Vocal Paralysis

This post is different. I want you to know that up front. It’s different.

For starters I’m writing it at about 30,000 feet in the air somewhere between Charlotte and Baltimore. Secondly this is a conversation that is by necessity – and this is not an excuse for you to stop reading – political. And if we are actually going to talk about echoing heaven on earth, at some point we have to deal with the political implications of such a creed. Let me clear…that does not mean we vote straight ticket for either party. This does not mean we confuse the “moral majority” with the Gospel. Nor do we equate all all things social justice with Jesus. It’s means we stop using our faith as a crutch for our political leanings and instead allow the Gospel to infiltrate and transform our politics….rant over and I’ll step off the soap box.

I’m writing this in route, on my second trip to Washington, DC to discuss comprehensive immigration reform with various denominational leaders and Congress people. This is a trip I never imagined and a discussion I never thought myself engaging…especially from this perspective. I stand in favor of comprehensive reform that entails a clear pathway for those living in our country without documentation, the reunification of families, and the protection of worker’s rights.

I understand the issues are complex. But I also understand the system is broken and people are being broken in the process. Every time I see news coverage some talking head is making broad sweeping, grossly negligent generalizations about people. In this discussion people have been replaced by labels and stereotypes, statistics and generalizations. If memory serves me correctly, wasn’t Jesus in the business of making sure a person was not defined by societies labels, especially as those labels came from the mouths of religious leaders?

What is our role as a church or as individual believers in this conversation? I mean that and I hope you will respond and answer and pass this along. If the church stands in a line of people who were told to remember the times when they were the immigrants, then how should be respond? I once heard a congressional staffer say their representative had a strong faith….but he also loved the law so he wasn’t sure where that might take him. I’ve heard church people say we need to keep politics and religion separate to keep the peace. Conversations like that make me realize why Jesus overturned tables…

N.T Wright said one of the churches great privileges was to help culture articulate injustice when we see it. Because once we can articulate it…then we can pray about it….then we can mobilize around it…and God willing with enough courage one say we might act. Have we lost our vocal chords or have we just chosen to systematically stop using them when it gets uncomfortable or complex?

Then sings my soul???

What if the majority of American Christianity was heretical?  Should we address it?  Should we find every single opportunity to correct and refine and redefine our faith?  Or should we ignore it? 

Now perhaps that is too bold of a statement to make.  I may in fact be mistaken that the “majority” of American Christianity is heretical, but I am afraid that the numbers may be higher than we think…especially when we look at the more fundamental denominations in our faith.

So what is the heresy?  What is heresy?  Heresy is a belief or opinion contrary to Christian doctrine.  Almost of all of the major heresies in the church were determined in the first few hundred years of our existence as great ecumenical councils came together to wrestle with this new type of faith.  One such heresy that has been around from the times of the Gospels is Gnosticism. 

Gnosticism essentially said that people are actually souls trapped in these terrible bodies of flesh.  Our bodies are broken and sinful and diseases ridden and they exist in a world of filth, corruption and pollution.  The “real me” has nothing to do with my body…the “real me” is trapped inside this body longing to get out.  And to get out, all a person needs is the correct knowledge (or gnosis).  If we want to escape this terrible world and become ourselves without our broken bodies anymore, all we need is to see the light and know the right stuff. 

Have you ever heard a message like that in a church?  This world’s not our home…our bodies have nothing to offer…just pray this prayer; believe this way; have this knowledge…and know that one day you will be home (i.e. your soul will be in heaven…).  Have you ever really listened and thought about some of the old gospel songs we sing:

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

     – from “This world is not my home” by Jim Reeves

Too many churches and pastors have unknowingly taken their theology lessons from Plato instead of our Gospels…especially the Gospel of John!  The word became flesh….flesh…body…This was written to combat the ideas of Gnosticism.  This was written to remind everyone of who we are as people.  This was written because if Gnosticism was allowed to run rampant what would happen?

Bodies don’t matter anymore…As Wendell Berry has said, “while the body goes about its business of destroying the earth, the soul is supposed to wait for Sunday…while the body exploits other bodies, the soul stands aloof, free from sin, crying… ‘I am not enjoying it.’”  Why should the body of Christ matter if we are just souls waiting on a transport?  Why should our bodies or creation matter if they’re just evil anyway?  What if it was this hatred for our bodies that paved the way to hate other bodies?  Why not then hate the bodies of slaves or women or animals or the earth?  Sound familiar?  Seen the news recently?

