Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stolen


A poem in response to the painting, “Wagon Wheel” by Michele Wood in the I Lay My Stitches Down series on display in the Covenant Fine Arts Center at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI in April 2104.  In the painting, a slave woman is morning as a white man takes her daughter forcibly.  The white man's shadow has horns like a devil.

Stolen, stolen!
My baby’s been stolen.
She don’t belong to you.
She aint come from insite you.
She aint suck from yo teet.
You aint woke with her sick at night
Burning hot as blazes
Hot as the pot in the fire.
She my life.  She my blood.
She mine, mine, mine.

Stolen, stolen?
Why you wailin woman?
She don’t belong to you no ways.
You aint bought her at market.
You aint put meat on her plate.
You aint put clothes on her back. 
You stood waiting at market
Burning hot as blazes
Hot as the pot in the fire.
She my stock.  She my goods.
She mine, mine, mine.

Stolen, stolen.
He don’t belong to hisself.
He aint chose his own way.
He aint thought bout what he do.
He go to church and say his prayers
And do my will.
He work and work and work,
But I there all the time
Burning hot as blazes
Hot as the pot in the fire.
He my life.  He my blood.
He mine, mine, mine.

When the Bud Cracks?

Photo by Epsos.de

Does the bud hurt when it cracks?
When Life bulges out of its conical chocolate shell
In mint green then red or vivid pink,
Does the bud cry out in pain,
Why God? Why are you doing this to me?
Why can’t I remain a pretty little thing 
on the end of my branch?
Why must I always be giving way 
to something other, something more?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Value in Understanding "the Other Side"

Photo by: baejaar
Last week, I blogged about how World Vision shifted the center on the gay marriage debate, and naturally lots of people commented.  One particular train of comments merits a new post.

LL: As someone who is on the other side of this debate I would ask why homosexual marriage is supported but polygamy is usually not? Is everyone here pro-polygamy too?

Me: First of all, I'm not on a side in this debate. I'm just saying we need to have the debate openly and without burning people at the stake. Secondly, polygamy is not a debated issue in the church. Gay marriage is. Again, I'm just saying we need to be honest that this issue is in dispute among large portions of the Church and have an open and honest debate about all facets of this issue.

LL: I'm just not sure WHY it's a discussion in the church since Scripture speaks so plainly to the issue. "Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, will inherit the kingdom of God."
So, if their sin is going to keep them from the kingdom of heaven, then why would we not be pleading with them to leave their sin behind? Why would we encourage and support the sin that will eventually keep them from the kingdom of heaven?

Me: Short answer: if you don't understand why there is a debate about this, then you need to do more research. Read some (or a lot) of the material "from the other side." You don't need to agree, but you do need to understand how people can be sane, reasonable, intelligent, maybe even godly and bible-believing and still be traditional, undecided, or affirming. People can genuinely love Jesus and totally disagree on this.
Long answer takes way too much time for this forum (originally on Facebook).

LL: I really don't understand why there is a debate about this. If the Bible says that something is sinful and those who practice it will be left out of heaven, then what is there to talk about?  What more research is there to do?  Will more research show that God was wrong?

And here's my response: 

(1) The value in researching "the other side" is far more than trying to decide if their opinions are correct.  The value is in understanding how and why they believe what they do.  As I began researching the gay-affirming side on this issue, I changed from "they must be crazy or not-Christian or completely rejecting the Bible" to "Oh, I don't agree with everything they are saying, but at least I understand how they can believe that and think that and still be a faithful Christian."  Researching the other side is extremely important for compassion and Christian unity.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

World Vision Shifted the Center on Gay Marriage: Facts, Implications, & Questions


World Vision is blowing up the internet via gay marriage.  What's going on?

THE FACTS:
Just in case you've been living under a rock, let me update you on some of the basics.

1. Rapid Legal Change. The United States is experiencing radical and rapid changes in our cultural and legal stances on gay marriage.  At the beginning of 1999, no states allowed same-sex marriages or civil unions.  Now, 15 years later, 17 states have legalized gay marriage; 4 have legalized same-sex civil unions; and federal courts have struck down gay-marraige bans as unconstitutional in 5 states.  That's a total of 26 states in which gay marriage or civil unions are considered legal (at least by federal courts).  If you can do the math, that's a majority of US states.  Zero to majority in 15 years.  That's fast.  (See this map for a very helpful visualization of this change.)

