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, October 20, 2005

a time for sabbath...

Hey, everyone.

I made a suggestion to a friend recently that he take a Sabbath from all God-talk. It seemed to be making things worse, not better. I don't think that is what God intends.

I think I'm going to take my own advice as well. At least here.

This is a particularly busy time for my work calendar (this is my 11th straight day of work). Even trying to think about posting is keeping me from a more positive mental outlook, and makes me more tired than I already am. And, personally, I have areas arising from this discussion that I need to wrestle with God over.

So, forgiveness, please... I'm going to sign off for a couple of months. (At least until Christmas.)

Thanks to all who frequent this blog. I wish you well. You might want to check back in around Christmas or the first of the year.

Grace and peace,


Monday, October 17, 2005

enter into the joy...

Sorry (again) to be so long in getting another post up, but I’ve been working many extra hours and have begun a month-long stretch of out-of-town work trips. (I had to reintroduce myself to Dorothy last Friday after the most recent trip and take her on a date that night! Whew! And Saturday I was off on another one to Santa Rosa, where I am now!) I keep hoping that while I’m gone I’ll have some time to reflect and to write for the blog, but, alas, that seems almost never to be the case. There is more than enough for me to do from the time I pick my head up from the pillow until the time I lay it down. Please bear with me! Anyway…

The post that follows is all Dallas Willard’s fault.

I started thinking about Jesus’ story about the three servants and the money their master gave them after reading a paragraph in Willard’s book, Hearing God. We often call this story the parable of the talents, since a silver talent was a significant amount of capital one could invest. Once we do that, our interpretation takes a funny turn since talent means something else in today’s English. Or we see it as work-oriented investment of capital, which is the metaphor Jesus uses but IMO focusing on the subject of the story misses the point of what he’s trying to say. But, enough of debunking poor interpretations of the parable.

What I’ve been thinking of in regard to this story are the various communications between master and servants, and the attitudes with which the servants took those communications. First of all, the master never tells them what to do with the money/capital. Have you noticed that? All three make certain assumptions about what is expected, but the master himself never says anything. Two of the three invest the capital and make earnings. The third misinterprets the character of the master and fearfully hides the money to keep it safe. In response to the stewardship of the master’s capital, the first two are invited into the joy of the master. Peterson’s paraphrase has the master saying, “From now on, be my partner.”

Sounds like a simple investment “success story” and that the guy who had no guts, gets left out.

But Jesus prefaces this story with his common refrain, “The kingdom of heaven is like....” How does that affect our understanding? I think if we see this as simply reward for gutsy investment acumen, we miss what he’s trying to say.

The first two servants understood the heart of the master. The master was all about investment, all about gain, all about entrepreneurship in playing the business game. The servants understood that. They were, in a way, already entering into their master’s joy.

If the kingdom of heaven (God, in Luke) is the presence of God himself breaking into the world, isn’t God overjoyed when we enter into that interchange alongside Him with people in a way that brings him and them near to each other? I’m not talking about slam-bam evangelism (or what sadly passes for evangelism today). Rather I’m talking about the pure joy of not only relationship, but common work along with God as we join him in his breaking into the world.

Aren’t we entering into the joy of our Master when we do something as simple as offering a cup of cold water in his name? Isn’t the joy of our Master something other than parsing doctrinal fine points and winning arguments and drawing lines? Do we degrade God and lower his character by doing these things, rather than entering into his joy? Is Jesus not saying that this is not about fear at all?

Grace and peace,


Monday, October 10, 2005

catching up...

I’m still processing this past weekend at the Zoe Conference. We did get back from Nashville okay. I was wondering whether Becca was going to make it back or not. I dropped her off at the airport yesterday morning only to get a somewhat frantic call from her that the ticket I had reserved and paid for was for last Friday, not yesterday. I was stung by the American Airlines website. When I was making the reservations and changed her departure date (before reserving) it reset the return date to 10/7 instead of 10/9. So, no ticket slots available until 5 p.m. today in the same class of what I had ordered. She’s in school and had to get back yesterday. They offered the only thing open – first class seats for either $800 or $1100. I---don’t---think---so! (Shane -- this is what I was doing during early service at Otter Creek. Sorry!)

