Cristes maese and the American Soul

So today Emily and I worked my last day of work for about 10 days. We are ready for a break, who isn’t really. It seems like our world is built around a “dog eat dog” mentality – this is nothing new, the trouble is, is when it carries over into our more sacred times of the year. Earlier in the year I posted about Halloween and how it had the possibility of being viewed sacramentally. Granted Halloween requires more creative thinking to view it sacramentally than Christmas or Easter does – or so it seems at least on the surface.

Then again, I am not so sure its all that easy to take part in Christmas sacramentally either. While I was stocking textbooks earlier today I heard an automobile driver lay on his/her horn for more than a block out of frustration and impatience, we received a nasty email from a very impatient professor yesterday concerning the store’s policies, and we had a gentleman come into the store last night and repeatedly insult, and lie to one of our clerks about being faculty so he could receive the faculty discount. Tis the season.

The Beatles have a great song,

I, Me, Mine
from their famous album – “Let it Be.” I listened to it today during lunch, I was filled with sorrow and a bit of despair when I realized this Christmas we Americans are singing.

All thru’ the day I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
All thru’ the night I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
Now they’re frightened of leaving it
Ev’ryone’s weaving it,
Coming on strong all the time,
All thru’ the day I me mine.

I-me-me mine, I-me-me mine,
I-me-me mine, I-me-me mine.

All I can hear I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
Even those tears I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
No-one’s frightened of playing it
Ev’ryone’s saying it,
Flowing more freely than wine,
All thru’ the day I me mine.

I-me-me mine, I-me-me mine,
I-me-me mine, I-me-me mine.

All I can hear I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
Even those tears I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
No-one’s frightened of playing it
Ev’ryone’s saying it,
Flowing more freely than wine,
All thru’ your life I me mine.

The culture surrounding Christmas has undermined the possible sacrament that it could be. We are so distracted by gifts, we either pride ourselves in how much money and time we put into a gift, or we pride ourselves in how little we spent and how “we really don’t care much for gifts.” I know – I am guilty, I love gifts…I love to know that people are thinking of me, have put some thought into trying to figure out who this “Wess really is” and “what he might like.” I also understand how giving gifts became so important.

First – and rightly so, it is because Christmas signifies gift giving, Christ the Messiah – the Son of God was given to us as a gift from Yahweh – to save us from our sins, our pride, our distractions away from God.

Secondly – the wise guys brought gifts to the babe in the manger to show their reverence to him who came.

Thirdly – Gifts more negatively have become so important because they cost something, namely cash. And cash is what makes America go ’round.

For the first two – we take part in some of the sacrament of Christmas when we too give gifts to those we love (who doesn’t like to give a gift to our loved ones). But it is the third part that has spoiled and so undercuts much of what happens – so much so that all good-tidings, brotherly and sisterly love, and joy are succumb to marketing, greed and a last minute gift-rush that leaves all the Christ-like virtues behind the shed in the backyard.

But what about that babe?
Who flipped worlds upside down. How does the babe flip Christmas around this year or any year for that matter?

For one thing – there are no gifts to be given or received that has not already be given to us. What this means is that the significance of Gift giving must be lowered – for we have already received our gift this year – a babe wrapped in a manger.

But to leave it here is to still put all the attention on gifts…that is gifts that are centered on ourselves.

There are other themes that must be reminded in the Christmas story.

  • A teenage virgin mother who faces the fear and scandal of having a child out of wedlock.
  • God places his trust in a Galilean woman (a very lowly position in society) to carry out his mission.
  • It is the powerless and social outcasts who assemble to celebrate the birth of a homeless child.
  • Hope comes through peace not power, prestige, riches or any other expected source of good.
  • Yahweh has his people in mind, he wishes to redeem creation.
  • Christmas also reminds us that we are, as Christians, different from the rest of the world because we believe in a baby to save the world. This foolishness, this scandal of the Christmas story is to also placed into the center of our thinking about Christ’s birth. It is God himself who continues to shatter our expectations while still offering hope and joy to the world.

