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, September 26, 2006

Holding it together...

I'm interested in the prayer of Paul in Colossians 1:9-12, whereby he asks that the Colossians would be given the capacity to endure the unendurable (as Eugene Peterson puts it in "The Message" translation of the Bible).

And then, just a few short verses later, we come to discover that it is Christ, the founder of the feast that is our universe who, "holds all things together" (Colossians 1:18). I'm wondering what this phrase means? My enquires have taken me on a journey to consider the relationship between science and the Bible, but none of what I've read in either science or theology helps me really understand with any clarity this bit about Christ holding it all together. Is this just a way of saying that He's sovereign? Does it mean that He's involved in every minute detail of the ongoing activities of the universe? (Jesus did say elsewhere that not even a bird dies without God knowing it).

I'm wondering of His sustenaning power in the universe is the same sustaining power that we have at our disposal when we're called to 'endure the unendurable'? (Perhaps you should watch "To End all Wars" if you want a great example of enduring in this way).

Anyway... 'holding it together' is the topic. What does it mean for us? What does it mean that Christ does that for the whole universe?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Showing Up

I was reminded of the same vital truth several times this weekend, through attendance at a funeral, and then a wedding, and then again through both the content of the teaching on Sunday and the experience of it: keep showing up. Some events I wanted to attend. Others I attended reluctantly. Either way, there’s this calling to be present that runs through the story God is writing in each of our lives, and when we make commitments to show up consistently, we will eventually look back and see that it’s the showing up – the being present – that is soil in which growth and transformation occurs.

It seems that the Bible talks about the need to show up at several key venues:
Show up with the Word.
Show up in connection with others
Show up in using the gifts God has given you.

I’m going to devote the next three entries to these three topics and hopefully share something of how this basic work of showing up has been valuable in my own life. This weekend, when I showed up at a wedding of some very good friends, I was tired. Yet, once there, I realized that it was this community of friends, with their great capacity for joy and celebration, laughter and heart-felt expressions of emotion, which was just what I needed. The laughter of others filled a place in my heart, lightened my load, and refreshed me in ways I never would have anticipated. Think of how often we miss blessing, simply because of failure to show up.

Yes, showing up also means risking that pain will happen instead, and sometimes it will. But if we become governed by fear of pain, or conflict, or rejection; if our paradigm of involvement is so narrow that it’s predicated on all our emotional, physical, spiritual stars aligning before we’ll fully enter in, I’d argue that our lives will quickly become very very small. So instead, I’m learning to risk showing up – time after time, in the continuity of relationships, believing that we can’t be in the story God is writing unless we’re where He wants us to be.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Simple Pleasures

In a world of consumerism, injustice, global warming, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and so much more, it's easy to allow oneself to descend into a pretty dark place. What's needed, in all of our lives, is the capacity to receive those moments of grace that spontaneously erupt, reminding us that though this is a fallen world, it is still a world of staggering beauty, interwoven with gifts of friendship and intimacy. For example:

It's Monday - 5:20 PM. I'm weary as I walk in the door at the house, for about a 90 minute respite before an evening meeting. I'm cheered by seeing my oldest daughter's car. A new high school teacher, she sometimes swings by for a cup of cheer or conversation after her days - days which aren't always encouraging as a new teacher. My days can have their stresses too, and this day has had its share. The house is empty. She must be running. When she returns, we chat a bit and then she says she needs to get home. I sit at the piano and start to play: am - em - F - am - em - F - G - C. Simple. Plaintive. She sits and listens, and then picks up her viola and joins in. Soon our hearts are entwined in melody and we move from "Ode to Joy" to overtones of "Jesus Loves Me" back to the simple progression - ascending, descending, until finally we finish. "Thanks Dad" she says as she puts her instrument away. We hug and she walks out the door, both of us knowing that our souls have shared a moment together - nothing deep, or planned, or special - just a moment.

A window of grace has just been opened. Unanticipated, it's waters refreshed both of our souls, giving us just that sustenance that helps one move forward, honestly, into the needs of the world. Cherish relationships. Create. Listen. Absorb. Worship. It's all part of the fabric of life.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The End is near

“The End is near” Does the phrase conjure images of the bearded man in a robe standing somewhere in Fremont, or the Seattle Center, or Eugene? Maybe you think of the “Left Behind” series of books, or the old movie in the 60’s about the rapture, where Johnny Carson is talking with a guest on the Late Show and the guest disappears. Maybe you’re old enough to remember “88 Reasons the Rapture will Occur in 1988.” Oops.

Go ahead and laugh, but it’s vital to remember that the early church believed it. They believed it because it created a sense of prioritization, a sense of urgency. When you’re parents, or spouse, or roommates are coming home, you time it so that the place looks decent for them JUST before they arrive. Jesus tells numerous stories along these lines, using farmers and fields instead of roommates and dishes, but the point is the same: when ‘the other’ is returning, you want to be about the right stuff.

“But they were wrong!” I hear that a lot – even say it myself sometimes. Yes, Christ didn’t return as they thought. But it is the generations that didn’t have a sense of Christ’s near return that were most prone to idolatry and indulgence. In reality, this sense of nearness is not only a better perspective from which to sift our priorities, but also true – whether by global apocalypse, or personal death, the end is near for all of us. The days we’ve been entrusted with the torch of the testimony are short. Let’s get on with it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Church or Pornography?

