Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Justice Advocate Bruce Strom Shares Stories from Frontlines

Bruce Strom authored the book Gospel Justice and is the president and CEO of Gospel Justice Initiative.

Bruce Strom authored the book Gospel Justice and is the president and CEO of Gospel Justice Initiative.

Yesterday we met Bruce Strom who is helping to grow and steer a movement of lawyers and churches giving a voice to legally disenfranchised (and poor) populations in this country. Today we get a bit more personal, with Bruce sharing how he came to this line of work, leaving a successful and remunerative law practice to start Gospel Justice Initiative—and we hear some touching real-life stories of transformation. “Good News” doesn’t get much better than this:

How did you come to this work in the first place? Or, to borrow your language…if your vocation is calling the church and lawyers to action on behalf of the poor, how were you first called to this work? I love the Bible.  Some people in the Bible heard the call, “follow me” and they dropped everything and went.  I’d like to be one of those individuals, but I’m not.  I’m more like the other guys in the Bible who liked their life and didn’t want a challenging call – like Jonah.  Truth is I was very comfortable as a successful lawyer and did not give much thought to the poor.  The last thing I wanted to do was sell everything to go serve the poor.  So like Jonah God sent a series of storms my way – first a long seven year struggle with infertility which ended with the miraculous birth of our twin sons; and second through a series of struggles in my practice that demonstrated God was trying to get my attention.  That was another three year process.  I’m a pretty stubborn guy, but I praise God for his relentless pursuit of me until I fully yielded to him.

Can I share quickly the turning point?  I shut down my law office and found myself in the belly of a giant fish – a little 8×10 office.  I was all alone and everyone thought I was nuts.  Who would leave a lucrative career to become poorer than the clients I was serving?  Honestly, as I stood over a printer and could not figure out how to print an envelope, I thought they were right.  I cried out to God – “Lord, what am I doing here?”  God’s response was as clear as though it were audible:  “My will.  For whatever you do for one of the least of these, you do unto me.”  I broke down crying and my life has never been the same.  God shows up if we will fully yield ourselves to Him.

I get the sense that you love telling the stories of the people you serve. Can you share one or two? I learned from the master storyteller – Jesus.  Just two?  Hope they are helpful and encourage others to read the book which is filled with many more stories.

Wilma, a deaf-mute, suffered in silence. The state took her son, Danny, away. She could not speak for herself, so the state believed her incompetent. For years she sat alone in an institution, clinging to one hope. She clung to a piece of paper in her pocket with the name Danny on it. She clung to the hope of being reunited.

Danny was placed in foster care, adopted, and given the name Ken. Ken did not blame his mom for abandoning him, but felt incomplete without her. When he married, she was not there. When his three children were born, she was absent. He continued to hope for restoration.

Forty years after the forced separation, Ken’s wife found information on the Internet that led to locating his mother. They traveled from Illinois to Alabama and found Wilmaneglected and alone. When they met, Wilma reached into her pocket and pulled out the worn paper with Danny’s name. As they embraced, Ken wanted to free his mother and break the chains that kept her from him, but he had no legal basis. Wilma had no assets. Ken and his wife were both in ministry and had no means to hire an attorney to establish guardianship and secure all the legal work to release his mother so they could be restored as a family.

Compassion alone could not restore this family.  They needed compassionate justice.  A team of attorneys was assembled and Ken now walks my neighborhood hand in hand with his mother who has learned sign language and can communicate with her family.  You can meet Ken and Wilma here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBuN5kzQwa4&feature=c4-overview&list=UUrFdgkfntJD6CuNb7wkuVpA

Maria was thirteen when she entered the United States. Her father had died and her mother abandoned her. Alone in Mexico, she had no future. With relatives in the US she accepted a nice man’s offer to bring her to America. After he sexually abused her, he sold her to a cantina where drugs, alcohol, and men dulled her senses and threatened to destroy her. But her relatives tracked her down and rescued her.

