Thursday, April 27, 2006

Jimtown and other spontaneous things

Turned out to be a really nice day (though it started off with a medical appointment.) Was able to meet my friend at a coffee shop, and in talking we realized we would have to get back together again soon. It will take more time to finish catching up with each other and to begin to go further in discussing all those important issues we didn't have time for. O, the frustration of having your friends scattered hither and yon. You only get spurts of community. I drove around Lafayette and ended up going to a new cafe which had working wireless (the first one was having a problem with it.)
Later Tom and I met up in Boulder and made a spontaneous decision to drive up into the mountains. I was coffeed out, so he got a cup to go and we headed north to Left Hand Canyon Rd. It is sooo nice to see the dark green of the pines and the lighter green of new leaves on some of the other trees. The bushy little scrub oaks had white blossoms. I love seeing the rushing water to the side of the curving road all the way up to Jamestown. The locals call it Jimtown. I wonder if/how we could do community way up here. We turned off the main road and wandered through the Bar-K-Ranch area, picking out lots with a scenic view to build our cabin on (one day.) We stopped to take a few photos of the lake and had a conversation with some friendly folks who were out walking their dog. We consider staying for the Thursday night spaghetti dinner at the Mercantile building, next door to the chapel, but maybe another time. Can't believe I haven't been up to the mountains since fall. On the way back down the sunlight is changing--golden on the trees, but causing the lower half of the view to be shadowed. We talk about living up "the hill", but when we get back down to Boulder we are tired from the long, winding drive, and we know it would be a pain to do that daily. Wintertime would be really rough. But today, it was a gift to be able to do it. And when the Aspens leaf out, it will be even nicer to go back up.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Surprising words from a surprising source

Glenn T. Stanton, a self-professed member of the Religious Right, has some very good things to say about all of human experience being meaningful. He looks well beyond being pro-life in the anti-abortion sense to being pro-human and loving our neighbor and our enemy. He asks:
What if there were a movement dedicated to the question, What does it mean to be human?
Here are some excerpts from his thoughts:
We must become students of humanity. We must become humanists: people who are unreservedly committed to human life at its fullest, and people deeply pained by human life at its worst. Yes, someone from the Religious Right said we must become humanists...

The Incarnation is the center of the Christian story, summed up by Jacob Handl in the 16th century:
God has become human.He remained what he was, and what he was not, he became, suffering neither confusion nor division...

The Incarnation is a heavenly declaration that humanity—both flesh and spirit—matters. Humanity matters because what God creates, becomes, and is seeking to redeem cannot escape our fascination...

The Incarnation means there are no small lives. All of human experience is meaningful. And while the Incarnation may be a distinctly Christian doctrine, it is also the doctrine that commits us most completely to seeking the common good of our non-Christian neighbors. We serve a God who created our humanity, weeps at the fall of our humanity, became our humanity, and is redeeming our humanity...

It's worth reading the complete article all the way to the end where he gives a poignant illustration of incarnated grace. His thoughts echo a nagging question I've had about those who are committed to upholding the sanctity of life. Does the concern stop after the birth of the baby? It just makes sense to me to keep going. Can't we extend our care to the whole span of human life--and even beyond--to care for the environment and all that God created? (No wonder I have such trouble finding a candidate to vote for! Our political parties seem to favor one concern over the other.) I appreciate Stanton for "coming out" on this. His words are welcomed.
photo credits: Will Bragg and cicadas

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sounds good to me

When I think of christian community, I think of shared lives based on the shared Spirit of Christ. I think of time spent together, listening to and valuing each other, interacting with scripture, encouraging one another, speaking into each other's lives, and enjoying shared meals, activities and experiences. For me, it also includes being generous with resources and praying for and with one another. Creating christian community in postmodern cultures is the subtitle of Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger. Community has very high value for me, so I was interested in knowing what the book had to say about it.

