“Good” Friday: The Machine and Someone

On a Friday, a long time ago, evil overcame goodness. As you can imagine it was brutal.

Evil was a machine that kept churning and spinning, with no one seemingly willing or even able to stop it. Like a woodchipper pulling in a single branch only to spit wood out to the air in a million pieces, ready for the next object to enter its mouth.

But the machine cannot operate by itself. Someone has to do maintenance. Someone has to make sure the parts are in working order. The wheels have to be greased, so to speak. It needs to be well-oiled.

The machine also needs food. Someone has to offer it material to crush and split. Someone has to stand at the ready, giving the machine more matter to destroy.

It was a stormy day. I stood by as I watched, simultaneously willingly and yet against my own desire participated in the destruction. A dirty, oiled rag hung from my pocket, my hands held the limb in place.

The machine was primed and pumped. The machine received its feeding.

Someone died, gasped their last breath. The machine purred to an idle.

Relent: Simplify

A(nother) Lenten thought:

Simplify.

We live in a world (those in the “1st world” anyway) that seems to value quantity over quality, busyness as a marker of success, and doing more as a means to being more or being better or even being a good follower of God.

But Jesus lived an intentional, slowed-down, your identity as well as your neighbor is one of already being a child of God life.

May we free each other to be who God created us to be. Breathe in God’s graceful presence this day, and every day. Your identity is good, return to it.

Live simply.

Relent: I’m Giving In

Relent. This is what I’m telling myself these days.

As Florence and her machine (Florence + the Machine) sing so beautifully in their lenten-like song Never Let Me Go: “I’m not giving up, I’m just giving in.”

To be clear.
This does not mean oppression does not matter.
This does not mean sin is just accepted.

Giving in, instead, means someone else does not rule my life.
Giving in means something else, like money and power, does not own me.
Giving in is the way to freedom, to security, and to peace. This is the way of Jesus’s cross.

So I am relenting to the knowledge that I am beautifully and wonderfully made.
So I am relenting to be a small, but meaningful part of the whole.
So I am relenting to needing others in my life.
So I am relenting to trust God with every moment.
So I am relenting to hope, that good will overturn the bad.

I readily relent because Jesus has gone to the lowest low, taking on the role of slave/servant, coming alongside others and caring deeply for their being.

Yes, this Lent I am relenting. But I’m not giving up, I’m just giving in.

Marriage = Equal Partnership

There is a thought and belief going around, mainly among Christians, that is very destructive.

I normally don’t make definitive statements, but I have to about this: Men and women are created equal. Marriage is a partnership, in every sense of that word.

Last week Mark and Grace Driscoll – Pastor Mark is very influential in some circles of Christianity – came to Sacramento to share their thoughts on marriage, love and sex from what they consider the Biblical perspective. While we need to talk about sex, to destigmatize so love-making is not gross and to keep it beautiful so it doesn’t turn into a god, their understanding of the roles of men and women are actually harmful. They are not alone in this belief about marriage and the role of husband and wife. I used to believe this too, but I do not anymore. Many have a particular understanding of some passages of scripture (let alone the way God’s Word – bible here – is to be interacted with) and how we are created as men and women. But these unique roles are actually based in “the world” and not in Jesus Christ.

There’s much written about marriage and men and women in the Bible. I’ll address just a couple of them, but it gets to the heart of the matter, the essence of the Gospel in a world and culture that can strangle the life out of people.

Paul and others wrote the pastoral letters – books written to specific churches in the First CE. In Ephesians and Colossians, typical Roman “household codes” in the description of Christian life are addressed. Both letters address marriage roles for men and women in slightly different ways but both are counter-cultural in a society where men basically owned women in marriage. Paul may have left a “leadership” role for men intact, but the pervasive notion of submitting and love from both husband and wife stand out in his teaching. There’s nothing about how they are created differently, with men in a more powerful position and women as the “weaker sex.” To do that would actually reflect this particular ancient cultural norm Paul was combating!

The problem with reaching for standardized “leadership” roles for men and women from a Christian perspective is that this measure is actually based upon oppressive cultural mores and not Jesus’ gospel. We are all to be respected. We are all to be loved. Equally.

