Thursday, May 31, 2007

"Legion" Meets LORD II

Ben Witherington III (citing J. Marcus) points out the comedic nuances in the "power-encounter" between "Legion" and Jesus.

In Mark 5:7 the "Legion" screams at Jesus, "Swear to God you won't torture me!"

Well, duh!

Demons asking for God-intervention ("Swear to God...")? And pleading not to be tortured as they speak through a wretched human being who is an incarnation of their tortuous, tormenting work? Who are these idiots?!

Demons can dish it out, but they can't take it. They are twisted, whining babies.

"Boo hoo hoo, Jesus, don't hurt us, please, please, please. We know we are destroying this beautifully-made, image-of-God-bearing person, but please, pretty please, don't destroy us. Boo hoo hoo."

Satan's terror is mostly smoke and mirrors. I'm not down-playing his and his hench-demons hostility and evil work, but, hey, as Martin Luther noted, " little word will fell him." J-e-s-u-s.

Resist the devil and he will flee from you.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Legion" Meets LORD I

In his right mind.
A peaceful man.

Before, he was roaming among the death tombs, animal-naked and bleeding from self-inflicted wounds, screaming insanely from horrible demonic torture. A pathetic man.

"Legion" meets Lord and everything changes.*

The hectic noise of 2000 stampeding pigs screaming as they drown in the sea dies down.

Startled disciples and townspeople marvel (in terror) at the transformation of a maniac into a man who longs "to be with Jesus."

"Go, tell your family about the great things the LORD has done for you."

He went and announced the great things JESUS did for him.


I notice one of the disciples looking out at the very calm Sea of Galilee; the raging, death-bringing sea that Jesus just commanded to stillness. That disciple now turns and sees the sane, clothed man sitting serenely at the feet of Jesus. Calm sea. Peaceful man. The disciple ponders.

Who is this who merely speaks and everything changes? Raging storms around us and turbulent storms within us cease at his word.

"Be still, my soul. The winds and waves still know his voice who ruled them when he dwelt below."

*Mark 5:1-20.


Monday, May 28, 2007

The Thinker(s)

In the picture you see Auguste Rodin's "The Thinker" and me--a guy who just thinks he's a thinker. Julie (and some passers-by) told me to take my clothes off to make the comparison more authentic. I don't think too well in the nude in public so I decided to pass on the idea.

Julie and I, on this lovely Memorial Day, meandered the paths of our local sculpture gardens.
This bronze edition of Rodin's famous sculpture dates from 1904 and is on loan to Grand Rapids' Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park from the Detroit Institute of the Arts. It is the first time the piece has been moved in 85 years.

Rodin was inspired by Dante's medieval writings and the piece "symbolizes poetic genius in undisturbed contemplation." I wish you could see the detail in the work. Rodin believed in the majesty of the ordinary person. He told his students to seek out plain, ordinary, flawed people for their work, not models of human perfection.

About his Thinker Rodin said, "What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes."

Another creative piece is British sculpturer, Bill Woodrow's, "Listening to History." It requires some patient observation and contemplation.

Barely surviving, I also was stepped on my Leonardo Da Vinci's massive horse sculpture. You just have to be careful walking the Meijer Gardens. Other than that, it was a pleasant day.


Friday, May 25, 2007

A Sequoia in My Wrist

A Sequoia in My Wrist
John W. Frye

Looking back the years disappear in the distance
For the road behind is quite long and winding.
While up ahead the road feels shorter
And straighter than it is, I suppose,
And a big sign reads "No Exit."

Being in a big hurry for no reason seems silly now
And the passing trees and fields, cities and streets,
Playgrounds and cemeteries appear richer, more real
Than I am used to.

My wife's green eyes seem deeper now,
And more mysterious to me; and her touch is a gift,
And her friendly voice at night is a welcomed sound
To my ears that have heard stories of so much pain.

It's down hill I'm told on this side of life,
Yet I choose to find a few more mountains to climb,
Some strange wilderness to explore,
Some undiscovered clearing deep in the woods
Where we can sit and remember, talk, laugh and cry.
And drink cold water.

The hectic rush of generations goes on, of course,
And our minds are trained for habits of hurry.
Yet, thank God, our faithful bodies now say "No" to speed.
We enjoy the simplicity of just sitting together in quiet.

