Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Millions: A Worthwhile Investment

Last night my wife and I went to see the movie millions. It's definitely worth seeing, and I'm pretty certain it's a movie I'll want to own, and use scenes in various sermons as it covers a wide variety of topics, including:

1. The nature-nurture debate. Why do two children who are raised in the same environment by the same parents, who are exposed to roughly the same experiences, respond to the main event of the movie (the finding of large sum of money) so differently? Damien is sensitive, generous, and spiritually astute, while his brother is greedy, manipulative, and cynical regarding matters of the spirit. What happened? While the matter could be addressed both psychologically and physiologically, the reality is that our responses to life's large circumstances are a revelation of response patterns which have been developing for years. This is a vital lesson reinforced in the Bible, where we are reminded that, 'as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.' If I'm open to revelation on a consistent basis, sensitive to what God is teaching through creation, his Word, and relationships with other people, then I'll respond to life's big events very differently than one who has shut down somewhere along the way. The openness leads to openness, the shutting down, to a very small world.

2. The role of money in the world and its relationship to faith. It's interesting that we tend not to talk very much about money in the church. Jesus spoke more about money than sex, or heaven, or hell. Jesus' perspective seemed to be that what we do with our money speaks volumes regarding what we value, and He seemed interested in challenging us to invest in the kingdom of God. One can't read the prophets without seeing God's concern for the poor, and one of His major complaints in the Old Testament was that the people were neglecting the poor, a theme which is carred over into the New Testament consistently. As we work towards a new facility at Bethany, it's important to remember that our investment in facilities now, enables us to invest in more people, with the long term effect that more people will be investing in the poor of the world. Already, our ministry with International Needs is substantial in this arena. I envision our project as enabling us to multiply both support for such ministries, and also to mulitply churches so that such minisitries can recieve an exponentially larger base of support. It seems to be a worthy investment!

3. Damien, the main character, is spiritually sensitive, and this makes him, as well, both naive and impractical. I can idenitify with that. We run into very dangerous territory when we say that God's ways are 'pratical'. The fact is, His ways sometimes lead to poverty, sometimes prosperity; sometimes comfort, sometimes affliction, sometimes promotion, sometimes termination. What is the role He wants me to play? You? Are we willing? Damien was willing. It's a challenge to us all.

4. Finally, there's the issue, presented as a minor theme, of water rights in the developing world. Don't forget about it. It will be front page news on a regular basis before the decade is out. And we who have enough have a moral responsibility to both speak to it, and be involved in it.

In summary, I was challenged, stimulated, provoked, and entertained by 'millions'. I hope you'll watch it and find the same!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Learning from Benedict

The new Pope faces many challenges. But whether Catholic or not, all of Christendom can learn from his namesake, Benedict. The rule for the Benedictine order has become the classic text of Western Monasticism, and has been one of the great means of encouraging the balance of work, rest and prayer that is so needful in our lives today.

As evangelicals who are rooted in grace, we need to recognize the liability that comes when grace seeks to stand alone. Paul articulated it in Romans 6 when he reminds us that Christ didn't die alone. We, by virtue of our union with Him, died with Him on the cross in some mysterious way, and our life, the one we now live, is to be lived out from that position of union, crucifixion, and resurrection life. And while we may part ways with our Catholic friends on matters of the priesthood and Mary, we are indebted to them for saints such as Benedict who call us to move beyond a mere outward form of Christianity, and to move beyond empty professions of faith that aren't reinforced by a change in lifestyle.

This is why I'm excited to be practicing the Aidan Way (see link from last week), because it is a means where by the work of God has the opportunity to take root in my life.

We pray for the new Pope, and it seems that there is much more to write about issues related to his rule, but for now, I am grateful for the name: Benedict. I pray that I will stay on the challenging path of developing a practice of faith, so that it doesn't remain in my head!

Left and Right - Needing to be Ambidextrous

I've done a quick read through of the popular book God's Politics, by Jim Wallis. In my estimation, there's nothing earth shaking here, nothing that the church shouldn't have been saying all along. However, it's divisive and earth shattering for two reasons:

1. The church hasn't been saying these things (at least, not the conservative churches that are trying to hold to the basic historic tenents of the faith). Recently (in the United States), the evangelical church has been wed to the political right. At a level, it's understandable. We're concerned about moral anarchy, the fruits of which are seen in abortion, and rising divorce rates, and a floodgate of violence in our culture, both in the media and in reality. There's a sense that we need to recover 'family values'. But somewhere in the midst of the conversation, Christianity became solely associated with the abortion, homosexuality, and the right to teach creationism in public schools. This has the effect of misrepresenting Christ in a big way!

Wallis' message, then, is news. The idea that there are other moral issues can be quite shocking. Aren't poverty, and pollution, and colonization, and the question of whether any particular war is just also moral issues? Some on the right would say that, yes, these are moral issues, but they would hasten to add that a 'free market' is the moral high ground, or that opening the Alaska Wildlife Refuge for drilling is the moral thing to do. Some may argue this way, but not most. Most will simply say that the moral issues have to do with sexuality and family, and the economic issues are just that; economic. Interestingly, Jesus talked about money a great deal more than he talked about sex. I wonder how we've come to reverse the conversation.

However the conversation has shrunk, the reality is that it has shrunk, and Wallis' teaching, though it's been around for a long time, is now coming to the forefront in expanding the conversation so that economics and ecology, war and water, are also moral issues. This is as it should be, but it might be jarring to us.

