Women of the Gospels: “Martha, Martha” by D.L. Mayfield

'[ B ] Pieter de Bloot - Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (1637)' photo (c) 2012, Playing Futures:  Applied Nomadology - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Today we continue our Women of the Gospels series with a guest post from an incredibly talented writer I only recently discovered. D.L. Mayfield—who blogs here and contributes to Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency (read this one!) and Deeper Story—writes about her adventures in following Jesus with consistent wit, vulnerability, color, and grace. Along with her cute husband and cute baby, she is currently on an experiment of downward mobility, seeking the mercy of God and grace in the community. She is learning to be more gracious with her thanks, even when she is served goat liver. Follow her on Twitter here.

Today she takes on Mary’s sister Martha. Enjoy!

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As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
- Luke 10:38-42

Transient

When I was young, I was quiet, introverted, longing to be alone. I had two wild, fierce sisters who overshadowed me in every area: artistic abilities, physical strength, social graces. I found my identity in being quiet, unseen, deeply spiritual. I read books, immersed myself in worlds of fantasy, daydreamed. I prayed to Jesus, all the time.

In college, I came out of my shell in a burst, all the books and travels and thoughts I had spilling out  in paragraphs, full of more certainty and emotion than I was even aware of.

After college, my ideas turned into practice, and life marched on in a series of how to be the best possible Christian, with a social justice flair (eschew money, buy fair trade, advocate for social justice causes, create programs for the needy in my neighborhood). As I started to find my identity in these ways of living, I discovered a hidden truth: it feels awesome to live a righteous life on paper. Living in low-income housing, teaching free literacy classes to refugees, setting up basketball camps for bored inner-city kids: all of it had a few costs for me personally, sure, but the holy buzz of pats on the back from friends and church people, and the feeling that I was the only person really getting what Jesus was saying--this more than made up for doing without. 

This is sustaining, for a while. We can all be clanging gongs, marching around doing the work of the kingdom without grace, living for a very temporal affirming reaction. But eventually, the accolades go away, the people you were intending to save dismiss you, the volunteers you mobilized drop out, and you find yourself, alone, in the kitchen, cooking a meal for Jesus that tastes like ash in your mouth.

Oh Martha, I became you, when I thought I was being Mary all along. I imagine you, imagine myself, exerting our savior complexes on the one and only actual Christ. It would almost be laughable, if it weren’t all so tragic.

I know what happened Martha, because it happened to me too. I see your desire to single-handedly fix all the problems (feeding the disciples, cleaning the sheets, acquiring health permits, doing volunteer background checks), your deep-down desire to do good. How this desire, left on its own, morphed into a series of programs and activities that ultimately kept you from Jesus. I see how we got confused about it all, and took the easy route of fixing problems instead of becoming engaged with the lives of those around us. How we found our safety and security in doing, and eventually became brittle with the loneliness of trying to become the savior, instead of listening to him.

I do find comfort in this: Jesus doesn’t shame you. He calls you by name, twice (“Martha, Martha”, the first time cutting through your heart, the second time healing it). He gets to the root of all your existential angst, and he shows that there is no need for the amount of space you carve out for anxiety, worry, righteous indignation. 

Instead, paradoxically, it turns out we find Jesus when we sit down, when we fall at his feet and listen. This is, he says, the very best thing, and it can’t be taken away from us unless we do it ourselves. The busyness of the savior complex, our quick-response culture, even our desire to do good with the limited amount of time that we have--can take Jesus, his love and his grace,  away from us. But he wants us, Martha, and he likes us even when we aren’t saving anyone. We are just his children, the ones he knows by name, and he wants to be with us.

We also find him when we sit with others. When we stop being “missional” and “incarnational” and instead fully engage with those around us. This means less programs, Martha, and more time letting people cook for you every once in a while (and being gracious with your thanks). If you are anything like me, this will be very hard for you. Your life won’t look good on paper any more, you won’t have very many concrete jewels in your proverbial crown to grasp. But I can promise you this: when you stop trying to fix everything, and when you allow the words of Jesus to find you, affirm you, gently bring you back to him, you won’t be lonely anymore. 

You won’t ever be in your kitchen, alone and miserable, saving the whole world, ever again. You will choose the best way, and you shall be free.

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Subscribe to D.L. Mayfield’s blog.

