My Favorite Reading from 2008

Ten books this year that I found worthwhile and inspirational…

While I do not agree with all the conclusions that the various authors come to (if they come to one at all), I was challenged by each of their perspectives and offerings.

These books were both prescriptive towards a new reality in my life, and descriptive of existing realties.  Some of them were read multiple times–others only once. Some from last year made it onto the list–mainly because they continued to have a deepening or enjoyable effect in my life. And some that I just finished are here as well (maybe they’ll go on next years list too).

I hope you Enjoy and have a chance to check them out in the coming months:

10.

This is an incredible collection of spiritual and mystical poems.  They are from another faith tradition, but don’t let that scare you off, besides inspiring greater understanding we also find that there are many things we share in common.  Hafiz articulates a God who is found in every laugh and tear.  The poetry extends beyond cognitive thought and hints at things that are beyond our ability to grasp…they turn us towards the Divine.

 

 

9.

Rollins gives, perhaps rather strangely, a lot of people hope.  I know so many who find themselves on the fringe–on the outskirts of belief or faith–but Rollins invites them to move beyond the mundane questions about God’s existence but to actually give God birth in our lives. He asks us to allow the miracle of God to be our own transformed lives.  At the same time Rollins puts forward a basic thought: faithfulness to God will always look like unfaithfulness to religious form.  This will be hard for many within their tradition to swallow–but those already outside, it seems to connect. I loved it.  

8.

I read Kester Brewins book last year, in fact it was the last book I read in 2007.  I feel as if I have lived it in 2008.  This book is one of my all time favorites.  It is written like poetry or a prayer escaping the lips of a hopeful yet hurting child.  There is a sense of wonder in these pages that invites the reader to wait on God, to discover the new thing God is doing and to dig ones hands into the grimy, often dirty, work of living towards a shared community as followers of Jesus.  Really this is a brilliant work.  I can’t say enough about it and even recently demanded that a friend and co-pioneer here in Portland read it.  I wish I could force every church planter, visionary, and co-worker to do so as well.  

7.  

I met Carl McColman this summer and had no clue who he was outside of a mutual friend’s recommendation. After our dinner together I realized that I wanted to spend copious amounts of time with this brother in Christ.  His history is rich and varied. His path of conversion is one of the most intriguing I’ve ever heard. And his generosity of spirit is intoxicating without being purely a free for all.  More than anything though, he brings all of this to a book he wrote over a decade ago.  This is a book for all spiritual seekers. It helps to articulate a path that neither negates nor excludes faith traditions, but rather affirms and invites people to recognize our great need for honest exploration of that which is beyond the here and now.  I have Christian and non-Christian friends alike I would love to loan this book to, provided I get it back. ;)

6.

Reading this book while flying 30,000 feet above the ground was a dizzying experience. I finished it between the round-trip flights to a speaking engagement in the midwest. It left me breathless.  First, it is a good mystery, or rather three of them. 1) the disappearance of God in the Hebrew Bible 2) The Madness of Niechze 3) The connection of Cabbala and the Big Bang.  For any student of Scripture who has ever noticed the peculiar problem of “the disappearance of God” between Genesis and Daniel, this is a must read.  I was always troubled by the overt involvement of God in human affairs up front, only to be completely absent (not even mentioned) in the book Esther.  Why?  This is one of the questions Friedman seeks to answer.  He also delves into a completely bizarre connection between Nietchze and Doestoevsky…in the end the man who proclaimed God was dead actually believed himself to have become God.  And then finally the last section explores what Medieval Jewish mystics seemed to know about the beginning and ending of the universe that scientists are just now catching up with.  All in all this book was riveting. I ended up have a quasi-spiritual experience akin to being slain in the Spirit but in the middle of the Denver airport. Incredibly powerful–and bizarre.  Still, an incredibly challenging and altering book about unexpected subjects from an unlikely source.   

5.

