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...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Solitude and Silence: Important Abandoned Trails

I discovered a link yesterday, while I stayed at home doing domestic stuff for the holiday, that discloses abandoned trails. Abandoned trails become overgrown through disuse, and soon fall of the map. It’s not they’re not still there, but that they’re not acknowledged.

This certainly reminds me of solitude and silence, two of the ancient paths that were well worn by the strongest of saints and the church at its best. Like invasive brush that overtakes a trail as soon as it’s use ceases, the root and spread of modernity has made the church pragmatic, goal and action oriented, with different criteria for success. And so these trails, so needful each and every day for the restoration of our own hearts, are overgrown. They’ve fallen into such neglect and disuse that few even see them anymore.

Thank God we’re beginning to rediscover the ancient paths, embracing silence and solitude as a means of encountering God. The disciplines are a little awkward at first, and there are plenty of books available if you need help. Here’s a good one from an evangelical perspective. And here’s another good one on the simple pragmatic end of the silence meditation piece, even though it’s not written by a Christian. Our friends from the East can be excellent teachers of form, though we must be careful in discerning content for many reasons (see previous Sunday's sermon, for example).

I need silent prayer, intercessory prayer, and moments of solitude way more than I need to watch the nightly news, or Friends reruns, or Lost. Come on – the ancient paths are calling. Those who walk on them find a healing, hope, and transformation, available only there.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Remember them...

War is always easier when the deaths are statistics rather than real names. If you click on this picture and then enlarge it, you can read real names of real people - each of them with a family, who have died in our present war. Pray for our leaders - pray for peace - and pray for those serving, along with the thousands of Iraqis ravaged by war.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Internships Available for 06-07

One the core values of the church I shepherd is our commitment to 'invest in the leadership of the next generation'. That little statement includes a boatload of meaning and application. Because of it, we who are older need to be continually passing the torch, not in some 'symbolic' way, but in real ways, giving adults in their late teens and twenties real ministry responsibilities, and real mentoring. This past year, our staff spent time evaluating our internship ministry, and I'm excited about the changes we'll be making in the coming year to make it better. Our vision is to provide real opportunities for ministry, to enable people to discover their callings and gifts, and to find expression for those gifts in the supportive environment.

If you or someone you know, is able to invest 15-25 hours each week in this kind of ministry, check out this link, or forward it to those who might benefit. A friend is working with me on building a 'leadership development' ministry that we believe will be very good, and those who are involved in the internship in this coming year may be the first recepients the seeds of this labor. Interested?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Da Vinci and Eyman: Deconstructionists at Work

This morning’s Seattle Times, completes the cycle of how I’ve encountered deconstructionists over the past week. Just about a week ago I finished reading the Da Vinci code, and have been intrigued by those scholars who would suggest that there is a whole different Jesus out there, unlike the one portrayed in the 4 gospels. This other Jesus has a wife, makes no claims about his own divinity, and probably didn’t rise from the dead.

Conservatives are in an uproar. I won’t go into all the details right now, but while I disagree with much of the rationale behind conservative fears, I agree with most of the conservative scholarship. Postmodernism tends to view history through a deeply skeptical eye, but then, interestingly, comes up with their own versions of ‘true’ history (or they default to the common nihilist posture of Tom Hanks in the movie’s conclusion, where he says that since we can’t know anything with certainty, it doesn’t really matter what we believe, as long as we’re happy).

Meanwhile though, many of those same conservatives are doing a deconstructing of their own. Under the banner of Sound the Alarm, and Faith and Freedom Network, there are a host of churches in my beautiful state that have discovered yet another gospel; not the gospel of Thomas, or the gospel of Mary, but the gospel of Tim Eyman. According to this gospel, Jesus provided an example for us by wandering through the Roman empire, inciting petition drives to lower taxes, so that the poor could fend for themselves entirely. And then, when Jesus was done overhauling the tax structure through divine petition, he went to work on gays, making certain that they had no opportunities for secure housing and employment.

If the gospels of Thomas and Mary are dubious (and they are), the gospel of Eyman is most certainly false, as its ethic directly contradicts the heart of Christ. And yet, here we go again – somehow thinking that we’re following Christ and embodying His heart when we try to endorse the right to discriminate. While I disagree with my homosexual friends on some theological conclusions regarding sexual expression, they are still my friends. Only by hearing their stories can you know what persecutions and humiliations they suffer ‘in the name of Jesus’ This, it seems to me, is not in keeping with heart of the gospel, as our Lord seemed well able to relate to the widest spectrum of humanity possible, loving them unconditionally, whether they be Roman soldiers or Jewish zealots, men or women, children or adults, rich or poor, etc. etc. If we behave like Jesus we’ll love our neighbors, gay or straight, not kick them out of the neighborhood. I’m tired of the gospel of Eyman, but even more tired of Christians picking and choosing which extra-biblical books to reject. If the Gospel of Thomas is out – let’s toss the Gospel of Eyman too!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A new kind of flag?

