Chris Morton http://www.chrismorton.info Growth and Mission Thu, 19 Nov 2015 19:07:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.10 Four Questions to Ask Before Condemning Refugees (or Governors) http://www.chrismorton.info/2015/11/19/four-questions-to-ask-before-condemning-refugees-or-governors/ http://www.chrismorton.info/2015/11/19/four-questions-to-ask-before-condemning-refugees-or-governors/#comments Thu, 19 Nov 2015 18:20:10 +0000 http://www.chrismorton.info/?p=5890 The air still seems thick with grief and overwhelm after the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut. The response by approximately 30 governors in the United States to refuse Syrian refugees immediately took the thick air out of the room. I like to stay out of politics in general, and especially on social media. But […]

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The air still seems thick with grief and overwhelm after the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut. The response by approximately 30 governors in the United States to refuse Syrian refugees immediately took the thick air out of the room.

I like to stay out of politics in general, and especially on social media. But I couldn’t help myself when Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas, and a literal neighbor here in Austin, was one of the first to try to shut the door.

 

Don’t be surprised when people don’t want immigrants around. Scapegoating a few people who look and sound different…

Posted by Chris Morton on Monday, November 16, 2015

While I stand behind my post, I need to add that it’s a lot more complicated than just accepting or not accepting refugees. And, I don’t necessarily blame the politicians. To explain that, I’ll have to go back a bit.

Osama Bin Ladin Changed My Life

When I try to make sense of my personal history, I like to say that Osama Bin Laden made me an Anabaptist. In short, I lost my stomach, when, after 9/11, so many Christians were quick to rush to war. I’ll never forget the two story tall American flag that took over the back wall of the stage where my small Christian University conducted daily chapel. I knew something was wrong.

I found some theological and political coherence as I began to read Stanley Hauerwas, J.H. Yoder and their mainstream theological children, Greg Boyd and Brian Zahnd. They introduced me to the countercultural peace tradition of the Mennonites, Amish and much of the pre-Constintinian Church.

As Hauerwas and Willimon say in Resident Aliens:

“The most creative social strategy we have to offer is the church. Here we show the world a manner of life the world can never achieve through social coercion or governmental action. We serve the world by showing it something that it is not, namely, a place where God is forming a family out of strangers.”

About a year or so ago, I saw David Fitch claim on Facebook that he was expecting the majority of the church to increasingly embrace the Peace Tradition in the coming years. I want it to be so, but I had trouble sharing Fitch’s optimism.

It’s easy to embrace the idea of a non-violent church. There’s a lot of us who responded to the Bush wars by saying “I’m a pacifist.”

That was before ISIS.

Before the greatest migrant crisis of all time.

Give Peace a Chance?

On social media it seems easy. “How dare those governor’s deny refugees because of a few bad apples!” But we know it’s not that simple. Another Paris or 9/11 seems imminent. I pity the governor who will have to say to their constituents “They came in on my watch.”

With ISIS seemingly so far away from our everyday life, it’s easy to hum the old hippy song “Give peace a chance.” At least, it was easy before Paris.

What the church needs is a well articulated Missional-Neo-Anabaptist response—not just to the current crisis but to power structures in general—that answers our current crises with tangible hope for the future. How can we get there?

Hopefully, four questions will help.

Four Questions

Who is my neighbor?

The first question is Jesus’s question. It’s easy, on the internet, to say “Refugees are my neighbor!” And it’s true.

Don’t forget though: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Or how about Paul? “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority.”

Who is my neighbor? The Syrian children, Jihadi John and the 30 governors.

“You don’t get to pick your neighbors,” Jesus might say.

Have we already cared for the widow and orphan in our midst?

Here’s the thing: If a Syrian refugee family got dropped off at your church, would you know what to do with them? Would you be ready to find them a place to live, a job, ESL classes, daycare and a car?

Now, how many refugees already live in your city? How many people in your church community could use some help…but maybe you’ve never asked?

This is where Christians need to be careful. It’s easy to get mad at the Governors refusing refugees, when, honestly, we might not know what to do with them if they came.

What methods does the church use to stand offer a contrast to the state, violent organizations and overpowering corporations?

According to Shane Blackshear, complaining about Governors who won’t accept refugees has something in common with complaining about the cups at Starbucks.

