February 21, 2009

Current Retreat 2009: McLaren, Butler, Yee

Tomorrow after worship at First Baptist, my fellowship and faith family, my beautiful wife and I fly out to Orlando to spend 3 or so days at the Current Retreat. Current is a young leaders retreat put on annually for Baptists by Baptists...Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I'm excited about the keynote speaker, Brian McLaren as well as Amy Butler (pastor of Calvary Baptist in D.C) and Joy Yee (from San Fran's 19th Ave. Bapt.).

I'm pretty pumped about simply getting away to have this intentional time to be with young leaders...I'll finally get to meet the many other residents in the CBF pastoral resident program I'm in...and to be with Charlotte for a few days. Plus, CBF put us up in a hotel in down town Orlando. I won't be able to tell if I'm excited about Brian too much, until I figure out what he's speaking on. There are some things I'm sure he'll bring up, but hopefully he'll have some fresh perspectives and there will be oppurtunities for good dialogue.

Depending on wifi access at the church Current is being hosted at, I may or may not be blogging through McLaren's, Yee's, and Butler's presentations.

And by the way, FBC now has a blog.

True Intimacy

Human relationships easily become possessive. Our hearts so much desire to be loved that we are inclined to cling to the person who offers us love, affection, friendship, care, or support. Once we have seen or felt a hint of love, we want more of it. That explains why lovers so often bicker with each other. Lovers' quarrels are quarrels between people who want more of each other than they are able or willing to give.

It is very hard for love not to become possessive because our hearts look for perfect love and no human being is capable of that. Only God can offer perfect love. Therefore, the art of loving includes the art of giving one another space. When we invade one another's space and do not allow the other to be his or her own free person, we cause great suffering in our relationships. But when we give another space to move and share our gifts, true intimacy becomes possible.
-Henri Nouwen

February 18, 2009

February 15, 2009

Not Violent Enough?

I recently had a very interesting and thought provoking day listening to Pete Rollins, hosted by an interesting faith community, Journey Imperfect Faith Community. In two sessions, Pete laid out theoretical and philosophical approaches to doubt and community than he talked about practicing those thoughts.

There were several and very intelligent insights Rollins talked about, some which can be found in his books or blog. Rollins argues for a constant place of doubting God, an a/theistic approach to faith which bends toward the Christian tradition. In ways I think Rollins is capturing a faith hermeneutic of suspicion that is 1) very contextual to Ireland, 2) intrinsic to who he is and how is approaches faith, 3) important for the Church at large, especially in the West, 4) not for everyone, and 4) still in the process of being understood.

With that last note, something I really appreciate about his thought and practice is that Rollins doesn't need to have everything theologized and figured out before acting, but instead acts and than creates a theology around those actions in retrospect. Why I think this is important is because Rollins and this approach really allows people to participate in creating culture, community, and faith or non-faith.

The talk he gave is also a blog title, "Fundamentalism isn't too violent, It isn't violent enough." I do not like his use of the term "violent," but this post is well worth the read. Maybe his use of "violence" is right in the context of changing social structures, yet I still want to steer clear of the term "violence." The post is full of great thoughts, check it out.

February 9, 2009

Shenk & a missional ecclesiology

Wilbert Shenk asks, “What can we say are the main features of a missional ecclesiology? At least five things will characterize a missional church:
• The missional church is intensely aware that its priority is to witness to the kingdom of God so that people are being liberated from the oppressive power of idols. The church is consciously discerning and naming the idols.
• The church is deeply committed to the world but is not controlled by the world. In other words, the church knows that it has been placed in the world but is never to be subservient to the world. The absence of this tension indicates that the church has made its peace with the world.
• Mission is patterned after the example of Jesus the Messiah; that is, mission is cruciform. The vision of Isaiah 53 is being fulfilled as God’s people serve and witness. The cross is central.
• The missional church has a keen awareness of the eschaton. In Jesus Christ the kingdom has been inaugurated, but the people of God eagerly await the consummation of the kingdom.
• Church structures will serve and support its mission to the world. Human cultures inevitably change over time. The church must stay abreast of its changing cultural context, which will require the dismantling of archaic forms that impede missionary witness and the devising of new structures that support the mission
New Wineskins for New Wine: Toward a Post-Christendom Ecclesiology

February 5, 2009

Sermon on Psalm 147: Praise. Praise?

I read these words in Psalm 147 and even before I get to the second verse I have to stop and ask, what kind of world did the Psalmist live in?

“Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises, how pleasant and fitting!”

Last Tuesday, I drove the church bus to the airport with Ahmed, an Iraqi case manager for the Texas Refugee Services. We met and picked up an Iraqi refugee family: a mother who knew some English and 5 children who spoke only Arabic.
We loaded the bus with their 7 bags before heading to their new home: the Villages of Lamer, a low income housing on North Lamar. These 7 bags represented the little bit of home they could bring with them to this strange and foreign land to puzzle their lives’ together. 7 bags don’t seem like much, but as Ahmed informed me, Iraqi’s tend to bring a lot. I guess a lot of luggage is 7 bags when compared to the one or no bags of African or Myanmar refugees bring.
At the Villages we found their apartments. The small third floor apt where the mother and three youngest children would reside, and the smaller apartment where the older boys would live. Each semi-decorated apartment was disheartening for me to walk into. This wasn’t home.
But it wasn’t the loneliness of these scantily decorated apt’s that broke the family, but rather the distance. As I drove Ahmed back to his offices, he told me that the boys were distraught that they’d have to be so far from their family in the complex…the complete opposite side.
Didn’t the Psalmist know that our world has wars and violence that tears people from their homes and places them in fear, discomfort, and brokenness. Wars that violate innocents and destroy the ability to praise.

Was the Psalmists world so different from ours where people’s hearts are filled with fear because of the loss of jobs, the deep grief over the loss of a son at the hands of a tragic accident or suicide, or the confusion over the loss of a parent or child due to sickness or cancer?

Praise God. Praise God?

Do we praise God because he’s some sort of narcissist who commands and needs our adoration. Does God demand our praise out of his own superficial vanity?

If the Psalmist is emphasizing praise as an imperative to ignore our world of suffering and pain or to reinforce Gods vanity, then maybe the atheists, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are right, our ancient book leads us to mere delusion.

But we don’t have to guess at the world of the Psalmist. We do know some things. As Ann mentioned a few weeks ago, our current Book of Psalms is actually 5 books placed together. And in this final 5th, where Psalm 147 resides we can infer that the community that would read and sing these words had experienced the harshest of tragedies imaginable for an Israelite.

The Southern Kingdom of Israel, the indestructible Kingdom of God’s Temple presence in Jerusalem has been conquered. The Israelites have been sent out into exile and the Temple destroyed. It’s truly amazing that the Jewish faith still exists to this day.

See the normal procedure in ancient Mesopotamia, was to change gods if you were conquered, because that meant your god was weak or false. What should have happened in this moment of defeat and exile, is that the Israelites should have given up on YHWH who allowed them to be conquered for Marduk or Baal.

OT theologian Walter Brueggemann distinguishes the Psalms in three categories: Psalms of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.

Psalms of orientation praise God for how the world works, and how God blesses humanity, especially his people, how life works.

Psalms of disorientation or Lament Psalms, have God’s people crying out in their suffering and pain, these are about how life doesn’t work.

Finally, Psalms of reorientation are where God makes possibilities new, and recreates the broken world so new life is possible in the midst of exile, destruction, cancer, the loss of jobs, broken relationships, and despair.

The Psalm from our Psalmist tonight is one of reorientation: the possibility of new life.

With exile and destruction on his mind, and possibly with its marks on his body; the Psalmist declares in the foretaste of hope that God builds up Jerusalem, gathers the exiles, heals the brokenhearted, binds the wounded.

Flannery O’Connor puts words to this experience of praising God in the midst of situations of despair, pain, and oppression: when she says, “grace comes sometimes like a kick in the teeth, leaving us broken, wholly unable any longer to deny our need.”

Grace is a reminder that we need God, and dependence on God is faith. So praise in the midst and messiness of life transforms and shapes our faith’s ability to respond and with a new orientation see God and our situation differently.

Praise in song and music has historically empowered oppressed people’s faith, from the inside to the outside: from despair to hope, from captivity to freedom. One thinks of the power of African American spirituals.

Cornell West, in the documentary about modern day human slavery and trafficking, Call and Response, says:
“The music itself coming out of, especially black people in America, but of course its true for voices all around the world, is very much about this freedom; freedom which is spiritual, so when George Clinton said, ‘Free your mind and your ass will follow: the paradox of freedom is you would have, you have to experience the foretaste of freedom before you become part of a freedom movement.”

