Saturday, June 17, 2017

how to read the bible in a way that makes all the difference

[theres a "too long; didn't read" at the end]

Your picture/image of God is wildly important to how you live your life, the world, and the people around you.

We're talking about this at The Table right now. But one thing we aren't going to cover on Sunday that I think is VITAL to our faith journey is this: how do we reconcile the Old Testament and the New Testament?

The Old Testament (OT) is the first 2/3rds of the bible before Jesus. It has wonderful stories like Adam & Eve, Moses, Abraham, King David (and Goliath), the Psalms, the prophets, and many more. But it also has these stories about God that make God appear to be mean, distant, violent, excessively wrathful, and many more things.

The New Testament, on the other hand, is the story of Jesus and the birth of the Church in the wake of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. The thing that makes Christians unique in the traditional faiths is that we believe Jesus is God.

SO, how do we reconcile Jesus with the God of the Old Testament?

Every Christian has to answer this and has to answer it well to have a coherent faith. If we don't want to think about it, we live with a sense of cognitive dissonance where we have these two competing stories going on in our lives.

One of my favorite heretics of all time (just being real with you - I have favorite heretics :)), Marcion, thought the best thing to do was just get rid of the Old Testament. The Church said we couldn't do that. There is too much continuity. There is too much to learn. There is too many valuable and life-giving revelations we would lose. Jesus, after all, is an early, traveling Jewish rabbi bathed in the OT. He understood his life and mission to spring from what was happening in the OT.

Without going into all the details of how the Church has done this, from Origen to Dispensationalism, I will give you the best advice I can, boiled down, and probably over-simplified, but hopefully a good starting place. It will probably bring up more questions than answers, but that's how you know you're on the right path:

Jesus is the fullest revelation of God.
We read the Bible through Jesus - if that makes sense.
The Bible is the word of God (little 'w'),
but Jesus is the Word of God (Big 'W').
Jesus shapes the reading of every other story.
If the God we find in a story doesn't look like Jesus - then we need to dig deeper, rev up that imagination, and sit there for a while. There is a theological truth to be mined there, but it might not be the most obvious or most literal.
If your reading of the Bible leads you to a view of God that doesn't look like Jesus - you're doing it wrong.
We're looking at you too, St. Paul.

Make sure you know the Gospel's (Jesus' story) intimately before you venture on and out.

St. Ignatii Brianchaninov in the 1800's gave this advice to every monk entering into the monastery, and I give it to you for the same reasons:
"From their first entry into the monastery a monk should devote all possible care and attention to the reading of the Holy Gospel [Jesus' story, life, and teaching]. They should study the Gospel so closely that it is always present in their memory. At every moral decision they take, for every act, for every thought, they should always have ready in their memory the teaching of the Gospel ... Keep on studying the Gospel until the end of your life. Never stop. Do not think that you know it enough, even if you know it all by heart" (quoted in The Orthodox Way by Bishop Ware).
WHY? Why am I writing about this? Because it seems to me that when Christians want to justify treating other people in a less than loving way they skip all the things Jesus has to say and use the Old Testament to defend their actions and positions. It is a big book. There are so many things that can be justified. Almost anything. Anyone looking for ammunition can find it. But prioritizing Jesus' teachings and actions as THE definitive life and teaching will minimize the cherry-picking we all want to do and help us truly become follows of Jesus.

What do you think? You have any tips on how to reconcile these two? You have any pushback? Help me out here.

Sometimes the bible is hard to read. (that's probably a duh).
God sometimes seems different between OT and Jesus.
The over-simplified solution is that Jesus is the fullest and best picture of God we have. Jesus reshapes everything, and helps us re-read everything more faithfully.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Letter to my FM Leaders

Dearly Loved Free Methodist Leaders,

A little about myself to begin. I am a young elder in the church. I am seminary trained and have an M.Div from one of our finest institutions. I served at a church as associate, worship, and youth leader 5 years before attending seminary. I converted in from unbelief.

The revelation that ultimately led me to Christ and kept me in the church was our emphasis on the poor. Growing up in an underprivileged community with parents struggling with addiction, seeing the way God in Christ identified with the last, lost, and least was the revelation that convinced me of the validity of the Gospel. I had originally thought that God probably loved and preferred the religious and robed. Seeing Jesus prefer the company of "unlettered" fisherman, those with disability and disease, the poor, the average ordinary folks found on the outskirts of the kingdoms - the marginalized - was the ordained epiphany that the God of the universe loved me and I was not cursed or rejected because of my socio-economic status. It was quickened in my heart that Christ would be here with me, and, in fact, was already as he loved all but had a preferential option for the poor.

B. T. Roberts affirmed this epiphany of mine making it a foundational principal and distinctive of the Free Methodist Church, which helped me to continue in the tradition of my conversion. Roberts famously says:

