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Telling Secrets

faith, fatherhood, and culture


Thursday, August 17, 2006

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Last week, Newsweek did a cover story on Billy Graham. I thought it was an excellent treatment of one of the most influential men in the last 2000 years. You can read the full article here.

I came away from the story with two thoughts. The first thing that struck me was the arc of Billy's story. The picture above shows his youthful fire. He was friend and confidante to presidents and world business leaders. He was on a nickname basis with Martin Luther King, Jr., "Mike" to Billy. He got involved in the political scene and became a type of spokesman for political figureheads - a career move that got him written off by most of the press and social critics, something that he eventually was able to reverse. He preached the gospel to more people in the world than anyone else in the history of Christianity.

Now, he is consistently lionized by the press. Time did a story about him 13 years ago:

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Then he made the top 100 most influential people of the 20th Century list. Now it's Newsweek's turn. "When's he going to die?" seems to be the underlying question. And the one that is even deeper is, "Is there anyone in the current generations who can fill the void he will leave?" That is the second thought I had and the one that leaves me troubled.

Compare the two pictures. Look at the eyes. He's been tempered over the years. That gives me some hope for our present. There are lots of firey young folk (by young I mean 50 years and younger) around who are in the process of being tempered. But I'm not sure I see any really cut from the same stock as Billy or Mother Theresa. Most likely there are a lot of saints like them - perhaps they're just diluted in the over publicized era we live in. Perhaps they aren't recognized as such because of our post-Christian society.

But the case doesn't seem much different in other religions. We are witnessing the twilight of other "saints" - His Holiness The Dalai Lama is no young buck, Thich Nhat Hanh is also in his latter years. Have there been any recent Buddhas? Not to my knowledge. Certainly Imams and Clerics all have black marks by their names, whether they deserve it or not. Maybe what we're really living in is not just a post-Christian society, but a post-religious world - a world of "spirituality" and secularism. A world where atheism is passe, if not anachronistic.

And yet, it is a world that still loves a good redemption story. The romance of healing, peace, and love still grips the hearts of most everyone. Humans still long to "be complete," to be at peace with ourselves, each other, and the material world. Now that "Man is dead," as Foucault declared, now that the idol of human potential and accomplishment has been consumed in a mushroom cloud, maybe now we see that there is still hope in something more. We can almost glimpse the "white shores" and the "far green land" that Tolkein talks about. Will there be anyone in the present and near-future generations who can serve as beacons for the rest of us? Will all God's children please stand up?


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I have always wanted to host a discussion on the Dekalog and now my chance has come! We're going to start, rather aptly, on September 11 and show a film each Monday night through November 20. I can't think of a better series to go through as we as a country heal enough to re-examine the tragedy that happened five years ago. On the societal and world stage, we are faced with moral situations that require a depth we haven't fostered. The Dekalog examines dilemmas that are at once particular and universal and asks how an ancient moral code, the Ten Commandments, informs the choices that must be made.

Here's the spiel I wrote for YourHub.com:

The Dekalog has been often hailed as Krzysztof Kieslowski's (director of Blue, White, Red and The Double Life of Veronique) masterpiece. Dekalog is a series of 10 one-hour films based loosely on the Ten Commandments. It was made for Polish television in 1988, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union.

Stanley Kubrick wrote in his introduction to the published script that Kieslowski and [co-writer] Piesiewicz "have the very rare ability to dramatize their ideas rather than just talk about them. By making their points through the dramatic action of the story they gain the added power of allowing the audience to discover what's really going on rather than being told....You never see the ideas coming."

Andrew Sarris from the New Yorker said, "Ostensibly based on the Ten Commandments, the 10 only slightly interlocking stories are neither religious nor political parables, but rather, slow-starting but ultimately absorbing character studies, often climaxed by ironic twists of fate and choice, filmed in a style that emphasizes the randomness and complexity of existence."

Variety.com hails the Dekalog as "one of the most sublime mega-films of the late 20th century."

Kieslowski describes his own effort as "an attempt to return to elementary values destroyed by communism...The relationship between the films and the individual Commandments is a tentative one. The films should be influenced by the individual Commandments to the same degree that the Commandments influence our daily lives."

Join us in the historic building of the L2 Church (formerly known as The Master's Church) next door to the Tattered Cover on East Colfax. Each night will be hosted by Lighthouse Writer's Workshop faculty member Scotty Sawyer (local author, music critic, and film buff) who will introduce each film and facilitate the post-film conversations. Organic, fair-trade coffee will be served. For an outline of the plot and more information on Kieslowski, visit the Facets website.

