Thursday, August 27, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
When Rowan was born June 10, 2008, Shey had already been in the hospital for over a week with intense back pain that the doctors had been attributing to Rowan pressing on Shey's sciatic nerve, but actually was the fruition of an infection developed in the bone of her spine which was also causing severe inflammation in the muscles near the infection and dramatic pain. Watching and being with Shey as the pain intensified for over a month prior to Rowan's birth, and especially right before and after his birth...all while the doctors tried to figure out just what was actually happening, were some of the most difficult days of my short life. And then, when Rowan was born with pneumonia and air trapped outside of his lungs causing him to breathe poorly along with being premature and a few other issues, the suffering intensified into new heights. Not to mention that for the first four days of Rowan's life, Shey and Rowan were in different hospitals, literally forcing me to choose between the two of them as they took up residence 1 1/2 hours apart. After three weeks in hospitals, both Shey and Rowan would come home: Shey, barely able to move on her own, with months of slow therapy, and a lot of medicinal treatment to go; Rowan, as good as new, and a toughness to complement his easy-going personality.
There were many other hardships during those three weeks at the hospital, and certainly plenty when we made it back home, but I am not writing tonight to try to spell out all of the suffering or to make anyone have pity for me or our situation at that time. In fact, Shey has known plenty of other suffering with her only sister suffering the traumatic effects of a brain injury suffered in a car accident nearing 10 years ago. I've stood at the bedside of a student with her parents as she breathed a final breath after a battle with brain cancer at only 16. We've got close friends whose newborn has already had multiple heart surgeries, and have been greatly encouraged and impressed with their tenacity, hope, and resilience. All this to say: both Shey and I know that everyone has or will experience suffering in their life. We aren't special, we don't have any claim to fame, or even believe that we handle things like this perfectly.
But I process and reflect through writing. And I have been shying away from writing about this for a long time. Not because I haven't wanted to...but because I wanted to let the experience of last year to sink in. To try to desperately to hear the still, quiet voice of God in the suffering and hardships of the past year. To let the silence fill my heart. To let my silence give room to hear the community of people around me, and to spend my time processing things deeply with the close family and friends who gave ears to listen, and wisdom to share. And I wanted to spend this past year with my new family. Shey and I have been together for a long time now, and there was a lot we wanted to process together, and enjoy together with the new addition to our family. Not to mention, for the last three years, I had been going to seminary full time plus working full time at the church, so I wanted to take a year to slow down, enjoy living out in the country, spend time with Shey and Rowan, and heal up a bit.
I'd like to post some thoughts on hope in suffering, and how I've worked through some of the dark periods of my life, not really for any other reason than that it is time, it is time for me to speak about it out loud to others, so as to name the suffering and reflect upon the hope found in suffering. Not hope because of suffering, not hope caused or brought on by suffering, but hope in suffering. Maybe later I will unpack all that theologically. But not right now.
I was reading over an email recently I sent to two close friends at a pinnacle of the hospital stay, as it was one of those emails that just comes out, like when you have to throw-up whether you want to or not...and I can remember a couple of words from the email, and weeping as I wrote. I wept because I had nothing to give, nothing that I was holding back, and I knew these two guys would be there and had already been there to listen. To hear me. To give ears, hearts, hands, and knees to the pain they both were watching me and my family experience, and go through with us too, as they shared in depths of the darkness with us. And the next morning, when I finally talked to and/or saw those guys, I experienced in a new way why Jesus necessarily had to come to earth. Why Jesus had to be a person, a living breathing, blood-in-the-veins, scraped hands, dirty feet, smelly of a person: namely, because hope is always embodied. Hope takes shape. Hope in some distant place isn't the grandest hope to me, hope found in others helps to give life meaning and possibility when suffering seems to be closing every door. And those two guys in numerous ways embodied hope and made it real, being living light in the stormy clouds of life's grey shadows.
