Thursday, December 28, 2006

Why i Still Sweep my Chimney on December 24th...

My wife and i have entered into a lot of discussion about the role of Santa this season. A lot of our friends don't like the idea of Santa. Some see it as taking away from the focus on Christ's birth, while others see it as playing into consumerism, and yet others simply don't like to lie to their kids about such issues.

Of all these reasons i grapple with the whole change of emphasis away from Jesus and toward Santa the most. Yet it is precisely because i want my kids to have a positive experience of Jesus that i continue to embrace the jolly Saint.

What i mean is this: Kids just don't appreciate or understand all of our value systems. i don't feel that i can expect my child to appreciate that while their friends get gifts at Christmas time, they don't, because it's about celebrating Jesus as our gift. i tend to think that in attempting to help my children gain a deeper appreciation for the true meaning of Christmas, they are going to begin associating Jesus with the Grinch who Stole Christmas, and my intentions will backfire in my face.

So we've talked about maybe doing gifts a day or even a week early, and making Christmas a day to focus on family and our spiritual beliefs and practices. Or maybe choosing a different day to focus on Christ's birth (like a day that wasn't originally a major pagan holiday celebrating the birth of Mithra).

At the same time, i think it's a ton of fun to see the kids get excited about Santa coming while they are sleeping, and anticipating the gifts he's left behind and the evidence that he's been there (the piece of cookie i left with a bite mark in it). i like fantasy, mystery, and wonder. i agree, it's too bad they had to pick such a beautiful religious holiday to stamp this over, but i think the idea in itself is a fun one.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

CNN Special

Hey, if you're able, check out the CNN special "After Jesus: The first Christians" on Sat & Sun 8pm or 11Pm eastern time, 5pm & 8pm pacific time.

After Jesus: The First Christians: The challenges, struggles and revolution that became Christianity. CNN Presents "After Jesus: The First Christians."

Here's a link to some online extras that go along with the documentary.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What the Hell Happened to Christianity?

Here's an article posted on CNN's website today...

By Jay Bakker and Marc Brown
Special to CNN

Editor's note: Jay Bakker, son of former Praise The Lord leaders Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Messner, is minister of Revolution Church and subject of a new documentary series, "One Punk Under God," on Sundance Channel. Marc Brown is a Revolution staff member.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- What the hell happened? Where did we go wrong? How was Christianity co-opted by a political party? Why are Christians supporting laws that force others to live by their standards? The answers to these questions are integral to the survival of Christianity.

While the current state of Christianity might seem normal and business-as-usual to some, most see through the judgment and hypocrisy that has permeated the church for so long. People witness this and say to themselves, "Why would I want to be a part of that?" They are turned off by Christians and eventually, to Christianity altogether. We can't even count the number of times someone has given us a weird stare or completely brushed us off when they discover we work for a church.

So when did the focus of Christianity shift from the unconditional love and acceptance preached by Christ to the hate and condemnation spewed forth by certain groups today? Some say it was during the rise of Conservative Christianity in the early 1980s with political action groups like the Moral Majority. Others say it goes way back to the 300s, when Rome's Christian Emperor Constantine initiated a set of laws limiting the rights of Roman non-Christians. Regardless of the origin, one thing is crystal clear: It's not what Jesus stood for.

His parables and lessons were focused on love and forgiveness, a message of "come as you are, not as you should be." The bulk of his time was spent preaching about helping the poor and those who are unable to help themselves. At the very least, Christians should be counted on to lend a helping hand to the poor and others in need.

This brings us to the big issues of American Christianity: Abortion and gay marriage. These two highly debatable topics will not be going away anytime soon. Obviously, the discussion centers around whether they are right or wrong, but is the screaming really necessary? After years of witnessing the dark side of religion, Marc and I think not.

Christians should be able to look past their differences and agree to disagree. This allows people to discuss issues with respect for one another. Christians are called to love others just as they are, without an agenda. Only then will Christianity see a return to its roots: Loving God with all of your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself.

The Apostle Paul describes this idea of love beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."

But don't take our word for it; look at what Jesus and his followers stood for in his time and what Christianity stands for today. Then come to your own conclusion.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Acting in Love

Jesus set up an unparalleled example of love and non- discrimination as he dined with some of the most unpopular people in Palestine. They ate at the same table, broke bread off the same loaf, laughed together, listened to each others stories, and got past their many differences.

i find it hard to dine and build community even with those who share my socio-economic status. Mostly due to our lack of motivation to get together and build relationships. i have community, but sometimes it feels so disjointed. i would like to see our worlds of fellowship, spirituality, and mission come together. As it stands, over here...i have fellowship. Over there...i have spirituality. And in that one place, that only has enough room for me to stand, i have service. What i mean is, i don't really serve along-side anyone in my community or spirituality groups. Service is something i do, when i go to work, when i volunteer for a ministry at church. There are others there, serving as i am, but i don't feel that sense of "doing it together". It's kinda like we're each doing it, and it happens to be at the same time. Hmmm.

Finally, the prospect of true dine with those whom are different from me. Maybe they're less educated, less socially appropriate, not real careful to maintain their hygiene, or are constantly needy and can't seem to "give" in a relationship.

Not to just serve a meal to the homeless, but to truly befriend the homeless, and not in that condescending ministry focus "hey Henry, i am super happy to see you once a week and to do good things for you for an hour."

Can we overcome these obstacles, these differences? Can we eat with the leper, the homely woman, the selfish and arrogant, the pompous, the stinky? Can they play with our kids and enter into small talk with us? Can we share life together?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Emerging Hope

i have been completely challenged by the theology and praxis of the emerging church. For a long time i really didn't understand Christianity, it's purpose and direction, other than from an atonement perspective: Jesus atone's for my sins so that i might be saved (go to heaven). This felt strangly lacking.

It's no one's fault that i thought this way, and perhaps i just missed some of the other aspects of the faith due to my lack of attention. One aspect, being missional living; the other being relational living. This doesn't sum up the movement (which is still lacking a theology for the relational, though it is a big part of their "living). It only speaks to two areas that have both challenged me and given me something to work toward both personally and from a ministerial perspective (equipping others).

Scot McKnight posted a blog today that talked about two major aspects of emerging; what we are emerging into and what we are emerging from. We are emerging into how we think church should be in the future (adapting to cultural change) and we are emerging from where we've been (conservative evangelicalism, disunity of the Church, power structures of our past).

Many people are asking "what are the dangers of emerging?" While this is important, i hope just as many are asking "what are the positives of emerging?" One day "emerging" will simply be the mentality behind how the majority of Chrisians understand and live the Christian faith. i believe this will be highly relational and missional.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Tapping into Consumerism

The "Red" campaign, backed by the likes of Bono, has launched and is in full force. You've likely seen the advertisements on television. American Express has come out with a new "Red" card, which stands in stark contrast to my own "Blue" card.

My blue card earns points which i can trade in for merchandise. i got myself a nice 1 gig memory card for my pocket PC and have been jamming to U2 ever since.

The Red card on the other hand donates one percent of your purchase dollars to help fight AIDS in Africa. Which to me seems like a much more noble cause. Upon learning of it i immediately tried to trade in my Blue card for a Red card. Unfortunately i would soon learn that the Red card is only being offered in the U.K. i haven't heard any news of if and when it will launch in the US, which is a huge consumer market.

