It's finally time for a week at the lake cottage! We're packed, just about ready to go.
I'm looking forward to a bunch of days of doing nothing except sleeping, eating, reading, playing, napping, fishing with the kids, making fires for s'mores, watching Tara scrapbook, skiing, digging big holes in the sand, getting even more tan, more sleep, maybe more reading, and even more playing. So, I doubt I'll come back from vacation full of energy, but I will be energized from spending time with the family and having lots of fun.
So now Tara is in from talking with our neighbor Heather, the kids need to be torn away from the TV and loaded in the van. Then we pack more stuff around them and off we go!
Now I just need the weather to cooperate: sunny days in the 80's, slight breeze, a few clouds, and then evenings in the cool 60's. Yep, that would be perfect!
Here we go....!
Friday, July 10, 2009
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
The one-two punch of Peter Rollins and Shane Hipps...all I can say is "Whew!"
First this: Peter the Irishman got an extended, passionate standing ovation for his "talk."
The essence of his "talk": we need substantial change.
Not intellectual change, but gut change.
Christianity is not violent enough: a violence against the principalities of this world that enslave and deceive and corrupt and wreck the hearts and homes of humanity.
What kind of violence are we talking about?
The violence of Jesus that subverted the Roman Empire
The violence of Ghandi that subverted the British Empire
The violence of MLK that subverted the racist stranglehold upon America
The violence of Mother Teresa that subverted the caste stranglehold upon India
Substantial change comes from how we know God.
Do we know God like the biologist knows biology? Is God another fact alongside the other million facts we sort and catalog in our libraries and universities?
According to Anselm, there are three ways to think of God.
God exists as an idea.
God exists as an idea and reality.
God exists as reality, but not in a way that we can fully comprehend.
Peter prompts this consideration: God in Jesus is a mystery not fully revealed; rather it is a mystery that is brought nearer, is deepened.
When it comes to parables - they are designed to be incarnated. Parables are to rupture a person unto change, transformation, life-full obedience. Parables are an insurrection against evil.
What if theology was less about explanation and more about grounded, disruptive provocation?
If Christianity is about God bringing heaven and earth together unto the New Heavens and the New Earth, then shouldn't theology be less about description and more about poetic action?
* the attempt to capture some of Peter's talk in this blog is completely insufficient. How to capture his energy and passion and obvious loyalty to God and Christ, his throbbing mind and racing heart to follow the Spirit in this world, to be used as a disciple for substantive change. It's clear that Peter is overflowing with enthusiasm for the renewing work of Christ in our world. It was the same Spirit that is seeking to overflow in us...in me...
The talk by Shane Hipps was quite unlike anything I've ever encountered. Thought provoking, breaking new ground in considering the idea that "the medium is the message".
As Shane explained it, there are three bodies: our physical body, our energetic body, our essential body. We are wise to consider how our body - physical, energy, essence - contributes to the message that we communicate through word, action, attitude, etc. If body language is the bulk of what we communicate when we use words, then we are obligated to consider how our physical, energetic, and essential body contribute to what is actually communicated - especially when it comes to the Gospel.
I may have missed it, and maybe in one of his books, Shane Hipps cites the sources for the stuff he shares about the body. I'll be tracking that information down. He didn't spend much time discussing the effects of the physical body on our communication - he noted that many people have written many things about it already. He wanted to spend time on the effects our energetic and essential body have on our communication - especially since this is new stuff to most of us. Agreed!
What is the energetic body?
Everybody exudes a certain amount of energy. It's what you sense when someone is angry, afraid, or aching. It's more than just reading body language of the eyes, of the posture. You can sense something in the room - it can be palpable. It's the energy that exudes from the person, from the crowd. Just as some people have unique physical bodies, so people can have unique energetic bodies. Shane gave the example of Bono having enormous energetic capabilities - someone who can affect a stadium of tens of thousands of people. Just as people can neglect or strengthen their physical bodies, so people can shape their energetic body. We all have an energetic identity - the question is what will we do with it? Will we seek to use that energy for good, or will we ignore it's influence on our communication?
What is the essential body?
