Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Crazy Bible, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings

“But, are ya still preaching the gospel?” and other solicitous questions

We just moved and, apparently, with moving comes solicitors.

no-solicitors-allowed-1444909We’ve had people come to the door asking about everything from security systems (You do plan on protecting your family, right?) to cable television (With us, you’ll get a bazillion channels!), and, tonight, we had a visit from bless-their-hearts church people that just wanted us to know they are starting up a new gospel preachin’ church in the neighborhood and, if you don’t attend a gospel preachin’ church, would you like to come and visit?

They handed us a tract covered in stars, stripes, regal eagles, and “God Bless America”s.

Between the move, toddler-dom, less-than-ideal-sleep, and 25% of the adult ankles in our house sprained, all amidst the piles to unpack and organize, I feel like my energy and interest in engaging solicitors has been minimal.

Tonight, we were having post-dinner family time – dancing, laughing, and listening to records (Gershwin) – as the solicitors approached.

Hi, we’re just here to let you know about our new church.
Oh, hi.
Do you have a church you go to?
Uhh, yeah, actually, I’m a pastor.
Oh, where are you planting your church?
It’s been around for a while, it’s called Open Door.
Oh, you get a lot of young folks, then?
Yeah, I guess.
But are you still preaching the gospel?
Uhh, yeah.
What is it?
What is what?
The gospel.
Oh, I think we both have answers to that question.
Only by the blood of Jesus!
[Tired smile.]
And no works, right? You don’t preach works, do you?
Sorry, we were having family time, so I think we’re actually going to go back to that now. Have a good night.

There’s all kinds of commentary to add here – about my response and what it should or could have been, about door-to-door church invitations, about the strange-but-all-too-common bedfellows of patriotism and religion.

I sometimes wish I had more energy to enter into constructive dialogue with these solicitors (their questions, how we might differ on our understanding of the gospel and where we might agree, how there is more about Jesus than his blood that is good news, etc.).

But, at the end of the conversation, I decided I would rather spend my energy dancing with my family than picking theological nits with strangers (err, brothers and sisters in Christ?).

Thoughts?

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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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Brokenhearted Theology, Crazy Bible, Equipping, Eucharist, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Ramblings, Resurrection

The God Who is Altogether Different

Way back when, in the days of patriarchs when cities were a novel idea, gods were said to roam throughout a city – their city – providing resources and protection in exchange for devotion, loyalty, and sacrifice. Move past the city walls, however, and your chances of being heard by your city’s god quickly decreased. Like a wireless speaker or walkie-talkie, everything’s dandy until you move out of range. The signal weakens and distortion creeps in until there’s no reception – just white noise.

So you pick a spot (thereby picking a god), set up camp and stay put.

And if you had to leave and venture out to another city, you hoped to (your) god you wouldn’t run into (their) god lest you face the wrath of (some) god.

I imagine that this notion of a place-restricted god – a localized deity –  shaped what those early listeners heard in the words of the first chapters of Genesis.

The story begins with a god carefully crafting a beautiful garden in which to dwell. A plush and pleasing home for any deity, made particularly good after the garden is populated with creatures formed from the very dirt they were created to care for. In the cool of the day, as the story goes, the god would walk alongside the creatures (no doubt, the reader thinks, in order to remind them of the rules they were to follow and the chores they were to accomplish and how lucky they were to live in such a garden under the care of such a god).

“Adam and Eve” by Marc Chagall (1912)

Despite these daily reminder-walks, the creatures rebel. They cross the creator of this garden by disobeying a specific and clear directive. Surely, the reader thinks, surely after such an act, these creatures – these mud slaves – will cease to be in relationship with this god. Surely they’d be lucky to even survive such an act of defiance.

As would be expected, their disobedience does upset the garden-god and they are kicked out of the paradise-place.

The reader chuckles.
Serves them right
.
That’s what you get when you piss off your god.
With no god to protect you now, you’d be better off dead.

But we keep reading, and we are surprised.

Yes, the dust creatures are kicked out of the garden. But the god they crossed offers them gifts of grace – animal skins fashioned into clothing. Warmth and protection from the elements, a covering for their shame. The God of the Garden chooses not to abandon this ongoing creation-development project that launched with so much promise.

The God of the Garden leaves that paradise-place, pursuing the creatures – the family fashioned from the earth by wholly muddy hands – into the rugged wilderness.

You’ve disrupted the design, but I will design a fresh start for you.
You’ve stepped off the garden path but I will prepare a new path.
You’ve walked your own way, but I will walk that way with you.

This is not what gods are supposed to do.
This is not a short-range god of limited coverage and localized concern.
This is not a quick-tempered god shallowly appeased.

This is a god who is altogether different.