"But for whose benefit are special efforts to be put forth? Who must be particularly cared for? Jesus settles this question. ‘The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up,’ and, as if all this would be insufficient to satisfy John of the validity of his claims, he adds, ‘and the poor have the gospel preached to them.’ This was the crowning proof that He was the One that should come. In this respect the Church must follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Thus the duty of preaching the gospel to the poor, is enjoined by the plainest precepts and examples. If the gospel is to be preached to all, then it follows, as a necessary consequence, that all the arrangements for preaching the gospel should be so made as to secure this object" (The Doctrines and Disciplines of the Free Methodist Church. 1872. Published by the General Conference, Rochester, NY, pp. x-xi.
Roberts did not merely believe this to be true, but began organizing his burgeoning movement almost singularly around this one principal. The early Free Methodist Church had two umbrella distinctives that acted as guiding forces for the movement. The earliest Books of Discipline state it this way, "All [Free Methodist] churches are required to be as free as the grace they preach. They believe that their mission is two-fold – to maintain the Bible standard of Christianity, and to preach the Gospel to the poor” (ibid, p. ix). I fully accept the "Bible standard of Christianity" and lament regularly our compromise on holiness and sanctification in its entirety. Much could be written on our Holiness roots and the significance of the 'radical' (radix) way we approached society. But this letter is about the marginalized and underprivileged. One distinctive of our early tradition was entirely devoted to our identification and work with vulnerable populations. Later in the document the definition of "preaching the gospel to the poor" is expanded by the original Wesleyan "General Rules" for all who would enter the movement, "It is expected of all who continue in these societies, that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation, secondly, by doing good… as far as possible to all [people]. To their bodies, of the ability which God giveth, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison. To their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all with whom we have any intercourse…” (ibid, pp. 31-32). Preaching the gospel to the poor meant, FIRST, meeting their felt needs and second discipling them into the faith.
This was our shared movement. This is our earliest expression of the faith handed to us. And this is the legacy for which we are called to represent, spread, and pass on.

And I have sat in many meetings which have encouraged us to remain faithful to the church in hopes that a fresh expression of this movement would ignite our church again. Not a dead formalism or a traditionalism, but living expression of the movement in which we find ourselves today. The problem as I experience it is that the earliest movement had theological distinctives which had real, boots-on-the-ground expressions to mobilize the people. We want the people mobilized, we want the movement, but I am concerned that we have bypassed the spark that ignites the gasoline - enfleshed distinctives.

As we all know, and have regurgitated many times, the Free Methodists began out of a series of freedoms for the very least of these. We wanted freedom for slaves. We wanted free seats so the poor could fully participate in God's church. Many wanted freedom for women to participate at any level of the church to which God would call her. We wanted freedom of worship. And freedom from secret societies that met politically to undermine the work of God and keep the oppressed class down. Even our rather extreme stance on alcohol and clothes were meant was ways for us to identify with and be hospitable to the poor. THESE FREEDOMS caused an irreconcilable difference between us and our mother church - the Methodist Episcopal church - the two largest issues being freedom for slaves and free seats.

But the point that I think that is missed in our self-congratulatory telling of history is the Methodist-Episcopal history of slavery and opulence. There could be whole books written on Wesley's concern for his growing movement's move to the middle-class and the loss of grace and passion that caused. We can easily read about American Methodism's historic rise and decline because of the comfort and deceit of wealth - and it's continued decline today. But I think the point will be made best by looking at slavery. Our own Marston recounts the history well, where essentially our mother church refused to take a stance on slavery because there were too many members on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. IT WASN'T THAT THE METHODIST CHURCH WAS PRO-SLAVERY, but their refusal to adopt a position of justice which ultimately led to it's own splitting and our rejection. Marston says:
"It is a sobering observation that the church took no vigorous, consistent, and unwavering stand against slavery compromise during the entire period of organized Methodism's history up to the out-break of the Civil War. The cautiously prudential and pragmatic approach to the slavery issue failed. Two divisions had occurred... And the same consistent policy of compromise had a bearing on the final separation from Methodism of those who in 1860 organized the Free Methodist Church" (From Age to Age A Living Witness, p. 160, copyright 1960). 
The mother church's failed attempt to say anything meaningful and just on an abhorrent system of inequality and slavery that would have been fully in-line with the 1784 Methodist Rule to deny membership to slave-holders not only failed as a policy of compromise but led to the division of the church and the birth of Free Methodism. Their initial distinctive gave way to geographical political opinions, and the Kingdom suffered because of compromise to the world. 

And let me be brutally honest. Slavery is widely regarded as a social evil now, but not because it has always been that way. The FM stance was a radical stance. I can make an argument from scripture for the allowance of slavery. I can make a better argument for slavery than a flat-out rejection of something like homosexuality (which we piecemeal together scripture to take a stance on). The FM rejection of slavery was a bold theological stance with very real political consequences and actions. 

This last election cycle ending with the election of Donald Trump yesterday reminds me a lot of what happened in Methodism's history in the USA. Article after article, blog after blog, FM leaders did their best to compromise politically in hopes to keep a unified church moving forward for Kingdom purposes. In appeasements to our more conservative brothers and sisters, we dared to make moral equivalencies to Trump's vile behavior, words, and policies to Clinton's emails and her, somewhat sexism-fueled, assumption the she is untrustworthy. Am I advocating that we should endorse candidates? Absolutely not. I understand the legalities in that issue. And Clinton has her own policy hopes that are not in line with Gospel issues like war-mongering, coup inciting, drone-dropping, business-class elitism, entrenched government mind-set, and abortion (to name a few). But of the evangelicals who voted, reportedly 4 out of 5 evangelicals voted for Trump - a campaign literally ran on words, behaviors, and policies that promoted racism, misogyny, and, most-importantly, a jeopardized future for the poor - essentially against all the freedoms we are trying to promote. We didn't want to denounce one without seeming like we were endorsing the other, so we made moral equivalencies to try to compromise and appease. And 80% of our folks who voted did so for him. Our rural geophraphies had more bearing on our politics than any theology or distinctive. That is the sign of a broken church - American or otherwise.

