Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christianity for the Rest of Us review

I originally blogged this in growing green of Ordinary Time...

transformation and tradition

Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith, by Diana Butler Bass.

Christianity for the Rest of UsThis subject is close to my heart and central to the needs of most of us in the protestant mainline. The study included ten core study congregations plus forty correlated validation churches spread across the continental United States, all of them what used to be generically referred to as mainline protestant, though these days that old once predictably socially, theologically and politically mainline has become sideline or spurline. The project combined participant observation, personal reflections from the book's author, from pastoral and lay church leaders and from rank and file members along with relatively hard data collection and crunching. Study churches "...were solid, healthy churches that exhibited Christian authenticity, expressed a coherent faith, and offered members ways of living with passion and purpose. They exuded a renewed sense of mission and identity, often having emerged from dire circumstances...they were their own best selves—creative and traditional, risktaking and grounded, confidence and humble, open and orthodox..." explains the introduction to the book. The Rest of Us means protestant - but definitely could include many Roman Catholics, too - Christians who don't affiliate or consider themselves fundamentalist or evangelical in the recently popular sense of "evangelical." The book jacket features a black and white sketch of a high-steepled, white wood frame church that's probably not the big downtown First or Central Church, but the drawing is similar to enough small town, suburban and small city meetinghouses that a lot of readers probably can identify.

Apparently there truly are such places as hospitable, creative and faithful churches where a person truly can belong, can grow, change and be transformed in every aspect of being in Jesus Christ!

The Galatian Church was the first of what we'd call an distinctively ethnic congregation, one gathered on the basis of genetic and cultural inheritance. As the author points out, in the U.S.A. the kind of village where everyone knew everyone and local church or denomination constituted on a basis of ethnic or cultural identity (think Scandinavian or German Lutherans, Scots Presbyterians, Italian, Irish or Polish Catholics who routinely intermixed and frequently confused symbols of culture and Christianity) went away just as nation and church have become ethnically, linguistically, racially and culturally diverse beyond anyone's anticipation, with many of us claiming more than one of each category.

I love the idea of people and groups being politically neither Blue nor Red but Purple, along with implications of early Christians adopting the royal color purple for radical, subversive usage and intent in seeking to follow The Way. In Acts 16:13-15 we hear about on the sabbath, expecting to "find a place of prayer" at the river, they also found a place for baptism, where people formally could separate from former allegiances and lords, and officially be baptized into the reign of heaven on earth under the Lordship of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ—a Lord at once both royal and subversive! Lydia, the first European Christian was a woman, and one who "dealt in" clothing for kings but dared publicly sign onto the subversive lifestyle of the followers of Jesus Christ. In that era of the original emerging church, Christianity provided a radically alternative perspective: politically to the point of sedition and socially to the extent of welcoming and actually including all comers. Lydia, newly-baptized and a merchant who routinely interacted with high and mighty royalty, knew God called her to hospitality and community. Let us consider what God is calling us to, wherever our social and cultural locations—assumptions, preferences and traditions?!

my amazon review: transformation and tradition

water buffalo theology review

water buffalo theology coverChristianity in this country won't always be (well, it isn't now!) First Church on the corner of Main and Elm, housed in an iconic white colonial or colonial reproduction building, pews lined up facing the chancel that features a communion table topped with brass candlesticks donated by Annie and Henry's grandparents, Tiffany-type stained glass, Strawberry Shortcake Socials and picnics on a grassy lawn…

Water Buffalo Theology is liberation theology, ecological theology, theology of the cross and an offering in the Christian-Buddhist dialogue. By definition Christianity is incarnational, so cautioning every one of us in our attempts to reach others author Kosuke Koyama asks, "How can anyone be a teacher of religion unless he is at home with the language of the people?" and in the course of the book contrasts and compares many aspects of Buddhism and Christianity. Koyama challenges us to tough anthropological cross-cultural work of living with and living as the other in order to become more aware of ourselves, during the journey (hopefully) discerning essential aspects of the way of Jesus we're offering to others alongside possibilities of adapting the host culture's own practices. As an aside, to me it's interesting how the practice of many contemporary Christians is marked by passionate attachment along with attempts to live with greater perspective and more detachment.