Undocumented, Maria was afraid, not knowing what to do. She found us, and we helped her face her oppressors for prosecution and obtained a special trafficking visa (T-visa) to establish lawful residence in the United States. Maria now has a new outlook on life: “They gave me hope that there can be justice for everyone—even someone like me.”  You can meet Maria and hear a couple more stories, here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5CtxwrpNKI&list=UUrFdgkfntJD6CuNb7wkuVpA&feature=c4-overview

My Beliefnet readers are all over the map when it comes to matters of faith. We’re “converted, unconverted and under conversion,” as I like to put it. What would you like them to know about issues pertaining to faith, justice and God’s call to serve the poor? Whether we recognize it or not we are all on a spiritual journey. Sadly some of your readers might be put off by the church or organized religion and I can understand that. One of my heroes was Mother Teresa. She was once asked how she received her call to serve the poor. I love her answer. “My call is not to serve the poor. My call is to follow Jesus. I have followed him to the poor.” If we follow Jesus we will reflect humble service toward others. We will love one another. We will pursue justice. And we will take Jesus’ challenge made to a lawyer when he told the story of the Good Samaritan. We will go and do likewise.

Meet Someone on Frontlines of Injustice in America

Meet Bruce Strom, the author of the book "Gospel Justice" and the president and CEO of Gospel Justice Initiative.

Meet Bruce Strom, the author of the book “Gospel Justice” and the president and CEO of Gospel Justice Initiative.

Yesterday I promised you a treat: today is the first installment of an interview with Bruce Strom. Strom directs the organization Gospel Justice Initiative and is the author of the book Gospel Justice. I met Bruce after writing Grace Sticks and in particular, a chapter on worship (“Honk if you love Jesus. Text if you want to meet Him.”) That chapter includes a story about my very own granddad who for many years has been an avid advocate of legal justice for the poor in this country (and who now sits on the board of Gospel Justice Initiative). It’s exciting to know that the momentum for justice is growing in this country, with more and more advocates joining the cause.

Here is Bruce, and you can catch the rest of this two-part interview tomorrow:

You direct the “Gospel Justice Initiative,” which provides legal assistance to the poor by mobilizing churches and attorneys in cities across America. One component of this initiative are your “justice centers.” What’s a “justice center” and what are some concrete ways that pastors and attorneys might get involved?

A justice center is a place where legal, spiritual and social needs can be met.  Some might call it a legal-aid office, but I purposefully use the Biblical term “justice” because the Hebrew word for justice – tzedek means to right relationships and restore what is broken.  A justice center seeks to restore people in the midst of their legal, government, social and spiritual challenges.  For pastors this is an opportunity for the church to be known for what it is for, rather than what it is against.  What a great way to demonstrate love and compassion to a community by providing legal services.  For attorneys this is a great opportunity to integrate their faith and practice in a way that no one else can.  Gospel Justice Initiative has all the training and tools needed for pastors, lawyers and others to get involved.  We even have a special message for pastors and lawyers from other pastors and lawyers.  Just visit www.gji.org.

You’ve also written a book titled Gospel Justice to which the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action and professor at Eastern, Ron Sider, gave a resounding thumbs-up; and you describe your book as “a call to action to the Christian, the church and the attorney to get involved in justice for the poor.” Tell me more about why you’re calling Christians, the church and lawyers to work on behalf of the poor. Why is this call to action so critically important?

Justice is part of God’s character.  Some in the Christian world like to emphasize knowing God, but I don’t think we can know God without doing justice.  Christ calls us to an active faith rooted in who He is and how He acts.  If we would be Christ followers then we must follow Christ.  We must do as He did and serve as He served.  That involves many acts of compassion and justice beyond legal aid, BUT it includes meeting legal and spiritual needs.  For too long the church has abandoned the law, except in first amendment areas.  Christian lawyers have also largely missed the opportunity to serve wounded neighbors in need.  Jesus said to the lawyers and church leaders of his day, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”  Mt. 23:23.  My translation – Be careful.  It is good that you are involved in worship and other activities of the church but not at the expense of justice, mercy and faithfulness – beginning with justice.  Let’s do justice and transform lives and communities for Jesus.

