Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I begin wtih a question - Christian Nation: What the hell does that mean?

Maybe not the most appropriate question, but a question nonetheless. I ask because we are in the throes of the holiday season (I said holiday on purpose - more in a moment). I was having the "holiday" conversation with my parents over Thanksgiving when my dad started to do his religious right happy dance (love my dad, we get along, just don't agree at every point) that Target and Wal-Mart are boldly proclaiming Merry Christmas instead of the more tolerant "Happy Holidays."

It's an interesting pickle the RR (Religious Right) puts themselves in when they want to be defined as strict-constructionists and keep government out of their religious doings, and yet believe that said government should give preferential treatment to their faith. Not from a legal standpoint, mind you - purely a decorative one. Doesn't it stand to reason that if one believes strongly in the concepts behind the founding documents of our country, that same person would in fact be opposed to the display of any religious symbol on governement property, like, oh, a NATIVITY.

So, then, why is there some sense of triumph when the hated "Happy Holidays" is sent packing in favor of "Merry Christmas"? Here's why I'm ok with Happy Holidays:

1. We start saying it pre-Thanksgiving, during a time period that covers several holidays, even if you are strictly a Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year celebrator - it's just easier

2. As our country was founded to give freedom to all religious expression, lo and behold, if we don't have people here who celebrate holidays other than Christmas. Blow me down. So, if you really believe that, be respectful of people who celebrate other traditions.

3. Do people honestly think that minimizing someone's dearly-held holiday traditions is an effective evangelism technique? If the only way you have to communicate the profound love and truth of God With Us is to put down someone else's tradition, you have no idea what Christmas is about anyway and should be benched from the evangelism team. We are called to be a blessing to the nations, not a burden to them.

4. I'm quite comfortable as a self-identified Christian celebrating Christmas as the birth of Christ, because that's who I am. If you're not that person, I'll wish you a happy holiday and hope you have a wonderful time. I don't need to make anyone else feel awkward or minimize myself to wish people well.

5. I don't know what it's like to live in a culture where me and my traditions are ignored and minimized. It must be demoralizing and it surely contributes to hostility in this country and around the world. I don't want to be that person.

Another disturbing thing about whatever "War on Christmas" has been going on (and I can't believe I'm remotely associating myself with Bill O'Reilly) is the deeper issue of what a Christian nation looks like. It seems like we think if the language and symbolism is intact, we then are turning the ship around and "returning" to something that most educated people would argue was never there.

Here's the deal: for better or worse (and, held in check, I have no problem with this) we are a capitalistic economy. When I took econ classes in high school and college, the first thing I learned was that the whole model is based on the principle of scarcity. Basically, that means we operate out of a place of fear - fear that we won't have enough, that we won't get our share, that someone will take our share. Statistically, the middle class is disappearing as CEOs give themselves huge pay raises and the minimum wage has remained constant for a decade (until now, thank God). We're not seeing a lot of anything trickle down, are we? Does anyone else find it interesting that our economy is based on fear and the most often given command in scripture is "Do not fear"?

To me, then, to be a Christian, nation is to be a people who will give without fear of running out. We trust that God will provide what we need and we do things like ending third world debt because at the end of the day, we don't need the money. We don't mind paying a bit more for the fast food we shouldn't be eating anyway b/c the minimum wage has gone up. We spend a bit more on free-trade coffee because it helps the farmers in Africa and South America. We can afford it and the people who work there need to feed their families. As Paul said, we need to consider others above ourselves. The goal shouldn't be to keep prices down, but to make sure that everyone has food, clothes, shelter, and they are loved. That's what a Christian nation looks like to me.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Topography of Wholeness

Two thoughts have converged in my heart and head as I try to truly process the meaning of God with us this season. First - wholeness.

As I've been preparing for the Christmas Rock this weekend, I was putting together a "script" of sorts for the reading of the Christmas story from the Message translation. (say what you will - it works for a script). I was also including some of the prophecies about Jesus from Isaiah, and I included the traditional "For unto us a child is born..." from chapter 9, but, again, from the Message. In that version, the names listed for Jesus differ slightly from what we're used to hearing: instead of "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace," it's, "Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness."

Nothing wrong with that. Gets the point across. But when I was going over this with my friend who is helping me put together the dramatic portion of the evening, she said she had a hard time with "Prince of Wholeness." Her exact words were, "My ear wants to hear Prince of Peace." I don't disagree. Departures from deeply ingrained traditions, espeically around the holidays, are so comforting that it's difficult to relinquish our hold on them. But, as I thought about the ideas of peace, wholeness and the gospel, it seems that wholeness is a much more accurate version. In a time of war and unrest, both at home and abroad, it's easy to focus on the ideals of "peace on earth" and the dream of a world free of violence and pain. I believe that was definitely in the plan when God devised the whole incarnation thing.