L2 Church (formerly known as The Master's Church) located next to the Tattered Cover on East Colfax and Columbine

7 p.m. - 9 p.m.

Event Dates:
This event takes place every Monday from 9/11/2006 through 11/20/2006.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

I have had some wonderful discussions recently that have been sparked by my recent blog on women in church leadership. The most insightful discussions, not surprisingly, have come from the women in my life -- my wife Angela, my good friend DJ (you can read the conversation I had with her at the end of my recent blog), and my wise sister Brigitte. You must read Brigitte's comment on her blog - it is so jam packed with insight that she had to turn it into an article, rather than a blog comment. It is far and away better than anything else I've read in the blogosphere so far, including Grace Driscoll's (important to know she's Mark's wife) article on the Acts 29 website (she does a pretty good job of going through the Book of Ruth, but her conclusions don't do it justice).

So, take a minute or two, grab an eye-opening shot of homemade Russian vodka, and dive into the solid words of Petra.

(In case you don't follow links, her address is iampetra.blogspot.com.)


Thursday, August 03, 2006

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(NOTE: this was an open letter I wrote to my friend. I covet the thoughts of anyone reading this. Please leave me some comments on how brilliant I am, or how completely whacked I am.)

This has been a very touchy issue for us for the past month or so, so I've also been thinking a lot about it and have started to study through the scriptural arguments on the complimentarian and egalitarian side, even turning to the Greek. I'm by no means an authority on either one of those now, but I think I have a fairly decent understanding of them both.

So after multiple conversations with Mike and Russ, a bunch with other friends, and through my own study and experience, here's where I am:

First let's clear the playing field of debris. Let's assume that the feminist movement didn't happen. We've both had our run ins with various forms of feminism, some good some bad. This topic is easily loaded from the start based on our experiences, so let's put all that to the side and get back to it later.

I think an appeal to the 1st century church as an ideal to return to is also fairly weak because their model of church and what was happening with women in that age was completely different than ours. 1 Corinthians 14 tells the tale of a church much like the one I grew up in, the Plymouth Brethren church, with a self-governing popcorn worship service type model. During that service people could sing, prophesy, etc. and Paul in all his letters dealing with church structure (I'm thinking specifically of Galatians, Corinthians, and Timothy at the moment) had 2 things in mind concerning the gathering of believers -- order/peace and no false teaching. There was a lot of disruption and a lot of neo-platonist/gnostic teaching happening and Paul was writing to set the record straight regarding both, especially laying out the gospel again to get the teaching back in line.

Our current western church structure looks a lot different and leans heavily on the enlightenment assumption of expertise and reasoning. I suppose you could argue biblically for a head pastor by looking to the apostles, but they were church planters and feeders--they didn't have one church to focus on. A true 1st century church would be more flat in structure with no head pastor, only elders and deacons and deaconesses and the service would look much like a Plymouth Brethren service.

Next let's recognize our current culture -- it is quickly shedding the worst parts of the enlightenment in many ways and adapting the good parts of it to, hopefully, the good parts of postmodernism. So, i'd like to try to look at this acknowledging our current place in history and look at the Bible less as a manual or document to be analyzed and more like a living breathing thing that tells of God's orchestrating history to reveal Jesus, his plan of reconciliation, and his final sweeping up of sin and throwing it in the dustbin. Analysis is required to identify and trace themes, to be sure, so we'll use the best of the past and hopefully the best of the present.

So now let's get into it. It truly is difficult to paint a broad picture of God's work since creation and not see themes of structure in the relationship between men and women and their roles. I think you're right on to go back to the creation story, as Paul does, to point to the fact that it pleased God to make man and woman equal before him but man first with the woman as a helpmeet. Why did he do it that way? I think number one it pleased him to, and number two, because we are made in his image. So we get to the Trinity which we're taught also has structure and roles with God the Father being not top dog, but final decision maker/planner. But He doesn't operate solo...He works perfectly in conjunction with the Son and the Spirit. Different roles, all equal. And men and women are made from that mold. Point of agreement for us numero uno.

The fall screwed everything up and women are cursed to want to usurp the man's role. Sex between the sexes is corrupted. At the same time, she still holds a crucial part in the plan. It's not hard to see the effects of the curse today and much, not all, of the feminist movement and it's aftershocks are clear testimony to that. One of the mantras of the moderate feminists that i really like is this: "power with rather than power to or power over." I think that actually sums up what the partnership between men and women should look like. Ironic, no? Ok, point of agreement for us numero dos.

