Jack-o-lantern spirituality


    So it brings us to the time of year where Christians debate over whether it’s appropriate/proper/holy/unspiritual etc. to participate in the activities around the American celebration of Halloween.  My friend, Tom Davis, got quite a few all riled up here on his blog.  Definitely worth the read to see how many varying and polar-opposite opinions there are on the matter.  In my humble opinion, given the history of Samhain in Celtic Ireland, it was one of many things that  St. Patrick helped redeem for the people of Ireland away from their fearful world of superstition and towards the worship and understanding of the Creator God.  It became associated with understanding the transition from life to death and with harvest moving toward winter.  It was a means to mark the rythymn of the year with the natural transitions of mortal life.  I quite believe that the practices of Halloween in their present form are neutral, it is the intent and object of affection for the celebrant as to what gives it meaning.  From a Kingdom of God perspective, we fear not death, occult, evil, demonic, hate, cultic history etc.  We are people of life, hope, redemption and resurrection.  Everything we touch in this world can be shaped by the One who shapes us.  Christians have zero issue with the fact that Christmas was redeemed from the pagan origins of Winter Solstice, but Halloween seems to have hung on as an enemy even though the history is similar.      Putting all that aside, I was reflecting on a kind of Jack-o-lantern spirituality.  The process of being cut open, cleaning out the guts, getting rid of the parts that would smell and decay, carving something beautiful out of something ordinary, and letting it be a lamp of revealed light.  This light is not to scare away evil spirits in their transition to the other world, but to reveal the handiwork of its creator.  Is this not a picture of spiritual transformation?  Allowing our hard exteriors to be penetrated by the Spirit of the one who wants to make us new.  Cleaning out the decay within us that clearly gets in the way of any light coming out of us.  Having our external life/habits be changed and transformed into something beneficial to our world.  To be carved into something beautiful, somethng creative, something that adds life and illumination to our world.  This light welcomes the darkness, it doesn’t fear it.  It exsits for the very reason to shine where there is no shine.  We as jack-o-lanterns are a reflection of the handiwork of our Creator, if we just let Him do so. 

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”  – John 1:3-5

Wherever this issue leaves you, peace to your celebration,Marshall

Productive Silence


Extroverts like me with a tendency towards type-A driveness cannot read things like this enough and just sit in it. 

“If we are witnesses to Christ in today’s market places, where there are constant demands on our whole person, we need silence.  If we are to be always available, not only physically, but by empathy, sympathy, friendship, understanding . . . we need silence.  To be able to give joyous, unflagging hospitality, not only of house and food, but of mind, heart, body and soul, we need silence.”  – Catherine de Hueck Doherty  (Oct. 28 Aidan Reading from Celtic Daily Prayer)

May your moments of silence today lead you to further productivity of the actions of your heart.  Our world is crying out for a restoration, we can meet that need not with an anxious mind, but one that is coming out of a productive silence. peace,Marshall

Education Paradigms

Are you a bored student?  Have you ever wondered why?Are you a boring educator?  Have you ever wondered why?Perhaps we should change things, or would that be too much learning?  😉[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/zDZFcDGpL4U" width="425" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]

Calling the Church Back to Humility, Integrity and Simplicity

Chris Wright, in his advance paper for the Third Lausanne Congress, writes on the need for the Church to return to some of basic tenets set out in the past affirmations of the Lausanne gatherings.  That even though there have been words spoken and sins repented of, we (the Church) are still in need of finding our way and getting back on the right path.  For too long, in our pride, we have pursued power, success and greed.  Rather, he asserts, we need to turn to humility, integrity and simplicity.

The temptation to power reflects our need to acquire status, instead of being content to be “in Christ”.  The temptation to success reflects our need to impress others, which is an idol of the focus to serve God alone.  The temptation to greed is a form of covetousness where we seek to depend on things instead of on God.  These temptations are age-old issues in the Church and the author implores us to continue to return to our place of repentance and to seek new beginnings in our biblica imperatives. 

Wright raises contemporary issues in the Church. 