Free things seem so intensely valuable--
Like the hummingbirds warring for the feeder,
Like sounds of water trickling over rocks,
Like mourning doves reminding us that
So many in the world are very, very lonely.

Jesus didn't live to be my age
And I'm deeply sorry for that.
He lived urgently, freely, on the run.
If he had one, I think he would have
Looked at his Seiko too frequently.

I take my watch off now as a discipline.
Why wear around an invention on your wrist
To remind you that you are dying?
That the road ahead is shorter?

I'd like to plant a sequoia in my wrist
And watch it grow over the years to come,
But, unfortunately, I'm not made for it.

The road ahead now does not matter as much.
What matters is my best friend's voice.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Revelation: A Survivors' Guide in Empire

When a curious form of theology turned the Book of Revelation into a flow chart of "end times" scenarios, a primary source for spiritual formation for the church to survive, even thrive under "empire" was lost. The last book of the Bible has become, for all intents and purposes, a lost book of the Bible.

Perhaps this is one reason why a major segment of the USAmerican evangelical church is blind to its own cultural captivity to empire. Like the church in Laodicea, thinking that it is healthy, wealthy and wise, this anemic segment of the church believes more in partisan politics than in the Spirit-empowered community for societal transformation, believes more in the majority vote than in the minority Christus Victor, and drowns in rampant materialism as they surround themselves with every edition of the "latest" Bible. I'm surprised there is not a Bible titled "The Republican Christian Study Bible."

John, the Revelator, gave the church "The Survivors' Guide in Empire." Revelation is a survival tool for those hiking the trails of national and international chaos. Yet, some insider, secret rapture theologians, believing the ecstatic visions of others, toyed with Revelation and it became an apocalyptic novelty comparable to a circus attraction. Emasculated of its original intent, the Revelation of John has created a cadre of people entertaining themselves to death as they long for the Great Escape. Without the formidable guide--the Book of Revelation--to shape and empower their allegiance to Jesus, a huge congregation of USAmerican believers has no direction and little encouragement to keep their loyalty to their King and his kingdom priorities. Success is not a kingdom priority. "Get'r done" is not a kingdom priority. Exporting a political ideology is not a kingdom priority. Choosing the next "American Idol" is not a kingdom priority. With the loss of Revelation, it became easy, even expected to turn the King of Kings into the Chairman of our favorite political party. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become red, white and blue.

Don't get me wrong. I'm truly grateful for our nation. I have visited many countries (including Ukraine which I visit several times a year). I am very glad for my own country. Yet, I have had to wake up from the evangelical stupor that drinks in a-this-world-way-of-life and thinks that it is the life of the kingdom of God. Being of Cherokee descent, I'm a little hesitant to bow down to America as a "Christian" nation. Many well-known "Christian" leaders made promises to the Cherokee (and other Native Americans) and then broke them as they ravaged my ancestors in the name of Jesus. Forked tongue was an apt metaphor.

Yet, there is a hope. An intriguing light breaks the darkness. A fast-growing global community of alternative allegiance is daring to speak into all forms of empire, including the USAmerican kind. Citizens of heaven are not dead people, but living people who courageously pray "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." These loyalists to Jesus and his reign refuse to confuse the kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. They don't wave flags and send armies as if their King needs those things to get his job done.

Amazingly, the one book of the Bible that is so desperately needed in our day has become the basis of fiction best-sellers. Fiction.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Promises Paint the Future

When my girls were little, they had a record. Remember those? A record was a black plastic round thing with tiny grooves in it. Their record had a song on it called "I am a promise." The main theme repeated, "I am a promise. I am a possibility. I am a promise with a capital P." Out of the mouth of babes.

We live best by promises and not by principles, especially if the promises are God's promises.

We swim in a vast ocean of principles: mathematical ones, biological ones, financial, relational, technological ones. We have principles for everything. Then, here come the expert Bible-handlers providing their ever-so-helpful "biblical principles." The thing is: principles don't really do much for us. That's why God gave us a Bible chock full of stories about people (like us) who encountered an untameable God who made promises to them.

I think it would have been easier, if principles are all that necessary, for God to have given us an almanac of principles. Why waste our time with stories about God talking with Abram and Sarah and Abram's incessant lying about Sarah to the Egyptian kings? Why give us ghastly stories in the Book of Judges, exciting stories about David the shepherd-king, and rough and tumble stories about the prophets? Why give us four Gospels bristling with Jesus-filled stories? Why this Bible, if succinct principles are the "real" need? Yet, there it is: a Bible with stories of people who lived sometimes well and sometimes horribly in response to the living God's promises.

