Archive for the ‘Beyond Capernaum’ Category

>Every now and then I’m amazed at the sermons I hear in the middle of every day life. I caught one last night watching Criminal Minds on CBS. I sat down to watch some TV in an attempt to mentally escape from what seemed like a mounting pile of too much to do. Instead of escape, I found something more valuable. I was engaged by what was very much the voice of God for me at the moment.

In the video clip below, one of the main characters, FBI agent Hotchner is upset because a criminal had tried to play a mind game with him by offering a “deal” to stop killing if the FBI would stop hunting for him (it worked with previous agent mentioned in the video). When Hotchner refused to give in, the criminal went on a horrendous killing spree and several people died. The clip is of Hotchner trying to deal with the outcome of the situation:

Technical Difficulties (sorry!) watch the video clip here.

Agent Hotchner did something that I think many people do. I know I do it all the time. He does not differentiate himself from his work and wants to carry the responsibility for the actions of others while losing sight of the bigger picture that he a part of. I suspect we do this all too often…in our personal relationships, in our attempts to create change in the world. Like agent Hotchner, we do it in our professional work, also.

Maybe I’m speaking only for myself, but I think church professionals are particularly good at making this mistake. Pastors and other church leaders lose sight of the bigger picture we are a part of (that includes millions of us working together…with God at the center). We become susceptible to what Parker Palmer calls “functional atheism”, which is “the unconscious, unexamined conviction that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones who must make it happen – a conviction held even by people who talk a good game about God.”

For me the sermon came in these words spoken to Agent Hotchner by a friend/co-worker: “That voice in your head…it’s not your conscience, it’s your ego.”

Again…maybe I’m the only one here…but maybe it is our own ego that brings us the most trouble. I suspect I’m not the only person that falls into this trap…and I’m fairly confident I’m far from the only pastor that can too often be found carrying the unecessary strain and scars of the functional atheism created by my own ego.

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Below is a video and lyrics to the next U2 single…and first great hymn of 2009…enjoy!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6R_D-4anNc]
“Magnificent”
Magnificent
Oh, magnificent

I was born
I was born to be with you
In this space and time
After that and ever after
I haven’t had a clue

Only to break rhyme
This foolishness can leave a heart
Black and blue

Only love
Only love can leave such a mark
But only love
Only love can heal such a scar

I was born
I was born to sing for you
I didn’t have a choice
But to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice
From the womb my first cry
It was a joyful noise

Oh, oh
Only love
Only love can leave such a mark
But only love
Only love can heal such a scar

Justified
till we die
You and I
will magnify
Oh, the magnificent

Magnificent

Only love
Only love can leave such a mark
But only love
Only love unites our hearts

Justified
till we die
You and I
will magnify
Oh, the magnificent
Magnificent
Magnificent

I’ve listened to the new U2 record “No Line on the Horizon” (in stores March 3rd) and am beginning to put some thoughts together on it. As I listen to it, I’m mindful that my relationships with U2 records are always long-term committed affairs. At this point, I think we’ll get along fine…but we’ll need to get to know each other.

The adjective that kept coming to mind the first time through was “brooding”. While repeated listens seem to be suggesting something other than “brooding”, I’d have to say that “Get On Your Boots” does not offer a very accurate peek in the window as the lead single for the record.

Bono’s voice sounds great throughout the record. The Edge’s guitars are in place. Adam & Larry drive the songs as I’d expect and hope from them. I suspect that Brian Eno probably ought to be credited as the “the fifth Beatle” on this project, which seems, at nearly every turn, to reflect his penchant for ambience and electronic noises kicking around in the background. Most of the time it comes alongside some undeniably “Edge-y” guitar sonics.

I also keep finding myself thinking at times that this record wants to carry the markings of “late masterpieces” like Sergeant Pepper’s or Pet Sounds or the White Album (for good and for ill).

This record is just about the opposite of a collection of hit singles (thankfully, U2 has never tried that approach). The potential singles (after the already released “Boots”) are probably “Magnificent”, “Breathe”, “No Line on the Horizon” and “I Know I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” (which I would predict will find a spot at or near the beginning of the upcoming tour’s nightly setlists). “Stand Up Comedy” might make it to radio, too.

The record starts off strong, soaring and anthemic with the title track and “Magnificent”. Guitars up front with electronic noises in the back that sort of switch places at times during “Magnificent”. The title track has a bit of an Arcade Fire feel to it.

The song most likely to be remembered in 10 or 20 years is “Moment of Surrender”.

