Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Subverting the Sermon

The sermon, as a form of religious discourse usually involves the presentation of a problem of some sort, followed by the solution to the problem that is presented. The preacher may even take the audience down a chaotic road, leaving the people listening in suspense for a while, but in the end tie up all of the loose ends and restore order to the situation. The preacher will offer propositions that she/he deems to be truthful and simply require agreement with the propositions on behalf of the listener. As a result, by the end of the sermon the audience will know exactly what to think about the issues that were addressed and will leave with more conceptual knowledge than they had prior to hearing the sermon. The people will leave knowing more and possibly even be able to articulate their recently acquired knowledge to others they come in contact with. Often, this ends up being a kind of regurgitation that is able to take place without the message that is within the newly acquired knowledge ever sinking in and actually transforming the carrier of this knowledge. This person might leave these gatherings knowing more without actually having to wrestle with the implications that flow from that which they have required. Often this leaves the Church with people who might  “know” quite a bit about Christ, without truly engaging in the process of laying their life down in a Christ-like pattern.

An alternative way to approach the sermon is to see it not so much as an opportunity to tie up all of the loose ends for the audience, but rather as a provoking act. In this approach, the goal is not that the audience would leave knowing anymore, but instead that they would leave having to wrestle deeply with the questions or issues that were presented. Whether it is done by stories being told or profound questions being raised (to name a couple possibilities that could function as the provoker), the listener may leave the gathering where the sermon is taking place without knowing anymore, and possibly even having to question things that they thought they already knew. But, it is in this space where the receiver is now forced to wrestle with issues presented, and really, wrestle with God. It is this encounter with the reality of God that is facilitated through the wrestling being done in response to the provoking of the sermon that holds the greatest potential for transformation to take place. As a result of this encounter, a person does not come away knowing more (conceptually), but rather comes away knowing God more (relationally). The sermon functioning as a provoking act subverts people’s desire for instant gratification and the need to know more and instead invites them into an ongoing dialogue with the One who has the ability to transform them so they can be more. Very little is required of the one who leaves simply knowing more; but everything is required of the one who leaves and bravely wrestles with God without knowing who they will become as a result.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Re-Invitation To Conversation

With much excitement and hesitancy (excitement due to the potentially robust conversation that may ensue and hesitancy due to the ever present fear that one might put one's self out there only to be rejected or completely ignored) I have decided to enter into the blogosphere with the hopes of initiating and facilitating a conversation that can be beneficial to all who decide to engage. All of the moments I am in stimulating conversations, reading phenomenal books or exploring my own interior landscape and wish I could share what is taking place with others inspires and energizes me to begin this blog. Each post is not intended to be a one-sided monologue that readers are supposed to sit back and passively process; but rather each post is intended to be an invitation to not only respond to the specific post, but to enter into the ongoing conversation as a whole.

Although there is room in this conversation for all facets of life to be discussed, the primary areas that I assume will be explored consistently are faith, creativity, love, relationships, emotions, change, hope, and social justice -- and during this conversation we will hopefully begin to discover  the interconnectedness of all of these. My hope is that through this conversation we will embrace the perpetual potential of growth and transformation that awaits all of us who are willing to humbly pursue it, with the understanding that we should all be in a constant state of flux in relationship to the future. It is my deep conviction that we are all arriving and yet have not arrived, we are all maturing and yet have not matured, we are all becoming and yet have not become that leaves me in a stance of humility in relationship to this learning process. 

As much as each one of has to learn on this journey, there is just as much (if not more) that we need to unlearn if we are to allow ourselves to fully embrace the idea of life as a process of becoming. My concern is not the unique stance and worldview each participant in this conversation brings with them, but whether or not they are open to critique it. I hope that each one of you will be willing to hold me accountable to have this same willingness to critique everything that I say as well. 

I hope that in this place we will be inspired, challenged, moved, comforted when we are disturbed and disturbed when we are too comfortable. Please feel free to subscribe to this blog and too leave comments at any time. If you find this place stimulating in any way please invite those that you know to join the conversation as well. I hope to hear from you in the future and I hope that you will have a great 2009!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Great Quote #2

"Jesus taught us to love people and to use things. But in our society we use people and love things."
                                                                     -Richard Rohr

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Love is to be participated in...

Love is immanent and yet transcendent

We experience love but we never contain love

We do not own love

Love is a reality that just is

Love exists whether we are a part of her or not

Love is an absolute mystery

Love naturally gives herself

Love is not an it

Love is not a thing

Love is not an object

Love is bigger than our experience of her

Any time we decide to withhold love from another it is not love we are withholding, as if love is something we possess and contain within ourselves, it is merely ourselves we are withholding

Love just is...

Love is a mystery to be participated in

If we allow her

If we trust her

If we let go

She will transform us

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Great Quote #1

"God is not a theoretical problem to somehow resolve but rather a mystery to be participated in"
                                                                                                         -Peter Rollins

Friday, January 9, 2009

We can't get closer to God

Anybody who has at some point encountered the reality of God being present and experienced the transformation that ensued will be left with a deep-seated desire to return to this place where this transformative event occurred. This place we desire to return to has nothing to do with the geographical location, but everything to do with the experience of the Reality we encountered. These moments can never be fully be captured with words and anytime we attempt to explain them to others the explanation ends up falling short and degrading the happening that took place. Maybe these moments are not meant to be figured out and reduced to concepts because they transpire in a place that is beyond the conceptual realm. Even if in the aftermath of these occurrences we are unable to articulate what happened...we know that it was God and we know that we've been changed.

