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Mission | Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

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Church Shopping: 7 Items to Add to Your Grocery List

It happens from time to time that you may find yourself looking to join a church. Maybe you recently committed to following Jesus (for the first time or with a renewal of a previous decision); maybe you moved; maybe your church has gone the way of the buffalo; or maybe you are in the unfortunate circumstance of needing to leave a dysfunctional church (see part two of this post). Whatever the case, if you are or have been in one of these scenarios you probably thought to yourself “no one ever told me how to do this”? This blog is for you…read it, comment on it, share it…help others make a healthy, important choice! While there are several blogs out there that address this they usually come down to doctrine (I am assuming you have a basic conviction on which you believe…if not talk to someone you trust. If the church teaches, adheres to and practices the Apostle’s Creed it should have relatively sound doctrine…the real tell-tale signs come forth in the following “temperatures” of the church:

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1. Community:

○ Is the church a family?
○ Are they gathering throughout the week, not just on Sundays?
○ Are you invited to join people in their lives?

If the answer to any of those is an “I’m not sure” then keep moving on.

You can have all the bells and whistles but if there is no community it won’t mean much. We are called to be the church, not find a good show and enjoy the church. This is often a matter of substance over style. The two are not mutually exclusive, but my experience has been that when a church places a high value on production (good music, speaking presentation) it is often to the detriment of inclusive participation…only the good looking, well polished people have a place in leadership/participation. 

2. Transparency:

○ How easy is it to talk to the leadership (pastors and elders)?
○ Are they identifiable on the website?
○ Have public profiles (besides the chief at the top of the totem)?
○ What about finances?
○ Can you see their financial books? Not just a general budget pie graph, but their actual numbers?
Once again, if you hesitate to answer or can not reply automatically let the search continue. There shouldn’t be any secrets when it comes to finances or oversight. Typically linked to this is a clerical/parishioner divide equivocal second only to the pope him self. Mega church pastors too often fall prey to the chasm of the Holy See through entitlement and lack of accountability; mainline pastors too often buy in to the chaplaincy gulf of spiritual feudalism.

3. Truth:

○ Is the whole Bible preached there?
○ Are you discouraged from asking questions?
○ Is dogma firmly entrenched in the rhetoric?
○ Are large sections glossed over such as Spiritual Gifts? Sin and Atonement? Justice? Hospitality? Poverty? Theology in general?
If so it is probably a sign of the chink in the dragons scales…this is where the church display gross heterodoxy/heteropraxy. If the church speaks about money all the time (as many do) and they seem to be well off (which they rarely are) but never mention justice, the poor and purchasing power there is an obvious imbalance.

4. Diversity :

○ Is this a homogenous group?
○ Are all ages represented here?
○ Different ethnicities?
○ Various styles?
○ Are women valued equally as men and represented in equal numbers?
While everyone enjoys their own culture and we feel the most comfortable among what we have grown up with the church is to be a sign and foretaste of the Kingdom…a kingdom in which children and teens are valued just as much as adults, women just as much as men, black just as much as white, poor just as much as rich. If everyone in the church is 21 or 50 or 88 it is a sign that something is off…take heed.

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5. Equipping:

○ This is the first and probably most important question I tell people to ask when they are looking for a church – “Can I be equipped and released to serve Jesus here”?
This is much more than volunteering…every church will take you as a volunteer…every church needs warm bodies for the kid’s program or to do bulletins. A mentor of mine wrote a blog asking the question “what would your church do if the Apostles Paul and Peter should up at your church tomorrow to work for two weeks?”  Certainly we wouldn’t have them only do these tasks, we would say move in the power God has given you! Here is the catch, the only difference between us and them is the equipping they had…we have access to the same Holy Spirit. Let me elaborate: we put in place a rule, that if you want to lead from the front (worship, speaking, prayer, liturgy, communion) you must be in a discipling relationship (a Huddle).
A few musicians have approached us to play and when we tell them YES! We just need to get you in one of these relationships with accountability and direction and input and growth and prayer! They take off quicker than a Justin Bieber fan at an MMA match. If a church doesn’t want to invest in you this way and is willing to sacrifice your gifts, talents and availability without the covenant to see you succeed in following Christ get the hell out of there! Seriously!

