January 14, 2008 - Book reviews

Elmer, Duane. 2006. Cross-cultural servanthood. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. 212 pp. $15.00.

Early on the author states his concern: "Few Christians I know would claim to know about being a servant much less say they live a servant life in a cross-cultural situation." Next he defines a cross- cultural situation as an "international or interethnic ministry"(14). Yet his first illustration is of his disconnect upon his wife’s first meal she prepared for him. I would contend that we live in a time and place where ALL communication is cross-cultural in nature in some manner, and that all the premises of the book, though applied in a missionary milieu, are pertinent and relevant to any human communication. This propensity to interact with others incorrectly, even within discrete family units, evidences that we all have different cultural influences to deal with. Therefore this book is pertinent to an audience that goes far beyond missionaries.

The key concept in the book is servanthood- whether one will choose to interact with others from a standpoint of the towel (service) or the robe (power and status).
Elmer guides the reader through a process for revealing cultural biases and power positioning. The key story that stays with the reader tells of a monkey whose altruism compels him to save a poor fish he thought was drowning, and in doing so kills it. When we meet needs that we have projected on people, rather than getting to understand their needs from their perspective, we do damage to them, whether they are from another culture or are our spouse who grew up down the road.
Servanthood requires that we lay aside power brokerage in any given situation- to receive from others in an open fashion, and thereby honor others (47). This advice applies especially in the lives of seminary graduates who may unwittingly slip into an attitude they are somehow superior to others. The smell of seminary can destroy any common ground that one may have to humbly meet others on their own grounds. Elmer warns that if we mainly operate from a stance that communicates that we should "tell you, lecture you, correct you"(30) we leave little time or impression that listening to others has much of a premium.

Elmer’s process is helpful and logical, even if it leaves an implication of overstated linearity. Openness leads to acceptance leads to trust, and from that proceeds learning, understanding and service. It is a natural progression, but in real life is fitted with stops and starts, two steps forward and one step back, from this writer’s experience. While I align with much Elmer has to say about servanthood, experience demands it be balanced. Elmer’s bias shows through when he declares the term servant-leader to be redundant, unuseful, and unnecessary. I diverge with him on this point as well as his contention that he has not met many Christians who are servants. My life has been defined by such saints.

In Mark 10:35-45 Jesus teaches the concept of servant leadership as seen reflected in the operating principles of the Kingdom. James and John did not understand that suffering must precede the position of authority. There is leadership authority that comes simply from having a position of authority. This is the common type of authority that is evidenced in the fallen world. This type of authority is legitimate, and indeed needed, but it is also this type of authority that is easily perverted into authoritarianism and despotism. It is an abuse of positional authority to dominate, overpower, and control others.

In Mark 10:43 Jesus says "but it is not so among you." There is another brand of leadership authority beyond that of position. It is derived from serving others. Those who serve others by truly, deeply understanding and meeting real human needs will see an increase in their leadership authority. Leading from position only will lead to rebellion or immaturity, but leading only by serving will lead to confusion and burnout.

A servant leader serves others by exercising authority over them as necessary in accordance with his service to his Master. Failure to exercise proper authority properly is a big problem in leadership, and far more difficulties arise from the lack of people taking responsibility than from an excessive desire to assume responsibility. 2 Corinthian 4:5 helps resolve the tension here. "For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond servants for Jesus’ sake." We are servants of others, not to do their will, but for Jesus’ sake and out of concern for his interests to God’s glory. And God is interested in people.

Humility is another key concept. Humility is a way of life, encompassing all the person. It is not individual actions. Humility is only humility if it is centralized in the perceptions of those to whom it is being extended. Paradoxically, if one thinks they are humble, they probably are not. One thinks of Agatha Christie’s Poirot character whom in one story, The Spanish Chest, determines and declares that "no one will match Hercule Poirot for his humbility". The very contention creates a non-sequitur.

