Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Created to be Heroes

Permit me to “geek-out” for just a moment here. I was watching a show on the History Channel on the history of Superman in comics, TV, and movies. Really interesting stuff. I have to say, I actually got a little emotional at points. That may seem silly to some, but I am constantly drawn to stories like this. I often wonder if the Supermans and Captain Americas of today will be regarded in the future as we think of King Arthur and Robin Hood today. Someone once said, “Science Fiction is an existential metaphor that allows us to tell stories about the human condition.” I have to agree. Jesus taught with stories (parables) because they get past our defenses, connect with us on a deep level, and make us think. Which raises the question, why is our culture so drawn to superhero stories right now? Look at the resurgence of heroes in popular myth today. There are at least 5 popular shows that portray very human individuals discovering that they have powers beyond imagining, and using those powers to change the world around them. Heroes, Smallville, the 4400, the new Bionic Woman, the return of the comic book movies with Spider Man, X-Men, and the revival of the Batman and Superman franchises. The media is saturated with this theme.

Each of these characters and story lines appeals to something different in each of us. Awkward kids find something more acceptable in Peter Parker's Spider Man than in an “always cool” Batman, even though we'll buy both lunch boxes anyway. But I think there are a few universals to be found in these stories. The current resurgence of these stories has focused largely on characters discovering their abilities, and learning how to use them for the right (or wrong) causes. The Spider Man movies are particularly poignant in this, as Peter wrestles with whether to use his powers for personal gain, or for the common good, or whether to use them at all, because using them messes with his earlier visions of happiness. (I haven't seen Spider Man 3 yet, so don't tell me anything!)

One of my favorite scriptures is Romans 12. After explaining that Christ's offering for us should produce a similar response of self-sacrifice, Paul tells us how we can do just that--”God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well.” (NLT) In short, God has given us “powers,” to borrow the comic book term. We usually call these Spiritual Gifts. His call to us is to worship by using our abilities for His Greater Plan, the advancement of the Kingdom, and the salvation of those around us. I'm always amazed that when I trust God to use me, He touches people with sermons I thought were going to be total bombs. I'm amazed when I see Dotti ENJOYING administrative work for the church, a task that tires and frustrates me. I'm amazed to see Marvin's zeal for acts of service (don't mention something's broke unless you want it fixed today!). I can't name all those who I see around here acting out of their gifts, but there's some pretty awesome results when you do.

William brought this quote from Marianne Williamson to our attention at the Vision Retreat: “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.” If there is anything to be drawn from these stories for the church, it's that we must accept our “powers” and “destiny.” We must step out in boldness, regardless of how strong or weak we think we are, recognizing God's power at work through us can change the world.

So we have a choice like Spidey's: do we use these gifts for our own advancement, do we bury them in a trash can because we're afraid of how our life will change if we give ourselves over to our “secret identity” as living sacrifices, or do we accept God's plan for us, knowing that if we do, it will change lives, change hearts, and change the world? The world feels the need for people like us to rise up and use what we have to bring the world to salvation, to Christ, to freedom. They're ready and waiting. Will you heed the call?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Living in Divine Tension

I was just listening to the podcast archives of new friend Jay Voorhees, and happened to catch at the end a two-year-old conversation about the homosexuality issue that raised some interesting issues for me.

For those of you who don't know, the United Methodist Church has been debating for over a decade as to whether homosexuality is sin or biology. The sides have become quite polarized, especially as small controversies about ordaining, marrying, and giving membership to "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" have continued to bring the issue to the forefront.

In Jay's former "Methocast", he would end the show with listener comments and respond to them. On this particular episode, a listener named Dean had commented on this controversy. Conservatives have often asked those who affirm homosexual behavior as an acceptable lifestyle to simply leave the denomination, because the majority were "clearly" against them. Dean made the comment that Jesus was not in the habit of asking folks to leave like this, and that it was hurtful to be asked to leave, seemingly for the comfort of those who disagree with him. He also noted it was the majority who sent Christ to the cross.

Before I go on, let me explain where I come from. I do believe homosexual activity is a sin, according to God's Word. But I know a lot of other things are too, things that you and I both do, and I intend to give just as much grace and love to one sinner as another. That kind of love means confronting sin in people's lives, but also recognizing that it is God that changes the heart, and I can no more do that with one sin than another. There may be some other healing that needs to happen before a person can recognize a particular sin in their lives, and find the means to eliminate it. It is the church's role to give them as much help in this matter as they are willing to accept.

