Introducing Rule of Life – the path to spirit, soul, body, wholeness

I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but recently have grown tired of the many chasms that exist between doctrines and reality.  We who follow Christ speak of love, but have a long history of hate and injustice bubbling up through our institutions.  We speak of hope and peace, but are often governed by fear and anxiety. We speak of generosity and community, but are far too often living inside the high walls of our own self-referential communities, including our churches and neighborhoods.  We speak of loving our enemies but there’s enough hate and vitriol, lots of it politically motivated, pouring out of pulpits, podcasts, and colleges.  I’m tired of a politicized gospel.  I’m tired of gospel that feeds the very phobias, prejudices, isolation, and anxieties that Jesus came to deliver us from.

I’m tired, on the one hand, of a passivity that declares that since Christ is in me, I’m already complete, and so am finished growing.  I’ll carry my dysfunctions and misrepresentations of Christ with me to the grave if I carry such a view.  The Jesus of this Christianity baptizes (often) the American dream of upward mobility and, while strict regarding certain sexual sins, turns a blind eye to the gods of materialism, individualism, and nationalism – three idols that seem to be hollowing out the core of western civilization in the moment.  Many stuck in this paradigm are outwardly successful and religious, but also can’t help but secretly wonder if Christianity is effective at all, or even true.

On the other hand, I’m tired of an overly active gospel divorced of intimacy with Jesus.  It’s present on both the left and the right, and takes the form of anger and an inflamed assessment of whatever happens to be the issue of the day.  The inflamed assessment leads to an inflamed response, with the result that dialogue and charity are displaced by protests and hate, leading only to isolation and further vilification of the other side, rather than any real change.

And finally, on the third hand, I’m saddened by the cynicism over all this that’s lead to withdrawal from faith communities.  It’s happening, big time, among millenials and gen-Z, but I’m seeing it among my own peers too.  While understandable in the current climate, withdrawal only serves to further the isolation and echo chamber tribalism that’s foundational to our culture problems.

Thanks be to God, I believe there’s a way forward.  I first discovered “rule of life” material a long time ago, when my quest for a greater sense of reality and sound creation theology introduced me to the teaching of Celtic Christianity.  This in turn, led to my discovery of “The Aidan Way”   If you click on this link, you’ll discover a “rule of life” template for this community.  When I discovered this about 15 years ago, it was like discovering an oasis after wandering in the desert of an overly legalistic and intellectualized evangelicalism for decades.  I joined the community, found a soul friend, and began a rule of life practice.  This led, eventually, to the writing of my first book:  “O2: Breathing New Life into Faith” which is now available in a 2nd edition as “Breathing New Life into Faith”.  

Through developing a rule of life practice, I discovered three benefits . (I’ll be writing about each of these in upcoming subsequent posts, along with other matters related to building a rule of life, and the spiritual, physical, and emotional benefits of having one – so please subscribe if you want to catch the whole series):

  1. The Rule of Life unmoored me from the politics of evangelicalism 
  2. The Rule of Life solved the dilemma of divine action/human responsibility 
  3. The Rule of Life has become a context of freedom and transformation, rather than legalism and stagnation.  

We need a revival, many of us in our individual walks with Christ, and certainly all of us collectively, as Christ-followers.  But the way forward surely cannot be built on foundations leading to fear, tribalism, individualism, and nationalism.  The good seed of Christ has been planted in the world, watered through the blood of Jesus and bearing the fruit of transformative resurrection.  We, though, are the farmers of the soil of our human hearts and the soil of our faith communities.  It’s past time that we abandoned the industrial agricultural model of modern evangelicalism, and returned to our calling, embracing the slow, beautiful, organic work of soul care that God created. I hope you’ll join me in return to both the soil and roots of the Christ life we’re created to enjoy.

“We will not be silent”… will we?

Taproot Theatre in Seattle is presently running a play about one of my faith heroes, Sophie Scholl.  Along with her brother Hans, these two were German students, members of the “White Rose”, whose mission was to incite German people to resist the reign of Hitler. The play is well-written and well-delivered,  consisting primarily of dialogue between Sophie and her interrogator.  If you’re in the Seattle area, I hope you don’t miss it (running through the end of April), not only because it’s a good play, but because it will provide you with a window into the heart and mind of a woman who embodied the kind of heart and mind needed today.  Here’s why I believe the White Rose’s catalyst to action is worth pondering today:

Seeing the play provoked me to re-read this book.  It’s about the role of the White Rose in the German resistance movement of the 30’s and through the WWII.  Some books are live, in the sense that they speak differently each time you read them because you’re different, your world is different.  We’re living in a time of global polarization between haves and have nots.  Were living in a time of mass migration, as people flee death squads, poverty, violence, hunger, and disease.  This migration has led to a backlash rise in unhealthy nationalistic fervor and neo-Nazi/white supremacist groups in Europe and the Americas.  Shootings in Black churches, and synagogues are just the tip of this hate-filled iceberg.

The White Rose was awakened to action by two things:

I. An awareness that their culture had lost its anchor.  One author says it this way:  “In a universe where all values have been shattered, where religions and histories and literatures and social structures have lost their meaning, man has to stand up again and proceed to create his own world, his own values, his own decisions, his own actions.”  The shattering of values that began in Germany in the early 20th century continues on, globally, at an accelerated pace, right to this very moment.  Social structures such as marriage, and institutions such as the church and university, along with the meaning of family are all “up for grabs” as we’re cut free from the moorings and anchors of western civilization.

