Monday, November 29, 2010

waiting to become... 11.28.2010

Waiting… Maybe the most difficult practice of all… at least for the modern American. It’s almost a cliché now but we hate waiting. In an age of microwaves and faxes… email and instant messaging. We do not like to wait. In fact, we are offended when we have to wait. We have become a people who feel somewhat entitled to get what we want and to get it now. We kind of think we shouldn’t HAVE to wait… ever.
The only thing that grounds us is that the real world… the parts that we have been unable to change with technology… is predicated on waiting. We have not been able to shorten the seasons. We have not been able to rush a boiled egg – still takes 10 minutes. And; as Diana Ross told us, and Phil Collins reminded us… “you can’t hurry love… no… you’ll just have to wait.”

Life itself is about waiting. It begins with waiting. And there is not a shortcut. It still takes 9 months to create one of us. Usually. From the moment we discover the new life within, we wait. Not always patiently… not always joyfully. But we wait because we must; because that’s how it works. Maybe it is no accident that we often describe our waiting as being “as slow as Christmas”

Advent is about waiting. It is about a remembered waiting ~and~ an actual waiting that still engulfs us. Advent is, in many ways, not simply about the run up to Christmas but about the reality of every day of our lives. We wait. The world waits. Even if we are unaware… we wait.

If scripture is primarily to be read as story; if it is really narrative rather than instruction manual or rule book… What is the story? It is, to paraphrase and “mash-up” NT Wright, Scott McKnight, Eldridge, and others, a story of creation-fall-covenant-redemption-reconciliation. This the big story but, if you look closely, it is also the content of all of the smaller stories within; what McKnight calls the “wiki-stories”.

What does this have to do with Advent? Maybe; if all our smaller stories refer back to THE story… maybe then the advent journey points to our larger journey… to THE journey. And that journey is now as it was then; what filmmaker Adrian Cowell calls “the slow rhythm of waiting”

Historically, Advent is the culmination of generations of waiting. Israel’s waiting; mankind’s waiting. Israel lived in the shadow of a promise. Israel waited for a king… for rescue. Israel had always waited. They waited in Egypt… in the desert… in Babylon… and under the gaze of Rome. Israel waited to BECOME the promise that God had made. They waited to be a nation, governed by God. They waited… and they hoped.

But Advent, if we wait for resolution, is bound to disappoint. If we wait for the moment when waiting will end, we will risk the bitter realization that we waited in vain. I like the fact that, whatever the historical reality might be, we celebrate Christmas in the middle of winter. The incarnation does not end our waiting – it did not end Israel’s waiting. Instead, the incarnation intensifies our waiting. It brings focus to our waiting. It also gives our waiting hope.

NT Wright talks frequently of God’s process of “setting the world to rights”. Christmas did not complete the process. The incarnation did not finish the task. The birth of Christ, of God in human form, did not fix all that was broken but it did offer perhaps the first tangible hope that the process was underway.

A few weeks ago, Kim and the kids went outside to plant bulbs. I am not a gardener. I have never been drawn to that particular hobby. But I have been fascinated with the rich symbolism that is attached to the act of planting bulbs; to the deeply spiritual nature of the act and the deeply spiritual story it tells.

Anne Lamott has five simple rules she tries to follow in life. #4 is this: “it helps beyond words to plant bulbs in the dark of winter”

In the most bleak time of year… when days are shorter and the light is less; this is when we plant bulbs.
‘Planting bulbs sounds like a romantic and fun thing to do, but it never is. The earth is rocky and full of roots; it’s clay, and it seems doomed and polluted, yet you dig little holes for the ugly shriveled bulbs, throw in a handful of poppy seeds and cover them over again – it’s death and clay and shrivel. Your hands are nicked from the rocks, your nails are black with soil…then…the first bulbs begin to bloom…when this finally happens in late winter every year, I’m astonished.’ ~Anne Lamott – Plan B

The bulbs do not hasten the spring. Planting them does not shorten our waiting. In fact, the falling leaves and the frozen ground will quickly erase any sign that we have planted at all. But if we are to hope, we must plant.

Advent is waiting but it is never passive. We wait and yet we move.
You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes. ~A. A. Milne

And so we plant. And we wait. And we hope. We hope for springtime. We hope for beauty. We hope for light. We hope for what we may yet become.

1 John 3:2-3 (New International Version, ©2010)

2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,[a] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

A few weeks ago I said that the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty. The spiritual truth in planting these bulbs is that we are never sure they will bloom and we are often surprised when they do. Hope is more than wishing – it is deeper. Hope is that tiny part of us that waits and anticipates these things that we do not truly believe are possible. Hope is that part of us that clings when every logical impulse is to let go. And hope sometimes forgets… until February comes and winters grip seems eternal and unbreakable. Then, through the ice and the snow, hope peeks out into the darkened world. Hope peeks above the dead leaves and frozen ground. Hope tells us in the beauty of a crocus or a daffodil; not that our wait is over, but that Spring will come. The blooming of these bulbs is not an end to our waiting… they are a renewal of a promise. They are the images of the hope found in waiting. The hope that we are becoming. The hope that the kingdom is here although not yet complete. The hope that spring will come; and Easter, and resurrection.

