Anesthetize or Healing

Rod Dreher discerned the difference between some of the priests he has met in his life. 

Some have the potential to heal while others seem to be content to anesthetize their flocks. 

Interesting image, one that is challenging to me as a ministry professional. 

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Curiosity and Standing-Still

Curious

I’m spending some time in Washington D.C. as a mission trip speaker for the week. It’s been a great time; great work has been done through a group of 100 High School students and their sponsors.

During one of my talks, I walked through Luke 15, the great trilogy of “missing items and wild parties” that Jesus shares as he responds to a critique from his opponents because he was hanging out with the wrong type of folk. When one reads the first two “missing stories” before reading the last parable, what is traditionally called “The Prodigal Son,” we might think differently about the Prodigal Son story, too.

After the talk, one of the host team members said “I enjoyed that talk, especially the content on The Prodigal Son story, I hadn’t heard that take on it before.”

That response was encouraging to me for it captured the essence of what Scripture should probably do, even for those of us who’ve become familiar with its content. Scripture is alive and active, therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised when it startles us. Perhaps one of the primary functions of Scripture is to startle and spook us. Much like the dad that wakes up one morning and is spooked by how fast his children have grown up, even though he’s been among them on a daily basis. He’s been there the whole time, but has somehow lost track of time.

The Christian tradition has searched for ways to describe the Bible, whether it be inerrant or infallible of other ideas. The Reformers used a term that is helpful, too, efficacy, or the effect the Bible has upon the believer and the community of faith, not just the content that one takes in while reading or hearing it. It’s like a person sitting in the middle of Advanced Algebra class entertaining the idea of becoming a Math teacher. It surely wasn’t the numbers that caused them to want to teach Math, but it was something else happening, something from a greater depth, we might even call it revelation or inspiration.

This mad way that the text has upon us, spooking us awake to what we haven’t seen before makes us into curious people. Curiosity is a lovely trait, right? I think that you’d agree that parties are better when curious people have the chance to shine.

It’s the standing-stillers, the assumers that cause me to look for the exit. Let me be honest, I get the impression that those who’ve lost curiosity, who claim to “have a handle on it all” aren’t reading, praying, or coming before the text anymore, even though the strength of their opinions try to convince us otherwise. They’ve “been there and done that,” and have moved on to other things. But they still have an image to upkeep and don’t like to be “out-Jesus-ed” by anyone. Their confidence is mere presumption, though. Presumption tends to chase away most of our friends. I find that stand-stillers become curious again when they realize that no one is around to hear their opinions, anymore.

Holy curiosity, on the other hand, just might change the world.

TimeHop and Christian Formation

TimeHop-See-What-you-Did-A-year-Ago-Today

As a dad, I’ve enjoyed the TimeHop app because it pulls pictures and status updates from my different social media profiles, reminding me of what happened on the current date for the past few years.

For instance, 2 years ago today, I posted a short video of Avery and Ezra riding a longboard skateboard down the driveway. They were destined to be great friends.

3 years ago today, I posted a picture of my friend Adam Locker wearing a t-shirt that he had printed (by the way, Adam, do you still own that t-shirt business?) with my face on it, in preparation for Brookside SERVE week, that said, “Dr. Joe… My Homeboy.” That’s Ginger’s favorite t-shirt to this day. It was a great gift from a good friend.

TimeHop also gives participants random facts from general history that happened on this day. Today’s fact: Harrison Ford’s birthday. Hey Harrison, I love ya, AND you need to be careful when flying your airplanes. And, we know, it was the one-armed man.

TimeHop helps to animate memory. We have a difficult time remembering on our own. TimeHop works like the liturgical structure of the Church, reminding us of the days, feasts, seasons of our story. It helps us to interact with Scripture regularly and to introduce us of the faithful people that walked with Jesus before we joined the faith. The liturgical process is our sacramental small group that helps us live for Jesus today, as we think on our past.

TimeHop is also a mirror. It shows us “where we’ve been,” including the stinky times from our past. Remember that time when you went on a passionate rant about that one topic and how it sparked an ugly exchange between a few of your Facebook friends? Yeah, its good to be reminded about that so we don’t do it again, and so we can see how we’ve grown up a bit since then, hopefully. Growth happens in real-time, but is noticed in hindsight. God wants it that way, so we can’t claim to have authored much of it.

Our life is a “vapor” the book of James says. The image is of a young kid breathing on glass, drawing a picture in it, then watching it vanish. Memory helps us to be faithful to our story, to be honest about our need to grow up, and provide reasons to celebrate.

May we remember well.

No Secondhand Stoke

surf.p0730.daa.jpg-- by Daniel A. Anderson / The Orange County Register -- Sixty surfers celebrate as they break the previous world record  of 47 surfers Friday in Huntington Beach by riding this forty foot  surfboard during a break at the US Open of Surfing.
surf.p0730.daa.jpg– by Daniel A. Anderson / The Orange County Register — Sixty surfers celebrate as they break the previous world record of 47 surfers Friday in Huntington Beach by riding this forty foot surfboard during a break at the US Open of Surfing.

