In Response to Faith and politics: The New Wars of Religion.

This past November (2007) there was an article in The Economist titled “Faith and politics: The New Wars of Religion.  “that religion has re-emerged in public life is to some extent an illusion.  It never really went away…religion has returned to the stage as a much more democratic, individualistic affair: a bottom-up marketing success, surprisingly in tune with globalization”

I think about this article often as I am on the way out of seminary and possibly entering ministry.  Sometime in the future I shall be called to shepherd a congregation.  I enter this vocation with the conviction that I am called to serve, accept, and love everyone.  It may be difficult to uphold this at times. Even in the most difficult of times I am never excused from the obligation to serve, accept, and love all. To look into the face of the other. To be in proximity to Gods wonderful creation.

In the recent past I have been part of inter-faith dialogue and have been benefactor of its wisdom. A lesson I learned in these discussions is, we must condemn violence in our neighborhoods, in our country, and in our world.  There is not place for violence in the Gospel message that Christianity is rooted in.  We are not immune to the apathy and blank stares of inaction.  We slow down to see the train wreck and gawk at its carnage, making sure not to get involved.

We will protest the dehumanizing slave labor in foreign land and stand idly by as millions of people [legal and illegal] next door to you struggle to exist. They live hand to mouth, where the slightest emergency wreaks havoc in their fragile balance of work and life.

Religious leaders in this country are poised to be the visionaries/prophets of a new America. An America where one is not identified and divided by what they own or possess.

Possessions bind us to this world. Why is it that when faced with difficulty we go shopping or seek to own or consume things? We fear to be intimately woven to this created world. We are uncomfortable with intimacy, especially the intimacy that is involved with being human. Stuff cannot come between any citizen of this world.

Religious practice is on a rise.  The southern hemisphere is now the center of the Christian practice.  We are witnessing the power base of Christendom with black, brown, and yellow faces.

We must continue to work towards reconciliation with each other.  This is not possible as we point fingers and look at each other in mistrust.  Pride only breeds another generation of violence and bloodshed.

A lasting peace cannot be reached in the oppression or marginalization of any group.  Look to the colonizing efforts of Great Britain, France, and Belgium in the early 1900’s.  Division leads to resent and resent breeds anger.  Anger, if left unresolved, begets violence.

It is my hope that my fellow colleagues in ministry, of all faiths, will commit to dialogue.  We must set the example of tolerance and understanding.  We must sit together and denounce this violence.  It is my understanding prophesying or teaching ought to denounce violence as the way to exist.

If we can set together at the table and talk, then we can live together in a culture that is not fearful of the unknown.  We must invest in each other as a people, as a society.  If one is scared, than we all are scared.  Dominance and power are not a place to be peaceful.

All the “Red Campaigns”, relief efforts, and “storms” will never achieve peace until they emerge from an invested seat as we speak up for each other.

How do we imagine God?

 

I have been in this class that is studying the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. It has been a difficult for me as I read his work. I have never taken a philosophy course before. I do not understand the language used in his writings.

In a super heated cup of water way, Levinas deals with relationships and the idea of proximity, the other, and insomnia. All are words we have heard and used frequently in our lives. For Levinas proximity has a deep and penetrating meaning. Influenced by his experience with the tragic events of the Holocaust, Levinas seeks to go beyond the Greek world of logic, reason, and thought and enter the Hebrew experience of dependency, choseness, and divine intimacy.

For Levinas the system of language, culture, and relationships that allowed and perpetrated the Holocaust defied humanity and its existence demanded explanation. Why did these events happen and where in divine purpose do these events serve to connect Creator and creation?

I sat in class on Wednesday and the thought came to me, “How do I imagine God? How do we imagine God?”

In a conversation between a group of Christians and Muslims here at the seminary last semester, a Muslim student from UT spoke of Allah (God) saying, “What ever you think, imagine, or speak of that God is. You must realize that God is not.” This is Tawhid. In the Islamic perspective there is nothing that is more than God. God did not beget a son. God is not many distinct gods or persons. God cannot be fathomed, imagined, or even spoken off. God cannot be understood, labeled, or seen. God is God and there is nothing like God.

