Monday, November 28, 2011

Sandpaper in Hand

So imagine with me:

You've been freed up by a grant to spend three days a week exclusively working to testify to Jesus' good news about God's kingdom. What would you do?

I really like the image of reality wearing through the map (if this metaphor's unfamiliar to you, sit down with some friends and watch The Matrix or, better, read Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation). Where does the kingdom wear through in your context? Where might it? And would you best invest your time if you had three days a week to work on widening the hole?

I've been working for the last few years (off and on, more off than on) to refinish a cheap electric guitar I bought when I played in a high school garage band. Armed with sandpaper, I sit out on the fire escape or on the front steps slowly removing a garish blue finish to reveal the wood grain beneath it, the canvas for beautiful things to come. That's the work before us.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Road to Missional and Working Retail

I'm taking in Mike Frost's new The Road to Missional in preparation for a forthcoming review in Englewood Review of Books. I'll post an update here once it's published.

This is a great and provocative book, definitely the best-presented outline of Christianity as participation in the missio Dei or missio Christi that I've ever picked up. It definitely has me thinking.

First, The Road to Missional has me contemplating a new way of describing Jesus' announcement of God's kingdom. Frost, drawing on David Bosch if I remember right (an author I need to read more), talks about Jesus announcing God's kingdom present in the world, overlapping with it. God's kingdom is here, realized, but not in a way we yet recognize. Or, as Frost says, the world as God desires it and the world as we know it don't "overlap completely." One-to-one correspondence waits for Jesus' return.

Second, then, I'm meditating on the ways in which the kingdom shows through (reality wears through the map) in this mountain valley I call home for now. Frost describes a believer in Cambodia who demonstrates the advent of the kingdom in a displaced persons camp. He dug trenches to drain the land to reduce mosquitoes bearing infectious disease. He found a truck to transport laborers into the city to find work. What does that look like in a part-time tourist town, a city of ski bum college kids, where obsolete ranchhands and cowboys spend up the hours playing video poker, where heroin addicts come to clean up.

Third, and most insistently, I'm back to the question of what God's kingdom and our mission to alert the world to its presence means for people working retail. Retail, especially in a large chain, is not a context that welcomes relationship. Justice does not roll down (even when we're dropping prices). There's no shalom in shopping. Yet I'm there. A lot of people who follow Jesus are there, for our eight hours, five or more days a week. What does faithful witness, faithful testimony look like there? Can God's kingdom wear through behind the checkstand counter?

I'm excited to read the last chapter of The Road to Missional. This is a book that brings me hope.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Soft at the Edges

I deeply desire to be able to name myself categorically as follow Jesus. That’s half the appeal of participating in a monastic, activist, or non-profit social justice community. If I’m honest, that’s half the appeal of leading a church.
How do we know we follow Jesus? How do we sort out in our day-to-day, nine-to-five lives if we are somehow participating in messianic mission? 
Love can take many forms. Redemption may often blend into the background.
A younger version of myself would identify witness as unapologetic apologetics and exploiting every opportunity to confront people with the gospel. But I believe this way of witnessing turns primarily on a theoretical/intellectual mode of understanding “gospel”--a way foreign to Jesus’ own proclamation.
Example: I work in a pharmacy for a day job. In between filling prescriptions and cashing out customers, a coworker mentions that she plans to come again to church, the same church I go to, incidentally. A fellow Christian who also works there immediately takes this opportunity to interrogate the rest of our fellow employees about their church attendance habits. They become defensive, explaining that they go occasionally, when they can, whey they’re not too tired, etc.
My younger self would have joined in the interrogation, hoping for a chance to score an invitation to join me on Sunday morning. But I’m not entirely sure that this is an incredibly faithful way to imagine witness.
I don’t think Jesus pressured people into attending weekly synagogue all too often.
But if this isn’t what witness looks like outside the monastery or the rescue mission, what might it look like?
Jesus meets people where they’re at. The woman at the well, Nicodemus, the wedding at Cana, John’s disciples at the Jordan. He goest to them, asks them questions, hears their stories, and then shares his life--the same life I want to share. It’s a patient process.
Will there ever be confrontation? Perhaps; probably, even. But like the Samaritan woman, confrontation with the truth of the Jesus story comes only after stories and needs have been heard, only after we really know one another.
But this is far from a clean-cut business. It seems difficulty to define. Are we living as witness? Or are we simply living as nice people? Where is Jesus in our friendships? Where is Jesus back in the pharmacy? It’s hard to say.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Rumblings and Musings . . .

I've recently roused my dormant interest in how apocalyptic eschatology informed early Christian praxis. Nathan Kerr's Christ, History, and Apocalyptic pushed a seed deep into my heart and mind, and I've been watching closely as I wait for its long-coming germination.