God has created both male and female, but in Christ we are one. To quote another piece of Christian scripture which highlights our equality in God, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This is freedom. We, men and women (including those who “blur” those lines – Queer, Transgender, etc), are created equal and are one in Christ.

If you need a leader in your marriage, seek Jesus Christ not your mate. Husbands, don’t oppress your wife. Why would you want to do that to her, your love and if you’re fortunate, the mother of your children, anyway?

God Isn’t Against Science

It feels somewhat obligatory, but I don’t want some of my friends or others for that matter to think science – as determined by scientific theory and most scientists – is not a good endeavor. Science is even a holy pursuit. I actually believe God’s Spirit is in the midst of all that we can know empirically. I believe that everything physical is inherently spiritual. I also believe that there’s something “behind” what we see, something more that we can know. What you see is what you get basically and yet we continue to know more about creation. I believe, essentially, in Intelligent Design.

If you didn’t know, there was a “televised” event with Ken Ham of a Creationist Museum and organization and Bill Nye, who you might remember from PBS as the “Science Guy”. There are others better at explaining and discussing the issues raised and those which were not addressed and most certainly could have been. But here goes:

A very small minority of Christians believe in a “new earth,” one that literally believes, because of a particular interpretation of an ancient Hebrew and Christian biblical text – Genesis –  that the world began 6,000 years ago, as if these scriptures were a calculator or math book. So I need to say one can very easily, and I would say, more accurately say, because of taking this ancient text seriously, believe that the 6 days of creation, for instance, mean periods of time or that they can be taken metaphorically. Much of the Hebrew Scriptures are beautiful narrative and poetic works. And spiritual ones at that.

Also, Mr. Ham’s assertion that for one to be saved by Jesus Christ and “forgiven of sins” one has to believe that the ancient Hebrew scripture of Genesis is a literal, scientific account of creation is untrue. God is bigger and greater than this in my estimation.

So, hear it from me since you didn’t hear it during the debate last night:

God Isn’t Against Science

Epiphany – Surprise, Surprise

It’s Epiphany. So Christmas is officially over.

Today is a traditional Christian celebration of the wise men – non-Jewish spiritual leaders who read the stars (astrologers and/or scientists?) – that protected a conceived out-of-wedlock Jewish baby boy whom they believed to be “the one” and honored him with unique gifts.

This would have been an outrage.

This would have been entirely inappropriate.

There’s no way they would have worshiped God correctly, let alone known he was the Son of God, the Messiah or the Christ. And wait – did you see how Jesus was born on earth?

And yet the “wise men” did.

Matthew 2:1-12 records the story of the magi finding Jesus because they followed their own religion and worshipped Jesus in their Eastern custom when they came upon him. They also protected Mary and “Step-Father” Joseph’s son from potential death at the hands of a blood-thirsty jealous King.

You never know who will honor and worship Jesus – they might be someone who’s seemingly far off. But by God’s presence and their seeking after truth they are able to follow and find Jesus, even worship God by their own customs. In spirit and in truth as they say.

Just like some of us already have. May we make room for brothers and sisters such as these. Jesus is truly Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and worthy of all good gifts this Epiphany, even if we think our lives are outrageous or inappropriate.

Year End

Should I really write and end-of-the-year blogpost? I’m not sure, but it looks like that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m compelled by a desire to not not communicate. Lord knows I don’t write here enough anyways.

These have always seemed weird to me, the quick rewind over the last year or a note in reflection. If one is to live into the moment, slowly and centered as God seems to direct for one’s path, it seems odd and inappropriate to recount the past and tell you about it. I mean, you have your own life to review and live into and so do I. It might not be safe for me to share, anyways. But I’ve realized this year how structure and set moments to plan and reflect are really helpful. Even someone kicking things off by sharing their own thoughts first is a good thing.

Here’s what I’ve seen this year:

• Relational growth and depth among people in the communities I participate in, from The WordHouse, Faith Presbyterian Church, the Sacramento Presbytery and Old Soul coffeehouses, to name a few.

• For those who have “moved on” for work, career, and family reasons over the last few years the bonds we have because of our sharing in Christ (whether we have intentionally or not) continue despite the less frequent get togethers or traditional participation in our faith communities.

• I became ordained. After being officially recognized and called as a Teaching Elder, I still have a difficult time describing the gravitas of it all.

