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Advent, Brokenhearted Theology, Meaning, Ramblings, Spirit, Worship

Growing Impatience in a Very Odd Advent

Advent has always been a season of reflection for me (which usually results in more writing, as evidenced by all these past Advent thoughts).

This has been an odd Advent. Instead of writing and reflecting on waiting, I’m just waiting.

There are always things I’m waiting for. Longings, anticipations, expectations. Usually, though, these things are a bit vague and conceptual – I’m waiting for a deeper sense of internal rhythm, I’m waiting for resolution of a large story in progress, I’m waiting for peace on earth.

This year we’re waiting for a baby to be born. Jesus, yes, but also our own. We’re within spitting distance of the due date of our second child, but I think both Krissy and I anticipated having this child born already.

But the baby is staying put. So we’re waiting, waiting, and still waiting.

And the impatience is growing.

Impatience because this thing we expected to have happened already hasn’t happened.
Impatience because our anticipated timeline is not our actual timeline.
Impatience because life goes on even as we wait.
Impatience because we are not in control and there is so very little we can do.

As I survey the state of my soul, I’ve sensed a subtle (and sometimes less subtle) snippiness, dissatisfaction, and dis-ease, a proclivity towards distraction more than life-giving rhythm. In a world of on-demand, express-shipping, fast-food, I am recognizing in myself an atrophied patience.

This Advent at Open Door, we’ve been making our way through a journey Toward the Approaching Light. I’ve loved that imagery because it speaks of multi-faceted movement. It is not simply that we are journeying toward Christmas one week at a time, but that the Light itself is approaching.

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And that’s been a helpful reminder for me in this season of impatient waiting.

Even in the midst of a world in turmoil, the Light itself is approaching.
Even in the midst of unfulfilled longing, the Light itself is approaching.
Even in the midst of unexpected frustration, the Light itself is approaching.
Even in the midst of distraction and delay, the Light itself is approaching.
Even in the midst of growing impatience, the Light itself is approaching.

Even in the midst of yet another Advent season where we join the chorus of two thousand years of waiting, the Light itself is approaching.

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Brokenhearted Theology, Contemp Culture, Equipping, Eucharist, Global, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Peacemaking, Ramblings

Guide Our Feet on the Path of Peace

This past Sunday’s lectionary reading from Luke had us hear the words of Zechariah, a man whom I imagine was familiar with personal longing and societal brokenness.

As a priest of an exiled people, I imagine he was weary and tired of infusing hope in desperate and exhausting circumstances.

I imagine he regularly faced those who invoked fear and violence and rallied for exclusion of the other and the call to take up arms as the biblical and Godly way of faithfulness.

I imagine he himself wavered between succumbing to fear and holding on to hope.

And I imagine he experienced both trembling and relief as “he was filled with a fresh wind from God” (Luke 1:67) and proclaimed with prophetic confidence that God’s good news would “guide our feet on the path of peace” (Luke 1:79).

The path of peace, not the path of war.
The path of peace, not the path of self-defense.
The path of peace, not the path of retaliation.
The path of peace, not the path of exclusion.
The path of peace, not the path of violence.
The path of peace, not the path of fear.

Not the path of Christian university presidents.
Not the path of politicians.

The path of peace
following the Prince of Peace
who would welcome the stranger as family
before casting them away and closing the door,
who would lay down his life
before ending the life of another.

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Reading Reflections

Some Reading Reflections (The Message 100, The Heaven Promise)

I occasionally pick up a few books here or there in exchange for giving some public comment or review on them

The Message 100: The Story of God in Sequence (Eugene Peterson)unnamed

The Message 100 separates Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible into 100 sections for deeper/longer reading arranged chronologically. Each section has an introduction by Peterson and the book’s layout makes it easy to see what section you’re reading.

I’m always intrigued at different ways and attempts to make reading the Bible (a nearly 2,000 page, 66-volume collection of ancient translated writings) accessible. I’ve written previously that I really like The Message (more on that here) and, while arranged slightly differently, The Message 100 contains Peterson’s entire paraphrase, which is nice. I like the Van Gogh-esque cover and clean layout.

But the 100-section separation and invitation to read these 100 sections slowly and deeply? I’m not sure it works. The Bible is already broken up into major sections (testaments, collections of books, individual books, etc.) and I’m not sure that further sub-dividing and organizing is the best way to make deeper reading accessible.

