Sunday, January 29, 2006

Genesis


i am reading the creation account in Genesis and savoring every scarce word there is on the pre-fall narrative. I am both delighted and angry. I am delighted that we have a creation account, which depicts mortal existence as it was intended to be. It is unmarred, and humanity lived in perfect relationship with God, each other, and the earth with all its creatures and elements. In a fallen world, sometimes i want to breathe calmly, and so I return to the comforts of this ethereal painting of the first days. i recall the promise that God will one day restore creation to this pre-fall form, and I will experience all of its pleasures.
Yet the briefness and lack of description of the pre-fall days makes me angry. Who was it that wrote this account, some modern day journalist who couldn’t wait to get to the juicy details of corruption, knowing that crime and cruelty sell? Why the rapid descent into the pits of corruption, anarchy, and disorder? Why couldn’t we just hang out in the garden a little while longer? I wanted to hear about the natural springs and water falls, the plush green grass that one could fall into with a softer landing than if one fell upon the oversized cushions of my couch. I want to know more about the walks God took with humanity in the cool part of the day, when the wind was blowing gently, bringing with it the marvelous smells of the garden. I want to see how the first couple related to each other, and what it looks like when two people completely and unselfishly love one another. What did they talk about? How did they make each other laugh? What was it like to have your wife walk around naked all day?
These are the kinds of creation accounts you get in Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, where Aslan sings all of creation into being, and to be a part of the pre-fallen world is compared to an eternal dance which continuously births forth new life and being. Or what about Tolkien’s creation account in the Silmarillion, which gives you a glimpse into the world of God and the immortal angels as they set about to create a new perfect world? Middle Earth is birthed and formed, and the account goes on for some endless number of pages. You can splash around in the waters of the pre-fallen world and listen to the rustling of the leaves shaking on their branches as the cool east wind passes. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to leave. You don’t have to enter the chapters which lie ahead, pronouncing the doom of the world as you have enjoyed it. There is room to move back and forth between the pages of perfect order, rest, and peace.
This is not so with the biblical account of creation. The narrative depicting God’s perfect ordering of hills, mountains, seas, rivers, and grasslands comes to an abrupt end, not even taking up an entire page. Sure the font type is small, but that’s because you wouldn’t be able to lift the book if it were written in 12 font. They’ve got to cram all those words into a tiny space if you want it to fit into a book you can carry along to church with you. With all those words and pages, it seems like a little more could have been spared for the pre-fall narrative. That’s the part we like. There are so many other parts of the bible I would rather do without, like Numbers. Or why did they need to add Chronicles I & II when the four books of Samuel and Kings do a more than an adequate job of covering the years of the monarchy? Wow, can you imagine if we did away with Chronicles and added two books worth of Eden and the best air you could possibly breathe?

Uncertainty


Something that characterizes “Postmodern” thought is the loss of faith in science. It’s not that we believe science is irrelevant. Certainly not. Without science we wouldn’t have our iPods and notebook computers, X-boxes and palm pilots. No, we need science. We just don’t want to have faith in science. A system which cannot seem to figure out whether eggs and coffee are either good or bad for you definitely should not be trusted as a source for determining the meaning and purpose of existence. This isn’t just the thoughts of a conservative Christian (not that I could pass for conservative), but seems to be a common thread of the postmodern generations, whether religious, non-religious, or irreligious. Blocher, (In the Beginning) says it this way,

“The language of science urgently needs demythologizing. Anti-scientism excels in this exercise. Its strength lies in its exemplary critical vigilance, whilst the great mass of people bow down before the sacred cow. What is the progress of science, but a perpetual groping in the dark? Every day readjustments are made, periodically there are major reversals…No science operates without presuppositions…”

