Monday, April 23, 2007

The church

So yesterday afternoon Raquel and I went to a baptism celebration. My friend and his family were baptising their young daughter. The service was held at a local Footscray cafe, and it was quite a beautiful day. The service was unique, and creative. There was even a bit about teaching her what laws to break, which I really liked.

The thing that really impacted me however was the crowd. There were probably thirty or so adults, maybe a few more, and lots of kids. Twenty maybe? and the adults sat along the sides and towards the back, and the children sat in the center. They were given some musical instruments to take part in a couple of songs, one specifically for them. Of course they played the instruments throughout the entire service. And there was much laughing, and playing and even a few wrestling matches, which I followed with great interest. The thing is it was a bit distracting, very loud actually. Often didn't understand what was being said. And I loved it. It was like a birthday party for a beloved family member. There was a song, and a few speeches, some nibbles and coffee. I enjoyed some of the things that were shared, but the point was being with friends, actually being a part of a milestone. And then it hit me.

When we look at church as something we go to, with the purpose of getting inspired, taught, corrected or so on, then we must send the kids off so we can do the adult stuff. But shouldn't I be inspired, taught, corrected and challenged in my own life? In my own devotions? And if I live in community with my brothers and sisters, shouldn't there be plenty of time to pray? be inspired? confess my sins? eat together? and practice charity? In the process of daily life and hospitality shouldn't I have already shared my faith? given the peace of the Lord? Maybe had a word of wisdom or knowledge to share or be shared with? So if this is all true, then what should our gatherings be? How about a family reunion? With kids, and speeches, and songs and food, and a general feeling of joy at being together?

When did the gathering of the saints become ritual instead of a party?

Unfortunately, a long time ago. But I am doing it again.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

yuppie revolutionaries

I remember driving down the road (on the right side of the road) listening to the radio, and all of a sudden being assaulted with the most innovative, angry, intense music I had ever heard. It was a sophisticated anger, with a musical core, very different from the hardcore punk stuff I listened to. When the song was over I actually stopped the car to write down the name of the band and the song. That very afternoon I bought the Rage Against the Machine CD that contained the song killing in the name of. This album was unbelieveable! one of the most intense recording I had ever listened to. And on the track, killing in the name of, there was a different ending than the one played on the radio. On the cd for many bars, Zack screams "F you I won't do what you tell me, F you I won't do what you tell me" It was very pleasing to my inner rebel.

Fast forward about three years, and I am working at a bar in the OC. Newport Beach California is one of the most surreal places I have ever been. The beautiful people, the beautiful cars, the beautiful beaches, it really is the American dream gone wild with a strong case of sun stroke. There are barbie dolls with fake boobs, and ken dolls with fake tans as far as the eye can see. And Margaritaville was one of the popular eating and drinking establishments in this yuppie wonderland.

It was great working security at this place, as most of the time there wasn't much to do. Word got around that all of the guys working at the bar were professional cage fighters and we really didn't have a lot of "action," most of the time it was just telling a drunk fella he wasn't allowed to drink anymore. There was a rotation of cover bands that played each weekend, and this particular night was one of the security's favourites. They played the more aggressive stuff, Nirvana, Social Distortion, and even KISS, but their big show stopper was Killing In The Name Of, but Rage Against the Machine. This night they left this song for the last song of the night.

And I will never forget the scene. One hundred ken and barbies are on the dance floor, with their highlighted hair, and designer clothing. Their bmw's, Mercs, and even a few Ferraris are waiting for them out in the parking lot. Their enthusiasm is swelled by the ridiculously priced mexican beers they have been drinking all night long. And then it happens, they begin to jump as one, shouting defiantly along with the singer FUCK YOU I WONT DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!!!FUCK YOU I WONT DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!!!

And I stood in the back of the bar, and laughed.

I probably don't need to tell you that every one of these rebels left the bar when we told them to, with no incident.


Thursday, April 12, 2007


Last night a good friend took our ministry team through some teachings to help us be more equipped in dealing with broken people. In his talk he gave me a new understanding of the word integrity. I had always looked at integrity as being very honest, and living in the same manner that you say you are, or tell others to. This has not changed, I still believe this is integrity.

But what Matt talked to us last night about was the idea that integrity talks about integrating. In my definition above it would mean to integrate your beliefs and your life, or your words and your deeds. But Matt took that a bit further.

