Reflections on Christianity: A Round-up

Following is a round-up from a few blogs that speak of issues relevant to what we know as Christianity. Click on the link at the start of each excerpt to read the full article.

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From Brian McLaren:

A friend of mine says that first we humbly seek for God. Then we humbly speak with God. Soon, though, we may proudly speak for God … and then we arrogantly speak as if we were God! It reminds me of the old line from a Peter, Paul, and Mary song (Hymn):

Passing conversations
Where they mentioned your existence
And the fact that you had been replaced
By your assistants.

Many of us – inside and outside of so-called “organized religion” – are reaching the same conclusion. It’s the Spirit that matters most – the wine – not the bottle in which it is carried.

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From Peter Rollins (In a blog about the movie Shutter Island):

The path to healing and transformation involves the painful process of glimpsing the Real of our own darkness. Glimpsing our wounds, and giving language to them. Wounds that are hinted at in such things as our dreams and our drunken conversations. More than this, it involves being able to do this in an environment of love.

So what would it look like to have a community in which we allowed our darkness to be seen? A community where we would be confronted with the truth of who we are? A community that was therapeutic, not despite the fact that it gives space for this horrific self-disclosure, but precisely because of it?

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From Len Sweet & Frank Viola on Emergent Village:

The body of Christ is at a crossroads right now. The two common alternatives are to move either to the left or the right. It’s our observation, however, that we are living in a unique time, when people are frozen as they look in either of those directions. When they look to the left, they decide that they cannot venture there. When they look to the right, they feel the same. Whether they realize it or not, people are looking for a fresh alternative—a third way. . . .

. . . The crossroads today, we believe, is one of moving forward or backward. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is that third way—and the only way—that we can forge a secure path into the future. If the church does not reorient and become Christological at its core, any steps taken will be backwards. (Christ is the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form, as Paul said in Colossians.)

Christians have made the gospel about so many things—things other than Christ. But Jesus Christ is the gravitational pull that brings everything together and gives it meaning. Without Him, all things lose their value. They are but detached pieces floating
around in space. That includes your life. It is all too possible to emphasize a spiritual truth, value, virtue, or gift, yet miss Christ, who is Himself the embodiment and incarnation of all of these things.

What is Christianity? It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. Christianity is not an ideology or a philosophy. Neither is it a new type of morality, social ethic, or worldview. Christianity is the “good news” that beauty, truth, and goodness are found in a person. And true humanity and community are founded on and experienced by connection to that person.

This global, Google world needs a meta-narrative more than ever, and the Jesus Story is the interpreting system of all other systems.

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From Mars Hill Bible Church on Spiritual Practices:

Think of it as keeping your ears open, in ways and in places and in times of day when before you wouldn’t have thought to listen. Think of it as tuning yourself to recognize God’s voice, as becoming someone who regularly, intentionally hears.

Spiritual practices are exactly what their name suggests; they’re ways to be deliberate about matters of the soul. A spiritual practice is a tool for becoming aware of God within the normalcy of life—it injects the sacred into elements that could otherwise seem just everyday. So in applying spiritual practices, we find that the lines can be blurred between those things spiritual and what is secular: gratitude can happen when we’re mowing the lawn, worship and grocery shopping are compatible, God can be pursued on the evening commute

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The Daily Office from Mission of St Clare:

This is a link from the Mars Hill site for an online Daily Office should you wish to take a look at how this spiritual discipline is practised.

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Blessing of the Bicycles 2010And as a final dive into what is the blessed diversity of Christianity, hats off to House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, for their Blessing of the Bicycles event.

As a way of acknowledging the inherent goodness of God’s gifts of life and health and the humble but elegant bicycle we are conducting a Blessing of the Bicycles for the entire Denver cycling community. This event is open to all regardless of religious affiliation, race, creed, color, sexual orientation, fat or thin tires, and brand of bike. We even welcome unicyclists and Unitarians. Some may take it more seriously than others but it doesn’t matter. As we swing our thurible of incense over the Schwinns and Cannondales we do so as a human community seeking God’s blessing and protection for all who brave our city streets on two wheels. Group ride to follow!