God wants us to praise him because God wants to free the world. God wants us to be free from sickness, despair, hate, and loneliness.

We need praise to know the appropriate response to suffering and injustice. Praise grounds us in faith in God, so within our situations of pain, neglect, depression, and violence we can have a foretaste of new life, of healing, of resurrection.

We do not praise God in ignorance or naïveté, but we praise God in solidarity and hope that love and justice will prevail, that peace will come, and that every knee will bow in an overwhelming response to God’s overwhelming love for us.

As Henri Nouwen wrote:
“Worship, to me, is constantly to say, “Yes’ to God’s love; to say, ‘Lord, I love you too.’ All of our life should be worship. Every occasion in our time should be an occasion to say, ‘Yes, I love you too.” That signals a change of heart.”

Praising God in the midst of the brokenness of life and sin, equips us with the appropriate response. Praise is the paradoxical tool of love that forms us for action and activism.

Praise is the paradox that allows us to affirm that grace can come to us in the ugliest of situations, so that when we cry out: “My God, My God, Why Have you forsaken me,” we stand in solidarity with our Lord. We are able to pick up our cross and know, as Bono has said:
“God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.”

Let us pray:
Praise God, for God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son.

Praise God, for God so love the world that he gave.

Praise God, for God so loved the world

Praise God, for God.

Praise God.


February 4, 2009

Rohr & It's Just Emerging

If you are not already listening to the HomebrewedChristianity podcast, then you should subscribe today. These two guys, one a friend from my days as a Crusader at UMHB, interview on a regular basis important and wonderful Christian thinkers like Phyllis Tickle, Walter Brueggemann, John Dominic Crossan, Brian McLaren, Leron Shults, Richard Rohr, John Cobb, etc.

Recently, they interviewed Rohr on contemplation, activism and the emerging church. I enjoyed the interview and Rohr's articulation. There was one statement though that Rohr made that struck me wrong. In his reflection on the emerging church, he says:
"this mentality is emerging simultaneously, in many places...this tells me that this has to be the work of the Holy Spirit because there's no one angrily creating a reform or a schism or an attack, it's just emerging" (emphasis added).
The disconcerting tone here is the naivety Rohr interprets this movement of traditions being willing to listen and open up to one another to find truths within each one in the Christian tradition. The lack of a central authority or place does not equate into a inexplainable movement of the Spirit that just happend. Certainly we are struggling to articulate terms and concepts to understand the changes in our world: postmodern, globalization, etc, but there are sociological, philosophical, and economic predicates determining the human condition. His statements seem to create an unhealthy perspective that singles religious life separate from the culture and globalization.

Why harp on this? It's not because I do not like Rohr or the emerging church, but exactly the opposite. This all goes back to a post from a few weeks ago on the commoficiation of the church. With the fear that I too am going to be overly simplistic and narrow, I feel that the single strongest influences on the formation of our culture and thus spiritual communities/people are consumerism and commodity fetish. The results of this culture are both positive and negative. Much of the emerging church movement can be understood through these lenses of commidification.

I'll be following up on these ideas, but whatever the emerging church is, it can not simply be boiled down to a statement that it's just happening because of the Spirit.

February 1, 2009

Don't Sweat It, Jesus said...

"The poor you will always have with you." I find it interesting to hear people say that they think Jesus meant that there will always be poor in the world. While I think there are multifarious reasons for wanting to read Jesus' words here as literally as possible: to assuage our guilt for not caring about the poor, to assuage our guilt for not helping when we could, we've been taught to read it this way, we need an excuse for poverty, etc; I still do not understand why we take these words found in Mark 14 so literally.

Jesus must have literally meant these words (which are not even a commandment, but a quote from Deuteronomy), but there is no way he could have meant literally that we sell our possessions to follow him, or to turn the other cheek, give up your cloak, or love your enemy.

Actually, what Jesus is referring to here in Mark 14 is that the law requires an open handed disposition toward the poor, so he was turning the hypocritical concern of the disciples for the poor on its head. If you must take something away from this passage and apply in so woodenly and literally don't let it be to assuage your or my affluence. What God desires is that his people must give to and care for those who cannot care for themselves.

Part of the solution might be flipping the above dilemma, switching the literal reading of Jesus' words in Mark 14 with the many commands that Jesus "could not have literally meant." Love your enemy, bless those who curse you, give away your possessions to the poor, and pick up your cross."

Of all the things Jesus said to take literally...