Psalters

If you’re into the kind of radical (but ordinary) discipleship being practiced by folks like Shane Claiborne and in communities like the Simple Way and Circle of Hope, you’ll want to check out the video below. It’s part of the series that Shane has been putting together called “Another World is Possible.” You could also search for "Psalters" on YouTube to find some other clips, including several with Circle of Hope. I’d also encourage you to check out the Psalters at www.psalters.com and www.myspace.com/psalters. To top it all off, if you live in NE Ohio you can hear the Psalters next Friday (and I think Thursday too) at Kent State (on the anniversary of the shooting). Check out their myspace for a show schedule.

 

The Great Commission Commission

In all of what I said in my last post, I neglected to mention that of course Jesus himself (if we take him "literally") makes my point for me in the Great Commission itself, which says to make disciples of every nation, not converts. In other words, coming into right relationship with God- however that happens- is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s just the beginning of the story. For a wonderfully satirical take on all this, check out Russell Rathbun’s Post-Rapture Radio. Russell is one of our former pastors from House of Mercy, our church community in Minnesota from 1998-2003. One of the "writings" in the book is a series of sermons/stories (that we got to hear!) that he preached/told about the end of the world. The premise of these stories is that a "Great Commission Commission" has been established by the Contemporary Christian Church/Empire. The Great Commission Commission’s sole purpose is to insure that the gospel is finally preached to the last little corner of the globe (with discipleship and heck even conversion as something of an irrelevant afterthought), at which point they fully expect Jesus to triumphantly return- and they’ve even written a song to sing to him as he makes his way down through the clouds. Of course, this doesn’t happen (they reach their goal but he doesn’t return), and the story goes on to describe what happens next. It’s wonderful and I completely resonate with Russell’s honest, authentic take on so much of what passes for "Christianity" these days. So, for what it’s worth, I encourage you to check out his book….

The Orlando “Project”

So yesterday at the regular house church meeting some friends of one of the group members came in to talk about The Jesus Film Project (click the link to learn all about it).Basically, the idea of what I’ll hereafter affectionately refer to as “the Project” is to "preach the gospel to all nations" by way of the "Jesus film," which was produced in 1979 and is billed as "a two-hour docudrama about the life of Christ based on the Gospel of Luke." They have apparently shown this film in nearly every corner of the globe, or at least that’s the goal, and not only do they show the film all over the world, including in many places that otherwise have little contact with "Modern" society, but when they arrive somewhere they go to the trouble to translate the dialogue into that local tongue, often by using native speakers. To date, they’ve translated the film into approximately 1,000 languages and they say that "As a result, more than 200 million people have indicated decisions to accept Christ as their personal Savior and Lord." This is clearly a very ambitious project that is spearheaded by well-intentioned and no doubt very nice and hard-working folks. Still, if you haven’t guessed already, I have some deep concerns about it all.

The folks who came to speak to us are a married couple who feel called to serve God by joining the staff of  “the Project”- now headquartered on the “campus” of Campus Crusade for Christ, International. They gave a fine presentation, and I trust that they themselves are fine, well-meaning folks. So whatever I say below should be understood to be about the "big picture" of Modern American/Western Evangelicalism and major organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ, which in 2005 had a nearly half a billion dollar budget, including a paid CEO who makes over $70,000 per year.  I don’t mean to say anything at all disparaging about those well-meaning folks who genuinely believe that working under the auspices of such an organization is the best way to serve God. So, moving on to my concerns- anyone who truly knows me well may be able to guess that I struggle with the notion of “the Project” itself. Some of this, of course, has to do with money (though there is much more to it), and- by the way- part of the reason the couple came to talk to the house church is because “the Project” doesn’t pay its staff members (or at least not its minions, apparently), and so they have to raise financial support.

