Tuesday, April 24, 2007

the clumsiness of fictional christianity

i loved the da vinci code
i loved holy bood, holy grail
i even liked the less-well-written 'last templar'

but let's be honest

these portrayals of christians are demeaningly one-dimensional

authors just don't seem to "get" christians
they write us as being scared of the truth, fascinated by folklore, and deprived of all rationale thought in favor of ancient mysticism

for example,
in the last templar
a character makes mention that there is "proof" of the humanity [aka non-deity] of jesus christ

he goes on to state the obvious, that this is threatening to christians, and makes the assumption that we are threatened by the "truth"
and that we prefer the "experience" or "comfort of faith" over "the facts"

but this is where they get it all wrong

see, there is a difference between truth and meaning

things that are true can be proven to be true
but true things are not always meaningful

meaningful things don't always have to be factual
[love, for instance, isn't a fact - it's a kind of experience]

the problem with dan brown and raymond khoum is that they think we count our experiences are proof of the veracity of christ's claims

which we don't

in fact,
we believe the teachings of the bible
because there is ample archaeological evidence and scholarly research to prove the worth of the text

despite all of the hullabaloo about the council of nicea and all the pseudopegraphic gospels [gospel of thomas, of mary, etc...]
the scholarly evidence overwhelming supports that the books in our bible are
- written by their claimant authors
- authoritative in local churches [beginning in 1st C palestine]
- consistent with history and biblical theology
- credible [in the case of the gospels] first-hand and/or eye-witness accounts of the life and times of jesus of nazareth
- withstand the rigors of textual criticism [i.e. there's proof that the books we have in our bible are actually the original books written by the original authors] far more so than those of plato, aristotle, or caesar's gaelic wars

in short,
there is real proof that the bible is real [aka a credible, historical document]

that's why we believe it to be true

there are always those who say that jesus never claimed to be the son of god
that this is a distortion of the church or pauline theology

but this is also complete bollocks
there could be no greater student of the hebrew scriptures
or one more fully commensorate with the followers of jesus
than paul

so, when paul traces the claims/miracles of jesus through the hebrew scriptures
[and, then, so does the anonymous author of hebrews]
we get a pretty solid evidentiary set
jesus did make claims to be god
equal with god
and his teaching supports the idea of a trinitarian god ruling all of the kosmos

we believe in jesus' teachings as they are commonly understood by orthodox theologians

because they're true

but just because they're true doesn't make them meaningful

again - this is where i think our fictional authors get it screwed up
"they" think that "we" overlook the proof/factuality of [1] the biblical text & [2] the claims of jesus because we're scared that the proof doesn't lie on our side

i.e. if we really looked at the evidence, we'd be forced to give up on our superstitions

but this just isn't the case

the scholarly proof
supports the biblical story

we can thank our host of apologeticists for unmistakeably showing us that [lee strobel, josh mcdowell, et. al.]

and i think the reason those authors [brown, khoum, etc...] make that mistake is that they hear us talk about our experiences so passionately and assume that that's all there is to faith

but this is not so

the proof makes it true

but the experiences make it real


the experiences make it real in a way that proof never can

the experiences make it meaningful
which is why we talk about our experiences of god
rather than the proof

particularly in a postmodern world
we've come to take "truth" for granted
and have become disullisioned with the meaninglessness of some "true" things

so, what we've come to want more and more and more
are things that are meaningful

christian spirituality is ferociously meaningful
the experience of god is life-changing
living guided by the holy spirit into a lifestyle of divine cooperation is a fundamentally altering path

which is why we talk about it so much

but let's not be confused

just because we talk about our "experiences" more than our "proof"
doesn't mean there is no proof

it just means that proof isn't enough to affect us

for that, we need something more

we need something real

we need to experience god for ourselves

Sunday, April 22, 2007

a straight line with a crooked stick?

i've always thought that god can use "a crooked stick" to draw a "straight line"

and i still do

i mean,
every teacher/preacher/apostle/etc... is flawed [aka "crooked"] to some extent

by virtue of the fact that we learn/are expanded as a result of any of my/their teachings/inspiration, obviously god is using them to point us to him


but i'm really wrestling lately with the difference between "flawed" and "crooked"

i mean,
i consider myself flawed
because i'm not perfect
i'm still prone to losing my temper
acting like an idiot
speaking out of frustration
not watching my tongue

in no way would i consider myself "crooked"

by which i mean
to the lifestyle advocated in the new testament scriptures

i see plenty of examples of people who seem to disregard these lifestyle commands
and also seem to prosper in ministry

which is hard for me

which forced me to deal with my own issues about significance, meaning, calling, ministry, and judgement

but also makes me wonder about accountability

what are we to do
if we see someone living contrary to the scriptures
who is in leadership
but who has no accountability?
no governing authority to whom they are supposed to report?
no one to "remove them" from their "position"?

