Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Joyous life (follow up from yesterday)

I always find it discouraging that my negative posts always seem to get the most attention.  People seem to be drawn to arguing, and critiquing and critiquing critiques.  The most read posts on my blog are both where I call out Christian leaders for their very public statements letter to pastor mark and was very angry with pastor chuck.

Yet in some of my best posts I talk about wonderful people who have inspired me, and do inspire me pastor buddy or ray barbee

I share video bible studies, talk about our house church, all kinds of things.  But the negative stuff gets heard, it gets passed around, mainly because people wish someone would say something about all the crap they see.  They are happy that it is not just them.  Others, well just enjoy stirring up some shit. 

But today, I thought I might share a little bit about ways forward.  How have we tried to live an alternative?

We work hard to define church as our community not as gatherings.

When we do gather everyone shares.  Everyone cooks for the group at one time or another.  We occasionally meet in other houses, or in a park.  Everyone takes a turn at doing communion, leading confession, or prayer, or worship (almost never singing but usually interactive in a different way).  Everyone shares during a discussion, and everyone has an opportunity to lead the discussions as well.

We pay nobody, so all the money that is given gets spent on neighborhood needs, using a relational model.  If $50 or less is needed to help someone you personally know, you need one person in the community to agree that it is a need we should meet and the money is doled out.  If it is above that amount we put it to a vote, and we use consent rather than consensus, (I will explain later)

We recognize that our calling is not to build a bigger community, but rather give birth to a network of small communities.  We support, and help new communities start.

The use of consent is slightly different from consensus.  We try to reach consensus, which we have in almost every occasion, but if we can't we ask the minority group to allow us to continue in the direction the majority has decided and we will review it in an appropriate amount of time.  If they are adamant about saying no, then we wait.  We would rather go together than divide over being right.

We put regular cycles of service to our neighbors, and the neighborhood into our calender.  We learn to be disciples, by following Jesus example of loving those society has cast aside.  In our history that has been homeless people, drug addicts, punk rockers, pregnant teens, and mentally ill people.  Doing this together is important, as our friends learn what healthy community is like as we practice it with them.

There are many other things I could write, but I will stop there. I am currently writing a book that tells stories of  our ministry over the years, with no commentary.  It will not be negative at all.  If you can't stand my critiques, maybe buy my book when it is available. Far from being the angry curmudgeon that I may appear in caricature, I love life, I have great hope for the future, and I believe the church will be reconciled and redeemed.  I just happen to also believe I need to call us on our bullshit.  Rest assured everything I say, I say to myself as well.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

If you build it they will come (my sad little world!!!)

I responded to a twitter message that was retweeted by someone I follow.  The message went something like... 80 percent of non churched people said they would go to a Christmas service if invited so get out there and invite someone.

My response was something along the lines of "why? so we can inoculate them with a small dose of consumer Christianity that keeps them from catching  a real cross following discipleship?"  Which I know is a bit harsh, but I am a bit harsh sometimes.

A brief conversation followed which ended in a statement that basically said, "I am not going to let you drag me into your sad little world"

Now, first of all I understand the issue.  I seem like a scrooge.  I seem like someone that hates the church.  I seem like someone who is taking pot shots at those doing something different, or arguably more successful than what I am.  I can see that, really I can.  But... I do not think I should be dismissed so easily.

 Not that I am in any way comparing myself to any of these great men of the faith, but John the baptist wasn't exactly a sweet heart, Paul was down right mean sometimes, even Jesus whom we follow was a killjoy on occasions.  The entire tradition of the prophets is not to say nice things, but to actually be a big downer.  So the question isn't: is what I am saying negative?, but rather: is what I am saying true?

Christianity as it has become defined in the western world, is subverted.  It is not the revolutionary, radical and sacrificial way of living that we see in the book of acts and in stories of the early church.  It has become rather a culture of its own, that mimics the culture of its day.  And unfortunately in most of the western world that means an adoption of consumerism.  We make a product of Christianity.  This product includes well put together services, with good music, good message, and good child care.  The product includes a very well put together handbook of beliefs, that we can convince ourselves of, and then be suitable for heaven.  This product in too many cases gives us an ideology that says our possessions are a sign of God's blessing, that our Christian duty is to take care of ourselves and our family first and then if we have some extra to give it through an agency to those that might need some help.

I remember one time I was sitting in a service that was all about God's plan for sexuality.  It had drama, and video, and a nice compelling message.  And then the band came out and was playing "in your eyes" by Peter Gabriel, and I leaned over to ask my friend that invited me a question about the service.  A lady in front of us angrily told me I was being a distraction.  A distraction from what?  A song you hear a hundred times a week on the radio?  I was distracting from a performance that was meant to be a consumable good, for a target market.  I was distracting from church, but not from being the church, but from the product of church.  Inviting people to purchase this product is not mission, though it is what we are asked to do by the organization that exists.

Jesus on the other hand calls us to go out into the world, not call people to us.  He says to make disciples, not converts.  And he says to teach them to obey everything he taught... which means, sell all you have and give it to the poor, store not up treasures for yourself on earth, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the imprisoned and sick, stand up non violently against oppression, love your enemies don't bomb them, live out the kingdom of heaven.  Yes, Jesus calls us to something all together different than a service on Christmas.

We don't need to invite people to a service, we need to invite them to a revolution.  But first we have to live it ourselves.  Far from being a sad little world, it becomes a wonderful, joy filled, and also tragic world, bigger than can be imagined, as it is not bound by the physical.

come and join the revolution


Monday, December 05, 2011

Just a little encouragement

My friend Allen sent me an email this weekend.  He said he had taken some time to read over the last few blog entries or so, and he thanked me for them.  He said they were meaningful and moving to him.  He said they helped him understand things better.  He made me feel encouraged, he made me feel like if for only one person the writing I do here mattered. 

Now I know this might sound like a plea for everyone to tell me how wonderful I am, but that is not my point.  Well not my only point :)   What Allan did was encourage me to use my gifts.  The bible talks about this, encouraging one another towards good works, sharing with those that share with you, and the whole body needing one another.  I try to make it a habit to tell people how much their actions mean to me.

In the book Connecting, Dr. Larry Crabb talks about how one of the most important parts of Christian fellowship is seeing the Christ in others and calling it forth.  That is encouragement.  So today, and the rest of this holiday season, oh heck, the rest of your life, take the time to see the Christ in others, see their good works, look deeply and see the good, and praise it, encourage it, fan the flame.  There is enough in this world that tears us down, we should be people that build up.

Thanks Allan for building me up


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Matthew 26 the woman with the expensive perfume part 2

A story illustrating my understanding of the woman with the expensive perfume from yesterday.

My wife was having a birthday party for her fortieth.  Our dear friend and partner in ministry while we lived in Australia decided to conspire with me to surprise her with a visit for her party.  So he booked a flight from Oz, took time off of work, and flew all the way to Long Beach to be with my wife as we celebrated her life.

But why such waste?  The money he spent could have been used to care for the poor. He could have donated to the local shelter in her honor, he could have given the money to Gatehouse in St. Kilda who loves and cares for the prostitutes on the streets there.  And what about that incredible carbon foot print he left?  Why would you do that to our planet?

These are actually all good questions.  We must in fact wrestle with these questions.  But... if we come to the realization that a party to celebrate the life of someone we love is important, then we throw a party, and rejoice in that.  The truth is we can get so caught up in doing the right things, standing for the right things, that we forget to just enjoy those special times in life.  What the world does not need is another bunch of bitter, unhappy activists.  What we need is a balanced community that is motivated by love of others, with a priority towards the poor and marginalized, but not at the neglect of each other.

In the story of the female disciple, who made this opulent display of affection we must grapple with our tendency to "know" what we are to do.  But the truth is, as I said before, we must always put love at the top of our list of priorities as we struggle to make sense of things.

Let me again however state that this is meant to warning that we should not get so focused on principles that we neglect people, not an excuse to live it up.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Matthew 26 the woman with the expensive perfume

might take a few days on this, important stuff here.

Jesus Anointed at Bethany
 6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.  8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
 10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you,[a] but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Again context is very important.  This story follows Jesus railing against the pharisees and priests and powers that be in Jerusalem.  Jesus tells parables about the powerful destroying those that stand against their oppressive policies, and about the judgment where we are called into account for how we treat the poor and the marginalized.  Then we see a quick passage that tells us the countdown to His death has begun, and then to this story.

