Lead On

I feel like God is leading me through some incredibly new stuff. Not new as in a new revelation or something He hasn’t led other people through before, but definitely new for me. Maybe new for my culture, too. It’s definitely new to the friends and family that I  have.

This is a good thing. It’s even exciting. The only problem is that it’s also confusing, and occasionally lonely. I’ve written about this before.

Recently though, I’ve started feeling encouraged and less alone. Not only do I have a group of people around me who see God doing the same things that I see, but I’ve found larger groups of believers who are learning and growing through the same things. (Here and here are good examples.)

That’s exciting. It makes me feel like I’m on the right track. It makes me feel like maybe I’m not alone. Maybe I’m just at the front end of what God’s doing in my culture.

Maybe I’m not leading, but I know I’m following; following the God who became a man to die for me.

Yeah, it’s exciting.

Advertisements

Break-Away Play

I have a real short post for you this week, but I want to write something even though I’m in the middle of a busy work week and moving my little family all at the same time.

I would like to talk about the Pope.

I know, everybody’s talking about the Pope; and I know, I don’t usually do topical things like this, but I find this fascinating.

First, let me give you a little perspective. I’m incredibly Pro-Catholic. I’m not Catholic, as you all should know, but I love Catholicism. I just don’t see much of a difference between them and any other “denomination” of Christianity. I know that infuriates both Catholics and Protestants, but if we agree on the Lordship of Christ, I can’t help but feel like we’re good. Add to that the theological problems with every denomination out there and you’re really going to tell me that Baptists are Christians and Catholics aren’t or vice verse? Yeah, save your breath.

So, back to the Pope.

All church structures have pieces of their theology that are more rooted in tradition than in scripture. There aren’t exceptions. Any time I see a purposeful move away from these traditions I get excited. This is why the Catholic Church has me excited right now.

We do not see a model of life-long hierarchical authority in the Bible. Rather, this was the normative authority structure under Constantine and into the Middle Ages. The early church leaders simply took what was culturally normal (and working, I might add) and applied it to the church. It’s probably worth noting that most major protestant movements continued this particular tradition even after breaking from the Mother Church.

What I believe we’re seeing right now is an intentional breaking from an archaic tradition that will allow movement toward a more modern, culturally relevant, church leadership. This seems like a really good thing and I would love to see more denominations take a cue from our Catholic Brother and choose to look critically at tradition and break from it when it’s not helping further God’s Kingdom.

Maybe I’m over simplifying. Maybe I’m an eternal optimist. But come on, let’s look at the silver lining and be excited about it.

Here’s to really following God instead of traditions that make us feel comfortable.

 

 


This Farm is a Mess

Community is a messy thing.

At least, it better be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for things being done decently and in order. To everything there is a season and all that rot. But please, let’s deal in some reality.

Lives are hard, complicated, messy things. Community is an intentional sharing of our lives with others. Guess what? That means we’re getting our mess all over other people and they’re getting their mess all over us. This is how it’s supposed to work.

One of the primary reason why I stepped outside of a normal expression of the “Western Church” is because I felt like there wasn’t much (if any) real connection between people there. We all just showed up at the appropriate service times, smiled politely at each other, shared the occasional prayer request if our lives didn’t feel perfect, and then went our own ways until the next service time. I want something more. I want reality. I want genuine people. I want community.

Well, you know what they say about being careful when wishing.

I’ve learned a lot over the last year or so. To the point, I’ve learned that what I want isn’t always as pleasant as is sounds in a blog post. When we involve ourselves in other people’s lives we get directly involved in their messes and it effects our life too. We get real, raw emotions; but those come with tantrums and bigotries. We get deep conversations and life changing potential; but it costs us our facades and carefully maintained images. We get reality like we wanted, but we also get reality  like we never knew existed.

Please understand, I don’t regret my decisions, nor has my desire for community abated at all. I’m simply looking at this through more experienced eyes. I’m starting to look at all of my relationships with the insight of new truths. I’m seeing family differently. I’m identifying the communal experiences in grief, joy, and life. I’m starting to feel the messes I’m wading through in more lives than just mine.

