Sunday, September 30, 2007

madeleine l'engle, on "faith"

"if faith never encounters doubt,
if truth never struggles with error,
if good never battles with evil...
then how can faith know its own power?

in my own pilgrimage,
if i have to choose between a faith that has stared doubt in the eye and made it blink,
or a naive faith that has never known the firing squad of doubt,
i will choose the former every time."

Monday, September 24, 2007

donde esta el Pablo?

i've just read another book that portrays jesus as an uber-ghandi with lovechild tendencies and a hatred for the church

to be honest, i'm getting pretty bored of this rhetoric

while it's true that jesus was a great moral teacher
it's also true that he was and is more than simply a teacher or an example
so, if all we do is parrot his words and model his human example
we're missing out on the dimensionality of what it means to follow jesus

jesus, after all, wasn't just human
he made divine claims
he rose from the dead
he ascended into heaven
he manifested himself into a glorified body
he sits now at the right hand of the father

so, when we reduce jesus to just the living + poor carpenter without a dad, unable to find a suitable wife, and content to freeload off of his adherents then we're not getting the true, biblical, depiction of jesus

instead - we're getting a non-offensive, pussy cat jesus who only died prematurely because he o.d.ed on the catnip of selflessness


while it is true that jesus fought the religious establishment
and while it is true that jesus would be - at the very least! - critical of 21st C north american christianity
it's also true that the new testament encourages, directs, supports, and commands the followers of jesus to be together
and to love one another
and to serve one another
within the church

being critical of the church is different than being critical of institutionalized relgion

especially since a healthy understanding of the church is that it's the aggregate of christ's followers here on the earth

so, sometimes when people get on the 'abandon-ship--church-is-dumb--we've-screwed-up-the-gospel' bandwagon, and offer instead that we should just share our kfc with some homeless people and snuggle with our kids more
i feel like scripture is being totally neglected

which is tough

because i do actually think that the church is broken and needs attention
and i do actually think we ought to share our kfc with homeless folks
and - if it were at all possible - i'd certainly be snuggling my kids more

but there is great danger in reducing the gospel to simply acts of kindness, even though acts of kindness may be the most respected and visible manifestation of god's love on the earth

ironically, my frustration here may seem at odds with the talk i gave yesterday in fusion where i spoke openly about the need for christ-followers to be involved in justice & advocacy

but i hold both to be true

we must be involved in loving our world

but we must not think that loving and following jesus is only about what we do to be nice or to love our neighbors

at some point, scripture requires that we wrestle with the transcendence of god - not just his immanence; at some point, he has to be lord - not just friend; at some point the immortality of our souls has to factor into our understanding of spirituality - not just the pleasant and gentle emotions of doing good while we're here.

and this tension makes me feel like a ping pong ball

i hate knowing that some of my friends will consider me a heretic for allowing that the gospel is about more than just sin, that our behavior matters more than our doctrine, and that our propositional affronts to the culture are often obtuse

and i hate knowing that some of my other friends will consider me a fundamentalist for maintaining that the gospel is about the lordship of jesus christ, second person of the trinity, who alone grants life and access to god


my study of the scriptures forces me to believe that exactly such ping ponging is required

jesus shows us how to live
and paul teaches us what that meant and how it looks
once we throw in james, john, peter, a few others, and the old testament
we're looking at a fuller picture of christian spirtuality

i think a fairly significant problem with the current jesus-as-hippie monograph is that it ignores the full witness of scripture and chooses only to see jesus through the lens of the red letters and some old testament prophetic discources

if, however, we welcome paul and the other nt writers back into the conversation [along with the davidic monarthy, the partriarchs, eden, babel, exile, etc...] then we get a better idea of who god has always been to his people

this is the task of the theologian

to figure out what god is up to
and what he's been after all along

authors and teachers that advocate greater missional activity in our world are 100% right on that issue

but let's not confuse the desperate need for the church to be engaged in our world with bad theology about other bits

Friday, September 14, 2007

juniper trees

most people who know me well have no idea that i'm prone to melancholy

i prefer it that way

the dozen [or so] people who know me best know that i am melancholy by nature, prone to introspection and very susceptible to small spaces of depression.

it has been a significant part of my spiritual discovery to manage and limit my melancholy and the accompanying dark-thoughts/moods

however, i find i am at my weakest after a big thing has come and gone. when i was a music pastor and we'd write/produce/publish/perform our own musicals, i'd always spiral downwards after the final performance. the productions were always met with highly positive remarks, but they'd never quite live up to my ridiculous expectations and i'd always find myself evaluating crazy things like 'the meaning of life' or 'who am i supposed to become' when everyone else had gone home.

those moments have sometimes been called juniper tree moments.

when elijah was running from the evil queen jezibel, an angelic presence shaded him beneath a juniper tree.