Check out the rest of our Women of the Gospels Series:

Elizabeth, A Curious Woman (by Enuma Okoro)
The Widow’s Mite (by Laura Turner)
The Whole, Bloody Truth (by Addie Zierman)
The Widow of Nain (by Julie Clawson) 
The Fab Four (by Carolyn Custis James)

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Women of the Passion, Part 1: The Woman at Bethany Anoints Jesus

When referring to the earliest followers of Jesus, the Gospel writers often speak of two groups of disciples: the Twelve and the Women. The Twelve refer to the twelve Jewish men chosen by Jesus to be his closest companions and first apostles, symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Women refer to an unspecified number of female disciples who also followed Jesus, welcoming him into their homes, financing his ministry, and often teaching the Twelve through their acts of faithfulness and love. Just as Jesus predicted, most of the Twelve abandoned him at his death (John 16:32). But the women remained by his side—through his death, burial, and resurrection.  This is the first installment of a four-part series about the women who surrounded Jesus during his passion. The final installment will run on Easter Sunday. 

They say that smell is most powerful sense for bringing back memories—something about the olfactory bulb in the brain’s limbic system and how it forever links the scent of freshly-cut lavender to the security of your grandmother’s guest room.  

Scent, unlike anything else, brings us back. Scent reunites the senses of taste, touch, sight, and sound to place us, at least for a moment, in a time past. 

So it is strange that in the most aromatic of the Passion stories, our collective memory fails us. 

We know there is a woman. 

We know there is an anointing. 

We know there is expensive, perfumed oil. 

We know there is a protest. 

But when it comes to the details of the woman’s anointing of Jesus, accounts vary. 

Matthew and Mark describe an unnamed woman from Bethany who, while Jesus dined in the home of Simon the Leper just days before his death, anoints his head with expensive ointment to the chagrin of the disciples at the table, who grumble that her offering might be better spent on the poor. 

John identifies the woman as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who bathes Jesus’ feet in perfume and wipes them with her hair. In John’s account, it is Judas who chastises Mary for her waste. 

Luke writes of a “woman of the city, who was a sinner,” who bathes Jesus’ feet in a mixture of perfume and tears, wiping his feet with her hair and kissing them with her lips. In this story, a Pharisee  condemns her, noting that “if this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 

Whether these accounts represent one event or two, or possibly even three, has been the subject of speculation for centuries. It’s easy to get frustrated with the writers of Scripture, who are so careful to name and distinguish the Twelve, but who often blur the Women together. The Scholars Version note to Mark 14:3-9 states: "… It must be unintentional irony when Mark has Jesus predict that this story will always be told in memory of a woman whose very name escapes him."

But the account most commonly tied to the Passion is that of Matthew, Mark, and John:

Just days before his betrayal and death, Jesus and his disciples were eating at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany. While they were reclining at the table, a woman, who John identifies as Mary of Bethany, approached Jesus with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, worth about a year’s wages. Mary broke the jar, pouring the perfume on Jesus’ body. 

While John writes that Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair, Matthew and Mark report that the woman of Bethany anointed Jesus’ head.  Both actions carry important symbolic meaning. 

In the ancient Near East, the act of anointing signified selection for some special role or task. Kings were often anointed with oil as part of their coronation ceremony, often by a prophet or priest. The Greek word Christos, Christ,” is a translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah, which means “the anointed one.”  And so this anonymous woman finds herself in the untraditional position of priest and prophet. In the upside-down Kingdom of Jesus, it makes perfect sense.  

Anointing the feet, however, models service, discipleship, and love. In this sense, John’s account is more personal and raw.  In a culture in which a woman’s touch was often forbidden, Mary dares to cradle  the feet of Jesus in her  hands and spread the oil across his ankles and toes with the ends of her hair. Rather than measuring out a small amount of oil, Mary breaks the jar lets it all pour out.  She’s all-in, fully committed, sparing no expense. The oil she may have been reserving for her own burial, or the burial of a loved one, has been poured out generously, without thought of the future. The humility of this action foreshadows the footwahsing that is to come. Later, Jesus would imitate Mary by washing the feet of the Twelve, telling them to do the same. 

But in the midst of all this symbolism and foreshadowing, Jesus sees something else at work. He interprets the woman’s act of worship as preparation for his burial. When the disciples rebuke the woman for what they see as a  waste of money, Jesus responds by saying, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.” 

