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...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Useless Beauty - An Aid for Ecclesiastes

If you're studying Ecclesiastes, and want to see how the text illustrates an interfaces with contemporary film, I'd recommend the book Useless Beauty. Several of these movies might find their way into this sermon series, but even if you don't have time to watch them, you'll find good synopsis in these chapters, as well as interplay between story and text.

Ecclesiastes, digested properly, leads to a most hopeful life - hopeful because it is rooted in a reality that refuses to lapse into either despondency or naive optimism. As I shared in the sermon, both options are the worst possible. The third way is a way that lives fully, every day, enjoying the gifts, and facing the losses - all the while holding on to the Source of life.

Carpe Diem...


Friday, March 28, 2008

Dostoevsky , grace, and a bad back

I was feeling good on Monday; good enough to run the 3 mile path around the lake by my house; good enough to carry out my routine of stretching, and even hang a little bit from the climbing wall that graces my attic office, as I search for strength to climb this spring. At the food co-op that day, I'd picked up a free copy of "Competitor", a mag for runners, tri-athelets, etc. Though I'm in none of those categories, I thought that having the magazine hanging around on the bathroom floor would provide both inspiration and motivation, as I'd see the cover story about 'trimming seconds off your mile' and 'becoming more competitive', all offered against the backdrop of a beautiful blonde on the run.

I ran again on Wednesday, feeling so good that I neglected my typical cooling down routine that lets my body settle into sedentary mode. "I'm so healthy I don't need it" I said to myself. Then I was off to teach a class, from which I returned to engage in some tense, thoughtless words with my wife. In the midst of that, I felt a sharp pain radiate through my lower back, causing me to cry out in agony, and render me nearly immobile. Certain movements were impossible and others felt like knives stabbing into my hips and pelvis.

Thus it was, this morning, that I hobbled to the bathroom and gingerly maneuvered my broken body into the shower. It was while I was pondering whether my next step would kill me, that I looked on the floor and saw the hard body blond, and all the motivational article titles on the cover of "Competitor". I can't quite describe the feeling - despair? the isolation of seeing and longing for something that is completely out of reach? a cynical sense that 'she too will have her day'? I don't know exactly what I felt, but suffice it to say that the words and images that only days before had been inspiring now seemed to mock me.

It actually reminds me of church, at least for lots of people. They come in, wounded and broken, paralyzed with fear, enduring stabbing pain, wondering if they can take the next step. The worshipers though, and the service itself, becomes a bigger than life version of "Competitor" magazine. They look around and see all these beautiful people - together, hip, strong in their faith, singing about their spiritual version of a six-minute mile. All the while, the ones in pain are wondering if they can even take one more step without being reduced to a whimpering mass of pain on the floor.

I threw "Competitor" out this morning, because it was no longer encouraging. I've known people whom for the same reason, have thrown out Christian books promising success if you'll follow certain steps. You can beat lust, beat financial hardship, lost weight, raise faithful kids, change the world, if only you'll..."

Whatever. I wonder how often the organized church gets shelved for the same reason. So many beautiful people; so many victories; so many speeches on how to be more spiritually competitive. And here's our friend: "My God! My marriage is falling apart because of infidelity." Or, "I've just been downsized, and my mortgage is going up." Or, "I think my daughter's doing drugs." Or... well, you get the picture.

Dostoyevsky can help us here. He casts a vision for a gospel of grace, because this literary genius, after spending a decade in prison came to the conclusion that, "in every man, of course, a demon lies hidden." Yes - every single person. Please don't pick on Dostoevsky's systematic theology, parsing the debate as to whether or not Christians can have demons. If you do you'll miss the point, for the real point is that the girl on the cover is a model, in a moment of victory like moments that we all have, but that she too has an Achilles heel. That spiritual hard body sitting next to you in church has her issues, pride, fear, addiction, self-righteousness, self-hatred. You can't really tell because church people try hard on Sundays to look like we're on the cover of "Competitor". I know people who have a hard time with it all because it seems so, I don't know, airbrushed.

Dostoevsky, and Jesus, would invite us to come with our wounds. "all those who are weary and heavy laden, burnt out on performance based religion, tired of air-brushed Christianity... come. Find rest. And in your rest, find healing."

