Tuesday, January 31, 2006


as for name calling…

the thing with titles is that they accomplish two things for better or for worse: they acknowledge accomplishments and they set people apart.

my friend and i were discussing via email the awkwardness that comes over one when he/she finds him/herself with a designation for the first time. for example, being called pastor for the first time can be much like the first time someone calls you sir or ma'am... you look behind you to see who the person with the title is, only to find out that it is you who is being addressed- then you do a quick eye check to see whether the person addressing you is serious or joking.

why does someone observe formalities in our increasingly informal culture?

i mean, i find myself sounding like that sea turtle in finding nemo: "mr turtle is my father, dude..." i cringe when i meet a former student who has been out of school for four or five years already, get the 'hi mr beggar...' thing. for a long time i used to try to reshape these salutations ('it's okay, just call me jolly now, okay?') with little or no success... and then i realized two things simultaneously:

relationships are not defined by titles and titles only identify relationships.

the adults who still insist on calling me mr beggar are friends who have come to know me as that over a lengthy period of time and interaction- and the formality is an extension into their adult life of a respect that they embraced as young people. rather than dodging that one, a person should hear it as an affirmation of the role that he or she played in the life of another. let's face it: there would be no greeting at all if you hadn't mattered.

but now add to that the degree of formalized spiritual authority that is inherent in being called pastor and watch someone as self-conscious as so many people are squirm- especially if it is a newly accepted role/calling for them. it was really hard to get used to the pastor jolly thing...

(all that self-centred i’m not worthy of that title crap- that’s when i started typing in small letters… i think it was originally to be righteously small-case and intentionally- yet pretentiously- selfless. now it is simply a matter of convenience.)

...but God finally asked me why i was being so self-centred.

i said “what?”

he said “well the word pastor says something about me and what i’m doing through you- why does everything have to be about you? the word pastor says you’re about me and i’m about you…”

“oh- uh- okay.”

i know that, since visiting sri lanka last summer, my whole take on the title has changed and deepened further in this reading of it. there i heard old friends who were battling the same religious, political and social forces in the name of God acknowledging the call of God upon each other's lives in the same way that soldiers in the heat of war, fighting to keep each other alive, might still refer to each other by rank. the rank and reference pay tribute to not only the credentials but the affiliation, embracing the fact that these men and women are fighting together on the same side for the same things and all have specific jobs which are more completely defined in combat.

so what about calling someone close to you pastor? this was also part of the discussion with my friend who was sharing an awkwardness on the giving end similar to that which one experiences on the receiving end of such a designation. although we read in ephesians 4.11-12 that there are many callings (there are those who are called to do works of service and those who are called to prepare those who are called to these works, that the kingdom would be built up) we still place them in some sort of order. even though 1 corinthians 12.4-6 states it plainly that

there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

we still find ourselves jockeying for position, taking all the figurative language in scripture about jewels in crowns too literally and once again relying on our own resources rather than God's grace to establish our place.

i think that most of it has to do with our hierarchical thinking: we still wrestle with this completely human notion that pastors or leaders must somehow be ahead or above the other servants in the kingdom. in fact, the relationships of the gifts and the gifted appear to be spiritually symbiotic- everyone's role makes everyone else's role in the cosmos both possible and meaningful. just as my father, for example, has been called by God to go 'welding for Jesus' (not the real name for the missionary organization in which he, in the early years of his retirement, has become actively involved), i've been called to 'shepherd the flock'- some of which are or will be welding for Jesus. our roles in the kingdom are as different as we are, but equally as complementary... i think that that's God's point.

yet in perfect symmetry to the complex structures that characterize virgil's and dante's poetic musings on the notion of hierarchical hells (haven't read pergatory or paradise yet), human beings have also created a hierarchical heaven that begins here on earth with people exploiting other people in order to make a name for themselves in God's book. i don't believe it works that way for real, and in the gaze of the one true God, nothing false will stand.

