Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mumford & Sons as Lyric for Missional Partnerships

I have been waiting for quite some time for Mumford & Sons to release their sophomore album. I am still waiting for someone to write a Lenten-themed production of Sigh No More, which could be performed on Broadway...or at least in my church.

The British poets have a knack for overlapping prophetic overtones with innovative instrumentals and edgy vocals that run parallel to the sacred narrative of Scripture and real human experience. They take a risk in their music and their message. The result is fertile ground for fresh and faithful dialogue with those who find Sigh No More and Babel significant contributions to their iTunes library.

The lyrics of Sigh No More continues to capture my theological imagination. Lyrics from a variety of tracks have ventured into numerous prayers, sermons, and off-the-record conversations with youth and adults alike.

hold on hope...

you were made to meet your maker...

love it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free..

Then as I drove home yesterday, newly-downloaded Babel blasting through my speakers, I heard these lyrics:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Flood Story: Why We Named Our Son Noah

The flood story in Genesis is one of my favorites. We named our son after this biblical narrative. I know, cliche for a youth pastor to name his kids after something or someone from Scripture.

Deal with it.

Yet the reasons we chose Noah may be different than you expect. The story of the flood, as one of my students remarked Sunday morning, has been taken for granted and thereby misunderstood. We often read into the narrative details that are not actually present, such as God being "angry" at "sinful" humanity and so bent on their destruction. [1] Compare that to, "the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart" (Gen. 6:6). In the words of another student, God grieves?

Yes. And you only grieve for that which you love.

Still more, God saves through this story. God promises in this story. God makes all things new through this story, which is in need of being lifted out of its own waters of misunderstanding.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I Just Want Some Rest: Ancient Longings in Babylon and the Bible

Tiamat v. Marduk
"Their ways have become very grievous to me, by day I cannot rest, by night I cannot sleep. I shall abolish their ways and disperse them! Let peace prevail, so that we can sleep." [1]

No, this is not the exclamation of a parent of twins when one child wakes the other and causes mad chaos at 3 a.m. This also is not a direct quote from a middle school youth pastor when on "retreat" with 30 confirmation students.

This is the voice of Apsu, a primordial god in the ancient Babylonian "Epic of Creation," also known as "Enuma Elish. [2]

One of the many plotlines within Enuma Elish regards Apsu's and Tiamat's desire to be liberated from the clamour caused by the lesser gods they created when they "mixed their waters together." [3] They cannot tolerate the noise and long to be set free from disturbance. The agitated Apsu plots against the lesser gods, only for his scheme to be intercepted by Ea, who then conspires and slays his begetter. The corpse of Apsu becomes the very dwelling place for Ea and his lover, Damkina, who conceive Marduk, the savior of all the lesser gods. It is said of Marduk, "The nurse who reared him filled him with awesomeness."

Almost as good as being created in the imago Dei, but not quite.

The gist of this ancient epic consists in a vengeful Tiamat going to battle against awesome Marduk, who has been annointed by Ea and the rebel gods as their defender. Tiamat longs for rest. Marduk longs for deliverance. A violent war, according to Enuma Elish, is the only possible means to achieve either or both.

Marduk ultimately defeats Tiamat and creates the heavens and the earth from her body split in two. Creation is born out of violence. Deliverance from chaos achieved through the means of war. The hope for rest by this primordial goddess of the oceans is thwarted.

Then we turn to Genesis 1.

The writer declares that a "wind from God swept over the face of the waters" within a formless and void earth.

God stills the chaos and births creation:

light separated from darkness

sky separated from seas

seas separated from land

vegetation and fruit everywhere

day and night in right rhythm

living creatures and swimming fish

humanity made in the image of their Creator

a call to co-labor and bear fruit in the world God made

and rest.

"So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work he had done in creation" (2:3).


The stories could not be more different. Yet both stories traveled the oral tradition grapevine at the same time and in the same place- Babylon of sixth century B.C.- home to both oppressive empire and exiled Israel.

The Babylonian story intertwines a longing for rest within a story of violence, vengegance, chaos, and rage.

The story told by ancient Israel, probably on the shores of Babylon, illustrates rest as the culmination of God's brilliant and generous act of creation, a creation deemed as good.

No violence. No vengenace. No death. No chaos.


