Step Away From the Door

by Christopher MacDonald

I have this sad, yet oddly funny dream about a door to a big party in heaven. It saddens me because my fellow believers so obsess on whether  or not they are “In or not.”

They are invited to the Big Wedding Party and they come. Once in the door they stand there wondering for years if they are actually inside the door. Some argue with each other about if others are actually also invited or not – the ones inside. Others just wish to know “do we get to stay?” 

More arguing. I come by occasionally and suggest they come on in and grab a plate of food and a drink (wine or a Diet coke – whatever they enjoy – free bar). They hesitate. One of them calls me a “libertarian free loader.” Okay, whatever.  I like Diet Pepsi myself…and I’ve noticed I can load up on nachos and jumbo prawns without getting fat or flatulent.  

It’s a good party. When I have actually dreamed parts of this dream in my sleep, I have met folk like Kurt Russell there. Why Kurt Russell? I have no idea. Was he what you would expect? Pretty much. Nice guy.

Other people? Ah…Steve Buscemi, Elizabeth McGovern, Lady Gaga—oh, and I played beer pong for half an hour with Tom Waits with neither of us saying a word.

Eleven years later I come back by the door and four of the same people are there worried that they might lose their place at the door. Two of them are Calvinists. I make a joke about this but neither laughs. I forgot about the humor thing and Calvinists. Three others have left to go find a better way in through another “better door” (this door wasn’t to their liking).  

There are 17 new people all crowded and worried about whether they can stay at the door. The Son of Man often walks in and out of the door. He always knocks. Once He winked at me after He did this. I laughed after He came in and walked by me. 

Every time He shows up a few go with Him regardless. Like sheep after…well, you know.  But others stay, bickering at the door. 

It’s not really that funny when you think about it. Imagine if every Believer stopped thinking about the obvious and moved on into the Reality of life in Christ daily? What if they moved away from the entry hall of belief into the party waiting for them inside?

******

spoon_simple

Simplicity & Spaciousness.

In this Lenten season, at Oak Life Church, we have been looking at spaciousness, complexities, simplicity and how we see and hear—at least that is some of what I have been exposed to in this excellent series presented by Chris, Rachel, the worship team, and yesterday by our panel on “Isolation” so well organized by Gina and Kyle. *

It is a complex world and so we must be very wise. Jesus said as “wise as serpents, innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16) – coming to faith is not the time to “check your brain at the door,” it is the time to really pick it up and use the doggone thing in right manner.

A large part of that is understanding that not everything is of equal value. A.W. Tozer, writing in 1948, could easily be describing the Bay Area right now, nearly 70 years later:

“Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all. (italics mine)

Tozer goes on to say,

“If we would find God amid all the religious externals we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now as always God discovers Himself to “babes” and hides Himself in thick darkness from the wise and the prudent. We must simplify our approach to Him. We must strip down to essentials (and they will be found to be blessedly few). We must put away all effort to impress, and come with the guileless candor of childhood. If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond. When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God Himself. The evil habit of seeking God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation. In the “and” lies our great woe. If we omit the “and” we shall soon find God, and in Him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly longing. We need not fear that in seeking God only we may narrow our lives or restrict the motions of our expanding hearts. The opposite is true. We can well afford to make God our All, to concentrate, to sacrifice the many for the One.

(A. W. Tozer. The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine (Kindle Locations 137-145). Hovel Audio. Kindle Edition.)

Blissfully, I have nothing at all to add to this.

~Mac

* I feel so blessed (“Happy is the man”) by the gifts which are weekly exercised and employed so creatively and freely at Oak Life by my brothers and sisters. Too often over four decades have have witnessed such gifted ones sit unrecognized, disenfranchised, and halted. But not here. Oh how it makes my heart sing!

On Cemetary, er Seminary

American Baptist Seminary of the West.

American Baptist Seminary of the West.

