Saturday, February 17, 2007

Franz Kafka's "At the Law"

Republished without picture, since ImageShack decided to drop me. No new content.

Franz Kafka's "At the Law" is a profound expression of the human condition. It was one of the few literary pieces that Kafka published during his lifetime, and was incorporated into what is usually considered his most profound novel, The Trial. Like much of Kafka's best work, its enigmatic nature seems to demand interpretation, but defies any single exhaustive explanation. At its core, however, lies the human tension between wanting to be justified by the law and yet feeling excluded from it.

One of the things that Christians often do is fail to really listen to where the people in our world are coming from. We tend to offer answers to questions that haven't been asked, and not listen to questions that are being asked. Kafka asks questions we need to be listening to. If we are to reach the world, we need to understand where it's coming from. "At the Law" appears to me to be a wonderful parable of the person who wants to live a moral life, but doesn't know the grace of Christ. I offer it to you, for your consideration, and I invite your thoughts in the comments section.
In front of the law there is a doorkeeper. A man from the countryside comes up to the door and asks for entry. But the doorkeeper says he can't let him in to the law right now. The man thinks about this, and then he asks if he'll be able to go in later on. 'That's possible,' says the doorkeeper, 'but not now'. The gateway to the law is open as it always is, and the doorkeeper has stepped to one side, so the man bends over to try and see in. When the doorkeeper notices this he laughs and says, 'If you're tempted give it a try, try and go in even though I say you can't. Careful though: I'm powerful. And I'm only the lowliest of all the doormen. But there's a doorkeeper for each of the rooms and each of them is more powerful than the last. It's more than I can stand just to look at the third one.' The man from the country had not expected difficulties like this, the law was supposed to be accessible for anyone at any time, he thinks, but now he looks more closely at the doorkeeper in his fur coat, sees his big hooked nose, his long thin tartar-beard, and he decides it's better to wait until he has permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down to one side of the gate. He sits there for days and years. He tries to be allowed in time and again and tires the doorkeeper with his requests. The doorkeeper often questions him, asking about where he's from and many other things, but these are disinterested questions such as great men ask, and he always ends up by telling him he still can't let him in. The man had come well equipped for his journey, and uses everything, however valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. He accepts everything, but as he does so he says, 'I'll only accept this so that you don't think there's anything you've failed to do'. Over many years, the man watches the doorkeeper almost without a break. He forgets about the other doormen, and begins to think this one is the only thing stopping him from gaining access to the law. Over the first few years he curses his unhappy condition out loud, but later, as he becomes old, he just grumbles to himself. He becomes senile, and as he has come to know even the fleas in the doorkeeper's fur collar over the years that he has been studying him he even asks them to help him and change the doorkeeper's mind. Finally his eyes grow dim, and he no longer knows whether it's really getting darker or just his eyes that are deceiving him. But he seems now to see an inextinguishable light begin to shine from the darkness behind the door. He doesn't have long to live now. Just before he dies, he brings together all his experience from all this time into one question which he has still never put to the doorkeeper. He beckons to him, as he's no longer able to raise his stiff body. The doorkeeper has to bend over deeply as the difference in their sizes has changed very much to the disadvantage of the man. 'What is it you want to know now?' asks the doorkeeper, 'You're insatiable.' 'Everyone wants access to the law,' says the man, 'how come, over all these years, no-one but me has asked to be let in?' The doorkeeper can see the man's come to his end, his hearing has faded, and so, so that he can be heard, he shouts to him: 'Nobody else could have got in this way, as this entrance was meant only for you. Now I'll go and close it'.

Excerpted from the translation by David Wyllie, © 2003 David Wyllie, available for free download from Project Gutenberg.

Friday, February 16, 2007

How Similar Is the Emerging Movement to the Jesus Movement?

Scot McKnight asks a very interesting question on Jesus Creed: "Is Emergence the 60s all over again?" Here's a sampling of the variety of responses that he's received:


Brad Boydston writes:

“Is Emergence the 60s all over again?” The answer is YES — but with more tattoos. I suppose that’s why some boomer types get annoyed with the whole thing. In hindsight they know how full of crap they were in the 60’s and then along comes a bunch of guys (mostly) who think they’ve just discovered the key to real Christianity — genuine community and “question authority.” And the growing-greyhair (or in the case of some, no-longer-growing-hair) realizes that the emerging crowd is as full of crap as they were. That realization is compounded by the fact that they know deep inside that they’re still processing all the pain they went through when their own 60’s style house church disbanded in 1976 — if it lasted that long. It’s all mostly the same old, same old stuff.

