Monday, February 8, 2016

The Coldplay Way


Yesterday's Superbowl Football Game In America (I need to say this because there are several people who follow this blog from other countries around the world), was memorable for two reasons.  First, it was an uncharacteristically great football matchup between two great football teams.  Second, and more importantly because it is the focus of this blogpost, the halftime show was one of the best I have ever seen!  It featured the band Coldplay, and two other major artists - Beyonce and Bruno Mars.  I was quite literally crying at the end of the show, it was so beautiful.

What was so stunning about the show for me, other than the musical genius behind the tunes and the creative brilliance of the choreography, was it's inclusion of several artists of different styles all in one twelve minute segment.  Coldplay, a standalone band for sure, was originally offered the twelve minute halftime show to do for themselves.  But they decided to do something different and unique.  They decided to make the show not just about themselves, as every other Superbowl artist before them has done, but about including other voices, other performers, other faces, other acts, and other bands which were representative of America as a whole.  They chose to make the show a sort of larger pastiche of America as a whole, rather than a focus on themselves as a band.

So, after about 5 minutes of Coldplay, the band Bruno Mars broke in with a hip-hop number.  Then, Beyonce and a group of dancers performed a breathtaking dance segment in stilettos (on football grass I might add), for another couple of minutes.  Then, the end of the show featured vignettes of other past performers at the Superbowl - U2, Bruce Springsteen, Katy Perry, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, and many others.  This inclusion of others into the main performance of their own act is what I am calling in this blogpost...

The Coldplay Way

Inclusion and Inclusiveness has become a "dirty" and "loaded" word in most religious circles.  It often connotes a fluidity of doctrine, a vapid openness to all things, an insipid acceptance of all behaviors, and a saccharine laced embracing all ways of life.  It sometimes smacks of the 1960's and an "Age of Aquarius" in America where all things were "cool" and "groovy" as long as you were open-minded enough.  But I think in our attempt to offer rigid theological boundaries, and to separate ourselves from perspectives which we disagree with, we as a religious community have sometimes gone too far in the other direction and been too rigid.

My great grandfather, Jesse Baird, was a Presbyterian pastor as well, and served as President of San Francisco Theological Seminary in the 1930's and 1940's.  As President of the Seminary, he was quite a religiously doctrinaire person in most respects - no playing cards in the house, no dancing, no drinking, no pepper on the tables for fear that the spices would invoke strains of the devil.  However, at the same time, he was quite inclusive of other perspectives.  As overseer of who spoke in the seminary chapel, Jesse included Jewish rabbis, liberal Christian voices, and religious perspectives even more conservative than his own.  Perhaps a better word was ascribed to Jesse's ministry paradigm - "comprehensivism".  It was a notion that a person could hold a specific belief system while at the same time being open to other perspectives.  Modern psychologists would call this being "differentiated".

In psychological terms, rigidity is just as pathological as total openness.  A healthy person, or system, is permeable and porous while at the same time being a strong structure.

You see, truly confident and strong people do not need to be afraid of other perspectives which are different than their own.  They know what they believe, and yet they live in the same airspace as people who do not believe the same things.  People who are insecure or not confident cannot do this.  Any differing opinion or perspective or viewpoint from their own must be not only rejected, but separated from.  A truly confident band, like Coldplay, allows other people to be a part of the same act, to enjoy some of the limelight.

What's so remarkable about Coldplay's halftime show (If you haven't seen it, I encourage you to Google it and watch it on youtube), is that afterward, most people thought that the other artists - those who were included - Beyonce and Bruno Mars - actually outshone the main act - Coldplay.  But once again, that is what strong and truly confident people are able to do.  They are able to allow others to come on stage with them, and occasionally outperform them, because the goal of including other voices is of such great importance.  It's....