Anyway, we found a ticket to L.A. on Southwest at a more reasonable price (sorta) and a ticket from L.A. to Fresno (for approximately the same cost as the Southwest trip to L.A. from Nashville!). Only thing was that, once she reached Los Angeles, Southwest Airlines had managed to lose her suitcase. Major trauma! Everything she had of any value in terms of clothing, toiletries, hair stuff AND her MONKEY were in that bag!

Good news, though. She called them this a.m. and found out her bag caught up with her. It’s in Fresno at the airport waiting for her to pick it up tonight.

At least everything worked out... until I get the credit card bill! Oh, well... it's just plastic.

Don’t be surprised if you see a few things on here in the next few days about experiences I had while in Nashville. Like I said above, I’m still processing. Welcome to my process!

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

brush fires...

If you have been following the news of California lately, you are probably aware that we are in the midst of brush fire season. There have been several fires burning. One this past week nearly jumped Highway 101. If it had, as all the fire officials noted, it would have burned all the way to the Pacific Ocean. (This is the challenge faced by my alma mater, Pepperdine University. I recall not too many years back seeing video images of the palm trees outside the Hughes Research Lab think tank just up Malibu Canyon Road burning like huge torches.)

Part of the problem with these fires is that they are not only natural, they are part of the cyclical clearing of the land in Southern California. These fires have been happening for centuries, perhaps even millennia, as new growth from abundant spring rains dries out to tinder status. Some of the native plants even rely on this cycle to reproduce. Imported weeds make the fires hotter than they would be otherwise, sometimes even facilitating the permanent destruction of indigenous species.

Now what does all of this have to do with the suture zone?

Put a house in the path of a cyclical fire zone, build a house on a flood plain, erect a house on unstable cliffs above the beach and what’s going to eventually happen? The view can be great, but when the fire sweeps through, when the dam breaks, when the ground saturates with rainwater, then watch out. Tragedy is going to strike.

As my wife and I drove down to see her mom this past Saturday, I noticed that, on the northern part of the San Andreas Tejon hook suture zone, a fire had recently cleared away the weeds and brush that had previously covered the scattered hills. It made me think that not all of what happens on the suture zone happens below ground level. Sometimes other forces, perhaps forces that are cyclical in nature, also ravage the landscape. In the case of the California hills, we had way too much water in last year’s El Niño. Weeds and brush have overrun the hills, overburdening the ecosystem. It is ripe for fire. Unfortunately, something ignited the tinderbox brush and the fire gorged itself on the excess fuel. Several houses were lost.

Maybe the paradigm shift in our world is causing some to deconstruct modernism in the same way that fire clears away the brush... so that something new might emerge. Sometimes the tearing down of the old can be helpful. Sometimes useful structures go up in flames, though, and not all that survives is good.

Now, as with all metaphors, there is a real risk if we push this one too far. As Marshall correctly noted in one of his comments, post-moderns are not turning their backs on science and the knowledge that has been gained through it. Rather, they are not putting all their eggs in that basket. They know, either instinctively or through their observation and experience of the failures of the modern (two space shuttles in pieces, for instance or the rapidly growing incidence of bird flu that could erupt in a pandemic), that science is not, in itself, sufficient to explain the meaning of life nor the mystery they have encountered in the midst of modern failures. Aerodynamics and the explosive properties of jet fuel do little to explain the “why” of the twin towers. It’s as if these paradigm shifters have taken off the blinders and leveled a more realistic gaze at the world and each other. I don’t know. Maybe that’s too optimistic. Maybe we’re still just tearing down the old and nothing new has emerged yet, at least nothing recognizable by most of us.

Anyway, back to my point. (I’m tired. Can you tell?) Not all is burned away. Instead, enough is cleared away (and enough has withstood the flames) to allow our vistas to expand and new imaginations to take root.

Reminds me of the very biblical idea of burning away the dross in the flames. Maybe we’ve had a dross infection in the modern paradigm and it has to be burned away.

