Taken on the ATL trip

a picture is worth a thousand words...found this in a pub in Decatur

a picture is worth a thousand words...found this in a pub in Decatur

Mission and Movement

I’ve been reading through the Gospels again and was struck, once more, by the last verses in the 1st chapter of John.  It’s such a wonderful and symbolic picture of discipleship for me.

The lamb of God is identified by John the Baptist as being present in the world, the Father has inaugurated His son’s ministry by declaring that He is pleased with Jesus (isn’t that interesting that all of Jesus’ distinct mission and ministry flows from a place of the Father being well pleased in His Son…it begins there, but Jesus doesn’t just camp out basking in that presence, He then follows, obeys, and is directed by the King)…and then two young disciples of John get REALLY curious about Jesus…they go as far as to trail after him and then go further by asking him where He is staying.  I take that to be an amazing moment. It’s like, for the first time in human history (and the History of God) in many ways, folks want to be around God and to know what He’s about…Jesus does an interesting thing…it’s a profound statement, “Come and see”.

My feeling about that statement is that it is so invitational…come and see what I’m about…come and take part in the activities I am doing…come and participate in the Mission that I’m engaged with…or not…
Jesus walkingThere’s a risk there.  There’s a moment, just like in every moment that Jesus initiates with would be disciples, where they are able to choose to be about other things besides the Way of living he proposes…Some folks went back to lives of sin, some folks went back to ordinary lives of subsistence and “being”, and some went back to worshipful lives of observing God…but only a few (we are told) did as these two men did that day…followed in the footsteps of the Rabbi and were caught up in his dust. The truth is that Jesus always makes the offer, but he never chases them down.  He lays out the decision to join him in his mission but he never conscripts or drafts…simply invites…

Being an evangelical seems to extend beyond agreeing with some theological tenets, in many ways it reminds me of Catholics who never practice but always identify themselves as Catholic…it’s a bias they’re never able to shake…it’s their culture…it’s in them…and I wonder how much it is just IN many of us.  It simple effects us regardless of how far we’ve distanced ourselves from the dogmas it holds.

One aspect of evangelicalism is this idea of “come to us”.  It demands of sinners and it demands of God, “bring them to us”.  Having shaken the extreme notion of needing to convert every person I see, I can’t help but think that we still fall into the notion of “this is my life…God comes to me and brings me His will…”  It’s a safe place to be, that’s for certain.  It’s wonderfully comforting. And maybe that’s what is needed for many folks. Safety.  Their lives are too convoluted and confusing as it is…why add un-security in spirituality?

But of course…there’s always a risk isn’t there?

And though all are called, a few will choose to take the invitation of a lonely Rabbi who has no place to lay His head…they will venture out with him as he has compassion on the multitudes, touches the lepers, eats with sinners, and spends the majority of his time with the spiritually AND SOCIALLY ill.  They will actually lose their own lives…materially, socially, and spiritually in order to take on His radical new Way of living.  “Come and see…”

“The starting point for mission is a missional God who is active in the world.  God invites us and beckons us to join his mission.  So in this sense, we join in with what God is doing rather than ‘taking God with us’…God is already working in the world.  Our role is to discover where and then to stand alongside God.  Many evangelicals believe they are taking God to the world and into their daily lives…I do not like the dualsim associated with that kind of theology.  God leads and we follow as we can.  We find that God is planting and we water it…I don’t take God in with me but find God where he is and then join him.”

Transient Presence

One of the most gripping things in Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis were the thoughts that revolved around our knowledge of God…and more importantly our lack of knowledge. He talked about Moses wanting to pin down God by knowing His Name (an Eastern concept and superstition that suggests if you know the secret name of something then you can know it fully…think of Simon the magician who goes around using the NAME of Jesus to perform magic…the Name is the Reality)….so Moses asks for a Name that will define and ultimately articulate who God is, hedge Him in, and give a human being a set definition for God’s reality…what does God do…He gives Moses the most unlimited, unconstrictive, nebulous Name ever…and the one that actually encompasses all and everything…I AM…absolutely everything…

Then Moses does it again…He gets tired of not seeing God, of not being able to identify God like the surrounding heathens–who can all demandingly look at and touch their deities. He asks to see God. But God won’t let him…God refuses to be identified again…instead He says, “Moses, you can see my back”…and that’s what happens. Moses is sheltered in the rock and looks upon God’s passing and sees His…backside…but Bell points out that the ancient Rabbi’s translated that passage as meaning something different than God’s rear end…they thought of it as Moses could only see where God had JUST BEEN. In other words…Moses didn’t know where God was right now, nor where He was going next, but only where He had just been.

