2 – A Tale of Three Tables: The Common Meal Table

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The introduction to this series: https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2017/10/05/welcome-to-a-new-blog-miniseries-a-tale-of-3-tables/
“…We have got to grow into a mature stillness, a poise and openness to others and the world … ,” Rowan Williams asserts, as to what can happen if you go to church, work hard on your faith, allow Christ to work on you, and commit to spiritual disciplines found in the Christian faith.  
    A poise and openness?  This seems counter-intuitive to what I would consider to be a healthy, mature Christian.
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 Why? I have an image of in my head of an older gentlemen, lean and healthy. He looks between the age of 44-84. Strong, firm, and without any limit of movement. I invite him to my home for dinner. My family chats with him and he is polite, well-mannered.  We sit down to have a meal together.
     I dig into eat and he stops me, holding up his hand with a patient smile. “Grace?” he mildly commands.
    So we pray. I then begin eating. My family joins me. We are silent because our mouths are full of food.  Our guest is silent too, but he isn’t eating. Instead, he is just waiting for us to notice that his plate is empty.  The manners my mom beat into me as a child compels me: “Is everything all right?” I ask him.
    He speaks slowly. “This food is wrong.  It’s all wrong.  I … eat better.”
    Suddenly, I feel awful. Why? Is the food wrong? What makes food …wrong?  Is it organic or not organic?  Fattening or lean?  Full of salt or otherwise?  Too much or too little?  Is it a kryptonite to his food allergies?   What makes food …wrong?
    Briefly, my mind will span these questions. Inside, I’m screaming the question, “What does he know about this food that I thought, a few moments ago, was okay?”
    Suddenly, this closed, disapproving gentleman seems to be the epitome of healthy maturity. Why? Because he’s against something I think is normal.
 
 
    Disapproval is a powerful sword many wield to take down scores of people and put up the curtain of maturity. When someone defies what is common, normal, and domestic it feels at times that they are set apart,removing themselves from all sorts of things that are wrong … with me.
    Only the Holy stands aside, sits in the back row, leaves when things get “too out of hand,” and seem to be so different from everyone else they speak of outsiders when using terms like “pop culture”, “trendy”, or ” common.” 
    Rowan Williams offers a further challenge: “Being holy is being absolutely involved, not being absolutely separated.”
 Our present day culture loves the idea of non-joining. We’re afraid of “the man,” joining a church for it might be a cult, getting involved, showing up, sitting down and eating what is in front of you, and our favourite seats are usually in the back row.
    Based upon the years I’ve been a pastor, the back rows are usually filled up first and the most popular time to come to church is five minutes after it starts.
     Why?  We like the comfort of standing aside, the reassuring distance that church is happening without us and we’ll only step in “when need be.”
    Years ago, my rural parish hosted a rock concert for teenagers. Our tiny building was flooded with kids, some drove over 100 kilometres to get the concert. The parking lot was a steady stream of kids shuffling into our building.
    But there was a problem. Most of the concert attendees came late. They would walk into the church, march through the foyer, and then enter the sanctuary’s double doors. And at that threshold, they’d stand.   And stand. Take in a few songs, watch from a distance as someone else’s concert was happening.
    This posed a problem because our sanctuary was mostly empty, with a large crowd forming in the church’s foyer.  Everyone waited to come in only to have the entrance blocked by a couple of kids standing, enjoying the concert from a distance.  No one wanted to actually step into the sanctuary to hear the band; they wanted to stand in the threshold of the event.
    So some of us stood by the doorway and had to usher kids into the sanctuary.
    It felt weird: we were ushers at a rock concert.
    And yet this is the most natural impulse for those of in a post-modern, post-structural, and post-Christian land: we can only join at a distance.
    Why? Perhaps at a click of a button, we can access a 1,001 reasons as to what’s wrong with governments, churches, movements, and individuals.   Perhaps we’ve become a culture of cynics, of rebels –which is funny because if rebellion becomes the norm then you have run out of people and things you reject. Perhaps our world celebrates the non-joiners, those who become the exception by finding the exception. Perhaps our institutions have let us down in tremendously powerful and hurtful ways, tangible proof that the system isn’t always out for our health and safety. Perhaps we’re left with The Who’s song “Won’t Be Fooled Again.”
1975, USA --- The Who Performing in Concert --- Image by © Neal Preston/CORBIS
1975, USA — The Who Performing in Concert — Image by © Neal Preston/CORBIS
 So our culture of distancing ourselves gets in the way of when we can genuinely connect, genuinely work together with someone who shares our faith, shares our mission of “Thy kingdom come” because we won’t be fooled again.
    Rowan Williams has an answer: “Love: that which permits us to be enriched and to be ‘given to’– a state of openness to joy.”
    So let’s consider this as we think of the second table, the Common Meal Table.
    The Common Meal Table is where the church eats meals together. They share food and company. They join together. They are open to each other, giving themselves to each other.
     This is precisely the opposite impulse to stand back, watch and wait to be impressed before involving oneself. This is opposite to the impulse to tune out and unplug because one doesn’t like their pastor or the music isn’t just right or the worship “doesn’t light my fire.”
    And yet this is life at the Common Meal Table.
    “Submission” is a very scary word.
     When I hear this word, I imagine a husband grabbing random objects from his desk, throwing them to the floor, and demanding that his wife and daughters pick them up.  If they don’t, he’d yell, “Submit!”
    For those who have met my family, you know full well that I could never get away with that.
    But this word has been used to keep men at the very top of our western status ladder, women at the very bottom, and everything must be in its place.  If you question it, someone might yell, “Submit!” at you.  Maybe not literally, but you get the idea.
    “Submission” feels like a way to strip someone of power, keep them weak, and allow only a few to maintain control.
    So it’s odd that we find this in the Bible, a book described as “God’s love letter to humanity”.
    In Ephesians 5:21-24, we read:

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ  22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

    What? Isn’t this just more of (duplicate words deleted) the same?  Didn’t we have several thousands of years of men dominating women?  And how did that work out for us?  Is this God’s heart?  Really?
    Submission is a funny thing, often misunderstood. For a better sense of the word, let’s use it in terms of a manuscript.  An unsigned writer submits his/her manuscript to a publisher. The whole thing, without holding back a chapter or a preface or the ending. When this manuscript is submitted, it is received and becomes the collaborative work of the author and the editor.  Changes are made, but done with consent and mutual respect, all for the purpose of making the book the best it possibly can be.  It’s not about power or control, but about bringing out the best in the book.
    This passage is famously about gender roles, but what is missing is that submission is for everyone (see verse 21): the wives and the male audience who first received this letter from St. Paul. Wives are to submit; husbands are to submit; elders and deacons are to submit; pastors are to submit; and everyone, in the church of Ephesus, is to submit to one another.
    Or, in other words, we give ourselves over to each other.
    The second table, described in David E. Fitch’s book “Faithful Presence,” is the place where people in the church give themselves to each other.
    There isn’t a spirit of holding back, waiting and seeing, or claiming the back row as “the church” does their show.  No: Christian community is about giving each other over to community.
    This is scary in our world, where we can see what’s wrong with everyone and everything within a click of a button.
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    And yet the second table – the Common Meal Table – is where we are seen and see others in the faith family of Christ. We listen and tell stories.  We share food by bringing what others like and will enjoy. We take what we need, but we don’t take everything so that others cannot eat.  Our kids are told to eat everything on their plate and then they can have dessert, for this is the place where they practice their “please” and “thank you” skills.
The image of the church potluck is a staple in North America.  Bringing lots of food and filling a church’s basement is a deep, fond memory for many in the church. Some were organized (i.e., families with the last names that go A-M bring meat; the names N-Z bring sides); some were not.  It seems not to matter what food is there as long as there are people to share it.
    At a church I worked with, they resisted potlucks and there was a palpable absence in their worship. They came to church, sang, and listened to the sermons: but a fire was missing behind their eyes. What was it?  The lost art of giving themselves over to each other and to those who were different from them.

      In the American-Korean church, the term “ricing” is used to describe shared or common meals. There is a Korean proverb, “If you eat rice all alone by yourself, you will lose appetite.” (In Korean, it’s a play on words: a taste for rice is akin to a taste for life). In the book “Singing the Lord’s Song in a New Land,” the authors (Su Yon PakUnzu LeeJung Ha Kim) explore the Korean American practices of the Christian faith and an essential one is ricing. “By equating the taste and the craving for rice with that of life, Koreans are reminding themselves of the communal responsibility to feed one another. To satisfy hunger is to live, and to eat rice together is to share life resources with others in the Korean culture. It is intriguing to compare the experience of women at the ricing table with that at the communion table. Whereas women function as servers at the ricing table, they are served at the communion table.” 

From a culture of strict gender roles, you can see the church relaxing and undoing some of the tense definitions. The men served the Eucharist; the women served the rice after church. Which was more important? That is never considered for that is a question of power. Both tables exist as a place to give yourself over to someone else.  At Eucharist, it is Christ; at the common table, it is other Christians.

“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near,” Hebrews 10:25 says.  

As a recovering youth pastor, I used this passage to make kids come to youth group.  I mean, people above me were counting heads and numbers were really, really, really important in the churches I served under. And sure, you cannot practice Hebrews 10:25 if you’re alone on your couch; you do have to make a meeting to meet with people.

But this passage is a bit deeper than church attendance.
When Christians gather at the Common Meal Table, they learn how to open up and give themselves over to each other and submit.  Church is the umbrella where all of this can happen, for it is a community cinched up and tethered down by the liturgies of worship and the preaching of God’s Word.  It isn’t just community running away from purpose or direction; it is a gathering that abides in the Word.
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Around the table is where we learn how NOT to exclude people. It is where we learn to follow leadership while still maintaining the distinctive of who/what we are. We find out how to share and receive what is being shared, how to celebrate other people’s work that makes them them. There are a whole host of important lessons that can only be learned in the laboratory of the Common Meal Table.
So we leave the Lord’s Table and then work on giving ourselves over to each other at the Common Meal Table. With different Christians, different types of people.  Some may agree with us on politics and theology; many may not.  The Common Meal Table allows a Zealot and a Tax Collector to gather, all united by Christ. It’s where demographics and target audiences and affinities dissolve so that we can give each other over to each other.
We eat together; this is the church.
 