But it is still only a picture because winter will come again and we still wait. Our small stories repeat again and again – not so that we lose hope but so that we may rediscover hope each cycle. So that hope is renewed and so that we will continue to wait as we become like him – even though we will not truly be like him until he returns and brings eternal springtime with Him. We are not yet what we will become.
Advent is planting and waiting and hoping. When logic offers no reason for hope; we plant. And we wait. This is the Advent story. This is still our story. In the moment when hope was most dim; He comes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

give peace a chance

Give Peace a Chance
Today I am going to do something a bit cowardly.  You might even call it a “cop out”.  I am going to ask a question… a really hard question… and I am going to HOPE that somebody can come up with an answer by next Sunday.

Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen have said that one of the devices they use, when writing a screenplay, is to write themselves into a corner.  They say the most amazing things happen when they start telling a story and find themselves and their characters in a situation they have no idea how to escape.  Today’s talk is a bit like that.  I know where I want to go… I know what seems most present in my soul at this moment.  I just have no idea how to end it.  No idea how to answer the question… or even whether I believe the question CAN be answered.

So… Greg or Jerusalem… you might want to pay attention because one of you is going to have to finish this next week!  It is possible, I suppose, that I will receive some new wisdom or revelation but, just in case, you guys might want to take notes because one of you is going to have to get us out of the corner I am about to paint us into.

Matthew 6:25-34 (New Living Translation)
 25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
 28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
 31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God[a] above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
 34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Now I can imagine that, at first glance, this verse sounds an awful lot like an answer.  Like a solution.  If it does, you may not be listening closely enough. 

Think about this verse.  Think about how you felt when I read it.  Think about how you have felt when you have heard it read before.  Does this verse comfort you?  Does it make you feel better?  Does it bring you peace?

Be honest…

This verse makes me… angry.

Flowers don’t have mortgages.  Birds don’t worry about their kids… they don’t fret over getting them into a decent, or at least a safe, school.  And this lack of worry has never been able to protect the birds from the neighbor’s cat  - or protect the flowers from drought or hail or a pair of size two sneakers that have been repeatedly warned to “stay out of the flower bed!”

This verse reminds me of dozens of father’s days or mother’s days… trying to pick out a card that honored my parents without being laughably untrue.  “Dad… You were always there for me” (except for that time when you missed my graduation… and my wedding).  This verse kind of hits me that way.  It is the worst sort of “hallmark” platitude because what it asks is impossible and unreasonable.  And… it’s hard to see it play out in real life.  I didn’t really start worrying about my son going to concerts until AFTER he took a beating that sent him to the emergency room.  It is a verse most often quoted by upper middleclass types and quoted TO the unemployed or the struggling.  Maybe where we fall on that continuum has a great deal to do with how we hear this verse.  Sometimes it’s hard to hear the tone of this passage as anything but smug.

Anybody hear ever had your electricity or water shut off?  Anybody ever stop answering the phone because the calls always seem to come from bill collectors?  Any parent ever have to say “no” to your child when your heart desperately wants to say “yes”?  If you have lived through these moments – how would this verse have hit you then?  If you are living through these moments now – does this verse bring you comfort?  Peace?

It isn't the experience of today that drives men mad. It is the remorse for something that happened yesterday, and the dread of what tomorrow may bring.  ~Robert Jones Burdette

We all know how it is to get a song stuck in our head, right?  It is, more often than not, a song we are not particularly fond of… in fact, it is usually the most annoying things that get stuck.  But sometimes, for me, something else will happen.  Sometimes a song will sort of implant itself in my… soul.  Not so much my head but in my soul – my spirit.  It works the same way.  I catch myself singing it in the shower or while I am driving to work.  Sometimes I wake up singing it in the middle of the night.  But it does not annoy me.  It speaks to me.  Deeply.  It resonates.

I have been having this experience this week.  It is what mostly led me to this talk.  When something implants in that way… I have learned to listen.

I'm So Tired
The Beatles

I'm so tired, I haven't slept a wink
I'm so tired, my mind is on the blink
I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink

I'm so tired I don't know what to do
I'm so tired my mind is set on you
I wonder should I call you but I know what you would do

You'd say I'm putting you on
But it's no joke, it's doing me harm
You know I can't sleep, I can't stop my brain
You know it's three weeks, I'm going insane
You know I'd give you everything I've got
for a little peace of mind

That last line is where I keep getting stuck.
“I’d give you everything I’ve got for a little peace of mind”
In fact, it is quickly becoming a prayer.
“I’d give you everything I’ve got for a little peace of mind”
A desperate prayer
“I’d give you everything I’ve got for a little peace of mind”

Don’t answer… this question is rhetorical… do any of you really know peace?  Is anyone here free of worry?  Do any of you truly give no thought to what you will wear or what you will eat?  Or, and this is even harder, to what your children will wear or what they will eat?

If you can answer yes… you should know that, to paraphrase Anne Lamott, the rest of us don’t like you very much.

I have had moments.  I have tasted moments of peace.  But… when I look over my life, and not just my adult life, there has not been that much peace of mind.  Not even in childhood.  Maybe even less peace then.  How do you tell a child in an abusive home not to worry.  Where does that kid find peace?
When has humanity EVER known real peace?

Not since the Garden, I suppose.  Our story, from the fall, through the establishment of Israel, the Gospels, right up until today, has been one long search for peace.  Peace between one another but also peace within our own souls.  Peace of mind.

