Monday, November 20, 2006

Food and Friendship

Thanksgiving is coming! It's my favorite holiday of the year. Every year we have a gaggle of people come to our home for Thanksgiving dinner and then even more show up for dessert. There are few things that I enjoy more in life than having a house filled with friends and good food. There is something indescribable that happens when we sit around the table and share food. There is an ancient middle eastern tradition that when a person is invited to another's home for dinner the first thing that is served is sweets. (I must be middle eastern at heart because I always want dessert before dinner:-) The subtext to this action is that if we share in sweet food then we will share in sweet conversation. I like this idea. In the bible so much seems to happen around food. It almost begins and ends with it. YHWH's command to Adam and Eve was that they could eat of anything in the garden except the one tree. It was improper eating that lead to the fall. In God's ability to redeem all things he takes that which lead to the fall and redeemed it as that around which the inauguration of heaven revolves around: the marriage feast of the lamb.
In Jesus' time table fellowship had been corrupted, it was a place of dividing people by class. Whether it be the clean/unclean divide: the elite v. sinners or the various classes in Israel's society or the Jew/Gentile divide table fellowship became a place of division. Jesus' approach was not to do away with it or even speak against, but rather he redeemed it through how he practiced it. He ate with everyone, the high and the lowly. In doing such a simple thing he challenged a core aspect of Israel's society. In this simple act he embodied the Kingdom. For it was Jesus who said that the first shall be the last and that the one who wants to be the leader must be the servant of all.
The unfortunate truth today is that Thanksgiving can be a time where the weakness of families come to the fore. Families that are divided throughout the year due to unresolved conflicts come together on Thanksgiving and then the fireworks start to fly. Instead of being a time of unifying families, Thanksgiving can be a time of reaffirming the divisions that lay within.
As we look forward to Thursday and the rest of the holiday season (yes, I am aware that even Walmart is again calling it the Christmas season) let us see how it is that we can redeem the act of these gatherings around food by the way that we practice them.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Community in Los Angeles

In their book, Emerging Churches, Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger outline 9 factors that are evident in the lives of emerging churches that they studied through America and the UK. They point out three core values/practices of emerging churches. The other 6 factors are an outgrowth of these three core values. The three core values are 1) Identifying with the life of Jesus 2) Communual Living and 3) removing the secular/sacred divide. I've been thinking about how this works in Los Angeles, where I live. LA is a highly transitory area and is highly spreadout. LA is up to 50 miles long at its longest point. It is difficult to tell when you enter or leave the city proper, unlike midwest or east coast cities. If Gibbs and Bolger are correct in their analysis of the three core values, and I believe they are, then I wonder how this will work itself out in LA. The transitory nature of LA coupled with the vast sprawl that we live in make the communal lifestyle that is described by many of the EC's seems impossible or at least very unlikely. I asked Ryan Bolger about this today (I am taking a class with him right now) and he said that there were very few EC's in LA, partly because of this. There is Tribe LA, as he pointed out, but they are in a more localized community in LA. I do believe that the pomo's do value community, but the kind of community manefested in EC's requires something that does not often occur in LA: people being involved in the communities where they actually live. The church I attend, while a medium sized church, draws people from as far west as Encino to as far east as Pomona, a distance of over 50 miles! This is not uncommon in LA where many people communute many miles to mega churches. When I've talked with friends, they say that the value of community is high, but the ability to make it happen is very limited. Instead, people tend to find community in their work or gym or other local activities. If the church is going to have an affect in local communities, then participants in those communites of faith must start to engage their immediate neighborhoods.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Who, then, can be saved?

This was the question that the disciples asked Jesus when the person that they thought was already being blessed by God (the rich young man) turned away from Jesus' call. Jesus turned their paradigm of salvation upside down. It was not enough to say that since the man was being materially blessed that he was therefor righteous and therefor being blessed by God. A friend recently told me that many years ago Winkie Pratney made the comment that he foresaw a day when people would have to be educated before they could be saved. I sharply disagreed with this assessment. I am more in line with the thinking of Donald McGavran that a person should not have to leave their culture in order to become a follow of Jesus, i.e. get saved.
In the emerging church conversation the question of "What is the good news" is talked about a lot. The context often revolves around the question of the uniqueness of each church to live out the mission of God in the context in which they find themselves. This is a bit of a shock to evangelicalism as the concept of salvation is atonement based. Salvation, primarily, means forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven. But, when we look at the context of Jesus the idea of salvation had more to do with deliverance from political oppression, from the demonic realm, and of sickness and disease. They already had a means to achieve forgiveness of sins and there debate as to the existence of life after death. Thus, the EC question is a valid one and one that each community of faith must wrestle with. How much do we thrust the atonement to the forefront of proclaiming the good news? If we are living in an increasingly post-Christendom world, then the concept of being sinners and needed salvation from our sin nature would first have to be taught before a person could be saved. But, is that was salvation really is? Yes, Jesus did forgive sins and ultimately his death provided means by which sin was forgiven once and for all, but Jesus' call was not "Come and get your sins forgiven" instead it was "Come and follow me". This begs the question about the meaning of "repent" and if we are to discuss it we must start to peel away our cultural understanding of that word (more on that another time). For this post I'll simply say that when Jesus told people to repent he was calling them to a complete change in life and what they thought it meant to live as the people of God. Consequently we don't see Jesus giving the 1st century version of an altar call for people to confess their sins. He was calling them to follow him and thus to live the true meaning of the Kingdom of God.
Who can be saved? When is a person saved? These are questions that we must understand in our own setting and let our conclusions shape our communities of faith and how we live out the meaning of the Kingdom in our unique contexts.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The False Dichotomy of Religion vs. Relationship