6. Multiplication:

○ How many churches have they planted?
○ What is the plan for church planting?
○ What about missional work?
○ Is the church growth through multiplication or simple addition?
Don’t let size fool you…while it is a sign that things can be efficient , creative, enjoyable, etc., it does not mean health. It is relatively easy to get a big crowd…take football…tens of thousands show up in an arena to watch guys in spandex hit each other…not super impressive. Don’t get me wrong…I think healthy things should grow and there is nothing wrong with a large church…but is that all there is?

7. Shalom:

○ Is there peace within the church?
○ Do the practice the Matthew 18 principle of resolving conflict?
○ What is the history of church splits? Staff leaving?
○ Has the church shrunk significantly?
This is a Hebrew word meaning peace, but not in the tranquility sense…in the fulfillment sense. Everything the way God intends it. Now the maxim is still true…if you find the perfect church don’t go there…you’ll screw it up. There is no church that is perfect, but there are plenty of churches that are a float (or sinking) amidst a sea of turmoil that they themselves have created (which is quite different from death or persecution…that is acceptable turmoil by church history standards). One great question to ask a church is how many “exit interviews” they have conducted? If the answer is none be ware. All churches loose people; good ones ask why? And not from a hypothetical stand point, but by sitting down and hearing from them…this is called shepherding. To my knowledge not a lot of churches practice this last idea, so I don’t think it is a deal breaker, just a good Litmus.

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Caveat: It should be noted that the majority of folks don’t need new excuses to not join a church…it seems pandemic to our culture. If all seven of these are not present I don’t think it’s reason enough to not join a community. If you have exhausted your search and are still coming up short go with the closest fit and where the Holy Spirit leads. This is more 7 goals for a local church to embody than anything. Don’t fall into the trap of criticism and perfectionism…If you find a place where the people love Jesus more than anything else and there is transparent community with room to grow…stick it out!

Of course the critical facts in addition to this mix are prayer, conviction and trusted counsel, but hopefully you will have read some points that you may not have voiced before but have intuitively sensed. Take your time and lots of prayer…this is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life.

Jesus Culture: The Best of Consumer Culture

Siting in the Gibson Amphitheater during the last day of the Jesus Culture conference, if you have been curious (as was I) about JC hopefully this is helpful. For my missional church friends who are having a gag reflex or moving to my Facebook profile to unfriend me…please read on.

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The past few days gave me reason to reconsidered my posture towards big conference, American-Worship Leader-Idol events. It is amazing to see 5,000 people from all over LA (and the world), from all types of backgrounds, from all sorts of denominations and demographics not only gather together to worship, but to pay so to do it. Let me bonafie that statement. We live in a consumer culture (which is actually different than consumerism). It isn’t inherently bad, it is just what we do…we buy things. We have the freedom to buy what we want, eat what we want, choose certain brands. It wasn’t always like this; thousands of years ago people had one set of clothes that were all the same color; they went to the one entertainment event (if there was even ONE); they ate the same foods every day; they did not have disposable income.

 

We are all quite use to this today though…so in a place like LA where there are literally thousands of things to spend money and time on to see thousands of people show up to spend money and time on Jesus and encountering him with thousands of other people is a totally awesome thing. In a consumer culture shouldn’t it be this way? Now I’m not suggesting we play into the consumerism that is rampant in the church these days (I will give you my money <tithe> and energy<attendance, volunteerism> and you will give me spiritual goods <salvation> and services <worship experience>). However, I think there is something to be said about leading a group of teenagers to a gathering of other teens and adults and showing them that spending their capital on Jesus and community is a great thing…it is an very tangible object lesson.

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The experience was certainly replete with pet-peeves and irritants, but let me start with some wonderful takeaways from the few days I spent there with our youth group.

  • The time spent with our teenagers and youth leaders was by and far the best part of this trip…as it should be.
  • Jesus Culture Band, The Torwalts, Martin Smith…all wonderful and amazing at leading a huge room of people in times of worship through singing…the sound system at the Gibson wasn’t too bad either.
  • There is an expectancy for God to move and meet with people…to see Kingdom stuff (deliverance, healing, salvation) happen and that we all participate in that. Everyone Get’s to Play.

