Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What We're Not Given

“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

“Truly I tell you, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Consider the glaring omission. In the new society we're given by Jesus, we're provided mothers, brothers, and sisters, but not fathers.

The implication to me is that "father figures" are not provided to us by the Lord, but are usurpers. Instead, as men, we have been provided to the Body as brothers, not fathers.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,  and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Has any well-respected man become your slave? Has any mentor followed you? Has any teacher refused the use of his title? Has any father relinquished his patriarchy back to the one and only Father?

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

Brother is better than good enough. Brother is everything.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Since we're better homeschool parents now, we had our younger two daughters watch all seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We failed the older two girls in this this regard. All they got was Awanas, legalism, and later some cool youth groups with alcohol and stuff. Thanks, institutional church! So now, my precious young ones get Star Trek, Stargate, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Battle of the Network Stars (whenever Netflix gets around to streaming it).

Anyway. Star Trek TNG is the perfect vehicle to introduce them to an important aspect of life: the A Plot and the B Plot.

The A Plot: Picard assembles an away team to do something violent and/or sexy down on Beta Omicron 5.

The B Plot: Back on the Enterprise, everybody else catches a mysterious space-virus.

Now that we're clear what on the concept of plot versus subplot, let's learn something further about The A Plot from Star Trek TOS (The Original Series, in geek parlance).

In any given episode, the crew of the Enterprise will make an amazing and useful discovery. And then at beginning of the very next episode, they promptly forget it. Like how to time travel. Or which chemical promotes the telekinesis. Or new alien allies with god-like powers.

On the other hand, one little mention that Spock has a human mom, and that little nugget gets used for the rest of the series.

The A Plot: Action Packed Adventure, quickly forgotten in the face of the upcoming episode.

The B Plot: Two sentences that can be used for inspiration throughout the rest of the series.

This subject of plots and subplots comes up because of a recent invitation to some blowout life-changing get-together to meet a foreign underground apostolic figure who-cannot-be-named for safety reasons (it could all be true, but come on). Bullet points ensued. And capital letters and underlining. Marketing is no surprise to those in Big-Church. But in the community of home gatherings, marketing has an odor. And by the way, marketing is deception.

Forget bashing the institution, I'm going after my own community here. There are brothers among us who continue to strive to build things which they have no business building, who have their fingers in every pie, who consider other local gatherings loose ends to be tied up. And though the banner is "unity", the track record has been estrangement.

The marketers write the A Plot, Spine Tingling Thrills and Adventure, featuring Jesus (they've written Him a great part in the script). But the episode comes to nothing. The A Plot always comes to nothing in the face of the Next Exciting Episode.


Something happens in the B Plot which the script-writer hasn't accounted for. The Lord has written a subplot for the "extras", a story arc which may develop over several seasons. Something happens which the script-writers have not intended and may never discover. Truly, the marketers have their reward, being seen of men. But a lasting payoff is necessarily a hidden payoff.

Surprisingly, mercifully, God doesn't give everybody flat tires on the way to the show.

If you're reading this, and you've scripted something for the Lord and His people, be aware that you've got latitude. Your gig will probably run like clockwork and you won't get struck by lightning for presuming that you're doing His business. But be aware that the shindig isn't for you, and isn't for your special guest, and won't accomplish what you think. You have your reward, having been noticed. And that reward is going the way of time-travel and telekinesis. But keep doing what you're doing, I guess, because our Lord's eye is on the extras and the "red-shirts" and Spock's mom. Your next thrilling episode, as far as the Lord is concerned, may ultimately be about developing the arc of Crewman Number 3.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sweet and Sour

It's been a while since I've written. There is a reason for that.

In this blog, I share the things I say in the gathering. In the sense of the word as Paul uses it (speaking forth Christ), I prophesy, as do all the others in the open meeting. There happens to be two sides to a sword that comes out of the mouth.

(Rev. 10: 9-11) So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.” I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings."

Generally, when believers turn a nice phrase, it's a happy time for everybody. We communicate something and the proverbial light-bulb goes on over our heads. To speak forth something true, something noteworthy, is stimulating.

But the spiritual speaking-forth will have a purpose extending beyond the moment it is expressed. It works its way backward in time, to illuminate things which we have experienced, but more to the point, it lays ground for things in the future. Consider the last thing I posted before my long writing drought.

...And we look into these things because God is there in parable. 
God is in the turbulence, in the disturbance, at the boundary where a thing becomes no longer a thing. 
At the edge of the glacier of reputation crumbling into the sea of humiliation, the conflagration of religious and social standing, the erosion of certainty by the tide of the unknown, God is there in the turbulence.

