Archive for the ‘About the blog’ Category

I didn’t take Blogging 402 in seminary. OK, so my seminary didn’t really offer that course. There’s lots of being a pastor you don’t learn in seminary. And that’s not necessarily seminary’s fault. It’s just that for all of our education in whatever field, there’s always a whole lot of figuring-it-out-as-you-go-along trial-and-error to life. Just how it is.

So, when I started blogging, I thought to myself, “I don’t build my preaching schedule around current events, but I do spend a lot of time thinking through those events through the lens of my Christian faith. And I’m often frustrated with how simplistic, this-or-that public dialogue is, especially on hot-button issues. Maybe that’s what my blog will be: putting my thinking, wrestling, processing through the complexity of current events out on the internet.” Problem was, it took a lot of time. I don’t want to just throw out opinions based on questionable facts or say the same thing 100 other people are saying. It’s not that that’s not important, but there are lots of other important ways to engage with the world in the name of Christ besides blogging.

New title, new approach. Here’s the plan. Not sure how often, but when I can, I’d like to take current events and do 2 things:

  1. Ask Questions: this, I think, is one way to get into the complex heart of issues. I won’t try to answer all of these questions in every blog, though I may offer some initial thoughts. But I hope the questions will stimulate a deeper, more honest, more productive conversation among those who read my blog.
  2. Tell Stories: the Bible is full of stories, and yes, is really one big Story itself. So for each blog, I hope to offer a story or rendition of THE STORY that helps us find God and discern how followers of Jesus can think about, engage, and talk about whatever the issue or event is.

So that’s the plan. We’ll see how it goes!

I know you’ve all been sitting at your computers for the last 3 weeks just wondering, “When is Pastor Jon going to post a new blog?!”  Well, in those 3 weeks, I’ve been doing a couple things: 1) Pondering whether or not tongue-in-cheek comes through in blogging, and 2) Spending a week in Tampa, FLA with other young clergy participating in a training program.  This was the first of four trips to Tampa I will undertake over the next four years for training in different aspects of pastoral leadership.  The basis for this first week was “Family Systems Theory” (FST), a way of understanding human behavior developed by Murray Bowen.  In essence, the idea is that we are not best understood as isolated individuals, but as parts of the various systems in which we function (ie. family, workplace, faith community).  After a week of being immersed in this theory, I’ve got a lot of stuff packed into my brain that I’m still processing through.  But rather than talk about FST, I want to spend this blog talking about the processing…process called “Integration.”  Integration is an idea that I believe is essential to the Christian call to live “in the world, but not of the world.”

You see, Murray Bowen was not a Christian (as far as I know), whose theory was not intentionally connected to Christianity in any way.  One of the questions I kept asking and discussing with my colleagues in Tampa was, “How does (or doesn’t) this fit with the Gospel, with the call of the Church, and with our call as pastors?”   In our culture–more than any other culture in history, dare I say–we are confronted with all kinds of information, theories, and ideas.  We are constantly filtering all of this input into what seems true and what doesn’t.  This filtering is done both consciously and subconsciously.  We are deciding what should be “integrated” into our worldviews and lives and what should be discarded or even actively opposed.  As humans, we cannot avoid this process of integration and rejection.  There are things that are true (accurate to reality) or helpful to our goals and things that are false (inaccurate) and unhelpful.

As I said in my introductory first blog post, “The purpose of this blog is based on a very simple assumption: Christians are called to think differently about life.”  There are things that we must say “Yes” to and things we must say “No” to in life.  Naturally, we fall back on making these decisions thoughtlessly, just going with flow of our bodily impulses or the culture around us.  But as Christians, we are commanded, “Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Thus, we are called to engage the Integration process thoughtfully, comparing whatever new information we are presented with to what we believe already and to reality.  The goal of Integration is that we would be, well, integrated.  By that I mean that we are not saying “Yes” to ideas or beliefs that utterly contradict each other (contradiction is different from mystery and paradox) and that our beliefs and behaviors seem to fit with each other.  The letter of 1 John is a great example of a call to integration: “We love because he first loved us [integrated].  Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen [disintegrated]. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister [integrated].”

