Friday, May 31, 2013

Fiction Friday - The Body in the Light

One of the goals of this experiment was simply to get me writing again. The goal wasn't just these thoughts that traipse through my mind grapes. I just need to learn how to be a creator instead of merely a consumer. And so, I have had this idea of a novel that I want to work on. And maybe this is as good a place as any. So, why don't you all take a journey with me? Give me feedback. Is the story too slow? Are the characters terrible? Just let me know what you think. Thanks!


“I don’t understand. What is this…what am I seeing?”
“That is not anything I can tell you. What is will be and what will be already is.”
“Why can’t you just tell me? I want to understand, but this makes no sense.”
“I have told you what I can. Understanding lies within range, but only you can take hold of it. There is nothing more I can do.”
“Can you at least tell me your name? Can you at least let me see a face for the voice that haunts my dreams?”
“As I have said so often before, I cannot reveal myself until it is time. And be careful what you call dreams and what you call reality. Your dreams could inform your reality, they could even dictate it. Your dreams, these dreams may be more real than you would ever like to admit. And this, I will risk saying. You are not like others. These ‘dreams' are not merely a means of explaining your existence or some clue as to why you are the way you are. As it was last time, tell me what do you see?”
“I'm tired of these games.”
“What do you see?”
I sighed. I am so tired of this same haunting dream, this same mysterious voice leading me through labyrinths into further labyrinths. I want to know why I am different. Why I can see the things I see. This is not how I anticipated my life to be.
“Okay. As always I see a body hanging in this orb of light.”
“And the body remains motionless. It is hanging as if frozen in time. It is not someone dead. They actually appear to be frozen amidst some task, their hands active in some work, their eyes intent upon some goal. This man, I think it is a man, just seems stuck.”
“Do you see anything else?”
“No. I never see anything else.”

“Close your eyes. Do you see anything else?”
Sigh. “Okay. I know what you are getting at. I don’t like it, and I refuse to say it.”
“Why? Are you afraid or just obstinate?”
“Obstinate. If you aren’t going to reveal who you are, I am not going to say any more.”
“Fair enough, but until you learn to trust, not only me, but your own voice, you will not move any further along. You will not find any further answers, which is what you seek, is it not?”
“I’m finished here.”
I woke myself out of slumber. I know what it is I saw. I know what it is he wants me to say. I just refuse to indulge him. I don’t care if the answers never come; I will not say what he wants me to say. There has to be another way. There has to be answers that come outside of these dreams. There has to be a better way than trusting some unseen guide who refuses to answer me. I know what it is I seek. I know what it is I want. But he pushes me toward different answers. Ones that don’t matter. This is nonsense.
Crap. It’s 4am. So, early, but I don't want to go back to sleep. I don’t want to hear him again tonight. I might as well get up. It’s going to be a long day, longer now that I am up two hours before I am supposed to be.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thoughts on In the Name of Jesus

I just finished Henri Nouwen's In the Name of Jesus. Like, I literally just put it down, picked up the computer and started typing (after of course putting on some good music). It was my first time to read through the book and is a surprisingly fast read. Like, take an afternoon in your hammock with some lemonade fast read.

You may recall that while at Fuller I took a class on Nouwen. It was an excellent class. Somehow this was not on the reading list. Maybe the assumption was, "If you know Nouwen, you've already read it." And that may be fair. It is his best known book.

Like I did with A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, here is a quick synopsis. This book is basically a speech Nouwen delivered on Christian leadership at a big event. It was written shortly after Nouwen left Harvard and joined L'Arche. One of the decisions that L'Arche made was that Nouwen wouldn't travel alone. So, one of the guys from the community traveled with him, and they did this together. Nouwen also offers some personal reflections on the event and the impact of having Bill with him on the stage.

Nouwen basically has an introduction, a conclusion and an epilogue on either side of three chapters that are all set up the same. Each chapter introduces a temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness, followed by part of the "Do you love me/feed my sheep" story of Peter and Jesus, followed by practical ministry tips. A really simple outline, especially for a speech. The surprising thing about the book is just how much power it punches. This is a book that is very tweetable, thought-provoking, and yet disregarded in how most pastors actually approach ministry.

In being part of the Church nigh on twenty years I think the biggest struggle we face is one of desired power. I think often that we long for the days of the Church being the dominant social power of the day. We long for the days of Constantine. The Church flourished. The world converted. Our job was easy...just proclaim our personal devotion to Jesus. The government took care of the rest.

But as I look at the teachings of Jesus and world history I see two divergent philosophies. Jesus came to serve, and when the Church is in a place of power she typically serves...those who convert. We oppress everyone else. I know that is harsh, but I don't even have to point to history in this case, you already know the stories.

And yet, time and again, we see that Pat Robertsons arise. We see calls for the Church to lead government. Now before your feathers get too ruffled, I will be the first to say that men and women of faith need to run for political office. They need to serve their country out of conviction. They also need to share their faith. But an agenda of promoting the platform of the Church through the government is just not something I endorse. The Church is grassroots. The Church is personal. The Church is not power.

And to a great extent that is what Nouwen is communicating. Nouwen argues that the Christian leader of the future will be those who choose irrelevancy, powerlessness and communion with their communities. I think the first two are harder for pastors in theory, but the third is harder for pastors in practice.

So many of the messages being thrown at the Church today are opposed to what Nouwen said. We are searching for new ways to be relevant to culture. We want to be cool. So churches now have CSAs, hipster services, secular concerts, etc. And honestly, if these things are a natural outflow of who the community is, that is fine. But when we use ploys and present ourselves in a certain light for the sake of being relevant we lose credibility. We all know how to smell a fake.

I think this is the type of irrelevancy Nouwen is addressing. We don't put on tattoos, skinny jeans and bad facial hair if that is not authentically who we are. Same goes with those who put on suits, square frames, and more hair product that your neck can support. The desire to present yourself, and/or the Gospel in a particular light because you believe it to be more attractive is tempting. But the Gospel is simply the Gospel. It will also be as it is. The story of Jesus and what he did never changes.

But the last idea is where I want to spend a little bit of time. Nouwen challenges the idea that pastors need to keep the same professional distances that doctors, psychologists and others keep. He challenges that this is the natural working order for a spiritual community. And I think he is correct in that assumption.

Instead of completely bucking the entire system and for a pastor to weekly bear his entire soul to the community, Nouwen simply offers this: do the same as your congregation is already doing. Have someone in your congregation you can talk to. You don't have to go outside the congregation for this.

I will be the first to admit that is nearly impossible in today's society. You don't admit your weakness. You don't expose to your people what could get you fired. But this is the same reason that we see men and women fall to infidelities of every kind in ministry. We have created a culture that has rejected communion for the pastor. We have spurned pastors as active members of community and made them an other. And until this is fixed, heck, even after it is fixed, we will continue to see disconnection between pastors and congregations.

