When we go to Target we spend about an hour in the toy aisles. Now, we do not buy our daughters a toy every time we go, but we always let her play with the toys there. We wish we could buy them, but we know that we do not have the budget for that. We “are not made of money.” But why does Jadyn continue to be drawn to the toy aisles and continue to play with these toys with complete contentment knowing that she will have to leave them behind?
Walter Brueggemann reminds us that the world spreads the lies of limited resources and that the imagination of Scripture is the new possibility of unlimited resources.
Nothing better illustrates that point then all of the rage over the super lotto.
There are people willingly shelling out small contributions to this large pot in order for one person to win. One woman started a gofundme in order to replenish her life savings that she spent on lotto tickets!
Yet simultaneously we are arguing in politics over who to care for in this country. We are concerned about where our limited dollars will go Seriously, breakdown our political arguments. It comes down to caring for others. It comes down to the question "who do we prioritize?" Should we care for inner city schools? The homeless veterans? The immigrants? The students with loans? The refugees? The corporations? The minimum wage employee? Shouting matches are going back and forth and essentially the argument is based on the idea that we only have so much money to take care of ourselves. Unfortunately that is a lie.
Imagine what could happen if we bounded together and raised $1.2 billion dollars of honest giving, not so that one lucky person can win it and splurge it, perhaps donating some to charity. But what could we do with honestly raised and cheerfully given $1.2 billion.
This is what we could do…
Suddenly, when the lie of limited resources is suspended, we no longer have to argue how to allocate funds. We are free to imaginatively love our neighbor. We are given the opportunity to imagine a world with unlimited resources, thus new possibilities.
Does our church believe that God is able to create new possibilities? Do we believe that our God operates within an imagination of unlimited resources? Do we believe that our God operates from a kingdom of abundance? Or have we brought this lie into the church’s consciousness.
As the church, we must not buy into the world’s lie of limited resource, but allow ourselves to play in the toy department and live in the world of unlimited possibilities made possible by the Gospel.
When the church enters the political conversation, it should not give its own opinion as to "who should we care for." The church should say, "yes, care for them...and them...and them...and them..."
Jadyn and Hannah have received a lot of toys. Some from us, some from friends and family, and some were passed down from Karla's childhood. Dolls and games that have been kept in boxes for the last twenty years. But it seems to be those toys, the ones which were almost forgotten about, the ones that Karla and I remember and Jadyn and Hannah are just discovering for the first time that are drawing our family closer and create the most wonder and excitement.
I reflected on this as I thought about how our church is using a lot of common ordinary things found in life, or older things found in the church, in order to be together and allow God to speak to our community.
I was recently asked by a old teacher to give her a reflection on the church. This is what I said:
“ 'Church is the most segregated hour of the week.' That has become all to familiar to our ears. Yet, as much as we repeat the question, we are still reaching for answers as we were fifty years ago. Perhaps our intentions, methodologies or theologies are better. But those alone do not lead to change. Incorporating Spanish into our worship services does not make us a bilingual congregation. Celebrating cultural diversity does not make us culturally diverse. Perhaps it is better to say that church is the most segregated community. The issue lies past a worship service and lies within the worshipping community.
Jesus was not a suspicious character because of what he said, but because of who he ate with. The church needs to be a conspicuous community because of who dines at the Lord’s Table. At Praxis Church, we know that God has called everyone to receive grace and peace at the Lord’s Table. This grace and peace is extended from the Lord’s Table to our dinner tables and our coffee tables, to the restaurants and bars, and beyond. These tables, existing out in the world, are gateways through which the church is called to bring people to the Lord’s Table. It is by intentional bread breaking, laughter-making, and tear-filled healing relationships that others are invited to experience the broken bread of Christ. God is working through food.
At Praxis Church, we began gathering people over home cooked meals and liturgy. With the chicken pot pie and home-made mix-berry cobbler in front of us, we sit around the table hearing one another read the week’s lectionary passages. We do not discuss them, but allow the Word of the Lord to wash over each our lives while we enjoy good food and good company. There is something about allowing God to speak unmitigatedly through the Word of the Lord that is mysteriously marvelous. It draws the church together.
One couple in our group is currently hosting a foreign exchange student from Guangzhou, China. His name is Songchen Xie, but he goes by Tommy. Since Tommy is dedicated to stay here for two years while he finishes high school and learns English, his exchange parents decided to bring him to our church dinners. It was quickly decided that we want Tommy to be a major part of our church. For the last three months he has led our church in the weekly Psalm readings. The church not only invited Tommy to receive hospitality, but the church asked Tommy to participate in the work of the church. The church invited Tommy to be used by God to speak to the people of God. And God does not disappoint. Tommy, through invitation and participation, has become a vital part of the church.
