York Minster


York Minster was as impressive a holy site as I have been to.  I was struck by the presence of the place.  It had been prayed over for hundreds of years. I was hushed to a kind of reverent silence.  The presence of God in the history of those stones was overwhelming to me.  I felt undone.  The spacious expanse, the arching buttresses, the innumerable and ornate stained glass windows, the stone floors and walls . . . just stunning to me.  The architecture all points upwards, it leads to elevated thinking and most certainly prayer.  Yesterday I went and visited, saw the crypts, climbed the 275 spiral stone stairs to the tower for the view and did what a tourist should do.Today, I went back to the Minster to be a pilgrim.  I went to pray, I went to look within.  To be honest, it was difficult.  I felt broken, I wanted to repent of everything within me that does not reflect the holiness of my God and well, that takes some time.  I went and prayed for my family, I prayed for my community, I prayed for our world.  This is the kind of place that you could sit and pray all day without any problem.  Most certainly, this was a thin place.  A place where the veil from this world and the spiritual is so thin, its almost permeable.  It’s humbling.  Very, very humbling.Then I walked out into the streets, into the world of the bustling people and I just began to ache.  I felt the longing of God for his Creation.  We, as a  people, can tend live our entire busy lives and never look up.  Never stop to commune with the One who made us and governs the universe.  I felt God longing for more of me, I felt him longing for my neighbors, I felt him longing for the restoration of all things.  I wanted to stay in that “space” in York and just pray and sit in it.  But then I heard him say “Go”, it was time to get going, get a train to Oxford and continue this pilgrimage.  It is God who says go, bring the sacred in the land of the secular, make all places holy.  My heartfelt thanks to the Minster at York, another thin place visited in my life’s pilgrimage.peace,Marshall

Asking Questions


“The important thing is not to stop questioning. “  – Einstein

I have long sought to be a person who doesn’t just live my life, but reflect on it.  I am absolutely fascinated with how things work, why people are the way they are, how the universe works together, whay dynamics organizations operate on, the unspoken of human communications etc.  I find it fun to ask a lot of questions of how and why, life is an unending process of learning.  Learning is its own reward, both energizing and intellectually productive. One of the things that is broken with western education models and western churches for that matter is that there is little room for asking questions and collaborative learning.  Educataion is measured by pre-determined markers of results:  sit and listen and absorb and then spit back what you just absorbed.  Don’t learn for yourself, memorize what the instructor needs to communicate to reach his/her pre-determined learning outcomes that are signed off by their supervised lesson plans.  Education in the modern world is now a science, no longer an art.  Science is all about the measureables for marking productivity, it has no room for deviation or creative inquiry.  My problem with the scientific modern approach is that it isn’t human.  If we were programmed robots or computers, then great, program away.  But we are not, we are breathing/thinking humanoids that have no limit to our sense of wonder, imagination, creativity and thirst for more understanding.  Simply put, we are alive. Everytime I can be in a place where I can ask a lot of questions, I feel more alive.  I am very much looking forward to the doctorate program I am starting next week with George Fox University primarily for the opportunity to further my learning and increase my questions.  The experience itself is a creative art.  I know the the degree is the tangible outcome (hopefully) but where it is all taking me, I have no idea and I’m okay with that.  It’s the process of creative inquiry that I am looking forward to journeying in.  The fact that our first advance will be in the setting of the mecca of  historical/classical learning such as Oxford, Cambridge and London doesn’t hurt either.  I look forward to walking the paths where many former thinkers and question askers have gone before me, even if I just have a few days.  The experience itself has a kind of romantic wonder to it.  The acadmemic rigor and hard work will no doubt seek to squelch my sense of wonder, but I welcome the opporunity to be a more reflective practitioner. The institutions of our culture are not comfortable with questions.  Free thinkers cannot be bought, owned or controlled . . . how inconvenient.  Do not stop asking questions, they are the bedrock of what it means to be human and fully alive.  This weekend I have set aside a couple days before I report to school in England just for wonder, dreaming and asking questions about my future with the God who created me.  Can’t think of a better plan.peace,Marshall

On Counting


So yesterday I got my yearly emailed questionaire from the denomination to report my yearly stats for Ordinary Community Church.  Part of it, I get, they mean well and there are a lot of stewardship issues at base camp that they are responsible for.  However, being a network of house churches we don’t fit any of the categories.  We haven’t added any worship attendance, we haven’t added new services, we don’t need more bulletin inserts and we don’t have a pulpit for others to come and fill.  We have set ourselves up in a way that those are not the things we count.I think fundamentally, that the things we count speak directly to the things we value. 