It isn't easy being vulnerable...for anyone. Pastors know this, parishioners know this. But the community that finds a way for pastors to fully partake of community instead of only being servants or lords of the community will find joys that are missing from the church. When we find a way to be friends with pastors, when we find a way to provide confessors for pastors, when pastors find it okay to be vulnerable with elders then we might just find a way to live in authenticity as a community. And that is a good thing.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Thoughts on Pacifism

I've recently come to terms with being a Texan, living in Alabama who happens to be a pacifist. I think, like many of my friends who just knew about their sexuality, I've always known. Something just doesn't sit right with me about violence. Sex bad language, bad behavior in films? Those things just don't bother me as much as violence. Those things don't translate themselves into my dreams and keep me awake at night. I knew that is not the normal barometer for these things, but I think it is a good indicator of how we were made.

I have this buddy Mike Greenholt. He is a really cool dude, and before I tell the story I intended, and because it was just Memorial Day, I have a funny Mike Greenholt story. Mike had invited me to a back-to-back-to-back screening of the first three Indiana Jones movies one Memorial Day weekend. He told me about this great girl that he really liked who was going to be there. Her name was Jessie. (And yes, that link is in fact supposed to go to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Consider loving on them a little today!)

Well, the plan was for Mike to get some good Jessie time. But our plan was thwarted and there was another dude who also wanted Jessie time. The time came for the third movie and Jessie asked to sit with me. Unfortunately this meant that we would be in the two seats away from our group because we somehow ended up two seats short. I do my best to sell the virtue of Mike. She didn't know me...she knew Mike. SURELY that is she REALLY wanted to sit with. Fast forward a few years...Mike and Jessie are married and our little crew has a fun story to tell.

So Mike, like I said, is a really cool dude. The type that works for Disney and takes you to Disneyland and movies at El Capitan theater...always on his dime. That kind of good dude. The opening week of The Dark Knight I traipse over to Burbank and we watch the film. Something kind of common place that I had never thought of happens. Whenever Heath Ledger bears a knife, my leg started shaking uncontrolably. Mike looks at me grabs my knee and says, "Stop!" Twenty minutes later we repeat the process.

Mike is an amazing artist.
I think that was the first time I took time to start contemplating violence and its effect on me (that or Kill Bill, Vol. 1, which I watched around the same time). Up until that point violence was just something uncomfortable. I had grown up on a farm. I had hunted through part of high school and college. But I can still vividly remember the last time I shot and killed an animal. It was one of the most raw, emotive moments of my life.

As I stated above, I grew up in Texas and I currently live in Alabama. I even have a 22 in my closet. My dad gave it to me when I was young. It is really just a gift that I keep and don't know the last time I even shot. But, living in the South, and frankly in America, gun ownership and pacifism are hot topics. Yahoo News! will have a brand new gun violence article tomorrow. They will have another the next. They will dig and find them. It is one of their hot button issues (along with homosexuality and Amanda Bynes). And here is the deal, both liberals and conservatives make great points about gun ownership.

Yes, liberals, the more guns we have in America and the easier access we have to guns, the more problems we will have. Yes, conservatives, we have already gone down this road, and if we ban gun ownership only the bad guys will have them (and bad gals too...I show no discrimination!). Violence, guns, media portrayl, video games. They are all a part of the swirl of crazy that exists among us. But I think none are true solutions. You don't get rid of gun violence by simply requiring better education. You don't get rid of gun violence simply by getting rid of certain video games. And you certainly, at this point, will not get rid of gun violence by banning the ownership of guns amongst the American populous. All of those are naive reactions to a bigger issue, which I will say the Catholic Church has been shouting for years: sanctity of life.

The root of so many of our problems is simply life has become less than sacred. Whether you think it is because of a lack of morality, kids playing Crash Bandicoot, abortion, euthenasia or hate crimes I say you are right. Movies that portray twisted, brutal killers dismembering cast members in explicit ways is just morbid...even if a professor of mine once said that slasher films are the list of the true good-vs-evil pictures we have.

The truth is we see more violence than ever before. Back in the 1950s Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye experienced a "bombing" that would be considered laughable in today's theater. We desire more accuracy and grit. We went to experience what those soldiers experienced. We want to see the blood. We want to see the bullet holes. We are like the Greeks and Hollywood yells back, "Are you not entertained?"

And really that is what it is for me. That is why I have come to terms with my pacifism. I don't need more wanton violence in my life. I don't want the picture of sacred man and woman defiled and butchered in front of me...because my faith tells me that this God I believe in stooped down to earth to create something special, something in his/her own image. And violence against that creation throughout the Scripture I call holy has said it is wrong to defile His image, and I infer, by proxy, against those that bear his/her image.

So...even though I'll receive some undue flack, some guffaws and even some challenges to my ideas on pacifism, it's just where I have come down on things. And in twenty years, if you see me, wife and kids in tow bearing a shotgun preventing horn dog teeanage boys from approaching my daughter, I will let you know that change has always been a part of the game...but for this season of life, being surrounded by image bearers of all shapes, sizes and races, I just don't think that violence is, or will ever be the way.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Thoughts on A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Over the weekend I finished Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. My buddy Jon told me I should read the book since I have been in a season where I read the Psalms. So, even though I was reading a kajillion books at the same time, I decided to add this to the rotation. It was so good that I finished it prior to any of the others I was reading.

So, a quick overview of A Long Obedience: There are these Psalms (120-134) that are collectively called the Songs of Ascent. These were the songs that pilgrims making their way up into Zion for the feasts and festivals would sing as they ascended into Jerusalem. In a sense, they were the common songs of Israel. Peterson translates each of the Psalms into good old, modern American English and then applies them to good old, Modern American life.

His intent was to help his tribe (congregation) work out the things of this life. How do you mourn, worship, grow, or as the subtitle communicates, do "Discipleship in an instant society"?

So, that is it. This is Peterson's take on discipleship. I took my time and read the book chapter by chapter. Sometimes a week between readings, sometimes the next day. Each chapter is a like a little morsel of goodness. Each section is quite palatable and a good starting point for conversation and thought. It really is one of those books that makes you stop and think about what you do and why you are doing it.

If there is any picture that can help you understand what Peterson is communicating it would be this: discipleship is like a slow cooking oven and we live in a microwave society. Everything in our life we could ever want seems to be at our finger tips. Want food? Run to McDonalds. Need a new wardrobe? Run to Target. Need to get around town? Go to a car dealership. We can get everything we want in minutes for the most part.

But life is more of a slow process. You don't develop character with instantaneous purchases. You don't learn life lessons when you can always hit a reset key. You don't form who you are without living life, and doing some things the hard way. Oddly enough, and here is another musical break for ya, the Dixie Chicks sang about a similar premise in "The Long Way Around."

One of my favorite chapters in this book is called, "Blessing;" it is about Psalm 134, the final song of the ascents. As such it is the last true chapter of the book. The point of the chapter is simply this, true life starts with repentance and ends with praise. Our lives start when we realize there is something better and take part in that.

For those of us in the Christian tradition we might call it Kingdom living, or discipleship or any of the myriads of terms we have coined for regular participation in our faith. But the starting point of this is repentance. We start by saying, "The way I am doing things probably isn't the best way is it? Let's see what this Jesus fellow, and his buddies David, Paul, Moses, Esther and Mary can tell me about living a different life." And that is the beginning of praise. When we endure and see change in our lives, we turn around and become thankful.