 

In any case, for the sake of my own reflection on all this if nothing else, I want to explore some of my struggles below. “The Project” seems to me to be a classic expression of Modern American (Western) Evangelicalism, and so can be characterized in the following ways:

  • It is based in "Decision Theology," which for the purposes of this discussion I will define as assuming that a very strict (clearly-defined, hard and fast, rigid) conversion experience is necessary to bring one into right relationship with God. While many (Modern American/Western) Evangelicals might argue the following point, my experience growing up in this culture and as someone who is still connected to it to this day is such that it seems to me that, at least when it comes to "missions," all the focus is placed on leading the masses to having this “conversion experience” to the (near) exclusion of everything else. While some rightly say that there is an effort put forth to make sure that some sort of follow-up occurs- like connecting the newly converted to a local congregation, etc.- this follow-up is so marginalized in the bigger scheme of “winning people to Christ” that it might as well not occur- and in some (perhaps many) cases it doesn’t. “Decision Theology” itself is troublesome to me for several reasons:
    • As I’ve alluded to before, it assumes that being in right relationship with Jesus is merely about lending intellectual assent to a series of propositions about God, humanity, the world, the Bible, etc. This process is rational, logical, and born of the Enlightenment. In this view, salvation is wrapped up in having the right information and making the best informed choice, though with the all-important caveat that there is only one “correct” choice, and the consequence of getting it wrong is eternal damnation. Moreover, according to at least one interpretation, decision theology makes humanity the primary actor in the drama of salvation. What matters most is what I do, not what God does. According to this view, what God does is almost an afterthought to the all-important decision that I’ve already made. To borrow a Bush-ism, in decision theology "I’m the decider." I consider this to be at the very least wrong-headed, though perhaps worse.
    • Using the “cart-before-the-horse” analogy, “decision theology” gets the horse part right, but then seems to forget the cart and the driver and leaves them all with nowhere to go. So it’s right about putting the metaphorical horse first- that is, it emphasizes the hope that folks come into right relationship with God, but it forgets the cart (everything that should rightly follow from a right relationship with God- like a life of discipleship lived in community) and the driver (God- whose “job” for the sake of this analogy is to orchestrate everything and who rightly should be the star of the show). Likewise, it “leaves them all with nowhere to go” in that it seems to reduce life with God to little more than “fire insurance” (you get to avoid hell now), forgetting the mission of God that we are to be participants in helping to realize right now. Or to use the well-known Scriptural idea- salvation is about being “born again.” However, playing with this idea a bit (and echoing Debbie Blue, whom I first heard express this), who does the work of being born? The child? Or the mom? Of course the mom does; in other words, God does all the work. Furthermore (and in this I echo my friend Jared Coleman, whom I believe expressed this idea the other day), what’s the point of birth? It’s not just about the birth itself, right? No! You want to see that child learn and grow and mature into his or her fullness.
  • So, as far as I can tell, “the Project” is about getting people (and they actually use this language) to make a decision for Christ– and little else. To be fair, the folks who spoke to us yesterday did again allude to there being some efforts at follow-up when they show the film to an indigenous people group somewhere- depending on cultural sensitivities/openness- but the vast majority of the resources committed to this effort and the overall focus of “the Project” very much appear to be centered solely on conversion. As is usually the case in (Modern American/Western) Evangelicalism, there is a great emphasis placed on fulfilling the “Great Commission” to preach the gospel to all nations, and I don’t mean to disparage this. However, I do mean to convey that the gospel being preached is an incomplete one at best. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well-being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial." Or, to take Jesus “literally” (he he), his own characterization of the ministry God sent him to accomplish is filled with language from the prophet relating to “saving” the whole person: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."  So then, I say that if we are to preach, let us preach the whole Gospel- and let us do so primarily with our lives.
  • This leads to another, related concern. The whole “project” is born of socioeconomic privilege/power and is so mired in it that I doubt it can be separated from the “gospel” being preached. To borrow another phrase- whose gospel is it, anyway? And what is the content of this gospel? Is it really “good news?” When “rich Christians” (i.e. the kind who can afford to make movies) go to help people that aren’t rich- like most of the world– too often the “help” serves only to perpetuate the system that keeps them rich and most of the world poor. I would argue that the “project” is likely no different. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some well-meaning Christians attached to the “project” who might show up in an African village, for example, to do any translating that was necessary and then show the film. While there, I’m sure (I hope?!!!) that some of them would at least notice the malnutrition, the malaria, the violence, etc. and do what they can to help, but this is not why they would have come in the first place. While relieving such suffering might have been the stated purpose of Jesus’ ministry, it isn’t necessarily the stated purpose of "the Project" and other endeavors like it. No, by preaching a “gospel” of conversion that focuses on a better life in the hereafter, the troubling conditions of today can be glossed over/ignored by those in power while “encouraging” those who suffer to simply wait for something better when they’re dead. All the while, scant attention is paid to the fact that, as Gandhi said, “(The) Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed," and of course the only way that some can be greedy while others are needy is through the use of economic and military power, and I hope I don’t need to spell out any further who gets implicated in this regard. A related problem is that- especially when rich Western Christians show up in the disadvantaged world bringing the magic of their technology (wealth) and seek to convert the “natives”- this simply reeks of colonialism or, better said, cultural imperialism and the all the horrors committed as a result. In fact, oppression perpetrated by Empire under the guise of Christianity goes back much further than colonial days, and it may be no accident that the “project” is one of the many endeavors of Campus Crusade for Christ (which my other friend Tony rightly took offense at yesterday). Echoing Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase that the “medium is the message” (thanks for the source, Jared)- which likely has bearing on the current discussion- I would also express my fear that there is an extent to which the messenger is the message too (so in Jesus’ case, that’s a good thing, but in the case of the rich Western (largely white, I’m sure) “missionaries” of the “project,” I’m not so sure). This, of course, immediately brings me back to Duane Crabbs’ favorite Aboriginal quote, which goes something like, "If you’ve come to save me, don’t bother, but if you’ve come because you believe that your salvation is bound up in mine, then let us work together." By the way, speaking of Campus Crusade for Christ (and wealth)- have you seen their headquarters (in Orlando, of all places)? Like so many structures built by “Christ-“ians these days, the money that must have gone into the building alone is troublesome, even absurd in light of the model of Jesus and too many Scriptural passages to count.

