Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Very Good Week

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I noticed it has been over a week now since I last posted anything on my blog...but...that's o.k., because I never want to become enslaved to feeling like I have to post something just to post something. It's not that I have working too hard or anything but I have been busy doing other things such as expanding my social network and spending time with some old and "new" friends. Last week I went out four different times which is very unusual for me, especially since I moved into my new house. The highlight of the week was Friday night and Saturday. Friday night I invited some new and old friends over to the house to watch the ten year anniversary best of Riverdance DVD. I've always been a huge fan of Riverdance since it arrived on the scene on PBS some ten years ago. Riverdance is so unique and I just love the way they integrate the music and the dance routines. It's magical and one of the best examples I can think of entertainment that truly captures the essence of enchantment. I also particularly liked how this new DVD version introduces each song with the story that inspired the song and dance routine. I didn't realize it, but am not surprised, that most of the songs and dance are rooted in Celtic mythology...Yesterday was a lot of fun also. A friend and I went out of town to Lake Isabella to the 52nd annual Whiskey Flat Days. I hadn't been out of town since Thanksgiving and it was just a great feeling to get out of the city and smell the clean air and feel the wind in my face. It was a beautiful day....slight breeze...and temperature in the 70's which is unusual for this time of the year. We had lunch along the river and it was very relaxing to just sit, talk, and watch the river meander it's way down stream...The Whiskey Flat Day celebration, for the most part, is made up red necks and bikers. I don't use those words pejoratively, but descriptively. While I don't consider myself either a biker of a redneck it is fun just to hang out with a crowd of people who seem to know how to have fun eating their kettle corn and hot dogs, while listening to loud honky tonk music blasting from the back of a pick up truck...All in all, it was a very good week just hang-in out with folks and spending time getting to know some new friends....I also spent some time this week thinking and pondering about the whole homosexual issue and reading Mclaren's book and I'll more to say about both of these in a later blog entry...

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Political Message of Jesus: Chapter 2

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In chapter two Mclaren states "I've become convinced that although Jesus message was personal, it was not private. I've been convinced that it has everything to do with public matters in general and politics in particular---including economics and aid, personal empowerment and choice, foreign policy and war." It's one thing to suggest or assert Jesus message has political implications, it is, imo, another thing to know what Jesus may have thought about a number of politically related issues we face. I'm all for considering what Jesus said and attempting to integrate his message to the current political and economic challenges we face but I get nervous when Christian leaders, political pundits or armchair Christian political experts,in their own minds, assert they know God's will and the mind of Christ regarding public policy. While I concede one is on solid ground to suggest that Jesus cared about the poor, war, and human justice it is another thing to know whether Jesus would support particular policies. For example, would Jesus support an increase in the capital gains tax to help the poor and would he support welfare, universal health care for all, minimum wage increases, etc. etc.?...It's the "application" I get anxious about when it comes to Christians integrating their understanding of Jesus message to political challenges. I get nervous because, generally speaking, Jesus doesn't address how his message is to be applied or integrated...and...when we assume our application of Jesus message is the will of God than there leaves little or no room for compromise or counter proposals, which are important aspects to the political process of any democracy. I do believe God cares about politics and "is" interested in how we go about our political business but I am not sure God is as confident as we often appear to be in our political proposals...and...yet Christians on both sides of the political aisle seem, at times, much more confident that they are implementing God's kingdom on earth than I feel comfortable with.

Mclaren ends his chapter on the political message of Jesus by saying, "If you are part of this Kingdom, you won't be blindly will be willing to confront injustice...and...won't nestle snugly into the status quo but will seek to undermine the ways things are to welcome the ways things could and should be."...I can empathize with Mclaren's comments about not being "blindly patriotic", and not becoming too chummy with the status quo but also often ponder what it means to stand against injustice and "undermine the way things are"...In the past I have always interpreted taking a stand with being confrontational and letting everyone know what I was against but as I grow older I now see the value in being subversive by integrating imagination and creativity with the other tools at our disposal. Of course the powers that be and the status quo never like to relinquish power and they will often resist with everything they have but if the life of Jesus has taught us anything it is we can't fight fire with fire but rather we need to look for new ways to address old problems...and...that is one aspect of the political message of Jesus that I think we need to consider and take to heart....

