The Gospel According to Hauerwas

From Al Mohler’s recent interview with Stanley Hauerwas (click for transcript):

Mohler:            Well, again, looking at your writings, and even preparing for this conversation, and feeling the weight of your critique at many points and just very catalytic thoughts, I came back to another question, and that is, for Stanley Hauerwas, what is the gospel? What is the good news that is at the center of the Christian faith? Because I think I could hypothesize several answers, but I would just love to hear you to respond to that. What is the gospel?

Hauerwas:       That through Jesus Christ, very God and very man, we Gentiles have been made part of the promise to Israel that we will be witnesses to God’s good care of God’s creation through the creation of a people who once were no people that the world can see there is an alternative to our violence. There is an alternative to our deceptions. There is an alternative to our unfaithfulness to one another though the creation of something called church. That’s salvation.

 

Reshaping Our Life Together: A Review of Sharon Astyk’s “Making Home”

This review originally appeared in the Ordinary Time 2012 print issue of The Englewood Review of Books.
Reprinted here with permission.  CLICK HERE for subscription info.

 

Take a moment to think about your life in the next 5, 10, 25 years. What do you see? If your vision includes a car, reliable and cheap electricity, food from a supermarket, or a climate-controlled house, you may be in for a rude awakening. In Making Home: Adapting Our Homes and Our Lives to Settle in Place, Shannon Astyk invites us to practice a new way of life that we both need and will inevitably be forced to acquire. She calls this new way of life “adapting in place” and bluntly describes it as “the only thing left that can save the world.” While her vision of the future is bleak and a bit frightening, she is nonetheless hopeful that another world is possible. She sets out to provide the tools and strategies that will give birth to this new world wherever we are – city, country, or suburb.

Before instructing us to compost our solid waste, give up our cars, and heat our beds with warm stones, Astyk uses the first three chapters to reveal the stark realities ahead as we face the consequences of living as if our homes were gods. Homes were meant to serve their inhabitants, but we have made them idols. Our worship is costly because it requires us to transcend the natural limitations of land, family, climate, and culture. Instead of ordering our lives around these limitations, we invest in cheap energy to power short-sighted, destructive solutions. The return on our investment: a lifestyle that is absolutely unsustainable for the 7 billion co-inhabitants of our planet. The god we have created has now become an economic and ecologic monster that threatens to consume our lives and those of several generations to come. Some – those who refuse to acknowledge the frequent failures in our complex systems – have chosen to ignore the monster’s presence. Others – driven by a conception of beauty that rejects utility for shallow appearances and hides the realities of messy, everyday life – choose to continue in their adoration, even as they are consumed. Where does this leave us? Collapse. We have passed a point of no return. Irreparable damage has been done and the storm clouds are brewing in our not-so-distant future.

How does Astyk respond to this bleak reality? She urges us to redefine home to be “an attachment to one place, one house, one set of people, one relationship between [ourselves] and a bit of dirt” that asks us to thrive with less of everything. This sacrifice is necessary if we hope to pass on a life worth living. She recommends that we assume failure and live in ways that serve our needs in and out of crises. These new ways of living should both lessen the impact of the coming collapse and build up our resilience against it. Finally, she encourages us to see beauty in old things made new, in dead things come back to life, and in the ugly, drab tools that actually help meet our real needs. She asks us to put down our Better Homes and Gardens and to fall in love with a “working home” – one that works for us. Bringing this vision of a “working home” to life will require us to come together as communities to think creatively about how we can say no to more energy, money, and resources and yes to more time with our families and more health, happiness, and resilience for all.

Over the course of the next 11 chapters, Astyk systematically deconstructs the “fossil-fueled, private solutions” that fulfill our basic needs and offers very practical strategies to help us “adapt in place.” She begins with triage: should we find a new place or just stay put? If we need to find a new place, Astyk helps us decide by offering a vision of how life in the country, city, and suburbs will be transformed in wake of collapse. From there, she marches through a litany of changes we will need to consider that address every aspect of our modern lives: heating, cooling, lighting, cooking, sanitation, transportation, and food and water production. As a general rule, if a system relies on cheap fossil fuel, it has no future.