Promises have a divine "I will" in them. God's "I will" not only points us toward the future, it takes us there. A principle, on the other hand, just lies there like a cold, raw fish fillet asking us to do something with it. Wouldn't we rather have our future energized more by God's resolute "I will" than by our faltering "I will"?

Promises are God's paint with which God presents us with a breath-taking picture of a new, preferred future. With infinite wisdom and endless power, God extravagantly splashes color all over the future. We look up from our tiny "paint by numbers"/"live by principles" lives and almost collapse in wonder at the dazzling sight before us. We can almost hear God saying something like this: "I will make everything new! Do you want to join me?" Isn't that more inviting and compelling than gnawing on "seven principles of newness"?

Life transformation takes place in the wildness and adventure of promise, not in the quiet library of tidy principles. You can, of course, analyze promises, catalogue promises, exegete promises and stay spiritually numb. The same with principles. Yet the moment we believe God's promise, we come alive to the potential of a whole new future.

Learn a principle or live a promise. We get to make a choice.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Jesus Blew Their Minds

Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!
Mark 4:41.

These words were uttered (perhaps screamed) in panic. The disciples were terrified. As Jewish boys, they feared a great fear.

For a while they were afraid of the sea as it was whipped into a deadly frenzy by the fierce winds off the eastern heights of Decapolis. Now they were terrified of the alien in the boat with them.

"What kind of a man is this...?!" What category do we put him in?

They had categories for all kinds of men: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Herodians, lepers, tax-collectors, soldiers, emperors, Gentiles, Samaritans. But what kind of man is this? They had no category for a man who commands winds and waves and those winds and waves instantly obey.

Jesus blew the disciples' panicky minds.

Yet, as good Jewish boys, I think they had an inkling of who it was in the boat. Read the section of Psalm 107 below. Who does in Psalm 107 what Jesus did in the boat?

Psalm 107
23 Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters.

24 They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep.

25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves.

26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away.

27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards; they were at their wits' end.

28 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress.

29 He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.

30 They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.

Who is in this boat with us?! Could it be the Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel?!

For our own spiritual health Jesus must become alien to us or we will not know him as he truly and fully is.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day 2007

Two of our favorite people:
John's mother, Margaret (l) and Julie's mother, Lois (r).

Margaret lives in Linden, TN with John's stepfather, Neal Parrish.
Lois lives in Nashville, TN with her daughter, Diane Mayfield (Julie's sister) and family.

Both of these ladies love the Lord Jesus and pray for us and our family every day. We won't tell you their ages because you can see how young they are.

To our lovely mothers Margaret and Lois...


With love,
John and Julie


Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Jesus Way and the American Way

Remember the old joke regarding Ford's Model T?
In what color can I get my Model T?
You can get it in any color you want as long as it's black.

Assembly line wonder brought America a car they could afford.

That same mentality has created made-to-order USAmerican evangelical spirituality. We laugh off being "cookie cutter Christians" and then try endlessly to be just like each other. We are a herd of Xerox-copied sheep, not a unique individual with our name, our fingerprints, our DNA, our life of faith.

Eugene H. Peterson in his latest book, The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way (Eerdmans, 2007), wrote a short few sentences that stopped me. Peterson writes, "For faith cannot be learned by copying, not by imitating, not by mastering some 'faith-skills.' We are all originals when we live by faith" (emphasis added).

"We are all originals when we live by faith."

As freeing as that sounds, we evangelicals are scared witless by Peterson's comment. We can't handle such a reality. Isn't it easier to receive the booklet, the 6 steps, the 7 purposes? Like all things American, we get our spirituality pre-packaged, even pre-digested?

American spirituality is made to order: no need to think for ourselves; no need to wrestle with God; no need to cultivate our own intimate love language with God; no need to walk the rough terrain of not knowing. No need to read "the meat of the Word" when daily vitamins will do. And, hey, by the way, the pastor is supposed to "feed me." Baaah, baaaah.

"We are all originals when we live by faith."

Originals? Or cookie cooker? Hmmmm.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Denzel in "Deja Vu"

Julie and I are impressed with Denzel Washington's ability to portray believable characters. In Deja Vu, acting as ATF investigator, Doug Carlin, Washington takes us into a tense and thrilling mixture of modern day terrorism and wild science fiction.

