8th & Wyandot: Keeping A Big World Small

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Last summer I took a few kids on a short hike less than an hour outside of Denver. The whole thing was a bit of a nuisance to me, to be honest. I had so much work that needed to get done that the thought of burning an entire morning on a hike seemed like a terrible waste.

The moment that turned this morning around for me happened on the drive into a beautiful foothill community when one of the kids, who had lived in Denver her entire life, said “This is the furthest away from Denver I have ever been!” Her statement was enough to make me pause. Most of the people who move to Denver come, at least in part, because of the accessibility of the mountains. “Everyone” has gone on at least a few hikes. But somehow she had fallen through some pretty big cracks in my assumptions during her 11 years of life.

The hike was a blast, partly because she kept noticing everything with such excitement that it caused me to remember how amazing the mountains really were. She noticed the flowers, the rocks, the trees, the chipmunks. Everything was new, and she soaked it all up.

It’s funny how I tend to resist the bigness of our world. I experience something breathtaking, like the mountains, and my brain immediately goes to work trying to make it all fit into the boxes of assumptions and awareness that already exist. After a while, hiking in the mountains feels no different than watching a movie.

This season invites us into an experience of new birth—to be born again. The thing with being born is that a child enters into the same world they have always been a part of, but have never seen. The invitation to be born again is often not an invitation into something outside of us or outside of the reality of our lives. It’s an invitation to take a second look, to dig a little deeper and allow ourselves to see all the familiar things with new eyes. Just like my experience of hiking with a first timer, I am invited to stand in awe of the breath taking nature of this life I have been living all along.

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.
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Exploring Spirituality: We need to have a conversation

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Last weekend I had the chance to visit my brother in Omaha. While we come from the same womb, in some ways we couldn’t be more different. For the past few years, politics and spirituality were things we just pretended didn’t exist. I can’t speak for him, but for me the primary thing that maintained the silence was fear. I didn’t want to drive unnecessary wedges between us, so we talked about his latest hunting trip, my favorite soccer team, what our favorite beer was that week, etc.

Something really cool happened during my recent visit. We talked. I mean, we actually talked. We covered spirituality, politics, and obviously still beer. We didn’t try to convert each other as much as we simply opened up about our own convictions. I feel like I have seen my brother, and that he has seen me, with a new level of raw honesty. It was great and I really believe that it has pushed us deeper into our appreciation and love for one another.

It feels like we restarted the conversation. I have been thinking a lot about this idea of conversation lately. I listened to a podcast recently where Krista Tippett interviewed the philosopher and poet, David Whyte. Whyte sees conversation happening all around us–the conversation between the sea and the shore, between the sun and the moon, etc. I love that imagery. Everything in conversation.

But this also brings up a great tragedy for me. In the Christian household, the conversation has been feared for quite some time. It has been feared so much that in many instances, it has even been forcefully ended by silencing the “other side”. This has happened a number of times, but two specific examples come to mind.

1. Christianity got into bed with the Empire.

When the Christian Church was “Early”, there were many voices in the conversation. The voices ranged wildly and offered different perspectives, asked different questions, and forced the Church to constantly evaluate its beliefs and commitments in an effort to be sure that they were following Christ as closely as possible. Now I don’t want to romanticize this period. People were called “Heretics”. They were passionately argued against. They were told that they were wrong. But…they weren’t silenced. The early church didn’t have the power to silence teachers who challenged their interpretation of Jesus’ teachings. They simply had the power of argument and reason. Essentially, the conversation was lively!

Once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, (4th Century) that little problem of not having the power to silence the “other side” was solved. It was during this period of the Christian story that Pelagius was excommunicated and branded a Heretic. He was forced to finish his days in exile away from Rome. It wasn’t the Church that eventually made sure of this, but Rome itself through the tireless effort of Augustine of Hippo. His was only one of several voices that were seen as problematic. And so, the inconvenient voices were no longer present. The conversation was silenced.

2. The Celts were finally tamed.

There was one stream of Christianity that had somehow managed to exist just outside of the Empire’s reach. That was the Christianity practiced in the Celtic world. Largely inspired by voices that were no longer allowed in Rome, like Pelagius, the Celts were off-beat compared to the Roman Mission of Christianity. They held women in high esteem, they saw the essential goodness of all created things, and they had no interest in conforming their way of spiritual practice to the demands of Rome.

In 664, Rome had finally had enough and the head on collision between the Celtic Mission and the Roman Mission occurred. It is no surprise that the Roman Mission was victorious and the Celtic Mission was ordered to conform to the Roman practice of Christianity, including the silencing of the voices deemed “Heretic”.

