Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Image of God?

I have found that I really don't do good brain work in my office, and home is too distracting, so I tend to do my best sermon study and writing in coffee shops and other public places. In an effort to cut down on expenses, I have taken to studying at my local library - it's free, as long as I bring my own coffee and nibbles with me.

But at this local library, from time to time the most amazingly annoying junior-high boy comes to work with his tutor. He clearly struggles academically, but that's now what bothers me (that part actually attracts me).

What I find simultaneously fascinating and repellent about this young man is his white-boy, wanna-be-a-gangster, high-whine, arrogance-based-on-adolescent-insecurity attitude. His tutor has the patience of Job (which I have personally told her), though just as clearly she is not without her own issues.

But when he walked in just a few minutes ago, what convicted me was that he, too, is created in the image of God. He, too, has an innate capacity for beauty and glory. He too was created to be blessed and to bless. He too was intended by God not to attempt to swagger through life, but to create and build up and renew the creation around him.

I'm not sure what to do with all this. Certainly I'm on the lookout for further opportunities to encourage (contra the dark looks from others). But perhaps it's as much a matter of being aware of where my own heart is, and staying in touch with God's heart for those he places me near.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I lift my eyes to the hills...or, sometimes, not.

I always enjoy spending time with my mother-in-law. But one advantage of visiting her (as opposed to when she comes to visit us) is the amazing scenery around Anchorage. That said, this visit has been a little different than others, and not just because we brought our 5month old son with us.
After a few days here, I realized that I'm just not as aware of the mountains as I used to be. Not that they aren't impossible to miss (more than 10,000 feet high and right behind the city, plus right across the Cook Inlet the Kenai range, the Sleeping Lady and the Alaska Range, and even Denali on a clear day. And not that they aren't simply beautiful, and not that I don't deeply enjoy looking at them.

But I think it's just after living in completely flat terrain (NJ, MI) for almost 7 years now, I just don't expect them to be there. As I'm driving around, all I expect to see is the road stretched out in front of me, and since I don't expect to be able to drink in the beauty of the Chugach (or, in other places I've lived, the Cascades, or the Sierra Nevadas), I simply don't lift my eyes up that extra degree or two and see them.
Which makes me wonder how often I get like that in my spiritual life. I've been privileged to be in places where God has worked powerfully and tangibly to transform lives. Of late, his work has seemed, well, somehow smaller, and I've chalked it up to only being in congregations for a couple of years or only a few months at a time as I've done interim work.
But I wonder, when my spiritual terrain has seemed a little more flat, if sometimes the reason is less that God isn't doing grand things, and more that I just am not lifting my eyes up those extra couple of degrees to see what should be blindingly obvious -- and wondrously beautiful.

"Lord, let me see!"

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thoughts on unity, spurred by Paul

I have recently been reading and reflecting on Philippians (and Ephesians), and I have been thankful for the many deep ministry partnerships I have experienced in my life. But I also feel frustrated: most of these partnerships began before I joined my current denomination, and well before I became a pastor within it.
All this, of course, leads to the question of why: have I not given myself enough to form new friendships? Have I just not networked enough? Am I just not giving people enough credit? Am I just hoping for too much?
Perhaps, no, I don’t think so, and if any of Paul’s letters are to be believed: definitely no.
But as I have gotten to know my fellow pastors I wonder if we are all rather impoverished in this area. Even when I hear people talk about partnerships, it so rarely seems more than merely social, rarely more than mere affection or approval (or envy). We so often illustrate unity itself as mere comity or in intensely outward terms: being 'nice' and tolerant of each other, being willing to be in the same judicatory together, having attended the same seminaries, sharing worship styles, etc. Even in our individual congregations I hear little that is deeper.
In our denomination do we have so little actual unity in the Spirit, so little common understanding of faith, so little common understanding of who God is, that all we have are the outward markers and definitions of unity, and not true partnership in the gospel? Worship style, buildings, governance, rules for discipline: all these and more we not only insist on, but come to see them as what defines our unity. But the reality, I am persuaded, is the opposite. To the extent we actually serve God and God alone, to the extent we are truly turned to Christ fully and only, then we will find that we will have great diversity in all things merely external (worship styles, leadership structures, etc.), while still tangibly living in the fullness of unity that we were created (and are continually invited!) to enjoy.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


