The “Aha” Moment … Culture Making: Gestures and Postures

I’ve been reading Andy Crouch’s excellent book Culture Making, and was blown away by chapter five, “Gestures and Postures.” As I read it, something clicked into place in my brain. It made so much sense, but I had never thought of it in the way he presented it before.

Think about a physical gesture you might make, such as reaching up for something on a high shelf, or bending low to tie your shoe. Compare that to your posture, which is how you consistently stand, sit, walk. There is good posture and bad posture. Good posture both anchors and frees you so that you can respond in various ways to various circumstances. However, if you take a gesture, such as bending over to tie your shoe, and try to make it your regular posture, you’ll soon have a bad back and sore muscles. You’ll be limited in your movement.

What does this have to do with how we interact with culture? This was the “aha” moment for me.

Andy starts by looking at four different ways American Christians, in particular, interact with culture: condemning, critiquing, copying and consuming. The issue is that, while these are all appropriate “gestures” to make at various times when interacting with culture, we are creatures of habit, and over time these “gestures” often become our regular “postures.”

An example … it is perfectly appropriate to condemn the culture of international violence and lawlessness that sustains the global sex trade. The only Christian thing to do is reject it and work toward eradicating it as quickly and effectively as possible. This is a gesture of condemnation. But if we start looking at all types of culture with a suspicious and condemning eye, we have moved into a posture of condemnation. We’re like the person who decides they want to make bending over to tie their shoe their permanent posture. We soon lose our freedom of movement.

If then, neither condemning, critiquing, copying or consuming is meant to be our regular posture, what should be? Andy goes back to the very beginning of the human story in the book of Genesis to give us the answer.

… like our first parents, we are to be creators and cultivators. Or to put it more poetically, we are artists and gardeners.

The postures of the artist and the gardener have a lot in common.  Both begin with contemplation, paying close attention to what is already there …

And then, after contemplation, the artist and gardener both adopt a posture of purposeful work. They bring their creativity and effort to their calling. The gardener tends what has gone before, making the most of what is beautiful and weeding out what is distracting or useless. The artist can be more daring: she starts with a blank canvas or a solid piece of stone and gradually brings something out of it that was never there before … They are creaturely creators, tending and shaping the world that original Creator made.

This post is just a brief summary of this excellent chapter, but I hope it will whet your appetite to dig into the book yourself for more.

Andy Crouch quote photo

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Fresh Eyes on the Eternal Story

Familiarity with the Bible is a good thing, but if you’re like me, you may find that the more you read the Bible, the easier it is to lose the power and beauty that you first found there. This has nothing to do with Scripture, and everything to do with us. We feel like we already know the story and we’re ready to move on to the next thing, when the reality is we can never plumb the depths of God’s story, even though we seem to lose our wonder and awe of it.

That’s when I find that reading or hearing the story with different words, through a different lens, can make a huge difference. This can be through reading a different translation of Scripture, like The Message. For me, it often comes through music.

During this Easter weekend, I thought I’d share with you two resources that have helped me in removing the blinders of familiarity from the stories of Holy Week, making them heartbreakingly fresh again.

The Life - Michael Card

The Life by Michael Card is actually a compilation of three albums he recorded (The Final Word; Scandalon; Known by the Scars) on the birth, life and death/resurrection of Jesus. Michael is both a biblical scholar and an amazing musical poet.

 

 

 

 

Jesus Storybook Bible

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones is definitely not just for children. It tells the one story underneath all the stories of the Bible and points to the birth of a child, the Rescuer, Jesus. The audio edition is read by award-winning British actor David Suchet and is phenomenal.

 

 

 

 

I thought it would be interesting to take the same biblical story, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and let you hear it through each of the artists above. My prayer is that, through listening, you will be awed afresh by the wonder of God’s One Big Story.

In the Garden – Michael Card

A Dark Night in the Garden – Sally Lloyd Jones

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God at Work: Reflections on the Class

As my class (God at Work: The Reformation and Vocation) comes to an end at Knox Seminary, I wanted to share some of the key things that stood out to me in our discussions and readings this week while they are still fresh in my mind. Be forewarned that while I did try to condense, this is a fairly long post.