What do the authors mean by community? They speak of a people, a community, a rhythm, a way of life, a way of connectedness with other Christ followers in the world. The communities they describe are small, missional, and offer space for each individual to participate. Relationship seems to be the organizing principle. Commitment and accountability--not attendance at a particular meeting--mark one's membership in the community. Decisions are made through consultation with one another. Creative kinds of faith expression, meetings, buildings, etc. are there to serve the relational needs of the community. All the while, the people in these relationships recognize that they exist for those outside their community. Their understanding of the christian life draws much inspiration from the gospels and focuses on the kingdom of God as inaugurated by Jesus. Unlike the stereotypical house church, emerging churches do not exist in isolation but establish networks for mutual support and encouragement.

Well, that all sounds good to me. What could be so bad about this philosophy that critics are wont to call it all sorts of names from liberal to non-Biblical? As the book shows, it is very threatening to existing forms of modern church. It by nature deconstructs and reconstructs what "church" means. Community is one aspect that does this by valuing people and gifts equally. Leadership in this context is good as long as it serves the members instead of exerting control. All members are encouraged to be producers and not just consumers, which goes against the grain of everything from mega-church to the small denominational congregation, whose services are built around the producers and presenters (worship band and preacher/teacher) and an "audience" who sings along or listens. Other giftings do not figure prominently in their larger gatherings.

Living as community is one of the highest values for emerging churches. The other two practices that combine with it are identifying with the life of Jesus, and transforming secular space. There are six other practices that are derived from these. All nine elements of emerging churches described in the book focus on the kingdom and God's work in the world, rather than focusing on the church. They see the church as having an option to join with God or not.

Given the choice, I, too, would opt for being a part of a kingdom community over "going to church" and attending a service. I have experienced community enough to see how radical and life-changing it can be. For those who are re-thinking church practice, community offers a safe place in which to wrestle with ideas and is a meeting point with others on a journey of faith. Sounds like what we need right now.

Friday, April 14, 2006

My favorite perch

It's amazingly warm in Denver for this time of year--high 80's! My tall son can reach the eye bolt on the beam without standing in a chair, so he clipped the S-hook of my favortie perch onto it. Et voila! ...a sky chair swinging in the breeze on the patio! I was able to sit there and read for a long while in the late afternoon yesterday. The temp was perfect and I was able to zone out the noise from soccer practice in the park behind my house. The photo is from last August and you get a glimpse of my side yard in summer. Currently, no fully green or growing things yet and the little water pond is dry, but the nice weather draws me outside. The crabapple tree has a few magenta blossoms at the ends of some branches, so next week it should be nice to view from the living room. (I loves spring, y'all!)

When I see blossoming trees (like the pears in puffy white "fleece") or drive about 10 minutes west and view a panorama of the front range of the Rockies against a beautiful clear blue sky, I am deeply touched and mindful of God.

Holy, holy, holy (are You) Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come (Rev. 4:8)

When I see the mountains I always think of permanence (He created those before I was here and they will be here after I'm gone). Kind of gives me perspective. I think of his sovereignty and majesty and vastness. We are like fleeting little pin-point dots on a bigger dot on the map. Zoom out, zoom out, zoom out to see the earth from space. Where are our dots? What must God's perspective be? He is truly other and transcends our physical universe.

The incredible (re-birth of) beauty in the natural world with blossoms, color, fragrance, and the intricate design in everything he gives life to, brings me back to an awareness of his continued participation in creation. Those of us who populate this physical realm find him to be merciful, faithful, and O, so personal to the point of caring about our next breath, our next thought. Providing and giving. Not stopping short of giving his own Son. Counting us worthy to participate in his continued redeeming of all things.

