Thursday, December 09, 2010

Baseball

I don't have all the answers.  Hence the title of this site.

But on the day when co-fans of my "favorite" baseball team are praising the ownership for committing $142 million to a guy who's darn good at baseball, my mind is again going in different directions.  I remember being a student at Eastern Nazarene College when the Red Sox signed Manny Ramirez to what turned out to be a $200 million contract.  I had his picture all over my dorm room door, with made-up balloon quotes mocking the Yankees.  We Sox fans were ecstatic.  And Manny delivered, being one of the greatest hitters ever in Red Sox history, winning one World Series MVP, and two World Series rings.

Now I wholeheartedly admit that the following has a profound impact on my feelings on all this (I wrote this elsewhere):
I have gone to Fenway since May 2, 2006, but only a few times. Before that, if I was living in New England, I was at Fenway at least 10 times a year. And now that I actually have a clergy pass that gets me in rather cheaply (in comparison, at least), I still don't go. Time isn't so much a factor as the games are in the evening, and my wife often says that I should go. But I don't. When I went to watch the Red Sox and Yankees on that day (May 2, 2006), my friend and I were waiting for the rain delay to subside (it never did) when my phone rang. I answered and my mother told me that my "foster" brother, Bobby Moscillo was killed in Iraq. What was normally one of the happiest places on earth for me quickly turned into a Hell hole. Everyone's antics in that place just seemed so stupid to me at that point. I'm sure people wondered why this guy was sitting there bawling his eyes out (my friend who was with me was very gracious). But the few times I've gone since then, it just seems stupid: the money involved (in so many ways), the chants, the wave (which I've actually never been such a big fan of), and so much more.
The last time I went to Foxboro was with Bobby. We sat in the second row from the top in very cold weather and watched the Jets beat the Patriots (2002...second to last or last game of the season). I've not been back to Foxboro for a game since. I've had my chances.
Today I'm reminded of the money aspect.  I can't get over it.  If I decry the notion that a bank executive can make this much money, why would I stop short for an athlete?

I found this video a while ago, but I've re-visited it numerous times.  The pastor in it (Chris Seay) puts his time and money where his mouth is.


So...have at it:
How should those who call for the compassion and incarnation of Christ respond to such exorbitant amounts of money?

(To be clear, I have no issue with baseball, or football, or banking.  I think each can play an important and integral part of society.  Note that Chris also calls out the make-up industry, etc. in the video.)

And also, remember that I have questioned the possibility of money being the primary factor in solving problems, preferring compassion and incarnation over charity and money, but at this level, something's surely amiss.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More Phone Commercial "Wisdom"

A couple of months ago I posted this cell phone commercial because I thought it had some great (unintentional) points about society.

I don't know what it is with cell phone commercials, but I've seen a couple more that have good (again, I think unintentional) social commentaries.  The first is for the new Windows phones.  I ask the same question of Microsoft that they ask repeatedly of phone users in the commercial: "Really?"  I mean, really, Microsoft?  You're trying to sell us a cell phone because it will reduce our use of cell phones?  Exact quote: "It's time for a phone to save us from our phones."  Really?

But the second one I just saw this morning, and it gets right to the heart of the matter:




The question is a good one: "Why won't you look me in the eye, Marty?"

I am for sure guilty of hiding behind technology, but I know that I'm not alone.  I'm trying to do better by making more eye contact (something I'm horrible at), acknowledging the presence of others, and getting away from the computer even more.  And it's not because I have this thing against technology or that I'm trying to be a "purist."  (Anyone who knows me knows that technology is a huge part of my life.)  But I am growing in belief that we were created to be present with one another and that we're

Advent is soon upon us and one of the themes of Advent is that of presence.  You know, the whole notion that through Advent we wait for the coming of the Lord, who then comes by incarnation (presence!).  Advent Conspiracy does a great job of challenging us to think about this: Spend less, give more. Less presents, more presence.  Sounds good to me.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Learning to be Loved

Once again, Stanley Hauerwas steals my words...or maybe I've read him enough to have arrived at the same words without hearing them from him.  That's a scary thought to some.  Oh well.  :-)



There is really no pattern to learning about love.  I tend to think that it can happen a number of ways for different people.  For me, I first knew love because of my family.  And now, though I still have a number of selfish bones in my body that need breaking, I do certainly enjoy sacrificing for others from time to time (part of this came with the difficulty of a first year in marriage...and then a kid...and then a few more).  But when it comes to love, I still have a really hard time accepting that God would love me.  I quite often stupidly (yet subconsciously) still think that I have things to prove before God would ever do that.  

When the grace-full love of God hits me hard, it's an incredibly wonderful thing.  This is that whole Aldersgate experience.

I think this is what Stan is getting at above.  A mature love might be arrived at like this:
1A First we think that love is that warm and fuzzy thing that makes us feel good.
1B Next we think that love is something we receive.
2B Then we think that love is something we give.
2A By which we come to find out that it quite often hurts.

...but hopefully, we finally dive into the realization that it's unfathomably all of the above (and more) wrapped up together in one beautiful mess.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A "Fascinated" Society

I find this commercial a bit fascinating (no pun intended, Samsung).  I find it interesting because of the number of commentaries it makes on today's society.  While Samsung succeeded in being funny, there is a whole sermon series within the minute and seven seconds.  If I had more time, I'd expound.  Maybe I will at some point, but for now, don't count on it.  The commitments I make on this blog don't have a good history.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Response to Last Post

I've gotten a number of responses to my last post - School Buses & God the Father, a few here in the comments section, and some more on Facebook and by email.  Thanks to everyone for the solidarity.  But one response, from Eric, asked for some clarification:

First, Eric - I don't believe that I know you, which makes online communication quite difficult, and often almost impossible.  The best venue for discussion is incarnational and in relationship.  We don't have that, so please keep that in mind.  But allow me to try and clarify your questions.

