Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Replacement Trinity and Living Richly?

Yesterday I had lunch with a long time business associate who happens to work for Citibank. During our meal, I mentioned how much I used to enjoy the old Citibank print ad campaign entitled "Live Richly". The entire mood of this advertising campaign, to me, seemed entirely counter cultural, and if you will, so "non-banker like".

The theme, you may recall, was basically to point out that money is, after all, not what life is all about. Family, relationships, experiencing the blessings of life really matter more, Citibank seemed to be telling us.

And now, after pondering the thoughts of Eugene Peterson in "Eat This Book", I think I might understand a bit better what was going on in my upper class consumer American mind as I viewed those billboards. To quote Peterson,

"Our new class of spiritual masters is composed of scientists and economists, physicians and psychologists, educators and politicians, writers and artists. They are every bit as intelligent and passionate as our earlier church theologians and every bit as religious and serious, for they know what they come up with has enormous implications for everyday living."

And so, maybe one reason I loved those billboards is that they endorsed my dual lifestyle, one foot in this world, and one foot that wants to be in the Kingdom world. In short, Citibank was offering me platitudes about the things I valued most.

This final observation was confirmed at the close of my lunch. My friend said to me, "Know what, we (Citibank) have ended that ad campaign. It didn't really sell our products like we thought it might."

So, Citibank dumped the concept of Living Richly. But I remember something about a life that is really rich. I need to think more about what that means.

Monday, September 25, 2006

My Replacement Trinity, Part Deux

This stuff won't leave me easily.....

More from Eugene Peterson:

"The new Holy Trinity. The sovereign self expresses itself in Holy Needs, Holy Wants, and Holy Feelings. The time and intelligence that our ancestors spent on understanding the sovereignty revealed in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are directed by our contemporaries in affirming and validating the sovereignty of our needs, wants and feelings."

"I train myself to think big because I am big, important, significant. I am larger than life and so require more and more goods and services, more things, and more power. Consumption and acquisition are the new fruits of the spirit."

Wait. No fair. How did this fellow who lives in Montana crawl inside my head and look around and see everything just as it is?

I like to have my needs met. I am an only child, after all. I enjoy things laid out for me, my way. I own my own little company for heavens sake. What I say around the office goes. My way or the highway, baby. I am in charge.

But to hear my world described so clearly is both clarifying and haunting at the same time. Clarifying, in that I can sit back and say a resounding "Yes! I am just like that!" Haunting in that when I hear my world described this way, I know that my world is largely in conflict to the world that God is attempting to create. Its a world ordered as He desires, not as I, well, want.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

My Replacement Trinity

I have had this idea stuck in my mind for about two weeks now, and it won't easily let me go. I should talk about it here, as this blog is often a form of personal catharsis.

Eugene Peterson has a new book out, and the idea in my mind really belongs to Eugene, but it haunts me still. A lot.

The idea is Peterson's concept of "The Replacement Trinity". It is, if you will, a form of the modern American cultural trinity.

Hear Eugene out on this:

"The three person Trinity that we have learned of since we were kids, or heard about from our friends who go to church, has been subtly replaced. The New Trinity is a personal trinity; of my Holy Wants, my Holy Needs, and my Holy Feelings. This is the way we are taught. By the time we can hold a spoon, according to Peterson, we can choose between half a dozen cereals for breakfast. Clothes, hairstyle, deodorant, toothpaste, our identity in society; we choose all of these things. So really, as we become adults, we learn that whatever we need and want is the Divine control center of our lives. And so, the concept of the Replacement Trinity is developed."

If I am honest, there is a struggle at the center of my heart and soul between the real Trinity and the Replacement Trinity. More on this later.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hope, Life, Renewal and Joy

Just over a year ago, tragedy hit New Orleans. And, on Sunday September 10th, 2006, the photo to the right (click photo to enlarge) was taken, at Canal Street Presbyterian church in New Orleans.
The looks on the faces here made my day, particularly after our visit with these dear people five months ago. I even pressure-washed the steps that these good, faithful, and determined folks are standing upon!

Not everything is fixed in New Orleans, not by a long shot. A very very long shot. Much needs to still be done, and all of us must remember the people of New Orleans and the area in our prayers, and with our wallets.

However, this photo proves something I mentioned here after we visited:

Isaiah 58:11
The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and
will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called
Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Front Porch Homeland Security

I am not very political, but the other day I had a very interesting conversation on my front porch. I have a friend who works with the government; its best not to say anything more specific.

This friend is involved in safeguarding our country from the "bad guys". These bad guys are the type that are happy to blow themselves up, along with thousands of innocent others for the cause of a hypothetical world controlled by religious zealots. I trust that you now have the right mental images of what I mean.