the rest of the email to my friend is too troublesome to try to reword, so i've just copied and pasted it below:

the point is to just be you and listen to God the Holy Spirit when he prompts you to consider not only what you do or say but why. perhaps you are being challenged to acknowledge the spiritual authority of your pastor(s) in order to hear from God through them. perhaps you are being challenged to let the holy spirit speak through your pastors and God knows what you need to do in order to hear his words. i don’t know… it could simply be that as long as you keep things ‘informal’ between you and God’s shepherd leaders you continue to hear only the men rather than the God of the men. i’m not talking about pedestalizing anyone, just acknowledging that God is using them to do things beyond anything that they could accomplish on their own, and that he intends to use you in the same way, but cannot as long as a heart has its reservations.

in other words, just don’t allow nicknames or titles to deflect away the message of God as it comes through someone whom he has called to deliver it.

it occurs to me that another interesting question might be:
what should people call you?

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

cross roads

what's the big deal with the cross?

i remember my pastor saying once that wearing a cross around your neck or displaying it in a church is as weird as having gold plated electric chairs or guillotines around to help us focus on God.

yep- that would be weird... but the thing with Jesus is that he brought new meaning to so many things, death by execution being one of them (not any death by execution, mind you- just his.)

i love that bit in romans (5.8) where paul points out that 'while we went on actively breaking fellowship with him, Christ died for us... that's how God shows his love.' he then goes on for the rest of the chapter talking about how death was brought into the world by adam, and how Jesus brought life in, instead, through his death. it wasn't just that Jesus lived a good life or that he died a tragic death, it was that he lived a good life and died a tragic death out of his love for humankind and then he overcame the tragedy, turning everything that we all thought we knew about everything right on its ear.

mourning to dancing
sackcloth to glory
silence to singing the salvation story

without Jesus' death, there could be no resurrection, no hope of a living and eternal communion with a perfect God. death was and is the penalty for wanting things our way and trading our eternal inheritance to get it. if Jesus were beheaded the way john the baptist was then we might have a different symbol of our freedom from mortality. as it is, being that crucifixion was the method of execution, the cross serves as this symbol for God's ability to take even the most fearful thing known to us- a painful, torturous death at the hands of those having no measure of grace or mercy to extend in the process- and give it new meaning in light of who he is rather than who we are.

in our church, we have this huge eight foot cross that stands in between the platform where the band plays and the floor where the people sit or stand or whatever. there are coffee tables gathered around that cross for those who respond better to more natural, coffee house seating than to institutional rows, and all of the speaking/ teaching takes place on that common plain, not up on the platform. in fact, the only reason that the platform is raised is that it was built at a time when the services we conducted were less interactive/ more 'performance oriented.'

a friend recently expressed a desire to see the layout change because the cross was obscuring the view from the floor of the musicians as they played. this was becoming a distraction for him.

distraction is a really good word. it seems to be realized in different people in different ways.

where one person is distracted by what he can't see onstage, another can be distracted by what he can see there. the clothing of a person onstage, that person's expressiveness (or lack thereof) when that person does worship music, or even just a knowledge of who that person is in life when he or she is not on display- they can all get in the way of a person's desire to press in during a meeting. in various conversations over the years, all of these have been mentioned to me... in most cases i've tried to remind the person to extend grace and endeavor to focus on God in spite of those serving on any given sunday. however, knowing that this is really hard sometimes because people all have their own triggers, i have privately thought of just shutting off the lights on the band altogether, so that the only things that anyone saw were the cross and the projected words that they were singing together.

even then, the sound of the music created with all the lights off might be distracting... arguably moreso than our actual presence onstage!

the problem, i think, is that people come to a worship service looking for different things. whereas it is nice to presume that everyone is there to meet with God and God's people, the reality is that there are not only almost as many ways of connecting as there are people trying to sort it all out, but there are many other reasons that the people come together which have less to do with God specifically than with simply becoming people whose lives make sense. (thank God he is able to bring sense to the apparent nonsense that we holds us in its grip- i know... a whole nother blog. i think that i will start another blog where i can develop my tangents ad nausium!)

