The Impossible Now–Part Three

…we build Emergency Rooms…

Of course this doesn’t stop the im/possible from occurring again. Wildcard futures, the unexpected and unpredicted, keep on happening; but just not in the same way. If we can count on them, they are no longer miraculous; they would have crystallized into just another part of the natural world. The im/possible, in order to remain impossible, will always recede back into the swirling primordial waters of the edge of chaos where it awaits upsetting the apple cart another time, in a different way than before. Going back to the Exodus narrative we see this played out in several places. The absurd provision of manna, a sort of cake-like heavenly food (whose name literally means “what is it” and emphasizes the confusion such im/possible events leave us with) is a seminal occurrence in Hebrew literature. However, the manna’s presence ends as the Israelites cross over into Canaan. Most interpret this to mean that God’s miraculous provision was no longer needed in the light of the bounty of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, and so God withdrew the needless gift. But in another reading, the manna actually disappears just when they need it and can count on it the most. It’s been forty years that they’ve relied on manna from God-knows-where. In some ways the generation that grew up with manna pudding and manna tar-tar has no concept of how to hunt or gather, let alone cook, anything else. Their conquest of the land will take another entire generation—who doesn’t need a regular stock of food and supplies for such an undertaking, especially one such as this that they have learned to depend on? In a sense, the rug is being pulled out from under the Hebrews’ feet. The im/possible is refusing, as it always does, to be pinned down and become a part of someone’s strategic planning. It will always retreat from our view, from our expectation, from our massaging of what is possible, and back into the realm of the unexpected and truly unimaginable.

A Year End Jumble

I’ve been reading an incredibly hopeful and life giving book by an Episcopal priest called “ReImagining Christianity: Reconnecting Your Spirit Without Disconnecting Your Mind“.  Allow me to say that while I read MANY good books-rarely do I read books that our FOR me.  This book is one of the latter.  It has been rich in its critique of stale and stagnant religion and rich in its calling for a remembrance of the heart of Christianity.  It brings front and center both the complaints that many legitimately have regarding Christianity and the deep truths and beautiful vitality of the faith.  

Recently I’ve been criticized for overemphasizing the shadow side of Christianity.  In truth, I feel as if I’ve hardly touched that subject.  There are volumes that could be filled, not only historically but also presently with the wrong doings of this faith path.  I’ve often wondered why these shortcomings are so painful to myself and so many others.  I can’t help but think that it’s because we expect quite a bit more from Jesus and his friends.  There is so much, when looking at it, that leaps off the page-that makes one say with an early follower of Jesus “Where else will we go? In you (Jesus) are the words of Life.” (John 6:68).  And therein lies the paradoxical reality…one I hinted at earlier.  Christianity is as varied as its practitioners.  As soon as someone suggests they dislike Christianity, I’m inclined to wonder: “whose?”  Contrary to many there may NOT be one static version of the faith.  Certainly it is One–it’s centerpiece and hope is wrapped up exclusively in the person of Jesus, representing the full reality of God and Man.  But it is also widely varied in the heart of each man and woman.  Which is how it becomes incredibly tricky.  

God is seemingly NOT offended by multiple versions or visions of his Son.  People are inventing new ones all the time, while most are benign and even valuable, there are others that cause us all to shudder. And the worst part is both the beautiful and horrific claim Jesus as their Lord.  Some see this as an easily addressed issue: “Just get back to the clear word of God”. But this seems a little like looking into a clear pool of water, where we end up seeing the pool certainly–but also our own reflection.  The clear word of God is capable of being, silently and selectively, modified by our core personhood–without our even knowing it. In fact it becomes entirely possible to justify almost any previously held position we’ve got with “the clear word of God” and the “person of Jesus”.  Surely all of those horrifying versions of ages past weren’t only maniacal, they probably actually believed deeply what they were selling–and thought it was faithfully reflecting God.  

The phenomenal book “ReJesus” by Frost and Hirsch due to come out this January/Feb describes this situation in an incredible way.  

