A Prayer for Ukraine

News stories about places that you have been feel different from other news stories. Even a short visit can plant of seed of connection that feels like an invested interest when there is a crisis. caption

Several years ago I had the opportunity to go to the Ukraine.  I was teaching a class for a new seminary that was training people for ministry in Ukraine, Georgia, and Russia – as well as outlying regions beyond. As we drove out from Kiev, the director of the seminary told me that where the Seminary is located, Vorzel, has a long history of being considered a place of healing  for people with heart and liver problems as well as general bad health.

Starting in the 1950s, under the Soviet system, people were bused there from all over the region for healing.  Apparently, Soviet scientists who studied the area concluded that it was something about the combination of the pollinating trees that converged in the air. The director explained that decades of scientific tests have proven the healing benefits of the area over and over again.

I suggested to him that maybe this is why it was a good place to have a seminary! The idea of sending people out as ‘the Fragrance of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 2:15) to bring healing to the nations.  Revelation 22 looks forward to a city where trees have a significant role.

 “and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (NIV)

My prayer life has changed a bit in the years since that trip to the Ukraine – but my heart still breaks to think about the pain, stress, fear, and violence happening in that region today.

Here is my prayer this morning. Would you please take a moment and join me in a prayer?

May there be peace for the children 
and for the trees,
healing for the nations. 
Amen

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Pastoring the Process

What a week! On top of interacting with concerns of Roger Olson and Tony Jones about process thought, I have received amazing emails, tweets, blog and Facebook comments.

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Here are the 4 biggest themes that emerged from those interactions.

 

How does Process affect your field of Practical Theology?

The first thing to understand that Practical Theology is kinda sociology with a theological lens. We use interviews, case studies & ethnographies (qualitative methods) to investigate how religion is lived out on the ground.

So a Practical Theologian does not need to subscribe to any particular school of thought per se. We do have to locate ourselves philosophically but no one approach is required.

Having said that … I am primarily concerned with pastoral theology and as a pastor, process theology has deeply impacted the way that I think, believe, lead and facilitate my interactions with the community of faith.

 

Doesn’t it seem weird to base so much on the philosophy of one guy in the 20th century?

Not exactly. Once you understand that all of christian history and specifically western theology is based and embedded with philosophy from day 1. If you don’t know how the Gospel of John or the Nicene Creed is laced with philosophical frameworks, this will be eye-opening to you.

Having said that, the philosophical approach that come from thinkers like Alfred North Whitehead is notable in a number a ways. It is naturalist (vs. empiricist) and it is advantageous in the areas of:

A) creation-care

B) give and take (symbiotic) relationship we have with the earth & the rest of creation

C) the realistic (not idealistic) way that things are after the industrial revolution

D) emergent thought and evolutionary history

When you put that all together, THEN add the fact that Whitehead had a Bible – what you end up with is an approach that is far more compatible with the way that the world actually works than anything we have inherited from centuries past.

 

Does it really matter?

100% Yes! Are you kidding me? When people question the nature of God’s power – why God doesn’t do the things that a god is supposed to do – when God, who could do anything if ‘he’ wanted to, doesn’t do them … both the world and the faith that we have inherited doesn’t make any sense.

Giving people both a permission to ask questions and a framework to process different approaches is a gift in the 21st century.

There is no school of thought that I have found more fruitful in engaging than process. Engaging biblical scholarship is a great starter. Asking big question about the nature of human violence (like memetic theory) is a catalyst. The pièce de résistance is found an alternative framework that not only asks different questions but allows for different answers.

 

Does it change how you pastor? 

Absolutely! If the nature of God’s power is not coercive but persuasive, then it affects everything.

  • The way you view administration
  • The way you counsel people
  • The way you preach
  • The way you recruit help
  • The way you pray
  • The way you empower & delegate
  • The way you do hospital visitation
  • The way you respond to criticism
  • The way discipleship is defined*
  • The way the community conceives of itself and participates
  • The way you perceive outsiders

I actually can not think of one aspect of church-life that is untouched  by this upgrade in operating-systems.

