Sunday, August 28, 2011

Don't let this "Body" fall

"For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them." (Matt. 18:20)

"We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up...May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:1-6)

So today Living Waters had a picnic at a local park. (I prefer to think of it as an early church style communion. i.e "Love Feast.") We had a worship service, baptisms, and copious amounts of food.

The photo above is our house band. We played acoustic style, so as not to drive the neighbors nuts. "Christians" can be obnoxious enough to begin with, so we figured that we wouldn't add to it. (If you look carefully at the right side, that there is Pastor Scott in the blue shirt showing off his baptismal flip-flops.)

I enjoy the folks at Living Waters. To be honest, they totally intimidate me for reasons that I don't fully understand. (Let's just say that last Fall I lead a 6 week Sunday School class and got so worked up that I gave myself a depressive episode that scared numerous people.) I think I may feel intimidated by the people there because they actually accept me as I am, mess and all. In fact, I think that some of them might even like me. (Seriously, that's kind of a new sensation for me that I am still getting used to. I honestly do not feel particularly comfortable around many who call themselves "Christian." ) This is the first body of worshippers where I felt that I could be honest about my various struggles and not be judged. Let's face it, "Christians" are notorious for being hypocrites & judgmental. We've worked really diligently to earn that reputation.

That's a sad indictment, but rings true far, far too often.

Not so with these people.

So I was having lunch and was talking to people. It was interesting to hear what they had to say. The majority of what I heard were people being honest about stuff. "I'm struggling with this, that and the other thing...but I'm trying to trust God that he'll sort it all out. I don't get it, I don't...but he does." Variations on that theme were quite common.

That's the way it should be in the body of Christ. The term Hypocrite comes from the Greek theaters, and it means "One who wears a mask." Jesus hates masks!

Believers were told by Jesus that if you are going to follow him into his kingdom, then you had better help others along the journey. "I'm washing peep's stinky feet. You should do this too." The only way that you can properly help others is to start by admitting your own mess, and that you are in need of a massive savior with massive grace & mercy.

I don't know everyone at this body, but those I do know seem to be rather comfortable letting me know the good & bad in their lives. I feel oddly comfortable belching most of my mess out in front of them too. They seem to know instinctively that I'm a bit nuts, and goofy as can be, but they still put up with me. When I receive that kind of grace from others, offered in the name of our king, it makes me want to give right back to them. I think that is what building each other up for the glory of the Father is all about.

On the way home I had my radio on...loud as usual. I heard my favorite Van Halen song, "Dance the night away." Which stirs me to drive erratically as I sing along...causing the other drivers fits & seizures, I'm sure.

But I also heard another song that I was unfamiliar with.

<----- Romantica is "Alternative/Country" band. Which means that they'll probably never make a lot of money...or date Paris Hilton. But they do have the distinction of having one of the best names for an album I've ever heard; "Control Alt COUNTRY Delete."

To my knowledge, none of them are followers of Jesus. Yet I have come to realize more & more how God uses anything he wants, and everything at his disposal to demonstrate his love and reveal his glory.

Sooooooooo, I listened to the lyrics of this song. They made me think about MY church and MY people...the body that has welcomed me...mess and all. Tears began to form, and I DID praise my Father who is in heaven.

There is no video for this song. But I'll link the music none the less. I ask you to read the lyrics as you listen. I'm wondering if it will have a similar effect on you.

"Lord have mercy. Oh Lord, have mercy.
Oh Lord, have mercy...on us.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
Forgive us all the shit we've done.
Leave the writing on the wall.
Don't let it fall. Don't let it fall.

Take this cup. Let it pass.
Wipe this moment from our paths.
Save the one who touched it last.
Save the one who touched it last.

Give us, Lord, we are so tired.
Are will's are worn. Are minds are fired.
We are not much for holding on to what is old, past and gone.
What was once, when we were young,
let it be done. Let it be done.

Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy...on us."

Thank you, Father, that you show up in even the smallest things. Bless this body, and don't let it fall.



Thursday, August 18, 2011


So I woke up this morning to an e-mail from Pastor Scott over at Living Waters. I had met with him last week about some issues, worries, stressors, frustrations & concerns of mine. (You know, the usual tiny, little things that can grind a person into the ground.)

The e-mail had a quote from Jeremiah in it; "I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and will bring you back from captivity."

