Thursday, October 08, 2015
Saturday, October 03, 2015
Indeed this thoughtful man, with lean body, and twinkling eyes was sharply focused on light. He was and continues to make more and more room for the light of God to illuminate our mind or a dusty religious truism or a clanking empty pail of Christian tradition masquerading as living water. Leroy provided light, the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ. May the light of his love be only a dim candle representing the brilliant, ever blazing sun of God’s glory in our lives. His final words to many of us were, "God loves you. I love you." We thank God for Leroy and Ouida. May they enter their next assignment of eternal work with joy and peace. For us I give the Christian prayer, “Maranatha.”
You can read more about my dear friend, mentor, and truth-speaker, Dr. Leroy Garrett who passed away last week via his brief obituary or last week's press release. Donna, Elizabeth and I were able to attend his memorial service at the Singing Oaks Church of Christ Saturday, October 3, 2015.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Women have been teaching, speaking, and preaching at ACU for many decades. Women have even been speaking to large crowds in Moody Coliseum during Summit (since 2009). Very good people, whom I love and admire have asked me, “Why bother with the issue of women’s role?” For most of us it is easier to do things the way we have always done them and to take the stance we have always taken. This is comfortable. In some cases, a strong biblical case can be made for things to stay the same. However, more often than not to stay the same person, thinking the same things, and remaining in the same position is an escapist stance, living in static denial of the active, ongoing work of God. If I pretend things are the same, then things are the same.
Much about life needs to stay the same. We pursue justice over evil. We punish crime. We protect the powerless. People who work hard should be paid. There is one God. Jesus is Lord. The Spirit empowers us with gifts. Some things need to stay the same. As much as life does stay the same (seasons, patterns, rituals, similar problems since time began), there is just as much about life that does not stay the same. It is natural for things to change. We don’t want babies to stay the same – we want them to grow. We don’t want math skills to remain the same-we want them to improve. We don’t want sinful lifestyles to remain the same-we want forgiveness and change. It is normal for things to change and even to expect change and growth.
When it comes to the position of women in the church, there are many people who point back to the fall, who point back to “some” of the words of Paul to church situations, and shrug their shoulders and say, “Even if I wanted to change, these roles are all the result of the fall. Paul said we women should be quiet. We are stuck. So, let us choose to be biblical and let things remain the same.”
God created women and men. While much in the OT is male-dominated and even abusive toward women, there are hints of God’s work for the protection of women especially when compared to other Ancient Near Eastern cultures. Scripture shows God empowering women and using the leadership of women. Today in “our” world, women run countries and businesses, corporations and government agencies. However, when women come to church, we tell them to sit down and be quiet or to serve in the background. The whiplash is most obvious to outsiders and to our children, not to mention our women gifted for leadership. Today is a different world and in some ways a better world. In many ways our world has worked for justice for women in ways that far surpass the church.
This question of women’s participation must be answered because it affects our witness to the world – a world that looks at us as strange because of how we limit the gifts and abilities of more than half of our participants. (Again, I quickly add it is good for us to look strange to the world. . . when it comes to our stance against sin and our stance with the poor, etc., but we must have good reasons for why we look strange to the world. We must ensure that our strangeness aligns with the gospel and ultimate reign of God.) When it comes to an understanding of women and men, our world is not the world of Genesis 1 nor of the first century nor of the Reformation nor of even the last one hundred years.
When I cut across all the debate and summarize why this issue is important, it is because this issue is closely tied to the gospel. I offer three considerations. First, the sin of humanity that resulted in hierarchal practice and trouble recounted Genesis 1-3 is real. It is a sinful rebellion SHARED by women AND men against the rule of God. It is not establishing a pristine gender hierarchy. Secondly, one thing often forgotten is that the fall is something Jesus has over turned with his life, death, and resurrection. His presence brought the reign of God (kingdom of God) to earth in a very real way. Jesus’ presence as the son of God incarnated as a human being invites us to work for and live in the kingdom of God, the world God intended and the world God will create. It is a world where there is no separation of race, culture, religious insiders and outsiders, or even of gender. The result of fall is not a good place to locate God’s ideal, once and for all regarding relationship of genders. It is the Fall! We live the resurrection.
In addition to what Jesus’ presence signaled to reverse the fall, thirdly, the action of Jesus’ ministry also changed things. In the first century, Jesus chose to associate with people across religious lines, across cultural lines, across the lines of sinfulness, across purity lines, and across gender lines. He publicly spoke with women to whom he was not married in circumstances (like a well) known for being “pick up” places. Jesus broke social rules to welcome people into relationship with God. Jesus’ ministry indicates change.
