When Paul speaks of the Lord’s Supper he reminds us of Christ’s words, “This is my body.” And when Paul speaks of the people of God he reminds us that “you are the body of Christ.” This sacrament that points us to Christ’s body points us immediately to the people we are communing with. The Word continues to be made flesh, tabernacle-ing among us. God has hands: they’re attached to your wrists.
In this way, Christ is ubiquitous. He continues to be “God with us” in this “us with us.” The divine is manifest in the daily. Borrowing the words of St. Patrick, Christ is with me, before me, behind me. Christ is in me, beneath me, above me, on my right and left. Christ when I lie down, when I sit down, when I arise. Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of me, in the mouth of every one who speaks of me, in the eye of every one who sees me, in every ear that hears me.
The only body of Christ I can know today is the body that I see and feel around me, holding me when I am weak, carrying me when I fall, and journeying with me on every road between Jerusalem and Emmaus that I find myself traveling.
This morning I revisited the “spiritual autobiography” I wrote almost a half-decade ago as a part of my application to seminary. While much of it was quite familiar (it is my life, after all), I was surprised to find such continuity with my concluding paragraphs and the way I hold my life, faith, and call today.
Every day is an adventure. Every day is a new opportunity….I seek to find God in all things, all people, and all places, and to help any and everyone to the same. I am journeying forward into every changing day….And I seek to be fully present in every day while always remaining full of excitement and anticipation for every tomorrow.
Every day leads me to new thoughts, new ideas, and new ways to bring them into reality. Every day I seek creativity and a holistic spirituality and formation as I relate to others, God, myself, and this world. Ever day I have hope, knowing that I can live in such a way as to be and bring God’s New Creation into the present, finding God in all things, and helping countless other people do the same.
Every day leads me to an ever-ominous tomorrow, full of mystery and intrigue, but most of all potential, and I gladly welcome each and every one.
Airports. Airports. Airports.
In the wake of my Mars Hill Monday posts come a new series: Manhattan Monday (yes, I am one of those alliterative fools).
As someone who cannot dance (anyone who has seen me try knows that I have one go-to move) I am intrigued by people – especially geeky looking white men – who can. And while this troupe might not be line for America’s Next Dance Whatever, they were not afraid to play their iPod speakers as loud as possible and cut some cement in the southwest corner of the park.
It’s a daring, put-yourself-out-there, don’t-care-who’s-watching, do-your-thing kind of endeavor. Whether anonymous among a sea of bodies at a club or choreographed in broad daylight with your hipster-esque friends in the park, dancing puts yourself out there for anyone to notice.
So often we fear being left out that we do whatever possible to blend in. We wear the latest trends, say the latest catch phrases, and like or don’t like whatever we’re “supposed” to. But then once we’ve successfully donned the camouflage we try our best to stand out. We peacock with colors and signature remarks and whatever might make us stand out (all while somehow still fitting in).
And then you run across a group of hipsters dancing in the park.
Do they fit in? Sort of. Do they stand out? Obviously. Are they faint of heart? Not at all.
I’ve never seen the movie. Or read the book. But I like the title. Especially today.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the season in the church calendar where we look back the emergence of the church in Jerusalem, remembering that the same breath of God that moved then continues to move today.
The first followers of Jesus were gathered, unsure of what to do next. The streets are filled with people from all around the world (as they are at every Pentecost festival). But then amidst the myriad of accents, dialects, and languages comes the sound of a rushing wind or a loud breath. It fills the room where this ragamuffin group is huddled. Because this is no ordinary wind; this is the Spirit of God breathing life into the people of God.
Pentecost is a story that happened. And Pentecost is a story that still happens today.
But if we’re honest, Pentecost is a story that happened long before Acts 2.
The book of Exodus follows the freedom of the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt. With a mighty “Let my people go!” they leave their “bricks-without-straw” day job and head towards the sea, eventually arriving at a mountain (the same mountain where Moses encountered the burning bush). It is here, fifty days after their freedom, that Pentecost is first celebrated. It is here that Moses brings down the iconic stone tablets. And it is here that God gives God’s people an identity and mission, to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, to be the hands and feet and face of God in the world.
Pentecost has always been about the Spirit of God breathing life into the people of God.
Even further back, towards the poetic “in the beginning” lies a story of God forming the first people. Whereas the rest of creation comes to be at the word of God, with an almighty “Let there be,” humanity is formed from the dust of the earth by the very hand of God (anthropomorphically speaking, of course). Once formed, God breathes into them, a proto-pentecost. This wind of creation that hovered over the chaotic waters is now the animating force as close as every breath.