First. I have to say that it was a pleasure getting to meet and spend the week with my fellow students, all gentlemen who are DMin students at Knox.  Yes, I was the only audit student, and the only female, but at no time did I feel out of place. They were a kind and gracious lot. 🙂 And, as I knew from last year when I took Dr. Siedell’s class on Christ and Culture, he is an excellent teacher and discussion facilitator. We had some wonderful discussions as a class throughout the week, and it was interesting to hear different perspectives on what we were learning, as it’s easy to fall into the habit of believing that everyone sees things the same way we do. I’d highly recommend the experience of auditing a class at Knox to anyone who loves to learn, regardless of what schooling you’ve had in the past. I only have one year of college, so it was a bit intimidating for me last year before I took my first class, but I’m so glad God gave me the courage to step out of my comfort zone.

God at Work Class Mar 2015

God at Work Class Mar 2015: Knox Seminary

  • A deep aspect of what it means to be human is to be recognized by another, to be justified by another. Luther’s premise is that this recognition, this justification, can only be completely received through Christ as a gift. We are passive recipients of this gift. Justification and vocation are crucially tied together.
  • Passive and Active Righteousness: We stand before God as passive, receptive of his grace and righteousness. This is always one way. God to man. This is faith. Active righteousness is the good works that you do to love your neighbor. Vocation is for the other. Our standing before God is not conditional, it’s not based on our active righteousness.
  • We all have multiple vocations (worker, family, church, community, etc). They may be related, but they aren’t the same. God is present in all of them. We tend to put levels of importance on one type of vocation over another, but God doesn’t. He is uniquely present and working in all of them. How does God work in the world? He works through vocation. Having coffee with a friend is just as much about your vocation as the job that you have.
  • Vocation is not just things we choose. Some things are chosen for us.I did not choose to be a daughter, but that is part of who I am called to be.
  • How we can help people see more broadly (vocation is not just occupation) as well as helping people who aren’t thinking about themselves and vocation (such as mentally handicapped, etc.)? All have calls on their lives.
  • Thinking of ways of vocation that withstand the change and shifting tides of life. We tend to think about either the past, or the future, and don’t realize that it is now where our vocation is. We have a difficult time living in the present, the now. The present is where God works.
  • The Creator has chosen to work through the creature. Things that we don’t feel have dignity and significance, have tremendous dignity and significance. Even in exile, the Jews were the means to accomplish God’s blessing and work. That was how the Babylonian’s received God’s Word.
  • Gen 1:27-31: The Cultural Mandate, the call to cultivate, to grow. Culture is making something other with what God has given. The work is worth doing, even if I don’t know it’s destiny, because it does have a destiny. God is the good creator, and you are trusting in him.
  • Work is not part of the curse. What is part of the curse (Gen 3: 14-19) is the breaking of the relationship, the toil of fighting against hard ground to accomplish our work.
  • As a result of the fall, we fail to see the work we are doing as part of the gratitude we have in response to God. We become idolatrous in making the work our god. We want to be God-like in our control. The joy of dominion becomes the desperation of passion, trying to desperately find our identity and value in what we do.
  • Gen 4:10-17 The mark Cain bears is a blessing, a protection, a mark of God’s mercy and grace. He is not getting what he deserves. That mark gives him time and space to marry, have a family and to build a city. Cain cultivates, he creates. Building a city is an act of culture, it’s work.
  • Matt 25: Luther’s reflections on the Parable of the Virgins is that the oil is faith. You can’t give faith, you can’t inherit faith. Oil in the OT is given (Ps 23). Elisha in the story with the widow and the oil, the little bit of oil she had was given to her, and it’s the Lord who multiplies it.
  • Faith pushes against the world that we see. It can contradict the experience of how things seem to be.
  • Sabbath Rest: “Above all, the Sabbath speaks to us of Christ. That God wants us to honor Him by not working is a reminder that we are not saved by our works, that in Christ we enjoy a Sabbath rest (Heb 4:9-10). Spiritually we rest; physically we work. … though our work still may yield thorns and thistles, those who rest in God’s grace can know that He, in His creative power and loving providence, is the One who looms behind the work that we do. Veith, God at Work, pg. 64
  • Isa 64:5-6 our good works as filthy rags. Before who? Before God, not before the neighbor. God can use those acts of kindness that, while they are not “good” before Him, He is still active in.
  • Naaman, 2 Kings 5, in the context of vocation. Humility of the vocations represented in this story. Naaman is healed of his leprosy through a servant girl. A girl taken captive from Israel. Most likely her parents were killed. She was taken against her will. She served in the house of the man who commanded the army who attacked her city. Her youth and her gender further make her role less in society. Her vocation is being a servant, an exile, an ambassador of grace.
  • Vocation is a cross. A way of killing the old Adam. We want to be known by a impressive title rather than serving others, which often goes unseen.
  • Theology of Glory/Theology of the Cross: Theology of Glory is the idea God works with winners. Difficult and painful things in life are minimized, things to be moved past, a means to an end.  Theology of the Cross says that God is hidden in the humble things, the foolish things, in failure, what the world may see as failure. Jesus hanging on the cross would seem to be the most powerless person, yet God the Father accomplished His plan of redemption through this foolishness and weakness.

