Six good reasons to observe the Holy Week

I have always had a bit of resistance to telling people about Holy Week. It is one of those things that casual people might gum up and consuming people might defile. It really deserves people who voluntarily seek the Lord  — not people who are not pressured into some observance by fear of unholiness nor people afraid of being on the outs with their peers or the people who dominate them. It is a radical thing to do — not really something to be visited but something to be accomplished, just like Jesus will say at the end of it, “It is finished.”

Walking through the Holy Week with Jesus is the ultimate in taking to heart the great theme verse of Lent, Philippians 3:10-11:  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” The discipline is all about knowing Jesus – knowing his death and moving through it with him to resurrection.” Powerful.

At the same time, I also hate for anyone to miss it! So many Christians de-radicalize themselves and ramp down Christianity to fit into the “side-project” category while their schedule is devoted to who they really are. I cannot resist calling everyone into true faith that invades the schedule with as much discipline bent on knowing Jesus as it can tolerate – a true attempt at praying without ceasing and being the body on a pilgrimage together into eternity. This journey is our true life and no one should miss it. We got the strangest compliment the other day; someone said, “They really expect us to be Christians.” It’s true. I hope that’s not becoming unusual for the church in general. Holy Week expects us to be Christians.

So here are six reasons I think we should do it. You still have a few days to plan to do what you can to become who you might be — as Paul seems to say it, “attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

jesus checker

Tradition

The Holy Week in the Christian discipline year is the week immediately before Easter. The earliest allusion to the custom of marking this week as a whole with special observances is to be found in the Apostolical Constitutions (v. 18, 19), dating from the late 200s and early 300s. It is great to be part of the transhistorical body of Christ. Circle of Hope also has its own version of this tradition that is as old as we are. It is great to be part of our own spiritual tradition. Some people think that resisting the tradition makes them something. Could be — thinking that being withdrawn, being “free” or merely being oneself  has good parts, too. But as a spiritual lifestyle staying singular is detrimental.

Identification

The main discipline of Holy Week is the spiritual exercise of being with Jesus, quite consciously, prayerfully and physically, as he moves through the final week on the way to his great work on our behalf. He is fully indentified with us and we seek to fully identify with him. We become one with him to know him and to die and rise with him. We could do this in our imagination in our house, of course, or binge watch it on a movie. Making the effort to go to a gathering connects us to our own problems with being that real, that active, and that committed as well as being all that with those people. We exercise our Christ-connected identity in graphic ways and that solidifies it.

Reception

The time we spend every day during the Holy Week gives us a lot of meditative space we do not normally have and may not normally discipline in our own schedule. The teaching, worship, dialogue and quiet give us a lot of space to receive Jesus: what he is saying and what he is doing. God came to us in Jesus in the past, he is coming right now and will come back to welcome us into the age to come. These mysteries are very deep and are a little different for us each year. We need to be softened to them and we need time to receive all that Jesus was, is and will be.

Development

Many of us are just starting off in faith and we need to get a handle on what we are doing. Holy Week lays it out in a deep but linear path we can follow. Exercising spiritual discipline at this level is a formative first for many of us. It challenges who we are as individuals and a body, which is why many people don’t risk it. But it also makes us open to grow in the Lord’s direction as he leads us. Some of us are settled in Jesus and the church and are threatened with a loss of humility – enough humility to place ourselves in the now-familiar path with Jesus. But we need to place ourselves on that path as who we are now, not when we first took it, and going where we are going next, not stuck on the track we’re in. We dare not become content with our level. Holy Week demands a deeper level, since Jesus is out in front of us demonstrating what self-giving love means.

Community

While spiritual discipline is probably primarily a silent, singular practice with God, we are never called to leave that as the full extent of our practice. We need each other. The weak need the strong and the strong need to weak. During the mutual discipline of Holy Week, we dispense with our normal cell schedule. We band together as four congregation who will meet as a whole on Easter morning and then will be sent into our stations on Easter evening. It is so descriptive it is priceless! The practice helps us face up to our new faces and to live in the truth and love that makes us one. The story of Holy Week is the story that made us the body of Christ. Reliving it is remembering our birth.