 

Okay, I’m done for now….

…..except for this (speaking of imperialism- cultural or otherwise):

Salvation? Yes, please….

So if you like some of the other stuff I’ve posted recently, you may love this. If some of that stuff makes you a little worried about me, well this may just push you over the edge. So consider yourself warned! As you can tell from my other posts, I’ve had the opportunity to converse about and work on some pretty cool stuff that’s really important to me lately. Some of this work has been happening with the folks in the house church that we’ve been connecting with recently. Some of it is stuff I’ve been wrestling with for a long time. Anyway, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on salvation recently, and what follows is what I said:

You asked me about my thoughts on salvation, and as maybe you can imagine I’ve been wrestling with how to respond. I know you said you were just wondering for your own thoughts, but I’m honored that you would ask and wanted to give you the best "answer" that I can.

 

I’m tempted to simply say, " I’m for it," but I know I should flesh that out a bit.

 

Actually "fleshing it out" might be a good direction to go in, because that’s really what it’s all about, right: God-in-the-flesh in the person of Jesus? My trouble with responding to your question has to do with the other questions that are wrapped up in the question of salvation. To ask about salvation, as far as I’m concerned, is to ask some of the other "big" questions, like "What is the nature of the world as we find it? What is truth, and how are we to know it? What place does the Bible have in our knowing what is true and what isn’t? More importantly, in my view- what is the Bible for? What about creation? What is it for and what is humanity for? What about God and his nature? What about sin and ‘the fall’? What about human pain and suffering?" Maybe I could sum all those up by asking, "If we are to be saved, what are we being saved from?"