I plan on continuing reading and reflecting on the topic of vocation in the coming months, so expect to see more here as I share what the Lord is teaching me.

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Find the Freedom of Vocation

Vocation is derived from the Latin word “vox” or “voice” (translated into Greek as “call”) and so we take the broadest view of things: Vocation is one’s entire life lived in response to God’s voice, God’s call. ~ Kate Harris

As part of the class I’m auditing this week at Knox Seminary, God at Work: The Reformation and Vocation, we’re asked to write a 500 word statement about what vocation means to us, so I thought I’d share part of mine here. I’m excited about digging deeper into the topic this week with my fellow classmates.

About a year and a half ago, someone I followed on Twitter shared the link to Kate Harris’ talk on defining vocation at the Q Women and Calling Conference, and I watched the video. It truly was life changing for me. It was the “aha” moment that took vocation from being merely my occupation, and gave me freedom to think more broadly. In the video, Kate (using calling and vocation as synonymous terms) says, “Calling is mostly about identity and belonging. It’s a word about who we are and to whom we belong rather than what we do.” I’ve watched the video multiple times, and every time a nugget sinks in deeper, encouraging me.

The timing of watching this video was God ordained, as I have been struggling the past few years with my job. Not because I wasn’t skilled at what I did or hated it, but because I felt very pigeon holed by it. I’ve been working in jobs related to computers/database management/partner service for the past 25 years or so. I knew it was God’s hand that opened up the doors for me in these roles and, outside of the stress that comes with every job at times; I enjoyed and found value in what I was doing. I’m good at it. But as I got older, I really felt boxed in. Hearing people tell me, “Oh, I could never stare at spreadsheets all day like you do, it would drive me crazy,” made me feel one-dimensional. It wasn’t what I did all day, it certainly wasn’t all of who I was, and I was frustrated. I started to think that I had to change jobs, do something different, because my job should reflect more than just one aspect of me.

Then I heard Kate’s talk and it blew open the walls of the box for me. It made me see that my occupation wasn’t my vocation, but only one aspect of it. And it helped me start to explore the broader “themes” that carried across my life, which I’ve found to be connectedness and responsibility. In her article “The Heart of Vocation,” Kate says “This broad view of vocation frees us to trust, so we can take up this calling across the varied dimensions of life and season.” This pretty much sums up the freedom a true understanding of vocation gives to me.

This broader understanding of vocation has been the most freeing, life giving idea to come into my life, second only to an understanding of law and gospel, Christ’s finished work for me.

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Luther, Christian life, and the Word of God

On Christian Liberty - Martin Luther

I’ve started reading On Christian Liberty by Martin Luther in preparation for a class by Dr. Dan Siedell I’m auditing at Knox Seminary in March … God at Work: The Reformation & Vocation. I’m finding it hard to get past the first few pages because they are so rich, specifically as Luther talks about the inner and outer man (soul and flesh) and states, concerning the inner man, that “no external thing has any influence in producing Christian righteousness or freedom, or in producing unrighteousness or servitude.” He gives argument to prove this and concludes:

One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ, as Christ says, John 11[:25], “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” …

Working at OneHope, a ministry whose mission is to reach children and youth with the Word of God, I was both encouraged and challenged by these words of Luther:

Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing. This is why the prophet in the entire Psalm [119] and in many other places yearns and sighs for the Word of God and uses so many names to describe it.