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Crazy Bible, Equipping, Global, Green, Meaning, Ramblings, Resurrection, Urban, Worship

I Stand In the Goodness of Dirt

I was looking over a draft of a personal narrative theology I began constructing a while back. I didn’t get very far, but the draft opens with this simple line:

I stand in the goodness of dirt.

We are a mysophobic people. We don’t like germs and we don’t like dirt. We fear those things because we’ve given them the power to make us unclean.

So we shower. We scrub our hands. We control our climates – heating and cooling with machines – to avoid sweats and shivers. We rinse, wash, spin and then rinse, wash, and spin.

We apply chemicals on the parts of our body most prone to smell. We “plug it in, plug it in for freshness with a new spin” so the air around us stops smelling like…us. We seal off doors and windows. We pay for new cars so that our car can smell like a new car instead of an old car (which smells like…us).

We only shop at clean and shiny stores where we can buy clean and shiny food. We want to eat meat but do not want to see eyes or blood or feet or beaks. We scrub, scrub, scrub our fruits and vegetables. No dirt for us, just clean and shiny food.

Somewhere deep down we’ve equated being dirty with being unclean in its fullest sense – defiled, unworthy, bad.

So we scrub, scrub, scrub.

I guess what I’m saying is that we’ve forgotten where and what we come from.

The ancient Hebrew stories of beginning (which have been compiled into a book we call Genesis) start with God calling the universe into being and, in that brand new universe, cultivating a garden. Planted in that garden and given life through God’s own breath was אָדָם – a creature formed from and named after the dust and dirt and soil of that first garden.

In the beginning, God created dirt-y and dust-y humans and it was very good.

I just finished reading Sara Miles’ latest memoir (which I really enjoyed…check it out): City of God: Faith in the Streets (Hachette, 2014). In it, she explores her neighborhood – San Francisco’s Mission – through the lens of Ash Wednesday’s call to remember dust and ashes, to remember the cycle of life and death, to remember our humanity.

How often we forget our humanity. How often we forget the gift it is to be human. How often we forget to stand in the goodness of dirt.

The story of Christianity is ‘good news.’ Too often that goodness has been construed through a lens of escape.

Escape from our bodies, escape from this earth, escape from the dirt and the dust.

The goodness of the Christian story lies not in escape but in embodiment.

This embodiment is an invitation into the freedom of realizing and embracing who we were created to be.

Crafted in the Imago Dei, being transformed into the Imago Christi so that we might experience the redemption and glory of a dust creature living in right relationship with the one who calls forth and forms life and beauty from the dirt and names it good.

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Christians, Let’s Stop Encouraging People to Kill Other People

What a silly, absurd, and heart-wrenching thing to have to say in a tweet or blog post.

The tweet is in response to a sad article on CNN’s Belief Blog today from a leader within conservative American Christianity in support of the death penalty. It’s an article that strives for balance but fails to make a “Christian” argument (in the etymological sense of the word – relating to or resembling Christ). There is very little “Jesus” in this article which encourages Christians to “rightly” and “justly” support the killing of other human beings.

peace 930x320-001

In my first college semester, I took a seminar focused on the history of punishment. Our readings, lectures, and discussions focused on the way societies and cultures have viewed and used punishment throughout history – to control, to manipulate, to seek vengeance, to restore, to harm and to protect. We studied schematics of prisons, read Foucault’s haunting Discipline and Punishment and engaged historical viewpoints on punishment, crime, and violence. We talked about how penitentiary is rooted linguistically with penance and how rarely the two are connected in our country’s understanding and practice of justice.

One of our readings was Albert Camus’s Reflections on the Guillotine. Especially in light of Tennessee’s recent botched execution, his words are particularly appropriate:

When the extreme penalty simply causes vomiting on the part of the respectable citizen it is supposed to protect, how can anyone maintain that it is likely, as it ought to be, to bring more peace and order into the community? Rather, it is obviously no less repulsive than the crime, and this new murder, far from making amends for harm done to the social body, adds a new blot to the first one.

I’ve written before and still believe that

The death penalty says that:

  • the nonviolent way of Jesus is stupid
  • some people are beyond redemption
  • our prison system is incapable of protecting society from violent offenders
  • ends can justify means
  • the shedding of blood can mend broken hearts
  • vengeance is ours.

The more time I spend looking at the life and teachings of Jesus, the more I wonder how out-of-place he’d feel in our world, or at least in the world of American Christianity, where we are encouraged by denominational leaders to pray and strive for a society that can perfect the art of justly killing our enemies. 

