Category Archives: Faith

an honest complaint

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“These are the times that try man’s soul.”  – Thomas Paine

7 O LORD, you deceived [b] me, and I was deceived [c] ;       you overpowered me and prevailed.       I am ridiculed all day long;       everyone mocks me.  8 Whenever I speak, I cry out       proclaiming violence and destruction.       So the word of the LORD has brought me       insult and reproach all day long. 9 But if I say, “I will not mention him       or speak any more in his name,”       his word is in my heart like a fire,       a fire shut up in my bones.       I am weary of holding it in;       indeed, I cannot.  12 O LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous       and probe the heart and mind,       let me see your vengeance upon them,       for to you I have committed my cause.

Sometimes, this is just how you feel.

 peace,marshall

Are you not entertained?

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“Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?”  – Maximus in Gladiator

 Fans think twice about hero worship?  I’ll believe it when I see it.  Hero worship for our sportsmen and now women as well is thousands of years old.  We love our spectacle, we love our circus shows.  We want our neighboring mammals from the ocean to spend their lifetime in a bathtub leaving their context to amuse us for a price.  We love to be entertained and our appetites seemingly have no limits.  We shutter at an orca whale who turned on its trainer, but I myself have paid more than a few times to see it perform in the past and now it seems shameful.  Tiger Woods was the can’t miss marketing icon, clean and perfect like the Gillette shaver he promoted, until he wasn’t.  I am in no way pointing a finger at Tiger, the man is human and clearly had a lifestyle he now deeply regrets and the consequences are heavy.  My issue is the pedastal to begin with.  Perhaps Tiger believed his own hype, my beef is with the hype itself. None of this is new.  The Roman gladiator shows with animals also mauling their trainers.  They were mostly slaves, hoping to win their freedom, and if not, at least to taste some glory.  They were idolized as Rock Stars, sex objects and archaeologists have even found children’s dolls/playtoys in the shape/form of their favorite gladiator.  Babylon, Persia, Egypt and as far back as the Sumerians as we can tell, had some form of sport (usually violent) and hero worship.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE sports, always have.  I love competition and respect and have a sense of awe about the talent of others.  But they are human beings and that’s all I’m looking for. What is it in us that wants to idolize?  Are there deep insecurities?  Is fantasy and escape more normative for us than reality?  Why are we so thirsty for amusement?  Why are we so bored with our own selves?  It seems to me to be an issue of meaning.  If we have no real meaning ourselves, if we are not living out our own grand story, then we are looking to latch onto someone else’s.  If we can’t live our own dream, we try and ride the glamorous coat-tails of someone else who seemingly is living theirs.  (although in the end we find it is often no dream for them either)  We live in a culture full of hype, hyperbole and consumer driven marketing.  You HAVE to see this, recognize it and get some appropriate distance from it or those seeking your $$ on TV will be the ones to dictate to you what your story is.  What you should feel, what you should care about, how you should vote, what you should buy, how you should live . . . etc.  Why do we let someone else, who does not have our interest in mind dictate our story?  This is why I ceased watching the news years ago, tired of them dictating to me what to care about with hype and hyperpole for ratings.  (that’s a rant for another day).Here’s the thing, you have all the power and resources within you to be a hero or heroine.  Let me say that again, YOU do, not someone else.  You can parent in such a way to leave a legacy of love and blessing.  You can neighbor in such a way that spurs a culture of generosity.  You can work in such a way that brings to life more than just your company’s mission statement.  You can teach in such a way that inspires introspective learning for life.  You can friend in such a way that you literally become someone else’s answered prayer.  You can spouse in such a way that the experience of Oneness breeds a daily deep affirmation of who you truly are and who you belong to.  You can have a life with meaning and purpose that everything you touch, say, do, feel, think, express and attempt is heroic.  Not someone else, you.  You just need to decided to do so, and decide that everyday.  Then it will be your story that is told for years to come.

“What we do in life echoes in eternity. ”  – Maximus in Gladiator 

That could be your life.  Don’t seek entertainment, seek personal meaning.peace,marshall

Psalm 143

I read this Psalm this morning and I felt a deeper connection to the thoughts from yesterday in Rejection and Resurrection.

