I Am (or A Call to Humility)

As some of you may know, during Jesus’ ministry there was not a single monolithic “Judaism.” Rather, different groups were interpreting and expressing their faith in unique ways. Broadly speaking…

… in an attempt to achieve and maintain purity and distinctiveness from the surrounding corrupt culture, the Essenes had chosen to retreat away from society. They lived in desert communities, and were preparing for a final military battle, where they would be recognized as the “true followers” of YHWH.

… the Sadduccees were largely afluent, and had aligned themselves with the economic and political structure that surrounded the Temple in Jerusalem. Because they were well off, they weren’t interested in any sort of change. They’d “got theirs”, and weren’t interested in any dialogue that might involve a loss on their end. Relatedly, they didn’t believe in the resurrection (because who needs resurrection when you have the good life on this side of death?).

… the Pharisees were the “peoples’ champions,” being popular with the masses. They were concerned with the purity of God’s people: not for purity’s sake, but so God might return to Israel and overthrow the Roman/pagan empire that controlled them. Because, in their view, God’s return depended on Israel’s purity (and quite a few people agreed with them), they sought to “help” the people fulfill the Law in as complete a way as possible.

… The Zealots were absolutely convinced that they were God’s people, and that God needed to rule them. The problem was that, at the time, Rome was ruling Israel. The Zealots desperately wanted to change that, in any way they could. They demanded change now. Which meant military resistance. Which meant weapons. Which even meant political murder. Anything to bring about the “Rule of God” in their nation.

… The Romans, lastly, had little interest in matters of faith. They had their Gods and, for the most part, were tolerant of their subjects’ beliefs. What the Jews believed about YHWH mattered little to them, as long as the peace was kept and commerce was undisturbed. Though the Romans had their pantheon of gods, the Roman “state”, for all intensive purposes, was god and supreme authority. They were supremely pragmatic, and ultimately “might made right”. The Romans got their way because they had the swords and the legions.

For years, it’s been popular for the church to ridicule and lionize Jesus’ rivals. Constant insinuations of, “Wow how could you be so off? How could you miss Jesus?…

“I mean, it’s Jesus for crying out loud!”

Message after message insinuates that somehow we would’ve gotten it right. We would’ve bet on the right horse.  I guess it’s easy to believe that somehow we’re above falling victim to all of these “silly” beliefs…

Actually it’s arrogance. We’re not above any of them.

Whether it’s just my natural tendency towards (sometimes false) humility or not, I wonder if we shouldn’t give a tad more grace to all of these groups. In fact, I’d say it this way…

I’m an Essene whenever I come to believe that God has given up on this world and it’s going over the cliff; whenever I decide to retreat inside the walls of Christian “safety” and wait for Jesus to come back and “fix everything”…

I’m a Sadduccee whenever I deny that Jesus has broken the power of death, and begin acting like this life is all there is; when I forget that this life is not the end of the story; I’m also a Sadduccee when I prefer my security, power and money over what God may be leading me towards…

I’m a Pharisee (a lot, actually) whenever I decide that someone else’s “righteousness” needs to look like mine; when I decide that somehow I know the path for others, and that they are somehow inferior to me…

I’m a Zealot whenever I decide that political power = spiritual righteousness, and whenever I think that a political party (a) has exclusive rights to God or (b) will be the savior of our nation…

Lastly, I’m a Roman whenever I choose to ignore the presence of Jesus and His call to come and die at His cross, whenever I prefer to worship the gods of pragmatism and strength, rather than weakness and service…

I’m all of these things. I don’t know if I would’ve been numbered among Jesus’ followers, or the crowd, or even the Romans who beat him and nailed him to the cross.

Good thing He died for all of those folks.

And me too. But I think it would be great if we can learn that none of us are above mis-reading Jesus, and when we talk about how “silly” these folks were, we are already walking down the road towards an unsettling arrogance and close-mindedness.