Simeon says,
“This Child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34-35

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thoughts on class

This past quarter i had the great privilege to be Ryan Bolger’s teaching assistant for his class Transforming Contemporary Cultures. He has done a great post reflecting on things he’s learned from the standpoint of the teacher based on the students comments the last day of class. Taking his lead I thought I would do something similar.

First I wanted to post the links for their group work, which consisted of ten groups creating wikis (and some groups did podcasts for extra credit) that dealt with an issue in today’s world, a background to the issues, and how Jesus followers (and congregations) might respond to these issues.
1. Ageism and Ableism
2. Global Health Concerns
3. Global Media and Culture
4. Global Media and Family
5. Global Technology
6. International Economic Issues
7. Issues in Africa
8. Religious Fundamentalism
9. US Economic Issues
10. War, Terrorism and Militarism
For the whole quarter the students read books, and searched for resources on each of their issues, in the process they became versed in the specific vocabulary needed to communicate in each of the areas. I think it was about the 5th week when I really started to notice that their vocabulary was changing, that they were understanding and using specific terminology the pertained to their topics. In this class the students became specialists of their certain fields, able to at least in some degree offer knowledge, resources and possible ideas about how congregations can go about educating and responding to these issues.

For me it was a lot of work to keep up on all their individual blogs, group blogs and work on their wikis – but because of their work I felt like I got to see learning in action. This was something I’ve never experienced what it looks like for this learning process to take place from the “other side of the desk” so to speak. I thoroughly loved it.

There were difficult things about it besides the work. I was surprised how hard it is to communicate expectations. Ryan didn’t want to box the students in too much, not wanting to be too strict and wanting to allow for some creativity, we decided to not draw hard and fast lines about every expectation. But this seemed to be a greater challenge to the students than we have anticipated. This caused me to reflect on how pedagogy is approached altogether. There is something about the way we are schooled that unless things are really write out word for word, we have a hard time deducing certain things, I saw various struggles this past quarter. This is something that was good for me to see because I am a very independent learner, coming from a home-schooling-type atmosphere in high school I know what its like to motive myself to learn. I do my best when there is little control exercised over me – but I think that this is not the normal situation and that many people have not had opportunities to have creative space to think and become better thinkers. Ryan really challenged us all in this area.

It confirmed for me the desire to teach but also showed me the difficulties ahead. After watching Ryan teach I realized that it is also a very very hard profession, I know how much time he spent preparing, and trying to re-think how to approach things. It is one of those jobs were there will always be challenges, no easy ways out.

Working with Ryan was a real good time also. It was great because I really feel like I can learn a lot from him without being afraid of him, he definitely made me feel like a peer – as if my ideas were useful (when all along they were his!). Finding people who believe in you and trust you is always something that has the possibility to transform your own perspectives of yourself and the world – this class in keeping with its title did that for me.

I look forward to next quarter when I help with the “Emerging Churches” course.
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one more moment of tech stuff

Okay – I confess that I’ve been a little distracted by all the tech stuff as of late and sorry for the less thoughtful thoughts instead, about “haloscan” and other strange things. But I’ve been looking around alot for new social software, and other freeware types of things that can be used in Ryan’s classes. He has found a lot of stuff, and taking his lead I continue to digg for things that may be of “instructional” use. Of course I am also just trying to find things that are useful in locating information of my own.

Here are some sites I have found useful as of late.
1. Rojo – Recent Stories from all Feeds
2. suprglu (a place for all your tags)
3. Writely – The Web Word Processor or ThinkFree (though writely is more stable)
4. openomy (storage online)
5. Wink (news source) or digg
6. All Consuming (blogging stuff)
7. Welcome to Flickr!
8. to dos or Kiko Calendar – Weblog Commenting and Trackback
10. Technorati: Home

Of course you’re always welcome to watch my page.
to see what I am running into as I search for these things.

Next up some real thoughts about real issues – stay tuned.