The whole catch is to tap into the power of consumerism in order to start putting dollars toward world relief. Now there are some who don't like this idea and say it's just a ploy for AE to gain more customers among a demographic they usually don't appeal to. That may very well be true. Yet i still think it's a great idea, and i wish more companies would attempt this ploy rather than appealing to the whole "earn for yourself" deal. It at least gets people thinking and it taps into the culture in a way that is highly relevant. They don't have to dig into their pockets and make a decision to give, them simply have to charge, and when this holiday season is over and they forget about giving, they'll still be giving (even unintentionally), and perhaps that Red card will constantly remind them that there is a need greater than themselves out there.

And would it be such a bad thing if it became "trendy" to give?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Straw man Burns On!!!

(See previous post, "Dying is usually painful" first)

O.k., just when i thought it was safe to love the "straw man" i created, i recieved an e-mail informing me of the American Family Association's call to protest because a Muslim guy wants to take his oath of office on the Koran rather than the Bible (imagine). Click here if you dare: America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on.

Oh, and he's also the first Muslim elected to the united states congress. How'd we let that happen?

All right, i can't beat up my straw man anymore, so i'm going to go punch a pillow.

Dying is Usually Painful

i've been pondering the comments from the last post (Christ Follower), particularly Jeremy's, and considering whether perhaps we do set up a bit of a "straw man". A straw man is a ficticious character, with mostly exageratted attributes, that is suppose to reflect an actual argument or perspective (but doesn't do so accurately), with the aim to make a case that is easy to shoot down. Catch that?

Maybe i've made a bit of a straw man out of "fundamentalists" (Scot McKnight wrote a good post today about using this terminology). They're out there, no doubt (Jerry Falwell; Pat Robertson; all their loyal followers), but the average church goer really doesn't fall into these categories. So yeah, we can dislike the outspokenness of the "fundamentalists" but really i'm just not sure there are that many of them. Jeremy made mention of those who personally desire to "dress up" for church and the such, and i don't think anyone means to put people who are simply living by their own personal convictions in this category. We all have our own personal convictions, and if we have any sort of authenticity, we'll live by them. Though we won't necessarily feel the need to force others to live by them, and by-and-large i think this goes for most people.

We do need a change. We do need to be more active in living out our faith, and being culturally relevant, which the church at large has a difficult time doing (including me), but it doesn't mean they are trying to impede the faith. Though it is still very, very, very frustrating. But all things in love. i'll be preaching a sermon on that concept later this month. i do pretty good at it accept when it comes to the issue of the future of the Church and what i see getting in the way. So this is the area i need to apply love to. That both sucks and is good.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ebony & Ivory

i was as shocked as most last week at seeing Michael Richards (Kramer) go on a terrible rant of racial slurs and threats. i really didn't think there were but a few arrogant people left who thought like that. i know Richards apologized and said he really isn't racist, but i think he's in denial. It would have been better if he had said "i didn't realize i suffered from racism."

Recently i attended a two-day seminar called the "Institute for Healing Racism." My eyes were opened to how differently minorities in America experience life. We did a little exercise where the moderator would say, "If you can look at a magazine rack and be confident you'll see people who look like you on the cover of the magazines, take a step forward. If you can go into a store and easily find a doll for your child who is the same skin color as you, step forward. If you are treated poorly at the check out but can usually be confident that it doesn't have to do with the color of your skin, then step forward..." The only time i didn't step forward was when i reached the other side of the room and a wall stopped me from advancing any further.

There is still a lot of racial tension. i don't often see what i consider to be blatant racism, but i definitely see the effects of it. i work at a locked facility where teens are sent by the court system to be treated for substance abuse problems. There are lots of "expectations" in place to help habilitate kids. One of these expectations sets times for when kids need to be in their rooms with the lights out. Tonight i told a client that he had two minutes to turn out his light (he was already an hour-and-fifteen minutes past time). He immediately gave me attitude, to which i reminded him that he was well passed time and i was actually giving him a couple extra minutes to finish up what he was doing. He continued to give me attitude and made me well aware that he was going to do what he wanted. i was firm, but appropriate. i let the door shut as i left to go on to check the next room. The client interpreted this as "slamming his door" and "disrespecting" him. He then came out of his room and threatened to break my jaw. i was rather baffled by his outrageous response to some expectations he's had to follow for the last few months. It was when he started going off about how "this white guy thinks he's gonna come up in this fu--ing place and tell me what to do", that i began to realize there was something more behind this. Something i've seen a lot, though not usually directed at me.

We still suffer from racism and it's effects. i was reading another blog about Affirmative Action recently. It spoke of how we are deceiving ourselves if we think legislation is the way to deal with the problem of racism. Due to the last vote in Michigan, there is no more Affirmative Action. i voted to keep it in place, but i really didn't know what was best. i do agree though, it is not the answer to healing and equality. This has to happen on a much deeper and personal level. i am glad to see many churches making this a priority, though it has not caught on at a secular or national level (that i've noticed). Maybe the church will be a forerunner in this area.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Seeing through the Fog

i first came across Mark Driscoll on itunes, where the "Desiring God" conference made some video podcasts available. Some of the subjects were relevant, such as missional and relational Christianity. The conference was headed up by John Piper, so i knew that some of these "emerging topics" actually were meant to redirect the emerging movement back to a modern movement that seemed to have a postmodern-Christian edge. i wouldn't go to the conference, but i found some of the short clips useful.

Mark, the pastor of Mars Hill Church Seattle, has recently come to my attention again. As much as he desires to be relevant and conversant with culture, his true identity and intentions as a fundamentalist can't help but to seep through. His latest blogs "Episcopalians and Male Testosterone Show Corresponding Decline" and "Evangelical Leader Quits Amid Allegations of Gay Sex and Drug Use" revealed his real attitude about the relationship between men and women. What he calls a "complimentarian" view is clearly a male "elititiarian" view. He's so stoked on testosterone that he can't see his own biases and superioristic attitude.

i believe there is such a thing as a "complimentarian" view, but Driscoll does not hold it. His teachings and rhetoric reveal something of a much different spirit. Unfortunately, this pastor who teaches others how to interact in a non-offensive manner within secular culture seems unable to keep from seeming abrasive to many a believer in his own congregation. People Against Fundamentalism (a Christian site which seems to have started in response to Mark Driscoll) is organizing a public protest against him for December 3rd.

Rose Swetman, a pastor of vineyard Community Church in Shoreline WA wrote an open letter to Driscoll, confronting his latest comments. It's one thing to hold a view you believe to be biblical, but entirely another to use the bible as a defense for an attitude of superiority and discrimination. Again, i'm not saying the complimentarian view does this. i am saying that many people hold to a view they call the complimentarian view, but it is indeed an elititarian view.

Click here to test your testosterone level:

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Complicated Matter

“Why do you think church people get so tense, so inflexible? I mean, they don’t start out that way.”

“I gave up trying to figure that one out, my friend. What do you think?” he said.

“I guess…I guess they get to feeling like I felt when I blew up at you. I guess they come to religion for some certainty, some clarity, some simplicity. I guess they react when the thing they’re counting on for stability starts shaking them up instead of consoling them, calming them.” This was all dawning on me just as I said it. I went on: “I think a lot of them are afraid, just like I was, and actually, to be fair, they have some legitimate concerns. They’re afraid of heresy and sin creeping into the camp. So they want to keep everything safe, sanitized.”

Neo said, “You’re making a lot of sense today, Dan. Keep talking.”

“It really is a legitimate concern, you know. It’s a real struggle for me, and for my church. How do we remain open and accepting of people, without compromising and condoning sin? We really struggle with that,” I said.

“Thank God you have that struggle,” Neo said, “That’s the kind of struggle every church should have, because it means you’re dealing with real people, real issues. Everyone isn’t just pretending to have it all together.”

Associating with Sinners?

