Thursday, April 30, 2015

What is Your Business?

As Christians, one of the ways we've adopted the way of the world is our obsession with privacy. We're just as prone as anyone else to say, "that's none of your business." Yes, sometimes it's not. I think I have an old post here about the difference between privacy and propriety. But I do believe that depends on context, not content. I can't think of anything in my life, given the right context, it wouldn't be appropriate or necessary to share. Yes, those contexts may be few and far between, but they exist.

As a general rule, a Christian life should be open - open to inspection and question, suggestion and caution, open to correction, discussion, and outside influence. Privacy is not a luxury Christian enjoy. That's difficult for us, living in a society that prizes privacy as much as anything. We like the notion of independence, self-determination, and the ability to say, "that's none of your business." Building that wall around ourselves, one whose access is controlled by us, is comforting. No doubt.

I'm not sure it's helpful, though.

Recently, a large purchase by one of my denomination's leaders made waves because it got picked up by a big city newspaper. It was sort of unfortunate all around, especially because a lot of the discussion it spawned turned pretty personal, judgmental, and vindictive. That was sad. Obviously, one needs some sort of relationship with the guy to be able to truly ask questions about this specific purchase. At the same time, I was excited to see people willing to talk about something US society tends to avoid - money, spending, income, investments, giving, lifestyle, etc. I think these are important things, worthy of real examination.

Obviously there was a personal example floating around, so it wasn't like we could totally speak in hypotheticals - but I have some real internal conflicts between the way we're taught to behave with money (both culturally and within the Church) and the words Jesus used about money and the future and how we're best to respond to those things.

What became frustrating was how simply and easily such questions were shot down, even in the generic. I'd love to sit down and have a conversation with someone about my own finances, asking and evaluating exactly the same kind of questions we were asking about the leader in question. I think that kind of loving scrutiny can only help expand my perspective and energize my imagination for more and better attempts to be faithful.

One of the go to responses when people get uncomfortable with such conversation about someone else is, "why don't you lay out your checkbook for us and let us go over how you spend your money." In one Facebook thread I started to do just that - laying out some basic spending habits and decisions we've made for our family, with a promise of more detail if the discussion continued - I mean it when I say my life is an open book. The response was one of awkward negation, "I was only being rhetorical." I've had the same interaction with people many times, to the same result. It just seems like this kind of openness and examination should not only be normal, accepted behavior for Christians, but welcomed and encouraged.

There are problems inherent in this, especially when we're not culturally used to these discussions. They'll be awkward and floundering at times, but they're important. Yes, some people are too quick to speak and do so with unhelpful motives. But lots of other people are too reluctant to speak with equally unhelpful motives.

As Christians, the way we act, including what we make and how we spend it, is someone else's business. It's all our business, because we're accountable to each other and responsible for each other. I'm not saying it's easy, but we have to work hard to have personal discussions about things our culture generally names off limits. It's only going to do us good in the long run.

One thing for sure, though, as we move quickly to quiet those voices looking to challenge for selfish or unloving motives, we must be careful to just as quickly challenge those looking to maintain silence or exclusion in the interest of privacy. Questions are good. Discussion is good. New perspectives are important, valuable, and helpful. Yes we need relationship and context and all of those other things, but mostly we need to simply trust each other. If we really believe we're doing this journey called life together, we're going to get where we want to be quickest and easiest if we do it together.

It's not my business or your business; it's OUR business - and we can't forget that.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Jesus and The Americans

So, my favorite TV show right now is probably The Americans. It's a fantastic story about two Russian spies in the US in the 80's - except they came to the US in the 60's and have infiltrated normal American life - two kids, house in the suburbs, the whole works. It's deep cover kinda stuff. The show is interesting because on top of all the spy stuff going on, they're just regular people with regular problems (and a whole extra set of spy problems on top of it all).

One of the interesting subplots in the show (and I don't think I'll give a ton away here, but if you're a super stickler for spoilers, you might want to have someone else read it first) is the daughter, Paige, who ends up rebelling against her parents by joining a church and becoming a Christian. It's difficult for her atheist, communist parents to deal with (the same thing every teenager and parents deal with, just interesting particulars). On a show filled with metaphors and allusions, this subplot is ripe for many of them.