Jeremy,Thank you for your post. However, I am a little confused on a couple of issues. I am not an expert on the Bible, but i am eager to learn. First, I would like you to elaborate on your comment that "God is first and foremost a being of love and grace." Where do you derive this from? 

First off, it appears that we may be operating in slightly different understandings of who God is based upon the sources from which we draw our faith and understandings.  The Bible plays a big role for me and is an authority, but it's not the only source.  I come from the Wesleyan tradition which seeks understanding and faith from a variety of sources, most often the things of scripture, reason, tradition, and experience.

I mention this because the basis of your questions seems to be drawn solely upon scripture.  And while it's extremely important to me, the Bible is not the only thing from which I draw my understandings of the nature of God.

What passage tells us that God's love is first in the order of His attritbutes? What passage tells you that there is a "foremost" attribute and, consequently, an attribute that is "last" in priority? 

Good call!  I'm glad you called me out on this.  "Foremost" was a bad choice of wording.  You are right that our hope is not to fashion God into that which we desire, but to seek God who already is, and shift ourselves to desire the great I AM.

However, I'll stick with the wording of "first."  My understanding of creation and the initiative that God made in creation was that God did so out of love.  God's first impulse was love.  It's my belief that our greatest understanding of God comes from the incarnation, life, death, life again, and ascension of Jesus Christ.  And the gospels are saturated with the notion that the impetus for the incarnation is the love of God.  If you're desiring a passage, what is likely the most famous verse in scripture will suffice, but so also will the whole of I John.  There's great stuff in there: "This is the message we have known from the beginning...", a message of light and love.

If you have such a passage, where does it teach that God exercises this love in the releasing of His children to the spirit of the age and the prince of this world? 

Okay, now I'm the one who is confused.  I didn't say that God releases his children to the spirit of the age and the prince of this world.  I'm not sure how you arrived there (unless you mean to say that public schools are that age and that prince, with which I would disagree).  What I did say is that God the Creator/Father allows the space for his creatures to choose to chase after him...or not.

I am curious simply because it seems, on the surface, that such an action would be the antithesis of love. In fact, it could be construed at best as neglectful and, at worst, cruel. 

I agree.

I would also be interested to know what your views are on discipline with your children. I assume you accept the Biblical mandate to do so and that, as God deals with His sons, you chastise them out of love. But why do you do this? What is your objective? Again, I assume it is to teach them to love the good and hate the evil. You are showing them the Divine model that evil choices will result in pain, righteous ones with praise. But is that not a manipulation of the will? Are you not conditioning your child toward a particular end? Are you not limiting their "freedom" by directing their will in one direction and away from another? And so I am left confused. Are you loving your child when you do this, or are you going against love by teaching them the way of righteousness, rather than allowing them to find it on their own. And if you do choose to release them into the world, as the prodigal example you gave seems to suggest, will they really be free to make their own decisions? Your own words seem to say no: "I truly hope that he learns from his teachers and classmates. I believe that they will all teach him things that, as his parents, Meghan and I can't." Is not the goal of education similar to that of discipline: To instruct on what is true and what is false; what is right and what is wrong; what is beautiful and what is ugly? This also seems to be a manipulation of the will. Why can't the child learn these things for themselves? If they are not capable, then what is it that these "teachers and classmates" possess that you and Meghan do not. Considering what Paul says in 2 Tim 3:16-17, I can't imagine what that would be. And so I remain a bit confused. If influencing the will in a particular direction is to attach "balls and chains" to the subject, are we going against God's example by training our children in a Christian home? If so, are we guilty of the same by allowing them to go into a secular environment to have the same done by those who are enemies of God?Please clarify these for me if you would. In Christ,Eric

It's difficult for me to ascertain what you're asking here.  What it seems to me is that you're setting up a false and simple dichotomy that implies that we either set our child outside the doorstep after s/he's take a first breath, or shelter every minute of their lives from the outside world.

Part of what I was saying in the post is that it's a difficult thing to know how and when and if to hold back or to let go.  Absolutely, our children are in our care: Meghan and I are in great part their stewards, and make many a decision for them.  But what we know is that someday, at a later age, we will no longer hold much of (if not all of) this stewardship.  Someday, they will make their own decisions with little or no help from us (I shudder at the thought!).  So in the meantime, as they are under our care and stewardship, we will do all that we can to help foster and train them for that time of life.  Absolutely, we are seeking to foster (I'll refrain from the very you used: "condition", though that may work too) that they follow a certain path.  No, I do not believe that is manipulation.  Manipulation would be demanding conformity in all situations.  We are not doing that - we are wrestling with the tension of choosing for them at young ages and gradually allowing them to choose for themselves so that when they are of age, they will not be clueless as to how to live life.

I fear that I've not answered all of your points of clarification (I confess to not being able to ascertain all of what you're asking).  But hopefully this helps a bit.

Grace & Peace,
Jeremy

Thursday, September 09, 2010

School Buses & God the Father

So I began this blog in great part due to the fact that we had our first kid, Brayden Wesley Scott.  I entitled it "Still Learning" because if having a child implied anything...it was that I have a lot to learn.  Some would laugh at this post, others would nod somewhat patronizingly in memory of feelings long past, others still may have similar feelings that are recent and fresh.  Regardless, I share it because I need to.

About fifteen minutes ago Meghan and I just let a huge part of Brayden go.  We let him get on a bus with some driver-dude I've never met.  And now Brayden is under the influence of people I have never had control over: children who have been raised by parents other than Meghan & me and teachers & aides who will influence him in ways that Meghan and I have not, will not, and cannot.  He will be hurt.  He will likely hurt others.  He will interact with people, ideas, and systems that we wish he wouldn't.  This great part of his life will be out of our control...by choice.