I probably need to clear something up. I am not shocked, or really even disappointed, that a politician chose to deny…

Posted by Shane Blackshear on Tuesday, November 17, 2015

It’s not the job of corporations to promotes the values we like. It’s not the job of the State care for widow and orphan.

The job of the Church is to offer a tangible alternative that critiques their inability to solve the problems of the world—thereby, pointing people to Jesus. Or, as Hauerwas says:

“The way for the world to know that it needs redeeming, that it is broken and fallen, is for the church to enable the world to strike hard against an alternative to what the world offers.”

Who will go?

So how, then, do we help refugees? How do we defeat ISIS?

Brian Zahnd is fond of saying:

“As Christians we persuade by love, witness, Spirit, reason, rhetoric, and if need be, martyrdom, but never by force.”

The answer is, in the Jesus-like-posture Zahnd is describing to announce:

“Here am I, send me.”

What we as Christians believe, more than anything else, is that Jesus’ way is better. We believe there is new life in Jesus. We believe that anyone, no matter what they’ve done, can claim that new life.

We also believe that Jesus, seeing our plight, came to us.

The Jesus way to care for refugees? To have be a local church community that can truly welcome them.

The Jesus way to defeat ISIS? Convert them.

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God’s Missionary People: A Book Review http://www.chrismorton.info/2015/07/30/gods-missionary-people-a-book-review/ Thu, 30 Jul 2015 14:02:58 +0000 http://www.chrismorton.info/?p=5840 God’s Missionary People: Rethinking the Purpose of the Local Church by Charles Van Engen | Available Here Charles Van Engen’s God’s Missionary People helped launch today’s missional discussion, and still has much to tell our local church. Before coming to Fuller, Van Engen was a missionary and theological teacher in Mexico. He has taught at other seminaries […]

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God’s Missionary People: Rethinking the Purpose of the Local Church

by Charles Van Engen | Available Here

Charles Van Engen’s God’s Missionary People helped launch today’s missional discussion, and still has much to tell our local church. Before coming to Fuller, Van Engen was a missionary and theological teacher in Mexico. He has taught at other seminaries and served as president of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America. He continues his work in Mexico through his organization Latin American Christian Ministries. At Fuller, he teaches various classes in the school of Intercultural Studies and provides mentoring from Doctoral students.

The thesis of the book is captured in this introduction:

“Local Congregations the world over will gain new life and vitality only as they understand the missiological purpose for which they alone exist, the unique culture, people and needs of their context, and the missionary action through which they alone will discover their own nature as God’s people in the world” (20).

Summary

Part 1-Local Churches: God’s Missionary People

The book begins with Van Engen’s explanation for the need for the Church to revisit its ecclesiology in the light of missiology. He bases this on the historical self-understanding of the church (drawing from both the Apostle’s Creed and the marks of the Church), as well as developments in globalism and ecumenicism. His argument is that the church should restate its self-understanding in terms of being a missionary people.

Part 2 Local Churches: A New Vision of God’s Missionary People

In seeking to identify the purpose of the church, Van Engen focuses on four tasks: “koinonia,” “kerygma,” “diakonia,” and “martyria.” The result of such a group of people is the Covenant Community of the King.

Part 3 Local Churches: Becoming God’s Missionary People

The final section of the book deals with the practical side of structuring a missional Church. It wrestles with the understanding of laity and leadership. It also deals with the practical aspects of managing an organization.

Reactions

This is a book that I wish I had come across years ago. One idea I found invaluable was placing the missional church in historical perspective. By dealing with the historical self-understanding of the church, as well as the tasks early church, the idea of being missional is taken out of its current trendiness and placed well within scripture and tradition.

Some of the most valuable takeaways for me were the four tasks of the church from Part 2. What would it look like if my church and my life, were judged by these four tasks?

  • Koinonia is probably what we do best. We love to eat together and play together. But we still have a ways to go when it comes to simply doing life together.
  • Kerygma is something that my church is learning. We could benefit from a deep study of the question “what does it look like to make Jesus “Lord”?
  • Diakonia has always been a strength of our community. We have many who are social workers and counselors. But maintaining and growing it to non-professionals will take some concentrated effort to maintain.
  • Martyria is another growth area. For some of us, the idea of clearly articulating our faith, and maybe even suffer for doing so, is something that may feel too “churchy.”