If we are honest, the voice of Apsu and the misison of Tiamat jives with our own longings. We want to slay clamoured schedules, eradicate ruckus pressures, and silence disruptive voices that make us feel as though we are never doing enough. We live in a hurried culture that makes the sacred rhythm of Genesis appear as fantasy and the sabbath rest a blockade to efficiency. We are exiled from harmonious habitation and wonder if we will ever return to the way the Lord of Creation intended.

As those situated in Babylon wondered if they would ever return home to Jerusalem, we also wonder if we may make it back to Eden. We long for the story of Genesis but live in the story of Babylon. We wonder if we can have at least one day a week for rest.

Because when rest is neglected we become quite irritable, potentially hostile, and even volitile in our words and deeds. This God knows. We were created to be fruitful and multiply. We were created to reflect the image of God in ourselves and others. We were created to care for the creation God made as good. We were also created for sacred rhythm and rest. [4]

May it be so.

Before we stir up more chaos.


[1] Taken from, Myths from Mesopotamia, by Stephanie Dalley (Oxford 2008). Tablet I.

[2] This past Sunday, I led a conversation with high school students on both the creation stories in Genesis and this well-known creation story from ancient Babylon. We would be naive to think the stories in our Old Testament are the first, or last, of their kind when it comes to the narration of how all came into existence. That said, I took a chance in exposing youth to an exercise in contextualization. In other words, we considered the subversive nature of the stories in Genesis 1 and 2 when situated in a foreign land, i.e. Babylon, whose culture had a creation story of their own. I was pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm. Next week: Atrahasis!

[3] Apsu is known as the primordial God of fresh water. Tiamat is the primordial goddess of salt water and oceans. Some refer to her as the goddess of chaos. This makes for another interesting biblical contrast. Walter Wink provides incredible insight on this in his book, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination.

[4] Check out Abraham Heschel's, The Sabbath, as tool for youth retreat.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We Will Never Forget: Two Different Reasons to Remember

I will never forget September 11th...

...because on September 11, 2011 our kids were baptized. The second Sunday of every month is when our congregation celebrates baptism and receives new members into the life and witness of our faith community. The second Sunday in September of 2011: the eleventh. So, needless to say, Amber and I will never forget the day when our kids entered the sacred and sending waters.

And we shouldn't. Baptism should indeed be something disciples of Christ always remember.

We remember to whom we belong.

We remember God's promise.

We remember we are only able to be faithful to God because, in Christ, God has first been faithful to us.

We remember we are a sent people, called to bear witness to God's future reconciliation of the whole world that is breaking into the here and now.

We remember that, by the Spirit, we participate in the dreams of God alongside the gathered and scattered people of God called the Church.

Each September 11th, Amber and I now remember the promises we made, alongside those who were gathered at Westminster with us, to raise and form our beautiful children in the Way of Christ.

But we also remember September 11, 2001.

I was a senior in high school. As I cut through the library after second period, I saw the t.v. screens and the smoking towers, convinced it was some sort of fictitious film. It wasn't. I was a peer counselor, a program designed to help students support other students. We did a lot of that on this day.

My dad was in Chicago for business when the rumors began that the "windy city" may be next.

The phones in the school offices were ringing off the hook, concerned parents who wanted their kids sent home.

That's exactly what our school did. My dad also hopped on the first bus out of Chicago and made it safely home the next day.

But that was certainly not true of all fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and others whose lives were lost through horrific acts of terrorism.

September 11th is a day to remember.

We remember that no nation is impermeable or immortal.

We remember how quickly people can flock to churches, synagogues, and mosques when tragedy strikes.

We remember how fast we return to or develop new prejudices, discriminations, and stereotypes.

We remember how easy it is to wage and warrant war.

We remember the fragility of life.

We remember lives lost and families who still mourn.

We remember the world is not the way God intended.

We remember heroes and sheroes.

We rememeber that humanity possesses the tremendous ability to unify and rally around one another in the midst of suffering.

We remember that we have a lust for retaliation and vengeance that cannot be satisfied by dollars or deaths, even those of our own.

We remember that we will do crazy things when we live in fear.

Septemeber 11th is certainly a day to remember. On this day, our family has both reason to rejoice and reason to grieve. On this day, our family holds in tension the memory of baptisms and the memory of history.

