Discipleship

Seeing Justice As Part of Discipleship — and Our Worship of God

Sabphoto / Shutterstock.com
Sabphoto / Shutterstock.com

Over the years, I’ve been given by some the mini-reputation as a leader in the field of justice. At first, I took it as a compliment and of course, I still do because I care a lot about justice. I know that people mean well. But I care about justice not just for the sake of justice. I care about justice … because I care much about the Gospel.

And sometimes, when I hear folks talk about justice in the church, I cringe …

I cringe because if we’re not careful, we’re again compartmentalizing justice rather than seeing it as part of the whole Gospel; We need to see justice as a critical part of God’s character and thus, our discipleship and worship.

Just like we shouldn’t extract the character of “love” or “grace” or “holiness” from God’s character, such must be the case with justice.

People often ask me, “What’s the most critical part about seeking justice?”

My answer:

We must not just seek justice but live justly. Justice work and just living are part of our discipleship. Justice contributes to our worship of God. Justice is worship.

AUDIO: Watershed Discipleship Roundtable Discussion

 "Each of us lives in a watershed, no matter how ignorant we may be about it," Ched Myers writes in "A Watershed Moment" in the May 2014 issue of Sojourners. Myers calls people of faith to recognize their inherent connections to their watershed and, in turn, become a disciple in and of that watershed.

In November 2013, a group of Christian pastors, activists, and environmentalists met at the Watershed Discipleship Roundtable in Baltimore, Md., to discuss ecological stewardship and bioregionalism. Listen to this audio from the gathering to hear Myers, along with Sara Stratton, Chris Grataski, and Sasha Adkins, describe their relationships with their watersheds.
 

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Attendees: They Came, They Saw, They Said...

“The more I listened to Jim Wallis, the more that word ‘engagement’ is what entered my mind. And all I could think of is that we are a very entertainment-centered culture, and I’m kind of entertainment-centered in many ways myself. But ‘engagement’ — that is the only choice that we can make as Christians. We have to be engaged in the world: ‘I was hungry, and you gave me to eat.’ You didn’t sit there and watch a movie about hunger; you did something about it.

A Watershed Moment

OUR HISTORY IS increasingly hostage to a deep and broad ecological crisis. Stalking us for centuries, it is now upon us in the interlocking catastrophes of climate destruction, habitat degradation, species extinction, and resource exhaustion. Some call it “peak everything.”

“All we have to do to destroy the planet’s climate and biota and leave a ruined world to our children and grandchildren,” concluded environmental policy analyst James Gustave Speth in The Bridge at the Edge of the World, “is to keep doing exactly what we are doing today ... to release greenhouse gases ... impoverish ecosystems and release toxic chemicals at current rates, and the world in the latter part of this century won’t be fit to live in.”

Our Christian faith and practice now unfold either in light of or in spite of this crisis. Our choice is between discipleship and denial.

Two trends among thoughtful Catholics, evangelicals, and other Protestants in North America over the last quarter century are helping awaken us to “response-ability” in the face of these inconvenient truths. One is the spread of contextual theology, which demands both analysis and engagement with social realities around us. The other is how “creation care” has gained broad traction among churches.

But these trends need to be integrated. Contextual approaches have tended to address social, economic, and political issues apart from ecological ones. And environmental theologies are not contextual enough: often too abstract (debating “new cosmologies”), focused on remote symptoms (tropical rain forests or polar ice caps), or merely cosmetic (“greening” congregations through light bulb changes while avoiding controversies such as the Keystone XL pipeline).

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Rewriting the Lord's Prayer: What If How We Prayed Matched How We Live?

Lord's Prayer, Lane V. Erickson / Shutterstock.com
Lord's Prayer, Lane V. Erickson / Shutterstock.com

After reciting what we call the Lord’s prayer one Sunday, I got to thinking about how many times I’d said those words. Thousands? But how many times have I actually thought about what the words mean?

If we pay attention, it’s a prayer that makes us very uncomfortable.* These words of a peasant Jewish rabbi from 2,000 years ago challenge so much about the way we live — all of us, regardless of what religion we follow. If we’re honest, most of us don’t like it and have no intention of living by what it says.