I actually have been feeling rather trapped and captured for weeks now. I wont bother going into detail, but suffice it to say that when stuff like this comes over me it actually does have a paralyzing effect on me. It can get me so low that I can barely do anything outside of the normal routine.

So I end up feeling helpless, very helpless indeed.

And actually, I would argue that this feeling of helplessness is a very good thing.

As a "Guy," I would like to be able to control everything around me. Frankly, I think that this is a fairly normal human desire. However, it certainly does not embrace most of reality. The vast majority of life is far outside anyone's control.

It forces me to run back into the arms of the very one that I seek to keep at arms length most of the time. While my spirit wants to dwell in the arms of my Father & Lord, my flesh wants to keep him away and try to call the shots. It's extremely uncomfortable.

However, since meeting and praying with Scott last week, my gray skies have begun to slowly, but surely, clear up. I wish I could say that it was an instantaneous & miraculous improvement, but it wasn't. I would argue that, in my case at least, this was also a good thing. If everything had happened in a snap, then I might have taken it for granted.

Do I really trust God? I want to. Do I really love him? I want to. Do I want to be in his presence and see his glory, and feel his embrace? I am starved and thirst for that so much it hurts. And yet I still refuse to give everything over to him.

So I end up feeling helpless. I don't really have it in myself to hand everything over to him. That old, sinful nature is right there doing it's thing...hence the feelings of helplessness. But I am realizing what a good position that actually is to be in. It demonstrates just how much I really do need him to do the very things I can't do. And the funny thing is that scripture makes it clear that this is the very kind of work that God enjoys doing the most...being a God who redeems with great joy & mercy any and all beggars who come to him with broken hearts & lives.

Once upon a time, YHWH reminded another child of his that "My strength is perfected in your weakness."

So I will embrace this helpless feeling.
Because when I think about it,
it actually feels really good.
It's where I belong.

A fitting song, with a fitting mood, for a fitting feeling.



Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"Universalism" and the "Mechanization of Jesus."

I have no idea why I wake up every single morning with God/YHWH on my mind. But I seriously do!!! Maybe my brain is really, really "Works" oriented...which seems to be the norm for anyone who is curious about the divine. (Makes me crazy, though.)

So I woke up this morning to another post on FaceBook from a person I admire. And, naturally, it made me think about God/YHWH.

I have noticed that people seem to either like a "Jesus" who is soft & squishy, and just loves everyone no matter how many times they spit in his face & refuse him. OR, a hate-filled "Jesus" who simply wants to bring on the pain, and smash anyone who isn't standing in line for/with him.

Both of those make me itch!

Love & Judgement. Love and wrath.

I hate the English Language's word for "LOVE." (The Greeks, in whose language the New Testament was written, had at least 4 different words for love.) It is totally worthless. No one "Loves" pizza enough to marry a slice, but we use that word "Love" anyways.

Speaking of "Love," what do you do when some idiot cuts you off in traffic? Do you cuss at them? I tend to...A LOT, so my sister says. (Perhaps I need to work on that.) What about if someone does something worse, maybe to someone you know? Do you want to "Vent your wrath on them?" I certainly do. (I have a bat in my garage.) YET, there are so many times where I wish to apologize for the stupid thing that I have done & said...even weeks later.

I go to Living Waters. Which is a church based out of a Middle School in the southern rump of the Twin Cities. If I didn't live here...and lived in Portland...which is WAY to overcast for me NOT to be depressed all of the time, I would go to Imago Dei.

Rick McKinley doesn't Look, Sound or Act like a pastor...maybe why I trust him.


Universalism from :redux on Vimeo.

Just a thought.



Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Isms" and the economy of God

""No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight."" (Luke 16: 13-15)

So I've been out at the cabin since yesterday morning. I've really been trying to discern God's desired will for me. In fact, I've been wracking my brain over it for weeks now. (No, I still have no conclusion.) Part of it is my own doing. I seem to think about God every waking moment. Yet I rarely get my selfish butt into a chair to even open the bible like I should. It's just so much easier to grab my cup of coffee and check e-mails.

N-E-Way, this morning was a little different. I woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the lake, and decided to get some reading and meditating done. I'm not sure if what I read is a part of the answers to what I am looking for. But it certainly could be.

