark. These folks’ generosity reveals their understanding that grace is expensive and raises 2 spiritual questions: Does our faith cost us anything? If not, what are we really saying about our love for God, Christ’s church, and our neighbor?

The media has increasingly assumed evangelical Christians and churches are the sole representatives of Christianity to the detriment of mainline and progressive Christianity. Sometimes I wonder if most Americans know there are other Christians and churches besides evangelicals. I’ve envied their growth for a long time; though their numbers are declining twice as fast as Protestants as one reliable study shows.

But you know and I know there are churches like SCCC which are Open & Affirming and more forward looking. But right now, we’re a well-kept secret. And some of the reason is that many progressive churches have become so introverted hardly any of our members invite anyone to church. Often, a tacit expectation of many congregations is that the pastor will be solely in charge of church growth & evangelism, a term many progressive Christians dislike. Maybe it’s time we all tooted our church’s horn & didn’t passively wait for people to come to us. Jesus went to the people rather than waiting for them to come to Him.

We know we’ve got a good thing going, but why not tell someone else? How will young Americans ever learn that evangelicals aren’t the only Christians, unless we tell them and show them what inclusive faith looks like? The media sure won’t. They don’t know we exist either!

It’s too easy to get caught up in the chaos of our time and forget we Christians have unconquerable hope. Bill Rose-Heim once asked our Interim Ministers group what do pastors need to offer to their churches in these troubled times? Every single one of us answered HOPE!

The answer is easier to articulate than to execute. In fact, I think of myself as a hopeful pessimist. I can get pretty down in the mouth with the direction our country and planet are taking and the hit our churches have taken from the pandemic. I can even believe things can get worse, as bad as that sounds. Even René says I “live in a pretty dark world.”

But…BUT, I also thoroughly believe that regardless of our personal, national or planetary circumstances, God’s will shall ultimately triumph! This kind of hope is what M.L. King, Jr. preached when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long and bends toward justice.” In other words, despite all the negative and bad things that happen to us, our country and our world, we can know God’s victory awaits. As Paul says, “If God is for us who can be against us.”

It’s like South African Archbishop Tutu retorted to an inquirer about the inevitability of apartheid’s intransigence. Paraphrasing, he said, “We have already won. You just haven’t seen it yet.” This is where we are today. Despite everything, God’s will is already unfolding. Christ is risen. Christ has won. We just haven’t seen it yet.

What makes Jesus so believable to me isn’t that he was in the religion business for his own ego—he wasn’t—but to proclaim the reign of God. I know John 3 puts into Jesus’s mouth the words, “No one comes to the Father but by me.” No verse (likely put in Jesus’ mouth by John and the late 1st century Christian community) has been more divisive or controversial. But if my reading of the historical Jesus is accurate, Jesus is the one who washed his disciples’ feet (also in John), and who said, “Why do you call me ‘good’? No one is good but God in heaven.”

I sometimes say the reason I am a Christian is because of Jesus’s humility. The greatest challenge to me of the Christian life and my life (I don’t think they’re always the same) is my ego, need for attention, to be in control, to have my own way, etc. To me the greatest irony of our faith is that Jesus didn’t boast of himself, as he is often portrayed, but came “not to be served, but to serve and to give His life for all.” His greatness was paradoxically displayed in his humility!

This is the reason I often think our Risen Lord must at times look down from His throne in heaven, shake his head in dismay at those who grasp for power, and tell us, “You fools! You have no idea, not a clue, what you’re doing!”

I also hear him saying, “But I also want you to know God answered my prayer from the cross. God told me, ‘I did forgive them, as you asked; because as you said, my Son, they really don’t know what they’re doing’.”

Thanks for your audience these 13 months! May God bless you in every possible way!
Rick

Blood Drive on Monday

Monday, October 25th  • 3-7:00 pm

Shawnee Community and the Community Blood Center are hosting a blood drive at Shawnee Community on Monday, October 25th from 3-7:00 pm. There are still appointments available!

Schedule Donation Appointment

Why Give Blood?

Community Blood Center must collect almost 600 units of blood daily to meet the needs of area hospital patients.  As there is no substitute for blood, Community Blood Center relies on volunteer donors like you to supply the life-saving blood and blood components to hospitals in Kansas and Missouri.

