“There Are No Ordinary People”

refugee tent city [Klaus Reisinger]These are demanding times for Christians who are committed to loving neighbor as they love themselves. It is becoming increasingly easy to slip into less exacting paths. I am glad that our pastor has been addressing this theme in various ways in a number of sermons in recent months. C. S. Lewis, a highly regarded Christian thinker and writer, also took it on. In a sermon titled “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis offered a stunning insight about loving neighbor, which he delivered during a period of world history when division, conflict, and war offered a steady diet of hate for the soul.

A similar diet is being dished out to our generation – and you know that what you eat you are. Having eaten enough to hate our enemy, we are now being fattened to ignore another of Jesus’ commands: love of neighbor. Why bother loving our neighbor and loving our enemy? Indeed, if we are not being loved I return, why bother? Lewis grappled with this during World War Two. Here, in that inimitable way he had, are his concluding remarks in “The Weight of Glory”:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

“All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.”

©2017 by Charles Strohmer

Image of Tent City by Klaus Reisinger via Creative Commons.

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Just click here and then find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice whenever I post a new article. And, hey, if you really like this blog, tell a friend! Thank you.

“The Snow Forgives Us”

snow in backyardSeveral inches of snow blanketed the ground and it was still falling as I drove to the Wednesday evening fellowship. The forecast called for 8-10 inches by midnight, and I believed it. But suburban Detroit is virtually bereft of hills and S-turns, and the large fleet of salt trucks with their huge plows had cleared the main roads. So no one who grew up in Detroit, as I had, fretted about driving here in this weather. You learned to drive cautiously and pay attention. If you did, most likely you would get there, and back again, on the flat terrain. And you remembered the enormous salt mine under the sprawling city.

I expected the usual crowd at Jeannie’s spacious house, and wasn’t disappointed. She lived there with her very cute, precocious 4-year old daughter, Heather. Fifty to sixty people could worship and fellowship comfortably in the large basement. I parked my rusty old Chevy 4-door a block away and crunched along through deep snow that was everywhere sparkling at me from the ground.

Sometime during the worship or preaching – I don’t remember why – I left the basement and went back upstairs. Nobody was there. But as I crossed the dimly lit living room, I saw Heather standing in rapt silence by the large sliding glass doors that looked out into the backyard. I slid quietly alongside to have a look.

What a sight met my eyes! Twelve hours earlier while driving downtown to work, I had seen the world differently. Roads soiled by the traffic of cars that dripped oil. Fast food debris discarded along curbs. Lawns yellowed in dormancy awaiting their green spring. Sidewalks cracked through neglect. Cigarette buts stubbed out and flicked aside. But, now! Snow covered all the ugly. Man’s detritus – indeed, all earth itself – lay covered. And it was still being covered.

Millions of snow flakes were falling gently and quickly past the bright outdoor lights that lit up the yard. They glittered and twinkled like I imagine the wings of angels will sparkle with colors when I see them.

I too now gazed in rapture. This was another world. Not just covered but adorned.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” I whispered.

“The snow forgives us,” she said.

©2017 by Charles Strohmer

Image by David Pinkney via Creative Commons.

Puzzled About Making New Year’s Resolutions?

puzzled

Thinking about resolutions for the new year? Thinking: Nah, they never work for me?

Here’s a talk by John Peck that just might be your solution: http://revpeck.com/2016/12/29/good-resolutions/

“Christmas–Just for Children?”

Advent candle

Here’s a great take on Christmas by John Peck: Christmas – Just for Children? In this talk John helps us undomesticate Christmas and rediscover the reality behind it.

May the Light of Christ shine in 2017 evermore brightly than the stars in the darkness.

Thank you all for being part of this experimental blog about bringing the wisdom of God into our hearts, minds, passions, families, daily lives, careers, and everywhere else. I have no idea where we’ll go with this in 2017. Stay tuned!

John Peck: Christmas – Just for Children?

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

Image by pathlost

“Christmas Carols & Songs”

d-clifton-christmas-albumI’ve never done this before on this blog and may never do it again, but I want to call your attention to some truly superb Christmas music and say, “Buy this album!” My wife and I were recently given it as a gift, and after we heard it we immediately moved it to #1 on our list of Christmas albums.

“Christmas Carols and Songs,” produced and arranged by David Clifton and Mark Russell, with the acclaimed choirs of Peterborough Cathedral, a full band, and the London Telefilmonic Orchestra. The full details of this special album, its history, and how to get hold of the album are available at Little Room Recordings.

You will find your own favorite carol or song on the album. Just to say that mine is the slightly jazzed up arrangement of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I also got a lot out of the well-researched booklet that accompanies the CD to give a brief history of the origin of each carol.

