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.

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Penitence

Well, I’m no Catholic but I have sat in a confessional. The idea of a lone man listening to my sins from behind the partition reminded me of Oz and felt just a little uncomfortable. Thankfully, it was empty and I sat alone in the darkness, the scent of wood smoothed by so many sinful hands filling me with curious warmth despite my discomfort.

We attend a Celtic Christian service and my heritage is from the British Isles, smattered with bits of European continent. There’s a group there that has long intrigued me, a small sect of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Briton believers that existed outside of the Roman church for a long time called the Celè De or Culdees. One of their practices was to seek out an anam cara or a soul friend, one with whom you shared everything — one to whom you confessed.

As I sat in that French Roman Catholic confessional and heard the whispered convictions of so many brothers and sisters I thought there was something beautiful in the act of bearing one’s soul to a man who vowed to remind you of your forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Though it might become warped and trite, a mere act by which one could go on living the way they always had, there was always the chance that hearing the sin spoken of and seeing it dragged into the light might be good, healing and restorative to the soul.

The anam cara, the soul friend might provide this glimpse of unconditional love, gentle rebuke and restoration.

Each week during our celtic services, the presiding pastor offers us a few moments of silence, to bring our grievances to God — the ways in which we have grieved him. We quietly confess, recite the Lord’s prayer and ask for help in forgiving those around us because it is we who were first forgiven.

Lent is the season of preparation and waiting as we walk with Jesus. He’s set his face to Jerusalem, signaled that nothing will be stopping him from that sacred, painful journey to the cross where the dividing wall is torn down and all nations are bless through Abraham’s seed. Lent is the season of penitence for the sins that drove him towards Jerusalem, towards the cross, the grave and the death of sin.

I need to be reminded of this often, repeatedly, even daily. I do not mean to suggest that one beat themselves over the head with their sin and their guilt and then dwell in shame. Of course not! The resurrection frees us from that. But I do think in the midst of demanding schedules, screaming children, looming workloads and the daily drudge, it is easy to forget the movement of sin, grace, repentance and forgiveness that consumes our lives. It is easy to forget that I can forgive E because I am forgiven; just as I may bless and love friends because I am loved and am being taught what that love means. It’s this never ending growth towards becoming who we already are in Christ. And it starts with penitence, repentance and constant recognition of our need for Jesus and his work on the cross. This is one thing I love about our church: that each week we are reminded to repent, to reorient towards God and to be forgiven — and then to go out and forgive others! It is a convicting moment for me each week to consider how I have sinned by what I have done, and by what I have left undone.*

This is the reason we fast in Lent: to be penitent and mindful of our sins which drove him to the cross; to prepare for the long night ahead when he is in the ground; to recover our humble position in the divine dance that like a symphony moves from grace over sin, to repentance and culminates in restoration. What a beautiful season and opportunity to relearn and experience this masterpiece of God’s every year!

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. {Martin Luther, 95 Theses, 1}

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*Penintential prayer, Anglican Common Book of Prayer