Psalm 143  (The Message)

A David Psalm

 1-2 Listen to this prayer of mine, God; pay attention to what I’m asking.   Answer me—you’re famous for your answers!      Do what’s right for me.   But don’t, please don’t, haul me into court;      not a person alive would be acquitted there. 3-6 The enemy hunted me down;      he kicked me and stomped me within an inch of my life.   He put me in a black hole,      buried me like a corpse in that dungeon.   I sat there in despair, my spirit draining away,      my heart heavy, like lead.   I remembered the old days,      went over all you’ve done, pondered the ways you’ve worked,   Stretched out my hands to you,      as thirsty for you as a desert thirsty for rain. 7-10 Hurry with your answer, God!      I’m nearly at the end of my rope.   Don’t turn away; don’t ignore me!      That would be certain death.   If you wake me each morning with the sound of your loving voice,      I’ll go to sleep each night trusting in you.   Point out the road I must travel;      I’m all ears, all eyes before you.   Save me from my enemies, God—      you’re my only hope!   Teach me how to live to please you,      because you’re my God.   Lead me by your blessed Spirit      into cleared and level pastureland. 11-12 Keep up your reputation, God—give me life!      In your justice, get me out of this trouble!   In your great love, vanquish my enemies;      make a clean sweep of those who harass me.   And why? Because I’m your servant.

peace,marshall

Rejection and Resurrection

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I’m preparing a teaching reflection for the 2nd week of Lent and it has led me to the story of Joseph in Genesis.  I have long found the narrative of Joseph’s life to be quite compelling.   Can you imagine a more dysfunctional family?  The Father clearly favors one son over the others, the son overplays his arrogance card, the brothers act out in defiance and sell their brother into slavery while bold-face lying to Dad.  This is the stuff of FOX reality TV.  In fact, the Jewish Scriptures are full of them.  They were as we still are, they are us. Is there anything more painful than the experience of rejection?  It has the power to be fatal to our personhood.  Joseph has a concrete representation of his worth to his brothers, they sell him into slavery.  Now, forever, if he chooses, he can buy into the lie that he is worthless and have a pretty good story to back up that accusation.  When he finds himself in prison in Pharaoh’s kingdom, I can only imagine he had dark nights of the soul where he would rue his very existence.  It is in these deep place of depression where we cannot see the big picture, our perspective is obliterated.  Somehow, Joseph just made a decision to keep hoping about a future.  Regardless of emotion and experience, he yet dreamed for something new about his future.  And that day came.You can’t read Gen. 38 and the horror of Joseph’s rejection from his brothers without taking that in context with Gen. 45 and Joseph reconciling with them.  In short, he deemed the situation, “what you meant for evil, God meant for good.”  It was God who assigned Joseph to a different future in the kingdom.  It was his leadershp at a high position that saved the kingdom from famine.  It was his leadership that was carved out of a history of horrid rejection, dark nights of the soul and the turning away of the negative voices in his head.  He fought for a different future and experienced a kind of resurrection.  Hard times have the power to carve a good leader.   It was also his choice to reconcile with his brothers.  He could have cursed them and chose resentment, but he knew that was a poison to his soul.  The Kingdom way is to bless, not to curse and in it you find a fountain of new life. In this time of Lent, search your heart for those who have wronged you.  Choose to not listen to the false voices that want to dictate to you your worth.  Fight for the thoughts about a new future, a resurrection.  Choose to bless those who curse you and find your worth in the One who made you.  I pray that new life springs up within your very soul. peace,marshall

I babbled on about things far beyond me

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Job 42:1-6 (The Message)
I Babbled On About Things Far Beyond Me

 1-6 Job answered God: “I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything.   Nothing and no one can upset your plans.You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water,   ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me,   made small talk about wonders way over my head.You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking.   Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’I admit I once lived by rumors of you;   now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears!I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!   I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”

 I find this a great reflection on this first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday.  The saying goes, “a wise man says there is a God, and I’m not him.”  Knowing your place in the cosmos is both a humbling realization as well as a taste of true freedom.  To know that ultimately we are not in control is both scary and exhilirating.  I’m a type A personality, I like to be in control, making things happen and getting stuff done.  But what also comes with that is the delusion that everything and everybody is your responsibility.  That kind of thinking is folly and recipe for personal disaster.  I had a graduate school professor who said with this kind of thinking, “you are a train wreck waiting to happen”.  I’ve learend he was right. So on this Ash Wednesday, recognize your limits and surrender that sense of control.  Ask yourself this question:  Did you bring yourself into being?  If not, then stop taking yourself so seriously and relax a bit.  It’s not about you.  The question is, if you let go, are the arms of the One who will hold you sufficient?  That is the question of faith.  And today, by faith, I’m letting go.peace,Marshall

