Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Velvet Elvis blog 2

Another from another RevGalBookPals book discussion

My own Velvet Elvis Blog 1

Velvet ElvisMichael Krahn linked me to his Velvet Elvis series... I'm planning to visit soon, and all the RevGals' comments have been thoughtful. I esp appreciate Songbird's observation that Sabbath-keeping is a week-long endeavor. During Lent 2004 I participated in a REAL discussion of Lauren Winner's Mudhouse Sabbath (finally out in paperback! Yay!) Velvet Elvis and the RevGals' thread makes me want to go back and reread it.

ReverendMother blogged,
It’s also a little unfortunate as a title because, as a professor told me in seminary, “Don’t ever give someone a reason not to listen to you.” The hip typeface and panoply of cover designs probably make it more marketable and appealing to people who wouldn’t give two hoots about Calvin’s Institutes...

I’m willing to forgive the kitsch and the hipness, though, because fundamentally, this book wasn’t really written for me. It seems to be written for people outside the church—people who may be intrigued by Jesus a great deal, it’s just “his family” that they have a problem with.
This second blog about the book most properly belongs on my "other" long blog, this far by faith, but 1) I need blog fodder and 2) I'm attempting to risk a little more public self-revelation and openness, so here it is.

In most ways this is a book for outsiders, but my insiderness has become too, too strained and painful; though in the past I've spent a lot of time reading theology (full meal type books, not exactly "snacks"), I'm truly exhausted on every level, and despite acknowledging many people have considered me a threat and have been just plain rude to me, even the ones who have been polite and welcoming have no clue where I live socially, culturally or theologically (hey, even people who've been in bible studies I've facilitated). So for me, it's high time for a sea change, and that means getting beyond concerns of polity, connectedness and ecumenical relatedness to the fundamental fact I'm useless to everyone as long as I'm not getting my own needs (gasp!) met, and my needs include using my gifts, education and skills to a reasonable extent if I'm to be reasonably whole, not to mention finding social opps with people who are aware of who I am and where I've been and who appreciate my uniqueness, whether or not they "get it."

Pastor Rob Bell cites the usual wisdom that one needs to hit the bottom before being able to change, rebuild, whatever...but my current situation isn't about having hit bottom at all. While the Cedar Fires I referenced in my other blog blazed away, as with my neighbors I considered what I'd take with me if we needed to evacuate (besides the obvious cats and some clothes), my choices were my very well-marked RSV (the first bible I ever owned), my academic transcripts and my letters of call.

I'd been so goal oriented, so disciplined, so sure I couldn't lose. For me, it wasn't facing my brokenness nearly as much as it was encountering my fallibility. Like everyone, I'd failed zillions of times, but finally, no matter how many new beginnings I made none of them bore fruit. I've sensed such an overwhelming loss of self; when someone loses a family member or close friend due to physical death or absence, people gather around them and support them. Is there no one for me? In the conventional mainline churches, maybe not.

I'm wondering if I dare blog this publicly, but for some reason I no longer trust myself. Walter Brueggemann says "bright, skilled educated people are valued and sought-after"; he also says there are people sitting in the pews feeling nullified (by life? by the church? by family, spouses, by whomever, I'd imagine). As I insisted some time ago, "These things don't happen in First- and Second-World countries." They happen to everyone occasionally, but what on earth and in the Name of Heaven has this been all about? Does it continue to be about?

Hospitality is God's first call to the people of God and fundamentally defines them. From the beginning, the uniqueness of the nascent church as it moved outward from Jerusalem was 1) its radical inclusivity and 2) "see how they love one another." No one lacked anything; everyone had everything in common, a true common-wealth, as the New England Puritans initially believed they'd be able to live. But it was not only about embrace and provision for the already-insiders; the first Christians embraced and provided for everyone, making no distinctions whatsoever. Just as "God is not partial," they "were not partial." The outsider became incarnate, enfleshed as one of them, becoming an insider. These past years, I went into one church after another, no longer someone called or employed by the church, but as a stranger, an alien, like Abram an Ivri, a Hebrew—one from the other side. One in the image of the Divine, of God from the very other side. In every case, I came bearing gifts, and it stills blows me way out of the water to think one person after another would dare not accept my otherness as a gift. The human insecurity doesn't amaze me in the least, but the blatant chutzah still does.

Back to Velvet Elvis and the mainline church. Sunday was the PCUSA's annual Pentecost Offering for at-risk children and youth. I love the Pentecost Offering and I love the justice and advocacy ministries all the mainline (Prot and RC) are doing. I grew up in a blighted, decaying very inner-city neighborhood, attending a crummy urban high school, and originally intended to become a social worker.

