sunday morning

Scripture Comments Off on sunday morning

I woke up at 5 this morning with the smell of smoke on my tongue, and in my nose, and filling the air all around me. This is a familiar smell to me, this smell of a forest on fire. There’s no danger, it’s a massive fire a good many miles away on the other side of the mountain with no wind to bring it our way. Also, our fire of several years ago means we have vast swaths of fire breaks all around. The work of firefighters, the high air pressure, and the shape of our mountains has brought this smell to rest heavy on us. It is not a danger, it is however a reminder and an echo both of fires presently burning and fires long ago extinguished.

I first came to know this pungent aroma, which has no comparison, when I was in 5th grade. We lived in the mountains above Santa Barbara. When these hills caught fire the bombers would fly through the valley in front of our house, reminding now of the then not yet released Empire of the Sun.

When I was in eighth grade, while living in the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles, the hills across the street from our house erupted into flame. It was 2am and I was woken up by the sounds of a woman screaming inside our house. Her own house was on top of the hill and it was engulfed in the flames. I got up, and participated in the emergency action, spraying down the roof and yard, packing up the car. This image has burned into my mind. There were walls of flame literally across the street and the 100 foot row of palm trees were 100 foot torches swaying in the wind. I worked while in a red tempest, smoldering hot ashes swirling about in the fire induced windstorm. The sparks from the flame burned the homes of numerous neighbors, many of which were several blocks farther away from the fire. We had a rose bush burn we realized later, though no one knows when that happened.

Home for college one summer and the county park behind our house, filled with chaparral, caught fire when some passer-by threw their cigarette from their car and ignited the dry brush. The fire trucks came quickly, the evacuation was voluntary and we hosed down the house and trees just outside. This one burned less than an acre. Any more and it would have burned our bit of an acre.

October of 2003 I moved from Pasadena to Lake Arrowhead, deciding against a life of unsatisfying jobs for money’s sake and for a life in which I leaped into the undetermined river of God’s guiding Spirit. Two weeks after this the whole of Southern California caught fire. The evacuation was mandatory. We didn’t evacuate.

This is a story, to be sure. One of those defining points of my life. The firefighter neighbor said there was no reason the fire didn’t burn up Lake Arrowhead. It was a miracle.

The news was filled with pictures of these flames which over a week came at our valley from every direction. We never, but for a brief moment in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, saw any of the fire. There was not even a hint of smoke. The flames which approached were turned by the changing wind, never coming close, never bringing that pungent smell.

We stood on the edge of the hill looking over at the lake and watched the helicopters circling and refilling their tanks while ravens, always up for a bit of fun, circled nearby and dived into the wash of air, making amusement with this rescuing wind.

At the end of the week a snowstorm came. We smelled smoke for the first time at the beginning of this storm, the bombers going full force raising steam and smoke from the smoldering forest.

There was no electricity for a month. It was dark. It was quiet. It was still. After that first week at least.

Now I wake up to the pungent aroma of a not too distant fire, knowing that our county is in a state of emergency and the governor flew over the house on his way to the flames. I write now lit by that peculiar yellow glow of a smoke hazed sunrise.

There’s no danger whatsoever. The smell, however, reaches into the mouth, and through the nose, into the mind, seeping into the cells and sparking memory nerves, recreating images of fires past, emotions past, dangers and worries past. I see fire gutted buildings and living tree torches and hear screams of a young woman crying over her lost life possessions. I feel the tension of planning an escape route should we see flames over the next rise, and I listen for the sound of sirens on the streets around and the sounds of heavy engines overhead. A helicopter flies over right now. I wonder how far it is going.

The fire is far away, and the wind is still. I am not at all worried. The evoking scent does make me pensive however, and still.

I sit outside and pray, listening to the morning calls of bird families, their many varied young now exploring this new world while parents teach and watch with cautious eyes. Jays are awake and screeching. Bats are not yet asleep and circle above catching the early bugs.

No sensation breaks through this thick smell of smoke that is on the tongue and in the nose.

It is the aroma of a primeval warning. It is the smell of my own memorial danger.

I think I’ll go outside and throw some birdseed on the ground. There’s a family of jays poking around on the ground and some black-headed grosbeaks looking curiously interested in a potential Sunday morning buffet.