When best friend Scott Mitchell used to come back through Sacramento from Princeton Seminary we would stay up late arguing. I couldn’t understand exactly why he was paying big bucks to have his faith ritually shredded by rabid skepticism. My argument was pretty much “would you go to a school to learn English literature where the professor’s actually hated Shakespeare?”

We got through it (the beer helped – plus good humor and a somewhat undying devotion to one another).

Over the years, although never the least bit “fundamentalist,” I still had some vestiges of self-righteousness to shake off – and that happened in the late 80s.

Did I say “shake-off?” Oh…I miss-spoke.

“Stripped off” – like thick skin off a body would be more apropos.

Years later I would encourage my ex-wife to go to seminary in Berkeley – to the GTU. I knew she had a fine mind for theology and would do well. She did well but somehow in the process decided God no longer exists.

She is quite matter of fact about this now. I think she looks at me like someone in some infantile stage who will one day outgrow a “phase.” Jung now reigns supreme.

Okay.

Me? I feel no need to address this at all. It would be like her disbelieving that Scott Mitchell exists. I don’t need to convince anyone. I do think it curious that one goes to school to study God (“theology”=”the study of God”) and one comes away with a degree in God’s non-existence. Do you really graduate? (Shouldn’t you anti-graduate? And shouldn’t they tell you ahead of time that it’s essentially a waste of your time and money?)

It is from such stories (and they are legion) that the term “Cemetary” has been applied pejoratively to seminaries. It is where you go to kill and bury your faith.

Really? Seriously?

Well no one really starts that way I do not think. But some professors, it seems, take it as a sort of mission to “disillusion” (and that can be a good thing if you take it at the root meaning “dis -illusion”) their students – many of which come from highly coddled church environments filled with as much christenized mythology and nonsense as they do actual real information.

These students may come from a Christian High School, then College believing in a 7,000 year-old Earth – that everything in the Bible is to be taken literally (that there are no literary forms to be taken as poetry, or metaphor etc…) and they have been force-fed a brand of  Americanized Fundagelicalism that merges power, money and even splices America itself into Biblical prophecy.

Oh my…

imageThey are not taught to think critically (like how can Moses have written the first five books of the Bible when they record his own death? Also, isn’t that prior to written language historically?)

Well depending on what institution they go to it it is just like shooting ducks in a small barrel – only the ducks fly in and pay to be there.

And most ducks come unarmed.

My Experience

I have decided advantages.

I’ve never been an unarmed anything. I was deadly even at 21 at CSUS. In fact I terrorized my teachers and made them quack.

But that was Sac State. Not exactly top notch scholars. I got into it with the New Testament Professor on the authorship of Ephesians. He came at me with a knife..I came back with a 14 page annotated summary of twenty-two scholars work on authorship that landed him in another time zone (er, bazooka).

In my current situation no one would be impressed. Maybe a “okay…and?”

Not here  I take serious issue with some of the assumptions that are being made prior to investigation. They effect the outcome of the research. In my last paper, the tacit assumption that the psalm (89) was a “psalm of lament” with a rhetorical argument was weak in my view. I made my case directly from the text.

[But I realized later I could have strengthened it with examples of strong “Psalms of Lament” that were not “disarmed” by subordinate considerations like in Psalm 89.. Oh well…]

I want to make it clear that I do not identify with either “Liberals” or “Conservatives” theologically. In both cases it seems to me you have to sign-off on party-line items that require you check your brain at the door.

Not on this suit.

The-Fugitive-Tommy-Lee-Jones-I-Dont-Care

“I REALLY don’t care.”

When it comes to issues like the “inerrancy of scripture”, I see that litmus test as a thoroughly modernist construct meant to divide and miss the point of the gravity of scripture as different than any other “Word” with which we have to do. When questions like that crop up I keep seeing myself in that tube with Harrison Ford in The Fugitive as Tommy Lee Jones where Ford keeps jappering away and Jones just says “I DON’T CARE!”

Is it harder to work in a situation where a priori assumptions have to be painstakingly investigated first? Absolutely.

