Monday, April 13, 2015

This is your life...or some thoughts on re-engaging culture

My written notes for the presentation I gave while in Fairbanks:

Some thoughts on re-engaging culture:

We're often caught in a bit of a dichotomy in how we set out to interact with our culture. We struggle to balance the idea of "meet people where they are" with "be in the world but not of the world." If you're anything like me you probably are constantly asking yourself what that even means in the context of your life. Am I being "of the world" if I go out to a bar to meet some friends or to the movies or to a rock concert? For me the answer is no, but the Christian community has often been very much the opposite. Unless It's a Christian branded version of those things then you shouldn't participate. Only do things with other Christians so that the world doesn't drag you down. Stay inside the bubble. It may seem I'm exaggerating a bit, and probably am, but over the last 30 years it really is how Christians in general have migrated and built this isolated culture that has grown to somewhat mammoth proportions. This sprang out of the ideas of attractional ministry and building programs and myriad methods for reaching the people once we get them through the door, but it was also reactionary to what was seen as a decline in the world around them.

This idea of a segregated individual pocket was not at all what was intended by the exhortation to be in the world not of it, and when we look at how Jesus interacted with the world around Him we can see that being separate and waiting for the world to come to Him was not at all what he had in mind. Word of mouth spread and lots of people heard about Him and were intrigued enough to look for Him to hear Him speak or seek healing, but Jesus wasn't just holed up in a single synagogue waiting for their arrival. He was out traveling the countryside and visiting the region, teaching His followers and everyone He met about the Father and His kingdom. Jesus wasn't looking to create a separate identity for those that followed and believed in Him but rather a fulfillment of their true identity. In the same way, He wasn't looking to segregate the people out of their culture but to transform it from the inside. Jesus wasn't afraid that the world around Him was going to infect Him....He was called a friend of sinners by the religious leaders. They were so caught up in their own rules that they missed the point of what God was after - relationship. It was this that Jesus came to model and He went to those that needed it; and then He commissioned those that believe to follow the same path.

So what does that mean for us? For starters, we have to put away the "field of dreams" mentality and stop waiting for the world to come to us - we have to go out to them. Does that mean everyone needs to abandon their work and dreams and ship off to another country to be a full time missionary? Not at all! I am in no way saying that being a missionary in a foreign country isn't something worthwhile or amazing but I would challenge the idea that impacting those around you for Christ means being somewhere different from where you already are. In the same manner, it also doesn't mean that you should all have to be a pastor or teacher at your church to be sharing the good news of the gospel. 95% of us are not called to be in "full-time ministry" positions but I would again challenge the idea that being in ministry means teaching at church or leading a bible study or running a prayer meeting is all there is to it. Those things are part of it sure, but you're engaged in ministry every time you interact with the world around you. God is not expecting you to give up your dreams or careers or the things He blessed you with the talent to do; He wants to see you blossom in those things and use them to glorify Him! He has gifted you with those dreams and talents to provide you with ways to impact the culture you are a part of. He doesn't need a separate pocket of people who are only interacting with each other and using a lure to try and entice people to join; He wants to see all people reconciled to Him and to be in relationship with them and that can only happen if we are making the effort to meet them where they are. That means going out to a bar to meet a friend who's having a rough time or going to a family event to celebrate even though you're the only Believer in the group. It means talking to your neighbors and coworkers even though their lifestyles are not the same as yours. We cannot sit back and wait for them to be ready. We have to go and we have to be a part of their lives....because more than anything else people want to feel like they matter and that they are valued. It's not just random street corner evangelism or revival meetings...those things can be valid...but getting involved in people's lives, no matter how messy, and loving them and pointing the way to Jesus by our actions and sometimes our words. Bottom line: to truly impact your culture you have to be a part of it and influence it from the inside, you can't pull up the stakes and retreat to the sanitized bubble and wait for the end to come.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

There's a Resurrection underway...or the essence of Peter

I've been thinking about Peter's story for's one I relate to in my own journey of following Christ...I so often go back and forth between bold proclamations of undying devotion and bitter denial...I think in some ways we all is the constancy of the struggle we have to push beyond the flesh we want to leave behind....anyway I thought I would share a new piece and find it appropriate to do so on this wonderful Easter Sunday...

