Cups of Water

August 31, 2005

It looks like Katrina will result in the longest and costliest relief effort in American history. In the meantime, it is estimated that it will take nine weeks to pump the water out of New Orleans, much less begin efforts to restore homes, buildings, power, and water services.

Newsweek has published this list of relief agencies that are involved in this monumental undertaking. I hope you’ll consider pulling out your ATM/bank card and donating money toward these efforts.

Even if you can’t give much, remember that a cup of cold water is all it takes to make a difference. In heaven’s eyes, even the smallest gifts can be seen as great acts of heroism.


The Spirituality of Blogging

August 30, 2005

In this document, entitled We Know More than Our Pastors, Tim Bednar discusses the spirituality of blogging.

The title is intentionally provocative. Bednar isn’t really trying to ‘dis the knowledge that formal, spiritual leaders bring into our faith communities. He is just saying that a community of lay people, writing and sharing their own knowledge and experience in their blogs, can develop a collective wisdom among themselves that is superior to that which can be provided by a single minister or pastor.

Here are a few highlights:
– Blogging can be spiritual discipline
– Blogging is great because it is conversation: people can test ideas and change their minds rather than assume formal, doctrinal “positions”
– Blogging builds community by giving everyone a chance to provide input on ideas
– The participatory nature of blogging means spiritual formation occurs for everyone
– In a healthy blogging community, truth gathers strength and untruth, while present, tends to fade (“We believe that truth is discovered as we live, link, and blog in community.”)
– Because blogging occurs outside formal, denominational structures, there is no pastor or shepherd “overseeing” the conversation. Thus, there is a “priesthood of all bloggers.”

Cool, cool stuff. And it resonates very strongly with my own experiences.

The Theology of Dogbert

August 29, 2005

Has anyone seen today’s Dilbert?

Is it just me, or is there a pretty powerful commentary hiding behind Dogbert’s remarks?

Untangling the Gospel 8: Baptism

August 27, 2005

Later this morning, I will be attending the baptism of my niece, Hailee, at my parent’s church here in Cisco. We came in yesterday afternoon and enjoyed a very pleasant, quiet evening sharing a meal with my parents and catching up on each others’ lives.

I also had a chance to run late yesterday afternoon. It was a tough trek – about 96 degrees and lots of hills and difficult roads to navigate – but it was also an insightful experience.

I must have run past dozens of houses that were telling me stories about my childhood and adolescence. A place where I took piano lessons. Homes where friends lived. Homes where family friends lived. Homes where people from my small church lived out their retirement years. Homes of teachers. Homes of babysitters. Homes where I played basketball.

The funny thing was, nothing seemed to be quite right. The buildings all looked the same, to be sure, but something about 20-30 years of life changes your perspective. Some houses I recalled being much larger than they appear now. A few homes seemed larger that I remembered them. One yard in particular seems today cavernous, cool, and beautiful, but I hardly noticed it years ago. In a way, everything looked the same. In a way, it was all completely different.

I think that I’m going to have that same experience this morning at Hailee’s baptism.

That small church in Cisco is where I, too was baptized. It is also where I was married. It is also where I learned most of what I know today about the story of scripture. It also a place where we said goodbye to one of my grandparents.

It is one of the holy places in my life.

Yet, as I reflect on who I was when, at about Hailee’s age, I asked to be baptized myself, I realize that I didn’t quite see the world in general – and my baptism in particular – in the same light that I see it today.

At the time, I was more concerned with making sure that baptism was done at the right place, and with the right frame of mind, and at the right age, and with all of the right words being said. Those seemed like big, important issues to me at that age. Other things, like how baptism was a way of declaring to the world that I was a disciple of Jesus, were present – but they seemed less significant.

But – with a few more years of life behind me , and as I’ve been making my way through this tumultuous, shifting culture – things have changed. The landscape is still familiar, to be sure. Some issues look about the same today as they did around thirty years ago. But some issues that seemed gigantic to me at the time are now very small ones. And some issues that I hardly paid mind to at the time are the ones that now seem deep, inviting, and beautiful.