Astyk cherishes no illusions about the difficulty of these changes, especially in our relationships. As a now married and formerly divorced mother of several kids, she knows the challenges of family life and gives strategies for navigating these changes with spouses and partners who may not be on board. She provides thoughtful advice on how to include your children even when they can’t or don’t really want to help. Since a working home incorporates extended family, Astyk critiques our somewhat ridiculous need for privacy and space (the average American is given 850 sq. ft. of personal space) and asks us to embrace a communal future with a broad and inclusive definition of extended family. She offers very practical tips to help us prepare our homes to be hospitable during short-term crises and suggests a renewed focus on caretaking, especially with our aging family members. Expanding into the sphere of neighborhood and community relationships, she echoes a well-known Biblical command: Love your neighbor. The alternative is simple: die.

Finally, Astyk shares her thoughts on issues of work and money and asks us to broaden our skills and learn to do things for ourselves. She even provides a list of seven skills that every adult will need. She emphasizes the coming importance of the informal economy, made up of “subsistence work, criminal acts, barter, under the table work, domestic economics, and self-employment in the cottage industry,” and suggests that we will need to be very flexible in how we define “jobs” or “careers.” With government services either failing or becoming unreliable in most places, those who adapt in place need to think about their personal and collective security. Astyk lists several ways individuals and communities can prevent violence but also ways to respond to violence if necessary.

As the book comes to a close, the idea of “making home” may will seem overwhelming, but Astyk ends with a message of hope. She and her husband were not experts in “making home” when they began this project 10 years ago, but they have made significant progress. In between some chapters, she helps to assuage our fears by inserting personal anecdotes from several folks who are making the kinds of changes she has suggested. Astyk is adamant that her goal is not to provide a rigid list of do’s and don’ts that are required for adapting in place. Rather, she insists that this book is a way for us to get started, a way to get our minds thinking differently, and a guide that may need some tinkering along the way.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, Astyk’s analysis of the crises I and my family now face and her vision for adapting in place struck me in several ways. First, I was deeply challenged to move beyond the empty lip-service I pay to my belief in the goodness of creation. Simply put: I say creation is good, but I live comfortably in ways that destroy it. Second, my understanding of the depth and reach of sin in our world was challenged by Astyk’s embrace of failure as the human condition. As it turns out, the seemingly “good” things I enjoy are actually very sinful when their human and environmental costs are rightly assessed. A robust understanding of sin must include the destructive effects of our lifestyles. A final challenge came to my belief in what has been called a “theology of enough.” Too often, I embrace the hope of this belief – creation’s abundance and God’s generosity – without accepting its command: take only what you need (Exodus 16:16-18). Thankfully, several affirmations came along with these challenges. Chief among them was how Astyk’s primary thesis of “making home” gives serious teeth to the Church’s call to practice hospitality. Since, as Christine Pohl says in her book Making Room, “the front door of the home is the side door of the church,” we would be wise to heed Astyk’s advice in transforming our homes if we desire a more hospitable world for all. While she does not claim to offer an exhaustive solution, she provides more than enough to spark further conversation.

I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to any individual or family in search of practical, down-to-earth advice about how to live in ways that honor creation, use a fair share of resources, and lead to stronger, more resilient families. While the changes she recommends are drastic, Astyk is very reasonable and humble in her guidance. She mostly assumes that her readers are very familiar with the concept of peak-oil, as well as the pace and consequences of climate change. If these are not familiar ideas, I would recommend some light research (use Wikipedia… while you still can) before reading. In conclusion, this book serves as a wonderful catalyst in an extremely important conversation about the reshaping of our life together in order to serve and protect the web of diverse, interdependent relationships that bind us to one another and our planet in ways more intimate than we sometimes like to admit.

The Wilderness Journey of Faith

worship is like telling stories around a campfire

scripture is like the “trail mix”

disciplines are like setting up camp

the church is like your wilderness caravan

sin is like being lost and alone in the wilderness

Jesus is like the wilderness Trailblazer

Spirit is like the wilderness Guide

Parent is like the wilderness Native

creation is like a wilderness home

salvation is like a journey in the wilderness following the Spirit on the way of Jesus toward home with the Native

consummation is like being welcomed home to a feast

Lent, Fasting, and Learning Our Limits

This post originally appeared on the 6:8 Community Church blog. Click to read the original.

In just 2 short weeks, billions of Christians around the world – mostly those of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, but some Protestants too – will be on the cusp of beginning their yearly 40 day pilgrimage with Jesus all the way to Jerusalem and, ultimately, to the cross. You probably know this 40 day season as Lent. It is a season of prayer and fasting in preparation for the greatest celebration of the year (no, not Christmas)…Easter.

