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.

Advent-Facebook-Cover-00

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.

Standard
Books, Brokenhearted Theology, Church, Equipping, Leadership, Meaning, Ministry, Prayer, Ramblings, Worship

Listening to and Learning from Eugene Peterson

I was raised with a skepticism toward Eugene Peterson.

How dare he turn Bible translation into a one-man show?

“The Message” isn’t a Bible or a translation. It’s “Eugene’s Happy Thoughts.”

This is not the stuff of serious, God-honoring Christianity.

When I found out that he was well-studied in biblical languages, that he penned The Message not for the world but as a contextual exercise in caring for his local congregation, that his writing is a deep, deep well of wisdom pointing the way to Jesus, I got over that skepticism.

And then it was that I just didn’t have time. He had written a lot of books (not just The Message). They all looked good. But when to read them?

Preparing to move, I sorted through all my books and found a few boxes I was ready to part with. I took them to Archives, the local theological bookstore, and watched them quickly flip through most of the pile, with a few cringes and chuckles. There were a few with some resale value so I traded those two boxes for store credit, enough to purchase a small stack of books to start the next leg of my journey.

peterson-squareGift card in hand, I jokingly asked where the Eugene Peterson section was. While he didn’t quite have his own section, there were nearly two full shelves devoted to his work. I browsed, checked which ones were available in used-but-clean condition, and grabbed a stack of five.

The Contemplative Pastor. Yes, this will be helpful.

Praying with the PsalmsI don’t love the Psalms but Greg is constantly carrying this book around. I should probably try that too. 

Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral WorkKurt said I had to read this one. I should read this one. 

Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Integrity, yes, that’s key.

Subversive SpiritualityYes, I sometimes pretend subversive is my middle name.

So far I’ve made it through the first of the list, with a bit of time spent in the second. Embarking on this next context of vocational calling, Peterson’s words have been life-giving and challenging. I’ve underlined, highlighted, and annotated much throughout the book, but particularly appreciated these whistleblowing lines from Peterson on prayer and the vocation of pastor.

Prayer is not a work that pastors are often asked to do except in ceremonial ways. Most pastoral work actually erodes prayer. The reason is obvious: people are not comfortable with God in their lives. They prefer something less awesome and more informal. Something, in fact, like the pastor. Reassuring, accessible, easygoing. People would rather talk to the pastor than to God. And so it happens that without anyone actually intending it, prayer is pushed to the sidelines.

And so pastors, instead of practicing prayer, which brings people into the presence of God, enter into the practice of messiah: we will do the work of God for God, fix people up, tell them what to do, conspire in finding the shortcuts by which the long journey to the Cross can be bypassed since we all have such crowded schedules right now. People love us when we do this. It is flattering to be put in the place of God. It feels wonderful to be treated in this godlike way. And it is work that we are generally quite good at.

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor

Standard
Bivocational, Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Equipping, Leadership, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings, Resurrection, Urban, Worship

Gratitude #3 – Kairos Hollywood

I don’t think I was looking for you when I found you, but maybe I was.

We walked in, weary from six months of shopping around on Sunday mornings for a place to learn, a place to worship, and a place to call home.

We were not looking to move to Hollywood. We were not looking to enter into a season of bivocational ministry (we didn’t even know what that meant). We were not looking for a reason to stick around Los Angeles after finishing up grad school.

But somehow we found those things and more when we found you.

frA creative and eclectic community.

Risk takers and question askers.

Open to ideas and input.

A piece of clay willing to restart the potter’s wheel when a new shape was more conducive to faithfulness on mission – even when painful and disorienting.

It was a Saturday morning and I was sitting beside the little pool in our student housing apartment. My phone rang and it was JR, asking me if I’d be interested and able to preach the next day at our Kairos gathering.

It had been about a year since we had first walked in the doors. Sure, why not?

Psalm 80 was the text, and I spoke about lament as a communal practice. Restore us, not restore me. This is about us, together. Mistakes and gifts, pain and grace all swirled about in the mixing bowl of life together in community.

I broke some rules I’ve since set for myself. I used too much Hebrew. I spoke too long. I used a lot of umms and you knows which, umm, I still use a lot. You know?

shadowcommunityBut you let me speak. You were encouraging, you pushed back, and we kept moving forward.

And you let me lead. Or, more accurately, you challenged and expanded what I thought leadership was, and then invited me into that.

You are the type of community that does not pedestal its pastors. Sometimes I had the mic and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I answered and sometimes I questioned. You did the same. It was always a conversation and never a monologue.

I was a pastor but I was also a husband and a dad and you didn’t ask me to put those things to the side for any greater cause. The cause was simply our life together and inviting and seeing how God worked in our midst. To be a dad, a husband, a friend, an employee, a neighbor, a patron, a servant – these were all deeply embedded in my job description as a pastor in our community. 

The greatest compliment I received during our season with you, Kairos Hollywood, was not about speaking, counseling teaching, administering, budgeting, hosting, or teaching. It was that the three of us who were called to equip, lead, and pastor the community, equipped, led, and pastored alongside. Not from the front, not from behind a microphone or podium, not from a high and lofty place above – but alongside.

So I am grateful to you, Kairos Hollywood (and, also, to our brothers and sisters in Kairos Los Angeles churches across the city) for helping me find my voice, for allowing me to guide, equip and shepherd, for showing me that to pastor is to walk alongside.

I’m grateful for who you are – a group of people centered on Jesus, listening to the voice of God and responding in the faithfulness made possible through the power of the Spirit.

