Sunday Thoughts

by

by Al Sturgeon
(published each week in Desperate Houseflies)

Okay, I’m warped enough to deal with the fact that nobody reads DH on my day by telling myself that everyone waits until Monday to catch up on their blogs. And I go on to fool myself into thinking that I rarely get any comments because I have yet to refer to Abu Ghraib, Newsweek, or certain important parts of a whale’s anatomy.

But since I just did refer to all those things, maybe all of you who happen to notice this when you get back to work on Monday will humor me this time by adding your comments at least this once.

It worries me that my repeated references to Eugene Peterson may be annoying some folks, so with that in mind, I choose this time not to care. You’re getting Peterson anyway.

If you would, please add your thoughts to the following four-paragraph excerpt from Peterson’s new book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. I’ll be very interested.

[AL’S SET-UP: Peterson has been pointing out that there are striking similarites between the two-volume set from Dr. Luke found in the New Testament. At present, he is noticing the trials of both Jesus and Paul found near the conclusions of both books. Read on…]

…The striking thing about the two trials is that neither Jesus nor Paul makes much of an impression on the “powers.” It is quite extraordinary, really. First Jesus and then Paul have the attention, even if briefly, of the most important leaders in that part of the world and fail to convert them, fail to bring them to their knees, fail even to get taken seriously by them. But it seems the indifference was mutual; Jesus and Paul didn’t take very seriously the courts in which they were being tried, either.

These trials force us, if we are to stay true to the story we are reading, to give up the notion that the Christian community, rightly and obediently lived, can somehow, if we just put our minds to it, be tarted up sufficiently to catch the admiring eye of the world. We have ample documentation by now to disabuse us of such stuff. Eighteen hundred years or so of Hebrew history capped by a full exposition in Jesus Christ tell us that God’s revelation of himself is rejected far more often than it is accepted, is dismissed by far more people than embrace it, and has been either attacked or ignored by every major culture or civilization in which it has given its witness: magnificent Egypt, fierce Assyria, beautiful Babylon, artistic Greece, political Rome, Enlightenment France, Nazi Germany, Renaissance Italy, Marxist Russia, Maoist China, and pursuit-of-happiness America. The community of God’s people has survived in all of these cultures and civilizations but always as a minority, always marginal to the mainstream, never statistically significant. Paul was acerbically brief: “not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth…God chose what is low and despised in the world” (1 Cor. 1:26-28).

It gives us pause. If we, as the continuing company of Jesus, seem to have achieved an easy accomodation with our society and culture, how did we pull off what Jesus and the community of Jesus failed to accomplish? How has it come to pass that after twenty centuries of rejection, North American Christians assume that acclaim by numbers is a certificate of divine approval?

The significance of the church has never been in King Number. Its message has seldom (hardly ever, in fact) been embraced by the mighty and powerful. Strategies are introduced from time to time to target “important” leaders, men and women in high places in government, business, or the media, for conversion. It is not a practice backed by biblical precedent. There are, of course, Christians in high places politically and prominent in the celebrity pantheon, but their position and standing doesn’t seem to mean anything strategically significant in terms of God’s kingdom. To suppose that if we can just “place” Christian men and women in prominent positions of leadership, we are going to improve the efficacy of the community in its worship, missions, or evangelism, has no warrant in Scripture or history.

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10 Responses to “Sunday Thoughts”

  1. Joan Wilson Says:

    Okay: I do read your Sunday Thoughts on Sunday sometime.
    I’d just like to say Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and he’ll be there tomorrow also. Even
    if he comes back anytime to call us home! Joan Wilson

  2. wed.fly Says:

    I want to stew on this for a while.

    It may just be because I’m both dumb and an uncareful reader, but I find that my reactions to the work of writers like Peterson, McLaren, Sweet, etc., often change the more I think about what I’ve read.

    I do think there’s a growing voice among Christian pot-stirrers that cries: JUST WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE?

    And I think it’s a question that deserves to be asked… and, if possible, answered.

    More later… perhaps.

  3. DeJon Redd Says:

    Al, I prove your “Monday-readers” theory correct and hoped the same might be true of the Saturday-post readership. I’ve mentioned 2 of the 3 more than once and I don’t think they’re the helping.

  4. Joe Longhorn Says:

    I’ll gladly give up my Monday “prime real-estate” if someone else would rather have it. Most of the comments on my posts are just Juvenal and I ping-ponging back and forth anyway. Check out last week’s post. We went on and on until Saturday. I’m sure most folks gave up after Tuesday.

    Keep up the great Sunday posts, Al. I especially liked the graduation one last week, but you already knew that!

  5. juvenal_urbino Says:

    You and DeJon are just going to haev to live with the fact that you’re just too cuddly and adorable for people to get worked up enough to take the time to comment on your posts. And like Joe said, the comments on our posts are mostly just the two of us disagreeing with each other.

    But, if you insist, Al, I’ll disagree with you and Eugene, too:

    “[Christianity] has been either attacked or ignored by every major culture or civilization in which it has given its witness: magnificent Egypt, fierce Assyria, beautiful Babylon, artistic Greece, political Rome, Enlightenment France, Nazi Germany, Renaissance Italy, Marxist Russia, Maoist China, and pursuit-of-happiness America.”

    While it’s true that Christianity has been at various times attacked or ignored by every major culture in which it has given its witness, it’s also true that it has at other times become religiously, politically, and culturally dominant in most of those places, and it has a horrible track record of ignoring or attacking everyone else (and itself) on pretty much all of those occasions: Constantinian Rome, Dark Ages Germany and Gaul and England, Medieval Palestine and Spain and just about everywhere else in Europe, Reformation Germany and France and England and Holland and Geneva and Florence and just about everywhere else in Europe, colonial America, early national America, Civil War America, and contemporary America.

