Animals Who Talk On Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve, at midnight, all of the animals talked the night Jesus was born.

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In many Germanic traditions, this is a Christmas thing.  The legend states that animals spoke excitedly the moment Jesus was born.  However, the moment the shepherds came- guided by the star and counseled by the Angels- the animals stopped and went back to being normal again.  The only humans who heard this were Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus.

Carried over from this tradition is the idea that every Christmas Eve since the birth of Jesus, animals talk at midnight.   Farmers would take a peak in the winter stables, just to hear if there were any voices; children would sneak out of bed to visit a pet around 11:59pm; and, back in the old country, someone somewhere knew a guy who heard someone say that they knew a guy who walked in on an animal’s conversation at midnight.

This tradition is so strong that, when preparing for this blog, I came across this new article from Nova Scotia:

http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/1329245-folklore-about-talking-animals-at-midnight-on-christmas-eve-a-nice-tale

The belief might be strong with many.  So much so that the Chronicle Herald needed to talk to an animal expert to debunk this myth.  My wife thinks this link is either Fake News or a parody worthy of The Onion.  I disagree.

The tradition of animals talking on Christmas Eve becomes nuanced from a particular region or country to another.

For many European countries, the animals who talk feed information to St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, St. Lucia, or whomever is coming to the house for gift giving purposes.  If the children of the house have been kind to their animals throughout the year, the children are rewarded with gifts; if not, then some form of punishment is administered.  The animals, in this tradition, are the moral gate keepers.

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Think of the animals as an ancient “Elf on the Shelf”.  Or worst, some sort of snitch for Christmas.

“Naughty or Nice” is a bit lost on us in the 21st Century, as we’ve become more and more consumeristic.  Why?  Perhaps because we must buy, we need to shop, and we’re told everyone has to get something because the point of the holidays is spending money for gifts.

There’s a muddling grace in that, I guess.

But back in the days of old Europe, there was a system of rewards and punishments.  A good friend of mine was a boy in Austria.  In his small farming town, he was visited by two men from his village: a man dressed as Santa Claus and a man dressed as the devil.  My friend hated Christmas because no matter what good gift he got from Santa, he would have to be spanked by the devil for all the mischievity he did the past year.

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“It didn’t matter how good or how rotten I was, I got a gift and I got spanked.  I hated Christmas,” he confessed.   For him, unconditional love and unconditional disapproval marked the holidays: it was an equal opportunity event.

But there’s another tradition in Europe about talking animals, one that I really like.

Rather than the animals watching all of your deeds and writing them down, they’re just animals.  Animals who work and live and enjoy the farm.  When it’s time for them to talk on Christmas Eve, they’re full of praises to God.  The stable, at midnight, becomes a party.  They sing, they talk about all of God’s goodness.  When a human comes into the stable, their joy is contagious and the humans join in with song.  The animals, at that moment, are so in love with God that they cannot remember to be impressed with anyone or list their shortcomings.  Their job is simply to praise.

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I know Christian churches that are great list keepers, they are well-versed in other people’s shortcomings.   They sit, waiting to be asked what is wrong with the world or people in their congregation or their pastor or their neighbourhood.  The Jungian shadow of “what isn’t” is the apple of their eye.  Sure, they can mention some good deeds they’ve heard about but that isn’t the main topic of their conversation.  And-let’s be honest- if we recorded all of our nice and naughty deeds, which would be longer?   There’s plenty of information to go around with these folks.

Then there are churches that are so happy, so joyful about God that you immediately feel you are invited into a party.  It doesn’t matter who you are and what you’ve done, there’s gifts and songs and conversations waiting for you.  This kind of church sees time as precious- when is the next opportunity one will have to celebrate all that is good and the King of all that is good, Jesus?

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For homework, take home this question: what kind of talking animal am I?  Do I record the deeds of those around me or is there celebration to me?  For extra-credit: hang out with your dog or cat during Christmas Eve night.  See what happens.

 

 

 

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“…but Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”[1] 

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Mary had just given birth and for those who have even undergone such an experience, you know that this is only the start-not an end- to the adventure.

