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, June 30, 2007

Hospitality - Making Room for God

Here are two very good resources to pique your thinking on the subject of hospitality. The first is the story of Hungarian hospitality for young people who gathered in Budapest from around the world as part of my favorite movement on the planet. It shares some of the challenges and blessings that come from opening your home to strangers.

The second is a rather extensive quotation, used in the sermon of June 30th, from Francis Schaeffer, quoted on someone else's blog, but read by my wife and I many years ago while we were in the midst of having our own stuff broken during the practice of hospitality.

The blessings far outweigh the burdens, or at least that's been our experience. I'd encourage you to begin opening your home, and especially realizing that each person who comes through the door needn't be, or become a life long friend - and yet you can still be fully present with them in the moment and appreciate the mutuality of ministry that unfolds.

God has given so many of us so much! I'm convicted by my propensity to squander these riches on the trivial, and am praying for the faith to both see and embrace the needed changes! I hope you'll do the same and that in doing so, you'll find the face of Christ again and again in the stranger you've yet to meet.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Homosexuality - framing the discussion around the same Authority

There's an interesting piece in the Commonweal offering us a theological debate about the ethics of homosexuality. Timothy Luke Johnson sets out to defend gay unions while the antagonist, Eve Tushnet, herself both gay and Catholic, argues against gay sexual expression. I would say that it's fairly easy to dismantle Johnson's argument because he explicitly states that he's arguing, not from Scripture, but from experience. Look at what he writes:

I think it important [for the integrity of our position] to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.

There are several things that must be said about the 'argument from experience', and this particular debate.

1. Theological conservatives will always cry foul when experience becomes the foundational basis for interpreting ethical issues, and well they should. Pragmatic considerations were never intended to be the framework for ethical considerations, as the gospel includes some decidedly non-pragmatic mandates- things like loving your enemies, giving your stuff away, and dying on a cross. If experience and common sense are what govern us, we've nothing to which we can anchor, and will consistently make ethical choices contrary to the gospel.

2. The very same conservatives who decry the use of experience as their authority, use experience as their authority, though they're often blind to it. That's why, although Jesus said that the racial divide has been destroyed, we continue to gather along highly segregated lines on Sunday mornings across America. It's why, although Jesus calls us to act in the economic best interests of others, we overwhelmingly buy into the ethic of Adam Smith, seeking our own self interest first, simply because it works.

3. To cry foul when experience is the basis of ethic in one arena, while deriving our ethics in other arenas from experience seems to me to be a case of 'log in the eye' syndrome. Thus many of us become blinded to our need for repentance and transformation, because we're throwing stones at others.

4. I hope that, whatever our position on the ethics of homosexuality, we who claim a common loyalty to Christ will discuss this matter on the basis of what we believe Scripture to be calling us towards, not on the basis of our experience. Clearly, there are heterosexual relationships that are disastrous, and homosexual relationships that work well. And the reverse is also available as 'evidence'. But the point is that it's not evidence - not really. It's anecdote. What's needed is an understanding of what God is revealing to us through the scriptures.

Eve's arguments against homosexual expressions of sexuality are rooted in scripture, and since she's debating someone who's primary argument is that 'experience trumps scripture', she wins this round in my book. Here's part of what she writes:

Loving one another can be an echo of the love we receive from God; it can be the child of that love; it can be preparation for our own awestruck love of God. (I would argue that my erotic and romantic love of women has been all three of those things, at different times.) But our human experience, including our erotic experience, cannot be a replacement for the divine revelation preserved by the church. We must be careful not to let it become a counternarrative or a counter-Scripture.

When I was baptized and confirmed, pledging, “I believe all that the Catholic Church believes and teaches,” I did it basically as a leap of faith. I knew why I needed to be Catholic; I knew that as a Catholic I’d have to follow this stuff, faith seeking understanding and all that; I trusted that eventually I would understand the reasons behind the teaching a little better. And I do. Even so, I waver on how much I think I understand the teaching from day to day.

But what has constantly surprised me about the Catholic Church is just how much there is for me here. There is a rich theology of friendship, helping me to express my love of women both sacrificially and chastely.

