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.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

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

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Good news!!!

On a personal note.... I spoke with one of our insurance people yesterday. My health insurance company has again reversed itself and decided that my daughter’s surgery last March is covered! She said it is a final determination, and that if the insurance company again reversed itself, the chief administrative officer would settle it in my favor and tell the company what to do. Yahoo!!! That’s a $36-38K load off my mind. Thank you, Lord!

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

beauty and death valley...

Please continue to add your comments to knowing god 2: questions...

Marshall has co-opted my blog! :D (not really) But he asks some good questions for the discussion. If these stories he has requested are too personal for you to share on this blog publicly, you can email them to me at and let me know that you want to participate in the discussion at a deeper level. I’ll create a mailing list from those who respond and forward to that self-selected group. I’m trying to be sensitive to those who want to do their struggling in a little less public place. Then again, if no one is worried, have at it on the blog. Plus, keep your eyes open. I may be taking the tail end of someone’s comment and putting it in a new blog post so we don’t have to go so far back in my blog to see the latest discussion. We’ll see how this goes and adjust accordingly.

Last April, I made my first and only trip (so far) through Death Valley. I am a lifelong resident of California and am surprised it has taken this long for me to make the trip. And it wasn’t really a pleasure/sight-seeing trip either. The road through Death Valley was the shortest route from Shoshone and Death Valley Unified School District to Lone Pine Unified School District (directly west of Mt. Whitney – what an incredible view!!!). It was actually the end of April. Not yet blazing hot, but still long desolate stretches of highway, seemingly barren landscape, dry salt lakes and pretty inhospitable environment.

Amazingly, Death Valley is quite an attraction for wild flowers. You wouldn’t think in such an environment that you would find any kind of beauty. But it’s there, at least for part of the year. And I was told by locals that hotel rooms are booked up for weeks as far away as Pahrump, Nevada, with tourists anxious to catch sight of the carpets of bluish-purple and yellow and red/orange and all the other colors that are part of this incredible palette in the springtime.

Now these are not your normal flowers. The locals and long-time initiated know this. Some of these plants are quite poisonous. Lay down on the ground to get the perfect picture and you will likely end up with a rash or welts on your forearms where they touched the stems of these beauties. One would expect that here, a kind of self-protecting feature built into their short existence. But beauty nonetheless.

Why do we find beauty even there? Have you ever asked that question?

Going across the continental divide once in central-western Colorado, we stopped off the highway at a place that was above the Alpine timberline. It was summer. There is a kind of tundra up there, up where the snow has not yet melted (and probably never melts). I crouched down on the nature trail to view dozens of separate types of vegetation, all bedecked with tiny flowers in multiple hues. Viewed from standing height you miss the flowers. It’s a carpet of vegetation with the barest hints of color to it. But get close and you can see some incredibly beautiful geometrically balanced flowers, complete but miniature.

Is that God’s way of saying, “I can make beauty anywhere and in any life?”

It rained in Bakersfield Monday of this week. On my way home I stopped at the market to get some things we needed to complete our dinner. There was an incredible rainbow to the east. Bright colors and very distinctive. I walked from my car to the door of the market as slowly as the rain would allow (I didn’t want to get all that wet!) looking back to marvel at that rainbow for as long as I could see it.

Most people didn’t notice it. Most people walked with heads down. Too much rain falling. Too many worries. It’s just the refraction of the sunlight through a million prisms created by raindrops at the correct angle, right? There are more important things in life.

Maybe. Maybe not.

I’m wondering if experiencing beauty is much more important than the time and place we give it? Perhaps God speaks in it more than we think?

Maybe the poets are right. And the psalmist....

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
Night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 19:1-4 NIV

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil.
For you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4 NIV

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

life on the edge of the raft...

As a graduate student many years ago (before I became ill and had to give it up), I read a journal article entitled Life on the Edge of the Raft. The writer of the article suggested that life with God, as she observed it in the sacred writings, was a bit of a lonely, topsy-turvy experience. You didn’t know where you were going. And you were going wherever the raft and the currents pushing the raft decided you should go.

She wasn’t arguing for randomness in direction. She was just suggesting that God -- along with his purposes and directions -- was difficult to understand. If not impossible at times. Even most times.

I have found that to be true.

Years ago, as I was going through Experiencing God by Blackaby with my friend Wade, my sister gave me a CD of the same name. One of the songs on it likened God, and especially the movement of the Holy Spirit, to a rushing river. All we can do is jump in. Or not.

We can stay in the raft. Or not. (This was before the movie Jaws, which just goes to show how truly ancient I really am. ;-) )

Those are two very frightening metaphors. I don’t know that they are completely adequate. In fact I know they are not. But I have been discovering their truth over the past nearly 30 years since I first read that journal article.

With only the chutzpah and ignorance of the young, I did my best to preach a sermon with the same title. People endured it, I’m sure. I didn’t know what I was talking about. It seemed to ring true, even then. But, truthfully, I had no clue. None.