 

A lot of what some of us have been talking about lately has to do with postmodern philosophy and the role that it has to play in our understanding of much of the above. As I understand it, in a postmodern approach to things story-telling is vitally important; so I will use that approach in what I have to say below. I think that using stories to access some of these big ideas is very helpful, at least in my experience.

 

One of my mentors, Bart Campolo, used to talk about having a relationship with Jesus. He would say that he’s not as interested in how you came to have a relationship with Jesus, whenever that was, as he is in why you still have one. Why do you stick with Jesus? Why are you still trying to follow him today? This has always been a powerful approach for me, and I think it has something to say regarding what we’re talking about now.   I think Bart’s question speaks to our current discussion because, like I said above, I really have to keep coming back to Jesus to get at any of the issues above. As I mentioned several weeks ago on a Tuesday, Jesus is my "hermeneutic" of the Bible. Jesus is the lens through which I read the Bible and interpret everything I find in it. I’ve been to seminary, ya know, and on the (much-hated, by me) liberal-conservative spectrum, the seminary I went to- Luther Seminary- I would say is probably just a little bit to the left of the midline (closer to liberal than conservative, but not too liberal- they’re Lutherans, after all. By the way, if you ever get a chance to listen to "A Prairie Home Companion" on NPR, I highly recommend it. Of course, I spent three years immersed in the world of Lutheranism, but I think Garrison Keillor is witty and hilarious, and much of what he says about Lutheranism and the Christian world in general is telling, and again, hilarious.) Anyway, I suspect my father and those who knew me from the Assemblies of God/Pentecostal upbringing of my youth might have been concerned about my choice to go to Luther. I also had a chance to go to Bethel Seminary (Baptist) but was advised, basically, that Luther would train me in

how to think about God rather than what to think about God; so I went for the former approach, obviously. So, as fate would have it, if those folks from my youth were concerned that my seminary training would cause me to question all of my assumptions about God, faith, the Bible, etc. and possibly lose my faith along the way- well, they were right! As one adult from my youth said during a heated debate with me about being open-minded (among other things, including Harry Potter), "Well, don’t be so ‘open-minded’ that everything falls out!" In any case, I did question many of my assumptions during seminary, though this is a process that started much sooner as you may remember from me telling my "story." Especially in the aftermath of my summer spent doing Kingdomworks in inner-city Philly in 1995, I really had to go back to the drawing board with God and ask, "Who are you and why should I want to follow you?" As I also often say, during that summer doing Kingdomworks I was able to "build a bridge between my own personal suffering (from my abusive upbringing) and the suffering that’s out there- in the world." This led to great empathy on my part for the "least of these" and a radical shift in my understanding of what Jesus’ ministry was/is about and how I am to respond to it. Of course, as I later discovered, my metaphorical bridge can be traveled in both directions: my encounter "in the world" with the suffering other can take me back to a sense of brokenness about my own suffering, sometimes in incapacitating fashion; so in this, as with everything else, I must trust and rely on Jesus.

 

So as I said, starting in 1995 and continuing through my seminary years and beyond, I really did question all of those ideas about God that I grew up with. As I sometimes say, even though I grew up largely in a mobile home in Texas (so my family wasn’t exactly well-off by American standards), I was shocked to learn that "God isn’t a white, anglo-saxon Protestant who votes Republican, lives in the suburbs, and shops at the mall." AND, echoing those fears about what my seminary experience might do to me, I did finally "lose my faith," in a manner of speaking. I found that everything I was experiencing and learning simply wouldn’t permit me to go on thinking of and relating to God and those around me as I always had. Something had to give. Something had to change, and so of course, I did (I changed).

