Thursday, January 31, 2008

Changing Our Way of Living

I’d like to walk a little farther down the path of the previous post topic. More pointedly, how is the Kingdom of God distinctly different from our culture (or any culture of this world)?

In Richard Rohr’s book, Jesus’ Plan For A New World (cited in the last post) Fr Rohr makes this appraisal: “When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, he was talking about an utterly different way of relating with one another than human society as we know it” (italics mine).

That appears to be radical, inside-out change from what we know and practice. Jesus used the parable of new wine skins to try to explain to his disciples what he meant when he talked about HIS vision of a HIS new world in Matthew chapter 9:

“Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Commenting on the above, Rohr makes these observations:

“Jesus’ image is this: ‘I’m going to give you a new vision of the world that you will taste like new wine, but it isn’t going to make a bit of difference unless you have some new wineskins. If there are not new structures that reflect the new attitude, then even the attitude will be lost. BOTH container and contents must be renewed—or they will both be lost.’

“We have traditionally tried to preach a gospel largely of words, attitudes and inner salvation experiences. People say they are saved, they’re ‘born again;’ yet how do we really know if someone is saved? Do they love the poor? Are they free from their egos? Are they patient in the face of persecution? Those might be real indicators”
(in contrast to just the words).

From my perspective, we’ve got a lot to learn and a whole new way of looking at things to discover.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Turning Our World Upside Down

It’s sort of unfortunate that we’ve learned our version of the Gospel in an affluent, over-accumulated society that has to look for stimuli to stay focused enough to avoid boredom. According to a book I’m now reading, our understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ could be upside down.

The book, Jesus’ Plan For A New World, is written by Franciscan priest Richard Rohr and is based on the Sermon on the Mount. A while back I posted on another of Fr Rohr’s books, Simplicity.

In the book I’m now reading, Rohr points out that the culture in which Jesus lived out the Good News was quite different from ours. Jesus lived in an agrarian (primarily agricultural) society, commonplace in the world at that time. Such cultures consisted of a relatively small group at the top, consisting of a ruler or rulers, along with their consorts, who controlled the wealth, and a bottom-heavy, vastly larger group of peasant farmers and artisans who worked to support the hierarchy.

The ruler(s) absorbed up to 50% of the gross national product and took another 25% or so to support the several levels of bureaucrats and officials that kept the society functioning. At the bottom were the farmers (often tilling rented land) and artisans who actually produced the goods; they comprised more than 75% of the population but shared a very small proportion of the wealth. In fact, after taxes, tolls, and fees, they were often left with nothing that could be considered discretionary income.

Similarities exist between Christ’s culture and that of much of the third world today. Further, about 10% of that peasant class was considered to be “unclean”. They were the destitute, the diseased, the people of color, gays and lesbians, the aged and the disabled. How ironic (and enlightening) that these were the people with whom Jesus spent a lot of time.

It was this lowest of low classes to which Jesus referred when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (bold italics mine).

For two millennia, we’ve been trying to understand what Jesus was actually saying in this initial Beatitude. It’s enough to turn our thinking completely upside down.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Church Has Become a High Point in the Week

For many ongoing reasons, I look forward to going to church each Sunday. And I especially like the Lutheran Church of which we have become a part.

I really appreciate the “Lutheran way” of doing things. Take, for instance, the Worship Hymnal (that fills the backs of pews in almost every church). Nothing special, right? Just a collection of songs or hymns to sing, right?


In our Lutheran Church (and in most ELCA churches) the hymnal is a comprehensive volume of scripture, liturgy and, of course, hymns. It’s called The Book of Worship. But soon we are getting NEW hymnals. Our present ones are GREEN; the new ones are CRANBERRY.

When you change something as important as the hymnal in our church, a month-long adult ed class is created to “introduce you” to the why’s and wherefore’s of the new book. I have to admit this is a first for me. What could possibly fill four hours of classtime regarding a new hymnal? I’m so glad you asked, as we had our first class this past Sunday.

First, the hymnal enhances and provides resources for the four basic reasons that Lutherans worship: The Gathering (thanksgiving, confession), The Word (songs, Scriptures, creeds, sermon), Holy Communion (the Thanksgiving meal, offering and offertory prayer), and The Sending (sent out to serve with affirmations, benediction and blessings)

And secondly, the hymnal includes a commonly-held body of liturgical music as well as a diversity of musical expressions that meet a variety of needs:
• New music representing a range of musical styles and approaches
• Familiar music from Lutheran sources
• Existing style- and community-specific music from a number of sources

When the new Hymnals arrive a little later in the year, we’ll have a clearer and more “hands on” understanding of worship itself and how a new book of worship will enhance our individual and collective worship experiences.