Everybody has an unchanging essence - the deepest part of us, that part of us that is made in the Imago Dei. We can't develop it, we can't alter it, we can't shape it - it is unlimited and free. It is the part of us that endures and emerges (or is shrouded) as our body grows, our voice changes, our attitudes shift, our personality develops, our skills are modified, our interests change, etc. Knowing who we really are is connected in a profound way with who God made us to be; when we live out of this essential body, we live in a union with God that Christ prayed for in John 17. To live in union with Christ, to be "in Christ" as Paul states it, comes out of our emerging awareness of who we really are, who we were created/born to be according to God's desires. When we live out of the essential us, we are able to better develop our energetic self and physical body - and when there is a kind of unity between the three bodies, our communication becomes much more powerful. Unity with God, self, and others is part of what Christ prays for...and it's something we ought to work towards, especially if we go as his disciples and ambassadors.
How serious are we in considering that our body affects the message we communicate?
Rob ended the event with a challenge to all preachers everywhere: become masters at forgiveness.
We all experience "death by papercuts", those words and comments that wound - whether intentional or not. When people criticize or lambast or twist or misunderstand, and it comes back in a way that wounds, be willing to forgive.
Let go of the hurt, learn from the experience, take what is true, and forgive whatever grievance emerges from the situation.
Obviously Rob Bell has become a lightening rod for controversy. Any preacher worth anything will stir up controversy, just maybe not on such a global scale. Nobody pickets when I show up!
Nonetheless, learn to forgive the people who you are in community with, forgive those who are outside the community, forgive those whose words come from distant places but still find a way to hurt. Forgive, just as in Christ God forgave us. Forgive, for they do not know what they are doing. Forgive for this is the way of Jesus.
What's writers block look like for a preacher?
A blank screen or blank sheet of paper, a closed Bible, pen in hand, and a blank look while staring out the window. And then the frustrating question: "What should I preach this Sunday?"
As Rob Bell phrases it: what can we do to not start with a blank screen at the beginning of the week? How can we move from having to say something to having something to say...
Here's the contrast:
all around us
all the time
When is the radar up for discerning what the message ought to be on Sunday?
Rob worked hard to inspire preachers to keep the radar always up - use everything as fodder for messages in the works. By working six to twelve months in advance, and by having the radar up the whole time, when it comes to Tuesday 9am there is no blank screen. Rather, the new problem is one of editing - sifting out all the good stuff that can't be worked into the message.
Here's how Rob breaks it down:
Radar: the attitude of the preacher that the Spirit is always at work, that Jesus is always at work, that God is always at work - and thus we ought to be more aware of what They are up to in the world around us. This awareness both fuels the content of the message, but also the context.
Buckets: the many, many, many categories of content that you gather as you do life; with a big ever working radar there will be many buckets of stuff that is accumulate. Which is good - if you are trying to avoid starting with a blank screen!
Rob challenged preachers to get their buckets going by collecting one idea/fragment/insight/sentence per week. Give it a year - but don't put any pressure on the self to collect, just look for it, let it come. Revisit regularly what you find, stay familiar with the stuff in the buckets.
Chunks: the content that connects with what you perceive going on in the congregation - the stuff that stirs curiosity and arouses conviction. The stuff you draw from the buckets to begin exploring, exegeting, examining in order to discern what the Spirit is saying to you and the church.
With the chunks, be intentional with the text - and pay attention to what it is saying. Look for the organizational principles at play in the text and ideas emerging. For the buckets and chunks that grow into something interesting and convicting, work with them. For buckets and chunks that don't seem to go anywhere, either dump them or let them sit on the backburner.
Don't just accumulate information, look for ways to arrange it. Keep the radar up, not only for content to collect, but what is going on in the world of the congregation and city. Be aware of what buckets and chunks are most pertinent to what the Spirit is doing.
Marinade: once the content has been discerned, let it sit in the head, heart and gut. Let the ideas and convictions soak into the soul - let it stay with you so that as you do life, the message will emerge from real life, not abstract ideals. For example: memorize the Scripture you'll be preaching from - months in advance. Then let that Scripture stay with you as you go for a run, cook dinner, play with the family. Let stuff you learn from that Scripture swirl in the mind so that by the time it gets penned to paper it is a well-considered text.