 

Speaking of some of those assumptions that were challenged, notable in my mind is the lecture in my Pentateuch class that began with my professor asking, "So….the story of Jonah- is it a story of a whale, or a whale of a story?" We then began to do what, in postmodern terms, would be some basic deconstruction of the Biblical text. We looked at some of the "problematic" passages in the Bible that under the lens of modern science (no pun intended) appear to be just flat-out wrong- factually incorrect. If you’re really, really, really interested, I could dig out my notes and give some examples, if you’d like. Beyond that, there are cases like the story of Jonah that involve miracles or appear to be fantastic which also have been challenged under the rigors of the scientific method. As we went through all this, I learned a lot of interesting stuff, like the fact that historically the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture (which is not explicitly stated anywhere in the Bible itself) arose apparently in response to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope. It looks a lot like a knee-jerk, juvenile response, with Catholics saying "We have an infallible authority for our faith!" and Protestants sticking their tongue out and saying, "Oh yeah, well we do too!" Naturally, it’s a bit more complex than this, of course, as prior to the Reformation(s) the institutional church held all the power in a largely illiterate society. The folks couldn’t read and, to make matters worse, mass was conducted in a language that many of the people couldn’t understand; so the only thing they had to go on was what the priests told them, naturally leading to much abuse, of which the sale of indulgences may be only the most notable example. So one of the cries of the Reformation(s) was "ad fontes" ("back to the sources"). That’s why one of the most revolutionary things Luther did was, at great personal risk, translate the Bible into German. The people wanted to know what Scripture said for themselves. Hence this is also a part of the primacy of Scripture for Protestants, quite understandably, of course. However, as is often the case, in reacting to the neglect (suppression even) of Scripture for the masses up to that point, the pendulum swung to a place of what I like to call "bibliolatry"- making an idol out of Scripture and treating it as so important that it becomes an end in itself rather than a means (one of a number of) to the end of right relationship with God, one another, and the world. So the question that grew to be of central importance to me in terms of the Bible is simply "what is the Bible

for?" In other words, it’s not a science textbook and is not meant to answer the questions posed by modern science, and while it is "inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, (and) for training in righteousness," I would argue that it is not primarily a "rule book," etc. I have come to believe that the Bible functions primarily as a story (the "greatest one ever told," though in a world of competing meta-narratives, this bears further elaboration in another long-winded diatribe, if you want such elaboration from me).

 

Looking at it through the lens of Jesus, I would say that the Bible is the story of God’s wooing of humanity throughout history. Everything before the Incarnation points to Jesus, and everything after the Incarnation can only be understood in light of it, as "Jesus is the ‘yes’ to all God’s promises." A last note about Scripture- part of my journey has involved becoming aware of the Modern bent to our notions of understanding what is true and what is not, etc., which includes having a good sense of how stories work and what their function is too. Does a story have to be factually verifiable in order to be true? In the Modern view, yes. Did the ancient Hebrews think this way? Not necessarily, and truly, do we even always think this way? Pick a compelling movie you’ve seen or book you’ve read, for example.
 
One of my favorites is High Fidelity. In the movie version of the story, the main character wrestles with his relationship with the primary love interest in his life and his dating history, finally coming to the conclusion that he’s not so interested in the illusion of love anymore and would rather have the real thing. He’s learned that dynamic, interesting, attractive women will come into his life over and over again and as infatuation develops with these women all those euphoric feelings of excitement will come too, leading to an uninformed belief that they can do no wrong and life with them is imagined to be ideal, but that’s the illusion- it never works out that way over the long term. Once you have your first fight and see them with all their faults after the "honeymoon phase" is over, only then do you have the opportunity to really love them, and that is a choice that must be made day after day. Of course, I’m reading into (interpreting) the movie a bit, but is that lesson any less valuable because John Cusack is only portraying that person in a movie? I would argue, No! Biblical lessons are no different, and in all of this I’ve said nothing about the variety of types of literature contained in the Bible, the fact that all reading of the Bible involves interpretation because language is symbolic, etc. In short, it’s complex stuff, and all of this is why I don’t believe Jesus because of what the Bible "says" about him. I value what the Bible says because I first believe Jesus, the living God with whom I have a relationship. "On Christ the solid rock I stand." Jesus is the firm foundation of my faith- nothing more, nothing less. Does this make my faith somehow subjective, relative to my experience of my relationship with God, etc.? By all means, yes! It’s not "safe" at all to attempt to follow Jesus in this way. I have to actually try to keep up with him, to listen to him as best I can, to be loved by him and love him in return, and such a life is full of ambiguity and doubt, to be sure ("Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!").

