31 May 2007

more ::: quotes

If we do not serve what coheres and endures, we serve what disintegrates and destroys. -- Wendell Berry, May 25th, 2007

Usually the main problem with life conundrums is that we don't bring enough imagination. -- Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul

The Jesus of Suburbia is a lie. -- Green Day

It is possible, as I have learned again and again, to be in one's place, in such company, wild or domestic, and with such pleasure, that one cannot think of another place that one would prefer to be - or of another place at all. -- Wendell Berry

It maybe when we no longer know what to do,
We have come to our real work,
And that when we no longer know which way to go,
We have begun our real journey.
-- Wendell Berry

To be sane in a mad time is bad for the body, worse for the soul. -- Wendell Berry

Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not. -- Flannery O'Connor

We don't need permission. What we need is a mission. -- Erwin McManus

Painting by Caz Novak (www.caznovak.co.nz)

28 May 2007

"...Then to US you shall return."

Today I had the privilege of participating in a multi-faith presentation on death, dying and spirituality to first-year nursing students. Of course, I was responsible for the Christian perspective (I know what you're thinking, "Was there no one else available; they must have been desperate.")

At the tail-end of Ishmael's presentation of the Muslim perspective he shared a short verse from the Qur'an. His PowerPoint slide read: "Every soul shall taste death, then to US you shall return." (29:57) (The pronouns for God in the Qur'an are plural -- "we" and "us". So, in order to differentiate the "us" in this verse and show that it refers to God, he capitalised it). As Ishmael read it aloud, he caught himself, "'Every soul shall taste death, then to... not to the United States...to GOD.' They may want everything to return to them, but it doesn't!" The 150 students broke out in laughter.

Later, as I began my presentation I said, "Ishmael, my brother, there are exceptions. As an American citizen, when I die, I will be returned to the US, at least my body!"

Death and dying can be so funny.

26 May 2007


Because real, deepening relationships don’t come naturally or easily, it is important for those of us seeking to be Community Builders to address three specific barriers to the formation of authentic relationships.


When a situation is new or uncertain, people become afraid. The natural compulsion when afraid is to seek protection from what we fear. However, as children of Abraham , believers are called to move into the unknown in order to be a blessing to others. When we fear, like Abraham, we do things that feel to others more like a curse than a blessing. It always takes trust in God to be a blessing. Abraham’s fear-induced actions (better, reactions) among the Egyptians caused so much trouble that they paid him to leave and gave him a police escort out of the country! Not really what God had in mind back in chapter 12. Then, God in his goodness appears to Abraham with these words, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” He even assures him that, even though things will not always be rosy for his descendents, Abraham himself will “die in peace, at a ripe old age.” In essence, he said, “Stop fearing for yourself, Abraham. Start trusting me, so that I can bless you, so you can bless others, like I promised.” We all have a tendency to be more of a curse than a blessing to one another because of our fears. Once we’re aware of this, we can begin helping other believers conquer their fears. And, with faith in a good God, they can be a blessing to others.


We also need to address our tendency to compete with one another. In sharing times with small groups, I have been told that “men compete with one another; women compare themselves to one another.” Whether we are talking about competing or comparing, the natural impulse is still the same -- we desire to come out on top. And, if we are competing with someone or comparing ourselves to someone, it becomes impossible for us to show that person compassion. For compassion cannot be achieved by putting ourselves above another. By definition, compassion is “feeling the hurts of others and doing all that is possible to relieve them.” We must, with the Spirit’s power, help new believers move from their natural compulsion: competition and comparison to what is necessary for authentic relationships to take place: compassion.


Finally, we must help the new believers move from isolation to connectedness – from individualism to community. Many people have come to believe that a cocoon of isolation from others is the safest place on earth, because they have hurts from past interactions with others that were full of fear and competition. A plan that may feel safe, but that is terribly lonely and not at all what God desires for them. We encourage groups of believers to build a safe spiritual community, where, for example, “the absent are safe with us.” We move believers away from isolation to connectedness through modeling and encouraging vulnerability, transparency and mutual confession. As you can imagine, a group of people full of fear and competition will never be able to engage in these brave disciplines.