this is scary to me

because i think - in the absence of accountability - the only thing that truly authenticates the ministry of someone is their charisma and their talent

and we are all easily swayed by those

this may be why the book of jude is given to us in our bibles

but i'm wrestling about whether or not instructing people to read and re-read the book of jude is ever really a sufficient response to the ironies and injustices i see in the world of ministry around me.

how about you?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

friends, not companies

i'm in paducah, kt, right now spending some time with my friend brad [a pastor here of a cool church]. brad and i met in college and have spent a good amount of time over the years woodshopping ideas over the phone and keeping one another fresh and innovative.

one of the things that being with brad affirms most for me
is how much energy/vitality/freshness i get from being with my friends in ministry

whether that's jvo or randy
vince, mark, steve, glen
cam, brad, ryan, ryan, stephan, dan
or any of the other million friends i have loved serving jesus with [perhaps most especially my dad]
i always find that it's my friends who keep me honest
keep me sharp
and keep me pure

i don't think i've ever experienced sharpness, purity, or a challenge to integrity from my denomination

this isn't to say that the denom is anti-sharp, etc...
just that a group like that is a particularly impotent motivator

which is the primary reason why i've always tried to lead as a friend
instead of as a boss, or "pastor", or "leader"

because i think bosses are dumb
pastors are [far too often]fake
and leaders are dumb [except, of course, for their keen ability to use a goofy language all it's own, complete with words like "paradigm-shift" or "vision-cast"]

jesus was a friend
"no longer do i call you servants, but friends...the friends of god"
and provides a pretty healthy example for another way to lead
to love
to be in ministry
to be in relationship
to serve
to go
to dream

this "friend" thing was brilliantly exemplified by the quakers [though they did get enough other stuff so weird as to make their "friendship" seem spooky], who lived and served together in a profoundly spiritual capacity

and [minus the spooky bits] this is really how i'm hoping to model my own "leadership" and set of associations

by having friends

now, i've been told that i can really only make this work up to a point
that - if i'm serious about "being the leader god has called me to be" - i'll have to accept that my friendships will be few

but that perspective, of course, falls victim to the way the world actually works
and i - together with my friends - am trying to fix this world
to put the pieces back together again
so the world will be more like the way god intended it

full of friends

natural friends

Friday, April 13, 2007

so much anger

i'm often troubled by the amount of anger expressed by christians at other christians

in my tribe, this is most often manifested as young people
or emergent types
or pomophiles
or dissenters
angry at the church-as-it-commonly-exists-in-america
for their
marriage to tradition/disregard for mission

i actually believe that our anger at these [justifiably] bothersome traits
is as much of a problem as the problems we are identifying

because our anger allows others to dismiss us as idealists/professional protestors
whom they assume will never be happy because we're "anti-institutional"

because we're very free about the expression of our anger
such that others see our malice
and equate our hatred with the cause of christ
the fallacy of religious unity
and identify us as the evangelical al-queda
on par with jerry falwell
or those weirdos from the appalachians who call down judgement on those unlike themselves

because it makes jesus sad to see us hate the very people he loves

after all
he does indeed love the church

he died for the church

we're told in the gospels that men will know we are christ's disciples
by our love for one another

not by our cool churches
or narrative theology

but by our love

which - to me - is what seems most absent about our movement

there is no love for one another in the emerging church

we defend against our detractors
we're hospitable to people of other faiths
we're engaging with people of no faith
we're warm and loving for anyone god brings to us - except brothers and sisters from another part of our family

and this
more than anything
is the quality that disqualifies us from effecting real change in america

we don't live the gospel to those who already know it

A Time for Miracles: Bono speaks to Europe

Fifty years ago this week, the idea of Europe was set to paper, on a continent unsettled but past the worst of the postwar period. The air was clear of sulfur if not spleen. Ireland was a small rock in the North Atlantic made relevant only by its cultural totems and ever increasing diaspora. In Berlin a chasm was opening up between East and West--the partition of lives, fortunes and fates. In the global struggle between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., between freedom and totalitarianism, Europe was the fault line and the front line. Old Europe was being rebuilt to fight the next war: a battle not just of ideologies but also, very possibly, of nuclear arsenals. It was not a moment for dreaming--more like one for digging a basement and ordering a year's supply of tinned soup.

And yet this was the moment the New Europe was born.

On the continent that had been the theater for mankind's darkest hour, we witnessed a very human miracle. The people of Europe found that their capacity for destruction was mirrored by an equally immense capacity for forgiveness, grace and hope. Looking to the U.S., Europeans could see how cherry-picked European ideas from minds like Locke, Rousseau and Tom Paine could flourish in a society not polluted by blood and aristocracy. And so, in 1957, six nations signed the Treaty of Rome and, with that one crucial act, built a showcase of multilateralism, prosperity and international solidarity.

Fast-forward 50 years. An Irish rock star reads the treaty with the enthusiasm a child has for cold peas but does uncover what I think technocrats might call poetry. Not much of it--just a turn of phrase here and there. Like Article 177, which summons the signatories to foster "the sustainable economic and social development of the developing countries and more particularly the most disadvantaged among them" and calls for a "campaign against poverty in the developing countries." Not exactly Thomas Jefferson but a glimpse of the kind of vision that might bind us.

