Thursday, August 30, 2007

Unbelieving Atheists

Unbelieving Atheists

Mother Teresa, a decade after her death, is all the rage now. Where? None other than with atheists of all people.

What’s All the Buzz About?

And why? Because of the publication of an innocuously titled new book Mother Teresa: Come to My Light (Doubleday, September 2007).

Consisting primarily of correspondence between Mother Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, the book offers insight into the inner life of a believer known mostly through her external works of mercy. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by the Catholic Church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she experienced the absence of the presence of God. As the book’s compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, she experienced Christ’s presence “neither in her heart or in the Eucharist.”

Extravagant Dissonance of Supernatural Candor

Time Magazine labeled these new revelations, in contrast to what previously we knew of Mother Teresa, “extravagant dissonance.” The new breed of missionary atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens, is even crueler and more mistaken than Time.

Hitchens, author of the atheist manifesto God Is Not Great, recently sought to do the work of a soul physician on the soul of a believer now dead a decade. His scathing polemic claims “she was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself.”

Hitchens and his ilk make for poor psychologists, destitute historians, and bankrupt soul physicians.

Stages of Faith

From a psychological perspective, research into the nature of faith, such as that done by James Fowler in Stages of Faith suggest the opposite about Mother Teresa than what Hitchens summarily proposes. Rather than exhibiting hypocrisy or being bereft of faith, Mother Teresa, in continuing to serve Christ by serving others while experiencing the absence of the presence of God was revealing the highest level of faith. Hers was not the trust of a child, nor the blind faith of those at lower levels of belief, but the highest, deepest, and most dependent reliance.

Historical Precedence

From a historical perspective, Mother Teresa’s experience has been so common for so long that it has its own name: “the dark night of the soul.” Great believers of the past, of all shapes and sizes, types and denominations, have experienced lengthy bouts of agonizing doubts.

Amongst Catholics, to name a few, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Saint Teresa of Lisieux (from whom Mother Teresa took her religious name) all endured the absence of God’s presence.

Of many representative Protestant believers, Martin Luther is a primary case study. So intangible was Luther’s Christ, that Luther developed an entire “theology of the Cross” to explain the paradox of a God who is most present in His very absence.

Thus, if unbelieving atheists wanted to harp on believing doubters, they’ve missed the boat for the past 2,000 years. If they think Mother Teresa is the first test case, then perhaps they should read not only Church history, but, heaven forbid, the Bible. Talk about candor! Historical biblical characters (think Abraham, Moses, Solomon, Thomas—the Patron Saint of Doubters—among many others) all lived lives of faith even while doubting.

Soul Physicians’ Diagnosis

So what diagnosis would or should a physician of the soul offer concerning Mother Teresa? First, it is important to recall that she did have soul physicians—her Confessors and Spiritual Directors to whom she wrote this now debated letters. Funny that they did not expose her as a hypocritical heretic.

Funnier too, that her own biographer/complier (Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, a Senior Missionaries of Charity member responsible for petitioning for her sainthood and collecting the supporting materials) gathered these letters in support of her case for sainthood.

Time Magazine put it like this. “Kolodiejchuk sees it (the characteristic stage of faith known as the ‘dark night’) in St. John's (of the Cross) context, as darkness within faith. Teresa found ways, starting in the early 1960s, to live with it and abandoned neither her belief nor her work. Kolodiejchuk produced the book as proof of the faith-filled perseverance that he sees as her most spiritually heroic act.”

Funniest of all, that the Catholic Church, attacked by Hitchens and his crowd of hateful doubters of those who doubt, did not seek to hide these letters. In fact, against her dying wishes, the Church chose to preserve these testimonies of doubt as evidence of faith.

Clinging to Christ

One need not be a Catholic, nor a Catholic apologist, nor even a Mother Teresa backer to acknowledge the psychological, historical, and spiritual realities behind the inner spiritual life of the former Agnes Bojaxhiu (Mother Teresa’s birth name).

Personally, rather than taunt her for her torment, I applaud her. More than that, I identify with her. Her candor combined with her tenacious clinging to Christ gives me hope that my doubts are a severe mercy of God designed to harpoon me to His Spirit while the irrepressible tsunami of God’s absence batters my soul.

African American Christian Faith

Her clinging faith reminds me once again of the clinging faith of enslaved African American Christians. Nellie, a former slave from Savannah, Georgia sounds like a modern-day Mother Teresa with her startling candor.