It started with the fish and a spirit crying out
longing to be filled with revolution and redemption
We'd read the prophets and followed John in the desert
we could sense something was coming
and then He was there calling to us
asking us to follow Him
We left our nets there on the beach
and wandered off into a new adventure

Three years in and things have been a whirlwind
so many wonders these eyes have seen
and I couldn't even begin to tell you them all
I sometimes scarce believe them myself
and yet I know deep within that everything He's taught
is the embodiment of truth and righteousness
It strikes me in those moments
The divinity of my Lord
and I wonder when He will finally reveal Himself
to everyone and purge our land of these oppressors

Tonight there's an uncertainty hanging in the air
covering our somber meal while He talks about his impending death
There is mention of betrayal, abandonment
but surely He can't mean me
yet He tells me of the onrushing denial
three times and the rooster song
Steadfast I hold to my proclamation
and we retire to the evening prayer

Roused from our unexpected dreams
greeted by the forewarned betrayal
by one of our own
anger and rage welling up within me
and my sword lashes out
to protect my Lord
yet He will not have it
He continues to proclaim events
are unfolding as they must
and we all scatter in fear and disbelief
bringing our dinner conversation
into the light

I cannot let this lie
circling back in the shadows
to watch as they take Him
into the proverbial lion's den
where hungry jackals wait
to pick his bones with the teeth
of their envy
Faces coming into view
questioning me while I try to remain apart
marking me as one of His men
I deny each one more fervently than the last
and on the third I see His eyes upon me
as the rooster song fills my ears
His words thundering in my mind
Turning away at a dead run
molten torrents of tears
carving down my face as my body
is wracked with bitter sobs

The day drags on and the crowds have gathered
covering Golgotha to see this execution
My disbelief can hardly be contained
Why has my Lord allowed this to happen?
I can hear the pounding hammer and the throaty screams
the result of nails piercing flesh and bone
and they raise Him up
hanging on this tree between two thieves
breathing prayers of forgiveness to the very last
Confusion clouds my thoughts
and we run

Three days in and things look bleak
none of us know what comes next
our world is shattered
our Lord is gone
When Mary burst in with incredible news
I could hardly believe it
We ran to the tomb
He was nowhere to be found
and His words flooded in
He is risen...could it be?

Back to the fishing nets, to what I know
maybe the adventure was just for a little while
but the fish will always be there
even if none appear to be available for the catch
Yet someone calls from the shore
"Throw your nets to the other side"
resulting in more fish than can be hauled
and I know my Lord is there
swimming for my life
in a rush to greet Him
A meal prepared to share
as was always our way
and He asks me of my love and devotion
Three times I answer
and feel the warmth of restoration

So many years have passed since then
so many trials we've faced and miracles we've seen
The revolution we craved but never really understood
is now engulfing the world
A revolution of the heart and mind
A rebellion against the power of eternal death
which forever lost its grip that black Calvary day
our Lord Jesus reclaimed the keys
and restored creation to its rightful path
I am old now and the oppressors have finally
pronounced my sentence
They are leading me now to that place
and I see the instrument of my demise
wooden crossbeams gnarled and splintered
tied and stretched out
yet I will not let them set me upright
I am not worthy to die like my Lord

hang me upside down

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Love will tear us apart...or the simple progression of thoughts in a vacuum

Entry 13 - February 14th, 2015

There it is...that date blinking away up there...staring out at us like some monolithic creature demanding our attention...February 14th...Valentine's Day.

I've never really been all that interested in this particular holiday, even during the times when I wasn't checking the box marked 'single.' It is a completely made up commercial holiday created for the sole purpose of selling more greeting cards and cheap chocolates. It essentially devalues the martyrdom of a Saint, of whom there is little historical evidence to remotely support some of the legends associated with him (them in some accounts). It alternates between being crass or ridiculously sappy. 

Why do we do this to ourselves? Couples go to incredible lengths to prove they can scale the peak of some romance mountain and end up with some (usually) good memories and a large bill. The next day rolls around and most go back to their routines; you know, the ones where they spend very little time together and what time they do spend is usually spent being hypercritical of their partner. I know, I know...that's not how it happens for everyone, there are lots of happy couples and they don't act like that....and so on...but I'm looking at the lowest common denominator here.  The fact of the matter is, there is a large population of individuals that are in relationships where 98% of the time one party is doing all the work to keep things afloat. Valentine's Day rolls around so the other party goes to great lengths to put on a show and give a bit of a song and dance to impress their partner and they figure that those few hours of happiness excuses them from putting in any additional real effort until the birthday/anniversary/Christmas rolls around. Yes I'm generalizing in a huge way....but every single person reading this immediately thought of a couple they know while reading this....maybe even themselves...