Guilt as a bad teacher

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  I grew up around fundamentalist christian teaching where guilt was King.  It was the easiest way I suppose to get good christians to act right, give them a good short-term motivator in heavy doses and then wash, rinse, repeat until you die.  I guess we assumed that’s the way God wanted it, keep us on pins and needles, obsessively aware of our performance or lack thereof.  I think the model was to be a good christian was to feel perpetually poor about oneself and hope that the next good dose of guilt would be the magic pill we needed to get our act straight.  I mean christian summer camp was constant activity + sleep deprivation + guilt-induced teachings + a late night bonfire and its obvious metaphor of an entire lake of fire + a call to throw my stick in the fire this year and “reaaaaalllllyy” mean it this time = I’m a good christian again.  Whether this was because we thought it worked, or what we thought the Scriptures taught or was simply just cultural conditioning of previous generation’s assumptions and conclusions, it was what we got. So, here’s the problem.  Read the Gospels for yourself and look for the same approach.  I mean, go ahead, actually read them.  It’s not there.  Guilt as the King motivator is just noticeably absent.  You have Jesus at the well, with the adulterous woman, with Zachaeus, at Matthew’s house party, at a drunken party in Cana, with sinners or all sorts and yet in the narratives guilt is not King.  There is a call to a higher standard, a remorse and responsibility for wrong doing, but no guilt-induced lectures.  Rather, it appears Jesus “foolishly” chooses grace, mercy, trust, love and truth as his motivators (please insert sarcasm here).  He took the hard route and seemingly got long-term results.  It was like actual deep-life change instead of short-term external habits.  I guess you could say guilt is for like Micro-wave christianity where you just nuke the outside, and grace/love/trust teaching is like the crock-pot that slowly roasts the meat until its very nature changes and it falls off the bone.  (I’m a big fan of cooking analogies).  So if you want short-term results, go with the guilt approach and keep it coming early and often.  If you are interested in actual life transformation, I suppose try a different way.I think that authentic community is the best vehicle for long-term transformation of character and personhood.  Living life with people who genuinely love you and care for your soul perhaps even more than you do yourself.  The problem comes in the form of intimacy.  Being “known” is a scary thing and many of us have a natural instinct to “run” when we get to that place.  Better it seems to keep intimacy at a distance for our own comfort than stay and work it out.  Make no mistake, real community is an intimate thing and a scary thing at times.The other option as well is to care less about actually changing.  I mean, just see your christian spirituality as a static decision to have your sin problem taken care of so that someday you can go to a mythical place called heaven and leave this god-forsaken earth.  That’s a subject for another day.  I think that the conclusion to our Scirptures is something deeply more than this.  Real change is at the core of our self, not just our external habits.  Guilt is a powerful voice for shallow christianity, shallow teaching and shallow living.  I think we are called to something abundantly more potent.  It’s about the heart, always has been, always will be.

From today’s Aidan reading in Celtic Daily prayer: “Yes, I deal with guild every day.  What counts is my heart’s desire, only that my heart’s motives be pure, and that I strive for that . . .  day after day.”  – Ann Kiemel