I've been reading up on peri-NT apocalyptic literature, with the help of H. H. Rowley's The Relevance of Apocalyptic, John J. Collins' The Apocalyptic Imagination, and a dusty volume I discovered on my shelf by D. S. Russell, Apocalyptic: Ancient and Modern. The more I read, the more I find that reverberations of the eschatology of apocalyptic literature sounding in NT texts. Doug Harink's Brazos Theological Commentary on 1 & 2 Peter samples this sort of sound.

Like Nathan Kerr and Halden Doerge (see his incredible posts on apocalyptic and the praxis of church in response to Kerr's book), I suspect that the apocalyptic eschatological matrix--and I mean eschatology in a big, broad sense, not just End Times speculation--both of the NT and of Jesus shapes the way in which Jesus' followers practice church today.

I need some space to work out what I'm reading, so forgive me occasional posts of fragmented thoughts over the coming months. If you have suggestions for my reading and reflection, please share your thoughts! Peace and thanks.

Revies :: Giver of Life :: Fr. John Oliver

While I've been preoccupied with relocating across the country (see La Fleur's post for the update), Englewood Review of books published my review of Fr. John Oliver's Give of Life: the Holy Spirit in Orthodox Tradition.

I thoroughly enjoyed this brief, poetic volume--the sort of book I could as easily read devotionally as I could assign it to students in an Intro to Christian Theology course. I highly suggest finding a copy to peruse for yourself.

I've included a couple of excerpts from my review. For the full text, head over to ERB. Subscribe to the email feed for regular updates on other good books to read (I did). Now my excerpted thoughts on the book:

Simone Weil, political mystic and trinitarian philosopher, wrote that love of God and love of neighbor “have attention for [their] substance” (Waiting for God, 114). Oliver waits upon the Spirit with this love, a patient attention that avoids the impatience that contradicts love. Weil writes elsewhere that error is due, fundamentally, to a lack of love: it is “due to the fact that thought has seized upon some idea to hastily, and being thus prematurely blocked, is not open to the truth . . .  We do not obtain the most precious gifts by going in search of them but by waiting for them” (Waiting for God, 112). Oliver is patient with the Spirit he loves.

The historical development of a theology of the Spirit also recommends patience. The mystery of the Holy Spirit has not been disclosed us with an abrupt clarity. In fact, for the better part of three centuries, the Spirit remained in the background of theological conversation, a presence to be confessed but then footnoted (or, perhaps, a presence to be practiced and celebrated but not theorized or formulated).

. . . Father John Oliver does what is best in this complicated history: he prays. Giver of Life could be read quickly; its prose flows graciously and simply even when touching on the highest mysteries of God. But the text itself invites patient, reflective, even prayerful reading. More than just a page-by-page textual invitation to slow reading, Giver of Life takes it structures from a simple, common prayer of Orthodox tradition:

O heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of life; come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Gracious Lord.
Each chapter meditates on one of this prayer’s acclamations or petitions. Oliver explains,

“While a book like this one about the Holy Spirit may transmit information, an interior awakening is the real goal. This is why Orthodox theological insight is embedded in our liturgical life. As we pray, so we believe; as we believe, so we pray. Prayer opens the heart to the penetrating presence of God.” Giver of Life is best read as a confession, a prayer of faith, offered to share the vision of God the Holy Spirit one priest has found within his tradition.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Review :: Revise Us Again :: Frank Viola

This afternoon I joined many others from my church-community to help a friend move to a new apartment. After we had carted the last box, last couch, last bookshelf up two flights of stairs and milled about for some celebratory Little Caesar’s Hot-N-Ready’s to arrive, a teen let out an exclamation of delight and beckoned me over to the bathroom window. 

“Look down, you can see the neighbor’s koi.”
I looked down, and from our birds-eye perspective, we could see a beautiful fish pond and porch the neighbors had constructed behind their three flat. We stood, leaning over the bathtub, elbows on the bathroom window sill, watching their orange and gold and white bodies oscillate slowly in the water.
I’ve seen koi before. I’m usually not a big fan. I think of them like I think of goldfish--carp in a cage, bred to be pretty but vulnerable in the bigger fish-eat-fish ocean. But from this perspective, gazing down from thirty feet up, with the Chicago rain falling out of a hard grey sky, these fish were beautiful. A hint of nature among the bricks and concrete.
I enjoyed parts of Frank Viola’s Revise Us Again: Living from a Renewed Christian Script. I also was annoyed with parts. The book has its up and downs. 
I don’t want to focus on Revise Us Again as a whole. Initially because it feels a bit too scattered to draw out a single guiding thesis (though the theme--or is it a conceit--of revising the scripts we are practiced in in practicing our faith does run constant and true throughout form beginning to end). But more pressingly, I don’t want to give my page by page response to Viola’s book because all my attention is caught by Viola’s Afterword appended to the body of the text.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review :: The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere :: Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, & Cornel West, et. al.