In this story we have a woman that finds in Jesus a man that has loved and accepted her, that has shown her the light, the way and is the very fullness of truth.  And she shows her love and adoration in an extremely generous manner.  Then the very people who listened to Jesus talk about the care for the poor, and how we must stand against the oppressive powers are shocked at the waste.  It doesn't seem to make sense with what Jesus just said.  Why don't we use that perfume to feed poor people (notice there is an understanding at least among Jesus disciples that this woman was one of their community, and part of their common purse collective, and expected some accountability).  Jesus says the poor you will always have with you, and I will deal with that statement in a later post, but then explains, "she wanted to do a generous act towards me, and it will most likely be her last chance to do so as I am going to be murdered soon, its a good thing she did"

The moral of the story is simply this: we can sometimes get so caught up in all the right stuff, and doing all the right things, that we forget people and their importance.  All of our veganism, new monasticism, incarnational mission, activism and non violence can all be derailed when we forget that its the people that matter.  Its people over principles.  Sometimes we need to throw a party and waste money that can go other places... because its good to celebrate a person, a relationship, a milestone.  Sometimes we can spend a bit too much money to show some one we love them.  We don't need to worry that "oh you are buying into that evil consumeristic mindset that says you show your love by buying something".  Check your heart, don't use this as an excuse, it should be an exception not the rule, but guys... love extravagantly, enjoy, don't become bitter curmudgeons.

Next I will tell a few stories about how this has worked out in our lives and then I will talk about the statement the poor you will have with you always.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

The parable of the talents

When I spoke at Tribe L.A. I mentioned that I believed this parable was very misunderstood by most of modern traditional christian teaching. Ched Myers introduced me to a different way to read this passage, and I will develop the reasons why I believe it is correct as we go. It is found in the 25th chapter of Matthew, and also in Luke but we will look at the Matthew passage today.

Matthew 25
The Parable of the Talents
14 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. 15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. 16 Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. 18 But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. 19 After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
20 “So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ 21 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ 22 He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ 23 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
24 “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’
26 “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.
29 ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Now the standard reading of this passage goes like this:  God gives you gifts whether they be speaking, or music, or sowing, or making money.  You are to use these gifts to the best of your ability... for God, and if you don't, God will throw you out into outer darkness.  Of course these points must be nuanced, and danced around, especially the idea of you will be judged by what you do, as modern Christianity has tended to adopt an almost gnostic love of what you believe or know, rather than what you do here on earth.  In these dances we say... well what that means is each person is given a certain amount of faith, but if you don't use that faith blah blah blah.

Now, I am already getting negative. Please bear with me.  Though I agree with the idea that we should make the most of what we are given... I do not believe that is the point of the teaching.  And if it was, it would not be a parable.  You see a parable is not a children's story to teach us morals using quaint images.  A parable is a device used to violently yank us out of our cultural stupor, or powerfully confront our positions of power, by slipping through our defenses.  Like Nathan saying to David, "Thou art the man" parables are supposed to confront either power, or culture.  A traditional reading of this does neither. It reinforces the culture we live in.  In fact, it does so in a very diabolical way if we look beyond the surface.

In this parable we see that people are judged on their ability to make a profit... for an absentee landlord.  We see that those that make a profit get an ever larger share, to make a profit for the landlord but never actually share in the profit, thought they do get to "share in the joy of their master". They stay slaves, they are never freed, and are always judged by their ability to make more and more for their master.  This holds up the status quo, it continues a system and structure that is there.  How is this a parable of good news? of liberation? of the kingdom of God?

But if we look a bit further, we will see that this is indeed a parable.  Our problem is we get the roles turned around.  Specifically the role of the master.  We have been conditioned to believe that the master is always God, but there are many masters in this world, including Satan, the domination spirit that rules the entire world.  Lets look at the parable closer:

The slave who is cast out says some things that are confirmed by the master, the master is...

mean, or hard

he reaps where he does not sow (which we call theft)

he gathers where he did not sow seed (which we also call theft, or occupation)

in addition we see a couple of other things

these other slaves were praised for using money to make a hundred percent profit?  even in this day that would be considered unsavory, but how did they do it back in the day this was written?  the only way was by lending and foreclosing on properties and then selling them at profit,  A practice that basically made all of judea either abjectly poor, or extremely wealthy

the master says that the slave could have put the money in a bank for interest.  But the Jewish people were commanded not to take interest from each other.  So how does this Jewish God say to take interest?

And finally, how does this story fit the life of Jesus? 

So what does this story really say?  It says this in my opinion.  That the lords and masters of this world, the corporations, the governments, the banks ect. expect those under them to work hard, to maximize profits for them.  Though they steal, and defraud, and do whatever it takes to make themselves fat and happy, the best they can offer you is that you will be a slave that can "party with" the boss once and a while if you make some good profit for them.  But if you decide not to play that game, to take this money of empire and plant it in the ground and see what organically comes from it, if you only give back what is given to you.  You will be called wicked, and lazy, and cast out into darkness.  Which is what happens to Jesus.  He faces all of that darkness on Golgotha.  Which is what we are called to, when He says pick up your cross and follow me.  We are called to stand against fraudulent, thieving, mean masters, seeking only their own profit.  We are called to concern ourselves with a different agenda than propping up their empire, (as we read in the very next parable, we are to care for those others that are not "profitable to empire").  And we are called to stand against the fear that grips us, as we await our ostracizing.  We are called to pick up our cross, and follow Jesus


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Christendom has abandoned Christ!

There are many voices calling out in the market place of Christian ideas.  There are many different narratives.  But by and large the megalithic power that can be called Christendom has abandoned its supposed creator.  We have opted out of the radical, revolutionary lifestyle that this crazed prophet and messiah called us to.  And have adopted a cultural niceness.  We have embraced an economy of me first, and maybe some left overs for the deserving poor.  We have clung to a doctrine of grace that gives us pithy phrases to recite in order to go to heaven when we die, or better yet get raptured out of this mess. We have created a politic of defense against everything that may be unpleasant.

But this Christ we say is at the center of who we are, who we are meant to be and who is the resurrection of us here and now... well this Christ was not known for his stance against illegal immigration, his stance against public health care, against gay marriage.  This Christ was not known for his pro death penalty stance, his pro war stance, his pro capitalism stance.  This Christ we say is our Lord, Savior, Redeemer and ultimately the one we follow, practiced radical inclusive love towards those deserving and undeserving.  This Christ cared for the poor, and chastised the rich.  This Christ loved and spent time with the heretical Samaritans, but condemned the religious leaders and theologians of the orthodoxy.  This Christ saved the sinner from condemnation, and did not condemn.  This Christ taught us how to resist oppression by not cowering, but not fighting either.  This Christ included women in his entourage, and was born of questionable circumstances, and condemned those that were holiest.  This Christ included in his friends the despised, the working class, the traitor. 

We have abandoned Christ, but no bother, we have built another Christ, in our own nationalist, materialistic, and gnostic image.  And we bow down to this new Christ amidst wonderfully hip music, and great preaching, and rituals, just like the Israelites bowed to a calf of gold...

But God was not pleased with that


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

the hold of empire

As we sat on the lawn with the shining beacon of capitalism shining a glowing red Wells Fargo, and the general assembly meeting of Occupy Long Beach to the other side, we opened the bible with our house church, and a homeless Christian man who had joined us.

I shared a parable that has been for years a staple of the subverted churches diet.  A parable that we have turned into a nice story that says, work hard and make the most of what you have and God will love you but if you don't God will cast you our into outer darkness you lazy slave.

But this couldn't be further from the lesson of the parable.  The parable teaches us what happens when we refuse to play by the rules of the empire.  When we refuse to continue to be slaves to profiteering bosses and banks, and multinational corporations.  What happens when we say, no, I wont play that game anymore.  I mean God can't be the master that admits himself that he is mean, steals, collects interest and does not show grace but judges on what you have done for me lately could he?

And the man, crushed by the system, having lost his home, seeing the truth in all of this...

goes back to, "well God gives us each a talent, and each of us need to use that talent for one another"

Which is true, but it isn't a parable

the hold of empire


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Started a new diet, and I am a bit worn out

Isn't it interesting that when you do something good for your body... your body rebels at first.  I started a very healthy diet, aimed at lowering my body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol.  I know from past experience that this diet is very helpful for me, and last time I was on it I felt great... eventually.  I lost weight, and my blood pressure and cholesterol levels plummeted.

