Yesterday I was running on two of my favorite sections of the Green Circle Trail (the Paper Mill and River Pines sections). It was a beautiful Fall day, which made for enjoyable running. When I was running over the footbridge that traverses the Plover River I looked down and saw that someone had written “Stop and Take It In” right in the center of the bridge. You can see a photo of the script above.
As you can see from the image below, it was really good advice. I love Wisconsin in the Fall.
Last night I was talking with Pam about some thing I have been thinking of for a while, and especially after finishing the book “Practicing Theology“, a collections of essays editted by Miroslav Volf. I often feel like theology is treated like something ethereal and other worldly that has nothing to do with real life. Christians often have little ideological “check boxes” that you need to say the correct thing concerning, which are then once they are checked they are promptly disregarded as having nothing to do with real life.
“Do you believe in the Trinity?” “Are you Calvinist or Arminian?” “Please explain your understanding of salvation?” “Okay, now that we have gotten through that stuff let’s talk about practical things.”
But our big beliefs are really what define how we live. If you say you belief in one thing and then you consistently do the other, even when confronted by a realization that you big belief says otherwise, then there is a really good chance that you don’t actually believe what you say you believe. That’s why they are called foundational beliefs. Everything else, from further beliefs to daily practices, are based off of these foundational beliefs. The big things are the most practical, not the least practical.
For example, one Christian practice is the practice of hospitality. This isn’t begin good at throwing parties, actually when done wrong parties could very well be the exact opposite of the definition of hospitality found within the Bible. We understand biblical hospitality through understanding the foundational beliefs of Christianity. our understanding of the Trinity, as the God Who is community in and of Himself and invites others into His community, should lead our understanding of biblical hospitality. If you just invite people over for big, fancy, controlled gatherings is that really representative of a God Who invites us into His real self? Our understanding of salvation also affects how we live out hospitality. If we understand salvation to be a free, gracious gift that is unearned and we aren’t worthy of receiving on our own, how does that change the ones we invite into our lives? If you and I only invite the worthy into our lives, do we really believe that salvation is the grace of God, or do we secretly believe we are chosen because we are worthy?
For those of us who are believers our foundational believes are/should be the most important thing in directing how we follow Christ. A.W. Tozer put it this way:
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
I would put it this way:
For good or bad our real foundational believes are the most practical things in our lives.
So for a while on Thursdays I am going to be posting about various foundational Christian beliefs and how I believe them to be incredibly important for our daily lives, rather than just theological “checkboxes” to be checked and then forgotten. I’m not saying that i will do this every week, but I will do it consistently till I have covered the ones that I believe are foundational. In other words, I will pretty much cover the beliefs that are covered in the Apostles’ Creed. For those who don’t know it, her is the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,born of the Virgin Mary,suffered under Pontius Pilate,was crucified, died, and was buried;he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again;he ascended into heaven,he is seated at the right hand of the Father,and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,the holy catholic Church,the communion of saints,the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body,and the life everlasting.
So I was talking with Pam about this while we netflix binged on episodes of the Blacklist and I told her I was thinking about doing a weekly blog about this. When I get passionate about something I have a tendency to start talking pretty fast and raise the pitch of my voice a little. I’m sure I was doing this when I was talking with Pam because this is important to me (just ask Mindy at Emy J’s who I talked with concerning this earlier today as she was pouring my coffee). Pam started smiling as I was talking and I was sure it was because she recognized the brilliance of this idea. Instead she said through her smile “You should call it ‘Theology Thursdays’!” I tried to convince her that Theology Wednesdays would be better because of the fun of the dissonance of people thinking “He should have done this on Thursdays because it would sound better.” Since one of my foundational beliefs is that Pam is among the smartest people in the world I figure I should listen to her. Therefore, Theology Thursdays begin next week with the Trinity.
If you have ever been to a baptism at a Tapestry worship gathering the Creed will sound familiar, since it forms the questions that I ask of anyone being baptized. ↩
As a pastor I typically have one of three interactions with people when they want to schedule a meeting with me to talk about something important.
Someone without a church background typically just says “Hey can I talk with you sometime?” Simple, and straight forward. I like this.
