There’s a Lot of Book Choosing Going On

Photo Credit: Flickr user, Mr. Ducke, used under CC license

Photo Credit: Flickr user, Mr. Ducke, used under CC license

“There seems to be a lot of book choosing going on here.” expressed one of my church members in a recent conversation. I knew exactly where she was headed, because it’s a common sentiment among evangelicals, especially those out of the Restoration Movement, of which I’m a product.

The follow-up question is always a plea, ” Why can’t we just study the Bible?” It’s not a bad question, but it is a question that is self-limiting and self-preserving, a question that doesn’t lead us to also ask, “Why wouldn’t we take advantage of so many great Christian thinkers that allow us to enrich our understanding of the Bible?”

To begin to answer, we need to know why the question is being asked. It is assumed that “book choosing” is happening, because we’re lazy or we have a lesser view of the Bible, but it takes a serious amount of time to create a quality Bible study even with the tools and knowledge to do so. Why reinvent the wheel when someone has spent years in study and practice and is possibly (though unlikely) wiser than your pastor? But this is only a side point to their real concern.

The concern in my tradition comes in the form of a sola scriptura argument combined with a firm belief in free will and accessibility of the Bible. If our theology is determined by the Bible alone, and we’re fully capable of reading and understanding it, then reason follows that we only need to pull out our text and study the Bible. We don’t need someone else telling us how to think.

The reality is that there are deeper issues at hand in these arguments, and we can only address them briefly today. If we are honest, we recognize that we are not approaching the text for the first time or in a vacuum. We bring to it our preformed beliefs and our own context.

When we read, and even study, someone else’s thoughts and approach to scripture we are exposed to new perspectives on texts we’ve read many times before. Not only do we learn more about the text, we also learn about ourselves and our own beliefs. Sometimes when asked about my theology, I reveal that the person that had the most impact was a professor that I disagreed with.

To wall ourselves off from other Christian thinkers becomes a form of self-preservation. Our beliefs are always right, if we’re unwilling to hear from another. When you are unable to listen, disagree and grow, you cease to grow entirely, and so it becomes a self-limiting question as well.

There are a wealth of quality resources available to us, that can help guide our conversations, help inform our studies, lead us into new understandings, and sometimes reaffirm our current beliefs. We are squandering our resources and our time by reproducing materials.

Worse than that, we are slowing down our potential for growth, understanding and action, if we fail to identify and use these resources appropriately.

Next time I’m asked (church, if you’re reading this), I’m going to respond with my own question, “Why wouldn’t we take advantage of so many great Christian thinkers that allow us to enrich our understanding of the Bible?”

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Catholics Come Home Campaign Off Target

 

Screenshot from Catholics Come Home ad campaign

Screenshot from Catholics Come Home ad campaign

The Catholic Church is running tv ads in the Vancouver area targeting former Catholics, asking them to return if they’ve been away. One included a testimony from a man talking about the feeling he gets when the priest forgives his sins. His story also implied that he left the church in the first place because he couldn’t live with a particular sin he had committed.

Another ad focusses on the identity and “accomplishments” of the church, and a third suggests that those living in sin may want to repent before it’s too late. Gary Mason at the Globe and Mail reports that the archdiocese is spending $500,000 on this ad campaign.

It’s not everyday that we get to see the outreach approach of a church put as succinctly as in a 30 second tv spot. The ads speak to a larger problem in the global church (well, maybe the Western church), as the vast majority of churches have failed to recognize the significance of cultural shifts in North America.

Instead of identifying problems and discontinuity within our churches and dealing with them, we place blame on someone’s life of sin and continue to operate business as usual. But business is not as usual. The world is changing (and not necessarily for bad), but it’s churches and Christians that are a primary reason for church decline.

If we fail to communicate or even understand the potential for God’s love to work in a changed world, the church will continue its downward spiral into utter irrelevancy. As I watched these commercials, I first laughed at the claims made by the church, given the harm  Christianity has done to all the same touted programs, and then I was discouraged to see the complete disconnect between their approach and the contemporary culture.

Our churches have turned from faith that is full of wonder and discovery to a belief system that answers to church decline with hatred and judgment for sinful outsiders.

In a recent conversation regarding people leaving the church and general disinterest, someone responded with a “biblical” statement about the gospel being offensive. As if to say, we don’t need to worry about what or how we express the gospel, because it is intended to be offensive. As if to say that we don’t need to question our traditions or our interpretations or our textual assumptions, because the gospel is supposed to be offensive.

