Monday, October 31, 2011

Eden Planters (Practical Redemption 3)

If God created the Church for Practical Redemption, then what does redemption look like?  It looks like Eden, a time when everything fell in line with the desires of God - a world in harmony: humanity living at peace through love, people and nature benefiting each other, and God walking among us "in the cool of the day."

Redemption looks like Jesus...  little Jesuses popping up around the earth because of the transforming work of the Spirit in the lives of his disciples: Jesus baristas, Jesus lawyers, Jesus teachers, Jesus hairstylists, Jesus businessmen, Jesus janitors...

Redemption looks like heaven breaking into earth, and by heaven I don't mean some other sphere where a Spiritual Scottie magically teleports Christians in the "End Times."  By heaven I mean the domain where things align with the will of God.  It is the answering of the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father in heaven hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come; your will be done on EARTH as it is in HEAVEN."

Yes, there are commands, laws, and teachings throughout the great story of scripture, but all of them serve the overarching purpose of redemption.  In Revelation 21:5, God says it this way: "I am making everything new!"  We spend so much time camping out on the Means to the Ends.  The Bible isn't about morality,  justice, or orthodoxy, but these three serve as different means of redeeming a broken and hurting world.

As the Church this is our lens, the lens of redemption.  Instead of putting acapella and instrumental worship in the ring to see who beats the snot out of the other, we ask, "How can our worship be Practical Redemption?  How can our worship best shape people into little Jesuses?"  It means we tackle conversations about women's roles with redemption as our guide.  It means we pour as much of our energy into what we do outside the building as to what we do inside the building.  It means we ask, "How do we grow Eden in our neighborhood and city?"  It means we spend less time worrying about conforming to the name on our sign and more time submitting to the Spirit in our heart.  It means that our presence in the world makes a tangible difference in the lives of people. We are a people of Practical Redemption.

[Note: Sin is the antithesis of redemption.  It brings weeds to Eden; it mocks Jesus as a fool; it repels heaven's descent.  I don't write this as a trained theologian.  I write it from experience.  I bit off a big chunk of sin this summer.  It wasn't people telling me, "What you are doing is wrong!" or "Your soul is in danger of hell!" or "You're an a--hole," that broke my soul.  It was my eyes opening to how my selfish and sinful choices undid, on so many levels, God's plan of redemption.  I uncreated!  That's not what I desire. Instead, I want the Spirit to redeem through me.  This is my prayer.]

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Baptism, Communion, and Shriveled Hands (Practical Redemption 2)

Blue Cheese makes a simple observation: "Too often The Church's conversations are completely irrelevant to the brokenness, needs, hurt, and loneliness of the world."  I think of greater concern is not that our conversations are irrelevant but that we are unaware of their irrelevance. Or, perhaps of greatest concern is when our churches are aware of our irrelevance but fail to care because we are so caught up mastering our religious system.

The Pharisees in the Gospel of Mark play this role well.  They, with good intentions, weighed The Law down with regulations, legalism, and doctrine to the point of irrelevance.  You could roll out a 15 foot scroll with perfectly dotted "i's" and crossed "t's" and yet the man who sits in your pew at Saturday Synagogue still comes and goes with a shriveled hand.  Let me explain:

1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
 4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
 5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-6)

Jesus blatantly breaks the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law.  A jury would convict him.  He was guilty, but he was right.  God always intended The Law to be practical to every day life.  It was to redeem, in a tangible way, a broken world.  God didn't give The Law as a set of rules for rules sake, but rather to transform and recreate.

For example, The Creator did not pull the "Keep the Sabbath Holy" command out of thin air to stroke his sovereignty.  The Sabbath command was practical for redeeming every day life. It challenged oppression.  Masters and Lords could not force their slaves or animals to work on Saturday.  Farmers could not tend their fields.  As a result, slaves and oxen could rest while their master was reminded, "These people and these animals do not belong to you.  They belong to God."  It also kept human arrogance in check. On the Sabbath Israel ceased all productivity and yet life carried on - the sun rose and set, the seasons continued as normal, the world refused to spin off its axis into the flaming ball of fire.  Every seventh day Israel tasted again God's sovereignty and their dependence upon Him.

