Monday, April 25, 2011

Stuck In The Middle With You

I was going to go with the typical "One Word" tag for this entry, but the play on the song title (and knowing that at least five of you are singing or humming the song now; you're welcome, by the way) was just too tempting. For record though, let's subtitle this "One Word 2011.4" for continuity's sake.

I've noticed that I cycle through a number of repetitive themes in my writings. I'd like to think that this is more a sign of areas I am passionate about and subjects God has drawn to my heart as opposed to either a lack of creativity or feeling "safe" in writing about them. After I stopped and thought about it for a few minutes, I realized that many of them are tied into subjects that fall within the purview of my "former life" working in higher education: Diversity. Leadership. And the one that was hammered into my soul throughout my tenure in residence life: Community.

And this goes straight to my One Word for 2011: shalam. To be safe or complete. As a term and message, the word seems to encapsulate a reality and hope of wholeness for the individual, within societal relations, and for the whole world.

For community.

A few months back, God kept me stuck in the first three chapters of Genesis. What started as yet another attempt to read through the Bible from Genesis to Maps wound up becoming an in-depth study on creation, the fall, and what that means today. And - of course - as these things go, it also meant that intentionally reading a passage that I thought I knew by heart yielded quite a few new revelations.

So, in honor of this past Earth Day, let's talk about trees.

In the creation story, only two trees are mentioned by name: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life. Since all was perfect in Eden, I presume that neither of these trees produced pollen or sap to muck up Adam or Eve's sinuses. However, it is stated clearly that both trees produced fruit. 

As all of God's creations who are working in His favor are supposed to

It is also stated that both of these trees were placed in the center of the Garden. Knowledge. Life. Both in the center of creation. While it's never stated what the size or shape of the Garden actually was or where Adam and Eve hung out in the Garden on a daily basis, we know they had free reign to roam wherever they wished. This means that when tempted, Eve (and conversely, Adam) had to intentionally journey to the center of the Garden. 

We can be tempted on and in all manner of things, but to give in requires effort.

It wasn't until after the fall that God set up boundaries to the Garden. Yes, there were rules to living in the community (specifically: "Hey, see that tree? Yeah, that one. Don't. Just don't.") but other than that? Complete freedom.  And while some might argue that God showed no mercy in casting out Adam and Eve, He did not do so in order to separate Himself from us.

He placed a guard at the heart. Where life was. As is stated in Proverbs 4:23. Just as He promised He would do with us. As is stated in Philippians 4:7

I find it interesting that after they sinned and ate of the fruit, Adam and Eve chose to cover their loins. They went for where they thought they were the most vulnerable. They first hid their shame from one another, and then tried to hide it from God. Adam even tells God he isn't hiding because of his disobedience and out of fear of the repercussions of disobeying God, but because he was naked. 

Shame led him to try and hide. I really wish that I couldn't sympathize with that as much as I do.

In Genesis 3:23, God sent Adam out to cultivate the ground. The very same ground he was created from. This was his curse: to work by the sweat of his brow and try to eek out an existence to see if he could reclaim that which was once freely given.

Food. Providence. 

And if that's not a clear parallel for grace versus works, I'm not sure if one exists.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Take A Look At This Book: CHURCH DIVERSITY by Scott Williams

I would describe myself as a far-too-rapidly-approaching-middle-aged Caucasian male, born and raised in the South (Mississippi, specifically), who is a Christian. Based on these identifiers, one might think I would be inclined to ignore a book called Church Diversity – Sunday: The Most Segregated Day in America and claim that its themes are irrelevant to me. However, nothing could be further from the truth. To think that I would be unaffected by the need for diversity and inclusion in my spiritual life is the height of pride and arrogance.


…and as a certain individual named Morningstar, or as he is more commonly known, Lucifer, illustrated, we see what becomes of those who think they can set themselves, or even their beliefs, above God and His desires.


In his book, Scott Williams points out many of the areas and themes in regards to diversity in which modern American churches have failed to live out the Great Commission. Most church leaders would, if asked, state that their body of believers live a life of what they would refer to as an “Acts 2” church – a true community as is laid out in verse 44 of Acts chapter 2: “All who believed were together and held everything in common.” The unfortunate reality that Mr. Williams points out is that many churches, whether intentionally or not, take the idea of holding “everything in common” to mean holding everything “as the same,” from the skin tone of the leaders to the sex of the leaders in the church to the style of worship music used.

