Monday, August 26, 2013

The Sacred and The Profane

I am sitting at my desk in my home-office writing this blog-post.  To my left, not an arm's length from my keyboard is the window where a burglar broke into our house at 3:00AM last Monday night.  The would-be thief used an ax-hoe to break into the house, then proceeded to knock over desks, rifle through papers, sift through filing cabinets, break other sundry locks and cabinets, and finally steal a car  with a set of keys he found in my desk.  The car, was then found wrapped around a telephone pole on the east side of town, later that morning.  None of our family were harmed in any way, thanks in part to our one year old infant, Sheena, who woke up at 3:00AM that same night, crying out loud, sensing something was awry.  To be honest, it has taken me about a week to begin to process this life-impinging event.  But what I have been thinking about again and again is the close proximity we all experience in this life between;

*  Utterly Sacred things and profoundly Profane things
*  Transformingly Risen things and totally Fallen things,
*  Sordidly Evil things and patently Good things.

The social theorist and the religious thinker Mircea Eliade has coined this dichotomy in his classic religious primer; "The Sacred and the Profane" (1987).

The window of the aforementioned crime (Profane) is arms length from my desk, where an open Bible on the desk (Sacred), awaited the man who stole our property.

Our entire faith is a mix of close proximity between sacred and profane, fallen and risen, evil and good things.  In the Garden of Eden was the most bucolic, perfect place to live.  In the middle of the garden was a tree.  That tree wasn't inherently "bad", it was after all "the tree of GOOD and evil.  The tree was simply something that was off limits to Adam and Eve.  The beauty of creation sitting next to the luster of forbbiden-ness.  Within that garden was also a snake, who was evil.  The snake (profanity) convinced Adam and Eve (at that time perfect, sacred) to eat the forbidden fruit.  Right at the beginning of creation is the closeness and proximity of sacredness and profanity.

The birthplace of Jesus was a similar mix of utter abjectivity and complete holiness.  On a chilly Spring evening (most historians believe Jesus was actually born about the same time as the Passover, Spring), Mary and Joseph took a long mule-ride's trip from Nazareth, where they lived, to Bethlehem in the south, essentially the place of the polling station for their district, the place where they had to register for taxation purposes.  Upon arrival in Bethlehem, the holy child within Mary's womb began to kick.  A child would be born soon.  Finding no other rooms available in town, the couple were forced to take up lodging in a barn/stable.  Then in the middle of the night, the holy child was born.  The God of the universe (Sacred) was born into the filthiest of stables (Profane).

The cross is an example of the exaltedness of God juxtaposed with the cruelest kind of fallen-ness by humans.  The holiest of holies, God Himself, was hoisted up onto a cross by a rope and a handful of Roman guards, who had just rolled dice for God's clothes.  They took the most profane of nails and banged them through Jesus' hands and feet, and Jesus (Sacredness itself) died on a cross (Profanity in it's purest form).

On Wednesday, two days after the crime at our house, I drove out to the edge of town to the Police impound lot to collect whatever was left of our family's possessions from the completely decimated car that we once owned.  A law enforcement officer stood beside me as I gathered up baby prams, strollers, baby blankets, old bottles, and toys, now peppered with glass from the shattered windows of the car.  Inside the cup holder was a picture of a little girl that I wasn't familiar with.  It must have been the burglar's daughter, I told myself. Her toothy school picture gleamed at the school photographer (Sacred).  Right beside the picture was the leatherman pocket-knife the criminal used to break into our house (Profane).

And somehow, God was in the middle of all of this...just as He always is!

All For Now,

Monday, August 19, 2013

My Thoughts on Millenials

So I, like most of you have been deeply pondering the blog post written by Rachel Held Evans on a recent CNN blog post, entitled, "Why Millenials Are Leaving The Church."  Many church members, and MY blog readers, have asked me to comment on the piece.  If you haven't read the article, it is well worth reading.  I enclose the article here for your perusal:

Let me begin with what I agree with Rachel on.  I completely agree with her that "making our churches hipper" should not be the focus of our churches as we move forward, and as we seek to connect with the next generation.  I totally agree with Rachel that our churches should not simply rely on the ephemera of our modern culture (coffee shops, cool bands, tight jeans, and cafe latte's) as we relate to those under 30.  I couldn't agree with her more that what church needs to strive to be is REAL.  I am 100% with Rachel that our churches need to be a place where her (and my) LGBT friends can worship freely without feeling judged.  Rachel is right on the mark on all of the aforementioned.