 

As you can tell, I am having a blast, so feel free to keep the conversation rolling! What else do we want to address? 

 

* In last night’s response “Is God Unique?” I made the case – based on the Advent podcast with John Cobb - that following Jesus in discipleship looks a little different. 

Jesus was as open to and as faithful to the will of God as Mother Theresa was to her calling, Francis of Assisi was to being Francis, maybe even Buddha was to be Buddha … That is not what makes Jesus unique.

WHAT makes Jesus unique is WHAT God called Jesus to. It is possible that all of these people were equally open & available to god as Jesus was. The difference is what God called Jesus to.

Jesus played a unique role in human history. No has ever – or will ever – play that role. What God did in Jesus has impacted all of humanity. Jesus is unique.

NOW having said that … the art of following Jesus is being open to and available to the presence of God the way that Jesus was open to available to the will of God is Jesus’ life.

Being like Jesus is not doing what Jesus did (walking on water) but being available to God the way the Jesus was available to God. This is discipleship.

 

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TNT: Doing Spiritual Stuff In The Real World w/ Barry Taylor

The title says it all: Doing Spiritual Stuff In The Real World w/ Barry Taylor.TNT

Barry Taylor.  On doing stuff.  Stuff we call ‘spiritual’.  In the real world.

 

This is a really interesting conversation with one of our favorite conversation partners. It was also the warm-up for our evening with Reza Aslan.

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We want to thank the Loft LA for hosting us and The Young Romans for providing great music for the evening.

Come to the homepage of HomeBrewedChristianity.com to leave us your comments and questions on the Speakpipe (click on the little microphone).

A video will soon be available for those who want to take in all of the 3-D goodness!

 

*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***


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The Problem With Prayer

As a pastor I get to talk with a lot of people. The issue of prayer comes up more often than any other topic. I think I understand why but when any pattern is this consistent it piques my attention and compels me to dig a little deeper.Dark-Clouds

The problem, of course, isn’t for those for whom prayer is an automatic and assumed activity–nor for those who see no point in it. The problem, and thus the need for conversation, resides in those who are thoughtfully attempting to address how exactly a real God really works in the world.

 To use a bowling analogy, there seems to be an illusive sweet spot we want to aim at between two proverbial gutters on either side.

 The gutter to the left is a mechanistic view that too easily degenerates into prescriptive and formulaic constructs. The universe is not a machine and is not fueled by an individual’s personal piety, sincerity of prayer, amount of prayer, particular words and phrases, or purity of beliefs/doctrine.

The problem with many popular approaches to prayer is exposed when prayer appears not to work because certain outcomes were not achieved or no tangible evidence was produced. The difficulty then is the amount of time and energy one needs to invest to explain why prayer doesn’t always work. The explanations always seem to fall into the same worn ruts  involving God’s sovereignty, will and power. In the end these will always fail because God, after all, is not a machine and faith is not the product of an assembly line or factory.

The gutter to the right might be called ‘cosmic coincidence’. One of the difficulties to being a person of faith is that it can be impossible to convince someone who wants to be cynical with enough persuasion as to disavow them of their skepticism. Somehow the concept of belief itself is elusive enough and just abstract enough to not provide the traction it takes to overcome the unqualified need for proof.

  It is the narrow ground between these two gutters that I am attempting to navigate. I want to throw out a theory and get your feedback on.

My theory is that both the beauty and the power of prayer–and subsequently God’s work in the world– resides in the fact that God’s power is a low-level signal  being broadcast in the world on a weak enough frequency that two things happen:

  1. the transmission is subtle enough that those who wish to tune it out are capable of doing so. God’s work is not so obvious or overpowering that one is accosted by its blatant effects and thus would have to be in denial not to see it. The work of God in his gentle,  subtle, hidden, elusive at times and, as Jack Caputo says ‘weak’.
  2. at the same time, however, the work of God in the world is just consistent enough as to allow some to codify it and become prescriptive as to the optimal way to pray. Prayer works just enough of the time for just enough of the population for people to come up with formulas as to its power and how to tap into that.