And hope took shape when our families surrounded us, or my parents hopped on a plane the moment I called them for help. Or when moms, friends, kind nurses, or family stayed with Shey or with Rowan when I couldn't be with one of them. Hope embodied is the best hope of all. It is the perfect blend of hope that changes the present and the future. Hope embodied in voices singing to my son when I couldn't hold his hand, hope embodied in friends who helped Shey to laugh when tears had been the only words spoken, or friends who let the silence speak...and simply were present with us in that silence that speaks a thousand words without a sound ever being made. Or kind emails, voicemails, hospital visits, flowers, all signs, markers, reminders of a hope made real. This isn't some pie-in-the-sky hope. This isn't some "well one day things will be better hope." This is hope eternal changing the present reality. This is embodied hope that changed me. That gave hope in suffering, because it was embodied in others, when I couldn't find it in myself, or have the eyes to see it.
Does this mean that there isn't hope for the future, or that embodied hope is the only kind of hope? Surely not. But the embodied hope of today, is a marker, a sign, a cosmos-altering way of being in the world that actually makes a difference. As Jesus says so beautifully in teaching us to pray, "May God's will be done on earth as in heaven," amen. Amen. Hope embodied is hope that can illuminate the darkness of suffering. It doesn't remove the pain of suffering, or make anything easy. But it is real. And it is present.
Friday, May 29, 2009
"At the end of the day, I know myself to be an evangelist at heart. I believe the good news of Jesus Christ is good news for all people. I am eager to offer the gift of Jesus and his good news to all people, whatever their religion. I am eager to help all people, whatever their religious identity, to “taste and see” how good God is, and to take on Jesus’ yoke so we will experience together his meekness and gentleness of heart. I am not a relativist in the sense of believing that beliefs don’t matter and that all viewpoints are equally valid or invalid.
But my confidence is in Jesus and his gospel - my confidence is not in us and our religious systems or institutions. I don’t think any religion - including my own - “owns” Jesus or has proprietary rights on his gospel of the kingdom of God. The good news taught by and embodied in Jesus is, I am discovering, far better than the half-good/half-bad version many of us were taught."
So tonight the youth are meeting for a mini-retreat called "Creating a Portable Faith." We are keeping with the traditional get a new t-shirt at the retreat deal, but this time it is going to be simple and helpful. It is a simple charcoal colored shirt with a lime-green port-o-potty on the front. Our aim for this retreat is to help the students to develop a portable faith...a faith they can take on the road with them. So we are gathering around 5 practices: Story, Listening to God, Community, Exercise, and Conversation in which we help will begin and build on some tools that they need to have or need to sharpen to help them to explore questions of life, faith, God, relationships, theology, doubt, fear, and all that life throws at them. I couldn't be more excited for my good friend Stephen Gray to join us and lead us on this retreat and through not only the series of five mini-talks, but also through the experiential and applied learning exercises and practices to go with them. It's going to be a fantastic time and I'm really excited to see how this stuff gets fleshed out in student's lives.
You may be wondering why even do anything like this...and the truth is, we are seeing that in most faith traditions and parachurch organizations somewhere between 80-95% of students within one year of graduating high school are not part of any faith community be it church or otherwise. And we hope by giving the students the tools they need to navigate their faith or questions about faith, etc. that we are trusting God to continue to work and speak into their lives while also preparing them to think critically and significantly about the profound beauty and complex mysteries of life.
Tonight Stephen will invite students to hear the story of his life and how that has become included into the story of God's mission and love for the world, and will invite students to reflect on their life story and how that interacts with the story of God. Then after some grub, we will discuss how to listen to God, and talk about prayer as listening and creating space for God to speak...not just for us to speak. Then we will spend the night at some different students' houses and then meet for breakfast to talk about community and the importance of connecting and processing the story of God and the profound beauties and complex mysteries of life in a community. And also how the community is a community on mission that seeks to include others rather than exclude. Then we will talk about how exercise is important as it helps us to physically communicate with others, God, and also effects our self-image which in turn effects how we relate to God and others. Lastly we wil talk about conversation as a value, about the importance of relating and being in conversation with people who think, believe, and act differently than us, believing that by being in converation with others we will be able to hear God speak in new ways.
It is going to be a great and packed 20 hours, but I couldn't be more excited to flesh out and put into practice some of the conversations I've had with folks like Stephen, Tom Lynch, Chris McPeek, Chris Folmsbee, Seth, Todd Cullop, and others. Please pray for us, and I hope to share some reflections on this experience here on the blog and next Sunday, June 7th when I preach next!