Those who want to find in Jesus merely a reformer of Judaism, or the last of the prophets, have managed to do so quite readily.  Supporters of violence have characterized him as a revolutionary, while Tolstoy and his disciples saw him as a teacher of non-resistance.  To the New Age scholars, Jesus is the holy one of an esoteric order. To the enemies of the traditional social order, he was a warrior against routine. To racists Jesus was an Aryan Galilean. In fact after ten years in prison for his involvement in the deaths of three civil rights workers, Sam Bowers (the Imperial Wizard of the KKK in Mississippi) returned to Mississippi to devote himself to a study of the life of Jesus and was never, in 40 years of research, convinced that Jesus was anything other than Bowers believed him to be when (he condoned the murders)…

This reality is at first tragic.  One is left with a sort of, “how can I EVER know?” mentality.  But I ask again…whose Christianity?  There are forms, such as Sam Bowers’, that need to be condemned as NOT Jesus.  There are crude forms of Christianity (just as there are in EVERY religion including science and secularism, one has only to look at two great secularist leaders of the 20th century and the death tole they took tallying over 20 million lives to realize a world without God ISN’T the answer).  As one commentator on my blog warned me against doing, it would be unfair of me to compare the BEST of other religions to the WORST of our own, or vise versa… 

In final analysis I find myself in complete agreement with Frost and Hirsch:

Whether it is the grand ecclesiastical project of the institutional churches, epitomized by the excess of the Vatican, or the tawdry grab for the hearts and minds of the aspirational middle class by prosperity style Pentecostalism, the Christian movement has been subverted. LIke a forgotten nativity scene in a shopping mall dominated by Santa Claus, reindeer, elves, Disney characters, tinsel, baubles, and fake snow, the biblical Jesus is hard to find.  But Jesus is still calling us to join him in a far more reckless and exciting adventure than that of mere church attendance.  When allowed to be as he appears in the pages of Scripture, Jesus will not lead us to hatred, violence, greed, excess, earthly power, or material wealth.  Instead he will call us to a genuine faith and existential faith that believes in him, not simply believing a belief.

 Alan Jones says “Realism isn’t enough. Bagehot wrote of the isolating power of the impoverished imagination: ‘poverty is an anomaly to rich people. It is very difficult to make out why people who want dinner do not ring a bell.’ How do we break down the confines of excluding views of the world? How do we storm the ramparts of privilege and exclusion without creating another nightmare?” 

The answer to the deplorable Christian condition is not the abandonment of Christianity but rather the embracing of Christ–at least that’s the conclusion I’ve come to.  The person of Jesus came, as Richard Rohr says, not to start a new competing religion–but to reform ALL religion and lead us ALL into relationship with the one Jesus related to as Father.  I suppose that this is inclusive of Christianity.  

At the end of the day–while I have engaged this last year in a genuine critique for much of what passes for and poses as following Jesus–I am far more committed to personally discovering myself as the Beloved of the Father, a follower of Jesus, and a partaker of the Spirit.  I also find myself to be a dedicated supporter of the Church, in all of her expressions, as she is engaged in realizing the good dream of God.  Hopefully this next year I will advance into a fuller incarnation of some of those hard won realizations, living deeper into the mission of God, and growing in grace together with others as we live into a new way of thinking.

Creation unfolding

My friend Peter Illyn from Restoring Eden, a Christian environmental group, talks about the wonder of creation.  In a society as disconnected from the dirt as we are, it is easy to lose that sense of overwhelming wonder.  What’s more is that the argument over origins and ancient texts has so dominated the vocabulary of nature (for evangelicals specifically) that it is difficult to even fathom that stops and spends time at the doorstep of astonishment towards creation.

Interestingly it is (and perhaps has been since Darwin) Science that is giving us back a incalculable appreciation for the fullness of this universe.  When I listen to preachers or theologians I tend to walk away with a deafening set of answers and equations contained in verses and chapters and books.  But then I turn on the discovery channel and listen to physisist Michael Green and instantly am filled with awe.  Even reading Darwin’s HMS Beagle diaries you can’t escape that here is a man locked in bewilderment over creation: 

when we reached the crest (of an Andean mountain) and looked downwards, a glorious view was presented. The atmospher so resplendently clear, the sky an intense blue, the profound valleys, the wild broken forms, the heap of ruins piled up during the lapses of ages, the bright colored rocks, contrasted with quiet mountains of Snow, together produced a scene I could never have imagined. Neither plant or bird…distracted the attention from the inanimate mass–I felt glad I was by myself, it was like watching a thunderstorm, or hearing in the full Orchestra a Chorus of the Messiah…no one can stand unmoved in these solitudes, without feeling that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body.

