Taller and Taller

In Tom Wright’s Spiritual and Religious Wright has a fascinating chapter on idolatry on how humans can fall for lesser loves,

The process begins with a lie; it continues with the habitual lie; it goes yet deeper when we are unable to distinguish the lie from the truth; and it ends when our words are literally meaningless, the mouthing and mumbling of mechanical untruth that nobody believes but which functions like the clanking of the machinery that says the system is still working. This is the cost of human inflation. We may have felt ten feet tall, but it was a lie. That is the story, in essence, of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11: humans decide to make themselves taller and taller, but the end result is chaos, confusion, the disintegration of human speech.

Creative Minority (Book) – 6 Practices

I’m working my way through A Creative Minority by Tyson and Grizzle. It’s a neat little book that is worth the read for leaders within the church. I highly recommend it.

The authors are seeking to persuade the modern-day Church, which is diminishing in participation and power, to resist the urge to seek “cultural dominance” or to daydream of recovering its “unrealistic and nostalgic past.” Instead, seeking to be a counter-community within the world, not removed from it, or as Karl Barth suggested:

The church exists to set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar to the world’s own manner and which contradicts it in a way that is full of promise.

This counter-community must have two elements, working in tandem: radical dissimilarity and hopeful promise. There’s a good chance that if you or I have participated in a community that makes much of Jesus, we would recognize these two elements.

The authors provide 6 characteristics of this type of community. I’ll cover those in two different posts, later.

This content reminds me of a Facebook conversation that Ginger and I were in several years ago. I can’t remember the exact subject that sparked the “delightful” back-and-forth, but I do remember an interesting perspective that someone shared.

“Jesus didn’t ask us to win a popularity contest… Jesus told us to be ‘in the world, but not of it.'”

This person’s sincere sentiment is relatively helpful, as a reminder that any of us can be susceptible to waning faithfulness in order to be accepted by outsiders. However, to base one’s entire life on picking the least popular thing doesn’t always lead to a faithful end, either. Even though the earliest Christians picked the least popular option of defying the Temple leadership, they also enjoyed the favor of all people. (Acts 2:42-47) Their risky unpopularity pointed to a greater, distinct, and redemptive reality. I have always enjoyed this idea from NT Wright,

“Jesus said that his kingdom was not from this world, but it is certainly for this world.”

The outworking of that takes some creative ingenuity, a lot of prayer, and some guts. May we find ourselves dedicated to such a task.

Book- A Creative Minority

I’m working my way through a lovely, little book that I’ll read again and hope to work through with our leaders.

The book is A Creative Minority by Jon Tyson and Heather Grizzle. This book is self-published; some publishing house needs to pick it up!

The definition they provide for a “creative minority” is compelling:

A Christian community in a web of stubbornly loyal relationships, knotted together in a living network of persons who are committed to practicing the way of Jesus together for the renewal of the world.

I’m enthused by this vision and can’t wait to share more as I read along. You should pick up a copy and enjoy it too.

I (self) published an (e)book


One of the work habits that I have been trying to develop is to do some creative writing on weeks that I do not preach. This allows me to keep the same creative, productive gear whether I am making and delivering a sermon that week, or not.

During one of those weeks, I developed an early idea from research, which led to a couple of blog posts, which led to a series of 4 talks for a Sunday School retreat this Spring, which turned into chapters of a short book.

Instead of tracking down an agent or finding a publisher to work with (all honorable ways to publish, of course), I decided to explore ways to get it published quicker. So, after my friend Ken Young designed me a sweet cover, I uploaded everything to Kindle Direct Publishing one evening and…


It’s up! My mother-in-law posted about it early yesterday. So, the release was a bit of a sneak attack.

Here are a few details:

  • The book is short, only 11,500 words (39 pages). That’s an intentional move, knowing that the average reader only completes 25% of a book that they purchase. Keeping it short and crisp will (hopefully) allow a reader to finish it.
  • One has to have the Kindle app to read it. Sorry, no hard copies at this time.
  • It’s only $4.99. Amazon has this “give $5 of Amazon to someone, get $5 for yourself” campaign. If you give someone an Amazon gift card, you could get this book for free. Not a bad deal.
  • The book is about stories and how they work in forming our lives. I use 3 unique ways of reading the Prodigal Son parable to illustrate this story-formation idea.
  • The cover was done by a friend and church member, Kendall Young. He’s a great guy with a ton of good ideas.





