Archive for the 'Worship' Category

Sunday Devotional – Story of the Grandson of Jesus

No, this isn’t some long-lost gnostic gospel promulgating the Jesus Dynasty; rather it’s a whimsically imaginative song by one of my new favorite bands, Cloud Cult. Reflect…and enjoy:

Today is a good day to flex the muscles of the weary
a miracle’s a miracle even when it’s ordinary
we walk on the water even though it seems scary
if someone will show us the way
 

I shook hands with the man who honestly thinks he’s
the grandson of Jesus with the penchant for pinchies
he served us communion of cola and twinkies
guess everyone has their own view
 

He stood on his soap box and told us a parable
of a man with eyeglasses so small they’re unwearable
and the moral of the story is it all looks terrible
depending on what you look through, on what you look through
 

He said “Do unto yourself as you do unto your neighbor
it’s not an eye for an eye, it’s a favor for a favor
and it’s okay if this world had a billion saviors
’cause there’s so many things to be saved
 

“Take my words with a boulder of salt
or blame it on your devil
always the scapegoats fault
we all point fingers when it comes to a halt
can somebody show us the way, show us the way…

Sunday Devotional: Love is Love

Hello all you lovers in the blogosphere! Augustine (or was it John Caputo?) once famously probed: “What do I love when I love my God?” And Tom Oord in his Nature of Love: A Theology begins to take seriously, perhaps for the first time in contemporary theology, ‘God IS Love’ as a starting point for theology, spirituality, and practice. I think his project is exciting (you should really check out the book if you haven’t already), and if it resonates, it begs the question: Who do I love? What is love? And how can we explore/express these questions together trans-rationally, devotionally, ecstatically, in song?

Well, if these are questions that matter to you, I’ve got your mystical poetry for absorption into the One this morning. This is Love is Love, coming from post-hardcore band Lungfish‘s visionary, wheel-within-a-wheel frontman, Daniel Higgs. The version that so resonates with me – and with Trinity’s Place, my faith community in Raleigh – is actually a cover by Tortoise, when they collaborated with Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

I use this song frequently – working out on the ROM, and as a prelude to prayer or contemplation. Here it is:

The lyrics are anybody’s guess. Here’s mine:

Love is love in the shape things take

Love is love in the womb of wombs (wound of wounds)

Love is love at the highest height

Love is love at the deepest depth all right

Love is love as the risen rise (as the risen Christ)

Love is love in the sight of creation

Love is love in patterns of light

Love is love at the root of the grave

Love is love in the life of all life

Love is love in echoes through space

Love is love a vigil for this world (a vision for this world)

Love is love in the marrow of new bones

Love is love as above so below

Love is love in the record of events

Love must be love to let time begin

Love is love always reconciled

Love is love in the wind and shade

Love is love – alien and strange

Love is love in truth and falsehood

And, for your added enjoyment, here’s the original Lungfish version. Enjoy!

God is Good – How We Get There

Just over a year ago, I raised the question – Walter Brueggemann‘s question, actually – “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” It was a provocative question he raised in Atlanta during one of the original Emergent Village theological conversations. The esteemed Old Testament scholar was raising questions about our neat & tidy ways of trying to sweep God’s messy history under the rug; his concern was that many who profess the loudest to be “Bible-believers” are least familiar with its contents. He was not calling the faithful to abandon the witness of Scripture, contra an Ehrman or Spong; rather, he was suggesting we embrace Holy Writ with all its pain. (And if you read the text, there is pain.)

This original post stirred a lot of thoughtful commentary, as well as some rabid denunciation among some Christian fiction writers (of all folks) – earning me my own TAG at Rebecca Miller’s blog, where as far as I know they’re still praying for my wayward soul. 🙂

Today a thoughtful blog reader named Mark chimed in with a question of his own:

Hey everybody, I know I’m reading this a year after the fact so maybe nobody will see this. But if so, I’ve just got a question or two.