When flag day comes around in a couple of weeks, you can bet there's one flag I won't be flying. I almost feel the need to put a warning on the link: "images might be deeply disturbing to some".

Here's why the image is disturbing to me:

1. Because we have one supreme loyalty - Christ. We may or may not fight in or support the wars of our nations. We may or may not agree with our nations leaders and politics. But however we work out our devotion to Christ, seeking to embody His ethic in our political choices, devotion to Christ must transcend all national loyalties. The early church martyrs were executed because of their refusal to offer a simple phrase "Ceasar is Lord" in ceremony. Beware of blending two loyalties into one, for then the agenda of the state is easily confused with the agenda of Christ. It's happened often throughout history, and its happening now.

2. The flag implies that America is carrying Christ's mission into the world. Beware of this mixture, both of motives and goals, for it quickly mutates (and has already) into charges of imperialism. Further, when democracy and Christianity are linked, other nations perceive the message of Christ to be the message of American culture. When God, (by virtue of our declaration to be a 'Christian nation') is perceived to be materialistic, the user of the majority of world's resources, the author of a culture in which the aged are marginalized and divorce is rampant, we have a problem.

It's time for followers of Jesus to stand apart from party loyalties and nationalism (while still paying taxes, praying for leaders, and working for the well being of our neighborhoods and nation), and be about the things Jesus is about: justice, compassion, forgiving, loving one's neighbors and enemies, and practicing hospitality. Such a lifestyle needs no flag - it's compelling enough just by the living.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Warning: Risk Aversion Ahead

Our lust for certainty could kill us all. A quick glance through the Bible shows us that there are very few guarantees in this life – following Christ could get you healed or could get you killed – could get you out of prison with a miraculous story, or locked away for years before being executed – could land you in immense wealth or enslaving poverty. You just don’t know. That seems to be one of the major points of the last section of Hebrews. But what you DO know is that, in laying everything out there and following Him, you will find Him – and that will be enough. Moses summed it up when He said to God, “If you’re not going with us… I don’t want to go.” Success or Failure, as the world and even the church grants them, are mirages. What really matters is only this: Has Christ brought us to this place and is He pointing us forward. If so, let’s go.

Can you just give me some assurance Lord?
An answer that will hold the weight of doubt?
You see, I’ve known too much to cherish risk:
People hurt
Markets fail
Avalanches kill

So I venture into life
FDIC insured,
Always on trail.

What then this word from You,
It reeks of uncertainty, and risk
“Faith” you say
But I want happy endings.

Your final offer
Never gives a promise
Save that of knowing Christ
As Rock, and Hope

“Is it enough?” You ask
As I prepare to follow.
“Perhaps” I say,
And turn to face the glorious unknown.

Joshua 14:2; I Samuel 14:6

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Beware of Hating Cheese

In real life I'm allergic to cheese; too much of the stuff, and I'm puffy, sneezing, and generally unhappy. Because the allergy isn't dramatic, and is more of an intolerance, the reality is that I simply choose my cheese carefully. For example, Donna and I spent our date day together this past Saturday at the Seattle Cheese Festival, which was a remarkable tapestry of tastes, as cheeses from all over the world were available for us to sample. As a result, when we dined together later, I chose a cheese free meal - only so much cheese in one day!

In allegorical and theological life, it seems that I'm also cheese 'intolerant'. And yet I'm concerned that intolerance not become so grave that I miss some truly edifying and uplifting stuff that is out there, having dismissed it just because it's 'cheesy'. One such item is the 'love letter from God'. The cheese detector goes off even before I begin to read. There's music playing in the background. I can't take it and so turn the sound off. But I read it. And I realize that this is, (with a few exceptions where promises from God are misappropriated) a collection of scriptures declaring the reality of how God loves us, cares for us, and longs to both know and delight in us. If this is cheese (and it is), it's cheese that we need. We need to know that we're unconditionally love and forgiven, because boatloads of guilt and shame are crippling people emotionally and physically, simply because they've never believed, or recieved the love of God their father.

