January 3, 2010

WordPress is beginning to feel dated, stale, and doesn’t reflect where I’d like to move in my online content publishing. At the risk of alienating you, my wonderful reader, I am moving my new content to a new location on Tumblr.

There, not only will you get the occasional musing about spirituality, but some other (and therefore more frequent) content, including:
– Tweets
– Photos
– Videos
– Spiritual thoughts
– Movie reviews
– Video game reviews
– Music reviews
– Audio posts
– Other content when the whim hits

No, it really isn’t that this blog is a failure at all. I am approaching 9,000 views, had 24 yesterday, and can’t seem to understand why. But alas, my blog, I say goodbye.



Mental Racism

October 4, 2009

Humans seem to have a hidden inclination to attempt to exclude others. I suspect that it has to do with insecurity, but have no way of proving it. Disregardless of how this insecurity plays out, the primary way of covering it up is to seek ways to have others esteem the self.

One of the easiest ways people seem to find to create this esteem is through racism. We often believe racism plays out in profoundly external ways, which is very true. History is riddled with icons and images that have become images that remind us of racism.

Ku Klux Klan

Ku Klux Klan

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson

Dr. Martin Luther King Junior

Dr. Martin Luther King Junior

So we proclaim that since we aren’t as bad as those who fought for or against those in these conflicts, we must be on the right side of this issue. Racism is an issue that is alive and well today, but I think its battlefield has shifted in some ways.

America is known as the “melting pot,” which means people from other cultures and countries are welcomed here. Given this status as a nation with openness towards others, it is remarkable to me that we still have racism exist not so much in overt actions or words, but in our thoughts. Consider these scenarios:

  • A person sees a Caucasian (white) person and thinks, “white rich snob” or “I’ll bet he hates me for my skin color”
  • Person sees an African-American (black) person and thinks, “I’ll bet he’s a drug dealer” or “He probably has an STD.”
  • Person sees a Hispanic (Latino) and thinks, “He probably isn’t legal” or “I’ll bet he doesn’t have a job.”

This scenario can be played out in a variety of ways and including ethnicities I did not list. The truth is, these sort of generalized thoughts and statements about people are racism. It is judging a person not by the content of their character, but by the color of their skin.

Friends, let us work together to do away with this awful practice. It often goes by a different name.



Church History

September 25, 2009

Yesterday, I completed a rather lengthy survey of church history from the Apostles to the 1900s. I wrote a curriculum for teaching the basics of church history to teenagers over 7 one hour classes. Having completed this textbook, I have many observations about what I don’t know about Christianity.

1) I know very little about centuries of the church, namely in the Middle Ages. I went into the study of the period between Constantine (4th century) and Luther (16th century) expecting to find a nugget here and a story there. Something inside should have sounded alarms when 1200 years, or over 30 generations of people sat nestled in this period. The truth is, there are many people within this time period who contributed fascinating thought and effort to ensure a genuine faith arrived here for me. Chief among those who interested me were:

  • Peter Waldo – 12th-13th century reformer who was excommunicated for his beliefs. Had he been born 300 years later, we would lump him with Calvin & Luther.
  • Pope Gregory VII – monk who reluctantly became pope and ushered in many ideas and traditions that formed Christianity more than most would imagine

2) The Church is much bigger than I imagined. Having been more thoroughly introduced to the concept of the Greek Orthodox Church, its history, and its focus, I am floored that an entire worldview about Christianity exists without my knowledge. Whether or not its use of icons, the iconclast controversy, and the veneration of worship spaces is legitimate is not the point. Our American eyes present us with a lens than causes us to read and relate to the Hebrew and Greek Testaments in certain ways. For those in the Eastern/Orthodox Churches, the lenses are very different. Perhaps embracing a more global worldview isn’t such a bad idea. They definitely knew/know how to build a building.

3) Catholicism, while imperfect, has many elements today’s Protestant expressions are missing. There is something powerful about being able to convene a council of global church leaders to make a decision to thwart a heresy. As a result of schisms, protests, church splits, and more, we don’t have 1 pope – we have millions of popes (and a laity who progressively believe they are popes as well). It is unhealthy to assume we are all an authority about a faith with such a rich and critical heritage. At some point, to decrease the effects of the plethora of heresies floating around, some measure of authority or unity of authorities would do us a lot of good.

4) The Inquisition was worse than I thought. For those not up on this, the Inquisition was the Church’s response to heresies or those who refused to convert to Christianity. The sentence for the trials was eventually execution, a black eye for our history, to say the least. Its ugly twin, the Crusades, was also awful. The desire to execute Jews, Muslims, and even other Christians to politically take land is what I would call a great adventure in missing the point.

5) 19th Century theology was vast. I have been scarcely introduced to high criticism of Biblical text, though I am certain I will learn much about it. I will spare you the details about this, but just know that there is much more to the Holy Text than meets the eye.