Members of the White Rose were horrified that the Nazi movement was creating new meaning by calling people back to a mythical golden age of Aryan supremacy, full employment, and the ouster of those who were different.  Even though such an age never existed, its appeal in the wake of all the economic, political, and social chaos was strong enough to create a movement, and it was this movement that the White Rose stood against.

What enabled them to stand up against this romanticized future wasn’t simply a counterpoint set of ideals pulled out of thin air.  Their convictions were born from revelation about the dignity of all people, and the dangers of all forms of idolatry, including the idols of materialism and nationalism.  Their resistance literature essential said It’s not enough to end unemployment by building a vast military machine.  It’s not enough, never enough, to enthusiastically swear allegiance to a leader, any leader, if said leader is asking you to believe lies, diminish and marginalize other people, and sacrifice your freedom of thought and expression on the altar of national loyalty.  It’s not enough to believe that our strength is only gained through the diminishing of other peoples, other nations.  We’re made for more than this.  We are, as a nation, better than this.

What made these ideas better?  Their source!  Behind the curtain, Hans and Sophie Scholl were friends with Carl Muth, a theologian whose small magazine had been banned from publication by the Reich.  Hans and Sophie met with Carl on a regular basis in his small house in the forest, which was, “nearly bursting with book, journals, and manuscripts.”  Muth became a mentor of sorts for these two who would put their ideas into print and distribute them widely throughout Bavaria.

We too, have access to better ideas, ideas that speak to racism, addiction, loneliness, materialism, nationalism, and the many fears that inflict our culture presently.  We have the same source of revelation Hans, Sophie, and Carl had – the scriptures.  Do we know what those ideas are?  Do we believe them?  Or have we, through our own lack of discernment, allowed ourselves to be passively carried along?  The White Rose serves as a perpetual reminder that ideas matter, and that the mark of Christian maturity must, among other things, include discernment.  I say this, because lies and idols are often, as they were in Germany, couched in the same scriptures, used for dark ends instead of liberation.  Without discernment, we run the risk of unwittingly aligning ourselves with hate, fear, and violence, and doing so in Jesus name.

II. A conscience stricken by silence.  “‘Where are the Christians?’ Hans shouted after hearing an ‘enemy broadcast’ reporting that German Communists and Social Democrats had resisted the Nazis and been caught.  ‘Should we stand here with empty hands at the end of the war when they ask the question, ‘and what did you do?'”

The White Rose spoke because, as Sophie said, “somebody needed to make a start of it”.  MLK spoke for the same reason.  So did Sojourner Truth.  So did St. John of the Cross.  But for every soul who spoke, there were too many… far too many… who remained silent.

While Sophie and Hans inspire us in the play, the interrogator is perhaps, the most important figure.  He agreed with her convictions, or so he said.  He was sympathetic.  He understood.  But he could not speak; would not speak.  To do so would be too costly.  His job; his reputation; in his time, even his life was at stake.  The risks were too great, so he allowed himself to be carried along by the tides of culture rather.

For those who give voice to their call for racial justice, or environmental justice, or for those who call lies and idols what they are, or who speak up for life in the womb, victims of sexual violence, and human trafficking, or the countless others who have no voice – the risk of loss will always be there.  But a life lived to carefully, is a life lived contrary to the fundamental principle and example of Jesus:  “he who seeks to save his life will lose it… he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Our silence, at times, is our greatest sin.

“We will not be silent” is what Sophie said.  May her tribe increase.

 

Seattle is Dying…for a third way view of justice

If you care about poverty, homelessness, mental illness, drug addiction, or the morale of law enforcement, I hope you find some time to watch this excellent documentary, regardless of where you live.  If you live in Seattle, this is required viewing in my opinion.  KOMO News in Seattle does an outstanding job exposing the depth of our homeless problem in Seattle, and it’s inextricable link to addiction.  It’s raw, difficult viewing, exposing visually and viscerally, the rise in homelessness and its attendant trash, human waste, and crime.  The affects of our city’s laissez faire approach to petty crime and drug use is exposed, and an anonymous survey of Seattle Police reveals frustrations to the extreme over new policies of tolerance regarding drug use, illegal parking of RV’s, property destruction, and so much more.  The lack of consequences and accountability for offenses have created a culture of anarchy and disregard for the law, resulting in Seattle being among the national leaders in property crimes last year.

The weight of these revelations should feel like a gut punch to anyone loving Seattle, and Christ followers, who are encouraged by Jeremiah to “work and pray for the blessing of the city in which they live”, must allow themselves to feel the pain of that punch in the gut.  The crime, the trash, the human lives imprisoned by poverty, addiction, and despair — this is our city!

I can tell you, as one who travels for work, that it doesn’t need to be this way.  Large urban cities across the globe are dealing with the same growth pains, the same income inequities, but they’re dealing with it better than we are, because our way of dealing with it seems to be driven by a thoughtless “tolerance” that, while emotionally appealing to many in our city, is neither loving nor just.