My wife and I have had the experience of seeing people delivered from the effects of deep suffering, simply by their learning to believe that God loves them, and then learning what it means to actually receive that love and enjoy it on a daily basis. I know that this has proven to be a critical truth in my own life because of the early loss of my dad. There is a great deal of material on the "Father Heart of God" available for those willing to wrestle with this father/child relationship, and learn that God as Father is a very different thing than the guy who raised us, or failed to raise us, or hurt us, or abused or abandoned us. Such events make trusting God hard. But as I study today in preparation for teaching on Sunday, I'm struck by this profound declaration in Isaiah 64. "You are our Father" - that's only good news if I understand the character of Father/God - and that's what that cheesy website helps people do. Try reading this as a letter from God - I know you have doubts and questions and cynicism (otherwise why would read my blog consistently?). But you and I and the rest of the world needs to wrestle with this question: "Does God love the world?" - and for all the suffering, all the loss, all the injustice, I believe the starting point is found in learning to receive what God says about us. That's why it's worth reading something like this often!

You might think you're deathly allergic to cheese. But sometimes the most healing properties are found in the cheesiest cheese. Go ahead and take a bite.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Still a great map - Still only a map

While I teach various subjects with Torchbearers Missionary Fellowship, it’s been many years now that, at least twice per year, I teach through Genesis, as I’m doing right now with a delightful group of students in Colorado.

I could teach this book, I think, a hundred times, and be smitten just as powerfully, as I am tonight, sitting here in my room getting ready to pack. I’ve just showed this group of students what God’s chosen family looks like: jealous, hateful, heard-hearted, hypocritical, lying, cheating, thieving, lustful, whoring, polygamous murderers.
And the Bible is so raw with this stuff – the raping, lust, killing, cheating, and stealing are out there for all to see.

Yet, God doesn’t give up on any of them. He is forever for them. But more: He loves them too much to let them stay this way, and so uses the circumstances of their lives to bring about their complete transformation. By the end, there have been stories of reconciliation, repentance, and sacrificial love. What I love most about the whole thing is that, in all 26 chapters (25-50) there are no worship services, no committees, no outreaches or ministries, not even any Bible studies. Yet, lacking all that we deem needful, God still finds a way, somehow, to change these ‘chosen ones’ from living wretched lives to lives of hope and repentance and mercy. We’re not that patient in our churches. Mess up – and you’re gone – way, way too often.

But God will stick with us, and use any and every circumstance of life to shape us. That’s why we need to commit to looking for Him and what He’s teaching us, not only in the Bible, but in our life experiences, relationships, and creation.

The Bible is a kind of road map. I can learn the map, memorize the map, talk about the map, interpret the map, systematize the map, argue about the reliability of the map, make a new map because the old map used outdated language – I can do all this and never take the trip. But the transformation is in the journey, not in the map.

This is a season, for me when, when the learning is coming from all sides, because there’s a lot there – lots of big decisions, lots of human relationships, lots of beauty and tragedy, lots of awareness of my own sin and His grace. The map is interesting and important, but rarely as much so as taking the trip.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What Kind of Freedom does Christ offer?

Isaiah 61 is that passage quoted by Jesus when he reads the scroll of Scripture in the Synagogue. What I find significant, in studying and preparing to teach on this, is that Jesus doesn’t read the whole passage. He stops mid-sentence, after ‘the favorable year of the Lord’, but before, ‘the day of vengeance of our God.’ Then, significantly, he says, ‘today THIS scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’

Why would he do that? It appears, from the perspective of history, that this was his approach because it was his way of saying that the ‘day of vengeance’ wasn’t yet here. There are all kinds of signs that have unfolded to confirm this, including the fact that he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey during the last week of his life, which is a symbol of a king coming in peace.

If we would only embrace this reality, we would save ourselves a lot of heartache. The fact that the ‘day of vengeance’ isn’t here yet means that the power structures of this world aren’t yet toppled. These are structures which oppress and create untold suffering (have you heard about the food for sex scandals in Liberia, for example?), and yet they remain in place. So, of what use is the gospel then, if these structures continue?

The promise seems to be that we granted the capacity to overcome, living joyful and purposeful lives, right in the midst of suffering. Church history certainly bears this out, as we can see the oppressed and downtrodden of this world living lives of dignity in the midst of their victimization and oppression.Tragically though, in some circles where the church and political/military might have joined hands, this teaching has been twisted to justify the church’s oppression of her converts. The word describing that is ‘colonialism’.

But the church is never invited to be the oppressor – only the liberator. And the sooner we who have means and power begin to view our liberating role holistically, the better off all will be. Where that happens, the church works to bring freedom from addictions, AND freedom from economic enslavement. It works to end the demonic oppression that comes from embracing false gods AND it works hard to end physical oppression as well. This is a calling worth living for!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Travel Day - Needing Stillness

Up at 4:30 after a night of intermittent rain in East Texas oil country. I shower and step into the muggy air for only a few steps, and then my car is loaded. Into the dark of night, I retrace my steps to the radio surfing of hip-hop, country western, and NPR before finally choosing silence as I head back: Country Road 1805 to FM 16; FM 16 to Interstate 20 heading east. 20 becomes 80 and if I’m careful 80 becomes 30, becomes 35E northbound, and by that time the darkness has lifted to reveal the thick fog that is DFW airport. Eggs at Dickey’s BBQ (‘hold the grits please’) and then a flight and another flight and I’m in Denver.