I’ll learn more in the next class on Sunday.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Northwest Beauty

Living in the Northwest allows one to really get in touch with God's creation, from time to time. This past week has been extraordinarily clear here (until today) albeit quite chilly (north winds tend to "clean things out").

I snapped the photo above on Tuesday about noon, from our front deck, as the freshly snow-capped Olympic mountains to the west seemed almost close enough to reach out and touch. Of course I used my new digital Canon Rebel XTi. Click on the photo for a MUCH larger image that shows the beauty in significantly more detail.

Yes, we have rain. And, yes, it's chilly in the winter. But when old sol appears, there's nothing more spectacular.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

An Evangelical Awakening?

A current article in the religious periodical Christianity Today (CT) suggests that evangelicals are “rediscovering the neglected beauty of classical Christian teaching” – rich, biblical, spiritual, and theological treasures …. within the early church.

I think it’s about time.

For at least 10 years, I’ve been asking question after question as to why evangelicals (of which I then was one) said the things they said and did the things they did with regard to the practice of the Christian faith. In the evangelicalism I was part of, historical church tradition was virtually ignored, and liturgy was passed off as “vain repetitions”.

Theologian J. I. Packer is quoted in the CT article as identifying this evangelical enigma as “stunted ecclesiology,” that is, having a faith praxis that is rooted in alienation from the past.

The article’s author, an evangelical, says “without a healthy engagement with our past, including historical definitions of ‘church’, we are being true neither to scripture, nor to our theological identity as the church”. He further implies that evangelicals have allowed present-day culture to shape the church possibly more than its own tradition and history (you can see my observations here on Marva Dawn's book on the subject).

But now, suddenly, there appears to be a clamoring among evangelicals – especially college age students and “Y-geners,” – for historical creeds, ancient prayers and medieval hermeneutics in preaching, all from the church of old. What’s happening?

I’m not qualified to answer that inquiry (the CT article opens the door), but I do know the questioning process through which I went for many years. Frustration with the following practices of evangelicalism was what started my own journey toward authenticity.

First, the whole focus on confrontive evangelism and a “decision-based” faith always left me with a feeling of “is that all there is?” Rarely did churches I attended have organized, in-depth Bible studies on a consistent basis.

The lack of a clear understanding of the historical church creeds was also bothersome (I eventually learned them on my own). The mis-information (dis-information?) about alcohol abstinence, the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist, and the amalgamation of conservative theology and conservative politics all added to my personal spiritual dismay. And where was the social action that I knew instinctively ought to be an important part of one’s faith?

I think it’s healthy, finally, for evangelicals to ask questions. I also think it’s important to be open to fresh answers (not that every question has an obvious answer). Each person needs to seek, push, and search to find a meaningful, functional faith by which they can live their life and find the peace for which they long.

As an aside, my wife and I have found such in a nearby Lutheran Church. I’ve posted a lot about it before. Click here for just one.

The interesting title of the CT article mentioned above is The Future Lies in the Past (Lost Secrets of the Ancient Church). My prayer is that many who read it will discover the rich and vibrant faith of our fathers that my wife and I have found.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I don’t think I’ve ever before been in a venue where I could not take in all that was going on.

But it occurred twice this past weekend in Las Vegas where we saw a couple of incredible performances under the “umbrella” of Cirque du Soleil (which has grown exponentially to sponsor shows in quite a few of the major LV Strip hotels as well as around the world).

We saw LOVE, a show that visually, auditorily and spectacularly celebrates the music of The Beatles through dance and gymnastics (and is quite nostalgic), and we also took in Mystere, a “classic” Cirque du Soleil show that combines powerful athleticism and high-energy acrobatics with amazing visual imagery and fabulous new age music.

Both shows take entertainment to an altitude perhaps never before achieved. You simply can’t absorb all that is happening at any point in time. You kind of have to “pick and choose” among a seemingly endless variety of sensory stimuli. On a scale of "10", I'd rate LOVE a "12" and Mystere an "11"

The music is in surround-sound so it seems like it’s going right through your head (instead of just into your ears). The visuals are as good as any Hollywood screen production, and the human acrobatic performances defy the laws of nature. All are choreographed to create a blended and synchronized presentation.

Plus, the shows are performed in large (up to 1,000 people), specially built, bowl-like Casino theaters with a “wheel-and-spoke-like”, multi-sectioned center-stage. Each section is individually hydraulically controlled so entertainers can appear from below and then disappear to the dark depths just as quickly. The action takes place from ceiling to floor, and permeates the atmosphere, much like a fireworks display, with acrobats in the air and on bungees, thousands of light impulses seemingly everywhere, confetti, panavision-type movie screens and all varieties of stage activities and entertainment “smoke”. And that doesn’t even describe it adequately.