Some of the most wonderful, theologically accurate things preached in the past three days:

  • To bear good fruit, you need to have a good root system
  • Our success isn’t based on our merit or talent, but on abiding in Christ and putting him first
  • We aren’t called to gather at conferences, we are called to disciple nations
  • Where ever we go, we bring the Kingdom of Heaven with us by declaring that Jesus is King
  • America is more than an offering plate for Africa; God wants to save America for the sake of America
  • If we aren’t bearing fruit, all of this is meaningless
  • Jesus is the same out there (city walk) as he is in here (conference)
  • Fruit that lasts is something that takes time…live long term, not just for the moment
  • Lots of awesome practical, down to earth training on praying for people and sharing Jesus with them
  • Lots of testimony from teenagers
  • An clear passion to pastor people, without the structure (local church) to do so.

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Of course, there was quite a bit of over-realized eschatology typical of charismatic conferences.

  • Quite a few “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs
  • Lots and lots of bumper sticker theology:
  • “you gotta claim your flame”
  • “The ABC of FAITH is that as we act, God acts.”
  • “Ain’t no party, like the Holy Ghost party, cause…” you get the point
  • “I want to kick the devil before I kick the bucket”
  • “Jesus is my co-pilot” (jk that wasn’t really said…I think)
  • Ecstatic and loud speaking in tongues during worship (not JC’s fault, just a casualty of public conferences)
  • Little to no explanation of spiritual gifts from the outset, required quite a bit of debriefing for our group.
  • A lot of the messages bordered on making physical healing the highest expression of the Kingdom

IMG_1059The bathwater wasn’t remotely close to stale enough to warrant throwing the baby out with it. I particularly appreciated Banning Leibscher bringing it home on the last night. It was a clear call to dig deep into the Bible and establish a relationship with God that is built on truth. Over all, this was a great conference and a really engaging experience for our teenagers. Will most likely return again…

Like Incense Before God…

I just finished a good conversation with my wonderful friend Cody who, in response to some video collaboration, asked “why do fonts matter?”

Upon some reflection I think this might be a question on many minds (at least within Kairos) – why do the styles of letters and typography matter at all? I believe these small things add up to create the whole. It is not just the major components of theology, philosophy and praxis that create the identity of a church (or any other organization)…it is the small things…the details, minutia and nuances are critical.

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Now, I am not saying the small things are just as important…that fonts or chair layouts or lighting is just as important as an understanding of who Jesus is, or the healing power of the Holy Spirit. Of course not, but I am saying they add up to what we call a “relationship”. Let’s us the analogy of a romance (a pretty classically Biblical analogy). Of course the most important things on a wedding day are the vows being said, the commitment being made, the health and presence of the bride and groom. But to say the details are not significant, that the flowers not matching the dresses, or the Bride being well dressed and groomed or the groom being shaven and having freshly brushed teeth.

Those are some critical details…we take those for granted because they are intuitive for most of us. When it comes to matters of community and hospitality and digital media and public gatherings we may not have the same intuition or care for the same details, but God does.

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The Hebrew Scriptures are littered with nuances and details so specific and minute that we often skip over them in readings. Take the OT directions for the tabernacle or the temple? The instructions to the priests and artisans? God cares deeply over these things, not because there is a write and wrong font to use in a graphic or a correct color to employ in art, but because he wants the care and devotion that come with them. If the church is the bride of Christ, it should be one that is pure in spirit and lovely to behold. Taking care to create an atmosphere of hospitality, an environment of worship, clear and direct signage or a welcoming and intimate floor plan is tantamount to preparing the Bride for the Groom.

When we show up early for a public gathering to layout chairs or arrange signs we are swinging incense down the aisle of the temple. When we labor over a dish to bring to a Missional Community to share with friends old and new we are consecrating the Bread and Wine of the Lord’s table. When we put care and time into the color schema of a new web graphic we declare the Lord’s return. Take note of Aaron’s role in this process: “Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come. – Exodus 30:7-8

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It is so easy to see these things as “church chores” – mundane and unimportant, but what acts of worship they are before God. Yes, preparing the church for God must first be a matter of spirit…to come with contrite hearts in brokenness and thanksgiving…but that is not to discount the efforts of beauty and presentation that the Bride must also have. I relish the time we show up early for a worship gathering to prepare the sanctuary for a reckoning with God.