The Anabaptists have slowly, quietly, been tending to the treasury of actually taking Jesus seriously for hundreds of years now.  My wife is Mennonite as well as some of my best friends.  Though it has become, in many aspects, largely cultural–devoid of the original prophetic voice calling for radical apprenticeship to Jesus via the Sermon on the Mount, there are those who would reclaim that voice. Lee Camp is one of them.  He wrote this book as a more popularized and updated version of John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus”.  This book is at once accessibly written and extrutiatingly demanding.  Still, while inviting us to take Jesus far more seriously than we probably ever have–Camp also asks us NOT to take OURSELVES so seriously.  This is a message we need to hear more than ever.  (AND, if the book weren’t already worth it, I would pay the $15 just for the Appendix’, full of Mennonite/Anabaptist creeds, and spiritual practices to be utilized personally and communally).  

4.  

For anyone who enjoyed Frost or Hirsch’s past offerings, “Exiles” or “The Shape of Things to Come”, you are going to LOVE this book.  ReJESUS is prophetic, calling us to discover, as they say it in their subtitle, “a WILD messiah for a missional church”.  Jesus, to these authors, is a flesh and blood figure who offered hope for his world and in Spirit offers hope for ours today as well.  The book is a critique of laissez faire market place Christianity, while at the same time, affirming the biblical rendering of the person of Jesus.  Once again they beautifully express the need for the church to engage the Mission of God on this earth and to discover the radical claims of Jesus for the present moment.  It is faith renewing.  It was for me.  

3.

Fact is perhaps best described by fiction.  Eons ago, back when Gen X still was mostly unnamed and we didn’t know who we were turning out to be, Douglas Coupland was elucidating the sense of isolation and desperate spiritual desire that the first generation without God was living with. The book is really a collection of short stories each focussing on different characters and situations. Still, a single thread runs through this small volume, hopelessness inspiring hope.  I recommend it because it describes the people I’ve met and am meeting.  People who are tired of running. People who are searching without realizing it.  It’s entertaining but its much bigger than that.  It’s descriptive.

2.  

The National (a band) sings about being “half awake in a fake empire”.  Chuck Klosterman is such a person.  He sees the connectedness of everything–from “Saved by the Bell” to internet porn to Frosted Flakes.  This book will make you believe that the “merchants of cool” (the shady marketeers who are engineering a culture of consumers who will buy their products) are real…and have been so for a very long time.  It will also make you realize the peculiar pit fall of being postmodern–something that Klosterman continually addresses and critiques.  In the final essay which happens to be on the topic of the once wildly popular “Left Behind” series in evangelical Christianity, he says why he admires fundamentalists. I found his reason interesting: “They’re probably the only people openly fighting against America’s insipid Oprah Culture–the pervasive belief system that insists everyone’s perspective is valid and that no one can be judged.”  Because, while he freely admits he’s a product of the mind numbing culture strewn between 1975-2005, Klosterman sees that there MUST BE MORE than pluralistic pliability–there are absolutes…even if we’ve been absolutely confused about them.  Very funny book. Very entertaining and insightful into the culture at large.

1.

The subtitle of this book defines for me something that has been, and continues to be, an arduous and at times perilous journey: reconnecting your spirit without disconnecting your mind.  To embrace mystical spirituality that affirms the Bigness of God, the unknowability of God–who can only be known in the breaking point of Spirit and Body, while at the same time exploring actively the mental ramifications of knowing ABOUT God in my mind–this is the challenge that Alan Jones, dean of Grace Cathedral in SF, seeks to do.  He’s well qualified to do it too.  His church in San Francisco has been trying to find a “third way” between spiritual fundamentalism and secular post-modernism for years.  To his critics he is just another heir to the ooey-gooey hippies but to those who are being radically healed of pessimism  and spiritual lack Alan Jones is on to something (in the same way that Jesus was ;)).  This book ministered to me.  It wouldn’t have 2 years ago. It may not in the next year. But where I am today–it helped me reaffirm my commitment to life in the Way of Jesus, to His followers and indeed to all of humanity, and to moving in Spirit and Truth.  People who find themselves disappointed or wounded, on their way out or maybe even on their way in, will love this book.  People wanting to understand those of us who I’ve just described should probably give it a read too.  This year, this book is really the one about a Christianity worth believing–Hope-filled, Open-armed, Alive-and-well Faith for the Left Out, Left Behind, and Let Down in us All.