 But I believe, as another of my mentors likes to say, that "doubt is not the enemy of faith, but its partner." Or, as my favorite writer, Frederick Buechner says:

 

" Humanly speaking, in fact, who can say for sure about anything? And yet there are some things I would be willing maybe even to bet my life on. That life is grace, for instance- the givenness of it, the fathomless of it, the endless possibilities of its becoming transparent to something extraordinary beyond itself…That if we really had our eyes open, we would see that all moments are key moments. That he does not love remains in death. That Jesus is the Word made flesh who dwells among us, full of grace and truth. On good days I might add a few more to the list. On bad days it’s possible there might be a few less. Beyond that, all I can do with real assurance is once more to echo my old teacher Paul Tillich to the effect that here and there even in our world, and now and then even in ourselves, we catch glimpses of a New Creation, which, fleeting as those glimpses are apt to be, give us hope both for this life and for whatever life may await us later on."

 

So following Jesus isn’t about lending intellectual assent to a series of (rational, scientific) propositions about God; nor can it be reduced to a checklist of do’s and don’ts (do read your Bible every day; don’t smoke, for example), all of which- I would argue- is really about taking the work out of one’s relationship with God. Such checklists allow one to hide from God and relate instead to "the rules" rather than to the living Christ. They become the arbiter of one’s faith (another "way to the Father") rather than Jesus. They also work nicely if you want to justify your standing with God over/against somebody else’s (all those nasty people who don’t "play by the same rules"). That’s why I say that "rules are for relationship." They’re a means to end of right relationship with God, one another, and the world- they are not an end in themselves (which is why the adulterer was far more important to Jesus than the rule that she must be stoned- and why Jesus takes so many of the "rules" in the Sermon on the Mount and turns them on their head, making them so absurdly impossible that they can’t be relied on anymore to bring one to God).

 

Well, I see I’ve digressed just a bit, and if nothing else, I hope you’ve learned not to ask such questions of me unless you want to risk getting such a (long-winded) answer, but I know not how to do any better! So what’s my take on salvation? Well, because I know Jesus and trust what Scripture says about him because it resonates with my experience of him, I know that he is the only way to the Father, and that’s enough for me. How does that work? Well, you tell me- how did it work for you? How did it work for the thief on the cross? How does it work for those well-intentioned followers of Tash (rather than Aslan, the Christ-figure) in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle? In all of this I speak best only when I speak for myself, and the rest I must trust Jesus for, knowing that it is God’s will that "none should perish." What about the "mechanics of salvation," getting at some of those other questions noted above (What about sin and ‘the fall’? What about human pain and suffering? What are we being saved from?) Well, maybe I’ll save that for another long-winded email, or even better, we could talk about it over a meal….

 

Practicing Resurrection

I also sent the following out to the house church today, as I’ve been trying to facilitate a conversation about how we can help one another "practice resurrection." Here it is:

…So I’m writing now simply to share some thoughts/ideas about how to be
much more creative in "practicing resurrection," or "whole-life
discipleship" or whatever you want to call it. Of course, a big part
of this way of life for many of us involves the recognition that to
choose this Way (of Jesus and his cross and resurrection) means
leaving behind everything that might compete with it, including the
"American Dream."