Back to why...why does this happen? In a very real sense it's because there are so many people that have a complete and total misunderstanding of what love is. This is something that could take up page after page but I'll try to be brief.  Love is not some blinding's not the pleasure of physical contact...or the complete lack of mental faculties in the other's presence....not a clever rhyme or a saccharine song...those things can accompany love but they are not its totality. Those things are all temporal and fickle...they tempt a decadent dance but deliver an accordion polka. These things are but fleeting sands crashing to the bottom of the hourglass and some spend so much time chasing the ephemera that they miss the substance that holds it all together.

Love is putting others' needs before your own. It's taking the time to truly serve the other person and experiencing what it feels like to bring them joy. Love does not demand its own way...that's the simplest way I think I can break that down. I will never forget the advice my Grandmother gave to me about marriage and how to keep any committed relationship strong. She told me that if I want to really know a successful relationship I would have to always put my partner's needs first, and they would have to put my needs first. By doing this, both of us would have our needs met and we would know the true heart of Love - servant-hood. Love is not a does not boast and demand to be satisfied. It doesn't proclaim its desires on the populace and entangle them in a string of questionable quandaries.

I don't think I can really say this enough - to truly be in love with someone, you have to be willing to lay everything on the line for them and step into a completely foreign situation. You have to be ready to carry them when they can't walk and to weep with them when joy is hidden. You have to be willing to give it all up, to put your life on the line....and when two people are in that kind of relationship they do it because they know that their partner is doing the same for them.

I'm providing an oversimplification I'm sure....and I know there are several of you that probably think I'm being too hard or that I'm unrealistic...and maybe I am to some extent...but I know that we were given an example of perfect love in action in the person of Jesus...and this is not the love I see people trying to reflect or represent in most Valentine's Day actions.

So what am I really trying to say...I don't know...maybe that we need to accept the fact that all of our attempts at the sport of romance are fleeting and temporary even with the best of intentions. Don't wait for one minuscule day on the calendar to show your love for them every day. Take them to dinner because it's Tuesday...bring home flowers tomorrow just because you can...plan that weekend getaway in June...skip the narcissism of Valentines altogether and focus on growing closer together through truly seeking intimacy with God and each willing to put someone else above yourself.

This conversation can be so much just takes the right kick in the heart to get started...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

There was a whisper...a riot...a kiss....or something new on the first rays of the dawn...

While I didn't quite finish my experiment last year of writing a post a week I didn't stop writing...I present to you in all of their imagined glory and delusions of grandeur...some new work to behold:

Chamber for Rent

Woke up in an abandoned hotel to the
chimes on the decrepit grandfather clock
signaling 2 a.m.'s arrival and the assault
of this measured insomnia

They told me I'd find ghosts
in this forgotten place
but the only spirits haunting me
are whiskey and your memories
Familiar specters I can find
on any barstool in this beach town

Stepped into the half hidden moonlight
creeping past the cracking shutters
Silver lines dancing in the dusty shadows
playing at creatures and devils in a lurking
game of tag with the chimeras in my mind

Why am I here again?

Wandering well-worn paths
I've tread ad nauseam
in search of different answers
in the same ancient routines

Why am I here?

Clinging to some sense
of imagined normalcy
and the misplaced hope
that you'd finally see
a chance for us to be

They told me I'd find ghosts
and I suppose it's true enough
I'm a phantom searching for
a little peace in the shadows
your light left behind

in your passing

Ishmael I Am Not

I lost sight of the horizon long ago
Suspended in the mists of twilight's gaze
and desperately seeking a glimmer of starlight to point the way

Nothing seems like more than what I've been given
and those that surround me seem to think
there are answers to be found in my keep
Solutions to the conundrums plaguing their existence
That one moment of clarity to illuminate it all
and divine inspiration for future endeavors

The tiniest pangs of guilt gnaw at my thoughts
Knowing I have no clues or theorems to present
that might validate their following...their devotion

Still I press on
Lashing sails and steam
Chasing my own white whale
to the pits of hell and beyond

Dragging these poor souls into the wretched gale
of my arrogance and pride
Drowning in the self-inflicted torment
Refusing any consolation prize
and lying to myself
when I say there was never another way...