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(1) A Tale of Three Tables: The Eucharist

 

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The introduction to this series is here:

 

 

        “The Lord’s Supper” was pretty much a non-event growing up as a kid.  It was done with little preparation or explanation, more befitting the calendar than anything else. In high school, at my Baptist church, same thing. It wasn’t until I was a youth pastor at an Evangelical Quaker church that I noticed the bread and the wine because they were mostly absent.
    Quakers traditionally didn’t believe that Jesus commanded any rituals.  Communion and baptism were like foot washing, something you could do if you really wanted to as long as you were convinced there was no magic in them. The joke in the church regarding communion was: “You can take communion as long as you promise not to enjoy yourself.”
    Communion was a symbol, a memorial: nothing more. It kept your brain from forgetting Christ’s death, which was important because it kept us focussed on Christ.
    And then I met my first Lutheran minister and his ministry rocked my world.
    He fully believed in consubstantiation: the bread and the wine spiritually coexists with the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ when consumed. This guided how he led his congregation in the weekly receiving of the elements.  Every baptized believer would take a wafer, every baptized believer would take a sip from a single, common cup.  He, as the minister, would be last.  He would finish the cup everyone put their lips on, gobbling up every drip of wine.
    This act of chasing down the wine was the symbol of “It is finished.”  Christ’s death, symbolized by bread and wine, was the final sacrifice, the final thing required so that anyone could become a believer of Jesus.   Communion, a friend would argue, does not save you; it allows us to re-enter the thing that saved us.
    And drinking of the common cup freaked me out.
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    “Aren’t you afraid of getting herpes?” I asked my friend, at that time a Baptist minister.  “Or some weird VD passing through people’s dribble?”
    “How could I get herpes?” he replied bravely. “It all becomes Christ’s body and blood.”
    “Has there ever been a CSI thing where someone researched the stomach of someone who partook in communion, to find human remains in their stomach?”
    “No,” he said. “His body is there, just not there.” (Is this quote correct?)
    Now he was speaking in Lutheran riddles and I couldn’t get past the idea of sharing a common cup.
    There are two camps. In the first camp are the Evangelicals, the Anabaptists, and those outside of mainline churches who will cry, “It’s just a symbol!  No magic! Nothing happens to you!”
  The reply from the second camp (Consubstantiation and Transubstantiation)– the Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Greek Orthodox – is: “Then why do it if it doesn’t change you?”
   Transubstantiation is when the bread and wine literally that the bread and wine become the literal body and blood when taken; consubstantiation (the Lutheran view) is that the spirit coexists with the blue and body of Jesus on another realm.  Both argue for the presence of Christ within communion.
    This is weird to those in the first camp and they counter: “That’s just weird.Why would God ever do that?”
   The first group sees the Holy Eucharist as just and only a symbol.  It is in remembrance we take communion, (words deleted) to aid learning and cognitive association with the story of Jesus. This was my former culture, the Evangelical culture.
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    This culture, in its excess, would consider pop and pizza at a youth retreat. I’ve seen elders wear flip-flops, shorts, and a t-shirt when distributing the elements. This is also the culture that produced the “travel and go” size of the Eucharist, where you can take it whenever, wherever you want: by yourself or with your buddies.
    Those are extreme examples, of course. But still, if it’s all up to your memory of Him, then what is the point? Can’t you remember Him without the Lord’s Table?
    Literal presence (Consubstantiation and/or Transubstantiation) or symbol. Which is it?   And what is the point?

 

 

What Happens at the First Table?   

 

    Based upon David E. Fitch’s book “Faithful Presence,” we will be looking at three tables. The first is a closed table, one that is reserved just for the family: the Lord’s Table. (Eric, you use Lord’s table here, but the Lord’s table below. Can you stick to one?)
    The term “eucharist” means thanksgiving, so there is an aspect of worship to this rite. We are commanded not only by Christ but by the later epistles to perform this rite (1 Corinthians 11:23-24) in “remembrance of me.” It is, essentially, the first Thanksgiving meal.
    At God’s table, it is for those who believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. This seems exclusive, like there’s a bouncer in front of this table only letting in those who are “right” or who belong: like some kind of Holy nightclub. But bear in mind the open invitation of Christianity: all can enter who choose to believe, it is a “for everybody” religion with the entrance being belief.
    This doctrine-justification by faith sets the Lord’s table in it’s correct context. Taking the bread and wine doesn’t save you or keep you saved.    When I was a camp counsellor, I remember kids who would recommit their lives to Christ. And then re-re-comit. And re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-commit.   Our tradition was altar calls, decision nights, and ending our campfire circles with a chance for kids to “make their relationship right with God,” so this gave them the chance, once again, to become born again. When one camper was asked why he kept converting, his answer was plain: ‘I want to keep Jesus in my heart and stay there!”
    If we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, He will call us his own (1 John 1:9). Period. Communion is not a re-re-re-re-re-re-being born again.
    Faith is the condition for coming to this table. It is the only table that is closed, but always with an invitation for more to come.
    I’m reminded of what is communicated by Anglican architecture.  A lot of Anglican churches place the Lord’s table in the front of the church. It is deep in the heart, the soul of the building. You enter through the narthex, make a sign of the cross when you enter, and walk into the church to take your seat. When the eucharist is announced, you are invited up to the choir area. In the front of the church, in the last section where you can go no deeper, you kneel and receive the elements.
  To get to this spot, you enter the building and pass by the font (baptismal).  Interesting, isn’t it? It’s the building itself saying that for you to make your way to the Lord’s table, you must first be baptized. And what is baptism? It is an outward thing (rite) that describes an inward truth (I believe in Jesus).   It is a person’s identification with Christ’s death (going into the water), burial (being underwater), and resurrection (coming out from the water).   This rite is available for all who believe; and all are invited to believe.
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    From there, you can come further into the church and make your way to the Lord’s table. You come up to the chancel where the choir sits, kneeling at the sanctuary where the elements are distributed. You come from the nave and into where the “church services.”  As part of the congregation, everyone takes communion together. Everyone in the church comes to the Father’s table.
    An aspect of the Lord’s Table is to confess our sins.  In some traditions, it is done in silence; for others it is a sacrament of the church; and for some, it is a read prayer.  The confession of sins is important because it sets the context of the sacrifice. I mean, why did Jesus die if we were, basically, good people who made a few mistakes? Should God be easy-going with us, a group of “not as good as some, better than most” people? No, confession reminds us of our need for His death.
    “The offering of the priest in the mass … cannot merit and deserve, neither to himself, nor to them for whom he singeth or sayeth, the remission of their sins … for if only the death of Christ be the oblation, sacrifice, and price, wherefore our sins are pardoned, then the act or ministration of the priest cannot have the same office,” Thomas Cranmer wrote in his work “Defence.” Cranmer was the original author of the Book of Common Prayer and his words are a reminder: the Father’s Table does not save, it is rather a worship of the One who does save.
    Some traditions call this an altar; others maintain it is the Father’s table.  The altar is an interesting image, for it tells the story of Christ’s sacrifice and His atonement. A friend of mine described why he, an Anglican, takes communion every week: The worship service is a play every week, telling the story of Christ’s atonement for us. It’s staged like a play, with the ministers dressed in a stole and robe and vestments, breaking the bread and placing it upon the paten. He/she then remove
the pall, collects the wine from the credence, removes the veil from the goblet and pours from the purifier. Reading from the missal like an actor reciting lines, the story of Christ’s death on the cross given in love to the world is told and retold.
    The sacrifice is experienced at the Lord’s table.

 

What is Up With The Lord’s Table?  

 

    The Lord’s Table, why do it?  And like this first question, why enjoy it?
    These questions bring me back to the common cup issue that first troubled me: are we safe from viral infections due to the doctrine of transubstantiation?
    First, let’s talk about the preparation of communion and see if there’s any transmission of germs and bugs and creepy crawlies. The officiant (pastor who leads in communion) brings a flagon of wine. Typically in the Anglican tradition, the wine is a high concentration of alcohol (about 20 percent.).   The officiant washes their hands, not only because they’re handling food but because it is a symbolic act (“Who has clean hands … ” Psalm 18:20). The wine is mixed with a little bit of water, as a symbol of the mixture of Christ’s nature (He was all man, all God). The wine is then poured in a silver or silver plated chalice.
    Scientific data shows very little risk of disease transmission to congregants, or even to Anglican priests. In essence, fewer germs are passed on through the elements than if you ordered a steak from a five-star restaurant. One belief is that germs are killed by the silver in the chalice, and by the alcohol in the wine, but studies show such antibiotic properties are too weak to have any effect.
    Some people, still worried about germs, will take the wafer or bread and dip it into the chalice. This practice could actually introduce more germs, since one’s hands have touched the wafer before it is dipped (similar to germ transmission through shaking someone’s hand). It is most hygienic, actually, to eat the bread and then sip from the common cup. For further study, here are two links:

 

 

 

    So it is hygienic, but is it spiritual? Why do we do it?
    I recently spoke with an Anglican priest who argued against the Eucharist being just a memorial service. ”If it is just and only a memorial service, then it doesn’t move you anywhere. The belief in Christ doesn’t travel through time.”
    “Time travel?” I asked. Please, go on.
    He described that Christ’s atonement isn’t just a past event, but one that can be experienced in the present and has future implications. The death of Jesus happened; those who put their faith in Christ presently are saved; and, as the Bible states, when the world is over we will be saved.
    It reminds me of the bad, dad joke: “The Past, the Present, and the Future all walked into a bar:it was tense!”
    But I had to stop the Anglican priest by saying, “This is very much like some of the readings on the Sacraments I did with some of our Orthodox brethren. Salvation, to them, is not linear, a series of cause/effects.  Rather it’s this big ball of wibbley-wobbley timey-whimey stuff…”
    He laughed, but I don’t think he got my reference to Doctor Who.
    We then worked on a metaphor.
    Let us say there’s a book of 265 pages.  We read page 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. This is linear time travel, complete with past/present/future. Let’s then say that the atonement of the world is someone taking the book and drilling a hole through the upper right corner of the book.  Every page has the hole; the hole is on page 1 and on page 265.   Let’s then say, through a miracle, there are words in the middle of that hole that can be read.
    The Eucharist is the reading of those words that float in the hole, no matter what page you are on.  And those words represent the event of Christ’s death transmitted to us by the bread and the wine.
    Can’t we do this just and only as a cognitive exercise? With just our mind and imagination, travel back in time and as tourists of just the abstract to participate in His atonement?
    What if there can be more to our faith than just abstract theory? What if there can be a transcendent aspect to our faith? What if the incarnation is more than just pages written in a book, but might have command of the book itself?
    Those who hold to the idea of transubstantiation would be at home with my questions. They feel that, somewhere and at some time, the bread and wine become the literal bread and blood of Jesus Christ.  Here are the verses they use to defend this position:
Matt. 26:28, “for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”
John 6:52-53, “The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying, How can this man give us His flesh to eat? 53 Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.'”
1 Cor. 11:27, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.”
    From these Scriptures, I would argue that something happens to believers when they come to the Lord’s Table. I would also contend that “something” is more than just a cognitive understanding or memory-making based on new data, as suggested by my former stance that it is just, only, and exclusively a memorial to Christ.
    Believers of transubstantiation would take these passages and argue that the elements become the literal body and blood of Jesus.
    Do I hold to this view?  Am I former Quaker turning … Catholic?
    My friends who hold a transubstantiation view of the Eucharist would say they take these passages literally, and would counter, if you take these passages poetically, why do you take other ones literally (i.e., Jonah and the Whale, the Resurrection of Christ, the Garden of Eden)?  This camp would offer that we can’t cherry pick the passages that are allegory and literal, but I don’t think it’s their greatest argument (mainly because the Bible is full of literal, allegorical, poetic, and historical passages based upon the original author’s intent).
    The best argument was given to me by a Ukrainian Orthodox priest from Northern Alberta. When asked if he believed that the elements become the literal body and blood of Jesus, he said “yes” with a shrug. “Why not? Jesus Christ has done crazier and more radical things than show up at the Lord’s Table when we invite Him.”
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    This argument is made strong by the gym rationale.  If you go to a gym and work out, expect results. The more you come back, the more results you’ll have in your life.  And if it is a daily or weekly rhythm, your body will change.  When Christ shows up to the table and we do as well, we will be changed. When Christ is present and works in people’s lives, people are changed (Ephesians 4:22-23).
    My belief about this is tied up in the actual word sacrament.  I hold that the Eucharist is a sacrament of the church, a “must do” rite of the Bride of Christ.
    The word sacrament comes from the Old French word sacrament meaning “consecration; mystery” (this came about around the 12th century) and the Old Latin word “sacramentum”  meaning “consecrating mystery” and the Spanish word “sacramento” simply meaning “mystery.” (By the way, as a California native, the Spanish word delights me to no end).   The English translation for this word, 200 years before the Book of Common Prayer was written, made this word mean “Holy Mystery.”
    This handle puts the best context of this rite.   It affirms that there is a spiritual connection to the past, a bit of time travel, and an actual change that takes place in me as I receive the elements.  How does that all work?  I don’t know; it’s a Holy Mystery.
    Does the bread and wine become the literal body and blood of Jesus?    I don’t know; it’s a Holy Mystery. How much of it is the result of my faith and how much of it is the result of Divine grace?  I don’t know; it’s a Holy Mystery. Can I take communion in a grumpy spirit, full of my own selfishness and anger? Yes. And will it still work? Yes. Why?  I don’t know; it’s a Holy Mystery.  So I would affirm in the Presence of Christ in the midst of communion, that it is more than just memorializing him and cognitive memory. But how does that work?
    I don’t know; it’s a Holy Mystery.