Life’s a mess. Might as well clean ’em up together, don’t you think?


That’s Fantastic!

My worldview has mostly been shaped by fantasy.

Read that again; it’s very strange. Not only is it strange, it’s also infuriating to the realists in my life. Yet, as strange and potentially infuriating as it may be, it’s absolutely true.

As a very young child I was introduced to such classics as “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Wind in the Willows”. As I aged, “The Magic Bicycle” and “The Book of Three” held my interest. Sadly, it wasn’t until my teen years that the marvelous worlds of “Redwall”, “Middle Earth”, and “Star Wars” came into my life. With growing maturity came the fantastic creations of authors like Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole. To this day, Robert Jordan can hold my attention for hours at a time. I say all of this to help you understand that fantasy has always been a large and important part of my life. Also, this will hopefully give you an idea of what I mean when I say “fantasy”.

Recently, I’ve dealt with a number of Christians who stand rather strongly against fantasy as a genre appropriate for consumption. This stance confounds me.

Before I really dig into this, let me get one thing clear. I’m not going to defend fantasy. I don’t feel like it needs defending and the accusations against it are rarely consistent anyways. If you want to discuss what is and is not witchcraft, let me know and we’ll go at it, but that’s not what I’m writing about now. This post is me explaining the value of fantasy as I see it.

First, in fantasy we see a very common theme of good vs. evil. Now, to be fair, this is a two edged sword. I think we have a fondness for over simplifying problems in our modern culture and this plays into that, but it’s not all bad. In the shaping of a young child’s worldview, it doesn’t hurt to give some very clear-cut distinctions. This is especially true when a story goes out of its way to emphasize things like honor, truth, etc. Again, this is a very strong theme in most fantasy, especially the type aimed at children.

Second, fantasy gives us an appreciation for the mystical all around us. This is the point that makes people wonder about my sanity and my orthodoxy most often, but it may be the thing about fantasy that has effected my faith the most. In fantasy worlds we see the plausible impossible all the time. We see the work of higher powers, the manipulation of forces beyond science and reason, the acceptance of things that can’t be understood or even sometimes seen, and so much more that points to the mystic. As a child (and I’m not ashamed to say as an adult) these ideas went incredibly far in helping me define and be comfortable with my belief in the divine.

Let’s face it, we serve a mystical being. Whether you’re comfortable with that word or not, it’s true. Even if you do mental gymnastics to avoid that thought, I promise you that most of the people in your life don’t. That’s exactly how they see your faith; as mysticism. The more comfortable with that you are, the more honest you will be with yourself and others about your relationship with God. We can’t understand God. We can’t even define Him. How can He not be mystical to us?

I don’t think this was an intended effect of the authors I read, but it has been profound in my life none the less. We live in a world clamoring for empirical evidence of everything we believe and serve a God that says simply, ‘Trust”. In the pages of fantasy novels I found attitudes, worldviews, and thought processes that reasonably deal with this discrepancy. Perfect and reliable? Not a chance. Encouraging and thought provoking? Absolutely.

Dragons are real, they just don't look like thisMy last point can be said better by Chesterton, so I’ll let him.

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
– G.K. Chesterton

This is by far my favorite thing about fantasy. Some would call it an escape, some a reprieve from life, but those who truly understand this life we live know better. Fantasy gives us a framework to think about our own lives in. Life sucks sometimes, and sometimes it rocks. We need tools to deal with both and we need encouragement that this life will work out. We’re not the only ones who have ever dealt with hard times. We’re not the only ones who have striven to conquer our fears or our adversity. Sometimes real life just isn’t enough to show us that.