MetaVista–there’s more than just seeing…

So…I’ve been reading a book called MetaVista, which has got me thinking…and looking around on the web for other people’s thoughts on it as well.  These folks said it way better than I could, so I’m going to quote them:

Metavista by Colin Greene and Martin Robinson, which has a lot to say about the importance of story in communicating faith within post-modern culture, surprised us by containing no stories!  They’re not alone in that of course, there is no shortage of people keen to tell us what needs to be done but not offering much in the way of either stories or models showing in practical terms what they’re on about.  That’s not to say that these two aren’t experts: they obviously are, and display evidence of their wide reading in (western) philosophy and social sciences in just about every sentence.  From that perspective, it’s a great book.  But as practical theologians we struggle a bit with the idea that theory comes first and that spiritual practice always starts with some kind of ideological basis.  Most Christians probably operate the other way round, starting with practice and then maybe reflecting on it all more analytically.  Like Gustav Gutierrez said, something about discipleship being the first act, theology the second.

This is really interesting isn’t it?  One of the goals of the book seems to be to get people to integrate story/narrative into their presentation of the good news of God.  So how do they get towards their end result?  Linear, non-narrative.

That raises interesting questions for me.  One of the realities I’m dealing with here is the organization and facilitation of a series of events that aim to investigate and affirm apprenticeship in the Way of Jesus.  We’re attempting to structure those events in such a way where only about 15-25% of the time is spent using speaching or monologue. There are so many more impacting ways of encountering and being affected by information than the lecture style: art/aesthetic, soundscapes, images, actions, singing, etc… And one of our first questions was, “how do we go about introducing this? maybe we should do some kind of a teaching on it?”  Isn’t that funny that this might be the first thought?  It was right there at the top of my impulses!  The very thing we wanted to get away from was the means we wanted to use to get away.  **

I do this all the time…”Let’s have a talk about taking action!”  Lol.

Confusing isn’t it?

And so we use war to bring peace.

We use angry and empassioned politicising to proclaim a way of love.

We use theology (thoughts) to bring us to praxis (action).

I can’t help but wonder if it’s easy to see the way forward but hard to live into it. It’s true for me.

**I’m pleased to say that we ended up deciding just to go for it…acknowledging that there would be challenges and possible disorientation but that was acceptable because it would be new…for EVERYONE!

The Calling Card of Jesus (& Clarifications)

Several posts later…and a slough of comments…

Was Jesus political?  Was his message, in his day–to his disciples and the earliest communities of his apprentices–one that took him and them into radical collision with the Empire of their day?  Conversely, will that same message, if taken seriously by his friends and followers today, lead us into the same head on crash?  To me those questions, and those realities, touch not only individual lives, community lives, but also the life of the polis, the City–politics..not stopping there, but God wants it all, he loses nothing.

One e-friend of this blog commented that Jesus wasn’t political.  I can’t help but wonder if that may be a convenient perspective to hold.  While we can certainly look with hindsight at his ancient friends and say they heard him wrong, they (not we) heard him as a conquering and liberating King–(how wrong they were–if they only had our perspective they could have more appropriately discerned what or WHO they were really dealing with…a liberating King, certainly, but one of the soul…not of earthly situations…silly ancient friends of Jesus…)

Another friend commented, effectively, that our only hope is to be an eternal, non-temporal, non immediate, one.  Let’s not put our trust in changing political systems.  That last statement, I most heartily agree with.  I have no desire to replace one unjust Empire with an empire of my own making or choosing.  That’s not the answer.  Neither, however, is it appropriate to develop an “escapology theology”, pining away in this life for the one to come–never addressing the real issues that concern us (and seem, according to the great bulk of the Text, to concern YHWH). 