I think I would preach that sermon differently today. Same metaphor. Different conclusion. Maybe no conclusion yet. Just leave them hanging for the moment....

Life on the edge of a raft. Sounds about right.

Grace and peace,


Monday, September 26, 2005

knowing god 2: questions...

Warning: this post asks some very honest but troubling questions. I ask them as a person of faith, but also as one who still struggles with doubts. In this post I am struggling pretty hard. If you are not mature enough to handle that, please don’t read this one. I'm not trying to shake up anyone's faith.

I have been thinking a lot about the “knowing God” post, as well as the conversation that Marshall and I had in posted comments to it, and have wanted to go back and pick up a few threads from that post. (For those that just joined us or want to refresh their memories, you can find the post by clicking the July archive link to the left. It will be on top, July 28. Then, to see the comments, click on “Comments” just below that post.)

In the middle of his first comment Marshall says the following:

Yet do Elijah, Lamott, and my own experiences have anything in common? – yes, the belief that God will respond. And the belief that, in the end, he has. I need to stipulate, however, that both Elijah and Lamott have stronger faith in this arena than I do. In what are perhaps my healthier moments, however, I feel as they do. But, then, “I, or any mortal at any time, may be utterly mistaken as to the situation he is really in.” – C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.

(He is speaking of Anne Lamott, author of Traveling Mercies and Plan B on Faith.)

I’m especially interested in the phrase, “the belief that God will respond. And the belief that, in the end, he has.” But before I just leap into the conversation I would like to share some of the background, my background, in regard to this.

I truly do feel like I live on the suture zone. I grew up in a church for whom that expectation and reality that Marshall refers to was not really true. For all of our prayers for the sick and dying, we usually expected God to respond, if at all, through the skills of the physicians or pharmacists. Strangely, there was and there wasn’t an expectation of response. If it happened, it had to happen within very narrowly defined parameters in order to be attributed to the deity, which parameters today to me seem more akin to a modern scientific viewpoint of biblical texts rather than the way they have been historically understood. As I said on recently, I am a neophyte when it comes to matters of the Spirit’s work today (that’s what I would see as God responding from a Christian perspective). So this is not territory I grew up easily navigating. Honestly, I don’t know whether it is ever easy to navigate, no matter how you grew up.

I grew up in a denomination that denied its identity as a denomination, whose single goal was the restoration of the pure, first-century church with all of the apostasies and human additions (read traditions) stripped away. I grew to call it lowest common denominator Christianity. My thoughts about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are strikingly different today, though I remain in a local church that maintains its connections to that movement. I mean no disrespect by this at all, nor is it my purpose here to spend time critiquing that American restoration plea. But as I grew older and became more familiar with the Christian Bible, I began to see a large number of differences from the church we thought we had “restored” and the church of the first century as revealed in the texts themselves. I clearly remember a discussion about tongues and other so-called “miraculous” manifestations of the Spirit with some “new converts” when I was a teenager. This was at the height of the exploding Jesus People movement. Why, they asked, if we were truly trying to restore New Testament Christianity, did we deny the Spirit’s presence in gifting the church? I remember a church elder whose daughter contracted Multiple Sclerosis, who, all standard arguments against modern-day miracles aside, asked me if I thought he wouldn’t be at the door begging one of the traveling faith healers to heal his daughter of this horrid disease if he thought there was any hope of it? They didn’t want her at their door, he informed me. It was said as one who had tried, and I suspect he had, God bless him. (Sadly, I sang at her funeral some years ago.)

As my world opened up and as I grew to know more and more people who were not from my background, who did not share the same view of God as I did, the safe, logical system I was cocooned in while growing up began to unravel.

I have not had the same ecstatic experience of the Spirit that some Christian friends of mine have had. Nor has God appeared to heal anyone by giving me that gift. But I have cried out to God to respond. Some of what has happened in response to that could be characterized as either divine response or happenstance/wishful thinking. Having gone through those experiences, I would fall on the “response from God” side of things, all factors considered, but that is certainly a judgment call on my part. There have been other responses – and even what I would call deity-initiated intrusions – which would be difficult to explain in any other way than to say that God has knocked on the door and said, “Jump!” Either that or at least to a certain extent I am insane.

Now, having given all of that background, I have an assumption to suggest and some resulting questions to ask:

Assumption – God desires at least to communicate with people, if not have some kind of relationship with them.

Why is this so hard? Why are we filled with doubts so often? Why doesn’t he just come out and make it clear, speak up, knock us into the dust with our nose pointed the right direction? Why don’t we have an adult two-way conversation?

I’m not trying to be disrespectful. The deepest desire of my heart is to know him at least in part as he knows himself to fully be. Not that I expect God to hop to it and meet my demands. Not at all. But it would just be nice to have more than a long-distance, mostly one-way conversation full of riddles and speculation about the subject of the communication from him.

Is there anyone else out there who feels the same way?