You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 

If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 

Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

– jesus

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Embracing Our Bodies (Why Physical Training is Necessary for Christian Formation)

In the latest New Yorker, Larissa MacFarquhar writes about about how a Buddhist monk’s is facing the culture of suicide in Japan. She describe the monk’s Zen training:

When a monk wakes in the morning, he must not move until a bell is rung. When the bell rings, he must move very fast. He has about four minutes (until the next bell rings) to put up his futon, open a window, run to the toilet, gargle with salt water, wash his face, put on his robes, and run to the meditation hall. At first, it is very hard to do all those things in four minutes, but gradually he develops techniques for increasing his speed. Because he is forced to develop these techniques…he is intensely aware of everything he is doing.

Several times each year, the monks spend eight days walking long distances to beg for food; in the winter, they walk in sandals through snow. When they go begging, they wear broad conical straw hats to cover their faces. they do not talk to anyone, and, if someone asks, they may not say their names. When someone gives them food, they are obliged to eat everything they are given. This forced overeating can be the most physically painful part of the training.

Every day, each monk has an audience with his teacher about a koan that he is pondering. These audiences are a few minutes at the most, sometimes a few seconds. Occasionally, the teacher will make a comment; usually he says nothing at all. The koan is a mental version of the bodily brutalities of training: resistant, frustrating, impossible to assimilate, it is meant to shock the monk into sudden insight.

The article suggests it is this Zen-style embodied training that provide this monk (Ittetsu Nemoto) the resources needed to holistically confront and counsel people battling depression and suicide. It makes sense, right? Guiding people through the challenges of life – spiritual, emotional, psychological, physical – requires knowledge, wisdom, experience and training in all these areas. It requires embracing our bodies and the role our bodies play in our spiritual formation, healing, and redemption.

Christian theology and ministerial formation has avoided the importance of our physicality, diminishing our understanding of what it means to be human and hindering the holistic healing our world needs. Instead of embracing our bodies as a part of a “very good, tragically broken, beautifully redeemable” creation, we’ve developed theologies and practices distancing us from the very skin that holds us together.

Paul writes that “while physical training has some value, training in holy living is useful for everything. It has promise for this life now and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Sorry, Paul, I disagree! Or, more nuanced and less catchy, I disagree with how Christians have read and translated this text (and texts like this) into 21st century Christian practice. No real “training in holy living” can ignore the body, and I think Paul actually understands this – holy living, he says should not just affect the “life to come” but holds “promise for this life now.”  There’s no “life now” without the body. 

If our world has a future, it must embrace both the limits and endless possibilities of the human body.

If theological education has a future, it must broaden its scope to include not just shaping the mind but also the body.

If the church has a future, it must celebrate that to be human is to have a body. Spiritual formation cannot be separated from physical, bodily practice.

We must recognize that Christian hope is not an escape of the soul but the resurrection of the body.

Thoughts?

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How Do I Pray? (Studio 60 and the Lord’s Prayer)

There was a great television show on from 2006-07 called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It only lasted one season, but it’s a tremendously written show by the quick and snarky Aaron Sorkin.

Religion and faith are recurring themes throughout the series as the main characters wrestle with relationships, joy, loss, and tragedy. Check out this clip where one of the characters (a caricatured evangelical) tries to teach her (agnostic/atheist) boss to pray in the midst of a crisis.

 

There are a lot of things to pray for in our world but no singular understanding of what prayer is, how you pray, or what you even mean when you say you’ll “be praying” for someone.

Christians don’t have the market cornered on prayer and there is much that can be learned by asking a friend from a different faith tradition about their prayer life.

But Christians should pray and should pray with the expectation that “the prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve” (James 5:16, CEB).

So Christians should pray but many who do pray and find it less than powerful and often achieving little.

I was taught as a little kid to pray using acronyms.

PRAY (Praise – Repent – Ask for others – Ask for Yourself)

ACTS (Adoration – Confession – Thanksgiving – Supplication).

I don’t really like these acronyms, and I’m not sure why they were the models that I was taught to pray with. They’re not bad or wrong, but they didn’t build a prayer rhythm into my life that I would call powerful and effective.

In the gospel records, Jesus makes a big deal out of prayer. He was a fanatic about prayer – short prayers, long prayers, public prayers, communal prayers, etc. And the people who followed him around noticed this.

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1

These disciples followed Jesus around and they saw Jesus pray. And they saw good, life-changing things happen because of it.

And they wanted to pray like that too.

I usually have my long lists of things to pray for and I am not great at faithfully praying through that list. Sometimes I revert back to my acronym prayers – filling up lists and columns and categories but not seeing much come from it. Looking back on an inconsistent prayer life, I only see inconsistent results. So I’d like to learn how to pray and Jesus seems like a good place to start.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
Give us today our daily bread
And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from the evil one.

Shouldn’t this be our go-to model for how we pray? If you’re going to start anywhere, start here.

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