 

Why Such a Mystery With the Lord’s Table? 

 

    What’s fascinating about this first table is that it begins with mystery.  If we, as Christians, are to enter into the presence of God, it must begin on His terms and not ours.  We are simply to understand the command “take and eat of the bread” and to perform all of the other Biblical commands of the Eucharist without understanding the mechanics of what is taking place.
    This is hard because I am a recovering rational, evangelical know-it-all who did like having all of the facts and information BEFORE I ever followed God. This luxury is not promised, though, by God. And worst than that, if I practice the Lord’s Table every Sunday, I will be constantly reminded of the mystery and the sheer fact that I don’t have all of the facts to my faith.
    When Paul describes the “Mystery of the Gospel” (Col. 1:25-26), I sometimes want to pretend that I know the full answer to this mystery.   Like someone who has read an Agatha Christie book before watching the movie, smirking through the whole drama as I know “whodunit,” while the rest of the company is baffled by the mystery. I often treat the “mystery of the Gospel” as one who knows the cross and is smirking while the rest of the world is confused. But perhaps the mystery is farther reaching than the cheat sheet given to us by the “Four Spiritual Laws.” Perhaps things like grace, God’s love, His presence in our lives, and His mission is so beyond me that there still is more to learn, more to see, and more to experience. And lest I consider myself an expert on such things, I am weekly invited to partake in this Holy Mystery that helps me visit and re-visit the story of my salvation.
    It’s a mystery; this is probably why we are commanded to never visit the Lord’s table alone. We come together at His table. Throughout Scriptures, God throws one mystery after another, but He sure doesn’t want us to face these mysteries by ourselves. No, we come together as a church and walk through the mystery together. We are present in the story of Christ’s death together.   
    And in this rite, we learn something about the nature of the Christian God. Christianity is about together-ness, about bringing in people from the narthex and into the sanctuary. It’s also about His story, and His story must shape all that we do. Finally, it’s about mystery: He shows up when we come to His table and by doing so, we will be changed.
   No matter what belief you have, I invite you to see that this rite does change you, that it is God who works in you through this weekly habit.
   This is the journey of the church that begins with the first table, the Eucharist.

Welcome to a New Blog Miniseries: A Tale of 3 Tables

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Is there room for others at your table? For God?  For people of different faiths?

For other people of your faith? During the US elections, I made the mistake of posting a meme stating, “Rather than building a higher wall, I’d like to build a longer table.”

This was meant to inspire us to be more open with folks, collect more friends, and be genuinely more hospitable in our little kingdoms. The result was that many of my Republican friends saw it as a slight against their presidential candidate, Donald Trump, who wanted to build an actual wall on the US/Mexico border. It wasn’t intended as a slight; but also didn’t retract the meme either.

Mainly the meme came from my wife who had just built a mammoth dining room table that was great for guests, for building legos with the kids, and writing my sermons on when I had to work from home.

But the table is an interesting image, isn’t it? We can often heard the worst and best from our parents around our dining room table. We learned how to eat in front of others at a table, how to share food, how to listen and talk, and how to get what we needed (and not too much) for the day’s adventure around a table. Eating disorders, excesses, rewards, and punishments for a family can occur around a dining table.

Ludwig Andreas Fürbach argued, “You are what you eat.” His idea was simple: we’re all just meat and meaning is just in the materials, just the stuff of life. Ironically, he’s right in the concept; wrong about the universe. Food one eats has a bearing on what one’s state of mind and health.   This quote goes beyond food, but it could be ideas or images or stories or thoughts.

Grace/reward, celebration/judgment, life/death can take place around a table.

This blog will be exploring 3 tables, a concept borrowed from David E. Fitch’s book “Faithful Presence”.

Fitch has not paid me to say it, so this is not a commercial: please read this book.

Here is the link:

Every week, we’ll look at the (3) tables. Themes include:

* Eucharist

* Hospitality to strangers

*Local ethics

* How to put up with really annoying Christians

* Why should we be kind to unbelievers?

* Should Christians forgo the right to disagree with one another?

Three tables will be investigated during this mini-series:

1) The Lord’s Table (How do we worship and spend time with God with the result of actual change in our lives?)

2) The Common Meal Table (What’s it like to be in relationship with other believers? How friendly is our church services?)

3) The Open Table (How do we get along with the neighbourhood? The Stranger? The outsider to the faith?).

Who is this study for? I’m not sure. I do know Christians read a lot of these kinds of blogs, but then I know of so many friends who do not share my Christian faith and yet are really curious about such things as community, relationships, and how Christians ought to get along with people. I know the political landscape of the U.S. right now is tense with such questions as how do we get along with those who disagree with us and what do we do with strangers and there are many voices demanding uniformity in culture. These are topics, pardon the pun, to be tabled. So welcome to this series.

Whomever reads it, I hope it helps in someway as we look at a Tale of Three Tables.

A Throne Ruling a Sandcastle

 

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I’m thinking of a great moment in the Monty Python film “Life of Brian”. In it, Brian is falsely followed as a Messiah: a claim he never gave and knows is entirely inaccurate. He delivers a speech, telling the crowd to quit following people and decide for themselves what they think they should do. The crowd is in awe, repeating these commands word for word. Finally, he tells them all to leave him alone and they’re confused: what command is next from this new Messiah?

How did the church, which is to be a community of saints, become so bottle-necked, so focused on the pinprick of one individual, one office? How did we lose sight of the doctrine of “The Priesthood of ALL Believers”?

This will not be an investigation of how the 21st Century has become lopsided in its focus on the office of the pastor. However, there is an assumption that the duties, objectives, and “to-do lists” of the pastor has become, in our consumer based culture, the very thing people use to figure out this whole “Kingdom of God”. And here’s another assumption within my tale: God’s work is not limited exclusively to the job of the pastor.

Assumptions aside, the 21st Century Man who feels himself led by God to take up the role of “Pastor” is stuck with a mixed bag: some of his office is of God and some of it is muddled, distorted, and distraught by the church’s over-expectation placed upon it’s leadership.

As our world changes, the church does as well, leaving the office of the pastor always changing: some changes based on need, some based on neurotic expectation, some on Divine calling, and some based upon the shaping of our darkened world. How then does one navigate to produce lasting change in an office that may face several, dramatic revisions? This is the mixed bag of the pastoral office in the 21st Century.

What does one do with such a mixed bag?

The Throne

The mixed bag of leadership, where God and a Holy calling and the individual’s hang-ups and cultural toxicity and other people’s wonky expectations all live, is nothing new.

This is an ancient problem, embedded in the story of King David. David assumed the throne of King, an office that was clearly not from God’s heart. He was expected to behave as a King not always based upon the Law of God, but by what other pagan, Godless kings and empires were doing. And yet David made it work, was blessed by God and was faithful with much of this man-made office.

David ruled on a throne ruling a sandcastle: a man-made construct that could topple at any moment. And ruling from this sandcastle, he made long-lasting and became an instrument of God’s eternal blessing.

King David is an example of how his faithfulness and God’s blessing was able to lead Israel through a kingship that was not governed by office, but by character. How???

“It Wasn’t My Idea”
Was it such a good idea for Israel to have a king? Everyone else had a King. Everyone else seemed to want to attack Israel, because they didn’t have a king. Stands to reason: time to grow up, turn into an empire, and get a king.

Commentaries split on whether or not Israel should have had a king.

Ronald F. Youngblood contends, “A major purpose of Samuel, then, is to define monarchy as a gracious gift of God, to his chosen people.” (Gaebelein 559) According to Youngblood, Israel could not advance any further of their following of God unless God gave them a kind and by His grace, David was brought forth.

Eugen H. Merrill describes, “The 300 or so years of the history of Israel under the Judges were marked by political, moral, and spiritual anarchy and deterioration.” (Walvoord and Zuck 431). The anarchic violence became so intense, their was a need for a strong government to centralize the violence in the form of kingship- an argument posed by

Marty Alan Michelson in his book “Reclaiming Violence and Kingship”. For this school of thought, violence made necessary a king who could have armies, issue capital punishment, and bring order-through force-to the land.

Israel, to these scholars, needed a king and needed one fast.

On the other side, C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch argue that having a King was far from God’s original plan. “Israel was to become a kingship of priests, i.e., a kingdom whose citizens were priests and kings.” (Keil and Delitzsch 367). For these two scholars, the Coming of the Messiah resulted in David’s Kingship (that’s good). The cost was that the citizens of Israel no longer trusted God nor were active in justice, but “farmed out” this responsibility to a king due to lack of faith (that’s bad). Over and over again in their comments on the text, they remind the reader that kingship is due insecurity and a doubt if God will do something different with them. To have a king like everyone else is to fall short.

These are three commentaries that are popular, found on most pastor’s shelves. At the worst, there is a split in scholarship as to whether or not Israel ought to have had a King; at the very best, there is a dangling ambiguity over the reader’s and writer’s mind as to if this was 100% a good idea.

It was certainly a popular idea in David’s time. Much of David’s practices as king were borrowed from other kingdoms:

• The slaying and collection of specific body parts of your enemies as means of counting the dead were practiced by ancient Egyptians (1 Samuel 18)
• Using aliens as bodyguards, a practice borrowed from the Near Eastern Kingdoms to Israel (8:18).
• Offensive battles against other kingdoms, a pre-emptive strike instead of using the military merely defensively as with the time of Judges (2 Sam. 5).
• Stripping the dead, a practice very common amongst the Philistines.
(Hoerth 258-276)

To have a king was popular in David’s time and David ruled in all of the popular ways.

The people wouldn’t have thought any ambiguity towards the throne. And most protestant scholars wouldn’t have such a problem with the kingship of David.

Why would Protestant Christian scholars like David as King? Simple: his line brought about Christ. Jesus was of the line of David, born in the town of David, and fulfills the Kingship of David as Lord of Lords, King of Kings. What’s not to like?

The ambiguity of the King’s place in Israel comes from the fact that God wasn’t part of the idea. Samuel the prophet is bombarded with the requests of Israel to make a king, to stop being in charge, and to become like the rest of the kingdoms.

These cries often take me back to my first ministry experience. The church I worked at had their founding pastor of 32 years retire. They replaced him with his son in-law (How different can an in-law be?) and he lasted only 20 months.

After this time, the church went through a crisis of doubt: we must be a really bad church if we couldn’t keep the found pastor’s son in-law. Rather than work on some of their issues, experience a church renewal, or learn from the mistakes, they chose to quickly hire another pastor.

The week before he “came aboard”, the Executive Pastor met with me and we agreed to update our resumes. “The church has decided to put all of the health, all of the wellness upon the staff. And if we fail or do not perform, we will need these resumes,” he said.

He was right. The next 14 months were painful. The new pastor’s job was simple: clean-up the staff, clean-up the church, and make us successful again.

I resigned. The staff resigned. And after 28 months, the Senior Pastor was forced to resign.

Our church wanted a king to fix everything; he couldn’t.

Sammuel, like the good priest, took Israel’s requests for a King (“Fix everything!) to God.

