Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Still waiting!

I still can't figure out the "read more" thing - as my last post shows. Help!


Thoughts on "Everything Must Change"

Hey all,

I've got just a 30 minute pit stop while I pick up some family members in Greenville, before heading down to Atlanta for my great-aunt Kitty's funeral tomorrow - visitation tonight.

Anyway, my friends Heather and Jeff updated their blog with, among other things, some of their thoughts about the Charlotte Everything Must Change event. Serendipitously (this, as a friend points out to me, is a great word!), I also found some of my missing notes from the conference last night. I think these are from session 3 - of which I only caught the last half, after closing up at the registration table.

There's a thread over at the EmergentColumbia site about the "words we wrote on our hands at the Everything Must Change tour!" I couldn't remember much about what my words were, or why we wrote them, until finding these notes. (I have the world's worst long-term memory. Have you ever seen the movie Memento? I'm really almost that bad.)

I'm embarrassed to note that I hadn't made the connection between writing words on our hands and the hand on the cover of Brian McLaren's book! But yeah, as was pointed out to me over at EmergentColumbia, that's why we were writing words on our hands. It's associated with action, as you might expect. The hand, Brian McLaren said, is the symbol of the ability to act. This was during a part of the conference where he talked about the need for sustained action to 'change everything' on 4 levels:

1. Personal action (a "deep shift" for your life) - maybe recycling, or gardening, or turning your
yard into a bird haven, etc.

2. Community Action - finding local projects and friends to associate with. Maybe study groups, service projects, etc. He also noted that if your church doesn't want to change and be involved, let them be - find other ways and other people to help nurture this in your community. Go where the energy is, don't waste energy trying to make others change.

3. Public Action - he called this "Spirit-Guided Movements," by which he meant actions of God across the larger culture, actions going on "which I don't want to miss." As an example he cited the Civil Rights movement - people chose which side of that to be on, and some therefore missed out on being part of what God was doing. He also cited contemporary movements towards Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR - which he said could also stand for Church Social Responsibility).

4. Global Action - "global awakenings". He told a story about a corporate VP who's reacted to the news that he has an inoperable brain tumor by trying to find ways to make a positive impact in the world. Supposedly he's building a website to recruit others - but if Brian said his name, I missed it.

He also talked about how to share this stuff with others. He recommended against talking about "this book I read" or "this author/preacher guy I read." Rather he suggested connecting personally - talk about what's going on with us. Share by saying "I'm going through something. I'm thinking things I can't help but talk about." (This is some of the stuff I wanted to talk about - and will have to wait until I have time.)

As Brian started closing out this section, he said "we make the way by living it." I take that to mean that as we feel lost about what to do and where to start to make a difference, we just have to stop feeling overwhelmed and start acting - personally, locally, publicly, globally - to make a difference. Little by little, each change we make begins to make the way to a world where everything has changed. Pie-in-the-sky kind of stuff, almost - so my cynical mind says. But Brian ended this session by talking about Jesus' comments on faith - "if you have faith the size of a mustard seed," you can say to this mountain, move, and it will move.

Now, in my overly literal mind, I've always thought of this verse in terms of supernatural kinds of miraculous stuff - praying for healing and things like that. As a result I've always cringed at this verse - guilty over my lack of faith healings to my name, and the like. Brian tied it in to these overwhelming problems in the world - crises of prosperity, equity, security - as mountains which seem too big to ever be brought low. (Isaiah - every valley will be filled and every mountain and hill made low.) So he reminded us of our faith - that we need not be overwhelmed by the scope of the problems. He reminded us that Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed..." etc.

I wrote "My take-away from this: 'I tell you the truth. This mountain will move." So the hand thing: if I now recall correctly, we were writing an action to take or a mountain that would be moved. Which reminds me that I'd completely forgotten what I wrote (which is why I write - I have practically no long-term memory!). My word was "epiphany", because I had a few that weekend. Mostly, an epiphany related to two things - doubt and fear. These are things that keep me from stepping out in faith - the things that keep me from making the difference I could. They feel like mountains blocking me from a life of meaning and purpose, filled with love for God and neighbor.

I tell you the truth - this mountain will move. May you have faith to sing your song in the dark, and to see mountains fall as God works in your life and our world.


Monday, February 25, 2008

In memoriam

Preached a funeral Saturday - probably the last of my old hospice patients that will ask me to do the funeral. She asked me more than a year ago - her husband's funeral, in May of 05, was the first I preached for (rather than doing music), just about 3 weeks after my ordination. It went pretty well, as such things go. The family behaved - which they probably won't keep doing much longer, as it was the deceased who held them together. She was a wonderful old lady - in her 80s, she'd been married 66 years when her husband died, and loved her family and loved God. But a lot of her kids, even though individually they seem to be good people, they just don't get on with one another. It's very sad. I preached about how she was a person of forgiveness and turning the other cheek, and that's what she wanted her children to do - this is what she told me a year ago. But human nature being what it is, I doubt they really heard me.

Still, the funeral itself was a fitting tribute for her, and I was honored to be with the family at this event. I won't forget her. I may post some thoughts from the sermon in the next day or two - or not, we'll see.

My great-aunt Kitty died over the weekend, too. I didn't know her well at all, but liked her from the handful of times we met. I'm driving up to Greenville in the morning so I can ride down with Mom and my grandmother to the funeral in Atlanta - mostly because Mom doesn't like Atlanta traffic.

I thought I was done with hospice?


Boy I'm smart (but didn't I finish grad school...?)

blog readability test

TV Reviews

Hah! Fencerscott posted a link for this over on his blog. But my blog beats his blog! Hah! Take that, Fencerscott! Oh, yes...soon, I will be invincible.