It is time then to hear, once again, Jesus words, reimagined in our day, reincarnated for our time and from His own, it was this scandalous message that burst onto the scene in Mark 1:14-16. This is Jesus’ calling card, then and now: 

The time has come! Rethink EVERYTHING! A radically new kind of empire is available–the empire of God has arrived! Believe this good news, and defect from ALL human imperial narratives, counternarratives, dual narratives, and withdrawal narratives. Open your minds and hearts like children to see things freshly in this new way, follow me and my words, and enter into this new Way of living.

Don’t get revenge when wronged, but seek reconciliation. Don’t repay violence with violence, but seek creative and transforming non-violent alternatives. Don’t focus on external conformity to moral codes, but on internal transformation in love.  Don’t love insiders and hate or fear outsiders, but welcome outsiders into a new “us”, a new “we”, a new humanity that celebrates diversity in the context of love for all, justice for all, and mutual respect for all.  Don’t have anxiety about money or security or pleasure as the center of your life, but trust yourself to the care of the Creator.  Don’t live for wealth, but for the living God who loves all people (including your enemies).  Don’t hate your enemies or competitors, but love them and do to them NOT AS THEY HAVE DONE TO YOU–and not BEFORE THEY DO TO YOU–but as you wish they would do to you.

With these words, life in the Way of Jesus inaguarates a different way of living in the world. 

Someone else recently commented that we shouldn’t ever back down from our beliefs, this in response to my thoughts on “accomodating away” the things that may really matter.  I’m not really sure what they meant by that…To be honest, I’m not sure what I really meant by that.

The truth is I don’t care if you call yourself a Christian, go to church, believe in THE Church…those are abstract concepts that have little bearing in my life, or the lives of most of the people I know–the fact that some invest great meaning in them seems to me to be simply a distraction from actually living-a replacing of the Message with the messanger so as not to have to listen to the words that shake us and give rise to changing us. 

Whatever your reality–here’s the thing I no longer apologize for…

Jesus.

He was on to something.

The good dream of the Creator he described, with word and life, and invited friends and enemies to live into, is one that was relevant to his culture…and is still relevant AND radical for ours. 

Recently I invited a friend to join in a conversation where we, as friends of Jesus, actually take up a series of experiments dealing with living life in his Way, to actually take the words of Jesus seriously.  I loved their response…

“I’m afraid.”

Spoken like someone who truly has heard the call of the simple Jewish rabbi, the Master, inviting us into a whole new way of living–one that affects everything and leaves no system untouched, no stone unturned.

Experiments in Truth

More people than I can number or name entrust me with their confession of (non)faith.  Oh, it’s not exactly that they’re faithless.  Actually they tend to be far more faith filled than the religions they are shedding.  They are scared and uncertain, tired or bored, confused or distressed; they don’t readily see the final “vision”; in other words they are the epitome of those who “walk not by sight”…  And, they are done.  They are true believers who have been burned, hurt, torn apart by a thousand inconsistencies.  I love these people.  They are my people. 

Some of my friends, such as I’ve described above, project an image of not caring.  They say, in word and deed, that they don’t care about relgion, spirituality, or faith.  Ironically, they are usually those who care and have cared the most.  It is precisely because they care strongly that they are dissapointed.  We expect much out of that we idealize.  Isn’t that what causes such deep rage as we hear KKK members spout orthodox prayers and pleas towards God?  Isn’t that why its so disgusting when we here of a Catholic priest become predator?  Isn’t that why we feel so disturbed when faiths digress into violent fundamentalism sponsoring Crusades or Jihads?  We expect more.  We expect more from “the friends of God”.  And we should.

