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...

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Wedding Story...

Last night I went to Seattle Public Theatre's west coast premier of "A Wedding Story". A friend is in the play and, as is usually the case when I attend theater, I walked through the doors with a complete vacuum of expectations. A few short minutes into the play, however, I knew that this was going to be profound and meaningful at many levels, and covering a wide range of topics including:

1. children caring for aging parents
2. the challenges of holding the nuclear family together in a mobile society
3. our longings for sexual pleasure
4. the seasons of marriage
5. our ambivilance about commitment
6. Alzheimers disease and it's devastating effects on everyone touched by it
7. healthy and unhealthy ways of coping with disruption and loss in our lives
8. homosexuality (not a major theme, but certainly a sub-plot)

As my wife and I headed home afterward, I realized that I'd just walked through a slice of the issues we pastors deal with on a weekly basis. We're trying to help people navigate life's tumultuous waters by drawing upon both the revelation and strength of Christ, and even the caring and shepherding is fraught with it's own challenges, as I learn nearly every week.

I'm learning that theater is a powerful medium for exposing people to truth and the poets of our day, the musicians, filmakers, playwrights, should be among the mediums that we who follow Christ should digest. Yes, this play has more than a few points that are wildly divergent from the Christian world view, so know that going in (language and promiscuity, for example). I've written elsewhere about why I think such is setting can be appropriate for Christians, but for now I 'll just note that, when Paul walked across the hillside in Athens, looking at the idols and carefully reading their inscriptions, history tells us that he was gazing at idols which, by today's standards would surely be called pornographic. It also tells as that Paul was provoked by the encounter, even as I was provoked (and deeply touched) last night. The play draws the patron in to the lives of each person involved in this family as they deal with aging, brokenness, longings for intimacy, and how we rise up to the moments of challenge, or don't.

I get angry when people quote verses glibly, in response to another person's suffering or their choices. Christians rage against homosexuality who have never spoken with a gay person. We offer verses about the body wasting away while the spirit is being renewed as a means of comforting those facing terminal illness. Our approach is sterile, clinical, lacking empathy.

The theater is a safe place to learn how to empathize with gay people, with those struggling with sterile marriages, with those whose bodies are in rebellion and slipping away, and those whose cynicism regarding commitment has grown in the real world fires of betrayal and abandonment. If your ethics are pure theory, hammered out in a classroom, or on a mountain with a Bible... you need to start meeting people. But if that's too much, at least go to the theater, and start learning there. Either way, your approach to people will change - your convictions might not change (or they might), but your approach will change. You'll learn to weep with people over their brokenness, over their failure, over their sense of alienation.

"As your own poets have said..." - we'd do well to pay attention to them

Thursday, May 28, 2009

musing about community...

Years ago, a man came to the church where I pastor to teach for a few days.  He mentioned something in passing that has stuck with me for more than a decade.  He said that, every year or so, he and his wife get away to a cabin with several other couples for a few days.  They share good food and drink, relax, and connect with one another in ways that you can only when you're spending extended time away from phones and internet.  

That's not the unusual part though.  What struck me so profoundly was when he shared that these couples lay everything on the table with one another:  goals, financial choices, the state of their marriages, the struggles and joys they're having with their children.  They challenged one another, prayed for one another, expressed their love for another through this investment of listening, laughing, encouraging, truth telling... and then they went home.  

There'd be lots of ways to acheive this same kind of intimacy, so I don't want to get stuck on the form, as if we need a cabin, five days, and good wine to know community.  What I am "stuck on", is the awareness of how rare this is, how difficult it is to find genuine depth of intimacy and community anywhere at all.  

Can the church "create" community?  Increasingly, I'm convinced that the answer is no.  We can teach about, demonstrate to some extent through our own lives, invite people to nurture it in their own lives, practice some measure of hospitality, and provide structure.  But this is nothing more than pointing a hungry man to the refrigerator and saying, "help yourself".   When the day is done, the hungry person still needs to open the door, pull out the ingredients and cook.  

Made for intimacy, myriads find it lacking anywhere: absent from marriage, absent from friendships, there's a loneliness that pervades, and it strikes me that people of faith aren't immune from this struggle.  Why is this?  I think there are several reasons:  

1. Ambivelance:  We like intimacy and we like autonomy.  "Sure, I want intimacy - when it's convenient, and safe, and doesn't infringe on my right to make my own choices without the intrusion of other people's opinions in my life.  I like the "kum-by-ah" kind of campfire moments, the holding hands and hugging.  I like it when my views of reality are reinforced.  But I don't like the challenge, the accountability."  