He explained that we are all in some way fractured people. Through our socialization, our genetic dispositions, our history, and I am sure accidents along the way we usually look at ourselves in pieces. A popular way of saying this would be, "there are many facets to my personality" or in the romantic drama Shrek, "Ogres are like onions, they have layers". Particularly in Christian or religious communities we will further compartmentalize ourselves into the parts we think are good, and the parts that we think are bad. We feel like God wants to eliminate the "bad" parts and encourage to "good" parts. This can often lead to pretension, or the Sunday face.

Matt suggests that integrity is integrating the various "parts" of who we are into a complete whole. And in a Christian context bringing our whole self to God, and allowing our wholeself to be redeemed. It also means allowing our whole self to be a part of our communities, and offering our whole self in our ministry to others. He suggests that one of the reasons people may find it hard to relate to church, and religion in general is too often we hide the "darker" parts of ourself, which in turn encourages them to do the same. This results in a false community, with lacks integrity. He also cautioned us that sometimes in a desire for honesty we might emphasize the dark side of who we are, and that again is not holistic.

Now this might be pretty common thinking, and I may be a bit slow, but it really clicked for me last night. I hope you will all become holistic, integrated people.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

One God, or Two Gods?

One of the early Christian heresies teaches that the God of the Old Testement, the Jewish God, is not the God Jesus proclaims. Now, I think anyone who is honest with themselves can understand how this heresy came about. In the Old Testement we are confronted with a God that is militaristic, often angry, and sometimes horribly cruel. We read stories of genocide, of war, of slavery ect. Then we see Jesus, who we believe to be God in flesh, and He is quite different. He tells us to have mercy, to love and do good to our enemies, to turn the other cheek. It does not take much imagination to see how some people could think these two could not be reconciled. In fact, it is very difficult to reconcile the two. It is hard for me, it is hard for most, and to be honest most non Christians actually don't give much credence to those who think they have accomplished this feat.

So in my mind we have two options when trying to reconcile these two views. We make Jesus fit into the old paradigm, or we make the old paradigm fit into Jesus. Neither of these is a good fit mind you, which is why there is a problem. But I would suggest that we who call ourselves CHRISTians, who supposedly base our faith on Jesus the Christ, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, take the second option. In deed if what we say we believe is true, we cannot do otherwise. Jesus was God in flesh. Jesus told us that if we have seen Him we have seen the Father. We have too often done the opposite, we have seen the God of the Old Testement and required Jesus to be different than how He showed himself to be.

Now I would suggest that the God of the Old Testement is much more convenient for those that are "winners". They can say God is blessing me in my wealth, in my power, in my stature. They can say, God is leading our army against the evil adversaries, and will establish our nation, our business, our church as the true power, blessed by God victorious and triumphant. This is a seductive idea, we all want God to be on the side of our interests. But this is not the plan lived out by Jesus.

Jesus stood against this notion. He stood with the powerless, and indeed became powerless even though He is the only legitmate power of the world. Jesus did not fight, but received all of the wrath of the powers. He was a suffering servant. God revealed in humanity was not the conquering militaristic ruler all were expecting, but a suffering servant, who befriended the least of these. The most amazing truth of the gospel is that in refusing to be the conquering king, he became the conquering king, and calls us to be the same. If we are followers of Jesus, shouldn't we stay with Jesus' methodology? Shouldn't we keep Jesus at the center and make even the Old Testement bow to the revelation of God in Christ? Should we not understand all, through Him who made all?

The one problem that often gets brought up is the apocalyptic Jesus riding in on a horse, with blood dripping from his sword. Infact I have been accused of keeping Jesus captive in the gospels, and not embracing the revelation Jesus. Well, this point makes absulutely no sense to me. The book of revelations is full of apocolyptic language, cryptic imagery, and unclear symbolism. While Jesus actually walked in the flesh and calls us to follow His earthly example, we would rather try and base our life on a future, idea that is not in any way clear, or concise, and is full of difficult imagery. If, as some assert, this revelation Jesus really is the bloody judge of the world, slaughtering all that stand against Him, how can we emulate that anyways? How can we be the triumphant judge? The only Jesus we can be called to follow is the one that walked the earth two thousand years ago in the middle east.

