life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

My Photo
Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Friday, April 29, 2005

there has to be a choir...

My daughter is taking a class for her Contemporary Christian Ministries major called Music in the Church. She called me yesterday to see what ideas and resources I could offer. Frustration oozed through her words as she described her final project/paper for the class, not because of the work, but because of the parameters she was given within which the work must be accomplished.

Part of the task is preparing a worship service thematically, choosing songs, sermon title, readings, etc. Not a bad project at first glance. Perhaps this conversation related to me by my daughter (and probably quite paraphrased by me) will serve to illustrate the problem:

“I want you to prepare this service, and I want you to include a choir in the service.”

“What if we don’t have choirs in our churches?”

“I still want there to be a choir.”

“What if my particular church has a thing against choirs?”

“I still want there to be a choir. And I want you to use a choral piece, not just a song that the congregation would sing. And using the reasons I gave you for using and not using particular songs, I want you to tell me why you would use the songs you choose and why you would leave some others out.”

Funny thing is, this particular instructor has been touting how this is to be a non-denominational worship approach, either liturgical or non-liturgical, and yet she does not allow flexibility beyond what she (the instructor) imagines as the ideal. She has very precisely and narrowly defined worship and carefully circumscribed the "proper" worship forms and theology. Imagination is out the window with the other "garbage".

I call it worship in a can. Or a box.

And it illustrates a problem that we all face that goes far beyond just worship. We define the world by our imaginings of it. Worse, our imaginings become the canon by which we judge the actions and directions of others. We say it's God, but it's not. It's us. It's our failure of imagination.

God's imagination however is not limited by ours. Nor are the limits of his work defined by our expectations. In fact, my greatest hope is that God is working in me in spite of my mistaken apprehensions of what needs to be done or how it should be done. And he's doing exactly the same thing in another person of faith somewhere who has a much different picture of what God is doing than what I believe.

Part of this failure of imagination is being too focused on what is immediately near. The older I get, the more credence I give to the story of the seven blind men of Hindustan, who, each having hold of a different part of an elephant, are convinced they know what they are dealing with. How appropriate for our time.

Personally, I’m glad to see the Holy Spirit working in all kinds of ways. IMHO, the more the better. Somehow or another, we just have to stop putting God (and each other) in a box. My great confidence is that God can work in all times, in all circumstances, in all paradigms, in all ages, and especially when we find ourselves living in the suture zone where nothing is settled or normal.

Do I believe he is leading believers in a certain direction to accomplish the in-breaking kingdom? Yes, generally speaking (do you like my specificity here?). Do I believe things are going to coalesce down the line? Yes, in a somewhat diverse way (do you like the tongue-in-cheek way I put that?), but probably long after I depart this mortal frame. In the meantime, pursue the work you are given and empowered to do by the Holy Spirit. And leave everyone else alone. God is quite capable of multi-tasking and he is quite creative in how he interacts with incredibly diverse people.

I'm for imagination run wild! Sounds dangerous, doesn't it?

Like I said in an earlier post. He just won’t stay in the box. Why don't we stop trying to force his people into one as well?

By the way, this isn’t about choirs. I happen to like them. Anyone who really knows me knows that. I just don’t think handcuffs hidden behind our backs are an appropriate way to approach either God or his people.

Canned worship? Sheesh! Somebody grab a can opener!!! (Do I really have to have a choir?)

Grace and peace!


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

we will never make it to the moon...

My grandfather didn’t believe that man would ever make it to the moon. For some of you, that accomplished fact is ancient history and you have never lived in a world where the imagination of traveling to other planets was not an accepted possibility all because of the moon landings, which happened before you were born.

The reason my grandfather held this particular belief had nothing to do with science or technology or any of the things that occupied the engineers and scientists at NASA’s Dryden, Kennedy and Johnson centers. No. My grandfather was convinced that we would never make it to the moon precisely because God would never let man make it to the moon. Obviously, he was proven wrong and mercifully the proof came after his death.

He never went into his reasoning on this and I couldn’t understand his hesitance to imagine such a thing. Perhaps it was harkening back to man’s pride at the disaster at Babel or a strong identification with Psalm 8:3f or something like that. I don’t know. But the reality is that it was a totally misplaced belief that was later proved wrong. And his imagination of the world and how God related to the world would not allow this thing to happen.

Why would I bring this up?

This kind of thinking infects everyone stuck in the modern paradigm. It is especially true that Christians of all stripes follow such reasoning. And it is precisely in such thinking that we are able to see just how imbedded our faith can be in modern constructs.

