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Archive for January, 2008

Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State

January 29, 2008 Leave a comment

I just discovered Sufjan Stevens via this album last month, albeit years behind the indie community, which elevated him to super stardom once he announced his ambition to record an album for each of the fifty states three years ago (this one being his first – go Sufjan). Shows you my relationship to the indie community. But in any case, this album is just fun to listen to. I couldn’t tell you many of the lyrics or name very many songs if you played them for me, but having this on while I work just makes me feel good. I can’t explain it much more than that.

Alright, back to editing.

EDIT: I maintain my above position despite the awful, awful electric guitar solo at the end of “The Upper Peninsula. I have to believe that was intentional somehow.

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Gravy!

January 24, 2008 Leave a comment

As in, good gravy! A saying popularized (in my own head at least) by my college roommate Byron. And by good gravy, I mean – what a challenge it’s been to get a post up in the last three weeks! I started what for me is an ambitious 2-part post on my thoughts following reading reviews of Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna (read the first part here), and have yet to type more than a sentence of part two, though I have a rough outline dutifully saved when that time does come.I should rethink this blog idea a bit. Why I started it, what I include and what I don’t. So: 

  1. Keeping up with the various dozens of blogs that have caught my interest at one point or another seems not as doable now as it did at the end of 2007. Skip a few days or so and I’ve got 150 or so posts to peruse. Being an active member of the blogosphere has its merits, and might be fun for a version of myself with an hour or more per day to choose-your-own-adventure click through posts and write comments. But time is at a premium for me these days, and if I’ve got thirty minutes there are much better ways to fill it. 
  2. Putting more attention on the hits on my blog and drawing people to my site than on what I write is self-defeating. Like a good marketing campaign for a feeble product or the whole sand-vs.-rock building metaphor. Gotta get good stuff out there and quit caring who’s looking. Welcome to a larger theme of my life, actually. 
  3. Time to broaden the scope of what I include here. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, or even important. This is a space for me to stretch my creative wings a bit, and sometimes just babble. Hope you like it. 

That’s it for now. It’s past my bed time. 

Review of the Bourne Trilogy

January 8, 2008 Leave a comment

Pastor James Harleman of Mars Hill’s Cinemagogue site has posted an intriguing review of The Bourne Ultimatum, with reflections on the Bourne Trilogy here.

He examines the trilogy in light of its redemptive aspects and the parallels between Jason Bourne’s character and both the life and significance of Jesus as well as the struggles of fallen humanity in a broken world. He sums up the Bourne Trilogy like this:

While Greengrass’ gritty, realistic style and Damon’s dour intensity have secured this film series the complement of being one of the most engaging and seamless trilogies every made, the intentional or unintentional ability of the series to tap into these aspects of the One True Narrative have made it more than an action series and give it a depth that will endure while other action heroes fade.

Give it a read.

Pagan Christianity

January 6, 2008 3 comments

pagan.jpg

I came across reviews of this book at Darryl Dash’s Blog and Pastor Joe Thorn, both of whom are blogging through it with apparently fairly balanced criticism thus far. I haven’t read it myself (having just heard of it), but from their reviews it seems to be a book that states in a fairly blunt manner many of the issues I’ve been mulling over myself on the way we do church these days. I’ve put together a few thoughts here on the premise of the book and the characteristics of the early church, and I’ll follow up with another post exploring how contemporary church practices approach these ideas. Again, this is in no way a review of the book itself, but an exploration of ideas I’ve encountered through interacting with these reviews.

Darryl writes what in a nutshell the book proposes:

  1. The origin of many of our church practices (examples: church buildings, orders of worship, sermons, pastors, tithing, clergy salaries) is non-biblical, and these practices are inconsistent with those of the early church. “Almost everything that is done in our contemporary churches has no basis in the Bible.” (p. 4) Much of it was lifted from pagan culture.
  2. Just because something does not appear in the Bible does not mean it is wrong. However, our non-biblical church practices often hinder the development of our faith and keep us from encountering the living God.
  3. “The church in its contemporary, institutional form neither has a biblical nor a historical right to exist.” (p. xx)
  4. The church must return to its biblical roots. At a personal level, we must ask questions of church as we know it and pray seriously about what our response should be.

Even from the few quotes Darryl pulls out here, Viola & Barna seem to overstate a few things and use lots of superlatives, but on a fundamental level the ideas they put forward seem to ring true to me in several ways. There’s quite a bit of criticism Viola and Barna seem to deal out, but I want to zero in on the fourth point above, the lone positive premise in the lot, and consider what the essential “biblical roots” of church practice are or should be.

In conversations around church reform the early church is the popular touch point for how church “should be done”. One the one hand here are the folks who knew Jesus while He was on the earth, and established the Christian communities that all other Christian communities have been based on. They were wildly successful in a way that any modern revival would only hope to be. On the other hand much of Jesus’ letters to the churches in Revelation was criticism and exhortation. They certainly weren’t doing everything right.

Regardless of whether or not the archetype is justified, there are two elements I think the early church got right in a way that contemporary churches haven’t quite caught up to. From what I can tell, the early church was strong on relationship-based community. They shared money and possessions; but even more than this they shared life on a regular basis in a way that contemporary churches either yearn for or are intimidated by. Many of Paul’s common exhortations are on an interpersonal level – “be patient, bearing with one another in love”, or “rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” – all things you can’t obey if you’re not in real relationship with the people around you in church.

The early church also had extraordinary and consistent evidence of the power of God at work among them and through them. To some degree I’m sure this was necessary to establish the early church in its fledgling years and set it apart from other religions of its day, but I can’t believe this completely explains it. Even a cursory reading of Acts reveals a church with a very different attitude of faith than any contemporary American church I’ve heard of. They’re bold and confident in God and His power – not because they’ve motivated themselves to be but because it’s true, and it’s happening around them. And I can’t avoid thinking that this kind of power and true confidence was present as a result of their community experience. They trusted each other, had faith for each other, and supported and gave for each other in a way that God blessed with miraculous signs.

I’m no student of church history or expert on Biblically sound church practices, but it seems to me that these two things – authentic community and the power of God – are the essentials of any community of believers based on the death and resurrection of Jesus. If a church got these things right, I would think everything else that’s worthwhile would follow.

In a second post I’ll explore the interaction between modern institutional churches and these principles.

Quote of the Day

January 3, 2008 Leave a comment
If you are praised, be silent. If you are scolded, be silent. If you incur losses, be silent. If you receive profit, be silent. If you are satiated, be silent. If you are hungry, also be silent. And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will appear; and what energy!
St. Feofil, the Fool for Christ
Categories: Faith