The emphasis in “Stand Up Comedy” is on “Stand Up”. Along with “Boots”, it resurrects the cheekiness that was ever present in the Zoo TV and Popmart concerts.

“FEZ – Being Born” is the opposite of a radio-ready hit single. Starts out sounding like a remix, with looping samples of “Get on Your Boots”. Sort of Radiohead-esque at times. It might just be brilliant.

“White as Snow” is like no U2 song I can recall. Again, slow and brooding with a sort of spaghetti western guitar sound. For some reason, the melody brought to mind the Advent Hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel”. On some level, the two songs might be connected by more than their music. Made me think of Johnny Cash working with Rick Rubin.

“Breathe” would probably be a more appropriate (and probably better) single than “Get on Your Boots”. Here’s a video of the band premiering the song on French TV:

“Cedars of Lebanon” ends the record in a way familiar to U2: instead of a climactic grand finale they offer an understated, reflective, and even melancholy final scene. The song ends with such stark suddenness that it almost stings as much as “Wake Up Dead Man” did on 1997’s POP.

Lyrics to the songs are available here (I’ll also mention that @U2.com is a great and reputable fansite).

I’m starting to feel a connection to the songs after 2-3 listens. This was the longest hiatus between records in U2’s entire career. I hope the wait is not as long for the next one.

As I reflect back on the inauguration of President Obama, the invocation by Saddleback Church’s Pastor Rick Warren provides an interesting opportunity to continue the discussion of the public role of faith in a world that is overflowing with diversity of belief and opinion and struggling every day with harmful divisions that build walls between political parties, nations, religious traditions, and subgroups and factions within each of them.

Here’s a video clip of the invocation:

I’ll begin by saying that I love Rick Warren. I’m not a fan of his books. I disagree with him often on matters of politics and theology. That being said, I’ll begin by stating that I love Rick Warren. It saddens me that the voices speaking loudest in response to Warren being included in the inauguration have fallen into the all-too-predictable camps of the critics that think Warren is too conservative or too evangelical and the defenders who are (no surprise) mostly conservative evangelicals. On some level, it’s time for “the church” to be “the church”. It’s time for the “body of Christ” to be the “body of Christ”. I’m thinking of Paul in Ephesians chapter 4:

“I…beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

I don’t always agree with Rick Warren, but we are both a part of the growing community of people following Jesus in the world today. We are in the same church. We are in the same body.

Back to the matter at hand…
Warren’s invocation was genuine and included some important things to pray for (or at least hope for). He prayed that President Obama will possess “the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity.” He went on to call our nation to a lifestyle of daily repentance and unified purpose:

When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you—forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone—forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve—forgive us. And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes—even when we differ. Help us to share, to serve, and to seek the common good of all.

And then the invocation concluded with words that invite us into the conversation of how to be people of faith in this pluralistic nation and interconnected world: “I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life—Yeshua, ‘Isa, Jesús, Jesus—who taught us to pray: Our Father, who art in heaven…”

This is the part that leaves me with a swirling vortex of thoughts on how we are to live together in today’s world and how faith ought to interact with public life. Some thoughts:

  • The question is often raised if such “religious acts” are appropriate at civil events. I think this is a good question and agree that there is a lot at stake in terms of civil liberties on both sides of the question. While I support a civil life that is not restricted by religion (and a faith life not limited by the state), it seems that a complete removal of all things religious from public life is a futile, if not harmful, pursuit. To define the ideal as the complete absence of the expression of belief (or, I would add, expression of unbelief) would fail to recognize the role of faith in the lives of citizens. It also emphasizes faith and religion as the activity of individuals and cloistered communities. This concerns me as a firm believer in a faith that must be neither individual nor cloistered.
  • Warren’s intentional naming of Jesus Christ at the conclusion of the prayer seemed like an attempt to assert his own belief as superior (or even dominant). Warren did change his use of pronouns from “we” to “I” before invoking the name of Jesus. I appreciate this shift for it’s recognition that there were many wishing to pray along who would not do so in the name of Jesus. At the same time, the prayer became individual instead of corporate.
  • We are still far from completing the journey to living together in the midst of diversity. If we are to become pluralist people, we must respect and recognize the voices of others, including Rick Warren. There is also a need, however, for people across the political, religious and theological spectrums to move away from exclusivism and beyond mere inclusivism or tolerance. It seems to me that our culture struggles to see pluralism as something other than being inclusive and non-offensive. This is evidenced in the way that we continue to struggle with “political correctness” or wandering off into uncentered relativism.

