IVP - Strangely Dim - April 2012 Archives

April 27, 2012

True Love Makes You Beautiful: #letters2afuturechurch from Lisa

We've decided to celebrate April Fool's Month by trying our hand at writing Scripture, in the spirit of John's letters to seven churches in the book of Revelation and the recently released Letters to a Future Church. This is Lisa's entry. Feel free to respond and retweet (use the hashtag #letters2afuturechurch).

***

Dear Church,

I've got brides on my mind. Three in particular. One is a friend whose wedding is in a few weeks. About a year ago, while she was unassumedly going about her life, teaching college students and writing and singing in her church choir, God completely surprised her with a new relationship. I love to think about God's delight in getting to delight her and her soon-to-be husband in that way. Two weeks ago I got to see her in her wedding dress (and learned to bustle it--no small task, let me tell you!). Beautiful on ordinary days, she was stunning in the layers of white and beads and lace. I'm excited to celebrate at her wedding.

The second bride on my mind was seemingly surprised by God too. After many years of being on her own, she--a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and surrogate grandmother to many--will be married in June. And her beauty also seems to have an added glow if you look closely.

The third bride I'm thinking of is us. You and me, the church. I know--it's not easy to picture ourselves as radiant and beautiful, dressed in white, in the midst of the muck and sadness and failure and shame and sin that we live in. Most days we do not feel very bride-like. At the very least, I think most of us would say we have a lot of scrubbing and cleaning up to do before we'd even think about showing up at someone else's wedding as a guest--much less as the bride.

But that's not what Jesus says (and, him being the groom and all, who are we to argue?). Jesus looks at us, sees all of our mess and the beauty it's hiding, and says "You are loved, you are loved, you are loved."

Our job, sweet Church, is not to clean ourselves up but rather to believe Jesus' words and accept his love. When we do that, crazy things begin happening. Jesus himself starts to clean us up, wiping away the dirt and grime, the lies and abuse, the lines on our face from fatigue and stress. And slowly, the beauty he has seen all along becomes visible to others, and we start to look more and more like what we are: a radiant bride on her wedding day.

If you've ever watched someone fall in love or observed someone starved for love begin to receive it, you know how love changes someone. You know that it changes everything. Which is why Jesus so badly wants us to accept his love for us, and live out of that place of security. In Show Me the Way, Henri Nouwen explains, "When Jesus talks about faith, he means first of all to trust unreservedly that you are loved." Why? Nouwen's answer is simply this: "So that you can abandon every false way of obtaining love." When we know and believe we are loved, we're set free to live and love fully, without reservation. Jealousy, judgment, objectification of others, perfectionism, materialism are all curbed because we feel affirmed and secure in God's love. Addictions, and all our unhealthy ways of coping with pain, are healed because we trust ourselves to the love and care of the One who created us, and who himself was "a man of suffering, and familiar with pain" (Isaiah 53:3). Knowing we're loved allows us to serve, celebrate, encourage and help others joyfully; there's no need to compete with them to prove our value, gossip about them or belittle them to make ourselves feel stronger, or lash out at them in anger when they disappoint us. Rooted in love, we live out that love toward others. True love makes us beautiful.

It should, of course, be the easiest thing in the world to accept how deeply and unconditionally we're loved by God. We want to be loved, after all; we crave it. To be told that we're loved as we are, right now, should cause us to sit in wonder in the "just-got-engaged-to-the-love-of-my-life" glow for the rest of our lives.

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Yet somehow we've almost convinced ourselves that it can't be true that Jesus has chosen us as his bride, that he's making us clean and pure and white even as he sees our sin and filth. And it definitely can't be true that his love is unconditional--that there's nothing we can do to earn it or lose it. That kind of love doesn't fit into our finite, fallen framework. So we keep flailing our arms, floundering in the mud to find something that makes us feel valued. We rage against those who don't agree with us, feeling threatened by their beliefs. We exhaust ourselves, at the expense of our family, by serving in every ministry available to earn God's favor, or we work all day every day, at the expense of community, to earn our parents' (or boss's or neighbors' or children's) approval. We throw ourselves into codependent relationships or accept abuse as the price of love.

Meanwhile, Jesus keeps loving, keeps inviting us to come to him and rest in his love. I envision him weeping over us, sometimes, as he wept over Jerusalem because his chosen ones didn't realize or wouldn't accept the fact that Love, and the life that knowing we're loved brings, was right there among them, just waiting for them to take hold of his offer.