One Name…Under Heaven

After a great week in Washington D.C. and getting to listen to some brilliance from Deb and Allan Hirsch I felt led to spend some time discussing the difference between Polytheism and Monotheism in different areas of our lives. Like all good Christian things, this involves a great deal of alliteration – I apologize in advance.

Polytheism, put simply, is the worship of many gods…most modern thinkers don’t even consider this as a possible religious option. This view sees life as controlled by many different fatalistic forces.

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Atheism is the rejection of “god” as a possibility. Now almost all atheists are not making arguments against Oden or Ra or Hermes. They are arguing against a monotheistic god…primarily the god of a Abrahamic tradition (Judaic, Islamic or Christian). I would wager my house on the fact that everyone reading my blog is either a monotheist or an atheist. Monotheism plays out the notion that all of the elements of life are under the lordship, the rule of one god (Yahweh). It looks a bit like this:

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Every part of you is directed by and towards God (or in the Christian worldview, Jesus). Jesus guides how we use our Treasure (money, gifts, resources), Time (families, leisure, education and career), Talent (abilities and ambitions), Temper (reactions to others, words, gossip, love), Taste (appetites, addictions, sexuality), Thinking (intellect, thought patterns, fantasies) and Trajectory (the course of our lives…where we live, go to school, take a job, raise our kids). Any religious person would most likely assent to this way of thinking…we would love to believe that God is in control of these aspects of our lives. However (as Hirsch suggests), we are all to some degree, functional polytheists. That is, there is some aspect of our lives that we do not wish to submit to God’s plan…his Lordship.

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In this example (though we could use any aspect), a lot of Christians will submit to God with most of their lives…except for the area most precious to them. Instead of worshiping Aphrodite as the lord or goddess over sexuality, a lot of us embrace what I snarkly dubbed “TMZ Sexuality”. That is,  our sexual ID which claims happiness and fulfillment as the ultimate goal or end of our experience. This plays out in almost all aspects of our sexuality in the West. If you are not happy get a divorce; if you are not fulfilled seek out new thrills; if you feel bad about your identity feel desired by a new person; if you are lonely get married. That last one probably sounds ludicrous…of course God doesn’t want you to be lonely! But is that then end goal of your sexuality? I think that question is up for grabs…but if we don’t really submit that question before the God we follow then we will never actually know…our desires and needs will drive us.

So let me pose the question: Who is in the driver’s seat of your life?

If you want to find out more, join us at Kairos Community for a 7 week series while we explore these issues

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I Am Gay, and Fat, and Stupid, and Illegal, and Poor, and Slutty, and…

I AM OPPRESSED

At least I choose to stand with the oppressed…that is part of what it means to be a Christian. To represent Jesus to everyone demands that we identify with those that are oppressed, isolated or hurting – Jesus did this habitually.

After yesterday’s horrific series of events – a major bombing in Iraq, the terrorism of Boston and the suicide of a local teen – we need some Good News. The world is a dark place and we can choose to participate in the darkness, or refute it.

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Here is the deal…one of the ways we overcome darkness is by identifying and advocating for  those on the brink of being swallowed by evil. People take bombs into public places because they believe lies about themselves and the world they live in; they feel their options are taken away; spouses cheat on each other because they are isolated; teenagers kill themselves because they feel hopeless and alone. Jesus’s self proclaimed mission was to bring good news to the poor, oppressed, blind, rejected (Luke 4:18). The Good News is that God values and loves them, going to extravagant lengths in order for them to participate in his Kingdom, in the righting of wrongs, in the salvation of the world. We proclaim that Good News by embodying it!

When I say “I am gay” it is not because I am attracted to men, it is because homosexuals and heterosexuals alike are my brothers and sisters; when I write “I am stupid” I do so because those who haven’t had the educational opportunities that I have are just as valuable as me; when I declare “I am fat” I reject the dichotomy that values people on their weight and body image…I am one of them, they are one of me. When we isolate, bully or reject others for their differences we destroy they Good News instead of live it. 

I am bullied – that is not hyperbole, I was bullied in grade school. The reason that is present tense is simple…it never leaves you. If you have been bullied, you will always sympathize with those who have been bullied; if you were once over weight, you will always know what it means to feel ostracized because of your image. The isolation and hopelessness that such actions create in us lead to desperation: suicide, terrorism, abandonment, addiction.