In contrast to Eve's argument, there are scripturally rooted arguments in favor of homosexual unions, such as the one found here. (though I'll warn you... you need to read it carefully before you'll understand his conclusion) And it's here, in unpacking the meaning and intent of scripture, that the discussion must take place. We have discussions like this all the time in the church - regarding pacifism and enlisting in the military, regarding wealth and addressing poverty, regarding our environmental responsibilities or liberties. The same thoughtful dialog needs to occur around this subject, with the same kind of grace given to people on both sides of the issue. And, like all other issues, church leaders can't wait in some sort of holding tank until they understand it all perfectly. We need to live out our convictions as we see them in the present moment, with grace, humility, and a commitment to continually growing and learning. When this begins to happen, perhaps real bridges will be built between the church and the estranged gay community.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

All the lonely ants marching

I'm in the midst of preparing to teach on the subject of hospitality this Sunday, and it struck me once again: for all the piles of verbiage regarding post-modernity, emergent Christianity, and the new thing God is doing among those who are hip enough and enlightened enough to be relevant, the reality is this: VERY LITTLE HAS CHANGED.

Oh yes, I know that there's a new epistemological crisis, and that the linguistic deconstructionism of Derrida has changed how we view reality - what we trust, who we trust, and how we take steps of faith.

But step away from all of these mounds of philosophical rubbish (too kind? too mean spirited? you decide), and the fact is that people are still lonely. People were lonely when David wrote the Psalms. They were lonely when Jesus walked the earth and broke the barriers of isolation by talking with women, forgiving the condemned, and touching the lepers. And 1900 years later, they were lonely still, when the Beatles sang about isolation. Simon and Garfunkle did too. And so has Dave Matthews. This is why, I believe, intergenerational ministry can both work, and is so important: when you evaporate the philosophical fog, your still left, in every generation, with the same thing: a longing to both love and be loved - and an ambivalence towards relationship.

That's why hospitality is a radical, profoundly counter-cultural practice that needs to be rediscovered by the church as a means of making the invisible God visible. It's why small groups in churches need an empty chair. It's why we can never close our hearts and say, "that's it - I'm finished meeting people - my relational quota is filled." Instead, we need to change the way we think about relationships, which is something that I hope to address on Sunday.

In the meantime, maybe this little section from a favorite book of mine, will help you see why a commitment to the practice of hospitality is so vital in this age of isolation. In this passage our friend is finally getting out to meet his neighbors, moving from chimney to chimney as he sees smoke:

"The next smoke signal came from Eaton's Landing....I made another half dozen stops - including the local grocery store, cafe, gas station and library - and it trying to give away flies, fish and fishing tips I got a free oil change, applie pie and coffee, pamphlets and books on Tamanawis Valley and county history, two quarts of pop and a huge bag of corn chips. I had found my people...When I returned to my cabin it had undergone a subtle transformation: I'd left behind a solitary structure on a lonely river; I'd returned to the home of some the locals called, "Gus the Fisherman" - a home just up the road from Ernie and Emma's, not far from the candle-makers, Cradad Benson, Eaton's Landing, the "Fogged in Cafe", and all those folks that made the valley and town a valley and town full of folks..."

Loving our neighbors... always been central to the gospel...always been challenging...and always been far more rewarding than we could imagine, as stories unfold and life blesses life. What are we waiting for?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Getting into the Bible...

Per the sermon of June 24th... Here are a few ways of feeding yourself in the Bible...

1. Daily devotional readings from various sections
2. Reading the through the Bible in one year - or slower
3. Lectio Divina
4. A daily verse, with a cute little story (not my favorite... but better than watching sitcom reruns)
5. a boatload of devotional choices - some are really good, some aren't - but if you really want to get into the habit...there will be something here for you!

I'd recommend staying away from devotionals produced by people with a theological ax to grind, whether that ax is political, social, holiness, eschatology, or any other thing. For this reason, I have a strong bias towards #'s 1,2,3 above. Pithy commentaries on a passage may blind you to the living nature of the word, and prevent you from hearing what God is seeking to say to you. On the other hand, it's incredibly valuable to hear what others are saying about particular passages, so I'd caution against cutting oneself off from listening to other's interpretations. Such isolation has been the source of both reformation, and heresy.

Most important though.... is the thought of developing a regular habit of feeding on the Word, for it is in the process of showing up that we are granted the context for our own transformation. Blessings to you as you begin, or continue, on the adventure that awaits all of us as we step into the stream of God's activity.