Love is in your midst too, Church, as near and accessible now as he was to the Jews in the first century. And I want you to know that he thinks you're beautiful. So do I. I have observed you and been part of you my whole life. As a pastor's kid, I saw much of your dirty sinfulness--the ugly anger and unforgiveness--and much of your beauty--the sacrificial acts of faith, the wobbly steps of growth. I still see those in you (myself included) today. But I also see you being transformed by love, slowly and steadily. I see the glow, the sparkle in your eyes, the beads and lace and yards of white being woven for your wedding day.

Until then, take every opportunity you have to be with your groom. Let him whisper words of love to your heart. Let them sink down deeply into the tired, shameful, sinful places of your soul. Let him show you the ways you're trying to obtain love apart from him. And let yourself consider the truth that he loves you. That truth will transform you--and the world.

With much love,

Lisa

Posted by Lisa Rieck at 9:57 AM

April 18, 2012

An Act of Consideration: #letters2afuturechurch from Suanne

We've decided to celebrate April Fool's Month by trying our hand at writing Scripture, in the spirit of John's letters to seven churches in the book of Revelation and the recently released Letters to a Future Church. Feel free to respond and retweet (use the hashtag #letters2afuturechurch).

***

In the Introduction to Letters of a Future Church, Andy Crouch observes that 

a letter, it seems to me, requires one crucial quality that few electronic messages attain: an old-fashioned word, consideration. Writing a letter is an act of considering. Letters require pausing, contemplating, stopping whatever else we are doing and making ourselves available to consider . . .

Pausing. Contemplating. Stopping.

Not the kind of thoughtful reflection most of us multi-tasking Americans are known for, but without which matters worthy of significant consideration--like the future of the church--simply pass us by.

In case you haven't been following along, in Letters to a Future Church, editor Chris Lewis and his friends pose a simple yet significant question: If you had one thing to say to the church, what would it be? We here at Strangely Dim are tipping our hand at actually answering it.

At first, the best I could come up with was this:

Dear Church,

Writing a letter to you seems awkward. And weird. 

Sincerely,

Suanne

But when I took Andy's words into consideration, I was surprised where my musings took me.

Stick with me here for just a moment. Back up twenty years to a high school gym. I was swapping sweat with a handful of girls whose skin color was virtually nonexistent in my small rural community when I was accused of spitting out a racial slur (which I didn't say) and was temporarily ejected from the game. My coach (who happened to be my dad) came to my defense; he knew that the accusation was completely out of character with who I actually was. While the incident was ultimately resolved, I was left with the sting of being falsely accused, reminding me in a small way (a very small way) of the pain Jesus endured when he "was killed even though he hadn't harmed anyone" (Isaiah 53:9 NIRV). It's the same prick I feel when people hurl insults at the church. 

And so, my mind fresh off this consideration, my letter would start something like this:

9780830836383.jpgDear Church,

Sometimes I wonder how it must feel to be you. I understand that you, like all of us, have your limitations. But the venom with which labels get plastered on your doors--hypocritical, judgmental, homophobic, sexist, racist, irrelevant--is, I think, sadly unfair. When I consider the authority with which your own Father commissioned you and yet the criticism you endure, I grieve. For these accusations are a reflection of neither who I've understood you to be or of what the Bible itself declares you to be.

While I admit that my perspective has its own limitations, I still find myself marveling at your beauty.

I've watched firsthand as you've adopted orphans, built schools and emptied out your pockets to help those in need. I've cheered you on as you've pushed yourself twenty-six excruciating miles so children you've never met could have clean water. I have cried over your commitment to rescuing the oppressed. I have stood in awe as you've rebuilt communities destroyed by catastrophe and served as a haven for those with nowhere else to go. I have admired how you've abandoned your own comforts to live in gun-riddled neighborhoods, war-infested countries and culture-shocking villages all in the name of love. I have sighed with relief as you've rocked my sleepless babies, overflowed with gratitude as you've brought food to my door, felt your companionship as I've walked through painful loneliness, and wept with indebtedness as you've extended to me the hand of God's amazing grace.

I believe a day is coming when your goodness and grace will overshadow whatever imperfections you may bear. A day when those who know you best will stand up and declare you for who you are: a beautiful picture of redemption and hope for a broken and hurting world, the true reflection of who your Father created you to be.

Alas, there's always more to say, but for today, that will have to be enough.

With love,

Suanne




Posted by Suanne Camfield at 10:53 AM | Comments (2) are closed

April 9, 2012

Neither I Nor You Are Its: #letters2afuturechurch from Dave

We've decided to celebrate April Fool's Month by trying our hand at writing Scripture, in the spirit of John's letters to seven churches in the book of Revelation and the recently released Letters to a Future Church. Feel free to respond and retweet (use the hashtag #letters2afuturechurch).