How beautiful. How Transient. How utterly free.

A God who is unwilling to be defined. Who refuses to be categorized. Who tells us “I am…” but doesn’t finish the sentence. A God who let’s us see Him…but only in accordance with previous and perishable. A God who constantly leaves us guessing.

Is that my God? Am I constantly surprised? Do I even want to be?

Or do I, like we all do, want assuredness…constance…safety…security…stability…

I AM what I will be…

And while we may not like thinking of a God who changes, evolves, and emerges…maybe that’s exactly what He’s doing and has always done…maybe that’s why He refuses to hedge himself in with our puny defining characteristics…maybe that’s why His Story is so peculiar…

I want a God who conveniently fits all my preconceptions…or at least fits SOMEONE’S conceptions…Definable Jesus.

Not our God…the One who is absolutely free…

Crucify my sedate images to the fixed permanence of your cross…leave it there…dead and buried…then rise again in my imagination, walk forward, then ascend upward…God…be free to MOVE again in me!

does context matter (and denying the humanity of Jesus)

I was over checking out Tall Skinny Kiwi and came upon the latest discussion…it happened to be about context (interesting considering some of my more recent posts too)…apparently there are those who doubt the importance or significance of this in terms of living into God’s mission.

Ton’s of interesting comments there–go over and check it out…

Here’s my comment:

I can’t help but wonder if the same crowd that denies context also has a hard time holding the tension of Jesus being fully God AND fully human.  Certainly there’s the liberal scholarship (like Chilton and Crossan) crowd who would deny the deity of Christ…but the evangelical fundamentalist world seems to go to the opposite extreme and denies the humanity of Jesus.  This really isn’t a new thought I know…but…God in Christ is the ultimate contextualist.  I mean, isn’t the hymn in Phil. about “emptying himself…taking the form…” and then the proclamation in Hebrews “…becoming in all ways like us…”, all about incarnate contextualization?  His humanity is then all about coming to a specific time, a specific place, with a specific way of dress, way of life, cultural understanding…it begins with God.  This isn’t the missionary method of Paul–it’s the Missionary method of God. So…there’s that…

And the thing is that other folks have commented on this as well with their lives.
I think of CT Studd and the Cambridge 7 who went to China.  They were mocked by the other “white” missionaries for adopting Chinese customs and apparel–but in the end have been recognized as the  inspired approach.

Unfortunately the examples don’t go on and on positively…there is a much greater history in the West of refusing to adopt and adapt.  We have refused to “imitate Paul as he imitated Christ”.  We fail (generally speaking) to take seriously the humanity of Jesus and because of it will always imagine our teacher, savior, Lord, and friend as a “disembodied floating head” (thanks Mike) without touch or smell or vision or…well…completely unrelatable to me and you…and maybe that’s what we want out of our God…someone who’s NOT like me…Because if he was–well–then I’d have to get more comfortable with my own skin…eek–that’s a terrifying thought.

Introducing…

…after many blue screens and depressing freeze ups…it was time…

And so I’m going Mac…I’m told that I will never return.  I get it tomorrow.

mmmm…I’ve joined the world of emergence–no Nicean creed necessary–just a mac.

The Macbook

Pain

CS Lewis said that music is the melody of the infinite and the closest experience of the other realm to which we may aspire. It makes sense…Paul gives direction for a group of people on how to have a meeting–out of 5 suggestions, 3 are musical…on and on…the very center of Scripture is almost entirely song–the Psalms…and so too in my life right now. Song is making it all bearable. When I can’t find my own words or my own anthem for living I’m taking stock in those of others; they are my melody, they are singing my song. So…I hope that explains the new proliferation of musical or lyrical reference in my posts–thanks guys.