  • How are we still perpetuating exalted status in race, gender, tribe or caste?
  • Why do we use inflated statistics of Chrisitan mission around the world?
  • Are modern evangelization stratgies driven by success and speed rather than obedience?
  • Is the Prosperity Gospel biblical?

In short, are we distinct and ‘holy’ as a people?  Or are we driven by the same prideful lusts of the world cultures we live within?  These are questions worth asking not just every 10 years for the Congress, but hour by hour for those of us who follow Christ. 

The Western Church and a Theology of Suffering

Leslie Keeney, one of the Lausanne Congress Bloggers, interviewed Ajith Fernando and blogged on the topic of “Does the Western Church Need a Theology of Suffering?”.  Ajith Fernando is from Sri Lanka and has worked 30 years with Youth for Christ there.  He has previous written an article on this topic entitled “To Serve is to Suffer”. 

Leslie, like me, struggles with the Western church’s infatuation with efficiency and productivy.  Fernando lays out that it is quite natural for this to be so.  “Every church reflects its own culture” but does warn that if the church is not careful, it loses its identity in a biblical culture that is not of the modern world.  If the church is more pre-occupied with branding and franchising, it has lost its focus and identity of simply being faithful in its context, even in hard times.  Interestingly, he points to technology being one of the factors of the West depending on its resources and ability to accomplish so much as not developing a theology of suffering. 

Fernando states:  “the East’s “catalogue of essentials” is much smaller, making people more likely to accept suffering as part of life. This is an important concept, so let me say it again. Having a much shorter list of what is necessary to survive makes the East more inclined to view suffering not as a sign of God’s disfavor, but as the price of effective ministry. Here is just one more reason for Western Christians to question the assumption that more is better.” 

 Suffering is not a sign that it is time to pack up shop and move elsewhere, it’s just a normal part of ministry.  Ministry is really hard, have proper expectations.  The East is better at this than the West.  As the West continues its move into deeper postmodernism and pluralism, will we be okay if our measureables of productivity are not met?  Will we define that as the loss of the blessing of God, or will we anchor ourselves in our biblical identity of staying even when it is hard? The beauty of the Lausanne Congress is that it provides the space for the West to learn from the East.  That is a good thing. 


All That Glitters is Not Gold

The Prosperity Gospel:   “All that Glitters is Not Gold” is an advanced paper submitted by Daniel Bourdanné for the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization gathering in Cape Town this week. 

Daniel particularly addresses the seemingly false teaching of leaders like Hagin and Copeland by looking at the root of the view of man in the Prosperity Gospel.  That man has creative powers because they by nature are divine, each of us little gods.  This does not lead to the worship of the One true God, but rather to a kind of rampant pantheism, many little gods creating on their own whims and desires.  He points this as being a kind of idolatry, and I would agree.

Daniel also addresses the manipulative view within this system of belief that God must act according to the mandate of the creation as a kind of universal principle.  Given enough faith in the form of optimism and idealism and the result is already determined independent of the providential Will of God.  Is this the normative view of God’s work within humanity in Scripture?  Daniel points out not, but what Scripture says does not seem to be the rule of thumb for the voices of the Prosperity Gospel.  Did Jesus heal everyone, everywhwere . . . or did people still die of disease in his communities?  Is there not a righteous death, or is it all a mis-use of our free-will to allow it without acting in this positive view of faith?  

Finally, Daniel deals with the kind of hierarchy that comes with the revelation of divine knowledge.  That there are some who claim to have superpowers of divine knowledge and use that as a kind of superiority over others.    What does this say about the Body, about each part needing another (Rom. 12), no part being more important?  With the unhealthy focus on only the gifts of the Spirit within this system of belief, a hierarchy of “haves” and “have nots” is readily seen. 

Like the author, I believe that the power of the Holy Spirit in activity with creation is a transformational part of ministry.  Daniel says, “And indeed in some contexts, despairing people without hope have had their lives changed, because the Prosperity movement has given them practical reasons to see life differently by believing in themselves.  This means that this “gospel” can produce positive results and should not be brushed off lightly.”  We do not want to throw out the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the Church today because of the misuse of some.  Particularly where people have such felt needs for hope, why wouldn’t God act so demonstrably with His children.  But it’s about Him, not us, that’s the difference. 



