Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Case of the Mysterious Crash

I'm on a plane en route from Dallas to New Orleans. While in Dallas on lay-over, I spoke to Carla and she relayed the following tale:

Carla suffers from migraine headaches and awoke early this morning with one. She managed to get back to sleep but was later awakened by a very loud crash that seemed to come from the condo apartment above us.

The condo above us is occupied by Wayne, a very large (as in, obese) man in his late 50's. We can sit in our unit and trace Wayne's movements from room to room (if we're so inclined) by the sounds that emanate from our ceiling.

The loud crash, which shook Carla awake, seemed to come from Wayne's bathroom, which is above and kitty-corner to our bedroom. It was followed by dead silence. Scenarios began to run through her mind: Had he slipped getting out of the shower? Had he had a massive heart attack? She decided to investigate; went upstairs and rang his doorbell. No answer. She knocked loudly. No answer. She came back downstairs and found the directory of residents provided by the homeowner's association of our condominium complex. Wayne's phone number was listed, so she called it. No answer.

What should she do? Was Wayne lying dead or dying on his bathroom floor? Or was he gone and one of his cats had knocked something over? She called me while I was at the Dallas airport and we discussed the situation. We decided it was best to call the non-emergency number of the police and ask their advice.

Carla called me back later to tell me what happened. The police came, saying they didn't want to take any chances. She suggested that they use a ladder to peer into the windows at the back of his condo (which includes the bathroom). They insisted instead on breaking the door down, which they did, and found... nothing. No Wayne, dead or alive. Everything intact and in it's place, including a pair of curious cats.

The police left a note and card on Wayne's now broken door, explaining that they had forcibly entered his dwelling.

We wonder now if what Carla heard was Wayne slamming the heavy steel door that leads into his garage, which is directly beneath our bedroom. The reverberation, coupled with being startled out of a sleep, might have given Carla the wrong impression of the sound's source.

So now we are wondering what Wayne's reaction will be when he gets home. Will he be angry? I assume so. Will he appreciate that Carla took action when she thought he might be in danger? Who will he blame for breaking his door: us or the police?

It seems to me that we ought to share the cost of repairing his door. One must expect to pay a cost, afterall, when one gets involved. The good Samaritan ended up with food, lodging and medical bills when he got involved. Ideally, I think the cost should be split three ways between the police (who broke the door), us (who called the police) and Wayne (who was the object of everyone's concern).

I'll provide updates of the situation in the Comments of this post.

One last thing I want to mention. A few weeks ago Carla and I came home in the evening and noticed that our next-door neighbor Lynn's garage door was open. "She's probably moving something or about to take her car out." I said, but Carla insisted on knocking on Lynn's door to check. We live in a fairly urban area and a garage door left open for any length of time is an invitation to thievery. It turned out that Lynn had gone to bed, unaware that she had left her garage door open.

Prison Praise Music

This excellent essay appeared yesterday on Jim Wallis' (of Sojourners Magazine) blog.

It was written by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran vicar living in Denver, Colorado where she is developing a new emerging church called House for all Sinners and Saints. She blogs at

Prison Praise Music

I'm always a bit anxious in new worship environments. As I settle into my plastic chair at New Beginnings Lutheran Church, I realize that now is certainly no different. At least, I think to myself, my cell phone won't go off in worship; it was confiscated by the guard before I went through the metal detector.

New Beginnings is a congregation on the inside of the Denver Women's Correctional Facility, and I've come with three others from my own community to share in their worship service. My anxiety is not at all lessened by the praise music - of which I have an almost irrational aversion - coming out of the jam box behind the purple-draped altar. Seriously, I'm sinfully snotty about this issue.

The problem is that, as the women file into the room in their dark green scrubs and black boots, many immediately pick up the song sheets and begin singing along. I've always associated what I call "Jesus-is-my-boyfriend music" with privileged white suburban mega-churches. But here in front of me are women of untold sin and sorrow, worn, unlike many of us, on the outside; singing "Lord I Lift Your Name On High" - singing about how faithful and marvelous God is from the inside of a prison.

I feel moved - and not by the emotionalism of the overproduced praise music. I'm moved again by how God seems to continually show up in ways I find objectionable. Like John the Baptist attempting to talk Jesus out of being baptized, and the disciples scandalized by Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well, and Peter's "God forbid that ever happen to you" at the news of how his messiah would die, I too object. God forbid that God's own redeeming work in the world be done through music and theology I find abhorrent. It's totally annoying and absolutely predictable. It happens every time.

Quote of the Day

"“A Christian is never something one is, only something one can pray to become."
- W.H. Auden

Monday, February 25, 2008

Michelle Shocked belts one out!

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Carla and I rented a film called "Once" last week on a whim, knowing absolutely nothing about it. Both of us loved the movie and the story behind how the movie was made (which we learned about from watching the Special Features). We also loved the songs which form the backbone of the film. "Once", which tells the bittersweet tale of two musicians who fall in love, was written and directed by Dubliner John Carney. Carney had at one time played bass for singer/songwriter Glen Hansard, a veteran of the Dublin music scene. Carney initially asked Hansard to write some songs for the shoe-string budget film he was trying to make, but ended up convincing Hansard and Czech-born singer/songwriter Marketa Irglova to star in the film as well, reasoning that it would be better to have great musicians who could sort-of act than great actors who could sort-of make music. The film was shot in 3 weeks for $100,000.00.

Lo and behold, it became an underground hit. One of the songs used in the film, co-written by Hansard and Irglova, was unexpectedly nominated for an Oscar.

Carla and I actually cheered tonight as the song, "Falling Slowly", won the Oscar! Both Hansard and Irglova, gave inspiring acceptance speeches, which were the highlight of the entire awards ceremony. It's nice to see a couple of relatively unknown struggling artists get such a tremendous break. As one of the lines in their song says, "You have suffered enough and warred with yourself / It's time that you won."