After the revelation of problems like these, the conversation often denigrates as people move to their respective corners and either advocate for continued tolerance or “crack down” with retributive justice.  Put another way, we’re arguing about whether to spend more money on tiny houses or just sweep everything clean, locking up violators and throwing away the key.  Thankfully, the documentary points us to a third way, by showing a Rhode Island program that’s essentially an expression of  restorative justice.  Violators of the law are cited, as violators should be if law is to have any meaning.  They’re arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated.  But the goal of their time in prison isn’t retributive; simply a punishment to ‘get them off our streets.  It’s restorative.  It includes a program to treat the addiction.  There are mentors who stay in contact with the person once they’ve served their time and are free.  There are check-in centers on the outside where they can continue to receive the meds that are freeing them from addiction.  And of course, woven through all this is the investment of healthy relational capital, the very thing that nearly 100% of the homeless people living on our streets and battling addiction demons are missing.

We are reaping the fruit of what our hyper-individualistic culture has sown, as the number of people who’ve no “tribe” to walk with them through life’s painful valleys continues to rise.  Our entire culture needs to look in the mirror and ask whether the rising relational poverty all around us is worth it because, though its beyond the scope of this post, the reality is that our current cultural values fracture and isolate us.  In the meantime, though, Rhode Island has decided to intervene and provide the relational capital offenders so desperately need.  They offer a model:

Arrest offenders.  Provide addiction treatment and counseling.  Provide follow-up after care upon release.  If Seattle began to think this way, act this way, the landscape of our city would change, literally – the landscape itself would change.

“Leave them alone” isn’t love.  It’s cowardly enabling, made all the worse by a city council that sometimes won’t even look up from their phones during council meetings to listen to offer common respect to law abiding citizens seeking to engage democracy.  Talk about relational poverty!!

“Lock them up and forget about them” isn’t love either.  It’s self-righteous anger that fails to see what people ultimately need isn’t just punishment, but intervention.  I counted at least five people in the Rhode Island story who said, in various ways, “the day I got arrested was the best day of my life… a turning point… it saved me life… I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t been arrested.”  Those testimonies don’t happen when people are locked and forgotten.  They happen when they’re locked, treated, and equipped to return to culture and live whole lives.

“Actions have consequences” and “We’re committed to making this moment of your failure a catalyst for your transformation” IS what love does, and what people in crisis need.  What’s more, this documentary shows Seattle that it’s doable — but it requires third way thinking, and that’s a rare commodity these days in a world where the political right and left both seem to see their ways as the “only way”.

Cory and the Seventh Story – A Children’s Book Worth Reading

I live in a city that largely rejects evangelical Christianity.  While I understand reactions of alarm, sadness, and frustration among people of faith – my reactions are different.   First, I find their reaction understandable.  People in my city care deeply about systemic issues of race, the growing divide between the rich and the poor, addictions that are tearing families apart, and the degradation of the environment.  They find the image of Christianity portrayed in American culture as being, at best, silent on race, dismissive of environmental degradation and the importance of caring for the earth, and increasingly passive regarding the gap between wealth and poverty.  Viewing Christianity as either irrelevant or antagonistic to real issues, many have turned turned away.

I don’t blame them, but I’m angry – because people who are rejecting the faith aren’t rejecting the real Jesus.  They’re rejecting an Americanized, Capitalistic, Upwardly Mobile, Anti-Science, Anti-Environmental stewardship Jesus.  What angers me is that so many, having rejected this fabricated caricature of Christianity, will never encounter the real Jesus, the one who loves all humanity, blesses enemies, disarms violence by absorbing it, cares for people on the margins, and points to Himself as the headwaters of a universal healing and restoration that humanity and our planet desperately need.

What’s needed in such a time as this is a reframing of faith – so that people come to understand that the good news of Christ is that in a world of broken stories, Christ has come to herald the beginning of a better story, one that will saturate and transform every atom in the universe by the final chapter.   It’s a story of weapons being melted into tools of agriculture.  A story of every dispute and broken relationship being settled.  A story of creation, deeply scarred by grandiose human aspirations, finding healing, and more.

Wouldn’t it be nice if children could learn this better story early in their lives, and see it lived out in a faith community?  Living it out is something churches are called to do.  Telling the story is something parents and teachers are called to do and I’m happy to report there’s now a book written for children about “God’s Better Story.”

Cory and the Seventh Story, written by Brian McLaren and Gareth Higgins, offers a concise, accessible recounting of six failed narratives in human history:

Domination: Us ruling over them

Revolution: Us overthrowing them

Isolation: Us getting away from them

Purification: Us marginalizing and rejecting them

Victimization: Us feeling sorry for ourselves because of them

Accumulation: Us having more shiny objects than them

They’re offered in parable form as various forest animals live out from these narratives and experience ensuing disasters, both individually and collectively.  Then a horse shows up in the forest and speaks of a better story, a seventh story, a story of reconciliation, generosity, unity, and contentment.

Like the gospel, the story is received by some, rejected by others, especially those who’ve made “gains” in the lesser stories.  The whole thing harkens back to how Pilate and Herod and the Jews were all, for different reasons, threatened by Jesus – His invitation to live into the better story of God’s kingdom would have cost them; positions, reputations, comforts, wealth.  And there’s the crux of it.  The “good news of great joy, which shall be for all people” as the angels said on Christmas night, requires that I move into that story’s values – values of inclusion, love, peace, generosity, forgiveness, hospitality.  And moving into that requires, for each of us, letting go of something – pride, hate, prejudice, victim mentality, rush to violence, individualism, materialism.

