Saturday, December 29, 2012

Treasure these things in your heart

Advent is over.  Jesus has arrived and on January 6 Epiphany will remind us that he is more than just a baby, but the very Son of God.  And I wonder what things "Mary treasured up" in her heart.  The Christian calendar works like a Spirograph.  The more you go through it the more intricate and the deeper the pattern becomes.  I too like to spend time "treasuring up these things in my heart." I like concentrating on an aspect of the reality of Christ slowly, a few elements at a time.  Right now the calendar allows us to simply bask in the reality Christ is here.  In January we will reflect on all the ways Jesus is God before looking at his teachings and his journey toward the cross and the empty tomb.  But that must all wait, for today it is just enough to be happy he is here.

I suppose that is one of the joys of the holiday season.  For we intentionally gather with family and friends we don't see as often during the year.  We also reflect on the past year and anticipate the new one.  My best friend from college and seminary is visiting this weekend.  And we have simply just been hanging out.  No deep conversations just time to spend catching up and simply being in each others presence.  I have also been off of work and have spent more time with my wife and children.  And again it is just good time to simply rest in each others presence.

I think we need that with Christ at times. We just need to celebrate and rest in his presence.  Time to just be happy God...is.  And that he loves us so much he sent Christ. 

May your holiday season be blessed and full of rest and time to "treasure up all these things in your heart."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

This is a city of Concrete Bunkers


We began our day in peaceful worship and ended it in bomb shelters.

Okay that is a little dramatic but it is true to a point.  We began our day in Sunday worship at St. George's Anglican Church near our hotel.  It was a very nice and pleasent Advent service.  I especially enjoyed our reading of the Nicene Creed and our unison responses to prayers.

After that we traveled to the town of Sderot where we met with Isaac, Siva, and Joel from the orgnaization of Sderot Media.  Sderot is only 1km from the Gaza boarder and spends more time than any other city in Israel suffering from the Qashka rockets.  As a result the government of Israel has spent 500million dollars building bomb shelters for its citizens.  Every home, public building, school, and bus stop is a bomb shelter.  They are a target because most of the home made rockets that are fired from Gaza are not advanced enough to travel much further than 15km.  They have an early warning system that turns every public light red and a female voice comes over the PA system.  At this point they have 15seconds until a rocket lands somewhere in their vacinity.  People run from wherever they are to the closest shelter.  Each home has an additional room that cost about 26thousand dollars (paid for by Israel) that serves as a shelter.  For many this serves as a bedroom or a small famly room.  We visited a few of the shelters.  Many are painted very nicely and help express an artistic side of the people.  They also make art and sculptures from the rocket fragments in town.

Not only is this city of concrete and shelters it is a city full of citizens under mental duress because of the constant fear of attack.  They suffer from what they call "Current Stress" problems while people who move away suffer from PTSD.  30% of the population is under phychiatiric care, most of whome are children.

The guests who hosted us believe that the group Hamas is responsible for the attacks, not the common citizen of Gaza.  They emphasized several times that there are 1.4million people there and that Hamas is a very small number who are the problem.  They believe that there is a solution but it is hard to accomplish because the extreme minority on both sides.

Second we visited the Kibbutzim, Nir Am.  These are some of the older models for villiage life incorporated by Russian and other communist Jews who immigrated to Israel.  Basically, they were meant to be communial in the sense that all money, land, and responsibilities were shared.  This has gone out of vogue due to capitalism and now most Kibbutizm are more like Co-ops.  The family we met there was Michael and Tina and they work with the organization "Other Voices."  Their aim is to maintain relationships with individuals from Gaza so that they can continue to learn from one another and reach toward peace.  They do this by taking trips to foreign countries to meet because it is impossible for them to meet in Israel or Gaza.  While in foreign countries they share about their lives and have joint education training.  They also sponsor joint awareness events like bike rides where people on both sides of the wall ride together.  This Kibbutizm is less than a kilometer away from Gaza and has suffored rocket attacks but has not had any casualties.

These very southern parts of Israel are a very different experience than in Central and Northern Israel.  They experience life, think about politics, and approach the concept of peace differently.  Most still believe peace is possible but it will require the end to terror groups, of which Hamas being the first.  There is less Palestinian Jewish interaction here because all the towns are Jewish and there is zero crossing between Gaza and Israel.  But there is not as much animosity as one would expect given that over the past few years as many as 3,000 rockets have been fired at or over their heads.  They really believe in the goodness of the human being and in the evil of terror organizations.  It is an inspiration to see their fortitude and to hear them talk in such absolute terms their reality and their hope.  Both groups hope their country will find a way to end hostilities without being hostile in return.

They both expressed our need as Americans to question Israeli governmental decisions from time to time and not just blindly support all of its decisions.  We have heard this over and over from many leaders (both Israeli and Palestinian) we have met with. Twice our hosts referred to Israeli government as a drunk driver that needs to be encouraged to stop driving.  There are many elements that shape these comments and they will have to wait for anther day.

We ended the day by following the pattern of our Brethern partners love feast.  We ate dinner, reflected upon out lives, washed each others feet in humility, and shared in communion.  It was a very meaningful moment in the treip.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Beer, people, and peace


"What is the difference between a terrorist and a theologian?" Yusef Daher from the World Council of Churches asked us this morning while discussing Christians in Jerusalem.  "You can negotiate with a terrorist." It was a very funny moment in a very serious conversation.  Yusuf shared with us the conditions in Jerusalem for Christians.  Many find it difficult to remain in Jerusalem because they feel lost in the conversation.  There are only about 8,000 Christians in Jerusalem most of them are Palestinian.  To give them a voice the WCC decided to unite with local Christians and have them define the issues on the ground.  Two things came to the fore. Housing rights and the occupation of east Jerusalem.  After a couple years of conversation their conclusion was to love their enemy but fight evil.  This philosophy led them to love Israel but fight non violently the occupation. Their full philosophy can be found in a document called, Kiaros Document.

Next we met with Danny Seidemann. He is American by birth but he transferred his citizenship to be an Israeli after college. He has worked very closely with US and Israeli governments on trying to work through their political relationship.  He is very passionate about the health of Jerusalem and Israel.  He believes in a strong two state solution but it must include the rights to exist politically and religiously all three major religions.   His major concern at the moment is an area known as E1 that if developed will sever the West Bank in two and thus put an end to the two state possibility.  Just last week development on E1 was approved for the first time. He believes that if Israel developers this area it will isolate Israel globally from its supporters and give cause for a conflict.

In the afternoon we traveled to a town in the West Bank known as Taybeh, it's Biblical name was Ephraim.  It is the only mostly Christian town in the West Bank with three churches, Catholic, Orthodox, and Melkite.  We toured a home that would be a very good model of a home Jesus would have been born and lived in.  We also visited the only brewery in the Middle East, owned and operated by Palestinian Christians. The town is very beautiful and is surrounded be amazing views full of olive trees and shepherds.

