Tornadoes, Piper and Grace

Well, let’s just jump into this gigantic mess. I’m not a huge fan of John Piper and I’ve slowly stepped away from the “Neo-Reformed” movement (especially given my recent reading and exploration of Jean Calvin who would not be Neo-Reformed). But I’m also not going to land on the side of Zack Hunt, who I enjoy and admire but with whom I was severely disappointed when I read his “Christian Defense of John Piper” today which amounts to a further insult in an already horrible situation.

John Piper, when I heard him preach several years ago, was extremely gifted as a communicator and I almost changed college choices just so I could attend Bethlehem. It was a heady sermon, with words I didn’t know but which I found intriguing and beautiful as a wide eyed high school student. In the end, I stuck with SPU and made the westward trek to Seattle where I (gasp!) attended Mars Hill faithfully for three years, usually hitching a ride, but sometimes walking in the pouring rain. All that to say — I’ve been in the “Acts 29 Tradition,” including a church plant in Denver where I lasted only about a year before stepping away from the Neo Reformed. Both these men are gifted in a number of areas and yet, something is happening, something is going wrong.

I have a sneaking suspicion that it, like everything else, is a rather complicated and nuanced issue with myriad facets. For the sake of length, however, I want to stay on Piper and the current Twitter issue about the OK tornadoes (and no, I’m dealing with the theology at this exact moment).

Piper set off a firestorm with his tweet about Job and the house falling in on his sons and daughters. It was, however, followed by a second tweet wherein Job notably tears his clothes, weeps and worships. Knowing Piper, knowing many in the Reformed movement (many of whom are dear friends), I would submit that this second tweet was meant to be the primary point — that we weep and yet worship despite our circumstances. Maybe it’s something from my childhood spent between cultures (one which acknowledged suffering and one which decidedly refused to do so), but I think that’s a perfectly acceptable response. Hard, poorly timed and even more poorly expressed; but not heretical or some such.

Now there are threads spreading across Twitter and the blogosphere attacking Piper. What saddens me is that these are being constructed and maintained by those who call themselves Christians. Please, hear me out. I think that Piper expressed himself poorly and fairly inappropriately. I don’t think that Piper really understands the medium of Twitter and the concept of only 140 characters (or the power of those 140 characters). When I sat through that church service, Piper gave a long sermon, at least, long for an American sermon. I think that’s what Piper needs: length, to provide for clarity and context. Twitter, however, doesn’t allow that. In my estimation, Piper (and others) need to either learn that, accept it and start to function within said paradigm, or they need to stop using Twitter….

On the other hand, I’m troubled by the ease with which we, as fellow believers, brothers and sisters in Christ, jumped on Piper. E and I were talking last night over a dinner of baked potatoes and salad; and as I was memorizing Greek vocab he looked over and said sadly, “you know, I lost a lot of respect for Piper today.” I nodded in agreement, muttering “hoh, heh, toh; the. Kai; and or–.” But then I looked up and said, “yes, I did too, but I was also disappointed with how everyone reacted.”

Should Piper be called out on his misuse of Twitter and Scripture ripped from context? Yes, of course. It’s a pet peeve of mine, so you bet! I’m on board with holding people accountable to how they use Scripture to fit their various systems. But the manner in which we do so is extremely important.

When Zack Hunt posted that blank defense today, I was so disappointed, saddened, really. Because the thread below doesn’t really help the situation. And it certainly doesn’t help the outside world looking in. This, in my opinion, is the danger of the blogosphere. We are able to launch accusations across the internet at people with whom we disagree and with whom we should be sharing fellowship rather than volleys of harsh words. Again, I don’t agree with Piper’s tweets, I don’t believe his response was appropriate. We should be mourning with those in OK, not offering pithy verses — as if 140characters can heal the wound of a lost child. But I don’t know that how we have called him to account is entirely appropriate either. We are to be people of grace. Truth, yes, but truth and grace; and I  wonder at how easily we have forgotten that when using the internet to brandish swords and fighting words.

Advertisements

Why: hope and lent

Last week one of my highschoolers told me that hope probably doesn’t deserve to be a stand-alone sort of word. She suggested it isn’t a distinct concept, separate from any other idea we communicate with words. It’s overused, she pointed out, and as I listened to the State of the Union last night — given by a man whom I watched campaign on hope and take office my last year of college when the economy collapsed — I had to agree. To my student, hope is simply another word we use to describe something we really want, a deep and longing desire.

We were outside, amid trees stripped to grey nakedness, with ice under foot and clouded blue sky over head, dotted by geese who’ve flocked to our wide open spaces. She’s a cynic and I’ve only just started my recovery from cynic to hopeful realist. We plodded along after she said all that, each looking to and fro across a landscape seemingly barren and devoid of hope. Between us I could feel the silence grow, soft and fearful as I wrestled for words to speak since I so vehemently disagreed with her.

But how does one explain hope?

It’s Ash Wednesday and there are people wandering the world with grey soot smudged on their faces in the form of a poorly drawn cross made by dirty fallen thumbs looking forward to redemption. But it’s a future redemption and today the ground is still hard and cold. Lent begins and we give things up: meat, sugar, drink or other things upon which we depend instead of finding rest in God. While the practice of fast is certainly formational, it’s also responsive and it’s worth considering in these winter months slowly turning to spring — what we are responding to.