HFASAS is an emergent Lutheran congregation who approach to life together is Christ-centered. Their pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, is also a blogger as Sarcastic Lutheran.

The Whisper of Grace

The following article is from Christianity Today (April 2010 web edition). It can be read in its entirety here. Thanks, Stephen, for sharing it. It rings so true to me.

Once upon a time, there was a man who said to himself, “I think, therefore I am.” It was a revolutionary statement, because up to that time, people didn’t think this was the way to begin. “In the beginning, God. …” Yes. “In the beginning was the Word. …” Yes. But now, for the first time, someone was saying, “In the beginning, I.”

It didn’t take long to catch on. Pretty soon everyone was saying it, and saying it in their own way. “I feel, therefore I am.” Or “I experience, therefore I am.” Or “I am mystical, therefore I am.” Or “I am creative, therefore I am.” Even “I am religious, therefore I am.”

Eventually, someone said, “I am, therefore I am.” And everyone applauded, because it seemed to be a stroke of divine genius.

Then, away from the maddening crowds, far off in the wilderness, a voice was crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” But people no longer had ears to hear that sort of thing. It sounded faint, quieter than a whisper. To most people, it sounded like gibberish. Others listened really closely and thought they could make out the words. But they just frowned, disappointed with the result of all their efforts, saying, “But what does this have to do with me, with my problems?” Read more here…

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Here’s another challenging article, also from Christianity Today, about the first century church and how it embraced a “we” approach above individualism. I’ll put a few quotes below, followed by a link for the entire piece.

“Note also Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (circa A.D. 250), and his commentary on the prayer Jesus taught his disciples: ‘Before all things, the Teacher of peace and Master of unity did not wish prayer to be offered individually and privately as one would pray only for himself when he prays. We do not say: “My Father, who art in heaven,” nor “Give me this day my bread,” nor does each one ask that only his debt be forgiven him and that he be led not into temptation and that he be delivered from evil for himself alone. Our prayer is public and common, and when we pray, we pray not for one but for the whole people, because we, the whole people, are one.’ “We, the whole people, are one”—Cyprian’s strong-group sensibilities could hardly be more pronounced.”

“For the early Christians, belonging to a local church was a commitment to a group of people, not to a highly programmed institution driven by corporate management and numerical growth. First and foremost, then, we must return to the concept and practice of church as a relational entity.”

Read the rest of the article, A Family Affair, here…

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Quote of the week:

From the article Coming Home: A Gay Christian Speaks to Fundamentalists, by Jonathan Odell

“I hadn’t come out as gay then, only as a Baptist.”

This makes me ask the questions, ‘Why are we so OK with some labels but not others?’ and ‘What’s wrong with being Baptist?’

Re-visioning The Lord’s Prayer

I enjoy reading paraphrases. I know they’re not literal translations and are subject to the writer’s own bias and interpretation.

That’s probably why I like them.

I see in them another’s perspective, a fresh look at something that has perhaps grown stale. In them I see how the original words have found a home in the life of the writer, new meanings, a fresh understanding, a new way of seeing–a re-vision.

I find that ‘re-visioning’ a well-known and well-loved (and often-repeated) passage of Scripture helps energise my spirit and refresh my thinking, drawing it to new ideas never before considered, or a new way of seeing truth.

This is The Lord’s Prayer that we use in every liturgy at St Columba College. It’s from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
And deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours,
Now and forever.

Here are a few paraphrases of this same prayer which I have found helpful in my re-visioning.

I found this first paraphrase of The Lord’s Prayer this weekend in a daily Twitter prayer by The Virtual Abbey (@Virtual_Abbey). It is the Casa del Sol Prayer of Jesus and can be found in one online context here.

Ground of all being,
Mother of life, Father of the universe,
Your name is sacred, beyond speaking.
May we know your presence,
may your longings be our longings in heart and in action.
May there be food for the human family today
and for the whole earth community.
Forgive us the falseness of what we have done
as we forgive those who are untrue to us.
Do not forsake us in our time of conflict
but lead us into new beginnings.
For the light of life, the vitality of life, and the glory of life
are yours now and for ever.

