Mercy Alley

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.Luther Down Mercy Alley, all the wretches find a home - indeed, the only home there is, and wretches are all we are.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Becoming the Imago Dei

A lot more than what I am about to write needs to be said about the Imago Dei, the image of God in man, but I need to start getting some of this out, or I will forget.

The first fact of human existence is that we are the image of God.  From this single fact comes all ethics, all art, all value, all relationship, and all mission.  This is the fundamental fact that people need to be taught, the germ seed of faith, and this is the fruit which is borne in their lives when that seed is full grown.

Jesus Christ is the Gospel, the Good News, himself, in his own person.  He is the image of God, from birth to ascendence, full of grace and truth.  He is all dignity, all pride, all glory, and at the same moment he is all shame, he is all humility, and he is all servitude.  Christ saves us in many ways, and his salvation can be understood through a whole mess of different metaphors, but one of the most critical for non-theoretical living is just this: he is the perfect image of all that we can be, in fact were born to be.

The work commonly called evangelism tends to be transactional, not transformational.  "Believe, repent, engage in non-universal ritual, and salvation will be yours."  This is a true statement like a map is a true statement about a trip - it can show you the terrain, but it is in now way the trip itself, much less the person you are or those you travel with along the way.  This way of seeing salvation is as if you were transformed into a pencil mark and slashed onto a map, compressed into a two dimensional rub of graphite.

Instead, God says that salvation is that process whereby we go from glory to glory, "being predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son."  In the Garden we were made the image of God, and after the fall, we are saved to be the image of God.

Rights and Responsibilities
I normally hate talk of rights.  It seems arrogant, it seems demanding, it seems un-Christ-like, the man of all men who laid down every conceivable thing called a right for the good of the lost.  But you can't jump to the end, and you can't lay down what you never had.

The first thing many people need to hear is that their identity as the Imago Dei is full of blessing, because it has all things that God himself has:
  • creativity - God creates, it is his fundamental identity as the base of existence.  More than producing, God expresses himself in details that no eye will see, and says his work is Good.  So too, humanity's own creativity is a wild branching tree, full of fruit and flower, each person given some voice unique to that one person, to return the compliment God has given his creation.
  • dignity/value - No one can challenge God and stand.  No one can doubt his value, because no one can truly sit in judgement on him.  His worth is independent of an observer, his only judge is himself.  No man's worth is assigned by anyone but God, and given that God stooped to share his nature, one can be sure man's worth is infinite.
  • strength/power/agency - God spoke, and all the universe blazed into new light.  God called, and mountains sprang up and oceans unfolded.  Christ lived and died, and sinners were made whole and good news was preached to the poor.  We to can level mountains, and our voice, however small, can join the divine chorus that sings to the broken hearts and demands justice.  Our hands can make a difference. 
  • beauty - not only do we have value and creativity, but those things combine to give us beauty.  One of God's many names was the Rose of Sharon.  We are a rose too, each life story in some ways similar, but in some ways different, and each difference is one more petal, one more curve that the dew traces.
  • provision/abundance - God wants for nothing.  The cattle on a thousand hills are his, and so are all the McDonalds.  He has made humanity to have dominion over it all - and we do, whatever we may make of it.  All God's children have equal share in God's earth, what comes out of it and what grazes upon it.  Never should the image of God have ribs you can count.
  • freedom
  • right to justice
  • relationship/community
  • ability to grow
Each of these things needs a chapter or something, but the one line summary out to the side should give you a rough idea what I mean.

I have to go, I will edit this post more later, but the flip side to the power of the Imago Dei is what is done with it.  God constantly sacrifices, goes low to lift up, dies to bring life.  So too must his image, sharing in his glory, share in his shame.  In fact, neither thing can exist independently of the other, just as a vine without a fruit is useless, and a fruit without a vine is wormfood.

This should go somewhere else, but follow this:
Sacred > Holy > Set Apart > Separate > Distinct > Defined > Understood > Named
Basically, the idea is that the sacredness of a thing, it's holiness, is not defined by its austerity, or its separation in terms of distance or whatever, but in being known for what it is, for being fully named.  That each thing should be what it is, as it was created to be.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Oh Man!

So, I had completely forgotten about this whole blog...thing. But, I have rediscovered, so interwebs, loogout! (That was intentional.)

Real quick though:
The story of the woman who basically founded Christianville, and a bunch of other missions in Haiti. I haven't finished it yet, but it is a pretty cool story so far.