We've just finished season three now and, as we've all been expecting, Paige finally finds out what her parents do. They've told her they're spies from Russia and if she tells anyone (even her younger brother), her parents will probably go to jail forever. It's a lot for a 15 year old to process. She has a really tough time. She always felt her parents were hiding something, but she never expected this.

There's a couple episodes where she's struggling with her identity - trying to figure out who she really is and what it all means. What's so fascinating to me, though, as a Christian, is that Paige's identity crisis is not about whether she should be loyal to Russia or the US, but whether she can deal with the reality of what her parents are/do and still be a Christian.

I mean she's a teenager, growing up in a house where, let's face it, her parents were not super patriotic. Now she's in a situation where her whole life, essentially, is a lie - and if she's going to continue to live it, she'll also have to be a liar. It's in direct contradiction with the faith she's chosen (and a faith that's provide some real depth and stability in her life).

As a pastor, it's this sort of decision about allegiance I try to communicate to people as necessary to wrestle with. The way of Christ is inherently different than the way of the world and culture around us (whether its Soviet communism or American free-market capitalism) - there are real choices we're forced to make revolving around what we believe and how we'll act in response.

To see this sort of identity crisis played out on TV is pretty profound. It's probably the most authentic representation of Christian faith you'll see anywhere on TV (including the "Christian" channels or all those bible-based miniseries out right now). This is what the gospels are all about - Jesus preaching a new way, something different from what we've come to expect. This is what the letters of Paul are all about - how to live differently in the midst of a contradictory culture. It's the sort of question our generic, americanized version of Christianity seems to be squeezing out of public (and Christian) discourse in recent years.

I'll be interested to see how much of this faith conflict makes it onto the screen in future episodes of The Americans. Based on how they ended season three, it looks like it'll be pretty important to the start of season four. This decision between finding identity in Christ and finding identity in family is an issue with a long, complicated history. One of the best books I've ever read When the Church was a Family by Joseph Hellerman, delves deeply into it. I've loved this book for a while, recommended it to many and passed my own copy on as often as I can. I just quite expected The Americans to become a case study for the ideas therein.

Just another good reason to spend some time watching TV.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Difference Between Hope and Optimism

I finished my first reading of Walter Brueggemann's Prophetic Imagination today. I know, it's a classic and I am embarrassed for not having read it before now. So much of my seminary education was influenced by people influenced by this amazingly influential little book. It's also very dense. So much so that I'll be diving in again once I bust through a book review book this week. There's so much to learn there - I need a second go 'round.

Towards the end of the book there's a little off-handed remark (it might even be in parentheses) that hope and optimism are not the same thing. He didn't even explain it, really, but it struck me as particularly profound. Optimism, as Brueggemann says often, is a pacification technique used by those in power - it is the notion that things will get better (especially if we hold the course). Hope, on the other hand, is a recognition that things, as they are, are broken. Hope looks outside ourselves to something (some one) else to make necessary changes. There is still a belief things will be different (better), but hope builds within us and motivates for change - change within, but change from outside. It is the instilling of hope that helps make the changes in action that lead to a different world.

We should not confuse optimism for hope, for there is little hope in optimism beyond whatever panacea brief, immediate peace may bring.

I'm sure I'll write more about the book as I tackle it a second time, but I'm energized by the notion of being a people of prophetic imagination - both unmasking the failures of the system in which we live and working to present an alternative more in line with God's intentions for creation.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

All I Have Left to Say

As things have unfolded at Northwest Nazarene University, I've been watching closely. I wrote earlier about my concern over the message this sends to the denomination - a lot of people have picked up the difficulty we're having on this (and other) issue(s). There's a lot to be decided in the near future and we've got generations that really don't understand each other (a great message for a younger generation was delivered at my alma mater, Eastern Nazarene College, recently, by a friend and seminary classmate of mine - it's worth checking out). I think another friend and NTS classmate hit on the real importance of this situation - unity.

