Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Jesus Interruption - Day 18

Lent 2011 - The Jesus Interruption Each week of this season, we will be entering into the experience of an individual whose life was interrupted by an encounter with Jesus. This week - The Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4)

This is the 18th day of Lent, not counting Sundays, which we don't, and the last time I sat down to write about The Jesus Interruption it was the 14th day of Lent. I had hoped to write a little bit every day, except Sundays, which I wouldn't, but so much for that. My interruption, it seems, got interrupted by ... stuff.

Kind of reminds me of that Samaritan woman in John 4. She interrupted the middle of her day to go and get water at the local well. It seems from the story that she may have made a habit of it, choosing noon as her water fetching time in order to avoid the rush in the morning. It may even be that she wanted to avoid being seen or having to converse with any of the others there at the time. We speculate that she may have her reasons for wanting to avoid other people.

And, lo and behold, her daily interruption gets interrupted! Not only is someone else at the well, this someone actually dares to speak to her! There is nothing much more frustrating than when you don't want to be spoken to, and someone speaks to you, is there?

"Look, all I want to do is just get my water and go home! I'm not really in the mood for a conversation right now."

But no, he greets her, asks for some water, utters some truly strange statements about water that may or may not be sentient, speaks aloud the woman's secrets as if they were common knowledge, and then proceeds into a theological conversation about the way their respective communities worship God.

And here's the thing: she goes with it! She not only allows this conversation, this interruption in her interruption, but she is moved by it. She is changed.

Funny how sometimes Jesus interrupts our perfectly reasonable interruptions in order to teach us something transfomational, isn't it?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Jesus Interruption - Day 14

Lent 2011 - The Jesus Interruption
Each week of this season, we will be entering into the experience of an individual whose life was interrupted by an encounter with Jesus. This week - The Blind Man (John 9)

For your information, last night at Bible study, we decided that the blind man's name is Ray. So be it.

Notice how Ray moves through this story:
He is not seeking Jesus. > He is healed by Jesus. > To his neighbors' questions, he refers to Jesus as "the man called Jesus." > To the Pharisees' challenges, he calls Jesus "a prophet." > When he meets Jesus, seeing him for the first time, he calls him "Lord" and worships him.

For Ray to get from "not seeking" to "worshiping," he travelled a long and winding road; it did not happen in a single big moment. And that long winding road was comprised of some pretty challenging conversations, first with his neighbors and then with his spiritual leaders. And when it came down to it, Ray's experience with Jesus provided him all he needed.

"I don't know any of the answers to your questions," he said, "But I know one thing: I was blind, and now I can see."

His transformation is big. He was an object for discussion, and became the primary subject of the story. He was a beggar, and is no longer. He had never been able to see, and now he sees clearly.

He had no idea who Jesus was, and became his disciple.

I wonder ...

... how many times have I dismissed somebody else's experience and stuck to my understanding instead?

... how often does "The Church" function as the Pharisees in this story, insisting on a codified interpretation of God and minimizing any experience that may be contrary?

... how many radical transformations have happened somewhere other than in "The Church" because the church's tendency is to challenge the Rays of the world instead of welcome them?

... but then again, isn't that challenge just exactly what Ray needed in order to be transformed? It seems as though the challenge of his neighbors and the Pharisees helped him in his process of conversion. Does resistance always have to accompany growth?

... or maybe ... even deeper ... does placing "The Church" in the position of "The Pharisees" in this story give "us" too much credit? I mean, the church is really a whole bunch of Rays getting together to try to see clearly, aren't we? Is doing so the same as equating John's phrase "the Jews" with every Jewish person, when he really meant the Temple leadership?

Jesus says, "We must work the works of the one who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

(Warning: Upcoming metaphor overload...)

So, can we be Rays of Light? Can we rethink church as radiators of Christ? We are not the light; we give testimony to the light. But even more, we are called to reflect the light ourselves, to illuminate darkness with Christ's light, to become transparent so that God's light shines through us.

