Tuesday, December 5, 2017

On Sex, Love, Lust... and the Church

So I'm sitting down in our grandma/grandpa apartment and listening to the laughter upstairs as mom and dad are engaging Tanner, my grandson, in the rhythms of Christmas; this one, putting up the Christmas Tree.  (Yes, we are the preverbial millinneal turned upside down as we live in our children's basement). And I'm incredibly grateful to my son and daughter in law, my pastor and wife, at the life they are building in marriage; a living sign of God with us.  I know, I know, we don't yet hold marriage as a sacrament.  We should, but that's another writing.  Anyway, as I'm listening, I'm also reflecting on a Naz pastor's site I visited today and the question put forth by an earnest, young and caring pastor.  "What is your policy/stance on marrying couples who are actively living together?"  I thought, 'I marry them, if they are willing, ofcourseno brainer.'  He went on: "I'm not arguing for making it normative, but I've had the issue come up a number of times recently. I've had some local pastors say they require that the couple live in separate homes for at least 3-6 months prior to marriage (this can be an issue, especially with children involved). I've had others say they flat out won't do it."   It dawned on me once again, on this issue, I may be 'clueless in seattle'.  Clearly I'm a few hundered miles from the Bible belt.  As I read through the responses to his question, I became even more concerned with pastors wrestling with how to relate to and engage the nowwhat 25%of couples co-habitating without the benefits (and there are many) of marriage.

Here was my response:


Theology in context should direct our pastoral response to couples living together without the covenant of marriage. The key issue is where we begin our Biblical narrative; chapters 1 and two of creation or chapter 3 of the fall.

The "very good" of the first account of creation (Genesis 1 - 2:4a), reflecting the liturgical poetry of the Jewish community declares creation perfect. It is the narrative account of creation's (Genesis 2: 4b-25) older oral tradition in which God is close and knowable and with empathy, understanding Adams loneliness, institutes an intimate and relational covenant, a faithful union, in order to address what is "not good". This second account involves an interactive Divine/human cooperative creation.

It isn't until the third chapter that chaos in the form of human choice reenters the creation story.

If we begin our theology in chapter 3 (the fall) then our struggle will be in identifying with sinners and finding a liturgical answer back into creations perfection. That seems to be at the heart of a lot of the posts here; how close do I get and what are the repented, confessional steps that need to be taken in order to marry?

I would suggest that if instead we begin with the second account of creation, the narrative story, and move toward the "very good" we have a sure footing for a Biblical response, still recognizing that we all wrestle with chapter 3 in the fall.

So I do the following and in the context of Seattle where only 3% even attend church. 

I'm delighted when couples who are living together become a part of our confessional body and enter in to the liturgical and social fellowship and mission of the church. 

For those couples I recognize that in many cases, they have moved away from the chaos of sexual intimacy with multiple partners and are responding to a creational need to address the same "loneliness" that Adam felt. Others are living within the extended familial brokeness they grew up with.

In marriage counseling I spend a large amount of time on the nature of Christian marriage as a covenant with God, the church and the larger culture. In that communal context I begin to unpack the nature of social sin and how God desires to renew them as a couple in covenant; renewed within themselves, between one another and in their relations in the Church and larger community as a picture of what God intended from the beginning.  In the ceremony, for the sake of the culture and good teaching, I write and review with a couplefollowing a bit of their affirming narrativethat they recognize and acknowledge that they have not approached this as God would desire in all respects and do so now.

The reason I see this (for many couples, now in the life of the church) as more of a social rather than personal sin is because in almost every case I have encountered, they're living together is a story of moving towards chapter 1 of Genesis.

Terry, what about personal sin you ask? While I clearly preach and teach marriage in an almost sacramental way, as God's will and desire for everyone; it is the erotic, expressive, lust driven and often power driven missuse of sexual desire that is the greater personal sin. Our struggles with pornography are probably closer to the chaos of sexual desire out of control that the Bible addresses more than the living relation of a committed monogamous couple who neither see or have yet to enter into a covenant with God.

For couples who come to me outside of any faith tradition I spend a great deal of time on the same issues and God's offer of a salvational relation through Jesus; and if they desire a covenant with God in marriage I am more than happy, even delighted, to marry them.

That's my thots. 

Terry  :)



Monday, November 27, 2017

A Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Night: An Apocolyptic Vision

Four hours before this writing I walked out from the afterglow of the intensely moving rhythms, sounds, visuals, poetry and Pyro-technique explosions that was the rockish drama of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and into the cold drizzle of a Seattle night. It was the perfect contrast to the on stage performance that placed the birth of the Christ child within the flaming dragon of a world crazed with violent demons.

In a year of Syrian refugees running from the slaughter of Isis, multiple acts of terror near and far, the grandstanding of a childish dictator starving his own while threatening the world with thermonuclear war, the tweeting rants of my President trusting only in himself and manipulative power
it is good to be reminded of a child born vulnerable and poor who has changed history and will yet again.

The creative genius behind the Trans-Siberian Orchestra affirms what many within Christendom have always known; that love is stronger than hate and the human spirit more enduring than a thousand demons of fear.

What I appreciated most in this two and half hour of apocalyptic worship is the concern with history and the power of the narrative of a baby of Bethlehem's fame. 