We long for peace.  We search for peace.  We search and sometimes we settle for substitutes.  We find no peace and so we reckon that maybe numbness is the next best thing – a reasonable facsimile.  We numb ourselves chemically.  We numb ourselves with busyness.  We numb ourselves and we call it peace… but it is not peace.  It is merely distraction.  It is not peace.

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.  ~Mother Teresa

We find no peace.  We DO worry about tomorrow.  About our future… about our children.  And we usually worry alone.  We worry alone because we are ashamed or because expect ourselves to be stronger or to have it more together.  Or, tragically, we worry alone because we are rejected when we worry, when we struggle.

But we do belong to each other, don’t we?  I am not sure this gets us out of the corner but maybe it is the beginning of a path.  Maybe it is the crack in the door.  Maybe this is why so many traditions “Pass the Peace”

“The Peace of the Lord be with you…”

“…And also with you”

We belong to each other… and our burdens and our joys belong to each other.  Maybe peace comes when we are one as Jesus and the Father are one.  Maybe peace is a product of being part of the larger ONE and peace is lost when we disconnect.

I don’t know.  I still haven’t found it.  I still don’t know peace.  But I continue to pray… to beg… to plead…

“I’d give you everything I’ve got for a little peace of mind”

Sunday, August 08, 2010

vocation & community

I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about vocation. My career history has been varied – like most. Some pretty good jobs and some that were, as my buddy Nate likes to say, Soul Sucking. It’s not always tied to money. I spent about four months – a few years back – writing story treatments for a local film company. I woke up every morning with this weird, youthful enthusiasm – could not WAIT to get to work. I felt whole, happy, in my element… I got paid very little - certainly not enough to support my family. And when the project was over, I took another job making double what the writing job paid, and I was miserable. Looked forward to every day with dread. It wasn’t about the money.

Ironically, it’s not always about the nature of the work. In my last position, I spent 3 years as a sales and marketing manager for a medical supply company. I have no passion for medical supplies. We sold clunky, unattractive, therapeutic shoes – not exactly a thing to get passionate about. And… I hate sales. I really do. But guess what? I absolutely LOVED the job. About two years in Kim commented, “you know… you don’t hate your job”.

I said, “yeeeaaahhh…?”

She said, “You’ve always hated your job. We’ve been married for over twenty years and you have never gone more than a day or two without complaining – until now. I can’t remember the last time I heard you gripe about your job”

It was a revelatory moment. Why? Why did I not hate my job? It was not a dream job. It was not a field where I had a great passion. So why?

I figured it out pretty quickly. It was the environment… It was the people I worked with. It was… you guys have heard me speak – you knew this was coming… it was the community.

When that job fell apart last December… when we all lost out jobs… I missed the paycheck. I missed the benefits. But I’ll eventually find those again. The loss that I grieve is the community. I wonder if that will be as likely to come again.

Vocation is action. Vocation is task. But vocation becomes burden and obligation without community. Community breathes life into these tasks; into our calling. Unpleasant jobs are made less so when we share them with folks we care about. Maybe that’s what we really mean buy “misery loves company”. I can do anything… as long as I don’t have to do it alone.

Even the things we love, the things that stir our passions… even these things take on new life in community.

“the life I love is makin’ music with my friends” ~willie nelson

I get that. I have played alone and I enjoy it. But when I get to play with other musicians, the experience deepens. And when those other musicians are friends – people I care about and who care about me… that’s when the moment becomes transcendent.

Let me ask a question. How many of you like your jobs? Not deliriously happy. Just “Like” or at least not “Hate”?

Now… think back to when you were… say… 16 – 18. How many of you are doing NOW what you expected to be doing when you were 16, 17, 18 years old?

Yeah… me either. I was gonna be a rock star.

Vocation is sometimes living out your dreams. Usually, it’s just getting done what needs doing. But community shares the load. It makes it lighter. It takes away a bit of the pressure. It gives us the means to celebrate our victories and to mourn our defeats.

Jesus believed this. If anyone was ever capable of fulfilling his vocation alone it was Jesus. He did not need affirmation or pats on the back. He didn’t need advice or consent. But he needed a community. He needed to work out his vocation with a community of friends. Not just co-workers… friends.

When he began his ministry; it did not take long for him to start gathering guys like Peter, John, Andrew… even Judas. No question that Jesus came to do something only He could do. His vocation – his calling was His alone. But as He lived out this vocation, he shared it with a community of friends. With his buddies. I wonder if, on a long and exhausting day, those 12 guys made the load a bit lighter. I wonder if the weight of Jesus calling was sometimes too much – and if those friends made the unbearable a little more bearable. And I wonder if the only comfort he found, as he hung on the beams of his Roman cross, was the face of his best and closest friend John.

“Jesus does not fulfill his vocation in action only but also in passion. He doesn't just fulfill his vocation by doing the things the Father sent him to do, but also by letting things be done to him that the Father allows to be done to him, by receiving other people's initiatives.”
~ Henri Nouwen, “From Action to Passion”

In Gethsemane, the scripture tells us that Jesus was “handed over”. Not just by Judas but, in a sense, by God himself. In the hours that followed, Jesus vocation changed from action to passion. From an active moving forward to a much more difficult waiting. He was now in the hands, not of his friends, but of those who hated him. He submitted himself to be handed over to their will – and – to the will of the father.

Our vocation, our calling, is action but it is also, sometimes, waiting. When we lose a job, we wait. When we lose a loved one, we wait. When our plans and hopes seem lost and the path we had chosen is blocked, we wait. But we do not wait alone.