I suspect we're in for a very bad fire season in California... and in the world, metaphorically speaking.

For what it’s worth....

Grace and peace,



Well, folks. We have arrived at October, which for me this year is a very busy month! I am traveling a good bit through mid-November, and that will certainly impact when and how often I post. But, please, do keep checking.

Today, I'm in the air, so unless I'm able to post tonight (which might happen!) there will be no post today.

Just wanted you to know.

Grace and peace,


Monday, October 03, 2005

so what is the good news...

To add to the questions already raised on this site, let me throw another one into the mix. This may seem very basic, so basic that I might seem either an idiot or a simpleton (what’s the difference?) or uneducated in the most basic understandings of what we have defined in modern times as Christianity. But despite that, let me throw it into the mix....

So, what is the good news? And depending on what you answer, how is that good news?

I was raised in a denomination where we did not at first even use the term “good news.” We used the term gospel. Since no one in the pew knew the etymology of that word (or the Greek which it transliterates) we contented ourselves with believing our mission to be to convince people of the need to hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized. We called it the “five-fingered plan of salvation,” and labored long and hard with logical arguments with our evangelical neighbors. Somewhere along the line, we learned about grace, or at least the evangelical concept of what grace was. It focused on the unmerited favor of God in regard to our legal status before him. Now it was more than that for many, but it was still very individualistic in application.

I’ve been down both roads. I know the Bible pretty well, having been trained in it at the collegiate level and having spent at least ten years in the pulpit. I’ve read numerous books on all aspects of systematic theology, have written lengthy, learned papers on various aspects of the doctrines which were important to my fellowship. (Somehow soteriology [the study of salvation] seems to be the equivalent of the North Star for those from my fellowship as we struggle with our denomination’s standard doctrines on how one responds to God. I’ve done my share of papers on baptism.) And still I ask the question....

What is the good news?

I believe this to be a very critical question that everyone is assuming we already have the answer to. I am not satisfied with the answer. I read Isaiah 61, and Jesus’ self-proclamation to the Nazareth synagogue where he grew up of that same text, applying it to himself, and I ask the question whether our description of the good news is adequate to his description... even more whether it is adequate to his subsequent message and life. (See the Sermon on the Plain in Luke or the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and tell me where you see what we’ve traditionally called the “good news.”) How does going to heaven after you die, having lived through hell on earth, adequately address what you see in the life of Jesus. (I know, I know. He suffered on the cross. But is there no hope in what he says for people in this life?)

I also struggle with the social justice answer to that question. I understand though don’t know what I think about things like liberation theology, a radical understanding of good news that has Central and South American pastors advocating for armed rebellion against corrupt governments. Is that the good news? Or a part of it? I’m currently struggling with a more local definition in an effort that is inviting me to participate in organizing for social change. I’m struggling very hard to see that in the gospels and Acts. So far, I’m not finding it there, though I heartily think justice for the poor, the alien and the dispossessed of our world enters the picture somehow. It seems more a critique of our have/have not society. But I don’t know that the change will take place by applying current theories of fomenting social change. Jesus seems to be concerned with something that may lead to the result of social change, but goes more to the heart of what is wrong in man and in society.

I don’t have an answer to my question yet that I’m happy with. I’ll throw this meager, inadequate attempt on the table and let you beat up on it for awhile.

So far, the good news of sight to the blind, freedom for the prisoners, good news to the poor, etc, seems to be wrapped up in the simple message that God in Jesus has come near. As a result, if we want to experience that nearness (or maybe because we are experiencing that nearness), we need to change how we think about just about everything. We need to let God redefine our reality about what is truly important in the world and what we give our life’s energy to. We need to allow God to completely recast how we look at the world, especially at people in the world. We need to take seriously the character of our God as we live with, love and deal with each other, even those who are in no sense Christian at all. The good news to me appears to be that the world was never intended to go on by itself. Rather people were intended all along to walk with God and each other in an honoring, fulfilling, loving, others-serving, justice-seeking way. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. That’s the dynamic process that is supposed to be going on, the good news that brings hope. Or such is the trail I’m currently on.