First, I shared it with the brothers and sisters, then I shared it with whoever reads this blog. It meant something to me, and I think it resonated with a few others. At the time, it felt like singing a clear high note, or fretting a great guitar chord.

When I wrote it, I was thinking of things that I experienced in the past and things that others have gone through. But hard on the heels of this sharing, I was to receive a few choice pieces of news. I was brought to the boundary-of-disturbance right away. First I spoke it, then I wrote it, then I had to eat it.

And frankly, everything I said was no consolation in that disturbance of settling into a new normal. I still believe it's true, what I said, that God is residing in the disturbance. But observing the fire, the glacier, the waves, is not the same as being in the heat or under the ice or in the breakers.

Prophecy is not glorious, whether in the sense of Paul's open-meeting edification or the old-school style of a John or Jonah. Do I really want to publicly utter something pithy if it soon must come home to roost with me/you/us? Or maybe to turn that phrase around, if the Disturbance is on the way, should you and I be publicly and mysteriously notified? I guess so.

Friday, June 3, 2011

In the Disturbance

In my profession, we deal with boundaries. Lately the brothers had a great discussion using boundaries as a kind of parable. You can imagine. But apart from the boundaries of the land we inhabit, there is another kind of boundary that we all consider worth visiting.

We are fond of visiting frontiers of nature, in which one thing becomes another thing, at which something becomes nothing.

The glacier stands for thousands of years, but eventually becomes sea water. Visitors to Alaska take a trip to that boundary in which something becomes nothing, for upon that boundary is Disturbance.

We visit the beach, that place where the visible ends and the unseen begins. At the brink is Turbulence, the frontier of the unseen eating away at the shore of the seen.

For the backyard BBQ, we will have our wood turn into smoke, but fire is the boundary at which something becomes nothing.

And we look into these things because God is there in parable.

God is in the turbulence, in the disturbance, at the boundary where a thing becomes no longer a thing.

At the edge of the glacier of reputation crumbling into the sea of humiliation, the conflagration of religious and social standing, the erosion of certainty by the tide of the unknown, God is there in the turbulence.

As I shared this with the brothers, Oliver added this from Psalm 42...

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence.
O my God, my soul is in despair within me;
Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan
And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.
The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime;
And His song will be with me in the night,
A prayer to the God of my life.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Garden and the Walk

If you went to High School in the Houston area, and you were in band, you might recall there were a few kids who left, and you never saw them again. No, not the stoners. I mean the kids who went to HSPVA, the Houston School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

Think about the division in that title. Two kinds of arts, visual and performing.

When I was young, I liked reading the philosopher Mortimer Adler. I remember that he wrote about a Good Life. He said the good life was not like a painting or a sculpture, which you could finish and walk around it look at it and handle it, which exists apart from the artist. Rather, the good life was more like a song or dance, which has no existence apart from the performance, but is experienced live and once it is done it is remembered (and anticipated again, I might add).

I was reading some Jacques Ellul the other day, and he made an observation about the Sabbath. Not the usual kind of observation about man's rest, but an observation about God's rest. He mused that human history has been unfolding in the seventh day, after God called his creation Good and is resting. That, in itself, is an interesting topic for another time. But Ellul's comments turned my thoughts to the different aspects of God's creation.

He created for Adam and Eve a garden. But in addition to that He apparently created for them a walk in the cool of the evening. Creation was both a visual and performance piece, both a garden and a walk. The walk must have been at least as significant as all the stars and animals. God not only appointed for us a great place with all its furnishings, but also appointed a continuing conversation with us. We became estranged from both aspects of His providence, the visual and the performing, the static and the dynamic.

We stepped off of Eden's dance floor, but first we missed our steps in the Dance. We stepped out of Eden's concert hall, but first we lost the tempo and key of the Song.

Maybe this is a little bit of what it means when Jesus tells the woman at the well.

"Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem (the visual, the static, the stage). You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth (the performing, the dynamic, the dance), for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The King of Fruits

If you know me, you know that I love the durian smoothie, especially with chocolate or coffe blended in. Here is a description of durian as found on Wikipedia:

Widely known and revered in southeast Asia as the "king of fruits", the durian is distinctive for its large size, unique odour, and formidable thorn-covered husk. The fruit can grow as large as 30 centimetres (12 in) long and 15 centimetres (6 in) in diameter, and it typically weighs one to three kilograms (2 to 7 lb). Its shape ranges from oblong to round, the colour of its husk green to brown, and its flesh pale yellow to red, depending on the species.
The edible flesh emits a distinctive odor, strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard the durian as fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and offensive. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as almonds, rotten onions, turpentine and gym socks. The odour has led to the fruit's banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia.
The five cells are silky-white within, and are filled with a mass of firm, cream-coloured pulp, containing about three seeds each. This pulp is the edible part, and its consistence and flavour are indescribable. A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop.

