Too Mutch

...a safe place to dance with ideas, play with theology, and re-create a life implicated by God

Friday, March 31, 2006

Fresh Squeezed Divinity

Once upon a time, there were juicers that simply "squeezed real hard," leaving you with a glass of your favorite fruit without any of the "crap." We know now, thanks to the health freaks out there, that the crap is good for us and we should leave it in the juice. A few months ago a good friend of mine was eating an apple. After a dozen bites or so, I noticed it was gone. I wondered to myself, "Did he throw it out of the window without me noticing? Is he a magician and I just didn't know it?" He had done something I'd never seen before. He at the whole stinkin' apple...core, seeds and all (I hope he remembered to take the sticker off the skin." You see, the WHOLE apple is good for you...not just the flesh and the skin...the WHOLE thing.

In contemporary/popular spirituality, I think we, too, are "squeezing real hard." It's not with poor intentions, either. We want to "do the will of God" in everything. What we really want are the blueprints to life. I'm guilty of this, especially as of late. I'm in the middle of a vocation transition right now--which is a gentle way of saying, "I'm unemployed." I've got all these competing thoughts, ideas, dreams, etc. about the future--can't God just help me out a bit. That's what I need--a heavenly caddy--to tell me how far from the whole I am, what the wind conditions are, and what club I should hit. Then, all I have to do is execute.

And believe me, it isn't just job hunting where this kind of pietistic/superstitious/voo doo kind of spirituality invades our life. For you, maybe it's trying to figure out what educational track to head down. Or, here's a big one, RELATIONSHIPS. Should we pursue this relationship? Should we keep this one going? Maybe we should end this long term romantic relationship?

Maybe if I pray enough, fast enough, read enough, and talk enough God will send me a blueprint. Maybe I will have a dream, which for me would suck, because I never remember my dreams. So, I'll need a dream followed by a blueprint in the mail or something. That would be much appreciated. If we could just somehow discern and hear a clear word from God on what he WILLS me to do...

Have I set you up enough yet?

I think the problem is that we are trying to get some fresh squeezed divinity. We want to separate out everything get rid of all the crap. If we can just get the pure stuff, then we'd be able to make a decision about a career, a move, a degree track, or a relationship. So, why do we do this? We are human right? Created beings? Created to think and reason and have emotion and yada yada yada. Why, then, do we think God expects us to throw all that out when we are pursuing things in life? Aren't we better off living with the human-divine paradox in our lives. Jesus is the epitome of this paradox...fully man...fully God. His humanity and divinity are maddeningly combined and lived out in him. Can God forsake himelf?

I propose that we don't search merely for the pure divine essence that will make all things make sense and be right in our world. Sometimes, certainly, God will make things more clear than other times. But we can't trick him into doing it...or even plead and convince him to. If he does, great. But don't expect to fully separate what is divine from what is human. We've all been created fully human with a significant divine spark. Redemption and life ought to be about allowing those two things to move TOWARDS one another in some kind of unexplainable paradox...instead of always trying to separate one from the other with our juicing blend of spirituality.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Lenten Themes--Healing

Traditionally, the fourth Sunday of Lent is referred to as Rose Sunday (though I didn't see any roses at either of the two churches we went to on Sunday). It is given this special name because there is a significant shift that takes place at this stage of the Lenten journey. After a few weeks of reading and reflecting on sin and temptation and mortality, the theme switches to the powerful healing touch of Christ. One of the churches we went to on Sunday did a phenomenal job of pointing us to this life-giving theme. It was both instructive and interactive, but has left me asking some questions...

When does healing really happen? Why is it so foreign to us? Why are we more willing to believe that someone's marriage can be "healed" rather dramatically, but the woman in the wheelchair is NOT going to get up and walk no matter how much oil you anoint her with?

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine from a more charismatic background taught about spiritual gifts at on of Cornerstone's chapels. Again, I found myself asking similar questions. Why don't we see more of this happening? Why are so many people in "closed" countries coming to faith in Jesus through dreams and visions, while in my own Christian experience I've never had a dream like that nor really heard of one? Why THEN and not NOW? Why THERE and not HERE? Why THEM and not US?

