Posts Tagged 'Sara Miles'

Send in the Clowns!

The Kingdom of God is a party!” So says Tony Campolo (and Robert Farrar Capon, and John Crowder, and Ben Dunn, and Sara Miles, and Bruce Chilton, and Hafiz…need I go on?), but so few people believe this.

I’ve mentioned previously my admiration for what Bruce Sanguin is attempting with a genuinely tradition-honoring yet scientifically-sensitive approach to Christian spirituality. So imagine my delight in a recent reading of If Darwin Prayed when I discover this poem – a feast for those who hunger after Jesus in all his subversive fullness. Enjoy!

Send in the Clowns

john 2:1–11

O Holy One,

what good news it is

that when the wine of abundant life gives out,

you find a way to keep the celebration going.

Just when we are convinced that the worst thing

that can happen is what always happens,

you send bright signs

that the party has just begun.

Just when we are happy to descend into despair,

you send in the clowns

and place party hats atop our frowning faces,

daring us just to try to not smile.

Into this world of wonder,

your beloved Cosmic Celebrant came,

with the last word on the subject—

silencing the political party poopers

and the religious prudes—

pronouncing blessing without end

and no good reason to stop the music.

Hallelujah! Blessed is your name.

Amen.

A Farmer’s Market in Heaven Where Everything Is Free and Everyone Is Welcome

Spencer Burke interviews Sara Miles about her work at the St. Gregory of Nyssa‘s Food Pantry and her new book Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing Raising the Dead. It’s an inspiring interview – check it out!

A Mosaic of Voices & Feast of Visuals

What if there was a Bible that combined a readable-yet-accurate text with breath-taking art from every continent and era, combined with meditative reflections both ancient and contemporary? What if they ancient voices were similarly from a myriad of ethnicities and theological persuasions, carefully chosen to sing a chorus of praise to the One who eternally Was, Is, and Is to Come? And what if these reflections and art were paired together – much like fine wine and good food – and synced to the ancient rhythms of the liturgical calendar?

Well then, you’d have the Holy Bible: Mosaic, one of the most ambitious Bible undertakings in years. Publisher Tyndale House and editorial director David Sanford wanted to create a truly ecumenical, multi-cultural work of art that is as beautiful to behold as it is to read. It achieves its goals, I think. But then again, I might be biased…I’m one of the contemporary contributors!

Below are excerpts of my unedited contribution*:

God as Nourishment

Exodus 24:9-11 * Leviticus 6:18b * Psalm 34:8a, 10 * Isaiah 25:6 * John 6:22-58 * Revelation 19:1-9

Food and God, God and food. God is food—taste and see. Jesus and fish, fish and bread; bread and wine, wine of New Covenant. Come to the banqueting table—set and served by the God of plenty, our El-Shaddai, God who nurses us at the breasts of divinity. The Spirit and Bride sing out—the wedding supper of the Lamb arrives! Father, Son, and Spirit, setting a table before us—even before our enemies. Fear dissipates; our Abba gives us fish and not stones. When we rest in our true center, we play hide and seek—we are lost in God, and found in the way things really are: God is immediately present to us, and us to the Triune God. Here God nourishes our spirits—Jesus is real food and real drink. At the table of our souls we are consumed by the all-consuming God.

* * * *

When the Church eats and drinks in Eucharistic feast, in Lord’s Table and Lord’s Supper, we celebrate Christ’s subversive presence in our midst. We consume God and are consumed, eating and drinking once again in God’s upside-down reign. This holy meal that Jesus gives us disorients us in God’s nourishing presence and re-orients us to our real surroundings, God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. When we take the recipes of heaven into our bodies, the Church re-members once more that we are reconstituted, new creation, real bodies becoming one flesh and blood by Jesus’ flesh and blood. We become God’s life incarnate, free to act in the world with startling freedom, astonishing grace and truth, no strings attached.