But that process starts with confessing our blindness, and allowing Jesus to touch us, awakening our spiritual senses so that we can continue the long and winding journey of salvation.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Jesus Interruption - Day 12

Lent 2011 - The Jesus Interruption
Each week of this season, we will be entering into the experience of an individual whose life was interrupted by an encounter with Jesus. This week - The Blind Man (John 9)

It feels like a random encounter at first. The disciples just happen to be walking along and sort of come upon this blind man. Seeing him prompts a theological discussion, of which he is the object.

I wonder if he said, "Um, hello? I am blind, but I am not deaf! I can hear you, you know. I'm standing right here and you're talking about me as if I am a case study for your spiritual growth. I am not a curriculum illustration!"

In this whole story of blindness and sight, John works at multiple levels to reveal where blindness is. And it seems to me that one of those levels is with the disciples themselves, treating this man as if he is no more than an object for discussion.

And notice how quickly John move the man from being the object of conversation to the subject of the story. Even Jesus himself, after healing the man's sight, fades away. The man becomes the primary actor, even standing toe to toe with the Pharisees.

And what is his declaration? "I don't know some things, but one thing I am sure of - I was blind, but now I see."

How many times to we regard others as objects, rather than beloved individuals of sacred worth? When we pre-judge another person, lumping them into a category before truly knowing them as a unique self, we take away their inherent dignity and value. And we have a bunch of categories to choose from, don't we? Old, young, liberal, conservative, evangelical, activist, gay, straight, poor, rich, middle-class, immigrant, white, black, hispanic, asian - and the list goes on and on.

We like these categories because they allow us to order our world in a preconceived notion of "should" that makes us feel secure. But when we do, we are treating people as if they are objects, and that is wrong. Instead, Jesus reaches into the life of the individual person and heals what needs to be healed so that they can live a new life.

May we interrupt our prejudices in order to see people as Jesus sees them - beloved children of sacred worth.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Jesus Interruption - Day 11

Lent 2011 - The Jesus Interruption
Each week of this season, we will be entering into the experience of an individual whose life was interrupted by an encounter with Jesus. This week - The Blind Man (John 9)

“Let there be light.”

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

“One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

Scripture often uses the metaphor of light and darkness (or sight and blindness) to teach us something about our relationship with God. The storyteller John shares a powerful story of blindness and sight in chapter nine of his gospel.

Here we are introduced to a man who was born blind. The Jesus Interruption that this man experiences restores his physical sight, but it doesn’t take long to realize that there is more going on here than just a physical healing.

This week in worship, we will explore the story of this unnamed man. His encounter with Jesus obviously unsettled his life in a remarkable way. He was able to see the world in a brand new way, experiencing his surroundings in a way that he had only been able to dream about. It was bright, unfamiliar, and perhaps frightening.

And under the surface, he wrestles with an explanation. How did this happen? he asks himself. He is grilled by his neighbors. The Pharisees interrogate him, as well as his parents. He is banned from his synagogue by the closed-minded leaders. Ultimately he confesses his belief in Christ. “Lord, I believe!”

What are your spiritual “blind spots”? How might your eyes be opened by an encounter with Jesus this season? How might a Jesus Interruption illuminate the darkness in your life?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Jesus Interruption - Day 10

Lent 2011 - The Jesus Interruption
Each week of this season, we will be entering into the experience of an individual whose life was interrupted by an encounter with Jesus. This week - Nicodemus (John 2:23-3:17)

It is the tenth day of the season of Lent. It is also March 19, which usually means a windy Spring day. And today is no exception.

Wesley and I flew kites today, and it was great! Strong, steady wind kept our kites flying high above our heads for almost an hour. All was well, until ...

A gust pushed my kite over the string of Wesley's kite, another swirl looped my kite sharply downward, and when the strings crossed, my kite's string cut right through Wesley's.