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Last night's show was a powerful cocktail of sad songs, tails of broken relationships, layers upon layers of sound, rising and falling in the story and music, and astounding energy. I was talking with Ben Owsley on the way home about art and the power of live music, when I stumbled upon something that I have forgotten as life has become busy with work, study and new adventures in my career in combination with the joys and upheavals that come in marriage and Rowan, namely: good art can inspire change. Somewhere during "Secret Meeting" and "Baby, We'll Be Fine" I sensed a stirring within my being that I hadn't felt in a while, a sense of something transcendent and yet imminent, hopeful yet doubted, ethereal and yet down deep in my toes. Good art changes the person experiencing it in such a way that we aren't the same person after the experience. Good art, and for me a good live set of music, awakens an often dormant awareness of the world around me, the hope within me, and the power to change the world in which I live for the better.
Last night was one of those experiences when I realized just how important it is to be connected to good performance art, to take the time out for my soul to drink lavishly in the creation, experiences, and insights of another person. Shey has always understood this much better than me, and is so much more sensitive to the importance of fostering spaces for creativity and honest relfection, and recognizes the danger and loss when those spaces shrink or cease to exist. And last night I think I began to understand for the first time in any such way that I could express into words just why I think experiencing performance art is so important.
Because even though so many of the songs are dark twisted stories of doubt, failures, misunderstood relationships, and cultural shortcomings, the music communicated hope in the midst of it all. A hope that believes change is possible, real, and integral. Last night brought about an awareness in me of the importance of regularly experiencing performance art for the good of my whole being. And if you get a chance, check out The National. Alligator and Boxer are two phenomenal albums.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
But I think that I have started to realize that I need writing. I need the imprecise, journal style, unbalanced, messy format of writing and thinking. My brain is becoming overloaded with things I need to think about, and I just need to get it out. Maybe to all of you who are no longer reading because of my inadequate and infrequent postings, I may start writing about more therapeutic things for me (like the thought process behind considering a Ph.D., or teaching a diploma level theology class next semester, or possibly publishing a book about hope for students in a youth ministry line of books), that I will always love feedback about, or would love any thoughts someone else might have to help along the way.
I still hope to have some laughs, stir up the pot, and to keep up the conversations with friends that live far away, or I don't get to see as much, or whose thinking continues to influence and affect me. I'd like to share more random pictures of the garden, of birds, of life...and I will try to use this space to process for me, what is happening in my life, to share with others for sure, but most importantly, so that I keep up the habit of writing, processing, reflecting, and changing into the person that I believe God is inviting me to be.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
But this isn't a review of the prayer manuals, but a review of Tickle's slim but momentous work titled The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why released late in 2008. This short work is a broad and introductory overview to the major upheavals Christianity has experienced roughly every 500 years. Tickle of course recognizes that there is about a hundred and fifty years of turmoil and boiling leading up to the time when Christianity erupts into something new and different, which takes another 150 years to be worked out, followed by years of relative stability, new authority, and change, until the authorities and structures are questioned and the collective story of Christianity undergoes another great change. For a brief insight think: 500 A.D. Gregory the Great and Monastics perpetuate the faith despite the fall of the Roman Empire, 1054 A.D. The Great Schism the mutual excommunication of the Roman Church and the Eastern Church of one another, 1517 A.D. The Great Reformation, and now in 2009 we find ourselves in the midst of The Great Emergence.
One of the reasons I went to The John Leland Center for Theological Studies is that they teach the important doctrines of the church in a special way, they teach them rooted in a historical context. They don't offer systematic theology classes, but rather the subjects or doctrines of systematic theology in a historical and contextual setting. It makes it more difficult, or at least makes one slow up before calling someone else a heretic, when we see that most folks throughout the history of the church who fell onto the wrong side of where the church believes actually was not trying to do something evil or wrong, or even lead the church or world astray, but rather were trying to make sense of the impenetrable mysteries of God and the world in such a way that would be helpful to others.