I ashamedly confess that I used to look down upon home-schooling. I regret such ignorant presumption. This was yet another situation where I thought for sure that I knew best: "How are kids supposed to learn social skills?", etc.  But surely...I understand a bit more now. I understand - at least from my perspective - the desire to home-school and I believe there are times and places to do so.  

Because it's not that we can't control this.  We could keep him home.  We could even move to northern Canada and just live "safely" as a family away from the whole world.  I'm pretty sure we could teach him the academics if we worked hard enough (although, having a public educator as a parent myself, I believe that teachers do often know better than parents).  I may even be able to teach him social skills without actually being social (though probably not).  But I'm not sure that we could very well teach him the nature of God the Father...who lets us go.

For Meghan and I, we've looked at it this way:
Of all the things we want for our children, we want the most for them to see the nature of God in us (including our parenting).  As Wesleyan-Arminians, we believe that God is first and foremost a being of love and grace.  Even as I grow with the pains of parenting, I'm learning more about this.  It's surely arrogant and presumptuous, but I feel like I understand just a bit more the compassionate God who suffers for and with us because God lets us go.  I'm not ignorant to the fact that many (even most?) these days believe that God is a God who controls everything, mostly because they run on that Greek platonic belief that God by very definition is omnipotent.  Don't get me wrong - God is indeed all-powerful, but the primacy of my understanding of the nature of God is that of love and grace.  And by definition...love and grace only exist where there is freedom.

God does not make us love.
God makes us to love.

I wonder if I've felt the macrocosmic heart of a creative God today in this microcosmic releasing of Brayden to a school bus.   When God released humanity on earth in the biblical creation story, it's portrayed by God setting Adam & Eve in the garden with some guidance and instructions...yet without balls and chains.  I feel this way today. We also see the same nature in the loving Father toward the prodigal son.  Many parenting styles today would say, "Um...no son, of course you cannot have your inheritance money because you'll spend it frivolously."  Some would even build a fenced-in pen to keep the son in.  Yet the loving Father in that parable lets the son go free.  The son finds his own pen, and surely a much more disgusting one than the Father could have built for his son.  Meghan and I feel that our job as parents isn't always to make our kids comfortable, but rather to comfort them in the situations of life.  In the parable, the course of events allows that when the son returns for forgiveness, he has a perspective on the world, life, and love that the son who stayed home can't fathom.

Back to the creation story: it shows God's curiosity in watching what humanity would do.  I also feel that way today.  Brayden is such an incredible kid.  I truly hope that he learns from his teachers and classmates.  I believe that they will all teach him things that, as his parents, Meghan and I can't.  And when he is taught or experiences things that are contrary to the will and nature of God, we will continue to do our best to show him otherwise.  You could call these "teachable moments."  Scripture is full of them.

Our greatest hope is that this small release today will help Brayden understand the nature of God the Father all the more.  Probably not right now.  In fact, he may even be angry at us at some point for letting him get hurt (read the psalms, anyone?).  But my hopeful prayer is that, in the long run, it will be best for him in knowing who God is and thus, who he as God's child should be.

(By the way, the girls started preschool yesterday too.  Here are some pictures from yesterday and today.)

UPDATE: Despite any fear to the contrary, Brayden did come home and get off the bus just fine.  And he had a good time.  And the bus driver introduced himself to us.  His name is Paul.  And he's nice.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bonhoeffer

I've been watching a documentary on Bonhoeffer.  I don't know how to tell you how much I'm feeling this quote tonight:
"I think I'm right in saying that I would only achieve true inner clarity and sincerity by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. This is the only source of strength that can blow all this nonsense sky-high."

"The restoration of the church will surely come from a new kind of monasticism, which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ. I believe the time has come to rally people together for this."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Save Us from False Ambition

God, I am just too busy.  Too many people, too many questions, too much to do.  We confess we stay busy because we fear acknowledging our emptiness.  How amid this busyness do we rest? How do we worship you? Please create space, which may be other people, to make time, our time, serve you.  Force us to rest through the activity of prayer so that all our loves and fears might be made perfect in you. Help us see how such busy service, if it is service, may be just the rest we need - just the worship we need. Finally, and most importantly, save us from false ambition.  Amen.
While Christlikeness is the essence of holiness, I must realize that I am not Jesus.  I am not the Savior of the world.  While I hope to be present to suffering people (even the presence of Christ himself), their hand up is not solely dependent on me.  God is bigger than that.  I know the Healer, the Weeper, the Savior, but I am not the answer in and of myself.  If I were to die today, the Kingdom of God would go on.  The presence of Christ is not solely dependent on me. It's in the situations that I realize I cannot do anything that I have realized my (our) need for God.  And truly, I must realize this in every situation, for I can do nothing on my own.  I can do from my own will, but I will do nothing without God's.

I know these may seem like obvious distinctions to many, but I need the reminder.

As a pastor, Acts 6:2 is chewing me up and spitting me out.

(Prayer from Stanley Hauerwas, Prayers Plainly Spoken)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Faith & Film: Theological Themes at the Cinema Series



So we were going to have a "Faith & Film Discussion Series" at North Street this summer, but it kind of fizzled out, mainly due to schedule, but also because no one but me was really excited about the book.  I've known about the book Faith & Film: Theological Themes at the Cinema for a while, but had never actually read it (hence inviting our community to read it too).  Even though it hasn't worked out with North Street, Meghan and I have decided to read the chapters and watch the films together.  I'm looking forward to it.