If you've made it through all those links, you're probably up to speed enough to understand what I'm saying. I think the real problem has been a conflation of many things, related, yes, but also separate, that is making any effort to do anything real difficult to parse. First, there is the difficult relationship NNU President David Alexander has had with his own faculty. It's not been a good relationship and there are a lot of issues to work through in terms of trust, communication, and collaboration. Second, there is the very real difficulty many denominational leaders in the Church of the Nazarene have with, at least, the way in which Tom Oord presents his theology. Third, there is the declining enrollment in NNU's graduate theology program, the failure of outsourcing recruiting, and how the school has chosen to address it. Clouding all three of these issues in the general tenor of distrust and protectionism that's been rumbling through the Church of the Nazarene at large in recent years.

All of these things are related, but none are necessarily connected (in the very strictest definition of the word: they don't HAVE to be addressed together). Because of this, it seems we have all manner of disparate angry people upset to different degrees about various elements of a complicated problem.

I don't have a dog in this fight - other than my place as an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene, the son of an NNU Trustee, and a friend of Tom Oord. In other words, there are some larger, less tangible things at stake for me personally, but there're an awful lot of people I care about who are right in the middle of this. I'll try not to speak out of turn and nothing here is anything beyond my perception of the situation. My only hope and aim in writing about this one more time is to hopefully provide some clarity for those who may feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the conversation.

1) I have very little to say about the relationship between NNU's President and it's faculty. The faculty are obviously pretty upset. I've known some faculty who've been upset for years. They're going to have to figure out a way to work together - and that means growth and change from both sides. I pray they'll be able to do it.

2) Tom Oord has chosen (as is his duty as an academic) to explore some areas of theology that break new ground. He's asking and attempting to answer questions that a lot of us wrestle with. I don't always agree with Tom - sometimes it feels like he's trying to put together the theological version of Stephen Hawking's Unified Field Theory and the missing pieces prove elusive - but I am encouraged by his efforts, because they are the same ones that intrigue and capture me. I hope what he's thinking and talking and writing about is not out of bounds - but I'm pretty biased on that account, since it would put me over the line as well.

Tom is a kind and gracious person, which is difficult to reconcile with claims that he leaves students with too many questions and not enough answers. I know they moved him to upper level courses in recent years partly because of these concerns. I do believe Tom does what many professors are (reasonably) leery to do, namely playing devil's advocate and challenging student thinking without always wrapping up the discussion in a nice bow of confidence. I think this is a fair and good way to teach (albeit with some inherent risks) - at the same time, I think having reservations about this style is also a fair position. There's a real (perhaps impossible) balance to consider when undergraduate education is involved. Tom's theology is far more controversial because he's a professor than it would be if he were a pastor in a local church.

I am one of those people for whom Tom's loving challenges have helped to explore new areas of thought and find real confidence in a faith that might otherwise be shaky. I can name a number of close friends, many of them ordained Nazarene ministers, who directly attribute their continued faith to Tom's influence. We're seeing many of the people Tom Oord has impacted in this way coming to his defense rigorously. I'm not sure it's good in a situation like this to weigh help and harm - it is always regrettable for a student to engage academically and lose their faith - but for those intent on doing so, please consider the many who likely would not have remained Christians without the freedom and permission a professor like Tom Oord provides.

That being said, as much as I might personally disagree with which places in the denomination those with authority determine are appropriate for Tom's particular teaching, I do think those we've given authority to in these matters have a right to make such decisions. There is certainly nothing different in Tom's method or belief that what we routinely encountered at Nazarene Theological Seminary (a place, were Tom to need one, I'd love for him to end up teaching) - a graduate seminary like NTS is certainly a more comfortable place than an undergraduate institution in this scenario.

I hope, if Tom Oord does move on from NNU, there is some great measure taken by the denomination or another denominational institution to include him, validate him, and bless him as a worthy leader in our tradition. I desperately pray this situation will not be one of the appropriateness of Tom Oord's theology and only an issue of the appropriate place for it.

