Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Shack - is it ok that I like it?

I'm preparing for a discussion on William Young's book, The Shack. I first read it a year ago and, much to my dismay, I liked it.

I didn't want to like it. I opened it up ready to critique it. In fact its exactly the kind of book I take some odd pride in not liking.

As far as I can tell, Christian fantasy novels fall into two categories: Great (the Chronicles of Narnia) and Awful (just about everything else).

The Shack is no Chronicles of Narnia. It's a bit too obvious, too overstated, too cheesy, and too theologically laborious for that (there are paragraphs that could be straight out of theological textbooks).

But it's not awful. Not at all. The story is gripping and it teaches smartly about complex topics like the Trinity, the nature of evil, free will, and the love at the heart of God.

I've just finished rereading it to prepared for Saturday's discussion and I remember clearly what I liked about it the first time: It makes me feel loved.

Come to our discussion on Saturday after the 5:00 service. We'll eat a good meal prepared by the women's book group and talk about The Shack till about 8.
If you want to explore its themes further, I recommend a new book called Finding God in The Shack. It's a defense of The Shack from evangelical theologian Randal Rauser. I've only read a third of it so far (the whole thing is available online), but I look forward to reading the rest. I've been looking for a Lutheran take on it, but can't find one. Pass one along if you have one.
And please, let me know what you thought of The Shack.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Out of rocks - Pastor John Rutsindintwarane and hope in Rwanda

Hi - Last night I got together with a group of people I'd traveled to Rwanda with 3 yrs ago. We were there to hear Rwanda Pastor John Rutsindintwarane give updates on the Lutheran Church in Rwanda and their community organizing efforts.

This is a photo we took 3 yrs ago of the rocks that the community was just starting to crush to make a foundation for a health clinic. Now it is built.

It's impressive in any community with zero financial resources to have built a health clinic. But more impressive is that it took place in a village with no road, no prior access to governmental power, very little education, in a time when their nation was still reeling from a brutal genocide.

It would have been easy to look at that community and write them off as having nothing. Instead, Pastor John identified what they did have. Hope, courage, relationships, common good, and abiding faith in God. They also had an amazing organizer and pastor.
John Rutsindintwarane said he came to give them his mind and his heart. It's his generousity of spirit, faith in God, and belief that people are good more than bad that pulled this clinic together.

Hearing John speak last night, I felt some glimmer that this might have been what it felt like to hear the first disciples talk. They were ordinary people, much like the citizens of Mumeya, pulled into something greater than themselves. They were given hope and love and faith and a person to make them belive it. John shines with God's light and love. You can't help but feel hopeful and faithful in his presence.

The evening ended with us all holding hands. One by one, we praying our blessings on Pastor John, his wife Robin, and their amazing ministry in Rwanda.

I felt my own faith stir. This morning, I feel it rising up as I am deeply aware of a kind of love in the world that is unending.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Vacation...from God?

Two weeks ago I was NY with the high school youth group. It was all about Jesus, faith in action, and Christian love. Faith was explicit and intentional. It was great, but I was exhausted by the end.

Last week, I took off on a much needed vacation. I spent it on the beach in South Carolina for a big family reunion.

If the week in NY was all about explicit faith, the week with my family was the opposite. My extended family runs the spectrum of church-i-ness. We occasionally prayed before we ate, but most talk of God or faith was cousin-ly checking-in about my profession and daily life.

On vacation with 40 of my family members, I took a bit of a vacation from God.

I brought my daily devotional book, my Bible, and a heavy stack of articles and books to read. But I read pure beach pulp. Didn't crack open my Bible, and missed a whole week of daily devotionals. I'm not sure I ever prayed, except in the way that playing in the water or appreciating the beauty of moonlight on the ocean is prayer.

I came back Sat afternoon, but I was still on vacation from work. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to check out another church - maybe the McLean Bible Church or to pop in on worship at a former congregation. But when Sunday morning rolled around, I did something I haven't done for a long time: I skipped church.

Went to brunch with one of my best friends instead. And I have to say, it was pleasant - I understand why people do that. In fact it was so pleasant, that I began to wonder if I could slip into a life where faith and my church community were in the background or, perhaps, not present at all.

The question on my mind that morning wasn't "why don't people go to church." Rather, it was "why do they go at all?"

By Sunday afternoon, hanging out with other friends, the conversation had turned to community, living for something larger than yourself, a meaningful life, music and the elevation of the soul. For me, God is present in that mix.

It was pleasant to skip church, and pleasant to take a bit of a vacation from the daily routine which includes the daily routine of prayer and scripture.

But the time away is still time spent with God in laughter and appreciation and love. God is present, just less explicit. I know that I will always be drawn back into Christian community. Without it, my life would feel hollow. I would start to hunger and thirst for it. For God.

I woke up this morning eager to pray and to put my life explicitly back in the context of God, church, and faith. I'm grateful for a great vacation, but even more grateful for the life I return to.

Ten for Ten. Ten reasons it's great to be a pastor, in celebration of my 10 year anniversary of ordination.

I'm in there somewhere. I was ordained at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington DC on November 10, 2007, ten years ago today. ...