The book has a number of enticing elements to it for me: 1. To order the theological themes, the book uses the Apostles' Creed.  I continue to grow in appreciation for the place of the ancient creeds in worship and formation, so I appreciate this (and also some "order" to the discussions rather than a generally-themed book (like "love," "mercy," "faith," etc.).  2. The theological and ecclesiological lenses through which the author, Bryan Stone, would write such a book (I hope).  I've already mentioned Bryan here before: I have really appreciated his work, particularly Evangelism After Christendom.  He grew up in my tradition (the Church of the Nazarene), and still has connections (including maintaining his ordination credentials, or so I've been told).  But he is what we might call a "recovering evangelical."  He is thoroughly Wesleyan.  3.  It involves watching movies.  I need to enflesh myself in more stories in my life that I might tell stories better myself.  (Side note: We are finally moving from a cable-TV home to a no-cable TV home.  Instead of cable, we've signed up for Netflix.  Perhaps I'll blog soon about some other "re-modeling" that we are doing in our home.)

As we finish each chapter, I'll write a response here and update the chapter links below.  I enjoy movies, but be forewarned: I'm no film critic.  And I confess that lately that most movies haven't really moved or wowed me.  The only exceptions are the great blockbusters (like Avatar) or very simple stories that are believable (like Once).  I've only seen a handful of the movies below (and actually like very much the ones that I've seen), so we'll see how Bryan's other choices do for me.

Introduction - "Cinema, Theology, and the 'Sign of the Times'"
1 - "I believe" - (Contact)
2 - "God, the Father almighty" (Oh, God!)
3 - "Creator of heaven and earth" (2001: A Space Odyssey)
4 - "Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord" (Jesus of Montreal)
5 - "Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary" (The Greatest Story Ever ToldThe Last Temptation of Christ, & The Gospel According to St. Matthew)
6 - "Suffered under Pontius Pilate" (Romero)
7 - "Was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead." (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)
8 - "On the third day he rose again, He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father." (PhenomenonPowder, & E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial)
9 - "Will come again to judge the living and the dead" (Flatliners)
10 - "I believe in the Holy Spirit" (Star Wars)
11 - "The holy catholic church" (The Mission)
12 - "The communion of saints" (Babette's Feast)
13 - "The forgiveness of sins" (Dead Man Walking)
14 - "The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting" (The Shawshank Redemption)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Acknowledgement of Presence


I think that they lonely are often so, not because they don't have people in their lives, but that they have so many people in their lives who don't acknowledge their presence.

A couple of months ago I decided to start saying hello to whoever came into my presence.  Whether walking down the street or sitting in Panera Bread or something, I now simply say hi or hello to everyone.  The responses are often humorous.  More often than not, I catch them off-guard and they're not too sure what to do (it's simple really...just say hi back!).  Sometimes it'll take them 2 or 3 seconds and they might be 5-10 feet behind me now (if we're walking past one another) and they'll respond.  Pretty much everyone responds, though some don't.  No one's punched me yet, so I think I'll keep doing it.

I'm becoming more and more a believer in presence.  Presence begins with a physical proximity.  Sometimes this is enough - just to be present in one's life, much like the Jewish practice of a shiva call.  Shiva is the grieving process put into place after the death of a Jew.  When people visit those who've had the loss, they come just to be present: not to talk and not to offer trite cliches about "another angel in heaven."  From Wikipedia: "Traditionally, no greetings are exchanged and visitors wait for the mourners to initiate the conversation, or remain silent if the mourners do not do so, out of respect for their bereavement."  When I've tried this, it's been hard...the modern tendencies of our society are word-based and we always think we have to say something.  Often, it's better not to, as St. Francis also reminds us.

But then there are the times when we just completely ignore each other's close proximity.  It's these ones I'm trying to challenge myself about.  It's not that I'm changing anyone's life in doing this; rather, just the opposite.  I'm hoping that this practice helps me notice others around me.  Our own agendas (even if the agenda is boredom or procrastination!), our busyness, and so many other things direct us to focus on what we're thinking, doing, or even not doing.

I'm still floored by the Joshua Bell story.  I'm not saying that I would have stood there for the whole 45 minutes, but I'd still like to think I'd stop to listen.  I wouldn't have known who he was and I wouldn't have picked out that the violin was a Stradivarius, but I do recognize good classical violin.  Yet I probably would have been like most anyone else that day: too distracted by whatever to see the beauty in front of me.  It makes me wonder how often we do this every day.



Joshua Bell Story from City Church Chicago on Vimeo.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Vermont, Family, Community, & the Body of Christ

I've already rambled about our camp on Lake Champlain before and my love for the place, family, and time that I find there.  We just got back from a week or so up there.  The first several days we were with other extended family, and then we were alone as a family of six for about two days.  I wish I could say that I feel rested (like you're "supposed" to after a vacation), but the fact is that in this season of life (=four younguns), it's more about creating memories than it is about rest.  Regardless...we had a great time and I daresay were quite successful in the creation of memories.

I like to talk about community quite a bit, as you know (though I rarely use that actual word anymore).  I can't call my extended family a community because we are apart far more often than not, but there are some incredible aspects of my family that portray my understanding of the ideal community that I know from no other experience, group, church, etc. in my life.  I was reflecting yet again on this:

My extended family who gathers at the camp is extremely different from person to person.  For sure, we all share the same blood and heritage (although...there are a number of children adopted by my grandparents who share not the blood...but I suppose that only feeds my forthcoming point).  We come from the same family tree.  Yet today...we are all quite different, even in the "ever-important" things of faith.  Some in my extended family are atheistic or agnostic.  Others are rather deistic (God exists, but isn't really in the picture anymore).  Others are rather evangelical.  Others are recovering evangelicals (raised hand here).  Still others...well I'm not completely sure about everyone.

The differences continue: some of us are politically conservative, others almost as liberal as you can get and still be called American (don't assume that these lines are drawn in the same places as the faith understandings above - they're not).  Still others are politically confused and perhaps what I might call politically agnostic (raised hand here).  Some of us drink alcohol.  Others abstain (raised hand here).  Some of us are rather patriotic and even militaristic, one even having served in Iraq.  Others don't think we should be there.  Still others are rather pacifistic (raised hand here).  Some of us eat meat (and a lot of it).  Others are vegetarian.  Still others are vegan.