Perhaps what is most remarkable, as well as challenging, about the book is that the author does not spend the nearly-200 pages of his book in outright condemnation of where we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of inclusion and acceptance, but instead uses a conversational tone in his writing, offering us to step up and step into the discussion. With a gentle and loving but stern voice, the author calls out all brands, styles, and denominations of churches, showing how and where in the choices both historically and thematically we as believers (and I’m including myself here) have truly not loved our neighbors as ourselves. Nor does the author ever stand in condemnation or judgment of the individuals within the church; he recognizes that this is a problem that many of us were born into – kind of like an original sin, if you will – but we should not let the excuse of “that’s the way it’s always been” be the rhetoric we offer up to justify our apathy towards inclusivity.

The passion and integrity with which Mr. Williams brings this issue to the attention of both church leaders and laypersons is centered Biblically, thus derailing any potential arguments or criticisms that this is just the voice of another critic of the church as it exists today. Instead of taking the viewpoint of "Here's the problem, and here's my solution, because I am THE authority," Mr. Williams offers suggestions (not "Five Easy Steps") and practical guidelines throughout the book including discussion points for taking the conversations deeper. Using examples from both corporate America as well as some of the churches he views as the ones taking the right strides towards a true community of diversity, the author does not rely solely on the theoretical of “This is a problem we need to fix,” but instead provides concrete illustrations that point out both the struggles to be expected as well as the benefits to be reaped by becoming the body of believers we were meant to be.



As he says in chapter three, "The time is now, and the stakes are too high for us to just turn a blind eye and act like the problem [diversity within our churches] doesn't exist or ignore the fact that this conversation needs to be elevated."



Scott Williams Bio: Scott Williams served on staff as a key leader and campus pastor at LifeChurch.tv, one of the largest and most innovative churches in America. He is an effective speaker, strategist, ministry consultant, entrepreneur and popular social media influencer for pastors and ministries around the globe. He is an avid blogger at BigIsTheNewSmall.com. Scott is married, a father of two, and lives in Oklahoma City, OK.


About the Book:
 Church Diversity is more than a book it’s a movement of God, pastors, ministry leaders, volunteers, congregants, and the community. It’s about the Church changing its perspective to become part of a culture-changing and world-changing movement. A new and different future begins with the turning of these pages, taking this journey, and speaking the truth in this vital conversation.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Calloused


It has been an age since I picked up my guitar.

It's weird, because the darn thing and I used to be inseparable. When I was an undergraduate, I took great pride in the fact that every time you saw my slightly old 1985 Chevy Nova coming down the highway, you knew my guitar was somewhere in the car with me. It occupied the seat of honor next to me in the passenger seat when I would come home for semester breaks, strapped in securely with the seatbelt, just in case I was in an accident. I wore my Gen-X disinterested proto-grunge rocker persona like a badge of honor.

After I graduated and got a "real job," the time I spent playing my guitar grew less and less. To be fair, my job required I spend days and even weeks at a stretch on the road (which I was used to, because - y'know - the whole Gen-X rocker thing, driving a van late at night, etc.), and at the end of the day, I was just too worn out to spend any time playing the thing. It became easy to say "maybe later" or "not right now" the the stirring in my heart to play.

As any athlete, musician or artist can attest, if you stop using the gift and skills you have, your abilities begin to atrophy. You lose the discipline you held in practicing, and one day, you wake up and discover that the relative ease and ability with which you once performed has become difficult, a struggle, and it's all but gone.

For those of us who play stringed instruments, this means that fingers which were once toughened and tempered to the point where pressing strings down didn't make you flinch for an instant have now reverted to the state they were in before your instrument became an active part of your life.

The lack of discipline had made me soft.

Conversely, this is unlike the condition I find my heart to be in.

It's not that I unflinchingly stare at sins around the world or in my own neighborhood and find myself unaffected: I get appalled at the stats on human sex trafficking. I feel nauseas when I hear about animal cruelty. I feel legitimately distressed by the rising number of seemingly unwanted children, the destruction and disillusion of marriages and relationships, the hate crimes perpetuated against someone simply because of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, and the fact that more people seemingly take umbrage at an advertisement featuring a little boy painting his toenails than at the loss of life and then ruination of lives in an earthquake-ravaged land.