2. Change within the Church.  Officially, a few large denominations have accepted gay marriages or unions or given room for local churches and pastors to make their own decisions (eg. Episcopals, some Lutherans groups, United Church of Christ, and Presbyterians).  Acting independent of their denominations, quite a few Christian leaders have come out in favor of gay marriage, and some pastors are performing gay marriages or blessing gay "unions" despite prohibitions from their denominations.  Furthermore, within the larger Christian Church, opinions "in the pews" are changing much faster.  According to this Gallup Poll, 66% of Catholics and 41% of Protestants say "gay/lesbian relations are morally acceptable."  Other studies show (like this one), those numbers skyrocket among people under 40 and even more for people under 25.  All of this is a drastic change in a very short time.

3. World Vision Changed Policy about Gay Marriage.  On March 24, Rich Stearns (WV's US President) announced that WV "will now permit Gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed" at WV.  (If you don't know, World Vision is one of the largest and most respected Christian charities in the world.)  Basically, they made a small change in their "Code of Conduct" to reflect the changes mentioned above - including gay marriage as a form of marriage.  They still expect their employees to abstain from any sex outside of marriage.  The rational was simple (even if bold).  WV has a simple mission: to reduce poverty around the world.  WV has consistently refused to take stances on divisive issues within the Church: divorce/remarriage, abortion, modes of baptism, women in leadership, evolution, etc.  Given the extreme debates currently happening, gay marriage is CLEARLY a debatable issue for Christians (as in it is being debated), and this issue is extremely divisive and emotional.  So WV was trying to take a neutral stance to stay out of the debate.  WV was trying to say, "Some of our partners think gay marriage is OK, and some don't.  We're going to remain neutral and let you guys sort that out yourselves so that we can all work together to combat poverty." Alas, that didn't work - see the next fact.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Thank You Thursday (#1)

 
 by woodleywonderworks
   OK, so I'm a day late, but I got the idea on a Thursday.
     Last night, Amy and Joe Jamrock invited Sarah and I to attend a fundraising/celebration dinner for Frontline Foundations - a fantastic Christian substance abuse treatment center based here in Chesterton, IN.  The keynote speaker was Tim Sanders - former Yahoo executive and author of Love Is the Killer App.   
     One of Tim's key points was the amazing positive power of gratitude.  Study after study shows that being grateful tremendously boosts our own attitudes, energy, and even health.  However, recent studies are also proving that expressing our thanks to others also acts as a huge boost to those around us.  That just makes sense.  We all like to get thanked, and we feel a little better when someone tells us that our hard work or little kindnesses are actually making a difference in the world.  Tim encouraged all of us to write one thank you letter a week to someone who has helped us.
     I love that idea so much that I'm creating a new thing (at least for me) - Thank you Thursdays.  Every Thursday, I plan to write and to post a short but specific blog or facebook post thanking someone for a specific way they have helped me or improved the world around me within the past seven days.

    So consider this my first Thank you Thursday note for Joe and Amy for inviting me to an awesome night with the Frontline crew.  It was great to hear their stories, to be encouraged by Tim, and to spend some time with you.  Thanks guys.

     Feel free to make this viral and start a storm of thank you letters on Thursdays.  Really, if thanksgiving is so good for us and everyone around us, why should we limit it to one Thursday a year?


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Contributions Round 5

Photo by morganlevy

We now have more than 130 confirmed contributors to the Renovating Holiness Project.  Having inherited our grandparents' theological house which desperately needs updating, we are faced with three options: resentment, rejection, and renovation.  Nazarenes from around the world (from at least 24 countries) are joining together to revision sanctification for our world and our time.
Here are the next round of introductory submissions.  Enjoy.

To read the previous submissions, click here: Round 1Round 2Round 3, Round 4.)

Ryan Quanstrom (Pastor, North Carolina)
Entrepreneurialism as Holy Living
I would be working off of Wendell Berry's The purpose of a Coherent Community and some work done by Peter Storey. Holy people don't let broken systems sin for them. We need people to be righteous with their purchases to do that, they need entrepreneurs. 

