Sunday, June 28, 2009

In Guns We Trust

Scanning the BBC headlines today, I saw this article: US pastor opens church to guns. You will probably want to take a minute or two to read it before reading this post (click here)

For my part, I find it very difficult to justify the legal ownership of handguns by the public. There is a lot of evidence that suggests that handguns are more often used for harm than for good. A police commander in DC says "Most of the motives for homicides are arguments or robbery related and the quick pull of the trigger means somebody's life." (bbc article) The BBC also reports that there are an estimated 90 guns for every 100 US citizens, and that "firearms, including handguns, are used in two-thirds of murders and about 42% of robberies committed in the US, according to statistics from the FBI"

To be fair, there are also a lot of good arguments for the ownership of handguns, many of them having to do with either self-defense or the Second Amendment. For those who identify themselves in the church, some of these arguments seem to stand on shaky ground. Which has become more sacred to Christians in the US: the Bible and church authority, or the Constitution?

The issue here is not only gun control laws in the US, it is about the role of the chu
rch. Churches have the opportunity to make a difference in their communities and even their nation by banding together. Most Christians would agree that this ability can and should be used to help and care for their community. This is part of living in the kingdom of God.

I think it's fair to say that people could believe in gun ownership as a means of helping others. What troubles me is the stance this particular church has taken. The pastor (at right) is reported to have told the congregation: "We are wanting to send a message that there are legal, civil, intelligent and law-abiding citizens who also own guns". It seems that this church is using its status as a sort of social club to make a political point.

I could probably write at least another post on the topic of the separation of church and state. Instead I will simply close, as I often do, with a question. As churches, what are we supporting, and why? Are there things we should be advocating which we are not?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Spaces in Which We Live

In a book I read recently, the author quoted an unnamed friend who said that, with respect to how groups of people interact, "Architecture always wins". This got me thinking; how much are we affected by the spaces we inhabit?

I could go on and on about important this is with regards to churches. I'll briefly give a few positive and negative examples:
  • Consider most large cathedrals and Orthodox churches, full of art. One is filled with awe, stimulated to worship by the beauty and care of the art. Who can feel proud in a cathedral?
  • Contrast this to a local baptist church I have visited: bare brick walls, angular architectural features. Focus is towards the stage, which is adorned only by a stark cross. How does this affect worship? Are we only worshiping God's truth and seeking to learn? Are we not also praising him for his beauty and awesome glory?
  • The local church I attend while in Houghton meets in an old building with stained-glass windows. My favourite part about the building is that the sanctuary is built so that all the pews are curved and the people sitting in them face one another. I think this contributes to the strong sense of community felt in that church.
  • My home church met in a retirement home. While I believe that the church should care for the aging, can a space that was originally designed for those who are quietly ending their lives also serve a church, which has such an urgent and active mission?
  • How much is the life and warmth of a house church due to the home in which it meets?
I think the excellence and craftsmanship of a space affects our behavior in it.

This week I came across an interesting phenomena: tiny houses. Watch this.

This is a relatively wealthy person choosing to live in a small space because he wants to. How does the chosen size of our dwelling affect our values? What do you think about his motives?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Everything Must Change" Part III (final!)

Upon finishing McLaren's book, I think it is appropriate to make a few comments.

A Missing Piece to the Puzzle
McLaren describes in detail how he thinks our world operates and then contrasts it to the completely different alternative "framing story" that Jesus lived and preached. One key thing that I think he fails to really take into account is the power of Islamic ideology, or the "framing story of Islam", as he would likely call it. I am not convinced, as McLaren seems to say, that terrorism is a response of the poor to the unjust and oppressive wealth of the rich. I am no expert, but I have been convinced that it is more than simply that. Yes, North America may be dominated by a capitalistic, progress-oriented outlook, but other worldviews must be reckoned with as well. I am sad that McLaren has missed this in his analysis, because I think the gospel looses none of its power in the context of the Muslim world.

The Kindom of God
One of the things that really bothered me when I was memorizing the gospel of Matthew for Bible Quizzing was this concept of the kingdom of God. John's message was "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt3:2) The first thing recorded about Jesus' ministry is that he "began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'" (4:17) What exactly is this kingdom, I wondered, and if Jesus talked about it so much, what does it look like today?

McLaren does a good job of answering this question. He argues that this kingdom is here on earth, right now. Even though we are still living in the 'already but not yet', as followers of Christ we are too be concerned with kingdom business now, on this earth. Two interesting points:
  1. We are to work for justice. McLaren writes,
    In light of Hebrew grammatical construction, it is highly possible that when Jesus says, "Seek first God's kingdom and God's justice," he is not saying two things, but one: God's kingdom is God's justice--both of which are included in another of Jesus' appositives for the kingdom, which he had stated a few moments earlier: God's will being dome on earth as it is in heaven (6:10). When that happens, justice comes. (p.219)
    I find that this view really resonates with much of the Old Testament.
  2. The the good news (gospel) about the kingdom is not only for individuals. He says a "shrinking gospel" is losing its relevance:
    Sadly, in too many quarters we continue to reduce the scope of the gospel to the individual soul and the nuclear family [...] it's all about personal devotions, personal holiness, and a personal Savior. (p.244)
    His discussion has a lot to do with the concept of "collective sin", such as wars or unjust labor practices which indirectly support when we go shopping. Yes, Jesus saved each and every one of us individually, but McLaren calls us to broaden our horizons when it comes to the mission of the church. Something to really think about.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

"Everything Must Change" Part II

Since I know that I have too many thoughts on this book to squeeze into just two posts, I will write a bit more about what I am learning and pondering while reading McLaren's book.

One major section of the book is called "The Prosperity System", in which McLaren discusses what he calls the "Theocapitalist Religion (p.190) in which Capitalism is god. He discusses how it functions in our society, and also some scary tendencies. For example, the characteristics of large corporations match the six characteristics of a psychopath (p.197-198)!

In analyzing the situation, much of his discussion echoes major debates in economic theory: are the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer, and is this caused by capitalism? In critiquing some views, it seems that McLaren leans to the Marxist economic pie view, though he later denies this (p.214).

While we may or may not agree entirely with his analysis of the capitalist, free market economy, even arguing that he is out of his depth in this area, his analysis shifts to something that I think is more helpful.

The shift comes when he turns from questioning the ideologies of economics to considering its limits within the larger picture. He takes a clear stance on ecological issues and states plainly that our fast race towards progress is simply not sustainable. Even if capitalism does create increasing wealth for all, this may cause disaster to the world in which we live. Take, for example, China. The World Factbook estimates a real GDP growth rate of 9.8% for 2008 (compare this to 1.3% in the US). That is incredible growth. Can you imagine billions more people getting cars, refrigerators, etc? McLaren suggests that as followers of Jesus, we must consider the implications of our lifestyle for future generations.

He then explains a way of thinking about wealth and economics that is based in the gospels. McLaren states again something that has been a recurring theme in my life: thankfulness. He writes, "gratitude becomes an act of defiant contemplation" in which we become content with what we do have rather than just wanting more and more things (p.213). This is tied into an insightful reading of the miracle of the five loaves and two fish. McLaren also points out the importance of giving.

Rather than simply critiquing our world, let's strive to see things differently and live in increasing generosity and gratitude.