 

Prayer is like poetry in this sense. Neither is so predictable as to allow themselves to be reduced down to a formula that can be perfected with simple repetition.

but at the same time–both poetry and prayer carry enough consistency to allow for them to be thought of as persuasive.

 

This is the beauty of prayer for me. I am not praying to an interventionist God behind some supernatural veil asking for that Almighty but temperamental  being to puncture the membrane of the natural world and act in a coercive way.  The ancient images of God as warrior, puppet master or unseen mover don’t stand up to any level of scrutiny after the 20th century.

 We know then what prayer isn’t… So what is it?

 Prayer is the partnering of an open heart to participate with a God who is broadcasting a weak signal in the world  and which provides to every moment positive possibilities for every living thing  to bring about a greater good and beautiful flourishing. As we participate in those positive possibilities we open up greater and more abundant possibilities in subsequent moments. As we resist the potential opportunities provided in the weak signal, we close down and crush possibilities for more abundant flourishing and beauty down the road.

In this way we acknowledge that prayer has just enough going on within it that those who prefer the formulaic or even mechanistic approaches of the past will continue to have just enough data to remain insistent. We also acknowledge that prayer will continue to be just elusive enough that those who wish to tune out the signal that is being broadcast by the divine to feel justified in doing so.

Prayer is the poetry of Spirit.  It is not a math formula, a building blueprint, an assembly-line product or a battle plan. Nor is prayer a Christian form of meditation simply useful for aligning one’s heart and mind to the current running in the stream of the universe.

Prayer is a participation in an invitation to partnership that is being broadcast on a weak frequency in the world.

-Bo

________

I would love to hear your thoughts on this … I just have two requests: 

  1. Be careful using personal (private) experiences like speaking in tongues or being slain in the spirit as irrefutable evidence of the former ways of understanding that I am attempting to move us on from. 
  2. Don’t talk to me about miracles in S. America, Africa or Asia unless you are from those regions please. I will explain why I make this request in a post next week.  

 

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When God Is Too Powerful

A dear friend of mine is in her final semester of a psychology degree. Somehow Martin Buber came up. The  famous work  of the Jewish thinker  - “I and Thou” -  is such a powerful idea from the early 20th century that is resonates in both psychology and theology.

Keith Ward explains in God: a guide for the perplexed:

“The word ‘thou’ in English has a rather peculiar history. In the sixteenth century, when the English Book of Common Prayer was first pieced together, it was the second-person singular personal pronoun. Just as in German and French, and many other languages today, it was used to signify an especially close and intimate relationship with the person to whom you were speaking. For formal occasions, or to people one did not know well, ‘you’ was appropriate. But for members of family and close friends, the correct word to use was ‘thou’.” *

Then something very odd happened to the English language. Everyone simply became ‘you’. No one used ‘Thou’ anymore and it became a very fancy and antiquated way to reference someone.
The problem is that is was still used to refer to God (in the books used by the church) and so:

“before long people thought that ‘thou’ was a special word only to be used for God – God being presumably very archaic – connoting very special reverence and respect. So, whereas the writers of the first Elizabethan prayer book had wanted people to address God in a very intimate, almost informal way, most people who love the prayer book now seem to think that it is important to address God as ‘thou’, because only that gives God appropriate respect. Ironically, those who insist on addressing God as ‘thou’ are doing the very opposite of what the compilers of the prayer book wanted.”

Do you see what happened?  Any words that get attached to our conception of God end up getting co-opted, absorbed and hijack by our conception of God.

We try to use words, phrases, pictures and metaphors to re-present the transcendent divine … but those words, phrases and metaphors end up getting codified then solidified then idolized.
In this way, our imagination becomes an image … and eventually becomes an idol.

I have argued this same sort of thing in “God never changes … or does She?” when it comes to masculine pronouns for god vs. thinking of god as a man.Hand_ofGod2

Instead of understanding Jesus’ language as relational – that Jesus calling God
‘Abba’ (some say “Father” but I like John Cobb’s use of “Pappa”) as saying “I relate to God as one relates to a loving Father/Parent” , we codified and solidified that language and now God is ONLY allowed to be called ‘He’ in some circles. Our imagination is then limited by the image which has become an idol.