Of course, this might also explain why most of my friends think the blog is too dry and time-consuming. Well, so what! It's probably because you're not smart enough! Go to college! Get a job!

Oh, wait, that last part was for me. Well, nevertheless - I'm still going to take over the world, so there. And you'll have to read my blog, and your little dog, too!


I think I just lowered the reading level.


Blogger Need Help!

So, all you bloggers out there...my takeover of the blogosphere is really being stalled by my singular inability to do one simple thing: insert a "read more" tag in my posts.

I do, as is readily seen, like to run off at the mouth quite often. It would help if folks (including me) didn't have to scroll through the entire body of a post, but could click on it if they want to read the whole thing. Simple enough, yes?

Er...no. Not simple to me. I've done a search under the help feature and found the info that I need - just insert some conditional tags in the HTML of my style sheet. Problem is, where the devil is my style sheet??!??!

Little help, here, folks?


Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Typical Conversation with My Mom"

With apologies to my mom, and I'm sure this isn't anything like her, or me. (Really. Except when I'm leaving from a visit, and she asks if I want to take any food back with me, and I say no, and she says...well, watch the video. You can just click play, or you can use this link.)

My mom, by the way, is amazingly great, and I've never once doubted her or my dad's unconditional love for me...which is pretty darn fantastic.

That said - I haven't had leisure to post in a while, and I came across this video serendipitously, and I had to share it.

But it's not about my mom. Really.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cons and Libs pt 2

I'm stealing from myself again. Mostly because I'm ready to go home but I don't want to neglect posting yet another day. So here's some follow up thoughts from my earlier post. Thanks to a new friend for the thoughtful response to that post that prompted me to expand and, maybe, clarify.

Speaking in HUGE generalizations that are unfair to both sides - "conservative" Christians in the 19th and 20th centuries emphasized belief in the Bible on things like the Resurrection but over-spiritualized what Jesus says about violence and about love for enemies and care for the poor, widows and orphans - which is a huge theme not just from Jesus but throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and the prophets (Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Amos, etc.). "Liberal" Christians in the same period have emphasized what's been called the social gospel - caring for the poor and the hungry - choosing to emphasize belief in the Bible (the same books I just mentioned) when it talked about those things, while overspiritualizing what it said about the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth, and miracles generally. This is in my opinion a sad fact of history.

"Conservative" Christians didn't like the (in their and my opinion) overspiritualizing (i.e. lack of faith in the actuality of) miracles and especially the Resurrection, and so they fought against the social gospel - which, however (in my opinion, again), was paying real attention to the substance of Jesus' teaching on loving your neighbor as yourself. Possibly, had the social gospel not been paired with theological liberalism, conservative Christians might not have fought so hard and been so suspicious of anyone who talked about applying Jesus's teaching to real life concerns. (Though critics could also charge that they were motivated by self-interest to argue - because let's face it, Jesus' claims and expectations are radical and scary.) "Liberal" Christians on the other hand couldn't believe that so-called Christians wouldn't join their social activism, and so were very contemptuous of the conservatives, and over time came to think of them as mean and not-too-bright. (THat's possibly the most unfair generalization I've made yet - but certainly that's the impression many liberal Christians give of their opinion of conservatives). Both sides came to see the other as unbiblical, and as the enemy, and failed to obey the biblical command to love your enemy, or pray for those who persecute you...both sides failed to listen...and in the meantime, the biblical message was split in two, and the two sides turned against each other, and the real teaching of Jesus was obscured for a long time. Good people on both sides trying to be faithful - but it was pretty much impossible for much of the 19th and 20th centuries for anyone in the USA to do anything without taking into account the conservative/liberal split. A great waste, I think.

(Interesting sidenote - a Baptist named Walter Rausenbusch was one of the first in the modern era to emphasize the Social Gospel, and was influenced by Charles Sheldon, who wrote the book "In His Steps" and came up with the WWJD phrase to influence his congregations. When they saw a poor person, he said, they should ask themselves "what would Jesus do" and then do likewise. He intended it to get his people to act like Jesus and help the poor and the needy. Ironically, when WWJD bracelets became popular in the 1990s, it was - as best as I can tell - in conservative churches, and was usually used with youth and children to emphasize behaving morally with regard to cliques, peer pressure, sexual behavior, not cheating on tests, not drinking, being generally "good" - but usually was not used to encourage care for the poor.)

By the way - conservative Christianity and liberal Christianity do not equate to conservative and liberal politics. There's a lot of overlap, certainly, and that's increased since the rise of Jerry Falwell/the Moral Majority/the Religious Right/etc. And in the last couple of years there's a push-back from folks along the theological left side - a push-back which, again, sometimes blurs the distinction between liberal/conservative politics and liberal/conservative theology. But when I'm saying "conservative Christian" I don't mean "Republican Christian." Likewise, one could be a liberal Christian and be conservative economically - that is, have a belief in helping the poor but not believe in welfare and therefore not be a democrat. Personally, if we're talking conservative and liberal politics? I don't have much faith that either side has a great approach to helping the poor. But political sides is not my main concern. My main concern would be for Christians to stop dividing the Bible against itself, place their faith in the resurrected Lord, and do the things he said to do. "Make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all the things I have commanded you to do." If we had more churches doing that, more church communities that would help people like me who are basically selfish and challenge and support us to step out in faith and obedience...

That would be something to see. And a thrill to be a part of.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Courage part 2

Ella's comments provoked further thoughts. Here are some of them.

