Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rain and Rust

The emergence of such books results from the persistence of the platform/pew; performance/passivity paradigm.

Dorothy: "I think he said 'Oil can.' "

Scarecrow: "Oil can? Oil can what?"

Dorothy: "How did you get this way?"

Tin Man: "Well, one day.... and I've been this way ever since."

This link pretty well presents the need to stop the monologue.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The General Confession

This is from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal Church) in the "Order for The Administration of the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion" section.

I grew up hearing and saying this (most) every week. Although the language use is older, I still resonate with it today.

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge

and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we,

from time to time, most grievously have committed, By

thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty,

Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.

We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these

our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto

us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us,

Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son

our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, Forgive us all that is past;

And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please

thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy

Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

To Kor For,


Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Gift of Tongues

Rereading 1 Cor 14, I now think Paul was using sarcasm and irony to uplift the resourcefulness of "prophecy" (both foretelling and "forth-telling") above tongues. I believe he is actually belittling the use of tongues - or at least the dependency on it to be used to personally edify.

Read it and try to hear a harsh, yet instructive tone. I think it makes sense and creates order - rather than the chaos that has been experienced historically trying to continually recreate an Acts 2 scenario.

Just sayin.

Like the Old Man on Top of the Mountain

God is very hard to hear. This creates a dilemma in my faith - or does it? Wait. It is faith.

I don't hear often what I sense is the Creator's voice and appropriate directive(s). I often sense the directive and proceed. Sometimes I look back and realize that it was not what I thought it was going to be. Most of the time it seems right.

But every once in a long while, I hear God speaking directly to me. I realize the Jim Jones, David Koresh, Warren Jeffs problem. But when I hear, it is through the voice of others - through community - through friends.

Yesterday provided one of these rare and phenomenal occurrences. I simply thought/whispered (don't know how to describe it, otherwise) something only I knew about (within that room). I asked that if this were something I needed to have addressed, that it would have to come through someone else. Within minutes, someone spoke to me in a direct and in an encouraging way. The challenge within their encouragement was not detailed, but personal and specific enough. And it wasn't like a newspaper horoscope, that was a universal dilemma that everyone thinks is only addressed to them.

This could only be explained (which I don't always attempt to do), by a personal, creative entity - goes by the name of YHWH. I cannot successfully convey the magnitude of what happened with words typed out with a keyboard.

My faith is fortified. My fear (the right kind) is heightened. My commitment is deepened.

"To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit..." ~1 Corinthians 12:8

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Your Basic Jesus

During a recent dialogue (some called it a “debate”) on Facebook, we were discussing what it means to be a Follower of Jesus. As we were doing a little digging into what the teaching of scriptures meant for our lives and purpose on earth, one person got a bit testy with the conversation.

In some ways, I understand this resistance as we need to be cautious about our “knowledge” and being “right” about what we hold. This is the quick path the legalism and modern Pharisaism.

This person said: “…sometimes you "theologians"... think WAY too much and forget about the simplicity of Christianity. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, therefore I am a Christian! That's it! I don't have to buy into anyone else's theory... Keep it simple!!!!

I resonate with the sentiment, but only in part. My response to this was *simple.* “I wish it was.

Over nearly 40 years of being a committed disciple, I learned that following Christ is basic, but it is far from simple. These two words are not synonymous. It is essential to follow Christ. Paul clearly states that when he says to the Corinthian believers: “I resolved to know nothing except Jesus the Messiah, and him crucified.” “Jesus the Messiah” is the rudimentary truth. But the latter part of Paul’s statement carries a perplexity for all who don the flesh.

Our instinct is to survive, not die. But Christ, as well as the New Testament writers, teaches us that we must not cling to surviving. That we must indeed die to self and all that nurtures our wants and inward desires. The transformation process is rigorous and has a daily increment.

I find the first disciples’ transformation inspiring. Matthew, chapter 16 a microcosm sample. The person of Peter is easy to resonate with. He is the transformation poster boy. How often do we see his “V8 Moments” throughout the New Testament? They run right up to his canonized letters.

Jerry Tankersley, after an address to the National Prayer Breakfast, wrote an article titled: “Following Jesus is Not Easy!” In the article, he stated:

Jesus’ followers did not understand this. The meanings of his words were hidden from them. They could not perceive the truth of Jesus’ way because they had other plans for Jesus and themselves. They were spiritually blinded.

