Theological Worlds and Cognitive Dissonance

“He will come and save you,
Say to the weary one
Your God will surely come
He will come and save you.”

Psychology has confirmed that how people react to situations can be powerfully influenced by the events that immediately precede them. For instance, people who have been primed to think about the Ten Commandments tend to cheat less on an exam than those who haven’t, regardless of how many of the commandments they can remember. In the middle of the worship service this morning, I happened to read Dr. Richard Beck’s post on Theological Worlds, which in turn had a profound impact on my immediate experience of worship.

Allow me to explain.

As a Cliff’s Notes version of the post, Beck notes that people inhabit different theological worlds, where they see different theological problems as primary, and different spiritual answers in the cross. The most common theological world for Protestant Christians is one in which the main problems are sin and guilt – specifically our own personal sin and guilt – and God’s love and grace becomes the most important aspect of his death and resurrection.  In short, the most important thing Jesus did was put us in “right relationship” with God – he died so that each of us have the opportunity to get to heaven. This makes complete sense – if you inhabit a theological world where sin is the most important problem… the thing that keeps you up at night.

But what if, like Beck (and me) , sin isn’t the biggest thing you wrestle with? What if the thing that really bothers you is, for instance, suffering. This isn’t to say sin isn’t an issue, but rather it isn’t the main obsession of our relationship with God.  As Beck points out, you may disagree with the idea that sin isn’t the most important aspect of our relationship with God… strongly – but that’s kind of the point – we live in different worlds, and that has profound implications for how we see Christ. In my theological world, for instance, I see the cross as a demonstration of Christ’s solidarity and concern for those who suffer, more than as where my personal guilt is dealt with.

So as I sat in worship, the words of the song at the beginning of this post caused not a small amount of cognitive dissonance… namely how to fit these words into a world where suffering is powerful and present – a world where children starve and die of disease that could be cured with a few dollars. How do we fit this promise – the promise that Christ will indeed come to save the people whose lives are desperate and destitute – into the reality of the Kenyan slums that formed my view of God so much.  What do these things mean in *that* world? It’s a question I’ve been trying to resolve for something like ten years.

Part of my perspective comes from my time in Kenya, where I spent time in trash piles as large as my house, speaking to the children who lived their lives in squalor scarcely imaginable. How do you talk to *those* people about suffering, when the biggest inconvenience I face (and I suspect most of us face) looks rather less than inconvenient. I remember sitting in those trash piles with children who would never grow up to be as old as I was (at the ripe old age of 20), who would never know what it was like to sleep in a bed, never know what it means to be safe, or secure, or satisfied. I will never forget coming back to America and listening to people complain about their food, or their house, or their friends – all luxuries my kids in Africa would never know, and never worry about. I remember going back to the slums and feeling empty and hypocritical when taking about grace, or comfort, or God’s love. Frankly, in the context of Eastleigh, it was almost impossible to see.

In one theological world, the solution is simple: declare that the sufferings of this world aren’t worth comparing to the next world, and even if this world is bad for you, the next one is bound to be better. Who cares that you can’t eat or find a place to sleep in peace tonight – God loves you, and you get to go to heaven… isn’t that great!

The problem, for people in my theological world, is that this response doesn’t take our main spiritual problem seriously – in fact it declares it to not be a problem at all. People in my theological world tend to view this sort of response as a cop out, recited by people who have to those who don’t, more or less as a means of power and control. It is intended to direct concern away from the present world, where things are going badly for me, to the next world, where all will be made better.

Essentially, it’s a gospel of suck it up.

For those of you who aren’t quite buying this, try putting yourself in as close a position as you can to someone who has nothing. Imagine the worst tragedies you can happening at the same time – the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the diagnosis of a terrible, debilitating disease that won’t kill you, but will keep you in chronic pain for the next few decades. My guess is that, if you’re honest, the whole “it’ll be better in heaven” bit, even if true, won’t exactly be a huge comfort. I’m forgiven. Great. But I’m *in pain*.  Something has gone wrong with the world, and it’s not just sin.

So what do we do with this promise – that Christ will indeed come to save his people? Ten years down the road, I don’t know that I’m any closer to having answers. I’ve come to believe that “save” has a much broader meaning than just, as Mark Love would say, getting my skinny butt into heaven. I no longer believe that sin is exclusively a personal affair, living in the hearts and minds of people, but that it exists in a whole variety of social, political, economic, and even religious structures – ways of “doing business” that perpetuate inequalities between people – structures I’m complicit in because they keep me on top. I am bothered by other promises of Jesus – that as we measure it will be measured to us, that the first will be last, and the last will be first.

I wonder, from my theological world, whether we really want Jesus to “save” us. Oh, sure… we would love for him to take us out of a world full of suffering and pain. But what if what saves us isn’t an escape to blissful eternity, but, following Christ, a descent into the midst of despair, to live and work among the least of the least? What if salvation was not found in suburban church buildings singing peppy worship songs, but in learning to stand beside the people in our community who have no voice? What if God’s transformational grace meant that part of our salvation as the rich was a conversion to actually care – in concrete ways – about the poor?

My guess is that these thoughts don’t necessarily make a lot of sense in other theological worlds. But my other guess is that the predominant Protestant theological world is becoming less habitable. No matter which world you inhabit, we all have our own dissonances to deal with. But as we sing songs and proclaim that Christ offers rest to the weary, I can’t help but wonder if we have any idea what that really means.

Evangelism After Christendom – The Narrative of Liberal Modernity

We’ve been following Bryan Stone’s book Evangelism After Christendom, and in the last post discussed some of the highlights of Stone’s critique of what he calls the “Constantinian narrative”. As he moves into a critique of the modern project, Stone summarizes his previous chapter as follows:

The Constantinian story is the story of the pilgrim people of God forgetting its journey, including both its point of departure and its destination, and yielding instead to the temptation of making itself at home in the world. The reign of God is now equated with a particular human social construction called Christendom, and evangelism is now narrated as the expansion of Christendom outside the empire and the enforcement of a “Christianized” social order within the empire. The church thereby secures its public acceptance as chaplain of the empire but forfeits its subversive particularity and its capacity for obedient witness, radical discipleship, and prophetic critique. When church and world are effectively fused, the world is denied the gospel’s invitation. But it is also denied the freedom of disbelief, whether through the violent imposition of Christendom upon it or the transformation of the empire or nation into a pseudo-church.