The place we need to continue journeying toward is described wonderfully by Diana Eck in her 1993 book Encountering God. It is the journey toward “pluralism”. Eck includes the following in her definition of “pluralism”:

  • Pluralism is not simply the existence of diversity, but active engagement with diversity.
  • Pluralism is more than tolerance. Tolerance is too minimal an expectation, it can even be a form of passive rejection or hostility. Pluralism is the seeking of understanding.
  • Pluralism is not simply relativism. Pluralism expects commitment to a defined truth.
  • Pluralism seeks commitment that does not descend into dogmatism. Pluralism seeks to be distinctively ourselves while remaining in relationship with one another.
  • Pluralism requires dialogue. The goal of dialogue is not to arrive at agreement, but to arrive at mutual understanding. Points of agreement can be affirmed, points of difference can be better understood.

If I am to become pluralist, I will embrace the presence of Rick Warren as completely as the presence of someone I align with politically and theologically. I will also embrace the presence of someone who holds a commitment to a different religious tradition, or a non-religious ethic. A few moments after Pastor Warren concluded the invocation, the president that was prayed for challenged us to continue the journey:

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

We journey on together…

The text of Pastor Rick Warren’s Invocation:

Almighty God, our Father: Everything we see, and everything we can’t see, exists because of you alone. It all comes from you, it all belongs to you, it all exists for your glory. History is your story. The Scripture tells us, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one.” And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.

Now today, we rejoice not only in America’s peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time, we celebrate a hinge point of history with the inauguration of our first African-American president of the United States. We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where a son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.

Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity. Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet, and every one of our
freely elected leaders.

Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans—united not by race or religion or blood, but by our commitment to freedom and justice for all. When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you—forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone—forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve—forgive us. And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes—even when we differ. Help us to share, to serve, and to seek the common good of all.

May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy, and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day, all nations–and all people–will stand accountable before you.

We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.

I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life—Yeshua, ‘Isa, Jesús, Jesus—who taught us to pray: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Below is an article by a professor of mine, Jon Pahl, reflecting on President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech. It was posted at the interesting blog “Religion in American History”. The president challenged us immensely during his first moments in the office. The debate on how religion fits into public life and politics will certainly continue. Jon Pahl offers a worthwhile contribution to the conversation.

Religion’s Role in the “New Era of Responsibility”
by Jon Pahl

Barack Obama’s inaugural speech signaled a fascinating new twist on an old role for religion in American culture. Platitudes of civil religious discourse, exploited so effectively by recent administrations–“sacrifice,” “God’s gift of freedom,” and the ritual invocation of God’s blessing on America–were present, but muted. Obama’s chief theme was that religions provide people with spiritual strength to be responsible citizens; to work for the common good.

This was not a speech about mystical union with some millennial destiny. Indeed, Obama’s clear articulation that “God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny” means that history is up to us. What America will be depends upon what we do, not what some hidden hand might provide.

This was a speech about the spirituality of work. “What is required of us,” the 44th President intoned, “is a new era of responsibility–a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.” The President here argued that it is through our common work that humans find spiritual fulfillment, this side of eternity.

No less than ten times Obama invoked “work,” “works,” or “workers.” “Everywhere we look, there is work to be done.” It is not in “worn out dogmas” that one can find the American spirit, he asserted, but “the faith and determination of the American people” is evident in “the kindness to take in a stranger . . . the selflessness of workers . . . [a] firefighter’s courage.” “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

The last line–an oblique reference to a Langston Hughes poem, might seem to invoke the old Horatio Alger version of the Protestant ethic. In fact, Obama’s religious foundation was intentionally pluralistic. ‘We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus–and non-believers.” Such a “patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.” But if and when people of faith commit to work together with unbelievers toward a vision of a more just and virtuous common good, we might see how “old hatreds shall someday pass;” how “lines of tribe shall soon dissolve;” how “our common humanity shall reveal itself;” and how “America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

“There is in such a vision plenty of the old American millennialism. But the stronger voice was this practical assertion: “greatness is never given. It must be earned.” And this pragmatic question: it is “not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.”

The world Barack Obama addressed with this speech was not just the American nation and its future. Invoking George Washington’s words at Valley Forge, it was “the future world” broadly envisioned that he had in mind. And that meant that Americans needed to “set aside childish things,” in the words of Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Corinth. It was time to get to work enacting the substance of faith, hope, and love–beyond mere rhetoric of sounding gongs and clanging cymbals that had merely sustained the wealthy–“those who prefer leisure over work”–under a cloak of religious pretense.