Finally we traveled to Ramalah the defacto capital of Palestine. We met Sam Badour an American businessman who resides in Ramallah because he is married to a Palestinian and is of Palestinian descent.  Sam shared with us the difficulties involved in living under occupation in Palestine. You have to have a variety of IDs.  First you have an ID that classifies you as a Palestinian. This one makes it illegal to cross over into Israel without a permit, even though he is American.  You can only get a day permit for business or to go to the doctor and you have to cross back before 7pm.  He has a second ID that has a magnetic strip so he can apply for permits more often. It involved having a background check that took 8months to prove he was not a violent threat.  He also shared how the economic system in Palestine is micromanaged by Israel. He went into great detail here because of his business pursuits.  Suffice to share here all economic development in Palestine goes through Israel and they make it difficult.  Finally he shared how politics affect nearly every action here and how actions affect politics.  His talk was powerful and informative.

Today was a very full day that once again emphasized the beauty and wonder of this ancient world, with the reminder that this beutifiul and ancient world has had many broken moments in its history and its present is no different.  Jerusalem has been sacked 38 times in history!  There are many things that can be done.  Most common Israeli and Palestinians desire peace accomplished non-violently.  May the leaders of this world come together to try and accomplish this goal.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Farms and Old Jerusalem

Our journey today took us further into Palestine.  Today I met another Palestinian Christian.  His name is Daude (david) and he is a farmer.  His farm is on a hill in "Zone C" of Palestine.  This means Palestinians live there but it is completely controlled by Israel for the sake of all resources like water, electricity, trash etc and defense.  His land is surrounded by Israeli settlements and they would like to have access to his land as well.  He has been in a court case for 18 years defending his ownership.  So far he is still on his land.

Farming is hard when you don't have access to electricity and water.  Because Israel has the power of who gets what in Palestine most communities do not receive full water or electricity like the rest of Israel and the settlements.  They compensate by using water barrells on roofs that collect water when it is running and from rain.  Beyond that since it is under Israel control he is regularly denied building permits to build new structures to help the farm.  He is often given orders to tear down structures.  His road is also blocked by large rocks to make it more difficult for him to get to his home town of Bethlehem.

He is also the creator and leader of "Tent of Nations" a NGO that seeks to bring internationals into his farm and share with them his story and the rest of Palestine.  He also teaches nonviolence to these visitors.  Some come and stay a whole year others come just for a couple weeks in the summer.  All help on the farm in some way.  His goal is to be self sustaining at some point.

In the afternoon we traveled down to "Old Jerusalem"  what a cool place full of the oldest portions of Jerusalem.  We visited the Church of the Holy Schelpuchure and the western temple wall.  The church caused mixed feelings.  At one point I was awed by the size and scope of its mosaics.  At another point I am uneasy with the Orthodox style of worship that involves lots of gold and other ornate elements.  The wailing wall is very large and impressive.  But like the church it is neat to know this is the foundation of the old temples but I was not overly moved by the expereince.

I suppose that is risk you take with such sites.  You come hoping to be moved and sometimes you're not.  It happens.  I am also battling (as usual) some sort of nausea that has been effecting me for about 24hours.  I hope tomorrow to be in full health once I sleep it off and take my medicine.

Finally tonight we met with a self proclaimed Zionist Orthodox Jew and he very energetically shared with us all the power of Shabbat (Sabbath). He is as excited as he is informative.  I enjoyed meeting hime and hearing all about the different ways Judaism is practiced in Israel.  He also taught us many things about Sabbath that I think I would like to incorporate at some level in my own life.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Palestinian Christians under Occupation

"That was neat, now get on the bus there is more to see." And so ends our every visit by our Telos leadership.  Their purpose is to encourage us to see, hear, and understand a variety of perspectives.  It makes me feel so off balance.  For six months I have known I would be in Israel and Palestine.  I read books and articles.  I watched documentaries and the news.  I have a handle on the history.  What I have not had until now is context and "facts on the ground."  I will share what we did today, but it will take me days if not weeks to be able to fully reflect on the experiences of this week so far.

I have just completed my first 24hours inside a walled off occupied territory.  Never before had I been to such a place. And after only one day my perception has once again been changed.  Today we met with three very different Palestinian Christians.

Each had their own perspective and for the sake of their discretion I think for today I will simply share the most basic information.  We toured the Bethel Bible College that seeks to create a higher education in for Palestinians.  There are remarkably few Palestinian Christians because Christian schools are some of the best in Israel.  Christians usually go to college abroad and once there stay.  The college is trying to create in country education options.  Second we visited the "Christmas Church" led by Dr. Mitri Raheb author of "I am a Palestinian Christian."  He is not overly optimistic on politics but did encourage us to read scripture remembering it was written by and to middle eastern people.  Finally, we met with Sami Awad of Holy Land Trust a nonviolent proactive leadership development center.  His leadership techniques are powerful and give me hope.

These Palestinian Christians do not all agree on how to move forward but all agree that it must be done non-violently, through education and cultural change with all parties involved.

We also visited the Church of the Nativity the oldest Christian structure in the world.  It was a neat place full of history.  It is amazing to think about the millions of believers who have gone into this church over the years.

Today was an amazing experience I will not soon forget.  A full description and reflection will have to wait for another post.  For now let me just say, today has affected me in new ways.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Eating my way through the places Jesus walked

I am so full.  Every meal we have is enormous.  Several green salad type "appetizers" always fresh vegetables, and a main course of fish, chicken, or lamb.  Most meals have dessert.  I am so full.

Today we met with Oren Magnezy, who worked as an aid to the advisor to Ariel Sharron.  He began this work at only the age of 23!  He is only a few years older than I am and he has already been an advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel.  He shared with us his views on his government and the Palestinian/Israeli relationship.  He is a strong supporter of the two state solution for the sake of peace in Israel, security for Israel, and for the sake of the Palestinian people.  He was incredibly articulate and wise and had great insights into the political and cultural elements of Israel.  He is currently working on his private organization that works to help bring about this two state solution in Israel.   One of the things he explained so well for us was how he believes that the future of Israel will depend strongly on Israel's ability to work with Palestine to create boarders and do a fair land swap of both quality and quantity and to have equal access to "holy sites" in what ever becomes Israel and the Palestinian states.  He also shared history and future hope of Israel and how American leaders can help bring about a positive solution to present situtations.

We also were reminded the history from the past 100 years that has led to the present State of Israel.  We heard it from three unique persepectives, American CHristian, American Jew who now resides in Israel, and a Palestinian Muslim.  Their stories are identical so we know they agree on what has happene thus far in history.  They also shared some uniqe perspectives on the meaning of those historical events and how they shape the present political situation.  The big emphasis on this whole trip is two fold.  First this is not an ancient problem it is a modern "geo political" problem.  Second, it is not a religious issue between Muslims and Jews for they get along and share space for 'holy sites' throughout Israel.  The big emphasis is that this is a political problem with a political solution.  I am beginning to acquire the hope that there is a solution.  I am also learning just how much "grey" there is in this conversation that is so easily put into black and white/right and wrong polarizing parties.

