Friday, September 29, 2006

Genre Blog

A couple weeks ago during morning break I was yakking with Lorraine, a classmate who also has lived in Massachusetts. As often happens, we got to talking about the East Coast, then about lifestyles on the North Shore of Boston—I served churches in very working-class Lynn, a GE town if ever there was one, and in the historically substantial city of Salem a few miles north up the coast. Historically substantial? In ages past the Old World considered Salem The New World, based on reports they heard and read. Clipper Ships and opium feature prominently in Salem's chronicles, as does Tabernacle Church, directly descended from the oldest continuing (possibly first ever, too) congregation in the New World gathered in 1629 by people John Robinson had pastored in Leiden! BTW, because of their third building's architectural style, the church eventually got named after the London Tabernacle. Needless to say, I needn't cite the Salem Witch Trials, but nonetheless I just did.

As Lorraine and I continued to talk in the shadow of the junk truck that pulls up at break time every day, we started reminiscing about generic less-than-healthy American cuisine(!). Lorraine asked if I remembered the name of a Saugus steakhouse she was thinking about and I said HILLTOP!!! of course, on the heavily-traveled and highly commercial Route 1. Then I mentioned a Molly Ivins commentary I heard on PBS ages ago; Molly was talking about Texas but it could've been Saugus, as she referred to "the cow on the roof genre." This is my theology site and lately I've become even more obsessed than usual about the church and my experiences therein...and the Cow on the Roof genre idea inspired me to think about church genres, so I’'ll list a scant few basic possibilities; I anticipate expanding on these soon.

Church of:

Cross between the candles
Eucharist in the ultra vernacular
Semi-monthly (Protestant) Bingo
Potluck in the named after a dead or alive former pastor Social Hall
Trespassers unwelcome
Intentional exclusion(s)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Gracious Transformations

Proper 18B/Ordinary 23B/Pentecost 14B | September 10, 2006
Mark 7:31-37 The Message

31-35 Then Jesus left the region of Tyre, went through Sidon back to Galilee Lake and over to the district of the Decapolis, or Ten Towns. Some people brought a man who could neither hear nor speak and asked Jesus to lay a healing hand on him. He took the man off by himself, put his fingers in the man's ears and some spit on the man's tongue. Then Jesus looked up in prayer, groaned mightily, and commanded, "Ephphatha!—Open up!" And it happened. The man's hearing was clear and his speech plain—just like that.

36-37 Jesus urged them to keep it quiet, but they talked it up all the more, beside themselves with excitement. "He has done everything well for us; Jesus gives hearing to the deaf, speech to the speechless."

Isaiah 35:1-2a; 5-7 NRSV

1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2a it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert!
Sermon Title: Gracious Transformations

What a story we just heard! What vivid images we just saw! About us and about God; about the surprise of grace—God's unmediated, wonderful action in our lives and about the many transformations we and all creation experience from God's grace. Both of these stories are about life basics, too: a healthy environment and community, which typically works the best when people can – and do – communicate. These stores are about transformations from incomplete to complete; brokenness to wholeness and integrity; neediness to fulfillment. They're about God's love and passion for all creation, for each of us. About the here and now – yes; and about God's long-run-long-term provision.

These scriptures are about our mutual need and creation's need. Here in San Diego we know about deserts and oceans and we're increasingly aware of our responsibility to care for our environment and how much healthy surroundings contribute to our total well being. We know our urban environment outside these doors needs to be kept well in order for us to be in good health. It almost seems as if we're supposed to be needy and incomplete so we will need each other and desire community as well as desiring God's presence. Of course, we know there's always a lot of room for change and growth and space for transformation in all of our lives!

We just heard from the Gospel according to Mark. Even before the gospels in the New Testament, gospel originally meant Good News, as it still does for us; a "gospel" was political good news, meaning Good News for the People! We know the Gospel of Jesus Christ as spiritual, heavenly and eternal; the gospel also is physical, earthly and temporal. This Good News of Jesus Christ is something you can touch and feel, you can see and hear, smell and then taste!