There are some rather "important" similarities among us all: love of the Boston Red Sox, fishing, and the couple that was and is Stephen and Christine Nease.

As you can see, in list-form, the differences outnumber the similarities.  But somehow...the similarities carry enough weight to keep bringing us together.  For sure, I imagine that with Grandma & Grandpa now dead and the years since their deaths now growing in number, we will be together less and less as time goes by.  And also for sure...we know of our differences.  Sometimes we do...um..."discuss" them.  Lots of the time, we don't and we just let the similarities rule.

I wish the Body of Christ could do this better.  We're so good at knowing who's who by identifying our differences.  And we're even "better" at letting the differences rule.  It makes me very, very sad, is extremely unbiblical, unlike Christ, and not of the Kingdom of God.  The things of God and faith surely separate.   And in my own faith journey, will separate in some kind of way for good sometime down the road.  But that separation ("judgment") is not of our own doing...but of God's.  We need not serve as judge right now.

I know that some immediate problems arise with this for many:
Some will call me a universalist.  You need to read again what I'm saying.  Although...I have little problem with being a universalist when it comes to how we respond to others in love.  We should let our actions separate...not our words.  As for eternity, I need to learn to be comfortable with leaving that to God.

Others will accuse me of being "yoked together" with unbelievers.  No I'm not.  I'm no more yoked to unbelievers than Jesus was to prostitutes.  You do know what a yoke is, right?  It's that thing that makes you do something with another (two oxen yoked together must go in the same direction).  We need not participate in the things that those we are with do any more than Jesus poked the prostitutes he hung out with.  Holy huddling is anything but.

But what about speaking prophetically into peoples' lives?  I affirm that there is a time and place for this. But a look at scripture shows that the vast majority of prophetic speaking is limited to the person of God (prophet) warning the people of God (exceptions exist: Jonah and Ninevah, Abraham and Sodom-Gomorrah).

I have a lot more to say about this...but it's already too long and rambled.  Perhaps more later...

My mother did a good job of capturing a few moments from our time together in Vermont that though short, does a good job of showing what it's often like up there.  There were many missing (actually...if everyone who "owns" this camp were up there at the same time, it would be rather crowded).  But this is what's rather normal for us while at the Lake.  (By the way, be sure to take note of my never-been-Boy-Scouts-trained camp fire...I fully affirm any accusations of pyromania.)



(I'm currently eating cream of wheat with Vermont maple syrup on top.  While we were up there, I asked on Facebook of my Vermont-resident friends where the cheapest syrup is these days.  Some people (who aren't Vermont residents) responded and told me to get it at Ocean State Job Lot (discount store) or other non-Vermont locations.  Uh...NO!  :-)  I don't care if the stuff actually came from the same tree and some how got shipped to separate locations...I will always buy it in Vermont.  We ended up finding this nice older gentleman (Mr. Gillespie) at the end of a dirt road in Waterville who sold us two quarts for $20.  And it tastes really good.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Compassion, the Missio Dei, and the Great Chasm

Several months ago, two articles I wrote were in the NPH Communicator, a small six-page "thing" (I'm not sure what to call it) that is 50% advertisements.  They used to archive the issues here, but they stopped between my two articles (I wonder what I did!).  It's just as well, because some of the teeth of the second installment were yanked out (my first experience with publishing and editing...oh well).

Anyway, I have posted what I originally wrote here and here.

The problem is that I'm nowhere even close to living up to those two articles.  I'm not saying that I lied, but that when I read what I wrote, I know that it's an ideal that few live up to.

There was some response to the articles, mostly friends saying, "Hey, I read your article!" and nothing more.  But some others varied on a range of responses from "Jeremy, that was pretty provocative," to "I really appreciated what you said."

I continue to loathe the chasmic separation between what I understand the missio dei to be and how I and the community of which I'm a part actually live.  There's obviously a hole in the transformative nature of preaching and teaching if it doesn't move from the ears and heart to the hands and feet.  I know I need to work on this.

But in the meantime...it often makes me sad, and greatly detracts from my self-efficacy.  And it's not even so much that I wish I were "more effective" in leading people to follow in Christ, but that at the end of the day, I long to live what I know to be truth in Christ.

I was talking with a mentor a couple of weeks ago.  Ron Benefiel and Roger Hahn were in town to present at a conference about missional theology and practice.  I got frustrated as they were presenting - not at them, necessarily, but at the Church, of which I am a part.  And I got frustrated again at our own context.  I reflected with Ron after about how I sometimes think that living missionally is an easier thing to figure out in urban contexts than it is where we are, in an upper-class suburb.  (Please note that I did not say that it's easier to live out the mission, but simply that it's easier to know what we should be doing.)  Ron agreed with me, but it may have simply been out of pastoral concern and support.  :-)

I don't really have a conclusion to this post...just typing out some random thoughts (and I have been meaning to post those articles for a while).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tim Keel on Living in New Places and Chaos

So while in KC, Meghan and I worshiped with the community called Jacob's Well and when we went, Tim Keel was the teaching pastor.  He left last fall to go to New Zealand to study.  I found the below clip on TWOTP's Vimeo account this morning.  He reflects on the transition.  Much of what he says speaks for me these days, particularly around 4:15, isolation (I'm not sure he ever actually uses that word), and then about chaos surrounding the image of water in scripture.  He speaks of Genesis ("while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters") and that's true, but lately for me, it's been more like the waters upon which Peter walked and then fell.  These days I'm kind of looking for that hand up.


