Head First: 2005

Friday, December 23, 2005

I'll Be Home for X'mas (a not-very Christmas message)

Sorry about the last post. You have to be a terminally hardcore Python fan to remember that one. I don't usually put up such impersonal stuff as that. I wonder if it's a sign that I've got some walls up. Have I been subconsciously engaging in my own building program, of sorts?

I have to confess, while I can't complain--things are going well with me, overall--there's this nagging little undercurrent of a funk that seems to be creeping around with me lately. This is my first Christmas as a...well, let's call me an "almost-churched" person (My only remaining participation is Sunday School--Caro is an awesome teacher who preaches a genuine Christ [I wish he'd start blogging]. Then I usually greet some people I don't get to see during the week, and split before the service starts). Ordinarily, at this time of year, I'd be neck deep in choir, worship team, youth activities (I throw one kick-ass youth party!) and planning all the holiday services. This year...well...I'm on the outside, looking in, I guess.

It recently occurred to me that this small empty spot I feel isn't from not being in leadership anymore, it's the closeness of the relationships that I miss. We used to open choir practice with a 2-minute meditation (always turned into 20) on a verse or an idea, and then we would pray for one another. Man, we totally connected with each other during that time. We weren't there for the building, nor even the idea of singing on Christmas Eve. by the end, we were there for each other. Same with youth, same with the worship band, etc. When I would overhear that people in the choir (or youth group) were following up with each other (phone, cards, email, meet for coffee), I would get such a rush! This was now no longer a "program." This was Church (with a capital freakin' C!)!

But it didn't start that way. Initially, we came together for a task. I think therein lies the difference. Given the intensely relational dynamic of the Gospel, the the ultimate goal of spiritual leadership must be to teach and facilitate (and participate in, pastors!) the building of relationships. The only valid purpose of facilities that I can see is to give people a place to come together, so that they can be led to relationship (usually in the process of a task). But then, there's a further step, helping them take those relational abilities outside the buildings and into the world, demonstrating an everyday, living, breathing gospel that actually has some relevance to the lives of people.

The problem is that the religious system has been set up in such a way that many good leaders have been lulled to sleep by the status quo, and the resulting lowering-of-the-bar has enabled many inferior ministers to sit on their asses and become the served instead of the servers. These guys remember that they're supposed to get people into the buildings, but they can't remember what for. So they stop at the first step. Let's get them in the door and do what we have to do to keep them happy, so they won't leave. Let's instigate more programs, so that everyone will be busy. Like a rocking horse, lots of motion, but no progress.

Imagine what would happen if an eagle never kicked her hatchlings out of the nest. Not only would she have to keep building a bigger nest, none of them would ever learn to fly, or hunt, or survive on their own. So the eagle, stretched ever thinner, is now under pressure to feed all the hatchlings who have neither the wings nor the sense to fend for themselves. So it is with the church.

Instead of bottling people up inside the building, I prefer the image of people flowing through the building like a stream. The bible talks about equipping people, and we equip them with our busywork mindset. We retain people who should have been booted out into effective ministry to the world long ago. The buildings have become a dysfunctional nest instead of a staging area.

Only a mindless idiot believes that the building is God's house. People are God's house. If there's to be an organized church, people must be it's priority. Facilities are simply useful tools to that end. The same is true if church means getting together for drinks and discussion at my house. A building (or no building) doesn't validate (nor invalidate) the work of the Church. As many have demonstrated, authentic relationship can happen anywhere. But the point is, it's the relationship, not the setting, that matters.

"Let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ's blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.

Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:22-25)"

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Advice to Goats

All goats should avoid:
'The Holiday Homes for Pets Pie Co. Ltd.'

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"Jesus was a Calvinist"

"God planned the fall."

"I believe God did not exist before creation."

"God only loves Himself."

"I saved a bundle of money on car insurance."

These are some of the fightin' words you'll hear from sofyst, a student at Criswell College, proud Texan, proprietor of sofystication blog and self-proclaimed pope of the ad.hoc forum. This kid is SO Calvinist that John Calvin himself was once overheard saying, "Damn, that kid sure is a Calvinist!" (although, in sofyst's defense, he prefers to be called a supralapsarian, to avoid, uh, confusion).

I drew sofyst's name in Zeke's really cool Santablogger gift drawing, where we all select a gift ($25 limit) for the person we draw and blog about it. The recipient then purchases the selected gift for him/herself and (what else?) blogs about it.

Whether it was a preordained event or the luck of the draw, I'm pleased to have drawn sofyst as my Santablogger buddy (his real name is Adam, after the guy who screwed it up for all of us). We don't agree on much, and each of us is firmly convinced that the other is completely wrong. But the beauty of our relationship is that we've never (that I can recall) exchanged angry words, we don't try to fix each other, and even though we taunt each other endlessly, I think we both take it with pretty good humor. I feel respected in our exchanges. To the extent that it can be said of web-based relationships, I genuinely consider him a friend.

It didn't really take an awful lot of thought to come up with an appropriate gift for Adam. Here's a quote from a recent post:

"If anyone knows me, they know that I have a silly-boy-crush on Ann Coulter. She is genius, she is militant and she is beautiful. What else is needed?"

Someone recently put up a phony comment on his site, posing as the conservative hottie. He was convinced that I was the culprit and swore revenge. Well it wasn't me, but I found out who it was (someone who is related to me, but I won't name names. I'm no snitch!).

Given his adoration for the leggy right-wing lady, I thought I'd offer Adam something from the "Coulter for President" campaign HQ. He can choose from bumper stickers, buttons, shirts, caps, mugs, or even a cotton camisole, all bearing the "Coulter '08" logo. He will surely be the envy of all his Texas buddies.

Adam, I wish you peace, joy, and all the love and happiness you can handle. I hope you have a very excellent Christmas, my friend.