Which presents a question: Isn’t it a problem if we pray one way and live another? Shouldn’t our prayers reflect how we actually try to live?

Along those lines, perhaps we should rewrite the Lord’s prayer and make it conform to what we really believe. In that spirit, here’s a rough draft of what it might sound like if the Lord‘s prayer was actually our prayer.

'Created to Do Good Works?'

Under construction sign, L.Watcharapol / Shutterstock.com
Under construction sign, L.Watcharapol / Shutterstock.com

Seen on a rural hillside: “Under Construction.”

Someone had added, in letters almost as large, “No equipment, no budget, no crew and no work, but we have the sign.”

For the vast majority of Christians, this sign sums up their philosophy of discipleship.

In their determination to not be ‘saved by works’ they have cultivated a historically isolated, theologically sterile, spiritually impotent ‘faith’ that I can only describe as ‘Christian inertia.'

In this cultivated obliviousness they have forgotten, perhaps deliberately, that we are “created to do good works in Christ” (Ephesians 2:10).

They have somehow come to believe that ‘being a Christian’ is all about having the sign; being transformed (Romans 12:2) by the living word of God, far from being a thriving daily reality, has become an abstraction reduced to a bumper sticker or slogan.

A Glorious Mess

ANYONE WHO LIVES in Christian community or participates in congregational life knows that it is a holy mess. A group of flawed individuals trying to do "life together" can bring out the worst in one another. But that's precisely where God calls us to be.

In our hyperindividualistic culture, it's often difficult to remember that God has created us to be in community. Christian faith and discipleship, from the beginning, have been shaped not by going at it alone but by engaging in ancient and contemporary communal experiences. The first house churches and the formation of communities among the early desert fathers and mothers, as well as today's megachurches, parachurch organizations, and new monastic groups, all point to how we long to be connected to God and with one another.

Our faith and character are refined by the miraculous gifts of grace, reconciliation, and forgiveness made available to us in community. In such a demanding and disconnected world, it is indeed a miracle when two or more gather to break bread and give of themselves in service to God and one another.

Here are some books to help us along the Way, as we seek to deepen our understanding of what it means to be in communion with Christ and with each other.

In 2009 I was co-leading a new intentional community in Washington, D.C. Our nascent group endured many struggles, including interpersonal issues, conflicting visions and goals, and the involuntary removal of a community member. How I wish The Intentional Christian Community Handbook: For Idealists, Hypocrites, and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus (Paraclete Press), by David Janzen, was available when we first began our journey.

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Faith to the Utmost

THE NAME OF Oswald Chambers is well known to millions of Christians for a collection of notes gathered by his wife from his sermons and published as a devotional reader in 1927, 10 years after his death, under the title My Utmost for His Highest.

Like many Christians, I first read this devotional guide while still in college and harbored the suspicion that this man must have been a somber if not puritanical pillar of the faith. The gaunt, almost cadaverous portrait of him included in many editions of his most famous work contributed much to these impressions of mine. It turns out, though, that I did not know the human being who was Oswald Chambers.

I recently stumbled upon a crumbling book in the library stacks of a local university that greatly altered my perceptions of him. It was an out-of-print collection of tributes by those who knew him best, along with his personal diaries from his travels abroad as an itinerant preacher and as a YMCA chaplain in World War I until his sudden death from complications following an emergency appendectomy at the age of 43. As I read through these documents, I found myself strongly attracted to Chambers as a person and captivated by his vision of what it means to be a believer in the modern world.

AS A STUDENT of art at the University of Edinburgh, Chambers was not known among his peers for his religious devotion, which he had received from devout Scottish Baptist parents. He was better known, rather, for his outgoing personality and his knowledge and love of poetry, art, and music. He was gifted not only with a keen aesthetic sensitivity and outgoing temperament, but also with a rigorous mind. After completing his studies he became a tutor at Dunoon College in Scotland in 1898, where he taught logic, moral philosophy, and psychology for several years.

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