Seek freedom, not guilt .peace,Marshall

Money and the American church pt. 2

So I’ve been having a discussion with my younger half-brother who is in a decision making place of whether to seek ordination in his denomination for his future vocation at the end of his bachelors degree or to try and figure a way to do the ministry that is on his heart differently.  In any system, there are pros and cons and in something as deeply personal as our spirituality, its hard to apply the same business principles to that we would in franchising a business.  This  has me reflecting on these issues again. There is a long history of questions and issues with professional ministry vs. a self-supporting model.  In the New Testament you have the apostle Paul both tent-making and seeking financial support from believers.  With this, I don’t think its a moral or theological issue (many would argue me on that point).  The reason I fired myself from professional ministry was a cultural issue and a sense of self-awareness.  Although I was professionaly prepared for ministry in the American church (undergrad. and graduate degree) and had all the experience needed, it was a matter of calling and the time I live in.  1) a problem of trust – the American church has lost major trust with the people, both in and outside its walls.  Stories of scandals and impropriety is the word on the street and the people I want to be in conversation with have a major issue with money and the church.  So if I’m not taking a paycheck, then at least that communication barrier is out of the way. 2) exchange of goods and services – spiritual accountability is an intimate and at times rough ground to cover.  How honest can I be with people I’m caring for if I rely upon their giving to feed my children?  Let’s not spiritualize this, its a human response.  3) the drive to be productive – American ministry, as I was trained in, is deeply intertwined with the American corporate business model where productivity and busyness is king.  You focus on the things that bring a return to the organization.  This is incredibly confusing when the Kingdom of God as expressed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is a “bottom-up” model and our church is designed as a “top-down”  hierarchy model.  One of those has to give.  What’s my point in all this?  I grieve for a church that has forgotten who we are.  We are not rooted in our ancient stories (the Scriptures) handed down to us from those who have gone before us.  Instead we’ve exchanged it for a model to be exciting, enticing, obsessively productive and relevant to the world around us.  Are we selling people a “feel good” pill or are we offering the kind of water that doesn’t make you thirsty anymore?  I believe, our hope is in living in our story, one rooted in the truth of the mind of our Creator.  If the recession doesn’t go away, if the american economy struggles for a decade, what will the questions of the church be?  Will will be grieving our senses of entitlement to buildings and vocations or will we be ready to care for people and show them a simpler and more wholistic way to live?  Will our message be hope and life?   That’s what I wonder about.  

I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.  That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love.  The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed  us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.  – Henri Nouwen  In the Name of Jesus peace, Chris

Money and the American church pt. 1

This is something I posted almost 2 years ago and I want to re-visit it here for a bit.  This was before the recession fully hit in America and I still have similar questions.Wednesday, April 23, 2008

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My truck is paid off but the gas prices are killing me. I don’t drive that much and its over $300 per month, not including my wife’s car. So what does this project to as a national economy? Recession seems inevitable, will it go way beyond that? A nation already ruled by fear and over-spending with no margins by individuals and the government, what will be the consequences?How will this impact churches and mortgages and credit lines that can’t be fed? As builders pass on who are the committed givers what is left? 1/2 of boomers are there to give and the other 1/2 are driven past their financial margins with consumerism and can’t help. Gen X and Millenials have very little value in long term comittments, are all about instant gratification and consumerism is their native language. Commonly this group of up and comers are living on 125-140% of their income taking on exponential debt per year. What will be the result of these decisions having no margins when the shoe drops?Will American churches go the way of their European counterparts? Becoming really funky coffee houses, restaraunts, art galleries and dance clubs. Just things I wonder about.peace,

Brigid of Kildare

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Today is St. Brigid’s day after Brigid of Kildare. She is known for a “call to recklessness“, particularly in terms of her generosity and hospitality. Here is a description of her from Celtic Daily Prayer:

Many legends and few facts survive about this Irish woman who founded a community at Kildare, primarily for women. She was famed for her generosity and hospitality, and her influence was widespread; but she remained eminently practical.

I live in America which means ask the common person on the street what the great perception of those who claim to be Christian is and most likely not in the top 100 are the words generosity or hospitality. (of course that’s a generalization based on the person’s experiences, but I would wager its decently accurate) Perhaps words like self-righteous, judgmental, greedy, immoral, close-minded etc. may make that top 100 list. Whether the perception is based on micro experiences (local church, interactions with Christians, spiritual history) or macro observations (fantastic media reports, the folks on the tele etc.) the perception may be reality or atleast perceived. The point is that our micro and macro messages hardly reflect the one we claim to follow. So what is getting in the way? Surely at least our broken humanity for starters and the list can go on from there. My reflection today is that I want to be known as being recklessly generous and hospitable to both strangers and friends. Thanks, St. Brigid for the reminder. Here is just a portion of the Celtic Blessing for the day of St. Brigid for our homes:

For love of Him we offer friendship and welcome every guest.Lord, kindle in my heart a flame of love to my neighbour,to my enemies, my friends, my kindred all,from the lowliest thing that liveth to the name that is highest of all.I would welcome the poor and honour them.I would welcome the sick in the presence of angelsand ask God to bless and embrace us all.Seeing a stranger approach I would put food in the eating place,drink in the drinking place, music in the listening place,and look with joy for the blessing of God, who often comes to my home in the blessing of a stranger.

peace,