Saturday, October 31, 2015

Mindfulness and the Evangelical Mind

I just picked up a book on Sabbath that has a chapter on mindfulness (Sabbath, Wayne Muller, 2000). Mindfulness, along with a bevy of other hot buzzy topics (narcissism, EMDR, trauma, psychodynamic, acedia...) is current. Laurie and I looked at attending a continuing education class at Standford and one of the courses offered was Mindfulness. My counselor referred me to a book on trauma and one of the healing therapies is Mindfulness.  Christians are calling for mindfulness toward God. It is a way of being attentive to God, a listening posture.

If you look up mindful on Wikipedia it will show that secular mindfulness has its basis in Buddhism, or at least borrows concepts from Buddhism. It sounds like a sub-part of Buddhist meditation. Some evangelical Christians are immediately put off by anything that suggests Buddhism, lumping it in with New Age self help. This is a good thing to be aware of. Any type of spirituality that makes the individual the center and end of attention isn't Christian.

Christian spirituality is ultimately about others, because we are the embodied Gospel. Anthony the Great, (3rd/4th c) the father of the Egyptian desert fathers who lived the hermit ascetic life, did not believe his spirituality was simply about personal piety. After the first 20 years in the desert he went back in to the city and was "fully present" to others. Anthony dealt with his demons (inner and outer) and came forth a whole person. I suppose one could say he was "mindful."

In my opinion, Mindful has a bit of a thin ring to it. That's not a slam. But I think Christian meditation and contemplation are much richer and deeper, and have strong biblical precedent than how I understand secular mindfulness. Meditation and contemplation are biblical. How many times does a biblical figure have to go into the wilderness desert to hear God and sort out their calling and their garbage before evangelicals embrace "a lifestyle rhythm of quiet time?" Moses at the burning bush, Joshua takes off his shoes, David's heart for God is formed alone in the hillsides with his sheep - and later in trouble, he flees again to the wilderness; Elijah flees to his cave and hears the still small voice, and Jesus is commissioned after the desert temptation - which the Spirit led him there! Call it what you want, but meditation and contemplation are spiritual disciplines necessary for transformation. I don't know why evangelicals keep on thinking "that if I just take in some more information I will be transformed." Information informs. Prayer forms and shapes the soul into Christlikeness.

Christians are expected to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12). Transformation is normal and expected. Discipleship requires spiritual disciplines and practices and habits that shape us and return us to our true self created by God and then disfigured by selfish sin, which must be washed away by the blood of Christ. The cross of Jesus is our via, our way. It is a cruciform descent into submission. If the discipline of mindfulness does this, then good. If it is just self-help, then not so good, or at least it just isn't Christian. The cross is our symbol of atonement. But atonement is not just abstract propositional truth necessary to keep your fanny out of hell. It is a life.

I don't think there is anything wrong with secular meditation. I feel neutral about it just like I do about lots of secular things, money, entertainment, politics - all things that can be Christian or not. Often meditation and money are both used for selfishness or evil. Not good. But meditation and mindfulness are not magic or inherently evil. They can be Christian. Just because Muslims pray and believe the Creator forgives sin doesn't mean as a Christian I now have to renounce prayer and atonement just because it is used by another faith.

We pick and choose. Be open. Be spiritually generous. I would rather be generous and sort through spiritual practices rather than fearful of mindfulness or meditation and how it might corrupt the soul and miss out on spiritual transformation.

We know how to pick and choose correctly. Halloween wasn't a Christian holiday but Christians made it so. It's the "eve of the hallowed ones" - November 1st, the day we remember the great cloud of witnesses going before us and praying for us (Hebrews 12). We chose a secular/pagan holiday and made it holy. Do the same with mindfulness.

I can make Mindfulness Christian. It is easy. It is now 'being Mindful to God,' Mindful to the voice of Spirit, listening prayer, solitude and silence. Elijah was mindful. Christ was mindful. We should be mindful.

I am currently working on a doctorate at Northern Seminary (Chicago) on the 4th century desert hermeneutic (application of scripture) as it applies to the suburban evangelical church.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Economist Asks "Is The Pope Liberal?" - Another Confusing Presupposition

The Economist today asked if Pope Francis is liberal.

I've watched this media exercise for thirty years since John Paul II. Here's how it goes: the media judges the Pope according to their assumed secular moral preconceptions. Is the Pope fulfilling our moral expectations: abortion, gay marriage, divorce - these are mentioned.

