Just recently I watched “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” the powerful (true) story of a woman stoned in Iran under the strict interpretations of Sharia law. Just after that I saw this piece shot by Matt Maxwell for last Sunday’s assembly at Golf Course Road.
Here’s my official invitation to you:
So much will be happening that I’ll tell you about over the coming months. But I especially want to encourage you to prepare for a study of Revelation. Many have shied away because the book seems so, well, weird; others have kept an arm’s length because of the bizarro interpretations of the book floating around popular culture.
If you’re a minister or Bible class teacher, let me encourage you to plan to do something on Revelation in the summer or fall of 2013. Come to Malibu—tough gig that it is!—April 30-May 3, 2013, to help in your preparations.
Here are some resources I’d like to recommend if you want to get a head start:
Michael Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly
Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder
Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed
N. T. Wright (of course!), Revelation for Everyone
One of my very favorite resources will come out at the lectureship: Dr. Greg Stevenson, who teaches at Rochester College, has a new book called A Slaughtered Lamb: Revelation and the Apocalyptic Response to Evil and Suffering that is amazing. He will be one of the resource scholars, along with James Walters of Boston University (and others).
This morning Charles Siburt, described by one of his sons as “the best man I’ve ever known,” died. He was a good friend. I’ll remember his remarkable voice, his big bellowing laugh, the way his face could express the words “these are my sons in whom I’m well pleased” when around John and Ben, and his insight.
Like Tiresias, the blind prophet in Greek mythology, Charlie could see things no one else could see—despite his failing eyesight. And he wasn’t afraid to help people move beyond the places where they were stuck. He helped others see ways in which their own pride, bitterness, sense of privilege, and nearsightedness were interfering with better relationships.
Two of my favorite memories about Charlie aren’t altogether pleasant. (Let’s be honest: people didn’t call him “Chainsaw Charlie” for nothing. The truth is that this was a compliment: you just don’t meet many people in life who will love you enough to tell you the truth about yourself. It’s also why so many churches brought Charlie in to help them. When all else fails, try asking someone who will tell you the truth.)
Both of the memories come from the mid-90′s, around the time of Megan’s death. Diane and I were exhausted, and in my exhaustion I lost nearly all ability to see myself. Charlie held up a much-needed mirror.
Once was after a tense elders meeting—this seems strange to say, because there was almost never a tense elders meeting the last ten years I was at Highland—when I drove him home. We sat in the car late at night. I invited him to tell me what he thought about some conflict I was in with a few people. And kindly, but very directly, he spoke words that hurt. Because they were true. He spoke them as a friend, not as a scolding elder. And then he moved on to words of affirmation and hope. I remember thinking that this was a new beginning for me as a minister.
The other time came about a year later. It was two months after our daughter’s death. I was fragile and tired, but I needed someone to tell me that that’s not an excuse for poor behavior. I got mad at Clois Fowler. Yes, Clois Fowler: one of the best men I’ve ever known in my life. My friend. Like a father to me. But in my exhaustion and immaturity, I got upset. So I went to Charlie. I guess I was going to tattle on Clois. Or perhaps I just figured another strong leader of our church would put his seal of approval on my anger.
Wanna guess how that went? Charlie told me that he could understand how weary I must be, but that I needed to pull it together. He told me that if I had a bigger fan at Highland—someone who’d cleaned up more of my messes than anyone else—than Clois, he didn’t know who it was. He said, “If you can’t make things work with Clois, I’m guessing you can’t make things work. He’s your greatest fan.” I crumpled in sorrow. Charlie prayed for me, and I went to Clois immediately to apologize. (If you know Clois, you know that he’d already forgiven me.)
Somebody in life has to love you enough to tell you the truth. And it helps when this person is a friend.
My greatest bond with Charlie was this: we were ALWAYS fans of each other’s sons. (And he and Judy loved Megan while she was alive, too.) I aways asked him about John and Ben; he always asked me about Matt and Chris.
So it’s fitting that the last time I saw Charlie was about three weeks ago: he was sitting at The Beehive eating lunch with Judy, John, and Ben. He asked about Chris’s youth ministry internship; and he told me that John came into his hospital room asking if it was Halloween because he’d just seen Matt Cope dressed up like a doctor.
His body was bearing the marks of a long battle with cancer. But there was that great joyful face of his, sitting at a good meal with his wife and sons.
Thank you, Charlie. Well done.
“Practice hospitality.” – Romans 12:13
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2
(Richard Beck put me on notice that I have two weeks to put up this post before he does so on his blog. It’s a brief summary of material I gave at Rochester College’s Streaming Conference. The full message will be in a forthcoming book.)
The Greek word for hospitality in these (and other) passages is philoxenia. The love of a xenos, a stranger. We’re fairly familiar with that word from the English word xenophobia: the fear of a stranger.
Xenos originally referred to a foreigner—leaning toward darker adjectives like strange, distasteful, and untrustworthy. Basically, it could refer to your enemy.
But one of the hard things about learning a language is that it’s like playing whack-a-mole. Just when you think you’ve nailed down the meaning of a word, it moves.
So xenos doesn’t just mean a stranger. If you invited the stranger into your home, they are now your guest. Still a xenos. So the word is fluid: it can mean either stranger or guest, depending on context.
And it carries one of those meanings everywhere it appears in the New Testament. Except for one occurrence.
