31 October 2005

The Gospel of Luke

So I got back a week ago from a trip to Minnesota to attend a conference at Luther Seminary. I stayed with my friends Blair (former Associate Rector at my church here in Northern Virginia, current Rector of St. Matthew's Church in urban St. Paul), Dwight (Blair's husband, a doctoral student at Luther and probably the best theological teacher I've ever met), and Luke (their 2 1/2 year old son and the subject of this post).

Luke is without a doubt the happiest child I've ever encountered. Every moment for him seems to be a new delight. He runs around all day long with a huge grin on his face, absolutely convinced that every thing he finds and every person he meets will be the bearer of good news. (And then he sleeps all night, Hallelujah!) :-) A lot of kids that age seem to have learned a little bit of apprehension; they aren't too sure whether what's around the corner might be good news or bad news. If there isn't actual harm in store, it's quite possible that the next thing might be a thwarting of their plans, a limiting of their fun, or just something far, far short of the non-stop party that, ideally, a child's life should be. And many kids seem to wear this apprehension on their faces much of the time, and to spend a good deal of time and energy trying to make sure that their fun quotient remains as high as possible at all times, even if they sometimes have to make themselves and everyone around them miserable to accomplish that. (I write as a non-parent, and I don't hate kids, but admit it. Kids do this.)

But not Luke. It's not that he gets everything he wants, or gets to do everything he wants; it's just that nothing in his life seems to have shaken his confidence that life will consist of one joyous blessing after another. It isn't his job to make sure the blessings keep coming. It doesn't need to be. They just come.

God, grant me that kind of faith! Grant me that kind of joi de vivre! But in all honesty, I have to say that when I reflect on this (as I have since spending time with Luke), I'm overwhelmed by the extent to which that prayer has already been answered in my life since I became a Christian.

OK, minor side trip, which I think is necessitated by my use of the phrase "became a Christian." It raises a bunch of questions. Do I believe in the reality of the experience of being "born again" or "born from above" (Gospel of John, chapter 3)? I truly do. Do I consider myself a "born-again Christian"? Yes, I do. Can I point to a single day or moment when I experienced this new beginning. Nope. Can I point to a year or several-month period during which I became "born again"? Yes, I can, and contrary to much of the theology of my Anglican tradition (and also Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and much of mainline Protestant tradition), I don't believe it was when I was baptized as an infant. It was in early 2003, when I truly began to trust and have confidence in Jesus Christ and to sense the activity of the Holy Spirit in my life.

For Luke, though, maybe it really did happen at baptism, or even in the womb, as he was bathed almost constantly in his mom's prayers. I don't know. But I do know that since I was "born from above", I've become a lot more like Luke. I thought about this as I reflected on the summer that just ended. I remember clearly looking back on waning summers in the '90's and even early 2000's and evaluating them like this: how much fun did I have? Life's short, so it was a good summer if I got to an amusement part at least once, got to the beach and swam, went to a Ren Faire, saw a lot of movies, etc. I was like the average child: the meaning of life, as far as I could discern it, was to make sure I was maximally entertained.

But as I looked back at this summer, I thought: gee, I wanted to get to an amusement park this year. Oh well. I didn't go to the movie theater much this year. Maybe next year. This summer, and indeed most of the last three years, has been marvelous, and not because they've been chock-full of non-stop entertainment. I've been living more like Luke: open eyes, open heart, open arms to embrace whatever life has in store for me next. I'm busy trying to follow the Spirit wherever She leads, and while it's not an endless party, it is wonderful. Literally, this kind of life keeps me, like Luke, in an almost constant state of wonder. I've got a long way to go (Philippians 3:12-14), but I'm really starting to get an idea of what Jesus was talking about in the Gospel of John when he spoke about "eternal life" or "life to the full".

If you ever have the chance to meet Luke, you'll get to see exactly what I'm talking about. Of course, Luke's life won't be all blessings. Nobody's life is. His faith in the universe will be tested. And so will mine. I've experienced some bad things in life (clinical depression chief among them), but I've yet to suffer in my life of faith. The testimony of the Bible and most Christians I know tell me that this is inevitable. I don't really have a lot of confidence in my own ability to weather adversity. But I'm not counting on me. And having spent a few days with Luke, I don't think the negatives he faces in life will break his essential confidence and joy. Bend them, maybe, but not break. It's who he is.