But man the first week is horrible.  I feel like shit. 

So who cares?  Probably not many people, but I was just thinking that often when we do good things, it is hard, and hurts, and makes us miserable

until it becomes a healthy lifestyle.  Then its great. 


Friday, October 07, 2011

As long as you don't love money you can have all you want (and other bullshit)

Stupid things we try and believe:

Its the love of money that is the problem, so if you don't love money you can have as much as you want

Sure we are supposed to love our enemies, but that doesn't mean we don't need to kill them sometimes

Jesus was really hard on the church leaders and religious folk, but we aren't like them, we are like the disciples

Despite Jesus giving the scribes a hard time, he really wants all of our doctrine to be perfect, which is way more important than actually doing what he said and did

When Jesus said to follow him, he didn't mean literally, he meant to believe in him so we could go to heaven

Got any more?


Thursday, October 06, 2011

What is the "sin" of our age?

Well I have a few thoughts on this.  The first is what is the sin of the church?  The second is what is the sin of our world?

Our first voice should always be to ourselves.  Though I would agree that the sin of the world is completely alive and well in the church, I believe that it is a deeper sin that helps that to happen.

In my opinion, the sin of the church is the sin of coveting.  What the church has done, is it has coveted the power, the riches, the status, the relevance and the style of the world.  We have, like ancient Israel said, "give us ______ so that we might be like other nations (companies, corporations, movements ect).  We covet the success and efficiency of the world, and we desire to emulate it.  We establish brands, sell discontentment, and are the slaves of advertising.  When we stand on the scriptures we do so in a way that helps us to control those under us, and create a competitive drive that will compel the troops to victory in our (sorry Jesus') name.

The church must look at our sin, and repent.  We are meant to be a different, separate, alternative, not a christianized version of the same thing.

What is the sin of the World?  Well in my mind, it is the sin of the ages.  Lust for domination.  In our world however this lust is more tied to economic greed, and consumerism, than at any time in history.  Lust for money and power are the cause of war.  They are the cause of screwed up self image.  They are the cause of wage slavery, dept slavery and sexual slavery.  The love of money and profit has caused the destruction of our environment, and even own bodies.  The love of money is indeed at the root of all evil.

So what should we do?  As the church, or even as concerned citizens of the world, what should we do?

Well, in my opinion, we should not stop saying, "this is wrong and needs to change"  But we should also begin experimenting with ways of life, and economy that are different, life giving and just.  We should live an alternative to the me first ethic, we should be concerned, informed and compassionate as communities.

I do not have the answers, but I do have the questions, and am committed to trying to figure it out in action rather than theory.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A practical way to move forward economically

The march and occupation of Wall Street has created a talking point for many of us.  I have friends from many different walks of life, and different economic belief systems, and everyone has an opinion on how things should be fixed, whether the protest is ill informed or a ground swell of grass roots call for change. 

I have my own opinions, but what I would rather have is a plan.  You see, it makes much more sense to me, to actually live a different reality, than to put too much effort into changing someone else.  That doesn't mean we aren't to turn over the tables, and make a statement.  Not at all.  But if we aren't demonstrating an alternative, we are just malcontents, not prophets.

Over the next few weeks my family and I, and those in our community are going to be exploring how we can go further in our pursuit of living out the economy of God.  We will be using Ched Myer's book Sabbath Economics as a guide.  If anyone wants to go on this journey with us, lets talk.


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

But did the disciples have evangelical theology?

The truth is even after the Holy Spirit fell on them I don't think the disciples had good evangelical theology.  They certainly weren't dispensational.  They would not have understood the trinity, hell I don't know that any of us really do.  They would probably not have understood atonement theory, had a proper view of eschatology, or ecclessiology. I don't think they would have understood soteriology in either a Calvinist or a Aminian way.   We see Peter, the recognized leader of the church even practicing racism.  We see the church practicing communism.  We see them still attending the temple!  They did not have their theology together.

What did they have?  They had an understanding of what it meant to live the way Jesus lived, and an understanding of Jesus as the Messiah.  And that was enough to not only found the church, but to turn the world upside down.

Perhaps in our pursuit of truth, we should be pursuing the truth in action as much if not more than the truth in our head.


Monday, October 03, 2011

Last night I spoke at Tribe L A (about perception)

Last night I spoke at Tribe L A.  They asked me to just share whatever was on my heart.  Well, what was on my heart, was to share this story about meeting Jesus on the train.  And to talk about perception.

In Mattew 25 Jesus says that in the great judgement at the end of days, people will be judged not on their theology, but on how they treat those that are poor, oppressed and marginalized.  But Jesus does an interesting thing, he confronts our perceptions. 

There are so many people that don't really care about helping others.  That only look out for themselves.  But the vast majority actually do believe in helping those that deserve it.  The deserving poor, should be helped.  Those that fell through the cracks, or are experiencing problems not of their own making.  If our perception is that they deserve help we will help.

But what if they don't "deserve" help.  What if they are poor because of their own issues, their own bad decisions?  Why should we help those people?

Well Jesus changes our perception.  Jesus doesn't allow us to view from deserving, or undeserving, but makes us view things based on our view of Him.  We are called to recognize in each and every person, the presence of Christ.  Each and every person, is where God and heaven touches earth.  And how we respond to these people, is the truth of our faith.  How you treat these least of these, is how you actually are treating God in flesh.

Perception is the key, and Christ changes our perception


Friday, September 30, 2011

How the heck can you pastor and work full time?

A number of things came up yesterday, both in the comments on this blog and on another forum I frequent.  I thought I would address them here today.

First off, I do believe some people need to get paid for ministry, maybe even me some day.  But the criteria for me is someone who is traveling, starting and being an elder and pastor to churches all over.  I do actually hope that someday I will have an RV and will travel to spend time with young churches all over the country as a guide and helper.  It would be very difficult to do this and work part time, not impossible however, and I am hoping that my art work and furniture and pipe making will be my version of tent making.

Secondly, this doesn't mean you have to take a job as a construction worker, or banker.  Some people like my friend Dave Andrews do "ministry" type work, which is paid work.  Their second job is working in a homeless shelter, working with refugees, being a chaplain in a prison or hospital.

Thirdly, how can this work in a huge church?  It can't!  There shouldn't be huge churches. They by their very nature are in need of a CEO, they have the "elite" doing most of the work, and the "others" contribute only money and chores.  What I am talking about is not just an economic thing for pastors, it is a re-imagining of the entire church structure.  I am talking about smaller, organic groups, that may network for certain reasons, or needs.

Fourthly, if someone isn't always expected to be available at all times to do "spiritual" work, the "normal" people will have to actually use their own gifts and spiritual life.

And lastly to address my friend Simon Moyle, there are times when someone who is a spiritual leader is needed to address greater issues.  I would say that these are actually second jobs, that the church may see as important, and hire people to do.  For instance, a church might hire an artist to teach art to local children in the neighborhood because of school budget cuts.  Or hire someone to do the cooking and organizing of a meal sharing kitchen.  Or maybe even someone to address the issues of global violence.

The truth is, the church is broken and getting new better leaders is not the answer, but a re tooling of the whole structure is


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why I wont get a job in "ministry"

The only time I was a "full time minister" was when we went to Australia.  It was basically a requirement of our visa, and we raised our salary by begging.  For the rest of our life we have either lived off of our own part time employment or received a small stipend to assist us. 

When we returned from Australia I was offered a full time job as a youth pastor at a suburban church which I turned down.  I am also very aware of how to build a "normal" church capable of supporting a full time pastor.  I would have no trouble finding a church to hire me as a full time pastor either.  And to be honest... sometimes these options seem like something worth pursuing. 

But there is a number of reasons why I will not do this:

First, I believe that it is the most incontrovertible separation between the clergy and the laity.  It makes two classes, the pros and the amateurs.  And I think that hinders the concept of true discipleship for all believers.

Second, I believe the paid full time pastor is taken out of the "real world" and placed in a pseudo religious world, where they spend their time doing religious things, and do not deal with real everyday problems first hand, but second or third hand

Thirdly, I believe that full time ministry creates two problems in regards to power and economics.  It is much harder to say hard things to someone when they can effect your ability to feed your family.  And once you are relying on this economic reality of a pay check it also makes it easy to play the game, in order to continue in your role.