On Becoming Lioness

The darkness hung in between
the silence and the scream
Tendrils stretching out to strangle
the flickering light in the guise
of improvement and "love"

Time seemed glacial
Creeping progress measured
in tears and self-realization

Sparks fly

The suffocated light
refuses to be extinguished
in the icy depths of
insecurity and control

It never goes out
Never gives in
Fights the encompassing black
until it smolders and blazes
erupting from such beautiful eyes

Unwilling to endure such sadness any more
and the sound of her voice screaming out in the night
beckons the sunrise and the arrival of dawn

This time won't be like any before
The air is electric and she's ready to roar

Enjoy everyone...see you where the sidewalk ends...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Do you really need more than three chords?...or She came in through the bathroom window

Entry 12 - March 25th, 2014

Do you really need more than three chords?...or She came in through the bathroom window

There's a fantastic scene in Jack Black's movie School of Rock where he is going to great lengths to explain the history of Rock n Roll to his students; complete with exploded branching diagrams of how each band influenced countless others and gave birth to enough genres and sub-genres to make your head spin. This is me any time I get a chance to speak with someone and share my musical passion...if you give me a few minutes and let me talk about any subject that I please it will either be Jesus, comics/movies, or you have been warned. I have found that my love of multiple musical styles has kept me sane on long road trips and provided me with interesting conversation with people from all walks as pretty much everyone has a favorite band, artist or style that they identify with and the chances are pretty good that I'll find something to identify with in discussing it with you even if it doesn't happen to be something that I'm particularly interested in or familiar with. Contrary to popular belief I haven't heard everything there is out there and I'm constantly finding new music to enjoy and new artists to consider...even if their records are not exactly recent.

Why do I identify with that scene so much? I guess it's because whenever I hear a new artist...particularly in rock...I'm not just hearing them but all the bands that might have influenced their sound. Some wear their influences proudly; while others only hint at them subtly...either way it makes for interesting and entertaining listening. It also means that whenever someone mentions to me that they really like a particular band or artist I often think of three or four others that they might like just as much or that really played a part in the development of that particular style. I'll give you an example: a few years back a friend of mine told me that they really enjoyed some of the 80's pop that they had heard but didn't know much other than what was on a bunch of the one hit wonder compilations. All of that stuff is fun and cool but I told her there was so much more that came out in the 80s that might seem more meaningful than just A-Ha's Take on Me or Your Love by the Outfield. She was intrigued so I pulled together some music from Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, The Cure, Siouxsee and the Banshees, REM, My Bloody Valentine (yes I know this is technically 1990), The Police, etc...and that was really just one corner. It's hard to sum up a musical decade, but the point was to show that it was way more interesting and appealing than just the stuff that get's branded with the nostalgia tag.

I suppose this might make me sound like some kinda hipster trying to sound like I knew it all first but I'm far from that. I dislike the whole "I'm cooler than you because I heard them first, I was a fan when they were still practicing in the garage and giving away cassette demos" attitude that some people take with their favorite bands and I honestly don't see the point. Every band makes music to be heard in some capacity, and the vast majority wants to be heard on a large scale. I'm not saying that every band or artist is aiming for arena tours and a billion albums sold on a major record label - and that model is dying anyway...a subject for a whole different post - but they all want to be heard on some scale. the ones that don't want to be heard that are really just writing and playing for catharsis aren't being heard because they don't share their work. If they made a point to record songs and post them online or put them on a CD or Record then you can put money on the fact that they want someone to hear it so please stop with holier than thou superfan routine.

Anyway, in attempting to make some kind of point to all of this rambling I guess I'm saying that Music is meant to be shared. You should take the time to find new tunes and then tell your family or friends...find like-minded people who are into the same stuff and turn the volume to 11 and rock out or dance until you can't feel your limbs anymore. look at the bands that your favorite artist listens to and check out their stuff too; you might find that you like the same stuff your parents liked at your age. Above all, keep exploring beyond what you already know. Music is universal and somewhere out there is another person feeling the same way you do and about to press play on a song that just might change their life...and maybe change yours along the way.