Let us taste God, and let us become. What if we became gardeners, cooks, party-throwers; cultivating God’s organic life and sharing this nourishment with all? Communal meals, agape feasts, subversive lunches and dinners shared in the Way of Jesus. What if we followed Jesus, inviting everyone to the table: sex workers and terrorists, homeless and high-powered business leaders, blacks and Asians and whites and Latinos, televangelists and gay activists? Around the table of God, we are reduced to the grandeur our common humanity, the spark of divinity that by God’s grace sparks us, perchance to dream, together. To dream of another world, one filled with choice food and fine aged wines, and new wine—the wine of New Covenant, containing the inebriating dreams of God’s new world.

God is food and drink. We can taste and see the Lord’s goodness with our whole lives, along interior and outward paths alike. We can imbibe divinity in the still, small moments of restful inner repose; we can eat and drink the will of our Father at the raucous tables where stranger, neighbor, enemy and friend meet…

…to be continued on page 320, in Pentecost week 27!

Mosaic: Holy Bible Hardcover

Mosaic: Holy Bible Simulated Leatherbound

Check out the Slideshow

Browse inside the Advent Meditations!

*They cut back some portions of this, with my blessing. I wrote like a bit of a mad chef, experimenting with ingredients. The editors needed to be mindful of the appropriateness of its use for a large and diverse readership, and I completely understand their editorial revisions. I’ll write more like a whirling dervish channeling John of Ruusbroec and Sara Miles when my book on God-as-nourishment comes out – which will be soon!

Sunday Devotional: Sara Miles – Jesus Says GO!

In the midst of all the (well-deserved) hoopla surrounding the release of Brian’s A New Kind of Christianity, it is literarily crucial not to lose sight of another, equally-important book that released this month: Jesus Freak: Feeding/Healing/Raising the Dead by Sara Miles. I really think that both of these books could well define Western Christianity’s soul-searching in the second decade of the 21st-century.

I’m not going to do a full book review today – this week, God-willing! – but for now I’ll just say that Sara’s book works on the reader in a whole different way than Brian’s; whereas Brian’s adeptly takes you on a journey through Scripture, church history, and the genealogy of ideas, Sara’s book is hyper-local (rarely, if ever, venturing outside of her home city of San Francisco) and deeply embodied – it’s story after story after story, driving a central theme home: God lives in us, and Jesus gives us the authority to feed, heal, forgive, and practice resurrection. Here is Sara reading an excerpt from Jesus Freak (this is what inspired the non-technological part of my KedgeForward Theology After Google Preview Talk):

The blogosphere has been positively abuzz about Sara’s infectious story and embodied spirituality. Here are some of the highlights…and again, my take is coming soon!

Bill Dahl

Carl McColman

Faith Matters

Father Jake

In Touch Magazine (In Touch?? Isn’t that Charles Stanley’s magazine?? Wow!)

Journey With Jesus

Matthew Paul Turner

Next-Wave

Reiter’s Block

Rhodes Network

Sarx

Spirituality & Practice

Through A Glass Darkly

Walking With God

Whatever

Weary Pilgrim

Why Is Marko

Wrecked for the Ordinary

Wounded Bird

Yearns & Groans

Left-wing Lesbian author comes out as a Jesus freak and claims power to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and raise the dead – Religion Writers. Now that’s an attention-grabbing headline!

(My previous posts about Sara are here and here.)

Harnessing Permission: The Power of Social Media (Theology After Google)

Here’s a KedgeForward presentation I gave last week to a Claremont School of Theology class last week via Skype. In it we discuss what Jesus’ comission has to do with new-media permssion, as well as Derek Webb, Shaun King, The Shack, Sara Miles, Gary Vaynerchuk, Haiti, the ROM, and more. You do not want to miss this. (Seriously – anyone involved in ministry or more public teaching communications or activism would do well to watch this conversation) Also – see the whole Transforming Theology Channel for more great videos.

My talk comes as a herald of sorts for the Theology After Google even coming up in just over a month at Claremont. You’ll want to be there if you can, as it features a leading-edge conversation, ringled by Tripp Fuller, workshopping and roundtabling the future of theology (and healthy churches/spirituality) in a post-Google era.