Halloween Celebration at Shawnee Community

Sunday, October 31 • 10:00 am

Halloween is on Sunday this year and we have some fun planned to celebrate! Children and adults are encouraged to have fun and wear their costumes to worship. Children can participate in a costume parade at the beginning of worship and receive some candy treats! Fun activities and treats during children’s ministry time to celebrate!

We can’t wait to see everyone’s costumes. It’s going to be a spooktacular time at Shawnee Community!

For those of you who will be worshipping at home with us that day, we will make sure to show you video of the costume parade. We wouldn’t want you to miss it!

a little r & r

I am frankly fed-up with the threat of the use of force in the chatter we’re hearing today coming from church people condoning the January 6th insurrection and implying violence may be necessary to “save America.” I understand the impulse. But I find it discouraging that we have gotten to the place where people feel justified by their faith to condone violence against others.

But deciding between violence & non-violence has a storied church history divided into two periods. It goes back nearly two millennia with the turn from the nearly 300-years of the apostolic church (approx. 27 to 313 C.E.) to the Constantinian Church (from 313 to the present).

The difference? As Yale New Testament scholar Roland Bainton’s writes in his book Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace: A Historical Survey, the church during the apostolic era proclaimed a gospel of non-violence. They took seriously Jesus’ statements from the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemy,” “Turn the other cheek,” and “Pray for those who persecute you.” Ephesians talks of “putting on the whole armor of God, the breastplate of righteousness, and the helmet of salvation” as a play on words to repudiate Roman militancy and to emphasize the peace Jesus advocated in his teachings.

For the church’s first 300 years Christians refused to take up arms. This was a time of martyrdom, of Christians vs. lions with the lions winning. But before being devoured, Christians amazed Roman Coliseum crowds singing hymns. Such early Christian pacifism in our own day seems unimaginable, Martin Luther King, Jr’s non-violent civil rights movement notwithstanding.

But something of titanic consequence happened under the Emperor Constantine. Prior emperors tolerated Christianity, even though they despised any religion that would challenge the emperor’s authority as a figure of worship. In the early Fourth Century Constantine realized Christianity had grown out of imperial control with the number of Christians growing geometrically. And so, Constantine chose to get in front of the parade. He became a Christian.

Much debate has occurred as to the sincerity of his “conversion.” The consensus of historians is that his conversion was more a matter of political expedience, than experience. But Constantine’s deft move to embrace Christianity became a turning point for the church. The church largely repudiated its 300-year-long embrace of non-violence for what is known as “The Just War Theory,” which developed shortly after Constantine’s legalization of Christianity and defined the church’s approach to war and peace ever since.

The author of this theory was Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo in northern Africa and still considered the greatest theologian in Christian history. His criteria for invoking “Just War?”:

1) Having just cause, being a last resort, 2) Being declared by a proper authority, 3) possessing right intention, 4) Having a reasonable chance of success, and 5) the end being proportional to the means used.

These criteria argued in favor of America’s decisions to enter WWII after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s invasion of Afghanistan to prevent the nation from becoming a cradle for terrorists like Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. All these actions met the above criteria, though the second War in Iraq did not, due to its pre-emption.

But the mixing of war and Christians-going-to-war has not always made for a happy marriage, nor has it always followed these criteria. Christianity has often ignored them along with Jesus’ message “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Followers of Christ from the Middle Ages to today have often forgotten or ignored Jesus’ non-violent message. The list of violations is long: Numerous pogroms against Jews during the Crusades and in 19th & 20th century Russia, the Spanish Inquisition slaying those who refused to convert to Christianity in the 1460’s, and the Thirty Years War in central Europe between Christians and Protestants killing over 8 million in the 1630’s. The zenith of Christian cruelty was Hitler’s Final Solution when 6 million Jews lost their lives, not counting innumerable Christians and other combatants. Hitler utilized Lutheran theology to justify his actions.

Today’s followers of Christ, who glibly speak of justification for violence for the purpose of saving the nation have distorted the intentions behind Augustine’s Just War Theory, even if the theory is partly complicit as an outgrowth of Constantine’s will for absolute power.

Worse yet, Christians who justify violent action against other races, genders, religions, nations, political parties etc., violate the basic precepts the prophets and Jesus set forth. These precepts counsel peace and reconciliation with the enemy. But these churches and their members easily mask political motivation behind jargon of spiritual motivation. They co-opt their faith & their integrity to serve Caesar’s quest for absolute power. It is a naked form of idolatry.