Janary Suyat de Godoy (Pastor & Asia-Pacific NYI Coordinator, Philippines)
Holiness and Small Groups
Is holiness an individual pursuit? I have been a part of a traditional church in my growing up years and was taught to go to church, attend all the services and programs, sit in Sunday school classes and have my personal devotional time. It is just in the last 5 years that I have been involved in small groups, and have experienced the richness it has brought to my understanding and pursuit of holiness.
My essay intends to present an understanding of holiness in a small group setting, that holiness is not just an individual affair, but something we share.

Arseny Ermakov (Booth College, Australia) 
Separation or Presence? Reimagining the Biblical Theology of Holiness
Holiness in the Bible is traditionally defined through the terminology of ‘separation’ or ‘withdrawal.’ This has a profound effect on the understanding of God (as unapproachable “Other”), the Church (as separate from the world) and the practices of sanctification (emphasizing withdrawal from the wider society and culture). 
I would like to suggest that separation is not a primary meaning of holiness in the Scripture. Depending on the context, holiness in the Bible may refer to power, glory, wholeness, perfection, goodness, morality, being set apart, and life. Moreover, holiness in the Scriptures has never been equated with God’s withdrawal or absence. On the contrary, holiness constantly indicates the presence of God in the human or heavenly realm. 
I strongly believe that in order to restore the balance in our theological universe, we ought to see holiness primarily as a concept of presence rather than one of withdrawal. This paper will demonstrate that holiness as powerful, contagious, transformative, and inclusive presence could be found in both Old and New Testaments. This notion of holiness forces us to reimagine the identity and the mission of the holy people of God in the modern world. We would have to move away from a static category of status of separation to a more dynamic and dialectical concept of holiness that embraces both notions of presence and being set apart.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Discovering the Values of Holiness [Grant Zweigle]


This is the first full essay submitted to the Renovating Holiness Project.

Grant Zweigle pastored in Kansas City, MO; Seattle, WA; and currently in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Grant and his wife Aisling are relocating to Manila, Philippines with their two boys in 2015. Grant is completing a Doctor of Ministry at Nazarene Theological Seminary. 


  My grandmother lived in a German Mennonite Brethren community in Southern Russia as a young girl. When her parents immigrated to Canada they made their new home in a German Mennonite Brethren community in Yarrow, British Columbia. My grandmother learned some English in school, but spoke German at home and in church. Her family maintained their cultural distinctiveness in their new home, even as they adapted to a new way of life in Canada.

  My mother spoke some German in home and in church, but English was her first language. Her parents brought her up in the German Mennonite way, but as a young adult she forged her own way and more fully embraced the life and culture of Canada than her parents did.  

  My mother never spoke German to me. When I was 2, my Canadian mom and American dad moved to the United States. I am culturally an American and an English speaker. I tried studying German in high school and college, but it didn’t stick. I’ve always known my ancestry is German Mennonite with a Canadian flavour, but it didn’t seem to have much bearing in my everyday life.

  Eight and a half years ago, I moved back to Canada to pastor First Church of the Nazarene in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Since coming back to Canada, I’ve been able to spend more time with my grandmother who is now 95. When I visit my grandmother, she shares stories with me about her childhood in Southern Russia; about why and how her family came to Canada; and about the joys and struggles of making a new life in a new land.

  Over the course of her lifetime, my grandmother has learned to adapt to the cultural changes taking place around her. Some of these changes were forced upon her, but some she willingly embraced. As I’ve listened to her stories, I’ve discovered that many of the values that are dear to my grandmother are dear to me as well. Some of these values transcend culture. These include hospitality, generosity, stewardship, courage, diligence, faith, hope and love. As a dad, I now want to instil these values into my two boys. I like to take my boys to visit their great-grandmother so they can hear her stories and be inspired by the values that have shaped our family.

  Our spiritual grandparents and great-grandparents in the Church of the Nazarene had to adapt to cultural changes taking place around them. Some of these changes were forced upon them, while others they willingly embraced. As the spiritual grandchildren of these holiness pioneers, we would do well to listen to their stories, and in doing so we might discover values that we can embrace and pass on as well. 