• My relationship with my wife continues to grow and deepen. For her I am very grateful.

This life is mystical. Really. We can plan and strategize, and that can be helpful, but we really don’t know what’s going to happen. This is why life is so beautiful, especially for those who are after God’s heart, as they say, or whatever is really true and noble in life.

As you reflect on your own 2013 calendar year, may you stay connected to who you are and go after a life truly worth living in 2014, for your sake, God’s sake and for the sake of our larger community.

Hope to see you next year.

Welcomed

So, I was welcomed into the presbytery.

Anywho. Everyone who passes examination comes back to the room or hall – this time a sanctuary – to applause. It’s a nice gesture, a welcoming act by those who hold gate-keeping power and have just heard you share your heart, and a wonderful way to enter the next phase of ministry.

I was actually thrown a little off guard at the beginning of the examination. I knew I would be asked to share a favorite scripture from the Bible and it’s importance to me. As the first of 4 people to be examined however, I assumed this meant the question would be offered to me after I read my Statement of Faith, which typically is the norm (you can find my SoF on  yesterday’s blogpost). No, answering the scripture question was the starting point of the examination, not just a kick off to the formal opportunity for Q&A. Three folks asked me questions, based on their reading prior my Statement, and although that time is now a blur to me, they were really softball questions. Like tell us about how your prior church relationships have influenced you as an Evangelist (that one I remember. See: slow pitch, down the plate). As I told someone afterwards, I hardly hit them out of the infield.

Still, however, kind of a big deal.

Kind of a Big Deal

No, not me. Well at least not anymore than anyone else.

This evening one section of my spiritual and vocational journey meets a signpost. After several years preparing for ministry in my chosen (or has it chosen me?) church – Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) – and after many meetings, conversations, tests, classes, internships, and an unexpected end around with missional community and The WordHouse instead of a traditional pastor job, I am being called to be an Evangelist for the Sacramento Presbytery. And tonight I read my Statement of Faith and enter one last “examination” to be welcomed into the local governing body as a member, and subsequently, be free and clear – and so ordered – to be ordained.

I will be sharing an important scripture verse and its importance to me (Phil 2:5 – one of the most challenging and comforting passages) after I read my current faith statement:

I believe God is three-in-one: a community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is unified; God is one. God has specifically and sufficiently revealed God’s self in the Old and New Testaments. These Scriptures bear witness to God’s truth in the life and person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus Christ, the self-revealing Word of God, is still breaking into our world through the Holy Spirit and therefore his Church, inviting people to find themselves in God’s story, as witnessed by the Reformed Confessions and Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
I believe in God the Father. God is creator, ruler, and sustainer of all, even me. God’s love is all around; I am created, as well as all of humanity, in God’s image. In God there is wholeness, completeness. All of creation is good. The earth and everything in it bears witness to God. However, there is still a deep fissure inside of all humanity. This crack is often described as sin. Sin does not rightly acknowledge God’s sovereignty, warping and misconstruing God’s good and wonderful creation. Yet, like the woman who searches after lost treasure and finds it, God seeks, finds, and proclaims we have value. God is the heavenly parent who providentially leads us beside still waters, who renews and guides us in righteousness for God’s namesake. God is greater than everything in and beyond the earth; God is too great for words. And yet, God can be known.
I believe in God the Son, Jesus the Christ. Jesus was sent by God and as the Son of Man is one of us, and yet as the Son of God is not like us. Through God’s gracious initiative, baptism, in Christ we have new life. His life becomes ours. The waters at baptism represent Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan in which God said, “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased.” We hear the same voice proclaim over us that we are God’s child, that God is also well pleased with us. Through the Lord’s Supper, God’s covenantal meal, we are reminded of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for us all. When we eat the bread and drink the cup we can experience his forgiveness and the grace displayed on the cross. Through Jesus’ death we die; and through his resurrection we are raised to new life. Jesus saves us from harm and saves us to the good work of God’s kingdom. Through his love – through Jesus himself – we are reconciled to God and have a way to be reconciled with one another. At the table of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, we are nourished and have a foretaste of what is to come – life everlasting. We pray for his return to finally bring everything to complete fruition through the power of the Holy Spirit.
I believe in God the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is in all and through all. The Spirit is everywhere and meets us in the darkest places. The Spirit prays for us. In prayer the Spirit enables us to know God’s word and move our hearts and renew our minds. The Spirit empowers us to live the way Jesus did, to be Christ-like. We are enabled then to honor God, to do what is required: to be just, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God—to follow the law of Christ. This law reveals our shortcomings and shows us how to live, even gratefully, as a community. The Spirit gives God’s gifts to God’s people, the Church, to further God’s reign in this needy world. Jesus is the head of the Church, the body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit leads the Church in its mission: to do the will of God. The Spirit desires for all to enter into God’s abundant life and freedom, now and forever and ever. Amen.