You're still wrong ;-)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Answer

Ok, by now you've had some time to think it over (see previous post). Do you stand for the TRUTH, at the expense of this dear woman's feelings? Or do you sacrifice your soul to hell and BEAR FALSE WITNESS in order to spare her delicate emotions? Some of you seem to have assumed that anyone with such a hairstyle couldn't be all that intelligent, and therefore wouldn't notice if you dodged the question or changed the subject. Well, given such a direct question, I think an indirect answer communicates even more. Now, she can correctly infer that I neither like her hair, nor love her enough to be straight with her.

After several days of struggling, the correct response came to me like a flash of lightning:

"Your hair looks great!"

WHAAAT? (At this point, the fundamentalists in the crowd just swooned. Don't wake them up. Leave them be. They're not going to get this anyway.)

I think part of Christ's point in "summing up the law and the prophets" by proclaiming the Great Commandments (Love God, Love your neighbor) was to free us from such legal conundrums as this one, and to further assert the priority He gave to relationships.

The law of LOVE is the truth that surpasses my temporal and completely subjective opinions about style. The law of the new covenant says, "I love your hair, because you're wearing it. You're more important to me than anything else, including my need to be correct."

Fair enough? Then go love.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Rock And A Hard Place.

I was preparing to comment on Sofyst's forum, where someone raised a question about rules and law, when it occurred to me that I haven't posted here in almost 2 weeks. While I'm sure you enjoy seeing the face of my blue-eyed beauty every time you visit, I think I owe you a change of scenery. Besides, now that she's 13, I think I'm going to just kill her (Don't worry, though--all New Jersey Correctional Facilities have broadband access, so we'll still have each other).

Anyway, the discussion over there called to mind a question that was posed to me recently by my Yoda. I wrestled with it for a week straight before coming up with the undeniably correct answer:

A woman whom you know greets you at the refreshment table before Sunday School. You immediately notice, and then comment that she has changed her hairstyle.

"Do you like it?" she asks, with an expectant smile.

Well, the fact is, you don't really like it at all. You absolutely don't want to hurt her feelings, but you certainly don't want to lie, either. How do you respond?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

This is happening a little too fast.

I didn't feel old when I turned 40, but then, I wasn't the father of a teenager.

My firstborn will turn 13 on Tuesday, and as usual, the festivities (which take several days) will begin at Grandmom and Grandad's house in Maryland on the day after Thanksgiving and end at my house sometime next week.

I've purposed not to get too reflective about my baby entering the "next phase" (at least not for a couple weeks). There will be plenty of time later to fret about the makeup, the clothes, the boyfriends and how to dispose of their remains. She'll be grown soon enough. For now, she's still my little girl.

Being a parent has taught me a lot about how much God values me, and the way He wants to relate to me. I enjoy spending time with Catherine. She's just fun to be around, hugely talented, with my sense of humor. Like me, she's alternately frenetic and brooding. Sometimes, I just enjoy watching her be herself. Once in awhile, she'll do or say something--display some mannerism--that I know she picked up from me. When that happens, my breath catches a little. It's a bit of a thrill to see yourself reproduced in your child in such a way.

I think it's the same way with the Lord. He delights in being part our daily lives, just watching us be ourselves. And I'll bet His heart jumps a little when He sees us behave in a way that imitates Him, not because we're trying to, but just because we've picked up certain of His traits from being around Him so much. I imagine it thrills Him a little to see Himself reproduced in us in such a way.

Anyway, happy birthday, sweetheart. Daddy loves his girl.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Chicken Poop for the Soul

Whoever said, "God never gives you a heavier load than you can carry." is a freaking idiot.

I was just online with a friend who's feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. As he shared very briefly, I began to feel some of his heartache in my own chest (is that what Paul meant about bearing each other's burdens?). I mean, I could literally feel the emotions he described. I wanted to tell him that, but I couldn't think of a way to say it that didn't sound like some sappy fake crap. "God is in control." might be true, but it sounds so glib. All I could really say was, "I'm praying." Even that didn't sound sufficient, except I meant it.

If God never gives me more than I can handle, then what does it mean when I fall down? More guilt? More "If only I had tried harder?" If God never gives me more than I can handle, then what implications does that have for my ability to please Him--to carry my own weight, as it were?

I can't decide how this jibes with scripture, but sometimes I think God allows us to be crushed by the burdens of this life. I know that I've been broken on the rocks of circumstances I thought I was supposed to control. It seems to me that the only way God can get some of us to "cast our cares upon Him," is to make those cares so completely unconquerable that we have no choice. And He must find it easier to work with broken people than those who think they have some strength left.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Good Tidings of Great Joy!!!...er, um...

This is a t-shirt design from the fine folks at ShirtsThatPreach.org, the outerwear arm of Life and Liberty Ministries, whose primary purpose seems to be stamping out abortion.

Make no mistake, I hate abortion. I think it's a tragedy. I think it should be unlawful. But I don't think outlawing it will stop it. And I don't think this sounds like the Jesus I signed up for.

If you would like to take a moment and offer these folks an encouraging word, you can contact Dennis Green at lifeandliberty@juno.com. Then you can gather the kids around the computer and check out the billboards with the mutilated dead babies on them (please don't).

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Love is...

...patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered,

it keeps no record of wrongs...(1 Cor. 13:4-5)


Thursday, November 03, 2005

!%#@!*!!*&@!*! %!*#&@*#!

I don't know just how righteous this indignation is that I'm feeling (if I had a flamethrower, I'd be torchin' me some SB churches), but I thought I'd spread the love.

Apparently Anheuser-Busch donated 22 palettes of canned drinking water to be distributed with other emergency relief supplies to hurricane victims in the town of Clewiston, on Florida's Lake Okeechobee. However, one band of relief workers, a church group headed by a Southern Baptist Convention pastor, chose not to distribute it.

You can read the full story here.

