Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Theological Death of an Alaskan Virtue

Though there is much that I don’t remember from my first year at Multnomah Bible College in Portland Oregon, there is one thing that stuck with me. We were sitting in philosophy class with professor Lubeck, talking about ways that people view the world and he made an observation. “Here in the Northwest, we are probably the most independent people on the planet… except possibly Alaskans.” To which I promptly agreed and responded with “Except definitely Alaskans.” Alaskans know what I’m talking about. There seems to be something about the “Last frontier” that attracts people who want to live independently. Not only that but the spread out, often rural, lifestyle seems to promote independence. To apply a little bit of generalization, it’s every Alaskan man’s dream to own his own snowplow, 4-wheeler and hunting gear so that he doesn’t need anyone else to help him live the way he wants to.
Ironically, it was in another of Lubeck’s classes in my last semester at Multnomah that this Alaskan cultural virtue of independence took a serious hit. The class was Advanced Bible Study Methods. One in which our method of learning was to dissect the book of Ephesians with a scalpel to the point where that frog that we dissected in my Jr. High science lab looked healthy by comparison. I ran across a problem in this process though. I found that dissecting Ephesians was remarkably similar to attempting to fillet a bucket of tar with a Swiss army knife. It has these annoying sticky themes that run all the way through it to the point that every time you take a slice at it in order to pull of a chunk, you glance away only to look back and find it inseparably interwoven to the pieces before and after it by an annoying theme like unity and togetherness. It was that unity that wouldn’t let me separate anything.

One of the first things Paul does is lay out the master plan:

 “…to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
And if that weren’t bad enough, he goes on to built and incredibly robust theology of the church saying things like,

“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for he church which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

And then give it even more significance by saying,

“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (2:21-22 emphasis mine)

And in case that were not enough, he goes on to say things like,

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (4:3-6 emphasis mine)

Are you getting the idea of oneness yet?

There’s also this annoying term “together” that is used 16 times in many different ways to show that everything we do as a church must be together.

But why, what is it that is so important about being one, being unified and using our gifts together? Well, in order to help us see this, Paul backs off and asks us to look at the church from a high orbit where we can see what Professor Tom Kopp recently called, “The forgotten middle.” Us westerner’s have an easy enough time believing in humanity and things made of mass, and we do ok at believing in God, but for some reason we like to ignore the spiritual realm in-between.  Paul, however, had no problem treating other spiritual beings as a reality and thus we read about the mystery of the Gospel that is now revealed.

“His intent was that now, thought the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (3:10-11)

Can you see as I have that the unity of the church is not just so we can all have warm fuzzys and a nice comfortable place to go on Sunday where people will like us? It seems that the church is more of a cosmic thing and her unity is how God has chosen to display his superior wisdom to the spiritual rulers and authorities that we can’t usually see. So we can talk about the social gospel and how we need to show the world God’s nature by our love for one another, but do we realize that in doing so, we are also displaying God’s wisdom and nature to the rest of creation that we may or may not even be aware of; something beyond the limitations of physics and mass.

It aught to be enough motivation that our neighbors all around us are thirsting for the living water and without unity our living water looks like just another mud puddle. But if that’s not enough, we aught to remember that as Christians we have been made a part of the Church, God’s plan to show the world, including the spiritual realm, his grace, mercy and love. If we do not stand firm and fight for the unity of the church against the spiritual forces that face us, (The armor passage in Eph 6) then we are doing a poor job indeed of reflecting the nature of God.
Thankfully, Grace is a part of that nature.

So here I am a white Alaskan to the core with the cultural value of independence ingrained deeper in my bones than their own marrow. Then this annoying guy named Paul starts telling me that in order to fulfill my ultimate purpose in life, it is not an option, but in fact it is required that I become as interdependent in the church as a catcher’s hand is with his eye while intercepting a 100mph fastball.

I am learning interdependence as I have been raising support for the past few months to go and serve in Port Alsworth at Tanalian Leadership Center. As I rely on my support team, I am able to go and they rely on me to carry out the work that they have committed to being a part of. It’s a humbling experience, knowing I can’t do it alone. Yet I something tells me that the money and prayer are only the start of a long list of areas that God wants to apply this lesson to. I will have much to learn as I integrate into the TLC staff team, Lake Clark Bible Church and the community as a whole.

I also expect to learn from the students who I am supposed to be teaching since native culture as a general rule is much more founded on community values and interdependence. While I’m at it, perhaps I should learn a bit about “the forgotten middle” In fact, why don’t I just re-define what it means to be Alaskan based on some of the cultural values that existed in my beautiful state long before us white people even got here. 