But on my first Velvet Elvis blog, Diane commented, "does the word "mainline" just mean 'boring, non-pentecostal, 9-5, hierarchical, set-in-their-ways', can't discern the wind of the spirit even if it is a hurricane? Maybe we need a new name..."

Finding a new name or not, as we've often observed, the old mainline now longer is the central or most prominent expression of Christianity in this country, and most fortunately, being a mainline protestant no longer is a given part of being American. Unlike the whistle-stop, sideline or spurline, but similar to the railroad passenger mainline of old and paralleling today's AmTrak (sometimes I watch the slick, California AmTrak in its glossiness slide through this town of San Diego, often called "Paradise" by the weather forecasters, and I think, yep, that's mainline). I'd say yes, indeed, maybe in too many ways mainline retains its original connotation of cultural Christianity, both from the old Philadelphia mainline that was exclusively and solely Episcopal and Presbyterian but later embraced other churches that were staid and pretty stoic in style, like Lutheran and UCC...a few months ago I got a possibly true email forward about a seminary professor beginning a lecture on Pneumatology when a student charged into the classroom in ghost-buster regalia, causing the professor to remark, "Typical Presbyterian response: extinguish the Spirit!" Of course—could've been any other polite denomination. During the years I actually served as a [Lutheran] church musician, the Assistant Pastor's wife nursed their baby in one of the front pews most Sundays during the early service. One outspoken woman informed us she was going to begin attending the Episcopal Church, because it was "a dignified church." I wanted to scream, "But was Jesus dignified?!"

Then there's that other use of mainline, to shoot a drug into your veins. Mainline a hit of Jesus straight into your veins, so the blood of Jesus courses through your entire being? Think about it!

End of blog 2.

repainting into a new reformation?my amazon review

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Velvet Elvis blog

Sunday the Day of Pentecost 2007

This was part of a RevGalBookPals discussion.

Velvet Elvis coverMonday (technically, but they've announced they'll post the discussion this afternoon) will be the third book discussion—this time it's Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell. I said Christianity for the Rest of Us gave me hope; this book gives me a kick in the butt while affirming what I've been trying to tell other people and trying to convince myself for the past few years. I finished reading Velvet Elvis late Thursday afternoon, and for this (maybe first?) blog I'm writing out of my head (literally, most likely) and heart. After reading what the other RevGals have to say, maybe I'll blog again in response.

Rob Bell is founding pastor and current pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grandville, Michigan. A few year later as I edit this post, I've unlinked to the church's Narrative Theology Statement because I don't know what's going on there and finding out does not interest me.

Just as a Velvetized Version of Elvis is an interpretive repainting, repainting the Church into a new look and new vision forms the basic idea behind this book. In Christianity for the Rest of Us I found hope about the Protestant Mainline; Velvet Elvis tells me my hope may be outside mainline confines. On page 11 he mentions the picture the church of Martin Luther's day had been painting and presenting. Regarding these 21st century days, oh, I know a lot about the picture the church has painted of itself and maybe even moreso, the way outsiders to the church have viewed and interpreted that picture. Page 14: "What I do know is that this pursuit of Jesus is leading us backward as much as forward," that evokes the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the way the Roman branch of the church says along with us "reformed and always reforming" plus the numerous 19th century Restoration Movements with the plethora of churches and church bodies they spawned.

A few thoughts from pastor/author Rob Bell:
  • Page 10, about artists who don't sign their entire names, "Because when you're this good, you don't even have to write your whole name." Exactly God's situation and position!
  • Page 13: it's not about making (photo?)copies of the same picture over and over again.
  • I love his citing some of my favorite (not!) experiences: the person who is so into scripture yet insists on her own personal Jesus that lives in her heart; the individual who decides to find out "what the Bible really says" after reading a slew of commentaries and interpretations.
  • And I love the way Rob Bell talks about experiences of life coming together when the moment is full and complete—if even for a split second; he calls those times "Holy ground"; I love the way that phrase implies heaven come down to earth raised up to heaven.
  • Rob Bell tells us he doesn't do 9-5 office jobs well, that he is creative. That's my story, too—I can do routine jobs like cleaning, etc., but whatever the content of the office work, it pretty much kills me, although there have been a scant handful of exceptions.
  • I love his discussion of Christian needing always to be a noun rather than an adjective—I read the same in at least one of Robert Farrar Capon's books, and the idea probably isn't original with either of them, but it long has driven me nuts hearing people talk about a Christian this, Christian that or a not-Christian whatever.
  • Maybe more than anything about this book, I love reading the same theological vision and scriptural interpretations as I hold (humility from humble moi) from Rob Bell, someone I'd consider a relative theological conservative.
The book's author cites the usual wisdom that one needs to hit the bottom before being able to change, rebuild, whatever. Yes, but—in my experience, you can't do it alone. As Oprah told a teenage girl on one of her shows I watched two or three years ago, "You know you can't do this [life] by yourself." Jesus asked the guy by the Bethsaida pool, "Do you want to be healed?" The guy answered, "Sir! There is no one to pick me up and put me in the pool after the angel stirs the waters." Exactly!