He replied,  “But the LORD told him, ‘Listen to the people and everything they said to you. They have not rejected you; they have rejected Me as their king. They are doing the same thing to you as they did to Me, since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning Me and worshipping other gods.” 1 Sammuel 8:7-8

Yes, a king was popular; yes, scholars love the Davidic line from kingship; and yes, there was good that came from the throne inside the king’s sandcastle.

But at the heart of Israel’s kingship was rejection of God. Rather than being a “weird nation” that didn’t have kings- but trusted in God and the priests and miracles to lead them- they chose government.

Yes, good was accomplished through the throne: but how much of it was accomplished through military might, civic organization, clever planning…and how much of it was through the LORD’s miraculous hand? It’s no wonder the miracles of Israel start running out by the time of established governance, as the ambiguity of sand starts filling the cracks of the empire.

At best, Israel’s kingdom was ruled by a man-made sandcastle, ready to topple due to the warring issues of ambiguity.

 

King/Priest/Prophet
I was a Jr. High Cabin leader of 12 boys, asked by the director to do a “mixer” game at the beginning of the week. They were to go to once side or the other of the cabin, picking images that best described themselves (Ex.- Go to the left if your more like an Ice Cream Sunday, go right if you’re like Chocolate cake, Left- Batman, Right- Tarzan, Left- a hammer, Right- a saw, etc.).
The cabin, without any deviation, picked a side and went in mass. When asking why, they would mimic each other’s answers. Finally, the last pick was telling: “Go to the left if you’re like an eagle, go to the right if your like a cougar.” The whole cabin went left.
I asked why. “An eagle is an independent spirit, a leader,” the first boy said.
“Yeah,” the second boy reiterated. “I’m a leader, I take a stand against the grain…like an eagle!”

Everyone echoed this. The last boy, a shy kid given to reading comic books alone during free time, repeated this answer, with a twist: “I guess I’m a leader. I’m independent…or at least, that’s what everyone else says.”

This is the vicarious and overlapping influence of leadership. Leaders have followers; leaders often follow followers. Leaders follow other leaders who follow followers who are in turn follow other leaders following other followers. Leaders follow…you get the idea.

To protect Israel from a solitary, consolidated tyrant, God had multiple levels of leaders. Plus, this seems to be how God operates: he does not speak to the one, but the many. A Quaker friend of mine put it best, “If one man gets a vision, he could be crazy or wise. It’s uncertain. If two or three get the same vision, it could be a result of group think or social pressure. But if many get the vision, from different walks of life and different stations, it more than likely from God.”

God, through His grace, used a three-station approach when it came to the early years of Israel’s government (See Fig. 1). Each station was to influence each other, becoming a loose “check and balance” subject, often, to human error and corruption.
Influence is the key word, for truly this is the heart of leadership. “Leadership is the art of multiplying influence, and by this standard Jesus must be considered the master artist,” Greg Ogden and Daniel Meyer write in their study book Leadership Essentials (Ogden and Meyer 13).

God did not want just political power or positional authority to lead His people: He wanted men and women to influence Israel, multiple leaders working in a lead/follow role, coming at problems multi-dimensionally and covering all facets of communal life.
He did this through the three positions of King, Priest, and Prophet. All three of these were blessed by God, were faithful to God (at times), and were part of the influence fabric of Israel.

King
The Hebrew word for King is the denominative word “to reign”. Simply, the King is the sole individual who rules, reigns, governs, and leads. What made Israel’s kingship different was that this individual was not the highest authority. Many ancient empires made their kings gods, so that even the heavens and all of nature would answer to them. Before the idea of social contracts and constitutional authority, the government worked for the King; not the other way around, as it is today.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia gives an interesting note: “From the beginning of its (Israel) existence as a nation it bore the character of a religious and moral community, a theocratic commonwealth, having Jeh Himself as the Head and ruler. The theocracy is not to be mistaken for a hierarchy, nor can it strictly be identified with any existent form of political organization. It was rather something over and above…It did not supersede the tribal organization of Israel, but it supplied the centralizing power…” (Orr 1799-1800).

The King worked for God, if done right, and would never supplant or replace the communal systems God placed in Israel from the Torah.

The first king was David’s predecessor, Saul. Saul, in many respects, acted more like a Judge than a King. He followed the past footsteps, fighting battles like Jephtha, Ibzan, and Gideon. David was a popular soldier, but became an even more popular king mainly because he functioned as Israel’s first King.

My wife has accused me of using “the Pastor’s Voice” when I am either in trouble or I’m trying to sound noble. “The Pastor’s Voice” is an odd mix of sincerity, intention, and logic. Much like Obi Wan Kenobi, there’s confidence and an almost hypnotic quality. This cadence, under no circumstances, can achieve anything in my home; once in a while, I use it to end a sermon that has no real conclusion; and, certainly, I find myself using when I met other Pastor’s with similar sound to a Jedi Master.

“The Pastor Voice” came from social expectations, formed by churches as what people wanted a Pastor to be/sound like/act like. To be sincere, calm, logical, and confident: if one can’t behave like this all the time, at least we can change our voice to sound like it.

And I’m sure it’s been reinforced socially, someone pointing at their young pastor full of the Force, saying, “That’s a real Pastor!”

Israel pointed to David, it seemed, saying, “That’s a real King!”

David had the whole King package. Raised by a Godly mother (Psalm 86:16), soft hearted to his enemies (2 Samuel 1), was one of the best songwriters (2 Samuel 23:1), a worship leader/priest (1 Chronicles 6:31), broken when wrong (Psalm 51), a natural leader (1 Samuel 23, 24), and could fight (1 Samuel 18).

If there was anyone who could centralize power and be the focal point of power, it was King David. However, there’s just one catch: God didn’t generate this office of King.
The King’s throne was incredibly institutional, part of “system” of Israel. Wildly popular.

Effective in military, cultural, and infrastructural advancement. And a part from the calling of God.

This study shall be spared from the theological musings of God blessing what was not His calling. As well, there will be very little political comparisons to present day empires.

Except…

It is interesting that God blessed a nation that did it’s own thing, independent of His calling.

Priests

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Just as the King was part of the institutional fabric of Israel, so were the priests. Set a part, they were their own genetic line from Levi. The society was held together by the presence of the priests providing not only a community identity (“There goes our priest!”), but focus of worship just as part of Israel as the land itself.

Unlike the King, the Priests were divinely appointed. A whole book centered around their activity, Leviticus, outlining the laws of their office, legitimizing their presence by the LORD.

They were to be set-apart, or divided, as Robert Alter illuminates,

“The single verb that focuses the major themes of Leviticus-“divide” (Hebrew, hivdil).

That verb stands at the beginning of the Priestly story of creation…What enables existence and provides a framework for the development of human nature, conceived in God’s image, and of human civilization is a process of division and insulation-light from darkness, day from night…That same process is repeatedly manifested in the ritual, sexual, and dietary laws of Leviticus…” (Alter 543).

The priests led by division, by stepping out of the culture and the systems of Israel This was the presumed source of power (Presumed is the key word: it seems that the Priests lost their ability to influence when they were too cozy with the throne or blending into the overall sins of Israel [Ex. 1 Samuel 2:12-21, 8:1-5]).

To be set-apart, divided from what was common, to be…weird.

 

Prophets

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The Prophets were the “wild” card (when you were playing the game “Uno”, remember?). The King and the Priests were part of “the system”, they belonged in Israel, and were functioning as an institution. No such rules applied to the Prophets. Although there is some Biblical evidence they may have had their own school (2 Kings 19-22), the Torah gives little legal structure for their existence and there isn’t much insistence that Israel must always have a Prophet.

And yet in times of trouble, God always sent one.

The office of the Prophet was the essence of organic leadership: they spoke and led not out of positional authority, but because of a message from the LORD. God granted their audience, not Mosaic Law or the existing power structures of the day.

Essentially, the Prophets were used when the “system” could no longer function as obedient children following the LORD. The moment the problems of Israel became too ingrained, too close to home: a Prophet was sent to shake things up and influence the leaders back towards the heart of God.

The Prophet has several tools in his box. The Prophet could speak about secret things that no one’s supposed to know about (1 Samuel 3:11-18), commission an army for battle (1 Samuel 7:5), confront (1 Samuel 15), use imagery to evoke repentance (2 Samuel 12:1-10), and predict the future (2 Samuel 12:11-15).

Due to the lack of office, both Samuel and Nathan functioned as David’s prophet. Samuel was an institutional leader; Nathan an organic leader. As an institutional leader, his office was implied by the Law and society; Nathan spoke through natural talents, gifting, and an earned relationship.

Not only the “who” of a Prophet is fluid, the “what” and “how” can change depending upon a Prophet. There is no job description, no measurable duties that exist every week.

It’s all upon the bottom line: bring back the focus of faithfulness to God in the midst of His blessing.

A friend of mine in Vancouver once had a prophetic moment with his church. He was leading a lesson on Kingdom treasure and had bought a bag full of golden wrapped chocolate coins. During a Sunday School class, he revealed the gold coins. Two boys, immediately, dove for the coins as if they were leaping a stage at a heavy metal concert. One boy crashed into a group of girls, causing two children to gain stitches. A mini-brawl erupted, as the class saw blood. Parents were called in; blame cast all around; and, needless to say, the lesson was lost.

My friend, the interim pastor, spoke to everyone when all was calm. He forbade them to blame the children, for this kind of extreme behavior is only something copied, they’re mimicked someone else’s attitude.

“They did everything possible to get the gold from my hands. As parents, what is your heart towards money?” he asked. My friend could get away with this because: A) He put it in the form of a question, B) He was only an interim pastor, and C) He was on to something. The church turned a corner on that day, heading more towards health than they could have expected before the brawl.

In short, my friend functioned as a Prophet.

Blessing & Faithfulness
21) Our sanctification is based upon:
A. Our efforts, our work. We are to ascend to the mountain of God, seeking Him and then He will find us. It is the result of our faithfulness.
B. God’s work, His efforts. By His Cross, we are saved. He does everything, we do nothing. Our sanctification is based entirely upon His blessing.
C. Yes.

Why did the Kingship of David work?
Was it because he was a really great guy? Most in his time would argue that was the reason, that he was one of the “good kings”. David knew how to be the public face of Israel and wield the public ministry of his throne. Plus, even if David was a poor king, his line led to Christ: that can’t be all bad?
Or was it because God made it work? “Take not your Holy Spirit from me,” David pleads in Psalm 51:11b. David possibly knew the true source of His power was that of God, that if the blessings ended he would be just like Saul: cut off from the true authority behind the throne. David understood, unlike his ancient counter-parts, that the throne was always “on loan” from forces bigger than just the guy with the crown (This, I believe, was some of the lesson behind Absalom’s rebellion: it was God’s throne, David wasn’t going to fight to keep it). God’s throne, no one else’s?
 Or could it have been a mix of both? Of blessing and of faithfulness? It worked solely due to the fact that God chose to bless the throne, even though it was outside of His calling; in the same vein, David was faithful in following God (mostly) by being obedient to God as an influencer, even if that meant he embraced the ambiguity of his office residing in a sandcastle.

First, God blessed the first Kings.

He directed the anointing of the Kings (1 Samuel 9; 1 Samuel 16:1-13), giving Samuel very specific directions on how to find the future king, what to do, and when they would be placed upon the throne. The writers’ are crystal clear: this is a Divine appointment (In fact, compare the king making experiences of 1 & 2 Samuel to the future kings describes in 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles. Hardly any magic, hardly any Divine direction!).
David M. Howard Jr. is in the critical camp that “God was for kingmaking”, yet he makes a compelling case to God’s blessing of the first kings.