Here’s another version which Brian McLaren wrote (and which is often sung at the end of his presentations). The original source can be found here.

Our Father, above us and all around us,
May your unspeakable Name be revered.
Here to earth, may your kingdom come.
Here on earth, may your will be done as it is in heaven.
Give us today our bread for today.
And forgive us our wrongs as we forgive those who wrong us.
Lead us away from the time of trial.
But liberate us from the evil.
For the kingdom is yours and yours alone,
And the power is yours and yours alone,
And the glory is yours and yours alone.

Here’s another:

Daddy in Paradise, Your character is good, marvellous, loving and pure. I want your Upside-down Kingdom to be seen and felt here in my neighbourhood as it is in your celestial community. I want your desires to be known and lived out in my city as in your New Jerusalem.
Please provide us with just enough food to satisfy us for today and maybe a little extra to give to our neighbours in need.
Forgive us for seeing needs and not meeting them especially when we are spending our time judging others, and help us forgive when we are hurt, disappointed, and accosted.
Pull us out of harm’s way when sin comes looking for us or when we go searching for sin. Set us free as you snatch us out of the hands of our cruel enemy.

Here’s a final one. I love the use of the phrase ‘Beloved Community’ to refer to the kingdom. (Both this and the previous one are located in their original context here.)

Our Beloved Friend, who is outside the system,
may your holy name be honored by the way we live our lives.
Your Beloved Community come,
your way be done
inside the system
as it is outside the system.
Give us this day everything we need,
forgive us our wrongs,
as we forgive those who have wronged us.
Do not bring us into hard testing,
but keep us safe from the evil one.
For thine is the Beloved Community,
the power, and glory,
forever and ever.

May these be a source of blessing and further meditation on what it is Jesus is saying in this prayer which he taught his disciples to pray.

And maybe it will inspire you to write your own paraphrase, using words and phrases that are meaningful to you and that come from the context of your own community.

(Why not post it as a comment below? It would be great to be able see this prayer through your eyes and from the perspective of your journey.)

John 14:6

Here’s a link to an interesting article from Brian McLaren on his understanding of John 14:6. Originally it was intended for publication as part of his book, The Secret Message of Jesus, but it was deemed a little too far off the aim of the book, so was left out. I hope you’ll find it to be well-thought-out and that it will increase your understanding and appreciation of Jesus’  common-sense approach.

Were is the ‘I’ in the Cross?

I’m wondering if anyone can help me with a question I’ve been sitting with for a while now: Where in the Bible can I find a specific reference to Jesus dying on the cross for my personal, individual sins? I know beyond a doubt that he died for ‘the world,’ ‘all,’ ‘anyone,’ ‘everyone,’ ‘us,’ ‘whoever,’ and ‘for sin’–but where does it say he died for me personally? I accept by faith that he did, but does Scripture back it up? Considering how NT writers usually wrote to collective groups, and thus used terms like ‘us,’ ‘you’ (as in ‘you all’–a plural form), and ‘our,’ I dare say it is more likely a recent interpretation of the text to which we can attribute the doctrine of a ‘personal’ Saviour. I know personal faith in Christ is spoken about in the epistles in verses such as Romans 10:9-11 and 1 John 5, but I don’t think this is the same as Jesus dying for my individual sins. What do you think?

Guilt vs Freedom

This weekend is the time of year when we reflect on what Jesus did for us in his death and resurrection. Traditionally it is on Good Friday we remember his crucifixion and then celebrate his victory over death on Easter Sunday morning.

I was having a conversation with Vicki (my beautiful and intelligent wife, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of an introduction) about the usual Easter sermons that appear on the church’s ‘menu,’ and she made a really good point: the punishment Jesus received was not unusual or even extraordinarily harsh for the empire in which he lived. Many, many people before him suffered the same fate. The court system was as corrupt and unjust for countless others before him. The flogging, the mocking, carrying his cross, dying this cruel death was common. And the people who witnessed it, those who called out for Barabas, those who watched his last procession down the Via Dolorosa, those who stood around the Roman execution stake on which he hung, were possibly no more moved than we might be watching the latest action flick or monster truck rally. So ‘normal’ was this scene in first-century Jerusalem.