And yet, there are alternative Christian voices, pondering return to the early apostolic non-violent ways. Many scholars view the turn from the apostolic to the Constantinian Church as an on-going tragedy skewing the vision of the peaceful reign of God Jesus proclaimed.

Constantinian Christianity, still alive and well, explains much church decline. Young adults, assuming all Christianity have given up the gospel for secular, political purposes shun the church. It isn’t just that they consider church “boring.” They see the church missing the mark of values they rightly believe are Christian: inclusivity, diversity, open hearts & open-mindedness.

Repudiating Constantinian Christianity and returning to a non-violent, apostolic way of being church, may well lead us out of the woods toward new life & growth as Jesus proclaimed.

But I believe this church, Shawnee Community Christian Church, is on the right track. In the larger frame, along with restoring New Testament apostolic Christianity, our denomination’s founders repudiated disunity over what they considered as matters contributing to church conflict, like creeds. As we’ve often quoted in René’s and my time with you, “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”

As an Open & Affirming church SCCC’s speaks of loving the neighbor. For us the neighbor is anyone and everyone seeking welcome from God’s people. New people aren’t looking for long lists of “Do’s” & “Don’ts!” They are looking for peace in their lives. They want to know if they can be accepted just as they are, which this church does very well.

Still, it is all too easy for us all to be seduced by the hysterical jingoistic & Darwinian impulse to believe life and faith are nothing more than zero-sum games where there must always be winners and losers. It is all too easy to mistake Jesus as just another power-hungry preacher and competitor in evangelical Christianity’s version of “Game of Thrones.” It is easy to project our human longing for personal control and power onto Jesus and imagine his understanding of power as Constantinian, not apostolic. Jesus’s use of power is invitational not coercive. It is reconciling not retaliatory.

But we need to pay attention. For, as Jesus warns in Matthew 7:5: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” These are the liars, cheaters, and thieves of our time who say they know Jesus, but don’t have a clue. As he continues, “Let those who have ears, hear.”

For God is always trying to reveal God’s peaceable reign to us, if we are but willing to listen to God’s voice quietly whispering love and peace. For, “Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God.”

Shalom, Peace to one and all!
Rick

Thank You Reception for Rick & Rene Jensen

Sunday, October 17th • Reception following Worship

Join us for a Thank You reception on Sunday, October 17th following worship to celebrate and say thank you to Rick & Rene Jensen. October 17th is their last Sunday with us and we want to take time to honor them for their leadership, hard work and commitment to ministry at Shawnee Community during our time of transition.

Halloween Celebration at Church!

Sunday, October 31 • 10:00 am

Halloween is on a Sunday this year and we have some fun planned to celebrate! Children and adults are encouraged to have fun and wear their costumes to worship. Children can participate in a costume parade at the beginning of worship and receive some candy treats! Fun activities during children’s ministry time to celebrate! We can’t wait to see everyone’s costumes. It’s going to be a great day at Shawnee Community!

For those of you who will be worshipping at home with us that day, we will make sure to show you video of the costume parade. We wouldn’t want you to miss it!

a little r & r

Just finished watching one of the latest episodes of “Ted Lasso,” the Apple+ series about a fictional former Wichita State Football coach hired to coach the Richmond, England soccer team by an owner who hires Ted to fail so she can get rid of the team. But much to Richmond’s owner’s surprise, Ted, played by Shawnee Mission West graduate Jason Sudeikis, has a downhome wisdom & self-deprecating humor that wins the owner’s and players’ affections though not many actual games.

In this episode the owner’s father passes away when the discussion in Coach Ted’s office turns to the question of the owner’s father destiny: Heaven or Hell. Ever the chatty sage, Ted chimes in, “You know growing up, I used to believe that if you did good things, you went to heaven. You did bad things, you went to hell. Nowadays I know we all just do both.”

The last sentence in Ted’s statement\stopped me in my tracks. “Did Ted just say what I think he said?” Not the first two sentences about what he used to believe about the destiny of those who do good things or bad things. It was when he added, “Nowadays, I know we all just do both.” I had to rewind the episode to make sure I heard him right.