And I really think it's becoming who I am. So when the time comes for me to take up my cross, God, please help me to remember the Gospel of Luke: that life is Good News, life to the full, life eternal, and it's not my job to make it that way if I have confidence in the One who is the source of all blessings. Amen.

30 October 2005

Shape of blogs to come

OK, I've been promising blogs about my recent trip to Minnesota, and I've yet to deliver. And here again I've run out of day. But I do intend to blog on this, probably quite a bit, so I'll whet your collective appetite with an outline of the sorts of things I plan to write about, hopefully within the next week:

1) A post on the Gospel of Luke. No, not that Luke. (Yes, Eleanor, that Luke.) Those of you who don't know my friends Blair and Dwight and their delightful son will have to wait--not too long--to find out what I'm on about.

2) A confessional post on a conversation I had with Blair that made me re-assess where I stand vis-a-vis my connection with Buddhism.

3) At least one post (probably more) on the subject matter of the conference I attended. These will be on the theological conversation about Missional Church and how that conversation is being translated (by folks with deep roots in both theology and social sciences) into concrete tools for congregations and systems of congregations to discern their missional calling in the world.

4) A post about some concerns I have about two (apparently largely independent) conversations about the way churches are changing in the 21st century. The first is the Missional Church movement being pioneered on this continent by the Gospel and Our Culture Network, Luther Seminary, and others, whose language (at least) is being adopted enthusiastically by nondenominational and Southern Baptist evangelical churches (among others). The second is the "Intentional Church" movement being studied by Diana Butler Bass and others at Virginia Theological Seminary and elsewhere and being picked up on by many mainline protestant churches. My concern is not with either one of these movements, both of which (in my opinion) are the result of powerful activity of the Spirit within the church. My concern is with their apparent independence. They need each other. Or so I believe. More later.

5) A post on my experience at one of the most iconic Emerging Churches, Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis. (Nutshell version: If you ever find yourself in the Twin Cities on a Sunday evening, go!!)

Hmm. OK, that's as far ahead as I can reasonably plan my blogging life. Stay tuned!

27 October 2005

Great post from Scot McKnight

Elizabeth was asking (in the comments to a recent post) for some high-quality Christian theology. I recommended some books, but lo, this morning my RSS reader fed me this great post from Scot McKnight on salvation vs. discipleship. Good stuff, in my opinion. It's short, too. Bite-sized.

I will get around to blogging about my Minnesota experience, I promise, but you go away for six days and you come back BUSY! (Or I do, anyway.)

26 October 2005

Can I get an Amen???

Zowee, I'm pretty sure several readers of this blog will be interested in signing on for this:


G'wan, put your electronic John Hancock on that petition. The world needs more than one kind of Christian radio!

24 October 2005

Overwhelmed by great theology and practice

Well, I just got back from six days in the Twin Cities with dear friends who also happen to be brilliant theologians and deeply spiritual people (and whose two-year-old son is a non-stop delight). And I was there to learn (at a conference at Luther Seminary) from some of North America's deepest thinkers in Missional Church theology, and I found out the amazing extent to which they're not just thinking, writing, and teaching but doing--helping congregations and church systems to transform themselves and discover and live out their missional vocation in the world. And I got to worship at Solomon's Porch, one of the most creative American Emerging Churches. And...I'm a bit overwhelmed. And incredibly grateful--to my friends, to these Missional Church theologian/sociologists, and to God.

Much more on this later. For the moment, I'm too tired and it's too late.

Peace, all!

17 October 2005

Where's the purple?

Grumble. I agree with the general thrust of this article by Noah Feldman in America's Number One Newspaper (and the one that happens to direct-deposit my paycheck), but several statements really annoyed me. For example:

Beginning of fourth paragraph, just below the heading, "The divide": "The country is split between two camps." Aren't we tired of that simplistic binary worldview yet? Well, some of us are, anyway.

