Friday, October 31, 2014

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"For example, if the leadership and ministry culture at Mars Hill has been marked by arrogance (and it has), then I am coming to see how I have been marked by that same arrogance, and how I was blind to it, both in others and in myself. I now see how my own sin of arrogance within [Mars Hill leadership's] arrogant culture therefore went unrecognized and unchallenged. In saying this, I am in no way blaming my sin on others or on the culture. On the contrary, my sin is my own sin which I freely confess. That is what I am now seeing with painful clarity. The same is true with the sin of domineering leadership. In fact, if you mix ministry arrogance together with top-down domineering leadership along with idolatry of church growth and numbers, then inevitably you create a ministry culture where many end up hurt, burned out, feeling used. I see this now, and I see how I helped to build such a culture. In fact, I am now beginning to see how my own idolatry of performance and ministry 'success' played so well at Mars Hill. Again, I do not blame my sin on others or our culture. Rather, I am now seeing how I contributed to the hurt of faithful and trusting members, attenders and leaders. Please forgive me."

Excerpt from a Public Letter of Apology by Steve Tompkins, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Shoreline, WA

 “For when the mind is brought to stillness, and all our strategies of acquisition have dropped, a deeper truth presents itself: we are and have always been one with God and we are all one in God .”

-- Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

“'Our kingdom go' is the necessary and unavoidable corollary of 'Thy kingdom come.' For the more there is self, the less there is of God. The divine eternal fulness of life can be gained only by those who have deliberately lost the partial, separative life of craving and self-interest, of egocentric thinking, feeling, wishing, and acting."

—Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"In short, a Christianity without hell would be a fearless, trusting, loving, divinely inspired source of good in the world.  And this Christianity would be more biblical—would be truer to not just the words but the very spirit of Christianity—than any Christianity that posits the reality of hell."

-- John Shore

"It is difficult to overstate the potential impact of Gushee’s defection. His Christian ethics textbook, Kingdom Ethics, co-authored with the late Glen Stassen, is widely respected and was named a 2004 Christianity Today book of the year. He serves as theologian-in-residence for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a coalition of 15 theological schools, 150 ministries, and 1,800 Baptist churches nationwide.  While other pro-LGBT Christian activists — including Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network and Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian — have been dismissed in some circles as wet-behind-the-ears youngsters without formal theological training, Gushee, 52, is a scholar with impeccable credentials. He can add intellectual heft to what has largely been a youth-led movement, and is not someone who can be easily dismissed."

Slacktivist: This is a big deal: David Gushee’s ‘Changing Our Mind’

Monday, October 27, 2014

My two theological reactions about the shooting tragedy at Marysville-Pilchuck High School

I used to live in Marysville, Washington and led a church youth group there.  Knowing the town and the school makes the pain of this horrific, yet sadly familiar, event a bit sharper.  It is difficult to not feel overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness when atrocities like this occur, especially when they happen in a community you know well.  We seek for answers to try to ameliorate the angst and keep the encroaching hopelessness at bay.  In this sense we are like the characters in the biblical book of Job (an allegorical drama about the national tragedy that had befallen the nation of Judah during the Babylonian conquest and exile).  Job and his companions wrestle with the question of why horrible and seemingly random things happen to good people.  By the end of the tale, after all the discussion and rumination (and an awe-inspiring appearance by God), the question remains unanswered.  There is no easy answer. 

After the media and the public-at-large moves on to the next tragedy, many people in Marysville, Smokey Point, Arlington and the adjacent Tulalip tribal land will continue to suffer for years to come--if not for the rest of their lives--and unanswered questions will linger in the air like ghosts.

As part of my own processing of this awful event, I want to offer two theological reactions which apply to this shooting and to other similar tragedies.