What if we were called to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice not to appease and pave the way for our souls, but to offer all of ourselves to the transformative grace of God? 

Why have we stopped believing Jesus?

Last week I stood on a bit of a soap box and asked “Why Wouldn’t we?!?  And apparently that question struck a chord with a lot of people.  If you missed it, check it out for 2 reasons:  1 – it resonated with a lot of people & 2 – that story was only the beginning.  Walhalla Presbyterian is still not meeting in their space; people are still finding ways to reach out; and that story is still being lived out every day here in Walhalla.

The hard part for me is, how do I follow that up?  What else will resonate with people that they will share with their friends and wrestle with throughout the week?  My answer this morning…take the next step on the soap box.

If the question last week was why are we so surprised when churches actually act like churches towards one another?  My question this week is why have we stopped believing Jesus?  Let that sink in for a minute….

Why have we stopped believing Jesus? 

Now before you get all hot and bothered, do me a favor and go read John 14:11-14.  Remember this was Jesus’ last meal with his friends and he was leaving them some last words to live by.  Why is it that we love to talk about foot washings and service (which are obviously great) but never talk about this promise?  We seem surprised we churches come together to fulfill his final prayer from John 17.  And we seem to forget that he promised that we would do greater things that even he!

Why have we stopped believing the words of Jesus?

I think it is because we watch too much news coverage.  No offense to the media, but we have become convinced that the world is going to hell in a hand basket.  We are fascinated with economic collapse and the threat of global war and food shortages…and we’ve stopped believing in Jesus’ last words.  I am not saying there are not threatening aspects of our world. 

I am saying that we should stopped treating the Good News of the Gospel like a life raft on the sinking ship of earth.  We should stop celebrating some ethereal rapture where God will swoop down and saving us before the world collapses on itself.  We should start believing as if greater things were possible.

What if we actually believed greater things are yet to come and stopped just singing it?

We should start living as if greater things were possible, as if redemption and transformation actually matter and were actually possible.  Perhaps then we would see our churches as places of transformation instead of museums of a long lost era.  Perhaps then we would see our bodies as gifts to be cared for instead of trash to be discarded.  Perhaps then we would see the brokenness of the world as the greatest opportunity for the Gospel to actually matter. 

If you were inspired by the stories of last week’s post, then what can you do this week that is even greater?  What can we do to show the world we still believe the words of Jesus?

Why wouldn’t we?!?

fire

[Author’s note:  this post is less health focused and more reflective on the life of our churches]

This past weekend was a whirl wind.  The church across the street, Walhalla Presbyterian Church, suffered extensive damage from a fire Saturday.  The fire started a little before 10:00am and took 9 fire crews to get it under control.  In any town this is a big deal, in small town Walhalla, SC…it was huge.  Here is a link to a local news agency that covered the story.  To the people in the church I serve, it was like déjà vu all over again…except this time we were on the other side of the street.  In July 2009, members of St. Luke stood across the street in the Presbyterian Church’s parking lot, watching our sanctuary and education building burn.  Here is a link to that story. Continue reading

But I’ve got to go!!!

Big_Daddy_film

Appetites grow by indulgence… The world did not turn into a sex crazed machine overnight any more than any one of us went to bed at 190lbs and woke up at 300lbs…The status quo of indulging the natural cannot continue in this direction.  Everything must change…and that starts with redefining our “instincts.”  The question is how…

This was how we ended our conversation from last week (if you missed it, HERE it is).  So where do we go from here?

First, we need to be honest and admit that we do not indulge every natural urge or instinctual thought.  For instance, have you ever suddenly been hit with the urge to use the restroom?  It is a very natural, necessary part of our life and bodily function.  And yet when the realization comes that it is time to indulge the natural part of our being, what do we do?  We wait until we can find an appropriate release point (preferably a bathroom).  Even when hit with the most intense of stomach pain or bladder stretching…we find a bathroom, albeit with a little more haste.