I listened to the Brueggemann talks a couple of years ago. He’s one of my favorite authors/speakers. However, the more I’ve thought about his ‘God as a recovering practitioner of violence’, the more I’ve been disturbed (I guess that was his purpose, so that’s fine). I’m o.k. with being disturbed.

The main thing I’m wanting to ask everybody who was posting here toward the end is do you pray? If so, what do you say to a God who may be capricious, violent, arbitrary, etc.? What do you say, good and bad?

The other comment I have is that I just finished reading N.T. Wright’s NTPG, JVG, and RSG books. Actually, as he says, ‘as a matter of history’ it does seem to be highly likely that Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead. For me, this means atheism is not a viable option. How does everyone feel about this? Have you read these books?

Also, I ask many of these tough questions that you are asking very regularly but also wonder what moral high ground I can stand on to put God on trial. Is this reasonable?

Thanks for the discussion!

Mark’s is an excellent question that really brings things home: How, and to whom, do we pray (if we pray)? I think that all of us, regardless of what we’ve argued about in the original post, want to say we’re praying to an unambiguously good God. Even Walter B. would probably affirm this. Now, I think that questioning God’s goodness is one of the deepest struggles of faith for many of us, especially in contemporary times – I mean, theodicy is a b!tc#, right?

What many of us simply cannot go back to is what I call the Juggling Trapeze Artist version of God; this is where we juggle all of these conflicting biblical and experiential portraits of God, swinging from one pendulum to the other, desperately trying to make them form one coherent portrait. No – if we’re to be people of the book, we need more honesty and integrity than this – rightly dividing the word of truth, or what have you.

In my experience, most people who have a mature, stable, first-hand relationship with God know instinctively that God is good. This often comes in spite of, not because of, the theology they’re taught in church, on television, or the radio. But if we’ve settled God’s goodness in our hearts, it seems to me that there are several options out there to settle this in our heads:

1.) What Brueggemann and others (notably Jack Miles) seem to be advocating for, at least here: An evolutionary understanding of God. God develops, God grows, God changes. This idea is at the heart of the debate between Greco-Roman Theism and Open (or Process) theology – too much to hash through here. Suffice it to say for these considerations, just because God may have ordered genocide at one point in time (as the text says he did) and prohibits even ethnic judgement at a future time (as Jesus seems to in the later text), one can say that God grows without implying that earlier stages of development were sinful – for God or humanity. To put it another way: Sin, like Covenant, is not a static absolute, but rather a moving target based on increasing spheres of empathy and maturity.

2.) Another angle to come at this would be to posit a changeless God who nonetheless accommodated himself to immature-but-developing cultural mores. This is difficult to apply in actual practice – when in the text God insists that people wipe out women and children, or (perhaps more disturbing) to save virgins for mating…really? But one can do some comparative analysis with nearby cultures and conclude that God is gradually pushing his chosen people out of the nest of violent ethnocentrism by fully entering into & communicating from that world. Hence John Calvin wrote that ‘crude’ images of God are “often ascribed to him in Scripture, are easily refuted. For who is so devoid of intellect as not to understand that God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children? Such modes of expression, therefore, do not so much express what kind of a being God is, as accommodate the knowledge of him to our feebleness. In doing so, he must, of course, stoop far below his proper height.”

3.) A variation on this theme would be to apply the apostle Paul’s “we see in part, we prophesy in part” to the writings of Scripture itself. When looking for traces of God’s presence and speaking in our lives, “we see through a glass darkly” – a glass colored by our history, culture, and indeed prejudices. So the children of Israel and various biblical redactors ‘heard’ God say some atrocious things that God could not have said if we is the Father of Jesus Christ who loves indiscrimately and forgives enemies. One can in this way read Scripture as a conversation – yea, an argument – with itself over which interpretation of God will prevail: a vision of God-as-power that serves the interests of the already-powerful, or God-as-Love who empties himself and serves the lowly? (Brian McLaren develops this Scripture-as-conversation perspective in his A New Kind of Christianity. This view is appealing in that it posits an all-good, changeless God and let’s God off the hook for any of the unsavory stuff we see in the Old Testament – and presumably, the New as well. But then, critics will assert, Where does this stop? Do we simply edit out everything that makes us uncomfortable? Does this make us better than 21st century Marcionites? But proponents of this perspective would be quick to suggest a New Covenant hermenutic, starting with Jesus’ own “Moses said to you _____, but I say to you…”

So there we have it. Either 1.) God changes for God’s sake, 2.) God changes for humanity’s sake, or 3.) God is changeless but humanity is increasingly adept at apprehending a fuller revelation of God’s character. To me any of these visions can be held with integrity, and would result in a good God worthy of trust and worship.