One of the major problems, however, is that as human beings we are seriously lacking wholeness - peace in ourselves and with ourselves - myself included (and possibly at the front of the line). Christ came to bring peace both in the macro and the micro. We very much want global peace but chafe at the requirements of personal peace. Case in point - I have a very strong sense of justice and sometimes this causes me to hold grudges for long periods of time against those whom I perceive have wronged me because whatever happened was "not fair." The call to wholeness requires me to let go of that, but if I do that, do I cease to be a person who strives for justice? Not entirely, but I have a twisted sense of self-satisfaction when I can hold myself up as more just, more right, ironically more whole, than someone else who would betray me.

Second, as part of staying in touch with my inner Mennonite, I get the e-mail devotionals from Goshen College during Lent and Advent. Todays was very good and an interesting perspective. Here it is:

Dec. 8 - Crooked roads and high mountains
By Sarah Wilson, a senior Spanish major from White Heath, Ill.

Scripture: Luke 3:1-6 (NRSV)
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

'The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
"Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."'

When I read these verses I think of Christmas time at the family farm in the Appalachian Mountains. I hear my grandfather turning up the record player as the voices of Handel's "Messiah" belt out the prophesy found in Isaiah 40. As I listen I imagine the surrounding hills bowing low to the ground and the valley rising up to meet them; I see the power of God transforming the familiar into the novel. And I don't like it.

You see, the mountains are where I feel most at home. I feel secure and comfortable when I'm in their presence. And the rough, windy roads? Well, there's a charm in hairpin turns and a certain grit and character in potholes.

I think the people John preached to probably shared some of my feelings. I imagine they were reluctant to remodel the topography of their homeland, of their heart, of their mind. There's pain in change, especially when you're quite content with the way things are. But Luke 3 makes it quite clear that the way things were was not fit for the Lord. Roads had to be straightened and mountains of pride, bitterness and envy had to come down to prepare for his coming.

Of course, the good news is that Christ booked his trip to our wilderness while our roads were still crooked and our mountains still high (Romans 5:8). There is nothing we can do to earn his love, sacrifice or faithful friendship. But although we can't earn his presence, there are ways to prepare for it. Soon Christmas will be here and we'll celebrate the birth of Jesus. We'll remember when the Savior first met us on our own turf, in our personal wilderness. Christ has come, and in fact, he is coming. Use these days of Advent to prepare your heart and mind for his arrival.

This Christmas I will listen to the words of Handel's "Messiah" with a fresh perspective, remembering that when the mountains come down, the roads are made straight and the laborious preparation is complete, "all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (Luke 3:6). Hallelujah!

Sarah says, "The way things were was not fit for the Lord." I tend to enjoy the "topography" of the status quo and don't see the need for valleys to be filled up, mountains brought low, crooked places made plain. But, that's what Christ came to do. SO, as I focus on God being with Us, this year, I will be thinking about God being with ME and how my willingness to allow him to change the topography of my journey can help bring peace on earth.

Friday, October 20, 2006

An Abiding Presence

(i post in spurts - have we noticed?)

my friend and i walk every weekday morning in golden gate park. she is, how shall we say, somewhat challenged in the area of punctuality (but i love her) and my time waiting for her is never wasted b/c i spend the time resting, thinking, praying, and generall just being in a few moments of quiet that i need every day.

so, today, i was reading my renovare guide and here's what it had to say:

"In returning and rest shall you be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blesseed are all those who wait for him." Isaiah 30: 15, 18

" It is a great lesson to learn that to be silent before God is the secret of true adoration. It is only as the sould bows itself before Him in honor and reverence that the heart will be opened to receive the divine impression of the nearness of God and of the working of his power. Such worship of GOd is the surest way to give Him the glory that is due Him...Do not think that it is lost time. Do not abandon it if at first it appears difficult or fruitless. Be assured that it brings you into right relationship with Him. It leads to the blessed assurance that He is looking on you in tender love and working in you with a divine power. As you become more accustomed to it, you will experience his abiding presence with you all day long, and people will begin to sense that you have been with God." - Andrew Murray

as i read these passages and spent some time in prayer, i began to imagine myself spending time with God and in my mind, God was not much bigger than me. my first thought was that God needed to be "bigger." as i listened, i was reminded that i determine God's "size" in my life as i allow God to work and be in charge - part of the aforementioned "right relationship."