Jesus gets angry not simply because the Pharisees screwed up the Sabbath but because they missed the purpose of the whole Law.  In response, Jesus readjusts their perception by taking them back to the heart of The Law - to the heart of God... PRACTICAL REDEMPTION.  He stands the man up and gives him a new hand!  "There!" Jesus says, "That's the purpose of the the Sabbath.  That's the purpose of the Law.  That's the heart of God! - Practical Redemption."

Practical Redemption was not only the purpose of The Law; it is the mission of The Church!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Blue Cheese: A Parable (Practical Redemption 1)

It was in the old part of town where local merchants sold organic produce under the open sky, where corner bakeries served gourmet coffees in anything but a Starbucks cup, and where the street was still paved in red brick.  The couple loved to take each other to this quiet and chic part of town for walks, talks, and of course the Bread Pallet.  The Bread Pallet was a small eatery with ancient wine, fresh yeast rolls you could taste by their aroma, and a heart-stopping Tiramisu.

The hour hand had just reached eleven and the the couple had already settled into their  favorite corner table tucked away by the front window under a painting of Puck from a Midsummer's Nights Dream.  He had ordered the Raspberry Tea with fresh raspberries layered among the ice; she drank espresso on ice.  Each time they dined at this favorite spot they'd read the menu as if they were exploring the entrees for the first time, but like the sun breaking over the eastern horizon they always ended up ordering "The Regular."  The menu reading was more of a game.  Often they'd pick a dish, appetizer, dessert or drink and discuss it's strengths, weakness, origin, etc.  Today? - The Wedge Salad.  The menu read:

Geyser's Wedge Salad
A refreshing quarter of iceberg lettuce adorned with
organic tomatoes, green onions, freshly cooked bacon,
blue cheese crumbles, and topped with our homemade
blue cheese dressing.

She speaks first, "Mmmm!  That looks good, except for the blue cheese crumbles.  I'd substitute with cheddar!"
"What?" he responds with disbelief, "You can't eat a Wedge Salad without blue cheese!"
"Sure you can.  You just say, 'I'd like the Geyser Wedge with cheddar instead of blue cheese.'" 
"No, no you can't.  If you cut out blue cheese it is no longer a Wedge!"
"Of course it is!"
"No, it is not!"
"You order your burgers without onions.  It is the same thing!"
"Shut up!  Not even close.  Ordering a wedge without the blue cheese is like ordering the burger without the meat."
"I'd argue that cheddar goes better with bacon than blue cheese anyway.  Think, 'Bacon cheddar burger.'"
"That doesn't matter.  Pull out Betty Crocker; flip to salads and guess what?  There will be blue cheese."
"Seriously?  You are going to Betty Crocker me?"
"Hon, you are wrong; it doesn't matter what you think because when it comes to the wedge...."

And their banter carried on through the appetizer, through the entree, and even through his after-dinner coffee.  Unbeknownst to them, two blocks over in the ally out back of Danielle's Paninis, an middle-aged man rummaged through the trash looking for provolone that happened to cling to the side of the dumpster, or a half chewed piece of french bread, or some chicken scraps.  His stomach cramped with hunger, his head a little light, legs shaky and all the while they argued over blue cheese.

This is a story, too often, about the church.

Monday, October 24, 2011

What Was Is and Will Be

All that I have left is all that I really had in the first place.

I'm a sculptor of perception and my medium of choice has been the Christian Faith.  I learned early on which levers to pull, which words to say, which looks to sport, which verses to quote in order to win the approval of the masses.  It worked.  The school kids called me "PK" (Preacher Kid).  Mr. Integrity in High School.  Mr. LCU in college. "Charley and Terrie, you must be so proud of your son!"  It worked so well I eventually landed what I had planned from the beginning - the big preaching gig! I had sculpted a perception masterpiece.  The problem?  Any perception built on any foundation other than God eventually caves in under its own weight.  And so it did with the "big preaching gig."