2. Mobility:  These people I referenced at the beginning get together intentionally, even though they've moved apart from each other.  Unless there's intentionality about sustaining relationships, they won't be sustained.  Of course, this intentionality is, for many of us, problematic, because the little phrase, "not today...I'm too tired, or too busy, or..." becomes a mantra, and the years pass without connecting.  It takes work to stay connected in a mobile society and twitter updates are no substitute for physical proximity.  

3. Our fallen nature:  This isn't a technology problem; this is a human problem.  It goes all the way back to the garden, when Adam and Eve made their little coverings, and hid from God.  We've been running and hiding ever since, but baptizing our running and hiding, too often, in the respectable busyness that defines our times, or in self-righteous indignation when intimacy exposes our own issues.  It's easier to cut and run 

Saturday, May 23, 2009


There's this kind of skiing called "randonee", which means skiing uphill with a free heel and skins on your skis for friction, and then locking your heel down, removing the skins, and skiing back down. I love this stuff, and spent some time this weekend huffing and puffing my way up for a little more than an hour, and then skiing back down in five minutes.

On the way down I met a guy making his way up, and I stopped to check out his equipment and exchange thoughts about bindings, weather, snow conditions, avalanches etc. etc. What a surprise to see, as I drew near, that I'd encountered someone old. No, I mean actually old, which means older than me by nearly three decades, which puts his birth just before the Great Depression. After a few minutes of mountaineering small talk I said, "I've gotta say this: I'm impressed that you're doing this. Do you come up here often?"

"At least once a week" he said. "I'm slower than I used to be, but I still enjoy it." When I asked about "used to be" he said that he'd been coming up into these mountains for dozens of years, hiking into the deep backcountry and skiing out. He's grown older, but he's continued to show the same mountains.... year after year. Of course, he's the healthier for it, because when many of his peers are having a hard time walking to the car, he's still enjoying a health vibrant enough to celebrate creation. This isn't to caste aspersions on those with limitations in old age, because there are too many factors that come into play in order to make a snap judgment. I'm just saying this: there's value in continuing to show up.

After the skiing, I made my way home and showed up to officiate the wedding rehearsel of a very good friend. I've officiated the weddings of all his brothers, and officiating his is significant for me because it means that I've continued to show up for about 14 years now in the same church, the same city. It's funny, because I didn't think I had it in me to keep showing up, week after week, to help teach and shepherd a community. Staying that long means watching people come and go. It means realizing that, by this time, you're leadership has sometimes been a blessing to people, sometimes a discouragement. It means you've forgiven, and been forgiven. It's means that relationships have evolved and mutated...sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

Continuing to show up means that, eventually, you'll be overwhelmingly grateful that you hung in there. Like the view from the top of the mountain, getting to fruitfulness and transformation, both personally, and in marriages, and in churches, requires endurance. On the way to the top yesterday, there were a few times when I said to myself, "who needs this?" I'd stop, drink some water, catch my breath, and then keep going. What motivates me in the mountains is both the beauty at the top and the lessons learned by wanting to quit, but pressing on instead.

The bummer about endurance is that you only realize the blessings of it after you've woven it into the fabric of your soul. But weaving it is tough. It requires a belief that something better is farther down the road, or higher up the mountain. So you keep going. If you turn back prematurely, you won't know, precisely, what you're missing, because you'll never experience it. Thus do the glories of endurance become elusive.

The wedding I'm doing this weekend is significant for many reasons. My friend exemplifies commitment in relationships better than anyone I know (the picture is of him and I climbing in Colorado together - where he joined me for a few days a couple years ago during my teaching time there), and this gives me great confidence regarding the days that are ahead for he and his lovely bride. But this wedding is also a reminder to me of the glories that come from continuing to show up for relationships, for community, for calling. Sometimes it's boring. Sometimes it's frustrating. Sometimes we feel betrayed because any time we show up with others, it's just a matter of time before humanity bumps into humanity and feelings get hurt. But when we keep showing up, there are rich rewards to be enjoyed.

