Category Archives: change

Baby Jesus with a full set of teeth

dangersignOn Sunday, Dec. 14, at Jacob’s Well I was exploring what it meant that the magi (or kings or wisemen) – a bunch of outsiders – knew that “the king of the Jews” had been born, but no one inside knew it.  [Read Matthew 2] Interesting… in fact Herod not only didn’t know, but when he caught wind of the possibility he used that information to try to stop it.

I commented that, at its worst, the church does the same thing. The institutional church is humanity’s plot to acknowledge God, because it can’t do otherwise, but to de-claw and render God harmless. It doesn’t want God upsetting what it has going.

Then I shared that it is the hope of Jacob’s Well, and the need for every person who is part of it, to make sure that God is allowed to be dangerous. To let the pregnancy of God’s advent turn our world upsidedown and never leave things the same.

The infant Jesus is a beautiful and gentle sign, but it is important to remember that he had a full set of teeth. He meant and still means business. We want to be the kind of church that lets God be dangerous.

Advent Conspiracy

I wish I’d known about this project a few months instead of a few weeks ago. (Where was I?!? Well, anyway, see the video we showed Sunday, Dec. 14, below.)

While the project is new, the conspiracy of which it speaks has been going on for a long time. Jesus was God’s trump card in the process. As we talk about “Missing God” at Jacob’s Well these four Sundays before Christmas (Nov 30 – Dec 21) we are looking at all the places that God is around, bigger than life, but we keep missing it. Advent, God coming into the world, is exactly this. It is the world pregnant with God’s presence waiting to burst out at the right time – and it is continually the right time.

This was God’s conspiracy to disrupt our complacency, to wake us from our indifference, to get our eyes off ourselves, to open our hearts and minds to God’s presence and the possibilities which exist when God is that real and present. May we be part of the change!

Thanks to the work by the folks at www.adventconspiracy.org

Discovery

Another eye for beautyPreaching is always autobiographical for me. Not that I talk about myself, but what I’m talking about is something that I am struggling with. I guess that if I don’t find the content for my message personally engaging and at least somewhat troubling, I keep looking for something more worthy of all our time. Sometimes when i’m preaching I get caught off guard by how personal what I have to say is for me. It happened today.

Our service at Jacob’s Well was starting off a series preparing for Christmas called “Missing God.” I am convinced that to know the heart of God is to know poverty. Not just people in poverty, but poverty in you. Obviously not just economic poverty either, but that fundamental condition of humanity of being in want.  Poverty is good, in fact beautiful, but that’s another blog entry, or perhaps listen to the message ( 11.30.2008 ) on our site. Our neediness is our open door for God. It is acknowledgement that there is a hole inside that someone else must fill for us. At the end of the service we invited people to write what was missing in their life, what was in want, on a sticky note and then to come forward and stick them on a big box.

I had to do it too, of course. I was surprised, at first, that even though I’d talked about this so easily and thought about the concept so long, that I really didn’t know what I would write on the note. But then when I began to put the pen on paper my poverty was so clear. I really didn’t have to think. It was clearly more obvious than I wanted it to be. God showed up. For me. I wonder why I find that surprising… shouldn’t I assume God will? I do, I guess, but it still amazes me when it happens.

More on Churches and Buildings

Some great comments on the last post have generated more thoughts.

Laurie, you DO make sense. Church buildings are an UnLearning issue. It is hard, and we are truly at a loss of how to operate and relate to THE church when the building isn’t there.

Monica, thanks for your thoughts too. First, this posting is meant to be an extreme statement to get us thinking, not a final and complete declaration. I would point back to Laurie’s comments though. Thinking outside the building, outside this church-box, is a hard adjustment. There are good uses and purposes of a building, but I’d challenge us to be more creative in how we meet those space needs.

Do we need to own buildings to house our presence? Can we rent, share, multi-use facilities? Cooperate with other, even non-church, organizations? There are many examples of this already. Unfortunately it is not the norm, and it is often perceived as a sign of weakness that a church borrows, rents or shares space.

Buildings tend to isolate us and separate the many Bodies of Christ from one another. We each need the ministry going on in our church. Ultimately I like the idea that we learn to head to people rather than a place when we have needs. After all, people, not places, will be how God acts sooner or later.

And face it, if I really want to go to a quiet place to meditate, I probably wouldn’t head to the kind of place we would be able to afford to do it, but would go to God’s great sanctuary out-of-doors, or to the Basilica, or maybe on the sidewalk outside our local police precinct, or the emergency entrance of HCMC anyway…

Lots of stuff to think about. Let’s be creative.

May churches build people always, and buildings when we must.

“Building” – A verb, not a noun for churches!