In contrast, so much of American evangelical Christianity has given up on history and awaits only it's demise and then the  judgment to come with heaven or hell being two unrelated places in the universe; The destiny of humans according to their faith and/or works. Creations story is lost inside this hopeless vision, time passing only for the purpose of determining who lives where.

'Soul salvation', which we evangelicals are so deeply concerned with, is boring and largely removed from the Biblical idea of salvation; as the restoration of all creation, reconciled to God and one another and the creative impulses and purposes within and around us. 

I simply cannot imagine how one can live in heavens glory knowing that most of humanity lives on in hellish agony. What is wrong with God?  Why create the universe in all of its magnificence splendor if sentient persons most like the Creator are lost to God, to themselves and one another?  …If the promise of the first poem of creation in our genesis fails to renew humanity by God declaring us "very good"?

Curiously, 'soul salvations' roots are in Greek philosophy and in the foolish attempt to separate humanity from creation, from the dust of the stars of which we were born, according to the second account of creation in our genesis. There is no need of a resurrection of humanity as creatures of dust who rise in love, if we live forever as disembodied spirits.

The narrative of the Bible begins with our wonder as humans and the beauty of all creation, not our lying, blaming, shame-filled hiding that within a generation turns violent as given in the third chapter of our genesis. Yet it seems as if many 19th and 20th century Christians erased the story of creation and concentrated only on our salvation from damnationinstead of restoration from the fall.

In this developed theology within much of Protestant fundamentalism, Christ's death becomes a penalty paid for our deserved punishment, minimizing the Christ-event (birth, life, teachings, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension) into a legal proceeding instead of his life being the rebirth of our genesis, of the restoration of all things and persons to the Creator. This larger story, whose roots date back to the very personal God who searched out Adam and Eve in their shame and isolation, is the heart of the Biblical narrative that weaves like a golden thread throughout history in Israel and finally enters history in the darkened cave of shepherds, the home of the poorest cast.

It is this hope in the universal reach of salvation, with God and creation and each other that inspires me. Throughout the concert I was profoundly moved by the hope within Christmas.

What most disappointed me in this excellent and dramatic presentation was the nature of the hope offered; A salvation that is universal in its reach but disappointing in its limited view of God. "The individual is finite but the human collective is eternal,"was the single myth or belief around which hope is built. We as a sentient and emerging species will, in the end, triumph by love over the insidious fears and wounds that drive us as individuals united and shaped by the power of the dragon, John's dragon as described in Revelation 12: 1-13. 

Like all matter in our emergent universe, each of us will die, our individual light intersecting time being taken up into the ever emerging God, who is co-equal and co-eternal with the universe itself. Our experience becomes God's and so we live as a community of wisdom within the living memory that is God.

That narrative, which was first proposed by Alfred North Whitehead, in response to Einsteinian science, underlies much of the creative thinking about the "Cosmic Christ" emergent within the hope of Jesus of Nazareth.

As I compared the writers apocalyptic vision set before me with overwhelming force, I was struck by the naivety of the nativity. Simplicity of a child in a manger, as woven, became the child like dream within each and all of us together. That is quite powerful and inspiring, if not the full truth. However, its beauty falls beneath the weight and contrast in the demonic presence. As the looming pictures of the fiery Dragon turned into images of helicopters and war my mind wondered if the dragon of John's vision in Revelation 12: 1-17 had not in fact captured and destroyed the little child of heavens birth.

Such were my thoughts as I walked back to the car in the darkened cold drizzle of a late Saturday afternoon. And I wandered anew: Who will rise up and tell anew the historic narratives of the church, of the memory of the people of God in Judaism and Christianity; we who were often judged, precisely because we do not get or live out the costly and radical love of the One whose birth was vulnerable and whose death was a compelling identification and experience of our human history, captured in the grip of the dragons claws. 

In the Church's remembering  judgment and renewal are connected, hell and heaven occupy two sides of the same offering of Shalom. The story of the old testament is that God never gives up. The story of the new is that God has entered our darkest night, stretching out the Sons hands in ever widening embrace; tasting and transforming the death inside our personal and communal sin. In the apocalypse of John, the book ends well. Love wins!

Terry :)

See my brief visual: The Mystery Revealed
It is a visual of my writing in "Cross Purposes: Incarnational Atonement & Communal Salvation"
You can find this book on Amazon.com @ "Cross Purposes"     


 Note: This was given us by the presentor, mid-way through the concert as to the hope of it's writer and producer; the universal salvation of humanity in history.


Friday, November 24, 2017

A Star-Trek God for a Star-Wars Universe

The incredible beauty of the Jewish faith is that it's two creation stories, gathered during their exile in Babylon, perceive God as One; universal, desiring communion, and profoundly personal. This is in sharp contrast to the gods of the surrounding tribal communities. 

The leap forward in the Christian faith is the acknowledgement that indeed we do understand God from within culture and we do tend to make God in our image; Because, after-all, we are made in the image of The Trinity of God. The tension of who creates whom is resolved in the Christian faith: God is fleshed out and seen most clearly in Jesus of Nazareth, as love, so that relation becomes the primary ideal in which all the Holy Scripture are envisioned. We, being personal and relational, God must be profoundly personal, indeed, communal.