Transcendence. Immanence. Vertical and horizontal. Loving God. Loving what God loves. Seems simple, doesn't it? Honestly, the vertical axis, the mystical union with a transcendent Creator/Redemer is my preferred realm. I am growing in intimacy through prayer, listening, and just being with him, worshipping and experiencing him with others, recognizing him in all of life in a thousand ways each day, tending faith and hope, and embracing life. But is this incarnational mission? It could be if it truly expresses itself in recognizing where God is at work in every realm of life and culture, overcoming boundaries, and expressing the God-life and grace into the real world of my native (specific local) culture. My life with God should have integrity in both the faith realm and the culture realm--in issues of social justice, the creation, and making God visible through my art and relationships.

I am challenged by the ideas, case studies and interviews that I'm finding in the Emerging Churches book (see previous post.) It is causing me to re-think the fragmentation (between church and culture) and causing me to ask how I'm doing in loving who and what God loves. All of life belongs to and is about God. I want to continue to examine where my life may not be in sync with all that I say I believe.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

My emerging thoughts

Am about 80 pages into the Emerging Churches book by Gibbs and Bolger, so I think I've gotten my feet wet enough to comment. If you're wondering what all this talk of emerging is about and if it is just a trendy buzzword or perhaps a dangerous departure from a Biblical view of church, let me say, "Read this book." It represents years of research on trends and patterns of emerging church that were deemed missiologically significant. The authors embrace the conviction that the current situation of the church (at large) is dire.
"If the church does not embody its message and life within postmodern culture, it will become increasingly marginalized. Consequently, the church will continue to dwindle in numbers throughout the Western world. We share a common vision to see culturally engaged churches emerge..."
They include much of the original interview material so that the conversations of those on such missional faith journeys speak for themselves. You can link to some of those voices on my side panel and read what they are currently saying.

What I want to respond to today is a bit of chap. 4 about embracing both transcendence and immanence. Modernity has divided thought and practice into two extremes: God can be either transcendent or immanent, but not both. Different streams of the church seem to stress one or the other. Many dualisms surrounding the idea of sacred vs. secular and public vs. private, etc. have served to not only divide the church, but relegate spirituality to a place separate from everday life. This creates a gap between church and culture where the church fails to be incarnational within popular culture and fails to address all of life. In the emerging church's effort to overcome this dualism, I have wondered what place the Holy Spirit is given. Since I embrace attitudes, passions, and practices from many different streams, including charismatic, prophetic, emerging, and liturgical, I have been slightly nervous about what I don't hear about the work of the Spirit. The emergent conversation has seemed to be about understanding a new way of thinking about how to embody the kingdom and I haven't picked up much dialogue about the need for it to be Spirit-breathed, directed, and empowered. I am encouraged by some wonderful illustrations in the book about expressing the holy, bringing the spiritual and physical together. I have also wondered if there seemed to be a subtle disregard for holy living. (What I read as a secularized lifesyle with a few caused me to question emerging praxis in general.) My apologies to those who are about real everyday life within the context of a transformed mind and heart. Most of what I read and connect with certainly falls within this latter category. In seeking authenticity they do not compromise the integrity of their faith commitment. For sure, we who long for the kingdom are all on a journey toward wholeness, and seek to find a balance in identifying authentically with the culture while maintaining a whole-life spirituality that is true to the gospel of Jesus' life, message, and mission. Our worship services should also be in sync with the whole of our life. We don't want to be people whose whole world is not God-engaged. In the words of one interviewee from the book:
They can deceive themselves into thinking they are doing spiritual things while they are leaving their secular lives untouched. By bringing it all, people see themselves for who they are and create possibilities of redemption in all areas of life.
He is referring to offerings of worship that are incarnational in the sense that they include the gifts, experiences, and personalities of the collective community. Thus, unlike in passive worship, where underlying issues can remain undetected, here they can surface and be addressed. As people participate more than observe, they engage with the message of the Spirit for that time. I would expect this kind of worship, combined with continued interaction with others--sharing life-- and with intentional accountability, to result in transformed lives. This does not leave out the word, which is a part of every aspect in different form.

I have side-tracked from what I was originally going to write about, so more about transcendence and immanence tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Thought this image should accompany "If I were going to write a poem."