“I can’t live in two stories at the same time” seems to be a message of this book, and that’s appropriate since it was also a message of Jesus.

We’ve managed, though, with a little theological sleight of hand, to do just that.  We’ve done that by saying that what’s most central to the gospel is believing the right things about Jesus.  You know: His deity, humanity, virgin birth, death on the cross to absorb God’s wrath, resurrection to live and intercede for us…all that stuff.  The trouble is that we’ve tacitly implied that if you believe this stuff and stay away from certain big sexual sins, you can have confidence that you’re “saved”, even though you’re still stuck in one of those six unsatisfying stories.

Um…. no.  Jesus said that when the day is done, we’ll be known by our fruits.  Are we hospitable?  Generous with our time?  Do we love our enemies or call them silly names?  Do we care for the least among us, as Jesus did?  Cross social divides, as Jesus did?  Jesus made it abundantly clear that if our religious activities don’t lead to living out these values, something’s wrong.

These practices of Jesus’ don’t happen accidentally.  They happen by waking up to the reality that Christ, living in us, desires to write Christ’s story of hope through us!  Knowing God’s story, and drawing on the resources of the author to discover our part in it IS the Christian life, and the sooner we reframe our declaration of the gospel to include these truths, the better off we’ll all be.

I, for one, will make sure that this book, and the “Jesus Storybook Bible” are a regular part of my grandchildren’s reading curriculum.

NOTE: I was given a copy of this book for free in exchange for offering this honest review.

“Don’t Love the World” “Love the World” Which is it? … a third way

I skied today during my work break, because I’m fortunate to live just a few minutes from lifts, groomed trails, and snow.  Our hill is, by global standards, small.  I don’t care.  I don’t ski to win anything.  I ski for the beauty, for the way the light reflects off the snow, and the clouds pour over the ridge, for the sun turning icicles into prisms, and for the reminder that I’m healthy, alive, and live in a beautiful world.  Each day, each breath, is a privilege.  Later I’ll drink a glass of wine, eat some shrimp bathed in a crispy crust, along with salad and beets, and enjoy conversation, and lovely music with family.

I LOVE this world, in the kind of way that I believe the Bible tells us to love the world.  I love the intricate biosystems of the human body, and the remarkable ecosystems and varied lifeforms that all contribute to our planet.  This ordered life is the thing the Bible calls COSMOS, for that is exactly the Greek word for “world”.  Sunsets.  Laughter.  Human touch.  Sleep.  Food and drink.  The glory and mystery of each human face.  Snow.  The arrival of birds in the spring.  Summers thick with life and ripening.  Fall colors.  Snow again.  So it goes.

I LOVE the world and the God who made it, and lets us enjoy it.

So I was a bit taken aback yesterday when, at the end of teaching a delightful group of college students for about six hours, one student asked me this:  “James 4:4 says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”  He then asked me how we could be involved in culture, or enjoy the world God has made in light of this severe observation.  “Adultery!!”  That’s God’s assessment of those who are ‘friends with the world’  I didn’t tell him that another verse came to my mind as well, which is I John 2:15, which reads, ”Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them”.  Wow!

He waited for my answer, and though class was already dismissed, nobody had left because I think it was a good, thoughtful, question.  Everyone was gathered around, standing, eagerly waiting for some kind of answer to this question which, apparently was quite important to them.  It was a good question because of its honesty, but also because the wrong answer to this question has led Christians to everything ranging from disdain for culture, to fear of, and withdrawal from, culture – and creation, all in the name of following the Bible’s teaching to “love not the world”

The answer to question begins with understanding the meaning of the word “world” in the Greek language.

The word Cosmos essentially means an arrangement, order, or constitution.  The universe, called the cosmos in Greek and English both, is ordered brilliantly, providing the precise conditions so that life on earth can flourish.  God loves the cosmos, the ordered system(s) created by God, because they are the way the universe ought to be.  It’s broken of course, because of a rebellion, and as a result, God intervened.  “God so loved the world that God gave God’s son…”, not just to get people a destiny of heaven, but in order to bring the cosmos back into alignment with its intended design.

If this is true, then we ought to love God’s perfect design too, which would mean marveling at sunrises, the unique intricacy of snowflakes, the atomic and chemical anomaly that is water (without it’s exact nature, life on earth wouldn’t exist). When we love the world God has made, we open the door to loving God.  When science and faith, ecology and faith, beauty and faith, become antagonists, we miss our calling, as those made in God’s image, to love the world.

The antagonism comes from a misunderstanding of the “world” word as used by Greeks, because Christ followers too often apply the word to the very “cosmos” God created and loves deeply (John 3:16)  Sadly, Christians taught to “not love the world” are often taught that the physical properties and pleasures of this world are off limits to believers.  It’s an insidious form of gnosticism that creates antagonism between Christianity and science, sexuality, ecology, art, and much more.  Those taught this way often become afraid of deep joy, good food, healthy intimacy, and things like the wellspring of emotion that comes when a herd of elk are rushing a meadow at sunrise on frosty morning in Colorado.  Don’t even get them started on movies, art, or photography.