Rolheiser’s Nugget on the Body of Christ


I’ve just finished Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing. I enjoyed the read and have many things to consider. There are tons of pages “dog-eared” for future reflection. One of his strongest arguments is why one should be a part of a church.

He notes that a pattern exists in Jesus’ ministry. At first, Jesus is wildly popular, drawing crowds who are wowed by his goodness and power. “However,” Rolheiser says, “eventually something happens, a different understanding of his message seeps through, and his popularity degenerates and sours to the point where people want to, and do, kill him.” (96)

On one occasion, in John 6, Jesus tells the large-yet-“discerning”-crowd that if anyone wants to be a part of him, each must “eat his body and drink his blood,” a reference to the Eucharist, perhaps. Jesus isn’t referring to cannibalism, a literal eating of flesh and blood. Scholars suggest that Jesus is calling people to be a part of the life of the the community that bears Jesus’ name.

What is interesting, however, is Jesus’ use (through John writing) for “flesh.” There are several words for “flesh” or “body” in the NT text. Soma, in Greek, is the general word used to refer to a material body while sarx is a pejorative use of flesh, a description of a subhuman and depraved bodily experience.

Jesus uses sarx in this passage.

Jesus says, “If you want anything to do with me, you must embrace imperfect people within the community that bears my name.”

Rolheiser continues,

“By using sarx, Jesus is referring to his body precisely insofar as it is not simply his sinless, glorified body in heaven, nor simply a sterilized, white communion wafer in a church. What we are being asked ‘to eat’ is that other part of his body, the community, the flawed body of believers here on earth…

In essence, Jesus is saying: You cannot deal with a perfect, all-loving, all-forgiving, all-understanding God in heaven, if you cannot deal with a less-than-perfect, less-than-forgiving, and less-than-understanding community here on earth. You cannot pretend to be dealing with an invisible God in you refuse to deal with a visible family. Teaching this truth can ruin one’s popularity in a hurry. People then found it to be ‘intolerable language’ and it meets with the same resistance today.”

Go ahead, Ronald. Say it plain, brother.


Rohr’s Everything Belongs Coda

I enjoyed Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs and his Conclusion chapter. He put a few bullet points together to summarize the main points. I’m putting them down, here, so I can keep them handy. Read further if you are interested:

– God is to be found in all things, even and most especially in the painful, tragic, and sinful things, exactly where we do not want to look for God. The crucifixion of the God-Man is at the same moment the worst thing in human history and the best thing in human history.

– Human Existence is neither perfectly consistent (what rational and control-needy people usually demand), nor is it incoherent chaos (what cynics, agnostics, and unaware people expect), but instead human life has a cruciform pattern. It is a “coincidence of opposites,” a collision of cross-purposes; we are all filled with contradictions needing to be reconciled.

– The price that we pay for holding together these opposites is always some form of crucifixion. Jesus himself was crucified between a good their and a bad thief, hanging between heaven and earth, holding on to both his humanity and his divinity, a male body with a feminine soul, expelled as the problem by both religion and state. He rejected none of these, but “reconciled all things in himself.” (Eph. 2:10)

– Christians call this pattern, “the paschal mystery”: true life comes only through death journey wherein we learn who God is for us. Letting go is the nature of all true spirituality and transformation, summed up in the mythic phrase: “Christ is dying. Christ is risen. Christ will ever come again.”

– Do not be surprised or scandalized by the sinful and the tragic. Do what you can to be peace and to do justice, but never expect or demand perfection on this earth. It usually leads to a false moral outrage, a negative identity, intolerance, paranoia, and self-serving crusades against “the contaminating element,” instead of “becoming new creation” ourselves (Gal. 6:15).

– Resist all utopian ideologies and heroic idealisms that are not tempered by patience and taught by all that is broken, flawed, sinful, and poor. Jesus is an utter realist and does not exclude the problem from the solution. Work for win/win situations. Mistrust all win/lose dichotomies.