Untethered, Wesley's kite immediately made a beeline for the highway, rapidly losing altitude as it fluttered away. It cleared the fence, and came to a halt on the ground in between the fence and the shoulder. Wesley was a bit worried, thinking it might fly into a car and cause a real ruckus. Fortunately, it did not, so I handed Wes the handle of my kite and started off after his.

I hopped the fence and retrieved it, then hopped back over. I retied the ends of the string together, and soon Wesley's kite was up and flying beautifully again.

Spiritual growth is a process of becoming untethered from what we know, experiencing the chaos of new understanding, then synthesizing it all into a new knowledge. Not just head knowledge, of course - I'm referring to a relationship with God.

Like a kite untethered, this growth can make us worried, nervous, even scared. Any change usually does that. And if it goes on forever, it can cause a real ruckus. But it is necessary for growth, and growth is necessary for discipleship.

Nicodemus was untethered by his encounter with Jesus, and he went to him by night to try to reconnect himself. But we leave the story not knowing how or even if Nick ever got tied back in. He just kinds of fades away. Later appearances in the Gospel of John reveal spiritual growth, but John never tells us explicitly that Nicodemus has become a believer. We are left to wonder.

Growth is change, and change always seems to freak people out. So instead of growing, we tend toward unthreatening, non-scary, comfortable stagnation. But it seems to me that, if you compare a person who is always seeking answers to life's new questions to a person who is satisfied with the answers they already know, the person who is always seeking is actually the one who is more spiritually mature.

May we never fall into the trap of thinking that there's nothing else to learn, no deeper to grow in our relationship with God, no new step to take along the spiritual journey that is Christian discipleship. Let our prayer be for God to untether us from our preconceived notions so that we can continue to mature into the people that God desires us to become.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Jesus Interruption - Day 7

Lent 2011 - The Jesus Interruption
Each week of this season, we will be entering into the experience of an individual whose life was interrupted by an encounter with Jesus. This week - Nicodemus (John 2:23-3:17)

I am fascinated by Nicodemus. I'm not sure why.

Much us made of the timing of his visit with Jesus. It happened at night. Most of the speculation surrounds Nicodemus; ... is he scared of being caught? ... is he hiding from his fellow Pharisees? ... is he trying to avoid the crowds?

Nobody ever asks What was Jesus doing up so late. Do you think Nicodemus had to wake him up? Was Jesus cranky? Did he have bed head? Or was he sitting up, awake and alert, waiting for Nick to show up because he knew he would? Like a scene in a spy movie: "Mr. Bond, we have been expecting you."

I like to think that the reason Nick came to visit Jesus at night was just because he couldn't sleep. Having seen the signs Jesus was doing, he knew there was something extraordinary happening here. So he was tossing and turning, mulling things over, his mind racing, and he finally kicked off the covers and decided to take a stroll.

And then, mostly subconsciously, his feet led him to the place where Jesus was.

"Can't sleep?" Jesus asked.

Nick shook his head no.

Jesus smiled a bit, and waited. There was a hesitant silence. And then ...

"Teacher, ... " Nick began ...

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Jesus Interruption - Day 5

Lent 2011 - The Jesus Interruption
Each week of this season, we will be entering into the experience of an individual whose life was interrupted by an encounter with Jesus. This week - Nicodemus (John 2:23-3:17)

There were many people who "believed in his name" because of the signs they saw Jesus do. But Jesus did not "entrust himself to them."

The word translated as "believed" is the same word that is translated "entrust." Tricky bit of reflection to do there. The people beleived in Jesus, but he didn't reciprocate? Does "entrust himself" mean "allow himself to be believed in?" As in, "I believe in you, Jesus!"

"Oh no you don't!" he replies, snapping his fingers in a Z.