The Cycle of Revolution

August 17, 2009

There is a cycle that takes place when major shifts in individuals,  systems, and cultures are realized. The cycle appears to be universal, though its expression varies greatly by those involved and the terms of the upheaval. It is not always completed, though it appears that it eventually will happen. This is a mere postulation to consider.

Phase One: Rebirth
In this phase, a new reality has emerged. Most are pleased with its arrival, as it trumpets the end of a previously experienced system. Not all are thrilled with the change, but at this phase in the cycle, their attempts to shift the change are mere exercises in vanity. The new reality is present and active.

Phase Two: Routine
The full experience of the new reality has arrived, complete with all its good and bad. It is presumed to be normal and the way things should be. There are few if any critics, as the system is still new enough for little irritation to exist.

Phase Three: Rumblings
The few perceptive begin to realize the flaws in the routine. These are those with imagination, who are looking for more than good enough. These are the avant garde, but they are rarely those who express their awakening through prose. Rather, these are often the poets, artists, and prophets who first express themselves through the language of slant. As Emily Dickinson penned:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Cirrcuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

So the artists imagine a world with the mold on the walls of the status quo washed away, leaving a refreshing new system of creativity. These on the bleeding edge of society must find ways to awaken a spirit of energy in the masses that cuts their numbness with the blade of improvement. Satiation begins to be realized by the masses who had indulged in the cup of the realized consciousness.

Phase Four: Rebellion
Having been awaken by the artists, a rumbling of uneasiness begins to spill over. Dry bones connect. Sand castles are washed away. Red Seas are crossed. Speeches of dreams are uttered. The masses become pregnant with promise. Marches of frustration begin. Defiance is the new cool. Voices get louder. Violence may erupt as fear of never tasting change begins to become overbearing. The anthems of the artists are hoisted onto the tips of everyone’s tongues as the masses are awakened to the reality of a new imagination.

Meanwhile,  not everyone is blowing with the winds of change.

It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who would profit by the old order, only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new. — Machiavelli

Every Revolution has enemies who have no desire to see their empire of reality crumble. From the very birth of rumblings by the poets, they have done all they can to hush and silence the dissenting opinions through threats, negotiation, and violence. Now that the artists’ message has become effective, its adherents are enemies of the status quo. Soldiers are summoned. Prisons are filled. The sword is raised to threaten the masses to succumb to the fist of power the masses previously granted them.

Many lower their voices or quit what appears to be a mere rebellion. This the breaking point for the movement. Have they been awakened enough to ignore the royal scepter of the king, or will they settle back into the routine that they had so despised?

Phase Five: Revolution
Rebellion is not enough, for the people have imagined the fruit of their labor and believe the opportunity cost is too great to nestle back into the system their kings demand. Uncertainty is the tone of the movement as they officially storm the status quo and dismantle it. The artists who led to their awakening are met with a choice: become the leaders of the new order or fade into obscurity. The gatekeepers of the previous era are in shambles: some on trial, some imprisoned, some hanging from a noose in the town square, some assimilating, some grabbing for a piece of the new fruit under the guise of joining in with the new system, and few still uttering accusations that the new order is illegitimate. The rebirth has happened. And the cycle begins again.

Thanks to Walter Brueggemann for the inspiration, and the thousands of artists who are awakening the masses to the reality of Caesar’s system.



July 19, 2009

A popular children’s church rhyme trains kids to recite the basic details of a parable of Jesus with stanzas declaring:

The wise man built his house upon a rock (3x)
And the rain came tumbling down

The rains came down and the floods came up (3x)
And the wise man’s house stood firm

The foolish man built his house upon the sand (3x)
And the rain came tumbling down

And the foolish man’s house went crash!

So we quaintly say that the rock is the Bible and the sand is when we don’t base our lives on the Bible. This is easy and makes us feel safe, but is this really what this means? The context of the verse in Matthew 7 might indicate otherwise:

21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ 24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.

As Christians, it is really easy to conclude that a person who has the most robust ministry, largest attendance, biggest crowds, most infamous miracles, most exciting delivery, and best expressions of spiritual gifts must be the person who knows God the best. This the person who has the strongest foundation. After all: why would God bless his or her ministry if they didn’t?

This notion, according to Jesus, is flawed. Instead, it is little more than a sandcastle, constructed of a substance that can easily be exposed or damaged.

It is the business of kings to convince us that their sandcastles will last forever. It is the business of prophets to introduce sandcastles to their biggest enemies: oceans of reality.

The reality is that Christians who devote their lives entirely to spritiual gifts are spending their lives chasing fruit. While fruit tastes good to others and can look delicious, fruit is not an end unto itself. Rather, fruit is intended to come as a result of constructing a more sure foundation for the house we are building.