3) NNU's online graduate programs have been pretty groundbreaking and pretty darn respectable over the years. They went after this market quickly and with great aptitude. I know a lot of people who've finished degrees through NNU and really enjoyed the experience. That being said, there is a very limited market for graduate theological degrees in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. That's just a fact. NTS is doing much better in competing for these students after really falling behind at the beginning. Outsourced marketing or not, there was very likely going to have to be faculty cuts at NNU as a simple reality of the marketplace. I find it sadly ironic that NNU's pursuit of ATS accreditation for a fully online MDiv program was likely to hasten the problems they're having with enrollment. Once other seminaries were given permission to replicate this model, things were only going to get more difficult.

If a cut was on the horizon (and thinking outside whatever is the required, agreed upon plan for making such cuts - something that internal NNU processes will adjudicate and something I've got no understanding of at all), the difficulties presented by Oord's presence (and the continued complaints, founded or otherwise), plus his immense position in the academy (and the reality that he'll likely have no trouble finding another job) are legitimate considerations for choosing him (even if they're easy to disagree with). I'd personally, if I were associated with NNU, want to keep as many of our best, brightest, and well-known faculty as I possibly could, even if it meant more headaches for me - I'd consider that worth the trouble. I can also understand why some might not consider it worth the trouble.

4) The Church of the Nazarene is in a bad spot. We just are. There's very little patience left with the administrative structure of the denomination and even less trust. There have been real witch hunts (or as real as such things get without actually hunting witches). We have leaders on record not just disagreeing, but denouncing various people, theologies, and ideas. While some apologies were given, the reverberations of such are always much less than those of the original statements.

I really feel the future of the denomination is walking out the door. Many of us are starting to wonder whether sticking around is going to get us thrown out the door in time. I'm not entirely pessimistic. I'm really not. I think there are enough people with enough grace to make things work going forward. I have a deep and abiding belief in the love of God to make the world right and in the Spirit of God to guide us into all truth, to make (and keep) us one, and to provide for a bright and unified future.

I guess I've written all of this to say: I'd love to see Tom Oord stay at NNU. I think he wants to be there and I think it's good for the school to have him there, even if it creates headaches and problems from time to time. At the same time, I don't think Tom having to leave is the end of the world. It would be sad, certainly worthy of grief, but there are many setbacks in life and even Tom believes in a God who works all things together for good, a God who holds the future (even if God doesn't always know the details).

What would be a real problem, though, is for this to be a referendum on Open Theism or a theology of non-coercive love or Tom Oord himself. We can't afford that. We can't afford this situation to become a theological dividing line. I know it won't be such a line in all places within our denomination, but it also can't be such a line at the center of our denomination. We must keep our pursuit of Christ-likeness at the center of our fellowship, unified around the pursuit of a holy life, even if we debate, discuss, and disagree about the ways some people get there.

So argue and debate and protest and mediate, but make sure you're aware of the complexities and make sure you're keeping God's gracious hospitality at the forefront of your mind.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Don't Label Me, Bro

Pete Holmes hits it again, using his comedy podcast to interview Franciscan Friar and author, Richard Rohr. The podcast is long, but they begin with a talk of duality - the notion that we naturally view everything in comparison to something else - short/tall, rich/poor, etc. Not only that, but we tend to pick one over the other - tall is better than short (for example... but also in reality).

What this becomes, if we're not aware of what's happening, if we're not conscious of it, we try to fit everything and everyone into one group or the other - when we encounter something knew, mostly some one new once we're adults, our first instinct is to label. "Oh, ok, this guy talks a lot about the environment - liberal, hippie, etc." Then we move on to engage.

But we engage with the label first, then the person... if it every gets that far. Which is precisely the trouble.

Things don't have to fit categories to be true.

Which is, I guess, a bit of a relief, since life never fits into quick and easy categories. Our culture puts things into dichotomic order almost out of necessity - no one pays attention to things long enough to engage on a unique level. We need to be different.

There might be a lot of people out there living life for some purpose or goal, and most people, if they don't fit specific categories, are just getting in the way. I'm not so sure that's true, though. The more I live the more it seems to me the point of life is to know and be known by the people around you - all the people around you.

That's obviously easier said that done. I know a lot of my neighbors, but I don't even known half my neighbors - and most not well enough. I certainly can't say there are many people with whom I interact regularly who know me very well. We don't really live in a society built for that.