In many ways, the project of modernity was founded in opposition to the Constantinian narrative, though as Stone points out not in an entirely unambiguous fashion. The Enlightenment increasingly reflected a world (and a Church) that felt it had “come of age”, and increasingly the church’s role as chaplain of the state was seen as increasingly unnecessary. For the first time, sharp distinctions were drawn between the “spiritual” and “secular”, “public” and “private”. Many critiques of modernity point out and question the way these categories are used in modern discourse, and Stone is no exception.

Stone begins his critique of modernity by referring to Alasdair MacIntyre’s observation that all contemporary moral debates are characterized by a) a great deal of animosity and b) their interminable nature. This, in MacIntyre’s view, leads to the widely held position that “all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling”, which MacIntyre terms “emotivism”. Essentially, the emotivist position is that there is no rational basis for making judgments between rival moral positions, and thus all moral debate is essentially about rhetorical persuasion. MacIntyre notes that this position is so alluring and persuasive that “to a large degree people now thingk, talk and act as if emotivism were true, no matter what their avowed theoretical standpoint may be.”

MacIntyre, of course, broadly attempts to undercut (and many would say is successful in undercutting) this position. Stone, however, is more concerned with what effect this broad embodiment in our culture has on evangelism.

The basis of the Enlightenment project, for Stone and others, is fundamentally expressed in “the acts of choosing and deciding ‘for one’s own self.'” In a radical reconstruction of the “self”, Enlightenment thinkers fancied themselves to have discovered “freedom”. But as MacIntyre points out, in many ways this “liberation” in fact is a loss:

[O]ne way of re-invisaging the emotivist self is as having suffered a deprivation, a stripping away of qualities that were once believed to belong to the self. The self is now thought of as lacking any necessary social identity, because the kind of social identity that it once enjoyed is no longer available: the self is now thought of as criterionless, because the kind of telos in terms of which it once was judged and acted is no longer thought to be credible.

In other words, what it once meant to be a “good” or “virtuous” is now no longer seen as having any value, and individuals are instead measured, in some sense, by their utility as consumers of goods. This leads inevitably to the distinction between the “public”, where individuals are so judged, and the “private”, where individual values have no rational or philosophical ground, and are evaluated merely as matters of personal preference.

As Stone points out, this has some pretty severe consequences for the practice of Christian witness:

As the church in modernity is increasingly shaped by this bifurcated social imagination [public/private], it becomes, on the one hand, a bureaucratic institution directed by expert managers or therapists called ‘pastors’ and, on the other hand, a mere aggregate of individuals each of whom determines the character and telos of his or her own personal and essentially private relationship with God. Evangelism likewise becomes either a matter of rational technique, planning, and strategy aimed at promoting and defending the rationality, effectiveness, or usefulness of the gospel, or a function of one’s own winsome personality and skills in rhetorical persuasion.

The consequence, in essence, is that Christianity and the Christian experience either becomes something which is rationally justifiable (apologetically sound), utilitarian (self-help gospel/prosperity gospel), or a cult of personality centered around a charismatic individual.

Without restating all of MacIntyre’s critique of modernity, the crux of the matter is that, in MacIntyre’s view, the Enlightenment failed precisely because in its supreme emphasis on freedom (and especially freedom as autonomy), it neglected to consider the proper telos, or end of life. It became impossible, then, to move from life and human nature as we find it, to life and human nature as it ought to be. Morally, this leads to a fragmented situation, where moral content is inherited from prior traditions, but no longer has a ground or basis. In other words, without an end or telos, moral judgments make no sense, and become simply expressions of preference. In otherwords when I say “it’s wrong to steal”, what I’m really saying is that I disapprove of stealing – nothing more. Stone:

With no conception of what a human is or of the good toward which a human life is to aim, we can likewise discard the communal cultivation of virtues, or “excellences of character,” that would enable us to move toward the good. We may still find ourselves using the moral vocabulary of the past and even appealing to vaguely defined, ill-defined or undefined notions such as “rights” (claimed especially within the sphere of individualism) and “utility” (claimed especially within the sphere of bureaucratic organization), but moral debate can be little more than the “indignant self-righteousness of protest” and, inevitably, as Friedrich Nietzsche rightly understood, a mask for the arbitrary “will to power.” Morality becomes little more than an arena for the competition of wills, and it is simply the powerful, the clever, or those skilled at manipulation who win the day.

When the church begins to “compete” in this arena, it encounters significant problems, and its essential message becomes corrupted. Where in the Constantinian narrative the church was just another social institution which was fused with the state, suddenly in modernity the church is just another social institution that must compete with all other social institutions as a dispenser of goods and services. This has profound implications for how church belief and doctrine has changed and shifted in a Protestant, Enlightenment modernity. Stone:

Salvation in such a world is transformed into an essentially private, one-by-one affair, while evangelism becomes a practice based almost entirely on individual personality and persuasion, an attempt to lead individuals into a private decision to “have a personal relationship with Jesus” or to join the church, much as one might join any other club or association. The modern Western model of the church and salvation, especially in its Protestant forms (which are considerably more “modernized” than Catholic or Orthodox forms) is largely predicated upon this narrative of the self. The church’s evangelistic ministry becomes an expression of what MacIntyre refers to as “bureaucratic individualism” and entails the combination of rational technique and strategy, the creation of multiple programs to meet the needs of parishioners who will increasingly come to be viewed as customers or consumers, the tailoring of the gospel message to resonate with people’s personal experience, and the alteration of the meaning and purpose of worship to what is existentially satisfying to the modern subject, all in the service of accomplishing the distinctively modern model of salvation.

Indeed, modernity has so strongly colored the Protestant narrative (and vice versa) that I suspect for many Christians it is impossible to consider that church (or salvation) could be conceived in any other way. But if we view our salvation from the perspective of the modern self, where we are self-determining, self-possessed, and self-sufficient rather than as created in God’s image for a particular end, God becomes viewed indeed as a rival Enlightenment subject who stands over and against us. Instead, Evangelism becomes basically about a) transmission of information, which needs to be made intellectually respectable, or b) creating programs to meet perceived needs.