I was also struck by your admission that you felt compelled to write this book in good part because there hadn’t been a book on legal justice for the poor in a very long time…nearly one hundred years as you put it? Say more about this…and, why the disregard for this issue, do you think?

Great question.  My friends at Moody wondered the same.  Does the church so disdain the law, the poor, and lawyers that they have intentionally avoided this area or has God searched the land and found no one to stand in the gap?  While there may be some of the former, I think it is mostly the latter.  Your granddad, John Robb, was a leader in this area but mostly a voice crying in the wilderness.  Not since Reginald Heber Smith wrote Justice for the Poor in 1919 has there been a widely circulated work demonstrating the life-changing impact legal aid can have on the poor and vulnerable.  And that was from a secular perspective demonstrating how helping the poor and vulnerable makes us all stronger by strengthening families, economies, and society as a whole.  How much more when we combine that with the eternal value of sharing the hope of a loving God in the midst of dark circumstances.

Got a question to ask Bruce? Leave it below.

Want to learn more about how you can get involved in the work of Gospel Justice Initiative? Send Bruce a note at bruce@gji.org.

Letter From An Atlanta Jail

Yes, any implicit self-comparisons to Martin Luther King Jr. stop with the headline.

But seriously, last week I went to jail. Not for a civil rights protest, and no, not for being a great sinner, although I’ve had plenty of great sinning days, too.

I went to jail to visit a woman who is there because she was caught shoplifting $93 of merchandise ($93 of beer in fact, which is when you can chime in with “93 bottles of beer on the wall”…). She was shoplifting because she was drunk, and she was drunk because she is an alcoholic.

But I digress, because what I really want to say begins as I sat in the waiting room.

A clearly poor—(for a moment I thought he was homeless)—African American gentleman came in and sat down with his little boy. We began to talk. He was visiting a family member who had been languishing in jail for weeks and weeks now because of a sentence (a minor drug possession charge). They couldn’t pay the bail fee, but she had been assigned a public defender. The only problem was that the public defender didn’t seem to care about her legal predicament. He had never called or come to visit. So there she was in a kind of legal limbo land behind bars.

The take home for me? If you’re poor in this country and find yourself in trouble with the law, justice is often elusive.

Which is why tomorrow I hope you’ll tune back in for a very special treat—an interview with someone who is working to rectify this problem.

Words on the 90th Birthday of a Dear Friend and Teacher

The longer I live, the more I’m learning the importance of celebrating the people whose lives have touched mine—not just after they die, but when they are still alive.

“Emilia Pavlovna” (as she’s been called since I sat in her first-year Russian class during my freshman year of college more than 20 years ago) is one such person. I have been asked to send in recollections from her life on the occasion of her 90th birthday. She and I have been dear friends, virtually family, all these years; and next month, I’ll be raising a toast to her at her birthday party in New Haven, Connecticut.

In case it is of any encouragement to you as you celebrate those who have loved you into being and whom you have loved back, here is a recollection and celebration of the life of Emilia Pavlovna:

Emilia Pavlovna was my first-year Russian teacher. Somehow, she taught me to love Russian. In hindsight, I think it was not so much the Russian language but Emilia Pavlovna with whom I fell in love—the evidence of which was a major in Russian and East European Studies.

There have been so many things to love about Emilia Pavlovna over the 20 some years we’ve been friends. She is, in some ways, a second mother. But our care for one another really started with her care for me after an early first-year Russian test. I was nursing a wounded ego after my first-ever “D” on a test. (We Yalies didn’t get into college, after all, by regularly earning D’s.) But I had sought Emilia Pavlovna out for answers, and she assiduously and energetically (as was her way) walked me through the slew of red marks on my paper with her usual mix of cheerful equanimity and dogged determination to make me a successful Russian student, finally sending me off one hour later with clear instructions: “You must study, study, study.” She assured me that if I stuck with it I’d soon be earning A’s. (She was right, as she often is.)