Jesus had been speaking of his impending death for a while, but the Twelve were having none of it. When Jesus told Peter that   “the Messiah must be rejected, suffer, and die; then he will be raised,” Peter responded with such an impassioned protest that Jesus rebuked him with “get behind me Satan!” In another instance, Jesus spoke ominously of his death, and the disciples respond by debating who will be the greatest in the coming kingdom. And in another, James and John miss the point entirely by responding to Jesus’ prediction with requests to sit at his right and left hand. Clearly, the Twelve struggled to conceive of a kingdom that would begin not with the death of their enemies, but with the death of their friend. I suspect this is why they complained about the “waste” of money exhibited by the anointing. They imagined that their ministry with Jesus would continue for months and years to come. You can sense the sadness in Jesus’ words when he reminds them, yet again, that he will not always be with them, that he is preparing for the most difficult days of his life. 

We cannot know for sure whether the woman who anointed Jesus saw her actions as a prelude to her teacher’s upcoming death and burial.  I suspect she knew instinctively, the way that women know these things, that a man who dines at a leper’s house, who allows a woman to touch him with her hair, who rebukes Pharisees and befriends prostitutes, would not survive for long in the world in which she lived.  

Surely a woman in this society would understand this better than a man.

Perhaps this is why the women stayed by Jesus’ side after so many of the Twelve betrayed him, denied him, and fled from him in fear. This was the course of things, the women knew. They would see it through to the end. 

And so the woman of Bethany becomes the first of Christ’s disciples to acknowledge his impending death. For this, Jesus praises her in unparalleled terms. “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” 

What a remarkable thought—that at every communion, every Easter service, every cathedral and every tent revival, from Israel to Africa, to Europe to China, this woman’s story should be on our lips, right along with Christ’s.  

And yet, while we break the bread and drink the wine, we rarely pour out the oil.

Jesus wanted us to remember, but we have forgotten. We aren’t even sure of this woman’s name.

Perhaps we should bring back this oil, this costly perfume, and make it part of our Eucharist.  Perhaps, with the help of the Spirit, the scent of it might trigger our memory.

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The gospel according to…

Last week I posed the question, “What is the gospel?” and was so fascinated by the variety of responses that came back, I wanted to keep our conversation going.  So I asked some of my favorite bloggers, writers, pastors, and theologians to weigh in on the question, “What is the good news?”  Here is how they responded:

Transient

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

“The good news that keeps me going goes something like this: When I thought I had everything figured out and was ready to do great things for God, Jesus interrupted me and said, ‘I'd like to know you.’ And when I met Jesus among the poorest of the poor, I saw that all the great things I'd planned to do were mostly about me. But Jesus still said, ‘I'd like to know you.’ I know no greater gift that a community of friends that wants me to be there—a place where I know I'm loved. That's the family Jesus invites me into. And I know it's good news.”

 Jonathan is a minister and a New Monsastic from Durham, North Carolina. He is the author of several books including New MonasticismGod’s Economy, and The Wisdom of Stability

Transient

Jennifer Fulwiler

“Love is real, death is not.”

 Jennifer is an atheist-turned-Catholic who blogs at ConversionDiary

Transient

John Armstrong

“The announcement of the of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God through the life, death and resurrection of the Son of Man, Jesus of Nazareth. This good news sets captive prisoners free when, by the power of the Spirit, they repent (turn) and believe (faith) on the One in whom the love of God is perfectly and finally revealed for the salvation of the whole world.”

 John is the president of ACT 3 and author of Your Church Is Too Small. 

Transient

Julie Clawson

 Julie wrote a blog post in response. Here's an excerpt:

"The gospel, the good news, is about so much more than an economic transaction where I get a ticket to heaven in exchange for intellectually assenting to an idea about Jesus. The gospel is good news for the world. It is about God loving the world enough to send his son and establish his Kingdom. It is the gospel of Jesus, the new way of being that he preached. This good news isn’t just something we believe in or talk about, but something we are called to celebrate and embrace. If it is truly good news we will joyfully accept the challenge to follow in the disciplines of Christ – being his hands and feet working to heal all shattered relationships through his reconciling power. We live out the good news to the world….[read on]

 Julie is the author of author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices.

Transient

Matthew Paul Turner

“Jesus loves you, and he wants me to love you too.”

Matthew blogs at JesusNeedsNewPR and is the author of several books, includingHear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost.

Transient

Mary DeMuth

"The Gospel: The Most Sacrificial Love Story in History.

The players: A Triune God. A rebellious people. A scrappy enemy.