So let's continue tracing this theme through the old testament. Did god use women to lead and teach his people? Yup, but admittedly not often. There were no levite women listed taking care of the tabernacle and there certainly were no women high priests (another point of support for a head pastor, perhaps?). Women did play crucial roles in God's story though, so he's allowed to bend the structure he created. I'm thinking most specifically, of course, of Deborah the prophetess and judge. I've heard arguments saying that Deborah was just being used by God to shame the men who weren't stepping up to the plate. That may be, but it doesn't really matter, because there she is and I suspect that she would still have been a prophetess if God hadn't called her to judge Israel and put the hurt on its enemies. There are other examples too, none quite as stark, but we'll stop there for now. Point made.

While we're here, lets talk about the times when God's structure of male headship doesn't apply in the family -- a comatose husband, a widow, a single woman. How does God operate in these circumstances? Who is the head of the family now? The woman. So there are exceptions to god's rule of male headship. Point of agreement for us numero tres? I suspect so.

Ok, God orchestrates Israel's historical events to point to Jesus, to his church, and the establishment of his kingdom...blah blah blah, absolutely stunning in its implications. Next let's move on to Jesus and his liberation of women. Women in that culture were not allowed to learn anything and they certainly were oppressed in all our current senses of that word. Jesus treated them the way they were created. He taught them himself, they followed him around and took care of the behind the scenes stuff, they taught others what they learned in order to spread Jesus message (I'm thinking of the samaritan woman at the well here). Jesus established a new law of grace and elevated women above their culturally mandated place and they were eager to learn and participate in his work. The levitical structure was moot and the liberation of women was established. Jesus did not include a woman in his 12, though, and you could argue several views on that one -- first that he was training the heads of his churches, keeping in line with his created order. Second, that it simply would have been culturally inappropriate and downright scandalous for a single man to have females included in his inner circle. Indeed with what pagan worship was like at the time, it would have caused people to dismiss Jesus as different on the spot. Maybe the true answer is a little of both? The latter seems clear, the former seems possible. Point of agreement for us numero quatro.

Moving on to the 1st century church, it's clear that women were eager to claim their newfound cultural freedom and wanted to continue to learn. And they had a steep learning curve. This is a problem in a preach or sing as the spirit leads kind of church. Lots of opportunity for false teaching, on purpose or not, and for disorder. Paul came around to put the cabosh on both. However, it is clear in 1 Corinthians 11:5 that women did pray and prophesy, prophesy being things said for the edification and building up of the body, which requires both scriptural understanding and the ability to communicate. 1 Corinthians 14 shows Paul's solution for the disorder: he tells people basically to take turns and make sure everyone who has a revelation gets to share it. Now these things aren't just taken at face value either, because Paul requires that 2 or three leaders evaluate all that is taught to make sure it's right.

Paul also acknowledges many female co-laborers without whom his ministry wouldn't have gotten off the ground. Did they teach or lead any of the churches? I don't honestly know. Priscilla did with Aquila, a husband/wife team and in my opinion an ideal example for how churches should be led. I read a word study analyzing the greek word describing what exacly Priscilla and Aquila did to apollos...was it simply laying out the gospel to correct him, or was it also teaching him? Apparently there's no agreement on the matter in the scholarly world, so it is left up to interpretation through whatever lens you want to bring.

Paul talks about not letting a woman teach or exercise authority over a man. Taken literally, this doesn't make much sense in the practical world. Women teach men all the time and are often more gifted in leadership and interpretation than men. Our wives and mothers teach us all the time and we are right to listen to them -- Angela has brought perspectives to scripture that are more accurate and helpful than my own. So it seems that the "teaching" part needs to be lumped in with the "exercising authority" part. And so paul goes on to lay out the qualifications of people exercising authority -- eldership and deaconship. Women seem to be banned from eldership though they are welcomed in deaconship. I say seem because it is not exclusively stated and could be interpreted as fidelity in a marriage over simply being a husband (so women in, divorced people out). Jury's still out for me on that one. Either way, women are allowed to be deaconesses, they pray in public so they don't actually have to be silent as Paul says elsewhere, and they prophesy in public which means that for all intents and purposes they taught in the 1st century congregation as i've described it, the members of which included men.