My friend told me that soon they will be heading overseas, to spend an extended period of time learning from the intelligence agency of another country. The comment was made during our conversation that "those folks over there don't have a constitution" to deal with in terms of domestic surveillance. And, as a result, in this particular country, they do a number of things better than we do here in terms of actually catching bad guys.

Now I know that many folks think that The Patriot Act is a raw deal. I also revere and respect the protections offered by the Constitution. However, this little chat on my front porch about bad guys got me thinking about activist lawyers and the so-called infringement of individual liberties of our government over the past five years. It also made me remember this really is a war. A war like no other. The UN cannot solve this problem, let alone order their own office supplies without assistance.

Here is my short response. Please, Big Brother US Government - keep up the good work. Read my mail, listen to my phone calls, intercept my email. I don't really care. I have nothing to hide. Frankly, I am glad you guys are at it every day. If you were not, by now, we might just have experienced the horror of multiple passenger jets blowing up in mid-air over our nations most populous cities, in a horrific aftermath to 9/11.

I am glad for my friend's work, and I think, after our conversation, I am a bit more thankful for things like the Patriot Act.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Meek and Rich?

I am thinking again about the beginning of the Beattitudes in Matthew 5. And in the airport earlier this week, I spot the Time magazine cover, which asks the question, "Does God Want You to Be Rich?"

I wonder. And again, this man and the book he wrote, helps me to see these ideas in a new way.

In these first five verses, Jesus has come to the dependent poor, the grief-stricken, and now the unaggressive – and he gives everything – the Kindgom of Heaven, comfort, and now the inheritance of the earth. Christ did not say "blessed are the Christians" or "blessed are those who believe in me, and behave like this". Just blessed are.....all those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, and who are meek.

Meekness is not so much avoiding pride, but more people who are actually powerless in the eyes of the world. These "poor beatitudes" do not so much describe good spiritualities, as they really describe people in bad situations.

Jesus at his trial as someone who was indeed meek. No aggression. Yet, poise. Poise that does not have to assert oneself. He was someone who could see Heaven, even from the gates of Hell. This was a meekness that is almighty, and gentleness of great strength.

The earth. Why the earth? This earth, will, in fact, be the scene of the coming Kingdom of God. This renewed earth. Breathtaking. God will make all things new, even this tired, sinful, overpopulated, impoverished, pock-marked, and slowly over-warming (some say) earth.

Dale Bruner asks us (and me) "Could it be that here, in the first three beatitudes, that Jesus is calling us to be willing to be abysmally poor, heartbroken, or powerless, when these desolations are visited upon us?"
Is this not a scary concept? In some way, the poor, the weary, the sad, the meek, are given first notice by Jesus; they are his Special People.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Warning and A Tip

I have been in Sacramento for a couple of days for work. I tried to get into see Arnold while I was there, to lobby for my bill outlawing receding hairlines in Caleeforneea. He was busy.
Anyway, while flying home, I came across a couple of items that I thought warranted your consideration.

The Relatavistic Heavy Ion Collider. This is an experiment, that if successful, will create a thermal release that the scientists tell us, will be a million times hotter than the surface of the sun. They also tell us that the experiment probably won't create a galaxy-swallowing black hole or obliterate our planet. And to think, some folks are stressed about global warming.

Next, ArtCarFest. I have determined that if they had been born today, most famous Bible characters would like drive one of these cars. My favorite is posted above; the Buick of Unconditional Love. Clearly, this would have been Jesus' ride.

That is all for now.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Answer to Worship Wars

Now what is all this I hear about these so-called "Worship Wars"? At our church, we have recently employed the services of Faber Grable, whose most recent CD is pictured here (click to enlarge......your heart). As a result of Faber's blessing, we are all happy smiling people holding hands.

Faber is a man who spans the vast divides of worship stylings and moods. Need traditional tunes? Faber delivers with organ and chimes. Looking for more emergent church music? You need Faber, a man of skill and passion on the guitar and vibraharp.

The title of Faber's most recent artistic release is somewhat autobiographical. Sadly, over the past decade, Faber has been suffering from his very own "thorn in the flesh" in the uncomfortable from of acid reflux; also commonly known as heartburn. Hence, the CD title.

Through it all, Faber Grable has continued to bless, amaze, and thrill church music fans throughout the area.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Blessed Are The Brokenhearted

This week, I am thinking about the Second of the Beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5 - Blessed are the brokenhearted, those who mourn, those who weep.

If I am honest with myself, there are parts of my life that feel as if they are a persistent place for weeping. Little corners, dark places where we would rather not spend much time. The ways in which I let my wife and children down, where I fall short. More profoundly, when a child is deathly ill, or a parent is close to death, or a friendship withers and dies, these dark little corners seem to grow, and nearly engulf the rest of our lives. And the darkness is cold and unpleasant. It is too quiet in the dark, we feel threatened by the sound of our own breathing.