The plot: The scrappy enemy of God entices a people to rebel and seek life outside their creator. No sacrifice made by the people in penitence satisfies a holy God, nor can they pull themselves up by the bootstraps to walk the way He would have them walk. So He becomes the solution by sending Himself in the flesh, providing an example and empathy. Once on earth, He destroys the paltry, cheap tricks and works and words of the enemy by living a life of irresistibility, sinlessness, and radical love. He washed the rebels’ feet with his sacred hands and told them to do likewise. Then He became the ultimate object lesson by giving those same hands and feet as nail-platforms. The perfect, irresistible, holy, beautiful, loving One chose the devil’s tool (death) for our sake, obliterating our sin, throwing it farther than east from west, inviting us back to Eden, to perfect, open, whole, healed relationship. And after his heart beat no more, he rested in the earth while the devil sang shrill victory songs, only to hear his whiny whimper when the God of Everything rose again, thrust away death’s icy grip, and revealed afresh just who God was and is and is to be."

Mary is the author of many, many books. Her most recent is Thin Places: A Memoir.

Transient

Ben Arment

“The gospel is the story of how Jesus, out of love, came to satisfy the God-decreed punishment for sin through his own death and to offer eternal life in Heaven through his own resurrection... for those who believe.”

Ben is the founder of Dream Year, The Whiteboard Sessions, and STORY in Chicago. He is the author of Church in the Making.

Transient

Adele Sakler

“I honestly don't know what the gospel means anymore. It's supposed to mean 'good news' but the way people twist it so much of the time, it's not such good news to me anymore. Just an honest answer for where I'm at personally in my odyssey of following Jesus.”

Adele blogs at Queermergent and ExistentialPunk 

Transient

Eugene Cho

“The Living God wants to eat with us.

Let me explain.  The Triune God of the cosmos not only created the world and humanity but desires fellowship, communion, and friendship.  And when sin entered the world and humanity to wreak  havoc and chaos, God intervened again – with the redemptive mission of restoring Shalom – all that which God intended for us.

God intervenes in a stunning way that is simply irrational and fully incomprehensible.  He gives us of Himself through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  While we can certainly make the case of the Gospel being encapsulated by the well known verses of John 3:16 and Jesus dying on the cross for humanity, consider this: God dwelled amongst us.  Even as miraculous as Jesus dying on the cross is the truth that God (in Christ) walked amongst us. This is the Gospel.

'The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood (John 1:14 / The Message).' God became one of us, dwelled with us, and even ate with us. Throughout Jesus’ journey, he was eating with men, women, and children.  He ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, Romans, Gentiles, and even religious folks – like you and me. When you understand the significant cultural and spiritual meaning behind 'eating together,' I completely understand why the religious folk couldn’t 'get' Jesus. Eating together = lifelong friendship. Jesus was declaring that he wanted to be in covenantal friendship with everyone. This is the Gospel.

Consider Jesus’ words in John 21 with Peter and the other disciples after the drama of the crucifixion, betrayal, and chaos. Jesus simply invites them to eat with him and even serves them breakfast:

Jesus said, 'Breakfast is ready.' Not one of the disciples dared ask, 'Who are you?' They knew it was the Master.  Jesus then took the bread and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus had shown himself alive to the disciples since being raised from the dead. (John 21:12-14) The Living God wants to be in eternal communion and friendship with us. He creates the Gospel, pursues it, and ultimately sends his Son to restore, redeem and reconcile that Relationship – as the perfect Sacrifice.This is the Gospel.

'Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.' (Revelations 3:20)

But there is one more aspect of The Gospel that must be shared but often neglected or ignored.  If we truly believe that God wants to eat with us, we have to ask the question, What if others are not welcome to the Table? What if there are systems that prevent them from coming to the Table? What if we don’t welcome them?  What about racism, sexism, poverty, and other issues of injustice?

Consider these statistics as a small microcosm of what I am speaking about:

• African-Americans represent only 12% of the US population and yet 44% of all prisoners in the US are black.
• In over 15 states, if a black man and a white man are arrested on drug charges, the black man is up to 57 times more likely to go to prison than the white man.
• Women still make approximately 80 cents to a man’s dollar – for the same work.
• Some sources cite that 1 out of every 3 American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.
• Tonight, there will be over a million homeless children in the United States.
• One in six of the world’s population is hungry, almost a billion people.
• About 24,000 children die every day of hunger-related causes – one in every four-to-five seconds.
• There are approximately 27 million slaves in our world today.