She found herself in a stable, a room above where all of the animals of the Inn rested.  A simple room, with hay and a blanket.  It was used for all-night calving or if you had to be with animal needing to be watched.  Just enough comfort for one who was really tired to fall asleep.

Holding her child, she smiled.  Smiled at the simple miracles first before she ever tried to take in the great, big Miracle she was holding.  She thought about the Innkeeper’s generosity.  His Inn was full and he had every right to turn her away, throwing up his arms and delivering the over-used policy, “If I made an exception for you, I’d have to make an exception for everyone!”

No, he made an exception.  His Inn was full and yet he wasn’t going to be “that guy” who turned away a pregnant woman near delivery.  With some creative rule-breaking, he made it work: he prepared their stable for her delivery.

Tiny miracles.  She counted all of those before she could get to The Miracle.

She was there with the baby.  The streets of Bethlehem because something was happening in the sky.  Exhausted and spent, her body felt like an over-worked wineskin: she could have cared less if all of the stars had all vanished.  Just tired.   A strength slowly came to her, but it didn’t come from her: it came from the baby.

Strange, she thought.

Joseph was asleep in the corner, exhausted from the birth.  He needed a rest.  Joseph elected himself to do the worrying for both of them, turning him into a big ball of fear while she pushed and worked and delivered.  Leaving him to rest, the night was silent.  But not for long.

Crawling up the ladder, she saw the face of a stranger.  A rough man with scars, an unkempt beard, and sticks in his long hair.   He smelled of sheep and body odour.  Hard lines on his face looked like had probably lived with violence; stuck outside of the lines of good, Jewish society.

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The face melted to a bright, warm smile.   Mary tried to figure out why and then the man didn’t make it easier by cussing.  The maledictions spurt out, all full of joyful exclamations.

“She’s here!  It’s true!  It’s all true,” the bearded stranger said.  He then called down to his friends who were standing with the Inn’s animals.  He looked back up at Mary, wearing a shy grin.  “I’m sorry.  Can we come in?”

It could have been the labour speaking or her being tired or that there was something kind in his grin, but Mary agreed with a shrug.

Suddenly, the small room became invaded by shepherds.  All of them tough looking, rough, and smelled up the place with scents of the wilderness.  A boy was with them.  All men, all speaking excited.  Some languages not Hebrew or Aramaic.  Big men.

Joseph woke up to the crowd.  Quickly, he shot to his feet and assumed a defensive posture.

“We want to see the baby!   We heard about him,” one of the voices said.

“An Angel told us to come.  Asked us to come.  Us!” another said.

“We’re part of the welcome crew!”

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As soon as they said “Angel’, this sealed the deal for both Mary and Joseph: they were okay.  An Angel told them about the birth of a Saviour, about what to name Him, and that God was working His mission for their lives.  “Angel” was the code word: it was if to say, “Don’t worry, we’re part of the plan.”

Mary let the rough men hold the baby.  Some cried, talking about their own children they couldn’t see because they were outlaws or had fallen onto hard times.  Some laughed, just happy to be there.  Some just were silent, all of the words fell from them the moment they climbed the ladder.

One of them told the story of the Angel’s words and had pointed to the star.  When he used the word “Saviour”, he got more confident- as if he could tell the story a hundred more times.  “Perhaps I will,” he said when he mentioned his new boldness.  “I think I’m getting it from your baby.”  He pointed to her son and smiled.  “He’s rubbing off on me.”

Mary scanned the crowd.  There weren’t any priests, any Holy men, any good Jewish folks to be found.  Just a bunch of wild, foul mouthed shepherds.  This was God’s plan, she thought to herself: he was going to pick his welcome party and it was going to be the rough, the outcasts, and the hard-lived.

Joseph found himself laughing, as the worry lines disappeared from his face.  Some of the shepherds gathered around him, wishing him well and belching out happy expressions.  Joseph looked over at his wife and she chuckled, watching her overly cautious, proper Jewish husband be surrounded by these men.