If he is (and I believe that he is) and if he desires to communicate, then either:

-- he talks to others but is not talking to me and I should drop this expectation; he is the great determinist God of the machine that the Deists believed so strongly in; or

-- he is talking to me and I have the modern equivalent of cotton in my ears and Ray Charles sunglasses on my face, both of which I only seldom remove; or

-- God speaks so softly or so seldom that I ought not expect to encounter his voice except maybe a few special times in my life; or...

...or what???

What should my expectations about this be? Why are my experiences so different from those who appear to have it all together? Or are they so different from me really?

One other thing... I believe strongly that it is not the super-educated, super-intelligent folks that God values relationships with. I believe strongly that God loves and wants to communicate with the digger of ditches just as much as he loves and wants to communicate with me. If that is so, it can’t be all that complicated, can it?

Yes, I know that God will not be manipulated. He made that clear to Moses at the bush. Should I just shut up and be satisfied with what I get?

I know I’m treading on ground that many may feel is threatening. Worse news... I don’t intend to answer the questions here. I don’t have answers with which I am satisfied. Welcome to the suture zone. The ground moves regularly.

Tones is leading (mostly) young adults (I snuck into the class, so...) from our church in a Sunday morning conversation on Christianity in the post-modern era. I almost said this yesterday: many of our crises of faith come about because we are forced to let go of inaccurate or incomplete views of God. I suspect we have many of those views that need to be pried from our hands, certainly from mine. Is that why?

All I will say is that my bet is on God talking all the time. We are just too busy, too occupied, even with kingdom business, or not spiritually attuned enough to be able to hear. If you didn’t read the post on lectio divina, this may be a good time to back up on this blog and familiarize yourself with this ancient practice. I would especially recommend that you practice it with others, if at all possible.

On the way back from lunch today, I passed a Buddhist charity society building. There are Chinese words in symbol form mounted on the side of the building. I have no clue what they say. They could be cussing me out. They could be a blessing on my day. Mostly I ignore them since I don’t understand them. When I saw them today, it made me want to learn Chinese. Maybe we are like that with God? Let me know what you think.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
Psalm 42:1-2

Grace and peace,


Friday, September 23, 2005


Well, I missed posting the last two days. The first day I overslept. My taxi ran off without me. The dispatcher was surly in ordering another one. I was surly back. I was late to my meeting. I ranted some at lunch with my fellow-workers about the state agency we are contracted with, bemoaning the lack of sequential planning and preparation that we often see in rollouts. Then yesterday morning I had to repack all the junk I had brought with me.

And other things. ;-)

Anyway, it was just a difficult four days away.

Enough whining. Onto the blog post for today...

Don’t know that it made the national news or not, but yesterday in the early afternoon PDT we had an earthquake near Bakersfield. Actually, we had at least three quakes: the first at magnitude 4.0, the second at 4.9 and the third at 3.0 on the intensity scale. I haven’t checked out the USGS website to see if any were aftershocks, but it doesn’t really matter. The ground rocked and rolled.

And I wasn’t even here.

Don’t you just hate that?

Some felt it, some did not.

Where I would normally be is on the 7th floor of our building in downtown Bakersfield. We feel all of the feel-able nearby earthquakes. Being up seven stories magnifies the sense of how big the earthquake is. And so I am told they evacuated the building for a short time. This happens two or three times a year. My wife, who works less than a mile away at a school site, didn’t even feel the quake. I’m not surprised at that with a 3.0 quake. But a 4.9 does a good bit of shaking and the epicenter was only about 30 miles away. Sometimes people are distracted, or they are driving and don’t notice (if the quake is small enough as these were) or they are asleep or otherwise occupied. And they miss the quake though they were right in the middle of it. There are actually hundreds of earthquakes in California each week that no one but the USGS and earthquake researchers know about or pay attention to. They are called microquakes. No one can feel them. It takes a lot of very sensitive equipment to even detect them. But the landscape, and most importantly the foundations of the landscape deep below the surface of the earth, are constantly changing.

Besides the fact that I’ve named this blog Life in the Suture Zone, why all of this about quakes?

Isn’t this a pretty good description of what is going on with society and within the church in regard to the changes from the modern to the post-modern?

Some say there are no earthquakes. They don’t feel them therefore they don’t exist. Or they name them something else (e.g., the consequences of sin). Others feel them but accept them as a fact of life and don’t acknowledge the changes or the need for change that come with them. They continue to live in unreinforced masonry buildings and refuse to keep an emergency kit with water and blankets and such somewhere where a falling house or fireplace won’t crush them. Some seek psychotherapy in order to deal with these unsettling events. While still others recognize the change in landscape, and most importantly the foundations beneath it, and learn to live within it. Finally, some just move to Florida or Mississippi or Louisiana or Texas where they don’t have earthquakes.

There are a number of responses to earthquakes. Hopefully, you are able to discern the metaphors above without further explanation.