We live in a society built for labels - well, as human beings, we, ourselves, are built for labels. This intentional focus on people, on getting to know the unique qualities of those around you, is just another of those things we have to fight against instinct to accomplish. No one wants to be labeled. No one wants to feel pushed into a group or defined by some intangible property. It's dehumanizing and it pushes us away from each other.

Be aware. Even if it's just realizing how our brains work, that we're wired to label people, to make two boxes and put everything (and every one) into one of them. Knowing what we're prone to do is the first step towards learning a different way.

Perhaps this is timely as we're in the midst of Presidential candidates announcing their campaigns. The US election system is front and center in this movement to label. Maybe we can treat these guys (and lady(ies)) as complex individuals or maybe just as people, instead of caricatures in boxes of our own design?

If we can't do it with our candidates, let's try to at least do it with our family, and friends, and the people we meet each day on the street.

Don't label me, bro, I'm not like anyone else you've ever met. I'm just me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Public Trust

I began this post weeks ago and completely unrelated to recent events on which I've commented in this space. I don't intend it to apply to said events, although, I imagine, it applies to anyone who occupies a position of trust and anyone who's asked to trust them.

I've always been confused by endorsements. I get it in the context of a crowded campaign - if there's seven relatively identical candidates for President, I can see how the endorsement of some other respected politicians might make a difference. I don't get it in the case of successor to successee? Say my Senator is retiring and makes a big speech endorsing a former aid, say, to take the seat. Will people with an affinity for that retiring Senator genuinely transfer the love and support they have for one person to another? I imagine it's an issue of degree; there are certainly some politicians I see as more trustworthy than others, but I also can't think of a scenario in which I'd trust an endorsement like that.

I can't imagine trusting my father's endorsement uncritically. I'd certainly want to know what people think, but to assume that an endorsement brings with it a wealth of supporters seems naive at best, condescending at worst. Maybe that says more about my trust issues than it does about the general public, but I find it fascinating nonetheless.

I also suspect it's a generational issue. My generation just doesn't trust unless it's earned. I've been told there were times and places where assumption of authority carried with it automatic trust. Now respect is different. I try to respect all people equally as valuable human beings, but I am not going to immediately treat one person with more deference or respect simply because of a position they hold. That hypothetical Senator may have earned a lot of trust and honor through their service, but there's no way I'd automatically translate the actions of one person (or the dignity of an office) to another.

I'm not sure I have much to say other than making the observations I've made. Is it just me? Is it generational? How do you decide what public or authority figures to trust?

My wife gets the raw end of this deal. She's a middle school teacher. She's a bit fed up with parents believing their twelve year old over her. I suppose it is, though, the same thing. People aren't going to respect someone without them earning it. (I'd argue my wife does a pretty good job of earning it, but I also know her pretty well.)*

But I also have to wonder if we do a good enough job of allowing people to prove their trust-worthiness to us? Do we too easily project a generic untrustworthy authority on people without giving them a real chance? I mean, if the Senator making the endorsement is, in fact, a good person, that endorsement shouldn't hurt the reputation of their chosen successor. But do we give that benefit of the doubt?

I'm currently running for the local school board. I was not endorsed by the local teacher's union. This wasn't surprising to me. What was surprising was how many people find my candidacy more attractive because I wasn't endorsed by this group. That seems to reflect some negative understanding on the teachers of our community - as if their endorsement will naturally be deficient in some way. That bias likely comes from some of the very real problems (PR and otherwise) that teachers' unions have at higher levels. Is this perhaps the case of some nameless, faceless public entity reflecting, through several levels, onto individual teachers like my wife?

Maybe. Maybe not.

It sure does make me think a little bit more about how I form my opinions of people and how I decide to trust. How easy is it to project my past dealings with authority onto new people in front of me - heck, it doesn't even have to be authority. Do we transfer our feelings towards some other 6-foot, brown-haired friend with glasses onto the next person I meet who looks like them? If it happens from politician to politician or teacher to teacher, why not from person to person in everyday life?