Thinking of courage made me think of the cowardly lion, and that made me think of C. S. Lewis, that Aslan is not a tame lion...and to be tamed, arguably, is to have been intimidated (or persuaded) into obedience.

In a Christian context, courage could then be framed as a refusal to be intimidated by - oh, the world/sin/Satan/powers and principalities/imperial economic and political systems - whatever you want to call it.Tolkien writes about people (hobbits) who seem self-involved and self-absorbed, but are basically good, and can "rise to the occasion", finding unlikely stores of courage when pushed to the test. Which I suppose would be, as Ella might be suggesting, a counterpoint to the video. Lewis, on the other hand, wrote that courage was not simply *a* virtue, but *the* virtue, or something to that effect - that every ideal one claimed required courage to live by, and if one lacked that courage when put to the test, one didn't have that virtue. At least, that's probably a garbled version of what he said.

Anyway, there is the kind of courage that is shown when we're really tested - that's when we find out our true mettle, what we're made of. But - it's one thing to rise to the occasion when your back is against the wall. It's something else again to choose risk freely, in the cold light of reason - to take the less-travelled road, as Frost said, or the road to the fire, as they decided at the Council of Elrond, or the way to the cross, as Jesus decided in Gethsemane. Personally - in some ways I've been pushed recently, but my back's not to the wall. I have options. I'm beginning to get some insight into those options, and I now need courage.



Short but kinda profound. (You have to click on the link!)


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Blog on Everything Must Change

Eli did some blogging about the Charlotte EMC event - find it here. There - it's almost like I've posted, the way I keep promising, isnt' it? :)


Spiritual Direction - Must Everything Change?

Rick asked me what I meant when I mentioned wanting a pastor/spiritual director in my last post. Apparently I was incapable of a short answer.

Even as I have a love/hate relationship with chaplaincy (which I've been doing for about 5 years now), so also do I feel about spiritual direction (check the link for a description). I think it's valuable and helpful and a recovery of something that used to be a clergy function, but had become less of one. And I've had a spiritual director at times, and found it extremely helpful.

On the other hand...my nominal spiritual director has so much going on that it generally takes a month or two after I've contacted him to schedule a time. But I'm generally calling at a time where I feel a pretty immediate need.

And even that much only gets managed 1-2x a year, so I never feel like he knows me or what's been going on with me well enough to do much more than listen. And we spend so much time with me trying to catch him up that we don't seem to look to the future or even necessarily the present much - even though that's what I've actually come for.

There's also the fact that, while I believe "the worker deserves his wages," I always feel a little odd having to pay another Christian to help me listen and practice discernment. (In the same way, as a chaplain it felt odd to be paid to show concern for the sick.)

Have we over-professionalized Christianity? Shouldn't we be doing this stuff for each other anyway? Shouldn't we have communities where this is part of what we do? Shouldn't spiritual direction be a primary function of pastors? And shouldn't we do this out of our connectedness to each other within the Body of Christ?

As you might guess, this particularly is an issue during this time when I'm out of work and feel I can ill-afford pastoral counseling or spiritual direction. So admittedly it's as much an economic issue as a theological one. (But then, so is a lot of Scripture. And life.) But some of it is theological, and comes too from a conviction that most of the western world (Christian and otherwise) has lost a sense of what community means. Some of it, too, comes from the Everything Must Change tour in Charlotte last weekend. Brian McLaren was talking about the need for pastors and church planters to plant new post-modern faith communities and churches, and also the need for pastors to help existing churches with post-modern transitions. This struck me because, as I'm feeling drawn back to local church staff/leadership, I feel really excited about the idea of a church with an emerging/missional ethos - and a sinking sensation of being at a church without it. That doesn't necessarily mean I should do one and not the other, I might be surprised - but it's one of the things I'm struggling with as I look for direction.

I actually got a chance to ask Brian about it during a Q&A session, and he talked about the need to recover a sense of how we practice discernment and seeking for God's will, and pointed me towards these folks to get some help. I've been in touch with them a little this week, and it may be that they'll be wonderfully helpful - but it still feels a little...off, somehow.

My primary sense of personal epiphany during the Everything Must Change conference, by the way, came in prayer time after this conversation with Brian. His wife, Grace, prayed for us during the Q&A - a simple, short, and heartfelt prayer that was basically this: "keep it up. Hang in there. You're on the right path. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going." It was, though I've not conveyed it well here, extremely powerful for me - a moment of God's voice speaking through someone else, offering reassurance in the midst of hard and uncertain times - God is with you. He sees that you're trying. Don't give up. Keep going.

That was during an early morning (7:29 am - because, you know, we're post-modern, we don't schedule things at 7:30) session, and afterward I went back to help out at the registration table. I got to talking to the other volunteer that was there that morning. I was intrigued because she's in her, I think, early 30s, and has 5 kids between the ages of about 4 and 12. Turns out she was widowed a while back, and through a bizarre chain of providential circumstances, met her new husband, and they married, and have blended their families and their separate kids, Brady Bunch style! But I was really moved hearing her talk about her prayer life prior to the second marriage - how confidently and naturally she talked about prayer, and also how unselfishly. She'd been praying to meet someone and get re-married, but not because she was afraid of being a single mom or being alone - she was praying for a dad for her kids. I don't know, maybe you had to be there - but listening to her talk, very naturally, about this, I had a couple of thoughts. 1) I don't often pray this naturally or with this confidence that prayer will change things. 2) I'm not surprised her prayer was answered, even with the bizarre chain of circumstances required for these two people to meet (online, as it happens) - she has such an unselfish prayer, for something she wants for her kids - and how could God not want that, too? Of course God would answer that prayer.