We’ve probably all had different experiences with Lent in the past. Growing up as a pretty strict Baptist kid, I had never heard of Lent until I went to college and got involved in the United Methodist campus ministry. Maybe you know about it through Catholic or Orthodox friends or from those in more liturgical faith traditions – Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and others. You’ve probably heard that you’re supposed to “give something up” for Lent. More or less, that is true, but there is so much more to know. The notion of “giving something up” refers to the ancient Christian and Jewish practice of fasting and it has held a very special place in the church since our very inception.

In the Jewish world, fasting had 2 purposes: expressing repentance for personal/national sins and inward preparation for receiving God’s grace in order to be faithful in completing a specific mission for God. Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness just after he was baptized in order to prepare for his 3 years of ministry, which would end in the crucifixion and resurrection. If you recall, Jesus was tempted by Satan while he fasted in the wilderness. Do you remember the first temptation?

Satan knew Jesus was hungry, so he commanded him to turn the stones into bread. Jesus refused and quoted a phrase from the end of Deuteronomy 8:3, “God humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This verse was apparently on Jesus’ mind while he was fasting and we’d do well to pay attention and see what we can learn from it.

Notice the references to hunger and food as the verse begins. Traditionally, fasting has been associated with abstaining from eating. Some fast during the day, or only during one meal, or only certain types of food, and in several other ways. Why food? Because it’s a basic necessity of life. When we choose to go without a basic necessity like food, we are humbled. We come face to face with our limits as human beings.

Think back to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God gives them all the fruit of the garden to eat except for one fruit; God gave these humans one limit. Of course, we know what happened. Adam and Eve refused the limit God had given them. They had plenty of food to eat; it would be difficult to believe that this one limit on their choices represented any kind of hardship to their diet. They were not going to go hungry because they couldn’t eat from one tree. So, why did they do it?

They didn’t want life with limits. They didn’t just want some of the fruit of the garden – they wanted it all. Again we can ask, why? I think it has something to do with dependence. Look back to the end of Deuteronomy 8:3. Limits teach us that we are dependent – absolutely dependent – on “every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Fasting is about returning to and honoring our God-given limits, which is a way of returning to and honoring our dependence on God as the Source and Creator of our lives. Just like Adam and Eve, we refuse to live within limits. We want it all. Our lives are driven by compulsions to control, to succeed, to be free from others, to enjoy pleasure, and to fight for our own security.

Fasting is not so much a season of joyless, gloomy faces – Jesus actually taught against this sort of fasting in the Sermon on the Mount.  Fasting is about returning to life the way God intended it to be. Is it challenging? Of course! We are sinful people and we like the way we do things! We are created to live in communion with God, with others, and with all creation, but that life is impossible for us to receive when we refuse to acknowledge our dependence on God. We are not in control. Fasting recognizes God’s sovereignty over our lives and all creation. And guess what?

This is GOOD NEWS! Fasting is about restoring life, restoring joy, restoring peace, restoring justice, and restoring love. We can’t do it all and be it all and have it all. Rather, God is our ALL IN ALL.

Remember, God wasn’t calling Adam and Eve to go hungry in the Garden by placing one limit on their menu. There was an abundance of food to enjoy. Fasting is not about rejecting the goodness of God’s creation, or even about rejecting pleasure. It’s about putting pleasure in its place and restoring a right relationship to creation by loosening our stranglehold on everything we think we need to build successful, secure, and pleasurable lives on our own apart from God. Using creation in this way actually destroys it. Fasting recognizes the sacred value of all creation as we learn to embrace our limits and worship God instead of ourselves.

Fasting can take many forms though. Our lives are filled with things we over-consume, that keep us from a relationship with others and with God, and that eventually consume us. One great food alternative for fasting is media – TV, internet, radio, those flat, crinkly things called “newspapers”, and all our little gadgets and devices. Two years, my Lenten fast was to uninstall the Facebook and Twitter apps and disable the email accounts on my smartphone as a way to let go of those constant distractions, which are really just shallow, selfish ways for me to measure my importance. You could fast from things like judging others or judging yourself. Maybe you need to fast from an over-packed schedule?

The question to ask is: What do I do to excess? In her book Soul Feast, Marjorie Thompson reminds us that “what we do to excess reveals our inordinate desires, our compulsions, the attachments that have control over me. They are precisely the areas of our lives that need the freeing lordship of Christ rather than our own abysmally ineffective efforts at control.” Anything coming to mind for you?