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The Bible clearly calls us to love those who are on the outside:

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17 NIV)

May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor. For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalm 72:4, 12-14 NIV)

It seems clear, the response a Christian is called to give towards oppression begins by:

  1. Describing Yourself As One of Them – this is the difference between empathy and sympathy
  2. Defending Them – where there is bullying, gossiping, oppression crush it with everything you have
  3. Dying for Them –  sacrifice your comfort, autonomy and self-interest by placing yourself in between the oppressed and the oppressor.

I worked with teenagers for years as a youth pastor and school teacher and we continue to have a lot of young people in our church congregation…I can’t think of a single better thing to instill in them as a new generation of people figuring out what it means to follow Christ, than to have them eradicate bullying, gossip, clicks and isolation in their schools and communities.

The bottom line is: we are called to humanize everyone (gay or straight, terrorist or solider, waitress or stripper, murderer or saint, poor or rich) because we are all human, all weak, all needing of mercy and forgiveness. Until we view the “other” as us, we will perpetuate the lie that we are better than others and more deserving of God’s goodness  (Romans 3:23)

I AM OPPRESSED…

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Theological Baggage: Building a Missional Theology from the Ground Up

What would a new Missional Theology from the ground up look like?

 

So often in Christian circles we attempt to hit the reset button and “get back to basics” (this is where the idea of reformation and the word ‘fundamentalism’ both come from). The problem is by ‘reforming’ what exists we often carry a lot of baggage with us when rebuilding what we just destroyed. Take for an example the Bible. The Authorized, or King James Version is one of the most flawed and poorly translated in the English language. Yet, much like a Hand bell Choir or Cantada that once was a relevant expression of worship but refuses to die after it’s time, the KJV has amazing staying power. Did you no that the KJV has been revised 20 times!

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The following versions are all revisions of the original:
· Revised Version

· American Version

· Revised Standard Version

· American Standard Version

· New Revised Standard Version

· New American Standard Version

· King James Version II (KJII) (renamed to Literal Translation of the Holy Bible)

· King James for the 21st Century (KJ21)

· King James 2000 (KJ2000)

· The Literal Translation of the Holy Bible (LITV) (formerly named King James II)

· Modern King James Version (MKJV)

· New King James Version (NKJV)

· Revised Authorized Version (RAV) (British edition of the NKJV)

· Revised King James New Testament (RKJV)

· The Third Millennium Bible (TMB)

· Updated King James Version (UKJV)

 

Beyond these revisions we see other ghosts of the past clinging to the present

·       “New” versions of the Bible…the NIV or TNIV for example…the KJV is taken into account and often deferred to in matters of translation.

·       We have the additive of chapter and verse and occasional pericope headings.

·       The tradition reading of Revelation 22:18-19 and closing of the canon.

These simple “baggages” carry tremendous theological and ecclesiological significance. This is simply one area to explore.

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Now let us imagine the possibilities when we unhitch our theological wagon from some of these dead horses. A Missional Theology built from the ground up would have Scripture as a foundational building block – but how do we approach that Scripture? As a living word…breathing, moving, relevant for today. As a rigid reference anchoring us not only to the historical narrative, but the cultural mores and contextual theology of that history as well.

 

I suggest the way we begin building this theology with an overhaul of our exegetical approach to scripture (much needs to be thought on, said and written over this change). Beyond that I can think of several tensions that currently exist that, when addresses (not fixed) will allow the church to begin the work of theological, missiological construction.

 

The tension between the Word of God and God Speaking

One of the greatest sins in many evangelical circles is a worship of Scripture. I can recall a Sunday school teacher berating me as a child for dropping a Bible on the ground (on accident none the less). “This is God with us” he told me. REALLY? SERIOUSLY? Without the work of God’s Spirit in and through us, the words inside a Bible are worthless…that is right – worthless. Understanding God solely within the context of Scripture limits our theology from being fresh and creative for today. Take Abraham and Melchizedek – Where was Scripture instructing Abraham to act? The openness to God’s voice in the context of his setting guided his mission(s).