Witness

In a world of newly-forming detractors and deconstructors, the word of Jesus needs to be told and the way of Jesus needs to be demonstrated. This week of the year cannot be turned into a cute celebration of family and gift-giving; it is the Holy Week in which Jesus dies and rises. It is the gospel lived out by the Lord and His people. It is the re-creation moment held up for everyone to see. The Holy Week observances are like a march down Broad St. by which we let people know that people of this generation follow Jesus and take his work so seriously they are drawn to emulate it in their small way as they gather to be a part of it together. The more appointments we need to reschedule, the more bosses we need to ask for time off, the more friends we have occasion to tell what we are doing, the more trouble the whole process causes to the homeostasis seeking to deaden our hope, the better.

The times are on the Circle of Hope Calendar.

You may have more reasons! You may have stories to tell about why you do it. If this is a good place to share, please feel free.

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It is the second act — what do we do now?

Imaginarium gilliamIt is true that Terry Gilliam stole the title “imaginarium” from us and applied it to his devilish movie. The five people who knew about that movie before I just told you may have had trouble taking our “rolling Council” meeting seriously. Nevertheless, the others had a very visionary Imaginarium in February. Recently we have simply answered this question when we meet: “What is God telling us?” What moved the group in February was pondering what it takes to be what we have imagined and what it takes to lead it. We are implementing the vision of our “second act.” Things are loosening up, changing, and growing. What do we do now?

Here are five things that God seems to be saying to us about moving into what is next for Circle of Hope. It is amazing that all this good thinking happened in one hour!

Our “second act” is like when the kids are in high school and we get a miracle baby.

  • It has disturbed the homeostasis. Some of us have to get used to imagining ourselves as parents when we were already settled into our post-reproduction phase.
  • Our system has become pretty secure. It is good to have it disrupted because it needs to be disrupted to expand. Further leaders need to emerge. Pastors need to turn to equipping others and to not being overly in charge.
  • If we follow God’s lead through this change we will win the battle we are in. But there is a remote possibility that we won’t have the faith or follow the vision. We are taking the risk to meet the challenge even though we may prefer avoiding failure rather than risking success.

Many of us are at the tipping point when our attitudes change and we think we can sway something.

  • We have stokeable imaginations. We can get fired up. This is a good trait.
  • What we are talking about becoming in this year’s Map takes prayer. If we are praying all the time, we can see it God’s way and we can be it God’s way.
  • Some of us have felt overwhelmed — like we were foster parents to a giant baby called Circle of Hope. It was like the baby was foisted upon us and we were not exactly ready to parent. We fell in love with the baby and we decided to raise it. Now that we are raising it, it feels like our baby.

One of the main calls to the Leadership Team is to pick up the load. Be responsible.

  • To be responsible probably means a change in how many of us see ourselves. We can’t lead if our faith is locked inside “personal salvation” boundaries — that means faith is something I get for myself and it mainly lives in me. We’re talking about having faith that is about others and about the cause, not locked up in our own survival, preference or good feelings.
  • One of us gave an analogy of this based on how they have changed their gardening practices. In the past their garden was not very thought out. They planted what was given to them or went with half-price plants at the end of the season. This year they have already been germinating seeds under the grow lights in expectation of spring. We need to be the kind of people who foster spiritual seedlings, not just wait for people to find us, not just think of ourselves as afterthoughts or leftovers, and not mess around with “whatever” until the season for planting has passed.
  • To pick up the load means being active as opposed to passive. We can be a movement or a monument (or even a mausoleum if we don’t watch it).
What? Never saw Disney's Hercules, either?

What? Never saw Disney’s Hercules, either?

It is tempting to wait and see what is happening, like you’re watching someone else’s show.

  • It doesn’t matter if we switch around our leaders and do inventive structural changes if the church is not moved by the Spirit. If there is no movement there is nothing to steer.
  • One of us said. “If I say it, I’m more motivated.” They meant they need to talk about what they are doing because that helps them own it. For instance, people sometimes don’t want to say “I love you.” They don’t want to say it until they absolutely mean it. Some of us, even the leaders, don’t want to say, “I’m going with the ‘second act.'” They are waiting, doubtful.

Our best stuff is in the wings ready to move on stage.