Now, I may be all wrong. Or I may be just way too simplistic about this. I don’t know.

But here’s my dilemma.

If I am close to what the good news as defined by God/Jesus really is, then God’s nearness and communication with and empowerment of his people in their mission to join him in spreading his realized presence in the world and the justice that comes with him is vital.

Do you see why I’m so focused on the knowing god and the voice of god posts?

I don’t think God wound up the clock and is just letting things run down until he says, “Enough!” and zaps the world with intense heat. Or that as deists might claim today that he will allow the universe to collapse in on itself again into one instance (or whatever you want to call it) that recreates the big bang all over again, complete with a new universe and new physics, etc. (This is not a critique of the Big Bang, by the way. I happen to believe it happened as the astrophysicists up in the Owens River Valley are saying it happened. There is a lot to be said for scientific observation, as flawed as it is, and for the current higher mathematics, which are useful but equally flawed.)

But if God is at all personal, if Jesus Christ was God in the Flesh, then what is the good news? And, more importantly, why is it good for me, for us, for all peoples, for the world?

It seems to me the most critical question to be asked today. And I don’t hear many people asking it.

What do you think?

Grace and peace,


Sunday, October 02, 2005

the voice of god...

I’ve been thinking about listening to God again. I’m thinking of a particular time in my life when I was convinced that God had spoken to me, asking me to do something that I didn’t really understand. I don’t know that I know the full import of it still. Here’s the story....

Most of you know that I lead worship for Central Church in Bakersfield, California. Some years ago, when we were still in the old building, I had just finished leading and Mark Turner, our then pulpit minister, had gotten up to preach. I remember this clearly for a number of reasons. When I sat down, I sat on the left side of the building rather than the right. Being a creature of habit, this magnified my memory of what happened. Sitting there just felt different.

Well, Mark had started the introduction to his lesson while my mind was otherwise occupied getting settled in this “new” place. Suddenly, I can’t say that this was characterized by words per se, but a strong compulsion came over me that I was to wash Mark’s feet. It came out of the blue. Consider, we are not into foot washing in my denomination. We have traditionally intellectualized the practice, extracting the “message” that Jesus wants us to learn from it. As far as I can remember, my immediate reaction was to ask myself, “Where did this come from?” Mark wasn’t preaching on John 13. None of our songs had a hint of water in them that I could remember. But this compulsion had a weight to it – I don’t know how else to describe it except weight – that I couldn’t ignore. My first question to God was, “Right now? I don’t have any water. I don’t have a towel. No soap. It would be terribly disruptive at this point.” Seeing no opportunity to do what the heavenly imperative commanded, I spent the rest of Mark’s sermon puzzling over this. I have no clue what Mark said that morning. I was struggling with a much more personal dilemma. Or was it so personal? Hang onto that question for a moment while I finish the story.

I told no one of what had happened, not even Dorothy. Convinced I had heard from God (and I’m still convinced of it), I began trying to find opportunity to complete the task that had been given me. Several months went by and no opportunity arose. I remember that a bunch of us, including Mark, went to Promise Keepers in Los Angeles at the Coliseum. I thought prior to going, “Maybe there, maybe I’m to wash his feet there.” No opportunity arose.

Back to Bakersfield with no resolution. Working. Leading worship. Dealing with kids and other family obligations. Life kept rolling along and still no opportunity.

Finally, and this was probably six months after this had been presented to me, it was time for all of us to go to camp. When our family does camp, we take a lot of stuff. The car was packed to the gills. the kids were buckled into the back seat. Dorothy was getting her seatbelt arranged on the passenger side. I took the opportunity to sneak – unbeknownst to them – a plastic basin, towel and soap into a small void in the back of the station wagon. I did it with a silent prayer. Something along the lines of, “Okay, Lord. If you really want me to do this, you need to make it very obvious to me.” Then we headed to camp.

I think I was leading worship that year and helping with music at campfire. I know I wasn’t teaching. It was a kind of family encampment. We had just lost a number of people and families due to the closing of a Christian school. Anyway, days went by. Nothing. It must have been Thursday of that week. I was taking the quarter mile trek from the Green House where Dorothy and I were staying up to the cafeteria. Walking along the baseball field, I was having this long internal and very intense conversation with God. “I brought the basin. I brought the towel. I brought the soap. If this is really from you, I need to know. And if it doesn’t happen now, I’m going to attribute this thing to temporary insanity or something.”