Brian's response to my question, and Grace's prayer for everyone, and this new friend's story of her family, all came together in my own prayers later that day to lead to that epiphany I mentioned. Which was this - why would God not want to answer my prayers for discernment? I'm sure there's some selfish stuff mixed in with it, but at the core, my desire for direction is about wanting to do with my life what God wants done with it. It's about wanting to honor and thank God, and to be a blessing to his world. Of course God will answer that prayer. This also led to the further thought - which I've already expressed - that spiritual direction, helping another pay attention to how God is working in there life, is a key part of discipleship, and a key part of what a pastor ought to be doing, in my opinion. That helped me see that it's part of what I'm supposed to be doing - but in and through the church, not apart from it.

Anyway, I suppose one of the things I'm praying for...that I *think* I need, though I may not...is a community and some kind of mentoring/spiritual directing relationship with a more experienced pastor, to help me in transitioning back to church or even church-planting. That desire may just be feeling intimidated by the scope of the changes I'm contemplating, and it may be the answer to the prayer is to get over my doubts and step out in faith. Time will tell. God sees that I'm trying. And I - I feel incredibly blessed and grateful, because I see that God is working. I'm going to keep going. Hope you will too.


Prayin' like Crazy

I prayed earlier tonight - like 7 hours ago now - for some specific things that have been bubbling up in my prayers. They fell into two categories: What do I want (need)? How do I get what I want/need?

Answering the first question were 6 things: a direction; a pastor/spiritual director (why can't pastors be pastored?) and community; a job; and release from 3 things that hold me back and get in the way (fear, debt, weight).

Lots of answers to the second question - lots of brainstorming - the first answer for each of the six things, though, was prayer. Bathing them in prayer.

I have to say, here, that I've always struggled to pray, or to believe in it. But my prayer life has really grown and expanded in the last couple of years, and the sense that God is working and moving has grown - rather, the sense that I'm alive and awake enough to detect him working and moving.

Anyway - that was about 7 hours ago.

About half an hour ago - something shifted. There's has been a lot of ferment in my spirit and psyche in the last year and a half. A lot of excitement about what God is doing, a lot of frustration that the most exciting things seemed to be somewhere other than where I am.

It might be that it was 1 am. But it feels like something shifted. That prayer was answered. A thought popped into my mind, fully formed, that would address those 6 things I prayed for head on. They made a synthesis and came together into a whole.

That's all I'm going to say about it - it's late, and it's a stunning notion, two weeks ago it would've been inconceivable. And a lot of people will need to weigh in on it, if after sleep and further prayer it still seems like what it does now - which is Providence.

But if you're reading this blog, and you're not opposed to prayer - then I ask that you start praying for me like crazy. This is big, exciting, and insane. And maybe completely off-base.

I'm having a grand time though. Night!


Saturday, February 9, 2008

Liberal or Conservative? An Emerging Perspective

I'm quoting myself in this a lot - stuff I posted on another website, slightly reconstituted for here.

I've mentioned, and some of you are familiar with, the term "emerging" or "emergent" church. At a really basic level, the term speaks to how the church is changing (or needs to change) to keep up with shifts in culture, from a modern to a post-modern world. A lot of times emergent folks talk about it using the metaphor of a conversation, because what "post-modern" means, and will mean, is still evolving - emerging - so it can't be described fully. But if you've ever heard or used the phrase "cultural Christianity", ever thought that Christianity in our churches was sort of nominal, not going very deep and not creating a community or environment where people lived like Jesus did, then you have something in common with the emergent conversation.

Note that the message of Jesus is always spoken in, and interpreted through, a culture(s) and worldview(s). Paul talked about "being all things to all people," so that by any means he might win some - this is someone who understood that cultural differences or preconceptions shouldn't get in the way of the Gospel. And for some, who are already on the "post-modern" end of things, the "modern" era church is a church from another culture - one that's difficult to understand or to get excited about, one that doesn't seem very relevant. One where you can fall asleep during a sermon week after week - can you imagine anyone sleeping through one of Jesus's sermons?!??!

Another way to look at it - the message of the gospel has to continually be put in fresh wineskins. The old ones burst.

Anyway, much of the emerging conversation is a lot more radical than this - this is a soft-pedaled, not-even-scratching-the-surface description of the conversation. For a lot of people, emerging stuff is suspect - maybe heretical. For a lot of other people, emerging is a revival and reformation of God with, perhaps, the potential to rival the Protestant Reformation for its power. (Hopefully without any burnings at the stake or religious warfare this time around.)

All I know is, my very modern-era seminary education just about killed me. That's not entirely fair - I'm sure I'll blog about the seminary years at some point - but, it was not a good period. It's taken a good chunk of the last five years to recover.

The other thing I know is, over the last year and a half that I've been engaged in emerging conversations, I've been more excited about what God is doing - had more passion (in the current sense and also the archaic sense of pathos) for seeking to live in the way of Jesus - been more aware of the Spirit working in, through, and around me - and had more hope in and love for the church, than I've had in years. It's also reawakened a love for learning and a commitment to missional living (that being a key component of emerging/post-modern discussions of the church).

