Monday, February 26, 2007

Hope - Mars Hills Bible Church

What if the image to the left was found on the home page of a church?

What if this church had a completely
new way of looking at their mission in the world?

Seeing this makes me hopeful.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

What If We Can Be Different?

What if the basic rules of mathematics were suddenly changed? What if you woke up tomorrow and 2 plus 2 inexplicably equaled, say 5.75? How about having the furniture moved around in your house, without your warning? Permanently, and nailed to the floor. Or the ceiling, take your pick.

This is a bit of the way I am feeling after reading about half way through Dallas Willards latest book,
"The Great Omission".

What if everything we have learned is maybe only half right. Part way there. What if we really can be different people? What if the abundant life (not money, not status, but a full and overflowing life) that Jesus spoke of is possible? What if?

It seems some of the basic things of faith that I have felt comfortable with for the past 20 or so years are not as important as I thought they were. I think that I may have been pursuing, well, not much of anything. To quote Willard, I am struggling with.. "The Great Disparity – the hope for life expressed in Jesus versus the actual day-to-day behavior, inner life, and social presence of most people who profess adherence to Him."

And what is the Great Omission? Its something the church (in America, to be sure) has not been doing well at all - the lack of making true disciples, apprentices, of Christ.

We have just been consumers, just like the culture around us. To again Quote Dallas:

“The will to obey is the engine that pulls the train of spirituality in Christ. But spirituality in many Christian circles has simply become another dimension of Christian consumerism. We have generated a body of people who consume Christian services and think that that is Christian faith. Consumption of Christian services replaces obedience to Christ. And spirituality is one more thing to consume.”

I have to go rearrange my furniture.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lent and .... Self Denial?

I have decided. From now until April 8th (Easter), no Starbucks for me. By my rough calculations, that means I will be saving about $70 over the period of Lent.

I plan on giving the savings away.

Come to think of it, this is pathetic. I need to give away a factorial of this amount.

Ash Wednesday is today. A mark. Upon my forehead. A little cross. What would our lives be like, our culture be like, if the cross would not wash off. Permanent. Now that would make life different.

And so, I hope to take the time over the next six weeks to pause, to think, to reflect on Jesus, on myself, and on my sinfulness. And to miss my mocha.

This thought seems almost trivial. Doing without for me is almost a joke. I need to work on more significant ways to do without. Really. Honestly. Perhaps I need to adopt a form of 'Lenten lifestyle". What would that look like? What if every Christ follower did this?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Loving Your Job

Every once in a while, Nancy and I like to take a break from reality, and enjoy something timeless. Tonight found us at Disney Hall enjoying the music of Antonio Vivaldi, and the Venice Baroque Orchestra (VBO).

From the middle aged white dude in the fifth row (don't ask me how that happened!?)....a hearty "Bravo!"

But I noticed something else tonight. The lute player. His name was Ivano Zanenghi, and watching him play made my evening.

The evening was not designed around the talents of Ivano, as Vivaldi music is not exactly lute-centric (can I say that?). Anyway, the lute, which is a sort of contorted guitar, is a minor piece in most baroque music. But, tonight, the passion and joy with which Ivano played stole the show for me. Maybe it was partly because Ivano is a middle-aged fellow who is somewhat "hair challenged", like me.

But more profoundly, Ivano's facial expressions gave away the passion, enthusiasm, and joy that he brings to his music. In my view, his simple joy in merely being present upstaged the efforts of the principal violinist, who had a tough time breaking a smile. It is so rewarding to watch someone who loves their job with all their heart, and brings a sense of infectious passion to the stage. You could just feel it!

Might my work, my relationships, my very life convey the joy that Ivano brings to his lute!

Bravo VBO, bravo Vivaldi, and Bravissimo Ivano!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Dare You to Move!

I remember the old outer space movies of the 1950s that I used to watch when I was a kid. All the astronaut guys, and even the bad-guy robots used to wear these massive boots - supposedly to give them extra weight or stability in zero-gravity. Those boots were huge.

I always used to think to myself, "Man, those shoes are a bummer....I would face-plant in no time in those puppies". Maybe its because I was an awkward white teenage kid who loved basketball, but had all the jumping ability of Jabba the Hut. Anyway, I digress from my main point.

What the church in America has wrought upon itself is a pair of humongous boots. Heavy boots. Massive ones. Awkward.

In his latest book,
"The Great Omission", philosophy professor and author Dallas Willard offers a peek into a world for us all, without boots, if you will. Floating free, experiencing a life of faith without the boots the church has sold us.

Willard warns that the church has been promoting "Consumer Christianity" for far too long. This type of faith is just a matter of receiving benefits from Christ. That is all that is essential. Salvation is just heaven. And, as it turns out, this consumer faith is now the “default” system of Christian identity in the Western world. On this you can be a Christian forever and never become a disciple. Our local congregations and their extensions generally assume Consumer Christianity is the essential thing.

