Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jackson & Fawcett:

Pop culture lost two significant icons this past week. Michael Jackson ( and Farrah Fawcett ( have each left a legacy behind them that anyone above the age of 20 understands (to some degree).

I've heard quite a bit of chatter attempting to mitigate our nation's focus on these two iconoclasts. For many, our nation's mourning the loss of these pop-culture figures is a demonstration of shallowness. Surely there are better lives to remember; bigger situations that should command our attention; more compelling news to follow.

Of course that is true. I don't know anyone that would say Michael Jackson's death is as important as Iran's current political struggles...but yet they find themselves going through a sort of grieving...a sense of loss. Charlie's Angels wasn't even a good TV show....and yet Farrah Fawcett is deeply missed and grieved.

I think the grief and sense of loss is over the era and emotions that they represent. I'm 37 and grew up listening to M. Jackson and watching (sometimes) Charlie's Angels. When I remember those years - I realize just how old I much the world has much I over-romanticize the "good-old-days." It can become easy to get sucked into an emotional catharsis comparing then to now...longing for days gone by.

There is some good learning here on many levels.
  1. We are all people who live in and through culture. Culture permeates our existence like air in our lungs. We have no choice - it simply is.
  2. We all have markers - totem poles - memories that effectively embody or capture what that particular time was about.
  3. Those markers take on an almost mythological value because of all they represent.
  4. When our icons, markers, totems, etc... leave us (death, decay, change, etc..) we grieve the loss of what was....the
The poem I posted earlier asks God to "re-brand" us in Him. I like that idea. Not that brands are bad...or celebrities bad....but that we who follow Jesus are to be identified by something deeper and more profound than our "love and/or connection" to Princess Di, Michael Jackson, or all that they represent.

We operate in culture and I love it. We also live according to a reality that is separate from our ever-changing culture. We are in this world but not of this world.....

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Re-Brand Us

Amazing poem by Walter latest-greatest-theologian-super-hero.

Wanted to share it with you.

You mark us with water,
You scar us with your name,
You brand us with your vision,
and we ponder our baptism, your water,
your name,
your vision.

While we ponder, we are otherwise branded.
Our imagination is consumed by other brands,
- winning with Nike,
- pausing with Coca-Cola,
- knowing and controlling with Microsoft.

Re-brand us,

transform our minds,
renew our imagination,
that we may be more fully who we are marked
and hoped to be,
we pray with candor and courage. Amen.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"the world"

Today I was listening to christian talk radio. This is more "duty" than "delight" to be sure, but something I feel compelled to do on occasion so I'm informed and lucid regarding mainstream - non-denominational - evangelical - dispensational thinking.

The host made this statement (and others like it) several times:

"the world is boring BUT Jesus is exciting." "the world is bad BUT Jesus (Jay-zzzusss) is good." "the world is dark BUT Jesus brings the light."

I don't get this thinking.
Who and What is the world and why is it boring, bad, and dark?
Is the world that scary place outside the church?
Is it where they show R-rated movies and serve hard liquor?
Is it where Korn and Boy George sing?

Seriously - can someone tell me what "the world" means and why we posture it as an antithetical to Jesus?

I continually find this sort of dualism in popular evangelical teaching. The idea that there is a sacred (Jesus) and a secular (the world) and we can lump just about whatever we want in any direction and make a case as to why it should be there. CCM is sacred because they sing about Jesus. Shawn Colvin is secular because she dropped the F-bomb in a song. Sacred = good Secular = bad.
I reject such thinking.

As it pertains to art, there is art that stirs you and art that doesn't. There is music played well and music played poorly. There is solid songwriting and there is crap songwriting.

I find Jesus in beauty - period.

Regardless of the artist's intention, motive, lifestyle, etc.... Jesus can indwell, work, and move through anything "the world" has to offer.

I want to integrate my life - not segregate it. I want to be surprised at the far-reaching power of Jesus - not limit Him to places where I find the christian fish symbol. I want to live in the world and take advantage of ALL it has to offer - not hide from it by calling it "secular."

Am I less of a follower of Jesus for this?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I love theologian Walter Bruggemann. While I don't always agree with everything he says, he's so clear and pragmatic about his perspective that I find great challenge and clarity in his words. Here is a quote from a lecture he gave in 2004

"We all have a hunger for certitude. The problem is that the gospel is not about certitude but about fidelity. There really isn't ever enough certitude to make us happy or safe enough. We are invited to the way of the cross - not the way of happiness and certainty."

This was in response to a question about certainty and truth. I love that he introduces fidelity into the truth conversation. We're so hung up on truth; absolute - narrative - meta-narrative - etc... Fidelity changes the playing field and introduces a new metric as supreme over the truth debate.

It's rather convicting.
Am I living in fidelity to God and the Kingdom He's called me to embrace?
Am I allowing God's meta-narrative to challenge and inform my daily decisions?
Am I so hung up on truth and certainty about God that it becomes a distraction from the relationship that God invites me to live - one that contains a cross as much as a crown?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Worship or Mission or Discipleship?

"Worship" has been the central organizing reality of the christian church in America over the last 100 years; and in times of Cristendom what more important value could there be than "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever" (Westminster Catechism)?

Some argue Discipleship should be that central organizing reality.

Missional would claim it is mission.

So which is it...or is it just a game of semantics?