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Improv Leadership

I’ve been enjoying Jonah Lehrer’s book on creativity, and something jumped out at me. In the chapter called, “Letting Go,” Lehrer describes the approach to improvisation at Second City, the premier comedy/improv school in America (with alumni that includes John Belushi, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Chris Farley, Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, and many others):

Lehrer writes that the students “begin practicing a technique called ‘Yes, and . . .’ The basic premise is simple: When performing together, improvisers can never question what came before. They need to instantly agree—that’s the ‘yes’ part—and then start setting up the next joke.”

Often leadership can devolve into a monologue: the point leader knows “the script”, and they simply dictate their vision and directives to the audience (the staff or team), who then respond accordingly. Needless to say, there is not much creative or collaborative about this environment, and even the most talented leader is missing out on the creative input of the audience/team.

But true collaboration—and all the benefits that come with it—involves embracing the “Yes, and …” philosophy of improvisation. Basically, this means a leader must…

  • confess that he or she does not have the “end of the story” written already; the other participants (team/staff members) are full contributors to the reality of the plot
  • choose to stimulate the improvisational creativity in a meeting or rehearsal by “never questioning what came before”; this means that suggestions and ideas must be accepted and built upon and only very rarely squashed
  • realize that even ideas that seem too far outside of the box can still be agreed to, understanding that improvisation is a process, and even though you may say, “Yes” to that idea, the “and” part means that it is open to change (a reality that the idea contributor needs to own as well)
  • acknowledge the fact that—even though they still have the option to say, “No,”—if they do so they risk squashing the creative process (there will be times this is okay, but discernment is necessary)

Though this culture can be uncomfortable for some contributors (after all, not everyone is comfortable playing improvisational jazz), it can be an amazing creative tool. If you are seeking to increase the level of collaboration and creativity on your staff or team, try embracing this “Yes, and…” philosophy to your meetings. Let the ideas flow and morph and change, and watch the energy level grow and rise from your staff.

THE Prayer Pt 4 :: “May Your Kingdom Come…”

Our Father, who lives in the heavens,
May Your name be kept holy.
May Your Kingdom come,
May Your will be done,
On earth just like it’s done in Your presence.

Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Don’t bring us to the times of trial,
But deliver us from the evil one.
Amen.

There are three critical parts to this section: God’s Kingdom to come, God’s will to come, and His presence (presence is a slightly better translation than “heaven”, since we need to remember that God is not limited to living in heaven).

God has a Kingdom. This is no small thing.

In fact, it’s such a large thing that it’s the first recorded statement of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel:

‘The time promised by God has come at last!’ he announced. ‘The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!’

Notice Jesus did not say, “Repent and believe in my  coming death and resurrection so you can go to heaven.” Again breaking it down:

  • God promised this
  • The Kingdom is near
  • You have to change your way of thinking
  • This is Good News 

There is no exact consensus on Jesus’ “Kingdom” teachings: did he intend it to be established while he was alive? Is it visible, or more spiritual? However, what is clear is that it comprised the major thrust of his teaching while on earth. Perhaps we could just say this:

To the extent that a “Kingdom” exists wherever a king’s will is put into place and performed, God wants His presence in your life to make a difference.

In a sense, the King’s Kingdom starts with you, and then spills over to the rest of the world as well.

To pray for God’s Kingdom to come is to pray for that to be true in your life.

Which means we need to take seriously the call to change, to become more like Christ, to in fact, “be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

We shouldn’t be afraid to pray this line of the prayer, but we should also be willing to go on the journey to relinquish our place in our kingdom, and to let God have His place in it.

Big Shoulders

Sears (Willis) Tower was designed to resemble Chicago's "Big Shoulders" // Image via Wikipedia.org

Two weeks ago, I wrote chord sheets out for about 20 songs in one night. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t all that difficult either. I’ve been making music in one form or another since I was 18 years old (8 or 9 if you count piano lessons and choir).

This is just something I do. 

It wasn’t necessarily the most fun I’ve ever had, but the fact that I could write them out so quickly meant that I could be free to focus my attention on other aspects of my life and work. In other words, I know my musical shoulders are big—I can carry a lot, and I can do so with efficiency and relatively little stress. It certainly takes time, but relatively speaking I can handle a lot of musical work and still be able to get other things done in my work. Musical “wins” come quickly for me, which leaves me time to work through more challenging aspects of life.