Monday, November 07, 2005

If It Were A Snake

It would totally bite me. I accidentally came to a conclusion this afternoon that needs a lot more fleshing out, but I think one of the problems I have with Church-as-it-is is that we commit perjury - we say "it isn't about religion, it's about relationship", yet our entire service schedule and "church programming" mentality is bent away from relationship. The only time remotely approaching what you could call relationship is the standard exchange-of-greetings, and that because it is the only time you even acknowledge the person in the pew next to you.
What would a relational worship service look like? I am not even convinced that we don't need to throw out the whole concept of music worship during service, but supposing we kept it, how would it change to better line up with the reality of God. It seems like the chief characteristic of The Model For The Church, or Acts 2:42 as it is often called, was that all things were done together - really together, not just physically side by side. I think it is no coincedence that centimeters later Luke comments that they held all possesions in common, giving to each as he had need. I always complain about rich people having what others need and them not giving it, but maybe that is exactly because you can't get to Acts 2:44 without going through Acts 2:42. Hmm.

As Seen On TV

Inventions are fun. Ask me sometime to tell you my Swiffer story (I should be a thousandaire, or even a hundredaire). But unlike late night infomercials, the invention of what we call Church, or more correctly Sunday Service, is a bit of a mystery to me (ok, to be fair the bacon tree that the little girl invented gets me too, but still).
I say invention, because the formula we currently use is completely foreign to the Bible. Fully 99.9% of non-Catholic or orthdox churches in North America, and probably only slightly lower in the world, follow roughly this pattern:
1. Greeting
2. Sing 3-6 songs
2a. Some sort of congregational exchange of hellos, insulting called Fellowship
3. Communion and/or Offering (generally with meditation, then promptly rushed through and done individually)
4. Sermon (this takes up the most time)
5. Invitation
6. Closer - prayer and/or song
Now, of course there are variations on this here and there, but I feel sure that the VAST majority of churches you could walk into on a Sunday (or Saturday) morning would roughly meet this pattern. Where does this come from? And why do "para-church organizations" like campus ministries feel the need to replicate this model?
In the beginning was communion, and it was good. Well, to be fair, in the beginning were Jews, and they were good. Good Christians, at first, were good Jews (or at least after they believed in Christ they tried to live up to their heritage). On the Sabbath, they would go to synagogues to worship God which included giving, hearing the Word (and I do mean the Word, NOT a preacher's message but the actual text), singing, lighting incense and prayer, and a probably a few things I don't have listed. The next day, the Christians only would get together in homes, to read from the letters of the apostles, to fellowship (that is, to actually become involved in each others lives) and the breaking of bread, or communion. In fact, communion was really the reason that they came together, and gave occasion for the rest. Paul specifically says that he stayed late in a town to share communion with them, not to hear a preacher or sing or any other odd thing. Yet the communion we take is so quick and individual that it could hardly be a reason to get together. We were crosses all over the place, but we don't respect the actual and only symbol Jesus specifically asked to be remembered by.
Nowadays, we are obsessed and are feeding the obsession over music and musicality. Somehow, we actually think that singing stuff is worship. That is, when X says to Y "blah blah blah worship" Y thinks music. The clearest definition of worship is in Romans: "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship." I want to get sarcastic about this to drill the point home, but it is too clear and simple - as always, we conviently compress God's principles into one thing we can do once a week.
I say all this to say, enough! It has been a while since a speaker really hit me with a message. It has been ages since a worship song made me tear up. And one more rushed communion is going to eat away at my heart. I want God, and I want His family. I don't even know what I want, because all my elders in the faith seem to have resigned themselves to this pattern, and I don't even know what to look for. I just know that what makes our silly religious gatherings worth something, too me, is the people there, not the formula we try so hard to follow. And some blessed somehow, maybe through those people I will finally get to see God.
CAVEAT: I am me. I am weird. I do not speak for everyone, nor do I presume to. I am expressing my frustration with how the traditions of the church have been handed down to me. I am bothered, in a universal way, because I think our formula's let us off the hook from trying to be real alot of the time, but they aren't inherently evil or anything, they just are where I am. I don't want to be preached to, I want to talk about it. I don't want to sing a song with a repeated chorus to build a warm fuzzy in my heart, I want to cry as I watch a life changed by grace. May that be my worship and the offering of my life.

Take One For The Team

So, apparently you can have team members. I would love to have a dialogue based website going on here, so if anyone is interested in teaming up, that would be cool. Two rules: I need to know you, and you need to be prepared to write about real issues, not "I had this burrito today, it was so funny." Let me know.