There is no doubting that I am functioning within a deep “hermeneutic of suspicion” where the only thing not under suspicion seems to be that very thing.

Why should you get off scott free?

Why should a purely literary theory currently in vogue in the West  (in a highly dualistic currently deconstructionist mindset) hold court over Ancient Middle Eastern documents formed mostly through an oral tradition and formed in a holistic culture?

Seriously.

I’m getting okay with working within the “hermeneutic of suspicion.”

I have to work harder.

Frankly it would be a lot more FUN to work within a system of overt highly-informed belief (possibly at a place like Regent or Fuller) – but my M.A. looks to be in Beckerian studies – which inherently implies someone with the elasticity of mind to move across academic disciplines, bear with wildly divergent views – be deeply committed to pluralism – and all the while not back off one iota from the idea of ultimate Truth.

Let’s hope God brings along some like-minded individuals…

The Psalm 89 paper can be viewed as a .pdf here

 

Wha Happa?

Why we are teetering on the verge of Looney Tunes I cannot help but hear Elmer Fudd asking “Wha Happa?”

I mean if you went to culinary school and they really had a disparaging view of food and seemed to not wanna celebrate it you might think you were in the wrong place, no?

So I am reading “scholars” who think that they just made up the whole Epyptian capitivity slavery thing and that the Jews where Canaanites all along who just rose up at a certain time in social revolt but later wnated a better cover story.

Seriously.

And of course all the families with their rich oral traditions and family histories were just gonna buy into this later all at once… when it came time to write it all down.

Okay, “Duane, I’m due back on the planet  Earth now.”

And it is exactly there that I really do not care.

Believe what you want.

Let me give you two examples of why.

The first is from the world of psychology. In the early 80s I was struggling to get any kind of coherence out of the psychology department at Sac State. It became obvious it was a vain attempt so I gave up – much to the consternation of onlookers

But no one today tinks that was a mistake. I can say to anyone in the field that I studied during that period and they just just shale their heads “oh…yeah, well.”

The other example is the infamous Graf-Wellahusen JEDP Theory (Source Criticism) which was first plunked in my lap in 1977. It seemed contrived and thin then (but not without some merits) and when it was reintroduced this year it felt about the same. But now – some 38 years later it has come under a high degree of scrutiny – not from Conservative sources, but Liberal sources as well – especially since 1986.

Sure, a rookie comes into the league with a novel fastball that looks pretty tricky; but wait awhile until the real hitters adjust to it and see how long he lasts.

What’s it all about?

Seriously?

I think it is about being cool for the most part – about human meaning.

Me? I am so patently uncool as to possibly be cool. It’s ironic I realize. I truly do not care.

I came here (to seminary) to play ball. I came here to do serious work. I didn;t come to bunt, or take base on balls.

I believe – and I believe for good reasons; smart reasons. The facts are on my side and when there are no facts there is mystery and what Luther called simply ruthless trust in God’s grace and nature.

Waiting on the beach

breakfastHe had appeared to his Mary Magdalene and then the disciples twice. So, as recorded in John 21,  they do what they are good at…they go fishing.

I guess like all of us we are not sure exactly what to do after meeting God and coming into newness of life.

None of us really knows what to do with it, then or now.

Peter, either demonstrating leadership skills, or loaded with cabin fever declares he is going fishing. Others think this is a good idea and they pile in a boat and work all night at what they do best. They catch nothing at all.

Jesus calls to them from 100 yards away on the beach; close enough to hear Him but not close enough to really make out His face. He tells them to cast on the right side of the boat (just feet away from where they have been casting)  and the nets are immediately full of fish to the extent they should have ripped. This immediately takes John back to the earlier incident where Jesus said to do the same with the same result. He says to Peter “It is the Lord” and anyone who has read or heard the story remembers that Peter puts on his outer garment at that point and throws himself into the sea to get to Jesus faster.