Another key concept to consider is that of acceptance. Acceptance is not tantamount to approval. It is negating a culture of rejection found in the western mindset. People can be valued without condoning their every action and their worth to us and to God as people created in the imago Dei must be communicated. Indeed without intentionality the opposite will be communicated by default. Lack of understanding what others are saying or in international setting, reticence to learn the local language is a hurdle to communication of acceptance, as is lack of patience, being reactionary and judgmental. An unjustifiable dogmatism will communicate that different is bad, and will kill any hope of true dialogue. It is important to remember that Christ is the likeness to whom we are all being conformed, not us.

Trust, learning, and understanding are all concepts that work in an interrelated fashion. To make someone believe you have their best interest at heart is only possible with authentic humility and selfless investment of time. It may require forgiveness and repentance and sincerity of a heartfelt apology where trust is violated. Without trust, not much can be accomplished relationally by frail children of dust.

I have to personally apply the concept of grace and humilty in relating to others in my own native culture to which I have recently returned. Education has historically been reviled, not revered, and those who sought to be better educated were seen as attempting to separate from an implied inferior cultural mode. This is exacerbated when one attempts to speak to every situation rather than actively listening and learning, perceiving and discerning the hearts of others. The perception of being puffed up is just as damaging as actual arrogance and must be exorcised from the behavior of the servant minister. To truly learn is to exercise the ability to receive knowledge about, from, and with others.

If we don’t do our homework, we run the risk of turning others into objects. Have you ever been someone’s "ministry?" Others do not want to be treated this way any more than we do. When we create dependent relationships, by nature we are condescending to others and are not preserving their God given dignity. The only way to truly know someone is in relationship with them. When we learn from others we are actually honoring them, attributing worth to them. As Elmer points out that valuing people is the key to success overseas (100); I would contend this is true universally. Communicating respect and cultivating the role of a learner is a continual, life long process, regardless of the dominant culture one operates in.

There is nothing transformative about what I read in this book, but it affirms life principles I already intentionally pursue. This world is no friend to living a life characterized by mutuality, one-anotherness, and koinonia, and it is a battle that easily wearies the willing warrior, even within the body of Christ. So much less as we sojourn as aliens and strangers, the parapedemoi (1 Peter 1) of this world.
Listening is one of the most effective expressions of real love (122).We give open access to our hearts and minds by listening. Listening resolves itself in discernment of right responses, and initiates dialogue. This learning with people leads to understanding, the next key concept.

Key to any communication is understanding one’s audience. This is not only a strategy and a skill, it is the goal of human interaction. Seeing through the eyes of another human being makes our world larger and ultimately glorifies our Creator. Patterns of behavior and values reveal the integrity of others. God has seen fit to reveal himself to the nations and in that diversity of creation we can learn more of the nature of God and how he works in the world at large. The rich diversity of human cultural expression can build new perspectives on the image of God in man. God is not a white middle class American.

Elmer points to "treating others as equals". Philippians 2 commands us to treat others as better than ourselves. In Acts 10 Peter’s thinking about Gentiles evidenced its transformation; not only are they no longer "dogs", he declares that God is no respecter of men- He shows no partiality. This transforms how I think of favor and privilege, and drives me to my knees. When I look closely at myself an my estimation of my own value, the importance of my pursuits, and realize that in God’s eyes my precious "worthwhiles" are no more valuable, and indeed no less, than anyone else’s, humility can start to have a hope. We are all to be being transformed into the likeness, having this mind in us- that of Christ Jesus as portrayed in Philippians 2, humbling ourselves in obedience, the obedience of faith, just as he humbled himself in obedience to death on a cross. To be crucified with Christ requires living as Christ live in me, incarnating Christ to others next door and around the world.

Arbinger Institute, The. 2002. Leadership and self-deception: Getting out of the box. San Francisco: Arbinger Properties, Inc. 178 pp. $14.95.

The phrase "getting out of the box" has turned into one of the most overused clichés in history. I don’t usually choose to read books that have no attribution of authorship. This one is obviously geared toward getting readers to buy the application available on their website. You can even recruit your family to drink the Kool-Aid.