One example... miracles. True liberals denied the miracles of Jesus on the basis of modern mechanistic explanations of the universe. Miracles were an a priori impossibility to them, therefore they were “metaphorical stories” or mistaken apprehensions of primitive peoples or some other thing that explains away what happened. Conservatives on the other hand would defend the miracles of Jesus to the death. Funny thing is that most Evangelicals and Fundamentalists take the same mechanistic view of today’s world as their counterparts from the liberal persuasion. (Obviously, this example doesn’t apply to Pentecostals or charismatics. Other examples could.)

Someone has said that our major problem is a crisis of imagination. I’m beginning to believe that. We have reasons why or why not things are so or not so. All of these conveniently fit our pre-set ideas about the world. We have a picture of reality colored by someone else’s crayons and it is too hard, too exhausting, too emotionally threatening to dig through the morass of imaginings so that we might color outside the lines or with different media. In fact, it is often impossible to do in any kind of depth. We lack the imagination to envision our world and God’s Kingdom in any other way.

This is truly a crisis.

I just read a friend’s blog. He is trying to be on the cutting edge of the Kingdom. He is totally frustrated with people who are a part of what he is doing who want to hold back and drag the old paradigm along. While I’ve cautioned him and others about throwing out the baby with the bath water, I understand his frustration. While we can’t separate ourselves completely from what has come before (my posit, not his), we need some kind of drastic divorce from the imagining of it. The old imagining is infected and dying and decaying. Most of the rest of the world has left it behind. It is dragging the Kingdom in its old expression down with it. How hard it is, and yet how vital in our time, to peel the vestiges of the Kingdom which we have lumped in with “church” away from our former way of approaching life and ministry and what it means to “do church” and “be church”. How hard it is to step onto the suture zone and head for the further horizon, though we cannot yet imagine what it is.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

If you hadn’t noticed, man made it to the moon... several times. We’ve cloned animals. We’ve altered genetics. We’re even exploring suspended animation as a reality. We’ve created real-time news, instantaneous communication and can travel anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours. People have imagined these things. They have become part of today’s imagined world.

What are you up to, Lord? Where are the imaginers of your Kingdom?

God, give us dreamers, give us poets, give us storytellers and artists that can lead the way! Holy Spirit of God, only you can accomplish this! Please!!!

Grace and peace!


Monday, April 25, 2005

The Communion of Apprenticeship

Hey, everyone... I wrote this for one of our Soul'd Out emerging services. It was the written instruction that accompanied a communion station set with bread and red grape juice. (Tony printed it out on parchment using a really cool font he has. I can't remember the font name. He knows.) Communicants approached the candlelit table and presumably read these instructions. Not sure if it is helpful for anyone else, but if it is, please feel free to use it.


* * * * *

The Communion of Apprenticeship

“23Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. 24Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. 25What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” Luke 9:23-25 (The Message)

Jesus calls us to abandon our own pursuits, our own directions, our own pleasures and follow Him. He is the Master. We are the apprentices. It is a call to self-abandonment that we might truly find ourselves. It is a call to live as He lived. It is a call to recognize our weakness and to live instead in His power. It is a strong and demanding call.

The Bread

Tear off a piece of the bread. Recognize that, as the bread to us is Jesus crucified and risen, so taking it into yourself is asking Him to recreate His life in you. He, the Master. You, the apprentice. If you are willing for that relationship, place the bread in your mouth. If not, replace the bread on the tray. Whatever your choice, spend some time reflecting in prayer.

The Cup

Pick up a cup of the wine. Being an apprentice is demanding. Being an apprentice of Jesus, without His power, is impossible. Blood is the very empowering force of life. Recognize that, as the wine to us is the blood of Jesus crucified and risen, so taking it into yourself is accepting His power for the journey of self-sacrifice. Recognize that, as Paul says, “He is faithful and He will accomplish it.” If you are willing to rely on His power rather than yours, drink the cup. If not, replace the cup in the tray. Whatever your choice, spend some time reflecting in prayer.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

stuff from on high...

First, a quick aside... I'll be out of town this week working my fool head off in the Owens River Valley on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. I know I'll have connectivity Monday through Thursday nights, but I'll be out of touch probably until then. And I may be too wiped out to post anything this week. We'll see.

And now, stuff from on high...

About two or three months ago, during one of my trips to Sacramento, I noticed something peculiar outside the window. I was sitting in a guest cubicle in our satellite office on the sixth floor of the historic Senator Hotel across from the capitol. (By the way, as much as I’ve stared at the capitol building, I have yet to catch a glimpse of Arnold.) This window doesn’t face the capitol. It faces a multi-storied parking garage. But just beyond the top of the garage you can see the southern spire of the Church of the Resurrection. It’s another historic building in downtown Sacramento. And as happens with older buildings, this one is being... well, resurrected. They are doing a complete facelift/restoration.

