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Monday, March 26, 2007

The following list was originally taken from Blindbeggar's (Rick Meigs') site. It is a list of underrated / under-appreciated missional / emerging bloggers that was begun by Brother Maynard. The point is to add a couple of recommendations to the end of the list on your own site (see below the list for more of Rick's helpful instructions). I picked up the list from Colin at Darkening Glasses who is becoming a dear blog friend.

This is an exciting list because it shows the diversity and energy in Christian/Missional thinkers. Reading some of the Christian media and mainstream websites Christian mission may seem somewhat stale but this is far from the case. I am looking forward to working through these blogs and being stretched in the outworking of my faith.

Emerging Grace
Nathan Colquhoun
John Smulo
Todd Hiestand
Chuck Warnock
John Lunt
Webb Kline
Mark Wilson
Rick Meigs
Brother Maynard
Glenn Hager
Paul Mayers
Jamie Swann
Paul Walker
Jerry Frear
Phil Wyman
Rainer Halonen
Matt Stone
Erika Haub
John Santic
Colin Lamm
Julie Clawson
Duncan McFadzean
Adam Gonnerman
Les Chatwin
Matt Wiebe
Jesus Trips

To participate, copy this list into a new post on your own blog, and add the names you have to the bottom of the list, and encourage others to do the same. It could get fairly long, but that’s part of the point — helping us all discover those undervalued blog’s profile. Include these instructions with your post. When you’ve done that, leave a comment at Brother Maynard’s blog so he can keep track of who ends up participating.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Just Genesis

I came across a new blog which will focus entirely on the book of Genesis. The author appears to be highly knowledgeable and questions regarding any aspect of Genesis are encouraged. I will be adding the site to my reader as Genesis is a veritable treasure trove of insights.

Slow Dark Train

I have been on the "Slow Dark Train" again. The time since posting has been difficult to say the least. I am not asking for sympathy merely indicating the reason for the lack of blog activity. Family issues plus work issues plus some darkness from my past bubbling up again caused me to hit a wall.

The Vigilantes of Love have been a big influence on my life. Bill Mallonee, the lead singer and chief song-writer is an honest man who is not afraid to deny the grey areas of life. The first time that I came across VOL was at a festival in England. Prior to playing "Judas Skin" Bill told of some of his journey with depression. Even at that time, over 10 years ago now, something of what he said resonated with me but now, more than ever, I pull the CD out from time to time and listen to this song and allow myself to become absorbed in the words and music as I seek to reconnect to my Father God in all of the raw honesty of the struggle.

Here are the lyrics to "Judas Skin":

What is it you need to hear?
It's on your lips and in your ears
If too much static or unclear
Still He holds you dearly

Hound of heaven on your trail
Keen sense of direction and smell
Knows your need before you do
And when you bleed, He does too

On my own again
On my slow dark train
How is it I am found in my Judas skin spinning down?

What is it you need to know?
You don't already understand?
When You offer me a drink, I just keep you at arm's length

What is it that I fear?
Why is it I don't trust?
When hiding out becomes career, what am I covering up?

What is it you need to find?
Love Your Spirit working overtime
And when I come out of this spin and I see You're still my friend

On my own again
On my slow dark train
How is it I am found in my Judas skin spinning down?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Crying Inside

"To be comical on the outside and tragic within; nothing is more painfully humiliating or deeply infuriating." - Victor Hugo, L'Homme Qui Rit (1869).

Possibly one of the most succinct definitions of depression that I've come across. A man ahead of his time.

Lost Tomb of Jesus

I have to confess that the whole business of Jesus' lost tomb left me very underwhelmed. It seemed to highlight more the desperation of people at Easter time to unearth the next lot of "conclusive" evidence to disprove Jesus.

Dr. Ben Witherington has done some excellent work in explaining the Lost Tomb story and it's refutation in layman's terms. Here is a link to an interview that he did on UK Christian Radio. (Scroll down slightly to "A response to the Lost Tomb of Jesus").

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Touch the face of the divine"

"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago-- whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows-- such a man was caught up to the third heaven." 2 Cor 12:2

I was on my way to the third heaven but I was stopped at customs and turned back; too much baggage.

The purpose of this blog is not to investigate the possible interpretations of the third heaven referred in Paul's letter to the Corinthian church. The synchroblog for this month concerns"Christian Approaches to Altered States of Consciousness". As I reflected upon this topic I was led to consider my journey through aspects of pentecostal/charismatic Christianity.

Is all Pentecostal experience purely a play on emotions or is there a deeper connection with the Holy Spirit that occurs as individuals surrender more fully to the presence of God in a church meeting or in personal times of spiritual intimacy? It is very easy to stand back and look at events in Toronto or Pensacola or to make sniping comments about particular TV ministries but what happens for an individual and can we expect more from our experience of God?

The post will canvass a few ideas and cross-reference a few links and will, hopefully, provoke enough dialogue for further consideration of the topic.

