New Ink

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This is my new ink, thanks to Jeremiah and Mother’s tattoo.Elpida is the modern Greek word for the New Testament idea of hope.  This word has carried a lot of meaning for me for a long time.  I got it etched in initially about 5 years ago, and Jeremiah touched it up to match the rest of the design here.Resurgam is Latin for “I will rise again”.  The monks of old used to have this put on their tombstone facing east towards Jerusalem and where they believed the 2nd coming to happen.

Ezekiel 47:1 The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side.3 As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. 4 He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. 5 He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross. 6 He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea.  When it empties into the Sea,  the water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Great Sea. 11 But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. 12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”

This passage is my metaphor of what church is to be on earth.  More accurately, this is what I think Jesus meant when he said:  “may your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”.  The church is the people of God, those whose hearts belong to him and desire to be continually transformed into his image.  It is not a place, an event, a belief, a feeling . . . it is a people.  You can make a free choice to jump in this river and become a part of the movement of this people.  The power of the Kingdom of God is present on earth.  It’s very spirit is flowing from the temple into our world, first brought with the birth of the Christ in Bethlehem.  Since then, the Kingdom is accessible through the source, which is Jesus.  Through our mystical union with Christ, we are carried into life change.  Transformation of ourself and transformation of everything we touch and choose to do good in.  We are the trees planted on the sides of this river and since we are connected to the source (the river flowing from the temple), we teem with life and everything we touch teems with life.  The spirit of the Kingdom of God is infectious, and we are carriers.  We carry the virus of the hope and resurrection life of the Christ who is within us.  We are participating in the eternal Kingdom of God both now and the world not yet.  This river is our center, as long as we stay connected and nourished in it (John 15) then we will renact the Kingdom of God on earth.  If we choose to do our own thing, we find ourselves lost.Frankly, when I read the Scriptures for myself, I do not resonate with the “gospel” I grew up hearing.  One that was about a cognitive belief in historical information about Jesus who died for me thousands of years ago.  And to be a good christian boy, just try my hardest to not make him mad.  The whole point was to go to heaven some day and “being good” in the meantime was kind of like extra-credti work if you felt like doing it.  Understanding more clearly the Kingdom of God, I have a relational connection to Christ.  When I remain in the stream of this river, I am full of life and power.  My life has meaning and context now.  I am participating in the ongoing creation of a new heaven and a new earth that Christ is returning to unveil.  I don’t think we’re supposed to be “good, safe, little girls and boys” as Christians.  I think we’re supposed to be a part of the conspiracy, the rebellion, the resistance.  This world and the enemies of God are active upon their destruction, who are the people that embody a rebellion to its cause?  Here is where we live as the Church.  We oppose wars, hatred, evil, loneliness, fear, isolation, suffering, hunger, poverty, abuse etc. etc.  In a world of destructive voices we exist to SCREAM a bit louder.  In a world of death, we ARE the people of the Resurrection.  In a world of fear, we offer Hope and a home.So, in short, this is my mantra for what I believe the Church is all about.  Hope and life is our rebellion, and it’s a beautiful rebellion.Stop and notice the Kingdom around you today,marshall

Brian McLaren is not the anti-christ

Start here  (Mike Morrell does a good job of summing up the explosive issue here)