I was honored and thrilled that this prominent congregation had invited me to stand before them and offer a weekly Word from the Lord.  I also knew that despite its successful history the congregation was  currently in the early stages of organizational decline.  No problem, that's why I was being brought in (sounds pompous...  it was). Except that two months into the job my gut, or more likely the Spirit (sometimes I wish it were easier to decipher between the two), told me, "This isn't going to work." But there were voices out -talking my gut/Spirit.  My education said, "You have to give it two years before you can make any decisions!"  My experience said, "You are a trained theologian and minister."  My youth said, "You are exactly what this congregation needs to ride out of its slump into a new future."  My competitive nature said, "Taylor, you're not a quitter!"  In case you missed it, my pride and arrogance out-shouted my gut/Spirit.

"I mean, I am an excellent preacher.  I will win the crowd over in no time.  I will WOW them with my first sermon and by the end of the first month they'll be thanking the elders for hiring me!"  So I delivered my first sermon with all the passion I could muster, but the WOW was more of an "Uh-huh."  The WOW didn't show up at the second or third sermon either.  Second month? Nope.  Third? Nah.  Sixth?  No way; it was bad by then.  The comments were coming "Talks too fast.  Doesn't use enough scripture.  Irreverent. Illustrations don't make sense.  Can't understand him.  He is a left wing liberal...."  Now granted, preaching always comes with criticism and I had many opportunities to taste that bitter herb.  Once after a youth rally, an elder rebuked me publicly in front of the entire congregation. That tasted sweet! Another time, at a different congregation, a member transcribed a section from my sermon, wrote a three page rebuttal and then emailed it to all my elders with out my knowledge.  Criticism and I had gone on several dates.  It wasn't simply the criticism but the reality that it began to awaken in me, "You're not that good of a preacher!"  At that point, I often considered quitting preaching altogether with dreams of serving as a park ranger in some heavily forested state.  I realized the weight I put on my preaching was too much.  It was too shabby of a structure, and would never carry this congregation through.

With my preaching crumbling around me, I turned to my mad leadership skills.  "Come on, I have always been a leader: NHS President, Drama Club VP, Chorus Chaplain, Freshman Class President, Sophomore Class President, Meistersinger President."  I thought my credentials would speak for themselves.  But, this situation was different; overt leadership would fail.  I didn't have the chips, tenure, or respect to lead overtly.  I would implement second chair leadership: relational leadership, grassroots movements, invite outsiders with clout to speak into the situation, and use data...lots and lots of data.  I was confident... then less so...then not at all...then simply kissing failure right smack on the lips.  Throughout my leadership efforts several key individuals who I needed on board called my leadership ability into question.  KABOOM!  My leadership confidence exploded as my preaching collapsed around me.

"At least I still have my integrity and character!  At least... oh wait, HAD."  The majority of people would never have doubted my character and integrity and no one was going to take that from me.  They didn't have to because I sacrificed it all when I let my heart wander into places it never belonged, launching me into a four month run of betrayal, deception, selfishness, and cheating.  At that point... "Let's see, anyone out there respect me?  Can we see a showing of hands? Umm, anyone?  Anyone?  Ok, no one!"  So with my preaching crumbling around my exploding leadership I decided to strangle my character and integrity with my bare hands.

It all caved in... all of it and I was left with nothing - Preaching? NO.  Leadership? Funny.  Character and integrity? Shut up! - everything I had relied on for my identity.  All the little pieces I had woven into a beautiful tapestry and named "Charlton" were now shattered across the floor of my life.  I was left with nothing but God!  That's when it hit me; that's all I ever had, GOD!  Even when "I had it all," I really just had God.

All that I have left is all that I really had in the first place.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


It was my lunch break. I was eating steak... in a city park.  The steak was served in a zip lock baggie, cold leftovers from the night before and I was sticking to a sap-stained park bench.  I hadn't purchased this prime cut of beef because I don't dine on sirloin right now.  One steak and a Coke?  I don't measure that in dollars; I measure it in hours.  That's a half of a day's work.  Dear friends bought Mary Beth and I the grilled cuisine, and they didn't just offer dinner. They talked about paying rent... Layers.

