Archive for the ‘quotes’ Category

As we continue to examine preaching and the preaching imagination, let’s turn again to Mark’s announcement in Mark 1: “…after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news (1.14-15 NRSV).” Previously we took a brief look at what it means that Jesus’ proclamation occurred, “after John was arrested,” but the next statement is equally as thought-provoking. It is a statement about location and speech; “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news….”

I note here that Jesus began his teaching in a place of His own choosing, but more importantly, He began His preaching to an audience of His choosing. I have noticed that a great deal of contemporary preaching is aimed at people and populations that are not present in the room. I once had a mentor tell me about a 25-year standing men’s prayer group. Early on the group decided to talk only about themselves. At no time were they permitted to talk extensively about their wives, work or children. The rule: Don’t talk about people who aren’t in the room. Another way of saying this is “take responsibility for you own stuff.” It is a move to end the deflection and obfuscation that all too frequently occurs within groups. While keeping the world outside of church building ever-present and a pressing concern of our worship, I’m arguing that the preaching event should address the people in the room.

Preaching should announce the good news with which the present hearers must deal. Too much preaching talks about “those people,” the people that “aren’t us.”  I recently heard a TV preacher railing against federal, “activist” judges. I immediately wondered: How many federal judges are members in his congregation? In the end, preaching that launches attacks or feigns “concern” for people not in the room is largely useless and oftentimes far more reveals the self-righteousness of the preacher and the perceived “goodness” of the congregants than announcing the good news of Jesus.  Unfortunately, this move contributes to the divisions and distance between those inside the church and those not yet inside; adding to human nature’s “us-versus-them” tendency.

Jesus announces a public word! No person or population is excluded and/or targeted. God’s will for the one is God’s will for all. No “us” and “them.” He is not trying to scandalize “them,” He’s scandalizing us “all.” He’s not offering freedom and hope to “us,” but freedom and hope to “all.” Therefore those within the room, should hear in the proclamation a call to make those outside the room both their destination and ally, rather than the opposition and enemy. The word is for all, entering the world through the ears of those who have already heard the word.

What if modern preaching approached its task as Jesus did, reversing the typical, “us-versus-them” orientation and called the church to deal forthrightly with her call – which is to announce “good news” to the all rather than proclaiming bad news just for the people we don’t like? Nietzsche commented, “the harm the good do is the most harmful harm.” He meant that good people, coming to believe that they possess goodness – by contrast, those who differ must be preternaturally evil – do violence because they do not consider the potential for their own evil. This, to me, is why, preaching must resist polarizing narratives that target and divide those within the ecclesia from those without. We are all, and at all times, in need of “the good news.” That, this Sunday, is what you should preach.

Advertisements

I’ve been attempting to pray the daily office with Thomas Merton’s book, A Book Of Hours. Rochelle gave it to me at Christmas. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my life in no way is arranged to pray the hours. So I’ve been doing what I can when I can.

This past Sunday morning after I did final sermon edits, I sat down with Merton and read these words: “The most wonderful moment of the day is that when creation in its innocence asks permission to “be” once again, as it did on the first morning that ever was.”

This struck me for a lot of reasons, the least of which was the fact that at that moment the dawn was just breaking, the sun beginning to rise. These words reminded me of the complete dependency of creation on the will of her Creator — myself included. I was humbled again by humankind’s feeble, immature and useless attempts to reduce God into something quantifiable; something that we can control and/or master. People have tried to control God with doctrine, particular denominational practices, oppressive congregational authority, and any number of hurtful ways. Yet God defies these attempts. How silly to imagine that any of our hermeneutical or theological systems could contain the very God from whom permission to exist must come.

Perhaps when the Scriptures remind us that creation sings the glory of God there is a not-so-subtle reminder for us that God is simply too grand, too big for us to manage or manipulate. After all, most of us cannot manage our lawns, much less the God of creation. And, perhaps, in the face of all our prideful blubbering, boasting, and grasping for power, influence and control, we too, should rejoice in God that He has given us breath and “permission to be once again.”

——————

Footnote: For those of you checking back to read my review of Edward Fudge’s upcoming commentary on the book of Hebrews, the publisher has asked that the review be held so that it will coincide with the release of the book. This is standard. I the same thing when asked to review Dear Church: Letters From a Disillusioned Generation and The Voice: New Testament. As the publication date draws near, I will post the review, as well as an interview with Mr. Fudge regarding the commentary.

Tomorrow night I continue a series I’ve been teaching called, The Sacred Way. For 8-weeks we are looking at some of the ancient spiritual disciplines. I call them “ancient” for two reasons: (1) They were all conceived a long time ago and (2) Most people in American Evangelical churches don’t practice them (out of ignorance or willing abandonment, I don’t know). At any rate, our community here in Northern California is attempting to recapture them. Were coming to better understand that knowledge and narrow readings of scripture alone do not produce the Life that Jesus promised. We’re also learning together that our brothers and sisters throughout the ages have something to teach us regarding drawing closer to God.

This week’s reflection is prayer. In particular we will be looking at The Jesus Prayer, Breath Prayer, and Centering Prayer. This is scratching the surface, but it is enought to get us started. While we will be exploring these ancient disciplines, our time will begin with C.S. Lewis — a comparatively contemporary figure. Though most of us know Lewis as a writer of prose, we are going to begin our discussion of prayer with one of Lewis’ poems, and I want to share it with you here. This poem — IMHO — is deeply powerful and provocative.