Englewood Review of Books just published my review of The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere by Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, & Cornel West.

I'll post here the first few paragraphs of the review, but to hear my full take on this interesting volume, you'll have to head over to ERB.

When I hear a sermon or a lecture, I often wonder what sort of script the speaker is using. Not just prepared remarks propped on the lectern or stored in the memory. I’m curious about the cultural scripts that shape and guide what she has to say, the tacitly assumed goals, strategies, evaluative criteria of public discourse.
The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere is less scripted than most essays collections in ethics or political philosophy. That’s because The Power of Religion isn’t an essay collection. It’s a conversation, minimally edited by Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, between Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West. And conversation occasionally careens outside the parameters of the lecture hall.
The October 22, 2009, event this volume recapitulates sought to carry forward dialogue about religion, secularism, and the way we talk about the common good. Fittingly, the event was less four renowned public intellectuals reading four papers and more three discussions between the participants.
Language, deliberation, and translation are key themes that run throughout the four essays and all three discussions. The public sphere is the realm of public conversation about the common good. But a second, unnamed theme runs alongside this consistent concern with language: a concern with power. . . .
For more, head over to ERB. Check out the rest of the issue for other reviews of some good books.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Drinking Water to Give Water ::

H20 Project from Living Water International on Vimeo.

Jesus said not to broadcast to fasting, to anoint your head with oil, to keep from your left hand what your right is doing. But I think in this case, Jesus would be okay with letting other people in on what's going on.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review :: The Road :: Cormac McCarthy

Last night I felt the last snow of this Chicago winter. This has been a winter for snow--deep snow, wet snow, thunder snow. Today the sun is shining; you couldn't tell that the sky was spitting snow last night.

I was driving home from work when the Blizzard of 2011 hit Chicago. As I drove toward the lake on Howard Street, the snow hit like a wall. Newscasts forewarned catastrophe. Once I'd found parking, I marched toward my apartment head-down to keep the snow out of my eyes. Drifts were already filling the courtyard of my building. My wife and I took shelter in our apartment reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter while the wind shook our windows and the sky flashed lightning.

All told, Chicago received 20.9 inches of snowfall. Chicago Public Schools canceled school for the first time in twelve years, and then did so for a second day while giant snow eaters cleared roads. I spent forty-five minutes digging out my car (which was buried up to the windows), twice.

I had finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road a few weeks earlier. Apocalyptic scenarios were on my mind. And then there I was, in the middle of the biggest snowstorm to hit Chicago since 1967. The city shut down. Maybe this was a glimpse of the end.

But I think not. In fact, I think this is a backward way of thinking. See, the next day, when the sky cleared to let the bitter cold sunlight illumine the shining city, Cindy and I went for a walk. We pulled on snow boots and muffled ourselves in scarves, and we struck out to cut a trail toward (of course) Dunkin Donuts. What I saw were traces of sled tracks, a recent immigrant family from Africa digging out their minivan, a tired buy behind the counter pouring coffee, parents exploring the snowscape with their toddlers. This wasn't the apocalypse. That came later.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tell me what you think :: Ill Fares the Land :: Tony Judt

After reviews of Tony Judt's Ill Fares the Land appeared in Commonweal and repeatedly in New York Review Books (here, here-ish, and here), I was curious. Ill Fares the Land reads part political history and part screed. It's the kind of stuff that puts fire in your bones.

That said, I'm new to this game. Recent political history, the rise and fall of social democracy, Keynesian economic theory, and the effects of globalization are all rather new ideas for me.

So I want to know what you think. Or, more precisely, what you read. What books would explicate Judt for me? Blogs? Or, perhaps, what is your opinion of Ill Fares the Land? I'm all ears. . .

Monday, February 21, 2011

Review :: The Lion, the Mouse, and the Dawn Treader :: Carl McColman

I don't know how you spent your childhood Sundays in church; I spent mine with C.S. Lewis. Our country church had a library full of faith-filled children's literature, the Ladd Family Adventures, the Sugar Creek Gang, and, best of all, The Chronicles of Narnia. Sitting in the pew next to my parents or the parents of my best friend, I read all seven of the Narnia books over and over: in order of publication, in Narnian chronology, in reverse order of publication, and I think I even tried reverse Narnian chronology. Narnia captivated me; Narnia was the world I wanted to live in, a world of adventure and magic and a depth of meaning that grade school (even grade school in Montana) just didn't seem to offer.

