Sunday, December 28, 2008

Priests, prophets, poets, and philosophers

I'm reading the second in McLarens trilogy called 'The story we find ourselves in'. No matter what you may think about his worldview or theology, this book has a great premise—looking at the history of the universe as a whole, a story that we are a part of, and how the various parts interact with each other.
He makes some observations about the Old Testament that really resonate with something I have blogged about before—the diversity of our callings and gifts within God's Kingdom. (Here, and here, and here.)
As I mentioned before, I have often reflected on how we as humans have different strengths and direction to our lives, but this is all part of what God wants His kingdom to look like. We aren't all the same, we don't all see things in the same way, and that is a good thing.
McLaren outlines 4 different roles in the characters of the Old Testament. He doesn't go into depth, but it is easy to see these groupings of purpose and ability.
Priests: particularly called to serve God as intermediaries between God and man. They offered the sacrifices, they risked their lives by entering the presence of God, their lives were expended in worship of the Holy. Their direction was focused heavenward.
Prophets: They also were intermediaries between God and man, but in the opposite direction. They passed along the message from the heart of God to His people. Often this was a hard word. “Repent, turn from your sinful ways, stop the injustice.” By nature of their calling, they were black and white, good and evil, do this, don't do that.
Poets: They creatively put the thoughts and emotions of man into words. The Psalms are filled with the cries of the people—agony, joy, anger, worship, angst, peace. Often these were songs including music, dance, and other forms of creative expression.
Philosophers: They were the thinkers, theologians, contemplatives. In many ways they took the words of God, and the thoughts of man, and tried to make sense of it all. Nuggets of wisdom, finite expressions of the infinite God, asking questions trying to find answers.

We are probably familiar with the various examples of purpose and calling expressed in the New Testament, but this is the first time I ever thought about a similar kind of understanding from the OT. It only serves to strengthen my perception of the diversity we all have.
For me, it is a fresh way of seeing similar expressions of Paul's lists of gifts, but in the different setting of the OT.
Perhaps even deeper, it again helps me see how one person can have a different way of seeing things, and yet be on the same page as me. It gives me added reason to appreciate the person whose expression of their relationship with God comes out in intense prayer, another's is seen in a call for justice or repentance, and yet another's is expressed in music, art, or thought-provoking words.
I think I am OK with where I might belong, but not necessarily up against someone who is 'other gifted'. It really is easy to try to persuade (strongly, at times) others to see things my way, to want them to see life through the lens of my revelation. Or, equally difficult, to know how to respond to the call to see things as someone else does.
I expect this is a common situation. And we fight to be heard, to bring others to our side, to shape the world according to how we see it. In this fight it is so easy to undercut someone else, to poke holes in their theology, to denigrate what they (legitimately) consider of utmost importance.
(As an aside, look at some synonyms for this negative concept of putting down: bad mouth, besmirch, blacken, decry, defame, disparage, knock, revile, roast, run down, scandalize, slander, or tear down. Sounds way too much like what sometimes passes for Christianity.)
So, my dear friends, although I may not share your God-given priority for a certain activity, I dare not say it is inappropriate or wrong. At the same time, I need not feel guilty for not being as devoted to it as you are. As Paul said, we do not all have the same gifts, and the eye can't say to the hand “I can do just fine without you.” I guess the point is—we don't all have to see things the same way.
Yes, there is a place for the prophet to call the whole church to account. There is a place for the philosopher to help all of us regain a more accurate understanding of God's word to us. There is a place for the priest to lead all into the presence of the Almighty.
But there is also a time to run off on a tangent without immediately being jerked back into the straight jacket of “We've always done it this way”, or “But this is what the Bible means when it says...” If we don't allow room for exploration, we don't allow room for God to bring us on to where He wants us to be. (It's so easy to think that we have it all figured out, no correction or better understanding needed.)
As a couple final thoughts from McLaren's “priests, prophets, poets, and philosophers”--I can see where I can fit in as a poet and philosopher, and don't necessarily need to fit in as a priest or prophet. Also, I kind of like the term 'philosopher'. For me, it somehow implies that the whole process of thinking is indeed a process, not necessarily a completed task. What I think I think today, may not be how I will be thinking tomorrow.
And I am OK with that.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


To both of my loyal fans (at least I hope I have at least a couple), I hope you survived without any grand Christmas wisdom from me. I have been too busy enjoying life to write about it--eating turkey, building the traditional Christmas jigsaw puzzle, and otherwise just hanging out with family. I've been working on something that I will likely post soon, but it probably needs a bit more contemplation.
By the way, I'd really like to encourage you to comment (when I actually write stuff). Besides letting me know that I have an adoring public (both of you), it also might help to either encourage me in my warped and twisted view of things, or else help straighten me out. Either of which could be infinitely valuable, at least to me.
Also, thanks to the technology of blogdom, you can become a 'follower'. Sort of like disciple, but then again, not even close.
So, a belated Merry and an early Happy. I hope this has been a good Christmas, and that your New Year is better than you expect.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I am a product of the conservative evangelical 'chunk' of the church. I'm not saying that is good or bad, only as a foundation for what is to follow.
When I was growing up, liturgy was a bad word. For some reason, it seemed to signify a lack of life, power, or relevance. Somehow, the fact that people from all kinds of wonderful experience and understanding wrote (and write) these meditations and prayers seemed to pass by unnoticed. Another aspect of growing up CE was that we didn't particularly follow the church calendar. Oh yes, we celebrated Christmas and Easter, but not in the pronounced way that other churches do. When December rolled around, all of a sudden it was full-on Christmas. Get ready for the Sunday School Christmas pageant. Sing the carols. Read the Christmas story. Full tilt. head-on, do it or die.
None of the slow, contemplative buildup. No gently taking a step, stopping to ponder, and then slowly taking another step.
For me, Advent was just another word for Christmas. Now that I think about it, I never even had one of those Advent Calendars that gave you a little chocolate every day for the 24 days of December leading up to the 'big day'. (I don't think the lack of an Advent Calendar can in any way be linked to my being CE, but...?)
Then I started singing in our local community choir. None of the churches were big enough to float anything of any size, but together we could belt out some of the seasonal favorites. For several years, at both Easter and Christmas, we would learn several songs, and then go to each of the churches (a wonderful spectrum of Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, United, and Pentecostal). And I was exposed to liturgy. Potent, thoughtful, non-spontaneous liturgy. It moved me. Coming from my wonderful charismatic background, it was hard to not shout "Hallelujah" some times, but the effort to keep my joy confined only made it more powerful.
Now here we are in 2008. Advent is upon us. A couple weeks ago I attended an Advent service of carols and lessons.
To say it was powerful would be an understatement.
The church was dark, except for enough light to find a seat.
The songs and readings started with some of the more somber prayers for deliverance. Then, lesson by lesson, candles were lit, lights were illuminated, and the darkness gave way to light. It took an hour, an hour of recognizing that hope might spring eternal, but doesn't necessarily mean that the answer comes in an instant.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Come and bring Your light.
Come and bring Your kingdom.

Today, Advent isn't just remembering how Israel waited for hundreds of years for the promise of the Messiah to be fulfilled.
It's not just reliving the joy that Christ's coming brought a couple millennia ago.
No, it is still a cry for Christ to come.
To come into our world.
To come into my world.
To come into me.

This video is an excellent way to spend the next 3 minutes and 16 seconds.

Have a thoughtful Advent, and a Joyous Christmas.


I love the things you find while catching up with your favorite blogs. I found the following from the Church of the Beloved in Edmonds, WA.

It's a CD recorded by the church, which can be downloaded for free. That in itself makes it quite noteworthy, but I completely fell in love with their description of who they are:
"We are Church of the Beloved, called out of our isolation and into community, fumbling into God's grace, daring to listen deeply to the Spirit and each other, and freed by Christ to work, rest, dream, and play in God's kingdom, mysteriously engaging with the Trinity in healing the world."

They have a recent entry about Advent and hope. Here are some quotes.

Advent is agitating. Is it not?
Advent seems harmless enough - just waiting for Christmas to come, like it comes every year… not much hope needed there.
If Advent is about remembering the baby in the manger…
that’s not going to cause a lot of agitation
(unless nostalgia agitates you).
But if Advent is about hope, then!
Then that is a powder keg of agitation.

Because hope is hard work,
it’s entirely different than a wish,
and it’s entirely different than positive thinking and optimism.

But, hope, real hope, stays at the bedside of the sick
and waits till health appears.
Real hope sweats blood in the garden while best friends fall asleep.
Real hope says, “God, everything looks as if you have completely abandoned me… but I will place my future in your hands.”

I don’t know if our churches know how to feast well,
or how to throw a real party…
And I don’t know if our churches know how to fast well,
or how to really dirge…
and it’s because we don’t know how to hope.
So instead we live in the middle,
the riskless and numb to the desire, middle.

With hope we become vulnerable to both mourning and celebration.
If we hoped, we would sorrow more.
If we hoped, we would party more,
because real parties follow fulfilled promises
and long-at-last reunions,
and call for good food, good drink, good songs, and good dance.

Read it all. And be blessed.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


mystery noun 1. something that baffles understanding and cannot be explained.
I've been doing some reading and thinking about postmodernism lately. It's been an interest for awhile, but I think I am finally getting a better understanding. I guess 'mystery' was a good word to describe the whole idea of the shift in worldview from modern to postmodern, until now. Now it's only confusing!

One of the things I am learning is that the modern mindset permeated all of western thought so completely and for so many years (several centuries) that we can't separate it from the object being considered. In many ways, it has been the cultural lens through which we see everything—but don't realize that the lens affects everything we are looking at. You get used to the sunglasses you have on, and don't notice how they are coloring every object within your view.

Such is the case within the church as much as in science, anthropology or whatever you care to analyze. As people 'of the Book', we see scripture through our modern mindset, and consider our understanding to be exactly what God had in mind when the Book was written centuries ago. But it wasn't written by modern people, or intended to be understood from a modern perspective. (Not that moderns aren't supposed to read it, or understand it, or follow it, but that it needs to be understood as the people it was written for understood it.)

I'm not really trying to be heretical here, just laying a bit of foundation.

So, back to the concept of 'mystery'.
There are lots of mysteries in the bible. The King James Bible uses the word 22 times (all in the New Testament). I expect in Bible times there were lots of things that could not be explained. And they recognized that, and accepted that. Some of these mysteries would have involved their understanding of God's ways and character, His plans for the future, His plans for individuals.

And then comes the Age of Enlightenment, times of technological advancement, science and experimentation. In other words, the modern mindset.
Now people begin to expect experts to find new things, to explain old mysteries, to solve the problems around them. Cures for diseases, harnessing electrical power, inventing a plethora of gadgets. And answering all the questions stirred up in scripture.
--what will happen in the future?
--what moves God to perform supernatural wonders?
--how can we tap into His power?
--how can I live a perfect life?
And so many more.

If science can find a cure for smallpox, or invent a gadget that can think for me, or send some equipment to another planet, surely there has to be a way to understand God more fully.
So, we now have shelves and shelves of books that endeavor to answer all kinds of spiritual questions. Because we (as moderns) think we need and deserve to have answers for every question.
We aren't satisfied with life like the ancients lived it—knowing there were mysteries, and being totally satisfied with that knowledge. Not worried that they didn't exactly know what would happen after death. Happy to know that God had it all under control.

Then there is us. Never satisfied. Always having to know. And being told 500 different answers because we still, really don't know. I think end-time prophecy is a great example. Every author has the definitive answer—that doesn't agree with the next one. Every book has a timeline—that differs from the next one. Obviously, we don't have all of the answers, and pretending that your answer is better than everyone else's is rather arrogant and presumptuous, I believe.

Back again to the concept of mystery.
I think we would do better to accept the mysteries of God as just that. Mysteries. Unknown. Probably unknowable. To be accepted by faith.
There may well be reasons to believe that the end of the world will happen soon, and in a certain way. After all, there are lots of prophecies in the Bible. But they are still mysterious. Not exactly laid out in black and white. BECAUSE GOD INTENDED IT THAT WAY!
Perhaps we are doing God a very big dis-service by trying to open boxes He has closed. By laying out the steps to something He didn't clarify for us. By answering questions He intentionally didn't answer.

More people have been turned away from faith by our wrangling and arrogance than have been brought to faith by it. Now that modernism is giving way to postmodernism, perhaps we will soon be willing to admit that there are still mysteries in the universe. And go back to just trusting God to do things His way, in His time, without necessarily telling us in advance. Or explaining Himself.
Less wrangling and nitpicking over differences of opinion on questionable points of view.
Less arrogance about my point of view.
Less people turned off by what they see as the Christian faith.
More people interested in joining us on the journey.

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