After all - worship isn't really complete without discipleship and mission. The old..."worship as a lifestyle" phrase tries to capture that. And Discipleship isn't really happening if you aren't serving and worshipping...right? Mission...well, mission isn't sustainable if we're not worshipping...and it's not effective if we aren't growing disciples of Jesus.

But....if ONE WORD has to reign supreme....I'd like to argue that it be mission. Here is my thinking...

Worship has become too synonymous with what we do on Sunday. The idea of living lives of mission Monday - Saturday is too eaisly lost in when worship is at the top.

Discipleship is very holistic sounding....but like worship, mission can be eaisily lost in the shadows of personal growth (bible study - discplines - etc...).

Mission is what the church in America needs to reclaim and elevate in understanding and priority; so that our worship and discipleship are seen in context of mission....just like our theological understanding of God is framed by the "missio-dei" - the sending God.

If mission is the central organizing reality of the local gathered church...what changes?
What re-ordering is needed?
Do you even agree that the concept of mission (or sent-ness) should be elevated above worship and/or discipleship?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mustard Seed

I love that Jesus used parables to teach Kingdom truth. It resonates with the artist in me. Parables give truth room to breathe...they aren't linear and literal, but artistic and abstract.

The parable of the mustard seed found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke (and Thomas for any Catholics out there) has been on my mind lately. Here is Luke's telling from 13:18 - 19 (NRSV):

"He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches."

Loads of meaning here...

  1. start small - ends big
  2. grows beyond its limits and provides shelter for the birds
  3. it was intentionally planted in a garden" (that is crazy given it was a weed)
  4. counter intuitive given the "cedar of lebanon" image used in the OT
  5. hearkens back to Daniel and Ezekiel imagery regarding the coming kingdom of God

Here is what kicks my buttocks...and why I love this parable so much:

  1. Mustard seeds were outlawed by the religious institution of the day. This can be found in the Torah, Mishnah, and other traditions (both oral and written) dating back to Pharisaic times.
  2. They were outlawed largely because they were out-of-control weeds that would overtake a crop becoming 10 - 15 foot weed-shrubs.
  3. The people hearing Jesus were mostly agrarian and good "law abiding" folk - they understood this stuff.
  4. The weed grows to provide shelter for the birds...which most farmers didn't love...since they ate their seed and crops!!

So here you have Jesus, the rabbi of all rabbis, likening God's Kingdom (aka - the Kingdom of Heaven) to a small seed which grows into a weed and overtakes the garden it has been planted in...ultimately providing shelter for the birds, which were not considered friends since they ate the crops and seeds.

This is radical stuff baby! Jesus was essentially turning the established house upside down with this parable.

I am left feeling excited...and unsettled. I like gardens. I like things controlled and and secure. And is Jesus saying that the Kingdom He is bringing will uproot our gardens...and provide shelter for the people we consider problematic to our garden.

I'm hear this as good news...or....?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Church Going Deep:

I just returned to San Diego after spending 5 days with Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City, CA. I was out there (*with my family) for a variety of reasons - but my reason for posting this on the blog is simply to identify and celebrate a church that is in the midst of profound change, asking hard questions, taking risks, and wrestling with new realities in ways that encourage my heart.

It's easy for me to become cynical about church and culture. There are so many examples of church communities lost in themselves, blind to the urgent needs of their surrounding communities, and/or so culturally foreign to their surrounding demographics that gathering for church is akin to learning a foreign language. As a worship arts leader I've often felt like "cruise ship entertainment" in these settings....where the prophetic voice of God is limited by the liturgy and church culture instead of being set free and unleashed. And while it is true that several churches are "flirting" with missional thinking and practice - in my experience it has been rare to find church communities with 50+ years of history willing to dive deep and allow missional thinking to soak into its very DNA, reforming it from the inside out.

This is what I see happening at PCC - this is why I'm encouraged. They are not simply tagging "missional" onto some local or global ministries - but are wrestling with how their very role and function in their city changes in light of missional theology and values. Here are a few bullets that represent the profound level of change and dialog happening at PCC as I type this:
  1. how do we spend our money?
  2. how (and why) do we gather for worship?
  3. how do we "change the scorecard" - so our metrics measure what we value and care about (which needs to be more than butts in seats and dollars)
  4. how does a "whole church bring a whole gospel to a whole city?"
  5. how do we change the congregation's expectations and assumptions of why the church and staff exist? Moving from institutional attractionalism to missional empowerment. Moving form doing church (or going to church) to being the church.
  6. how do those who know Jesus begin to intentionally invest time and relationship into the lives of those who DO NOT know Jesus - not because we have an agenda, but because God has sent us into our world to be with people that do AND DO NOT know Him like we do.
I was with PCC for 5 days in a worship and arts capacity and these were the questions we wrestled with....even more than "how can the worship music be better" or "how can your song choice complement the message." Not that those aren't valid important questions....they are....and I love those challenges.....BUT - those questions MUST be asked in context of the larger questions listed above. I suppose what I'm really saying is this....

Check out PCC. Their compass is pointed in the right direction and even though they see a storm in front of them...they're moving forward. They are demonstrating courage of conviction, have a center of gravity, and are wrestling with the new thing God is doing in their hearts and lives. They are on the move.... and the entire Peninsula Area they inhabit is better because of this church.

This video is just a small piece of what I'm talking about....