Faith at Work, Part 2: Avodah & the Faith at Work Movement @TheHighCalling

glory 4

When Laity Leadership Institute Senior Fellow David W. Miller was studying biblical Hebrew in seminary, he discovered a concept that would come to define his work.

“As I was slogging through Hebrew vocabulary, I came across the word avodah. The root of that word is translated three ways in the Old Testament. Sometimes it’s translated to mean ‘work,’ as in a job; other times, avodah is translated to mean ‘worship,’ as in worshiping God; the third way it’s translated is to mean ‘service,’ as in serving others. That’s what my whole calling is about: avodah,” said Miller.

“Whether one is a secretary or a CEO, our work itself can be a form of honoring God, of worshiping God, and of serving neighbor. It combines the vertical and the horizontal. This concept has ignited me ever since,” he said. …

Read the whole rest at The High Calling.

Faith at Work, Part 1: Personal Journey Becomes Professional for David W. Miller @TheHighCalling

glory 4

Laity Leadership Senior Fellow David W. Miller was flourishing in his career as a senior executive and partner at a London bank, and felt called to that career, but he seldom, if ever, heard clergy talk about how to integrate his faith into his work. He became intrigued by what he calls “the Sunday/Monday gap.”

What began as a personal pursuit of that topic became a second career after an 18 month discernment process under the mentorship of Anglican clergyman and author John Stottled him to return to the United States to attend Princeton Theological Seminary.

“It wasn’t like I wanted to renounce my past and absolve my sins. I loved what I did and felt that it could be done in a God pleasing way and it was just as important to have people of faith in the marketplace as it was in the mission field,” said Miller.

“I suppose people are drawn to study things either because they’re really good at it or because they’re not really good at it. I was drawn to this subject of integrating faith and work because of my own professional experience of asking how to overcome the Sunday/Monday gap,” he said. …

Read the rest at The High Calling.

Globetrotting toward a Spiritual Center and a Sense of Shared Humanity @NJShorePatch

 Dean Fengya’s accidental adventure evolved into a business with a spiritual core.

Dean Fengya, owner of Globetrotters, Pt. Pleasant Beach, NJIf you’ve driven the stretch of Route 88 where Point Pleasant Beach meets Bay Head, you’ve probably noticed Dean Fengya’s colorful collection of ceramic pots at Globetrotter, the import store he’s been running for 17 years.

What you may not have noticed is the religious statuary that grounds the carefully arranged field of blue, green, and beige. Fengya doesn’t import it for its religious significance, but that hasn’t stopped customers from turning some of the artifacts into shrines.

“My criteria is beauty. I see something that’s beautiful or I meet people that I know can make something that’s beautiful, perhaps with a little bit of my guidance and direction… and we work together,” said Fengya.

The pursuit of beauty has led Fengya to over 100 countries and he has integrated goods from close to 30 nations into Globetrotter and a second location that is set to open on Route 35 in July, he said.

Take those brightly colored ceramic pots that surround the flagship store, for example.  …

To read all about this delightful man and to see more photos of his beautiful wares, go to Manasquan Patch.

Thousands Attend Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration @NJShorePatch

Jersey Shore WIll Graham Celebration

13,821 listen to evangelist Billy Graham’s grandson preach at Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove.

When Billy Graham preached at Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium in 1955, he was 36 years old. Last weekend, his grandson Will Graham preached three messages in the same venue at what the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) called the Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration.

At 36 years old, the younger Graham’s vocal tone, delivery, and message reverberate with his grandfather’s influence.

Graham made the most of media hype overFamily Radio founder Harold Camping’s failed prediction that the Christian rapture would take place Saturday evening at 6 p.m., mentioning it in all three messages, but saving his strongest statements on the topic for Sunday afternoon.

There is increasing interest in the “end of days” theme, Graham told 4135 people Sunday. He’s heard Muslims and Hindus talk about it, he said, and the topic permeates pop culture and movies.

“There is nothing left to be fulfilled for the rapture to take place,” said Graham. …

Go to Manasquan Patch out what else he said and what else happened at the three day event.

