A Tulip, a Cup of Water, or Both?: Intro

I’ve had a few different instances in my life lately that have centered around the idea of nonnegotiables within the Christian faith. Some of these instances have been conversations and some from my reading. I had a rather interesting conversation with a neighbor of mine who proceeded to tell me that I was “almost there” because I loved God but I didn’t agree with the 5 points of Calvinism (whatever being “almost there” means). On the flip side of that, I was reading Mark 9 the other day and it says this: “Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.” (Not sure where TULIP fits in with the cup of water) Then I happened upon a pastor in seattle’s blog. I took a look at his beliefs page and was amazed at how long it was. Not only does he lay out what he does believe, but he also makes sure we know what he doesn’t believe. I had to wonder after reading all the little details- is all this stuff really helpful for me or would it just end up taking my eye of the ball? Clearly, whatever the absolute essentials are, everyone seems to have a different idea of what they look like in the course of their spiritual lives and everyone still seems to be “right” in their understanding. What gives?

In his book, “The Holy Longing”, Ronald Rolheiser writes about the pursuit of a balanced Christian spiritual life. I’m through the fifth chapter and so far, it’s an amazing book. In the third chapter Rolheiser writes about what he calls the “Nonnegotiable Essentials” of a healthy Christian spirituality. Based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 6, he comes to the conclusion that there are four essential actions that Jesus calls us to in order to have a healthy and balanced spirituality: a) Private prayer and private morality b) social justice c) mellowness of heart and spirit and d) community as a constitutive element of true worship. Rolheiser emphasizes that even though all of these actions individually are still good, if a healthy spiritual life is the goal, none of them can be ignored.

After I read these, I instantly connected with them because Christian faiths of all shapes and sizes can fit into these four actions very nicely. Whether you’re a Quaker or a Baptist or a Catholic or a Non-denominational Evangelical, these actions can be at your foundation all the same. Also, these important actions avoid the doctrinal bickering and dogma that we so often find in the Christian culture. I would propose that if any of us are really serious about practicing these four directions from Jesus, we may simply not have the time to argue about how our system of beliefs is more superior than our other Christian brothers and sisters. If I were truly busy with the application of these directions, maybe I wouldn’t even be writing this blog post. Maybe so, but I’m gonna squeeze it in anyway if that’s ok.

I’d like to take a shot at my first “series” on finding rhythm and walk through these different “nonnegotiable essentials” as Rolheiser lays them out in this book. This will serve as an introduction and an opportunity to open this up to a discussion in the comments section and each post after this one will deal with one of the four nonnegotiables. With that said, I’d love to hear from everyone who reads this blog. What are your “nonnegotiables” and what is your reaction to Rolheiser’s conclusion? I’d love to hear from all of you.


4 thoughts on “A Tulip, a Cup of Water, or Both?: Intro

  1. Jesus seemed to boil it all down to loving God and the people around you.

    Maybe that’s a little vague, but I think it sums it all up well. I also think Rolheiser’s list reflects this pretty well, with prayer and ‘mellowness’ as you called it reflecting our love for God, and social justice and community reflecting our love for people (morality, I think, reflects both).

    I have a little concern with the ‘private’ aspect in his list. I understand the private element that’s needed in prayer, but there are nuances of ‘private morality’ that could be dangerously misunderstood. (I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know exaclty what he means with that phrase.) Still, the list reflects the necessity of loving God and loving people.

  2. Zach,

    Good thoughts, friend. I’d like to make a couple observations.

    I think that our culture disdains what it calls “theological speculation” as inefficient, largely obscurantist, and rarely helpful. I think that’s a problem. Feeding fuel to the fiery misconception are those who have reduced the Gospel to a debate about theology in the public sqaure, which is an improper equation of faith and maturity. We have faith and are faithful as witnesses to Christ. And to be sure, our faith has a bearing on how we conduct ourselves publicly. We will have to wrestle with our central ideas about who God is (theology) as a matter of course in following behind our Lord. But bickering in public is another thing entirely.

    And I think your post reflects this sentiment. You’re not sure that all the minutiae of theological reflection have their place in the Christian life, but your very writing of this piece suggests that you do, in fact, think that there is space for such reflection.

    I would say that your title implies a false dichotomy. TULIP here represents any systematized thought about who God is, and the cup of water represents actions, discipleship, service. But this isn’t an either/or issue. The two go together. It is a fallacy of the modern era that belief and action have even been split apart as different enterprises. There does not have to be, nor is there really, a division between thought and action, between reflection, prayer, learning, and service. They are interwoven whether we moderns choose to acknowledge their interrelatedness or not.

    Finally I would say that you’re right to indict the idea that one needs to get ones house of ideological subscriptions in order prior to marching on down the dusty way behind the man from Nazareth. In some way we are all only “almost there,” as we live prior to the coming of the One who will make all things right and restore us to paradise. Peter, the “Rock” of the church, answered questions improperly, and Jesus had to correct him. He hadn’t figured out the TULIP paradigm prior to jumping on board. It’s quite the other way around. Discipleship is, after all, faith seeking understanding.


    – kp –

  3. thanks for the comments guys.

    Mike, Rolheiser shares your same concerns with the private aspect of these directions. i will get into them in the next post.

    kp, when considering what the “cup” represents, for me it’s not just action alone. For me the cup represents action spurred by sufficient thought. i don’t mean to suggest that action alone is sufficient, but I can certainly understand how the title of the post leads one to that conclusion. sorry for the confusion and in your honor i have renamed the series….thanks for your insigtful comment.

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