Anyway, they were working on the upper sections of the bell towers and had scaffolding built up to the top of this spire. That’s not unusual with these kinds of jobs. What was unusual was the bright blue portapotty that was perched at the very highest section of the scaffolding.

I actually wrote something in my journal that day to remind myself of what I saw. It was a striking image. I can imagine the conversation between the workers and the foreman about the need to lift a portapotty up to such heights. And I would have hated to be the guy responsible for getting it down. (It’s gone now.)

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that image for a while. I knew it meant something, was a good picture of something. Maybe this suggests some things to you other than what I’m about to say. If so, please feel free to comment. Please remember also that we like to keep portapotties (and blogs) clean for all those who avail themselves of the facilities.

But what it suggested to me was that no matter how high up you get, no matter how structured and well-thought-out your theologies, no matter how good your questions, there is always stuff that you need to deal with, better, that God needs to deal with.

If you can imagine, too, if someone tipped the thing at the wrong moment, anyone standing beneath would be... well, it wouldn’t be pretty, would it? Perhaps it’s a good thing that it was out in the open like that. People walking underneath or staying underneath at least know that those they look to for guidance still don’t’ have it all together. And people who use that portapotty way up there can remember that they are human like everyone below. All God’s chillen’ got stuff. That’s probably one of the reasons I like reading Anne Lamott’s writing. She doesn’t window dress it at all. She lays it all – good and bad – right out there in the open.

It’s a beautiful group, the church of the resurrection, just as long as we remember that we all got stuff.

Grace and peace!


Saturday, April 23, 2005

in between... more about the suture zone

Well, I couldn't go to sleep just leaving a rant hanging out there. So there are two posts for today. Maybe this one will bless you more....

The San Andreas earthquake fault pretty much runs the length of California, more or less on a northwest-southeast line. It’s famous. Many are scared of it, and would rather live in Tornado Alley or brave hurricanes on the gulf coast or southeastern seaboard than to live in California, the land of earthquakes and the looming Big One (right, Tony?). Which is why the San Andreas is so famous. It is the meeting place of the North American and Pacific tectonic plates. And all up and down its length we find what is called the suture zone.

I was born and grew up in California. I’ve been through several major quakes. Sylmar in 1971. Coalinga. Loma Prieta. Northridge. Baker. Sometimes I’ve been closer to the epicenter. Sometimes farther away. But always knowing when I feel a gentle rolling motion of the earth that someone somewhere is frightened out of their wits and in some cases scrambling for their lives.

Sometimes it hasn’t been gentle. During the Coalinga quake I thought my entire religious library was going to come down on me. The ultimate irony for a preacher, I think. Killed by his books. Earthquakes aren’t tame. But they happen. You don’t get used to the big ones. But there are hundreds of small earthquakes that people never even feel that happen deep underground every day. And the San Andreas fault and all of the others of greater or lesser significance are part of what it means to live in California.

Most people don’t even think about it. In fact, the San Andreas is obvious in several places if you know what to look for. Driving Interstate 5 south from the San Joaquin Valley (say, from Bakersfield or Fresno or San Francisco) across the mountains to Los Angeles, you are driving for a number of miles atop the San Andreas suture zone itself. Fifteen or so miles of scrambled hills evidence the fault’s ancient presence and bear witness to the turmoil of these two plates colliding, one slowly but surely being driven under to the magma below while the other encroaches fraction of inch by fraction of inch over the millennia in constant change. Sometimes change takes place more rapidly than that. The Big One earthquakes happen and the land above the fault turns to soup and completely re-forms into scattered hill fractals in an area called the suture zone. Funny thing is, thousands and thousands of people drive atop the San Andreas every day and most of them don’t even know.

If you’ve gotten this far in my post, you may be wondering what earthquakes and suture zones and the San Andreas fault have to do with our world, the church and the in-breaking kingdom of God. Let me suggest – as the title of this blog indicates – that you and I are living through a time when we are experiencing life on the suture zone. A life between paradigms. A life in between ways of looking at, knowing and experiencing the world. A life where change is so rapid that it strains our ability to keep our footing. The ground keeps shifting. We live in between. In the suture zone.

I spent Saturday of Passion Week this year driving to and from Santa Paula.. The day before was Good Friday, remembering the execution of Jesus. (The world must wonder at our terminology – the Roman instrument of torture and death was anything but good.) Easter was the day after and celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. But that particular day was Holy Saturday. I heard it called Holy Saturday this year for the first time. It’s probably been called that for a thousand years, but, hey, I grew up in a denomination that didn’t follow the church calendar. So, it’s new to me. But it must have been one hell of a day for the disciples Jesus left behind. Literally.