We also visited the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemne and the Holacaust Museum Yad Vashom.  All of it was very moving.  Blessings.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sea of Galilee

Day 2 Israel 2012

Today was a great day spent with Israeli/Palestinian Baptists.  Baptists first came to Israel in the 1920's after a businessman from Israel went to Texas in search of work.  While there he dedicated his life to Christ and was baptized at FBC Dallas by George W. Truett!  He then encourage SBC to come to Israel and they planted a few churches.  During the 1990's the American missionaries left, leaving the 8 Baptist churches to start fresh on their own.  Today there are 16 Baptist churches in Israel and a very popular school for students k-highschool.  Their ministry in Israel is to be the evenagelical witness in Israel and to help foreign workers gain visa's and housing.  There are only about 3,000 Baptist in Israel, a very small minority among Christians.  Baptists are not recognized as an official Christian group.  They have petioned to be recognized by the Knesset in conjuction with other evangelical denominations so that their weddings and other rights become recognized.

We also spent the day on and around the Sea of Galilee or as they call it here, Tiberas Sea.  It was an amazing experience.  IT started with us traveling down to Tiberias.  The city was originally built upon a grave site and was considered a horrible place to live by the Jews.  When the Temple fell in the 70's the Sanhedrian moved there and it was the location of where much of the Talmud was constructed.   Today it is a very busy and very tightly packed town that is mostly of Arabic Muslims and conservative Jews who don't interact with each other very much.  While there we took a boat ride on the Sea and got to experience first hand the ficklness of the weather.  It was cold and rainy when we arrived and was warm and sunny by the time we left.

From there we traveled to the Mount of the Beatitudes.  Today there is a beautiful Catholic Church there where you can view the area Jesus probably sat to deliver the sermon on the mount.  It was a very moving experience where we read from the Sermon in Matthew and sang a few songs.  The church is very small but symbolic.  The grounds however are a beautiful garden scene.

Next we traveled down to the area along the sea where it is believed that Jesus appeared to Peter and the other disciples in John 21.  Again we read the passage and prayed.  It was very cool to hear the passage while looking out to the sea and almost see the boat, Peter jumping in the water fully clothed, the little fire with fish, and Jesus asking, "Do you love me?"  It was my favorite moment of the day.

We ended the day by traveling to the city of Capernaum.  This is the location where Jesus lived during his ministry.  He used it as a home base of sorts.  It is also the home town of Peter.  At this site they believe they found his home.  IF nothing else there is an amazing synogue that has two layers.  The lowest foundation is the one where Jesus would have preached and spoken when he visited the town.

Today has been an amazing day of "walking the places where Jesus walked."  TOmorrow we will travel to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  We will meet with a member of the Knesset and travel through the Jezreel Valley and visit Yad Vasham (holocaust museum).

Monday, December 10, 2012

Running through the Places Jesus Walked

Israel Trip Day One:
"A lot of people come to Israel to run through the places Jesus walked."  Thus began our introduction to Israel from our host/leader Todd Deatherage from the Telos Group.  His point was that people manage to come to Israel and spend alot of money and time visiting the sites where Biblical events occured but manage to ignore the people who live here on a daily basis.  He reminded us that our purpose for this trip is to not only "walk" through the places of Christ but to engage with people because, "Jesus is still walking through this part of the world and within the lives of the people who still live here."

Our team spent a little time getting to know each other. I am glad that we are on this journey together.  I am grateful for this expereience.  We ate our first meal together and we had quit the expereince.  Lots of greens and salad type dishes followed by varieties of chicken, lamb, and salmon.  Everything was very good and it was very neat to eat in a "community' style where we all just sort of grabbed from a central dish.

We are now in Naareth and on our second day we will go to Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, and meet with Baptist churches/schools here.  Nazareth is a city of 100,000 people nestled quit nicely into a series of hills that make you grateful for good shoes.  This is a mostly Arabic Christian community and there are Christmas trees and lights in every storefront and restaurant.  They seem out of place in this ancient city but so do the coke signs, pictures of Brad Pitt selling cologne, and the McDonalds.  The west is very much an influence in this place.

Until tomorrow.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Peace Mission

Tomorrow I leave for Israel to experience first hand and better understand the dynamics of modern Israel and Palestinian relations.  This is no sight seeing tour of common tourist destinations.  A delegation of denominational leaders from American Baptists and Church of the Brethern will journey together under the leadership of the Telos Group whose stated mission is:
Telos strengthens the capacity of American faith communities - and especially American evangelicals - to help positively trans­form the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Our vision is security, freedom, and dignity for every human being in the Holy Land, and our belief is that a viable two-state solution supported by the United States is the best and most practical way to realize that vision.   
In other words, we at Telos are genuinely pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-American, and pro-peace, all at the same time.

Friends and family alike continue to ask me, "So, are you ready (excited) for your trip?"  For a long time my answer was, "Well it is still a ways off and I have a ton of things to read before I go."  But this week leading up to the trip my answer has been, "I will get to see places I have only read about or seen on TV.  It will be cool to look upon the geography that has shaped so many of my thoughts."  I realize there is very little about modern Israel that is remotely the same as 2,000-5,000 years ago that make up the Biblical narrative.  But it will still be neat to look upon the same mountains and hills the kings, judges, prophets, and disciples traveled.

My unspoken, more honest response is, "I have no idea what to expect or hope to get out of this trip."  This is not a vacation.  I am not just a tourist to this "Holy Land"  as though I can simply look out my hotel window and romantically see visions of Christ teaching on the Galilean hillside.  For to do that I would have to look past the violence, segregation, a wall, guard posts, damaged farms, contested boarders, and the constant tension.  For this trip I am going to learn about those who live in and fight over this "Holy Land" presently. To hear all sides and meet real people who deal with these issues everyday.  We are going to meet members of the Knesset, World Council of Churches, College professors, local church leaders, community developers, have a Shabbat meal with a family, and visit some of the most polarizing communities in the land like Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Hebron.  We will also do some touristy things like visit churches, go to a museum, visit old Jerusalem, and be in Bethlehem during Advent.

We were encouraged to read several books and articles.  It has been an eye opening experience.  I have learned more about the Israeli/Palestinian divide in the past six months than in my whole life up to this point. I am looking forward to hearing how we can mirror the hope and optimism of Telos' mission statement.  Because from behind a book and behind a flatscreen TV news program, it looks difficult.  Yet I can't help being hopeful for the experience, to strengthen relationships with my ABC colleagues, make new friends from across the world, and yes walk the "places" of the Bible.  I will post when I can about this trip.  It may be everyday it may be once but keep checking back.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Advent and Encouragement

I love Advent.  I love telling the Gospel story from Creation to Christ.  I  love the read and meditate on Gods interaction with his people Israel and their responses (both the good and the bad) to Gods Gospel story.  I love to hear about the promises of God that remind me that he is intimately involved and refuses to leave us to our own devices.