I recognize it's not that simple. Infidelity, domestic violence, heresy, and spiritual abuse are all realities. There's a time to draw a line. But the penelum has swung in direction of cycnicism to such an extent that we're often pre-emptively withdrawing, from marriages, relationships, faith communities, at the first sign of disillusionment. The best views, though, reside at the top... and getting there takes years.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Christians Behaving Badly...

It's all over the news these days. Google "Catholic" and "abuse" and you'll find more than enough reading material to sadden, anger, and sicken you for days. What you won't find is much of an analysis regarding the why of this tragedy. Protestants will glibly declare that the problem is the doctrine of celibacy, conveniently turning a blind eye towards the grave failures in our own camp.

Let's forget about celibacy for a minute and look at this through a different lens. At the risk of oversimplifying things, and realizing that there are complexities in each human heart and situation, I suggest that there's are several deep truths we must consider:

1. form without power is worse than nothing at all. Paul addresses the church in Corinth, warning them that they're headed down a path that will eventually be very ugly if not checked. His warning in I Corinthians 4 is that "God words" are deeply destructive when they're not coupled with God's genuine power of transformation. This is because, as history shows us, the forms of the faith can be perpetuated long after God has left the building (see Ez 10:18). When this happens, you'll have institutional structures used to feed the only appetite left in some individuals, namely our flesh.

2. our culture has a terrible double standard with respect to sexuality. We appropriately decry sexual abuse, and the use of power to dominate others sexually. We also rage against the objectification of women. At the same time, we mock abstinence as some unattainable ideal, treat sexual expression as just another form of recreation, like playing tennis, and use sex and objectified women to sell everything from soda pop to cars. These realities aren't offered as license for religious professionals to be abusive. The call for self-control runs throughout the Bible, and the danger of allowing ourselves to live by our appetites is clear. But perhaps we as a culture shouldn't be surprised that, having declared two messages at the same time, a large percentage of the populace, including people with power, have chosen the low road of allowing our appetites to govern our behavior. It affects everything from shopping, to eating, to sexuality.

There are no doubt other contributing factors. Feel free to share your thoughts. But whatever the reason, the church is in the news once again for all the wrong reasons. Once again, we're not "as bad" as the surrounding culture. We're worse. That's nothing new. We who serve as leaders would do well to call our own lives, and our communities to a sense of dependence on God's power for our transformation, and sense of commitment to God's ethics in every area... including our sexuality.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

the end -

Julian of Norwich and the Apostle Paul collided in my readings this morning, leaving me with a resurgence of hope and confidence that I thought I'd share.

Julian, who lived during the black plague, and wrote "Showings" was the onee who said, "All's well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well." The context wasn't pretty. She lived in a time of death. She herself knew profound suffering. She had many questions regarding the ways of God and the "why" of sin in the world. And yet, this is the statement that seems to frame her life.

When I was reading Ephesians 1 this morning, I was struck by Peterson's interpretation of 1:11, which reads, "He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in Him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth."

We can ponder the end of the story with confidence; a confidence that the whole universe will be shot through with the glory of God. We don't know fully what that means, but we do know that means the end of suffering, the end of death, the end of war, poverty, loss disease, terror, rage, addiction... of course the list could go on all morning. But you get the picture: When the final chapter is written, God will have dealt with all of it. Beauty, purity, unimagined intimacy, LIFE, will remain. Indeed, "all manner of things shall be well." This reality has implications:

1. While living, in the present, with the reality of suffering, we have the possibility of an underlying peace, a peace rooted in our confidence of where history is headed. We have not only the possibility of peace, but the responsibility of allowing the peace of Christ to guard our hearts and minds, so that our decisions and living aren't rooted in fear or cynicism, greed or fanaticism, pride or shame. In short, peace is our privilege, and our responsibility.

2. Since we know the end of the story, we're invited to, as it were, move the story along, by embodying the hope and ethic of the end right now, right here in the midst of the darkness. This is what I wrote of in the previous post. The snapshots of God's reign can, and must begin inwardly, as we allow Christ to free us from phobias and addictions. It can and must spiral out from there into our families and world. This gives us a mission, a purpose.