Why the garment? Respect. He’s already failed Jesus three times and don’t think he’s not hounded by it.

What has Jesus done? He has prepared a fire and already has fish cooking on the beach. Peter is toiling in the water with a heavy garment on trying to get to Jesus as fast as he can while the other disciples labor in the boat to get to land with the load of fish.

Jesus, when he addressed them earlier used the term “padia” (“little infant friends” instead of “teknon” which are generally just children of the family 0f any age), asking them if they had caught anything?

It is a very sweet scene if you look at it from Jesus’ point of view.

When they do haul up on the beach cold, wet, and hungry there is not as much work to do as they thought. The nets from the huge haul of 153 fish are not ripped, and food and fire have been provided. They have only to secure the boats, nets and fish and come, sit and eat.

Is it odd for them? Sure. Peter is still laboring under the burden of guilt from his unconfessed betrayals; the others have cowered in the upper room and not believed in His resurrection. Only the women seemed to have believed and taken action. More than a few of the men have probably wished they had never met Him.

But as they sit there with Jesus eating the cooked fish and He speaks with them, they know He was dead and is now alive. Much of what He previously has said has started to drop…coin by coin… down into them from endless sacks of heavy change, each one changing them slightly inside, altering them forever and not a few of them suspect that the upcoming promise of the Holy Spirit will mean even more of this in ways unimaginable.

Jesus has told them that they are waiting for a significant event in the near future. But in the meantime He has been waiting for them on the beach to be with them. Yes, there is some business with Peter to be done within earshot of the others; it’s family business: feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.

There are the significant actions to be done. But this is also the time to sit and be with Him.

Christ in “The Haunt of Jackals”

The Haunt of Jackals

No.1

Imagine a society where, instead of baking bread for hungry people, they produced mass quantities of pictures of bread and posted ads for them at every corner, and handbills were given out with pictures of different types of bread, hundreds of different types of bread. Pictures of wheat bread, pumpernickel, Jewish rye, banana bread, croissants, sheepherders bread, bread sticks, garlic bread…heck, even melba toast.

Now imagine that these images of bread not only became the dominant mode of exchange (some hoarding these pictures, others spending them as fast as they could get them), but were actually consumed on a daily basis despite the fact that they had no nutritional value whatsoever.

Imagine that, besides the handbills, posters and billboards which depicted the pictures of bread, the evening television news consisted of discussions and international debates over which of these pictures of bread were worth the most, and which were declining in value or had become disreputable as a true picture of bread. Imagine witnessing special interest groups arguing and protesting the advantages and disadvantages of consuming their particular type of bread-pictures. And, of course, in such a world, litigation would be intense over who had the actual rights to each type of bread picture, and there would often be disputes over counterfeit pictures or poor foreign copies had infiltrated the market.

And the entire time that men and women were viewing these billboards, wheat was growing up around the posts. And wherever they stapled posters, streams gurgled by with yeast cultures forming in the shallows and the sun.

What would you make of such a society?

No.2


Hold that thought while we look at another hypothetical situation… (for more go HERE)

Christ the Center: The Names of Christ

The Word spoke the cosmos into being as Agent, redeems it as sole Mediator, and is it’s consummation as Bridegroom. All “naming” –  human’s most profound and special gift, is derivative from the Word in Whom, through Whom and for Whom creation exists and his held together (Colossians chapters 1-2 in their totality).

As such, this One whose name is “above all names” has seeded Himself deeply not only in Creation, but in all the ways we approach it through language and try to understand and appropriate it. This Word (logos) is inherent in the multiplicity of interconnections that exist in Him. Yet, in His wisdom, the Word has come to us in the flesh (John 1 in it’s totality) and has explained the very character and intentions of God toward all Creation.

This God, who has a passion to be known via self-revelation, plants these resonate notes within our beings, then in grace overtly sounds those clear notes via the names that are so evocative of Him.