An article by Charles T. Tart on "Altered States of Consciousness" makes the following point "
ASCs can sometimes give us new and wider perspectives on reality and consciousness but...ASCs, like ordinary consciousness, are mixtures of pluses and minuses, insights and delusions, genuine creativity and misleading imagination, so the observations and insights from ASCs need to be subjected to empirical test, just as those of ordinary consciousness do."

Evangelicalism (which is my church home) has championed Christian faith as a very cerebral process. The spiritual life is lived at a cognitive level and what cannot be understood is often dismissed. I realise that this is a somewhat generalised view but the spirit of modernism is alive and well in evangelicalism. Tart makes a valid point that Altered States of Consciousness (ASCs) have pluses and minuses and I believe that this is where, for Christians, Paul's advice comes in: "
but test everything; hold fast what is good." (1 Thess 5:21)

If there are pluses and minuses my goal in this post is to attempt to point out some of the possible pluses and encourage people to seek deeper experiences of God and not to be afraid of losing control to some degree.

There is a fascinating, extremely balanced, article at that is well worth reading where the author, who is Lutheran, writes of a pentecostal service in Guatemala where he witnessed all manner of "trance-like" experiences. He makes a very good point at the end when, in summing up, he writes

It's not about some charismatic leader duping people into blindly following a particular extremist philosophy at all--there is no philosophy apart from that which other churches teach--live according to Judeo-Christian morality and be good people. Only here you can reach out and touch the face of the divine."

One of the key issues that I have encountered is the notion that people who fall down, laugh, speak in tongues, shake etc, in a pentecostal style meeting are being manipulated. Of course, there is always evidence of manipulation but this evidence can be found for all aspects of church life down through the centuries. The underlying theological position of this church was a solid Biblical message but I love the final sentence - "Only here you can reach out and touch the face of the divine." Wow. What an invitation. Somehow there is a possibility to experience so much more of God that our minds, emotions, bodies cannot cope with the encounter.

Dr John Court, a former Professor of Psychology at Fuller Seminary and now Director of Counseling at a Christian College in South Australia, in an article titled "
Discerning between the emotional, the psychotic and the spiritual" makes a good observation which has been a benchmark for many well-balanced pentecostal movements and churches namely:

"Where we see real and lasting change with maturity of spirituality and a desire to know God more, then I believe God is at work"

Is this a sufficient test? Yes, I believe it is. The Christian Church is involved in the work of building the Kingdom of God. If an encounter with the living God results in an altered state of consciousness that draws people into greater maturity and a deeper desire to know God and His Word then, yes, it is good.

So do we need to fear the dilemma between delusions, the devil and the divine?

Dr. Court suggests in relation to ASCs that "the really important questions relate not to the behaviour we observe, but the meaning of this behaviour, and its purpose." Of course there are parallels in other aspects of religion and psychology but what is the purpose?

In the Book of Acts Chapters 10 and 22 both the Apostles Peter and Paul experienced trance-like states where God communicated profound spiritual insight that was a turning point for the church at that time. I am not suggesting that all communication from God will be so pivotal but when God wants to speak deeply to us it can come during trance-like states where we are so caught up in the experience of God that all else seems to fall away from us.

I don't have all of the answers but I do know that I want to "touch the face of the divine". I welcome input as I explore this topic but I long to see a version of Christian experience that will see people enter into a transcendent encounter with the living God.


Please check out the other Synchrobloggers writing about Christian approaches to altered states of consciousness.

Shamanic Vision and Apocalyptic Scripture at Phil Wyman's Square No More
Can prayer be an example of Alternate Conciousness? at Eternal Echoes
Better Than I Was [at times], Not Better Than You Are by Mike of Earthsea
emotionalism vs rationalism at Adam Gonnerman's Igneous Quill
Consciousness of the absurd and the absurdity of consciousness at Steve's Notes from the Underground
The Unconscious Christian by Matt Stone
Hypnochristians at Jamie's More Than Stone
The extreme consciousness of the Spirit by Les Chatwin
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me at Mike's Musings
What is reality? by David Fisher at Be the Revolution

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Kids need Dads

As a father who is working hard to be a good dad and not always doing too well I was interested in this post regarding the evidence that kids need dad's to be very available in the early years. A lot of people know this anecdotally but it's good to see some hard evidence.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Scandal of the Christ

I have just read an excellent post at "Darkening Glasses".

I have been and am very challenged by this provocative post as it examines the brutal reality of Jesus' life and ministry. At one point the question is asked:

"(If) I were part of the religious establishment, would I have been one of the majority who maligned / condemned Him, or, would I have been like the small minority, like Nicodemus, Simon the Leper, and Joseph of Aramathea who quietly, and fearfully, believed?"

I recall a line from a Keith Green song that says "I bet I could deny you too". Many times that line has made me weep in shame at the hardness of my heart.