Fourth, we can say that women and men are different and they are the same. In the case of gender, we can say that women and men have differences. They are distinct from one another physically and in other ways. But men and women are the same in how God created them as human beings. . . in the image of God. Together both serve as expressions of God. Together both share consequence of rebellion against God sometime manifest in different ways.
So, it seems to me that Christians have a choice between at least two interpretive options. Will we continue the logic that upholds the fall’s punishment as the once for all ideal for our teaching and practice on gender roles or will we lean into the reality of the arrival of the Kingdom of God? My claim is that no longer should gender be the default determiner on what a woman or man can do in service to God whether that service is public or private. These actions of service and ministry should be left up to the gifting of the Spirit.
This interpretation is a God focused, God-following and theological understanding that takes into consideration the whole of God’s activity represented in Scripture and our present witness to our world. Some of the more challenging words from Paul are the following:
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise. (Gal 3:23-29).
Jesus’ resurrection reverses the curse of the fall. I believe men have a God given responsibility to work for the glory of women and to live in mutuality with them. Further if being a man is required and so important for leadership, then I intend to use my maleness to work for the full rights of women. There are many things that women offer the body of Christ that men do not. There are things that men offer the body of Christ that women do not. Rather than making gender the determiner of who cannot serve, we should make the gifting of the Holy Spirit and the discernment of the body of Christ the determiner. If gender is not recognized in the age to come and if Jesus brought down the barrier between Jew and non-Jew, Slave and Free, Male and Female, then the church should represent this clear manifestation of the coming kingdom now. This is preferable to preserving a false “ideal” that women are lesser because of the fall, which is not a logical practice (nor is it in line with the gospel Jesus preached or lived). So, on a personal level, if Jesus brought down these barriers, then so should I work to bring down barriers.
My most important point follows. When all is said and done, this practice of women’s active participation is not an issue upon which our church or our family or our fellowship of churches should divide. This statement today and this practice of ACU at Summit this fall is NOT an ultimatum. This is not even a statement of the ultimate true way.
ACU does not determine the doctrine of churches—as if ACU herself were some static and uniform collection of belief and practice. ACU is a collection of diverse and faithful and unfaithful believers, who together are seeking God in the practice of educating people for Christ-centered service and leadership throughout the world.
It must be acceptable to object to this practice and remain in fellowship. There needs to be space for people to see things differently, reason to a different point and to practice a different approach in churches. People have ALWAYS seen things differently and always will until the age to come. However, it is not okay to sever a fellowship of this. Our fellowship must remain together. Our fellowship needs reasons to remain united on something other than the self-determined correctness of our perspectives and opinions. That basis for unity is Jesus Christ. This is actually something that makes Churches of Christ so great – fellowship even in diversity, organization without a structure to make mandates. Unity cannot be based upon our opinions or perspectives, unity is based upon Jesus who lived, died and rose for all of us – equally. If I believe he loves me, then I must believe he loves others (who think, believe, and act differently than I do).
So, there is no “agenda” to force people neither to think a certain way nor to make churches practice a certain form of women’s participation. This is not one person or group asserting their will on a fellowship (or an institution or denomination). ACU is simply one place where people will be able to see that a woman is equal to a man in ability, talent, and opportunity to give witness to the good news of God. It is also a place where we can recognize that gender represents difference and unique expression of God. We need both male and female to reflect God’s image. In the same way a fellowship needs to honor differences and yet have one God and one fellowship. I will say again we are all children of God and we are all one through faith in Jesus Christ (and by inference not one through uniform understanding).
Well, that was long winded of me. But I’m glad to think out loud about this important historic move. I am thankful to my dean, to the provost and to the president of this university for their vision and support of this practice.
Saturday, January 28, 2012
There is a lot to share about Liam. When I first met Liam he was three years old, the same age as my daughter. He was a focused kid with a quick smile at humorous and silly things. It was a joy to joke around with Liam and say crazy things. He would say crazy things right back to me. It was fun to be with Liam. He was a gentle blend of very intense and extremely silly.
Liam was a pray-er. When I first heard Liam pray, it was in a home. Our home group makes it a priority for children to lead in prayer. When his family would visit our home group, Liam was sometimes shy about praying and sometimes quick to pray. Liam would offer his requests to God, always for other people. It was a joy to watch Liam bow his head, intertwine his fingers, and bring heaven and earth together in word.
Liam was a soccer player. When I first met Liam on the soccer field, he had never played before. He had a love for soccer, he had the equipment, and he had a family eager to surround him in this new adventure. I was his soccer coach along with my daughter Lizzie and their teammates (Nathan, Emery, Nicolas, and others).
When Liam had the soccer ball, I used to chase him like a Tie Fighter. This was a game I did with my own son, Nathan. I needed a way to get Liam out of slow intense focus and launch him into “light speed” toward the goal. It worked. The focused Liam and the silly Liam took to flight toward the goal. That year we all watched Liam score his first goal and his second goal and often many goals each game. It was fun to watch Liam run and play, score and laugh.
On the soccer field, we learned the rules through silly things we imagined. The goal box could not be entered and so it was a “Shark Pit.” The boundary line was a “cliff" that would drop the ball off into the sea. The soccer field was an outdoor world of fun and imagination. It was fun to watch Liam play his favorite game “kick the coach.” This was a game where all the kids chased the coaches dribbling their soccer balls. They would kick the ball at the coach, and coaches if hit had to take on the sound of the animal the player chose. Liam loved kicking me. It brought the serious task of learning to play soccer together with the silliness of life.
Liam was an artist. He had an artistic view of the world. There was attention to detail and yet there was also play and creativity. One must have both to look at this deadly serious world full of so many ridiculous things. His artwork was often described by parents and detailed by Liam. It was shown and given to friends. The creativity of his artwork brought photographers to his room and reporters to his bedside because it was an art that did something.
About a year ago, Liam was diagnosed with Leukemia – a rare and aggressive form of Leukemia. It meant that he spent a lot of time in isolation. It meant that he could not return to his soccer team. It meant that he could not be around as many of his friends. It meant that he could not return home. It meant that life was different. Life was still filled with family, friends, soccer, art, and games, but life was lived on a different schedule.
I didn’t intend to tell you about Liam being seriously silly or a soccer player or an artist. I wanted to tell you about what Liam began with his parents while in a hospital bed. He cared about the world. His concern for the world was focused on the needs of kids in Africa who did not have clean water.
Liam was quite aware of the money spent to fight his disease and keep him alive for as long as possible. He compared that to the little money that would be required to give other children something extremely basic – water. Liam had all the water he needed or wanted for watercolors, to turn his Gatorade into fluid, to wash the sleep out of his eyes, or brush his teeth. The thought of other kids having virtually no water, led him on a trail of questions to his parents, that resulted in launching Liam’s Wells in the summer of 2010.
Liam’s Wells was his attempt to do something from his hospital room to bring water to others across the globe. Liam’s illness and Liam’s resolve brought people and money together and saw the completion of at least three new water wells. It was a joy to watch Liam live outside of his body and his life.
Last week, just a few days after his seventh birthday, Liam’s body ended the fight. With treatments long since exhausted but chased to their complete end in Nashville, his life, as we knew it, was over.
There really are not appropriate words for such sorrow. There are not encouraging things to be said that can be any kind of medicine for a wounded family and many friends. In the same way that Liam’s treatment ended, there just is not medication to make this disease of death less difficult.
Prayer and love pave the only path I know. I have seen prayer through the lips of my daughter Lizzie’s lips. Every day since diagnosis (I mean every single day), Liam’s life has been spoken from her heart to the heart of God. Lizzie has led all of us in remembering Liam and his family. She would raise her hands in a crowd of adults and ask them to pray, at bedtime she would pray, and at church she would pray. Nathan, Lizzie and our family prayed together and individually for Liam. Continued prayer and love is the only path I know.
After receiving the news, I was walking home for lunch and I found “a secret message,” at least that is what I would tell my kids and wish to tell Liam, too. It was lying in an alley blown against a fence. The secret message was a piece of white notebook paper, blue lines, with a red line guiding writers to a starting point. It was wavy with having been soaked in water or tears, but crisp because the water was long since removed. Written on the paper in a bold black Sharpie was a passage I treasure. These words are marked in my Bible. A man named John, who was a very close friend of Jesus, wrote these words long after his friend Jesus was brutally murdered. As I read these words, I heard something different
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. [1 John 3:1-3]
We are children of God – all of us. Right now this is true, “you are children of God.” This states reality as it is. This was true of Liam, too: “Liam was a child of God.” I am glad to think of others and myself as children of God. Liam and my own kids give me confidence that we are children of God right now.
What caught me with some freshness, given the reality of Liam’s death, was something new for Liam. He was a child of God – this is true. However, what he is now has not yet been revealed. John writes that what we will be and what Liam will be is somewhat hidden from us. John, this friend of Jesus, gives us a hint about what this ‘unrevealed existence’ will look like. We will be like Jesus. We will be like the glorified Son of God. We will be like him because we will be able to see Jesus as he really is in fullness.