But lets back up a bit first...

A week ago, I was having lunch with a friend. My friend is to the right of me politically. (I'm never sure where I am anymore, since the political ground seems to shift under my feet with every election.) Anyway, in our conversation, politics & economics came is so often the case.

My friend was surprised when I mentioned that a Christian thinker I enjoy was most likely a "Socialist." My friend stated that it was not possible to be a Christian AND a Socialist. He said that socialism elevates the role of government to the position of God, and therefor was incorrect.

This got me thinking about how God looks at humans and the economy. Jesus had a lot to say about money & wealth. He warned of it's dangers all the time. But at the same time, he used a lot of business style analogies to make his points. From my perspective, it would appear that Jesus really didn't have an "Ism" when it came to economics...i.e Capitalism, Socialism, etc. But he did have a "Kingdom-style" view, that's for sure.

So, let's take a look at world economic views, shall we?

SocialISM: The State runs the economy in one form or another. It provides a cradle to grave welfare state. The basic needs of everyone is met. I think that sounds perfectly compatible with being a Christian.

However, I also agree with Thomas Friedman, when he said that the only equality socialism ever brought to a country was to make sure that everyone was equally poor. History has shown that it's a lousy way to make an economy thrive, or for the truly gifted and entrepreneurial to be rewarded. And, yes, it does raise the State to the level of God in many respects.

MarxISM: Well, Marxism is a religious worldview that teaches a collapse of all economics & government, and the rise of a utopian future...without God. That pretty much nixes that for me.

CommunISM: A "Dictatorship of the Proletariate," in which the State, or usually an individual, assumes absolute control over every aspect of the socialism on steroids. This is why all communist systems end up being run like a religious cult, from Stalin to the current "Dear Leader" of the rancid armpit known as North Korea. (Yeah, you can toss Jesus out the window if you are going down that road.)

FascISM: When the Nation/State, and it's majority ethnic group is trumpeted as being superior to all others. Sure, you get a freer-market system. But you also have to bash anyone who doesn't look or think like you...and maybe an invasion of your neighbor, just to be on the safe side. (Can't quite see Jesus enjoying that very much.)

LibertarianISM: A completely free market, with no government regulations to stifle economic growth or creativity. Also, a completely free social system. You wanna set up a lemonade stand in your front yard while puffing on a blunt and shooting your guns in the air? Don't mind if I do! Wanna marry two women, a man...and a sheep or three? Have at it! Wait, you got a finger cut off while cutting up the lemons, your kid from one of your wives is autistic, AND one of your sheep wants the streets paved...but your lemonade stand isn't bringing in enough money to pay for all that?!?!? Sorry buddy, you're on your own!!! (Not to worry, I'm sure that a charity will pony up some dough for a new thumb at least.)

Let's face it, Libertarianism raise the individual up to the level of God. It also leaves a brutal, social-darwinist trail in it's wake.

CapitalISM: We in America assume this to be the only natural choice. But the fact is that modern Capitalism has only been around for a little over 200 years. Before that, we had "Mercantilism." (Which was a weird combination of Socialism AND Fascism.)

There is no doubt in my mind that a free-market system offers the best opportunity to create an economy that provides the most for it's people. Yet, it is based purely on greed and self-interest...which strikes me as not being very Jesus-like. Yet, maybe that is precisely why it works so well. Humans are sinful. Let's admit it, we're greedy little toads. (I am at any rate.) Capitalism works because it is based on human selfishness in it's most efficient form.

It certainly is efficient. Which is why we look the other way when millions of people around the globe are exploited for the very sake of efficiency. As long as I only have to pay so much for that shirt I don't mind that it cost some dude in S. Carolina his job. (That little kid in Honduras needed his 12 hour work day in the sweat shop anyway.) Doing that makes perfect economic sense. It DOES! That still doesn't make it very Christ-like, does it.

Since I lost my teaching job, I've essentially been in a lower blue-collar position. I'm not in poverty. But I have to be extremely careful with ever check. Sometimes I need my family to help me out. (I even had to go without health coverage for a year.) While all this was happening, I watched my company freeze wages, cut benefits, and force us to take a one week UN-paid vacation...while at the same time spending $120,000 per store to install a camera system designed to spy on the employees. I should also mention that ALL of the upper-managers got their bonuses every single year that this has been in affect.