All together, it’s sensory overload!

We were fortunate enough to be able to enjoy these entertainment spectaculars due to the generosity of Kay Lynne’s brother, Rick, who invited extended family to share in Danielle’s festive commemoration (see last post). And we are deeply grateful for his gesture.

The bottom line is that if you want to kick your “show-going” activities up a notch, take in a Cirque du Soleil performance, either in Las Vegas or when it comes to your area. You’ll long remember it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Back From Las Vegas

Kay Lynne and I returned home this afternoon from a too-fast, two day trip to Las Vegas. We went there to celebrate the “major milestone” birthday (the one usually associated with "pushing" retirement) of our sister-in-law, Danielle, and to spend time with the Keethler family which includes KL’s brother, Rick, and daughter, Kate. They all flew in from the Chicago area, which right now is colder than Alaska.

A close friend of Danielle’s had highly recommended one of the shows there, and so that became Danielle’s choice for a landmark celebration. Every hour was packed with fun-filled, family activities, the highlights of which were two incredible Cirque du Soleil performances, which I will describe in more detail in a future post.

If you like crowds of people everywhere, bright lights, smoky hotels with zillions of restaurants, crawling traffic on the Boulevard, gambling of every variety, and the desert, then this is your place. However, we did not go to Sin City for the typical reasons that people usually do. We went to enjoy a family gathering.

I drove over to Hoover Dam, about 35 or so miles east of LV, one afternoon while others were shopping. The dam itself is an incredible structure which created massive Lake Mead behind it and was one of the W.P.A. projects under F.D.R. following the Great Deprssion. As spectacular as is Hoover Dam, however, the Bypass, now under construction, totally grabbed my attention and interest (top photo, which I snapped on my phone cam from the car, shows a few of the columns that will support the elevated roadway).

The main highway between Las Vegas and Kingman, Arizona passes right over the dam. It is a slow, curvy and tedious drive through the area. But after the year 2010 you’ll be able to use the new bypass which is being constructed hundreds of feet over the Colorado River from canyon rim to canyon rim just to the south of the dam.

From the ground it looks like an impossible feat to accomplish so high above the river bed. Pictured above is how it will look when it is finished. You can see how the columns are built both on the rock base at the side and then continue over the arch which goes from wall to wall. This is an engineering feat that may exceed that of the dam itself.

They have strung a series of cables across the canyon high OVER the roadway elevation from which workers can drop down to build the spans for the structure. It’s so remarkable that I’m going to have to go back there to see it after it’s complete. Truly a marvel of mankind.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Shredded Bible

In the last hour, about 900 human beings worldwide, mostly children, died from hunger. And here I sit, overweight and with a full cupboard. Likely your pantry isn’t empty, either.

Does this shock you as much as it shocks me?

When I first saw this dilemma on, I also learned that lack of food is not the problem. There is enough food in the world for everyone. The primary problem is that very hungry people are trapped in poverty. And it’s a situation from which they are incapable of extricating themselves.

According to the U. N., about $195 billion a year could alleviate these hunger pangs. The solution is as simple (or as complex, unfortunately) as 22 developed countries of the world, including the U.S., giving just 1% of their income toward this problem.

Just such an effort has been underway since 2002 – a program called International Aid – but it is struggling badly. You can read about it here. Notice the countries who have met the goal. Also notice that the richest country in the world has not.

The compelling question is, do I, as an espoused follower of Christ here in affluent America, have a responsibility with regard to world poverty? I think it was Mother Theresa who said something to the effect that “the only Christ a hungry child will see is my cup of soup.”

I’m told that Tony Campolo tells the story of a preacher who cut everything out of the Bible that refers to homosexuality (the virtual sole focus of many well meaning Christians today). When he held up the resulting Bible to his parishioners, the difference was hardly noticeable. Then the preacher cut out every reference to poverty and helping the poor. There was but a shredded Bible left to hold up.

The point is crystal clear. I need to participate in solving this heartbreaking problem. I can help; we all can help. The first step is becoming educated about it. The next step is taking some action. Any action. Click here for just one.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It’s Starting To Hit Me

It’s starting to hit me that I sold my boat. The inanimate, but comforting, friend that used to sit at the foot of our front yard is no longer there. No one telepaths a “goodbye” as I drive away anymore nor nods a friendly brain-wave “hi” as I return.

I’m not ready to seek counseling yet, or anything like that, but pretty soon there will be warmer winds that will bring buds on the trees. And that will signal the trout in nearby lakes to awaken from their lethargic slumbering state.