I hope that the church can, increasingly, learn to relax and let who we really are be on the cover. Our brokenness IS our testimony. I spent the morning reading, "Back Care Basics" after discarding "Competitor". Listen to what it says: "...the good news is that bad backs can be healed, if you'll learn to rest, learn to deal with stress, and learn to move the way you were created to move." Oh that the church could be that encouraging to the walking wounded who come each weeking, hoping for a healing touch.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ecclesiastes: Less Pastel, Refreshingly Real

For some reason I associate spring with pastel colors, and those shades always remind me of those “Precious Moments” Bibles that were popular a couple of decades ago. The characters from those ceramic statues that you could buy in Hallmark stores became the models for cute little pastel paintings of Bible stories. I’ll bet you can guess which stories – Noah and the cute animals boarding the ark, Moses as he’s called by God through a burning bush, David strumming on his harp as cute little sheep sleep beside him under a star filled sky.

The stories that got the pictures were, of course, also the front page material of Sunday School curriculum as well during my growing up years. I heard about the ark, but not about Noah’s drunken stupor afterward; learned about Moses getting the commandments, but not so much about his dangerous temper which eventually cost him his ticket into the promised land; learned about David the harpist, and David the murderer of the mean giant, but heard nothing about David the murderer of his illicit lover’s husband, a lover seduced as much by his abuse of power as anything else.

The problem with focusing exclusively on pastel moments is that we come to believe that we live in a pastel world, a world where God’s children are always floating just slightly above the earth in a state of blissful innocence and simplicity, this elevation being their reward for loving Jesus. Some of us grew up with pastel’s everywhere, sheltered as we were from all forms of the real world, but most of us were introduced to some other colors early in the story. When I was in high school a good friend, a Christian who was himself as pastel as they come, was killed because a drunk driver ran a red light and slammed into his car. All the mauve, magenta, and pale yellow in the world couldn’t immune him from the effects of someone who drank too much and drove too fast.

Event by event, other colors spill onto the canvas of our lives so that instead of looking like a “precious moments” picture out of our Bibles, our lives end up looking like a cubist rendition of what it means to know both beauty and suffering.

I love Ecclesiastes because the author shatters our pastel illusions, forcing us to look at the world in all its real colors, convinced as he is that the reality of the red pill of truth will be a far more ennobling diet than all the pastel pills of illusion in the world. This spring we’ll be studying Ecclesiastes on Sundays, because real hope is rooted in the kinds of colors that exist on the pallet of reality, untainted by the pastel naïveté dreamers. And it’s the real colors, the real truth, that will set us free to live fully, serving, celebrating, loving, and mourning in Jesus’ name. I hope you’ll join us for this new series in Ecclesiastes called: “Reality Bytes: Postcards from the edge of meaning.”

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Great Speech

Barack Obama made a great speech yesterday, perhaps the most powerful speech on the issues of racism and economic divides offered in the past 40 years... you can find the whole speech here, but I offer a portion....

But I have asserted a firm conviction — a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people — that, working together, we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances — for better health care and better schools and better jobs — to the larger aspirations of all Americans: the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who has been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for our own lives — by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination — and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past — are real and must be addressed, not just with words, but with deeds, by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more and nothing less than what all the world's great religions demand — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle — as we did in the O.J. trial — or in the wake of tragedy — as we did in the aftermath of Katrina — or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time, we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time, we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the emergency room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care, who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time, we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time, we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time, we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together and fight together and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged. And we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them and their families, and giving them the benefits that they have earned.

I've been reading some Christian authors questioning Obama's faith because he doesn't believe in inerrancy. Talk about an exercise in missing the point. Parsing the nature of Scriptural authority is an important issue, but when running for public office, I'd argue that the more important issue is the extent to which the candidate articulates a vision that embodies the ethic of Christ and his reign, no matter what language he/she uses to articulate their view of scriptural authority. Of course, no candidate expresses that ethic perfectly - which is why we don't all agree. But defining that ethic, wrestling through what that ethic means in American democracy, in a capitalist society, these are the real issues. Inerrancy? See me on Sunday and we'll talk about it... but please don't vote on that basis.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Weirdness of Holy Week is the Great LI-AMB

Holy Week. If you're a pastor, your congregants will want to make certain that they're given the chance to sing the right songs on Good Friday and Easter. We'll go to great trouble to make certain that the cross is properly draped in some colored cloth. We'll buy lilies and hams. There'll be eggs and talk of eternal life in Christ, a bizarre mixture of truth and fertility rites. But here's the deal: all of this is meaningless if it displaces the mysterious power and calling of the LI-AMB!