Fourthly, I believe that the money spent on salaries, as well as buildings, are better spent on caring for people, especially the poor and marginalized in our communities and around the world

Fifthly I believe that planting churches is the way forward, and in order to do that they need to be easy to plant.  Taking away the burden of a salary makes things much easier to do.

And lastly, I believe that the role of the professional minister has become so maligned, or glorified, that it must be abandoned in its modern context in order to have integrity in our world.

I know others disagree with me, especially those that are getting paid.  I also know that with incredible integrity, these issues can on some level be dealt with.  But I believe the best and most perfect way forward is with bi-vocational ministry, even if you feel over burdened at times.

That said some of the best, and most amazing people I have ever met, are full time ministers.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How can you call for change, and not be called an elitist?

This was an interesting topic brought up by some friends of mine.  If you say something is broken, and needs to be fixed... if you believe you have learned some of the ways towards fixing it and are living it out, and talking about it... how are you not considered an elitist?

I go back and forth with this one, but based on my personality, in practice I generally fall to the side of, "not my responsibility what others think of me".  I say what I feel I am supposed to say, and often I say it as bluntly and perhaps even rudely as possible.  Jesus was not always nice, and in fact was often down right mean to those that stood in the way of change.  Jesus says that the pharisees not only wouldn't enter into the kingdom of God, but were actively keeping others from entering in as well.  And His words were not soft and comforting to those people.

Those that are in positions of stability and power in the modern structure have the most to lose by its dismantling.  I have empathy for them, I understand, and I will show love and concern and even provide a helping hand as they journey towards living out a new reality.  But those that dig their heels in and protect the bastardization of what Christ leaves as his present fleshly reality on this earth... well I don't have gentle words for them.

Does that mean I am lifted up with pride? am I hypocritical?  Am I an elitist?  Well, yes I am.  But I am trying to be less so.  I am trying to judge myself every step of the way.  I am also saying that I suffer from these issues to.  The difference is, I am not digging in my heels, being stiff necked and refusing to be moved.  I am on a journey, and am willing to consider myself brother or sister with all those that say the same.  But those that are already at their destination are as much the religious powers that be, as those the crucified Christ and I will not "be polite and humble" as they hurt God's people and his Way.

But what I do admit, is there are some things that help us to keep things in check:

Let your deeds speak louder than your words

Always realize your own sin, and your ability to deflect that upon others

Submit to the others in your community that see your failings as much as your success

Serve the least, the outcast, the marginalized, because there you find yourself


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Last night at our community gathering

We watched the movie Waste Land .  This film tracks artist Vic Muniz as he works with the trash and the trash people of Rio DeJaneiro Brazil's infamous landfill Jardim Gramacho. It is a very powerful film, that speaks to many issues, including the issues that come from our "helping" those less fortunate.

We discussed the film and its impact afterward and it was a wonderful night. 

I highly recommend this movie, it raised more questions than it answered, but for me, it cemented the idea that creativity is so important to each and everyone of us.  If we lose the ability to imagine, we lose the ability to hope.


Friday, September 23, 2011

What depression looks like for me

For most of my life I have operated at an extremely insane pace.  And when life was calm, and peaceful I would sabotage it in order to get the needed adrenaline pumping.  This was not a healthy way to live, but it was all I had. I made life very hard for my family, and for myself.  I chased intense situations, feeling most at peace with the world, and comfortable, in the midst of the most extreme situations.  When a bull would start to charge at me, hundreds of people gasping in fear, everything would go into slow motion, and I felt awesome, invincible and honestly, at peace.  Same with fighting, bouncing, repo-ing cars, anything that was insane.

But as I got older, I started to have periods of something different.  When I would shut down.  When my usually extroverted self would want to crawl into a cave.  Where I felt tired, felt like I couldn't do anything nor wanted to.  What I learned later was: this is depression.  Then even later I learned that I have a very mild form of bi-polar disorder called bi-polar 2

I am now on medication for this, but I developed a problem.  The therapeutic dose for my medication causes me to have tremors.  The doctor and I decided to lower the dose and see if the tremors went away... they did.  But guess what came back?

So today I sit at work wanting nothing more than to go home, and sit alone playing a video game.  I am tired, sore, and lonely though I have a wonderful family and friends.  I feel tears constantly at the back of my eyes.  I can't rejoice at good news and the bad news seems to stab me in the heart.  I do not feel suicidal, nor do I feel hopeless.  For me this is normally a short cycle, and I will most likely be myself by Sunday.  But this is what depression is for me.  And it sucks.

So why do I tell this?  Because I think its healthy for us to acknowledge our difficulties, and especially our mental health issues.  I think we need to take the stigma off of these things. 

What I have learned is that this time also lets me be more empathic and caring towards people that suffer from depression on a much deeper level, and indeed all of those that have mental health issues.  Please feel free to ask any questions, and know that I am fine, this is just part of my life.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

If you could say one thing, to everyone in the world

What would it be?

How many words do I get? :) 

I think if I had to narrow it down to one sentence it would be:  Follow the life and teachings of Jesus, (the way of the kingdom of love).

I believe that the world needs to wake up from the culture of domination, greed and individualism, both in and outside of the church.  To take seriously the teachings of Jesus means to love unconditionally, to live non violently, to care for others especially those uncared for, and to practice a radical lifestyle of love. 

What would you say?


ps If I got to say another thing it would be: I slit a sheet, a sheet I slit and on the slitted sheet I sit

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A few pictures from my vacation, more to come

 the sky after the thunderstorm
bryce canyon natural bridge


Is the social gospel creating another group of outcasts?

A good friend of mine Phil Shepherd has suggested that the social gospel, or what I call liberation theology, creates another group of marginalized people.  When we concentrate on the poor and marginalized, and preach an incarnational approach to working alongside of them, we will alienate, and make marginal those that are not poor, those that are not willing to give up the security of wealthy living, or even upper middle class life.

Well let me start out by saying a few things.  First off I do completely believe in the social gospel, or liberation theology.  I believe that we should focus on the poor, that it is not only a calling but sacramentally mandated for all.  I believe that this is part and parcel of the kingdom of heaven, or empire of heaven, or economy of God.  It is part of our discipleship, not a "special calling" for certain people.

Secondly, Phil is one hundred percent correct.  If you believe and practice this ethic, you will alienate people.  You will marginalize people.  You will scandalize people.  You will trade one group of rejects, for another.  This is the truth, I am not going to deny it, nor try and make an excuse as to why it is not true.

But let me address this issue.  God's love expressed in the "good news" of the kingdom of God, is not the same good news to all people.  Because to some, God's kingdom is a deliverance from slavery.  To others, it is a deliverance from mastery.  For some it is a economy of life giving care and deliverance, and for others it is a radical call towards sacrifice.  I would say that it is good news in both circumstances, but it may not seem so for the one who is called to the good news of sacrifice.  The rich young ruler who was told to give up all of his prestige, security and wealth, to join the new world of discipleship, did not take the gospel as good news at all.  He saw it as incredibly bad news, news he could not accept.  And he was marginalized.

In fact Jesus seems to have no problem marginalizing people.  Calling people sons of the devil, white washed tombs and poisonous snakes is not exactly welcoming and affirming language.  Jesus had no problems drawing lines in the sand, and saying, you are not among us, and if you don't change you will by the very nature of your life draw judgment upon yourselves.  Jesus created a marginalized class.

In fact a careful examination of some of the passages dealing with hell, are a perfect case for this.  In the New Testament we find a few words for the English translation hell, but the predominant ones are hades, and Gehenna (the lake of fire).  But when Jesus is talking about Gehenna, as the final destination of some people, he is not doing it in an other worldly context.  There was a trash dump outside of the city called Gehenna.  It was kept burning at all times (eternal fire), there was a constant influx of maggots and worms (the worm was not quenched) and dogs fought over what was found there (gnashing of teeth).  If you were poor, a sinner, a race traitor (tax collector), ritually unclean, or a gentile, you were not buried in a Jewish cemetery, but your body would be dragged out and thrown into Gehenna.  Jesus now addresses the rich, the powerful, the holy, the people that would never be thrown into the marginalized trash dump, and says if they don't repent, they will find themselves in the place where the marginalized are thrown.  In other words, Jesus flips it.  You who are looking forward to a place of peace and rest, are actually judged as unworthy in the eyes of God because of your status.  This is radical, this could be called class warfare very easily.  But it is also the gospel story. 