Integration is a word I actually learned while in seminary with my wife, who is a counselor.  For students to become licensed, they had to learn–as students in any psychology grad school–theories from Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Carl Rogers, and B.F. Skinner.  But as a Christian seminary, psychology students also had to take a course called “Integration.”  Every theory–especially in psychology–makes assumptions about the nature of human beings, the role of God, methods of healing, and what is ultimately best for people.  These assumptions are going to be very different for a Christian than for someone (like Freud) who is clearly opposed or indifferent to Christianity.  The integration question in this context is, “What insights did Sigmund Freud have that fit my understanding of reality, what of his theories do not, and what insights might actually seem true enough to replace some of my existing beliefs?”

As I mentioned in my post on Harry Potter, it is far easier to wholly accept or reject someone’s ideas.  It is more difficult to engage the process of Integration–more difficult, but also more Christian (in my opinion).   So briefly, here are some principles I employ when I am engaged in the mental process of Integration.

  1. Humility and Honesty.  To engage the Integration process, I have to acknowledge that I don’t know it all.  I also have to be able let the new information challenge my assumptions and beliefs.  A number of times, I have received a new bit of information that has challenged what I “know” about the Gospel and the Bible, only to go back to the Scriptures and have them opened up in a new way.  Not many of us would say, “I’ve got it all figured out,” yet many of us live in a way that says, “Don’t you dare challenge my beliefs and assumptions!”  Jesus faced the most opposition from people who would not let their understandings of God and faith be challenged, even by…well…God himself.
  2. General and Special Revelation.  These doctrines have been quite enlightening to me.  Basically, they indicate that even though someone might not be engaging Jesus and the Scriptures in faith (special revelation), that doesn’t mean that they have no way of discovering truth.  God has given all humans access to some level of truth through the creation, interactions with people, and life experiences (general revelation).  In other words, we should not be surprised if Sigmund Freud or the Buddha or Stephen Hawking or John Lennon are actually making true insights into the world.  As the saying goes, “All truth is God’s truth.”  Of course we are going to find true insights in other religions because they are living in the same world, learning from trial and error like everyone else.  Of course people who look closely at humanity and the natural world are going to gain true insights.  As Christians, we can learn from some of these basic insights, while also knowing that God has chosen to reveal himself in a more full and relational (special) way in the Scriptures and in Jesus.  Integration allows people–even people who may not know or love God at all–to help us check our blindspots and drive us back to God in our search for love, truth, and wisdom.
  3. Seeing the problem vs. Having a solution.  This is a big one for me.  I am constantly awed at how insightful non-Christians can be into the human condition.  The best and most honest comedians, poets, musicians, and journalists are intimately aware of–in Christian terms–human sin and cosmic brokenness.  They are intimately aware of our deep needs and our quest for hope.  To put it more simply: they are intimately aware that something is wrong.  A couple years ago, I read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.  There is much I find appalling in Rand’s philosophy of how things should be, but there is much I find prophetic in Rand’s perception of our human and societal condition.  I believe Jesus and his Gospel work are God’s solution to the problem.  Yet, while I am left unsatisfied with the ways the Buddha or Ayn Rand or Sigmund Freud would seek to solve our problems, I think we can gain some insight from them into the problems that need to be solved.

It is easy to hate and reject information that makes us think or challenges our assumptions.  But such knee-jerk reactions keep us 1) from the general revelation insights we might learn from others, 2) from developing a spirit of humility and openness, and 3) from being able to connect and interact meaningfully with anyone who is not “like us.”  Integration can be a rigorous process.  But it is one that is essential if we are going to live in this world in a meaningful way while also being transformed by God’s Spirit.  This is just some introduction to the idea of Integration.  I hope you can see the process at work in some of my other blog posts and maybe you can even practice applying it when you read, see, or hear some new bit of information.  Don’t hate, Integrate!