This is, after all, the day the Lord has made.

a quote

Uncategorized Comments Off on a quote

“For objectivity in no wise consists in taking one’s stand outside an object but, on the contrary, in considering one’s object in itself and by itself. There are fields in which what is commonly styled ‘objectivity’ is only indifference, and where indifference means incomprehension.”
–Vladimir Lossky

On consumerism

Uncategorized Comments Off on On consumerism

Skye Jethani pens a not unusual questioning of consumerism over at Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal. It’s good writing and good thoughts and true. Only it seems to make the same mistake I’ve seen over and over and over again. It’s looking from the top down criticizing the pews and ignoring the real consumers in a church, which are pastors and leaders. In studying the Emerging Church recently I realized how many, many communities somehow lost their way when their leader was promoted upwards (say to Willow Creek), or had a new “vision” or otherwise got weary with their community. In church planting circles, however, such consumers are called apostles. They expect commitment but when it comes time to challenge their commitment it is ecclesially fine to move onwards and upwards, even it is not fine for their parishioners to do the same. Or, in broader leadership conversations you hear much about finding and raising up leaders, the assumption being people have to be judged and measured according to their worth of investment.

The pastor is shopping through his congregation to find the best product that would maximize the ministry potential. They shop for the best congregation to maximize their leadership potential. They shop and judge and move and change “visions” as the whims hit all with the theologized consideration of doing God’s supposed work.

I’ve spent a good deal of time on both sides of the pulpit and I have to say I know no more consumeristic Christians than pastors. They preach against the splinter while ignoring their own log in the eye.

This is true when looking for new leadership in the Church as well. How many churches avoid the consumeristic demand to get the “best” instead of the Scriptural demand to raise up those within the congregation and discover the gifts already present? How many ministries have been destroyed because the rich man has stolen the poor man’s only lamb for his feasting? I know of a decent many.

Pastors do this all the time, at every level of leadership, and church leadership committees do this when looking for new head pastors. Consumerism is the very worst at the highest levels of church leadership, not at the lowest levels. Only who is to preach to the preachers?

When the church I was working with at the time was in the middle of an overly long head pastor search, a search that took over a year even with an assistant pastor most everyone, including the leaving head pastor, wanted to take over, I wrote this to those who were in charge of the thing:

Over the course of the course of the last few years at NewSong we have heard a great deal, I think, about the dangers of a consumer culture. Americans, quite comfortable and adept at capitalism, have made a habit of putting all things into the area of personal choice and measurement. Even churches we find suffer from having to compete, seeking to be flashy or attractive not for the sake of a deeper spirituality, but in order to maintain the commitment of a very uncommitted people.

The difficulty arises in that churches by their nature must challenge, must spur people into being uncomfortable with their present lives so they become increasingly comfortable with their eternal lives.

With this we are told of making commitments to a church, not because it feels good, but because the commitment itself is a spiritual discipline, because we are called to not be flighty in our spiritual obligations, but able to weather and persevere even through the dry times. A church is not simply another product to measure among many other products. Much of how NewSong has shaped itself these last years has sought to engage and address this consumeristic tendency among the wider population.

Yet, in the present, a question has arisen in my mind. How can the present process for determining a permanent lead pastor be understood as not being consumeristic?

We have needs in mind, we solicite and seek the best ‘product’, measure against each other the various strengths/weaknesses/value of these products, then make a decision based on which product will best suit the needs of the church. Certainly we can add theological and spiritual sounding language in order to bolster the concept, but stripped of the rhetorical trappings we find, I am thinking, the same consumerism which as a church and leaders we have railed against these last several years.

This is not meaning to denounce or insult any of those involved in the process. There are godly spiritual people involved as candidates and as decision makers. This question has more to do with the process itself.

We may find that someone outside the church has much better skills, is more adept at preaching and leading, has a track record which points to a thriving ministry… but in choosing that person for these reasons are we becoming in our decisions that which we want others to veer away from. If so, how can we with integrity say consumerism is bad, or that one should not seek a church, or change churches, in order to find one which best meets one’s own needs?

