Friday, August 29, 2014

We Must Be Wiser Than This

If you get your information or analysis of the world from The Daily Show, you need to have enough sense to be embarrassed for yourself.  You either need to grow up and learn to absorb the world and important issues like a thoughtful adult, or you need to turn in your “I Learned How To Use My Frontal Lobes” card.

The world of politics is rife with things that ought to be made fun of and the line of political comedians is long indeed.  Much in political life should be laughed at.  ISIS should not be.  Brutality matching ancient Assyrian levels is not an appropriate place for mockery.  It just isn’t funny.

Whether or not ISIS is a clear and present danger to the American homeland is up for debate (but remember, that is what we thought about Al Qaeda before 9/11), but the level of evil being acted out by them should not be.  What also should not be up for debate is whether or not we are allowed to laugh at ISIS and the kinds of things they are doing.  It is morally inappropriate to make this kind of mockery of this kind of evil.  Laughing at it and making cheap jokes does not help anyone deal with the systematic slaughter of Christians and other religious minorities, and it does not help us put the YouTube beheadings in some kind of ‘big picture’.

Part of maturity – the growth of virtue in the human character – is learning what emotions are appropriate and inappropriate given the situation.  You do not laugh at funny cat videos during the funeral of a friend who committed suicide.  You do not weep at your loss to a friend when they are tremendously blessed and you are not.  Instead, you learn to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

The Daily Show gets this profoundly wrong.  It is unable to tell the difference between things that ought and ought not be laughed at.  Stewart, though a very intelligent man, is not wise.  Maybe we can laugh with him from time to time at the absolute absurdity that is our political system, but we must be wiser than he is and learn when not to laugh.

I don't have the stomach to embed the video. Here is the link.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Clear Insight Into The Role Of Pastor

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989). 171 pages.
Eugene Peterson

Quite often when I read Eugene Peterson on pastoring I feel my blood pressure dropping and my spirit settling into the place it longs to be.  As a pastor I am subject to a lot of theories and expectations about what it means to do my job, and I suspect most of them are warmed-over corporate make-work that simply do not belong in my vocation.  Peterson, however, expresses with great experience and aplomb what it is like to try and be a good pastor.

When I sat down to open up "The Contemplative Pastor," I thought I would just read a couple of pages to get started and so did not have a pencil in hand.  I read the first sentence, put the book down, and returned with a pencil.  "If I, even for a moment, accept my culture's definition of me, I am rendered harmless."  I do not want to be harmless, but I suspect that is how many view me.  I knew then that if the rest of the book lived up to the promise of this first thought I was in for a marvelous read.

Peterson's goal in the book seems to be reshaping what we mean when we talk about the vocation of pastor.  What do we do? What makes us different from other people helping professions?  Is there anything different between the two, and if so, is there a way of recapturing it?  He begins with describing the pastor as "unbusy, subversive, and apocalyptic."  And so the book goes, relabeling the pastor in ways that are not in-step with current cultural trends but which capture the significant, if hidden, vocation of pastor.  One particularly insightful passage near the end deals with the adolescence of our age and how that kind of immaturity has crept into even the pastor's life.

The first half of the book simply soars with insight and encouragement to be something different from what the world around us, and even within us, wants us to be.  At moments halfway through the book I thought the pastoral insight waned a bit, but overall it never really lost its subversive encouragement.  Throughout, Peterson moves expertly from discussing a theology of sin and what that does to our view of others, to the genuine expectations of a congregation, to the value of learning to use language well through reading and writing poetry.  There is a lot here to absorb and learn from.

The biblical role of pastor has been lost in our American and Western cultures, and therefore needs to be regained.  It is something of significant value in the lives of people, congregations, and communities and thus cannot be surrendered to corporate style leadership or nice-guy optics.  Peterson is a phenomenal guide back to the path we should be trodding.

If you found this review helpful, pleas say so on Amazon.