Thursday, May 13, 2021

I am Pro-Life!

As I write that statement, I must consider what that means in all its ramifications:
Capital punishment
Wars and weapons manufacturing
Poverty / Minimum wage
Free trade / Fair trade
Immigration / Refugees
Diet / Global food distribution / Climate change
Health care 
o Privatized / Socialized
o COVID vaccinations
Globalism vs. Nationalism
Taxes / Charitable contributions / Investments

Jesus is Pro-Life!  

When asked what the greatest commandment is, he said:
Love God
Love you neighbor 

All the law is summed up in this!  

Loving your neighbor, is the practical outworking of loving God, since man is the image bearer of God.  To me, this is the essence of being Pro-Life!

As I consider what Pro-Life means throughout the Bible, I need to consider some things that help me clarify how to think about it.

God ordered genocide in the Old Testament.  He also gave a commandment about executing rebellious children. If I take these parts of the Bible seriously, then I need to wrestle with how this squares with my understanding of Jesus, since Jesus is God.  Is there a contradiction?

The answer I come up with is: Death is overrated!  

Death is a tool that the world uses to threaten others into submission, or to eliminate those who disagree.  For those who don’t believe in God, this is the ultimate end, and is fearful.

But for those who follow Jesus, death is just a passage into another phase of eternity, one that Paul looks forward to as “better”.  What’s the big deal, other than the process might be a bit uncomfortable for a time?  Jesus taught us to not fear death or those who can inflict it.

Another thought to add to the mix: I have read from reliable sources that infanticide was in common practice during Jesus’ lifetime on earth.  Families that couldn’t manage or didn’t want another child would leave it to die.

At least in the canonical Bible, it is never recorded that Jesus spoke anything about this practice.  

Can I possible conjecture that for a family in poverty, with little food to go around, allowing the death of a newborn was in some sense pro-life?  I have been taught since childhood that babies who die go to the presence of God.  How does the presence of God compare to a life in poverty, possibly unwanted or rejected?  Do we over-rate the death of a baby from God’s perspective?

Certainly, I do not mean to discount the grief of parents, family and friends over the death of a beloved child.

But, it seems indeed strange to me that those whose primary issue in voting is “Pro-Life”(meaning abortion), align themselves politically with those who are so anti-life in so many other ways!

I am indeed Pro-Life, but am compelled to think of this in a broader sense.  I see Pro-Life as loving my neighbor, who bears the image of God.  This includes loving a woman, who makes an agonizing decision to not bring her baby into the world.  I doubt Jesus would criminalize her, but would rather embrace her in her grief and fear, shed tears with her, and comfort her in the knowledge that her child will be safe with him.

Thoughts from Athens
May 11, 2021

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Systematic Theology

Growing up in an Christian Evangelical, Fundamentalist environment, I was introduced to systematic theology at an early age. This really resonated with me, being an analytical thinker who wanted to know how things worked. I cherished my Scofield Bible, reading the notes in detail, which helped me make sense of the Bible. In AWANA Club, I learned the key verses for the doctrines of God, man, sin, salvation… This was a practical outworking of the admonition in 1 Peter 3:15: …Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. 

As I went to a Christian college, I was more formally introduced to systematic theology, and became aware of competing versions, as the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate was constantly relived in the dining hall, chapel, and dorms. I settled in to the “4 point Calvinism” camp, and learned how to defend that perspective, often times not so gently and respectfully! 

The system was very comfortable. I had the answers in a neat package. I could recite the key proof texts, chapter and verse, to defend my position. 

Then I encountered life! 

As I experienced the real world, away from the sheltered halls of a Christian College, meeting other people who claimed to be Christians, but whom believed very differently, some with their own competing systems, some rejecting the systematic approach altogether, I initially dug in and defended my system as I had in college. This led to some division and discord, as I considered others who disagreed as possible heretics that needed to be outed, corrected and even denounced. 

Due to geographic limitations, in one community where we temporarily lived, we attended a church with a different system. We experienced the love of unity, accepted by those who simply followed Jesus, unaware of the details of my systematic theology, which was in conflict with some of the teachings of that denomination. This gave me pause, and caused me to reconsider my system. 

Actually, each phase of my life subsequently challenged my system further, causing me to see the flaws, the holes, the things that the system didn’t explain well, and how it didn’t fit neatly with real life experience. It was a bit agonizing! 

Don’t get me wrong! I greatly value and appreciate the system that helped me understand God and his creation! It gave me a comfortable place to learn and grow, to connect with God. But I had become guilty of the sin of the Pharisees: the system had taken the place of God himself in importance. In my pride, I felt like I had God figured out. I needed to defend my system in all its details, because if it unraveled, I feared that the foundational truth of my faith too would unravel. 