Of course we escape into fantasy, but we take our reality with us. We already know that our lives are filled with dragons. Hurtful relationships, fear, anger, illness, injustice and a myriad of other winged tyrants fill our lives daily. When those with temperament and taste like mine “escape” into the fantasy worlds of our favorite authors, our dragons follow us because they are always present. Yet between the pages, between the lines, and outside the words of that book we find metaphor, allegory, and truth. We discover that courage trumps fear, determination will finish any journey, and honor does make you a better person even if it’s hard.

I know fantasy isn’t for everyone. I know that taste is like personality. I even understand that fantasy can be a temptation for some to delve where they know they shouldn’t. Yet when I look back on my life, on my formative years and my recent ruminations, I find the threads woven by fantasy authors pervasive in my consciousness. So much of what is valuable in my thinking can find its roots or at least its close cousin in ideas I learned from fantasy.

Besides, we serve a God who works miracles. Isn’t that fantastic?

 


Life Update

Wow.

If I’m known for anything on this blog it must be taking long, unannounced sabbaticals. I always have a good reason, too. Have you noticed that? Guess what it is this time?

My house caught on fire. True story.

Not only that, but my daughter (who is adorable) was born. A week after the fire. Still a true story.

All of this to say, I’m coming back. One of my personal goals for this season of my life is to make myself write at least one post a week and put it up here. I think the focus is shifting away from teaching and on to Christian Life, so maybe I need to change the theme a bit. We’ll see.

Regardless, there will be more writing, more thinking, more interaction, and hopefully more Christ-like stuff in all of our lives.

Stay tuned. We’ll be right back.


Learner’s Permit

Learning has an interesting effect on me.

Please understand, I say this as an educator. I’m very familiar with the idea of learning. Yet ideas and reality so often differ. This is why this blog has been so quiet recently. I’m learning a lot right now. That’s really impressive for a guy who’s spent most of his life believing he already knew everything he needed to know.

The most interesting effect that learning has been having on me is humility. No, I’m not bragging on my humility. I do love irony, but not quite that much. No, I’m just explaining why I haven’t been writing a lot recently. In so many areas of life I really don’t feel like I’ve got it all together intellectually right now because there is so much I’m being taught right now. As such, I find myself pouring time into listening to people instead of talking or writing to people. I ask a lot more questions right now than I give answers. I look to learn more than I look to teach.

That doesn’t mean I have nothing to say. I am, after all, still a teacher. I can see my current education coming out in what I am teaching and sharing with my students. I still have ideas and new discoveries I love to share with others. I’m just spending so much time learning and digesting that teaching and sharing has taken a back seat for a while.

So, by way of a resolution, I want to say that I intend to keep learning. Not only that, but I intend to get back to writing, sharing, and teaching more as I learn. You know, kind of digest all of this stuff out loud. I think that will be good for me and maybe a little bit good for whoever can read this too. Who knows, maybe this humility will have a good effect on my writing. Stay tuned and we’ll see.

For anyone interested, here’s a quick list of topics I’ve been learning a lot about recently in no particular order:

– Hebraic Roots
– Constantine’s Effect on Christianity
– Atheism
– Philosophy
– Jewish Festivals
– Biblical Concepts of Church
– Salvation (Or at least how it’s explained and what it means practically)
– Youth Ministry
– Heaven
– Hell
– Divine Inspiration (Past and present)
– Charismatic Christianity
– Christian Community
– The Relational Nature of God (And his creation)
– Love
– Pacifism
– Technology’s Effects on Culture and Spirituality
– Holiness
– Sin

Yeah, I know. I’m intellectually ADD. It’s okay. Life’s more fun when we tackle it head on. You should join me. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Growing in the garden of His grace,
Jonathan, a servant and follower of the Son of God


The Good “__________”

I think we lose a lot of the weight of Jesus’ teachings by being so far removed from the social and political climate he was speaking into. In that spirit, I offer this take on a familiar story.

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence — and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a pastor was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a man who worked for a Christian ministry showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

“A Muslim traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey; led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill — I’ll pay you on my way back.”

“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

“The one who treated him kindly; “the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

Just a thought. Seemed appropriate.