And I saw your blogs calling us to a higher citizenship. They called us to prioritize our Christian relationships with followers of Jesus in other countries over that of our own national interests. I think you tried. But I think the trying appealed too much to an ethereal, theological, disassociated praxis without continually pointing to the hills we should die on. I do not understand what it means to lead and co-lead a national and international movement of believers. I understand that our work is more than the election cycle of the United States. This letter is not meant to suggest we should become entrenched in national politics (though our history surely provides ample precedent). No, my only suggestion is that if we want a movement, a movement that encapsulates our earliest movement and reclaims our distinctives to effect real Kingdom change in our world, I think we have to coalesce around real, boots-on-the-ground issues affecting our communities. I bring up the election because it seems as though we have thoroughly lost our distinction and have become generic evangelicals. Again, our geographies inform more than our theologies - our is race more determinative than our worship. These coalescing issues, then, would have to stem from our distinctives and be a driving force for our work. A positive example now would be our work with Kevin Austin, Rick Reynolds in Seattle, or Eden Reforestation.

If we want a movement like the early Free Methodists, it will not come from theology alone. It will not come from emphasizing the Kingdom alone or our other worldly citizenship. It will not come from compromising to the point where we have over-spiritualized everything and take few stances on real-life things for fear of offending our brothers and sisters who find our distinctions outdated and non-essential. We need gospel-driven, distinctive-enfleshed directives to coalesce our movement around. Otherwise we are generic evangelicals trying to carve out our space on the broader scene when "evangelical," especially after this last election, is becoming more of a liability than an asset. If you think I am wrong, consider B.T.'s final words of the introduction in the BoD, "We do not wish any to subscribe to [the FMC] unless they believe it will be for the glory of God and the good of their souls… it is of the greatest importance that those who come into this organization should be of one heart and one mind" (BoD, 1872, p. xii). At some point our distincitves should make us distinct from others. And I think justice for the poor and marginalized, our founding distinction, is the hill to die on.

So why don't we have statements and directives on enfleshed distinctives like:
   • black lives matter
   • creation care, environmental stewardship, and global climate change
   • a stronger stance on immigration and the inclusion of Muslims
   • stronger declarations and directions on the equality of women
   • Standing Rock and First Nations support
   • Predatory Capitalism
   • Homelessness
   • Police Brutality
   • Non-violence and war and military participation/spending
   • citizen's united
   • the cost of education

We passed a very strict, politically reactionary stance on homosexuality moments after its acceptance in the Supreme Court? Why not stances on issues that are more in line with our distinctives and affect our everyday life? I will marry maybe three couples this year. Hopefully we are working with the poor and minorities everyday. God knows they feel their oppression daily.

Ultimately, I feel as if we have compromised for a very long time. The division in America is the division in our church. The same division is present among our clergy. I am sure you must feel it. I even believe that you sympathize a great deal with what I am saying.  Our past is the best way forward. I am working for that locally. Hopefully we do so collectively.

I write this not as an outsider trying to change the insiders. I write this as a team member to my team leaders who I dearly love and would fight along side of any day. You have loved me and welcomed me and championed me. I respect you with great awe and reverence. I am here. I am with you. I am for you.

Blessings as you lead and work. I am with you and for you, committed to the cause and captured by the theological articulation. We are poised for greatness in the Kingdom. Let's just be about what we have said we're about.

Friday, October 28, 2016

My apostolicity - so far unchecked

Jaymes Lackey - 2014
Matthew Thomas
Elmer Parsons
Mark Ormston
William Clark
E. P. Hart 1863
BT Roberts 1852
Thomas Morris 1820
Robert Roberts 1816
William McKendree 1808
Francis Asbury 1784
Thomas Coke 1784
John Wesley 1728
Dr. John Potter, 1715
Dr. Baxter Tenison, 1701
Dr. Philip Tillotson, 1683
Niles Sancroft, 1658
William Laude, 1633
Kyle Abbot, 1610
Richard Bancroft, 1604
Mark Whitgift, 1577
Steven Grendall, 1575
Dr. Matthew Parker, 1559
Phillip Barlow, Bishop of London 1536
Thomas Cranmer, 1533
William Warham, 1503
Cardinal Morton, 1488
Cardinal Bourchier, 1469
Cardinal Kemp, 1452
Henry Chichele, 1413
James Abingdon, 1381
Simon Sudbury, 1367
Simon Langham, 1327
Walter Reynolds, 1313
Robert of Winchelsea, 1293
John Peckham, 1279
Robert Kilwardby, 1269
Boniface of Savoy, 1252
Edmund Rich, 1234
Richard Weathershed, 1230
Stephen Langton, 1205
Hubert Walter, 1197
Fitz-Jocelin, 1191
Reginal, 1183
Baldwin, 1178
Richard, 1170
Thomas Becket, 1162
Theobald, 1139
William de Corbeuil, 1122
Ralph d'Escures, 1109
St. Anselm, 1093
Wulfstan, 1064
Edmund, 1012
Elphege, 1006
Aelfric, 995
Sigeric, 990
Ethelgar, 988
Dunstan, 959
Odo, 941
Phlegmund, 890
Rufus, 859
Cuthbert, 814
Herefrid, 788
Egbert, 749
Ethelburh, 712
Theodore, 668
Deusdedit, 652
Justus, 635
Laurentius, 604
St. Augustine, 601
Aetherius, 591
Maximus Lyster, 587
St. Mark Pireu, 581
John, 562
Gregory II, 547
Linus, 532
St. Evarestus, 502
Christopher III, 485
Christopher II, 472
Timothy Eumenes, 468
Clement of Lyons, 436
Basil, 415
James, 413
St. Christopher, 394
Paul Anencletus "the Elder", 330
Mark Leuvian, 312
Pious Stephenas, 291
Andrew Meletius, 283
Gregory Antilas, 276
St. Matthias, 276
Philip Deoderus, 241
Maximus, 203
St. Nicomedian, 180
St. Irenaeus, 177
St. Polycrates, 175
Lucius, 156
Demetrius, 131
St. John the Elder, 113
St. Onesemus, 91
St. Timothy, 62
St. Paul the Apostle
Jesus Christ

unresearched eastern idea
John the Apostle

Potential source for Wesleyan apostolicity:

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

We Have Forgotten How to Lament

As I read the story unfolding before us of the mass shooting in San Bernadino, my heart aches.