Anyway, this started off to be about politics, but I know lots of my friends aren't familiar with emerging stuff, and these days, to know what's going on with me, you have to know a little about it. My attraction to the emerging church came initially (I have more reasons now) from the concept that “post-modern” attached to the church meant “post-liberal” and “post-conservative.” I’ve been a token conservative among liberals AND a token liberal among conservatives, without much modifying my views – because, in my opinion, speaking primarily theologically and not necessarily politically/socially, I think the conservative/liberal split is one of the great tragedies of the church in the modern era and one key reason the church in the West is so weak. My first exposure to emergent was in finding convergence among those coming out of a post-liberal and a post-conservative viewpoint – in other words, across denominational lines people looking seriously again at the message of Jesus were finding themselves agreeing more than arguing.

Specific examples of how the liberal/conservative split seems, to me, unsupportable? I’ll use admittedly extreme examples - One side supporting a social gospel that doesn’t include belief in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord (the disciples had a spiritual experience, there wasn’t a bodily resurrection); the other side loudly proclaiming faith in the resurrection but closing a school of social work at their seminary because Jesus wouldn’t have been concerned about feeding poor people.


Both sides seem insane. That's not very charitable. Sorry. But come on - is either side reading the Bible they're fighting over? One talking about a gospel but not believing in the best thing about it – the Resurrection, the death of death, the reason we have hope! The other side proclaiming a gospel about the resurrection, but ignoring the words of the One Who was Resurrected, who proclaimed that he was anointed to preach a gospel of good news to the poor, and who encouraged the wealthy to sell all they possessed, give it to the poor, and come follow him.

How did the liberal/conservative split become so…well, it’s offensive, but the only word I can think of is irrational, or at least inconsistent. If you take the Bible seriously, it seems to me you should be kind to the alien in your midst and think more about grace than law – the way Huckabee talked at the start of the campaign, not the way he talks now. Or the way that the Democrats speak. It also seems to me that if you take the Bible seriously you at least have to wrestle with the issue of abortion, and not be in favor of everything that supports it and against everything seeking to reduce the (staggering) numbers of abortions. In other words, closer to a typically Republican position.

(By the way – I’m weak in a pro-life stance, primarily because forcing a woman to bring a baby to term against her will seems inherently gross and violating. And more pro-life folks than I am, I think you should acknowledge that. It might, ultimately, be more important to fight for the unborn who can’t fight for themselves; but it’s still a violation of a woman to force her to bear the child, and it can never be fixed – it will affect her whole life. And of course it will on the other side too. I go round and round…primarily, I’m saying that Christians ought to wrestle with that issue more, and also focus on systemic issues that promote abortion like poverty and unequal opportunity and children who don’t have parents and get raised by the gov’t. Church folks that believe in the family, why are we letting that happen? And I don't say more about that because I'm single and not in any position to adopt and so not in any position to moralize about it.)

It seems to me that if you’re Christian you have to temper support for the military with commands to love your enemy and turn the other cheek. You may or may not be pacifist, ultimately – it’s a legit debate - but if you’re Christian you shouldn’t be competing with other candidates to sound most hawkish, so that you talk about bombing people to Hell. That kind of language shouldn’t be used lightly.

I could go on and on and on…basically, it drives me crazy that Republicans co-opt half of the moral/ethical/religious arguments I take seriously, and Democrats take the other half, and both splits seem so irrational to me.

That’s why I’m independent, and why I’m drawn to McCain and Obama – their stance on reaching out across the aisle, regardless of individual issues, strikes me as the most Christian response (working with enemies) and as the one that produces hope of policies balanced between extremes on the left and on the right. I also understand Christians who feel they can’t support either side – I’ve decided that in the past. (Not sure I’d make those same decisions again, but I did at the time.)

And yes, it should be a right not to die of something treatable just because every generation of your family for hundreds of years has been poor. (Not saying that applies to every uninsured person – but it applies to some of them.) And yeah, I'm supporting Obama. (But if Senator Clinton beats him out, I'll go back to McCain. Why? Because, whatever they or the pollsters tell you, McCain is post-Conservative - at least a little - and so am I. Hillary is definitely not post-liberal.)


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Recommendations and Excuses

I'm not going to write much today - not on the blog, that is. I've written tons elsewhere! Mostly, responding to suggestions from a placement person at the CBF to rewrite my resume, plus writing cover letters to go with it. It's a strange and conflicting process - all the resume advice says to really sell yourself, and talk boldy about what you accomplished, and how you led and implemented and innovated and revolutionized and all those other action words. Yet being a minister - or a Christian - ought to be more about being led, being quiet, being obedient, being humble - and the action word is "served." So it's a disturbingly schizophrenic process. What's more disturbing is that about two weeks ago I finally felt good about my resume - and now, all the concerns I originally had about it are raised by this placement person, and all the work I did to address those concerns is unnoticed. I'm grateful to have it pointed out, I guess - and at the end of a long day, I do think that, once again, my resume is better. But it's been time-consuming, tedious, and occasionally discouraging.

Luckily, that's done!

But I still don't have much energy to write about a lot of stuff. Remind me to tell y'all about my meter maid pondering; plus I'm still getting lots of requests for more info on my job situation. (In brief, I need one, and I'm focusing on church, not chaplaincy.) But that'll have to wait.

For now, I'll wrap up by stealing thoughts from others. First up we have my friend K-chaney - yet another friend whose email I didn't have before starting this blog. Go, community, go! K-chaney told me about:

"this website called caringbridge.com....It's basically a blog that people who are sick/recovering/whatever can use to post updates on their condition. It's pretty cool because one person in the family can post updates on the caringbridge website and just tell all friends, family, etc. to go there to check on the person's condition. That way, you don't have a million people calling to get the latest details. For example, the daughter of a girl in my mom's SS class had a horseback riding accident last year. She had traumatic brain injury (TBI), and it has been a slow year of recovery. They post on the caring bridge website and anyone can check on her progress. It's really cool because even people who don't know her (me) can check in and pray for her on a regular basis....It's a free service, and I wish I'd known about it when ... was having all his surgery stuff two years ago (wow, can you believe he's been totally well for two years now! Praise God!). Well, I hope the blog is going well for you. "

Thanks, k-chaney, it's going just fine since you wrote my blog entry for me. It's a useful website, added to my links, and it helps simplify things for people dealing with ongoing/chronic/serious health crises. Check it out!