Stone then considers two rival approaches to evangelism in modernity: “seeker-sensitive” and “apostolic” churches. Stone again:

Because evangelism in [seeker-sensitive] congregations is passionately committed to starting “where people are,” its primary strategy focuses on demonstrating the usefulness of the gospel for “everyday living,” a way of helping persons adjust to the ravages of modernity in their personal, family, and social lives. These churches have learned that if this is not done, secular people just won’t be interested in the church. In fact, in visiting these congregations, studying their ministries ,and reading their literature, one cannot help but conclude that the predominant strategy for convincing secular people of the truth of Christianity is a demonstration of its ability to help – to make us better persons, citizens, family member, or workers.

Evangelism in “apostolic” congregations depends, first, on its ability to reach secular people where they are and, second, on its ability to convince secular persons of the truth of the gospel by establishing either its factuality or its utility (or both.) But of course both of these bases are foundationalist – that is, both represent an appeal to foundations outside the gospel to establish the meaning and truth of the gospel.

The problem, ultimately, for Stone, is that neither of these Evangelistic approaches recognize the new, abstract, autonomous, “free”, but simultaneously purposeless and detached self. The result, in short, is that:

[T]he reign of God goes noticeably missing throughout [a] book-length description of “what works” in contemporary evangelistic practice. Indeed, there is little or no indication of the nature and form of the salvation toward which evangelism is aimed – nor need there be, given the practical logic by which evangelism has been deformed under the conditions of late modernity. The evangelism of Jesus, as we have seen, is unintelligible apart from the announcement of a new government to which we are called to convert, embodied in such concrete practices as the rejection of violence, justice for the poor, love of enemies, economic sharing, and the relativizing of national and family allegiances. But not one of these reign-of-God characteristics shows up prominently in Hunter’s summaries of “apostolic” evangelism, a fact that suggests, first, that the end of evangelism has been altered to fit the context of modernity and, second, that the means by which evangelism is practiced have become external to the practice itself.

Operating within the social imagination(s) of modernity, the church is unable to grasp the extent to which modernity has shaped its existence. The church is able to survive and thrive, but largely insofar as it is transformed into an aggregate of “free” individuals who have contracted together for their mutual benefit – “tourists who happen to find ourselves on the same bus,” as Hauerwas and Willimon put it. Evangelism can now be focused wholly on “effectively” leading the individual into an experience of salvation as a matter of personal freedom by appealing to his or her self-interest, whether that be construed materially in terms of social belonging, assimilation, uplift, prosperity, and security or spirituality in terms of inner peace or the hope of eternal salvation. Rather than the church’s serving as a new peoplehood, a sacramental body that is a mode of participation in the life of God, and a community of virtue into which persons are formed, disciplined, and educated, the church is itself disciplined by the formative practices of modernity. In this way, far from being practiced as a form of resistance and subversion, the type of evangelism celebratd today as having achieved “results” comes to complement the (pseudo-salvific) work of both the market and the state in providing individuals economic prosperity, security from outsiders, and “peace” among other competing selves.

Ultimately, what takes place in distinctively modern conceptions of Christianity is that the distinctiveness of the church and its story becomes deemphasized, and ultimately the Gospel changes to become more compatible with our beliefs and desires, rather than our desires and actions becoming more compatible with the message of Christ. For those who disagree that the message of Christ has been subtly changed, I suggest considering comedian Stephen Colbert used to close his recent monologue: “If we are going to be a ‘Christian Nation’ who doesn’t help the poor, either we are going to have to pretend that Jesus is just as selfish as we are, or we’re going to have to acknowledge that he asks us to love the poor and help the needy – without exception – and that we just don’t want to do it.” Rather than hearing (and acting on) the truth of those words, the response of many Christians is to debate about what “helping the poor” really means – after all, we don’t want to be taken advantage of. Yet this seems to be precisely the type of self-sacrifice Jesus calls us to in the Sermon on the Mount – if someone forces you to walk one mile, walk two. If someone asks for your cloak, give them your tunic as well. The fact that we try to justify *not* doing this in light of criticism speaks to just how much the modern social imagination has converted our view of the Gospel.

As with the previous posts, what does this leave us, and how do we go forward?

First, it requires that we begin to recognize, at least a bit, how we (especially those of us in Protestant traditions) have been shaped by modernity – how deeply our view of salvation rests on our own beliefs and actions, separate and apart from any social context or tradition. Second, we must recognize our tendency to change and subvert the good news of Jesus into something that is aimed primarily at either meeting the needs of individuals today, or something which aims to be “intellectually respectable”. Our engagement with others is not aimed at trying to “convert” them per se,  as much as it is offering an invitation to participation in a community with particular beliefs, practices, and “grammar”.

I want to conclude this section of reflection with a lengthy quote from Stone, before moving on to more specific criticisms about modernity in a later post:

Within a postliberal approach to religious pluralism, comprehensiveness is a matter of inclusin rather than exclusion. But this postliberal inclusivism is not at all like its liberal counterpart, for which other religions are essentially saying and doing the same thing as Christianity, albeit anonymously or implicitly. It is by fully admitting rather than attempting to deny or disguise the material difference of Christianity from other religions that dialogue becomes possible. Indeed, it becomes more than merely possible, but as Nwebigin says, “a part of obedient witness to Jesus Christ”:

But this does not mean that the purpose of dialogue is to persuade the non-Christian partner to accept the Christianity of the Christian partner. Its purpose is not that Christianity should acquire one more recruit. On the contrary, obedient witness to Christ means that whenever we come with another person (Christian or not) into the presence of the cross, we are prepared to receive judgment and correction, to find that our Christianity hides within its appearance of obeience the reality of disobedience. Each meeting with a non-Christian partner in dialogue therefore puts my own Christianity at risk.

The risk, of course, is that my Christianity may have to change. Interrreligious dialogue is, consequently, a spiritual discipline by which evangelizing Christians seek the mutual transformation of their partners and of themselves in repentance and hope.

This openness to the judgment of the dialogue partner of which Newbigin speaks is especially critical for the post-Christendom practice of evangelism. For the sake of faithful and obedient witness, the Christian is called to repent of the specific abuses and unfaithfulness of the church in its wrongheaded attempt to Christianize the world. To thus repent, moreover, is not to merely offer explanations or admit the faults of those who have come before us; rather it means “taking responsibility for the past, naming the errors and correcting them. Repentance, it must be admitted has not generally been understood as a form of evangelism – and certainly not as a part of Christian apologetics understood as the defense of Christianity against all objections. But if, as Yoder rightly notes, repentance is a central feature of the salvation to which Christians bear witness, then it is difficult to see how one can be fully faithful as a witness to the gospel apart from repentance. The point is not that repentance “works” in converting others to Christianity; the point is that the logic of evangelism is not, in the first place, a matter of what “works” but rather a matter of faithfulness and obedience.