Captain Kirk, in "The Undiscovered Country" walks curiously into the usual banter between Spock and Bones, asking what new argument was unfolding:

McCoy: We were speculating. Is God really out there? 
Kirk: Maybe he's not out there, Bones. Maybe he's right here. [points to his heart] in the Human heart.

How the writers of Star Trek fame could allow such a narrow humanoid, anti-Alien, narrative to unfold will have to await the 24th century. But Kirk gets to the heart (sorry) of the whole movie; the view that, if there is a God, God is knowable and only the human or Klingon or Andorian heart or whatever  organ passes for the center of emotional presence and identity, could ever really know the Creator.  God is, as C.S. Lewis describes, Supra-Personal; Before, after, beyond and close, even within the unfolding universe.

Our own evangelical and holiness faith tradition emerges from the highly individualistic enlightenment, emphasizing that God is super-knowable if only each person's heart is filled with love; that love, whose source is God alone. In "Pastor to the People"Phineas F. Bresee, one of the organizing founders of our church, captures the transformational essence of our faith experience as Nazarene's. It is if Scotty beamed Captain Kirk into our 21st-century to declare that God indwells "the human heart"... filled with compassion.

In much of the third world that remains the central, highly individualistic, message of the church conveyed through a combination of revivalism and compassionate presence. 

In first world countries the 21st century has introduced an Einsteinian wave, a universe that curves and is anything but constant. At the very center is moments-events-energy, expanding in ever larger circles of complexity producing inter-related and inter-active communities of experience. It is from within this dynamic of time and light sentient awareness emerges. Such is the Star Wars universe in which God is trans-Personal; Co-eternal and Co-creative, the emergent force which guides all experience from entropy to expansion, from chaos to love.

In this post-modern unverse, God is present in love, when we, as self-entities (emergent within the dust of experience) make decisions and act toward integrity and love. The mystic among us is gifted in sensing The Divine and giving God communal and expressive language; The Word. The Father guides and nourishes the evolution of all things, the Son expresses the emergent, sentient, loving center or person and in time and space fleshes God out in our experience and the Holy Spirit is the energy that binds all universal experience in love.

Two very different visions of God: 
     
1) A vision born of Judaism, Christianity, Greek influence and the Enlightenment-Star Trek God. 
     
2) A vision also born of Judaism, Christianity, Greek influence, the enlightenment and Einsteinium science; God who is within time and space and yet emergent behind, within and beyond it-Star Wars God.

The strength inside Christendom within the first 20 centuries is One who is knowable and capable of transforming our chaos, formed without God, into Love centered personal and communal identities. Underneath and before creation is a Supra-personal Divinity, a relation of Three Persons so united in love as to be One in essential nature. 

Like Kirk himself, this God of Israel is passionate, capable of changing His/Her mind, compromises the prime directive (love) to redeem by power, then turns around and for loves sake becomes powerless. 

It is this God, who ISbefore the first light emerging from within the darkest holethat invites us into a co-creative relation of renewal and restoration. Inter-personal communion is the center of our worship that breaks the love of heaven into the shadows of our broken selves, communities and relations.It is as if heavens Mass had broken through the dark holes of our creation in time.

Contrasting or perhaps symbiotic, Luke Skywalker's God is within and around every molecular burst of energy cajoling, pushing, pulling all experience into the love that disarms chaos; a God whose creative force can be misused, for a season, to selfish ends like the ultimate Satan, Darth Vader or cooperatively engaged to good ends and the ever expanding universe of Love. 
Integrity acting, are the formational rhythms that create Christian community.

The challenge and strength of Christendom in the 21st-century will be in determining the place of Star Trek's God within a Star Wars universe. By limiting the power of God to loving action and experience within the emergent universe only, the problem of evil is addressed in more rational ways. That is what makes Obi-Wan Kenobi's theological framework tempting. 

The cost however is greater than that which I am willing to pay as yet; specifically, the human heart.  Star Wars forms in and around us, by communal experience a future less violent, ever moving towards the ideal of creation, love. As such, experience becomes the pretender to the throne that should be "the human heart" or of whatever species that may be yet discovered. The reason is that both God and by extension we, can never escape our emergent environ. The soul or spirit is not so much created in God's image as it is a likeness of what all sentient life, including God, share. Death remains the victor except in the sense that all energy is transformed into another kind of mass, in our case, a part of the Divine experience of living memory. 2

Job, an ancient literary device or person, expresses my hope: "I know that my redeemer is alive and afterward he'll rise upon the dust. After my skin has been torn apart this waythen from my flesh I'll see God" (Job 19:25-26). The Apostle John in the New Testament shapes it further by writing, "It hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. We know that when he (Jesus) appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is" (1 John 3:2b). C. S. Lewis rightly indicates that Christianity, born with and dependent upon communal reality, nevertheless frames the most radical individual  paradigm—each Person who will outlast the universe. We, as individuals are eternal because we are a part of a community of persons, not a community of experience! 

I choose, along with David of old, to hope in the reality that I am a person, eternal. I choose to be a part of the communal renewal of all things; believing that there was a literal or literary fall and that restoration, not simply emergence, is the realized end—for me, for you and all!