Now this remains as a central obstacle for all the followers of Jesus. Often, we do not understand what it means to follow Jesus in his rhythm of death and resurrection. We do not understand how the way of Jesus disrupts and often contradicts our world views, ideologies, and agendas.”

Within our Facebook discussion, someone asked:

Why isn't being just a ‘Christian’ enough? Why does it have to get all complicated? I don't remember anything in the Bible telling me that I had to do anything more than accept Jesus Christ in order to be a Christian. Jesus may have taught challenging and difficult things, but, he also simplified it so that everyone could get the message…I'll just keep up the faith the way I've been doing, I don't have to prove anything to anyone, I'll answer on my judgement (sic) day....

“Anything more…” I could not let this go (the person even told me that, in an accusing tone, after I responded).

Again, I understand the sentiment, but I’ve also discovered that the road of transformation has no earthly culmination. I think Peter learned this again and again. I think we all learn this until we get to the point of having “fought the good fight.”

Following Christ is basic, but it is far from being simple. Each day, many of his words echo in my ear and my flesh resists. Death to self is painful and agonizing. But resurrected life is refreshing and fruitful. Not a simple matter.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Civic Disobedience

To call the police or not to – that is the question.

What is it about my transformation that now has me hesitating to bust 2 obvious “Junkies” when I encounter them?

On a recent Sunday, just after our Community Gathering around Noon, a young woman came into the coffee shop as a “customer.” She informed me she had not been in here before. I customarily informed her that we are non-profit and handed her one of our brochures on the front counter.

She looked at the menu and was rather fidgety. I offered her a few suggestions and she affirmed all of them. When I asked which one she wanted, she went back to not knowing. “Her behavior is very odd,” I thought to myself. I finally gave a resounding endorsement of one I assured her she would enjoy. She agreed to it and I started to prepare it.

As I went about my task of pulling a couple of espresso shots and mixing her vanilla iced latte, she looked at the brochure until she became engaged on her cell phone with a friend. She was informing her friend of her whereabouts. I couldn't help but notice that her speech was a bit hurried and jumbled, but not slurred. I began to wonder if her demeanor was the result of an uncontrolled substance.

I delivered her beverage and rang the total up on the register. The total was $3.75 and she handed me 2 one-dollar bills. I politely repeated the total and she began to rapidly finger through an over sized wallet. I observed the contents, which were mostly small note papers, credit cards and coins. More than once, I saw her thumb passed a thick fold of green backs, thinking she would draw from them. But this was not coffee money. She finally handed me a credit/debit card.

I swiped the card and the merchant program declined it. I then manually entered the data, and again it was declined. When I told her this, she did not look surprised but was able to come up with $1.75 in quarters. She was even digging for the coins as I was running the card.

Just as I completed the transaction, an older model compact car pulled into the sparse Sunday morning parking lot. A young female in flip flops, brown shorts and black tank top (only) quickly exited the car and headed toward our front door. As she opened the door, she came in to greet her friend. I greeted her and asked her if she wanted anything. She returned the greeting and said she didn’t need anything.

Her demeanor was even more animated than the first woman. She could not stand still and she kept running her hands over her hair (like smoothing it out), putting her hands on her hips, shifting her weight back and forth. For some reason she decided to exit the front door, go out to her car and then quickly return. I watched her and surmised that her quick trip was fruitless as she didn’t retrieve anything. It looked like the movement only served to keep her active, or she forgot why she went out.

I asked both of their names, in an introductory manner, and shook their hands. There was small talk about the 4th of July, weather and such. As we talked, the first woman was smiling as she continued to put light coins into the donation jar by the register. She informed me that her iced latte was delicious as they both headed toward the door and left.

As they headed to their respective vehicles, I wondered if they would pose a hazardous threat to others on the street. The traffic was extremely light, being a Sunday before Independence Day. Still, they were obviously under the influence of something.

I prayed fast and intently regarding my response and reaction to this situation. Conventional wisdom dictates a prescribed civic responsibility. I knew what it was as I had it filed in an impermeable compartment of my mind. I could almost hear it speaking to me: “Jeff. Call the police. They are doing something illegal and need to be intercepted.” For some mystical reason, and despite the risk, I disobeyed the standard imperative. I was amazed at how quickly I was processing the matter seeking a divine influence to give me rapid insight.