As Community Builders, we must intentionally address all three of these natural compulsions because they are barriers to authentic relationships. We can help believers move from fear (curse) to blessing (through faith), from competition to compassion, and from isolation to connectedness, creating fertile ground for authentic relationships and a thriving spiritual community.
[Art work: "Communitas" (c) 2003 Peter W. Michel]

23 May 2007

::: Quotes :::

"Humankind was given a share in His wisdom and is called to responsible living and to be a partner of God in the redemption of the world." -- Abraham Joshua Heschel

"Through worship, prophetic word, and protest, we are called to expose oppressive social realities and insist: it could be otherwise." -- Brueggemann

"We want only to show you something we have seen and to tell you something we have heard...that here and there in the world and now and then in ourselves is a New Creation." -- Paul Tillich
"Maybe what is good about religion is playing that the kingdom will come, until -- in the joy of your playing, the hope and rhythm and comradeship and poignance and mystery of it -- you start to see that the playing is itself the first fruits of the kingdom's coming and of God's presence within us and among us." -- F. Buechner

“A human being is a part of the whole that we call the universe, a part limited in time and space. And yet we experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical illusion of our consciousness. This illusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for only the few people nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living beings and all of nature.” --Albert Einstein

"What's lost is nothing to what's found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup." Godric, F. Buechner

Photo of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Courtesy of the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America


Remember what happens in the story where the three disciples see Jesus transfigured?

Six days later Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them privately up a high mountain. And he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. Then Moses and Elijah also appeared before them, talking with him. So Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, I will make three shelters – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my one dear Son, in whom I take great delight. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they were overwhelmed with fear and threw themselves down with their faces to the ground. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Do not be afraid.” When they looked up, all they saw was Jesus alone. (Matthew 17:1-8, The Net Bible)

I often think about this story. After all the commotion, bright lights, thundering voices, the appearance of Moses and Elijah (the law and the prophets) and Peter’s building project to erect some sort of memorial, when the air clears, all that is left is Jesus alone. At times, Christianity and churchianity disappoint me, but they are not what it is all about; it is all about Jesus.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honour, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Hebrews 12, The Message)

03 May 2007

Faith, Music & Politics: Rickie Lee Jones and Derek Webb

You might not expect to find folk-rock renegade Rickie Lee Jones and Christian singer/songwriter Derek Webb on the same concert bill. But on their latest albums, the troubadours do share a goal: They both want you to get to know Jesus better — and not necessarily through messages provided in mass media or houses of worship.

Jones' The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard, released in February, was inspired by a different spiritual journey than that informing Webb's Mockingbird, which has been generating praise, and some controversy, since last year.

"I came to religion wanting to take what's beautiful about it,," says Jones, 52. "I think we are spiritual beings, but Christianity's position in the culture can be so aggressive that it makes people defend themselves coming to the table."

So in 2005, when Jones' friend Lee Cantelon asked her to take part in a spoken-word recording of The Words, his book outlining Jesus' teachings — and distinguishing those teachings from what Cantelon views as the dogmatic interpretations that have evolved in organized religion — the project seemed a natural fit. Jones decided that she would rather sing than speak, though.

Jones wouldn't define the lean, starkly atmospheric songs she co-wrote with Cantelon and Peter Atanasoff as Christian music. "I guess I assume that would mean a Christian person trying to convince me of something, to sell an idea."

Webb, 32, began his career in that market, as part of the Christian band Caedmon's Call. "But as I looked around, I thought, 'where are our artists who are talking about politics? About the government?' It's the job of creative people, and especially those who are followers of Jesus, to be radical truth-tellers. That's what the prophets did."

With Mockingbird, his third solo effort, the Nashville-based artist wasn't concerned about ruffling feathers. On one track, A King and a Kingdom, he sings of "two great lies," identifying one as "that Jesus was a white, middle-class Republican, and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him."

Webb muses that Jesus "wasn't a white middle-class Democrat either, incidentally. The point is that he didn't walk any party line. But I think that the church, especially where I live, makes a terrible habit of co-opting the more conservative political party.

"I'm not saying the church shouldn't be concerned with issues. My problem is that they've grown so predictable, and Jesus was in no way predictable. The people he loved most lavishly were often socially stigmatized, and he reserved some of his harshest language for the law-keeping church leadership. That's the opposite, in a lot of cases, of what the evangelical church puts forth."

Webb espouses the kind of evangelism he associates with Jesus' original followers, "which was telling people about Jesus and what he did. But the church in the West has made some distinction between that and acts of mercy: caring for the poor, clothing the naked, caring for our neighbors."

Jones, who defines her political leanings more firmly to the left, echoes Webb's concerns. "Capitalistic religion inhibits the idea of service. You're supposed to be in the business of serving yourself, and if you don't do that, you must be some sort of tree-hugging idiot."

On Sermon's Where I Like It Best, Jones sings wryly, "See all those people praying on TV and the churches/They like to make a big parade out of what they're doing." Jones explains: "What I'm telling people is that prayer belongs to you, and you have to take it back."

Webb, who has a new album, The Ringing Bell, due in May, admits that he's been getting fewer invitations to play in churches since Mockingbird's release. But he has no regrets about answering to what he considers a higher authority.