1.  This was not God's will.  This is not part of God's plan.  The theological view that God is utterly sovereign and that everything occurs according to God's predetermined plan proves to be not only insufficient in the face of a tragedy such as this but also grossly mischaracterizes God.  God is not the author of evil and horror and this event was certainly evil and horrible.  What happened to these teens was not pre-scripted before the beginning of time by a distant and immutable deity.  Rather, God is near--journeying with us and closer than our own breath, feeling the sorrow we feel (with infinitely greater intensity).  God is present and calls to us and woos us and tugs us towards God's good and loving and life-giving and beautiful intentions for a future that is open with possibilities.  In the Hebrew scriptures (what Christians call the "Old Testament") the word used over and over to describe God's nature is chesed--which means "loving-kindness."  The Gospel of John states simply, "God is love."  God is continuously nudging us towards shalom (peace, well-being).  But, like any relationship based on love, it is a cooperative venture.  We have a modicum of truly free will (moderated, of course, by factors such as our history and past choices, our socio-economic position, the wounds others have inflicted upon us, etc.).  We have the opportunity, continuously, to respond to God, in big ways and small.  In this way, the trajectory of our lives gradually unfolds.  But that trajectory can be changed--for better or worse--through our choices and the choices of others.  At the end of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses challenges the gathered Israelites: "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live..."  Young Jaylen Fryberg made a series of choices which culminated in his aiming a handgun and pulling the trigger--at least six times.  God did not do this.  An angry young man with access to a handgun did.

2.  I pray for the survivors--for the parents and the family members and the friends and the students and the teachers and the entire community affected by this.  But merely praying is not enough.  As James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, "Faith without action is dead. ... Show me your faith without actions, and I will show you my faith by what I do."  If we pray (and we should) for those affected by this tragedy, but we do nothing practical to prevent further tragedies like it, then we are deluding ourselves.  As long as we refuse to implement sane gun control legislation in our communities and nation, we will continue to see innocent people cut down--sacrifices laid on the altar to our idols of selfishness and paranoia.  The free will given us by God comes with an obligation to take responsibility.  And so, we should pray.  But we must also remember those words spoken by God through Moses: "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live..."  What will we choose?

"You can never be free
  as long as you have an ego to defend." 

-- Anthony de Mello, S.J.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A powerful and profound experience that sometimes happens to Quakers as they worship in listening silence is what is referred to as a "gathered meeting." Here, some Friends explain what a "gathered meeting" is and why it is so meaningful...

The flame of love
grows as it is divided
it increases by being shared
from one, then two, then three
and darkness is transformed into glory
and the walls reflect its light
Share your flame!
Share your flame!

 —St. John of the Cross

Saturday, October 25, 2014

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for He himself will say, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

-- from the Rule of St. Benedict

Friday, October 24, 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

While God waits for His Temple to be built of love,
Men bring stones.

 —Rabinadrath Tagore

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

“Through the study of books one seeks God; by meditation one finds Him.”

-- Saint Padre Pio

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Love, by its nature, is a resemblance of God." 
-- John Climacus (7th century Christian monk)

Friday, October 17, 2014

"If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Thursday, October 16, 2014

“A religion is as much a progressive unlearning of false ideas concerning God as it is the learning of the true ideas concerning God.”

-- Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"Then, from the throng withdrawn,
he comes,
the chosen priests his entourage,
to the topmost peak of the divine ascent.
Yet he encounters God not,
he sees God not
(for God cannot be seen),
but sees alone the place on which He dwells.
This is the sign, I think,
that the most divine
the most sublime
one can see or know
are symbols only,
subordinate to Him who is Himself
transcendent to them all;
that they are pointers to His presence
who is beyond comprehending..."

--Pseudo-Dionysius, 6th century Syrian monk

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Don't Bang the Drum

"It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Shakespeare’s description, voiced by Macbeth, of the futility of life reminds me of how we in modern times live our lives enveloped in the continuous noise of television and music and talk radio and email and the web and social networking and advertising. We are bombarded by a continuous tsumani of sound and fury; much of it signifying nothing.

I’ve been learning over the last few years to embrace silence and emptiness instead of filling in the spaces with “sound and fury”. It is in the emptiness and the silence that I sense God and, sometimes, hear the still small voice. Finding silence and stillness can be challenging and I have to be very intentional about it: I’ve been conditioned over a lifetime, perhaps to the point of addiction, to seek stimuli instead. And yet as time goes by I find myself more and more drawn towards silence and emptiness.

I read recently that if you count the rests, more than half of Beethoven's music consists of silence. In a commencement address to the Berklee School of Music, Sting said the following: "I'm wondering whether, as musicians, the most important thing we do is merely to provide a frame for silence. I'm wondering if silence itself is perhaps the mystery at the heart of music? And is silence the most perfect music of all?"

In the Quaker tradition, worship gatherings are built around silence. Silence plays the central role. Robert Lawrence Smith describes a Quaker meeting thusly:

“The traditional Quaker form of silent group worship has no parallel in other religions and has changed very little since the seventeenth century. What others call a religious “service”, Friends [Quakers] call a “Meeting for Worship”, emphasizing that there is no liturgy and that worshippers come together as equal participants … Quakers are unique in their appreciation of the spiritual power of group silence … Quaker Meeting uses shared silence as a medium of group discovery, as a way of sharing ourselves with others – and with God.”