Those “bright college years” were marked by frequent interactions with Emilia Pavlovna over dinner at the Russian table, where she faithfully showed up every week to bear the awkward, stilted Russian of eager students, patiently repeating for them the correct grammatical construction with almost the same motherly dedication to each carefully enunciated word that she paid to each of her students.

When upon graduation I found myself somewhat insecurely not in the ranks of most of my cohorts, who by and large had followed one of three paths (investment banking, medical school or law school), Emilia Pavlovna quite literally took me in. Her husband, Mr. Hramov, had just died, and she was alone—but she had a spare bedroom. “Well, look,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Mr. Hramov isn’t here anymore, and I could use the company.”

A few days later I had driven my boyfriend’s car up to her house with a couple suitcases of clothing and would spend the rest of the summer taking the bus into work every morning from Emilia Pavlovna’s house in Hamden.

Living with Emilia Pavlovna for a summer is when we became more like family. For one, she refused to let me pay rent. She insisted on stacking the fridge with every manner of frozen dinner; every morning would make me a lunch, despite my vigorous protests. This was when I came to learn the importance of food for a woman who had grown up in Europe during World War II. Food was one embodiment of Emilia Pavlovna’s love.

Another was her advice. Somehow she delivers it in such a winning way, that I can rarely begrudge her for it. Over the years I’ve come to know Emilia Pavlovna and what she values from the advice she has given: about the importance of hard work and being a devoted mother to my two children; about being a wife who listens (at least a bit) to and respects her husband; about the priority of family over career.

That summer Emilia Pavlovna helped me secure my very first real job. She knew I wanted to work in the news business (maybe not unlike what she did working for The New York Times in New York before meeting and marrying Mr. Hramov who soon after insisted she quit her New York—New Haven commute); so she called up an old student of hers working at ABC News to tell him I was applying for a job with the John Stossel Unit at 20/20.  Not long after, I was moving my suitcases into an itty bitty apartment just a few blocks away from Lincoln Center.

Emilia Pavlovna was at my wedding. She was at my graduation from Princeton Seminary years later. For me, like for so many of her students who stayed in touch over the years, she has always been just a phone call away, quickly and eagerly engaged in the details of our lives, and always insisting that the tab for the call be on her.

Few things tell as much about a person as growing old, which I suspect is as much about learning to let go in loss over and over again. I’ve had the privilege of watching Emilia Pavlovna do this gracefully, without complaint, with the same kind of cheerful equanimity—even vivaciousness—and intellectual curiosity that she brought to early morning Russian class all those years. A knee surgery and ensuing near-death infection, chronic pain from a bad back, the loss of her independence, including the home she lived in for many years with Mr. Hramov. Emilia Pavlovna has met the ravages of old age with matter-of-fact acceptance that with every loss or mini death of sorts in this life, there comes a new beginning. New life is always just around the corner.

This wisdom and joie de vivre are gifts that Emilia Pavlovna has imparted to me. I find myself appropriating them when I tell my son in his weekly basketball games to play with heart no matter the outcome. Or when I hold my 4-year-old daughter close at the end of a long day, remembering that this moment is precious and passing away.

Emilia Pavlovna, on her 90th birthday, can celebrate a life well lived. A life that has loved and played—and for sure “studied, studied, studied”— hard. A life lived out in the company of friends, students, neighbors and the church. What more can one say about someone so beloved? “Happy 90th Birthday,” maybe. And “I love and admire you.”








