Thursday, September 29, 2005


The stuff interred will move.
The shift ascending quick.
And we will rise and greet the Day He sings.
For He calls all times soon,
And creatures all His own.
The heavy sleep will break, a peasant’s burden on the floor.
The revolution comes
Unjust is gone, forgot
And we can dance, or rest, or play around the throne so glad.
It’s time to meet the light.
The spell is shattered slow,
But break it will and fin’lly life can true begin
So soon, awake!
The beauty be revealed.
The passion once declared
When all was young and none were base.
The lion and the lamb
The echo and the sound
Of laughters, king and kingdom here at last!
And then we shall awake,
And find our sleep was vain
But drift we did while cradled close by One who didn’t mind the wait.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


The first night of Wesley's new arts ministry is this Wednesday. We're not as prepared as we should be, but I still think it's going to be a great night where people can learn about God in a less passive, more interactive way. I'm fascinated by all forms of communication, but I think in the church we've tended to overemphasize preaching/speaking. Some things need to be said clearly. Sometimes we need to be encouraged, or warned. Other times, though, I think a little mystery is in order. A little ambiguity. As with any communication, in art you don't just receive what the artist wants you to. In a sense, all art is only half-finished. Somebody has to actually see it (hear it, taste it, whatever) to bring context, to make sense of it.

So hopefully that will go well. Prayers are always appreciated, as well as any stories about arts in church or just art in general.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


There are times when I'm seized by a beauty I wish God would teach me to express. I want to take hold of the alchemy that happens when I look at a painting or watch a film. I wish I could bottle it up and use it to make what's in me tangible to others. I want to be a storyteller. I want to be a poet. I want to be an artist. I want to show others the mystery of God that sometimes fills my heart to bursting with love, sometimes convicts when I'm not what I should be, but always reconciles with a will that doesn't quit.

Just read The Last Word and the Word After That. I really need to stop reading Brian McLaren books in one sitting. I am filled with the startling idea that perhaps no one can outwill God. He will win the staring contest. The intensity with which Paul writes about how nothing can separate us from the love of God fills me at this moment. I only wish I could express what he does. I want to make a movie. I want to sculpt. All I can do is write, and even this is hopelessly me-centered.

I want to tell a story.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Kingdom of God

I'm doing a Bible study for my old youth group back home. Of course, everybody in it now was a kid when I was in it, so that's gonna be weird. My brother's a senior in high school now, so at least I know some of his friends.

Anywho, I'm planning to talk about the Kingdom of God. It's totally unfathomable to me that this was the main thrust of Jesus' teaching, yet it receives so little airtime in the church environment. Jesus' teaching on the Kingdom was, simply, revolutionary. I like to call it that, the Revolution of God. I think that's closer to what Jesus (and others who used the term before and contemporaneously with him) meant when they said "Kingdom of God". In the Hebrew Scriptures (which is what I'm trying to call the Old Testament, out of respect for my Jewish friends) Kingdom of God meant the reestablishment of Israel under God's rule within history, along with a lot of utopian images such as lions laying down with lambs, no oppression of the poor, no sickness or early death, and the like. When Jesus uses it, the Kingdom goes far beyond the political and earthly, but doesn't (I believe) preclude the political. What I mean is, a lot of evangelical Christians seem to think that just because the Kingdom Jesus talked about wasn't the theocratic nation-state other people seemed to think it should be, that it's entirely a spiritual/moral concept.

It isn't.

What Jesus teaches is a complete moral/social/political revolution. Selfishness is out, altruism is in. Vengeance is out, forgiveness is in. Love is the new hate. Those old ways of life (anger, lust, judgment) are simply not going to work in God's Revolution. I think H.G. Wells said it best, ironically enough (Wells was decidedly opposed to Christianity). In a history of the world that he wrote, he said the following about Jesus' teaching on the Kingdom of God:

It was not merely a moral and a social revolution that Jesus proclaimed; it is clear from a score of indications that his teaching had a political bent of the plainest sort. It is true that he said his kingdom was not of this world, that it was in the hearts of men and not upon a throne; but it is equally clear that wherever and in what measure his kingdom was set up in the hearts of men, the outer world would be in that measure revolutionized and made new.