Someone who has previously been a part of the church world and has consistently heard stories of how busy pastors are (often from the pastors themselves) will usually approach me by first saying “I know how terribly busy you are and I promise not to take too much time, but could we meet sometime?” I know these people are trying to be nice, but it crushes me that often their experience has been that pastors are too busy to be bothered. This isn’t the person’s fault. It is the fault of a misconception that has gotten into ministry. The idea that busyness, either real or perceived, is some how honoring to the God Who actually said that keeping the Sabbath is how He wants to be honored. ARGH! It drives me nuts.
Someone who is involved in Tapestry and wants to talk just usually asks “What time are you going to be at Emy J’s tomorrow?” I think they know that I am there because I want to be available to them, and if for some reason I actually am too busy to talk at a certain moment I will be honest with them, tell them I can’t talk right at that moment, and then immediately schedule another time. I love this.
This is one of the things I love about chaplaining too. People assume that I am there for them and therefore they aren’t an interruption. If I ever reach the point that I am too busy to be involved in what God is doing in individuals’ lives then please don’t call me a pastor. I might be a preacher, teacher, or speaker but I won’t be a pastor and shouldn’t be called one. Pastoring implies shepherding and shepherding involves intimacy with people.
If this new plugin for my blog works then right above my text should be a photosphere of where Marc & I tried to duck hunt today. A photosphere is a pretty cool panorama like thingie that is a part of the stock android camera. It is a panorama that does a °360 wrap photo. I like it because every now and then it is nice to be able to show an complete rather than just taking a photo of one spot.
For example, today I wanted to show Eric, who I usually go duck hunting with, exactly how much water this spot had around it. You don’t know this but the banks of the river that Marc and I were hunting today are usually about 10′ in front of us and, while I have heard the area floods during the Spring, I have never personally seen water outside of the river. It was all around us today. Basically Marc and I were hunting in a swamp. A great place for Wood ducks, unfortunately just not today. So we’ll see if this wordpress plugin allows me to embed photosphers or not. If it does then you can see the swamp we were walking through at 5:30 this morning.
Thankfully we should have cold weather soon, which will push Mallards down from Canada and I will be able hunt at my personal favorite spot. Right now that spot is under 24″ of water. Hopefully that will change soon and I will be able to start going there. The photo at the top of my post is that spot and I am looking forward to using it.
I have a love/hate relationship with conspiracy theories. The love part is that I am fascinated by the ability that some have to turn almost anything into a conspiracy. There is always some dark agenda just right behind any random bit of news. There are strings that are being pulled behind all world events and only a select few are smart enough to see these strings. The rest of us are just dupes. In my opinion, there is a lot egoism behind conspiracy and fear thinking – I’m smart enough to figure this out, while you are just like all the other sheep (BTW you are more than welcome to call me a sheep – sheep have a very favorable connotation in scripture). I also think conspiracy thinking has a fascinating interplay of all-powerful forces and complete ineptitude. “These people really know all about this event and they are just trying to keep you in the dark” and yet they are so inept that a guy living in his mom’s basement is able to figure out their secret. Like I said I find it intriguing.
The fear part? Well this conspiratorial thinking often becomes the excuse for people to act in the most inhumane manners. This type of thinking works off people’s fears and fear is a powerful motivator to do things that normally nice people would never think of doing. Fear let hateful actions masquerade as loving actions. “I’m only acting like this to protect my family.” For example, apparently some of the Sandy Hook conspiracy people have harassed the parents of some of the kids who were killed in the shooting. What type of heartless nut would pester these heartbroken parents? “Well,” the claim goes, “it isn’t really heartless because the whole event was staged and the parents are just actors.” This would make such harassment as cruel as me telling Clint Eastwood that I know he didn’t really shoot people in “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (my favorite movie and one that you should go watch right now). In fact, the people spreading the conspiracies and fear would probably say that confronting lies, and the actions those lies are used to encourage or discourage, is actually a good and loving thing to do. Fear is such a powerful motivator that it takes hate and makes it look like love.