The church will continue to fall, and Christianity with it, if we continue to preach this modern western religion instead of declaring the opportunity to share and explore the vibrant love and grace of God.

If we continue to turn our heads to the changing world, place blame on secularism and accept “offensive” as an escape route from the hard work of genuine faith, we will not be in a place to respond to those in need, spiritually or physically.

————–
Here is the transcript of one of the Catholic Come Home ads:

Our family has spanned the centuries and the globe.
With God’s grace we started hospitals to care for the sick.
We established orphanages and helped the poor.
We are the largest charitable organization on the planet, bringing comfort to those in need.
We educate more children than any other institution.
We developed the scientific method and founded the university system.
We defend the dignity of human life and uphold marriage.
Guided by the Holy Spirit, we compiled the Bible.
We are transformed by sacred scripture and sacred tradition, which have guided us for 2000 years.
We are the Catholic Church,
With over 1 billion in our family, sharing in the sacraments and fulness of the christian faith.
Jesus started this church when he said to Peter, the first pope, “You are rock and upon this rock I will build my church.”
So if you’ve been away from the Catholic Church, we invite you to take another look.
Visit Catholics Come Home.org.
We are Catholic, welcome home.

 

Is the Church Radical? Jesus Was

Reposted from my Maple Ridge News article July 27, 2012.

Jesus was radical, but you wouldn’t always know that by looking at his followers. I am consistently amazed at how Jesus re-envisioned the heart of the scriptures.

Radicals are scorned, hated, attacked and persecuted. Jesus was, as were the early Christians, but most of us today (save those facing intense persecution in places like China) are generally unaware of persecution due to our radical Christianity.

If these are true statements, we need to ask two questions: what was radical about Jesus? and, what isn’t radical about our Christianity?

When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, he replied with two. Both of them came direct from the legalistic laws of his misguided adversaries. “Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbour as yourself.”

This is not new information to his audience. They know these laws forwards and backwards. The message, however, has been re-envisioned and radicalized. Jesus expands neighbour to include the broken, the impoverished, the outcast foreigner, and even your enemy.

Jesus consistently asked his audience to pause and rethink the religious order, not to refute the law, but to challenge his listener to a higher authority found in the author and the intent.

He was scorned and hated, because his message challenged the status quo and threatened authorities. Jewish leaders feared the passion and challenge, and Roman authorities feared the threat of disruption to societal order.

Christians do have a growing sense of persecution in North America, but I’m pretty sure it’s not because we love our neighbour in a way that threatens the fabric of society.

What if it was?

A recent Nat Geo documentary (When Rome Ruled: The Rise of Christianity) had an interesting story to tell of the early Christians. The radical Christianity, inherited from Christ, which led to their persecution and scorn, may also have had an impact on the growth of the church.

They even suggested that Christians lived longer, fought off diseases more frequently and survived better in harsh times. This documentary attributed much of Christianity’s growth to how they cared for their community, the poor and the outcast.

That is to say that, “love your neighbour as yourself” was a radical message that caused both growth and scorn, liberation and hatred.

What if we did love our neighbour in a way that threatened the fabric of our society? What if the scorn Christian’s faced today was not because of our piety and condemnation but because of our radical love, passion and care for people?

Is there a problem with that? Sure, in the process we will also disrupt the religious order, the status quo of our churches. In the process of living our faith, we’ll probably give in to all of society’s pressures and fall victim to secular culture. Well, that’s what I’m told.

Radical faith has to constantly fight against the human desire to create a new law that makes obsolete the radical message and love of Christ.

Pastors Are Searching for the Same Thing You Are

My article from the local paper, Maple Ridge News, reposted here:

The church is in crisis mode, as the number of people leaving church each Sunday continues to outnumber the number that return. The crisis, however, isn’t about the numbers, an increasingly ‘secular culture’ or some kind of societal pressures to dismiss God.

The crisis is internal. It is in the reality of our faith, and the numbers are simply a symptom. We have ended our genuine and persistent exploration of God’s love in lieu of doctrine, programs, services, and contentment.

Just this week I opened my email to read, “Bradley, you know I had trouble with church and ‘God’…” The trouble with ‘God’ is an expression of the trouble with church, it is the ‘god’ we’re representing, a ‘god’ that is not present, a ‘god’ that doesn’t transform our life or our community, a ‘god’ that doesn’t impassion us to live and breathe our faith, a ‘god’ that doesn’t reflect the most perfect expression in the life of Jesus.