I hope this post has got you thinking a little more about the upcoming season of Lent. God is always calling us deeper on our journey of spiritual growth. How will you respond? In the season of Lent, we find an invitation to return to a good life of limits; a life dependent on the grace and goodness of God. Does your life have limits? Are you living on “bread alone” or on “every word that comes from the mouth of God”? That is the question Lent asks us to answer.

God Is Love

Yes, I’m posting a blog on Valentine’s Day entitled “God is Love.” What can I say? I’m a loser with a very bad sense of humor. If you can get past that though, this is a brief “statement of faith” that I wrote for a class recently. The assignment was just to “sit down and write about what you believe in your own voice” so… that’s what I did. It’s certainly not comprehensive and probably not thought out all that well. But, what I can say is that it has very little to do with Valentine’s Day.

God is the triune Community who is Love: who created all things for love, who is present with all things in love, and who calls and wills and moves all things towards love. This Love is not an attribute of God; it is God. God is Love because God is Trinity: the three Persons – Parent, Christ, and Spirit – who are inseparably united as one in a way that does not diminish the unique otherness of each Person. This triune Community is characterized by movements of equal, mutual, reciprocal self-giving and other-receiving among, between, and within the persons of Parent, Christ and Spirit.

Because God is Love, God is relational and desires to be in relation with another. This desire gave birth to creation. God as Parent, Christ, and Spirit is the maker and sustainer of all things past, present, and future. In creation, God envisioned and then spoke into being a community whose life together would be inspired and shaped by Love in order to be a reflection of the Creator. Just as God is many and diverse, God’s creation is many and diverse. The unique character of created things is good because there could be no relationships, and therefore no love, without it. God gave one creature in particular – the man and woman – a special purpose in this creation: keeping the community, nurturing its multifaceted, interwoven connections, and preserving the diversity of each created thing in order to preserve the image of the Creator.

Because God is Love, God creates space for God’s community-keepers to reciprocate God’s love in freedom. However, the man and the woman rejected their purpose and turned away from Love towards self-reliance as if they could live apart from Love. This act of utter rebellion wounded creation at its core. Instead of Love, there was fear; instead of relation, alienation; instead of community, desecration.

Because God is Love, the Parent, Christ, and Spirit remain present and active in, with, and for creation in spite of the rebellion of God’s community-keepers. This active being of Love within and among creation is salvation. God is the saving God who comes to creation in a form it can see, and hear, and touch. Jesus the Christ is Love born to be the true community-keeper whose life, death, and resurrection made a way for all of creation’s wounds to be healed. In Jesus, Love reigns supreme.

Because God is Love, God creates anew by the power of the Spirit. Just as Jesus was compelled by Love to heal creation’s wounded, fearful heart, the Spirit was poured out over all creation to unite all things together again in Love. The Spirit is open-handed Love who reconciles relationships broken by fear, tears down the dividing walls of alienation, and restores all created things to their place in the embrace of Love. In the Spirit, Love brings new life.

Because God is Love, I am. God loves me and empowers me to love God, myself, others, and all creation. Through Jesus Christ and the Spirit, God has invited me and empowered me to play a small part in a fellowship of community-keepers who embody and enact and reveal the healing and new life Love desires for all creation. This fellowship liberates and embraces those who are suffering from the violence of fear, alienation, and desecration and gives it life for the transformation of this violence into peace and justice. They welcome others into their body of unity-in-diversity and are sent out as witnesses to the Love they have seen, felt, and known in order to make their community more complete.

Because God is Love, there is no reason to fear. Creation has hope because God is gathering all things into Love. The perfect communion of God and creation will be made complete.

Wendell Berry on Real Hope for Our Communities, Our Land, Our World

I dare say that if you claim to care about the health and sustainability of our environment and our local communities, you should take the time to watch this interview with Wendell Berry – even if you’re already familiar with his work. We’ll all be better off if we pay more attention to his wisdom.

BILL MOYERS: The grace of the world, take that a little further for me.

WENDELL BERRY: I meant it in the religious sense. The people of, people of religious faith know that the world is, is maintained every day by the same force that created it. It’s an article of my faith and belief, that all creatures live by breathing God’s breath and participating in his spirit. And this means that the whole thing is holy. The whole shooting match. There are no sacred and unsacred places, there are only sacred and desecrated places. So finally I see those gouges in the surface mine country as desecrations, not just as land abuse. Not just as…as human oppression. But as desecration. As blasphemy.