I believe we are living on the suture zone. There are earthquakes.

So how are you responding to the movement of the land?

* * * * *

On tomorrow’s post (I hope), knowing god 2.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, September 22, 2005

on the wagon again tomorrow...

Well, folks. Thanks for all who have been visiting and checking to see if there is anything new posted here. The last four days in Sacramento have left little time for me to add to this blog. I had one partly done this morning but did not have time to finish it. This is in spite of getting up at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday - Thursday. (Fishing for sympathy here. :-D Just kidding about the sympathy bit!)

Anyway, there was truly no time to write (or at least when there was time I had no brain cells left), though I came away with some new thoughts that I hope will end up here.

Tomorrow (Friday), I hope to have another post up and running, the one I began with hopes to post this morning. We'll see what happens during the night, but hopefully I can finish what I started.

Hope you have (had) a blessed night!

Grace and peace!


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

forks in the dishwasher...

Not much time to write this morning. It’s off to training. But just a quick thought....

I read an interesting article in Education Week by Laura Thomas in the August 10 edition. She uses the experience of her and her husband in regard to how forks are placed in the dishwasher’s flatware holder. Do the tines go up or down?

This argument has gone on for some time in her family. Years even. Decades. And still no consensus on which is the best way. Place the tines down (as her husband argues) and no one gets stuck when they are emptying the dishwasher. Tines up, and at least the forks get clean.

She likens this to arguments that educators have with each other. We argue generally about the things that are least important, because if we can exert control over them, we have the veneer of control over our lives. Power. Stability. But there are incredibly important questions that no one wants to address. Mostly, that’s because they are the harder questions.

I wonder. Is that not our problem in Protestant Christianity? And maybe with Christians generally? Do we argue about the things that, at the end of the day, bear little consequence as a way to avoid the harder issues?

She asks educators the following. I ask it of us as well.

What will it take for us to engage in the real discussions of the big issues? Whose permission do we need? What, exactly, are we afraid of?”

Any takers?

By the way, some of the harder questions we need to deal with are the ones that Jesus raised. They, of course, can lead to some very interesting questions that relate to our cultural situation today.

Something to think about on the suture zone.

Grace and peace,


Monday, September 19, 2005

back to Sacramento...

Well, it was a nice weekend. Short, but nice. For now, it's back to Sacramento for me. It's 5:30 a.m. west coast right now. I leave at 6 and will be staying until Thursday afternoon. While I'm there I hope to visit Cafe Dolce a few times. Who knows what will pop up here as a result?

I hope -- as long as I have connectivity -- to keep posting while I'm there. So check back.

Blessings to you all.

Finally, here's something I posted on an online webforum that I frequent.

Disciple making is about forming people into spiritual apprentices of Jesus. Period. It is learning and imitating the art and rhythms of life a la Jesus. It is experiencing this as holy community in communion with the triune God. It is owning and leading others to own the mission of Jesus, which is to spread the yeast of such a life and kingdom out into the world, changing the world for the better and being a blessing to the people in it. It is about standing for justice and mercy and humility and about seeing and owning as our life purpose what is truly important.

Grace and peace,


Friday, September 16, 2005

day of prayer for Katrina victims...

Today has been designated as a day of prayer for the Katrina victims. I offer the following prayer from the suture zone:

O God, we cry out to you
Because of this great devastation
Visited upon those who are
Our sisters and brothers
And mothers and fathers
And sons and daughters

And though we are told by people
who seem to know that we are not to ask
Or be so bold as to demand answers,
We cry out with your servant Job, “Why?”
And we wait.

O God, we reel like drunken men from the images we have seen,
Of devastation and destruction,
Of desperation and abandonment,
Of selfishness and class judgment,
Of privilege and poverty.

We have seen them, the people
With hollow faces and empty stares,
And desperate cries for help unanswered.
For the first time, O God, we have seen them,
For the first time – God forgive us – for the first time.
And we cry out to you, O God, for their distress is great.

For those who have lost all,
O Lord, show your mercy.
For the children who have lost parents,
O Lord, show your mercy.
For the parents who have lost children,
O Lord, show your mercy.
For those who have lost anyone or anything dear to them,
O Lord, show your mercy.
For those who perished, forgotten by our society, not missed nor mourned,
O Lord, show us mercy.

Deliver them, O Lord.
Deliver us, O Lord.
Give them strength to find hope.
Give us strength to offer hope;
Bring healing and grace in the midst of devastation.
Bring justice in the midst of neglect.
Bring our eyes to see as you see,
As we pray, hope against hope, that you see.

O God,
May your kingdom come among and through us again.
Make your face to shine upon us again.

We wait for you, O God.
We wait.


Grace and peace,


Thursday, September 15, 2005

lectio divina...

Another quick post this morning...

Here is another ancient jewel.

