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...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Are Goals and Objectives Unspiritual?

Everyone wants to know... 'what's the vision?' 'Do you have a vision for Bethany?' I hear versions of the question all the time, and several events in the past months have me thinking a great deal, not about the vision, but about the way we articulate vision in churches, and more particularly, how we measure success.

Was Jim Elliot successful when, instead of his friendship evangelism leading to conversions among the Auca Indians, he died in a pool of his own blood? Are missionaries successful who work for 20 years among a people and don't see a single convert to Christianity? And if it's possible to be successful in rural Africa without having lots of converts, is it possible to be successful in urban America while producing the same dismal statistics?

It seems that the successful community of faith will be successful only to the extent that they become the physical and visible embodiment of the resurrected Christ. Thus, the presence in a particular place, of Christ's love, power, mercy, forgiveness, hope, and healing - the invitation to follow Christ - the coming together in worship to bear witness to hope -where these things are present, there's success. The trouble, of course, is that the manifestation of these things can either bring revival and hope. or can get you killed. People can either respond massively, or not at all. So the difficulty for ministry comes when we try to presume a certain level of response.

On the other hand, a lack of response might be for no other reason than that the people involved were lazy. And thus it is that "God's Will" often becomes a vieled mantra for "I'm too passive and disengaged, too apathetic and lethargic to actually do anything, so whatever happens as a result of my half-hearted efforts, I'll call that outcome "The Will of God". And with one swoop, all critics are thus silenced.

So how do we navigate these waters? I would offer two principles:

#1 - Jesus promises that those who abide in Him will bear much fruit. Thus it becomes vital that I understand what it means to abide, and that I develop practices that will lead to abiding. It is in this environment then, that I can have confidence that I'm in the stream of God's activity, but this environment is not a place of creating autonomous goals. Rather, it's a place of prayer and waiting on God. But my posture should be one of expectation: I expect that God will bring forth fruit because I'm doing my part by drawing on the resources of His life and stepping into the stream of His activity. He's directing me - and I'm going after certain things.

#2 - The nature of the fruit isn't always clearly revealed to us. I Samuel 14:9 contains that crazy little word: perhaps. Jonathan is going after a goal, but not with the absolute certainty that the goal will be fulfilled. We should do the same - we should be able to go after a vision for ministry and pour our whole hearts into it, believing that we'll be shaped by the pursuit, and that others will be blessed by our whole-hearted obedience. What happens when we're that deeply committed to a pursuit? Perhaps we'll succeed!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


We're at our best when we create, and yet the forces in our world that seek to reduce to mere consumers are enormous. If you're local, here in Seattle, there are some great opportunities for you to find encouragement and nurture for your creative side through the Bethany Arts College. It's free, with a wide variety of opportunities to explore previously tapped or untapped resources in your soul. Check out the schedule and sign up for a class. It's a great way to meet people too, or you can bring a friend.

Tired of consuming? Create! Check out the class offerings here. And thanks to the many of you who are helping me out by filling in the survey about this blog (see yesterday's entry) - you'll have results after Easter.

Monday, March 26, 2007

If you'd indulge me....

It's been two years since I started blogging, and I thought it would be good to do a little check-up, so if you're a regular visitor, it would help me a lot if you'd take a moment to fill out this survey. I'll happily share the results with you in a couple of weeks, after people have had a chance to respond. Hopefully, this will result in a better blog.

Thanks, in advance, for your help.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Two Times

There are two thoughtful articles in this week's issue of Time magazine. The 1st, Joe Klein's essay, is about what he calls 2nd Commandment Christians. He shows us some republicans who are running for president and offer us an unusual mixture of moral conservatism and a commitment to social justice issues. Such candidates rarely make it to 2nd base, but it's encouraging to see that American politics is branching out in its consideration of what Christianity stands for; not just sexual morality, but economic and social justice, environmental responsibility, and a commitment to breaking down the racial and economic barriers that divide us.

The 2nd article focuses on the hypocrisy of the left, and their blind involvement in 'carbon credits' schemes. As Krauhammer rightly points out, these schemes are 'a way for the rich to export the real costs and sacrifices of pollution control to the poorer segments of humanity'. What a laugh to see Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio standing at the Oscars watching an ad that encourages people to take mass transit - and of course the audience erupts in loud applause, even though none of those in attendance have been on a bus since the moon landing.