    Christianity isn’t designed to be a religion of the powerful.

  6. Joe Longhorn Says:

    I re-read the post, Al, and came up with a few thoughts.

    Peterson wrote:
    These trials force us, if we are to stay true to the story we are reading, to give up the notion that the Christian community, rightly and obediently lived, can somehow, if we just put our minds to it, be tarted up sufficiently to catch the admiring eye of the world.

    We might not catch the admiring eye of the world, but we can catch the admiring eye of individuals.

    I haven’t read the rest of Peterson’s work on this issue, so I don’t know if he deals with this next point in some other portion of his writing. I’d have to agree with Juvenal that Peterson’s thesis here completely ignores the examples highlighted in Juvenal’s previous comment.

    Peterson wrote:
    If we, as the continuing company of Jesus, seem to have achieved an easy accomodation with our society and culture, how did we pull off what Jesus and the community of Jesus failed to accomplish?

    I see this on two different levels.

    The first level deals solely with the freedom of religion that has allowed us “an easy accomodation with our society and culture.” This religious freedom came through no great practice of Christianity. It came from one group of Christians trying to outrun persecution from other Christians. I don’t think it’s anything we achieved so much as something we “lucked” into.

    The second level I see here is the spiritual and moral accomodation we have (or don’t have) within society and culture. I personally don’t think that this accomodation really exists. How many people in this country rail against “the religious right?” Respond to questions of morality by quoting scripture and be labeled a “fundamentalist.”

    My takeaway from Peterson’s writing is that we can’t establish God’s Kingdom on earth by gaining political power in human institutions. If that’s what he’s saying, then I agree wholeheartedly. That being said, I see absolutely nothing wrong with applying Christian principles to political questions and voting accordingly.

  7. juvenal_urbino Says:

    “It came from one group of Christians trying to outrun persecution from other Christians.”

    And then some other groups of Christians trying to outrun persecution from that group of Christians. (And, history repeating itself again, lots of folks these days trying to avoid being under the thumb of those groups of Christians.)

    And some marginally Christian people believing the lesson of history is that matters of conscience must be left to conscience, not the state, to decide.

    And some irreligious people understandably wanting not to have to deal with any of us.

  8. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Comments!!! I’ve got comments!!! Sorry, I’m just happy…

    And after Mikey’s portrayal of me as a cruel dictator, it is quite refreshing to be considered as cuddly and adorable as DeJon…

    So now, “cuddly adorable” me will have the kahunas (Hawaiian word for “courage”) to disagree with such superior intellects as Mr. Urbino and Mr. Longhorn.

    Well…at least point out that I don’t read Peterson the way you’re both seeming to read Peterson. I read him to say EXACTLY what Juvenal said while he was claiming to disagree!

    When Peterson refers to the “Christian community,” he’s not talking about the religious establishment per se, but those who are bold enough to actually follow the example of Jesus by eschewing power and becoming a servant – by washing feet and touching lepers – by selling all…

    When Juvenal says “Christianity is not designed to be a religion of the powerful,” that is what Peterson is saying – at least the way I read him. And in that light, his question is, How come we don’t notice that in America?

    To Joe’s first level: I don’t think freedom of religion American-style has the first thing to do with following Jesus. It’s awful nice on one front (I’m not fond of being eaten by lions), but it also makes it difficult on other fronts (kind of hard in certain ways to follow Jesus’s cross-filled life when people could care less if you do or not). The freedom to follow Jesus existed long before the Bill of Rights, and will exist whether granted by government or not.

    To Joe’s second level: We can’t have it both ways. Either we have this grand freedom of religion (read: easy accomodation) or we’re being persecuted… I, for one, have never faced what I would call social/cultural persecution for religious beliefs (“you wanna go to church? fine, just don’t bug me” type sentiments instead…). Now I’ve seen some pretty strong “religious” persecution in my day (church people pounding on church people, all in the name of following Jesus)…

    Bottom line, however: In American society you can go to church, love people, help the poor, etc. w/o complaints from the general populace. Now when we try to assert power over this culture (i.e. force THEM to do what we believe our religion teaches us to do – i.e. who can marry, etc.), there’s some definite squawking. Peterson’s point is: Why would we do that? Do we think that “Christian power” is a good thing? Instead, “true” (if you will) Jesus-following isn’t so concerned with “sociopolitical power.” Cuz He wasn’t… So why are we?

    Last thing: Apply Christian principles and vote? Sure. Why not? But our following Jesus (and to use Joe’s phrase, “catch the admiring eye of individuals”) does not depend on the outcome of those votes…and I’ll be so bold as to say it…doesn’t depend on them at all!

    Thanks for commenting. I’m so very happy.

  9. juvenal_urbino Says:

    “How come we don’t notice that in America?”

    Because we don’t want to. Because powerlessness is uncomfortable. Because it’s much more self-comforting to bash other people. Because making everybody behave like Christians gives us a warm, secure feeling. Because we’ve been lied to by “Christian” leaders and told that we’re historically entitled to power in America. Because we’re eager to believe what those leaders tell us, for all the reasons stated above.

    In the end, because we’re not really all that interested in being like Jesus. We’d much rather he be like us.

  10. Sharon Booth Says:

    Thank you so much for your quote from Eugene Peterson. I am a transcriber for Dr. Woodrow Kroll of Back to the Bible, and he used part of the quote from Peterson’s book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. I am always searching for the exact quote in order to get the punctuation correct!

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