Theology After Google post/video roundup:

Theology After Google on TheOOZE

What Would Google Do?

Theology Beyond Google Part 1 – Chad Holtz

Theology Beyond Google Part 2 – Chad Holtz

Twitter-Gestions for T.A.G.

Adam Walker Cleveland on T.A.G.

Spencer Burke on T.A.G.

Tony Jones on T.A.G.

Jesus Freak vs. Jesus Freak

So Sara Miles‘ second ‘faith-y’ book, Jesus Freak, hits the shelves (and digital devices) soon…she and the folks at Jossey-Bass have released a video of Sara sharing some of her passion behind the book:

When watching this on YouTube, a second video is displayed – from the uber-popular 1990s evangelical rap group (yes its true) dc Talk. (The d.d.? Stands for ‘Decent Christian’ if ya didn’t know) This is from their multiplatinum-selling 1995 album by the same name:

So in light of these videos, which ‘Jesus Freak’ would win in a fair (and nonviolent of course) fight? Sara Miles or dc Talk? Look for my review of Jesus Freak (the book, not the album) coming soon.

BONUS trivia: An etymology of the term ‘Jesus freak.’

Organic Church: Full of Crap?

The Web has had been a-buzz with some conversation about my native church milieu, ‘organic’ church – aka house church or simple church. Folks meeting in homes, rather decentralized, certainly de-clericalized. Senior Christianity Today editor Mark Galli wishes organic churchers well, but is concerned that we might burn out on our lofty ideals.

What I worry about is the coming crash of organic church. And after that, I worry about the energetic men and women at the forefront of the movement. Will they become embittered and abandon the church, and maybe their God?

Some folks think this is over-dramatic – including Neil Cole, who responded to Galli’s editorial here. (Update: Frank Viola has responded too.) But others, like my friend Neil Carter, were writing about the death of idealism in organic church before they even read Galli’s piece. Carter finds himself looking at organic church on the outside after 10 years as an insider: Far from breathing the rarified air of ‘changing the world’ (as Cole suggests organic churches do) or ‘revolutionizing the history and practice of the church’ (as the house church stream Carter & I share proclaims as one of its goals), Carter is now churching with that most ubiquitous (and some would say, boring) of tribes: Southern Baptists. Reflecting on this, Carter writes:

It’s funny how you can age ten years in the space of just one, while at other times you can go ten years and hardly age a year. It’s a variable process, it turns out. It’s all about what you learn — what you experience in the space of a year. Having said that, I feel I’ve aged more years than I know how to count just in the last 12 months.

Specifically, he recounts a major compromise with his ideals in allowing some professional pastor dude baptize his youngest daughter – even though he baptized his first two daughters himself as part of his former house church community, in a swimming pool. He quotes a coupla Michael Caine flicks – “Obsession is a young man’s game” and “Idealism is youth’s final luxury.” Neil’s only about five years older than me, but he’s musing, as Blink-182 did a decade ago, “I guess this is growing up.”

Or is it?

Do-it-yourself New Testament scholar Bill Heroman – whom I also shared a living room with, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – thinks the organic church movement is full of crap – in a good way. “The challenge,” he says, “is sustainability.”

Human systems last a long time mainly by suppressing the human element that challenges established traditions, but that same human element also provides authenticity and vitality. Thus, the best way to survive for a long time is to be nearly dead. Nature, naturally, sustains itself quite differently. The work God needs to do within a local body of believers will always be messy, but Institutional Christendom keeps peons & yokels from participating precisely because they make messes. The shift is: who says messes are bad? Antiseptic works well for hospitals and elementary schools, but not in gardens or forests. After all, crap makes good fertilizer, and God is a gardener.

God is a gardener, and we – our individual lives, collective lives, our history and our institutions – are compost. Just like the Holy Spirit, Sarayu, in The Shack: She is unoffended by our messiness and our chaos. Indeed, it is beautiful to her.