my brain tends to get ahead of my prayers. i start networking and making connections and stuff and thinking about what's possible rather than listening to what God wants.

this weekend i'm going away to write for Renovare and this concept is going to be key b/c i need to make sure that this project is just God's size - not mine.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Best Little Grocery Store In Texas

so the other night i wrote this whole blog and then i apparently got distracted by a shiny object and forgot to post, so it's taken a few days for me to get the strength back to write it again. here's what i remember.

ok, so about 3 weeks ago my mom and i visited my grandfather in texas. dude is 92, blind since age 40, lives alone, and at all times has his checkbook completely balanced in his head. he's amazing. granted, it's an unappealing part of the country to visit (sorry kenny) but i do enjoy the family connection. we got some great video of him telling stories about himself, his life and our family and i gotta say - i always enjoy those things b/c it gives some great insight into who i am and who our family is and it gives mad points to the "nature" side of the "nature vs. nurture" conversation.

for example, i knew that he wasn't super educated - he only completed the 8th grade. i didn't know that he took a civil service exam and an exam to become a steel worker and, without ever having been to high school, got the top score of his class. the man is bright. he still keeps up with current events, "watches" rock hudson & doris day movies, listens to music and daily listens to a portion of the Bible on CD. he rocks.

the place where he lives, however, does not. he lives in a place that i affectionately refer to as "ass crack," texas, although if you look on a map it would say "brazoria." time seems to have forgotten this land of moss and ammunition, and the residents have no objection. let me give you the highlights of our trip to the grocery store:

1. the small produce section was in a very dark back corner, but there was a very well-lt, prominently featured beer section

2. there was no organic food to be found

3. there was a large section of fishing equipment, and no sea food.

4. no bottled water section

5. there was a large portion of the "baking stuff" aisle devoted to myriad kinds of corn meal. i had no idea.

6. the best part of the whole place was a glass display case at the front of the store with 3 shelves. the bottom shelf had medical feminine stuff. the middle shelf had various types of ammunition. the top shelf had new dvd releases for rent. seriously.

Monday, September 25, 2006


my mom sent me this in an e-mail last week:

Thursday night Todd & Lisa asked us to eat dinner with them so when Chloe was almost done, she said "Gee, I need to hurry and get done so I can go outside to scream!" She told me she uses her inside voice in the house so she has to scream outside. As soon as she was done, she ran and opened the patio door, ran to the edge of the bricks and screamed at the top of her lungs! Then she said "I like to scream."

ok, first of all, my neice is the funniest kid ever. but, second, i thought that letting chloe have a place where she can scream is a pretty inspired bit of parenting on the part of my brother and his wife. chloe is a very active, very verbal kid. she doesn't stop talking from the moment she gets up until she goes to sleep. she noticies everything and comments on it. she runs around in circles and sings songs. she's always going. apparently, she has discovered that she also likes to scream.

i love that she is in an environment that she is allowed to figure out who she is, be loved and valued for who she is and then be shown how to function successfully as herself. obviously, she can't succumb to her desire to scream in all places at all times, but she's been given an appropriate way to be herself, and i think that's going to make her a better person.

i think that's yet another picture of how God created families (all kinds of families, but that's another conversation) to give us all places to learn to be ourselves and find our place in the kingdom. oh my gosh - i just realized that there's a point at which i could actually agree with the religious right. alert the media. i do think that the enemy works specifically to short circuit the family system. however, here's where our agreement sadly comes to an end. i have a broader definition of family (again, not going into that here) but i think that we need to work, not to keep people from forming new families but teaching people to be better families.

it's an interesting social phenomenon that when we move someoner else or grew up in a place where we have no stong biological family, we create new families, and we call them families. we know that we need that, and so we make it. we find circles of relationships in which we can love and encourage and be loved and encouraged and become the best version of ourselves.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

finding a church

as we all know, i'm looking for a church. i'm trying to be very thoughtful and prayerful about it and make a spirit-led decision. it seems that the two churches i've narrowed it down to (and it's probably one), are both very open to people of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persuasion. i mentioned this to my parents, because i'm trying to be honest, and, well, let's just say that they're so cute when they try to be supportive :-)

so, i'm thinking about this issue b/c there are enough loving, wonderful and geuinely godly gay people in my life and i refuse to use the word of God as a weapon. as a woman who spent time in southern baptist world, i've experienced that, and i'm not going to participate in that.

two things i've read/thought about as i've pondered this issue:

1. ezekial 16:49-52ish "This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughers had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. they were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore i removed them when i saw it. samaria has not committed half your sins; you have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed. bear your disgrace, you also, for you have brought about your sisters a more favorable judgment because of your sins in which you acted more abominably than they, they are more in the right than you. so be ashamed, you also, and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous."