An SBC publication insists that they had plenty of their own water and that no one was turned away. But it seems that Tim Bridges, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Clewiston, didn't want people to get the wrong idea since the cans bore the logo of Anheuser-Busch. Well, pastor, mission accomplished. I think we now have a pretty accurate picture of what you are.

If this is what people think of when you say "Christian," then please stop calling me a Christian.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I've Gotta Be Me?

(Jeff got into a discussion about legalism and the purpose of liberty over at demerging. I missed much of the discussion until after it was over, and thought I'd try opening it up a little here.)

"All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.(1 Cor 10: 23, 24 ESV)

A great number of people--many of them pastors, many others just "called to control"--view the idea of liberty as just another opportunity for people to "get away with something." For them, freedom is nothing more than something to abuse. Indeed, many Christians behave as if "All things are lawful," ended with a period instead of a comma.

And while some of the teaching on that passage appears to be balanced, we never really get to explore the true nature of freedom. I suppose that's why almost every discussion of liberty devolves into a debate about cussing and drinking. To me, that's not a freedom issue. That's a maturity issue (and not in the way you might think).

My impression is that Paul's remarks were offered in the context of his persistent state of mind to be "all things to all men." To me, that doesn't really give me license to do whatever I want. Better--It grants me the freedom to be myself--to relate to others in my own way. It's the freedom to acknowledge my inconsistencies and laugh along with everyone else at what an idiot I can be sometimes. It's the freedom to sit down on the curb with the homeless guy and understand that when he offers me a swig from his bottle, it's a gesture of hope for some sort of connection (and yes, I drank from it).

Reducing the argument to what we can or can't get away with is about as effective as the legalism that started the argument to begin with. It's like punching air.

If there's one common thread in virtually every blog I visit, it's that no one likes...no wait...everyone despises a phony. There are few things more disgusting and tragic than a Christian who has been convinced that he can act good enough, trying to hold his mask in place as it crumbles in his hands.

Liberty is my escape from the cookie-cutter that says, "if you want to be one of His, you've got to act like one of us." It's freedom from the wages of my sinfulness, so that I can go and BE. Be what? Well...myself...but not me...Christ living in me.

And what does that look like?

Love, baby. Love.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor 10: 31-33 ESV)

Monday, October 31, 2005

I Want to Be a Clone!

I've recently been reminded of this song by Steve Taylor. He had a band in the eighties and showed me that sarcasm and satire were actually spiritual gifts. These lyrics are priceless.

I Want To Be A Clone
by Steve Taylor
©1982 Birdwing Music; Cherry Lane Music Publishing Co.; C.A. Music (ASCAP)

I'd gone through so much other stuff
That walking down the aisle was tough
But now I know it's not enough
I want to be a clone
I asked the Lord into my heart
They said that was the way to start
But now you've got to play the part
I want to be a clone

Be a clone and kiss conviction goodnight
Cloneliness is next to Godliness, right?
I'm grateful that they show the way
'Cause I could never know the way
To serve him on my own
I want to be a clone

They told me that I'd fall away
Unless I followed what they say
Who needs the Bible anyway?
I want to be a clone
Their language it was new to me
But Christianese got through to me
Now I can speak it fluently
I want to be a clone


Send in the clones
Ah, I kind of wanted to tell my friends and people about it, you know
You're still a babe
You have to grow
Give it twenty years or so
'Cause if you want to be one of his
Got to act like one of us


So now I see the whole design
My church is an assembly line
The parts are there
I'm feeling fine
I want to be a clone
I've learned enough to stay afloat
But not so much I rock the boat
I'm glad they shoved it down my throat
I want to be a clone


Everybody must get cloned

Monday, October 24, 2005

Can I really stop at 490?

As I process through this intermediate phase of deconstruction--learning to separate the baby Jesus from the churchy bathwater, so to speak--I find myself repeatedly confronted with the intensely relational nature of faith in Christ. As I considered how to respond to someone else's post recently, it occurred to me that a significant measure of my relationship with Christ is found in my relationship with you.
[/reflective pause]
The subject of forgiveness has become a bit of a roadblock for me lately. It's not that I'm unwilling. God knows, I want nothing more than for all the crap of the last year to be a hazy memory. And it's not that I'm waiting for an apology. I'm not looking for one. In fact, trying to think back on all the times I've had to grant forgiveness, I'm hard-pressed to think of a time when my forgiveness was even sought. Ninety percent of the people I've ever needed to forgive probably never thought they had wronged me. Likewise, I hope people have forgiven me for wrongs they think I've committed (valid or not). I think the point of forgiveness is to release the forgiver from the anger and bitterness that hang him/her up from moving on.

But upon further reflection, my general pattern of forgiveness has been to decide to forgive/let it go, and then separate myself from the offender and let time do its thing (a fringe benefit of being so absent-minded). But if I no longer pursue the relationship, is that forgiveness? I know there's no reconciliation without forgiveness, but can forgiveness be authentic without reconciliation? I'm asking.

And here's where it gets sticky. When the person you need to forgive is not just unrepentant, but persistent in his offense, what does forgiveness look like, then? I mean, I can forgive a guy for swiping a couple hundred bucks from my wallet. I won't even ask for it back. But what about when he comes back every week and does it again, and doesn't see anything wrong with taking it?

You legalists out there, Jesus said "seventy times seven." Can I take Him at His word on that one? 'Cause I might be getting close.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes...

...Nothing remains quite the same.
Through all of the islands and all of the highlands,
If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane.
—Jimmy Buffett

Thought I'd try my hand at messing with the template. I know very little code, but a little photoshop. I'm not sure if I like the way the comments button is laid out. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Thomas Wolfe was wrong...

...you can, indeed, go home. In this instance, home is 20 years ago and halfway across the country. While some may have been concerned that my expectations for this weekend were far too high, and that I might be headed into a reality version of The Big Chill, such was not the case (although I would have been flattered if Mary Kay Place had showed up and asked me to father her child).

