Being Christian: On Myth

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 3.46.40 PMThis past weekend I spoke about myth as a helpful starting point in biblical interpretation. I invited us to reach back into the original meaning of the word, to get at the nature of scripture as a a history of a people that explain social as well as religious phenomenons.

We are descendants of such a people, the people of Israel and through them the people called the church. The bible is our story and a story that reflects the hopes and dreams, the prejudices and habits of its writers. We see this reality especially when it comes to the ways that the text understands the roles in society and family (men as leaders and decision makers-women and children as submissive and belonging to the men), its treatment of government (centered at first on theocracy then on a religiously based monarchy), and its many rules regarding eating, purification, and duty.

From the beginning we notice that demanding a literal interpretation or “absolute historical accuracy,” does not do justice to the text itself and certainly not to the purpose of the text as a theo-literary collection that seeks to contain “all things necessary for salvation.” Instead it can become a hindrance to seeing the larger narrative at play, a narrative of God’s redemptive work for all of creation through a people, a people who struggled to be faithful, a people who failed, a people who at times did horrendous things in the name of God. Again and again it was God who in spite of everything continued seeking, calling, and in the end became one of us.

The truth found in the bible is not limited by continued revelation, by communal interpretation, and by our consistent struggle to hear God’s word in the text. Instead it re-centers our source of authority for the Christian life in the work of the Spirit through accountable community. That accountable community roots itself in the biblical narrative, and like other myths, it is in the conversation that meaning begins to emerge and the community finds its identity.

It is my claim that myth is actually the most truthful of narratives. Reading the bible through this lens opens us to the movement of the Holy Spirit as we seek to be shaped into rehearsing the story of salvation. Its authority rests on the way that the Holy Spirit continues to use it to tell us about the human condition, creation’s longing, and the hope of peace (wholeness) for us and for all of creation. More importantly in the ways that it gives us a glimpse to God’s incessant creative and reconciling work. This glimpse is to be trusted while recognizing that it will never be complete until we meet God face to face at the end of time.

Till then we continue hearing the old story, our story, God’s story. We continue our shared struggle with that story and our dependence on the Holy Spirit’s continued work in us as God’s people as we seek to be agents of God’s reconciling love in the world. Always remembering that:

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Let us remember this amazing story and let it join with our own encounter with God as we continued living our life together, as we continue hearing God’s voice, as we encounter the living Word in the bible, in the world, and in the community of faith!

Let’s keep on struggling! I look forward to the weekend.

Being Christian: The Bible

Scripture in ChurchThere are so many thoughts, trails, and questions that never make it to a sermon. When it comes to a sermon on the bible the material in the cutting room floor of sermon preparation is a gold mine of learning, exploration, and more conversation.

The power of story to transform was one of those larger themes that I did not address. There has been much writing in the last eight to ten years of the value of story for our lives and for the life of a people. It is out of this thread that I picked out myth as a fresh way to enter into the story of scripture again. What I wish I could have said more about relates to the need for all of us to recover the art of story telling and story listening. I think people of faith, especially, would find that making room for conversation begins by making room for stories to be told, for stories to be listened to, and for the stories of others to be allowed to intersect our stories. It is in the space making for story telling and story listening that transformation happens as we engage our common humanity.

The importance of scripture in building our theology–our God-talk–was another theme that went on the floor. I think today our congregations need to deepen their theological wells. For too long we have ignored the beauty of theology that stems from the lived discipleship and engagement of God’s people in the pews, the marketplace, and the home. Our lack of this incarnate theological lens has made our life together weaker, and our shared work of discipleship harder. It is my prayer that we can recover the body’s interpretive task as a key element of our discipleship.

The problem with the so called “culture wars” was another area that I left hanging. For two thousand years people of faith have had many disagreements, some of which led to horrendous and disastrous consequences. So I would say that the use of the word “war” to describe growing questions and disagreements automatically places the conversations in an adversarial relationship. What we need is not a war, but a conversation. A continued shared struggle about the role of government in the common good, about the role of the church in influencing the powerful and in serving the powerless, and the importance of religion as a source of unity in the midst of diversity. In other words it is my hope that, as I said in my address last week, we become a people of conversation, peacemaking, and reconciliation.