Why am I posting this? Well because I am tired of seeing conspiratorially/fear based thinking on my social media feeds. My feeds aren’t full of such thinking because the majority of my friends don’t go in for that type of stuff. However, I do have a few such “friends” and unfortunately their posts that are based on fear get a lot of attention and therefore end up showing up on my feeds. The good news is that using the Old Testament I believe I have come up with a method that will make the sightings of fear based thinking and action even more infrequent within my news feeds.
20 But the prophet who dares to speak a message in My name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods—that prophet must die.’ 21 You may say to yourself, ‘How can we recognize a message the Lord has not spoken?’ 22 When a prophet speaks in the Lord’s name, and the message does not come true or is not fulfilled, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.
When you think about it this was really a pretty good system for preventing false prophecy. You want to say something about the future and think it might draw a little attention? Well you better make sure it is accurate because there is a pretty steep cost to pay if you are wrong. But there isn’t really a cost to pay now for making outlandish predictions or claims. You can say that Oreos have been created to be addicting through a mass North Korean plot to take over Instagram for use as a weapon of mass annoyance, and six months down the road when this is proven wrong nothing will happen to you. Since there are no social ramifications to encouraging mass hysteria there is no real incentive to make sure that what you post is true. Nope, there’s no need to even check snopes.com for a quick debunking, since it costs you and I nothing to be wrong. This wasn`t true for the prophet who had to be worried about being stoned if he/she was wrong.
So stoning is my philosophy now. If you decide to speak prophetic warnings (i.e. “this is what is coming down the pipe, folks”)1 and what you say doesn’t happen then I am going to FIGURATIVELY stone you, i.e. nix you from my social media feeds. So if you say there is a vast right wing conspiracy out there or that the lefties are actively trying to destroy America or that some agency/organization is secretly hiding information from the American public that will harm us all or if you post pretty much anything that Jennie McCarthy has said or linked to THEN you better have some VERY GOOD supporting evidence and it best come true quite soon or I will be nixing you from my feeds. I might even create a nice little graphic to post and let you know that you have been nixed. Maybe something fun that says “You’ve Been Stoned” or something similar. Yeah, that would be fun.
Now this goes just for those that are on the fringe of my relational world. It isn’t for my family and friends that I see/interact with a lot. Y’all may still be nuts but you are either family, and therefore you are my crazies, or you are people that I have actively chosen too associate with, and therefore at the very least I find your craziness fun. Also I’m okay calling out my true friends and family when the craziness gets a little to close to promoting hate and they do the same for me. Of course, I will still probably excuse myself to go to the restroom or get a fresh cup of coffee if you start talking about this junk. If you aren’t in either of the previous two groups (i.e. we don’t have a genetic/familia connection or I haven’t personally spoken or corresponded with you in a long time) then you are fair game. Post your craziness at your own peril … well at least peril from my news feed, because there will be no actual peril for you in your real life. In your real life you can spew all the craziness you want too, because I won’t have to listen to it.
Now I understand that there have at times been actual conspiracies, of which I am very thankful for their discovery. I remember the Watergate Scandal and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. I am thankful that these conspiracies were discovered and called out. I just don’t think the type of people pointing out these conspiracies were/are the same as those that are claiming a lot of the fear based things now. If the website you are linking to believes every conspiracy on the face of the earth, then I think it is safe to assume that their journalism isn’t of the highest quality (yeah I’m talking about you Infowars). If you find and post a genuine conspiracy or fear then I will be on your side. If you post something that ends up not coming true, or usually even close to being true, then you should be prepare to be nixed from my social feed.
I know this will crush you because it is so important that I read your posts. Just get back at me by “stonin”g me too. I’m sure I will miss being able to see all you erudite links and posts. It will be tough but I’ll try to manage without them.
So unverified email forwarders and link posters beware. The stonings commence now.
SIDE NOTE – If you found this post via my Facebook feed, congrats you haven’t been stoned … Yet. If you didn’t see this post on my Facebook feed … Well … Uhm … This is awkward … Hey look at that very pretty stone right there.
SIDE SIDE NOTE – You should hold me to this same standard. If I make conspiratorial, fear based, false predictions/statements you should “stone” me too. I will also expect a cute little graphic telling me I have been stoned.