I'll leave you with a story from this weekend. I was visiting Flavius and Gigi. Flav and I grabbed some time sitting on the deck under a beautiful moon reflecting on the lapping lake waters below. I was pretty silent, which some of you think is impossible, and Flav began pouring out his heart. I had asked him what he wanted to do with his life. And he responded along some of these same terms. He didn't really use all the Christian jargon that I might use, but he was simply communicating, "When I do the right things, when I help people, I have more and I feel better." And really that is a lot of what A Long Obedience is about. When we live into our true identity, beyond how we feel, then we really live a more fulfilled life.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Thoughts on Remembrance



As you prepare for your day off on Monday, if you're not remembering sacrifice on behalf of the nation, its citizens, values, allies, or the men and women who wear the same uniform, please call it what it is: a day off.

(The sales "honoring" Memorial Day that do nothing for veterans, the Wounded Warrior Project, etc., are far more offensive than anything else.)

- Dustin Kunz

That over there is Dustin Kunz. We went to undergrad together. We kinda lost touch as is prone to happen with college friends. At some point the dude joined the military. I'm not sure when/how that happened. But on occasion I check in on him in Facebook. I really have no idea what he is up to, how he is, etc. That said, this post of his came up at the top of my Facebook feed when I logged in the other day...right before I took my Memorial Day vacation. Dustin did a good job of describing this good old American holiday and how it is observed in 2013.

Rewind over 110 years before I was born. Three years after the Civil War ended were the first official gatherings to remember fallen soldiers of that particular war. It was initially called "Decoration Day." It was established for May 30th, because there should be flowers in every state by that point to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. In the 1960s and 70s Decoration Day went through several changes and both expanded to include casualties of other wars and became today's Memorial Day.

Today it is a great day off to buy things at Home Depot and enjoy some grilling at the lake. And, like my friend Dustin said, I am down for that. We just need to call it what it is...a day off. If my memory serves me correctly, that is what is happening to the left over here with my friends Laurie, Steve, Joy and TJ. We gathered together, Steve cut off his index finger. He came back and I made him grill dinner while we enjoyed frothy bevs. Then we enjoyed one of my favorite films, Waking Ned Devine. And for those of you worried I am a little alcoholic, the whiskey was only for Ned purposes...and it was back in seminary. Everyone drank is seminary!

But the original intent of Memorial Day wasn't for us to enjoy ourselves. It was to remember the men and women across all wars who died in the line of service. (Now, before you think I am disregarding those who live...that is what Veteran's Day is for...though, and I think we are learning this: we should always be thankful for men and women's service time.) So, that is what I wanted to take the time to do today. 

Uncle Greg
Over the weekend with Flavius and Gigi I was reminded that I had three uncles (at least) who served in the military. Uncles Greg and Alan Lyman and Uncle Joe Love. Of those three, only Joe is alive. Greg passed away when I was in high school and Alan actually died June 13, 1968, by hostile fire in South Vietnam. Now for those of you who are good at math or just happen to know my age, that means I never met Uncle Alan. But Alan was apparently a good dude...good enough for one of my cousins to be named after him.

Greg & Alan were the oldest two children of my grandmother Taylor. Those two and my aunt Karen were born before Grandma met Grandpa, who had Merlin from a previous marriage. Together they had 5 more kiddos. Yep...9 kids in that family. From the stories I hear Greg and Alan were the best of friends. They did everything together. Little league, school, join the military. And oddly the world is even smaller than you think. Who was on Greg & Alan's little league team? My uncle Joe. He and Greg even graduated high school together. (I doubt either ever saw the day where Buck and Cynthia would have a kid together!)

Alan was named after Uncle Alan.
As I said, my cousin Alan, over there to the left, was named after my uncle Alan. In a way that makes him a living remembrance. For my uncle Les, his siblings and to some extent, us cousins, Alan allows us to recall Alan. It is a pretty interesting practice, isn't it? It is something even the Catholic Church consistently does. They rename popes...and monks after those of old they wish to remember.

And what this does, in a strange sense, is extend a memory beyond the gravestone. It's like a story. We tell stories to extend memories. Most of us know the stories of Moses, Abraham and David. Or to play on names, most of us also know the stories of Grandma Moses, Abraham Lincoln and, well, King David may be the most famous David there is. Stories remind us of things, whether it be history or life lessons. And though we tell ourselves things like, "forget the past and strive toward what is ahead," memories, history, and the past should not wholly be lost on us. There is a reason that we take a day in May to remember. And more important, people (who lived among us, who married among us, who played baseball with our brothers and sisters) are the reasons we take a day in May and remember.

And for me those people are Uncle Alan, a man I never knew; and Uncle Greg, who lived well beyond his war; and also, Uncle Joe who continues to live today...and there are also men and women like Aaron Taylor, Jake Wardell, Mike Probst and Byron Remhert who came back from Iraq, but lost friends in the process. And regardless of political persuasion, or philosophies on wars many are the losses of great men and women who have succumbed to war, and many are the memories that are worth stopping to think about on a day like today.

So, Kunz...I skip the sale at Home Depot today, and write a little about my uncle. And hope that others join me in simply remembering.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Thoughts on Being a Guest

I mentioned in my post yesterday that I am currently staying in Belmont, NC, in a huge home nestled in a private cove on Lake Wiley, which runs across the North Carolina-South Carolina border. It's a beautiful place. Flavius and Gigi did a great job when designing this place. It's really something to see. But staying with them actually sends me back to a much different place where I stayed long ago.

Summer 1999. La Plata, Argentina. I was hanging out in that courtyard of the giant cathedral you see to the right. It is properly called the Cathedral of La Plata. It is one of the largest cathedrals in Latin America. The courtyard in front of it was filled with Argentinians riding bikes, enjoying food, playing soccer. It was a great place to be. And this cathedral was one of the only places I got to really be a tourist in Argentina.

Quick side story. The rest of my team got to go out into Buenos Aires and enjoy the city. I was super pumped about exploring a great world city like Buenos Aires, but before we left La Plata we decided to have an Argentinians versus Americans indoor soccer match. My soccer experience ended at approximately 9 years old because of really, small town politics ended the soccer careers of a ton of kids from Florence, Texas. Ask our parents! So, I was holding my own on the pitch and went to challenge a gentleman who had played around 20 years of professional soccer, but had long since been retired. He kicked, I kicked. My ankle snapped. Broken ankle last night in La Plata. I learned how to navigate on crutches in international airports. And that is why I missed our touristy excursion into Buenos Aires.

But more important than that I learned a lot about hospitality on that trip, particularly how to receive hospitality. My team leaders were Gary Adam and Melissa Prehoda (and unofficially Carl Gulley, who as you can see is a fun guy who loves his bbq). They were quite a team. But Gary was "the dude" for this trip. A lot of this was his passion, his people and we were making connections through him. What I most think of concerning Gary was our wake-up calls.

Every morning Gary would grab his new bull whip, crack it in our room and holler "Get your coondog butts out of bed." I still don't know where Gary is from that he decided that coondog was a term of endearment for college-aged dudes. And I'm not certain, but I am pretty sure the ladies on our trip did not wake up with the same ritual.