So what do I say to my friend Phil?  Yes, the discipleship I follow leads to marginalization of others.  But does this mean that God does not love, nor care for these others? no, not at all.  He wants to save them from their lifestyles that will not work in the future kingdom of God.

Isn't it the same thing, marginalizing one group is just as bad as marginalizing another? No, it isn't.  Because unlike the lgbtq community, the poor, the racially vilified, the mentally ill or whatever other group you are talking about, the rich, the powerful, and the secure, can easily move out of their position, into one of solidarity.  The rich can become one with the poor, and in the process be generous, and helpful.  But the poor cannot just decide to be rich.

So what does all this mean?  The truth is I am rich compared to many in this world.  It means I am on a journey towards simplicity, and sustainability.  My issue is never with those on a journey, but those defending their positions, which keep them complicit in the kingdom of the world.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Common Misconceptions about Christians (inspired by my brother Keith Lowell Jensen)

Last week my brother posted an article about misconceptions some Christians have about atheists.  I would like to post a quick little diatribe on misconceptions I think atheists have about Christians.

1.  If you don't believe the same thing the radical fundamentalist new earthers believe then you aren't a real Christian.  This one really pisses me off.  You know what?  These people didn't exist for 1,850 years of Christian church life.  So how could being a real Christian mean you believed what they do?  The truth is that Christianity from its very inception has been a very varied, and anarchic movement.  Even in the very birth of the religion, the supposed non-negotiables, were disagreed upon.  Even the very nature of who or what Christ was was in dispute.  So just because I don't believe what Pat "I got a diamond mine" Robertson says, doesn't mean I am not a Christian, it just means I am not a Christian of his ilk.

2.  If you don't believe what fundamentalists believe you are a buffet Christian just picking and choosing what you like.  This is along the same lines, however... and it is also not true.  Though not for the reasons you might expect.  ALL CHRISTIANS ARE BUFFET CHRISTIANS!!! You cannot read through the scriptures without in some way choosing to interpret some scriptures in light of others.  For instance the fundamentalists take Jesus literally when talking about what you do under the covers, but not when Jesus talks about what to do with your wallet.  You must make peace with a method of reconciling two seemingly opposing truths, my method is using Jesus actual life as the interpretive device.

3.  All Christians are conservative republicans.  Truth is, many are, many aren't, many don't fit into boxes of democrat republican, conservative liberal, and some are even radical anarchists like myself, and are so because of what we believe the bible and our faith teach us.

4.  All Christians are hypocrites... well that is true, but I am trying to become less so

Thanks heaps to my brother for guest posting while I was away getting in touch with my inner hippie


Would like to address a few of Phil Shepherds comments

Phil guest posted while I was gone, and I felt I needed to reply to a few of the things he said:

First, I don't think the book of revelation is the most awesome book.  I have struggled with it, even struggling just to read it, for my whole Christian life.  I have the same problems with the book that Phil has.  I have learned to appreciate it more seeing a better, more historical, look at it.  It is definitely not the escapist mantra that you hear repeated in many circles.  What I was explaining to Phil however, is this new commentary I was reading was really making me excited about the book, and seeing it in a different light.  The commentary is part of the Brazos series, and is written by Joseph Mangina.  It is wonderful, and I think everyone would like it.

Secondly, I don't really think I am like Shane Claiborne on acid.  That is a ridiculous assertion...
I am more like Shane Claiborne on steroids and a weight room.

And lastly, I agree completely, that we are to love each other through our disagreements.  It is very important that we learn to be the church united in love.  I love my brother Phil, even though he cannot see the obvious errors in his thinking.  :) 

There is an old Christian legend that John the revelator, an elder in the church at Ephesus would be asked to speak to the congregation every Lord's day.  And every Lord's day he would stand up, and say, "little children, love one another" and then he would sit down.  Finally he was asked, "John, you walked with Jesus, you saw Him walk on water, you felt his resurrected body, you listened to his sermons, don't you have anything else to tell us besides love one another?"

John said, "when you learn to do that, I will tell you something new"

Well, I haven't learned to do that with everyone, or everything yet, but I do love Phil


Monday, September 19, 2011

Rained every night but one on our vacation, but it was great

a little video from inside our tent.

I will post more pictures later, but it was very restful.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Ade Jensen: Kids and Christians [Guest Post]

Ade Jensen, this young woman has known me her whole life, because I am her dad.  She is a strong, confident and passionate young lady, who I am very proud of.

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Hello I’m Adriahna or Ade, John Jensen’s daughter. I’ve been thinking and thinking what is
worth guest blog posting? I originally wanted to post on sexuality specifically homosexuality,
but lately I have to admit it all seems irrelevant. The last two years of my life I’ve been dealing/
struggling, whatever words are typically used to describe; telling your family and yourself that
hey…. I think I’m gay. I like this girl. I love this girl. It’s been a whirlwind of emotions and
growth, and I must say I am in a very happy and secure spot in my life now.

The reason I say irrelevant is that I’ve been working with children a lot lately. I work at an art
studio for kids teaching them all kinds of art styles and how to use different mediums. I’ve been
working there almost a year, but recently quit my other job in order to focus on this art studio
and well… my well-being. I can’t explain what kind of growth and change occurs within the
self when working with kids. With my own experience seeing all these different types of people
interacting with others, most of all themselves, my whole perspective on life, and humanity has
changed drastically. I must note: you have to be open and listening, absorbing, and thinking.
Otherwise working with kids could be simply, working with kids.

Mather 18:1-6
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth,
unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of
heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of
“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes
one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large
millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea…”

I just want to talk about one lesson I’ve been learning recently. I was doing some art
curriculum in our high school class rather than teaching. My friend was right next to me and I
commented, “man this is the loudest class I have, it’s weird you would think the little kids would
be more rowdy.” And his response was: “They know the most words.”

Being a lame artist who thinks the smallest of things is profound, I found this very profound.
Children know the least words. They speak with their colors in art. They speak with their big
hugs, and they speak with their tears. Every emotion a child feels, you will see it and understand
it. A child will never preach at you. When a young class gets loud I realized the reason for the
noise is that all the kids are talking about their unicorns and making strange noises with their
mouths. They blabber and laugh loudly; they fall off their chairs and can’t seem to stay still.

I have a really hard time with the kids who will quickly give up on a drawing and make up
their minds that they will not touch that drawing again. If you sit next to the child and try to figure out what it is exactly they do not like with their art work the harder it is to get them to
try. Words do not work very well, the younger they are. I have learnt that I have to literally grab
their paintbrush and start fixing the piece until they get mad enough at me, they want to do it.
I watch how frustrated they become with their piece of work because it doesn’t look how they
want it to. Kids dream big, and they have very great visions. Their worlds are full of colors and
the imaginary, and they do not use their words to create that world. When I imagine an adult
humbling his or herself like a child, I imagine no masks.

It’s hard for me to connect to a lot of people on a level that I need. I can do the small talk thing
really well, I am very good at socializing with practically anyone. I am John Jensen’s daughter,
I have to be good with my words. But what I need is a deep emotional connection to people
that makes me feel I am not alone. That’s what is hard to find. Grown –ups like to walk around
with their words and their clothes trying to hide who they really are, trying to project another
image. Children walk around with their clothes expressing who they really are, their emotions
protruding through their faces. They do not have any masks. They lie, but they aren’t lying to
deceive you into thinking they are someone they’re not. They lie to obtain a cookie.

Most of all… children do not care if you have different colored skin or are with someone of the
same-sex. They will embarrassingly point it out, but give them a minute and it’s like nothing
happened. They don’t give a shit about your theology, as long as you are nice to them. They still
hug you, they still love you. Children are little bundles of selfish, beautiful, and simple love.
They do not wear masks, and they know the least words. Experiencing a child’s love is the most
exciting and awesome experience because you know that they are not faking it. You know that,
that child genuinely loves you for who you are.

So I am challenged as a Christian to take off my mask daily, and love fully. I will try not to hide
my emotions and I will try to use little words doing so. So it’s all irrelevant; all this theology, all
of this arguing over who is right or wrong. I am gay and it’s irrelevant to a child. I love a woman,
and they love me, and I love them..

