I Know Where She Is…

Meet my sister. She’s five years older than me, and mostly amazing.

She’s been inspiring and challenging me for decades now (I’m excluding the first 12 or so years, because then she mostly just picked on me…), and now she’s moving gently but firmly into a new arena of life and ministry.

Please take 30 minutes and listen to her teach. Her message is about what you do when you find out that you’re not where you think you are in life. When expectations aren’t matching up with reality.

I know where she is… she’s following close behind a rabbi.

Centralia

For two summers, when I was 18 and 19, I worked for the steel company that employed my father. I did random sales and marketing stuff for them: customer satisfaction surveys and inventories with the various state and local transportation departments that used their products. Driving around — Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, and California — by myself in a rental car with an expense account was pretty happening for a skinny college kid who wanted to spend as much money as he could on guitar gear.

One day I was riding around with some guys in central Pennsylvania when we came to a town called Centralia. It stank. Smelled like sulfur. When I asked, they just shook their heads and said, “wait.” When we got closer to the town, they told me to get out and put my hand on the pavement. Even though it was a cool day, the pavement was warm; really warm.

Sulfur; heat.

Was this hell?

They finally told me what was going on. You see, Centralia is in coal mining country, and one day a fire started burning in the mine at Centralia…

… that was in 1962, and it’s been burning ever since.

Once the fire got started, there was seemingly nothing anyone could do. All attempts to extinguish it had failed, and it essentially was smoldering for over 30 years.

You can smell the sulfur, and you can feel the heat. The slowly became toxic, houses slowly being evacuated before it got too risky, health-wise, to remain.

Eventually the fire killed the town, and Centralia doesn’t really exist anymore.

Sometimes I wonder about the stuff we carry around in our spirits, in our hearts. Are there things that gnaw at you? Things that you’ve done or seen? Things that were done to you? When there is significant pain in our lives it is tempting to “get on with it”, and try to shut things away, but when we do that we often find that those things are like the mine fire at Centralia: even though we see no destruction on the surface, deep down we are being destroyed, and eventually what’s going on underneath will be displayed on the surface of our lives.

When there is pain, we need to do our best to bring things into redemptive time — to allow them to see the light of day, to exist in the oxygen, so that we can deal with them.

Burying them won’t kill them. It only gives them places to smolder and burn.

The Song

Jonathan was born unable to hear. He was unable to hear the words of love from his parents. The comfort that they spoke, the songs that they would sing. No matter how they shouted, how they wept for him, how they sang him lullabies, he would not hear.

His world was an ocean of silence.

But then…

The moment when his face lights up, and he hears the voice — the overture of love — from his parent, is a priceless moment of grace, love and beauty.

It also teaches.

So many of us have either never heard the song and voice of Love. Others of us have heard it, but then have allowed it to fade into the background of clanging traffic, of playlists, of work and the corporate ladder.

But guess what: The Voice is still speaking. It’s still singing. There’s a song out there, singing all of our names, waiting for that moment when our ears and eyes are opened up and we recognize the Voice for ourselves.

What song(s) are you missing? Do you still hear the Voice? Do you still light up with the soft light of grace when you hear it?

Wanted: Pastor of Wisdom

Recently I was talking to a friend of mine. He was the lead pastor of a church we started together up in Chicago, however he left a couple of years ago just to take some time off and consider some possible new directions for himself in ministry.

Unfortunately, the economy dropped into the pooper, and church budgets are definitely hurting; finding potential jobs in ministry (or anywhere, for that matter) has been difficult. Not only that, but my buddy definitely doesn’t fit the mold of a “typical” evangelical pastor, personality-wise. Quite like me, he’s not really a “Type A” personality. He’s contemplative, quiet. He’s content to not dominate a room when he walks into it.

We were reflecting on the culture of pastoring nowadays: even though he’s successfully planted and sustained a church (which is more than a lot of pastors can claim), he’s readily passed over due to his relatively mild personality and also, his gift mix.

“You know,” he said, “when I took my spiritual gifts inventory years ago, I was told that I have the spiritual gift of wisdom, and I totally resonate with that, but you know what? Today’s church seems to not need wisdom.”

We laughed, but it’s a bit scary. The gifts that seems to be sought after by the church nowadays are definitely leadership, apostleship, and creativity (in the form of communicating or playing music). Combine any of these with a hard-charging personality and any obvious skill or ability in your chosen ministry field, and you can pretty much guarantee yourself a job on staff somewhere.