Yet we’d be fools to think that this modern way of thinking, super-rationality and empirical evidence, hasn’t affected the church. Of course it has. We can see it in all the logical arguments which back every denominations distinctive theologies. It shines forth brightly in the old apologetics, which attempt to “prove” God and the resurrection along with a host of other biblical accounts. All of this rationalizing and empirical evidence has been applied to the Scriptures, so that for one to believe is no longer an act of faith. Instead, it is argued that not to believe is irrational. Faith itself is no longer understood to be “hope in that which is not seen”, but an unequivocal and certain belief based upon irrefutable evidence. I like what Anne Lamott writes about faith (Plan B):

“I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me—that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”

To me it is a breath of fresh air to return to the uncertainty, mystery, and true essence of belief. Not that we do not have reason to believe, or that any reason would do. Rather, that it is more than reason and evidence. It is spirit and a nagging “hunch”. It is personal experience and something that just seems to make sense more than anything else, and I’m not fully sure why, though I have some fairly inadequate explanations. It is simply because for some reason I can’t seem to stop believing or to believe in any other way, even when I am doubting. It is because while I am feeling empty and broken, at the same time, I somehow feel whole and restored. It is because I have the sense that I not only know, but am being known. How is that for irrational?

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Reinvented Church


McClaren (The Church on the Other Side) notes three types of changes that a church may choose to undergo as it begins to find itself outdated or dying. The first type of change is what he calls “Renewed”. This type of church realizes that it is seriously outdated and attempts to catch up with modern culture. Yet the people in the church are themselves behind modern culture by about 30 years. It moves up to where it is comfortable, yet is still irrelevant to the unchurched, who continue to experience it as outdated. We can see this in our churches who have recently begun what they call “contemporary” services. These services are built on an early 1980’s model. By no means are they contemporary.
The second type of change is called the “Restored” church. This church believes that the big C-Church has gone off the Christ-centered tracks. They attempt to restore the church to an “early church model”, which can mean a number of different changes. Perhaps it’s speaking in tongues, foot-washing, a five-fold ministry, no paid pastors, believer’s baptism, infant baptism, etc. This then becomes their “denominational distinctive” which in turn becomes the focus of the church, thereby sending it even further from the Christ-centered focus that it sought to recapture.
The third, and preferable change, he calls “Reinvented”. This type of church changes its mission. The focus becomes the unchurched, and ministry is developed according to the needs found in the surrounding, contemporary culture. The philosophy of ministry includes the idea that all programs and methods are to be continually reevaluated. All ideas and programs are understood to be temporary, and by necessity, discarded in time as they become irrelevant or ineffective. It carries with it the notion that “when the horse is dead, dismount”. One does not try to fix up the horse to “get a few more miles out of it, but buries it and looks for a new one”.
The problem is that most established churches cannot undergo this type of change. The change is too radical or them. Therefore there is a need for church planting. McClaren had the rare success of shutting down his church, and starting over with the majority of his members intact. They changed the mission, vision, location, and name of the church. Yet not many churches would be willing to do this. This is disheartening because it means that the majority of our churches will continue to be irrelevant, until they are finally forced to close down. Hopefully the resources (buildings, sound equipment, etc) of these churches can then be turned over to new church starts. The only way to keep the new church plants from becoming irrelevant is to incorporate change as a necessary part of the vision statement.
Many people ask why there is a need to plant new churches, especially in a place like Grand Rapids, where there are an unlimited number of churches. I see church planting as the most effective way for the Church to begin reaching postmodern culture. Eventually these new church plants will overtake the formed churches. In some ways I see an unfortunate great divide beginning between the generations. I don’t believe that those of the established, modern church will ever see eye-to-eye with the up-and-coming generations who will move into the leadership of the church. Therefore, in a necessary act of defiance, motivated by a sincere desire to share the message of God and Christ, the young will be forced to rebel against the old, in order to break down the walls and barriers that have been built up around the gospel of Christ.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Community Cont.