Then things take a curious turn for Americans. The Economist is actually asking, "Is the Pope liberal theologically, doctrinally, and ethically?" Americans start to scratch their heads at this point because we don't conceive of liberal and conservative in theological terms. We think "Hilary Clinton's politics or Donald Trump's politics?"

The Economist declares Francis is NOT liberal because he hasn't fulfilled their mandate. Francis has not changed any Catholic moral positions. He is, however, kind and compassionate toward outcasts, outliers, and offenders.

American Christians exhibit a very strange convoluted understanding of conservative vs liberal. Octogenarian American civil rights advocate Dr. John Perkins of Christian Community Development Association ( said, "When I talked about Jesus they called me a Christian. But when I wanted to help the poor they called me liberal."

I think most evangelical Christians believe Francis is liberal because he wants to help refugees and immigrants, even though he is very conservative theologically. Things have come to a pretty pass when conservative Christians cannot distinguish between what is liberal and conservative. We need a larger vocabulary and more consciousness.

When the media (and I really like The Economist by the way) asks 'is the Pope liberal?' it is like they are asking 'do you beat your wife before you start drinking or after?' The question is loaded. They assume the Pope is only responsible to culture's morality and ethics and not Jesus Christ. There is a time and place for the church to listen to culture. Indeed, the Catholic Church has erred huge on not listening to the voice of those sexually abused by priest. They should have caught it on their own. Fail.

But the universal church does not have a culture, ethic or Bible that teaches or even suggests it normative to abuse others, or ignore the voiceless, or think "saving souls" is more important than "feeding the poor" (Matthew 7:22-24 - '...I never knew you'). On the contrary, compassion and sacrifice are our values, morals, and ethic. Jesus dies on the cross for all. This cruciform love IS the gospel (note Philippians 2:5-11 - 'he emptied himself').

Our morals are not determined by the media or any other secular moralism. Christians are free from fear of immigrants, refugees, human identity issues, economics, and politics. We are free in Christ. We too can take up our cross and die to self and others. This is our history. Heroes may conquer kingdoms and rights, but Saints die for the sake of others, and usually at the hands of power. (Yes, I'm still on my Hero v Saint kick).

With respect to this cruciform love is the Pope liberal or conservative? I won't say because I think the question is loaded wrong by culture's definition of the terms. But I would say Pope Francis is lavish with compassion. He is not afraid. And neither should we be afraid.

Rather, I want to ask a different question: "Is Pope Francis on his way to being a Hero or a Saint?" Talk among yourselves.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Making Church Clearer

Last Fall 2014 I began an experiment in using more liturgical prayers during the adult Sunday morning worship services. In the Spring of 2015 we began an experiment of celebrating the Lord's Table every Sunday. These are gathered prayers, writing out on the projector screens, used most often with an antiphonal back and forth spoken out loud format, such as the "kyrie eleison"  (Leader) "Lord have mercy" (congregants) "Christ have mercy" (Leader) "Lord have mercy."

Lakeland has focused on several key prayers:
1) The Lord's Prayer (Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name..."
2) Confession, which has taken on a few simple forms;
3) Absolution follows Confession;
4) Prayers of the People, which is intercession on behalf of others and ourselves, prayers like "O Lord, comfort those who mourn and are sad and grieve..."
5) Call to the Table, which includes the "words of institution:" "On the night Jesus was betrayed, he took the loaf of bread..." and includes these simple words:

Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again.

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us!
Therefore let us keep the feast! Alleluia!
The gifts of God for the people of God.
Each day may Jesus Christ be as real to us as this food and drink!

6) Then we usually end with a blessing or Benediction. We like the Celtic Daily Prayer Book blessing, which ends with "...May He bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors." This blessing ends with everyone making the sign of the cross as they say "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen." 

Lakeland is an Evangelical church, who typically do not use written prayers. We like spontaneous prayers... "Oh Lord, we praise your name Jesus, we love you and worship you. Help us to honor you and live according to your Word..." things like that (I just made that up). Evangelical churches have two marks: a) they are Bible focused as the primary authority for faith and practical living; and b) they believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be preached, or put more simply, Evangelicals believe the faith should be shared with those outside the faith. Lakeland totally agrees with Evangelicalism.