Just before mid-terms i received a mailing which showed a picture of the two MI candidates for governor, Grandholm (dem) and Devos (rep). Above their pictures was the question: Who do you want to be associated with?

Next to Devos’ name: James Dobson (and other “conservatives”)

Next to Granholm’s name: Madonna (and other “liberals”)

i don’t know how Granholm started hanging out with Madonna, but that’s pretty cool. i always thought Granholm to be a bit of a prude. Guess i was wrong.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day liked to point out that he hung out with questionable sorts too. In fact, the folks he hung with gave Madonna a run for her money. Prostitutes, money swindlers, people of different ethnic groups (imagine), untouchables (once he even ate dinner at the home of a leper named Simon), and a bunch of blue collar workers.

Now i don’t know that Granholm rubbed off on Madonna in positive ways, but i do find it uncanny that since they started hanging together Madonna went and adopted a baby boy from Malawi. Now i know you think this was just a publicity stunt, but i don’t think we should be too quick to judge. Celebrities have been doing a lot of good in the world these days. And if Angelina happened to give Madonna a good idea, then good for her for acting on it. i hope we all catch on.

Hey, here’s a Madonna video you probably haven’t seen before. i don’t know what i think about it, but at the very least, it’s interesting. Enjoy (viewer discretion advised [some butt shots]:

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Known for Grace?

There's a lot to say about the recent discovery of Ted Haggard's inconsistent lifestyle. i was sorely disappointed by his initial denials. In fact, he denied the allegations so concretely that i truly thought it was a ploy to undermine the proposal for banning civil unions. It certainly "came out" at a questionable time.

i was wrong of course. Well, the timing may have been planned appropriately, yet the allegations held some truth. How much truth doesn't really matter. The fact that there was truth to it at all was enough.

Ted Haggard and his wife both wrote some admirable letters to their church. Ted's letter would have been more admirable if it had come without the initial denials, and even more so if it was of his own initiative, rather than as a response to allegations. i felt Ted did a good job of (now) owning up to his responsibility (he didn't make excuses), and his wife struck me as amazing in her continued support and desire to now continue as an example of living what she believes.

Haggard said this could be used as an opportunity for the Church to demonstrate their grace and forgiveness for the fallen. i think he's right. Yet it made me think about the Church's response to those who do not profess the Christian faith; who feel chastised for their choices, which they live openly.

i believe that Church discipline is always about restoration. Yet i fear that this response may be percieved differently by those outside the Church. Could it possibly look as though the Church likes to talk about grace and forgiveness when their own are caught in hypocrisy, but fail to extend that same mannerism to those outside the Church? Could Christians be viewed as coming down hard on those who are openly gay, but soft on those who hide it and speak out against it? How can the Church demonstrate love, long-suffering, compassion, understanding, and support for those "outside" the Faith? It's important that we not only be seen as loving and forgiving our own. This will serve to add to the perception that we are hypocritical.

Did you know that to those outside the Church it looks bad when we condemn them for their sexual preferences while asking them to view our "fallen heroes" as exceptions and the victims of Satanic attacks that seek to undermine our credibility.

Of course we need to extend grace and seek Ted's restoration. When i say restoration, i am not speaking of his ministerial position, but his integrity, faithfulness, and spiritual wholeness. i am only saying that before we ask the world to show grace and not judge the Church based on these types of incidents, we really must consider why the world feels judged by us.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Changing Worldviews

...Neo stepped away from the projector and walked down an aisle so that he stood in the middle of the lecture hall. [He spoke:] "To really get the impact of how different the medieval model was, we could imagine what would happen if we could take two of you students--let's say you, there, and you, over there-and send you back into the fifteenth century. Nobody could possibly believe that you could be Christians. Of course, first there would be the obvious cultural issues--for example, even a medieval prostitute wouldn't have been seen in public dressed like you"--there was a ripple of laughter here--"and your fine haircut would have made people either laugh at you or fear you were a witch so of some sort"--even more laughter erupted here. "But on a deeper level, if you told them you didn't believe in the pope and you didn't accept that kings ruled by divine right and you didn't believe that God created a universe consisting of concentric spheres of ascending perfection, and if you let it slip that you agreed with Copernicus that the earth rotated around the sun, you would surely be tried as heretics and perhaps burned at the stake."

Neo walked slowly back to the front of the room. There wasn't a sound except for his black leather wing tips scuffing the dusty tile floor. Then he continued, "Now take a moment and let this really sink in. To the Christian culture of medieval Europe, none of you today could be considered real Christians. True, you might say that you believe in Jesus and that you follow the Bible--but that would sound like nonsense to them if at the same time you denied what to them was essential for any reasonable person to accept: the medieval worldview, which was the context for their faith."

"That brings me to an important question for you to think about: Is it possible that we as moderns have similarly intertwined a different but equally contingent worldview with our eternal faith? And another question: What if we live at the end of the modern period, at a time when our modern worldview is crumbling, just as the medieval one began to do in the sixteenth century?"

Taken from McLaren's "A New Kind of Christian"

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Emerging folk are quite proud to remind us that we will be judged according to the parable of the sheep and goats on how we treat the least of these (25:31-46), and that the wise man is one who practices the words of Jesus (7:24-27). On top of this, some are quite fond of reminding us that Jesus didn't offer a doctrinal statement but a way of life, and that he called people to follow him and not just to get their theology right. And they are not beyond saying that every judgment scene in the Bible is a judgment based on works, and no judgment scene seems like a theological articulation test. And they may be willing to say that no one has ever believed everything just right-not Origen and not Athanasius and not Augustine and not Aquinas and-to end the little "a" roll here-not Calvin and not Luther and not Menno Simons or John Wesely. Now it does seem that John Piper thinks Jonathan Edwards got it all right...but I don't think either of them believes in Hebrews 6 [that's supposed to be taken as humor]. Which leads us precisely to the emerging issue with theology: we are left alone in what we think is right theologically and being alone isn't enough when it comes to theology.

So, they don't try to compose theological statements; they rely on the great creeds and confess them as part of their heritage. And instead of worrying about getting everything just right-and they point to the fact that no two scholars agree-not even Michael Horton and Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield agree-leads them to concentrate on living the way of Jesus. We may not get it right when it comes to theology, so what we are called to do is live right-which most of them have either enough theological integrity to admit they don't get it right in practice or they have enough postmodernist irony to say the same. Either way, they get humbled both by theology and praxis.

But praxis in the sense of orthopraxy is a major river in the emerging movement.
Scot McKnight: What is the Emerging Church?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Isle Twelve: Right Hand Side

It will not be a barrier to our culture if we present [the gospel] as the great story. In a postmodern world, there is a story for every occasion. It is only a barrier when we are miffed that we have to take our place in the marketplace of stories, enjoying no favored position. For example, when we continually make a big issue out of school prayer, we are perceived as trying to coerce people. We must let these issues go. If we can’t let them go, we will fail in our mission. If we can, the opportunity to proclaim again the story of Jesus, and the hope of life that is in him alone, will open before us. Mike Regele

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bring Me to Life

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Out of our need we patronize our artists, we flirt with our poets, we petition our architets: Give us your lusty colorful world. Signal to us a state of being more richly steeped in purpose and satisfaction than our own.

Thanks to our artists, we pretend well, living under canopies of painted clouds and painted gods, in halls of marble floors across which the sung Masses paint hope in deep impasti of echo. We make of the hollow world a fuller, messier, prettier place, but all our inventions can't create the one thing we require: to deserve any fond attention we might accidentally receive, to receive any fond attention we don't in the course of things deserve. We are never enough to ourselves because we can never be enough to another. Any one of us walks into any room and reminds its occupant that we are not the one they most want to see. We are never the one. We are never enough.