“A thread that runs through all the discussion of kingship and of the
effects of sin, as well as through the stories of David’s exploits, is that of God’s sovereignty. In the end, it is He who is in control of all. He gave the Philistines and the Ammonties into the hands of Samuel (1 Sam. 7:9-14), Saul (11:6), Jonathon (14:12, 15, 23), and countless times into David’s hands. His choice of David as king was backed up by His providential care over David in the face of many adversities. Indeed, the intricate details of intrigue and escape that we see when David was a fugitive-which get confusing and tedious at times-serve to show David’s rise in popularity and God’s hand of protection upon him again and again (18-30). (Howard 165)

Whether or not you agree with Israel having a king, one must side with Howard: God was blessing Samuel, Saul, and David. God seemed to be the hero no one saw in this tale, working behind the scenes and moving characters around like chess pieces, redeeming the tale of sin, corruption, and violence.

I was asked to describe a past congregation within our small, rural town. “We are a church without a single worship style or a central demographic,” I said and got a laugh…until they found out I was serious.

We I arrived, 7 years ago, we were a church of upper class, white professionals all within their early thirties. The town changed, several people left and several new people came in their place.

The result was-then- that we had White, Native, Korean, Philippine, South African, young, old, farm industry, and everything else. Our regional minister came once to speak and was floored by the change of our church and how everyone was so different from each other. He wanted an answer to how we did it, for this kind of diversity would have been helpful to other churches in our denomination.

“We don’t know what we did, but we’d like to do more of it,” was my only answer. He laughed…until he saw I was serious.

To be fair, I credit God’s blessing. Simple. The hand of God with mixing up our church came home to me one morning when a Cree (our most local Native tribe) couple led worship in our church. They sang a few of our old hymns, but in their language. Sitting in the front row, a woman who had just turned 90 sang the hymn in English with tears in her eyes.

After the service, she shared, “I have been waiting my whole life to hear Cree in a church, praising God. What a fine gift the Lord has given me.” She was right. People separate and segregate; the Lord brings together.

As well, David was faithful.

David surely heard of the ambiguity surrounding his throne, his leadership. Samuel met with him and may have informed him of the dialogue he had with God; as well, the story of Israel’s heart towards the king was told then (If not, why was it recorded in the books of Samuel in association with Saul’s kingship?).

David, more than likely, fell into doubt towards his anointing as King. His circumstances certainly suggested doubt: he was an outlaw, hunted, ascended as king, fell from grace as King, and ultimately had his throne taken from him by his son.

It cannot be forgotten: the office of king, for David, was not the thing of faithfulness for David. Instead, he was credited as being faithful to God…as king.

If David was only faithful to the throne, then he would stop being a good king when he was an outlaw or when he lost the throne. Half of his success wouldn’t be attained because he played the card “a normal king doesn’t do those kings of things”.

No, David was faithful to God while sitting on a throne. As the throne was surrounded by ambiguity, David was still clear, “I have asked one thing from the LORD; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the LORD; all the days of my life.” (Psalm 27:4).

Ambiguity concerning the throne didn’t scare David.   Rather, it allowed Him to step out of the box to follow the Lord.

Earlier we spoke of the three offices: King, Priest, and Prophet. David, in following God, functioned in all three offices.

He functioned as a Priest.

When David was to bring the Ark back to Israel, they let it slip from the cart they used to carry this Holy object. This was in direct violation of God’s laws: only Levites were to carry it, not a cart pulled by oxen (Numbers 4:15, 7:9); it was to be the footstool of God not a common idol (Numbers 4:15); and the man who reached out to keep it from slipping was not a Levite priest (Numbers 7:89).

So David corrected this by having Levites carry the Ark and made sacrifices every few moments in worship to God. David led the worship, which is something only a priest could do. He did so wearing nothing but a linen ephod (something of a priest’s uniform, Exodus 28:6, 1 Samuel 2:18, 22:18). He danced with all of his might, but did not get in trouble with the LORD. God struck down Uzzah for trying to “save” the Ark in violation of the priestly laws, but not David dancing, worshiping as a non-Levite priest.

Why? “I was dancing before the LORD who chose me over you father…I will celebrate before the LORD,” David said in 2 Samuel 6:21a, c. His heart was in violation of God, but his office might have been. God didn’t care if David functioned as priest for a day; in fact,

He blessed it.

David functioned as a prophet.

From bringing the Ark back to Israel, the next chapter describes a conversation
David has with Nathan, the prophet. David feels as though the Ark needs a home, a house like the pagan temples that the rest of the kingdoms have. Once again, David falls into the trap of Israel: why can’t we be like everyone else? He purposes to build a temple (2 Samuel 7:1-3) but is interrupted by the message from Nathan, the prophet, of God (7:4-17). God tells him of a better, greater temple to be built: the LORD shall make a house with you (7:11).

This certainly can be seen as an endorsement of the kingship: the eternal reign of Israel’s king! The original audience certainly would have gleaned this (If, of course, this was written during the pre-exilic period of Israel when they still had a king!) and would have left alone any other interpretations.

But isn’t the eternal reign of the king Christ? Could not this is what the promise, ultimately, is suggesting? Israel did not have an eternal reign as king, but Christ did come from the seed of David and reigns eternally. Couldn’t a more far reaching meaning of this be of Christ, not just the then contemporary reading of God finally coming to terms with Israel’s king?

From this promise delivered by Nathan, David launches into a Psalm. And as a Psalmist, David exists as a prophet. Through song and poetry, he challenges the imagination of his people, causing them to see that God is the true ruler and not the king (7:22); that God is eternal and Israel’s throne rules only a sandcastle (7:25-29); and that the king is merely a steward, someone insignificant in comparison to God (7:18-21).

As a king, David could not legislate faithfulness; as a prophet, through the Psalms, David could inspire such faithfulness.

Yes, his throne was always in question and surrounded by ambiguity: but David took hold of what was certain (his faith in the LORD) and led Israel organically as well as institutionally.

 

Conclusion

The church is changing; the role of the pastor is in flux. In regards to the Missional movement of churches, Reggie McNeal writes, “New expressions of the church are emerging. One pastor has left his steeple tall church to organize a simple neighborhood gathering of spiritual pilgrims. He is working at secular employment so that he doesn’t have to collect monies to support a salary…A church planter has an established church to serve as the organic church leader network…Individual Jesus followers are also increasingly unwilling to limit their spiritual lives to church involvement.” (McNeal 2)

The world is changing, the church is changing, and the office of the pastor is changing.

The late Mike Yaconnelli once had a quote that best described pastoral ministry in the 21st Century. His intention was to speak about faith, but I think he hit the nail on the head for the ambiguity of the “throne of the pastor” as the church changes. “Messy Spirituality is the scandalous assertion that following Christ is anything but tidy and neat, balanced and orderly. Far from it. Spirituality is complex, complicated, and perplexing-the disorderly, sloppy, chaotic look of authentic faith in the real world. Spirituality is anything but a straight line; it is mixed-up, topsy-turvy, helter-skelter godliness that turns our lives into an upside-down toboggan ride full of unexpected turns, surprise bumps, and bone-shattering crashes. In other words, messy spirituality is the delirious consequences of a life ruined by Jesus who will us right into His arms.” (Yaconelli 17)

Our present society of North America has moved into a Post-Christendom, Post-Modern world concerning faith, spirituality. There seems to be little the church can do programmatically to attract the un-churched into the doors of her institution. Equally, little the church can do systemically to impact the neighborhood which surrounds it’s building.

This wasn’t always the case. Old towns in Canada still have all roads leading to the church. The Pastor’s job was simply to perfect the institution and the community would come.

Now, what is a pastor to do? Will the church exist in the 21st Century as it did in the 20th century? Most likely, no. Then what will it look like? What are the kinds of thing a pastor must do to serve a community that is Post-Christian whilst serving Christians in, well, Christendom?

Suffice to say, there is ambiguity around the office of the pastor, much like there was ambiguity around David’s throne. And the church of Christendom, the church that was defined by programmatic success shifts, so do the grains of the sandcastle ruled by pastors of yesteryear.

How does one navigate through the shifting sand?

Be like King David. He did not exist to maintain his office or to behave like other kings. Rather, in cooperation between God’s blessing and his faithfulness allowed him a series of adventures through which he functioned as a king, a prophet, and a priest.

“I’m a pastor, I don’t do…” This line can no longer work, as the role of the pastor radically changes. As well, would we have received the Psalms or would Israel have gained the Ark if David held to his exclusively to his role as King?

Faithfulness and God’s blessing: this now is the axiom for the pastor’s role, not the established expectation from the office.

When I was a youth pastor in Southern California, I was not allowed on the campuses of a nearby High School. The secretary, by orders from the school board, insisted on a “separation of church and state”. This was difficult to then reach the community, for many of the young people were locked in a campus, seemingly, unreachable by our church.

I then was surprised, this past year, when our local state run Catholic school called my office, wondering if I’d be interested serving free breakfasts to their students. They knew I was a pastor and they I would possibly “get religious”, but they needed help. A grant of the Canadian government saw to it that every student would be offered a free, warm meal before school and they needed someone from the community to help.

An invitation to the rest of the pastors of our town extended, no one else accepted at that time (reasons varied). So myself along with our church’s finance clerk decided to give out breakfasts, once a week, to the teens of our town.

This went on for the whole school year. At the tail end, one of the local priests joined our breakfast group (A HUGE step for him, coming from Nigeria where priests would be respected, honored, and got breakfasts served to them, not the other way around. I truly respect this priest, able to put aside his past and be a part of this program).

A few weeks ago, one of the “regulars” saw me near our church’s float in the rodeo parade. “You mean you have a job outside of serving breakfast?” he asked and I told him I was a pastor.

“Ever consider that serving your breakfast was part of my job as a pastor?”

At best, I confused him. He walked away, wondering what took place and why I got weird when things were going in a perfectly normal direction.

Still, I was encouraged. This young man would not have come to our church because the power of my sermons or the strength of our doctrines. No, he knew me because of breakfast. Suddenly, it was a honour: an honour only reached if I stopped being a pastor and be faithful that some how God was in the blessing business through breakfasts at school.

Pastoral leadership that marries the organic with the institutional, the prophetic with the priestly, the faithfulness of the individual with the blessings of God, and willing to jump from adventure to adventure is the calling of the 21st church, otherwise it shall indeed become a sandcastle.

Bibliography

• Alter, Robert. The Five Books of Moses. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004.
• Gaeblein, Frank E., Ed. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol.3. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Press, 1992.
• Hoerth, Alfred J.. Archeology & The Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.
• Howard Jr., David M.. An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books. Chicago: Moody Press, 1993.
• Keil, C.F. & F. Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament. Vol. 2. Peobody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1866.
• McNeal, Reggie. Missional Renaissance. San Francisco: Josey-Bass Publications, 2009.
• Orr, James, ed.. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1930.
• Walvoord, John F. & Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1985.
• Yaconelli, Michael. Messy Spirituality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2002.

Be Yourself. Just not like that.

“The measure of a healthy family is not how the children are alike from their parents or how the family members resemble each other, but rather how differently they belong to each other.” Author Unknown

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Before a preseason game, the stadium played the American national anthem and Colin Kaepernick got on one knee, an active symbol to protest police brutality, systemic racism, and violence in his nation.   He has “taken a knee” since December 28th, 2016, and has continued this practice until his last game, this year.

He is now unsigned and hasn’t been picked up by any NFL teams.  His kneeling has created hours of discussion on Fox News, the I-net, and even by the President of the United States.  It’s been nine months and the President of the United States is still talking about it.