As I set up lunch, an older gentleman strolled into the park carrying two suitcases out of a 60's movie.  A blue ball cap, the mesh kind that were dominate in the 80's and that are now making a comeback, protected his sun-scarred face.  He was thin, not a healthy, fit-and-in-shape kind of thin, but the kind that comes from lacking a surplus of food.  He wore Wranglers, although he likely never road a horse or shot a pistol from his hip. He rolled his Wranglers just like a parent does when buying their kid's pants a couple sizes too big in order to save a trip back to the store in a month.  He covered his chest with one of those shirts Middle Aged West Texas Tourists wear, one that would blend into any decade while at the same time be clearly out of fashion.  It's probably one your grandpa wore.  As he set up at his bench, a man dashed out of the office building across the street as if posing for a GQ ad - shimmery suit tapered at the ankle, a single button holding the coat over his well-fed belly, a nicely groomed beard.  He jumped in a car and moved out of the GQ ad into a Lexus commercial.  Only one hundred feet apart...Layers.

Gnawing on my cow remains, I pulled out a Gatorade to lubricate my meat's decent into my stomach.  That's when I noticed, my blue-hatted friend also had a Gatorade.  His flavor was "Fountain Water" and it wasn't a beverage.  It was a washing machine.  He pulled a shirt out of his suitcase and arranged it on the brick sidewalk.  After filling his bottle with water from the fountain he started the pre-soak cycle.  He doused his clothes and then started scrubbing with a barely visible soap fragment.  Then he rinsed.  His dryer was the only park bench managing to sunbathe in the noonday rays.  "Ding! Ding!" An iPhone text interrupted my observations... Layers.

After glancing at the text I moved from the steak remains to a Trix yogurt ("Silly rabbit!  Tricks are for kids).  I pealed back the lid and started to drink my yogurt just as my blue-hatted friend began enjoying a tasty mid-day meal himself.  Fortunately we were shaded by mature pecan trees that had rained down their Fall gifts across the park.  The blue hatted man would gather a few, line them on his bench like a Sushi Chef lines his rolls, and then crack one at a time.  Park pecans for lunch!  After my yogurt I opened my pita chips and scooped up some garlic hummus... Layers.

Lunch was nearly over.  It had been less than one hour and there were layers everywhere.  Layers sitting on park benches.  Layers walking down the street.  Layers smoking in the ally.  Layers dinning on pecans at the water fountain laundry mat, layers in suits, layers in an old pair of Asics and a stained church t-shirt, layers in my head, layers in your head.  Layers everywhere... except in God.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Same Like Like Same

I was nestled in my upstairs corner office lost in the world of the sermon when, "Pastor Taylor!  Pastor Taylor!"  I knew it was a visitor; my Church of Christers understood that referring to me as "Pastor" had a place at the top of the list with National Treason and Blaspheming the Spirit. I was a "Minister."

As the familiar voice jarred me out of "Dimension Homily" back to the real world I made my way down the stairs to find a local pastor waving a document in the air.  Little did I know it was not a piece of paper but a bugle calling me to war.  He handed it to me and encouraged with flare, "This is a petition for the State Legislature. It's to sway them from passing a bill that gives the same rights to homosexual partners as married couples. You do know this bill is a step toward legalizing gay marriage?  Sign it and have all your members sign it!"

I didn't sign it and I didn't announce it from the pulpit.  I simply put it on the Church tack board, another minnow in a parchment sea.  My refusal to lay down my John Hancock was no attempt at a political statement.  I don't hope in politics and I don't believe in legislating morality or Christianity.  Legislation targets behavior, like training a dog.  I can get my dog to quit peeing on the carpet by slipping him some baco-fake every time he tinkles outside and by scolding him, "Bad dog!" every time he waters the carpet.  It may get the behavior I want but it doesn't transform the pooch's desire - dogs love peeing on carpet.  The difference between the human species and the canine is that most people are smarter than dogs.  People find ways of conforming to the imposed behavior while at the same time scouting out large enough cracks in the system to still fulfill their desires.  My refusal to sign the petition was not a political ploy; it was the influence of stuff lik Mark 2:15-16:

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 

Since Mark clearly identifies the Pharisees as the antagonist of his gospel we Church people tend to read this passage and give Jesus a fist bump, "Yeah Jesus, stick it to the Pharisees!"   But Jesus' actions and the company he kept was offensive not to the world but to the religious.  To put it in perspective, I believe if Jesus were here today we would find him engaging people in gay bars and being present, although probably not marching and definitely not picketing, at the gay parades strolling through Washington.  Jesus always engaged.  He never built walls or fortresses.  When churches rally the troops and actively protest gay rights through legislation, etc., we build walls, create gaps, and push the gay community further away and in so doing hinder our ability to embrace the "engaging" strategy of Christ.  I believe that introducing the gay community to the upside-down way of Christ through genuine, caring relationship is far more redemptive than ANY legislation.