First, because of the human loss of life and the human depravity that caused it. Second, because I know this is going to be instantly politicized. Third, because we are going to offer up shallow religious platitudes as a mask for our true, contrived, political feelings.

By now we know the drill. We have become so desensitized to the mass murder of innocent people that we don't even collectively mourn anymore. We don't even breathe together the profound sigh of sorrow and lament. Instead we leap into politicking, defense, and demonization.

We are so polarized that as we watch this event unfold, instead of sheer, knock-me-to-the-ground horror, our minds race to a vindictive hope that the shooters are not going to make our political standpoint look bad. "Please don't be a white guy." "Please don't be a refugee." "Please let's not blame mental illness." "Please be registered [insert those people's respective party]." "Please let that gun be bought on the black market." Our own hearts betray our lack of humanity. We are reduced to nothing in wanting only to be right, and in "being right" we think we have somehow "won" while the clear signs of mutual "losing" are all around.

And I am in no way surprised by the actions of the politicians who, time and again, use these events to further their own interests and the interests of their lobbying corporations. A myriad of talking points will come out of this, mostly to instill fear so we will listen more attentively. And all of our legislators will offer up tweetable condolences and prayers for the victims - as if God will not bring judgment and justice not only to the victims and their families but to those who help perpetuate and promulgate corrupt systems that polarize people collectively and in their own, divided hearts for the sake of vain-glory and power and wealth.

Not me. I will sit quietly this advent evening, the candle of hope lit on my dining room table. I will lament. I will sit in sorrow for a lost and hurting people. I will wrestle with the Lord over the presence of evil in our broken world and God's seeming absence therein. And I will do my dead-level best to refrain from blaming "them" or delighting in any perceived political victory.

No, broken and hurt human beings broke and hurt other human beings. There has to be more depth in this than just proving who is wrong and right in our culturally conceived political worldviews. There has be to be something more profound that strikes to the common, human core of us that cries out for revenge and anger and justice and peace and mercy and hope and, ultimately, love.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Moving on Purpose - what a privilege

Erin, the kids, and I are moving.

We are moving into some apartments in Thermalito that have always had a bad reputation while I was growing up. We are doing this on purpose in an attempt to live with and in the community we are hoping to minister to.

Our approach to church and ministry (service) is that we follow this incarnational model. In short, and in our limited understanding of theology, we want to follow Jesus and do what he did. The Gospel of John, chapter 1, tells us that Jesus, the Word of God revealed in a person, "The Word became flesh and made his home among us." Incarnation = Jesus became the flesh presence of God on Earth. Incarnational = to be the flesh presence God in a community. To be a real person living with and in the place. To experience what the people experience. To be in solidarity with the purpose of redemption. Usually when people talk about incarnational ministry they assume that the place is underserved, underprivileged, and marginalized.

That's what we're trying to do. 

And this is all coupled with John Perkins' "3 R's of community development" coming from his book With Justice for All. (1) Relocation, which for him often looks like someone moving away from home for education and then moving back. This is absolutely key. If World System's theory tells us anything about a capitalistic society it is that the core centers draw all the talent and resources, usually depleting the peripheral, satellite communities. Relocation is vital to communities of poverty. (2) Reconciliation - which breaks down barriers between neighbors with an emphasis on race, class, gender, and economic status. You know, the "Love your neighbor as yourself" stuff Jesus emphasized as the fulfillment of God's action in the world. I could go on, but this post isn't about community development. It is about moving in our privilege.

You see, that I have a "reason" for moving to the "wrong side" of the tracks and get to tell you or anyone about my reasons is privilege. Sure, there are some people in my family and friends who don't get it. They don't have the same theological convictions we do and that makes for awkward conversations about our "reasons." It is easier to tell people that we are moving because the apartments are cheaper - which they are - but that is not the reason we are moving. And that is privilege. I have choice. And there is dignity in that.

We are moving from a house in the more established neighborhood in Thermalito. We were able to have overlap between our last day in our house and the first day in our apartment. That is money. Money is choice. There is dignity in choice.

We had to pay a $200 deposit on the apartment without knowing we got the apartment while our credit was verified. We knew our credit was fine. We didn't give 30-day notice on our current place right away because we were unsure our application would be accepted. But what about folks struggling paycheck to paycheck? How do they move, giving 30-day notice, without a guaranteed place to live because applications are processing? How do they have money to pay first and last month's rent and deposit without getting their deposit back from their other house until 20 days after they move out?

Erin is on maternity leave and we have enough savings for me to take time off work so we can move. That is privilege. Let alone a community of loving people to help us move with multiple offers to borrow trucks and lend a hand and bring meals (for which I am eternally thankful). But how do people struggling to make ends meet balance work, children, and moving?

And with a growing housing market and economy, our rent in our current place and the apartments we are moving to is increasing by close to a $100 in each location. what do people do? What do people do who are working as hard as they can in a community that doesn't value education, has broken generations of cyclical poverty, few avenues for careers and living wages, and decades behind the times for equal rights?

So, it all seems nearly impossible to me. 