In short: It’s not a bad idea but my hunch is that most people who buy The Message 100 will end up using it like any other copy of The Message rather than engaging the partitioned reading sequence.

heavenpromiseThe Heaven Promise (Scot McKnight)

One of several books Scot McKnight has written lately (he’s really churning them out!), The Heaven Promise surveys how the Bible talks about heaven and the afterlife. Throughout, the book addresses questions, confusion, and a variety of biblical images to speak of the life to come, continually circling back to the central understanding of heaven as “God’s promise to us” (17). Most helpful to me was the way McKnight illuminates heaven through the centrality of Jesus, God’s kingdom and resurrection.

While evangelicals have often, in my experience, been too quick to jump to glimpses of heaven at the expense of our present experience on earth, The Heaven Promise situates the life to come in the context of the life we live now, while not neglecting the life to come as a source of hope and assurance. In short: a helpful survey and overview.

I received copies of these books from the publisher with a request for some honest, review-like thoughts posted here for you to read and mull over.

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Brokenhearted Theology, Equipping, Eucharist, Food, Future, Global, Meaning, Peacemaking, Ramblings

Trampolines and Potlucks: Neighbor Love as the Necessary Way Forward

This will likely strike you as naive, idealistic, narrow or too simplistic. It’s probably some combination of all of those and a few more platitudes that you can think up. 

But since we live in a world where the best, brightest, most logical and most researched ideas do not always work (or, worse, cannot be agreed upon), maybe there’s space for a hunch that a simple and local hypothesis might play a role in navigating our world out of crisis and chaos.

Neighbor Love as a Necessary Way Forward

In light of the Syrian refugee crisis and in light of terrorist attacks in Paris (and elsewhere, but the West is primarily concerned about the West, so mainly Paris), countries, states, cities, churches and hundreds of other defined- and boundaried-groups are asking whether or not to receive the other — those who are not, in one or many ways, anything like “us.”

Many are choosing to say “no, no way, not here, not you,” and, in doing so, raise an ideological wall that may be just as effective as (if not more than) a physical wall in keeping the other out.

Part of my vocation is to help people understand, embrace and practice the Way of Jesus not for the sake of a particular, bounded set of people but for the sake of the world. This vocational calling arises out of a strong conviction that the Way of Jesus is an invitation into a better life not just “for us and also for them” but “for us because of and through and for the sake of and so that we might no longer see them as them.”

So when Jesus invites us to love our neighbor, I hear an invitation into a subversive, world-changing posture that is radically local and yet, when practiced locally, holds an uncontainable potential to spill out and ripple good throughout the world.

In a world where rejection of neighbor is the loudest story being told, neighbor love is a necessary way forward.

Safety Nets and Trampolines

A few of my friends have written and organized around the concept of neighborhood as a fabric of care. At the most basic level, this fabric of care acts as a safety net – when you need something, another can provide it; when another needs something, you may be able to provide it. Entering into the story of a neighborhood as a loving neighbor can provide support in the face of very real needs.

But beyond this safety net, a neighborhood fabric of care can also act as a trampoline, of sorts. When we extend and receive love from our neighbors, our life will not only be more ‘secure’ as we resource each other’s needs but more space is created to love, welcome, rest, and radically extend care to others.

There’s not just a safety net to rely on, there’s a trampoline to play on.

Set-Course Meals and Potlucks

Another helpful image is the contrast between a potluck and a set-course meal.

At a fine meal with careful preparation and specific invitation, it’s not easy to add space for an unexpected guest. The tone of conversation, the timing of the courses and the size of portion is precisely prepared to last for a planned amount of time for the planned list of guests.

Scarcity dictates the nature of this meal – from the place settings to the portions, there is just enough for those at the table. Scarcity, here, serves a purpose, providing a sense of safety, security, and intimacy, but the nature of this meal is restricted to those with a place at the table.

moroccan-feast-1328138At a potluck, if someone shows up unexpectedly, you invite them in. Whether or not they brought anything tangible with them, their presence is welcomed. Food, space, timing and provision are both flexible and abundant. The warmth of the shared meal is extended to all who show up. At the end of the night, which may have gone on several hours longer than planned, there is an abundance of leftovers and laughter.

There is room in our world for both of these meals, yet it seems when it comes to neighbor love we often default to the scarcity of a set-course meal rather than the abundance of a potluck.

What if…?

What if we began to live out of abundance in our neighborhoods and with our neighbors?

What if we lived into and contributed to our neighborhood’s fabric of care not just as a safety net but as a trampoline that, with laughter and excitement, we easily and often invite others onto?