Our faith isn’t touchable or real or visible. At least it doesn’t appear to be. Countless of my conversations begin just like that email, because the world cannot see what a Christian community is supposed to be in the midst of our crisis of faith.

Hugh Halter asks in The Tangible Kingdom, “If Christianity was only about finding a group of people to live life with, who shared openly their search for God and allowed anyone, regardless of behavior, to seek too, and who collectively lived by faith to make the world a little more like Heaven, would you be interested?”

Halter was met with an exuberant response, because, like the rest of us, the man was searching for tangible faith, a place where faith impacts life in our community, a place where Jesus’ words come to life.

I assure you that pastors are aware of the crisis (although sometimes misunderstood as a crisis of numbers), but we, just like you, are searching for this tangible faith. We sense too the inconsistencies between Jesus’ passionate message of love and our internal and un-impactful faith.

Seven words have become increasingly significant to my personal understanding of the Christian’s call. You’re probably familiar with them, “on earth as it is in heaven.” We’re not simply called to pray about it; we’re called to live out our faith in a way that God’s kingdom is present on earth.

Your pastor is searching for the same thing you are: a tangible faith that produces a “tangible kingdom.” Real, visible, touchable faith is hard. Our God has endless mystery and a love that should infiltrate our entire beings, our lives and our community. Exploring God’s love is an act of receiving and expressing that love in our community; it is an act that brings God’s kingdom to earth.

Down Syndrome Day & Christian Community

Today was the 7th annual World Down Syndrome Day, and a post from Amy Julia Becker has me thinking about the relationship between our faith communities and those affected by Down syndrome. Several incidences have brought it the forefront of my thinking lately, which has caused me to realize that I’m very conflicted about the tough decisions parents-to-be are required to make.

Since the late 1960’s, in utero testing has been used to determine chromosomal abnormalities like trisomy 21 (a third copy of chromosome 21 – the most common cause of Down syndrome). With that testing comes an enormous ethical decision for parents who learn that their child will face extreme difficulties throughout their life. Most are probably aware of the developmental challenges and physical abnormalities, but the health risks for those with Down Syndrome also include thyroid disorders, hearing loss, gastrointestinal diseases, and a 50% rate of both congenital heart disease and epilepsy.

The question then presented to potential parents are questions of quality of life, the capacity for a parent to care for their child with Down syndrome (physically, financially and emotionally), and the inevitable burden on others. For these reasons and more, studies show that the abortion rate after parents learn of chromosomal abnormalities may be as high as 90% in the US, and similar numbers can be found across the globe in developed countries.

Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum have made the choice of the ten percenters. The decision is a testament to their faith, and unfortunately, they have each made that clear by politicizing their decision, Santorum even going as far as making it a platform to end paid-for prenatal testing if elected. Even though this is a terrible idea (here’s why), their commitment to their faith in the face of exceptional adversity is what the conscientious objective is all about.

On the other side of the spectrum, Christian Post reported last week that a jury in Portland, Oregon awarded a couple $2.9 million for a wrongful birth case. Prenatal tests showed no chromosomal abnormalities, yet their baby was born with Down Syndrome. They essentially sued their doctor for improperly admitting the tests (keep in mind that no current prenatal testing is 100% accurate) which resulted in faulty test readings, and claiming that they would have aborted the fetus, they won. I’m at a loss for words with the amount of brokenness of our society to allow this situation.

These examples bring to our attention the ethical decisions and complications that arise with Down syndrome testing, but as most of us our outsiders, it doesn’t give us a sense for how we are to respond to those in need.

Capacity of our Christian Community

It is important that we understand the need for our involvement in the lives of those affected by Down syndrome. Two obvious ideas come to mind when thinking about the potential for offering radical community to those facing considerable struggles.

For a variety of reasons, I love living in a townhouse, and not only because I don’t have to do yard work (although that is nice). It actually boils down to one word: community. I run into neighbors everyday walking, taking Khai to the playground, getting the mail, or simply coming and going.

I’m not alone. A couple of weeks ago, we ran into a neighbor whose son has Down syndrome. In the course of the conversation, we discovered that their 18mo old was having his third open heart surgery the following week. When Jenna offered to help out in different ways, the support was greatly appreciated. In fact the family had specifically moved into a townhouse for the potential for community support—not help—simply community.

The emotional and physical strains of caring for a child with Down syndrome had this family seek out a place to live that could offer more community support than a traditional neighborhood. Is this necessary? If so, Christians are not living out their calling.