But we certainly remember. We will never forget.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

That's Awkward: 4 Strange Stories in the Old Testament

"That's awkward." Chalk this up as yet another catch phrase frequently heard whenever surrounded by teenagers. The statement is immediately followed by the "awkward turtle" gesture of overlaid hands and wiggling thumbs. When something is said in the wrong context that may lead youth to feel uncomfortable, out of sorts, embarrassed, or unable to elicit an adequate explanation, words may even be boycotted. Instead, one solely encounters the turtle.

I am not sure where I first witnessed this contemporary gesture. I am also unsure when it became an acceptable social response to discomfort (or is it?). Yet when I read certain stories in the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e. Old Testament, my phalange friend tends to make an occasional appearance and declare, "that's awkward."

Ah, the results of nearly a decade of youth ministry...

The Bible is a very complex collection of story, poetry, wisdom, prophetic witness, and ancient depictions of history. While many have tried to level the Scriptures into flat collections of do's and don'ts to be accepted, obeyed, and proclaimed without question or challenge, the awkwardness of particular elements within the biblical witness cannot be overlooked.

They are there. They always have been and they always will be there.

These awkward narratives invite us into faithful dialogue versus blind obedience. They provoke us to ask difficult questions. They lead us to raw and honest discovery as we live into raw and honest discipleship.

This fall, the Imago Dei Youth Ministry will work through a series, "That's Awkward: Strange Stories of the Bible." Each week we will gather, with our turtles, and engage difficult stories that raise eyebrows and welcome curiosity. Our hope and prayer is that God will not only meet us in our faithful uncertainty, but also send us to live with humility and wonder as the people of God in and for the world.

Here are a few stories I find difficult, with brief, unrefined, and modest musings. Feel free to add some of your own. Stay tuned for more to come this fall...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Pilgrimage to Daylesford Abbey: On Retreat with Barth, Ignatius, and Lochman

A view of the Abbey from the fields
It was not until I was a freshman in college that I started to appreciate the church fathers, mothers, mystics, and contemplatives who saturated the first fifteen-hundred years of the Christian tradition. My Christian experience, up until a pivotal course on "The Foundations of Christian Spirituality," assumed (falsely) all that was good, right, and true for Christian theology and praxis really began in 1517. [1] Despite my maternal family's rich Catholic heritage, I was a Protestant.

However, my studies and meditations, both in college and seminary, led me to reclaim the first fifteen-hundred years of Christian spirituality as critical witnesses within my own faith heritage and tradition. I began to covet spiritual conversations with my grandparents, whom knew more than I ever realized about the saints, patristics, and mystics, and I soon read selections from the likes of Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, and Teresa of Avila. [2]

I was captivated.

This past week, my appreciation and gratitude for these witnesses took on a whole knew level. I spent two days on personal retreat at the Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, PA, "a community of priests, brothers, and lay associates of the Norbertine order." [3] The disciplines of solitude, meditation, contemplation, and personal retreat, which lay at the heart of the Norbertine order and communal life, are often the first casualties to the hurried rhythm of Protestant pastors and ministry directors. We become so inundated with ecclesial responsibilities, intellectual ascent, and homiletical preparation that we confuse doing the work of Christ with the person of Christ. [4]

This is, at least, true for me. After nearly a decade of church work, study, and ministry, this past Thursday and Friday was the first time I EVER spent extended time away...alone...for prayer and contemplation. The chapels and fields of Daylesford Abbey provided fertile grounds for sacred pilgrimage through the invocation, petitions, and doxology of the Lord's Prayer. Guided by adaptations of Ignatius of Loyola's, Spiritual Exercises, Karl Barth's, The Christian LIfe, and Jan Milič Lochman's, The Lord's Prayer, I was blessed with the opportunity to rest in, wrestle with, and give thanks for the very real presence of God as Father, whose Spirit invites us all to live into the Kingdom of the Son personally and vocationally.

Below are a few excerpts from my readings, alongside photos that do no justice to the beauty of the Abbey. My hope and prayer is for all Christians, myself included, to make regular space for pilgrimages to places like Daylesford. These spiritual excursions take us on intense inward journeys that enable us to be sent outward to be the people of God in and for the world. They remind us that while God's love and grace are certainly universal, they are also deeply personal.

This is a truth that I am tempted to forget. Thanks be to God, who through the space, landscape, brothers, and fellow pilgrims who ventured to Daylesford Abbey, I was reminded once again.