     Vancouver First Church of the Nazarene is a traditional Nazarene church in the midst of a rapidly changing urban context. Many of the core members of our church are of that generation of spiritual grandparents who lived a life of holiness in the midst of changing and challenging circumstances. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Contributions Part 4

Photo by Want2Know
We now have more than 100 confirmed contributors to the Renovating Holiness Project.  Having inherited our grandparents' theological house which desperately needs updating, we are faced with three options: resentment, rejection, and renovation.  Nazarenes from around the world (from at least 16 countries) are joining together to revision sanctification for our world and our time.
Here are the next round of introductory submissions.  Enjoy.

To read the previous submissions, click here: Round 1, Round 2, Round 3.)

Oswald Vidal Cole (Pastor, Sierra Leon)
In my essay I will be sharing about how Christians understood holiness or what holiness meant to them in the days when evangelical Christianity was still in its early stages in our country (Sierra Leone). I will proceed to share how the concept of holiness also seemed to have disappeared on the scene because of other emphasis on different theological concepts. I will then share the present perspective and interest of Christians on the holiness concept and where this concept stands today in the church in our nation. I will not just share the perspectives but I will also shed light on certain happenings that led Christians to come the said perspectives and conclusions on this concept.

Frank Mills (District Superintendent, Ghana)
I want to talk about the way our holy God expects His ‘holy’ children to handle the injuries caused by the decisions and actions of others…whether caused by people within the church or outside the church. We still have many people within the church who are struggling with the practicing of true forgiveness of sins trespassed against us. There are Christians who still nurse their wounds because the wounds are so deep that they find it very difficult to let go of it. I will talk more on the biblical way of handling injuries caused by others. 
The above topic is my favorite because it all flows out of my past personal struggles and experiences and I have always wanted an opportunity to put it into writing for the sake of others who currently struggle with similar challenges.

Deanna Hayden (Pastor, Missouri)
While the topic of feminism has been at the forefront of our culture for decades now, it can sometimes be a taboo topic within the Church.  To broaden the idea a little, the concept of being “politically correct” is approached by many Christians as tongue-in-cheek at best, and completely absurd at worst.  We are sometimes comfortable supporting areas of feminism like equal rights in voting or education, but when we approach feminist theological topics like egalitarianism, female ministers, or even the feminine characteristics of God, our fundamentalist tendencies might tempt us to close ourselves even to conversation about it.  Our Wesleyan-Holiness theology not only calls us to open ourselves to this conversation, but to name it as valuable and vital to our faith.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Contributions Part 3

Photo by Houstonian
Introductory essays for the Renovating Holiness project keep rolling in.  For the third installment today, notice the increase in ladies and international contributors.  (See other contributions here and here.)

Lori Ward (Pastor/Teacher, South Korea)
I’d like to write about holiness expressed through hospitality.  We are invited by Christ to open ourselves in vulnerability, welcome, and service to others.  When we welcome the stranger, when we share a meal, when we open our homes, when we are present with others in celebration and suffering, we engage them with the love of Christ.  The work of Christ in us enables us to lower our guard and to invest our lives intimately with others, especially those who live in the margins.  Holiness expressed through hospitality does not set us up as proprietors, but as hosts—broken and consumed by those we love and serve, that we may embody the presence of Christ in our world.

Steve Walsh (Pastor, Australia)
Using the insights provided by Floyd T. Cunningham's Holiness Abroad: Nazarene Missions in Asia, as well as the research found in J Fred Parker's Mission to the World: A History of Missions in the Church of the Nazarene Through 1985, and Cunningham's Our Watchword & Song: The Centennial History of the Church of the Nazarene, my essay would seek to examine the relationship between our emerging contemporary understanding of the theology and experience of entire sanctification and the international and intercultural dissemination of our distinctive message by endeavoring to answer the question "What might Hiram F Reynolds say to the Church of the Nazarene today?"  Reynolds addressed the concerns of his contemporaries who worried about "doctrinal confusion, and a low standard of experience" in churches planted on foreign mission fields, which would lead the church to be ashamed to call its progeny  "Nazarene". I believe this parallels concerns especially of the American church as the denominational demographics change dramatically. The essay would consider the tensions between missional strategies aiming at both the indigenisation and internationalisation of the Church of the Nazarene as it wrestles with the forces of globalisation and localisation. From its inception, the Church of the Nazarene was both "missionary-oriented and American-centered"The pragmatic Reynolds, one of the founders of the Church of the Nazarene, and the architect of early Nazarene mission policies and strategies, who maintained  that "the work and manifestations of the Holy Spirit are practically the same in all countries" has much to say to the Church of the Nazarene today on such issues as contextualisation of theology, holistic ministry, and missional strategy.