So I like this book a lot because it helps to put the major changes in the structure, authority, and life of the church into a historical context, making it more difficult to make a villain out of one group or one particular way of thinking. It is clear though, that in these times of great upheavals, the old guard is going to be strong, hoping to preserve the remnant of their authority and power, in such a way as to advocate the status quo, and remain traditionalists to the their core. Which is great, those folks will help to anchor the story through their long line of tradition, theology, and questions, while those in the center will be partaking in the upheaval while in communication with those in the corners preserving their current position.
Tickle's book is a thoughtful and needed historical perspective on the current state of Christianity that is accessible to readers of various backgrounds. Her state of the union for Christianity is extremely helpful in finding one's bearings amongst the great sea of change, and helps to ask some of the most important questions of our time, namely, 'Where now is the authority?' Her explorations of where the authority resided in previous time periods is examined most fully for the time period of The Great Emergence, where uncertainty, the Holy Spirit, and experience have come into the forefront of discussion and provide for illuminating insights into the current scientific, theological, historical, and philosophical landscapes.
If you are in for a brief, hair-blowing, monumental work written by my guess a late 70 year-old woman, then this is the book for you. I don't think you'll be disappointed, and you just might learn some things about yourself and figure out that you have some decisions about where you'll fit in to this whole "Great Emergence" thing. If anyone hears that Tickle is looking to have some surrogate grandchildren, let me know, I'd love to hear more of the stories and insights she has about the future of Christianity sitting around the dinner table some time.
Anyways, I read his latest book that was out at the time (he had a new book The Orthodox Heretic come out about a week ago) The Fidelity of Betrayal and found it to be a helpful read, especially in his discussion of reading the Bible with a second naivete (HT: Paul Ricoeur), which is an informed reading of the text, that is devotional and transformational in its aims, informed of course by the knowledge and previous experience one brings to the text yet with a second naivete that inspires new readings and understandings.
I also appreciated his discussion of the mystery of God brought near in Jesus. Rollins writes, "The mystery of God is not dissipated in Christ but brought near. Is this not the key to understanding the idea of transcendence within Christianity, a term that describes a way of breaking the here/elsewhere dichotomy of near and far through the idea of an immanence so deep and impenetrable that it cannot be approached? The myster of God now dwells among us rather than standing above us (pp. 53-54)." The point Rollins was making in describing the Incarnation was a bigger point in his discussion of truth, the biblical text, and the Word of God, namely that we will never be able to learn everything there is to learn or understand all that there is to understand about Jesus, the Bible, God, the mystery of God, theology, etc. not because God is unknowable, but because God's immanence ruptures into time and space, into real history in such a way that it shatters the ability to speak in any way about God, or an interpretation of the text that is final or the last word.
So the larger picture is that the church must be willing to deny its own beliefs in order to faithfully follow God. It must resist the tempation to name God in some final or all-encompassing manner. Rollins' writes further, "the deep truth of Christianity is not found in the acceptance of some particular historical claim. Rather, it refers to a happening testified to within the Bible that cannot be reduced to words, confined in concepts, or divulged by definitions (113)."
I enjoyed this book a lot, not as much as his first book, How (Not) to Speak of God which is in my top 10 of all time books at this point in my short life, but still worth a read if you are interested in postmodern theology and philosophy. Here's a pic from the evening when I heard him speak...a great night to hear someone whose work has meant a lot to me over the last couple of years.
Sunday, May 03, 2009
presence of God I felt from friends, and the cries that lept out of me as I layed crumpled before God.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
I didn't watch the dunk contest this year for the NBA, but I heard a lot about it, and this article made me laugh out loud: Nate Robinson Jumping Over Dwight Howard In Every Day Life.
And lastly, I thought Seth and Tim would like this t-shirt.
Monday, February 23, 2009
On a completely different note, but still something I am really looking forward to, one of my favorite philosophers/theologians is speaking as a part of The Leland Distinguished Speakers Series (previously N.T Wright) on Thursday night. His name is Peter Rollins. He's talking about his most recent book The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief, and the tour is called Lessons in Evandelism. It will be a provocative, fun, and thoughtful evening. Starts at 7:30 up in Arlington. If anyone is interested in coming with me, just let me know.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
First is part two of Brian Walsh's ongoing discussion how folks who are thinking in some progressive categories are frustrated with those who are "not getting it." In this post, he talks a lot about ways that the kingdom of God is being created outside of the walls of churches (and I'm not talking about buildings here). The hope is for an inspired and liberated imagination in contrast to an imperial imagination. Good stuff.