Formed: Simplicity


Last weekend I attended the 2nd module of Formed, a 12 part novitiate curriculum of spiritual formation led by a group of friends.  This month’s module was on the topic of “Simplicity:  Antidote to Consumerism” and the conversation was led by Will Samson.Will Samson was the right thinker/speaker for this conference conversation with practitioners on the value of Simplicity in a world of consumerism.  His background in Sociology and Theology was crucial to give this topic the depth and reflection it deserved.  He first analyzed the macro-issues of consumerism before he drilled down into the practical living out of simple community in today’s American culture.Samson laid out that our culture seeks for contentment in the consumption of things.  If we can acquire more “stuff” then that will lead to happiness.  However, instead of happiness, many Americans have only found overwhelming debt.  The over-arching response has been similar thinking from the government to the individual household; to get out of debt we must spend our way out.  This results in a spiraling down emotionally, the more we spend, the more depressed we are.  We live in a culture of mindless consumption; the desire for more is something we’re taught as “economic actors”.In my opinion, Samson’s most profound point was in our culture’s narrative of “away”.  We throw things away like it goes to a magical place and we don’t consciously know how that happens physically.  We are completed disconnected from our waste, we are disconnected from how food gets to us, we are disconnected from how money is made etc.  This narrative of “away” has perpetuated conspicuous consumption, debt and the obesity factors that come with the unhealthy eating of processed foods.  He describes that what we are doing is completely unsustainable and that the problems we face cannot be saved at the same level of thinking that created them.How do we practically move forward and do something about our mindless consumption?   One way he suggests is the biblical value of serving one another, it is the alternative to consumerism.  To serve one another means that we make sure there is enough for all, that the community needs are met. Samson suggests that being radical is simply just getting back to the roots of what it means to be human.  He proposes we can engage in at least five different, simple modalities to do something about it:

  1. Make something
  2. Trade something
  3. Grow something
  4. Slow down
  5. Eat together

Simple enough, thanks Will.

A Proper Uprising

“Uprising”  Muse

Interchanging mind control
Come let the, revolution takes its toll
If you could, flick the switch and open your third eye
You’d see that
We should never be afraid to die
(so come on)

Rise up and take the power back
It’s time the fat cats had a heart attack
They know that their time’s coming to an end
We have to unify and watch our flag ascend

They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not enslave us
We will be victorious

Forgive me for my metaphor but I am just recovering from my 2nd Muse concert of this year last night.  First, I’m a sucker for dramatic British rock.  Secondly, I’m a sucker for voices of passionate uprising, thoughtful resistance and anti-establishment ideals in hopes that it liberates the masses.  I couldn’t help but reflect last night during the show that a Muse concert is a crossroads of these issues.  I clearly was consuming the product, Muse was banging out a kind of “rebel yell” that seems to connect with the counter-culture ideals of the masses and they do it in a way that those on a “cool-hunting” safari would find it in that experiece.  Heath & Potter in “The Rebel Sell” would not agree with my sentiments, they would say I’m just a sucker, period. 

In the second half of “The Rebel Sell”, Heath and Potter take a turn towards the practical while keeping their thesis solidly in place, the culture cannot be jammed.  Jamming the system doesn’t work because it is based on a myth that the “system” is singularly responsible for the problems and thus the only solution is a complete overthrow of that system.  The counter-cultural “solutions actually exacerbate the very problems they are intended to resolve” (p. 322) by driving consumer consumption based on competitive distinction.  The way out is to make peace with modern mass society.

We need some sort of an aggreement (within pluralism) of a collective action agreement.  What can this action agreement look like?  Practical answers are to:  “perfect the market, don’t abolish it” (p. 334), school uniforms, trade agreements, “green” taxes, eliminating deductible advertising, toll roads and a mandated 35 hour work week etc.  “All of this will involve further restrictions of individual liberty.  Yet so long as individuals are willing to give up their own liberty in return for a guarantee that others will do the same, there is nothing wrong with this.”  (p. 335).  