"I hope to tell people what I really see when I look at the world," Webb says. "I know the issues can be complicated, and that a 3½-minute pop song isn't the best venue for some of them. But it's the only medium I have, and it's as good a place as any to start."

Find this article at: http://www.usatoday.com/life/music/news/jones-webb.htm?csp=34

Newbigin on Evangelism in the City

"...In all our preaching and teaching about the hope which the gospel makes possible, we have to keep steadily in view the fact that what the gospel offers is not just hope for the individual but hope for the world. Concretely I think this means that the congregation must be so deeply and intimately involved in the secular concerns of the neighborhood that it becomes clear to everyone that no one or nothing is outside the range of God's love in Jesus. Christ's message, the original gospel, was about the coming of the kingdom of God, that is to say God's kingly rule over the whole of creation and the whole of humankind. That is the only authentic gospel. And that means that every part of human life is within the range of the gospel message: in respect of everything, the gospel brings the necessity for choice between the rule of God and the negation of that rule. If the good news is to be authentically communicated, it must be clear that the church is concerned about the rule of God and not about itself. It must be clear, that is, that the local congregation cares for the well-being of the whole community and not just for itself.

"To put it even more sharply: the hope, of which the church is called to be the bearer in the midst of a famine of hope, is a radically other-worldly hope. Knowing that Jesus is king and that he will come to reign, it fashions its life and invites the whole community to fashion its life in the light of this reality, because every other way of living is based on illusion. It thus creates signs, parables, foretastes, appetizers of the kingdom in the midst of the hopelessness of the world. It makes it possible to act both hopefully and realistically in a world without hope, a world which trades in illusions. If this radically other-worldly dimension of the church's witness is missing, then all its efforts in the life of the community are merely a series of minor eddies in a current which sweeps relentlessly in the opposite direction.

"But if one insists as I am doing upon the radically other-worldly nature of the Christian hope, it is necessary at once to protect this against a misunderstanding which has brought this aspect of the Christian message into disrepute. A recognition of this other-worldly element has often been linked with a privatization of religion characteristic of our post-Enlightenment culture. When this happens, the church is seen not as a bearer of hope for the whole community, but as a group of people concerned about their own ultimate safety. It is thus seen as something essentially antisocial. And, especially in a religiously plural society, this attracts justifiable censure. 'Evangelism' is then easily identified as 'proselytism' – the natural attempt of every human community to add to its own strength at the expense of others. From the point of view of people concerned with the total welfare of a human community, 'evangelism' is seen as something at best irrelevant and at worst destructive of human unity.

"No sharing of the good news takes place except in the context of a shared human life, and that means in part, the context of shared conversation. In such conversation we talk about real things and we try both to communicate what we know and to learn what we do not know. The sharing of the good news about the kingdom is part of that conversation and cannot happen without it... It is a kind of of conversation which is not an alternative to but the occasion for sharing our hope, and it leads some people to ask the sort of questions that lead further.

"Some, but not many. I certainly cannot tell any story of 'success' in terms of numbers. I guess that this is the experience of many working in such areas. The church remains small and vulnerable. I do not find in this ground for discouragement. The kingdom is not ours. The times and seasons are not in our management. It is enough to know that Jesus reigns and shall reign, and to be privileged to share this assurance with our neighbors and to be able to do and say the small deeds and words that make it possible for others to believe."

(Taken from Paul Weston, ed. Lesslie Newbigin, A Missionary Theologian: A Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans and London: SPCK, 2006).

02 May 2007

What does it look like when someone 'really' follows Jesus?

Shane Claiborne, in his book "The Irresistible Revolution," relates a story from when he was a youth leader, and one of his high school kids "who had given his life to Jesus" got busted only a few weeks later for having acid in school. In disappointment, he ask him, What happened, bro? What went wrong?" The student just shrugged his shoulders and said, "I got bored."

Claiborne goes on to write, "God forgive us for all those we have lost because we have made the gospel boring. I am convinced that if we lose kids to the culture of drugs and materialism, of violence and war, it's because we don't dare them, not because we don't entertain them. It's because we make the gospel too easy, not because we make it too difficult. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives, which is why they play video games and join the army. But what are they to do with a church that teaches them to tiptoe through life so they can arrive safely at death?"

He continues, "I'm not sure where we got the notion that Christianity is safe or that Christians should play it cool. [Or run programs intended to show non-Christians how cool we Christians really are!, The Editor] Growing up, I always thought that Christians were good upstanding citizens, but the more I get to know Jesus, the more trouble he seems to get me into."

Something to think about.