Eric Berne's "Games People Play" speaks of ways we deceptively relate to one another. I'd argue that just as often we deceptively relate to ourselves, and that one of the ways we do so is by elevating our loyalty to causes to the status of good behavior. In such a paradigm, it doesn't matter if my house uses 20x more electricity than the average American home (which itself uses much more than the global average) - the important thing is that I'm FOR energy conservation.

James actually talked about this in the Bible and he put it something like this: Talk is cheap - so is writing a check - what's needed as an actual change in the way you live. Of course I'm paraphrasing, but that's the essence of it. I appreciate Krauthammer's voice, inviting us to move beyond talking and writing checks, to actually changing the way we live.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Secret.....? trust God

Several of you made comments yesterday about the Secret, so I thought I'd pass on the review, taken from "The Stranger". Wherever you find Christians embracing such teachings in their entirety, it's because all the promises made to Abraham and Moses are now presumed to belong to the church. While it's true that we are, indeed, children of Abraham, it's not true that the blessings of God are manifest the same way today, in the church, as was the case then, when blessings were manifested always through physical well being. Paul shows us, numerous times and places in the New Testament that one can be blessed spiritually, and still face manifold physical trials.

But let's grant for a moment the possibility that we will use the Old Testament promise of God given to Moses as the basis for claiming physical well being. We still come up against inconsistencies that force us away from any formulaic approach to claiming health and wealth. Job is an instance. God's refusal to let David build the temple is another.

"Claim" wealth and healing? I don't think so. Jesus offers a different path - a path that invites me to involve myself in His interests, trusting that as I do so, He will involve Himself in my interests, so that I won't need to worry about 'what shall we eat, what shall we drink, what shall we wear, etc." This perspective strikes a balance between fatalistic passivity, and arrogant 'claiming' of wealth and health, promises which ring hollow to at least 4 billion of the worlds people. And yet, the health and wealth proponents continue to draw millions of American followers to their uniquely capitalistic, consumerist version of the gospel. It's no surprise really, that "The Secret" has been "Christianized." What else could one expect when Jesus is marketed as the guru of all things related to self-fulfillment. Perhaps the marketers missed this little secret of Jesus': I'll only find myself to the extent that I'm willing to lose myself.

Monday, March 12, 2007

climate change... heated debate

It appears that Christians are divided over whether or not to worry about global warming. Dr. James Dobson and Chuck Colson, both indicate that this subject turns our attention away from more pressing matters. I'm not even going to bother debating the science of global warming. Watch the movie. Read the counterpoints - make your own call. Riding your bike more - getting a smaller car - and using public transportation, though, certainly can't hurt the planet!

What interests me is the larger debate about how Christians decided what matters are 'pressing'. And it's at this point that I find a severe case of 'mis-proportion' when it comes to deciding what the more pressing issues are. Is curtailing the rights of homosexuals in the population at large really more important than taking steps to lessen the impacts of our consumerist, debt driven, polluting economy? I would argue that the church's calling has never been to curtail to rights of any people group or minority in the population at large, and that such efforts deserve not little support, but no support. "What do have to do with judging outsiders?" Paul says. Thus, no matter what you think of God's position on homosexuality within the church, it's impossible to justify the great lengths to which many in the church are moving in order to curtail their basic human rights.

On the other hand, our stewardship of the planet is a clear mandate, originating in God's charge given to Adam and Eve in the garden, and rearticulated, indirectly, through the many Psalms which speak of creation as a powerful testimony of God's character.

So what exactly do our friends mean when they say we should be about 'more pressing matters?' - Help me understand... as I ponder the church's calling to invest limited time and resources.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

And the answer is…Ecclesiastes

We humans have a hard time proportioning life. What I mean is that it seems we’re forever looking, forever waiting for life to begin. We’ve all this angst when we’re young about career and marriage. We run to seminars and make these subjects the topic of a fair bit of teaching in the Christian community along with a mainstay over a pint (or a Pepsi for the theologically ‘dry’). Then we get those things settled, and we have angst about financial security and the well being and success of our offspring. Thus do we spend our middle years running a taxi service to endless events in hopes that our kids will be well rounded enough to gain admission into a good college, even as we work hard for promotions in order to assure our own well being. As the clock keeps ticking, we slowly begin to gain new anxieties, now about health care, retirement, and aging parents.

