Monday, July 31, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think
Note: Find out how you can win a copy of Brian McLaren's new book, "The Secret Meaning of Jesus" in the 10th thing I think today)

1) Am home this morning, as my class for this week has been postponed until later this fall. I am home because for Aimee's birthday, I gave her a gift card to Kohl's complete with 4 hours to shop, unimpeded by children. As it is, Aimee asked to "cash in" on her independent shopping experience this morning, and thus, presently, Max and Xavier are playing video games while Eli is amusing himself by chewing on various items and implements (presently, two more teeth are emerging in that little mouth). This experience reinforces a couple of ideas:

2) Stay-at-home parenting is one of the most stressful and difficult jobs there are. Right now I can write this blog, but this is only the "calm before the storm". At any moment "Mount Eli" will erupt (the boys are pacified with the opiate that is the X-box), and I'll need to go scrambling towards the volcano. Because we practice "attachment parenting" Aimee is largely not out of sight of our children for the first year of their lives She must continually run toward the volcano. While I love my sons, how she has maintained her sanity and good humor is beyond me. She is a living saint.

3) Max has surpassed me in terms of his "video gaming skills". This is a hard thing to admit. I have years of quarters getting pumped in the now almost extinct "video arcade" (my favorite having been "Arcade City" in Lima, the location of which is now the Verizon store) that have largely gone to pot because, well, I just don't have the time, or inclination, to play like I used to. Besides, the days of games that needed a "joystick and a button" are over. Since Max can play games unimaginable in 1984 (to think, Centipede was state-of-the-art at one time) unlimited times in our living room, on a game controller with approximately 8,000 buttons, his thumbs are exceedingly more educated than mine ever were.

Which leads to this theory of my brother... at some point, if evolution has any merit, given the advent of video gaming and text messaging, humans will have "superthumbs" of incredible speed, strength, and dexterity.

One small push for a man, one giant "thumbs up" for mankind.

4) People have been asking what we've been doing on Sundays since we're not in Lima. Well, for the past few weeks we've done some "church hopping" as we seek a "summer home" for worship. We tried the UMC here in Wilmore, but they have no children's ministry during worship in the summer. That meant that three weeks ago for 105 minutes (yeah, you read that right - 1 hour, 45 minutes) we had to keep Max and Xavier from killing one another and/or starting a game of "tag" during the sermon. I heard a story of how a couple with three boys positioned themselves boy-parent-boy-parent-boy to maintain order in a church service. Now I understand why.

As an aside, treat Jenny Conley, our Children's Ministry Director, well, Shawneeites. By sacrificing very little (by volunteering five weeks), you help create much (sanity). Get signed up to volunteer for BLAST this school year at .

We also tried out the Free Methodist Church. It was OK right up to the moment they did a child "dedication" where they expressed the desire that someday (and this is a mangled, and I'm sure, inaccurate quote), "she might become a member of the family of God". Uh.... right. Maybe I just misunderstood what was said but it sounded like children were on the outside, looking at the party going on inside. I'm sure I'm over-reacting, and I understand and affirm the need for a conscious decision to follow the "Prince of Peace" (although, I'm not sure we fully understand what this means.. more on that later), but that just didn't seem very theologically compatible with a guy who willingly baptizes infants.

This Sunday we made the choice to go to Southland Christian Church (here's the link:, a mega-church located in Lexington, about 20 minutes away from our home. The experience was pretty much everything you would expect of a mega-church (volunteer parking attendants directing traffic, bookstore, coffee bars, a stage framed by a big set like you would see in a play, excellent contemporary music featuring sacred and secular songs... as an aside, I never thought I'd ever hear Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up The Son" at church, but then again, I'm the guy that sang The Kinks "Father Christmas" in the middle of a sermon, so who am I to point fingers).

Anyhow, we dropped the kids off in their classes (no elbowing this week), and deposited ourselves into the worship center, and subsequently, listened to a 40 minute-plus sermon that quoted not one piece of scripture. Now, as a preacher, I readily admit that I'm more a storyteller than biblical theologian, but I've never tried preaching a sermon without using any scripture what-so-ever. This sermon (which centered on, I think, how mutual community expressed over a shared meal invites the presence of God into it's midst) didn't make the effort to be biblical, outside of the tangential "in scripture it says...". A couple of observations...