Well, I’m still thinking about community. I just can’t get it out of my head. When we first bought our house, and I was still searching for a job, without much prospect, I thought a lot about community. I wondered why we have to be so independent. Why do we need to move away from our parents, buy our own patch of land, get our own deed along with another paper reminding us that we don’t really own the property. Then we go ahead and struggle financially, hoping that we’ll keep our jobs and be able to foot the bill without having to work too much over-time. Why not just build an addition onto our parents house, like they do in so many other cultures where family values mean something. Where the extended family isn’t so extended, but is highly connected and shares life, good and bad, with each other.
Instead we pride ourselves on being so independent. Our property is our own and so are our problems. Our burdens are meant to be carried in a sack that only we are supposed to open. I remember when I was worried about finances. I talked about it with my family on a regular basis. They could tell that it was disturbing me. I wanted them to know it was disturbing me. Not because they could help me out, but because by sharing, it felt like I wasn’t alone. One of my family members said something that struck me: “You’re not alone. Everyone deals with these issues all the time. It’s just that you’re more open about it than most people.” It really troubled me to think that people carry this great weight around and don’t feel like they can share it. I found out for the first time that we’re suppose to conceal these emotions. We’re supposed to go to parties and smile and talk about politics, sports, weather, and people we know in common, but who aren’t there. Everything we talk about must be external to ourselves so that everyone can keep feeling safe. This is why we live “alone”. We say it’s because we need a certain amount of space, and this is very true. We need more space to hide things in. More walls to separate us from the eyes of others.
I want to give up some of this space. I like that our friend is staying with us for a while. I like that my space is being invaded. I think it should be. I wish it was invaded more often. I think I would like to share my home with another family even. Learn to live together, share life, and such. This is very counter cultural, no doubt. It moves against our independence and autonomy. It leaves little room for seclusion. It is perhaps just a dream, that if lived out, I might actually prefer to wake up from. It is easy to think idealistically when you are detached from the actual reality.

Community

My wife bought me “Blue Like Jazz” for Christmas. I noted in an early post how I saw someone reading this and the conversation which sprung from it. It is not that Donald Miller is a good writer, though he’s o.k., but more simply that he is real. He tells you things you’re not sure he should. He thinks things that you thought you alone mulled over. The chapters I’ve been reading tonight are on “aloneness” and “community”. Tonight we had about ten friends packed into our living room. I like having friends over. I like community. Yet I like “aloneness” too. A healthy balance I think. Well, not really. I spend a bit too much time alone.
A few days ago we had a friend move into town. He’s hanging out with us for a time while he searches for a job and gets adjusted to the community. He’s someone I knew from another time and state. We haven’t really kept up over the years, though I often wondered where he was. I figured him to be living as a hermit in some deserted place. I wasn’t far off.

I’ve listened to him talk about the challenges of finding a job. Some conversations I am a part of, and others I just overhear. He doesn’t want just a job, but something to be a part of. Something to set his hands to which is meaningful and has purpose. It has to be something that involves his passions and giftings. I resonate deeply with his search, because these are all the things I have been looking for in a job over the last eight months. I haven’t found it yet and it is utterly frustrating. Perhaps it is just a guy thing. As guys, our identities can become wrapped up with our jobs. I’m glad I got a fancy new title at the job I am currently at. I can be proud when I tell people my title: “Youth Treatment Specialist”. Now my title and my job don’t really match. My job is much less interesting, and I certainly am not a “specialist”, as my title touts.

I wonder what will happen when I’ve finally achieved my aspirations. Realistically I think I will say, “I wish I was doing something worthwhile”. You see, I have this nagging belief that my fulfillment will never be found in my job. Instead, it can only be found in my community. This is scary because it is so much more difficult to develop authentic community than it is to find a job. It is even easier to search for a fulfilling job, not find one, and keep on thinking that once I do, it will cure me. Yet everything keeps pointing me back to the idea that if I want to find meaning and purpose in my life, it is as difficult as truly giving myself to others.