Evangelism After Christendom (part next)

We last left Bryan Stone’s book discussing the first chapter of Part 2, where Stone engages in a long and theologically rigorous discussion of the narrative of Christianity, first beginning with the nation of Israel, then the ministry of Jesus, then the development and expansion of the church during apostolic times. Stone ends Part 2 with the following summary:

Christian salvation is distorted (along with the evangelistic practice that follows from it) when it is reduced to “getting right with Jesus” as a private spiritual affair with, at best, reign-of-God consequences. Because of the new order present in Jesus and because of the social, political, and subversive dimensions of that new order, “believing in Jesus” is not a private mental assent to a set of propositions about his nature, an individual experience of his person, or a legalistic performance of his teachings. Apostolic evangelism is an invitation to be formed socially by the Holy spirit into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus through incorporation into his body. Anything less can never be a full “offer” of Christ.

In Part 3, Stone seeks to demonstrate that Christianity (and Christian Evangelism) have been themselves subverted by two particular rival narratives: Constantinianism and liberal modernity. This is critical, Stone suggests, because a main thesis of the book is that the conversion offered by Christianity does not take place within either of these narratives, but rather calls us to a conversion from them to some totally separate narrative. In many ways, Stone is echoing Liberation Theology notions that the “sin” from which we must be saved lives not only (and perhaps not so much) in the hearts and minds of individuals, but also within social, political, economic, and religious structures as well.  Thus, salvation is not something that addresses only individual sin, but must address structural sin as well.

Within the ecclesial reimagining of evangelism I am attempting in this book, to be saved by God is to be saved not only from sin but also from powers that make us incapable of recognizing and resisting sin – powers that form and discipline us into the kind of peopld who are incapable of being the church. The demonic power of various institutions such as the nation-state, the military, the university, the market, and even the church derives from their having been co-opted by these powers.

Stone immediately addresses an important issue, however. Because the Church has existed and contributed to both the Constantinian and liberal modernist narratives, it is not so easy to extract ourselves from it. Our tendency is to disavow ourselves of any questionable actions undertaken in the name of Christ from early history, but the reality is that those actions are, in some sense, part of our story. Stone:

In one sense, then, it is not possible for the church to simply disown those stories by claiming they are “not ours.” The story the church has been given, the story it is called to remember and to which it is called to be faithful, is always bound up with the actual journey the church has undertaken in history, complete with its dead ends, detours, and derailments. Remembering the church’s story is not an exercise in primitivism by which we gleefully skip across two millennia of Christian history and baptize as infallible the practices and theological formulations of the past. But it is an exercise in confessing that in God’s calling of the people of Israel, in the life and message of Jesus, and in the witness of the apostles, we have been given a true story that, by forming our practical imagination, renders us capable of living truthfully before the world and of resisting powers such as the state and the market that would have us believe that our identity is patriots and consumers and that our duty is to kill and shop on their behalf.

Stone’s first turns his attention to what he calls a Constantinian narrative. In essence, this embodies a large range of situations where the relationship between church and state is fused in such a way that the church becomes an extension of the state, whether explicit or implicit. For instance, we often hear the United States referred to as a “Christian Nation”. This is precisely the type of sentiment Stone would have us reject. As Stone says, “The Constintanian story is the story of the church’s forgetting its journey and making itself at home in the world.” This is a constant tension for the people of Christ – “in the world, but not of the world”. Unfortunately, our tendency is all too often to attempt to use the power structures of the world (influence, laws, economics) to bend people toward Christianity, or aid in evangelism. It is important to point out that the Constantinian narrative does not *requre* explicit aid from the state – church doctrine being enforced in civil courts, for example. It also exists where the boundaries of church and state become confused, which in turn can make it all the more seductive and difficult to recognize.

Part of the difficulty that Stone notes is that when “world” and “church” become the same thing, there is no longer anything to call “world”. Borrowing from a similar critique by the Anabaptists, Constantianianism makes it “too easy” for the world to become “Christianized”, but in the process makes it much more difficult to properly render Jesus as Lord. By way of example, when what it means to be a “Good Christian” looks, more or less, like being a “Patriotic American”, there seems to be a real problem. Is Jesus Lord, or is it the Constitution? Stone quotes Craig Carter, who says “Here is the point of testing, because here the state makes itself into an absolute value. When the concrete lordship of Jesus is modified, qualified, contradicted, or otherwise set aside by the state, thenw e have Constantinianism.” Stone:

The “Constantinian temptation” is the temptation to confuse obedience to Jesus as Lord with obedience to the state because the state or the head of the state now bears the label “Christian”. Needless to say, this confusion, which is in effect a denial of Jesus as Lord, raises serious questions for evangelism – not the least of which is whether it is even possible to bear witness to the lordship of Jesus, much less offer that lordship to others, while simultaneously rejecting it in practice, whether by killing people on behalf of the empire or by mimicking and thereby glorifying the power, wealth, and rule of another lord. What inevitably takes place in the practice of evangelism within a Constantinian social imagination is that the question of following Jesus as Lord is abstracted from the concrete loyalties, habits, and patterns of conduct associated with Jesus and the apostolic life.  That question is instead transformed into a question of one’ nominal membership in a religious group. It may also be transformed into a question of one’s intellectual assent to propositions about who Jesus is or, as we see increasingly within the predominant consensus in modernity, into a private, inward, and dematerialized experience of Jesus’ lordship.  The common denominator in all these transformations is that the sovereignty of Constantine remains intact while Christian witness is disassociated from the intrinsically material and political dimensions of the lordship of Jesus. In other words, the “practice” of evangelism is wrenched from the comprehensive praxis in which it is rightly embedded.