So thanks, Bill, for stealing my metaphor. :)

Even so – I understand and respect my friends like Neil Carter, who find themselves outside of these more ‘ideal-laden’ patterns of doing and being church – whether by necessity or shifting sensibilities. It’s an internal tug-of-war, sometimes. Even though I’m far more interested in liturgical and traditional elements (from the ‘compost’ of our history) than I once was, I’m as opposed to clericalism as I’ve ever been. Even so, I’m not at all opposed to leadership – even strong leadership – as some in the organic stream are. Leadership is, it helps, and not everyone is gifted at it. That said, any leadership modeling itself remotely on that of Jesus or even Paul will be continuously giving power away – “You feed them!” “Try this!” and not seeking its own self-preservation. Because while we’re not all ‘leaders,’ we are all priests.

What does this look like, practically? These days I’m drawing inspiration from the 70-year-old Church of the Saviour cluster of churches in the D.C. area (read Inward Journey, Outward Journey by Elizabeth O’ Connor! Do it now!), as well as the 30-year-old St. Gregory of Nyssa congregation in San Francisco (do yourself a favor and pre-order Sara Miles’ new book Jesus Freak: Feeding/Healing/Raising the Dead). While these fellowships are older than the current ‘organic’ church nomenclature’s popular use – and they certainly have the trappings of Galli’s ‘smells and bells’ in significant ways – to me they embody composted communities; not experiments in puritan house-cleaning, but groups who are full-of-crap and they know it. It’s from this rich, loamy soil that they can sprout the Spirit’s life afresh in each generation.

Flash Review: ‘Churched’ by Matthew Paul Turner

I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned my friend Matthew Paul Turner‘s memoir Churched on the blog before. You should go out and get a copy. This flash review is going to live up to its name; I’m simply going to reproduce for you the blurb I wrote for its back cover, as well as that of Sara Miles:

Churched is funny, poignant, and surprisingly moving. In this deft story of his fundamentalist upbringing Matthew Paul Turner proclaims the good news: that even church can’t drown out the message of Jesus.”
Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread

“Who knew that a journey through faith and fundamentalism could be so painfully funny? I laughed out loud many a time while reading Churched. Matthew Paul Turner manages to channel both boyhood innocence and wry retrospective through this fast-moving account of growing up with Jesus in late 20th-century America, and beyond. Highly recommended!”
Mike Morrell, TheOoze.com

You can follow Matthew on his wildly popular Twitter here.

Open or Closed Table Eucharist/Communion – WWJD?

Vaux EucharistThe sacred meal that Christians celebrate, variously called ‘Eucharist’ or ‘Communion’ or ‘Lord’s Supper’ – is both the centerpiece of most Christian worship worldwide, and one of the most painfully divisive rites we practice. My friend and Catholic Celtic contemplative (how much more alliteration can I pack into his descriptor – oh I know, his first name!) Carl McColman blogs about feeling this ambivalence firsthand in his post Communion and the Broken Body. What follows is a response to Carl, and the others who have interacted in the comments. I recommend you read Carl’s post before proceeding.

First off Carl, thank you for sharing this – I recall you and I discussing some of this the first time I came to the monastery with you and participated in the morning prayers and mass; the Christian community’s celebration of unity with God and each other is fragmented, broken much like Christ’s body on the altar, and this does indeed call for sadness.

But I also agree with Darrell and some of the other (you could call us ‘green meme’) commentators on this thread – that unlike other things the Church might mourn, such as the energy crisis or genocide in Darfur, this is a matter wholly of our own making and within our purview to change. In stages of grief, if grieving doesn’t lead to fresh beginnings and new action, the griever is stunted in her growth. So let’s move on.