Saturday, February 23, 2008


I was watching an old video of John Wimber on Youtube the other day. In it, he has just finished teaching about divine healing and begins a "clinic" where he demonstrates how to pray for the sick. There is no hype - Wimber encourages everyone present to relax, be natural and wait on God.

It brought back memories of when I first attended the Vineyard in Denver 24 years ago. The mid-week services on Thursday nights were downright scary. You never knew what was going to happen after the extended worship set that began the evening. Often the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit was so strong and heavy that worship would segue right into ministry. The ministry was performed by and upon one-another. It was a bit messy, a bit chaotic, somewhat open-ended (in that we didn't know where the meeting was going to go) and, as I said, scary. It was scary because it was holy.

Gradually, things became more organized. The worship set was shortened and then immediately followed by teaching. The ministry was moved into the "prayer room" behind the stage and was conducted by trained "ministry team" members who wore plastic badges like the staff at hotels and restaurants do. It stopped being scary. We had gained control.

With the exception of some house-church and Quaker meetings, pretty much all church services I have attended since that time have followed a very tight format that goes something like this:

Worship music (20-30 minutes)
Announcements (5 minutes)
Collection (2 minutes)
Sermon (30-45 minutes)
One more worship song (5 minutes)
Optional prayer in the "prayer room" (5-15 minutes)
Optional fellowship in the foyer (5-15 minutes)

There is little room allowed for spontanaety. There is little, if any, time given to waiting upon God to see if He wants to do something. Instead, the meeting is shaped by the agenda of the pastor and worship leader. Their desire is to worship God but--let's be honest here--it is also to control God. God will be worshipped by the songs we have prepared and by the sermon I have created. We will ask God to bless these songs and this sermon and then to hover quietly on the periphery while we perform our ministry. We hope, in our hearts, that He won't get in the way or make a scene and He generally complies.

But what if we changed the agenda from delivering a great worship set and sermon to simply encountering God? What if we just waited to see what He might do? Even if it meant sitting in expectant silence for an hour? What if we allowed that He might, at any given time, use anyone in the room to minister with a prayer or word or song or scripture? Is God capable of conducting a church service apart from our agenda?

Or would that be too scary?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Quote of the Day

In true community we will not choose our companions, for our choices are so often limited by self-serving motives. Instead, our companions will be given to us by grace. Often they will be persons who will upset our settled view of self and world. In fact, we might define true community as that place where the person you least want to live with lives!...

Community reminds us that we are called to love, for community is a product of love in action and not of simple self-interest. Community can break our egos open to the experience of a God who cannot be contained by our conceptions. Community will teach us that our grip on truth is fragile and incomplete, that we need many ears to hear the fullness of God's word for our lives. And the disappointments of community life can be transformed by our discovery that the only dependable power of life lies beyond all human structures and relationships.

In this religious grounding lies the only real hedge against the risk of disappointment in seeking community. That risk can be borne only if it is not community one seeks, but truth, light, God. Do not commit yourself to community, but commit yourself to God.... In that commitment you will find yourself drawn into community.

- Parker J. Palmer

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Way of Subtraction

I don't know if the story is factual or apocryphal; it's been told so many times and with so many variations. It involves how to catch a monkey (or, in another version, a raccoon). My favorite version goes like this: You take an empty bottle and tie a short length of rope around the neck and attach the other end of the rope to a stake in the ground. Then you put a piece of candy in the bottle. A monkey smells the candy and comes in for a closer look. He sees the brightly colored treat inside the bottle, reaches in and grabs it. At this point he is caught. As long as he has the candy in his fist, his paw won't fit back through the opening of the bottle. All he has to do is let go of the candy and his hand will slip right out. But he won't let go. All that's left now is for the person who set the trap to come out from their hiding place, cudgel in hand, and it's monkey stew tonight.

The point of the story, of course, is that things which we hold on to also have a hold on us. I've come to the conclusion that following Jesus is mostly about letting go of things. It is a life-long process. I think this is what Jesus meant when He said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" (Luke 9:23-25)

Here in the U.S., we have built a culture around consumption. We cry "more, more, more!" (and not just in the midnight hour!). Our politicians have just voted to "give" us all a refund in order to "stimulate the economy", despite the fact that our national budget is in deficit. It's the equivalent of taking out a Payday Loan even though our credit card is maxxed. As stupid as the whole idea seems, it's really just another indicator of the zeitgeist in 21st century U.S.A.

And so it's no surprise that "cultural-Christianity" (that most common form of Christianity, which mirrors the popular culture's values and behaviors) tends to be consumer oriented. The emphasis is on acquiring more. More teaching. More manifestations of the Holy Spirit. More keys to spiritual fulfillment. More prosperity ("Cuz Gawd wants yee-oo to prosper!"). More credentials ($40K for an M.Div.?). More books (guilty!). More square footage for the church building. More sound, more lights, more technology! More Sunday morning attendees (did you know when pastors get together they compare the size of their congregations?). More influence. More love, more power, more of You in my life.

I find myself drawn to a counter-cultural form of Christianity. I too want more of Him, but realize that there is an exchange involved: More of Him means less of me. One of the most powerful "sermons" in the entire Bible was given by John the Baptist. Here it is: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn. 3:30). To put it another way, I need to vacate the throne at the center of my life so that He can occupy it. Only when I reorient my life so that He is at the center (not me), do I find joy, meaning and purpose. This is a life-long process. It is a daily taking up of the cross and dying to self. It is the way of subtraction. That is the mathematics of discipleship.