And here is where I began to make a proposition. Is it possible that as Christians in a country that has been dominated spiritually by cessaitionists...that we have been developmentally impeded from experiencing the gifts of the holy spirit? Is it possible that we don't "have faith" in these because they are so foreign to us? Is there part of our spirituality that has been squelched because of the kind/type of Christianity that we have grown up with?

Part of my discomfort with my more charismatic friends, I think, is related to my lack of familiarity and understanding and experience with the things that they HAVE experienced and are more familiar with. Could this be a case of impeded spiritual development due to the dominant non-charismatic evangelical landscape of our country?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

who are you looking at?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also." These words have come alive to me in a new way over the last few days as I've been reading about forgiveness in a book called The Faces of Forgiveness: Searching for Wholeness and Salvation by Shults and Sandage. Generally, a person who is struck on the cheek will respond in one of two ways. The first is retaliation. "Tit for Tit" as Dwight Schrute from The Office would say. The second way someone may respond is humiliation or defeat. When they are slapped, their head whips around, their body spins and follows, and they walk away or hide from the one that has struck them. Jesus calls us to a third option that, unfortunate for us weasels, is the most difficult.

He tells us to give them the other cheek. There is plenty that has been said in books and commentaries and from the pulpits about what this means and what this looks like. Here, I'd like to move from Biblical exposition to Biblical reflection and devotion. As I read this book about forgiveness and the role of the face, I realize that what Jesus requires of us in offering the other cheek is that we will have to look our offender square in the eyes because we will be face to face with him/her. Sandage and Shults are making a lot out of the role of the FACE in forgiveness and reconciliation and wholeness. What follows are some of their quotes from the first 100 pages of the book...
  • Dilemmas of forgiveness are embedded in a social process of saving and losing face.
  • We suggest that the face represents a powerful interpersonal "text" that evokes an attempt to interpret the feelings and dispositions of the other (facial hermeneutics).
  • The capacity for forgiveness is formed in response to the FACE of the OTHER.
  • Fear and anxiety are at the core of unforgiveness and relational estrangement.
  • Perhaps faces--both our own faces and the faces of others in our community--actually mediate the process of forgiveness.
  • It is easier to avoid our moral obligations to others or even go through the motions of inauthentic moral acts, if we do not actually encounter the face of the other person.

I could go on and on, but hopefully this gives you a taste of the importance of the face in forgiveness. So what? Why is this getting so much attention from me right now? Well, it is helping me makes sense of some recent events in my own life. A couple of months ago, my church terminated my working position. Then, surprisingly, they asked that Christine and I take a step back (and out) of the community (for an undetermined amount of time). Now, I don't really care to relive all of those events or even make commentary on them...except for this...

By asking us to step away from our community during this time, they have nearly made forgiveness impossible. If we are not allowed to be present, our faces are not seen. And we don't get to see anyone else's face. To some degree, we don't exist in the lives of one another anymore. And so, forgiveness is no longer possible (and maybe it isn't even necessary). You see, there is something about the face--about being face to face--that mediates forgiveness and leaves the door to reconciliation open (or at least unlocked). As messy and uncomfortable and painful as it might be, facing one another is crucial of any kind of forgiveness and wholeness is going to be pursued.

So, I've got a choice. I can purchase and send copies of this book I'm reading to everyone I know at my previous church. But, since I'm unemployed right now, I don't think that would be very wise stewardship of resources. The other option is the one that is more uncomfortable for ME. I have not wanted to go into the church offices and be seen. There are people that I miss and would love to see, but I don't really want to do it there. It makes me frustrated and angry just thinking about it. But, I've got another cheek. While I'd like to hit back and retaliate--or turn and walk them right out of my life...I can't. I've got another cheek.

As soon as I've posted this, I'm gathering my things and I'm heading in for some good 'ole face to face. If you are interested, I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, though, maybe there is a face you need to see...

Sandage writes these words that I leave with you...

Jesus said, "Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me...will find it" (Mark 8:35). It seems there is often a similar paradox to saving face: whoever tries to save face will eventually lose it, but whoever loses faces redemptively can find it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lenten Themes--Temptation and Sin

Here is my promised Wed post for Lent...and it's much shorter this week!

