Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More Thoughts on "Crafty Means"

"The best thing you can do for your fellow is not to tell him, but to wake things up that are already in him." -George MacDonald

I wrote in my last e-musing that Jesus was master of subtle indirection. There are numerous examples of this subtlety, but one that comes to mind is his use of the non sequitur: an answer that doesn't follow-at least until you’ve thought about it for awhile.

For example, a man once queried Jesus: "Are only a few people going to be saved?" Jesus' teaching, in an earlier gathering-in which he compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed-probably triggered the question. It was natural, therefore, for this man to assume that Jesus believed that the number of subjects in the Kingdom would very small. That question-the number of the elect-was an academic theological issue the rabbis often debated.

Jesus went straight to the heart: "You," he said, "must make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to" (Luke 13:24).

By his unexpected response Jesus turned the theoretical, "How few?" into the personal, "How about you?"

It occurs to me that the man's question is analogous to the "What about people who've never heard?" rejoinder from those who are trying to stave off the gospel. Rather than trying to explain the enigma, perhaps our response might be: "Good question. I don't know about those who've never heard the gospel, though I do believe God will do what's right. But you’ve heard. How about you?”

And then, there was an occasion on which someone in a crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me" (Luke 12:13). Jesus answer was a terse, "Beware of greed," speaking to the selfish motives underlying this man's demand for fairness, exposing our own hypocrisy, for many of our demands for legal redress are driven by personal greed and self-interest. It’s not injustice but greed that destroys our souls. "Why not rather be defrauded?" Paul would say. That's what Love would do.

Luke mentions another situation in which some people reported to Jesus the tragic news about certain Galileans "whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices" (Luke 13:1). Apparently Pilate's troops had surrounded and slaughtered a group of Jews while they were worshipping in the temple. We don't know anything more about the massacre, but it's in keeping with what we do know about Pilate's character.

Once again Jesus' answer was unexpected: "Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them-do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Luke 13:2-5).

Jesus' answer laid bare the hearts of those who reported this event. Apparently, their take on this slaughter was that these "Galileans" were worse sinners than they and deserved the punishment they received. Pilate's cruelty was surely God's wrath turned on these wicked folks. "No," Jesus replied, "Unless you repent you too will perish in your sin."

All of which reminds me of a severe, self-righteous man who sat across from me at lunch one day and growled, "9/11 is the wrath of God against gays!" I was stunned into silence. Looking back, I should have said, "Unless we repent, we too will perish in our sin."


Monday, October 13, 2008


—By Emily Dickinson

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---

One of the first books on fly fishing I know anything about appeared in the late fifteenth century. It was written by Dame Juliana Berners, an English nun, of all things, and entitled A Treatyse of Fysshyng Wyth an Angle.

Dame Berners’ book covered all aspects of fly-fishing from the crafting of equipment to fly-tying. One of her flies, the “stone flye,” remains a popular pattern on Idaho streams to this day.

“It is a very great pleasure,” she wrote, addressing the reader in a true angler’s spirit, “to see the fair, bright, shiney–scaled fishes deceived by your crafty means and drawn to land.”

It is a great pleasure to put it all together: to read the water and see the seams and other places where fish are likely to hold; to select the right pattern; to make a well–placed and delicate presentation; to time the strike; to play a large trout that “bores and sulks” (her words), that “springs from the deep and tries aĆ«rial ways”; and then to bring it to net. To fool a wild and wary trout “and draw it to land.” “Crafty means” is the name of the game.

When it comes to our presentations of the gospel, however, we’re often anything but crafty. Bumper stickers, turn-or-burn tee shirts and other in–your–face techniques are largely ignored and serve only to depersonalize and trivialize the gospel, or so it seems to me. “The best thing you can do for your fellow,” George MacDonald said, “is not to tell him, but to wake things up that are in him; or to make him think things for himself.”

It impresses me that Jesus was so oblique in his witness in contrast to our directness. He often used indirection, plying his listeners with puckish, unexpected comments that surprised them, subverted their minds with the unexpected and unaccustomed and went straight to their hearts. To use Kierkegaard’s marvelous word, He “smuggled” the gospel into their hearts.

I have a friend. Matt Prince, who got himself invited to a dinner party in which he discovered he had been set up: brought in to witness to a belligerent unbeliever who loved to bait Christians.

Throughout the evening the man hassled Matt mercilessly about the evils of Christendom, citing the Crusades, pogroms against the Jews, Apartheid, colonialism, the Ku Klux Klan, the Inquisition, the Aryan Nation, churchmen burning one another at the stake, and all the other atrocious and ungodly things so-called Christians have done throughout history to the greater glory of God. In each case Matt calmly replied, “That’s an interesting point of view. Tell me what do you do in your spare time?” or some such thing, showing genuine interest in the man and deflecting the discussion away from each dividing issue.

As the two men were walking out the door at the end of the evening the non–Christian fired his final salvo, at which point Matt put his arm around the other man’s shoulders and replied. “My friend,” he said with a chuckle, “all night long, you’ve been trying to talk to me about religion. Tell me. Are you some kind of religious nut?”

The man’s animosity dissolved in a burst of laughter. Matt made a friend that day and had other opportunities to show him the love of Christ, I’m told. I don’t know the end of the story, but then we rarely do. God only knows each finale.

Evangelism is not mugging people, but befriending them, loving them and telling the truth “slant.” I’m reminded here of Jesus’ words: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”


Saturday, October 4, 2008

I read somewhere that ethics is the test of anyone's philosophy. Some philosophers have no ethic; others have an ethic, but it's not do-able. Philosopher Peter Kreeft, I find (to no one's surprise), is both ethical and practical.

I came across this paragraph this morning in Kreeft's discussion of "Justice," one of the Cardinal Virtues:

Some say the road to peace is justice. Some say the road to justice is peace. I say the only way to justice, between nations in the world or between individuals in families, is to stop demanding justice and seek forgiveness instead. Seek it and also give it. It's hard to get from injustice to justice in places like Palestine, but it's always possible to get to forgiveness. For we can't get to justice just by choosing it, but we can get to forgiveness just by choosing it. Warring Israelis and Palestinians will never stop accusing each other of injustices, because they are both right. Each side keeps committing injustices against the other. That's the basic fact, even if one side is more unjust than the other, and even if one "started it." They will never find a mutually acceptable justice. Neither will any pair of feuding spouses, friends, or nations. The more we demand justice, the more we demand our rights, the harder it will be to achieve them, except by force. The only road to peace is radical forgiveness. Jesus didn't talk about justice, He talked about forgiveness.

I read that paragraph and thought about our families and our churches and about us. There are three things I hope we will keep saying to one another.

1. I love you.
2. I forgive you.
3. Please forgive me.


Putting Us Right “An’ noo, for a’ oor wrang-duins (wrong-doings) an’ ill-min’ins (misjudgments), for a’ oor sins and tre...