“future telling” is only one part, and not even the biggest part, of Old Testament prophecy. The MUCH larger part is “forth telling” or in other words, “this is what God has told you in the past that you seems to have forgotten about.” For purposes of this post I am just using the much smaller future aspect of prophecy. ↩
I posted the above cartoon on my Facebook profile earlier today and it has lead to some interesting discussion. I actually posted the comic because I was considering this post and looking through some various images on Google that I was considering linking to from within the post. You see, I have been struggling with how I feel much of the Western church has been responding to the Ebola epidemic. This is just my opinion and I have no data to support it, but my online twitter and Facebook feeds (I can’t say this is true of my Google+ feed) seem to be full of people responding in fear to the crisis rather than in the hope that comes from the good news of Jesus.
I understand this fear. People want to keep their loved ones safe. If keeping those loved ones safe means not responding to someone else in need by either going to them with help or responding to them in hospitality (by which many have entertained angels without knowing it) within our own country, well that stinks, but you do what you have to do to keep your loved ones safe. I understand this type of fear. After all, I believe part of my duty as a spouse and parent is to keep my family safe.
Unfortunately that type of fear isn’t very Christian. Jesus didn’t come that we might receive a spirit of fear, which keeps us from responding to crisis, but a spirit of power, love, and disciple, which causes us to respond to crisis. In the 25th chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew the King (i.e. God) separates the faithful from the unfaithful based on whether or not they have responded to Him in certain circumstances.
The King says:
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“I was sick and you looked after me.” Whoa now! That could be risky. Of course, if you and I really believe that Jesus defeated death and therefore death no longer has anything for you and I to fear, then a little old disease shouldn’t stop us from taking care of our Lord in any of His most distressing disguises. There’s no need to fear something that no longer has a stinger. A stingerless disease can’t really have a major affect on us.
This is why the Christian church has a history of running into disease devastated cities to be with and take care of the sick. There are records of Christians responding to plagues as early as the Antonine Plague of 165–180 AD. Christians ran into towns that everyone else was fleeing because they believed they had nothing to fear from the death the plague might cause, but tons to fear from not ministering to Jesus when He was sick. The church that follows the Christ Who defeated death has nothing to fear from death and we ought to act like it.
So what does this mean for those of us who are followers of Christ? Well it means we need to respond to our fears of the present disease (and future ones too) as we would to Jesus. Most of the Christians I know wouldn’t hesitate to do something if they knew it involved Jesus. If they saw Jesus sick they would stop and help. The problem is we often simply don’t see Jesus where we should. For example, in West Africa right now. If we Christians saw Jesus right now in West Africa we would do everything we could to make sure He was ok.
Well Jesus is in West Africa RIGHT NOW and we need to realize it and get to work taking care of Him. We need to do everything we can to send over all the aide and help we can manage (and maybe even more than we can manage) and we need to respond in hospitality to those that need to come over to the States. Will this open us up to risks? Yep, it sure will. It might not make for good foreign policy but it does make for true Christianity.
According to Adam, my oldest son, I have a tendency to get involved in circumstances that almost, but not quite, leave me in serious harm. He said this after I told him about my latest such event and he is right. I do often come awful close to getting seriously hurt.
This past week I fell from painting the second floor soffits of our home. The section I was painting was above our clotheslines so I needed to place the ladder a significantly shallower angle (see the drawing above for an idea of what I was doing). It felt safe when I was going up the ladder, but once I reached the top, and it was too late, I realized it wasn’t safe. When I started to fall I quickly decided it was best to stay with the ladder all the way down, so that it would slow my fall, but that plan changed when the ladder hit the clothesline pole and flipped me off the ladder. Thus I fell 10′ or so into the loving arms of the clotheslines. The clotheslines caught me and saved me hitting the group from 18′ above the ground. Of course, once they stopped me from hitting the ground, they quickly decided to realize me and let me tumble the remaining distance to the ground.
While it left some interesting marks on my back, the reality is the accident could have resulted in MUCH greater harm than a sore and bruised back. Instead of being really hurt I ended up with a fun little story of the time I was almost seriously hurt. I kind of like that.