Heath and Potter do such an admirable job of exposing the myth of the counter-culture.  That there is not a singular system that is controlling everything that needs overthrown, but rather they show that the problem is much more complex than that and that we are all a part of it.  Our individual consumer choices drive the very system we may say with our words that we oppose.  They show that most of what is labeled as rebellion is naive and foolish, it does not accomplish its goals of jamming the culture.  However, their answer is that individuals will give up freedom to balance the system in hopes all other indivduals will do the same?  Going further, they are so confident of this that they can get a “guarantee” that other individuals will act in this responsible way?  And they think the culture-jammers are naive? 

To me, this opens up a giant can of worms of how do people make right choices?  Why do we sometimes make wrong choices?  Can we educate ourselves to right choices?  Does not the presence of evil in our world come from a root of the misuse of free will?  How per-se do Heath and Potter suggest we get that kind of heart and mind change that leads to the guarantee of right choices?  As I read their conclusions, I was reminded of the Coke advertising of the 70’s where people held hands in a circle and sang:  “I’d like to buy the world a coke, in perfect harmony”.  Exactly what kind of Coke is Heath and Potter drinking that will magically make people give up their self-seeking individualism for a well-balanced collective action agreement?  I am all for the answers, but we have to be realistic about where our choices come from and what transformation looks like. 

I would suggest, we need a proper Uprising.  Not one based in idealic rebellion or foolish attempts of culture-jamming, the system will not be overthrown because it is not any one thing.  I would suggest a proper Uprising to be an enactment of the words of Jesus: “your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:10)  We need a Gospel of life-change, a literal transformation of our pre-frontal cortex (Rennovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard) where our choices are made.  Our Gospel cannot be about the cultural cool-hunting of growing churches based on the consumption of goods that does not have its root and identity in the kind of life transformation that happens when the Kingdom of God is enacted within community.  Hope is that the One who designed us, the One who gave us being is the only One that can change us.  He is not changing us only for a world that is coming (a new heaven and new earth) but also for the now, the world we are present in.  This kind of change is not extra-credit work, it is the point of our life.  This world was built and designed to be in harmony with the Kingdom of God.  If our life is rooted in a transformational community towards these ends, it changes the way we consume, we buy, we choose, we live, we work, we care, we lead, we speak, we act, we travel, we serve, we earn, we learn . . . you get the point.  You will not find balance in the system on a whim, it comes when we renact the harmony of the Kingdom of God incarnated in Christian Community.  It comes when we change, and I am convinced the only effective change comes in the transformation of being “in Christ”. 


This is the proper Uprising, Christ in us and then through us to our world. 





Academic Spirituality


I love this from today’s Aidan Reading of Celtic Daily Prayer.  It has direct application for me in my doctorate studies, it is a bit of a cross-section of sociology and theology, my 2 favorite topics.  But to acquire the kind of knowledge that doesn’t “puff up” but draws us to a kind of hushed silence of what in the world is truly AWE-some.  That is our task.  And then to leave that place, and be reflective-practioners of these learnings, that is our mission. 

“Great questions stand unanswered before us, and defy our best wisdom.  Though our ignorance is great, at least we know we do not know.  When we don’t know what to say, keep us quiet.”  – Peter Marshall

Stop and learn from the Kingdom today.peace,Marshall

This McDonald has no farm


Like McDonalds has anything to do with a farm.  Check out this article from the USA Today where McDonalds is doing some marketing through Facebook’s Farmville application.

“The virtual farm looks a lot like a Norman Rockwellesque farm that’s been spun through a McDonald’s branding machine. It’s got tomatoes growing in a big McDonald’s “M” logo. It’s got a McCafe flag flying in front of the perfect farmhouse. It’s got a big billboard touting the latest McDonald’s Monopoly consumer promo. The McDonald’s hot air balloon is wafting overhead.For McDonald’s, the promo is closely linked to the chain’s new vision of how to best reach consumers.”

A virtual farm promoting virtual food.  Is anything real anymore?