Concept one: we should treat others like human beings. This means realizing that others have frailties, foibles, and hangups just like you do. Keep short accounts of wrongs done against you and, in effect, do the Golden Rule. This is the religion of the Arbinger Institute. Really, these truisms may sound foreign to the average biblical illiterate, so I suppose it is good to get it to them any way one can. I just wish they would cite the Author of the concept, or even Aristotle, who conceived that we are at the root of most of the problems we face. "We have met the enemy and he is us", as Walt Kelley’s "Pogo" said.

I find that the evangelistic techniques used in the book are very similar to modern Christian techniques designed to produce converts. We SHOULD give testimony to the truth. There is a difference between the Gospel and our testimony, as Will Metzger has said in his book Telling the Truth. We must distinguish between our role and God’s in effecting transformation. Salvation is impossible for "nice" people. Truth is revealed, not "figured out" as the book implies.

Concept two: we deceive ourselves. As far as it goes, there is nothing but motivation to question in the narrative. When we deceive ourselves, we perpetuate the self justification endemic in the fallen world. The Bible has an answer to this, as this is what happened at the fall of man. Rationalization, blame, and doubting of the Authority of God ensued. The book implies one can overturn the resulting chaos by being nice to people. The Scriptures reveal that the problem is a problem of the heart which suppresses the truth and is without excuse.

The book is a treatise against self-justification. Biblically speaking, the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. In Jeremiah 17:9, Jeremiah asks, "Who can know it?" The answer is, the Holy Spirit of God does, and He who indwells us will teach us much about our motivations if we will submit our insufficiency to Him. That answer blows this book out of the water. It is possible to supernaturally walk humbly before the Lord your God, and he is gracious enough to keep you in that mode and chastise you into realization when you falter. Failure becomes the platform for right reckoning of reality. Simply put, we are to be crucified with Christ and to consider others as better than ourselves. This is a lifelong pursuit in the same direction. We are to see others as bearing the potentialities of the eternal weight of glory. Grace is more than theology; we are to be people of Grace. We are to be speaking the truth in love.

Yes, our motivations are flawed, and this truth is brought to light throughout the book. The "box" is a metaphor for self deception: the inscrutability of our motives and our resistance and even inability of honoring others as created imago Dei. Fallen humans are contrarians. They do not what they know they should do, as Paul describes in Romans 7. The book says we then go on to justify this betrayal of our better instincts. In a work situation, the ultimate betrayal is to fail to do that which is best for the organization, what you were hired to do. A watershed event of my marriage was the day I understood deep in my soul that I was responsible for my wife’s responses toward me. One can be right and be completely wrong. Such a state of being has come to be known as "wrongeousness" in my family. Rather than seeking to be self- justified, considering the other to be better than oneself- an intentional , conscious reckoning of this to be the greater reality- changes everything. This is the cruciformity that derives from the failure of self to attain. This is being crucified with Christ and to know the fellowship of His suffering. Only then can we do the imperative of Micah 6:8: "What does the Lord require? To do justice and love mercy and to walk humbly before the Lord your God." and Isaiah 57 15: I dwell…with him also that is of a contrite and humble heart..." Psalm 51:17 has it, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."

Concept three: When I act contrary to how I "feel" I should treat others, I begin to see the world in a way that justifies my self-betrayal. While this is partially true, (sin begets sin in a vicious cycle) it places the source of our vision of our world at a false beginning point. The biblical witness is that we are born this way. We, in our old man, are hell-bent to see ourselves as somehow different from others. We are all special cases. We exaggerate others faults and our own virtues. We really believe at times that our fragile life is so much more than others on the worthiness scale. It is not so, saith the Lord! Self-centeredness is the mark of the fall. One must approach this book from the perspective of the fallen, who do "what seems right to a man." Seeming rightness is paradigmatically driven by feelings. In that context, I wonder how much of value is really to be derived from the book? This overblown pamphlet is short on real content and at times is insipid. The only real transformative power is the power of the Cross. The cover reviews are impressive- "astonishing", "stunning", "profound", "transforming" and "a worldwide phenomenon" whet the appetite which is then left flat. The application, if you check the website for the Arbinger Institute, can be had for $795 a person. As such the book acts as a hook for the answers that can be served up in subsequent content. This writer would propose that this constitutes a cherry-picking and perversion of Biblical principles without the Author being cited and for the bottom line of the Arbinger Institute.