Recently I've been remembering the devastating, generally extremely destructive Cedar fires we experienced in this general area during fall 2003. "We experienced" because the sky, filled with soot and smoke from relatively far away, turned into a range of unusual colors and the sun became dark. But not all that long after the Cedar Fires finally stopped being a constant topic of local and national news and face-to-face discussion, one of the weather reporters showed us the plants and flowers that were sprouting and growing in the fire's wake; he reminded us some plants can't germinate and won't grow at all unless they're touched, seared and transformed by fire! And doesn't that describe every one of us?

Rob Bell mentions how a garden naturally becomes a city when life goes the way and grows the way God created it to. I hadn't thought of that inevitability! I think of what a weed I've been, too, but that's one reason I've survived and definitely thrived in many cases!

Today is Pentecost Sunday 2007; I know in my head and especially in my heart that I can retain some involvement with the mainline church(es) that had been a gift to me and that had called me a gift, but I also need radical trust that the Reforming, Renewing Pentecostal Spirit of Resurrection will start repainting my life and world really soon. I am so excited about going wherever the Spirit calls me and carries me!

repainting into a new reformation?my amazon review

Pentecost Bulletin Back Cover Text

Here's the actual bulletin cover.

In the Bible and in Christian tradition, there is no narrative or legend about the creation of fire, but there are abundant experiences of visible evidence of the Divine Presence in some form of fire. From the desert of the Exodus through Isaiah's vision in the temple, to Malachi and to John the Baptizer's promise of One who will baptize not only with water, but with Spirit and with Fire, a strand of purifying, redemptive heat weaves through the witness of scripture. Luke begins the Acts of the Apostles with the risen Christ promising the apostles' forthcoming baptism with the Holy Spirit; in the next chapter, we hear about the Spirit given to individuals gathered in community.

The Spirit of Life that raised Jesus from the dead calls us from wherever we are, and gathers us into this assembly that already has experienced its first death and its second birth. The Holy Spirit of God and of the Christ shapes and forms us into the people of God in this place, a gathering of the ordinary that daily walks the extraordinary Way of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, living as an alternative community to those under the reign of death.

Like the apostles of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago, we live baptized into the cross of Calvary, into the empty grave of Easter dawn, and into the freedom and fire of Pentecost. When our friends and neighbors meet us, like Jesus' disciples of old, may they also become witnesses to the Risen Christ!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pentecost Bulletin Cover

Pentecost 2007 bulletin cover

Here's a link to the digitized versions of three of my Pentecost Banners—I based this bulletin cover on the first one.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Pentecost Banners

Pentecost Dove Pentecost Witnesses Pentecost Prayer

...and here's the 14" x 8.5" bulletin cover I designed for Pentecost—I hope this is my final back cover text!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ascension Thursday: He Is Exalted!

Today is Ascension Day; here's Twila Paris' now-famous take on Psalm 47; three months ago on the Feast of Transfiguration I played a wonderful piano setting of this song.

He Is Exalted, by Twila Paris

He is exalted
The King is exalted on high
I will praise Him
He is exalted forever exalted
And I will praise His name

He is the Lord
Forever His truth shall reign
Heaven and earth
Rejoice in His holy name
He is exalted
The King is exalted on high

© 1985 Straightway Music/Mountain Spring Music; adm. by EMI Christian Music Publishing/ASCAP

Monday, May 14, 2007

River of Life; Tree of Life

Revelation 22:2
I'm blogging a graphic of Revelation 22:2 I did a while ago and that I just Photoshopped. The 2nd lection for yesterday, Easter 6, was Revelation 21:10 to 22:5 that includes the astonishing passage about the river of life flowing from the Throne of God—from the Cross of Calvary! Our God reigns from a cross...

Revelation 22:1-2

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Prayer of the Day

Bountiful God, you gather your people into your realm, and you promise us food from your tree of life. Nourish us with your word, that empowered by your Spirit we may love one another and the world you have made, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reign with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Gradience Scriptures

Here's a very recently Photoshopped group of old drawings; since I discovered it's impossible to save out random gradients, I decided to do the four matching designs in one session, while I still had the gradient that pleased me so on this warm spring morning.

Salt Leaven Light   New Covenant

Earth is the Lord's

Shalom   Shalom Makers