How different a one hour Quaker "silent" meeting is from the one hour church services that I used to attend, where every moment had to be filled with something. There could be no silences; no dead air; no spaciousness. There were prayers and songs and hymns and announcements and sermons, and more songs and more prayers, etc., etc.--but little or no corporate holy silence. There seemed to be an almost palpable fear of allowing any emptiness to encroach into the proceedings.

Emptiness and silence bring uncertainty. What will happen? Will God speak? Will someone fall asleep or fail to be entertained? Will someone do something inappropriate? When we allow emptiness and space we must relinquish control.

Although Quakers seem to be unique in the way that they employ group silence, silence is, in fact, at the core of many of the world's contemplative/mystical traditions: Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, etc.

I belong to a Quaker meeting that incorporates singing worship songs and a short sermon but maintains the core of silent, listening worship.  Lorraine, the pastor, tells the story about the time she showed up to church one Sunday morning with laryngitis. She didn't realize that she had lost her voice overnight because she hadn't spoken to anyone until she got to church. When it was realized that the pastor could not speak, it was no big deal. Rather than scramble for someone to fill in and give some kind of sermon, the meeting just happily worshipped together in silent expectation that God would speak. In silent worship we wait and listen to the Holy Spirit. If God prompts someone--anyone--to speak, they are encouraged to do so. But everyone is also encouraged to not speak unless they feel strongly that God is prompting them to. Better to have holy silence than words spoken for the sake of filling space. It reminds me of a great worship song by Scott Underwood that says, "We will stand back and let you move, stand back and see what you will do."

I was in the car today, not embracing silence but listening to The Waterboys. One of their songs, entitled Don't Bang the Drum, particularly caught my attention. I have no idea what the songwriter was referring to when he wrote it, but to me, “Don’t Bang the Drum” is an apt metaphor for letting go of all the sound, the fury and the busyness and instead allowing and embracing emptiness, silence, spaciousness and uncertainty.  It is an invitation into the mystic.

Don’t Bang the Drum
(by Scott / Wallinger, © 1986 Ensign Records Ltd.)

Well here we are in a special place
What are you gonna do here?
Now we stand in a special place
What will you do here?
What show of soul are we gonna get from you?
It could be deliverance, or history
Under these skies so blue
Could be something true
But if I know you
You'll bang the drum
Like monkeys do

Here we are in a fabulous place
What are you gonna dream here?
We are standing in this fabulous place
What are you gonna play here?
I know you love the high life
You love to leap around
You love to beat your chest and make your sound
But not here man, this is sacred ground
With a Power flowing through
But if I know you
You'll bang the drum
Like monkeys do

Here we stand on a rocky shore
Your father stood here before you
I can see his ghost explore you
I can feel the sea implore you
Not to pass on by
Not to walk on by
And not to try
Just to let it come
Don't bang the drum
Just let it come
Don't bang the drum
Just let it come…

(This was originally posted in December of 2006 and re-posted in July of 2011.  It has been revised somewhat)

And so I find it well to come
For deeper rest to this still room,
For here the habit of the soul
Feels less the outer world's control;
The strength of mutual purpose pleads
More earnestly our common needs;
And from the silence multiplied
By these still forms on either side,
The world that time and sense have known
Falls off and leaves us God alone.

-- John Greenleaf Whittier (excerpt from The Meeting)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

"It has often been said that you can either take the Bible literally or seriously, and I would prefer to take it seriously."

--Brother David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine monk

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Of course the 'powers that be' do their best to sanitize and obscure the reality of war for the folks back home, lest we see the horror for what it is and demand that it cease.

Excerpt:  "The incinerated man stared back at Jarecke through the camera’s viewfinder, his blackened arm reaching over the edge of the truck’s windshield. Jarecke recalls that he could 'see clearly how precious life was to this guy, because he was fighting for it. He was fighting to save his life to the very end, till he was completely burned up. He was trying to get out of that truck.'”

The Atlantic Monthly: The War Photo No One Would Publish

Sunday, October 05, 2014

"The gravitational pull of all organizations, gatherings and movements is towards the dehumanization of people. We must practice diligence at every moment to ensure this doesn't happen."

-- David Hayward (the Naked Pastor)