Of all the Narnia stories, my favorite since childhood remains The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. When I recently reread the entire Narnia series (aloud) with my wife, I found my opinion hasn't changed. Something about the travel narrative, the unique character of each island, and the mystical conclusion of the book continues to draw my thoughts into this story more deeply than any of the others (I feel the same way about Perelandra, the second of Lewis' space trilogy). When Mike Morrell alerted me to Carl McColman's new book, The Lion, the Mouse, and the Dawn Treader, that explores mysticism in Lewis' Dawn Treader, I jumped at the opportunity to reopen this story that has haunted me (in the best of ways) since childhood.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Recommendation :: Red Moon Rising :: Pete Greig & Dave Roberts

I spent much of Thursday finishing Pete Greig and Dave Roberts' Red Moon Rising: How 24-7 Prayer Is Awakening a Generation. I'm glad I did.

I know very little about 24-7 Prayer (though I'm enjoying digging through I know even less about Pete Greig, one of the dreamers of the movement. But I do know my own heart, and this way of doing Jesus' mission lights me up inside. Beautiful stuff.

Fair warning, Red Moon Rising is put out by a small, young press (Relevant Books, the same folks who publish RELEVANT Magazine). The writing is clumsy at points; sometimes it's a bit of a bumpy ride. Another work through with the editor wouldn't have hurt. But hang on for the ride. Some days God likes to use those "of imperfect speech."

Red Moon Rising feels a micro-generation old at this point. These are the stories I heard friends' older sisters and brothers talking about when I was in high school. Reading these stories now feels like listening to the echo of testimonies still bouncing around a prayer room the morning after. But if God did work like this ten years ago, maybe God still works like this today. Some hope, for what it's worth.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Review :: Gilead :: Marilynne Robinson

Normally this would be the week in January where I return to classes. Lately it's been seminary. Systematics, apologetics, Greek, Hebrew, pastoral practices. But not this week. As of December, I'm through with seminary coursework. A few more months of internship, and then I'll have mastered divinity (for whatever it's worth).

Today my cohort-mates sit down to lectures on the Holiness Code, the emergence of endowed preacherships in the years leading up to the Reformation, and C5 contextualization. Today I sit down in my reading chair to peruse a long-neglected stack of novels. I have to wonder who's getting the better ministerial education.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 30 - The Wisdom of the Cross

Living Water Community Church - Sunday Morning Worship 
1 Cor 1.18-31 - “The Wisdom of the Cross” 

 In today’s passage, 1 Cor 1.18-31, Paul tells the Corinthian saints that God saves us 
through the foolishness and the weakness of a Messiah who is executed on a cross in order that 
we, the ones who are being saved, will hear the emptiness of all the claims of power and 
privilege that distract us from the hard work of love. Paul says, “God chose the lowly things of 
the world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so 
that no one may boast before him.” That’s the theme of today’s passage. 
 In sixth grade I was in the Montana Middle School Science Fair. I was really proud of my 
project. I seriously expected to get first place. But here’s the dirty little secret--my dad had 
actually done most the work on the project. He came up with the idea; he led me step by step 
through the experiments; he showed me how to organize the data. I put in some time on the 
project, but, in reality, if my presentation board won the gold ribbon, my dad would be the one 
who should put it up on his wall, not me. As things turned out, my science project had plenty of 
holes in it (I was never too good at following my dad’s instructions step-by-step), and the judges 
rated me quite low. 

 Now, I want you to picture my awkward sixth grade self pompously bragging about my 
science fair project to all my science fair friends. It’s pretty ridiculous, right? First, I was 
bragging about work that I hadn’t done, work that my father, not I, had done. Second, my project 
wasn’t even any good. I was bragging about a project that really wasn’t worth all that much. 

 Paul accuses the saints in Corinth of bragging like misguided sixth graders. Last week 
Kristin told us about the division that plagued the saints in Corinth. No unity in their church. 
Instead there were factions, each claiming for itself one of the early teachers to pass through their 
community--Paul, Apollos, Peter, or some, those really “spiritual” ones, claimed to follow no one 
but Jesus. In the passage that we’re studying this week, Paul confronts the empty, deceitful ways 
of thinking that motivate such factions, such divisions. He exposes them to the tragic and 
glorious light of the Messiah executed on a cross, and he directs the saints to stop seeking 
human honors and to seek the God who saves and redeems them. Paul’s words speak to us today 
also. He calls us to change our hearts and to change our actions. So open your Bible, if you 
have one with you, to 1 Cor 1.18, or follow along on the text projected on the wall. 
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