The holy find this some mincing proof of God. Damn them.

-Lucrezia Borgia in "Mirror Mirror"

Friday, September 29, 2006

Banned Books Week

Hey, it's banned books week. Get out to your local bookstore or check out the list and buy one online. i picked up "Go Ask Alice" during banned books week a couple of years ago. It is the diary of a teenage girl who goes from innocence to drugs and prostitution. i think the book is fabricated, though it is often touted as a real diary. Anyway, it's a good read. If you've read some of the other books on the list, leave a note as to what you thought of them.

"Harry Potter" (Series) (J.K. Rowling)
"To Kill a Mockingbird" (Harper Lee)
"The Color Purple" (Alice Walker)
"The Outsiders" (S.E. Hinton)
"Lord of the Flies" (William Golding)
"Of Mice and Men" (John Steinbeck)
"Goosebumps" (Series) (R.L. Stine)
"How to Eat Fried Worms" (Thomas Rockwell)
"The Catcher in the Rye" (J.D. Salinger)
"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (Mark Twain)
"The Giver" (Lois Lowry)
"Brave New World" (Aldous Huxley)
"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (Mark Twain)
"Captain Underpants" (Dav Pilkey)
"The Anarchist Cookbook" (William Powell)
"Carrie" (Stephen King)
"Flowers for Algernon" (Daniel Keyes)
"The Dead Zone" (Stephen King)
"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (Maya Angelou)
"Go Ask Alice" (anonymous)
"American Psycho" (Bret Easton Ellis)
"The Chocolate War" (Robert Cormier)
"James and the Giant Peach" (Roald Dahl)
"The Pigman" (Paul Zindel)
"A Wrinkle in Time" (Madeleine L'Engle)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Rise of a New View of Life

Philosophically, America is now a "postmodern" society. Postmodernism claims there are no moral absolutes--that is, truth is whatever you believe it to be. That kind of thinking suggests that good citizenship requires tolerance of all points of view and behavioral preferences. The postmodern philosophy also proclaims that the most important element in life is your relationships; that the processes you engage in are more significant than the product of those procedures, which is a "means justify the ends" perspective; and that the most appropriate route to influence is through dialogue, not monologue or the imposition of one's beliefs or approaches upon others.

This shift into a live-and-let-live philosophy affects every dimension of our lives, including the ways in which we understand and practice Christiainity. Obviously, some of the central elements of this spreading philosophy--such as its rejection of absolute moral truth--are at odds with being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Other core principles, such as the emphasis on relationships, are consistent with the teachings of the Lord. The threat to the Church lies in the fact that surpisingly few American [Christians] are sufficiently reflective about the implications of this shift to critically assess its pros and cons--and to know when it is important to take a stand against the encroachment of unbiblical principles.

George Barna: Revolution

Monday, August 28, 2006

Doctrine is the road, not the Destination

It's risky to talk about doctrine as not being the core of Christianity. It is held in the highest esteem and seen as the foundation of salvation. So when i say that relationship is more important than doctrine, well established Christians grab the oars and start paddling away from the terrible waterfall of heresy they see ahead. Fear becomes noise in the ear canal, and nothing further is heard.

The average Christian would consent to the statement that "It is by what we believe that we are saved." Yet this is the greater heresy. It is this emphasis on correct belief that has neutered the Church and made it impotent in society. The affirmation of correct belief has caused great division within the Church. As Christ said, "A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand."

It is by faith that we are saved. And that faith is in a person, not a proposition. It is not by believing that Christ is divine that we are saved. It is not by believing in the Trinity that we are saved. It is not by understanding propitiary atonement, or understanding the complexity of the incarnation and confessing that Jesus is both fully God and fully human. We are saved by acknowledging our lack of and need for a relationship.

Doctrine is the road which leads us to a relationship with God. Therefore, doctrine is essential, but it is not the final destination. Doctrine helps us to understand our plight, and how we can reconnect with our source of life. It helps us to understand the God with whom we desire to enter into relationship. Yet all this understanding, if it does not lead us to relationship, is useless.

There are countless examples of people in the Scriptures who had doctrine, but lacked relationship. These were despised by God and Christ. There are also examples of people who lacked doctrine, but had relationship. Some of these would be Melchizedeck, Abraham, Moses, Enoch, the thief on the Cross, and others who walked and talked with God; many before any formal doctrines or Scriptures were established. This is not to say that doctrine is dispensable. Why would we disregard something handed to us by God in order to better understand who he is in relation to us? It is only to say that doctrine is a tool and a help, and not the prize.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Wisdom is a Lady?

The debate of whether a woman ought to teach in the Church is still alive and well. America is utterly baffled by this. Due to the wars raging against Muslim nations, Americans have become aware of this seemingly backward phenomena continuing today in the most fundamentalist of places. Yet here on American soil, it seems absurdly out of place.

Male leadership in the Church is limited. Might i be so bold as to suggest that women have become the backbone of the Church today? For male pastors and leaders in the church, this is bothersome. They are often tempted to put a willing male in a place of leadership before a more competent female. Is this a form of Affirmative Action? Certainly some would be disturbed that i even made that connection. But to deny it is about as sensible as frisking Dutch old ladies in the airport while allowing a group of Arabs to pass unsearched, because our "values" dictate against racial profiling. Yet every non-Arab waiting in line at air terminal is eye-balling that guy with the turban on his head, hoping he's not flying with them. Uh-oh, is that too blatant? i ought to be censored. When being "politically correct" becomes synonymous with "ignorance", we must discard it.

i don't have the answer as to whether it is biblical or non-biblical for women to take positions as teachers and pastors in the Church. What i do believe is that there are some really good cultural reasons for why Americans today find it to be ludicrous to keep women from doing so. It is not simply that women have proven to be equally proficient in the labor field. It is also because the ability of men to lead is being called into question, and for good reason.

Many American kids have not had a father in the home for either all or a good portion of their childhood. Often times they do not know their fathers, or their fathers simply don't visit them much. Dad's are often dead-beats, neglecting to pay child support and not physically or emotionally available for their children. Kids then live in homes where moms go to work, provide food and shelter, and take care of their kids needs to the best of their ability. These are the "super-moms" of America. They seem to carry unweighable burdens, as the sweat drips off their brow. They come home and wash the dirt off their hands and scrape it out from under their fingernails, and then apply a fresh coat of nail polish as they adapt to their p.m. role of being "mom". They drive the kids to their events and pack lunches for the next school day. All this while dad is managing another short-term relationship with a woman you'll never meet, and consistently practicing his trade of warming a barstool.

If a kid knows their dad, they will likely love him unconditionally. They will be ecstatic when he at last picks them up for a visit. Often times, especially for boys, it will be as though dad can do no wrong. While the love and hope of a relationship with one's paternal may remain vibrant, something else is lost. It is respect for all other men. Men come to be viewed as incompetent, unreliable, self-centered, lazy, and negligible. At the same time, women in general become viewed as strong, dependable, capable, and reliable.

This of course is a very brief and restricted explanation, but you can likely make other associations and connections from here. While the question of women's authority and position in the Church may continue to be debated for some time, we ought not think it strange that American culture blatantly rejects any interpretation requiring women to have a limited role. It is now the experience of many that when women aren't setting the course of the ship, that ship will likely end up wrecked, at the hands of a drunken (male) captain.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


How do you measure your relationship with God? There are times in our lives when we feel very distant from God. Often times we don't know why. We assume that we need to pray more, or read more, or do something more...

