You are Growing or Dying. Shenanigans.

We have all heard this idea that we are either growing or dying. We hear if people are learning a new skill or if they are becoming a “better” person then they are “growing”. We also hear that organizations that rake in profits or create social change are “growing.” If there is a restaurant that has a line out the door then that restaurant is “growing” in their market.

 Photo by  Wang Xi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash

Conversely, people who are getting older or have stopped learning are thought of as “dying.” Organizations that are not expanding then they are “dying.” Businesses that no longer have that line around the block are “dying.”

Because you are either growing or dying.

The Truth is, nothing is growing OR dying. Everything is growing AND dying at the same time.

Every person, regardless of age or stage, is growing and dying at the same time. The one who is learning a lot may be growing intellectually but they also are experiencing a death of previously understood ideas. The organization that is growing in numbers is also dying to previous ways of doing things. The business that is growing in market share is also dying to the intimacy they had.

Philosophers such as Hannah Arendt describe a “natality.” In addition to how philosophers speak of natalities, we may begin to think of natality as the other side of fatality. Where fatality is about dying, natality is about birth. For every fatality there is a simultaneous natality and for every natality there is a simultaneous fatality.

The question is not are you growing or dying but how are you growing AND dying.

The Church is beginning to embrace the very message that she has proclaimed for 2000 years in that the Church is not dying. It is dying and being born. It is declining and growing. It is contracting and expanding.

How is "Love one another" a New Commandment?

In John 13:34-35 Jesus says “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

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Upon reflection I have to ask, “How is this a NEW commandment? Didn’t Jesus talk about and share love all the time? Then what makes this so NEW?”

Yes, Jesus taught about and lived out love in so many different ways so the way this commandment is NEW is the direction of the love.

Notice that Jesus says we are to love one another and that through loving one another we are disciples of Jesus. The direction of the love is toward the other person. More specifically, the direction of the love is NOT toward Jesus.

Perhaps what makes this a NEW commandment is that Jesus is removing himself from the equation of the direction of love and commanding disciples to love the other person. What is new is that Jesus is removing the requirement of direct affection and love of him (the leader) as proof that the disciple follows the leader.

It is much more common for the leader to say, “direct your love toward me and in this way people will know you are my disciples.” Rather Jesus says the opposite.

The more I come to discover about Jesus the more I am amazed at the constant kenosis (self-emptying) of God in Christ. Jesus came down, was obedient to even the point of death, and then when giving his farewell address to his disciples he says - put one another as the direction of your love.

What does it mean for us in the Church to say, “we love you Jesus” and for Jesus to say, “please direct your love to one another”?

The Total Population of Hell

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Some years ago I read a story about a Christian teacher who was asked, “Who do you think is in Hell?” The teacher responded, “There is only one person in hell. Jesus.”

The teacher’s point, to my recollection, was that since it Jesus came to liberate the oppressed, bring sight to the blind and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4: 17-21), the last place to do this work would be hell. Additionally, wherever Jesus goes, there is liberation (Mark 5, for one example). There is no where we can go where the liberating love of God cannot find us (Psalm 139: 7-12).

Not even hell.

Therefore, as I recall the teacher making the point, the total population of hell is clear. Hell’s total population is 1. Jesus stands in the depths of hell as the crucified victim of heinous acts of violence sets all captives free.

Good news: If there is a hell, Jesus empties it.

Trading Hope for Optimism

Dr. Namsoon Kang shared in a recent class the difference between optimism and hope. Dr. Kang noted that optimism is rooted in data. That is when there is a lot of bad news, we might look for data to give us a reason to be optimistic about the future. Data is the basis for our silver linings and we become dependent upon the data to keep us optimistic.

If the stock market is up or our candidates poll numbers are high, then we remain optimistic about our future.

 Do we want to settle for optimism? Photo by  Nathan Dumlao  on  Unsplash

Do we want to settle for optimism? Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

It is interesting that if we are not able to find the data to counterbalance the bad news, then we have little to be optimistic about. Thus data is the root of both optimism and pessimism. Data, in our world, has become the idol we look toward to help us make sense and directs us how to feel.

Hope is not rooted in data. Which may be why materialists, skeptics, and many non-theists struggle to be hopeful. If we look for data before we decide to be hopeful then we are not looking for hope, we are looking for optimism. Hope is not rooted in data, it is rooted in the struggle.

Christianity does not talk about optimism at all. Christians are not optimists, we are hopeful. Christians do not dismiss data, for instance Christians ought to be concerned about the recent data of the warming earth. However bad this data is, Christians remain hopeful because the struggle to live with this new reality and change behavior is what we hope for.

The reality is too often we Christians are trading hope for optimism. We are giving up our hope because the data convinces us that the future of the church is not great. Hope and optimism are not interchangeable words/ideas. The struggles in the church now and in the future may not breed optimism, but will surely produce hope.