Because when Ted says, “we all do both,” he introduced an ambiguity we all know deep-down is true. No one is all good or all bad, though we may wonder about some people, who are either heavenly saints or hellish sinners. But what does God do when each of us stands at the Pearly Gates and know good-and-well our lives are a mixed bag of good and evil, though hopefully more good than evil? Ted’s comment opens a can of worms.

Now, anyone who believes what Ted says he used to believe comes by this honestly. The Book of the Deuteronomy provides us with Exhibit A of the idea that good will be rewarded and evil punished. It’s a very attractive attitude, because it’s simple, straightforward, and easy to grasp….until we consider how many bad people prosper and get away with murder, while good people suffer We may even know someone who was abused others who walked away with unmerited rewards. Is life really a meritocracy as Deuteronomy apparently supposes?

Believe it or not the Old Testament wisdom story of Job offers a very different way of thinking than Deuteronomy’s “works-righteousness” model. Job has done everything right. He is a paragon of righteousness but soon after the book begins, he’s dumped on with all kinds of calamity. His children die, he loses the farm, his flesh breaks out in boils and his wife and friends turn against him, insisting he must have done something wrong to have the devil heap so much tragedy upon him. It’s only when Job dresses down God at the end of the book (Chs. 38-42) that Job realizes compared to God’s righteousness and grandeur, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on for declaring his virtue.

The author of the Book of Job’s perspective on why and when bad things happen to good people is considered by some biblical scholars as an intentional repudiation of Deuteronomy’s simplistic code of rewards & punishments. Ted’s 3rd sentence, admitting “we all do both,” echoes Job’s willingness to argue how often the good get punished while bad folks prosper. The final word on the subject falls from Jesus’s lips when he says in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.” This is Job’s perspective.

The question is how to resolve this conflict in biblical and popular perspectives?

Over the course of René’s and my lifetime, our family, friends, and parishioners to whom we’ve ministered have seen enough tragedy to make this question of what happens to them and to each of us when we die an urgent question. Not insignificant is how do we get through our grief and losses and remain whole, healthy people. René has often said, “If it weren’t for our Christian faith and friends, we couldn’t have made it through this.” We’ve literally been through the fires and tried to help others through their fires.

But I want to point out a couple of things that may be helpful: First, Ted Lasso is right. “We all do both” good and evil and I mean “all.” This makes Christ’s redemptive act of dying on the cross inclusive of all persons. I don’t mean Jesus’s death was some act of “substitutionary atonement” so we can take for granted God’s love and live as we damn well, please. I mean Jesus’s death demonstrates how deeply God loves us and how much God is love. It’s in this light that Jesus’s use of the word “Them” in his plea, “God forgive them. They don’t know what they do.” “Them” includes all of us, all of humankind, and all of creation of every generation! The cross is a sign of the depth and breadth of God’s compassion.

But this doesn’t mean God has to accept the evil in us in whatever incarnation our life takes in the life-to-come. That evil, to quote Shakespeare and Marc Antony’s funeral oration in “Julius Caesar” is best “interred with our bones.” It’s this kind of understanding philosopher Alfred North Whitehead captures when he writes, “Nothing beautiful is lost to God.” Or as Paul says, “Whatever is pure or excellent, think on these things.” In the life-to-come God receives what God desires while discarding what God doesn’t need or desire.

As I see it, for what it’s worth, the popular mistake much of popular Christianity has made is to assume God accepts us lock, stock and barrel—wholesale—good and evil, ugly and beautiful in the next life. We’re speculating here, and so though this classic understanding of the life-to-come may be true, my faith suggests otherwise.

Consider the scripture’s agricultural allusion to separating the wheat and the chaff in the harvest. Up until a couple of centuries ago, wheat was harvested using a hand thresher. The person threshing would toss the wheat and the chaff in the air. The thresher captured the heavier wheat, but the wind captured the chaff. The chaff would literally “inherit the wind.”

The metaphor is simple. Chaff is whatever is evil and unnecessary in us and in our world for our relationship to God and to one another. These are the parts of our lives God has no need of. We may think of our physical bodies in this way, though Paul alludes in Corinthians to a “spiritual body” he never clearly defines. But there has to be something to what Paul is saying. The resurrection stories in John speak of Mary and the disciples touching Jesus’ crucified hands and side. Something persists, but what? We likely will never know until we die.