I've been following the daily reading guide provided by Mars Hill Bible Church (available free @ And these readings are the same (or similar) readings to those being engaged all across the world by Christians everywhere. It is one of those unseen and immeasurable spiritual experiences, for we are connected across time and space with millions and millions of people who are walking his exact same road during Lent...the journey where we walk through the life of Jesus.

Last week the readings focused on the temptations of Jesus. This week the focus has shifted to our own experience of temptation. Here are the readings for this week...
Monday 1 Cor 10:1-13
Tuesday James 1:12-15
Wednesday 1 Peter 1:3-7
Thursday Gal 6:1-5
Friday Prov 4:10-15
Saturday James 1:2-8

I am only thru Wednesday, but I was struck with a question this morning...
What is the relationship between temptation, sin, trials, and suffering?
These seem to be intertwined throughout the readings. Can I sin without being tempted? Do I engage/counter trials the same whay I would sin? Is suffering more connected to temptation, sin or trials?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Lent--Fasting (from myself)

I have declared this year of lent a "year for learning." Like many things in life, it is much easier to learn WHILE DOING it rather than just reading or talking about it. Today, I was reading (now that we are in the middle of Lent) about fasting, prayer and almsgiving. It was cool, but I have to admit, I'm lagging way behind now!

Fasting, prayer and almsgiving are not merely "rituals." They are exercises. And when you exercise, there are all sorts of additional/extra purposes and benefits. We exercise for a stronger cardiovascular system, to lose weight, to gain muscle, and to look HOT. Well, fasting, prayer and almsgiving are like exercise. No, they won't make you HOT, but do they have additional purposes and results.

Here is how Robert Webber breaks it down...
Fasting from food is a symbol of the discipline it takes to turn away from sin.
Prayer is the actual experience of turning to God in dependence.
Almsgiving is the symbol of virtue we are taking on to replace our sin.

So, the whole exercise of fasting, praying and almsgiving is a physical and outward symbol/exercise that is to be paralleled in our own growing spirituality. This is where I hit a wall this morning. I've decided to fast from coffee during a way of remembering my mortality and the looming of the cross to come for Christ. I also have recognized that it is a symbol for my need to give up sin in my life...

And here's the problem...I don't really think I have any. Maybe that sounds conceded or heretical. That's just because you can't imagine being perfect! No, I realize that I have all sorts of sin and that I am twisted in my soul. I know it. But rarely do I FEEL it. Rarely am I overwhelmed by it. I should be, but I'm not. And so, when I read this morning about giving up something...depending on God...and replacing it with some virtue, I froze. I realized that I had NOT pointed my finger at anything specific that I need to give up/change/etc. I had spent all my time thinking about what I'd give up (food, coffee, etc.) and NO time on how my spirituality was suffering because of this or that sin.

So, here's my go at it. In addition to fasting from coffee, I'll be fasting from myself. I suppose that's a bit of a challenge, since I'm ALWAYS with myself. But, I'm going to try to NOT be so committed to soothing my own getting what is best for making myself appear to be something I'm not...etc. Next year, maybe I'll be able to spend some time thinking of something more specific. We'll see. But for the rest of Lent (and hopefully beyond), I'll be thinking less of myself and more of others. Except, of course, on Sundays--where I will be drinking strong coffee of MY choice for MY benefit wherever I want to drink it!!!!!

Any other fasting folk out there?
You can send your almsgiving directly to my home address!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

NPC Emergent Speakers

Batting 1st--Dan Kimball, Pastor of Vintage Faith Church (

Books: Emerging Church (about) and Emerging Worship (about)

Dan Kimball has been at this for awhile now. He comes to the conversation with both beautiful and hard experiences that give him a great amount of credibility to speak about the Emerging Church. I have a lot to learn from Dan and the experiences he's been through. Here are the stages he traveled through with his own community, which has now become Vintage Faith Church.

Phase I: Methodology--rethinking the worship gathering. This is slightly above "tinkering." At this phase, there can be a misguided belief that changing and tinkering with the worship service is all we need to do. "Let's just freshen things up a bit." Notice that this is phase one...and we've got several more to go!

