Category Archives: doubt

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 – 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!

Beyond the Crazy and the Anti

Scary Jesus (Picture by Ryan Kelly, printed in the City Pages.)

Boy, people who think God matters and are willing to cast aside the mindsets that are so deeply set, like the twin ruts a tractor leaves on a muddy road, sure have a big job ahead of them. But before I get into that I say welcome back to any readers… it has been a LONG time since I’ve posted here… My only excuse, and my least favorite, is being too busy. Everyday brings great stuff to me that I want to blog on… and the month passes by.

Back to the tire ruts.

The Twin Cities free distribution newspaper City Pages has a cover story in their most recent issue (March 5, 2008) called “Jesus Weekend: When teens encounter Christ, all hell breaks loose,” by Matt Snyders.  It is no surprise that an edgy, urban newspaper geared towards the young professionals would be willing to be looking for a potshot or two about religion.  What this article represents is the antagonism towards organized religion that most of the younger generations (can I say most people under 60?!?)  That is the one tire rut.

The other is what they are reacting to.  The conservative, save your soul attitude that is so prevalent in Christian circles.  The article is about a TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) weekend retreat.

As a new church that is trying to re-invent church to be authentic to what Jesus said and did, and to who people truly are today, I don’t want to fall into either of these well worn ruts.  In fact I would hope to help people out of each.  Can we represent a reason for people to climb out of their cynicism of what it means to be a community that seeks to follow Jesus?  Can we help people escape easy answers, formulaic ways of being recognizably ‘Christian’ or ‘saved’ in order to live the messy and lifelong pursuit of knowing and reflecting God?  I think so.  But the ruts are so deep, that it is hard to let people know we aren’t in one or the other, or to keep people from insisting that if we aren’t in their rut, then we are automatically in the other one.

I don’t want to just be in between the ruts, I want to leave them behind.  UnLearn them.  Rise beyond them.

Let me give credit to those I’m reacting to… Matt Snyder did a good job in his article. He was willing to experience it all and didn’t take sniper shots from the safety of his office.  He also was willing to acknowledge the good that came from the weekend.  His last paragraph, if nothing else, concedes this.  And his skepticism is well-founded.

TEC is also the means of good people intending to do good things.  They are taking time, energy and money to deal with a generation of young people who, in so many ways, have lost their rudders.  They do some good work and are not the only ones who aren’t perfect.  Until we have replaced their efforts it is hardly fair for us to say they shouldn’t be doing what they feel is right.  No one is forced to go (except perhaps someone sent by a consenting parent.)

That said, let us find ways to live out this calling where God matters with relevance and honesty.

So, how DOESN’T God speak to us?

This post is a response to ‘Laurie’s’ comment to my “How Do You Find a Church?”

I think we hear God when we get quiet enough. When we journal. When we talk to people who have wisdom beyond our own. When we have long soulful conversations until 2 a.m. with a glass of wine (usually red). When we get close to ‘the fire.’ Times when we break our routine and open a window – preferably, but not necessarily, to the right direction. I know I often hear God when I exercise intensely. That’s why I like running by myself and never take music, those things take over the experience and I seldom hear from God.

BUT, more than any so-called Spiritual experiences I am convinced, like you, Laurie, that God just hangs out and waits for chances to tap our shoulders and get our attention. More often than not we don’t need deep spiritual wisdom from God, just a good reminder of what God taught us long ago. Typically the label on the back of my credit card that says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.” (Hebrews 13.5) is all I need to hear from God when I want to buy something.

Is there any sense to the notion that it isn’t so much ‘how God speaks to us’ as ‘how DOESN’T God speak to us?’

After all, The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies proclaim God’s handiwork. (Psalm 19.1) Sounds like it must be hard NOT to be hearing and seeing God’s presence all the time.

Reading the Bible today

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I’ve had some great conversations with some folks lately. I am continually impressed with the questions and depth of personal investment people have in what they are struggling with. Most who meet me to talk over a cup of coffee or an email are thinking about faith, and one of the regular themes is the Bible. How do we understand, use, believe that book?

Clearly the way the Bible has been treated as an “inerrant and infallible” writing come from God isn’t working anymore. Is the Bible less than it once was? Or is it less to us than it is among some churches who cling to those claims? Wrong question!