But aside from bullwhips and Southern slang what stuck out about Gary was his passion for being a good guest. Before we left Texas we were told we would eat whatever was placed before us. We would smile and be gracious because the people we were staying with made sacrifices for us. At the time we didn't realize the extent of those sacrifices. For instance the pastor of the church built a second story onto his house to host us. The church took time and had every meal but lunch prepared for us on that trip...and that includes morning snack and siesta.

But the most visible sacrifice in my mind was Perro. Perro was this pot bellied pig that lived with us in Argentina. He was almost as cute as this gal to the right. He greeted us at the door. He expected scratches behind the ears. In other words, he deserved his name. For those of you non-Spanish speakers, Perro is Spanish for dog.

We grew attached to Perro. He was cool. One day, after doing an outreach downtown we came home to a wonderful smell. We were finally getting some of that amazing Argentinian barbecue we had heard about. It was an exciting day! I'm not sure who was the first to notice, but I think it had to be Liz, but Perro was nowhere to be found.

Well, we could have found him...if we had just gone to the backyard and looked on the spit. Perro was dinner that night. At this point the words of Gary came back to haunt nearly every one of us. We were about to partake in our beloved mascot. But without a single word, Gary communicated with strong glances, "You WILL eat Perro whether you want to or not." And to the credit of everyone on that team did. And I think we all learned from that experience.

What we learned is that just because a host is making a big deal out of you being with them mutuality in relationship does not end. In simpler terms it's not now just about you. That was something I should have picked up on as a kid, because my family would say similar things. When that little old aunt offers you a hard candy that is probably a decade old, you take it, say thank you, mean what you said and suck that Werther's down (as fast as you can), because the other person matters. When the family you are staying with cooks their pet eat it.

I think we miss out on the importance of this culturally and probably in the Church as well. When we enter someone's home there is a certain reverencing that takes place. We deem the other worthy of our time. We would never use such strong language, but it is nonetheless true. Even if you don't want to spend time with someone, if you decide you must go, it means there is something worth it to you. The converse is also true, we will reject hospitality at times not because of other engagements, but simply because we do not deem the other person worthy. That is harsh, but also nonetheless true.

I have learned over the years to be a good guest. When Gary told me I would eat everything before me, I didn't agree:
"I don't like fish.
"That is fine, you'll eat it just the same."
"But, why?"
"Because when you reject the offerings of your reject your host."

When you put it in such strong, plain terms it makes sense. To reject your host's offerings is to sleight your host. But often in our ego-centric mindsets (and that's not negative, it's just natural that we think of ourselves first) we neglect to think about the ramifications of: I'll just bring my own food...or...why don't we go out...or...why don't I cook...or...whatever it is. In other words, we let our self-importance reign over the sacrifice and offerings of people who are wanting to love on us.

The Apostle Paul talked about being all things to all people. And that is, I believe, related. To be a good guest means to be interested in museums, rodeos, lakes, history, subtleties of coffee, repeated stories, etc. And I think that is important and part of the great command, to love the Lord our God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And I struggle with it, but I know this...when I do my best to be a good guest it's more enjoyable; and I think that is simply related to doing what you are supposed to do. There is joy in honoring and love others well.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Thoughts on Beauty

Beauty—be not caused—It Is—
Chase it, and it ceases—
Chase it not, and it abides

- Emily Dickinson, #516 

Though this was taken in Thanksgiving 2010, it is nonetheless a picture of where I am currently at. See the door on the screened in porch? See that screen panel just to the left? Behind that, sitting on a wicker couch with floral patterned cushions, I sit with my Macbook, some Yogi coffee, my bible and no shoes. My view (you know, beyond the screen) is a cove on Lake Wiley that is currently only shared with one, maybe two neighbors. It's the house of my infamous Uncle Flavius and Aunt Gigi. They are pretty cool people. And though I love spending time with them both, some of my favorite moments when I come to visit them involve sitting in this same spot, usually with a fire going in the fireplace, listening to the sounds of silence. Well, not padded room silence, but birds calling, waves lapping on the shore leaves rustling and the occasional animal wandering through the yard that you see here covered with leaves. In one word it is beautiful.

There is no lack of words concerning beauty. Girls are beautiful. Food is beautiful. Lawns are beautiful. Houses are beautiful. Music is beautiful. Cars are beautiful. An encouragement is beautiful. 

In some ways beauty has become this catch all for positive emotional stirring. And that is kind of cool. It means that the only way we can own beauty is by owning what we behold as beauty. But even with that being the case, beauty is something that has caused war, destruction and the plight of many man, woman and culture. Beauty can arouse jealousy, suspicion and anger, which are as opposed to beauty in my mind as you can get. And the problem exacerbates whenever those emotions lead to conquering something or someone to own their beauty.

This is portrayed well in Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge. Duke vs Christian. Both appreciate the beauty of Satine. One it would seem loves her purely, the other, views her more like a mounted head above the mantle. Basically, the intent of enjoyment is different. The Duke wants to have sole control of Satine and her beauty, even yelling at one point, "I don't like other people touching my things!"

Christian on the other hand is shown as the one who's love of her beauty is pure. He could steal her away from the Moulin Rouge. They could start a new life, because all they need is each other. Now instead of this being a critique on Moulin Rouge, or how effective Luhrman was in juxtaposing these two men, I simple write about this to say, as Dickinson wrote so clearly ages ago: chase beauty and it ceases, chase it not and it abides.

There is beauty that exists today that flourishes on its own. It is unadulterated. But when it is captured, and attempts are made to increase that beauty it fails. Think of how many movies show the nerdy girl, show her become pretty, and then show that her nerdiness is what made her pretty after all (but she can still keep the makeover, because that is where Hollywood draws the line!) 

Think of how many lakes or ocean shores are run over with shanty houses, dive bars and tattoo shops, because people want to be in a beautiful place. We all get this. We all understand that beauty is to be observed and not conquered, but we still at times try to conquer and own beauty.

I think of my friend Julia from seminary. She was really wise about some of my issues that I couldn't see. She asked me why I was always buying books and music and movies. I justified myself, saying I wanted to have these things around. I wanted them physically near me so I could partake of them at any time. Now, Julia may have been really trying to help me see that it is not always financially the best to buy and buy and buy, but years later, what I am understanding, is that Julia taught me that ownership of certain things decreases value and beauty. If I own and accumulate all these beautiful things, I tend to ignore them, I tend to consume more beautiful things. I also tend to call things that are mediocre beautiful, just so I can justify having them. Then, I move on, forget about that thing and consume something else.

Yesterday I posted about Eddie Vedder. The man makes beautiful music. But there is something striking about his evolution. Vedder has somehow transcended genre and makes the music he wants to make. That probably makes label execs nervous. "You really want to make an album of ukulele songs, and your guest vocalists are going to be Cat Power and Glen Hansard? You know Eddie, we appreciate you recording and all, but this? This is the album you're gonna make?" I think Vedder was able to do what he did because he owns the beauty he creates. Sure, someone else is capturing it, but Vedder has enough sway and stay that the suits allow him to get away with it. And that is how a lot of art used to be (and I hope still is!). Artists made the art that they wanted. Benefactors were an issue, but certain artists did their thing.