As a pastor, I have a lot of conversations with people on Sunday mornings, not to mention the continuous conversation going on in my own head: “What are the Words of Institution again?  Why isn’t the powerpoint working?  Why didn’t I use the restroom before the service started?”  So it takes a lot for me to remember a Sunday morning conversation I had two years ago after a worship service.  A congregant came up to me and asked, “Could you please show me in the Bible where it says, ‘God only helps those who help themselves?  I have a lazy family member who needs to hear that, and he’ll listen if it’s from the Bible.’”  Patiently–and much to the chagrin of this congregant–I explained that this particular quote is not in the Bible.  I told her there were scriptures that spoke to the value and calling to work, but that I wasn’t really into giving people biblical ammunition for their predetermined arguments to bring the hammer down on their opponent.  OK, maybe I didn’t say it quite like that, but you get the picture.

There are lots of things the Bible doesn’t say, which is one thing. There are a number of things that many people assume, think, or wish the Bible said that it doesn’t, which is a whole other thing. It’s these common ‘additions’ to the biblical text I’m going to examine in this sporadic series.  Every so often, I’ll take on one of these sub-biblical nuggets of gospel truthiness.  Many of them have hints of biblical wisdom, but either end before the whole story has been told or take a sharp turn away from the Bible’s message. 

Where do these misquotations come from?  Well, it varies.

1) Cultural proverbs: every culture has its proverbs or “words of wisdom.”  The Western world has been significantly shaped by Christianity and the Bible, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t come up with some of our own brand of proverbs.  With all the Bible quotes circulating in our culture, it can be easy to just lump all proverb-sounding phrases into biblical phrases.  (This, I think, is the case with “God only helps those who help themselves,” but we’ll save that for another time.)

2) The cliche-ification of faith: This stems, admittedly, from pastors like myself.  We try to distill a biblical lesson down into catchy, memorable phrases, and suddenly they become biblical.  Instead of reading and memorizing Scripture, people base their faith on cliches.  Now, I’m not against the practice of communicating in memorable ways, but oftentimes the quote is taken out of the lesson it was intended to sum up and takes on a life of its own.

3) Wishful thinking: combined with #1, sometimes we hear something we really want to be true and then canonize it.  We wish these quotes right into the Bible.

4) Selective listening: sometimes we have a situation in our lives to which we have a pre-determined response, whether it is out of our own preferred solution or what we see as the only viable solution.  We then hear a biblical message or text that sounds kind of like what we were already going for, and BAM! we’ve created our own Bible verse.

5) Historical layering: again, we live in a culture that for centuries has been filled with Christians interpreting, communicating, and creating art to depict the biblical Story.  Which is great in some ways (thank God for Handel’s Messiah, no?).  Except sometimes we too quickly assume that the interpretation or artistic rendering are accurate in every detail to the biblical text.  For today’s focus of “Things the Bible Doesn’t Say,”  I’ll give you one example of this last category that many of you probably already know.

  • The Bible doesn’t say that Adam and Eve ate an apple.  The text simply says “fruit.”  I suppose it could have been an apple, and I don’t think anyone is really missing out on the point of the text by assuming the fruit was an apple.  But still, where do we get an apple?  Possibly from a Latin play on words in which
    the word for evil and apple are practically the same (if this is the origin, it would be a good example of #2 as well).  It ended up being an apple in John Milton’s 1667 epic Paradise Lost (which contributes more to how many people think of the Fall story than Genesis 3 does), and was frequently depicted as an apple in Renaissance art.  All of a sudden, all the images of the Fall we see have apples in them, not to mention secular allusions to the story (ie. Apple, Desperate Housewives).  And so we assume the Bible speaks of an apple.

The example I’ve given here is relatively harmless.  I only use it to illustrate how these ideas are canonized in our minds and the minds of our culture.  And my point is not to blame artists, pastors, or cultural wisdom.  Rather, the common soil that allows these misquotes to grow is biblical ignorance, getting our scriptural knowledge secondhand instead of being rooted in the Biblical Story ourselves.  My ultimate reason for shining some light on these things the Bible doesn’t say is to highlight what the Bible actually says, what the Gospel Story is really all about, what God is truly saying to us.  My hope is that these misquotes will encourage us to delight in the sweetness of God’s Word, let the Gospel message cut to our hearts,  and to be enlivened by the Words of Life God is speaking to our hearts.