Will Graham on Preaching, Public Statements, & His Famous Family @ManasquanPatch @TheHuffingtonPost

William (Will) Franklin Graham IV is the grandson of Billy Graham and the son of Franklin Graham. Graham is an associate evangelist at Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and assistant director of The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. He just returned from the Philippines, where he preached to 97,000 people in four days. Graham is a graduate of Liberty University and holds an MDiv. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Kendra, live near Asheville, North Carolina with their three children.

Last time we talked, I asked you if you thought the press was unfair to your father, Franklin Graham, because his public statements generate more coverage than the humanitarian work he does with Samaritan’s PurseNow, he’s drawn criticism for making statements to Christiane Amanpour of ABC News that seem to imply that he doesn’t really believe President Obama is a Christian and that he does believe there is merit to the claim that President Obama was not born in the United States. I have two questions about this issue. First, do you believe President Obama is an American citizen and a Christian? 

It seems from all standpoints that we can tell, yes. I have no reason not to think it. Do I know him as a Christian? I’ve never spoken to the president about his personal walk. I’ve never met him. …My father and I, we’ve never discussed the president’s [faith]. My father’s had more intimate conversations with the president than I have, so I can’t speak to that. He claims to be a Christian, I do know that. …

His job is the toughest job in the world. I don’t think anybody really knows the pressures the president goes through. I know for certain, my grandfather, my father, and my family, we all pray for our president, just in the sense of  “God, give him wisdom.” He’s got to make decisions that you and I will never know about in human history. We know that that burden falls on his shoulders and his alone. God’s put him in that place to make those decisions. We just pray that God will direct him on the decisions to make. Not to make our decisions, but to make what God wants to do and those are tough.

When it comes to his birth certificate—if he was born American—it looks like he’s produced documents that say without a question anymore, it’s laid to rest. I think even [Donald] Trump waved his white flag.

That brings me to my second question. Many BGEA staffers have told me over the past few months that you are more like your grandfather than your father. When it comes to making political statements, whose footsteps do you intend to follow? …

To find out the answer to that question and others, go to Manasquan Patch. To find out what HuffPost readers think, go here.

May 21 Doomsday Message Is Doomed Say Local Clergy @NJShorePatch

Harold Camping’s controversial rapture prediction draws ire of local clergy, but serves as reminder to live well.

Family Radio founder Harold Camping’s widely publicized prediction that Jesus will rapture his church on Saturday May 21 is foolish and irresponsible, said local clergy on Tuesday, but it serves as a reminder that we should live as if this day could be our last, they said.

“I’ve already received an email today, as fate would have it, saying ‘What do I do about that? Should I be frightened about that?” said David Cotton, Parish Associate at First Presbyterian Church of Manasquan and Manager of Pastoral Care at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

“As a Christian, I completely believe that Jesus coming back is a good thing, a beautiful thing, a positive thing. He’s going to restore the earth to the Garden of Eden. It’s nothing but good, and to scare people and frighten people has it backwards,” said Cotton. …

For more wisdom from Cotton, Rev. Carlos Wilton, and Will Graham, go to NJ Shore Patch.

Christian Music, Divorce, & Triathlons: An Interview with Big Tent Revival’s Spence Smith @TheHuffingtonPost

When I talked to Spence Smith, a founding member of the five-time Grammy-nominated band Big Tent Revival, he had just come back from a run, which was appropriate given that Smith is a triathlete who took up the sport after a divorce left him feeling like a failure.

These days, if Smith picks up his drum sticks, it’s usually to play with one of the bands he collaborates with as an artist relations professional with the international aide agency Compassion International. He’s also a social media and marketing consultant.

On a trip to Ecuador earlier this year, Smith asked a Compassion coworker to marry him. She said yes.

Scheller: How do you maintain your faith and spiritual life both in the Christian music industry and traveling so much?