Be challenged afresh at this man who is Lord of All.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Hope Continued

In mid-Feb I wrote a post that explored the personal, subjective nature of hope. I suggested that hope needs to begin internally as an answer and anchor for the inner needs of each individual. I still believe this to be the case but I also believe that, concurrently, hope needs to be nurtured within community.

This is Christian hope because I believe that hope can only be ultimately complete in and through Jesus Christ. It stands to reason that the communal focus of this hope is the Christian community as it is found in the local church. I am assuming a great deal in making this statement but I believe, at a fundamental level, that the local church can be a community of hope where individuals who have connected with the ultimate ground of hope as it is found in Jesus Christ are connected in a communal journey towards that hope.

I am re-reading Moltmann's "Theology of Hope" plus exploring the internet. Church can be seen in these times through negative lens' but I believe that the local church holds enormous potential but a part of the solution to re-establishing the local church as a voice of hope is to find ways of clearly articulating that hope. Too often Christian faith is seen as "getting over the line" and collecting a "ticket to heaven". Apart from being far too reductionistic this also strips this life of all of the potential that eschatological hope brings.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Community of hospitality

I am reading an interesting article called "Missional Church: A Community of Hospitality" from Allelon - At the beginning is this wonderful quote:

"Simultaneously costly and wonderfully rewarding, hospitality often involves small deaths and little resurrections. By God's grace we can grow more willing, more eager, to open the door to a needy neighbor, a weary sister or brother, a stranger in distress....In the midst of a life-giving practice, we too might catch glimpses of Jesus who asks for our welcome and welcomes us home."

There is so much in this paragraph to discuss. I turned to this article after spending 1.5 hours last night with a friend from church and his wife who have just lost a dear friend to cancer after a 10 year battle. To be able to sit with them and hear their stories of the friendship and to sit in silence as they grieved was a privilege indeed.

Although hospitality refers to inviting people into our homes I also think it involves allowing people into our space and time. In the 21st century time is increasingly at a premium. To give of our time and to spend that time with those in need is a precious gift.

I love the idea that hospitality involves "small deaths and little resurrections". It is costly and beautiful all in the same event.

"By God's grace we can become more willing, more eager to open the door..."

Some of us are natural empathetic but giving as an act of service to those in need can only be truly accomplished with God's grace. I didn't feel particularly equipped to minister to a grieving couple but I felt constrained as an act of obedience to Jesus.

The idea that Jesus asks for a welcome is an especially poignant idea. How busy are we to welcome Jesus. In welcoming those in need don't we invite in Jesus into our conversation of life?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Suffering World

I read this quote today from the German theologian, Johann Baptist Metz:

"All religious people are running around looking for sin. Where is sin, we must get rid of sin. Jesus did not look for sin, he only looked for suffering".

Perhaps this is a key to the pharisaic spirit that still seems to be live uncomfortably close to the surface in most of our churches.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Church of Me

Reflecting upon why the poor and mentally ill are under represented in local churches I got to thinking about how much our opinion counts. People generally have a sense of "rights". "I don't like having that man in my church. It makes me feel uncomfortable."

The problem as I see it is that when we accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and died to ourselves any rights that we had effectively died with Christ. When people view life through the lens of rights and comfort we are not taking the Jesus option.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Blessed be the mentally ill

John Smulo recently asked a question about why poor people are not well-represented in western churches. In responding to his post it raised other questions for me with regard to people with mental illness.

There are a number of issues that need to be addressed the first of which is our level of comfort. Churches are often extremely comfortable places. The ambience, venue, expectations, sermons, events etc are all geared to maximise the comfort of the consumers, i.e. the congregation.

Church is not so much a gathering of Jesus followers meeting to worship and study Scripture with a view to moving out as living witnesses to the local, and wider, community; it has become an "event". Church attendees will often comment that the music wasn't what they liked, the sermon was too long or they, simply, didn't enjoy church.

Of course, if someone comes into this situation who is poor or mentally ill then it is going to disturb the comfort of the group and the event. In the Australian context there are parachurch groups and some churches that cater for those types of people but it is not for the rest of us.

I think it would help if Christians were to admit their prejudices and stop pretending that we are all fully committed to living life as Jesus followers. At the present time large sections of the Church mirror the world outside of the Church. Once Christians admit their biased viewpoints at least the starting point would be one of honesty and integrity. Also, from this foundation stronger teaching could come into the local church.

Then again, one of the issues is that the local Church is often very much informed by the attitudes of the wider society. I work with mentally ill men. I struggle with a form of mental illness myself. As an ordained pastor I am well integrated into the church "system" but many of these men are not. They are prone to anxiety, mood swings but most of all they are misunderstood and incorrectly judged by their "labels".

Churches like to think that they are "open" but the openness seems narrowly limited to a strict socio-economic demographic. The men that I work with are wonderful men. They all have a "story" and all respond to genuine love. If anyone would like to offer suggestions I'd be interested to hear them.