Evangelical churches like free worship, that is, worship that is heartfelt and vibrant, emotive, and free. Unwittingly it does tend to be more individualistic. "I just want to praise, I just want to love you..." are typical Evangelical words. Gathered "us" words are common as well. But I do not think most Evangelicals notice whether or not they sing "me songs" or "we songs." They should, they must, because to privatize or individualize worship - well, it isn't church.

What is Church: A Theological Explanation 

Paul speaks of "the one cup" in 1 Corinthians chapter 10. Paul says we (not just "you") share the cup of blessing that is the blood of Christ; the bread we share is sharing in the body of Christ. One bread, one body. One cup, one blood, one blessing.

The case for gathered prayer - spontaneous or written ahead of time - is very strong and irrefutable. Gathered prayer has the Lord's Table at its core of the worship event. Paul continues teaching and reprimanding the Corinthian church because they made distinctions among themselves. 1 Cor. 11:20-21
"When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What!" (v23). 
The first church combined a real dinner with the symbols of the one loaf and one cup as Jesus had done. But some richer folk did not eat with or help the less well-off folk. It is likely you had not only rich and poor, but slave and slave-owner - both Christians (see Philemon). Ephesians chapter four (4) is the most powerful of all the "oneness" passages of Paul and the first church, when Paul says "...make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (4:3). He continues
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said,
 “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.”
I believe Paul's arrangement of "us" first then "each of us" (you) is significant. "We" comes before "you." This is lost to Evangelicals. Evangelicalism is distinctly American. Therefore Evangelicalism like Americanism defaults to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," in which happiness was and is meant to mean "property" and self-governance (no British King George III!).

It is difficult for Americans to submit to one another. It is difficult for Americans to understand the "we-ness" of the one loaf and one cup. They tend to unwittingly think of the Lord's Table as a sign of private salvation. American Evangelical Christians think the church is there to support private Christians in private faith. How can this be? How can the body of Christ be thought of as individual? 1 Corinthians chapter 12 says that we are incomplete if we think we do not need each other: "Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many" (v14). Evangelcals like us tend to think Paul is only speaking about serving and furthering the gospel. But we miss the obvious point: there is a body, a singular body already in existence. You don't join the Body - you ARE the body of Christ. There is no choice.

In Acts chapter five (5) is the story of a husband and wife, Ananias and Sapphira, who lied to the Holy Spirit, thus the one body, the community of believers. They lied about selling an entire piece of land and giving all the proceeds to the church and poor. They died on the spot because they violated the community. Ananias and Sapphira committed a deadly deed: they thought of themselves first.

Evangelicals often times do not understand the purpose or deep identity of the church. What is the church? It is the body of Christ. It is the bride of Christ (see the Revelation of John, chapters 18:23, 19:7, 21:9, 22:17 for references to the church as the Bride of Christ). We are conjoined to Jesus.

Evangeicals think being a Christian is a faith proclamation. That is of course true. But when you look for the expression of that faith it is is one thing: Worship. We are to glorify God and enjoy God forever.

Back to Lakeland

Using liturgical prayers during adult worship at Lakeland has been rather "meh." No one has spoken out against it, no one has spoken out for it. I suspect it feels (and feels is the correct word) rather boring or flaccid or stiff. Why? I think it is because it is difficult to pray together the same words and not have it seem boring. Evangelicals sometimes think these written prayers are "vain repetitions" that Jesus warned about in Matthew 6:7
"...when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words."
But consider this observation: I think most spontaneous prayers are far from original or even convincingly meaningful:
"O Lord, I just really want to tell you that I need you, and you are wonderful. O Jesus can you help me with (fill in the blank)? I/We thank you for all our food and our home and all these wonderful blessings. And we just really want to just really tell you we really just love you..." 
I think repetitious uncreative words, these prayers are vain and meaningless repetitions! Lord, save us from the "jes-really" prayers! "O Lord, I jes really..." Better to recite the Psalms. Better to prayer the Lord's Prayer. At least then we honor God, give thanks for our daily food and health, confess, acknowledge forgiveness, forgive others, ask for help spotting temptation, and declare the power, glory, kingdom belong to God - not us. Please: stop trying to be original! It isn't working.

Not only does the Lord's Prayer cover more ground in prayer, Jesus says that this is the way to pray when you pray. It isn't a suggestion. Likewise, the Lord's Table is not an option. Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 11 assumes that the Lord's supper is occurring whenever they come together (v.20 for a specific reference).