End of the paragraph after that: "Tell me whether you think religion should play a role in government decisions, and I'll tell you where you come out on these core debates [i.e., abortion and end-of-life issues]." No, Noah, you won't. You and I could play that game (and you and many, many people I know could play that game), but if I were you I'd avoid betting money on it. Try rock-paper-scissors instead.

Here's a whole paragraph near the end:

"If we were serious about getting back to the Framers' way of doing things, we would adopt their two principles: no money and no coercion. This compromise would allow plenty of public religious symbolism, but it would also put an end to vouchers for religious schools. God could stay in the Pledge, but the faith-based initiative would be over, and state funds could reach religious charities only if they were separately incorporated to provide secular social services."

I actually think "no money, no coercion" is a pretty good guiding principle for these debates, but I'm not sure I agree with some of his conclusions. Is there really no coercion involved when a teacher stands up in front of a class of elementary school kids and says, "OK class, now we're all going to recite the Pledge of Allegiance together"? Also, what does this say about "In God we trust" on currency? It is money, so does it fall under "no money"? (Obviously it's a stretch if it does, since it arguably costs the same to mint coins with that slogan as it does coins with any other slogan on them.) Is it coercion because everybody who lives in this country has no choice but to use our money, even atheists and Buddhists? Or since using the money doesn't imply that you agree with the slogan printed on it, is that argument weightless? (If I use Canadian money does that mean I'm fond of HRH the Queen?) Hmm.

Right after that, he says, "The public could logically embrace this modest proposal, and the zealots on both sides should think it over." Hang on, you just spent the first part of the article implying that "the public" was made up more or less exclusively of "the zealots on both sides". You mean it's possible that real people are purple, not necessarily fire-engine red or royal blue?

One statement in the last papagraph is something we need to all come to terms with: "No longer Judeo-Christian (if we ever were), we are now Judeo-Christian-Muslim-Buddhist-Hindu-agnostic-atheist." Yeah, and -Sikh-Taoist-Confucianist-Ifa-NewAge-Scientologist-Jain-RollYourOwn-etc.-etc.-etc. We're simply not going to get where we're going by re-establishing Christendom and the so-called "Judeo-Christian society". I just don't think it's what we're called to do in this place and time. But I think what we are called to usher in--a Kingdom of God that welcomes all kinds of folks of all kinds of faiths--is way cooler anyway.

In any event, I thought it was an interesting article, even if parts of it torked me off a little. Apparently it's the beginning of a regular feature of writing on faith topics by my beloved employer, so I'll be keeping an interested eye on what they come up with.

15 October 2005

Buddha, Jesus, and me

You know the woman Jesus met at the well in Samaria, who was flabbergasted because he seemed to know her life story? (If you don't know her, read the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John and get to know her. Go on, read your scripture. It's good for you.) Well, I felt a little like she must have felt when I read this post by Gallycat/Helen. It's not exactly how it happened in my life (ok, it's obviously allegorical for Helen as well, but you know what I mean), but damned if it doesn't resonate with my experience. That guy Buddha, he's pretty gracious like that, as are a surprising number of his followers. I'm pretty sure Jesus is too (and in this case I mean gracious in the everyday sense; I know he's gracious in the theological sense), though a lot of people are convinced he's more of a "my way or the highway--TO HELL!" sort of dude. Oh well, Gallycat, thanks for writing a piece of my story better than I could have done. (And in return, I stole your really cool GIF.) :-)

13 October 2005

Begin with the mission?

So there's this really exciting idea that's been floating around certain Christian circles for the last 10 years or something (probably longer), called "Missional Church." Here's a really good FAQ on the concept (it's a PDF). If you don't feel like reading that, I'll summarize: a Missional Church is a community of Christians (of any size) who define their Christian identity primarily and fundamentally as that of a people on a mission. This mission is thought of as having been given to us by Jesus himself, and to consist of following in his footsteps, passing on his teachings, continuing and growing the community he formed, and doing the deeds he did. Put another way, our mission is to welcome the entire world to receive and enter into the Kingdom of God, God's New World that Jesus spoke constantly about and demonstrated through his actions.