We all have them, and one of the tensions of leadership/creativity/work is to know where your “shoulders” are “big”—the things you can do, because of your experience, giftedness, and passion, that come easily—so that you can get to the things that may take more time and energy from you.

  • Do you know where your shoulders are big?
  • What can you take on easily while staying free to accomplish other tasks?
  • What “quick wins” can you look for in your work?

 

Mind “The Gap”

 

 

I got my first electric guitar, a Fender Musicmaster (with a silverfaced Fender Champ) around 1981 or 82, I think. For the next three or four years, spent 2 to 3 hours a day trying to learn songs off of a few key records that I had, including:

  • Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy (The Who; horrible name—wait, an awesome name!)
  • Still Life (Rolling Stones live record)
  • For Those About to Rock (AC/DC)
  • Moving Pictures (Rush)
  • Under a Blood Red Sky (U2)

Let me try to paint a picture of this process for you. Because there was no iTunes or YouTube, all this woodshedding had to be done physically.

Prepare to play.

Drop the needle (or maybe, if you were lucky, hit play on the cassette player).

Listen, try to play along (God help you if they weren’t perfectly in tune).

Try to work out what you got wrong, and then listen again. And again. And again. And again.

I think one of the main differences, creatively speaking, between this era and the 60s-80s, is something I call, “The Gap.” Basically, “The Gap” is that mysterious place between what I heard coming out of the speakers and what my fingers produced. The gap used to be large, because technology and information didn’t exist for you to know exactly what Jimmy Page, or The Edge, or Alex Lifeson was playing.

So you had to make a creative decision for yourself.

And that creative decision, made inside “The Gap” would lead to new discoveries, new approaches, new thoughts about your instrument. 

The thing is, today “The Gap”, at least in the context of learning songs is almost nonexistent. You can dial up on YouTube, or a myriad of web pages, just about every single bit of information about a musician:

  • his or her gear
  • the gear they used on a particular track
  • video of how they played
  • the chord charts
  • inaccurate versions of the chord charts
  • their thought process

The list goes on and on and on.

“The Gap”—the place of mystery and creativity—has shrunk, at least for learning music. 

But that doesn’t mean it’s disappeared.

If you’re doing creative work: learning an instrument, writing, simply coming up with new ideas, you must find “The Gap” in your life. 

  • Where are you going beyond your boundaries?
  • Where do you have to make a “best guess” as to what to do next?
  • Where can you say, “I’ve gotten all the best information I could find, but I’m still uncertain about XX% of this process?”

Because that’s where your Gap is now. And that’s where you have to move to.

Resurrection is About EVERYTHING

Just a brief thought on the resurrection (because it’s a season, after all).

…Not long after his death hi associates started to claim that he was now in charge, for real. And they started to act as if it was true. This isn’t about ‘religion’ in the sense the Western world has imagined for over two hundred years. This is about everything: life, art, the universe, justice, death, money. It’s about politics, philosophy, culture, and being human. It’s about a God who is so much bigger than the ‘God’ of ordinary modern ‘religion’ that it’s hardly possible to think of the two in the same breath. (N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus)

Easter, from John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom’s Easter Homily, circa 400AD

Easter Homily

by St. John Chrysostom

Let all pious men and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast; let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord; let those who have borne the burden of Lent now receive their pay, and those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due reward; let any who came after the third hour be grateful to join in the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be afraid of being too late; for the Lord is gracious and He receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes on the eleventh hour as well as to him who has toiled since the first: yes, He has pity on the last and He serves the first; He rewards the one and praises the effort.

Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one: let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of his goodness. Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed; let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shone from the grave; let no one fear death, for the death of our Saviour has set us free: He has destroyed it by enduring it, He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom, He has angered it by allowing it to taste of his flesh.

When Isaiah foresaw all this, he cried out: “O Hades, you have been angered by encountering Him in the nether world.” Hades is angered because frustrated, it is angered because it has been mocked, it is angered because it has been destroyed, it is angered because it has been reduced to naught, it is angered because it is now captive. It seized a body, and, lo! it encountered heaven; it seized the visible, and was overcome by the invisible.