This is an amazing and mind-blowing thought. Liam was a child of God. Liam will be revealed and will be like Jesus. Think about that one for a moment. Liam’s life has not ended but will go on without end in the same way that Jesus’ exists.
Now, let me be clear. This is not a passage about death. This is not merely a passage about what happens to someone when they die. This is something that for those who have eyes to see is happening. Liam, a child of God, was living out this story before our eyes. He was already helping us look at Jesus as Jesus is. A Living Liam was living as a glorified Jesus.
We have opportunity now to live for the good of others. We have occasions to give our lives and our money to benefit those who have far less. We have minds that should give us pause when we make choices about what to buy because our purchases vote for the poverty or well being of others. The clothes and electronics we buy can support slavery. The things that we waste or toss or dismiss or take for granted might make someone else’s life better.
Liam was a child, just a child of God. Liam was seriously funny. Liam was a soccer player. Liam was a child of God who stepped into a world far bigger than most of us exist in. What Liam will be has not yet been revealed, but the indications are pretty amazing. For now, Jesus has shown those of us who remain behind the way to live this life that has present and eternal implications.
Our family will continue to pray for Liam’s family. We will grieve for Matt & Amy, Mary, Sandy & Gary and all the extended family. We will hope and intend to live our lives to be like Jesus and we will long for the coming of time when we will see him as he really is.
Saturday, December 03, 2011
LSU does not want anything of these Cowboys. ESPN does not want them (probably would pick the Horns - kidding). Alabama certainly does not want OSU because they want a second chance to beat a team they could not beat on their home field during the regular season in their conference. Two Conference Champions should square off for the title game. It is pretty simple.
OSU had their biggest game in 105+ years Saturday night. They beat down their arch rivals, the big brother Sooners, who dominate them year in and year out. Not only did OSU beat the Sooners they punched in the mouth a Sooner team that is very good. Phil Steele (and almost every national group) picked the Sooners to win it all. These 2012 Sooners have suffered three losses. No I am not talking about the Tech game and the Baylor game, but the death of our top defensive player and leader of the defense from last year Austin Box, the loss of the NCAAs best ever receiver Ryan Broyles, a great walk-on running back who earned his way on to the cover of SI and a scholarship Dom Whaley, and many more injured players. The point is not excuses or injuries (we don't do well with giving excuses at OU), the point is that OSU beat a team destined for greatness that is packed with great players and coaches. OSU had their best game in history against this OU rival on national television to win their first ever Conference Title. OU is not a bad team (despite how all of us Sooners feel about how this year has ended). OSU beat OU soundly. They dominated our offense and forced turnovers. They did the wise thing and played run game on a cold cold night. The Cowboy offense was slowed but not stopped by a Sooner defense that has outstanding players and has shut down many top ten teams this year. OSU earned their greatest win of all time against a big time rival and regular conference and national title winner.
OSU's only loss came on a day when two coaches were tragically killed in a plane crash. It was a game that should have been won on a regulation field goal that only one referee and all this Iowa State fans believed was good (watch the replay). It was one loss that says little about how good the Cowboys really are this year.
So, OSU deserves their shot to play for everything. ESPN probably won't give it to them. The BCS likely will not. The poll voters likely won't. The political voters will put OSU in weird rankings.
LSU would never really know if they are champs if they play Alabama. If Alabama plays and wins the title they will never really know if they are champs. No one wants to see an all SEC rematch. Give us a new game between LSU and OSU and we will all at least know.
Now, what is the spiritual significance of all this? This space is typically not a sports page. The spiritual significance of sports is pretty much zero. Sports is a welcome distraction from life. At its best sports is a metaphor or representation of real life. In my case, sport becomes occasion for spiritual discipline. Will we win with grace and lose with grace? The ball in life can bounce either way. While we create many bounces, some of life's bounces we cannot control. What we can control is our attitude and our response. In this situation, we should honor the victory and accept defeat. This is an occasion for self emptying. Thankfully Landry Jones took this loss like a spiritual man. He took the blame as did many of the Sooner seniors and players. What speaks most clearly is who we are in defeat and when life does not go our way. They accepted this as a huge disappointment and will win it all next time. Who we are in life's difficult moments matters a great deal. Any difficulty becomes occasion to learn something very important about life.
Today like every day - God is still God. We are not God. We can only strive for God in the ups and downs of life.
I say give the OSU Cowboys a shot to make this year even more memorable than it already is.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
There is something about conversation among friends that is good for the soul. It is hard to describe what it is like to speak and be heard. To be challenged and yet loved. To learn a new idea that calls to question things you have believed for a life time.