  1. To non-christian individuals and communities actively, even flamboyantly, living out the gay lifestyle... why not?  If you are not a professing follower of Jesus Christ, then why would you submit to the way of Christ.  We cannot hold a non-believing world to a believer's worldview.  And yet openly homosexual individuals are STILL people.  Therefore, the next time you come across a same-sex couple or an openly gay guy, instead of crinkling your nose, or giving the raised-eyebrow-big-eyed-"He's gay!"  glance toward your neighbor, or starting a little gossip party remember that that person or that couple desires to be loved, fears loneliness and rejection, needs affirmation and encouragement, and deserves dignity and respect.  We, of all people, have an underground storm shelter stocked with an arsenal of love, affirmation, encouragement, dignity and lock and load!
  2. To Christians struggling with same sex attraction... those of us who don't, need to identify and step into the great suffering and isolation many of them face on a daily basis.  Many of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have no idea how to overcome their feelings and fight to stop their homosexual activity but feel the church is the last place on the globe where they can honestly express their struggle.  I could imagine that many individuals struggling with same-sex attraction live tortured lives of guilt and frustration with God.  Several years ago I was at a Christian camp of 1000 high school students.  Two nights in a row, two different keynotes delivered jokes with a "homosexual punchline."  The audience roared with laughter.  That moment, that moment that cannot be taken back, did more damage than we far could imagine.  For a crowd of a thousand, dozens of students must have at that very moment been struggling with same sex attraction. Perhaps they had come that very week to find a listening ear and a compassionate heart but what they found was roaring laughter at their most difficult and confusing and deep battle.  They would have to turn elsewhere for the compassion they desired and needed.  The Church cannot laugh. We must declare, "You belong here!  We love you!  We want to understand your battle, your pain, your failures, your successes.  You are one of us.  We long to walk with you in the messiness of it all, to walk acknowledging that there is a Friday of struggle, pain, death and sin but to choose with you to live in the hope and in the New Creation of Sunday."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Picture This!

Random pics I have taken that make me laugh or go, "WHAT?"
Yes, overall shorts!  What do you call those: Shoveralls?
This is a doctor at a hospital in Fort Worth, or is it a late night television host?  If Conan fails on TBS, he'll be just fine!

WHAT?! Yes, a picture from a children's coloring book for the 10-year 911 anniversary. "Here son; color this picture of the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.  Use lots of red."  Seriously?

Why not?
This is the Lava Boy action figure.  Unfortunately, it doesn't exist because Lava Boy is a figment of Pierson's imagination.  If you look closely, Lava Boy resembles a poorly painted Thor figurine.

Yeah, try one!  Because you haven't lived until you've shot a machine gun!

Any questions?

Ashton and I made the Oreo you can only dunk in a BOWL of milk.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Three Days 'til Twindom

I'm not sure who stalked who first.  We first encountered at Subway during Anytober.  I was reloading my water and he was carbonating up.  I would describe him as pudgy and I, on the other hand, kick my own butt to avoid pudginess.  As if kin to the Komodo Dragon, his tongue flicked faithfully like a spatula scraping impaled peanut butter off the inside of his upper lip.  He was unaware. And only yesterday, I stepped into Sports Cuts for a hair-tidying appointment in order to compensate for the new patch of zits I had apparently been fertilizing on my face.  When he spoke, after each phrase or sentence I would usually utter a "Huh," Excuse me," or "I'm sorry?"  And, up until recently, I had supported my family via theological gab.  I was paid to communicate clearly.  After a short interaction we separated, and little had I known, I had found my brother.

Next day I'm going for a jog, 10 miles, decked in polyester and other wicking fabric.  I pass him.  He is walking the same direction as I'm going.  Again, who was there first... him or me?  Was I following him or was he tracking me?  Never mind that; he sported the same clothes as the day before and perhaps the day before that, and before that, and... yes, maybe before that.  Did I mention he was Black?  I'm more like bread that has been left in the toaster too long... brown on the edges but white in the middle.  No communication, no talking, no interaction that day.  We did not need to any longer; the connection was made, although I was unaware.