3. This means Christ followers should whine less than other people. But of course, the testimony of history is that we don't, as a group, whine less than others. God's people complained in the wilderness of the Old Testament, even though God had promised to lead them into a land. Their tendency was to fixate on daily appetites, and whine about little things (menu options, Moses' marriage, the org chart for the journey... all the equivalents of whining today about...??)

I closed my devotional reading, closed Ephesians 1 and wrote this in my prayer journal:

Thank you God for the ever needful reminder that history is heading towards a glorious conclusion. Even as I read it, I realize how often this reality gets buried under a thousand petty concerns and personal issues. As a result, I miss the beauty, miss the snapshots of where you're leading, miss the signs of glory... give me eyes to see. Saturate me with the confidence of faith that lives in the present darkness as a candle, a forerunner of the light. I know this is the path of joy, of being a blessing, of living with confidence and meaning. Good shepherd... lead me there. Thank you in advance, for all that awaits me in following you. In Christ's name... Amen

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Snapshots of the Kingdom...

It's always tremendously encouraging to me when I hear someone's story, or have an encounter, and leave thinking to myself, "that's like the kingdom of God". These moments are what I call snapshots of the kingdom.

There I am in India, in 1993, holding hands with a woman who's asked me to pray for her because she so desperately wants the light of Christ to shine through her life, but is having a difficult time making it financially, as her shop has been blacklisted because of her faith. But there we are, praying together, holding hands, barriers down, looking to Jesus. Click: a snapshot of the kingdom.

There's my friend in Iraq, serving in the military as a nutritionist, and as she's making the rounds among surrendered Iraqi soldiers, one of them sees her cross and makes wild hand gestures which she eventually comes to understand has declaration that they share the same faith in Christ. He asks her to pray for him. They too, enemy combatants according to the kingdoms of this world, join hands and pray. Click: a snapshot of the kingdom.

I've dozens of snapshots, a veritable scrapbook in my heart, but my most recent favorite comes from my daughter's blog, where she writes about the multicultural assembly at the school where she teaches. You can catch the whole story here. The kingdom snapshot showed up in this part:

This is who we are, this Multicultural Assembly, an experiential collage, full of people eager to tell their stories. A few weeks ago, the journalists were considering the ways in which our school, never an athletic standout but with nationally ranked chess and rocket teams, was different from more “typical” high schools.

“You know, we don’t have one of those… you know, hierarchies here. The cheerleaders and the sports people, they’re not the most popular,” someone remarked.
And I love this about my school. The class presidents are in the school plays and the captain of the wrestling team is singing a Vietnamese pop duet on stage at the multicultural assembly.

We cheer loudest for the Special Olympics basketball team and listen to podcasts of our Rocketeers on an alternative talk radio show. Wherever I look, students honor the gifts they see in each other, celebrating successes and uniting in the face of loss.

Click: I see the nations joining hands in Isaiah 2. I see the dividing walls broken down in Ephesians 2. I see that my daughter loves these things, and I know that I'm proud of her because of it, proud that she has eyes to see these precious values, so easily discarded in our world.

The snapshots are everywhere, if we'll but look, really paying attention, with hopeful eyes. There's plenty that's wrong in this world, and in our own hearts too, and plenty even to argue about within our family of faith. But the main thing, after all, is nothing more than offering snapshots of the kingdom to others, and seeing other snapshots where they occur. If we fail here, we fail, no matter how righteous, or self-righteous, our rhetoric on any matter.

Thanks K... for sharing another snapshot. I'm proud of you.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tortured Faith...

The most recent polling data expresses that Evangelical Christians are divided over the issue of torture, but that a) Evangelicals have a higher acceptance rate of torture than other expressions of Christianity, and b) there is a relationship between church attendance and torture: the more often you attend, the more likely you are to approve of torture!

Why is this? I'd suggest that it's because of the reality that church history is filled with justifications for war; it's reality, it's cost, it's justifiability. You can find it easily in CS Lewis. Even among those committed to non-violence, it's not hard to find convictions melting away in the heat and reality of the moment, as seen by Bonhoeffer.