With a nudge to Adam Walker Cleaveland, I end with this: #welcomejeff

#DCFW13: A Free-Range Camping Retreat

DCFW13 Free-Range Worship

What began as a silly “protest committee” over dinner about an Internationally known spiritual festival withdrawing from the West Coast turned into an equally light-heartededly named spiritual camping retreat organized and run by those gathered that night – Domesticated Chicken Fest West 2013. As in, “Why the hell not?”

Too many times it seems, our churches and organized spiritual communities are structured in ways that empower a few to run the religious life of many. Pastors preach (more like a speech), governing boards maintain sole leadership, churches (i.e. a gathering of a spiritual community) meet in set-apart buildings with face-forward theater-style seating for the main once-a-week worship service. 

So, naturally, we did things a little differently.

To make our structure more “of the people,” we only allowed folks to lead, play and in any form facilitate an activity or discussion to those who would participate in the whole event. As we sought people to join and share at DCFW13, we could only say “yes” to their leadership if they planned to be with us for the duration.

Here’s a list of several folks who shared at Domesticated Chicken Fest West, held at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, north of Santa Cruz, CA, July 21-23:

Jer Swigart of The Open Door Community and The Global Immersion Project shared on the topic of Everyday Peacemaking. He described his family history and involvement in social justice and went on to speak of ways some current friends and colleagues in Palestine have extended themselves to others, blurring hardened ethnic/religious lines and simplistically, but poignantly, erasing unnecessary division.

Laura Kirk, co-organizer, gave an overview of the Enneagram personality (and dare I say spiritual) system and provided individual contemplative exercises as well as small group prayer practices based on type and similarity. Participants were given opportunities to take online tests and read materials to prepare beforehand if they so wished, while others brought material to assist in personality-type assessment during DCFW13.  

Martin Reed, a fish monger, discussed his experience and expertise on Ethical Eating. Owner of a sustainable fishery in San Francisco himself connecting fisherman and customers online, Martin shared the troubling waters of certain kinds of fish and their industry branding. Take away? Eat lower on the fish food chain and generally make sure whatever fish you eat is wild caught in the USA, which has tougher standards compared to most of the world. 

Elizabeth Hunnicutt, musician and singer-songwriter, accompanied by her acoustic guitar provided music and song during a worship service and communion on Monday evening. Later that night she performed several of her own songs as we lingered around the campfire, enraptured by her voice. Tripp Hudgins also perfectly joined her on a song with one of his skiffle-making stringed instruments he brought along (maybe he’ll comment with what it’s called?).   

Debra Avery and the aforementioned Tripp Hudgins curated and facilitated prayer and worship services throughout DCFW13. Using a blend of scripture reading, Benedictine Daily Prayer book, other selected readings, Taize and Taize-like songs, even a Mumford & Son tune or two (I assisted here), and their own words, the content of these communal prayer times was supplemented by the growing and shifting hands-on art prayer stations above and around the campfire.

Everyone was encouraged and enabled to add to our worship space throughout our 2 night and 3 day stay. 

Everyone could chime in during the presentations. Many conversations were started during the lecture/discussion periods and continued throughout DCFW13.

Everyone joined in a cooking or “food group” for eating and cleaning during meal times, even sharing home-brewed beer and tasty specialty coffee morning, noon and night.

Now, granted, many who were part of DCFW13 are pastors and professional theologians, but many were not… and that’s not counting children either.

There’s some wind of thought about doing this again next year. Perhaps we’ll change the name to something a bit more obviously spiritual, like Mother Hen Festival (my vote), but perhaps not. We’ll see what those involved think.