3.30.2004

Sojourners continued... I never watch reality television. My motto is "Life's too short for reailty TV." But I found myself watching "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" the other night and I may be hooked. To my credit, I don't think this is really reality TV. It's feel good TV, I think. It's "Touched By an Angel on Steroids," maybe -- only much better, much truer.

On this particular episode the team went into the Watts neighborhood of LA to repair and remake a home that had been damaged by a flood. The African-American woman who ran the house -- and I do mean "ran" -- was named Sweet Alice. She was clearly a loving, God-fearing woman who used her home and her gifts of hospitality to reach out to her community. Homeless people slept there, kids hung out, the hungry were fed. This was Kingdom stuff.

It was emotional to watch the team transform the house from a wreck that wasn't up to code to a beautiful home that would continue to serve the ministry that Sweet Alice had. The team did not stop there, however. They could see that Sweet Alice had a vision for transforming her community, not just her own home and so they set out to help her. They made contributions to the neighborhood in addition to what they had done for her.

This was the part that grabbed me. This was a woman and her family who had a vision for their community -- a vision that once upon a time I would have had as well. I was overwhelmed. And I wonder if that part of me that seems too silent these days will every be revived. I wonder if my life will ever be used of God to make the kind of impact Sweet Alice was making in her community.

I wonder. I hope. And, yes, sometimes I am afraid. So much would have to change in my life to see something like that come to be. But the sojourn is not over.

3.26.2004

I am troubled these days. Why am I troubled? Glad you asked.

I recently re-subscribed to Sojourners Magazine. I did so because I have noticed slippage in my concern for the poor and oppressed and conplacency creep in my attitudes toward social issues in general. I did so because it is all too easy to slip into an unexamined, conservative evangelical rut, especially since I became a pastor, but really ever since we moved back to the United States from Europe 13 years ago (sheesh, has it been that long?). I felt that in subscribing to the magazine I would be pushed and challenged to see things through different eyes, things I need to see again. Boy was I right.

I received my first issue just the other day and I was taken aback by the frankness with which the magazine approaches the "current administration" as they say. I'm reading some of the comments and I'm thinking to myself, "Wow! If this is true, how could I possibly not have heard this before? How could I be so isolated as to be unaware of the direction the 'current administration' is going?" Honestly, it's like reading a news magazine from a whole 'nother world, for crying out loud.

This troubles me. It troubles me because it means I have much more work to do in order to understand the implications of these events that can so easily be reported on differently from different sources. It troubles me because I am clueless when I like to think of myself as more informed. It troubles me because I can't imagine finding the time to thoroughly and faith-fully examine the issues and events in the world.

It troubles me because I am starting to suspect that I have been duped, blinded by mediocrity. It troubles me because I have realized this week that Jesus' words no longer shock me as they once did.

I visited with a man the other day who is reading the gospels through fresh eyes. He is seeing things in Scripture that we all ought to see from time to time. He is rather new to the faith, or at least to a new way of experiencing his faith, and he finds Jesus' words about wealth, for instance, disturbing. Shouldn't we all? I don't remember the last time Jesus' words shocked me. I don't remember the last time I saw myself not as a disciple, but as a Pharisee instead. I don't remember the last time I felt Scripture standing in opposition to me and my values, rather than comfortably baptizing my views.

And now, as I begin to face the possibility that I've been duped, that I am blind and need to see things differently, I am afraid that I lack the courage to do anything about it.

3.09.2004

I have many friends who have seen "The Passion" (or, as my good friend Jay calls it, rather disparaginly, I believe, "The Movie"). We talk about the film a lot, perhaps too much for some.

I have long since tired of the hype and the marketing, particularly among evangelicals. This week alone I received three marketing emails in relation to The Movie. I'm tired of the marketing and the hype, yes. But I don't know that I will ever tire of the conversations I've had and heard others have had after seeing The Movie. It's fascinating. Some hate it. Some love it. No one finds it entertaining. Some find it "life-changing" (heavens! even non-Evangelicals!) and others don't know exactly what to make of it. Whatever we make of it, we can't ignore it. My guess is, like it or not, The Movie will go down in history as some kind of turning point for spiritual experiences in film. It's great art (quibbling aside) driven by passion and faith and less by money (Am I naive? I don't think so.)

One of my favorite stories is of a theater full of invitees for a special evangelistic screening. The film kept breaking, apparently, and a couple of rows full of Pentecostals stood up and began rebuking Satan for his blatant attacks against the showing. A few rows displaced from the charismatics was a row of students from a comparative religions college course. They were cussing. Imagine, prayers against the devil and cursing all at once. What a show! That pretty much sums up all the responses to The Movie. You hate it or you love it. But hey, it's art. Isn't that what art should do?

Some aren't happy that it doesn't tell the fuller story of Christ. I say, let the film be the film. It ain't Scripture, after all. No one said it should be. I mean, it was never intended to be the whole picture, just one very important slice of the story.

Besides, if we get nothing else out of this film (and I think we will), thank GOD it has finally pushed all the attention off of The Da Vinci Code! Can anyone say, "Amen!"?

3.04.2004

I took short walk yesterday, down at St. Joseph's Retreat Center on the lake. I walked the Stations of the Cross in the garden there. I had to work a little harder as the station plaques are still wrapped in plastic for the winter and are difficult to discern. I then headed for the dock to pray. I needed perspective.

Once again there are interpersonal conflicts brewing amid people in my church. I want so much more for them than this. I want a sense of mission and calling and community that is able to rise above whatever might get in its way. I suppose that's dreaming. I was reminded yesterday afternoon, after the time of prayer, that I pastor a bunch of sinners. Heck, I'm one myself. And sinners sin. That's our nature. Some of us are really good at it, too.

It's hard to tell the difference between a godly desire to see more Christian maturity in these and other relationships and a selfish desire not to have to deal with these issues. Sinners. The world would be better place without us, I think. It would be kind of boring, though. I mean, who would be left?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds me (via Eugene Peterson) that "A pastor should not complain about his [or her] congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to [him or her] in order that [he or she] should become its accuser before God and [humankind]." (quoted in The Contemplative Pastor, p.120)

Wow! Is he right? Or is he coming on a bit strong? It seems to me that I ought to be able to at least complain to God every once in a while, at least. I mean, okay, maybe not every day, but once a week, maybe?

I wonder who complains to God about me, though? I'm sure someone must. If not, I will. God knows someone needs to.