Link to iTunes download, name your price download, and CD mail order purchase: http://www.littleroom.com/artists/ikos/

Enjoy it for years to come. And Merry Christmas.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

Reconstructing American Political Community

Creative Commons imageAmong the three main points of my previous post, my first since Donald Trump was elected, I argued that there will be no flourishing political community in America if we do not humbly seek God, praying to become “vessels of civility, grace, and hope – to everyone.” That very general statement needs some particulars, and the little phrase “to everyone” is a key.

As Timothy Sherratt (Gordon College) has said, America is a diverse society, and in it we struggle to give that diversity political expression: Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Progressive, and Green – to name just several. The problem is, we’ve stupidly turned our diversity into a house divided. We Christians contribute to this problem whenever we take our political cues from the world, so a big question we face is: how do we as Christians flex our political muscles in a way that – at this current time of discord and division – is biblically just.

This is a question that Sherratt takes seriously in very helpful, recent article in Capital Commentary. Arguing for what he calls re-constructive politics, Sherratt calls us to diversity conversations whose virtues are rooted in the fruit of the Spirit, which, he argues, “are correlates of the character of true power” as understood at Calvary. “Their utility for remaking relationship, both political and personal,” he writes, “is what commends them in the present circumstances.”

With that as a backdrop, Sharratt offers a biblical vision of the nature and purpose of politics in our diversity. I urge you to read this important article. It may surprise you.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

Image via Creative Commons permission.

A personal note from Charles: My sincere thanks to those of you who follow this blog, and to other readers, who helped my previous post become very widely shared, read, and discussed.

Now That Trump Has Been Elected: Three Difficult Tasks Facing American Christians

the better angels of our nature

Three Difficult Tasks Facing Christians

And just to be clear, I would have written the following even if Hillary had won.

(1) Drop the mocking spirit; instead, turn away anger.
Rising anger across in America – left and right, Democrat and Republican – has contributed to our country’s uncivil, graceless, and derisive political rhetoric. This has been normative during 2016 in the blogosphere and social media, on talk radio, in campaign ads, and even from our presidential candidates and many of their leading supporters.

Sadly, many Christians – to call out those in my own faith – have taken their rhetorical cues from these sources. I was on the receiving end of this earlier this year, when a Christian looked me in the face and said, “If you don’t vote for Trump, it’s a vote for the enemy,” after I told her I couldn’t vote for Trump. Well. I did not vote for Hillary Clinton either, but not because I saw her as my enemy (I abhor some of her political positions, as I do some of Trump’s). More recently, I heard the malicious ill will from a Christian woman who asked me in a Facebook comment if I had heard the latest news about “Killery.”

These are just private examples. Public examples abound in the above-mentioned sources, so well known that they need no mention here.

I don’t know why the Bible comes down so hard on mockers. Maybe it’s because mockers are said to have attitudes and actions that smack of pride and discord (Proverbs 21:24; 14:9). Maybe it’s because they get marque billing alongside fools, who hate knowledge, and even alongside the wicked  (Proverbs 1:22; Psalm 1:1). Maybe it’s because they have become so angry that they “stir up a city,” rather than being like the wise, who “turn away anger” (Proverbs 29:8). But that’s not all:

“Penalties are prepared for mockers, and beatings for the backs of fools” (Proverbs 19:29; see also Proverbs 9:11 and Isaiah 29:20).

The Lord “mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34).

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers” (Psalm 1:1).

“How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery?” (Proverbs 1:22). Yes. How long? How long will the poison of a mocking spirit continue to corrupt the political community our country?

Right or left, Republican or Democrat, from sea to shining sea, Christians, of all citizens, should be leading the way to stop this decay of our national body. What way is that? The answer is also in the Bible.

“Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6)

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).

In other words, let us no longer take our cues (or our cures) from the political rhetoric; instead, let us speak wisely: stop stirring up the city; instead be wise and start turning away the anger (Proverbs 29:8). There will be no flourishing political community in America if we do not repent of our mocking spirt and humbly seek God, praying to become vessels of civility, grace, and hope – to everyone.

(2) Recognize that America is not exceptional or indispensable.
The 2016 campaign season was also a time when the question of America’s greatness gave rise to all sorts of punditry surrounding the assertion that “America is an exceptional nation.” For some, this is a cruel joke; others tout it as a valued and trusted trope. The general impression I get is that you couldn’t even get elected dog catcher in this country if you didn’t believe it.