On my drive home today (from a funeral) I saw the most amazing sky, unlike any other I can recall. The sky was blue overhead, gray toward the horizon, with scattered but sharply outlined cumulus clouds against the horizon's gray. Rather stunning, actually. I momentarily regretted not having a camera handy, then realized that the lens wouldn't have done it justice anyway. Just call me a sucker for natural beauty - thanks, God!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A personal epiphany a few days ahead of Epiphany...

In working on my own character, it’s so easy to slip away from the goal: am I working on my character just to be a “better person”? Or am I working on my character because more than anything else I want to know and be like Jesus, share in his suffering, and partake in his resurrection?
There's a huge difference there, one I don't always notice.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Not to cast stones, but...

...I had a thought on an unintended consequence of theology.
I wonder to what extent the Eastern Orthodox understanding of theosis (spiritual growth understood as personal divinization) has opened the door to idolization (divinization) of political leaders, especially within political systems oriented toward strong, single leaders?
Not that Prots and Catholics are at all historically pure in this regard, of course. But as an outsider looking in, I am struck by what seems to be a (relatively) even more uncritical stance toward secular leaders within the Eastern traditions, and wonder at its contemporary theological underpinnings.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I was eating at a nice Italian restaurant the other night with family from out of town, and was struck by the juxtaposition between the opulence of the food and the words to the live Christmas music being performed.

Somehow "why lies he in such mean estate" didn't jive so well with my gorgonzola-pear salad; here I am, dining like Herod, and the guy 20 feet behind me is singing about the low-lifes (shepherds) who clustered around Jesus.

Mind you, I think creation is given us to be enjoyed and eating out (even at a really nice place) is hardly a sin, but the contrast was jarring nonetheless.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Less "Nice," More "Edge"

Some weeks ago I spent a few days at a Jesuit retreat house. The Jesuit order, of course, was founded by Ignatius of Loyola, a rough-and-tumble soldier who converted to Christianity - and for centuries now the Jesuits have been known for their rough-edged vigor in both missions and apologetics (with some of us Protestants on the receiving end, at times).

But in the days since I have been struck with just how many people who have been used so greatly by God have had that same kind of abrasive, aggressive 'edge' to them. Martin Luther, certainly. John Knox, absolutely. But also Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna (not to mention St. Paul) from the ancient church and people I've respected like Kevin Blue, Mark Driscoll, Viv Grigg in our present day.

And, let's face it, on this issue the gospels don't really set up as much of a juxtaposition between John the Baptist and Jesus as we usually think. John the Baptist preached about "coming fire" but did so in a winsome and compelling enough way that crowds traveled huge distances to hear his preaching. And Jesus, while he was inimitably attractive to all kinds of people including prostitutes and scam-artists, had very harsh words and deeds (white-washed walls, hypocrites, thieves, Satan, "know neither Scripture nor the power of God," "sell all you have and give to the poor," "God will come and kill those servants and lease the vineyard to others" - not to mention physically separating Temple merchants from their merchandise with nothing other than a whip of cords) for all kinds of others.

So, considering my own life: though I will continue to learn more about Grace the rest of my life, I am becoming convicted that I have focused way too much on the "nice"side of human relations. If I am truly to become more like Jesus, my growth in these next years needs to be much more on the "rough edge."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Interesting, no?

I came across this on someone else's blog, who apparently got the link from yet another. A thought-provoking take on proselytism, from(as Ben points out)an atheist and one half of the comedy/magic duo Penn & Teller.