So to close, I want to tell you about two beautiful film projects. I know it is odd to call something unfinished beautiful, but these are my friends. And I know my friends...and love them. The first is a documentary in process of a family picking and up trekking across the states. They're gonna love on some communities and be loved on in return. This is an amazing family, and it's going to be a great adventure.

The second is another set of friends who are trying to start the conversation about sex and church. It is a really interesting project. I'm proud of both of the Matts and other friends who are doing these and other projects, and thankful there will be even more beauty in the world because of them.

So, as you go, enjoy some beauty...share some beauty. And if you see me, remind me that beholding beauty is enough, I don't have to own it, I don't have to conquer it. I can just enjoy it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thoughts on Eddie Vedder

I just texted my friend Doug. Like myself he appreciates the important things of life: church, stouts, coffee, music, etc. There is however one thing that we just don't seem to agree on. It is the all important argument for a select few of us who know this argument exists. Ten or Vs.? If there was a "classical" view of this argument it is Ten is the superior album. Doug is planted firmly in this camp. I am one of those that contends that Vs. is actually a much more mature album. You could really see the development of Pearl Jam on Vs. And I guess that is really the point of the argument. Is it development or just raw talent that matters?

Pearl Jam has transformed itself over the course of the past twenty years. That's right, grunge, alternative, Seattle sound, whatever you called it, is now over twenty years old. Most of the bands from the early 90s are gone. Quite a few of the musicians are actually still around, just doing other projects. And Eddie Vedder has recorded an album featuring just that grumbly baritone voice and a ukulele.

When I was in middle school/early high school I idolized Vedder. I still think he is pretty amazing. "Jeremy" was really the song that turned me onto modern rock. That song was so unlike anything I had ever heard. I think it made the older generation of our family nervous that we liked such angry sounding music, particularly a song about suicide. But "Jeremy" was processing anger in an artistic, and I would say healthy manner. Pearl Jam was talking things out instead of simply reacting.

Pearl Jam transcended the music of the early-90s. They weren't just angry. They told stories. They took on social issues. They went acoustic on their second album. That break in format could be seen as a sellout to their roots, but I just saw it as a band experimenting and ending up with something great. And that is why I loved Vs. so much. Two of my favorite PJ tracks came from that album: "Daughter" and "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town."

The songwriting on Vs. blew me away. Vedder wove words in a way that riveted me. The stories he told were brilliant.

I swear I recognize your breath
Memories like fingerprints are slowly raising
Me, you wouldn't recall, for I'm not my former
It's hard when, you're stuck upon the shelf
I changed by not changing at all, small town predicts my fate
Perhaps that's what no one wants to see
I just want to scream...hello...
My god it's been so long, never dreamed you'd return
But now here you are, and here I am

That's one of my favorite lyrics by any band, any album, any song. On the surface it's just...I don't know, seemingly not that special. But when you slow down, read the words contextually, you can almost see this little, aging lady processing through life and gaining recall of who that person is in front of her. It also touches on that small town angst I talked about in my post about home.

Fast forward to seminary and I see a trailer at the Laemmle for a movie called Into the Wild. Turns out the entire soundtrack is by Vedder. That excited me, since after Vitalogy I hadn't listened to much PJ. The soundtrack was fascinating. The political discourse. The oddly counter-cultural messages that lined up with my theological leanings astounded me. Now. I don't know a lot about Vedder, but this I feel I can definitively say...the boy ain't a professing Christian. So, hearing a song like "Society" and reflecting of my own faith and their congruance was a great experience.

I kept the Into the Wild soundtrack in the rotation as I moved from Pasadena to Tuscaloosa, AL. It is just great music. Then one day while living in the mansion I watched the documentary Buck. If you haven't seen it. Stop reading. Go watch it. Come back and finish this post.

Welcome back. Wasn't that good? That movie was so emotive. The story of Buck Brannaman is beautiful. And as the closing credits start, you hear something familiar...Eddie Vedder. The song was new and about as simple as you can imagine. Turns out the song was by Pearl Jam and not a solo effort by Vedder. All the better!

That song was "Just Breathe" (you can watch the video for this below). And it somehow transcended the normal "secular" song and broke into my quiet times. Yeah that's right, a man not professing faith somehow became a part of the sacred moments of my day. There is just something that Vedder and the boys tapped into that was beautiful and in a holy way.

There is this term that I loved to throw around while at seminary. "Natural revelation" is this idea that there are certain ideas of truth, beauty, etc. that can be seen without any special help from religion. So, for instance, the majesty of the Rocky Mountains is a reflection of the strength and beauty of God. Or, the state of Alabama is the hotbed for all of American football.  Those types of things. I think there is something in the music of Vedder, in the movies of Wes Anderson and in so many other places that fall into this category. There are these unexpected voices that can teach us things when we learn to listen. And Vedder has been one of those voices for me. So, I'll leave you with "Just Breathe," which has become a reminder of love, life and joy.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Thoughts on Home

Home, let me come home. Home is wherever I'm with you. - Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

But our citizenship is in heaven. - the Apostle Paul

Today's post was supposed to be about Eddie Vedder or the beginnings of a Charismatic/Pentecostal theology, but when I woke up my thoughts were strongly drawn to home. There are a lot of portrayals of home throughout culture.

Zach Braff's Garden State has a pretty interesting line about home and family: "You'll see when you move out it just sort of happens one day, one day and it's just gone. And you can never get it back. It's like you get homesick for a place that doesn't exist. I mean it's like this rite of passage, you know. You won't have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it's like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that's all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place."

An imaginary place. Sounds a little existential and postmodern, if not despondent and pessimistic. But I think Braff actually hints at something that is important about home. How I would say it is home is the intangibles. Home isn't a bunch of walls, windows and doors that help us shield us from the elements. Home is identity and cohesiveness. Home is security and memories. It is sometimes not a place.

Ask many artists and they will tell you that home for them is in their music or when they are in the act of  sculpting. Same goes for athletes. How many times have we heard an athlete say that they never felt more at home than on the basketball court, the football field or the racetrack? How many more have we heard say that their sport or art was a refuge away from what went on back where they lived? Home for them was actually a place away from where they slept at night.

I remember around my junior or senior year of high school I began to go through that real angsty part of life that we are all seemingly required to go through. Thoughts of blowing this small town were rampant. I couldn't wait to get out of Florence, Texas, where people obviously didn't understand me. And when I made something of myself, boy were they going to be surprised, because I was golden, but simply overshadowed because those other guys and gals were more athletic and that is all that anyone cared about here. (Side note...yes, I did in fact grow up in a town smaller than 1000 people.)

For a lot of people those thoughts are rampant. Some never change. I am one of those that did...and apparently so are a lot of filmmakers. Think how many movies, like Sweet Home Alabama for instance, tell the story of going home and waking up to the fact that it is actually a great place. It is a common theme in our lives. It's just what happens to us over time. We appreciate home. It means more for some reason.