The implications are, of course, that my neighbors, and yours, are in desperate need of what we have to offer and what Christ calls us to—community. We don’t need to wait for others to literally move searching for community. Offering this community can be as simple as reaching out to someone we already know in our church, community, or neighborhood.

It is necessary to remember that we effect change in the culture around us. Our culture has the tendency to diminish the value of those with disabilities. Offering radical community means changing the culture around us by finding places in our congregations and communities to engage those who are overlooked and allow them to give back to the community in new and impactful ways.

Asset-Based Ministry (Part 2): Biblical Perspectives on Community

The concepts of Asset-Based Community Development has been effectively used by churches and faith communities to engage their congregations, explore new outreach opportunities and transform communities. While the approach is primarily practical, there are some key biblical concepts that corroborate ABCD principles. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m going to provide some of these connections to aid others in bringing ABCD into faith communities.

Pivotal to asset-based principles is the assumption that every person has not only value but also assets beneficial to the community. So use them. There are two biblical areas that I’d like to highlight. 1) Jesus spends a great deal of time calling us to see value where it was, and is, traditionally ignored. 2) The process of community throughout the Bible, and particularly the early church, gave rise to natural solutions through engagement. When finished, I believe we’ll see that not only are ABCD principles valuable to health and life of the church, but they are actually core Christian values found first in the life and teachings of Jesus and the early church.

On multiple occasions, Paul likens the church to a body, giving readers a vision for both the value of the individual and a vision for working within the community. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 reads:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.

This illustration highlights both the individual and the community aspects of ABCD. We must identify the unique gifts of every individual if we are going to be faithful to the call of community. As Paul continues, he clearly notes that the body of Christ can only function in this way. Even those who appear to be weak or of lesser value, he writes are to be lifted up with even more value than the others. We cannot deny anyone in our community of their gifts and talents.

If we understand this as properly restoring dignity to those in our community who are often left behind, then the function of the body must also be one of engaging the parts of the body. Just as ABCD calls for the engagement from the unique gifts of the community, so does Paul’s body illustration. What good does it do to identify the value and skills of an individual if we fail to engage them and provide a space for those gifts to be used? A body must engage all of its parts to function in the most fruitful and impactful ways.

The greatest struggle for the church in engaging these people might not be in finding value but in releasing control. It is certainly difficult to look beyond our social structures that relegates certain people in our communities, but once we do it is even more difficult to relinquish some of our control to allow these individuals to have a true stake in the community. Only through a sense of ownership can someone have a stake in the community, and that requires church leadership to let go of some of the power and allow more involvement as individuals (especially those relegated into the background) shape the identity and direction of the church.

This is asset-based ministry, and it is not simply a practical method for growth and engagement, it is a core value of Christianity and a central theme throughout the Bible.

Asset-based Ministry…A Fresh Approach to Engaging Community

On Saturday, I joined a few others from Open Door in attending a Jim Diers workshop, Neighborhood Power. I was first introduced to Asset-Based Community Development at Emory, and it has greatly influenced my view of community, my approach to ministry and even my understanding of Jesus’ work and revelation. So I was excited to attend this with some of our members to help gain a shared vision for “asset-based ministry.” Here I’d like to share some of what makes this vision unique and how ABCD can be utilized in faith communities.

Asset-based community development, as indicated by its name, is designed around the skills, resources and associations of a community.[1] Community development takes place when the community itself is impassioned and motivated by hope for improvement and change. These community resources can be found in gifts of individuals, community groups and associations, and local institutions. This sounds like common sense, and it is, but the vast majority of non-profits, churches and aid organizations operate under the antithetical principles of “needs-based” change and growth. Rather than being internally focused and relationally driven, the traditional “needs-based” approach is setup by an outside agency assessing the needs of a community, coming to external solutions to those needs, and finally supplying those needs with outside resources. The resulting actions, however genuine in their efforts, send the overwhelming message that the community is not capable of resolving issues on their own, reinforcing the lack of empowerment already experienced. Asset-based community development requires more work, more innovation, creativity, and collaboration, but the results are sustainable change, restored dignity and an empowered community.

Churches and other faith communities have found value in these basic principles by identifying individual capacities of its members to mobilize the church and by acting as yet another resource of the community in collaborative development.[2] Multiplying a faith community’s impact by focusing on both internal and external mobilization is obviously preferred, and I believe mutually beneficial to the church and the broader community. The easy part of this discussion is to acknowledge and take advantage of the abilities and capacities of individual members of a faith community. To call on someone for the musical talent to support or lead a worship team is a no brainer, and to use a business connection to save the church money is simply good business sense.