On the other hand, there is no more terrible disaster with which the wrath of God can afflict men than a famine of the hearing of his Word, as he says in Amos [8:11]. Likewise there is no greater mercy than when he sends forth his Word, as we read in Psalm 107[:20]: “He sent forth his word, and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.”

Luther describes the Word of God, drawing from Romans 1, as this:

The Word is the gospel of God concerning his Son, who was made flesh, suffered, rose from the dead, and was glorified through the Spirit who sanctifies. To preach Christ means to feed the soul, make it righteous, set it free, and save it, provided it believes the preaching. Faith alone is the saving and efficacious use of the Word of God … The Word of God cannot be received and cherished by any works whatever but only by faith.

Plenty of meat to ponder there, and that’s only a small portion from the first eight pages.:)

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Advent: The Longing of the “Already and Not Yet”

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photo credit: Gingerburn via photopin cc

I love the season of Advent. Yesterday I read a blog post by Sarah Bessey on the topic. One of the things she said was, “If Christmas is for the joy, then Advent is for the longing.” This really struck a cord in me, so I’ve been pondering it.

ADVENT: Word with Latin roots, meaning “coming.” Christians of earlier generations spoke of “the advent of our Lord” and of “His second advent.” The first phrase refers to God’s becoming incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. The latter phrase speaks of Jesus’ second coming. In a second sense “advent” designates a period before Christmas when Christians prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

Fred A. Grissom and Steve Bond, “Advent,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 31.

I appreciate this definition as it’s more comprehensive than confining the meaning of Advent to the four weeks before Christmas.

The reality is, we are living in the space between His first and second advent; between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to the Father and when He will come again and “make all things new.” This time of waiting emphasizes the tension of the “already and not yet.” The “already” of our salvation being accomplished for us during the incarnation. And the “not yet” of realizing this world, while still reflecting the beautiful and wondrous place He created, is broken and marred by our sin, so it is also heart breaking, painful, and incomprehensible.

Our life, whether we realize it or not, is a constant waiting for His second advent. The time of longing for something more.

We often feel guilty for this longing, especially if we are a believer in Christ, because we know what He has already done for us by His first advent.

Jesus, fully God and fully man, lived the perfect life, so when the Father looks at us, He doesn’t see our sins, our failures, our messes. He sees the life of His beloved Son.

Jesus died in our place, to pay the penalty for our sins. His death satisfied God’s holiness and justice which can’t let sin slide, which can’t lower the bar. Instead, He loved us so much He determined He would pay the price to reconcile us to Himself. He tore apart the veil separating us from His holiness.

And then He raised Jesus from the dead, by the power of His Spirit, so we would know Jesus’ sacrifice was heard. It was accepted. In Christ, our salvation has already been accomplished. And He gives us His Spirit to live in us, to strengthen us, and to remind us of His promises.

However, I believe the longing we continue to have, even knowing all He has done for us, is given to us by God. It’s His way of reminding us there is more than the world we see with our human eyes. It’s like having a wonderful dream where you wake up happy and content, but you can’t quite remember what the dream was about. You want those feelings to last, but as the dream slips away, so do they. No matter how hard you try, you can’t bring the dream back. And the feeling there is something more, something better, doesn’t go away.

Longing is us grasping to get that dream back. The good news is … it’s not a dream. It’s something real, and the longing will be fulfilled. But not until Jesus’ second advent. Then there will be no more cancer. No more injustice, racial, gender or otherwise. There will be no more illness. No more death. No more strain and separation in our relationships.

The incomprehensibly beautiful day as Revelation 21 describes below will happen.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Rev 21:1-5 ESV

As you walk through this Advent season, I pray you would look to the joy ahead while giving yourself the freedom to experience the longing and know it’s OK. It is given to you as a gift from the One who, alone, will someday fulfill that longing completely.

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