I recently came across a church website that had two interesting items in their forums section. One as a thread that the leaders had posted entitled “Relationship vs. Religion” which is the classic Evangelical saw denouncing first the Pharisees and then anyone who has an over structured church life. I understand the point that Jesus came to restore humanity’s relationship God and that he often railed against the religious leaders of his day because they honored traditional religious practice over God’s desire. On the other hand, this misses the point of having a body. It seems to state that what we do and how we live are not as important as the fact that we are in relationship with God, presumably through things that we do…

The second item in the forum was a post about a series the church is doing on spiritual disciples. Now, if Christianity is about relationship and not religion and the spiritual disciples (prayer, meditation, solitude, simplicity, fasting, worship, service, etc.) are actions and practices, then I see a conflict. Many of us X-ers and millennials are drawn to practices of the historical church as outline in the spiritual disciples. I have come to believe that, as Doug Pagitt aptly puts, “We have to live a certain way to live a certain way.” In other words we have to order and structure our lives around practices that make our relationship with God actual and not simply something that we feel. God gave the Israelites many practices that to our contemporary mind can seem illogical. When we look at the requirements for Yom Kippur (the annual Day of Atonement) it can seem quite daunting. What are we to make of this? The New Testament puts it this way: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Col 3:17.) When God gave the Israelites the laws to live by he was telling them that everything that they do matters to him and is to be an act of worship. For us today, it is important in how we order our lives and what practices we live out. If we seek to live out the life of Jesus in our context we must begin to ask ourselves how we are structuring our lives.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I no longer call you slaves

The concept of community is huge in the emerging church discussions. People are called to live in authentic relationships with one another. I believe that this is, in part, due to the way that Gen-Xers were devastated by divorce and how so many of us were latch-key kids. There is certain a basic desire of the human heart to have community, it is part of the imago dei, but in our generation this desire is heightened. We see Jesus building a community of twelve disciples with a special bond with three of them and we desire the same. I wonder if the desire that we have goes beyond community and the generic use of "relationship" and is really pointing to friendship. As Jesus was preparing his disciples for his eventual death he made many bold statements that were out of step with his culture (John 15). One of them is that he change the nature of the relationship between himself and his disciples from slaves/servants/disciples to friends. In a sense he calls them equals! What we are truly in need of are friends. I like what Doug Pagitt said recently on his podcast. He talked about how he doesn't need an accountability group to make sure he keeps his commitments, but rather needs friends with whom he can live out this life of Jesus. Billy Calderwood has a recent post concerning who a pastor confess to, which is a continuation of another post on the same subject. I think that the answer to that question for all us, pastors and non-pastors alike, is to have friendships. We don't need official church confessors, we need deep open friendships where others can see into our lives and speak prophetically. In a sense, authentic friendships form the basis for the exercise of the spiritual gifts, but that is a bit beyond the scope of this post.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Random Thoughts on a Post from Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight had a simple post on a recent experience of a chapel talk he gave at John Brown University. A couple of comments stirred me:

"Every college has a history and a culture. JBU’s culture is undergoing change. "
Here he was referring to the challenges of entering into a Christian college's chapel service when the reality is that the students are mostly forced to be there. That coupled with the unique challenge of trying to bring a message that he developed outside of this matrix can leave one feeling uneasy. This will always be true, but is mitigated by if you know that it is the Father who has called you into this and to speak what you have been given.

"Christian colleges face one question all the time: How to be like the scribe who brings out both the old and the new for a culture that is always changing?"
- For the emerging movement I found this to be a stimulating statement. It give a biblical backing to the desire to both be connected to the ancient traditions and to be forging new ground! We must alway realize that we are connected to the historical church while at the same time we are seeking to faithfully follow Jesus in the present moment.