You may never have heard of lectio divina before. Coming from Benedictine practice, it is a very ancient (early last millennium?) method of encountering God through the reading of scripture, usually in community. Translated literally it means “divine reading.” But it does not reflect my heritage’s view that all you have to do with the word of God is to understand the logic of it. Rather, it stems from the belief that God desires to speak to us through his word right now about him, about us, about our lives, about his desires. It is more prayer and meditation in nature than Bible study. It has also been called “the embrace of God.”

The practice is simple...

First there is reading/listening.

Fr. Luke Dysinger of the Order of St. Benedict calls it “deep listening,” akin to what Elisha practiced in the desert – a quiet, humble listening for the still, small voice of God. It is not so much focusing on a long passage, as it is finding a phrase or sentence in which we sense the voice of God to us. Once we have found that, we move to the next step.

Second, comes meditation.

Taking the word into ourselves we ruminate on it, repeating it slowly, savoring it, letting it melt in our hearts and melt our hearts. As a child, when I went fishing with my grandfather, he would often bring along some beef jerky. It was not so plentiful back then. You couldn’t find it at Costco. He bought it at the local butcher shop in South Whittier. He would hand me a small piece and tell me to chew it slowly and get all the flavor out of it. He wasn’t going to give me another piece because I swallowed quickly and missed the lasting sharp flavor of that treasure. So it is with meditation. Intimacy takes time, no matter the lies the television commercials feed us. And I do mean intimacy. All of us carry around baggage, painful moments, broken or strained relationships, illness, rejection, and all sorts of other “stuff” over which God desires to speak his healing and affirming word. It is in meditation that we begin to experience God’s embrace. This takes some transparency and vulnerability before God. The “all together” I-am-in-control mask won’t cut it. Meditation brings us into the next phase.

Third, is praying.

Think of this prayer as more than one-sided conversation. You have begun to listen to God. This is dialogue time. That’s the first part of prayer in lectio divina. Conversation. I have prayed so many prayers in my life that are one-sided, hardly ever giving God a place to speak. Lectio divina is rather about conversation. And that conversational prayer should also lead to the second part of prayer: consecration, consecrating the parts of our lives to God that he has called us to consecrate as we have encountered this intimate embrace. In the words of Dysinger (see above), “we allow our real selves to be touched and changed by the word of God.”

Finally, we spend time contemplating.

This is a time to simply rest in the presence of the One who has spoken to us, called to us, through His word. Dysinger calls it “wordless, quiet rest in the presence of the One who loves us….”

In some ways, this ancient method is foreign to our rush-rush world. People on the suture zone recognize the inability of science and modern religion to fully meet the deepest needs of their hearts. Eastern religions seem to value these same things and there are many who have no concept that Christianity was at its beginning an eastern religion.

Also, though this art can be practiced as individuals – and should be – I believe its value to be even greater in sharing the experience. One can turn the contemplative step into a sharing of what we have heard from God. I have done this with Tones and his wife Zee where all three of us heard the same thing. Might this keep us from making ill-advised decisions about which direction God wants us to go in our churches? Novel concept, listening to God.

For more on this ancient art, check out Dysinger’s article at:


Well, this turned out to be not so quick, eh? Maybe I should slow down? ;-)

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

the exciting church...

Last spring I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Such-and-such church... the exciting church.” (Name not included to protect the guilty ;-) )

You can bet I wrote a reminder note to myself on this one!

Well, a conversation I had with first-time visitors several Sundays past has resurrected this experience. It’s not the first time I’ve had this conversation, but it’s the first time it hit me exactly this way.

First, some background...

I lead worship at Central Church in Bakersfield. We have roots in the Church of Christ and still maintain a cappella music (i.e., voices only – no instruments) in our Sunday morning worship. We have, however, moved to a more contemporary expression, using many of the new praise choruses, some dramatic readings, once in a while a participatory experience, even communion at smaller round tables once a year. We also have a vocal praise team of about 12 people every Sunday.

On the Sunday I am referring to, four women who were first-time visitors approached me after service saying that they enjoyed everything about the experience except the music. It was… well, too sedate for their tastes.

I guess it was.

And I guess this was one of the more blatant examples I’ve seen of the consumerism that is so rampant in our culture. There is a drive to find what excites, what titillates, what fires the heart and raises goose bumps, even in church. And this becomes the focus of worship – how can I become “excited” and “fulfilled”?

Now I have to be careful here. For the longest time in my tradition we’ve squeezed every last ounce of emotion out of our worship experience until it has become as dry as Death Valley in the middle of summer, leading some of us to ask God’s question to Ezekiel as to whether “these bones can live.” I’m not decrying our return from that desert wasteland. What I am saying is that a close encounter with God – which is what worship at its heart is in my definition – involves all of me – heart, mind and will – as I am caught up in the story of God’s ongoing activity in a clearly fallen world. The focus of worship, from my perspective, is a focus on God, not us, and on his presence and activity in the world, not only inside the four walls where corporate worship is occurring. For it to become simply about my becoming excited or moved or whatever, smacks of manipulation AND places the focus squarely on me and “my needs” as opposed to God. Reminds me of St. Paul’s description of fallen humanity in Romans 1 when he says they have been worshipping and serving the created rather than the creator.