She looked at her son, being passed around.  Already, hours old, he was creating a movement with the least likely to be included.

Mary took in this moment and treasured all of these things, pondering them in her heart.

 

[1] Luke 2:19

Why Did Eric Become An Anglican?

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I wanted to make clear a couple of issues that have taken place in my life that could cause confusion.

A few weeks ago, we were received by the Diocese of Edmonton into the Anglican Church.  The Kregels have become Anglicans.

This, amongst my non-Anglican friends, could cause concern.  I mean, does this mean that I think my Evangelical, Anabaptist background was wrong? That I am “trading up” to a superior way of Christianity?  Do I believe Anglicans make better churches than Friends, Baptists, or those with the Evangelical Free?

The answer to all of these questions is a firm “no”.

If I am not “picking the better team,” than what’s happened?  Why did I become Anglican?

Here are three reasons that have shaped our journey into Anglicanism:

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1) We were welcomed into Anglicanism. This is huge. When I was a youth pastor in a Quaker church, there was an older woman in the congregation who came from a Catholic background.  When asked why she no longer attended a Catholic Church, she replied, “There weren’t any Catholics who invited me to their church.”

Last year, about this time, I had a couple of Anglican friends who saw the tension in my ministry on how to train, equip, and release Christians in my congregation to serve their place within God’s mission.  It wasn’t happening in my present ministry, and my friends said, “You should try Anglicanism.  I think they’d really value your passion.”

I didn’t grow up Anglican, I’ve attended maybe a handful of services, and it was outside of my radar. And yet, the more I chatted with (deleted word) Anglicans, I didn’t feel such an odd duck.

During this year, I’ve expressed the dream of becoming an Anglican priest and have met with a lot of encouragement. Many have gone out of their way to walk me through the liturgy, unloaded books on me, or invited me to their services.

Capturing this welcoming spirit, I had an experience in a parish near my house.  I came in by myself, knowing only the priest.  I attended the service and was greeted well.  However, as I was leaving, an older woman in a walker approached me.  She pointed at me and commanded, “You are coming to coffee!  With me!”

She heard herself and then laughed.  “I’m sorry,” she confessed.  “I used to be better at this. Our church serves coffee and goodies after our service. Could you please join me?”  I agreed and, sure enough, when I made it to the gymnasium, there was an empty seat ready for me next to my new friend.

At the heart of any movement or church is the necessary ability to welcome strangers, to make room for new people.  I don’t think my journey would have been very long or in any way successful if I didn’t have a whole mob of Anglicans welcoming me in.

2) The Book of Common Prayer guides the church service. Growing up as an Evangelical, the freedom from a denomination, a handbook, or anything outside telling us what to do was a point of pride. We could, every week, make something brand new and different and still be Christians.  Liturgy free!  Yet – and this it the only pointed comment I’ll make – my experience has been that most Evangelical church services look very similar to each other, and they look almost identical to the services of the week before.

Why is that?  Evangelical services (or congregationally led churches) often default to tradition (“Let’s do what we did last week but again and again”) or they default to the strongest personality in the institution. The result is that they have their own liturgy, but it’s a hidden one.

What if the liturgy was written down and handed to the presiding minister?  For me, this is a welcoming gift.  It is an expressed, explained order of service, as if to say “This is what we do and what isn’t written is what you are free to do shaped by the weekly practice of the liturgy.”  This, to me, is more freedom.

When I recently read the Book of Common Prayer, two things really struck me.  1) It is bathed in Scripture (Over 80% are direct quotes from the Bible!). It isn’t as man-made or original as I was led to believe.  2) The worship is framed by the story of Christ: Our sin, God’s love, Christ’s death and his resurrection are played out on a stage that we – as a congregation – enter as we come to  church.

This is the gift of the Eucharist described and led by the Book of Common Prayer (And the Book of Alternative Services, it’s companion).

In one of the interviews I had with a priest concerning Anglicanism, he said:  “What’s nice about the Book of Common Prayer is that it’s in the pew waiting for me every week.  I don’t have to bring it to the church or make something new happen.  I can pick it up, read from it, and experience the church service alongside my congregation.  I don’t make my church worship God or make them have to feel a certain way.  Rather, I lead them through the book and this journey takes them through the Bible, the story of Christ, and what God is saying to them that particular moment.”