The high-falootin' theological term for this is apophasis, which means in Greek "the negative way". Quaker author Lloyd Lee Wilson describes it thusly: "One approaches God by subtracting from one's consciousness, from one's entire life, everything that is not God." The apophatic approach to spirituality is very common in the East (Jesus, of course, was one o' them Easterners). In Christianity, it is sometimes seen in Greek Orthodox theology and praxis, when the mystery of God is embraced. Quakerism is also very apophatic in its approach, though George Fox surely never heard the term and seemed to stumble upon the approach purely through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The opposite of apophasis is kataphasis, which tends to be emphasized in the West. Lloyd Lee Wilson describes kataphasis this way: "On this spiritual path, one seeks a deeper understanding of and relationship with God through positive images, symbols, and ideas: singing a hymn, preaching and hearing messages about God and God's works in the world, responsive readings and vocal prayer in unison, and similar activities. It is the most common form of spirituality throughout the Christian church (Roman, Orthodox, and Protestant). Younger people typically start with a kataphatic spirituality, even if later in life they are drawn to an apophatic path." As Gerald May puts it, "...we naturally seek the least threatening ways of trying to satisfy our longing for God, ways that protect our sense of personal power and require the least sacrifice. Even when we know that our hunger is for God alone, we will still be looking for loopholes--ways of having our cake and eating it too, ways of maintaining our attachments to things and people while simultaneously trying to deepen our intimacy with God. We seek compromise not because we are evil or conniving, but because of the way we are made; we naturally look for the least painful ways of living. From the standpoint of basic human common sense, this is perfectly reasonable. We look for our ultimate satisfaction in God's palpable and definable creations instead of looking through them to the hidden, loving face of their Creator."

An apophatic approach is not to be confused with asceticism. Such a confusion can occur out of an overzealous approach. May writes, "When we first reclaim our spiritual longing, we usually do not know that the journey homeward will involve such relinquishment, that the homecoming process will be so painful. Perhaps this is just as well. Not that such knowledge would cause us to choose against God; on the contrary, I think the greater danger is that those who think they understand the process are likely to try to make it happen on their own by engaging in false austerities and love-denying self-deprivations. They will not wait for God's timing,; they will rush ahead of grace. I have seen it happen when ascetic practices have become overinstitutionalized, and I have engaged in it myself when I thought I could engineer my own salvation. It does not work. Once we begin to experience the authentic homeward process, however, the implications of withdrawal become increasingly clear. If we allow grace to guide our responses, we will realize what we need to know as we need to know it."

Nor is the way of subtraction to be confused with inertia. I spent years as a Evangelical Charismatic Christian hearing sermons and prophetic words about a great revival/outpouring that was always just over the horizon. We talked about it, prayed about it, sang songs about it, attended conferences about it, shaped our lives around the expectation, but didn't actually do much in terms of rolling up our sleeves and getting down to the business of Jesus, which is caring for the poor, the orphan, the elderly, the inmate, the oppressed, the marginalized. I find that as I let go of all my expectations and agendas and just commune with God, I become motivated to engage in what God is doing in the world here and now. As Lloyd Lee Wilson writes, "If we really experience the direct communion with God proclaimed by George Fox and multitudes of other Friends for 350 years, then we can't help but share God's concern for the poor and oppressed, God's preferred location among them, and God's commitment to intervention in human history on their behalf."

So, these days I find myself drawn more and more towards silence and solitude (yet not at the exclusion of desiring also to be part of a community of faith). More and more I want to fill my alone time not with TV or Internet, but with receptive emptiness. I hunger for opportunities to wait on God in a listening state, with open hand and heart. I am a person who has always tried to fill every space with the distractions of sight, sound and activity. Now I'm learning instead to embrace the freedom of emptiness. To decrease. To die.

The process continues...

Further reading:
Wrestling with our Faith Tradition
, Lloyd Lee Wilson
Addiction and Grace, Gerald May

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Banned From Church!

The Wall Street Journal/January 18, 2008
By Alexander Alter

On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. "And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P."

Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff's officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs.

The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey's real offense, in her pastor's view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he'd charged her with spreading "a spirit of cancer and discord" and expelled her from the congregation. "I've been shunned," she says.

Her story reflects a growing movement among some conservative Protestant pastors to bring back church discipline, an ancient practice in which suspected sinners are privately confronted and then publicly castigated and excommunicated if they refuse to repent. While many Christians find such practices outdated, pastors in large and small churches across the country are expelling members for offenses ranging from adultery and theft to gossiping, skipping service and criticizing church leaders.

The revival is part of a broader movement to restore churches to their traditional role as moral enforcers, Christian leaders say. Some say that contemporary churches have grown soft on sinners, citing the rise of suburban megachurches where pastors preach self-affirming messages rather than focusing on sin and redemption. Others point to a passage in the gospel of Matthew that says unrepentant sinners must be shunned.

Watermark Community Church, a nondenominational church in Dallas that draws 4,000 people to services, requires members to sign a form stating they will submit to the "care and correction" of church elders. Last week, the pastor of a 6,000-member megachurch in Nashville, Tenn., threatened to expel 74 members for gossiping and causing disharmony unless they repented. The congregants had sued the pastor for access to the church's financial records.

First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Ala., a 1,000-member congregation, expels five to seven members a year for "blatant, undeniable patterns of willful sin," which have included adultery, drunkenness and refusal to honor church elders. About 400 people have left the church over the years for what they view as an overly harsh persecution of sinners, Pastor Jeff Noblit says.

The process can be messy, says Al Jackson, pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., which began disciplining members in the 1990s. Once, when the congregation voted out an adulterer who refused to repent, an older woman was confused and thought the church had voted to send the man to hell.

Karolyn Caskey was expelled from Allen Baptist Church after clashing with the pastor.

Amy Hitt, 43, a mortgage officer in Amissville, Va., was voted out of her Baptist congregation in 2004 for gossiping about her pastor's plans to buy a bigger house. Her ouster was especially hard on her twin sons, now 12 years old, who had made friends in the church, she says. "Some people have looked past it, but then there are others who haven't," says Ms. Hitt, who believes the episode cost her a seat on the school board last year; she lost by 42 votes.

