Saturday, June 18, 2016

Spiritual Coffee: Christians, Don't Always Insist on Rights - The Eyes of Wendell Berry in Film - Southern Baptists Find Unity, Humility

Friday's roundup to help you set your mind on things above as we go into the weekend. As usual, I summarized why I think these are worth pondering, and included the quotes that left the strongest impression upon me.

Click on Spiritual Coffee for other good stuff from past posts.

Following Christ, Relinquishing Rights, Brett McCracken (
I believe Christians must have this category in their minds: 'rights I have, but I will choose not to use.' That is what McCracken (a contributor for Mere Orthodoxy) is saying, making a simple but difficult point that Christians are not supposed to be concerned first with protecting the full use of their rights - whether it is the right to own firearms or the legal basis to keep refugees and immigrants from entering the country. With the religious liberty we have enjoyed in the United States being attacked with increasing ferocity, and other rights we are used to depending on being questioned or limited by a government we do not trust (regardless of who is in the White House), it is sadly very easy for us to get indignant and defensive. We often become very vocal about insisting upon total freedom to use our rights however we see fit. But this pattern of thinking doesn't fit the Scriptures. Although I don't agree with every example McCracken gives, and I think many Christians would not need to adopt them all, he does a very good job of confronting the un-Christian attitude of insisting on all of our rights.
Christians do have rights, and we do use them, but we don't need to be insistent about using them every time we have them. And we don't need to use them fully. We can (and should) give up our full rights on many occasions. The reason is that the Christian is supposed to be concerned first with showing what kind of hope we have in God and what security we have in heaven, not with guarding our own security and comfort on earth. Although McCracken didn't quote this, John Calvin summed it up in saying: "There is nothing plainer than this rule, that we are to use our liberty if it tends to the edification of our neighbor, but if inexpedient for our neighbor, we are to abstain from it." [commenting on 1 Cor. 10:23-24.] In other words, only make use of your rights if it will not cause your neighbor to stumble. But if it does, don't use them. "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." (Galatians 5:13)
"The Christian way is to set our rights aside when they are an an impediment to the love and grace of the gospel, let alone when they endanger the safety of others. Does this mean we never appeal to our rights? No. Paul himself appealed to his rights as a Roman citizen when he was about to be flogged (Acts 22:25). Does this mean we fully surrender our freedom to believe certain beliefs and to live our lives consistently with those beliefs? No. But it may mean we exercise our freedoms more quietly or that we cede some of our freedoms for the sake of others’ flourishing. It may mean we open ourselves up to inconvenience and discomfort and pain.
"This is a hard truth for Christians, but it is a foundational truth in our faith. The New Testament is full of calls to follow Christ’s model of humble, self-effacing and status-relinquishing love (Phil. 2:5-8); to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21), to consider others more important than yourself (Phil. 2:3), to see freedom in Christ not as a weapon but as an opportunity to serve others in love (Gal. 5:13-15), to serve our neighbors before we serve ourselves (Rom. 15:1-3), and so on. 
"This is the upside-down, countercultural nature of the kingdom of God, and Christians in today’s world have an opportunity to reclaim our witness as emissaries of this “others before myself” kingdom."
The Eyes of Wendell Berry: A Cinematic Portrait of a Camera-Shy Man, John Murdock (First Things)
Author Wendell Berry is one of those writers (like Marilynne Robinson) who make a profound impact on many Christians, while transcending any categories such as "Christian fiction" or "Spirituality." Indeed, it would not be fair to label their work in any such terms. It is bigger than any narrow genre or category, and like authors such as John Steinbeck and Flannery O'Connor, we honor its ability to capture human life so completely by calling it "literature." I would like to be more familiar with Berry than I am, and so this brief introduction and the film it describes are very welcome.
"Berry, who lives life without a television or a computer, is about as un-Hollywood as he can be. Yet, the executive producers for Dunn’s labor of love were heavyweights Robert Redford and Terrence Malick[.]"
"Dunn’s film is not your run-of-the-mill biopic, and how could it be? Berry, though very much alive, agreed to participate in the project, but with the complicating condition that he would not appear on camera. The viewer sees recent interviews of his wife Tanya and daughter Mary, but the man himself is present only as a voice and in images from the past. With their differing views of progress, both fans and critics of this farmer/writer, who has done his varied work with draught horses and a 1956 Royal typewriter, will likely see his elusiveness as fitting. 
"The Seer centers on Berry’s debates in the 1970s with Earl Butz, the Secretary of Agriculture under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Butz had rural roots that rivaled Berry’s, but he came to see a decline from 45% of the population working the land at his birth to some 4% at the time of their encounters—what Berry labeled The Unsettling of America—as a positive development. 'Butz’s law,' which he formulated, was 'adapt or die,' and its measure of success was 'P-R-O-F-I-T.' 
"Berry is seen by many as a prophet of a different sort. Archival footage shows him—then with a full head of dark hair—acknowledging that he and Butz would likely never agree, because 'he’s arguing from quantities and I’m arguing from values.' For Berry, the calculus must acknowledge such incalculables as 'the Hebrew-Christian values' of neighborliness and kindness. He concludes, 'I don’t think you can love those old values and love what has come to be American agriculture at the same time.' It is a message that has permeated the more than forty books of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry that have issued from his literary perch overlooking the Kentucky River."
Southern Baptists Elect Steve Gaines as President, Renounce Confederate Flag, and more.
The Southern Baptist Convention met this week to elect a new president and passed several important resolutions. Even if you aren't Southern Baptist (as I am not), this was a historic convention that affected one of the largest bodies of Christians in the United States. Here are a few reasons worth knowing, with some links for details:
  • It's significant to know that the election for president, which was evenly divided on the first two ballots and was set to go to an unheard-of third ballot, was also a difference between those in the SBC who hold to Calvinist theology and those who fit with Arminian theology.
  • Even more important, the election never went to a third ballot because J.D. Greear, pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh, NC, withdrew his name and pledged his support behind Steve Gaines before the Wednesday morning vote. It was an extraordinary display of humility and unity (he and Gaines met and talked it through and prayed over it the night before) that allowed the convention to move forward together. Here's Greear's explanation, a great example of seeking the good of Christ's body above your own plans or vision.
  • The convention voted to renounce the display of the Confederate Flag, passing an even stronger resolution than the one initially proposed. Some may see this as long overdue, others may think it is out of place. But I think this needed to be said: wounds of racial distrust and historical disharmony need to be healed by demonstrations of humility and empathy with each other's pain. The speech by Dr. James Merritt urging that all the flags in the world are not worth the loss of one soul was a powerful moment that seemed to stir the convention to action. Russell Moore praised the decision and explained his support for it.
  • A resolution on caring for refugees was passed as well. I hope the example this sets for the church and for individual Christians will help us be wise and generous in our political engagement on this issue in addition to acting it out in our churches and communities.
  • Here is a link with a recap by the SBC of the convention, and here is a collection of video of the speeches at the convention.

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