This week, if it is to meaningful at all, is when we recall the betrayal, arrest, trial, conviction, torture, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The thing about this that's so weird is the juxtaposition of Jesus as both a lion and a lamb.

The lion bit comes from the prophecy where Judah's offspring is promised the throne, and words are spoken about the Lion of Judah on the throne. That Judah, the one who slept with and impregnated his daughter-in-law because he mistakenly thought she was a prostitute, is the son of Jacob chosen to carry the crown is a strange testimony to grace and mercy. But chosen he is, and centuries later, this line will be the one through which a child will be born named Jesus. This one, 33 years later, will be crucified with the sign, "King of the Jews" above his head. Whether intended as a mocking statement or not, it's true - this one who hung on a cross was the king.

Of course the mystery is that kings don't hang on crosses, unless they're defeated by a more powerful force. Kings put other people on crosses. This, of course, is why that fateful night would have been so discouraging for his followers. "If He's our deliverer, what's he doing up there?" Or this, "If He's our deliverer, we're screwed" which is what Peter must have said, whether in so many words or not, when he distanced himself from even knowing the man, and then called it quits by returning to fishing. You and I would have done the same thing no doubt, because up until Jesus, winners won by winning.

The hint though, that Jesus would be different, would be seen retrospectively, when the disciples met with the resurrected One, and poured back over all the things He'd taught them. Remember when He first appeared on the scene: "behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." This is a ridiculous statement because in the Old Testament lamb's blood could cover sin (that's the meaning of the word atonement), but could never really take it away. And now, here's John the Baptist calling this Jesus, not a king, but a lamb!

Kings and sheep, you see, are supposed to be two distinctly different categories. Kings are powerful, lambs are weak. Kings crush rebellion, lambs are easy prey for enemies. Can you picture a lamb sitting on a throne with a scepter, ruling over the whole world? It's ridiculous actually, so outlandish that, in my opinion there's no way it could be fiction. It's too unbelievable. Who would buy into the notion that the ruler of the universe, the King of Kings, would end his human life by willingly emptying himself of his strength and authority, meekly becoming a lamb led to the slaughter, his face becoming pummeled and bloodied to the point where He would no longer be recognizable? Nobody does this. Nobody thinks this way. It's either mighty stupid, or mighty true.

I'll go with the latter, but if I do so, then I'm forced to recognize that the ways of God haven't changed one bit since then. His followers will also change the world, not by force but by laying down their lives, resisting the powers of evil through acts of service, acts which contradict the prevailing winds of greed and Darwinian triumphalism. This is Mother Teresa, serving the poorest of the poor. It's Desmund Tutu, bringing down apartheid without firing a shot. It's the believers of eastern Europe doing the same thing, dismantling the iron curtain through acts of love and service, testifying to truth in the midst of world saturated with lies.

Meanwhile, in the west, the church has spent nearly thirty years trying to be a king by exercising power instead of by being a lamb. We'll bomb the terrorists everywhere we think they might live, even if it means killing 100,000 civilians in the process. We'll persecute the dignity of gays and lesbians by denying them access to health coverage for their partners, all 'for their own good' of course. We'll let the homeless fend for themselves. We'll rule so that everyone will know - it's God's way or there's hell to pay.

Please stop. The lamb part of Jesus' character is missing entirely. Thank God we're getting tired of this route. Maybe, without sacrificing any of our commitments to holiness, we'll learn to once again love our neighbor, serve the Samaritan, wash the feet of the homeless and those who sexual ethic doesn't fit into our neat categories, and with humility share in the suffering of this broken world, blessing and serving anyone we can in Jesus name. This is Mother Teresa, and Desmund Tutu, and Martin Luther King Jr., and Dorothy Day. Li-ambs, breaking the powers of this world through their own brokenness and service.