God is immutable and perfect and is the only constant in the worship equation- he's the only one who does not bring baggage of the week and its relational faux pas and failings into the worship circle. he also doesn't bring health concerns or any other form of existential anxiety with him. in truth, he is the only one who doesn't have his own personal pathway, paradigm or formula for a successful meeting. he does not pay attention to trends and traditions, nor does he ignore them: he simply acknowledges them as being valuable as human connecting points... ways that different people connect with him, not necessarily ways that he requires to connect with different people.

he only required one way. to live here and to die here and to rise again, setting the captives free to be all that he intended them to be from the beginning.

although, even in our rather small but significant evangelical denomination, there are many different approaches to experiencing God at the throne of his grace and spending time trying to sort out who we all are in his eyes, one congregation in sri lanka did something i found interesting, mainly because it was different from the traditions that have become my stability: the musicians and those leading the singing all faced forward with the congregation as everyone sang together.

it's an eastern tradition... they faced the cross.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

simplicity and four dollar perspective

i swear that you find the best stuff in delete bins.

i mean, think of all the great cd's or cheap dvd's that you've found there. how many amazing shirts or pairs of shoes have you picked up from a bin marked
clearance? plenty i'll bet.

i recently found a book (now the odds of finding a good book among the stinkers and lo-fat cookbooks in a clearance bin are definately stacked against you, compared to finding a great sweater there, but that's a whole nother blog) in a bin at sears the other day. i was so excited that i dug around and found a second one, which i bought for a friend of mine. the book is called
the music of creation and is written by my favourite secular franciscan monk: john michael talbot.

i discovered the music of john michael talbot when i was in high school. it was, apart from my dad's
maranatha praise albums, my introduction to worship music per se. before and after that, everything was rock and roll for all the reasons that we love guitar, bass and drums blasting from the windows of a mustang driving down mainstreet in search of the ultimate challenge off of the line. ( i realize that this probably warrants no comparison aesthetically to the tooth-rattling drone characterizing the powerful subsonic presence of a tricked out, hip-hop fueled honda crx pulling up to a light behind or beside you, but whatever... i digress)

point is, talbot's stuff was different than anything that i had ever heard. although he was a monk in a habit, he was this brilliant guitar player who was able to reflect upon the attributes of God with liturgical balance, while playing with the passion and prowess of a man who had sold his soul at the crossroads. although, over time, his music did become quieter and more contemplative as he changed from steel to nylon strings, there was still an integrity that said to the listener that this man was singing from the core of who he was to the creator of that core, not simply serving up some nice background ambience for preachers to write sermons by. years before i was writing worship songs and leading God's people towards the throne of grace myself, i was being led into the presence of God by this guy.

anyway, enough fanclub tributes. i bought this book for $3.98 and began to read it.

i didn't get past the introduction before i was smitten with the power of an image cited by talbot and used by monks of the christian orthodox east to describe the stillness and silence of their unique way of life, a life of quiet discipline that is lived intentionally with contemplative prayer and mystical union with God as its objective (summarized in the greek word
hesychia meaning stillness and silence.) he speaks of a pond.
When a pond is agitated, it becomes muddy and unclear. You cannot see what is within, nor does it reflect what is without. But as the pond becomes still, the water settles and slowly clarifies. When the water is still clear, you can see the reality of what is within. Its surface also becomes mirror-like, reflecting all that is without and providing a brilliant display of the surrounding trees and foliage, the animals and people along its bank, as well as the very blue of the endless sky...

Hesychia is a way of stillness that helps calm the waters of the soul, bringing us inner peace. Once that occurs, we can see underneath the turbulent surface of our lives, perhaps for the first time. In Hesychia, our spirit, soul, and body become mirrors reflecting the reality of God and the original harmony and peace he intended for all creation.

Achieving this kind of clarity is only the beginning of a lifelong process, because once we can see into the pond of our soul, we can begin to make out some of the old garbage that has lain on the bottom for many years without detection...
four dollar perspective with which to step into a new year... i'm still trying to figure out how to apply it to my own cluttered journey.