Thursday Reflection – Week #8. Rest.

18 11 2006

Thursday we took some time to discuss a couple of the books we read a while back – Linthicum’s Transforming Power and Lasn’s Culture Jam. The discussions were great and it was good to return to some of those ideas.

But what was most helpful for me was what we did prior to those discussions. Wess, our TA, led us in 10 minutes of the old Quaker practice of queries, a time of silence and guided response where participants think systematically on specific questions that guide their contemplation. Each of the questions ask how our lives are consistent with our core values.

So there we sat in silence, letting God direct our thoughts. With three weeks to go in the quarter, it was so refreshing to slow down and listen. It reminded me of our deep need to be sustained for ministry and transformational living. It was also said at the Homelessness forum on Wednesday night: others cannot be transformed unless we are transformed ourselves.

At the risk of being too personal, God brought to mind an old poem I wrote last year:

Rest, my soul
Take rest in Thee
My heart protests in being free
From worry, work and daily stress
Protest, my Lord
Protest for me
Lest my soul give up on Thee
Thy faithful Love will lure me home
There to give rest, sweet rest
To my soul

Thursday further reminded me of our need for contemplation in the midst of activity. And it made me wonder how I can be both a contemplative person and an active person in this world. Too often it seems people are one or the other. But there are a few who allow their energy and purpose to flow from their silence and their rest.

Lord, help us to tap into Your wellspring of life, knowing that even the whitest rapids still flow from a powerfully still source.


Tuesday Reflection – Week #8. Vintage is the New “New”

16 11 2006

Some stories are just too good not to share…Ryan passed one along Tuesday about Community Church of Joy in Glendale, AZ. It used to be (maybe it still is) one of the biggest Evangelical Lutheran churches in America. We’re talking thousands of people each Sunday. A church of that size requires a pretty sophisticated parking “ministry,” and one day the pastor’s wife threw on an orange vest and went out to the parking lot to help after the sermon. To her surprise, she was flipped off by three different people on their way out. Obviously, the sermon hadn’t done much for them.

I’m sure Church of Joy isn’t an isolated case (although I would say the instance was pretty ironic considering the church’s name – ha!). Sadly, a Barna study has showed that church doesn’t make a darn difference in people’s lives until they start participating about 6-7 hours per week. Anything less than that is just an activity, not a change agent.

This statistic alone should cause us to re-think they way we “do” church. I’m not saying 6-7 hours a week at church should be avoided, but why are we offering one hour on Sunday if it doesn’t do any good anyway? Are we just marketing Jesus like Disney markets High School Musical (which, by the way, goes on tour at the end of November – I know, I’m a nerd). If all we offer is a performance, we might as well make Jesus sing and dance and take Him on tour. In this age where trends change every five minutes, we showcase Jesus on Sunday mornings with signs that say, “NEW AND IMPROVED.” But it seems that in our attempt to spread the gospel, we have merely been spreading nominalism.

Which brings me to the title of this blog entry. Ryan briefly mentioned another church during class whose name caught my attention: Vintage Faith in Santa Cruz, CA. Pastored by Dan Kimball, it takes a similar form as many of the emerging churches of our day. I’ve never actually been there, so I can’t say much concretely by way of their community in that little boardwalk town, but I can say their name takes us back to a key idea of the Christian faith.

When I first heard the word vintage, I thought of old, antique, classic – like a ’57 Chevy of a good bottle of wine. “Let’s go back,” I thought, “To vintage Christianity.” You know, back when it was ripe and fresh and potent. Back when it changed people’s lives, and the world right along with them. But then I looked the word up, and discovered the whole association of the word with the concept of “old” isn’t quite accurate. That’s more of a slang meaning that has developed over time. But the actual meaning is rooted in the Latin words “vinum” and “demere,” meaning “to take from the vine.” That word “demere” is also where we get “redeem,” or “to take back.” So vintage, is really a yield of grapes from a certain season, captured in a bottle and opened many years later for a special occasion or celebration.

When you open a vintage bottle of wine, you are essentially opening up a piece of the past in the present; a little bit of 1953 in 2006, for example. I wonder how we, having abided in the vine of Christ, might truly yield fruit in this age. Or how, like a delicate Pinot Noir, we might be brought of for celebration, a taste of another time in this present age.