But somewhere along the way in this journey, a meaning crisis bursts forth. whereby we look around at what we're doing and wonder if it has any meaning. Or perhaps, if it is meaningful for the moment, we're struck by the temporality of it all and the inevitability of loss. For me, such a crisis (in mini proportion) happened the other day while skiing. I was looking around at the incredible beauty of the landscape, my eyes scanning the horizon to ingest the glories of Shuksan, Sefrit, Goat Mt., Winchester Mt., and Tomyhoi Mt. There they all were – on full display in their finest whitened glory. And though I was enjoying the beauty of it all, there was a bittersweetness to it that I only think about on days when I’m skiing alone. It was the sad realization that a day would come when I’ll not be able to do this, or see this, ever again. I looked around once again, wondering when I’d leave these mountains for the last time.

Skiing down offered no time for reflection, but soon I was on the way back up again, and I begin to pray. A song came to mind from the band Iona, and slowly I began to recall the message of Ecclesiastes: you can’t stay – but you can enjoy it while you’re here, if you’re living it out in relationship with God. Those who don’t know God, or believe God exists are stuck with this bittersweet sentiment perpetually, usually more bitter than sweet for those who are thoughtful. But for those who know God – “In the day of prosperity be happy. But in the day of adversity consider – God has made the one as well as the other.”

I went home that night and read Ecclesiastes from cover to cover, something I’d not done in years. What a joy – what a blessing – what a straight up assessment of life under the sun, filled with practical counsel along the way. I’ve determined to study it thoroughly and teach through it, either in the fall of 07 or the winter of 08. If anyone knows of good resources that would be helpful, please advise. In the meantime…“whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going…” Carpe Diem.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Jesus' bones finally found... what a relief!

If you watched the Discovery Channel this week, you realize that it only took a few years for a few scientists and movie producers to do what first century religionists, the Roman Empire, naturalists, atheists, and materialists could not do for the past two millenia: having found the tomb of Jesus, they have proven the resurrection to be false, and thus dismantled Christianity.

Before I look for a new faith and a new job however, I suppose I should consider a few sticky details:

1. Serious minds have major questions about the conclusions that have been drawn, including key players who were invovled in the dig. Amos Kloner, the Bar-Ilan University professor and archaeologist who lead the excavation and subsequent analysis, has been quoted recently, dismissing the hype by saying “It makes a great story for a TV film, but it’s impossible. It’s nonsense. There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle-class family from the 1st century CE.”

2. Without an existing sample of DNA from the Biblical Jesus, or a sample from a proven descendant of the Biblical Jesus, no DNA evidence will prove that an ossuary from this tomb belonged to him.

3. The names of Jesus' family were the most common names of the 1st century, and thus it would be no great surprise to find a tomb with this particular mix of names. What would be surprising, though, would be to find Jesus and his family buried in an upper middle class tomb in Jerusalem, when he was from Galilee. Of course, it might be argued that Jesus could have had a wealthy tomb, because his was funded by a benefactor. Further, it could be concluded that since Jesus was killed in Jerusalem, he would have been buried there. But how could this team use Biblical history so selectively in an attempt to discredit the authenticity of the very documents to which they appeal. If you're going to discredit a witness, you won't appeal to their testimony to prove your point!

4. 600-1??? Are you kidding me? These are the odds presented that this tomb is NOT the burial place of Jesus. Where did such a number come from? If someone knows please tell me. And does this take into consideration the odds of successfully keeping this news covered up for two thousand years? What are the odds that the body of Jesus would be hidden by people who would then be willing to die tortured deaths to protect their cover-up? What are the odds that no subsequent generations of detractors to the faith would ever have spoken up about having found the body of Jesus? It seems that when these historical conditions are coupled with the archeological ambiguity, belief that this is the tomb of Jesus would require greater faith than belief in the Biblical account of the resurrection. But one thing is clear... both belief systems require faith, which is nothing more than a response to the revelation that we're given.

5. Then, of course, there's the matter of whether any of this even matters. Discovery Channel's website points out that even if these are the bones of Jesus it doesn't negate the possibility of a resurrection, per the Bible's story. However, it does forfeit the possibility of Jesus' bodily ascension as declared in Acts.

As I'm writing this, I'm listening to some musicians sing the Apostle's Creed, one line of which states that "I believe in the resurrection of the body". It really is an incredible belief, but careful scholarship, and the inability of archeologists to find a body that would pass any 'reasonable evidence' test, leads me to continue in my recitation of the Creed - I believe in the resurrection of the body.