Smith: I grew up in the Church of Christ, which is notorious for no instruments in worship. … So when our band formed, I was not listening to Christian music. I did not know there was a Christian music industry. I just knew that there was this guy named Michael W. Smith and this girl named Amy Grant out there. …

When we started the band, we started because we really loved music and we really loved Jesus. That was about it. Walking out of the Church of Christ and into that environment was pretty eye-opening because I literally had grown up thinking — because that’s what we were taught — that we were the only ones going to heaven.

When you get outside of that and realize there’s tons of people in the world that love Jesus just as much, if not more, it really questioned my faith. What I realized after a few years of being in the band was that I wasn’t in this band because this band needed me or that God needed me to be in this band to help lead people into relationship with Christ. I really felt like I was in this band because it’s where God needed me to be to keep me in check and help me to grow.

So it was a growing experience for your faith rather than a destroying one?

Right. But because of that, you start walking through all these different denominations, playing for everything from Southern Baptists to the most Charismatic church out there. So you see everything in between. None of us spoke in tongues, so we played shows where promoters spoke in tongues and if they found out we didn’t speak in tongues, it’s like they were trying to get us saved again and that just wasn’t us. …

We ended up seeking out different people to walk alongside of us as road pastors or advisors or mentors. A guy that we had for a really long time who still does this for a bunch of mainstream artists is a guy named Michael Guido, and he was pivotal in our growth and in how we handled things relationally within the band. …

People always thought that we had tons of groupies and girls hanging around our band. For whatever reason, we just weren’t that band. … We took steps to make sure we were being accountable to each other and to the people we were working with. And so, I think that set us up for some pretty big success when it came to relationship and family and how we lived out our lives.

I will say this: there are lots of things that I experienced in Christian music that makes me very leery of Christians in general. Me, being a Christian, I walk very gingerly into situations where I know it’s going to be a heated discussion or a controversial issue, because most of the time I think they’re uncalled for.

What do you mean by that?

It could be anything. It could be walking into a church that you’re going to play at and all of a sudden you find out that the pastor is pretty egotistical. You basically want to kind of separate yourself from having to play to the whims of the senior pastor. If you walk into a situation where the senior pastor or the youth pastor is the big man on campus, and all of a sudden you’re 10 times bigger in popularity than he is, then it becomes an interesting situation.

We stayed away from issues that people fought about denominationally. For instance, our lead singer was very adamant about presenting the Gospel at as many shows as possible and giving people the opportunity to come to Christ at the show, and we were fine with that. That’s just part of who Big Tent was. In the process, we would go hang out during the day in this town, and we would ask questions like, “What’s it like for the church here in town?” Nine times out of 10, people would say, “We’re having a real problem getting the churches to come together to help this town out. These denominations just will not work together.”

Our lead singer would get up and he would present the Gospel and all these people would come forward and pray to receive Christ and it was all good. … Then he’d go through the whole line of denominations and he’d say, “We talked to people in this town and you guys have a real problem about churches coming together. Why does it take a show coming to town to get you guys all in the same room?” He would just encourage them to get in a room together more and to do things together. We really wanted to try to bring people together.

Coming out of working in Big Tent and working for Compassion has been an even more incredible experience because I got all that experience dealing with different denominations and people, and now I work for an organization that is very adamant about staying non-political and non-denominational. … When you walk up into the office in Colorado Springs or hang out with any of the staff, the denominational lines aren’t there at all. It’s that way politically too. … We have one goal and that is to help release children from poverty in Jesus name no matter where we go to church.

Tell me about Big Tent Revival. Did the band break up or go on hiatus?

We basically started forming in 1990. By the time we got on the road and started playing shows, it was around 1993. Our first record came out in 1994 and then we came off the road at the end of 2000. When we officially came off the road, we told people we broke up. There was all this record company politics of saying, “No, tell people you’re taking a break.” We said, “Wait, man, we gotta go get jobs. We can’t just tell people we’re taking a break. No one’s going to believe us.” We worked that all out and, about a month after we got off the road, I got this job with Compassion.

Since then, we get together and play shows every once in a while. … We left as friends and we’ve become better friends since. I think for us it’s just a matter of wanting to play together because we miss hanging out with each other.

How did you come to work for Compassion International?