What if we return to smaller communities, communities that actually produce change in people’s lives and allow for everyone’s gifts to be shared. So that, as Paul pictures the Church in Ephesians 4, we would “…prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Thursday Reflection – Week #7

15 11 2006

Last Thursday we broke from the usual class routine to participate in the Children at Risk lecture series. Dr. Jude Tiersma Watson shared some of her thoughts on what it means to live incarnationally among the poor. But more than that, she shared the living result of that kind of community – her friend Chris. Chris warmed my heart as he shared how Dr. Tiersma had affected his life, but what was even better to see was Dr. Tiersma reciprocate what she had gained from Chris. Interwoven throughout her lecture was a theme from Mother Theresa, that “we belong to each other.” And it reminded me of just how much i need the poor.

Robert Lupton, in his book, Their’s is the Kingdom, puts it this way on p. 6:

“The community into which Christ invites us is one of interdependence. We are called to mutual sharing and the discovery of gifts Christ has concealed in the unlikeliest among us. And to those who consider themselves leaders, our Lord offers humilty – the salvation of the proud that comes from learning to receive from the least, who are the greatest in the kingdom.”

Tuesday Reflection – Week #7

10 11 2006

A missionary in England once told me that you know you feel at home in a city when your dreams take place there.

…I’ve had many dreams in England.

And Tuesday’s class reminded me why…those crazy Brits are a bit alternative, a bit out of the box. Of course, this aversion of social norms spans is most vivid in the secular youth (of course, most of England is “secular”). But don’t underestimate the followers of Jesus.

Check out this example: St. Thomas’ Church in Crookes, Sheffield, UK. It’s an Anglican Church in the north of England, and when Ryan asked the pastor how they share their faith (in trying to understand the large growth the church had been experiencing), the pastor said,

“We don’t…people ask. If they don’t ask, something is deficient in my spirituality.”

What a novel idea…to actually live a potent life, dripping of the Kingdom of God, so that people will actually notice a difference and wonder what it’s about. I think our tendency is to only apply this concept to issues of morality like abstention from sex and drinking, but what if we make it a more positive thing, so that people begin to notice us for what we DO instead of what we DON’T. Maybe if we love the poor and advocate for justice and remember the widows and orphans…maybe people might actually ASK us about our faith.

Maybe we can toss our Spiritual Laws to the wind and show somebody our Spiritual Lives.

Thursday Reflection – Week #6

8 11 2006


Thursday we reviewed a couple of the books we’ve read and discussed some upcoming assignments with a website called Is anyone else new to this? Apparently it’s on online way to bookmark websites by certain categories…haven’t attempted to use it yet so we’ll see how it goes.

BUT…somehow (and i can’t really remember how), we got into a discussion of salvation and what it really means to be “saved.” Apparently the term didn’t actually come about until the 18th century (don’t quote me on that; i didn’t look it up), and until then was known more as a process than an actual quantifiable moment in time. One student offered a particularly interesting analogy: becoming “saved” is more like becoming an “adult.” The day you turn 18 you may no longer be considered a minor, and you may legally be an “adult,” but there is an un-identifiable period of development where you actually grow into an adult. it’s hard to pinpoint when that actually happens, but you definitely feel more like an adult at 50 than you did at 18.

So what does it mean to be “saved?” could it possibly be something we receive but then grow into as we learn how to act like we’re “saved?” I suppose this is more of a question for Systematic Theology rather than Transforming Contemporary Culture, but I’d say the analogy of process has more to offer a Church in need of believers who actually live out their faith, rather than just attending a church on Sundays because they once “accepted Christ.”

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:12-13

Book Review #6 – The Social Movements Reader: Cases and Concepts, Edited by Jeff Goodwin and James Jasper (Blackwell Publishing; 2003)

7 11 2006

Like an all-you-can-eat-buffet when you’re stomach is full, The Social Movements Reader, edited by Jeff Goodwin and James Jasper, is daunting, varied, and a bit larger than your appetite. Not for the faint of heart, it requires commitment, but it gives you a lot to chew on. Goodwin and Jasper are sociologists and authors who have attempted to provide a type of handbook (ok, more like a textbook) from which to observe the progression of social movements through modern history.