Phase II: Realizing that it is more than an age group--many emerging changes have taken place with youth groups, college groups or young adult groups. Once again, this becomes a starting point, but if this new worship gathering is connecting to people of all ages, it no longer is able to operate as an age-specific gathering. Now, you've got the dreaded "church within a church."

Phase III: Rethinking ecclesiology. Now the road gets a little bumpier. We are getting beyond methodology (new music, candles, etc.) to rethinking spiritual formation, community, preaching, and membership. Now, the this new emerging community within the greater community comes under control/criticism/etc. the mother church, essentially saying, "You can't be rethinking these things!"

Phase IV: Rethinking theology. If you thought phase three was bumpy, then you better buckle up tight. Now this new community begins asking some simple questions. What do we believe? And WHY do we believe it? These questions will not win you many popularity contests.

Phase V: Being the Church. For Dan and for many others, the growth and transition continues until their growing, emerging community becomes a church. In the best case scenario, it will be a recognition from the mother church that it is time to do a church plant and send this community off with our blessing. That was the case, for the most part, for Dan's church. I've seen others have that pleasure as well. I'm afraid, however, that they could be exceptions to the rule.

Once upon a time, I was part of strarting a new community within a church. I will admit that we were really no where near phase V, but we were attempting to do some new things from within an existing church. At one point while we were still planning, I heard someone say, "It is easier to give birth than to raise the dead." Their advice was essentially this: you are better of starting fresh somewhere as a church plant than you are trying to start something from inside and effect some kind of change throughout the existing church. Well, we didn't take his advice now did we?

1. Do you think it is better (with whatever criterion you want to use) to start something new within an existing church OR to start something new and fresh on its own?

2. Why do you think it is so explosive to begin asking questions like "what do we believe and why"? What would happen at your church if a group of people began asking such questions?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Lenten Journey Begins

Today is Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent—our journey towards Easter. Maybe you’re thinking, “Easter? That’s like six weeks away!! Why start preparing already?” There lies the misfortune of much of the modern church. We have become a people who “live for today!” Carpe Diem! Our culture has taught us to overcome the past and to pay attention to the future only when it arrives. Lent is a time to prepare—physically, emotionally, intellectually, and (wrapped up in the previous) spiritually. It is a time for those who follow Jesus to prepare for the single most important celebration of the year, Resurrection Sunday. Christmas lovers will have to step aside on this one. I don’t mean to demean Christmas as a holiday, but it too ought to lead us towards Easter. I think what I’m going to enjoy about Lent and preparing for Easter is the distinctness it will have over Christmas. EVERYONE celebrates Christmas and it begins 2 months early. Not so with Easter. Easter is a one day event for the greater society. With Lent, we get to prepare and anticipate and be distinct doing it—hopefully for many to see!

Over the course of these weeks, I will give snippets and highlights about the meaning of Lent. I’d love your questions, too. But for today, I’d simply like to share a symbol that I think describes the season of Lent. BAPTISM. You will often hear this phrase said when someone is being baptized is—“you have been buried with him in death…and raised with him to new life!” Lent focuses on the same two things, just not in one event. Rather, we spend weeks identifying with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Ash Wednesday is the first day and gathering time for Lent. If you go to a service, it will likely be solemn and reverent. Its intent is to help us reflect on our own mortality and our sin and our need for repentance. Ash Wednesday is most known for the imposition of the ashes. Traditionally, the ashes will be made from burning the palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. They are then placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, while the celebrant says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It is a time for me to be reminded of my mortality…a time for me to be reminded that though I live for myself much of the time, I am not God. He has made me. He has called me. He is saving me. But I am still a speck of dust. I am humbled. And that is a good thing.

This post has gone long enough. I hope you will consider going to some Lenten services. I hope you will find a daily reading guide to follow along with the other millions of saints who will be reading during Lent. I hope you will find the next several weeks uniquely spiritual and transforming and exciting.

Tomorrow/Friday—Are you going to fast from something during Lent? I’ll tell you mine if you’ll tell me yours!