Big Tent represented Compassion International and I really fell in love with the organization the first time I went on a trip. … I told the guy who was our artist guy, “If anything ever happens to this band, I’m coming to work for Compassion.” I didn’t realize that years later that would actually happen. …

When I got the job, it was a big risk for them because they’d never hired a musician. It’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life. … My job specifically is to work with artists and creative people. Part of my passion is to bring people into a bigger worldview than just what they’re dealing with locally.

Your other passion, I know, is triathlons. When did you start doing that and why?

I was coming out of a divorce about six years ago and I really needed to get my head together. I felt like a complete failure. I had failed in one of the greatest gifts we are given in life and I (we) just couldn’t make it work the way it was supposed to. The YMCA had this sign on the board that said “Running Group: Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:00, Brentwood Y.” I thought, “I work from home. I can do that.” I went the first time, I walked in this room and there’s like 20 ladies standing in this room. … I was the only guy that ran with them and they just totally took me under their wing. … It was cool and I did it for a year and I loved it.

I noticed at that time that I wanted to get stronger as a runner. I used to be a swimmer and I heard about this swimming group that was in town and I went to check them out and lo and behold, they were a swimming group that trained for triathlons. … I started swimming with them. … I did one triathlon at the end of the summer, and I fell in love with the sport. The next summer, I trained for triathlons for the whole summer. I did eight triathlons that next summer, sprint distance and Olympic distance. At the end of that summer, because of all the community and friends that I’ve made through that process, a bunch of us decided to do Ironman Louiseville for 2009. … I’ve been doing it ever since.

How do running and triathlons nourish the rest of your life?

There are good days and there are bad days when you run. There are some days when your legs are sluggish. I think life is like that. There are some days you wake up and you feel like you can tackle the world and things are going to be good, and there are some days when you get up and you’re like, I don’t even want to get out of bed. I can’t do this. But you have to make a choice. Part of this comes from going through my divorce. I chose to say, “I’m not going to be one of those guys who’s going to wallow in this and let this get the best of me. So, I’m going to choose to get up and make the best of it.” …

What I learned through training for Ironman is that there are a lot of Type A personalities that do triathlons. They’re very competitive. They’re very high energy. But doing something that’s an endurance sport separates those who are driven from those who are determined. Driven people usually quit. What happens is they drive, drive, drive and they go for it; and then they decide when they hit a roadblock, they’re not going to do that anymore because the path isn’t that easy, so they go a different direction.

Determined people will see the end result and when they hit a roadblock, they go, “All right, here’s a road block. How do I get around it? Does that mean I have to back up a few steps, take a break? If I get injured, do I have to call it off for a little bit? But I still have this goal ahead of me and even on the days that completely suck, I’ve still got to recognize that these are sucky days and I’m OK with that. There’s going to be a better day coming. So, let’s just get through.”

That helped me get through Ironman. It’s helped me get through difficult times in my life. It helps me walk with my relationship with the Lord in a way that’s much more honest and real than it ever has been because I have days where I have to recognize that my relationship with Christ is truly a relationship and he is perfect. I in no way can expect to be perfect. So I treat my relationship like I would with anyone else that I dearly love. And that is, some days I’m going to have bad days and some days I’m going to have good days. That if a friend is truly a friend, they’re going to be there for you no matter what.

Because you’ve talked about your divorce, I want to get some context for it. Was being on the road so much a contributing factor?

I was off the road by the time we divorced. I was traveling still, about half as much. No, it was definitely a relational thing.

How did you navigate that within the Christian world that you move and work in?

It was difficult, to say the least. Part of it was because she and I together in town were kind of high profile in the circles that we move in. She does publicity and we both work in the Christian music industry. So we definitely had to deal with a lot more than probably the average person would have to deal with in a divorce when it comes to stuff like that.

What I basically did was I just laid low. I set some ground rules in my personal life and I just made sure to not cross those lines so that I could be very accountable and know that I walked through things the best way that I could. There’s nothing easy about divorce. When we went our separate ways, even though it was rocky, when it comes to the friends and people that we deal with, we didn’t lose that. In fact, I think it kind of enhanced some friendships.