As much as I like this book, my only complaint is that it may already be dated. I would love to see Van Engen update this book, and reflect on how the developments in the missional movements have embraced his ideas, and how he might have missed the mark.

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We Enjoyed You: Forgiveness and the Cost of Hospitality http://www.chrismorton.info/2015/07/07/we-enjoyed-you-forgiveness-and-the-cost-of-hospitality/ Tue, 07 Jul 2015 14:40:36 +0000 http://www.chrismorton.info/?p=5865 The way of Jesus, when properly understood is dangerous, disappointing, and even disturbing. Many in our country is reeling from the attack at the Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina. John Stewart’s words ring true in the ears of many: this a terrorist attack, and the result of America’s lackadaisical approach to systemic problems of […]

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The way of Jesus, when properly understood is dangerous, disappointing, and even disturbing.

Many in our country is reeling from the attack at the Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina. John Stewart’s words ring true in the ears of many: this a terrorist attack, and the result of America’s lackadaisical approach to systemic problems of gun violence and racism.

We want something to fix.

“Take down that Confederate flag!”

“Pass stricter gun laws!”

Or even… “Pastors should carry guns.”

These are real problems, that as John Stewart, and even President Obama have said that we will probably continue to ignore. But even if we did solve those problems, our efforts would have very little power compared to dangerous, disappointing and disturbing hospitality of the Emmanuel Wednesday Night Bible Study.

The Way of Jesus is Dangerous

You’ve probably seen the clip, where alleged shooter Dylann Roof stares blankly while friends of the victims express their grief. The entire scene is heart wrenching, but nothing more than the words of one woman, who speaks of hospitality:

“…as we say in Bible Study, ‘we enjoyed you.’”

The way of Jesus is dangerous because it begins with hospitality. Hospitality, by definition, requires making space for someone or something different.

What is different is unknown. What is unknown could be dangerous.

When the Priest and the Levite passed the beaten man on the road to Jerusalem, they weren’t just avoiding inconvenience, they were avoiding danger. When Ananias opened his home to the angry and zealous Saul of Tarsus, he was taking his life into his hands. When Jewish Christians invited Gentiles into their churches, they were opening doors to the unknown ways, and unknown intentions of a different race.

Paul (the once murderous Saul) describes The Incarnation this way:

Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2

We often want to skip straight to the cross. But to get to the cross, Jesus first had to empty himself. Hospitality is making space for others. For the God of the Universe, it is a personal, dangerous and costly act.

From Hospitality to Forgiveness

The words “we enjoyed you” continue to ring in my ears. They immediately cause that dry heave of tears that never come. But when people look at the men and women of Emmanuel saying “I forgive you,” it doesn’t always bring the same reaction.

The words “I forgive you” often lose their power. We throw them haphazardly at little slights. But to find something to enjoy about someone who hates and has hurt you? It seems unnecessary, unrealistic, or shameful.

Paul describes incarnation as a sort of hospitality. Incarnation is Jesus’ modus operandi. But reconciliation is Jesus purpose.

When we act hospitable, we invite others into our space. When we forgive, we give up what we deserve.

“Every fiber of my being is hurting,” said one of the victim’s friends, “but I forgive you.”

The pain, anger and anguish of having a friend taken away is something that a victim owns. Forgiveness is voluntarily giving that away.

Hospitality says that no space belongs to us alone. Forgiveness says that no feelings, no matter how painful, belong to us either.

Forgiveness alonne should be unreasonable or impossible. That is, unless you’ve practiced hospitality.

Enjoying Others

Hospitality, when practiced, is the art of enjoying others. You cannot open your home selfishly. You cannot put down your phone, close your laptop and talk to another person unselfishly.

You cannot learn another’s language, culture or pain out of selfishness.

You cannot listen to someone else’s story if you are waiting to tell your own.

You cannot take pleasure in a foreign cuisine, learn from a new book or consider another’s opinion while comparing it to what you already like.

Enjoying others comes with no prerequisites and no preferences. Not even your comfort. Not even your safety. Jesus emptied himself. He took the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.

Forgiveness is Teachable

When great acts of forgiveness take place, the outside world stares slack-jawed. We treat Elizabeth Elliot like a saint for returning to those who killed her husband. We look at the stories of truth and reconciliation in South Africa and Rwanda as unimaginable, fairy tales of a far off land. We hear of Amish families embracing the family of the man who killed their children, and we are quick to write it off as another odd Amish trait.