“the waiting is the hardest part” ~Tom Petty

When I lost my mother – the worst thing was being alone. When I lost my job, I could not stand to be home alone. When we wait, no matter what we are waiting for, we need a community to wait WITH.

I love the story of Job because, if you read it correctly, it is amazing how little has changed over the centuries. Job was in bad shape. He had lost everything. When he was at his lowest, his community stepped in. And just like good church folk, they spent the next several chapters trying to figure out how Job’s agony was, in fact, Job’s fault. “Let me tell you, Brother Job, what you did to cause the death of your wife and children…”

Job’s friends were not content to wait with Job. They missed this idea completely. They did not get that vocation is not always action – sometimes it is simply waiting. It is simply passion. They simply tried to rush the process. They figured they could hurry God along by unearthing the unknown sin in Job’s heart. And these friends, in the end, did nothing to comfort Job or to share his burden. Instead they added heavier weight to the already unbearable burden he carried.

Our vocation – our calling – is to be and do what Christ was and did. To remake the earth – to be agents of his now and coming kingdom. This work begins in our own hearts and spreads thorough out every part of the world that we touch.

“Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and sons and daughters of God. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth. To put it better, we are even called to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity. ...To work out our own identity in God, which the Bible calls "working out our salvation," is a labour that requires sacrifice and anguish, risk and many tears. It demands close attention to reality at every moment and great fidelity to God as He reveals Himself, obscurely, in the mystery of each new situation.”
~ Thomas Merton. “New Seeds of Contemplation”

We “participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others”. We continue his vocation. We announce his kingdom to the world... we build his kingdom in the world... and we celebrate his kingdom... and all of these things we do together. In community. In a family.
We work and we wait. We move with action and we wait in passion. We follow our call to work and to be still. We labour and sacrifice and anguish and risk and weep. We follow him by being like him. We call others into our work. We join others in their work. We share our passions with those who love us and we support the passions of those we love.

If we see our call as his call... if our vocation is His vocation... then we will carry our call as he carried his. We will labour and sacrifice and risk and weep... together.

His kingdom come...

Saturday, August 07, 2010

the body broken

John 1:11 (New International Version)

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

John 1:9-11 (The Message)

The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet… the world didn't even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn't want him.

Sometimes, in our effort to tell the gospel story, we miss completely the historic reality of the man Jesus. We overlook his humanity and in the process, miss much of the heart of his story; and ultimately, of our own story.

The narrative of scripture follows a certain rhythm or pattern. We see the story embodied in the people of Israel – called God’s chosen people. The pattern of the story is familiar and it seems to repeat itself – for dramatic effect. Creation – fall – exile. This pattern begins in the creation story and continues throughout Israel’s history. Along the way, prophet’s came to warn Israel to repent and turn back to her creator. Many of the prophets were rejected, even killed. Inevitably, the fall would come and Israel would again see her people taken into exile, or captivity, or slavery.

Into this history steps the man Jesus. Maybe Israel’s last prophet. Again, he warns the people of God’s coming wrath and calls the nation to repent. But this story is different. Jesus is not only the messenger – he is actually the message.

The 1st century Jew placed their whole identity in two primary places. Torah and Temple. Yahweh spoke through Torah and he dwelt in the temple. Jesus’ message was radical in so many ways but especially surrounding these two touchstones of the Jewish identity. Jesus’ gospel, the message he preached, was that his father was calling Israel to a new way of being Israel. Israel used Torah and Temple to isolate and separate themselves from the pagan – gentile world. Jesus called Israel to be a light TO the world. He believed that the father intended to save the WORLD… the whole world… THROUGH his people, through Israel. And, in preaching this radical call, he challenged the very heart of 1st century Judaism. He took on the role of Torah and Temple… he became what these institutions had symbolized throughout Israel’s history.

In the beginning was the word, and word was with God and the word WAS God. ~john 1:1

John’s gospel opens with these radical words. Even today, we hear the phrase “the word” and we think of the bible. Jesus - and his disciple John - turned this idea over and said that the scripture was a symbol of the ACTUAL word. Not the written word of ink and paper – but the essence of God himself. Jesus was the word of God. He fulfilled the role and function of the scripture – of Torah.

Jesus also angered the Jewish establishment by daring to make himself equal to or greater than their greatest visible symbol – the temple. They believed that God dwelt in the temple that it contained his presence. But what if… and this is a bit off point… what if, as N.T. Wright suggests, the physical temple was not God’s best dwelling place? What if, when God told King David that he (David) would not build the temple but that it would be built instead by David’s son… What if (and again, I take this idea from Wright) what if Gods reference was not to Solomon but to the ultimate SON OF DAVID… the Christ himself? What if the true temple, the true dwelling place of God was the person, the Man Jesus!

This is a whole other sermon… in fact it is a whole bunch of sermons and maybe several large books with big, smart-guy, words. There is so much here and the implications are so vast – but – I want to look only at one important implication.

This message was ultimately more than the average 1st century Jew could bear. It was enough to enrage the leaders of the Jewish people both political (Herod) and religious (Caiaphas and the priests). It is politically correct to lay the blame of the crucifixion at the feet of Rome – and the Roman government was certainly responsible for the cruelty of the final act. But it was, without question, the movers and shakers in Israel that pushed the story to its horrible climax. It was not, ultimately, the foreigner or the pagan who killed this last prophet of Israel… It was Israel herself.

