Story

Shrinking Our World’s: Presence in a Polarizing & Painful Season

neighborhoodThe other night Janny and I sat on our front patio after getting all the kids down to listen to the sacred silence and debrief our day. We talked about our new neighbor hanging out in our yard to help out with the twins and reflected on the life of our little faith community while meeting another new neighbor who happened to be on an evening walk with her dog, Nelly. 

We also talked about the state of our world; hostile political campaigns fighting for power, refugees caught between violence and barbed wire, our friends in the Middle East who are discouraged and exhausted, our immigrant neighbors who are growing in fear as the political climate further dehumanizes their existence, and on and on and on. 

Then another neighbor would walk by. We’d say hello, chat for a few minutes, say goodnight and the stillness of the evening would settle back in. 

While there is no more important moment to be deeply engaged in the realities impacting our global family, there is also no more important moment to be fully present to the world that is pulsating right in front of us in our homes and on our streets. 

There are currently dozens of national and global realities swirling around us that can cause us to fear, worry and pour our precious energy and attention outward. Our smart phone notifications go off and we are once again a screen away from the other side of the globe or at the center of another partisan debate. What can be used as a critical asset in our global engagement quickly becomes the source of our paralysis and distances us from what is right in front of us. 

What if we quiet the noise while occasionally practice putting on blinders by choosing to see only the life unfolding in our homes and on our street? What if we tune out the political posturing and tune in the laughter of children playing kickball in the street until their parents call them in for dinner? What if we spend less time debating political party’s and spend more throwing parties? What if we tune out our role in being a hero to the world and tune in to our role of being a hero to our family and neighbors? What if we release our need to recite our candidate’s party line and embrace the gift of generous conversation and curiosity? 

We aren’t abdicating our global responsibility, we are simply pausing to steward the life we have been given each day. We are re-centering ourselves in the soil and story of the unique neighborhoods where we are called to live, love and lead in the beautiful and mundane of everyday life.

Our world’s need to get smaller if we are to engage well in the world’s bigger issues. 

There is an interdependence to living as global citizens and neighborhood practitioners. We can’t be understanding and engage our world without being rooted in the identity of our own unique context. Similarly, we can’t be embedded in our increasingly diverse neighborhoods without understanding the larger world in which we inhabit.

The monastics throughout Church history offer us a beautiful model of this local-global paradox and practice. Many of the most globally engaged activists were monastics who would take entire seasons of their lives to cloister themselves in isolation to allow the Spirit to re-engage their senses, calling and identity. Thomas Merton, Julian of Norwich and John Dear to name a few. 

When we are daily exposed to all the worlds’ problems without being rooted in our own soil, it’s as though a collective numbness takes us over. We lose touch of our senses, priorities and relationships. We become more irritable. Our relationships become more mechanical and forced. Our attention span shortens. An anxiety about our individual and collective future breads paralysis. The distance between those of different cultures, traditions and ethnicities grows. We pour more time and energy into our political allegiance than our Kingdom allegiance. We miss seeing the sacred even when it’s being displayed on the faces of our kids, sidewalks, parks and pubs. 

Maybe a Lenten practice isn’t to remove ourselves from the world, but right size our engagement of it so the numbness fades and we can feel again.

Tonight, I’ll look forward to hearing my kids breathing slow as they fall asleep, sit on the patio with Janny and wait for our neighbor to walk by while trying to keep Nelly from peeing on our grass. Because if I don’t live fully present to what is right in front of me, I won’t have anything of substance to contribute to my friends on my street or on the other side of the world. 

The Bible (Part 1): Tool of Violence or Liberation…or Both?

Holy-Bible-by-Steve-Snodgrass-Accessed-August-4-2014.-Used-by-Creative-Commons-Licence.-httpsflic.krp79AtF3The Bible is one of the most misunderstood books in the history of humanity. Yet, it is the most read book in the history of humanity.  

It has been used to produce beautiful and broken realities:

  • The Bible has been used to silence and dehumanize women as “less than” and inferior. Some scholars have gone as far as saying women lack the image of God. Obviously, this leads to abuse and exploitation.
  • The Bible has been used to affirm the enslavement and exploitation of complete races of people who look different than those in power.
  • The Bible has been used to justify some of the bloodiest and unjust wars in human history.
  • The Bible has been used to isolate segments of society as though they are modern day lepers who are trying to infect the rest of the society.
  • ON THE OTHER HAND, a massive number of human rights and liberation movements throughout history have been fueled by a community who held the Bible as their sacred text. To name a few: The civil rights movement, modern unearthing of the sex trafficking industry, global reduction of poverty and increased access to clean water, overturning South African apartheid, etc…

This begs the question, “Is the problem the Bible or the way in which we have interpreted it over centuries of Church history?”