My other friend - gee, guarding identies is tough, let's call her Culpable. Culpable mentioned some books to me, and since they sound cool, I'm passing on the recommendation to you:

Book recommendation here - you'll adore the blend of vivid and believable characters, a touch of sci fi, and some deep religious ponderings. You'll thank me. Really. Mary Doria Russel: The Sparrow, and Children of God.
Also, if I can ever get it back from Mark to whom I've loaned it - upon whom I've imposed it, I should say - I will thrust upon you Margaret Wheatley's Leadership and the New Science. It's about fractals and physics and though I don't think there's a religious word in it, it's awe and wonder stuff.

Thanks, Culpable. I'll hold you responsible if I don't like them. Kidding. I love the descriptions, as in separate ways they remind me of some of what I love so much about Madeline L'Engle. Looking at their descriptions on Amazon, they seem weird (not in a bad way) and possibly over my head and like stuff I wouldn't have come across on my own. So I look forward to checking 'em out.

Today I've been listening to: Songs for a Revolution of Hope, and rediscovering the Indigo Girls, namely Nomads, Indians, and Saints. "Hammer and a Nail" helping me get to/keep working, Watershed and World Falls to make me laugh and get me down. Good stuff.

Thanks, friends, for whistling your tunes while I've been doing other stuff. Blessings.


Prayer Requests

A friend has asked for prayer because his friend - I'll call him GM - who was my friend's youth group leader once upon a time, was killed in a housefire last week. GM's father died last year, leaving his wife, 2 step-kids, plus a mother and brother, with a lot of grief and a lot of need. Join your prayers or good wishes with mine, please, for GM's family.

Also, another friend - call him BB - started a new and more intensive round of chemotherapy today for a very serious illness, amyloidosis. Please send him prayer and good thoughts as well.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Missional? Emergent?

It occurred to me that, again, lots of my friends and family aren't all that familiar with terms thrown around in the last post, like "emerging church" and "missional". Since I'm likely to use them a lot, I was going to link to their entries on wikipedia. But glancing at them quickly, I'm going to refrain - as it turns out, I don't think their descriptions are very good. They seem very one-sided and written by people suspicious of the terms. (You can still read them if you want, but I'm not going to help you do it. :P Except for making it easy to get to wikipedia.)

So, since it's late and I don't want to write out comprehensive descriptions myself, which would also be one-sided - anybody know where there are really good definitions of the terms? You can get a fair bit of info from checking my links - there are several missional/emergent-influenced groups mentioned to your right, especially the Emergent Village. But that itself is only one expression of the emerging church or the missional life. Though this, from EV, seems like a pretty good description of missional as commitment to God's world:
"We practice our faith missionally – that is, we do not isolate ourselves from this world, but rather, we follow Christ into the world.
We seek to fulfill the mission of God in our generations, and then to pass the baton faithfully to the next generations as well.
We believe the church exists for the benefit and blessing of the world at large; we seek therefore not to be blessed to the exclusion of everyone else, but rather for the benefit of everyone else.
We see the earth and all it contains as God’s beloved creation, and so we join God in seeking its good, its healing, and its blessing.
To build relationships with neighbors and to seek the good of our neighborhoods and cities.
To seek reconciliation with enemies and make peace.
To encourage and cherish younger people and to honor and learn from older people.
To honor creation and to cherish and heal it.
To build friendships across gender, racial, ethnic, economic and other boundaries.
To be involved at all times in at least one issue or cause of peace and justice."

Cool. Whereas the wikipedia article implies that missional doesn't include 'teaching' or encouraging 'holiness' or 'disciple-making.' Which may or may not be true of individual strains, but is not my understanding or experience. My experience is that there's lots of teaching and theology; and as for calling for holiness or disciple-making, it's more fair to say that there's a different understanding of it. Say, rather than teaching somebody to recite the four spiritual laws, or that they're not supposed to dance or , you try to model loving God, loving neighbor, forgiving enemies...you know, Jesus stuff. And you build relationships with people without first requiring that they live as if they were saints - which is not the same thing as not talking about holiness, or virtue - though as I say, I've no doubt that tendency is there for some. Overall, though, I find that the missional understanding calls much more fully for holiness, as it encourages taking Jesus' most outrageous commands seriously, and encourages living them out all the time, not just on Sunday morning or Wednesday night.

Any better definitions of missional out there? How about emerging/emergent?


Nieucommunities part 2

I mentioned liking the video and also asked several people for any more information they had on the outfit. This is an excerpt of some info that my friend Steve sent:

"Chris,I don't know much about CRM/NieuCommunities, but what I've seen I've really liked. They appear to be a mission organization that has formed itself around a real missional/incarnational/neo-monastic kind of ethos and model, living in urban areas among the poor and reaching out. I would definitely encourage you to investigate it further and prayerfully consider participating in one of their "road trips."Here's a blog from one of CRM's leaders defending the emerging church movement: http://www.undertheic... That's always encouraging to see!...