2. romans 1:26-32 "for this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. their women exhanged nautral intercourse for unnatrual, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. men committed shamelss acts with men and recieved in their own persons the due penalty for their error. and since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mined and to things that should not be done. they were filled with every kind of wickedness evil, covetousness, malice. full of envy, murder, strife, deciet, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God'haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towar parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. they know God's decree, that those who practices such things deserve to die - yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them."

"paul is writing this letter to rome after his missionary tour of the mediterranean. on his journey Paul had seen great temples built to honor Aphrodite, Diana and to their fertililty gods and goddesses of sex and passion instead of the one true God the apostle honors. Apparently, in some odd sexual behaviors - including castrating themselves, carrying on drunken sexual orgies, and even havning sex with young temple prostitutes (male and female) - all to honor gods of sex and pleaseure. the Bible is clear that sexulaity is a gift from God. our Creator celebrates our passion But the bible is also clear that when passion gets control of our lives, we're in deep trouble. when we live for pleaseure, when we forgoet that we are God's children and that God has great dreams for our lives, we may end up serving the false gods fo sex and passion, just ast they did in Paul's time. in our obsession with pleasure, we may even walk away from the God who created us - and in the process we may cause God to abandon all the great dreams God has for our lives." rev. mel white

"the people Paul had in mind refused to acknowledge and worship God, and for this reason were abandoned by God. and being abandoned by God, they sank into sexual depravity. the homosexuals i know have not rejected God at all; they love God and they thank God for his greace and his gifts. How then, could they have been abanoned to homosexuality as a punishmendnt for refusing to acknowledge God? nor have the homosexuals i know given up heteroexual passions fo homosexual lusts. they have been homosexual from the moment of their earliest sexual stirrings. they did not change from one orienteation to another; they just discovered that they were homosexual. it would be unnatural for most homosexuals to have heterosexual sex." dr. lewis smedes

ps - i look at the list of behaviors at the end of the romans passage and i find it interesting that i've never heard james dobson even mention one of them.

Monday, August 07, 2006

returning to the God we share

i am a nerd and i watch religion & ethics newsweekly on pbs every weekend. last weekend, bob abernethy interviewed dr. peter ochs, professor of modern judaic studies at the university of virginia and dr. mehdi aminrazavi, a muslim and professor of philosophy and religion at the university of mary washington. here's the part of the discussion that interested me:

ABERNETHY: How, in this situation with Israel and Hezbollah -- how do they see each other? Do they see each other as enemies?

Dr. AMINRAZAVI: The demonization process is very much true, unfortunately. Yes, they do.


Dr. OCHS: I would put it this way, Bob. When I defend myself justifiably against a murderer and, God forbid, have to kill him, that may be justified but I get reduced by that. I get harder and colder. I think both these peoples are being damaged by defending themselves.

ABERNETHY: Well, you're not suggesting that they not defend themselves?

Dr. OCHS: No. I'm suggesting that it isn't either/or. We need third parties to enter the environment. Not those two - third parties to enter the environment and change the conditions.

Dr. AMINRAZAVI: There's a price you pay for self-defense, and there's a process of dehumanization that goes with that, and that does damage to your soul, as it were. And this is where a third party would be very effective.

Dr. OCHS: Which means ethics isn't enough.

ABERNETHY: And the third party is Jews, Muslims and Christians?

Dr. AMINRAZAVI: Christians, precisely, precisely. I think the Christian church can play a major, major role, as opposed to taking sides, which some

Dr. OCHS: I'm glad you say that. I agree fully. The church, other than taking sides, can help Muslims and Jews return to the God they share.

in the situation in the middle east, reconciliation is absolutely necessary, the sooner the better. people are dying. children are dying. homes and cities destroyed. the onslaught is relentless. the longer it goes on, the worse it gets. a third party is needed.

what about in smaller situations? is reconciliation always relevant, particularly if both parties are exponentially better off without each other? what is the definition of reconciliation? i'm wrestling with this issue right now and i find this discussion of the dehumanizing effects of self-defense interesting because in recent conflicts i've described my own experience as profoundly human. i have chosen to ask God to sit with me when i'm feeling difficult things rather than trying to fight my emotions or rationalize them away. it has led to an marked increase in my trust in God and my ability to open up to other people.

i recently had a dream about reconciling with someone and my touchingly optimistic roommate immediately associated my apparent sub-conscious desire for reconciliation with the fact that i must obviously care. i was quick to remind her that people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder often dream of their attackers and it has nothing to do with care and much more to do with impact.

i agree that we have to return to the God we share. i know that we all carry God's image and that God's work is diminished when we are divided. where does one draw the line at throwing oneself in front of a bus? when there has been relational conflict, how does one know when to reach out and when to keep defenses up?