I just sighed and in a strange kind of peace, prayed for and loved them. I mentioned their names. I imagined the One who created them also sighing their names. I may never see them again. But I do wonder if they may cross a subsequent path that will lead them away from darkness into a redemptive and loving light. I have strong conviction that that can happen.

This experience has resulted in a conflict that causes me to ponder. The opponents are all the conventional lectures that I imagine and may literally hear from those who may be skeptical about my decision, versus the “renewing of my mind” based on what I believe is my own spiritual transformation.

As I was praying in those short moments, all the cultural outcasts in biblical narratives popped into my mind. I was able to see a vast company of brokenness. I was able to see myself among them. I was able to see myself in journey with 2 fellow human beings I had never met. All of this transmitting in seconds.

Just what is “the renewing of our minds?” What does it involve? Is it continually the pattern created by God in the Old Testament and by Jesus in the gospels – where our fixed notions are challenged and dispelled? Does his real purpose and desire really escape us in the blind fashion that causes Peter to inappropriately thrash a heavy blade cutting off an ear of one perceived in violation?

I don’t think that there is a disjointed jump in thought, in Romans 12, when Paul implores us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but rather think of ourselves with “sober judgment.” The Greek concept for sober is a “corrected mind.”

If we consider our own condition and our continual desperate need of mercy, the result will be a spiritual metamorphosis of our not conforming to the pattern of the world, as our mind-set changes.

I’m discovering that the “pattern of the world” is not always the caricature of extreme malfeasance we imagine. It can even be a “conventional wisdom.” Haven’t we seen Jesus criticized for disregarding perceived “injunctive norms?” Haven’t we learned that the principles of God’s Kingdom are a reversal of our own “Top Ten” lists?

As I reflect on this encounter, I must say that I was surprised at how it affected me. I didn’t see what I customarily see in this situation. It still amazes me how there was this “divine appointment” aura to the whole scenario. Instead of the standard eye roll and condescending “There but for the grace of God, go I” verbiage uttered, I rapidly connected with 2 fellow human beings created in the image of and dearly loved by God.

My sincere prayer is that I may see them again and have a chance to get to know them and experience Godly community with them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

This Eternity Thing is Never Ending

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
~Mark Twain

Is there something more ahead. Lord?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Train Like a Dentist; Get Paid Like a Janitor

Dang! A few years and a butt-load of bucks from 1981-85... still the most challenging and yet the most fulfilling ministry we've ever been involved with, presently.

This article "
Is It Time to Write the Eulogy?: The Future of Seminary Education" is a resonator of my long-held sentiments represented in the title of this blog.

Monday, March 7, 2011

They Say The Neon Lights Are Bright...

On Facebook recently, Scot McKnight posted a link from the late Michael Spencer's blog "I-Monk." The blog is being maintained and now has "Chaplain Mike" as the primary writer.

The blog's entry was entitled: "A Rant from a Loser in the Worship Wars." As I read the post and the comments that followed, I couldn't help but notice a continual mind-set that strongly suggested consumerist preferences.

At one point, the blog read:

I’ve got to believe with all our emphasis on “creativity” and “innovation” today, we could easily imagine ways to include the older folks and the ones who appreciate more traditional forms in our worship services and in other important ministries where their gifts could be honored and used.

I like the challenge in this, but I still see a perpetuating dilemma where the form remains an obstacle. There remains the dependency on a small number of events at one location for a limit span of time in addition to getting people to come. Along with that is the hierarchy created by the professional/laity distinction.
Today's institutional church is still an ecclesiastical theater district. Having been on the platform, performing, as well as in the pew, passively taking in, I've seen the rotation and shuffle that takes place from the front door to the back door. Every church building has both.

When I was in high school, I was involved in drama and theater. During my junior year, 3 of the high schools in our area took a combined trip to Washington, D.C. and New York City. Included in the package were three large-scale theatrical productions. The first was a dramatic play "An Enemy of the People" by Henrik Ibsen. It was at one of the many theaters situated on 45th street.