The people who believed in him believed because of the miraculous things they had seen him do. But there's another tricky bit of reflection to do here. See, the only things he had done by this point in John's Gospel are call some disciples, change a little water into wine, and drive some livestock out of the Temple. Maybe there were some other things, other signs not recorded by John.

Maybe it's to get us thinking about why we believe ... or the difference between just believing and really having a relationship with Jesus ... or maybe it's to help us move from believing to living.

I believe in Jesus. Is it because of signs? Miracles? Stuff I have seen?

Or is it because of relationship? Love? Connections I have known?

What does it mean to believe at all? Is it to be impressed by power? Or to accept as true a certain set of teachings? Is it to have confidence in someone or something?

It's the kind of stuff that would make a person want to go to Jesus by night and ask a few questions...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Jesus Interruption - Day 4

Lent 2011 - The Jesus Interruption
Each week of this season, we will be entering into the experience of an individual whose life was interrupted by an encounter with Jesus. This week - John the Baptist (John 1:19-23).

"I am the voice."

It's pretty audacious, isn't it? To quote a scriptural prophecy and insert your own name in the blank? Wow.

The only other person I recall doing that was Jesus himself (Luke 4). At least he does it with some elegance and nuance - "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Kind of leaves it open for dialogue. (What exactly did he mean by that? Is he saying it's him or does he mean someone else?)

But not so the Baptizer; he just plunges in. "You know that scripture about the voice crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord? Remember that one? Well, you're looking at him!" Hello!

But on second thought, what's wrong with it? I mean, shouldn't we all be claiming to be a "voice for Jesus?" Shouldn't we all be announcing Christ, speaking peace, conveying love and grace, urging repentance? And where there are circumstances in the world that are not as God intends them, should we not speak aloud, 'God's will be done on earth as in heaven!'?

The breakthrough moment in the movie "The King's Speech" is when King George VI is challenged by his teacher, "Why should I listen to you?"

Finally pushed to the point of understaning, he shouts, "Because I have a voice!"

I have a voice. As do you. Will we announce Christ? Will we interrupt the regular pattern of our conversation and allow the love of God to comprise our language?

Take my voice and let me sing
always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
filled with messages from thee.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Jesus Interruption - Day 2

Lent 2011 - The Jesus Interruption
Each week of this season, we will be entering into the experience of an individual whose life was interrupted by an encounter with Jesus. This week - John the Baptist (John 1:19-23).

“Who are you?” they asked.

And John answered by telling them who he was not. Why would he have started there?

Did he know that they were wondering, curious about the coming of Christ and eager to have either confirmation or contradiction? And just to set the record straight and make sure they got started off on the right foot, he answers a question that they really didn’t ask.

They didn’t say, “Are you the Messiah?” They just said, “Who are you?”

“Well I’m not Christ, if that’s what you’re thinking. And before you go too much further, let me lay down a few more disclaimers: I’m not Elijah, or Moses, or Spongebob Squarepants, either.”

Question assumptions.

John does not allow even a moment of assumption to go by unchallenged. The case of John v. Jesus began during the lifetimes of the two, and went on for years after their deaths; disciples of one arguing against disciples of the other as to the question of which one of them had been the Messiah.

How much of what you believe about Jesus is assumption? How much of what the church says and does starts with assumption?

If we simply assume that we know who Christ is, we may be so guarded against that-which-is-not-our-assumption that when new revelation dawns, we may very well not recognize it, or even reject it. Like we did to John himself. And, it cannot go without saying, like we did to Jesus.

Question assumptions, and faith lives. Allow assumptions to remain, and faith withers away. Disillusionment is a good thing, when the illusion is subsequently replaced with truth.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Jesus Interruption - Day 1

Lent 2011 - The Jesus Interruption
Each week of this season, we will be entering into the experience of an individual whose life was interrupted by an encounter with Jesus. This week - John the Baptist (John 1:19-23).

WHO ARE YOU? they asked John.