Here’s a link to President Donald Trump’s fresh comments on this old piece of news:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/22/politics/donald-trump-alabama-nfl/index.html?sr=fbCNN092217donald-trump-alabama-nfl0933PMStoryVideo

I respect Colin Kaepernick.

Many of you who know me, know I am sympathetic to his message that racism is something of a system, that pure intention and education alone cannot undo its tentacles and trappings.

My respect isn’t found on the fact that I might agree with him.  I know many don’t agree, and many are my friends. Their arguments do have reason on their side, as well, and they see Kaepernick’s event as one of disrespect to their flag, a puncture in the Nation’s pride, and an assault on their virtue of patriotism.   Patriotism, love of one’s country, and respect are noble pursuits of goodness.  I hear the offence and see it comes from some good places.

But my respect for Kaepernick is specific to his action on December 28th: he was able to open a dialogue that may not have existed had he been just a normal football player, doing his job.   He got attention and got people to think right before watching a game.

And he did it without violence.

I respect those who may disagree with Kaepernick’s world view or philosophy, but what has been lost in the nine months since the first time he took his knee is the equity of disagreement and difference.

Let me unpack that:

Equity: There is enough space to go around so that everyone can be a part, everyone can play.   Only grim, shallow ideas exist in scarcity.  A “Members Only” clause might be a sign that a particular organization is losing people after every meeting; whereas, groups or movements with a sign “New Members Welcome” are robust, nuanced, and going somewhere.

Disagreement: This is the reality that there is more to life than one way of seeing things and that the intersections of thoughts are a possibility.

Difference: Not everyone is me.  God be praised.

Colin Kaepernick’s knee is old news.   Nine months old.

Yet he provoked a reality that a player can lose his job and his firing would be celebrated not because of the quality of his performance, but by the fact that he held different thoughts than those of the NFL owners.

North American culture celebrates individuality, freedom of expression, and being original.

ever-after-high

Right now, I am in a season of life where my girls bring home lots and lots of DVD movies that all have the same message: be yourself.  This message is explicit and implicit in Barbie, Ever-After High, Teen Titans, Disney Princessing, LEGO, etc., etc. …

These stories warn girls against the chief sin: to sell out, to obey what someone else believes or thinks, to shrink back, to hide, and worst of all, to conform.   So this present generation of GIRL POWER is being taught to think, act, rebel, and be themselves. …

Until they do it wrong.   Don’t wreck a football game.

Be yourselves.   Just not like that.

We want our young people to question authority, but not when we’re in office; we love rebels, but only those who fought in the past and won; we want kids to think for themselves, but only if they arrive at our conclusions; we want the youngest generation to come into our boat, just don’t rock it. We want people to be themselves as long as they magically become like us.

America was found on the legal principle of freedom of speech, but it’s the one freedom often lamented and seen as a liability whenever the different or those who disagree with us court such freedom.

A while ago, my youngest daughter expressed interest in playing the guitar.  As an old classic rock enthusiast, I was on Cloud Nine.   I knew, down the street, there was a music store that sold miniature, Fender-ish electric guitars.  They had one that was pink, light, and perfect.

So I decided to roll out the Dad Propaganda.   I showed her videos of Heart, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, and the sort.   After this afternoon diet, I asked her what kind of guitar she wanted.

“An acoustic one,” was her answer.

Why?, I asked, feeling she was missing the point.  “When I wash my hands,” she stated.   “I don’t want to electrocute myself.”

“But electric guitars don’t work like that.  You can wash your hands AND play the electric guitar.”

“Dad, are you telling me those people in those videos wash their hands?  Bathe?  And clean themselves up?”

My daughter, at this time, was six years old.  In her world, every adult had constantly instructed her to wash her hands. Every teacher, parent, camp cabin leader, or Sunday school leader was keenly worried about her hands.   And when she saw these rock greats, she didn’t see greatness but hairy, grungy, sweaty people who loved their music.  That love cost them the lifestyle of hygiene.

For her, people who played the other guitars were people at church, Taylor Swift, or music teachers: clean people.  She would put up with dad’s un-hygienic music, but it wouldn’t be hers.

There’s equity for difference and disagreement.

I remember having a sad conversation with a young man who wanted to be a Christian pastor, but was talked out of it.   “I wasn’t leadership material,” he said.   He was an odd duck, certainly: but that’s kind of why I was excited about him entering into the ministry, dreaming of the good changes he could bring.   However, I also knew the kind of church he attended and how they saw leadership.  Leadership, to his congregation, wasn’t about influence or relationships, but about power and control, and this odd duck of a young man didn’t care about either.  He was the type that would bring change not by maintaining status quo; rather, he would upset the ox cart by doing something unexpected or new.  Like … taking a knee before a football game.

The “powers that be” successfully talked him out of it and the church lost yet one more oddball who could change the world.

His place reminded me of the classic rock song “Thick As a Brick” by Jethro Tull:

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“Really don’t mind if you sit this one out.
My words but a whisper your deafness a SHOUT.
I may make you feel but I can’t make you think….
So you ride yourselves over the fields and
you make all your animal deals and
your wise men don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick.
And the sand-castle virtues are all swept away 
in the tidal destruction the moral melee.
The elastic retreat rings the close of play 
as the last wave uncovers the newfangled way.
But your new shoes are worn at the heels 
and your suntan does rapidly peel 
and your wise men don’t know how it feels 
to be thick as a brick.”  Jethro Tull

My call in this blog is specifically to the Christian Church, although I think this virtue can be applied in families, schools, nations, and any community.   We are made strong and rich through difference and disagreement, not through making people all like us.

What would it look like if the success of a congregation was that it was with people different from each other, all trying to hammer out what it means to perceive the truth through the smithy of community?

What if the new “BIG” for Christian churches was “different”?

What if the “All Nations” line in 2 Chronicles 6:33 included people who were different from us us or even disagreed with us?   And yet, we’re to include them in our worship.   (“Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.”). 

What if the church was so dynamic in its embrace of other kinds of people that folks felt they could be themselves without fear of being dropped?

What if this was the new witness to the truth and certainty of Jesus Christ?

And what if the message is true, we tell our daughters: you can be yourself.   You can disagree and be different.  You will not lose your seat at the table, you will be welcome to our home anytime.   The church is yours, readying you for the world that may not know what to do with those who wish to play the game explicitly without playing the other implicit games surrounding their world.

This dare reminds me of another song.   Tom Waits’s  “Come On Up To The House”:

tom-waits-1

“Well the moon is broken
And the sky is cracked
Come on up to the house
The only things that you can see
Is all that you lack
Come on up to the houseAll your cryin don’t do no good
Come on up to the house
Come down off the cross
We can use the wood
Come on up to the houseCome on up to the house
Come on up to the house
The world is not my home
I’m just a passin thru
Come on up to the houseThere’s no light in the tunnel
No irons in the fire
Come on up to the house
And your singin lead soprano
In a junkman’s choir
You gotta come on up to the houseDoes life seem nasty, brutish and short
Come on up to the house
The seas are stormy
And you can’t find no port
Come on up to the house
There’s nothin in the world

[Chorus]

There’s nothin in the world
that you can do
you gotta come on up to the house
and you been whipped by the forces
that are inside you
come on up to the house
well you’re high on top
of your mountain of woe
come on up to the house
well you know you should surrender
but you can’t let go
you gotta come on up to the house”

“Am I A Good Man?”- The Weight of Kindness in Doctor Who

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“Am I a good man?”- Peter Capaldi asks in the first episode of his incarnation as Doctor Who.

It’s an interesting question.   As viewers, we’re yelling at our flatscreen, “Yes!!”   I mean, he’s the hero.  Implicit in our viewing is the expectation that the Doctor is the hero.  It’s reinforced by all of the baddies- Cybermen, Daleks, the Master- by looking at them, you don’t need an introduction because they even look bad (My girls, the other night, were watching “Lego Batman” and the Daleks made an appearance.   Our house squealed in triumph.   Later, I knew why: Daleks just look bad and it matches the visual comedy of the movie).

But the Doctor, at that moment, is in doubt.  I love this mainly because there’s some built in lessons.   1) Goodness takes work, takes effort.   The hero is never entitled to be on the right side of the story, but must always watch, labour, listen, and discover what is good.   2) You become where you labour.   If a good man is not careful and abandons the hard work of saving planets, sticking up for the little guy, and halting invasions- then goodness can diminish from his/her character.   3) A good man needs companions to ask the question, “Is this right?”. The Doctor is not always in the lead, the white had who makes demands from his world.   No, he needs people: Straxx, Lady Vastra, Clara, you, and me.  All created saviours, all those who fall into the plot of salvation need, equally, to be saved.  For the Doctor, being saved meant asking the question.

doctor-who

So he asked this question.  And kept asking it, throughout his incarnation.

And something happened.   He didn’t become more right or won more battles or got more power.

He became kind.

Kindness is a missing virtue in Science Fiction today.   There’s an undertow of theology when it comes to epic novels/tv series/movies that kindness is the first virtue that needs to be jettison the moment dramatic conflict is introduced.   Jack Bauer must torture; humans are always worst than Walkers; another Stark must be killed; children drown; swans attack; and nothing is ever free.  Kindness costs a resource, in these stories, that will be needed later for the characters survival.   You can’t just be kind; kind people get others killed.

And leave it to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor to say, “NO!”

 

Peter Capaldi’s Doctor re-introduced the original, ancient concept of kindness.  It is the idea that you use your strength, your attention, your fame, your resources, and your stature to benefit other people.  It’s not a weak, willy-nilly, milky-sponge approach to life where the world thieves from your family’s dinning table.  No: kindness is modelled as a robust, aggressively generous force of lightening that surprises, delivers, and corrects.  Always powerful, always redemptive.  And there is always a cost.

The kindness embodied by the Doctor has it’s effect.   Watch as Peter Capaldi, the actor, and Stephen Moffat interact with a young fan concerning bullying:

What ends up taking place is a role reversal.   Those who have the “kill or be killed” stories floating in their head are now in direct confrontation with the Doctor’s kindness narrative.   The result is a shift, as writer David Foster Wallace asserts, from irony and cynicism to hope and kindness.

 

This is exciting.   Why?   Because our schools need more kid’s with bow ties fixing problems than wielding swords against more and more aliens; because our politics could use more aggressive kindness than trickle down economics; because our churches could learn more the patterns of generosity than consolidation; and because a sonic screwdriver does open more doors in the universe than anything else.

When we consider the leaving of Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, I wish him well and thank him for this gift.   Thank you, in short, for kindness.

 

Why Some Statues Just Need to Come Down: The Power of the Stories We Revere

 

 

Warning: I will be disagreeing with the President of the country of my origin.

Robert-E.-Lee

“George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? … Are we going to take down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner. Now are we going to take down his statue?…You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.” President Donald Trump[1]  

 

Why do we tell specific stories to our children and not others?

My oldest daughter loves hearing the story of how I met her mother, my wife.   Why is that a meaningful story? It communicates that there was love in her home before she was born, that there was a family waiting for her.

She once learned that I bicycled across Iowa twice when I was a teenager.   “Why didn’t you ever tell me that, dad?” she asked.

I didn’t think it was all that important, but I learned it was.

As parents, we teach our kids through stories…but only the important ones. I’ve shown “Howl’s Moving Castle” to our girls, but I’ve never brought home “Saw IV” for our family’s movie night.   Why?   I believe that Hayao Miyazaki has lessons for my children that are superior than the Jigsaw Killer.   In fact, as a parent, I would be furious if we hired a babysitter and they showed a Saw movie to my girls…especially if I left out “Kiki’s Delivery Service” or “My Neighbour Totoro” for them to watch while we were out.

Is this censorship?

As a parent, I am choosing the important stories to tell my kids as opposed to the ones that I feel will not be carried out.   It’s the same discretion we used, back in the days of video rental stores.   It wasn’t censorship that I didn’t rent every single video, but that I had to pick the one best for my night.

Later, when my daughters are adults, they can pick “Saw IV” over the movies we watched together: it is their freedom.   But they will know, hopefully, what the stories were we told them as their parents.

What kinds of stories do we tell our children?, this is an important question.

As a student of the Bible, it’s an important question to ask. Why did the ancient Hebrews pick Esther? What was important to tell a story where the main character is a woman and that the name of God isn’t mentioned?

Why did the ancient Hebrews have Job as the first book written about their God? Why tell Job’s story as a way to introduce their children to God?

What are the stories we tell our children?- this question strips away all of the fluff and packaging of our lives, getting to the principles that shape and guide us.   It demonstrates that we are editing and filtering animals, we pick and chose based upon the things we love that are inside of us.

And we seek to share this with others. We have freedom to the adults in our pack, but we our care is found in the discernment we have in story picking for the sake of our kids.

Statues tell stories.

More than that, implicit in their creation is veneration. American children need to learn about the War for Independence, but we don’t make statues of red coats or the British generals. Why? We’ll rather venerate the heroes and story tell the villains, so Paul Revere gets his statue and we’ll turn the red coats into extras.

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A statute of Terry Fox[2] implicates questions. “Who’s that?” a child will ask and then a parent can tell the story of his run, of why he is a hero, and what virtue he embodies.

So what is the story told to us by a statue of Robert E. Lee?

 

Why Some Statues and Not Others?

 

The current President of America, in seeking to sympathize with a protest in which the government wished to take down this statue- he defended this story.   He then threatened that this would be slippery slope: take down one statue, why not take down all the statues of the past?

In philosophical debates in University, one is trained that the “slippery slope’ argument is the weakest.   All you need to do to burst the bubble is give one exception, one story where A does not produce B.   If George Washington still remains in statue form or Abraham Lincoln is still seated in his monument, the argument loses its anxious gravity.

But let’s get back to the stories for our children: what is the story told by a statue of Robert E. Lee?

He’s a hero, the good guy of a story about an organized insurgency against the United States of America.   How many other insurgents get their statue?

Rebels are interesting.   If you are rebel, but endow future generations with a new virtue then you are a hero (Ex. Martin Luther King Jr.); if that virtue doesn’t survive posterity, you will remain an insurgent

Robert E. Lee will forever be an insurgent. And why did he try to rise up, quite unsuccessfully, against America?   The popular answer is to keep slaves.   Others argue it was for States’ rights.

Either way, what story is being told to children? An African-American boy walks by this statue on his way to school, what lesson is being taught to him? A Muslim girl who was told that the US is free anywhere in the country but then passes by the statue of Lee.   What lesson is really being taught?

The President of the United States defended this statue by stating that George Washington owned slaves and his statue was next to be removed, according to this logic.

Yes, George Washington owned slaves.

But is that the central story to his Presidency?   Or is it a detail introduced, later that complicates his narrative? It’s a detail that complicates things, that makes one scratch his head and say aloud, “But he was the father of our country! He was supposed to be a good guy!”

George Washington wasn’t made famous because of slave owning; Robert E. Lee is in the history books as an insurgent.

The central story is important because it helps us make sense of the complicating details.

 

Jesus Camp

Jesus2

I just finished the documentary “Jesus Camp” made in 2006.   Yes, it took me 11 years to see it, although for years I had read the reviews and heard the reactions.

The documentary films the experiences of children growing up in Evangelical America under the Presidency of George W. Bush, going to camp and then inspired to take up political action against the “liberals in Washington”.   Many compared the influence to child abuse, coercive, and mean spirited.   Others felt that the teaching aids might have been extreme, everything was voluntary in nature.

My issue wasn’t the method (although they weren’t the methods I used when teaching minors), but the actual story they taught the kids wasn’t the central story to Christianity.

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Pastor Ted Haggard ended the film with a quote from one of his sermons, summarizing the story they wanted their children to hear: “We want to get our message out, we can boil it down into single sentences.   1) It’s a new day. 2) Liberalism is dead. 3) The majority of Americans are conservatives. 4) You can count us showing up, speaking out. 5) Let the church rise.”[3]

This is not the central story to the Christian religion.   And yet, this central story made sense out of why the kids in this documentary did what they did. The kids talked about how they were going to wage war against liberal America. One girl complained that there were churches that weren’t really Christian, but that a real church had people jumping around, crying, speaking in tongues, and getting political.   One boy, in the documentary, said that he feels uncomfortable around non-Christians, like one feels uncomfortable around someone who is sick.  These details seem crazy, right?

These details might seem odd unless you go back to the main story the people in this documentary were seeking to tell their children.   Understand the main story, then these sentences and actions make more sense.

As I said earlier, this was not/is not Christianity.   This is not the condensed Gospel St. Paul gives us:

”Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any [a]affection and compassion,make my joy complete [b]by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing [c]from [d]selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude [e]in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be [f]grasped, but [g]emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death [h]on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”[4]

 

So back to the central story of the statue of Robert E. Lee: how does that shape the riots, the death of Lisa Charlene Hilker, and the President’s words?   The stories we tell our children are the virtues we value and embody.

Did the statue start the riots? Did Robert E. Lee make people carry Nazi flags and burn Tiki torches?   No. The virtues of insurgency, the prejudice behind institutional slavery, and polarization behind the Civil War is emblemized by the statue as an object of veneration.

At this moment, my Libertarian friends will more than likely suggest that governments should not be in the business of making monuments.   Fair enough, however the government has and still make these things.

 

Some Statues Just Need to Come Down

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So how do we, as a democracy, have them fund statues that tell the stories we want our kids to know?

  • Statues venerate, history books educate. American children should know who General E. Lee is and should be allowed to process their own opinions about him.   But this is done in the home, on the bus ride home from the park, in a classroom, and with lots of study and research before an opinion is rendered. Alas, this is the work of the educator not the bust maker. The hard work of forming an opinion is found in studying and reading and learning.
  • Ask, “What is the story behind the statue?” It’s pretty hard to say that you aren’t a racist when you are defending a statue beloved mostly by racist organizations, that tells the story of man who rose against America for the freedom to own slaves, and is a popular image of prejudice.   Plus, it misses the greater story: what story is being told?   Robert E. Lee is a story about rising up against America; whether he was a kind man, loved his children, or gave to charity is a detail that will only be defined by the greater story.
  • Just because a statue comforts, doesn’t mean it tells a redemptive story. Alas, governments are in a place of leadership.   When you lead your home- as a parent- you pick and chose your stories.   It’s hard because statues do comfort us.   President Trump was probably comforted by this statue, as a Civil War enthusiast and as an individual who does benefit from stories told by these kinds of statues. However, comfort and tradition may feel like morality, but they are not. Morality is morality.

 

Some statues, Mr. President, just need to come down.

 

 

 

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/15/politics/donald-trump-robert-e-lee/index.html

[2] For my American friends: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlpBnWANmF4

[3] Jesus Camp, 2006.

[4] Philippians 2:1-10

The Black Gong Returns: What This Summer Taught Me About Living in a Redemptive Community

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The Black Gong game was something packed away in the back closet of my mind. Years ago, when I was a youth pastor, we (the youth staff I was a part of) devised a game where kids would have to work together to solve a game.

So we divided them into teams with flags (or pennies or bibs, depending upon which Commonwealth you came from) and told them to find 3-5 hidden stations.   Complete the task from each station, then they would earn a token.   Get all of the tokens, you could ring the Black Gong; the team with the most rings won. However, there would be enemy teams out there. If they pulled you flag (or penny or bib), you couldn’t go to the next station but back to the Black Gong for a refill.

This simple game worked well in the beginning because we were trying to teach kids about small groups and how to work together with people.   As well, we needed the kids to run, get chased, and have some kind of engine that drove them around the campus: so we turned the other teams into that impetus.

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Originally, the Black Gong was an Aztec metal sundial that used to hang in our family’s cabin.   Us kids would play “The Gong Show” with it: we would have one of us perform and act only to be stopped halfway through with the ringing of a gong.   We had the idea that everyone on the Gong Show got gonged and the show was steeped in rejection.

So we had this gong and the game and played for years and years and years.   Through the evolution, we came up with magical items [1]used to be little aids in playing the game.   A committed MMORPGer lifted this from his gaming experiences. In order to lighten the Black Gong, the items were played more absurdity than any real threat[2].

Added to this insanity was a character called “The Floating Head of Red Death”.   He was our intern, David Maust, running through the forest, wearing a devil mask and pulling kids flags. We took it a bit far and, at the end of the night, he was yelling things like, “I’ll steal your soul!!!!!”   We had to apologize for that later because it bothered some campers. At the time, it sounded like a fun idea.

So I moved to Canada and took this tradition with me to a nearby summer camp close by to our northern, rural parish.   One night, when all of the youth groups in our area were getting together to play the game, Crean Capot (my Jr. High aged next door neighbour) gave me the idea of adding races/tribes to the game. I got mad at him: “Crean, why did you give me an idea that is SO good five minutes before we’re to play this game!?!”   Later, I was able to incorporate his idea.

But that is the point: the Black Gong always changes, always can be something new.

Three years ago, I came to Edmonton and became a serious senior pastor.   I thought my summer camp days and Black Gong rings were behind me.

Something wonderful then happened. Last fall, the director of Pioneer Camps in Sundre[3] invited me to be the speaker of one of their youngest camps.   He asked me, quite off-handed, if I had any ideas for camp games.

Actually…

So we played the Black Gong again.   This time, I was encouraged to tie it into the evening campfire stories.   The setting of these stories was a mythical land that was in ruins, the only thing that could heal the land was ringing the Black Gong.   When the Black Gong rang, an allegory of the Gospel was told (A mighty king dies and forgives a group of selfish people and then rises from the grave for the purpose of leading anyone to the new kingdom).   The game took hold and suddenly words like “missional”, “fellowship”, and “alliances” took on a whole, new meaning.

The groups were cabins, but given races/tribes into this fantasy world. Pirates, elves, monsters, knights, and scientists were all teams.   In the campfire stories, the races formed an alliance to ring the Black Gong so this inspired many of the cabins to think that way as well.

My wife helped out with crafts and the campers made their Black Gong costumes, dressing up for the game. My daughters were campers, joining the throng at camp.

The last night of camp was the game.   2 hours for campers ages 6-10 years.

Originally, the Black Gong was going to be a garbage can lid. However, one of the staff members- a Fine Arts Major- found the ring pathetic and wanted it to be a deep, sonorous ring. So he spent the week, on his off hours, building a mammoth construction.

Along with his work, another male cabin leader found a horse’s skull in the woods[4] and painted it, mounting it on a stick. His cabin were the monsters, so they covered their bodies in markings done by ash and paint. He led them to battle with the horse’s skull called, “Gary.”

In a costumed frenzy, the camp waited for the wranglers to bring out the Black Gong on horseback. However, we couldn’t pull off the pageantry because the Gong was way to heavy.   So a horse marched out and the construct was gently drug to the center of the camp.

The game began.

Quickly, three of the boy’s cabins found the goal of searching for stations difficult.   Some cried. Tire from a full week of camp, the mental gymnastics of pulling flags AND trying to ring the Black Gong was too much.

I snuck up on a parlay in the forest, as three cabins formed an alliance.   “Look, we’re just going to pull flags. That’s it! It’s time to be scary!”   The boys all cheered. Later, when asked how this worked, a leader shared that the boys no longer were crying or tired: the game was fun again.