So, what might happen when we die? No one can know for sure.

But here’s my hunch, again based upon Whitehead and this metaphor of wheat and chaff: Whatever is beautiful in us God will grasp and keep in God’s everlastingness. It is wheat. Whatever is ugly in us and in our world, God will let go of and will be lost, like the chaff. It will inherit the wind.

I’ve been asked this question: Will we keep our identity and know who we are in the next life? My answer, again purely speculative, is that we will not lose our identity. Yet, in the end, our identity won’t finally matter. I believe when we die and stand before the presence of God, we will be so humbled and overwhelmed with God’s divinity and majesty and beauty, our identity will appear irrelevant. We will become a part of God’s own divinity, being, & wonder. As the song says, “Our God is an awesome God,” and God is! We will understand it all when we die.

Indeed, what John the Baptist said early in the gospels will also be true for us, “One is coming after me the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” John expresses what our encounter with God may be like: an experience of glory intermingled with a depth of humility (not humiliation, but humility) we probably have never experienced before. And what a day that will be “when death and pain and mourning will be no more.”

Of course, heaven can wait; but death need no longer control us or cause us to fear because of the glory that awaits us—even as the evil we have done is lost and gone forever!

Literally, for now, Rick

Halloween Celebration at Church!

Sunday, October 31 • 10:00 am

Halloween is on a Sunday this year and we have some fun planned to celebrate! Children and adults are encouraged to have fun and wear their costumes to worship. Children can participate in a costume parade at the beginning of worship and receive some candy treats! Fun activities during children’s ministry time to celebrate! We can’t wait to see everyone’s costumes. It’s going to be a great day at Shawnee Community!

For those of you who will be worshipping at home with us that day, we will make sure to show you video of the costume parade. We wouldn’t want you to miss it!

a little r & r

One thing we don’t expect from the scriptures is humor—not “Ha! Ha! Humor” we think of, but humor, nonetheless. Sometimes the humor is obvious: Like a scene in the Old Testament right out of an episode of the old sitcom “Mr. Ed,” the talking horse. Except this time, it’s a donkey who scolds the military leader Balaam for disobeying God’s insistence for Balaam not to co-operate with the Moabites. Or when Jonah pouts because he’s pissed-off at God for making him go to the City of Nineveh and demand their repentance. When the Ninevites repent, Jonah sulks because he’d hoped God would nuke them and wipe them off the face of the earth!

But more often the humor is subtler and ironic: Like when the devil quotes scripture while tempting Jesus in the wilderness. Who knew the devil knew the Bible? Sometimes the church’s adversaries know our playbook better than we do!

The pinnacle of humor occurs in John’s Gospel when the Roman Prelate Pilate asks Jesus “What is truth?” It’s a question John believes the faithful should be asking, not their enemy! The question is John’s way of needling 2 sets of his listeners: the Docetists, who believe they have an exclusive app no one else has to buddy up with God, and the “Antinomians,” who believe their freedom in Christ sets them above all law, including God’s!

Know anyone like the Docetists and Antinomians these days?

Certainly no one person or group has a corner on the truth, like the Docetists assumed they did. If they do, they’ve committed the mother of all the 7 deadly sins: Pride!

Furthermore, we’re all troubled and bewildered by the mess and polarization we see in our country today. Anyone who isn’t confused & depressed, these days isn’t paying attention.
We wonder how can this be happening in this land we love?

I can’t pretend to know the answer, though, of course I have my ideas. Yet, I know neither I nor anyone else can capture all the nuances & complexities of our troubles.

Still, I wonder if we aren’t witnessing a period in contemporary history when two ways of interpreting the truth, of defining how we know what we know, and answering Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” aren’t colliding and leaving us all feeling angry and befuddled.

One way is modern, fixed, and thoroughly nostalgic, enough so those who typify this mindset are willing to rewrite history to their liking and deny any reality they find inconvenient. This way is binary. It divides life into black and white, with no gray. In James Fowler’s classic book “(The Six) Stages of Faith,” folks who follow this initial way of knowing are stuck at Level 3 of a possible 6 levels—in which spirituality is reduced to division between good and evil, heaven or hell, true or false, with me or against me. These folks embrace disinformation.

In this fixed worldview of life is a zero-sum game. There are only winners & losers. This view has left a widening gap between rich (the winners) and poor (definitely, the losers).