The weekend exceeded my wildest expectations. I'm still flying kind of high from it. Perhaps I'll try to talk about it later. Perhaps it's more than I'm capable of articulating. At any rate it's going to take some time to process it all. A couple pix:

Jeff, my best friend for 24 years.

When we left college, Bruce Garrison (this guy's the real deal) went to England and started Searchlight, a missions organization that provides training and literature to local Churches in many countries. They're doing good stuff, including helping to provide wells, food, clothing, education and healthcare for a group of famine stricken villages in Malawi. Searchlight isn't affiliated with a denomination, and has to make it's own way. I'd consider it a personal favor if you'd support this very worthwhile effort. (Damn, when did my forehead get so big?)

One of the many highlights of the weekend came on Saturday morning, when Bruce baptized Jeff's two children, Joel and Taylor. It was a powerful time, rich with meaning, as our relationships have now extended to another generation. I'm getting choked up just thinking about it.

When I think about these friends, I sometimes wonder, how commonplace is this type of deep friendship? I hope it's not rare. I hope a great many people know this kind of love. For me, it gives eternity a purpose.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

School Daze, Redux

I'm taking a few days off to join some of the best friends a guy could have in Springfield, MO for a reunion at Evangel College's (well, University, now) Homecoming weekend. This is the year everybody from my old crew--from California to Great Britain--has planned to get together. While most of us have kept in touch, this will be the first time we've all been together in 20 years. I'm so amped-up, I've wet myself a couple times just thinking about it (that's why I had to change out of the ballerina costume).

Some people are genuinely surprised at how close I am with my college chums. A friend remarked to me that he hasn't kept in touch with a single soul from his days at school. I find that curious. My first response was to attribute our intense camaraderie to fact that we were all at a Christian college and shared core values, yadayadayada. But I found Evangel to be more than just "Christian" (even in the better sense of the word, if there is one).

It was there that I learned (ok, I was told it there--didn't learn it until much later) that my faith in Christ (or "X," as we liked to call Him) was meant to inform every part of my life, and that the traditional notions of the dichotomy between the "sacred" and the "secular" were, well, crap. "All Truth is God's Truth" was their motto. That was fairly radical thought 20 years ago.

In fact, I've been reading about this "new" line of postmodern theological thought called "Radical Orthodoxy" (google it). I don't know exactly who's behind it, but it seems to be pretty much the same stuff Evangel's been teaching for a few decades.

Not that I really "got it" while I was there. There was freedom in being 1200 miles from home, and I went a little nuts with that (the heretics know what I'm talking about). I still had a lot to learn, but I feel like I was put on the path there, as were my friends. Perhaps our closeness is due to our common understanding...perception, maybe...

Actually, I have no freakin' idea why I love those guys so much. I just know that I'd walk through fire for them, and they for me. There's a lot of security in that knowledge. I feel fortunate, no, blessed to have such friends.

Anyway, I'll be out of touch. My better half is taking the laptop with her to a family wedding in PA (it is hers, after all). Have a great weekend.

Crap. I wet myself again.

Monday, October 03, 2005

This is One Freakin' Long Post

I realize Jeff's already posted on this, but the nostalgia induced by this topic warrants a post here.

I'm really starting to love the Trinity Heretics. Three guys in a christian college, totally pissed off by the distance between the truth and the rationalized reality they see around them. Once you get used to reading Jesus and the f-word in the same sentence, they make some pretty raw points. Makes me wish I was young again.

Anyway, they put up an interesting post about emotionalism, to which I responded with an ENORMOUS comment that I fear, by its sheer size, may have killed the thread.I didn't mean to, but once I got started, I couldn't find a good place to hop off. So, by way of penance, I'm giving props to them here.

Here's an exerpt from my comment:

I remember going to Assembly of God Youth Camp (sponsored by Kleenex Tissues and Old Pompeii Olive/Anointing Oil) almost 30 years ago. Sweet Lord! What a show!

By the end of the first or second mandatory evening service (this following a daily two-hour morning service), in response to the speaker's invitation to "lay it all down" and be "sold out" for Jesus, there were several hundred young people crowded around the altar, speaking in tongues (or trying, or faking it), screaming, crying, flopping around like fishes, motionless (like loaves?), falling down etc. It was truly a life changing week...for about 2 days. No matter how often we "laid it all down," it seems that by the Tuesday following camp, we had picked it all back up (maybe it was the reminder on the last day to "take home everything you brought with you").

***In the interest of time, I'll skip my experiences at Evangel College. Some of the better ones were drug-induced, anyway. I will say, however, that my closest, deepest and most lifelong friends were made there. I'm going back this weekend for the 20-year reunion of my old crew.***

Anyway, we grew up. We became men and put away childish things. I was recovering nicely from the childhood trauma that was church, when someone invited me to a men's retreat. Holy crap. I sat there in deja vu as the speaker assumed aloud that we were all filthy, rotten, porn-addicted pigs and then invited us to "lay it all down" and be "sold out" for Jesus. Sure, it was a little more sophisticated, but it was still the same message. And the guys packed that altar. By the way, has anyone out there kept all seven promises of a Promisekeeper?

I won't say that no one's experience was genuine. I've had moments of truth in some of those situations. But this isn't a volume business. Throwing a pile of crap against a wall and seeing if some of it sticks seems like a hell of a system for encouraging spiritual growth, not to mention the guilt-ridden casualties left in it's wake.

I remember one visiting preacher who changed my entire way of thinking. He was introduced, came to the podium and gave the invitation BEFORE THE MESSAGE! I don't want to debate whether the sinner's prayer is the ticket (it's NOT) or how you become a follower of Christ (you follow). The point, as he explained, was that the four people who responded to that invitation did so because their minds informed their hearts that they needed to (perhaps the work of the Holy Spirit?), NOT because some slickdaddy preachermeister got them all worked up to the point of spiritual/emotional orgasm. That was 25 years ago, and I do believe that those people continued in the faith.