I was just reading an article recently about a man who resigned from his pastoral position to pursue the development of an online spiritual community. The analogy he used was pretty astonishing to me: “Do you know why I left professional ministry? Because frankly I was tired of propping up the institution of a central bank in an ATM world.”

Yes that makes sense – I mean the beauty of ATM’s is that they’re accessible whenever you want, make no demands on the inconvenience of relationships, and will always give you just what you want without any hassles. Interestingly, those are the same distinctions often made between pornography and real relationships. Of course ATMs, or porn, or virtual church are more convenient, and make less demands on you. But let’s at least be honest enough to admit that all three have the effect of diminishing our capacity for real relationships, which are suprisingly messy, inconvenient, and painful.

The week after week gathering of a community, united in our brokenness and desire to be transformed can be one of the most glorious displays the reality of Christ available; or it can be show. But if, because of the danger of show, or the danger of spiritual consumerism, we react by withdrawing into our virtual caves – picking our teachers, picking our times, picking our fellow worshippers like choosing apples at the supermarket, I would argue that we’ve diminished the testimony substantially.

I remain a strong advocate for gathering with irritating people, to work out our salvation together in community, for this is the hope of God’s glory being seen. Instead of the airbrushed perfection of our own customized communities, how about the long haul, hard work of loving real people? Anything less isn’t a real body, and hence not a real church.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Leadership Lessons from 9/11

Last night I watched a Canadian news special about the events leading up to 9/11, preferring an outsiders view to anything I might find within our boarders. The show did a marvelous job detailing much of the history surrounding various terror networks, Osama, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and much more. What I found most interesting was the highlighting of different leadership styles between Bill Clinton and George Bush. It appears that several times the Clinton administration had the chance to either arrest or eliminate both Osama and other high level known terrorist leaders, but each time, at the last second, the operation would be cancelled. Either there was a fear of collateral damage, or a fear of failure. Clinton appeared to be that type of leader who would forever gather more information without ever committing to a course of action, fearful as he was of making the wrong decision.

On the other hand, George Bush, it appeared (and continues to appear), had gathered around him a host of counselors who, in the wake of 9/11 articulated a plan to dismantle Saddam’s dictatorship in Iraq. Richard Clarke, Colin Powell, and a host of other high ranking military and defense officials all made it clear that such pursuit was irrelevant to the terrorist effort. But Bush, unlike Clinton, would not be dissuaded from his course of action with more information. The results, at least in the moment, speak for themselves.

Don’t miss the point for the story. I’m not really pondering the validity of the war effort this morning, though it’s certainly a point worth considering. I’m pondering the two different leadership styles of our most recent presidents: The former, generally speaking, lacked capacity to pull the trigger and make a decision when one was needed – and the result is that we’re all paying a price. The latter seems to dismiss all counselors who don’t agree with his view of the world, and forge ahead, sometimes in denial of harsh realities. Is there a third option?

Richard Clarke, a high level intelligence official in both the Clinton and Bush era’s, was frustrated by Clinton’s lack of decisive leadership. When Bush took office, Clarke sent him a memo saying that the two of them needed to talk about terrorism and Al-Qaeda. The meeting didn’t take place until after 9/11. Clarke, not in Bush’s inner circle, was ignored. And it was Clarke, who was involved on the watch of both leaders, who had the guts to say to the American people, “Our intelligence systems have failed you. Our government has failed. I have failed you.”

Knowing when to listen and ponder and when to act, it seems, are critical components of healthy leadership. Every leader I know tends towards one side or the other of this critical balancing act. The events of 9/11 and beyond show us that failure to hold these qualities in proper balance can be fatal.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Welcome Home

Yesterday I was fortunate to catch an earlier flight home after a marvelous time of sharing life with 1000 college students from all across the Southwest who had gathered for College Briefing at Forest Home Conference grounds.   The time there was stimulating, challenging, and incredibly heartening as I met students and heard of their passion, not only for knowing Jesus, but for embodying His life and character in the midst of a needy world.  They bring hope, energy, and sacrificial service to the table and I hold out great confidence that their generation will surpass my own in making a mark for Christ.  

Yet for all that, the earlier flight home, the chance to spend the evening with family (eating King Crab legs!) and prepare for today’s Bethany Staff Retreat, was a blessing.  I’ll be leaving in a few minutes for that retreat, and realize that it’s very good…. VERY GOOD to be home, and to feel that indeed, this is the primary field of harvest with which I’m entrusted.  The days ahead include a Sunday of reaching out to bless our neighbors (this coming Sunday), the REAL groundbreaking, a time of casting vision once more for what a privilege it is to invest our lives in God’s kingdom in every way (time, $).  Then I’ll be starting a series in Colossians, AND speaking each Wednesday night in October at Seattle Pacific’s mid-week worship.  There’s a sense of joy and anticipation in all of this, and something about the cooler fall air – the hope of the Hawk – and the sense that we are about to embark on the challenging whitewater that comes when we step into challenges that are bigger than our own capacities.  This is the kind of stuff that energizes me for ministry, and it’s a joy to be a part of it all.