Where I would disagree with her, respectfully and I hope delicately, is that I don't believe Rachel speaks for ALL Millenials.  And here, I will very carefully wade into an analysis of the entire Millenial generation (I am not one, so this is a hazardous thing to do - I was born in 1972 - Barely Gen. X).  My problem with her blog is that she is only speaking for CHURCH going evangelical Millenials.  Rachel is speaking for those who are inside the tent, rather than outside the tent.  The very title of her well written article, "Why Millenials are LEAVING the Church," suggests that it is written from the standpoint of those who are already in the club.  She is speaking for kids who grew up in big churches, who went to cool youth groups, who sat through endless sermons on stewardship, who gave their life to Christ at awesome youth camps, who then went to college and looked around and said, "Wow the world is a lot bigger than I thought it was...bigger than my hometown megachurch."  Rachel is speaking for CHURCHED Millenials, but my experience leads me to believe that she is not speaking for DE-CHURCHED, or UN-CHURCHED Millenials.

Several years ago (before the current tragic conflagration), I visited the country of Egypt.  Egypt is steeped in Biblical history (the place of Jesus' upbringing, the place of Moses' upbringing, the place where Abraham gave up his wife to Pharaoh in order to get through the country unscathed), and so it was a place that I wanted to visit.  Upon arriving, I encountered a country so different from my own that I was surprisingly thrown off.  Every morning there were Muslim prayer chants, every corner had a spindled Mosque on it, every curio shop had incense burning inside of it.  In short, I knew that the religious world around me was very different than any place that I visited previously.  And at the same time, I was quite homesick.  I was needing something of comfort  and home.  And so, I visited the KFC (Yes, that's Kentucky Fried Chicken).  I ordered a huge bucket of chicken (to assuage my hunger and homesickness).  I found that that place, and that chicken, gave me some sort of comfort in the midst of the religious foreignness I was experiencing.  It was familiar chicken.  It was a comfortable setting.

Cross apply my Egypt KFC experience UN-CHURCHED Millenials.  What are Millenials most needing and wanting?  They want comfort.  They want to feel at home in a world that is a lattice-work of competing sales thrusts.  And I believe that UN-CHURCHED Millenials will need entry points that make sense to them.  What are the entry points for Millenials today?

*  Technology - I-Pads, I-Phones, I-everything
*  A Cause that's worth living for
*  A passionate leader who genuinely cares about people (all people)
*  A worship service that is relevant and helpful
*  Studied earthiness (I don't have enough time to write about this in this post, but there is an extremely studied earthiness about most Millenials.  That thrown together look isn't thrown together after all. Please see pictures of Mark Zuckerberg - that tattered hoody is probably $200).
*  The indefatigable quest for REAL

And the list goes on, because as a generation, Millenials may be the most diverse group of people in the history of generations.

I just want to close by saying again that I feel Rachel's thoughts are helpful in beginning the conversation about Millenials - I just don't feel they are complete,

All For Now,

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Gospel of Michael Jr.

This past weekend I attended some of the Willow Creek, "Global Leadership Summit" in a satellite location here in Colorado Springs.  As usual, the speeches were riveting, and exceptionally helpful.  However, one side act caught my attention almost more than any of the others.  His name was Michael Junior and he was a stand up comedian from Houston area.

In addition to being hilariously funny, Michael told the audience that he had had a major change of heart with regard to his comedy routine, when he discovered one critical and life changing shift in his own performance style.  Michael said that when he began performing his main goal was to GET laughs from an audience (in other words it was about himself, and laughs were something that could be attained through a certain set of routine maneuvers).  Michael said that his big change and big success moment came when he changed his comedic mission to HELP the audience laugh together (in other words, to be the facilitator of the group, who wanted to laugh).