“It has been a terrible mystery, to know why the good Lord should so long afflict my people, and keep them in bondage—to be abused, and trampled down, without any rights of their own—with no ray of light in the future. Some of my folks said there wasn’t any God, for if there was He wouldn’t let white folks do as they have done for so many years”.

When her mistress questions her about her faith, a slave known to us only as Polly explains her hope.
“We poor creatures have need to believe in God, for if God Almighty will not be good to us some day, why were we born? When I heard of his delivering his people from bondage I know it means the poor Africans.”

Integrative Faith

Mother Teresa’s faith was not a case study in self-contradiction. Instead, she placed her faith in Christ rather than placing her faith in her faith. Entrusting her soul to an invisible Savior, the world saw Christ in her even when she could not see Christ in the world.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

All the Colors of the Rainbow

All the Colors of the Rainbow

Why do we find multi-cultural worship so difficult. Here we are in the first decade of the 21st century, and yet Sunday mornings are still the most segregated hours in America! What a shame. What a sin. What are we going to do about it?

1. Be Proactive: Connect personally with someone of a different ethnic background.

2. Be Intentional: Influence your church leadership and members to purposefully build cross-cultural bridges.

3. Be Educated: Read excellent works on multicultural churches like those of David Anderson.

4. Be Brave: Don't expect everyone to support you. Do expect some to subvert you.

5. Be Thrilled: Nothing thrills the soul more than worship of every tribe, nation, and tongue. Just ask God in Revelation 5!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Ministering in My Home Town

Ministering in My Home Town
What an amazing chain of events. Let me walk you through the history and show you something of God's majesty even as He works in mystery.

1. Forty-eight years ago I was born at Methodist Hospital in downtown Gary, IN, and raised on 11th and Hovey in the Heart of Gary. At the time, Gary was one of the most integrated cities in America.
2. Fast forward thirty-some years and God leads me to chair the counseling and discipleship program at Capital Bible Seminary in DC--one of the most integrated Evangelical seminaries in the world.

3. Move back in time two years ago and see God orchestrate my co-authoring, with Karole Edwards, an African American graduate of our MA in counseling/discipleship, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction.

4. Moving closer to present-day, I move "back home" to Crown Point, IN, just 15 minutes from my birthplace. I continue to work full-time in DC (that's another story for another day!).

5. Soon after moving back, I read a fascinating article about Pastor Charles Floyd, III, Senior Pastor of New Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church on 23rd Avenue in Gary. Seems he teaches a Moody Bible Institute distance education course. Having many connections myself with Moody Bible, I contact Pastor Floyd.

6. Pastor Floyd invites me to attend one of his evening classes. I go, thinking it will consist mostly of members of his congregation. Little do I know that most of the 20 men and women in attendance are leaders at 20 different African American Churches in downtown Gary.

7. By the end of the night, so wonderfully orchestrated by God over the course of forty-eight years, doors open for ministering at a score of churches in Gary, IN: my hometown. God does indeed work in mysterious ways!

Interviewed on the Bob Dutko Show

Interviewed on the
Bob Dutko Show
I was interviewed August 7th on the Bob Dutko Show. Dutko is a conservative Christian radio host on FM 103.5 WMUZ ("The Light")--the most listened to Christian radio show in Michigan. The focus was the release of Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction.
Bob focused on the relationship of past African American life to current issues in the African American church. What is unique about the African American church? How have African American Christians learned to deal with suffering? What does forgiveness look like? His penetrating questions helped to highlight how valuable it is to understand a group's history in order to understand a group's current ministry.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

For Such a Time As This

For Such a Time As This

Today marks the launch of Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. We offer this book with the prayer that God would allow all readers to:

1. Be empowered to apply proven ways to help people find healing hope in the midst of deep pain and sorrow by identifying with past African American believers who ministered in the crucible of suffering.

2. Be equipped to minister more effectively in cross-cultural settings by uncovering the buried treasure of wisdom about soul care and spiritual direction as seen through the eyes, experienced in the souls, and told from the lips of past African American Christians.

3. Be enabled to skillfully practice the historic soul care arts of sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding which are distinctively grounded both in the Word of God and in the legacy of African American believers.

4. Be encouraged to build healing communities where Christians find courage and comfort in God and each other.

5. Be enlightened by the founding fathers of the African American church about how to be a godly male leader who leaves a lasting legacy of love.

6. Be enthused by the heroic sisters of the spirit of the African American church in how to be a powerful female spiritual friend.

7. Be enriched by past African American husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers concerning how to nurture and enjoy godly living in the home.