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Surprised by Joy

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Last night the "Night visitors" who were mentioned in an earlier post took a break and allowed the day shift to take center stage. The day shift consists of those spirits who reside in our soul along with the night visitors. They are the ones who are hopeful, optimistic, wear the big smile, and carry the torchlight which illuminates the dark shadows of our souls...and... They are the ones responsible for awakening the longings, passions, and desires of our soul. While they have been somewhat in hiding on and off over the years they have been making frequent visits lately...and...last night they were extremely fact...they were so active they keep me awake off and on during the night. Generally I like to get my beauty rest but from time to time I don't mind being kept awake by the sounds of the day shift doing their my surprise they were still partying when they woke me up this morning around 4:30 a.m. I did notice that they took a break for about two or three hours this morning but they were back at it again by early afternoon....and...there still at it now as I write. I can hear them in the background wreaking havoc and making a lot of noise. Even though they have been partying for some time now I know that eventually they will run out of gas and slip back into the shadows so for now I welcome the day shift because they provide some of the sweet moments of life and help give balance to our weary souls....If all of this sounds a bit too weird or too esoteric for your tastes just pass on through. It's just my way of expressing that I had a great day, yesterday, and today and am looking forward to this week-end and some new opportunities that have come my way....

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

USC's Recruiting Class

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Today was the day when high school football players from around the country signed their letters of intent. For the USC faithful it was another big day as USC ended up with the top recruiting class according to ESPN, once again. It was something like the fourth year in a row USC has been the number one or number two recruiting class in the country. While USC did not land the most players they did land the top recruits in the country. In fact, according to ESPN they landed the top three players in the country and eight of their recruits are ranked in the top five at their position. Normally I am not particular fond of the rich getting richer but when it comes to football I am willing to make an exception. USC is already the preseason favorite to win next year and today's signings will only solidify their top position. Two of their top recruits are running backs so USC's offense should be at the top of it's game for the next two or three years especially with quarterback John Booty returning and two of the top wide receivers in last years recruiting class waiting in the wings. USC is now so loaded that even if some of their top players go down they will be replaced by other great players who are just waiting for their opportunity. Talent alone doesn't win championships but it is pretty dog gone difficult to win a national championship these days without a stable of great athletes. Some other schools that ranked in the top five include Florida, Texas, South Carolina, and Tennessee. South Carolina was a big surprise but I guess Steve Spurrier is working his recruitment magic these days. Tennessee is also somewhat a surprise to me. I know Tennessee has a lot of tradition and an incredible stadium but they generally end up underachieving most years and why go to Tennessee when you can come to a place like sunny California where it is in the sixties and seventies much of the winter while much of the rest of the country is shoveling snow and trying to keep warm. Heck, around my neck of the woods it's time to break out the shorts. It's been in the seventies a couple of times this week....Back to football....Although football season is now over I can at least feel comforted by the fact that my team will enter next season with some very high hopes and expectations. Nothing is guaranteed and I suspect a bump in the road here and there but when you're team is as loaded as USC it makes watching football a lot of fun and fun is what sports is supposed to be all about. Nothing more, nothing less....