Reactions to these ideas range from,"Well, duh!" to "What on earth are you talking about?" Which is only to be expected. But honestly, I think folks with the latter reaction are closer to the truth. I mean, if you honestly think that this is how most Christians of any persuasion have approached their faith down through the ages, I'd have to quibble with your assessment of history and current events. And I've come to believe that if Christians do come to see their faith in these terms, it can be revolutionary.

But I'm not writing to evangelize you about being missional. I'm writing to reflect on the implications of the missional idea for evangelism. I've never really thought that the classic evangelical presentation of the Gospel ("you are a sinner, the wages of sin is death, Jesus died so you could live, choose Jesus choose life") would be very effective with most people I know. But I'm really rather intrigued by the potential of the Christian equivalent of the old Uncle Sam poster: "Jesus wants YOU! He's got a mission for you: to help him usher in a New World."

Conventional Christian wisdom, it seems to me, would put any discussion of mission way, way at the tail end of any process of evangelism or disciple-making. First you "convert" someone, then you invite them into the community, then when they start to get committed, you approach them about serving within the community, then and only then you might start to talk to them about serving and transforming the world. Or, if you believe in "belonging before believing" (as I surely do), then you reverse the first two steps, but the rest probably proceeds as above. Membership, Maturity, Ministry, then Mission, to quote a four-step disciple formation system first pioneered at one of the innovative megachurches and now being adapted, with my wholehearted approval, at my own church. It's logical, right? But what if it's backwards? What if mission should (at least sometimes) come first?

I'm pretty convinced that there are lots of folks out there, particularly younger, postmodern, post-Christian folks, who want very much to make a difference in the world, to transform it a little, to make it a slightly better place. But they don't know where to begin. If they do find a way to help (for example, volunteering for an organization that's doing some good), often they don't stick with it for too long, because while they sincerely want to transform the world for the better, they themselves have not been transformed; they haven't encountered a tradition, a community, and a God with the power to transform them. And because of their background and experience (and this was me for many years), the idea that the church could be such a tradition and that the God of Christianity could be such a God seems really improbable.

But what if we began with the mission? What if our evangelistic icon weren't that classic chasm-with-us-on-the-left-and-God-on-the-right-and-the-cross-bridging-the-gap, but instead were that "Jesus wants YOU!" Uncle Sam poster? (Note for the metaphorically impaired: I don't mean really.) Would it cause folks to run away, or would it make them curious enough to try belonging and joining in the mission, in a context that could lead to both personal and local/global transformation?

I don't really know, but I wonder.

08 October 2005


Holy crap, if you can read this article without your blood pressure rising at least once, you must be in a really unique place on the ideological spectrum. (Is there only one spectrum?) Still, I agree with Scot McKnight; it's the sort of thing that should be read and discussed.

07 October 2005

Minor gripe about the "kind and self-righteous"

I just wanted to bitch a bit about folks who are moved to charitable giving, but seem to feel that it's so incredibly magnanimous of them to want to give their money that the charitable organization they've chosen ought to bend over backwards to accommodate the manner in which they choose to give. I work with several organizations that help local homeless and low-income folks, and these donors that someone I know called "the kind and self-righteous" seem to be all too plentiful. It creates a huge amount of special work for organizations that want to make their donors happy, but aren't equipped to guarantee that certain monies go only to clients of a particular race, or that donors be billed not monthly or yearly, but on an irregular schedule, or that they be solicited once and only once per year.

So here's my cheeky advice for those who want to give. I don't care if you want to give $10 or $1M. If you want to help someone, find an organization that's helping and ask them how you can help. If their established ways of working don't suit you, then I suggest one of three options:

1) Look for another charity that suits you better,
2) Start your own aid organization, or
3) Get over yourself and just give as that organization is equipped to receive.

It's wonderful that you want to help others, but that doesn't make you a VIP. It makes you a real, blessed human being. Charity organizations are run on a shoestring, and they cannot make up new policies, procedures, and working models for every donor. Many of these organizations try to do that, but they shouldn't have to. In my opinion, donors have the right to expect exactly three things from the groups they donate to: that they be kept anonymous upon request, that they receive some form of thank-you, and that they get a receipt for tax purposes. Asking anything else is asking too much.