collapsing from exhaustion, elijah prayed "i've had enough, lord; take my life."

now, the cool part about the juniper tree experience is not the exhaustion-inspired plea for eternal rest. the cool part about the experience is that the angel of the lord gave elijah simple instructions for how to continue, telling him to

get up

and then again

get up

adding, "for the journey is too great for you."

from here elijah went to mt. horeb where god met him in a whisper.

when we're exhausted and - yet, somehow - god isn't finished with us
he comes to us with simple things: getting out of bed, getting something to eat
and then he leads us further down the long and winding road
down the road and up another mountain, pursued by the wicked

and once we've journeyed
-having not given up, having not stayed in bed, having not succumbed to depression-

he begins to whisper

i think i'm living for those whispers.

to be fair, they're not promised [as such]. elijah's experience is not proscriptive to life in the 21st century; but, also to be fair, elijah's experience does set some kind of precedent. it gives hope. it shows us what god is like. it demonstrates the reward for good and faithful service - a reward here and now before any kind of final, eschatalogical one.

so, yeah...

i need one whisper to keep believing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

so many cooks, so little broth

on monday night we launched our causemology portal at westwinds, which is a spiritual formation initiative for our church.

we're trying to get everyone more comprehensively engaged with the movement of the spirit of god in their regular lives

in their souls
in their relationships
in their church
and in their world

it was a huge success!
over 100 additional people than what we first anticipated showed up
and the energy in the room was easy to feel and be invigorated by

we're praying desperately that god would teach us his priorities, his path, his affections, and overflow us with his love - and we're aware that he doesn't "need" something like causemology to help make that happen; but, beginning causemology is a very convenient way for us to more finely tune our hearing to him.

it comes around the same time as a massive redux of our kids ministry at westwinds
wherein lori tate and jvo have worked tremendously hard with their teams to create experiential learning environments where our kids can see/touch/play with the stories from scripture. it's a fantastic model that authenticates differing learning styles and multiple intelligences, while still prioritizing the story of god and the centrality of prayer.

very cool.


while we're working hard doing our damnest to effectively disciple our church and our children [and be discipled ourselves], there are those who feel qualified to offer critique about our initiatives from their armchairs [particularly christian leaders and pastors not employed by ww].

i find this incredibly difficult.

i have devoted my short life to helping people more meaningfully engage jesus christ.
i want everyone - myself most especially - to know him better.

having experienced passionate moments of overwhelming grace and love
i can think of nothing better than endeavoring to honor god with my efforts and my ambitions, my thinking and speaking and blogging

and i try very hard not to publicly criticize people of other ilks, methodologies, denominations, or persuasions [case in point: have you, reader, even seen anything on guerillahost that names/questions/attacks any other ministry or leader by name...ever? have you ever seen or heard me speak about my reservations about what anyone else is doing in ministry - either locally or internationally?]

i feel like it is very easy to criticize
it is very easy to undercut
to expose
to poke holes

because everything everyone ever does is flawed
and imperfect
and cannot possibly bear the scrutiny of detached observation from a critical spirit

but it seems that my godly ambitions are sometimes the target of the same sins i furiously try to avoid committing

and sometimes i am criticized
from a distance
by those who feel that - since every approach is flawed - we ought not to bother trying; or, we ought not to waste our time trying to be more biblically honest or reflective of real life

so, in response [and partly in therapy]
i say 4 things:

1. just because something is imperfect doesn't mean it isn't helpful

2. just because i'm imperfect doesn't mean i'm impervious to backhanded comments or subversive actions

3. just because causemology and/or kids redux doesn't look like something another church would try or something another pastor would create doesn't mean they aren't exactly what westwinds needs right now [because they are EXACTLY what we need - we need to understand how we are formed spiritually and to be missionally engaged in our world; and we need to pay attention to the spiritual lives of our children]

4. just because i'm writing this post, doesn't mean i'm bitter or angry - it just means that, sometimes, you want to let those whose ignorance harms you know about it

pray hard

play often

live well

Friday, September 07, 2007

staff sustainability

i worry about my staff these days.

there is still plenty of laughter and enthusiasm around the office, but everyone is working so hard and so long to make things happen that i can't help but feel like burn out is either already occurring or just around the corner.

they truly are a tremendous bunch of people - having lived through remarkable job-related stress, the upheavals of change, and a welcome turn to relational health, our staff have now been beset by significant financial woes and the effects those limitations have on their ministry areas and their personal lives.

sadly, the money has been so limited we had to let 5 of our staff members go.
this is something i've not previously spoken of, or blogged about.
to be honest, it's simply been too painful - they are my friends, have been my companions and my trusted peers. when we had to let them go i sobbed in every private moment.

i've never felt so horrible or so angry with god.