Feel free to share:
1. other devotional material that works for you
2. barriers to regular Bible study that you have or have had
3. how you're working to overcome them.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Memorials and lessons learned...

My wife's dad passed away this past weekend, and I'll be flying south to be with the family and perform a small memorial service on Friday, back in time to preach on Sunday.

Ed was the only dad I had during my adult life. I loved him, and he changed me. He was a practical man, a contractor who knew how to work with his hands. I spent a couple of summers working with him and he frustrated me because he never explained what he was doing, but instead just assumed that by watching, I'd learn. The funny thing though, is that I did learn - and have been able to do some things w/ my hands just because we spent time together.

He also took me skiing, and also didn't teach me how to ski; the same thing with fishing. His educational theory was that if a person would just start doing something, they'd learn how to do it. PHD's in education would have a field day with that! They'd argue the merits of affective and cognitive styles of learning and teaching, plead for learning objectives and feedback loops, consider where on Maslow's pyramid of needs a person is, and how to move he/she higher. But not Ed. He would just jump in and do...and invite me to join him. He wasn't perfect by any account - none of us are... but he invited me in, and for me, someone who'd not been invited into a man's life since my own dad died years earlier, that was huge.

I could write a eulogy here, or a bit about grief, but it would feel too personal for this blog. Instead, I'll just ponder for a moment the strange intersection of my sermon preparation for Sunday with my memories of my father in law. I'm preparing to preach about the importance of encountering the Bible on a regular basis, because it seems that among Christians, Bible ignorance is on the rise, and devotional habits in a state of decay. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the reality that it's encounter with God through the Bible that shapes us. Take away that force for shaping in our lives and we're left with a host of other cultural forces to shape us, but I have deep doubts as to their capacity to shape us for the better.

People avoid reading the Bible for a whole bunch of reasons which I'll cover Sunday (and you'll be able to download that sermon here, one week from today). For now, can I just note that many have stopped encountering the Bible because they've been thinking that it was a textbook, and it's disappointed them. It hasn't delivered the snappy, easy answers they'd hoped for. Instead, it's introduced, at times, more questions, some mystery, even some contradiction. At other times we come away from our reading wondering if we've gained anything at all of value.

Our problem is that we've been wishing the Bible would be a textbook, and it isn't. Instead, it's often a window into a relationship; and often that relationship is as frustrating as my relationship with Ed. I want to learn about carpentry - he has me stapling insulation under a house. I want to learn about skiing - he points his skis down the hill and goes, shouting, 'see you at the bottom' as he disappears. That's not teaching.

Not traditional teaching at least. But it is a form of relationship. The reality is this - it's because of Ed that I picked up a hammer and learned to use it. Eventually I built my own deck. It's because of Ed that I started to ski. To this day I use my Fridays, many of them at least, with either skis, or snowshoes, or hiking boots on my feet, depending on the time of year. It's because of Ed that I still breathe most deeply when I fish, though it's been a while since I've been able to break away and do so. Ed didn't give me instructions manuels. Frankly, that wasn't his strength. He just invited me into his story - and by God I'm glad he did. My life is richer for it.

The Bible is often the same in what it offers. I know: the Bible does teach - does offer commands and precepts. I get it. Sometimes though, our obsession with the letter of the law has crushed our spirits, and we've ended up justifying genocide, slavery, and a boatload of other crimes in God's name because we're hanging on to a fragment of the Bible. If the Bible is only's frankly a little confusing. But there's another side too: It's less of an instruction manual than we'd sometimes like it to be, and more of an invitation to step into a grand story. God's inviting us to enter in to a cosmic redemptive work, and if we wait until we've figured it all out, we'll wake up dead one morning and realize that we were among those that were 'always learning' but never really making a blessed difference in the world because we frankly missed the big picture, missed the point. I hope we can come to see the Bible for what it is - a way of relating to a Person - to One who invites to join in the work He's doing. Then our job is to simply trust that He'll keep shaping us along the way. I often relate to the Bible the same way I related to my father-in-law -- I listen for the invitation to jump into the story, and just go. That's how we grow and learn - that's how we're transformed.

I'm grateful for this man who invited me to enter into his story... It is, I think, very similar to what Jesus does.

I'll be offline for the rest of the week... Please visit again... I'll be back Monday

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Reading Material by my bed...