But my buddy and I also have been reading the Book of the Acts lately (that’s right, I said the “Book of The Acts”: it’s a more accurate title), and we were struck by Acts 6:

2So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”5This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…

Wow. So the first criteria to run a “food pantry” for the early church was not a passion for the homeless and/or the gift of administration. It was that you be “full of the Spirit and wisdom.”

I repeatedly encounter church staff that are incredibly skilled individuals, but not as many that could be considered “wise.” Maybe it’s just me, but I connect “wisdom” with a depth of knowledge, and a quiet willingness to apply that knowledge to life in a gentle, practical way.

I wonder how different our churches would appear if the staff that they sought out were wise before they were skillful. If they were encouraged to develop the work of the Spirit in their lives rather than to merely “get things done.” If you are blessed to serve on a church staff already, are you leading out of a depth of wisdom, or merely dispensing your duties? Are you seeking to engage in discussions that develop the deep places of your life, or merely interested in “playing that guitar, monkey boy?!?”

Do Yourself a Favor (or two)

I came home tonight and Shana was finishing up a movie called Bella.

Amazing story of love (and good food, too!).

Not Hollywood love, real love.

The self-sacrificing kind.

The Jesus kind.

So first, rent it and watch it, and recapture some wonder and innocence in your life.

Why not?

Then, go buy Nina Simone’s “Nearer Blessed Lord” (from the movie).

I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.

The Disruptive Gospel

As the 20th century drew to a close, a German scientist named Karlheinz Brandenburg was working on a logarithm that would help reduce the size of certain types of computer files; specifically music files. Eventually, he landed on a formula that helped him shrink the size of a standard music composition by about a factor of 10.

Because the file format was designed for a group of scientists known as the Moving Picture Experts Group, it took on an abbreviated version of their name, “mp3.” Aided by the explosion of Napster and websites like mp3.com, the phenomenon of music-as-digital-files exploded.

Music would never be the same.

“Disruptive technology” is technology that enters a given market and, because of its price and or innovation, not only competes in that market, it actually redefines the market entirely. To be concise, it renders “competition” irrelevant, and redefines consumer behavior – it becomes the new standard, the new paradigm.

Whether you officially consider mp3 file compression disruptive technology or not, it’s difficult to argue that the innovation significantly changed the entire paradigm of music consumption. It changed forever our thinking about music (music should be portable, free, and easily shared), as well as our behavior (we either download our music illegally, or pay .99 for a single through iTunes, rather than buying a physical disc or tape from a store).

Mp3 technology had a major part in rendering irrelevant everything else in the “market” of music – CDs, cassette tapes, etc. – and eventually contributed to the entire dismantling of the record industry as we know it.

Now here’s the deal: The Gospel is disruptive technology.

Allow the Gospel to enter into your life, and it has the potential — if we let it — to  realign and redefine our values, thoughts, and behaviors. It renders our old ways of behaving — of our need to control, dominate, and/or manipulate — irrelevant. Hang around long enough, submit to it, and it becomes the new standard of our life, not just something that is an “add on” or a part.

A Zimbabwe Covenant

This is not mine; it was given to me by an African pastor I heard once at a retreat. He passed it on in written form to me, credited only as, “A Zimbabwe Covenant”. I stumbled across it today in a stack of papers, and thought I’d just throw it up here. Enjoy.

“I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit power. The die is cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus. I will not look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still.

“My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I am finished and done with low-living, sight-walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.

“I no longer need pre-eminence, propserity, position, promotion, or popularity. I don not have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on God’s presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer, and labor by power.

“My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven. My road is narrow, my way rough, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not give up, shut up or let up. I will go on until Christ comes, and work until Christ stops me. I am a disciple of Jesus.”

Next…

So we finally reached Easter.

No, I mean… We finally reached Easter!!!!

So let me ask you: what’s gonna be different?

In my community, we walked through the 40 Days of Lent, carefully observing, contemplating, denying ourselves.

During Holy Week, we gathered each night to remember Jesus’ last days, and contemplated what it might mean for our lives, some 2,000 years later. Friday night we reflected through song, teaching, and then visually (through the Passion of the Christ) on his death. Friday night through Sunday we joined together in constant prayer, circling around the Stations of the Cross until, finally, we reached Sunday morning, with its empty tomb, the joyous release of energy from the community, and the celebration of the paradigm-shifting reality of the resurrection.