Monday, July 31, 2006

push and pull

yesterday i attended a beautiful and extremely moving service @ st. andrews presbyterian church in marin city. it's a church i've been meaning to visit for several years and i'm sorry i waited so long. my friend was on staff there and it was her last sunday and i went to hear her preach and to support her as she said goodbye. she was brilliant. her sermon was on the love of God, but her texts were the David & Bathsheba story and Ephesians 3:14 - 21. she did a beautiful job of communicating how much God loves us using the story of a boy with cp whose father acts as his body and helps him compete in triathalons. it was such a beautiful and moving image on a number of levels.

first, it was so beautiful to see my friend do what she was designed to do. she loves the word of God more than anyone i know and communicates its truth in a powerful and profound way.

second, the close of her sermon was a video of ricky, the boy with cp, being pushed through a triathalon to the song "i know my redeemer lives." not a dry eye in the house. it was a great visual and a powerful tool.

finally, as the sermon was going on, i saw an illustration of God loving us in the man right in front of me as he dealt with his son. the boy looked to be about 5 years old. he was crying and upset and his father took him on his lap and tried to comfort him. the boy resisted at first, pushing his father away and punching him with his tiny, ineffectual fists. the father ignored the boys protests and continued to cradle him in his arms, and whisper to him that he loved him. the boy pushed him away, crying "stop looking at me" but the father never stopped. finally the boy relaxed in the arms of his father and allowed himself to be held and comforted. when he had been soothed, he climbed down from his father's lap and left to play with his friend. he would periodically return for a refill.

basically, that speaks for itself. we push God away for many reasons - we feel unworthy or ashamed or inadequate. but God continues to cradle us and parent us lovingly until we relax into God's arms and allow ourselves to be comforted. then, we have the strength to function in the world and are always welcome to return.

it was a good day.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

the importance of pneumatology

friday night i had the privilege of going with a friend of mine to hear philip yancey speak in berkeley. it was really great. the man has bad hair, but he has great things to say.

one of the things he said was that it's very interesting that today the evangelical church is known best for what it's against, particularly abortion and homosexuality, two issues that existed in Jesus' time but in much more egregious forms. babies were carried to term but then abandoned by the sides of roads. homosexuality existed primarily between older men and young boys, still illegal in most countries today. and yet, Jesus didn't say a word about them. interesting. not that they're not importan issues. just interesting. so the evangelical church spends a lot of energy and resources talking about something Jesus never mentioned.

i grew up in an evangelical tradition that did not emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit. obviously they acknowledged the Spirit's existence, but didn't make a big deal of it. there was a big reaction against pentacostalism so that people looked askance at anyone who even raised a hand during worship. there was not a lot of time spend trying to understand the Holy Spirit, which resulted in a weak pneumatology.

is it any wonder, then, that the evangelical church has decided to take on the Holy Spirit's job?

in john 16 Jesus said, 7Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocatea will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong aboutb sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

so, it's up to us to go and make disciples and up to the Holy Spirit to deal with the world. i'm just saying...

Thursday, June 08, 2006

i've got issues

i'm in a bit of a church shopping mode right now, which is no fun. at this moment i'm loosely affiliated with a church in marin, but i'm struggling with them theologically. they are fairly reformed in their theology and i am growing more wesleyan as i get older.

the one particular issue that i'm finding to be sticky is their observance of the lord's supper. it is stressed in the service that those who do not have a relationship with Jesus are not to partake. i have issues with this and i need to have a conversation with the pastor, but before i do, i need to straighten out my own position on the issue.

i have found that most denominations who place restrictions on the taking of communion do so based upon paul's words in 1 corinthians 11. here he is addressing abuses of the ordinance in the corinthinan church. it seems that those who were more well off and didn't work for a living got to the gatherings first and just started eating. those who did work got there later, but by the time they did, there wasn't any food left. he says in verses 21-22 "for when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper and one goes hungry and the other becomes drunk. what! do you not have homes to eat and drink in? or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?"

in the following few verses he he recounts Jesus' words at the last supper, instituting the ordinance. then he goes on to discuss taking the supper in an "unworthy manner."

"whoever, therefore eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an wunworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. for all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. for this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. but if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. but when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we my not be condemned along with the world. so then, when you come together, wait for one another. if you are hungry, at at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation."

ok - now i know that God takes issues of social justice seriously. he sent the people of israel into exile because they were cheating the poor. paul says here that some are ill and some have even died because they were taking in an "unworthy manner." but what does that mean.

it seems to me that it means that if you are looking out for yourself, taking the supper to meet your own needs without considering the needs of others, that's unworthy. not if you're part of our club or not.

my other issue is that i don't see exclusion anywhere in Jesus' life. he gave the last supper for Judas. what do we do with that? i hear him saying come to me, all who are weary, and i will give you rest. in the supper we have the recollection of the sacrifice made for us so that all could be reunited with their intended place in the kingdom.

so who should take of the supper? i think anyone who is interested in following Jesus, at any level, should be welcomed.

Monday, June 05, 2006


i have a couple of thoughts rolling around in my head after church yesterday. i sang at bay marin again, which is always a fun experience. great church, great folks, great vision.

a gentleman called avery badenhop shared about his experiences as a person who jumps off high things for a living. not my cup of tea, but whatever. he made the point that we all have something we were created to do and that "God loves it when we fly."

i totally dug that idea because i'm in such a great place right now in a lot of ways but in a difficult place in others. i have such a great future ahead - a big project that will hopefully be funded by a grant that will allow me some great experiences. a burgeoning relationship with a non-profit that will allow me to do some things i've been wanting to do in africa. relationships with churches that will most likely lead to a huge social justice-oriented event joining together churches in marin. a lot going on, all of it great, and yet i'm still feeling some angry, vengeful things. i know that there's no logic to that, but it is the reality right now.

so, i've decided that i'm going to live in this place. rather than judge my feelings or try to run from them, or reason them away, i'm living with them. i've asked God to sit with me in them and help me learn from them, and it's really helping. i don't feel alone or that i'm struggling. it's helping me to fly, even though i've got some extra cargo at the moment.

we all have these things that God has given us to do and when it comes down to it, it's a humbling thing that God would ask us to do anything, but he does and it's pretty cool. i recently heard someone say that God's job is not to make us happy and give in to what we want, but to father us to maturity. i think that one of the ways he does that for us is to give us jobs that we think we can't always do, but then he gives us the tools to do them and then makes things happen that we would never expect. it's a pretty good arrangement, even if it doesn't always go smoothly.

go read 1 Chronicles 17

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


i am currently obsessed - obsessed! - with isaiah 58. this past weekend i participated in the compassion weekend at menlo park presbyterian church. i was doing research for this renovare/emergent project on doing a social justice event for a church or region. they had 4 areas of service - homeless/housing, education, AIDS, and seniors. i was working assembling kits for people suffering from AIDS in africa. before we started working, we had a 30 minute orientation session, including video, information from a doctor, stories from an african woman and scripture by a pastor. the statistics are mind-numbing and the stories are heartbreaking, but ubiquitous and sometimes hard to relate to. i sat through that listening, mostly from the perspective of a researcher, looking at logistics and practical stuff. they explained how it would all work and then i went over to the fellowship hall to start working.

when i got into the room i saw a couple hundred people buzzing around the room assembling these kits. there were preschool aged children all the way up to people at least in their 80's. there was african music playing, teenagers were working together, people were writing notes and kids were drawing pictures to go in the boxes. the only word i could think of to describe the atmosphere was joy - an unconquerable benevolence. i just stood there and started to cry. it was genuinely the most beautiful thing i'd ever seen. it was church. it was worship. it was gospel.

there were about 3,000 people involved in those projects. all of these situations - homelessness, under-resourced schools, AIDS, loneliness - look overwhelming and hopeless when we look at them as individuals. but this was being addressed by the larger community and it gave everyone hope. it was a shared mission that brought that church together as a community. it changed everyone there - individuals, families and small groups. it was such a powerful illustration of isaiah 58.

that project was the perfect illustration to me that in the church, community shouldn't be the goal. but rather, we are united in mission and community is birthed from that.

i've been reading isaiah 58 in the message a lot since then. i love the whole thing, but here's my favorite part:

10If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down--and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

11I will always show you where to go.
I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places--
firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

12You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


I've been listening to the emergent podcast and thoroughly enjoying the replay of the theological conversation with Mirosalv Volf. Good stuff, but too much to take in the first time, so it's good for a slow processor like me to hear it all again. One of the things said that I've been working on for a while is that I am not a Christian because I hold the Truth but because I am held by the Truth.