Still, the question remains.  Why does James tell us that “friendship with the world is ‘enmity with God’”?  Why does John say “Love not the world…”  Simply put, it’s because cosmos, the word for world, which simply means, ‘an ordered system’, isn’t just used for our ecosystem and all God made.  It’s used for systems this world has made, like human-trafficking, slavery, racial constructs that inflame hatred and fear, economies based on greed and corruption, and systems of systemic violence and oppression that allow us to casually watch deaths by gun violence, starvation, gang wars, and so much more and sort of surrender to it all as “just the way it is…”   These world systems are also “worlds”, but their origin isn’t in the goodness of God, it’s in the sickness of humans and the power of evil.

The tragedy when Christ followers fail to understand the various meanings of “world” is twofold . First, we’ve seen they can become suspicious of the very gifts God desires to give us as signs of kindness and love.  Instead, they should learn to enjoy and give thanks, like this: Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 9:7-9

The second tragedy though, is that we fail to do war with the truly evil worlds that destroying life, stealing joy, and threatening the planet.  Unrestricted violence, ecological catastrophes that come from overconsumption and greed, human trafficking, the degradation of women, racism, the hyer individualism that leads to loneliness and commensurate addictions, and all the other maladies of our day — these are “the world” John has in mind when he says “love not the world”.  So when I endorse violence, when I’m silent about sexual abuse or racism, when I don’t think about stewarding creation by my consumer choices, I become passively complicit with “the world” – exactly what James and John said we shouldn’t do!

That’s why we love the sunrise and curse cancer.  Love the wine and curse alcoholism.  Love sexuality intimacy in the boundaries of marriage and curse sex trafficking and the oppression of women.  We love God’s world.  We hate the destructive world made by us as fallen humans, and as Christ followers, I pray we’ll spend our lives doing battle with that world, because of the better world that’s all around us because of Christ.

Yes.  Love the world God made.  No.  Don’t love the mess we’ve made of it.  Rather, stand against those worlds in Jesus name, just like Jesus did.

 

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When God was a Bird – A Book about Finding God in Creation

One of the most profound experiences of my life was attending a small retreat for pastors and scientists in 2010 on a tiny island in British Columbia.  The intersection of science and faith rocked my world in the best possible way.  Already a nature lover, I felt as if I’d been given permission, or more strongly, exhortation, to look for the fingerprints of God everywhere, from the structure and behavior of the atom to the vastness of black holes.  My curiosity about all things was gloriously affirmed, and new adventures of seeing how Christ affects everything, began.

Somewhere in between the micro of the atom and macro of the universe, reside the flora and fauna we encounter on a regular basis in our daily living.  They comprise our ecosystem and its increasingly clear that our Creator has called us to both feast on creation and care for it.  Mark Wallace’s new book, “When God was a Bird” magnifies this invitation with stunning clarity and significant weight.  His thesis might be controversial in evangelical circles because of how close it comes to “animism”.  I surely didn’t agree with every word he writes either, but here’s the thing:  profound truths often reside right near the edges of error, and our fear of error often prevents journey to those needed edges- and we’re all the poorer for having let this fear control us.  “When God was a Bird” was, for me, a book at the edge.  He posits, for example, that when the Holy Spirit shows up as a dove at Christ’s baptism, God is showing us that God animates and empowers ALL life, not just humans.  You can argue about it amongst yourselves.  For my part, I’ll note that a standard evangelical teaching is that, though humans are God’s image bearers, only humans are failing to display God’s glory.  The rest of creation is essentially doing fine!  (Psalm 19, Psalm 104).  So I’m fine believing that God’s spirit is omnipresent in creation, expressing glory through the myriad interactions of sun, rock, stars, moon, elk, bird, bee, pollen, spider, squirrel, seed, and …..  unfolding of each day.  Creation, in fact, is waiting for us to get our act together so that the universe can be healed!  (Romans 8)

This book is mostly about feasting, receiving, worshipping, through creation –  about learning to see God in all creation, to see that God is animating all life, and that all life is therefore, beautiful, ordered, and worthy of reverent preservation.

Using a different bird as his foundation for each chapter, Wallace examines God’s relationship to creation through a prism, revealing various facets of creation theology that instill, in me at least, greater sense of seeing and reverence.  I read, and then look out the window at the forest in which I’m blessed to live.  Long ago I realized that this forest wasn’t simply a stage on which my life was playing out, any more than your place, or any place, is simply stage.  My place is also my teacher.  Through the silence of winter snow, the song of the Varied Thrush in spring as I walk through the forest during after supper dusk, the chattering of squirrels  in the summer, and the diminuendo of voices in the vibrant colors of fall.   All are pointing to God as the source of beauty, provision, delight.  Wallace simply takes it a step further, seeking to show us that the delight we feel when we pay attention to creation IS a delight in God.  Argue the semantics of animism if you wish.  But the larger point is clear:  quit treating creation as either a stage for the play of humanity, or a store of harvesting by humanity.  God’s in all of it, and we ignore or abuse at our peril.

Anyone looking for a deeper relationship with God through paying attention to the book of creation would be well served to consider the claims of the book, even if you don’t agree with everything.  The only warning I’ll offer is that the book is academic.  It will, for most of us, require an expansion of vocabulary.  Coupled with interweaving of theology with ecology, it was, for me, a slow read.  Slow, though, is often worthwhile, and that was surely true for me in this case.  The wisdom and thought provoking revelation offered in this book will prove helpful in some emerging programs of a wilderness ministry our church offers for people in the greater Seattle Area.

note:  I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review

The most needed values in our time…

If you’re snowed in somewhere, I offer these thoughts along with a video of sermon about unity, available in the link at the bottom.  Stay warm and safe friends!  