Church Renewal & Evangelism: Thoughts on Church & Culture

What is your understanding of the proper relationship between church and culture, as well as your understanding of the paradox of being in the world but not of it? Also recalling the panel discussion in Week 6, how are church and evangelism impacted by specific cultural contexts?

The relationship between church and culture begins with a Trinitarian doctrine of creation which describes the common ground of all existence and, therefore, the “raw material” of church and culture. Psalm 33:6 reads, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.”1 For Pentecostal scholar Amos Yong, this passage reveals how “things are what they are because they are created by the Father [sic], through the Word, by the power of the Spirit.”2 As created “things”, church and culture find their ideal “concrete form or pattern” in Christ, the divine Word, and rely on the Spirit to be “the power of [their] actualization and instantiation.”3 This starting point reveals how church and culture share – at their core – in the same fundamental reality which finds its origin and destination within the gracious Trinitarian life of God. Both church and culture are designed by God to be transformed into the image of Christ as they are brought to life by the Spirit. This is important for affirming the inherent goodness of both church and culture as expressions of divine presence and activity.

However, “church” and “culture” are not creations in the same sense as a human individual. They are derivative, secondary creations which require organized human effort and ingenuity and which exist dynamically across time and space. As products of individual and corporate human will and purpose, church and culture share the same tendencies toward sin and evil which afflict humanity and lead it towards death. God is graciously present and active in both church and culture but only in varying degrees of incompletion. The reign of God is a reality to be “entered and received”4 through Christ by the Spirit; both church and culture refuse this invitation in a myriad of ways and neither one holds a monopoly on God’s grace.

While church and culture share these two fundamental characteristics, a vital distinction must be made between them. First, it should be noted that church is a form, a particular instantiation, of culture; sometimes a sub-culture, sometimes a counter-culture, and other times barely distinguishable from culture. In any case, church and culture belong in the same socio-anthropological category and always exist in relationship with one another. So what is the difference between church and culture? When Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane, he describes how his followers are “in the world” but do not “belong to the world, just as [he] does not belong to the world.”5 However, Jesus specifically asks that they not be taken out of the world; he prays that they would be sanctified – made holy – in the truth of Christ’s life as they are sent by Christ into the world “that they may become completely one” in order to be a demonstration and overflow of God’s love.6 As Elaine Heath states, holiness is about being “in partnership with God in God’s mission… to redeem all creation” – culture included.7 “Church”, therefore, is the holy people of God who respond to God’s saving work in Christ and, by the Spirit, join God’s work to redeem all cultures and bring them to their uniquely good completion in Christ who is “the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.”8

jazzThe church relates to culture the way an experienced jazz musician plays a classic song. The church takes up the culture’s instruments, draws from the culture’s repertoire, yet creatively improvises its tunes towards new life in harmony with the key of Christ’s holiness as it follows the syncopated, life-giving rhythms of the Spirit. The song is still recognizable, but it has been deeply and fundamentally transformed for good.

In this light, the practices of evangelism and church renewal point towards two processes which must be held in tension as the church lives in and among its particular culture. Evangelism highlights the need for the church to know its culture intimately. The church cannot improvise on a repertoire it does not know by heart. This kind of knowledge requires real relationships and, to the greatest extent possible, authentic appreciation for and participation with a culture’s ways of life. The church does not replace culture or impose its own will; it exists for culture as its priestly servant. At the same time, the processes of church renewal emphasize the ways in which the church is called to stand apart from its culture. The church sings in a different key and follows a peculiar beat; sometimes this music is misunderstood, rejected, ignored, and – at times – silenced. In order to maintain this posture, the church in all cultures needs to be reminded of its story again and again; it needs continual training in the peace, justice, forgiveness, and reconciling love of God as it seeks to be God’s ambassadors. The church holding these tensions well in an ethnically diverse, low income inner-city neighborhood will look and sound very different from a mono-ethnic, middle class church practicing evangelism and renewal in the suburbs but these cultural differences should be welcomed – not avoided or lamented. All of these divergent beats and discordant tunes in the church may seem confusing, but it is the work of the Spirit to bring all this cultural diversity into glorious and beautiful harmony that reflects the image of God intended for all creation.

1 Ps. 33:6, NRSV.

2 Amos Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s): A Pentecostal-Charismatic Contribution to Christian Theology of Religions (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 116.

 3 Ibid., 118.

 4 See Lk. 18:17.

 5 Jn. 17:11, 16.

 6 Jn. 17:15, 17, 23.

 7 Elaine Heath, The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), Kindle loc 139.

 8 Col. 1:18.