These are extraordinary stories.

But the shouldn’t be. At least, not for followers of Jesus. He took the form of a slave, coming in human likeness. Before he forgave people, he enjoyed them.

But teaching forgiveness must be done at an angle. You can’t address it directly. You can’t say to a grieving woman or man “just forgive them.” You cultivate forgiveness by practicing hospitality.

How does your church community train for hospitality?

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This Person Might Not Make it to Jesus’ List of the “Blessed” http://www.chrismorton.info/2015/06/18/this-person-might-not-make-it-to-jesus-list-of-the-blessed/ Thu, 18 Jun 2015 14:43:49 +0000 http://www.chrismorton.info/?p=5860 Preaching Professor Lucy Lind Hogan imagines the audience at the Sermon on the Mount this way: Like all good speakers, he began by capturing the good will of his listeners. Who doesn’t like to hear the good news that we are going to be comforted and inherit the earth? I would imagine nods of agreement […]

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Preaching Professor Lucy Lind Hogan imagines the audience at the Sermon on the Mount this way:

Like all good speakers, he began by capturing the good will of his listeners. Who doesn’t like to hear the good news that we are going to be comforted and inherit the earth? I would imagine nods of agreement and pleasure moved through the crowd like waves.

When did the nodding stop?

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Jesus begins with his famous list of those who are blessed:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

Blessed are those who mourn,

Blessed are the meek,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

Blessed are the merciful,

Blessed are the pure in heart,

Blessed are the peacemakers,

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Matthew 5

Simon, Garfunkel & Willard

What do you think of the people who Jesus claims are “blessed?” If you’ve been around Church much you’ve probably heard these all of your life, so much that they’ve lost any power. But think about it: Poor in spirit? Mournful? Meek? Persecuted?

Simon and Garfunkel rephrased Jesus words as “Blessed are the sat upon, Spat upon, Ratted on.”

Dallas Willard calls this the Gospel of Silliness puts it this way:

The sad truth is that many people around us, and especially people in their teens and young adulthood, drift into a life in which being thin and correctly shaped, having “glorious” hair, appearing youthful, and so forth, are the only terms of blessedness or woe for their existence.

So we must see from our heart that:

Blessed are the physically repulsive,

Blessed are those who smell bad,

The twisted, misshapen, deformed,

The too big, too little, too loud,

The bald, the fat, and the old—

For they are all riotously celebrated in the party of Jesus.

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

While recognizing there is good news for us in our silliness, this is still not strong enough. Simon and Garfunkel go on to sing:

Blessed are the meth drinkers, Pot sellers, Illusion dwellers.

Blessed are the penny rookers, Cheap hookers, Groovy lookers.

Willard doesn’t stop with the, he adds the “crushed” and “the immoral.”

Then there are the “seriously” crushed ones: The flunk-outs and drop-outs and burned-outs. The broke and the broken. The drug heads and the divorced. The HIV-positive and herpes-ridden. The brain-damaged, the incurably ill. The barren and the pregnant too-many-times or at the wrong time. The overemployed, the underemployed, the unemployed. The unemployable. The swindled, the shoved aside, the replaced. The parents with children living or the street, the children with parents not dying in the “rest” home. The lonely, the incompetent, the stupid. The emotionally starved or emotionally dead.

Even the moral disasters will be received by God as they come to rely on Jesus, count on him, and make him their companion in his kingdom. Murderers and child-molesters. The brutal and the bigoted. Drug lords and pornographers. War criminals and sadists. Terrorists. The perverted and the filthy and the filthy rich.

There are two things in Jesus’ statements that could cause you to stop nodding along. First, there’s Jesus explicit statements, his pronouncements that these people, who seem so useless, are the ones who are blessed by God. But for every explicit blessing, there is an implicit woe. What about the “rich in spirit?” What about the merciless? The war-makers?

Does the list of the “blesseds” make you stop nodding? Or is it those who Jesus implicitly is condemning?

Apparently, I’m a “Yuccie”

Recently, Mashable shared a piece by freelance writer David Infante, a new type of the new urban elite…it struck me pretty close to home.