I love that one candle a week is lit.  The slowly lit wreath keeps me focused because like many of you I want what I want, when I want it, and that usually means now.  Advent is such a different pace from the Christmas culture around us, that if you actually follow Advent people will wonder what is going on with you.  To slowly, deeply, and contemplatively ponder the hope of God in Christ is an exercise that cannot be rushed.

This year I will actually spend a portion of the Advent season in Israel and more specifically a day in Bethlehem.  I am especially looking forward to that moment.  I realize there is nothing similar about modern Bethlehem to Mary and Josephs visit but it will be neat to think about Micah 5:2-5 while there.  I plan on blogging a little of my travels even if they are only a few simple sentences.  So if you interested check back often the second week of Advent to follow the journey with me.

There is something different about this year that a friend pointed out to me.  This will be the first time in a decade when I am not on a church staff walking with a congregation through Advent.  This season is filled with special events, musicals, and celebrations in the life of a church.  My new role allows me to engage it differently for the first time in a while. He encourage me to engage in renewing activities with family and friends.  I plan on doing my best to apply his advice for there are few "down times" in the ministry setting I am now in.

If you are looking for some Advent advice or would like to learn what it is all about use some of the links below.  Blessings.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Plus One Justice

In a few weeks I am scheduled to go to Israel for the first time.  While there I will travel to meet with humanitarian aid type workers, a member of the Knesset (Israel's Parliament), Baptist Churches in Israel, a college, the World Council of Churches, and various touristy type sites.I will be traveling with a delegation from my denomination and with a delegation from a Minninite tradition.  Our goal is to learn more about the geopolitical situation in Israel/Palestine, understand better how Christianity impacts these groups and situations, and for my part put actual experience to places and people I have only ever read about or seen on the news.  It will be a very full trip to say the least.

As part of my preparation I was asked to read a series of books and articles about the Israeli and Palestinian struggles.  To put it mildly it has been like drinking from a fire hose.  Even after reading several books and articles and trying to catch up on the past 100 years in that region I am not sure I fully understand every detail.  I am not sure anybody does.  Please don't read or hear the following as any sort of expertise on the subject but simply an observation from a small sampling of history in a place I don't live, involving people I don't know, and faiths I don't practice.  But one thing that has stood out to me in my reading is a concept of justice I don't understand.  I call it 'plus one justice.'

Case in point. After WWII many European Jews traveled to Israel to relocate.  After suffering the horrors of 1940's Europe who could begrudge them.  Israel achieved official statehood in 1948.  However, they almost immediately began to remove the locals to make room for the new arrivals.  The Arabs and Palestinians who lived in present day Israel had their homes taken, farms stolen, and land given to others.  From an Israeli perspective it is simply taking back what belongs to them, from a Palestinian perspective it is theft.  This is justice plus one. Not just let us live here in peace with you but rather, let us live here and you go away.

This plus one type of justice has plagued the region.  In the movie "The Untouchables" Sean Conery plays an old cop named Malone who explains to Elliot Ness played by Kevin Costner how to catch Capone.
Malone: You said you wanted to get Capone. Do you really wanna get him? You see what I'm saying is, what are you prepared to do? 
Ness: Anything within the law. 
Malone: And *then* what are you prepared to do? If you open the can on these worms you must be prepared to go all the way. Because they're not gonna give up the fight, until one of you is dead. 
Ness: I want to get Capone! I don't know how to do it. 
Malone: You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. *That's* the *Chicago* way! And that's how you get Capone. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I'm offering you a deal. Do you want this deal? 
Ness: I have sworn to capture this man with all legal powers at my disposal and I will do so. 
Malone: Well, the Lord hates a coward. 
[jabs Ness with his hand, and Ness shakes it
Malone: Do you know what a blood oath is, Mr. Ness? 
Ness: Yes. 
Malone: Good, 'cause you just took one. 

This is plus one justice.

I am afraid this type of justice is not confined to present day. As a Christian I have found the Old Testament prophets both heroic and disturbing. Especially the minor prophets.  They proclaim God has punished Israel for idolatry, treating the poor badly, and/or not obeying some portion of the Law.  God often uses other nations of this.  The people are deported or enslaved.  They learn their lesson and are sent home to rebuild and praise God.  Depending on which prophet you read is where in that narrative you find them speaking.  But there is a plus one mentality in the "going home" portion.  They return home and exclude others from practicing at the new Temple thus the birth of the Samaritans.  Or there is an oracle that states in some fashion, 'the nation that enslaved you will now be punished and wiped out from existence.'  This makes no sense to me.  If God sent this outside nation be it Babylon, the Chaldeons, or Assyria to punish Israel, then he turns around and punishes those nations for exercising that punishment that is a plus one.  It would be like me placing my children on a couch for a 10 minute timeout as punishment for a misdeed, then after that ten minutes was up setting the couch on fire as revenge for my children.  Or it is like when they both want the same toy.  If one takes a toy from the other and tell them to give it back plus one of your favorite toys. That is a plus one.  This plot is especially apparent in Habakkuk, Joel, Obadiah, and Zephaniah.

I struggle with these prophets in my own understanding of God. Is God's justice a plus one? I think not because I am forced to balance these types of images with others minor prophets like Amos, Micah, Hosea, and Nahum that has God restoring Israel to right relationship and a return to their land without it requiring some very violent image of destruction.  Does that mean prophets like Habakkuk got God wrong, that they didn't fully understand God like Micah?  Or does it mean that plus one justice is part of God's plans and "the lord hates a coward"?

This plus one justice seems to be the culture I am finding in my reading.  It is disturbing because those involved in the conflict call it 'Justice.'  I want what you took and I want more.  If you send a rocket, we will send an airplane.  If you send a car bomb, we will send a tank.  If you send some of ours to the hospital, we will send more of yours to the morgue and then take your land and send your civilians packing.