But preachers, it seems, are after some type of emotional commitment and, for many, their message goes something like this: ‘Jesus died a cruel and horrifying death [insert gory details here] inflicted by such despicable men [insert character references here] and suffered such torture on on the way to his death [insert horrific acts of cruelty and barbarism here], all because of an unjust and corrupt Roman judicial system [insert examples here].’ By this time, the congregation is feeling so horrible, tears are starting to well up, hearts are starting to beat faster, and the preacher goes for the clincher: ‘And it wasn’t the Jews or the Romans who killed Jesus. It was you and I that drove those nails into his hands and his feet and lifted him up on that cruel cross to die a slow and painful death.’

Talk about a major case of guilt! I murdered my Lord! It was my hands that killed the Messiah! How could God ever love me? I am so unworthy. . . .

In my opinion, this borders on spiritual–and, potentially, emotional–abuse of God’s people.

Jesus didn’t die so that on Good Friday and Easter Sunday churchgoers everywhere could partake in a ceremony of guilt and fear. God, contrary to increasingly less-popular belief (Hallelujah), does not think I killed his only son. In fact it wasn’t even my sin that nailed him to the cross (that spoils a few good hymns, doesn’t it?). Technically, it was the Romans at the insistence of the Jewish religious leaders who did the terrible deed. Biblically, Jesus laid down his life willingly to show his kingdom was about a new way of seeing, a new way of relating, a new way of being. In giving up his life (by his own authority, Scripture says), Jesus embodied in reality what he taught in theory: how love truly is a better way.

Jesus would not have wanted us, 2,000 years down the track, to feel responsible–or guilty–for his death. He did not come into the world to condemn, but to deliver us from condemnation. He didn’t go to the cross with the idea that millions of people will feel oppressed by fear of God’s wrath in millennia to come, but that they, instead would experience the freedom of God’s forgiveness and grace.

If grace is true–and I believe it is! Praise God!–then Jesus died to show us God’s love and the freedom that comes from experiencing his unconditional love.

So, thank you, Jesus, for willingly submitting to the death of the cross to demonstrate that your reign indeed is not of this present world system, but is able, through love, to redeem it eternally for God’s glory.

And praise to you God, holy Three-in-one, Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, for the freedom we enjoy because of Jesus.

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This morning I arose early and went to Holy Cross Church to celebrate Easter with my Anglican brothers and sisters. At 6.00 a.m. they held an Easter Vigil where we lit our candles and processed into a darkened church to reflect on the sacrifice of Christ as the Passover Lamb, and then to declare his resurrection in exulting and light-filled celebration. In doing so, baptismal vows were renewed and the Eucharist was celebrated. It was a beautiful and moving service, full of Scripture, prayer, and simple faith–not a hint of guilt or anxiety in sight. Thank you Fr Neil for such a blessed reminder of the joy and freedom that is ours because of Jesus. He is risen! Alleluia! He is risen indeed! Alleluia. Alleluia!

Prayer for My Church

I found this in today’s ‘Responding’ section on Soulspace (to view, click link in ‘I’m Visiting’ sidebar to the right)

Pray for the coming day. Pray for your local congregation, and for the work of the Spirit of Christ in its midst. The apostle Paul’s prayers for the church offers guidance for our intercession:

O God, You who give abundantly out of your glory,
Give us strength in our inner being.
Holy Spirit, You who indwell us,
Empower us to be strong within.
Lord Jesus Christ, You who carry out the loving purposes of God,
Make your home in our hearts;
Help us to grow in faith and trust,
As you continue to root and ground us in your love.
By your power, help us to grasp—along with all who bear your
Name—how wide and deep and long and high your love is.
Help us to know your love—which is beyond our understanding.
Fill us with all the fullness of God.
Gracious God, you who by your power within us, are able to
do abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine,
to you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, always, always.
Amen. [*Based on Ephesians 3:16-21]

This is my prayer. Let it be so.