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Dress-Down Friday | Bubble Project, Jesus on Twitter and Ash Friday

This is another Dress-Down Friday for February 27, 2009.

Knowing my constant use of the social network twitter, my friend Cate send this:

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a video from Rocketbook – here’s a little something on advertising:

  • One thing that really stands out to me from the above video is great idea was Ji Lee’s Bubble Project. See here for website.
  • Chris M has compiled quite a list of Frequently Asked Quaker Questions on his blog, now if only he’d answer all of them!
  • Here’s an interesting article about a new book out on John Lennon.
  • For those of you who don’t already know Safari 4 beta is out. I’m telling you this because I”m a fan.
  • Speaking of fans here’s a nice mashup for fan fiction: Zombie’s meet Jane Austen.
  • Have any of you considered recycled TP? You should, and Green Peace gives you a guide for doing it.
  • …And speaking of keeping things Fresh, how about some fresh air?

I know it’s a couple days past but I also wanted to link to some Ash Wednesday reflections, a kind of Ash Friday if you will.

  • Here’s one by Adventist pastor Ryan Bell.
  • And one by Andrew Sullivan.
  • And one from Scot McKnight.
  • English bishops are calling for a carbon fast this lent,
  • Environment |
  •”>not a bad idea.
  • Eliacín, of the Mustard Seed Associates, offers a Lent Prayer resource for download.
  • And here’s a more humorous rendering of Ash Wednesday.
Blog Entries The Cultural

Elvis Perkins on Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, it is the first day of Lent and one day we reflection on repentance, cleansing and the frailty of life all in preparation for Good Friday and the resurrection.

I have some reflections that tie into Lent that I will post as time presents itself, but I felt that Elvis Perkins’ “Ash Wednesday” is worthy reflection on the day. 

the tents go up
as i go down
down to the flats and into the sound
the closer i get to the city
the further i am from memory
in the green grass looking up
for the words of the angry sun
‘noone’ when he says ‘noone’
yeah he means ‘noone’
noone will survive
ash wednesday alive
no soldier no lover
no father no mother
not a lonely child
in the up and in the bedroom
a black and white of the bride and the groon
will bring me to my knees
with the colorized bad dream
that takes its place on
ash wednesday

white noise and love
will be my only drug
on this day nine
suns away
from that sad sad saturday
when fire my friend
fire my villian
you take away yesterday
to give to me today
when nothing’s free no now it’s
ash wednesday

so each day is ash wednesday
all this life is ash wednesday

all the doors are shut
and the windows barely opened up
the fires all around
it’s the ending of the drought
and we are ready now
for tear gas clouds
on my mind
come on fill the house
finally and weep
for it’s king and queen sleep
both now
in the arms of
ash wednesday
ash wednesday

Church in Mission Convergent Friends Featured

Stations of the Lord’s Prayer (A Worship Resource)

This past weekend at our convergent Quaker retreat we had both programmed (planned) and unprogrammed (silent) worship. For the programmed worship on Saturday morning I planned an interactive worship time based around the Lord’s Prayer (a topic I am deeply interested in). In this post I’ve included a video and pictures of the various stations, here and at the bottom you can download all the instructions and list of needed materials. I have not included the descriptions and instructions for each station, you’ll have to read the documentation for that. In each station one person read the petition from that portion of the Lord’s Prayer, there are queries to help reflect on the prayer, an activity and then time for silence.

Here is where I explained the basic idea:

Be sure to give yourself some time and get some help if you can because It took a little time to set things up. There is a list of materials in the downloadable packet below.

Station One: Sanctify

Our Father in the heavens, may your name be sanctified (Matthew 6:9).


Query: Consider the ways we can pray this prayer in three forms: inward, upward and outward.

Activity: Light candles and say opening prayer

Station Two: Witness

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

Query: “How can we be a part of the kingdom’s coming on Earth?”

Activity: A Body Prayer “To Become Useful In God’s Plan” Face the four directions

Station Three: Eat

Give us today the bread we need (Matthew 6:11).

Query: “Do we seek to share our resources, belonging and food with those who need it?  Am I available to share daily bread with others? Does my table reflect how the kingdom of God looks?”