A Down Hill Slide and a Crescendo

Recently one of the well intentioned guardians of one of my students made the comment to me "You know, they just don't realize that these are the best years of their lives." Two things struck me like lightining about that statement: the sad implication it held and the contempt for the issues students are facing. I will take them in reverse order.
The way most adults treat the kids shows an attitude that says "Your issues (friends, grades, identity issues) are un-real, mine (business world, bills, possessions) are." In another conversation with some of the fine folks at Christian Campus House I came to realize just how the majority of the world scoffs at youth issues. From the long run perspective, it seems like the boy/girlfriends and grades amount to a whole lot of nothing, but it can easily be argued that so will all the bills and careers adults gather. In fact, what we suffer and how we deal with it in our youth turns out, I believe, to have a greater effect on just what bills and careers we will be dealing with later than those things will have on our life-everlasting. Maybe the rebellion that seems so strong in the youth of today is reflective of the disrespect that adults perpetuate. In fact, my next step may show that it is largely the fault of adults that there are such horrible relationships.
Take a person of any age and conduct this experiment: constantly tell him it is important that he peel potatoes, and that he should try to have fun with it. But each time the monotony or stress of peeling leads him to complain, tell him that he should be glad, that these are the best years of his life, and that he has it easy because what he is doing is not as bad as the real world. See how long anyone, much less an adult, lasts in that situation.
My point is, we make kids do something that they can't understand, we tell them it is important, but that it isn't as important as our work or our issues. Essentially, we are sending two different messages with our behavior, and out of that conflict the students look for resolution. Many just shut down their minds, follow instructions, and loose all hope of finding something real (leading to a lifetime of settling, and the inability to follow God into a big picture). The few who do resist either self-destruct or rise above the system to criticize it - and the line between those two things is finer that a razor's edge, and many children are cut on it.

My Next Thirty Years
The other side to that statement is an implication that is horrifing: if these are the best years of my life, that means that it is all downhill from here. What a terrible and terrifying thing to tell a kid - and though few consciously understand that implication, the majority live out that implication by making bad choices thinking that they better have fun now because everything else will fade and fall. Not to mention that school, highschool especially, is totally lacking in a sense of purpose or connection with the grand hope of the universe, so if this is as good as it gets, most stop looking for purpose and are willing to substitute family, work, money, fame, or just momentary pleasure for a sense of what they are really here for.
Life should be a crescendo - each new day should bring us closer to the Purpose of life, closer to Christ. I hope that when I am 40, I will look back with little regret, or at least little in the way of wanting to be 22 again. Even now, I would not want to be who I was even a year ago, because these days are good days, filled with more purpose and more life than my wandering teens - and I hope this trend continues, beause I think it is more than a trend. I want to live my life like a crescendo building to the great trumpet call of the Savior. Why don't we tell the kids that, and maybe they will find something to live for, instead of being filled with fear that they will waste the best days and have nothing but a life of regret to look forward to.

Call for Suggestions
I am working on two websites for some missions I know of, and your input would be appreciated. The sites are
Christianville, Haiti
FISH Ministry
Both are just skeletons, but the look at all I am still trying to nail.
And, actually, anyone who wants to hear me rant about something, leave a note and we shall see (that occured to me after I titled this section).

Not Another One!

So now, not only do I have one silly blog, but TWO silly blogs! I am probably going to scale back the other one, cause I like blogger better (say that ten times fast), but we will see. I am going to move over some of my old content from xanga to this one, so be ready for a few articles in a hurry.

More Than A Feeling (the Boston version)

My friend Lisa questioned on my last post what I meant by the offhand comment I made about getting rid of music in church. I figured that was the perfect excuse to make a new post!
We have a screwed up view of worship. I mean, top to bottom, side to side, we as the Church in the 21st century have been fighting over the wrong things. We fight over hymns versus chorus, guitars versus organs, and all of it shows we have no clue what worship is.
The first use of the word "worship" is in the sacrifice of Isaac; the clearest New Testament reference to worship is Romans 12:1 - both these verses make clear the connection of sacrifice to worship. And yes, our singing is "the sacrifice of praise", but it is hardly the main expression of worship in the Bible. Yet, it has become so central in churches as time has worn on, because this "sacrifice of praise" generally only requires a sacrifice of an hours sleep and standining up. Not to mention that most music worship is judged on our feelings of "worshipful-ness", basically the emotional feedback we get. Sacrificing something is harder to get warm-fuzzies from. In fact, generally the sign of real sacrifice is that it is profoundly uncomfortable.
So, in our never-ending quest to swell the numbers of pew warmers, we make music more and more central to what we do. The mark of a church that is beginning to "modernize" or become relevant or start to actually reach out to people is that they change their music. Even house churches that I have attended had some music component (whether or not any of us could carry a tune in a bucket). Did the early church share in music? Yes. Did Paul or any of the great writers in the New Testament feel the need to include it on the list of things the church did? Not really. The Bible does mention "sing to each other with hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs", but the whole point is to sing to each other to encourage each other. The keys, the mark of the gathering of the saints was Acts 2:42 - prayer, breaking of bread, fellowship, and the teachings of the apostles. You could say that we do all of those, but to look at the time breakdown, you would summarize our meetings with "singing and preaching". And by the way, the preaching done today is not like that done then, and this is clear from Paul's description of the orderly church - that multiple people were to share what God was showing them, not just one person. But that is another rant.
So, music. I am just saying, not that I don't like the stuff, and I would feel weird if it was gone (for a while), but neither of those criteria are very good reasons to have it around. I think that by allowing the word worship to become so nearly synonymous with music, we have created a church that can't approach God one on one, can't worship in the truest sense of the word.