That is why Jesus Christ is so revolutionary in my opinion.  He challenged this plus one mentality.  He taught to turn the other cheek, to share with all people equally, to forgive and seek forgiveness.  He teaches that plus one justice is unacceptable and unsustainable.  I hope and pray for peace in Israel and the rest of the middle east.  I fear I don't fully understand the cultural elements involved in the conflict but I think this plus one mentality is a small piece that will keep them from ever reaching true justice and true peace.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Missional Community Living...How Desperately I Need It and Find Ways to Avoid It

It is everywhere.  Bloggers and books are constantly telling us that at the root of "being missional" is a very deep understanding of what it means to be community. Most missional models of living in community involve Christians living fully in their place of habitation.  By this I mean, you are part of the community you physically live in.  It could be as big as a town or as small as an apartment building.  People will then choose to associate with their "neighbors" as fully as possible, by sharing meals together, sharing their goods with one another, shopping, dining, recreating, and even governing as much as possible within the boundaries of their defined communities.  Interacting, playing, and sharing meals with those in your physical location is a big part of what it means to live missionally.  When you live this way you share in the good and the bad with others, most importantly others in your local area.  This is done by sharing your best assets with one another.  Gifts, talents, possessions etc.  What cannot be attained within the community is then sought from without but agreed upon by the community.  I have seen this taught from a very biblical standpoint.

First my favorite is Luke 10:1-12 When Jesus sends out the 70.  These Jewish followers of Jesus are to go into Samaria with no extras.  They are to live with the people there and say, "Peace to this house!"  They are stay in these places and eat whatever is put in front of them (and this is emphasized twice v7 & 8).  Probably not things they would normally eat and certainly not things acceptable in the dietary laws.  While there they are to heal the sick, and proclaim the Kingdom of God has come near to these people.  This is very cool.  They are to live among people, eat what they eat, do what they do, and then and only then do they have the right to proclaim the Kingdom of God to them.

Secondly, in Acts there is a neat little formula that goes a little something like this.  The Apostles/Jesus Followers are in the community, the Spirit moves in some way, the people in the community ask what it is going on, the Gospel is the answer.  So in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit arrives, the Apostles preach in foreign languages, the crowds ask what is going on, Peter preaches the Gospel.  In Acts 3 A lame man asks Peter to give him money, instead Peter heals him, the crowds asks how, he shares the Gospel.  In Acts 6, Stephen is doing good works and arrested, the court asks how he did the things he did, he proclaims the Gospel even though it leads to his death.

Living in community, interacting, playing, and joining in the community is what gives one the right to preach the Gospel.  If people are not asking questions to which the Gospel of Christ is the answer then you have not earned the right to proclaim the Kingdom of God has come near.  There is a popular Community Development Credo that was first written by Y.C. James Yen that states:
Go to the People; live among them.Learn from them; plan with them; work with them.Start with what they know; build on what they have.Teach by showing; learn by doing.Not a showcase, but a pattern.Not odds and ends, but a system.Not piecemeal, but an integrated approach.Not to conform, but to transform.Not for relief but release.And when the best leaders, leave The people all say: ‘We did it ourselves.’
The idea for the Christian community is for them to live and be among their community.  Not to live, work, and play in a different environment than they minister with.  And when good things happen it is because the community worked together to accomplish it and they will say, "We did it ourselves."

This is difficult for me. I am a classic suburbanite.  While my career is built around quality relationships, I could shop, eat, and play and only have to superficially interact with people because they are my waitress or check out person.  I could go about my everyday life and never once have to speak to my next door neighbor.  I don't currently participate in anything outside of work and family so there are no social engagements.  And the most horrible thing, I find myself comfortable with it.  Outside of work I could never have a meaningful interaction or relationship with another person, and I am not motivated to move beyond that.

I feel as though this makes me a half hearted follower of Christ.  I believe in this missional movement, I even preach it.  I believe the church is created to be a foretaste of the kingdom. It must be "a place where people can get a taste of the future in the present." The church must demonstrate what life is like when we live under the rule and reign of God. The church becomes a concrete, tangible foretaste of the kingdom, not perfect yet, in transition to being the body of Christ.  I believe that we believers are the church wherever we go, therefore I should be living into my future hope even in the midst of my present realities.  I believe that is best demonstrated through community.  I believe I would be more whole believer if I had other couples, families, or individuals to share my table with.  And I suppose the worshiping community I call my local church plays a role in that, but when people write and speak about the missional church movement they are not usually speaking of the place of worship but the place of living into that worship with others.

So there you have my confession.  I believe that the missional church concept and the whole Gospel of Christ calls me to live into God's future Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven by living among people in community.  But I feel as though I am not doing this very well.  I have lived in my new neighborhood for four months now and only know the people my property touches.  I have never had any of these people inside my house and I have not been in theirs.  We have spoken on driveways and on sidewalks but beyond that we have no real relationship.  I have not even had the people of my worship community in my home, though I have been to two of their homes.

So I throw this out there to say, I believe in community, I need community, but I don't live in community very well.  By God's grace I will improve, but today I am struggling. 


The Table in The Neighborhood  Reclaiming the Mission's blog discusses the importance of gathering around the table.  Sharing meals is a powerful community builder.

Three Ways to Be Missional on Halloween  Probably to late but still some ideas

The Church in 2062...Maybe.  According to Dave Murrow this is what the church will look like in fifty years.

Reformed and Missional?  Here is Tim Kellers perspective on why you can be reformed and missional.



Thursday, October 25, 2012

007 and Early Voting!

I voted early today.  Not because I had any intention of voting today but because I wanted to be able to vote when the time came in November.  Here is the story.  I needed to update my drivers license because I have moved and thus had to update my address.  I am not sure but I assume most states are like mine.  When you update your drivers license you also can register to vote, or in my case re-register to a new district.  However, with it being so close to election day I was informed that if I simply re-registered through the DMV process I would not be eligible to vote in this election because it takes too long to process the request.  I was informed that if I desired to vote in this election I must go to the Election Commissioners office across town, and tomorrow is the last day to register! 

So with a sense of urgency I traveled across town to the Election offices to discover a line of hopeful voters filling the building, sidewalk, and parking lot!  Since I had traveled this far I thought why not wait and see how the line is moving. The line moved fairly well so I stuck it out despite the cold and the rain.

While waiting the half hour for my turn I made an interesting observation.  Nobody was in a bad mood.  Everyone was if not excited, genuinely content with waiting and chatting about the lousy weather.  Beyond everyone's contented excitement, there was absolutely zero discussion of politics!  In my time in line or inside the building or in the voting booth area did I one time hear a single person discuss what candidate they were supporting or how horrible they feel the candidate they were voting against is.  

The only conversations I did hear was about the process itself.  The importance of voting.  The responsibility of it all.  The honest joy it brought them to feel their individual voice mattered.  Everyone just stuck out the line and voted their opinion.  I find this reality interesting.  I have no idea what it says about my city and the people I get to share it with.  I don't know what it says to the larger political climate in our nation.  Perhaps we just realized at this point we had made up our minds and the conversation in line wouldn't change that.  Perhaps it is a reminder that the talking heads on television, radio and internet are really in the entertainment business rather then the information business.  So their excitement, anger, and poles don't really relate to the common voter of the midwest, even if some of us are in "swing states."  Perhaps it really means as long as we feel we have a voice we are willing to deal with the outcome, so long as we had our say in the matter.