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This created a big, scary engine for now an army of about 30 monsters were against anyone seeking to ring the Black Gong.   Led by a horse skull named Gary, these monsters stomped, charged, and chanted there way through the camp. The boys were great and loved throwing themselves into the role of that camp’s monsters.

My eldest daughter’s group made a couple of alliances with other cabins, all helping each other ring the Gong.   They’d communicate to each other where the other stations would be, trading magical items and giving warning where the flag pulling monsters might be hiding.

Some cabins worked by themselves; others jumped from alliance to alliance.   Slowly, most of the cabins got four tokens and needed the final fifth station.

We brought back The Floating Head of Red Death, but tamed the character down to just “Red Head”.   He originally was going to pull flags and kidnap leaders, but we figured we had way too many villains in the story: so he handed out flags and tokens to cabins struggling with the game.

Red Head sent all of the teams to the last station, a leader hidden deep into the woods of the camp right at the boundary’s edge.   I tried spying what this run in looked like, but couldn’t go that deep.   All of the camp, I heard, was there, looking for the final station: including the flag pulling monsters.

The scene in my head reminded me of an end to some epic comedy from the 1960’s that ended in a chase or a pie fight, Henry Mancini playing music in the background and Peter Sellers striding around amidst the mayhem.

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Five teams got the five tokens and rung the Black Gong, bringing order back to the land of chaos.

The game ended, the campers went to bed, and upon the next morning, their parents came to pick up their kids.

Debriefing the game with the staff, a boy cabin leader shared his frustration: “I got the idea of the game as a living, breathing allegory of the Gospel.   We got to share God’s love with everything.   Things don’t get better until His story is told.   Got it. However, I wish there was a rule stopping people from just pulling flags.

“I had a young cabin. I’d sit them down and they’d cool off. I’d pitch the idea to them about playing the game. They’d agree. We’d stand up to find a station, when all of a sudden a group of monsters would come along and I’d spend 20 minutes trying to get my cabin back from scattering.   Then we’d do it over again.   We never made it past the first station.”

Sadly, there’s freedom in the game. Sure, we could make all of the cabins work together and seek to ring the Black Gong; but then something would get lost in the discovery of the game.   The fun would be lost. There has to be a risk, a choice.

“And,” I explained to the young man.   “It’s still an allegory for the church.   How many of us know of Christians or whole churches that have given up on God’s mission for their neighbourhood?   Instead, they exist to pull other Christian’s flags. They found that sharing God’s love and telling His story was too difficult. Or it didn’t get what they wanted. So instead, they existed in a “for/against” view of Church.”

The boy’s cabin leader was a friend of mine and so when he nodded, I knew her knew of some Christians that sought to only pull people’s flags.

When I reconnected with my girls about camp, the cited that the Black Gong was one of the highlights of the camp.   My eldest daughter’s favourite component was forming alliances. “You can’t do these things alone,” she said.

“Other than the game, what was your favourite part?” I asked.

“Oh, the horses. Now if you could play the Black Gong on horseback, that would be amazing.”

Hmmmm….

 

 

[1] When I worked at a camp in Northern Alberta, we had to change it into “High Science” items.   The back story was that these items were recovered from an advanced civilization, but perceived as magic by primitive cultures.

[2] Example would be the “Horn of Chaos”: whomever blew this, an enemy team would be stuck hopping on one foot while making a raspberry sound.   Another example was the “Flask of Hmmmm” which was just a Tupperware with lots of flags (or pennies or bibs).

[3] http://pioneercamps.ab.ca

[4] Pioneer Camp is a horse camp, otherwise this would need a back story.

 

 

Attention…AHHHHHH…Attention!

stressed-dad            I became a parent to a beautiful, baby girl.

I passed the news around, receiving congratulations until a friend of mine shared an extremely honest insight.

“I was scared to be a dad,” he said. “Scared to death. I told myself that if I could just survive the pregnancy, than I could manage the rest.” He looked straight at me. “Do you know what it’s like being a parent?” I shook my head.

“It goes like this.”   He took a deep breadth. “Birth. AAAAAAAAAAAHH!!!!!! Infancy. AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!! Kindergarten. AAAAAAAAHHH!!!! Jr. High, teen years.   AAAAAAHHHH!!!! Driving. AAAAAHHH!! Finals, High School, dating.   AAAAAAHHHH!!!! Graduation.”

The whole room looked at him as he flushed beat red. He gasped for air. At that moment, I thought his illustration had concluded. I was going to say-

“AAAAAAHHHH!!!! College. AAAAAHHH!! Graduation.   AAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!! First career. AAAAAAAAHHH!!!   Marriage.   Grandkids.   AAAAAHHHH!!!! They move back home.   AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!! They become home owners.”   Then he gasped for air. Panting near the floor, he uttered in a quiet whisper, “You get the idea. I can’t go on.”

Immediately, this resonated with me. As soon as my daughter was born, I was scared for her. Scared she wasn’t getting enough to eat or that she was getting too much to eat; scared for her future; scared for her heath; scared about the outside world; and, sometimes, scared for no reason.

It is easy to be very fearful for our children. Is the world we live in a harmful place? Certainly. Doesn’t it seem like things are stacked against our children who need to make healthy, rational decisions? Yes. And isn’t today’s reality feels so much more darker than yesterday’s memory?   Absolutely.

But God is still much more powerful than whatever scared us.

The Bible says, “Perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).”   This passage used to confuse me because I once held that the opposite of love was hate. And shouldn’t perfect love cast out all hate?   Wasn’t God against hate? Why is perfect love going against fear, when hate is it’s real enemy?

But then a friend of mine shared with me an insight. She explained to me that she couldn’t survive as a parent while being fearful. She crunched up her eyes, balled up her hands into fists, and crouched over. “You can’t be a parent and be this way. You won’t be able to respond to your child.” She then opened up her eyes and hands, straightening herself up. “You have to live with your hands and eyes open in order to be a parent. You cannot be afraid and love your child at the same time.”

Fear and love cannot exist together: one cannot take the hand that is clenched with fear.   God is the perfection, the one whose love drives out our fear that empowers us to love others around us. But how do we get in contact with his perfect love?

Through prayer.   Henri J. M. Nouewen asserts that prayer is the means which God unclenches our hands and teaches us how to have them open to others and unto him. In prayer, we spend time with God’s perfect power that is bigger than what we fear and, more importantly, He begins to rub off on us. Jesus lived with life open handed and we can too by learning how through prayer.

Remember the cross?   The moment when all of human history changed? The moment when Jesus was surrounded by all those who hated Him and sought His destruction?   Was his hands opened or closed?

We can only be like Jesus through prayer, through God working in us to open our hands to love instead of clenching them in fear.

What Disneyland, Doctor Who, and Chang Taught Me about Characters OR Why I Look Forward to the New Doctor Being a Woman

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My girls were of the age to enjoy Disneyland. I mean, really get it: after the ages of tiny bodies befitting toddlerhood BUT right before the cold, dark aloofness of adolescence.

We charged down south of the border from Canada to LA for three days of both parks (California and the Original).

At the end of the first day, we bought one of our daughters a “Character Autograph Book”.   With this book, we hunted all of the costumed characters.   Along with the rides and the food and the ambience, we worked together as a team to find anyone/anything that represented Disney’s Narrative Universe.

Our most redemptive interaction was Captain Jack Sparrow. We took the faery over to Tom Sawyer’s Island and he rode with us.   We had an unusually long interaction with him which included him giving a hug to our girls, encouraging them to continue in playing their classical music, and a comment about the acceptability of running around with chocolate on your face.

This interaction was so warm and friendly, I felt like we should have invited him out to lunch. We didn’t: he had to plunder on other shores.

Still, whenever we met other princesses or cartoon characters, I’d ask, “Were they as nice as Captain Jack?”

But the hunt made us wild, always on the lookout for bright coloured…anything.

After three days, we headed home.   On the morning of our flight back to Canada, I was lagging behind my family.   Suddenly, I recognized a face walk by me.   My brain scanned and it came up as the actor Dr. Ken Jeong who played the character “Chang” on the TV show “Community”.

It could have been that it was 5:30am or that I had spent the entire week hunting for characters, but a fever rolled over to me.   I shot to my family and declared, “Chang!   Chang!   Chang is in the airport! I just passed by Chang!”

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“Are you sure you just didn’t think you saw Chang?” my wife asked lovingly and patiently.

I’m pretty good at facial recognition and pinning people to names. Plus, I heard him speak to his assistant and it did sound like Dr. Ken Jeong.

I calmed down and realized that this was a fellow who was just looking to catch a plane, not a Disney character that expected to give out autographs to all guests at the park, and then my excitement settled back into reality.

My wife and I did love the show “Community” and Chang was a funny character. He was the show’s kind-of villain, but buried deep was the virtue of wanting to belong, wanting to fit into a group.

Characters from stories do this in our life: they embody an idea, a virtue, a vice, or a mood.   Chang would do anything to belong; the real life Dr. Ken Jeong was just a guy who wanted to make his flight.

Disneyland is full of virtues dressed up as characters:

Cinderella was longsuffering,

Merrida was…well, brave;

Peter Pan was playful;

and Captain Jack Sparrow was nice (according to my kids, who haven’t seen any of the movies).

In Christianity, this is very common. My brethren in the Orthodox tradition call this Iconography: using artistic symbols to embody a desired virtue.   The writers of the New Testament do this, in the case of St. John who writes, “God is love, to know God is to know love.”[1]   St. John is not reducing God to an abstract concept, making Christianity just an intellectual religion.   Rather, he is arguing that the virtue of love is so much a part of God’s mission to the Earth that to understand the virtue of love is to be what God is like.

Fandom is like this as well.

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Doctor Who has always been a symbol of alien kindness, a great warrior who could use violence but restrains his power for the sake of using only words. Armed with only a screwdriver, he fixes worlds when others seek to destroy them.   Kindness is his agenda, hopping from place to place.

While I was on my Disneyland trip, the news came out that the 13th Doctor was going to be played by a woman.   I thought nothing of it until I got back to the maelstrom that hit the i-net.

“There goes the show!”, “The Doctor must NEVER be a woman!”, “So PC!!!”, “Why does everything have to change!” and the like.

Can the Doctor be a woman?   A fictional character that demonstrates alien kindness, the warrior restrains power for the sake of using only words?   Can a woman wield a screwdriver to stop an army?
No one seems to be arguing over Jodi Whittaker’s acting ability, but her gender.

Sadly, Sci Fi fandom offers two types of heroines.   Either the strong, fierce, violent type (who uses force to win) like Xena.

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Or the damsel in distress, the screamer kind-hearted woman who is powerless to evil.

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Like Dale Arden, from the Golden Age Serials.

But can a woman pull off a strong kindness?   In real life, women do this everyday.   I have women in my life who are strong but kind, who restrain their power for the sake of benefitting their world, and who can do well with a sonic screwdriver.

This is one of those wonderful moments when art catches up to reality.   It’s hard because unless you’ve experienced these virtues in real life they will seem alien to you because television, historically, hasn’t offered the Doctor’s set of ideals to that many women.

And yes, Doctor Who was a role model for me-as a boy- of what it looked like to be an adult man. And now, others are having a go with the subtle message that what makes the Doctor great is available for anyone to downloading.

Downloading your hero’s virtues…hmmm…

When in Disneyland, I decided to buy a ball cap with the signature of Indian Jones on the front. Subtle, sneaky: I felt I could wear this around my neighbourhood without causing too much of a scene. Indiana Jones, as a boy, embodied a sense of adventure and exploration, someone who entered into new, scary places for the purpose of saving people.

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I’d like to be that; I’d like to be Indiana Jones.   Be a real life person who’s fictional heroes rubs off on him.

 

[1] 1 John 4: 7-8