cognitively, i understand that his goodness has nothing to do with the impoverished circumstances of their departure; but it was hard to let them go after they had stuck by jvo, randy, and myself for the past two years - through an insane amount of mudslinging, half-truths, suspicion, and doubt [if those adjectives need explaining, be grateful to god. our recent history at westwinds has left something to be desired].

the church, now, is healthy in many ways - and is getting healthier by the second!

but the cost is so high - how can we possibly continue to do so much with so little? we're under-staffed by at least 2 full timers, and if there was any justice in the universe for vocational ministers we'd also have a few additional admin staff.

still, our struggle remains financial.

those who are new to faith or new to westwinds simply have not yet cultivated a sacrifical ethic of giving. this is to be expected, but given that almost half of our congregation fall into this category it makes us aware that the financial future will be one hard-fought and heavily labored.

here's a funny story, though - despite our financial dips we've remained faithful in giving 10% of our church budget to missions. some of that support goes to missionaries. well, i got a nasty note from a child of one of those missionaries complaining about how much we talk about money at westwinds [which, as a rule, is less than 3min per week].

isn't that bitter?

this kid complains that i talk 3min about money after years of giving money to his/her family.

that really shouldn't bother me - in fact, that it does bother me if proof that my concerns for the sustainability of my staff output should also be echoed for myself.

i am wonderfully proud of everyone who works at westwinds - they are champions all.
randy for courageously fighting a public battle with cancer
lori for tackling the single, most invested ministry initiative of her career
ben for leading our students on 2 life-changing missions in less than two years
angie for her incredible efficiency and warm devotion to jvo and i
norma for her wisdom, faithfulness, and goodness[she's a pro at overlooking my flaws]
and jvo - for being the best damn companion any hellfighter could ever wish for

cheers, folks - our reality hasn't caught up with us yet
but when it does, let's hope that our passion for jesus overwhelms our exhaustion


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

rule the web

i've just finished mark frauenfelder's book "rule the web", which is a great read for hints and tips and tricks on maximizing your life with the net.

it was doubly-cool for me because i am a huge believer in the potential of cyber-spiritual and online interactions. i don't think the web has yet come into it's own, and i certainly don't think that the spiritual dimension of the web has been clearly articulated or participated in to even a 1/10 of it's potential.

in fact, the new westwinds' test site for the launch of our ann arbor campus is a beginner's foray into the realm of cyber-spirituality [], as is the open-source e-learning causemology site that we've been toodling [].

echo media and jason archer have really been working hard to help us realize a vision here, but - to be perfectly honest - all these projects due is whet my appetite for more.

with the right budget we could create the right kinds of experiences.
prayground was great, but it's never scratched the itch for me
write here and now is pretty cool, but it barely gets past the surface

we've got to dig deeper and try harder to create unique moments of transcendence
- which we can! -

i think sony's "flow" is perhaps a good paradigm for what a prayer site might feel like
i think the personal fitness video games are good examples of how a site on spiritual disciplines might work well
an rpg could easily be tweaked into a virtual pilgrimmage

but enough with the christian facebook clones, already

you know?

let's go past the venues of online dating and romance
past the - other alternative - venues of christian violence or halo clones
and try to create something peculiar
something new
wherein the user feels pulled beyond reality
without being virtually compelled to act against their real morality

i could go on,
but it would only get weirder

my story with the web 2.0 is definately not finished


i found my first notes on causemology dated feb.4 2007.

that's a long time to have been incubating something, a long time to be sharing ideas with jvo and randy, our staff and elders, a long time to be making corrections and field-testing, listening and trying to be open to what god may want to do through our church and through our obedience.

and now - less than a week before the launch - i get sick

since moving to michigan i get sick a lot,
roughly every 6-8 weeks

i even went to see my doctor and asked her if there was something wrong with me
she told me i had little kids and shook too many hands
so i began using "magic hand washer" [aka disinfectant] and that has staved off the sickness for almost 3 months

but obviously it's not been effective enough

i hate being sick
i hate the pity that people extend when you're sick
or their worry that you're somehow more sick than simply being common-house-cold sick
i hate it when my father-in-law refers to me as being "sickly"
or when randy tells me repeatedly that i get sick "all the time"
i hate it when someone suggests that i'm sick because my faith is weak
or because i don't trust in the healing power of god

i'm not even sure if i hate being sick as much as i hate all the bologne that goes along with being sick; i mean, if i got sick and instead of all this junk it was accompanied by plenty of time to read and watch movies then maybe i'd see it as a blessing.

but instead, the best thing that being sick has to offer is the slightly pharmaceutically-enhanced blog post


ok - back to work

i genuinely believe in what i'm doing at westwinds. i am a fierce and proud defender of the freedoms and expression of christian spirituality that we are living and playing in here. i'm pretty geeked about the opportunities that god has afforded my family and i am excited to see how they all play out.

even if it means i've got to blow my nose every 32 seconds and fall asleep in the middle of the day.