Kosuke Koyama, who died during 2009, was born in Tokyo of Christian parents; the years he taught at a seminary in Thailand heavily influenced this book, thus "water buffalo" and careful considerations of Buddhism and Buddhists. Koyama says God's "first and fundamental gift" to us is "the constant awareness that we are under the judgment of the Word of God."

Detailing limitations of a "theology of the neglect of history" he mentions "an unmysterious God" and quotes Martin Luther's "God without strange work is God without proper work!" In fact, Koyama reveals himself as a huge fan of Dr. Luther... not surprisingly, my internet research revealed on Wikipedia that Koyama wrote his PhD dissertation for Princeton seminary on interpretation of the Psalms of Martin Luther. Introducing the chapter on page 68, he asks, "What is the matter with this God?" In other words, this God who becomes perturbed to the point of wrath is not like our idea of a perfect human; this God is no human invention!

Koyama says Thai Christian awareness of God must be "...deepened and substantiated by [their] sensing the presence of God incarnate in Christ," to the God Whose wrath has "historical and covenantal reasons," reasons of "I-Thou!" Further, in describing Buddhism's influence on the non-historical mindset of many Thai Christians, he describes it as moving away from karmic chains and away from causality: away from attachment! Clearly the God of the Bible confronts us with choices - sometimes choices between life and death, meaning we act in the midst of both existential and emotional attachment to persons and situations. Finally, and strikingly, the not-historical God is a God continuous with humanity: there's no disruption between finite and infinite.

In the half-dozen years since I first read Water Buffalo theology it has been an extremely useful resource for teaching and interpretation that bears rereading and easily carries the weight and freight of a 5-star recommendation.

my amazon review: local yet global

Nim's Island

risk and redemption

Nim's Island—with a tagline for everyone, "Be the hero of your own story!"

nim's island posterYou can read about principals and producers on the website and check out the narrative on Wikipedia and other locations, so I'll highlight Selkie the sea lion, whose name suggests mythic Celtic and Scandinavian shape-shifting seals, the pelican named Galileo for free-flying conveniently natural GPS wherever you are (even on a remote island in the South Pacific whose inhabitants aspire to not being found by anyone ever), and Freddie the bearded dragon.

Nim's Island bookWendy Orr wrote the book and she's on blogspot with at least six blogs! Here's her Nim's Island blog.

Especially as an artist and dweller in a coastal desert I love the tertiary color palette of the film – but what else would you find in an island setting? – along with relatively sparse though essential special effects. Patrick Doyle's wistfully fresh music fits perfectly. Nim's Island CDConcerning becoming the hero of our own stories, in Nim's Island literally Berkeley-bound by agoraphobia Alexandra Rover (think about the implications of possessing a name like "Rover"), Jack Rusoe the dad, and Nim his daughter all deal rather predictably with their own stuff as circumstances, the needs of others and more than a hint of irresistible grace push them into new dimensions. All three principal characters are tightly caught in their own self-defined world (since the dad in the story was wearing a wedding ring, I assume he'd been widowed) and for sure every one of us is most of the time, but how do those liminal, transitional moments marked by vestiges of what was and hints of not-yets and months full of fear, promise and future happen if by grace someone or something other than ourselves doesn't push us out of where we are?

Playing along with the closing credits is U2's
Beautiful Day

The heart is a bloom
Shoots up through the stony ground
There's no room
No space to rent in this town

You're out of luck
And the reason that you had to care
The traffic is stuck
And you're not moving anywhere

You thought you'd found a friend
To take you out of this place
Someone you could lend a hand
In return for grace

It's a beautiful day
Sky falls, you feel like
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away...