For our lives to be Holy we need to embody both the lion and the lamb. Lion? Yes, I see it. I get it. But Jesus rebuked the value of lion power as a stand alone entity when he told Peter to put away his sword, and then fixed the ear that Peter's sword had broken. Where's the lamb power today? I'll go out on a limb and say that it's not making headlines, but it's there. And wherever it is... that's where the meaning of Holy Week is really being seen and felt. Frankly, I've had enough of ham and eggs, eaten behind walls of wealth while so much of the world remains hungry and lonely. Let's get on with it, living as Li-ambs. That's where the reality of Christ will be seen.

Friday, March 14, 2008

sexual ethics discussions...

I'll be leading a teaching tomorrow at our church on sexual ethics. The preparation for this topic has led me to the conclusion that this area of ethics is uniquely weighed down with difficulties. Some of those are:

1. that we don't agree -- yes, we're all pretty much in agreement that adultery is wrong, because this is a lie, a violation of a promise. Many of us may even agree that sexual expressions must remain within the boundaries of marriage - period. But there's so much then this wrapped into the discussion. What about masturbation, inside and outside of marraige? What about oral sex? What about... ??? You can fill in the blank with lots of practices that don't violate the issue of adultery or confining sex to within marriage, and for many of these questions, there's no clear, universal, "Christian" understanding. So the question of how one finds 'the line', outside of which sexual expression is destructive rather than blessing, is part of the challenge. The Word, of course, is the source for this line, but it's remarkably silent on lots of these specifics, so we need to resort to principles, and that's where things get tricky.

2. that discussing this is taboo -- we don't discuss the areas of sexual ethics where we don't agree, and even in the ones where we do agree, we don't discuss them the way we discuss other areas of life. You can share your struggles with your small group, maybe letting them know that you struggle with a temper, that you yelled at your wife, or child the other day. You can tell them you're a workaholic. You can tell them you're anxious about something, or afraid. But you can't tell them about your sexual struggles because that kind of a confession puts you in a different class, at the back of the ecclesiastical bus with all the other 'real sinners' while the people who's robes are less stained continue to sit up front, singing "Amazing Grace". That there's this single area where confession is functionally forbidden across large swaths of the Christian landscape is a big problem, and probably one of the reasons that pastor's moral findings are 'discovered'. In a better world, they'd have been 'confessed' in the safety of friends because in confession there is healing.

3. that there's an avalanche of alternatives - perhaps in no other area of ethics is there as much overtly anti-Christian ethic celebrated and exalted (and I'm not talking about homosexuality). From Cosmopolitan to Maxim, from Redbook to Men's Health, from Soap Operas to Porn, our world is awash with the invitation to reduce sexuality to nothing more than a physical act leading to mutual or personal gratification. Couple this invitation with the very real physical desires that we carry within us as sexual beings and, short of intentionality, commitment, community, spiritual formation, and much grace, we'll easily choose the broader, lower road.

I'm looking forward to this ethics workshop (for men only...this time), and hope that we have a good discussion. I'll report back afterwards, but if anyone has questions they'd like answered at such a seminar, maybe post them here as a comment. Thanks.


Monday, March 10, 2008

inhaling the scent of hope

Life can be chaotic at times: bills, traffic, shopping, work, family, romance, are ingredients that, when mixed together excessively, create a ferment that builds pressure into the walls of our souls, as well as the walls of our homes.

It was against such a backdrop of chaos that I found myself with a rare Wednesday off last week, and rarer still for early March in Seattle, the weather was clear - crisp, as is appropriate for early March, but mercifully cloudless. My skis were in the car by 8AM and by 9:30 I was carving some Sabbath healing into my soul, negotiating the friendly terrain, which was still locked in the dead of winter, with temperatures well below freezing.

As the morning wore on, I was making my way down a wide open slope, pointing my skis straight down and reveling in the wind. I slowed and dropped into the woods in search of some powder. As I made my way slowly into the trees I was suddenly assaulted with an aroma from another time and place. I stopped, inhaling deeper, the scent of fir sap, bleeding from the trees. Right there, in the midst of all the snow and ice, the reminder of spring! I stopped skiing to simply inhale two or three breaths, aromatherapy in the best sense of the word - the reminder of warmer days that once were, and that once shall be again.