There is more to the story… most of us know it. Christ was brutally executed. On the third day he rose again. He spent the days that followed preparing His remaining disciples to continue to expand the Kingdom he came to announce – he gave them the authority to act in his place. To be his hands and his feet. His wounded hands and feet… To be his body. His broken body.

Even the most surface exploration of the church’s history gives more than adequate signposts that point us to our many wounds and our deep brokenness. There are moments in our collective history that puzzle us and moments that bring shame and humiliation. The torture and execution of so called heretics. The wars fought and blood shed over different interpretations of scripture. The church’s so called biblical defense of slavery. We look back and we cringe at the things done in the name of God.

But we are his body… his broken body.

We are challenged throughout the New Testament to join with Christ in his suffering. To take up his cross and to be crucified with him.

We are his wounded hands and feet.

And as his body, we are called to do what he did – to be what he was – to deliver the message of his kingdom to a world in exile.
WE are the temple – his spirit dwells not in a building but in us.
WE are his word – he speaks his good news in and through us.
And we are despised, beaten, wounded, damaged.

But like him, our wounds are not inflicted by others… but by those within our family.

John 1:11 (New International Version)
11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

We hear a lot… we TALK a lot about the church being under persecution – under attack. We talk about a nation founded on the idea of religious freedom. But we should remember to ask: who were the oppressors in this story? The religious freedom our founders sought was not from pagans or atheists or evolutionists or abortionists. The founders sought to be free from the oppression of OTHER Christians.

All the touchstones – the popular proofs of the dark side of our faith – Crusades, Genocide, Religious War, Imperialism, Oppression, Inquisition – All wounds and bruises inflicted upon HIS body by his own family.

We are his broken body. We are his wounded hands and feet.

We bring his message to the world. A message not of exclusion or separation but a message of redemption and reconciliation. A message of a God who dwells, not in a hidden inner chamber to be approached only by the most holy – but a God who dwells in the broken and bruised body of Christ – a god who dwells in the Church.

The church is not who she should be – and yet He is here.

The church is broken – and yet He is here.

The church is filled with pride and wickedness – and yet He is here.

The world around us may be evil. There are, and have always been those who hate and mock God and his people. But repentance, HE says, begins in his own house – in his temple – in his body – in us.

Our wounds seldom come from those outside – sadly we rarely get close enough for them to hurt us. Instead, our deepest and ugliest wounds are those we inflict upon ourselves. We wound his body when being right becomes more important than mercy; when behavior modification becomes our mission rather than justice for the poor and oppressed; when punishment and retribution become more important than forgiveness and redemption.
We wound his body when we reject HIS kingdom in favor of one that suits us better.

We are his broken body… we are his wounded hands and feet.

And if history teaches us anything… we may suffer death as we follow him…

The story does not end at the cross or in the tomb. Not his story, and not ours.

The man Jesus rose again. His body bore the scars of his wounding but he defeated death and lives still. The man Jesus is alive.

We are his broken body – but we will experience this same resurrection. We are his wounded hands and feet but we will rise, and live, and be beautiful again.

His kingdom is and is to come. His body – his church – is now but she is not what she will be. She is bruised and wounded but she will not always bear these scars in shame. She will be glorified in resurrection. She will be the same and yet much more.

The father saw Jesus as he was in each moment but he knew him for what he had been and would be in eternity. Christ endured the cross for the beauty set before him.

We are that beauty and we bear our own wounds in hope of the beauty and glory to come.

The church is badly broken… but she is treasured. She is Lovely.

She is beautiful.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

what is the gospel

What Is The Gospel

There was an article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette a couple of weeks ago – Greg shared it with a few of us – that sparked an interesting discussion. The article focused on a very large and influential Christian denomination in the U.S. and the article opened with this statement…

"Saying that 6 billion of the world's 6.8 billion people are lost and headed for hell, the SBC on Tuesday called for a 'new tidal wave of evangelistic and missionary passion”

Over the next couple of days, Greg, Jeff Moore, Keith, Nathan, Mark Edwards, and myself tossed around the implications of such a statement. Do we believe the statement? How do you come up with those types of numbers? Are they accurate? If they are accurate, how do we respond?

Lots of interesting ideas were tossed around but one of the questions raised was, for me, the most significant – with the deepest implications for the church universal and for our community here.

The question is this: What is the Gospel?

As a product of the SBC, I have a pretty good idea how they define the gospel; at least how they define it institutionally. The gospel I was taught was that God became a man and died to pay the price for my sins. That his blood was a substitution for the blood I owed for my sins and ultimately for my connection to the sin of Adam. The gospel was that I needed to accept this gift and profess my allegiance to Christ in a public way. We heard this good news – and – if we accepted and believed, we walked an aisle and made a public profession of our faith. The hope, we were told, was that when we die we will go to heaven to be with Jesus. Or… that he would someday come back to earth and take us to heaven with him. Until then; we tried as hard as we could not to sin… not to cuss or lie… not to cheat or steal… not to watch R-rated movies or listen to SECULAR rock and roll music. The attached moral code varied slightly but the core of the gospel was the same. Accept Christ – enter into a personal relationship with him – and someday leave this wicked world behind to spend eternity with him in heaven.