Monday, February 05, 2007

Visitors of the Night

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The nights are so quiet. Sometimes filled with hope...longings...desires...and...
unfilled dreams. I used to fill my nights with distractions but now I just allow the visitors of the night to come and sit with me...and...I have learned that they really don't want to hurt me, they just want someone to listen. So I listen...and...sometimes I learn...but...more often than not I try to soothe and comfort them which is really what they want and need. I used to think that that if I gave them my undivided attention and a little food and drink that would satisfy them and perhaps they wouldn't come back, but they always come back...and...back...and back...They are never totally satisfied. Many people pretend the visitors of the night aren't there or they try to ignore them. One can ignore them but that never changes the fact that they are there. Sometimes the visitors of the night go away for awhile and leave me alone. I guess even they realize enough is enough from time to time. I used to be afraid of the visitors of the night so I would fill my house with noise...but not I turn everything off and try to listen to them. Sometimes they talk to me...sometimes they do not...and...sometimes they say speak as if they know me because they tell me things I had forgotten and keep deep inside me...which...makes me wonder if the visitors of the night live within me during the day...and now I suspect some of the visitors have always been with me....The first time I saw the visitors of the night or more accurately, was conscious of their presence I thought they were hideous I realize that was only because I was taught by others to see them in that light. I see them differently now. I am not saying they are beautiful or anything. They often look sad and lonely and they almost always have the look of pain in their eyes. Turn them away if you must but you may do so at your peril because your I have learned that they have the power to heal. Some need healing more than others but we all need healing to one degree or another which is why we all need the visitors of the night. Things may be going well for you now and when things are going well we don't tend to see the visitors of the night but they are always hanging around and patiently waiting for their presence to be known. So the next time the visitors of the night appear don't try to banish them, ignore them, or tell yourself they are not real...but...rather sit quietly in the shadows and listen for the visitors of the night might just speak to you and bring you the healing words you need to hear....

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Secret Message of Jesus: Chapter One

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Mclaren calls chapter one troubling questions about Jesus and early in the chapter he asks, "What if the core message of Jesus has been unintentionally misunderstood or intentionally distorted? What if many have sincerely valued some aspects of Jesus message while missing or even suppressing other, more important dimensions?"...Studying church history seems to answer Mclaren's question in the affirmative. Of course Christians have unintentionally and intentionally distorted the message of Jesus. Mclaren goes on to ask if we wouldn't want to know what Jesus secret message is particularly if "his secret message had practical implications for such issues as how to live your daily life, how you earn and spend money, how you treat people of other races and religions, and how the nations of the world conduct their foreign policies"...and if you aren't convinced how important these questions and answers are than Mclaren attempts to attempts to make his point clear when he says, "it is tragic for anyone, especially anyone affiliated with the religion named after Jesus, not to be clear about what Jesus' message actually was"...Christians have been thinking and writing about the essence of Jesus message and mission since the death of Jesus and throughout the centuries Christians have expressed their opinions in a variety of different ways. Some have expressed it in terms of Loving God and loving our neighbor....others in terms of the Kingdom of God...and some suggest it is all about living in right relationship with God which was made possible by faith in the death and resurrection in Jesus...I applaud Mclaren for asking the question and I do think he is correct to suggest that the church can be co-opted by such things as consumerism and nationalism...and...I would add moralism, political idealism, traditionalism, sentimentalism, and escapism. I am not sure whatever Mclaren identifies as the secret message of Jesus is something radically new and has not been said many times before but I suspect Mclaren probably already knows that to be the case. For me, figuring out the secret message or essence of Jesus teaching has never been the problem but I find the particulars of what that means to my life the real challenge because it most often requires imagination, creativity, willingness to adapt, discipline, and sacrifice, the kind of things that are not generally reinforced in many of our organizations and institutions......I also can help speculating what role experience plays in the matters of the heart. We can read about what Jesus said in this text or that but unless we experience and do what it is we are supposed to do than I can't help wondering if all our talking is a lot of "sound and fury signifying nothing"...I am looking forward to finding out what the "secret message of Jesus" is all about but in the meantime I'll try to follow where my heart leads me in regards to my own little sphere of influence I have in my life....