Footnote To All Prayers…C.S. Lewis

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow,
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou.
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart.
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme.
Worshiping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address,
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless,
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, O Lord, our literal sense.  Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

Wise Words #1

Posted: December 4, 2008 in perspective, quotes, reading, speaking, speech acts, words

I’m oft reminded of the wise words I’ve come to memorize and live by over my life. (I’ll post wise sayings every now and then.)These sayings, for whatever reason, have exploded in my mind and I will never forget them. Today’s wise words are from one of my heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr.

“In the end, it is not the words of our enemies that we will remember; it is the silence of our friends.”


Well, since we have been surveying African-American literature this week, I thought I would post James Baldwin’s My Dungeon Shook. Baldwin penned this letter to his nephew — also named James — on the occasion of America’s 100th birthday. This piece is beautiful, with some of the most poignant phrases in all of literature. 

——————-

Now, my dear namesake, these innocent and well-meaning people, your countrymen, have caused you to be born under conditions not very far removed from those described for us by Charles Dickens in the London of more than a hundred years ago. (I hear the chorus of the innocents screaming, “No! This is not true! How bitter you are!” but I am writing this letter to you, to try to tell you something about how to handle them, for most of them do not yet really know that you exist. I know the conditions under which you were born, for I was there. Your countrymen were not there, and haven’t made it yet. Your grandmother was also there, and no one has ever accused her of being bitter. I suggest that the innocents check with her. She isn’t hard to find. Your countrymen don’t know that she exists, either, though she has been working for them all their lives.)

Well, you were born, here you came, something like fifteen years ago; and though your father and mother and grandmother, looking about the streets through which they were carrying you, staring at the walls into which they brought you, had every reason to be heavyhearted, yet they were not. For here you were, Big James, named for me you were a big baby, I was not here you were: to be loved. To be loved, baby, hard, at once, and forever, to strengthen you against the loveless world. Remember that: I know how black it looks today, for you. It looked bad that day, too, yes, we were trembling. We have not stopped trembling yet, but if we had not loved each other none of us would have survived. And now you must survive because we love you, and for the sake of your children and your children’s children.

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that, for the heart of the matter is here, and the root of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying, “You exaggerate’ ” They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one’s word for anything, including mine-but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear. Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration, There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations. You, don’t be afraid. I said that it was intended that you should perish in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go behind the white man’s definitions, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become. It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity. You come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest poets since Homer. One of them said, “The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off.”

You know, and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon. We cannot be free until they are free. God bless you, James, and Godspeed.

Your uncle,

James

The text of Donald Miller’s closing benediction from Monday night at the Democratic National Convention.

 

“Father God,

This week, as the world looks on, help the leaders in this room create a civil dialogue about our future.

We need you, God, as individuals and also as a nation.

We need you to protect us from our enemies, but also from ourselves, because we are easily tempted toward apathy.

Give us a passion to advance opportunities for the least of these, for widows and orphans, for single moms and children whose fathers have left.

Give us the eyes to see them, and the ears to hear them, and hands willing to serve them.

Help us serve people, not just causes. And stand up to specific injustices rather than vague notions.

Give those in this room who have power, along with those who will meet next week, the courage to work together to finally provide health care to those who don’t have any, and a living wage so families can thrive rather than struggle.

Help us figure out how to pay teachers what they deserve and give children an equal opportunity to get a college education.

Help us figure out the balance between economic opportunity and corporate gluttony.

We have tried to solve these problems ourselves but they are still there. We need your help.

Father, will you restore our moral standing in the world.

A lot of people don’t like us but that’s because they don’t know the heart of the average American.

Will you give us favor and forgiveness, along with our allies around the world.

Help us be an example of humility and strength once again.

Lastly, father, unify us.

Even in our diversity help us see how much we have in common.

And unify us not just in our ideas and in our sentiments—but in our actions, as we look around and figure out something we can do to help create an America even greater than the one we have come to cherish.

God we know that you are good.

Thank you for blessing us in so many ways as Americans.

I make these requests in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice.

Let Him be our example.

Amen.”

Graciousness

Posted: February 4, 2008 in grace, humility, quotes, speech acts, words

One of the things I try hard to do, and often fail at, is  to be gracious. I think it’s important to steadily treat people with the grace that God gives me.

If you’re wondering why it’s important to be gracious, just check out Tiki Barber’s interview with Super Bowl MVP, Eli Manning at MSNBC.com. Barber left the Giants in the off-season because he didn’t believe in coach, Tom Coughlin, and was very critical of Eli Manning, saying he didn’t have what it took . In part he said of Eli…

“He hasn’t shown [ability to lead],” Barber said on the broadcast. “His personality hasn’t been so that he can step up, make a strong statement and have people believe that it’s coming from his heart.

“Last year about Week 12, I turned over the offensive motivational speech to Eli and he was gung-ho to do it, but he was uncomfortable doing it. I think a lot of it had to do with vets being around – myself, Jeremy Shockey, Plaxico Burress. He didn’t feel like his voice was going to be strong enough and it showed. Sometimes it was almost comical the way that he would say things.”

Tiki has spent the year working for Football Night in America and The Today Show. Last night, not only did Tiki have to watch the team he left upset the New England Patriots, but he had to interview them after the game.

This is a reminder to me to always speak graciously of others…