That’s how in between times can be sometimes. Hellish. Solid ground turning to soup under your feet. Hundreds of random hills caught in a slow moving fractal, waiting to resolve and as yet showing no pattern. Reference points appearing and disappearing like mirages. In between.

When my wife and I traveled from Bakersfield to Santa Paula, I looked at where the suture zone starts. I thought about things as we drove over it for probably fifteen miles. We made it without incident as usual. The next day was Easter, so we stopped in Santa Paula at a Rite Aide to buy some chocolate for my mother-in-law who lives in a skilled nursing facility waiting to die. She’s 91 years old, wracked by tremendous pain, the loss of her independence, hours upon hours of little reason to live and questioning God as to why she’s still living. Seemingly trapped in between life and life.

On the way into the store I noticed a young woman, probably 15 or 16, maybe older, sitting on the sidewalk with an old dog. She had a bad case of freckles, and I could imagine other kids making fun of her at school. Her clothes were dirty and the hems of her jeans were tattered. But she sat on the sidewalk and calmly watched people as they went in and came out of the store. On our way out she asked if we could help her out with any money. I told her I would buy her some food at a nearby fast food restaurant, but she said she was collecting money for groceries. She needed dinner for three other people. I politely declined. I have made it a point not to give cash away for fear of supporting someone’s addiction – for which I should probably repent. But that’s another story. Anyway, I didn’t help. She wished us “Happy Easter” as we walked to our car. But it gnawed at me as we visited my wife’s mother.

Since I was also in between the old way of eating and the new way – one of those low carb diet induction times – not long into our visit I had to leave and get something that I could eat. I had resolved to stop and ask this young woman for her shopping list. But daylight had begun to fade and she wasn’t there. The coffee shop I was going to was in the same area as the market she had pointed to. Didn’t see her at the market as I drove by either. Saw her later in a gas station with her boyfriend, who was comparing the price of malt liquor to what they might find at a liquor store. “Are you from around here,” he asked me. “Do you know where there’s a liquor store?” “No,” I answered. “This is a pretty good deal,” he told his girlfriend. They seemed to be in between, too.

On our way home, we traveled the highway through Fillmore, and took a moment to drive along the main street of this small agricultural town. By the time we got there, the normally bright “Welcome to Fillmore” sign across its main street had turned dark, an obvious victim of small town rhythms and the soaring cost of energy. As we drove up the street the only storefronts still open and lighted were the bars and other nighttime venues. At the top of the street, all of the churches were completely blacked out. No lights at all. Appropriate, I thought, for Holy Saturday. Descriptive also, perhaps, of what the world sees on the few occasions it does look our direction. Just darkness.

Suture zones. Holy Saturday. Induction phases of low carb diets. The chasm between a 91 year-old woman and a 16 year-old runaway in between whatever it is she is running away from and whatever it is that she is running to. A town in between daylight and daylight, caught in a time when it seems nothing is happening and everything is changing and there is little or no light shining.

Sometimes the metaphors just slam me in the face. I was (and am) literally overwhelmed by what I experienced that day. As if God were making it very obvious that my world has changed. And that the context with which I as his follower approached the world when I was growing up is no longer valid. Dark. Nearly nonsensical to people who have grown up and live on the suture zone.

The tendency of course for those of faith is just not to live there. We like certainty. We like routine. We like predictability. We like comfortable sermons about how God is in control. And we repeat that to ourselves, almost as a mantra when times grow hard and unexplainable. We pull into our exclusive enclaves, cloistering ourselves so that we might maintain some sense of Christian nation or some other comfortable fiction with which we can hold back bleak reality. Our worship focuses on praise and denies lament. (You may not know this, but about two-thirds of the Psalms are lament, nearly two-to-one lament versus praise.)

There are no permanent landmarks in a suture zone. What is there today to give your world definition may not be there tomorrow. True, some of us demand to live on one side of the fault or the other. But in active times, as folks in Sumatra are discovering right now, sometimes it doesn’t matter how far away you live, you still get hit by the effects of a moving world.

Now I ‘m not saying all of this to depress you (though I may have succeeded in doing just that). Rather, I’m trying to say that God’s people have often found themselves in between. When the Israelites left Egypt their ongoing whine all the time in the desert (roughly paraphrased) was, “Moses, why did you lead us out into this God-forsaken place just to die? Didn’t we have enough to eat back there? Work wasn’t so bad back there, was it? Come to think of it, I liked it back there. Brick-making was a pretty decent job. And now look at where we are!” David spent years after being anointed as God’s chosen king before he ever ascended to the throne. And his boss, King Saul, did everything he could to prevent it. David turned out to be pretty good at the ancient game of dodge spear. Abraham never even got to possess the promised land. He lived in it all of the last half of his life as a foreigner. Christians have been living in between the first and second incarnations for 2,000 years. I would think we would be used to it by now. Behold, the old is gone, the in between has come. Again.