What strikes me, further, is that all of these are valid options, and that all of these are problematic. I think as the Church we ought not micro-manage people’s opinions about these different ways of processing the goodness and character of God; rather, we should be places that can hold all of these images of God in abeyance, as we worship and pray together.

Recommended Reading (covering the gamut of these perspectives):

Anything by Rene Girard

A Sociable God: Toward a New Understanding of ReligionKen Wilber

A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the FaithBrian McLaren

Christ: A Crisis in the Life of GodJack Miles

Discovering the God ImaginationJonathan Brink

From Eternity to HereFrank Viola

God Christ Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology – Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki (minibook here)

Saving Paradise: How Christians Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire – Rita Brock & Rebecca Parker

The Bible as Improv: Seeing and Living the Script in New WaysRon Martoia

The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in CrisisJeremy Rifkin

The Hidden Face of GodRichard Elliot Friedman

The Human Faces of God – Thom Stark (see also his booksiteReligion at the Margins)

The Misunderstood God: The Lies Religion Tells About GodDarin Hufford

This is My Beloved Son – Hear Him! and Is There a Covenant of Grace? – articles by Jon Zens

Paradoxy: Paradigm Pathways

I met Ken Howard at a party at my house last month – a Big Tent Christianity kegger wherein we raised funds to put a Raleigh homeless couple into a home. There were like 100 people here (at least it felt that way!) but we hit it off despite the din. Ken’s a priest in Maryland; he wrote a book that I’d already begun to hear good things about. He asked me to participate in a blog tour & I said “sure!” I haven’t been disappointed.

Ken Howard’s Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them opens up with a premise strikingly similar to Jim Belcher’s Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional (see? Even the titles sound similar): The Church is being torn apart by dissonant voices; we need to move forward in a creative ‘third way’ direction that honors our deepest values while laying aside our addiction to our niche. Beyond this starting point, however, the two books diverge pretty significantly. While Belcher (to some people’s acclaim, and others’ disdain) desired to create a ‘mere Christianity’ essentialist orthodoxy that nods toward emergence while drawing out the best of his PCA Presbyterian tradition, Howard attempts to craft three ideologically-neutral terms to re-frame old verities and serve as self-identifiers of where you are as an individual and congregation:

  • The conservative way we will call Doctrinal-Propositional Orthodoxy or Orthoproxy
  • The liberal way we will call Ethical-Practical Orthodoxy or Orthopraxy
  • The emerging middle way we will call Incarnational-Relational Orthodoxy or Paradoxy

In chapter 8, my stop along the tour, we’re looking at where particular faith commuities fall along this spectrum. It’s here that Ken offers a 14-question congregational self-inventory. Here are two samples:

Which statement best describes your church’s view of religion?

a. Ultimate truth is found in one religion (Christianity is the only way).
b. Deepest truth is shared by all religions (Christianity is the only way for me).
c. Religion is irrelevant for following Christ (Christ is the way, the truth, and the life).

Which statement best describes your church’s understanding of the process of including newcomers?

a. First conversion, then fellowship.
b. First full fellowship, then fellowship catalyzes transformation.
c. Community offered with few conditions, then the inner faith experience leads to the person’s change of heart.

Curious how your responses to these questions place you along the Orthoproxy-Orthopraxy-Paradoxy continuum? I was – and the answers surprised me. Paradoxy is a book that conservatives and progressives can read together with mind and heart, grappling with issues of pluralism and inclusion on the one hand and the integrity of our faith and conviction on the other hand. It’s an excellent meditation on our quest for a generous orthodoxy that is, indeed, both generous and orthodox. I recommend it.