We only see each other two or three times a year at an event, but I would say over the past year, we’ve had some pretty good reconciliation on the level of friendship and respect. When it comes to dealing with each other in work-related matters, we’re both right on top of it. It’s been a real blessing for me and I’m really proud of her. She’s remarried and she’s doing a lot of cool things in her life, so it’s just been good.

I think the interesting thing is that it’s taken something like that to bring me into really discovering the person that I am now. I think walking into this next marriage, had I not gone through the divorce and learned what I’ve learned about myself, I don’t think I could walk into this marriage as well as I feel like I’m going to.

Congratulations to you both!

This interview has also been published at The Huffington Post.

Worshiping in Silence at Barnegat Friends Meeting House @BarnegatPatch

Quaker congregation meets and explains its values.

Barnegat Friends Meeting House
“Let us hold President Obama and all those with the power of decision making in the Light.”

These were the only words spoken during the meeting of the Barnegat Friends, or Quakers, yesterday morning.

They were confidently enunciated by Carolyn Shafer. Shafer was raised as an American Baptist, and not unhappy with her church, but felt immediately connected when she visited a Quaker meeting in 1979.

The Barnegat Friends Meeting House is the oldest church in Barnegat and the third oldest in Ocean County. It was built in 1767. Land for the one-room building on East Bay Avenue south of Route 9 was deeded by two men, one whom was the son of William Cranmer, an early Barnegat settler. …

Read about the whole service and what these congregants believe at Barnegat Patch.

What Does It Mean to Live Out Vocational Calling in a Local Context? @TheHighCalling

David Greusel has designed stadiums for major league teams including the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Houston Astros.

Yet this principal architect at Convergence Design in Kansas City, Missouri, suffered for years under the message that his work didn’t matter.

“It’s all going to burn anyway,” he heard from fellow Christians. “The only thing that lasts is the human soul.” Dualistic evangelical theology taught Greusel that designing buildings had no value, especially designing the kind of sports architecture that is his specialty.

Only in the last five or ten years has the architect felt confident in his vocational calling.

“God has called me to be an architect, to design buildings for people and communities and that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s my ministry,” said Greusel.

More than just creating spaces though, his design style confronts the nihilistic philosophy that has dominated architecture for the last 80 or 90 years. …

Read the article here.

A Mother’s Day Prayer for Those Who Have Lost a Child


Is there a holiday more challenging for mothers who’ve lost a child than this one? If there is I don’t know it. Where once there had been homemade cards and breakfast in bed, now there is a glaring reminder of what will never be again.

The day doesn’t have to be a morose tribute to our pain though. Instead we can honor ourselves for having loved our children well and for having the courage to continue living in a world without them. If we have other children, we can decide that their love and presence alone are worth celebrating. As people of faith we can rest and rejoice in the hope that we will one day be reunited with all those who’ve gone before us into the next world, especially our children.

We don’t have to like what has happened or even understand it, but we can choose joy over sadness, love over loss, life over death. Annie Dillard helps me do this with these words from Holy the Firm:

We do need reminding, not of what God can do, but of what he cannot do, or will not, which is to catch time in its free fall and stick a nickle’s worth of sense into our days. And we need reminding of what time can do, must only do: churn out enormities at random and beat them, with God’s blessing, into our heads–that we are created, created, sojourners in a land we did not make, a land with no meaning of itself and no meaning we can make for it alone. Who are we to demand explanations of God? (And what monsters of perfection should we be if we did not?) We forget ourselves, picknicking; we forget where we are. There is no such thing as a freak accident. “God is at home,” says Meister Eckhart, “We are in the far country.”

We are most deeply asleep at the switch when we fancy we control any switches at all. We sleep to time’s hurdy-gurdy; we wake, if we ever wake, to the silence of God. And then, when we wake to the deep shores of time uncreated, then when the dazzling dark breaks over the far slopes of time, then it’s time to break our necks for home.

There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times.

If the death of a child teaches us anything, it teaches us that we’re not in control and that the world makes little sense apart from God. If we’re wise, it will teach us where to love and whom.