All values matter.  Of course.  But I wonder if the importance of certain values rise and fall in given times and places? I can’t help but believe that certain periods of history would have turned out sustainably better if certain values had risen to prominence at just the right time.  This seems to be some of the sentiment behind the notion that “the sons of Issachar” understood the times, and understood just what Israel should do, as articulated in I Chronicles 12:32.

As I seek to understand the times in which we live, I believe that there are three values we must, MUST, embody as Christ followers, if our testimony is to have any credibility at all.  Here they are:

1. DISCERNMENT –   And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (Philippians 1:9-10).  

We live in a time when the 24/7 news cycle offers us trinkets and shiny things, when humans are objectified, commodified, sexualized, in pursuit of sales numbers for shareholders.  It’s a time when individualism trumps the common good, when fear trumps courage, and when the pressures of cultural conformity to one’s tribe are so immense that independent thought, and thoughtful dialogue among parties that disagree, have all but vanished.  Those with the kind of discernment for which Paul prayed are able to rise above all this.  They’re neither swayed by social justice merely because its fashionable, nor by hardline pietism simply because some preacher or politician they voted for peddles it.   They are hungry, not for images, but reality.  They don’t make snap judgements and jump on bandwagons, as people did during the trial of Christ (allowing themselves, in a herd mentality, to be persuaded to release a known murderer in order to assure that Christ would be killed).  Instead they wait, allowing truth to germinate and ripen. They live what Tolkien declared:  

All that is gold does not glitter – not all who wander are lost.  

I attended the church I now lead (Bethany Community Church in Seattle) when I was a college student.  In 1978, after Jim Jones seduced more than 900 people to participate in a mass-suicide, one of the pastors led a Sunday School class and the topic was discernment.  We discussed how such an insane thing could happen, how people could be seduced by a smooth-talking charismatic leader, and how a mark of spiritual maturity was a discernment that transcended denomination, party, nation, or any other so called “loyalty.”   We need this value today, more than ever,  because people are increasingly isolating themselves in echo chambers of people who think like them, vote like them, believe like them, and practice faith like them.

It’s those closed off echo chambers that will suck all the spiritual and emotional oxygen out of the air, causing people to choke on their own self-referential, yet stylish, beliefs.  Discernment opens the windows and lets us breathe.

2. GRACE –  I’d grown up basically believing that God was deeply angry at all of humanity but that He’d taken all that anger and poured it out on Christ so that we could get a ticket to heaven.  Now, having our ticket, it was up to us to perform well so that we didn’t make God mad again.  This view of faith led to a great deal of fear (have I prayed enough, done enough, been good enough?), hiding (I surely don’t want anyone to know that about my anger, lust, or fear), and hypocrisy (“I’m just fine thanks”, I’d say in spite of my inner turmoil, self-loathing, and intellectual doubts about the faith).  Thankfully, I was introduced to the concept of grace when I began attending Bethany during college and they were reading a book called “Free for the Taking”.  (I think it’s now a rare book based on this Amazon price!)

Embracing the notion that God is FOR all people, that God LOVES all people, and that salvation is less about quenching God’s anger than it is helping us discover God’s infinite love – these were truths that liberated me to love God, walk with God, and rest in the confidence that God would never leave me, no matter how hard I fell.  Some people are afraid that this kind of high octane grace leads to lawlessness, but, at least in my life, it lead to the opposite.  I fell in love with Jesus, and He became my best friend, the one to whom I would always run when down.

I’m watching people be publicly “executed” these days for their behavior forty years ago, in spite of a track record of deeds that shout, “I’ve changed!  I’m no longer that person!”  We need grace, and second chances, for repentant people, because God’s justice is always intended to be restorative, as revealed in the garden of Eden, where God chases humanity down, and offers the promise of restoration.  What if repentance led to grace?  Our world would be filled with confession and movement towards right living!  This is a value we desperately need today

3. UNITY – The last thing Jesus prayed for prior to His arrest and execution was the visible unity of all believers.  What did we do with that prayer?

We created a very long list of denominations

We created that list by arguing and dividing over various doctrines, and racial/cultural differences

We cannibalized our own brothers and sisters, vilifying people who follow Jesus by calling them heretics and unbelievers because they don’t agree with us on every little detail.  This was the very thing Paul warned against in Romans 14 and 15.

Again, as a college student, I was overwhelmed with gratitude when I walked into Bethany Community Church and saw this sign:

In Essentials Unity

In Non Essentials Liberty 

In All things Charity 

I’d grown up in an environment where churches were splitting over the issue of divorce, and issues related to women in ministry and who ought to be the head of the house, not to mention divisions over speaking in tongues and whether or not someone could lose their salvation.  I knew people on both sides of each of these issues, good people who loved Christ.  And yet, these people where shooting each other with doctrine cannons and Bible grenades.  I was sick of it.

What a joy to find a church who, at least aspirationally, desired to maintain unity in spite of some differences, because, after all, “if we all love Jesus, can’t we unite around that?” To this day I believe that the answer is a resounding YES, and that’s why I’m preaching this weekend on Romans 14 and you can watch it here

And, can watch an intro here.

 

 

 

Post Modernity Grows Up, Functioning Shuts Down

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. Voltaire.

You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. Jesus.