Tawhid is what comes to mind when I read Levinas and the idea of proximity. If we view Tawhid as the claim that God is absolute and the perfect Creator, then we have no difference in a Christians, Muslims, and Jews understanding of God.

Tawhid demands an orientation to the divine with the understanding that nothing is more than God and that God cannot be boiled down to an easily digestible formula. Essentially, God cannot be owned, commodified, or deciphered.

The most beautiful thing about Tawhid to me is the impossible portrait of God it provides.

What is the Christian image of God? Is God levied to the old gray bearded man sitting on the throne looking similar to the king of the sea, Neptune or the sky god Zeus? Perhaps God is Alanis Morissette from the film, Dogma. When we as Christians imagine God do we account for the diversity of creation made by the spoken word of a divine Creator?

Where does our imagination of God limit our ability to be and receive prophetic instruction to live a dangerously active life of transformation and dynamic love?

How do you imagine God? Where does this image limit you? What function does this image play in your call?

Intolerant God lays smack down…

“They only say that because they have not bothered to crack the Bible and read what the words actually say.  In fact God is the about most intolerant. I mean you talk about the head discriminator.  You talk about the guy who is.  Lays down the most boundaries and standards.  You see this is his creation.”

Shirley Phelps

 

I came across this clip on CNN.  The clip was a report on a demonstration outside of the Kansas church.  The demonstrators are calling for an end to the hateful speech that is preached from the pulpit in Westboro Baptist Church (WBC).  They decided to bring awareness to the public that Phelps hateful tongue does not speak for all Christians.

 
I find it strange that Phelps considers himself to be a Calvinist.  What would Calvin say about, “God is the about most intolerant”?  Would any intolerant God offer grace at all?

 
There is a twisted understanding of the Gospel message present here.  I am saddened by the lack of love in this message carried by WBC.  Where is the outcry against this flawed religion.  If God is intolerant and the head discriminator than I want nothing to do with it all.

 
It is funny how God becomes what we hide in the dark recesses of our hearts and minds.  I bet we all will be surprised to discover what God is.  WBC is so wrapped up in what they hate they are becoming ineffective for the transformative message of Jesus.  They are what is fundamental wrong with a Gospel rendering rooted in division, hate, and exclusiveness.  They are playing God.

 
I do not see the sovereignty of God in the hateful actions of WBC.  If they truly believe that God rules all then how is this demonstrated in their actions?  They seek to be agents of salvation.  This salvation arrives not in Jesus but the adherence to the message preached by Phelps.

 
WTF Fred?  Would Jesus be cool with you damming folks because they do not believe what you define Jesus’ message?  You can string along verse after verse in your sermons.  It does not change that fact you as abusing the scriptures to support your interpretation.  Mind you it is an interpretation founded in modern alarmism and self delusion.

 
I say, “Have any of you bothered to crack the Bible and read what it says?”  Sir I believe that Jesus will be pissed when he returns and you might receive a can of whoop ass.  Nope that is what you would expect.  You are recipient of love, grace, and forgiveness.  Just like all the GLBT loving folks you viciously condemn.

The Cap 10 K 2008

This morning Mere and I ran the Capital 10,000 fun run in Austin.  It was fun.  We ran as it rained cats and dogs.  The rain started as we waited to begin the race on the south side of the Congress Bridge.  It stopped at mile 5, close to 6.

We slogged through the puddles and the crowds.  It was an amazing morning.  I managed to shave over a half an hour for my time last year, coming in at just under an hour and a half.  

The snacks they handed out were not as good as last year.  The bands were cool.  I loved the high school marching band perched under the underpass playing jazz, the high school drum line, and the steel drum band.

All in all today was a good day.  I hope that next year I can run a 10K in 70 minutes.  I think I may try and document the progress towards that goal here on this site.  If you have any advice or tips on training and stuff leave them in the comments section.

Palabra tu Madre! 

I’m Punker than you: An emerging perspective on church.

I have been thinking about what it means to be emerging/emergent/Presbymergent in light of the circumstances I wrestle with embracing the postmodern moniker. It does place me outside of the “traditional” church paradigm. It sounds exotic and cool. It is a way for me to carve out a niche for my ministry.