I believe there is one God, not two. But in my ignorance, and uncompleteness I will choose to err on the side of the Jesus of the gospels. He is the one that bids me follow, and if every knee shall bow to Him, and His name, then I will do well to make all of my ideaologies bend the knee to Him as well.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

A resurection story (and my return from exile)

Inspired by Marcus Curnow, and the Seeds team's Easter service

I would invite you all to ponder the story of Jesus for a minute. It matters not if you believe that Jesus, incarnate diety, was physically risen from the grave (as I most certainly do), or if you believe it is an inspiring story meant to give us hope. It matters not if you believe it is just wishful thinking of weak minds desperately trying to escape the thought of their own mortality, or the mythological archtypes drawing us toward existential truths. For this morning or evening let us allow the story to simply sink into our consciousness, and reflect on what it means to our selves, our families, our communities. Even the hardest of critics may be drawn to a surprising new awareness, and the most faithful of believers drawn to a radical new life. I know this morning I was drawn into a desperate desire to join that walk towards resurection.

Jesus of Nazareth, a working class man, from a poor neighborhood in a rebellious and troublesome part of the Roman Empire begins at thirty years of age to announce the kingdom of God. This man rises from total obscurity, and begins to give voice to a revolutionary way of living, and being community. Where the weakest become the strongest, where the powerful are humbled, where the poor are blessed and the peacemakers are called Gods children. Where sacrifice, downwardly mobile ethics, and surrender are praised above power, and wealth, and fame. Jesus announces that this kingdom has come to grant freedom to the captives, justice for the oppressed and dignity for the outcast. And so begins the walk towards resurection.

As He walks this path, he is joined by regular folk. Sinners, traitors, even a terrorist among the group. He walks with the salt of the earth, and contrary to cultural norm travels with women, who not only are friends in deed, but also benefactors. He eats with all and every, and drinks too much wine, being known among the religious types as a glutton and a sinner, and so continues his walk towards resurection.

He is accepted by the suffering, the weak and the oppressed. He is opposed by those with the most to lose, the powerful, the rich, the leaders. He does not walk away from conflict, but seems to walk straight into it. He declares the kingdom with stories that no one understands, and signs that no one can believe. He lives in a strange way, loving, and communing with friends and nature, and God is part of His very breath. He often goes off alone for short times to be filled up, directed, and centered, but always comes back to His friends.

He meets an outcast at a well, and places Himself in her dept. He walks into the temple and rages against the machine of religion that exalts the educated, the rich and the powerful while systematically weeding out the undesirables. He astounds with his wisdom, but then frightens his followers with his cryptic, morbidity. "After all, how can we eat your body and drink your blood?" And he continues his march towards resurection.

Resurection cannot come without death, a fact his friends do not want to understand. But he does, and continues towards it. His life, like His possesions mean nothing to Him, but only His Father, and the kingdom, where all is made right. He is not afraid to die, for His death will be a call for all to freedom, to peace, to justice, to mercy, and most of all to love.

And on this walk towards resurection he faces all of humanities humanness. He faces all of the need, He meets some of this need with signs, some with love, some with food and some with wisdom, but all with compassion. He takes the full force of the crushing need of the world upon His body. He takes all of the expectations of the world, in its lust for power, and political might, all of its desire for security and justice, He takes it all upon Himself but calls us to follow.

And on His journey to resurection the powers of the world have had enough. The powers of the church and all of its hypocrisy strike into His flesh. The powers of rule, and militarism, draw back their muscled hands, and pour out their violence. The powers of our own individualism, guilt, selfishness and greed conspire to see this beacon of light destroyed. Jesus is beaten by fists, by weapons, by betrayal, by denial, by popular vote and all of its deception. The full onslaught of the powers of this world reach their apex upon His flesh and the path to resurection is almost complete.

And then, after taking all that the world could dish out, He rises still. Never more to be punished. Jesus rises victorious over all the violence of the world. And bids us to follow Him.

Jesus shows us the way.

It is not a way of power, and might. It is not a way of violence and domination. It cannot come by the will of man, but by a belief, that my life completely surrendered to love, and justice, and mercy, and sacrifice will result in the powers being thwarted. It is a ridiculous idea, but one that beckons us. Will you join the march towards resurection? Whether it is just a figurative one, that commends fellow walkers like Martin Luther King, and Gandhi for their immortality through the effects of their walk, or the literal idea that someday we will walk in a world where everything is set right, and love is the law, the call is the same. Will you follow? Will you?

Jesus shows us the walk of the resurection, and I for one mean to follow it, come what may.