I find it curious that Evangelicals resist gathered prayers and weekly communion. We certainly believe in worship. We believe in being expressive and emotional. We like some surprises in worship. But at the same time most Evangelical worship services have a "liturgy" - and its a poor one: There is the opening song, the welcome/announcement, and an extemporaneous prayer, the worship songs, perhaps a story or a video, and then a long talk. Or as my Anglican friend bluntly phrased it, "Oh so that church is a 'sing-a-bunch-of-songs-hear-a-long-talk' church." His point: where is the confession? where is the intercession? where do we remember the grieving, the deceased, celebration of life?, the Lord's Table, and the Lord's Prayer?

I like creativity.  In high school I lettered in theater. I play guitar, write poetry, and produce visual arts in ink, acrylic, and watercolor. I like Rachmaninov, Debussy, Beethoven, Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Taylor Swift,  Ed Sheeran, blue grass and bebop jazz. It is difficult however combine spontaneous creative worship with the power of ritual and symbol and liturgy.

Liturgical prayers gain power through repetition, not spontaneity; practiced prayer is more powerful and transformative than off-the-cuff "heartfelt" prayers. The goal is to create a stable platform for communion with God.

The Hebrews had seven different special days:  Passover, Pentecost, 9th of Ab, Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth) Dedication, (Chanukah) and Lots or Purim. These special days and the daily prayers and sacrifices, and weekly rhythms of Sabbath created an identity as one people - it told them who they were. These rituals mediated their relationship with God and each other... forgiveness, the Law, and the cycles of life and death with the agrarian cycles of harvest and sowing. All of creation was worship, and therefore needed ritual and symbol to recognize, celebrate, and identify God in all of life.

Americans do the same thing. We sing the national anthem, salute the flag, have color guards, remember those who faced the enemies of the state on our behalf, watch military flyovers at football games, and wear the red white and blue. It is a curiosity therefore, that those same Americans who are Christian will take off their ball cap at a professional sports event for a nation's flag and anthem, and then go to church and refuse to mark themselves with the cross of Jesus, bend a knee in confession, and raise a hand in praise of the One who lives for all eternity, never considering that flags and nations are extremely temporary compared to the eternity they hope to spend in the presence of the Creator.

Better yet, read The Revelation of John, chapter five, and you will find all of heaven and on earth (this is NOT in the future mind you, but a vision of NOW), singing "worthy is the Lamb..." and more praise, and fantastic creatures falling down and worshiping God. And this goes on ad infinitum, without end. As Dr. Dallas Willard put it 'I'm not too sure why you'd want to spend all of eternity worshiping God when you're not interested in spending even a few minutes a day with him now.'

Additionally, remember we will all spend eternity with each other, your brothers and sisters in Christ, for all ages, all churches, all races, and most definitely those whom you may consider at this moment "enemies." At this point we should consider well Jesus' admonition 'depart from me, I never knew you.'

Worship is more than practice for heaven. It is participation in heaven's worship "on earth as in heaven."

When we prayer the Lord's Prayer and celebrate the Lord's Table they are not dead rituals but the very things the people of God love. Only through repetition will we move past the learning stage and into the worship stage. Worship is not supposed to be buzzy. Worship is supposed to be practiced, each moment of the day, and at frequently as possible, practiced together. In this fashion, you (the individual) will not falter in your daily (personal) worship. Case in point: how many treadmills and BowFlexes now sit idle in basements? But the health clubs are vibrant, booming places of sweaty training.

I want to continue to have written gathered liturgical prayers. Liturgy is from the Greek and it means "the work of the people" (leitourgia). This is our work of worship - and it must be done together at the same time, in our most important setting, the adult Sunday morning worship time and space. To do otherwise is to think Revelation's heavenly scene is a secondary sideshow instead of the throne of God.

Now, that all said, we have much work to do to make these worship elements meaningful and powerful. I plan to write them out in print so you can read them and carry them, learn them. Pastor Garrett Lahey thinks we should create more specialized times and spaces for even greater prayers. Give this experiement in prayer and worship some time and space. Help us. Suggest things. No one is criticizing it. And no one is all excited about either. I get it. I'm there too. But I cannot quit. I cannot go back to privatized buzzy worship and prayer. It is not biblical and it is not the church. So let's aggressively move forward.Let us run this race set before us, eyes on the prize of Jesus.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Action, Contemplation and the "Myth of Progress"

I know many of you like Richard Rohr, O.S.F. I certainly do too. I took a doctoral class with him; I've traveled out to Albuquerque to sit under his tutelage. I have listened to his podcasts and I have read at least eight of his books. I quote him all the time.