You love this town
Even if that doesn't ring true
You've been all over
And it's been all over you...

Touch me
Take me to that other place
Teach me
I know I'm not a hopeless case...

my amazon review: risk and redemption

Saturday, December 19, 2009



The Spirit and the Church cry out, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

All those who await his appearance pray, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

The whole creation pleads, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"thank you"...

here's the note I wrote to fans, friends and guest artists of suntreeriver design on Facebook...

Thank you, thank you, thank you to fans, friends and guest artists of suntreeriver design!

Again we celebrate a season of cultural, religious and family festivities; in the northern hemisphere shorter, darker days and longer, colder nights bring a particularly marked opportunity to recognize the gift of light without which life cannot prevail. At this time of year the world looks to the hope of a new star on the horizon bringing a vision of justice for all creation.

suntree logoBeginning with light as the first act of creation, a river of life and tree of life in a fresh, untamed garden and ending with the river of life and tree of life in a city where the sun never sets, sun and tree and river are persistent images throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The witness of scripture shows us how to live in community and to live in harmony with and as part of the natural creation. Today many of us live in places neither quite urban or exactly rural, where garden and city intermix and converge, but wherever we are, as artists, designers, photographers, illustrators and people who simply enjoy being surrounded by beauty, we can help make the world kinder, more lovely and less threatening.

As we move the calendar year 2010, let's do everything possible to live as stewards of the planet and of the light as our lives help restore, nourish, heal and sustain. May we fill our surroundings with beauty and grace and make this world safe for innocence, vulnerability and wildness so all creation will find a safe home on this planet that is the dwelling-place of the divine, the habitation of the Spirit of Life.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

lessons and carols 2009...

Sunday, 06 December in Founder's Chapel at nearby University of San Diego; again this year I'll describe Lessons & Carols at USD as "an exceptionally worthy piece of preparation for God's birth in our very midst, 'fulfillment beyond all human reckoning,' as one of the worship leaders described it," in my words from 2008. Angelo Musicante by Melozzo da Forl Here's Advent 1 2008 followed by Advent 2, Lessons and Carols @ USD 2008. The lute-playing "Angelo Musicante" by Melozzo da Forl was on the program cover again this year.

Our ecumenical Faith, Order and Witness Committee used to meet at USD quite regularly until it became impossible to schedule a room; the near-elegance and broad, gracious layout of the USD campus always makes me wonder. It's an expensive, church-related school with an overarching emphasis on justice, but like almost all the students I've seen walking around campus and in the dining hall, most of the students in today's program were atypical for San Diego, and as a group not at all characteristic of the tremendous ethnic, racial, cultural and economic diversity that is the San Diego I interact with every day and the San Diego of the condo complex I currently call home.

For the processional we sang "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Be with us, God-with-us, ransom your people, pay the price to free them, to liberate all of us from captivity to everything that holds humans and societies cultures in chains.

Comfort ye, my people! Every valley shall be exalted; the mountains and hills made low-- from the exilic Isaiah 40:1-11 and G. F. Handel. Jesus of Nazareth lived The Way that raises deep caverns and valleys, levels mountains and hills, straightens treacherous roads (repairs those potholes, too); that way is life on the edges of conventional society, words and action that subvert conventional political and religious pretensions to power. Doing justly and loving rightly includes advocacy for equity for everyone everywhere, reversing superfluous wealth and unseating corrupt government. The way of the baptized includes speaking truth to power and living as servants to all.

Erin Lovette-Colyer, Director of The Women's Center at USD was homilist. She suggested we put Mary's story into our own story into Mary's story into our own... and told us she'd talked with three "wise women" in her life as part of her preparation to preach at the worship event. Her own mother, diagnosed with terminal cancer; her recently widowed aunt and her brother's wife, her sister-in-law soon to deliver her first child. Erin told us no doubt Gabriel was well prepared to engage Mary in conversation. What teenager wouldn't want to and need to discuss the momentous future she was being asked to enter? I'd never thought of that, but of course Mary had to talk about it, but the main thing is Mary said "Yes."