We are so far away from being a desegregated, conspicuous community. But this is not a new struggle for the church. Paul was writing to terribly segregated communities. Yet he maintained focus on the cross of Christ’s appropriation for all of creation and God’s continued presence in the formation of the church in order to reach the world. God can use food and liturgy to spread the Gospel and break down the hideous barriers that segregate humanity from itself and God. The church does not need to reinvent the wheel, we do not need to reinvent liturgy in order to reach a post-Christian, post-modern world or become culturally diverse. The church only needs to re-appropriate it and know that God can take old, normal things like apple pie and the Lectionary to build the church and love and serve the world."
Perhaps it is those old toys of liturgy and home cooked meals which will draw the church together. What do you think?
Something that every parent knows about is the routine. My daughter now knows the routine. When she wakes up she can find daddy downstairs, typically sitting with his espresso in the breakfast and perhaps we will go out to the local coffee shop to enjoy a cupcake while daddy gets another coffee. And if it is Tuesday evening, she knows that she can expect friends to come over for our church dinners. Finally we end with the bedtime routine that consists of story. The next day comes. She runs down with excitement as we then eat our oatmeal and orange juice together. Then books, brushing teeth, repeating our memory verses, and praying.
For my daughter, it is this routine which one can find both comfort and adventure, or better put peace and mission. This oscillation between between the two then twines them together into one life.
Upon reflecting on the church’s life, I realized that there is also this oscillation.
We are first baptized. We are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, absolutely. But we are also baptized into the body of Christ, the church. Years ago, churches would go to rivers. The person being baptized would stand on one bank while the congregation stood on the other with the pastor in the middle. The one to be baptized would walk towards the pastor and after being baptized join the congregation on the other side of the river. She has now become a part of the church. She was baptized into the church.
Now that we are a part of the church, we can participate in the communion table. This communion where we receive the bread and the wine, the body and the blood of Jesus Christ. We are now taking the roles of the disciples on that final night before the crucifixion, receiving these gifts as if from Jesus himself. But why? Yes, it is to remember Christ’s sacrifice. But let us observe what happens. During the worship service we are seated separately, hearing the same message but perhaps taking different aspects from the sermon to be nourished. Now, we are summoned to come forward together and eat from the same bread and drink from the same cup. We, the whole lot of us, have now become the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church. God is forming the church through communion.
In order to fulfill the greatest commandment, to love God and love our neighbor. It is impossible to obey this commandment outside the church. Sure, we may be able to do one or the other, but it is impossible to do both. There is no such thing in the New Testament as a Christian without a church. It is unheard of, because the church is the community that is charged and equipped to love God and love our neighbor.
So when we receive communion it brings us together as the church and strengthens us to fulfill the greatest commandment.
But to what end? Why?
In order to fulfill the Great Commission. The church (again not individuals) are called to go proclaiming the Gospel and to baptize in the Name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teach all of the commandments God has given us.
And so we go, and baptize people into the church, so that they may partake in communion, in order to love God and love our neighbors, and proclaim the Gospel and baptize.
It is an oscillation between shalom and mission. Constantly rotating back and forth until these two things twine together becoming the life of the church.
And so the routine of the church, the life of the church, is this;
baptize, commune, love, proclaim, baptize, commune, love, proclaim.
The word liturgy means “work of the people,” typically we associate this with the seemingly ritualistic practices of certain church traditions (Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and various other traditions).
I first gained interest in liturgy about 3 years ago when I was taking a class which exposed us to different church practices. We looked at the development of the Lord’s Supper (aka communion, Holy Communion, Eucharist), the development of creeds, and the development of church organizational structures. All of these were great on a high level of learning, but it always felt a bit disconnected from real life. Why does it matter if we use grape juice or wine? Why does it matter if people know the Apostles’ Creed? Why is the title bishop even used?
Then two things happened.
The first thing was a course assignment. We had to read over the Anglican Prayer Book of New Zealand’s “Service for the Blessing of a Home” and then creatively construct how we would bless someone’s home. It unlocked what liturgy could be. It was no longer strictly words that are passed down for centuries to be numbingly repeated with no expectation of pastoral interaction with parishioners. There is nothing wrong with repeating those words, but we have to ask “is the pastor/priest being completely present with their congregation in that moment?” I then realized the point of liturgy was for pastor/priest and people working together to be the church.
The second thing was taught to me by my daughter. As we were driving around one day, I was teaching her the centuries old Jesus Prayer. It is a prayer that has its roots in the 4th and 5th centuries, and it was a prayer that repetitiously repeated these words:
“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”
It was then shortened:
“Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”
“Christ, have mercy”
It eventually was shortened to match rhythmic breaths.