It seems possible for Erin and I because of our privilege. Yes we worked hard for what we have. We have sacrificed much and invested lots of time and energy, but we had LOTS of wonderful, gifted, capable, and talented people behind us encouraging us and expecting success from us. They served as a safety net for us to take risks and still do. Because I know that if everything we are trying to do blows up in our faces we will not go hungry. Our safety net is strong enough that we will always have a roof and a meal. And that is my privilege. That is how we have choice. And there is dignity in that. There is release in that.

I can't tell you the times I have wanted to assert myself as a "normal" person not on drugs, not creepy, well-educated. Riding my bike for exercise in my exercise clothes and people yell stuff at me or the 7-11 clerks get suspicious and unfriendly as I walk in profusely sweating to buy something for my pregnant wife (and me). It is during those times I want a shirt that says, "I have a masters degree." Or when people see me walking and I can feel the weight and stares I want a sign that says, "Just walking for exercise and reducing my carbon footprint - I swear I am not creepy." (Note: walking in my community is a statement about class - only those who have to do). But these are the things I cling to in trying to alleviate the awkwardness and social pressures. There are people who don't have that. They slowly get ground down. They often resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms. And the cycle continues.

For a lot of people they don't have the luxuries above. They don't have the loving community or the means to feel secure in their housing. They don't have the ability to take time off or know that their child can be watched by another trusted adult. They don't have the choice to live where they want to, and that deprives people of dignity.

So, we're moving in an attempt to be incarnational in our approach to this new church. But I know full well that our situation is not the same. We might live in the same place but we are not in the same place. You know what I mean? And these are some of the questions we have. This is the place we hope to serve. To see it transformed by the Gospel we seek to embody. And through it all we will be changed. We will encounter new depths of Gospel and God that we have never known. Henri Nouwen gives insight into this incarnational God when he writes, "The paradox of the ministry indeed is that we will find the God we want to give in the lives of the people to whom we want to give Him."

"God, we're here. We don't know what to do. It all seems a bit overwhelming and impossible. But we know that with you nothing is impossible. And we know that you are here. You have been here. We are not bringing you here, you have been here from the beginning. Help us to have eyes to see what you have been doing. Help us to live out what we already know of you and from you. Help us not to be overcome by the extremes - that we are here to save everyone or that we can't do anything. Ultimately, help us intertwine our stories with the stories of this place. That ours is a shared experience of seeking love and truth and peace for this place at this time."

Monday, August 31, 2015

On the Neutrality of Stuff and Guns

We live in this post-enlightenment age.
American Christians stereotypically fight the sciences.
But we are shaped by this nonetheless.

We look at stuff as neutral, having no value in an of itself.
But our parents in the faith viewed things differently.

Rich foods like dairy, meats, desserts were eaten during feasts
and abstained from during fasts.
They were thought to make us too comfortable here.
Making this earth our home and not the Kingdom.
They do.

Money always comes to mind.
We think it is a value-neutral object corrupting only corruptible people.
The saints always saw its potential for evil.
Even Jesus calls it "deceitful" and compares it to a false god.
"Get rid of it lest it find a way to my heart."

TV, technology, media
We consume to be consumed. Vegging out to "rest" (read: escape).
But to our forebearers, everything brings us closer to or pushes us further from Christ.
Neutral things and neutral time are not good.
they impede or worse.

So I think of guns
I see the way some/most American Christians defend guns
"They're only tools. No better or worse than the person holding it."
"Guns don't kill people. People kill people."

And I know why people defend in such a way.
They believe that "their rights" are being infringed upon.
That the government is trying to take away their constitutional freedom.

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's."
I don't care if the government takes them all away or makes them all legal.
There is no room in the Kingdom for such violent things.
such violent tools.

No room at all.
It is not your business to defend.
It is not your business to promote.
I don't care what your granddad did or had or said.
there is no room in the Kingdom for such as these.

Things are not value-neutral.
Neither is time.
Not because stuff is good or bad, but because we are good and bad.
We are not removed from the equation of stuff. It does not exist on its own.

Choose good.
by the power of the Holy Spirit
choose good.

Friday, August 28, 2015

60 years ago today - The killing of Emmett Till on August 28, 1955

Sometimes you read a story that shakes you. One might read the story below and think, "look how barbaric our history was." What strikes me most about the story are the parallels to our modern day. Not only was this not that long ago, the actions and arguments now concerning racism and oppression are not far from what these were.

HERE is the story written then. (Warning: there is racist language throughout, not only from the testimony of the perpetrators, but the journalist as well).

Emmett Till was a 14 year old boy from Chicago visiting his family in Mississippi during 1955. He made a mistake about romantically approaching a married white woman that, a few days later, would cost him his life. (Note: the events of what happened in the store are disputed by different witnesses).

The husband of the offended and harassed woman (Roy) and his brother-in-law (Milam) went and found the boy sleeping. They took him to a shed and beat him with pistols. Emmett bravely asserted his own humanity, exclaiming "I'm as good as you are."

The brother-in-law later confessed [warning: extremely racist language and ideas], "Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I'm no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers -- in their place -- I know how to work 'em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain't gonna vote where I live. If they did, they'd control the government. They ain't gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he's tired o' livin'. I'm likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. 'Chicago boy,' I said, 'I'm tired of 'em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I'm going to make an example of you -- just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.'"

They tied a large fan around the boys neck with barbed-wire, shot him, which caused him to fall in the river.

They were found "not guilty" on insufficient evidence. They confessed after the trial knowing they wouldn't be retried - not least because most people in the area agreed with them.

Till's mother had an open casket and pictures taken by the media to expose the cruelty done to her 14 year old son. This helped spark the Civil Rights movement.