Still, as one of the Benedictine brothers at Conception Abbey stated, "When Richard is on, he is really on. And when he's off, he's way off." So here's a little comment on Rohr's recent blog touting the merits of French Jesuit philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). de Chardin seems to maintain a strong popularity among critically thinking Christians because de Chardin sought to synthesize Christianity and evolution back during the height of Modernism. Everyone seems to want to figure out how to make evolution and Christian thought work together.  de Chardin made it work. Rohr states that de Chardin presents an evolution of consciousness (Rohr's constant theme for the past decade or more). 

de Chardin was brilliant (a scientist and mystic) and influenced an entire generation of Christians (Rohr's generation and the one prior to him - 1950s) by speaking of "the Christ-Omega," where Jesus inaugurates the ascent of humanity in an ever upward evolutionary process ending in a "perfection" of human consciousness. In the very long run for de Chardin humanity will be "in God," as Christ was in the Father (John 17).

N.T. Wright critiques de Chardin as representing the "myth of progress" school of thought. The myth of progress thought is what I anecdotally call "the Star Trek myth:" that someday humanity will gradually "evolve" into a peaceful, diverse, all-accepting, all embracing, 'star-people' - no war, no conflict, no needy among them, no compulsions. We will zoom around the galaxy in a cool ship enjoying the explorer's life, gently correcting evil-doers, awakening them to our "uberman" consciousness, and bring peace and happiness to all. 

de Chardin was necessarily a pantheist because "God" needs to be within this world, that is, part of the essence of all things, and all things have a "god-consciousness." (Simplistically, Pantheism believes God is equal to creation, or God is creation and vice a versa.) By the way, as a mystic myself I am not opposed to conveying some notion of consciousness to all creation like Paul suggests in Romans 8:22 (all creation groans in pain waiting to be redeemed...) But orthodox Christianity keeps the Creator separate from the created - or as I like to put it, 'I never think Monet's Water Lilies is actually Claude Monet'.

Wright's critique of de Chardin asks the question, "What about evil?" How is evil dealt with? de Chardin and the myth of progress school has no answer. As Wright states, "What kind of God would build the eventual kingdom of heaven on the bones of Auschwitz?" Evolutionary optimism cannot deal with nor explain evil notes Wright. Sad news like Michael Brown's death/Ferguson are shrugged off as minor bumps on the road to a beautiful future - some day. But Brown's death cannot be reconciled within the myth of progress. de Chardin has nothing to say to Brown's family.

The myth of progress is the water we swim in within Modernist secularism. Wright states that the news media and politicians assume de Chardin's progress myth all the time, case in point, when the news seems perturbed by the latest mass shooting, as though to say 'we should all be over this sort of thing by now people!' The myth of progress believes that education, technology, and science will bring about a golden age, a human-produced "heaven."

Check your own beliefs: When you read about one of the many conflicts in the Middle East or in Africa or some other "less educated" class of people in the world, do you think 'well, if they just knew what I know, if they just could learn to read, or embrace some technology that would solve their economic woes... they'd see the light and stop killing each other.' If you answer this way then you've been indoctrinated in the myth of progress school.

In the Christian worldview, grace and love, redemption and resurrection will not only usher in the kingdom of God, but answer evil, bringing justice to Auschwitz, natural disasters, trauma, and war. The proper Christian worldview does not believe the world "will burn," but rather be transformed by the power and presence of God. It will be the same earth and heaven but new. See 2 Peter 3:11-13 where far from the earth and heavens being vaporized and gone, there is a new "righteous" creation home. It is not some cartoon heaven with clouds and harps, or even some Eldorado with literal gold streets, but a purified god-filled place we call heaven. I believe we will recognize it. Like all good theology there is continuity and discontinuity: something the same, and yet something different. But this is not a gentle upgrading like evolutionary optimism conjures in the myth of progress school. But rather it is "like the pangs of child birth," sudden and revolutionary (see Matthew 24:8; 1 Peter 1:3; see especially all of 1 Cor. 15 with Paul's multiple metaphors for what the resurrected life and world will be: first fruits, a king subduing enemies, the death and life of seed, Adam and the new Adam). 