In a previous blog post, I called you pointless. Now I am calling you the King of Fruits, right? Do I also mean to say that you are hard, prickly and smelly? That's not what I'm getting at. Not necessarily, anyway.

I mean to say that you are an acquired taste.

I remember hearing and reading about durian, and noticed that the local asian tea houses carried durian smoothies. How could a fruit be so loved and so hated? How could something disgusting be called the king of fruits?

I was determined to see what the durian lovers saw.

The first durian smoothie was an adjustment. Immediately the smell slaps you through the straw. If you encountered this smell in your house, you'd head straight to the kitchen trash can to see if someone was derelict in their chores. And then there was the taste. It was like onion vanilla pudding.

It is said you have to try any new food several times. This is true. After four tries I acquired an addiction. Now I can tell when a durian smoothie is proper by the strength of the stench. The interesting thing is that once you start drinking, the smell goes away. I mean, it goes away for the drinker, but bystanders are still scandalized. My wife knows that if I order a durian smoothie, she can take a swig to inoculate herself. But my youngest girl refuses to partake, so she must endure my company with her shirt over her face.

The brothers and sisters are also an acquired taste, especially in an open house church.

Maybe you visited a particular organic gathering for the first time, but you left baffled or turned off. Maybe the people seemed weird, maybe the vocabulary was opaque, maybe the potluck was odd, maybe the format seemed too random or else too rigid. Maybe you never went back.

It's a shame that you didn't give it four tries. It's a shame that you didn't jump right in and take a sip to inoculate yourself from the first whiff. The odd brother might not seem so odd once you know him. That vocabulary might not seem so foreign after some conversation. After some repetition, the format might not seem as random or as rigid. Furthermore, you will never know how your ongoing participation might have changed the experience for everyone.

The potluck is the parable of the open meeting. You guys make some strange stuff at home. But I want to see what you see in your family recipes. I need my palette expanded. I need to get the nutrients that aren't found in my ordinary diet. I need to know that there is a wide world outside my door, where different does not equal bad.

I need to get past first impressions and see what your spouse sees in you. I want to discover the depth and nuance of Christ's work in you so far. I need more than a taste, I need something to chew on, something to stick to my ribs and help me grow.

I need to acquire a taste for your fellowship.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Who taught you how to judge?

Who taught you how to judge?

Our day is filled to the brim with judgements. Bacon is good, bacon is bad. This money is enough, that money is too much. This look was lust, and that look was appraisal. This thought was flesh, and the other was Spirit. This guy is half-baked, and that guy is toast.

Who taught us how to judge? We'd like to say that most of our judgements come from scripture, from illumination, from reason, from wisdom, from knowledge, from experience.

I recently was reminded how much of my judgement comes from other sources.

I was in the midst of renewing a relationship with a figure from my youth, a spiritual authority, the closest thing I had to a father figure. After what looked like a good start, I was given the brush-off. Intellectually, I understand the reasons for it. But the pain of rejection was real, and came with insight.

For days after the brush-off, I would experience pangs where I was reminded of the closed-door. I would be going about my ordinary day, working, driving, pondering, and then wham, the painful reminder of rejection. I began to see a pattern emerge regarding the timing of the pain.

It was like hurting a toe. While I remained still, everything felt fine. But when I walked on that foot, ouch. That sprained toe happened to be my sense of judgement.

I had inherited many daily judgements from this figure. Unconsciously, I would would judge a person, or thing, or situation in light of something he had said to me years ago. And if that wasn't bad enough, I would judge things in light of his imaginary approval. For days after the rejection, I felt a twinge of pain every time I employed a judgement which I inherited from him.

God is good, I needed this pointed out to me.

All my judgements are questionable. In addition to judgements inherited from the paternal, add the worries from the maternal. Add the fear of bullies. Add the approval of peers. Add the prejudices of culture. Add all the assurances and guilts of fundamentalism.

Given all of this, how many of my daily judgements are the result of illumination of scripture, from reason, from wisdom, from knowledge, from the Spirit? Twenty percent? Ten percent? Five?

Eph 6:4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord.

The first glance at the verse tells us not to exasperate them. But there is a second observation. Children inherit their wrath from us. If I hate a political figure, they'll probably hate him too. If I am angry at the neighbor, the kids are angry the neighbor. The immigrant. The fellow driver. The person at the front of the line. The waitress. The customer. The government. The opposite sex. The church on the other corner. "Yeah Daddy, they're all jerks."

Who taught you how to judge?