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3) It’s bigger than me.  A common thinking that has come from my rich and great Evangelical roots is that idea that I have a personal relationship with Jesus. This is true and amazing and has meant the world to me.  However, if I’m not careful, I can swallow the lie that I’m by myself in my faith. That it’s “just Jesus and me under a tree”.  This lie leads to another, which is to say that the Bible was written exclusively to me and that I don’t need any help from anyone else in understanding this ancient document.

Anglicanism works as a family, with members scattered not only throughout the city, but all over Canada and the world. As a minister, I will not just represent my clever ideas about God, but I will embody a network, a story that is ongoing: this has been very hopeful to me.

When asked what is a single lesson God has been teaching me this past year, it has been that I’m not alone in the Kingdom of God. God has sent this message, firm and repeated, throughout my road to Anglicanism. This has been matched only by the greater sense that is Anglicanism itself, that I am a member of the “Church Catholick” (which is just a fancy term for the church beginning from Peter).

What happens on Sunday morning, in an Anglican sense, is part of a network that is bigger than an individual’s Christian education or weekly inspiration.  A church or a pastor is not left alone to re-invent the wheel.

This matches, of course, how God works. The Kingdom of God is a welcoming place, there is guidance, and it represents a loving family bigger than its individual members.

However, this is the road God has set before us as a family.   It has been meet and right for us so to do.

3- A Tale of Three Tables: The Guest Table

Here is a link to the introduction of this mini-series:

https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2017/10/13/2-a-tale-of-three-tables-the-common-meal-table/

There’s Always Room

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In the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina uses his hotel as a UN sanctuary during a massive genocide.  He escapes the hotel but is separated from his family.  At the film’s end, they are re-united at a refugee camp. They try to get transport out of the country, but the bus is full and they are turned away.  As they seek to walk to their new location, Paul laughs. “There’s always room,” he says.

Here’s a clip of the scene:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Kk_oah-wCM

 

The real-life Paul experienced the reality of the Third Table: The Table For Guests.

Often we go through life in North America believing the elevator that holds our friends is full and there isn’t any room.

A good friend of mine once spent a day with her grandchild at a park.  Another child was at the park with her own grandmother. For about an hour the two grandmothers chatted and enjoyed themselves as the kids played.

My friend then worked up the courage (for this takes REAL courage in North America) to see if they could connect sometime later for coffee. The woman turned my friend down. “I’m sorry, I just have way too many friends and am really busy.”

Well then.

The Third Table is about inviting those in who are not yet (deleted word) members of God’s family into His house. This is the place where we, as the church, speak up for the voiceless and forgotten; it’s the place we serve without reward; it is where we think not of ourselves, but of the outsider; and it is where hospitality takes place.

It is the space we give people to sound out questions about the Kingdom. It is the presence we give so they are not alone in life’s challenge. It is the hospitality we give so the church is with them in their story.

The third table is that magical place where people, given enough grace and truth, discover that they might be a bit more spiritual than they believed themselves to be, that God may have interacted with them and they didn’t notice it. There’s no judgment at this table, only truth; no expectations, just grace; no demands, just presence; and no exploitation, just harmony.

However, most Christians in North America would confess that this is the least used table out of the three.  Why?

Could it be that we use our best china for the Common Meal Table, and we fuss the most over how the Lord’s Table is run, while we save the leftovers and scraps for the Guest Table?

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It could be that our culture, with all of its “Stranger Danger,” has not given us permission for the Guest Table and we have obeyed our Western Empire’s message, as if they were from Baal’s lips.

Or perhaps, like my friend had heard, we just think we’re too busy, our friend list is too full, and there isn’t time.

Unfortunately, the Kingdom of God is not ruled by specialists.  Everything is connected, everything interacts with each other.  Our worship of God overlaps our relationship with other Christians and they overlap our associations with the neighbourhood. There aren’t nice streets and not-so-nice streets in the Kingdom of God.   No, when God works He tends to integrate everything and everyone together.