I often remind people who look disdainfully at philosophy and history as “impractical subjects” that ideas have consequences.  What begins in academia and the arts eventually overflows the confines of those containers, staining everything else.  “Postmodernity” is something I’ve been hearing about for a few decades now, though its roots are much older.  At the risk of oversimplifying a bit, I’ll note that a skepticism about knowing anything with certitude is a view that runs deep in postmodern thought.  It’s resulted in the deconstruction of literature, the doubting of certain historical narratives, and even the notion of holding science with an open hand, as Newtonian physics gave way to quantum physics and a measure of “mystery” and “uncertainty.”

Postmodernity didn’t arise in a vacuum; it arose because people lie; not even maliciously necessarily.  They lie toward a justified end.  They lie because they believe the lie created by their cultural lens.  They lie because they only know part of the truth.  But untruth, whatever the basis, happens. When people lie, and later it becomes evident that they were lying, it creates a cynicism regarding truth.  The prevailing narrative about Columbus Day is one example.  When I was a child, we celebrated “Columbus’ discovery of America” as three ships sailed from Europe to expand European ‘influence’ among the uncivilized who needed it.  Today we tell a different story.…or should.

Politicians regularly tell lies, like these told by Obama:

FEB. 24, 2009.“We import more oil today than ever before.” (Oil imports peaked in 2005.)
MAR. 10, 2009.“Our high school dropout rate has tripled in the past thirty years.” (It had actually declined by a third.)
JUNE 1, 2009.“If you actually took the number of Muslims [sic] Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.” (Almost 60 other countries were home to more Muslims.)
Bush was no better, of course, with his “weapons of mass destruction” basis for the invasion of Iraq, along with his VP’s declaration that our inability to find any evidence merely proves how good they are at hiding them!
The seeds of cynicism and doubting that truth is knowable, though, are ripening.  The challenge, of course, is that none of us can live forever in the land of agnostic uncertainty.  It’s unendurable, because our values need to be rooted in, at the least, what we believe to be reality.  So, needing to find  a reality in which to believe, we’ve increasingly chosen to simply identify with the view that appeals to us.  Then, we stay there, closing our ears to any possibility that our tribe, our view, might need adjusting.  “The other side is lying” we say to ourselves, and they likely are, at least a little bit.  The lies of the other, however, don’t make your view true!!  
When Speaker Pelosi calls a wall “immoral” she neglects to mention that Democrats have supported walls, and fences, and barriers in the past, recently offering a much higher number of dollars to border security which would have included walls.  When Democrats say that arrests at the border are at an all time low, they neglect to mention that families seeking asylum are coming to the border in record high numbers, and are crossing, on foot, barriers designed to stop vehicles, not foot traffic.
This flood creates a backlog of asylum seekers that’s now growing even more rapidly due to the fact that none are being processed during a government shutdown.
Why I don’t I hear democrats talking about these things?  It’s because they’ve chosen to believe a narrative that is in need of nuanced clarification, at the least.  It’s their tribe’s talking points, so they parrot.
The other side’s no better – in fact, is worse – much worse.   Trump’s bent toward lying is well documented, beginning with crowd size at his inauguration, and continuing on to his talking points about the reason we need a border wall.   In spite of reality, Trump and his team continue to offer “alternative reality” and his followers seem to parrot it, just like the left does with theirs.
The result:  “Morality is at stake!”  “Security is at stake!”  Both sides shout, louder, longer.  Both sides dig in.  As a result, healthy food, safe flights, small business loans, vital surgeries, mortgage payments, car payments, and a million other things, all conspire to shout that lies “steal, kill, and destroy”, just like Jesus said they would.
I can’t unpack all the cultural trends that have brought us to this new low, but I’ll observe this:
Unless “we the people” recover a longing for truth from those we elect, and demand that truth be told, and hold leaders relentlessly accountable for lying, the future will only be worse.  Weaker.  More violent.  Louder shouting.  Poorer. Hungrier. More tribal.
Yes, I know there are politics involved in this particular example, but the peace we’ve made with lying, the peace we’ve made with calling accurate reporting “fake news”, the peace we’ve made with “alternative facts” will sink our ship.  Both sides are guilty.  The guiltiest party of all though:  We the people, who’ve created a culture void of thoughtful discourse, reason, and the spirited pursuit of truth.
NEXT UP:  Knowing Truth in a Post Modern World.

Authentic Health: A Good Read to start 2019

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. – I Thessalonians 5:23

If you’re taking stock of your health this New Years season, I’m happy to recommend a book that has proven helpful to me this fall.  There are more than a few of us, Christian and otherwise, who have our “pedal to the metal.”  We work long hours, stay up late, and play hard in our free time.  Our problem isn’t that we don’t exercise, or have the occasional smoothie filled with green things, it’s that we don’t have an off switch.

Authentic Health by Gus Vickery M.D., is just the book for such people.  Though there are chapters on nutrition and exercise, they weren’t game changers for me (though the material about intermittent fasting was compelling).  My health problems stem more from doing too much than too little, from going too fast than too slow.  For these reasons, the chapters on sleep and stress reduction through meditation were a big deal.  The material presented was compelling enough to motivate, and simple enough to take action immediately.  I did, and am now sleeping eight hours a night most nights, and have moved my morning practice of meditating on scripture and praying to a higher level of priority and thus consistency.  The results of these two things have been measurable; reduced resting pulse, reduced blood pressure, increased presence in the moment when in conversations with people, increased sense of peace and joy in situations that previously created stress for me, and less anxiety about the future.

