Friday, December 19, 2008

Movies, Books, and Media

Recently I was telling a fledgling high school freshman of ninth grade trials as a way of relating to him that each season of life passes... and for many of us we are only too glad that junior high and high school fall into the "passed" (or is it "past") category.

Over the years I have found reading and movie watching to be escapes for my brain- the stories filter themselves into my present and past circumstances and have helped me- maybe not solve problems a great deal- but at the very least to view my own world differently. Freshman year was probably defined by Ender's Game a novel by Orson Scott Card.

In the past weeks it feels as if there is barely enough time to me to take in as much as I usually attempt to but I did want to share a bit of the book I am currently reading (as usually, I put this book off because so many people told me to read it): The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. Manning was a Catholic priest for years who began writing and speaking even then but fell into a habit and addiction of alcohol. After submitting to the recovery process, he re-entered spiritual life but not the life of a priest- describing himself as a "vagabond evangelist". He writes this in his opening chapter:

"Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding their palms to their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitue from teh Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she coudl faced with grueling alternatives; the business man besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last 'trick', whispers the name of the unknown god he learned in Sunday school; the deathbed convert who for decades had his cake and ate it, broke every law of God and man, wallowed in lust, and raped the earth.'
"But how?' we ask'
'Then the voice says, 'They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'
'They they are. There
we are - the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but through it all clung to the faith.'
'My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace."

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Don't Go to Church

So, this last week we discussed the "church". Being from a family of pastor's kids we have heard a fair share of criticism regarding the church, boards, leaders, programs, pastors, and parishioners. You know the kind of stuff that burns people out on church and they leave, or stop caring about reaching out, or just give up and try and find a church that "fits" them... which is where we really meet our subject.

The words "church" doesn't even appear in the Bible until mid-way through the book of Matthew. The word used is "kuriake oikia" and the reason it isn't really used up and until this point is that had pagan roots. It referred to a building in which a deity was housed. What is so fascinating is that Jesus is using this word referring to the fact that HIS church would be built, not upon stone foundations, but a bedrock of truth (i.e. Peter's confession, "You are the Christ..."). It was to be built upon people who all held to that truth.

In other words when we talk about music in church, pastors in church, programs in church, etc. we are using the word entirely wrong. The church is the people in the those things not things taking place in a building. When we say it like that we are removing the truth from the statement- it is back to the original meaning of a god being in a building- and not a truth in a people.

We, as the church, need to embrace community on a new level if we are to bring meaning, purpose, and mission back into our midst and be relevant to our culture. I found this interesting definition on human community:

"In biological terms, a community is a group of interacting organisms sharing an environment. In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness."

Our community defines us, or will, or should, if we embrace it. For instance, all of us are deeply affected by our families. Whether they were like the Cleavers (Leave it to Beaver) or the we were an orphan or came from an abusive family. We had no choice what kind of home we would grow up in but we were forced into those environments and the ways in which we coped continue to affect us well into adulthood.

But once out on our own it seems we abdicate community (at least based on the definition given above). Oh, we have friends and places we meet but we don't have to negotiate daily relational interaction with very many people outside of co-workers and some family. We go home to a place we set up, decorated, and bought, attend things we want to, talk to people we want to when we want to about what we want and if any of it makes us too uncomfortable or we don't like the direction we can shut it down.

But community doesn't really affect or change us. Unlike the first church in Jerusalem or in Acts 2 we don't meet together daily and constantly share in life like they did- instead we come together for an hour or two on Sundays where we sit next to people we like- then I go back to my house, watch my shows, listen to my music, and maintain my calendar. I'm not saying this is wrong but just questioning whether or not this is the way it should be. What is it in me that makes me want so many things my way? For myself, I have only one answer: pride. The idea that life should be about me and if it isn't then I'm only do what is convenient for me.

I think back to some advice I once received: "If you want to better serve Christ- don't get married. If you want to be like Christ- get married." Because in living with another person, in raising children, in managing money, in taking holidays and vacations together it forces us to put at least one other person ahead of our own selfish desires.

What if there was a community revolution? What if we started gathering daily? What if we started taking massive vacations together? What is we started serving those of us who are struggling financially? What if we started living together as families and helping each other's families? How much would we learn about what Christ was saying about "kuriake oikia" and community? We would have to live out selflessness or fail.

It's something to think about in this season, in this economy, in this community. Peace.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Bright Shiny Paper

Maybe I spend a lot of time reflecting on life moments passed and not on what is going on right now... or maybe things happen faster now. It seems to me that the relational, church, political, and pop culture shifts so fast now that unless you make a career of it you will never be fully up-to-date.

It's been kind of a tough year. Lots of stuff has happened to me, to those around me, to things I care deeply about.

So my life, hectic as it is, is in the midst of a hectic culture. No wonder we all feel so tired... and at times, apathetic (because if we can't keep up then why does it matter?)