St. Francis, patron saint of the environment (and environmentalist) suggested that the move too quickly from wonder of creation, towards ecstacy of creator, was to have missed the point and not received the heart of the Divine.  Do we move on too quickly?  Do our theologies teach us to obscure the message by looking away towards the Messanger?  Does our conversation about origins obliterate the majesty of the presence of God? 

Science, beginning with Darwin particularly, have given us back the hidden regions of astonishment.  Here we can be lost in the wisdom and whimsy of an Creation, unfolding–emerging, all around us each and every moment.

Early Morning Hymnal

  I’ve been starting my mornings and then continuing my days with poetry. Poems tend to hint at things that can’t be seen straight on.  They elucidate the hazy feeling of Being.  I for one struggle through them, feeling confined by their lines, symmetry, and schemes; only to be opened up to another world in reflection. Here are a couple of poems out of books I’ve been enjoying lately.

THE SEED CRACKED OPEN

It used to be

That when I would wake in the morning

I could with confidence say,

“What am ‘I’ going to

Do?”

That was before the seed 

Cracked open.

Now I am certain:

There are two of us housed 

In this body,

Doing the shopping together in the market and

Tickling each other

While fixing evening’s food.

Now when I awake

All the internal instruments play the same music:

“God, what love-mischief can ‘We’ do

For the world

Today?”  –Hafiz

 

We must not portray you in king’s robes,

you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.

Once again from the old paintboxes

we take the same gold for scepter and crown

that has disguised you through the ages.

piously we produce our images of you

till they stand around you like a thousand walls.

And when our hearts would simply open,

our fervent hands hide You.–Rilke

 

Amen.

Hanging

No great epiphanies on this post…

It’s interesting, after over ten years of pursuing the church in a certain stream with definitive next steps, ambitions, anticipations and dreams, Jessie and I find ourselves downshifting into a new gear.

Uncertain about next steps, no specific ambitions to build or borrow, no form and function to protect and invest endless energies into…surrounded by a world of possibility…and honestly, that’s new…and that’s scary.

Keep us in your thoughts if you care to.  We’re trying to learn how to be present and be aware of God’s presence.

More soon.

Possiblities vs Guarentees

I just got a puppy.  I know…stupid move right?  Well, you’re probably right.  Honestly, the sleepless nights, the random “accidents”, and needing the patience of Job to cope with his mischief have me second guessing the whole transaction.  Ah well…  Still, we picked a great breed.  If you’ve ever researched dogs you know that breeds have very different personalities.  Take for instance my old dog, Rigby.  He was an Australian Shepherd, a herding dog.  And guess what, he was constantly herding us, constantly working. We’re convinced that he never slept.  It’s amazing, we never had to teach him to do that. His instinct kicked in. He just did it. Born that way I guess.

I think that’s how I’ve viewed the church.  Like a dog.  Engineered for certain behaviors. No effort needed.

The funny thing is that it’s really not how it works, with dogs, with humans, or with the church.

It’s why you can’t seperate a pup from it’s mother too early.  If you do, it can’t learn the things that become “instinctual” to it.  The mother conditions it and socializes it to become what it eventually does.

With humans the same is true.  Go to a human development class, you’ll find out.  It’s all about conditioning.  And there’s a variety of opinions on what kind of conditioning works, some think constant and rigid training is neccesary while others say it needs to be hands off.  But everyone agrees that there’s an element of grooming that is absolutely imperative.  Or else?  Ever hear of feral children?  Tarzan or Moglai or Nell?  The rat girl from Texas? Without socialization, without training, without that conditioning kids acculturate to the void that surrounds them, be it rats or wolves or monkeys.  We become what we’re around.  Even though we have the possibility to function as a full human there is no guarentee…the right conditions have to be in place.

