Friday, May 25, 2012

An Alternative to singing songs for worship

In our group we have people from many points of view, some are not even theistic.  This makes worship time a bit difficult, but we have tried to be creative.  When seeking for a common ground we have found that appreciation, awareness and thankfulness are all ways that we can take part in an activity that is meaningful for everyone.

As is our tradition everyone takes turns with things.  So each night we have a dinner, and a discussion around the scriptures.  We all take turns with this.  But then we have four traditions that we do monthly, one per week.  Those are confession, prayer, worship and communion.  Since we take turns these can turn out to be very different from one week to the next.  This week one of our members, Ted, wanted us to focus our understanding of worship on being present in the now, of seeing the wonder of God's good creation.  So we wrote haiku and shared.  This exercise was a great way to allow everyone to participate, and is not exclusive.

Here are a few of the them:


Blinding afternoon
Dark moon slides quietly in
Corona extreme


bye bye, Hi, bye bye
Joy and innocence and fun
run for the kitchen

Days swarm the sweet sage
life is trapped sun energy
they store and prosper


Papyrus for us
hidden treasure fierwork top
beneath your green skin

With love all around
laughter sits at the center
acceptance abounds

easy, hard, noisy
exhausting and wonderful
love becomes alive


Saturday, May 19, 2012

I love my dog

he is wonderful

winston is wonderful


Monday, May 14, 2012

Problems With the Church 3 (an arrogant series of cynical genius)

The church has handled truth in a number of ways.  In the older traditions the church hierarchy was called the holder of truth. In the extremes the church did not even let the scriptures be in a common language so that unskilled, uneducated people would not even have access to them, but the scriptures would only be explained to them by the church.  The Waldensian's died because they began to teach outside of the authority of the church.  In many newer church groups everyone can interpret scripture as an individual, which some point out as the reason for so many denominations, or the quote "you have made every man a pope".  I think at the heart of much of the problems with the church stands an inadequate way in which we might process truth.

Truth, and specifically scriptural truth tends to be addressed in between these extremes.  There are some notable distinctions in some groups however.  In some Quaker groups they highly value the idea of a communal interpretation.  In other words as the church silently waits for the leading of the Spirit, they are lead to an understanding of truth.  In the liberation theology camp they talk about action reflection.  In other words, as you are part of the struggle for liberation, and freedom from poverty and oppression in real life activities, you are then able to reflect upon the scriptures from a proper alignment. 

Let me say that I believe there is much that we can learn from all of these traditions particularly the last two.  But the problem I see with the church today, is they miss a very important principle.  In fact, I would say that all of these traditional methods have merit, and should be combined to give us the best understanding of scripture, yet if we did this well we would still miss the most important aspect of our faith, and what it means to be the church.

What is this little secret?  It is that Jesus, is actually the center of our knowledge, not the bible.  Now I am well aware that without the bible we don't have a Jesus.  But lets look at how we approach scripture.  In most cases we do not approach it as a narrative, though that is what it is.  And we take it in pieces, using all pieces equally, (unless they disagree with out lifestyle or dogma in which case they are just figurative, or not in proper context).  But this is a problem, because the bible is not THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE.  The bible is not the EXACT REPRESENTATION OF GOD'S BEING, nor is it THE LOGOS BECOME FLESH.  Nor are we known as biblians.  We are called Christians, which means we are to be followers of Christ.

This radically effects the way in which we view truth, or interpret scripture.  If we are to be true to our name, and discipleship, then first and foremost we must acknowledge Christ.  So in order to understand all of scripture, we must first understand Christ.  What Christ did, what He said, and how He died and rose again, is the pinnacle of our understanding of God, and scripture.  Far from meaning the other scriptures don't matter, or even that they matter less, it means that all scripture comes alive when viewed through the lens of Jesus. 

