Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Hymn for Wesleyans

A powerful hymn!

Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, til earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heart consuming;
And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till love create a place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.

Words: Bianco da Siena (15thC) tr Richard Frederick Littledale (19thC)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How far should our patriotism go?

The Fourth of July is just around the corner. It seems that it comes and goes so quickly. Some have suggested that we have a patriotic season from Memorial Day culminating with Independence Day (Flag Day is in there as well). Interesting.

I've always been patriotic. Maybe it's because I've lived in the south for most of my life. It could be connected to the Texas pride that has been ingrained in the very atoms of our beings here. I remember being taught at a young age, as all school-aged kids are, the pledge of allegiance. It was one of my favorite parts of the morning school ritual.

As I grew up fireworks was the way to express our national pride and celebrating our freedom as a country that has the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

In high school I developed a strong sense of nationalism. American pride was oozing from me like cheese leaking out of a Juicy Lucy. It was around Operation Desert Storm that this pride really took off. I remember supporting Pat Buchanan's ultra-conservative views (Didn't he advocate way back then putting up border walls?). If you are going to be in America then speak our language. All that nationalism jazz was what I believed.

My world changed when I moved to Kansas City in 2000. Maybe it was the crisis of "culture shock." Maybe it was me getting out of a dominant point-of-view and was starting to hear other political voices that were just as authentic and genuine. Perhaps it had more to do with my theological molding that I would frame while attending Nazarene Seminary.

I now find myself back in the south. I used to get excited when Old Navy put their current year's flag shirts on sale to express my commercialized patriotism. Now, I don't know exactly how to view myself as one who eagerly wants to live and operate and have my being rooted in the kingdom of God while I live and am a citizen of these United States of America. It seems that at times the way of the kingdom and/or the ways of America are diametrically opposed from the other. The values of America (self-sufficiency, rugged individualism, profit at all costs, "you're-either-with-us-or-against-us," "exploit other countries by using their national resources and polluting their air and water so we don't have all that junk here while underpaying their workers so that we don't have to pay our own people to do it and provide job benefits," and others) don't seem to align with the way of Jesus and the kingdom.

This doesn't even yet deal with how we view America and her early beginnings. I don't really want to take the time to spell out anything about our history as a "Christian" nation. But for several years I've doubted that notion.

Have any of you struggled to find how to be in two places at once regarding this issue of American patriotism and living in the kingdom? I do not want to associate/equate patriotism and nationalism because I think that they aren't required to be linked. What does it look like to be seriously Christian -- in the way of the kingdom -- and having pride in America?

-- Even now I am thankful that I live in a country that allows us to talk and publish questions such as these.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Who is shaping us?

[photo by Old Shoe Woman via Flickr]

Who is shaping us?

I am really growing tired of reading and hearing of the attacks on our brothers and sisters in the church who are attempting to help the church community locally and regionally (thinking of the church in the West) understand and appreciate the shift that is taking place in society and culture.

I hear of individuals and groups of people who are going after these re:thinkers (both clergy and laity alike) and are doing so in a manner that is not at all Christlike. It has been called a witch hunt by some. It's been called a ministry of discernment by others. Any way you shake it, no matter what side of the spectrum you are on, it is not being done in charity, grace, and humility.

As I've been thinking and processing this over the last week today I found myself asking a question. For those who resonate with the emergent dialogue, it is easy to see who these re:thinkers are being shaped by. It is obvious that McLaren has for those outside the dialogue been named the de facto leader. But there are so many other voices: Len Sweet, Bolger and Gibbs, Scot McKnight, Dan Kimball, Shane Claiborne, the late Robert Webber, and this is just scratching the surface. It is pretty obvious to see how these great and challenging writers are informing and shaping the persons who are helping us re:think.

But what about those who are questioning the re:thinkers? Who are they being shaped by? The pop Christian bubble of media (TV, radio, books, magazines, etc) are predominantly shaped--and dare I say controlled--by Calvinist/Reformed leaders. I must say here that it obviously depends on the specific medium, because a lot of what's on TV and radio at least in my geographical area of West Texas, is dominated by Pentecostal/Charismatic leanings.

Most of the Christian talk radio shows that are hosted by renown preachers generally lean away from a Wesleyan perspective. They hold firmly to Sola Scriptura and high innerent view of Holy Scripture that could come very close to bibliolotry. Dr Paul Basett wrote a paper back decades ago on "the leavening of Fundamentalism within the Church of the Nazarene." It continues today. Our people are shaped more by Reformed views than Wesleyan. Just like politically, I would venture to say more Nazarenes turn to Rush Limbaugh or Shawn Hannity for their political advice/perspective and allow them to shape them politically.