What is the Gospel?

God wants to eat with us.  But the Gospel doesn’t end there.  God loves the whole world and the gospel is for the whole world. God wants us to love mercy, seek justice, and walk humbly."                                                                                                                                                

Eugene is the co-founder and executive director of One Day’s Wages  – “a movement of People, Stories, and Actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.”  He is also the founding & lead pastor of Quest Churchand the founder & executive director of Q Cafe – a non-profit community cafe and music venue in Seattle.

Transient

Kathy Escobar

“to me, the good news is that Jesus is alive and well flowing through average, ordinary people who reflect the image of God in all kinds of wild and beautiful ways.   it's a reminder that the ways of the world are counter cultural to the ways of the kingdom—that in God's economy, the poor are really rich and the weak are really strong.  the good news is that what the world sees and what God sees are two different things. what we call ugly, God calls beautiful.  the good news is the spirit of Jesus carried into dark places,  bringing light where there is none, advocating for justice & equality for the poor and marginalized, passing on love to the unlovely & lonely, bringing healing and restoration to what's broken and divided.  the good news is that the life of sacrifice, humility and love that Jesus embodied--when reflected, encouraged, nurtured, valued, extended--changes people, neighborhoods, communities, cities, the world.” [Read Kathy’s post, “Good News in Hard Places”]

Kathy is co-pastor of The Refuge in Denver, Colorado. 

Transient

Renee Altson

“What is the good news?

It seems as we look around our world today there isn't much good news. We are beset with broken, hurting people and seemingly incurable circumstances. Many of us, wounded and broken hide behind technology, a false demeanor, or simply, a fake smile camouflaging a broken heart.

The good news is that through Jesus, we are redeemed. Ever patient with us, God allows us to be imperfect and yet holy at the same time. God doesn't want facades or fake smiles... God wants honesty and realness and ourselves, each in our own brokenness, humility, shame, and imperfection.

The good news is that in spite of all of our failures and sorrows, we are loved. Loved beyond what we can imagine. Loved more deeply than we could experience anywhere else.

Even in the midst of our mess, we are loved. Loved in spite of doubt and shame, uncertainty and anger, gratefulness and praise, brokenness and frailty.

‘I believe .... help thou my unbelief ...’”

Renee is the author of Stumbling Toward Faith.

Incidentally, Scot McKnight has written a post about the gospel on his blog today, noting that “there is a vibrant and viral discussion about gospel that is shedding light and leading us forward in profoundly important ways.” Scot told me he wanted to hold back on his own response, as he’s working feverishly on a book on the subject right now!

***

What do you make of the fact that we all seem to interpret the good news a little differently? 

Did any of these responses really resonate with you?

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How to Give Up on Changing the World

It happens when you peer down a winding, third-world alley to see skeletal children bathing in buckets and widows begging for food. It happens when you receive yet another letter from your favorite charity, with the word EMERGENCY stamped in red across the front.

It happens when you turn on the TV to see tanks rolling, cars exploding, and effigies burning. It happens when your insides grind at the site of a needy friend or a supposed enemy. 

It happens when all the sin and pain inside of you and around you and beyond you rushes into your awareness in one awful moment, and all you can do is throw your hands up and say, I can’t fix this. This is too much. It is beyond me.

For followers of Jesus, these are the moments that test our hope and temper our pride.

On the one hand, there are those who respond with a shrug of the shoulders and a pithy comment about how the end is near and how they can’t wait to hightail it out of here when Jesus comes back to call them home. On the other, there are those who grit their teeth, clinch their fists and say, “It’s okay. Things are getting better overall. We’ve just got to work harder, get more politically involved, and stay strong until we’ve successfully achieved justice and peace on earth.”

Both responses are distortions of the gospel. The first all but ignores Christ’s teachings about the kingdom that is among us here and now. The second arrogantly assumes we can bring such a kingdom to completion all on our own.

I’m always a little surprised when folks ask me if I’ve sold out to the so-called “social gospel.” I never really know how to respond to that question. If by social gospel they mean the notion that mankind will eventually evolve out of evil and create a utopian society all on its own—then certainly not! If by social gospel they mean the good news that God loves the world and intends to redeem it, that God is building a new kingdom in our midst under the authority of Jesus Christ, and that we show our allegiance to this kingdom whenever we love our enemies, serve the poor, turn the other cheek, pursue holiness, preach the gospel, and care for the least of these—then yes, I suppose I have. As I see it, the gospel was never meant to be merely intellectual, but has always had a social implications.