The underlying problem was that I had overestimated man, and underestimated God. I had thought that I, as a human, could make sense of the Almighty Transcendent God, and that I could fit God neatly into a box that I could carry around with me. How arrogant I was! How foolish! 

The change was difficult, heart wrenching, leaving behind my comfortable system, breaking with many things that I had held so dear, reshaping my whole paradigm of life and faith. 

To be clear, I never lost my faith in God, nor my confidence in my salvation through Jesus; but I did lose confidence in my own understanding of God. 

This has actually been liberating! 

Now I no longer feel that I need to have an answer for every question. I feel freedom to question God, to embrace uncertainty in faith, to trust through my doubt and misunderstanding, to more fully love and appreciate fellow seekers of God, no matter where they are on the path. 

Systems are good, but they are no substitute for God! For me, my system was the milk that nurtured me in my infancy; it helped me grow and thrive. Now, wherever I am in my journey, maybe in spiritual adolescence, maybe further on, I need, and crave, something with more substance. That substance is God himself, not seen through the lens of a system, but seen more clearly in focus through the lens of life. However, the lens that I use to see God is limited in scope, and needs to be directed to various locations to see yet another aspect of this immense, immeasurable God. That is the work of a lifetime, and I suspect, of all eternity. 

Dave Drozek 
Thoughts from Athens

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

What is "The Fall"?

What is “The Fall”? Is it the simplistic obvious disobedience that is expressed in the story of the Garden of Eden, or is it more complex than that? Is it the willful disregard for God’s direction, or is it even more subtle than that? When Adam and Eve walked with God, I assume that they talked, and that Adam and Eve discussed their hopes and plans and desires with God, allowing God to modify and direct their thoughts, which then turned into their activity the next day. They were, at least initially, very conscious of God, who was in their lives, and directed them into fulfilling their purpose. But, when tempted, they embraced the lie that they could decide for themselves what was right and wrong; that their minds were sufficient to make right decisions independently of God’s direction. That is what I do on a daily basis! I start my day with Bible reading and prayer, then enter into independent decisions and activities. I may have asked for God’s direction, at least symbolically, in my morning prayer, but then tend to ignore him throughout the day, assuming I am capable of figuring things out on my own, and able to making good decisions without running them by God. I too am guilty of thinking that I am like God, and able to manage my own life quite nicely on my own. I am a functional deist, recognizing God exists, but not engaging him in my daily activities and decisions. So, what then am I to do? Enoch and Brother Lawrence may have had the answer: walk with / practice the presence of God continually. As followers of Christ, we no longer need wait for a specific time to meet with God for conversation, but rather have the presence of God with us continually. We usually forget that, or at least ignore His presence, missing out the great wisdom and knowledge at our disposable. It is as if I fumble in the dark, seeing poorly, while the switch to the light that would brightly illuminate the room is within reach. At this time of year, we sing about Immanuel, God is with us! Do we believe it? Do we live it? Or do we live as if He is simply a baby in a foreign land?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Discipleship Reconsidered

