Archive for the ‘Conversion’ Category

We are Part of the 1%

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

On this third day of Christmas and third month of “occupy,” for some strange reason I have been trying to think about why the occupy movement evoked in me both empathy and discomfort with the organizers. Among several reasons, one that has lingered beneath the surface, unarticulated, has just been articulated for me on FB by Lee Wyatt. Here it is:

Until the church in North America stands in the world community, acknowledging it lives among the 1% of the world, and honestly answers as to whether it has lived in the simplicity, and with the hospitality and generosity of Jesus Christ toward the 99% of the rest of the world, and acts in accord with the answer given, all our other disputes over doctrinal and ethical matters are secondary. To think or act otherwise is to engage in perverse mystification of reality and constitutes a failure to “occupy” the “new creation” that is our reality since the resurrection of Jesus.

Thoughts? Comments?

Mother Teresa on Peace

Friday, March 19th, 2010

“If everyone were capable of discovering the image of God in their neighbors, do you think that we would still need tanks and generals?”

—Mother Teresa, No Greater Love, pp. 47-48

Avent III: A Season for Receiving

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Continuing my reading of the book Watch for the Light in Advent, I shared a portion of it once again with my adult class on 1 Corinthians at church. The reading for the day was from our Methodist bishop in North Alabama (and former Dean of the Duke University chapel) Will Willimon.

Bishop Willimon asks whether looking at Christmas as a season of giving may be theologically problematic, at least in one respect: It can lead us to think that we are not only good and generous people, but also self-sufficient. He writes:

I suggest that we are better givers than getters, not because we are generous people but because we are proud, arrogant people. The Christmas story—the one according to Luke not Dickens—is not about how blessed it is to be givers but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers.

We prefer to think of ourselves as givers—powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate. Which is a direct contradiction of the biblical account of the first Christmas. There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are. Luke and Matthew go to great lengths to demonstrate that we—with our power, generosity, competence and capabilities—had little to do with God’s work in Jesus. God wanted to do something for us so strange, so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination, so foreign to human projection, that God had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins, and stars in the sky to get it done. We didn’t think of it, understand it or approve it. All we could do, at Bethlehem, was to receive it….

The first word of the church, a people born out of so odd a nativity, is that we are receivers before we are givers. Discipleship teaches us the art of seeing our lives as gifts. That’s tough, because I would rather see myself as a giver. I want power—to stand on my own, take charge, set things to rights, perhaps to help those who have nothing. I don’t like picturing myself as dependent, needy, empty-handed….

It’s tough to be on the receiving end of love, God’s or anybody else’s. It requires that we see our lives not as our possessions, but as gifts. “Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace,” wrote John Wesley a long time ago….

This is often the way God loves us [referring to God's promise to King Ahaz of a baby, not a bigger army---Isaiah 7]: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be. With our advanced degrees, armies, government programs, material comforts and self-fulfillment techniques, we assume that religion is about giving a little of our power in order to confirm to ourselves that we are indeed as self-sufficient as we claim.

Then this stranger comes to us, blesses us with a gift, and calls us to see ourselves as we are—empty-handed recipients of a gracious God who, rather than leave us to our own devices, gave us a baby.

Conversion Once Again

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

At the North Park symposium (see previous post and all the great comments) we had lots of energetic conversation about conversion. Some common elements that emerged:

1. Conversion is about transformation.
2. Conversion is a process, even when it appears to be more instantaneous and dramatic.
3. Conversion is adoption of (or incorporation into) a new master story. For Christians, it is an initial and ongoing experience of death and resurrection.
4. Conversion involves activity on the part of the one being converted, God, and the community into which conversion is happening.
5. Conversion does not necessarily mean a change in “religion.”
6. Conversion is a radical reorientation, not only to God, but also to others.
7. Conversion, in some sense, means whatever someone says it is; it’s in the eye of the beholder. (I would add that this descriptive account is insufficient for Christians, and that a more prescriptive account is needed.)

At the conference I gave a fairly substantive response to a fascinating paper on “Peter’s Conversion(s)” by Oxford’s Markus Bockmuehl. He looked at the “memory” of Peter in early Christian art and writing, proceeding backward from about the fourth century.

My response concluded as follows:

The church in its wisdom celebrates Peter and Paul on two days in the same month, days that now open and close (January 18, 25) the week of prayer for Christian unity, and again in June on the same day (June 29) to remember their martrydoms. Perhaps, in addition to symbols of Jewish and Gentile unity, and maybe today also especially Catholic (Peter) and Protestant (Paul) unity, these symbols of unity can also celebrate the unity-in-diversity of two sorts of conversion: the instantaneous, more or less, and the prolonged, or the one that has several significant moments of transformation. This too may represent a more Protestant versus a more Catholic understanding of conversion, on the whole, though there are plenty of Catholics with Paul-like stories and Protestants with Peter-like stories. Perhaps we can learn from one another on this matter of Petrine-Pauline similarity and difference. Conversion is incorporation into the master story of Christ’s death and resurrection. It can happen instantly, or in fits and starts. In either case it either is, or becomes, a process of ongoing death and resurrection, of living into the initial experience, whether we identify that initial reality as baptism or conversion or salvation or being born again or whatever. Even Paul acknowledged the need for ongoing conversion, both for his churches (especially the Corinthians, as Stephen Chester has shown in Conversion at Corinth) and, in some sense, for himself: “I die every day; I press on” (1 Cor 15:31; Phil 3:12-14). Which means also for us.

Conversion—What is it?

Friday, September 25th, 2009

I am currently in Chicago at the North Park Seminary’s annual Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture, meeting friends old and new and having great conversation about conversion, the theme of the symposium.

One of the big questions that keeps coming up is very simple: What do we mean by the word conversion?

Any takers?


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