Untitled from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dear Generation

Okay...this is written to no one in particular, and yet to some very specific people.  Indeed, it's written to me, too.  I often get very frustrated with my generation, of which I am a part.  I need to let some loose right now, and this serves as my venue for today.  This is complaint...and confession.

Dear Generation:

It's not nearly as bad as your whining makes it out to be.  Well, it might be, but it's likely your own fault.  I don't really think that my grandparents are watching me from the sky right now, but when I entertain the idea, I get embarrassed.  I get embarrassed for the same reasons that I would if some of those little kids in the third world countries we see on commercials and websites came to live with me ("You mean you really pay money for water in a bottle when you can get it for free out of that shiny pipe?").

You know all the toys, gadgets - even the gifts you've given to me - that make our lives better and easier?  Yeah, well...they don't.  They only make us insatiable for more: more chaff, more plastic, and more emptiness. Yeah, yeah, I know...they were gifts: I should be appreciative of your "generosity."  Well actually, it's most likely that you bought the gifts with someone else's money, so whatever tickles your "charitable" heartstrings.

Oh, and speaking of debt...I don't want to hear about it.  It's your own fault.  Yeah, yeah...good things like college and weddings cost more than they used to.  That's BEE-ESS.  Your generation (and you too, boomers) are still living off the backs of three generations behind us.  Sure, a recession here or there in the last couple of decades have been "tough"...but we don't really know tough times.  At least, any tough times have likely been brought on by our own ignorance and false, puffed-up "hope."

Some of us get it - sometimes even I do...in swift and rare moments of grace and divine revelation.  We've got real people sacrificing throughout the world or even in the poorest places in our own land.  But most of the rest of us look back upon a week or month or two of college in South America or Eastern Europe and think we may have just served our time.  Sad, really.

And there are some in our generation who have truly really been hurt.  They have real reason to whine, you know, because they were brutally abused as a child or were truly impoverished (and just because your family owned a Pinto or Rabbit or lived in a small house, it does not qualify you for poverty; after all, you had a car and a house).  I know these people because they abound all around us.  If you'd stop whining about yourself, you might actually get to know about them.  And what I've found is that these who've been truly hurt or disadvantaged actually work a ton harder than you do.  They get it.

And the band Arcade Fire gets it.  Well, one of their songs at least does.  Here it is:

----------------------------------------


Somethin' filled up my heart with nothin', someone told me not to cry.
But now that I'm older, my heart's colder, and I can see that it's a lie.

Children wake up, hold your mistake up, before they turn the summer into dust.
If the children don't grow up, our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.
We're just a million little gods causin' rain storms turnin' every good thing to rust.

I guess we'll just have to adjust.

With my lightnin' bolts a glowin' I can see where I am goin' to be
when the reaper he reaches and touches my hand.

With my lightnin' bolts a glowin' I can see where I am goin’
With my lightnin' bolts a glowin' I can see where I am, go-go, where I am

You'd better look out below
----------------------------------------

Yeah, that's right: we're just a million little individualistic self-serving gods causing rain storms, turning every good thing into rust.  Yes...I'm ticked off.  I'm ticked off at you and I'm ticked off at myself for being one of you.

Oh, and all of you who "love Jesus" and who are still in the Church, or at least feigning some kind of semblance of being so...could you pick something and stick with it (for community's sake, is there such a thing as sacred time and space? Just because Mickey Mouse is on when the church gathers or because your sister's cousin's mother's co-worker's friend is in town that weekend...oh, forget it...God forbid that you'd actually bring them with you.)?  If Jesus were this fickle, we'd all be screwed.  If you're still waiting for this rock star to show up to preach or this one to lead worship, perhaps you should actually read the Bible and note that God raises up in each generation not from the great ones, but from the weak ones: guys and gals who have nothing upon which to rely but God Godself.

Oh, and for all of you who aren't in the Church and whine about her whorishness and lack of like-Christness, do you think that you're the first generation to notice?  Ever heard of this guy?  Or this guy?  This guy? Maybe this one?  Or perhaps this one?  Each of them were pretty ticked at the state of God's people and yet did what they could to effect change rather than wallowing in self-pity.

And speaking of that last guy, perhaps the next time you get ticked because the music's wrong, or the slight details of the lyrics aren't theologically pleasing, or the pastor doesn't feed you or isn't cool enough, or you don't like how someone looked at you, or it's boring, or whatever else...just take a look at his example...you know, how he stormed away from the Temple, refused to participate in the local synagogue, and wouldn't engage the religious leaders (oh...wait...he tried to change the Temple system, was found in the synagogue all the time, and always engaged the religious leaders rather than sulking off in the distance).  As he said, "If you love me, you will love my people."

In my vilest of moments, I sometimes wonder what would happen if we really did enter into a period of tough times, like an actual Great Depression 2 and not just a "Kinda-Depression-of-2009"...I may even wish for it sometimes.  Seems like if that were to happen, only then would we really know what it is to suffer, and thus...to know Christ.

In kinder moments, I excuse a lot of you due to the fact that you have indeed been lied to.  But I believe that humanity is better than that...that deep down, we know.  And in moments of life, each of us has had a choice to do right, to sacrifice, to say "no" to more.  Yet time and again, we continue to buy and continue to make choices or whine according to our own needs and vantage points.


"Oh, but I do want community!"  No you don't.  You want conformity.  You confuse the two.  The latter demands to be with those who are the same.  The former chooses to be with those who aren't.  

Take out your buds, put your iPod down, and take a look at the world around you.  No, not just the Kiva website or the picture of the Compassion International Child who gets $20 every two weeks or so and thus fulfills your quota, but I mean the people who are actually around you.  Enter into their presence with thanksgiving.  Empty thyself of all you have that you might see things from their vantage...and thus the vantage of Christ.

I'll do it as soon as you do.

