Love and Tolerance

Last night at Chi Alpha’s weekly meeting we had a guest speaker — missionary Mark Orfila. He’s been serving for over a decade in eastern Europe and has been thinking very deeply about American cultural values and how they relate to the Kingdom of God.

He said a lot of very helpful things last night, but I think the most helpful went along these lines (the thoughts are his but the words are mine):

If I had to choose between tolerance and hatred, I’d choose tolerance hands‐down.

But we’re not facing a binary choice — we have a whole range of options available to us. And tolerance can’t be the ultimate good in a society for two reasons: one philosophical and one practical. There must be something higher of which tolerance is a special case, because if tolerance is the highest good then you have a real problem — how do you handle the intolerant members of your own society? If you tolerate them, then you allow intolerance to flourish. If you don’t tolerate them, then you promote intolerance yourself. Either way intolerance sneaks into your society. That’s the philosophical approach. But there’s an even bigger practical problem. Who wants to be tolerated? Don’t we all want more than to be put up with? Tolerance is a negative virtue — it’s about what we don’t do to people. I won’t hit you, I won’t insult you, I won’t stigmatize you. It’s a peculiar inverse of the golden rule — tolerance tells us not to do to others what we don’t want done to us. It creates a distance between us and never forces us to cross it.

The problem with tolerance for a Christian is not that it sets the bar too high but that it sets the bar too low. We are called to love one another; in fact, we are even called to love our enemies. And rather than merely respecting the distance between us, we are called to treat them the way we wish they would treat us. Tolerance is a poor substitute for love. If it’s the only offer on the table I’ll take it, but in most situations we should demand more (especially of ourselves).

Thanks for the clear thinking on a crucial subject, Mark.

Some Thoughts On Servant Leadership

At a Chi Alpha conference in St. Louis I just heard Dick Schroeder use an interesting phrase to compliment someone — “he puts ‘us’ before ‘me’.” Here are some off‐the‐cuff and unpolished thoughts inspired by that phrase:

“Us before me.” What a beautiful phrase to describe servant leadership.

“Us” puts the leadership into servanthood: “us before me” leads to the overall good of the group whereas “you before me” can lead to the detriment of the group.

To be clear, the Bible does command us to “in humility consider others better than ourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Doesn’t this lead directly to “you before me”?

Yes. It does. But the practical question for me as a leader is how to be self‐sacrificial in a way that honors my obligations to those I am serving. And I have learned that there is a healthy way to prioritize others and a destructive way to prioritize others.

To serve as fully as possible there is a certain amount of self‐maintenance that must take place. Boundaries must be established and maintained. Recreation and sabbaticals must be incorporated. Growth and learning have to take place.

All of these things are self‐serving. They require us to say no to others and yes to ourselves. At times, we wind up saying “me before you today because I want to be able to serve you tomorrow”.

But at the same time, all of these things flow from a mature understanding of “you before me” — putting our followers’ long‐term good above their short‐term desires. For an organization, a leader who says “us before me” builds strength. A leader who naively/hyperspiritually says “you before me” leads the organization to implosion (and likely to high leadership turnover).

Clearly, there is the potential for “us before me” to become a pretext for putting “me before you.” The antidote is to keep expanding our definition of “us”. Whenever we begin to suspect that our “us” is too comfortable, we need to redefine the group we are serving in a larger way, and continue to put “us before me.”

And so a big thanks to Dick Schroeder for giving me my new favorite phrase: “us before me”. It will probably be my favorite for at least a week. 😉

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Advice From A Design Expert

Last night at Chi Alpha we interviewed George Kembel, co‐founder and executive director of the Stanford d.school about his faith and how it integrates with his professional life.

It was lots of fun. During the interview he shared a helpful metaphor about his crisis of faith as a young adult. “It’s like my baby teeth. They had to go so my permanent teeth could come in. Something similar happened with my faith. I needed to move from a child’s faith to an adult faith, but what I got in the end was something better and more enduring.”

Anyway, afterwards we were able to talk briefly and I asked him about applying the principles of his professional life to ministry. How would a d.school person approach improving the experience of a regular or a guest at a ministry function?