The problem has been that we have not followed Jesus.  In fact, most of the time we elevate Jesus so high into the clouds that we forget he actually asked real live men, to follow him in the real live earth, and entrusted the real live church into their hands.  We do not read Paul in light of Jesus, but we read Jesus in light of Paul.  We do not take the Jesus of the gospels as the one true God, but we say, "well he was just a nice guy back then but in Revelations he is gonna wreck shit"  We say, "well look at Joshua, God is not just love He is just".  But the thing is Jesus shows us what God's justice looks like "neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more".  God is revealed truly, and perfectly in the actions, and teachings of Jesus, and the scriptures bow to Him, not the other way around.  This is the actual meaning of Jesus statement in the sermon on the mount, "not one tiny little morsel of the law will be done away with until it is all PERFECTED"  Jesus comes to make the understandings of God, and scripture perfect. 

A problem with the church is we look every way we can besides the actual example of Jesus life, the powerful teachings he gave us, and the invitation to join in His death and resurrection.  If Jesus is the Way, Truth and Life, then we should be about that.  Isn't it funny that the only people Jesus really tore into were those that already figured it out, had all their doctrines and dogmas straight, and used them all as currency to buy and sell power and influence over others.  What He spoke of was the kingdom, a way of acting, and living, a way of being the community of God, and in the midst of this community His very presence lives.  Truth is not a book, nor a method, it is a person, the person of Christ.

All of our interpretive methods must be engaged, but more importantly, we must set our sight firmly on Christ the man, and His call to follow Him.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Another problem with the church (an arrogant series of cynical genius)

In this series I am addressing a number of things that I believe are big problems in the church.  Before I go much further I must just say that I do believe that many church people and leaders are in fact good-natured. The people in the church are trying to do the right thing, they are trying to do God's thing, and many of them are warm, wonderful and loving people.  They are just caught up in a system that is very, very messed up.

What I would like to address in this post is an issue that is probably gonna piss off some of my friends.  I would like to talk about the idea of clergy laity distinction, and particularly the idea of paid ministers.

In the church of today we have a structure that operates like either a business or a government.  There are experts and professionals at the top, and there are the rabble on the bottom.  Like I showed in my previous post we have adopted a system that allows and encourages this kind of structure, and the values that come along with it.  We in most cases require our leaders to have degrees of some sort, to have aptitude in "running things" or incredible charisma.  The greater your schooling and gifting, the higher you rise in the chain of command.

It is sad to me that in much of the "emerging" church, we have not really dealt with this issue at all.  We might have different things that "qualify" the person at the top of the heap, but we still have heaps.  We talk about how many people come to our church, how many books we have read, how many conferences we have been invited to speak at, or how many cool innovative worship ideas we have incorporated into our church.  We have traded one hierarchy for another.  We have made church "cooler" but not actually emerged into something that is different.  For all the talk of a new reformation that addresses more than just doctrine, we have not really addressed much more than doctrine, and tried to make church culturally more fun for ourselves.  This is simply not good enough.

At the heart of this hierarchy is this idea that certain people should be paid to be the ministers, while others are only volunteers.  We like to talk about the priesthood of all believers, but like the saying goes, "money talks, bullshit walks"  If we truly believe that we are all equally called to share our gifts within the body, that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female then why are some paid and some not?  If we truly believe that every joint in the body is of equal importance, then why do some people get paid for it?  Why are those people expected to have degrees and qualifications that allow them to hold these positions? 

Now I know that once again I am the minority position here, but let me just list a number of reasons why our system is broken, and needs to be torn down and rebuilt not patched up:

In a consumerist culture, paying for experts, keeps us from learning and growing ourselves
In a consumerist culture we must resist the current of our culture and not cater to a consumer mindset that com-modifies religious experience 
When your degree and income are based on "religious" studies what happens when you need to step down or leave the ministry?
How do you relate to your neighbors when they work "real jobs" and you get paid to read the bible and pray for people?
How do you relate to the people in your congregation when you get paid to do devotions and bible study, and have a good marriage, and kids under control ect.
How much of church budget that could go towards helping the poor and marginalized goes towards paying salaries?

Now are their scriptures that back certain people getting paid? yes, but I believe they are the exceptions, not the rule.  Paul, a far more accomplished church man than many today, worked making tents so that he wouldn't be a financial burden.  He said Peter did get supported by the church, but Peter was not the pastor of a church in a city, but rather the traveling apostle, providing leadership (I will talk about leadership without hierarchy later) over an entire movement.  There is an excellent resource by Frank Viola called straight talk to pastors (free online) that goes into the scriptural support for what I am talking about.