  1. This post makes me smile at the memory of many "interdependent" conversations we had that first MU year. Thanks :)

    PS, lots of typos...who's your editor? :)

  2. What is more important in the Body of Christ than unity? The world does not believe because it sees that the Church is not the abode of peace, unity and love, but only another society much like itself, full of jealousies, usurpations, war and discord. It knows that we have a good Lord and God but that He must not be worth very much, that we do not really believe in Him very strongly and truly, because our belief hasn’t changed us very much. It looks in at our door and sees a house no better than its own. It looks at our family and sees the same dysfunction that afflicts its own family. Why would the world want to enter into the Kingdom of God, if that Kingdom is only the same as its own under another name?

    The human world, the human race, is stopped in its tracks, cannot take the next step in its evolution, because the only part of it that has the possibility of taking the first steps has chosen not to. The only new man in the history of the world has appeared. Though we fought against Him with all our might and were able to bodily kill Him, He was not defeated but instead defeated everything in us that keeps us down. What is worse for us is that the Man did not go away but is always present in our midst, and still we, the Church that claims to be His Body, the Body of Christ on earth, His Presence, that people who can of all peoples take the step into the new humanity, the new world, do not take it.

    Unity, yes, unity. It does not have to mean what we try to bend it to mean. It is not an ideal that we can say we strive for but are unfortunately unable to achieve. No. Unity in God does not mean administrative unity. We all do not have to be united under one pope or system of Church government. That has been our big mistake, but it stems from another deeper one, the desire to overcome, not ourselves, but others, in the name of God. How senseless, how brutal is our handling of the Message that it no longer has any power in it to transform the world. We are indeed on our last legs, we have indeed reached our next to last day. We have failed to bring new birth to the world.

    The Book is there and open to all who can read. The Christians read it and do not follow what it says but only argue about it and talk it to death. The world reads it and picks and chooses what it wants to take in its vain attempt to do without the Spirit what only the Spirit can do. The world and the Church are two disobedient sons, one saying it will do what the Father wills but does not, the other saying it will not do what He says—because there is no Father—and yet does, though without effect. Belief cannot be followed by disobedience. Obedience has no power to transform without faith. Though Christ prefers the obedient faithless to the disobedient believing, neither brings mankind to its destiny.

  3. This talk of mine is no more than idle talk. I am both in the world and in the Church and I share the fate and fault of both. All I know is, I too want to be transformed. I too want to see the uncreated Light of Tabor and seeing it become it. There is no blame or shame that I do not share with all of you, my brothers, all of you, both believers and unbelievers. Nothing about us that divides us matters at all. Nothing. It is only what unites us that matters, and there is only one thing, one Man, that can unite us, and that is Christ. He does not unite us by brute force, by threats, intimidation, or by decree. He unites us by His prayer to the Father, by His life for the world, by His death on the Cross, by His resurrection.

    This is what humanity is waiting for, what mankind really desires, what every man and woman, rich and poor, free and slave, really wants. Having this, having the unity that is in Christ, having it not just talking about it, is what dissolves the struggle between man and woman, tears down the wall between rich and poor, and makes of the human race a single family of priests and kings, where none rule but who serve, and where all make progress with not a single one left behind into the new world that Christ has established. He is the new Man, the only One, and what then does that make us? There is no middle ground, though we have made of human history a midden of disappointed hope by our refusal to follow Him.

    Can we start today? Is there anything I can do as a single man, you as a single man or woman? If you are a pope, a bishop, a priest, a minister of the gospel, a missionary, a witness, a worker for Christ, whatever you call yourself, if you say you are following Christ, is there anything you can do? Is there anything you can do to make a difference? There is no program to follow, no principle to espouse, no compact to subscribe to. Have you been baptized and believed? Now just go and say and do what you hear Jesus saying and see Him doing in the holy gospels. Step into the shoes of the fishermen, but don’t do what you want, do what He wants. He is alive. He will tell you. I cannot do that. I can only listen for myself.

    Humanity is waiting to take the next step in its evolution because those who know that the step has already been taken by Christ have refused to follow, but only squirm in their seats as they watch the Jesus movie and read the lives of the saints. The world will not believe until it sees God among us. Is He really there? Is He really here, with us? Do we believe that? If we do, then what are we doing sitting here like this? No, it isn’t just what we can do. In fact it is nothing at all that we can do that will transform humanity. Only He can do that, but we must first want it, we must first give Him our permission. We must let Him transform us.
    All we need to do is want it.
    Want to be one.

    …that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
    John 17:21