Tailwind Prayer

Albrecht Dürer, Ship of Fools, 1494

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sustaining Spirit,

Blessings and all homage are yours because you guide and protect us when everyone else fails and runs away. We praise you for the tailwinds that ease the strain of life and break up the recurring doldrums that suck the joy out of life.

We confess that we do not always  follow your example lifting the burdens from those around us who depend on our support.

Thank you for your sustaining and empowering presence when our strength fails and demons nip at our heals.

Grant us the strength to face each and every day with joy and the confidence that you are with us. In Jesus precious name, Amen.

Tailwind Prayer

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Sailing: Learning to Tack

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

One rare pleasure that I had as camp counselor in high school was learning to sail. Sailboat differ from other boats in being powered by wind rather than someone rowing or by an engine. Winds change. Sailor need to prepare themselves for every eventually. Television ads always picture sailboats speeding along with a good tailwind, but experienced sailors know that tailwinds are an exception, not the rule.

When the wind changes, the sail must adjust to make maximum use of the wind’s force. The hardest maneuver is to sail into the wind because the boat must wind back and forth into the wind—tack—with little, if any, efficiency in moving forward. The only thing worse than headwinds are the doldrums, when the wind simply disappears.

Postmodern Sailing

Being stuck between the headwinds and the doldrums aptly describes postmodern life, especially if you are young. The American dream of a college education followed by a good paying job, which your parents and grandparent enjoyed, now seems illusive and out of reach. For many students, years of hard labor in school are more likely followed by a minimum wage job and crushing student debt.

Headwinds followed but the doldrums is not just a problem for the young. Even well-educated and experienced seniors must frequently reinvent their careers late in life as companies restructure and offer little prospect for a pension or a health plan for most employees laid off. Suicide rates in the U.S. are at record high levels with suicide among older men showing the largest increases. For years, bankruptcy rates in the U.S. were closely tied to a family medical emergency—what do you do if you are disabled and your health plan was tied to your employment?

Storm on the Galilee

The New Testament contains several sailing analogies, as we read:

“And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, Peace! Be still! And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:36-39)

What is most striking about this story is that many of Jesus’ disciples were professional fishermen and expert sailors. When an expert comes to you for advice in their area of expertise, you know that you are in serious trouble. Yet, instinctively the disciples turn to Jesus in their well-founded fears and Jesus calms the wind and the sea.

Summing Up

Two points come to mind in reading this account of the near drowning experience of the disciples and Jesus. 

The first point is that this story occurs early in Jesus’ ministry and the storm on the Galilee is a kind of communal baptism for the disciples. Ministry is not going to be a walk in the park—early in my seminary journey I framed a copy of Rembrandt’s painting, the Storm on the Galilee, and hung it in my kitchen. This same painting appears on the cover on my book, Simple Faith.

The second point is reinforced by the context in Mark—the next story is the healing of the demonaic, a kind of resurrection story. Immersion baptism is a symbolic death and resurrection; sprinkling baptism is more of a symbolic cleansing. The near drowning of the disciples in the Sea of Galilee is more of an immersion experience!

Jesus’ admonition to the disciples remains valid today: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40) When the headwinds blow, the water rises, ,and our expertise fails, we need to turn to Jesus in faith rather than in fear.

Sailing: Learning to Tack

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Value Of Life

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Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 2

James E. Beitler III.[1]2019. Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church. Downers Grove: IVP Academic. (goto Part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the most intimidating aspects of being a Christian for many people is talking about their faith and practicing evangelism. One of the joys of attending seminary came in learning the meaning of the many “churchy” words that I had heard all my life.[2] Learning new words helps express ideas that may previously have gone unexpressed. Rhetoric is even more helpful by making it possible to use words, even common words, more persuasively.

Seasoned Speech

In his book, Seasoned Speech, James Beitler organizes his presentation and case studies around the liturgical calendar and worship because he sees rhetoric necessary for the ordinary practice of Christian witness. He writes:

“My use of Paul’s metaphor of seasoned speech should not be taken to mean that I think rhetoric’s scope ought to be limited to matters of presentation … Practicing rhetoric is not simply about flavoring the truth with a dash of eloquence; it involves discovery, invention, analysis, interpretation, construction, recollection, arrangement, and presentation of information, knowledge, and wisdom.” (19)

Worship and the liturgical calendar assist in focusing on the seasons of witness which we find ourselves in. It is hard, for example, not to think of resurrection in the spring as trees gain their foliage and flowers are blooming.

In part one of this review, I give an overview of Beitler’s book. In part two, I look at each of the five leaders that he focuses on. The five leaders chosen are: C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu, and Marilynne Robinson.