Over the next 50 years, we might need a little more poetry. Europe is a thought that has to become a feeling--one based on the belief that Europe stands only if injustice falls and that we find our feet only when our neighbors stand with us in freedom and equality. Our humanity is diminished when we have no mission bigger than ourselves. And one way to define who we are might be to spend more time looking across the eight miles of Mediterranean Sea that separates Europe from Africa.

There's an Irish word, meitheal. It means that the people of the village help one another out most when the work is the hardest. Most Europeans are like that. As individual nations, we may argue over the garden fence, but when a neighbor's house goes up in flames, we pull together and put out the fire. History suggests it sometimes takes an emergency for us to draw closer. Looking inward won't cut it. As a professional navel gazer, I recommend against that form of therapy for anything other than songwriting. We discover who we are in service to one another, not the self.

Today many rooms in our neighbor's house, Africa, are in flames. From the genocide in Darfur to the deathbeds in Kigali, with six AIDS patients stacked onto one cot, from the child dying of malaria to the village without clean water, conditions in Africa are an affront to every value we Europeans have ever seen fit to put on paper. We see in Somalia and Sudan what happens if more militant forces fill the void and stir dissent within what is, for the most part, a pro-Western and moderate Muslim population. (Nearly half of Africa's people are devotees of Islam.) So whether as a moral or strategic imperative, it's folly to let this fire rage.

How will Europe respond? For all the babble of clashing ideas, there's more harmony than you might think. Historic promises have been made on aid, debt and even the thorny subject of trade. Aggressive progress on these, matched by advances in fighting the evils of corruption in Africa, could transform the continent and prevent the fire from spreading. As a group, the E.U. countries have promised to commit 0.7 percent of GDP to the poorest of the poor. How Europe works to keep that promise is as important to Europe as it is to Africa.

We might remember that Europe, 50 years ago, did not pull itself back from the abyss on its own. Across the Atlantic was a nation with a pretty broad notion of neighbor. Sure, the Marshall Plan wasn't all altruism--the U.S. wanted a bulwark against Soviet expansion as the temperature of relations dropped below freezing. But it was also generosity on a scale never before seen in human history. It defined America in the cold war era.

What will define Europe in this new era? What will provide the bulwark against the extremism of our age?

Part of the answer lies eight miles away.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

probably not a big deal for you

the other night i was struggling to shut my brain off and fall asleep [a fairly common occurence in my world], when i began to think about why i'm here.

now, typically, when i begin to wonder about that i've got more than one good answer; i mean, i never have a difficult time hypothesizing about why any of us are here [yes - i am familiar with the westminster short catechism] or why i'm here as a dad/husband/son/friend/pastor

but the other day was different

i just felt like i had to get specific

why am i alive
and on the earth
and a pastor
and a black-sheep pentecostal
and a dissident emergent
and a canadian in exile in my other home
with a penchant for media
with a creative mind that never shuts off
who likes knowledge
but hates academia and fights hard not to give in to pomp and pretense
who loves jesus and the church
but hates the western deterioration of christian spirituality into maxims and slogans





am i [specifially me, with all of who i am - good and bad]

here [on earth, today, in michigan]?

well, leaving michigan aside for present purposes
i've become crystaline in one particular lens
which really does speak to my out-of-placeness among other pastors
or artists, or musicians
and perhaps even addresses my pathological obsession with local church ministry

i think i'm here
to create venues of spiritual interactivity and relationship

i'm here
to create
- because i'm an innovator
- because i'm a creator/artist/playwrite/musician/writer/thinker/programmer

i'm creating venues
- because i think space is sacred
- because i feel there are certain places that elicit certain emotions and legitimate spiritual responses to the working presence of the spirit of god
- because environmental worship shares much of the same benefits are environmental learning experiences, which immerse us into another world/perspective/esprit

these venues are spiritual
- because i'm not interested in making art, i'm here to help facilitate people who long to connect more meaningfully with god
- because humanity is spiritual, but ignorant of our true identity as image-bearers of god, and i want to help us remember that

these venues are interactive
- because presentation is not the only legitimate form of spiritual intersection
- because our knowledge of god cannot simply be gnosis [head-knowledge], but must also be noetics [the knowledge of lived-experience] and allowing space for interactivity draws people out of themselves and into moving with god's spirit and engaging him in those moments

those venues are relational
- because i really do find things that are uber-cool to be deathly monotonous without the randomization of laughter and open conversation
- because i think god resides in and among his people in collections as well as in isolation
- because the whole rest of the world is so fragemented we ought to be a haven of family networks and relationships, a surrogate home

this has been really helpful for me to articulate
i've thought about it a lot since i first landed on this thinking
and feel like i've tested it enough for it to remain true

so i've put it here for those of you who care
who - by the way - always bless me by demonstrating that care
because you are my friends

and my mom