This is the gospel that most of us heard… it is the Gospel we have been encouraged to spread… but is it the gospel that Jesus came to offer?

This question; “what is the gospel” is pretty vital if we have any hope of unpacking the SBCs statement regarding evangelism. Unfortunately, too many traditions filter this question through a strict denominational grid. I am reminded of the old joke about the man who has gone to heaven and is receiving his welcome to paradise tour from saint peter. After seeing beautiful villages and homes full of communities of saint playing and living together, he spots an area with high, prison-like walls and razor wire. He asks peter to explain and peter responds, “shhh… those are the missionary Baptists… they think they are the only ones here”.

You could easily substitute the Church of Christ’s, the Assemblies of God, 7 Day Adventists, Nazarenes, take your pick. The point is simple – most of us were taught that the gospel is not only to be told in a very specific way but is also to be accepted in a very specific way. I wish I had access to the methods used by the SBC in order to arrive at their 6 billion lost number – and I’d be doubly interested to know who was “left behind” in order to arrive at that number. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.1 billion Roman Catholics in the world and another 240 million eastern orthodox Christians. Just these two combined – with no protestant Christians counted – exceed the SBCs estimate of those who are currently “heaven bound”.

That said… I am not interested at this moment in tearing down these numbers or focusing on denominational bias and prejudice. I prefer to again look at 6 billion question at face value. Full disclosure – I need to reword or paraphrase the question to get to my point so, here it is:

Is it possible that the gospel – the good news of Christ’s kingdom – is not reality to 6 billion of the world’s inhabitants?

All of this leads me back to the question the SBCs comment sparked in me: “What is the Gospel”

Instead of asking what definition the SBC or other denomination might offer – let’s see what Jesus said. Gospel means good news and when Jesus first speaks in public – it is to declare the good news (or gospel) that he was born to proclaim.

Jesus is in the synagogue – he is asked to open the scrolls and read. He chooses Isaiah and reads the following words:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed"

You see - I don't have a hard time believing there are 6 billion that have not received the gospel (or good news) so long as we let Jesus define what, in fact, the gospel is:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed"

As John the Baptist awaited his execution he needed hope – he needed to ask the same question we ask this morning… “What is the gospel”… he needed to know if the messiah had come – if the kingdom was really among us.

Luke 7:20-23 (New International Version)
20When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' "… 22So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

What do you hear…? What is the gospel Jesus preached? Was it a conversion experience? A new moral code? A new religion?

Or was it the new and long promised coming of the Kingdom of God?

What is the Gospel?

Jesus said this. The Gospel is:
• Good news for the poor
• Freedom for Prisoners
• sight for the blind
• hope for the oppressed
• healing for the sick, the blind, the lame
• cleansing for the leper
• Life instead of death.

No call to conversion. No call to religion. No sort of conditions at all. The gospel – the good news – is that his kingdom is here. Now… Among us.

So again we ask… are there billions who have not received the gospel?

• 1 billion of the world’s children live in poverty
• Political prisoners – and criminals. Christ does not specify?
• Cancer
• Alzheimer’s
• Birth Defects
• MS
• Malaria
OUR Lepers:
• In Sub-Saharan Africa - 22.4 million infected with HIV virus
• in 2008 1.4 million died and another 1.9 million became infected
• 1 million with AIDS in US.
• ½ million deaths

And all around, through disease or oppression or violence, we live in a world marked by the sting of death.

Is the gospel real to those who have never seen or tasted the deliverance that Jesus promised? Have they even HEARD the good news?

” I was in Uganda last month. While there I saw, if not hell, some of its suburbs. The stories are familiar to us all - dying children, slums beyond description, systemic brokenness that robs hope. So many of those questions popped into my head - How could God allow this sort of thing? What kind of god could allow children to live like this?

It isn't a new question for me or for any of us. It is among the world's oldest questions I suspect. But as I thought about it something clicked. God isn't allowing this suffering. I am. You are. We are.

I will focus on Africa's suffering. Africa finds itself where it does today because of a billion or more decisions that people made... individual decisions. A decision not to invest here. A decision to buy a slave there. A decision to drive an unfair trade deal here. A decision to pay diamond miners pennies. Billions and billions of decisions like this have been made over the centuries. The result? Africa today.

Is that God's fault?

I think not. Because at every moment those decisions were made God was whispering for people to do the right thing, the just thing, the merciful thing. But we chose not to listen.
God has done his job. We haven't done ours.

I used to think the suffering question was a serious head scratcher, a truly troubling thing - the best evidence against God. No more. I think it is largely an excuse to make ourselves comfortable in our complacency by blaming God for the suffering we aren't spending our lives addressing.”

~ David Kuo – J-Walking

Again… I don't have a hard time believing there are 6 billion that have not received the gospel (or good news) so long as we let Jesus define what, in fact, the gospel is:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed"

We should absolutely be preaching and DOING this message - just not sure there is anything in this mandate about conversion or that any sort of conditions are attached. As followers of Christ - our great commission is to preach THIS gospel. Trouble is, many in the SBC and other denominations, while not completely ignoring this call, put it tertiary to a primary goal of conversion to a belief system. It seems to me that Jesus put it the other way around.