Lately i've been wondering how much of our relationship with God is connected to our relationship with others. Or how much does our sense of well-being effect how we feel our "status" is with God?

First, i wonder if when we are out of relationship with others, and begin to feel that distancing which isolation brings, how that feeling begins to translate over to our relationship with God. Often times when we cut ourselves off from those whom we are close to, we begin to sense a distancing from God as well. Or what about those who don't have significant relationships in their lives to begin with, who also often feel very distant from God. Yet when we are interacting in a meaningful way, and on a regular basis, with those we know and love, we feel a sense of wellness and peace with our Maker.

Also, i have noticed that when we become goal centered, and the accomplishing of those goals is somehow in question or doubt, we begin to feel distanced from God. This lack of hopefullness robs us of our security, purpose, and contentment. Though it is almost a paradox to say that we have a sense of contentment as we strive to achieve some loftier goal.

i am beginning to believe that when we enter into consistent, growing, and authentic relationships, we find a sense of peace within our relationship with God as well. When we begin to find our purpose in the advancement of the Kingdom, rather than our own personal advancement, we begin to obtain a sense of well-being.

You see, in relationships we find meaning. And when we become concerned with the advancement of the Kingdom of God before our own personal advancement, we never lose hope. We have a promise that the Kingdom of God will advance on Earth. We do not have a promise that our own personal goals will find fulfillment. So when we seem to falter or fail, we can still look toward the greater goal, and find great relief in the fact that nothing can stop the advancment of the Kingdom.

Monday, August 07, 2006

On Hearing God

"The difference between you and God,
is that God never thinks he's you"

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ruth part III

Ruth and her mother-in-law were both widows. Naomi’s sons had died, and the narrative makes it appear as though Ruth was childless as well. You can get more background by reading Ruth parts I & II in the archive.

I am contemplating Ruth 2:14, and reflecting on an earlier conversation I mentioned in the previous Ruth post. Ruth had come to Boaz’s field to glean behind the reapers. This was a provision established by God, though not always willingly observed by landowners. Yet Boaz not only encourages Ruth to glean in his fields, but tells her not to bother going anywhere else, because she is welcome to all she can carry. This was a huge relief to a widowed woman, who was also attempting to provide for another widow.

Boaz does not stop here, but in 2:14 we see that Ruth is invited to eat alongside the harvesters. The Hebrew says that Boaz held out grain for her to take and eat of, and that after she finished eating her fill, there was some left over. The Greek is slightly more colorful here, saying that Boaz heaped up grain in front of Ruth, also noting that she ate and that her portion was so filled that there was some left.

This heaping up of grain before Ruth is here to show us how her needs were completely met, with excess. Yet it is not only Ruth’s primary needs (according to Maslow’s pyramid) that are met, but her secondary needs for companionship as well. We noticed it earlier when Boaz invited Ruth to stand among his servant girls. Now she is invited to sit alongside the harvesters and eat with them.

Beth rightfully pointed out that we do have those among us whose primary needs are not being achieved. Yet they do not necessarily sit outside our doorstep, and so we must search them out. Yet for the even greater majority, that we do come in contact with throughout the course of our average day, whose primary needs are met, there are still the secondary needs that starve.

I believe that if we are to live Christ within our communities, most of us ought to be focusing on the secondary needs of those surrounding us. The effects of broken or even the lack of healthy relationships are as plain to see as the effects of starvation and homelessness. Some of the signs are depression, mood disorders, shame, low self-esteem, chemical addiction, hopelessness, physical and verbal abuse, abandonment, attachment disorder, narcissism, behavior disorders, sexual deviance such as child molestation, defiance, self mutilation and affliction, eating disorders, personality disorders, and any other five-hundred things you might rightfully add to the list.

I find it enlightening that Jesus says, “Man does not live on bread alone…” In another place Christ says, “Those who ate of the manna in the wilderness, which Moses gave to them, died; but those who eat of the bread which I give, will live forever”. We need bread to live, but we overhear Christ in a prayer to the Father saying, “For this is eternal life, that they may know you, the one true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” What enables us to live eternally is nothing-other-than relationship. In this way, it is “by every Word which proceeds from the mouth of God” that we live. It is God’s interaction and relationship with us that gives life to our being. God’s first ministry to humanity is to restore us to proper relationship with himself, then one-another, and then creation. So perhaps we could also say, that what enables us to live fully, for today, also has to do with relationships.

And so we begin to answer the question, “Who are the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner among us today?” It is every person with a basic need left unfulfilled. It is all who are in need of open, genuine, and healthy relationships. Who aren’t the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner among us?

The Widow, The Orphan, and The Sojourner

Another part of the conversation we had the other night contrasts right knowledge vs. right action. For a long time the Church has focused on correct belief, thereby effectively shattering itself into a Million Little Pieces. Much like the book that was endorsed by Oprah, many had difficulty determining what the Scriptures actually revealed, and what was perhaps read into them.

What the majority seemed to agree upon was that correct belief was of utmost importance, even in the most minuet details. So while the Catholics sought to burn Calvin at the stake, Calvin’s protégées (the Reformers) tied up the Anabaptists hand and foot, strung a large stone around them, and allotted them their baptism by emersion. The Puritans in America would later do the same to those accused of witchcraft. If a woman was bound and thrown into the water, and she floated, then she was a witch and was burned at the stake or on occasion, less harshly, imprisoned for an excessive amount of time. If the woman sunk to the bottom, then she was not a witch. She was dead, but she wasn’t a witch. Don’t feel too badly for these though, because if it wasn’t for such a great display of ignorance, my wife and I couldn’t have enjoyed the reenactment of a witch trial in the quaint town of Salem, M.A. while we were vacationing a short spell back. What a delightful time. Oh, but the witch was released in this reenactment because the live audience got to cast their own vote. I was sorely disappointed and called for a retrial, but my voice must have gotten muffled in the crowd, because no one seconded the motion.

Anyway, we talked about how right belief was essential, otherwise we believed in nothing, and therefore held our faith in vain. What consisted of right belief was another issue. I suggested there is already common ground among the greater majority of Christians. This is why a person can be Baptist, and while not agreeing with the Methodist, still consider them true followers. One common factor seems to be that most of us hold the earliest creeds in common. It is when we start making amendments to these that cracks emerge in our boat, and we all find ourselves clinging to broken slabs of wood, with our legs dangling in the water, hoping it will keep us adrift.

Beth, my friend who is the walking personification of “nice”, declared as ever so brazenly as one with such a small voice could, that we are not called to define the Trinity, but to love others. She said that the Scriptures teach us to care for the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner among us. The rest of us, reflecting on how we not only don’t do this, but also don’t really know of any widows, orphans, and foreigners who need our help, started pondering what this would look like in our community. It was determined that just sending money to the Samaritans Purse really wasn’t enough.

I noted that in ancient times widows, orphans, and resident foreigners abounded, and had great difficulty providing for themselves. It was the native men of the land who owned property and worked, while women took care of the home and did not earn pay. A woman or child without a father found themselves in a very hard pressed situation. The foreigner as well depended upon the native man’s good graces. Food, shelter, and clothing were common needs in those times.

While there are many places in the world today that have these same needs, the people we brush shoulders with everyday often have these needs met. What then are the common needs of those around us?

And so the story of Ruth will soon continue…

Monday, July 31, 2006

A Christian Perspective?

Last night, an old friend was in town, and a whole slew of us got together to hang out. The majority of us knew one another from N.H. Somehow our paths managed to converge at multiple points, and we've been enjoying somewhat of a journey together.