BTW -- Another organization that has an almost neo-monastic kind of ethos and ministry model is Word Made Flesh: http://www.wordmadefl... And of course I've gotta put in a plug for my own organization, SIM (Serving In Mission), which has a wonderful ethos and many opportunities to serve in holistic ministry (in HIV/AIDS ministry, urban centers, among the poor, etc.): http://www.sim.org/ ..."

Thanks for the info, Steve. If you're wondering what neo-monastic or "new monasticism" is about, go here.

Steve's also promised to become a regular reader of this blog, thus hastening my inevitable takeover of the blogosphere. Bwah-hah-hah! Of course, that was sight (site?) unseen, so I'm sure I'll scare him off. In which case you'd all miss out, cause he knows a lot of neat stuff. Solution? Go here.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

40 Day Challenge

Ok, I thought of one more thing. Tomorrow is (for many Christians) Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent - the 40 day period (minus Sundays) leading up to Easter. Like most Baptists, Lent has not been a big part of my background, but also like many Baptists, I'm beginning to discover the benefits of following the rhythm of the church year. This stuff isn't arbitrary, folks. Particularly this year, I see the wisdom of quiet, prayer, reflection, repentance and self-denial, service.

Anyway - here's a practice I'm going to be following this Lenten season.


Odds and Ends

This site has received its first link from elsewhere. My friend Scott has given me a shout out and a compliment. Check him out by clicking here.

Fencerscott's link will, I'm sure, be the first of many to come. My conquest of the world is coming, my friends. Oh, yes...soon, I will be invincible. That was my segue to a fun little book I got from the library last week.

Anyway, segueing back, I've added another section for friends' blogs (or flutings, to stick with my musical conceit - and yes, I'm sure that could be run into the ground soon). Fencerscott's very RED lettering on his blog looks way cool and I wanted to steal it - but since I'm linking to him, I decided that I couldn't get away with it. Darn! But he did inspire me to tinker a bit with the look of things and I think it's getting better. So thanks, Scott! Fencerscott's also very well-read, informed, and interesting, which is unfair. (But who is this One Ring person? :)

Last thing - did you know that segue was a musical term? I didn't. It fits right in with my musical themes though. Clearly that proves that my musical section titles are cool and not at all cutesy.




I tend, contrary to popular opinion, to vacillate between two extremes. On the one hand we have inertia and hesitation, manifesting as procrastination - which Debbie mentioned re: my essay writing. (Thanks alot Debbie! Gr.) It's not just the way I write, it's a way of life - and not a sign of a lack of concern or even conscientiousness. It's wanting to be, or do, the right thing. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that it's a fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Back in high school english class, I literally *couldn't* make myself start an essay until I'd found the perfect introductory sentence, trying and rejecting a myriad of them in my mind, even if I risked running out of time. I've worked to overcome this tendency, but it still shapes a lot of who I am and what I do.

The other extreme, which may be less noticeable, is the sudden bursting of the inertia. All that pent up energy bursts free and I make a sudden decision or take a sudden action. This is the side of me that wrote the essay in 5 minutes, or that decided on where I was going to college in one evening (after months of agonizing), etc. Sometimes this is impulsive, born of frustration; sometimes it's a result of sudden clarity about what God is doing, born of faith.

In any case, neither frustrated inaction nor frenzied activity is particularly conducive to listening. But if you're wanting to discern what God is saying, listening would seem to be important, yes?

Sometimes, it's important to stop whistling - or whatever else you're doing - and sit quietly in the dark, be silent, and be still. I've been busy today *doing* - trying to, I guess, force some discernment or clarity about what I should be doing. Folks, this does not work.

Oh, and if you're wondering - yes, I did stop and be still. God was there. Hope you can meet up in the silence too.


This is AWEsome - Nieucommunities pt 1

I've included a group called 'nieucommunities' in my link list, just on the strength of their video and website. I don't actually know anything about them or their sponsors (CRM? These people aren't crazy, are they?) beyond what they say about themselves. But it's really cool, and humbling, to see people live their faith so fully. I actually stumbled across them a few months ago, and was considering doing one of their Beyond Borders Road Trips next fall. No idea with my current hunting-for-a-job status if that's in the plan now or not. Either way, they seem beyond-words-amazing.

(Update 3/19/08 - edited the post to imbed the video here on the website, rather than making you go to Youtube.)


Monday, February 4, 2008

Hospice Thoughts

Just some reflections looking back over the last 5 years as a chaplain.

I have the power God gives me. The power to be: myself, a child of God, to be present.

That is my power.

I do not have the power to fix. I do not have the power to solve. I do not have the power to make tears stop forever, or wounds heal, or eyes open.

Maybe I can witness the Power and the Glory of God do those things through my patients. But I do not have the power to fix them or solve them or make them understand. I am not a band-aid. When I allow myself to be applied like one, when I think I will bandage all the wounds and heal all the hurts, I become useless.

But I need not be useless.

I am not powerless.

I am myself.

I am a child of I AM.

Here I am, Lord. Send me.


Whistling in the Dark...

...or, Why I'm Starting this Blog. Which feels a little like whistling in the dark - which is all about hoping that the dark's not all that there is, while being acutely conscious that the dark seems big and scary and full of space to swallow up your tune. Is anybody else out there?

Quick intro - I'm a thirty-something job-hunting ex-hospice chaplain and current volunteer campus minister who really needs paying work. Do I have time for something like this? Does it serve any purpose?

Ultimately, I've never really understood blogging. I mean, I get that there's LOTS of interesting stuff out there - lots to learn and read and cool and amazing people and ideas to discover - I get the addiction, really. That's part of what bugs me, I guess - I'm already addicted to the information and entertainment and endless possibilities of the internet, and I don't *want* a horde of exciting new virtual possibilities.

