Friday, December 26, 2008

Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear

I got a chance to briefly meet and hear papers from some wonderful scholars at the Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture held at North Park Theological Seminary early this fall. The theme of the symposium was "The Idolatry of Security." Different presenters took the topic in different directions, some focusing on national security, others on personal security, and still others on eschatological security. I found Scott Bader-Saye from the University of Scranton to be particularly engaging. Ironically, Bader-Saye presented on a Thursday night, causing me to miss my weekly viewing of a new episode of The Office (which takes place in Scranton, PA).

Well, now that I'm done with seminary, I have finally been able to dig into Bader-Saye's 2007 book from the Christian Practice of Everyday Life series, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear. Bader-Saye does a remarkable job of maintaining balance in his treatment of a very touchy subject. He manages to look at fear from many angles without losing focus on the primary goal, which is to help his readers " into the joyful freedom of those children of God who have learned to put fear in its place."

Bader-Saye argues that fear is the shadow side of love; all fear is somewhere rooted in a love for something or someone. So in a sense, in order to squelch all fear, we would have to squelch all love. Most of us can agree that this is a bad idea. Following the wisdom of Aquinas, Bader-Saye urges us not to become fearless, but to make sure our fears are rightly ordered. We must question whether our fears are imminent, powerful, threating, and legitimate. We need to question whether we're overrreacting to the objects of our fear. Are we lashing out, closing up, and losing the joy of life? Are we opening ourselves up to manipulation?

Our fears can be properly ordered when understood within the right narrative, and when they don't paralyze us from doing good. Bader-Saye suggests three virtuous practices to help us properly order our fears: hospitality, peacemaking and generosity. All three of these ask us to risk, and all three of these can be potential threats to our security, but all three of these help us to truly preserve the love which our fearful instincts fight so hard to protect.

I've laid out some of the nuts and bolts, but it must be noted that Bader-Saye writes in a very engaging way, using plenty of examples from pop culture and stories from real life to narrate his points. He quotes lyrics from U2, Dashboard Confessional, Bruce Springsteen and Tim McGraw, analyzes films like the Star Wars saga and Pieces of April, and engages the literature of Elie Wiesel and C. S. Lewis. And of course he deals throughout with the political landscape and its relentless use of fear as a motivational tool to mobilize Americans on the right and left.

Bader-Saye deals with the doctrine of Providence, a doctrine largely (and sadly) forgotten outside of the Reformed tradition and sadly distorted in the great injustices of Manifest Destiny, etc. Yet the author insists that the providence of God is precisely what we must trust if we are to put fear in its place. He writes, "Providence is the conviction that through it all God's story cannot be lost, and thus God's hopes for the human story cannot be thwarted."

I think he's on to something. So buy it, read it, and have your friends read it so you can discuss it and together change the world.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Jesus is My Friend

Many of you have probably already seen this by now, but I wanted to post it for those who haven't yet. I'll refrain from sharing my thoughts about it for now. Comments seem unnecessary when it comes to this gem.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Confessions of a Stay at Home Dad

Mark my words: being a stay at home dad is harder than seminary. It's wonderful to able to spend so much time with Addison. It's an absolute joy. But it is not easy to be constantly in demand. Sure, it's flattering to have a beautiful girl asking me to play with her (cards, toys, blocks, movies, games, fort-building, etc.) all day long, but when I'm trying to clean and cook and run errands and relax all at the same time, it becomes a bit overwhelming. I think I'll settle into a pattern, but I haven't yet.
So here's a huge thank you to all the stay at home parents of this world, and a huge apology to all of you who have been told that you "don't work" because you're a stay at home parent. You work.

I know being a pastor is a high demand position, but it's nothing compared to raising a two-year old.

And it's so rewarding. Crazy rewarding. I love you Addison!

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ends and Beginnings and Celebrations and Et Ceteras

Okay, so I haven't been around the last couple weeks.

I know.

I've missed you too.

I simply had a hard time justifying spending time writing things that were not my last few assignments for seminary. And now they're done. They're all done. What a time of life, right? Marcie and I are going to have another child in July-ish, I'm done with seminary, and I'll be a pastor at a church sometime (hopefully) soon. It's been crazy ,but here are a few things I've been thankful for in the past couple weeks:
  • A Very Rosie Christmas Concert - On Friday night, Dec. 5, Marcie and I went to the Rosie Thomas Christmas concert hosted by Calvin College at the Ladies Literary Club in downtown Grand Rapids. It was fun, and one of those shows that both Marcie and I can enjoy in equal measure. Rosie is ridiculous, hilarious, utterly unpretentious, and her singing voice is simply beautiful. Rosie T is a paradox, and I think that's why I like her so much. Also it was most excellent to hang out with the Zabel's.
  • Call + Response - The very next night, we went to see Call + Response, a rockumentary about human trafficking and the contemporary slave trade. Cornell West's insight into slave music and The Scrolls' performance of Radiohead's "Exit Music (For a Film)" were highlights of the film for me. Some of it was really hard to hear, but it was well worth the watch. Kudos to Justin Dillon for taking on the project.
  • My Seminary Friends - I won't necessarily miss the drive, but I'll miss the people. I'm pretty confident we'll see each other around, but with a lot less regularity.
  • My Last Night on Earth (or, rather, in Chicago) - A small gathering of my aforementioned seminary friends went to the Chicago Ale House for dinner on Tuesday night to celebrate my last night in Chicago, my last night on campus as a North Park Seminary student. It was nice to just sit back and enjoy the moment, even though all of us had large assignments and finals looming over our heads. Also, mad props to Tommy for giving us a discount.
  • The Corner Landing - There's a little place in Ionia, MI that serves all you can eat prime rib on Thursday nights, and it's called the Corner Landing. Marcie asked if I wanted to meet her parents out there for dinner Thursday night. I still had a paper to finish, so I was hesitant, but the reality is that I will do anything for prime rib. When we got there, I found out that it was a surprise party for me! There was a whole mess of family there, and they had balloons, cards, presents and many congratulations for me. I'm so lucky to have a wife who does those sorts of things for me. Also, my father-in-law gave a toast that brought me to tears. It was good.
  • Marcie's birthday - Marcie had a birthday on Friday, and Addison and I had a blast getting ready for it: buying presents, wrapping presents, baking a cake and practicing singing "Happy Birthday" with the guitar. Unfortunately Marcie wasn't feeling very well, so it was pretty "chill." Thankfully, the first trimester is almost over, and with it (hopefully) the nausea.
Over the last month or so, I've been reminded over and over of some words from the (only) hit song by Semisonic, "Closing Time." The lyric is, "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." It rings true in so many ways in my life right now, as I grieve some ends whilst (yes, whilst) anticipating new beginnings with great joy.

In the meantime, I'm just trying to take it all in.

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