This is the Spirit of God breathing life into the people of God.
And this story continues to happen today.
From Occupy Movements to non-violent resistance, from the prophetic cry of “I have a dream” to the place-sharing response of “I’m right here,” from the stories that make the front page to the stories that live forever behind the scenes, from kind words you needed to hear to the smile you didn’t expect to catch, from the friend who always answers their phone to the unsigned letter that provided exactly what you need, the Spirit of God continues to breathe life into the people of God.
Pentecost happened. And it still happens today.
May we always be gone with the wind.
Sometimes you read something that’s too long for twitter but too good to go without sharing. Something like this:
Faith is living in the light of an interpretive understanding of life made manifest narratively or mythologically. It is not primarily ‘beliefs’ about an absent (transcendent) entity called God, not propositional assertions considered true or false in some mater-of-fact way, but a mode of being, actively living out a personal story centered on such an interpretive understanding of what it means to be, a way of existing in a world. It has more to do with who we are than what we think.
I’ll have more quotes and reflections on The Inside Story by Paul Brockelman soon.
In a couple days I turn in my keys and credit card and box up whatever’s left to salvage from my office. (And yes, I have been listening to Rivers and Roads on repeat non-stop to help me process.)
Mars Hill has been one of the most formative chapters of my life.
I remember my first Sunday ever stepping foot in the building. I was a freshman at Cornerstone. I sat in the south east section. Kent Dobson was teaching on the Imperial Games in Revelation. I left that morning thinking it was way too big for me.
Two years later I came back, volunteering at one church in the morning and bringing a group of freshman to Mars Hill for a church/dinner/chapel small group combo. This second round of Mars Hill had a different impact.
Driving to and from this sea of people with a group of friends made a big church feel a bit more personal. And sitting there week after week after week, singing with Aaron Niequist and learning from Rob Bell and going on a “New Exodus” with Don Golden reminded me that there’s more to church than just playing church the way you play house as a kid. This gathering was more than a country club but a launching point for much, much more, joining God in restoring all things and finding God as close as my very breath.
That year ended, I graduated from Cornerstone, and moved to a village south of Lansing to work at a church, only to return to GRusalem less than a year later for the world’s greatest wedding.
Back in Grand Rapids, I eventually ended up back at Mars Hill. Only this time I added an office to my regular gray chair attendance.
I started in Fifty6, designing and facilitating a program for our Sunday morning fifth and sixth grade program. Two years in and my role shifted to oversee Fifty6. And two years after that we merged Fifty6 and The.element for one mega middle school ministry. Corrie Boyle focused on Group Life while I focused on Program + Content and together we piloted the ship of all things Mars Hill Middle School (until she took a semester off for maternity leave and then moved to Texas — we still miss you Corrie!).
Mars Hill has been a place that introduced me to Lawrence Kushner, fostered my love for N.T. Wright, welcomed my desire for mindfulness, embraced my newfound love for Walter Wink, encouraged my own theological study, and created space for me to explore and learn from a variety of faith traditions and spiritualities.
I played more four square than ever before. (And even wrote up the most comprehensive rulebook ever.) I invited students to stop and breathe every single week. I aspired to find God in whatever I do and hope that students would do the same. I met my best friends. I led music in the Shed, baptized students, dedicated babies, and discovered a beautiful synthesis of narrative theology and narrative teaching (shout out to Andy and Mandy for this one).
I stretched my creativity, I expanded my worldview. I learned in my heart and my hands (as well as my head) that faith is a journey (oh the places you’ll go), ever expanding, ever growing, and always moving forward. I found God to be bigger (and closer) than I thought. I found God’s love to be better than I thought possible. And I found grace to be the greatest scandal in the universe. It is both the scariest and greatest feeling ever.
Because my six years were about so many other amazing people. From amazing coworkers to amazing interns and residents to amazing volunteers to amazing families to amazing students, the people I’ve journeyed with have made this journey what it is: amazing.
We’ve become something of a family together. We’ve experienced loss and transition and new life and celebration. Like almost every family, we know when and when not to talk about religion and politics. Our relationships grew and changed. We had all-staff meetings and Mars Hill Students meetings and staff retreats and events to plan and musicals to choreograph and foursquare leagues to organize and disc golf or board games to play on lunch breaks; so many amazing memories — thank you for each one. And through all six years I have had the same boss; Josh Bishop, you’re the best. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for you.