But that’s okay. Each generation in its youth seems to have to reinvent things. Then when they reach middle age they’re embarrassed by how arrogant they were back then. And it’s at that point that they have a fresh epiphany of the vastness of God’s grace and mercy. And they realize that all of the things which we hash and re-hash, while important, pale in significance to the generosity and forbearance of God.

So, my advice to the emerging generation (which is very very soon the post-emerging generation) is truck on with Jesus! You’re doing fine — and who knows, perhaps God will use you as he unfolds his kingdom. If nothing else you’ll be in a great position to extend grace to the next arrogant and crap-filled generation.


Julie Clawson writes:

My cynical response…



So what if it’s like the 60’s (or any other reform/visionary period)? If it makes some people feel okay about selling out to consumerism instead of trying to transform the world with God’s love by labeling (read dismissing) others that’s their issue. One of my biggest pet peeves is being told by some baby boomer that I’ll grow out of my idealistic passion. That I’ll live real life and be forced to return to self-centered conservative American evangelicalism I grew up in. They think that by telling me that others in history have tried to passionately pursue Christ but rightly let the love of comfort and money dissuade them of that passion will dissuade me as well. They tell me that I’m the one who needs to grow up and give up my passion for Christ because it just isn’t normal/mainstream. And I’m expected to accept the wisdom of their years and revert to whatever box they want to shove me into. That’s called growing up and being responsible…


And finally, Matthew Wilcoxen writes:

There are quite a few substantial differences that I see between the Jesus People movement of the 70’s and the Emergent movement of now. First of all, the Jesus People movement was, if I understand it correctly, largely “anti-intellectual.” Seminary became a Cemetery to these hippies. The Bible was all you needed and anything else was dead, putrefying “religion” or “tradition.” The Emergents on the other hand, while perhaps loathing systematic theology and the seminaries of what they see as a bygone era, are anything but anti-intellectual. They load up blogs and discuss scholarly works in their free time. Rather than dismiss everything from the past as “tradition” that kills, these emerging Christians welcome anything from the past as long as it isn’t in any way connected with the movements and institutions which spawned them.



The second difference I see is that the Jesus People Movement did not really push the envelope doctrinally at all. The one exception being, perhaps, that some of them loosened up and actually believed the parts about the Bible that talk about the Holy Spirit. For the most part, they took the doctrines that had been handed down to them, and took them to the streets and preached them with vigour. On the other hand, the Emergents are, some more than others, shoving the envelope quite radically. McLaren says that “..our interpretations reveal less about God or the Bible than they do about ourselves…” (A New Kind of Christian, p. 50). The Emergent movement seems to be questioning, largely, whether or not understanding theology in any definitive way is even possible. For this reason, we are seeing much in the theological realm that is more reactionary than it is revolutionary. (I hope this doesn’t seem vitriolic, please correct me if I’m wrong.) In sum on this point, the Jesus People turned out to be fundamentalists in hippie garb; the Emergents are willfully shaking any fundamentalism out of themselves as quickly as possible.



For my last point (I think that I could go on forever!), I will say that the Jesus People were proclamational and definitely “missional.” Their strong emphasis was preaching the gospel. If you meant someone who was part of this movement, chances are, you had been confronted with the truth of the gospel of their Jesus. They were strongly committed to being “witnesses” in the sense that they verbally told and retold the story of how God, in Jesus, had reconciled sinners to himself through the cross and “commands all men everywhere to repent.” What they wanted was a conversion of the heart and of the priorities and they would ask you to accept that converting work of God. Conversion was, to them, a sharp break with one’s past life. They were all about being “born again.” The Emergents, while committed to being “missional”, are not committed to evangelism, at least not in the same way. Since orthopraxy has taken over for orthodoxy, most Emergents are not as concerned wtih proclamational evangelism. Instead, they seek to model inclusion before conversion (something many Jesus People undoubtedly did as well). Conversion in the sense of a radical godward reorientation, a “born again” experience, is not the aim of Emergent missions. I could continue, but I think most will further recognize the contrast betweent the Jesus People Movement’s strong proclamation (understand: verbal) of Christ and the Emergent’s aversion to such proclamation.



