Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why I Don’t Witness to People on Airplanes

Mark spoke in chapel every other year, usually in the spring, which was about the time I’d accumulated too many absences to cut. A former college basketball player with an imposing six-foot-seven frame, bald head, and booming voice, Mark travelled the country telling Christian college students about his evangelistic exploits, challenging us to “wake up from our apathy” and start witnessing to people before they died and went to hell.

Mark said his favorite place to witness to someone was on an airplane. “It’s a captive audience!” he shouted from the stage. “I mean, the target is literally strapped in next to you!”

[He probably said “person,” but all I could hear was “target.”]

Mark suggested we begin a conversation with our seatmate by asking if they knew where they would go spend eternity should there be a catastrophic failure in the plane’s hydraulic system and we all went down in flames. If that doesn’t work, he said, we should drill the person on how many of the Ten Commandments they might have broken, revealing their need for a savior—Ever committed adultery? Ever lied? Ever disobeyed your parents? Ever coveted your neighbor’s things? You know, make a little small talk about idolatry and death and then tell them about Jesus.

At the end of chapel, Mark always announced he would be going to the local park that afternoon to evangelize. He would take a group of students with him, but he needed those students to stand up and publicly pledge their commitment to process.

“Who’s going to live for Jesus today?” he asked. “Stand up right now if you’re ready to take the gospel seriously and live for Jesus.”

Mark was an expert at direct-response advertising.

As an introvert, the thought of chasing down a jogger in a public park so I could ask him if he ever committed adultery made me physically ill. So, even though I prided myself on being known on campus as “Bible Girl,” I chose not to live for Jesus on the days Mark spoke in chapel. Instead, I stared at my shoes, flush-faced and ashamed, as a few of my classmates rose reluctantly to their feet. They always came back from those trips looking confused and tired and stressed about whatever class they’d skipped for Jesus. I gathered things didn’t go exactly as planned.

“Well, at least we planted some seeds,” they always said.

But we knew what that meant.

Planted seeds are the consolation prizes of failed evangelists.


I think of Mark every time I fly, which lately, is several times a month.

And I have no doubt Mark would be severely disappointed in my typical airplane conversations, which involve a bit of small talk at takeoff (“where you coming from?” “where you headed?”), followed by blessed silence as soon as we reach cruising altitude and my seatmate and I indulge in our respective books or music or sleep, followed by friendly chatter during the final descent (“you going to make your connection?” “don’t you hate/love American Airlines?” “you fly a lot?”).

Of course, sometimes things get a little more interesting.

Like the time I sat next to a mom and her little girl, probably six or seven. It was the little girl’s first time in an airplane, so everything was exciting and breathtaking and adventurous. I switched seats with her so she could look out the window, and, for the first time in a long time, I too saw unicorns, sea monsters and peacocks in the clouds.

Or the time I sat next to the guy from Milwaukee who needed a drink at 8:30 in the morning, and even after I’d put in headphones, opened my kindle, and scratched my face/shielded my eyes/ propped up my chin/picked my freaking nose so he could CLEARLY see my wedding ring, kept inching closer, and talking louder, and looking me over a bit too carefully.

Or the time I sat next to a young man from Hyderabad, India, who couldn’t believe I had been to his home city and that I even knew a couple words in Telegu. He was easy to talk to, spoke warmly about his wife and kids, and made me feel all travelled and wise. When he said he and his wife had found a good temple in Charlotte, and a community of Indians that helped them preserve their culture and language for their children, I said, “Oh good! That’s so important,” knowing good and well that Mark would not approve.

Or the time I sat next to the very friendly salesman with the very loud voice who was very committed to his work of selling hair transplant equipment, very interested in how much hair my husband had on his head, and very disappointed to see that the inflight magazine included a full-page ad for his competitor. He struck up a conversation with the middle-aged guy across the aisle and had nearly sold him, (and the rest of the plane for that matter), on follicular unit extraction by the time we landed in Charlotte. Later, I walked by a restaurant and could hear his voice booming from the bar—“strip harvesting?! Nobody does strip harvesting anymore!”