C.S. Lewis

Although I have read a number of Lewis’ books, I never thought of him as focused on rhetoric even though he is widely thought of as deeply philosophical. Beitler’s observation therefore surprises me writing:

“I contend that a primary way that Lewis establish ethos is by demonstrating what Aristotle referred to as eunoia, goodwill towards one’s audience. Lewis’ rhetoric of goodwill—which involves addressing audiences on their own terms, adopting a forthright yet humble stance, and cultivating communities of goodwill, helps him achieve one of his chief aims as a writer: ‘preparing the way’ for the coming of the Lord into people’s lives.” (30-31)

Thus, Beitler sees Lewis embodying a spirit of advent. He does this by keeping ‘his own Christian persona off-stage”, by practicing “self-abnegation”, by peppering his comments about Christianity with “expressions of the delight”, and, in general, by adopting a humble spirit in writing (30-34). During advent, like Mary, we long for the coming Christ and, like John the Baptist, we engage in self-examination and repentance (49).

 Dorothy Sayers

Sayers is known as a Christian playwright with an interest in the energy of Christmas and a passion for teaching Christian dogma.

In response to the widely held view that the creeds are irrelevant, Sayers blamed the clergy who failed to share it with their congregations, explain it poorly, and neglect to translate them into the vernacular (60-61). In our day the idea that having a personal relationship with Jesus is a substitute for the creeds and biblical literacy seems ridiculous because it is hard to have a relationship with someone that you know little or nothing about. Sayers work to marry calling and creed through her dramatic presentations (64).

Beitler highlights Sayer’s focus on energy relating her work to that of Quintilian. She writes:

 “Enargeia involves depicting an event so vividly that the one who speaks and, thus, one’s audience feel as they would if they were really there, experiencing the moment. Such vivid depiction is clearly connected to the emotional appeals of pathos, but it also is related to ethos.” (66)

Quintilian wrote about the need for attorneys to seize the attention of the judge (67). In my own homiletics class, one of the most effective speakers was a prosecuting attorney. In the Christian narrative, no story grabs one’s attention quite like the birthing stories of the baby Jesus at Christmas.

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In part one of this review, I shared Beitler’s assessment of the rhetorical conflict between Bonhoeffer and Adolf Hitler. Beitler’s writes:

“Finkenwalde [Bonhoeffer’s underground seminary] is a fitting ecclesiastical manifestation of the message of Epiphany: there the gospel was preached not with the backing of worldly power [in this case the Third Reich] but in the humiliation and hiddenness of the crucified Christ—‘A stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (I Cor 1:23)”. (97)

In this context, the incognito of Christ arises because in his humiliation, the godhead is veiled only to be revealed in the resurrection. This is not the absence of Christ’s revelation or the unwillingness to share the gospel, but the willingness to let people come to God on their own terms, not through a prostration to obvious power.

Desmond Tutu

Beitler sees Desmond Tutu’s prophetic witness during Apartheid in South Africa as a call for sinners to repent, the theme of Lent Preaching during Lent in 1988,

Tutu says:

“Your cause is unjust. You are defending what is fundamentally indefensible because it is evil. It is evil without question. It is immoral. It is immoral without question. It is unchristian.” (129).

The congregation got up and started dancing. They danced out of the cathedral past the police and military forces waiting to arrest them. Can you image such a sight?

Rhetorically, Tutu preached a radical form of interdependence captured in the African word, ubuntu. I am who I am and my identity is wrapped up in relationship with you, with the community, and with God (139; 205). Apartheid hurts me and by tolerating it you also are hurt and diminished.

Marilynne Robinson

Beitler describes Marilynne Robinson’s writing as inviting “readers to dwell with characters for whom the Christian faith matters deeply.” (162). Citing Jennifer Holberg who describes Robinson’s writing as a “resurrection of the ordinary”, Beitler sees Robinson exemplifying the Easter season (163) where particular times and particular places have special beauty and theological significance. He describes her work as a liturgy of praise for creation (175).

Assessment

James E. Beitler III’s Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church is an unusual book on rhetoric because it does not focus on how to write a persuasive speech. Rather he focuses on speech as a righteous, political act in the Christian tradition through five case studies of Christians in the twentieth century who redefined what it means to live in community as Christians. A Pentecostal awakening where diverse voices speak the gospel together (212).

What is perhaps surprising is that Beitler is a postmodern evangelical writing to an evangelical audience about social ministry, a topic frequently reserved for progressive authors. While this statement may set you to head scratching, you may want to put this book on your reading list.

[1]https://www.Wheaton.edu/academics/faculty/James-Beitler.