After an horrific terrorist bombing of a ferry in New Orleans, ATF agent Carlin gets involved in an experimental FBI surveillance unit, one that uses spacefolding technology to directly look back a little over four days into the past. Carlin is transported back in time to prevent the ferry bombing and to save the life of Claire Kuchever played by Paula Patton.

One reviewer commented about Deja Vu: "A good script really helps a film and some lines of dialogue are truly excellent, intertwining science with religion whilst asking poignant, thought-provoking questions."

Sometimes I read theological ponderings about whether God is outside time or inside time or both. Films like Deja Vu present the intriguing complexities of such questions.

I was talking with a young couple recently and the guy had on a t-shirt that read "time is an invention." Watching Deja Vu, I think the t-shirt slogan is on to something. As I watched the film and wrestled with the "religion" issues, I thought about: what does God know, when does God know it, is he outside looking in as the FBI experimental unit "looks in" on Claire's life four days ago, or does he get involved in Claire's life as agent Carlin does?

Films like Deja Vu, in my opinion, shock classical deterministic theism. I like the idea of the God revealed in the Bible who mixes it up with us; who sees, listens to, and joins us in this reality called life. We're not living out some cosmic program, each of us being meticulously decreed to act, feel, think and decide as the program has pre-decided. What kind of sovereignty is that? None, in my book. It's a program. If everything is eternally decreed by God (as classical determinism insists), then all talk about authentic human freedom in the end is just smoke and mirrors.

I think relational theism is way ahead of the old-line linear decree of God view. In the divine-human relationship, God gets bumped and bruised (and crucified) as he enters our space and time to rescue us. He invites us into the story, not just as programmed widgets, but as authentic collaborators to make the story happen. Theology Proper begins at the cross of Jesus Christ and works out from there.

One final word, I do not build my theology off of Hollywood movies. I was trained in classical deterministic theism and realized one day that Calvinists are that in theology (theory) only. In every day life, they are as Arminian as most. Relational theism works from Jesus' cross out and takes the Bible's presentation of a highly interactive God mixing it up with humans very seriously. Relational theists see no need to read as "anthropomorphisms" straight-forward statements about God found in the Bible.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Can't Hurry Love or Growth


What comes to mind when you read the word "automatic"?

I came across the term in Mark 4:28 "All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head." The phrase "all by itself" is αυτοματη (transliterated is "automate' "). We get our words "automatic" and "automatically" from this Greek term. It is used only one other time in the New Testament--Acts 12:10 "They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him." You recall this is Peter being led out of prison by an angel. The iron gate opened automatically (same word found in Mark- αυτοματη).

Back to Mark 4:28. Jesus is telling another "seed" parable. This time he highlights the energy in the combination of soil and seed. Something automatically happens; something is done "by itself," that is, without the farmer's help. The farmer sows and sleeps, sows and sleeps and things happen beyond his control and without his contribution.

Jesus is speaking about "the kingdom of God." Mysterious forces are released that even the farmer does not know. He does his part, but then the seed and soil do so much more. The seed is and must be out of his hands.

In pragmatic USAmerican evangelicalism, the last thing we truly believe is that if we let go, God, in his creative mysteries, will still be at work. We are conditioned to believe that we've got to "run things," "be in charge," "make things happen," "take the hill."

We, leaders and pastors, think and act like we have to have our grubby little fingers all over people's growth in God. We analyze growth, systematize growth, facilitate growth, calculate growth, evaluate growth, ad nauseum. Because of our entrenched pragmatism and the itch for quick results, we stupidly try to hasten growth. We transfer the concept--"automatically"--to our frenzied methods hoping that the right "steps" and "fill-in-the-blanks" will promote transformation. We forfeit the restful contentment that God is doing what we could never do.

We resist hiddenness, seasonal slowness, and mysterious energies we can't control. We want harvest yesterday. Yet, God will not be "automatically" tied to our hurried methods. We either adjust to him and his ways or lose sleep and drive people crazy urging them to grow.

Don't get me wrong. We aren't called to be lazy. That is nowhere in Jesus' parable. We must do our part. We should do it well and faithfully. Yet, God, also, has his part to do. Some plant, others water, yet God and God alone brings the increase. We can sleep on it.