What if, literally and figuratively, we began to host potlucks more often than set-course meals?

Might we…?

Might we begin to see those outside the borders of our family, neighborhood, city, religious enclave, or nation-state as those to invite rather than those to exclude?

Might we find ourselves as the recipients of unlikely invitations at unlikely tables?

Might we begin to blur the lines between ‘our space’ and ‘their space,’ them and us?

Might we begin to see a way forward globally as we act locally?

What do you think?

 

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Brokenhearted Theology, Meaning

Noise as Our Way of Being; Busyness as Our Way of Life


Two interesting things:

First, 85 year ago, John Maynard Keynes predicted that within a century we in the developed world would only need to work 15 hours per week.

Second, I’ve never lived in a world where there wasn’t a Sony Walkman; I’ve always had the technology to overpower the ambient noise of the world with a soundtrack of my choosing.

Kalle Lasn writes that:

from the dull roar of rush-hour traffic to the drone of your fridge and the buzz of your monitor, noise is continuously seeping into our brains. And the volume is constantly being cranked up. Two, perhaps three generations have already become stimulation-addicted. Can’t work without background music. Can’t jog without earphones. Can’t sleep without an iPhone tucked under the pillow. The essence of our postmodern age may be found in this kind of incessant brain buzz. Trying to make sense of the world above the din is like living next to a freeway – you get used to it, but at a severely diminished level of mindfulness and well-being.

Quiet feels foreign now.

Busyness and noise.

I’ve found myself making all kinds of excuses to justify busyness.

It’s just a season.
But this is really important.
I don’t know what else to do.

But I wonder if we’ve actually made busyness something not just to put up with, but something desirable. When we greet someone and they ask us how we’re doing, almost without thinking about it, we respond “oh, you know, I’ve been really busy.”

Because if you are to be important, valuable, intriguing, worthwhile, then you better be busy; your calendar better be full.

But I’m growing less content with this pervasive rhythm of noise and routine of busyness in my own life and as I look out at the surrounding world.

So I’m starting to name these rhythms and routines that bring busyness and noise because, for me, if they’re not named, they’re not noticed:

  • Filling silence with the mostly white noise of podcasts, talk radio, and music.
  • Filling time with mindless and mostly meaningless refreshing of social media.
  • Filling my space with technological distractions. Does my phone always have to be in my pocket? Does it have to be next to me as I sleep?

Instead, I want to chase after rhythms and routines that create space for listening, quietness, solitude, and mindfulness.

  • Going on walks without my phone.
  • Limiting time on social media.
  • Spending more time in life-giving rhythms that I too often “don’t have time for” (including, for me, writing, listening to a whole album with headphones, gardening, good conversations)
  • Saying no or not right now to schedule-overcrowding opportunities (even good opportunities)

So that’s something I’m thinking about.

For those interested, these thoughts are rooted in the current learning journey at Open Door; last week, I taught on the Jesus who Starts with Silence and the audio is available here

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Meaning, Narrative, Ramblings

The Slow Suicide of Donald Draper

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From the first season, the opening credits of Mad Men told us how this story would end.

Our eyes are drawn to a silhouette slowly falling to his death. Even with the dishevelment of gravity, the silhouette is incredibly well-kept, almost calm. Slim-fitting suit, neat tie, a graceful free-fall past the icons and idols of advertisement and consumption.

So calm, so graceful that you almost forget the silhouette is falling.

Almost.

Mad-men-title-cardThe credits close with the same figure, cigarette lazily at his side, no longer falling, simply an observer. Waiting for the inevitable to occur. An object in motion stays in motion, a body falling continues to fall until it hits rock bottom.

Much has been written (eloquently, thoughtfully, truthfully, beautifully) about the closing of Mad Men’s story. I love a story that leaves room for our own. The best stories are so intricate and true that we find ourselves inside of them, leaving us wondering how much, if any, distance there is between fact and fiction. I love the thick, stubborn nature of redemption – that even in the most tragic characters, even in the most tragic circumstances, there lies the potential to find hope. So I’m grateful for those who saw redemption in Mad Men.

But the silhouette is falling and, in Mad Men’s closing scene, Donald Draper hits bottom.

The bottom isn’t the concrete of a New York sidewalk or the barrel of a smoking gun or the bottom of an oft-filled tumbler.

That’s what I expected. That would have been too obvious.

The bottom is a return to the thin illusion of happiness.

The bottom is a return to the suicide-in-progress that has slowly unfolded since the opening credits of Episode 1.