***

Thumbnail image for 9780830836383.jpgDear Future Church:

Hi! How are you? I am fine . . .

That's the essence of every letter I wrote as a child. I never really mastered the craft, quite honestly. I felt challenged by the task on two fronts:

  • Front number one: The task was too great. To put together a proxy, something that could represent me to people I loved or respected or otherwise needed to be heard by, something that came close to being me in paper and ink, intimidated me to the point of wordlessness--even thoughtlessness. I would sit down to write and come up with nothing.
  • Front number two: The task was too mundane. To write a letter is to communicate without a feedback loop, to do all the work of a conversation with none of the help. Writing a letter was like mowing the lawn or eating your brussels sprouts--except that at least with those chores you were getting some fresh air or some vitamins.

So, yeah, I wrote bad letters, if I wrote them at all. In case you got a letter from me (or in case I owed you a letter and never sent one), I feel bad about it, for whatever that's worth.

Getting a letter, that's a whole different thing. I loved getting letters, or cards, or even junk mail. There's an implicit affirmation of your existence in every letter sent to you: someone somewhere had you in mind for a message, or saw you as part of a larger community worth contacting. Letters let us know that we're not alone, that we're worth corresponding with.

Correspondence is a good thing. It implies connection and, well, correspondence. We are like one another--at least enough like one another to merit a conversation, no matter how remote. Letters may be filled with pain and vitriol, they may be soaked in sap or drenched in pandering. They may be saddled with misunderstanding; they may even conceal an attempt at manipulation. But at their essence they're an acknowledgment: you and I have something in common. More primally, they acknowledge (sometimes begrudgingly) that neither I nor you are its.

That statement--the acknowledgment of our mutual non-it-ness--might seem on the surface to be not worth the paper it's written on. Of course we're not its, you may be thinking. I don't need a letter to tell me that! I would suggest, however, that each of us needs exactly that--and not just once but over and over and over again.

We occupy a world where objectification is increasingly common--where people are regularly reduced to caricatures (the better to dismiss or demonize or proselytize you with). Corporations are counted as people even as human beings are referenced more often by number than by name. People are bundled together as aggregates, and their deepest concerns and desires are measured by statistics. In such a cold, calculating world, a simple letter affirming a person's non-it-ness is an act of Spirit-led defiance, an act of Spirit-prompted mercy and love.

Beyond that, in a world increasingly detached from itself--where people's understanding of history is limited to their own time and space, where generational injustice and chronological snobbery are real things, where we regularly doom ourselves to repeat history--letters are a countercultural act of faith. Letters are concrete and permanent; they reject abstraction and ephemera. They anchor ideas and intuitions to history by way of paper and ink. Our letters to one another appeal to our common apprehension of things--our language, our culture, the things surrounding us. Both explicitly (by what we write) and implicitly (by the act of writing) our letters declare that something (more primally, Someone) binds us to one another.

Christians have always understood ourselves to be, under the headship of Christ, one body with many members. We each are connected intimately to a great cloud of witnesses who came before us; we are connected by the Word and the Spirit and the Father to all the children of God across time and space. This conviction of connection has helped Christians, indidually and collectively, to endure martyrdom, even to fight it from afar. It has helped us hold fast to eternal truth even as the winds and whims of the world around us threaten to set us adrift. We have been graced by our mutuality with the ability to confess the sins of our forebears as our own sins, and to achieve reconciliation that eludes people not so connected. Once, Peter tells us in a letter, we were not a people, only mere atomized individuals; but by faith we confidently declare ourselves by the grace of God to be not its but a We--the people of God.

I hope that you will continue to acknowledge your We-ness, dear future church. I hope you retain those connections not only to my present church and the church that came before me, but to the church that will come after you into remotest futurity. And not only this church of the past and the future, but also the church that extends from where you find yourself as you read this letter to the ends of the earth. We are none of us its, after all; we have letters from apostles and prophets and from the author and finisher of our faith who tell us as much. We have never been its; we are--though many throughout the earth and throughout the ages--one body in this one Lord.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:22 AM

April 4, 2012

Risk Becomes Functionally Irrelevant: MLK and Everyday Missions

The day before his death, Martin Luther King Jr. shared the following thoughts with a crowd of activists in Memphis:

Now we're going to march again, and we've got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be--and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God's children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That's the issue. And we've got to say to the nation: We know how it's coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory. . . .

It's all right to talk about "streets flowing with milk and honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do. . . .