For Kirsten and Samuel and I, opting out of the American dream and all
of its entangling encumbrances in order to better follow Jesus has
several implications. One of the first and most obvious implications
is that life as members of an "intentional community" is a "must," not
a "maybe"- at least for us. I just don’t see how we can faithfully
follow the teaching, example, and lordship of Jesus without being
connected to a group of peers in mutually sacrificial and accountable
relationships of interdependence. In short, we need each other in
order to follow Jesus instead of the money-god. Because the American
way of life has a direct, causal relationship with the way of life of
the world’s poor majority, the only way to subvert it (from within, no
less) is to reject the atomizing individualism that it seeks to impose
on everyone. We simply don’t "need" two houses when one (with one
mortgage) can hold a number of us. We don’t need several cars when one
can be shared, or several washers/dryers or several lawnmowers, etc.
There is a better way, "a better world," and it will come as quickly
as we begin to really work together.

But of course there’s a lot of work involved. Remembering that most of
the world is desperately poor because even us "middle-class" Americans
are so embarrassingly rich, we need to really examine our consumptive
way of life anew. Shane Claiborne makes his own clothes with his mom
every year because the major clothing brands exploit the poor of the
world in order to produce their wares. What can we do about this?
Well, do some research, or ask Kirsten about what she’s been finding
out as she does some research for us. It doesn’t take much effort to
know, for example, that Wal-Mart even exploits its workers here in the
U.S., choosing to close stores rather than let its employees unionize,
for example. Do a little more digging, though, and you find that
Target isn’t much better, at least in terms of the working conditions
around the world of those who produce Target’s major brands. Here are
some possible responses to all this:

  • To borrow a phrase: "shop local." Support your independent retailer
    while they still exist!
  • Like Scripture says, share! Take advantage of "hand-me-down’s," and
    don’t limit them to nuclear families.
  • If you must buy clothing, shop the thrift stores first. Kohl’s is
    notorious for the horrible working conditions of its suppliers, but if
    you can buy a Kohl’s shirt at a thrift store, well I’d call that
    practicing resurrection. You’re supporting a good cause and re-using
    that unjustly-created shirt. Take a look at your "new" shirt, though.
    If it has a logo on it, and that logo represents a company that you
    know you can’t just support, don’t walk around as free advertising for
    them. Swallow your pride (and maybe your sophisticated fashion sense)
    and cover that logo up, or rip it out and replace it; be creative(!),
    but don’t just wear it because it happens to be there.
  • Fight forced obsolescence! Many of the products we buy are designed
    to become obsolete in short order, not because they don’t work anymore
    or because something much better has arrived (though this is sometimes
    the case), but rather because the manufacturers want you to spend your
    money on their products again! Until recently, Kirsten and I had cable
    TV and a DVR, even though our VCR works perfectly fine. With kingdom-
    eyes (speaking only for us, of course), this is just plain silly.

    I could go on, as always, but these are some ideas. Do you have any?

Our mission, should we choose to accept it….

I wrote the following in an email to the house church that I’ve been participating in for the past few months, and I thought I’d share it here as well…..

 

I know there was talk of spending time Saturday answering some hard questions that have not been fully answered in any sort of unified way by the group, and I guess I want to start out by simply saying that I hope we don’t (answer the questions). I know I may be quibbling over semantics here, but the prospect of answering such questions brings an air of finality that I’m simply not comfortable with. To use the "Christian-life-as-journey" metaphor, following Jesus seems to imply a kind of movement that doesn’t permit something as final as an answer to a theological question/problem. I would instead echo that image from Scripture which depicts Jesus as the "yes" to all God’s promises and trust that somehow, some way, this "yes" is for me too, and not just for me, but for all of us. Remembering that God is mystery, and that God-in-the-flesh is a greater mystery still, I would mine (dig, extract, etc.) the language which speaks of God being somehow both immanent (close/in your face) and transcendent (other, foreign, beyond comprehension) and learn to live with the paradox that this represents, embracing the mystery of this God who hides.