Scholars estimate that 10% to 15% of Protestant evangelical churches practice church discipline - about 14,000 to 21,000 U.S. congregations in total. Increasingly, clashes within churches are spilling into communities, splitting congregations and occasionally landing church leaders in court after congregants, who believed they were confessing in private, were publicly shamed.

In the past decade, more than two dozen lawsuits related to church discipline have been filed as congregants sue pastors for defamation, negligent counseling and emotional injury, according to the Religion Case Reporter, a legal-research database. Peggy Penley, a Fort Worth, Texas, woman whose pastor revealed her extramarital affair to the congregation after she confessed it in confidence, waged a six-year battle against the pastor, charging him with negligence. Last summer, the Texas Supreme Court dismissed her suit, ruling that the pastor was exercising his religious beliefs by publicizing the affair.

Courts have often refused to hear such cases on the grounds that churches are protected by the constitutional right to free religious exercise, but some have sided with alleged sinners. In 2003, a woman and her husband won a defamation suit against the Iowa Methodist conference and its superintendent after he publicly accused her of "spreading the spirit of Satan" because she gossiped about her pastor. A district court rejected the case, but the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the woman's appeal on the grounds that the letter labeling her a sinner was circulated beyond the church.

Advocates of shunning say it rarely leads to the public disclosure of a member's sin. "We're not the FBI; we're not sniffing around people's homes trying to find out some secret sin," says Don Singleton, pastor of Ridgeview Baptist Church in Talladega, Ala., who says the 50-member church has disciplined six members in his 2½ years as pastor. "Ninety-nine percent of these cases never go that far."

When they do, it can be humiliating. A devout Christian and grandmother of three, Mrs. Caskey moves with a halting gait, due to two artificial knees and a double hip replacement. Friends and family describe her as a generous woman who helped pay the electricity bill for Allen Baptist, in Allen, Mich., when funds were low, gave the church $1,200 after she sold her van, and even cut the church's lawn on occasion. She has requested an engraved image of the church on her tombstone.

Her expulsion came as a shock to some church members when, in August 2006, the pastor sent a letter to the congregation stating Mrs. Caskey and an older married couple, Patsy and Emmit Church, had been removed for taking "action against the church and your preacher." The pastor, Mr. Burrick, told congregants the three were guilty of gossip, slander and idolatry and should be shunned, according to several former church members.

"People couldn't believe it," says Janet Biggs, 53, a former church member who quit the congregation in protest.

The conflict had been brewing for months. Shortly after the church hired Mr. Burrick in 2005 to help revive the congregation, which had dwindled to 12 members, Mrs. Caskey asked him to appoint a board of deacons to help govern the church, a tradition outlined in the church's charter. Mr. Burrick said the congregation was too small to warrant deacons. Mrs. Caskey pressed the issue at the church's quarterly business meetings and began complaining that Mr. Burrick was not following the church's bylaws. "She's one of the nicest, kindest people I know," says friend and neighbor Robert Johnston, 69, a retired cabinet maker. "But she won't be pushed around."

Karolyn Caskey reads her Bible.

In April 2006, Mrs. Caskey received a stern letter from Mr. Burrick. "This church will not tolerate this spirit of cancer and discord that you would like to spread," it said. Mrs. Caskey, along with Mr. and Mrs. Church, continued to insist that the pastor follow the church's constitution. In August, she received a letter from Mr. Burrick that said her failure to repent had led to her removal. It also said he would not write her a transfer letter enabling her to join another church, a requirement in many Baptist congregations, until she had "made things right here at Allen Baptist."

She went to Florida for the winter, and when she returned to Michigan last June, she drove the two miles to Allen Baptist as usual. A church member asked her to leave, saying she was not welcome, but Mrs. Caskey told him she had come to worship and asked if they could speak after the service. Twenty minutes into the service, a sheriff's officer was at her side, and an hour later, she was in jail.

"It was very humiliating," says Mrs. Caskey, who worked for the state of Michigan for 25 years before retiring from the Department of Corrections in 1992. "The other prisoners were surprised to see a little old lady in her church clothes. One of them said, 'You robbed a church?' and I said, 'No, I just attended church.' "

Word quickly spread throughout Allen, a close-knit town of about 200 residents. Once a thriving community of farmers and factory workers, Allen consists of little more than a strip of dusty antiques stores. Mr. and Mrs. Church, both in their 70s, eventually joined another Baptist congregation nearby.

About 25 people stopped attending Allen Baptist Church after Mrs. Caskey was shunned, according to several former church members.

Current members say they support the pastor's actions, and they note that the congregation has grown under his leadership. The simple, white-washed building now draws around 70 people on Sunday mornings, many of them young families. "He's a very good leader; he has total respect for the people," says Stephen Johnson, 66, an auto parts inspector, who added that Mr. Burrick was right to remove Mrs. Caskey because "the Bible says causing discord in the church is an abomination."

Mrs. Caskey went back to the church about a month after her arrest, shortly after the county prosecutor threw out the trespassing charge. More than a dozen supporters gathered outside, some with signs that read "What Would Jesus Do?" She sat in the front row as Mr. Burrick preached about "infidels in the pews," according to reports from those present.

Once again, Mrs. Caskey was escorted out by a state trooper and taken to jail, where she posted the $62 bail and was released. After that, the county prosecutor dismissed the charge and told county law enforcement not to arrest her again unless she was creating a disturbance.

In the following weeks, Mrs. Caskey continued to worship at Allen Baptist. Some congregants no longer spoke to her or passed the offering plate, and some changed seats if she sat next to them, she says.

Mr. Burrick repeatedly declined to comment on Mrs. Caskey's case, calling it a "private ecclesiastical matter." He did say that while the church does not "blacklist" anyone, a strict reading of the Bible requires pastors to punish disobedient members. "A lot of times, flocks aren't willing to submit or be obedient to God," he said in an interview before a Sunday evening service. "If somebody is not willing to be helped, they forfeit their membership."