who is god.
what is god doing in the world.
how is god achieving this.

who are we.
where are we going.
how are we supposed to get there.

connecting the two.
what should we ultimately trust.
how should we order our trusts, provisional and ultimate.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Serving vs. Working

I have been thinking about what it means to serve as opposed to work and how that ties into our definitions of leadership. There have been a lot of books writting and conferences attended on the issue of leadership, but we really don't need to look any farther than Jesus to figure out what it means to lead through service. As the ultimate leader with people following him some 2,000 years past his death, he pretty much show us all we need to know. (see my reflections on John 13 as my definition of serving)

I know those who define leadership as the ability to determine direction for a group of people. That's part of it, to be sure, but only part. You can work your tail off to make a group of folks function successfully but if you're not serving them in a loving way, your work will be in vain (see 1 Cor. 13).

This is an especially important distinction to recognize in working with folks in a ministry setting. If one person is working and another serving, there will be conflict and disrespect.

Friday, March 17, 2006


This year as I was praying about what my personal Lenten observance would be, I got an interesting message. Some years I've done nothing. Some years I've done a complete media fast. I've never tried to give up chocolate, because, let's face it - it just so happens that Lent coincides with Cadbury Creme Egg season and to me, those are truly the nectar of the gods.

The message I received from God was that this year Lent would be about creating habits, not about giving things up, and that the focus would be on reconciliation. I wish God were this clear all the time; things would be easier.

It should be no surprise, then, that the past week has seen the disintigration of one of the dearest friendships I have known over the past 4 years. I don't know what to do. I have begged and pleaded with this friend for dialogue and reconciliation and he refuses. I have prayed and asked friends to pray, and he will not budge. Clearly this is something God knew about when he started me on this journey and I am not amused. I am at a loss for what to do. I am fighting my natural tendency to aruge and be right. I am wanting to fix things and I can't. I am putting this request out to the universe because all prayers are welcome.

I would also like to hear of other Lenten experiences and know and about the battles going on out there so I can pray for you.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Making room for the strangers in our midst

To take up our Lenten practice this year in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, we face a unique challenge in this call to make room for God. In recent months and in different parts of the world, we have seen the escalation of strong sentiments against immigrants. These sentiments appear to be mounting in our own country as well. How might our various Lenten practices such as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, our effort to empty ourselves so as to make room for God, relate to the complex reality of immigration, especially in the face of increasing hostility toward immigrants? Pope Benedict XVI's first Encyclical Letter, Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love") is helpful to us here. Writing on love as the heart of the Christian faith, our Holy Father says:

...if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be devout and to perform my 'religious duties,' then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely 'proper' but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbor and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me...Love of God and love of neighbor are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment...No longer is it a question, then, of a 'commandment' imposed from without calling for the impossible, but...a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others (Deus Caritas Est no. 18).

To the question: "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus' answer is clear. As his disciples, we are called to attend to the last, littlest, lowest and least in society and in the Church. This Lenten season, join me in committing our Lenten practices to making room for the stranger in our midst, praying for the courage and strength to offer our spiritual and pastoral ministry to all who come to us, offering our prayer and support for the ones in our midst who, like Jesus, have no place to rest their heads (Matthew 8:20).

- Cardinal Roger Mahony, Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, in his Lenten message, "Making Room."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Lent Expressions

Hi there - I'd love to hear from some of you about what's going on for you for Lent? What are some observances you are practicing? How are your churches celebrating? What are some ideas you all could share?

My friend Sam Andress has some great stuff you all should read. Check it out @ www.samandress.blogspot.com

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Christ As Pursuer

I am a recovering Southern Baptist. Often in Baptist World, you'll hear the phrase "accepting Jesus as your personal savior." This is basically code for an arrangement you make with God to go to heaven when you die. Contrast that with the idea of making Jesus your personal teacher. Trusting Jesus with your life is believing that the things he said about living are right.

Many of these deal-closing conversations include the familiar question, "What would happen if you died tonight?" But I would like to know, what would happen if you didn't die tonight - what would your life look like tomorrow? It seems like a better question would be, "Have you accepted Jesus as your personal teacher?" There is a distinction between an arrangement you make to go to heaven when you die and a relationship that makes a difference in how you live.