It’s true of the church too.  She may have the right genetic code but without early socialization and conditioned relationship with her parent she becomes a wild and erratic aberration of what she was meant to be. That’s why you find Paul freaking out in 1 Thessalonians where he was only able to spend a couple of weeks, “I long to come back and impart some sort of spiritual gift to you”.  He realizes that the right foundation requires time, energy, and interaction. And some will point out that it turned out alright in Thessalonica considering the second letter.  Except…the truth is the second letter is just as frought with concern as the first.  Paul is terrified that it wasn’t enough.  It keeps him up at night. He is grieving.  I can just hear the mystic home churchers: “Come on Paul…just trust the Spirit…These guys are the church…just let them BE.  When are you going to develop faith and not worry so much?” I love it because I’ve heard those words before…

The truth that Paul knew and that life confirms is that anything born to a particular destiny has the possibility for the glorious but NOT the guarantee.  Just like life the church requires effort and labor, we must “work to preserve the unity of the Spirit” (wow…I guess that means that unity of Spirit is something we can lose…), we must “press on towards the goal”, we must “set our minds on things above” (which by the way means, set our priorities on the things that Father values…this isn’t some kind of commendation to become of no earthly good).

Just “being the church” doesn’t guarantee that we will actually express Christ’s Body, the Church.  Alot of people get confused on this point.  They throw out “wherever two or three are gathered in my name there I am” as a reference for “church happening” as Christians get together for coffee.  I can just hear a latte foam lipped guru saying: “See…THIS is Church”…over a cup of joe.  But that verse keeps going doesn’t it?  It’s about church discipline primarily and Jesus is saying that we should feel a sense of freedom in dealing with issues even when the larger gathering isn’t present.  He ends by saying, having taken the issue before the two or three, if nothing changes, “take it before the church”.  Hmmm…it would seem then that according to Jesus the two or three certainly have Christ among them, but they are not the church…just parts of it.  Again, go back to life…my own body.  My hand IS the body…but it’s not the whole body…it’s only a little piece…without the whole it won’t work.  Again, I hear an argument coming.  This is really about the universal church.  We are parts of the universal whole.  Yes…true…but unless Jesus was advocating teleconferencing, when he says “take it before the church” he means the local, locatable, assemblyable, gathering collection of interelated people.  My point?  The Church isn’t just pie in the sky atmospherics that we ARE simply by the nature of being Christians.  There is an intangible element to it that seems to congeal mysteriously and takes us from being simply Christ followers to actually representing His eternal Body.

There’s no guarantee that this moment will ever come.  Just because you get a bunch of people who love Jesus into the same room you don’t necessarily have the full expression of the Church.  You may have the raw genetic material for it.  But, as in life, it requires some growing up…some conditioning…some socializing…

Referring to the last post…it requires the kingdom…it requires some space…it requires the brush being cleared, the gospel being declared, lives rearranged…and then, in mystery beyond mysteries people might notice a change, a difference…they might not be able to explain it, but they look around and comment, “I think the Church touched down. I think it’s being expressed.  We didn’t try for it. We weren’t aiming for that…we were simply responding to Him.”

Relevant or Peculiar?

If we are to become wombs of the divine, then what we give birth to will not only take a great deal of careful nurturing but will also be very specific to the culture and the place where it is born.  In order to reach humanity, God had to re-emerge and be reborn into human form.  In the same way; we need to re-emerge and be reborn into specific places and cultures in order to be truly incarnate to them and so to reach them.  God came all the way to us–yet we now expect people to come so far toward us in the church.  Far away from their music, far away from their vernacular, far away from their visual language, their codes and symbols.  God was born again–became nothing and re-emerged–in order to reach us in our own language, to live and grow among us.  As the body of Christ, we must do likewise and, just as for Christ, this re-emerging will take immense courage.  Kester Brewin “Signs of Emergence” pg 68

______

But…what we bring them to is Holy! It is true! When we force them to abandon their culture we invite them to lay down earthy and embrace spiritual…right?

Well…maybe not…maybe our sacrosanct hymns and jesus-my-boyfriend chorus’, our insular and exclusive terminologies, our detached rituals…maybe they are simply our sub-culture…created and kept by us for us.

Maybe the how is never as important as the Him.  It’s about His Life breaking through and into this world…and He always seems to do so by incarnating himself…coming to others as the other.

The tension of being relevant versus peculiar is found held in Christ…fully human and fully divine…totally relevant and relatable and yet completely beyond and intangible.

This is incarnation–this is His History and our story…

What shall this man do?

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