The Coldplay Way

All For Now,

GB















Monday, January 25, 2016

"It's Time For You To Go Home"


This past week, an incredible example of what a living Democracy (and a healthy system) actually looks like took place in a rural area of the state of Oregon.  If you haven't been following the news regarding the armed takeover of a National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, here's a recap:

On January 2, a handful of militiamen under the leadership of a man named Ammon Bundy took over a small cabin on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to protest the arrest of two other people connected to a dispute with the Federal Government.  (Though it is not important for the purposes of this blog post - the two people in a dispute with the Federal Government were Dwight Hammond and his son Steve, and they were arrested for the crime of starting a campfire unlawfully on a national bird refuge).  The Hammonds have subsequently confessed and apologized for the mistake and the crime and have moved on with their lives.  However,  the Bundy group who are still in the cabin, are pretending like it is a remake of the "The Alamo", and that they are a reincarnation of Davey Crocket and Jim Bowie.  Again, the details of the case are quite arcane and hard to totally understand.  However, suffice it to say that Bundy and his friends have just been using the arrest of the Hammonds, and their hold-up of a cabin, to get in the headlines, and to metaphorically "spit in the eye" of the Federal government.

And so, this small handful of self-proclaimed revolutionaries have remained holed-up on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for over a month.  They are subsiding on supplies being brought to them by friends.  Notably, the FBI has been quite restrained in it's response to the standoff.  They have not (as of the writing of this blogpost) sent in tanks, or guns, or snipers or green berets, or missile launchers or tear gas rifles.  Unlike other similar standoffs, most notably in Waco Texas and Ruby Ridge Idaho, where the military response by the Federal Government led to many deaths and residual anger, in Oregon there has been nothing but muted disapproval.

But here's the great part of the story, and reason for this blogpost.  This past week a rally was held in a local high school stadium and attended by hundreds of local residents.  Bundy and his group were all present in the bleachers and the stands.  The locals were incensed that their Wildlife Refuge had been taken over by such miscreants and neerdowells.  And at a critical juncture in the rally, one of the town's dignitaries and men of peace, a local judge by the name of Steve Grasty (pictured in a yellow shirt above), walked over to Ammon Bundy and looked him in the eye and said, "Mr.  Bundy...

"It's Time For You To Go Home"

And with that, the entire crowd all erupted together shouting, "Go, Go, Go, Go, Go..."

There are so many things I like about this real life scene.  Time and a calm setting has allowed for Democracy to take place.  A real pillar of wisdom in the community has displaced a self-appointed artificial pillar of revolt.  No one was killed in the altercation.  No houses were burned down, and no counter-revolutionary movements were fomented.  It's what a healthy system is supposed to do - to en masse rise up on it's own and to reject the outlandish ideas of the few.

Now, it remains to be seen whether the Bundy group will heed the advice of the well spoken and sanity laden judge Steve Grasty.  But one thing is certain, the people have spoken, an they have spoken wisely and calmly.  Amidst the petulance of a handful of self-appointed revolutionaries, a larger and a more stable group of common people have weighed in and given their strong recommendation that...

"It's Time For You To Go Home"

The world today is full of self-appointed blowhards.  People who, by their own choosing and making have decided that their opinion, though it is a minority, matters more than the opinion of the larger group.  In our current political presidential process, we are seeing the words of the few sometimes outpacing the words of the many.  In churches across America, small handfuls of self-proclaimed leaders are sometimes attempting to speak for the hearts and minds of the many.  And like the good judge Steve Grasty of Harvey County, Oregon, we too must reach down deep inside and say together the words of peace and of sound mind:

"It's Time For you To Go Home"

All For Now,

GB











Monday, January 18, 2016

BYOG


Now that the official football season in America is almost over (with the college championship football game being played last week and the Super Bowl scheduled for three weeks from now), I did not want to let any further time elapse before sharing one of my favorite new acronyms from the world of sports that applies to faith.

First of all you remember what an acronym is right?  It's an abbreviation formed with the initial letters of words that make a word.  For example here are some from the world of aviation:  Delta - "Doesn't Even Leave The Airport", TWA - "The Worst Airlines".  In yogurt circles in America there is: TCBY - "The Country's Best Yogurt", and ICBY - "I Can't Believe It's Yogurt".  You put the two together and you get, ICB-TCBY - "I Can't Believe It's the Country's Best Yogurt".  You get the idea...