When we have family or close friends who suffer debilitative illness, or an early death, or deep and lasting pain, it can seem dark for days, or weeks, or years. Blessed are those who mourn?

Strangely, this deep sadness, loss, and our broken hearts can coexist in the midst of an otherwise "normal" life. Matthew scholar Dale Bruner comments in this book that mourning and sadness often are "a state that can as easily coexist with an outwardly happy life, as do all the other normal contradictions of living."

Sadness and mourning are inherent in our culture. Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year. Everyone, will at some time in their life be affected by depression -- their own or someone else's. Pre-schoolers are the fastest-growing market for antidepressants. At least four percent of preschoolers -- over a million -- are clinically depressed. The rate of increase of depression among children is an astounding 23%. About 54% of people believe depression is a personal weakness, and 41% of depressed women are too embarrassed to seek help. Sadly, 80% of depressed people are not currently having any treatment.

What is happening in our society, and to us? Why are we so wealthy, so "blessed", and yet so poor inside? Perhaps our sadness, our sense of sadness is related to how "blessed" we are. We have so much, that we need God so little. And so, perhaps we are all, together, in so many ways, broken hearted. And only God can come to us, and heal our broken hearts. And here again, Dale Bruner offers the thought that the first Beatitude (of being poor in spirit) "presses into" the second, where poverty of spirit descends into mourning - which creates faith in the very longing about our inability to believe." The second of the Beatitudes actually longs for the faith to believe. We mourn, because we do not believe. And yet, we want to believe.

Bruner tells us that... "in deep sadness human beings are in God's hands more than at any other time" .

Jesus lends his authority to the perception that it is those for whom sadness is deep that God is real! Jesus puts himself on the side of the outsider.

In Isaiah 61:1-2, we are reminded that, in the midst of our suffering, God promises to "bind up the brokenhearted".

The gospel is for us. We will be comforted.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Goodbye Summer, Hello Life

The photo at the left was taken about 14 years ago, when my oldest daughter Kelly was just old enough to shuffle down to the waves, and take in the view of the massive ocean before her. She did it with a smile though, she has been in love with the water ever since. Its a family trait, I think; we all love the water.

Today was the last official day of summer. Technically, there are more summer days on the calendar, but for those of us with kids in school, we can pretty much say goodbye to the beach, the sun, and the surf. Today, as is our family tradition, summer ended at a beach side home with old and good friends. We hiked down the cliffs to the beach, sit on the sand, play in the waves, and enjoy each other's company. We smile at the way the kids have grown and changed, exchange stories of coping with near-teenagers and teenagers, and marvel at how time flies.

That same little girl who held my hand at the waves is older now, and chose not to make the trip to the beach with us, as she had more fun things to do with good friends elsewhere. Independent woman. Trying to be cool parents, and knowing that our daughter was with good people, we enjoyed the last day of summer in different places. Its evening now, on Labor Day, and we are all home together, sharing stories of our day. Seems our oldest, the one who used to hold my hand at the shore, crashed a Greek wedding reception with her friends, and had great fun. My, how times change.

Dad has gone upstairs to blog a bit, a habit the rest of the family kindly tolerates. Maybe someday in the distant future, my girls will read this and smile, remembering the end of Summer 2006.

The beach today was drenched with sunshine, and people - it felt like everyone in South Orange County was enjoying the last day of summer at the same place.

After we came up from the beach, we enjoyed a delicious meal of Mexican food, and again, the blessing of conversation with dear friends. During the past year, two of us have lost our mothers, and the pain and mystery of all this is still close. We sat together in the fading light of day and spoke of the loss, our feelings, and how our respective widow parents are fairing. This is a new season of life, gone are little children running everywhere, the need to change diapers and secure car seats. That has been replaced by larger kids who get together well on their own, and the need to hear from our friends on how we are caring for our aging parents.

We drove home tonight from San Clemente just as dusk enveloped the beach and twilight pressed through into night. The sky was a remarkable shade of peach, and red, and higher up aquamarine. As I navigated the Southern California freeway in the growing dark, I was struck by the beauty of this otherwise ordinary sunset, and the grace-filled nature of this otherwise ordinary day. Often, I feel confined by my senses. Confined from really understanding the Divine in each day, in each person I meet, and today, in knowing the measure of love and grace that brought me to this familiar beach with these very familiar friends.

Summer is over. Tomorrow we start, together, the 7th grade for Heather, Sophomore year at High School for Kelly, and the rest of life for Nancy and I. I love this journey.

All good things come from our Father. Thank you, Father, for this end of summer, and for the hope of tomorrow.

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