In the Old Testament,  these names are both deep  and expansive. In the New Testament we find new names given by Jesus to Himself that are even more viceral. Do you need bread? Do you desire wine? Do you need light, Peace, Rescue, Comfort, and/or Truth?

Unlike other great teachers we respect, Jesus presents Himself not just as Messenger but also the incarnate Message.

Know that this God is passionate about revealing Himself to you in Christ. God becoming flesh is the ultimate demonstration in time and space of the love of God. That this One would then die in our place for evil and human brokenness is almost too much to fathom. That this same Word incarnate is then raised tangibly from the dead and promises us the same is a glory and love we can never understand…only respond to and be thankful for.

These are but a few (a short list) that we will explore in the days to come.

Name above all names

The Alpha and the Omega

Author and Perfector of Faith

Wisdom of God

Image of God

Captain of Salvation

Chief Cornerstone

Head of the Church

Bridegroom

Chief Shepherd

The Way

Lord of the Living and the Dead

The Truth

Only Begotten Son

The Life

Light of the World

Sun of Righteousness

Savior of the Body

Sure Foundation

True Vine

True God

Word of Life

Prince of Peace

Bread of Life

Prince of Life

Master

Lord Jesus

Lord of Lords

Lord of Glory

Lord of Righteousness

Lord of the Church

Lord God Almighty

King of Kings

This just scratches the surface.

In an age that would deconstruct such a One (every Christmas season in Newsweek and Time); and a commercialized Christendom that would make The Living One “commemorative”  or part of some formula for personal salvation alone, these potent “names” for the Living One stand outside calling for depth, relationship and new ways of seeing reality and the Love of God.

_____________________

If your church is hungry for in-depth study of, and meditation on Jesus feel free to contact me via email and I’ll get right back with you. Weekly series for exploration are available in the Santa Cruz area. Weekend seminars are available to churches or groups in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Kierkegaard’s Christmas Director’s Cut

 

“O Lord Jesus Christ, I long to live in your presence, to see your human form and to watch you walking on earth. I do not want to see you through the darkened glass of tradition, nor through the eyes of today’s values and prejudices. I want to see you as you were, as you are, and as you always will be. I want to see you as an offense to human pride, as a man of humility, walking amongst the lowliest of humanity, and yet as the savior and redeemer of the human race.”


Kierkegaard’s Christmas 2000

Let me give you an example of what Kierkegaard is suggesting.

For the last 25 years I have heard Christians say, “Two thousand years ago..blah blah blah…” And, of course, they were rounding up or down time-wise.

But today is December 25, in the Year of our Lord 2000.

It is the ONE and only day we can say, “Two Thousand years ago TODAY, God…”

Yes, 2,000 years ago, today, the Creator of the Universe decided to crash the Human Party, which had turned damned ugly. If listen those who were there, they claim that God Himself, came bumping and birthing out of a young girl’s womb and spilled into the riot that is this world.

But it is right here that the folk Kierkegaard is talking about start to shout, “But Jesus wasn’t born in December! That was the way Christians appropriated the pagan holiday..blah blah blah…”

Or, gasbag scholars (with tenure) will go on and on about how Jesus was “more likely born 4 years prior to the date that was used in the formation of our current calendar” (thus Jesus was probably born in the spring of 4 B.C. …yea, yea…he was born four years before he was born.)

But when they go this route they are missing the whole point.

What about what happened when Jesus was born somewhere between the spring of 4 BC and our “traditional” (read “darkened glass”) date?

Kierkegaard says elsewhere that even if no historical records had survived about Jesus, he would still be the most important and central figure of human history.

Why?

Because he was God, and he willfully and deliberately dove into our mire for love’s sake. (Could it be that reality is more real than history?)

I mean, c’mon, what kind of God allows himself to become a human baby?

It’s either the most asinine
or the most beautiful thing
you’ve every heard your whole life.

The coming of Jesus, as God into our riot, is the radical opposite of religion–all of it, “Christian” or otherwise.

