Thursday, March 27, 2008

please - make us proud -

i was just watching a tv show and there's a preacher, and he seems great, and he's just joined a new group of friends, and a beautiful woman walks in who's one of the group, and someone introduces the woman to the preacher. the preacher smiles and shakes her hand, and one man in the group says, "She's a whore."
and he means it - she's a prostitute. that's what she does for a living. just data, information.

and i'm thinking ... please, preacher - make me proud ... do what jesus would do ... did do ... continue shaking her hand, respond to her as you would to any other broken beautiful person - which is all of us - treat her like an equal. like more than an equal - like she's the beloved of god ... because she is ...

please, preacher, be like jesus.
be like jesus' people ought to be.

make me proud.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

does this exist for any other reason than

just for my own entertainment? am i a bad person, because i find this so ridiculous? i know there are christians out there who want to give these toys to their children. i hope this is just one of those action figures that they do for fun - like the Sigmund Freud action figure, or the Marie Antoinette action figure with removable head. but ... there's a part of me that suspects that this action figure is a serious work by someone.

am i being too cynical? too haughty? "pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall" - proverbs 16:18 ... yeah, yeah, i know ... who am i to make fun of someone's sincere effort to share jesus with their children? and yet ...

he has glow-in-the-dark hands. seriously.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

choke on it.



it hit me earlier this week, and i remembered again tonight - something i wanted to tell you.

jesus is a mirror. a mirror pulsing with love and acceptance. but a mirror nevertheless.

sometimes i see what's in it and i am so so so happy.

and sometimes i just want to choke on what's there. i don't like what it's telling me. i don't want to look into my own shadow, or fear, or shame.

and yet, every time i do, i find the love and acceptance behind what i started to choke on and reject.

so, jesus is a mirror. my wish for you is that you look all the way in, and then even if you choke on what you see, keep looking.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

i've been listening, and thinking ... and i made a huge leap that surprised me.

this blog post, which i got from bob c, helped me think this through.
i think, honestly, that obama wants to move forward into a different america. he wants us to think differently, better. like all the great prophets - washington and jefferson and lincoln, mlk and bobby kennedy, bono and susan b. anthony - these are people who were inviting the people around them to think differently, to be different. to take america up on its dream for itself.
there will always, always, always be backlash against this invitation. fear makes us recoil, and reject.
race is indeed powerful in this country. at some point i think we all had to deal with the reality: barack obama is a person of color. this is the unfortunately messy way in which the subject is being dealt with - like a scab being ripped off. and now we're being faced with a question:
what will we do about ourselves? because this isn't about obama - it's about us.

and ... having said that ...

[see last night's post] ... what struck me this morning is that politics is Candidate A telling Candidate B (both of whom represent large machines of power) about Candidate B.
i don't like it when someone comes up and tells me about me. listen to me first. help me listen to you, about you. i need to know you, know what your experience is, what you care about, what you're afraid of, what you're passionate about. and only then would i dare for a moment to tell you anything about you.
but in politics, it's the candidates' job - and the commentators' job, and the advisors' job, and the writers' job - to tell everybody The Insight, The Answer, including saying to the other guys, This Is Who I Say You Are ... "here is the deal with you, candidate." "here are the differences between you and me on this issue." "your plan won't work because ..."
there's only so much of this i can listen to before i get depressed, angry, apathetic.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

hatred and hope

so, Barack Obama's former pastor said some things over his many-year-long career, quotes taken out of context are swirling around, probably found and sent out exactly at the time the clinton camp wanted them to be.
the pastor said these things to
an african-american church in the politically corrupt city of chicago, about the evils of racism in america.
absolutely. and well he should have.
if the gospel isn't about overturning the tables of the rich who oppress the poor, what was jesus doing?
if the gospel isn't about fighting for the rights of the poor and oppressed, why did jesus say his mission was "to give sight to the blind, give hope to the oppressed, set the prisoner free"? did he mean that only theoretically, or was he much more of a radical than we think?
the gospel has given hope to the oppressed throughout history - the christians in rome, for instance, or the poor in many countries, including latin america, where "liberation theology" became important. it's about the liberation of the poor. that comes from questioning - and challenging - the powers that be.
the gospel's message of god's self-declaration to moses and the israelites - "i am the god who brought you out of egypt, and made you free instead of slaves" - gave african-descended slaves in america hope.
Obama said today that the original sin of america is slavery.
i say, its children are all the forms of racism which still exist.
Obama also said that his pastor made a mistake; as a man who had lived in Jim Crow segregation, and had not experienced anywhere near the change he and his people longed for, the pastor did not see that enough progress had been made in opening america's power to the formerly disenfranchised. the pastor was angry that it wasn't changing. he was stirring his people up, challenging them.
this is what the prophets do throughout the bible.
the pastor quotes the jewish and christian scriptures, which say that if a nation does what is wrong in the sight of the lord, the lord damns that nation.
well, this nation's continued prejudice and fear-based territorial thinking have indeed been damn-worthy. i'm with him. it's what i think jesus wants, as well - set this nation's beautiful dreams free by fighting against every system and decision which keeps us from being fully what we can be - a land in which all men and women are equal.
in this country, today, an african-american man, a descendant of african slaves and european american immigrants, is really really close to being elected as president of the united states. that's amazing. beautiful. it makes me proud of this country and how far we've come.
Obama said today that his former pastor just couldn't see that so much progress had been made, and for that the pastor was wrong.
i agree.