Truth has a different role today. In a world that is as pluralistic as ours and where assumptions are not just challenged everyday, but dumped on their head, authority and absolutes just aren’t what they once were. Frankly, I think the Bible is becoming more alive and, theologically speaking, is becoming more powerful as it steps down from its ivory tower and starts living with us. Are there rumblings of Jesus in that statement?!?! Hope so…

Jacob’s Well was founded on the conviction that the Bible is not only relevant, but it is foundational. THE writing among many writings that have true spiritual strength. But it isn’t an instruction book. It’s truth is mined, not just spread like frosting. It’s truth is contingent on our willingness and ability to subject ourselves to it, and to bring our lives into the story. Indeed, without application to our lives there is no truth there at all. Just writing. Or as I like to say, the ‘book’ itself, white pages with black (or red, ugh… I am not a fan of red-letter Bibles… another blog…) is the dead word of God. The living word of God is embracing the people behind and before the story; the telling of the story around the fire at night 1000’s of years ago, the gradual recording of it, the editing, the compiling, the translation, the reading, the interpreting, the sharing of it. This on-going process is where inspiration happens, every step of the way. God’s word is alive when, and only when, humanity and humans engage and wrestle with the writing this way.

That means the Bible is contextual.  This is not its weakness but it’s strength and we live in a world today that is willing and able to see that!  I contend that it is comprised of universal truths (as far as human words speaking from particular contexts can express them) and the application of those truths. Our task, to read and apply the truths, and to learn from the application of truths (not to mimic them). That puts us in the messy situation of deciding which is which, but what about living by faith isn’t messy?

I read Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed (www.jesuscreed.org), when I have time (he writes a lot!). A week or so ago he blogged the notes below that are very interesting. They talk(in ‘theologian-speak’) about what Jacob’s Well is built on. These are six points that he believes characterize the emerging church’ s relationship with the Bible and “the Story” of what the Bible is pointing to. He seems to think they are healthy trends. I’d add that they are both healthy and inevitable. Deal with them! Interestingly they come from both sides, i.e. they show how post-modern culture is putting ‘religion’ in its place to make room for the Real World, and also putting ‘modernism’ in its place to make room for the Story. Here they are:

1. De-throning science as the sole Story.
2. En-throning a subjectivity as part of the real Story.
3. Embracing a local story as part of the real Story.
4. Epistemic (that means ‘intellectual’) humility about what one concludes from the Bible.
5. Acceptance of myth and fiction as capable of truth-telling. (I really love this one! Watch for a worship series on this before too long!)
6. Admission of cultural influence on all texts, even the Bible.

Any comments from wrestlers? Or from people who think we’re not supposed to be wrestling? I’d love to hear from either… just gives me another thing to wrestle with.

Guiding Authentic Spiritual Growth

I looked at the last post [“Which is the greater danger?  Heresy or Blind Compliance”] and I had to say, “Let people make mistakes.”  I completely agree with the concept of letting people take ownership of their faith even though they will and do make mistakes.  And that ownership only happens when people learn for themselves.  But that word “for” is a big one.  It is “for themselves” not “by themselves.”

That means I don’t think it is helpful or responsible to let people wallow around in sloppy thinking or fall prey to deceptive thinking.  It happens too easily.

I’m going to start sketching out a formula for what I try to do, and I hope others will add comments and ideas and raise up examples that others have come up with.

One – Pray – The is a holy process that God’s Spirit is involved with.  It starts here, grows here and ends here.

Two – Scripture – Model a balanced approach to reading the Bible (primarily) and other writings.

Three – Vision – Supply vision for the purpose of faith and what it means to be a Christ follower in your context.

Four – Groups – Create and support opportunities for individualized learning and conversation.  Give general guidance to these experiences, but don’t manage them.

Five – Service – Encourage and give opportunities to people to practice what they believe.

Six – Listen – Leaders learn from what the larger body is discerning.  This allows the body to mature spiritually.

Start process over…

This was just a quick shot at the process… It is an inexact process and certainly full of holes.  Help me with them.  But then… maybe the holes are the faith part…

Which is the greater danger?

Heresy or Blind Compliance

Which way

Last Sunday, in talking about what it means to know Jesus, I talked about the ways it happens. There are a few obvious choices; like worship, the Bible, prayer, community.  But I offered a small stretch in ‘nature,’ saying that God wove patterns into creation that remind us of God’s truths for us.  Often these expressions capture God’s truth better than our words.  Then I took it a step further and offered that we get to know Jesus through ‘other writings and teachings.’  I said that something doesn’t have to be stamped ‘Christian’ to teach what God wants us to know.  Indeed, it could be far from God’s truth and still bear have the label.