2. Wallis' teaching is also divisive for another reason: We like labels. Reviewers who don't like his stuff are quick to call him a 'liberal' and, as if it were October '04 all over again, that label is supposed to inject fear in the hearts of good people everywhere, and exonorate us from needing to listen to anything he has to say. Certainly he has liberal positions. But is protecting life in the womb a classic 'liberal' position? Not the last time I checked! Labels are dangerous because they polarize. But they're also dangerous because they end up misrepresenting a person. And we do ourselves no favors, especially as Christians, by aligning ourselves with any one political party.

The recently deceased Pope offers us a good example here. Is he on the left? He's opposed to the death penalty, opposed to the war in Iraq, and opposed to unrestrained capitalism as it seems to entrench some in cycles of poverty. I could be writing about Ted Kennedy! Is he on the right? He's pro life, opposes the ordination of women, and opposes the possibility of homosexual unions. He's further to the right than most people I know who are on the right.

How do we dare characterize the kingdom of God as either right or left? The kingdom of God is, as Jesus said, a kingdom 'not of this world'. Our responsibility is to stand apart from both political systems and critique our culture by holding it up against the kingdom ethic that Jesus taught us. But more challenging still: our calling is to embody that ethic as a community, so that our neighbors can see justice and mercy, hope and forgiveness, love of enemies and celebration of life - and see it embodied in a life together.

Go ahead and read it... if you can do so without dismissing everything by giving Wallis a label. The only label we need: disciple!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

SHARE LIFE - Stewardship Stuff

I've been out nearly every night over the past couple of weeks for the purpose of sharing vision regarding Bethany's future. The share life stewardship focus is our Bethany's collective response to our growth. There are several things that I need to be diligent about sharing with our community:

1. The nature of Christ's life is reproductive - Life begats life, and for this reason healthy churches should expect growth. I think church leaders too often fixate on growth and make growth a goal, but when this happens we have completely missed the point. It would be somewhat the same as fixating on the outward signs of health and resorting to cosmetic surgery rather than diet and exercise to make oneself look healthy. Such thinking misses the point, and is dangerous. On the other hand, being inherantly opposed to the growth of a church is somewhat like presuming that everyone who looks good in their jeans has had a liposuction.

2. We're here on earth to embody the kingdom of God - Keeping the primacy of the kingdom before us enables us to remember that we're to be about justice and mercy, liberation and beauty, hope and mercy, peace and reconciliation. The call to share life is a call to share the good news of Christ's reign in a tangible form. This must, and will always be the focus for a healthy church, and it will mean that we will both stand with our city, serving and loving in redemptive ways, and that we will at times stand against the powers of culture, when such powers reinforce poverty, prejudice, violence or greed.

3. We're here to creat leaders, and ultimately, to send out teams of leaders who will start new healthy churches. Our leadership training needs to have four focal points:

a. theology
b. spiritual formation
c. living in community
d. practical experience in ministry and mission

I hope our community sees this vision, and embraces the larger vision rather than fixating on the facilities. New facilities alone wouldn't excite me, but the vision of raising up new leaders and teams and starting new churches is something I will invest in - in every way!

Monday, April 25, 2005

A place to consider

You need to check out the Aidan Way The whole fundamentalist movement has been guilty of being more 'anti' than inviting. This is seen pretty clearly in the way Catholicism was villified, and along with it, historical practices of spiritual disciplines that were always, and still are, needed today as a means of providing the context for Christ to reveal Himself in our lives. And, layered on top of papal fears, our inbred addiction to Greek dualism seemed to create a Christianity that was wholly against the beauty of this created world. Into the fragmented reality, the Celtic church has much to offer. More pre-Catholic than Catholic, it's focus is on Christ being Lord over all creation, and His kingdom ethic finding expression in our lives, and in our life together as we seek to live faithfully in community. I'm cultivating the various practices of 'the way', and have found that a commitment to the rhythms therein are liberating. Check it out.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Introductions are in Order

Greetings from Seattle...
My name is Richard Dahlstrom, and I'm senior Pastor at Bethany Community Church in Seattle, WA. I've started this blog so that I can record my own thoughts about being a middle-aged pastor, in a great city, at the beginning of the 21st century. Just the facts today... and then we'll unpact each fact a bit over time, in future entries.

I've been at Bethany for nearly 10 years, and during this time, it seems that my entire theological world has been deconstructed, and recontructed again on the same foundation - with the end result feeling somewhat as if I've been through a squeezing machine, had some of the less essential elements removed, and came out on the other side feeling spacious, joyous, better able to love and enjoy all that life has to offer.

The learning has come from all kinds of places: "The River Why" (David James Duncan), "Matrix", "Pleasantville", "Dave Matthews Band", "Radiohead", the Bible, fellow pastors on staff, countless folk in our little flock, (an intergenerational lot consisting of lots of university students, and plenty of folk who remember where they were when Kennedy was shot) with whom I love to converse over good coffee, hikes and climbs in the Cascades, Colorado, Europe, my wife, my kids, and early mornings, again with good coffee, on the deck - quietly listening for the voice of the creator. And these sources are even less than 'just the tip of the iceberg'.

The squeezing, deconstructing, and rebuilding is, I have a feeling, going to be a never ending process. But I can't go back - and am looking forward to sharing more of what I learn on the journey.