In the midst of winter, the merest hints of spring fill the soul with hope. And this truth, I believe, is significant when we consider our calling as Christ followers. Paul, in describing his life and ministry, calls himself the 'fragrance of Christ'. We're locked, it seems, in the dead of winter as a species. There's human trafficking, and croplands disappearing, and the threat of terror, not to mention our more personal lows, seen in our addictions, broken relationships, anxieties, health problems, and dark cold places that are found in each human heart. Yes, it's winter indeed.

How do we deal with the reality of winter? Well, in our culture, it appears that we've taken up skiing with a vengeance. That's the solution - keep moving and you'll keep warm. As an added bonus you'll be too busy and too tired to ponder the things that matter because if you ponder them too deeply, you'll either get depressed or get religion, and neither option is very appealing for lots of people. Thus it is that our world is filled with countless diversions and obligations so that time for reflection, let alone silence, is left wanting. We're busy, sure enough. But it's precisely because we're busy that we don't notice the conspicuous absence of meaning, of scent.

Ah, but then, you can pause for just a moment, and it's there. The hint of warmth, hint of a thaw. That's what the church is supposed to be isn't it - when we're making beautiful art, or loving orphans, or working on the front lines to get food and water to places lacking them, or opening our homes and throwing parties. I love that, because the scent is both a reminder and foretelling. It's reminder because 'eternity is in our hearts' as the preacher in Ecclesiastes explained. Our longings for justice, beauty, spirituality, and meaning are deeply embedded in our souls. Thus it is that when we see hints of these things, something in us awakens, a primal affirmation that this is the way it ought to be. It's a foretelling because moments like these are making the reality of Christ's reign visible, albeit in a small way now, offering hope for a better, warmer, world.

Of course, if we're to bear the aroma, we'll need to rooted in the soil that is Christ's life. When that's the case, people will smell the warmth - if you're too addicted to skiing, the smell might be depressing. But there are some for whom the hint of spring will awaken frozen souls from hibernation, opening the way for Christ.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

It's in Our Nature.... sort of

Have you listened to Jose Gonzales' great little song, "It's in our nature"? You can listen to little of it here. The whole of the lyrics are really simple: A bent towards peace and justice is in us, inside our hearts, in our nature.

Therefore, Gonzalez seems to posit, put down your sword, open up your heart, and let down your guard. This marvelous music is packed with anthropological and theological questions. Here are a few of them, along with my own understanding of answers offered us in the Scriptures.

Is it in our nature? Yes. God has placed eternity in the hearts of all people, so that there's something in us that longs for peace, longs for justice, longs of safety and intimacy. This is why we're outraged at so much that we see in the world, or should be. 30,000 people a day are dying of diseases that are easily treatable. It's in our nature to be outraged because we believe the world ought to be different than this, ought to be a place where sick people are able to get care, and hungry people are able to get food, and all of us can sleep soundly at night without worrying about getting whacked by a gun, or a terrorist. It is in our nature to care for these things.

Then what's the problem? If it's in our nature to be just and loving, why is is that all of us have blood on our hands? We Americans, for example, consume a disproportionate amount of the world's resources, and mosts of us surfing the web are guilty. Even if it's in my nature to be a loving and caring person, my capacity to do that perfectly, consistently, and in a manner that contributes to the wholeness of people across the planet is broken. And often, we fail not just in being globally just and loving, but in being just and loving at all, even with the people who we love the most. Why is this the case?

Because, the flesh is in our nature too! We have within us a lust for feeding our own appetites, even at the cost of other people's well being. Paul calls this 'the flesh' (if you have a New American Standard Bible), and it's the term he uses to describe that part of us that is, by nature, fallen, in rebellion to all that is good and right. Paul says that this nature isn't just in members of terrorist clubs, but in all of us, even including people who know and love Jesus. We'll do battle with this lust for rebellion all our days, though for many of us the rebellion might take socially acceptable forms (like gossip, working too hard, hiding from the poor, and wasting our resources excessively on ourselves) instead of socially reprehensible forms (like killing people with guns). But it's all flesh, all sin, and all at the heart of the problem. Sin? It's in our nature.