I've come to understand that following Christ is a day by day routine (that's not the right word, but do you know what I mean?). I don't want to totally knock the "mountaintop" experience, but I know too many people who live from one of those to the next, and miss the more mundane stuff that's really the mortar holding things together. Like my marriage, it's not all romance and emotions. Usually it's taking out the trash and fixing the storm door. Those aren't moments when I "feel" married, but I still know that I am, because I remember the decision I made to be so almost 17 years ago. But, oddly enough, it's the stupid, day-to-day crap that inadvertently deepens that sense of commitment.

Like commodities traders, we forgo the steady growth in search of the big score. It's a myth.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

OK, So Bitching Isn't Futile!

I have a couple recessed lights above the kitchen counter. I've habitually purchased these DuraMax flood lamps from Philips, mostly because I happen to be in Home Depot when I think of it, and that's what they carry.

The thing is, they advertise that these bulbs last for a year and a half, but I find myself changing them every couple months. So, on Monday, I sent an email to the good people at Philips' Lighting Division, politely explaining my discontent. Three days later, Fedex shows up with a case of lightbulbs, compliments of Philips, and a letter addressed to "Ms. Dorsey Marshall" (they must've seen my profile), thanking me for bringing this deficiency to their attention.

I scratch my head a little. I mean, I'm happy to get $60+ worth of lightbulbs for nothing, and it's much easier to prepare my morning bowl of grits when I can see 'em. It's just that I was kind of enjoying being pissed off at the big faceless corporation. I mean, they didn't say they were working on making their lightbulbs better, just "here's some more." I feel not so much satisfied as neutralized. I'm not sure if that says more about them or about me.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Thank thee, sir, mayest I have another?

A post on KC's site reminded me of an account I heard not long ago of the European Anabaptists in the 16th century. Anabaptists were the forerunners of what is known today as the Mennonite Church (often confused with the Amish, although some Amish are Mennonites). These believers were persecuted by Rome with a particular vengeance, and even made some reformers uneasy because of their radical view of the nature of the Church, community and Christian ethics. As such, it was not necessary to commit a particular heresy to warrant execution. It was made a crime simply to be called an Anabaptist. Thousands were martyred across Europe. Even the few who recanted were still executed, so great was the hatred towards (or fear of) them.

It was easy for Inquisitors to identify Anabaptists—all they had to do was ask them directly. They would willingly face death before they would intentionally lie. And, at one trial in particular, when asked to present the evidence against them, the prosecutor replied, "When we came to arrest them, they were polite and behaved with graciousness towards us. They did not resist us at all. Throughout their incarceration and despite rather difficult interrogations, they have made habit of encouraging one another gently and with meekness. Further, they have cooperated with us fully and not attempted any speech or action which might contradict our charge that they are, indeed, those most vile Anabaptists."

THAT was the evidence against them??? That they loved each other?

I got to find me a Mennonite Church.

No, I couldn't do that to 'em.

In all things show them how to live by your life and by right teaching. You should be wise in what you say. Then the one who is against you will be ashamed and will not be able to say anything bad about you. —Titus 2:7,8

Friday, September 16, 2005

Bitching is Futile.

"Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different." —Roger von Oech

So began today's Purpose Driven Life Daily Devotional (Hey, if Chastain can go to Saddleback and enjoy it, I can own up to this). Yes, I signed up for it a long time ago. I keep it because I like the way John Fischer (the usual author) keeps looking for ways to illustrate the Christian life outside the walls of church (I found his series on the Church at St. Arbucks particularly amusing).

I guess most of us have read Ecclesiastes. It's been pretty well established that there is nothing new under the sun. We keep trying to fool ourselves into believing that we're on to something that's going to change the world forever (see Emerging Church), but every new promise of reformation ultimately results in a return (to some degree) to the thing we intend to reject (see Emerging Church). Even Luther's reformation, with it's desire to return to scriptural Christianity, retained the pagan-inspired top-down structure that had corrupted Catholicism in the first place. From all appearances, inasmuch as it has been adopted, that model hasn't work so well for Protestants, either.

Do you ever have a thought that you can't quite put into words? You can't even call it a thought, really...more of a feeling. It just sort of lingers beneath the surface, listless, indistinct, unable to be pinned down. And when someone else articulates it, the lights go on and you say, "That's it!" Well, that's sort of what happened to me while listening to Steve and Josh on the Etcetera podcast last week. At somewhere around the 57-minute mark, Steve said that, after expressing all this angst over the problems with the church, "...maybe the show needs to turn a little bit towards hope."


I hit the |<< button on my iPod and listened to it again.

Maybe it has to do with the ignominious resolution of the situation at my church and the timing of my subsequent desire to get on with things, but as I heard the words again, it clicked. It's easy, and quite necessary to talk about what's wrong. I've been doing that forever. Ask anyone who knows me—it's my gift. But I think it would be pretty useless (and cowardly) to engage in nothing more than a gripe-fest. There must be something to learn here.

Which brings me back to the opening quote...looking at the same thing and thinking something different.

Discovering what Christ intends his people to be may well be accomplished in this way. But it has to be more than looking at what we've done and just saying, "This sucks. I'm out." That's weak.

More later...

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Accidental Shrink

After my wife took my older daughter to youth group last night, Julia, my six year-old, helped me do some chores in the yard. Once we finished, in the cool of twilight, I built a small fire in the pit on my patio. We sat around and had a chat. After some small talk about the first full day of school, Julia turned to me. "I don’t know enough about your life, daddy." she decided, "Tell me some of your adventures."

I hadn't expected that, but after a little thought I began to tell the story of the first time I met mommy. Then I told about the time my best friend and I canoed down Dividing Creek into the Pocomoke River and to my house, at night. I talked about how we were well underway before we realized that the trees that had fallen across the creek were popular hangouts with water mocassins and snapping turtles. We arrived at midnight to be met by my dad, who was certain I had been lost to the depths. Julia stopped me often with questions, eager to absorb every detail of my story. At bedtime, she thanked me for sitting with her. I walked out on a cloud. A hundred hours of therapy could not have benefited me more. Leave it to a little kid to drag you to a better place.