This house to me represents home. I lived there, I guess around two years. I shared this house with TJ, Nathan, Erik, Steve, Adam, Joy, Laurie, Flo, Tammy and I think one or two others. This house is where I spent significant time with Jonathan and Adrienne, Betsy, the Greens and numerous others. I hosted parties there. I broke up with a girl there (terrible I know, but home isn't ALL good). It was also a place where we shared migas and "invented" bacon pancakes. It was just a good solid home.

But the reason for it representing home instead of where I grew up in Texas was simply this: the formative nature of what went on in my life at that time made this place home. I am, and will always be a Texan, through and through. But in California I found a home because I reconciled who I was, what I did and what that looked like. A lot of my "California sojourn" was simply about these things. It was an important season of life. It made me examine issues such as family, faith, community and the Gospel. California is where I learned to be self-sufficient and paradoxically understand my need for others. In this house is where I learned to fight making mistakes.

And as I talked about in the previous post it is where I learned to reconcile the intersection of academia and experiential, Charismatic faith. Fuller created a haven for someone working through their issues. I didn't have to hide certain parts of me in certain contexts. I was all me, all the time. And that is why this house and the couch on that porch looks like home to me. But as Braff's character Large is now an imaginary place of shared memories. I'm not naive enough to think that returning to that porch will solve anything now. It is pure symbol. And frankly, I'm fine with that. I'm fine with an imaginary home.

And that is why the words of a band like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros gets it right. "Home is wherever I'm with you." What I contend is home is about "you." Determining who or what that you is determines your home. If "you" always alludes you, you'll never be at home; you'll never be at rest. That may seem like an overstatement, but it can be seen in the lives of so many people. My friends Andrew and Rebecca hardly leave home these days. Once they found the "you" they were looking for they were pretty contented.

For me (spoiler alert: faith is kinda a thing of mine) home really can be anywhere. Theologians use this phrase to describe the way God interacts with the earth now: inaugurated kingdom. Basically it means God's presence on earth is before now and future. And that is how I view home. Home is both now and future. Home for me is Texas and California, Alabama and Pine Country Restaurant, with friends and family, on couches or in offices, playing guitar or reading a book. Home, for me at least, is being in and with God and a part of his and my families. And that doesn't restrict me to location.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thoughts on Theology

Everyone is a theologian. - Stanley Grenz

I remember sitting in the Alcove with my buddy Jon. We were talking shop and suddenly turned to theology. And somehow, while enjoy a Young's Double Chocolate Stout, the conversation came to a point where I pulled from the recesses of seminary education this nugget from Grenz. If memory does not forsake me, Chris Spinks had us start my first seminary course with that quote. As a recovering Baptist, I had some initial reactions against the statement, but was easily converted.

So, let's start with the basic breakdown of theology, and why you are a theologian, and so is that nursing mom that makes you uncomfortable at a restaurant, and the university kid that decides it is congruent to both love Jesus and smoke pot.

Theology - from the Greek. Two words: logos & theos. Logos - words. Theos - God. Words about God. Smooth that translation, modernize it a little bit and what we have is our "thoughts about God." See. You are a theologian, whether you have those little letters by your name that say so or not.

What most of us do on the day-to-day is what I like to call living theology. What is most obvious are ideas and thoughts like going to church, abstaining from sin, repentance, quiet times, etc. What is less obvious are decisions like inviting people to dinner, health care, purchasing power, etc. In other words those hundreds of little decisions we make on the daily that impact our lives, but we think of as just tasks, But those decisions are based on theological suppositions and reveal our ideas and beliefs about God and the Church.

For some reason, as I thought about writing this particular post I was reminded of a family back home. They have a few children and when the first boy arrived they decided not to have him circumcised. Now, what is seemingly a health decision, one that is also so common place where I grew up, that it takes on theological implications. A lot of Christians (like most Jew and Muslims) circumcise their kids. It's just part and parcel to the whole Judeo-Christian-Muslim thing apparently. Because generalized monotheistic tendencies (particularly Christianity) influenced society, a lot of dudes have had their foreskins removed.

This particular family took time to examine why they were going to have their son go through this particular procedure. They are, like myself, on the Charismatic side of the Church, understand covenant theology and the symbolism and identification of being marked with circumcision. Ultimately, they decided to break rank with a lot of society and I would say that marks a change in their theology. They decided that their faith was not demonstrated in circumcision, but rather a lack of circumcision. I do not know the full process of their thoughts, but understand the outcome of their theology.

Another story I am reminded of is that of a high school friend. This particular friend and I never had any "God talks." I think if we had, I would have tried to beat some Jesus into him, because at that time that was how I did evangelism. I just tried to beat people into submission. That reflected my theology at the time. But more importantly it also indicates something we religious people don't think about...atheists are doing theology. They have thoughts on God. Now that thought is "there is no God," but even in that, they are engaging in some of the same internal struggles and dialogues as we are.

As for me, when I think of theology, I still think about men and women such as N.T. Wright, Miroslav Volf and Marianne Meye Thompson. What I mean is, I still go back to the theology of the institution. There is something at work in me that assumes that something about what I picked up at Fuller is better than what I picked up outside of Fuller. To be fair, when you go to a "theological seminary," theology is probably on your mind. But, a recent post by Tony Jones is what started me thinking in terms of theology now.

Without going into the whole argument of racism, I want to pull a quote from the blog: "In my remarks, I spoke honestly about my view of Pentecostal theology, and how I do not think that it’s the best theology out there." That is what is relevant from the Jones article in relationship to this post. I spoke about deferring to institutional theology earlier. What Jones is saying (and I agree with) is there is not just good and bad theology, or even more concrete, correct and incorrect theology. There is instead this gamut of theology that runs from beautiful and amazing to, I guess, harmful and destructive.

And so, I have to thank Jones for reminding me of thoughts from across a lot of the Church -- Pentecostal/Charismatic theology is not highly regarded. These are not Jones' words. This is my interpretation of a multitude of experiences, across a wide variety of occasions. And the reason for writing a vague post on theology is this. Sometime soon, I plan to look at Charismatic theology. Now, it is assumed that Charismatics and Pentecostals share theology, but I don't presume as much. Much of my experience in the Charismatic Church was much more controlled than that of many Pentecostals, and in all honesty the brief time I spent in the Pentecostal Church was not very comfortable.
(I have no idea why this picture came up in a
search for "Pentecostal, but it humored me.)

So, sports fans, I just want to start a conversation about the validity, and to some of you snarkier individuals, existence of a Charismatic theology. Will I get into every aspect of theology? No. Am I an authoritative spokesman for Charismatics everywhere? Far from it. What I however hope to provide is a basic understanding of praxis inside parts of the Charismatic movement that I have been involved in. I want to explore why it is we have come to believe what we believe. Because that understanding can then be judged in its proper context and evaluated alongside Catholic theology, Baptist theology, etc.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Thoughts on "Christian" Music

Rock 'n roll is everything
Everything to a lonely man
And never will I bow to you”
- Delirious?