– The following of Jesus is not as much a “salvation scheme” or a means of creating social order (which appears to be what most folks want religion for), as much as it is a vocation to share the fate of God for the life of the world. Jesus did not come to create a spiritual elite or an exclusionary system for people who “like” religion, but he invited people to “follow” him in bearing the mystery of human death and resurrection (an almost nonreligious task, but one that can be done only “through, with, and in” God).

– Those who agree to carry and love what God loves, which is both the good and the bad of human history, and to pay the price for its reconciliation with themselves – these are the followers of Jesus: the leaven, the salt, the remnant, the mustard seed that God can use to transform the world. The cross is the dramatic image of what it takes to be such a useable one for God.

– These few are enough to keep the world from its path towards greed, violence, and self-destruction. God is calling everyone and everything Home. God just needs some instruments and images who are willing to be “conformed unto the pattern of his death” and transformed into the power of his resurrection (Phil 3:10). They are not “saved” as much as chosen, used, purified, and beloved by God – just like Jesus, who did it first and invited us to “the great parade.”

– Institutional religion is a humanly necessary but also immature manifestation of this “hidden mystery” by which God is saving the world. History seems to make both the necessity and the immaturity glaringly apparent, which upsets both progressives and conservatives. Institutional religion is never an end in itself, but merely a wondrous and “uncertain trumpet” of the message.

– By God’s choice and grace, many seem to be living the mystery of the suffering and joy of God who do not formally belong to any church. And many who have been formally baptized have never chosen to “drink from the cup that I must drink or be baptized with the baptism that I must be baptized with” (Mark 10:38).

– The doctrine, folly, and image of the cross is the great clarifier and truth-speaker for all of human history. We can rightly speak of being “saved” by it. Jesus Crucified and Resurrected is the whole pattern revealed, named, effected, and promised for our own lives. If we can say yes to this “Vulnerable Name for God,” there will be no more surprises for our mind and no more victims for history.

– The contemplative mind is the only mind big enough to see this, and the only seeing that is surrendered enough to trust it. The calculative mind will merely continue to create dualisms, win/lose scenarios, imperial ego, and necessary victims. It cannot get out of its own illogical loop. Einstein put it this way: “No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that caused it.”

– God has given us a new consciousness in what we call “prayer” and an utterly unexpected, maybe even unwanted, explanation in what we call “the cross.”

To the Center

I started Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer today. One of the opening pages asks some haunting questions-

How do you make attractive that which is not?
How do you sell emptiness, vulnerability, and nonsuccess?
How do you talk descent when everything is about ascent?
How can you possibly market letting-go in a capitalist culture?
How do you present Jesus to a Promethean mind?
How do you talk about dying to a church trying to appear perfect?

This is not going to work (which might be the first step).

Instead of thinking that everything should be up-and-to-the-right, let’s dream of a journey of inward-and-to-the-center.

12 Rounds with 1 Book in 1 Year


I’ve thought of an interesting idea for my reading load in 2014. I am going to read a Christian Formation book 12 times in 1 year.

I’ve already completed Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life this year and I think that I’d like to read it 11 more times before 2015.

This type of reading will:

– Allow me to read at a brisk pace, not having to take the time to underline or “dog-ear” pages… because I am going to see that same content 12 times in a short amount of time.

– It will allow me to become familiar with a complete thought/system of formation. Much like the drills that I do in Jiu Jitsu class each week, I will develop 2nd nature familiarity with Rohr’s content.

– Rohr’s thoughts about formation are different than a few other authors that I’ve read. The different octave of the same theme is good for intellectual and soul development.

If you had to read 1 book, 12 times for 1 year, what would it be?

Missional Communities by Reggie McNeal: Day 3

McNeal’s Missional Communities outlines a few different churches who are doing many different things to develop missional faithfulness in their own context. These are great stories, read them on your own time. I particularly like Mike Breen’s 3DM story. I am hoping to check a 3DM conference out soon.

In the end McNeal gives some closing points about Missional Communities:

– Clergy must relinquish control and spread decision-making and resources to lay people in mission.

– Funds must be invested in places where actual mission takes place.

– Theology must be examined and re-directed towards the mission of God, i.e. away from the Christendom model into an incarnational model.