OK, time for the wrestling. Because my heart wants to go two different directions on this one.
(1)One of the things we do well in modern Methodism is diversity. The ability to contain diverse viewpoints within a single movement, and not excommunicate each other because we use differing baptismal rites. Having all sides at the table does allow us to learn from each other, and (hopefully) no one side believe they have it all figured out. By this sensibility, I want to say, "Yes, keep everyone together, let's talk this thing through. If we share community with all view points on this issue, we have a chance to change each other, and let God transform us all."

(2)On the other hand, I just preached this last Sunday on conflict. And as Matthew records it, Jesus does say when someone will not see their sin after multiple confrontations, it may be time to put them out of the community. By this understanding, it would make sense to seek a division in the UMC, breaking fellowship with those of the other viewpoint.

But there's something I didn't catch until today. The model Christ gives is for offenses against each other. Acting on homosexual temptations (unless you are talking about an affair) is a sin against God, and technically against the other "partner" for encouraging their sin, but not against you and me. Does it need addressed, absolutely. Mutual accountability is an important part of the being Church together. And if the person is using their "lifestyle" to divide the church, then that is an offense against others. But honestly, most folks that feel drawn towards the same sex don't have a political agenda to push (despite a very vocal group that does). They're just trying to live life as best as they can, and interpret key Scriptures differently than I do, same as I interpret the role of women in Scripture differently than most Baptists.

In the words of Veggie Tales, "We're going to get letters for this," I know. But let me say this much; I still believe homosexual activity* is a sin. But I know that persons who struggle with this temptation have just as much right and need to be in church as I do. And by staying friends and fellows, we have a chance to influence each other, hopefully for the good. But maybe living in that divine tension, where we don't have it all figured out, and we recognize that we all have our brokenness, will help us to live lives more dependent on God.

*I intentionally use the term "homosexuality" as little as possible. If we classify something as a gender orientation, then we cannot condemn the sin without attacking the identity of the person. But if we talk in terms of actions, then we can approach in a different light.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

They let HIM run a church?

So, I'm officially 6 weeks into my first pastorate, and it's got me thinking. Who would have seen this coming? OK, in reality, more than a few saw this coming, especially in High School. But what a strange kid to grow up and hand the keys of a church, I think to myself. Particularly since I've never totally shed the odd things that held my interest as a kid. I'm still a Sci-Fi nut, I still love video games, I am still pretty conversant in comic books, I find myself day-dreaming about starships, I am compelled to crank-up good music, no matter the genre (or whether it's Christian or not), and I'm eagerly awaiting the return of Heroes on NBC. Somewhere in my head, I wonder if these things fit with what it means to be a pastor. I dunno. They just don't seem to fit the stereotypes. I should be into golf, classical music, and theater, or something more pedestrian like that, right?

Then Sunday, I was contemplating life next to a waterfall (OK, I was really in the shower), and a thought (probably not my own) pops into my head: “You don't cease being who you are when you become a pastor. You just bring all that with you to the table.” Kind of a comforting thought, actually. God doesn't want me to quit reading Star Wars novels (and frankly large portions of Wookiepedia) just because He's also asked me to take care of His people. He's never asked of me to lay aside day-dreaming about aliens and far-off worlds, just because I get up on Sunday morning and help people understand His Word. He's never asked me to stop being me, just to submit all of me to Him, and let Him use me in helping others. So I can have long conversations with owners of comic book shops. I can reference both Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail and The Phantom Menace in sermons only a couple of weeks apart (and you should have seen some of the guys my age light-up when I pulled out that plastic lightsaber). So I can take a pie-in-the-face at VBS (an act some thought was gracious of me, and I never thought twice about). And I've got at least four guys in our youth group wanting to challenge me in Halo. : )

Sometimes, we feel like we have to be different people when God gets a hold of our lives, and to a small extent that's true, but only in the things that run counter to holiness and love. I remember many years back my pastor Roger challenging us to tell him what a Christian looked-like, and confronting us with the truth that a Christian doesn't fit a mold or stereotype, but is just an individual submitted to God. So I don't have to be ashamed of the urge to hunt-down free war game rules on the Internet, or the fact that I still would love to publish a comic-book some day. I just bring that with me, one more part of a very complex Body of Christ. And see how God wants me to use that today.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Christian Worldview Art

I was just reading in CCM magazine in the library about Matt Kearney, and the broader topic of Christian music. One of the things he notes was that he turned down like 8 exclusively Contemporary Christian labels before he signed with anybody. This brought up an editorial discussion regarding the CCM term. One editor suggested the term "Christian Worldview Music," and it really just resonated with me somehow.