Terry :)

See "Pastor to the People" as follows: Pastor to the People

Note: I am reflecting a lifetime of thinking through the scientific implications of Einsteins Theory of Relativity, Whiteheadian Process Theology and this emerging Post-Modern age. Admitedly, I am writing in contrast. A new set of evangelical theologians are exploring Open or Process Theology and I'm sure would properly suggest alternative ways of 'keeping' a classically Personal God within an emergent universe. 

In my latest book, "Cross Purposes" I explore the emerging relational and communal experience of both God and humanity in the life, passion, death, resurrection and ascencion of Jesus of Nazareth; a Wesleyan, imaginative and communal approach to Atonement theory.  Find it at:  Cross Purposes ..Incarnational Atonement, Renewal & Communal Salvation  






Sunday, November 12, 2017

Past/Future Meet in the Church's Story

The beauty and power of the Christian tradition is that it is incredibly personal just because it's context is always communal and worked out in an inter-active narrative; a past/future story. We, in our time, individually and as a community, are more than a link between past and future. We become, as Jesus Body, God fleshed out in each moment of future history.

Where ever Christian's go buildings will be built as monuments to God, rising from the dust of the earth and stretching to the heavens. It is in the very DNA of our Story, rooted in the Jewish understanding of beginnings, of our genesis, that God created us from the dust of the stars, walked with us in a garden and will never give up on the earth, no matter how we pollute it or each other. The very last chapter of our narrative, remainsat least in some sensein the distant future, and is found in Revelation 21, picturing heaven coming to the earth. Created of the dust of heaven's dreams we are made for the earth!

This 'never give up' kind of God formed a People for Himself and faithfully nurtured them. As long as they were in exile among the empires of the world (Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome) their communal heart and individual stories were a triumph of God with them. Whenever Israel became the empire, they tended to stray from God's primary purpose in creating them, to be a blessing in the earth (Genesis 12: 2).

The truth is, we in the Church of Jesus make God look bad when things are going well for us; when we are the dominant influence in any culture. Our motive changes subtly from an impossible and sacrificial love for Jesus and his story into a desire to institutionalize God's presence and so we become focused on attaining and keeping power instead of giving ourselves away as those who have no power, but have inherited an incredible history and future promise to be lived into.

In the Christian tradition God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, born of Israel's suffering in the weakness of a maiden separated from her family and with only the comfort of a shepherd's straw and cave. It is the story of exile, filled with the powerful trampling down upon the weak.

For 300 years the church was born and flourished, along side the Jewish faith, each in their time, becoming victims of Rome. As soon as the church triumphed and ultimately picked up the pieces of the empire, the spirit of charity turned to persecution, especially of the people of God, Israel, from whom our Savior came.

The Sutherland Springs church shootings, like Charleston before, reveal the church at its best; returning love for hate, humility for arrogance. It's as if future/past meet in the present tragedies. We see a bit of heaven coming to the earth and the grace of the cross is fleshed out once more, though the cost is ever great.

I am so thankful for the two heroes who challenged the shooter in Sutherland Springs. I can only imagine what carnage might have come without them. But in the church, our story will be written as we pray for victims and perpetrator alike; asking God's mercy to fill that very wounded Community. Prayer is our first and surrounding gift from which our service will follow; reverential and loving.

We evangelicals are far too consumed with our fading place in the larger culture, in this perceived post-Christian age. Somehow may God help us to welcome the age and find a place of service in it; alongside the immigrant population, people of color, the LBGT community and anyone who is on the outside of empires looking in.  Their struggles, are ours if only we could see Jesus walking among them and ourselves with him. Then the narrative will be fleshed out well in our communities and we, each of us, will find our cross to pick up, carry and perhaps, God forbid, be hung upon. As in ages past, then a resurrection will follow.

Terry :)





Thursday, November 9, 2017

In our Chaotic Age, Remember John's Apocalypse!

Charlston, Orlando, Las Vegas, New York, Sutherland Springs, London, Paris, Belgium, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan share one reality: violence. 10,000 years of humans picturing and writing their story leaves us no closer to a resolution of the ancient truth that human history goes nowhere, but in a circle of recurrent destruction.

Classic ancient history promised escape from the chaos of violence through the empire; Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. In several of these empires the emperor or king declared themselves sons of god, the final deliverer only to misuse their increased power to even more violent ends.

Christianity, like Judaism before, emerged as exiles from within these empires, as alternative stories and ways of being. Each faith tradition promised One who would finally be a Shepard-King; through whom shalom would come. Jews and Christians at their best, when out of power, were living signs of God with us, uniquely blessing the world with loving presence. And so Israelwhose most famous King, himself violent and yet tender of heartenvisioned a day when all Israel's enemies would find birth in Jerusalem, the place where God dwells. Among their worshiping songs they declared: "Glorious things are said of you, city of God: 'I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me—Philistia too,
and Tyre, along with Cush'and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion’” (Psalm 87: 3-4).