And if that isn't just profoundly sad enough, I decided to the read the letters to editor about the published article, which read like a modern day comments section. HERE it is, but if you read it, do so with an eye to arguments you hear people make about the killing of unarmed black folks now. Do so in light of the comments people make about immigrants. The respectability politics that are present in both. The justification of death over crimes and actions that don't actually warrant death sentences. The way white society tries to sweep these "unfortunate events" under the carpet because we don't want to see what we believe to be the justified dirty work of keeping people in check - "in their place."

Jesus, help us. forgive us. help us to die to ourselves and all those false identities we use to prop up our identity. Help us to be reconciled to one another as we are reconciled to you (Ephesians 2). That we can become ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5) in your name, for your cause, to the people, for our own salvation and healing. Let us not read this and things like these and justify ourselves before them as though they are different than us. Help us realize they are us. We, too, have the capacity for the greatest of evil, each and everyone of us, but you have made us out of your divine image to follow after you for ultimate good.
- Zinn Education Project
- Wikipedia
- Original article referred to above
- CBS 60 Minutes

Sunday, February 1, 2015

I hate the word "stewardship"

I listen to Christian radio when I get tired of my albums. Don't judge, but it is necessary for me to listen to music to which I can let my guard down. I know it is not good, but I am not going to drive in silence. 

Well, tonight they were talking about stewardship and the Bible.

The mere sound of the word irked me. Why? What bugs me about it? Driving to the grocery story sans kids gave me some room for introspection. My answer is two-fold:

The idea of "stewardship" assumes that (1) there is some discernment that is needed on my part, and (2) that I get to keep some of the thing that is stewarded - which is 99% of the time talking about money/wealth.

Newsflash, we don't get to keep it and there is no decision to make. Jesus is pretty clear, "Sell your possessions, and give it to the poor. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven..." (Luke 12 - there are a bunch more, I just like this one. ok?).

"Jaymes, this is too idealistic," they will say. 
Or better yet, "you have stuff."
If they are really honest they will just admit, "that is too hard."

And they are right on all accounts.

Because, in reality, it is not impossible - just too hard. We can all sell our stuff and move to India and be like Mother Theresa. We just don't want to. We don't have the faith or desire.

My goal in life is to have nothing. To die with literally nothing. The only possessions I care about are my books and even then, I will donate them to my church's library and use them when I want (because let's be honest - church libraries are not used that often). Ok, ok, I also care about my musical instruments, and I have not thought of a way out of owning them yet. I am just hoping old age and maturity will kick in.

Maybe this is how I sleep at night. My intentions are noble. They are pure and good and aim at obeying wholly. And yet I get so frustrated with Christians who have no intention of even trying. They devise half-hearted theologies and economies to keep what they have. These ideas aren't even that convincing, but when we want what we want, we don't need much swaying. 

So, in ignorance or arrogance, brokenness and sin, I must maintain that stewardship is an idea that automatically assumes disobedience to Christ's commands. Don't be fooled. Start divesting now. At least make it your goal, if not actually giving up all your stuff except necessities. 

Finally, a word to myself as one who judges myself based on my intentions and not my actions, our measurement of success is Christ alone. Settle for nothing less. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

1/27/15 - St. John Chrysostom

Today is one of the days in the church calendar where we celebrate St. John the "Golden Mouth" Chrysostom.
His golden mouth led him to be a favorite of the people. Soon, he was whisked away from his church to become a bishop by political leaders based on his amazing speaking, but they were in for more than they bargained.
He began a series of reforms where, it is described, that "he swept the stairs from the top down." He called out political figures for corruption. He whipped his clergy into place. He refused to host the usual lavish banquets and preached against the wealthy as thieves of the poor. With the money he saved from a simple lifestyle, he opened a string of hospitals for the poor. Then he turned his sights to his congregation. The common people absolutely loved him. 
As you might suspect, this made him unpopular with the rich and powerful. Ultimately he was exiled from his position for some trumped up theological charges. But the support and love from the people continued, even past his death, to help make him one of the three most important figures in Eastern Christianity.
A couple quotes from the man on wealth and poverty:
“The rich are in possession of the goods of the poor, even if they have acquired them honestly or inherited them legally.” 
“Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours but theirs.” 
“When you are weary of praying and do not receive, consider how often you have heard a poor man calling, and have not listened to him.”
"Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: 'This is my body' is the same who said: 'You saw me hungry and you gave me no food,' and 'Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me'... What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Mary's Song

Mother Mary, after reflecting on the coming birth of Jesus, sings this song. This is what the birth of Jesus means according to her:

"God has shown strength with his arm;
   the Lord has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
The Lord has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty" (Luke 1).

The social order before Jesus is one where the biggest, strongest, and richest are in power and most valued. The birth of Jesus, Christmas, begins the process of flipping that on its head where now the lowly are lifted up and the hungry are filled. God's economy, God's heart, will become the new norm - THIS is the promise of the Gospel. God's Kingdom, God's economy, is coming and it will be "without end."

Which economy are you supporting? Are we taken with confidence, power, and wealth? Or are we invested in the humble, meek, lowly, and hungry?

Your Savior is coming to you! He is the strength of God's arm. He will be wrapped in tattered cloth, lying in the filth of an animal feeding trough. He will be surrounded by lowly shepherds and a teenage girl, pregnant out of wedlock.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Parable of the Slave: the hardest one

Luke 17 contains one of the toughest parables. I have never heard a sermon on it. I did hear one theology professor mention it one time.
"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table?' Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink?' Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
Today's lection contains this passage - Luke 17:1-10. I haven't done any study on it, but the context gave me more than enough for my own meditation.