I have been lucky to work with some of the most amazing interns and residents: Johnny McKenna and Laurie McLaughlin and LIz (Pastoor) Millay and Amanda (Sloan) McKenna and Mike Edwardson and Ryan Feyer and Mike Lamson and James Kessel and Laine Comegys and Brandon Quillian and Taylor DeJonge and Taylor Grose and Caleb Zokoe and Matt Boyle and Jed Roelofs and Anna Spencer and Erin Clauson and Jannalee Nieuwenhuis and Chelsea Smith and Aaron Vince and Jenni Yeske and Mandi Taylor and Bethany Sanders and Geof Harrington.
Journeying with you has been a gift. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried. I’ve attended your wedding, stood up in your wedding, and even officiated your wedding. We wrote songs and married deep thinking to innovative methodology and filmed amazing videos. I bought you lots of books, gave (most of) you “no” cards, and spent hundreds of amazing hours in one-on-ones and meetings with you. You have inspired, challenged, and taught me in more ways than you know. Thank you.
You are the best.
I can’t even begin to think about Mars Hill or Fifty6 and The.element without you.
Thank you for inviting me to be a part of your journey. It has been a gift to be welcomed into your homes and join you in loving your sons and daughters, grandchildren, or whoever you’ve driven to Mars Hill on a Sunday morning or Tuesday night. You are such a significant spiritual role in the lives of these middle school students we have both come to know and love so well. Thank you for allowing me to partner with you for the past six years.
We have arrived once again at the end of another school year. They arrive every 365 days but somehow manage to surprise me each time, this year more than ever. When I think of you I think of young men and women I have known for one, two, three, or four years — some of you even longer. I see you now as the person you are today; I remember who you have been; I can see a glimpse of the man or woman you are becoming.
Oh the places we have been; oh the places you will go. You have shaped me in more ways than you know. We have sang songs, asked questions, caught seagulls, played games, written stories, created musicals, played kazoos, and given more high fives than anyone could count. I am proud of you. I am proud to be your pastor. I am proud to be your friend. And I am excited for the journey God has set before you.
I know I’ve been a bit of a broken record for the past couple weeks with this song, but it has become my anthem of transition and “the way things change.” While leaving a place after six years, its leaving people that is even harder. The Head And The Heart say it best: ”I’ll miss your face like hell.”
Rivers and roads,
Rivers and roads,
Rivers ’till I reach you.
Some people speak in tongues. And some of us write in fingers.
Either way, you need someone to interpret.
It’s no secret. I often refer to it as my own secret code; sometimes it’s even indecipherable to me.
One time I was in a cross-functional meeting at Mars Hill and we were coming up with ideas for something (it was probably super important). We had a few minutes to generate ideas before sharing them with the group. Ideas are always running laps around my head. I joined their stride, found a few that were fun or creative or helpful to whatever important thing we were working on, and wrote them down.
Only I had to write them down fast before they ran away!
Idea number 1, scribbled. Idea number 2, on paper. Idea number 3, etched in pen.
We began going around the table, sharing ideas and discussing each one briefly. When it was my turn I began talking about my ideas, ending with what I considered to be my best idea of the three (probably my best idea ever).
We tried to establish a baseline for my handwriting, figuring out which scribbles were an “a” and if that other wavy line was a “j,” “t,” or “i.”
We failed. And my best idea for this super important event was lost forever. I can almost see my grade school handwriting teacher glaring at me. (Yes, I had a handwriting teacher. Apparently we both failed.)
While my own personal code/shorthand is convenient at times, it’s not practical. I find myself scribbling a pen across paper as fast as possible, racing to keep up with the idea running through my head. It’s as if I have to capture the words immediately or they will be lost forever. Only when I capture them too quickly I risk losing them to my own illegibility.
And so this week’s #5daysinarow project is Five Days of Legibility. Rather than racing from idea to idea, I will slow down, hoping the pace of my pen will invite my body and brain to find a less-than-manic pace. I want to be present with each idea I’m capturing and word I’m writing, not the one that comes next.
The question “Who is God?” is the theological implication of the philosophical question, “Is there a God?” Presupposing that yes, there is in fact a God and that this God chooses to and/or is able to be revealed to humanity and all of creation, one can then postulate who or what kind of God this is. Our postulation, however, is perpetually impeded and limited by the constructive confines and contextual nature of language as our meaning-making capacity.