When it comes to collecting information from what you see and hear in life, here's Rob's suggestion:
write it down
take a picture of it
ask for it
tear it out
When it comes to working with the Scripture text, here's some of Rob's suggestions:
inhale what others have said about it
examine key words
get to know the location
ask questions about the culture
explore the concepts
what are the stories about
where in time does this occur
what are the pictures
actions - who and what
connections with anything else
When it comes to distilling the message, here's a practice that Rob puts himself through:
If I couldn't use any biblical or religious language, how would I describe this...
to a child?
to a Martian?
using only drawings and pictures?
using only actors?
to irreligious people?
to help people become fully human?
A big part of what drives Rob in his sermonwork is this goal: asking what is the thing behind the thing? What is the mystery behind the mystery? What is the truth behind the truth.
This preaching event provided me some space to rethink how I plan out my messages, where do I get my content from, and what I can do to sharpen my skills. Obviously Rob isn't telling preachers to do it like him - but we can learn from him and apply the wisdom to our own personality and place.
What are some specific ways I could improve my preaching?
Plan out at least six-months in advance, and NOT change the schedule!
Take some days to plan out the six-month schedule.
Take some time to get insights from fellow Anchorites before planning out the schedule.
Rearrange my weekly schedule - make it a bit more rigid when it comes to working on sermons -not only for the upcoming Sunday, but for the ones in the weeks to come. Plan my work, than work my plan!
I'm sure people who listen to my sermons regularly could give me some more suggestions for improvement!
What makes some sermons work and others don't?
In an exploration of this topic, Rob Bell suggested that sermons have an engine; sermons have an energy that come from somewhere. The preacher and the listeners are well served when the preacher understands what is energizing his message.
Four questions every preacher must ask:
Why are you saying this?
Why do we need to hear this?
Why should we care?
Why do I care?
And one more statement:
What's the spark, impulse, insight, twist, revelation, truth, picture, reality that has compelled you to say these things to these people at this time? And say it in 30 seconds.
As Rob Bell sees it, sermons can center around...
1) a Moment - a story or teaching that in itself has significant implications for our faith and life
2) a Movement - a progressive story or teaching that together has implications...
3) a Mystery - story or teaching that has multiple layers of meaning, depths to explore.
Understanding what kind of text(s) the sermon is centering on helps focus what is energizing the message.
When it comes to the architecture of the sermon, everything is related to everything else in the message. Whatever the different parts of the sermon are, be able to name those parts, really know the parts, be aware of the potential of the parts, feel the parts, and step outside the parts. Intentionally arrange the parts in a purposeful way.
What are the parts?
(include but not limited too...)
When it comes to using these parts, know what you are dealing with, and how to effectively use them.
arc (how will it land?)
Be careful of openers that overwhelm.
There are no rules other than knowing what you are doing. You can do it any way you want, just make sure it works, it accomplishes what you as the preacher intend, and it does so in a way that is true to way of God.
A sermon creates a picture, a space, an image, an experience, an encounter, a world, a place that allows people to find themselves in it.
Within in a sermon, there is...
a focused preacher, yet an open one...
what is said, and yet unsaid...
definiteness and yet imagination...
resolution and yet unresolvedness...
Last: know your audience...know who is listening...the diversity, the differences. Help individuals take their next step forward - wherever they are in their walk with Jesus.
The technical aspect of this conference has been helpful. A lot of it is review - but in my case it is much needed review. It's also helpful to get the basics from another point of view - which would be Rob's speciality. He has a unique preaching style that connects with many...and like any preacher does not connect with many. There is no preacher that I want to imitate, but there are many that I admire and have learned from, or are continuing to learn from.
Who are preachers that you have really respected as communicators?
Dennis Miller was the first preacher to really inspire me as a preacher.
Robert Smith Jr. is an amazing orator and with a deep pastoral heart in his communication.
Richard Allen Farmer is a master crafter of words.
Andy Stanley is brilliant when it comes to moving the message along while touching almost everybody in the audience.
Rob Bell has a fascinating way of opening up the Scripture, prodding every deeper thinking all the while pointing to concrete actions.
John Ortberg has a slow and steady way of speaking that builds potent momentum until the message has lodged itself in the heart
What do an Irish theological maverick and a former Porsche advertiser have in common? They are friends with Rob Bell and have something to say to preachers.
The late morning session was with Peter Collins. Reminded me of a hobbit. Smeagol, before he found the ring. And Shane Hipps reminded me of a famous actor who has been in some movies I watched, but whose name completely escapes me. Anywhooo...