Tones and I have had this conversation many times. Executing the Soul’d Out service (generally) once a month is a lot of work, and we don’t get much help to do it. People come and experience it and leave. I’ve told him a number of times that it is easy to make religious consumers, but quite hard to make disciples.

When we as churches get caught up in becoming an “exciting church,” we seem to pander to religious consumerism. I think that is a very bad direction to be going. No question that we need to allow people to encounter God in their own heart language rather than in words and ways that suited people in the 1850s. But that effort can easily degenerate into feeding an experience addiction. And like any addiction, the craving grows voraciously, while what is supplied grows more and more unable to fulfill it.

On the suture zone, there are people who are searching for authentic meaning in their lives, trying to make sense of their world and of themselves, “searching,” as Donald Miller has said in the title of his book, “for God knows what.” A whooped up and hollering, head-banging music experience is likely not going to answer their deepest questions and longings as they try to fill what I believe is a God hole in their lives. (BTW, I’m not against any kind of music – except perhaps country ;-) )

I believe what they are truly looking for has not much at all to do with what happens on Sunday morning for an hour or so. I think they are looking for authentic conversations with other people who don’t have all the answers, who, like them, get up on Monday sometimes and look in the mirror and wonder what in the hell all of this is about and why they should continue, who experience things gone wrong and constantly nagging questions about life and the why of it all. And, most importantly, they are looking for those people, who in spite of the descriptions I’ve just given, have a firm faith in a living and present God who provides at least some sense of direction and purpose in life. Some are so jaded in the search because they haven’t found such people that they are nearly despairing.

There is a place for religious experience. I believe that place is in the company of God and each other. At least that’s the way the writers of the Christian Bible have put it. (Take a look at 1 John.)

As patiently as I could, I explained to these four women that it was unlikely that we were going to vary from our tradition on Sunday morning in the near future, that we valued our tradition for a number of reasons, that the challenge musically was that we lose the eighth notes supplied by a drum set, bass and guitar strum pattern, and that, yes, we were relatively sedate in our approach to worship most of the time.

They haven’t been back.

I hope they find what they are looking for. No, rather, I hope they find God in the process.

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

a short note on Katrina

Two posts in one day! How about that!

I pretty much ranted awhile back in a comment regarding the political nature of how things are done in this country. Everyone is so focused on money and power and reputation. No one seems to be focused on the people except as political weapons in their party’s arsenal.

I still feel the same way I felt in that comment. I think I called the FEMA director Mark Brown instead of Michael Brown, but the feelings are still the same. Likely as not, he is incompetent and deserves to be fired (or to resign in lieu of...). I’m sure more heads need to roll. But, please, someone address the problems that caused this tragedy to be worse than it had to be.

The political hay that is being made of this somehow loses sight of who this tragedy is really about and how we are going to address it in the long-term.

More importantly, how are the people of God, the apprentices of Jesus, and all those of similar attitude, going to address the global crisis of the poor, the elderly, the sick and otherwise disenfranchised?

More on this in a future post, but for now just a reflection from when I was finishing my shower this morning. I was reflecting on how nice it would be to have a softer towel. You know, the big fluffy ones. Sometimes I get them in hotels. Sometimes when I stay with friends I get them. Anyway, as I was reflecting on this, a thought occurred to me. It seemed utterly ridiculous to be giving thought to soft towels when so many people are going hungry, dying of AIDS, enslaved in the sex trade, poor and homeless.... Somehow or other, I couldn’t imagine Jesus longing for soft towels in this moment.

Something to think about....

Grace and peace,


phos hilaron...

The Phos Hilaron (literally – hilarious light) is an ancient Christian prayer-song. First recording of it occurs in the 4th century (that’s 301+; one source says 3rd century or even earlier), and sources say it was considered ancient in the worship of the church even then (St. Justin the Martyr quotes a fragment in 150 A.D. in a letter to someone.)

If you’ve ever sung the hymn Hail, Gladdening Light, you have sung some translation of this confession. It is a confession filled with hope. Here is a more modern translation:

O joyful light,
from the pure glory of the eternal heavenly Father,
O holy, blessed Jesus Christ.

As we come to the setting of the sun
and see the evening light,
we give thanks and praise to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit of God.

Worthy are you at all times
to be sung with holy voices,
O Son of God, O giver of life,
and to be glorified through all creation.

The setting, I am told, is for evening prayers (Vespers). It is dark in the room where the worshipers are waiting, as a single candle enters the room as if coming from the empty tomb of Jesus. Worshipers respond by singing or chanting or saying the Phos Hilaron together. Some sources suggest this was the practice for Vespers in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in the 4th century and was adopted into the Byzantine liturgy.