What is amazing to me is that so many people have not learned the excruciatingly simple lessons portrayed in this book in their authentic life circumstances This perspective takes hypocrisy as a given. What is ultimately described is an autonomous attempt at mind renewal, and salvation. The lynchpin question remains: if reality is distorted by self- deception, how can one expect to have a viable reckoning of that reality without an external standard? If one is dead in trespasses and sin, how dead is dead? Is substantial salvation autonomically possible? No.

Rationalization is indemic of the fall. Truth with a small "t" does not set one free. One is reminded of Christopher Lasch’s book, "The Culture of Narcissism" in which pathological narcissism is set apart for normative narcissism; rather than hedonistic or self-centered sense of self, one has a very weak sense of TRUE self. The book leads one to consider others as equal with yourself, not better. What one ends up with in this scenario is transactional equality, not true humility. Biblically speaking, we are responsible for our responses to others, and we are responsible for our own elicitation of their responses to us. Pushing buttons is an art form. Empathy for others is the collateral of Grace. At any given point along the continuum the book describes, one can cast oneself headlong on grace- and devastated, we arise with renewed minds.

The problem is not what the "active resistance of what the humanity of others is calling me to do for them", it is the active suppression of truth- that the God of the universe is calling me to serve others – the least of these- and as I do unto them, I do unto Him, who is the most worthy of all to be served.
I will attend to another possible application of the book’s precepts: for instance, a key to evangelism is sharing one’s experience with others in a way that allows them a platform from which to question their own virtue. The book calls this an out-of-the-box relationship that allows an empathetic response and a sharing of need. Choosing to honor others is a key to staying "out of the box." "Knowing the material doesn’t get you out of the box. Living it does." These are truisms that could have been articulated in a way far more effectively than in the tiresome narrative of the book, in this writer’s opinion.

Peace Flows From Grace

Our strength is in quietness and trust
Though we are frail and Though we are dust
We find our salvation In repentance and rest
In waiting upon the One we have confessed..
And quietness will be its effect
And peace will be righteousness' fruit
Our confidence we shall expect
To see Him as the end of our pursuit.
For peace always flows from grace
There is no other source
That can ever replace
Mercy's course
Your manifest presence is in this place
For peace always flows from grace.
You are our portion
And you are our peace
You are the resting place
Where we find release
You are our deliverer
So now be our guide
In your sheltering wings
We will hide.
For peace always flows from grace
There is no other source
That can ever replace
Mercy's course
Your manifest presence is in this place
For peace always flows from grace.

Anthony Foster
January 18, 2008

This is my prayer

That I may gain Christ
That I may be found in Him
Because of His Righteousness
Based on His faithfulness.
This is my prayer
Lord you are able
To keep us from falling
'Make sure our calling
You are our defense
So present us in your glorious presence
Present us without fault
Present us with great joy
Your blessed Name we exalt.
To the only God and our Savior
Be glory and majesty
To the only God and our Savior
Be power and authority
Through Jesus Christ our Lord
Before all ages
Jesus Christ our Lord
Now and forevermore

Jude 24-25
January 18, 2008
Anthony Foster

Christmas Lullabye

Hear the angels sing "Fear Not"-Be at peace"
All you men with whom the Father is pleased.
With echoes of glory taken up in their flight
They cry holy holy ho;ly tonight.
There is rest to be found in the righteous child
The fruit of the ages -by God's will reconciled
So songs from forever from heaven on high
Descend to us in Emmanuel's Lullabye.
Sleep now in sovereign security
The lord watches over providentially
The Lord is with Men
All heaven attends
While the cattle low in harmony…
The shepherds tiptoeing the baby to see
Let him sellp soundly and let Him just be
For there's coming a time
He'll be swaddled in our crime
And there will be no rest for the weary…
So listen now to the angel's song
They will be silenced e're long
And though he could recall them
Ten thousand strong
Then silence will reign over the earth
But for tonight we celebrate the Savior's birth.

January 18, 2008

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