In Christianity's early centuries, church discipline led sinners to cover themselves with ashes or spend time in the stocks. In later centuries, expulsion was more common. Until the late 19th century, shunning was widely practiced by American evangelicals, including Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists. Today, excommunication rarely occurs in the U.S. Catholic Church, and shunning is largely unheard of among mainline Protestants.
Little Consensus

Among churches that practice discipline, there is little consensus on how sinners should be dealt with, says Gregory Wills, a theologian at Southern Baptist Theological seminary. Some pastors remove members on their own, while other churches require agreement among deacons or a majority vote from the congregation.

Since Mrs. Caskey's second arrest last July, the turmoil at Allen Baptist has fizzled into an awkward stalemate. Allen Baptist is an independent congregation, unaffiliated with a church hierarchy that might review the ouster. Supporters have urged Mrs. Caskey to sue to have her membership restored, but she says the matter should be settled in the church. Mr. Burrick no longer calls the police when Mrs. Caskey shows up for Sunday services.

Since November, Mrs. Caskey has been attending a Baptist church near her winter home in Tavares, Fla. She plans to go back to Allen Baptist when she returns to Michigan this spring.

"I don't intend to abandon that church," Mrs. Caskey says. "I feel like I have every right to be there."

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Quaker roots of the Vineyard

I don't think most people within the Vineyard realize how much they owe to Quakerism. John Wimber, who was the Vineyard's leader and visionary, had been a Quaker pastor. When he and his wife Carol began experiencing charismatic spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues, it threatened to cause a rift in their Quaker church, which was staunchy opposed to such manifestations. The Wimbers left and started their own church, which eventually became the Vineyard. There are now approximately 1500 Vineyard churches worldwide. When the Wimbers left the Quaker church, they brought many of the values and assumptions of Quakerism with them.

It is interesting to ponder... What if the Quaker leadership had embraced what the Wimbers were experiencing, rather than rejected it? The 70's and 80's might have been a time of world-wide Quaker revival.

John Wimber passed away in 1997. A few years later his wife Carol wrote a book entitled The Way It Was, which is a frank and touching account of their lives.

I recently stumbled upon an interview with Carol Wimber that was published in the Vineyard's magazine Cutting Edge way back in 2002. In it, Carol speaks about the influence of Quakerism upon the Vineyard. Here it is in its entirity:

Cutting Edge - Winter 2002 Vol. 6 #1
The Way It Was: The Roots of Vineyard Worship

An interview with Carol Wimber

Vineyard has long been known for its worship. But now nearly two decades since its founding era, many people no longer appreciate the stories and experiences out of which the Vineyard movement—and its worship—grew. So we thought it would be fitting, in an issue devoted to worship and the arts in the church, to revisit those roots from the very beginning.

John Wimber, of course, was the primary founding leader of the Vineyard. It was his influence which profoundly shaped the theology and practice of Vineyard churches from their earliest days until his death in November 1997. When John—a rock’n’roll musician with the Righteous Brothers—was apprehended by God he was, as Christianity Today magazine described him, a “beer-guzzling, drug-abusing pop musician, who was converted at the age of 29 while chain-smoking his way through a Quaker-led Bible study.”

In John’s first decade as a Christian, he led hundreds of people to Christ. By 1970 he was leading 11 Bible studies that involved more than 500 people, and was eventually asked to lead the Charles E. Fuller Church Growth Institute. He later became an adjunct instructor at Fuller Theological Seminary where his overflowing classes set all-time attendance records. In 1977, John re-entered full-time pastoral ministry to plant Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda.

As John and his new church sought a greater depth in their relationship with God, that pursuit birthed new, contemporary worship songs which seemed to freshly capture a hunger for intimacy with God. The evangelical congregation also experienced a new empowerment by the Holy Spirit, including a significant renewal of spiritual gifts such as healing and prophecy, with large numbers converting to Christ.

The congregation eventually left Calvary Chapel to join a small group of Vineyard churches. Vineyard was a name chosen by Kenn Gulliksen, a prolific church planter in Los Angeles. As John’s church continued to grow, pastors and leaders from the handful of Vineyard churches began looking to John for direction. And the Vineyard movement was born.

Twenty years later there are more than 850 Vineyard churches worldwide, and Vineyard continues to plant scores of new churches every year. Worship and charismatic gifts in a framework of evangelical theology are still hallmarks of the Vineyard, along with a continuing emphasis on God’s mercy, care for the poor, relational authenticity, and overseas missions.

But what was it like in the early days, when John and Carol Wimber had first gotten saved in a small little Quaker church? Why did worship play such a central part of Vineyard from the beginning? What was it God was doing?

We decided to ask Carol Wimber, who was there from the very beginning, to talk with us about it. With her warm and matter-of-fact manner, this is some of what she told us.

If you were to think back about the early distinctives that made Vineyard what it was, what things come to mind?
Primarily, it was just our understanding of what the Christian life was. In the Quaker church in which John and I were saved, there was no higher call than to be a Christian. The man who led us to the Lord used to talk about the responsibility and the wonder that we walked around with the presence of God dwelling in us.

Also, in that Quaker church there was simplicity, and lack of ambition. The man who led us to the Lord was a welder. The foundation of the church was everyday, simple people. They dressed down, they drove Chevys instead of Cadillacs, even though some of them were quite wealthy.

Anybody felt comfortable and welcome in that church. There was no great gap between the clergy and the laity. We didn’t even use those words in the Quaker church. The big thing was whether we would love people, how we led our lives before them, and whether our faith was real. Also, there was a strong sense that we have a responsibility to let Christ live his life in us—that we have an important part to play in this process—and that eventually living that way would be the most natural thing in the world to do.

In those early days of our faith, John quit the music business. I was just a housewife. Nothing felt more important than that we walked with Jesus. Therefore, it affected what we did when we were alone—how we paid our taxes, the way we did business. All the little things. There was a very, very strong sense in all of us that how we lived was before God was everything.