We all come from radically different backgrounds and experiences, which always makes for interesting conversation. After the gathering started to simmer down, some of us stragglers came upon the topic of the image of Christianity. i don't really remember what led us there, i just know that we started talking about the worlds perspective and our own perceptions of Christians. i've never been a big fan of Christianity or the Church. i know that's ironic, yet very true. i've often stereotyped Christians as being arrogant and judgmental. Many spout off their opinions like it's common knowledge and utterly unimaginable to come to any other conclusion. Some often do not recognize that our life experiences shape who we are and what we believe. A rejection of their presuppositions seems utterly preposterous and an obvious sign that one is intentionally hardening their heart against God.

i don't know how or why i came to perceive Christians this way, and my outlook has definitely changed over the years, though not completely. One friend suggested that all people hold as firmly to their beliefs, even those who don't claim any faith at all. Each person believes they are right and in some fashion assumes that those with a differing worldview or conclusion are wrong. Is this right? It may be, i'm not really sure. Still, it's been my experience that many of the non-christians i've come into contact with are usually much more gracious towards our differences of beliefs, than even some of my "fellow-believers" are toward our minor variations.

Earlier today i was talking to another friend, whom you might say is a quasi believer. There are aspects of Christianity and the Scriptures that she believes are divinely inspired, or at least true, while other parts are human alterations and fabrications. She said, "I live conservatively, but i believe liberally." In other words, while she tends to live according to what most would consider a conservative lifestyle, she believes that others ought to be given the freedom to live less conservatively. i actually resonate pretty emphatically with this, though i have even stronger convictions than she that, though i may not fully understand it, there is a way of living that is truly more creationally harmonal (not hormonal) than alternative ways. That is, there truly is a creational designer (a.k.a God), who is all wise, and created this world very intentionally. That he knows and understands the design and rhythm of creation in such a way as to be able to reveal to us a way of living which is most in harmony with his intended purpose. When we live out of synch with this rhythm and dance, it is like playing out of key in an otherwise perfect symphony.

i don't understand all of God's ways, but i choose to live according to them. Yet even this is too bold of a statement. Really, i only have a right to say that i live according to what i believe those ways to be. And this really cannot negate the notion that many others, who do not hold to my beliefs, also live according to what they believe.

So i guess i have to conclude that in many respects it is arrogant to say "I know". We can only legitimately say "I believe..." or "I accept...". Maybe we might even be so bold as to say, "I feel compelled to affirm..." In doing this we are admitting that we have limited knowledge and understanding. The greatest thing we can do is walk humbly in our attitude toward the differing worldviews of others, recognizing that what we have is nothing less or more than our strong convictions and sure beliefs.

i know this way of thinking is difficult for many Christians, who have been taught that the way we convince others of the truth of our faith is to proclaim it with the most resolute and resounding conviction of something which has been as scientifically and empirically proven and obvious as the law of gravity.

Yet consider this, even the absolutist scientist is becoming a dying breed. Quantum physics and mechanics, as well as string theory will be what our children grow up learning in the science lab. Every presupposition will be brought into question, and the fundamentalist Darwinian, big bang theorists will lay silently in their graves. We will all stand amazed before the complexity of creation.

Until then, don't say it. Words are falling like snowflakes and blending together, while they are often vague and hard to comprehend, the picture of a snowy landscape speaks volumes.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Moving towards Stagnation

i've got this secret fear, which makes me rebel against many forms of authority. Yeah, i rebel in a quiet way, but none-the-less... i heard once that by the time you're thirty years old (and i'm nearly there) you're pretty much set in your thinking. This scares the hell out of me, because i've seen the devastating effects of those trapped in their thinking, from hopelessness and alcohol to fundamentalism in theology. Honestly, i can take the hopeless addict before i can deal with the hopeless fundamentalist.

i don't want to ever come to the point where i think i know even most of what i think i need to know, or that i've somehow cornered the market on everything from politics to purgatory. i don't want to be that silver haired man, sitting at the conference desk, drilling some newly graduated seminarian on all the "acceptable" ways of thinking (which happen to be his ways of thinking).

Perhaps now you understand why i run such a really boring blog, that seems to irritate only certain clergy.

i recently began a book a friend mentioned she was reading. i not only wanted to be able to relate with her, but the book sounded like something i should just read.. because maybe it relates to me. It is called "Healing the Shame that Binds You" by John Bradshaw. It was a quote in this book that brought my secret fears to the surface:

"...One of the major blocks to creativity is the feeling of knowing you are right. When we think we are absolutely right, we stop seeking new information. To be right is to be certain, and to be certain stops us from being curious. Curiosity and wonder are at the heart of all learning. Plato said that all philosophy begins in wonder. So the feeling of absolute certainty and righteousness causes us to stop seeking and to stop learning. Our healthy shame, which is a feeling of our core boundary and limitedness, never allows us to believe we know it all. Our healthy shame is nourishing in that it moves us to seek new information and to learn new things."

When conservative pastors talk about Christian thinkers such as Rob Bell, Len Sweet, Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and those sailing in similar boats, i often hear lots of comments about questionable theology. i've read and listened to a lot of what this group of thinkers has to say, and there are bits that diverge from traditional thought, yes. But for the most part i don't see them as selling a new or divergent theology, and most of their thoughts are to be taken as just that; "Their thoughts."

i find myself to be highly conservative, actually. i refuse to grip too tightly to a theology that has been debated for centuries. Or to call black that which is clearly grey. i am an adamant free will theist and Armenian who thinks that just maybe the Calvinist's got it right. i flow in certain spiritual gifts and yet think, maybe the Pentecostals were wrong the whole time. i believe firmly in believers baptism, while i baptize two of my close relatives using sprinkling.

i hold tight only to this, my confession of Christ; not as empirical, undebatable knowledge, but as faith, with a strange type of certainty that no scientist would ever approve of, and with the sometimes wandering thought that when i close my eyes for the final time, i may never open them again.

It is not a desire to be cutting edge, or to shake the "Traditions & Teachings" of the Church that is motivating the seemingly "unorthodox" voices that are emerging in the Church. It is the refusal to draw solid lines in what ought to be the passing lane. It is the fear that by overly defining truth we may end up building walls that keep the truth out. It is the fear that by believing we've heard everything that God has to say, and have completely understood it already, that we will shut ourselves off from his voice. This is not something we can live with. We can live with being ostracized by the gatekeepers, but we ourselves cannot erect so many gates. To us, this is spiritual death and the equivalent of life apart from Christ and the Spirit.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Relational Theism

"In postmodern culture, there is now more power in relationships than we have seen in half a millennium. In the modern world, people sought meaningful relationships. In the postmodern world, meaning IS relationships."

Len Sweet

Check out my Wikipedia article on Relational Theism. Relational Theism is a theology i'm developing that will serve as a Christian worldview. i hope that it will one day become a driving worldview behind the Church (i realize that i'm dreaming big here). The article i posted on Wikipedia is still under development. You won't find anything too shocking or out of the ordinary. It is what many already believe, though i would like to see the relational aspect become the driving theology behind Christian thought and activity.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Nonlinear Communication: How?

"From the perspective of postmoderns, communication happens in the church, but nothing is communicated. There's a lot of clucking, but not many eggs are being laid. Why are religious leaders having such problems "connecting"--making the transition from literacy to graphicacy, from linear to looped, from writing sermons to creating experiences?

Because we are prisoners of the pulpit. The sermon is still a viable and dynamic communication form, as the success of Comedy Central and the stand-up comedian testifies. But the sermon has not always been held hostage by the pulpit. Some of the greatest spiritual awakenings in Christian history happened when preachers escaped from pulpit prisons and started preaching from the aisles, the fields, the streets, the airwaves."