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Silence Would Be Better

Today has been one of those days where there is so much to be said, all of it sitting on the tip of my tongue and yet none of it able to fall forth on the page. I’ve had such a hard time thinking lately, like things are cloudy, and then moments happen where everything gets real dark and you realize there is only one thing that can be done.
It is hard to find space to be silent. Even when I ride the train home, or to work, a perfect time to be silent I am often anxious to break out the newest book I am reading (East of Eden currently) or pop in the ol’ earbuds and listen to some tunes.
When I am home, silence is most fleeting.
It is so easy to be distracted by everything, and this is why the spiritual life – or life flowing from the Spirit – is so difficult to grasp. The culture around us tells us to do everything but be quiet, it offers us so much clutter, so much information, so many images and sounds, I feel like a child going into the video game isle at the local tech shop. “Just give me anything, I don’t even care. But don’t let me leave this store with nothing.”
And this is my biggest fear with silence, that it will all come up empty.
I wonder how busy people ever make time to just sit and listen to the Spirit of Christ. And what happens when we do?
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Who Goes There? or Knowing the Betrayer…

The pedophilia – recently we got into a discussion about sexual harassment, pedophilia, etc in our church threaded discussion email. A friend brought up the point that our lovely Mennonite church doesn’t have much put in place to protect children from suspected pedophiles.
Here is the first problem – we have a special name to separate these kinds of people, as though to take them from the place of humanity and place them somewhere far beneath such a high status for someone who does such crimes. I feel this tension, and agree that there may be, at least in our human eyes, no worst sin than such an act. I can’t imagine what brings people to come to the point where they strip the innocence of powerless individuals.
We must tread carefully on such subjects, for those who are victims forever struggle to regain a self-identity apart from the violating act – and many of those who are victims lay outside our own empathetically solidarity.
But we must move away from using dehumanizing terms for one another – terms that tie us to devilish deeds, terrorists, pedophiles, kidnappers, murders, etc. It is when we use these terms that we distinguish us from the other and once we have made those who we fear “the other” than we can dismiss them as human – they become non-redeemable, persons barely human and to be feared.
Fear – something that the world is full of, is ultimately existence apart from trust. For Christians fear is life outside belief in God. It is the practice of a-theism. Much of the way Christ’s disciples live today is evidenced by fear. Two noteable examples are “white flight” and the large amounts of credit that many Christians live under. Why is credit an example? My fear that what I have is not enough, my fear that the prayer of simple livelihood “give us enough bread for today” in the one prayer we are to pray constantly as Christians (the Lord’s Prayer) drives me to retort, “yes but, I need this, I need that. Jesus surely didn’t intend all things in this prayer.” But fear continues – a church struck with fear is a church on the defensive and a church that is bound to dehumanize those who test its own faith. The betrayer, the terrorist, the pedophile all challenge our trust in God.
We want to believe that if we do all the right things, say all the right prayers, and have the best theology then we will be protected – isn’t this why people who believe that Christians can bare arms say that what Jesus meant by loving neighbors obviously means we as Christ followers can use violent force against those who harm our neighbors? But then the question arises, who is whose neighbor? Isn’t both the victim and the victimizer our neighbor? Isn’t both Judas and the centurion soldier our neighbor? Isn’t Christ call to love neighbors, a call to love the Samaritan, those who are dehumanized out of fear?
So then the church wants to demand a screening process for anyone who wants to work with children; background checks for all. The background check is the “modern” solution to the church’s problem of fear of “the other.” Now I am not necessarily opposed to the idea of screening, please don’t get me wrong. I am against the notion that the church should resort to screening as the way out of fear. I am against the notion that screening provides the real answer to the real problem.
The real problem is located within how well the church sees itself as a community of Jesus’ followers. The answer is located in whether we place all of our ethics in the life and resurrection of Jesus, or only the ones that make the most sense to us. This is why simplicity, peace in times of war, and living among the poor are so easily dismissed – because we are only willing to place some of our ethics in Jesus, both the liberal and conservative Christians are baffled by this. Liberals see Jesus as useless – an old metaphor outdated for today’s issues, while the conservatives are so busy defending what not to believe, and who to not be like that Jesus becomes too radical for them.