A blog I check out periodically called “Struggles with Faith” had a great posting that echoes our thinking at Jacob’s Well (see my April 2 post, “Irresistible Revolution – 2“) about the purpose of a building and WHO, not WHAT, the real ‘church’ is.  “Struggles'” posting is “Is God Done with the Church?”  Here is the link,

Two thoughts that it triggered in me that I want to add to Precarious Pastor are:

1. From both a conceptual and a practical perspective it may not make sense for churches – that is, communities who gather as a body to follow Christ – to have buildings.  Let the bricks & mortar of the temple continue to be the flesh &  blood of the sons and daughters of God.  (John 2.12-22)  I’ll throw this notion out to whoever is listening… er, reading… I’m sure to make someone mad with this…

To have a building should be the exception, not the norm.

Only churches who cannot meet the daily needs of their ministry through shared spaces should ‘resort’ to having their own.  The situation today is clearly the opposite.  Having a building is the norm and, in fact, legitimizes the church (or perhaps ‘the institution’).   I’d love to hear a congregation say, “Well, i’m afraid we’re going to have to do it… I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to build something.”

2. Churches should be 7 day a week communities.  (Anyone hear echoes of Lyle Schaller’s 1992 book, “The Seven-Day-A-Week Church”?) But the point isn’t to use your building 7 days a week (although if you have a building, I suppose you would feel like you need to in order to justify it.  Therefore go back to point #1).  The point is that the church (i.e. the people!) should be the church everyday, everywhere.  Those that claim that community as their checkpoint of growing towards God should see themselves as such all day, every day.  Not just half days on Sunday.

“Building” should be what churches do, not what they have.  A verb, not a noun.  Building faith, building character, building community, building bridges, building lives.  Building a building?  Only when you’ve exhausted all other options.

Olympic Protests or National Accountability?

Olympic Torch Protest in Paris

The protests over the Olympics have really gotten my attention.  My very first reaction was why would people mess with this wonderful tradition of the Olympics and the carrying of the torch.  I mean, what could be better than that?  But that isn’t the point, is it…  People aren’t protesting the Olympics, but they feel compelled to speak against the host country.  They are saying ‘something is rotten in Denmark’ (or China, in this case) and we can’t just say, “Rah Rah Olympics” when the host is oppressing a nation (Tibet, again, in this case).

Now I’ve no intention to comment on human rights abuses in the People’s Republic of China.  But I find the idea that the world (i.e. citizens of other countries a long, long way away from them, and with little or no say in that country) feel it is within their rights, responsibilities, even duty to hold China accountable.  I realize expatriated Tibetans, who are very involved with the situation are doing a lot of the protesting, but their support comes from their new countries of residence.

One of the unhelpful responses is for us westerners to point our fingers at China and say, “Ha, teaches you right.  You are doing bad things and the world is unhappy with you.”  We are tempted to do that because China has us all scared silly with their growing muscle in the economic, research, population, manufacturing, etc worlds.  You name it, after being in the lead so long we don’t know what to do with the fact that we see a much bigger vehicle approaching quickly in our rearview mirror.

The fact is that the world is shrinking.  While the world is getting more and more sophisticated and urban anonymity is more and more available to us, we are also getting closer and closer to each other.  We have a million ways, and a million watchdogs helping us look over each others’ shoulders.  And so our noses are in each others’ business.  Rightly or wrongly… doesn’t matter.  We are doing it.

Here is the other fact, lest we be smug Americans (this could also be written for Europeans, Australians, Japanese, whoever… but I’ll let them speak for themselves).  If the Olympics were to be held in the U.S. the torch bearing would be going no more smoothly.  Can you think of any nation whose citizens wouldn’t be stopping the torch and saying, “Out of Iraq!”  or “You’re not our policeman!” or “Clean up your industry before you tell others to do it!” or “Free the detainees in Guantanamo!” or “Restore Civil Rights in your country!”

Again, I’m not endorsing those critiques (although I do have my opinions; you have to buy me a beer, not just read my blog to get those), but I am saying that the same accountability the ‘world’ is leveling at China would also be leveled against us.  And we’d have to face it.  Here’s what we can have control over… actually two things:

1. Is it a good thing?  Is this just entitled judgmentalism on a global scale?  Or is it a global conscience learning how to flex its muscle? I’d venture a guess that it is a little bit of both and that such attempts are probably the only way the global community will learn to be mature with its new found power.  Besides, its going to happen, might as well get the adolescent acne stage going so it can be over with.

2. Are we going to seek to be ‘above scrutiny’ or not?  Is there, at least some, truth in the charges coming from all quarters that we can learn from? Again, I’ll venture a guess and say, “yes.”