Here’s the thing…

Beauty hints at things that lie beyond the edges of our vision.  Something in us, crying out for fair play, demands justice–in ourselves and in the world around.  And, even though we find ourselves isolated and lonely, we long for relationships, for intimacy, for love.  This, truth, beauty, justice, love, is the Divine, is God.  They are not only attributes, they are the Person.  So, the very things we long for, the things are not right with the world of religion and faith, that we wish would change, are the very things that must change if they are to be real and true.  The dissapointment in the lack of those aspects is actually the outcrying for God’s Presence, and perhaps the evidence of the Presence itself. 

In other words…we aren’t alone. 

Our hunger bears witness to the existence of Bread. 

But that’s all jargon, isn’t it?

Beyond that…this is what I’m convinced of.  The person of Jesus described God in a way that is still intoxicating to me. I’m pretty sure he, and his radical way of living that he proclaimed, was on to something.  Life spent in the way of Jesus  changes things…at least I imagine it would.  It’s an experiment I wouldn’t mind testing out.  Ghandi called them “experiments in truth”.  What would life look like if… How would my relationships, the neighborhood, this area, this country, be different if I…

If I what? 

If I took Jesus seriously, if I tried the life he described. 

And then even bigger than that…what if I tried this with others?  Fellow scientists testing our hypothesis. Success or failure. Right or wrong.  Comparing notes. Taking a journey together. 

I read a book about writing recently. The author said an intruiging thing. He commented that writing isn’t something you can theorize about…it’s only something you can do.  You become a better writer by writing. You learn certain skills only by performing them.  I can’t help but think this is the nature of discipleship, of apprenticeship. 

Sadly religion, and as it’s my own faith tradion–Christianity, has detached the positional “beliefs” from the practice.  We believe in justice. We believe in mercy. We believe in love. But we practice dishonesty and greed and war.  Seperate the practice of life in the way of Jesus from Jesus and what do you get?  Dissapointment.  Detachment.  Nothing worth believing in. 

And I think that may just be the point of all this…as my friends confess their (non)faith to me, I’d love to make an invitation.  I’d like to invite them to do something counter cultural…at least it runs counter to the culture of religion most of us have grown up with…. Let’s experiment with truth.  Instead of believing into a new way of living, let’s live into a new way of believing. 

How’s that sound?

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.”

a song

Jesus as teachernaked, poor I come to u. casting all my cares on u. master, won’t u teach me your ways? wretched, blind I run to u. pressing on towards knowing u. master won’t u teach me your ways?

take me on! take me on! i gladly lay down my life–following u.

touch my eyes and I will see. touch my lips and I will speak. master won’t u teach me your ways?

take me on! take me on! i gladly lay down my life–following u. following u.

Hard Words

I don’t know about you but I find myself cheering when Jesus tells the oppressed that they’re the real lucky ones; when he ends up reminding the law loving legalists that they cannot possibly attempt to fulfill all the commandments and are therefore hypocrites or when he extends a disarming hand up to a guilty adulterous… this is the Jesus that I love and respect–of course it’s also the Jesus that never challenges me and never calls me to a deeper discipleship. Plainly put: he conveniently allows me to remain unchanged.There’s an old rule of thumb that I’d like to follow more often: when reading scripture don’t look for the answers you need (or want)–instead look for the situation you’re in–then apply those solutions given…And that sux! Because I’m not the oppressed poor man (in need of being told he’s blessed)–I’m the rich man who’s building bigger barn–to whom Jesus gives a hardcore, “Woe”! I’m not the Pharisee legalist–I’m the grace giddy disciples to whom Jesus sternly articulates that: “Not one jot or tiddle of Law will pass away…and cursed be the man who discourages others from transgressing the law”. I’m not the adulterous woman in need of a friend–I’m the forgiven person who he attaches the words: “go and sin no more”. Yikes.And suddenly Jesus is my rabbi again, not my best bro trying to give me warm fuzzy feelings. He’s beckoning me towards a new life in God. So…here’s towards letting Scripture (and really by that, I simply mean the life and ministry of Jesus–foreshadowed in the old testament, made visible in the gospels, and commentated on in the epistles) get inside of me and wrestle me to the ground.Hard words.

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