 When Christ was walking along and hears the disciples arguing about who will be the greatest in the kingdom, he stops them and explains, "if you want to really be great in my kingdom, you will be a slave to everyone:"  We have twisted that to this abomination, "well to be a servant to everyone, I need to be more able to care for the needs of the sheep, and paying me a salary, and making me their leader, and giving me authority over them will help me serve them better".  And I know why we do this, it is more expedient, it makes more sense the only problem is, it isn't the way of Christ.

Ultimately, the gathering of God's people for a new politic should not follow the paradigms of business, or government, or even religion. The gathering of God's church should be one of unparalleled equality,, anarchic in its nature, and radically communal in its economy. The church practiced much like this for three hundred years, until it became married to the government, and Rome needed priests and bishops of the stature and quality worthy of their great empire.  And the leadership of the humble laborer, who though being God says later in his ministry, "I call you all now my friends" gets forgotten, as we grab a hold of an ideology that is far from that of Christ. 

So we must do away with titles, and salaries, and hierarchy, we are a kingdom of priests.


ps. reverend is an ironic nickname, not an official title, please feel free to call me john, or friend, or brother, or asshole, I answer to all of those

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Problems With the Church (an arrogant series of cynical genius)

There are churches that are doing their best to do good work, to create disciples not converts, to take part in movements of social justice, and relational integrity.  They try and promote many good things like mission, community, prayer, self discipline and morality.  But I would suggest that the very structure of the church, is a horrible handicap.  That those that succeed in small ways in these endeavors do so in spite of these horrible structures.  And in fact that these structures are not only incapable of truly doing what God calls the church to do, but they are (the structures) an act of disobedience and idolatry.

Oh no, did he really just say that?  Yes I did.  Over the next few weeks I will explain the many ways that I think the structures and very nature of the church is corrupt and explain why I believe that we cannot seek to effect change from within, but can only truly grow into our calling by coming out from her (pardon the apocalyptic smart assery)

Let me start with a little picture.  I am a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  I often teach others this amazingly effective martial art.  Let me explain how I do this.  I spend very much time reading books about BJJ.  I watch the Gracies in Action videos.  I study how other people have applied this teaching in their lives.  And then once a week, I gather all of the students.  Now some of my students are also musicians so we have written some songs that sing our thankfulness for such a wonderful art.  We sing about how much we love Rorion and Helio Gracie for bringing this art to America.  And we even have some songs that teach us in rhyme important truths about grappling.  I then collect the dues for the rent on the dojo, which is only used this one day, and for my salary.  Then... I stand up and I begin to talk to them about the importance of BJJ, about how we are to follow the example of Royce, who came to this country and even though he was small and skinny, he conquered all of the foes that he encountered.  I talk about times in my life that I have had to apply some of these techniques, and I encourage you to apply them as well.  And then we all bow our heads, and I ask if there is anyone who has never accepted the truth of Brazlian Jiu Jitsu, and would like to begin training. 

How many of you would go to that school?  That is not the way I learned jiu jitsu, it is not the way I learned how to wrestle, how to paint, nor how to do drywall, carpentry or roofing.  I learned how to do these things by having a small group of people, actually do these activities with me.  Oh, there were experts of course.  People that I may never measure up to, but they actually got on the mat and wrestled with me, swung a hammer with me.  Sometimes they even slowed down so I could keep up.

Well, that might just be my smart assed brain trying to make everyone do it my way.  Pastoring is different.  But... it is the way Jesus did it.  Jesus says, "come and see"  Jesus says come and follow me.  When Peter prays for a dead person, he does the exact same thing Jesus did when he was with him earlier.  Jesus shows us that we are called to live our discipleship in a community.  To learn a new way of living, believing and relating.  And those most qualified to teach us these things are truly experts, but not because they learned to read Greek, (though that is a wonderful helpful thing), but because they have been following Jesus, forgiving and loving their brothers, and practicing the kingdom for longer than we have.

As long as worship is entertainment or classroom, discipleship will not be apprenticeship.