It would seem that there are certainly billions who have not seen the reality of this good news – this gospel. So long as there is oppression, poverty, sickness, captivity... the work of the gospel of his kingdom remains incomplete.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Imago Dei – Our True Selves 04.25.2010

Imago Dei – Our True Selves

Imago Dei… the image of god. Even in English, the phrase feels very liturgical… very “high church”. It’s the kind of phrase that should be uttered in hushed tones – with one eybrow raised slightly…


We see it all around us… in nature… in a starry night or a fierce storm. We see it in the ocean or in a mountain stream. We see it in a painting by Rembrandt or in Mozart’s Requiem. We see his image in beauty. But what if these things are a prism – what if his image passes through these things creating awe and wonder and beauty? Where them does his image, once the light passes through and is separated by creation’s prism… where does the image rest?

the answer is simple and yet unbelievably profound… it rests in YOU

Genesis 1:26-27 (The Message) 26-28 God spoke: "Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth." God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God's nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: "Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth."

God created the heavens and the earth. He created a prism. Then he released his own nature – his own self - through the prism of creation and reflected his nature into the one he created to bear it. Into humanity.

The narrative of the Genisis story is the narrative of the history oh Israel and ultimately, of humanity.

Creation – Blessing – Failure – Restoration

Throughout the old testament we see this story repeated – this cycle repeated again and again. We see his image and we see humanity struggle against it – even cover it up. We see his face and then we see the glory fade. We see nations born and nations in captivity. We see fire in the sky and manna on the desert floor – we see rebellion and hatred. The image grows more dim but is never fully extinguished. And we see the image not only ion prophets and kings… we see his image in prostitutes and harem girls – in shepherds and slaves. The image of god reflected in his most beautiful creation.

But the cycle continues – the prism is ill-used. It becomes dirty and distorted. The light still gets through but the image is harder to see. It is time to begin again… By going back…

John 1 (The Message)
1-2 The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.
3-5Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!— came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn't put it out.
9-13The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn't even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn't want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.

Over the generations, as the darkness fell and the image grew dim – humanity forgot the beauty of the image. In fact the beauty was so forgotten – such a distant memory – that when Christ came as the fully perfect image of god… most of humanity missed it. but not all…
the passage tells us that some did see it – some did recognize the image that lived in their own core.

Have you ever dressed your self based on your eye color or your hair color. Have you ever noticed that someone with blue eyes… when the wear a blue shirt… the color in their eyes sorta “POP”?

When Christ came – when the incarnation was perfectly displayed – the image of god that still flickered in mankind was awakened. The closer we came to his flame – the brighter our flame began to burn. The image awakened and the world began to change. But not in the way we might have thought.

What if we are changing – not into someone else – but into who we truly are. What if our redemption is not about making us less human – but about making us MORE human?
Follow me here… The cycle of creation – blessing – and failure is not a process of rejecting our divine spark in favor of our humanity. Our fall came as we rejected our TRUE humanity which IS our divine spark.

The incarnation – the coming of this “2nd Adam” was the beginning of the establishment of god’s kingdom, his perfect rule on earth. As heaven and earth kiss – as his kingdom comes – we who are being changed take off those things that make us less human and as we become MORE human – his image becomes more visible. THIS is the image that will draw all men to the feet of Christ. We communicate the gospel not with our “otherworldly obsessions” but by our true humanity.

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is
the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true
identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true
character. Love is my name… To find love I must enter
into the sanctuary where it is hidden, which is the mystery of God.

~Thomas Merton.

The mystery of God…

So much of my Calvanist training has taught me again and again of my depravity and utter unworthiness before God. I still believe that this is our trouble but I no longer believe that this is our true nature. We are… not who we may have become… we are what HE made… Image bearers of the living God. It is his image in us that frees us to be fully human…. Just as HE became fully human – and – this is huge… HE IS STILL FULLY HUMAN.

To be made in his image is to love – as he loved

To be made in his image is to give mercy – as he gave mercy

To be made in his image is to look like him. To care about what he cares about. To BE like him.
Isn’t this what humanity – at it’s best – looks like? Isn’t this the kind of humanity that inspires us and sometimes humbles us?

Where is his image? Where is the IMAGO DEI? Look around you. It’s in your kids, your spouse, your friends. It’s in your overbearing boss or the coworker you try to avoid at lunch. It is in the beauty we can see, if we look hard enough, in even the most damaged examples of humanity. It is in YOU

One day we will see him – see his image face to face – but for now we only see that image in a mirror. A dim reflection… maybe. But we do see it. It is visible.
And it IS beautiful.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

sunday's child

Have you ever been to a family gathering… maybe a holiday like thanksgiving or Christmas? maybe a birthday party for a friend or family member? Invariably – at these types of gatherings, we usually notice that someone is missing… someone who we expected to see. someone we WANTED to see.

we feel something in this absence. it’s not the same as a coworker who calls in sick on the day where you have a crucial project to complete. that feeling is frustration – maybe even anger. and yet… we feel something in the absence. we feel that the gathering, while still enjoyable or fun or exciting… is somehow LESS than it could have been – less than it SHOULD have been. and the more the missing person means to us – the closer the bond – the greater that feeling seems to be.

we’ve all felt this… sometimes we’ve even been the missing person. it’s not the end of the world. it doesn’t ruin the party… and yet we notice.


love is connection. these gatherings – when they are best – are little markers of the communities we are born into – or the communities we chose. if someone we love is missing the picture is not quite right. like a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle with one piece missing. mostly we see the picture complete – but – it is tough NOT to notice that one missing piece. at least for some of us.

families… all communities are, by nature, sacramental. Sacraments – in general terms – are simply ways to mark significant or meaningful events. we celebrate birthdays and weddings – funerals – graduations – retirement – anniversaries – the list goes on. we observe the sacraments because something in us needs to mark these events in community – with others who care about the things we care about… who love the people and things we love.
the church has many sacraments – high church and low. we baptize – we take communion – we mark those events on our spiritual journey that matter. but maybe the deepest and most mysterious sacrament is Sabbath.