Peter in his own eccentric way tried to open up preachers to the idea of the social self - to whom are we preaching, who are we as preachers, within what context are we preaching.
For example: is there any irony in railing against corporate America while sipping coffee in Starbucks? Is there any irony in resenting the influence big business has on American politics while we shop at Wal-mart? Is there any irony in our despising radical fundamentalist violent Islamic extremists while going out to the movies to watch American Pie or Saw?
If preaching is going to change somebody, we can't just try to convince the mind or heart of a woman or man, we must convince the deeper self, the inner core, the gut of a human being.
Christianity is about revolution and insurrection: revolution in that the whole structure is changed, and insurrection in that we live out that change in our own little world until the whole structure is changed. And preachers need to recognize the difference between minor modifications in behavior and insurrection. Are preachers trying to get people to escape out of the ironic living, or stay in it, but with an altered attitude of cynicism or angst?
It is worth noting that Peter spews out ideas briskly with a thick brogue. The ideas are dense and layered and provocative and interesting. The kind of ideas that are hard to get down on note paper, the kind of ideas where when you are done with the session, you know you heard some good stuff, but not sure what to do with it. Seeds were planted, though...
Peter did remind me of the potent idea of kenosis: the idea that Christ emptied himself God became incarnated in Jesus. Preachers are to do kenosis: we empty ourselves so that God can fill the space, and thus use our words to create space where people can empty themselves and be filled with God. In becoming full of God we become fully human...
This Poets, Prophets & Preachers event is definitely provocative...
After lunch then, we listened to Shane Hipps the former Porsche advertiser point out to us all the different ways that media shape the message. The message changes depending on the media that is used. The gospel gets changed depending on what media is used to proclaim it - whether shouted from the street corner, blared through the radio, displayed on the television or blogged on the internet. The media we use matters - though it is neutral. The task is to understand what we gain and lose depending on what media we use - and take this knowledge into account when we use it as preachers to proclaim the gospel.
For example: watching television engages the right side of your brain, but watching a film movie in the theatre engages the left side of your brain. Reading a document engages the right side of your brain, staring at a picture engages the left side of your brain. Depending on the communication event, the left side of the brain process the data different than the right side.
The church has been so much focused on the "word" as the primary means for communicating the gospel, we have not learned how to use "image" very well. Since we live in a new digital age, the church better learn quick how to adapt and learn to use "images" well. Words will always matter, but images matter just as much - actually more because images are more memorable than words.
Here's some more stuff from Shane:
Advertisers use images not essays to sell stuff.
Images always win.
What do images do? They foster a shared experience.
What do words do? They unleash the imagination.
Use media; don't be used by it.
We live in a multiple layer of communication eras: The reformation "word" era, the radio/tv broadcast era, the internet era... none is better or worse - but they are reality.
Become better students of preaching by better understanding the reality of the age we live in, and the reality of how to communicate in this age we live in.
Learn the art of surprise. New insights, introduce curiosity, present another angle.
Learn the art of letting go. Don't have a vested interest in the outcome.
Some think that the teachings of Rob Bell can be controversial. I guess I can see their point. And I suppose the the morning session on Monday might be ranked in that category.
The heart of the session zeroed in on where the sermon comes from: what is behind the sermon - what are the basic assumptions from which a sermon comes forth?
Without being overly simplistic, but giving a simple framework for differentiating two different starting points, Rob pointed out that sermons tend to come from either Genesis 1-2 or Genesis 3. Preachers tend to either focus on Genesis 1-2 as the start of the story of God's work in the world, or they focus on Genesis 3 as the starting point for the story of God.
Where and how you begin the story and where and how you end the story shape and determine what story you are telling.
Is the story being addressed by the sermon one about the removal of sin, the problem of sin, the rejection of sin? Or is the story the sermon in addressing is about God's restoration of the world, Jesus' reconciling work of shalom, the Spirit's renewal of all things? Sure, sin is definitely part of the story, but it's not the point of the story, or even the heart of the story. God is. And God said our world is good. God loves our world. And God has blessed this earth. And now he is at work always to rescue sinners, restore the rebels, and reconcile humanity whom God made in his image.