I am wondering if my call will change if I do not embrace the moniker of postmodern. Is not the use of language to label or define anything modern in of itself? What does it mean to be a postmodern? I have been reading Levinas and his gesture towards God. That guy would look at postmoderns and laugh.

Does calling oneself postmodern skirt the responsibility we have to the current systemic injustice that invades the very nature of our modern culture. We cannot be postmodern if we subscribe or even exist in the reality. Where do we escape modernism and move into postmodernism?

Why does it matter? I am reminded of a time just after high school when I heard on pop radio a song by The Offspring. I was pissed. I had spent the last four of five years living the punk rock life style. I witnessed the pop music, the hip-hop, and the reggae revolution of my peers. We were the misfits.

We listened to urban ballads of NOFX, Bad Religion, Down By Law, Pennywise, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, 7 Seconds, and Operation Ivy. We dressed the part. We affiliated with our kind. We did not let anyone trespass into our clique. We mocked anyone that tried to enter. We threw all the parties and dared anyone to come and when they did we ridiculed them.

We were jerks. We were punks. When I heard that Offspring song being played inside that brand new Bronco just outside of the party I was threatened. There was someone I perceived to be better than me. They were popular with the ladies. They were what I wanted to be. When they did not let us in we made our own club. A club that let us in and accepted us as we where. Now they are entering our world and crashing our parties.

I get the same feeling about the Emergent/Emerging/Presbymergent movement as I did when Offspring happened. Many folks are entering the conversation. It is growing by leaps and bounds. There are pieces all over the place on the emerging topics. If you slap the label on your back you can run in NASCAR. Postmodernism is hot. It is all the buzz in many youth circles. The Boomers are trying to understand it and grasp its amazing power.

Boomers fear this movement as well. What is funny is as much as the pioneers wished they had legitimacy they angrily or begrudgingly separate themselves into factions and seek to claim the greatest and purest lineage to the origins of “emergent.” It is almost a ecclesial/theological pissing contest. Does it really matter who you know or who your blog is linked to or even who you worship?

I despised those folks that came to the party that night blaring Offspring because they invaded my identity. I perceived that they infringed on my territory. Therefore I labeled them not punk enough. We coined a catch phrase that is still used today, “I am punker than you.” We probably did not create the term rather it found life in our community. Many beautiful rites, practices, and language have found new life in the Emergent/Emerging/Presbymergent movement. The Emergent/Emerging/Presbymergent movement is not the sole source of new life and relevant or organic actions in the church. To claim so is to cry out “I am punker than you.”

In Christ no one is punker than anyone. Jesus is the ultimate punker! He fucked shit up by dying on the cross. In this he messed up the systemic injustice of “us” and “them”. He called us to a higher righteousness. He called us to forgo charity and walk in obligation to one another. No one is more punk.

The sad thing is no one was ever punk enough. We missed the point. Punk in an attitude and not a faction/fashion. Emerging is an attitude/posture not a faction/fashion. The harder the fight for inclusion the harder the fight is to highlight and exclude. It is a power positioning. Is anyone emerging enough?

What I did not know was that I was witnessing the third wave (generation) of punk. What was a very real and exciting movement I was genuinely a part of was based upon those that perceived me. Those bands did not happen out of thin air. They covered songs that influenced them. Those bands I was into, the scene I was in to emulated and barrowed from the past.

The Emergent/Emerging/Presbymergent movement barrows, redefines norms, and evolves as well. The movement is not static. It cries in the face of the movement to hold on to ways of yore just because it is where we began. I cried out, “I am punker than you!” I am afraid of losing my relevancy. I then sought to exclude others by making it complex and intimidating to be a part of the punk clique I was part of.

Where is the call to reach into the margins with life giving actions.? The call to less consumption? Where is the call to cease the death penalty? Where is the dialogue with other religions? If we were truly emerging and seeking to model the KOG in a missional posture we would be far more willing to be “loyal radicals” that f-ck sh-t up for the KOG in our efforts of service, acceptance, and love. The same stuff that plagued the beauty that is and was punk, clouds the emerging movement of Christianity. I heard this said this week, “We are good at giving from the fat of your lives. When will we give of the meat?”

