Monday, October 29, 2007

We Should Take (Our) Theology Out For A Walk

As we do on the last Sunday of each October, we celebrated Reformation Sunday at church yesterday. Of course in a Lutheran church, we took note of some of the thoughts of one of the prime Reformers, Martin Luther (pic).

In our adult class during the Sunday School hour, Pastor Alison Shane keyed on the wonderful, “freeing” aspect of Lutheran theology. Luther’s view was that as Christians we are not “bound” by things of this world. Our lectionary readings for the day included these words by Jesus from the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John:

“Very truly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” But also in the chapter he said, “if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

The theology of Martin Luther was remarkably simple. His basic beliefs involved two concepts: justification and vocation. We are justified (made holy in God’s eyes) by grace through Christ alone, and we are then called (by God) to serve, or, live out our faith.

It’s not rocket science, but at the same time, living the faith can be very thorny. In fact, in our Lutheran liturgy we confess every week that “…we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves” (words penned by Martin Luther).

But thankfully, through God’s grace, we are released from sin’s clutches and we are enabled to live freely as a follower of Christ. A little later in that liturgical prayer we conclude, “Forgive us, renew us and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name.”

I think that’s what Pastor Kent Shane was alluding to, when, in his sermon yesterday, he suggested that we should regularly “take our theology out for a walk”.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Why Do We Worship?

All my life I’ve gone to church not only because I felt it was the “right” thing to do, but also because I thought I could get a lot out of it. I just assumed I was worshipping God when I went to church.

But there may be a whole lot more to this story.

Of course going to church to worship God is the right thing to do. But it’s quite another question as to whether or not the worship of God was occurring when I went to church.

I’m discovering a wealth of wisdom from Marva Dawn’s book, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down (see past post). Here’s an example: one shouldn’t go to church for “what one can get out of it.” According to her, the valid reason one goes to church is to worship God (with a complete and total focus on Him as both the object of worship and the subject of worship).

According to Dawn, what “I get out of it” is of little importance and may reflect a cultural distortion. Ouch! That’s like getting slapped in the face with a cold, wet mop. You need to hear her out, however, before you pass judgement. She’s likely right on point.

We live in a society that is on information-overload. In our genre, if it’s not new, it’s not interesting. Further, we live in a television “news-bite,” entertainment-oriented, self-centered world that is full of virtually unlimited choices. Our senses (mostly the visual) are titillated daily with more than they can process. Computers and the internet only compound the issue.

Unfortunately, points out Ms Dawn, when we try to find a church that might be right for us, we use these same, overloaded and possibly aberrated senses, looking for a similar kind of satisfaction. This is antithetical, she believes.

However, it’s no wonder so many churches have gone to an entertainment and/or a “feel good” format to attract worshippers. The apparent success of mega-churches who encourage and practice “contemporary” worship and include massive doses of I/me-oriented “praise songs” is indicative of and a natural evolvement in our self-gratifying society.

But do these phenomenon reflect true worship? Ms Dawn thinks not, but the title of her book offers that true worship is and can be possible without acquiescing to society’s tentacles.

She goes on to discuss and document (from the Bible, church history and tradition) what true worship is. She reminds us that true worship is totally focused on GOD. True worship does not involve how we feel about it. We are simply the worshipper. She incisively questions the current attempts to substantively alter forms of liturgy, music and sermons to accommodate the personal tastes of boomers, Xers or others, for the purpose of "attracting people".

Instead, she suggests, we should worship in the way God has ordained, which serves as a true reflection of who God is, rather than as a "package of entertainment" that might be popular but grossly distorted.

As I near the finish of her book, I’ve learned that God created us in His image so that true worship of Him is not only natural, but also it is the unique way by which we get to really know Him. We have a Biblical record that outlines these worship elements and an enlightening tradition as to how they have been practiced.

What Marva Dawn is afraid of, however, is that we’ve allowed our ego-centric cultural compulsions to seep into the church and consequently into our worship.

I’ve also learned that what God desires in worship are actions and attitudes that focus totally on Him and that have little to do with how it makes me feel (good or otherwise) or what I might think about them. The church (or true worship, for that matter) cannot be altered by the changing whims of society. (Does this mean that a “seeker-sensitive” approach is by definition NOT worship? It’s certainly excellent food for thought and could very well be so.)

Of course not all mega-churches are lacking. And not all contemporary services are wont. But the ones that are authentic have found a formula that includes what God requires, regardless of our individualistic desires and feelings. That’s where I want to be.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cleveland “Fainting Goats” Can’t Revive To Go To World Series

If you watched the ALCS tonight from Boston, you saw the results of a severe case of myotonia congenita by the Cleveland Indians. That’s the disease that causes a certain breed of domestic goats, when startled, to “faint” and actually fall over on their side for a period of time.