Here’s one from “Enter the Worship Circle“, an amazing collective of musicians and poets screaming out for divine intervention, lamenting injustice and lack of beauty, and declaring that this is the day of the Lord’s righting of wrongs…challenging, torn up, bent out of shape, broken, restorative, beautiful…majestic…that’s what these songs are for me.

This one called pain is desperately personal–may it be to you too.

My life so far has been touched by your grace but there’s still things that shake me

I grow nearly faint when I see all the pain, there’s times I wish I wasn’t so tender.

There’s AIDS in the world and cancer in my friends and I’m sick now cause I’m scared

There’re people on the street too cold to feel their feet; I’m shaking inside cause they hurt

Our kids just don’t know to live in your Love is all that we need to be saved

It is simple enough, is it just like they say? Can we call on your Name to get help?

When I hear your Voice I won’t harden my heart, I don’t want to turn away from You!

And it’s just around the corner when every knee will bow and freedom will come

And it’s just round the corner when you come in the clouds and PAIN WILL BE NO MORE!! PAIN WILL BE NO MORE!!!!

Pain

Lord? Really?

Admittedly, I don’t know much about what “Rev Wright” said…I don’t have the full context.  And I’m not really going to try to guess it’s implications on the campaign of a certain someone.  But I can’t help wonder if my African American brother, pastoring a black church in Chicago, simply saw through what we Euro-Centric Christians often fail to: the defunctness of the American Dream.  The American dream is not now nor has it ever been inclusive–except in the fact that misery (or in this case luxury) loves company.  It is not redemptive. It is not the hope of the world.  Folks around the world do not hate America because we “dare to dream” of a better tomorrow–they loathe this empire because it dares impose it’s dreams onto the rest of humanity.  The American Dream is NOT GOD’S GOOD DREAM!  Competition–eye for eye–getting ahead at any cost and turning a profit at any price–looking good/image is everything–needing the next and the newest–THESE ARE NOT KINGDOM DREAM’S!!!

And so someone (read: the oppressed and powerless) dared critique that, and low and behold he got handed a national microphone and everyone is listening to back logs of what was exactly said.  The political pundits are advising distance and encouraging disgust in reaction to the message of anti-empire.  I read Dick Morris‘ open letter of advice to Obama, this line stood out:  “He needs, again and again, to reject what Wright says and emphasize his belief in America and the validity and morality of the American Dream.”

…Because…because…because…that–America and the American Dream/the American Way–that is our religion.  Not Christianity.  Not Christ.  Not a little revolutionary rabbi from Nazareth.  The juggarnaut of empire and excess, of oppression and exploitation, of complacency and self satisfaction towards God and fellow man, that is the faith of our fathers.  But check out what God has to say about his good dream and the people that match it:

Isaiah 58: 6-9“This is the kind of holy day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’
 9-12“If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If 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.
I 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.
You’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.”
This is hardly the bill of sale most of us pledged our allegiance to as children.  Having pledged away our allegiance, who is our Lord–really?
I pray that we followers in the way of Jesus live into a new reality–which is really just God’s good dream from eternity past for eternity future and being worked out today.

Early This Morning…

Early this morning I wrote these thoughts down, maybe you share them too.

“The titles Savior and Lord feel like abstract words to me–I long to discover you as Rabbi, Teacher, Master, and friend.
Steal my breath at a glance–and I want to see it–not just feel something in my stomach like indigestion or warm fuzzies–but a glance, your look that melted Peter…

So I’m looking for you once more–knowing that there is more. Digging through the pages of your biographies watching your feet and the movements of your mouth. Yours is a higher Life and a deeper Life…but it’s you life. Why do we, why have I, so often detached your Life from your living–message, ministry, and mission?  I think it’s safer that way. If I can detach you from your attitudes and actions, from your body (ha! Imagine the disembodied floating Head of Christ trying to touch a blind man or holding a little child), then I don’t have to take my own living so seriously. REPEAT: if I don’t take your living: message, ministry and mission, seriously, then I don’t have to take my own living seriously either!

But I’m serious. I’m a seed planted in your soil-MASTER FORM ME! Grow me deeper than I know or really even imagine.