We only talked briefly, but one tidbit he shared really struck me. “When we’re doing feedback we find it helpful to have people restrict themselves to three types of statements: ‘I like…’, ‘I wish…’, and ‘We should try…’. For example, ‘I liked it when you talked about x, I wish you had spent more time on that and less on this other point.’ It forces feedback to be more personal and also pushes it in a constructive direction.”

I think we’ll experiment with that and see how it works out for us. It sounds promising.

Anyway, I hope you find his comments as interesting and helpful as I did.

Visualizing the Authorship of the New Testament

Inspired by the folks over at the ESV and at Blogos, I submitted a data set to the Many Eyes repository showing the percentage of the New Testament written by each author.

I got my data from Tischendorf’s 8th edition Greek New Testament because it was free and publicly available — big kudos to them for making all their work so easily usable.







It occurred to me to do this because counting the Greek words has always seemed to me to be a better measurement of the New Testament document lengths than counting verses or chapters, which are less precise measurements and are contingent on the whimsy of church history rather than being an intrinsic part of the text.

Plus I vividly remember the day in seminary when I realized that Luke had written more of the New Testament than Paul had. It was an epiphany for me.

Thoughts on Worship

A few weeks ago I was discussing worship with David Jones, the leader of Reformed University Fellowship at Stanford, and he put something into words that I’ve been trying to articulate for a while, “Worship is both expressive and formative.”

In other words, worship doesn’t only show what we feel and believe, it also shapes what we feel and believe.

My students will only hear me preach a given sermon once — but they may sing a worship song dozens of times. And if we’ve chosen catchy yet superficial junk for them to sing we’ve done them a real disservice.

And that’s why we don’t just sing any old song in our Chi Alpha meetings. They have to be catchy while also being profound and ennobling. In other words, they have to both sound good and be good.

For what it’s worth, I think that Chris Tomlin and Ben Pasley (of Enter the Worship Circle) stand out for really hitting the mark consistently. Of the old hymn writers, Isaac Watts really had it going on.

Oh, You Have One Of Those…

Dana has been potty training lately and she’s getting quite good at it. She’ll be playing with her toys, minding her own business, when all of a sudden she will leap to her feet and sneak/bolt towards the bathroom. After successfully depositing solid matter she will emit a triumphant cry: “I went poop!”

It’s quite charming, really.

Yesterday one of our friends, Jen, volunteered to take Dana in for the day while Paula was on bedrest. Things were going just fine until Dana pooped in her pants without showing the slightest interest in Jen’s bathroom.

Dana needed some cleaning to prevent a rash, and when Jen brought Dana to the bathroom Dana stared at the toilet and then said slowly to Jen, “Oh, you have one of those.” 🙂

Assumptions. As my friend Fraser used to tell me in high school, the word assume makes an ass out of you and me.

For the record, I am assuming the etymology of that comment traces back to donkeys and not to sphincters, otherwise it might be construed as a vulgarity. My thoughts on cursing, vulgarities, and expletives are a little complicated, but the bottom line is that I try to avoid offending people with the words I choose without becoming bound up in silly rules (such as erasing the word ass from the dictionary because one of its uses is a synonym for posterior). Plus the ensuing pun (resulting from the juxtaposition of poop and hiney) would be too awful even for me.

Back to assumptions: Dana assumes Jen has no potty and so she excretes wherever she happens to be. I assume God has no opinion about my decisions and so I don’t pray to receive guidance.

Bad assumptions lead to stinky situations.

Solomon and the Black Eyed Peas

People often mock the Song of Songs for having bizarre romantic imagery. Song of Solomon 7:4 is a notorious example: “your nose is like the tower of Lebanon” (to which I always want to add “which means you can think of that zit as more of a banner, if you prefer”).

Stuff like that keeps many from taking the Song of Solomon seriously as a love song. We obsess over the pictures that the song employs and fail to get the point.

And we act as though we’ve never seen such outlandish imagery before. Then without even realizing it we turn the radio on and hear the Commodores belting out “she’s a brick house

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.”

In the cultural smackdown between us and the ancient near east, I have to give this round to the ancients. Which would you rather be called? A tower is slender, graceful, and curved. A brick house is short, squat, and angular. Quite frankly, we have no stones to throw.

And it’s that way throughout the Song.

So the next time you hear the Black Eyed Peas inquiring about the junk in your trunk, cut the Song of Solomon some slack and interpret it the way you would interpret any other love song–poetically.