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

One day later, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was shot dead. But on April 3 he told the crowd, "I'm not worried about anything," because "mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!" That's as worthy of reflection as his earlier speech about the content of our character and his letter about the arc of justice. To anticipate one's death and yet to not worry is remarkable, and particularly poignant in years like this one, when the anniversary of MLK's death overlaps with Holy Week and Jesus' atonement on the cross.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus endured the cross, with all its pain and humiliation and injustice, in joy. He was able to do so because his sights were set on the kingdom of God, which no worldly power could overcome. The greater good may seem far from reality, Holy Week reminds us, but it is God's dream, and so it will ultimately prevail.

We often lose sight of that reality--or, maybe more to the point, we outsource the dream of God to exotic people of faith like Martin Luther King or Moses or Jesus. We far too easily settle for a safe life. We wouldn't say it out loud--we wouldn't even allow ourselves to think it--but we see God's kingdom as not worthy of our personal risk.

So it's good to have reminders every now and then that God's dream is (or ought to be) the dream of all of God's people as well--not just the ancients (like Moses) and the superstars of the contemporary Christian stage (like MLK)--and that God's dream for the world is not exotic but everyday, touching our daily decisions and our most mundane interactions with people and institutions and other matters of God's concern. So today, of all days, and this week, of all weeks, it's good to reflect on safety, risk and a kingdom imagination. Leroy Barber, CEO of Mission Year, is an appropriate choice to lead us in that reflection, in this passage from his new book Everyday Missions: How Ordinary People Can Change the World.

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Safety drives many of our decisions, such as where we live, where our kids go to school, even where we will go to do something as insignificant as watching a movie. "Is it safe?" This question rings in our psyche over and over again. Of course, the reality is that what we mean by being safe is only what feels safe. While there are ways of minimizing our risk, there is nothing that can guarantee our protection and well-being. There are only gadgets and choices that make us think we are safe.

Meanwhile, when safety becomes a priority measure in our lives, I believe it traps us in the ordinary. Our kingdom imagination is limited when we stop risking for the gospel. The question for me is this: Are we willing to knowingly take risks? Are we prepared to turn over our fears and insatiable need to feel safe to God as an offering? Are we willing, for the sake of the kingdom, to face dangers head on, knowing that we cannot even pretend to protect ourselves from the consequences? . . .

What then is risk? It is not wild, indiscriminate actions, but rather the ability to count the cost of an action. Risk in a theological sense is understanding the reality of a given situation--its capacity to cause us inconvenience or even harm--and then surrendering that given reality to the larger reality that our kingdom imagination and our God-confidence offer us. Our personal risk is then placed in the context of the greater good--God's dream for the world we find ourselves in. Any risk is (or ought to be) acceptable if it is in service to the greater good, and if we trust that the greater good will establish itself regardless of the circumstances, then risk becomes functionally irrelevant.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:24 AM

April 1, 2012

The Folly of Writing Scripture: #letters2afuturechurch

It seems appropriate that we here at Strangely Dim would pick April Fool's Day to begin writing letters to a future church. Only a fool would undertake a letter-writing campaign modeled after the work of the apostles of the first-century, right? John the Revelator, for example, wrote seven letters from his exile on the Isle of Patmos, so there's ample precedent for our project. But then again, John saw Jesus with his eyes, and touched Jesus with his hands; meanwhile, who are we?

And yet the idea of taking up pen or pixel and the apostolic task is an intriguing exercise. What would you write, given the chance, to set the table for future fellowship? What convictions have you cultivated in your own discipleship, what lessons learned, that warrant bequeathing them to a future generation? As Annie Dillard put it in The Writing Life, "What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?"

9780830836383.jpgJohn's letters from exile inspired the 2010 Eighth Letter conference, where people from all walks of life and levels of notoriety picked up where John left off and wrote to people of faith who will come after them. The Epiphaneia Network, who convened that conference, went on to collect several of those letters (along with some new ones) into the book Letters to a Future Church, recently published in our Likewise line. Such an undertaking shows moxie, and we respect moxie. So we thought we'd honor their effort by trying our own hands at it.

Over the next few weeks we'll be drafting our letters and posting them here, for your enjoyment and response. We hope you will respond, and if the muse strikes you to draft your own letters, we hope you'll share them with us by posting your links in our comments. If you're so inclined, you can even tweet links to our letters and yours with the hashtag #letters2afuturechurch. If nothing else, tweets and hashtags will remind us that we're not actually writing Scripture or anything crazy like that. It's been done: John's letters--not to mention Peter's, James's, Paul's and whoever wrote Hebrews--have served the church well over millennia, and they don't need any supplementing from us. But that doesn't invalidate our campaign; it simply puts our effort in a proper context. Who knows, after all, how God might use our words, our letters, to transform his church for the sake of the world he loves?

I guess we'll find out.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:13 AM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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