Asset-based strategies, however, are more about engagement than about business sense (although it has that added benefit). Engaging people in the life of the church requires discovering unique gifts of individuals and then allowing their passions to deepen community and to shape the outreach of the church. At Open Door Church, we’re exploring a new warehouse communal space for our gathering grounds that would serve the community and the church in endless ways. While the idea developed over leadership meetings, it took life when we began asking for congregational input. Excitement grew as each individual shared their own ideas and passions about how to engage the community with our new space. Can we offer bike repair, or teach others? Can we invite local bands for shows and talent nights? Table tennis? Mechanic work? Their gifts and vision for growth in our community will shape the outreach of Open Door as we continue, and if we fail to foster this engagement, we will ultimately fail in engaging our community as well.

Read here about how these concepts are supported and understood biblically.


[1] J. P. Kretzmann and J. L. McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets, ACTA Publications: 1993.

[2] S. Rans and H. Altman, Asset-Based Strategies for Faith Communities, ACTA Publications: 2002.

Pastor Seeking Pastoral Advice

When I began applying for ministry positions last year, I sent every potential church my resume accompanied by my wife’s resume. Primarily, I wanted to be clear that my vision for ministry is a partnership, that she brings unique experience and value aside from me, and that we have worked as a team in the past and intend that for our future.

We did not consider the unintended consequences of being in a full-time ministry with a family, and I’m curious about what others have experienced and how they have overcome some of the logistical challenges of ministry. It’s frustrating that anytime one of our children is sick in the family Jenna has to give up her worship time to stay home and care for them. When they’re healthy kids are challenging enough with two parents available to corral them on Sunday mornings, but I’m utterly useless jumping up and down to ensure everything is running smoothly, making sure to spend time with our visitors and of course spending most of the time up front (these things, I signed up for). All of that adds up to Jenna losing a large part of her worship time altogether, with the rest of it greatly degraded and distracted. There are a lot of sacrifices that come with doing ministry (maybe for discussion in future posts), but we didn’t intend for this to be part of what was sacrificed for ministry (and/or maybe family).

This is certainly not a unique experience for pastors’ wives (or husbands), as many parents take on this burden for various uncontrollable and legitimate reasons. Still many other women take on this role because it is expected of them due to misguided biblical perspectives, lazy men, and mothers attempting to fit others’ expectations.

For our family, and for Jenna, this isn’t really acceptable. Together, we’ve been through times where we lacked regular worship and a strong faith community (the latter of which is not missing here), and it is extremely burdensome on spiritual health and growth. We know the end of that story, and it’s not acceptable. This is simply too significant to ignore until it goes away as kids become more independent and manageable on Sunday mornings.

I’m looking for some logistical/spiritual guidance on these matters, hopefully from some seasoned pastor/parents. Where’s the work around?

 

Jenna’s reflections on these thoughts:

Like all moms of young children my time with them is so precious to me. I love being with them and loving them through all the little struggles of daily life. And like all moms (and dads), Bradley and I sacrifice a lot of personal time to do so. As a pastor’s wife, I, unfortunately, give up my entire Sunday morning worship time.  Bradley is busy managing his responsibilities and I am trying to keep Khaim from running down the aisle during communion. I take communion in the playroom, alone or surrounded by a group of boisterous toddlers. My connection with God on Sunday mornings is much different; I miss being able to be engrossed in a worship song and question a sermon (although I get to do this throughout the week as Bradley and I talk through his thoughts).

In a similar, but very different regard, Bradley misses a bit of his own Sunday connection time. Worrying about his sermon, the power point or soundboard problems, he is unable to fully surrender to worship. In that way, I think we are both looking for ways to rekindle our worship in the absence of “our church time.” Any thoughts?

Giving up Washing Diapers for Lent

Lent, Lenten Season, Sacrifice

Lent, Lenten Season, SacrificeMy tradition doesn’t really follow the liturgical calendar, and I’ve learned about many different Christian traditions after being involved in inter-denominational communities, like seminary and ministerial associations. That being said, I’m joining millions of other Christians this year in giving up something for lent, something that I haven’t done for several years and never really took seriously when I did participate.

Lent is a time of reflection and spiritual discipline. Jesus spent 40 days praying and fasting before beginning his ministry, and likewise, the Lenten season is intended for us to center our lives on what really matters, the heart of God. When we give up something as a spiritual discipline, we intend to call on God for help during times of weakness and distraction. It both draws us to God in humility and draws us away from sin and distraction in the world.

