Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Gift of Disillusionment

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wisely warns that the "greatest danger" of Christian community is idealism. We cannot help, and myself most of all, entering each church community with a host of wishful ideas. We bring agendas, priorities, our own reading of the biblical text and very quickly run smack into the wall of "divine reality", the church as it really is.

Bonhoeffer posits in Life Together that the next most important step for us in a true church setting is disillusionment: "we must be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in our dream world".

Far from resulting in static, lifeless communities, true disillusionment with our ideals tills the hard ground of pride and pretense to make way for good fruit. First, we receive our local community as we ought, with thanksgiving. Second, "the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together - the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ". Third, we cease hindering God with our petty complaints of disappointment and allow him to grow our fellowship "according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ".

"He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blacks and Whites

A front page article of the New York Times today reported "A Racial Divide is Bridged by Recession". Remarkably a suburb of Atlanta is experiencing the easing of once sharp racial tensions as whites and blacks mingle in welfare offices and food banks. The article contends, "nothing else has worked to remove barriers as quickly as economic hardship". Blessed be the tie that binds.

Christians take note - rubbing racial shoulders is still newsworthy! We're not even talking about whites and blacks liking each other. All they have to do is cordially share a waiting room and the Times will slot that phenomenon next to Obama's China tour as front page material. I guess those (white) people who think race doesn't matter in America probably aren't selling newspapers.

Ephesians 2 is vehemently pointed in its vision for race in religious life. On our best days, we as the church understand the first half of the chapter - Jesus' death and resurrection achieves vertical reconciliation. But we rarely venture into the latter half - Jesus' death and resurrection achieves horizontal reconciliation. In other words, 2.5% of American churches can be considered racially diverse.

In reality, a vision for blacks and whites outside the gospel can scarcely hope to achieve more than a waiting room reconciliation. Only the gospel grounds a fellow citizenship, a dwelling place for God made up of the awkward, uncomfortable, self-sacrificing joining of all races.

But I guess the Times makes much of racial hobnobbing in Henry County because they haven't found it anywhere else.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Flags and the Sanctuary

After Matthew Milner posted this on his blog recently, I felt my former patrio-iconoclasm decay a little.

The issue of flags in the sanctuary begs some interesting questions about how design influences worship. Millner's point is valid, that, perhaps, in placing our flag on the "altar" of our respective church we are not worshiping the flag, but creating a visible reminder that if we love our neighbor we ought to pray for our country. This helps me come to terms with my church praying for the queen and singing the Canadian national anthem (once).

But surely there are times when the flag does become an object of idolatry. Where is the line? Why is a little flag next to the cross a helpful reminder while a large American flag in many evangelical churches seems so different?

Soon I think I will argue that this is an issue of ecclesiology as much as aesthetics, but this is enough for now.