and how many of us have ever worked in a company, or been members of a church, or been part of a family, in which the ceo or parent or pastor said things we didn't agree with - but we saw the greater good in that person? i think that's what's happened here.

if this is what brings Obama down, i am sad that this country cannot see itself more clearly. because we've still got a long way to go. i am proud of us, that we're working so hard. but we're not there yet.

is it wrong to preach hate? yes.
is it wrong to call people to what the prophets all called people to - namely, the "zeal of the lord" for what is right and a passion for challenging what isn't as it should be?
no. it is not wrong.
a far greater wrong is apathy in the face of what isn't right - the apathy of the american christian church, for instance, toward the poor ... the very hypocrisy that turns so many people off about church - the apathy of the christian church toward prejudice and racism and sexism and violence are all SINS.

so, that pastor was pissed off? he was angry with america? hey, america, if you can't handle that there's legitimacy in that, get tougher. as they say, if that's the straw that broke your camel's back, you need a stronger camel.

Monday, March 17, 2008

not much of a messiah

It weirded me out yesterday to come into the JIFC Warehouse Living Room for worship and see our beautiful yarn grid wrapped in plastic and all tied up. The yarn has been all about the complexity and beauty of God in the middle of us. We've put our prayers in it, our confessions, our hopes; we've released our attachments into it; we've seen images and patterns in it symbolizing God's presence in our lives.

But it was wrapped in plastic and all tied up. And I had said to do it. It was for worship. But still. It was awful.

It was Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus' so-called Triumphal Entry into the center of the world, Jerusalem, signaled the coming of the conquering King, The Messiah, or Chosen One. The Son of David, who would occupy the throne of the great symbolic king of Israel and who would bring the reign of God on earth. God in charge. God making all things right. And, the Son of God, who would cleanse the Temple of all that wasn't purely God's intention in the Jewish Law, and embody Torah's heart. He would reconnect Israel to its roots in God's Law, and all the world would come to Jerusalem for salvation. That was what everyone had been expecting, for a thousand years. The Messiah would bring "righteousness" - that is, everything would be as God wants it to be. And crush Rome.
Jesus didn't ride into town with a chariot and an army. He rode in on a borrowed donkey, or a colt, depending on which Gospel you read. His followers were thrilled; they sang the songs about the Messiah, and sang the Messiah-is-coming song, with the words "
Hosannah! The One who comes in the Name of Yahweh is blessed!" ("hosannah" means "save us!"). But it was hardly a triumphant entry of a conquering king. Way to ruin everybody's expectations. Jerk.
Jesus spent the week talking about what he understood God's righteousness really meant: love, and humility, and caring for the poor. He argued with the religious teachers about God's nature and how to live out God's Law, and parried back at the Temple authorities to whom he was a threat. And then Rome crushed him.
What Jesus was talking about isn't spectacular; it's quiet. It's small. It's seen in relationships between people, and serving humbly, and practicing love. Jesus taught his followers that, and they practiced it, and some people - crushed people, crucified people, people who were allowing themselves to be changed and transformed - were infected with what Jesus' God. And so are we. Crushed, crucified, changed, transformed people.

I'm not waiting for the conquering Messiah. Screw that. It just wraps God in plastic.

Jesus was a loving, patient, courageous Messiah. And we are the Messiah, now. We are here to be that vision of God. Of God's righteousness - of what God wants the world to be like. No parades, no armies, no politics, no earthly power. It's better than that.
When that happens, the plastic wrapping on God that we build when we contain God with our expectations comes falling down.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

missionary impossible

here's an email from a friend. i met her and some folks from their church a few years ago at a conference on the emerging church movement. they were deeply involved in their church, a very cool place doing really fun things. but obviously it wasn't so good after a while. here's part of her email to me. i can tell she's sad sad sad.