So, what do many churches do with this incredible miracle, this challenge to the whole way we view ourselves, our human history and our ultimate destiny and meaning?

They make a “religious service” out of it. And this is done in the most visual, audience, and entertainment-oriented culture in human history (“Damn Jim, I got 168 new channels on my new satellite dish…it’s unreal”) the Church with all it’s radical vision and devotion to Jesus does what?

The “Christmas services” many churches prepare serve to transform the naked amneotic reality of Jesus’ birth into an ethereal place of simple, rustic, “Country Home” beauty. In creating a visual and entertainment-oriented service, we are invited to sit and passively watch just like we do Will and Grace or last week’s episode of ER.

If, as Kierkegaard suggests, we should see Jesus for what he was, is, and will always be, then that would apply to his birth in Bethlehem.

So let’s strip away the “darkened glass of tradition and the current cultural prejudices” and ask, what should be up on the church stage for these Christmas productions?

The answer is obvious. Go visit a barn.

Go visit an American barn which is, by the way, a world away from a Bethlehem barn, and ask that simple question again: what should our Christmas productions look and feel like if we are to see Jesus for who he was, is and always will be?

_____________________________________________

To start with, how about manure, and lots of it?

There must be a great deal of it and stench.

Then we must add slop for the animals and dirty water troughs on the sides of the church stage to maintain any accuracy at all.

In other words, the whole church should reek of dank poverty, or, at the very least, to make a legitimate cultural bridge, reflect a modern American barn (which has shit and piss and is cold and is a good, but dirty, business).

And instead of whitewashing the event into something about us, and our sentiments at Christmastime, how about talking about the real deal and asking good questions like “Why did God choose to come this way?” “What does it mean that there was no room available for God when he came? What does it mean that he was placed in a feeding trough after birth? (that’s what a “manger” is). What does it means that instead of lying quietly in a sweet designer/manger bed, the baby Jesus was screeching his head off like every other baby..EXACTLY like every other baby…laying inside a hard and putrid feeding trough and surrounded by the dank smell of animal dung?

This is what would be needed.

But no.

We have this clean and completely nonfunctional “manger”, and then a big production which is all about us and our artistic gifts, then a short message relating the beautifully decorated Christmas tree to how Christ needs to be in our homes. And on it goes.

It’s a show. We are the audience, God is an idea, and the performers are worried about how they will perform in the show, not about the glory of God or his incomprehensible love.

Kierkegaard said elsewhere, that our worshippers/audience are really supposed to be the performers, and that the audience is not us at all, it is God.

Wow!

Imagine if more modern American churches took that seriously! (And if you know of any, please email me info).

And we’re not talking performing to “appease” God. We’re talking performing for the sheer enjoyment of God and his glory and out of gratitude that this God has such love and such a passion to be known that he would do this radical thing (and we are not even talking about the exit yet, just the intro).

So, if the audience are really meant to be the performers, who then are the people on stage.

They are the “conductors,” says Kierkegaard, as is the preacher.

God is the audience on such a day, not us. (and heck, let’s just keep doing it all year long. It’s a Theocentric universe, so why not keep acting accordingly?)

How are we supposed to feel when the greatest event in human history, and one which is deeply personal for each of us mortals, is so utterly lost and covered up with layers of denial that the very crash of God breaking into human history is made into something like the sound of a digital watch alarm going off under a pile of thick blankets?

____________________________________

Well, it’s about 9:30 PST on Christmas, year 2000. Philosophically, an interesting historical night, right?

But I’ve been tending four kids all day long, alone, because my wife is racked with a severe flu and is bedridden.

And in the meantime, our toilets all clogged up (it started Christmas eve) and so the bathrooms are plunged hourly.

This, in very obvious ways, hourly bilges up all kinds of flu-invested shit, vomit and piss. This Christmas, our normal “Country Home” existence stinks just a little like a barn.

It’s a perfect Gospel night. Just like 2,000 years ago, give or take, when God…