But that approach to discipleship led to other things you weren’t expecting.
Yes. A movement of the Spirit happened in our group—for which generations of Quakers had prayed for years, but had no idea how it would look when it came—and when it did happen, it didn’t really fit with Quaker theology at that time. Of course, if it had happened three hundred years before, in George Fox’s day, it would have been fine!

How did that movement of the Spirit come about?
It started out with a huge hunger for God. Whenever you tell a story about revival, it sounds like there was nothing going on before. But there was. There had been an increased hunger in us for God and for his Word, and also an increased desire to worship. In the Quaker worship, they have what they call “communion.” It’s a time of silence, but if someone has a song from the Lord or a word or a teaching, they are supposed to speak out then. And every once in awhile someone would sing out some beautiful song or have a little short teaching or a little revelation—though they would not have called it that. So we were no strangers to a move of the Spirit—the later outpouring was merely an increase of what had been already happening.

Around that time John had started teaching at Fuller Seminary and was studying churches worldwide, and seeing these kinds of things happening elsewhere. That was kind of an eye-opener for us, to realize that our little Quaker church was not the center of the earth!

Also, when John was first saved, he was walking along an irrigation ditch in an orange grove one day praying, and started praying in tongues. That was a terrible thing to have happen in our lives, at that time. We had seen this divide several other Quaker churches, so we were very wary of it. John just suppressed it and decided it was just a strange, psychological thing that had happened. Then, seven years later, it happened to me! In my sleep. If I had been awake, it would not have happened, but God filled me with the Holy Spirit and I woke up in the middle of the night speaking in tongues. Right at that time, I was teaching a women’s Bible study and John’s work at Fuller was giving him a much broader view of what is of God and what is not, and how you tell the difference. And it all just gave us an increased hunger for God, and in all of our friends, too.

It was, however, causing a big stir in the church, so the head of the Quaker Yearly Meeting in California asked John and I to come and talk to him. He said he understood that we were at the core of this thing that was happening. We said yes, we were. He said, “What’s going to happen in the future?” John was at that time considered the expert on what happens in churches, and he was asking John as an “expert.” He wanted to know, “Will you be able to shut it down?” John said, “Well honestly, I don’t think you can stop this. This is the real thing.” Then the man said, “Well, how do we keep the status quo, then?” and John replied, “I guess you would have to ask us to leave.” And the man sighed and said, “Oh, for the fire without the tongues!”

When we returned we wrote a letter asking them to release a group of us in the church from our membership to do what God was calling us to—which they did, with their blessing. It felt like we were free now to follow hard after God.
With that, we decided since we had the chance to do this any way we wanted, we wanted to see what the Lord would do if we didn’t restrict him. We wanted to not be afraid of Jesus; we wanted to let him have his way with us. We thought, “Well, we don’t have to sing just two hymns and then on to a sermon; let’s just worship our hearts out.” So we used to worship for over an hour before the sermon, and at the end, sometimes longer! We’d bring the children in their pajamas, and they’d just fall asleep. Once all the restraints were removed, we found was that we wanted was to just worship.
How did some of the other things begin happening?

We were having a Bible study with that initial group. John started with the Gospel of Matthew, and every time we came to something where Jesus was healing somebody, he’d teach about it, and then he’d say, “All right, let’s see what the Lord will do.” And sure enough, God would do what the verses had talked about. When we got to Acts and read about God filling them with the Holy Spirit, he said, “Well, let’s just ask God to fill us with the Holy Spirit, too.” No hype, no heavy prayers, no nothing. It was more like, “Let’s just relax here and see what God will do.” Before we knew it people were shaking and speaking in tongues.

All of you were really formed by Quakerism a lot more than people realize, weren’t you?
Oh my, yes. The only difference is that we went all the way back to George Fox!

To the earlier, more charismatic Quakers?
Yes, though we had never read Fox’s Journal. Reading it later, we wondered what our contemporaries were so upset about!

What were some other distinctives to Vineyard that developed as you went along?
One thing that developed right away was that we noticed that the songs and hymns which stirred us most were ones that broke into the first person: Do You Know Jesus, My Lord and My Savior? The chorus was, “O, sweet wonder, O sweet wonder, O I adore you, O I adore you.” We were singing directly to Jesus. Those were the songs that made us want to weep, sensing an intimacy with God. We thought, “We’ve got the rest of our lives. Let’s just talk to him, sing to him.”

Then the Lord gave us a scripture that really formed what we would do in our group meetings. The verse was out of 1 Chronicles 16:8-11, where David had brought the ark of the covenant to the tent. We took this as God’s instructions to us: “O give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples. Sing to him, sing praises to him, speak of all his wonders. Glory in his holy name. Let the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad. Seek the Lord and his strength. See his face continually.” And that’s what we tried to do in worship. It was a simple thing. That group Bible study eventually did turn into a church. Not that anything changed much, except we did our first under-the-water baptism. But our simple understanding of those marching orders really didn’t change, even when the healings started happening.

Have you seen things shift or change at all over the years with worship in the Vineyard?
In the beginning, we understood that worship wasn’t “for” anything except for the Lord. Sometimes I get the feeling that we’ve shifted a bit to, “We worship in order for this to happen.” Whatever “this” is—a great move of the Spirit, perhaps. Well, that’s the opposite of what we were doing in the early days. We were worshipping simply because God is worthy of worship. The wonderful things that happened were as a result of his presence. But we didn’t worship so that his presence would come.

In some mechanical kind of way?

Right. Or where the big thing becomes, “When is the Spirit going to move?” That wasn’t why we were meeting together. We were meeting together out of love for God. It was odd to us that suddenly in the middle of John teaching a course at Fuller for seasoned missionaries (“MC 511: Signs, Wonders & Church Growth”), the course becomes world-famous and we become the great “healers.” That wasn’t what we were doing. That’s something God did when he showed up. But we got this reputation. So many churches became Vineyards at that time and that was their idea of what a Vineyard was. But that is not what we set about to do. John used to say, “I do what I do. I preach the gospel. I lay hands on the sick. God will heal them or he won’t. I just do what I do, and he does what he does. Shame on me if I don’t do what I do, but he’s responsible for what he does or doesn’t do. We’re just following directions. There’s only one ministry in the world, and that’s the ministry of Jesus.”