... we're still finding our way, taking a break, trying to not try too hard. Overall life is good. Sometimes I miss all of the good stuff that was, but it's not just that we left that community, but that the community wasn't what it was and had instead become something Big, with an Agenda — so by the time I left, there was no there there. It kinda broke my heart to try and stay, so I packed it in. Maybe some day it will all make sense again.
I do marvel that so many of us live with the knowledge of this great and glorious story — that God so loved the world that He bothered to put on skin and walk around and show how a life lived in full knowledge of and connection with Love looks like and works — and yet the best we seem to do with that knowledge is put up buildings and fill them with self-congratulatory, self-referencing, self-financing "organizations." I really resonate with that Homer Simpson line (from the episode "Missionary Impossible") where he says something like "I sure don't know much about God, but we sure built a nice cage for him."
I hope that someday I will find a community of people who will encourage me to be brave enough to love as recklessly as Jesus did — a group of people who will remind me to give away freely, knowing that I am plugged into the Source of everything. You keep up the good fight in Texas, and I'll keep my eyes peeled for signs of life here.

i am tired of the institutional church. i hope journey ifc never becomes an institutional church. in fact, i'm determined it won't.
how can you keep that from happening? stay real. do constant self-examination, tell the truth to yourself and one another, question everything that smells remotely like the culture, have faith, have no plan except love, and stay humble. follow jesus. everything the church uses, is for loving god and loving people. get rid of stuff. let go of what you don't need and hold tight to what you know god's telling you.
and even then, don't ever be afraid to say to god, We might not know what we're doing at all - feel free to screw things up if it'll keep us on track for you and your kingdom.
yeah, all that scares me. but that's good. those scared parts of me need to die anyway, and be resurrected into courage and obedience.

Monday, March 10, 2008

at the jifc warehouse, when we feel like relaxing ...


playing with awesome helicopter toys in the street in front of the warehouse is a great way to keep things in perspective.

Friday, March 7, 2008

let's talk about love

the awesome mike l. sent me an email and he asked a question. i say we all pitch in and add as many answers as we can; i can use 'em for the book proposal i'm finishing - a book that suggests that jesus was talking about love and everything else is just crap we made up.
anyway, here's part of mike's email:

I remember someone saying that the Eskimos have like a zillion words for “ice” or “snow.” Different words conveying different meanings -- for instance, whether the “ice” would be sufficient to bear a man’s weight. I got to thinking about “love.” Of course, I remember all the sermons about the Greek words for love. But I don’t really remember seeing or reading much about OUR words for love. It strikes me that our capacity for taking in the meaning of “love” and thus for God (since God is love), might be limited by conventional wisdom, that is, the very distinctions and meanings that our language allows.
So I thought about creating a taxonomy of our words relating to “love” Something like:

True love
Puppy love
Bad love (per Eric Clapton)
Good lovin’ (per Rascals)
Platonic love
Easy love
Unrequited Love
Ex-love(r)
Luv love
Romantic love
Making love
Strange Love
Love your enemies
Love is such sweet sorrow

You can probably think of many, many more. So God is “love” and all of those expressions are the way we use “love” in the stories that are our lives. What are the commonalities? What are the distinctions? How does God fit into those expressions? Transcend them?

So, let's try it. comment and list more ways we use the word "love." don't worry that mike and i are riffing on what that says about our capacity to feel and see what god is, at least in part, if god is love. just throw some this way that explore different ways we understand "love" in our culture ...
i thought of:

love is a many-splendored thing
i love chocolate
i love my wife
i love taking naps
love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things
love stinks
who loves you, baby?
baby love
love you baby
love hurts
love of country
i don't love you anymore
i love my boyfriend/girlfriend so much!
love letters

others?