My prayer for you is that you will love well those whom God has given you to love in the absence of your child, and that you will have the courage not to waste your time with those who increase your suffering. Be kind to yourself. Thank God for the glorious privilege of being a mother. Cry if you need to you, and then have a Happy Mother’s Day!

How Far Should Forgiveness Go?

“Forgiving love is a possibility only for those who know that they are not good, who feel themselves in need of divine mercy, who live in a dimension deeper and higher than that of moral idealism, feel themselves as well as their fellow men convicted of sin by a holy God and know that the differences between the good man and the bad man are insignificant in his sight.”
—Reinhold Niebuhr, An Interpretation of Christian Ethics

I wish I could believe every one of these words from Reinhold Niebuhr. Instinctually, I don’t, wishing instead for Dante’s hell for certain kinds of sinners—like corrupt pastors who egregiously violate their calling and never repent. In my unregenerate opinion, I believe these types of sinners should be relegated to the eighth and ninth circles of Dante’s Inferno.

I’ve read numerous books on forgiveness. Some of them lead me to conclude that the authors have never known the kind of spiritual betrayal some Christians, including myself, have known. If they did, they could never write the pabulum they are selling.

A diverse collection of books—L. Gregory Jones’s Embodying Forgiveness, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower, Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge, and Desmund Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness—offer honest help for my unforgiving heart. These writers grapple with the call to forgive in the face of real evil. They understand that pop psychology and cheap theology are no match for it. The murderous societies under which most of them suffered find their Christian complement in churches that, for example, allow or ignore the sexual abuse of children and punish those who call the abusers to account.

I’m certainly not unique in having a long history with clergy misconduct (“Sorrow But No Regrets,” Christianity Today, July 2007). Perhaps I have the distinction of having walked with a sex-abuse survivor and her family in their quest for justice in a famous mega-church whose leaders vilified them for their decision to prosecute—and of having faced similar treatment for reporting a suspected pedophile in this church (“Day of Reckoning,” CT, March 2007).

Two years after my husband resigned his pastoral position there due to systemic corruption, our firstborn child died by suicide (“In the Valley of the Shadow of Suicide,” CT, April 2009). I hold certain church leaders responsible for a multiplicity of sins, beginning with false advertising and ending with causing many little ones—including my own—to stumble.

Niebuhr’s moral equivalency statement asks me to place my sins on par with those of sexual abusers and their accomplices. I instinctively don’t believe it. Nor do I believe that the difference between the sins of “the good man and the bad man” is insignificant in God’s eyes.

One only needs to read the parable of the Prodigal Son to see that God acknowledges a difference. When the obedient older brother asks his father why he had never slain “even a young goat” (Luke 15:29) on the son’s behalf, the father explains that his younger son was dead, but is now alive, was lost, but is now found. That’s a significant demarcation—one that describes not only the father’s love but also the sinner’s repentance.

In Matthew 18:1-10, Jesus teaches a familiar lesson that contrasts unbridled ambition with undefiled faith. It includes a dire list of consequences for those who harm the undefiled. “[W]hoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me,” he says. “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” That’s strong language. Jesus continues by admonishing the guilty to mutilate body parts that cause them to sin rather than have their bodies and souls thrown into hell. “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones,” the gentle Savior warns. “For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

But wait. Luke the Evangelist adds something in his telling (17:1-6). Jesus ends his lesson with a far different warning: “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and seven times a day returns to you, saying ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”

To this, Jesus’ disciples understandably reply, “Increase our faith.” And then the Lord promises that if they have faith as small as a mustard seed, it is more than enough.

Gracious Condemnation

I have seen ministry leaders rebuked not once but seventy times seven, and not one of them openly repented or was reconciled to the communities their actions destroyed. The young woman I mentioned wanted two things: change in a church that stubbornly resisted it, and an apology for the punishment she and her family received in the years following the abuse. She didn’t get either. Instead, attorneys negotiated the price of an apology, and she received a cash settlement in exchange for her silence.

What is a Christian to make of that?