It's not being a techno-phobe. I think gadgets are as cool as the next guy (or gal). I love epic fantasy, but I can go in for some sci-fi, too. I didn't learn everything I needed to know watching Star Trek - but my parents once gave me a poster that said I did, and there was a lot of truth to it. (But I still wear red shirts.) And when I'm beating my friend and fellow Star Wars nerd in ping-pong, which I taught him to play (such as he can), I like to say things like "you must unlearn what you have learned!" when he serves. I'd love for us to further explore the solar system, I'm amazed by my flash drive, and while I'm bitter about not having the George Jetson car that my childhood promised me, the fact that I can record a voice message on my phone and then send it to everyone in my contact list simultaneously almost makes up for it.

Plus, the voice commands on my cell crack me up - it doesn't know how to pronounce "Micah" (my ping-pong friend) so if I want to call him I have to say "call mee-kah mobile one!" Which is funny.

So thumbs up for tech. But...I'm suspicious of it, too. I'm the guy who always resisted getting a cell phone because he values privacy and doesn't want everyone to be able to get hold of him right away. (I want privacy and I'm starting a blog? I am large, I contain multitudes. - Walt Whitman) Now, sure enough, I'm as addicted to my phone as anyone else, I talk while I drive, and I regularly call Mom from the grocery store when I want to know what goes in a recipe or where in the supermarket they'd keep something. And, also sure enough, people (especially Mom) expect to be able to get hold of me practically instantly. Factor in some global warming and species extinction and smog and strip-mining and oil dependency and atom bombs, and the virtues of our technical society have, er, a definite downside. (And all too often, we know it and are just whistling in the dark, believing our way of life must be sustainable - empires never fall...)

Blogging (the ostensible reason for the post, I hasten to remind myself) always seemed weird to me. Why assume your thoughts are so engrossing that perfect strangers would want to read them? Don't they have friends or family to inflict their meandering thoughts upon? Are they so desperate for attention? (Dear reader, I'm not really insulting you, it only seems that way. Really I'm showing how mistaken I was.)

Well, in this tech-and-prosperity glutted but community-starved society, maybe so. After all...I am. I've great family and great friends - but I'm single, often alone, and contain multitudes (thanks again, Walt) of oft-conflicting thoughts. And if I've learned anything as a chaplain to dying patients, it's that people need to be heard. This is how they know they matter. This is how they know they are loved. I'm no different.

(Crikey, this is long.)

The need to be heard is real - but blogging isn't really the answer to it. In many ways, I suspect it's a counterfeit. St. Augustine comes to mind here - don't have the specific reference here, but in The Confessions he expresses a distrust of drama (and by extension, any art or literature). This fear is in part that a person watching a drama gets trained to feel emotions but not to act on them. In particular, you watch someone experience pain or hurt or fear, and you respond emotionally, but (because it's not real) you don't respond concretely. And unconsciously, you've learned the lesson that if you feel bad when you see someone hurting, then that is the same as compassion. Compassion is reduced from its root (etymologically L. com- "together" + pati "to suffer") - from entering another's suffering in order to ease it - to feeling kinda bad about that and, at best, sincerely wishing the pain would end. Acts of mercy get reduced to feelings of sympathy - and if we feel like we care, that's the same as being a caring person, right? (Cf. James 2:14-17.)

Blogging, I suspect, is prey to the same dangers. Say that blogging is driven, at least partially, by a desire to connect. You post your thoughts and feelings, you wait for comment, you respond to the comments - you're experiencing community, to a degree.

But not community with skin on it. It's the difference between knowing God through Law - through words - or through the Incarnate, flesh-and-blood, arms and skin and body-heat presence of Christ. Real people - real community - can't be turned off, which is occasionally inconvenient, but it can hug you when you're worried and pick you up when you fall.

So...why I am starting this blog? Why am I sitting in a quiet room typing, instead of being in the real world with people I can help, who can help me? People I don't just "feel" for, or write to, but whom I can touch and come alongside to share suffering or joy?

First, I've found some blogs I really like, that have inspired or energized or even comforted me. (The one I keep going back to is called The Jesus Creed.) Maybe I can contribute a tune to the cyber-world, and maybe somebody will carry that tune out into the real world. It's a worthy aspiration, especially for using those times when I'd be alone anyway. (Better use of time than video games, certainly - though some of those are really cool...)

Second, this blog can enhance rather than replace community. (Which is part of the purpose of blogging - I get it. Any tool can be double-edged.) There are often thoughts I'd like to share with my family, or a friend, or a student or my church...this will be a way to give more access to the people that do know me - so they can know me better, and make themselves better known.

Third, I know from past experience the value of journaling, getting your thoughts out. I often recommended it to members of my bereavement support groups, in fact. I generally don't have the discipline to journal, but blogging, can fulfill the same function. With the added payoff of possible interaction from and with others, I might just stick with it.

The point here is that expressing your thoughts helps to shape them. If I can take the time to listen to others, and I'm to love my neightbor AS myself, then I need to listen to myself, too. (And so do you.)

And if this is open to family, friends, and others, that feels more communally oriented - more life-affirming - than does scribbling in a notebook.

Whew! Hopefully I'll not always be so long-winded. (My family is now mocking that statement.) Whistling in the dark. It may not make the dark go away - but it's a way to let the dark know you're not intimidated by big empty space. And if someone else out in the dark hears the tune, and knows they're not alone...then a whistle is a kind of light. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God....The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overpower it." John 1:1, 5

The Light be with y'all.