I was late for the morning session. Our then youth minister had begun leading the worship already, which was fine with me. I was still struggling with that internal conversation. I honestly can’t remember who said what, but someone began reading the opening lines of John 13. “Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the Father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end. It was suppertime....” And so unfolded there in the cafeteria that two-thousand year-old story of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet. My friend Wade, I believe, was to speak on that very text at the evening worship.

It hit me like a truck. I don’t think God could have made it much more obvious than that. As we walked up the sidewalk to Cabin High, where the men’s class was being taught by Mark, I began a new line of questions in my mind. “How am I going to tell Mark? Is he going to think I’m nuts?” Again Mark taught. Again, I don’t think I heard a single word of what he said. I hung around after class was over. On the sidewalk back to the cafeteria, I asked to speak with him. He was very gracious, didn’t question my sanity, though I certainly was.

That night, in the middle of Wade’s sermon, I walked from the back of the cafeteria to the front carrying a basin and a towel and some soap and washed Mark’s feet. There was a hush in the room. A number of tears were shed that night. God showed up.

Now years later, I am still told this had a long-lasting influence on a lot of people that were and are part of our church. There is no glory in it for me. None at all and none deserved.

It began with God’s direction.

One more point... isn’t it interesting (perhaps more than?) that this directive from God (for so I still believe it to be) seemed to be intended to be witnessed by the community? I’m wondering again if the voice of God is primarily concerned less with us as individuals and more with us as a community of faith intended to bless and break into the world as the living kingdom of God?

What do you think?

Grace and peace,


Saturday, October 01, 2005

café dolce 5: the menu, the meal...

Well, here is the latest in the Café Dolce series of posts. It was a long time coming, partly because the summer was so busy with work and kids. But the truth is that every time I sat down to write it I could barely get two paragraphs out until the dissatisfaction was so strong that I couldn’t go anywhere with it.

Suddenly, on a morning several weeks ago (and after only one cup of coffee) I had an epiphany of sorts. A small one, but still an epiphany. You can judge for yourself if I’m overstating the case when you’re done reading.

One of the problems of the modern generations (I’m speaking of myself, my parents and older) is that we have become so skilled at slicing things apart into individual and separate pieces, and thinking, by doing that, we understand what we have dissected. (In another post, I may explore how our post-modern children have done the same thing in deconstructing modernism – that’s a hoot! Modernism hoisted aloft on it’s own petard!) Anyway, the same could be applied to this Café Dolce metaphor, or to the experience of eating itself.

As someone who has been in business before, I can guarantee you that the owners of the restaurant I’ve based these particular posts on (or any restaurant that wants to stay in business) have given significant and ongoing thought to what’s on the menu. They know that their stock in trade depends upon convincing as many of those as possible who like relatively inexpensive fresh-made hamburgers, or hot and cold deli sandwiches, or bagels and espresso or whatever else they have on their menu, to stop by and spend some bucks, hopefully on a regular basis.

You could say, in one way, that the owners of Café Dolce are very modern in their approach. It’s all about burgers and bucks and capturing market share from the competing nearby food vendors. Though profit is their motive, if we use this as a metaphor for the church, isn’t it true that there is much more going on in Café Dolce than just the menu and the results of ordering from it?

I remember being there for breakfast once and seeing a woman I know and her husband having a very intense, yet quiet and private conversation. Isn’t that something more than menu? What things have been rejoiced over or struggled with at the tables of Café Dolce? What bonds have been formed and broken over their food? What deals struck and partnerships dissolved as people ate their meals? What gladness of heart?

While the food from the menu is certainly part of the meal, the meal is more than the food. Does that make sense?

Have we so focused on the menu that we’ve forgotten the meal, the fellowship, the relationship?

No wonder Jesus invited us together to table.

Chew on that awhile and see what you come up with.

Grace and peace,