Is there a spiritual lesson here which does not have to do with finding a pastor, but instead concerns how we as a community live up to our own message? Are we called as a community to find simplicity not only in giving away extra, old clothes, but in how we engage our decision making processes? Are we epitomizing spiritual consumerism as we seek to find someone who will best preach against spiritual consumerism? Can we trust that God has been working within the community these last few years, and be willing to sacrifice the potential for flash for a deeper, Spiritual commitment to commitment? If not, where does that leave us in addressing consumerism in its various other forms?

Very, very few spiritual ‘consumers’ would couch their own quest for satisfaction in terms which are void of theologizing and rationalizing. Yet as we’ve discussed at the church it does not change the wrongness of spiritual consumerism. Are we engaged in the same rationalization?

These are not pointed questions for me, but ones in which I genuinely would love to dialogue about. I think they are worthwhile questions about how we work out in all ways that which we speak. This is again not a statement against anyone, nor an accusation, but just a thought that maybe what seems to be best isn’t always right, what may even turn out to be ‘successful’ is not always Spiritual, even, shockingly, what is mandated in a constitution is not infallible or inerrant? Are we determining not only our lead pastor, but also the integrity of our message and soul as a church?

I think yes, maybe… but I would love to hear other thoughts.

Interestingly, underneath Jethani’s article on consumerism is an article on how to buy a new car find new leadership.

eye to eye

Scripture 2 Comments »

I was sitting downstairs in the laundry room, with the door open to the front yard (which is more of a front meadow, since there is no lawn but there are about a dozen or more forest trees of various sizes with small swaths of open ground).

I’m down there reading, and thinking, and praying with my eyes open staring out at the forest. I see a head appear above the small rise just outside the door. It takes me a moment to realize I’m staring into the eyes of a coyote. The coyote takes a moment, it seems, to realize she’s staring into the eyes of a human.

It’s always an interesting thing to make very strong eye contact with a wild animal, and even more odd to make one with a committed predator. Staring at squirrels one can generally see the fear or worry in their eyes. A coyote is different. We are looking at one another with much more similar minds. We are gauging one another, assessing and judging our worths. I stare into her sharp brown eyes, she stares back into mine. She turns, I stand up, she runs back across the yard, down the embankment, across the street and into the forest on the other side. I run after her, so she knows I’m running after her, at least as far as the embankment. I’m not nearly as sure-footed as she is, even in my bare feet.

That’s all there is to the story. Staring into the eyes of a coyote, both interested and wary of each other’s worlds.

good watching

nature Comments Off on good watching

Every once in a while I’m surprised by a movie. This has a chance of happening more since I became a member of netflix, but still not all that often. I joined because I realized last year I think I saw two movies the whole year. That’s simply unAmerican, and even more than this, it’s unpostmodern. I was letting down my generation and if a pulpit should ever open up for me again I would be entirely unsuited to culturalizing the verses being preached about by having no idea how they relate to the most recent moneymaker.

But, it happened last night. The movie was The World’s Fastest Indian.

Why did I like it so much? To be honest I don’t know. It is the sign of something to have a movie plot be about something entirely uninteresting to me, but by the end having me excited about what’s going on.

Maybe it was the characters. They were unique and understated. This is rare. Most character driven movies slap you in the face with the oddities of the characters and their peculiar deficiencies. Or maybe it was the hopefulness. Most artsy movies drown themselves in negativity. Interesting people, it is thought in movie writing, must be people I would hate to spend time with. This movie opened up people, not to mock in sad appreciation but to find a friend.

I honestly don’t know why I liked it so much. When I was done, however, all of life seemed that much more bright. That to me makes for two hours well spent.

on hope and love

Uncategorized 2 Comments »

A while ago below I posted a quote from the Brothers Karamazov. In it Elder Zosima tells his listeners to love even the sinners, to project hope and life, for in doing that we reflect the same love of God.

In love is life. In love is power. In love is light. This isn’t the empty, good-feelings sort of love bandied about in too much popular entertainment. Instead, this love is a reflection of the fullness of God. God is love, we are told. God is also a lot more. Love is not God, to be sure, but where true love is there also is a reflection of God.

I note this, and the quote below, because of a curious reality.

“Christians are people who love.”

How does this quote strike you? Is this something you might hear?