Jason Robertson (Olivet Nazarene University)
Over the past year I’ve been contemplating our tradition’s emphasis on the “radical optimism of grace.” This notion made sense at the turn of the 20th century when optimism was woven through the fabric of American society. But does it work for a generation that is not given an optimistic outlook on most areas of life? “Optimism” is an anemic notion better suited for the social sciences. Millennials and Xers have to fight to be optimistic about the future, and older generations seem more optimistic about days gone by. From my experience those who are most passionately teaching radical optimism are hardly optimistic about the direction our world is going. The disconnect for their younger audience is obvious. I think our tradition needs to recover the robust, biblical notion of hope. Hope draws us into the future with expectation of something better for the world, as well as our own souls. I would make a distinction between hope and optimism and then suggest the holiness tradition should recapture the essence of hope as a lived reality in light of God’s kingdom, past, present, and future.

Tara Smith (Pastor, Indiana)
I would like to discuss holiness as participation in the life of God.  When Nazarenes recall that the word "holy" means "to be set apart," we still struggle to understand what this could possibly mean concerning a human life.  So we fall short in our practical application:  to be holy is to be particularly good at following rules; to be holy is to be counter-cultural; to be holy is to love slightly better (more often?) than the average person.
It's my suggestion that we apply the word holy quite literally to God, who is something other than we are; i.e., set apart.  To "be holy as [God] is holy" is to participate in God's life.  This may mimic the rule-following, counter-cultural-operating, optimal-loving lifestyle, but its source is never any of those things.  Rather, the source of holiness is only ever God, and thus our stake in it only ever our participation in the divine life.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Renovating Holiness: More Early Contributors

"Old House in Bucharest" by Apollinaire Zdrobeala
Renovating Holiness is a joint project in which 100+ Nazarenes from around the world are revisioning our doctrine and practice of sanctification.  So far, we have 44 confirmed contributors from 12 different countries and about as many universities.


For today, feast your eyes on these introductory submissions.

Michael Scarlett (Pastor, Texas)
I propose an essay on revisioning sanctification through the lens of baptism. We are marked by our baptism with a new identity--a holy identity. From that moment, much like the people of Israel and Gilgal, we have a reference point that marks our entry onto a new map. The holy life is one that continually lives from, lives by, lives in, and lives out one's baptism. Baptism and our daily dying and rising to new life elevates both baptism and sanctification in the common life of the church. Baptism is also the point at which we are set apart for our co-mission (The church is co-missioned with God) of the ministry of reconciliation.

Greg Crofford (Missionary, U.S.A. / Africa)
Holiness as Liberation: A Perspective from Africa
The doctrine of holiness has always had a place for the concept of freedom from sin. God in Christ - and through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit - has broken the chains that bind us. As Wesleyan-Holiness denominations have worked in Africa, the theme of liberation has been one way of preaching holiness. This makes sense, since the history of Africa entailed a centuries long chattel slave trade and the throwing off of colonial oppression in the last half of the twentieth century. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

You Might Be Rich If ...

Despite what you think, you might be rich by global standards if ...
... you complain about wifi.
... food spoils in your fridge.
... you have a refrigerator.
... you are worried that you don't have enough money saved for retirement.
... you actually expect to stop working before you die.
... you have a savings account worth more than $100.
... you have health insurance (of any kind).
... you make more than minimum wage.
... you make minimum wage.  
... you have ever felt like your closet is getting too full.
... you have more than one of any of these: coat, pair of shoes, phone, computer, car, earbuds, twenty dollar bill, book, water faucet.
... you have enough food in your house to sustain you for more than a week without going shopping.
... you have ever said that your kids have too many toys.
... you or your wife owns a diamond.
... you are only concerned about WHAT your family will eat tonight, not IF your family will eat tonight.
... you are able to read this blog worrying about how you will pay for the internet access.