How do we trust, and who do we trust, and when do we trust? To what degree do we trust? I imagine these are questions that deserve more time and attention than we often give to them.

*I have to admit this one really boggles my mind. Even if you're judging someone's trustworthiness on their own actions, how many of these parents have perfect children? My daughter is almost three. She may be cute and innocent and the opposite of ill-intentioned, but she's not at all trustworthy. You can't believe anything that girl says. I mean, if she weren't three I'd be very concerned about the high odds she'd end up in prison.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Mystery and Love

I was listening to Brian Zahnd's Easter sermon yesterday and he used an awesome quote from Hans Urs Von Balthasar,

In the end, only something endowed with mystery is worthy of love. It is impossible to love something stripped of mystery; at best it would be a thing one uses as one sees fit.

I went back to write some of it down so I could google it, turns out BZ also used it in his book, "Beauty Will Save the World," (page 162, I think). I have no idea the context for Von Balthasar's original writing, but I know Zahnd uses it in the context of our love for God, to emphasize the importance of relationship and mystery to the Christian life.

In light of all that's been happening in Nazarene-world this week, it sure struck me as particularly beautiful in the reverse - as a means of explaining God's love for us, for all creation.

So often we think of God as this unmoved mover, to use the old philosophical phrase - God knows all, sees all, does all, with a sort of dispassionate fervor. We are prone to ascribe such a thorough immutability to God, God becomes almost impersonal.

We can go on and on about not putting God through the analytical lens of human self-understanding - which is a good critique and all - but it doesn't really ring true for me. If God knows us without mystery, there is no love. Love requires connection and not just superficial connections, not just good will or cursory relationship. Love requires a necessary attachment, a placing of one's own future in the hands of another - maybe not completely, but in some irrevocable manner. Love has to do this.

I believe God gives choice, that God has no choice but to give choice, real choice, not some fake, "I know what you're going to do before you do it," theological circus act. Love requires that sort of respect. Now I'm not saying we can control God, but we can affect God. We have to. Or God isn't really love and thus not really God.

I don't want to implicate Brian Zahnd in all this. I don't know how he'd respond to this notion - certainly with an open mind, but perhaps not an agreeable one.

At the same time, this quote, which he seems to like a lot, leads in precisely this direction. God knows human beings as well and as intimately as divinely possible - at the same time, we retain mystery. I believe that. I think I have to. If not, we're mere pawns in a cosmic manipulation; as Woody tells Buzz, "[We're] a child's play thing!"

The philosophers of old would tell us God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. I can't think of a greater thing than God loving us enough to let us be free, loving us enough to spend an eternity loving us, if that what it takes for us to understand such love. And I do think it requires mystery.

I fret and complain and metaphorically pull out my hair over my complete inability to understand my wife (she does all that and more concerning me, as well). Just when you think you know a person... That's mystery. That's love. If we knew even the best person completely, fully, thoroughly, without mystery, they would become nothing more than an avenue for selfish indulgence - a play thing.

And if that's our lot - God all the more.

No. Love is something different. It has to be - and not just for us lowly humans, for all who are or express love.

God is love because while I believe absolutely that God holds the future, I don't believe God knows exactly how it will play out. That is profound, and beautiful, and lovely. And, to me at least, it just makes sense.

Tom Oord didn't teach me this (although I have to give him full credit for the traditional philosophical arguments utilized above). He didn't introduce it to me. He didn't tell me it was a good idea. I came upon this notion, in part, on my own. Other writers helped flesh the notion out a bit - great thanks to Greg Boyd there. I wrestled with it for a while and, at some point, became aware Tom Oord thought things like this weren't entirely crazy ideas. It helped alleviate some fear that I was going off the deep end or maybe moving away from the Nazarene foundation I so love.

It's certainly given new life and fresh excitement to the mystery of God and my passion for following Jesus Christ. Looking at things, even big, important things, from a different perspective does wonders for expelling fear and expanding horizons. I don't have much room or reason to doubt God anymore. I may doubt my perception of God, but that just adds to the mystery. Unboxing a once tame God is a good thing, even if it makes life and theology a bit messy. It's freeing, even if it's also daunting. It's not scary, though, despite it's mystery, because God, and this world God created, is just full of love.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Tom Oord

So, there's always the next controversy it seems, with the Church of the Nazarene. Maybe I just wasn't aware of things growing up, or, in a pre-internet age, it was just easier to keep things quiet, but it sure feels like our denomination is struggling with who it wants to be and whether it will still exist going forward.