Lord I don’t want to be a believer anymore–someone who adheres to some vague list of mental or emotional thoughts and feelings I should have.

I want to be your disciple. Your apprentice. Just like Peter and James and John. Just like Paul told the church “imitate me as I imitate Christ” and  “follow in my pattern”.  Disciple. Apprenctice of the way of Jesus in the 21st century.

Master, master. Take me on. Take me on. Teach me. Tell me what to say. How to say it. What to do. How to do it. Take me on.

What would it look like in my life if I took what you say and do, seriously?  What if I took you seriously for a year?

Bizarre. Not that I would…but that I haven’t.

Master…take me on.

Where are you staying? I ask.  Come and see. You say.

Hope…again…

I believe in hope…at least I try to…it’s easy to forget sometimes…hope is so often unseen, invisible, and indefinable at best…and I so I lose track from time to time.  I’m beginning to suspect that I need others around me who believe in hope, who remind me that tomorrow is brighter than today, that the sun is shining even when the clouds hide that reality, who labor and who struggle to actively prepare the soil for rain—being the hope and light of the world together…I need to be dragged to the feet of hope because I scurry away and hide in shadows of fear and regret.  Forming a community out of reaction against the likes and dislikes of a particular experience or theology is a trap, making decisions—cautious though they may be—out of fears of failure, out of reminders of the past, and out of personal misgivings, will strangle us…me and you…every time.  A community…but not of fear…a community of hope.  A community where we love and are loved. A community where love believes all, trusts all, keeps all. A community that sees God’s Purpose in all things and is affirmed in it but also sees that God is working His Purpose out towards a goal and aspires to join Him in it. A community that sees itself not as something separate from what God has done or is doing in others but as connected, as prophetic, as relevant and cares about the Church…not what type of church and then judging some as worthy and others as less than.  A community that values pressing on more than bogging down or hiding out.  A community that seeks common understandings as opposed to readily looking for differences.  A community that deems themselves as agents and instruments of God’s future…not merely as bystanders and lethargic audience members.  A beloved community…where faith—the present practice of tomorrows anthem, hope—against all hope and all odds, and love—to enemy, stranger, neighbor, family and friend…remain.  This is Christian community

Now…

When Confucius was asked about death he replied “While you do not know life, how can you know about death?”

I suspect that Jesus would have and probably did make the same sort of statement… The disciple who asked about inheriting eternal life with Jesus responding that he must “go and sell he had and give it to the poor” is an example of this sort of measurement. The disciple was asking about death and afterlife but Jesus was interested in dying to self and resurrection Life being lived out.

First century Judaism seemed to be as conflicted as modern Christianity is, if not more. One party held one opinion dogmatically and so did the next party…except in opposite directions. In other words there wasn’t one accepted theory of how to view the world. However the popular view was that all of history as represented by the Jews and their personal history was building to a climax. And when that “fullness of time” would come so would God’s chosen representative who would instate God’s reign and God’s rule…physically… The deaf would hear, the blind would see, community would be restored to those who had been written off, debts would be paid, justice would be dispensed, healing would occur. The prophets Daniel, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Haggai had all commented on it…they understood that God’s climatic reign was coming and that when it did the world would begin to be set right…Heaven, where all was under the direction of God’s character, would invade earth… God’s kingdom come, His will done on Earth as in the heavens.

I doubt, among Christians, that there is any question as to Jesus’ own sense of what he was inaugurating…the kingdom…God’s rule… When asked if John’s disciples should look for another Messiah Jesus responds that the kingdom events were taking place, were taking shape…just not exactly in the way they expected it would. The truth is that Jesus preached a radical purity and a radical restorative community. While the temple cult enforced purity through sacrifice, the Pharisees demanded the extreme observance of ceremonial and ritual food laws to obtain pure community, and John the Baptizer proclaimed the cleansing purity of Jordan’s baptism, Jesus seemed to be saying that it was his presence or the climactic presence of the Kingdom among them that was capable of making them whole and pure again. A tax collector could eat with next to rabbi, a prostitute next to a priest, a mamzer (child of questionable parentag such as Jesus himself) could fellowship with synagogue elite. Why? Because Jesus presence had made them whole. This was truly a radical statement. Jesus was living out the prophecies of the kingdom, “in that day you shall given a new heart and a new spirit to know the Lord…” “…to bind up the broken hearted, to comfort all who mourn, to proclaim the day of the Lord’s favor”. People’s sins were forgiven because the King had come to judge and to rule.