All that is to say that the Kingdom of God is not theocracy. It is not Christians seizing control of governments. But as more and more of the world comes under God's Revolution, changes in our political/economic structures are inevitable. I think communism in many ways tried to do what Christianity should have done, and one of these days, we American Christians are going to have to drop our love affair with capitalism. It may be what we have to accept right now, but an economy based on greed (read Adam Smith) is not going to work in the Kingdom of God. It should disturb us that the early church appeared to operate in a way that would appeal much more to Karl Marx than to Donald Trump.

So if nothing else I hope I can get people to get off thinking only about life after death, the selfish gospel that Dallas Willard calls "the gospel of sin management." Ask ten Christians why Jesus came to earth and 9 of them will probably say something like, "To die for our sins so we can go to heaven when we die." Bullcrap! I'm not saying that isn't true, it's just so small. He wanted us to have a better way of life. He wanted to change us. He wanted to set people free, not just from the guilt of sin, or from death, but from the very fear of death. From the whole way that life is generally lived. The "quiet desperation" that so many of us experience all the time.

I'm blogging this mostly to get my thoughts out. I have to finish this Bible study and I find it easier to think here for some reason.

I also like "Revolution of God" because a key part of the Kingdom message is repentance. What an ugly, heavy word. Repent. We hate it, and try to avoid it. Or we love it excessively, and turn the God of Love into a small god who barely stands you, with his arms crossed and an angry look on his face. Repent in the original language means literally to turn around, to change direction. And hey, look! That's what revolution means too.

Jesus comes at just the right time and says, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" Time to change. Time to revolt against the old ways of selfishness. Get ready to change, for God's Revolution is here! It's already among us.

May it come swiftly.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


I'd kind of like to expand my post below into more, possibly a book or something. I'd like to interweave Christ's suffering and cry of abandonment, Psalm 22, and some of my own experiences of feeling abandoned by God.

Crazy night. Open mic night at Cafe Natura. Mostly guys with guitars, but they did have a human beatbox guy and this weird chick that had a kind of Tenacious D feel. But not as funny.

So I'm taking a class on the Book of Job. It's at a secular college, though, so it's all about the literary qualities and possible authorship and dates and things like that. Interesting stuff if, like me, you're interested in the Bible and in history and literature. Anyway, the professor very coyly keeps his own opinions and beliefs under wraps, but since this is my second class with him I've figured out he has kind of a general Hebraic idea of God. I'm not sure if he's actually observant in Judaism, but he's definitely not a Christian of any sort. Which doesn't bother me, he's smart as crap and reads/speaks fluent Hebrew. Cool teacher.

But my point is the number of Christians in the class that are openly hostile to him because of his approach to Scripture. Because (surprise!) in a secular university, in a class in the Judaic Studies program, he doesn't treat it like God pooped it out on a silver platter on Mt. Sinai. As a follower of Jesus, I believe all Scripture is God-breathed, & useful for teaching, etc. But I recognize that that doesn't have a place in the classroom. In the classroom I can talk about the metaphors in the Bible and the poetry and the history of the Jewish people. I can be (and am) open about my beliefs, but that doesn't mean I get to preach.

I was talking to somebody in the class about a week ago, and we were talking about what we thought of the professor. I said he's really interesting and I've learned a lot from him. This guy (a Christian) said, "He just hates Jesus Christ, man." Why? Because he doesn't have an altar call in the middle of class? Did you ever consider that he may have been mistreated by some jerkass Christian somewhere? Oh, right, that never happens. I forgot.

Why am I so annoyed by so many Christians. Don't get me wrong, I know many wonderful and loving followers of Christ, but I know just as many phonies and judgmental hypocrites. Or am I being a judgmental hypocrite right now? I'm just extremely bothered by the assumptions Christians make, by our post-Constinian hangover of thinking we deserve to be the favored religion of the empire. We don't want to compete in the marketplace of ideas. Guess what, Christendom: if we really think we have the answers people are looking for, we shouldn't be afraid to present our story alongside the stories of other religions/philosophies. Or do we just not think God is in what we say about Him, whether we "win" a debate or not? I, for one, don't mind losing an argument, or looking human and real in a dialogue, whether I convince anybody of anything, as long as I can show that not all Christians are dicks, that the Bible can be relevant to our lives, that God gives a crap what happens to us.