Day three... I'm filling out applications online in an appendage restaurant to the local grocery store.  It's one of those dives that stays in business because college kids can get 2500 calories wrapped in a tomato basil tortilla, log on to Facebook, and sip on a Frappufrufru at one stainless steel table.  Guess who strolls in?   I'm no genius, not even that smart, and when it comes to chess I'm not worthy to untie the laces of Bobby Fisher's shoes.  But, if my new friend and I sat down for a game of chess, I would bet on myself.  SAT scores?  I win that one too (and mine were just average).  Sudoku?  Never played it, but going to wager against my new friend.  Did I mention I'm taller than him?

So, there I am working on this application.  It is about 12:30 PM and he walks in.  Twelve-thirty is no coincidence.  It is the busiest time of the day.  My friend came for people, lots of people, people laughing, eating, talking.  He shuffled in, proceeded to a table with a dining family, and started hugging them.  They didn't know him anymore than they knew me, and I couldn't tell you their names or even what they ordered.  He ended up getting a picture with them (Thank you, iPhone).  He was there because he did not want to be ALONE!! And that's when it hit me, "We are twins!!"  Granted, I didn't pull up to a stainless steel table to hug on random families but only to mooch the free WiFi, but we were twins because we crave the same thing.

Genesis 2 spouts it this way, "The LORD God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'"  Loneliness is one of those few things that is worse than death.  If Laurence Fishburne manifested and said, "Take the red pill and be alone but live, or take the blue pill and die,"  I'm swallowing blue.  This summer, for the first time in my life, I came to place where I thought and screamed out loud, "I'd rather be dead!"  Loneliness was pulling the trigger.  It was a self-induced loneliness but loneliness the same.

No wonder my new friend showed up at the hopping joint during the busiest time of the day.  Why wouldn't he?  He needed to feel a part of a community; he needed to feel love; he needed to NOT BE ALONE even if just for the lunch hour.  He and I have nothing in common except that which makes us twins, soul brothers: the longing to not be alone, to be loved.  God said it, "It is not good for man to be alone!"  That is why God raised a nation, a community called Israel, rather than a single person with whom to make a covenant.  That is why the Church is not a building, a sermon, or Gungor jamming our socks off, but rather a community of diverse people sharing life together.

The Church has so much to offer! As I experienced true loneliness for the first time in my life, my eyes were opened to see how many, millions, of people are lonely.  Maybe you are one of the lonely!  The Church has been set up, when it moves with the Spirit, to meet that need in a practical and tangible way.  To the lonely in the world, the Church says, "Hey!  You are not alone.  You are one of us.  You belong here.  We are twins!!"

Friday, October 7, 2011


1 (of a person or their views, esp. religious or political ones, or other beliefs or practices) conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true; established and approved

I started reading this book by Peter Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God.  He begins the book with a discussion on how we are incapable of saying ANYTHING about God and yet at the same time how we are called to say SOMETHING about God, and that true faith pitches its tent and builds a fire in that beautiful tension.  He ends the chapter by radically tweaking the definition of ORTHODOX.

"I recently heard a well-known speaker say that if faith does not cost something then it is nothing. Only much later could I respond: if faith does not cost everything, it is nothing. Orthodoxy as right belief will cost us little; indeed it will allow us to sit back with our Pharisaic doctrines, guarding the 'truth' with the purity of our interpretations. But orthodoxy, as believing in the right way, as bringing love to the world around us and within us... that will cost everything. For to live by that sword, as we all know, is to die by it."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

This Little Bud Light of Mine

When I used to be a preacher, back before I drove a truckload of dynamite into my life, I attempted incognito Wal-Mart runs.  There were times I just wanted to go in, buy merchandise or toiletries, and exit without, "Hey, Tom (Jan, Jake, or whoever) how are you? Good to see you.  How are the wifey and kids?"  So one night as I am making a mad dash into the supercenter....