Well I received my ballot and discovered to my utmost elation, as well as that of the employee helping me, that I am now in a voting zone that has the number 007!  Also while re-registering he said I could vote today if I wanted.  So today I voted and though I don't believe my voting zone gives me a license to kill it does give me a voice in the process.  I hope you have a chance to vote this year.  I hope you also take the responsibility very seriously. 



Below are some good links to help you think through the responsibility of voting and how to process that responsibility as a Christian.  None of the links I will share give any support to any candidate and I will not share here how and why I voted the way I did.


Is there Room for Christ in the voting booth?  A great article by the Executive Minister of Chicago for the American Baptist Churches USA.

The Pastor and Politics   A reminder that a pastors place is not to persuade parishioners in political issues but to proclaim Christ crucified.

What Belongs to Caesar?  Red Letter Christian article on why loving or hating a political opponent for abstract things is unChristlike.
 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bill Clinton and Internal Christian Politics

I travel on a fairly regular basis in my ministry. To be sure I am no jet setter and there are some weeks I never leave my county.  But I do get to travel across the state often enough that I have taken to listening to audio books on my trips.  It has provided me the opportunity to "read" or listen as the case may be, to books I would not normally read.  I am currently listening to "Back to Work" by Bill Clinton.  You can check out my hyper link below to preview it in Amazon.

No matter your politics or your personal opinions of him, I find him to be intelligent and engaging.  And my roots are Arkansan so I have a soft spot for him.  The book "Back to Work" is full of great insights and an explanation of the political history from the past 30 years. As I listen to his explanation of our political history and rhetoric, I cannot help but make connections to my personal experience with American Christian politics from the same time frame.  Here is the quote that began my connections between the two topics.
“In other words, our constitution was designed by people who were idealistic but not ideological. There's a big difference. You can have a philosophy that tends to be liberal or conservative but still be open to evidence, experience, and argument. That enables people with honest differences to find practical, principled compromise. On the other hand, fervent insistence on an ideology makes evidence, experience, and arguments irrelevant: If you possess the absolute truth, those who disagree are by definition wrong, and evidence of success or failure is irrelevant. There is nothing to learn from the experience of other countries. Respectful arguments are a waste of time. Compromise is weakness. And if your policies fail, you don't abandon them; instead, you double down, asserting that they would have worked if only they had been carried to their logical extreme.” 
― Bill ClintonBack to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy

What a powerful quote.  He is referring to conservative republican viewpoints verse democratic ones.  I find the same basic principle to be easily applied to Christian internal politics.  To many denominations have suffered fights and splits over ideological issues.  There is a huge difference between being ideological and being idealistic.  Being idealistic still leaves you open to conversation and debate and a willingness to compromise that is lacking in an ideological stance.  We measure our denominational and Christian loyalties based on a few ideological points.  The points will vary from church to church or denomination to denomination, but the essential unwillingness to have civil conversation caused great divides over the past thirty years, many of which were and still are avoidable.

In her Christian Ethics Today article, "Baptists Bank on Fire and Brimstone" Valarie Tarico lays out why the changing of the Southern Baptist Conventions name to "Great Commission Baptists" is not going to change their image and only further isolate them.  She gives 4 very good points as to why this is.  They are all ideological points not idealistic.  By focusing solely on the Great Commission as their standard: 1 Every member becomes part of a sales force.  Great Commission Christianity is first and foremost about recruiting members.  2. What is sold is a package of exclusive truth claims.  Inter spiritual and interfaith perspectives are wrong, and all need to be wooed from misguided beliefs.  3. The measure of a spiritual person is right belief.  Specifically: You deserve hell, Jesus died for your sins, accept him as your savior so you can go to heaven.  4.  Other Religions and denominations are competitors not partners. In a world that requires cooperation this move isolates them as being the only right and true group.  That is the great flaw in their name change. 

The SBC is not the only group going through this.  Every major US denomination, especially those with international connections are working through a variety of issues even today.  My hope and the purpose of this post is simply to call for more idealistic conversation and less ideological ones.  Because if all we are ever doing is "doubling down" on misguided behaviors what can we possibly accomplish?


PRAYER
I have a hard time praying sometimes.  In fact I have tried a variety of different prayer models and have read a variety of books and articles on the topic.  It never really comes naturally for me.  Here are a few articles on the topic I came across this week that are at least interesting.


WOMEN 
Some may be aware of the dust kicked up around Racheld Held Evans' new book, "A Year of Biblical Womanhood," but in case you have missed out on this popular debacle being called, "vagina-gate" read this article by Christian Piatt to catch up.

PREACHING AND MINISTRY
Preaching and applying "best practices" in ministry are always good topics for discussion.  Here are a couple cool reads from this past week.

  • How to Minister in the 21st Century from Out of Ur is an interesting article about preaching from manuscripts and how the 18th Century Theologian Isaac Backus hated it.
  • The Gospel of Loneliness by David Finch has a brief paragraph on reaching out to the "least of these."
  • The Difference Between Floating and Falling by Scott McClellen.  Not actually about preaching or ministry but certainly an illustration regarding how tightly we hold onto our own convictions that may not be the most accurate.
  • Waiting for God's Direction by The HighCalling discusses the notion of having a very specific call compared to a general call to do good and love your neighbor.
COOL WEBSITE
I found a cool new website that has some interesting videos on it. The site is called UPWORTHY and its stated mission is "make meaningful videos go viral."  Here is one such video you have to watch the whole video to get the full impact.

BOOKS
I try to read a variety of things.  Here are a few things I have been reading lately
Back to Work by Bill Clinton
The Lords of the Land by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar
Divide by Faith by Michael Emrson and Christian Smith
The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


Monday, October 8, 2012

Foundations Matter. Do houses?

46 “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? 47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. 48 It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwater's rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49 But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”  Luke 6:46-49 NLT

A structural foundation in its most basic element, as far as I understand it, is what takes all of the loads from the roof to the walls to the floors, and it takes them and transfers them into your soil.  Modern foundations are made of concrete.  Ancient foundations would have been made of crushed rock and debris but the principle is the same.  Build a strong foundation and the structure won't shift, crack, and fall.  

I like that as Christians we told to build our "houses" on strong foundations.  We are to take the words of Christ and scripture and allow them to set the foundation of our theological and spiritual houses.  It would lead one to believe that there are a few core things that are required for foundations are all basically the same and serve the same purpose.  I would say such foundational core elements to the Christian life can be found in scripture with Jesus' interpretation of Torah, Commandments, and Prophets, coming down to the two great commandments to 'love God, love others.'  I would say outside of scripture the Apostles Creed really gets at the heart of foundational issues that most all Christians believe as being the core of their belief.