Instead of trying to prove all of these simple statements individually, I offer you a few simple yet shocking facts (from here and here).
  1. 80% of the world lives on less than $10 per day.
  2. Almost 50% of the world lives on less than $2.50 per day.
  3. Half of the 2 billion children in our world live in extreme poverty.
  4. One in eight people are chronically undernourished.
  5. One in six people don't have access to clean water.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Renovating Holiness Project: Early Responders

Photo by GenBug.
This week Thomas Oord and I announced (here and here) that we are launching the Renovating Holiness Project.  We are inviting Gen-X and Millennial Nazarenes from around the world to revision sanctification with us.  We have inherited the doctrine of sanctification from our grandparents and great grandparents.  In order to make this theological structure work for our friends and children, the whole house needs major renovation.
We thought you might be interested in some of the introductory essays from the contributors who have responded already.  Not a bad turn out after just a few days.  Enjoy.

Erik Groeneveld (Netherlands/Australia):
The topic of my doctoral thesis is 'a practical application of a Wesleyan theology of love in decision making processes' (working title). I build my thesis on Tom Oord's approach of love and on the Government Network Theory (GNT) I came across during my Masters of Public Administration. What Essential Kenosis and GNT ties together is a relational way of decision making, instead of top-down decision making. In GNT-language, the pastor (as representative of the church board) should take on a position of 'network manager', embedded in the congregation, intentionally engaging with different voices and opinions to take these into account when a decision needs to be made. 
My field research among the Australia and New Zealand clergy shows that too often church boards or pastors consider themselves capable enough to take decisions, leaving out opinions and feelings of the congregation. Obviously, in the end the church board needs to take a decision. But my hypothesis is that when the congregation had the opportunity to engage in the process leading up to the decision, they feel acknowledged and valued. It is an expression of love when this opportunity has been given intentionally and not randomly. 
My idea is to leave out the technical language in the essay and spice it with some interesting quotes (anonymously of course) from pastors I interviewed.

Ryan Giffin (Pastor & PhD candidate, Kentucky)
I would like to explore Paul’s theology of holiness as simultaneously individual and communal, and the potential his theology has to renovate our understanding of holiness in a way that is more faithful to the teaching of the NT and more sensitive to the world of Millenials and Gen Xers. Historically the Church of the Nazarene has emphasized individual aspects of holiness. While crucial, Millenials and Generation Xers are more interested than previous generations in relational and communal aspects of holiness. Paul’s theology holds both together in ways that honor our past and embrace our present.

Rick Lee James (songwriter, Ohio)
I would love to write about how the monastic tradition informs our discussion of sanctification? Thomas Merton has been a real influence on my understanding of holiness through books like 'No Man Is An Island', 'Contemplative Prayer', and 'Life and Holiness.' There is a real communal understanding of holiness in Merton's writings which is directly passed down from his monastic roots that I find helpful to the discussion of holiness for the Nazarene Church today. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Millennial and Gen-X Nazarenes Revision Sanctification

   Imagine that you inherited your grandparents' house.  The only condition is that you have to actually live in the house.   Your grandparents, whom you love, have lived in the same house for going on sixty years.  This simple abode holds an infinite amount of family memories.  
Tim Stanley Photography
   And yet, if you are going to live there, you'll have to make it your own.  The vinyl arm chair that is permanently imprinted with the shape of your Grandpa's posterior is not something to keep for posterity's sake.  Although the massive old faux-wood-boxed TV faithfully cranked out Wheel of Fortune at 6:30 for decades on end, it too will have to go.  
   But the furniture is just the beginning; the whole interior desperately needs to be updated.  12 inch pink flowers on the bathroom wallpaper may have been "snazzy" in the 70's, but now it just makes you feel like Pepto Bismol had a fight with the Easter Bunny.  New paint and new carpet are a must in every room.
   However, we haven't even started talking about the real improvements.  The whole house could use some basic environmental updating.  The windows leak air like a sieve.  (Maybe that's why Grandma always had that nappy afghan and two cats on her lap?)  The wood furnace is literally a fire trap.  And there's a spongy spot on the floor near the back porch where water has been seeping in every time they got a good rain.  
   The kitchen and dining room were designed for a time when meals were formal affairs with fine china.  Your family prefers an open kitchen/dining/living room, so a couple of walls will have to go.
   Furthermore, Grandpa sure saved a lot of money by doing the work himself when he added the extra bedroom in '69, and again when he built himself "Grandpa's workshop" in '83.  But the additions are showing their age, especially around the seems where the sheetrock is starting to turn brown because of some leaks.
   Don't get me wrong.  You're grateful for the house and all of the family heritage that goes with it.  It's just that Grandma and Grandpa didn't see that their house was deteriorating on pace with their bodies.  They didn't seem to notice that wonky faucet in the bathroom because they had lived with it for 30 years.  But if you are going to live there, you'll have to bring the house into the 21st century.  The challenge for you is to reshape the family history so that it can be a working home for your family.