5) One might say that Jesus himself often didn't attempt to make a direct connection between scripture and his teaching, particularly in the parables. Of course, Jesus was "The Word", so that point is mute. You don't need to quote anything, if, in fact, you are the embodiment of that thing. In other word, if when you speak, scripture is created (as opposed to mangled), then you get a "free pass" from finding obscure quotes from Amos that will amuse and impress your friends.

Another possibility is that the application of scripture takes place in "home churches" or in discussion groups after a service. In this scenario, the pastor "sets the table" with the sermon for discussion, and then the application takes place when people gather in groups using resources provided by the church to discuss what the sermon meant, or questions it raised, in that setting (for that resource, and a link to other sermon resources, go here: . You can even listen to the sermon yourself, and point out whether or not I just missed the citation, which is possible).

So, why would someone else attempt to do this? Would it come from a sense that the sermon is inspired by the scriptural study and that is enough? Is it an attempt to usher in people who are not yet, or have just become, believers in Jesus into a safe, comfortable place where they can begin to explore his "Secret Kingdom", which is amazingly not safe or comfortable? I'm not sure, but it leads to this other observation...

6) The last third of the sermon, Eli and I, (right before he was about to erupt), made our way outside of the worship center so he could roam, and I could watch/listen to the rest of the service on closed-circuit TV (which is why I might have missed the scripture). As the sermon progressed, a fair number of people (I'd say 30 or 40... although I'm guessing about 1800 were present for the service) followed after us, out the doors, into the parking lot, and all of them were carrying Bibles.

Now, maybe they were just late for lunch or stuck around from an earlier worship service to catch the "late one". It's more than possible that I'm just projecting what I imagine certain people from my past would have done if I preached a sermon without any scriptural content (an experience I'd rather not imagine, thanks) but I find at least plausible that a few angry letters will make it to that preaching pastor, or the "Board of Elders" this week. I hope that is not the case.

7) That last paragraph was interrupted by an eruption of "Mount Eli". He was playing with the foot-rest to our glider rocker, turned it over, and somehow got stuck inside of it's framework. The glider foot-rest is now sitting on our dining room table, as it's existence now threatens Eli's life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (i.e. chewing on things). How could I make that up?

8) Just finished reading "The Secret Meaning of Jesus" by Brian McLaren, which was not an assigned text, but will be incorporated into at least one paper, and the theological portion of my dissertation. McLaren's assertion is that Jesus' message of God's kingdom unfolding in the world is a "secret" or "hidden" one. This message is hidden in parable teachings because

(whoops, had to take a 90 minute break where we played in the sandbox, watched the guy blow stuff off the sidewalk with a blower, and eat some hotdog bun.. where were we - oh yes)

because if Jesus had given the full-answer the curiosity of the listening person would be satisfied. Instead, Jesus answers questions with questions, and parables with parables, which leads the listener into seeking out the teacher for more instruction. In other words, as opposed to the pop psychology of the age, the answer doesn't lay within, but rather, within someone else.

The purpose, McLaren states, isn't to create a situation where the learners can then be manipulated by the teacher for less-than-ideal purposes, but instead force the listener to question the way they look at the world, their own motivation, and, if the listener is so inclined, begin to look for new, possibilities, and thus listen to the teacher with "born again" ears "that can now hear". In this way, the Word becomes like "a seed", and your heart (the construct with which you approach and understand the world, which underscores how you respond to it) is like "soil". The seed can be planted because the soil is soft enough to accept it.

Think of it like this... if your entire life the only place you'd ever been and lived was deep in the Chugiak National Forest just outside of Anchorage, Alaska. Your entire world has been shaped by surviving in what can be a very harsh, difficult climate. You become adept as surviving long winters, finding food, and creating shelter with the means available to you. In your world, the biggest enemies are the weather, and getting between a grizzly bear and her cubs.

Then, one day, somebody invites you to come with them to Anchorage. Think of all things you've never encountered before: restaurants, paved streets, electric light, indoor plumbing, billboards with Joel Osteen's face plastered on it... now you have re-adjust your entire worldview. You need new words to describe things because there is no grizzly bear in sight. The way you've lived and survived, either has to be discarded completely, or greatly adapted in order to survive. You can't leave your experience behind, but you had better be open to understanding things in a new way, because either you aren't going to make it, or you're going to say, "The heck with this", and return to the place that makes sense.