So, here is an acronym from the head coach the Clemson University football program, Dabo Swinney, who was leader of the highest ranked college football team last year, in the entire NCAA ("National College Athletics Association" or "National Communists Against Athletes" depending on your definition).  It's;

BYOG

Which means, "Bring Your Own Guts".

The acronym is a play on the old acronym chestnut BYOB ("Bring Your Own Beer" or "Build Your Own Burrito"... again depending on your context).

To get serious for a moment, though, coach Swinney's idea behind the acronym is that, "guts are the only thing you can't teach a person."  You can teach a person how to run good plays, you can help them to develop their physique to the top levels of performance, you can help them to grow mentally and psychologically to withstand high levels of pressure.  Guts, or an "inner strength", on the other hand, are unique to the individual.  You either have guts or you don't.  They are what define a person, and make them great (or not).  You can't teach guts - you must, as the acronym suggests, "bring your own".

BYOG

As a pastor of 15 years or more, I have thought that "guts" or inner strength are also important for the Christian faith.

Many people through the years have asked me about the true definition of the text Deuteronomy 6:5: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength."   This text, known as the greatest in the Old Testament (or Shema - short for "Hear") is about guts.  In the New Testament, Jesus would later elaborate on the law when he gave a similar version of the Shema; "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:37).  The best definition of this is that we should love God with all of our...guts!

The ancient Hebrew people, not knowing as much as we do in the modern world about the human body, thought that the center of the body was not the heart (just left of center in our rib cages), but below that in our stomachs or our middle section.  Heart, mind and soul and strength were quite literally, the guts.  The Hebrew word was - LEB (or LEV), which really translates as "inner man, mind, will and heart".  The word can also be translated as, "conscience, courage, middle".  Again, quite literally guts.  It is this inner dynamic that we must bring to our relationship with God

This view of our hearts is for me, much more compelling and visceral than the sense that we have of our modern hearts (which are almost always highly emotional, often in a kind of affected way).  When the book of Proverbs says, "My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad" (Prov. 23:15).  The word that is used is LEB - guts.  "If your guts are wise, then my guts will be glad."  It makes so much more sense, and carries so much more strength.

In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet writes, referring to our relationship with God, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (guts)" (Jer. 29:13)

BYOG

Bring Your Own Guts

Because it's MLK day (another acronym), I must get to babysitting my two daughters, who are out of school...ASAP

All For Now,

AFN

GB








Monday, January 11, 2016

Under Pressure


This week's blog post is an homage to the life and death of one of the greatest creative rock and roll geniuses of the 20th century (David Bowie), and a highlight of a brand new sermon series that I started this past week; "No Pressure: How To Connect People With God In a Postmodern World".

When the rock band Queen in collaboration with David Bowie released their hit song, "Under Pressure" in 1981, nobody could ever have imagined how prescient and prophetic the lyrics would turn out to be.  The words spoke to the harried existences of modern people.  Here is how the song opens:

Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
Under pressure
Under Pressure
Pressure

Again, these lyrics were meant to describe the modern life - a life that's highly under pressure.

San Francisco Theological Seminary recently asked me to deliver a series of talks (lectures) on the topic of evangelism.  More broadly they have asked me to come and talk about how the modern church can begin to recapture for God the hearts and minds of young people in the world today.  As I have thought about this question, in the start of my third New Church Development, I have realized that there is one singular reason that people don't have time for God these days.  It isn't because they don't believe in Jesus.  It isn't because they aren't familiar with the Bible stories.  It isn't even because of the recent generational revulsion of organized religion.  It is simply because they don't have....TIME...for God.  Simply put, they are:

Under Pressure

I don't believe that the world has ever been more "pressurized" than it is today.  With computers and cell phones putting people in almost constant touch with information and telecommunication there is no space left for the human soul to rest.  While there have certainly been moments of more overall devastation in world history, there has never been a time of more constant engagement.  With the constancy of activity, and action, and movement and motion, our lives have become totally