The other day, our church community started a series focused on asking hard questions about the Bible; where it came from, how it was written and assembled, what it contains and what are faithful ways we can begin to interpret its seemingly beautiful and broken contents. 

Let’s be honest, many folks have been reading the Bible since they were small children and now approach it will so many assumptions around interpretation and application that our engagement with the living text has calcified. On the other hand, many of us are new to following Jesus and asking where this book containing violence, infidelity and tribalism fits into liberating love and faithful discipleship.

We have two choices: 1. Continue with our assumptions about the text and stay comfortable (and potentially resentful), or 2. Engage the text critically seeking a renewed understanding of its place in our Christian story.   

I would endorse the latter. We don’t honor the Scriptures by dancing around the hard questions that force us into the muck and messiness of this complex story. No, we honor the Scriptures when we push into them with an eye toward understanding where they fit in God’s story of reconciliation with humanity and redemption of all the cosmos. It should make us squirm when we read about God endorsed genocide in the Old Testament and dehumanizing endorsements of “slavery” and gender inequality in the New Testament. We can let that squirming fester and lead us to resentment or withdrawal, or we can jump right into it seeking to understand beyond a surface reading that fails to invite us into the depth and breadth of the text in context.

A Couple Thoughts to Frame this Conversation

We don’t follow the Bible, we follow Jesus. When those get inverted, bad things happen. Yes, the Bible is one of the primary resources for faithfully following Jesus, and we are commanded to obey Scripture, but it is a means to an end…not the end in and of itself. When we follow the Bible (or, more accurately, our interpretation of it…) rather than Jesus, we may get the “right” answers while failing to live, love and lead in the way Jesus did and calls us to do. We can’t prooftext our way to right relationship (e.g. 1st century Pharisees or modern street preachers holding hate signs that may -- or may not -- have the “right” answers but in no way reflect the love of Jesus for humanity). We must enter into relationship and allow the Spirit to lead and guide us in the middle of it. 

The Bible wasn’t written ABOUT us, but it was written FOR us. We have to understand context and genre because most people writing the Bible and/or whose story the Bible was telling lived in a radically different context that we do today. The vast majority of the Biblical canon is written about a people (Israel) who are seeking to rightly follow God (Yahweh) and reflect his love to the world as they live as a migrant community wandering the Middle East or as a community in exile under the heavy yoke of Empire (of course, they had seasons in power as well). Bottom line, as Western Christians who have the most “power” in the world, there is very little we can relate to about the realities of who the Bible was written about. We’d be wise to ask our immigrant neighbors or our brothers and sisters living under the reign of a violent regime how they may help us intrepret the Story of God told through Israel. Lastly, it was written FOR us in as much as it is a story of humanity’s (which includes us) journey back to God and his mission of reconciliation and redemption of all the cosmos. 

Infallibility, Inerrancy and all that fun stuff. This is where things often get a bit sticky. The Bible is a book written by human beings with stories, agendas and literary techniques unique within their context. Yes, the Bible was God-breathed, but we have to understand both the human writing and human reading of the text. Inerrancy is a modern concept; not applied to Scripture until the Enlightenment when truth became primarily associated with science, logic and rationality. Infallibility doesn’t lead people astray, it leads people into the middle of the human story (with all its muck, mess, beauty, hope, tragedy, doubt, etc) and of God’s willingness to meet them right in the middle of it. 

The Art of Interpretation. There is a long history of brilliant people trying to decide how in the world to interpret this wildly complex and sacred text. The way in which said brilliant people have chosen to interpret represents a really, REALLY wide spectrum. Some have chosen to see Scripture as allegorical (Church Father, Origen, being a leading proponent), which proposes that the deepest truth of Scripture isn’t found in a literal reading, but in the space where the words are pointing us (beyond and below a literal reading). On the other end of the spectrum, some argue that a literal reading of text is the only way to faithfully interpret the truth being conveyed by the biblical authors. In short, it is important to note that there is no such thing as reading the Bible without interpreting it. There are many ways to interpret and we trust the Spirit to guide us to those ends, but all is interpretation and we’d be wise to embrace that as a gift rather than a threat.  

PRIMARY THEME: It is important to enter our reading of the Bible with an eye toward the meta theme of God’s Story, which is God’s Reconciliation with Humanity and Redemption of all the cosmos (New Creation). Amid all of the potentially confusing, complex and confounding pieces of Scripture, this is the theme our interpretation must point back to (unless, of course, you view the primary theme as something radically different…). It is a story of right relationship, grace, selfless love, unfolding liberation and a relentless pursuit of all things being set to right.  