Well, it appears Cleveland was startled big time this past week in game five in their home park when Boston’s Josh Beckett stilled their bats and beat them, 7-1. Had the Indians won that game, it would have sent them to the World Series instead.

From that point on, the Cleveland “Fainting Goats” stiffened, fell over, and never got up. Ageless Curt Schilling last night shut down the Goats, and tonight a barrage of offense by the Red Sox “rest of the line-up” (other than Big Papi and Manny) beat Cleveland into total submission. That’s Kevin Youkilis in the pic who had some key hits tonight in the game.

I had kind of been hoping for a Colorado – Cleveland Series, but it’s not to be. Instead, we’ll get to see two very hot teams see which one can keep the heat going for four more wins.

Friday, October 19, 2007

What Are You Getting Out of Church?

According to the author of a book I’m almost finished with, this is actually the WRONG question to ask. In fact, it’s an irrelevant question.

Marva Dawn, in her book Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, not only suggests this is a wrong question to ask, but she also implies that it’s a totally improper question.

Most of us would say that we go to church to worship God. But when asked about the experience, the answer often is, “I didn’t get that much out of it”

Marva Dawn is not surprised by an answer that centers on us. Because in her analysis, worship is not about US; conversely, it’s ONLY about God.

Even though I haven’t quite finished the book yet (I’m going s-l-o-w-l-y to deeply inhale the breadth of content on each page), it is an IMPACT book. I already consider it perhaps the most insightful and theologically sound book I’ve ever read on this topic. I wish it had been written 50 years ago. Many of my faith knots might have been untied sooner.

I can give you a gist of the content, but it’s just one thread in a beautiful, complex tapestry. Being a theologian, Ms Dawn clearly articulates her posits and documents her inferences not only from a theological perspective but also from a sociological one.

She calls to attention that when the Old Testament Hebrews worshipped God, they did so by bringing gifts, or offerings, to Him. They worshipped by being obedient in presenting offerings (often a sacrificial unblemished lamb) according to God’s prescribed wishes. Worship was an expression of submission, respect and duty.

In the New Testament, with sacrifices no longer required, the early church established a form of worship that involved forms of liturgy, music and preaching, virtually ALL of which was focused on the adoration of a Holy God.

Through the centuries things have changed, especially since the Reformation and more specifically in the last 50 years. This is due to multi-faceted reasons that cannot begin to be covered here. However, the point is that today, in our instant-gratification, hi-tech, ego-centric, entertainment-oriented society, we often decide where our church home will be, based on how it makes US feel. Or what it seemingly DOES for US.

This book takes strong, but loving issue with this whole approach. Dawn believes that GOD must be the subject AND the object of our worship. Unfortunately this has totally been lost in many churches today where the stage is the focus and the worshipper is the passive observer rather than a participant in true worship.

Church music has deteriorated to repetitive, watered-down expressions of how we “WILL love God or how we CAN serve God”, with the whole focus on what WE are doing. (I hope to do a post on her critique of "Praise" music in the not-too-distant future.) She laments that great old hymns of the church like “Holy, Holy, Holy, LORD GOD Almighty” (pure adoration rightly directed at GOD) are all but forgotten.

Additionally, she feels that the following conclusion needs some serious scrutiny: "that because we have massive numbers of people attending ‘contemporary’ services or mega-churches, that God must be in it, and therefore it’s a good thing”. It’s probably not so, she believes.

To quote her, “How destructive it is to measure the success of a church by the numbers of people attracted rather than by the depth of faith and outreach nurtured.” And, unfortunately, much of the “large numbers” is coming from other less entertaining bodies with proportionally little coming from true regenerative growth.

This book makes you think. About worship and what it means. About how a worship service ought to be exercized (based on history and tradition). And about what spirituality and spiritual growth really is. And about the place of worship in an “information overload” society.

I’m still reading… and thinking…. and praying… and already sensing a freshness to weekly worship and the sustaining celebration of the sacrament of Holy communion. I’ll report more when I finish the book and have a little time to digest it some more

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Our Dog Thinks He’s Royalty

No matter how busy my wife and I get, our dog doesn’t get caught up in it. All he cares about is being close to us – and, of course, getting his habitual treats and meals on time.

As I type this, Buddy is asleep (and snoring, actually) on his large, cushy pillow on the floor right next to me. He’s a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, and all that breed wants from life is to be near their human pack leader – and live like a king, of course.

Cavs were originally bred to provide a warm and friendly ambiance in the castles of the British monarchy. From our experience, they perfectly fulfill their purpose.

