From the Thought Box

It’s rare that I share less developed thoughts on here…most of them represent things that I’ve had rumbling around for a bit, not final yet, but not just begun either.  At any rate, here’s a snippet from my thought box:  I realize that I’m increasingly attracted to the faith that Jesus held rather than the faith that holds Jesus.  The religion that Jesus practiced is different than the religion that worships Jesus.  I don’t thinking I’m talking about a return to some positivist notion of “pure Christianity” from the age of the apostles.  Perhaps I am, though I can’t exactly be sure.  To be honest, I don’t exactly know how I mean it but I thought I’d put it out there. Cheers.

Easter

Today is Easter, by some accounts.  And I’m reminded of new life.  More specifically I’m reminded of life that survives, in spite of.  That is the Big Story, I think.  The Christ life can’t be held down.  The Good, the Just, the Beautiful, is a force that cannot be killed–for long.  It is a promise.  There’s a flip side–the Ideal also can’t be contained, just as it can’t be killed.  The Resurrection doesn’t end with Triumph, it ends with a disappearance…another promise.  The Ascension takes the Perfect away again (40 days later), towards an undisclosed future and invites us (yet again) to get on with living with(out) God’s Presence…

Easter is about, at least in my opinion, longing contentment, hopeful resignation…that Darkness is never quite so dark as we imagined, and that Light is the promise of the Empty horizon.

The devil and a bit of truth

The devil and his friend were walking down the road when they noticed a passer by pick something up off the ground.  The friend wondered aloud as to what the person had found.  Satan replied that they had picked up a piece of Truth.  His friend was chagrin, “You can’t just let people go around finding Truth, can you?  I mean, what kind of world would this be….?” 

The devil laughed out loud and calmly reassured his friend, “Oh don’t worry, they’ll just turn it into a belief…I’ve seen this a million times before!”  Somehow Satan’s friend didn’t look convinced to which the devil addressed his final comment, “Just ask Jesus.  He’s came into the world and embodied Truth and look what happened to him…his disciples just ended up founding Christianity!”

Relieved, the friend mused, “Yeah, I guess you’re right…nothing to be worried about I suppose.”

The Impossible Now–Part Two

…There’s another kind of future, one we’re even less equipped to face….

Truthfully, the kind of event I’m envisioning can’t be prepared for. We cannot even begin to imagine or plan ahead for this kind of future—the wildcard future. It’s always out of nowhere. Nobody sees it coming. As post-structuralist philosopher Jaques Derrida said, it is the im/possible—the impossible that becomes possible by colliding with our immediate reality. The im/possible is truly unimaginable. And of course, the unimaginable happens all the time. We hear it in the sobs of the newly widowed, “I never thought anything like this could happen.” We observe it on the shocked faces of political pundits as outsider-unaccounted-for’s win primaries and then even presidential races. We feel it from time… to time…to time. In fact we encounter the im/possible so often in life that it’s a surprise that we’re surprised. Of course the examples I’ve used are basic, even bottom of the barrel; they’re somehow incredible familiar events. Truthfully, the reason why they’re familiar to us at all, why we relate to sentiment of the grieving widow or the shocked commentator is because we expect the unexpected. Culturally, we’ve built them in to our routine. Think about emergency rooms. What a strange place. It’s an institution built entirely on the premise that we will be taken off guard. Emergency rooms are a societal contingency plan. They’re an admission of our own lack of control. But even this apprehendible-unanticipatible is not the im/possible I speak of – not really. What I mean is an event outside of the built-in contingency plans; circumstances that overturn the apple cart altogether.

It’s difficult to get concrete with that term, “the im/possible.” Partially this is true because as soon as the unexplained and the unexpected enter our universe, we begin to explain and expect it. The impossible becomes…possible. That’s why I notate it with a little slash separating the word, because it is simultaneously possible and impossible.  Take a Biblical example, something outlandish – the crossing of the Red Sea for instance. In the book of Exodus, as their Egyptian taskmasters and previous owners are in hot pursuit, the children of Israel get stuck between a rock and a hard place. The armies of Egypt are behind them, and a body of seemingly un-crossable water is ahead. What happens next is remarkable. The im/possible occurs. There’s a divine intervention. The wave’s part and dry land appears. The ex-slaves pass through the clearing just in time and the story ends with pursuant horse and rider being swept away by the collapsing wall of water. Miraculous. My point isn’t the “fact” of the event; whether it happened that way or not. Actually my point is the absurdity of it all. These things don’t happen every day. It couldn’t have been expected or anticipated. And while the cries of the desperate would have certainly bordered on polite requests for rescue, no one could have imagined that the Sea itself would have been parted. Within the context of story itself it is a brilliant example of the impossible intersecting reality. What’s more is that the event is not only unexpected but is also unexplainable, at least within the text. The author of Exodus doesn’t attempt to give detailed scientific or historical precedent for the event but allows it to remain teetering on the edge of chaotic disturbance.