Activity: Slice a piece of bread and give it to another person

Station Four: Forgive

Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors (Matthew 6:12).

Query:”What do I owe you God?  What debts have I incurred against you and others?”

Activity: Write out a debt you owe God or one that another person owes you on a piece of paper and tear them up together at the end.

Station Five: Cleanse

Do not bring us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13).

Query: When do I let temptation overcome me? How can I live a cleansed life?
Activity: Read a confession and wash another person’s hands.

Take five minutes per station and we had five small groups that rotated after the five minutes were up (we rang a bell). At the end, after everyone had gone through all the stations, we returned together for a time of silent worship. The feedback was the most people enjoyed the experience of going through these and appreciated the interactivity in the stations.

Download the packet of descriptions, instructions and materials needed.

The video and most of the photos were provided by Martin Kelley.

Blog Entries Convergent Friends Quaker

Reflections From The Convergent Retreat 2009

Since Martin and Robin, the two co-leaders with me of this past weeken’s retreat, have already written their first I figured I better get on writing something because I’m already late! I really had a great time this weekend. Ben Lomond Quaker Center is up in the beautiful Santa Cruz mountains, it’s a lovely place to have any king of retreat. I was really happy that Emily and L could join me on the trip, great childcare was provided freeing up Emily to participate in the weekend. I found the facilities to be welcoming, and the food (almost all Vegan) to be excellent! 

This was the first retreat Martin, Robin and I have done together. We work together pretty regularly on ideas using a variety of online tools to communicate, collaborate and share thoughts but this was the first time we have all three been in the same place at the same time. I thought it went well working with both of them, though I do wish we would have had more time to hang out and just chat! I also missed the opportunity to connect with a lot of the participants. This was partially because there were a lot of people to get to know in such a short period of time (there were 30 of us), and partially because I am new to the retreat-leader role. Most often I am a participant at things like this so I always make extra time to hang out with people and get to know new faces but I found it much more difficult to do this while also trying to facilitate a program. I did feel like the weekend went at a nice pace though and wasn’t too packed full of stuff to do, which was a big plus. 

I think the weekend really had a particular flavor or flair you wouldn’t get just anywhere, and looking back on it I think we had a good blend of Robin, Martin and my styles incorporated into the retreat. Of course, this is my opinion on the matter, others may see it differently! It was laid back and relaxed, with a lovely afternoon break for hiking, chating, etc. There was a lot of laughter and spirit’s were high, as well as challenged, throughout. On Saturday morning, Robin led a wonderful discussion on  how we might practice “Plainness” in our world today. I have some thoughts for future blog posts on this, but overall I found the conversation engaging and very stimulating (Emily and I had some good conversation on our 6.5 hour drive back home yesterday around this topic and how we might incorporate more practices into our lives).

We also did a short programmed worship service we called “Stations of the Lord’s Prayer.” I will post more on this shortly as well because I want to make the resources available to those who are interested, but basically we had five different stations setup that moved through the five petitions of the Lord’s prayer. Each of the small groups had five minutes at each station. These stations with their various activities added a strong embodied element to our worship.

In the evening Martin and I talked about “Convergent Friends of the Past.” He gave a great overview of a number of Friends throughout history who were convergent in one way or another, he included: Samuel Bownas, John Woolman, 1920-1930’s young Friends, Lloyd Lee Wilson and Lewis Benson to name a few. I then moved into discussing Everett Cattell’s ideas around a “missionary renewal” of Quakerism. The following conversation from this was outstanding and I couldn’t help but feel like people were able to find the substance they needed out of these talks. A lot of people were interested in struggling through what it meant to be “missionary” in our world, especially because in many  (liberal)meetings “missions” can be a dirty word. Finally, after dinner (and an incredible ginger cake and frozen banana dessert) we got back into small groups and discussed dreams for the future, tools we needed to take this all home with us, and what parts of primitive Quakerism we hoped to see reclaimed. Sunday morning worship was unprogrammed and done in the manner of Conservative Friends who read Scripture passages (as so led by the Spirit) throughout worship. Finally, after lunch we had a time to debrief and everyone headed home.

Above I mentioned that we had a great turnout, another thing that was really exciting about the people there was that it was truly an intergenerational gathering. If people were under the impression that renewal and convergent Friends stuff is just a younger generation’s thing this weekend showed differently. I was also really pleased to see how many unprogrammed Friends from the Pacific Northwest were there. There were also a nice handful of evangelical Friends represented. While theological differences were certainly present, I was very pleased to hear just how many Friends here are interested in the radical Christian heritage of Quakerism.

This interest, hunger and even passion for a Friends renewal really left a big impression on me. I told my story about how I was first introduced to Friends history and theology when I was 21-22 and how I found myself scratching my head, longing for the kind of passionate Christian faith George Fox, Margaret Fell, John Woolman and other Quakers exemplified. I thought I was one of the only one’s thinking about this stuff, and years later I am still just meeting folks who have been wrestling with these questions for years (even decades)! The Holy Spirit is really moving among all Friends and I felt reassured of that again this weekend.

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Dress-Down Friday | Moons, Red Dresses, and Trilogies

Dress-Down Friday Installment #3,027.5 

Church in Mission Convergent Friends Featured Quaker The Theological

Three Features of Everett Cattell’s Mission Theology

everett-cattellIn preparation for the convergent Friends retreat this weekend I have been putting together some discussion notes on Everett Cattell. I will be presenting him as a “convergent Friend of the past” on Saturday evening. Because of this I was reminded that I wanted to post some summary remarks about his theology. 

This past couple quarters at Fuller were spent studying Quaker missionary Everett Cattell. I am interested in his contributions as a Quaker missiologist and how his mission theology informed his vision for Quaker renewal. This is because my dissertation is largely rooted in the question of how renewal within traditions takes place, my argument, following Cattell and others, will be that renewal/innovation takes place within a tradition through missional engagement with culture. I have already posted a number of short articles looking into some of Cattell’s ideas:

Here I want to offer a few summarizing points to draw things together. There are (at least) three features that would comprise what we might call Cattell’s “missional ecclesiology.”

Blog Entries Convergent Friends Quaker

Following the Convergent Retreat This Weekend

I’ve mentioned a few times that a bunch of us are getting together this weekend in Northern California for a convergent Friends retreat at Ben Lommond Quaker Center. For those of you who won’t be able to join us, we want to be able to make at least some of the retreat available to you through the wonderful extenstion of the physical into the virtual that Web 2.0 allows for. We don’t have a whole tech-team assembled and designated to making every moment available to the rest of the world, though I have no doubt there will be techies present at the retreat. We don’t want it to get in the way of everyone feeling free to share or have it become a point of distraction. So, we’ll be doing this all on an ad hoc manner and will see what happens and how much stuff we have to share with you. Martin Kelley, one of the co-facilitators, has outlined on his blog in detail the ways in which you can participate in the weekend.

The easiest thing to do will be to watch the event coverage page: 2009 Reclaiming the Power of Primitive Quakerism for the 21st Century. There you will find blog posts, a discussion board, links to conversations and announcements via the Twitter tag #convergentfriends, as well as photos, youtube videos, etc.This will be the one-stop shop for all things “Reclaiming2009.”

If you can’t come and would like to add input, questions, or just listen in, feel free to jump onto this event page and add yourself to the group. If you are planning on being at the event I would encourage you to signup to QQ, if you haven’t, and join the event page so we can get as many participants active there as possible.

I’m looking forward to seeing all of you who are coming and expect the Lord will meet us there!

Blog Entries The Theological

A More Authentic Fundamentalism (Peter Rollins)

This quote is from Peter Rollins who will be in Hollywood speaking on his Evandalism tour March 1 and 2. In the post he discusses the subjective violence of Fundamentalism, which covertly seeks to cover up a maintenance of the status quo:

The main gist of the argument lies in exploring how the fundamentalism we witness at work today is, at its core, a movement that conserves and preserves the status quo. Its violence at the subjective level (e.g. defending the evils of misogyny, homophobia, unjust conflicts and self-interested foreign policy) is the direct outworking of its ultimate impotence when it comes to instigating real change….

In the same way fundamentalism, while violent at a surface level (at the level of everyday life) is simply a mask that hides the fact that it does not rock the very foundations of worldly power. Its frantic posturing and aggression is ultimately in the service of those with power, money, and voice. In this way their various highly funded projects designed to change society actually ensure that nothing of any significance really changes (those who are oppressed continue to be oppressed, the rich continue to get richer, the poor continue to get poorer).

In contrast to fundamentalism it is people like Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King who, in their pacifism, are truly violent (who are the true church militant). In their non-participation and uncompromising actions they lived out an alternative vision of how the world could work, directly challenging the foundations of worldly power. In their seductive vision of an alternative world and their unrelenting quest to pursue it they ruptured the systems of power that surrounded them and thus expressed the true violence of Christianity. A violence that shifts the underground by allowing the outsider to be heard.

In what ways have you witnessed the challenging of worldly power through a more authentic “fundamentalism” that Rollins discusses here, where the status quo is not being protected but rather intruded upon and overturned?

Blog Entries

Dress-Down Friday | Bolt, Naomi Klein and Coffee

It’s been a while since I posted a “Dress-Down Friday” post so today seemed like a good day to get back into the swing of things. Dress-Down Friday’s are just casual postings of whatever random goodness I’ve bumped into while cruising the web. I think you’ll enjoy some of the stuff I’ve posted today as well. Things have been INSANE around here, and by INSANE I mean – good and really crazy. Last weekend the fam and I were up in the Northwest hanging out with some great folks in the Portland area.

Two highlights for me were visiting Powell’s bookstore, a four-story book heaven.

L walking down the theology isle at Powell's

And drinking coffee at Stumptown, the best coffee that has ever touched my mouth and which we visited all three days we were up North:

Stumptown on Stark Ave

In Other news:

He writes: “The challenge for youth pastors is the challenge of hearing Jesus say, “Follow me”; to lose our lives in living God’s love. Then, as communities, we become signs of God’s new world in the midst of empire and youth will start to ask us … “Why?” If Passionfest in New Zealand and The Common Root convergence in the U.S. are anything to go by, a generation is starting to do just that. It is my conviction that God longs to breathe the Spirit of Love’s new world into us. But to receive it, we must stop locking lips with empire. Then we will see clearly that Jesus and justice always kiss.”

The film is not all bad. There’s a solid premise, a good narrative arc, a decent moral sensibility (mostly) and enough humour to keep things moving. Sure, it’s The Truman Show for kids, but in a lot of ways it is a better, more engaging and less pretentious film than it’s intellectual forebear…Bolt began with one character free to life their life and another held in ignorant bondage. Part way through we had the tantalising promise that both characters would be free, but, in the end, we faced the same situation of one free character and one slave. Only the roles had been reversed.

Featured The Biblical

Digging Up the Roof: The Kingdom Moment and the Paralytic in Mark 2:1-12

Jesus and the Paralytic

This is the sermon I gave this past Sunday on Mark’s story about Jesus and the paralytic.

“When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”” (Mark 2:1-12 NRSV).

The story of Jesus healing the paralytic is a rich narrative with many layers to it. I want to focus on how it describes established institutions, represented by the grumbling scribes, come under attack through Jesus’ actions that proclaim a new moment, a new time and new way of being the people of God. The unexpected intrusion of a paralyzed person being lowered through a roof that had been dug up is a perfect image for the great lengths God goes to, to get outsiders into our churches. Jesus challenged these institutions at the points where they became roadblocks and invited people into a new work of God.

“When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them” (Mark 2:1-2).

Jesus: Celebrity in Capernaum

Mark tells us that Jesus just arrived home in Capernaum [Ka-Per-Knee-Umm]. Capernaum was a village with some 1500 residents, who typically lived in small individual quarters that housed large families (Green DJG 1992, 39). These homes were only one story and had a flat roof, accessible by a staircase on the outside of the home. Because of the tight quarters, the roofs were used for work as well as sleep. They were thatched with rush, held together by mud, and wood beams or branches made the structural part of the roof (France 123). This is why, in our story, the protagonists literally had to “dig up” the roof.

Mark doesn’t tell us whether this is Jesus’ actual house or someone else’s, but in either case he has obviously become a local celebrity. The word that he was home got out, and people crammed into small quarters to hear Jesus “teach the word” to them (which probably means he was teaching what became known as “the Christian Message”). People were obviously interested in what was going on because even the front door was blocked.

There is something noteworthy about the particular word Mark uses for “crowd” (in verse 3). Originally, it meant something like a, “confused majority, or ordinary soldiers in a combat unit but who are not officers.” It also refers to non-combat people who follow the army and perform menial duties (Luke 2 and John — carry 2 miles). One commentator says, these were the “people of the land” who are differentiated from those in the ruling class. Rabbis taught that Jews should not share meals or travel with this group. Therefore it is unique to see both these groups represented at this gathering with Jesus.

It is in this setting that we see the birth pangs of Jesus’ new moment clash with the institutions and establishments of the old. Jesus was up to something new that these old wine skins couldn’t (it’s probably a good thing he didn’t call them that).

NT Wright says: “The main issue between Jesus and his Jewish contemporaries was his claim that the “moment” had come, that their god was even now inaugurating his kingdom, and that this – this praxis, these stories, this person – was the mode and means of its inauguration” (NT Wright, 383).

In his interaction with the paralytic Jesus showed what this new moment looked like. The kind of kingdom he announced was one that was centered on hospitality and healing of the outsider.

“Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay”  (Mark 2:3-4).

This is a kingdom where the intrusion of the other, such as the paralytic, does not disrupt the work of God but rather gives new opportunities to proclaim it. The unexpected visitation quite literally shows that God works to dig up the institutions and obstacles that stand in the way of people being made whole. This episode shows us that to create space for a new thing, sometimes we need to start digging.

The Disruption of the Paralytic

Once the man is lowered down through the hole, Jesus confronts the injustice that this man faced. Being disabled, the “paralytic” would have most likely been in extreme poverty. For instance, there was no access to any kind of healthcare system and being paralyzed meant he was not able to work. So he probably was a beggar or dependent on the generosity of family and friends, who may or may not have had resources to help him.

There is some evidence too that to be a full member of the Jewish community one had to be physically whole (not blind, lame, a leper, etc). This is because, whether through sickness, sin or something else, he would have been thought of as ritually unclean. NT Wright points out, when it comes to Jesus’ healing the paralytic he offers him “the gift of shalom.” Not only was Jesus restoring his physical health but also giving him a “renewed membership in the people of YHWH.”

In fact, most of the people Jesus healed were a part of these “banned categories.” You will remember that Jesus healed people like Bartimaeus who was blind, many who were lame, lepers, a woman who bled profusely, a woman who was crippled, not to mention many others (Wright 192). He didn’t just give them the restoration of physical infirmities rather he “reconstituted those healed as members of the people of Israel’s god” (Ibid).

Given this background: I really wish I could have watched this scene unfold. We’re not told much about this man at all: what was his back-story? How did he ended up being paralyzed? Was he this way from birth? Did it really have something to do with sin?

And who were these four guys lowering him through the ceiling? Were they family members, members of the local synagogue in Capernaum, people from Jesus’ gathering who knew his story and went back to get him? Whoever they were, they must have been beautiful and creative people, carrying the dead weight of a paralyzed man down who-knows-how-many streets and when they get there they “dig up” a roof that stood between him & Jesus.

I can imagine the disappointment these men must have felt after arriving too late to get close enough to hear or see Jesus. The house was packed and it seemed like their effort was in vain. But the obstacles proved to give way to opportunity.

These four men carrying a paralyzed guy on a bed-mat do the absurd and clamber to the roof of someone’s house and dig a hole big enough to lower a person through it.

I love how totally unexpected and weird this scene is.

[ILL] Think about it, have you ever been sitting in someone’s living room, all crowded around a famous teacher, and then all of a sudden you hear pounding on the roof. The teacher, with a strange look in his eye, looks up and dusts his head off as if some debris just fell from the ceiling. The next thing you know, there are a bunch of guys peering down from above lowering a man through a hole in the roof! This was quite a seen!

