Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jesus and Establishment

First night of my final class at Leland; Who is Jesus. Should be a good class, last night about archeology; good stuff.

Got me thinking about Jesus and how he was perceived by his peers, and how people today perceive him. Very differently. Jesus was anti-establishment. Strange how we have made him the center of the establishment.

I'm not saying he shouldn't be the center of the church, he is and should be. So perhaps I'm saying the church shouldn't be so "established." It doesn't get much more established than the way many of us see and do church.

But Jesus didn't lead an organization. He led a wild, diverse group of rebels and revolutionaries. He and his followers rebelled against the established religion of the time--not by bringing a new religion, but by bringing truth and honesty about the relationship between God and his people. He pointed out how God's followers missed the mark, and tried to help them see God more the way He wanted them to.

Jesus taught that what mattered was one's heart and actions. It was about loving God and loving others, not about following all the laws just right. He talked over and over about helping, serving, giving.

I grew up hearing that the Christian faith was about getting right with God--being born again, living righteously, doing what I was supposed to...good things, but it was all about me doing what I was supposed to in order to please God.

There was little focus on others--ministry and missions was kind of an afterthought, and still more about me doing the things I was supposed to, than it was about the people I was to serve. I think this attitude is still prevalent among many evangelicals.

Over the last 10 years my perspective has changed radically. The black and white, cut and dried, questions and answers faith I had is gone. I still believe in Jesus, I still love and worship him, but I have more questions, more wonder, less clarity and simple answers.

Brian McLaren's book A New Kind of Christian really captured what I've been thinking and feeling. This description from his recent book A New Kind of Christianity does as well:

My disillusionment was intensified by what was happening in the Christian community in America during the 1980s and 1990s. A large number of both Protestant and Catholic leaders had aligned with a neoconservative political ideology, trumpeting what they called "conservative family values," but minimizing biblical community values. They supported wars of choice, defended torture, opposed environmental protection, and seemed to care more about protecting the rich from taxes than liberating the poor from poverty or minorities from racism. They spoke against big government as if big was bad, yet they seemed to see big military and big business as inherently good. They wanted to protect unborn human life inside the womb, but didn't seem to care about born human life in slums or prisons or nations they considered enemies. They loved to paint gay people as a threat to marriage, seeming to miss the irony that heterosexual people were damaging marriage at a furious pace without any help from gay couples. They consistently relegated females to second-class status, often while covering up for their fellow males when they fell into scandal or committed criminal abuse. They interpreted the Bible to favor the government of Israel and to marginalize Palestinians, and even before September 11, 2001, I feared that through their influence Muslims were being cast as the new scapegoats, targets of a scary kind of religiously inspired bigotry.

Their stridency and selectivity in choosing issues and priorities at first annoyed, then depressed, and then angered me. They had created a powerful, wealthy, and stealthy network dedicated to mobilizing fighters in their "culture war."

So now we have growing numbers of churches and communities pushing back against this mindset--typically labeled the emerging/emergent church. In many evangelical circles, McLaren and those who think similarly are branded rebels, revolutionaries, even heretics.

It seems obvious to me the establishment that the emerging church is pushing back against has a lot in common with the established religion of Jesus' time and place.

Many of us are asking questions and exploring different ways of worshiping and fellowshipping and being the church; not because we want to destroy Christianity, but because we love Jesus, and long to create a church that continues to become more of what Jesus lived. A church that is not focused on itself, but on doing anything and everything possible to live out the Kingdom of God. A church that takes risks and asks hard questions and is willing to try something different, even radical, for the sake of Jesus and His Kingdom.

I have said things like this before, and fear I am doing too much deconstructing, and not enough building up. That's where I want to try to go. I want to find new ways of doing community, or church, that focus on others, seek to serve and give, aren't so concerned with organization and structure, but on relationships.

I think it starts close to home, so Jamie and I are talking about getting something going with our neighbors. After three years of pastoring a church that is an hour away, I am eager to do church with people down the street, even next door.

We're just starting to talk, but I need to make sure we take some action.

One example--we have some friends who are not currently plugged into a church. They are committed Christians, but are looking for the right community. So lately, they have been seeking people and organizations to whom they can give their tithe/offering.