Not much has changed in the other situation. Since I refused the idiotic ultimatum, I have received a call back, suggesting that attempts at resolution should continue. I guess I'll consider it, but today, it just doesn’t seem so important. I'm more interested in tonight's fireside chat.

Friday, September 02, 2005

It Really Does Roll Downhill...

Perhaps I should take a deep breath and count to ten a few hundred times, but I need to write.

It's easy to use words like perseverance, patience, longsuffering when you think that things will ultimately work out the way you want them to. Quoting the first chapter of James works great when you still believe that "the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill to men." But what happens when ground under you gives way? What do you do when propoganda triumphs and the truth takes one in the rear from the very guy charged with its safekeeping?

My struggle at church appears to have ended several hours ago, with a rather unceremonious ass-covering McCarthyite ulitimatum. They say that history is written by the winners. As such, the official version will now be a delusion, passed on in whispers, the product of one man's paranoia, insecurity and macho bullshit.

Added 09/02/05, 8:12 pm EST,

I probably should have disabled comments on this post. It wasn't my aim to start a discussion. It would be totally inappropriate to give details publicly. But it was 3:00 in the morning and I needed to get this off my chest so I could get to sleep. I appreciate the encouraging words I've received.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lose Control

While I was moaning about the fraud that is organized religion, Jeff mentioned the inevitability of organization when any degree of "missional" success is achieved among believers. He brought up the emergent movement's need to band together, "otherwise they'll run amok." Any time someone comes up with a way to "do it right," it grows to a point where it has to organize, or it will become unmanageable.

This begs the question, "Why does the work of the gospel have to be managed at all?" It occurs to me that our need to organize, to create structure for, to institutionalize good works (or any of the functions of the Church [the true Church, not the organizational church]) stems from a craving to control (and a willingness to be controlled, I suppose).

To be sure, we need to believe true things. We need to be instructed and even corrected. Scripture establishes itself in conjunction with relationships and the gifts of ministry for that purpose, I believe. But of course, it never seems to stop there. Pride is always ready to corrupt the gifted, planting spurious notions and the seeds of ambition. Next thing you know...well, you know. Just look around.

I've spoken before of the plaque that is said to have sat on Ronald Reagan's desk. It said, "Imagine how much could be accomplished if no one were concerned with who got the credit." I think of John, the baptizer. In the minds of his followers, he was the guy who got this whole repent-and-be-baptized thing started. Now it appeared to John's friends that Jesus was going to steal his thunder, possibly even take over "the movement." What if leaders today offered John's response? He told them, You don't get it, guys. Jesus IS the movement. Remember I told you that I was just paving the way for Him? The authority I had has served its purpose. Now I don't need it anymore. HE MUST INCREASE, and I MUST DECREASE. Today, that response would likely be met with, "What? You mean we're closing up shop? This is going to destroy your book sales! And what are we going to do with all these t-shirts? We just ordered 20 cases of 'Repent and be baptized' keychains!!!"

Most of our visible efforts at goodness are ultimately self-serving. Our programs and organizations, while often well-intentioned, don't really solve anything. Even here on the blogs, we like to pick apart everyone else's ideas, question motives, point out each other's inconsistencies, all the while failing to observe that because there is no "perfect" course of action, we have stopped acting altogether.

I think the people who will truly please God are the people who manifest love and grace in relative obscurity. They follow the great commandments (Love God, Love your neighbor.) without trying to read too much into them. These people will never be recognized (until "that day," of course). They quietly minister to the needs they see around them. They don't shout for a cause, nor uselessly obsess over political hypocrisy. They understand that their part is to do their part. I think these will be the greatest in the Kingdom.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Could You Repeat the Question?

There's an interesting discussion on my brother's site about Universalism and the reality of hell. Our friend, Dan made some interesting arguments, and at one point, cautioned Jeff against "reinventing the wheel," saying, in effect, that plenty of great thinkers and theologians have already wrestled with some of these ideas and that we're not likely to come to any better conclusions than they did.

It occurs to me that much of the current "conversation" among postmodern/nonmodern/emergent/spiritualist types is, of course, the re-questioning of things for which someone somewhere has found answers in the near to ancient past. Is this necessary? Why not read Calvin, Arminius, Edwards, Augustine, Schaeffer, Lewis etc. and be satisfied with, or better yet, build upon the foundations they labored for lifetimes to construct? Many would argue that this is the best use of available knowledge and will lead to advanced doctrinal enlightenment.

It seems that a new generation of believers/pre-believers/seekers wants to start from scratch. They don't reject the truth, per se. But they are understandably suspicious of someone else's truth wrapped up in a bow and just handed to them. When that truth is handled and handed through successive generations, the biases and idiosyncrasies of the handlers works it's way in, and flaws become compounded with each handling. It's like making a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. Each generation away from the copy master becomes more and more distorted until your copy is unrecognizable.

So it is with Christianity. Look at the modern institutional church (small c). I grew up in it. My worldview developed there. But once I began to recognize the interloping human element in my "religion," I began to learn to hold up that copy to the original. The distortions became readily evident, and I knew my trust had been misplaced. So I question.

The danger lies in where we draw the line. What is the benchmark of truth? What is the absolute measure against which we stand our ideas? As Pilate asked Christ, "What IS truth?" I guess because I'm more modern than I want to admit, the standard is scripture. But what about those who even question that? Truth has to be arbitrated by something more substantial than that it feels about right, or that it fits the way we want the world to be. If the standard is that subjective, then we have supplanted the Almighty and put ourselves in His place.

Seems like that's already been tried. Anybody hear how that turned out?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What's Your Sleep Number?