Martin Smith has a way with words. I think that is why, even in my days as a Christian that despised most Christian music, I still listened to Delirious?. The dude can write. The band had this amazing, evolving sound. They took risks. And sure, in the eyes of most Delirious? wasn’t true rock and roll (you know, no sex and drugs and all), but truth be told they were pioneering, they were defying the system and they were leaving behind trails that other bands would follow, albeit some, a decade later.
And that’s part of why music is just so important. First, it is a reflection of a diverse landscape. Second, great music, whether it be Aaron Copland, the Fugees or Charo, is pioneering. And both diversity and pioneering were marks of Jesus and the early church and should be of the Church of today.

Let’s roll back to around Fall 1998. I was a sophomore in college. I was studying religion at a Baptist school. Two things were simultaneously evolving in me. First, was this displeasure with the state of what is known as CCM (Contemporary Christian Music). The second was a lack of congruence with my developing understanding of church and my Baptist heritage. I think in my youthful zeal, I unfairly combined these things. As a matter of fact, I know that I unfairly attributed a lot of things to UMHB that were just a matter of growth. So Aunt Mary, consider this my apology.
Now, I have outgrown a lot of my calling people out, so I won’t really name some of the bands that were targeted by my wrath, but there were three common complaints that I had (and probably still would have) when I listened to CCM. The first was cashing in on worship. Everyone was coming out with a worship album. It was so frustrating. Sure, they were Christians, but as soon as people saw Vineyard and Hillsong selling records, others decided to capitalize on a trend. And the biggest problem I saw was, these were simply covers of better renditions. There wasn’t even anything original being done.

As a quick aside, I have nothing wrong with covers. As a matter of fact Antioch Community Church does a great job of covers. BUT, the point of their CDs is to provide a central listening point for people within the movement…not to make a quick buck. And that is why I can appreciate the work of JMG others who are just trying to aid congregants.
The second complaint and the third complaint are two sides of one coin. There were some artists who could write great poetry, but didn’t give a crap about production and aesthetics of music. There was a huge disconnect that prevented people from being able to access the music. There were plenty of people who threw at me the mantra of the 1990s, “But just listen to the words.” Sorry. That is no excuse. As Chris Hodges would say, there is no excellence in doing that. Those artists only did half the work.

The last complaint was the converse. There were these musicians who understand musicianship, created really pretty sounds and had the depth of a snail (I originally wrote titmouse, because blogs need more titmice, but in researching the intelligence of that species found they are indeed intelligent…inasmuch as birds can be intelligent). So, you had this great sounding stuff that considered whether or not unsaved people in hell could eat Lucky Charms. (Okay…moment of immaturity in calling out that song and band.)
That is why I stopped listening to CCM. I did however continue to listen to worship music, and still do, but there was still this desire for rock and roll. I think that is what happens when your dad raises you listening to Janis Joplin. Something just sticks with you. Something desires music that isn’t just safe, bubble gum, over produced, prettier than everything else garbage.

Enter the picture one Jennifer Knapp. Knapp is currently a lightning rod for those who know she is still around. She stands as this statue in the crossroads of Church and homosexuality. To some she is this beacon of strength and a public example of learning to stand on two feet as a gay Christian. To some, she is nothing but a confused, deceived woman who thinks you can have your cake and eat it too. But to me she is simply rock and roll.
Two things stick out to me about Knapp. First, is simply, I have seen her in concert, I guess three times. The first two were back in those Baptist days. The third was at Hotel CafĂ© in Los Angeles where she was coming back “for one show.” That place was packed. An hour early, and it was overflowing. It was an interesting show in several regards. First, it was a bar, and for the most part, Angeleno Christians have no problem throwing down some beer. But, the out of towners who came from Nashville, Dallas and anywhere and everywhere seemed to feel a bit awkward. Second, Knapp did new music…and it was REALLY raw. Like throw a steak on a grill for two minutes raw.

Finally, Knapp didn’t close the concert. She snuck out a side door. Yep. And at first I was disappointed. But then I realized, this woman probably just isn’t ready for all that comes with “those questions.” And I think that ended up being a fair assessment. And she dealt with those questions (quite well I may add) with Larry King.
Second, and more importantly, Knapp wrote like no one else at the time (except maybe Rich Mullins) in CCM. She was raw and emotive from the very beginning. She was working out her faith with fear and trembling before her sexual tendencies were ever known. But she was also doing it with great musical relevancy and ability. When I listen to old Jennifer Knapp albums, I hear someone who determined that the low road of putting out a product for a buck wasn’t enough. Part of me thinks she would have been fine had she never been the crowning glory of Christian music (which she was for a time). She was doing her thing. She has continued to do her thing through it all. And in that was she pioneered. And in what she is doing now, whether you agree with her or not, she is a diverse voice that is trying to speak to the Church…and others.

In other words, like Bob Dylan, Ella Fitzgerald or even Mumford, she was making socially aware rock that spoke into the culture, and in many cases the church. Like Delirious? she was rock for the Church…and rock and roll? It’s everything.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Thoughts on the Church

One of my last summers at Fuller I signed up for a class on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Like the Nouwen class I have described, this class was explicitly dedicated to studying Bonhoeffer. My friend Derrick signed up along with a pastor from Montecito. The only hang up was the drive to Ventura and overnight stays in a hotel since the class was Friday night and all day Saturday. Luckily, Derrick and I decided to split a hotel room each of the three weekends.

As is prone to happen in such a small class we went through the initial “awkward class” phase quite quickly. Derrick and I only had two personalities to get used to, Patterson had years of experience, and Chris was just a cool dude.

During the third weekend we took lunch altogether, which we did each Saturday. We went to Dargan’s to grab a pint of beer and discuss “When is the Church no longer the Church.” Now, before you judge too harshly a bunch of theologians, sitting around deciding what action or belief is acceptable for the Church and who is in or out, you have to remember the topic of the course…Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer lived in a time and situation I doubt any of us will ever really have to go through, the church of his home was caught up in the throes of Nazism. Bonhoeffer had to legitimately tackle the question of what Church meant, and conversely what it meant to be a part of that Church.

For the three of us, the conversation revolved around PCUSA and the ordination of homosexuals. Why? Because Patterson and Thomas were PCUSA ministers. It was quite contextual. These men were part of a denomination deciding the future for congregants based on theological beliefs and understandings, while also reflecting the views of different parishes.

Now the purpose of this post is not to expose the views of either Patterson or Thomas. I spent a total of about 36 hours with these guys, well maybe 60 for Chris since I crashed on his couch twice…during the Olympics, which was kinda cool. (Side note. I still think Chad is Rad!) The point is there is this ongoing idea that runs into Christians’ minds of what (who?) is the Church. Most probably wouldn’t want to use that exact term, because it is uncomfortable to make this decisive statement that this person or that church or no longer Christian. I say most, because some people have no problem with it.

To a certain extent that is what the three of us discussed as I drank a Smithwick's for the first time. The two of them were discussing what was going on in PCUSA, while I avoided that altogether, being a theological mutt and not calling PCUSA my home. At the time, and to a certain point still today, I was more concerned with the lack of justice and sensitivity to a racially divided church. I was and am more concerned that men and women of different races and ethnicities have had such a hard time even endorsing one another, let alone worshipping together.