The reader should find the orderly arrangement of articles helpful, along with thorough yet brief introductions to each subcategory of study. The editors have grouped the readings into nine main categories, each centered around answering a certain question of sociological study:

– When and why do social movements occur?
– Who joins or supports movements?
– Who remains in movements and who drops out?
– What do movement participants think and feel?
– How are movements organized?
– What do movements do?
– How do the state and mass media influence movements?
– Why do movements decline?
– What changes to movements bring about?

In addressing each of these questions, Goodwin and Jasper reflect insight from varying angles, incorporating strengths and weaknesses from each school of thought that sociologists have focused on. In the end, they take the reader on a journey to discover the importance of social movements in our history and current society in shaping public beliefs, values and laws. The movement of a few can change the views of many (as with civil rights or suffrage), and its collective tug and pull on the shape of our world has profound implications for those of us who wish to have some sort of role in how the process plays out.

While Goodwin and Jasper do much to give us a thorough look at what movements are and how they operate and interact with society, they unfortunately offer little by way of how an outsider can or should engage with these movements. Understanding is a necessary first step. We cannot hope to cooperate with or resist (depending on your goal) with a social movement unless we truly understand its principles and point of view. The editors provide a wealth of diversified insight on those matters. But it does stop short of helping us understand how to participate in movements or dialogue with them in attempting to shape public opinion or policy.

One thing is clear: Innovation in values and political beliefs often arises from the discussions and efforts of social movements (p. 4). The collective energy of a minority has the ability, and has used such ability in the past, to shake up the status quo, to wake those in power from their slumber, and to not just point the finger, but to actually point toward a different reality within which we can live. The Church has been a social movement in the past. And even today small bursts of this collective energy are alive and well and making a difference. But I fear on a broader scale, we too have fallen into the same stupor of those in power, forgetting that newness of life is both worthwhile and possible. For those who cling to the hope of the Kingdom of God, the Social Movements Reader should be a call to rise up and live potently in a world that is starving for flavor…kind of like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Thursday Reflection – Week #5

1 11 2006

The more I get to know God, the more my “either/or” questions seem to get answered with “both.” Is Jesus man or God? Both. Lion or Lamb? Both. Friend or Lord? Both. I am consistently finding my two-fold categories are too simplistic and exclusive. I found this out again during class on Thursday.

I have for some time now wrestled with the idea of what our goal should be in seeking the Kingdom of God when we don’t live in a theocracy like Israel. I realize our government doesn’t submit itself to the rule of god, but i can’t exactly fault it for not doing so, because it was never set up under that pretense. God didn’t covenant with America; He didn’t set us apart like He did Israel. And i know He calls His people to seek justice and to give to the poor and to forsake adultery and greed and a host of other things, but i’ve always wondered what that should look like in a nation like ours? What does it mean globally when we are in this era where God has expanded His covenant to all nations? And what does it mean for a society that seperates its components into categorical spheres: politics, religion, economics, culture. In America today, everything has a “place,” but in ancient Israel, everything was interwined and so the wholistic transformation Jesus brought was more easily understood.

The question I’ve had for a few years now is this: Are we as Christians supposed to be an alternative community, living by the principles of the Kingdom of God? Or are we supposed to make the systems around us look more like the Kingdom of God (this has been the battle of the conservative Right for years)? I asked this “either/or” question in class on Thursday, and got an answer of…”both.”

It shouldn’t really surprise me. i don’t know why i didn’t think about it before. Ryan described the difference between living as an alternative community, in line with Jesus and Kingdom principles, and living as a witness, when you’re outside of that community, where you can proclaim the Kingdom of God and manifest it in what you do. Since our society has been so categorically broken down into seperate spheres, it makes it difficult for followers of Christ to live wholistically in an alternative community (I suppose the Amish are the only ones who have come close). But our witness to the Kingdom of God in whatever sphere we’re in will aid in eventually giving those systems back to God and His rule.

I was asking the wrong question. Perhaps the goal is not to make this world the Kingdom of God; it already exists apart from time and space. But perhaps we can allow room for it to break through and be visible here on earth. It isn’t completely here, and it isn’t completely there…it’s both.