But his kingship was different, as we’ve said, from what the people of his time might have expected. They seemed to think that the kingdom was exclusively for them, Israel. But Jesus was calling, and demanding, that Israel be the kingdom of God they were called to be…inclusive…A Light unto the gentiles…a city set upon a hill…the salt of the earth…But even more so, Jesus was living out the radical inclusive life right in front of them, and it was offensive. He took to warning the religious teachers who became angry at what he was doing: a parable of a prodigal son who was returning home and the father throws a tremendous feast, but the older brother can’t enjoy and doesn’t participate; a king who invites a select group to eat with him but they refuse and so he sends out a new round of invitations to the people who really hadn’t deserved it but now were included while the unresponsive found themselves weeping and nashing their teeth…and so on… He was warning them…when he looked upon Jerusalem, the city on a hill meant to be a light to the world but now simply concerned with her own holiness he weeps…”I long to gather her to myself—” and perhaps the unspoken reality of his way of living out the kingdom…”I wish I could make her pure…but she just won’t let me”

Eventually it was Israel’s own unwillingness to participate in God’s kingdom Now that made it necessary that he die. They wouldn’t listen, they had ears but there was no hearing, eyes but there was no seeing…And so…the kingdom was forced into another route. The cross. Atonement. Purity and sacrifice. The taking upon himself, who knew no sin, the wrongs of a nation, Israel, representative of the whole world.

Of course it was always in line with what he was doing…divine love is always willing to and capable of suffering…blessed are those who are persecuted, mocked, and reviled…for his–the king’s–namesake…

But this serves as a footnote for the crescendo…a resurrection. Death become Life. We could spend all day talking about it’s significance–but simply this–death holds no power over kingdom life. In the End…death simply becomes yet another tool in the kingdom’s great climaxing strength.

…and life goes on…

Death, resurrection, ascending…

but life went on…Jesus’ message to his disciples is one of continuity, “keep on doing what I taught…keep on living the life I showed you how…oh and by the way…”I am with you always…I will send another, a comforter who will teach you all things…” The Kingdom Life taught by the King himself was always meant to be lived out by men and women with the King’s spirit inside of them, the comforter, the agent of the future present in us today.

And that’s the rub: when one looks at the book of Acts we read within the first few verses, “All that Jesus began to do and to teach…”–the early church continued. And then the book of acts abruptly ends with Paul continuing to “teach them all things relating to the Kingdom and Jesus”. In other words, nothing changed. People were still living in a radical way. A way that acknowledged the kingdom, where all is under submission to God’s authority and character, was right here among us. Present. Now. And somehow, we as kingdom people, are called to grow in an ever greater appreciation for what that means, and to live out what that looks like. Paul, the great apostle, is there near the end of his life and he is inviting people to live “in the present as people called to that future–where God’s reign and rule is everywhere and in everything”–the kingdom.

If you want a simple yet gripping analogy for how this sort of looks, then check out my post called, “Agents of the Future”

Anyhow…we are called to live in the light that the King is present in our hearts and in the hearts of the community of believers around us…Live now in the reality of God’s ultimate Purpose and His radically pure community, one of inclusivity and invitation.

The Kingdom here…the Kingdom now…

“We are invited to practice in the present the tune we shall sing in the future…”

This is what it means then to believe the kingdom is here now…but yet it is also “not yet”…one day the invisible veil that seperates heaven and earth will be torn in two.  Every eye will see and every tongue will confess that Jesus is indeed Lord.  The whole will speak his glory.  Every leaf will dance in tribute, every gust of wind will breathe his name.  The veil, the dimness through which we see faintly, as in a foggy mirror, will be forever stripped away.  Now…but also Not Yet…And so we look forward expectantly to his return…so that truly he will be fully crowned as king.  Until then though…we experience a foretaste, through the Spirit, of the life and we live out that notion of God’s Kingdom.

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