It's like this: CCM has been it's own (poorly shelved) ghetto in most music stores, or it has resided in its own store, apart from the rest. I worked in Christian retail for 6 years during college and seminary, and frequently would reorganize the badly arranged "Inspirational" sectional of other music stores when nobody was looking (yes, I'm that...um...uptight...do the same with books too). I remember than in one store, I think we actually carried Evanesence for like a week (that might have been after I left), and then never saw it again. And we definitely pulled Demon Hunter because the symbol on the front (a demonic looking skull with a bullet hole...think about the name...) creeped people out. Not making value judgements on either of those, BTW. But it's definitely it's own little world. And the Christian sections of most normal music stores, you can't hardly find anything anyway, and there's no respect for stylistic differences (or alphabetic order...grrrr...).

But enough of that rant. To the point!! How much is the Church like that CD section? Off in it's own little world, isolated from the rest, and definitely appearing scraggly at times. Not that we have to me appropriately categorized, (OK, at least alphabetize the directory...) but we're very much separated, hoping the world will eventually see how cool we are, especially if we can find a style they like. If we build it right, to paraphrase the great theology of "Field of Dreams," then they will come. We hope.

But in the concept of Christian Worldview music, artists like Kearney are out in the world, writing and performing from the perspective of their relationship with Christ. And it's not just "I love Jesus" repeated 13 times (with a bridge about His love for us), but about living daily life in Christ. (Interestingly enough, I think mainstream music is starting to take a turn like this with love songs. John Mayer's stuff in particular is much broader than 13 love songs on one CD.) It's about life, struggles, challenges, and how to face that all in the world. Perhaps I idealize some, but think out this model...it sounds a little familiar. These artists are in the mainstream media, interacting with a world audience, but their perspective, what they write from, where their inspiration comes from, and the answers they seek, are all of another world. Maybe Jesus talked about something like that, eh? Like how his followers would be living in this world they were not apart of (John 17).

There's a thin line between living in this world, being salt and light, and being of this world, directed by its values. But if we've really got something worth sharing in our Lord, and I think it's plumb obvious that the rest of the world isn't just flocking to it (the nature of the fall), maybe the momentum of the Holy Spirit is outward, to where the lost sheep is wandering. Maybe we've been shelved in out own section for far too long. Maybe we need to take our music to the mainstream, and teach them to sing along.

Wrestle with that question then, and see where the journey leads you. Blessings!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"Technology is great..."

It's funny to watch people when their electronics fail. People always feel a compulsion to say to me "Technology's great when it works." Why they say this to me, I don't know. Maybe it's because until recently, I constantly had a computer in my back pocket, and I've got enough tech-geekery to save my church an occasional $80/hour in calls to Computer Doctor, so they think I need a reality check or something.

But what they're talking about isn't "technology." Technology is the -ology, the knowledge, of techne (craft), of ways to do things which are theoretically better, more efficient. When the sound system went down at a conference I was at last month (which negated our ability to hear the slight-voiced speaker we were enjoying), some wag quipped that if Jesus had preached the Sermon on the Mount with a sound system, we'd have been more concerned with the technology than with the message. But Jesus was using technology, at least the technology of His day. He was using the technology of the natural acoustics of the local geography as an amplifier. He was using the technology of public speaking, which is far more efficient than repeating the same message to 5000 people one at a time. And then some one used a really hi-tech thing called writing (which only certain Information Technology specialists, called scribes, were fluent in), to amplify that message so that millions upon millions could interact with it.

Technology is a helper to communication. Some of it is easier to maintain (especially that which has had centuries to be perfected, like paper), more reliable (like a mountainside), but it's all technology. Roman roads, papyrus and ink, the Greek language, were the technology of mass communication in their day, which carried the Gospel message across the known world. Email, internet, cell phones, even radio, are all still maturing. Give them time. They're already, in their imperfection, spreading the Word to corners Roman roads never reached. And they remind us that God chooses to use the imperfect things of this world (like us) to do His work.

And next time someone says to you that technology;'s great when it works, ask them when's the last time their pencil broke. We're still perfecting that one too! : )

Friday, May 11, 2007

Look, ma! Actual content!!

OK, I've decided that I've been making this whole blog thing too big of a deal, and I just need to write. Quit worrying about audience, quit fussing with "theme", and just write. Merlin Mann writes "Remember that your blog is only incidentally a publishing system or a public website. At its heart, your blog represents the evolving expression of your most passionately held ideas." (from 43 Folders) So I'm gonna do just that.

So bear with me, folks. The ride may get bumpy, but well, it'll be fun. At least for me, anyway! : )