This is where Wright and I part company with the 19th century dispensationalist 'rapture cult' who believe redemption means destruction instead of real redemption, that is, "to turn something in and make it new and whole again" - not gone. For more on this topic we must get acquainted with Neo-Platonism and the pervasive influence of dualistic thinking, which has effectively split the Christian life from the world, leaving Christians to save disembodied souls to a disembodied heaven, while the creation of God is ignored.

From a spiritual and mystical point of view Rohr is excellent on this topic of non-dual thinking. But Wright is better from a philosophical and theological point of view, which is the arena of de Chardin.

Modernism, dualism, and de Chardin's evolutionary optimism fail to factor in redemption and resurrection states Wright. I always find it curious that popular culture thinks of evolution and its rough adaptation to social evolution mean that "we all gradually get better," where evolution may mean a disease erases the human race, or on a social level the Islamic State somehow really does take over the world, killing off most, creating slaves, sex slaves, erasing history, thieving, and torturing their way to crushing power. Evolution doesn't mean everything turns out better - it can go real bad!

I have now spent the last decade attempting to introduce good Christians to a more authentic understanding of resurrection. I don't really think I've been that successful. People still think in polar terms: they think either the dualistic Neo-Platonic rapture is the world's end; or they think de Chardin's evolutionary optimism (the myth of progress) is how the world will end up. I think Wright is more true to the biblical message.

I will continue to embrace much of Rohr's thought - but not all. I suggest we not conflate non-dual thinking with de Chardin's adaptive Christ-Omega evolution. When Christ returns we will all live long and prosper. Until then we take the journey of the Saint (not the Hero), and love and bring justice, stand against sin, and journey with the voiceless and eschew power.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Subversive Spirituality: Poetry

Eugene Peterson states that poetry is the voice of prophets. It is subversive because it tricks the audience. They think you're saying something to someone else (“There was a man who had two sons...") but you're really talking about them (Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.')

Over the years while on retreat or sitting in a coffeeroom or library I have attempted to write poetry. Someone once said that when we write speeches we argue with each other, but when we write poetry we argue with ourselves. True for me. Here is one of my poems, which I recently dredged up and fiddled with. You should try and write poetry if you haven't yet. (BTW, I have stuff that rhymes too.)


When is it okay to not have good acoustics?   
When you're listening to Vespers at King's College Choir, Cambridge.

When is it okay to not have fancy stage lights?   
When a single candle burns in a darkened sanctuary.

When is it okay to be silent?   
After the burial, walking to the car.

When is it okay to scream and yell at the top of your lungs?   
When you're a fan and it’s a walk-off homer.

When is it okay to cry?   
At the very end of Saving Private Ryan - definitely when Ebenezer Scrooge apologizes to his nephew's wife.

When is it okay to be awake in the wee hours of the morning?   
Shuffling in for Vigils or Lauds or rocking a sick child to sleep.

When is it okay to run?   
When you're all alone in the silent sleeping winter woods at midday.

When is it okay to stare?   
When you're alone in the dark looking into the fire, or when she's your wife.

When is it okay to sink?  
 After Jesus has called you out of the boat.

When is it okay to die?   
Anytime.  Anytime at all.

D.C.W. November, 2007, 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Jesus Did Not Convert Saul (Paul)

I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ 15 I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

Notice Jesus did not tell Saul he was a sinner. Jesus did not present a plan of salvation for Saul. Jesus said something more akin to 'hey Saul, why are you fighting me? We have work to do and you're hurting the cause and yourself.' I think this is very soft-touch from Jesus for a man who was imprisoning Jewish Christ-followers.

Jesus already thought Saul was suppose to be a part of the mission. But presently Saul was not helping. I like the idea of Jesus quickly sweeping past Saul's objections and blindness. Paul, the new Saul, needed blindness so that he may see. I believe many of us who have been around the church for a good long while should be knocked down and blinded so we may see that Jesus is more for us than we imagine. Jesus thinks we are a part of his team, his mission. We don't. We keep asking thick obtuse questions, "Who are you?" Jesus replies, "Come on! You know me! I need you to get on with your calling, your work. Let's go."