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Think of the three tables (The Lord’s Table, the Common Meal Table, and the Guest Table) as a compound of three elements. The compound doesn’t happen unless it is in steady interaction with all three elements. Water is not water unless it has oxygen AND hydrogen; salt isn’t salt unless it has sodium and chloride. In order for the Kingdom of God to work in the lives of believers, the three tables must be at work with each other, otherwise you don’t have the elemental power of the church.

For those who need a formula, here it is:

E = (Lord’s Table, Eucharist); C = (Common Meal Table); G = (Guest Table)

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I’ve encountered many Christians waiting for their pastor to get better, their church service to get snappier, or for a new book to re-invigorate their walk with Christ.  The fire is gone.  It could be that one of the tables is missing.  And in North America, we are mostly missing the Guest Table.

There’s no more room, we cry.

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There’s always room, but we must see things differently. Rather than looking through the cruel, smudged lens of scarcity (i.e., We need to hold onto what we have! We have to hoard, store, keep, and protect! We can’t share our building! We may not be in control if new people come into our church!!!), we are called to view life through the lens of infinity (i.e., Who isn’t included yet? Of course, we’d love for you to join our choir! What do you think? How can we use our resources to share with the neighbourhood in their success?).

Scarcity vs. Infinity.

When a Christian family lives with scarcity, they are defined by what they refuse and who they reject. Why? Opportunities and the “wrong kind of people” are seen as liabilities, costs to the safety, control, pleasure, and image they seek to enhance, maintain, and protect.

However, when a family chooses to follow God, the question is not: “What is it going to cost me?”  Rather: “Is God asking me to invite this person to my Guest Table?” God is calling factors in the numbers of infinity when it comes to hospitality.

The God who makes these tables and calls us to them is not the Lord of scarcity, but of infinity.  We invite those to this table that we tend, and if there aren’t enough seats, He will make more chairs.

On the Toes, Not On the Heels

The comedian Will Farrell once told the story about working with Harrison Ford, his childhood hero, on a movie together.  One night, Harrison Ford offered to do dinner and Will Farrell turned him down.  Not because he didn’t want to, or didn’t respect him or was busy: he just wasn’t thinking.

This is the link to the story:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ms2FXxfS7c

I can relate.  How many times have I been in the community, talking to people and the conversation turned spiritual. And I, being focused on something else entirely, only realized we were talking about spiritual things….an hour later…on the car ride home.

Or…

I’m connecting with someone in the neighbourhood and the family, individual, or couple intimate that they’re lonely, new to the community, or that there “is room in the elevator for a few more”.   But unfortunately, I don’t pick up this message.  Or I don’t think they’d be interested, letting my insecurity decide for me.  Or I’m preoccupied with something else.

“..and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel 

of peace, ” Ephesians 6:15 says. 

                What does that mean?  Simply, we must be ready to encounter, engage, and invite people to the Third Table: the Table For Guests.

We are to live always looking to reach out, add to, invite over, share, make room, enjoy, and bring from the inside to our lives (not clear).  We incessantly ask ourselves, “Is everything fair?  Is everyone experiencing justice?”

This is the practice of the Third Table: while at the other two tables, we are thinking about the third.

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A friend of mine grew up with his mother always making more food than their family could eat in one sitting.  Sure, they had leftovers: but that wasn’t the point.  He also grew up with guests at most dinner times. Or he would be sent to take a pot over to the neighbour and surprise them with a meal. In fact, it was an odd thing when the dinner table housed empty chairs and it was just their family.

On your toes, not your heels.  It’s the soccer strategy of resting on your toes, not your heels.  Next time you stand, you roll back on your heels, right?  It’s a natural position.   However, when you’re on the field and the ball quite suddenly comes to your position, you waste half a second of your time rolling on your feet to your toes. The skill is to always be on your toes, ready to spring forward and run to the ball.

How do we perfect this readiness to invite those to our third table?