“So, what do we do?” you may be asking me.

I don’t know. Just hold onto God as he reveals himself and learn to live in between. Trust in the power and presence of God in his Holy Spirit. Allow Jesus to break into our in between world through you and your faith community. And recognize God’s hand by the fruit that results rather than anything else. Beyond that, I don’t know what else to say except, “Buck up, Bucko!”

Not a lot of help, I know. But neither is going back to Egypt. You think?


A lot of what one thinks is wrong or right with the church today depends on perspective. I just read a comment on another blog (not yours, Miller) that basically said planting house churches in marginal communities is the only thing Christians ought to be about today. Or at least it could be read that way.

Please don’t think that what I’m about to say means I am against house churches or against planting churches of any model. Because I am very much for that. I do believe we need to be about planting churches everywhere we can, especially among those marginalized by our society (and even by the church at times), and in whatever models we are led by God to use.

But I am incredibly grieved when I hear usually younger people state emphatically that theirs is the direction all Christians should be going, that authentic Jesus ministry can only happen in this way or that…. I’m sorry folks, but I’m just truly, truly grieved.

Do we need more house churches? Yes. Do we need emerging churches? Yes. Do we need established congregations to make the transition to missional churches? Yes. Do we need traditional churches? Yes!

To devalue the godliness and expression of Jesus represented by those who have gone before us is a grievous sin! It smacks of the judgmentalism against which so many of us are reacting today. To focus on what are obvious warts within the tradchurch is sort of like Jesus’ story about the optometrist trying to clear dust specks out of people’s eyes when there’s a log hanging out of his.

I’m sorry to be so harsh, but I know some precious, precious souls who would never make it in a house church or an emerging church or any of the newer models of church that are popping up. But if I read my Bible correctly, God loves them just as much as he loves those of us who are looking at different ways of ministry, and who understand the black eye that the tradchurch has given “church” in much of our society, and who absolutely know Jesus wants us to (fill in the blank here). Maybe Jesus wants us to stop judging. Maybe he even wants us to stop judging those who are judging us. How can mutual castigation further the kingdom of God?

All I beg of you is to have a bit of perspective. If I am right (and of course I think I am ;^) ) we are currently living through the greatest change in world view since the Enlightenment. Even if you don’t grant that, you must admit that change in communication, lifestyle, mobility, mechanics, medicine, technology, biogenetics and a hundred other things has happened more rapidly today than perhaps at any other time in man’s history. However you want to describe them – pre-modern, modern, post-modern, or any other moniker – it’s clear we have people who live in different worlds, even though they live on the same earth. They have different perspectives.

Is it too much to ask that we don’t jump to the conclusion that because God is in what we are doing, that God somehow isn’t in what someone else is doing who is doing it the old way, or a different way or whatever?

Well, now I’ve ranted. You’ll find me doing that here occasionally. If I over-reacted, I’m sorry.

I just have to ask, though. Whatever happened to grace and mercy?

Grace and peace!


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

skiing from an anchored boat...

My last post focused on treading water in a quickly moving tide. I want to suggest another way to use the same metaphor. (I know, these first few weeks are going to be heavy on the metaphors -- Tones told me last night he was about to crown me king of the metaphors or something like that. Brace yourself! There are more coming!)

Two summers ago as my son and I fished in the waters of Katchemak Bay, Alaska, a crew that we fished with anchored the boat at slack tide. That particular day had a relatively short slack tide, and before long the tide began to turn. Yet the boat stayed anchored. Too long. As the speed of the tide increased water began flowing quickly past the boat as if we were moving. Faster and faster. Fishing lines with two and three-pound weights stretched out at oblique angles from the back of the boat. A wake appeared. We seemed to be under way. But if you looked at the shore it was obvious we were not. We were staying in exactly the same place relative to the shore.

This was when I made the comment to the captain about being able to water ski behind this anchored boat. (see last post)

I remember hooking a halibut. I knew it had to be a monster. I had visions of a 100 lb. plus fish, one that we would have to tow behind the boat to get it in. (Just so this won't seem quite so selfish, I also had visions of the wonderful halibut bake I would be able to put on at the church.)

It took all of my strength to bring the fish close to the boat. In fact, it just wouldn't come close. This halibut surfaced a good 50 feet out. I was shocked at what I saw -- a five-pound baby (compared to the minimum 20 pounders we had been landing). It skimmed easily now across the water's surface as I brought it in so the deck hand could unhook and release it.

I thought it was amazing that such a small fish could fight harder than the 40+ pounder I was to land later that day. But it wasn't just the fish I was fighting. It was the current, too. The tide.