This Poets, Prophets & Preachers event has been affirming and stretching. When it comes to my preaching, I've been able to better understand what I knew intuitively to be where the Spirit was taking me. I know how much I want my preaching to be used by God to help others follow Jesus in their everyday life. While there are very important technical skills I need to develop to aid that work, there is also vital theological and philosophical elements I need to develop. Getting a better grasp of the Story, and how preaching fits into it, has been helpful.
If you start in Genesis 3, the emphasis in preaching is on the removal of sin, on what you aren't, on disembodied evacuation.If you start in Genesis 1-2, the emphasis in preaching is on restoration of shalom, what you are, participatory physicality.The story is about Jesus' resurrection...beginning a new creation right her in the midst of this oneabout God reaffirming the goodness of creationis about anticipating the coming of the day when Heaven and Earth are one again.Implications for business, art, justice: it's all good. It's all an avenue for God's work to move forward in the world. It's not above ministry, below it or alongside it: it is ministry.A sermon, then...is the continuing insistence that through the resurrection of Jesus a whole new world is bursting forth and everybody everywhere can be part of it.is about helping people see this creation with their own eyes. "you will find what you are looking to see.."then, brings hope rooted not in escape but engagement, not in evacuation but in reclamation, not in leaving but in staying and overcoming.then is never surprised when grace, beauty, meaning, order, compassion, truth and love show up in all sorts of unexpected people and places because it always has been God's world, it is God's world, and it will always be God's world.
Monday, July 06, 2009
Want to do a little word association?
I say the word "sermon" and you say...?
I say the word "preacher" and you say...?
Are sermons those experiences that rank up there as the greatest, most significant of your life?
Are preachers those women and men who are most full of inspiration and revolution?
And yet, Rob Bell insists, the world needs great sermons and great preachers!
We all know what a bad sermon sounds like, we know what lousy preachers sound like - there are plenty of them out there. But what makes for a great sermon? What could make sermon's great? For those that preach them, for those that hear them, what should be our grid for discerning what makes for a great sermon?
Performance art - they move people, capture their imagination...
Guerrilla theatre - they surprise people, startle people, provoke people...
Evocative actions - they point to something else, they use everything to reveal...
Sermons are witness: there is something in the gut that must be shared...
Sermons are a reminder that this is NOT the way the world is supposed to be...
Sermons are an implicit critique on the way things are now...
Sermons are a first punch...
Sermons are an invitation: NOW is the day to change...
Sermons are about a return...
Sermons are fresh word about reality...
Sub-version: there is another story about this world we live in...
Sermons open up possibilities to mis-interpretation and revolution!
I'm at a preaching conference - and since it's hosted by Rob Bell, it's not quite like any I've ever been to. And I've been to a few in my quick decade as a preacher. The event is billed as: Poets, Prophets & Preachers: Reclaiming the Art of the Sermon
Sunday night was the opening salvo of ideas about what the sermon could be in our world today. Rob does a skillful job of reframing traditional ideas of sermons, opening a can of worms with new ideas, and passionately inviting people to give their best to using sermons for God's redemptive work in this world. My kind of guy.
All of this to say: my sermon this Sunday is going to be super awesome because I was at this conference!
Who knows how awesome it will be; I do know that I'll be trying some new things and retrying some old things. And keeping in mind the grand vision of what sermons could be for our world today...
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
It's almost Independence Day - do something patriotic and watch the John Adams story. Maybe it will prompt you to think more deeply about what makes our country unique and special. And then maybe it will prompt more of us to vote and work in line with our original core values.
As always, anything that appears on the television is almost automatically not 100% reliable information. There are plenty of sources out there that critique HBO for what they get wrong in their version of David McCullough's story of John Adams. But most of it is helpful information.
Breathtaking is the best word to use when describing the background scenery, the attention to detail of the clothing and mannerisms and diction. The visual effect of the series is a historical experience. And learning - (not for the first time) about the issues that prompted America to rebel against Britain is always an interesting task. Truth is stranger than fiction. And facts are stubborn things.
John Adams is not a well known character, though his name is remembered. According to this series, Adams is principled, just, devoted to his wife, and yet vain, neglectful of his children, and petty towards those who disagree with him. He is brilliant in the right moments, and a blunderer in the wrong moments. He makes important contributions, but then he isn't willing to move aside and let others make theirs.
