Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Boutique Church

One of the aspects of life that fascinates me here in our new home is the incredible number of Boutique Churches.  Strip mall after strip mall seems to be home to one (or more!) of these little (and not so little!) churches.  And they all have cool names. 

Every time I spot a new one (nearly every day) I follow up with a Google search and try to learn a little bit about them.

Mostly I’ve discovered that these Boutique Churches are what we used to call “Baptist Churches”.  When you scratch the gold leaf logo a bit you find a hipper, cooler sort of Baptist but pretty much still Baptist – only with espresso machines and a Persian rug or two on the stage.  I love Persian rugs.

Better still are the “satellite” campuses.  These aren’t new here anymore but I’m new to them.  They are like the antithesis of the Boutique Church.  They are the Fox books to the BC’s Little Shop Around the Corner.  The Major Label to their Indie rock.  The Starbuck to their Javanation.  And I’m so glad I’ve never had to sit in a room with a group of leaders and seriously discuss starting a “satellite campus” because it would have been impossible for me to contain my amusement and appal at the hubris of a senior pastor who thinks a video feed of his talk on Sunday mornings is seriously THAT good that him/her on a big screen conveys the Gospel like a flesh and blood pastor who cries, laughs, loves and lives with the people of that church.

Sorry, I’m slipping in to a rant, it’s the culture shock.  I’ll get over it.  I don’t normally rant.  Right?

Here’s the thing.  Right now I’m reading a whole bunch of the early Church Fathers in prep for my upcoming module.  These people were desperate to see Christian unity.  They went to extremes to build Christian community and keep the family of God together.  And now, 2000 years later we're all grown up and it seems we’ve rejected the narrow denominationalism of our parents and our parent’s parents and are too cool to divide over theology now.  Now it’s style.  And d├ęcor.  And grind.  These are the things worth setting up our own dark halls in which to meet and advance the Kingdom, sorry, Campus of God.  We’ve embraced the aesthetics but I fear we’ve missed the point of those who died to give us a better view of the Kingdom Come.

Seen any Boutique Churches in your neighbourhood?

(If you'd like to help me get smarter than this, the info is over there ==> 
that tells you how to do it AND get a tax receipt at the same time!)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Living History

I’m less than a month away from my next module at SSU.  I’m just over one month in our new home here in Raleigh.  I’ve got miles of reading to do before I go (not kilometres anymore).  I’ve got a “to do” list that reads like a short novel before I’ll feel like going.  And once again I’m without a clue about how I can afford to be doing a Masters.  But I’m not stopping.

I’m not stopping because when I crack open Clement and Ignatius I read them telling my story.  I’m not just reading history, I’m living it. 

Minus the “death by wild beasts” part.

Which is good.

The recurring themes in the Church 1900 years ago?  Unity, love for each other (or lack of both) and preacher/teachers misleading the Church about Jesus and what God is really like.  Sound familiar?  The extraordinary thing is everything we’ve made the Church “about” other than, as Ignatius says: faith and love.  “Faith is the beginning, and love is the end; and the union of the two together is God.”  I know relationship is hard, I know love is the more demanding way but I also know how transformative loving relationships can be.  I know risk is, well, risky but I also know it’s the place where God’s provision meets our need.  I want to see what happens when a church is willing to commit itself to a life of faith that’s fueled by love for God and neighbor.

Imagine finding the future back in the past.

Current theme song:

Here In America - Rich Mullins
"Saints and children we have gathered here to hear the sacred story
And I'm glad to bring it to you with my best rhyming and rhythm 
'Cause I know the thirsty listen and down to the waters come
And the Holy King of Israel loves me here in America
And if you listen to my songs I hope you hear the water falling
I hope you feel the oceans crashing on the coast of north New England
I wish I could be there just to see them, two summers past I was
And the Holy King of Israel loves me here in America
And if I were a painter I do not know which I'd paint
The calling of the ancient stars or assembling of the saints
And there's so much beauty around us for just two eyes to see
But everywhere I go I'm looking
And once I went to Appalachia for my father he was born there
And I saw the mountains waking with the innocence of children
And my soul is still there with them wrapped in the songs they brought
And the Holy King of Israel loves me here in America
And I've seen by the highways on a million exit ramps
Those two-legged memorials to the laws of happenstance
Waiting for four-wheeled messiahs to take them home again
But I am home anywhere if You are where I am
And if you listen to my songs I hope you hear the water falling
I hope you feel the oceans crashing on the coast of north New England
I wish I could be there just to see them, two summers past I was
And the Holy King of Israel loves me here in America"