Anyway, that's my bitch for the evening. Take care.

Fellow disciples

I just downloaded Picasa, and decided to try it out by uploading a picture taken last spring of members of my Discipleship Group. From left, it's Joanne, Susan, Janice, Anne, Patricia, Carl, Christine, and me. Posted by Picasa

06 October 2005


I've blogged a couple of times about works by one of my favorite storytellers, Joss Whedon (Buffy, Serenity). Another one of my fave modern storytellers is J. Michael Straczynski, the mind behind Babylon 5 and, most recently, a bunch of really excellent comics. (Joss writes kick-ass comics too.) Anyway, I've been watching Babylon 5 again from the beginning, which is the only way to watch it. (If you've just seen one or two episodes, and concluded that it was just Deep Space Nine with silly hair, I encourage you to rent the DVD's starting from Season One--it's one of the biggest, richest sustained story arcs ever told in moving pictures, and the characters--ach, don't get me started.)

So in Season Three,one of the main characters, Dr. Stephen Franklin, experiences a major life crisis. He is made to realize that he's become addicted to stimulants, and he resigns as medical officer on the enormous space station and goes on "walkabout". (Franklin, by the way, is a Foundationist, a member of a faith that studies the cultures and faiths of humans and aliens, searching for spiritual truth.) Here's how he describes walkabout:

"You just leave everything and you start walking. The Foundation adopted the idea from the aborigines back on Earth. The theory is, if you are separated from yourself, you start walking and you kept walking, until you meet yourself. Then you sit down and you have a long talk. You talk about everything that you've learned and everything that you felt. You talk until you have run out of words. Now that is vital. 'Cause, the real important things can't be said. Then, if you are lucky, you look up and there is just you. Then you can go home."

On April 1st of next year (an auspicious day, to be sure), my wife Tina goes on walkabout. When she heard those words again the other night, she said, "Yep, that's what I'm doing." She's become separated from herself. So in less than seven months, she'll sling her pack on her back on Springer Mountain in Georgia, and won't stop walking until she reaches Katahdin Mountain in Maine, 2,175 miles and six months later. Or, until she meets herself.

I'll join her for stretches--a long weekend here, a week there. But I'm not cut out to walk for six months straight. So for most of those months, we'll be apart. I'll be lonely, and worried, and I'll miss her almost unbearably. But I understand. She's become separated from herself. I can tell that as well as she can. We've been married 12 years, together 16 years, and friends 20 years. I knew her when she was herself, and I miss her. So I'll miss her hard for 6 months in hope of meeting her again when she's done. It worked for Dr. Franklin, though he had to get himself stabbed in the gut and almost killed before it did. Er.

So I ask your prayers for both of us, but mainly for her. I figure if everybody I know starts praying seven months early, I'll be able to worry less. Maybe. A little. :-) And I'll be praying not just for her safety, but her success in finding what she's looking for. Amen.

03 October 2005

Cheap, useful laptops for kids in developing nations

Who needs broadband? Who needs bloated PC software? Who needs electricity?

According to MIT, not kids in developing nations (which is good, because they're unlikely to get those things soon). But what those kids do need is a way to connect with the wider world and "learn learning".

If this can be made to work, it's revolutionary. Check it out:


You can't take the sky from me....

OK, folks, I must say I'm a bit disappointed with the turnout for Serenity this weekend. Among current storytellers, Joss Whedon is easily in my top five (and probably in my top three) in the whole 'verse, and this is the first major motion picture over which he's had real creative control. And it kicks ass! Character, dialogue, action, humor, attractive actors, explosions, interesting thematic elements, humor, important questions raised (about freedom, belief, commitment, corruption), humor.... This is the guy who brought us Buffy and Angel. Everyone must see his movie.

Anyway, given the box office, I strongly suspect (much to my dismay) that not all six of my readers went and saw the movie this past weekend. It's OK. I forgive you. But see it this week! See it now! Ma shong, you bunch of gao yang jong duh goo yang!

OK, I'm better now.