It is the church that takes up the mission of blessing through the incarnation of God in Jesus; himself weak and surrendering to Roman violence. The cross and resurrection become God's answer to humanity caught in an endless and repeating time loop of pain, like a bad science-fiction movie. And so, in a time of increased persecution, of push back from a Roman emperor who sees a threat on the horizon, John, a prisoner of Rome at Patmos, writes the Apocalypse of Revelation while in a "Spirit inspired trance on the Lords day" (Rev 1: 10a). Dreams and their imagery are powerful, filling the anxious soul with endorphins of assurance; As disconnected events and longings pass into our imagination, that in whole say 'all will be well'. 

When we try to decode and make Revelation make sense in some past or future map we rob God and the church of the gift that apocalyptic literature brings; A highly imaginative human and Divine interactive narrative, filled with mystery and an assurance history is going somewhere to a good end. 

John's Apocalypse assures that history is not simply a loop of violence never ending. There is One who in suffering love identifies with our revolving injustice and will triumph. His name is Jesus. 

As his followers we renew the promise of Divine Presence within human history and thus live into 'the age of Shalom' as envisioned by the Jewish prophets. He is coming and soon, bringing heaven to earth. So Let us find hope in John’s vision for our chaotic age, comfort that Christ will renew the earth and soon and the courage to repent in the messages to the 7 Churches (church universal); living radical love as lamps of Jesus! The church will yet finally get it and become the servants of humanity, picking up the pieces of what has been a cyclical and violent age. At that time the prayers of all the saints will be poured out into the earth and we will all be reborn into the city of peace, Jerusalem (Rev 5: 8b; 21: 1-7).

Terry :)

My latest book "Cross Purposes-Incarnational Atonement, Renewal & Communal Salvation" explores deeply the inter-active communal nature of God for us, with us and in us. You can purchase it at Amazon.com using this link: Cross Purposes




Saturday, November 4, 2017

Mostly I Muddle Through; God's really good at Muddl'n

Old age is a slower time in which to reflect on the lessons of life. As a young man I was pretty sure everything had a creative, political or theological (world view)  fix. Now, I'm keenly aware I cannot even fix myself. The human heart, as the Mystic Macarius writes around 300 A.D, is such a "small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there also are lions; they're poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But they're too is God, the angels, the life in the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities in the treasures of grace–all things are there".1

Since my earliest days as a child I have sought for and been told by my faith tradition that dragons and poisonous snakes could be forever killed.  In that search for blessed peace I've usually failed, yet God succeeds even in my failures. There have been seasons in my life when the Dragon's fire was not felt in the strength of the Lion's breath. And other seasons where I have been scorched or scorched others, sadly.  Most days I live someplace in between, muddling through, doing the Lions work and keeping the dragon tamed.

I will never forget a board meeting about 15 years into my ministry at West Seattle Nazarene. I intended on turning in my resignation that Sunday as I was keenly aware of depression's hold over my psyche;  The long hours of labor and the demands of an incredibly beautiful and chaotic congregation, many of whom had come off the streets or had lived or were living in federal housing had left me empty and the energy level a young congregation needed  of it's pastor was no longer present.  Even muddling was getting hard.  Each of the two previous years God had said 'no' to my leaving and so I waited. Then a second of our strong families left our church, I believe, in response to my lack of leadership, direction, energy.  I knew they were not wrong and simply blessed them.  That fall I went to our church's regional pastors and spouses retreat telling God "I was done" and once more seeking his permission to do what seemed only wise.  Once again, in the quiet of the retreat, I intuited God saying "not yet, wait a few more months". Then God gave me a scripture. Wondering if it was just an arrogant pride that I was actually hearing or perhaps, depression's cloud fogging my brain, I went home approaching that Sunday's board meeting thinking it's probably wise to still offer my resignation.

Following the service and just before the board meeting a young man from Africa, a street preacher, who had lived on our church campus for several months came up to me and said… "Pastor, I have a message from God for you."  George was from Ghana and would pray in our church for several hours in the evenings, following his workday. I  once asked him why in the world he connected with us given his very different theological tradition, being Word-Faith; meaning if you declared 'in faith' God's will, God was honor bound to deliver. (I do not share that perspective). He said that in Africa he had a vision of our church and when he saw it the first time, as a result of working with one of our parishioners, he knew that he must live here and pray for us; believing that the good works we did on the streets were not being surrounded by meaningful intercession. He was right in that. In time, George moved on to other cities and on this Sunday, I had not seen him for about a year and a half, since his last visit.  I smiled, having learned to respect his wisdom and so asked what God had told him to say to me.  In his best British accent he said, "Pastor,  do not give up or despair. Do not leave, but wait for God to act." Then he quoted verbatim the phrase God gave me at the retreat and paraphrased the scripture God had given.

That board meeting turned out very differently and three months later we had began the process of securing a new pastor.  George had immediately left after giving me his 'Word from God'. Before he left he reminded me of another promise that he had told me about several years earlier and I had always dismissed with a smile. "God,"  he would say, pausing for emphasis,  "has promised me that he will pour out a financial blessing on your church that you cannot even imagine and will keep all his promises to prosper your mission".