Check out the rest of this tour:

Foreword and Introduction: May You Live in Interesting Times
Brian McLaren on brianmclaren.net
Ken Howard on Beyond Us and Them

Chapter 1: The End of the World As We Know It: Collapsing Paradigms
Bosco Peters on Worship Blog

Chapter 2: Constantine’s Ghost: Christendom
Amy Moffit on Without A Map

Chapter 3: Reality Ain’t What it Used to Be: Foundationalism
Jana Reiss on FlunkingSainthood

Chapter 4:  Hanging by a Thread:  Christianity as Religion
Tom Brackett on Church Planting Central
 

Chapter 5:  O God, Our Help in Ages Past: Christianities That Might Have Been
Sarah Dylan Breuer on SarahLaughed.net


Chapter 6: The Shape of Things to Come: Promising Principles for a New Way of Church
Joel Borofsky on Christian Watershed

Chapter 7: A New Middle Way? Characteristics of an Incarnational Orthodoxy — a.k.a. Paradoxy
Andy MacBeth on Faithfully Reading

Brian McLaren on New Vistas of Vision: Where Do We Go From Here?

Spencer Burke and Brian McLaren wrap up their ground-breaking interview series on A New Kind of ChristianityWhere do new kinds of Christians go to manifest their inspiration into action? How do we treat those who don’t see the same things we see? Get the show notes and see the interview series in its entirety here.

Sunday Devotional: Matthew Fox, Cosmic Mass

So this one is sure to raise some ambivalence – but no one processing religion, faith, and spirituality in a post* world can afford to ignore Matthew Fox – tempestuous, flamboyant, inventive; priest, artist, liturgist and theologian. The defrocked Catholic-turned-Episcopal priest was (with the unlikely influence-pairing of Vineyard revitalizer John Wimber) responsible for inspiring what was arguably the first ever emerging/postmodern congregation in the mid-1980s – the brilliant, controversial, combustible Nine O’ Clock Service. Inspired by a Wimber prophecy at St. Thom‘s in Sheffield and nurtured by Fox’s Creation Spirituality amongst working-class rave culture, the NOS was a potpourri of influences and expression.

Even after it’s untimely demise, the UK’s ‘Planetary Mass’ idea – shades of Teilhard de Chardin‘s Mass on the World – re-caught the attention of Fox himself, who brought it back to the US as a ‘Techno-Cosmic Mass.’ To this day, there are many interested in applying the ideas of Original Blessing and Creation Spirituality to communal expressions, as well as many of more staidly orthodox persuasion interested in alternative worship expressions.

(Click to play video – it won’t embed. Grr…)

For a compendium alt.worship resources, go here. Also see Fox’s YouTube channel.

Sunday Morning Devotional: Kenosis

Let what was seen in Christ Jesus be seen also in you –

Though his state was that of God,
yet he did not claim equality with God
something he should cling to.

Rather, he emptied himself,
and assuming the state of a slave,
he was born in human likeness.

He being known as one of us,
Humbled himself obedient unto death
Even death on a cross.

For this God raised him on high
and bestowed on hi the name
which is above every other name.

So that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven, on earth and under the earth,

And so every tongue should proclaim
“Jesus Chist is Lord!”
to God the father’s Glory

– Philippians 2:5-11, Christian Community Bible translation, from the Philippines, as cited in Cynthia Bourgeault‘s Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening


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    My Writings: Varied and Sundry Pieces Online

    Illumination and Darkness: An Anne Rice Feature from Burnside Writer's Collective
    Shadows & Light: An Anne Rice Interview in MP3 format from Relevant Magazine
    God's Ultimate Passion: A Trinity of Frank Viola interview on Next Wave: Part I, Part II, Part III
    Review: Furious Pursuit by Tim King, from The Ooze
    Church Planting Chat from Next-Wave
    Review: Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola, from Next-Wave

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