God in Search of Man was a gift given to me by someone in my congregation who's moving away. Abraham Heschel is author, and it's the first book I've read of his. He's a Jewish scholar, and the book is both weighty and deeply appropriate in this day of postmodern skepticism, for it's really dealing with the intersection of philosophy and religion. Here's a word from early in the book:

"The criticism of reason, the challenge, and the doubts of the unbeliever may, therefore, be more helpful to the integrity of faith than the simple reliance on one's own faith." In other words, our critics are our best friends, and we absolutely must have the courage to listen with both humility and discernment. After all, if it's truth that we're after, what do we fear?

The 2nd book is by a favorite author of mine, Bill McKibben. I discovered him by picking up an early book of his at one of those cheap bookstores. Finding his style enjoyable, I began reading other works of his, and have found his faith/ecology/economics trinity of passions to mirror my own in many ways. His latest book, Deep Economy, is his best work yet, challenging our philosophical commitments to unlimited economic expansion, and casting a vision for a far healthier alternative.

Always looking for a good read, I ask the question... what are reading these days?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Remembering - Vital Ingredient for Sustainable Faith

"Sustainable Faith" is an important topic, as it seems to be the case from the very beginning of the church, right down to this very week, that it is surprisingly easy to jettison one's faith, with the result that our days our lived out in wandering and discontent, far from the spirit of hope and celebration that is supposed to characterize those who claim to follow Christ.

The sustainability seems to come from our tendency to forget what we should remember, and remember what we should forget. For example, God repeatedly warns Israel to take great care to remember what they'd seen God do for them. The reason? Yesterday's provision becomes a storehouse of encouragement for tomorrow's challenges, which will no doubt require faith and obedience. But if we've forgotten how God has provided in the past, we might easily fall prey to discouragement when the challenges in front of us appear too daunting. Thus do we shrink back from obedience sometimes, simply because we forgot.

The remedy? REMEMBER. The ways God encouraged Israel to remember were simple. He had them erect markers to remind them of amazing acts He'd carried out. He invited them to specific times of celebration as a means of recalling their story.

We too need markers. The parking lot at the public school across the street from our church will always remind me of how God orchestrated things so that we could serve our neighborhood school by building a parking lot and, in the process, meet our own requirements for parking so that we could build a new sanctuary. The elements that needed to fall into place for such a thing to happen are too many, the timing too perfect, the odds against it too great, to be coincidence. Thus, when I see the new parking lot at this elementary school (and I see it every day), I'm reminded of God's faithfulness. There are many such markers in my life (including the caribiner in the picture) to help me remember God's activity. I hope you have markers too, because there are probably physical representations of God's faithfulness present, but 'seeing them' is another problem entirely (worthy of a different post). However, without the seeing, we're prone to forget.

We too need celebration. Are there times when you break away from the normal routine of things and spend some time celebrating? The other night, with our children all out of the house, my wife and I spent some time remembering God's faithfulness in our lives. The context was bittersweet, because the whole conversation arose because a family crisis having to do with aging parents. Still, it was very good to spend time thinking back over God's faithful provision, both in our own lives, and the lives of our parents. This isn't some sort of Polly Anna blind optimism that refuses to look at reality. Rather it's an acknowledgment that, in spite of the loss and difficulties that have been endured, God has provided - grace, direction, material abundance, and moments of piercing joy and beauty.

But perhaps most of all, we need stories. The Christian life, if it is reduced to a set of propositions to which we adhere, will ultimately be boring and unsustainable. That's because real life in Christ is a journey, and along the way there will be tangible forks in the road, and we'll look back and say, "Look what happened because we turned a corner here; took a step of faith there..." "Look at the gift God gave us that night in the old fire tower, looking out over the San Juans and Vancouver Island as the sun set, as the moon rose, as we prayed, those four of us from Austria, Mississippi, Canada, and USA." "Look at that gift of companionship... that gift of rest..."

Do you know how desperately we need to remember? Without the gift of memory, every tomorrow becomes a daunting, anxiety producing uncertainty. With it, there comes the realization that, if God was with us yesterday, He will be still on the morrow!

Of course, it's vital that we remember the right things, which is where forgetting comes into play. But I'll save that for the next entry.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Silence of God and the Uncertainty Principle

Yes... it's there in the Bible. There are countless places where people are looking to God for answers and answers don't arrive. This is seen regularly in the Psalms. It's seen in the some of the mysteries pondered in Ecclesiastes.

