Dark Lincoln

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Dark Lincoln

We spoke last Sunday of Abraham Lincoln - specifically why Lincoln was the ideal leader for the time and place in which he was president.  Parker Palmer says about Lincoln that, "only a man who has done hard soul work could have held the Union together."  This is more significant for you and I than it may, at first, appear...

When we are used to confronting the "stuff" in our own soul...when we quit spinning stories to ourselves that paint us as always winners, good guys, and/or victims.  When we build the habit and ability to be honest with ourselves, and wrestle with the darkness lurking inside us, then the darkness in other people doesn't surprise us or freak us out anymore (or at least, not as much).  

Because Lincoln wrestled with his inner demons and suffered from what today we would call Clinical Depression (then referred to as Melancholy), he was able to lead the country through the Civil War without ever demonizing the South.  When we are comfortable with our own pain and "lack", then we are able to hold other's "lack" and depravity with grace and patience.  Ultimately we want to be truth tellers, and it starts with us.  Learning to tell the truth about ourselves helps us tell the truth about others with grace and love instead of with spite and hostility.  

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The Kind of God I Want to Pray To

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The Kind of God I Want to Pray To

So, I know it may sound funny, but sometimes on a Sunday morning, I'll be cruising along...all excited with the conversation we're having...and forget to drive home a point I meant to make.  Forgive me!  I promise it's not for lack of preparation.  It's more because I lose myself in the moment of our dialogue.  

All that to say, I spent an extensive amount of time last Sunday reading through the bizarre Old Testament story of Abraham bargaining with God over sparing people's lives in Sodom and Gomorrah.  I repeatedly pointed out that this didn't mesh with the image of God I tend to carry around in my head all the time.  My image of God is a God who does what he wants...what he wills. And then we get a picture of Abraham having a conversation with God and actually talking him into things.  

Which is all good...but the subject of our Sunday conversation was prayer and how prayer is hard for some of us to actually do.  What I forgot to mention after spending so much time on this OT story, is that even though this image of God seems foreign to me...I like it.  

I have difficulty imagining a God I can talk into things...and I'm not sure I would ever publicly declare  that's who God is (feels too uncomfortable to go there) - but when I read this account from Genesis, I'm drawn to it.  It entices me to pray.  When God is portrayed as someone we really converse with...and can influence...and dialogue with...it's compelling.  

And I actually get excited to pray.  

Take it for what you will.  I just wanted to mention this (seeing as how I didn't on Sunday...).  

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Holy Week/5 Hard Truths

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Holy Week/5 Hard Truths

So, as we enter Holy Week I find myself processing the Lent conversation.  What a powerful five weeks for me as I sat in this content each week...hopefully a meaningful five weeks for our people.  I don't know a conversation that could be more disturbing and more edifying all at the same time.  For those who weren't with us, our conversation revolved around five essential truths that we must experience and engage in order to join Jesus on the cross.  Here are the truths in the order we tackled them: 

1. Life is Hard
2. You Are Not Important
3. Your Life is Not About You
4. You Are Not in Control
5. You Are Going to Die

Pretty inspirational stuff, huh?  Props to the Beggars Table community for jumping into and sticking with this teaching for five weeks.

I guess what I keep circling back to in my mind is the fact that these are, indeed, truths.  In other words, each one of these are true for everyone, whether we acknowledge them or not.  And we happen to live in a culture that adamantly denies each of them...hides from them, runs from them, protests them.  And we happen to have the means (affluence) to do this.  Yep, money (and health) make it possible to fool ourselves...for awhile at least.  

But I really believe (as Jesus indicated by saying "you must die to find life") that true freedom and happiness is only attained by embracing each of these truths.  I don't know from personal experience, but I am willing to bet that the impoverished, crippled, and terminally ill of this world actually have a head start on me in all of my security and comfort (and massive success lol).  A head start in learning what true life consists of.  The ability to engage life deeply because the lie that life is balanced on accomplishments, personality, and ego is easier for them to not buy into.  Perhaps this is part of what we celebrate on Easter Sunday.  New life as a brand new realization that our life is not about us. 

May we all join Jesus this week in saying, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit".  Amen.  

 

 

 

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Welcome to Lent

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Welcome to Lent

Lent is a special time for the church community.  It's is a season that asks us to walk the pathway of the cross in order to experience the gospel - pain and suffering...and joy and resurrection - together and whole!  Lent doesn't flinch from real life, rather it invites us into the very crucial and meaningful "stuff" of life.  

In the spirit of Lent, I invite you to grapple and engage with this passage from Infinite Jest - the great American novel by David Foster Wallace.  This is the confession of a recovering alcoholic as he grapples with the 3rd of 12 steps outlined in Alcoholic Anonymous - Turning your disease over to God as you understand Him:

"Gately, up at the podium, revealed publicly about how he was ashamed that he still as yet had no real solid understanding of a Higher Power.  He says when he tries to go beyond the very basic rote automatic get-me-through-this-day-please stuff (prayer), when he kneels at other times and prays or meditates or tries to achieve a Big-Picture spiritual understanding of a God as he can understand Him, he feels Nothing - not nothing but Nothing, an endless blankness that somehow feels worse than the sort of unconsidered atheism he came in with.  The God-understanding stuff kind of makes him want to puke, from fear.  Something you can't see or hear or touch or smell: OK.  All right.  But something you can't even feel?  Because that's what he feels when he tries to understand something to really sincerely pray to.  Nothingness.  He says when he tries to pray he gets this like image in his mind's eye of the brainwaves or whatever of his prayers going out and out, with nothing to stop them, going, going, radiating out into like space and outliving him and still going and never hitting Anything out there, much less Something with an ear.  The whole idea of this whole God thing makes him puke, still.  And he is afraid."