Finally, I look forward to a conversation about inspiration. Even though I mentioned in passing about our belief in the bible as “god-breathed,” inspired, I did not spend enough time teasing it out for us. God is indeed constantly inspiring our life together, giving us wisdom, speaking to us, and helping us build our lives in the way of Jesus. I believe that one of the most obvious signs of the inspired nature of the bible is that it continues to tell our story, the story of the human condition, and how humanity and all of creation can be redeemed. But I also believe that we are an inspired community, that God does indeed use the church as God has in the past and will continue in the future, to interpret scripture in ways that speak to the hungers of today. God is indeed still speaking and I am thankful that scripture itself gives us signs of the work of the interpretive community in its development.

I look forward to our continued conversations around Being Christian. Till then I pray that God’s Spirit will inspire your daily reading of and reflection on scripture. That you see yourself in the text and most importantly that you encounter the risen Lord. I can’t wait to see you this weekend!

A Generation of Missionaries: The Five Posts

State of the Church 2015 from Grace Community UMC on Vimeo.

This week it was a pleasure to post the entire State of the Church Address for Grace Community United Methodist Church here at spiritstirrer.org. I look forward to teasing out the different pieces as we continue looking towards the horizon. If you missed any of the days or if you want to find all of them in one place, “A Generation of Missionaries:”

Opening Thoughts
Our Call from the Beginning
Our Challenge Today
Three Movements
Our Prayer

Can’t wait for our continued conversation and to what God will unfold in the years to come!

A Generation of Missionaries: Our Challenge Today

IMG_1951Today in 2015 we must re-claim our call. Like any other community there are times that we loose our way, that we take pathways that have dead ends, that we become more concerned about ourselves than about our call, so it is my prayer that today we can recover our zeal, passion, and purpose.

As our bishop Cynthia Harvey has asked us: “Who are we going to be? And what resources do we need? Always keeping in mind that we must hold nothing, NOTHING, sacred but our mission!!”

Not the our ways of worship, not our preferences, not our perceived ways of doing things, not our comfort, not our positions, not our assumptions about how things should be, not our likes or dislikes, not our fears, not our desires, not our perceived lack of resources, not our desire to return to “better days.”

How do we recover and renew our identity as a community of missionaries in a way that explicitly speaks to the needs, the hungers, and the hurts of today?

A missionary people must recognize the movement of God in our hearts and in our life. We must be a people who connect with our baptismal call, with the anointing of the Holy Spirit called upon us, and recognize our identity as followers of Jesus. This identity and the work of the Holy Spirit pushes us beyond our personal preferences and individual perceived needs into a healing people who are primarily concerned about the health of the body. A people who exist for the purpose of human flourishing in and through the forgiveness and reconciling love of Jesus Christ, that’s what we call the gift of Grace!

This gift will push us to leave behind the comforts of our nets: of the family business, of the way of life we have built in order for others to experience following Jesus.

This is an outward movement. A movement that goes beyond our personal preference and our own personal ideals, instead it is fueled by our grace-filled imaginations and commitment to the common good.

This is hard, because the Christian tradition, as lived through in local congregation has in the last 50-100 years seeing itself primarily as a community that exist for itself, for the care of its members.

I’m thankful for the words of our founding pastor, of the words of our United Methodist leadership, and most importantly for the words of scripture because they remind us that we are not here to be a “membership society” but to be a “missionary society.”

We exist for the sole purpose of those who are not yet here, who have not yet found their place in the beloved community of God in the world.

A missionary people must be agents of justice, reconciliation, and love (agents of God’s kingdom). We must become a community that creates space for conversations about the work and fruit of God’s kingdom in us and in our community.

We must model what is like to come from different places from different stories, from different traditions, from different worldviews, political affiliations, and ideologies, with our own stories of brokenness and struggle, and find ourselves healed by the Holy Spirit.

Through that healing, through that Grace we become who we are and bring our renewed identity to become part of the tapestry, the mosaic, that is the community of believers.

What would it look like for us to be a place that is having, what my friend and mentor Craig Gilliam calls, “courageous conversations?” What does it mean for us to be a people who practice, who rehearse, kingdom conversations across our community?

One of the key places of brokenness today is our inability as a society to have conversations that honor the image of God in another person. In our quickness to judgment, our quickness to a position, our quickness to lean on our ideology, we mimic the sinful, destructive, and oppressive patterns of the world; patterns that do not live into our call to love all people, especially our enemy, especially that one whom God made that we disagree with.

We like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day often rather only speak to those that they agreed with and demonize those that they did not agree with, to the extreme of jailing and later assassinating, John the baptizer, and Jesus.

What would it look like for us to be a missionary people who are modeling and living what is like to have holy, sacred, restorative conversations, about the key difficult issues that we are facing today in our lives, our neighborhood, our city, nation and world?

In 2003, our founding, the Rev. Rob Weber, challenged us to tackle the evil of racism by telling us:

“Unless we become ones who intentionally step out and build relationships with other children of God who are just as valid, just as loved, and just as real, unless we step out, then we’re just pretending.”

A missionary people need to be committed to shaping and forming the next generation of missionaries. How do we help shape our children and youth in what it means to be a missionary people? A people committed to justice, reconciliation, and transformation?

In our increasingly busy, connected, and diverse culture I think it would be a great gift to our city that we form young people who are fostering their souls, who are gifted listeners, who are rooted in the story of faith, who are committed to the common good, and who are able to come alongside others to make spaces for healing, forgiveness and reconciliation through conversation, relationship, and mutual love.

Formation of the common good, human flourishing, and kingdom imagination is what Jesus calls an “abundant” life! A life that makes us “fish for people” by living into the practices that deepen the virtues of the Christian life, nurture the fruit of the spirit in them and through them in us.

A missionary people must be fully present in the places that, writer, theologian, and activist Shane Claiborne calls the “abandoned places of empire,” the places that seem to have no or little value in our consumerist, objectifying, and competitive culture – places where the healing, reconciling, and empowering work of Jesus is most needed.

We have an opportunity due to our connection with our missional partner in Cedar Grove, the Common Ground Community, to truly immerse ourselves with sisters and brothers who are different than us, and to live alongside one another as we read and interpret scripture together, as we shine a light on God’s work in that community, as we worship in ways that are different than we are accustomed, as we begin to foster a common kingdom imagination and begin to empower one another to be about the healing, reconciling, and transformative work of Jesus in our city.

This work goes beyond our personal transformation but leads to making space for courageous conversations about racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, fundamentalism (both political and spiritual), and the sinful structures in our city which then should move us to hopeful partnerships for transformation, for the healing and sanctification of our city.
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Next- A Generation of Missionaries: Three Movements

A Generation of Missionaries: Our Prayer

beachsunbeamsYou are probably wondering, what does this all mean? Where are we going?

In 2003 your founding pastor read from Exodus 13, there the Israelites where not given a map for how to get to the promise land, instead they were given the presence of God in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He told us that although the picture might not be clear, that we could indeed “follow a cloud or a pillar of fire.”

Can you see it? Can you see it in your neighborhood, where you shop? Can you see it as you drive down Ellerbe Rd. or go down the interstate? Can you see it when you drive by Cedar Grove or head downtown? Can you see it as you encounter someone with whom you disagree? Can you see it when you face oppression, evil powers, and harmful structures? Can you see it when you encounter a city that obviously needs a word of Grace?

Grace Community, I leave you with the prayer that you prayed together long ago:

“Lord, thank you, for caring enough
to call us into a deeper life.
Thank you for awakening in us
an understanding that there is so much more
than the here and now;
that there is so much more than what we need or want.
That we have an opportunity
to walk in the realm of Biblical reality, and you will use us!!

God, where we are broken, heal us,
where we are shivering, warm us,
where we are uncertain, give us courage,
where we are weak, be our strength,
where we are complacent Lord, maybe give us a kick.
We long for you, we are desperate for you.
Increase our faith,
we ask in Jesus name. Amen.”

The Rev. Dr. Rob Weber, Founding Pastor
in 2003 State of the Church Address