[only ever] Thinking about joining the Old Order Mennonites,
With all my love (as long as you do what I like, too, of course),
A sinner like you,

Jeremy

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Suffering with Patience: The Community


I pastor a church of a few dozen people.  It's with wonder and amazement that I think of pastors who can truly pastor with compassion a flock just a little bit bigger that the one I get to oversee.  For within the five or six dozen or so people that I pastor, the list of suffering runs the gamut of societal problems: homelessness, addiction, suicide, grief, divorce, poverty, mental disorder, gluttony, and sexual abuse...not to mention the general evangelical who can't seem to identify in the least with all of the above, regardless of good intentions.  

It seems like this group would be fertile ground for eucharistic fellowship and community.    But it's been very difficult.  Many of the hurting and suffering trust me (I guess they are supposed to, I am their pastor).  But they don't trust one another very well.  They have sympathy for one another, but they don't really seek empathy.  Perhaps they feel sorry for one another, but they are without true compassion, in the sense of "suffering with" one another.

Someone recently taught me about the deep-rooted relationship between compassion and patience.  The Latin grandfather of both words is pati, meaning "suffering, feeling; enduring".  From pati come both passion ("suffering") and patiens ("I am suffering").  So our English word compassion is "to suffer with" while patience of course means "bearing with". 

This has a profound impact on how I look at those who are in need.  I confess that sometimes I want to shake individuals and tell them to snap out of whatever situation they are in, particularly if it is due to their own doing.  My impatience with the lack of change in a given person's situation could be excused as human.  But it is surely not compassionate.  

This connection between compassion and patience has a lot to say about the Body of Christ.  We may never actually see the change for good we seek, at least not for a long, long time.  If we view the world from God's perspective however...that's nothing new.  God is used to it and apparently has the patience not to shake us in frustration.

And God has certainly demonstrated the compassion.  This is what incarnation is all about and suffering is why it's so closely connected to the cross.  We see in God in Christ our role for and to the world.  In life, there are lots of things that seek our attention, but only when it's of benefit.  Lots of people want to help those in need.  Few would suffer with them.

On a number of occasions, I have heard someone mention compassionate ministry as a great way to "grow the church" (perhaps the majority of these occasions were within my own head!). Well it's true, the church grows out of true compassionate ministry.  But the fruit of compassionate ministry grows in the qualitative ways that Paul writes of at the end of Galatians 5, not the quantity of fruit in the basket.

Compassionate ministry does not increase numbers in any shape or form.  In fact, if it is true compassion (again, "suffering with"), what it does is empty us of so many things: money, energy, resources, and chaff-like individuals who weren't around for Christ-like ministry in the first place.  So while we may not grow in size, we for sure grow in the likeness of Christ.  Remember, the crowds left him when the going got tough, too.

Most weeks, our church community is sent out with the same benediction.  It speaks to this notion of identifying with those who are hurting.  In his song Take to the World, lyricist Derek Webb's benedictory words challenge in this way: "Like the three-in-one, know that you must become who you want to save, because that's still the way he takes to the world."

We're headed to Lent, which culminates with the passion week.  We who follow him are to especially seek to suffer with Christ in this time.   While we for sure use this season as a remembrance of Christ's once-and-for-all death on the cross, we're told in scripture time and again that the cross is our own: our way, model, and pattern (Phil. 2:5, Mark 8:34-35, etc.).

Lent is a wonder-full time for the local church community to re-member this together.  While we're called to Christlike suffering with "the least of these," we're called to it together.  What we find when we come together to suffer with those in need is that we are connected in ways we cannot understand.  Perhaps you have noticed this in part during a short-term missions trip or even a week at youth camp when life-as-we-know-it is turned upside down and you have nothing more to rely upon than the people around you.  You're left with an indelible mark and connection with those people.  For the Body of Christ, this is the norm, not the exceptional week every year or two.

This is the way of the Church: suffering together.  As Paul tells us in I Corinthians 12, "when one [member] suffers, all suffer together with it."  When the members suffer together, we look more like the Body of Christ.

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This is the second installment of an article I wrote in 2009.  Here is the first.

Suffering with Patience: The Individual


"Is that it?"

As I let go of her hand and lifted my head, I noticed again her leather-like face.  It was now crunched in a grimace of gentle disappointment, and with a somewhat polite pity she said, "Let me do it."

And as she proceeded to pray for me, I immediately knew that Christ was somehow present.  Her words surely would have failed the Systematic Theology classes I've taken, but her belief that God was listening was as palpable as the smell of alcohol on her breath.  

This was about eight years ago.  I've not forgotten the moment, and I often still try to exegete it.  In that moment when I was to be Christ, I instead met him.  And I didn't expect it.  

The short prayer I offered as a means to encourage this homeless woman, though offered sincerely and hopefully, was nothing more than an incantational attempt to make her feel better, to show her that I believed in a God that I believed could help her.  And I did (and do!) believe that.  

Since then however, I've read Matthew 25:31-46 (the separation of the sheep and goats) seemingly countless times.  And I've had other similar encounters as the one with this homeless woman, encounters in which I've been surprised by the presence of Christ...when I was supposed to be the one "presenting" him to others.

While I was growing up, this passage in Matthew was a warning to me that if I didn't help people in need, I was bound for eternal damnation.  But when I began to consider all the personal pronouns in that last sentence, I had to conclude that I was missing the point of Christ in this account.

The passage is about incarnation, and more specifically, compassion.  But it's not your KJV-have-pity compassion.  It's the literal "suffering with"-compassion.  Generally, our society understands compassion as that charitable thing we have for people in need.  But a biblical Christlike notion of compassion is the one that steps down from above to suffer alongside the ones in need.  While fulfilling the need (hunger, nakedness, loneliness) may happen, it is but a bi-product of identifying with the need.

To have compassion is to take the place of the seat next to the one who is suffering, not the seat above him.  