Today I wasn’t quite as close to serious harm. While the single track mountain biking trail at Standing Rocks Park isn’t my favorite single track trail around, it is the closest. I am very thankful to have a close place to ride my bike. One of the things I like about the trail is that I always see a fair number of deer when I am riding there. In fact, sometimes I see those deer pretty close up and personal, because they are standing on the trail when I whip around a corner. I haven’t hit one yet, but I have literally scared the crap out of one before. Literally. Today I got a little closer than normal to actually hitting one of the deer. I went around one of the tighter corners at Standing Rock and scared a deer that was so close that it kicked dirt into my face. That was kind of fun. I don’t really want to hit a deer while I am riding my mountain bike because 1) that could really hurt me and the deer, and 2) it could really hurt my bike and I don’t want that to happen.
“I’d tell them that pastoring is not a very glamorous job. It’s a very taking-out-the-laundry and changing-the-diapers kind of job. And I think I would try to disabuse them of any romantic ideas of what it is. As a pastor, you’ve got to be willing to take people as they are. And live with them where they are. And not impose your will on them. Because God has different ways of being with people, and you don’t always know what they are.
“The one thing I think is at the root of a lot of pastors’ restlessness and dissatisfaction is impatience. They think if they get the right system, the right programs, the right place, the right location, the right demographics, it’ll be a snap. And for some people it is: if you’re a good actor, if you have a big smile, if you are an extrovert. In some ways, a religious crowd is the easiest crowd to gather in the world. Our country’s full of examples of that. But for most, pastoring is a very ordinary way to live. And it is difficult in many ways because your time is not your own, for the most part, and the whole culture is against you. This consumer culture, people grow up determining what they want to do by what they can consume. And the Christian gospel is just quite the opposite of that. And people don’t know that. And pastors don’t know that when they start out. We’ve got a whole culture that is programmed to please people, telling them what they want. And if you do that, you might end up with a big church, but you won’t be a pastor.”
I usually try to go to a conference each year. These conferences push me to consider new ways of Tapestry being the church. The past few years I have gone to the Q conference and it has been really good, but two years ago I decided I needed a break from it. I spent the next year finishing my dissertation, which was enough for me. I’ve started looking for something else and to be honest I haven’t really found anything that I am really excited about. Must of the conferences I have looked at seem to center around bringing in a Christian celebrity pastor to preach a sermon at you. I’m not real interested in that. I can listen to those preachers online so there is no real advantage to spending lots of money to go to one of those conferences.
I’ve recently asked a group of ministerial friends that I love and respect if they would just pick a conference and I would go there to join them. I figure I’ll get more out of hanging out with them and asking what they are struggling with and succeeding with, than I will with any conference. I actually wish I could just develop my own conference but I don’t really know what it would look like.
At this moment this is what I think I would like to do.
Get 20-30 ministers from various backgrounds together in a cabin secluded somewhere. Perhaps in the woods.
Pick a very simple theme . I tend to think that simple questions/theme have way more depth than more complex questions/theme. For example, I think it would be fun to ask such a group of 20-30 ministers to define what it means to be the church in their areas. I feel like we don’t usually ask that question, and therefore don’t really even know what we are trying to do. Instead, it feels like we Christian ministers often ask “how do I do church better.” Which is my opinion isn’t the more important question.
Ask a few decently respected theologians/thinkers to recommend some books and articles and the simple theme/question we will be discussing and then get all the attendees to read those articles and books before coming to the cabin.
Kidnap one of those respected theologians/thinkers to lead a group discussion or two. As you can tell I a would be all in on this conference because it would probably result in some prison time afterward.
After each kidnapped theologian led discussion group send all the participants out for some solitary speculation concerning what it discussion would look like in their ministry contexts.
Come back together and discussion what we each thought out concerning our ministry contexts and learn from each other.
make some awesome meals together and do some fun outdoor activities together.
This is the conference I would like to find, or maybe create. So, anyone have access to a cabin and willing to kidnap Miroslav Volf or perhaps Kathryn Tanner (whose writing I am beginning to like a lot)?