Erin described so many of us as afraid to die, afraid to live and afraid to give birth and during this Advent 2009 I still find myself in the same almost forever of being afraid to die (not only to past disappointments and human expectations, but lots more, too), afraid to continue living with lack of basic community, with isolation and loneliness and still afraid of giving birth to a new life for myself and the strangers around me. What if, what if, what if not? Seems as if I still think somehow I can do it on my own, which definitely has not worked at all and after all, in baptism I'm already dead, I've already been raised from death to new life. At the end of her talk Erin Lovette-Colyer asked if we would be doing Advent with an attitude of hope rather than anxiety and "being honest with myself" my anxiety level still is far too high for a modicum of comfort, yet I'm doing Advent with hope, too.

Isaiah 11:1-10 was one of the readings ...1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 4abut with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth...9bfor the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Before the recessional the choir sang last year's recessional song, "The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy," an arrangement of a spiritual from the West Indies, proclaiming Mary's Baby Body "came from the glorious kingdom."

Jesus came from the glorious kingdom to make this earth a glorious kingdom, as full of the presence of God "as the waters cover the sea." In the power of the cross and the power of the Spirit, we live as God-with-us, God among us. The feast and the season of Epiphany is not all that far away, so in the words of one of my very young students quite a while ago, to live as the Body of Christ means "that we can be city lights!"

Observing Advent, hoping and longing for the Divine Presence in our midst ultimately is about desiring and longing for the death of death itself, hankering after Easter. Afraid to die? But God can only resurrect the dead! And I'm dead, already--baptized! How do we practice easter in the midst of tombstones? How do we live as if among the artifacts of death? Remember, remember... the straight path, the smooth, level road is the way of the cross, the axis mundi connecting heaven and earth as we live incarnation, resurrection and pentecost together. Celebrate eucharist: taken, blessed, broken and given...

Friday, December 04, 2009

do nothing friday 5

do nothing friday 5 on the revgals

Sally had an interesting idea:
I am reading a wonderful little book for Advent it's title: "Do nothing Christmas is Coming!"

So this weeks Friday Five is simple.

List Five things you won't be doing to prepare for Christmas.

And while you are doing nothing play the bonus, put your feet up and listen to your favourite Advent Carol, and post it or a link to it...

1. I won't be anticipating snow or expecting to shovel snow

but I will be full of gratitude for gifts of coastal desert and the hot desert

2. I won't be preparing to preach a Christmas sermon or play nativity liturgy

but I will be doing some designing

3. I won't be basking in the sun of a tropical beach paradise

but I will be giving thanks for sufficient food and shelter

4. I won't be enjoying that sense of "finally, at last, I'm home" I keep imagining is around the next corner I turn, the next community where I try to find ways to participate

but I will be doing and simply being whatever and however I can to fulfill God's call to me to be the welcoming embrace others seek and others need, daily and hourly to live as an attitude and a place of homecoming for others

5. I won't be celebrating the resurgence and revitalization of the ministry I prepared to do

but I will be remembering not a single door has been permanently closed and singing again the Magnificat, God's assurance of great reversals, the rich and irrevocable promise—along with proleptic evidence—of the inbreaking reign of heaven here on earth. I'll even rejoice in my too-many scars, evidence that in spite of it all, life has prevailed, after all! And during Advent and for Thanksgiving Eve I've been organist for evening prayer and love exposing the strident, sometimes-dissonant harmonies and angular vocal line of the Lutheran Book of Worship setting of vespers.

I've chosen a song that covers the entire liturgical year:
Mary, Did You Know?

by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?

Mary did you know...

The blind will see.
The deaf will hear.
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap.
The dumb will speak
The praises of The Lamb.

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you're holding is the Great I Am.