The Road to Someplace Beautiful

The Road to Someplace Beautiful
Chapel Address by Eric Kouns
Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Virginia
November 10, 2015

[Note: If you’d like to hear this address as it was delivered at EMS, click here.]

Whenever a man of mediocre intellect is invited to address an audience in an academic setting—a pseudo-scholar who wants to foster the pretense of erudition—he will often begin his talk by referencing an obscure quote by a nineteenth-century existentialist philosopher.

I think it was Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish existentialist, who once observed that…

We  live our lives looking forward, but we understand our lives only by looking back.

I would call that either profoundly self-evident or self-evidently profound. But it’s true, in any event. Continue reading

The Gospel is not Hostile to the Culture

Jesus of Nazareth stands at the center of the narrative that best explains, for me, the world, the universe, and the reason for human existence. That narrative, with Jesus at theday-12 center, gives me a sense of purpose for my life and fills me with hope for the future.

Jesus of Nazareth, whom the early church came to think of as Jesus the Messiah (or Christ, i.e. God’s anointed one) embodies the nature of God while, at the same time, he exemplifies the full potentiality of humanness. I come closest to realizing my own potential by aspiring to be like him. Continue reading

A Pastor for People Like Me

Contemporary Christianity in the U.S., especially of the megachurch variety, is a typically American phenomenon. As soon as it achieved some popular “success,” its leaders began to treat it as a product and to develop programs to enable the product to scale in the day-6marketplace. If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank, you know where this leads. Ultimately, it’s not the quality of the product that is most important, it is the efficiency of the business plan and the energy and savvy of its marketers.

Genuine faith is not a commodity, however, and the church is not a merchant selling a product. Genuine faith is based on a trusting relationship, with God and with other people. It is not efficiently scalable. It is messy, inconsistent, and notoriously inefficient. It’s more like a family than a business. Continue reading

October Journal, Day 1: The Sky is NOT Falling

Everybody knows the children’s story about Chicken Little who gets hit on the head by a falling acorn and immediately assumes the worst, i.e. that the sky is actually made of some sort of solid matter and is beginning to rain down upon the inhabitants of Earth. sky-fallingChicken Little undertakes to spread the news of impending doom to all his (her?) friends, most of whom are barnyard fowl with goofy, rhyming names.

The origin of the story is unknown but its roots are apparently ancient. Some say a version of the story may have been circulating in Jesus’s day. The ending of the story, and thus the moral it attempts to convey, differs depending on the version being told and the storyteller’s purpose, but one element remains the same in all versions. Chicken Little has misinterpreted the data. The end is not near. Doom is not imminent. The sky is emphatically NOT falling. Continue reading

Harry Stanhope’s Dream

September 2030.

Father Harold Stanhope removed the stole from around his neck—green, since September is Ordinary Time in the liturgical year—and laid it back on the shelf. Then he unfastened the rope cinch around his waist, took off his alb, and hung it on the rack next to the stole. After pouring himself a glass of cranberry juice over ice, he kicked off his shoes and settled into his favorite chair. It had been a good morning.

He had spent most of the past two hours standing—while preaching, celebrating Holy Communion, and greeting the people as they left the chapel following the service—and at age eighty-one, that was not as easy to do as it once was. Father Harry, as everybody called him, was tired, but he was also very happy. His ministry filled him with satisfaction and a deep sense of gratitude for the privilege of serving God in this place. Continue reading

I Don’t Want to Be a Prophet, I Just Want to Go Home

A friend once described my perception of Christian discipleship as eclectic, and he wasn’t paying me a compliment. He believed that I had drunk from too many different wells, had Rube Goldberg inventiondabbled in too many different traditions, and the result was a sort of “Rube Goldberg” contraption that made Christian life far more complicated than it needed to be.

In response, I suggested that his perception of Christian faith, arising as it did from the tradition into which he had been born, was far simpler than it ought to be. By that I meant that his restricted exposure to traditions outside his own and his limited experience with approaches to Christian faith and practice other than in the community of his birth left him with a myopic perspective. His view of Christianity, I believe, is not merely more simple than mine, it is simplistic. Continue reading

The Consequence of Meeting God Again for the First Time

Look, if you want to point out how far I fall short of the qualities and traits I admire and write about, you’ll need to take a number. It’s a very long line, and I myself am at the head of it. If you would prefer that I not constantly draw unfavorable comparisons between the beliefs and convictions I used to hold and those I have come to embrace in recent years, again that’s a big club, and I’m actually a charter member.

It is possible, if you follow me on Facebook, that your finger has frequently been poised to press the “unfriend” button beside my name. So far, however, you have demurred because either you believe I will eventually self-destruct, or you still cherish some flickering hope that I will come to my senses and recant my ill-advised excursion to the dark side. Since neither is likely, our continued association may be short-lived. And again, that is an ever-expanding fraternity. Continue reading

Disillusioned Yet Optimistic

I am sick of American Christianity. Not all of it, perhaps, but a great deal of it. I know that is an intemperate remark, but when it comes to the character of American Christianity in this election year, the last thing I am is temperate. I am sick to death of a religious system that is not worthy of the name it bears.

The most important stone in the foundation of Christian faith is the bedrock belief that the infinite and omnipotent God has come to us in Jesus Christ in order to make it possible for us humans to be reconciled to God. That is either the most magnificent reality which it has ever been the privilege of the human mind to contemplate or the biggest pile of rubbish ever foisted on a gullible public. Continue reading

Coming Late to the Party

Warning: There is more self-pity in this post than I feel comfortable with, but I hope you can see beyond that, if there is any truth to be found here.

I grew up in a conservative environment, both religious and political. When, late in my career as a preacher/teacher, I determined that many of my basic presuppositions about life and faith were flawed and inadequate in some fundamental ways, I made some changes in my thinking. In terms of the theological and sociopolitical spectra, I moved toward the left. Continue reading

Why New Churches Will Always Be Needed

As I noted in my last post, Christianity took first century Europe, Asia Minor, and Palestine by storm. That is not the way I would describe the impact of Christianity on twenty-first century America. The Christian community has now been around for two thousand years, and its testimony hasn’t always been upright and noble. It has failed to emulate the character of its Lord, and familiarity with the history of the church has bred contempt for its message in many quarters.

The teachings of Jesus are still true and life-transforming, however, even if those who purport to follow Him have not always been faithful and consistent. The message of hope and forgiveness and a new kind of life made possible by the life and death and resurrection of Jesus is still the best news the world could hear, even if the messengers have not always borne it with grace and dignity. And yet the fact remains that, as long as Christians need to relate redemptively to a culture that may be apathetic or even hostile, there will be a need for churches where they can be equipped and encouraged, find healing and strength, share burdens, regain perspective, and renew their hope. Continue reading