Something you have to know about me. I'm extremely observant, like Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory (sans paranoia).  Scanning, scanning... spot church members and spot a six pack of beer on top of the checkout counter.  As I approach to do my pastoral responsibility (Pastoral Manual page 256, item 4.6 "Pastor must greet with smile and firm hand shake or squeezing side hug at all public encounters with parishioners"), Joe and Jan Churchmember quickly turn me away from the checkout counter.  They did not want me to see the beer.  Now, if they were turning me around out of embarrassment for buying Keystone Light, I would have understood, but that was not the reason.  They did not want me to discover their secret consumption of adult beverages, because somewhere they learned that Christians do not drink.

And if you are a boozing Christian, at least pretend you are not.  So when Pastor/Preacher drops in for a visit, transfer the alcohol to the fridge parked in the garage.  Use the Styrofoam cups when the kids are around.  If you have a stash, make sure it is a hidden stash.  And when stumbling upon other closet Christian drinkers, form am alliance, "Shhh, our little secret."

Perhaps it is time we come out of the closet.  If you are Christian who does not drink alcohol, good for you.  If you are a Christian who does, good for you.  Let's just quit hiding.  There is nothing wrong with drinking.  I like a beer every now and then.  I prefer Margaritas and Whiskey and Coke to that.

I believe it is more harmful to the cause of Christ to pretend we don't drink than it is to drink. Pretending reinforces that great lie about our faith, that following Christ is about perception. I once worked for a church where policy dictated that a minister could not drink within a 100 mile radius of the city.  Why?  Because drinking was sinful?  No, because of perception. The Pharisees where masters at perception, but perception is not real.  It is the manipulating of others' thoughts about who you are in a favorable light.  Jesus wasn't after perception.  He was after genuine, honest, raw relationship.  I'm writing this as the #1 offender.  I have lived as a great pretender, using Christianity to shape others' perceptions of me. I was pretty good at it.  I no longer want to spend my time shaping your perception of me.  I want to fall in love with Jesus and fall in love with following Jesus.

So... no, being a closet drinker is not the problem with Christianity, just a symptom of the problem and one I find amusing.  Bottoms up! Whether that be Coca Cola, Guinness, or Horchata.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Upon Shigionoth

Despite being named after the sound of coughing up phlegm, Habakkuk comes across as a pretty transparent character. His first words, straight out of the gate, are cries of lament: How long, Lord, must I call for your help but you do not listen?"  He knew God.  He believed in God.  He had heard the great stories of God, but he longed to experience God's activity in his life.  I can relate, and so today Habakkuk prays for me (3:2):

 LORD, I have heard of your fame;
   I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD.
Repeat them in our day,
   in our time make them known;
   in wrath remember mercy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reverse Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect... something along the lines of a butterfly flaps its wings in South American which produces enough climate change to form a hurricane in the Atlantic several weeks later.  Or, a kid sneezes in China and a group of Syracuse students break the Guinness World record for the largest flapjack. Huh? It has something to do with Chaos Theory - I'm lost already but I do know that in Genesis 1 the Spirit of God is hovering over the "chaos" and then God preaches order out of chaos, "Let there be light..." You're confused now, so let me explain.

 My current job? - Helping build fences.  Notice I did not say, "building fences."  The key word is "helping." I spend many of my days carrying pickets.  I'm the machine, a rather scrawny one, driven by the commands of my gracious boss - like a front end loader for Munchkinland.  As I'm in the monotonous rhythm of loading and unloading today I start feeling a desire to preach again.  AHHH!  I cannot even get through a day without crying, so the thought of wanting to return to the pulpit makes me nervous.  I explore the origins of such an out of place thought, "Why am I feeling the desire to preach right now?"
  1. I believe over the last three months I have gained new insight regarding sin, compassion, love, and loneliness which helps me understand and relate better to people when preaching.
  2. Preaching makes me feel significant... DING! DING!  There's the red flag!
And I waved that red flag right in front of my face.  I'm on a mission to connect deeply with God, not feel significant.  I was mad at myself for so easily reverting to my old pattern, but I desperately want to be significant.  And that's when the mental scroll started rolling, "I LONG to be significant.  I LONG to be desired.  I LONG to be admired.  I LONG to be attractive.  I LONG to be wanted."  Dagnabadidabit! I was so angry with myself.  I want and should LONG for God, but I don't, even after all the crap, I don't. So, I just started praying Psalm 63:1

O God, you are my God,
   earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
   my body LONGS for you,
in a dry and weary land
   where there is no water.