Translating that principle to today, where the service looks completely different, women can still pray and prophesy in church. They can teach the congregation if the leadership approves of what they teach, the same qualifier that men have. The jury's out on the eldership thing, so I'll assume for now that women shouldn't be elders. What does that really mean? Elders, according to Paul's agenda in his churches, are charged to maintain order and to prevent false teaching. I also think they are charged with care of the congregation, to "pastor" it in the pastoral/shepherding sense (another point of support for head pastors?). I don't know where that is in the Bible other than Jesus saying to do it, but I can't think of Paul ever saying so. They are, as Russ said, where the buck stops. My friend Carol, my coworker who's been coming to the church, says she reconciled this by acknowledging the need for there to be one person ultimately responsible in any unit of people, be it a family, a workforce, or a church...otherwise, what you get is chaos. Wise words from Carol and it also helps me see more clearly Russ' point that he hammers over and over that headship is not privilege or power, it is duty and responsibility and there's a tremendous difference. Did Carol teach me today?

Given that current lead pastors are part of and subject to the elders, and with my assumption, then women are barred from being a lead pastor. Can there be exceptions? I think it is important to leave room for them because as we've seen, god makes exceptions to the rule himself and we must not act in a way that trumps that. Are women barred from teaching? Not in my mind from what I've laid out. There's nothing inherently special about the pulpit, no matter what reformed theologians say with their special/general everything. There was no pulpit in the 1st century church...it is a modern, western invention and it must be treated as such. It is awfully powerful, though, so I believe extra caution should be used when handing it over to anyone besides an elder, which could, by my reasoning, include people like Nancy Pearcey and exclude people like Marilynn Hickey.

If you are going to talk about leading a church in a missional direction, the women are going to play a key role in that just as they did in Jesus' and Paul's ministries, either as helpmeets to their pastor husbands (e.g. bedroom leadership), or as deaconnesses or as teachers of men, women, and children. I reject the notion that "like-minded men in this organization" need to "lead them and train them in the central issues of doctrine and missionality for this is a 1st century Biblical model." I simply don't believe that is the 1st century model and it seems silly to suppose that women need men in particular to teach them doctrine or missionality. I think pastors and their elders can decide to take the church in that direction, but they had better check with their better halves, the women in the church, to get their wisdom and input before they make any kind of major decision like that. Decision making without input from the workers is such a hierarchal, western corporate model and it's foolishness. I told Russ if I had my way, the church would be a flat organization, and to his credit, I said, it seems he already runs it that way. I'd just like to see the leadership involve its women leaders in decision making, granted that the final decision rests with the elders.

Do you see a trend here? I think that the model of church structure mirrors the model of family structure. If we're basing roles of men and women on the creation order and ultimately the trinity, then that foundation should apply to both the church and family. They are types of each other, if you will. Thus, a good husband would never lead the family without discussing any matter first with his helpmeet and making sure that they are both on the same page, acknowledging that ultimately the husband is responsible for what happens and should get the last word; and in a good marriage, that should rarely happen, if ever. Same goes with the church.

So, I suspect we agree on just about everything and I'm willing to watchfully submit to a male-only elder board with the strong belief that women need to be more publically valued and that we don't worry so much about their "place." They need to be more publically valued in the sense that we need to watch our language that smacks of a good-ole-boys club, which is mostly done jokingly in my experience but, like any joke, it belies an actual belief or attitude toward women. And their place is beside us, leading with us in harmony, each gender using whatever gift God gave them, including leadership and teaching. Let's not use silly justifications of teaching or leading in ministry by saying, oh she can lead that ministry because it's a parachurch ministry. All ministries, including the actual church service, are part of the Body of Christ. I think Mark Driscoll (in his book Radical Reformission) makes a somewhat false generalization when he separates out parachurch from the church, because it is often in parachurch ministries that the actual work of the church gets done (witness Xylem Family, Solid Rock, and Reformed Life), the difference being that parachurch ministries don't fall under the leadership of the elders. But let's just call it like it is, women serving and leading alongside the men, doing God's work. Regarding feminism, it is an over-generalized, tired horse that gets kicked and blamed for everything. It was responsible for a lot of good in our society and, under his sovereignty, God worked through it to further freedom for women and their societal equality with men in the Western world. As with all movements, much of it goes too far (e.g. trying to erase all gender distinctions), but I say, let's move past that corpse. People have been rebelling "against their place" long before the first bra was burned.