It was pointed out to me that the department managers get their bonuses by coming in under budget. The easiest way to achieve this is to cut the hours of the other employees. This will result in approximately $60,000 in bonuses per store...even though the total hours cut do not add up to that much in savings. Is that "Capitalism?" Or is there another word for "Thuggery, Exploitation" or perhaps "Bullying?"

An efficient system? Yes. Is it something Jesus would endorse? I dunno. I have no answer, other than to say that all systems are sinful because they were created by sinful men. I do know this: When Jesus establishes his kingdom here on earth, there wont BE any "ISMs" anymore. Our concept of economics will be so radically transformed by his presence that all greed, exploitation, welfare, elitism and class & class-warfare will be gone forever. (It will be very weird to have been a banker OR a homeless person once the kingdom is here in full. Both of them will feel very out of place.)

So this morning, I was reading in Shane Claiborne's book, "The Irresistible Revolution." In Chapter 6; "Economics of Rebirth" there is a section called "Theological Prankster." Shane points to some of the odd ways that Jesus approached money.

In one story, to pay the temple tax, Jesus gets Peter to grab a fish and pull a coin out of it's mouth. (Which really does one-up the old rabbit out of a hat trick.) He was sort of making the point that money was just money, and that God would always provide. Jesus was doing a bit of street theater, lampooning the whole system of finance.

It should be pointed out that not so many years later, the Emperor Domitian use to say that since he was a god, he controlled the animals & nature, and that fish would leap up to lick his hand. Perhaps Jesus was putting a bit of foreshadow in his comedy.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus if they should pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus asks them whose picture is on the coins. He says to give to Caesar what is Caesars...and to God what is God's. Caesar makes coins with his image on them...he can keep them. God made Caesar, and so bares God's Caesar sure ain't God. Shane said, "Once we give to God what is God's, there's not much left for Caesar."

At the end of this section is a story I heard about a few years ago. Shane had one a lawsuit against the NYC police for wrongful imprisonment & harassing the homeless. Long story short, he was given $20,000 to work with. Shane has the spiritual gift of poverty. (Odd gift, I know. But I would rather like to see Mac Hammond & Kenneth Copeland blessed with such a gift.) So money doesn't hold much sway with him or the community he works in...which will help to make the following a bit more sensical.

Shane and all of his homeless friends, poor people, and other people from his community who serve each other through a barter system based on the early church, decided to take this money and have a "Jubilee" of sorts on Wall Street. They sent some of the money in $100 bills to other communities like theirs. The rest, along with other odd bits of change they collected (Over 30,000 coins I am told), they took to the main entrance of the stock exchange. At 8:20 in the morning they proclaimed the jubilee in honor of the New Jerusalem.

They proclaimed; "Some of us have worked on Wall Street, and some of us have slept on Wall Street. We are a community of struggle. Some of us are rich people trying to escape our loneliness. Some of us are poor folks trying to escape the cold. Some of us are addicted to drugs, and others are addicted to money. We are a broken people who need each other and God, for we have come to recognize the mess that we have created for our world and how deeply we suffer from that mess. Now we are working together to give birth to a new society within the shell of the old. Another world is possible. Another world is necessary. Another world is already here!!!" (Page 188)

With that, they blew a ram's horn and showered the streets with ALL of that money.

The freaky part was that the police, who had been ordered to get rid of them, either stood back or joined in. In fact, other strangers began to empty their pockets too. People began to give their coats to those homeless people, and others began to buy bagels for the crowd. One guy even yelled out, "Now I can get my prescription filled!"

I'm still perplexed by this story.

I think that there are some valid criticisms of this approach. But what I can't argue is that a guy like Shane seems to have a much healthier approach TO, and understanding OF money than the average American does. (Certainly in my case.) I also think he understands the provision of God, and God's faithfulness a LOT better than I do.

It has certainly given me a lot to think about this morning.



P.S. I now present the national anthem of Capitalism. (I still need to think of some appropriate ones for the other ISMs.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A portrait of the artist as a young God

"In the beginning..." (Gen. 1:1)

In other words, BEFORE time...

So God is freaking Moses out by talking to him from a burning bush. Moses asks God what his name is...since it certainly isn't "God." (That's simply what he is.)

