Monday, February 23, 2009

And a short reflection on our consumer culture...

The pervasiveness of our consumer culture can be seen dancing on the street corner as Uncle Sam, the Statue of Liberty and, my favorite, the dancing dollar bill. Paying taxes is something anyone with a job or any property HAS to do, and yet, we are such consumers and commercially driven that the tax places now need mascots to get our attention.

Pretty sad.


The Altar Ego (abridged)

I think my sermon for Transfiguration sunday turned out pretty well. Here's an abridged version.

I am a comic book guy. Because I could spend the entire day talking about comics, graphic novels and super heros, we need to limit the conversation from the start to the big three. There is a holy trinity of super heros: Superman, Batman and Spiderman. Until recently, with the arrival of the X-Men, there was a rule to super heros; the rule of the alter ego. Superman had Clark Kent, Batman had Bruce Wayne and Spiderman had Peter Parker.

Now, Superman's not my favorite, that's a toss up between Batman and Wolverine from the X-men, but there is something that sets Superman apart from the rest. Peter Parker became Spiderman: it took the bite of a radioactive spider to turn him into the hero. When he went to sleep, he was Peter Parker. He put on a costume to become Spiderman. To an even greater extent, Bruce Wayne, who had no super hero powers, put on a costume to be Batman. When he went to sleep at (k)night and woke up in the morning, be was Bruce Wayne.

Superman was different. Superman was Superman...all the time. When he went to sleep we was Superman, when he woke up he was Superman. Clark Kent was Superman's costume. The blue, red and yellow suit of Superman was the swadling clothes he arrived on Earth in. Unlike the rest, Clark Kent was Superman's costume, was the facade, the mask.

On the mountain top with Peter, James and John, we get a glimpse of what Jesus actually was. The idea of Trinity means that everything God is Jesus is. The God who in the Hebrew Bible said that one look at God's face would cause insanity in the human brain was incarnate in the person of Jesus. So when God, the Word, the Logos, the Christ, became incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, he could not appear in his true form. Instead of people responding to his message and leaving house and home to follow him, they would run away scared with melting brains.

Christ is the Superman; Jesus of Nazareth is the Clark Kent.

But, in the transfiguration, a little bit of the fullness of the life of God that was completely present in the person of Jesus shone forth. The man that the disciples ate dinner with and fished with was suddenly bright with divine light and talking with Moses and Elijah.

now, its not a perfect metaphor. We believe that Jesus Christ was fully human and fully divine; so, Jesus of Nazareth wasn't a perfect alter ego. But, at the heart of the story of the transfiguration is THE ALTAR EGO.

The story ends with the troubling call of Jesus to not tell anyone about the vision on the mountain. How in the world were Peter, James and John expected to not tell what they seen? And why did Jesus want them not to tell?

because Jesus had an altAr ego: Jesus' whole self, whole ministry was devoted and directed at the altar of the crucifixion and resurrection and anything that might get in the way of that mission must be put on hold.

We throw around the term "Christ-like" a lot. We're supposed to be Christ-like in thought and word and deed. It usually means something like the golden rule and the compassion Jesus had for the least, last and lost. But it is so much more than that! What does being Christ-like mean in light of the transfiguration? Through the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, humankind and indeed all creation is connected to the full life of the Triune God that was present in Jesus. God's self-pure love, grace, mercy, justice-is inside us all, wanting desperately to get out.

So, to live Christ-like, incarnational transfigurative lives, means in thought and word and deed, our lives shine forth the light and life of God. This is a radical world-transforming kind of discipleship, by which everything we say, do, think, is informed by the question, "How does this let God's light shine through me?"

By living incarnational, transfigurative lives that blaze with the eternal light of the Divine and, to coin a popular phrase from the graphic novels I love, with our powers combined, that light will shine in the darkness and the darkness shall never overcome it.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Who We Be

I understand that such a title makes some of you cringe in your seat, but if it's good enough for Rev. Joseph Lowery, then it's good enough for me.

The nature of the church, or doctrine of the church, or ecclesiology, has been on my mind a lot lately. What is the church? Who we be?

First a distinction must be made between the nature of the church and mission of the church. Much of the problems in modern ecclesiology are the results of confusing the mission for the nature. As part of a recent assignment, I looked at the ecclesiology of the United Methodist Church as one who was unfamiliar with the tradition. My method was to search the denomination's website for definitions of the church. I came to find the mission of the church, to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, had been put in place of its nature. With outside eyes and according to the website, this denomination exists solely for the production of disciples. While researching, I couldn't get the image from Pink Floyd's The Wall out of my head: during the song Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2, dozens of individual students lined up on a conveyor belt moving forward, dumping those students into a meat grinder and spitting them out the other side as conformed, faceless copies of one another.

Now, I don't disagree with this mission of the church; I believe there is much much more the church is supposed to do. The issue at hand is that what we DO should be different than WHO WE BE.

The church is an incarnational, communal icon of the Triune God of Love. This seemingly simple statement deserves some unpacking.