Knowing we are in a really desperate financial situation, they gave us their most recent offering. That's what the church can be; people who live in community together sharing, giving, serving. I'm so grateful for the gift, and also thinking of how we can give or serve them in some way. Maybe they'll be a part of whatever church community we get going.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

thoughts on the "ground zero--mosque" controversy

Matt Sledge at Huffington has a great piece on the "ground zero--mosque" controversy.

here are a few of my thoughts on the situation:

I think there is a big difference between "at" ground zero and a few blocks away. Much of the conversation I'm hearing assumes that the community center/mosque is going to be right where the towers stood, and that's not the case. I would hope that hearing that fact could impact people's perception.

I want to believe that we as a nation can rise above and continue to promote the freedom and liberty we always have--for all people, regardless of religion or race.

I guess the big difference here is that some people cannot or will not separate the terrorists of 9-11 from all Muslims. For me, it's like holding all Christians responsible for the actions of one who kills an abortion doctor, or identifying all Christians with someone like Fred Phelps, the Baptist pastor who disrupts soldiers' funerals, preaching that those deaths are God's judgment on America.

For those of us who are Christ followers, I think we share His love when we relate to others, even Muslims, with peace and love rather than with protests and exclusion. I think Jesus would condemn the actions of the terrorists, but not hold it against other people who were not involved, just because they share a common race or religion.

I realize my perspective is different than a lot of Christians, and I want to have the same grace and understanding toward them that I am asking for; so I don't mean to come across too strong.


I posted the following under the comments of a recent post, but realize few people probably saw it...plus, I want to add some thoughts.

I think one of the struggles is building authentic community as an organization. community happens best organically, naturally.

I have four friends that I watch GMU basketball with. We have known each other for years, love and support one another, feel totally comfortable together. That's real community.

The few churches that I've seen that have done well at building community started with a commitment to selflessness and serving. They also encouraged people to be deeply involved in each others' lives on a daily basis, not just on Sundays. It's hard to build these things into an existing community if they are not part of that community's DNA from the beginning.

But even those churches struggled when they got bigger. I am a big fan of smaller when it comes to church/community. (Take a look at Dave Browning's Deliberate Simplicity; great book)

My friend Joey was working on a model of bringing Jesus and the Kingdom into existing communities--families; neighborhoods, businesses, etc.--rather than building new communities and inviting people--giving them one more group/thing that cuts into their time. This really intrigues me.

I'm a big fan of small--small communities, small groups, etc.

I have a good friend who stopped going to church recently. Bottom line--he loved it when he knew most of the people--when the church was 200 people, there was a real family feel. Now that there are 800 people, he feels lost, not as connected. I understand.

I would prefer to start a community rather than join one--with people who are like-minded, who want to share their lives; live near one another, serve each other, worship and fellowship together.

Ideally, I'd love to find a non-church job and have the freedom to start something new--a community that I didn't have to depend on for income.

OK, lots of random thoughts; still thinking about how this would really look.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Springsteen in London

If you have never seen Bruce Springsteen in concert, than you have not seen the greatest live show ever. Plain and simple. You may not agree, but you'd be wrong. I've seen over 75 concerts in my life, many of the biggest performers over the past 30 years, and no one puts on a show like Bruce. No one's body of work over the last 35 years compares to his. And the energy of Bruce and the E Street Band in concert is unparalleled. The guy is 61, and rocks harder than most people half his age.

A high school friend introduced me to Bruce's music in 1983. Up to that point, I usually just listened to the radio, and Bruce has never been much of a mainstream radio guy.

But when Jeff played "Born to Run" for me, I was hooked. Here was great, driving, rock music with stories and characters and images--all very real and powerful and fascinating.

On November 11, 1984 I saw Bruce in concert for the first time. I cannot describe how amazing that experience was. 23 years to the day later, I took my daughter to see Bruce in concert (it was my 10th time; I've now seen him 11 times).

Each time he puts out an album, I get it immediately; each time he tours, I try to get tickets. His music has become the biggest part of the soundtrack of my life. Each song takes me back to the time of my life when I first heard it.

Last week I got Bruce's latest concert video, from a performance at London's Hyde Park last year. It is truly the best of his concert videos. And the best part is that my boys love watching it--so we've spent a lot of time the last few days listening to Bruce and the band.

If you get a chance, give it a look/listen:


London Calling

Waitin' On A Sunny Day

Born To Run