Just as in this narrative from Mark, "some people" who already knew Jesus taking the guy and leading him to Jesus is our story, or it can become our story, as we who already know Jesus tell others about him and lead them to him. Here to church, to Bible study and where else can they learn about Jesus?

The Bible tells us we are created in God's image, which is a multi-faceted, multi dimensional one. That Image of God includes love, creativity, community and will, and in the texts we're talking about we, discovered God's first passion and response is for creation's needs, so caring for creation and for each other is part of the Divine Image in which we are created and in which we need to act. We can listen to each other and talk to each other, about their lives and their needs, and not just spiritual, church, scripture stuff. Just like God does for us! We can try our best to understand. Bring people to church, lead them to Bible study—show them the ways to Jesus. Just like in the story we heard, no one of us is self sufficient, and basic needs get better met in community.

What a story about Jesus we just heard, and we've seen images of a blooming desert singing and rejoicing, too! In the story Jesus tells the people to keep quiet, to tell no one about what they're seen and experienced. But after all, this narrative is about a guy who once was deaf and speechless receiving gifts of hearing and clear speech—they probably knew about singing desert in bloom, too! So they couldn't not tell the world and everyone they knew and met. After all again, these people had seem some spectacular happenings and miracles! But Jesus charged them to tell no one, because he knew these miracles and wonders were just a beginning: "you ain't seen nothing yet!" Easter's on its way; resurrection from the dead!

Of the four gospels we know from the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Mark's is the shortest and in many ways moves most quickly and most directly. Mark included no birth narrative but begins with the public ministry Jesus initiated at the age of thirty. In his gospel, Mark concentrates on Jesus' moving toward Jerusalem and toward the cross of Good Friday, so the signs and wonders are almost the least of it: Easter's coming!

Despite the limitations and frequent pain and disappointments all of us have experienced, we've all known and experienced hints and foretastes of Easter's transforming power, Easter newness, hints and foreshadowing of the life we'll eventually know when we're living in God's presence forever. How can we not tell the story! How can we be silent?

I'd like to conclude with a poem by Pastor Brian Wren, who's from the United Kingdom and currently teaches at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia.
Christ Is Risen! Shout Hosanna!

Christ is risen! Shout hosanna! Celebrate this day of days!
Christ is risen! Hush in wonder: all creation is amazed.
In the desert all—surrounding, see, a spreading tree has grown.
Healing leaves of grace abounding bring a taste of love unknown.

Christ is risen!Raise your spirits from the caverns of despair.
Walk with gladness in the morning; see what love can do and dare.
Drink the wine of resurrection—not a servant but a friend;
Jesus is our strong companion; joy and peace shall never end.

Christ is risen! Earth and heaven nevermore shall be the same.
Break the bread of new creation where the world is still in pain.
Tell its grim, demonic chorus: "Christ is risen! Get you gone!"
God the first and last is with us; sing hosanna, everyone!

...Brian Wren...
Christ is risen! How can we be silent! Tell the story of Jesus to everyone you meet; invite them to church; invite them here; drag them to Bible study. Jesus Christ is alive and with us here and now!

To God alone be glory!


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Late August Blog

It was late in the day and I posted this on the wrong blog; I'm leaving it on this far by faith, but here it is again:
Very late August—so very late in fact that August has turned over into September; today is September 7, the end of the first week of the next month, but I'm keeping the title from when I started writing on the afternoon of Saturday, August 26.

Over the summer I've defaulted into almost daily sandwiches, most often the $2.99 Sandwich of the Day Special, from the local Subway (sandwich shop, of course; this is the West Coast where I haven't yet run into any subway train systems, with run into aptly suggesting near-frantic running after buses, subway trains and commuter trains back in Boston). Exactly like preaching the lectionary, going with the SOTD at Subway is both freedomed discipline and locked-in pre-determination. tell people "I appreciate the RCL's discipline and especially its ecumenicity!" Ecumenical – the entire earth's household, sometimes described as "the whole, known inhabited world," which also means the dwelling-place where all creation – not just human – lives and needs to have maintained in integrity if all of us hope wholly to thrive together.