The slave parable is in the context of forgiving our kin disciples as many times as they are repentant. The disciples, who react accordingly to any one who takes Jesus seriously at his word, asks for more faith so they can do what he asks. Jesus promises them that even the tiniest amount of true faith will be enough. And then our passage about slaves. They do not come in and get served by their master after a long day, but, rather, come in and work harder.

What I felt the Spirit convicting me of today was: forgiveness should be basic to who we are as disciples. It should be the air we breath. There is no excuse for not forgiving. "Sorry Jesus, I was tired, hungry, upset, etc." The slave doesn't get a pass from his job because he worked all day. He works more because it is his identity. Forgiving the other is so required of us on a daily basis, even a minute-by-minute basis, that this is a thankless task ("Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?").

Slave:Work::Disciples:forgiving each other 

The slavery aspect of this parable is problematic. Slavery gives us a pause, as it should, because it is deplorable and evil. But Jesus tends to use this metaphor in many places to highlight our absolute dependence on the other - whether it be God or other people (Jesus uses this idea of himself, the apostles use it of themselves). What Jesus lands on in this passage is that forgiveness is the absolute, most basic command Jesus gives us ("So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!"). Obedience to anything Jesus has commanded means obedience to constant forgiveness.

But why forgiveness? The body of Christ cannot fully exist if it is in discord (cf. John 17:21). All of the letters in the New Testament were written to help their hearers overcome relational obstacles and live as one in the Lord. If community was easy, Paul wouldn't have written a dozen letters to help us do it right. Moreover, Jesus is instructing us that we cannot do this thing alone. We need each other. Without each other we are doomed. 

So, my mind soon wanders to the modernist question: what about on-going abusive relationships? Abusers often ask for forgiveness. Victims often feel as though they are doomed if they leave the relationship. My only conclusion to this question was that, certainly, Jesus wouldn't have asked anyone to stay in a unrepentant, abusive situation ("If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender"). We should physically remove ourselves from the situation. But does physical removal mean that we give up hope for a person's, even a constantly abusive person's, redemption and transformation. We may need to distant ourselves physically and emotionally, but never lovingly or spiritually. We are Christ-followers. We always have hope, especially for the hopeless.

Who have I pushed away that I need to forgive?
Who has sinned against me that I need to reconcile with?
Who have I sinned against and need to repent to?

Often we think of those who have hurt us, but who have we hurt? Who have we sinned against? In our pursuit of Christ, forgiving another is baby steps, confessing and repenting to another is a mile. Do both. All the time. This is your most basic command, the currency in God's new economy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Soldier Turned Bishop

One of my favorite artists'
rendition of Martin giving his
cloak - El Greco c. 1598
During the 4th century there lived a man, son of a soldier, who became a soldier at age 15 in Constantine's wars. He was considering being a Christian but wavered some.

One day a beggar, freezing in the cold, caught the eye of this young soldier. The soldier had compassion on the man and cut his cloak in half so that they each had relief from the cold. That night, as the soldier slept, Christ appeared to the soldier in a dream wearing the half cloak he had given to the beggar. The soldier immediately gave himself to a life of faith in pursuit of the Way of Jesus.

The soldier demanded that he be released from the military saying, "I have faithfully served Caesar. Let me now serve Christ" and "I am a soldier of Christ, I cannot fight." He was persecuted, thrown in prison, and somewhat threatened with death. When momentary peace came he was released.

This man became a Bishop of the Church after starting the first monastery in Gaul (France). We know him as Bishop Martin of Tours. But what does he have to do with today?

Martin is the patron saint of soldiers. His feast day, the day on which we believe he was buried, is November 11. On Nov. 11 we celebrate Armistice Day, the day World War I was ended by peace treaties signed in France in 1918. Many people saw the end of WWI on Martin's feast in Martin's land as divine providence. Armistice eventually turned into Veterans day.

Here is the prayer most commonly associated with Martin's feast:
"Lord God of hosts, who clothed your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in your Church to be a defender of the [universal] faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Arnika - Sufjan Stevens - Chords

This song is hauntingly good. I loved this song even before I dove deeper into the meaning. Incredibly sad, but it has stuck with me even if I don't feel the same way the author did when writing it.

There are no chords on the internet for it so I tabbed it out. Here you go internet Sufjan fans. At the bottom is a jpg for formatting assurance. It also has helpful tips like key and playing with a Capo:

Surfjan Stevens

C            Dm     Bb                  F                     C                      Bb
Arnika might take out the throes that I threw in my head
Bruno, your wife shakes her bedclothes as she makes up the bed

I’m tired of life; I’m tired of waiting for someone
I’m tired of prices; I’m tired of waiting for something

C             Dm               Bb       F          F/E         Eb(?)      G
Oo- ah’s

C             Dm       Bb                     F                        C                         Bb
I have a right to know what’s in store; to know what should be said
Could I have it all, could I have you for a night in the warmth of your bed?

I’m tired of life; I’m tired of waiting for someone
I’m tired of prices; I’m tired of waiting for something
I’m tired of life; I’m tired of life, \
I’m tired of life; I’m tired of life,   ] – (I’m going….)
I’m tired of life; I’m tired of life, /

F                               Bb    Ab     Db     Cm                  Bbm             Am
Oh be patient with me; for the night weighs on my chest with a terrible storm
Though we may disagree on how things should be done on how crisis is born

F                            Bb     Ab     Db     Cm        Bbm                   Am
Don’t consider it done, wait until Leviathan lovingly creeps in your sill
            Gm                                          Dm                               Bb
For he waits in the dark, brooding magically; mustering paperback feelings

F                   Bb          Ab       Db          Cm      Bbm           Am
No I’m not afraid of death or strife or injury, accidents, they are my friends…

Monday, August 18, 2014

Jesus is God's Work most fully revealed

[Jesus lifts Adam and Eve (and you) from their graves in the Resurrection]
the text: John 5:19-29
Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomsoever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

‘Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

the ideas
Father – Saturday’s text was about Jesus working on the Sabbath and calling it good because the Father is still working. This caused the Jewish leaders to move towards killing Jesus because he called God his own Father and this was equating himself with God.