Mental Health Break—”Debbie Downer” At Thanksgiving

“Debbie Downer” may be fictional; but we’ve all been around people who bring us down; some days those people may even be our own selves. Thankfully, we don’t have to let the Debbies crash the party, and when personified, we can even laugh at them. This blast-from-the-past Saturday Night Live sketch comes with the hope that you’re finding moments to chuckle even when (and maybe especially when) a Debbie Downer is in the room:

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Favorite Hauerwasisms On The Cross, Church Growth, Etc…

This intersection is a place where hopefully you and I both can come and reflect, vent, ask questions and share doubts and experiences without judgement.

It’s also a place where you get to be a bit of a guinea pig: rough drafts of passages that will appear in future books of mine tend to make their first appearance here.

Finally, this intersection is a place where on occasion I take notes on things that I’m reading that I don’t want to forget. I may not have anything profound to say about them at the time—maybe never—but these things are memorable enough for me to want to remember them and record them here for the future, with the expectation that I’ll one day use them in some way in my own work. Today’s post is in this genre, upon completion of Stan Hauerwas’ wonderful memoir Hannah’s Child. Here are some memorable quotes:

The Meaning of the Cross

Yoder forced me to recognize that nonviolence is not a recommendation, an ideal, that Jesus suggested we might try to live up to. Rather, nonviolence is constitutive of God’s refusal to redeem coercively. The crucifixion is “the politics of Jesus.” (p. 118)

Truthful, Not Defensive Theology

I think “ethics” depends on developing the eye of the novelist. If my work is compelling, I suspect it is so to the degree I am able to write like a novelist. If I have a novelist’s eye, it is not accidental. I have, after all, spent many years reading novels. Reading novels will not necessarily make one better able to see without illusion, but it can help. My ability to see, moreover, depends on how I have come to understand what it means to be a Christian. I fear that much of the Christianity that surrounds us assumes our task is to save appearances by protecting God from Job-like anguish. But if God is the God of Jesus Christ, then God does not need our protection. What God demands is not protection, but truth. (p 115)

Creation and Eschatology

The world simply cannot be narrated—the world cannot have a story—unless a people exist who make the world the world. That is an eschatological claim that presupposes we know there was a beginning only because we have seen the end. That something had to start it all is not what Christians mean by creation. Creation is not “back there,” though there is a “back there” character to creation. Rather, creation names God’s continuing action, God’s unrelenting desire for us to want to be loved by that love manifest in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. (p. 158).

Beyond Realism: Contingency and Imagination

To say that our lives are contingent is to say that they are out of our control. Being “out of control” is the central image that runs through The Peaceable Kingdom and much of my work. Certainly that image described my marriage to Anne, but I do not think this image is autobiographical. In fact, I think the image came to me because of the influence of [John Howard] Yoder, who taught me to think that following Jesus means you cannot anticipate or ensure results. Learning to live out of control, learning to live without trying to force contingency into conformity because of our desperate need for security, I take to be a resource for discovering alternatives that would otherwise not be present. In this case, the notion of being out of control is one that stands as an alternative to Niebuhrian realism. The problem with “realism” is that it can shut down the imagination. (p. 137)

On Church Growth Strategies

Hauerwas shares these views in the context of (years back now) the new appointment of a young Duke divinity school graduate to shepherd the flock of Aldersgate Methodist where Hauerwas was once a member:

The outreach and pastor-staff committees were called together to hear [the new pastor's] plan for the future. She had been to a church-growth seminar. She told us she knew how to make the church grow. First, we needed two services. We would have a contemporary service at nine and a more traditional service at eleven. Second, we would have a phone-a-thon, during which we would call 20,000 people at random. That would ensure that the church would attract two hundred new members. Sociologists had confirmed such a result. New people who came to the church might feel strange. Accordingly, we needed to get used to being a congregation in which people did not know one another well. Most new people would be attracted to the church because of the activities and pastoral services the church could provide, not because of a sense of belonging to a community…I waited a few days and made an appointment with the pastor. I told her that what she was proposing was against everything I was about. She accused me of being against evangelization. Surely I wanted to bring people to Jesus. I hate that kind of pious language. But I told her the problem was not that she wanted to bring people to Jesus, but that she wanted to do so with means shaped by economic modes of life incompatible with the gospel…Our conversation went nowhere. Her sail was set…I told her that we would not be back. (pp. 258—259)