However God is revealed, God is understood within the limits of human language. All language is implicitly abstract, a culturally agreed upon metaphor endowed with meaning. Therefore to speak of the “who” or “what” of God is always to speak within these allegorical confines. Understanding God as having “personhood” is a concept forever tainted by the water of personhood in which we swim. Yet in recognizing this linguistic limitation, one can state confidently, based on general and special revelation, who God is.
For in every beginning and still today we find God hovering over our formless and void tahom. God is my very breath, sustaining me and all of creation whether or not we know or even acknowledge it. Breathing isn’t really something that I do but something that I witness as it happens. In the same way, God is always present, always close. God is present in and experiences all suffering and celebration. God is my first cry at birth and my final sigh at death.
And sometimes God is even white, straight, and male. Because God is and is not all of the categories, compartments, labels, and boxes we create and impose. God is Creator, Christ, and Spirit, One, often understood as a social or economic Trinity, distinct “persons” of one essence or identity.
Love does not say, “look at me, I am beautiful, I am sublime, I am glorious,” but love is that which points to the other and says, “they are beautiful, they are sublime, they are glorious.” Neither God nor love are an object in and of themselves but rather the light that allows us to see all things as they truly are. And when we look close enough we can find God in all things. For God is the presence and energy that created it all and continues to create and sustain it all today.
God is known as eternally unknowable. God can barely be apprehended but never fully comprehended. God is always beyond understanding yet mysteriously and graciously within reach. God is the ocean on which we float, a lazy river and a perfect storm. God is the ground of being. God is not “a being” but is rather “being” itself. God is simply complex.
God simply is.
If you’re thinking about the next thing you’re going to say
you aren’t really present with what you’re saying now.
If you’re thinking about the next thing you’re going to say
you won’t always say what you need to say right now.
If you’re thinking about the next thing you’re going to say
you don’t know what people are hearing but what you hope they’ll hear next.
Smile, breathe, and go slowly.
There’s a world of difference between what’s next and what’s now.
Sometimes I like to match my socks and tie to the church season. And while we’re not quite to them yet, this morning’s chapel at Western Theological Seminary was centered on the season of Ascension and Pentecost. And so naturally, I wore red.
I was designing and leading this morning’s chapel with two classmates, Brad and Deb. We were the last student led chapel of our two-week intensive and so as I never do, I didn’t want to settle for just “another chapel.” I wanted to offer something theologically robust, creative, and experiential.
Our draft for chapel was due a few weeks ago (as a part of one of our classes). We had a plan. And it was a good one, with an intentional intermingling between an Ascension Psalm and an Ascension hymn, a proclamation centered around God breathing life into “these dry bones,” and some mindful breathing. But then in the middle of a class discussion I had a glimmer of an idea, called Brad and Deb aside, and pitched it to them. And they loved it. And so did the class (to whom all three of us are immensely grateful as they significantly helped provide specific shape and form to our concept).
We scrapped what we had planned and opted instead for a more “Pentecost” type experience. It would either be the best thing ever or go up in tongues of fire.
After a simple responsive reading and a mindful reading (with space to ponder) a psalm, we transitioned to the “praise” section of the chapel. Only instead of having a song or hymn or reading prepared we trusted the song or hymn or reading of praise that the Spirit was already brewing within us. With a simple progression building on the piano, I invited everyone to stand and put a spirit-filled hum or alleluia or the word or phrase they pondered to melody, our many voices joining as a Pentecost experience of praise.
I’m not sure what everyone else was singing – I could hear snippets of words and phrases from around the room as well as Tim Brown standing next to me – but my “praise” was simple: Rivers and roads, rivers and roads, rivers ’till I reach you.
But this beautiful and spirit filled experience was not the end of our gathering. Brad stood up and read a selection from Acts 2, the breath of God filling the people of God, humanity as the medium for the divine, the word of God spoken and once again made flesh. Similar to our self-authored hymn of praise, Brad asked who among us had a word of God, an insight, an idea, a thought, a question.
After a moment of silence the room began to erupt. It was as if the wind of pentecost filled the chapel, giving breath to our lungs and tongues of fire on our lips. The Psalm was revisited and given spirit-filled commentary. Words of hope and encouragement were spoken. And God was in this place.
As the room settled to a contented quiet, Brad stood and said, “This is the Word of the Lord.”
Thanks be to God.
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