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Keith Jensen: Common Misconceptions About Atheists [Guest Post]

Keith Jensen, my brother Keith is a comedian, a husband and a dad, but most of all he is someone who wants to make the world a better place.  Oh, and he doesn't believe in God, but I will get him eventually.

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I jokingly offered to take over some of my brother's blog duties while he's away. Jokingly because I am the atheist brother. In fact I'm not just an atheist but I've become a bit of an atheist spokesperson through my involvement in a The Coexist? Comedy Tour, a multi-faith (and no faith) comedy show I put together with a good friend of mine, Hindu comedian Tapan Trivedi. John of course took my joke at face value and gave me a deadline right away, because he's like that.

I would like to use this opportunity to address some of the misconceptions that Christians have about us atheists and agnostics. Christian is a very broad term, and please know that I am aware that I'm writing this for a forum that is read mostly be progressive Christians, people who I often find I have much in common with, not always the case when I'm amongst my fellow atheists. I don't think that ALL Christians hold the misconceptions I address here but in my every day interactions with religious people, mostly Christians, these ideas about who I am, how I live and what I believe as an atheist come up again and again.

We left the faith because of problems and hypocrisy in the Church.
I've had this one used on me, and even attributed to me in a book, by folks who feel like they're being very broadminded and empathizing with us as they work to build a better church, one that would no doubt bring us back into the fold. Well, I can certainly criticize many Churches but I did not leave the religion I was
raised in because of any church. When I was a Christian I was all about having a relationship with God and Church was secondary. I left due to my own intellectual doubts and this is the case with the majority of Atheists I've talked to who were formerly religious.

We reject religion because we want to live our sinful lifestyle.
Oh man, I wish this one were true. Sex, drugs and video games, oh yeah. The truth is, I'm in a 17 year monogamous relationship and for the last three years, a state sanctioned legal marriage even. I don't do any drugs that my doctor doesn't insist I do with the exception of coffee. No alcohol, no white sugar. I don't consume meat or dairy. I do listen to rock and roll and I do look at what some would call pornography but I'm very picky about it. In other words, my life is way to boring to be called sinful lest we risk that lusty word becoming watered down.

The question I'm always asked is “Where do I get my morals from?” Where do you get yours? Christians subscribe to many modern ideas about morality that are not in the bible, or at least weren't seen to be found there until recently. To me all morality is citizenship. I try to be a good member of the groups I am a part of. I am a father, a husband, a brother, an artist, a Sacramentan, a Californian, an American, a Human, an atheist, a comedian. I want to feel good about my contributions and about what I've consumed or taken from this world while I'm in it. And this world is everything to me. It's the only thing that I am confident
exists so I value and treasure it. Same goes with this life, mine and yours. From my perspective, it's the only one we got.

I could go on all day and it's a subject I find fascinating but the real point is, for whatever reason, we aren't amoral people. We make great neighbors. We have compassion and love and those things tend to make one want to do unto others as they would have done unto themselves.

I had a pastor tell me that before he was a Christian he would've walked over a dying man rather than stop to help. That does not represent an atheist that represents a sociopath.

We have as much faith as religious people. 
This one comes from the agnostic vs. atheist discussion and the fact that MOST atheists including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Chistopher Hitchens, describe themselves as agnostic atheists. We don't KNOW that there is no God and I'm sure you're all tired of our many silly examples of other things we are equally unsure of (Flying Spaghetti Monster, Russells's Tea Pot, Invisible Pink Unicorn) but the point, eloquently made by Bertrand Russell who I'll paraphrase here, is that we are only as agnostic toward current Gods as we are, and as you are, toward the Gods of Ancient Rome, who also can't be proven not to exist. It is more technically accurate to say we are agnostic it is more practically accurate to say that we are atheist. So no, I don't have faith that there is no god, I just possess no belief whatsoever that there is. Confusing? Yeah, semantics is like that. The important thing to me on the definition issue is, you can disagree with our use of the word atheist, but since we are the ones describing ourselves with it, remember our definition when discussing our beliefs with us. I spend an awful lot of time having beliefs assigned to me and then being asked to defend said beliefs.

We're Angry!
To quote the great Elvis Costello “I'm not angry!” Angry people are loud. You notice them first. The atheists you notice are loud and angry. Most of us are nice people. Most of us have friends who are religious. Most of us, like most people, get angry about certain things and it may be when we're addressing those things that our paths are most likely to cross yours. I try very hard to stay polite and civil when discussing issues pertaining to politics, religion, etc. I'm not always successful but I'm not a particularly angry person and if you met me at a party we could probably have a good laugh while discussing how insane we found each other to be.

We eat babies.
Um... okay, you got us there. We do in fact eat babies.

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Keith Lowell Jensen is a comedian and filmmaker. He is currently touring the west coast of US in support of his most recent CD and DVD release, Cats Made of Rabbits. His website is He needs an editor badly.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ellen Cooper-Davis: The Five Smooth Stones of Unitarian Universalism [Guest Post]

Reverend Mother, a self described heretic whom I am enjoying interacting on the interwebs with
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Unitarian Universalism is a religion without a creed. Instead of creed, our membership in this faith rests on covenant. We agree to walk together in the ways of Love, to serve one another and the church, to seek truth.We are a direct expression of Liberal Religion. That is to say, we are a religion--one created fifty years ago through the mutual cooperation and partnership of two other religions- -and we use, in our common endeavor, the forms and language of religion. We are a church, engaged in ministry to and with its members and our community.

We are a religion, indeed, but being a Liberal religion means that while some of those forms might be similar to others’, our use of religious language, ritual, and the ways in which we minister to and with one another may not point to the same ultimate truths as other churches. In this faith, we pray, we speak of grace, we learn from Jesus, we do ministry to make lives better and to bring healing and wholeness. There are thousands of congregations and churches that do the same. But for many of them, the conclusions that they will come to about Life, the Universe, and Everything will be very different. We approach the questions, while many of them are sharing answers. The opposite of Liberal, here, is Fundamentalist. We do not belong in this faith because of our affiliation with any particular political party or outlook, or because we prefer either coffee or tea. We belong to this faith because our approach to the questions of ultimate value and worth and meaning and purpose is a religiously liberal approach.

Fortunately for us, while we have no creed, we do have a heart. A center. While we have no dogma, we do, in fact have doctrine--core understandings of what Liberal Religion and Unitarian Universalism are that are teachable, sharable, and can even be said concisely. I have made a commitment to all of you and to myself to find a better way to share the heart of Unitarian Universalism and Liberal Religion, most especially in my Southeast Texan context. It names our religious identity--how we fit into the world of religious context. It also names our doctrine--the beliefs we carry that help us slay giants in our lives and in our world. Here’s how it goes:

Unitarian Universalism emerged fifty years ago out of two historically Protestant denominations, which asserted the unity of God, the humanity of Jesus, and that there can be no hell because nothing can separate us from Ultimate Love. We believe in Possibilities, Love, Courage, Responsibility and Hope.
James Luther Adams, Unitarian minister, liberal religious theologian and professor at both the University of Chicago and at Meadville Lombard Theological School, articulated this heart for Liberal Religion. He called them the five smooth stones of religious liberalism, after the five smooth stones used by little David. They are our center, the heart of our shared faith, names for the tools that we carry with us and which help us find our way.

The first smooth stone is this: Revelation is open and continuous. There are those on the opposite side of the religious spectrum who believe that revelation is set down in one book only, and is sealed. Sealed! We, on the other hand, believe that not only is revelation not sealed, but it comes in a variety of forms. The truths that we learn, that get us closer to being the people we are capable of being and the world we are responsible for building, come to us in many ways. A bible verse, yes. But also a Buddhist sutra, a therapist’s observations, a work of fiction. In words, yes. But also in the particular tension of a chord in a particular song, in the way the light hits the trees just so, in the silence of a Quaker meeting. Revelations--glimpses of truth, of meaning, of purpose--may break into our lives an any moment. Any person we meet, like us or different, may contain just the next piece of revelation that connects our personal lives with the broader human and cosmic story. Thus, we covenant to promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people. They are all potential instruments of revelation, along with our books and learning and contemplations and dreams and scientific conclusions. We are open to all of that. We believe in possibility.