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Day Off

Sunday night and for most of the day on Monday, I was privileged to take in “The Bible in the Public Square” at Duke University.  It was sponsored by the Duke Center for Jewish Studies as well as the Duke Religion Department.  And it was free.  My friend Michael invited me along and got me there and processed the content with me in between sessions.  This was Sabbath time for me.  I felt refreshed and re-energized by an environment and friend who encouraged deep thinking, challenged my preconceptions and offered alternative views I had never considered.

The first session was with Jacques Berlinerblau from Georgetown University.  His topic was “The Bible in the Presidential elections of 2012, 2008, 2004 and the Collapse of American Secularism.”  One of the big ideas he left me thinking about is the multiplicity of people, groups and institutions that claim the message of the Bible for their own agenda.  In short, the Bible, unlike, say, the Koran, has more claims staked on it than the average sacred writings.  Not the least of which are the political parties.  Both sides of the American political aisle use the Text to advance their cause and fuel their rhetoric in, what Berlinerblau called, a “cite and run” (no exegesis) approach.  And it left me wondering, still, how often we, who make a primary claim on the Text, are doing exactly the same sort of “cite and run” – or else why would believers so willingly accept the horrible misappropriations and misleading applications that nearly every politician makes of the Text of the Bible?

I’ll also say that Berlinerblau is one of the funniest academics I’ve ever listened to and it was great to sit beside someone like Michael who laughed at the same stuff that made me laugh.

Monday morning we heard Adele Reinhartz (University of Ottawa – go Senators!) on “Then as Now: Old Testament Epics and American Identity.”  She did a brilliant presentation on how the Exodus story was manhandled by Cecil B. (but not alone) and turned into American propaganda against the evil, red horde of communism.  Using film clips from the Ten Commandments, Reinhartz vividly demonstrated that the filmmaker(s) turned Moses into the new Jesus that not only included significant changes or additions to the biblical narrative but closes cinematically just before the credits roll with Moses misquoting scripture and assuming the pose of the Statue of Liberty on Mt. Nebo.  There were other significant elements from even more recent retellings of this epic that make it clear that the American story has become firmly entrenched in the Exodus account in modern U.S. psyches.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Gentleman Farmer

When I hear the word “gentleman” I always think of my Uncle Keith.  He was quiet but confident, strong (he worked the land) but tender.  He was a central figure in my formative years.  He and my Aunt Norma were our “go to” babysitters when my mom and dad were away for a few days or a week.  My brother and I lived on the farm and walked beans a few summers in our adolescents.

This morning Uncle Keith passed away.

This morning I’ve been thinking about the current we all find ourselves in.  It starts out like the lazy river and getting downstream seems to be a slow, meandering journey.  Along the way we start to pick up speed, at first unnoticed but then we feel the passage more deeply.  Grey hairs, slower recovery, calories sticking more fiercely to our frame.  It’s the same river but now, closer to where it empties into the vast Sea and what waits beyond, it feels like it’s in a rush.

So this morning I am feeling both sad and assured.  Sad that my Uncle is further than a Facebook message, phone call or visit away.  Sad that an icon of my childhood and simpler times of hay lofts, old comic books and country life have rushed just that much further on ahead of me. 

But assured.  Assured that he and my Aunt are close together again.  Assured that he finished well, leaving like the gentleman I have always known him to be.  Assured that where he goes I will follow.

What I have come to learn is that all that I can take with me is the love from relationships I have been part of here on earth.  All that I can leave behind that matters are a legacy of a life well lived, friends well loved and family who carry a piece of my heart into their future on this river meandering and then rushing to the immense Sea.  Uncle Keith leaves these good things behind and carries with him the love of a family on whom he has left, gently, an indelible mark.