An introduction to the Secret Message of Jesus

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In the introduction of the Secret Message of Jesus Mclaren asks the following provocative question, "Why is the vision of Jesus hinted at in Dan Brown's book, the Da Vinci Code, more interesting, more attractive and more intriguing to these people than the standard version of Jesus they hear about from churches?" I am not sure it is Brown's "hinted vision of Jesus" that people find attractive in the Da Vinci Code but I do suspect it may have to do with the fact that Brown is a very good modern day myth maker/storyteller. I haven't read any of Brown's books but I did see the movie and while I didn't place it on my top 20 best films of the year list I did find the movie and the story imaginatively creative, full of mystery and entertaining...and may want to propose that some of these elements are missing in many of our churches today. Where is the mystery, imagination, and creativity? One of the aspects of the movie I enjoyed the most was the unpredictability of the story, yet when I look at the church today it seems to me that the leadership of many churches want to eliminate as much unpredictability as they can...and...while I understand the psychological attraction of certainty I can't help wondering if that is a good idea in the long run...because... if one eliminates uncertainty than I think we also eliminate anticipation, by default, and perhaps anticipation is an important element that is missing in our Sunday morning worship services..... People go to church for a lot of different reasons but I do think people want to be inspired but inspiration is connected to our imagination and creativity and perhaps a lot of folks feel more inspired listening to Brown's story than what they are likely to hear on Sunday morning. I am not suggesting or implying that the church evaluate itself according to popular myth makers like Brown, because that would be unfair, but I do believe a church can find "many ways" to integrate mystery, imagination and creativity in their services each week, which in turn might help to create a sense of inspiration and anticipation.

Mclaren goes on to ask, "Is it possible that even though Brown's fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the possibility that the church's conventional versions of Jesus may not do him justice?"....It seems from my vantage point that the history of institutional/organized Christianity involves creating Jesus in our own image according to our social economic status, personal preferences, and political ideology. I am not asserting this is altogether bad because I think this is what everyone does to one degree or another, in an attempt to make Jesus relevant to our lives, experience, and situation...The "potential" problem is that we often "limit" the potential implications/applications of Jesus message to our own personal or community experience thus missing the broader picture of the Kingdom of God on earth from a Christian perspective. Stepping outside of our own perspective is not easy to do because of the personal psychological discomfort associated with looking at the world and ourselves from someone else's point of view...or to put it another one likes to hear that their view of themselves, community, or the world may have been distorted because of the potential "negative" implications associated with our confidence in ourselves and the communities we have placed our trust in...but...death or at least partial death to our way of seeing/interpreting ourselves and the world need not be interpreted exclusively in negative terms but rather as an opportunity of initiation to growth and maturity which will hopefully lead to a better relationship with the world, ones neighbors and oneself...

Finally, Mclaren says, "What if, properly understood, the canonical (or accepted" Gospel of Matthew is far more radical and robust than the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, or the canonical Gospel of John is far more visionary and transformative than the Gospel of Peter---if only we "had ears to hear", as Jesus says?"....Personally, I don't see a need to compare the canonical Gospels with the apocryphal/Gnostic Gospels and texts, in terms of their potential transformational power. From my perspective, I am willing to live with the potential implications of both traditions because the historical context in which the texts were written had particular applications to the people of their times and I am not particularly interested nor see the value in pitting one tradition against another. Thus, since Mclaren's comments seem to imply the exclusion of the Gnostic texts in the discussion of discovering the Secret Message of Jesus let's move on to chapter one....