 

OK, so this is a total cop-out since it’s Friday afternoon and I have no semblance of a blog for this week.  But…I thought we could make this week’s blog a “Suggestion Box.”  Comment on the blog with a topic or a few topics you’d like me to engage and try to think through biblically.  I can’t guarantee that I’ll do a blog for every suggestion  (since I have soooo many readers) or will get to them immediately, but I want to be writing about topics that are of interest.  If you want some guidelines for what types of topics I cover, you can scroll through the blog or click on the link to entries that have been tagged “About the Blog.”  But really, I’m not too picky.  So let’s hear your suggestions!

I hope all my faithful readers (ok fine, both of them) don’t think I’m trying to get an early start on my vacation, but I came to a sudden realization this week, and decided to write a different kind of blog.  I’m not focusing on any one current event, but rather making a commitment to myself and anyone who might read this blog: By God’s grace, I will not allow the media to set the agenda for my blog.

This blog’s concept can easily slide into a media-driven agenda.  I want to address current events in our culture- the kinds of things “everyone” in our culture is hearing and reading and thinking about- and wrestle with how we think through these things with the mind of Christ.  One cultural reality that this commitment demands us to question, however, is the very criteria for what makes something newsworthy! We need to ask ourselves, “Who sets my mind’s agenda?”  Is our perception of reality that which we receive from television shows, news channels, movies, and music?  Or are they secondary sources for how we view the world?

The Bible is concerned with our thought life, not just our actions. Often, it seems as though we don’t really have any control over what passes through our minds.  You may have experienced this feeling when you sit down for some time of quiet reading, reflection, or prayer.  In the moment, we may not have control  But that doesn’t mean we can’t have our minds retrained.  And part of this retraining, I believe, comes from taking back control of our mind’s agenda and who shows us reality.

The next time you watch any kind of news show, try to take a step back from focusing on the stories themselves, and look at the big picture of what kinds of stories are being told and what impression those selections give of what the world is like.  Is it a world where the bad news is killings, corruption, and natural disasters and the good news is the latest cute, feel-good story?  Does it spend 15 minutes on celebrity relationships and 5 on an important political issue?  Does it seem to be one-sided, trivial, or exaggerated?

Don’t get me wrong, I think we can learn valuable lessons from fallen football coaches, popular musicians, misguided “prophets,” and the like.  How we think about these events gives us an invaluable glimpse into what our worldview (view of the world) actually is, not just what we claim it to be.  But are we hearing the whole story?

This is not a rant against news media, just a reminder that the stories we read/see/hear on it are an incomplete, narrow, oftentimes trivial, and sometimes just plain bizarre picture of reality.  Why?  Well, at the risk of over-generalizing, my best explanation is: News shows tend to be far more interested in getting viewers than in showing us reality.  What we see on tv or read in the newspaper is as much a reflection on the public’s desires as it is on the network or publisher.  They give us what we want to see (deep down) and withhold what we don’t want to see (deep down).  And what we want to see doesn’t necessarily have much to do with reality.  If we want to transcend merely consuming information, we have to work to see the world more and more the way it is by engaging reality thoughtfully, prayerfully, faithfully, and actively.  It’s not that news shows don’t ever address important issues, it’s just that ongoing issues—often the systems behind the stories—get disproportionately neglected in favor of the latest event.  Event-based news stories invite us to blame, demonize, or idolize without helping us to see our part in the story.

And even when deeper, more ongoing stories do get airtime, the format of the media tends to undermine the message.  No sooner do stories move us to compassion, celebration, or lament than our thoughts are interrupted by a chihuahua trying to sell us tacos or the juicy details about a celebrity affair, and the moment has passed.  Like the seed that grows at first, but is choked down by weeds, our response to real news is short-circuited by the vessel in which we receive it.

So yes, I will continue to address current events and what makes news. They are in the cultural air we breathe; the Gospel permeates how we think about every area of life; and we must not become some sect that loses the ability to interact with the “outside world.”  But I will also address issues like sex trafficking, educational inequality, the global Church and religious persecution, and other ongoing, but neglected stories about reality.  I hope you will bring issues to me that you think warrant attention and be willing to move past information-receiving into engagement in conversation and action.