Leonard Sweet: Aqua Church

i know we need to move the sermon from the pulpit to the family room; From a monologue to a dialogue. It is the "how" that challenges me. i can make this happen in a sunday morning class, but i don't get how it would work for a church service. Doug Pagitt makes a good start in his book "Preaching Re-imagined", but there is a long way to go. There is another book called "The Emerging Church" by Dan Kimball that gives some starter ideas for changing the worship setting to become more experiential, yet some of it seems a little trendy. Hmm...

Here's some questions Sweet asks on this topic...

"Would you agree that 'we are prisoners of the pulpit'"?

1. How has our lack of media literacy or "graphicacy" encouraged this?
2. What can you do to make the sermon a more dynamic communication form?
3. What can you do to make the transition from simply writing sermons to creating experiences?

Hey, Check out this article on Pastoral blogging.
Check out this interview with Len Sweet.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Gospel as Relationship

Reading 1 Thess I am blown away by the relational emphasis. It is obvious that what was shared between Paul and the Thessalonians was a lot more than a new teaching. They entered into intimate relationship with one another.

“But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us” (1:7-8).

This is the way to share the gospel. It is highly relational, and a sharing of our very lives and selves. It is eating and drinking together, and sharing our story. It is the type of relationship that can say, “As for us, when for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face” (2:17).

If we want to share our faith with another, it will have to come by sharing our very selves. What we have to share is a relationship, not simply a message.

“Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. He has told us also that you always remember us kindly and long to see us—just as we long to see you…How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you” (3:6-13).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


If you're not living on the edge
you're taking up too much space

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Paving the Way?

An old friend was talking to me last week. She is not a Christian, and when I knew her, I was not a Christian. We stumbled onto the topic of religion and spirituality, and she believes all people worship the same God, just in different ways and with different understandings. It is hard for her to believe that God would put us all in this world and expect us to find one certain way, when there are so many options to choose from and so few direct answers.

My first inclination was to point to the one Way, using some apologetics to set up the case for Christianity. Instead, I did what I felt was the better and right thing to do; I remained quiet. I simply listened to her and admitted to myself how I too had these same thoughts time and time again. This certainly seems like a logical conclusion. I admitted that if I were born in an Islamic country, I’d likely be a Muslim. If I were born in certain Asian countries, I’d likely be a Buddhist.

I believe deeply in my faith, as others likely do theirs. I believe deeply in my faith, that it is the fullest revelation of God. Yet I do not think it is the most obvious choice. At the same time, I do not believe all paths lead to God. I do believe that we need to be humble in our beliefs. We are never to hold elitist attitudes, and we are never to forget that what we have is the certainty of faith, which is indeed a strange type of certainty.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Thoughts on Community

“It is much easier to accept the inability to speak, walk or feed oneself than it is to accept the inability to be of special value to another person. We human beings can suffer immense deprivations with great steadfastness, but when we sense that we no longer have anything to offer to anyone, we quickly lose our grip on life. Instinctively we know that the joy of life comes from the ways in which we live together and that the pain of life comes from the many ways we fail to do that well.”

-Henri Nouwen

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Family Bible

Who is allowed to interpret the Scriptures? This question is nagging me. I know reading isn't as easy as we first assume. Just because we are literate, doesn't mean we know how to follow a plot, theme, or line of reasoning. Also, since the King James translators took the liberty of mincing the text into tiny morsels, that we endearingly call "verses," it's all the more difficult to see a letter as, well, a letter...or a narrative as a complete whole. Is it any wonder we have a hard time seeing the context?

Still, the Scriptures belong to the Church community. They are to be a living, vital member of that community. An authoritative member no doubt, but a member all the same. Yet when we go to Church, we often find that our interaction with Scripture is a monologue rather than a dialogue. Usually one person expounds upon the meaning, and the rest of us become passive listeners. The community has little chance of interacting with the text as a group. Sometimes the interaction is purposely limited due to the fear of misinterpretation.

After two-thousand years of biblical interpretation by scholars and learned men, we have discovered as many interpretations as were interpreters. What are we afraid of? I suggest that we give the text back to the community. Yes, there will be people who misinterpret or take certain passages out of context, but that's where the rest of the group comes in. Rather than having one person, sitting alone in a room, determine the meaning of a text, we will have a community, filled with checks and balances (including the trained interpreter, a.k.a. pastor) interpreting the text for one-another and balancing each other's interpretations as we enter into a relationship of dialogue. We will have our perspectives stretched and challenged, and be allowed to challenge others. We will have opportunity to hear from others how the story of God, Christ, and the Church is realized in their lives, and be able to derive implications for our own lives.

One church does this by having a tuesday night group, where the pastor meets with a group of people from the congregation to go over that Sunday's Scripture passages. Together they explore the depth, meaning, and personal implication of the text. Come Sunday, rather than quoting some famous Christian, the pastor uses examples and quotes from those within the congregation, and often has people from the congregation share thoughts on the passage, which they had shared during the group meeting. The congregation is allowed to come along-side-of the pastor to learn and develop the message for the body. ...This is one idea, and surely we could come up with others.

After five hundred years of pulpit preaching, if our communities haven't learned how to do basic interpretation, then what more can we expect from our scholar's and preachers? It's time for hands on. Heresy is more apt to develop from an individual interpretation than an inclusive discussion.

-For further thoughts on this topic see Preaching Re-Imagined by Doug Pagitt

-For a basic guide to biblical interpretation see How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth by Fee & Stuart

Monday, May 29, 2006

Ruth and Naomi: Part II

When Ruth returns from Moab to Bethlahem with Naomi, she goes out to glean in the fields (Ruth 2:1-8). For two women with no husbands or sons, this was the only way they could get food, short of prostitution. God had made a law allowing the poor to glean from the fields of others. Not all the landowners followed this very closely though.

Ruth finds herself gleaning in a field belonging to a man named Boaz, who was related to Naomi's late husband. When Boaz learns that his kinsman’s widow is in need, he immediately acts to meet that need. Boaz tells her not to bother going to any other field to glean. He ensures Ruth that she is welcome and ought to think of herself as one who truly belongs there, and gives her a place among his people.

This is the kind of missions we need to get involved with as a Church. So often we look to find some organization that is giving to some huge and worthy cause, mostly because we can’t figure out how else to serve others. Yet we often overlook the needs of those close to us, in our own communities. Boaz returned to Bethlehem and immediately noticed the circumstances of someone nearby and enquires to find out what it is exactly that she needs and he meets that need, making her feel welcome and elevating her status, doing all he can to make her feel comfortable and reassured in spite of her humble circumstances. She feels accepted and embraced.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Modern vs. Postmodern

In modern culture the sea posed danger and created the need for an anchor--something stable and secure. If you don't believe me, just read your hymnal.

If the Modern Era was a rage for order, regulation, stability, singularity, and fixity, the Postmodern Era is a rage for chaos, uncertainty, otherness, openness, multiplicity, and change.
-Leonard Sweet

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Ruth: Part I

I just started working ever so slowly through the book of Ruth. In fact I’m only on verse sixteen of chapter one. I’m struggling with my languages, pretending like I know Hebrew and Greek. I like tormenting myself with translation though, because I walk through like a child, learning to connect words for the first time, and I actually begin to see those words. In the first sixteen verses I am taken with the relationship between Ruth and Naomi. Naomi tells her daughter-in-laws to go back to their people (the Moabites). Naomi’s husband, as well as her two sons, the husbands of these daughters, died. Naomi was old, and not fit for remarriage, or at least she saw it that way. She had nothing to offer these girls. They were young and could still find husbands, and Naomi tells them to cash-in on this. Orpah returns not only to her people, but to their gods, severing the relationship not only with Naomi, but between herself and ultimately Yahweh. Ruth on the other hand refuses to leave Naomi. She declares, “where you lodge, I will lodge…your God [is] my God, your people [are] my people.” The Hebrew word used translates, “she cleaved” to Naomi. The Greek says she “followed” (though it is the same word used by Jesus when he calls the disciples to “follow” him). I like the Hebrew though because it shows the intimacy and paints a picture.