I recall how I was amazed at the number of theaters on the street, as well as the throng of people all dressed up entering the various buildings. As our group walked into our theater, we were given a few curious and cantankerous stares. Despite the educational objective through our attendance, we were undoubtedly out of place.

The following night, we returned to the Imperial Theater, in the same area, to see the musical "Two by Two." This was a highlight as I vividly recall seeing Danny Kaye in the starring role as Moses. He had broken his leg, at some point during production, and was in a cast on crutches. Again, there were people bustling about to get to the theater of their choice to enjoy their evening.

The final production that our high schools chose for our educational pleasure, was supposed to be the apex of our learning. Some brilliant person secured tickets for the Italian opera "Don Giovanni" performed at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Our seats were scattered throughout the theater, so we weren't able to sit together. Add to this, the fact that we had just finished a 10-hour bus tour of the city, the sedative music of Amadeus Mozart, an Italian script, soft velvet reclining chairs. All I remember was the fine-dressed man next to me nudging me from my slumber with his elbow, and his Margaret Drysdale-looking wife gawking at me condescendingly. My friends around me, and I, decided to hit the subway at intermission and head back to the hotel. To our astonishment, we saw half the high school student group on the train doing the same thing.

What's the point of this story? I believe the ecclesiastical vista resembles a theater district of preferential choices. Standards of measurement are dominated by consumerist mind-sets. What's good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander and vice versa . It is a fact that there is a competitive spirit in a large majority of isolated parishes, despite platitudinous denial. Everybody really wants the same thing – to get people to come to their place. It is the drive behind every conversational comment that begins with "we do...." I know, because I have uttered it as well as heard it in certain ecumenical settings. This reality is apparent by two very simple words in the title to the blog: "Loser" and "wars."

Look in ye olde Yellow Pages (all 5 versions from your driveway) under "Churches." You'll see hooks like "You're Invited!", "Something New", "Experience the Difference" and "Grace Filled Community." Google "Churches" and type in the nearest significantly sized metropolitan area. I'll go out on a limb and wager that the number of theaters pales in comparison. I'll even bet that pizza joints are outnumbered. Have you ever heard anyone say that they were "church shopping?" It so easily flows off of the tongue.

All for what? ...the purpose to get people in the what? The building.

It is now my belief that the call for a return to authentic gift-exercising community is valid, where buildings and paid staff are not a distracting priority. I think we may be headed that way anyway like a reverse diaspora - given the economy and a more globalized culture. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, it was reported that many church-nouns are undergoing the threat of losing their structures. The author states:

Just as homeowners borrowed too much or built too big during boom times, many churches did the same and now are struggling as their congregations shrink and collections fall owing to rising unemployment and a weak economy.

Sacramento Vineyard Pastor, Johnny Zapara utters something indicative and profound, in the article, when he concludes:

"A building does not make a church. We will find a way to continue,"

“A way to continue…” I think I have learned of one.

I am aware of the continual caveat of portraying an elitist bias with the way I shed light on a consumerist mind-set. The danger is always to proclaim that everyone's problem is to look for "something better" and subtly act as if I know something no one else can discern.

I only speak as one who has been in the midst of the platform/pew paradigm and one who has been able to step outside of it. My own transformation has not been without challenging my notions and habits. A critical self-analysis revealed that the source of my apprehension was based on subjective things like job security, and modus operandi. Once I got into the water, it wasn't nearly as cold as I anticipated. It keeps getting warmer like a sulfur-heated mountain spring.

In his 2005 book, Revolution, George Barna reveals that a growing number of people are seeking spiritual growth outside the institutional version of the church. Some mistakenly assume that Barna is calling for a mass exodus, when he is merely observing what is taking place on an increasing level.

Our economy and culture is continually changing, just as it was when the Church-verb was in its infancy. God often works most effectively through such climates.

There are many Followers of Christ who see the yeast in the dough value of a more comprehensive gift-exercising gathering. Exploration and divine discovery are taking place by significant, yet intangible growth rates. I've seen this first-hand like I have not seen in many years of prior ministry. People who never even considered a walk with Christ and alongside others who follow, are finding themselves immersed in death-to-self-raised-in-Christ transformation.

There are no marketing or public relation requirements, just a simple call to authenticity and intentional engagement with our present-day culture on a daily basis. The parabolic fields are white for harvest.