"In the Jewish world-view something strange begins to happen. Cycles of festivals are markers on the bigger framework. Think of a bicycle wheel, which goes round and round; each time it goes around it moves the bicycle forward along the line. So every Sabbath is a turn of the wheel but also another step along the road from the first Sabbath on which God rested, to the final one, the rest for the people of God." ~N.T. Wright

Sabbath is a sacrament that marks the cycle of our week – it marks a fresh start – a day to regroup – to put last week away and renew hope for the week to come. it is a day to cease “doing” and to concentrate on “being”

"Like most people, I work and think too much. Sunday morning can be a fast from a constant concern for productivity. If I let go of my need for agreement on everything that happens in church, I can sit and rest in the sermon, I can sing and be moved by the chorus of voices, regardless of the song. The sanctuary really is a refuge from the hecklers and hucksters in workaday consumer society. It is non-productive space. For me, it can be a deliberate time set aside to meet God in the present moment, but only if I can let go of the need to have everything my way." ~aiden enns

Sabbath is, in some ways, a chance to check out – but NOT to be alone. Sacraments – no matter where we found them, are almost always experienced in community. In families. We seem to know, deep in our being, that things worth marking need to be marked with those we love. I have never been inclined to celebrate my birthday alone. I once spent a thanksgiving alone – worst day of my life. sacraments are little celebrations… and Sabbath is celebration. celebration of the coming rest of God – when his kingdom is fully experienced – when heaven and earth finally kiss and embrace. it is also a celebration of remembrance – like a birthday or an anniversary.

The Sabbath is a reminder of the two worlds--this world and the world to come; it is an example of both worlds. For the Sabbath is joy, holiness, and rest; joy is part of this world; holiness and rest are something of the world to come. ~Abraham Joshua Heschel

but Sabbath is not a solitary celebration. it is not a private marker. we have those to be sure – Mary hid the things she heard in her heart – but Sabbath is a celebration that needs community…

"The soul cannot celebrate alone" ~Abraham Joshua Heschel

celebration requires community – we need to celebrate with others who care – who love the things that we love – who celebrate the things we celebrate. when we hear stories from the bed project – we celebrate. when we think about lora and adam’s wedding… we celebrate. and our celebration is made more meaningful by those we celebrate with. the soul cannot celebrate alone…

but, as bishop wright explained – Sabbath is the turning of a wheel and there is a cyclical rhythm. we need community to celebrate Sabbath – but also, as Dallas Willard says:

"You can’t have community without Sabbath." ~Dallas Willard

Sabbath needs community – but it is also a place where community is born. it is where we connect in real and practical ways as we visit over coffee – catch up on each other's lives – yes it is practical connection – but it is so much more. when we join our voices in prayer or song – when we take the bread and the cup – we are bound together more deeply than we could ever imagine. it is supernatural – it is mystery – it is, as my charismatic friends used to say, a “GOD THING” it is, if you can get this, the kind of bond that caused john the Baptist to leap in his mother’s womb in the presence of the unborn Christ-child. it is a bond of heart and soul and spirit. it is the bond that makes us one just as jesus and the father are one. and it is the way the world will know that the father sent jesus… and that he sends us.

the Christian church long ago moved their Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday – from the last day of the week to the first. I am not going to get into the history of that change, however… I think it may be significant for us…

Sabbath is not an end… it is a beginning.

Last week – after we all floated the buffalo river - during that half awake/half asleep time last weekend, I had a kind of vision – or at least a picture. I have been thinking a lot about Sundays and I guess the float worked its way into my thinking. I saw the church as a river – like the Arkansas river. The part of the river over in Colorado – near the source – is wild and thrilling. It cut the royal gorge and is some of the best whitewater rafting in the country. But as the river moves downstream – it widens and flattens. The land around it flattens – it becomes less a source of fun and entertainment and more of a source of commerce – usefulness. Maybe our Sunday gatherings are those wild and thrilling waters of the source but they must move us toward something more useful – more connected to meeting a whole ecosystem of needs. Maybe it is in the delta that we build beds and feed the hungry and house the young women at Miss Beverly’s House. Maybe it is the inertia that begins in the Sunday headwaters that moves god’s mission forward in the flat plain of the delta.

Sabbath is our headwater – but we can’t anchor here – we must flow down river and allow these waters to make the deserts fertile… to be joined by other rivers with other waters. to give life and health… to be useful. and… the delta waters – if you know anything about rivers – are still filled with currents – still unpredictable – the power of the headwaters still lives and breathes in the delta – but it becomes deeper – more unseen – but always churning and pulsing below the surface.

on the buffalo – we were not all able to make it. if you weren’t there… we had a blast – but it was less than it could have been. we missed you. it’s like that every time we go to the river – every time we put our canoe in the Sabbath waters. we are glad for those who join us – and we deeply miss those who could not. we come to the water to celebrate – to enter into Sabbath – but we need each other to make the celebration complete.