Discipleship has always been central to my practical theology. It is based in the Great Commission: Go … make disciples of all nations, baptizing them … teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. Matthew 28:19-20 But as I have reconsidered the paradigm of my youth, I have been asking myself, “What does discipleship look like now?” I have a friend in Scotland who is leading an “emergent” ministry, which requires rethinking the old paradigm. Currently I am being encouraged to bring this to the forefront of my thinking as I am involved in a strategic planning committee at my church, looking to the future, and how to get there in a way that honors and serves Christ. My old paradigm saw discipleship more or less as focused on obedience to a set of rules (don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with girls that do, etc.) that were assumed to be what Christ commanded us to do, by inference of the Great Commission. These rules were heavily weighted in two areas; 1) personal piety, which included a regular commitment to Bible reading, “devotions”, prayer, church attendance, tithing, successful resistance of various temptations, etc., and 2) evangelism, variously termed as “witnessing”, “soul winning”, etc. If someone fervently participated in these two areas (having been baptized was a given), they were considered good and faithful disciples. But, I have to ask, “Is this really what Jesus taught?” From my discussions and meditations, I have several questions with which I wrestle. The first centers on baptism. I am not referring to the mode or infant vs. adult baptism. But what if a new follower of Jesus decides he or she wants to be baptized? Do we just do it, or do we have a list of requirements, which may include a minimal educational experience, that must be accomplished first? What teachings of Jesus are the criteria of a disciple? The Sermon on the Mount? Is that all there is? Is there more? What about all that Paul wrote? Do we need to include those things into our formula? Let’s look at a hypothetical new follower of Jesus. This person, let us say, practices willfully, and maybe ignorantly, sin X. To avoid a tangential discussion and distraction, we will avoid specifics of what sin X is. It could also be sin Y, with which you struggle, or sin Z with which I struggle. It may be clear to you and me that sin X is definitely a “no” in Scripture, and something that would not generally be an accepted practice for someone who is a “committed Christian.” But our new Christ follower doesn’t quite grasp the significance of sin X, at least not yet, nor does he (we will use the masculine for convenience) show much of an interest in even considering it as an issue. Maybe it would require more of a drastic life change than he is able to manage or even conceive of for the moment. But yet he does indeed show an interest in following Jesus, and has demonstrated a desire to change in other areas of his life, in accordance with “accepted Christian practices”. Our hypothetical Christ follower asks to be baptized. He understands from what he has read and been taught, that this is the next step to take in his path of becoming a disciple. Do we offer him baptism (and implicit in that, church membership) while he is still willfully, unconcernedly practicing sin X? Do we first make him confront this and forsake it? Do we refuse him baptism if he fails to agree with us on this issue? Let’s say we do agree to baptize him. Now he wants to serve, maybe collect the offering and help count the money, maybe play or sing on the worship team, maybe work in Vacation Bible School, or host or even lead a small group or Sunday School Class. He is still blissfully practicing sin X! What do we do now? Are there standards that he must meet to do certain things? If so, what are they? Who decides? How do we tell him without harming his zeal? Are there different standards for different levels of service? James implies that teachers are held to a higher standard. What is that standard? Paul gives qualifications for deacons and pastors. Is that what we are all to aim at? Are their multiple spiritual discipleship tracks; one for the average lay person, another for leaders (deacons) and yet a more stringent one for pastors (/teachers, if we combine these as Paul seems to do in Ephesians 4). What is the minimum required to be considered a disciple of Jesus? I ask this not that we should aim for the least we can do or be, but so that we don’t overburden a new follower of Jesus beyond that which he is ready to bear. How long can we expect someone to stay at this minimal level? Are there higher expectations with time? If so, what are they? How do we achieve them? Are they the same for everyone? Do we need to individualize this? If so, how do we learn how to do this, to grant grace and freedom to our fellow sojourners as we each deal with the various life issues that we each wrestle with at different points along the journey? I am convinced that I am a disciple of Jesus. Maybe you are not so convinced about me. Maybe I am not so convinced about you! How much do we need to resemble each other in this process? Can we be opposed in politics, in church structure, in personal piety, in social involvement, in practices and definitions of “evangelism”, … ? Can we still tolerate each other, or better yet, serve one another and Christ in true brotherly love and cooperation? Can we together be a body, a church? God grant us wisdom and understanding, and most of all, love!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Business or Government: Who should run healthcare?

This is the big question that divides us when we talk politics these days, especially where I live, in Athens County, where unemployment is high and many people are uninsured. Do I really trust the government, I am asked. I respond, do you trust big business? The current system of health care is market based, which means profit is the goal, the prime motivator. Profit for the company, be it a pharmaceutical manufacturer, a health insurance provider, or a physician group, requires cutting excess, making choices that maximize profit, and beating the competition. I would argue that these modes of operation all have their down side, and are extremely susceptible to corrupting influences that place profit above outcome of the recipients of health care. When human nature is added to this mix, which I believe is flawed intrinsically; we have a recipe for unethical behavior. How about government? This too is made up of flawed human beings who are susceptible to the corrupting influences of lobbyists and personal drive for power, position and wealth. But, with our system of government, we at least have some public accountability for elected officials, which is minimal or absent in the business world. You can be assured that one’s opponent in a political campaign will highlight every flaw and mistake, real and concocted, that the incumbent perpetrated. And I have a say in the makeup of the government by my vote. Our government is made up of people who we, the people, have hired to do a job. If we don’t like the job they have done, then we can vote differently next time around. Government has unfortunately come to be seen as an opponent in the health care debate, rather than our instrument, an extension of our will to accomplish what we want to do as a community, a society. This no doubt is partly due to the idea that once our elected favorites make it to office, they fail to follow through on what they told us they would do. I suspect that this is due to the fact that things that were black and white during the campaign become a shade of gray obscured by a fog once they get to work. This grayness is partly influenced by the desire to maintain ones position for more than one term in office, and that, in the background, from the day of election, a re-election campaign is in the making. This leaves one especially susceptible to influence from lobbyists who promise support in future campaigns, as well as assured employment after leaving public office. And of course, the lobbyists with the most influence are those with the most money, i.e. big business! So, we could say more; we could discuss the Canadian, the British and the Cuban systems, pluses and minuses. We could point out the flaws in our system; the 40,000 million without insurance and the long waits for those without insurance and without money. We already have rationing of health care based on socioeconomic status. Those with money get what they want in a timely manner. We already have death panels in place run by the private sector insurance industry who denies care based on preexisting conditions and other fine print in their policies. Actually, most seniors are relatively satisfied with Medicare, a government run health care system. My office staff says that Medicare is the easiest insurer to work with, rarely denying claims or treatment, requiring very little of their time administratively. The guidelines are clear and easy to manage. And their administration costs are much less than the private insurance companies that pay large salaries to their CEOs and dividends to stock holders. Not a perfect system, but not bad! So, who do I trust? Neither government nor big business, but at least with government we have more accountability and more influence. So I support a government run health care system not based on profit as its measure of success, but one that follows the model of public service that we see in our police and fire fighters, and our public education system. Physicians would be public servants. Local governments would employ first tier physicians for their local hospitals. The states would manage major centers and the educational system. The federal government would administer the insurance and research system. Would it be perfect? No, but I see this as the lesser of two evils. Would this be accepted in the U.S.? Probably not. Big health care business is already too well established. But how about this for a compromise, a two tier system: expand Medicare to cover everyone for basic care (which would require a difficult debate to decide what basic care is), and offer private insurance for the extras; for the expensive treatment and procedures that are not likely to be successful, but yet in great demand? Taxes would need to go up, but health insurance premiums for basic care would disappear. We can afford this if we have the public will! Look what we spend on political campaigns, Starbucks and bombs! Thoughts from Athens, Dave Drozek