You know, that may just be it. For years I have thought to myself, "Wow, so-and-so really needs to let ________________ go. That just doesn't matter." All the while keeping a whole stack of stuff that was important to me but: a. shouldn't be; b. was not probably important to anyone else. Does anyone else feel like they are their own worst enemy?

So lately my heart's been a bit more open to God highlighting the issues that are real important and letting him chuck out my junk.

Christmas is a great example of this. When my kids were 1.5 they had their second Christmas... and everyone buys babies stuff even though (even as a parent of those kids) I thought it was a dang waste of presents... and was kind of right. As babies they were more interested in playing with the wrapping paper than the toy half the time.

As adults we chuck the paper and keep the "toy" (okay, I would take a PS3). But we do the opposite with our faith. We cling to the wrapping paper, the veneer, the outside stuff, and toss the heart of the thing- the reason the paper was there to begin with.

Seriously. We end up REALLY caring how seats are arranged, advent candles, music, Christmas performances, and lighting... and then treat the people in our families that junk or spend the holiday working or stop tithing to God because we racked up too much credit debt by those last minute gifts.

I hope that lately I have been focused more on the gift... and don't care even if someone chucks my wrapping paper.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Pagan and Prophecy

When I was about 16 I attended a the "Ultimate Youth Camp" at the Lake of the Ozarks where, during one of our break-out groups I heard a Duke University Student discuss how disturbed he was to learn that some of the "Jesus story" and rituals of the church had their roots in non-Jewish or early church customs. I was probably a pretty annoying teen so afterward I went up to him and started peppering him with questions and finally ended with, "So how did you get over these things?" He simply answered, "I realized that it was just a matter of faith."

Not a satisfying answer for a young mind that wanted to know he was not wasting the years he could be partying in pursuit of a god that may not be true.

If we were to read through the Old Testament (all the books of the Bible prior to Matthew) we would find over 360 prophecies or foretellings of a "Messiah"- everything from how he would look (Isaih 53- "unpleasing") to how he would die (Psalm 22).

Feel free to cross check most/all of the prophecies here.

When critics of Christ rise up they usually fall into one of two camps: first, that Jesus' life was crammed in to fit the Old Testament prophecies and that he did not, in fact, do everything the church claims or; second, that "Jesus" is a myth and the entire story is plagiarized from other Hellenistic, Buddhist, and Jewish traditions.

Simply searching for "Jesus", "Horus", "Osiris", "Buddha", etc. will provide one with scholarly (and not-so-scholarly) resources drawing comparisons between Jesus and any and all Messianic figures throughout history. However, while good questions are asked, the right question never gets asked: why does the story of a Messiah ring so true?

And furthermore, why does Jesus, of all the Messianic figures prior to his death, during his life, and after him still draw more people than any other?

Truth is recongnizable by the human spirit. We are hard-wired to see and understand truth in some capacity. For instance, it is true that the Hammurabi Code very closing resembles the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God in the book of Exodus (recognized by Jews, Christians, and Muslims as divinely inspired). Why is it that those rules and laws seem to transcend culture and time and ring true still? Because truth rings true.

The thing is that all truth is God's truth- whether it is found in a church, a conversation, a book, a movie, a synagogue, the mouth of a saint or a killer, or even in other religions. We are not abdicating a faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ but rather saying that the Father God that Jesus came from and was part of has been trying to get his truth across to the world for thousands of years, through thousands of stories (take for instant the story of the Great Flood that is told from Old Testament all the way to Native American stories), and thousands of teachers (even Ghandi said he really like Jesus and his teachings but couldn't get over the problems of the Christian church).

"Pagan" traditions such as Christmas (derived from the Roman "Saturnalia") and All Hallows Eve (the day before All Saints Day) should not, as either Christians or non-Christians bother us. It should show us, at the very least, the catholic church's ability (at least in the past) to be culturally relevant and sensitive and enlighten us to the fact that the Bible is the story of what God was doing at one point, in one place, with one people group- not an end all to everything He was trying to accomplish in the world during or after that period.

Satan does not have a copyright on creativity or "coolness". Anything that is good is of God. Therefore the community that comes with communion (the taking of the bread and wine) and the celebration of Christmas with family, the generosity towards neighbors and children that Halloween promotes, and beauty of Christmas trees and the sun- all that, is of God.

The only thing that Satan can do is take what is God's a pervert it: take the beauty of music and use the lyrics to rage against God, take community and bring people together for the wrong reasons, take Christmas and make it materialistic (since Saturnalia didn't work out for and it is not Christmas).

If I could I wish I could go back to that Youth Camp and tell that little, goofy, annoying Devin that just like the church took the organ, drums, rock, and bar music back from a world attempting to pervert God's good and baptized it to be their own so were some of these early practices "baptized" to speak to certain people groups and places. It is an act of faith... and love... and pragmatism... and wisdom.

God is huge, His love is big, His grace beyond understanding. He wants us all to come to the feast, everyone is invited, His truth for every people, and able to be recognized by every people, everywhere. Let's celebrate the good God has given to us.