There is no room for exclusion in the Emergent/Emerging/Presbymergent movement. I see it as a move towards radical inclusion and the defending of those marginalized by the very system we enjoy from the climate controlled boxes we live and drive in. If we bicker or worry about our place in the Emergent/Emerging/Presbymergent machine are we not missing the point? It is about a greater good that points to Christ and all that was done in death and resurrection.

 

“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,

who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

No one is punk enough to judge others good enough, relevant enough, or enough to be a part of any part of the Kingdom. We fail when we seek to put our standards upon Gods charge to heed the Son. Punks felt intimidated by the influx of folks to their ideas. They were being displaced. They fought back and fractured, they are no longer relevant and perhaps just a historical relic. Punk died, but the posture did not. It emerges from its smoky dank hall to again rebel against the machine…

A letter to Presbymergent.

I have been uncomfortable with a few things.  I love the emerging idea of a new vision of “the church”.  It is full of hope and an amazing energy that inspires me.  It is exciting and I pray speading like a wild fire.

There is just one thing.  I believe that the Presbymergent movement is not going far enough.  I am motivated to be a part of this community to love mercy, walk humbly with God, and to act justly.  I see the possibilities of the Presbymergent movement to be agents of mercy, humility, and justice in this world in profound ways.

We seek to embrace the cultural influence that pillows the church.   To use Carol’s laguage, we seek to understand the tribal languages that gather around the margins and in the sanctuaries of secular culture.  We desire a new way to be church, to be the children of God.  We demand a new paridigm to witness to the transforming love of Christ.

I am thankful for this movment, it has shown me that I am not alone in my hopes, dreams, and call to ministry.  There are others that have felt that tugging of their hearts.  We have answered the Lord saying, “Here I am?!?”  We do not shed our brokeness, our preconcived notioins, our condition.  God calls us in the context we find oursleves.

Why do you call me?  I am not the minister type.  I do not look, act, or think like a minister.

Presbymergent has given me the foothold I needed in the gathered community.  It has blessed me with a place to be myself.  They are my tribe.

It may be due to my inability to read everyones blog on a daily basis.  It may be my ignorance.  It may be my idealistic heart and my unrealistic expectations that we can be a called people faithful to our call and exist in this world.

I wonder if we are going far enough to embrace just actions, the love of mercy, and the humble walking with God.  What do we want from the denomination?  What common thread binds us together.  Christ!  I get it.  The Emerging Church Movement is a posture and not a formula or model for others to follow to become emergent.  ECM is not a band aid to cover the wounds of the church.  The ECM is ambiguous and real.  It is a gesture towards a better way.  It gestures towards a simple faith with dynamic actions of love in service to this world.

I want to see Presbymergent to love mercy and call for the end of the death penalty.  I want to see us demand fair and just immigration policies.  I want to see us fight the injustice of the producer/consumer mentality of this culture that binds us to the world.   I want us to take a stand against the injustice of excluding  all that are called to serve the church (Homosexuality is NOT an Abomination!).   I want to see  responsible actions that consider the other.  I want us to be agents of transformation of the  church in all that we do.  We call ourselves “Loyal Radicals”   when will we be truly radical?   When do we sacrifice for what we  believe in?

We are leaders in the church.  Folks are looking to us to be imaginative, prophetic, and vulnerable.  We are being called out.

I pray we get the courage to be the people of God that we are called to be.  I really want to say, “I want to fuck shit up for Jesus.  I want to challenge the status quo.  I want to rebel against the “good old boys”.  I want to bring the discrimination out of the shadows.  I want to never be the same.  I want to be a living sacrifice.  I want all this and I want to be a Presbyterian minister.  Is there room for me at the table?”

A wonderful Easter

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I spent the evening celebrating the resurrection of Jesus the Christ with The Babtist Women. I wish we as a church would stop perpetuating the shame and damnation of homosexuality.

I want to point out that my sweater says “WTFWJD”. I would also say that Jesus would answer, “love your neighbor as I have loved you.” We need more love and less hate.

I am reminded of my favorite Merton quote, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.