[2] If you don’t believe me, what does it mean to ‘raise my ebenezer?”Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, Till now the LORD has helped us.” (1 Sam 7:12 ESV)

Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 2

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RPC Sharpens Shorts; Gets Buy

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Risk Taking for Christ. Monday Monologues, June 10, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will pray and reflect on Risk Taking.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Risk Taking for Christ. Monday Monologues, June 10, 2019 (podcast)

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Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Praying for Courage

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Photograph of Boxing GlovesBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty father,

Blessed be your name oh God of the universe, because you display the courage to create and sustain this world. You are not afraid to be the first or the only one to love and participate in this dangerous world.

I confess that I do not often display such courage and have not followed your example in Jesus Christ.

I give thanks for your patience with me and for the many times that you have forgiven my weakness and rebellion.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant me the strength to follow your example and become the courageous person that you created me to be. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Praying for Courage

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Risk Takers for Christ

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Frequently in the Gospel accounts, Jesus teaches us to be watchful for his return. Mark 13:33 reads: “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come.” Likewise, Luke 12:35 echoes the Parable of the Ten Virgins: “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit.” But right after the Parable of the Ten Virgins we read an enignmatic Parable of the Talents that not only talks about watchfulness, but also gives guidance on how to wait.

First Two Servants

The parable starts off with advice about being watchful, but then goes on: “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.” (Matt 25:14-15) But then we are told how the first two servants invest the master’s money and double his principal, ,while the third servant buries the master’s money in ground. When the master returns, he settles accounts with each of the servants. The first two servants present the master with his principal and the earnings from their investments. In both cases, the master responds with the same statement: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt 25:21,23) Clearly, the money grants were a test, the master is pleased, and the master rewards them with greater responsibility.

The Third Servant

The case of the third servant is most revealing because he acts out of fear: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.” (Matt25:24-25) The master calls this servant “wicked and slothful” and reiterates his characterization by the servant as a hard man, suggesting that he agrees that he is, but he goes on to suggest: “Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” Matt (25:27) In so many words, the master suggests that the third servant is both cowardly and imprudent, because depositing the money with a banker requires accepting very little risk of financial loss. The master takes the money given to the third servant and gives it to the first. Then, the third servant is described as worthless and condemned to perdition, a penalty too harsh for many modern people to even to hear.

Context of the Parable

So what are we to make of this parable? The first thing to note is the context. Immediately after the Parable of the Talents is parable of judgment, where the goats and the sheep are separated. Then, in chapter 26 of Matthew we read: “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” (Matt 26:1-2) The implication is that the three parables in chapter 25 are given to prepare the disciples for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and second coming. All three suggest that the disciples should be watchful of Christ’s return, but only the Parable of the Talents suggests how to spend the time while Jesus is absent.

Lesson

What is the lesson? Knowing that Christ will return, we should be cheerful in our work, not fearful, as we take risks with our spiritual gifts to advance the Kingdom of God. Cheerful risk takers, not fearful hoarders, are the one’s described as good and faithful servants.

Risk Takers for Christ

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Value Of Life

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Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 1

James E. Beitler III.[1]2019. Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

While writing my recent book, Simple Faith, I discovered that an important distinctive of the Christian faith is that the Gospel is one of the best stories ever told. People do not come to faith through logical arguments alone; they come to faith when the heart and mind are both persuaded. Because rhetoric is the art of persuasion, the evangelist must learn to employ rhetoric in service of the Gospel in order to succeed.

Introduction

In his book, Seasoned Speech, James Beitler writes:

“The arc of the book’s argument is to move from a discussion of individual postures of Christian witness (ethos as an appeal to an individual’s character) to a discussion of communal ones (ethos as an appealing gathering place) … In brief, I want to encourage church members to reflect on various aspects of the rhetorical tradition, highlight important and practical ways of establishing ethos when witnessing, and bring rhetorical facets of Christian worship into relief.”(21-22)

In some sense, Beitler has turned deconstructionism on its head and set in service of the Gospel by providing five case studies of how Christian leaders have employed rhetoric in speaking Gospel to power! 

Postmodern Rhetoric

The five leaders chosen are: C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Sayers, Desimond Tutu, and Marilynne Robinson. In choosing two white authors, a black bishop, and two women authors, Beitler has deflated the criticism of Christianity as being a white man’s religion that oppresses women and people of color that has alternatively arisen from cultural Marxists, feminists, and Islamists.