As I have grown, so has my view of baptism. Every year, I understand more and more of what it meant to step into those waters and declare that Jesus was Lord. I am now less concerned about whether I understood all of the right issues then, and more concerned whether I understand what my baptism means to me today.

What does it mean – here, now – to be a baptized believer, a disciple of Jesus? If scripture is challenging us to think about any one issue regarding baptism, it is this one. Focus too much on issues of infants and adults, sprinklings and emersions, and the verbal formulations that are necessary to do it “right” and you’re missing the most important point.

To be a baptized beliver – regardless of when or how it happened – is to be someone new, someone different today. It is to be moving outside of yourself and reaching out in the world. It is to be observing the life of Jesus and trying to imitate that life in your own walk.

So – what about you? What does your baptism mean to you, today? How has the landscape of your view of baptism changed over the years?

Of Bad Heaven, Parental Smooching, and Other Nonsense

August 24, 2005

A few random tidbits from life during the past few days:

In support of my argument that the subject of hell (or at least the word itself) has been completely ignored in my faith community and in my own life, my five year-old daughter observed the other day that, after they die, bad people end up in “bad heaven.” She apparently got some of the description right: fire, punishment, etc., but she didn’t have any other word to describe what it is. Later, Sheila and I observed that our back room, which is exposed to a lot of very intense sunlight during the early morning hours was “hotter than bad heaven.”

Ah, yes! Another cute phrase to add to our family’s lexicon of insider jokes.
Before kissing me last Sunday night, Sheila warned Levi, our fourteen year-old son, not to look.

“Yeah, like I’d look anyway,” he replied, somewhat disgusted.

I consider Sheila and I to be equally responsible for his delightful sense of cynicism.
Advance sales have begun on X-Box 360 bundles. I’d like to say that I’m excited, but I’m not sure that any of the launch titles are attractive enough to cause me to start saving my money just yet, especially with the price tag that will go with both the system and the games. That only leaves three months for the Microsoft marketing machine to sell me on this thing.

Anyone want to lay odds on how likely it is they will succeed?
A really good excerpt from Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz has been published on Christianity Today’s web site. If you haven’t read the book, you should go sample this particular chapter, which has to do with a bizarre confession booth, and an even more bizarre series of confessions that followed.

What happened is a model for what the Christian churches in America should be doing in our culture for the next decade or two.
Raise your hand if you’re excited to see what Demarcus Ware and Roy Williams are going to do to NFL offenses this Fall.
Has anyone else seen this? You gotta admit, no matter where you come down on the Iraq war issue, this one makes you stop and think.
Relevant Magazine, one of my semi-daily stops on the web, has had a new beta site up and running for several days now. I really like it.

Great, deep content. Cool looks. And a very honest, real attitude. I wish people would describe me that way.

Untangling the Gospel 7: More on Being “Saved”

August 23, 2005

In the modern way of thinking, everything must be assigned states and properties. This makes it easier to measure things, to categorize them, to understand what they are. Is matter liquid? Solid? Gas? What is the humidity this morning? The temperature? What philum is that animal? Species? Are you white? Hispanic? Asian? (Political pollsters might combine this information with data about your income to predict your views on important issues in the next election.) Are you a criminal? Or innocent? (The legal system has a process to determine this particular state of being.)

Assign properties to things, categorize them, and then measure them. This makes things predictable, and you can create processes that will hopefully generate similar results every time you repeat the process with similar objects, animals, people, etc.

God’s work in “saving” people is an important concept in scripture. Is it any wonder, then, that modern Christians became obsessed with finding a way to definitively determine whether someone is “saved” or not. Once we know what “saved” means, we can tell who is in and who is out and maybe even generate systems (“evangelism”) that will help to generate the maximum possible number of “saved” people.

At least, that was the theory.

But what was wrongly assumed by a lot of folks (myself included) is that to be “saved” is a simple, measurable state – like a state of matter. In other words, that one is either “saved” or not “saved.” The result? Grossly oversimplified views of scripture that reduce a wonderful, powerful, mysterious concept to a simple statement or act: a single defining event.

