As I Was Saying. . .

The problem is I’m trying to say something with words, and that is by no means a precise medium; and it should not be assumed that words are anything more than an approximate representation of reality. What is the spoken word but puffs of air? What is the written word but a series of symbols? A-P-P-L-E is not an apple. And so trying to communicate what you are feeling, sensing, thinking with puffs of air and inscribed symbols. . . well, let’s just say it’s not an exact science. And what if what I’m feeling, sensing, thinking has to do with G O D?


Trying to use puffs of air and cute little symbols to say something about The One who is transcendent to the universe itself seems almost arrogant.

But then again God is not only transcendent to the universe (though he is that too), but he has chosen to be a participant in the universe; and not only in the universe but in that curious species that is the human race. For God entered the human race through the most human event of all—conception and birth. And he continued his human journey all the way into death and clear through to the other side—resurrection. Incarnation and Resurrection. Everything that is genuinely Christian is in one way or another a manifestation of or a reflection upon Incarnation and Resurrection. If we understand Incarnation and Resurrection reasonably well, there is a reasonable chance we might get Christianity somewhat right. But if we don’t t do good thinking on Incarnation and Resurrection there is no chance at all of getting Christianity right. Instead, we’ll cook up some religious this or that and call it Christianity, but it will be nothing of the kind.

But that’s not what I’m trying to say, it’s something else. But not just yet.

Not only is there the problem of the impreciseness of words, there’s also the fact that words are the substance of my vocation, and as such my words are subject to scrutiny. I’m fine with that, it goes with the territory, but it makes me a bit hesitant to try to say what I’m feeling, sensing, thinking outside a circle of trusted friends. This is so because there are always those whose response is, “Hey, the preacher with new eyes said something, let’s pick it apart.” And it’s no fun to have your words parsed and filled with meaning you never intended by people who don’t actually know you and seem to take perverse pleasure in playing the contrarian.

But I am a preacher and it seems I was born to attempt communication no matter the perils.

Alright, here goes.

It’s our attitude that’s bothering me. This is what I’m feeling, sensing, thinking, but struggling to find the words for.

We’re Christian and proud of it.

And of course I am proud to bear the name of Christ, but there you see the problem in finding the right words.

There is a way of being proud to be a Christian that is all wrong.

If you don’t actually know anyone who is not a Christian, or if you’re not actually friends with anyone who is not a Christian, you probably won’t understand what I’m trying to say. (And you should get out a little more.)

But the “proud to be a Christian” attitude belongs to the “US vs. THEM” mentality which is so distasteful and unhelpful. It’s salvation as a team sport—hooray for our side! There’s something deeply wrong with that. And it feeds into the notion that, “all the saved people pretty much agree with me on most things political, theological and otherwise.” No, it’s not said in so many words, but I see it all the time.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” I believe that. I absolutely, unequivocally believe that. But I also think there is a way of believing it which is wrong. When we believe it in the manner of arrogant triumphalism it’s wrong. When it’s used as a trump card to play against those we count as our enemies, it’s wrong. “Hey, all you atheists and Muslims, Jesus is the only way to be saved. So take that!” And we call it “witnessing.” It’s more like gloating. What Jesus said is to be believed, but not gloated over.

Sometimes I want to say, “I’m just lucky to be saved.”

Somebody call the police! Pastor Brian just said “lucky”!

Well, here I am again trying to use words to communicate what I feel. I use “lucky” in this sense: The experience of a not fully understood grace. I suppose I could say, “I’m the recipient of a not fully understood grace”—but that sounds awful religious. So sometimes I just like to say, “Man, I’m lucky.”

I saw an interview with New Testament scholar and theologian Eugene Peterson recently where he said he wanted to use the word “lucky” in the beatitudes passage of his Message translation, but his editor wouldn’t let him. “Lucky are those who are poor at being spiritual for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I get what Eugene Peterson means and he is doing no injustice to Jesus’ intent in his desire to use the word “lucky.”

But now I’ve slipped out of my alpha brain wave thinking and lost track of my “feeling” so I’ll finish this blog post as best as I can remember it.

I wish we could be more humble about being Christians. Not only among ourselves, but especially as we relate to those outside the faith. I’m afraid we have picked up too much of the angry vitriol that characterizes the polarized politics of America. We end up relating to secularists the way Republicans relate to Democrats (and vice-versa). And in so doing we seem to believe we are accomplishing something brave and righteous. I beg to differ. First of all I think it’s mistake to automatically think of those outside the Christian faith as enemies, but even if we do, we are commanded by Christ to love our enemies. And you can’t love people if you don’t respect them.

Ashok is a Hindu friend of mine in New Delhi. One day I was talking with Ashok about humility and he said, “Let me quote one of our Hindu teachers on this subject: ‘The vulgar, stiff, obstinate ego, is harder than diamonds, reinforced concrete or steel. It is very difficult to melt.'” I told him that was a very good observation. I didn’t say, “Well, what would a Hindu sadhu know about truth?” No, I respected Ashok and his Hindu teacher. All truth is God’s truth and we don’t have to descend into an artificial binary system where if they’re not on “our side” they don’t have any truth. This is the very essence of fundamentalism, and it’s wrong.

That Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except by Jesus, is completely true. It’s true because Jesus is the Incarnation of God and the Resurrection of man. There’s no other savior. But we hold this truth in such seriousness that there is a poignancy devoid of any triumphalism. (And here is where my puffs of wind and little symbols are failing to communicate what I feel.)

I want to tell everyone Jesus is the way, the truth, the life—but I don’t want to shout it. I want to whisper it. In Western Christianity we have shouted it for so long in the face of encroaching secularism that we’re now becoming angry about it. And John 14:6 is not something which can be said appropriately in anger.

Anyway, this is what I’m feeling on a blustery Sunday afternoon in April. But what do I know?

It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Blogging).

Grace & Peace,