These last four years have been all muddle for me and I have given precious little. Yet, through a series of miracles we are within a month or three from the Seattle City Council approving a re-zone of our property allowing a building project. All city departments have signed off and are recommending approval to the Council. Two years ago the Comprehensive Plan Amendment for our neighborhood, allowing our development project, was approved by the City Council. Only two of 41 privately initiated amendments were approved that year. The others were denied.  The City Council's approval will allow us sufficient monies to upgrade an open space as a Park for our neighbors and to provide aesthetic and  structural remodeling of our entire facilities, so that a vibrant, cross-generational, multi-ethnic, cross-economic community of faith can continue to do mission in our neighborhood for another 50 years.

This is a political process and it can always fall apart. However it would now take a bit to stop it. Regardless, today, I was reflecting; How did we get here?  So, I am reflecting on a life in pursuit of both inner and communal dreams. Given my failures and muddling nature I've only glimpsed at moments of God showing up as a 'living sign' of 'renewal in the city;' Sometimes within the Church and sometimes beyond. Actually, I've seen a lot of such momentsenough that I'm convinced that God will redeem this whole human thing.  My confidence?  It's not me. It's God, who is able to take our worst and turn it into missional healing. God, simply, is good at muddl'n along with us to a better end.

1From: "Inside Stories," Chapter 3, "Daring the Wilderness: Macarius in the Desert," by Cathy Cox and requoted by Terry Mattson in "50 Days of Promise... A Resurrection Narrative of Emergent Love & the Birth of the Church," page #138
You can see at the following link: 50 Days of Promise




Note: See more about WSCN Development on this blog, upper left hand corner for visual and latest request for prayers or go to any of the links below:

1st Draft Visual of our Future Park

Intersections: How God weaves all our stories into His Story


Seattle's MHA Fees Need a Review Process



Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Pastors & 'All Hallows Eve'

It's 12:02 AM and I cannot sleep so my mind turns to the church of Jesus that has been my mother and father, sister and brother; birthing me like a midwife into the Story of God.  And on this 'All Hollows Eve' I remember just how deeply my life has been formed by the Pastors and Ministers I have had.
Early Childhood
Reverend Green whose round bald face and gentle smile made, what seemed to a very young child of three or four, a gigantic and foreboding sanctuaryappear safe and personal.

Rev. Bridgewater who came to visit me as a young child, sick in bed. His hand touching my forehead and his prayer became a lasting image of Jesus as kind.

Rev. Fairy Chism, an older  gray haired woman whose eyes sparkled with fire and through whom I met Jesus.

Child & Adult
Rev. Ray James contagious humor made me want to live in his presence. Jesus was real and personal. He made me want to become a pastor. 

In the dark of the night, with only a hint of the moons light spilling out into the street, I remember seeing my pastorwe called him Raysitting in a darkened car with three other men, all Pastors. The next day my parents said he had resigned and left my church in the shadows of the evening, without a word. But my parents remained faithful to our church and to its former pastor. I learned two powerful lessons. God never gives up on us and can restore anyone to their calling; his laughter again surrounding my life and Jesus church, interweaving with my family to his last breath. The other thing, learned? The church sometimes fails and acts in the dark.

Child
Dr. Brown whose dignity and presence simply brought peace to my now very wounded and divided church family.

Youth
Rev. Ramon Vanderpool exuded grace and saved me from the ups and downs of the revivalist roller coaster ride. In him, Jesus was warm and tender, accepting; Following Jesus became a journey.

Youth & Young Adult
Rev. Virgil Mattson incarnated a gospel given to the marginalized; Randle being a poverty impacted Community. My father worked as an electrician throughout Western Washington by day and in the summers I followed him. Then he would come home every weekend and if close enough on Wednesdays. He preached the worst sermons I've ever heard, yet they were filled with a folksy wisdom and fleshed out by a man willing to meet every person as his equal. I wanted to go into politics but decided pastoral ministry might be the most powerful mission on earth because of him.

Young Adult
Rev. Winston Ketchum unveiled the power of integrity in ministry. His presence transformed our rather shallow, revivalist experience of the gospel into a pursuit of communal character. On the Sunday he prayed for the Roman Catholic Church as it considered it's election of the next Pope, John Paul II, Rev. Ketchum's pastoral prayer triggered something in my heart about the broad nature of the church and showed me how selected, timely courage is transformational.

Rev. David Slamp gave me an incredible gift; his ministry was my first lay awareness of an intentional and creatively envisioned ministry, attempting to blend a wounded, strong and historic laity with the skill sets of excellent and nurturing staff. Two culturally driven visions of mission were present in our Church and Joetta and I found ourselves living inside the tensions and relations of both; our hearts and minds shaped by this good man and his congregation.

Dr. Darius Salter was an interim pastor from whom two valuable lessons world re-create my own ministry. His ministry was theologically driven, a blend of narrative preaching giving hope, renewal and a not so subtle in your face reminder that we are the stewards of God's church; we all, young and old, either re-engage or die as a community. In private conversations he tenderly brought the same message home to me personally; either re-engage your call or die.

Rev. Galen Olson beautifully blended administrative skill with priestly function, especially in the tenderness of worship. My generation of 40 somethings had pretty much left the church. As a lay staff member I had the privilege of watching him and his wife uniquely minister to two congregations at once; the older congregation who wanted and needed a traditional pastoral model and a very young community of adults who needed intimacy of relation. Together Galen and Marcia gave a lasting foundation for a great old church.