Who is shaping us? I'd venture a guess that people who sit in the pews week in and week out are shaped more by the sermons on the radio than by the one given by their pastors. And these dynamic voices are so convincing that their views/mindsets get absorbed into our people's minds that "THIS is the way it is." Then, they come to church or see a discussion and it doesn't fit that Reformed position, even though they more-than-likely don't even know that it's reformed...but it's what Chuck Swindoll says or David Jeremiah says or Jerry Johnston says...therefore it is right.

And, this brings me back around to the beginning of how the "discernment" is being expressed. A wise person (I don't remember who) said that there is a difference between "right belief" and "believing rightly." Right belief is right at the expense of others. It's the "king of the hill" mentality. At all costs, RIGHT belief. Then, there is believing rightly. This is understood in terms that actions, words, and thoughts all are expressions of what is believed. If I have to emotionally beat down some one so that I view dominates and is heard that loudest over all views, then I am NOT believing rightly.

Sorry, two thoughts in one post.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Revival or revising revival

A thought occurred to me this morning. In our tribe or idiom, we are familiar with the language of revival. It is out of the American holiness movement and frontier big tent revivals that the Church of the Nazarene began.

Revival stirs the mind and points us in our thinking to specifics. We tend to think of revival as a time in which we recommit ourselves to the Lord through a week (or now more commonly a weekend) of evening gatherings of singing and hearing a visiting evangelist. It is common to overhear parishioners in churches across the fruited plain say, "What this church needs is revival." Revival--an emotional experience and outlet to pour out one's life in spiritual rededication and renewal.

Due to the passage of time, a growing and maturing of the church, and changes in culture and society, revivals are not as effective as they have been in eras past. No longer are church pews filled with expectant ears to hear a word from the Lord. Revivals today do not seem to carry the evangelistic fervor they once did back in the "glory days." So, revivalism has seemed to take on a different purpose than it once did for the local church. They now seem to be geared towards spiritual deepening for the congregation. Still, in the retooling of revival to accommodate the changing trends (and point to the marginalizing of the church's influence over culture), revivalism turned inward. Still, across the country if you listened to the hearts of parishioners you would probably hear a message beating in their hearts, "What this church needs is revival."

Because of the shift/change/retooling of revivalism, I wonder if our understanding of revival needs updating, along with the language used in naming it. Could it be that revivalism was a tool of a particular era that was effective for a time and space? It fit in the framework of church and society like a piece of a particular puzzle of Americana circa the Progressive Era. It is a certain snapshot of life within the closing frontier culture of the evangelical church in America. Is revivalism a product of its sitz em leben? Or is it reproducible today--a tool for the church that just gets reshaped? Yet this latter questions begs another question: if a tool is changed into something other than what it was, is it still the same tool it was before? Obviously, no.

Does this mean that revivalism is dead? Good question. I do not intend to say that the church no longer needs reviving. I would say that a lot of churches have a pretty weak spiritual pulse and are close to dying on the vine. In my understanding right now (as I learn more and sometimes unlearn more I change my view/opinion) the local church does not need another revival, per se. The language of revivalism does not help us today because of our preconceived ideas and notions that lies behind the word revival clutter our thinking and keep us constrained to a certain way of thinking.

I like wordsmithing. I don't think that I am very good at it yet, but I enjoy the process of hammering out thoughts and meanings. A word for me that serves as a good image which connects on some levels with revival but also points beyond it into a deeper realm is awakening. Now, this term has been employed for centuries: "the Great Awakening," "the Second Great Awakening." Some are even talking about a fourth Great Awakening that is taking place.

I believe awakening is a word picture that points us to coming out of our spiritual slumber, coming out of our entangled way of viewing/doing life in a particular me-centered way, coming out of our notions that spirituality and things of the church are products and resources for me to consume to become "super saint." Our churches need an awakening. I need an awakening. An awakening from a sepia-colored monotonous existence into a vivid and vibrant, exploding technicolor world that sees, interprets, understands, and lives into a radically different and beautiful reality and world. A world that sees all of who we are as Christ followers, all of what we are as Christ followers, and all we that we live out as Christ followers is based on the foundation, framework and interior/exterior design that we point others to this awe-inspiring mysterious world called the kingdom of God.