The story got me thinking about the Church community. How we too share at least two things in common. We worship the same God. This is unique, because the greater majority of the world does not worship Yahweh. It is an intimate thing to worship the same God. Secondly, we are part of the same community. Your people are my people, and my people are your people. Ruth, though a Moabite, from a people who worshiped the god Chemosh (among others), takes Yahweh for her God, forsakes her Moabite heritage, and identifies with this unique community. As the story will later tell, she is accepted into this community, and becomes the great-grandmother of David, who is an ancestor to Christ. Yet it is her relationship with Naomi that impresses me most right now. It shows me something about how I ought to relate and belong within this body of people called the Church.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Beyond Belief

The Church must begin to move to a place which is beyond belief. We can no longer solely define our faith based on a set of doctrinal statements. I pray for the day when it will be absurd to say such a thing as, “I’m Baptist,” or “I’m Methodist.” A day when saying, “I’m a follower of Christ” will mean something again, and no further defining will be necessary. When this simple statement will immediately bring a response of shared unity, without question.
To move beyond belief is to move toward a relational and missional faith. A faith which is alive and active, embraces, shares, explores, ponders, smiles, and listens. It is more concerned with knowing the person next to us than knowing the meaning of TULIP. It does not follow the “Roman’s Road,” but shares the life journey, and expresses Christ through intimacy, vulnerability, and reliability in relationship. It struggles, rejoices, questions, laughs, and cries together.
Christianity is a shared meal, with both God and humanity. It does not merely believe that Christ was resurrected, but shares in that resurrected life together and today. It is beyond belief.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Reemergence of the goddess

I recently finished reading The Da Vinci Code. I thought it was an excellent book. I laughed when I noted the little digs, like “everybody loves a conspiracy.” Of course we do. I liked that I could jump online and do a google image search, looking at the artwork and landmarks that he cited. The book was really made to be highly interactive. You feel like you’re discovering secrets in the “real” world, as you read along in this work of fiction.
It is a wonder that it has stirred up so much controversy in Christian circles. The book really isn’t antichristian at all. Tales of Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene have existed openly for some time. The real thrust of the book had to do with the disappearance of goddess worship and the contemporary issue of women’s rights. If this book does anything, it won’t be to undermine Christianity. Instead, it will be one of many recent motivators to reinstate goddess worship.
Before I got engulfed with The Da Vinci Code, I had been reading Merlin Stone’s “When God was a Woman.” I haven’t finished it yet, so perhaps it is unfair to talk about it. Anyway, the whole book sets forth precisely the same theory as The Da Vinci Code in areas that relate to suppression of goddess worship. Though the book is not a novel or work of fiction, but a historically based theory.
I’ve been considering this whole “suppression” theory for a while now. I see some serious flaws in it. I don’t think I say that because of my devotion to the Christian faith. Really, I could care less if goddess worship reemerges. People will always have an unlimited number of objects to worship. Some do so consciously and some unconsciously. Some worship what they consider to be deities, while others worship ideologies or their own significance. So reclaiming the goddess does not seem threatening to me, as though it were something dangerous to Christianity.
I believe what continues to suppress the reemergence of goddess worship is not a patristic worldview, but simply her irrelevance in contemporary culture. Goddesses were always associated with fertility, both of the womb and of the earth. Worshiping the goddess, therefore, has become impractical to all but the agricultural worker, of which there are few.
You see, the ancient people (perhaps not unlike the modern), sought the favor of their gods and goddesses more out of practicality than love. They did not relate to their gods. They sought to appease them, that they might receive some blessing. That blessing typically related to their livelihood or their basic needs to continue living. They worshiped the goddess of fertility in hopes that their seed be fertilized and grow plentifully, so that they might reap a great harvest. I am not speaking in metaphor here. They really wanted their crops to grow. Their lives depended upon it.
Along with this, having children was more than a luxury, it was a necessity. Children were the Social Security and nursing homes of the day. They were a form of protection and provision. Not to mention that many considered a barren woman to be cursed.
Culture has gone through some radical changes. No doubt, patristic monotheistic religion played a hand in suppressing all pantheistic religions, just as the pantheists for some time suppressed what they called the “atheists,” better known to us as the monotheists. Yet our culture, and for the most part, our world, has become very pluralistic, but goddess worship did not naturally reemerge. I believe this is because the vast majority of us have no need to implore a fertility goddess. If the corn fields in Nebraska are dried up, we’ll just get our corn from Michigan. And if we are having a hard time getting pregnant, we’ll implore a fertility doctor. We can use fertility drugs, do In Vitro, or even plant our egg into another carrier who will birth our child for us.
I tend to think goddess worship will reemerge. Yet it will be more of a response to popular culture and media than out of an authentic desire for spirituality. It will be seen as a means of furthering women’s rights (which I am all for), and as a form of psuedo-spirituality, where people just want to do something different and perhaps “cutting edge.” The reason I think this is because of what I stated above, people simply don’t have a need for a fertility goddess today. The god of luck and fortune would be much more plausible, or even the reemergence of Mithra, the soldiers god who is also the god of contracts (from whom we get the “hand-shake”), since we are living in an age of increasing war and bad business.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Learning to Dance

When I think of the Church adapting to postmodern culture, I first think of Christian pluralism, or the possibility of interdenominational relations. I believe that Christians can look past their differences of practice and doctrinal differences, and engage with one another in genuine relationship, not trying to see eye-to-eye, but simply embracing each other “as is.” My hope of course has been that the new “waves” within the Church would begin moving the Church in this direction.

One thing that bothers me about the latest discussions among what we’ll have to call “emergent” thinkers, is the high emphasis they are giving to theological and doctrinal reinterpretation. I fear that some of the conclusions being drawn are just the beginnings of creating new “denominations.” An example of this is the latest conversations concerning the nature and existence of hell. It is great to discuss these topics, to question our general assumptions and traditions, yet this is a job for the Church at large, and not necessarily something we want associated with a new movement that has so much potential for uniting the Church and helping it move forward through this cultural transition. Instead of bringing unity and challenge, it may ignite resistance and criticism.

I also understand though that some of our doctrinal views may be unnecessarily hindering the advancement of the gospel. I too disagree with the traditional understanding of hell, and see it as a hindrance to understanding the true nature of God. No doubt this makes it more difficult to bring the gospel (good news) to those who would readily accept the message otherwise. So I see a need to revisit and even reinterpret some of the traditional positions and teachings, yet is Emergent much to young and undefined to take on this task? Too many people’s personal views are becoming associated with a movement that is meant to encourage Christian pluralism, thereby defining the movement doctrinally, which is a complete contradiction to the whole idea of C-pluralism. Perhaps stepping on each other’s toes is just an inevitable part of learning to dance with one another. I hope we become more graceful.

To download an interview with McClaren that serves as an example of this blog topic click this link: Leif Hansen and Brian McClaren: Bleeding Purple Podcast

Also, there will be a discussion group held on March 21st revisiting the doctrine of hell and some of the more recent interpretations and criticisms.