   This is essentially the challenge facing younger Nazarenes.  We have inherited a doctrine of sanctification that our grandparents built.  

Friday, January 31, 2014

Why Doesn't God Heal Everyone Who Asks?

When I was growing up, one of my best friends was Nathan Fischner who was born with a whole in his back (spina bifida).  He could walk only with a full lower-body brace and custom crutches, but he was an expert wheel chair racer and taught me the art and joy of the stationary wheelie.  Nathan is trained as a computer scientist, but for now he is working as a gem cutter.
A few years ago, I was preaching about a story of Jesus' healing a lame man, and I remembered Nathan.  I wondered how he reads this text and how he deals with the issue of healing from the perspective of one who has a life-long handicap.  His response - which has been percolating for quite some time - is thoughtful, personal, vulnerable, and at times profound.  With his permission, I am glad to post his answer here.

Nathan Fischner: You asked me in an email some years ago why it was that one does not say, "Rise up and walk!" to one who needs healing, and then send them on their way.  Why DON'T we ALL just go around mass healing the injured, disabled, and sick.  It seems so simple... and yet so many stay as they are.  The world God has made is a very big place, in terms of the possibilities of expressing his love to those he created in his own image.  There must, therefore, be more to it than it first seems.

I say that when it is revealed to us in terms we understand, we must accept God's will as a small trusting child would, without agenda and without expectations other than he is our Father and wants the best for us.  That being said, we are taught by Jesus himself to go into a quiet, secluded room, and, by the model prayer He gave us, to think on a much larger prayer than simply a need.  One is to acknowledge Him, His greatness and authority, and to truly rejoice before Him concerning what He has done for them and what this person has seen Him do for others (thankfulness isn't just presenting a list of items you have noticed done for you).  A little child, as we are meant to envision, comes to the Father saying "Please, fix this.", because the child has reached the end of his/her own resources, and the problem is something that they don't feel they can go on past without help.

Friday, January 10, 2014

"Help, Thanks, Wow" by Anne Lammot - Book Review

Anne Lammot's quirky, self-effacing humor makes spirituality fun, feasible, and ordinary.  Her approach is so clear of religiosity and Christianese.  Her simple words on topics of depth and pain invite us to pray more honestly and more often.
In this book, Anne lays out the three basic human prayers: what we say when in need, in gratitude, and in wonder.  It's short, but that's a good thing for a book like this.  Anne reminds me that prayer is more a part of my life than I even recognize, and this in turn allows me to be more intentional about praying and recognizing my helps, thanks, and wows.
This is a great book for a friend for whom prayer has grown stale, or for whom church and the whole religious world seems intimidating, or who simply delights in a fresh take on spirituality.  Personally, I look forward to a book on what Anne calls the fourth great prayer, "Lord, help me not to be such an ass."  I find myself praying that a lot.





Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Orphan Master's Son - Book Review

   Having living in South Korea for nine years, I've developed a bit of a fascination with North Korea.  I've stood on the other side of the DMZ.  I've looked through a telescope into the North Korean hills.  I've read several history books and followed the news to come out of the mysterious, murky North.
   Nothing has riveted me like Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son.  It might be described as historical fiction, except that the history it describes is present day North Korea.  For one with a moderate knowledge of North Korea and a strong understanding of South Korean culture, this novel has the aura of authenticity.  Johnson has nailed the ethos of North Korea.
   Of course, he had to take some liberties with logic, making one person do far too many things.  However, some such bending of circumstances is often necessary for a cohesive and comprehensive narrative.
   Johnson has delivered a gripping and clear picture of life in North Korea through the lens of a single individual.  The voice alternates among various narrators and even to public service announcements broadcast into ever North Korean home through a nationwide intercom system.  The story deftly weaves humor, drama, suspense, intrigue, politics, love, despair, and hope.
   One of the most compelling lines comes from a supporting character, the high level Minister of Procurement, "No one is safe."  After the recent execution of Kim JeongEun's uncle (Korea's #2 leader), this one line is hauntingly true.
   It won a much deserved Pulitzer Prize in 2013.  I highly recommend it.  But don't start it when you're busy.  You'll want to read in every spare moment.




Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Dream Within

A dream surges through me
Like a river in the mountains
Bubbling up like a spring
A boiling volcano
Waiting to explode.

A dream lies within me,
Plutonium in my depths,
Dangerous riches.
Beware the miner:
Under layers of rock and life,
Unstable matter,
Radiating into my dishes and handshakes.

A dream lives within me
Like a Shawshank prisoner,
Chipping at my walls
One pocket of dust at a time.
Am I warden, friend, or escapee?
Or will life prove me three?

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Exiled King (Isaiah 62)


Once upon a time, there was a great King, who was just and fair and humble.  The motto of his Kingdom was: LOVE AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.  He taught his people how to live well.  The King helped his people really love each.  He taught them that everyone is connected, that one person’s success is a victory for all of us, and that another person’s suffering is a wound in all our hearts.  He taught people to live with kindness and mercy – helping the weak, befriending the lonely, hugging the children, celebrating with joy, and encouraging the good in all to flourish and grow.  His Kingdom grew, and his people prospered.
However, as is often the case, some powerful people wanted more power.  They didn’t like this love and justice philosophy.  They believed in the survival of the fittest.  They believed that everyone gets what they deserve.  The strong should get stronger, and the weak … Well, who cares about them anyway.
This group of power-hungry Powerfuls led a coup d’etat.  In a quiet revolt, they sent the King into exile and imposed a new government. Their motto was: FREEDOM AND HAPPINESS FOR ALL.  They filled the streets with their propaganda: “Let us throw off those ancient social norms.  Let us rid ourselves of the shackles of concern for others.  Live free.  Pursue happiness above all else.  If you want it, do it.  If you like it, buy it.  If you can’t afford it, work for it and work some more.  Anyone can have anything they want if they only work hard enough or smart enough.”
Most people gladly accepted this new government and their message about life.  It is not easy always being concerned about others.  Often that means putting aside what we want – at least for a while.  This new way of life was much easier.  It was such a relief simply to be concerned about yourself.  There was a time of celebrating and revelry in the streets.  Wine and women moved freely.
But carnival cannot last forever – especially not a carnival set on the philosophy of survival of the fittest.  Some people are simply not as strong.  They are pushed out of the way with reckless disregard for where they land.  Some people want to hold on to the bottle instead of passing it around.  Some people want to collect all the bottles for themselves.  A powerful fist or a thieving hand is glad to get the bottles moving again.
After the carnival fades, the System sets in. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Send Us All




Not like the vaulted cathedrals,
Not like the pews with names and reservations,
Not like the hair-sprayed televangelists,
Not like the nice churches who say nice things to nice people,
Here at our doors shall stand a sign: All are welcome!
Open hearts, aflame with the burning love of God,
Open, open, open, to all who come.

Keep, O normal churches, 
your nice people, 
your beautiful people, 
your people who have their shit together and put on pretty faces.

Give us your freaks and your punks, 
your hippies and granolas, 
your Goths and your bikers.
Give us your homeless and your unemployed,
your job-hoppers and bed-hoppers, 
your addicts and your hard drinkers.
Give us your hookers and your strippers,
your gamblers and smokers,
your dippers and your chewers.
Give us your church-haters and your liberals,
your atheists and agnostics,
your fundamentalists and your prudes.
Give us your gays and your lesbians,
your transvestites and transsexuals,
your offenders and your victims.
Give us your polluters and your tree-huggers,
your executives and lawyers,
your tax-evaders and your tax-collectors.
Give us your doubters and your name-it-and-claim-its,
your hypocrites and holier-than-thous,
your skeptics and your relativists.
Give us your seekers and your strugglers,
your lovers and haters,
your saints and your sinners.

Send us all of these, for they are like us.
We lift high the cross of Christ, 
Brother of exiles, Friend of sinners.
His nail-pierced hands shout world-wide welcome
For all who long to breathe free,
For all who long to find home,
For all who didn't measure up, 
For all who need a new start,
For all who want a new world.
We lift high the cross of Christ,
So that we will all be transformed together.