As I have been thinking about it, the same basic principle can be applied to ministry at all levels.  The basic purpose for a preacher is not to GET the congregation to respond to God, the basic purpose for a preacher is to HELP the congregation to discover God in their midst.  The basic purpose for a Sunday school teacher is not to GET the class to know more about a subject matter, the purpose is to HELP the group arrive at wisdom together.  Again, not to belabor the point, but the basic purpose for a good meeting is not to GET the group to arrive at a fixed decision that is pre-determined, the basic purpose is to HELP the group to arrive at truth together.

What was remarkable was to see how utterly relaxed Michael Junior was in his performance.  He really seemed not to care too much whether the audience laughed at him, but he seemed genuinely interested in facilitating a good feeling within the audience that erupted in laughter.  The weight of the performance is not on the speaker, or the comedian, but the audience.  Soren Kierkegaard once said that  on a Sunday morning, the usual idea is that the pastor is the performer, the congregation is the audience, and God is the observer. Instead, Kierkegaard said, it should be that the pastor is the conductor, the congregation is the performer, and God is the audience.

It would seem that Michael Junior and Soren Kierkegaard have a lot in common.  Both men see their main body of work less about self, and more about other...and that's why they're great!

All For Now,

Monday, August 5, 2013

Tea Kettle Theology

Hello again!  My family and I are back from jolly old England and our summer holidays here in the States.  It has been about five weeks since I have written a blog post.  For those of you who have counted on this blog post as a weekly pick-me-up, sorry for it's absence.  I am back, and will begin writing again every Monday morning.

I promise that I won't barrage you with many more minutae and details of C.S. Lewis' life (after my three week course on Lewis in Oxford, England).  I will never forget a professor I once had at Princeton Seminary who began every sentence she spoke with the words, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer always says...."  At the speaking of these words, all of my classmates and I would automatically drift into a realm of numbness and sleep and ignore anything else that came out of her mouth.  I promise I will not do the same with you with Lewis.  However, before the summer passes, I wanted to share one newly gleaned bit of Lewis trivia that you may not have heard before.

C.S. Lewis was an ardent observer of chapel.  He would attend chapel at Magdalen College, Oxford, and then Magdalene College, Cambridge (pronounced Maudelin), twice a day.  The services would always last about twenty minutes, so it wasn't too terribly taxing, nor would it take away from the work functions of the day.  Lewis' offices in Cambridge were just above the chapel.  Chapel services would begin at 8:00AM on the dot.  Lewis' daily routine was that he would put on his academic robes (the same type I wear on Sunday in church) at about 7:55, then he would turn the electric tea kettle on in his office.  Lewis would then run down the stairs and sit in his usual pew in the chapel.  The service would last twenty minutes.  At 8:20 on the dot, the chaplain would recite the benediction ("In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit").  On some days, however, the chaplain would tend to drone on a little longer than usual.  But here's the thing.  Lewis' tea kettle would always begin to whistle at 8:20 on the dot (I guess it took tea kettle's longer to warm up in the old days).  So, if the chaplain was not wrapping up the service in time, Lewis' tea kettle functioned as a kind of alarm clock, to keep everyone on schedule.  The tea kettle kept everyone, including the chaplain, on time.

What's the cross application for our lives? we keep regular times of chapel worship in our lives?  Do we read the Bible, pray, do a Bible study with regularity and rhythm in our lives every day?  ( I know that I could do better about this).  But to the point about the tea kettle, are these worship times the same amount of time each day?  (about 20 minutes).  Or do we tend to focus and stay in the scripture longer than we need to.  It is better to have regular rhythmic time with God every day, than to have long drawn out times with God every once in a while.

I once knew a man who won the Mr. Olympiad weight lifting competition.  His name was Larry Scott, and he had arms the size of my waist (well maybe not my waist now after vacation, but my waist before vacation...I digress).  I once asked Larry how he got to be so strong, so big, so muscular.  He said, "Most people go to the gym once a week and they work out really hard.  It's much better to work out every day a little bit."  I have tried Larry's prescription for large arms, but, somehow, not to the same effect.  But his point is a good one.

Oh...Excuse me....I have to tea kettle is going off!!

All For Now,