I don't have conclusions as much as observations:

1. Since the primary calling of a Christ follower is to make Jesus visible, it's a slippery slope to ever justify violence. The justification itself presumes a position (usually) of moral high ground, presuming to both know enough and be righteous enough to resort to violence or torture for the greater good, and in God's name. Of course, the other side also claims the same moral high ground quite often... the more so these days as so much of war has religious overtones.
2. God DID say that the purpose of the state is to curb evil, so that it doesn't reign unchecked, coursing through cultures, conquering nations, furthering darkness. Further, God advocates that the state must bear the sword in order to do this. Since I've never met a Christian pacifist who advocates anarchy, I'm assuming that Christian pacifists advocate that all use of violence be outsourced to people without faith? How would we presume that such people will have the wisdom to know when to use their guns? Wouldn't it be better for Christ followers to be in a positions where they have adequate authority to choose, on the basis of their dual citizenship as those belonging to heaven and earth, when to use violence?

3. There are no easy options here, and we who write from the towers of theory must be careful to hold our positions with humility. Bonhoeffer advocated non-violence until Hitler showed up. Even then, while party to an assassination attempt, he declared that there were "no good options". I sometimes think that's the reality of it when living in a fallen world. We're here, in the midst of sin, as citizens of a new world, while still living in an old one. Working it out is tough.

Maybe people's thoughts would help clarify our convictions...??? I welcome your posts.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

un-privatizing the gospel

I know you've heard it a thousand times if you've anywhere near the church over the past 50 years. "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior". The phrase personal savior didn't appear out of thin air. There are countless encounters in the Bible between God and individuals. God meets Jacob, more than once, in order to shape him as God's child. God meets Moses personally. David compares God to a shepherd who cares for each sheep personally, and Jesus takes up that same theme with his story about leaving the 99 sheep to go after the one who didn't show up for church :) It's because of all this that I want to be careful not to denigrate the phrase "personal savior". There's perhaps nothing more comforting in our faith life than the understanding that Jesus walks with us personally, guides us, comforts us, cares for us, heals us, transforms us.

And yet...

This piece of the faith, which plays so well in our individualistic culture, is in reality more of a sub-plot in God's story than a main theme. The sub plot of your attendance at a baseball game might be your discovery of garlic fries. They're good and as you enjoy them you might start a discussion with your friend, right there in the top of the 8th inning, about the cholesterol fighting merits of eating garlic. But your friend, as he distances himself from you in the interest in inhaling fresh air, will probably point out that the bases are loaded and there are two outs, and "we didn't come here to eat garlic fries, we came here to watch the game!"

And so it goes. "We didn't come to Jesus to get a personal savior. We came to Jesus to join a profound story that will end with a reversal of the global curse." Global Curse means, precisely, that the curse is more than just personal. There's a problem in the world and the problem isn't just my thought life, or my finances spinning out of control. The problem isn't just that I need a little help with my marriage, or the kids, or some career guidance. The problem is bigger. How big???

Watch this...

Of course, the great promise of Christianity is this (as one author has put it): "The answer of Christianity (is that) everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost." We're invited to Jesus not because we've personal problems that need fixing (though we do), but because the world is broken. I'm invited to step into the grand project of sowing seeds of hope in the world, offering a foretaste of what will be when Christ reigns fully and finally.

This is why I don't like the phrase "accept Christ as your personal savior". It's not an untrue statement, as much as it's the garlic fries at the baseball game. If all I do is sit by the snack booth and eat fries, I've missed the point. So it is for us, when we gather for worship and sing songs about all Jesus means to, neglecting the grand cosmic transformation that's unfolding, of which we're invited to play a part. If I miss this, I remain entrenched the the kingdom of this world, singing songs about personal salvation and renewal, and comforting myself that I'm going to heaven when I die.

This is why I'm inclined to talk about sin as more than personal. It's not just that I've failed God somehow - it's that I'm part of global system that boasts genocide, sexual trafficking, and AIDS epidemic, gross economic inequalities, health issues, environmental issues, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. There's a better story on the way...and it starts now, when I turn to Christ and become part of the solution.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Constant shelter in a sea of constant change

I find myself thinking a lot about change recently for a number of reasons. For one thing, it's the month of May, which means that for many, big changes are just over the horizon. Lots of people are getting ready to move on, leaving college for the year, or forever, and embarking on the new thing. The economy has many in a state of change as well, ranging from the changing of buying habits to the changing of jobs, perhaps housing situations, even geography. The world is changing. Our relationships are changing. Our neighborhoods are changing. Our bodies are changing. As we grow older, the dynamics of relationships with our spouses, parents, and children all change. Our emotions are changing. This is the way it is.

