Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Familiar – Unfamiliar Territory…

Cross, originally uploaded by Run Steve Run.

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent starts this week. It marks 40 days until Good Friday where Jesus followers prepare for Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter. Our family has begun to incorporate the church calendar as a compass for our own reflecting on the story of God. Each season we wrestle with what it looks like to anticipate Christmas during Advent or focus on the cross during Lent. Our discussions tend to be a bit humorous. Tonight we read Luke 8.9-14 and talked about the difference between the proud pastor and the humble rascal. We then talked about what it would look like for us to give up something for lent as a way for us to pray for our own humility, our need for God and our continued commitment to personal reflection. The girls came up with some incredible ideas… to give up using their lips, refraining from using the word “the,” and committing to not clean their rooms. Nice. They landed on giving up soda… and are already counting the days.

I’ve heard it said that when we reflect on the story of God, we enter into familiar and unfamiliar territory. The story doesn’t really change. The snapshots are familiar. Sometimes it is so familiar that we can gloss over a passage or story or reading because we know how it goes and what the point is going to be.

But there is an unfamiliar element. When we reflect, ponder and meditate, there are times when are taken to deeper understanding and appreciation for the story of God. Sin might seem bigger, grosser, uglier. Grace becomes more beautiful. Love is more far-reaching than we ever imagined or we are challenged to demonstrate. Gospel is multi-dimensional. The familiar is wonderfully unfamiliar and mysterious.

I think Lent leads us into this familiar, unfamiliar territory. It challenges our efficient Christianity and calls for us to ponder the infinite depths of God’s person and story. I believe the Spirit of God speaks through the word and his people with a freshness that stirs us and calls us to of reconsider a year’s worth of constructed patterns of living and even the renovation of our rote Christian behaviors.

Personally, I’m tempted to run to one side or the other. I can stay in my safe, familiar territory that I feel I have under control in my Christian life and politely pass (or ferociously fight) on taking it any further. I can, on the other hand, run after the sexy, unfamiliar territory because it’s fresh, new and improved. Staying in the former leaves me dead. Running to the latter, leaves me empty. And the call of Lent is to walk in the realm of the familiar-unfamiliar.

On a broader level, I wonder if the Lenten spirit it what is needed in the (especially western) Church. The power struggle seems to be between preserving the familiar or pushing the unfamiliar. It may be the root of the music wars or the existing-emergent tension. I long for a familiar-unfamiliar posture. And I think it starts with repentance and ashes…

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Larry King...

Time, originally uploaded by Run Steve Run.

I watched Larry King Tuesday night… well sort of. My hands covered my face half the time… like what I do when I watch a horror movie. “Don’t go in that room!”… “Don’t say THAT!” Too late. The conversation was with a few of the reps from Time’s list of the “25 most influential evangelicals.” I think if I were watching as a person who had little background with Evangelicalism, and wanting to know what they stood for, I think I would walk away feeling very confused as to what Evangelicals actually believe. I don’t want to overstate it. There certainly were some good things that came out. It’s no doubt that each panel member came across as a person living on conviction and most were involved in some sort of ministery that sought to help other people. I do not question their fervor and I certainly want to give credit where credit is due.

On the other hand... There were some things said that left me very disturbed. The couple on the panel seemed to be very convinced that this country is a Christian nation that needs to have “under God” in the pledge. They believe that abortion is the top and basically the only moral issue worth fighting for, and that homosexuals are different than “normal people.” Oh, “but we love homosexuals.”

A few chimed in stating that the Tsunami was a very strange event and then the conversation turned into talking about the end times (a best seller topic for one of our panelists). The next thing we know, we’re hearing about the evils of a one-world economy, that we should be suspect of the United Nations, and that we should be cautious of world peace because this is what the antichrist promises.

This led into an ongoing mantra of “Jesus being the way” and “Jesus dying for our sins” whether we were talking about disaster, social issues, politics, family, or stem cell research. Somehow, by saying “Jesus is the answer,” the problems of our world will disappear, and by keeping “god” in the Pledge and republicans in office, we’ll stay a “Christian nation.”

Thoughtful and gracious responses came from a few others on the panel, but it felt too little, too late. I fear that damage had been done and the outsider’s stereotypes of evangelicals were reinforced. As for evangelicals, I think what was reinforced was a picture of the wide diversity of Evangelical opinion for what it means to express the Gospel. I wonder what each of them thought of each other’s responses.

Some might blame Larry King or CNN (I can already hear the spin about the “liberal media”) but it appeared to me that Larry and the callers asked some very honest questions… questions about tragedy, human responsibility, love, justice, compassion, etc…questions that evangelicals should be able to answer well … and half the panel, from my vantage point, failed miserably. The ones that got the most airtime failed answering the questions… because I think they failed in hearing the questions. And what I fear most is that they don’t appear interested in really listening.

Even more, I’m not sure we’re listening to ourselves and hearing how confusing and disconnected our evangelical-speak really is. Maybe I shouldn’t get all bothered about a 1-hour talk show. But it’s a check for me.

Did any of you see it? What's your take?

You can read the transcript at ....