I doubt we ever came to concensus in that little pub to whether the PCUSA was still a true church. If we did, that was certainly not the takeaway I had from our conversations. But this takes me back to my previous post: when you are this lonesome, charismatic intellectual, how do you know that what you are doing, who you are, and who you worship with are still the true church? What are the anchors when your denomination is kinda loosey-goosey, this particular location looks like this, and that particular location really likes studying Romans more than speaking in tongues?

These are the theological questions that should be answered and can keep someone awake at night. So, what I came up with is this:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

That’s right…a Charismatic evangelical finding orthodoxy in an ancient, Catholic Creed. What is Orthodoxy you may ask?

To be orthodox, or to hold orthodox views can mean one of two related things: First, to hold an orthodox view is “conforming to the approved form of any doctrine.” Second, to hold an orthodox view is to hold to a “sound or correct opinion or doctrine.” Those should go hand-in-hand. Conforming to an approved should belief should also indicate that it is the sound and correct opinion. However, as the narrative of culture changes things what is orthodox can be changed.

Simply stated, I choose not to worry too much about anything outside of this. If the men and women I worship with can affirm these basic beliefs of the early church, who took dedicated time to boil down the essentials of faith into a succinct text, that for the most part was unanimously agreed upon, then that is safe to serve as my baseline.

I know there are many arguments that come against this. For example, “James, you will have to give account for what you did on this earth. Did you do this for the poor, that for the homosexual, that for the mentally ill?” Others will say it is theologically irresponsible. "You need to have a definitive stance on what is permissible and what is not permissible. Who can continue fellowship, who can partake of the table, etc." And those are legitimate concerns and arguments. However, I think at the heart of the Gospel, at the core of loving God with every part of me, and loving everyone on earth, as I look for anchor on who the Church is, and what is still orthodox, anyone who can still agree to this is still fine in my book.

And I guess that is why I can hold a book by Thomas Merton in one hand, a book by Miroslav Volf in another, while listening to a sermon by Joyce Mayer. It’s also why I don’t worry if the Episcopals I worship with each Easter openly affirm LBGTQ, while the Vineyard I attend tends to be quite conservative. I trust that the men and women of both congregations are working out their salvation with fear and trembling and know both to worship the same Jesus. And sure, some may say that is a bit shortsighted, but I choose to err on the side of grace when the God I worship spent his time hanging out with hookers and outcasts.

Friday, May 17, 2013

On Second Thought

I just got through reading a few interesting articles. The premise of these articles is basically, “Who owns Dietrich Bonhoeffer?” There seems to be this raging debate between who Bonhoeffer would lend his sympathy toward, those ranting, raving far-right, Evangelical nut jobs, or those Godless, hell-bound expecting a handout, left-wing hacks. Yes. Apparently that is a real argument going on today. And though, I am in no way the same caliber of excellence of Bonhoeffer, I feel at times I have the opposite problem. My problem, is where do I belong in this hubbub.

Part of the problem lately has been my aversion to men such as Mark Driscoll and John Piper, while not being able to fully embrace the views of men like Tony Jones and Jay Bakker. Granted those are seemingly polar opposites, and whenever your comparison is “the fringe” of course you find yourself in a quandary. But, I think the problem is actually quite a bit larger than that. I think the problem lies within the “us and them” that has transcended culture and overtaken the Church. And that’s not a new problem.
When I was in, probably my second year of seminary, I was introduced to one Dr. James Cone. Cone scared (and still does to a certain extent) the crap out of me. Here was a man that said things like, “The time has come for white America to be silent and listen to black people...All white men are responsible for white oppression.” Now I’ll be frank for just a minute. A late-twenties, evangelical, white male, who has not been exposed to much liberal theology, can and was scared out of his wits reading this kind of language. BUT, Cone and I belong to each other. Not in an ownership kind of way, more like a tribal affiliation.

While at seminary I also took a course that studied Henri JM Nouwen. The entire course was just that, a study of his life, what was his theology, how did he minister, what were his psychological leanings and methods; these were the questions that we examined. I admired and still do admire Nouwen. However, there are a lot of people in the intellectual world who do not find Nouwen’s teachings palatable, either because he is A) Catholic, or B) spiritual and not academic. But just like Cone, Nouwen and I belong to one another.
Seminary also challenged me to read works by Marva Dawn and Nancey Murphy. In a field over wrought with Caucasian, gray-headed, white dudes, I could see the struggle of women trying to break through barriers long since placed before them. And like Nouwen and Cone there is this unity that draws Murphy and Dawn into the “us” that was forming in my mind.

Now backtrack to around the end of college or so. I was reading John Eldredge. I loved Wild at Heart. I’m not ashamed to admit that. Sure some things were over-simplified and generalized, but there was something that resonated with me. The same could be said for Neil T. Anderson and Richard Foster who were also influential during those formative years.
Finally, there was this influence of John Wimber, BennyHinn and Mike Bickle, etc. That was really my bread and butter. The experiential nature of God manifesting Himself to the Church; the love of God transcending into our lives like the Song of Solomon on display; tongues of fire, prophetic words, people slain in the Spirit: these mystical experiences I knew to be real. They were not conjured up in a moment of emotional hysteria. These men and women were the closest to family I felt in the Church, but something was missing.

The problem for a growing cohort within Christianity is simply this: for the Charismatic/Pentecostal intellectual there is either a vacuum with no legitimate presence, or there is this borderless realm with no limit as to who influences you. I have lived for so long in the odd loneliness of not being a typical conservative Evangelical, but finding no place within the larger liberal community because my views of Scripture/theology were far and away too conservative.
Bill Jackson and Todd Hunter coined a book called The Quest for the Radical Middle. I haven’t read it. I should read it. I probably will read it soon. But as the title suggests, for many there is this odd defiance that does not want to succumb to being defined as right wing, left wing, liberal, conservative, etc. We are different. And because our views do not line-up explicitly with someone like Eugene Cho or Shane Claiborne, and because people need to give others a label in order to know how to deal with them, we come across as non-committal and wishy-washy.

When I say I don’t know fully how to respond to homosexuality yet, even though I have been having conversations with others about it for nearly twenty years, that is a true statement. It is not me trying to appease you and your idea of full inclusion or saying homosexuals should be nowhere near a church’s doors. When I say that yes, I believe people are faking spiritual gifts and at times the charismatic church is full of emotionalism, it doesn’t mean that I want those same churches to stop seeking the spiritual gifts. Actually, it’s just the opposite. I want to see those same churches continue to seek out the power of the Holy Spirit and bridle it aside the truth of Jesus Christ so that lives will be changed.
I think back to the Shema in Deuteronomy and how it is repeated (in part) in the New Testament: And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. There is a definite complexity to loving the Lord with your heart, soul, mind and strength. And without the various streams of the Church I don’t think I could love the Lord fully. Without men such as Thomas Merton and Yonggi Cho and women such as Mother Teresa and Heidi Baker, the Church would not be who She is…and I cannot be who I am created to be, which is not this definable “white, evangelical 30+ year old with Charismatic and Catholic leanings,” but instead is simply as the Fleet Foxes sing “a functioning cog in some great machinery, serving something beyond me.”