This idea of community as bringing fulfillment and meaning also answers my question as to why I don’t like church. It seems to me that I know church ought to be the place where I discover truly authentic community. The place I go where I don’t feel like I’m just another number in a line, sampling a product that I may or may not buy. Pretending that I don’t notice the person standing on the side of me, goggling over the same product. Walking down an isle, crowded with people who I think should move off to the side so that others can get by, but still acting as though there is no one blocking the way, and that I actually like standing in this one spot scanning over items I am not at all interested in buying.

I guess that is why I’m tired of the lecture from that guy up in front, and long for a dialogue. It is why I don’t like the row by row seating, and wish I could pull all the chairs into one big circle, or even a couple of rings, encompassing one another, with no one standing in the center.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Death Eater


“Once a Death Eater Always a Death Eater”

I was in the shower yesterday, where I do most of my most profound theological thinking, and pondering over this notion of “Already-Not-Yet”. It was something that had come up in conversation with a friend the other day. There are many areas to apply this principle to, and one of those areas is holiness. We are holy, yet we are still becoming holy. This led me to think about the way in which we’ll become holy. We certainly won’t achieve perfect holiness in this life.

The Scriptures say some vague thing about being transformed spontaneously. Many believe this will happen at the “rapture”, or whenever we might transcend from this mortal life, to some new immortality. I once talked about this concept of becoming holy with a Catholic guy, who is now a monk. He thought it absurd to think that we struggle to become holy, never being able to, and then instantaneously God transforms us and there is suddenly perfection. “Why struggle” he asked, “if God is just going to zap the holiness into you anyway?” His solution to the problem was not really any more comforting or sensible though. Purgatory is the place where sinners get purged of their sin nature. They do this by climbing some mountain over and over again or something. Yet, at least it is still in line with the idea of process.

Anyway, this led me to think about that day when we do actually become perfect. Not just positionally, being covered in Christ, but also in our own minds and motives. Will we be able to walk in this holiness without the possibility of faltering? I know that many say that God will somehow enable us to do this, and that we will be “sealed”, but I don’t really find that in the Scripture, and therefore I stick that on the shelf with my philosophy and denominational distinctive books. Those are just possible problem solvers based on personal presuppositions. Anyway, these are just thoughts, somewhat randomly connecting together during a shower.
Then the rank image of Snape, Potions Professor at Hogwarts School of Magic, came to mind. It came to light that Snape was once a Death Eater. You know, one of the servants of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Sure Dumbledore believes he has truly renounced his old allegiances and ways, but has he? Harry has never trusted Snape, and Dumbledore has been wrong before. After all, Dumbledore never realized that Mad-Eye Moody wasn’t the real Mad-Eye Moody. It was a Death Eater who had been transfigured using Polyjuice Potion, or something of some name sorta-like that. And wasn’t it that same imposturous Mad-Eye Moody who said, “Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater”? I never trusted that Snape and would not be surprised to find that he had in fact become a Death Eater again. After all, book six leaves you hanging with what is said to be the death of Dumbledore at the hands of a villainous Snape. Though I’m not convinced that it’s not all just a hoax, and perhaps Snape really is good. But what if the imposter Mad-Eye is right, “Once a Death Eater, Always a Death Eater”?
Aren’t we all Death Eaters of a sort? Haven’t we all enjoyed the apple, or taken the Dark Mark and entered into the service of the Dark Lord at some point? Aren’t we all a bit like Snape? We are reformed aren’t we? Yet if someone were to know all of our thoughts, they might question even our most outwardly pious acts. The way we carry on sometimes makes others wonder. They may wonder whether we are really reformed or secretly still in love with the Dark Arts.
I suppose that somehow God will be able to ensure that we do not return to the service of the Dark Lord after we have become holy. That we will indeed work out our salvation, and that somehow we will be not only positionally holy, but practically holy. He, like Dumbledore, will place absolute confidence in our repentance and reformation.