Under Pressure

On Christmas morning, our family woke up and opened up our presents, which took the girls about 3 and a half minutes.  After breakfast we boarded a plane from Southern California Burbank airport to fly home to Sacramento (why did we fly? of course because we were under a time crunch to make the most of our time with family...we were Under Pressure).  When we arrived, we noticed something different about Sacramento.  As we breathed outside our breath could be seen as white plumes of steam.  Our fingers tingled.  Our lungs stung.  The thermometer on the car dashboard read - 28 degrees.  What was this strange and different thing we asked our parents?  They explained to us that this was what was known as....WINTER.  As Southern Californians we weren't familiar with this phenomenon.

It was so cold over the holidays in Sacramento that we actually weren't able to get out and do a whole lot of anything.  We were forced to sit in front of the TV and drink hot coco and bundle up under blankets and warm our feet by the fire.  At first it was sort of annoying, but then we realized how fun it was to actually sit and do...NOTHING.  It was wonderful to go inwards for one week and not always live outwards.  It was so nice for a moment to not be:

Under Pressure

When we arrived home, we were happily met by the annual El Nino rains.  Perhaps we might be able to spend a couple of days of down-time before the school year began.  It was raining so hard that the droplets formed large circles the size of magnifying glasses on the car windows.  And then a glorious miracle took place.  As I was sitting at my desk writing my weekly Bible study, all of a sudden, the lights in the house flickered and they went dark.  The power had gone out.  "Finally", I said to myself, we can now slow down a bit.  We can now experience our own form of WINTER.  We can rest.  

But then, as luck would have it, I heard a motor start up outside my office window, and a generator kick into action, and the lights went back on again.  It turns out that the previous owners of the house we are now renting installed an electric generator for the house to kick in if ever the power went out.  Even as the natural forces of the world were trying to force us to slow down, our modern contrivances were trying to get us to speed up.  Once again, we were: 

Under Pressure

The Christian life should be marked by many things: love, joy, perseverance, generosity and forgiveness.  However, one all too important dimension of the Christian life often gets overlooked - Peace.  Jesus said, "Come to me all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28).   As Christ followers we should be a people who are not always:

Under Pressure

To paraphrase an old Christian campfire song: "They will know we are Christians...because we are calm."

To quote David Bowie, "Love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves."

All For Now,

GB






Monday, January 4, 2016

The Reconfigured Life


With all of the festivities surrounding Christmas and New Years over the month of December, you might have missed one of the major pieces of news related to Major League Baseball in the United States.  Pete Rose, former team member of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, and three time NL batting champion (with a total of 4,256 hits from 1963-1986, topping Ty Cobb's batting record of 4,191) was denied entry once again into the Baseball Hall Of Fame.  I can discern your collective depressed sigh even here at my computer in Camarillo:-).   Citing strong proof about Pete Rose's continued gambling and evidence that he bet on baseball games, even after he was ejected from the game for life in 1989, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said that Rose had not sufficiently shown enough evidence that he had reformed his ways.

As a side note, my own great uncle (by marriage), Maury Wills, former all star baseball player with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who has also been consistently denied entry into the baseball Hall of Fame for different reasons than betting (drug abuse), it must be said HAS shown a much higher level of personal remorse and contrition for his personal behavior while playing major league baseball than Pete Rose.

But I digress....

Actually, Commissioner Manfred's exact wording of his statement about Pete Rose is the entire focus of this blogpost:  Here it is; "Mr Rose has not presented credible evidence of A RECONFIGURED LIFE either by an honest acceptance by him of his wrongdoing, so clearly established in the Dowd report, or by a rigorous, self-aware and sustained program of avoidance by him of all the circumstances that led to his permanent eligibility in 1989."  

A Reconfigured Life!