In Life Together, Bonhoeffer writes the following:

The first service one owes to others in community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them …. Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either; they will always be talking even in the presence of God. The death of the spiritual life starts here, and in the end there is nothing left but empty spiritual chatter and clerical condescension which chokes on pious words.

In The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness, Wiesenthal, an Austrian Jewish Holocaust survivor, writes that for a time, the world could not believe the Nazi atrocities were really happening because it couldn’t comprehend the systematic extermination of a people. But before long, “priests, philanthropists, and philosophers implored the world to forgive the Nazis.” Bitterly, Wiesenthal concludes, “Most of these altruists had probably never even had their ears boxed, but nevertheless found compassion for the murderers of innocent millions.”

In contrast, Anglican Archbishop Tutu’s 2000 memoir, No Future Without Forgiveness, describes the liberating power of public testimony and confession in paving the way to freedom for post-apartheid South Africans. Tutu commends a decision made before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings to grant amnesty to all who confessed, regardless of whether or not they expressed remorse, because true repentance is too difficult to evaluate in a moment.

So how do we forgive the spiritual leaders who betray us in the absence of confession and observable repentance?

In Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, Yale theologian Miroslav Volf says, “Condemnation is not the heart of forgiveness. It’s the indispensable presupposition of it.” Forgiveness that does not take seriously the offense against an injured party is fraudulent and cheap. Authentic forgiveness, writes Volf—whose family suffered under communism and whose brother died in a preventable accident—”cuts the tie of equivalence between the offense and the way we treat the offender. I don’t demand that the one who has taken my eye lose his eye or that the one who has killed my child by negligence be killed. In fact, I don’t demand that he lose anything. I forgo all retribution. In forgiving, I absorb the injury—the way I may absorb, say, the financial impact of a bad business transaction.”

Don’t misread Volf: In his view, discipline is consistent with forgiveness. Criminals should go to jail. Clergymen who violate church teaching (or the law) should be defrocked. Our laws rightly prohibit murder, not anger, even though Jesus said the source of both is the human heart. “Forgiveness,” Volf writes, “places us on a boundary between enmity and friendship, between exclusion and embrace. It tears down the wall of hostility that wrongdoing erects, but it doesn’t take us into the territory of friendship.”

“Often,” he concedes, “that’s all we can muster the strength to do, and all that offenders will allow us. Yet at its best, forgiveness hopes for more.”

Hoping Against Hope

It hopes for more, and very often doesn’t get it. After my husband and I left the mega-church, we joined an Anglican church that was being sued by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles over a property dispute. Six months later, the rector who had led our congregation out of the Episcopal Church was forced to resign over alleged inappropriate conduct toward another staff member. He moved to another state and quickly took up ministry in a sister church. The reformer refused to be reformed.

Meanwhile, the assistant priest—who had written his master’s thesis on restoring fallen clergy—handled the crisis with considerable care. There was no question that the rector would step down, or that the recipient of his unwanted advances would be protected. Public meetings were held where congregants could express feelings of betrayal and ask questions. We were shown a diagram of possible outcomes, and were challenged not to allow ourselves to be crippled by the priest’s failure.

The vestry enlisted outside support from various sources. This included a healing service for the women of the church. A licensed therapist led us through an exercise of releasing our former pastor. I hadn’t been there long enough to have an emotional investment in his betrayal, so I invited the sex-abuse survivor’s mother to the service, and together we applied the exercises to our situation.

Because this new faith community handled the crisis with integrity, it facilitated my spiritual restoration from the previous one. My husband and I were asked to write a letter to our bishops describing the consequences we had witnessed when clergy misconduct goes habitually unchecked. Church leaders—who themselves had been willing to pay a high price for following their consciences—heard and affirmed us. Not only that, every Sunday, we confessed our sins corporately and asked the Lord to forgive us as we forgave those who trespassed against us.

For two years, many of my prayers of confession were related to actions I had taken in regard to the megachurch. No matter how just a cause, when one chooses to act against friends and spiritual leaders, even in communities where Jesus’ command to forgive is used to manipulate, and where accusations of vengefulness are thrown in anyone’s direction who confronts wrongdoing, one struggles with guilt. Yet week after week, I was comforted by the post-Communion prayer “assuring us in these holy mysteries” that through the body and blood of Christ, we all were forgiven.