How might we do this? Well, if Catholics want to appeal to tradition and authority, and Protestants want to appeal to conscience and Scripture, maybe we can all agree to hold these in abeyance while taking a moment to appeal to Jesus. (Ack – I realize upon typing this that it can sound awfully one-sidedly Protestant, even Pietist. Bear with me a moment…)

If I may be so presumptuous, I think Jesus agrees with your growing realization that there are legitimate boundaries to the community of faith – that there are mysteries to be stewarded, and hard roads to walk, and that while hospitality is a crucial part of our vocation as apprentices to him, there are also places where the general public simply won’t go – and this is fine. Inclusive green meme progressives like us struggle with this a bit, but Jesus deliberately thinned out the crowds from time to time – speaking in enigmatic parables, ratcheting up Moses’ law a thousand-fold to show the heart of God’s reign, and ultimately inviting followers to a challenging third way path between Roman hegemony and reactive Jewish intransigence. In this way Jesus brought a ‘sword,’ and families were divided over what to do about him and his message. So Jesus is exclusive, yes?

And I hardly need to argue in this esteemed audience that Jesus is inclusive, too. Maybe cranky and reluctant at times, but reaching out to Samaritan women and Roman centurions and – most significantly – to lowest-caste Jewish folks of his day that polite society and religious elites wouldn’t countenance. Jesus seems to genuinely enjoy the company of the outcast and ne’er-do-well.

And Jesus gave us a meal – sometimes somber, sometimes joyous, in re-membrance of him, embodying Christ for the sake of each other and the world. And the question we post-Christendom, postmodern friends of God in the way of Jesus are asking ourselves is,

How then shall we eat?

And with whom?

Recognizing that there are initiation rituals and boundary rituals in any religious group, we could then ask the question what are our boundary rituals, and what are our initiation rituals? And is Eucharist the former or the latter? I know that official Roman Catholic polity – and that of many other communions – say that Eucharist is the former, it’s a boundary ritual reinforcing membership in Christ’s Body.

Byzantine/Anglo-Catholic liturgist Richard Fabian makes a brief-but-compelling case for reversing the well-tread order of Baptism and Eucharist in his essay First the Table, Then the Font. I’m not going to reiterate his arguments here, but it’s well worth the read. Summarizing him from my point of view, I have to ask the question “How did Jesus eat with others in his earthly life? Were they initiation meals, or boundary-maintenance?” I have to conclude that, overwhelmingly, in his eating Jesus is precisely at his most inclusive. This is when he dines with terrorists and sex workers and tax collectors, whilst the religious authorities of his day were disgusted.

“But oh,” contemporary religious authorities might object, “his final meal this side of the grave – the one where I told his followers to keep eating in remembrance of him – that was just with his inner circle.” Granted, but let me ask you this: If Jesus was asking his followers to eat in his manner to celebrate his presence among them, would they be drawing solely on this one ‘final’ meal, or the collective memory of their years shared together? To put it another way: If the Church wants to insist on a closed, bounded-set meal based on one night of our Lord’s life, shouldn’t it work equally vigorously to celebrate the scandalously inclusive, no-strings-attached manner of eating our Redeemer practiced during the vast majority of his public ministry?

Religious thinking is so bass-ackward sometimes. We’re afraid of ourselves, and afraid of the ‘outside world.’ We think of boundaries as something that we need to institute and enforce, externally, while gratuitous inclusion is something that will result in our loss of distinction and identity. Jesus seemed to reverse this pattern, finding his identity in complete open-handed invitational inclusion at the site of the shared meal, with boundary naturally arising in his call to follow him. It’s good branding, really – being salt and light both attracts and repels different people, or even the same people at different times – even ourselves at different stages of life’s journey.

With this said, I realize that – both practically and intentionally speaking – Eucharistic celebration is primarily for the edification of committed apprentices of Jesus; it is not ‘evangelistic’ per se in its design. Even so, it is invitational when practiced in the way of Jesus. We needn’t be concerned that abject heathens are going to keep beating down our doors to participate in a ritual that they disrespect and that holds no meaning to them – it just ain’t happening, folks. On the other hand, atheists, agnostics, sinners and ne’er-do-wells might just be curious enough to participate alongside us – to see if they can belong before believing, to see if they can ‘taste and see that the Lord is good.’ I long to see creative, prophetic acts of public worship, like my friend Lucas Land proposes in Eucharist as Eat-In. If we unshackle Jesus from our exclusionary practices, the transforming love of God can spill into the streets and the ‘profane’ lives or ordinary people – through our supposed ‘means of grace’ that we keep shut up.