Now, I'm tempted to share how Foster Wallace comments on Gately's struggle.  But, in the spirit of Beggars Table, I prefer to first invite anyone and everyone to comment on the passage...perhaps sharing if you ever identify with Gately...and perhaps what you would say to Gately, if you could.  Feel free to respond!!

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"I Don't Get it" May Mean You Really Do...

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"I Don't Get it" May Mean You Really Do...

In Matthew 13 Jesus says something that initially almost sounds like (if we're honest) gibberish.  His disciples ask him why he teaches in parables - which are more than just stories told to teach.  They're meant to be slightly confusing.  It's not a bad question the disciples ask - why confuse the audience?  Jesus responds with this (probably) unexpected answer: "This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand."  Why would he say this?  

It's almost funny to think of the many well intentioned teachers I've heard through the years trying to iron this one statement out - making it wrinkle free for us who grew up in a culture that promoted certainty and complete understanding at all costs.  "Well, what Jesus really meant..."  "The gospel was only for the Jews...he was sending them the real message in secret code while confounding the gentiles..." (sounds like Jesus, doesn't it?).  

Here's the take we've been discussing at Beggars Table.  What if rather than an undesirable place to be while listening to Jesus teach, this is, in fact, exactly where Jesus wants us?  What if the best posture in front of God is to see/hear but not understand?  What if Jesus wanted his hearers to not "get it"...at least immediately?  

Think about it - chances are you have run into a circumstance when you saw or heard something and didn't "get it".  How you react to that situation says a lot about you.  You basically have two choices - one is the choice of narcissism and one is the choice of humility.  

You can either act as the final arbiter of what's good for you and simply decide not to engage.  This is the reaction of narcissism.  It names you as the final judge of all that's good and beneficial.  

Or you can react out of humility - recognizing something attractive in the "not knowing" itself.  Recognizing that perhaps there is something true and needed for you exactly because you don't immediately get it.  When we respond this way to the confusing story/picture/movie/teaching, then we begin a process of willful attentiveness...training ourselves in profound presence by learning to ask questions, becoming still, and exercising our minds and imagination.  Perhaps this is exactly where Jesus wanted his audience and perhaps this is still the invitation for us today.  

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The Godfather Church

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The Godfather Church

I've told my kids for years that they might like such and such movie...but the best movies ever made are The Godfather Part I&II.  I've told them this isn't a subjective opinion...it's an objective fact.  There are no better movies.  This holiday break I determined that they were old enough to finally watch the movies and we tackled both behemoths on separate evenings.  

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So, watching these movies this time around for me was an unusual experience - I got to view them through my kid's eyes.  And here's the thing - I don't think they loved the movies.  I don't think they even really liked the movies much.  And I know they didn't understand the movies.  They stuck with them mainly not to disappoint me. 

Whether or not you agree that they're the best movies ever made, I realized this week just why The Godfather movies are so highly regarded by cinemaphiles everywhere.  

First: They're "Thick".  They are so dense.  I have  never read Mario Puzo's novel so I have no idea how the pulp fiction bestseller reads, but the movies are just so dense.  These are not simple paint by the numbers plots.  And the characters are rich.  It really struck me, this time around, how The Godfather movies are America's Shakespeare - especially Part II - with it's father and son innuendoes and generational family tragedy plot arcs.  You don't easily summarize the Godfather. You have to think about it.  You wade through it.  You talk about it with your friends.  You try to talk about it with your bored kids, but you don't get anywhere.  This is why people (including myself) return to these movies again and again.  They don't wear thin or get old.  Each viewing is fresh...revealing.  

Secondly: These movies assume a certain audience intelligence.  They don't hold your hand and gently take you through the story.  There's no character who tells you how to feel...no dialogue that neatly summarizes what is going on in case you missed it.  Every spoken line matters.  You have to pay attention.  The film doesn't target the least intelligent person and merely cater to the rest with special effects, etc.  You - as the audience member - have to think.  You have to connect the dots.  

Hopefully my kids recognized something great whether or not they "got it".  And hopefully that will mean something to them someday.  

Regardless, the whole experience got me thinking about church...our church, and what I want for our church.  I realized that - not coincidentally - the things I love about The Godfather are the same things I want for our church community.  

A "thick" experience.  a "thick" gospel.  No doubt the gospel can be reduced to a simple story.  A few bullet points.  Something easy to digest.  Jesus died for your sins.  God loves you.  Etc.  And  I suppose there's nothing wrong with these reductionist messages.  They're not false.  They're actually very good...and totally appropriate messages in and of themselves...especially for children.  

But what about those of us who aren't children?  What about those of us who want and crave something thick to wrestle with...converse about...and humbly bow to?  When does the gospel transcend Transformers and become The Godfather?  This is our vision for our church.  A rich and ongoing conversation that doesn't always wrap-up nicely.  An invitation into tension, and messages about co-creating with God and helping to inaugurate his Kingdom and what that means and looks like for us.  Something not easily summarized.  Something you can talk about with your friends.  Something that has space for your doubts...and far-fetched wonderings.

When we began Beggars Table I didn't have all the language (I'm sure I still don't), but upon reflection, I'm sure one of my desires was to host a gathering that didn't cater to the most simple minded.  To host an ongoing conversation that welcomed all who were ready and willing to give their full attention...to think good thoughts and to wrestle with the wonderful mysteries that comprise the totality of our gospel story.  To have The Godfather experience - that we keep revisiting again and again!  We probably fall short of The Godfather week-to-week.  We might shoot for The Godfather, but end up with The Untouchables.  But just like great filmmakers keep trying to make the masterpiece, we keep trying to offer that thick and intelligent experience...for better or for worse...

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