BRIAN MCLAREN IS NOT THE ANTI-CHRIST.  There, I said it.  Phew, glad I got that off my chest.  In fact, I may even go as far as to say that my experiences with Brian have revealed a Christ-like character (GASP to my fundie friends).  There, it’s out now, I’m out of the closet.  I think Brian is 1) just a guy  (not  lucifer’s son)  2) a good thinker (though I don’t agree with everything) and 3) most importantly someone I consider a friend  (he’s the shrimp in the left back corner of this photo behind my sasquatch-like friends at Mayhem in Cincinnati 2003)A few years ago, the last time I talked with Brian, we were on a panel discussion together with George Barna and a few other leaders in Seattle at an Off the Map Conference.   (Notice that while I am sitting next to him, I am not punching him in the face as some suggest is the right etiquette.  Most notably this guy). Brian has just released a new book, “A New Kind of Christianity” .  I have not read it, I may not, I haven’t read any of Brian’s books in about 5 years or so.  Not because I deeply disagree, I just have got the jist of who he is and what he is suggesting.  There are parts of it, the stuff I read 10 years ago or so that was absolutely lightning in a bottle for me.  Liberating, provoking, dangerous and full of life.  I loved it and read a lot of it while shaking my head in affirmation.  At some point I got the jist and moved to other authors and other viewpoints.I am not a card-carrying member of Emergent.  That’s another post altogether of why I’m not but in general, many of them I count as friends and would break bread with them regardless of where we put our emphasis in.  Me and my friends, we’re mostly practitioners, trying to work it all out in community and in context, we’re not thinkers first.  We spend our time doing and surviving, we don’t have time nor funds for conferences and think-tank sessions.  But I certainly don’t debunk those who do or can, the emerging church is not any one thing, idea or set of people, that’s for sure.I probably agree with about 50% of what McLaren has been suggesting/teaching of late, of what I’ve read, and that’s cool.  I mean, how much do we have to agree on to be friends or brothers?  How many of you like everything your biological brothers have to say?  But the character slander out there of a guy is not exactly intelligent dialogue, let alone representative of the Christ you claim to be defending. Here’s the bottom line to me.  I met Brian and worked with him on some projects at a time in my life when I was considering giving up completely on the Church and my voice in it.  I was vulnerable, broken, abandoned by my fundie church background, persecuted by my christian brothers because I was thinking differently and more creative about how to do church in the future.  I was seeking something more communal, more connected to the historic christian roots and something honest.  When I had no spiritual fathers, Brian came alongside me and believed in the gifts that were within me.  He spoke words of affirmation that have carried me to this day.  He used his platform to speak grace into my life.  He was a blessing and a fountain of living water in a desert period of my life.  Since then, I have sought to be that sort of influence to others.  I fully admit, for believing in me when no one else did, I am fiercely loyal to Brian McLaren.  I don’t agree with all his ideas/thinking, but I deeply believe in Brian the person and Brian the brother in Christ. I guess my point is, stop with the immature character assasination and maturely deal with the issues/ideas.  The anti-christ may be the one in the mirror.peace,marshall

Social Media and “actual” relationship

Check out this USA Today article

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With Google Buzz coming out this week, there is a real rush towards more forms of social netoworking online and how to streamline it all into one place.  I certainly get what Google is trying to do.  I am at the shallow side of this reality and I have these accounts:  blog, facebook, twitter, tweetdeck, IM,  digby, linked in, classmates.com, google, yahoo, zoomtown, cbssportsline, paypal etc. etc.  etc. This article raises some interesting questions.  What kind of “friendships” am I actually creating with these connections?  How much time am I losing in downtime to keep these connections updated?  It gets even more scary when you think about Generation Y and the generation after them that have been raised on these “virtual” connections and constant need for immediacy.   If this is their only language for relationship, how equipped are they for the real world? There is certainly a place for these kinds of connections, but at what dosage and at what price?  Questions I’m asking myself today.  With the new facebook design acting so quirky, perhaps I should worry less about status updates of “friends” and read an actual book.  GASP!  I just might.I pray, regardless of the tools, that we seek relationships that have depth, character and perseverance.  These are the building blocks of true community.peace,marshall

on giving up

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What do you do when you get that antagonizing voice in your head that says to cash it in, give up, walk away, stop trying . . . just quit?  I mean what can you really know about yourself until you’ve come to this place over and over again?  What is your response?  Do you dig in?  fight back?  bail?  primal scream?  find a quiet place?  talk it out?  walk it out?  run it out?  pray it out?  or give in to its sultry voice?I suppose there are times it depends on your context and the externals in your life.  I suppose as well it has a lot to do with your make-up and your upbringing.  Down deep in us are natural and learned responses for most any situation.  But when your back is against the wall and every button in your patience is pushed, well, those kind of times reveal quite a bit about your moxie.I’ve long been a lover of the movie, Fight Club, for its insight into cultural philosophies and its complete undressing of the empty notions of consumerism.  It’s not cute or clean, but it is real.  Here’s the classic quote from the main character-

Tyler Durden: Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God —- it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy (stuff) we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

When you are faced with these struggles within you, that tell you to settle, give in, stop pursuing, stop caring . . .  do you give up or kick it in?  You really don’t know that about yourself until you find yourself there.  Tyler Durden later says, “How much can you know about yourself until you’ve been in a fight?”  There are no letter grades for this class, it’s pass/fail.  The voice to give-up is a bully, how do you face your bully?I’m at this sort of place this night and I’m hearing these kind of voices.  Well, I don’t like being bullied.  I don’t trust outside voices that tell me who I am or where I’m going.  I listen to the voice of the One who made me and the community of voices I belong to.As to the voice that says to give-up, well, I feel like fighting back.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