The writers saved us the dignity of watching the gruesome end.
Our cigarettes can still hang lazily from our fingers as we watch the fall with a curious ambivalence.
We can hum a catchy jingle while waiting for the train.

But don’t we all know how this story ends?

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Brokenhearted Theology, Crazy Bible, Global, Homiletics, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Peacemaking, Ramblings, Resurrection

The Three Migrations of God

You’ve probably heard it; I can almost guarantee it.

It’s been called the most overused piece of music in history. Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is an iconic composition, comprised of twenty-five movements using medieval imagery and poetry to explore themes of fate and fortune.

But you probably wouldn’t recognize it if you heard one of the twenty-three middle movements. Most are obscure and unknown to a popular audience, but the opening and closing movements  – O Fortuna – have been used in countless commercials, campaigns, and scores. Like I said, you’ve probably heard it.

But have you really heard it, if you’re only familiar with a single movement of a multi-movement piece?

Each of the twenty-five movements of Orff’s masterpiece look, sound, and feel different as they move from beginning to middle to end, but it’s all Carmina Burana. Only a few measures of the piece have become memorable, but it’s the movement throughout the entirety of the composition that makes it a masterpiece (if you have an hour and four minutes, check out this recording. It’s terrific.).

When you think of movement, you might think about Carmina Burana. Or you might think about airplanes and transit. Or you might think about dance.

Movement is a necessary and vibrant reality of life – to be alive is to move.

I believe in a God who is living, which is to say I believe in a God who moves – a God who migrates! The scriptures unveil the story of this movement-God who is revealed through three migrations.

The First Migration is the Movement of the God who inhales and exhales.

The Scriptures’ opening words proclaim that “In the beginning, God!”

In the beginning, before anything else happened, God was.
God existed.
God filled the expanse.

The Poet of Beginnings does not suggest we imagine anything, in the beginning, but God.

In the beginning, when God began to create, there was inhale (Go ahead and inhale. Feel the rise of your lungs and the contraction of your belly.) and there was exhale (Slowly let it out – as your chest sinks and your stomach settles, call out a name, sing a note, breathe a breath).

When God began to create, creation was called into existence with voice and life was breathed into the first humans. This is the first migration of God, the movement of the God who inhales and exhales.

The Second Migration is the Movement of God to God-in-Flesh.

The opening chapter of John’s Gospel is a work of mystic-poetry, describing Jesus as the Word that spoke creation into existence, the Word that was both Life and Light. That Light, John writes, came down to the people of God, making a dwelling (a tabernacle, a roaming outpost of the holy – light, life, beauty) in the common place of their neighborhood.

Studies of human movement will often talk of the dual factors of push and pull. A person is pushed from a place, often because of less-than-desirable conditions, and pulled to another, because of a hope or promise or hint of something better.

This second migration of God, though, reverses that push/pull. The Word moves from a place of God-dwelling to the place of dust and dirt. The Light migrates into darkness.

The Third Migration is the Movement of God as Wind and Whisper.

Acts 2 records the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the people of God.

Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.

This movement, the third migration, is a return to the God who breathes, yet in this movement God is described as the essence of breath itself. Breath is a movement that happens naturally, often without thought or conscious intent or noticing. Yet it is movement.

Throughout Acts, we see the Spirit moving outward beyond the bounds of Jerusalem following Jesus’ mandate to go outward to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. God-as-Wind-and-Breath beckons the early Jesus followers from the upper room to the ends of the earth. This Wind and Whisper of God is a force of movement and migration.

The church has struggled for centuries to adequately name the experience and portrayal of God-as-immigrant painted in the scriptures.

Early on the church landed on the idea that there’s one God but three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit. This three-yet-one reality has been described with the Greek word perichoresis.

peri: ‘around’ like perimeter or periscope
chorei: move, advance, go, or to dance like choreography

This is our God, a God of Movement, a dancing God.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Remember that God is not an eternal throne sitter in some palace far away, but a God who roams untamed in our world. This is a migrant God we follow, one who crosses boundaries and hops borders and moves down and out and in and up. This is a God who cannot be put in a box!

The story of the Scriptures – and our story – is a story of movement. We’re not to long for the olden days but to move ahead into the woven-together world God is making. The end of the story is not Eden, but Eden surrounded by a beautiful city, a new city.

God’s moving, and we’re invited to join in on that movement!

I put these thoughts together as part of our exploration of the Immigrants’ Journey at Open Door. 

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