 “19-21“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”

If  I was to play devil’s advocate with our western church culture, I would ask, what is different about the things that we count that isn’t different about the way western businesses or corporations count?  And maybe a more specific question is, should it be different?  Should our organizations for spiritual formation have different measures than those designed for financial profit?  I’m not naive, I know that blind idealism is not all there is and I don’t see a lot wrong with being intentional, organized and well-planned.  But if we are not aware and careful, the things we count will be the tail that wags the dog.  Money, power, prestige, status, popularity and relevancy are not the keystones in the Kingdom of God, in fact we are warned vehemently to deny ourselves to the point that our hearts don’t long for such things because they are of this world and not the heavenly one.  What we count speaks to what we value and what we care about. Do we care about Christ or do we care about numeric productivity most?  This is just a question I wonder about.Perhaps other questions could be:  In what ways has your community addressed those who are hungry?  Explain how this year your community tried to dispel loneliness from your city/town?  Describe how your community is less consumeristic this year than last?  Describe how your community loves each other and their neighbor as themself?  How many people in suffering has your community walked with this year?  What dreams grew some feet this year because your community walks in hope?  Describe how your teens/kids are showing the fruit of the Kingdom of God in their lives? What we count says who we are and who we belong to.  Let’s be different. peace,Marshall

Churches Gone Wild


Churches Gone Wild   This is a New York Times opinon piece by By G. JEFFREY MacDONALD brings up some really telling points about the relationship between church and its consumer culture.  It has had major consequences to the health of spiritual leadership both for vocational leaders and volunteer leaders the programs have depended on.  I think the writer here brings to light some really valid points, while at the same time is just describing a generalization, I suspect this is not the case everywhere.  The temptation for the Pastor in consumer America is to “make things happen”.  Be relevant, execute the measureables, increase productivity, expand territory, manage the assets, be politically savy, make cunning decisions and most stressful of all:  entertain the congregation.  These are qualifications more of CEO’s in an aggressive business model than they are of those with shepherding hearts and a desire to communicate values that are “not of this world”.  In our thirst to be relevant, did we lose our soul?  In our chase to increase production, did we  adopt the American coporate business model and walk away from what our spiritual ancestors displayed for us?  There is a temptation to be busy over being quiet.  To be funny over being prophetic.  To be powerful over being merciful.  To be persuasive over being a listener.  To be liked over being a leader.  My personal story is that I’ve lived this theme out.  I spent 12 years in vocational ministry before I realized through complete burnout that I had developed an addiction to success over being a pastor.  I was still executing all the work of ministry on the outside, but something internally was off.  I had lost my spiritual identity in my search to be relevant and powerful.  My story is not alone.  If I’ve met one with a similar story, I’ve met hundreds.  Broken hearted, talented folk who got lost in the machine of the modern American Church and its thirst for productivity and programs.  To be busy trumped the caring for one’s own heart, leaving behind a wake of broken leaders.  Some never recover.  God was gracious to me, gave me a 3 year sabbatical in seminary that re-defined what ministry in the Kingdom was to me and set me off on a whole new course.  I decided to fire myself and become a  bi-vocational pastor to my community.  One that would not be paid by those I was charged to lead and shepherd.  I”m not saying its “the” ideal for ministry, in fact in a lot of ways it is very, very hard.  But I think I’m converted for life to this model.  Particularly in a culture of an economic downturn and the fears that go with it, our house church community has no overhead, no debt and no bills that have to be met.  We are able to give away 100% of our tithing income to needs that promote the values of the Kingdom we care most about.  Single moms, repairing marriages, mercy giving, addressing poverty etc.   This is not the only model, I am quite sure many good leaders out there have figured out ways through the landmines of the relationship between church and consumerism, but this has been my story and the way God led me.  My advice to anyone out there stuck in the struggle of these issues is 1) Buy and read Henri Nouwen, “In the Name of Jesus:  Reflections on Christian Leadership”  2) Take some solitude time to retreat and pray and rest  3) re-read Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”  4) Discuss what you’ve read and heard in solitude with someone who cares about the real you, and not your persona.  I’m not a doctor, but this is my prescription. peace, Marshall

Believers: It’s not about you


Prop 8 judge to religious believers: It’s not about you    USA today article on Prop 8 judicial decision in California.  (Cathy Lynn Grossman)The pivotal quote seemingly in the decision is:But he spells out in all capital letters in the decision:

“A PRIVATE MORAL VIEW THAT SAME-SEX COUPLES ARE INFERIOR TO OPPOSITE-SEX COUPLES IS NOT A PROPER BASIS FOR LEGISLATION…California’s obligation is to treat its citizens equally, not to “mandate [its] own moral code.”