Over and over, I moved wood and whispered the prayer, over and over, over and over... when finally I whisper shouted, "God where are you?  Come on!"  SO MUCH SILENCE! But then I went back to Psalm 63 and transferring wooden pickets.  As I gathered the next load to carry into the yard a single butterfly landed on my stack of pickets.  This may not mean anything to you, and it wouldn't to me either if my wife had not written this blog entry a few days ago.  In it she says, "At the beginning of this "hell" a dear friend of mine gave me this necklace [of a] butterfly: She told me..... 'God can create something beautiful out of this mess.  From the ugly caterpillar comes a beautiful butterfly.  God can make something new and beautiful again.'" God bringing order out of chaos.
I cannot be absolute that it was God giving me an Elijah Whisper, "I'm right here!" but I would like to think so.  It affirmed what the resurrection proves: it will be okay, not only for me, but for everyone involved.  Out of my hurricane of destruction God brought the butterfly.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Marcion blew a head gasket!  A piece of hardware must have come loose in that noggin of his.  Doesn't he know that you cannot work for a church and ask ridiculously honest questions.  He was a bishop for Pete's sake,  a bishop in the Second Century and as he read through the Bible he noted some discrepancies between God in the Old Testament and God in the New Testament.  He did not have the nerve to diagnose God with multiple personality disorder so he suggested two gods in scripture: the lower class God of the OT and the good God of the NT.  And what does The Bishop get for taking off  the blinders and wrestling with some of the confusion about God?  -A platter of excommunication with a side of heretic.  Nice knowing you Marc!

Now, while I don't agree with Marcion's conclusions, I think I would enjoy a breakfast conversation with him over some Eggs Benedict and Kenyan Chai.  Because there are things about God that confuse me, that make me angry...

  1. God tests Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his son?  Whether he ever intended to let him do it or not... still. (Gen. 22)
  2. I feel sorry for the Exodus Pharaoh because although half of the time he hardens his own heart, the other half of the time God hardens his heart.  How do you win that one? (Ex. 9:12)
  3. God's command to punish the Amalekites by killing everything: men, women, and CHILDREN (I Samuel 15:1-4)
  4. "The next day an evil (harmful) spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul." (I Sam. 18:10)
  5. Or, one of my favorites, when God sends a deceiving spirit into the prophets' mouths in to lure Ahab into the battle of his demise. (I Kings 22:19-23)
  6. The Book of Job... uh, where do I start?
There are things about God that are disturbing, things we often don't talk about on Sunday AM, or read to our kids before nighty-night.  I know, I know, "You don't want to serve a God who you can fully understand.  His ways are beyond our ways.  God works in mysterious ways!"  I get that, but I think sometimes Christians use those bumper-sticker sayings to be intellectually and faithfully lazy.  God has a history of revealing himself.  He wants us to KNOW him.  So what do I do with confusing aspects/tactics of a God who wants me to know him intimately yet is far larger than my minuscule brain; a God who sometimes seems to step outside of his self-definition - "God is Love;"  a God who, at times, I wouldn't want to meet in a dark ally... what do I do?  I don't have a sure answer.  I tell you what I do  right now.  I turn to Jesus.

Sometimes God appears inconsistent, but then there is Jesus.  He is consistent.  He says, "This is how life looks, life as it is designed to be lived," and then he lives it.  You look at that wandering homeless rabbi and you start naming all the cliches "That guy walks the talk, practices what he preaches..."  Jesus makes sense; I cannot get away from it.  And then Colossians 2:9 says, "For in Christ ALL the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." and then John says (1:18), "No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son who himself is God... has made him known."

When I am confused by God, when I am angry because I cannot figure him out, when scripture seems to present different perspectives of God, the whole story of God and God himself points me to Jesus.  Jesus is God saying, "I know I'm confusing the heck out of you right now.  I know you don't get it.  I know you think I've lost my mind, but look at Jesus.  That's me, God.  Right now some things don't make sense, but I'm Jesus: the one who heals the leper with a touch, the one who forgives the prostitute, the one who feeds the hungry crowds, the one who cuddles the babies, the one who empties myself on the cross!"  When God is far off and I cannot see what he is doing, I look through Jesus and things get clearer.