Standard
Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Equipping, Fuller, Future, Global, Leadership, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings, Worship

Gratitude #2 – Fuller

I came to Fuller with twenty-something years of questions, seeking answers. Open to new ideas, perspectives, opportunities that would lead me to clarity, confidence and a killer resumé for the next step (you know, the one where I would return to the midwest and work for a megachurch. Yeah, that one.).

im000663.jpg

Journey, 2003

I sought answers but instead found fellow ask-ers. From all walks of life, from all corners of the globe. All asking questions about meaning, life, God, and the church. Discovering new words and new ways of speaking about our common and diverse experiences, our frustrations and our hopes.

I sought answers, the resolution and dissolution of my questions, but instead found strength and encouragement to continue the questioning journey. With new words, languages, skills, and – most important – friends whose journeys have woven together with my own. Companions, collaborators, teachers, colleagues – constant reminders that even in the midst of loneliness you are not alone.

I sought answers, a tradition to call my own, a tried and true banner under which to find direction, vocation and a career. Instead I found a community of creativity and collaboration. Risks and hunches that the road ahead may wind in new directions and into new terrains. That following God’s wind may lead to uncharted waters, requiring a constantly calibrating compass. That whether the needle seems to simply spin or remains strangely still, God’s voice sometimes continues to speak.

I sought answers but instead found better questions – or, maybe, the same questions expressed with more clarity and humility (a combination that I’ve found most often leads to what the world calls wisdom). The end goal is not a simple and straightforward answer to life’s most pressing questions but a more helpful posture of dwelling with those questions from a place of health, experience, and wisdom. A place of conviction, yes, but also a place of mystery – “take off your shoes for the ground here (the same ground you’ve walked on before and will walk again) is holy.”

I sought answers and, in seeking those answers, found life.

For that – for being a shaping and forming place, a gathering place of sojourners and ask-ers on the way, I am grateful.

Standard
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.

Standard
Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Meaning, Ramblings, Travel, Worship

On Being Tiny in an Enormous World

Richard Serra, "Band"

Richard Serra, “Band”

Yesterday I stood with my son before this massive work of art – Band by the sculptor Richard Serra.

Band stands 13 feet tall and stretches 70 feet long and about 40 feet wide. Band weighs about 366,000 pounds.

The room containing Band is massive with no distractions – white walls and ceiling, focused lighting and a brushed concrete floor. And yet you do not notice the size of the room. The only thing you see is Band.

Serra comments on the enormous scale of his piece:

You might find yourself in a space where you think you have been before, but you realize it is different and you don’t know quite why. And then you find yourself in another space, and you think it’s the outside of the space you have just been in, but it’s not. Or you think it’s the inside of the space that you just left, but it’s not. If you continuously walk the piece, what you anticipate and what your memory allows you to foresee don’t always conclude to be what you suspect.

What is true for the experience of Band is true for my experience of the world.

Being tiny in the presence of an enormous world results in “what you anticipate and what your memory allows you to foresee” coming up short. We just cannot suspect and conclude and predict what will transpire or unfold around us.

That is the mystery of being human in the world we inhabit.

Standard
Brokenhearted Theology, Contemp Culture, Equipping, Meaning, Ministry, Peacemaking, Prayer, Quotes, Ramblings, Relational, Worship

Thomas Merton’s Ten Resolutions for a Contemplative Life

A few years ago, one of our housemates placed a list of ten new year’s resolutions attributed to Thomas Merton** on our fridge. Amidst postcards, magnet poetry, and grease splatterings from the oven (the kind that won’t come off no matter how hard you scrub), the list of resolutions has remained as a thoughtful conversation starter and, for me, the list is helpful in considering how to live a more contemplative and engaged life.

Here are the ten resolutions:

(1) Pay attention to people ::  Fewer things honor people as much, or make them peaceful more readily, or give them an experience of their worth as clearly as paying attention to them.

(2) Verbalize human experience and teach others to do this :: The more inarticulate we are, the more likely it is that we might seek violence as a way of expressing ourselves.

(3) Reject excessive activity, accomplishments or success :: There is something belligerent about frenetic action.

(4) Practice contemplation :: Contemplation is defined as life review, in silence, connecting our reflection with the ideals we have not achieved, making amends for things we regret, and thanking God for the good we were given, the losses we survived, the love we received beyond all measure.

(5) Embrace silence :: Silence is shattered not by speaking but by eagerness and anxiety to be heard by others. Silence invites others to speak. Genuine silence is creative and liberating.

(6) Resist consumerism :: A desperate need to possess is a form of violence.

(7) Lose, then let go :: We are acculturated to go from success to success. Losing gracefully, even in terms of the long run, is a remarkable virtue. Clutching at success, when letting go is necessary, destroys us.

(8) Read Scripture :: If you were to read Scripture reflectively for only five minutes a day, your life would be enriched. Scripture makes the norm, not whatever is presently fashionable, but what is truly enduring. It roots us and gives us peace amid the turbulence of passing crises we face.

(9) Maintain a sense of history :: We become frantic when we see life in the short run. In the longer view of human history or even our personal histories, patterns of meanings emerge. The good does prevail.

(10) Hold the conviction that people are basically good :: People must be reliable or else the Gospel would not have lasted; Christ would have been forgotten. Much of the violence done in the name of religion has been premised on the idea that people are evil.

What do you think?

Anything you would add or subtract from this list for those looking for a more contemplative rhythm in 2014?

** I’ve found the list attributed to Merton on a few other blogs, but can’t find a definitive source and have a hunch the attribution is questionable – so it’s possible the list originated somewhere other else. Let me know if you know something I don’t.

Standard