Jesus and Unicorns

I run into this same thing when it comes to christology. People often confuse the two approaches of ‘from above’ and ‘from below’ with two results of ‘high christology’ and ‘low christology’. This is true of general theology and views of scripture as well.

Those who are convinced that God needs to be as big, as powerful and as all-mighty as possible are often caught in the slightly awkward position of having to stick up for, defend and police the opinions of other on behalf of this almighty being.

So often in these conversations I want to say “ Just because your god could beat up my god doesn’t mean that your conception in is correct.” Look, if we are just going make bigger and badder things up and then call that “High” … then I want a Jesus who rides a unicorn – cries magic teardrops that become diamonds and never lets anyone get sick or die. THAT would be a higher christology.

Why Are You Doing That?

Normally I wouldn’t go after this topic in such a way, but I have noticed that in our ‘culture wars’ there is a disturbing trend. Really good people with really sincere faith will give themselves permission to behave in really aggressive and judgmental ways and when confronted will respond with either “God …” or “The Bible …”.
That is just one way in which I know that we have a problem. Insisting on calling God ‘He’ (or ‘King’ or ‘Father”)  is the other.

The way that we imagine – or image – God is so powerful, that the words and phrases that we use to describe our conception get pulled into an orbit which threatens to change their very meaning. The gravitational pull of our language about God is so strong that it will actually warp the words themselves.

May god grant us the kindness and humility to recognize that all of our god-language, signs and symbols are provisional at best and to treat other people kindly and graciously as we walk together in common humanity as I and Thou.

 

Suggested Reading: 

* Keith Ward . God (2013 edition): A Guide for the Perplexed (Kindle edition). $9.99

Elizabeth Johnson. She Who Is.  Used for under $10

 

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God Is Not Like Me

I grew up in a tradition that said I should be, as much as possible, like Jesus.  I get that – and I try to do so.

Yesterday at the Loft LA I had the privilege to say 3 things (among many others) about God:

  1. God is Black (from James Cone)
  2. She Who Is (from Elizabeth Johnson)
  3. God is a Fag ( from Bernard Brandon Scott)

It is interesting because I am none of these three things! I am not black, a women, or homosexual. It is interesting then to present these images of a God who is very much different than I am – even as we, as a community, are being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).  money_and_god

It is important that we acknowledge that God is not on the side of ‘the powers’ but of those in need of liberation – that it is equally as accurate and as inaccurate to call God ‘She’ and it is to call God ‘He’ – and that according to 2 Corinthians 5:21

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This is a topsy-turvey business.

Over the last 20 years of ministry I have noticed a somewhat unsettling trend that in order to be like God, I have had to move away from many of the natural strengths that ‘God gave me’.

  •  While I love to be at center stage in the spot light with a microphone – I am fascinated with the cell group, house church, and small group model of church. As a pentecostal, I am obsessed with how the Spirit of God is at work in the People of God.
  • While I am a big, hairy, muscular man – I am convinced that feminist theologian are right and that Christian history does not accurately reflect the will and mind of God for the world that God loves so much (John 3:16).
  • While I am white guy – I am writing my dissertation on ‘White Privilege’ and hoping to confront some of the systemic racism that will not do as we move into the 21st Century.

So while I attempt to be more like God, I am very aware that God is not all that much like me. 

This is an important distinction. As C.S. Lewis said in his poem “A footnote to all prayers”  (it references Pheidias who was  a legendary statue maker in the ancient world):

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskilfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.

Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

When we pray, we by nature blaspheme – all of us. The reality is that language , by its nature, means that words are provisional. When the Hebrew Testament speaks of God as a ‘King’ or Martin Luther writes a hymn declaring “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” … these are analogies. They are metaphors. They are temporary place holders.

Anything that we say about God is (in the apophatic sense) both illustrative and, at the same time, not exactly all that accurate. We would do well to get used to saying :

“God is like X … and that, of course, is not exactly true.”