Immediately we are confronted with an challenge to our identity. Who are you? In that unique way the Gospel According to John has, truth is accessed in one penetrating moment, driving the question like a needle into a vein to draw out identity, being, life.

Who are you?

It is a question that demands an answer, and will not leave us alone until we offer one. Stubbornly insistent, the question prods and pokes and goads us until we know and can say out loud that we are somebody, there is a "me" here, I am a person. And even in answering the question, we affirm that we are worth something. Because we are, we matter.

Who are you?

Medidate on it. Think deeply about it. Pray the question - Who am I?

Can I conceal myself for evermore?
Pretend I'm not the man I was before?
And must my name until I die
Be no more than an alibi?
Who am I?
(from the musical "Les Miserables")

Lent is the season to reveal, not conceal; it is a season to seek the truth, and peel away pretension. Start at the core - Who are you?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

No Longer Teeth Grinding, But Still Reading... Part 3

A light bulb went on as I read “Breaking the Missional Code” yesterday. It helps explain a lot of my reactions to the book. On page 79, the authors reveal that both of them “grew up in non-Christian homes,” and then one describes the significant experience he had in beginning his relationship with Jesus.

In other words, for both of them, there is a time in their life that they were not in a relationship with Jesus, and they remember the moment it began. Their moment of justification is of the type that is a clear reorientation from “no Jesus” to “know Jesus.” I think this is what leads them to eschew tradition, nuance, and complexity in favor of making new converts.

I think they are projecting too much of their own personal experience into their book without acknowledging that it comes from their own personal experience.

Because my own faith journey does not include such a moment, I am feeling as though my experience is being belittled and minimized. As if, because I grew up in church, my spiritual life doesn’t count somehow, and I have to discount all of it in order to be truly faithful. So I confess that I am projecting my own personal experience into my reading of this book, and allowing that to influence my perception of their ideas.

Because my passion is for reaching people who have either been wounded by the church or for whom the church has ceased to be meaningful, and not necessarily for introducing the church to people for the first time, I envision the Missio Dei differently than these authors do. I affirm that their approach is a very important part of what the church is supposed to be doing, but I cannot go as far as they do, and claim that it is the only thing the church is supposed to be doing.

And so I flatly reject their notion that “either the lost like you or the satisfied religious crowd likes you” (p. 80), and I find it unhelpful that they make such simplistic, sweeping claims like this as if they are unassailable truth. But maybe they aren’t doing that; maybe their main idea is less narrow than I am perceiving it. Maybe they aren’t really saying that the stuff we’re supposed to be doing is an either/or proposition, rather than a both/and. But to me, it sure seems like that’s what they’re saying.

However, since I made this realization about the authors’ backgrounds, I have been able to process the book differently. There is a lot of overlap in their particular interpretation of mission and/or evangelism (I still am having trouble figuring out their distinction) and mine.

For example, I love what they do with the idea of “spiritual warfare.” Calling much of what is available on spiritual warfare “odd,” both in books on the subject as well as in Scripture, they reconstruct the notion to include some of my favorite "demons" to "battle" – things like apathy, consumerism, and image. It is these “strongholds” that we must address to fulfill the mission at hand, they say.

But on the other hand, I do not appreciate their characterization of “deeper” theology as “minutia” (p. 80). And I wonder what they mean when they indicate that the kind of people they are talking about “can and do go deeper” later on in that section. What do they mean by “deeper,” then? I have spent 40 years (almost) exploring Christianity, and I feel as though I have only the tiniest hint of what it is all about.

Through six chapters of “Breaking,” I have reacted with a mix of agreement and disagreement. But now at least I have a fuller appreciation for the authors’ perspectives. I kind of wish they had mentioned that earlier in the book.

If you’ve read this, thanks for sticking with me. One of the reasons I’m digging into this is to prime my writing pump, and it’s primed, baby! So I’m going to finish up this book and write about it all along the way. On to chapter seven!

Part 1 - Part 2