I think, now, we “get” (as much as possible) Lent a little better. We understand denial, understand a little of what it means to “take up our cross” and follow Jesus. This is a good thing.

But what happens next?

On the strength of some year-old conversations with some good friends, I’d like to suggest that in the same way that Lent helps us understand Jesus sacrifice on the cross, perhaps the Easter season could help us understand what it may mean to “live the resurrection,” and maybe the place to begin is through “engagement”.

If Lent is about denial, let’s let Easter be about engagement; where we ask ourself, “What do I need to deny myself?” Perhaps our question now becomes, “What resurrection activity do I need to engage in?”

To be brief, the resurrection has inaugurated, in some amazing, brilliant way, the reality of God’s kingdom now, on Earth. No need to wait on Revelation (oh but wait don’t get me started on that)! The empty tomb says that the best of what’s to come is possible now, and engagement says that we are (to borrow a phrase from NT Wright) “anticipating” this life-to-come now.

Examples? How about for these next 40 days, you…

  • Engage in service by finding a place to serve the “least of these”
  • Engage in slowing down by eliminating techno-clutter from your life at specific times
  • Engage in prayer by setting an alarm and praying a simple prayer (maybe the one Jesus taught us) four times a day
  • Engage in relational health by reaching out to a good friend for regular meals together

Don’t make it overwhelming; keep it simple. Just ask yourself, “What will life in the Kingdom look like?” and begin “practicing that life now.”

… Because, you know, the Resurrection isn’t only an event…

… It’s a lifestyle.

Currently Reading

Because I went to the library yesterday, here’s a list of what I’m currently working through:

  • Bowie in Berlin: A New Career in a New Town
  • Artscience: Creativity in the post-Google Generation
  • Love is an Orientation
  • High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don’t Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian
  • Art and Fear
  • Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity
  • But Is It Art?
  • How Art Made the World: A Journey to the Origins of Human Creativity
  • How to the Think About the Great Ideas from the Great Books of Western Civilization

… I’ll let you know how it goes.

Morning Pages: Mark 5 and “Ho-Hum Jesus”

I need to write more I need to write more I need to write more.

What can happen in ten minutes? What can transfer from soul to screen? From brain to keyboard?

Let’s see.

I’m teaching in 5 days. Forty minutes on the 5th chapter of Mark’s gospel. (I write it this way, because I think language should shock us out or our spiritual sleep — all language; “Mark 5” just sets us up to blow by what is really going on — what is “Mark’s gospel”? What is “gospel”? Who was Mark? … but I digress).

Here’s where I want to start: Jesus exorcises a demon. Jesus heals a woman. Jesus raises a child from the dead. Our first instinct is take a step back and say, “Woah!” and then point to these scriptures (to ourselves and the rest of the world), saying, “You see?!!? You see?!!? You see how awesome this guy is? He wants to heal folks! He wants to set us free! He wants to make you ‘all better’!” And he does, mostly (see the parts about “taking up your cross”)…

But guess what?

<whisper> Other folks healed, exorcised, even raised people…

Peter did it, Paul did it, Elijah and Elisha did it, and that’s just the beginning. Ancient histories are pretty full of people — Jewish, Christian, and pagans — who could heal, exorcise demons and even occasionally resurrect people.

So what do we do with this? Is Jesus actually not that special? Is he just “Ho-Hum Jesus”? “Been-There-Done-That-Blogged-About-It Jesus?”

… Or maybe the healings aren’t the point?

Maybe Jesus’ healings (and by implications, Mark’s stories of the healings) aren’t meant to be just spiritual hocus-pocus (or the plural hocii-pocii?). Maybe Mark wants us to understand something deeper.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I think there is an under-current to the story, something that may be simultaneously more revolutionary and insidious than we ever imagined, and more normal and “every day” than we could ever have dreamed of…

… Because isn’t that who YHWH is, after all? And isn’t that what life with Him is, as well? More revolutionary + subversive, but also more gritty, and “Monday-morning-I-need-my-coffee?” (yes, I’m inventing new words, but it’s my blog, so deal with it lol.)

I’m still processing through, so you’ll have to check the tape in order to hear how deep the rabbit hole goes, but the invitation is there. Stay tuned, and “listen, if you have ears to hear…”