There’s a lot in this paragraph, but I think Stone is right on, and we can see elements of this reflected in the way many Evangelical churches and Christians function, especially on the religious right. If Stone is right (and I think he is), we see a clear abstraction in many churches from the “loyalties, habits, and patterns of conduct associated with Jesus”. I think this dovetails closely with our preoccupation with justification over sanctification, but that’s for a different post. If most of us are honest, the way we functionally “do Christianity” has a lot in common with Stone’s paragraph – particularly in that we often consider the boundaries of the community to be defined by “nominal membership” in a particular church, or by a proclamation of a selected set of intellectual propositions. Whether this is the necessary result of a confusion of Church and State or simply the position we find ourselves in, I think his analysis of the implications for sharing Christ are spot on: trying to bear witness to the lordship of Jesus while simultaneously rejecting it in practice is doomed to failure.

The second criticism Stone offers of Constantinianism is that practitioners of evangelism often identify God’s victory with an ever expanding and growing church, which is fused with the world in the form of a “Christian Nation” or empire. Stone rejects this on eschatological grounds for a variety of reasons that we won’t get into. Further, he points out that to be people who are disciples formed in communities who follow a crucified and resurrected Lord and reject the world’s way of doing business almost implies that the church will often find itself operating as a minority, and from a position of weakness instead of power. Stone:

An evangelistic church is called to patience, obedience, and martyrdom rather than effectiveness, control or success. It will have to relinquish “winning” as a proper end, along with the logic of agency and causality that go with that end. It will have to relearn the truth that there is nothing we can do to bring about or extend God’s reign, so that we are left with the singular task of bearing embodied witness to that reign.

The mistake of Constantinian Christianity is that it substitutes the state for the church eschatologically, so that the present social order rather than God’s reign is seen as the most real and permanent. Peace, justice, and the good are then defined in terms of what can reasonably be accomplished through the functions of the state by adopting behavior calculated to be a “lesser evil.” The result is that “responsible” Christians are not only free to reject Christ’s instructions about turning the other cheek but obliged to do so when violent resistance to injustice would better contribute to the maintenance of the social order. The loss to the church’s evangelistic witness is enormous. What is secured in terms of a wider public acceptance of Christians by virtue of their social responsibility and civic duty is lost in terms of a faithful testimony to Jesus’ life and work, death and resurrection, present reign and future coming.

Finally, Stone notes that in the Constantinian story, Christianity is forever relegated to be only one aspect of the larger society, and as a result “Christian behavior becomes the question of what sort of behavior can be asked of everyone.” Instead of asking questions like “What would happen if everybody turned the other cheek?” as a way of ducking Christ’s message, Stone quotes Yoder, whose response was, “What if nobody else acted like a Christian, but we did?”

So where do we go from here?

Stone suggests first and foremost that in a post-Constantinian age, the church’s first task is to disengage from using “results” as the only measurement of effectiveness, and rediscover incarnation. Stone again:

Of course, the church that offers the gospel to the world always hopes for an acceptance of the invitation. But there is a sense in which while evangelization in a post-Constantinian world hopes for such an acceptance, it cannot really “seek” it.  What it does seek is to offer the invitation faithfully and in such a way that it can be understood clearly as good news and then either accepted or rejected responsibly. In our time, the churhc often feels that if it has not won, not convinced others, not secured Christianity’s status and position in society, it must have failed. The impulse to win or succeed is overwhelming. Christians will sometimes stop at nothing – including sacrificing the integrity of their own witness – in the service of winning, in the service of respectability, in the service of having our truth be recognized by everybody as “the” truth. Then, says Yoder, we fail to respect “the integrity of disbelief.”

This, more than anything, may be one of the most important points in the book. As with any relationship, there is an element of abuse if either party isn’t free to walk away. Ultimately, the presentation of the message of Jesus *must* be done in such a way that the hearer can reject it. This isn’t to say that we ever *want* the offer to be rejected, but that we must be ok with people walking away, rather than feeling it is our duty, whether by force of our intellect (apologetics) or politics (legislating morality) to coerce people to belief or assent. In the end, that is the temptation of Constantinainism: to bend the will of society toward our own aims. Unfortunately, as Stone argues, when we enter into this contract, the result is inevitably society bending the Church to its own aims – justifying wars, pacifying populations, and serving, in the words of Marx, as an opiate for the masses.

Evangelism After Christendom (Part 3)

We left Stone as he was questioning the assumptions that underpin much of the modern shifts in Christian evangelism – namely that success can be judged on whether or not the result attracts more people. Rather, Stone’s premise declared that only with the proper telos can evangelism truly be said to be successful. In other words, Christian evangelism isn’t primarily about attracting people to Christ – rather it’s about living lives that are a virtuous witness to God’s reign of peace, and any attraction people have to that is simply a by product.

Stone ends Part 1 with the following statement:

My conviction is that plurality, historicity, and difference, while naturally producing feelings of insecurity, are nonetheless central to the task of telling the story of the people of God.  For that story is itself the story of an encounter with difference (including God’s difference!) and a record of how that encounter makes a people distinctive in the world.  The store of the people of God is the story of a people who encounter other stories in a variety of ways, sometimes in the form of a gift and an offer while at other times in the form of a confrontation and a scandal. We need not be paralyzed in making decisions about our own story or frightened about allowing it to interact with other stories, provided we do so with appropriate discipline, suspicion, self-criticism, and humility. After all, our story is not entirely rosy. It is a story of detours and dead ends, reversals and failure. It is a record of faithlessness, stubbornness, and rebellion as much as it is a story of obedience and hope. We need the whole of the Bible, because as a whole it does not shrink from narrating both sides of the story.

Stone’s basic conviction is that “conversion” has much less to do with accepting a few core propositions (e.g. God exists, Jesus is the Son of God, etc.) as much as it is a complete change of worlds – participation in a new reign, a new story, a new reality. Just as the Bible is presented not as a list of facts or a historical document, but as a story, Stone’s view is that the bottom line to Christian practice and living is fundamentally participation in that story. As he quotes MacIntyre, “I can only answer the question, ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself apart?'”

As a result, Stone spends Part 2 looking at Israel, Jesus, and the early church to provide a foundation for the overarching story of God, which will in turn provide a foundation for his later movements in our participation in the continuing story of God.

Stone begins by looking at the people of Israel. He starts with, what for many Christians is a point commonly overlooked – that the Bible is an entirely Jewish production. As he points out, most Christians, when asked what the most discussed topic in the Bible is, are unlikely to answer “Israel”. Rather, “we have been trained to think of the Bible as handing over information about important beliefs (sin, death, salvation, faith, God, etc.).” As Stone points out, there are interesting peculiarities about Israel’s formation. The story of the Old Testament is not a story about a god or gods as much as it is a story of a particular people, chosen and set apart as a community with a completely different identity and purpose, “chosen, called, liberated and led by God”. Israel’s identity, whether Abraham’s trust in God or Moses’s attack on contemporary social, political, and economic standards, performs as a contrast story to the prevailing norms of the day.

The idea of God’s free choice, of election, is powerful in the consciousness of Israel. Stone writes that our tendency is to universalize this and try to make Israel stand as a symbol for all God’s people past and future, but that the Bible doesn’t really lend itself to this interpretation. There is, however, an ambiguity in the meaning of election – that Israel is both chosen by and chosen for. Because of this, Israel has a “double relationship” of sorts, with God and the nations. The prophets call the people of Israel to remembrance both with terms of intimacy with God (beloved, firstborn) and warning as idolatry crept in (adulterer, prostitute). Stone:

Remembering turns out to be one of the central and defining activities of the people of Israel. It is the basis for both their cultic and their moral life. It funds prophetic reform and liberative praxis and is never to be simply equated with a “conservative” as over against a “progressive” outlook. Remembering likewise gives this people’s existence its narrative quality – God’s dealings with them in the past are decisive for making sense out of the present and guiding them into the future.

But where does this call to remembrance lead, exactly? Stone again:

As Micah’s vision makes clear, the “ways” of God embodied in this particular people (for the nations) are ways of justice and peace, the very substance of what Israel will come to understand as holiness.  The prophets critique any understanding of holiness that is purely formal, ceremonial, and positional, and that does not include the transformation of human hearts (Jer. 31:27-34) along with social and economic arrangements. … God’s purpose in history is not just the creation of holy individuals but the creation of a holy people, a people whose very existence in the world is a living testimony to the rule of God. Holiness, therefore, is unreservedly social, political, and economic.

Stone terms this way of living, God’s character and God’s ways “shalom”. But there is something surprising about the prophet’s vision:

What we learn from the Hebrew prophets, therefore, is that to live  toward and out of shalom, as the beginning and the end of the story of the people of God, is to be eminently realistic. It is not shalom but the present order that lacks legitimacy.  It is not hope but complacency that has no firm basis in reality. … [M]uch of God’s rule of shalom may still be coming, but it is no less “real”.

Because of this hope and this realistic confidence in God’s presence and activity in history, the people of God are released from the burden of needing to control history, “to make things come out right”. To be the people of God is not a matter of presuming that our plans coincide with God’s; it is a matter of trusting, being open, and being guided and led into an uncontrollable future.

You don’t have to know much about modern fundamental or mainline evangelical Christianity to realize this vision is a sharp contrast to that presented in most churches today. While it may be popular to talk about a “Christian worldview”, often that worldview looks suspiciously similar to the capitalist, democratic worldviews that also came out of enlightenment liberalism. He will critique this in detail later, but even from this point, Stone levels a rather scathing (and unfortunately all too accurate) criticism at modern Christianity: namely that serves more as a perpetrator of the status quo than an alternative community founded on the principles of God.  From the time of Constantine on, he argues, the church has been so “in bed” as it were with the “powers and principalities” of the world that it has no hope of offering a substantive critique of their practices. When churches are structured like corporations, when their leaders are elected by democratic ballot, and when their economic structures treat individuals as spiritual consumers (and we must pause here to reflect a moment and acknowledge these things to be true), it has effectively adopted the idolatrous practices of its surrounding culture, rather than remaining true – remembering – its true calling.

reform and traditions

My wife’s grandparents are guardians of tradition. I don’t say this as a criticism, but merely by way of introduction. As many people their age, they grew up in the wake of the great depression, fresh with the memory of what it was to be in serious want – something I think few of us who grew up in the boom years of the 80’s and 90’s can really appreciate. Over the years, they have collected various objects from other people’s estates, family heirlooms, and created a few things along the way. Katie’s grandfather is a storyteller, and one of his great pleasures in life is to recount the story of each object, sharing the value and meaning of every item in their possession. From rocks to magnificent pieces of furniture and cut glass, each item’s value is based on its story, and he knows them all. In many ways, their house is a museum, full of objects that have been cataloged and displayed, all of which are priceless in some way and cannot be thrown away. When they were younger, they traveled the world, living in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), St. Kits, and various places in the United States before finally settling in the small town of Canyon, in the panhandle of West Texas.

Every time we visit them, I am challenged by the collision of reform and tradition, new and old. Several times on our most recent visit, Katie’s grandmother would mention, “We’re stuck in our deep ruts and we just keep going along!”, to which Katie’s grandfather would remind her, “Comfortable ruts.  Comfortable ruts.” For many things in their mind, the way things have always been is they way they should continue to be, and for many things that have changed, the best thing that could happen would be for things to go back to the way they were. I am exaggerating things a bit here to be sure (Katie’s grandmother knows more about Photoshop than my father, for instance), but I don’t think it’s terribly unfair to say that they are guardians of orthodoxy – trying as best they can to preserve both in memory and in practice “the way things were”, even though that struggle is becoming more and more difficult as the world sweeps around them.  Those of you who know me would probably agree that I’m someone who, at least for much of my life, has been primarily  disdainful of or subversive to traditions – particularly traditions which seem to serve little or no purpose.

I believe this conflict is particularly relevant as broader society continues to grapple with exactly what it means to be “post-modern”, and how (or if) we will return to some center of meaning. Obviously it has implications beyond the immediate conflict of culture to the constant clash between old and new, established and emerging. But in the end, the question comes down to this: how do we respond to change and tradition?

One option is to embrace and defend traditions at all costs. The problem with this view is that it’s easy to become like the village of Anatevka. As Tevye states:

Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka we have traditions for everything… how to eat, how to sleep, even, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl… This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you – I don’t know. But it’s a tradition… Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.

While traditions may help us keep our balance – like a fiddler on the roof – we run the risk of becoming so disconnected from our traditions that we have no idea why we practice them or where they come from. While some traditions may serve a useful purpose, it is essential that we possess at least some measure of understanding of the traditions origins and meaning. As we become more disconnected from traditions, we lose the ability to determine whether a particular tradition makes sense in a modern context. There’s an old story about a girl whose mother was teaching her to cook a ham.  The first step was to cut three inches off the end of the ham. When asked why, her mother responded that it was how she learned it from her mother. When the girl asked her grandmother, she replied, “I cut the ham off because the pan was too short.” I think all of us can think of things that we do “because it’s the way it’s always been done” that have outlived their usefulness. The unquestioned defense of tradition does not distinguish between traditions that are good and bad – it sees all traditions as important, valuable, and necessary to continue.

The other extreme tries to jettison all traditions. It starts with the assumption that all tradition is bad, and wants to throw the whole thing out and start over. That might be nice, assuming you could actually do it, but in reality we can never fully separate ourselves from the traditions we grew up with. Even if we try to throw away all the assumptions and “start fresh”, our perspective is still colored by our former practices. Furthermore, “old” traditions are usually jettisoned only to be replaced by “new” traditions that look suspiciously similar to the old ones, with a few minor changes. When we attempt to divorce ourselves from our traditions and history, the end result looks suspiciously like those who blindly defend tradition – we are disconnected from our traditions even though we still practice them.

My belief is that one of the primary tasks of each generation is to reevaluate and reinterpret traditions in a new context – to see which traditions serve a valuable purpose, and which traditions simply don’t make sense anymore. Above all, we must remain connected to the traditions we practice, instead of blindly continuing a practice we don’t understand. In many ways, this makes the job of the older generation even more difficult, as they are responsible for not only passing on traditions, but allowing things that were of vital importance to them to fade away. Furthermore, the communication of traditions cannot simply be reduced to “That’s the way we’ve always done it”, but requires patience and understanding. Above all, however, it requires open and honest communication between young and old, and a large amount of patience on both sides.

My wife’s grandparents have seen the world change around them, and while I think they mourn the passing of some things, I think they also realize that for the most part progress has been a good thing. There are new practices and new technologies they choose not to embrace, but they also understand that they cannot stop change, and are in many ways determined to be teachers of the things that were. In many ways it makes me wonder: What things will we value and strive to pass on? What novel innovations will become our cherished traditions? What will we cling to while the world changes around us? Can we preserve any of what we’ve learned from our parents and grandparents, or will their stories and experiences die with us? Someday we too will live in a world that looks very different from the one we see now. How will we change, and how will we share our stories with those who come after?

God and “science”

There have been a few occurrences recently that have prompted people to ask me about various issues related to God and science, so I thought I’d take a moment or two outline some views here.

I think the only way to begin the discussion is with two simple points:

  1. The first point, I think, is summed up extraordinarily well by Daniel Gilbert in his book Stumbling on Happiness:

    [S]cience is one of those words that means too many things to too many people and is thus often at risk of meaning nothing at all. My father is an eminent biologist who, after pondering the matter for some decades, recently revealed to me that psychology can’t really be a science because science requires the use of electricity. Apparently shocks to your ankles don’t count. My own definition of science is a bit more eclectic, but one thing about which I, my dad, and most other scientists can agree is that if a thing cannot be measured, then it cannot be studied scientifically. It can be studied, and one might even argue that the study of such unquantifiables is more worthwhile than all the sciences laid end to end. But it is not science because science is about measurement, and if a thing cannot be measured – cannot be compared with a clock or a ruler or something other than itself – it is not a potential object of scientific inquiry.

  2. In addition to Gilbert’s point, I would also add that science must be repeatable. In 1989, two scientists from the University of Utah reported achieving nuclear fusion at room temperatures. The announcement was met with a great deal of excitement and energy. There was only one catch. Nobody else could get it to work. In order for something to be proven scientifically, it cannot be a one-off event. Science searches for answers to questions that are both empirical and repeatable. If you can’t repeat what happened, it isn’t science.

Taken together, these two prospects do not bode well for connecting God or creation with true science – and not for lack of effort to discover or suppress “evidence” on either side.

The prophet Isaiah writes:

To whom, then, will you compare God?
What image will you compare him to?

The very idea that – if God is all-powerful and “wholly other” like we claim he is – we could somehow observe, measure, or place him in some sort of “test tube” and experiment with him is quite frankly absurd. The problem is not that we haven’t gotten the right tools or haven’t looked in the right places – it’s that the very philosophy of doing so is bankrupt. As Gilbert argues, saying that we shouldn’t look at God scientifically isn’t saying that we shouldn’t study him, or that study of God in some sense isn’t valuable – rather it’s saying we should study “God” in a way that makes sense, and that way is not with lab coats, telescopes and microscopes.

The second point drops the underpinning from creation arguments (on both sides, incidentally) in a similar way because, by definition, they’re not repeatable. We know about star formation because we can observe millions of stars in various stages of their lives. We know about galaxies and black holes and supernovae because we can witness them across the universe. But we can’t roll back the clock and observe the creation of the universe, regardless of which side of the fence we’re on. We can’t see the big bang or ask God to do it over again – this is the one universe we have, and witnessing the creation of a second one isn’t really something that’s going to happen any time soon. As a result, we’ll be left with lots of questions, searching for answers, many of which we’ll never have ironclad answers to.

Finally, with regard to many creationist (including intelligent design) arguments, it is essential, in light of the two bullet points at the top, to consider the claim that is being made, and whether that claim makes any sense in the realm of science. The claim made by any creationist argument is as follows: “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.” Regardless of your belief on the validity of that statement, I hope you can see why it is not a scientific statement in any way. I firmly believe that the study of the origin of the universe is a tremendously interesting and important metaphysical question, but not one at all suited for scientific inquiry.

Ultimately, belief in God, as Scripture points out constantly, is about faith, not knowledge. For centuries, philosophers have struggled with philosophically proving and disproving the existence of a higher power, and each attempt ends with the conclusion that the question is “non-falsifiable” – it cannot be proved or disproved by observation or experiment. For generations, Christians glorified what they called “the Mysteries of Christ” – comfortable with a certain amount of “unknown”. While we continue to search for knowledge, my hope is we can become more comfortable with the Mysteries of Christ, and ultimately not feel the need to Q.E.D. prove something beyond our comprehension.

To honor their spirit, as well as their ideas.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the names of Alexander or Thomas Campbell, or of Barton W. Stone, but I’m fairly certain I was in college before I began to learn the story of the brave men to whom I owe so much. As these men found themselves in a changing world with an uncertain future, they rejected the formalizations promoted by the churches of which they were a part, instead positing the radical position that the Good News of Jesus was open and accessible to everyone.