So it surprised me when Donald Trump said he dislikes the term. But if you read between the lines of what he said, he seems to be saying that if America were truly exceptional – if so many nations weren’t “eating our lunch” – he wouldn’t mind applauding the phrase. On the other hand, at the end of August, Hillary Clinton was in Cincinnati at the American Legion’s national convention giving a speech that lauded America exceptionalism and attacked Trump’s dislike of the term.

hourglassPersonally, I think America is a great nation that has in recent decades gone down some roads that aren’t great. But is America “exceptional?” In other words, is America “inherently different” than other nations and does it have a “unique” role to transform the world. This is the question we must answer truthfully. Words have to mean things. And the words “American exceptionalism” mean that America is inherently different than other nations, unique among nations.

But that fact is that America is like other nations. If it were not, it would not be a nation. It would be some other kind of entity and unsuited to be numbered among 194 other nations of the world. What kind of entity that might be, I don’t know. But if America were unique, it would be a stand-alone something. And it’s not that. It certainly is not, for instance, a school, or a church, or a business. It is a nation among nations.

There has been only one unique nation in the history of the world, exceptional because its founding began with the revelation of God – beginning with the call of Abram:

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing’” (Genesis 12:1-2),

and continuing with the mission of Moses:

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).

America had no revelatory founding.

In 1776 (not 1620), the nation certainly began unlike other nations extant in the eighteenth century in that it was not birthed as a monarchy or as an extension of some other kind of dynastic line of rulers. The nation galvanized around what we could call a synthesis of three very big ideas from salient elements of Puritan Calvinism, Enlightenment rationalism, and Virginia deism (to be brief about it). But this beginning was not a revelatory founding.

This ought to make us not only humble but also fearful and prayerful about the future of America as a nation. Every time I hear a politician claim that America is “indispensable,” I cringe. This descriptive for our nation began with President Bill Clinton, as far as I can determine, and it was afterward noised about by his secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Hillary Clinton affirmed it, at length, as an essential feature of America’s role in the world in her speech to the American Legion.

This political hubris (see Clinton’s speech) ought to frighten us. If ancient Israel was uniquely and exceptionally founded, let us remember that, except for its prophets, it also believed it was indispensable. But it wasn’t. Brothers and sisters, where do we get off believing that we are? Let us stop falling prey to this lie and start looking more biblically at our nation. As the theologian John Peck taught many of us: “If you start from an unbiblical position in your analysis of a problem, you’re not going to come up with a biblical way ahead.”

(3) Admit that America is under judgment.
As an American who is also a Christian, this has been the hardest one for me to swallow. It’s put me in a place of great dislocation. Well, no, that’s not quite right. It’s more accurate to say that it is the only explanation that has, at least for me, sufficiently explained the dislocation, and its attendant confusion and the famine of answers, that has become the American reality. We used to call it a collective worldview crisis. Call it what you will.

SunsetI had been thinking for some time that perhaps this may indeed the case with our country, although I quickly add that when this was on my mind I trotted out theological arguments to counter it. But after the number of presidential candidates dropped to two in 2016, I suddenly found myself without any theological defenses against the “judgment” narrative. As a professor once said, “If the facts don’t fit your theology, change your theology.” This is why I have plucked up my nerve to say I now believe that: (1) America has been under some kind of strange judgment for many years; (2) we ended up with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as our presidential candidates as part of that judgment (evidence: the unprecedented large number of people who concluded that both were horrible candidates); (3) it did not matter who got elected; the judgment continues. The off-the-great-road path that our country is traveling is going to get more perilous as we head to January 29, inauguration day, and into the new year.

I hope I am wrong, but it seems to me that this is the real crisis our nation faces. I have been in grief over this and haven’t a clue about how we get out from under it. Let us seek the Lord. And as much as possible let us strive to be vessels of civility, grace, and hope along the way. May God have mercy on us during this time of disorientation and incoming, yet unknown, reorientation. Who do we think we are, anyway? Who do we think God is?

“Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path to understanding? Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust… Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing” (Isaiah 40:13-17).

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

All images, permission via creative commons.

A note from Charles: For more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

Paul Simon: still right 50 years later

Simon & GrafunkelI’ve been wanting to write what may be my final post about the up-coming election, but I’ve felt a bit sluggish lately, not to mention being burned out from finishing a writing deadline. So for now I’m taking the lazy man’s, quick way out. I was recently humming these familiar lines by Paul Simon, from about 50 years ago.

Siting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon.
Going to the candidates to date.
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose.
Every way you look at this you loose.

To amend Mark Twain: “History may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.” Take a break from the laughing and the shouting. Here’s the famous song. Enjoy: Mrs Robinson.

Image courtesy of Simon & Garfunkel website.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer