Beastie Boys and Sacred Communion

A few years back I tried an experiment with a large group of young adults.  I had two buckets on the stage.  One was labeled “Secular” and the other “Sacred”.  I pulled out some note cards one at a time with different words written on them and asked the college students to choose which bucket I should place the cards.  We started off easy.

“Beastie Boys?”
The crowd yelled unanimously, “Secular!”
“Beer?”
Again, they shouted confidently, “Secular!”
“Wine?”
Some mild hesitations this time, but overwhelmingly, “Secular.”
“Communion?”
They regained their confidence now and proclaimed, “Sacred!”
“Sunday?”
Again, a resounding “Sacred!” was heard.
“Monday?”
The room went quiet.  Some were whispering.  I demanded an answer and I heard an uncomfortable, “Secular?”

Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Last_Supper_(copy)_-_WGA12732What I enjoy most about the last meal Jesus had with his friends was how ordinary it must have been.  These men had spent three years with Jesus and had countless meals together just like this one.  I imagine there were plenty of inside jokes, stories, some swearing (They were mostly fishermen after all) and lots of laughter.

I can imagine Jesus leaning forward to grab some bread while chuckling while standing, and then preparing to say something.  The guys silence after a bit.  I can see Peter taking longer than the others to quiet down.  Then Jesus shares with them why this ordinary bread and wine that night is more special, even sacred.  The disciples slowly start to grasp the magnitude of what Jesus is saying.  Their good friend is going to die.  Everything is going to change.  This is a moment they will never forget.  This secular meal had been made forever sacred.(1)

For Jesus it was never merely bread and wine.
It was not just a bucket and a well. (John 4)
It was not just 99 sheep. (Luke 15)
It was not just a touch in a crowd. (Mark 5)
Ir was not just some water and a towel (John 13)
It was certainly not just some nails and another execution that day. (Mark 15)

God’s ability to discover the sacred in the secular has a way opening our eyes.   After that, Jesus followers started opening their eyes to much more than dinner.  One of my favorite stories is when Paul walks into Athens and notices all these idol statues built to various gods.  He takes particular note of one statue that is made to “the unknown god.”  Paul doesn’t get all offended at this secular setting but instead discovers where Jesus is working.  He even compliments them and points out God is closer than they think.  In the conversation, he even quotes one of their “secular” poets,

‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ (2)

I can’t help but wonder if we’ve made communion so sacred that other meals are just a school night dinner.  Have we made church so important that Monday is just a work day?  Have we even made ministry so spiritual that my 9-5 is just a job?

Perhaps one of the points of communion is to allow us to never see dinner the same way again?  Not only that, but it compels us to look more closely.  We push back this self constructed dualism of secular and sacred in our lives and search for Jesus in every moment.  So that…

It’s not just another homeless person.
It’s not just a barista making my drink.
It’s not just an interruption while I’m trying to get some work done.
It’s not just another night of putting my kids to bed.
It’s not just a commute and traffic.
It’s not just believer and non-believer, gay and straight, or even Christian and non-Christian.

I want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and discover the sacred in the secular.  Like Moses, I don’t want to merely take off my shoes because the ground beneath me became holy.  I want to discover the ground always was holy.(3)  I want to live this life with a heightened sense of expectancy because God is at work all around me and he has a reputation of being found in the most surprising of places.  Oh, and I’d like to listen to the Beastie Boys without some Christians getting all pissy.  🙂

1.  1 Corinthians 11:23-26
2.  Acts 17:28 There you have it, a “secular” poem in the “holy” Bible
3.  Exodus 3:5

Comparing Convictions

websites-on-mobile-phones-300x225At church today, I was sitting quietly alone after the message and was asking Jesus how him and I were doing.  He brought up how much I’m on my phone in his usual careful and  gentle kind of way.  I started thinking about it, and he was right.  I’m on my phone constantly.  I can’t remember the last time I went to the bathroom without checking it.  Lately, its been common to talk with my boys or Laura while one eye is glancing at a notification.  I asked Linc about it on the way home and how that made him feel.  He said it made him sad and thinks Jesus is right.  I decided I’m going to try a no technology day on Sunday and every weeknight from 5:00-7:00.  I don’t know if that’s an answer, but it’s a step toward health for me.  Over the years, Jesus has had a way of working on one thing at a time in my life.  Like a persistent and brilliant artist carefully picking up one brush at a time, dipping it into the paint and slowly creating a masterpiece.

The funny thing is, I’ve had this habit with my phone for years and never once felt convicted about it.  In fact, I had kinda seen it as a symptom of success or even God using me.  Perhaps, I wear busyness as a badge of honor.  Whatever it was, this was the very first time God had brought it up to me as something I’m using to escape, medicate, or prop up my self worth.  The conviction was new.  God was very patient.

I can’t help but wonder how God is being patient in other’s lives.  Sometimes, I assume what God is doing in me is the same thing he is doing in others.  If he convicted me about how I care for homeless people or raising my voice to my kids this year, than surely he’s convicted everyone else.  But he doesn’t work that way.  We are not projects placed on an assembly line for our spiritual growth.  God in his amazing patience, carefully and gently hand crafts each and every one of us uniquely.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,”   Philippians 2:12 (emphasis mine)

 

Speaking of conviction, there is a story of when a woman caught in adultery is thrown in front of Jesus half naked.  The religious leaders all have rocks and are ready to kill her and they ask Jesus what he wants to do.  He’s cunning as always and begins writing in the sand next to the trembling woman.  After some time, he says, “Whoever has not sinned, throw the first stone.”  The story goes, the angry religious leaders drop their rocks and walk away leaving Jesus alone with the woman.  It’s then he says to her,

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:1-11)

I think it’s interesting so many Christians identify with Jesus in this story.  We seem to love the “Go now and leave your life of sin.” part.  Lately, my Facebook feed has been full of this rhetoric. We want to play the part of Jesus so badly so we can be the ones handing out conviction.  It just feels better being on that side of the desk.

However, If I honestly had to pick a role to play in the story, I don’t think it’d be Jesus.  Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure I’m more like the religious leaders than Jesus.  When I put my convictions on another, I am placing myself in the sandals of the religious leaders.  Most importantly, I’m reminded my role in this story is to drop my rock and walk away.  I need to let this scared person have a moment alone with a gentle and patient God.

Furthermore, my phone problem does not define me.  This conviction does not encapsulate the entirety of who I am as a human being.  I am far more complex and intricate than that.(1)  This has helped me drop the rocks at times.  Realizing those around me are not defined by one habit, mistake, or unhealthy aspect of their lives.

We are more.
We are more to him.
We are more to him than the latest conviction.

So what is he doing in your life?  Most likely, it’s different than what he’s doing in another.  Celebrate that as two broken but loved people, God is patiently redeeming.

Drop your rocks, and let Jesus do what he does best.  Life is lighter that way.

1.  For more on this, check out Forgetful Faith

Curiosity At 7:30am

IMG_2326Linc (my 6 year old) came bounding into the bathroom this morning to ask some questions about Jesus.  We’re not a family that holds daily Bible studies with our kids or even pray a lot together.  Honestly, I think Laura and I kinda suck at integrating our faith into our family.  However, we do talk about Jesus a lot and what he’s up to in our lives.  We try to connect how we serve and love to the one that has served and loved us so well.  I don’t know, we’re figuring it out I guess, but that’s not what I was talking about.

Linc asked, while hopping up and down in his usual excited way, “Dad, what happened to the Roman guy after Jesus healed his ear?”  I didn’t know Linc even knew this story but he was referring to Luke 22 when Jesus gets arrested and Peter takes out a sword to defend Jesus and cuts off one of the guard’s ears.  Jesus stops Peter and calmly heals the Roman’s ear.  I sat on the toilet, still waking up, and answered, “He still helped arrest Jesus and eventually killed him.  Sometimes people Jesus loves, still hate.”

He kept bouncing, but now his forehead furrowed.  (He got that from me.)  He then blurted out, “But Dad, if Jesus has super powers, why didn’t he fight back?”

I’m not used to having deep theological conversations in the bathroom before 8:00 am.  I washed my hands, threw some water on my face and said, “Well, sometimes Jesus’ best superpower is to love those who hate.”

“I don’t get it, Dad.”
“Me either, bud. But I think that’s okay.”

Linc bounced out the door and I heard him talking to himself about what super powers he would use if some Roman guards came to get him.  I think he settled on laser blasts.

Now that I’ve had some coffee and settled in my office, I think Jesus used Linc to remind me about something important.

I’m never going to figure Jesus out.
And I don’t want to.

After Bible college, seminary, 14 years of full-time vocational ministry, countless books, podcasts, and sermons, Jesus completely eludes me.  I have more questions about him now than I ever have before.  He is this beautiful and divine mystery filled with paradox and loose ends.

The Jesus I want to communicate to Linc is one that cannot be charted or graphed.  One that cannot be predicted or principled.  As someone once said, stalkers do that sort of thing to people.  I want Linc to worship Jesus and worship works best when you don’t quite know what’s going to happen next.  Besides, wide eyed wonder is far more attractive than dusty platitudes anyway.  I think Jesus used Linc this morning to keep me on my toes.  To remind me of the twinkle in the eye of this untamed lion.  To bring me back to why he welcomed little children but rebuked the religious know-it-alls.  To wake me up to a life that is best lived with wonder and curiosity.  Even at 7:30 in the morning.

“Idolatry is not only worshiping something God has made but also making God into something you want to worship.”(2)  Are you and I accidentally making Jesus into something safe and palatable?  I think the moment he stops surprising me and I think I have him figured out is the moment I only believe in myself.  I must have room for a healthy amount of “I don’t know” if I honestly want to interact with the God of the universe.

Are you open to Jesus surprising you this morning?

1.  The picture is of Linc on the beach last week.  We had a great vacation making sandcastles and talking about superheroes.

2.  Professor Josberger.  Incredible teacher at Multnomah Seminary that helped make the Old Testament come alive to me.

Cowering Behind Convictions

I was in an argument with a pastor a few years back.  I was feeling God leading me toward serving our neighbors who do not have homes.  He thought it was a waste of time.  It was already a charged conversation and honestly, I shouldn’t have pushed things, but, oh hell, sometimes I can’t help it.  I finally blurted out, “But doesn’t Jesus ask us to care for the homeless?!”  A wry smile floated across his lips, he sat back in his chair, folded his arms, and stated confidently, “Kyle, Jesus told us we’ll always have the poor among us.”convictions

For him, this was the nail in the coffin.  The definitive statement on all things charitable.  For me, I was incensed.  How could he use scripture as an excuse for less compassion and engagement?

I’ve never understood how people can cower behind their convictions.  They dig their heels in the ground and seem so certain of their rightness.  It’s amazing how quick we can come up with a solution that absolves us from responsibility.  It’s a hardened dualism masked by conviction.  Meanwhile, we’ve never been more lonely or less wise.  These “convictions” are like earbuds on the bus that keep us from interacting with others.  If we’re not careful, we can become so sure of ourselves, we no longer need God.

There’s this crazy story in Exodus about an Egyptian king trying to control the population of his slaves, the Israelites.  He tries working them to death and it doesn’t work, so he finally resorts to ordering the midwives to kill every Israelite boy during birth.  The midwives are cunning though and don’t comply.  When the king asks them what’s happening, they lie.  Then the Bible says “God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.”(1)

Wait, what?
God blessed them for lying?
I thought lying was against the rules?  But, what would have been the alternative?

Just imagine if the midwives would have refused to lie, the king would have discovered their deceit, and then all the male babies would have been killed?  Even worse, imagine if God would have blessed these midwives for their strong “morals”?

“Great job ladies!” I imagine God saying, “Now come join another Bible study and keep voting republican.(2)  Love the sinner but hate the sin after all.  I’m so glad you don’t think, and just mindlessly obey me.  I’ll clean up the mess.”

Thankfully, this is not God.
And this is not love.

What this story and countless others in the Bible are announcing to us is to trust God, not the rules.  Wisdom is not understanding the difference between black and white.  Wisdom is navigating the grey.  There is a situational ethic and cunning (3) God wants for everyone of his people.

Now, there is such a thing as moral absolutes.  Rules have their place.  Just ask my four year old.  He’s got all kinds of rules to keep him from harm.  However, someday he’ll learn how to cross the road on his own and the rule to hold Dad’s hand won’t be necessary.

I used to think the Bible was a rule book for me to follow in this game of life.  The trouble is, someday life stopped being a game.  Great love and great loss has a way of jarring our dualism.  I nearly threw the whole book out, because a reductionistic, simplistic approach became more hurtful than helpful.  You can follow the rules, boast of your conviction, and the Pharisees win.

Now I see the Bible like sheet music.  When you’re just learning the song, you follow along cord by cord.  However, the song becomes art with practice, passion, and even a little improvisation.  After all, music speaks much more powerfully to our love and loss than any rule book could.

I want to trust God instead of the rules somebody told me.(4)  I want to love the sinner and hate my own sin.  Most importantly, I want my spiritual maturity to not be about public “convictions” but my capacity to love.

1.  Exodus 1:8-22
2.  Sorry, couldn’t help inserting the republican part.  😉
3.  Matthew 10:16
4.  Check out the story of the rich young ruler for an example of morality that sends us away from God. (Matthew 19:16-22)

 

 

 

 

 

but, well, oh hell, sometimes you can’t help it.