I don't get out much. Work, family, church responsibilities. And so, just recently, I have discovered the music of Switchfoot, a San Diego band that writes on eternal themes, without the shiny happy Christian veneer. Switchfoot has a song entitled "Dare You to Move":

Maybe redemption has stories to tell
Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell
Where can you run to escape from yourself?
Where you gonna go? Where you gonna go?
Salvation is here

I dare you to move
I dare you to move
I dare you to lift
yourself up off the floor
We have been sold something far less than Christ offers. Its time to take off the boots.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Heather is 13!

Today, our house is officially be occupied by two (count 'em) teenage girls. Heather turns 13 today; and Kelly turned 16 on Sunday. Amazing.

Sunday night was Heather's party, a limo showed up at our door; Heather's idea for her party, just to pick up her friends at their houses, and drive them all around town for a while. Then it was back to our house for pasta (her favorite of all time) dinner, cake, and general merry making.

Next week will be the epic Kelly Norris Birthday party. You think the Grammy's are a big deal? Just wait.

Without much warning, our two girls have landed firmly in their teenage years. Am I ready for this double whammy? Heck no!

Heather is 13!

Some office buildings don't have 13th floors. If you have Triskaidekaphobia, you are irrationally afraid of the number 13. As it turns out, the association of bad luck with the number 13 has been attributed to the fact there were 13 people at the Last Supper of Jesus, although this association seems to have originated only in medieval times. For Heather, I predict 13 will, in a word, rock!

Softball, volleyball, soccer, leadership at school, after school tutoring, hanging with friends, laughing, living, loving. Watching Reba reruns, listening to Oddessy on her Ipod, and showers that last for hours (almost). If we could harness the energy of this amazing young lady, we could light the City of South Pasadena for a week.

Heather, your care and love for others is remarkable. The way in which you can find humor in almost anything is a gift and a joy to us all. Thank you for gracing our lives with your presence. From the very first moment I held you and laughed loudly and cried tears of joy, every day has been an adventure. May the adventure continue!

Thirteen? Feeling a bit squeamish? No us, not our family. Bring it on!

Amazing Grace

This will be worth seeing:

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Denial is Not a River in Egypt

This is, to sum it up, baloney.

What is going on with Ted? Why does he need to tell us, that only after three weeks in therapy, he is "completely heterosexual"? After I was in therapy for three weeks, I could barely tell you what I was feeling about myself. Please, Ted!

Interesting thought in the New York Times, by a psychiatrist:

“Some people in the community that Mr. Haggard comes from believe homosexuality is a form of behavior, a sinful form of behavior based on certain things in the Bible, and they don’t believe you can create a healthy identity based on sinful behavior,” Dr. Drescher said. “So they define it as a behavior that can be changed, and there is this thinking that if you control those behaviors enough, heterosexual attractions will follow.”

While I don't subscribe to everything the shrink here says, I am very worried that Ted is trying to "make good" on his mistakes. Really now. For more thoughts on the weird stuff the church does to us, please read this, by my college chum, Julie. It really sums it all up, far better than I could.

I have to go remove the log in my own eye now.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Name Calling

1. a person who forsakes his religion, cause, party, etc.
1. a professed believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church or rejects doctrines prescribed by that church.

Over the course of the past year I have been called both of these words. Names, really. This is what otherwise good Christian people have called me. This is what they think I am. In two distinct and completely unrelated settings, I have been called these names. In their minds, I am a blasphemer. I was labeled an apostate in a recent and very sad church split. And just the other day, in an email, I was labeled as in cahoots with heretics.

Unlike the childhood poem that mentions sticks and stones, these kinds of names do hurt me. And, I find myself filled with sadness, at the thought of all this. Why? In my mind, this behavior hurts the cause of Christ, and the furtherance of the church. Bickering church people is what the world needs far less of. Yuck.

In both cases, I did not pick fights, or get into discussions of deep theological issues, or say something out loud that offended someone. I was not part of some huge moral failure, I did not break some fundamental law, I did not dis the Ten Commandments. I didn't even mess with the Communion wine.

I was called names for thinking, well, differently than others. For having my own opinion, and for being willing to think outside of the traditional church box. And for this, I was called names. I was not invited into a conversation, a dialogue, or a way to work out differences. Just named, classified, and cubby holed. Filed away. If you call someone a name, then you really don't need to deal with them anymore. In both cases, I did not engage, I did not react, no response. That way, its one less person calling names.

What motivates good people to do things like this? Why would upstanding, taxpaying, God fearing, mother loving folks be reduced to calling others (that they profess to "love in the Lord") names?

One word. Fear.

Its a big motivator that little word. Uncertainty. It is scary when your ideas about God get challenged, when the way you look at the world is threatened. I think this is what happened. These good people became afraid of new ideas, and so, they called names. Its easier.

Sara Groves, has a song that captures some of this behavior. In a song called "To The Moon", Sara writes:

It was there in the bulletin
We're leaving soon
After the bake sale to raise funds for fuel
The rocket is ready and we're going to
Take our church to the moon

There'll be no one there to tell us we're odd
No one to change our opinions of God
Just lots of rocks and this dusty sod
Here at our church on the moon

We know our liberties we know our rights
We know how to fight a very good fight
Just get that last bag there and turn out the light
We're taking our church to the moon
We're taking our church to the moon
We'll be leaving soon

Let It Out

The folks at Kleenex are doing a good thing:

Update. Turns out the band that composed the music are Christ followers.....