CENTRAL CHARACTER: Israel. Yep, this is not the answer most people expect to hear and, sadly, I don’t have space to fully unpack the nuances here. In short, the whole of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) is the story of Israel’s covenant relationship with God (Yahweh) and their vocation to reflect good news to the world. The Bible isn’t a story of autonomous stories that are fun to read. No, they are all placed within God’s redemptive plan for humanity as seen through its central character, Israel. “Well, what about Jesus?” one may ask. Yes, Jesus is the more important character in the story, but we MUST understand Jesus in the context of his role in Israel’s story. Jesus is the long awaited messianic deliverer of Israel (second “Adam”) who finally liberated them from exile and expanded the identity of the people God to the ends of the earth. Jesus is central to Israel’s story and to understand him outside of the context completely neuters the story and his decisive role within it. 

In my next post (part 2), I’ll seek to answer the question, “Where did the Bible come from?” by offering a brief recap of how the content was captured over a couple thousand years leading up to the final canonization of our current Christian Bible. 

 

Book Tour Interview: Death By Living, N.D. Wilson

Death By LivingThe good folks at Thomas Nelson Publishing recently contacted me about hosting a stop on their blog tour for N.D. Wilson’s new book called, Death by Living. They mentioned his work had much resonance with my own, so I gave it a read and was thoroughly impressed. Not only at the prophetic challenge to live fully into the story God has for each of us, but because N.D. is an incredibly gifted writer and storyteller. It is writers like N.D. who embody the artistic elements of writing. Like a captivating painting or a beautiful lyric, N.D.’s writing has the potential to move you; not just to different thinking, but to renewed action.

I asked him a few questions to give a bit more insight into this work:

1. Death by Living. Based on your intro, it seems this title comes from the perspective that our everyday life is a series of deaths. Or the mundane can overwhelm and run us down. But you’re turning it towards a message of hope. Unpack that for us. Or, if I’m totally misinterpreting, guide us towards your vision behind the title.  

N.D. What breaks us down? What ages us? What, in the end, will all of us die of? We will die of living. Cause of death: life. The point of the title (and the book) is to add an urgency and a gratitude and a joy to our living. If someone gave you a million dollars and told you that you could had a week to spend it before it all evaporated, you’d have a jolly week. But that’s exactly the situation we are in. We have hands, feet, a mind, a heart; we have breath and laughter and sight and taste and songs--but we can’t keep any of it. We can’t keep our selves…we will be spent, the only question is how well.

2. “Did you clothe the hipster and give him his coffee and inverted brand fascination?” 

I just love this quote (and live in a bit of a hipster world myself), so I figured I had to turn it into some kind of question: Hipster’s & God’s Provision. Talk to us… 

N.D. Character irony is everywhere. Hipsters are God’s creatures too. He gives giraffes hilarious necks and llamas goofy faces, and birds of paradise the need (and the flashy ability) to strut. He gives us the ability to be swept up in the faux importance of trends and brands and weird scruples, which we display as if we have found some truly unique plumage. And you know He laughs.

3. Readers of this blog care alot about story.  Not just the communication device of story, but that we are all active participants in a Story that requires our full attention for it to unfold in the way that is not only best for us, but for the whole created order.  You talk about narrative and story through your book.  Invite us into your understanding of story and how it informs your work in this book?

N.D. The lovely (and terrifying) truth about the macro story in which we all exist, is that it doesn’t depend on us to make it unfold in a way that is good for all of creation. Our own choices determine what kind of characters we will be in God’s story (fools, villains, hypocrites, food pharisees or hand-wringing political idolaters), but the triumphant arc and glorious resolution of the Story rest in His hands, not ours. If we suck as heroes, its not like He’ll have trouble crafting better ones. Live as a fool and He might just use you as a thematic cautionary tale. Live as a villain and you will be a vessel of His wrath (like Pharaoh). Live as a self-righteous tick and He’ll use you in His story to show His readers what happens to the proud and the haughty. But live faithfully, by grace, serving and imaging our older Brother who threw down death…and be used for His glory more directly. But like it or not, every creature will be used for glory, no matter how rebellious.

4. In chapter 9 you transport us to your experience walking the holy sites of Jerusalem. You invite us into your Western desire for historicity that often trumps our willingness to simply worship.  You also challenge your reader to engage places like this in that they allow us to see we are each part of a story that requires we know the story of our ancestors who have come before us.  How might our identifying with earlier parts of our story enhance our participation in the story we to live today? 