It is good to live in the kingdom of God. It is good to live in a community of God's love. It is good to be in prayer for what God will do among us.
See you at the Summit.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
One never knows when the phone might ring or who might be on the other end of the line. Last summer my children picked up a phone in our hotel room and heard the dial tone. They asked in confusion, “What is that weird sound?” My children know nothing but mobile phones without dial tones. This summer I showed my children one of the earliest phones – an Alexander Graham Bell crank phone. We also looked at a switch board as a history lesson in how phone calls were placed and connected.
One never knows who might be on the other end of the line. This afternoon my dear friend Leroy Garrett called. I often hear from Leroy and it is always a bit like Christmas to enjoy a conversation with a churchman of such great significance. Leroy is a remarkable historian, a Harvard trained philosopher, a towering figure in our Stone-Campbell tradition, and my friend. Now, rarely do I share these stories but this one was significant.
Leroy mentioned that it was merely a footnote on the Restoration movement – a story that he has not thought of in 72 years. This afternoon he was taking a nap and remembered his college janitor from his days at Fred Hardeman College. In 1940, Leroy remembered this African American janitor that served the college. Leroy would often get a chance to visit with him. Leroy could not remember the man’s name. It was really aggravating him that he could not recall his name. (Personal side note: I’m in my 30s and I cannot remember the names of any of my janitors in school. That might be the sign of either a poor memory or my lack of interest in those who serve. I can only hope that when I am 93 years old I could remember the names of all my school janitors).
Later, as Leroy was eating a sandwich, the name “Spence” popped back into his head. The man’s name was Spence. Leroy then went on to tell a couple of stories. Other students were also friendly with Spence. One time they decided that Spence would be worth interviewing. They intended to interview Spence before chapel one morning. They wanted to ask him about life and faith and his work. Again, this was not to be part of formal chapel but would be before chapel in 1940. The approached Brother Hardeman, who nixed the plan. He indicated that the school could not have a black man in the front speaking to everyone.
Spence had a double stigma. Not only was he black, but he was also Baptist. Evidently Spence was a big fan of brother Hardeman and had asked Hardeman to preach his funeral. When Spence died, brother Hardeman did preach his funeral. Leroy speculated that Hardeman doing the funeral must have meant that he affirmed Spence as a saved believer. Hardeman had crossed denominational lines and racial lines to do this funeral, which was significant in that time period. Leroy could only surmise this fact (since Leroy did not attend the funeral), but this supposition was backed by yet another story from the past.
Brother Hardeman’s mother was a Methodist – a life long, never-been-immersed, faithful Methodist women. Hardeman told students that he knew that his mother was saved. Her life and her faithfulness were clear indications of her salvation. This story again is a very “small footnote” of Restoration History, which Leroy imagines that no one alive today knows or remembers.
I remarked to Leroy that sometimes it takes family members with whom we have great differences yet the strong ties of blood that force us to expand our worldview. Out of our love for those in our family we allow a greater measure of grace. It seems that if we were to extend this John 17 kind of love to others who are not kin nor blood relations, what a difference it would make. Leroy wholeheartedly agreed.
Then, he shared his dream. As he took a nap thinking about Spence, E. B. Hardeman, and Hardeman’s mother, he imagined going and speaking with the esteemed preacher. Evidently Hardeman thought a lot of Leroy as Leroy was asked by Hardeman to preach in his place one Sunday. This vote of confidence was a huge boost to Leroy. Anyway, Leroy began to dream about going to Hardeman and asking why he wouldn’t share these beliefs more publically. While in classes they were all taught the sectarian party line of “we are the only ones going to heaven,” these stories about Hardeman’s Mother and doing the funeral of a black Baptist man indicate a deeper thought that Hardeman did not believe this junk.
Leroy imagined gently going into the office of his mentor and asking him to write an article for the Gospel Advocate telling the story of his mother or sharing his experience of preaching the funeral of the black Baptist janitor named Spence. Leroy imagined that Hardeman would have listened.
On the phone, Leroy and I imagined what might have come by such an exchange. It might have let to an article. It might have led to Hardeman being dismissed as a liberal. It might have led a university to take an entirely different direction in terms of sectarianism.
You never know who might call.
You never really know the significance of a conversation, a phone call, an article, a stance taken.
Each moment is packed with an eternity of possibility. Will we stand by and support racism, triumphalism, exclusion, or will we visit the office or place the phone call or write the article?
The moment is yours – invent something together with God that will last.