I have a real topic on deck, but I got a mailing from my good friends at Select Comfort, and they're having a closeout sale on the Sleep Number 5000. "Hurry! Supplies are limited!" they tell me.

This is a big decision. I've been sleeping on my current mattress for over 16 years. And, while it's been one high quality piece of bedding (hmmm... I used to refer to myself that way), I'm thinking it's time to move forward. Several months ago, I called for the informative DVD, starring Lindsay Wagner (the Bionic Woman! haminahamina). Since then, my good friends at Select Comfort have called me at least five times each week to remind me that their store is conveniently located at my nearby mall, and that they'd be happy to set up an appointment for me to come and experience the luxury of the Sleep Number bed. I'm thinking that if I buy the mattress, they might stop calling me. Pricewise, it's about the same as a very good quality conventional mattress, so I'm leaning this way.

Psalm 12:15 says, "Fools think they need no advice, but the wise listen to others." I've heard our little circle of friends here referred to as "community," so I'm listening. What have you heard? Anybody have one of these beds? What about all the extras (THAT'S where they get ya!)? Can I get by without 'em?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Feels Like the First Time

Thanks to all for the comments on the last post. Whether, you "get it" or not, I profit from hearing your thoughts.

I was over at godevenlovesidiotslikeme.blogspot.com, and there's a good post about how God so often answers prayer in a different way than we expect.

In my 42 years, God has distinctly responded many times to my spoken desires. Sometimes, He's met a great need. At other times, He's been gracious to bless me with something I really wanted. I can't think about this without recalling the first prayer I ever remember praying. I don't mean saying grace, or bedtime prayer. I mean the first time I came to the Lord with a request.

I was about 5, kneeling at the altar at Glad Tiding Assembly of God in Pocomoke City, MD on a Sunday night. That week had been hot, and the Stevensons up the street had a 2-ft. deep above-ground swimming pool in their yard. I was invited to swim one day, and decided that having a pool in your yard was just about the most awesome thing in the world. You could just get in and cool off whenever you wanted!

I didn't even bother asking my parents about it. The Stevensons owned the big John Deere dealership out on the highway and we...well, didn't. But we were called to the front to "seek God" that Sunday evening, and I remember kneeling at the end of the altar, on the far right side, next to my dad. It wasn't a long prayer, it wasn't a covetuous prayer, it wasn't greedy. It was a simple, "Lord, can we get a pool?"

I didn't really think about it after that. It's not that I didn't think the Lord had heard me. I guess I just didn't have much in the way of expectation. That is, until that Tuesday, when my dad came home from work a few minutes late. I saw him pull up in front of the house, and I could see that something was taking up most of the back seat of our car. I had to pick my jaw up off the ground when he reached into the back an pulled out one of those flexible molded plastic wading pools like you get at Newberry's (that was before Kmart). It was blue with little fish all over it.

I didn't notice that it wasn't as big as the Stevenson's pool. As my dad dropped my new gift near the back steps and grabbed the hose, I stood, mesmerized. All I could think was that God had heard me. He heard me, and He loved me enough to answer.

Before some of you complain about the frivolity of my request, let me say that's not the point. Yes, I know we could have sent that six bucks to feed the hungry or buy bibles for the Gideons. But the result of the experience was that a 5-year old boy's faith took root that day. For all my accumulated cynicism and worldly-wisdom, I've felt that same sense of wonder every time a prayer has been answered since.

What about you? Do you remember your first time?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Rubber Meets Road

I hate my church. I hate the mindlessness of our routine. I hate that we don't have any goals. I hate the way we have to act as if everything's always ok. I hate the shallowness of our fellowship. I hate the way Pastor still calls that building "God's House." I hate hearing the Lord addressed as "Thee" during prayer. I hate the consumer mentality that exists, even in a mediocre service like ours. I hate hearing the same freakin' sermon every Sunday. I hate that we piss away 90% of our income building more monuments to ourselves and making ourselves comfortable while missions giving is in the hole. I hate that the Youth Ministry has to fully fund itself. I hate the religious-ness that dwells there. I hate the suspicion and mistrust that's the product of our refusal to be open and honest.

Dorse, why don't you get the hell out of there?

"Community" is too trite a word. That's my family. I love the 88-year old lady who embraces me with tears and says "I pray for you every day." I love the other old gal who tells me I'm handsome and she loves me like a son. I love my good friend, who's caught in the middle of the same bullshit I am, but who still hasn't given up. I love the teens, who crowd around me, just to hang out, too cool to come right out and say "We love you," but I get the message. I love the people on the worship team, who didn't complain (much) when I pushed them to try new things. I love the adult Sunday School teacher, my mentor, a true scholar, a deep thinker who has nothing to gain by pouring himself into me. I love the guy from the men's group, who said to me, "Nobody develops perseverance by giving up. Be strong." I love the dozen people who give extra offerings to help the Youth Group. I love all the people who sent me cards and left messages of encouragement on my voicemail. Most of them don't know what's going on. Not all of them would agree with me, anyway. But they all love me.

And, oh God, I love them.

Monday, August 01, 2005

In the Sweet By and By...

NOTE: I know scripture is silent on some of this, so this is all speculative. No claim of revelation here, so don't get nervous.

I don't spend a lot of time thinking about Heaven. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for it. I believe in it, and I want to go there. But I don't really dwell on what eternity will be like. I grew up in an A/G church (back when they were still hellfire and brimstone...well, sort of), and I learned more about Hell than I ever heard about Heaven. Quite frankly, after what they told me about Hell, Heaven could be Newark, New Jersey, and I'd still be eager to get there. My childhood church experience was pretty much STAY OUT OF HELL AT ALL COSTS. Well, that and THE RAPTURE WILL TAKE PLACE TWO SECONDS AFTER YOU'VE SAID "DAMN," AND YOU'RE GONNA MISS IT (but that's a topic for another post). At any rate, the goal was to BE SAVED FROM HELL. Heaven was almost secondary.