Several years ago the History Channel aired a series called “Mysteries of The Bible.” It featured various scholars, historians, archeologists and other experts in the field, each of whom took their best shot at rationalizing a handful of biblical stories such as the one above. I’ll never forget the slough of explanations for the crossing of the Red Sea. There were several of them. One focused on wind power and hurricane strength to clear water, rather instantaneously, from sea floors. Another proposed a case of mistaken identities; the body of water mentioned in the book of Exodus couldn’t have rationally been such a huge expanse as the Red Sea we know of, so it must have been a smaller one, such as the Sea of Reeds. The Sea of Reeds, being rather shallow, could have conceivably dried, in due season, in one place or another, allowing for a mass exodus such as the one described in the Bible. On and on the explaining went, until any logical person watching the show would have been sufficiently convinced that the real crossing of the Red Sea was slightly (or vastly) different than presented in the Biblical rendition, but was therefore entirely possible, conceivable, and explainable. In other words, the im/possible just became possible. As soon as the unimaginable future enters into our reality we immediately reconstruct our thinking to account for it. We rationalize how we could have been prepared (had we only thought far enough ahead or enough outside the box). As this happens an event ceases to be impossible and starts to acclimate into our version of reality. Experts figure out the science behind the magic. Historians matriculate the timeline of crucial events. Theologians and philosophers craft carefully articulated statements of description and prescription. Going back to a previous example, we build Emergency Rooms.

Art.

Sorry for the proliferation of quotes…but I think each of them is inspiring and gives great insight.

Why indeed must ‘God’ be a noun? Why not a verb…the most active and dynamic of all? …It is the creative potential itself in human beings that is the image of God…” –Mary Daly (theologian)

“We must accept that this creative impulse within us is God’s creative pulse itself.” Joseph Chilton Pearce

“God must become an activity in our consciousness” Joel Goldsmith

“Why should we all use our creative power….? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money.” Brenda Ueland

“The purpose of art is not a rarified, intellectual distillate–it is Life, intensified brilliant Life.” Alain Arias-Misson

“It is the task of art to undo the work of our vanity, our passions, our spirit of imitation, our abstract intelligence, our habits…making us travel back in the direction from which we have come to the depths where what has really existed lies unknown within us…” Marcel Proust

I find myself in a reconstructive phase where I am re-imaging, along with others, what a collective of people engaged with God, each other, and the world around them could look like.  In many ways this is, as my friend Ryan observed, a very personal activity of “leaving behind an artifact”–a commemoration of the journey I’m on. 

Church is a hard word for me. Mainly because I’ve been actively engaged in comparing the Worst of what it has been and has become with the Best of other faith traditions or my own idealism. Still, it becomes easier for me to use this word when I talk about it using metaphores.  Church as…well, for one, (and owing a stiff tip of the hat to Troy Bronsink for the specific articulation of this metaphor)…art. 

That’s right…you heard me…Church as Art.

I believe that this is actually the most important and basic foundational piece of moving forward with people trying to live in the way of Jesus.

First…allow me to define Art.

Anthropologists define art as “the creative use of imagination to interpret, express, and engage life, modifying experienced reality in the process.”

To put it in my words, art is approaching life with a degree of authenticity, imagination, and experiment.  In this process, one often births artifacts–visible and tangible reminders of the places we have been and the beliefs we have held. 

Art isn’t limited to paintings, sculpture, drawing, music, etc… (though it certainly does include those). Actually art is simply creativity expressed. 

Why is this important?

Believe it or not we do not see the world as it is, but actually as we believe it to be. We are constantly engaged in interpret ting our environment through a complicated series of images and the framing stories that we tell ourselves.  When our ability to engage those with imagination is damaged we begin to interpret the world in harmful and unproductive ways. 

Culturally, few of us are immune to the lack of creativity that dominates Western culture for the last 250 years.  Left brain logistics are taught, reinforced, and invisibly upheld as the dominant way of viewing the world. Newtonian science has instructed us to see the universe as a great clock-like machine–Enlightenment inspired creatonism has maintained a view of God, actually not as creator, but as machinist or cosmic tinker. The professions that were most desirable in the last two centuries have been ones that processed accounts, calculated numbers, memorized tombs of law, and treated patients with cold impersonalities.  This sort of rigid thinking has led to the most atrocious wars known to man, the most destructive weapons capable of being used, and a general lack of wonder, mystery, and awe towards the universe.  Without imagination, fear NOT hope takes over. We become territorial, isolated, and repressed.

The solutions we are often offered for our world problems are as calculating and cold as the last, failed, set. In fact, some have commented that the central aspect of Western culture today is the failure to create anything new–caught in a holding pattern where regurgitation is the only option. For something to change…well…something’s gotta change.