Philippians 2 is helpful at this point. The ‘Kenotic’ Move of Christ self-emptying and descending for the purpose of service, exhorts us to not hold onto anything too tightly (clinging/grasping) but to empty our certainty and expose all of our assumptions to that which is not natural to us. Not an easy task!

If we acknowledge, then, that all language is provisional… that it is just a accurate and as inaccurate to call God she or he… that any prayer is at some level blaspheming … and that I am called to be like God – though I know that God is not exactly like me … then I can begin a kenotic journey of recognizing God while releasing God from my pre-conceived notions.

This is the dynamic journey of faith: to recognize  the full moon and the new moon, the high tide and low tide, the Fall and the Spring, the ebb and the flow, the fall and the rise of all that I am familiar with and and all that I am ignorant about. That is what we talk about when we talk about God.

Rob Bell puts it this way:

When we talk about God, then, we’re talking about something very real and yet beyond our conventional means of analysis and description.

The Germans, interestingly enough, have a word for this: they call it grenzbegrifflich. Grenzbegrifflich describes that which is very real but is beyond analysis and description.

When I’m talking about God, I’m talking about your intuitive sense that reality at its deepest flows from the God who is grenzbegriff.

Bell, Rob (2013-03-12). What We Talk About When We Talk About God (Kindle Locations 767-772). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I would love your feedback and reflections.  

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Beauty, Bodies and Blunders

President Obama got in some hot water for a compliment he paid California Attorney General Kamala Harris. He said:

You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake. She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country — Kamala Harris is here. (Applause.) It’s true. Come on. (Laughter.) And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years. [via The Los Angeles Times]

A remark like that is never going to go over well. It was just one sentence but we could talk for days about it!

I know that I am an odd bird in that I often see the silver lining in things that other people think are really bad – like taking the Lord’s name in vain. I like that people do it. It means that the name of God still carries some gravity. No one is cursing Thor when they smash their thumb with a hammer. No one is blaspheming Zeus when they get cut off in traffic. Anyway …

I was happy to see the outrage and level of outcry over the President’s remarks. I love when stuff like this happens outside the walls of the church and I think to myself “Ok, it’s not just us that are sensitive, reactive and protest-ant. Good, I was starting to worry”.

You have to forgive me. I come from a very muscular – testosterone – ‘Wild at Heart’ brand of Christianity. In the last decade I have migrated to a progressive – critical theory – ‘She Who Is’ brand of faith.

The thing that has been most difficult for me is to figure out what to do with the body. 

As a contextual theologian and an Ancient-Future practitioner, I am deeply concerned with issues of incarnation and embodiment of the gospel. Our faith can not be merely intellectual, super-natural or institutional. Our faith must embodied, or in-bodied and lived-out. 

I have figured out, through 6 years of blogging, how to talk with conservative, evangelical, and charismatic Christians about almost everything  related to faith and practice in ways that they can hear. The issues of sexuality remain the most illusive.

The problem seems to relate to a giant pot-hole in the road to understanding that is so treacherous it almost doesn’t leave enough room to move without careening into the pit of ‘natural design’.

What complicates matter all the more is that there is a serious ditch on the other side of the road – one that was dug by Augustine’s legacy  (I hate Augustine’s influence on church history) regarding the badness of the body, a specifically sexuality.

Here then is the issue: If I am talking about somebody and I’m listing all of that they bring to the table in areas of smarts, relationship, experience, and capacity … am I to act like they don’t have a flesh container? It asks me to act like they have no body.

Yes. That is what we want you to do.  Jonathan Chait at New York explains:

For those who don’t see the problem here, the degree to which women are judged by their appearance remains an important hurdle to gender equality in the workforce. Women have a hard time being judged purely on their merits. Discussing their appearance in the context of evaluating their job performance makes it worse. It’s not a compliment. And for a president who has become a cultural model for many of his supporters in so many other ways, the example he’s setting here is disgraceful. [New York]

Even while I write this I can hear my more conservative Christian brothers saying “That is ridiculous! This is the sissy-fication of our culture.”  To which I can only reply,”Yes. It is the leveling of a historically unequal playing field.” obamakamala1_1365167806

I get why culturally, we don’t want the President even acknowledging her flesh container at all. We don’t want pastors commenting on congregant’s looks. I get it.