In Romans 16, Paul sends greetings to the church in Rome from some believers in Corinth. Included in that list is “Gaius, who is the xenos of me and of the whole church” (v. 23).
Gaius isn’t their stranger or their guest. He’s their host! Talk about a roving meaning: xenos could mean either guest or host!
Perhaps it’s worth noting that Greek isn’t the only language with a word that can double for guest or host. In Spanish, the word huésped carries both meanings. And actually the old Latin word hospes did as well.
I’m guessing that the word morphed originally because of social obligation: once I’ve been your guest, I’m expected to reciprocate and be your host.
But as followers of Jesus, the border between host and guest breaks down for other reasons (just as the lines get blurred between leader and servant, strong and weak, teacher and learner).
We practice hospitality because Jesus is the host. He’s the one who washes feet, who serves at the table, who gave his life for all. We have learned a way of self-giving love through him. We’ve learned to open our lives, to create space, to welcome.
But we also practice hospitality because Jesus is the guest. The word xenos appears 14 times in the NT. The biggest cluster of occurrences is in Matthew 25, where it appears four times.
Jesus (to those on his right): “I was a xenos and you invited me in.”
Those on his right (to Jesus): “When did we see you a xenos and invite you in?”
Jesus: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Maybe Christian hospitality is strongest when the lines of host and guest are blurred. We learn to welcome others; yet we also are willing to be welcomed by them.
It’s fitting that Hospice Care comes from a word that could mean either host or guest. I’ve talked to Hospice volunteers and staff who go as servants. They go to welcome and minister with ambulatory care to those who are dying. But their response is always the same: they come away being ministered to; they learn from walking on holy ground; they find they are the ones who have been welcomed.
My religious heritage, maybe my age, certainly my pride—to say nothing of my obsessive compulsive tendencies—want a clean, strong, visible border of safety. I want to know who’s the host and who’s the guest. But to make room for my neighbor, I have to follow Jesus into places and relationships that don’t have nice, sterile, quarantined borders.
I wonder if we best obey the command to be hospitable when we aren’t completely sure whether we are the host or the guest . . . or a bit of both.
Just back from a few days at Rochester College’s Streaming conference. It was fantastic, and I hope many of you get to go in the future. Here’s part of what I loved:
1) It was at Rochester College. Since RC is located in a suburb of Detroit (translation: NOT in the Bible belt!), it’s off the radar for many people. But this is a great little Christian school. Under the four years of Rubel Shelly’s presidency (and under the leadership of Provost John Barton), the school has gotten on track financially and has charted some interesting territory in academics. This school has some amazing teachers and programs. For example, if you’re wanting to do some graduate work in theology and missiology, check out this Master’s program in missional leadership.
2) It was thought-provoking. The interdisciplinary study—with Walter Brueggemann and Richard Beck as the resource teachers—was fascinating. Imagine a lively discussion about Richard’s book Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality with the insights of Brueggemann’s theological framework.
3) It was emotional. Not see-how-many-tears-we-can-bring emotional. But the stirring testimony of Ryan and Jessica Woods filled the room with faith and, well, deep emotion. As Ryan and Jessica served us communion in the final hour of the conference (along with Richard and Jana Beck), there weren’t many dry eyes. Likewise, the singing—sometimes a cappella and sometimes instrumental (led by Caryl and Scott Parker)—was stirring. Especially when combined with the painting of Ro Diaz.
4) It was hopeful. From the Woods’ testimony to Greg Stevenson’s “Confessions of a Recovering Pharisee” to Brueggemann’s insistence in the divine activity of God, it pricked the imagination.
5) It was egalitarian. And it was egalitarian without having to point out, “Hey, look, we’re egalitarian.” It just was. I gave the opening sermon. Sara Barton gave the closing sermon. It just happened.
6) It was ecumenical. Yes, most of us are from Churches of Christ. But there was a wide variety represented. Brueggemann is from the United Church of Christ. (Insert your own joke here.) One panel included a (female) Episcopal priest, a (female) Presbyterian minister, and a Disciples pastor. Like Rochester College, the conference recognized and honored the heritage that most shared—while also appreciating God’s work among other tribes.
Thank you, Mark Love, for your vision and your leadership in this conference. I came away encouraged and strengthened.
The “stages” of my faith journey:
1) The goal is to be right. About everything. Doctrinal precision. If you’re not right, you’re wrong. Way wrong.
2) The goal is to be the Right (or, possibly, the Left). We get done what needs to get done through the power of civil religion. (This was a very short-lived “stage” stemming from my educational environment.)
3) The goal is to join God in his setting things Right. This is such a joy. Thank you, thank you to my guides—N. T. Wright, John Stott, Barbara Brown Taylor, John Howard Yoder, Walter Brueggemann, John Willis, Richard Hays, Henri Nouwen, Dallas Willard, Megan, Eugene Peterson, Scot McKnight, Landon Saunders, Michael Gorman, Luke Timothy Johnson. And so many others.
N. T. Wright, speaking at the beautiful Serra Retreat Center in Malibu on the full participation of women in ministry (via Rachel Held Evans):
When my mind goes, will someone please load up CCR and kindly put the earphones on me?
One of the amazing stories from the baptism day earlier this month at Eastside Christian Church in Fullerton (when 97 were baptized):