In this sea of change, God drops the declaration that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We've sometimes extrapolated, from this and a few other verses, that God doesn't change at all - what we call the doctrine of immutability. This doctrine creates questions for some of us, because the reality is that much has changed regarding how humanity relates to God. He's not in the habit of talking to people anymore, as happened with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and so many more. He's approachable in a different way because God doesn't live behind a curtain in the temple anymore. He's directly accessible to all people everywhere, 24/7, come, on the basis of Christ's work on the cross, as you are. He doesn't guide us with a cloud by day and fire by night anymore. He doesn't invoke genocide anymore. He doesn't insist that we avoid wearing wool and linen together anymore.

In a world of constant change, adaptability is important, and I find that what helps me adapt to the many changes that are real in my life (changing body as I age, changing relationships, changing world, changing economics, changing responsibilities) is the notion that there's a place where I can go and find things the same every time. So it's important for me to know the sense in which God doesn't change because I bank on this as a source of security.

How does God not change? The proper answer would be a book, not a blog, but the blog answer is nothing more than a word picture. I'm writing this entry from a tiny cabin in the woods, where I go to write, pray, cook, read. It's made of logs cut down from the property on which it resides and so the walls are solid, substantial, sturdy. Of course, those logs will change. Someday they might burn to the ground, and if that doesn't happen, they'll surely rot away. So this isn't a precise picture of immutability. But it is an approximation.

For the last few years, as I've taken up writing as a hobby (another change, partly because I can't climb as much anymore, another change), I've headed up here every once in a while. Every time, it's been a shelter for me. Sometimes it's been extra cold. Sometimes, in the heat of the summer, pleasantly cool. Little things change - pipes have cracked, requiring care. Right now the heat stove doesn't light. But it has been, every time I've come here, shelter.

Jesus invites us to come to Him as shelter. He tells us that, when we learn to be with Him in intimacy, we will find rest for our souls. He says it as a promise, as if we'll find it every time. He'll be our shelter, from storms, from doubts, from weariness, from failure, from the pain of shattered dreams, from the constant changes that are our lives. He is the door, the shelter, the place of rest. And this doesn't change. In the book of Hebrews we're told to come boldly, confident that acceptance awaits us. Like a sturdy log cabin, He's always available as shelter.

I'll leave the cabin in a few hours - back to the city, back to other responsibilities, back to the sea of change we're all trying to navigate in tact. But in the quiet of this morning, as I've pondered the gift of shelter, I've realized that I've a greater, more lasting, perfectly unchanging shelter, in Christ. Learning to live in the rest of that shelter is, perhaps, the most important thing I will ever learn, or teach.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Concert for Concerted effort... spilling hope

If you're looking for something to do this weekend in Seattle, you might want to check out the Marathon/Republic concert being held this Saturday night. This free concert is sponsored by the Spilling Hope project, which is devoted to raising money for water projects in Uganda.

It's been deeply encouraging to see how, as people's awareness of both the grave need, and the simplicity of the solution, has grown, people have changed their lifestyles as our church has launched this challenge. Further, it's heartening to realize that for very little money, the water situation can change for villages, and this change can lead to addressing infrastructure issues such as health care and education, both of which are needed for any substantive economic development.

Here's a CNN report on the water crisis. "It's not a technological problem, or an economic problem, it's a problem of will and commitment." How great would it be to see the church at the forefront of solving a problem by demonstrating the needed will and commitment to do so. Here's the link to Living Water International's Africa initiatives, and here's a Spilling Hope video with Africa specific issues and dates of events at Bethany Community Church

We have the potential of blessing tens of thousands of people presently without water if we all do our part. So... if some of you have changed your lifestyle, living more simply in order to give to the project, please post a comment here and share what you're doing... it might give others ideas, or help others get involved. Thanks... I'm excited for the concert, and awed to consider what we can do when we all work together toward a common goal.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

what does health look like?

During these past few weeks when I've been reading and teaching through the minor prophets, I've been profoundly struck by the importance of humility, brokenness, and gratitude in our relationship with God. The repeating revelation of this truth has, during this same period, been coupled with a growing question regarding beauty.