Where my heart has become calloused is towards my own sins.

It's not that I unflinchingly stare at the sins in my world and find myself unaffected: after all, they tempt me - and I fall prey to the temptation - because they speak to me, to my weaknesses, and to the full-on briar patch (not just a single thorn) in my flesh. Anger. Ego. A lack of prayer or studying of the Word. A lack of true, deep fellowship and community with other believers. And far too many which are far too embarrassing to mention online.

It's weird, because my faith and I used to be inseparable. My heart which once was soft and malleable to the moving of the Spirit has become jaded, cynical, and perpetually broken in many ways. At the end (or even the start) of the day, I feel too worn out to spend any time working on the darn thing. It has become easy to say "maybe later" or "not right now" to the stirring in my heart to spend time with God.

I know that I no longer have the discipline I had in my youth because of my selective disuse. One day, I woke up and discovered that the relative ease and ability with which I once prayed and trusted in God had become difficult, a struggle, and was all but gone. My heart has reverted to the state it was in before my faith became an active part of my life.

The lack of discipline has made my heart calloused.

I have become Matthew 13:15.

There is, of course, an "easy" answer to both of these problems: play and pray. Get disciplined again. Sure, it will hurt at first and be incredibly uncomfortable, but the payoff will come.

For those who have found they have an appendage that has become calloused and want to make it soft again, lotion can help. Treat it. Daily. Cover and coat it.

For those who have found they have a heart that has become calloused and want to make it soft again, love – the love, forgiveness, and redemption found in Christ – can help. Treat it. Daily. Cover and coat it.

And maybe even eventually sing about it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Blood Makes Noise


I have no clue how my car works.

This confession may potentially cause irreparable damage to my "Man Card," but what the hey: it's not like I use the darn thing all that often anyhow.

I used to half-heartedly joke that I hoped the magical elves that lived under my car's hood never went on strike, or I'd be in major trouble. Back when I was an undergrad, the first time I tried to change my car's oil all on my own, I wound up actually draining the transmission instead. When the water reservoir fell off my engine (don't ask), I decided to repair it myself...by using duct tape and just strapping it back on (never really taking that whole "heat melting glue" thing). When the came time to trade this car in for a newer one (that, y'know, worked), I was elated they actually offered me $500 in trade for it. I practically threw the keys to it over my shoulder as I ran out the door, hoping that I could get away before they took a closer look at the piece of crap they just bought.

Automobiles and I have never really understood one another.

However, if there's one thing through the ages of my driving that I have always understood in terms of how the horseless carriage works, it's the gas tank. Next to the stereo system, it's probably the only thing I really "get" about how a car operates. Cars need gas. Even my addled brain understands this.

Lately though, I feel like my car and I have had the same problem: we've both been running on fumes. And I feel like we've both been doing so for far, far too long.

It's not that I'm oblivious to the potential damages being done to my engine. And although I moan about how expensive it is to fill my tank, and I get annoyed that it takes time out of my busy schedule to have to stop and get filled up, also I know the longer that I run myself hot, the cost will be potentially higher to repair the damages, both internally and externally.

As I literally and metaphorically drive down the street, I see that I am surround by gas stations. Why, one might even be able to say that there's one on every corner. They all bear different brands and names, but ultimately sell the same product; although, granted, some may offer a slightly watered-down mixture of fuel. And they all make the same promise: stop in here, get yourself fueled up, and you will have better performance, better mileage in your life.

I just, quite honestly, don’t feel like I know how to fill myself up, or what I am to fill myself up with.

I really just need something to remove this gunky, black buildup of sludge and mess from me that's blocking my performance. My heart needs to pump something clean. I need to flush this system of mine, and start being consistent in actually getting fuel, taking the time to fill myself up fully and not "just enough" to make it to the next time I need to “top myself off.”

My windshield, for once, is clear. It's the rest of the car that's at issue right now.


Thursday, April 07, 2011

Animal, Vegetable, or Ministry?