Beitler never gives us a cultural context for his own application of Christian rhetoric, but he outlines a model in his discussion of Bonhoeffer’s interface with the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler. Beitler writes:

“Corrupting and parodying religious concepts, Hilter’s rhetorical strategy involved pitting the Rome-like capital of Munich [not Berlin!] against a diabolical portrayal of the Jew…Within this rhetorical geography, Hitler positioned himself at Munich’s center, presenting his ‘inner voice’ as the sole authority of the Aryan nation and demanding ‘the total identification between leader [der Fuhrer] and people [der Volk].”(99)

By contrast, Bonhoeffer spoke out about German Christians standing with Jewish converts (Messianic Jews), who were being excluded by the Nazis, he organized an underground seminary to teach traditional Christianity to church leaders, and wrote about the need for Christian community and Christian ethics. If our identity is in Christ, then we must identify as a community also with the people that Christ loves. (98-105)

Background and Organization

James E . Beitler III teaches writing at Wheaton College in Illinois. His doctorate is from the University of Michigan (2009) while his bachelors (2002) and masters (2004) are both from Wheaton College. He writes in six chapters:

  1. Preparing the Way: C.S. Lewis and the Goodwill of Advent
  2. Professing the Creeds: Dorothy L. Sayers and the Energy of Christmastide
  3. Preaching the Word: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Epiphanic Identification
  4. Calling for Repentence: Desmund Tutu and Lenten Constitutive Rhetorics
  5. Hosting the Guest: Marilynne Robinson and the Ethos of Eastertide
  6. Speaking in Tongues: The Church and the Heroglossia of Pentecost (vii)

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments and an introduction, and followed by a bibliography and indices.

Assessment

In part one of this review, I give an overview of Beitler’s book. In part two, I look at each of the five leaders that he focuses on.

James E. Beitler III’s Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church is an unusual book on rhetoric because it does not focus on how to write a persuasive speech. Rather he focuses on speech as a righteous, political act in the Christian tradition through five case studies of Christians in the twentieth century who redefined what it means to live in community as Christians. What is perhaps surprising is that Beitler is a postmodern evangelical writing to an evangelical audience about social ministry, a topic frequently reserved for progressive authors. While this statement may set you to head scratching, you may want to put this book on your reading list.


[1]https://www.Wheaton.edu/academics/faculty/James-Beitler.

Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 1

Also See:

RPC Sharpens Shorts; Gets Buy

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Ethical Perspective. Monday Monologues, June 3, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will pray and reflect on Ethical Perspective.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Ethical Perspective. Monday Monologues, June 3, 2019 (podcast)

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Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Prayer for Perspective

Fence
Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty father,

All praise and honor are yours for you listen to us, guide us, and treat us equally as sons and daughters in Christ.

We confess that we do not always listen to your Holy Spirit or treat each other as brothers and sisters in the faith.

Thank you for your fatherly patience with and care for us. You are the God of second and third chances even as we are abrupt and impatient and unworthy of your devotion to us.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us eyes that see and ears that listen that we might grow closer to you each passing day. Remember those that suffer among us. Save us from destructive divisions and from ethic and class pride. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Perspective

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Ethical Perspective

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Earlier I wrote that if ethics is the study of moral action, then Christian ethics is the study of moral action starting from faith in God. I then proceed to outline a number of philosophical explanations of ethical behavior and decision-making. Yet, what makes Christian ethics unique and simply not a branch of philosophy is the relationship to God.

Vines and Branches

Jesus gives an analogy:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)

Today this analogy evokes the picture of an electric appliance that is perfectly useless until it is plugged in—the power is in the cord, not the appliance. As Christians, we rely not on a philosophical approach to determine our actions, we rely on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, especially as revealed in scripture.

This reliance on the Holy Spirit solves an important ethical problem for the Christian because ethical actions are contextual and, in the absence of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is extremely hard to sort out which philosophical precedents to follow.

Ethical Perspective

Suppose a man gets shot dead. From an ethical perspective, we must immediately ask: what is the relationship between the shooter and the dead man? Was the shooting intentional or accidental, and how do we know? What led up to the shooting? What was the shooter’s emotional state of mind? Where the dead man and the shooter from the same ethnic group? What were their roles in this shooting? From a legal perspective, an public inquiry may be required to sort all these questions out before a court decides what to do about the shooting.

Notice that at least three people are involved in this example: the dead man, the shooter, and a judge. Each will have a perspective on this shooting and the community may be divided on how to interpret this shooting. Ethics always involves interpretation. This implies that the philosophical precedents guiding the shooter could be different from the perspectives of every other participant in this event. The emotional mindset of each participant has a bearing on the interpretation rendered.

In the midst of potentially raging emotions, the Christian guided by the Holy Spirit has a unique advantage in dealing ethically with a situation because God alone knows all the relevant factors to consider and the eventual outcome. Mere ethical knowledge pales in comparison as a guide to behavior because we never control all the factors influencing the ethical interpretation of an event by all the participants. 

It is as if we walk through life as in a room with four different landscapes painted on the walls. One landscape may be a beach; other a bedroom; another an office, and still another a battlefield. Each person we meet may see us against an entirely different landscape, even at a point in time. And we cannot choose which landscape they see or the emotional baggage that they carry with them. We are at the mercy of their projection of these things on us, but the good news is that God is great and his Holy Spirit is our guide.

Ethical Perspective

Also See:

Value Of Life

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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