Why do I prefer the company of some people whose philosophies I totally disagree with, while I can't stand many church people? And how often am I the kind of church person that I'm sick of?

Monday, September 12, 2005

When God was an Atheist

"At noon the sky became extremely dark. The darkness lasted three hours. At three o'clock, Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?'"
Mark 15:33-34, The Message Remix by Eugene Peterson

"Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt omnipotence made God imcomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point--and does not break...let the atheists themselves choose a god. THey will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist."
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The biggest objection to the existence of God seems to be this: that life is, at best, monstrously unfair. Forget about proof and logic and faith and science. Convincing cases can be made on both sides about God's existence. People don't really look at that sort of evidence when deciding whether God is or is not. We look at life, and a great many intelligent and compassionate people see the world as hopeless and savage, and decide that if babies can be born HIV-positive and addicted to cocaine, if natural disasters can strike without warning and wipe out the lives and livelihoods of people who were already at the bottom of the totem pole, then all this talk about a big Invisible Man in the Sky who cares about us is just crap. Something to make us feel better. People object that even if God is real, he's apparently kind of a dick. Life is unfair and we don't need the opiate of the masses telling us about heaven when we need to make the best of life on earth. This is the objection I hear most of all, and it is not to be ignored.

For there is much truth to it. Life, frequently, sucks. Ask anybody in New Orleans. It's not fair. And every time some disaster happens you hear the same claptrap from religious people: they deserved it. Usually it's some Christian preacher with a hard-on for blaming the victim, but the other night I saw the Dalai Lama explain that the Buddhist point of view is that bad things happen because of karma from a past life. I admit to knowing little of Buddhism, but that seemed to be what he was saying. Apparently a major rabbi in Jerusalem has also blamed Katrina on human guilt. People tend to look at natural disasters (or just the presence of evil and pain in the world) and conclude either that Life is unfair, so God doesn't exist, or that God does exist, so life must be fair, so bad things happen to bad people.

Although I understand both these answers, I find them both totally unsatisfying. I dislike the first one because I have to wonder where people got the idea that the innocent shouldn't suffer. If there's no God or Higher Power or morality or something, if life is just random, then where the heck did we ever get the idea that it was not? Where did we get this dream for a time/place that is fair, that is right? For there is power in dreams. Ask Ghandi or Dr. King. Without the dreams of these men (and great men and women like them) the world would be a great deal worse. The idea of a totally random, chaotic, morally indifferent world just doesn't seem to fit with the power of dreams, with the effectiveness (with the very existence) of hope.

And yet the Bible is quite sympathetic to the atheistic viewpoint. Many of the Psalms, the entire book of Job, Habakkuk, and the words of Jesus himself on the cross demonstrate the very real feelings of hopelessness and despair that are all too often a part of life. What does it mean when Jesus asks God why he has abandoned, forsaken him? Left alone, to die. His friends gone, his mission an apparent failure. Skip for a moment the Christian idea that somehow Jesus was God, just think about the Man, dying, alone, and hopeless. Even if you think of Jesus as simply a great moral teacher, for him to look into the heavens and say to God, "Where the hell are You?" is an astonishingly brave thing for the Bible to portray.

It is a cry I understand and sympathize with more than I do with those who claim to have God all figured out and stuffed and mounted on a wall. I think the Bible understands and sympathizes with it more as well. In Job, there are 3 characters who represent the traditional religious viewpoint of blaming the victim. This view is understandable too, at least. To let go of the idea that only bad people have bad things happen to them requires more faith than some seem to have. To accept both chaos (the randomness of evil) and order (karma, sowing and reaping) as part of life is to walk a narrow path between two pits. But then Jesus did say something about the path being narrow.