  • We need to stoke what is coming. We have spent three months doing that. We switched our pastors around and founded “the hub” at 13th and Walnut. A new picture is taking shape. We deployed new local site supervisors. We refocused all our pastors more on making deeper and further disciples and less on administration of their locales. We began to refocus Rachel on being the BW Development Pastor. Our Compassion Core Team took up the challenge of getting us ALL out there in compassionate service.
  • We are meeting new people who want to be responsible. They want to build an army for the spiritual battle of our time.
  • A new proverb seems to be developing: The new person is a role you did not know you needed.
  • We even started to catch up with our sharing goals in March.

It is an exciting time to be a circle of hope in Philadelphia. There is certainly no shortage of hopelessness to fill with a bright future! It is exciting to be Circle of Hope, the people of God, too! We are filled with possibilities and we have the vision and leadership to makes them happen.

 

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THINKING like we ought to belong together — even these days

Owen Alderfer, 1985

Owen Alderfer, 1985

The first General Conference of the Brethren in Christ I ever attended was led by the Moderator named Owen Alderfer. He impressed us so much that Gwen and I thought we had stumbled upon the Shangri-la of denominations. We had lived in intentional community for years and here was Owen Alderfer trying to teach mutual respect and dialogue to a group of over 500 delegates who took themselves rather seriously. Just the fact that he would trust the group to debate meaty issues was way beyond anything we had ever experienced beyond the local level.

His mentality has slowly eroded over the years until BIC meetings would have to resurrect the idea of dialogue and few delegates take themselves seriously since they have little purpose — other than experiencing the show. But I have not forgotten Dr. Alderfer. If you talk about what should form the character of a BIC church planting, you might look to his summary of his dissertation called The Brethren Mindset.

Alderfer summarized an ethos that had four overlapping assumptions:

  • Christian truth is open—ended.
  • No one holds a monopoly on truth; God’s truth, therefore, may come to us from a variety of sources.
  • A system of doctrine is qualified by trusting relationships among brethren.
  • Mutuality is necessary to the existence and development of the body.

mindset.realpowerThis mindset helped form the way of Christ for the Brethren in Christ. Unwittingly, perhaps, it is amazingly suited for the postmodern world. I have often said, and thought when I joined up, that the BIC’s capacity to be a little “big tent” was the main thing it could offer to the future. Right now I think that has been reduced to a “mosaic” of identities with little reason to hold together. Alderfer’s mindset offers a framework to actually make that diversity into a dynamic unity. I think he matches what Cavanaugh calls the pilgrim way through the mobility of the globalized world (see previous post).

I have to admit that I don’t really care if we plant “Brethren in Christ” churches, not really. I am not a so-called “cradle BIC.” I am not even a cradle Christian, since my parents never attended a church. So that kind of blood-family loyalty is not my strong suit. Instead of just extending the blood-line, what I want to do is make disciples who have the hope of making disciples and plant churches that have the hope of reproducing churches. I want to live in a lively incarnation of Jesus as the body of Christ — a body influencing individuals and whole regions by its unusual presence and prophetically demonstrating as well as explaining how it is the alternative to the fallen world around it, starting with introducing the person of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

I love the four-legged stool idea of Anabaptist, Pietist, Wesleyan and now Evangelical ways that combine to make a foundation for the Brethren in Christ. But I would add more legs: the charismatic movement, the “purpose driven” influence from a few years ago, and I would go further back and include the original desert father and mothers, the Benedictine movement in the 600’s, the Cluniac reforms of the 900’s, and the Franciscan movement of the 1200’s – it all comes from a common yearning from people who want to be Jesus followers, not just part of some “thing.” I came into Christianity with a trip through the history of Christianity, being personally attracted to all the radicals who just wanted to follow Jesus the best they could, and I was basically opposed to all the men who wanted to systematize and dominate the church to death.

So I am not that interested in the historic character of the Brethren in Christ or the very limited theological contours it has written for itself. I doubt that most, if any, of the BIC church people are that interested, either. (This blog post may be boring you already!). It just so happens that I think the Brethren in Christ stumbled upon a rather appropriate way to be the church. To the extent that we can express our genius and keep it living and not merely codified, then we are a good team to join. If we aren’t really a team and we are just trying to drum up enthusiasm for our dying tradition, then we won’t really have a good way to make disciples and plant churches, and I think we should just close down and go juice up the Church of the Brethren, or change our name and become something relevant.

