If You Can't Go Over It, then…

One of L’s favorite books, and if we’re being completely honest mine as well, is “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt.” It’s a great adventure story that begs to be interacted with, the pitter-patter of hands on your legs for running, the squishy sounds for mud, you all have been there before, right? Well, the line that keeps popping into my head is the part that repeats: “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we gotta go through it.”

Continue reading If You Can't Go Over It, then…

All We Grow (Jeremiah 2:4-13)

This is the message I gave on Sunday.

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What are we growing? There’s a new album that recently came out titled “All We Grow,” by S. Carey. While I actually really like the music on the album, I found the title to be compelling enough. The first time I heard the phrase “All We Grow” I kept saying it over and over in my head. “All We Grow.” “All We Grow.” I thought to myself, “What is it that I am growing?”  I started thinking about our children, and the things we I am personally involved in. If all these were seeds, what are the seeds that are being planted? What are the plants we expect to emerge?

Intentionality is needed today otherwise the default is often a kind of numbing rout motion. Without intention we get sucked into the routine of the world. Things will continue to grow, but they may not be what we want or expect.

Sometimes, while I am trying to build something beautiful, I am not really fully paying attention, or intentionally trying to do well at it. I just kind of show up and hope auto-pilot is good enough. It’s like trying to grow a beautiful flower when only later do you realize it’s a noxious weed. Continue reading All We Grow (Jeremiah 2:4-13)

In Search of a New Framework for Evangelism and Mission

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One of the things I have become fascinated with over the course of the last decade falls broadly under the umbrella known as missiology, or the study of Christian missions. I like many of you have a history with big ‘E’ Evangelicalism where mission is generally understood as “winning souls for Christ.” Evangelism and mission under this rubric is really focused primarily on quantity of people who will give a public profession of Jesus usually represented in going forward for an alter call, saying a special prayer, and getting people to come to your church’s Sunday morning worship.

In the marketplace of churches there is great competition nowadays to get people to profess the Christ of one particular church or another, here professing Christ is more or less synonymous with coming to worship on Sunday morning. After all, if your soul was won for Christ what better way to prove that then to show up on a Sunday morning. Thus the word “church” itself has become synonymous with the worship service and the building. To make Christians is to get them to join the Sunday activities, to enter the building, the sit in the seat, to accept the do’s and the don’ts, and to fall in line with the acceptable categories laid out for Christians.

This way of thinking believes that Christianity is first and foremost getting people to agree with your particular arguments, and “facts” about what it means to be a Christian. Once someone agrees, this is usually symbolized by the altar or a prayer, and begining to come on Sunday morning, their soul is more or less “won.” Discipleship in this context is again based in ideas, learning the doctrines, believing correctly, knowing what the proper questions are and not asking the wrong ones. Continue reading In Search of a New Framework for Evangelism and Mission

Those It Is Acceptable to Hate

This summer some of us from our church meet every other week to discuss a query dealing with some issue related to things happening around the world. A few weeks back we talked about a query dealing with the oil spill and how it is or is not affecting us, and our larger society. We kind of think of our group as the world problem solving small group, of course we say this with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Our last meeting we discussed the Arizona Immigration law, our thoughts on it and what is it about now made that law possible. I felt we had a really helpful and meaningful conversation. We had a small group of people there but a spectrum of ages were represented, and we actually had a woman who is an immigrant from Germany there, and another woman who was in a bi-racial marriage, has children from that marriage and is half Hispanic herself. She was able to talk about racial profiling in a very real way.

This got me thinking about today, and the history of those who are for one reason or another stuck on the outside, and are seen as “abnormal” or “alien” by another group (often those in power). The Arizona law is the symptom of something that runs through the course of human history. We continually find ways to make hate acceptable. Continue reading Those It Is Acceptable to Hate

There is No Pure Christianity

A long while back a friend of mine wrote on his twitter this remark:

There is no pure Christianity, it is all syncretist.

And I agree with this point, all Christianity today is influenced to a smaller or larger extent by outside forces. I’m not sure it’s ever been any different to tell the truth.

But I want to take this statement in a slightly different direction. What I have been thinking of lately is something more like:

There is no pure christianity, it is all interpretation.

And I don’t think this is necessarily a problem at all. Questions like “what is Christianity?” and “what does it mean to identify as a Quaker?” are ones that I’ve been thinking about a lot, partly because I’m currently preaching on Quaker testimonies and some of the more specific practices within our particular denomination, but it’s also because of the things I hear in general conversation and in the media.

It is not unusual for people to claim “Christianity is this,” “Christianity is that,” “I am a biblical Christian,” or “I am rooted in Christianity and then I go from there.” For many, all you have to do is assent to a couple value-free ideas about faith and everything is peachy-keen. But even to say something as basic as “Jesus is Lord,” is loaded with cultural, theological, spiritual, historical, and narrative significance that cannot be fully understood, appreciated or experienced outside of these things. And I suppose all of this is fine on the surface but what it betrays is that many of us still assume a Christendom culture, or a general understanding that there is one monolithic Christianity that everyone pretty much understands and accepts at some level. But this is just not the case. And for many the Christianity they understand is the Christianity of the 700 Club, the Christianity of the street preachers at the Saturday Market in downtown Portland hooting and hollering damnation at every passer-by. For many, there is no alternative to this, this is for them the only image of Christianity they have ever witnessed.

When people say “I am simply a Christian and that settles it,” or “the basics of Christianity are…” I always wonder, and sometimes ask, which Christianity are they talking about? It has never been a good idea to talk about the Christian faith within the abstract, or in the generic. But that is exactly what is happening today in a world where biblical language, theological imagery, and other Christian assumptions of the Reformation period can no longer be assumed. Today, when we share Christianity with people (I think) it always needs to be couched in our communities, our traditions, and the stories of people who are actually working this stuff out. The Bible is a part of this, but arguing from it alone as though a couple straight-forward ideas will remedy the problems is (IMO) fools-play and makes light of the transformative power of our Lord.

So when we talk about Christian faith are we talking about a Christianity that supports empire or creation? Are we talking about a Christian faith that is rooted in the life of Jesus, or one that simply focuses on his death and resurrection? Are we talking about Christianity of the creeds, or Christianity of the queries? Are we talking about the Christianity of George Fox, John Calvin, Dorothy Day, Lucretia Mott, or George Bush? And while it is possible that somewhere deep down inside the root of all this there is a common thread, but I think we are too far past a point where we can reach that common thread. And for some of this stuff it’s not an either or (for instance, we are all (at least us Americans) implicated in empire whether we like it or not), but what does it lean towards?

We are in a world of interpretations and not only should we not forget this, but we might try embracing it. In fact, I think that they are the very things that can help us discover something that is more meaningful and real than if we are left to simple generic forms of Christianity. So much of what passes as “church” these days is a rip off from a commercial on broadcast TV, a stolen play from a big-box store playbook, or a thinly cloaked politics borrowed from the latest town hall rally or social protest. The capitalist model of faith is one where choice is king. We pick and choose what we like, what feels right, what looks, acts, and talks like us and in the process everything is left bland and generic (both conservative and liberal camps are guilty of this). Another way is to assume for ourselves a tradition that is made up of practices, stories, characters, and particular filters (some helpful and some not) and become people who enter into the Christian faith through that corridor. We can offer an alternative to the street preacher/screamer, but that alternative will not on its own look at all like what passes as Christianity today.

So maybe the fact that there is no pure Christianity at this point is actually helpful if we think about it from the perspective of interpretations and traditions.