Yesterday evening there were 26409 Subway restaurants in 85 countries, up some from 26347 a few days earlier, making me wonder about the bills-of-fare or plain old menu boards in places like Aruba, Belize and Costa Rica; on the site I found an answer:
The SUBWAY® chain opened its first restaurant outside the U.S. & Canada in the small Middle Eastern nation of Bahrain in December of 1984. Since then, the SUBWAY® chain has gone worldwide.

Despite the diversity of cultures wherever SUBWAY® restaurants are located, the core menu stays relatively the same—with the exception of some cultural and religious variations.
Is Subway(®) behaving like American Presbyterians did in Korea? Maybe. So does Subway® believe they have Good News that needs a particular kind of containerization in order to be effective—efficacious, even? In writing grant proposals "Measure of Effectiveness" is one of the parameters we define, usually listing criteria that minimally must be met in order for the goal or objective to be considered to have worked out well or achieved the desired effect. In mission, evangelism and ministry and in the Subway® sandwich restaurant's chain's market share, how is effectiveness determined by what measure and by whom? How do those results play out? Or could they find a way for "Eat Fresh" to work with basically non-Western ingredients whenever they're assembling and serving subs in non-Western contexts? A couple days ago I posted a short blog about contextualizing ministry, mission and evangelism; how well does Subway(®) contextualize its sandwiches? I'm suggesting Subway could be considered ecumenical—just like the RCL! Also notice Subway® gets called a "chain," which means each part is linked to the next part in a way that's difficult to break or undo. But links in a chain definitely don't need to be equal, the same, or even very similar, do they? In my experience they don't! Look as if this is turning into more-or-less pure blog...and my thinking is getting crazy, as is the hour, for someone who has to be in class at 7 Friday morning.

From The Shamu Adventure, "I remember the days of the starry nights" with music, maybe lyrics too, by Brad Kelley. A few days ago I bought a pair of Ocean Dream stoneware bowls—definitely worth posting a pic here as soon as I remember to take a few. This evening I'm recollecting – literally gathering together over again, re-linking into a hard-to-unlink group in my memory – days of starry nights and wishing they'd return and knowing they can't because this is today, almost the start of the second week of September 2006 and we can expect some days and some nights of Santa Ana Winds. In addition to those amazing weather moods, I can expect regularly to be considering many more ecumenical RCL lections and Eating Fresh™ quite a few more ecumenical(?!) sandwiches from the local San Diego branch of the Subway® chain.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Contextualized Ministry...and Mission

Very short blog, but too long in the works! Doubtless I'll be writing lots more about this as I make my way through a Generous Orthodoxy.

A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative,...emergent, unfinished... by Brian McLaren on Amazon

A Generous Orthodoxy coverY'all you-all know all about contextualizing ministry and mission; reportedly and reputedly we're currently living not in post-modernism but more like post-post-modernism. So how, then, do we contextualize our worship, teaching, preaching and service to suit a post-post-modern culture and population? As individual(!) Christians, how to we present ourselves to the world? Does the world out there already own a caricatured distortion of the idea of Christian? The reality of Christian? Yes, in many quarters it does.

Albuquerque, Boston, Paris (Maine), Haarlem...

...your neighborhood, my neighborhood, wherever, whenever: Labor Day, Valentine's Day, Easter Day! Contextualized in space and in specific linear time, often in terms of a generic calendar event; frequently in terms of someone's life event. Several times today during the news our local ABC affiliate showed a feature about the hazards of starting kindergarten—that's precisely the kind of happening into which individuals and churches could imagine tons of potential for evangelism, mission and ministry: the parent whose first, or middle or maybe last child no longer will be at home; parents whose other siblings are in school or at home; a parent or parents' changed or modified work and social schedules; teachers, principals and other school personnel returning for another year or beginning their first year in the system. You know! In other words, all these situations easily can become live opps for direct service types of ministry as well as for discerning where the persons or families could fit into existing, emerging and not-yet envisioned church and neighborhood programs. How routine it is for people who have grown up in the church to leave but then return when they think they want their kids to get a moral or religious education or training? Even parents who haven't had their kids blessed or baptized? Even parents whose own parents haven't urged them to do so?

As I stated at the outset, this has been short.