A Reconfigured Life.  I love that.  As a pastor, I am constantly trying to come up with new ways to describe the Christian conversion experience and journey.  So many of the well worn phrases that we all know so well have become tired with overuse and lack of thought.  Phrases such as;

Born Again
Christ Follower
Saved
Dyed in the Blood of Jesus
Penitent
Sojourner

often ring hallowly in the ear, or more likely "clunk" (especially for outsiders to the faith).  They have become tired cliches.  Just to be clear,  these aforementioned phrases still carry meaning and weight when used with intention and focus.  However, I am still struck by the concept of a...

Reconfigured Life

I like it for so many reasons.  First, it doesn't suggest that our lives are something that we ourselves reconfigure.  God reconfigures them (Metanoya - Repentance, to use another old chestnut phrase of the faith) from above.  I also like the notion of reconfiguration, in general.  Reconfiguration suggests that the same materials are used, but they are - Reconfigured.  A Lego set, for example, gets reconfigured each time someone plays with it.  A Christmas Nativity scene gets reconfigured every December.  The same pieces are used, but they are put together in a different way.

And scientists tell us that atoms, reconfigured in different ways, actually create different substances.  Reconfiguration can imply adding certain things that change the entire organic makeup of a thing.  For example, the difference between H2O and Hydrogen Dioxide is the placement of a small change of atoms - Reconfigured.

One of my pet peeves of Christianity is the notion, by some, that when we become Christ followers that we become totally new beings.  And to be sure, the Bible tells us that we are a, "New Creation".  However, as all of us know, when we become Christ followers, as much as we become something new, there is also much that remains the same.  And that's why, as Paul says, "We do what we do not want to do."  We are the same people we ever were but we are - but we are Reconfigured.  When we become Christ followers, the same old us, meets a brand new Christ, and Holy Spirit and we become Reconfigured.  We have...

Reconfigured Lives

All For Now,

GB

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Lighthouse meets Candlelight


This past Christmas Eve was the forty-third of my life.  And all forty-three have had their own magical merits.  For most of them, I have experienced the quaint charm and familial Christmas warmth that surrounded the season of the religious settings where I have worshipped.  The Christmas carols, the glow of lights, the pine-scented anticipation of what was to come, the singing of "O Holy Night", the raising of the candles at the quintessential moment of the night, and the closing finale of the lusty singing of "Joy to the World" are all a part of what has made these forty-three Christmas Eve moments special.

But to be honest, something in these moments has always been missing for me.  Each year, as I heard the Christmas message read, of a peasant family giving birth to a peasant child in an abject and drafty barn, of three astrologer prophets in search of a star, of shepherds who were at the bottom the socio-economic scale and world of Middle Eastern culture there has always been something starkly incongruous about the whole evening.  As middle class and upper class Protestant Americans made their way into the bedecked sanctuaries on Christmas Eve, something in the moment, when compared to the first Christmas in Bethlehem, was oddly cacophonous.

This past Christmas Eve at Mission Church, however, was the forty-three year exception.  For the first time, I felt that we were somehow capturing a scintilla of what the actual first Christmas was all about.  Why did I have this sense?  Because Mission Street Church invited the women of the Lighthouse Women's Emergency Shelter in Oxnard to come to our worship service.  The Lighthouse Women's Emergency Shelter is a safe space for women and their children who are fleeing domestic violence, substance abuse and economic challenges that they face in their every day lives.  The shelter is located in one of the more impoverished areas of Oxnard.

Let me quickly paint the picture for you.  We had our Christmas service at the Spanish Hill Country Club in Camarillo.  Because of a gift by a private donor and a discount by the club itself, we were able to offer this truly transcendent setting for our Christmas Eve services.  As people walked in the door, they were greeted by a table of free CD's of music made especially for Mission Street for all guests.  Each guest was given a candle and a program as they made their way past a coat checking station.  When they entered the main room, a roaring fire on the hearth with beautifully decorated Christmas trees on both sides, flickered and warmed the room.  A crystal chandelier the size of a small swimming pool hung overhead.  The room was perfect.