I think we should be what Cavanaugh calls “pilgrims” in this interesting age. I have been a pilgrim and I think Alderfer was, too. A pilgrim is moving toward the center looking for gravity, not moving toward the periphery looking for difference or newness. The pilgrim, unlike the tourist, has a motivator outside themselves: God, rather than the interior motivator of satisfying themselves with relationships, knowledge or experiences. They are mobile, but they are not looking from above with the imperial gaze, they are looking ahead into what is next and looking inside for what needs to be emptied. They are humble.

When we planted Circle of Hope, we elaborately planned to build a church that had a brethren mindset. If you want to have one, I think it takes four features that match Alderfer’s premise: dialogue, a culture, listening leaders, and mutuality. See whether you think this bit of our genius is well-suited to making lifelong disciples from the people of our era.

Invite people into a dialogue.
Christian truth is open—ended; that is, it is not captured in a closed system and articulated in creeds and formal theological statements.

The idea is: “God may yet illumine the minds of His children to grasp new insights. True Christian faith is more a relationship than a system. We must, therefore, be open to the Holy Spirit that he may bring us new truth as our relationships to God and each other are enhanced throughout our Christian pilgrimage. We must continually be open to God lest we miss some fresh word from beyond.”

As the people God used to build Circle of Hope we had and still have choices. Our “small groups” could have just been a “program” of the church or the cells could be the church. We could have spawned independent congregations, dependent congregations, or do what we did: plant equal congregations joined as one church. We consciously formed a network of cells and congregations that are held together by a dialogue of love. The dialogue begins in the cells. It extends to cells of cell leaders and the Leaderships Teams that facilitate our life together. It is generated in the public meetings and works its way back down into the life of the body. The church is a breathing organism. That’s why we often warn people not to merely consume it, as Americans are accustomed to doing with everything, that would be cannibalism.

Everything we do has a feeling of being open-ended. Someone suggested a new proverb the other day: a newcomer is a gift you didn’t know you needed yet. That’s how dialogue should work. Alderfer quoted Vernard Eller saying that “’The central factor in brethrenism…is a commitment to follow Christ in radical discipleship.’ This thrust immediately skews Brethren thought away from the conceptual, the theoretical, the systematic, the theological, and toward the practical, the applicable, the existential. One’s positions are not as important as is the quality of one’s commitment and discipleship. The Bible is enough, and further creeds and regimentation are distractions.” God is splendidly complete, but God is humbly walking with us through our time until we are finished.

Thus, one of the main pieces of theology my children learned is that the people of God do not “go” to church, they “are” the church. They were forbidden to say, “We are going to church.” That’s impossible. Cavanaugh says the pilgrim mentality sees no differentiation between sacred and secular, clergy and laity, worship and work, spiritual and temporal. Speaking the truth in love undermines those, and other, false dichotomies. I like to talk about who is moving, not who is right or wrong, in or out, up or down. Those either/or identity arguments are the tricks of the powers. Having the arguments ultimately reduces faith to one’s private opinion. And when faith is private, the nation state owns the dialogue.

Nurture a culture
The first characteristic leads into the second: The body of belief held by Gods people may well incorporate principles from a variety of sources.

The idea is: “No one person or group has a monopoly on truth; we need to draw upon and learn from one another–using discernment and wise judgment all the while–lest our system of truth be dwarfed or truncated.”

This characteristic is seen in the early development of brethren-ish people. They were descendants of radical reformed Christianity. But they did not find this intense enough, so they searched for a deeper, richer expression of the faith. Their journey was later influenced by Pietism—-from which they drew a personal, immediate experience of God’s presence coloring all of life by the pervasive activity of the Holy Spirit.

God is always creating the culture by the power of the Spirit. As the people of God move throujoe snellgh time they adapt, redeem and bring hope. Their pilgrim sense of having a center in Christ that they carry along their way and having a destination outside themselves, given by God, allows them to be agents of an ongoing creation. When Joe Snell (one of our early church planting pastors) answered our call to try to mother our first new congregation, one of the first things he did was organize our proverbs as he got a handle on our culture. We had collected the sayings of Circle of Hope in a rather disorganized document. In the course of our dialogue, certain things had become more important than others and we could reduce them to a line book coveror two like the Old Testament proverbs. Joe put them in order. Ultimately, I was assigned to write a book about them, which I outlined as a group project with a few of my twentysomething comrades. We created a culture. We keep doing it: we write songs, we invent teams, we make a Map of our future together. The process makes us like family – we know who we are and who we are to each other and it makes us able to feel secure in hearing what God might be doing next.