But as thinking christians, is anyone else worried about the implications for this kind of willful charade? Do we think that President Obama doesn’t see her? Are we under the impression that he doesn’t notice her beauty? Do we think that she, in her private moments, doesn’t want to be found attractive? Do we think that she doesn’t invest time and energy in her looks?

“It doesn’t matter! Just don’t say it. Not ever ever ever.”  And I get that. What I am asking about is the ramifications for the embodied practices of the life of faith. What we have learned from church history  (and reality TV)- from fundamentalist pastor’s daughters to celibate priests – is that repression of desires in one place (public) is bound to cause pressure which bubbles up some place else (private).

We have to break the ‘old boys network’ mentality. I get that. I am worried about the secondary effect of perpetuating a deadly dualism between body and mind/soul.

I clearly need help thinking this through. Anyone want to chime in on this? 

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Psychology, Equal Sign Profile Pics, and The Bible on Television

Howdy! This week, we welcomed Stephen Simpson, one of the heads of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, to the show to discuss the intersection of faith and psychology. Get used to Steve, because he’ll be back on the show for sure.

Subscribe on iTunes!

Subscribe on iTunes!

Later, we talk about the worth in changing one’s profile picture to an equal sign, and the History Channel’s take on The Bible. Toward the end, we discuss Christian’s latest endeavor, a Bible study blog series that’s actually entertaining!

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Day 9: My Soul Is Fried

I was a young pastor, in my mid-20s, and ministry was going pretty well. I worked a lot of hours and put out a lot of energy, but I also saw a lot of fruit.

Then one day I lost my joy. I didn’t know where it had gone – but it was gone.

I read that one of the fist signs of depression is when you don’t enjoy doing the things that used to bring you joy.

I still did those things… I just didn’t get the same buzz from them. They didn’t have the same zest they once did, not did they replenish me when they were over.Bridge Troll

 

I was in a rut.

I am by nature a big, loud, extroverted, animated guy. It is not natural for me to be in a funk. Regardless, I was in a deep funk.

My entire spirituality at that point consisted of:

  1. reading the Bible and
  2. hearing from God.

Both of those had stopped working for me.

I went away on a prayer retreat with two trusted friends. We drove to a cabin on lake in New Hampshire that some folks in my congregation owned. The cabin had already been shut up for the winter but they said we could go and use it. We just needed to take care to drain the water and shut down the fireplace when we were done.

 

It didn’t work.  I tried to pray but it just didn’t happen.

After the weekend was over we were driving back to New York and I was growing bitter. The longer we drove in silence (one of my friends was sleeping in the back seat) the more it seemed like I was seething inside.

I sort of said to God “I came all the way out here to meet with you and get recharged and … nothing. You just leave me depleted?”

It must have been the use of that word ‘recharge’ that was providential because my imagination was sparked. Way back in High School automotive class I had learned about car batteries. Car batteries are replenished by what is called a ‘trickle charge’. It is a slow, steady current that gets the battery ready go as you drive.

When a battery loses its power, you can ‘jump’ it (with jumper cables) and infuse the battery with a huge surge of power. This works, but it is not good for the life of battery. Do it too often and you can fry the plates, making it impossible for the battery to receive a charge anymore – even from a jump.

I had fried my battery. 

 

My life at that point was not set up for a slow steady trickle of power. I was set up to run the battery down to almost empty and then, through charismatic experience, get a jump and get pumped back up. I had done it once too often apparently.

I had confused how a battery works with how a gas tank functions.

It was as if God was saying to me “Slow down. Take a breath. Receive the goodness and gift of existence. Enjoy being alive. Trickle charge back to full strength”.

I needed to make some changes. The spirituality of a young man was not going to sustain me long-term. It was already failing me.I needed to grow into a healthier more sustainable spirituality.