Ironically (one form of humor is irony) is how many on the American Religious Right fit the worst aspects of modernism without knowing it. When I say “modern” here I mean that movement which began with the Renaissance when seeds of the belief that humankind can solve any problem no matter how challenging or complex, were planted. Anyone who even hints that they know all the answers is guilty of modernism’s worst instincts.

Of course, the Christian Right might reply, their belief in Jesus is sufficient even if they mean science-be-damned or deny that God might do a new thing (like be revealed in and through scientific or medical progress). But their faith assumes life should be a narrow, closed moral system, despite the fact Jesus once said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but my Father in heaven.” This is not to say churches and supporters of evangelical churches never experience blessing nor ever offer blessing to the world. Undoubtedly, they do.

But beyond the realm of the spiritual, the Christian Right is leaving a questionable cultural influence, or should I say “sinfluence” damaging to our nation in this volatile time.

More ironic, the Christian Right is replicating modernism’s (and liberalism’s) greatest mistake of acting as if faith is static and not dynamic and need never change. The great classic liberals of the late 19th century: Marx, Freud, & theologian von Harnack, were overly optimistic that humankind could solve any problem without any need of God. Truth, as often defined by both ultraconservatives and ultraliberals, functions in a closed system, when again, God might be up to a new thing! Believing God can do a new thing suggests an open, not a closed system! “New occasions DO teach new duties,” as poet James Russell Lowell said after the Civil War.

The death of this kind of prideful hubris began with the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust, followed by World War II. These events called into question modernism and classic liberalism’s hope in humanity’s ability to solve any problem be it scientific, cultural, or spiritual.

But there is a second answer for understanding “What is truth?” It is the post-modern understanding, held often, though not exclusively by younger generations. Post-modernism has many attractive attributes: It is fluid instead of fixed. It is more comfortable with ambiguity than our more highly anxious and insecure alternative group. This makes the post-modern perspective more adaptive to change in an era of rapid technological and cultural change. Postmodernism’s hallmark is its willingness to advance gender, racial & ethnic diversity.

But postmodernism also comes with its own set of problems. For one, it says there are no absolutes, and, therefore, only marginal recognition of a need for God, whom philosopher Charles Hartshorne in his book The Divine Relativity, says is the only absolute in creation. But in post-modernism everything is relative. There is only ambiguity and no certainty. In this sense post-modernism is also guilty of the same hubris of modernism. It avers, “We don’t need God!” We can figure it all out ourselves. There is no place for the transcendent. Postmodernism is both iconoclastic of eternal values, and idolatrous of penultimate values.

This is at the core of the Christian Right’s nostalgia for “MAGA” and disdain for anything that hints of liberalism and socialism (though our nation’s founders—fully capitalists—set the American Constitution as the acme of a social democratic document).

While I present these two colliding forces at work in polarization, both perspectives have their strengths and their weaknesses if I have accurately represented them. Thing is: Jesus likely never intended to bestow upon us an ideology but a spiritual relationship; a loving relationship between ourselves and God and a loving relationship between each of us and our neighbor.

The apostle Paul gives us this criterion for adjudicating all kinds of conflict in his First Letter to his multiple-polarized Corinthian community. He said, “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries & all knowledge, & if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” He is talking about what IS absolute, relevant, and ultimate here: God’s unconditional love.

We are living in one of the most negative times in all human history, in a post-truth world. These times are marked by several words starting with the letter or sound “N.” Nihilism: Nothing has meaning. Nominalism: Words mean nothing or only what each person says they mean. Narcissism: No one counts except me, unless I say they do. And Gnosticism with its silent “G:” Only I know the truth and no one else. These philosophies may help explain our times, but they are all empty, vacuous, and wanting as cornerstones for building our spiritual house on.

But the apostle Paul is right! There really is only one thing that ultimately matters in life, in faith, in family, in culture, among all nations, and in all the world: LOVE!

Blessings! Rick

Thank You from Marvin & Lori Sommerfeld

Dear SCCC Family,
We want to express our gratitude for the outpouring of love, food, and donations made in Jonathan’s name.  Our hearts will never be the same but we value our faith and this community.  Your prayers and support are making a difference; thank you!
Love,
Marvin & Lori Sommerfeld and family