The Real Saint Valentine

Dear God, It's me, Valentine. Can you help me understand how my martyrdom became a day to send cheesy Hallmark cards? Love, Your Valentine

Dear God, It’s me, Valentine. Can you help me understand how my martyrdom became a day to send cheesy Hallmark cards? Love, Your Valentine

On this day once a year when we exchange treakly Hallmark card greetings with our loved ones, it may be salutary to remember here at this intersection between life and God who the original St. Valentine was.

Valentine was a Christian pastor in third-century Rome. When the then Roman emperor Claudius issued an edict prohibiting Christian marriage, Valentine went on performing marriage ceremonies in the church anyway. This display of civil disobedience soon meant Valentine’s own arrest, imprisonment, and torture, followed by a death sentence on February 14, 269 A.D.. Legend has it that Valentine’s last words were to the daughter of an Asterius in the form of a letter that Valentine signed with the words, “from your Valentine.”

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Most Popular Posts and A Response to Flirt to Convert

It’s always amusing to discover which of my previous posts have been shared the most in the blogosphere. With 399 shares, “Flirt to Convert” is one of them. And it seems that posts relating in some way to love, marriage, sex and gender are largely the most popular among my fellow saints and sinners. With one exception. Technically, “You Know It’s a Bad Day When You’re Giving a Blowjob to a Stranger for $5″ (640 shares) isn’t really about sex, in spite of its title; it’s more about the systemic nature of poverty and the tragedy of prostitution and sexual exploitation as (often) a symptom of that poverty.

This week in response to “Flirt to Convert,” another reader shared her take on so-called missionary dating:

Based on my 20 years of marriage to a non-believer, my choice now is to date only believers. I fell in love with a man who is an agnostic. Some people told me, with great judgment, that it was a sin to marry him. Others told me that God had entrusted him to my loving care. The reality was this: my relationship with God suffered, and we lacked a shared life map and commitment to God that are necessary to a good marriage. I understand now in sharp detail why we are not to be unequally yoked. I don’t date anyone who is not a Christian. If I date a non-Christian, I may find myself right back in love and justifying why “it’ll be okay” to marry him. And who knows? Maybe hearing that my faith is that important to me may plant a seed in a non-believer. May God bless you.

So what do you think on the matter? Is it worth the risk to date someone who doesn’t share your faith? Or, would you agree with this reader?

Mental Health Break: Winter, from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”

Emory University's quartet-in-residence, the Vega String Quartet, can play well even in their PJ's.

Emory University’s quartet-in-residence, the Vega String Quartet, can play well even in their PJ’s.

This past weekend we took the kids to a free concert for families at Emory’s Carlos Museum. The Vega String Quartet performed a series of bedtime pieces in their pajamas, surrounded by an audience of young children also in their PJ’s.

Dinosaur PJ’s.

Superman PJ’s.

Princess PJ’s.

Spongebob PJ’s.

Oh, and hot chocolate with marshmallows in styrofoam cups.

Our family had joined the spread on the floor at the feet of the musicians in preparation for what would be a taste of musical perfection. There we were, peacefully sipping hot chocolate while preparing to be transported to higher realms of aesthetic pleasure, thanks to the gifts of these four talented young artists, when it happened: first, in one quick motion from my 7-year-old behind me, a dark, warm, viscous puddle instantaneously formed at the seat of my light green corduroys, seeping into my undies; next, my son’s loud meltdown after realizing his hot chocolate was no longer—no matter that he had just now submitted his mother to what would be a whole hour of sitting with wet pants (not to mention the empathetic smiles of surrounding parents as my husband scurried off to find napkins).

One man down.