At the end of Job, the 3 friends are told to repent, for they have wrongly tried to defend God with bad arguments. So I'm trying to defend God less. I don't know why bad things happen to good people. I have a feeling it has to do with the idea that, if this world is to be real, if it is to count, there must be an element of danger and chaos. But I do not agree that chaos is all there is. Nor do I want some grey, watered down blend of chaos and order. I accept both. Life both sucks and is wonderful. The world is fair and just and cruel and barbarous.

But only for awhile. Here's where my faith comes in, because it is a dream. It is the dream of a place that will be fair, and right. And if the dreams of man can change the course of a nation's history (as Ghandi did in India and Dr. King in America) what can the dreams of God accomplish?

When Jesus cried to the sky, Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani, he was repeating the opening line of Psalm 22:

My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?
Why do you remain so distant?
Why do you ignore my cries for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.

Yet you are holy. The praises of Israel surround your throne.
Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them.
You heard their cries for help and saved them.
They put their trust in you and were never disapointed.

But I am a worm and not a man.
I am scorned and despised by all!
My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.

It goes on in that fashion for awhile, alternately complaining of being abandoned and speaking of God's faithfulness in the past. But toward the end, the dream awakes. A vision for the future replaces the pessimism of the present.

Rescue me from a violent death;
spare my precious life from these dogs.
Then I will declare the wonder of your name to my brother and sisters.
The poor will eat and be satisfied.
All who seek the Lord will praise him.
Their hearts will rejoice with an everlasting joy.

There is a pattern that begins to build in the Bible. It's there in the Psalms, it's definitely there in the prophets, and it's there in the teachings of Jesus. There's an honesty about life's apparent hopelessness and evil and yet a dream of a better place, where swords are bent into plowshares and the poor are not oppressed. And my conviction is that the way to that better place is by following Jesus. I believe the objection people have (usually found among the most just, the most compassionate, the most Christlike) that the world just isn't right, is a valid objection. But the way to fix the world is not to conclude that life is unfair and God's not real. I think without the dream of the world being right and fair and good, it never will be. I think that's God's dream.

I guess my point is, yeah, life sucks ass.

For now.

Monday, September 5, 2005


So I've been reading what Jesus has to say about anger. I'm in the middle of Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy, which basically explores the Sermon on the Mount in the context of the Kingdom of God available through Jesus. It's kind of a heavy book (literally and figuratively) but it's so far been rewarding.

Anyway, in my experience the church tends to dismiss or explain away or just plain ignore the teachings of Jesus, particularly the ones we don't get. Especially the ones that don't fit into our pre-conceived idea that Jesus was only concerned about the individual salvation of souls after death. (I'm not saying he wasn't concerned about this, but if you read the biblical accounts, such a narrow interpretation of the "Gospel" just doesn't stand up to who Jesus was.)

Anyhoo, as I was reading that and looking at Jesus' words, like "If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell." Now as for the particulars, what the Greek really says is not to say to someone, "Raca!" which is an Aramaic expression of contempt, and not to call someone a fool. Easy enough, right? I can call someone all kinds of nasty hateful things without using the word fool. And it never occurred to me to diss someone with 1st century Palestinian Aramaic slang. I've got this anger thing handled.

Wait. No. I don't.

Because I get angry all the time. At crappy drivers, at all the bullcrap I see going on in the church, at people who simply annoy me. And at this moment I hear the gentle but firm voice of Jesus saying, "You've got to drop that crap. That bird won't fly." Willard goes into detail exploring how contempt, how anger and rage destroy us, and devalue the people around us. But it's not that hard to see how showing contempt for someone is totally incompatible with loving them the way Jesus does. Which is, of course, how I'm called to live.

How 'bout this? In the Kingdom of God (which I like to call God's Revolution) there will not be malice. There will not be contempt. There may perhaps be anger at injustice, but then there won't be any injustice, so there won't be a need for anger. In the Kingdom of God we will all be inspired and taught by Jesus to truly love our neighbor, our enemy, and everyone we meet (including ourselves).