As odd as it feels to write, and I would imagine read, about our bathroom tendencies, this is an important first step in understanding our “natural desires.” 

Society tells us to indulge what it is natural because after all, it’s natural right?  Billions of dollars are spent marketing to our “natural urges” so that we are instinctually compelled to buy a product without fear of guilt or shame because it’s natural.  Why else would GoDaddy advertise with nudity?  What point is there in a Hardees commercial with a scantily clad woman eating a 1lbs burger if it is not to awaken the strongest of instincts in males:  sex and food?  Because there is money to be made off of people who are coerced into believing that are instincts cannot be trained!?!

A bigger lie can rarely be found.  Why?  Next time you need to use the restroom, I bet you choose to delay your natural urge in the name of social and hygienic principles.

Why then are we so afraid and unable to embrace Christian principles of chastity, moderation, and just plain health?  Because we’re fighting against the machine of marketing and money.  There are mountains of money to be had from our sex drives and appetites.  And yet we seem ok in spending it…that seems interesting considering the sociological connotations of paying for something that involves sex…

We’ve also been duped into thinking it’s impossible.  So why try?  And yet there are stories to be told about the beauty of what happens when God does the impossible.  And yet our story in the church is about watching God do the impossible through improbable people so that we might be made whole.  If this is our story, what if we actually believed that all things are possible with God?  What if we lived like it? 

What is the impossible thing in your life that you desperately need to overcome?

 

Miley…Robin…and the Big Mac

What can we learn from Miley, Robin and the Big Mac???

We’d be hard pressed to find any blog or talking head that has not talked about MTV’s VMAs from a week ago.  First off, I have no intentions of getting on a high horse about MTV or Miley or bemoaning how far society has fallen (please note the sarcasm in that last phrase…).  This is not one more blog jumping on the bandwagon.  I am much more appalled at too many pastors’ responses and enjoyment of casting verbal stones her way as if John 8 never happened.  Not to mention how heartbreaking it is that no one seems concerned about the backup dancers who have been dancing and over sexualized for decades.  Or the atrocity that no one seemed upset with the male on stage!?!  But I digress…. Continue reading

Are we still talking about practice???

Why are we so set on just talking about practice???  Practicing healthy eating or activity or living…practicing heaven on earth…Why are we still talking about practice?

Allen Iverson thought the same thing in an interview a few years ago after missing a few practices.  Here’s a brief clip from that press conference.  Try to count the number of times he says “practice.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGDBR2L5kzI Continue reading

Temple Talk

Heaven isn’t some cloudy, golden paradise…we decided that two weeks ago.  Last week we imagined the possibility that we are searching for heaven in the wrong place…maybe heaven meets Earth in us?!? 

As nice as that sounds, we can’t just make a statement like that without any type background or support.  And if we’re going to understand how we got here, then we need to start at the beginning…The Beginning. Continue reading

Finding our Thin Place

thin place

We are all looking for thin places.  In one way or another, people are searching for thin places, those places where the divine and the human come as close as intimately possible.  Some people search through physical bliss and relational pleasure; others search for it in books, literature and the arts; and others search for them in relics and bastions of spirituality across the world.  Whatever your search, we are all looking for that intersection of something bigger and outside of ourselves.

Eric Weiner, an esteemed writer for the New York Times seems to fit the latter category, scouring the world for geographic places in history where the world of the divine has touched the world of humanity.  You can read his article here if you’d like to see more of his story.  In a sense he is correct.  Continue reading

Is Wile E. Coyote’s Heaven for real?

As a kid, nothing made me happier than early Saturday morning cartoons.  I loved waking up early and watching as many as my parents would allow. 

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Who didn’t love the epic battles between Tom and Jerry or the Roadrunner and ole’ Wile E. Coyote?!?  Nothing says children’s entertainment like violent cartoon characters finding creative ways to kill each other. 

This is not a critique of children’s entertainment at all.  I just wonder if our theology has outgrown our childish TV shows.  I cannot remember a single episode where at some point someone died and their angelic, opaque spirit, complete with wings and a harp, drifted towards the clouds and heaven.  Does our theology look any different or do we still hope and pray for our spirits to drift towards a heavenly bliss when we die?  Continue reading