The second smooth stone reminds us that authentic human relationship is consensual. It is mutual, and never coerced. Our churches are built on covenant, not on hierarchies. Our membership, too, is based in the mutuality of covenant, and not on the tests of a creed. Likewise, our relationships with one another are mutual ones. “We need not think alike to love alike” said the 16th century Transylvanian Unitarian minister, Francis David. Our love for one another does not rest in our willingness to be persuaded. Our love for each other does not depend on the same understandings of God. Our community does not depend on a pecking order. Rather, it depends on all of us choosing to be a part of this faith of our own free will. It depends on our walking together...and on helping one another back to the path when we stray from it. We believe in love.
We know that the love between individuals must find expression in the community as a whole, as well as in the wider world. The third smooth stone of Liberal Religion is our obligation to the establishment of a just and loving community. When a certain political commentator recently attacked the pursuit of social justice in churches as an expression of communism and nazism, I recoiled. Does Glenn Beck know nothing of the life and work of Jesus? I stand with James Luther Adams, who notes that “a faith that is not the sister of justice is bound to bring us to grief.” In this faith, we understand that we have a moral imperative to create communities, large and small, that are just and loving for all people. We believe that we must be on the side of justice and love--we believe in the courage that such building can take.

We must gather our courage because of the next truth, the fourth smooth stone: We deny the immaculate conception of virtue. Good does not appear, set down among us by a giant heavenly hand. There is no goodness, as such. There is, instead, goodness in specific forms and expressions, like policies, institutions, or actions. Good is brought about by hard work, and our human hands must be set to the task of building the forms of goodness. While the moral arc of the Universe may bend toward justice, it will only do so when we are engaged in helping to direct it. Our hands and lives must take on the obligation that we acknowledge as part of our very humanity. The just and loving community is not created ex nilhio, anymore than the earth was created in six days. It is created when we look into the eyes of another, when we walk together, when we bridge divides, when we insist on equality for all people, when we change our personal and social systems to heal this wounded earth of ours, when we speak up for the voiceless, when we raise our fists against oppressions, when we acknowledge our own participation in broken systems and seek to make amends. We can not sit on tidy porches, sipping tidy drinks, while off in the distance the battles rage on. The just and loving community does not just appear. We know that ultimately, we must get in there and be part of its birth.
We believe in human responsibility.

God knows that there is work, yet for us to do, and that task of building the beloved community can seem, at times, impossible. But our faith does not fail us. In the fifth smooth stone, we are given hope. The fifth smooth stone assures us that resources are available--both human and divine--that can help to bring about the changes we seek. These resources are a reason for ultimate optimism. James Luther Adams, writing on the other side of World War II, is quick to point out that this does not always mean immediate optimism, but rather in an enduring spirit of humility and renewal which is the foundation of continuing progress. Optimism and hope is a part of our tradition--our Unitarian forbears proclaimed their unwavering faith in “the progress of mankind onward and upward forever!” There are resources that are human--our collective knowledge and experience, our never-ending drive toward life, our capability to love, our ingenuity and creativity. There are resources that are divine--the mysteries of grace and coincidence and synchronicity, the unfolding book of the Universe, an unassailable and ever- present interconnectedness and overarching Love. Because revelation is open and continuous, no doubt we will discover more resources along our way. Our optimism is justified. Thus, we believe in Hope.

Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. "I cannot go in these," he said to Saul, "because I am not used to them." So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

There are giants in our midst. Forces that stand between us and wholeness, between what we are and what we are capable of being. Forces that seek, by their own might and power, to render the beloved community merely a pipe-dream, a naive vision of silly liberals and our disgusting bleeding hearts. There are giants in our midst. Consumerism. Polarization. Fear. Hatred of the stranger. Intolerance. Jingoism. Violence. Apathy. Greed. These are the battles of our age. These are our battles. And we will not fight these with a sword; we will not shield ourselves with unwieldy armor. It is not our way.

Here, on the front lines, we can stand with our feet firmly planted, holding the legacy and the tools of our faith. Five smooth stones. Possibility. Love. Courage. Responsibility. Hope. Used with a little skill, giants don’t stand a chance.
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Rev. Ellen Cooper-Davis is the minister of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands, Texas, and a proud Twitter-follower of John. You can find her @Rev_Mother online, or on her blog, Keep the Faith.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whiskey Preacher: Are We Listening [Guest Post]

Phil Shepherd aka Whikey Preacher, a fellow outlaw preacher, and like a brother I never knew.  We have shared some difficult times, and some joyous fun in the last year.

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When John asked me to write a guest blog for him while gets in touch with his inner-hippie trucking all around Zion National Park, of course the question that arose in my mind was, “What the hell am I going to write about?”

 Although seemingly most-likely-to-become-friends in a packed room, for we both have good looking tattoos, great taste in cigars, even better tastes in sing malt Scotch Whiskey, we both married up, and we both believe that Mark Driscoll is a misogynistic ass. In other ways it’s not like John and I have tons in common – John is a self-proclaimed Christian Anarchist (whatever the fuck that means) and I lean towards a self-sustaining capitalism, which makes John quiver with nausea anytime I mention that to him – so I try to do it as often as I can. John believes that the book of Revelation may be one of the greatest books in all of scripture and I think it should be yanked out of the bible because of the shitty theology, songs, and book series it has inspired. John sometimes acts like Shane Claiborne on crack, calling all to a radical social gospel, which I feel is needed; however, I also feel that the social gospel is incomplete at times, creating margins of a different kind. John is a house church planter, and I am church planter that has no desire to create a house church - although I find the house church a valid and a beautiful part of the greater body of the Resurrected Son; it simply is not my particular calling.

I could spend this entire blog post sifting through the differences that John and I have and though that would be fun (at least for me it would be), I would rather focus on why (despite our differences) we still call each other “brother.”

Over the years I have realized that not everyone is going to agree with me – no matter how much I try to persuade him or her to do so. I’ve also learned whether you are a self-sustaining capitalist pig such as myself, or you subscribe to anarchy with a Christo-centric twist, we as the body of Christ have conditioned ourselves not to listen to one another, but only kill time waiting for our turn to promote our views. Pete Rollins in his book “How (Not) To Speak Of God” articulates this point in a more detailed way and he suggests that we as “Christians” only wait for our turn talk and we have lost the art of conversation. We as “Christians” have bought into the farce of apologetics, thinking that it is still a relevant way to communicate, while closing off ourselves to the richness of diversity of different opinions.

Apologetics encourages us to take the posture of proving a point, rather than creating a dialogue. We get so worked up when someone disagrees with us, taking their views as personal attacks, getting angry or upset. We often then respond like a honey badger stalking its prey, not giving a shit who or what gets damaged by the verbal carnage that we are about to inflict. And for what reason do we do this? To prove that we are right? We’ve limited conversation to attack and counter-attack. The notion of apologetics is right or nothing – harmoniously believing the same thing at the end OR being right/wrong and having no ground to move forward. Apologetics is more about talking AT than talking WITH someone. We simply don’t know how to speak with someone AND agree to disagree.

That is what I love about my friendship with John: we agree to disagree on many things and yet we still call each other brother. He has even invited me to speak to his house church and I would one day love for him to come speak at the mega-church that I work at (note the irony here: The Eucatastrophe is by far *not* a mega-church). We find value in each other despite our differences. We love each other despite our differences. It’s not that I think John and I have evolved into a version of Christianity that is better than anyone else’s. Hell, if you look at us, you may think we haven’t evolved at all; some say we may look more like the missing link (especially when John grows his Castro beard out). I think we have at least learned to try to listen more, not just wait for our turn to speak, and have agreed-to-disagree when we don’t see eye to eye on an issue (or many issues in our case).

I am not interested in what is right or what is wrong, but what is healthy. And I think healthy is finding value in our differences – as long as both voices are being heard in the conversation. I love John and I love the voice that he brings to the table. And though I don’t always agree, I try to listen to where he is at, truly hear him out and engage with his perspective; I believe he tries to do the same with me….or at least he fakes it well.

John and I are not the end-all-to-be-all on every topic and perspective, even though we both like to believe we are at times. In all honesty, we are only but one example of how we can learn to listen to one another, agree to disagree, and be a part of the greater community of God.