We can see this in the incarnation of God.  We've recently come through Advent & Christmas.  Advent - the coming of the Lord to be present with and dwelling amongst humanity in Christ.  But what we know as those who follow him today is that our lives chase after his own footprints  - we are to be today the presence of Christ in the world.

...which makes Matthew 25 so difficult for me.  If I am the presence of Christ to others, then how on earth could he say that when we do to "the least of these," we unknowingly do to him?  The problem with seeking to help those in need to fulfill a "call," a "mission," or even responsibility is that...well...it should be more than just ful-filling.  In fact, what we find in identifying with need is that it's so often requires quite the opposite - emptying.

Indeed, we are to be today the presence of Christ in the world...as he was in the world: he, who was God, but emptied himself of all that (Phil. 2).

But the wonder of it all is that it ends in new life...in life coming out of that which was dead.  This is the hope of compassion - that when we descend from our lofty places and positions to take up residence with "the least of these," we all together might be raised up to new life.  It's what Christ did.

So while compassion leads to change and improvement in the world, it is not in and of itself change.  If my compassion is meant to change or fix the world around me, it is not compassion.  It might be charity.  But it is not compassion. In fact, if anything changes because of seeking to go and suffer alongside those who are in need, we'll find that the change happens in us.  Compassion does indeed change the world...but it begins by changing me.

Again, we see it in the life of Christ.  For sure, God came into the world to "solve a problem."  But the first thirty years or so were spent living amongst and identifying with those who were in need.  This was the first part of his incarnational and compassionate ministry.  And it's an endeavor that requires a lot patience.  

And isn't that the way the Body of Christ is to work anyway: each part crucial to resonating with the leading of the head, that is Christ himself?  Paul tells us in I Corinthians 12 that we clothe "the least" of these with greater honor.  We might suppose that it's because what we do to the least of all, we do to Christ himself.

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This was the first installment of a submission for an article on compassion that I wrote in 2009.  Here is the second part.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Common Cathedral

Yesterday some of us from North Street went into the Boston Common to join in with the "Common Cathedral," the worship gathering of Ecclesia Ministries.  In short, Ecclesia Ministries is a church for anyone, but it's a church for the homeless of Boston.  Yesterday, I'd estimate that there were some 50 people who participated in some way, and probably 30-40 of those were homeless or mentally challenged. I had first heard of this gathering of the Table a while back, but determined to join in at some point after reading about it in Bryan Stone's book, Evangelism After Christendom.

This summer, The Remembrance is taking a different schedule, intentionally trying to gather around the Table in atmospheres and situations out of our own understanding and experience (including several times gathering with others).  So we invited the whole church to come in for this gathering.  There were but a handful of us (12).

The experience was as described: like none other than I'd experienced elsewhere.  You can picture it: a group of several dozen (many coming and going at any point) gathered in a sorry circle just in front of the fountain beside the Park Street T Station, with thousands of others on the Common at the same time for all sorts of activities on this beautiful Sunday afternoon.   There were details that I had read about:

  • People walked right through our circle, hardly noticing or caring that we were actually doing something.  (One group of three passed just behind me, and I could audibly hear them mock one of the priests as she talked.)
  • It was quite appropriate that we went on Pentecost Sunday, because there was a number of elements that resonated with that first Christian Pentecost in Acts 2: some indeed appeared to be drunk (and some probably were); there was a certain "order" of chaos (it was obvious that if anything/anyone was in control is wasn't us, one of the priests, or anything but God); I could not understand much of what was being said...yet there was an understanding that when someone was speaking, it was a precious and important thing being said.
  • A wonderful gentleman played what I think was a mandolin and brought a small box of rhythm instruments for others to play.  You will hear much more trained musicians elsewhere, but you may not see such passionate singers in many other places.  We sang well-known songs: Kumbaya, We Shall Overcome, Holy Ground, etc.
And then there were a few things that I didn't expect, but were of note and impacted my experience:
  • During the Prayers of the People, one gentleman walked right through the center of the circle, pulled out a dollar bill, and bought a cigarette from another man.  I tried to imagine this exchange in our services of communion.  One of the obvious goals of Ecclesia Ministries is to very publicly declare to the world that the Table is open to all...wherever they may be at: addicted, confused, sick, misunderstood, broken.  I greatly appreciate this...it's how Christ first invited to the Table (Judas the Betrayer, James & John the Power-Mongers, Peter the Denier, Thomas the Doubter).
  • As we were about to begin receiving the Eucharist, it was obvious that one of the gentlemen in our circle was in need of medical attention.  There were several times that the two priests had to rely upon one another to juggle responsibilities of the service as the other took care of some other need (someone speaking angrily or "too" loudly, etc.).  But this situation was the most obvious.  We actually had to pause what we were doing as they called 911, the Boston Fire & EMS showed up (ever seen an ambulance drive up right next to the Table of Communion?), and carted the man away.  It was my first time there, but I wondered how often this occurs.  :-)
  • During the Eucharist, one of the priests left the circle with the bread to offer to others outside our circle, even if it may have been obvious that they would refuse.  She wasn't pushy - she moved on if it was refused - but the way she offered it even to those who hadn't apparently come to be a part really impacted me.  I'm still processing it.
I'd like to go back again, with more from our church and to reinforce some of the experience to my kids.  I've tried very hard, but somehow the church is still a building to them, rather than the people who gather around Christ.  At one point, Brayden was talking rather loudly, which I don't mind per-say, but it was obvious that his attention wasn't on what was happening.  As I asked him to be a little quieter and to pay attention to what was going on because we were in church, he looked at me and said, "No, we're not!" with a look of confusion on his face.  It was a teaching moment, I suppose and we talked about it again later.

I'm glad for Ecclesia Ministries and their faithful response to fulfilling I Corinthians 12.