As humans we like to legalize things and take what Jesus said and see them as rules he was laying out for us. Most often, he wasn't doing that so much as speaking against conventional wisdom and defining the kingdom. Again, not laying out rules, but giving guidance that require our own discernment (sermon on the mount)

The Hebrew education system illustrates what it meant for Jesus to be a Rabbi, talking about the 3 phases.
1. Beth Shefer - boys age 6 - 10
2. Beth Talmud - boys age 10 - 14 - you had to be good, know the OT, etc., to get in and become a talmudim. If you didn't get in at this point, you were sent back home to learn the family business
3. Beth Midrash - if you were the best of the best you got in here, you would pick a rabbi with whom you wanted to study and then beg and interview to study with him. If you were accepted by him you took on his yoke, or teaching. It was beneath the dignity of a rabbi to solicit students - students had to beg to be accepted.

Jesus went to James & John and said "Follow me." This was totally against the culture and tradition because Jesus went to guys who had flunked out of Hebrew school and were told they weren't good enough and to go home and work for their dad. Then he went out soliciting students as a Rabbi, which wasn't done. Jesus went about finding the ones that were told they didn't measure up, and going against what was considered dignified for a rabbi and asking people to become his students.

(this was all gleaned from a sermon John Ortberg gave @ Menlo Park Presbyterian Church)

What if we lived differently?

Ok, so I've succumbed to the temptation to post some thoughts and see what kind of response I'll get.

John 13:1 - 11

Last night I watched my recording of Tony Campolo on the Colbert Report. It was not necessarily good television, in that Tony isn't so much a tongue-in-cheek kind of guy, but it was good in that he is the kind of guy that isn't intimidated by pretty much anyone. He sat there on Comedy Central and talked about how different the world would be if we all took the words of Jesus seriously. Not something you often hear on Comedy Central, but I appreciated it.

I've been stuck in the beginning of John 13 because I've found it newly perplexing on many levels. Here are the first few verses:

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table,a took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

The things I'm finding interesting are first the phrase "he loved them to the end." Other translations say, "he showed them the full extent of his love." I find that interesting that that phrase is used here and not other places, say, the crucifixion. Keep that in the background for a minute. Verse 3 is the kicker for me right now because basically what it's saying to me is that Jesus had a strong sense of identity and mission and was therefore able to show the full extent of his love by engaging in the lowest act of servitude. Interesting note in verse 2 - Judas was already set to betray and Jesus knew it, yet he washed Judas' feet. The institutional church in our culture is all about big things, all about spiritual "personalities," all about the next major trend, etc. I think that is largely because we don't know who we are or what we're called to do. We are totally the sheep who've gotten so busy about grazing because we think we need to be "fed" that we've wandered away from the shepherd and now we're just sitting there.

This passage is one of the reason that my friend Kenny says that John 13-17 is the most dangerous passage of scripture: it challenges our comfortable cultural Christianity. If we really were secure in who we are, what we're supposed to be doing and where we're going to end up, it would be no problem for us to wash feet, be gracious, love people to the end, even when we know betrayal is inevitable. Doing something big, being known, etc., is just not what we're about. It's so alluring, but it's ultimately and empty experience. The question we should be asking is not, "what can I do to get myself noticed?", but rather, "how can I love better?"

So I would ask myself, am I ready to do the lowest thing without ever being appreciated? Frankly, I don't think I am. I want people to think that I'm gifted and value my contributions.

This story seems to me to be the gospel in a nutshell. The church in America seems to have reduced the gospel to information that is to be disseminated for the purpose of recruiting people to attend our own central gathering.

I write this on the first day of Lent, just to remind myself of the chain of events that follows this story.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006


I am somewhat new to the blog-iverse. I'm slightly on the older side of the gen-xers and so I find it a little odd to think that I'm sending out some of my own reflections into cyberspace and people might actually read them.

So, I'm going to start slowly. I'm not here so much to throw my own musings out there but rather hear from those of you who are worship leaders in what might be considered emergent settings. (if you don't know what that means, check out www.emergentvillage.com)

I attended the 2006 Theological Conversation @ Yale University this year and there were a number of us music/worship types there. While I made great relationships with all kinds of folks, I found myself wanting to have conversations with worship leaders specifically, just for some cameraderie and to share ideas. Obviously, I didn't think that gathering was an appropriate moment, but I e-mailed Tony Jones about it and asked if there could be a place in the new emergent website for worship leaders. As luck would have it, the new website will have space for such a thing, mostly in the form of what I'm told is "dynamic content" and links to blogs such as this one.

This is me starting the blog.

I'd love to hear from those of you out there who deal with leading your faith communities to experience God in your gatherings through music, art, conversation, justice, and all of life, for as we know, all of life is worship.