John was a simple man in his heart about the way things went. I remember when we had first become Christians and John packed up all of his musical scores and arrangements—his whole life work—and took them to the dump. That was a beautiful thing. He was never going to look at music again. He had laid it down. But then the Holy Spirit started giving him these beautiful songs, which he’d sing, once, twice, and that was it. I used to hear him get up sometimes in the middle of the night and go to the piano and sing these beautiful, beautiful songs, sing them to the Lord, and he never wrote them down or sang them again.

So worship wasn’t ever for anything else than just for the Lord. I think if there was a “secret” to the beginning Vineyard, it was that we were all just living our lives before God, with no sense that the Vineyard was going to be big or that we were going to be “experts” on anything. It was all kind of laughable. We were so aware that we were not the ones who had prayed for revival; we didn’t even know what revival was! It was all those people before us who had prayed. So consequently, we had the sense that what God had poured out on us didn’t belong just to us. It belonged to the whole church. It was like someone gave us a 747 full of stuff and said, “Take this and pass it around.”

What was the relationship between worship and the concern for the poor? Did that come later?
Well, remember, a big value among the Quakers is a concern for the poor, and it’s very plain in the scriptures. And we were reading the Bible as though for the first time, asking the Lord to show us what he was really saying in the passages. And the passages about caring for the poor came with great impact. At the same time, John was visiting a church somewhere in the South, in a very poor area, and this old evangelist with no voice left anymore and who could barely read or write was calling the people back to their first call, which was the call to the poor. But he was calling John for the first time, even though John was supposed to be there as the “expert” from Fuller! John was overwhelmed with the reality of our responsibility. The Gospel is for the poor and the oppressed. The preaching of the gospel among them will be just as effective as it is anywhere else. To John, to be a Christian was to give to the poor. It was just part of it. John died believing that once we separate ministry to the poor from the rest of the Christian life and our life as a church, we’re dead in the water.

As for the values of the Vineyard, it’s not like we came into this thing, all those years ago, with a blueprint in our mind. But John wasn’t afraid to let the bush grow and see what it was before he trimmed it and shaped it—which was hard for those of us that get nervous! But if John hadn’t done it that way, we would have shut the Lord out years ago, for the sake of limiting things to what we understood. It wasn’t like John understood everything and would explain it to us, of course; he didn’t know any more than the rest of us! But he had this kind of calmness and peace and confidence that we don’t need to understand everything. We don’t need to get a teaching down about everything. The Lord knows. And he’ll tell us when it’s necessary.

Were you or John concerned that, as the Vineyard grew, that it would leave behind the heart of things that were part of its early days?
John used to always say that an outpouring has about a twenty-year lifespan. Then things will get too much in cement and we’ll start building monuments to ourselves. He said, “I don’t expect us to be any different. But the Lord is faithful, and he’ll pour out his Spirit again and again. Now it may not be here, but let’s all be watching and listening, and as soon as that happens, let’s go where he is!” If he was disappointed or alarmed, it wasn’t in the same way as it would be for those of us who don’t know that much about the whole church. He had a great respect and regard for the whole Church and believed that the Lord’s hands are on the whole thing. He loved all the Church; he really did. He knew it was possible for a movement to sustain for hundreds of years. Look at the Moravians. But he didn’t have any huge concern that we had to protect anything. He really didn’t think it was that important. He figured our grandchildren would find where the Lord was pouring himself out if the presence of Jesus wasn’t around here anymore.
I think he expected things to change, but he was content to let God do what he’s going to do. You don’t have to understand everything. If you are living your life before Jesus, then his approval is all you need.

Were you ever concerned about the style of worship changing from one generation to the next?
No, as long as it retains the core. John was not a traditionalist. He felt that worship, when it’s coming out of an outpouring of the Spirit, will always be currently applicable to the population. So John wouldn’t fuss about that. Most of our first worship leaders weren’t even musicians. He was more concerned that they follow what my son Chris always used to say to the worship leaders who recorded for VMG: “Lead the people to the throne of God, and then get the hell out of the way.”

There was always that danger that the musicians would get so into things musically that they would leave the people “outside the tent,” so to speak. If there was anything that bothered John, it was that. If songs became so complicated that the ordinary guitar player in a small group or a small church wouldn’t be able to learn it, he would say, “Keep it simple.” Every once in awhile, during some complicated song the worship leader would be trying to play, he’d turn to [Vineyard worship leader] Eddie Espinosa and say, “Whatever happened to Change My Heart, O God?” He was about simplicity in worship, and keeping it focused on Jesus.

From your vantage point now, where would you want to see the Vineyard go now?
I would just like to see people fall in love with Jesus again, or still, or deeper. I think that’s all there is to it. I don’t care how that manifests itself in their churches; if they’re in love with Jesus he’s going to give them something good. I just want the Vineyard to love and follow Jesus. It started that way, and I want it to end that way.

If we are loving Jesus more and more, and we are totally his, and he’s got free reign, then everything that’s supposed to happen in our lives will happen. We don’t need to get all concerned about finding the will of God. As John used to say, “The way in is the way on.”

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

There's some targeted marketing for ya!

I have a little ClustrMaps map down on the lower right which shows where people have read my blog from. You can click on the little map and it will open up a larger map and provide more detail. It's a free tool. The way they make their money is through the ads that appear on the detailed map page. I don't know if these ads are dynamically chosen based on the content of the blog or if they're just random.