I expected some phone calls and emails for that and was pleasantly surprised that all I got was a few thanks for saying it.  It is very consistent with our Jacob’s Well core values, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but it may just mean no one was listening…

God’s truth is what lies behind and in all that exists.  As such it is so big we can’t hide it forever.  It oozes out of every pore in our world, often especially where we least expect it.  That doesn’t mean that all things are good or helpful.  Much is not.  What is so important is that we don’t need to be afraid.  We can look and learn anywhere and everywhere.  Let Christ be the filter.  Trust the Spirit to guide us, and to rescue us from our errors.  Keeping ‘in the box’ of Christian teaching has certainly never prevented heresy in the past.

The point isn’t that Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, humanism, etc. is right or wrong, but rather that God is so big that God’s truth can’t be hidden forever.  Different cultures, perspectives, languages, eras will inevitably express and hide God’s truth in ways that are novel to us.  Don’t be afraid, that’s the key.  Be humble, admit mistakes, don’t try to justify what isn’t working and keep the heart of the Bible at the heart of your searching.

Spiritual Manipulation

I had a great conversation yesterday with a ‘jacob’s-well-checker-outer.’ He represents people whom I love to talk to because they are searching and critically discerning at the same time. They bring hope and skepticism to the table simultaneously. I see a lot of me reflected in such people.

One of the things we talked about is the danger of manipulation of people by religious organizations. There are certainly enough examples of it – Jonestown in Guyana comes to mind, but that is the extreme. The danger of manipulation comes from people allowing another person to tell them what to do or think. What happens at church can certainly fall into that category; people come looking for a ‘Word from God,’ and the leaders, often a pastor, offers to supply that Word.

Do I manipulate people? I want to say no, and I can confidently say that I never do it intentionally for purposes that are self serving, but that is where I have to ask just what the difference is between manipulation and inspiration. It is the church’s job to open people’s hearts, to lead them places they wouldn’t go otherwise, to touch their emotions. Is that manipulation? Is the difference between inspiration and manipulation the motivation behind it? After all, to manipulate literally means to alter something manually, with an intentional act. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t try to create that nexus between God and people andso that something happen there.

In my message tomorrow as part of our High Definition Living series I am talking about “God’s HD Signal” (forgive the comparison…). God’s ‘signal’ or message is different from others because of how much ‘bandwidth’ it holds, that is, how comprehensive it is in addressing all aspects of our lives. I’ll mention Jesus’ Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength.” God wants to get into every nook & cranny of us, and make us different.

I don’t want people to ever feel manipulated, but I do want people to feel moved – by God, through me, and the music, the community, the environment, everything. I guess we need to demonstrate transparency, ask people to not be passive receivers but to engage in the process, to test out what they experience at Jacob’s Well. And I need people to trust me. I know that I need to earn that trust. I don’t expect it to be given me just because I am ‘the pastor’ or the person up front. If anything, I see those things as barriers to gaining people’s trust because it removes me from their experience. I also need to ask people to risk. To be willing to be vulnerable to God’s work through our worship experiences and other places in their lives – not to turn off their brains or to live in a fantasy world, but to dare to see and experience things in a way in which they aren’t in control.

Trouble

Why do I think I’m going to get into trouble with that last post?

Well, I hope it stirs up some thinking, if nothing else.  Give me your feedback.

Taboo

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On Sunday (9/16) we tried something different (which is normal) at Jacob’s Well.  We had decided that the “What if…?” question was a public question.   We were trying to engage the community with possibilities this way, so why not in worship? After my message we played a song and then I did the Oprah thing and roamed among the seats and asked if people had a ‘what if’ to share, or comments  / questions about the message.

First, I have to say that it takes a lot of skill to pull this stuff out of people in a situation like this; they had virtually no warning.  I don’t have that skill yet… It probably wasn’t the smartest way to do it either, but then, that’s what Jacob’s Well is all about.  Trying things for good reasons and seeing where they lead.  And I like to be a good example in forgiveness-getting.

To my surprise people did rise to the occasion!  Why should I have doubted it?  I wasn’t overwhelmed with people but several spoke up and said some very good things that gave me a chance to respond (probably talk too much) and help fill out the message in directions that people were actually thinking.

The “taboo.”  One person told my wife after the service that he had a “what if” but didn’t think it was appropriate to say it in the service.  Kris asked what it was.  He said, “What if there isn’t a God?”

I love it.  That is a great “what if.”  Maybe the best one.  In the evening service I shared it and said that his “what if” inspired mine, which was, “What if there was a church where people could admit that they wondered if there really was a God?”  If not, then I can’t be the pastor because it is one of my “what ifs” at least a couple times a day.

After the service a first timer said she thought it was so cool that everyone could get involved with the theology in the service.  I said, “What if there was a church where that could happen…?”