Church Update and Annoucement

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Tomorrow the church I am currently attending is beginning their series on Brian McLaren's book, The Secret Message of Jesus. The pastor has stated that this is "the most important and exciting book she has read in many years"...and...believes the message and the discussions which will follow each sermon/reflections will "transform the congregation, and clarify its ministry as it faces the challenges of the future"...I am excited about this unique opportunity. I have attended church for many years but this is the first time I can ever remember a pastor using a book outside of the Bible as a resource to preach from the pulpit for such an extended time. It will be interesting to see how this develops and evolves over the next four months but I admire the pastor's willingness to take the risk. Not too many pastors I have ever met would be willing to go out on this kind of a limb....I am particularly looking forward to the discussion group which will follow the sermon each week to discuss the book and the sermon. I love discussion groups and the most exhilarating discussion group I have ever been involved in was the one that discussed Mclaren's book A New Kind of Christian back in 2002. Last night I went back and read some of the discussions and exchanges that took place during that time. It was exhilarating and inspiring to read the various exchanges between lay people like myself, pastors,homemakers, and ministry leaders from around the I now reflect on the various individuals and their contributions I can't help from feeling a bit sentimental and all warm and fuzzy inside. I not only loved the exchange of ideas that took place but many of these people have become long time cyberspace com padres who I continue to read and interact with from time to time...and...are dear to my heart... There is Dave, Mr. Pomoxian himself, Julie "Unplugged"...I still am not sure what why she goes by unplugged?...because.... she writes with such clarity, depth and passion I can't believe she isn't plugged into something, if not, an around the clock caffeine machine....Than there is Stratopastor Russ, from Texas...I forgive you Russ for being from Texas...and...Denny, and Chris, and Tim from Mississippi, and last but not least...Big Tony...from the Bay area....Tony and I actually met a couple of times and I really appreciated his brutal honestly and his unwavering commitment to tell it like he felt. Tony was a construction worker by trade who did not grow up in the Christian subculture and had no education beyond high school as far as I knew, but over the years he had educated himself to the point where he could hang in there with the best of them and his unorthodox style made for some great conversation. I don't know what Tony is up to these days...but...I miss him and the childlike attitude he had about his faith....In the weeks to come I am going to try to post some of my own thoughts on the various chapters for my blog and I'll try to keep up the best I can but I have a history of becoming distracted from time to time, just to let you know. I don't anticipate a repeat performance of the church discussion group because life doesn't work that way but I am excited to interact and get to know some new folks and I look forward to the opportunity to express my own ideas and feelings on God, Christianity, and what it means, at least to one person, to be a Christian in the early years of the 21st century....

Why the Colts are going to beat the Bears

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If you read my prediction on the San Diego, New England game in an earlier blog entry you may question why anyone in their right mind would take me seriously this time around. If you give me, "another chance" I'll explain why. Last time I made my prediction based on reason, logic, and some significant and impressive statistics to back up my prediction...but this time around...I am going to abandon all reason and embrace what I think my subconscious is trying to tell me. Two nights ago I had as vivid a dream as I can ever reminder and I believe it was a prophetic voice speaking from my subconscious telling me which team was going to win the Super Bowl. Dreams predicting the future are extremely rare but they have been documented and chronicled in prestigious journals such as the Harvard Psychiatry Review. The dream went something like this....I saw myself sitting at the top of a tree in a dark forest. As I sat rubbing my hands together in the bitter cold I heard the sound of a large beast running through the forest, panting, weaving, and acting as if it's life were in extreme danger. Running behind the beast was the sound of a much smaller creature apparently in hot pursuit. As the beast made it's way near the trunk of the tree where I was now huddled to keep warm the identity of the large beast became clear...It was a huge black bear...and...the creature chasing the bear was a man holding what looked like a double barrel shotgun. When the bear was within what I estimate to have been about 100 yards a shot went off...and then another...and the powerful beast fell to the ground right below the tree where I was now trying to keep out of sight from the hunter. Now that the beast had gasped it's last breathe the hunter slowly walked towards his trophy kill. Both of the hunters shots hit their intended marks. As the hunter turned the now dead bear over one could make out the buckshot pattern created by the first shot. It read Colts 30....and...than when the hunter turned the bear over again another buckshot pattern appeared....Bears 13....and than, ever so slowly, the hunter raised his head and arms towards the sky as if to give credit to the gods for his trophy kill that now laid at his feet...and...although it was dark, I caught a glance of his face...It was..... Peyton Manning...Throughout history dreams have played an important role in the imagination and day to day affairs of our ancestors...and...although modern men and women rarely pay attention to their dreams, dreams continue to exist despite all our attempts to ignore them. Perhaps it is now time we resurrect the meaning of our dreams because if we did than we wouldn't have to spend so much time and money trying to predict or figure out who was going to win this game or that. We could just go to bed each night, like I did two nights ago, and wake up with a prediction without any effort, rhyme or reason.....