So both principles are in our nature, and it's naive to think that we have one without the other. That was the beauty of the movie Crash. It showed us both sides of the coin in all the players, so that just when you think you've someone categorized, you come to see that you're wrong - the category is defied.

All this points, not to despair, but to Christ. Because Paul wrestles with the reality of these two natures in Romans seven, aware as he is that he has a desire for living well, but that actually living well eludes him. When he cries out 'wretched man that I am, who will deliver me...?" he's turned a corner. Why? Because he's no longer looking for something in his nature to be his source of transformation. He's looking to Another, Christ, to enable him to live the life that he knows and desires to live, but is unable to live without the strength of this Other.

So yes, it's in our nature - to love and lust - to give and greed (do you like greed as a verb? I do. It's in my nature to break rules). But we need something outside our nature to enable us to overcome that which is destructive in our nature. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Base Camp...

On any climbing trip, one runs the risk that, for all the packing, training, hauling of loads, and preparation of logistical details, you and your friends could end up doing nothing more than playing poker in the tent, or telling stupid jokes, or singing songs from old sitcoms. If that happens, it's usually because of the weather. Some clouds have dropped in for a visit, reducing visibility so that you can't see the person in front of you on the rope. When that happens, your stuck in base camp.

Sure, cards, jokes, and sitcom songs are fun. But all that other stuff, those long bike rides, weight lifting, running, and cutting back on coffee (and if you want to know about sacrifice, let me tell you about cutting back on coffee) - it all becomes a waste of time. I mean, you can play poker at home.

No, you came here for the summit. You stopped below it and established a place to care for blisters, stretch out your back, brew some tea, eat some freeze dried somethings, sleep a bit, and then press on. But the point is pressing on, not playing poker. The point is summiting, not singing. The weather might have held you back, but your heart was all about getting out.

This 'purpose of the base camp' discussion has been in mind this week because the church where I'm the pastor is now four weeks into our life together in a new worship facility. The end result of much prayer, clear guidance from God, miraculous provision, amazing financial generosity, and talented craftsmen, the space really is a jewel. But you'll need to see that for yourself sometime, if you're ever in Seattle.

But it's just a base camp. The point of the space is to gather so that we can collectively hear from the Master; He has words of hope, healing, challenge. He reminds us of His character through prayer, fellowship, worship. It's a place of fortification, rest, sanctuary, healing, and decision making. All of that, though, is with the intention of getting out, conquering the greed, fear, lust, and complacency that so easily hinder our vision.

Like mountaineering, there are habits that we're invited to nurture as the means for fortifying our lives, gaining strength for the journey. These habits, like Bible reading, prayer, silence, solitude, and celebration, exist precisely so that we can ascend. But too often, we remain in base camp. Too often the habits becomes ends in themselves. Too often, we're doing the right things, but never really achieving the objective. Because you see, the objective isn't to sit in base camp singing songs and telling stories. The objective is to live differently in the real world.

Isaiah 58 captures this masterfully, especially in Peterson's interpretation in the Message:

1-3 "Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what's wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They're busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they're a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, 'What's the right thing to do?'
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
'Why do we fast and you don't look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don't even notice?'

3-5"Well, here's why:

"The bottom line on your 'fast days' is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won't get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?

6-9"This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.'

A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places
9-12"If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people's sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.

And that, of course, is the point. For our church this means, unequivocally, that our next steps must move us out of the tent and into the world as a voice for justice, mercy, and generosity. The base camp with it's hot chocolate, warm down, and glowing lamps, can lull you to sleep. Now more than ever, our community will need to wake up to our calling and focus our energies on blessing our world. To quote from a leaflet written by the White Rose during WWII, "Rip off the cloak of indefference you have placed on your hearts. Decide - before its too late!" Yes we must decide - how we will serve the schools, the sick, the aged, the marginalized, the addicted, the homeless. Failing here will lead us to the paralysis and weakness that comes from prolonged base camps stays, and our only boast when the day is done will be that we were warm and dry; hardly a fitting boast for people prepared for greatness.