The Son – Here, on Jesus’ lips, John is fleshing out who Jesus is and why he does what he does. Namely, Jesus is from heaven and does what he is seeing the Father do. Also, the Father has given Jesus specific duties, privileges, and powers.

… only what he sees… - Jesus is the fullest picture of who God is and what God does. Jesus reveals the Father to us.

Jewish Customs  - in previous stories we have seen Jesus talk to Samaritan women, heal on the Sabbath, and predict the destruction of the temple while claiming that he is the temple. How does Jesus, a Jewish carpenter/rabbi, get away with minimizing or breaking proper Jewish customs and laws? John tells us here – Jesus is from the Father, from Heaven, doing only what he sees the Father doing. Not to mention that Jesus has been placed as the judge over all things righteous and unrighteous (as opposed to the Law or Moses). Jesus gets both to the heart of and trumps anything that has come before.

The Father loves… - in classic John style, love is the motivation and goal of all that is being done. More than that, just as Jesus is the fullest picture of who God is, Jesus is the fullest understanding of God’s love. Jesus uncovers for us the heart of the Trinity.

Death and Life – Death and life are major themes in this section. There are two forms that are related but seemingly separate. The last references are about the actual resurrection at the end of time, but more on that later. It is helpful to know that for Jesus, in the book of John, eternal life is the mission. Jesus is inviting us into what he calls eternal life. This doesn’t begin after we die, but right now. In Jesus, there is both eternal life and a literal resurrected life. The dead, then, are not those who are biologically not alive, but those who have not truly walked into eternal life. Jesus is the door to that new reality called eternal life.

Resurrection – many people believe that the end goal of Christianity is for the faithful to live a spiritual existence in heaven. While the saints who are currently asleep (dead) might be in heaven, the goal of God’s work is the transformation of old creation into new creation. That means that we will not ultimately end up as spirit in heaven, but we will have physical, resurrected bodies like Jesus in the merge of heaven and earth known as new creation. According to this passage and others, our options are resurrection to life or condemnation. Again, the way we determine this is by placing faith in Christ as the one who lives and brings true (eternal) life.

the stuff
What does it mean that this humble, compassionate person fully reveals to us the invisible life, love, and work of God the Father?

Even more mind-blowing, what does it mean that this person invites into that life and mission of God?

You are a child of God who dwells in the eternal life of Christ present and available to you now. Live boldly. Live lovely. Live generously.

Who do you need to reconcile with? Who is that person who needs your boldest, most generous love? Maybe it is a friend who you got separated from because of time, distance, or old drama? Maybe you have family, a son, who you haven’t spoken to in 20 years?  Imitate Christ who imitates the Father and humbly invite that person back into your life.

Daily Office Readings, Year 2 - Week of the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15) - (August 17, 2014)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Royal Official: Second Miracle in Cana

Healing the royal official's son 
by Joseph-Marie Vien, 1752 (Wiki)
the text: John 4:43-54
When the two days were over, he went from that place to Galilee (for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in the prophet’s own country). When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.

Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my little boy dies.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.’ The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he himself believed, along with his whole household. Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

the ideas
two days - two days with the Samaritans

Prophet without honor - Matthew 13, Mark 6

Galilean welcome - they welcome him, but because he did miracles at the festival.

Remember - Cana, the wine place.

Capernaum to Galilee - 20 miles.

Unless "you"/y'all - The "you" here is plural. It is directed to the official and the Galileans. 

Works - Jesus does not like to do miracles, or, at least, he distrusts the human nature that requires miracles for faith. See chapter 2:23-25. little boy - how could anyone's heart keep from breaking at such a request? Moreover, this is Jesus' first run-in with death in this gospel. How Jesus matches up with the ultimate enemy of humans and God tells us quite a bit about who Jesus is.

Go; your son will live(s) - This is the present tense. Jesus, who is the Word that brings Life to all people, brings that life to this young boy now, here, in the present. To get that point across, there is a caravan of servants who meet the official and confirm the time he was healed.

The man believed/trusted/placed confidence in the Word - two times we are told he believed. And he did not believe after seeing a sign; he believed after Jesus spoke. This belief led to salvation coming to his whole household (just like the city of Samaritans all coming to faith).

the stuff
There is a pattern going on here. The last time we were in Cana, Jesus' mother wanted Jesus to make wine and he refused her, but did it anyway. Here, the official wants his son to be healed, and Jesus seemingly refuses. But the man's persistence pays off, his son is healed, and his family is brought into Jesus' Kingdom.

As is consistent with other Gospels, Jesus asks us to be persistent in prayer. This isn't a sign that God doesn't care. No, persistence demonstrates deep faith. We have all had those times where we have prayed and nothing happens. I could out atheist any atheist on this point alone. But it is the movement of God to deep cries of faith that reward the type of life Jesus desires for us as we seek entry into eternity.

I do not pretend to understand the mystery of prayer. But I know that Jesus calls the faithful to be in communication with their Father. How is your prayer life? Sporadic? Do you only pray when you need something? Or is it a cultivated habit of a disciplined life that is the source of power and joy in your life? Spend some time in meditative prayer today. Bring your concerns to Jesus. Speak from the heart. Listen for a response. Let it be a time that increases your faith.

Daily Office Readings, Year 2 - Week of the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14) - August 15, 2014