Be a leader who listens
The thought system of the Brethren was something worked out in life among the Brethren.

The idea is: “A system of doctrine is not isolated from the trusting relationship of believing persons. The Brethren do not hesitate to state their beliefs and to support them with Scripture and argument; still, they are uncomfortable with a rigidly stated system regarded as capturing the entire body of truth and standing as the final measure of orthodoxy. More important is the Christian lifestyle and the caring relationships among Brethren. Minor and lesser differences may exist within a body as long as trusting relationship is maintained and fruitful conversation is progressing relative to the faith. Doctrine is seen as relational as well as logical; if there are differences between us we can work them out as long as we are under the Spirit and the Word and we maintain a trusting relationship.”

I think this mindset is perfect for the postmodern era. It would greatly enhance Brethren in Christ church planting, if we would stop diminishing the dialogue among the church at large, and our leaders demonstrated their trust for us rather than insisting that we trust them. I have objected, as I most recently did at the last General Conference, about the secrecy and trust-the-leaders mentality – not because I think the leaders are untrustworthy, but because I think they are undermining our unique capacity to plant churches that could make radical disciples. In the “global economy” radical Christians are like a boutique, like monasticism is within the Catholic church. Being small, familial, intense communities is our brand. Listening leaders culture that very necessary gift.

So when I came to Philadelphia to plant a church I first formed a formation team. They decided the church name; they helped form the plan. The first act was to begin cells and I was not even the first leader of one. While we want to double in size right now, I do not want to double by stealing the opportunity for individuals to become real Christians. No one needs to be a cog on a big machine. Just the opposite, they need opportunity to become deeper and to realize the full expression of their true selves as members of the body and full partners in the Lord’s mission. People often leave the church in their thirties because it is not meaty enough. It is boring, run by old white men who stopped listening in their thirties and just ran the organization. Leaders who listen demonstrate that the people are trustworthy and trustworthy people make a trustworthy church through which trust-starved postmoderns can find Jesus.

Practice mutuality
Mutuality is necessary to the existence and development of the body and to the working out of its system of belief.

The idea is: “Individuality is a valuable reality among the Brethren–the preciousness of the individual and the contribution of one single person to the whole; however individualism is a dangerous heresy which allows barriers to be erected between brethren and cuts one off from the inspiration and discipline of the whole. Brethren need one another in the identification of Christian thought, in the mutual discipline of the sanctifying process, and in life—warming, life-giving fellowship among believers.”

A leader can say whatever she likes but the culture, the system, the practices are what ultimately teach. We recently had an exciting Council meeting. In an inspiration we changed around our leaders and decided to spend Circle Thrift profits on risky dreams of expanding our influence and numbers. We call it the “second act” of Circle of Hope. At this meeting people cried. They questioned one another’s sensitivity and wisdom. We demonstrated how precious we think individuals are and we also reinforced that we want to be subject to the inspiration and discipline of the whole. We welcome the visible process of being the body of Christ in all our diversity, held together by a dialogue of love in the Spirit. It is a mutual process that takes all of us — at least the process reveals who’s not moving. You cannot present a brethren mindset in a powerpoint, it requires a community to learn. Life in Christ is a mutual endeavor if it is merely happening in one’s personal philosophy, it has left the Bible behind.

Being the church has always been challenging. The postmodern era is just another challenge the world presents on its way through the dark. We carry the light of Christ with us as we also make our way and we see the dawn on our horizon. It is worth the effort to make an authentic church with an ethos that matches the heart of Jesus as best we can.

Here are the previous posts to which I referred:
Who am I in the globalized world: migrant or tourist?
There is always a little pain in the introduction

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Who am I in the globalized world: migrant or tourist?

A version of some thinking we’ve been doing as Brethren in Christ church planters.

I think the story of Jesus and our own stories of following the Lord’s lead are crucial to church planting in this next era.  A person entering our meeting has plenty of preconceived notions about what church is in the United States. They need to run into a person whose story is being written with Jesus, not just a story that can beam in on a screen – they are up to their eyeballs in those, and not just someone else’s story — like the ones written in the Bible.