As a father of young children, I could identify with Adam's struggle to leave his family in order to serve the Continental Congress. And it was painful to watch this father's relationship with his son Charles degenerate into a terrible mess. Charles made wrong choices, but he also grew up without a father whom he needed very much, especially his affection and attention.
Interesting that the series makes no mention whatsoever of John Adam's Christian faith and practices. New England at the time was very religious, so clearly HBO would not have been playing favorites if they showed Adams to be devout. Unfortunately HBO let secular views prevail over purely historical accounts.
The music is great - and the imagery that accompanies the opening scenes of each show is riveting. The image of the snake mystified me - where did that metaphor come from? Well, after some research, I now know. Short version: an American rattlesnake with thirteen rattles became a symbol for the young nations' effort to defend itself against unjust aggressors. Ben Franklin had used a diced up snake (thirteen pieces) with the phrase "Don't Tread on Me" as a political cartoon - stirring up sentiment for the colonies to unite as one under the threat of further British oppression.
Apparently American politics as we know it was just as common then as it is now. The art of compromise, the party politics, the interest of big business, the interests of the mob - all are realities now in this post-modern age, as they were in the beginning. Nothing new under the sun...
The news has been full of stories where people have been acting "human" - people failing others, letting others down. Are we okay with this explanation? Is this just the way it is? Are we to expect others to be "human" and let us down, or can there be another perspective, another expectation? The question isn't only about what explains the failure of people, but it's also a question about what you do next, after you have failed someone. Do you turn your back on failures? Excuse the behavior? Ignore it? Resent it?
This fundamental issue of humanity frames the importance for God's command to the Israelites - as well as to the Church - BE HOLY! We need that command - and all that it implies.
God commands his people to be holy. Why? Because he is holy. If God is our Father and we are his children, it makes sense that he would command us to be holy. But it's not only a command, it's a promise: you shall be holy. And it's a vision for our life: through you being holy God will heal and bless the world.
Do you ever think of yourself as holy?
Have you ever set a vision for your life that included the idea of "being holy?"
It's interesting: the idea of God being holy is central to our understanding of God - and yet we don't really know what the word means, and we give it almost no consideration for how to think of our life with God in this world.
Holy is a category word, meaning it denotes something that is set apart for special use. It is also a ethical word, since it's purpose for being set apart is for something good, right, just, beautiful, and true. So if God is holy, that means that he is set apart from everything else in existence, and his words and deeds are always good, right, just, beautiful, and true. Logically this means that nothing else in the world is intrinsically holy.
Nothing we can do can make us holy. Thus nothing we can do can make us unholy. We already are unholy, since we are not God. Only God can make us holy. Only God can choose to see us, categorize us, use us as holy. And if we respond to God's command and promise and vision to be holy, he outlines for us a way to do life in the spirit of being holy.
What's the essence of being holy? Love your neighbor as yourself.
If God chooses to make us holy, he is making us capable of loving our neighbor as ourself. We don't love in order to become holy, we love our neighbor because God has made us holy.
Holiness isn't about being pure from all sin, holiness is about loving your neighbor as yourself. The motivation to not sin is rooted in our desire to love our neighbor as ourself. Sin taints and ruins and corrupts our love. Sin is not what ultimately ruins love though - it's our unwillingness to confess the sin, to repent of the sin, our unwillingness to make amends for the sin - that is what what corrupts the love.
In ancient Israel God made the nation holy. And he set up a sacrificial system so that when the people would sin, they could make atonement for their sins and thus stay in the holy covenant. Sinning didn't kick them out of the holy relationship. Refusing to make the sacrifices was what led to their removal from the covenant. Death was the prescription for those who refused to live up to the holy status God had conferred on ancient Israel. God had a very special relationship with Israel, unlike any other nation - which is the whole point of God saying that the people were holy.
But now God has that relationship with the whole world - through Jesus Christ God has forgiven the sins of the whole world. He is calling all people to be holy - God has made it possible for everyone everywhere to repent of their sins, be made new in Jesus, and live by the Same Spirit. God makes people holy. And then he gives them the Same Spirit Jesus had to live and love in this world. This is how God will heal the nations and rescue sinners.
So, what keeps you from seeing yourself as holy, right now?
Do you want to be holy?