Some of us as communities of faith operate from anchored boats. When we as God's people recognize the massive changes taking place in society, we sometimes react by digging the anchor deeper and resisting the flow of the cultural current. This is true whether we come from a liberal or conservative bent. I don't know that that is such a bad thing at times. The church, after all, should be countercultural. But I have to wonder if there isn't another way. And if perhaps our focus is on things that are not quite as important to God as other things may be.

We have three choices when going through massive cultural change (something that I am assuming you agree with; if not, maybe we need to discuss). One choice is to simply go with the flow uncritically and accept the philosophies and mores and values of the world. We could become the Church of the Areopogas, the famous hill in Athens, where people spent their days in arguing new philosophies and beliefs, driven by every wind of philosophical speculation. We could float with the tide. This is an attractive alternative for some, especially among those who are cognizant of the church's modernity affliction. It is perhaps the course that takes the least energy. But this leaves us at the mercy of the tides and is not true engagement.

Mind you, I am not recommending that we avoid the environment (see option two below). But the hyper-relativism of our day, especially the prejudice against overarching stories that tie humanity together, is, in my opinion, just an over-reaction to modern thought by some post-modern people. Many post-moderns have thrown out the baby with the bath water. (Perhaps in their defense we should note that for many the bath water was so filthy that they couldn't see the baby.) Most are pretty reasonable (there's that word again!) when confronted with the absurdity of absolute relativism. It's just that they don't buy the equal absurdity of some of the conclusions reached by religious people in the grip of modernity.

There is a second obvious alternative that most conservative churches have chosen. The church must refuse to accept cultural precepts. It must refuse to swim in the cultural milieu around it. Instead, the church buries the anchor deeper and sails in place against the rushing tide of post-modernity. (Hence, the title... skiing behind an anchored boat....) There is something to be said for this approach. The church is to be countercultural in its kingdom life. But I think Jesus' way was not to simply anchor in the past either, drawing a line in the sand across which he would not go. Rather, that seems to have been the reaction of the religious leaders of his day. The ones who had it right. Instead, Jesus seemed to go wherever he wanted, talk to whomever he wanted and have parties with people that the religious establishment of the day found scandalous. Today’s Evangelical establishment, as an example, has not only taken an oppose position against the tides of our world, but has created insular communities to stand against the pagan flow of the tide. It has worked hard to politically influence the tides in an opposite direction. It has argued for strict enforcement of selected moral precepts as part of society. Unfortunately, in its pursuit of “righteousness” the church has run roughshod over moral issues of a global nature, such as the environment and the recognition of the basic humanity of every soul, and often has been absolutely hateful to anyone who disagrees with it. (I could use examples from a liberal Christian bent as well.) In short, Jesus hung out with the lepers of society. We largely don’t. Or if we do, we want to change them into people just like us. (Shudder.)

Perhaps, though, there is a third alternative.

For all of our warts as communities of faith, it seems that more than 3,000 years of combined Judeo-Christian values has had some positive effect in our world. The fact that people seem to care about curing injustice, demonstrated in such efforts as the abolition of slavery and apartheid and the championing of civil rights, seems to indicate that some of the message of the prophets and of Jesus got through. There's a shadow, an echo of godliness, a heartening hint of pre-dawn kingdom glow. Of course, it hasn't helped that the church in some venues supported slavery, created apartheid and fought against civil rights. We do have mixed reviews. But at least someone in the world was listening to something the synagogue or church said or did. At least it lit a small spark of humanity that calls for these injustices to be corrected. Astonishingly, this has often come from the hearts of all kinds of people who would be offended if we called them Christians. Could it be that in some ways the kingdom of God is breaking into the world, but not through the church as we know it? Do you think there might be conversations we could have centered around something other than doctrine, that could be other than judgmental or manipulative? Do you think we might even gain some perspective by listening in that conversation mode?

I am more than ever convinced that Jesus didn't send us into the world to convince people of some set of doctrinal facts, whether of salvation or atonement, heaven or hell, or any of the other systematic doctrines which are so precious to us Protestants. Instead he broke into the world to make it different, to make us different. People who would love God... and each other. Who would stand up against injustice and lovingly affirm anyone simply because God loves them too. Sometimes (not always) I find more of that in the world than I find in the church. Why is that?

I decided long ago that I was a poor judge of people's motives and actions. (Why do I seem to be making a judgment now? Sometimes I forget what I decided! Yikes! I know I've been somewhat judgmental of some of my Christian peers in this post. The critique is offered humbly and with full recognition that I may be wrong.) I am a poor evaluator of my own behavior, much less theirs. But I can engage people with respect and a sense of common humanity and a listening ear. I can establish relationship bridges. I can recognize commonalities between their goals and actions and the in-breaking kingdom of God, not for purposes of manipulating them, but for awe at God's work in and through people. I don't have to agree with them. They don't have to agree with me. But collectively we might be able to join forces to right injustice and to find value in those whom the rest of the world (and sadly sometimes the church) has given up on. In the process, who knows? Maybe they'll get to know the more authentic Jesus.