Those who have experienced "The Real" (the words of Thomas Merton) and have been changed, naturally want to return to this place again and again. Often times they might even use the phrase "I want to get closer to God". What we mean when we say this (I assume) is that we want to experience the connection with God that was present in those wondrous moments. If when we use the phrase "getting closer to God" it functions as a metaphor that helps suggest the intimate encounter we long for with God then I believe that it is helpful and revealing. But the problem I see with this phrase is that when it is taken too literally and not seen metaphorically it creates this idea that getting back to this place where we are "closer to God" requires some kind of a striving on our part that subsequently moves us closer to God as if their is some kind of a spatial distance that exists between God and us in the first place. The perpetuation of this misconception can leave us struggling to "get close to God"  failing miserably and as a result not only leave us feeling disconnected from Him but frustrated at our futile attempts to draw near to Him, leaving us with a dryness in our spiritual lives. 

The mystery of God's presence not  only permeates all of reality (check previous post), this same Presence is actually living, breathing, active and dwelling within the lives of those who have entered into this life changing relationship with Him. This spatial distance between us and God that is actually a part of  so many of our views of the nature of our relationship, (albeit, unknown to most of us) is actually non-existent. How can one get closer to a God whose life is dwelling within them via His Spirit? In light of this, we discover that it is not that we get closer to God, it is that in these places where we experience this transformative encounter, we are simply awake to the reality and presence of the loving God who was already there. We do not need to learn how to get closer to God; we need to learn how to become awake to the living God who is already here. 

There is effort involved in this process of learning to become awake, but it is not the kind of effort involved in the grasping, striving, laboring, grinding and working that is so prominent in the culture we are a part of today that bows down to the altar of materialism, consumerism and shallowness. What we need to do is cultivate mindfulness, develop awareness, enhance our sensitivity, become more conscious of, and be more alive to the presence and reality of God. In contrast to the portrait I just painted of the expressions of the kind effort that is the norm for the culture we are a part of today, the effort involved in the activities that help one become more awake to God is expressed in silence, solitude, stillness, reflection, patience and waiting. All of these activities can be encapsulated by and find their unity in what is known as a contemplative stance. In this posture of contemplation we see out of the wider landscape of our being, where we discover our true selves and our true God. In relationship to this process of learning to become awake, their is an illuminating conversation I want to end with that took place between a zen master and his disciple. 

Disciple: "Is there anything that I can do to make myself enlightened?"

Zen master: "As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning"

Disciple: "Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?"

Zen master: "To make you sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise"

Friday, January 2, 2009

Finding God in all things as an art form

Before I begin with this post I have to admit that I have a kind of mistrust and distaste for dichotomies that frame issues in such a way that a polarization is created (us/them in/out win/lose...etc.). These dichotomies end up leaving people with a choice to make about which side they are on and as a result often end up impeding the progress of all of creation moving further toward equality and oneness. Within Christianity, or I should say more specifically within American Christianity since it is within this landscape I have found myself maneuvering through in my lifetime, a dichotomy has been created and accepted by the majority and it is the sacred/secular split. When we label things as secular (secular music, secular organizations, secular jobs) what do we mean? Are we saying that nothing is sacred (God being involved) about what is taking place in whatever it is we are labeling secular? Is God only working in individuals and organizations that are self-professing Christians? Is God's Kingdom activity limited to what is being done by those who actually consider themselves to be followers of Jesus?

If an organization who is in no way claiming to be a "Christian organization" is giving their lives to work for the same kind of justice we see God calling his people to work for in the scriptures, is it possible that God might actually be involved in the work they are doing? If through the work they are doing we see the reality of the Kingdom of God breaking into the world in beautiful ways, how can we claim that their organization and the work they do is secular (void of the sacred)? Is it possible that they are participating in the sacred work in God's Kingdom without even realizing it? And if so, can we still say that their work is secular? 

God possibly being involved in the work of an organization who does not consider itself a "Christian organization" is not the point of this discussion but rather functions more as a pointer to the possibility that God might be working in ways we have not allowed ourselves to see because we have been viewing His activity through the lens of this sacred/secular dichotomy. If we allow ourselves to suspend this dualistic way of viewing the activity of the Divine for a while will we be able to look with fresh eyes and begin to see God at work in ways we have yet to imagine? I am in no way arguing that God is involved in all activity in an affirming way; I am just wondering if we might be missing out in countless ways God is showing up because it does not look like the way we expect Him to.

Can we embrace the idea of finding God in all things as an art form? If the "earth is the Lord's and everything in it" (Psalm 24:1), and God's presence drenches the entirety of creation leaving it completely inundated with the Divine, maybe we will begin to discover God's fingerprints left in places we never thought we would find them. Will we allow ourselves to see the Divine in the places we would never think to find Him or maybe never even want to find Him? Will we allow ourselves to see Jesus in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the broken, those in prison, the ones begging (sounds kind of like the question Jesus was  asking His disciples in Matthew 25:34-46)? As we rediscover our imagination again I hope that we will allow ourselves to develop this art form of finding God in places we never would have expected.