My last boat could accommodate the chasing of salmon in Puget Sound. However, the truth is that I only do that about half a dozen times a year. I can rationalize charters for those occasions.

Trout fishing is quite another matter. If I had my druthers, I’d be trout fishing once a week. And the truth is, you don’t need a big, expensive boat for that. Key word "need." Heck, I could get by on an aluminum 14-footer with a 10-horse four-cycle engine.

You know what? As I write this, I’m feeling better as I go, sort of solving my dilemma with each successive key-stroke. The photo above is off of “Boat Trader Online.” I suppose this used Smokercraft Alaskan model would “do” just fine.

But let’s see… It doesn’t have downriggers ($500) or a side control console ($750) or a canvas top for our Northwest weather ($900). Plus the cost of the boat. Yikes, here we go again….

Friday, January 11, 2008

Busy Week

I haven’t posted much of late. The reason is not that there is a lack of things to write about; quite the opposite is true. There just hasn’t been time.

Seems like every day this week has been a whirlwind. I sold my boat, closed on a piece of property, spent part of a day volunteering at church, worked on a news article, and on and on it goes.

My wife and I often joke with each other about how we ever got anything done when we both had full time jobs. The truth is that in “retirement,” priorities, duties, interests and energy are all different. In many ways, I so much enjoy what I’m doing now that time itself seems to be evaporating.

Tomorrow we’ll attend a wedding of a relative who lives some 50 miles away, as the crow flies. The bride is the daughter of one of my many cousins on my mom’s side. My late uncle, the bride’s grandfather, was a stubborn, self-willed, often cantankerous, but extremely lovable old Finnlander.

I spent many hours with “Uncle Bill” in the old days, and most of them involved fishing. Virtually every male anywhere on my mother’s side of our extended family was a fisherman. It was “Uncle Bill” who “tested the mettle” of my wife, one day at the ocean just after we were married, by handing her a live fish he had caught, “just to see what she’s made of.” She passed with flying colors, by-the-way, screaming all the way to the cleaning station as the sea perch struggled wildly, but unsuccessfully, to escape her grip.

Just after the Seahawks playoff game on the morrow, Bill’s granddaughter, Kelly, (pictured with Jonathan, her betrothed) begins her life as a wife. Things have to look “rosie” for her, being Linda’s daughter and Beatrice’s granddaughter. Wonderful women seem to be everywhere in our family.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Epiphany – A Season of Discovery

Our form of worship was a bit different today in church. Both our musical and recited liturgy included nuances of the new church season.

Today was one of the rare instances when the day of Epiphany (January 6) occurs on a Sunday. It is the day following the celebration of the 12 days of Christmas, which begins on Christmas day. Epiphany is a season of varying length, taking us from January 6 to Ash Wednesday, which, of course, changes annually according to when Lent begins.

The dictionary meaning of “epiphany” is “a revealing, a manifestation, or an unveiling.” In Western World Churches, Epiphany traditionally acknowledges that the coming of the Magi to worship the Christ child (Matthew chapter 2) is the occasion on which Jesus is “revealed” as the Son of God to the “outside” world. As Lutherans, we follow this tradition.

In most Eastern World Churches, Epiphany commemorates the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river as its focus. In both traditions, the essence of the feast is the same: the manifestation of Christ to the world and the Mystery of the Incarnation.

In our local Lutheran church, varying the liturgy as the church season changes is a wonderful way to renew our worship experience on an ongoing basis. This refreshing mixture of forms keeps our liturgical expressions crisp and meaningful.

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

“Never Too Late…”

Today I serendipitously came across a wonderful quotation by writer/novelist George Eliot. To wit:

“It is never too late to become what you might have been.”

I could write for hours on its implications, but that may be for another time. What was serendipitous was learning something of George Eliot.

First, he was not a man. She was a British woman who wrote and reflected English culture during the Victorian era – a time in which women’s writings were not always respected. She chose a male pseudonym in an attempt to avoid this problem, and it proved quite successful. Her real name was Mary Ann (Marian) Evans; her photo is shown.

Eliot was primarily a novelist whose works revealed her independent-thinking life. She was well educated and very bright, but she was also very affected by her lack of comeliness and self assurance. Her best works were written during the 1860’s while she was in a common-law relationship with philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes.

Her greatest fame occurred posthumously following a biography about Eliot written by her second husband, John Walter Cross. Years later, literary critic Virginia Woolf observed that Eliot’s popular novel, Middlemarch was "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people." Over the last 20 years, a few of Eliot’s works have been made into movies or TV productions.

Her pith and poignancy is reflected in another of her quotes, and I offer it with my own degree of cynicism with regard to the Fall of this year:

“An election is coming. Universal peace is declared, and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry.”

O yes, Happy New Year!