O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and you are abolished. Christ is risen and the demons are cast down. Christ is risen and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen and life is freed. Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead: for Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

Amen, indeed.

(found at http://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/resub1.htm)

Holy Week :: Holy Saturday and Rock and Roll

I used to know you for a long, long time
I felt your heart beat inside mine

We were together for three good years
Now all I have is a blanket of tears

Stuck inside a Saturday rain
Scared things won’t ever be the same

So I’m waiting on love
Waiting on love
Waiting on love… to come back down

Walk resurrection,
Sing freedom songs
Tell all of your brothers and sisters…
Come along

I used to know you for a long, long time
I felt your heart beat inside mine

For any Maida Vale fans: A little insight into “Walk Resurrection”.

I wrote this song for Holy Saturday…

A place between grief and hope, between promise and fulfillment.

Between Jesus’ death and the promise of the Holy Spirit.

The song started out inspired by a cover of “Glad and Sorry” by Golden Smog (a midwestern Americana “super group” including Jeff Tweedy and members of the Jayhawks).

But we really, really struggled with the song, with trying to make it sound and feel like “Maida Vale.”

At one point it had ballooned into 60 recorded tracks of music, including African choirs, and multiple keyboard parts (in one moment of inspired lunacy, we actually did a remix!).

But we didn’t give up on the song. We deconstructed it and rebuilt it from the ground up, taking inspiration from the blues, White Stripes, and something more primal.

For the vocal/guitar session (simultaneous, absolutely live, and one take), I had actually never played the version before. I had a vision in my head, picked a tempo, and told the engineer to start recording.

Today: reflect a little while longer…

Tomorrow: Walk Resurrection. 

Walk Resurrection

I Don’t Want a Narcissistic Crucifixion

According to iTunes, I have a lot of music. Over 22 days’ worth, to be exact.

I intentionally chose probably 95% of it; the rest were gifts, and songs that I needed to learn for gigs.

I also have probably 100 podcasts—again, ones that I have chosen.

I really don’t have to listen to the radio anymore. I can exist in my own little “Pod World,” and never have to listen to music I don’t like, or ideas I don’t agree with, any more.

That’s the world we live in—a “targeted marketing” paradise where I can tailor my world around me: my tastes and desires, my whims and wishes.

DVR, Netflix, Facebook, all point to a somewhat disturbing phenomenon:

I am the center of my existence. My needs rule.

Turning to the cross, although this may sound sacrilegious, I want to be crystal clear: Jesus’ death on the cross is not simply about the forgiveness of my individual sins. 

As N. T. Wright puts it, for too long we have made this individual forgiveness the “Sun” in our “Good Friday” universe.

But God’s purposes are much, much bigger.

And the truth is, I need it.

I don’t need a salvation that is “all about me” to join up with my universe that is all about me.

I need a God who is bigger than that; who—and pay close attention here—forgives me along the way to a larger and grander purpose in the world. 

The cross isn’t just about individuals; it’s wrapped up with the entire mission of God from Genesis 2, through Abraham, through Israel, through the Prophets, and ultimately into Revelation.

Stay with individual forgiveness only, and you risk developing a narcissistic spirituality; start with mission and you get the over-arching purpose of God, with forgiveness thrown in…

… What a gift!

Brennan Manning on the Cross

In 1963 a friend gave me an expensive crucifix. A French artist had carved in wood, carved very delicately, the hands of Jesus on the cross. On Good Friday the Roman artists carved—O God, how they carved!—our brother Jesus with no trouble at all. No art was needed to bang in the nails with hammers, no red lead to make real blood gush from his hands, feet, and side. His mouth was contorted and his lips twisted simply by hoisting him up on the crossbeam. We have so theologized the passion and death of this sacred man that we no longer see the slow unraveling of his tissue, the spread of gangrene, this raging thirst… Jurgen Moltmann writes, ‘We have made the bitterness of the cross, the revelation of God in the cross of Jesus Christ, tolerable to ourselves by learning to understand it as a necessity for the process of salvation.’ (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel)