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Community, Leadership, Spiritual Formation

Sometimes, some things hurt

Today I celebrated my 43rd birthday. Nine years ago, when those numbers were reversed into a 34, I remember finally beginning to think of myself as a full grown adult. This year I celebrate the birthday that’s finally got me thinking that I’m gettin old. For the most part that doesn’t bother me much. Those that know me know that I’m still quite young at heart. And aging has its benefits. Now more than ever my faith is quite authentic. Doubts no longer shake me but rather add mystery to the things that I believe. My priorities are almost always Christocentric. And I’ve learned to love work as much as I love leisure. All that came at the hands of father time…

And God my Father

Still sometimes, some things hurt. For example; every morning (and whenever the weather changes abruptly), my wrists and knuckles burn and ache. The same is true of my shoulders. Of course that’s arthritis. Arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that inflames the tissue that surrounds overused joints. In my case, 25 years of disciplined practice on the guitar has deteriorated the connective cushion between the bones in my wrists and hands. My shoulders were damaged by years of heavy lifting. The deterioration caused by those activities now often results in inflammation; and inflammation causes pain.

I think most of us are at risk of the same sort of thing with regard to emotional maturation. As we age and apply spiritual disciplines to the human experience, over time, overuse of those disciplines can result in inflamed, painful emotions. For example, all of us endure petty cruelties throughout the course of our lives. But the discipline of forgiveness requires that we turn the other cheek and make peace with those that hurt us. But as we get older, a lifetime of disciplined ‘cheek turning’ can result in so much scar tissue, that even the slightest offence can inflame our emotions. Which begs a difficult question; what are we to do when practicing a spiritual discipline causes us emotional pain? To be frank, because it’s not a simple problem, there is no easy answer. But it’s a problem worth solving, and I think this is how that works.

When I play guitar my hands hurt… sometimes a great deal. If they don’t ache while I am playing, they are bound to burn and pinch the next day. Yet, never in my life has there been a single day when the fear of that pain has caused me to put down my guitar. In fact, when I first learned to play, I would practice two chords, over and over, until each finger was dented with a blood stained, string shaped callus. And when my fingers hurt I was happy, because the pain I experienced was caused by something I love, In fact, the pain wasn’t a problem, it was evidence that I was improving.

I can’t say the same about my feelings for heavy lifting. Be it furniture, or weights or anything in between, I do not love picking things up. As a result, when I am forced to carry something that’s painful to lift, I either put the thing down, or resent the whole experience. But it’s not the pain that causes me umbrage; it’s the lack of love for the thing to begin with. This means that the only cure for the pain that practicing forgiveness can cause, is love. If we practice forgiveness as a spiritual discipline, merely because Jesus told us to, we will eventually be awash with deep-seated bitterness. Christians are not called to be disciplined; we are called to be disciples. And disciples of Jesus do not love the discipline of forgiveness; they love the people they are forgiving.

Discipleship to Jesus is not something that you can be born into; it is something that you claim by repenting and pledging allegiance. When Jesus called this community together he gave its members a new way to live. He gave us a new way to deal with offenders – by forgiving them, a new way to deal with violence – by suffering, a new way to deal with money – by sharing it. He gave us new patterns of relationships between man and woman, parent and child, employer and employee, and made concrete a radical new vision of what it means to be a healthy, godly person. But we are only capable of living this way if we love (agape) our enemies as well as our friends. We cannot merely love the religious discipline of forgiveness, or church attendance, or service, or honesty, or anything other than the people that Jesus was born to love, and died to save. It is love that transforms our suffering into joy.

Community, Leadership, Missional, Uncategorized

Will the real fascists please stand up!

Someone wrote me this week asking a curious question. The email read, “Do you believe we are at war with Islamo-fascists?”

The following was my answer:

You and I, (and the Church in general), are not at war with Islam… and I am certain that God is not at war with Muslims. If we have a responsibility with regard to other religions, it’s to ensure that when they encounter us (you and I) they see the real Jesus, not the version that confuses civil religion (patriotism), with following Christ.

Just like all real politics are local, so are the most effective missionaries. Whatever we do, wherever we go, if we do it in service to God, we are emissaries of Christ, and are therein missionaries of his Gospel. And if it is true that all mission is local then, where, how, when and why the American system confuses or confounds that Gospel is definitely our concern. I for one am VERY troubled by the global rise of corporate imperialism.

Having spent nearly twenty years as a counselor, I am capable of using the DSM VI to assess the “personality” of the corporate “person.” By employing that checklist as a diagnostic tool, I believe the operational principles of most corporations result in highly anti-social “persons.” They are: self-interested, inherently amoral, unfeeling and devious; they breach social and legal standards to get their way; they do not suffer from guilt, and yet they can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism.

This point-by-point analysis results in a disturbing diagnosis: the institutional embodiment of imperial capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a ‘psychopath’.

Without a moral compass, and neither corporations nor capitalism are instilled with one, extreme, exclusive profit motives are inescapable. In fact, Capitalism as an economic philosophy is intentionally amoral. And today, Capitalism is a global theology. As such, the postmodern world has a international belief system, that is absent morality, absent the bible, and absent the teachings of Jesus.

What was so seductive about Marx and the theory of communism was the fact that it was as much a moral treatise, as it was an economic theory. No such moral treatise exists for postmodern Capitalism. And if the unchecked, unbridled, savage aspects of corporate imperialism become ever more triumphant, I don’t know how we can hope for a world where democracy, equality and freedom are the norm, not the exception. What we need today is a moral manifesto for capitalism; something that can reign in the ever increasing power of international corporations, something spiritual, something Christlike.

And with regard to capitol, I think the Roman Catholic priesthood got that ‘vow of poverty’ thing wrong. The world would be much better off if we all took vows to generously share our wealth and its creation… as much, and with as many people as possible. And not just in terms of legal tender, but wealth in the forms of equal access to health-care, quality education; fair and safe employment standards, and ecologically sound environmental habits. I believe that these are some of God’s goals for the Mosaic Generations; 21st century expressions of authentic Christian piety. And as such, they require that we practice these things missionally, not isolating ourselves from the world, but rather working for the healing and blessing of God’s beloved creation.

Pietism and piety, are masterpieces of Christian tradition. But even the most genius masterwork needs generational reinterpretation for it to remain historically relevant. I for one am tired of hearing that disavowing homosexuality, supporting lower taxes, and condemning Islam are the touchstone missions of the American church. Instead, we need a new kind of piety, one that combines the Sermon on the Mount, with the issues of the day. If we can accomplish that, the juxtaposition would transform the Church from an arm of the Republican Party, into the voice of God Almighty.

Change!?!, Decline/Growth, Young Adults

I am not Brethren

I am not Presbyterian, I am not Calvary Chapel, I am not Vineyard, I am not Pentecostal, I am not Catholic, and I am not Brethren. I am myself, a sinner saved by grace, a convert to the way of Jesus, a child of the Living God.

Having come to the church by conversion, not birth, I have like many, meandered through denominational identities. One of the results of that experience is that the only name that I’m willing to keep is Christian. And to be honest (or better said accurate), the last ten years has heaped so much social baggage onto the title Christian, that even it, usually makes me wince. I most prefer just to say that I am a follower of Jesus. If you don’t know this then you should; Christian youth culture burgeons with similar sentiment.

Postmodern theologians regularly postulate, that the world is becoming post-Christian… they are probably right about that. But also true and equally important is the fact that the church is becoming post-denominational. Those of us who’ve come to Christ because of a change of heart or mind, rarely feel connected to the history and evolution of the denominational hierarchy that hosts or owns our property. Postmodern converts identify with God, and one another, based on a set of shared beliefs, not the name of a schism or its founder. This is an uncomfortable truth for folks that have life-long lived with the name of a denomination etched into their family and its history. But to reach the emerging generations, we must allow them to keep their identities, and not expect them to adopt ours.

And in a way, what I said at the beginning of this discourse is wholly and hugely inaccurate.

I am Presbyterian, and Calvary, and Vineyard, Pentecostal and Catholic. And yes, I am Brethren as well. Not the Brethren of the past, but the Brethren of tomorrow; and so are the emerging generations of which I am a part. We are a mosaic of traditions, tapestries of faith and practice, and although we understand the importance of the past, we are far more interested in the needs of the future. And we will only take with us, that which we think rings true.

The world is very different than it was forty years ago, and the global amalgamation of Christian ideas has left us needing a church whose theology is refined beyond denominational differences. We long to embrace our cousins from every corner of the family of Christ, and differentiate ourselves by our praxis, not our assumptions.

And praxis is meat of the matter for the emerging generations. It’s what we do, not what we think that defines us. In this way the Emerging Church and Brethren culture have much in common. Lay led, service oriented, egalitarian, ecologically sensitive, intentionally peaceful and dedicated to simple living; all these things are true of both Brethren and Emerging. Indeed, the Emerging Church and the Brethren persona is a match so natural, that their corollaries seem a machination of Divinity.

The question is what do we do with this opportunity? Can we find the courage to embrace the emerging generations and allow them to inherit our mission and revitalize the church? Or will we insist that they adopt our identities, and force them out on their own, to form their faith families without us.

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