Community of the past, picture of the future

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Tonight, being snowed in, watched Dancing with Wolves with the wife and eldest daughter.  It was actually the movie my wife and I saw on our first date so always will have sentimental value to me.  I love movies set in historical contexts, I love the time of the Civil War and I’m a sucker for Tatonka.But there is certainly more to see in this movie.  The community of the Sioux.  Not to romanticize too much, the life then was incredibly harsh and barbaric at times.  But the in-between times.  A community built around proximity to one another, shared possessions, gathering of resources, each one playing a part, receiving meaningful names that marked one’s life.  Most importantly in my eyes, seeing one’s identity not as a me but as a we.  There wasn’t such a thing as a glorified individual, it was about the tribe.  They had individual meaning as they lived in their belongingness to one another.There was a Ruth moment towards the end where “Stands with a fist” tells her husband “Dances with wolves” that her way is with him.  Wherever he goes, is where she is to go.  It wasn’t about keeping up with Jones’, it wasn’t about the seeking of trivial pursuits, it was about her belongingness to him and him to her.  It wasn’t about an american dream of health and wealth, they knew none of that was a gurantee, they gave up control of those things.  It was about something more primary, that their path may lead anywhere, but it will be traveled together.  We as spouses need to say these kinds of words more to one another.  Give one another assurance like my wife gave me on our wedding day in her vows, “when the tough times come, I’m not going anywhere”.  (and she’s lived it)  Say the words of assurance and meaning, and then enjoy the bonds of matrimony all over again.But the scene that rips me up is at the end when Dances with Wolves has to leave the tribe because he is a threat to them being hunted by the white men.   “Wind in his hair”, who reluctantly became a warrior brother to Dances with Wolves , bares his soul on the mountaintop.  With his heart breaking and a lonely farewell, he exclaims  1) who he is:  I am Wind in his hair 2) who his friend is: you are Dances with Wolves 3) the cry of his heart: “can’t you see that you are my friend?” His primal scream releases this emotion over and over with powerful words of confirmation and affirmation.When was the last time you knew who you were?  When was the last time you knew whose you were?  These are the primary questions of community and hear me very clear on this next point, OUR CULTURE SUCKS AT IT!   This world sells a bag of lies and fools gold.  You will find yourself washed up on the shore over and over again wondering why the waves of life have such a profound affect on you.  There is no life in things that are dead.  The american dream is folly, consumerism is hollow, the false idols of pop culture will not satisfy your deepest longings.  Over and over, you will find yourself thirsting for more.So what’s the answer if the world won’t give us the goods?  Simple, we rebel and make it ourself in partnership with the One who created it all.  A God who is by very nature community:   Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Begin by being redefined not as what you do, where you live, what you’ve done, what you look like or what you have.  Radically redefine yourself as one loved by God.  And don’t move from that place until you’re convinced it’s true.  Once you come to hold that belief, it becomes a belief that holds onto you.  Just try and shake it, its a virus that runs deep in your soul.  Then what?  well, then you’re a virus carrier, go infect with words and actions of life and truth.  In a world of loneliness, offer belonging.   Speak the words of intimacy and belonging to one another, it’s a good place to start.  I find that many of the answers to our future, are found in the communities of our past.Stop and notice the Kingdom around you,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,

US Foster Care and Adoption

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Like many of you, I was immediately struck by the horror of the images coming from Haiti post-earthquake.  There were conflicting reports of orphans and being sent on planes to the US just looking for families to take them in.  Being the my wife and I are at the end of our foster care/adoption licensing process with Ohio, I wondered if we were supposed to be getting somehow more involved.  So I did some fact finding and was able to get on a conference call to Washington D.C. with Dept. of Homeland Security and US Immigration Services for updates with shareholders in the US.  They were triaging all their work and updating on the process of “humanitarian parole”.  Basically, any child in Haiti that was already in some sort of an adoption process, it could be expedited immediately.  That left the question of new adoption processes.  For now, that is somewhat of a closed issue.  Why?  1) in the chaos it’s hard to know who is an orphan and who has family looking for them  2) the problem of human trafficking.  With all the open hearts for the children, there are also those with evil intent and the infrastructure is not there right now to make that discenment  3) perhaps the best hope for Haiti is kids growing up in Haiti in orphanages where they get education and guidance and in turn lead their country in the future (that is if the basics are met of saftey and nourishment) On the conference call this was all brought up and in the end, one of the women on the panel alluded to the over 500,000 US children in Foster Care and adoption eligible here and if people had a heart for it, they should get involved right here in our own backyard.   And I concur wholeheartedly.  My wife and I have sensed a calling towards this work since we first got married and now is the time we can put our hands and feet in as well because of our kids ages.  In the theme of St. Brigid, of reclkess generosity and hospitality, the children of our culture are hungry and destitute here.  Do you have an empty room?  they need a safe place.  Do you have a heart for others?  they need care.  Do you have extra food?  they are hungry.  Is your life godly?  they’ve been abused.   Do you care about the Kingdom?  may it come on earth as it is in heaven.  

26-27Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.  (James 1  The Message) I want to raise awareness, not guilt.   But if you can help, please do. peace, Chris

Entrepreneur – Teacher – Writer – Pastor