 

After all, we do not find God where we might expect him- in the heavens, on his throne, or housed in some "church" building. We find him in the most unexpected places instead- in a baby’s cry, in the face of a prostitute or crack addict, in the tears of a homosexual (who- for many "Christ"-ians- is nothing more than an "issue" to be debated)… or broken and weak on a cross, with blood and water flowing from his side. It is no wonder that God hides, for we could not bear to look upon his face. In the Exodus account this is true because to look upon the face of God would be to die. Hence, Moses could only see God’s "back"-side (God "mooned" Moses). Likewise, using the language of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 to describe Jesus, we find in him a most unpredictable God, who is so despised and of little account that he is as one from whom others hide their faces. Jesus is the living Word who was there "in the beginning" and in whom all things continue to hold together each and every moment of each and every day. It was this same Jesus who was born as a Middle Eastern peasant 2,000 years ago, only to endure capital punishment at the hands of a government who believed the accusations that he was fomenting a rebellion. Likewise, he is the resurrected Jesus whose Spirit gave birth to the Church and is giving birth to it still, if only we will permit ourselves to die and rise again with him.

 

My friends, to speak of such things with something as imprecise and symbolic as language is akin to trying to trace the Mona Lisa with a can of spray paint. It’s like trying to perform brain surgery with a pizza cutter. My point is that however skilled we are at communication, we kid ourselves if we do not realize that when we speak of God we speak of a mystery that is to be tended, not tamed. This is why Jesus said " follow me," not understand me. When we say we understand something we presume a mastery over our material that I would never be so brave as to claim in relation to God. I would much prefer to have a life together with my teacher, lord, and savior- along with those others who are also following along the Way- trusting that whatever I am to know of God, whoever I am to be in relation to Him and all those around me, it is enough that God knows what that is/who I am, and so long as I stick with Jesus, I will know too when the time is right. In other words, what I believe about Jesus matters far less than that I believe Jesus when he bids me come and follow.

 

So what does all this have to do with our talk on Saturday? Well, for starters- as a member of the one Church made up of every tribe, nation, tongue, and time- let me express my heartfelt conviction that "less is more." I will confess to being one of those who has clamored behind the scenes for us to have the very conversation that we are about to have. As I’ve said, "I see that you all (the house church) have such amazing, wonderful, family-like relationships, and that is good, but I can’t help wonder- what are they for?" What will you do with all the love you’re cultivating amongst yourselves? Are you a pilgrim people on a mission together, or are you setting up shop somewhere in the religious marketplace? If you are such a people (on a mission together)- what is it? Please, let us agree on something that will captivate our imaginations, something that we can truly live for…and maybe even die for. Let us agree on something that will set us apart so that we can be the peculiar people that Scripture describes, those who share in our Lord’s sufferings because we have not stopped following him in the Way….of the Cross. Let us die together, so that we might live again.

 

Look, I don’t mean to espouse a mere "social gospel," but it’s hard to ignore the words and actions of Jesus- he who is anointed to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind so that the oppressed might go free. It’s likewise difficult to ignore the words and actions of that prophet/rock star Bono, who at least year’s National Prayer Breakfast said:

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor.  In fact, the poor are where God lives.  Check Judaism.  Check Islam.  Check pretty much anyone. I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill…  I hope so.  He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not…  But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.  God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them

Whatever we say about ourselves, whatever we do, if we want to keep up with Jesus we must "find our own Calcutta’s" and meet him among the "least of these." We must join him in his revolution….of love. I trust and hope beyond all reason that our lives will never be the same, but then again we must lose our lives in order to find them…..

“Have Fun Storming The Castle!”

I was briefly Instant Messaging with my new friend Tony tonight, and he asked what I was doing. Among the list I gave in reply, I said that I was "generally imagining ways to foment revolution!" So then as he signed off he said "Have fun fomenting!"- which reminded me of one of my favorite lines from the Princess Bride, which is quoted in the title of this post. Anyway, I thought I’d share…