So, if I don't let go of the anger I carry, if I don't learn to love in the way of Jesus rather than hate in the way of the world, I'll be hopelessly out of date in the Kingdom. I mean I'll just be totally behind the times. In the Kingdom, anger, lust, greed, and selfishness will be looked upon (rightfully) as incredibly backwards and destructive. Kind of how we look at medical leechings today. Or perhaps more accurately, how we see slavery. It's hard to imagine today how people who kept other people under subjugation could possibly think they were on the right track. Same thing with anger. We will look back and see this time in history and think we were totally blind.

I'd appreciate any prayers as God deals with this sin in my life. It's one of many, but I feel that the time to deal with this one is now.

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Genesis 32

I keep thinking there's something deep to this story of Jacob wrestling with God that I'm missing. The story is as follows (somewhat modified) in the New Living Translation:

...Jacob [was] all along in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until dawn. When the man saw that he couldn't win the match, he struck Jacob's hip and knocked it out of joint at the socket. then the man said, "Let me go, for it is dawn." But Jacob panted, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
"What is your name?" the man asked.
He replied, "Jacob."
"Your name will no longer be Jacob," the man told him. "It is now Israel, because you have struggled with both God and men and have won."
"What is your name?" Jacob asked him.
"Why do you ask?" the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.
Jacob named the place Peniel--"face of God"-- for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared."

I'm fascinated by his account. Name changes are always significant in the Bible, from Abraham to Peter. They represent a change in one's life. Jacob becomes Israel, moving from being "a deceiver" to "one who struggles with God." What is most interesting to me is that God (or the angel, or pre-incarnate Jesus, or whatever) seems kind of impressed with Jacob's struggling. My professor in the Judaic Studies classes I'm taking would say that this is a very Hebrew scene. The Hebrew mindset is one of argument and debate, even with the Almighty. Moses bargains with God, Jacob wrestles with Him, several of the Psalms are quite severe with Him.

In the Book of Job, the main character is rewarded, in a kind of roundabout way, for daring to ask tough questions of God. God gets right in Job's grill with tough questions of His own, and Job eventually repents, but he's not the one in danger of punishment. The three friends, with their easy moral platitudes and cliches are the ones in need of intercession by Job.

This bravery about difficult moral problems and philosophical questions is one of my favorite things about the Bible. Religious churchy people may think there are simple answers to life's questions, but the Bible sure doesn't. God rarely gives what we would consider satisfactory answers. In fact, He usually just answers questions with more questions. In the immortal words of Stephanie Tanner, how rude.

Jesus picks up this rudeness in the New Testament. He almost never answers a question directly. It can be extremely annoying if a straight answer is what you want, but maybe answers aren't really what we need. Don't mistake me, I think the Bible has all the answers we need, but certainly not all the answers we want.

Maybe we don't need answers, maybe we need to ask the right questions. Or maybe we wouldn't understand the answers if we heard them. Maybe the answer is the one Jesus gives Peter when ol' Pete asks what will happen to John. "What do you care? Just follow Me." (That's very roughly paraphrased.)

I've been a Christian since I was 7, and I'm sure of less now than I ever have been. But I'm more sure than ever that whatever the answers ( or questions) are, Jesus knows. Jesus is.

Thursday, September 1, 2005


Faith is a mystery. In the tradition I grew up in, faith is often regarded as a very reasonable thing. Truth was declared foundational and absolute. It was reduced to fact. I'm tired of that, but it's not that I don't believe in truth. I believe in it, in Truth more than ever. But Truth is mysterious. It's mystical. It's deep and poetic and confusing and wonderful. It is not what I expected. God is leading me somewhere where I don't know what's going on and have to rely on Him, and that's scary and exciting.

More and more I think of Jacob wrestling with God. Wrestling with him. I don't think he was fighting against God, I think he was just grappling, trying to figure stuff out. And I don't want to stop wrestling. I think when you've stopped that, when you think you've arrived, your faith is dead.

I hope I can trust God enough to admit that I understand little, and I don't usually act on what I do understand. I hope I remember to be satisfied getting my head into the heavens, and don't try to get the heavens into my head. I'm confused and uneasy, but then I think I was meant to be.

I think God keeps us just enough in the dark that we'll keep looking for his light.