Child-Youth-Young Adult-Middle Age-Old Guy
Rev. Aaron Knapp was my late childhood youth pastor who saw something in me, taking me with him on hospital visits. I served as his associate in three churches, he my mentor, yet somehow communicating equality of friendship and curious, intelligent faith. Never have I seen a more sensitive, thoughtful, engaged priest than Aaron. All I know about good pastoral ministry was evidenced in him in worship, the office, the hospital and the parish.

Middle Age-Old Guy
Rev. Bob Green: In a dark and wounded moment inside Joetta and my Seattle mission, feeling very alone, without the resources or sense of being valued as a peer, Bob called me and said that God had placed me on his heart and "would I like to get coffee". Over a decade he encouraged, resourced through Kirkland Nazarene and introduced homeless persons to me, not as persons to be pittied, but as my equal.

Old Guy
Rev. Shaun Mattson has reawakened in me the power of the Storya narrative gospel that first came home to me under Dr. Salter. His leadership style is collaborative, reminding me of what I forgot under Rev. Olsen in my own pastoral mission. Shaun awakens in me the hope of authentic faith, including our doubts, living Jesus as a sign of reconciliation and justice in a country torn by both personal and social sin. He preaches, leads, guides by theologically driven dialogue with his congregation. It is a new model and fun to watch.

Final thoughts
There are a host of others (Grant Zwiegle, Randy Craker, Terry Ketchum, Randall Davey, Charles Christian, Gordon Olson, Bert Daniels, Hugh Smith, Margaret & Jon Scott, Annette Fraser, Jay Akkerman, Tom Oord, Laura Martin, David Rhodesall ministers of Jesusto name a very few) who have trusted, encouraged and carried me and for whom I will be eternally grateful.

Like Pope Benedict XVI, I'm convinced that the church in Europe and by extension, America will have to find new relational and communal ways to be relevant in urban settings, given our almost political confusion about what is Christian and what is American. With him, I am also confident that this church that has nurtured and encouraged and saved me by her pastors, will find a rebirth of the Spirit in this new post-modern age. I'm hopeful and grateful to God for all my pastors. 

Thank you all!   Terry :)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Either/Or? Both/And?

The single greatest transition in my life has been the ever slow movement from either/or to both/and.

I was raised in an evangelical, fundamentalist version of  the Christian faith. As an adult I discovered that was not really the theological heritage of our Wesleyan tradition, but it was the experience of my local churches in southern Idaho and to a lesser extent, western Washington.

Cards, movies, drinking, smoking, dancing and something called 'mixed bathing' were all prohibited. Now, the mixed bathing part made sense to me; Except for perhaps married couples, one should bathe alone. That seemed self-evident. It was a rude awakening when I discovered it actually referred to 'mixed swimming' and my parents had already made me plenty guilty by sending me to lots of swimming pools where girls and boys swam together. 

Overtime I couldn't quite see the difference between the Rook cards we were allowed to play with and the pinochle deck other kids played with. Movies simply intrigued me. I love mysterys and theatre and so in college, away from home, I went to my first movie, "Fiddler on the Roof". It was awesome and I left feeling righteous and cheated by my church. It was short-lived however, as my second movie "Cirpico," about corrupt cops in New York City, filled my eyes with violence and my ears with a language I did not know existed. Fortunately, Godor perhaps 'The Force'redeemed it all in my third movie, "Star Wars."

The rules were just the tip of the iceberg; Either follow God and stay away from all these things or do not follow God and indulge all these things to the max had begun to crumble. I had already started down the road learning about the power of discretion, I was entering the "do nots" and keeping the good and avoiding the bad. 

In my revivalist tradition religious experience is the great teacher. I was raised to believe that unless one had an awakening called being "born again" you could not be Christian. The problem is, overtime, I've known many who love Jesus and followed him keenly but had no sense of an awakening. Their 'religious experience' was not a step away from or higher than 'ordinary experience' but more deeply inside of it.  It was simply different than mine.

More and varied expressions of 'real faith' came my way. As a pastor I was confronted with my first family baptism in a Samoan familial-tribal context. Would I baptize a whole family including the wife, sons and daughters because of the confession of the patriarch or stand my theological ground and insist that the older children would need to confess their own personal experience with Jesus instead of the fathers. It was not my first rodeo with Samoans and was keenly aware that every Samoan, in identity at least, is thoroughly Christian. Given the experience of Paul in baptizing the jailer and his family (Acts 16), I did baptize them all and watched as God has molded that family to this day: Both/And.

I could tell of 100 experiences in the last 20 years… With Native Americans and Jehovah Witnesses, Roman Catholic, Muslims… Where God has forced me to move beyond my comfortable circles of either/or and into the both/and. I have watched the presence of God moving within a number of cultures and traditions ever closer to the greatest 'Both/And' a thousand universes will ever know; The Trinity of God

Lest you fear I have fallen into a universalistall roads lead to heavenknow that I am more confident than ever that there is no name under heaven whereby anyone can be saved than Jesus Christ. I'm simply convinced that it is not an either/or proposition. In fact, its not so much a proposition as a Divine initiative and human response that allows for the renewal of our individual and communal lives, our cities, the enviornment and the universeall because of Jesus. Both/and. Either/or is fear driven. It is our initial teacher, like the law and as we grow up into love, fear is removed and replaced with both/and.