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 Phil (aka The Whiskey Preacher) is a Christian Church (Disciples Of Christ) minister who co-founded The Eucatastrophe with his crazy-smart beautiful wife Stephanie in the fall of 07 in downtown Fort Worth. You can find more of Phil’s writing & other musings at

Monday, September 12, 2011

Katie Jo: A Troubling Bible [Guest Post]

Katie Jo, this gals infectious energy and love for the kingdom is inspiring. I hope we can work together planting organic churches for many years.

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There are times when the Bible really speaks to me. Then there are those texts that make me cringe; that make me wish whoever that ancient guy who felt inspired to write things like “Blessed is anyone who smashes your babies’ heads against the rocks.” had just kept it to himself. Go ahead and read it, it’s in Psalm 137. When I come across these passages, it’s tempting to skip them, to explain them away, or to muter some bull about God’s ways being higher than our ways. Don’t me wrong, God’s ways are probably way higher than mine. But even my lowest ways know it’s not cool to dash little ones against rocks. And if I think God will bless me for it, they will likely put me in an institution. But there it is, in the Bible, glaring at me like a ripe zit on a cute face. Here’s the whole Psalm. It’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful, except for the zits at the end:
Psalm 137 1 Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. 2 We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees. 3 For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: "Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!" 4 But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a pagan land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the harp. 6 May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don't make Jerusalem my greatest joy. 7 O LORD, remember what the Edomites did on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem. "Destroy it!" they yelled. "Level it to the ground!" 8 O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. 9 Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!

To give it context, one can, and should, check out what commentaries and history books have to say about difficult passages like this. “Dashing infants” is mentioned in 2 Kings 8:12, Isaiah 13:16, Hosea 10:14, and Nahum 3:10 as well. Killing infants was common in Ancient Near Eastern warfare, not only among the Israelites, but among other tribes as well. That doesn’t make it right, it just means the guy who wrote this Psalm didn’t make it up.

If we dig further into the context, we see that this Psalm was written during the exile. Israel had been attacked, and Jerusalem burned by the armies of Babylon in 537BCE. The exiles were carried off to a foreign land after seeing loved ones killed, homes burned, and everything they had worked for taken away. You can hear the agony in their voice as they recall weeping on the ground in a land not their own.

As we have seen in very recent history, torture changes people. Trauma does something to the mind that is indescribably awful. In the process of grief, anger flares up and thoughts of forgiveness, civility, or hopes for safety are clouded by fantasies of vengeance. In this Psalm, we have exactly that. But it’s not just a fantasy, it’s a prayer to God. And perhaps that is the important part; the writer felt comfortable enough with God to pray awful things honestly and not edit them later.

I wonder; could freely expressing our worst thoughts to God interrupt the cycle of violence? Could writing it down “get it out of our system” enough that we don’t actually go smash any heads? Maybe. But this psalmist doesn’t say, “I want to smash heads,” he says, “blessed is the one who smashes heads.” He’s making a theological statement. When I’m angry I make a lot of theological statements too.

But if he’s wrong, and I think he is, then how can this still be scripture? I would posit that the reason this can still be holy, even while it is inconceivably immoral, is that it is only one half of the conversation. Just as the writer felt free to express himself to God and make theological claims, so God feels free to respond, just as honestly. And that is our task in interpretation. What would God say back? From my experience, I’d guess God might respond with, “No, I won’t bless you if you do that. But I love it when you’re honest with me. Let’s wait till you can think clearer to talk about revenge. Right now, just know that you’re safe.”

What do you think God would say to this traumatized writer? What has God said to you when you were hurt and burning mad?

Sometimes the Bible drives me nuts. But, difficult texts like this remind me that the Bible is only half of a very ancient conversation. Perhaps the Bible is holy, not in spite of, but because of this frustrating limitation.

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Katie Jo Suddaby is a five-foot tall rabble rouser from Upstate New York. Currently in the final stretch of her seminary education, she hopes to be ordained next year, in the American Baptist Church. Katie Jo is a big fan of nerdy things like Star Trek. She has a little dog named Gus. In her spare time, Katie Jo walks said dog, wrestles unsuccessfully with her lawn mower, does Buddhist sand painting, and cooks vegan delicacies like mac-n-not-cheese and peanut butter and jelly.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sean Ferrell: Sacramental Universe [Guest Post]

Sean Ferrell, Sean is one of the smartest and well read people I have met, and a heart of a pastor. He is someone I call when I need advice, or a shoulder.

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Karl Rahner may well be the most important theologian of the last 500 years for both Roman Catholics AND non-Roman Western Christians. And if you are an evangelical or a mainline Protestant, he may be the most important theologian you've never heard of. It was the theology of Karl Rahner that was the basis for the reforms of the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church which happened October 11, 1962 - December 8, 1965. (Yes, his theology is important.)

Rahner’s theology radically changed all of Western Christian thought, and the theological transformation he began is sometimes known as the Rahner Revolution. This great revolution changed the emphases of sacramental theology, and of grace itself. Perhaps the most important concept to arise out of that theological revolution is the idea of Sacramental Universe. Though the concept takes hold in Rahner's theology and the theologians who follow him, the term is normally attributed to William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury in a former age.

Until very recently, Western Christians (Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical), perceived that God was somehow not always present with us, and that God’s presence was to be experienced in church (only), and that God’s presence was invoked primarily, if not exclusively, in the sacraments (Baptism, Holy Communion, etc.) The Church was seen as the primary arbiter of God's grace by its administration of these aforementioned sacraments. Rahner’s theological revolution turned these ideas on their heads. In this theology, God has been taken out of the box of being owned by the church. Rahner and other modern theologians assert that God is always and everywhere present, and that the problem is not God’s presence to us, but our presence to God. In other words, even in the most mundane of moments of our daily lives, God envelopes our very being, and the whole universe with God’s gracious love and presence. Even still, for lack of vision, we find it difficult to recognize God’s presence around us.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Poem, Aurora Leigh includes one of the best metaphors for the Sacramental Universe.

She writes,

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries

Browning refers, of course, to the Old Testament story of the burning bush where God’s presence is so concretely manifested to Moses. The story at the heart of the Old Testament from Exodus 3 where God enjoins Moses from the burning bush to “remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” clearly ring through Browning’s words. Like the concept of Sacramental Universe, Browning does not only locate God’s presence in the burning bush on the mountain of God, but in every common place, everywhere. We who see take off our shoes and live reverently. And “the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

For years now, I have used one of Scott Mutter’s photographs from his book, “Surrational Images” called “Church Aisle” in teaching confirmation classes to adults. As is his practice, the image is actually a juxtaposition of two photographs. The clearest image is of the interior of a church. When you looks more closely at the photo, one finds what appears to be a New York City street down the center aisle of the church.

Scott Mutter's Church Aisle

I have oft pictured myself standing on that city street. If I take the time to re-tune my vision and if I can listen beyond the noisy street, I can see the Sacramental Universe: God’s glorious presence all around me. But more often than not, I am concerned with the passing car, or avoiding being hit by a bus, (the mundane stuff of life), and join the rest in plucking blackberries.

Perhaps the greatest joy of the notion of Sacramental Universe is a spirituality that is grounded in the Incarnation and the stuff of everyday life. Unlike the gnostic forms of Christianity, it does not seek to catch God out of the air, but to see God more clearly in the world around us in our everyday lives, and experience God physically and tangibly.

This way of seeing holds the potential to make any of us an ordinary mystic. And as many ordinary mystics know, Brother Lawrence’s practice of seeking God’s presence in the mundane – even when he cleaned toilets – is a model for seeking Christ.

Brother Lawrence wrote,

“I drove away from my mind everything capable of spoiling the sense of the presence of God.... I just make it my business to persevere in God’s holy presence... My soul has had an habitual, silent, secret conversation with God.”

When the God who created the cosmos and saw fit to write grace into every nook and cranny, when the whole universe is a sacrament, when God is always and everywhere present, when we are never in a place of not being loved by Godevery breath and heartbeat become prayers ascending, and every moment is filled with the potential of deep divine encounter, every place in the cosmos a burning bush.

Open your eyes...

Mary Jane Miller's Christ is Present at All Times from the series "Line,Blur and Halo"

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Sean Ferrell is a priest in The Episcopal Church. He lives with his wife and two sons in Jackson, Tennessee, and serves as Rector of Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church.