My advice for boats sailing in place against the tide? If you stay anchored as the tide rushes in or out, at least get out your water skis. Even better, cut the anchor rope but leave the motors running. In fact, abandon ship and dive in. Swim with and against the tide. Learn to navigate in it and to authentically engage those you find there. That is where Jesus would be, I suspect.

Brace yourself! The water is cold!

Grace and peace!


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

treading water in an Alaskan tide...

First, a confession. I love to fish! Hang around this site long enough and you'll read a blog (sometime in May, probably) dealing with that. Just to anticipate... it will involve confession, regret, great joy and memory. (Some would also say bragging, but you can judge that for yourself when the time comes.) If you think fishing is anathema, you'll need to read that post with a heart of forgiveness.

The past two summers I have been blessed to sport fish in Alaska. It is a place of breathtaking beauty and constant change. I stayed on the northern coast of the Kenai Peninsula in a very old wide spot just off the highway called Kasilof. Across Cook Inlet to the north are around 10 active volcanoes. The peninsula itself is sinking inches every year on its northern coast due to so much seismic and volcanic activity.

Then there are the tides.

There is only one place on earth with higher tides than Alaska and that is the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. The differences between low and high tides can be over 20 feet in Cook Inlet where I fished for halibut. There are two tidal changes a day (on average), which means, generally speaking, in a 24-hour period, the tide has come in and gone out twice. Can you imagine how massive a change that is?

What does this have to do with our world today?

Imagine that you are treading water in Katchemak Bay in Alaska. (Imagine at the same time that you are not dying from hypothermia within minutes of entering the water!) If you are treading water next to an unanchored boat with your eyes focused on it, nothing seems to change from your perspective. You are simply holding your position steady.

If it is during slack tide when the water is not moving, you could even look at the horizon and see very little change. But once the tide begins to move, if your focus remains only on the boat you will not realize that the horizon is moving past you very rapidly, that the bottom below you is changing depths very quickly, that you yourself are moving and that if you are not an experienced captain (or swimmer) who knows how to navigate these waters, or if you don't take your eyes off the boat and look toward the shore, you will end up on the rocks dead.

I could be wrong, but I think this is a good metaphor for the church today dealing with the shift from modernity to post-modernity. We have so focused on ourselves, we don't even realize the environment in which we exist has changed drastically. We want to believe that nothing has changed, that our perspectives from modernity are correct. If we keep staring at ourselves through our special modern glasses, we can make that argument quite well. But we run the risk of fulfilling Jesus' dire prediction that salt might lose its saltiness and end up being good for nothing.

The water in an Alaskan tide moves very, very quickly. I kidded with one of the captains I fished with suggesting that one could water ski from an anchored boat. This is not far off the truth.

Our world today seems to have been in a major "tidal" shift, moving very, very rapidly.

As communities of faith, what are we looking at to gauge the times we live in? What do we see when we look beyond ourselves and our fixed ideas? How do we learn to live on and negotiate the tides? How important (or unimportant) are views from outside the Christian worldview in this environment? How do we engage the horizon with faith? Any ideas?

I'll say more in a later post about Alaskan tides because I think there is more to reflect on in this metaphor. In the meantime...

Grace and peace!


Monday, April 18, 2005

posting plans...

I just wanted you to know that I will probably be posting two or three times a week. Sometimes more often, sometimes less, depending on my schedule. (This is my busy time at work.) It will probably be less at first as I adjust to the discipline of writing posts, but please check back regularly. And feel free to comment, disagree, lurk or whatever pleases you.

Grace and peace!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

…more on the name: the suture zone

This is going to be a long post. I hope you’ll bear with me on this. If not, just skip this one and wait for the next.

Life used to be very simple for me. It still would be if my parents hadn’t taught me to question.

I grew up in a good family that was part of a church in the American Restoration movement. The conservative wing. A bit too much to explain here if you aren’t familiar with it. But it was… well… modern.

Now that will sound strange to anyone who comes from this movement. Because in many respects the better term among some critical insiders might be “antiquated” or among the “faithful” the highest compliment: “first century”. But in true modern-era terms you might say the Churches of Christ were really hyper-modern… or hyper-rationalistic. One of the pinnacles of a cross between Lockean rationalism and early American frontier Christianity.

