Friday, April 29, 2005

Living In-Between

Have you ever noticed how much of life is lived in-between? When someone is fired or quits a job and is looking for another, they are described as being "in-between" jobs. When I travel from one place to another (which is usually for a very specific reason), I find myself "in-between" point A and point B. Doctors suggest that the fastest way to a healthy life is by not eating "in-between" meals. Every year, where I live in the Northeast, it seems like we have to live longer and longer "in-between" Winter and Spring.

I live the bulk of my life "in-between." And it has only been in the last couple of years that I've been willing to stop and enjoy the "in-betweeness" of my life. I wonder if this is similar to the theological notion of living in the present, but not yet kingdom? I wonder if Jesus knew all along that most of life would be lived "in-between" this and that. I wonder if the reason why Christians are always in such a hurry to get from here to there is because they are uncomfortable with the "in-between?"

Right now, I'm "in-between" getting up and going to bed. I'm "in-between" breakfast and lunch. I'm "in-between" one household project and another. And as far as I can tell, tomorrow I'll do it all over again. Maybe living "in-between" isn't so bad after all. I think I'll start to enjoy the "in-betweeness" of my life for once just to see if it makes any difference on anything else that happens when I'm not living "in-between."

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Jesus Creed

Scot Mcknight, the author of the popular book entitled, "The Jesus Creed" has boiled down the teaching of Jesus into a very simple insight. Of all six-hundred and thirteen laws, if we manage to practice these two, then we are on our way to becoming the kind of person that Jesus desires us to be. "What are these two laws", you ask? "hear oh Israel, the Lord our God is one, thou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And the second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself."

In our world of busyness and shallow spirituality, there has been a resurgence of interest in the practice of ancient disciplines of the faith. This interest can be measured by the popularity of such places as the Taize Commmunity in France, the plethora of books on "The Divine Hours" (Phyllis Tickle's is the most comprehensive), and even websites designed to assist one in the daily regiment of prayer and scripture reading (see www.sacredspace.ie).

Perhaps we have arrived at a convergence of sorts between the meaningles activity of our culture and the need for ultimate meaning. And the place where many seem to be seeking that meaning is in the time honored spiritual disciplines of the church rather than "what's new?" and "what's next?". If Scot McKnight is right about this, the Jesus Creed may not be a bad way to return to that which is most important. What can be better than learning to love God and others as a pattern for living?

The Gospel According to Napolean Dynamite

Many will see this title and say, "Napolean who?" Anyone who has teenagers will already have grown tired of the whiny, nasel inflected imitation of Napoleon when he says, "Geez." This movie (that will likely become a cult favorite) defies description. It's the story of a nerdy guy with big hair who ambles through his suburban highschool and survives his quirky family with ease and confidence inspite of being ridiculed and tormented every time he turns around.

I have a friend who is preaching a sermon series entitled, "The Gospel According to Napoleon Dynamite." I envy his creativity, while at the same time, wonder whether preaching from movies is just another cultural fad along with being "emergent." Then again, movies and the "emergent church" have a profound way of reflecting the character of our culture, and both speak to the human predicament with clarity and honesty. The any number of books that have been published in the last few years in both of these areas is astonishing.

What is a Gospel according to Napolean Dynamite? What is this good news that a nerdy highschool kid with big hair has to show us? Does this movie proclaim grand themes of sin and redemption that evoke some kind of response in a post-modern culture? I don't know the answer to these questions. This one thing I do know however, Napoleon Dynamite embodies the archtypal nerd in all of us. And every time I see him seemingly comfortable in his nerdiness, I smile because maybe there's even hope for me. To quote Napoleon, "Just follow your heart, that's what I do."

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Peril of Early Adopters

I like to try new things. When Apple introduced a new computer in the eighties, I paid some unbelievable price compared to today's computer prices to own one. If there is a new item on the menu at my favorite restaurant (La Herradura if you must know), I am often willing to set aside my usual order for some new culinary experience. When there was a new way to watch DVD's by ordering them through the web, I signed up.

The problem with being an early adopter is every time I turn around there is another opportunity to try something new, do it another way, or spend more money on something I already have that does the job just fine. Today I entered the world of VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephone service. I even suprise myself that I know what the acronym stands for. I haven't used it yet, but the way I figure it, I'll save a few dollars a month from my old, tired, conventional telephone service. But more than that, I get to be among the first of my friends to adopt this new and improved way of doing what people have always done-- talk to each other. Hey there's an idea! I wonder when someone will come up with a new way to do that?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Change or Die

I opened my PO Box with the usual anticipation of finding those bright red envelopes from Netflix (more on this later), only to find my latest copy of "Fast Company Magazine". I don't really subscribe to Fast Company. My airline miles ran out. And instead of letting all those useless miles disappear, I accepted the airline's generous offer to subscribe to magazines with airlines points. Anyway, in Black and Red print, the cover of Fast Company said, "CHANGE OR DIE." I placed the magazine among the others cluttering my coffee table until I could ignore it no longer.

The gist of the article draws a parallel between how difficult it is (if not impossible) for people to change their lifestyle when they are told by their physician, "you must... or you will likely die." If change is so difficult for us when we face the reality of death, is it any wonder that change is so difficult for organziations like the church? Furthermore, the belief that incremental change can be less painful and result in the same outcome over time is a myth. "Change or Die" pretty much sums up the reality of life in the church.

The problem is, my church doesn't like to change anymore than I do. And just like I don't like hearing my doctor tell me, " you must... or you will likely die", my congregation doesn't like it when their pastor tells them in no uncertain terms that the world is changing and we essentially have two choices. It used to bother me alot. I'd be lying if I told you it still didn't. But, I've come to the realization that perhaps one of the most redemptive aspects of my job is telling my congregation the truth about their future whether they like it or not. I still don't have to like it.

Monday, April 25, 2005

On the title "Naked Religion"

When I was groping for a title to name my blog, after the third try with something I thought would be clever like "The Ultra Rev", only to be told that title was not available, I finally resolved to try a title that would require me to do some explaining. Sure enough, "Naked Religion" wasn't taken. So, "Naked Religion" it is.

The thought behind this title originates from my reflection upon the biblical account in Genesis where it is written, "they (Adam and Eve) were naked and unashamed." I've never heard a good sermon on that text. Nor have I had the courage to preach one. But, it occurs to me that at the very least, this description of Adam and Eve in their pre-fallen garden bliss points in the direction of a life with God that is so authentic and unencumbered with the typical hubris that fills most of our lives, that they (and we) were actually meant to have a religious experience with God that is metaphorically akin to being naked. Don't go to far with that image.

Now, don't misunderstand. I'm not trying to start a new nudist Christian sect (I suspect there are plenty of those already out there). Rather, I'm trying to describe a rubric that will form the basis of my reflections, perceptions, and experiences of God. And to the extent that those reflections cause your and my faith to become less encumbered by the trappings that often accompany evangelical christianity, then as far as I can tell, we're going in the right direction. I think Deitrich Bonhoeffer describes something similar when he writes about "religionless Christianity." I like the ring of "religionless Christianity", but since Bonhoeffer already coined the phrase, I guess I'll have to be content with "naked religion."