Here are a few of the most popular defining events that Christians have used in determining whether a person in a “saved” state:
1. State and intellectually acknolwedge that Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior.
2. Be baptized, while intellectually acknowledging that Jesus is your Savior (this was/is my faith tradition’s approach for many years).
3. Demonstrate a charismatic gift, such as speaking in tongues.

Don’t get me wrong. All of these can be part of the process of being saved. But may I suggest a couple of ideas that, though it may cause some distress because of our need to categorize people, may be a better model of the concept of God’s saving work in scripture?

First, like Israel’s exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, salvation is a journey in which God dwells in and among us, leading us to a new place. Second, like a diamond, there are many aspects, or facets to the process by which God is saving us. Thus, no single defining event moves us from one state into another, becuase many, many things are happening, and they are all happening on a long journey.

On one level, to be “saved” by God is to be changed from a person who sins into a person who does not sin. When you have been made completely perfect, the process is complete. To put it another way, at the beginning, we are slaves to sin – we sin whether we want to or not, because our sin controls us. But God “saves” us from sin (giving us freedom) by making us into people who aren’t subject to its control.

On another level, we are saved because God “forgives” our sins. Forgiveness is a really good thing because it makes us aware of a willingness, on God’s part, to come and make the journey with us, even though we can be pretty crummy people . But receiving forgiveness isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of being “saved”. Its only a part of it. Knowing that we are and will be forgiven assures us that God will put up with our shortcomings while we are making the journey.

On another level, God is at work saving the entire world, not just you or me as individuals. There are all kinds of things that people need “saving” from in the world. Oppression. Poverty. Addiction. Sickness. Isolation and rejection. Violence. Thus, there is this movement in the world known as the Kingdom of God, which grows and grows from humble beginnings to something much bigger and more powerful. The Kingdom itself represents God’s saving work in the world, lifting oppression and unfairness and bringing hope to people who are in dark places.

To be “saved” is to experience all of these things, and so much more that I’m not even taking the time to write in this post.

The bad news (for those of us who are obsessed with categorizing everyone and everything) is that salvation isn’t so much about instantly switching from “unsaved” to “saved” states as it is about how we are all being saved. We are all on different parts of a journey, in which God is more or less involved, depending on how much we are inviting him to be involved. Some of us have been “saved” from some things (perhaps, a particular addiction), but are still waiting for salvation to come with respect to other things (illness or poverty or a bad attitude about a relative). In one sense, salvation has yet to reach the world, because there is still oppression and injustice. In another sense, we’re already saved because God has forgiven us, offering his son as a sacrifice, and pledging to walk along side us – as his son did – in our suffering and imperfection.

The good news (for those of us who are willing to let go of ideas that reduce “salvation” to either/or states that result from simple, defining events) is that there is hope for something more than an abstract promise that God will forgive us so that we can someday secure our free pass into heaven. God is here. Now. He wants to save us from things that are important in the here and now. And he wants us to play a role in his saving work in others’ lives and in the world.

Let your ideas about what God is doing when he “saves” people out of the box that you have created, and big, wonder-filled, mysterious possilibites for the future (both yours and that of the world around you) begin to unfold.

Untangling the Gospel #6:On the Meaning of “Saved”

August 21, 2005

Imagine that you are the parent of a nine year-old child who has stolen a very valuable item (say, an iPod or a nice article of clothing) from a store. The police come to your home and accuse your child of the crime.

In response to this accusation, you have several options. You could…

A. Ask your child to admit guilt, but tell him that if he does so, in exchange, you will pay for the item.
B. As the child’s parent, volunteer to take the punishment upon yourself, paying for the item.
C. Ask the child to admit to the police that he/she took the item and to face the consequences by paying for the item out of his allowance. Then, building on that experience, devote every resource you have to help the child grow into a responsbile adult who does not steal, and who does not even want to steal.

Three questions:

1. All of these options might be viewed as loving responses, but which of these ultimately in the best interest of the child?

2. Which of these options reflect what you have been taught about how God “saves” us from our sins?

3. Which of these best fits your present idea about what it means for God to “save” us from our sins?

BONUS QUESTION: What does it mean that Jesus is the savior of the world? Isn’t he supposed to be a personal Lord and Savior?

[More to come…]