 My interest in this article is not to side my opinion on one side or the other on the decision, I’m not intersted in a political blog.  What I am interested in is the Truth claims on both sides.  Philosophically, that is what I find fascinating and intriguing on a human level.  What is true?  and how can you know it?  There certainly are a lot of both personal and societal issues depending on it. On one side, the argument is that there is an absolute and universal truth that is not a matter of personal opinion, but a grave issue of defining societal norms for either the good of the society (utilitarian) or mandated by a much wiser Creator than us as the creation could be (theist).  Either its a truth worth fighting for because it works better for society as a whole or its dire because it sets us up on a slippery slope for a legendary decline (i.e. Rome) if we sanction created order to our whim (humanism) as opposed to a submission to the Creator.  To play devil’s advocate on this, I would say that history shows us that “believers” in America used to argue againt the abolition of slavery or even civil rights for that matter.  They used the Bible to support their political views (Apostle Paul told slaves to obey their masters etc.)  They were dead set against abolition with their truth claims.  The Church was sure Galileo was dead wrong that the earth was not the center of the Universe and so on.  How can  you be sure that this now is an absolute truth claim and not just another kind of evolution of ideas and values and new realizations? On the other side, the judge’s truth claim is that it is a private issue and the moral view is relative to the individual.  Is a truth claim ever really just a personal issue?  To me, this is incredibly naive but textbook American.  Hyper-individualism is King.  The individual has full rights and entitlements and they are compartmentalized, never affecting others.  Our suburban neighborhoods have no front porches, rather we have fences and back decks.  We are isolated to our little bunkers and want to live and think and believe what we want.  That is our right as an American.  I guess there has to be a differentiation between opinion/taste/preference and a truth claim.  The reality is that we live as a collective, our lives deeply affect one another.   We belong to a system of dependency on one another as a nation, its why we pay taxes.  If my “truth” claim is a harm to my neighbor, the law exists to protect my neighbor.  How do we “know” that this issue does not create a harm to others?  Family is the center of culture and society, is its most basic definition not a collective truth claim to fight over together?  Is that really just an individual issue?  It seems to me that it is much too large an issue for our collective (nation and culture) to be explained away as simply a personal preference. I am most interested in truth.  I believe there are moral absolutes out there just like there are scientific laws to the universe.  I also know that history tells me that as humans we can be narrow in our view.  We can say our preference is an absolute truth when in reality, its just our relative taste and choice.  I certainly am asking more questions than giving answers here, but this is just the kind of stuff I think about.peace,Marshall

End Poverty = Export Capitalism?


The way to end poverty is to export Capitalism?   – USA today article from the opinion section on why Haiti continues to struggle economically and historically why it hasn’t developed.  Suggesting that simple capitalistic ideas of development and  entrepreneurship can win the day.  I give this opinion a solid maybe and maybe not.  I tend to believe in free economics, that greed is one of the best motivators for development and that you can’t legislate development, rathat it happens best somewhat organically.  Microeconomics are largely influenced by Macroeconomics and vice versa.  It’s a living organism of trickle down effects and grassroots people responding to opportunity.  In theory, Capitalism creates that opportunity for people to respond to and work to thrive.  However, history tells us that there are always power seats that can control opportunity, that it is never truly free.  The other thing is that Capitalism is rooted in the American story of fighting for what you have, creating anew.  Our stories of the Mayflower, the pilgrims and the patriots of the Revolutionary War breed the framework from the day we are born for these ideas of development to take root.  I wonder how successful capitalism can be without these stories of old that define a people and give construct to their worldview.  An uber-capitalist I assume would say that the desire to develop and progress is innate in human nature and not strictly defined to a people’s cultural history.  I think that is a bit idealistic, all of us have been shaped by the Story we live in, its where many of our ideas come from.  Can we change?  surely, but it isn’t that easy nor that quick.  Capitalism as an idea was grown out of the post-Reformation revolutions of Europe, it didn’t happen overnight.  Those experiences shaped the idea of the seeds of capitalism that eventually made its way on the Mayflower.  Ideas are living things, they ebb and flow with culture.  To me, the bigger question is not can we export and project a capitalistic structure on Haiti?  The bigger question is,does Haiti have the stories that the idea of capitalism can take root in?  If not, its a failed experiment from the get-go.  The idea that will work must be Haiti-centric, not Ameri-centric.  When oh when will we (American foreign policy) learn that lesson? peace, Marshall