Are there some early sounds of the kingdom of God in these groans of childbirth?  Hmmm…

The Irresistible Revolution – 3

Is Jacob’s Well very, very new? Or very, very old?

The Irrestible Revolution

A common theme in Claiborne’s book is the echoes of the past that he feels in what he is doing.  He compares his ‘reformation’ (my word, not his) to that of St Francis of Assisi (p.65) and others – even Jesus!  I don’t think he is wrong.  But what he is doing is so future too.  He is very ‘disestablishment’ and trying to make the church speak to a new generation rather than the past.

I ask the same question about Jacob’s Well.  Yeah, we are very modern.  We use current music, video, a lot of high tech stuff (we had our trailer “stolen” once so we had to put a service on without all our ‘toys’ and we found it went just fine.  Although I think we all agree the toys add a lot.)  But I also feel like we are really, really old.  No, we aren’t part of the emergent church movement doing the ‘ancient future’ thing (google it if you don’t know what ancient future is), but we are doing the original thing.  We are taking our passion for what God is up to, and connecting it to our lives using the language and stuff of our age.

Isn’t that what the 1st century church did? This is really old stuff.

UnLearn Religion… again

A few more thoughts from Sunday at Jacob’s Well:

“The greatest UnLearner of all time is God.  Face it,  God had a problem.  God created us with so much hope and promise and it wasn’t panning out.  We turned away and kept walking.  So God decided that to learn how to truly be what God wanted to be for us, God would need to unlearn what it meant to be God.  We call that unlearning event, ‘Jesus.’  And it was hard.  It is always hard when we leave the competence of what we know how to do – even if it wasn’t working – and we have to learn a new way.  It was about 30 years of the toughest unlearning and relearning that could be imagined, so that God could come out of that experience and provide 3 years of the greatest leadership that this world will ever see.  It changed the world forever.

If God had to UnLearn being God to offer the true relationship God sought to have with us, who are we to think we don’t have to UnLearn what it means for us to be followers of Jesus?”

– – – – –

“Why do we need to UnLearn?  To be ready for a world that has seen too much, gotten too big and too interconnected to swallow ‘Christianity’s’ certainties – which are really an illusion of knowledge, a disguise of ignorance, a refusal to unlearn and relearn – so that we can touch humanity as God wants us to.”

===

Both of the quotes above from my message on Sunday (they are approximate, I don’t use a script) are inspired (and maybe partly created?) by Ron Heifetz of the Harvard/Kennedy School of Govt.  I heard him speak at a Leadership Network event in Dallas some years ago.  He, along with Jim Collins, Neil Cole and others really drove the unlearning concept home.  I heard him speak again at the Carlson School (part of the U of M) last week which made me pull out my old notes.  Good stuff.  Smart man.

UnLearn Religion

UnLearn

At Jacob’s Well we are focusing on UnLearning these days.  (Earlier blog on unlearning)  And since we are a church we need to start at  home,  so it was  UnLearn Religion.  God wants us to  UnLearn it so we can ReLearn Relationship.

I want your constant love, not your animal sacrifices.  I would rather have my people know me than burn offerings to me.    Hosea 6.6 (TEV)

Something that spoke ‘convictingly’ (is that a word?) to me that I shared was this simple distinction between religion and relationship, between being a Christian and following Jesus.  It is this,

“Being a follower of Jesus means that you give up deciding where you will apply Jesus to your life, and instead discover where Jesus wants to take you.”

That is a scary concept that I hope to get good at!

The Irresistible Revolution – 1

The Irrestible Revolution

We are reading Shane Claiborne’s book, The Irresistible Revolution: living as an ordinary radical at Jacob’s Well right now. I read it some time ago and have often returned to it. I picked it up again this morning as I was getting ready to speak tomorrow and nearly read the whole thing again. Sometimes I can’t believe I hadn’t read it before we started Jacob’s Well (other than the fact that it hadn’t been published yet…) because it speaks to the heart of what we seek to be about as a congregation.

Our Groups are using the books, so get in one. And no, you don’t have to be a Jacob’s Well person. It may help if you live in the Twin Cities area, however. But even if you aren’t in a Group. Pick it up (available at our services) and read it. You will want to discuss it. I’ll be at Turtle Bread (48th & Chicago) on Wed. night at 7 for anyone who wants to talk about it. Come join me. Or if you can’t make that, start commenting on this blog. I’ll make notes as we go.

So one way or another, join in.

Oh, something to start with.  In his intro (p. 20) Shane writes:

I don’t really fit into the old liberal-conservative boxes, so it’s a good thing we are moving on to something new.  My activist friends call me conservative, and my religious friends call me liberal.  What I often get branded is “radical.”

Now there’s a compliment!