If you want to stay, then, in humility (a sense that you don't know everything, and thus can learn things from others), you need to go back to the beginning (born again), and begin listening (ears that can hear) and observing so you can learn how to survive. You've got to want to not only find, but be willing to listen. If you choose not to, things could get kinda ugly, fast, as the streets of Anchorage, Alaska, can in many ways be more unforgiving than the wilds of the forest.

Or, in the words of Yoda, in order to become a Jedi master, "You must first unlearn what you have learned".

9) Mutually, we, not just as Christians, but all of us who were created by God, are to help "water" and "care" for the seed (a point driven home at the age of 10, when my uncle, who has a great many doubts when it comes to God, took me aside to speak frankly about drugs and alcohol, in the hope that I would avoid them. In that case, I'm certain that he was operating within the boundaries of the "Kingdom", and saved me much heartache.) Personally, since Jesus states that only those that are "pure of heart" can inherit the kingdom (the seed can't grow if the soil is filled with weeds or thorns or has become hard and dry), we must first start by asking the question, what does it mean to be "pure of heart". That's where Jesus begins to help us understand all the things we thought were true about surviving in the world that actually are not. In this way we can use that which is "true" re-construct, or re-create how we think, act, and respond to the world around us.

Corporately, since Jesus states that there are outward manifestations of the "kingdom" are natural outcomes of the "seed" growing in us. OR, in a plainer speak, we must allow the inner working of the Word, and the changes that it brings to us, to come out in the form of acts of love, grace, mercy, and justice.


Acts of love and kindness toward others including our enemies. Acts that ultimately undermine the "kingdoms" of the world that are based on coercion, force, brutality, money, sex, and the maintenance of power. A "secret kingdom" that emerges not through force, but freely to be accepted or rejected, but is still emerging whether we accept it, or not. A "secret kingdom" that is not passive in accepting repression and subjugation, but creatively responds in ways that unearth the evil, or ludicrousness, of power maintained unethically. A kingdom that reflects God's dream for our life together... and trust me if you've been beat down by people at a church or life in general, it really is a beautiful dream. A dream with spiritual, social, political, and cultural ramifications where the poor are blessed, the peacemakers are celebrated, and the last become the value people use to assess what action to take.

John and Yoko were vaguely getting at how the "Kingdom" works when they said, "War Is Over, If You Want It", for in God's kingdom, the waging of war won't create peace ("darkness can't drive out darkness") but God won't force other means of avoiding war on us... we need to choose it ourselves. What might have the response been if John and Yoko said, "War Is Over, If You Dream God's Dream". You can bet that would have ignited a firestorm in the early 70's.

Note: If you think this "Kingdom" is just a pipe dream, well, you might call me a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

Anyhow, the big questions are "What makes 'the seed' in heart grow or die?", and "How, corporately do the secret agents of heavenly kingdom make make it real in the world?". With that, you just witnessed the makings of the beginning of a 15 page paper due the end of August, that I'm knocking out this week. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email at . I'd love to hear from you. And, if you are intrigued by McLaren's thoughts, I'd encourage you to pick up a copy of "The Secret Message of Jesus" here:

10) Speaking of "The Secret Message of Jesus", you might remember that months ago, I ran a contest in the blog where I invited people to email me at stating why I should give them a copy of the above mentioned book, a suggestion for a future blog topic, and their address. Two winners were each to receive one copy of the book. One winner received an opened, unmolested copy they could call their own, and the other was to receive my personal copy containing all the notes and thoughts contained in the margins.

Well, I shipped copy "A" to Bruce Dickerson (who asked for a book he could read at late a night while caring for his newborn child), but have yet to send my personal copy to David Grant (who basically appealed to my vanity in an effort to win... which proved successful). Well, here's the deal.... from an academic standpoint, I need my copy of the book, and probably will the rest of the year. And for that, I call "shenanigans", and if "shenanigans" is called, there must be a penalty.

So, here's the deal: I've ordered two more copies of the "The Secret Meaning...": One to go to David Grant, and, as a penalty to myself, one to go to one of you out there. Let my loss, be your gain!

(and don't worry, oh wife of mine, the money for this will come out of my monthly allowance, meaning no lunching at the local Chinese restaurant in August)

So, the rules are the same, send an email to with the following info:
  • Your name and address.
  • The reason why I should send you a book I bought with my hard-earned money (and don't tell me how wonderful and important I've been to your spiritual journey... David Grant dun burnt that bridge already).
  • At least one potential new blog topic that I can actually use.

Deadline for entry is Monday, August 14th. Act now!!!

Til next time, may the good news be yours!

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