Before the chapters on these matters are presented, the good doctor spends time challenging us to think about whether we really want good health enough to make needed changes, or if it’s just a wish dream.  The chapters on motivation and habits are, in my opinion, worth the price of the book because the reality is that most of us reading this have ample time to create the kind of habits that will allow us to live in the fulness of Paul’s prayer that we prosper in spirit, soul, AND body.  He suggests that we often unconsciously choose habits (foods, sedentary use of time, anxious thoughts).  This book isn’t a promise, by any means, of immunity from disease or suffering.  Far from it.  Countless people do all the right things, and yet are victimized by cancer, or heart disease.  On the other hand, it’s equally true, that a commitment to spirit/soul/body health not only mitigates the risks of contracting chronic diseases, it empowers us to do what we’re born to do!

My interest in health is, at the core, an interest in calling.  I fully realize that whatever contribution I’m called to share with the world can only be made to the extent that I have the emotional, spiritual, and physical energy to be poured out.  That energy cache is filled or depleted, to a large extent, by what I think about, what I consume, and how I use my time.  As I grow older, I’ve discovered that my body is less forgiving of bad habits, too little sleep, too much exercise, too much junk food, too little meditation and prayer, have almost immediate negative effects showing up in my body and emotions.

I recommend the book because for too long, followers of Jesus have lived like gnostics, nurturing the invisible realm, while neglecting the body.  This is not better than the opposite problem of materialists who are seeking to prolong bodily health forever, fearing its all they have.  The real truth:  You are an ecosystem, and your body, spirit, and soul feed off of each other’s health.  Neglect any one of these three legs on the stool that is your life and you’ll fall over.

If you’re even thinking about “movement and play”, “eating for health”, “sleeping better” or “getting in the right mindset to live well” in 2019, I wholeheartedly recommend Authentic Health.

Note:  I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Dear Green Lake: Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year

Dear Green Lake

When I moved to Seattle in the fall of 1976, you were my first discovery beyond the confines of the little college I was attending.  I’d made friends with lots of runners so, of course, they brought me to you. We’d run the lake and then head over to Beth’s Cafe for a giant omelette or cinnamon roll.  You introduced me to seasons that first year: spectacular fall colors graced the lakeside trees, shoreline ice and stark grey trees in winter, vibrant blossoms and infinite shades of green each spring.  You seduced me, and I started falling in love with Seattle.  Throw in a Sonics World Championship, a new football team, and world class symphony and Seattle won my heart.

Before my five year departure from Washington, I walked the frozen shores with the woman who is now my wife and after that walk, made a decision to propose.  When we left Seattle in 1979, we grieved.  Little did we know that, 16 years later, we’d return with our young family as I followed my calling to Bethany Community Church, just a few hundred yards from the lake!

My love affair with you reignited instantly and in these subsequent 25 years, I’ve run at least several thousand miles around your shores, at all times of day and night, and in every season.  I’ve run with friends and congregants, and run alone.  I’ve run with music and in silence.  I’ve run in snow and oppressive heat.  Every season.  Every occasion.  You’ve been there for me.  Thank you!

Mostly though, I’ve run alone.  Well, not alone really.  I’ve run early in the morning, before work, after a little time of reading, stretching, prayer.  You’ve been the context where so many things have become clear.  I don’t know if it’s the rhythm of the running, the beauty of the sunrise, the sounds of the bird, the scent of the blossoms, the fecundity of the fallen leaves, or the lake itself, but you’ve been the place where ideas have germinated, conversations initiated, confessions made, next steps determined.  It’s not a stretch at all for me to say that God spoke during those morning runs, profoundly, too many times to number.  I believe it’s because you, Green Lake, represent the beauty of creation, in a world increasingly threatened by our human lust for more.  You represent consistency in a city that I’ve lived in long enough to mourn countless changes.  And what’s more, you don’t just represent beauty in a world marred by the ugliness of oppression, loneliness, and disease. You are beauty.  I know you’re facing your own challenges.  I know you’re threatened often, and neglected, even abused at times.  But there you are, reminding me of so much that I love about Seattle, and setting a table for me to meet with God. Thank you!

In the past I’d run around you three times in preparation for a big race, like the Bloomsday thing in Spokane, or the Torchlight Run in the summer across the soon to be departing beloved viaduct (may it rest in peace).  Then two became my max.  Now it’s one lap, with a little extra distance  tossed in around the playfields and tennis courts.  No matter.  The pace per mile has changed.  The city has changed.  I’ve changed.  But the thing that hasn’t changed is that when I put one foot in front of the other in the midst of your divine beauty, I hear God’s voice.  So I’ll keep coming back, as long as I’m privileged to live and serve this city I love, until my running becomes walking, becomes sitting.  Thank you for being my cathedral, sanctuary, and resting place.

Our city is filled with more challenges and opportunities than I can ever remember.  And this, too, is why I’ll keep coming back to listen for the Voice of guidance, hope, vision, encouragement, and correction that somehow seems clearer there, on most days, than nearly anywhere else, at least for me.

Merry Christmas Green Lake, and Happy New Year.  May 2019 be a year of hearing God’s voice with greater clarity than ever as I run your shores, cherish your seasons, and absorb your beauty.