The tension between the universal and the local

“One holy, catholic and apostolic church” usually means that even Protestants tend to think in universal terms. That what is the call and mission for a particular time and place should apply to all Christians, in all times and all places. However, if we take missiology seriously – the mission becomes more and less important at the same time. More important because it is driving the church, less important because it is now disposable.

The tension between stable and spontaneous

Most denominations are built for stability…but we are not called to stability…we are called to effectiveness. The most effective way to be missional is responsiveness – i.e. it is hard to turn the titanic fast. Mike Breen refers to responsiveness as keeping your vehicles “light weight, low maintenance.” I remember hearing John Wimber talk about leaving the Anaheim Vineyard in response to the suggestions that in his absence the church might die. He simply said: “Maybe it should” – that seems like kingdom thinking from the ground up.

The tension between the one and the many

Most will agree, the church exists (at least in part) to equip the people of God for the work of God. Yet, our structure, no matter how many times we reform it, no matter how Protestant we are, comes back to a faulty exegesis of the Petrine text. You may be saying “I don’t think Jesus intended to build THE CHURCH on Peter, that’s not what that means”, but then we must look at our own staffs, leadership structure and pipelines. Is God intending to build the local church on the back of one charismatic person? A ground up Theology of Mission will be have as its manifestation an ecclesiology that reflects the apostolic impulse to replicate the model of leadership in the many of the congregation.

The tensions between the chicken and the egg

In the beginning of any systematic theology we have to wrestle with the ontological nature of the divine/human connection. A missional theology from the ground up starts with a self awareness, a primal self reflection and scrutiny that leaves room for God to approach us. To assume that we must understand and encounter God first is anthropomorphic and a product of Christendom…a relic from a faux Pax-Theocracy. The majority of modern theology is built on the fallacy of: Understand, Apply, Belong. A new paradigm inverts this: Belong, Apply, Understand.


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Of course there are so many other tensions and arenas to explore for a fresh theology of mission – I am looking forward to hearing from some much sharper minds than myself at the Missio Alliance Gathering this April…wanna join me?

Loneliness and Isolation, Solitude

After posting a misunderstood comment about people eating alone and trying to respond in comment form…It is apparent a blog is needed.

While waiting for a friend at a local bar last night, I noted that there was a regular crowd of patrons eating in this rather fancy establishment…the unique (or not unique) thing about these diners was that they were eating alone, at the bar and seemed to do so with frequency. This struck me as tragic, not because I have a problem eating alone or with loneliness at all, but with the idea of isolation! So I think some definitions are in order:

  • Loneliness: An essential part of the human condition…I believe it is a disease. The English word Sex comes from the Latin sexus – that is the idea that in this act, we join what was separated. The core of our human condition is separation from God. Of all the quotes out there on “loneliness” I found one by Claire Danes the most interesting: “Acting is the greatest answer to my loneliness that I have found.” This is a problem we try to cure through thousands of different avenues.
  • Isolation: If loneliness is the feeling, isolation is the result…this is the destination that our loneliness leads to. The more we try and cope with loneliness through unhealthy means (workaholism, substances, food, shopping, entertainment, etc.) the more deformed we become from such coping mechanisms. Ultimately this can lead to extreme isolation from others…a lack of community
  • Solitude: The healthy antithesis to Isolation. We can be completely isolated and lonely even when surrounded by people. Indeed, this is perhaps when we can feel the most isolated. We can also feel whole and complete when completely alone. Solitude is the balancing act of knowing thyself (γνῶθι σεαυτόνI) and knowing who you are supposed to be.

When we can hold these two notions together we move towards wholeness…and I believe wholeness is impossible without solitude. Usually we are only good at one of these two: 1. An acute awareness of our own self can often lead to narcissistic, self-congratulatory, morally relative person. 2. An inflamed sense of who they were created to become often produces a guilt laden, works driven personality that never ends up doing enough.

The guru of solitude, Henri Nouwen, puts this in such beautiful prose: “To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.” Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out

With regards to my solo dining experience, the thing that strikes me as tragic is not the singleness of the good people eating next to me…it is the isolation that their loneliness has produced. That isolation is perhaps more obvious with the folks next to me, but it is so prevalent in our culture. We will continue to be fragmented and isolated without the depth that solitude produces (which includes introspection and direction from God) and the sustenance that community provides we are quite hopeless to see the disease of isolation retreat.