N.D. There is nothing new under the sun. We live and die and struggle and doubt and love just as many others have done before us. By looking back--especially at the history of our own families (spiritual and physical)--we can see the enormous impact that relatively small decisions (especially moments of faithfulness) had our own lives before we ever existed. How we choose to exist in our own moments will have the same kind of massive impact on future generations. There is no small life--no person with choices in the narrative that don’t matter.

5. What is it you hope your reader walks away thinking, saying or living as a result of this book?

N.D. Live with eyes wide with gratitude, and leave a wake in the lives of others.

My Child, the Marlboro Man and Interdependence

I was lying next to my daughter Ruby as she drank her milk and started to fade to sleep.  She often hums her favorite songs through the garble of milk, but this night she set aside the milk so she could nail every note of her newly assembled tune.

To the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Ruby began singing the nicknames she has created of those who are closest to her…the people she lives life with.  She sang (start humming Twinkle Twinkle to get full effect!), “Nena, Titi, Ani, Sam, Momma, Elmo, Daddy.”  Ok, the truth is out…yes, we watch Elmo.  But, the red puppet aside, little Ruby was falling asleep to the names and images of those that love her and those in whom she loves.  Not only was this adorable, it was profound. 

I’d like to think this song was the 19-month version of evening prayers.  Her very last conscious thoughts of the day turned not to herself, her toys, her dolls…no, they turned to others.  To those we share life with; community mates, family, neighbors. 

What would it look like if we all went to sleep not consumed with prayers for ourselves (or with personal details of life that I so often allow to take over my thoughts), but with prayers for others?  These are the prayers of one radically shaped by community.  Not just a group of people who hang out a lot, but a group of people who are intentionally shaping their lives in the way of Jesus and see life in community as the best way to faithfully live this out. 

True community is wrestling through life’s good and bad…together.  It is carrying each other’s burdens.  It is not just sharing meals, but sharing mission.  It not about building one’s personal kingdom, but about participating in God’s Kingdom. 

Life in community is exchanging the autonomous life of independence for a life of radical interdependence.  First between the great mystery of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and second between ourselves and the community we have entrusted ourselves to.  The Marlboro Man (independence, freedom, self reliance) of our Western culture is a deceptive myth and the anti-thesis of relationships in God’s Kingdom.

From the beginning, all humanity was hardwired for community.  We were designed to find life in communion with God and communion with one another.  We can’t fully understand who we are and who God wants us to be outside of life in community. 

Ruby’s prayer-song was simple and innocent, but I believe it was a window into the divine.  It was a glimpse into the dream God has for his people and through childlike faithfulness I got to get a sneak peak of what that might look like. 

Game Time! Good News in the Neighborhood Curriculum

I’m thrilled to introduce the Good News in the Neighborhood curriculum I have been working on alongside my good friend, Adam Mclane.  Exploring the life of Jesus and Paul’s words to the Church of Corinth, this is a resource designed to ignite the hearts and imaginations of teenagers to take seriously they’re call to be good news among their neighborhoods.  We can no longer expect the Good News only to be revealed during church functions within the walls of a church.  Instead, following Jesus and extending his love to all the world requires that we become radically present and intentional in all apects of life; most notably with our neighbors who we are to live life alongside.

We hope this experience will ruin the lives of teenagers for the sake of stepping into radical life with Jesus. 

If you buy it before it comes out… you’ll get it on April 2nd AND you’ll save $15. Here’s the link to buy it now.

 

DESCRIPTION

This 6-week series will deep dive your students into the practical realities of a radical life with Jesus. Built around six core hopes for community life, students will examine Scripture, gain an understanding of their role in their community, and be challenged by a series of simple experiments they can try. More than a series which teaches your students about being Good News in their community– Good News in the Neighborhood offers practical application based on the life of Jesus and the 1st century Church. Our hope is that your students begin to see how God has called them to become good news in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods.

 

CURRICULUM OUTLINE

Week 1: Tuning In (Experiment: Ethnography/Observation)

Week 2: Diving Deep (Experiment: Participating)

Week 3: Crossing Borders (Experiment: Two-fold inviting)

Week 4: Advocating for What Matters (Experiment: Standing up for our neighbors)

Week 5: New Eyes (Experiment: New eyes)

Week 6: Living a New Story (Experiment: Commissioning)

 

WHAT’S INCLUDED

Printable PDF of teachers notes

  • Printable PDF of student worksheets
  • Editable Word version of teachers notes & student worksheets
  • 6 introductory video stories (One for each week)
  • Multiple options for each session to fit the needs of your group (Activity ideas, discussion starters, teaching options)
  • 6 experiments for students to try between sessions
1 2 3 5  Scroll to top