Friday, November 20, 2009

Thank You Starbucks

This past Tuesday I made my regular stop at my Starbucks. Every once in awhile the manager will rearrange the layout of the tables, chairs and display stuff. I like change, so I don't ever mind it. Except one time, last year. For whatever reason the four round tables were all replaced with square tables. Ugh! I did not like that change at all. Not that sharing my opinion mattered much. Despite my protest, the square tables stayed. For a little bit. Much to my joy, the square tables kept falling apart (and no, I did not sabotage any of them...). So back out came the beloved round tables. I just think that the round tables are more welcoming and relaxing. The square tables come across as serious and boring.

Thus it was with much angst I entered my Starbucks this past Tuesday and the square tables had returned. No round tables in sight anywhere. I went to a table, set my bookbag down, went through my little routine of getting my studyspace ready, and then went up to order my drink. Erin the manager asked how I liked the new square tables. I then made my displeasure known, and expressed my fondness for the round tables. And then the gloriously surprising question from Erin: do you want the tables? What? You can give them to me? Erin said that if the church wanted them, we could have them. And wouldn't you know I just happened to have the minivan with me that afternoon. It's like I was destined to receive those rejected round tables. I tried not to smile too big - what a delightful gift. I also tried not to be too obnoxious in my gratitude. What luck!

Later that afternoon, after Erin and I loaded up the four round tables into the van, I got a little too nostalgic about all the memories I have with these tables. I know that in the past five years many other people have sat at these tables. But in those years that I have been coming to my Starbucks to read and study and write and pray and think and reflect and learn and make friends - a lot has happened in my life while sitting at those round coffee tables. I've always looked forward to walking into my Starbucks, shouting out a hello to the baristas working, catching up on how a weekend went, how the day is going, or getting into longer conversations about life. I've also always looked forward to settling down at one of those round coffeetables by a window, a cup of steaming Americano underneath my nose, a book, and a pen. And then the thoughts, the pondering, the wondering, the floundering, the finding. And then seeing a friend, or making a new friend.

Now that some of the round coffeetables are in my office, they seem out of place. I look at those tables and I remember the books I read, the decisions I made, the moments when something made sense in a new way, when I caught onto an idea that had been floating around in my soul, when I admitted something to be true, when I accepted reality on God's terms. The tables seem out of place in my office, but they are round reminders of my friends at Starbucks, of my many many many hours spent there, of my spot by the window.

So, thank you Erin for the gift. Thank you to all the baristas at my Starbucks for your kindness, your friendliness, your warm-heartedness, your generosity, your skill, and your diligence. You work hard, and you've created a great store with a great atmosphere. Thanks.

FYI: My wife likes to talk about the different times she has called my Starbucks to ask if I'm there. It's nice to be known on a first name basis with a coffeeshop. We also like to remember the time my Starbucks called my house to make sure I was coming in that day in order for them to give me some free product. That, my friends, is some of what makes my Starbucks so great!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kierkegaard & Doubt, Faith and Character,

It's come to my attention that I make life more difficult than it ought to be. I can be harder on myself than is necessary. And I guess this means I can be harder than I need to be on the people in my life (sooo... "Sorry" to Tara, Emma, Levi, Isaac, Eli, Dad, Mum, etc.). What are all the factors that drive me to be so hard on myself and others? That, my friends, is the kind of question which fuels my problem. I seek to understand to the point that I suck the fun out of the search. It's like I'm driven by a paranoia, a fear, an insatiable curiosity that requires boundaries.

This is where Kierkegaard comes in. You know how you find some writers/thinkers out there that can put into words what is churning within your depths? That's what Soren does for me.

Here's some stuff I read this morning that helped me, maybe it will help you too.

Faith's conflict with the world is not a battle of thought with doubt, thought with thought. It is a battle of character. The person of faith is a person of character who does not insist upon comprehending everything.

Now comes the conflict. The world insists that to believe what you cannot comprehend is not only blind obeisance but obscurantism, stupidity, and so on. The world wants to alarm the believer against such foolishness. This is precisely why faith is a task for the person of such a character. p258

Teach me, Lord, that the fight of faith is not a fight with doubt, thought against though, but a fight for character. Enable me to see that human vanity consists in having to understand. Save me from the vanity of not being willing to obey like a child, and of wanting to be like a grown man who has to understand.

Help me to realize that he who will not obey when he cannot understand does not, in any essential sense, obey you at all. Make me a believer, a "character man," who, unreservedly obedient, sees it as necessary for his character's sake that he must not always understand. Make me willing to believe even when I cannot understand. p258

If you suffer because you do good, because you are in the right, because you are loving; if it is because you are for a good cause that you live despised, persecuted, ridiculed, in poverty, then you will find that you do not doubt Christ's resurrection.