Parents and the Generational Struggle in Film

Let me start by admitting, I do not get to go the movies often due to my work schedule and my 3 children under 5. However, the few movies I have seen over the last year have, in many instances, had a resounding theme: We Must Struggle to Understand and Often Overcome Our Parents and Parental Figures.
This theme stood out in extraordinary fashion when it rebuffed the motifs of romance in two classically “romantic” sub-genres: 007 films and Disney Princess fantasies.

Skyfall: This was excellent…possibly my favorite of any Bond film ever! One of the reasons why is the plot and the lack of trite, meaningless romance. Bond had a small fling in the first half of the film, but it was so periphial that you could completely augment it and the film would read the same. Instead it focused on an internal familial struggle between Bond, his estranged brother figure and M…who is clearly a mother figure to the orphan/hero. This was not so subtle given the line (in reference to M) “mommy has been very bad” (this film could have been titled “M is for Mother”).

M Judi Dench Skyfall lodge scotland

Brave: Not quite the hit Tangled was, but I still loved this movie. Completely void of a love interest or a real villain. This was the story of a daughter wrestling with herself, her family and her future.

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Arthur Christmas: Brilliant! A three way, tri-generational struggle for power, style and values. Son, Father and Grandfather sacrificially fighting for their vision of Christmas and their role as Santa – this movie spoke to me way beyond what I was expecting.

 Arthur Christmas Movie

I could go on and draw connections from other films of the past year and point out that Finding Nemo was even rereleased this year, but the three examples provide sufficient evidence.

Here is the question – are we seeing a renewed sense of generational conflict? Is the gap widening between young and old? Or is this a coincidence?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject as well as other film illustrations you are thinking of.

Intentionally Secular

(I wrote this post a week ago, but my server deleted it…rewritten)

I am a pastor at Kairos Community, a new church plant. We (like a lot of churches) play music overhead while everyone is shuffling in and gearing up for our worship gathering. While some Christian/worship music makes it’s way in there…we intentionally play a lot of “secular” music for several reasons:

1. Gotta give Young Life credit for this – churchy people like church music, nobody else does. Playing familiar music makes people feel welcomed, relaxed and normal.

2. I don’t listen to an overwhelming amount of Christian music…our playlists reflect that. This simply reinforces the transparency and authenticity we try to cultivate

3. We are trying to be more collaborative and participatory in our worship gatherings and music selection. There are all kinds of awesome ways to do this – we use Spotifyhere is a link to our playlist (other options include Grovershark, Turntable.fm)

4. Perhaps most importantly, it can be a powerful way to prepare hearts for worship.

Think about the lyrics to the following Ellie Goulding song

“Only You”

Only you can be the aching in my heart
My enemy, the only animal I couldn’t fight
You hold me in the dark when storms arrive
Only you
Only you can see the emptiness I feel
When you’re with me
When everything you say I’m on my knees
Baby I’m on my knees
(with amazing repetition in true Brit pop fashion)

(This is a truncated version)

The desperation and creativity in that music will soak the church while they mingle, reconnect with each other, find a seat and get a donut…while it is not conventional, shouldn’t we be intentional with our choices?

I would love to hear what secular songs you hear the stirrings of worship in…comment by clicking the header or add them to our playlist.

Responding to Connecticut

What response can we offer to the tragedy today other than despair and paranoia? I don’t think I have the faculties to offer more than that…yet when I look beyond my self and open the canon of Scripture I see a different posture towards the insanity of terrorism and psychosis. TRIUMPH!

 

That is right, victory in battle. A friend of mine recently wrote a blog on viewing life as a journey or a battle (saying we arguably need both…I agree). If we view life as nothing more than a journey, than we desperately mourn the journey being cut short for 20 people killed in the coldest of blood this morning.

But if we view it as an epic struggle between good and evil, than we honor those, young and old that fell today to the drive force of evil in this world. The same wickedness that caused several passenger planes to crash on 9/11; the same evil that persists in the global epidemic of starvation and hunger; the same villainy that will be behind every divergence from God’s plan of goodness and healing for our world.

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” – 1 Corinthians 15:19