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Fallacy of Freedom?

As I have been reading Exclusion and Embrace by Miraslav Volf, I was struck by an idea this morning. As frequently happens, my mind heads off on a tangent while my eyes continue down the page, and I find that the last several paragraphs have not registered because my thoughts were elsewhere. So as I set down the book, yet unclear where Volf is going with the idea, I need to write down my own thoughts before I can move on. Freedom, and it’s brothers, independence and autonomy, are dominant concepts, especially in the United States, where they are held as core values endowed by our Creator. Conservative Christians certainly preach these values and rely on them as a motivator to promote their political affiliation with the Right. But what really does this “freedom” produce? I am surrounded by “free, independent and autonomous” people who are unhappy, and live a life of bondage to unfulfilled desires and fears. They are free to choose from a multitude of variations of things and actions, all guaranteed and encouraged by our government and society of materialism and consumerism, the envy of the world. Yet so many of us find ourselves frustrated by the little obstacles that get in our way, the little inconveniences that require us to alter our plans. We find ourselves, in actuality, captive to our desires, declaring war on those who we perceive as obstacles to our selfishness. Our life of “freedom” is in actuality an ongoing war against that and those which hinder the exercise of our will. In the “land of the free” we affectionately embrace this war as “competition” and encourage, promote and even worship it! Those who overcome the odds and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, (usually at the expense of someone else who is less fortunate) are our heroes! We envy and deify the rich and powerful, who have mastered the art of understanding market forces, achieved the limelight, or even win elections by “a landslide” (which I pondered in the last election: is 55% a “landslide” when it means that 45% were against you?). Why, if we are so “free” are so many of us so unhappy? Didn’t Jesus say “the truth will set you free”? How free are we really? Or is it as Brian McLaren points out in Everything Must Change, that we are so afraid of losing what we confuse as freedom; our affluence and material wealth, that we are in a constant war against whatever we perceive is a threat to our “freedom”, requiring a vast expenditure of time and resources to maintain our security at personal, political and international levels? Is there a different kind of “freedom”, and a different “truth” that we need to seek? Is Jesus really promoting our Western lifestyle, or is he suggesting something different? Or maybe, is Jesus teaching us that we can find “freedom” within if we will follow his message, one that promotes subservience to others, sacrifice, forgiveness of our enemies, looking out more for the needs and concerns of others (around the world) than ourselves, “love” (as defined in 1 Corinthians 13, not by the contemporary media) toward those who oppose us? How boring! How un-American! But how fulfilling? What if we had no fear of losing anything of real value? What if we had peace with everyone around us? What if we had everything we really needed? What if there was no one we saw as a competitor? What if we had a community of people who encouraged us, who respected us for our uniqueness, and embraced us as we are? What if our community supplied whatever real need we lacked? I am not talking about communism or socialism, but about The Kingdom of Jesus! Can we work toward this here and now? Can we form little enclaves of people who practice the teachings of Jesus (and maybe call them the Church?) that invite people who suffer oppression, both outwardly and inwardly, to experience something different, something contrary to the present system of “freedom”? What better tool of recruitment for Jesus’ Kingdom could we have than to reveal a bit of the future Kingdom (heaven on earth?) to people who have failed to find inner freedom and peace? What is true “freedom”? Pondering in Athens, Dave Drozek

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

God is Jesus?

I had to get a copy of Brian McLaren’s "A New Kind of Christianity" to see what the flap was all about. On the one hand, I have found the book addressing many of the discomforts and uneasiness I have with the theology of my past, while on the other hand, turning me on my head leaving me reeling, trying to consider what he is saying from another paradigm! Last night the question came up, “What if instead of saying Jesus is God, we said God is Jesus!” Does this make a difference? Thank about it!