The paralytic’s arrival is a very dramatic intrusion into this scene. And the intruder, who disrupts this lovely evening lecture, isn’t a popular celebrity, but an outsider who is crippled. As we see with how the Scribes act, unexpected and unwanted visitors can often be treated as an inconvenience rather than with hospitality and opportunity.

But Jesus did not miss a beat, it was no intrusion to him. He said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Almost as if to say, “Son, no worries about the roof to our house here, I forgive you.” Instead, the forgiveness he offered generated a serious controversy.

(Mark 2:5-12) “Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!””

Challenging The Old Ways (of the Debt)

The Scribes are actually right: only God can forgive sins. They knew the laws better than most, and what Jesus was doing really was blasphemous from their perspective. However, they refused to accept, or understand, that Jesus may have the God-given authority to forgive sins and cancel debts (Luke 4, The year of Jubilee). In fact, we might say that Mark 2:1-12 is ultimately about who has the authority to offer new interpretations and practices within an older tradition.

Through forgiveness and healing Jesus challenged the debt system, which held people outside the community. Ched Myers argues that Jesus introducing this language of the “debt code,” forgiving sins, challenged a system that had grown oppressive. He says, “The man’s lack of bodily wholeness would have been attributed to either his own sin, or, if a birth defect, inherited sin; he was thus denied full status in the body politic” (Myers 155). Jesus, as we see here, releases him from all debt and places him squarely back into the community.

This is where the rub is. If Jesus simply cured these people, refraining from forgiving debts and restoring their whole selves, there would have been little clash with those in power. But Jesus, as the healer-prophet, took it much further. By offering forgiveness and healing to those who wanted it, he redrew the boundaries. In effect, he said, “all those you have been keeping at arms length through your institutionalized religion are the ones who are truly the insiders, and you who have thought you were on the inside have been wrong all along. You have misinterpreted the tradition.”

NT Wright says Jesus’ challenge to the Scribes was to:

“give up the interpretation of your tradition [not the tradition] which has so gripped you, which is driving you towards the cliff-edge of ruin. Embrace instead a different interpretation of your tradition, one which, though it looks like the way of loss, is in fact the way to true victory” (Wright 383).

This is what makes Jesus unique in his ministry and met with so much hostility. The “debt code” effectively became a Jewish institution that drew heavy boundaries between insiders and outsiders. Jesus’ removed these boundaries and disrupted the flow of the hierarchical order these religious elites were trying to maintain.

He exposed the underlying commitments and worldview of the Scribes, and showed them that God’s kingdom cannot be contained within these boundaries.

This was a dramatic clash between the symbolic institutions and a new “event” God was bringing about. [An event is something that “has already happened but is still arriving” (Caputo 58).] In other words, the old powerful institution clashed with something still on the way, both young and fragile. Yet, Jesus showed that it is in the new and fragile that the kingdom is born.

No wonder this passage ends with the crowds, who though the “confused majority,” had a moment of clarity and said, “We have never seen anything like this!” Something new was truly underway. The crowd can’t help but see that this is a new moment taking place before them. This statement, their recognition that God was up to something new, is in stark contrast to the attitude the scribes display. One is worried about blasphemy, the codes behind forgiveness and healing, and protecting the institution. The other, our “confused majority” is open to the new possibilities of Jesus’ kingdom. The roof was coming down, and Jesus was ushering a new vision for the people of God.

God’s Event Is an Intrusion

This whole scene takes place because a few creative folks “dug” a big hole in somebody’s roof. Because of this, a paralyzed man was made whole, and the Scribes had their theological feathers ruffled. This intrusion of the unexpected “other” sets the stage for Jesus to challenge the institutions that have gotten out of hand and display the new thing God was doing among them. Sometimes it takes a little digging to make space for something new.

Where do we find ourselves in this story? Are we the paralytic looking for wholeness? Are we the friends who, with a little creative imagination, dig up a roof? Or are we the institutionalized Scribes locked into their ways? I imagine we, the church, are a little like all these folks.