And then, within only a few moments of that spill, my son still in the throes of great lamentation, the second man was down: I turned just in time to catch the immediate aftermath of our 4-year-old’s hot chocolate demise, its dewy remains now another large spot on the once immaculate carpet. This time the marshmallows clung to her now-brown pink coat and she was in the midst of a full-blown cry.

Thankfully, the musicians had not begun to play yet, so we were able to recover in time for the kids to return to a state of general contentment, the requirements for which were two more hot chocolates and two new dry spots on the floor. The only annoying reminders of the event were my wet behind and the recognition that Paul and I were the only two parents in this small sea of cultured mothers and fathers whose kids had just spilled not one but two hot chocolates in clockwork succession. But this was mostly forgotten when the Vega Quartet broke into a beautiful rendering of “Winter” from Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons  violin concerto.

Here is “Winter” again, this time played by the Altra Volta string quartet; it comes with the hope that whatever your spills and messes this week, you might by the grace of God transcend them—even if it means the discomfort of having to sit in them for a time with a wet, sticky ass:

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Beyond Christian Apologetics

In 2001 TIME magazine named Stanley Hauerwas "America's best theologian."

In 2001 TIME magazine named Stanley Hauerwas “America’s best theologian.”

[NOTE: This is a revised version of an earlier post.]

The other day I did my first author reading at our local library. Only two people showed up, which was great, a) because it meant we were able to have a deeper conversation about all sorts of things, from reincarnation to the nature of Christian hope to why it is all three of us had found ourselves disappointed with organized religion; and b), because the two sweet ladies who came both felt compelled to buy a copy of my book by virtue of being the only two people there. The take-home? If sheer inspiration doesn’t work in drawing folks to a book signing on a Saturday afternoon, pity and guilt may.

But seriously, the eye-opening conversation with two new friends from the neighborhood about our spiritual quests left me even more convinced that I’m not generally a fan of that whole discipline we call “Christian apologetics.” A friend who is recently reminded me that the original meaning of that term connotes “a defense.” I still don’t like it.

Thankfully, this intuitive aversion to defensive expressions of Christianity has found a friend in the work of theologian Stanley Hauerwas, whose wonderful memoir Hannah’s Child is one of the books I’m making my way through.

Here is Hauerwas: “I fear that much of the Christianity that surrounds us assumes our task is to save appearances by protecting God from Job-like anguish. But if God is the God of Jesus Christ, then God does not need our protection. What God demands is not protection, but truth.”

In fact a theme that weaves in and out of this beautiful and painful telling of Hauerwas’ truth is a deep commitment to truth itself. Which may also help to explain Hauerwas’ suspicion of theories and systems. These, it seems, go hand in hand with Christian apologetics (my inference, not Hauerwas’). If Hauerwas is right that “positions too easily tempt us to think that we as Christians need a theory” (and I think Hauerwas is right), then Christian apologetics, by definition, tempts us into thinking that we as Christians by virtue of being Christian need not just a position and theory but an established way to defend ourselves in the public square from dangerous secularist views that would seek to take away our power. (Do you hear the sarcasm here?) This, I fear, only relegates expressions of Christian faith to that of public whining. Besides, if Christians have a right to whine, shouldn’t it at least be in places around the world where they’re genuinely being persecuted?

Maybe in matters of faith like on the basketball court, the best defense is actually a good offense (in this case, Christianity as Truth on the “offensive”). And it seems to me that in Jesus we can say that The Truth is our friend and that seeking The Truth will lead to God Himself. And if that’s the case, why spend so much time on defense?




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Lent Madness
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posted 4:32:40pm Apr. 01, 2014 | read full post »

"Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver
Each week in hospice a team of doctors, nurses, chaplains and social workers meets to discuss every patient in their care. Usually the meeting starts with a few moments of silence remembering those who have died in the preceding days, followed by a short meditation from the chaplain. Yesterday a col

posted 10:56:17am Mar. 26, 2014 | read full post »

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