“It is not necessary,” Thomas Campbell wrote, “that persons have a particular knowledge or distinct apprehension of all divinely revealed truths in order to entitle them to a place in the Church; neither should they, for this purpose, be required to make a profession more extensive than their knowledge: but that, on the contrary, their having a due measure of Scriptural self-knowledge respecting their lost and perishing condition by nature and practice; and of the way of salvation thro’ [sic] Jesus Christ accompanied with a profession of their faith in, and obedience to him, in all things according to his word, is all that is absolutely necessary to qualify them for admission into his Church.” In other words, we don’t all have to agree about every issue of doctrine before we can all be one in Christ. What really matters is that we understand our helplessness without God, acknowledge our dependence on Him for salvation, and declare our obedience to Him as Lord of our lives.

The men who founded our fellowship were courageous activists who leave to us not only words, but their priceless example. As ministers of established churches with long and noble histories, they questioned the practice and teachings of their institutions, seeking to make the Gospel more relevant and accessible to their communities. It is often times all too easy for us to take the ideas put forth by our founders and set them up in a system of creeds and dogmas of our own making while ignoring the true spirit and purpose of their actions. We, like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, insist that “because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do,” though, when asked how and why these traditions were started, he can only reply “I don’t know.” In the same way, we enshrine the teachings of our fathers as unimpeachable pillars of a new institution, an institution they likely would have fought just as strongly against.

Our fellowship was born of innovative men in uncertain times questioning the doctrines and dogmas of their day, and asking why they could not set these traditions aside to be, in their words, “Christians only”. Now we who inherit their legacy face our own uncertain times and difficult questions – questions and challenges which they could neither foresee nor imagine. We do not honor our fathers with blind allegiance to their creeds, but by boldly continuing their spirit of innovation, crafting new approaches to changing questions of faith while preserving our heritage to whatever extent we can. As we move to the future, we must look to the past and learn its lessons without seeking to return there, knowing we live in a world different from the one we remember.

“nobody’s ever done anything nice for us before…”

Last night I was coming back from checking some equipment we have installed at a substation when I saw a car stopped on the side of the road. For some reason I felt compelled to turn around and see if I could help, which launched Sam and I on a long, interesting, funny, and sad misadventure for the next several hours.

Over the next few hours, we ferried around and towed two guys, a girl and their Camaro from College Station to 15 miles the other side of Caldwell. We didn’t charge them for gas, and we gave them a bit of money along the way. After I’d given them $25 and said not to worry about it, one of the guys said, “Man… you must make a lot of money…” Well… no… not really…

“Nobody’s ever done anything nice for us before…” he said, talking more to himself than to me.

The reality was that we didn’t do that much. We bailed them out of a situation their own stupidity had gotten them into. We gave them a little time, a little money, and a little attention, and somehow that was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for them.

I wonder what our world would be like if more of us took the time to be nice to people in small ways. It’s hard for me to believe what we did was literally the nicest thing anyone had ever done for them, but I live in a very different world than they do, and sadly I don’t know that our worlds meet that often. I hope they meet more. I hope we all have more opportunities to “be nice” to people… even – especially – when it costs us something.

the vows

These, my wedding vows…

Today I pledge myself to you in the sacred bond and covenant of marriage.

Each morning I will remember the blessings you bring to my life, giving thanks to God for drawing us together as one.

I will daily strive to be more Christ-like in my thoughts and my actions, learning to embrace and express the perfect love of Jesus in our marriage.

I will listen to and respect your feelings and desires, valuing your thoughts and opinions as we make decisions through life.

When we disagree, I will look first for my own failures and shortcomings.
When I am wrong, I will admit it quickly.
When I am wronged, I will forgive unconditionally.
In both joy and sorrow, I will support and encourage you.

Today I promise these things to you
before God and in the presence of those we love –
a covenant between us for as long as we both shall live.

I just want to complain about it…

A couple of weeks ago, I received an anonymous email stating that I’d “hurt a fellow brother in Christ” due to “[my] actions regarding his choices”. The fact that I have no idea who I’m alleged to have hurt or what I’m alleged to have done notwithstanding, the email caused me to think quite a bit.

As I’ve thought about it on various occasions over the past few weeks, there are two things I keep coming back to. First, it’s interesting to me what people will write when their name isn’t attached to something. I was talking with Seth, who told the story of a preacher who received a letter in the mail with only the word “fool” on it. “I’ve had a lot of people send me letters and forget to write their name,” he quipped, “but this is the first time I’ve ever had someone write their name and forget to write the letter.” A policy I’ve inherited from multiple mentors is that anonymous complaints are best sent straight to the circular file. The sad commentary, I think, is that we are willing to write things without our names attached that we would never write if people knew it was us. One of the challenging things about writing on this space for the past two years has been that everyone out there knows it’s me, and has a direct line of fire this direction.

The more important point of the story, at least for me, is that the person who wrote the email, despite their assertion to the contrary, didn’t really want to solve the problem. While I generally don’t respond to anonymous complaints, I did write a brief note back stating that I would be more than happy to apologize and make the situation right, but I had no idea how to do that. As expected, I have yet to receive a response. There are dozens of ways the situation could have been improved, and almost all of them involve coming to me personally. The real issue, though, is not pointing the finger at my anonymous critic, but myself.

How many times am I exactly this way? Often, I am faced with something I don’t like, and my first instinct is to complain about it, even when an easy solution is at hand. It will be late at night, I won’t have any food in the house that can be made quickly, and, talking to a friend, I’ll say that I’m hungry. “Go get something to eat,” comes the response. “That requires that I get up and get my car keys/walk into the kitchen/expend some effort… I don’t want to do that – I just want to complain about it.”

I just want to complain about it. How true. How often are there situations in my life when my first response is to complain before doing anything to fix the problem? I’m reminded of a story in John 5 where Jesus comes to a man who’s been an invalid for years and asks him this simple question: “Do you want to be healed?” Instead of answering the question, the man quickly starts making excuses, causing me to question whether he really wants to be healed or just wants to complain.

I think the main lesson I’ve taken from this episode is that when confronted with a situation I don’t particularly like or am upset about, I want to make a renewed effort to be a part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. I don’t want to stand there while someone offers to fix the problem, and turn them away, preferring simply to complain.