That might sound a bit harsh or over-reactive, but more and more it feels like the leaders of the Church of the Nazarene are just completely out of touch with its next few generations of leaders.

Last week Tom Oord, a Philosophy and Religion professor at Northwest Nazarene University was told he'd be laid off at the end of the semester due to some financial changes to be made in the graduate program of which he is a part. There's been a pretty sizable backlash to this move, for a whole host of reasons. One is Tom's prominent place in the denomination, both as a thinker and as a lightning rod. He's a social-media savvy forward thinker, willing to challenge the bounds of traditional thought - a tough subject when it comes to the core doctrines of a conservative denomination.

There's a lot of speculation about the why and how of this decision. Tom's not had the best relationship with the University President and some measure of attempt has been made to challenge or take his ministerial credentials. There has been talk of attempts to silence him or buy him off, but I'm really not privvy to the ins and outs of all that.

It's an interesting situation for me since my dad is on the executive committee of the NNU Board of Trustees. I had a rather disjointed and emotional (from my end) talk with him briefly about this. As is his responsibility, he said only that it's a personnel matter and he can't comment - so nothing I say here should reflect on his views one way or another.

My personal perception of this situation is simply that NNU's President would have an easier time running his institution without Tom Oord around. It's a sad state of affairs, but between complaints and threats and whatever else, the truth is, Oord's presence makes things a little more difficult. The President certainly has the right to make a decision like he did.

I'm not an alum of NNU. I'm not on the region. I've never given a dime to the University. I have no horse in this race. I think any school is better off with Tom Oord teaching there, but I'm also not going to interfere with decisions made by a college President (a really, really difficult job to do, let alone do well).

I can say Tom Oord is a fantastic teacher (I had one class with him way back in January of 2000, when he was teaching at my alma mater, Eastern Nazarene College), who cares about students. I've never known him to impose his will on anyone, more often asking questions and helping students process a larger scope of information on their own. His theology is well within the parameters of our denomination and his commitment to our core doctrine, holiness, is unimpeachable.

I think his removal, regardless of the reasons surrounding it, makes little sense for the institution or the denomination. It's more the message being sent here - and with recent troubles at MidAmerica Nazarene University and at Olivet Nazarene University and at our denominational headquarters.

Difficult, diverse, and non-traditional approaches to God and theology aren't scary and they really shouldn't be, especially when they're engaged in the midst of a loving, affirming, committed, accountable system like the one set up through our Nazarene higher education system. These are the best places for our students to wrestle with difficult questions and explore the depths of mystery inherent in a life committed to Jesus Christ. I wasn't a religion major in my undergrad years. I took nothing more than the required course, but I was asking the same questions and it is certainly because of the environment at ENC, where I was free to ask them, encouraged to do so, and surrounded by supportive (not manipulative professors) that I am still a Christian today.

These kinds of discussions (and, for the record, in the grand scheme of Christian thought, Tom Oord is solidly, wholly, and completely in the conservative camp - even if he seems wildly liberal to those farther right) are not an issue to the next generation of denominational leaders (who are already 35-45 years old). What's more, this type of creativity and exploration is a bottom-line minimum requirement for engagement from the generation of leaders after that.

So many of my peers are just getting out - of ministry, of the Church of the Nazarene, of Christianity - because if we really can't handle the kinds of discussions we're having publicly, we're never going to be able to handle the discussions we need to be having publicly. Even if Oord's layoff proves entirely, 100% necessary and justified, the message it sends is worth more than any amount of monetary savings.

I wasn't able to confirm any of the specifics about challenges to Oord's credentials in recent years - I'll try to update when and if I do, but if even half of what I've heard proves right, it's an even worse problem for the denomination. I can get over the sacrificing of money for greed and power - I don't like it, but I can get over it - I'm not sure if I can get over sacrificing our polity and principles for power. That might just be a bridge too far.