The question then becomes why not? For the fact is that if Christians were to be pulled out of society in an instant (you can pick your own favorite reason this might happen) a significant amount of very love-filled things around the world would also disappear. Christians are showing themselves in manifold ways they are people of love.

The problem is in looking around at almost every form of Christian media there is very little advertisement of these things. In the media presentation there is virtually no difference between Christian and non-Christian obsession with all things contrary and negative. Christians are doing amazing things on this day, but just like with coverage in Iraq the significant good is always bypassed for covering the minutiae of anything negative.

It is, because of this, easy to be very aware of what Christians don’t like, are against, despise, abhor, hate, revile, and dismiss. It is a little more difficult to find stories of hope, of life, of love, even and especially in the Christian media.

I think there is something wrong with this. Paul, of course, writes about things we shouldn’t do on occasion. These passages, however, are always surrounded by passages of who we should be, why we should be like that, reminding us of our heavenly call and reality.

This makes me wonder. Paul, if he was writing today (and that would be a miracle given his age by this time), would likely have an online presence, maybe even a blog.

I wonder if he would blog a lot like many of the other major Christian sites. Or would his experience getting knocked off the horse and called by an appearance of Jesus himself make a difference in his tone and his topics.

He never did seem to talk too much about the broader cultural events. He did talk a lot about how really grand and great it is to know Jesus. It is the grandness that would provoke a person to put behind them the emaciated reality of sinfulness. Now, it seems the tendency is to try to make the emaciation spur one to the greatness. Only this never quite seems to work out as much. Certainly not in my own life.

Christianity is the religion of hope and love. Somehow I think Christian blogs should reflect this as much as Paul’s letters did.

He might have had a good sense about these sorts of things after all, even if it makes us seem really proud of ourselves when we are right about a given event or political matter.

I do mean “us” by the way. This was a post written mostly directed at me.

Catholicism in Ireland

Uncategorized Comments Off on Catholicism in Ireland

Christianity Today reminded me about this article I meant to post. So, I’m going to post it now, having forgotten and been reminded.

The Catholic Church is not doing too well in the land that once saved civilization. Not too surprising. When people were desperate those in power took advantage of their desperation. When people became no longer desperate they were tired of the whole business. Now the Church has to learn how to be something new, and something real for people.

This isn’t just true for the Catholic Church, but for any church that gets to feeling like it has some sort of inherent rights to dominate. The bishops may have looked the other way, but God did not. Nor did the people.

Too bad the Protestants have their own centuries of offensive behavior to make up for.

Good time to be non-denominational I suppose. If anyone is looking for a missionary in that sort of work, give me a call. I have the right name for that sort of work. Ireland is a great country, and my guess is that it is here there will be discovered the secret of re-Christianizing all of Europe, if indeed there is something to be found which will accomplish that.

The wind does blow, however. That’s why I’m interested in watching, more than discouraged by seeing.

World Cup and Guinness Ice Cream

nature Comments Off on World Cup and Guinness Ice Cream

Well, it turned out my prediction below was pretty much spot on. Zidane won the MVP for the tournament and got red-carded at the end of the game for barbarian violence. Italy won the World Cup. Because they were a united and effective team.

So, that’s that. I never watched a world cup final before, and I enjoyed myself. Soccer is a good game, though it will never catch on here in the states because we are controlled by corporations and told by our media overlords what we will value. Soccer allows no time for commercials, so the networks won’t allow soccer no matter how much the world likes it. No one really cares about the WNBA, but it’s on television through their whole season. That we are allowed to like. Soccer we are not allowed to like. There’s no money to be made by allowing Americans to like soccer, so it will remain a niche sport, enjoyed by those with strange accents and those who wish they had strange accents.

My most memorable moment of the whole time was, of course, the ice cream I made. You can see replays of the game all sorts of places, but this is the place you can see a picture of authentic Guinness Extra Stout ice cream.

Guinness Ice Cream
More Guinness Ice Cream

I used my own recipe, which I made up as I made it. The recipes online seemed too busy. Molasses, and eggs, and simmering, and so on and so forth. Guinness isn’t about work. And, to be honest, who wants to heat up a mere 2/3 cup of Guinness until the alcohol in it is lost?