Christ… have mercy…
Now to my daughter, the history doesn't matter. The cognitive-psychological interplay between breathing and praying doesn't matter. But when I was teaching her “Christ, have mercy” she stopped me. And with the most excited voice she shouted:
“DAD… LOOK (pointing out the window)… THERE’S MERCY”
Then it dawned on me. Worship, liturgy, people working together, is about revealing to us God’s presence in the world! Liturgy is that while we are saying “Christ, have mercy” we can look out in the world and say, yes God is having mercy and there it is!
And so, next time I am receiving communion, I will also be witnessing God gathering together the church, strengthening it to do God’s will in the world. Next time, when I witness a baptism I will be seeing God actively reconciling the world back to God’s self. Next time, when I witness a wedding I will be reminded that it is God who brought these two together and God who will hold them together. Next time, when I mourn at a funeral, I will be reminded that death does not have the final say.
Let us be in a lifetime practice of liturgy, actively seeking out God’s activity in the world, and let us participate with God in reconciliation and redemption.
Living Life in between the in-between
So it’s a strange name. Yes this is true. But there is a reason. I don’t know if I can make sense of it, but hopefully it will make some sense.
It always seem as though the church isn't relevant enough…or maybe too relevant… Now, I don’t want you to think that this is another obligatory “church bash, culture bash, the author just has way too much steam between their ears and time on their hands blog.” That’s not the point of this. This is a safe for struggles to take place. A place for questions to be asked. Some answered. Some not. A place for hope. A place for despair. A place between faith and doubt. A place between the church and the world, between seminary and the church, between seminary, the world, and the church.
The “about me” will have some more about me…I suppose. But here I want to lay out some of the basics.
The Vision - The vision for this place is for us to engage together things that make sense and things that make no sense at all. This is not, let me tell you what I think. This is a “let’s talk about this” format.
Monday Morning- Nobody likes Monday mornings. Even working in retail or food services where you don’t really have a weekend off anyways, Mondays still feel…like Monday. This weekly post will be something to engage and think though the rest of the week. To summarize a quote I read, but can’t bring to mind, “You should not read a book and leave unchanged” Typically it will be engaging Scripture, a church tradition, someone much smarter or braver than me. Whatever it is, it will someone or something that provokes us to think (hopefully live) differently.
Thursdays - No special name for this. It’s just Thursday. Doesn’t even have a cool place in our week. We all dread Mondays, Wednesdays are Hump Days, TGIF, Saturdays, then Sunday Funday. The only thing Thursday has going for it is ABC’s TGIT (and ABC, we know what you’re doing, and we don’t like it). On Thursdays we will engage something ordinary, something we have all encountered in the news this week, or perhaps something that we all go through. This is just another Thursday for us to gather and talk about what’s going on around us.
Table Talk - This won’t be a weekly post, but a monthly table dinner, where we will gather together around table, lean in close, and talk about real life. Not using technical words that seminary might have or catchy titles VOGUE might have. It is a place to gather around the dinner table, enjoy some satisfying homemade Apple Pie, laugh, cry, be frustrated and encouraged as we talk about real life, and listen to one another.
I still think the name is weird and cheesy, but my wife likes it. So here is a quick explanation. Less than a year after going to church, I began majoring in Biblical Studies (a field which still doesn't even make sense to me). I now find myself in seminary and this strange desire to continue studying the Old Testament, specifically Leviticus and Numbers. Yup those books we all either skip over or give up on our Bible in 1 Year plan, those are the ones. But I like them. Anyways, very quickly I found myself studying the Bible and culture critically. So that’s the ‘theologian’ part I suppose. My friends who majored in Theology would be disappointed with my use of the word, but alliteration works pretty swell on the internet and I couldn't find anything clever for Bible other than Bible Blog. I passed on that.
So that toddler part. Well, I quickly found myself so critical of the Bible and so critical of the world that I lost touch with people. Now, my daughter taught me this next part. She loves people, like anyone. No stranger danger at all. It made Disneyland stressful for a while. But she also knows that she is loved by God (at 2 already!). We have some Bible verses that she recites at night. One of them is Psalm 45:11, but she replaces the pronouns and says “The King is enthralled with my beauty, honor him for he is my Lord.” She owns that verse for herself. So the name. Toddler Theologian. While we are called to be critical of the world and church, we are also called to know that God is devoted to us, even when it doesn't make sense.
So this is the tension we live in. This is the in-between we feel daily. The world is not quite as the world should be. The church is not quite as the church should be. And God…well what do we do with God then? Let’s talk about it together.