Why? Because you need it. pg 256

~ Soren Kierkegaard, Provocations

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Digging Deeper

I suppose one of the key reasons why I'm a pastor is due to the enjoyment I get out of studying the Scriptures. Call me a geek or a religious nut, but I've always had a knack for remembering the Bible stories I learned as a kid. My dad was a pastor, so we were always in church on Sundays. They weren't mega-churches with crazy awesome kids programs. They were smallish churches with devoted folks who took time to teach Bible stories to a handful of squirrely kids. And I liked it.

And as I grew up I kept on reading the Bible in order to be more familiar with the stories. And the older I got, the more questions I had about what I was reading. The more I was able to link ideas and stories together, the more questions came up in my head - not only about what the stuff meant, but also about who wrote this stuff, why did they write it, what's the history and culture behind it.

This is one of the reasons why I went back to school in 2003 - to dig even deeper into the original languages of the Scriptures (in college my Greek professor said that you could get 20% more out of the text if you read it in the original language); to dig deeper into the culture of the original stories - what was ancient Israel like, what was the Roman Empire like, what was the Mediterranean culture like in the first century. I also wanted to dig deeper into church history - how did the 21st century church get here, what was the road we traveled, and what does that mean for where we are headed. All of this to help me improve my ability to read and understand what was written in the Scriptures.

Here's a problem that many pastors face though, after they've finished all this schooling. Where do you find the time to "use" this knowledge? At school I learned to read the Scriptures in Greek and Hebrew - a totally enlightening experience. Except in order for it to have long term effect, I have to keep working to develop my skill in these languages otherwise I will lose them. And since I'm not very apt at the languages, it takes extra energy and time to stay up on it. And I really liked the experience, paid a bunch of money for the experience, and have seen good things come from it. But the pace of a pastor's life and ministry quickly rules out even a couple of hours a week working on Greek and Hebrew texts.

One of my classes I chose at TEDS, having completed my Greek language courses, was to study the book of Romans; this included translating the whole thing from Greek to English. A very time consuming task but very very rewarding. So a year or two later I shared with my Greek language professor that I had appreciated his class, that he had been very helpful to me, and that I had gone on to translate the book of Romans. Without missing a step (he always walked briskly wherever he was going...) he told me that I should translate the book of Acts next.

Since then, I've been thinking about the challenge. It's about the only way I can really stay in the original texts. I've tried to just do random verses for translation work, but it's too hard to stay with that kind of plan. Since I'm going to be preaching through the book of Acts later in 2010, I'm going to start working on translation now and see how far I can get. Whenever I do some Greek translation work for my sermon prep, it is always rewarding. So now my plan is to spend one very early morning a week to translate at least one chapter every two weeks or so. Though I'll have to go faster than that if I really want to get it done by the time I start my series. We'll see...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Kierkegaard & Gospel for the Poor

Christ was not making a historical observation when he declared: The gospel is preached to the poor. The accent is on the gospel, that the gospel is for the poor. Here the word "poor" does not simply mean poverty but all who suffer, are unfortunate, wretched, wronged, oppressed, crippled, lame, leprous, demonic.

The gospel is preached to them, that is, the gospel is for them. The gospel is good news for them. What good news? Not: money, health, status, and so on - no, this is not Christianity.

No, for the poor the gospel is the good news because to be unfortunate in this world is a sign of God's nearness. So it was originally; this is the gospel of the New Testament. It is preached for the "poor," and it is preached by the poor who, if they in other respects were not suffering, would eventually suffer by proclaiming the gospel; since suffering is inseparable from following Christ, from telling the truth.

But soon there came a change. When preaching the gospel became a livelihood, even a lush livelihood, then the gospel became good news for the rich and for the mighty. For how else was the preacher to acquire and secure rank and dignity unless Christianity secured the best for all? Christianity thus ceased to be glad tidings for those who suffer, a message of hope that transfigures suffering into joy, but a guarantee for the enjoyment of life intensified and secured by the hope of eternity.

The gospel no longer benefits the poor essentially. In fact, Christianity has now even become a downright injustice to those who suffer (although we are not always conscious of this, and certainly unwilling to admit it). Today the gospel is preached to the rich, the powerful, who have discovered it to be advantageous. We are right back again to the very state original Christianity wanted to oppose!

The rich and powerful not only get to keep everything, but their success becomes the mark of their piety, the sign of their relationship with God. And this prompts the old atrocity again - namely, the idea that the unfortunate, the poor are to blame for their condition; that it is because they are not pious enough, are not true Christians, that they are poor, whereas the rich have not only pleasure but piety as well. This is supposed to be Christianity. Compare it with the New Testament, and you will see that this is as far from that as possible.
~ Soren Kierkegaard, Provocations, ed. by C. Moore

Note: Kierkegaard was a Christian in Denmark, writing and railing against the entrenched national religion of Christianity during the 1840's and 50's. He was (is) a brilliant thinker, theologian, philosopher, and agitator. Here we are in America an ocean and a century and a half away, and yet the provocations are still convicting.