So then, Terry, does God come to us by sign or by Spirit? Do you see the either/or nature of the question? Most fear driven challenges are framed that way. I would suggest the following is the better answer: God comes to us all in Jesus Christ; some by sign in and through their senses and others by the intuition of soul; all by the Holy Spirit.

Last Thursday I was at a Pacific Islander event when all of a sudden I was grabbed from behind and embraced in a bear hug. Turning around, my mind catching up, it was a young woman who couldn't have seen me more that 20 or 30 times in her young life, mostly pre-school. She was the grand-daughter of the Samoan family I had the privilege of baptizing.  With my encouragement they had left our church and made their way back to the Catholic faith so that one of her grandparents might fully connect with Jesus, feeling removed from both culture and faith tradition in our church.  They were and are some of my best friends. In our 30 minute conversation I discovered that this little grand-daughter was getting ready to graduate and attend Whitman College, was the youth leader of her Catholic church and was incredibly smart.  Her smile radiated life in Jesus. I'm guessing the waters of baptism must have splashed over into the next generation.  Both/And!

Terry :)

To explore some of these stories read my book "7 Faces of Jesus".  You can find it at: 7 Faces of Jesus

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Faith & Curiosity & Kids

As I bend over, my hands reaching to tie my brand new Reebok shoes, I am made keenly aware of how aging and weight combine to return me to my childhood and an involuntary dependence.  With some ease I was able to slip one string of the shoelace under the other and pull, but as I begin to tie the knot, my feeble hands did not have the strength to complete the task; pain shooting through them and a silent 'damn' breathed through my lips as I gaze upon the task half done.  After two more attempts I succeed and lay back in the chair exhausted, resting before I stand to go on my walk with Jack Bauer, my dog.

This coming Sunday is "White Sunday."  Now before you accuse our congregation of some white nativist evangelical worship experience, please know that it is an incredible Samoan children's holiday.  A Sunday in which children are pampered and loved on and reminded that they are precious to Jesus!  Our theme this year is: "Keeping a Child's Heart Alive in a Broken & Un-just World."  On the second Sunday of each October we are reminded that Jesus welcomed the little children to himself saying; “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).


At around 58 years of age I began exhibiting multiple mental and physical health issues with attendent anxiety and depression including concerns with cognition, lethargy, focus, physical and spiritual struggles.  All my life the only thing I knew how to do is work, preach, laugh, care and love. Now, too often, all these seem beyond me.  Hidden within and underneath is the aging process and my own lack of self-control, reflected in my weight.  I no longer dismiss my parents, now passed, or other elders around me who complian of aging. I've seen it done well and poorly.   


I've been observing the very young (my grand children included), young adultssingle and marriedand older adults in our community of faith.  I am so grateful to God for a community that is cross generational and allows me the privilege of watching and listening. By my observation those who age well usually have two gifts:


1) Curiosity, and;

2) Faith.

Curiosity

Watching my grandsons Tanner and little Sammy before him has awakened me to the awareness that all of life is a process of adventurous learning.  From our first gasping breath to our last much of this thing we call "being human" is filled with difficulty and pain,  such as we have witnessed as a nation from Charlottesville through Houston, Miami, San Juan and now, Las Vegas.  

During worship last week I watched a delightful little girl walk a set of connected chairs covered with cushions that made her early toddler steps tenuous and vulnerable. Her mother, keenly aware, chose to allow the minimal risk of an 18 inch fall as the biblical text of the woman at the well was deftly unfolding  before us by a much older woman, ordained, and whogiven her own walk by the precipices of her own journeywas filled with empathy for the text. 

Curious moments surround us every day in joy filled, painful and learning moments. God helping me, no matter my mental or physical state, I choose to remain open to them much like my little grandsons.  


Faith

The danger inside a curious faith is that they challenge all of our paradigms, our beliefs.  It strikes me that those who grow old in fear hold onto their belief system tenaciously as though a change in one small area of faith would bring down the whole, like a house of cards. It is those who have gone before uncovering layers of mystery that reveal a deeper faith and capture my imaginatin; not those who profess certainty—they are just boring. These mysterious one are the followers of Jesus I wish to emulate as I grow old.  

I will never forget an older woman in our congregation some 15 years ago. My visits with her were seldom and so guilt always attached when finally I would go by to try to bring comfort, as the shadows of her life gathered around her. It was my last visit that forever impacted me. She was limited in movement to a small wing chair in her home. She ate and slept in it. Her days of getting out by wheelchair, assisted by her devoted son who had built her an 
elevator from the second story entrance of their home to the ground and purchased a van with a lift, were now past. Still, she could see out onto her patio observing the flowers, the suns rays and the honey birds that gathered near to quench their thirst. Her eyes were alive with life as she described her gratitude in God visiting her every day through these many gifts. 

My friend was a strong woman and I suspect on occasion the word "damn" or it's equivalent passed through her lips.  What I'm sure of, however, is that faith and curiosity followed her to her last breath! 


God, as Picard of Star Trek fame would say: "Make it so!"


Terry :)