Monday, March 3, 2008

i don't like it when you go back to work

week before last i was waiting on my friend brad to get to the restaurant where we were having lunch. i was by myself in the lobby, hanging out. turns out, it was in the middle of the week when i was passing my kidney stone, so i was a little out of it. but i was just sitting, surrounded by mexican art and wall hangings in bright colors. people walked in and out; it was about 1230, so the early lunch crowd were finishing.
a man came around the corner. he was 40ish. tall. nice clothes - not a suit, but nice slacks and pressed shirt. shined boots. crisp haircut. he looked determined to leave. i heard a boy call out behind him. the man stopped.
"don't go, daddy!" the boy cried. "i don't like it when you go back to work!"
behind me - i couldn't see the table - i heard the mom say, "but daddy has to go back to work, honey." the boy came around and the dad turned and picked him up. the son looked about four years old. the man held the boy and said, quietly, "daddy has to go back to the office, but i'll see you at home tonight. it won't be long." he held the boy, who had his little arms wrapped around the dad's neck. the son was crying. not sobbing, just sad. "don't go, daddy," he said; "don't go back to work."
i heard the mom say something about going to the park. then a grandmother at the table joined in; she said something about them all going to the park, and getting ice cream. "yeah," the mom said, trying to be cheerful, and at the same time, make this happen, "we're going to have lots of fun. we'll see daddy in just a little while."
then the dad, who was still holding the boy, set the boy down on the floor, and looked at him, and put his arms on the boy's shoulders, and said, "it's okay. daddy has to go back to work. stay with mama and grandma." and then he added, "shake it off."
it wasn't mean; it was just the dad's way of instructing his son about how to deal with this emotion of sadness. "shake it off."
the mother and grandmother and father were all working to achieve a series of objectives for what they felt needed to happen that day. daddy has to go back to work. daddy has a job. daddy has to be at the job, so daddy can keep the job. we need the money daddy makes, in order to live in our house and have our cars and eat at this nice restaurant and live in this nice city. you need to get used to being separated from your parents. it's a useful and necessary skill in order for you to grow up and be successful in your life. mama and daddy need to know you can do this, so they can feel like they're being good parents, and not feel fear that they're doing a bad job. grandma is here; she may judge mama and daddy as being bad parents, or the boy as being spoiled. i dunno what else was on their list of factors that were involved behind their leading this boy toward what they felt needed to happen.
they were using reason. coaxing. instructing. inserting rational thinking and consequences/rewards so that the boy would do what they wanted him to. it makes sense. it's how the world works. the interjection of reason over emotion. it's how things work.
and it struck me as - odd. not uncommon; it's very common. it's what we do. but it was just weird.
the boy's need and feelings were deep, visceral. he didn't want his daddy to go. i have no idea what is going on in that family's dynamic, their relationships, how much daddy works, whether the mama's a good mother, or whether home is an unsafe place when daddy's not there, or if daddy's emotionally distant and the boy misses him and wants to be close to him. i don't know.
but i know that feeling - please, don't go. don't leave me. i miss you. i'm sad when you're not here.
i know the deep, down-in-the-bones-and-balls feeling of loneliness and loss. you do, too, i bet. and i felt for the boy.
i felt for the parents, too, having two children of my own, and remembering my own sadness when we'd have to teach the children, as these parents were doing, about how life works, and how we have to put our emotions in the places where they go, so that we can participate in our culture in the way it works.
the boy relented, and said he'd go with mama and grandma to the park. the dad came back around the corner.
he had a serious look on his face. was he sad? angry? feeling guilty or lost? or just ready to get back to the office or the truck or his next client? i don't know. but he didn't look happy, or even reassured. he passed me with his head down.

i wondered, what would have happened if the dad had taken the afternoon off? it was a tuesday; tuesdays aren't a day to take off; they're days to get things done. but what if? it was a gorgeously sunny day. what if he'd said, Y'know, fuck it - i'm taking my son to the park. or, i'm going to go home with my son, and let's put on our pajamas and pile into bed and watch a dvd and eat popcorn. what if he'd said to his boss, I'm taking the afternoon to do something important, and i'll get to my emails this evening.
would it have been possible for him to do that, and keep his commitments as well? i don't know anything about his story, his work life, his feelings about his productivity - whether it was fear that drove him, or a sense of responsibility. maybe this was an important lesson for this son to learn; maybe the kid was manipulative and bratty and had been insisting on pushing his parents around.
but i can usually tell the difference between someone who is sincerely in pain, and someone who is projecting their pain. and this kid just wanted to be with his daddy.
i know, our culture says to us, when we're sad or lost or confused or tired, "shake it off." i know, that's the "right" thing to do. but i see so many people who've been shaking it off for years, decades - and at some point, the deep loss and sadness and emptiness and longing in their soul can't or won't be ignored anymore, and they just need. they just need. and they can't stuff it down and shake it off anymore. and i hear them say, in all sorts of ways, Daddy, don't go back to work.
sometimes they turn to something beautiful, and find hope and meaning and redemption. sometimes they don't.