When Kay Lynne and I decided to get a dog almost two years ago, I, for one, had hoped that the dog would be a fishing buddy as well as a constant companion. Well, he is certainly a constant companion – and couldn’t be a better one.

But as fate would have it, Buddy bonded more strongly with my wife. I admire his good taste. When she is home, he is constantly by her side (except if he hears me open the treat box). He always keeps an eye, though, on wherever Kay Lynne is (just off camera to the right, in the photo). And if I leave to go fishing, he just sits on her lap and tail-wags a good-bye to me. So much for the fishing buddy idea.

If she’s away – like today when she does volunteer work – Buddy will then “settle” for me as the companion. Our only slight problem is that he’s bonded with us almost too closely. If we have to leave him overnight at a kennel, for instance, he exhibits separation anxiety by not eating nor drinking. It freaks out our kennel/vet.

Fortunately Buddy loves both of our sons’ places, so that if we have to travel, we can ignore the kennel. That makes King Buddy very happy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Last One?

Several years ago when we moved to the house in which we now live, we said it would be “the last one” before the old folks home.

It’s beginning now to look like maybe we were wrong. There appears to be at least one more move for us in the future. But we have no idea when it might happen.

This afternoon my wife and I stopped to look at a vacant lot that is for sale in Belfair, about 10 miles or so west of Bremerton in Mason County on the Hood Canal. We’re thinking of down-valuing (in terms of money tied up in property, not necessarily downsizing much), but we’ve become addicted to the water and mountain views where we are.

Terra firma costs considerably less in rural Belfair than it does in our present location, but as you can see by the photo above, the views are every bit as beautiful. Off to the right, the Olympic mountain range looms large on a clear day. Click on the pic for a larger image and for the full impact. We’d likely build a single level house on the property which would be much easier on my arthritic knees.

Kay Lynne and I had exactly the same reaction today when we reached the site, as we had years ago when we first saw the setting of our present home. We simply looked at each other and said, “This is it!”

Actually accomplishing a move like this would give us the resources to do something more worthwhile with the rest of our lives, using the gifts God has appropriated to us. Can we spell g-o-o-d w-i-l-l m-i-s-s-i-o-n-s ?

But it’s all out there in the future sometime (down-valuing and building another home). If we want a spot on which to build when the time comes, however, we might have to act soon.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Coupla Things…

After two relaxing, enjoyable days here with the Petersens, who hail from California’s Sierra foothills above Sacramento, they headed back home in the late morning on Friday. Fortunately, our Fall Northwest weather – which can rear its ugly head at this time of year – turned quite nice and remained so while they were here.

Mainly, we kicked back and caught up on each of our families' activities and took some short driving trips around the area. We had a difficult time not stopping at any of the aromatic Norwegian bakeries when we went through Poulsbo. We also had some great conversations about church and our respective faith journeys following a stop at First Lutheran in Poulsbo where we worship.

Then Friday morning for a time, the sun overpowered the clouds that usually hang over the Olympic mountains giving us a glorious glimpse of their gorgeous, freshly snow-capped peaks. Nature provided our guests with a great send-off!


We very much enjoyed our worship services at church yesterday and noted how well they fit in with the observances and conclusions in a book I’m reading by author and theologian, Marva Dawn. Her book is titled Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down and is a rather poignant critique of what worship has (unfortunately) become in many churches today.

She points out that in our “entertainment-oriented” culture, we often lose sight of the fact that true worship focuses on GOD, and (she fears) “when the congregation becomes an audience and its worship a vaudeville act, then the church finds itself at risk; the death of faith and Christian character is a clear possibility.” (Italics and emphasis mine.) Wow, that’s strong and very much worth thinking about.

More later on Marva Dawn’s thoughtful book.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

This ‘n’ That…

The coho salmon have arrived in the Sound… and my fishing boat sits on a used boat lot 50 miles away. Sometimes I wonder about my dissipating ability to make good decisions. (It SOUNDED good 10 days ago that someone was interested in buying it.)

Last Sunday evening we went to Oregon for a presentation at my son’s church from the group that went to India a month ago. Our 10-year-old granddaughter Hayley was part of that mission. For her part in the program she created a beautiful computer slide show with photos she and Gregg had taken, all accompanied by her specially chosen music. It was fabulous!

Later today our long-time friends, Ted & Sharon Petersen, arrive from California via a stop or two in Oregon. We’re looking forward to seeing them and catching up on the latest regarding our group of California friends. Two others of that group, Ed & Darlene Wall, graced us with their presence in August. We cherish the wonderful friendships with which God has blessed us.

Our weather has been cool of late (read doggone chilly for this time of year), but it looks like we got a bit of a break today. It’s not sunny, but neither is it raining. Up here, that’s “good” weather. All part of the incredible life in the Northwest!