I think Circle of Hope has a unique story  about living out the historic Brethren in Christ coh grow chartethos to offer as a gift to our post-Christian culture.  Our leaders are feverishly trying to manage our “mosaic” with less resources all the time and with outdated practices, so we will see how we fare in the coming era — that story is being written. So far, it looks like we are getting further fragmented instead of united in love. Some of the reasons for that may have to do with a lack of dialogue about who God is calling us to be in a changing world. It seems like many of us have outsourced thinking to our leaders and they don’t have that much time to do it!

How we see the new environment being created before our eyes may help us decide what we ought to do to follow Jesus through it. Here are the two most common ways people find a way through: as a migrant or as a tourist.

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Patrick had nerve — redux

St_-Patrick2Why aren’t we spiritual ancestors of St. Patrick more like St. Patrick? Unlike him,

  • we are often stuck on a treadmill of trying harder at things that aren’t working.
  • we keep looking for answers to questions that no longer need to be answered.
  • we get stuck in endless either/or arguments when the dichotomies were false to begin with
  • we undermine the leaders we so desperately need to help us off our treadmill and out of our arguing

We need the kind of nerve Patrick had.

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There is always a little pain in the introduction

My sense of church planting begins with introducing myself and the Lord who is with me. Like God became incarnate in Jesus, I am a human filled with the Spirit. Church planting is personal — just like Jesus walking around Galilee. He said it was like a seed going into the ground and “dying.” I find it painful.

When Paul talks about sharing the sufferings of Christ, for me, part of that suffering is to keep introducing myself and not hide out in the little group of people who already “get me” and love me. So here I go again, I am telling you about Jesus in me right now. This blog is one way to “get out there.”

eccehomo

Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Ecce Homo, 1871.

At each part of my life in mission, I have discovered things about Jesus in me that have proven  valuable for church planting. As I tell you about a few of them, I hope you will consider how you might introduce yourself with what you’ve got.

It all started with that college Bible study. I was called to be a church planter early on.  I was used to win many of my dorm mates to Christ. In my sophomore year, I started a Bible study to disciple them. It grew by my junior year to two apartments and 50-100 people coming every Monday. I have not forgotten what it was like to feel twenty – ready to invent the wheel.

What did I (and my friends) have?

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Redux # 1 — David Bazan and the Dialogue about Lost Faith

My top ten series is complete! This is the #1 most-read post from before 2014 from last year. In 2013 I remembered David Bazan and his very public struggle with faith.

About the time Circle of Hope got going, a group named Pedro the Lion started becoming popular. It was the brainchild of David Bazan, the son of a Pentecostal worship leader who brought a down-to-earth Seattle vibe to his music and didn’t mind being a Christian who talked about issues of justice and issues of doubt.

Pedro+the+LionSince nothing ever disappears from the internet (even if we can’t remember that long ago!), we can still see what Bazan was saying about faith and art back in the early days of Pedro the Lion. He said that his faith naturally permeated his music because it is an extension of who he is. “Anyone with a strong, sincere belief in something shouldn’t treat it lightly. It seems I’m always being called upon to boil down my faith for interviews. Defining it should be done with great care.” [Want to see the whole interview?]

Becoming a Christian rocker who makes a living finding ways to make holy scripture fit alongside gnarly power chords was NOT what Bazan wanted to do. He thought that ”the basic act of being creative glorifies God.” Christian rock “turns the music and the message into crap. The message is degraded when it’s made into slogans and low-level propaganda. They’re attempting to reach a certain audience just like advertisers do — and that, ultimately, degrades the art.”

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2014 #1 — Jesus – and five basic assumptions that inform dialogue on sexuality

Thursdays, so far, have been TOP TEN of 2014 days. This is the #1 most read post of 2014. Last March I tried to collect some basic thinking that could help us focus where we needed to focus when it came to the tender topic of sexuality. There was plenty of dialogue about just what all this means — and that is a good thing.

The other day a distant acquaintance accused our church of not talking about sex enough  (in the neighborhood gossip column, at least). It was right after we enjoyed an open forum about our theology of sexuality attended by over 100 people! It never ceases to surprise me that the more one does something, the more excuse it gives a few people to criticize you for not doing it!

