Thursday, July 5, 2012

Divine words…

In his masterwork Thus Spake Zarathustra, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche penned the following observation. “God is dead,” he said, and there followed hysterics by many. Faithful folk shouted, “God isn’t dead. But you’re going to Hell!!” Atheists retorted, “Who’s going to send him? God’s dead! Weren’t you listening?” I imagine God said, “Calm down. Hear the man out.” Because just after those famous words, Nietzsche wrote, “And we’ve killed Him.”

Which may seem strange. But I think he’s onto something. The point was that in light of the scientific revolution, evolutionary understanding, historical criticism of the Bible, etc., much of what many once meant by the word, “God,” no longer seemed valid. The roles “God” had played in our religious imagination, God needed to no longer. And, thus, in essence, we killed God.

Of course, many then argued, as would I, that the word “God” is broader than what Nietzsche meant. But it’s fair to say that “God” should mean more to us than a divine puppet master pulling the strings. Indeed, I might push the argument further, and suggest “we” didn’t kill God. It’s maybe more the case that “democracy” did it.

Bear with me. And recall that one of the primary metaphors used in ancient days to describe God was that of a ruling monarch, King, Lord. Doesn’t our church ask everyone who joins, “Do you believe Jesus is Lord?” We do, and that’s our only requirement. But recently, someone asked me, “Do you believe that, Shane?” I said, “Yes. Do you?” The person said, “No… It sounds weirdly feudal, Medieval.” And, to my surprise, I agreed! After all, in everyday life, the word Lord matters zip to me. It’s like an archaic, pompous title used by English aristocrats who I mock. Yet here I claim it’s the appropriate description of Jesus, of God?!

Do my metaphors for God need a reboot? I mean, as a loyal democratic citizen, I’m no fan of royalty. I’m glad ordinary people in our society hold the reins of government. I believe people have the right, the responsibility to define how they’ll live together in community. Thus, the notion that one royal person would have power of life or death over all makes me shudder. Whether an election goes my preferred way, I’m proud of our still-perfecting, democratic union.

So down with Kings! And that even goes for God. I think it’d be terrible for my soul’s development, after all, if I abdicated all personal responsibility to God. If I acted like I was so insignificant I should have no input in my future, so worthless that decisions should be made only by “mi-Lord.” Indeed, I believe Jesus’ resurrection revealed to us the unconquerable faith God has in us! In our creative abilities, our capacity for justice and goodness. So rather than have us cede all control to His Lordship through some self-defaming act of homage, God would prefer we shared God’s hope and delight in the world, in ourselves, right?

That’s why I wonder if democracy “killed God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer once suggested that “the world has come of age,” maybe meaning that modern folk have greater self-confidence and power than ever before, and so are less willing to be ruled by self-styled “Lords.” If so, does that make the notion of “Jesus as Lord” obsolete? I mean, the world still needs good Leadership. Desperately! We may be more knowledgeable than our forbearers, but are we more moral? More spiritually enlightened? In other words, it’s probably good to “kill” (or “retire”) no-longer useful metaphors for God. Like King. Maybe even Lord. But I believe we’d be in a world of hurt if we ignored God entirely. So…what to say?

I know for some the language “Lord of my life” is a favorite description of Jesus, thinking “Lord of all” rather hostile and overdone. I like that, but wonder if we could do better. Jesus is my Leader? Guide? Guru? CEO? (Just kidding…) For now, I’ll leave the question open; please respond!

When it comes to you life’s core conviction, how would you complete the phrase, “Jesus is…”?

Grace and Peace,


P.S. - This week’s “Spiritual Practice” is the Prayer Walk. It’s exactly what it says; take a walk. By yourself, but not alone. Invite God to walk beside you and silently share your observations, reflections, worries, dreams. In so doing, you’ll have a “Full-bodied” spiritual experience.
Read more!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

New seasons…

The Ancients weren’t entirely wrong about scheduling the “new year” to coincide with winter. January 1st occurs just after the Winter Solstice, of course, so I suspect that turn of the calendar reflected the rhythms of earth’s renewal. After the slow slog toward days of diminished sunshine, on December 21 the sun decides to stick around longer. During the 3rd century CE, Romans designated a few days later- December 25- the feast of Sol Invictus, after a god whose name means “The Unconquered Sun.” When Christians grabbed power, they said, “Let’s dub that Christmas!” And eventually, they chose soon after to declare, “A New Year has begun!”

Which made ecological sense I guess, considering that’s when winter changes. But we Minnesotans realize there’s little difference between the length of days in January and December. Sure, we know it’s getting brighter, that darkness is receding. Still, it feels depressing when night endures so long, whatever the calendar claims, removing some potential joy from New Year’s celebrations.

What if, instead, they’d let Christmas/Sol Invictus/Winter Solstice keep winter to themselves, and decided to start new years mid-summer instead? Work productivity would already be down, given beach vacation schedules. More celebratory possibilities would arise, involving smokers and grills. Oh, that the Ancients were more strategic! Next time I speak with one, I’ll share our frustration.

We Plymouth Creekers, though, got it right, right? We began our church’s “new year” June 1, as always. Sure, the advent of a new budget cycle didn’t include Auld Lang Syne or midnight smooching (as least, not that I know of). Nevertheless, a new season has begun, friends! A new year, even!

So what shall this year bring, do you imagine? What kind of ministry, opportunity, mission, praise and purpose do you expect the Lord to bring our way before June 2013 rolls around?

Honestly, I can’t say! God’s yet to post The Plan on Facebook. But I’m wondering if my yard can give us something to work with. Before we went on vacation last month, we needed to mow the lawn. Particularly certain sections we’d planted with seeds in April, watered obsessively in May and consciously avoided mowing during those months. Wanted to give the seeds enough time in the sun, you know? Thus, when we returned, Wow, growth had happened! And not just the nice, long, verdant blades of green grass kind, but also places of invidious infiltration by dandelions and friends. A simple mow job was now inappropriate. It was necessary, but so too was more targeted work. So, as my calloused and raw hands will attest, Tabitha and I dug in. We snipped and pulled, pushed and pulled, and hours later, our lawn looked much more presentable. There’s still work to do, of course, Always!, but progress is made, growth achieved. We can play lawn games now without jungle machetes.

I wonder if, perhaps, Plymouth Creek might experience something of that kind. Over the past year and a half, we’ve been working the vision of becoming a beacon of openness and service for the NW suburbs. Community garden, bus ministry, increased attendance and commitment to outreach. In other words, we’ve encouraged much more light to come in! And as my lawn can attest, light can equal growth. Mostly of the good kind, sometimes of the concerning kind. But something just happens, doesn’t it, when you say to God, “Shine your rays, brighten our days!”

I think, then, the challenge of this new year might be- a) Keeping our lives and spirits open God’s light. It’s not enough, in other words, to say, “We’re ready, Lord!” Rather, we’ve got to keep searching for new insights, worship styles, opportunities, places of shade. Then, b) Paying attention to new flowers and festering weeds. Always ready to respond when something new pops up that’s either lovely or concerning. Gloves at the ready for some spiritual landscaping.

Fortunately, I believe our vision is both God-sized and God-inspired, and further, that the Lord’s called the right people to this place. Thus, whatever the new year holds, I expect it’ll brightened by grace. Preparing us, therefore, to go out and shine!

Grace and Peace,
Read more!