"God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you." (Ex. 3:14)

You'll notice that God did not choose the title of "I WAS" or "I WILL BE." Instead, he picks a name that seems to smack of the eternal present. Interesting choice, don't you think?

So anyway...

<---- That's a picture of my cousin, Anthony. He's 13 and a pretty cool kid. I got to hang out with him and a lot of other relatives a few weeks ago over in Wyoming. As it happens, Anthony talked a few of us into going for a hike in the mountains outside the lake area that we were all staying at. So we did...

That lake you see in the distance is Lake Alcova, up on top of a mountain outside of Casper, WY. At the foot of that lake is where we had our camper. This shot may be from a mile and a half up the hills from the camp.

This here is what we decided would be a brilliant idea to hike up.

And this is the valley that we decided would be our way back. Nothing like a walk in a canyon.

This would be the view of the canyon in the opposite direction, headed back to where we began.

Lotus, one of our dogs, got a little pooped on the way up. (The other dog had a strange habit of licking and chewing on Lotus' tongue to get water. Poor Lotus.)

This would be a view from the inside of the canyon, after we had crawled down the sides in a very dangerous and unwise manner.

<---- In the wall of the canyon was this nest. Uncharacteristically, I decided against sticking my hand into it. (Never did figure out what was in there.)

In one of the openings in the canyon was this huge field of sage. When the breeze came through, the smell was absolutely stunning.

You pay good money for sage as a spice when you are at the grocery store. Here was a giant field of it growing wild. I fully understand why so many Native American tribes think of sage as being sacred.

So as we are hiking through all of this, I asked Anthony if he thought it was possible that God regressed to be an 11 year old boy when he was creating all of this? Anthony thought that was a funny question. But seriously, the whole terrain looked like something that a middle-school boy would have designed for his own amusement.

I find "Creation" absolutely amazing. Humans create some pretty cool architecture, but no one compares to God when it comes to building stuff.

Unlike many folks, I do not take the three creation stories of Genesis to be literal. WHY? A) the first story isn't even a story. It's a poem. You are not supposed to take poetry literally. That misses the point. B) The second story contradicts the first story. So if you take them both to be literal, then you have a serious problem on your hands. C) Taking all of them literally, entirely misses the points the poem & stories are trying to make.

Unlike many other folks, there is no way that I can possibly see creation as an accident. No one in their right mind would be out walking, come across a watch on the ground, and simply assume that it was a glorious accident of the heartless cosmos that caused that watch to come into existence. So why approach a mountain & canyon, or the universe like that?

Since God makes it clear by the choice of his own name that he exists outside the boundaries of time, why do we always try and glue him into the same linear concepts that we are stuck in?

God doesn't need time. To our eyes, perhaps that canyon I walked through took thousands or even millions of years to come to be. However, to God, it all came about in an instant.

OR, maybe God did choose to use a concept of time when making stuff. Maybe he set something a side for a while and decided to make monkeys & frogs, because he thought they were funny looking. Maybe he worked on a mountain for a while, left it for what ever reason, and then came back to chisel on it at a later date. I have no idea. He can pretty much do what ever he wants to.

We love to create God in our image.

So anyway, later my uncle took me on a boat ride through the canyon that the lake & river had flooded.

It's fascinating to see the sculpting on the walls.

You can explain to me through science how a hole is created in the side of a mountain through erosion, winds & rain over the course of time. But you will never convince me that it was all a random accident.

Perhaps God was shooting hoops. Maybe he wanted a target to throw things through. Maybe he just wanted to see confused looks on people's faces as they tried to figure out how that hole came to be.

<---- Same hole, greater distance. (Birds like to fly through it. Maybe that's why God made it.)

You have to look closely to be able to distinguish it, but there is a giant pillar of rock in front of that cliff. There is quite a bit of debris all over the place. Kinda like God decided to just take a pick ax to the spot.

<---- This is officially called the "Grumpy Old Man in the Mountain." I think he looks a bit forlorn, myself.

Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?

God is an artist.

Since I began this with a picture of Anthony, I shall also end it with one.

He's a very good water skier...which seemed a fitting way to get cool after that hike.

I would wager that God is a fairly good water skier too. I mean, Jesus did it bare foot up in Galilee.

Please do not try and fit the artist known as "I AM" in a box. He's too big to fit...even if he ever was an 11 year old boy.