And in many ways, I was a child of that movement. I learned all the rational arguments about how we were the “true church” and about how all of our practices were “right”. I learned the greatest tool in our arsenal: reason. And I used it relentlessly in my pursuit of pure New Testament-era practice.

Funny thing about rationalism. It helped me see that not all rationalistic thought was welcome or appreciated in my denomination. I began to see holes in our doctrines and practice. And I am afraid I used my handy tool to put some people (one preacher in particular, as I remember) in a very difficult public position. I have nothing but regret for that now and see it for the expression of pride that it was. But I was heady with my intellectual and theological rebellion and, though my hair remained somewhat short, I was a true child of the 1960s.

I mean no offense to those who come from the same tradition. Truly, none at all. There were and are still many absolutely wonderful people in this movement and my memories of people during my growing-up years are, for the most part, wonderful memories of people bonded together by unusual beliefs… a real extended family. Very close, yet, a very exclusive family.

The university – one associated with our denomination, yet on the edge of it – added challenges to how I thought. I was taught by many of the “cutting edge” professors in Christian thought represented in my denomination, some of whom were not welcome at other denomination-sponsored schools.

And then I began to preach.

I thank God that he put me in a small town in the middle of nowhere. First of all, they were wonderful, loving people. They were gracious and let me slog my way through the swamps of modernity. By his grace, I became one of the town pastors and got to know many people from different Christian denominations. I preached on occasion at the Methodist Church in town. Sang with my wife for the Southern Baptists. Delivered a chapel to a Seventh-Day Adventist academy. (Talk about some nervous teachers and administrators in the back row!) Even participated in a Catholic funeral mass. I found faith in many places I never knew it existed and discovered people of profound faith outside my tradition, much of it stronger and deeper than my own. I came to realize that God was much bigger than I had ever imagined. No reason could ever wrap its arms around a God as big as the one I encountered in that remote and simple place.

That’s when I left my rationalistic tectonic plate and ventured onto the suture zone of the post-modern world. I wouldn’t have known to say it that way back then. But that’s what happened. I stepped off of the surface of my systematic ideas about God and woke up to the fact that he was here, involved in my life, and I couldn’t explain or control him. He just would not fit back into that box I had inherited. And he kept breaking out of every new box I tried to construct. He still does!

You might want to call it an epiphany that God is alive, near and involved in the world around me. Okay. It’s an epiphany. But while there have been times of wonder and praise and mystery and awe, there have equally been times of frustration and doubt and downright fright, too. The ground keeps moving. The landscape keeps changing. As Alan Roxburgh and Brian McLaren said at a recent lecture series in Fresno, Jesus keeps moving. And he expects us to move with him.

If you don’t come at this from the same perspective of Jesus (or with no perspective of Jesus), that’s okay. But can you identify with the wonder and confusion and fear and ecstasy of living in a place where everything keeps changing? Where your explanations of yesterday keep shifting?

Maybe I’m just strange. Let me know either way, okay?

Grace and peace!


...on the journey in between...

Well, I've finally succumbed to the blog world. After posting for over a year on at least four other blogs and one online forum, I've decided to take the plunge and launch this.

Usually, I've noticed, these things begin with an explanation of why the blog has been created. This usually includes some noble ideals, some "I hope to be a better person" statements, and such.

I'm blogging for several reasons...

First, I'm on a journey through life and find myself inbetween. The train has left the station, so to speak, but has no idea where it's going to end up. To change metaphors, my life has been spent in the suture zone, where the landmarks are not all that distinguishable or constant. It's not a comfortable place to be. But it's where I suspect a lot of us live.

Second, when I'm posting on other blogs, I find myself with other things to say, other questions to explore, and with no place to enter dialogue about them other than through more comments. I know this isn't the best reason to have a blog, but, hey, it's my blog. So there!

Finally (not really, but this post is too long already), I am a writer and I need the discipline to practice my craft and explore ideas that may ferment into something the publishing world might pick up and actually pay for. It has long been my dream (and for awhile my pursuit) to make my living as a writer. This may or may not help in that endeavor. I know. It's a selfish reason. But understand that I have been encouraged to write, and even chastised for not exercising this gift, by others for many years.

You need to know that I come from a profoundly Jesus-influenced perspective, and most of my postings on this blog will deal with life from that perspective. That doesn't mean I agree with the TV preachers or the Evangelical-Leader-of-the-Month or many of the other visions people have of Christianity and Christians. It's just to let you know that, as I say in my description, I am a struggling, yet mostly joyful apprentice of Jesus and I'm on a journey. I invite you, no matter what perspective you come from, to join the conversation. Just keep it respectful, okay? Otherwise, I will erase the comment.

For the few of you who find this remote corner of blogland, welcome. It's good to have traveling companions.