These days I hear a lot of people refer to the christian life as a walk, a journey, a pilgrimage, process, whatever, with the "prize" being eternal reward, life in Heaven, I've-got-a-mansion-just-over-the-hilltop. We do our thing here on earth, and death closes the door. Game over. Winners through this door, losers go stand over there...ignore the smoke...I'll be with you in a minute.

Today, there's a lot of talk about "the journey." Someone recently said that there are no destinations, that it's all journey. At first that sounded like postmodern gobbledygook, but it got me thinking. I believe that, at least in this life, there may be no destinations, but there are thresholds, and belief is the first. But what if Heaven is a threshold, too? It occurs to me that the "journey" aspect of existence may not end at death. I don't think I'm alone in that I've never considered that eternity will continue to be a dynamic (versus static) environment. Does scripture indicate anywhere that we will be all that we will ever be the moment we enter our reward? Will the concept of personal, intellectual, emotional growth be possible in eternity? The Bible says that we will rule and reign with Him--rule and reign over who? It is implied that we will have jobs to do in Eternity. That implies accomplishment. That implies progress.

I've always looked at this life as the job, and the end of life as payday. What if this is just the interview--the resume builder, and eternity is "You've got the job?" How does that affect the decisions I make today? What are the implications for life right now? Maybe none. Maybe that's why the Bible spends more time on "Love your neighbor."

Thursday, July 28, 2005


This past Sunday, while exchanging small talk with the head of ushers (who is also on the board), I observed a parishioner approach the usher and offer to man the "greeter's post" at a nearby vacant entrance. Apparently, whoever was supposed to be there had not shown up.

Well, the usher hemmed and hawwed, and finally said ok, but noted that the volunteer parishoner wasn't wearing a jacket and tie. Clearly, the volunteer was insulted, but nonetheless went to the spot where he shook hands and distributed the weekly bulletin as people entered.

I did my best to hide my agitation. Trying to get the man thinking, I recalled a church I visited a few months ago where I was greeted by a guy in shorts and an Eagles jersey. The old usher chuckled, then recounted the story of a young guy who showed up at our church not long ago wearing a baseball cap. The kid was in his mid to late teens, and no one had seen him in church before. When he entered, the old usher told him, "That's not something we do, here." The kid walked in and sat down, cap intact. Well, the usher signaled another usher, who went over and told him he was going to have to lose the headgear. For whatever reason, the kid didn't want to take off his cap. Finally, they hounded the kid so much that he got up and walked out of the service. No one has seen him since.

The usher smiled smugly, as if to say, "We won. Nobody defies us and gets away with it." (For his sake, I hope that kid wasn't one of those angels that we "entertain unawares")

I turned and walked away, the contents of my thoughts summed up by the title of this post.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

You can't handle the Truth!

This is by no means an exhaustive commentary on the condition of the organizational church, but I think it's a pretty good insight. I wish it was my own.

Scripture refers to speaking the truth IN love. In church culture, truth and love are too often exclusive of one another. It's odd, thinking of these two virtuous terms as being unrelated, but each can be taken to an unGodly extreme, with predictably unGodly results.

I'd bet most of us could think of a situation where doing the right thing was overlooked because to do so would cause a problem for someone we don't want to hurt (love supercedes truth). Here's a fairly extreme example: A parishoner backed his truck into the new church van. So as to "protect" the parishoner from an increase in his insurance, the pastor filed a claim against the church insurance policy, calling it a hit-and-run. While most would consider it insurance fraud, this was thought of as "Grace" (this really happened).

And I'm certain we know people who don't give a second thought to the venom they spew in the name of being "right" (truth supercedes love). Example: most fundamentalist preachers, far too many pro-life activists.

I don't think there's any denying that love-over-truth has played a part in creating the consumerist pandering of the cultural church. Truth-over-love, on the other hand has developed into legalism and political activism (right and left). I guess that's what happens when the Holy Spirit is no longer invited to the party, eh?

Balance must be possible, else scripture wouldn't have suggested it. How can love and truth be lived out so that neither is diminished?

Monday, July 25, 2005

This is my blood (and it's sugar-free)...

I was reading a discussion on another blog about Christians going into taverns and sharing Christ over a pitcher of beer (good beer, of course, not Budweiser). Well the discussion disintegrated into an argument over whether it's more appropriate to use real wine (with ALCOHOL!!!) or grape juice for communion. This got me thinking...

Isn't the idea of the Lord's Supper to remember Christ and the cross?

What does it matter if we use Diet Pepsi and Oreos, so long as our focus is on Christ?

One step further, since they were sitting down for a meal, and Jesus said, "As often as you do this, remember me." (my paraphrase), could an argument be made that Jesus wasn't calling for a regular "church" ritual at all, but asking to be remembered--to be made the central thought--each time we sit down to eat?

That sounds like a pretty New Testament line of thinking to me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Paradigm of Genuine Purpose?

I read an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer recently about Rick Warren (of Purpose-Driven Life fame). Apparently, he has come to believe that he's "hiding" in the comfort of his affluent suburban church and has been called by God to minister to the world's downtrodden, particularly in Africa. He has stopped taking a salary from Saddleback Church (and has given back all the salary he estimates they've paid him in the last 25 years!). Additionaly, he has adopted a "reverse-tithe" approach on the rest of his income. That is, he will keep 10% and give away 90% to the church and to three social-service foundations he established.

Warren believes the church is the leading change agent. "All the Wal-Marts and Starbucks and McDonalds put together don't compare to the church," Warren recently told a group of Philadelphia pastors. "And we've got more volunteers than anybody else does. Government doesn't have a billion volunteers. Business doesn't have a billion volunteers. This is what I'm talking about as the Second Reformation. It is the reformation of mobilization, mobilizing the latent talent of the church."

Could this be closer to what Christ intended His church to be? Or is this something else?