This is not an obedience issue. It is atheism. We do not believe in Jesus, just the same way Saul did not believe in Jesus. But Jesus believed in Saul. But Saul thought he knew better than Jesus what was the work and mission of Jesus. This is the religious false self: "seeing but blind, hearing but deaf."
Jesus said to [the Pharisees], “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains." (John 9:41)
Paul's calling discloses a very generous Jesus. God is more generous than most of us. Take for instance, the 87th Psalm:
Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
    Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia—
    “This one was born there,” they say.
Really? Babylon knows God? The Philistines are God's children? Tyre and Ethiopia? They are all born in Zion, in other words 'God's house.' My Christian upbringing told me the Philistines were bad. Those we think of poorly, those we judge as 'outside' may be God's children more than we care to affirm. Why are we kicking against the goads of God? God is goading us to love and care. But we would rather split apart and judge others.

In our own times, I wonder what American Christian can share Jesus with a Palestinian, a Syrian, an Iraqi or Iranian. Apparently Christians in the West are supposed to have enemies. But like the old monk living in Syria these days said, "We are Christians. We have no enemies." The only enemies of Jesus were the religious "blind," the Pharisees. The Samaritans were not enemies. Even the Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, was not a first-class enemy, but God was using him (John 19:11). Imagine what it would be like to try and share the Gospel with someone in Hamas: "We hate you, and you hate me. I want you to know that Jesus loves you. I want you to become like me." I think he has. Neither has Jesus however.

We need a generous Gospel. I think Acts chapters two, four, and ten reveal that ethnic distinctions were the first boundary to come down. Economic status was there too. Galatians 3:28 expresses the lack of distinction - "there is neither Jew nor Greek." Paul's letter to Galatians and Ephesians are letters of generosity toward the gentiles.

I will not think of Paul as converted any more. Knocked on his butt by Jesus: yes. I am picturing Caravaggio's "Conversion of Saint Paul" (1601). But not converted. Jesus just corrected and told him to go out and be a key player in the game. "Embrace me and your true calling - Paul." May we embrace a very generous Christian family. May we think of our "enemies" as children of God. May all of us get knocked down and blinded so that we may see.

Monday, May 18, 2015

I got my blog back!

Thanks to Doug Johnston, media guru, for getting my blog back. Now he says I should move over to Wordpress. We will see.

Social media is a curious thing to me. I keep thinking of the quote,

"It's always noisiest at the shallow end of the pool."

Blog, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, are so immediate and present. Henri Nouwen had several choice words to describe our culture's milieu: Competitive, Chaotic, and Compulsive. The car may be the single most important American suburban cultural change agent. Suburban sprawl is only manageable with a car. All our life systems depend on the car: first and foremost is groceries. What a complex and fragile system. One huge fuel crisis and we are foodless. (I don't like to ride my bike.)

What we miss is "village space" in suburbia. Media removes the need to gather. We can live completely apart and yet think we are "connected" via this right here: a blog entry. The church was supposed to be village space. (The other two spaces are private space - your living room; and the second space is public space like Walmart and airports.) But church is filled with compulsions: "What time does this service end?"

Facebook is a virtual village space. But like the car, we can leave any time we wish. Hospitality and social obligation (social contract) has lost its body. Social speed has become flighty and flickering like a late night neon motel sign in some unknown high-desert town in Utah. Each of us flickers and flashes online. Then we are gone.

Thank God there is still communion, the Lord's Table. You have to show up, stand in line, dissolve your hurry-sickness, submit to the body and blood of Christ in others. The remembrance of communion includes remembering you are not an island, you are not a sovereign state, your skin is not a national boundary.

I answer social media with one loaf, one cup. Social media is what it is. I don't dislike it. Instead, I study it as a prophet studies the signs of times, watching and turning my face toward God, and asking, "What does this mean?" It means our current cultural norm will not produce saints. Instead it will produce bloggers, talkers, drivers, wait-in-drive-thru-ers, impatience, chaotic time, exceptionalists, entitlement... harried living and tiredness... and not the unhurried rhythms of grace. Jesus walked and listened. We drive and tap.

G.K. Chesterton (1920s, British) despised the automobile. He wasn't too excited about the horse.  He said a proper human (by "proper human" he meant a large British man like himself) is supposed to walk - with a stick. A proper human is supposed to use an ink well and quill to write. Sounds impossible to us nowadays. But image how slow life would be if we walked to a neighborhood market each day, and wrote with ink and quill.

So I got my blog back, and now I can, you know, write stuff quickly.