But, as I mentioned in the introduction of this blog post - also strangely NOT what Christmas is really about.

Then, right at 5:00, 30 women from Lighthouse Women's Emergency Shelter made their way from the courier vans that we rented for the occasion, to the main room.  As they entered the room, with a roaring fire and a chandelier overhead, some of them began to cry with joy and appreciation.  "This means so much to us," one of them told me, "This is truly special to be here."  During the Christmas message that I gave from the front, all of them sat right on the front two rows.  An occasional, "Amen," and "You say it preacher" was articulated by this incredible group women.  They were listening like their life depended on it.

Afterwards, one of the women came up to me and said, "As soon as I get my life together a bit, I am going to come to this church.  I just love what you are doing here!  This is what I'm talking about.  Thank you pastor."

As the evening came to close, I had this image and dream that shot through my mind.  What if every Christian Church in America, on Christmas Eve, invited in a group of those in their community who were abject or marginalized in some way.  What if the hurting, needy people that God first came to in the Nativity story were the same kinds of people that churches welcomed into their spaces this time of year.  What if for one weekend during the year, people who were rich and poor, hurting and whole, broken and bound together came together to worship God in an elevated and transcendent worship space.  For us it was an example of:

Lighthouse meeting Candlelight

And it was a beautiful thing to behold:

All For Now,

GB



Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Pastor encourages others to ‘experience’ faith 

Said Luke 2:15 is prime example 
By Stephanie Sumell 

The Rev. Graham Baird The Rev. Graham Baird The Rev. Graham Baird of Mission Street Church said that some of the most influential Christians of all time began as skeptics.
C.S. Lewis, for example, considered himself an atheist for many years before becoming a self-proclaimed “dejected and reluctant convert.”
Where's the story?PointsMentioned Map2 Points Mentioned
Augustine, another famous theologian, studied Manichaeism and Neoplatonism before embracing Christianity.
“The Christian faith we have is something we have to experience personally,” Baird said. “It takes some initiative on our part to find and seek that out.”
The lead pastor cited Luke 2:15 to show it is OK—and even important—for people to test their faith.
The passage of the Christmas story shows the shepherds’ skeptical reaction to the news that the son of God had been born.
It says, “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’”
Baird said the shepherds did not accept the news at face value but instead went to meet the infant the angels described.
“I love that the shepherds are not quite sure about this,” he said. “They are kind of dubious in their hearts about it and decide to go and see for themselves.”
The pastor at the “nondenominational church with a Presbyterian slant” said the verse is relevant year-round.
Those who attend Mission Street are encouraged to ask questions.
The church, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, meets every Sunday at the Edwards movie theater in Camarillo. It will hold its Christmas Eve services at 5 and 7 p.m. at Spanish Hills Country Club.
“The Christian faith is one of those things that, at a lot of churches, you just have to accept and believe,” Baird said. “For some people, a faith that is based in accepting truths is good enough, but I think God can offer more and that ‘more’ is something that is really real.”
For the fourth-generation pastor it took a hiatus from Christianity during college—a decision that caused him to spiral into a deep depression, he said—for him to fully appreciate the need for God in his life.
“There is nothing like a serious liberal arts college to knock stuff out of you,” he said. “What brought me back (to Christianity) was this deep sense that what I was trying wasn’t working. I asked for God’s intervention and, slowly but surely, my life began to improve.”
Baird said there are many ways to experience the Christian religion.
It can be as simple as seeing God in a beautiful sunset or as complex as studying the Bible for accuracy.
“People always say the Bible contradicts itself and, of course, like any multiple narrative, it does because people have different perspectives,” he said. “But, historically speaking, historians have given a lot of veracity to a lot of things the Bible has said.”
For that reason and others, the pastor encourages people to take a cue from the shepherds.
“There are things in life we really have to experience for ourselves,” he said. “The Christian faith is one of those things.” 


(The aforementioned article was published in the Camarillo, Acorn Newspaper on Friday, Dec. 18, 2015)