What I also have been pondering from this passage is that there is no formula, creed, or edict to describe the "structure" being build on this foundation.  As long as the foundation is sound any structure will suffice, home, business, sky scrapper, trailer, or shed.  To further my ponderings, I want to say this is a good thing.  Where I live most homes are constructed into the sides of hills and as such have a "basement" style foundation.  However there are a variety of actual housing structures built upon this same foundation, multi-level, split-level, ranch, American Colonial, Tudor, bungalow, and a variety of others.  Each unique in their design, architecture, and tradition.  But all the same basic basement style foundation.

Let's carry this concept to faith.  As long as we have the proper foundation what is to say that all of our faith houses then have to be identical?  There are a few things all homes need, load bearing walls, roofs, floors, windows, etc.  But with a little imagination the combination of these things are endless. Beyond the endless combination the ratio's themselves are endless.  You could have large living spaces and small bedrooms emphasizing the concept of community.  You could have large bedrooms and small living spaces emphasizing concepts of solitude and reflection.  You could have three bathrooms or just one.  You could have a two car garage to shield modes of transportation to leave the house or you could instead have an extra bedroom to welcome the stranger.

I have noticed very often these days that many in the church are becoming divisive over, what I would call for the sake of this metaphor, architectural issues.  We are complaining this house doesn't have enough kitchen space or that house doesn't have the right carpet or too many stairs.  Instead of simply saying, this house has a great foundation and it is lovely and it will past the test of weather and time.  Some will certainly be more comfortable in a ranch than a bungalow but that doesn't make either more right than the other.

So on a day removed from World Communion Sunday, I am simply pondering, is it okay to be different?  Is the foundation all that matters or do our houses have to look the same too?  Is there something to celebrate in our differences or should we constantly be striving for some sort of equilibrium where we try to look, think, and act as similar as possible?  Finally, where can our differences be exercised?  In our denominations, in our local churches, in our own faith journeys? Because in the end wasn't it the foundation that failed and caused the house to fall under the stress of a storm, not the number of bedrooms it had.

Thoughts?


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lessons Learned from Craft Time

I have an almost 2 year old boy and a 4 year old girl.  And they are addicted to Arts and Crafts thanks to their mother.  They love to "art" things.  Anything will serve as a canvas; sticks, rocks, paper, cardboard, mirrors, and much to my chagrin my new back deck.  They use all kinds of mediums; chalk, crayons, glitter, stickers, paper-mache, foam, paint, and a few things I am not sure what it is.  Many times in a week I will come home to the joyful exuberance of, "Daddy we made something for your office!" At which point I will be presented with the days artistic offering.  My wall is beginning to lose space for all their art. 

I love their art.  They color outside the lines, their glued on pieces fall off, their stickers are torn, their paint colors are all mixed up, and most of the time it is just random fun.  The sheer joy they receive from making art is the stuff of childlike wonder I fear I am slowly losing.  I could never not accept their art.  That would never do, it would cause unnecessary sadness.  So even though my office is just about full of their masterpieces I will keep finding places to stash the works.

I believe this artistic exuberance can be a lesson for the church.  If we think about ministry to often we are looking for masterful works of art from spiritual toddlers.  We should be setting up messy craft spaces in our churches for its members to practice, without fear, messy ministry moments.  There should be a place for our people to suggest new ministry ideas, even really bad ones.  There should be a place for us to allow them to color outside the lines onto the table and mix up all the paints into a gross brown.  They should be given opportunities to suggest and lead ministries that might end up failing miserably.  And we should hang these works of art around our churches like banners of pride.

The only reason I have found any level of understanding in ministry is because I have been around people, churches, and a denomination that has allowed me to finger paint my way to better understanding.  I want to say thank you to all those who have set out the materials and allowed me to go nuts.  My encouragement and challenge is to say, won't you also set up such places for your youth, young adults, and spiritual toddlers who want nothing more than to be a participant in Christ's redemptive process.  I hope that I in turn will do the same for others.


Putting out a Welcome Sign for guests.  This is a pretty cool idea.

Being Honest:  Have you ever felt you needed a place to just open up and be honest with yourself and others?

Daily Discipleship according to David Platt will depend on where you are in life.

If you haven't heard Marc Driscoll turned Esther into a whore recently from the pulpit.  The blogosphere is all abuzz with pointing out how misguided his statements were.  Here is Rachel Held Evans response.



Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Unsustainable

Within the world of church work there seems to be a growing emphasis on dealing with change.  Change is inevitable but how we handle it will determine how our churches will look in the future.  Within my denomination phrases like adaptive change, transformational shift, missional church, adaptive leadership, transformed by the Spirit, and the word  glocal (a combo of local and global) are everywhere.  I think these are good phrases and words.  Our churches use them, our regional leadership use them, and our larger societies use them. 

Here is the reality, the church is not going to look in 10 years what it has looked like for the last 200 years.  We are in need of adapting to the world around us a little better.  One illustration that was provided me is this: Change is like person walking around a room, the church has been following change around and thus never really catches up.  Church programs, models, and leadership styles are nearly always several years if not decades behind the reality that surrounds them.  But if you study "change" long enough you can start to get ahead of it and meet it head on.  That is what these phrases are about.  We are in need of an adaptive change, we need to adapt how we do church to better meet the needs of the people around us.  We are in need of being "transformed by the Spirit" because it is only in the Spirits leading that we will know how to best lead the church.  We live in a glocal world.  Most of us have job networks or social networks that go well beyond our zip code and into the larger world.  Right now I can chat with a missionary in Asia, invest in a European market, and order a shirt from South America all from my smartphone.  We have to figure out how to participate in a world that functions like this and our church must be flexible enough to minister in such a reality.  

And here is the sticky truth, Missional Church is a cool word and a cool concept.  However, when I am asked to define it I usually say, the Missional church is not a new concept but rather what we should have been doing all along.  The Missional Church is all of God's people working together to accomplish Gods Mission to redeem and restore creation. For too long the church has had a "baptized" version of everything.  Christian day cares, food banks, counseling, private hospitals, music, art, clothes, and after school activities.  


And it is completely unsustainable.  

Our buildings are huge...and empty.  Our boards are over taxed and under staffed.  Our pastors are sometimes less spiritual guides and more organizational ER physicians.  Why in the world would you feel the need to start or house a Christian food bank in your church facility when there is already a food bank in town?  Why not just help that one, support it with people and money.  It saves time, energy, funds, and gets the church into the community.  Why would you need your own special day care?  If you want to provide care for children, why not help the local day care, pay the fee for a single parent who works, or provide toys to that facility?  It gets you into the community, allows you to interact with people who may never come to your church, and lets you be the hands and feet of Christ to his most precious creations children. 