Nah. Here’s how to make 2 quarts of frozen Guinness goodness: Take three cups of cream, 1 cup of whole milk, a cup of sugar, a 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla, a couple dashes of cinnamon, a dash of salt, and mix it all together. Then pop open a chilled bottle of Guinness Extra Stout and pour the whole thing in, and mix it some more. Pull out your ice cream maker, pour the mixture in, and about 40 minutes later (or however long your machine takes) you have what might be one of the best frozen desserts you’ll ever find.

The World Cup Final and Guinness Ice Cream: Brilliant!

world cup

nature Comments Off on world cup

So Germany beat Portugal 3-1 today, clinching a third place finish for the hosts.

Tomorrow Italy plays France in the final. I will be watching the game at my brother’s house on his new 52 inch plasma screen.

We’ve been given different paths in life obviously. But as I’ll be providing the homemade Guinness ice cream, I figure it’s about equal. Hopefully, I’ve seen the tv and it’s really nice. I’ve never made the ice cream before, but it has a lot of potential.

Anyway, here’s my official Italy versus France prediction, knowing entirely nothing about the details of either team, little to nothing of soccer (though my B-league Intramural Soccer Champion t-shirt, and the 4 goals I scored during the season might seem to indicate otherwise. It doesn’t.)

Italy and France will play a hard fought game. France will be more dynamic, look better and have better individual play. Italy, however, will dominate by having significantly better teamwork, better strategy, and by grounding France down by the sheer persistence of their attack. France will score first, but Italy will then take over and dominate the rest of the game. Even though there is an immense amount of corruption being revealed in Italian football in general, the players will not be bothered by this but will seek team glory in their win, and the people will forget about the corrupt leaders while they are enthralled by the game play.

Then the champion Italian team will return to Italy, overthrow the present leadership and install their coach as the new Prime Minister.

My prophetic skills being what they are I even have a picture of Zidane after his team loses. Zidane, after France loses to Italy.

I will be rooting for France, but I don’t think that will make a difference. I was rooting for England too when they got beat by Italy on penalty kicks. England lost, of course, because even though they have better players, their players were having trouble playing as a team and let their anger overcome their skills.

Germany, which came in third this year, will in four years return with force and sack Rome beat Italy for control. The Italian team will not seriously compete for the World Cup after that.

summer reading

Uncategorized Comments Off on summer reading

I have neglected to update my “now reading” list on my sidebar for a while. Most of the books there I have finished, a couple I’ve put down for a bit. Now there’s a new list, and this list will likely keep me busy for a while.

It used to be I was a flash reader. I poured myself into one book, usually fiction, and dashed through it in a few days. Now I linger more. I think it’s the fact I’m not in school nor have other specific enforced reading. My brain yearns for various things at different times and different moods. So, some books go slow, some books go fast. Most of the books on the list now aren’t burn through in a couple days sorts of books, they are sit and linger with them a while.

Some are afternoon reads, some are inspirational morning reads, others are go to bed reads, for I need to read to fall asleep most nights. Generally my lightest reading is my sleep read, and for the most part this will be taken up with the Civil War, told wonderfully by Shelby Foote. At least when I finish, again, my book on fairy and folk tales of Ireland which is so nearly finished it didn’t make the list.

And yeah, I’m a little more “literary” this summer. Recently finished the Brothers Karamazov, and now I’m getting to the Life of Johnson. I guess I’ve been drawn in by the Everyman’s Library collection.

I’m not always literary, for I slum as much as I venture into the heights. I’m a firm believer in influence balance. A good story can be found in all sorts of literature, popular or formal, new and old.

I might also have a go at learning a language this summer, something modern, something likely European. I’ve studied at one time or another French (high school), latin (college), Greek (the biblical kind, in both college and seminary), German (for a summer), and Hebrew (seminary). I generally pick up languages well, and always have been complimented on my pronunciation. Only they don’t keep, because I’m never quite interested enough to do the sort of upkeep and continuing studying which languages require. Also, there’s the fact I’ve never been to Germany, France, Ancient Rome, Israel, or the Ancient Eastern Roman Empire, which means the urgency of being able to have a conversation hasn’t quite spurred me along.

But, like with learning math, learning a language is good exercise for the brain, so I should get back to one of these already listed, or maybe something new, if you have a recommendation.