And something IS changing:

Until recently, the abilities that led to success in school, work, and business were characteristic of the left hemisphere. They were the sorts of linear, logical, analytical talents measured by SATs and deployed by CPAs. Today, those capabilities are still necessary. But they’re no longer sufficient. In a world upended by outsourcing, deluged with data, and choked with choices, the abilities that matter most are now closer in spirit to the specialties of the right hemisphere – artistry, empathy, seeing the big picture, and pursuing the transcendent”

Imaginers NOT Managers

“The spiritual life of the West, which is impoverished and depressed could be seen as a failure to engage with imagination”. The Bible is approached boringly, with absolute literalism.  Church boards or elder councils are filled, not with artists and imaginers but with managers and pragmatists.  On and on it goes…while the spiritual life of the West starves; not for lack of truth but for lack imagination on how to engage and express it.

Simply put, if religion (in the best sense) hopes to address the needs of the world today, hopes to relate to God in anything but rote isolation, hopes to experience lasting renewal it must reactivate it’s view of God as Artist(literally Creator), of spiritual community as Art (literally the product of imagination, experiment and authenticity), and individuals as artists (those who labor to conceive and birth visible expressions of hope and love.)

Was Jesus Creative?

Some people will challenge spiritual community, or church, as Art purely on the basis that they fail to see Jesus as a cultural creative.  I think this may be short sighted. It may also stem from a literalist and unimaginative reading of the ancient texts.  Consider that in the earliest communities of Christians thought it was important to remember 34 miracles and not one of them was a repeat of the one before. Consider that Jesus’ profession might accurately be called “story teller” because of his preferred mode of communication. Consider that a number of times he compelled his students to think creatively about how they would approach his world.  Consider that one of his apprentices would later remember Jesus’ ministry not as miraculous but instead filled with artwork…pictures…symbols…literally SIGNS. 

I would suggest that viewing Jesus as an artist and provocateur may be one of the most important shifts in transitioning from a shame based reading of Christianity to one of hope and joy.

Unblocking

This will require some unblocking.  Most of us mistrust our creative sensibilities.  Imagination is culturally another word for “fake” or “not real”.  And so many have been conditioned to think critically not creatively that their inner critic is a giant compared to the grasshopper of their imagination.  In order to approach the deep issues facing the world currently, in order to live and participate in community and indeed perhaps even in order to approach God in a journey of transformation, we may need to simply learn how to approach a blank page or a canvas or a lump of clay.  The liberation of one faculty of creativity allows for release in other areas also. 

So…let’s be creative…let’s explore and discover and then express those monumental and mundane artifacts that are generated.  Let’s celebrate. And most of all, let’s learn to re-engage the God, each other, and our selves with experiment, authenticity, and imagination…as art.

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.

The New Conspirators…

The New ConspiratorsI got a call from Tom Sine today…he wrote this amazing book called “The New Conspirators“…several months ago Jessie and I had gone to the conference of the same name. What’s interesting is that this conference and the connections made there have set events into motion in our life together that are hugely impacting (and have kept me swamped since then)…and I literally watched as the exposure to new ideas and vision of what God is doing around the world rocked a great friend, he’s said more than once than the conversations there “changed his life”…pretty awesome stuff.

While there I tried to angle for an interview with Tom so I could more fully review his book…ah…alas…it was busy…But…my hour has finally come. I am super stoked about getting to talk to him a little more about the journey that inspires a rabid fan of the kingdom, a man of over sixty years old, a recent high churcher and long standing evangelical, to go off the grid and take the road less traveled into adventure (read terror) and discovery (read shock). Seriously though, this guy is a grandstand cheerer on of “the new thing” that God is moving within…and that’s just exciting to be around. Always. I can’t wait to hear more from him…so interview and review to follow shortly…

Until then, one of my favorite quotes from the book:

When Jesus began teaching he made it clear that his new empire would be unlike any empire the world had ever seen. it came on a donkey’s back. It’s imperial council was comprised of a handful of unemployed fishermen, a couple of IRS agents, a prostitute and some hangers on. Jesus demontsrated how to wield his imperial power by washing feet, telling stories and playing with kids. Jesus’ empire is based on the absurd values that the last should be first, losers are winners, and the most influential in the empire should clean the toilets. Members of the empire are instructed to love their enemies, forgive their friends, always give twice as much as people ask of them and never pursue power or position. Jesus insisted that those who are part of his empire shouldn’t worry about finances, but simply trust God. The resources to run this empire were basins, towels, and leftover lunches. This empire also developed a reputaion for constant partying – almost always with the wrong kind of people.

Seriously is this any way to run an empire? Imagine what would happen if you ran a political, economic or religious institution with these bizarre values. Clearly it wouldn’t have much of a future.

Wow…what a depiction…

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