The pressing question from this passage is: How do we act like the scribes? In what ways have we in the church become enslaved to such institutions and traditions? Are we ready to see the new “moment” take place here?

Unfortunately, as the community of God in our time, we sometimes act like the Scribes in our story. Today, the church can easily find itself on the wrong side of history, drawing the boundaries of who is in and who is out, as though we have the corner market on all things God. Holding people at arms’ length, usually out of fear and desire to protect our sacred institutions, betrays our lack of faith that God can work in ways we don’t understand. Those of us in the church can act as though we have the final answer on all of life. The Scribes had the answers and were closed-off to Jesus’ message, even the kingdom of God couldn’t challenge their ideas.

But this isn’t the role the church is to have. I think we’re to be the diggers in this story who dig up the roof to make an opening for an encounter with God.

Theologian John Caputo, asked in a recent book,

“How does Jesus’ distance from us illuminate what we must say and do in the importantly different situation in which we find ourselves today? The task of the church is to submit itself to this question, rather than using it like a club to punish others. The church, the archive of Jesus, in a very real sense is this question. It has no other duty and no other privilege than to bear this memory of Jesus and ask itself this question. The church is not the answer. The church is the question…” (Caputo 2007, 34).

The scribes in our passage represent those who already have the answers, those who base their faith and trust in God with easy, ready-made, prepackaged theological answers. Jesus “deconstructed” this way of being the people of God and challenged them to remain open to the new and unexpected moment of the Kingdom. We must always remain open to the fact that as the people of God, we are foremost to subject ourselves to whatever God’s work is in our world today.

Unfortunately, our churches can also become obstacles to people being made whole, churches can be a lot like the old roof in our story. The roof represents an obstacle, or impediment, to those on the outside wanting to get in. “Steeple-houses,” as George Fox called them, have quite the roofs! There will be no rappelling from these: you either come in the front door or you stay out! But as the followers of Jesus, we are to be creative in how we dig up these impeding rhetorical roofs.

As I reflected on this passage again and again it dawned on me that the friends, our diggers, of the paralytic seemed a lot like Quakers! Or at least a first century Jewish version of Quakers. Not only were Early Quakers a bunch of creative folks, who found ways to challenge the status quo and make Christ available to everyone, they actively removed the impediments that stood before people and God, so that all might find Christ and be made whole.

We all know George Fox’s constant challenge to Christendom: “Christ is here right now, he’s teaching the people on his own! Remove these impediments! Let them at Jesus!” (My paraphrase). I think the Quaker tradition is, at its best, a purveyor of shovels for dirt roofs. I think Quakers must have liked to dig a lot, because they constantly dug holes in the institutional walls of the church and state. Early Friends saw many things within Christendom that had grown closed off to the radical witness of love, hospitality and compassion of the Jesus we see in Mark 2. This is what got Quakers in so much trouble, just like Jesus. Digging holes made the church vulnerable to the unexpected, often unwelcomed, new moment of God’s kingdom. Through these holes they dug, many left on the outside of the church, woman, slaves, native americans, prisoners, rich and poor, were able to see the light of God’s kingdom shining through.

In Closing

May you Church be like the paralytic’s friends, and early Quakers, and start dig up roofs that keep out those who want to find God. May you find those institutions, and obstacles, whether inside these walls or out there in the world, that seek to keep people out and dig holes through them.

May you be like Jesus and accept the unwelcome strangers into your lives and find ways to be true healers. May you be open to the new moments of the kingdom that cannot be contained by walls, codes and institutions.

May you be like the paralytic, whose deep faith, not only opened him up to the great risk of seeking Jesus, but sought to be made whole through a lively encounter with Christ.

May you also be like the “confused majority” and be open to and recognize the kingdom announcement when as it happens. May you seek to be the question, rather than the answer, open to whatever God’s work is today.

May we all be like the Scribes who care deeply for their tradition, yet may we reject traditionalism, realizing that God brings the new through intrusion of the other.

And hopefully your city will say “We have never seen anything like this!”

Image from the National Gallery London.