The tragedy of this moment is not simply that the Roman Mission won and the Celtic Mission lost. The tragedy was that the two could not find a way to engage in conversation, but instead engaged in war–the fruitless fight to prove that I am right and you are wrong. Once again, the inconvenient voices were no longer present. The conversation again was silenced.

We live in an age where many of us are tired of this dualistic mindset. We are a people who don’t buy into the lie that if you are not Republican then you absolutely must be Democrat. We are a people that don’t buy into the idea that wisdom does not exist in the tradition and perspective of “the other”. We are a people who are tired of the silencing of the conversation. So, let’s reclaim it!

Let’s not be afraid to read the Heretics. Let’s not be too proud to embrace our friends with whom we disagree. Let’s listen to one another. Let’s hold our convictions with deep commitment and also deep humility. Let’s reclaim the conversation!

Remembering Francis of Assisi

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Today we remember the man who Pope Francis chose to name himself after. To say that Saint Francis left an imprint on the heart of Christianity would be an understatement.

The Northumbria community remembers Saint Francis on October 4th. The following is a passage out of their “Celtic Daily Prayer”.

John Bernardone was nicknamed Francesco (‘Frenchie’) because his mother was from Provence. His father was a wealthy cloth-merchant. Francis was ill after a year’s imprisonment during a local war. As he recovered he began to care for the poor and the lepers. He began to give away his father’s goods.

The painted crucifix in the derelict church of San Damiano seemed to say to him, ‘Build My Church, which, as you see, is in ruins.’ He began to rebuild the chapel, stone by stone. but the word he had received there also spoke prophetically about a renewal and rebuilding of the larger Church of his day–a rebuilding through a simple loyalty and obedience to Christ and a rejection of all the Church’s clutter, corruption and compromise.

Francis brought conversion by example. Taking off the clothes that his natural father had paid for, he stood naked and asked for the Church’s covering and protection. With some embarrassment it was given. Francis and his order of Brothers Minor in absolute poverty continued to embarrass and energize the Church. Like Jesus, it was said of Francis that the poor ‘heard him gladly’.

Because so many of his followers were clever, well-educated men, many of his sayings and numerous accounts of the incidents of his life have survived. The most famous prayer that is ascribed to him was not in fact his own, but aptly sums up his spirituality: ‘Lord, make me and instrument of Your Peace.’

Do I Worship Jesus Too Much?

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Photo Credit: Daniel Sauvé

Is it possible to worship Jesus too much? This is a question I have been tossing around, because I think my worship of Jesus can sometimes get in the way of my following Him. What I mean is that Jesus has utterly turned my life upside down through my learning to remember that along with being God’s Son, He is a person—a human being containing flesh and blood just like me and you. I have been disoriented by the reality that He is a teacher with a highly controversial message. I have been brought to tears by the reality that I feel safer when I see Him as a distant diety that I can throw a few prayers at every now and then, rather than also recognizing Him as a revolutionary Rabbi begging me to take up my cross and follow Him.

The past 6 years have been incredibly formative in regard to how I see Jesus. My wife and I agreed that we would never be the same after living among homeless neighbors—men, women, and children—at Joshua Station. We moved into this incredible place looking to “minister to the poor.” I put that line in quotes because it represents one of the many ways my lens has been transformed by our experience here. I no longer see what I do as ministering “to” anyone. I see my work more as participating in the radical movement that Jesus invites us all into—the scandalous act of loving those our society would rather forget about and joining in the fight for justice alongside of them.

If that last line made you a tad uncomfortable, rest assured, it makes me uncomfortable too. That is why worshiping Jesus is so much easier to me than following Him. When I worship Jesus, I divide my week up and apportion a day or two for intentionally praying, singing, and learning about Him. The rest of my week is then dedicated to the separate “normal” stuff of work, family, etc.

The problem here is the lack of evidence that this is God’s desire for us. Just look at the radical way that “The Way” impacted every avenue of the Disciple’s lives. It seems that a difficult and radical question that we should ask might be “What does it look like for me to follow Jesus here and now?” Your answer will (and should) differ from mine, because your context is not my own.

I have learned over the years that following Jesus at Joshua Station means a lot more than praying for my kids, although I do pray for my kids. It means a lot more than teaching my kids about how much Jesus loves them, although I do that as well. Following Jesus at Joshua Station has meant that I allow myself to sit in the discomfort of listening to our families’ struggles through social ridicule, economic hardship, and systemic oppression. Following Jesus here has meant that I engage much more in politics as I see the affects of policy decisions much more directly now than I used to. Following Jesus at Joshua Station has taken me to rallies on behalf of Immigration Reform, Black Lives Matter Die-Ins, and many other truly uncomfortable places.