I used to be angry about these types of things (even just last summer, for instance) and so I'm happy others have taken this as an opportunity for righteous indignation. I encourage students, pastors, and alums from NNU to voice your opinion, ask your questions, be heard. At the same time, it just makes me more sad. I'm incredibly optimistic about the future of the Church - perhaps now more than ever, I'm excited about what the people of God are ready and able to do in the world. I'm just less and less optimistic each day that my tribe, the Church of the Nazarene, will play much part in that future. I want us to be there. I think we've got the history and the theology to be front and center in whatever post-modern, post-Christendom movement the Spirit of God brings forth in the next generation - I'm just not sure we're actually going to live up to that promise.

Tom Oord will be just fine. He's an incredible teacher and a well-respected theologian. He'll likely have multiple offers with less headaches and troubles, like so many others before him who've been chased away by the Church of the Nazarene. It's a shame, though, if it comes to that, that's he'll have to leave the school he loves, the home he loves, the wild Idaho country he loves, to do it. You don't often get people willing to invest in walking the difficult road, taking the abuse, and persevering. Often even the most eager give up - and do so understandably. Tom Oord has fought hard to stay when it would be far easier to leave. For that alone, I consider him a hero and an example. I pray he will continue to be, wherever he is teaching in the future.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

A Little Daddy-Daughter Moment

This isn't a reflection or a lesson. Just story. What I feel is a quintessential parenting story. My daughter is almost three (in May) and she's been in full time-bomb, no-machine, three-year-old contrarian mode for three solid months already. It's already well beyond old. You know, refusing to eat foods she likes (even as she acknowledges - "I will not eat anything I like," or don't like, for that matter), saying 'no' to everything, and just all around demanding the world revolve around her. A three year old is baffled when you tell them what they want has almost no bearing on what will happen to and around them.

It's a trying time.

We were having one of those moments at lunch or dinner or something the other day - it was just the two of us. She was taking bites of food that I had to feed to her (even though she's been using silverware for 18 months already), a food she likes, but refuses to eat. Then she was holding those bites of food in her mouth for 90 seconds or more, just chewing and turning it in to terrible mush, before my begging her to eat again. You know, typical three-year-old dinner.

It was frustrating. What should have taken twelve minutes was approaching an hour. I was running out of patience, but I had enough piece of mind not to say what I was thinking. Instead, I decided to use the moment as a lesson and set the stage in an appropriate, mature way for what I wanted to say off the cuff.

I asked her if people ever did things she didn't like or made her do things she didn't want to do. We talked about getting hurt or frustrated and how we might respond to people. We talked about how it wasn't right to hit people. People are valuable and deserve love and hitting isn't the way to get your way. But we still want to do it sometimes. We talked about how it's ok to be angry and frustrated. Those emotions are good things, but we have to be careful how we use them.

I told her I would not ever hit her. We talked about how hitting is bad and hitting someone who hits is even worse. I made abundantly clear how anger and violence works and how important it is to have self-control and care for people. After all, dinner was taking forever, so we had the time.

It was one of the first times I really felt like we had a conversation she understood all the way through.

When we were finally done and she'd eaten enough and it was clear she wasn't going to eat anymore, I told her she could get down, but not before telling her.

"I love you. I would never hurt you. I would never hit you. But you're being incredibly stubborn and rude right now and I very much want to smack you in the face."

She said, very seriously, and with a straight face, "I don't want you to smack me."

And I said, "I won't. I promise. I would never hit you, but I want to. I really want to, and you should know that."

Then she got down and went to play.

A lot of times I hate being a parent and a lot of times I feel like I'm doing it all wrong. I imagine there will be people horrified by that story (likely one of them is my wife - who knows already - she's not learning about it here), but I know my daughter and I think it went well.

It was not an evening I'd want to play over again, but I think we both got out of it what we needed to get. She's two and a half. She'll probably never remember it, but I don't think it would be a bad first memory. "I would never, ever hit you... but sometimes I want to."

That seems to sum up parenting pretty well, at least as I've seen it so far.