The obvious thought is that I should give up Dr. Pepper, but I quickly realized (as my Tuesday Dr. Pepper rolled over midnight into Ash Wednesday) that 1) I’m from Texas and giving up Dr. Pepper is not realistic, and 2) I felt like I could be more creative and productive in my Lenten sacrifice. Washing diapers is the bane of my existence, and it would be a huge load off my soul to give up washing diapers, but I decided the negative impact on Jenna would adversely affect my ability to successfully sacrifice washing diapers. So I gave up on that too. Those of you that know me might be shocked to hear what I have decided to “sacrifice.”

For Lent, I’m giving up raising my voice in frustration. I’m a very easy-going, happy-go-lucky, comedy-loving person, and this isn’t really about anger, yelling or rage, as that’s not my struggle. To gain attention, out of frustration or for some kind of ineffective emphasis, raising my voice has become more common than I find acceptable. I deal with almost all things in a calm and even-keeled manner, but life is stressful, kids seem to get louder everyday, and sometimes my reactions reflect these pressures instead of my love and gratefulness for my family. At some point, I told Jenna some of my own childhood experiences, and one line really stuck with her: “I don’t remember my Dad ever raising his voice.” This is a statement I want my kids to say about me someday. It will require me to rely on God, to seek persistent humility (even in writing this), and to continually ask for peace and patience.

Additionally, in the spirit of making these 40 days an active spiritual practice, I’m committing to blog everyday during Lent, hopefully not about my above failures. This is an effort to keep my mind churning and my faith fresh, because when I am consistently blogging, I am consistently seeking God’s truth in the world around me. I pray this will be uplifting for myself, my ministry and my readers.

While this is a 40 day commitment, I have sought out “sacrifices” that can be life changing if these 40 days can help me grow in faith and consistency.

What have you given up for Lent? Is it helping you rely on God?

Baby Names: a Prophetic Act?

Giving meaning to baby names and the process of naming babies

Giving meaning to baby names and the process of naming babiesLast week, my second son was born (more on that in an upcoming post), and a long and arduous process came to a conclusion: naming our son. I’ve known parents who didn’t finalize a name until they were asked in the hospital to fill out the paperwork, and I know others who don’t have any kids but have three names chosen for each of their three forthcoming children. Jenna and I are not these parents, but we were both getting worried as we closed in on the “deadline.” Thankfully he wasn’t early, because he would have gone by the Real Canadian Superstore brand name “no name.”

The process of naming a child is difficult for most, and for the two of us, it was extremely difficult. Let me tell you why.

I have long found my favorite biblical characters to be the prophets (Jesus included) for their commitment to issues of social justice and the outcast. They speak out against the wealthy, the powerful, the sources of oppression, and they do so with passion and style. The eccentric and prophetic acts of these were probably what drew me in to begin with, as there is nothing more powerful than demonstrating God’s love and compassion for the oppressed. The old adage is true: actions speak louder than words.

In one of my favorite texts, Hosea is called to marry a prostitute, a woman who left him, as a prophetic act illustrating God’s love that searches incessantly and forgives immensely. She bears him three children, each of whom have their own role to play.

The naming of children is an oft-reported prophetic act in our text, and there is no better example than the harsh names given to Hosea’s children: Lo-ruhamah (not pittied) and Lo-ammi (not my people). In the prophetic tradition, however, pain, suffering, condemnation is never far from restoration and new life. And the names that follow in that community are Ruhamah (pittied) and Ammi (my people).

It was Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination that first led me to thinking about my own (and others’) actions and ministry in terms of the prophetic. Many are speaking out against the paradigm of privilege, but countless more are lulled into apathy by it. It is in this context and in this passion that we named our two sons, Khaim and Teaken.

Khaim is the Hebrew word life. In the context of scripture, it conjures up the breath of God being breathed into humanity. It lingers with the purpose and intent of God in every living and breathing creature. From the saving narrative, it evokes an understanding and hope for new life, renewed and restored in God’s creative process.

Teaken is taken from the Hebrew (Jewish) phrase tikkun olam, which means repairing (or restoring) the world. In the context of our faith, this is our call as followers of Christ, to restore dignity to the marginalized, liberation to the oppressed and hope to the hopeless. God’s power and graciousness is most visible in the restoration and renewal of a world undeserving.

My prayer for these two boys is first that they are able to answer the question, “What does your name mean?” and second, that they live in such a way that they do not have to.