This is my first “real” blog.  The idea of writing a blog with this purpose (trying to think biblically about current events) occurred to me a while ago, but this week an event came along that moved me to get to it!  Let me tell you why: I’m a constant observer of culture.  I love to ask, “What does this reaction/trend/media tell us about the heartbeat of our culture?”  And, “How does this relate to the Gospel?”  Well, seeing people’s reaction to the assassination of Osama bin Laden both disturbed and intrigued me.  But not just me.  By the time I’d decided to write a reaction to the whole thing, I found a variety of other blogs and articles that sought to find the deeper meaning in this.  I commend every article/blog I’ve listed at the bottom to you (especially this one) .  I will try not to repeat too much.  But I want to do my best to offer some observation on the demise of Osama bin Laden based on the Christian Story.

1) Death is to be mourned, not celebrated. Death is a sad reality of this fallen world that Paul describes as humanity’s “last enemy.”  We are on shaky ground when we begin to treat it as a friend or a weapon.  Bin Laden’s death will not bring back those he killed.  His name is merely added to the list of people who have lost their lives because of the evil at work in the world.  Yes, we can see glimpses of justice and hopes of increased safety in this moment.  But should we not mourn that the situation came to this?  Paul tells us, “Your battle is not against flesh and blood, but against…spiritual forces of evil.”  Osama bin Laden—like all of us—was created in God’s image, a perpetrator of evil, a victim of evil’s deceptive power in this world, and subject to the enemy of Death.  Perhaps those who have been affected by his terrorism might gain a kind of solemn closure.  As John Armstrong has commented upon watching Americans celebrate in the streets, however, “I felt like I was watching some of the Arab world after 9/11.”

2) We are naïve about evil. Our culture has a very weak philosophy of evil on the whole.  We don’t have very good standards for determining evil, don’t like to discuss it, and aren’t willing to examine its effects in our own lives (the most available case studies we have).  One of the ways we act out our naïveté is trying to put a face on evil.  It makes the whole thing simpler:  Want to know what evil is?  Look at Osama.  Want to make the world a better place?  Kill Osama.  We fail to see that because such a philosophy of evil is not rooted in something cosmic and ultimate, it can be turned right back around on us:  Want to know what evil is?  Look at America.  Want to make the world a better place?  Fly a plane into the Pentagon.  Flaky understandings of evil let us off the hook.  When the Scriptures talk about evil, they begin with the human heart and eating a forbidden fruit.  It is that desire to determine good and evil for ourselves, that pursuit of happiness on our own terms that blossoms into things like planes being flown into buildings…and the ensuing thirst for revenge.  I think the Scriptures tell us that combating evil in the world begins with being willing to combat the evil in ourselves in partnership with God, who does so lovingly, graciously, and gently.  A baseball crowd chanting “U.S.A.” because we killed our “face of evil” moved the hearts of many “patriots,” but isn’t the death of Osama bin Laden at best a small dent in the world’s evil, at worst the triumph of our brand of evil over their brand of evil?  Soon this temporarily quenched thirst to destroy the evil-out-there will flare up again and we will find another face to pin evil on, another reason to be afraid, another reason to kill.

3) Celebrating bin Laden’s death reveals a heart for retribution and justice (someone getting what he deserved), not grace. The Christian story is a story of grace triumphing over retribution.  We can affirm that bin Laden deserved to die, but also yearn for something better than retributive justice.  Grace is about God giving us—through Jesus—a gift of forgiveness we didn’t deserve and an invitation to a life far better than we could have earned.  In response, Jesus calls us to “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.”  Did you pray for bin Laden to experience God’s grace and receive the invitation of new life that Jesus offers?  If Osama bin Laden had asked for God’s mercy and genuinely turned toward Jesus and a life of love, could you have rejoiced in that more joyfully than you rejoiced in his death?  It may sound unpatriotic, but Jesus doesn’t call us to be patriots.  If we have received God’s grace, we are called to be agents of grace and have no business in wishing anything but God’s grace on another.