Second is a post from Peter Rollins. Rollins is one of my favorite current philosophers who is helping to explode the current paradigms of theology, philosophy, and the idolatry of conceptions of God. This post is titled: Fundamentalism isn't too violent, it isn't violent enough. Rollins points out that Dr. King and Mother Theresa are the true models of violence through pacifism ( I know, sounds crazy), by their willingness to follow to his most radical form of violence, that of pacifist subversion. Again good stuff.
If you like Rollins and live in the DC area, or simply want to be a part of a great conversationon February 26, 2009, he will be lecturing for the evening at Memorial Baptist Church in Arlington, VA as part of a distinguished speaker series for The John Leland Center for Theological Studies where I received my M.Div. The event is free, and from Leland they write:
If you are interested in attending, let me know we can carpool.
Friday, February 06, 2009
I think oftentimes it is because I want to blame others for my shortcomings, blame others for the incaction that leads to my consumption, and blame others for their unwillingness to live as I want them to live. While writing, and writing on a regular basis helps me to process, think, and reflect on my life and the world around me in such a way that it give hope and meaning to my experiences, it can also create a tension of the already but not yet of my life: the already of changes in the last few years into the theological, practical, and experiential person that I am today. The not yet, of the possibilities and changes that the coming years still hold ahead.
I was reading a post from one of my new favorite blogs called Empire Remixed, which is a collaboration of authors, writers, and bloggers examining what it means to be a people of the kingdom of God in an age of consumerism, national religion, and postmodernism, that struck a chord within me. One of my favorite books that has humbled me to no end is Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat (they are husband and wife), which explores kingdom living inthe context of the age described above. One of the top 10 books of my short life so far.
Brian Walsh wrote in a post yesterday titled On "Not Getting It" and the Virtue of Humility that it is important to approach those who we feel like "don't get it" with humility first and foremost. It is so easy to create an us vs. them scenario where one side is all right, and the other side all wrong. But life is so much more complicated than this, and to speak of people and situations with the same predjudice that we are actually decrying, can itself become a huge problem in moving forward with radical reconciliation and hope.
So this morning, when the future seems to be looming in on my life in such a way that I want to run, or blame others for the shortcomings I see, or at the very least hide from my insecurities, I want to show some humility, and realize that like others, I too am in process, in need of some humility in the way that I view myself and others. The change that friends and I have talked about does not usually happen overnight, but on those days when the already of my life breaks into the hopeful future of God's kingdom, I want to be ready, open, and have eyes to see the good and hope that exists in the present, and have humility in looking forward.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Recently, as my son Rowan is starting to watch the movements of his mom and I more closely, and interact in ways that try to elicit a response from us, I realize that Rowan will be growing up in a world that is different than mine. One in which race, sexuality, religion, and hyper-connectivity will be or will continue to be issues to be worked out in the global village...but I have some newfound hope for him today. That perhaps differences can actually be overcome. That perhaps race will not divide us as it once has in this country. That the world and life experiences which form him, will not be steeped in as much ignorance as the generations before him. A world in which the relationships and life stories of the women, children, and men whose lives were often ignored or cast aside as the losers of history, or purposely forgotten for the sake of progress, that these life stories will rise to the surface and help remind us all of our shared humanity and need for humility.
I know that Rowan is not aware of what is happening on an intellectual level today, but I am excited for him, and I hope that he can feel the excitement and hope in his mom and I today as we rejoice over this moment of history. And I look forward to Rowan growing up in light of the hopeful change that is taking place today at the inauguration of our new president. May the grace of God be with Obama and his family, and may we each do our part, not to make America great, but to unite in our shared humanity, to celebrate both the beauty and significance of this day, while also do our best to listen to the stories of those who had once been discriminated, left out, and ignored so that we may not repeat the mistakes of the past or leave untold the stories of those who are most easily forgotten.
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.