It is easy to continue to build our sandcastles, impressing the multitudes that the beach is the safest place to dwell. Worse yet, we can fall into the trap of manipulating others to come dwell in the sandcastles as if we are not only good craftsmen, but shepherds. The person who delivers such promises faces three judgments for this herding:

  1. The tree that bears this fruit will be chopped down (Matthew 7:19)
  2. On judgment day, despite reminiscing about their many miracles, they will be told that Christ never knew them (Matthew 7:23)
  3. Their sandcastle will crumble with a crash (Matthew 7:27)

Christians must first have a relationship with God. Not an objective relationship where they know of God, but a relationship that affects us. Christians who presume to understand God’s preferences, but have never been stunned by his preferences, are in danger of expanding a mansion with numerous bedrooms that will crumble when a wave of reality washes it away.


Formation by Worship

June 29, 2009

Church services across the world, as well as across history, take different forms. Some are flowered with large doses of shouting and dancing, while others are characterized more by a solemn atmosphere and are intentionally contemplative. At the same time, some of the most formative parts of church services are what those in the audience are invited to say out loud.

Some traditions have utilized a call-and-response format to have everyone participate in liturgies. Many Protestant churches (mine included) follow a format with particular speakers one-at-a-time, while the attenders will speak primarily when they are singing songs of worship. If this is the case, the words we sing are critical, as they are to be the declarations of the values and pursuits of the community.

While I cannot attest to being a worship leader, I believe that the messages of the songs worship leaders select are possibly more formative for members of a church than the message that is verbally spoken. People in this culture of illiteracy tend to remember the arts much easier than they remember a spoken or written word. Singing involves more senses for the lazy who opt not to study or memorize, and thus, it is more likely to form a person’s pattern of thinking much faster.

Need proof? We speak often of the phenomenon of a song getting “stuck in our heads,” or “ear worms” as researches call them. This isn’t just an odd thing – researchers at Dartmouth University have published incredible findings about this. Songs are trigger a part of the brian called the “auditory cortex.” Dartmouth learned:

When they played part of a familiar song to research subjects, the participants’ auditory cortex automatically filled in the rest — in other words, their brains kept “singing” long after the song had ended.

Certain songs get stuck in people’s heads for different reasons, though the primary reason, according to many researchers, is that the song contains thoughts that our brain is trying to suppress, but is unable to shut down. The melodies, rhythms, and meanings continue to play like a skipping record.

For the worship leader, the ability to have the themes of the Kingdom of God etched in the brains of worshippers can be incredibly formative. Couple this with something even more incredible: Those in the service aren’t just hearing the songs – they are also (presumably) singing them, as well. The use of multiple senses at once is a slam dunk way to cause a person to remember something more and to be formed by it much faster.

It is for these reasons that worship leaders must choose their themes very carefully (as, thankfully, ours do). Music (and perhaps video) has replaced literature as the dominant way our culture is formed. We must harness this fact in order to present an alternative culture for Christians to engage to reform God’s good world into what He had in mind from its foundation.


Agnosticism’s Questions

May 31, 2009

I have a lot of grace for those who are agnostic, that is, unable to commit to believing in a god. There are rational reasons to believe that life doesn’t amount to much other than life, itself. People are born, they live lives with more questions than answers, and they die. Some die of incurable diseases, some of old age, and some in wars that ultimately cause more problems than they fix. In the midst of humanity’s suffering and pain, how can there be something more spiritual than physical?

It doesn’t help that America’s de facto religion, Christianity, isn’t always as loving as advertised. Why would an agnostic look for answers to questions from people who claim to know everything? By nature, agnostics want people to not understand everything.

Fortunately, some Christians attempt to live lives that don’t default to this life of contradiction. Some even go so far as to attempt to respectfully find answers to some of these questions, in branches of Christian thinking like theodicy. The truth is, not all of the agnostic’s questions have flawless answers. Even more revealing is the truth that not all Christians’ questions have flawless answers. In fact, sometimes we have more questions having bought into the Bible’s life-narrative than one might expect.

Christians have answers to questions most questioners fail to ever question. In fact, the Bible takes time in what historians say is the very first portion written to introduce some of these questions. They are delivered by a man named איוב (Job) who was truly having the worst day of his life. In the midst of going crazy, he begins shouting questions about the injustice to God. In a surprising twist, a tornado shows up and begins asking Job questions. The Bible says God was highly involved in the tornadic activity and asked Job questions only God could probably answer like:

  • Who set up systems of measure?
  • Does rain have an origin?
  • Who put the ability to have wisdom in minds?
  • An ostrich has wings that she waves proudly, even though they have no purpose
  • How do horses prance so powerfully?
  • How did hawks first learn to fly?

The questions seemed endless. Perhaps we can think of some more.

  • How is the sun exactly the right distance from Earth?
  • Humans are self-aware but other animals are not. How?
  • Dogs seem to naturally desire to serve humans
  • The human blood stream is a very long and complex system
  • Lightning is extremely amazing to watch
  • The hummingbird’s wings are amazingly fast – its as if he can hover in place effortlessly

It is very difficult to consider all these intricate systems of color and sound and order without asking the question, “How?”

I would respectfully offer my answer – the Christian God is the God of wonders.