A friend who lives at the center where I’m teaching is arriving at the airport at the same time, so we drive together to Estes Park, enjoying good conversation. Now I sit on the deck of the chalet where I’m staying and gaze west as the sun sets over Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ve been reading an article about simplicity on the plane and can feel the call of the wild, and the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. I can see the wind whipping snow off the ridges as the sky turns purple. A cup of tea. A little music. God is here, reminding me that though I live in a rather complex moment, and have a complex job – the complexities are mostly just anxiety stemming from my insecurity, and from gazing too closely at the issues. I need to step back from the problems more often – step back into the arms of God. Only there, is one enabled to serve and lead and love out from a posture of security and assurance that 'all manner of things shall be well' . All else is posturing, whether that posturing wear the clothes of culture or counter-culture – left or right – North or South.

All of this is just a fancy way of saying, “Be still and know that I am God”. I was, for a little while this afternoon at sunset, and I have good news… He still is.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


I’ve just finished one and a half days of teaching for a camp in Texas that is doing some great things in the realm of leadership development. Churches and Christian Organizations that are grappling with the implications of post-modernity (see Nov 8th entry) for their theology and ministries are rare anywhere, but I’m guessing that they are even rarer
in this neighborhood, described by its residents as the ‘belt buckle of the Bible belt.’ But right here in the belt buckle is a group of people grappling with this huge cultural shift, and what it means for we who are called to embody Christ’s life. It’s been an encouraging weekend, reminding me once again that God continually surprises us.

At another level, my brief visits here have reminded me that the subject of immigration (previous entry) does need, as one comment has said, “a personal face.” While I understand the importance of the categories of legal and illegal, as referenced in the both the first and last paragraphs of the previous entry, we need to be careful that we don’t use the label ‘illegal’ to justify a failure to treat the other as someone made in the image of God. The category is weak for two reasons: 1) we don’t enforce our own laws consistently at all, and so become like parents who discipline inconsistently, creating fear and mistrust in the relationship. 2) whether legal or illegal – a living wage is difficult to come by. Try reading even a few excerpts from “Nickle and Dimed” and you’ll discover that, whether the border is open or closed, and whether the category is legal or illegal, we live in a culture that, while certainly better than many in the world, has it’s own strain of Darwinian natural selection running deep in its veins. The well education, well connected, and well endowed will make a way to the economic top of the pile. The rest… will help them live there and enjoy life as cheaply as possible. And that’s not an immigration issue – it’s an economic issue, one Ezekiel had no hesitancy talking about.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Immigration: Let's tell the truth

Talk about life imitating art: Yesterday’s immigration protests reminded me of the satirical movie, “A Day without a Mexican.” In the movie, everyone who is from south of the border disappears one day. This creates shortages for all the people who are moaning about illegal immigrants invading the country. There’s nobody to care for the children, pick the fruit, wash the dishes, and do so much else that we have deemed necessary to keep the economic machinery running, preserve our lifestyles, give us access to goods and services at dirt cheap prices, wholly because the laborers are treated like dirt.

So I suppose I need to ask some important questions here, both theological and personal:

What does the Bible say about immigration? The Bible shows us that God desired Israel to treat the alien the same as the native, and went to great lengths to warn against oppressing the alien, based on the remembrance that Israel was herself and aliens in a foreign land. Oppression that comes through paying substandard wages, or denying basic health care and education cannot be tolerated. At the same time, God places the burden on the alien to adapt to the cultural mores of their new land. If an alien wanted to participate in Israel’s festivals, that person had to embrace the ethic of the Jewish culture, and her practices. I interpret this to mean that the foreigner who wants to enjoy the benefits of a new land should be adaptable to the new land, learning her language, and obeying her laws. Are we open? Are our newcomers adaptable? Are we just? Are they obeying the laws?

Am I willing to be hospitable? Creating immigration laws on the books and then turning the other way because they continue to provide goods and services for us at far cheaper rates than would be possible if we treated them justly is the worst possible scenario, embodying both oppression and hypocrisy. It needs to end. And that means I need to be willing to pay real prices for strawberries, eating out, and cotton t-shirts. Am I willing? Are you? It seems that is part of what it means to be hospitable.