The church is going to survive.  Don't misunderstand me.  In fact I refer you to my first blog about why as a young adult I cherish the church so deeply.  But it will not look like a giant building with a steeple and two services on Sunday morning.  What it will look like yet to be determined, but in my opinion I think it's going to look a lot more like nerve center of lots of activity outside the building that a social club with special groups that meet monthly.  For me this is an exciting time to be a church leader and church member.  We get to be part of the next great thing God is doing.  It comes with great excitement and great anxiety.  My prayer is that we apply these phrases with integrity and sincerity and not just use cool phrases to make ourselves sounds smarter than we really are.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lots of stuff going on in the world



So there have been a ton of things happen in the world of faith and the US Young Adult since my last post.  In case you have been living under a proverbial rock here are some of the high notes:

Call yesterday what you want, freedom of speech, a rally behind “family values,” a sincere fascination with CFA’s brand of fried poultry… but it cannot be called love. It was not love. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Art of Improv

According to dictionary.com, Improvise means 1. to compose and perform or deliver without previous preparation; extemporize: 2. To compose, play, write, or sing on the spur of the moment. 3. to make, provide, or arrange from whatever materials are readily available. 


Comedian and 30 Rock Executive Producer, writer, and star Tina Fey is one of my favorite comedians. For me 30 Rock might be the best thing about Thursday nights in the winter months.  Fey is also the author of Bossypants, a of biography of her life up to 2010.  In her book she describes some of the most important elements to being a good improve actor that I think has some great value for people of faith.  


Improvisation is a key part to our faith life I believe.  Our daily lives might be predictable to a certain point but no day is fully scripted (sorry Calvinists).  There is nothing exactly the same from day to day.  All day everyday we are improvising within a safe framework from which we base our basic behavior and beliefs.  This might be better understood in the context of Jazz and Blues music (for more about Jazz improvisation see Thinking in Jazz). As a guitar player myself I have learned the value of some good improvisation.  Jazz and Blues like all music has some rules that are expected to be followed.  Time signatures, scales, key's of music, rhythm, and tempo all have to be followed.  But there is quit a bit of freedom within those rules to do whatever your musical imagination will allow.  You have to follow proper scales and within those scales are any number of "correct" notes that will sound "right."  However, if you go outside that scale and hit an incorrect note, you can hear it immediately and it can through the whole song off.  The same is true with our daily lives of faith.


So back to Bossypants and improv in the world of acting.  In her book Tina Fey lists some rules to good improve.
#1 The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES.When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt.But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You [jerk]!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.
This is probably the key to all good improvisation. It is true in music, acting, and life in general.  If you spend all your time butting heads with others because you demand they do things your way chances are you won't get far and feel as though everyone is against you.  By no means are you expected to agree with everything that comes your way.  Christians have a unique point of view and shape their lives around a specific set of beliefs and practices.  However, keeping an open mind and honoring what others think and do is a great place to begin any relational encounter.  It also opens us up to our spirit of adventure.  Our willingness to explore new places and learn new things.  For the sake of faith it is important to remember that no matter how differently we interpret the various sub-points of our faith, things like the Apostles Creed and the Canon of Scripture provide us points of agreement from which to begin all conversation.  Start there with a "yes" and you might find you have more in common with your fellow Christian and even non-Christians than you think.
#2 The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own.If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill.But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,” now we’re getting somewhere.
 This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?” I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers

Improve requires you to contribute.  You are asked to add to what is going on.  You can't just stand there and let things happen to you in improve or keep waiting for the other person to do all the work.  You have to carry your share in an improve sketch.  The same is true in a life of faith.  We are called to contribute to our churches, to our society, and any other place we go.  We cannot just sit back and let others do all the work. If a ministry is going on in your church say Yes, and we could do blank to make it better.  We are all given gifts, don't just sit on them, use them.


I would like to make a distinction between good questions and being a road block.  Don't ask questions just so things don't get done.  Don't be the person who ruins a simple church ministry meeting with a ton of questions just because you don't want some vote to go through.  That person does not believe in improvisation but instead desires a rigid predicable life.


However, if you don't understand something, ask a question.  If you don't understand basic tenants of faith, are confused about doctrine or practical elements of faith, ask.  The Christian faith is not a "fake it til you make it" sort of religion.  It really is built upon understanding and proper daily implementation.  And that is where the beautiful Art of Improvisation comes in.  


What shapes us is scripture, tradition, and theology and the interpretation of those things.  Those things act like scales for a jazz guitar player.  How you implement them in your daily life is where rote scale memorization becomes fantastic musicality.  Your theology, tradition and reading of scripture should impact and shape how you do everything from buying groceries to how you choose to interact with a stranger in line.  Each encounter is unique and each requires a certain level of improvisation based on available resources and your knowledge of the "scales" of faith.  To be too dogmatic is like simply playing the scale...it is right but is it musical?  But if you throw in a bend, a slide, or a hammer on and mix the scale up a bit suddenly your playing lead guitar.  The same is true for us, use the basics but apply them creatively and you will discover all sorts of amazing applications to Christian faith that not only is "right" but also extremely pleasant to the ear.

#3 If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what?Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up being a police hamster who’s been put on “hamster wheel” duty because I’m “too much of a loose cannon” in the field.In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident. I mean, look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox.

That is great news in life and faith.  You should feel that you have the freedom to wonder around the various realms of Christianity.  Examine its history, flip through the biographies of priests, monks, and pastors gone by, look into how denominations other than your own interpret things like baptism, communion, prayer, and the like.  Who knows you might learn something new, you might not, you might even find more resolve and strength in your own understandings.  Read books, blogs, and articles from a variety of sources.  Experiment with different types of prayer, worship, silence, and lectio-divina.  You might just accidentally discover you're a hamster on wheel duty for being to too much of a loose cannon!

Improv is key to faith.  But improv has rules and boundaries just like faith.  In John 8:34-38 Jesus has a discourse about being a slave to sin but, "if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."  but he also say's in verse 38 "as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father."  That pretty much sums it up.  We have guidelines but within those guidelines is great freedom.  Faith is not a box, a cage, or any other constricting device that keeps us from having fun, enjoying life, or other wise getting the most out of our experiences.  What it does provide us with the right notes and it is up to us to improvise with those notes in our daily lives to make great jazz and hilarious improv.


Great blog post on how narratives work on our lives and how we might be numb to them.

Is Christianity in America dying?  Diana Butler Bass thinks not.

Becoming Missional by Don Everts


Some Social Media Advice by Danny Zacharias


Pastors can over care for others to the point of injuring themselves.  I suppose this is what it means to give until it hurts.  This doesn't really surprise me.

Who wrote the Bible was always a hot topic in college for my friends.   Here is an interesting blog post by Kathy Vestal that might serve as a way to move the topic forward for them.

Rachel Held Evans blog over the past year has interviewed 25 different people regarding why they believe what they believe in a series called, "Ask a..."  such interviews included an atheist, catholic, orthodox Jew,  Muslim, Christian progressive, Christian pacifist, and several others.  Check it out.

Creeds can be helpful in times of spiritual darkness.  I experienced a similar season in my life about 7 years ago.