In sum, I think the Emergent movement is a whole different type of movement when we compare the beliefs, convictions, and practices of it with the Jesus People movement of the 70’s.
I could find points of commonality with both Brad and Matthew. And I remember thinking like Julie. What do you think?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Housekeeping

Just a few metablogging notes here.

There seems to be a problem either with Blogger or with Feedburner; I keep getting the most recent 25 posts appearing as though they were new in my own subscription. I don't know if other subscribers are getting the same thing or not; it's not me, and I can't find any documentation for it on either Blogger or Feedburner, except that I see in November Blogger ran a fix for a problem they had that they said would result in a one-time reposting of everyone's most recent 25. So I don't know if it's that or something else; for all I know, it's just a problem with my own ISP's server. If anyone has any insight, I'd like to know about it.

For my own part, I do from time to time make minor updates on old posts, usually just to fix the collapsible posts code or some such thing. I've learned, thanks to Hans how to insert a note into the feed that won't show up on the page itself, to let subscribers know whether there's actually any new material in the post or not. So I'll be doing that whenever I tweak a post.

I've been blogging less frequently, as my schedule has changed and I have less time to myself to write (this translates into more time for family, so it's a good thing). I'll keep it up as I can; I appreciate those of you who take the time to read.

As a part of this new schedule, I've cautiously decided to allow comments without moderation. This will give those of you who comment the ability to have them posted without waiting for me to approve them, since it may now be the better part of a day before I can check them. But the policy of this blog is still that all comments are moderated; I'm just doing it after the fact now, and may change back at any time. Moderation hasn't been a problem so far; I think there's only been a couple of times I haven't approved comments (obvious trolls). I just want to reserve that right, because I've seen too many web forums, newsgroups, and mailing lists become ugly and unhelpful places; I don't want that to happen here.

Anyway, I think that's it for now. God bless.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Who We Are, What We Do, and What We're Tempted By

Jamie Arpin-Ricci has written a powerful piece in "Homosexuality: A Personal Reflection." I highly recommend that you read it, very carefully. Arpin-Ricci writes honestly and eloquently about a subject that few dare to touch in such a personal way, and yet thousands struggle with on a daily basis.

I once had occasion to have a young man--someone whom I knew to have a sincere heart for Jesus--confess to me that he struggled with same-sex attraction. The most heartbreaking thing about it was that he made the confession with an absolute expectation that he would be rejected and condemned for doing so. As I tried to think of what to share with him, I felt that the Lord gave me this insight: there is a difference between what a person is tempted by, what he does, and who he is.

Although we may pay lip service to the doctrinal truth that sin lies in acting on temptation, in fact we treat the temptation and succumbing to it as equivalent.Ironically, both gay activists and religious anti-homosexual activists share a common trait: neither one believes that proposition. Gay activists maintain that if a person struggles with same-sex attraction, that's because he is gay, and he must act on that fact. Religious anti-homosexual activists implicitly assume the same thing: if a person has homosexual inclinations, it must be because he has chosen a "sinful lifestyle." Depending on how extreme the message is, there may be nothing but condemnation: homosexuality is treated as though it were the unpardonable sin. Or renunciation of homosexuality may be an implicit requirement for fellowship: we'll (cautiously) accept someone who has that as a part of their "testimony," as long as it's safely in the past. Those among us who are particularly progressive might hold out the hope for "deliverance," the implicit assumption being that if God truly delivers a person, that person will not only keep away from actively sinning, but will have the actual temptation taken away as well. In all these scenarios, we are assuming that the fact of being tempted by same-sex attraction means that one is a homosexual; although we may pay lip service to the doctrinal truth that sin lies in acting on temptation, in fact we treat the temptation and succumbing to it as equivalent.

What we don't handle very well at all is someone living as a Christian who is tempted by what most of us are not. That is what makes Arpin-Ricci's testimony so poignant and powerful. Here is someone who has searched the scriptures and agrees with a conservative Christian position--that homosexual activity is a type of sin--but nonetheless acknowledges temptation in that area. As you might imagine, he writes that "this is anything but an easy blog post to write." Indeed! I've never read anything like it. Many of his readers (and perhaps some of mine) may assume that he's simply a closeted homosexual who needs to renounce his marriage and "come out" in order to be true to himself; others may assume he hasn't been "delivered" yet and so couldn't be a genuine Christian.