That’s what happened to another friend, Sara Miles, who stumbled into Fabian’s congregation over a decade ago. I loathe to think of where Sara, her city, and even her congregation would be had she not been allowed to encounter Jesus at a no-strings-attached Communion table in her neighborhood. I shudder to think of how Jesus is being shuttered up in buildings across this world – what we’re missing out on by not making liturgy the work of the people, for the people.

I’m sorry, Carl – I got into the very argument that you didn’t want to have. And I’m going to ratchet it up slightly here – I don’t think that Darrell was being overly unkind or by describing the closed-handed exclusivity of certain Eucharist practices as ‘demonic.’ This needn’t be seen in an overly polemic way, but rather in the spirit of the apostle Paul, when he wrote a church to say he was giving one of its members “over to the devil.” This wasn’t a curse, but a naming of things as they really are in hopes of full repentance and restoration. I can’t – and won’t – stand in judgment of denominations that fence the table from all who don’t have confessional unity with them. But I do sniff the smell of fear and sulphur around such behavior at an institutional level, at what Walter Wink would call “the Powers” (demonic again. 🙂 ) And I do pray that such power will be broken – for Christ’s sake, and the sake of the world.

If anyone wants to do some theological heavy-lifting on the matter, I’d recommend (in addition to Fabian’s essay above) Come to the Table by Anglican priest Jamie Howison – the full book is available here. Also Making A Meal of It: Rethinking the Lord’s Supper by United Methodist minister and theologian Ben Witherington III. And to be fair to another perspective (thanks Carl for pointing these resources out), Episcopal priest and Thomas W. Phillips Chair in Religious Studies professor at Bethany College in West Virginia Jim Farwell has staked a lot on a generous-but-boundary-keeping stance on limiting Communion to the baptized. His essay Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus: On the Practice of  ‘Open Communion,’ as well as its rejoinder by Kathryn Tanner can be found on the Anglican Theological Review website here. (Interestingly, for me anyway, I took a class with Farwell nearly a decade ago on Eastern Religion with a focus on Zen and interreligious dialogue at Berry. It’s a small Body of Christ…)

It’s also worth noting that, in true house church fashion, I think that the Eucharist is best celebrated as a full meal – why redact God’s feast into a notional meal only? But that’s a subject for a whole ‘nother post…

A People’s History of Christianity

I was privileged to emcee a public conversation between Diana Butler Bass and Brian McLaren at the World Future Society conference last summer on the future of North American Christianity in conjunction with Foresight@Regent. Diana’s in-depth personal, historical, and anthropological knowledge of the Church in her many facets is quite striking  – and, I’m imagining,  what so many local congregations and denominational bodies she consults with find particularly helpful. So imagine my delight when my very own copy of her just-released A People’s History of Christianity arrived in my mailbox! I haven’t read much beyond the introduction yet, but I’ll be taking it on the plane with me to the New Mexico conference tomorrow.

Here’s what others are saying about A People’s History

https://i2.wp.com/images.contentreserve.com/ImageType-100/0293-1/%7BF00518F7-1EC3-4F96-8FF1-E1060BA4EBCE%7DImg100.jpg“It would be difficult to imagine anyone reading this book without finding some new insight or inspiration, some new and unexpected testimony to the astonishing breadth of Christianity through the centuries.”
—Philip Jenkins, author of The Lost History of Christianity

“A perfect armchair companion for contemporary Christians. Charmingly written and refreshing to read, yet rich in details and thorough in its mapping of the major themes and events that have shaped the evolution of the Western Church, A People’s History of Christianity is our story re-told with both clear-eyed affection and a scholar’s acumen.”
—Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence

“In this beautifully written history, Diana Butler Bass reveals the living, beating heart of love at the core of Christian faith.”
—Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread


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