As I was riding home on the bus today from the Mariner's baseball game, the diversity of people was perhaps best represented by two single individuals sitting close to each other. One woman had an inflated earth globe, sort of like a beach ball, sitting in her lap. She was reading a book about living in the world after oil runs out. Her short hair, full lashes, careful make up, artsy earrings, and chic yoga pants all contributed to her aura of health and beauty.

Sitting across from her was a large man wearing multiple layers of unwashed clothing, a snow cap covering his head, and unshaven, uneven whiskers covering his face. His eyes, when they were opened, looked tired. He was leaning on a cane, even when sitting down. Getting off the bus at the same stop as yoga girl, his movements were labored, and he walked with a limp. By the time he exited the bus, she was far down the road, the whole world in her hands.

Of course, one can't know very much at all by making these simple assessments, and any conclusions drawn would be unfair to both individuals. Still, I was more aware today of the possibility of beauty in this broken man, and more aware of the possibility of tragedy in this young woman. Again, to speculate such would be wrong. But just easily, one could be way off by attaching stereotypical meanings to these two: She's using her gifts to change the world. He's burnt out on something, and now paying the price. Maybe. But it's just as possible that this man, in his brokenness and poverty is living more heroically than the woman. We just don't know unless we peer behind the curtain and get to know the real person. The snapshot assessments of beauty are wholly inadequate if beauty has to do with the soul.

Perhaps the same thing is true of churches. The snapshots can look good or bad...but mean little. In fact, Jesus more than hints around that our conventional wisdom snapshots would lead us to believe that we're healthy when we're really sick. And too, we'll miss true health when it's staring us in the face because it's criteria is so remarkably different than what we would presume.

Sometimes, as a person, a pastor, and a leader of a church, I feel like Yoga Chick: well educated, healthy, working hard for the best interests of the world, or at least the world I'm carrying in my hands. Other times I feel like the man with the cane: broken, dependent, but persevering, showing up, getting on with it in spite of myself. I'm wondering in all of this; where's the real beauty, and where's the cosmetic show?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Are you listening...

"Let him who has ears, hear." That's how Jesus says it my translation of the Bible. But another author captures the essence of it well in his transliteration called "The Message". After a parable, or a talk, Jesus would summarize by saying this: "Are you listening? Really listening?"

It's a good word, and it makes sense that Jesus was say it, because the testimony of the ages, and of many moments of our own hearts, is that we're not listening. We're too busy talking, or competing, or comparing, or ignoring, to listen.

Our fractured hearts are often on the run, trying hard to find some kind of success that we can convince both ourselves and others that we're worthy of love. And all this trying has the effect of tuning out the Voice that, if we were to hear it, might just assure us that everything's going to be fine, that we're deeply love and utterly accepted regardless of whether we succeed or fail at our grand plans. If this is true, maybe we can relax a little bit, let go of the plans, and content ourselves with doing just exactly what God asks of us - big or small, anonymous or with notoriety.

But we'll never get to that point without the assurance that we're deeply loved just as we are, and we'll never really come to believe that in anything deeper than our minds unless we learn how to listen for God's voice. If you're interested, here are some practical steps:

1. Read the Bible aloud, slowly, a short passage. Read it again. Ask God to speak to you through what you've read. Meditate on it. Enter into it. Listen. Read it again, slower even, if needed. You need to listen. Mark what God has shown you, either in your journal or in a simple prayer of thanks to God.

2. Listen to creation. I was just sitting in the back yard this evening as the sun was disappearing behind our neighbors how to the northwest of us. As I listened, I could easily here a drummer practicing for marching band, a car horn (several), the general noise of Aurora, and some airplanes. Ah, but there's more. Quieter, less intrusive, were the birds. Several species have found their way to our neighborhood over the past years, as our collective efforts to reforest the flats between Phinney Ridge and Greenlake are coming to fruition. I'm not an birder, so can't give you names - but they're sounds are stunning. I noticed them earlier today, as I used part of my day off to ride my bike around Seattle. You could hear plenty of humanity, but every once in a while you could also hear the birds. Mmmm. They remind us of so much that is hopeful, healing, and good.

Listening demands focused attention, and focused attention demands attention be diverted from whatever it was that previously occupied me. There's the crux of the problem. I'm not sure we really believe that turning away from our ambitions, comparisons, and competitions, will yield anything of value. I don't know if we could be much more wrong about anything.

Are we listening? Really listening?