So what do I do when I turn on the TV to see news of another shooting, when I realize that neither political party comes close to representing the radical teachings of Jesus, when I get tired of receiving emails from “Save Darfur,” when I look in the mirror and see the worst sinner who has ever walked the earth, when I honestly have no idea how to resolve the question of how pacifism could ever be justified in light of Auschwitz and Buchenwald?

On bad days, I keep trying—to prove myself, to come up with all the right answers, to fix what God can’t seem to fix.

But on good days, I give up on trying to change the world, and get back to living like Jesus—in this moment, in every moment.

Shane Claiborne put it this way: “’Leaving things in God’s hands is an often abused and quaint phrase that many seem to think means ‘don’t bother with doing anything, because Jesus will come someday and undo all your work anyway’…Leaving things in God’s hands’ should rather be used to mean ‘do what Jesus did.’ Follow Jesus’ example without regard for whether you are effectively changing the world. Jesus demonstrated what it means to leave things in God’s hands.” (Jesus for President, p. 283)

This is not to say that alleviating poverty, pursuing justice, and supporting peace are not part of being like Jesus. Jesus certainly healed the sick and cared for the poor, and any community seeking to reflect the kingdom should be involved in addressing the root causes of poverty, war, disease, injustice, ignorance, and fear.  .

But the thing about living like Jesus is that it doesn’t always feel like changing the world. In fact, often the easiest, most practical, and seemingly effective solutions for changing the world are not even options in an upside-down kingdom.  Power, control and violence may seem like good ideas when we have as our goal ridding the world of evil. But when we have as our goal living like Jesus, we have to get more creative. We have to think outside-the-box. We have to work together.

Keep in mind, the cross did not look like a victory. It looked like a complete failure.

“Into your hands I commit my spirit,” Jesus said.

He was faithful to the point of death.

Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, and someday, Jesus will return again.

Until then, we may have to settle for looking like failures. We may even have to settle for feelinglike failures. But if we commit our spirits to Jesus, there will always, always be hope.

How do you respond when you feel overwhelmed by all the evil in this world? What does it mean to be part of Kingdom that is both here and yet to come? What is your response to the term “social gospel”?

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Rob Bell, Evangelicalism, and The Gospel

In light of our recent conversations about evangelicalism (“Kirk Cameron and Six Evangelical Stereotypes”) and the Gospel (“Is the Gospel Relative?”), these items caught my eye recently.

First, on evangelicalism, Rob Bell caused quite a stir the other day when he too expressed his disenchantment with the term “evangelical.” As he told the Boston Globe:

“I take issue with the word to a certain degree, so I make a distinction between a capital E and a small e. I was in the Caribbean in 2004, watching the election returns with a group of friends, and when Fox News, in a state of delirious joy, announced that evangelicals had helped sway the election, I realized this word has really been hijacked. I find the word troubling, because it has come in America to mean politically to the right, almost, at times, anti-intellectual. For many, the word has nothing to do with a spiritual context… I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That’s a beautiful sort of thing.”

What do you think? Do you agree with Rob Bell’s characterization of evangelicalism? Do you think that, in criticizing certain expressions of the modern evangelical movement for being political/ anti-intellectual, some of us have simply become (as Mike said in a comment at the end of my post) “total snobs”? Or are our concerns legitimate? 

For a more scholarly look at the tern “evangelical,” check out this interesting piece from the Centre for Research on Candadian Evangelicalism, shared by Scot McKnight on his Jesus Creed blog. 

Second, on the Gospel, Rob Bell found himself in hot water yet again for the terrible crime of not being able to “tweet” the good news

Critics noted that Bell’s first attempt was more than 140 characters long, and so the pastor made a second attempt that went like this:

"The gospel is the counterintuitive, joyous, exuberant news that Jesus has brought the unending, limitless, stunning love of God to even us."

Do you think that’s a good summary of the Gospel? Do you think that you could “tweet” the good news? Is it just me, or does the whole exercise seem like a cheap way to test folks like Bell with a trick question?

More importantly, is it really productive to spend so much time arguing over the definitions of the Gospel and evangelicalism when the true test is in how we live our lives? (I realize that in asking the question, I could very well implicate myself!)

For a more comprehensive look at the Gospel and all its forms, check out this interesting piece by Tim Keller from Christianity Today.

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