I think one of the most disturbing fruits of both modernity and the evangelical movement has been this propensity to reduce that vast, transcendent, mysterious, eternal God to some sort of 'system'. Pray this certain way and you're assured of a certain answer. Do these three things, and your children will grow up to be obedient, well mannered, devoted citizens of God's kingdom. One would think that national security, physical health, sexual and financial satisfaction, and emotional well being are all contingent on simply doing the right things.

The reality is, I fear, more mysterious than that. Hebrews 11 reminds us that the life of faith carries few guarantees when it comes to matters of our temporal well being. Some live triumphantly, some suffer horribly. Some are wealthy, some will be stuck in poverty all their lives. Are you looking for a formula? I think you'd better look somewhere else.

But concluding that it's 'pure mystery' isn't accurate either. You do reap what you sow. Good parenting increases the odds that your children will grow up to be honest, grace filled, productive people. Eating well and exercising reduces your risk of chronic disease. In the same way that I find modernity's love of reductionist formulas and sound bytes to be distasteful, I also cringe at postmodernity's fatalism, and their sense that nothing is knowable, so the best we can do it eat, drink, and be merry, for this is our existential reality.

So perhaps what's needed is a spiritual equivalent of the uncertainty principle of Quantum Physics. While I can't claim to know this kind of science well enough to speak intelligently about it, in layman's terms it seems to be saying that there's a 'wild card' in our structured universe; that although there are laws, there are also unpredictable events. While the parallels aren't exact, it seems to be the same thing that we find to be true in the Christian life. There are laws and precepts. We're not left alone to muddle our way through. Parenting, sexual and financial choices, and so much more, are addressed in the scriptures as Jesus invites people to 'abundant life'. We'd do well to both embrace these precepts, and teach them without apology, fully believing that God's ways lead to life.

At the same time, we need to be aware that it's a mysterious universe, and that God is not a talisman, whose bidding we can command by obeying a few rules. To reduce the complexity of both God and the universe to such simplistic moralizing is childish and dishonest. Things don't always play out according to our expectation. But somehow, mature faith stops looking for formulaic cause and effect, finding instead, that the glory to be found in knowing the living God is the grander prize, as seen here (especially vs. 17-19)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Dealing with Rot

One of my summer projects is related to a log cabin I inhabit periodically for writing, retreat, prayer, and as a base camp for the high country. I was checking out some of the logs this spring as we prepare to clean and stain the cabin, and found a few logs that felt 'squishy' when touched. As I began to press on the outer wood, wood which to the naked eye would appear to be completely healthy, the outer surface of this log crumbled away in my hand, revealing a rotten inner core. The rot will need to be removed completely, and it's possible that the whole log will need to be replaced.

Aside from the obvious bother, the whole incident has proven to be remarkably instructive as I pondered how things rot from the inside out. It's certainly true of logs, as I've now learned firsthand. It's also true of the human body, as most often those diseases which will slay us offer no visible outer signs until it's far too late. In fact, by the time one sees the outer symptoms, it's often too late. That's why check ups of the interior become increasingly important as time goes on.

This same dynamic is true for individual followers of Christ. Jesus' complaint regarding the Pharisees is that they'd adopted a paradigm that placed priority on maintaining proper outward appearances, and that this obsession with the outward had created a neglect of the interior. Of course, one can continue to keep the outside clean long ofter the interior has rotted away. People do this in marriages, staying in the same house, same bed even, 'for the sake of the children', or because the cost of honesty and dealing with painful issues is perhaps viewed as higher than the cost of letting the decay continue. People do this in their faith as well - showing up, using the right words, singing the right songs, yet all the while allowing destructive habits in the interior. Nobody is immune - believe me, I know this first hand.

But the reality is that rot never remains forever buried in the core. Eventually it becomes visible, but by that time far too much damage has been done, and the repairs will, of course, be far more costly than they would have been had they been dealt with early. That's why confession of sins, one to another is so important; it's why the 'soul friend' habit of Celtic Christianity is so helpful for so many; or why we're mentoring kinds of ministries are so important in churches. Those whose rot comes bubbling to the surface have usually been walking alone, or living two lives for an extended period of time, and it's simply unsustainable.