Most of all, prayer.  Ask God for this spirit.  Never assume this will come naturally to you or that you are already successful with this virtue or that you, at one time, could do this.  Ask God, continually, for opportunities and chances and conversations so that you can get to know the stranger, reach out to those on the outside, and get to know those people who do not yet know Christ.

Secondly, ask for awareness. Next time you go to your worship service, ask yourself, “How many people who are neighbours to this building would ever dare come inside?  If most don’t come, why is that?  Is my church focused inward – trying to keep those who already attend happy? Or focused outward  – asking who else needs to experience Christ … Is everyone in my neighbourhood being treated well … Am I the only one who enjoys justice?

Thom S. Rainer, researcher and writer on churches in North America, argues that the number one reason why churches decline in health and vision isn’t size, pastoral leadership, worship style, or programming, but an inward focus.

This is a link to his argument:

http://www.lifeway.com/pastors/2016/08/16/the-most-common-factor-in-declining-churches/

An inward focus is an awareness issue. Those who have an inward focus and lead their churches no longer are thinking about the third table.  Soon the lack of awareness that will lead to the other two tables (The Lord’s Table, The Common Meal Table). (The word “that” makes this an incomplete sentence; meaning is unclear)

Praying so we may “make the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16) is a call towards awareness.

Lastly, akin to awareness, is holding onto the memory of what it was like when you were an outsider to Christianity, new to a group, or a stranger.  When we become Third Table Christians, we can feel the unease and fear and excitement people have when they walk into a church or building we’ve become quite familiar with.  When we remember what it was like to move into a new neighbourhood or arrive in a new country, we can feel what it is like to live as a stranger, an immigrant.

This memory-keeping was important to God towards his children, the Jews.  He set before them the yearly rhythm of Passover in whichthey were to dress in “hasty clothing,” eat a meal that reminded them of when they escaped slavery and became wanderers, and read the Torah that re-told the story to them. Their names were “Hebrews” – simply meaning travellers.  And throughout the Scriptures, God reminded them again and again not to use debt to enslave people, to take care of those who wander through your lands with hospitality (e.g., gleanings), and never to become a race of insiders … lest they forget they were once outsiders.

Remember when you were on the outside: this is the message etched onto the Third table.   

Evangelism is Eating 

Food is something we’d like to control (diets), store (pantries), use as a reward  (doughnuts or fancy meals), use for energy (a good breakfast), use for commerce (the farm), fuel for ministry (pancakes at summer camp) and base our economy upon (agriculture).  We all hunger and we all, when hungry, crave food.

It is no wonder that having a meal with those who are not yet members of God’s household is part of God’s plan.  Food is the image Christ used with Himself (John 6:48) and it is the medium we use to share the good news.  Paul writes in Colossians 4:6, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Col. 4:6

We share the food with the stranger; we salt our words with the God’s grace.

Ending this series, I saved the passage that guided my study (along with David E. Fitch’s book “Faithful Presence”: https://www.ivpress.com/faithful-presence). It is found at the end of Acts 2:

“42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Notice: Breaking of bread (eating) is at the beginning of the passage and the end.  The passage begins with the process of people coming to faith in Christ and celebrating their relationship with Him (The Lord’s Table). Then they learn to give themselves over to other believers (The Common Meal Table). Finally, they entertain the community and add to their number daily (The Guest Table). The image in this passage that binds things together is the sharing of a meal.

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I’d like to leave a challenge with you.  For the next 30 days, pray for the miracle that someone you don’t know and who doesn’t know Christ would invite your family over for a meal. This is downright revolutionary in our castle system of urban planning, I realize: but pray.  We could, I guess, invite people over to our house.  We would be the host, we would be in control.  But what if we pray that God would make the Guest Table such a reality for us that someone outside our church would feel so comfortable with us that they would want to share their table.

Just a dare. Pray and see what God does.

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.
 

(1) A Tale of Three Tables: The Eucharist

 

liturgy-of-the-eucharist
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.
Homer-Simpson-Drooling-while-Sleeping
    “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”:

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“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.