Monday, February 20, 2006

Looking Inward

“Anytime you have a negative feeling toward anyone, you’re living in an illusion There’s something seriously wrong with you. You’re not seeing reality. Something inside of you needs to change.”

Anthony de Mello, Awareness: the Perils and Opportunities of Reality.

This rather provocative quote was presented in class, in the context of being self-aware in situations where you find yourself feeling angry at others. The idea is that if someone else seems to be causing you anger (barring situations of injustice, etc.), there is something going on inside of you that is being triggered and it's not really about the other person. By being aware of yourself and the things that trigger you ahead of time, you gain personal power in those situations when they arise.

True knowledge of self empowers you. I think that this quote, while rather strongly stated, speaks even beyond the context of anger. At the root of many negative emotions toward others are my own prejudices, insecurities, and fears. What makes me respond with more kindness and grace toward one person than toward another? Perhaps this person recalls painful things from past? Or could it be that the things I secretly hate most about myself are the things that I most reject in others? When Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, it is as much a command for self-love as for loving others. When I can love myself and receive grace for my faults - then perhaps I can extend that to others who remind me of my weaknesses. And when I can receive healing and experience forgiveness for the painful events of the past - then perhaps I can extend love toward those who remind me of those events.

Self-awareness means recognizing when subtle negative emotions are triggered within me, and being deliberate about seeking the grace from God to love and heal whatever is at the root of those emotions. It also means recongizing when I may be triggering such things in other people, and extending grace to them, even if they cannot embrace me in return.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Take a Rest

I was challenged the other day in class to consider the importance of Sabbath keeping. I don’t have any inner resistance to the idea of deliberately taking a day of rest. But I’m like everyone else – just too busy to pull it off. Or at least, that’s my excuse. And it’s not entirely invalid. I’m a full-time graduate student, a part-time employee, a single-mother, a girlfriend, a daughter, a sister, and so on. When I went back to school several years ago, I gave up my regular Sabbath-keeping in order to pull off getting an education. It may have been necessary. But I paid a price for that within myself that I am still paying.

The admonition in class was full of compelling arguments. Woven into the fabric of the created order is the need for a day of rest. God rested. All of creation was designed for a cycle of rest. Setting apart a day of rest is one of the ten commandments. Is there any other of the nine commandments that you would break unrepentantly and claim impunity? To refuse a day of rest is to fight against the very fiber of how you were made, in the image of God who modeled rest and commanded rest. Our culture is obviously suffering from our collective refusal to stop and rest. The pressure that is on families and children to always be going and doing, with little or no time when that pressure is removed, is contributing to stress disorders in children. And for people in ministry, burnout is inevitable for those who refuse to take a day of restoration.

I asked one of my carpool friends, who happens to be a pastor, if he takes a day of rest each week and his story was compelling. He credited his discipline in this area to saving his marriage and his ministry. He strictly makes himself unavailable to everyone but his wife from Friday night to Saturday night every week. No homework. No chores. No phone calls. No e-mail. He described it with joy.

Theology always has implications for the real world – the way people actually live. I’m compelled to consider my own theology of Sabbath keeping and its implications for the way that I actually live.

Monday, February 06, 2006

On Being Counter-Cultural

A discussion arose the other day on how Christianity is supposed to be counter-cultural, and it occurred to me how much this phrase gets thrown around and how it can have very different implications depending on its context. 'Counter-Cultural' to many of the Christians I've been around means to reject the culture at large and surrender to church culture, which really means reject only certain things about the culture at large, and embrace church culture, which may or may not be any better. Example - I know Christians who have rejected the sexual culture outside the church, but have fully embraced the culture of materialism (exacerbated by the concept of "blessing") within the church. I know Christians who have rejected cussing, alcohol, and 'R' rated movies as being products of the culture who simultaneously embrace un-just war, sexism, and consumerism within their church culture.

At the same time, there are reactions to church culture that are partially corrective but then create their own problems. I know a Christian who has rejected legalism as part of church culture. But he still embraces the materialism and consumerism of both church and secular culture with abandon. In other words, he seems to be rejecting whatever he doesn't happen to like from both cultures, so that neither culture causes him to make sacrifices of his lifestyle.

There is a great tension between cultural relevancy and counter-culturalism. In what ways do we connect with and redeem culture, and in what ways do we become counter-cultural?

I believe that the answer has to be found in the example of Jesus. Jesus engaged the culture around him, and yet he was constantly challenging cultural norms with his teaching and with his example. Christ's life was redemptive.

If we are to be 'counter-cultural' like Jesus Christ, we must stop using that term to justify our rejection of culture (negative understanding) and learn what it means to engage and redeem culture (positive understanding).

So what does that actually look like? What will this cost us?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Musings on Double Predestination

In Christian History class we’ve been studying the Reformation and spending a lot of time on Luther’s theology. My professor, who happens to be Lutheran and truly a person of grace, was waxing eloquently about Luther’s theology of the cross. He emphasized the grace of God in being present with us even in our sins, and how wonderful it is to know that we are not able to add anything to Christ’s salvation. As I listened to the beautiful words of grace and mercy describing Christ’s love and suffering for humanity, it struck me how odd it was for Luther to have such a high view of God’s grace, and yet believe in double predestination. Double predestination teaches that God has created some human beings for salvation and some for damnation, and there is nothing anyone can do about their eternal destiny. All of these wonderful descriptions of God’s grace become one side of a double-edged sword, of which the other edge is the blade of damnation and eternal hell-fire.

Given the way that the new testament speaks of God’s love for all of humanity, and how God ultimately intends to redeem all of creation (not just a few elect human beings), how can we attribute to God the malicious behavior of creating people in his own image for the purpose of damning them to hell? It flies in the face of the definitions of love and justice that come to us from the scriptures.

My patient professor pointed out (after I rather passionately voiced my frustration with Luther’s theological position), that the Lutheran church does not believe in double predestination as their theology was codified by Malanchthan rather than Luther. He also explained Luther’s top-down understanding of love and justice as being defined by God and not by any standard outside of God. Thus Luther could believe that God both loved humanity, and damns most of it to hell, at the same time. I am just an amateur theologian. I have neither the brilliance nor the knowledge of the Reformers. I offer my thoughts with the humility of someone who knows less and less about what she believes for certain with every passing year of theological study. But this idea that God could simultaneously love human beings who bear God’s image, and have created them for eternal suffering in hell, is so absurd to me as to offend the deepest well of my faith. Does not the Bible teach us what love is? With no personal offense to my Calvinist friends, if I really believed that God’s love translated into predestining people for eternal hellfire, I think I would love God in kind by turning my back and walking away. With love like that, who needs hatred?

I am reminded of a woman who was in one of my undergraduate classes who shared the gut-wrenching story of losing her infant daughter in a tragic accident. She explained how people would try and offer her comfort by telling her that it was God’s will that her daughter was killed in such a horrible way. This woman only survived the crushing blow of grief by clinging to God’s presence and God’s love and care for her in that experience. She said with some passion, “Don’t make out the God that I love, who has sustained me in my suffering, into a murderer.” I feel this way about double predestination. Please don’t make the God that I love, the God who I am seeking daily to surrender my life to, into a malicious creep who damns people to hell and calls it love.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Welcome to Karlene's blog! I have been inspired to start blogging as a way of sharing what I am reading and writing during my seminary studies, and hopefully to interact with you on these subjects.

So grab a cup of coffee, kick off your shoes, and add your thoughts to the conversation. Thanks for stopping by!