My sister brought to my attention that, given the content of my recent blogs, the mixture of ads seems somewhat ironic (click the picture to enlarge it):

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Let love be your only debt! If you love others, you have done all that the Law demands. In the Law there are many commands, such as, "Be faithful in marriage. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not want what belongs to others." But all of these are summed up in the command that says, "Love others as much as you love yourself." No one who loves others will harm them. So love is all that the Law demands." - Paul, Romans 13:8-10 (CEV)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Homosexuality, Part 1

I've been struggling lately with homosexuality.

Wait, that didn't come out right. What I mean is that I've been struggling lately with what my stance, as a follower of Jesus, should be on homosexuality. Over the years I have had gay friends and acquintances. It is difficult to see gay people as an "abomination" when you know them personally. The gay people I have known have been wonderful people yet, in most cases, deeply wounded people. Whether their woundedness is a result of being gay or a contributing cause of it, I do not know.

Why has it recently become important to me to examine and define my views on homosexuality? I'm not sure. I believe it is a prodding by the Holy Spirit, so I'll try to follow where He leads. I am troubled by the possibility that I have contributed to the marginalization of a group of people whom Jesus dearly loves. That possibility, in and of itself, is enough to warrant reflection. Lately I've been reading and researching and listening to viewpoints from various sources. I'm already quite familiar with the conservative Christian view, since it is the view I have continuously heard and subscribed to for 25 years. But I'm also giving a fair hearing (for the first time) to other viewpoints from other Christian voices. For example, I recently read What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel Helminiak, Ph.D. It's a good book and very thought provoking in it's affirmation of homosexuality from a Biblical standpoint. But it is also very flawed. I intend to blog specifically about it in the near future.

One of many very helpful sources has been Michael L. Westmoreland-White's blog, entitled Levellers. He has written a series of blogs examining GLBT (Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender) issues. The thoughfulness and thoroughness of Westmoreland-White's blogs on the topic have given me much cause for reflection.

In one of his entries Westmoreland-White lists the 5 typical positions that churches have regarding homosexuality. Each of the 5 positions compares homosexuality to something else in order to provide an analogy. The positions range from the most "punitive" to the most "affirming". Here they are:

1. Deeply Immoral: a paradigmatic sign of the brokeness of the Creation. Same-sex sexual orientation is evil and the gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual person is personally culpable for not only their actions, but their desires, attractions, etc. A complete sexual reorientation is required as part of repentance and conversion. The church should not bless same-sex unions nor ordain homosexuals at all. Same-sex orientation reflects hatred of the opposite sex, is a perversion of natural (created) behavior and both legal and social discrimination is justified.

2. Like Alcoholism: a greater, but not paradigmatic sign of the brokeness of the Creation. Same-sex orientation is a disease, so there is little personal culpability for desires, etc., but is culpability for actions. Gay or lesbian unions are more evil than enforced life-long celibacy/abstinence. The church should not bless same-sex unions and should ordain only closeted and totally abstinent gays or lesbians. Like alcoholism, homosexual orientation is incurable, so gays and lesbians must abstain from sexual activity (like being sober). This is viewed as morally identical to forbidding sexual activity to single heterosexuals. Since only homosexual ACTIONS are sinful, glbt persons should not be punished through discrimination in housing, workplace, etc.

3. Like Blindness: a lesser sign of the brokeness of the Creation. Homosexual orientation, in this view, is a defect, so there is no culpability–any more than someone born blind or lame would be culpable. Since sexuality is deeply a part of the human person and celibacy a special spiritual gift and calling, gay or lesbian unions are less evil than enforced lifelong abstinence, which is an unreasonable expectation. Holders of this view vary regarding whether the church may or may not bless unions (or simply tacitly accept them) or ordain chaste, closeted gay people. This perspective views closeted unions as a way of coping with the defect–like learning to live with blindness. This is a compromise with the broken or fallen nature of the world– a recognition that the full healing of New Creation has not yet come.

4. Like Color Blindness (that’s colour blindness for British or Commonwealth readers): not quite the fullness of God’s blessing; an imperfection. There is no personal culpability for the orientation. Both same-sex unions AND abstinence fall short of God’s ideal. The church should bless unions privately and ordain chaste, closeted gays and lesbians. Homosexuality is a minor manifestation of fallenness/brokenness–not the ideal. Just as color blind people choose to see rather than close their eyes, so gay or lesbian people choose to engage in imperfect expressions of sexuality rather than repress such a vital part of their humanness. Celibacy requires a special gift of the Spirit. People who hold this view believe God calls people to an appropriate fulfilling of their sexual identity–so abstinence cannot model appropriate sexual behavior for those not specially gifted and called. Small, private blessings (like some churches do with second marriages) are allowed. All forms of discrimination in society are opposed.

5. Like Left-Handedness: part of God’s original blessing; a variation. The issue of culpability is as irrelevant as for left-handedness. Same-sex unions for gays or lesbians are good and should be publicly blessed. The church should ordain those called to ministry, including chaste, uncloseted, non-celibate glbt folk. “Homosexuality” is a natural variation in the created order–and found in other animals than humans. There is nothing wrong with being gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgendered. It would be unnatural and immoral for gays or lesbians to engage in heterosexual behavior.

Although there are many different types of GLBT persons, I find this list of 5 views very helpful. Westmoreland-White says he has moved, over the course of his life, sequentially from the first position through to the fifth position.

As much as I would like to be at position number 5, I can't get beyond position number 2. What holds me in check is Romans 1:18-32. I've read various "gay-affirming" explanations of what Paul meant in these verses, but so far these attempts have left me unconvinced. Paul seems to be clearly stating that male-male and female-female sexual relations are sin. Paul also seems to see homosexuality as one among a plethora of other sins that Christians (including myself) struggle with. As such, I cannot judge my gay brother or lesbian sister. But as much as I can't judge the sin of another (due to that darn mote in my own eye) I also cannot affirm the sin of a brother or sister; regardless of what it is.

I intend to gradually blog my way through the various scriptures that address homosexuality. For now, where are you on Westmoreland-White's scale?