Awakening to God's gracious and loving reign in our lives and the world shapes us into entirely different people than revival does. Awakening to God's rule and authority in our lives is different than focusing on what I get or don't get from an experience. Now, awakening is full of experience--it is dis-orienting, it is re-orienting, it is exciting, it is challenging, to name a few adjectives. But awakening, in the way that I am understanding it, accomplishes what revivalism set out to do in the beginning (invite people into a life-changing relationship with God) and its more recent reshaping (viz, renewal of the heart). But awakening repositions us and puts us on a trajectory that keeps the Christ life of both person and church community in line with partnering with God the Father in the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ the Son through the Holy Spirit, who invites us into the very life of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Awakening to common union and awakening to purpose--"As you are going, make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

What say you? Does this image help? Am I off in left field? Do you see any blind or weak spots that I am not seeing?

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jesus Wants to Save Christians

I just listened to the audiobook of Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell and Don Golden. It is an incredible book that paints a wonderful picture of the church today living in a radical story of grace and mission propelled by the symbol (and story) of Eucharist. It goes beyond Eucharist--it is merely a symbol that points us to a deeper reality of just how upside down (or rightside up) the kingdom of God is--power and wealth are status symbols of empire and we exist within an empire. And the Bible doesn't have very positive things to say about empires.

I encourage you to read (or listen) to this book. It will challenge and revolutionize our understanding of what it means to be a Christ follower.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, November 7, 2008

"Which Story Do We Live In"

Brian McLaren spoke back in August at Mars Hill Church in Michigan. He paints a fascinating picture of the different stories we live in and how they distort the Story of Jesus to fit their own story line. It is powerful.

You can find it here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A call from de Caussade

This morning I read the following. I'd really like to get your thoughts.

Notice where the responsibility of holiness lies. Also, pay attention to what de Caussade calls us to.

God wishes to dwell in us in poverty and without the obvious accessories of holiness which can cause people to be admired. This is because he wishes to be alone the food of our hearts, the sole object of our desiring. We are so weak that if the splendour of austerity, zeal, almsgiving or poverty were to shine out in us, we would take pride in it. Instead, in our way of following Christ, there is nothing but what seems unattractive, and by this means God is able to become the sole means of us achieving holiness, the whole of our support. Meanwhile the world despises us and leaves us to enjoy our treasure in peace.
God wishes to be the sole principle of our sanctity, and for that reason all that depends on us is our active fidelity which is very trifling. Indeed, in God’s sight there can be nothing great in us – with one exception: our total receptivity to his will. God knows how to make us holy, so let us stop worrying about it and leave the business of it to God. All depends on the special protection and operation of providence; our sanctification will occur unknown to us and through those very things which we dislike most and expect least.

Let us walk, then, in the small duties of our life, in active fidelity, without aspiring to great things, for God will not give himself to us for the sake of any exaggerated effort that we make in this matter. We will become saints through the grace of God and by his special providence. He knows the eminence to which he will raise us; let us leave it to him to do as he pleases. Without forming false ideas and vain systems of spirituality, let us be content to love God without ceasing, walking in simplicity along the road which he traced for us, a road where everything seems so insignificant to our eyes and to those of the world.

-- Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence

God will make us holy; he will sanctify us. We are called to "active fidelity." de Caussade is talking mainly about our attempts to make ourselves holy and that is apparent.

But as I read this I keyed in on the thought of "vain systems" and our attempt to syncretize two worlds that have a hard time blending. There is a vain system of spirituality that is very pervasive in our world. It tries to bring the desire of wealth and prosperity along with a spirituality that says God wants this for me. It is on very dangerous ground that one stands upon while making that claim. No where in Scripture, nor history of the Church do we find this idea supported. For 99.9% of Christ followers around the sphere of time and space, this has not been their experience. Reason does not lend to this understanding either. It is a rather recent 20th Century American, modernist/individualist, self-focused lens through which the Bible is read.

Jesus said no one can serve two masters. As we approach the greatest advertising/marketing/spending season of the year, can we hear the whisper of simplicity amidst the ringing cash registers and covetous commercials?

What does it mean to be called to simplicity? What does it look like for us in America? In Suburbia? How does a call to simplicity affect our lives?

Also, what does it mean for us to be called to active fidelity, rather than a pursuit of holiness?

What say you?