Of course, the same thing that happens to individuals can happen to churches, as Jesus rightly points out in Revelation 2 and #. We can lose our first love while maintaining an outward show of orthodoxy and zeal. So one must continue to pursue the simplicity and freedom from hypocrisy that will enable us to live seamless lives - roughly the same people in public as in private. This doesn't mean that suddenly everyone becomes our confidant, but it means that we're exercising vigilance to deal with the rot so that the inside of the log remains solid, because no matter how healthy a log looks on the outside, the real truth of the matter is this: the health of the core is the health of log!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Good Sabbath...

There's "No Sabbath" - What falls into this category are those weeks and days when all margins have been consumed. It's during these seasons when life feels like a video game; everything is coming at you with increasing speed and you are simply reacting - meeting - check; project deadline - check; social event - check; pay bills online - check; get frustrated and mystified because your insurance carrier didn't receive your last online payment even though the bank withdrew it from your account - check; look at siding on the house and feel guilty - check. And so it goes. The convergence zone of social engagements, work obligations, and domestic life can squeeze the margins dry in life. And Americans, working longer hours and sleeping less than our European counterparts, are paying the price: obesity, hypertension, and various forms of addiction all testify to our malady.

The recovery of Sabbath won't begin until we receive it as both the gift and precept from God that it is. God has wired us, it seems, to walk in a rhythm of work and rest, and we violate this at cost to both our enjoyment of life and our creativity/productivity. When we see that in God's economy for our lives, there's enough time for rest, we'll begin to structure our lives so that rest is part of plan, building margins into our daily and weekly routines. This is an act of faith, perhaps for more challenging than the faith required to budget money! It's a badge of honor in our society to say, "I'm busy", so that we face both social pressure, and our own desires for fulfilled, active lives. But if we don't change things, we'll pay the price.

There's "Bad Sabbath" - Having carved some margins into our lives, the next critical questions becomes, "What do I do with these margins?" The danger is that we'll use our newfound time to either catch up on the projects that have fallen completely off the radar of our lives, or that we'll simply allow ourselves to lapse into a passive state, wasting the day away in front of the television, knowing neither community nor creativity. Another danger is that we'll exhaust ourselves with some genuinely enjoyable activities, but arrive back to Monday having known little of either the rest or cultivation of gratitude that is intended to characterize the Sabbath.

There's "Good Sabbath" - It's interesting to not that in Exodus 16 we're told that the Sabbath is for humanity, but is also called a Sabbath to the Lord. For this reason the Sabbath needs to be about using the space God has provided for restoration, worship, and celebration. One author says it this way:
“Sabbath time is time off the wheel, time when we take our hand from the plow and let God and the earth care for things, while we drink, if only for a few moments, from the fountain of rest and delight. Sabbath is more than the absence of work; it is not just a day off, when we catch up on television or errands. It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true.”

We need to work at this for several reasons. Those who have developed some habits for sabbath days or sabbath moments generally have the staying power to serve, love, create, and bless others over the long haul. And this, after all, is our calling.

If you have a moment... please share your thoughts:
What are the challenges you face in developing sabbath practices?

Are there things you do to help assure that you'll find some Sabbath time?

What does "Good Sabbath" look like in your household?

Monday, June 04, 2007


I've been intrigued for a number of years by the disconnect between a collective love for the Papacy, which has arisen alongside a rather blatant disregard for the teachings of the Catholic church. This shows up clearly in the falling birth rates, and the number of couples living together outside of marriage.

Paul warns about people who are 'always learning' but never realizing personal transformation. I'm concerned with the vast trend towards a spirituality that is nothing more than aesthetic: candles, incense, music, pomp, all present, all inviting encounter with the transcendent. But meanwhile, a consideration of Jesus' teachings indicates that the real proof is in the living. If my money, sexuality, and relationships with my neighbors aren't transformed in some real and vital ways, the whole thing is mirage. Sadly, there are a host of statistical indicators declaring that western civilization is enamored more with the aesthetic of spirituality than it's life changing content.

Meanwhile the church in South America, China, and Asia, is exploding because the teachings of Christ are leading to transformed lives in all these critical and practical areas. Ironically, these places often lack the aesthetic elements that we deem vital to the worship experience - there are no robes, often no buildings, no lighting systems -- none of the things that we so often crave in order to encounter God. Instead, just people praying, singing, listening to teaching, and responding. I hope we can learn from this in the west, and soon.