There’s a thing that in seminary we like to call the “grand narrative” or a “controlling narrative” which serves as an interpretive lens for how one reads and interprets Scripture. As a good evangelical seminary, we usually consider this to be the story of Jesus Christ, the story of God coming in to save creation that has fallen down a winding rabbit hole towards greater and greater levels of chaos. We point to his words and the prophecies and the narrative of the seasons to say that Jesus will one day come again to restore and renew all things.

Lent, I think, the season of waiting and going without, is a response in recognition of this redemptive process. Recognizing that Jesus has come, and will come, and learning what it means to wait hopefully in the midst of this present age. Jesus is coming. He’s here, he has come. But I have not only been saved I am still in the process of being saved.* In a similar way, Lent reminds us that we are waiting. With creation we groan and wait and long for the renewal that comes in the end of times. We respond to the Gospel by entering into it; by acknowledging this period of waiting and hoping. Lent shows us we’re waiting, teaches us to long, and forms our hope for the future.

Hope, my friend said rightly, is an intense desire for something. I desperately long for violence to end, for wars to abate, for my family to come home. But there is more than just longing when it comes to the redemption of the world and the many things that make up that redemption. In the way that it’s used in political campaigns and  among high school lovers, hope is cheap and ill used, hardly needed as a word separated from desire and want. We want a better economy in the same way we hope for a job upon college graduation.

But this I’m learning: we don’t put our hopes in humanity and the world. We put it in the One who made those things and we put our faith in the promises handed down to us, the foundation of his faithfulness and the character that says he will fulfill what he has begun. This is what hope is, the faith and trust that God will see His promises through, the patient expectation that the earth will be renewed and the culmination of all things will include a new and distinctively different relationship with the One who is.

Hope is deep and more than simple desire. It pulls from the being of our person and rests on the foundation of previously fulfilled promises and the faith of those gone before us. Lent, the season of waiting helps us refocus that hope: away from created to Creator, towards coming redemption and fulfillment. Because in the liturgical season of waiting we are reminded that we are waiting existentially. We learn to long for renewal. We hang in suspension. This is the tension that Christians live in. Here, oh yes, here! But also not yet. We are expectant, anxiously so. We are waiting. And we know that it will come despite all our impatience! Despite persecutions, failures, and misunderstandings. We’re waiting, but not in empty desire.  We’re waiting in deep, founded, faithful hope.

_________________________________________
Phil 1. 6, 2.12

WHY: Doing Life

This week I’ve been staying with two of my high school students from youth group. It’s amazing how your life disappears when two kids enter the picture. They have homework, school events, friends and youth group. There are guitar lessons, art club and exams. Not to mention emails and junk mail from colleges. They’re out the door at 645 AM after what I hardly consider to be a real breakfast and they’re home again at 235 PM with homework and hungry mouths.

Last night we learned together how to plunge an overflowed toilet.

Tonight we’re probably going out to see a movie.

It’s a wonderful life?

When their parents left, their mother said to me that she hoped I’d have some opportunities to speak into their lives. Well, last night we talked about drinking and college and I told them all the reasons that they shouldn’t drink to excess. But I have a feeling that’s not exactly what mom meant.

What does it mean to teach kids? What does it mean when their lives are so busy? Between guitar lessons and loading the car full of DJ equipment for youth group, I’m not even sure when we’ll eat dinner tomorrow night.

We pray together before they go to bed. I told them I was writing a paper about Jesus and coffee and the importance of work for the human identity and purpose. They stared at me like I’d grown two heads. But it brought up a couple of questions… what does the crema of espresso have to do with expanding the Kingdom? And why did you stop listening to Ke$ha or half a dozen other artists?

I thought how one of my other high schoolers is going for a run with me on Friday. She has questions to ask me, apparently. We’ve just become official as mentor/mentee and I’m freaking out with my own mentor because God knows I talk more than I listen; I am a Franks and Kormick by descent and there’s mistaking that when I open my mouth. I looked  at the coffee cup when she asked me, in the same shop where I found Ethan and my mentor and a new reason to live. I stared at the brown liquid, the soy foam dissolved into sweet joy. I told her the same thing that G told me years ago, before I lived with her and the family, before I learned what it meant to be at peace in the midst of chaos.

The kids aren’t home yet, but they will be soon. I’ll have to turn down Mumford and Sons while we do homework, all jammed into the office together. Tonight, after dinner, Ethan and I will read the daily liturgy and though it isn’t expected of them, I’ll invite the kids to join us. Ethan hasn’t been here, and I’ve missed our times of eating and reading together. This is what we do, after all, this is how we experience God, how we learn of Him, hear from Him and are challenged by the words of the fathers and the movement of the Spirit.

It’s like taking Rebekah running — where I can process and feel the glory of God in the pounding arteries beneath my skin and the bite of the cold winter wind on my face.

It’s like folding laundry with G while she told me about Jesus and peace and suffering.

We do life together. We invite people into our stories, our journeys. We walk alongside one another, holding hands, laughing and crying together and learning together along the way.

Perhaps there’s another way to teach, to speak into one another’s lives. If there is, I haven’t yet found it. But I’m no parent and so I am years away from knowing. I don’t make any claim to understanding what all this is about though I keep finding myself in the midst of it. There’s so much to learn, so much yet to find and discover. This is what I do know:

walking in the way that Jesus calls always creates reason for talking, reasons for speaking into one another’s lives as we grow into the people he has called us to be.