If anything, Circle of Hope has been a good place to work through the trauma of our over-sexualized society. As our forum uncovered, a lot of people have had painful sexual experiences, and not just because the powers that be limit their sexual expression (since they don’t really do that anymore). Sex is painful because they are confused. And it is painful because they get run over by the wave of immorality that is surging through the culture. (Maybe using the word immorality even made you uneasy, since who could say what that is?). It is painful because sex has become an incessant demand and a constant source of scientific study. And it is painful because a lot of people can’t figure out what Jesus says about it.

Listening to people lately has helped me collect a few of the assumptions I often share when people want some spiritual direction about what to do with what they feel and how they are acting. When you only have your own impulses and a lot of societal pressure to work with, things can get confusing – and painful. So here are five things about Jesus that I think should inform how we have a dialogue about sexual behavior (among other things, of course). These five things will not solve everyone’s problems, and I’m not speaking from a place that has been processed by the leaders of the church, but I hope to name some basic things that guide life in Jesus and that apply to how we continue the dialogue about sexuality.

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The Book of Mormon and Disney are suspiciously similar.

We took our five-year-old granddaughter to Disneyworld. We enjoyed it. Our Princess Tiana room had headboards that sparkled when we pushed a button. When our plane got snowed out, the resort took us back at the Priceline rate, no extra charge. I missed the major snow storm while I was laying by a pool. I learned things. Good, good. I hope my granddaughter did not learn too much except that we really love her. But I learned a lot.

Let’s be positive first. Disney knows hospitality. That is something to learn. If our church were as ready for visitors as they are, we would have more visitors at our meetings. The “cast members” are so well trained! — a little robotic as a result, but I am being positive. They gave my granddaughter an “It’s my birthday” pin to wear and fifty people must have noticed it! — get a corn dog and get special recognition from your waitperson! During the Mummerlike Festival of Fantasy parade, a dancer actually interrupted her routine to lean down and wish her happy birthday – it choked me up.

Disney connects people to their brand. That’s also something to learn. We met a family on the plane who were going to Disney for their daughter’s spring break (that is what she wanted to do). It was their thirtieth trip! In Downtown Disney (a shopping and eating village) there is a giant store devoted to Disney everything. People buy it and wear it. Witness the pink crocs with a Mickey Mouse logo lighting up when you see my blonde descendant. We should connect people to Jesus so effectively.

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We visited princesses. Only one of us dressed as one.

Then there is that other stuff, like the entire insidious philosophy behind the place. There’s a LOT to learn there! For instance, the welcome show is a good example of getting the philosophy in there right off the bat. We got to the entrance early because we desperately needed to go visit Elsa and get our autograph book signed. (For the uninitiated: yes, you heard right). We did not know there was a welcome show planned for the several thousand people waiting for the gates to open. The essence of the welcome show is: today is going to make a memory you never forget. I think the message is: life is like an autograph book filled with the memories of getting something you really want and like.  Those moments are what we work for, even what we live for. “You can make them today! It is up to you.”

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Redux #2 — Don’t let the loneliness organize you.

At the beginning of the year I am reposting “top ten” entries. On Friday, I’m reminding people about some posts before 2014 that people have kept reading — there is a “top ten” of them! Here is #2. In September of 2013 I updated a piece that had been surprisingly well-read for a long time. It was well-read again. Loneliness– our perennial affliction.

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Elie Wiesel Buchenwald Concentration Camp Holocaust Survivor

Take a look at the famous picture of Buchenwald concentration camp. Many of us have seen the picture. But you may not have known that the famous author Elie Wiesel is actually in the picture. He is circled in red.

In his 1981 novel, Testament, Wiesel creates a character who represents the Jewish intellectuals who were killed by Stalin in 1952. (Stalin’s mass murder outpaced Hitler’s by millions). In the novel, the character is encouraged by his prison guard to write an autobiography, since it might contain further confession of wrongdoing. Although it seems like a hopeless task that none of his loved ones will ever see, the man writes his story in the spirit of the ancient one about the Just Men who came to Sodom:

“Night and day [the Just Man] walked the streets and markets protesting against greed and theft, falsehood and indifference. In the beginning, people listened and smiled ironically. Then they stopped listening; he no longer even amused them. The killers went on killing, the wise kept silent, as if there were no Just Man in their midst.

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