So, somewhere around 2:17 in the morning during day #2 of Kai's hospital stay last week, after stumbling through the corridors of the children's center trying in vain to find something that could pass for a cup of coffee, a thought struck me. This was somewhat surprising, given how little sleep and food I'd had for the past few days; I could have sworn my head shut down the second the words "we're admitting him to the hospital" passed through the mouth of the attending physician. 

Regardless, a series of telling - and somewhat sad - parallels began to become evident in my addled brain between this place, my former field of employment, and the location where people of my faith choose to worship.
Therefore, instead of "Two Truths and a Lie," let's play "Hospital, Student Affairs, or Church."

And just to keep the game fun, please note this is not a blog post about all three are places where people get healed, where sick people go, where lives are restored, or any other tried-and-true comparison. What got me was that once the specific, descriptive qualifiers are removed…it’s almost impossible to tell one from the other.

Hi, There, and Welcome To Our Campus

"We've got greeters and stations where you can stop, find out where you are, and try to see where you should go next. We even have offices and people who work here with the word 'Campus' in their titles, so we understand the importance of making this feel like a true community.

"And yes, we know the parking sucks, but what can we do? We just keep growing, and parking is a premium."

At the outset of your adventure on this campus, different people keep asking you the same questions over and over again, basically trying to find out what your story is, what your history looks like. You're front-loaded with information about the campus, which is great, but it's too much to absorb all at once, especially since you're in such a heightened emotional state with all these strangers asking personal questions.

That's a Real Job? Did You Actually Go to College For That? 

No one is really quite sure how to describe exactly what other people in other departments or divisions do. In fact, when meeting some of these same people for the first time, you almost get the feeling that HR just gave up and let them fill in the blank on their job title and responsibilities. 

And why is it that it apparently takes two to three people to do the job that one might be able to do, slightly more efficiently? And do you people with overlapping duties or areas ever speak to one another? You know, to better serve the people you were hired to serve? Just asking, because it seems to me a lot of the red tape and redundant questions could be eliminated if we all just played nice together.

This Is What Makes Us As Different As Everyone Else

This campus has its own language. Non-native speakers who come here sometimes need someone to decipher the words, concepts, and phrases we use. We've been using them among ourselves for so long, we forget that outsiders won't be able to "get" what we're saying. We have our own sets of rituals, rules, and ways of doing things that we have done for - oh - forever, so we're vested in them, even if there might be a more efficient or inclusive way of doing them. And what Campus Office A does might follow a different subset of protocols from what Campus Office B does. Yes, yes, yes: one might think that since we're all under the same overall name and serve on the same campus that we should all do things the same way, but we all have our own territories to protect.

"That's not my job" isn't an excuse.


Expect the more intelligently-written blog posts to return next week. Have y'self a great weekend. 


Sunday, April 03, 2011

Take a Look at This Book: LOVE WINS by Rob Bell

Okay. People* have wanted to know what my thoughts on the "moderately controversial"** new book from Rob Bell called Love Wins are. 



So, in a nutshell, here is my review:

It stinks.

I mean - that plastic overlay? The stock photo above doesn't do it justice. It uncomfortably reminds me of getting a book from my elementary school librarian. And for a book collector like me, it's doubly annoying because the darn thing can get scratched too easily! And the FONT! THE FONT! Don't get me started on the FONT! ALL CAPS! WHY ARE YOU YELLING AT ME, ROB BELL? And things don't get better once you take the plastic overlay off. That black "Love Wins"-text-by-way-of-bad-paisly-shirt-designs-from-the-70's motif that just sprawls across the front? Ick. And the spine. Quite frankly, Mr. Bell, I expected better from you. 

Farewell, Rob Bell...'s graphic designer.

...what? Oh - you want my review of the content of the book? Sorry; I've not read it completely yet. Since it seemed to be "the thing" on teh Interwebz to sit back and judge this book by its cover, I just thought I'd jump on the bandwagon.

On a more serious note, since Kai was hospitalized last week, and I've been sick for the last four days, I've not really had a chance to sit down and write a blessed thing. So, I just thought I'd have a little fun. 

If you're looking for a GREAT resource by someone who has read the book, check out Rachel Held Evans' website. You won't be sorry.

* = actually, no one has asked
** = that's sarcasm, by the way