Jesus is the divine trickster, he continues to subvert all that we do and believe, we only pretend to really understand. Better than understanding, we should act, the way Jesus acted. What astonishes me is that Jesus did not background check on his disciples. Unless we want to pose the possibility that his prayers prior to his picking the disciples was a background check – but this of course is to make parody of the Scriptures. In fact Judas was an answer to Jesus’ prayer in discerning who would be his disciples, so was Peter, so was Thomas, so was Mary Magdalene, and let us not forget about the “beloved” disciple (who though more highly of himself than he ought!). Jesus choose people who were messed up – hoping that by his relationship, his friendship, his solidarity with them that they may become “more human” not less.
Imagine if Jesus could have done a background check on Judas, only to find that Judas had a track record of letting his friends down, buckling under pressure and even stealing from time to time! Would Jesus have not called him? Would he have left him on the side of the road? What about Peter, what if Jesus found out, before calling him, that Peter was a violent man, a man who would try to overturn Jesus’ own non-coercive ways of bringing in his kingdom. Would Jesus have passed on ol’ Peter? I highly doubt it. But what of us? What if we begin using background checks as our primary passageway into service and discipleship into the church, what do we do with the thief? The traitor? The terrorist? The pedophile? Will our ethics be rooted in Jesus or modern day procedures prompted by fear?
What if the church – started to believe in Christ – I mean really trust that both the broken and the not-so broken are to be apart of the church? What if we took the offensive, and began meeting with each other to really get to know one another, to ask real questions, to tell real truths? What if before a parent dropped a child off in a room to be watched by a stranger, that parent spent time getting to know the babysitter? What if the church really discipled, had real almost difficult membership criteria – like commitment to a community for more than a year, regular service in the community, christ-likeness in what he or she does? What would happen then? How about if we welcomed those who we “bad” those who were “the other” and we prayed constantly the confession that we are all prone to sickness and sin – the prayer “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” What if we made the community of Christ, a painfully open community, painfully honest, and painfully committed to one another?
Well…a few things would happen. A) People would leave, this idea doesn’t sound to good to many Americans. Of course we might remember that Jesus was not a real successful evangelist either — the Gospels record many people hearing his words and leaving because they were “too hard.” B) Some people would get hurt, feel judged by others, and then leave because the community was “too hard.” C) Some people would harm others, I mean really harm them, sexually, physically, emotionally. The difference is – the church would not be shocked by something like this – because this church knows that it is not ever exempt from the ills of the world or one another. One the other hand, it would have the ethics, the Jesus theology, the personal and communal resources to deal with and overcome such atrocities.
Finally this last point, C, is where I conclude. Whether we do background checks or not, whether we really know people well or not at all, the church is not exempt from evil. No matter how much we try and hide, no matter how much we try to only have the perfect people in the community, we are a people who must continually pray “forgive us our debts, as we forgive the debts of others. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” And this is it, there is no hard fast solution to these problems, no scan-tron sheet, or standardized test that will fix the world’s problems – if we are to follow Christ we are going to have to get our hands dirty.
-a final note- we can only hope to help heal the victim or/and the victimizer if we are first willing to hear the truth from these people – that is we must be willing to hear their own pains and struggles, and then we must be willing to be committed to their healing. Sometimes the healing requires harsh words, boundaries, closed doors, but often times healing first comes from the forgiveness and love of another…

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East of Eden

I’ve been reading East of Eden, the last week and cannot seem to get enough of the book.  I began reading it because of the urging of both my boss (Jim) and my wife (Emily) who have reminded of the need to read stories and not just theology.  They are of course right, and I am glad to be taking their advice.
The Characters in the book are quite astounding, and for those who have read it I kind of relate to Adam Trask at some level.  I think his father Cyrus Trask reminds me of my step-father a bit to.  A man obssessed with military power and protection, a man who from the beginning was always forming and prunning us to turn out a certain shape and form. 
I wonder what he thinks of me now, not whether he is proud or not, I think he’d be proud (to some degree).  But I believe in and live my life so vastly different from himself that I can’t help but wonder what he’d say to all that.

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