4) The political posturing is concerning. Read the transcript of Pres. Obama’s announcement, and  notice the “I’s” and “my’s” in describing the events leading to the raid.  It seems evident that one of the intentions of the speech writers was to make sure listeners positively associate bin Laden’s death with Pres. Obama.  We can be fairly confident that most administrations would have sought, on some level, to gain as many political points from bin Laden’s assassination as possible.  And this is a concerning reality in our political culture, where public officials are regularly on the defensive against attacks or on the offensive pursuing votes.

If we have received God’s grace and experienced Jesus’ Resurrection, we are called to find our greatest joy in grace—not punishment—and our greatest hope in life—not death.  In trying to think biblically, I can fully affirm that Osama bin Laden deserved to die, fully yearn for his redemption, and fully mourn his death.  Living out God’s Story means modeling thoughtful and humble honesty about evil and joy that comes from Resurrection instead of retribution.

1. http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2011-05/fear-and-relief

2. http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/current-events/op-ed-blog/25463-should-christians-celebrate-the-death-of-osama-bin-laden

3. http://thedirtyshame.blogspot.com/2011/05/now-git.html

4. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/mayweb-only/osama-justice.html?start=3&sms_ss=facebook&at_xt=4dc021b5fb71afe1%2C0

5. http://www.nakedpastor.com/2011/05/03/peace-on-earth/

6. http://chuckcurrie.blogs.com/chuck_currie/2011/05/the-death-of-osama-bin-laden.html

7. http://johnharmstrong.typepad.com/john_h_armstrong_/2011/05/celebrating-osama-bin-ladens-death.html

8. http://www.cleveland.com/morris/index.ssf/2011/05/post_6.html#cmpid=v2mode_be_smoref_face

Pastor Jon and family: Jon, Lauren, and Leah

Pastor Jon Komperda here.  Welcome to my blog!  The purpose of this blog is based on a very simple assumption: Christians are called to think differently about life.  I’ll break that down.

1) “Christians”: All are welcome to read this blog, but I’m assuming the primary readers of this blog are those who have committed their life to following Jesus, and who are trying to figure out how to do that in all the realities of the world around us.

2) “are called” (Ephesians 4:1): Christians have a calling.  That means God has invited us into a new kind of life.  This is both a responsibility and an opportunity.

3) “to think differently” (Romans 12:2): How we live and what we believe come out of what kind of story we believe we are living in.  The Christian Story is unique, and thus our approach to certain things should be different than those who are living based on any other story.  We can’t just thoughtlessly accept the views of the media or people around us- as helpful as they might be- but rather must go the extra step to forming our own thoughts and responses.

4) “about life”: Christianity isn’t a religion to be compartmentalized.  If we really believe it, it permeates into every area of our lives.  Our faith is meant to shape us when we watch the news, go to work, speak to others about current events, or seek change in the world.

You might say to me, “Pastor Jon, I already listen to your sermons on Sundays.  Why should I read your blog too?”  Well, I can’t tell you why you should, but I can explain why I’m doing both preaching and blogging.  To put it simply, the beginning question of my preaching is “What is God saying to us in this Bible text?”  The beginning question of the blog will be “How do we think about this particular event/reality as Christians?”  The sermon is the proclamation of and invitation into the Story while the blog is wrestling with how we understand our current situation and culture’s places in the Story.

What’s this Story I keep talking about?  The Bible is really telling a Story of the world and asking us to find our place in that Story.  Throughout the blog, you’ll find that I will look for 4 key movements of the Bible’s Story in the current events we discuss:

Creation: the world was created by a good, loving, and powerful God, and it was created “good.”

Sin/Curse: we and the world, through humanity’s desire to do things our own way (sin), have been separated from the wholly good purpose for which we were/it was created.

Redemption: in love, God desires to bring us and the world back into right relationship with him and abundant Life!  This movement culminates in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.

Completion: one day, the New Creation God brought to life in Jesus will prove to be the final reality.  Evil, pain, injustice, and sorrow will be no more.  Heaven and earth will no longer be separate.  God will live fully with his people, and we will be fully free and whole.

Comments on the blog are encouraged, and I will do my best to respond.  You are free to disagree with me or any other readers on any point and to express that.  I simply ask that you do so respectfully and are willing to be challenged in your own opinion.  I will use my discretion in moderating comments, but will not censor anything just because I disagree.  Let the conversation begin!