I also found out that somewhere along the line I had shorted out some lights and gauges on my dashboard. I would have to rewire some of my internal monitors and reset the ways that my internal reality sent me messages of health and of warning.

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I like that Tony used a car analogy to frame this chapter (chpt. 9). I use them too. There is one problem, however, with my use of car analogies for soul stories. The soul is not a machine and spirituality can not be mechanized. 

There is a reason that Jesus used farming analogies. It wasn’t just because he lived in an agrarian society. Jesus just as easily could have talked of Roman wagons or something. No, he talked of birds and flowers and fields for a reason.

It is no accident that Tony came back to health in the water. Ancient pools and worn rock are a good combination. Randy Woodley likes to remind me that many Native communities call water ‘first medicine’.

 

The car analogy works for me – as an analogy. It is a word picture or a metaphor. It helps to diagnose the problem … but it is not the solution.

The solution is deeper and wetter. It is slower and quieter.

“”The one who turn to the Lord shall be as a fountain filled with living water, and streams shall flow out of them” – John 7:38

 

I would love to hear how you recharge. 

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Day 5: Devotion and Distilled Friendship

I was an evangelist. Today, I still lead people to christ … but to be an evangelist is something very specific.Neighbors & Wisemen

It’s like being a missionary – only you don’t have to learn another language.

You spend all of your waking hours thinking about how to get people over the line.

You rarely have real conversations with people, because what you are really interested in getting them to cross the threshold. 

 

I had a friendship very similar to the one Tony talks about in this chapter. I was, like Tony, in my early 20′s, and I was sold out, on fire, fired up, committed to the core and a whole bunch of other things. I was working on a construction site as a painter and I struck up a friendship with a guy who’s family was from a different country.

It was a great friendship. We talked daily and ate many meals together. He was technically of another religion but in reality he was of no religion. He participated in his family’s rituals and observances but it was more cultural than anything. He didn’t believe. That is not me putting that on him – he would say that often and loudly.

Then something happened. Through our talks and the gentle prodding of god’s holy spirit my friend’s heart changed. He came to believe. I had the honor of praying him in (as we called) and he stated a new life with god. It was very exciting.

Please understand. I am not being the least bit sarcastic. It was very exciting. It is still very exciting. When I get to pray with someone to start a new relationship with god, I am pumped. When someone turns from their old ways, I rejoice. When someone pledges to be in community and begin living a new way, I am thrilled to the core of my being.

Admittedly two things are different now than when I was in my early 20′s:

  •  I learned that having the agenda to get people over the line is not true friendship.

I know that evangelists will say that it is the highest form of friendship. But the truth is that it feels more multi-level marketing or a pyramid scheme than it does a true friendship. You are not there to soak in somebody’s presence or to experience their full participation in your life and story. You are up to something.

  • I learned that there may not even be a threshold or line.

Over the years of getting people to “pray to receive christ” I have watched dozens and dozens of people who prayed to be ‘in’ have trouble getting out of their old life and ways. I have watched people who had not prayed the prayer yet clearly in a new relationship with god.

I grew suspicious that maybe there is no line per se. Or that it isn’t as clear a demarkation as I was led to believe.

I found it interesting last week that one of my mentors in evangelism emailed me a post from Scot McKnight where Scot is wrestling with “threshold evangelism”   [here is a link to that article]

Here is where it became real for me: in that friendship that I mentioned earlier, we hit speedbump. Once he was in our friendship changed. Some of it was very good. But there came a day when he was telling my about the political and religious conflict in his home country and I, in my youthful naiveté, insisted that it had nothing to do with the true and living god.
I had over extended myself. I got exposed as a zelous young man who had read a lot of Josh McDowell and Ravi Zacharias books but who had a shallow understanding of the world and was interested really in only one thing: getting people to pray a prayer.
I was not there for my friend. I was not fully entering into his story and walking with him in his deep heart. I had an agenda … and it got exposed.

I would be interested in your thoughts about true friendship and agendas – evangelistic or otherwise. 

 

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