The church is incarnational. We are the Body of Christ; living, breathing instruments through which Christ continues to proclaim, reveal and establish the radically different kind of love in the Kingdom of Heaven. The nature of incarnation, in that Christ, God, the Logos, the Word, Order, Essence of God became human, makes words like "unchurched" dangerously inadequate. There is simply no such thing. Through the Word, and through the incarnation, all things live and move and have their being in God. Dividing the world into churched and unchurched denies the power of creation through the Logos and the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Thus, we need to rethink the attitude that the church is a closed community. The church is not a building, a steeple, nor is it limited to just the people underneath that steeple.

The church is communal. The church is a community, a fellowship. But a radically different one than the kind of members-only, velvet-rope society that defines most local congregations today (or even different groups within congregations like Sunday School classes and never-changing small groups). The greatest evidence of the community of church is in two meals: the potluck and the Eucharist. At a potluck dinner, participants in the community literally share the goods, services, gifts and, not to be crass, pieces of one another in their own bodies. Some churches, like mine, are lucky enough to actually share the meat and produce from their own farms. This unbelievable sharing and connection between people is at the heart of the community of the church.

The Eucharist is, of course, the sharing in the Body of Christ. Christ's nature, mission, life, love, self are ours, given freely by God and celebrated at the Lord's Supper.

Finally, the nature of the church must point to the nature of God. Who we be is who God are. And, I will challenge anyone who attempts to claim that God is a disciple factory and nothing more. God is perfect, complete and utter community. God is empowering love. God is such love and community that three are one, and the nature of the church must reflect and serve as evidence for the Triune nature of the Love of God.

The question that must drive all of our activity as the people of God, the community of faith, the Body of Christ, the Church, must be "how are we acting as an icon of the Trinity?" How does this choir rehearsal, this youth lock-in, this finance committee meeting embody the nature of the church as the kingdom of heaven realized on this earth? How are we proclaiming, witnessing and living the nature of God?

Joseph Lowery: "Don't expect love and sanity to go hand-in-hand. Love's gotta be a little crazy; God's gotta be a little crazy."


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Love Feast-Collabortive Effort

Hey, everybody.

We are experiencing a Wesleyan Love Feast at my churches on Sunday.

Any experience or suggestions or advice from folks who have done them before? I'd greatly appreciate it.

Thanks, B

Monday, February 9, 2009

Window and Mirror

Welcome to Window and Mirror. For the readers of Bustle in Your Hedgerow, thanks for following. I hope there's some brand new voices out there too. Welcome. The aim for this new blog is to spark conversation and dialogue about God, faith, church and life and leave all that personal stuff and movie rants to Facebook.

Thus, we begin...

I recently heard the role of each Christian person, each Christian community and each Christian institution powerfully, beautifully and simply put. Dr. Robert Martin, Professor of Church Leadership at Saint Paul School of Theology, while teaching a course called Trinity, Incarnation and Ministry, proposed that the role of the individual Christian and the community of the church was to serve as a window and mirror: a window through which people see and know God's love, and a mirror in which they see God's love in themselves.

First, let's notice what is here. The window function has almost an iconic quality, in that the image itself is not the main focus but the truth the image points to. The icon points to God. We as Christians, in thought, speech, deed and very character, should point to God's love. Rudeness, maliciousness, hatred; these are things in our being and behavior that have been cited as the main reasons people leave or do not attend church: hypocrisy. But, living as a window of God's grace and love to the world, to all creation and to all people, we can radically change the way the secular world views modern mainline Christianity-a view that desperately needs to change.

The mirror function of the call is the one we Christians tend to screw up more often than we get right. We are to live as mirrors in which people can see God's love and grace and power and incarnation in themselves. The second we stare daggers at the young person in black and pink with chains around his/her neck and dark shadow painted under the eyes, the moment we tell our children that their lives will be fine if they don't "choose" to be homosexual, in those moments, those instants of judgement we may well FOREVER be telling that person that God doesn't love them completely and eternally just exactly the way they are. Our role is to participate with the Spirit in the revelation of God's amazing, embarrassing, transforming love for all humankind. And yes-God's grace is a free gift offered to every person, even if they're different than you.

Now, what's not there? Numbers. Agendas. Formulas. Growth projections and demographic studies and focus groups and business models. "Be a window and a mirror" is not a mission statement, it is not a tag line to print on t-shirts or a step-by-step guide to creating a more "effective" ministry. It is an idea, a calling, a purpose. A way of living one's life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Because, when you think about it, that's what Jesus did. Not only did Jesus point the way to the Everlasting God (as he was God), he showed people God's presence and love within them. He made prophets out of prostitutes and to a mangy band of out-matched, out-gunned outcasts, God-through Jesus Christ the Son and Holy Spirit-transformed the world.

Live as a window and mirror-A window through which people know God's love and a mirror in which they see it in themselves.

A little more conversation, please.

Peace, B