Or the elderly woman who clutched her rosary on takeoff and landing, or the kid who looked way too young to be wearing an army uniform, or the Latina woman who didn’t speak a word of English and cried in confusion when they made her change seats because she wasn’t allowed to sit in the exit row, or the lady from New Jersey who, upon learning that I wrote a book about following all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year, declared, “Well it’s a good thing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins so we don’t have to follow any of those old rules anymore!” (Mark would most certainly approve of that.)

But I’ve never “witnessed” to anyone on an airplane. I’ve never asked my seatmate if he’s secured his ticket to heaven, never quizzed the flight attendant on her Ten Commandments record.

For one thing, my faith has changed so much since those days in chapel, I’m not sure I know what it means to “witness” to a person anymore. Somewhere in my mid-twenties, I drifted off the Romans Road and stumbled onto a bigger, wilder Gospel in which salvation is less about individual “sin management” and more about God’s relentless work restoring, redeeming, and remaking the whole world. Salvation isn’t some insurance policy that kicks in after death; it’s the ongoing, daily work of Jesus, who loosens the chains of anger, greed, materialism, and hate around our feet and teaches us to walk in love, joy, and peace instead. It’s good news, not bad news, and I can’t, for the life of me, believe that only evangelical Christians like myself have a monopoly on it.

But what does sharing this good news look like?

I don’t know for sure, but I know it doesn’t look like a sales pitch. I know it doesn’t look like forcing a stranger strapped into the seat next to me to talk about Christianity, like it’s follicular unit extraction, especially if she doesn’t want to. 
In The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight wrote, “Most of evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples.”

Is it possible to make a disciple in an hour and a half, between the beverage service and final descent? Am I letting my doubts about the existence of hell make me apathetic, lazy? Or am I just a chicken?

I don’t know, but I can’t help but feel a tiny twinge of guilt each time I step off the plane onto the jetway without having made a convert.

“Who’s going to live for Jesus today?”


I know several people who came to faith via some form of direct-response marketing—a televangelist, a tract, a Gideon Bible, a black-and-white billboard signed by God. They tell me this with some embarrassment, like these aren’t sophisticated way to meet Jesus…as if any of us meet Jesus on our terms.

Their stories give me the grace to see that there is a place for people like Mark, that God often uses methods I don’t approve of.

Still, I can’t help but roll my eyes when that guy with the megaphone and white pickup truck pulls into the parking lot at BiLo and starts yelling about the Ten Commandments and the wrath of God, like Jesus is just another product we buy to escape pain.

I’ve never had much luck sharing the Gospel with strangers, but I’ve shared it often around my kitchen table, in the Eucharist, at baby showers, in long summer nights on the back porch talking with friends, at coffee shops, at funeral homes, in living rooms, through tears, through music, through celebrations. At the end of the day, the gospel doesn’t really fit on a billboard or a Facebook status or an elevator pitch; it has to be experienced, in community, through the day-in-and-day-out work of following Jesus. That’s what makes it different from just another product; that’s what makes it better than follicular unit extraction.

A couple of months ago, I sat next to a sixty-something woman on a flight to Newport News. She and her husband of nearly fifty years had retired to the Virginia Coast, she said, because there were so many colleges in the area.

“We can go to a play one night, an art exhibit the next night, and a basketball game the following night,” she said. “It’s wonderful…or at least it used to be.”

Tears gathered in her eyes as she told me about her husband’s recent stroke. His personality changed. He can’t remember words. He gets frustrated easily.

“I’d be frustrated too, if I were him," she said. “Can you imagine? Everything that was once familiar is suddenly…difficult, strange, confusing.”

Her husband sat in the row in front of us, staring ahead. She put her hand on his shoulder.