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Is It OK to be Angry?

Anger is a delicate balance. On one hand, if you constantly fly off the handle, you get labeled as mean spirited and judgmental. However, if you are insincere with your real feelings, folks can see right through your false pretenses. It is hard to find the middle way.

Ok. Here is what bugs me - passive aggressive Christian folk. Disclaimer: I am not reacting to a recent event - I have witnessed this behavior for years.

A Christian therapist friend of mine just recently told me that the new edition of the gigantic diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association, will this year, for the first time, contain passive aggressive behavior as a diagnosable condition. And well it should be, because from my observation point, it is rampant in the church. Otherwise good people behave in a disingenuous fashion when they become frustrated with difficult people or situations.

Someone who is passive aggressive will not tell you that they might be really pretty damn mad at you. Nope. Instead they will use other methods to convey their frustration. They will

· passively resist fulfilling routine social and occupational tasks;
· complain of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others;
· become sullen, while complaining nothing is really that wrong

What has gotten into us church people? Where did we learn to be so, well, nice?
And what about our leader? How did Jesus handle anger? Meek and mild, the Servant King? Was it Jesus the Milk Toast Savior? I have been thinking about this now for a week or so. Seems to me, Christ was a fellow who had never heard of passive aggressive coping mechanisms. He acted, spoke, and followed through in a straight forward manner. No avoidance for Him. He dealt with his anger in a healthy way. Remember that bad scene in the temple with the money changers?

Christian folk, lets get real. Lets be mad at one another. Argue, discuss, be confrontational, work out our differences. Engage in real community. Forgive.

Its very hard, even painful to do this stuff, but in the long run, well worth it. And in doing this, we might just become more real, less artificial, and more like people of real flesh and blood to a watching world around us.

Remember, they ARE watching.

Bring Back the Monkeys!

Today, for the first time in years, I sat through most of the Superbowl. I had hopes that the commercials would be, as is usually the case, better than the actual game. I was pleasantly surprised by the game, played in pouring rain, and in particular for a victory for Tony Dungy, who is a man of faith who has faced the most profound personal pain imaginable. A great win for a good man.

As for the commercials, the performance was pathetic. Sad, unimaginative, and uninspiring. If the commercials had been a football game, they would have had a final score of:

Brainless Beer Ads / Generally Uncreative - 84
Creative / Knee Slapping Funny / Inspiring - 12

A rout. The only funny moment was the ad for Emerald Nuts, which indicated something like "in the afternoon your blood sugar declines to the point where you fall asleep, and Robert Goulet appears in your office and messes with your stuff". I have this problem all the time. So glad I have found a solution.

One other item I must address. Careerbuilder needs to fire their ad agency; they are completely clueless. They have produced a series called "Career Jungle" that 1) is incomprehensible, 2) poorly edited, and 3) contains dialogue that is impossible to understand. Career Builder representatives have said that "We really want to talk about job dissatisfaction. So we have new TV work that talks about job dissatisfaction and not just bad co-workers". Oh please, people!

In my (alleged) mind, the chimpanzee campaign was one for the ages. Stay with what works. Can the ad agency. Bring back the monkeys!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Passive Aggressive Jesus

Sometimes it feels to me like the NBA has one up on the Church.

In the NBA, if you get fouled too hard, and then really ticked at somebody, the unwritten rule (until recently) was that you could get back up off the floor, and well, DECK that so-and-so. Fisticuffs as a solution. Pugilism to solve your “issues”.

Major League Baseball might also have a better way of dealing with anger than does the First Church of Wherever. Say some annoying 22 year old left hander with a wicked 104 MPH fastball keeps throwing high hard ones against your best hitters, sending them flailing to the dirt. Response? Your team can just wait an inning or two, and when Junior Lefty does it again, you simply clear the bench, charge the guy, and smother him in misdirected punches. It works. Afterward, while everyone looks sheepish and apologies to the press, inside, they probably feel really good about the resolution.

But we church folk are pretty darn pathetic when we get mad. Wait. Did I say mad? Oh sorry, I am a Christian, I don’t get mad. Matter of fact, mad might even be a bad word to say. Annoyed, yes, that is more like it. “Our patience has been tried”, we might say. We become, say, “slightly miffed”. “You know, Marge, I have a hard time with that person”, we offer to our Christian friends. But angry? Not us. Ticked off? Noooo thank you very much. Pissed? Gasp! Never. I just swore! We Christian folk often handle anger about as well as George Bush handles words of more than two syllables.

Here is the equation we church people seem to follow:

Christian person + Anger = Very Bad Behavior!

I think this is very bad math, for living life, and building the Kingdom.

More on this soon.

Mental Vacation

At the office. Need to take a mental vacation, if just for a minute.

I would much rather be here right now.

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