The symbolism is so thick and rich… you can feel the weight of nearly 2,000 years of faith hanging over it. It is suspected that ancient Christians sang this hymn while worshiping in the catacombs (those are tombs cut out of the rock) during the second century. How long did this jewel lay covered in dust in the ancient world? More importantly, why didn’t I know about it? (It actually became part of the Greek Orthodox liturgy and survives there to this day, though Roman Catholics never knew of or adopted it.)

One thing I do know. Such symbolic things resonate with many post-moderns. They certainly resonate with me. Maybe the setting changes… someone’s living room among friends in a small house church, candle coming from the hallway carried into the room by one of the women or girls (they were the first good news bearers, remember?) as those assembled recite the Phos Hilaron, everyone lighting a handheld candle from that one, softly singing Tim Hughes’ Here I Am to Worship, transitioning into a song that focuses on us being a reflection of that light in the world. You get the idea.

Why does worship change? Because the wine of Jesus is too rich for any one wineskin. How much more powerful for people in the midst of wilderness wandering as we are today than the mindless, easy liturgical order we’ve fallen into?

While worship is not the end all and be all of what it means to be a Christian, having pointed us to the light who is Jesus, it can also then direct us to what is truly important: becoming an apprentice of Jesus in the larger world.

Anyway, perhaps more blathering and of little to concern to those who are reading, and, if so, thanks for your patience. There will be more for you here soon.

Grace and peace,


Monday, September 12, 2005

quick notes and worship...

Well, as I promised several weeks ago, here is my first blathering post. Please forgive. It’s just the discipline of the thing I’m trying to achieve. These kinds of posts are going to be short and sweet. Perhaps even meaningless.

My fingers are sore as I type this. I played last night for our Soul’d Out service. (I play guitar) and had let my callouses go during the summer by not playing much. So it is painful to press down on these keys.

Yesterday morning’s worship centered around becoming a living sacrifice. It included an offering on behalf of the Katrina hurricane victims. We sang Still by Reuben Morgan (from Hillsong in Australia) with pictures of the tragedies and heroic rescues of victims showing on the screen. Though my back was to the congregation while I directed the song, when I turned around, many were wiping their eyes.

Last night’s Soul’d Out worship was focused on adoration. We used the Phos Hilaron at the beginning of the service. I’ll explain more in tomorrow’s post.

Quite the contrast between the two services, even though we sang a few of the same songs. I believe people were moved in both, hopefully moved to be better reflections of Jesus in the world this morning and tomorrow and the day after.

So why has worship changed over the millennia? I was taught – and now reject – that worship changed because of the unfaithfulness of the church to the approved biblical examples (as if there are any!). That is a bit naïve, especially when you consider that we don’t do ancient chants in my heritage.

But back to my question… why has worship changed over the millennia? What have we left behind us to gather dust that we might want to reach back and dust off? What is newly emerging?

There is more to this sea change that I refer to as the suture zone than just worship. But I want to explore this a bit. And what is it that calls me as a post-modern person to acknowledge that which is greater than myself? How does that look? Especially, how does that look for people on the move, on this journey? And how does it look to someone who has rejected the modern view of Christianity and God?

Questions, questions.... Pesky questions!

Grace and peace,


Thursday, September 08, 2005

a ray of hope...

My wife spoke with her brother in Southern California last night. We’ve been following the story in New Orleans carefully, since our sister-in-law’s sister and family live just south of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans. Though the water came up only to their porch, and they had decided to stick it out, advice has been to relocate. In fact, their church had raised enough money for four plane tickets, one for the mom and one each for her three daughters. (Dad is staying unless forced to leave, and I’m not sure mandatory evacuation applies to them where they live.)

Two of the daughters were sent by plane to a friend’s place in Texas. But mom and daughter number three stayed at home. This daughter is medically fragile and is tube-fed. By the time they realized that it would be wise for the two of them to use the plane tickets, the airlines would only allow one of them to go. Obviously, mom wasn’t going to go off and leave her daughter, nor send her by herself on the plane. So it was back home for the both of them.

All of that background to get to the real story.

The handicapped daughter had attended special education classes in her local school system and was transported there by a man who owned his own special education transportation bus. Evidently the district would contract with the man to provide these services to remotely located students.

Anyway, sometime after arriving home from the dilemma at the airport, they saw him driving his school bus around the neighborhood. The hurricane actually destroyed his house completely. All he escaped with were the clothes on his back and his small yellow school bus. He noticed that they were still there and stopped to check on them. When he heard of their dilemma, he came up with his own solution: he would drive them halfway to their friends’ home in Texas if the friend would drive the other half and pick them up. He did. They met in the middle of the journey, made the trip the rest of the way with friends, and I assume he made it back to his home, or what was left of it. (Please also note the irony that he still has his school bus, but no pupils to transfer and no school to take them to. That all equals no job or paycheck either.)

All he had were the clothes on his back and his small yellow school bus. But he didn’t grasp them to himself as his only assets. He used them in service to someone in need.