I listened for a long time, moved by her love for her husband and her daily acts of faithfulness in caring for him. At one point in the conversation, she mentioned with some frustration that her daughter had become a “fundamentalist Christian” and wasn’t helping much. I decided not to venture down the Romans Road.

Instead I told her how sorry I was. I think I may have mentioned an ancient poem that describes certain women as “women of valor,” and that I thought she sounded like one. I told her I hoped I could be as good a wife to my husband as she has been to hers, and that I would pray for her.

I worried that last bit might be pushing it, but she seemed genuinely grateful. She nodded off to sleep for the last 20 minutes of the flight and we didn’t say much to one another after that.

As we filed out of the plane, the thought occurred to me:

Maybe “planting seeds” is all any of us ever do.

Maybe “witnessing” is about the choice we have to plant seeds of unkindness, hurry, hate, and greed in one another’s lives, or to plant seeds of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. Whether it’s in our closest relationships or our brief encounters with strangers, we always have that choice—to bring life or to bring death, to bring an agenda or to bring love, to bring a product or to bring Jesus.

The woman on the plane planted a good seed in my heart, and I hope I planted a good seed in hers. We might not get to watch as the God of rain and soil and sun makes those seeds grow, but we can trust that God is faithful, that God can take even our clumsiest attempts at witnessing and turn them into something good.

...Or maybe I’m just chicken.


Tips on How to Sympathize

 How not to say the wrong thing
Susan Silk and Barry Goldman*
April 7, 2013
It works in all kinds of crises – medical, legal, even existential.
It's the 'Ring Theory' of kvetching. The first rule is comfort in, dump out.
When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan's colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn't feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague's response? "This isn't just about you."
"It's not?" Susan wondered. "My breast cancer is not about me? It's about you?"
The same theme came up again when our friend Katie had a brain aneurysm. She was in intensive care for a long time and finally got out and into a step-down unit. She was no longer covered with tubes and lines and monitors, but she was still in rough shape. A friend came and saw her and then stepped into the hall with Katie's husband, Pat. "I wasn't prepared for this," she told him. "I don't know if I can handle it."
This woman loves Katie, and she said what she did because the sight of Katie in this condition moved her so deeply. But it was the wrong thing to say. And it was wrong in the same way Susan's colleague's remark was wrong.
Susan has since developed a simple technique to help people avoid this mistake. It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory.

Illustration by Wes Bausmith

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie's aneurysm, that's Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie's aneurysm, that was Katie's husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan's patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.
Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, "Life is unfair" and "Why me?" That's the one payoff for being in the center ring.
Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.
When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you're going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn't, don't say it. Don't, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don't need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, "I'm sorry" or "This must really be hard for you" or "Can I bring you a pot roast?" Don't say, "You should hear what happened to me" or "Here's what I would do if I were you." And don't say, "This is really bringing me down."
If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that's fine. It's a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.
Comfort IN, dump OUT.
There was nothing wrong with Katie's friend saying she was not prepared for how horrible Katie looked, or even that she didn't think she could handle it. The mistake was that she said those things to Pat. She dumped IN.
Complaining to someone in a smaller ring than yours doesn't do either of you any good.
On the other hand, being supportive to her principal caregiver may be the best thing
you can do for the patient.
Most of us know this. Almost nobody would complain to the patient about how rotten she looks. Almost no one would say that looking at her makes them think of the fragility of life and their own closeness to death. In other words, we know enough not to dump into the center ring. Ring Theory merely expands that intuition and makes it more concrete: Don't just avoid dumping into the center ring, avoid dumping into any ring smaller than your own.
Remember, you can say whatever you want if you just wait until you're talking to someone in a larger ring than yours.
And don't worry. You'll get your turn in the center ring. You can count on that.
*Susan Silk is a clinical psychologist. Barry Goldman is an arbitrator and mediator and the author of
"The Science of Settlement: Ideas for Negotiators."