Let’s consider something new: Yuccies. Young Urban Creatives. In a nutshell, a slice of Generation Y, borne of suburban comfort, indoctrinated with the transcendent power of education, and infected by the conviction that not only do we deserve to pursue our dreams; we should profit from them.

I am the yuccie. And it sounds sort of, well, yucky.

Getting rich quick would be great. But getting rich quick and preserving creative autonomy? That’s the yuccie dream.

Infante goes on to list a handful of yuccies he’s met, including:

  • a former financial employee who runs a music festival startup
  • an MBA grad who switched to super-niche menswear e-commerce
  • a one-time lawyer who now owns a craft beer brewery.
  • a former accountant left his corporate job to pursue his true passion: making colorful socks! Letterpress stationery! Video gaming social networks! Organic vodka!

Where I stopped nodding

It doesn’t take me long to “stop nodding” along with Jesus. Over the last few years I’ve carved out a decent freelance-web-generalist business.

Why do I do it, you ask? I’ll probably baptize my intentions in my desires for ministry. A flexible job frees me up to pursue the work of establishing our church community.

But I’d be lying if I said that was the whole reason. The thrill of making my own way through the world, doing what I like, setting my schedule, or, as the author says “getting rich quick and preserving creative autonomy?” Sounds pretty good to me.

The fact is that I identify with the Yuccie ideal a lot more than things like “being meek” or being a “peacemaker.” I don’t know what ideal you’re chasing, but if this is mine, I have to admit that it doesn’t sound much like what Jesus calls “the blessed.”

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How to Cuss Out God and Get a Good Night Sleep http://www.chrismorton.info/2015/04/23/how-to-cuss-out-god-and-get-a-good-night-sleep/ Thu, 23 Apr 2015 16:21:42 +0000 http://www.chrismorton.info/?p=5854 The following was taken from a recent sermon (jokingly) entitled “How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep” at Austin Mustard Seed. All throughout the Psalms, you have these moments that seem a little strange. David and the other poets saying incredible terrible things, sometimes about their enemies, and sometimes about God. Here’s an example from […]

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The following was taken from a recent sermon (jokingly) entitled “How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep” at Austin Mustard Seed.

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All throughout the Psalms, you have these moments that seem a little strange. David and the other poets saying incredible terrible things, sometimes about their enemies, and sometimes about God. Here’s an example from Psalm 4.

Answer me when I call to you,
my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

This statement is shocking for a few reasons. First off, consider from a purely philosophical point-of-view: God, by definition, is infinite, almighty creator. But the poet seems to be bossing him around, accusing him, commanding him.

It gets even more interesting when you consider from the view of the language it was written in. The words “answer me” are the words “Shema.” Now, if you’ve ever been around anyone from a Jewish background, or if you’ve ever studied the Hebrew Scriptures, this will stand out to you. “Shema” isn’t a simple “can you hear me now.” It’s much more of a command, it’s like a drill sergeant walking down the line, yelling “Listen up!” The most famous prayer in the Hebrew Tradition begins with the same command “Hear, O, Israel,” “Shema, O Israel.” As God commanded people to listen to him, now this poet dares to command God.

This may be perhaps the strangest and the most uncomfortable element of getting a good night’s sleep. It begins with learning to be totally and completely honesty about our feelings. It begins with yelling at God, shaking our fist at the heavens. It begins with accusing God.

I love how this was captured in the classic episode of The West Wing.

President Jed Bartlet after the funeral of his friend and secretary, Mrs. Landingham. What’s so great about this clip is that it is somehow simultaneously honest, angry, explosive and somehow still reverential.

Bartlett is angry, so he let’s his anger show. He’s proud of his work, which he believes he did for a good cause, and so he let’s his pride show. He’s overwhelmed, not just with the the current state of affairs, but with the seeming brokenness of the world. It seems to remain broken, no matter how much good he does. He has trouble fitting a loving, personal, benevolent God into this reality.

The clip ends, with the President of the United States lighting up like an old school greaser from The Outsiders, turning back to the altar, and telling God that they should take a “divide and conquer” approach to reelection.

It’s almost as if, having spoken his mind, he can return to his calling.

This is the strange but necessary element to getting a good night sleep:

It starts with Accusing God.

We have to learn to be honest, both with ourselves and with God. Jesus himself modeled this honest dialogue.

You can listen to the rest here.

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