The Fellowship of Human Guilt

At the time he was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler, Bonhoeffer wrote: “If it is responsible action, if it is action which is concerned solely and entirely with the other man, if it arises from selfless love for the real man who is our brother, then precisely because this is so, it cannot wish to shun the fellowship of human guilt.” To this, he adds, “Before other men the man of free responsibility is justified by necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for mercy” (Ethics).

The righteousness of Bonhoeffer’s actions is still debated by theologians, if not by descendents of some Holocaust victims. So are the actions of sex-abuse survivors who sue their former churches for negligence. In my mind, there is no question about the righteousness of either cause in the face of complicit silence from the people of God.

And yet, I cannot seriously wish hell upon corrupt spiritual leaders while clinging to my faith in the mercy of God for my son and for myself. Suicide casts on those left in its wake unanswerable questions and a pall of guilt for sins both real and imagined. Thus the distance has closed in my mind between myself and all the clergymen I would so easily condemn. I yield ground in my resistance to cheap grace, because my unforgiving heart is broken, and because the sinner I am most concerned about is my son.

The prologue to Niebuhr’s statement about forgiveness is this: “There is no deeper pathos in the spiritual life of man than the cruelty of righteous people. If any one idea dominates the teachings of Jesus, it is his opposition to the self-righteousness of the righteous. The parable spoken unto ‘certain which trusted in themselves that they are righteous, and despised others’ made the most morally disciplined group of the day, his Pharisees, the object of his criticism …. They were proud in the sight of God and they were merciless and unforgiving to their fellow-men. Their pride is the basis of their lack of mercy. The unmerciful servant, in Jesus’ parable, is unforgiving to his fellow-servant in spite of the mercy which he had received from his master.”

Who am I to say I won’t forgive, when I know forgiveness does not mean to condone their actions or to absolve them—since God alone can absolve? I am no better than the apostles who rightly understood the challenge that was before them. With them, I can only reply, “Increase my faith, dear Lord.”

Mercifully, there are Christian men and women who are gifted to guide stubborn disciples like me. In his magnificent Embodying Forgiveness, Gregory Jones, former dean of Duke Divinity School, offers a definition of forgiveness that is adequate to a world full of evil and ambiguity:

Forgiveness is not so much a word spoken, an action performed, or a feeling felt as it is an embodied way of life in an ever-deepening friendship with the triune God and with others. As such, a Christian account of forgiveness ought not to simply or even primarily be focused on an absolution of guilt; rather, it ought to be focused on the reconciliation of brokenness, the restoration of communion—with God, with one another, and with the whole Creation. Indeed, because of the pervasiveness of sin and evil, Christian forgiveness must be at once an expression of commitment to a way of life, the cruciform life of holiness in which we seek to “unlearn” sin and learn the ways of God, and a means of seeking reconciliation in the midst of particular sins, specific instances of brokenness.

Each of us lives in the midst of particular sins and specific instances of brokenness. And each of us must choose how we will respond. Living a life of holiness and learning the ways of God sometimes mean letting go of our need for justice and instead embracing a world that groans in anticipation of the day when it, and we, will be redeemed.

It means accepting with humility that God alone is good.

This article was originally published in the October 2010 issue of Christianity Today.

What Does It Mean to Walk Worthily? @TheHighCalling

The Church as Parable and Witness, part 3 in the Missional Series w/ Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Darrell Guder.

Fourteen years after World War II, Laity Leadership Institute Senior Fellow Darrell Guder began doctoral studies in Germany.

“My experience there was actually the experience of the trauma of the whole society realizing, after two horrible wars, that Germany was a country in which the traditions and structures of Christendom were disintegrating,” said Guder.

This revelation started the missiologist on a pathway that eventually led him to study how the church in the post-Christian west can regain its missionary footing. …

Read the whole thing here. It’s really good, IMHO.