Recently, 60 people gathered in Huntington Beach to attempt a world record by catching the same wave on the same board. It looks like they had a good time, right?

It’s pretty impressive when people take on something together and pull it off. I’m sure you’ve been a part of some sort of team at work that pulled off the impossible, a group prank that was epic, an impressive season on a sports team, etc.

The truth is, we belong together. There’s no way you or I can explain who we are without attaching ourselves with at least one other person. “I” is always “we,” whether we want to admit it, or not.

Participating in life with one another is complex, right? There is a thin version of participation and a more robust version. Picasso, speaking of nostalgia, described it this way,

“One can honor his/her grandfather by wearing his grandfather’s hat or by becoming a grandfather.”

There is no “secondhand stoke” in the Christian life. We are a following and participatory faith, not just a cerebral and spectating faith. Christianity gets weird when the expression of our faith is relegated to posting an article on Facebook about an NBA player being bold in his faith even when he is warned against such behavior. Christianity is awkward when we can recite a system of beliefs that we marginally intend to put into practice.

Christian transformation happens when we unearth its truth within practice, in community, not just when we hear it in a lecture or read it in a book. Much like the the 60 on the massive surfboard at Huntington Beach, it’s a better  experience to have surfed the wave than to stand on the shore and tell everyone you saw it.

Ash Wednesday

I love Ash Wednesday! Avery (our 5 year old) loves Ash Wednesday, too. I miss not being in Kansas in order to go to a service with Avery and then enjoying brownies from Starbucks afterwards.

Ash Wednesday is a radical act, a jarring experience for the worshipper. We are reminded of our frailty in the midst of our fantasies of transcendence. In an age where one can nearly upload their consciousness to a cloud of memory and escape the limits of death, it is to our advantage that we gather around ashes and to be reminded of our limits are creatures before a loving Creator.

Ash Wednesday may be the only time we let a stranger touch our face as they place dirty ashes on our foreheads. Think about that, a stranger touching your forehead on any other occasion would be creepy. Ash Wednesday allows us to be disarmed, to be cracked upon to hear the voice of redemptive love.

Henri Nouwen’s prayer for Ash Wednesday is important:

“I truly want to follow you (Jesus), but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, pleasure, power, and influence. Help me to become deaf to those voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life.”

To those of us who choose to live calculated and careful lives, Ash Wednesday initiates us into where we reflect on God’s reckless pursuit of a lost humanity. Ash Wednesday helps us to see that God not only raises the dead, but also raises the living.

Our celebration of resurrection at Easter needs to be proceeded by our reflection of death, including the dead places within ourselves. May we reflect with sobriety and hope this Lenten season.

Skillen Family News

Our family has some news that we’d like to share with you. We’ve shared this with some friends and family, maybe not everyone that we would have liked to before a general Facebook/Blog/Twitter announcement was dispatched. Sorry if it didn’t get to you in the way that you would have expected from us.

I guess I am going to do the “WSP” method (Word, Sentence, Paragraph) for the news breaking.

In a Word– Atlanta!

In a Sentence– The Skillens are moving to Atlanta because I got a Teaching Pastor position at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. (www.peachtreepres.org)

In a Paragraph (or two)- I will begin work at Peachtree in February, we are needing to sell a house in Wichita as we begin to hunt for a new place to live in Atlanta. If you know of anyone who may be looking to move into the Maize school district and are looking for a spacious 4 Bed (5 if you count the downstairs bedroom) 3.5 bathroom house with the coolest neighbors imaginable, let us know.

This is a huge leap of faith for us. Ginger and I are celebrating 10 years of marriage this April. We’ve been thrilled to be near extended family as our new family has emerged. Living in a different state is outside of our comfort zone. However, as we met several of the folks from Peachtree and found out more about the Teaching Pastor position, we felt our hearts swell with excitement.

We appreciate your prayers as we grapple with plans and to-do lists and migrating South. If you ever find yourself in the ATL area, we’ll keep the light on for you. (Well… most of you.)

Compassion for Yourselves

I saw this quotation from St. Teresa of Avila today and I thought that it was fantastic.

“Oh, souls set free by the blood of Christ! Learn to understand yourselves. Have compassion for yourselves.”

This seems to be a helpful substitute, in my opinion, for the phrase that we use and/or hear “I need to forgive myself.”

From a Christian perspective, in my opinion, we can trust in God’s forgiveness towards us instead of seeking to forgive ourselves. Our best day of forgiving ourselves is faintly affective in comparison to God’s ability and desire to forgive.

When I hear people say, “I just need to forgive myself,” I can hear what they are saying and find that it works in an appropriate way. This whole thing is probably semantics.

I guess for my own life and for those that’d seek counsel from me, I’ll use this neat phrase from St. Teresa: “Have compassion for yourself.”