If that’s not kingdom living, I don’t know what is. It certainly puts me to shame.

Anyway, just thought I would share this.

Grace and peace,


Friday, September 02, 2005

devastation and desperation and life under the scab...

Note: I don't know how I feel about the following post; I feel it strongly, but welcome your dialogue (as always).

I had a hard time going to sleep last night. I should have.

Since our daughter got her television fixed and went back to school, we’ve had our television back in our bedroom. I left it on the floor for awhile, reluctant to put it back in the armoire on its swivel platform. Seems more peaceful without it. For one thing, I like to read and I can’t read with the television on. I especially can’t read when the television is spewing out words of desperation and accusation from people who have been abandoned in New Orleans.

So just before bed, after having ridden the emotional rollercoaster of the all news channels with interspersed forays into the Food Channel and A&E and the Family Channel looking for relief (and finding none – not even Whose Line Is It Anyway? sufficed), I sat down on the bed. Dorothy asked something like, “Do you mind if I turn this on? Is this going to bother you?” (If you’ve been married you know the answer to the question, right guys?) But I picked up my book and walked into our family room. I couldn’t take it anymore.

I don’t know how many of you have spent time glued to your television set with the Katrina disaster, but it has been heart-wrenching to say the least. I was nearly apoplectic last night to hear the phone call to one of our local news stations from the daughter of one of our local families, who, with her husband, an older woman (grandmother?) and several others caravanned in two cars to one of the open bridges out of New Orleans only to be turned back – with gunfire making the point – by of all groups the National Guard!

The natural devastation is horrible. But we’ve had horrible natural devastation before – two huge storms in Florida last year alone. We’ve seen the heroics before. Remember the stories from Florida and the twin towers in New York?. And this story started the same way shortly after the hurricane passed through. But it began to take an ugly turn two or three days after. To say that the local, state and federal response has been inadequate is to master the height of understatement. Obviously, they never expected such magnitude in the crisis. And I’m not trying to pretend the answers are simple ones. Shutting down a city of more than 1 million people and trying to find a place for all those displaced people is no small project (not to mention housing the forgotten victims of this tragedy – Biloxi, Gulfport and to a lesser extent Mobile, plus all the farms and little towns; Waveland, I understand, was ground zero for the hurricane).

What we have not seen before, at least to this extent, is the ineptness of the response and the dark underbelly of our society. This is going to rest uneasily on the national psyche of the United States for a long time. Fellow citizens of US America, welcome to the real world.

Sadly, we are used to seeing these pictures from some sub-Saharan African nation run by a dictator plagued by a militant rebel bent on coup. We are used to seeing the desperation of people caught between a corrupt South American government on one hand and the drug lords on the other. We can see that on the evening news when television news editors deem it more important that the latest scandal surrounding the latest Hollywood star. And we can go to sleep.

But in the United States? No, it can’t happen here! Our threats are from outside terrorists, not our neighbors. We cannot descend into such anarchy. Well, we have. The scary thing is that it is not very far below the surface. Scratch a festering wound and it breaks open to reveal much hidden below the scab. That which unites us is frayed and worn, stretched and oozing. This shows us just how much like the rest of the world we are and how quickly we fall into anarchy when something opens the wound.

I in no way blame the desperate people trying to find a way out of the nightmare that the aftermath of Katrina has become. I ache for them. I wish I could do something more for them. New Orleans is not a safe place. This nation is not a safe place. The world is not a safe place. Makes me value once again David Lipscomb’s distrust in any government to bring about the kingdom of God. Guess I’m a true son of at least that part of my heritage.

Truth is that our middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer. The poor get more desperate. It takes such a disaster as Katrina to open our eyes to it.

I guess the question for those on the suture zone… and those still not there… is how do we respond to such a world as people of faith? What does it mean for the good news of the kingdom of God to break in into such a fragile and desperate situation? Certainly not doctrinal systems and finely parsed dogma. Is it words? Is it money and volunteering? Is it cooperation with others with whom we may disagree religiously or politically? Is it joining people from the Big Easy in crying out to God in desperation, demanding to know why such a tragedy should befall them?

The news is not all bad. The initial crisis, though prolonged almost a week now, will subside. There are people opening their homes up to complete strangers who have been displaced by Katrina; strangers that they are fearful of, and yet they open their homes. Churches of all stripes (and I imagine synagogues and mosques and temples, etc) are opening their doors as shelters for the displaced. The scab will reappear soon and we will try to pretend that what is beneath it is not really there.

Last night, God saw beneath all the scabs of the world. He saw the desperation of the people in New Orleans. He saw the desperation of the people in Darfur and Columbia and a million other desperate places. He saw the desperation of your neighbors, the homeless in your community, the addicted. And he couldn’t sleep. He hasn’t slept in millennia.

Open our eyes to what you are doing, O God, and give us grace to join you.

Grace and peace,