And yet how many people are precisely in his position? How many, like the young man who confessed to me, are living as good Christians, but with a terrible secret that they feel they can't share with anyone--one that makes them doubt their salvation, and terrified of the ostracism and condemnation that they know will come if anyone ever finds out. And how many gay people, open or not, won't dare to darken the door of a church--not because they don't believe, but because they don't want to risk exposure and rejection, and perhaps even hatred? What has become of James's command to "Confess your sins to one another, that you may be healed"? Who would dare confess such a thing to most church people today?

I wonder if those struggling with homosexuality are the equivalent of the tax collectors, "sinners," and women of ill repute that Jesus was criticized for associating with. I wonder if we have a need for "big" sins like homosexuality in order to minimize and justify our struggles with "little" sins like greed, selfishness, vanity, and envy. I wonder if we just need to feel better than someone else; I wonder if we just need to exclude someone else. I wonder if, at bottom, we really don't believe that we are saved by the mercy and forgiveness of God and the sacrifice of Jesus; I wonder if we maybe just think that we're better than others, because we haven't had the same temptations. How sad. And if that's true, then I wonder for how many of us, the final word will be, "Depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Groundhog Day is Today

Republished without picture, since ImageShack decided to yank my access. No new content.

So put your little hand in mine
There ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb
     -- Sonny and Cher
If you haven't ever seen Bill Murray's movie, Groundhog Day, you really should check it out. The movie is based on a simple premise: a self-centered, shallow weatherman (Murray) finds himself repeating the same day over and over. It recounts how he first disbelieves and resists his situation, then decides to exploit it, tries repeatedly to kill himself (only to wake up the following morning), falls in love with his producer (Andie MacDowell) and tries to exploit the situation to win her, and finally becomes aware of the needs of the people around him, choosing to use this eternally-recurring day to serve others and improve himself.

I've long enjoyed the movie; it's Murray at his best, both funny and poignant. The central idea is irresistible, and much of the fun of the movie is watching the same scene setup play itself out in a myriad of different ways, based on Murray's character Phil Connors trying out all sorts of different responses to the situations that repeatedly confront him. Once the movie has established the basic setup, we often see the same scene repeated a number of times in a row, as when Connors uses information gleaned from a previous day--say, a woman's high school or favorite drink--to his advantage on a subsequent day. Or sometimes, the same type of thing happens in different settings (the slapping montage is the most priceless example).

But the movie makes its turn when Connors sees the needs of the people around him. A child falls out of a tree; a group of women are stranded with a flat tire; a man in a restaurant chokes on some steak; a homeless man dies. Connors begins setting for himself a set of "chores"; things that he does for people every day, despite the fact that when he wakes up again, the same needs will exist again, and the people he's helped won't even remember that he has done so. Besides this, he also does things, like taking piano lessons, to better himself in a personal way. As he does so, he earns what he could not gain by manipulation: the admiration--and the beginnings of love--from MacDowell's character.

What struck me the last time I saw this movie was how it really played as a parable of our own lives. To be sure, we are not caught in a time loop during which we are literally repeating the same day over and over. But for most of us, life settles into a routine. We go to work, we come home, we frequent various places for amusement, we travel the same routes, we see the same people. The real question for each one of us as human beings is, what are we doing with that routine? How aware are we of the people that cross our paths every day? What kind of people are we making ourselves into? What influence are we having on others?

It's all-too-easy to find ourselves mindlessly repeating the same pattern, hoping for some Big Thing to get us out of our rut and make a change in our lives. It's tempting to think of ministry as something that we will do if the right opportunity comes along. Some of us, frankly, are stuck--in jobs we didn't expect to have, in places we didn't intend to be, in situations we didn't plan on. The real question is, What do we do with the place we're stuck in and the people we're stuck with? Because how we answer that question determines the kind of person we are. Jesus, to be quite frank, didn't say, "Repeat this prayer after me, and if you really believe it in your heart, then you can live forever in heaven." He did say, "Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, my brothers, you have done it unto me. Enter into your rest."


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