These places are uncomfortable, because they are real. I guess that might be the main point I am trying to make. Exclusively worshiping Jesus doesn’t require me to recognize how relevant He is to my world. Following Jesus, on the other hand, never lets me forget it. Exclusively worshiping Jesus has allowed me to think of all His teachings as spiritual in nature and not applicable to the world around me. Following Jesus reveals the spirit of non-violent resistance at the heart of the movement He sparked. Exclusively worshiping Jesus helps me to remember Him “back there”. Following Jesus requires me to see Him in the midst of the struggles directly in front of me today.

Those of you who know me know that I am not saying, “Don’t Worship Jesus!” Instead I am trying to be vulnerable with you about a radical shift that has taken place over the years. I still do—and will continue to—worship Jesus. I also do believe that Jesus’ teachings are deeply spiritual and should be interacted with through that understanding. But I am incapable of reading the Scriptures today without seeing how this flesh and blood Man disrupted the system around Him that benefited the rich and displaced the poor. I am incapable of reading them without noticing how those around Him would have been deeply uncomfortable with His message of non-violent resistance to the system of oppression at play—especially those who were comfortable within that system, like the Tax Collectors, Priests, Pharisees, etc. I am incapable of reading them without remembering that Jesus never once said, “Worship Me”, but He is recorded as saying “Follow Me” 23 times.

It is my prayer that as we continue to worship Jesus as God’s Son, we also begin to feel the deep invitation to Follow Him as disruptive Rabbi.

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot update. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.

It’s Biblical…

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I admit that I have several pet peeves. For the past few years one of them has been the phrase, “It’s Biblical”. For anyone unfamiliar with this phrase, it simply means that if you disagree with my doctrine, you have to take it up with the Bible and God rather than me. In an effort to be transparent, I must confess that I have been a perpetrator of this line a time or thirty.

The cornerstone for this phrase can be found in the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16, which says that all Scripture is God Breathed, seems to suggest that God is behind it all. So, if you don’t like these words you have to take it up with God. I feel I must make a disclaimer lest I be labeled a “super liberal” who doesn’t believe in the Bible or God. I do, in fact, believe in God. I believe that the Scriptures are inspired by God. I have a deep reverence for these sacred texts. But, I still hate that phrase.

If I am telling you what I believe, and what I believe is formed from Biblical Study, it seems that you don’t have a leg to stand on if you disagree with me. In fact, if you disagree with me I can accuse you of not believing the Bible as God’s Word. However, in doing so I would be missing one very significant factor. While the words of Scripture are “God Breathed”, my lens, through which I am reading these sacred words, is not so “infallible”.

The biggest problem with our lens is that most of us don’t realize that we have one. We fool ourselves into thinking that our reading of Scripture is completely objective and untainted by our own selves and circumstances. This is nothing short of total ignorance. Ignorance that, like I mentioned above, I am guilty of more often than not.

So, what role does our lens play? We are living in a Western society that has experienced things like the Civil Rights Movement. We look at slavery with utter disdain and amazement that people thought it was ok. It probably shocks many of us to learn that a large percentage of churches supported slavery during, and long after, the early years of the European settlement of North America. Many of the folks responsible for these atrocities read their Bible as much as we do today. Yet, they felt that Scripture supported slavery. This is something that nearly every church in the US would condemn today. So, what changed? Did the Scriptures change? Or are we reading the Scriptures with a lens partially formed by our post Civil Rights Movement culture? A lens drastically different from that which was worn by many church leaders during a time when slavery was widely culturally accepted.

So, should we stop reading the Bible? I don’t think so. I think we all just need to swallow a bit of our pride and truly look into what our lens might be formed by. I am a Child of God. That is true. However, I am also a German American white male. I am living in a major city working with folks very different from me. I work alongside many who I would consider contemplatives. I tend to lean toward the moderate/liberal side of political issues. This is all a part of my lens.

I believe that self awareness is crucial in this case. We can’t take our lens off. But, we can become more aware of it. We can start to see when our theology reflects it. This awareness will almost certainly help us to become better Bible readers. It might also help us to become better people. When engaging someone we disagree with, we might approach them with humility rather than stubborn pride. Rather than shouting, “It’s Biblical!” We might be willing to admit that our interpretation is not infallible. Who knows, we might even have a real conversation that bears fruit rather than a pointless debate that merely hardens the hearts on both sides.