Thursday, November 08, 2007


this morning, as i listened to morning edition reporting on the consistent, devaluation of the dollar, the precipitous price of oil and the possibility of chinese companies divesting their american assets and shifting their focus to europe and the euro, i started to wrestle with a strange set of questions. namely, if our country's impending recession devolved into a full blown depression, how would my family respond?

would we exchange our little condo for a more communitarian existence? if we chose the latter option would we live communally in new england, choose to live with extended family or move to the midwest where we could produce more of the food we would need to subsist? in a desperate economy, how would my view of work change? would i be more willing to work a job that met our necessities but was relatively bereft of meaning? how would such circumstances alter my spirituality and my understanding of God? would theological discussions become less of a parlor game and more, or less, essential to a good, beautiful and true existence? would my relationships with friends, family and the other deepen or be distressed?

how do you think a catastrophic economic depression, such as that experienced by my paternal grandparents, who were part of the diaspora that traipsed from oklahoma to california in the 1930s, would effect you and your family?

moreover, if you are a member of the body of Christ, how do you think such circumstances would alter the mission and ministry of the church? as per the church, i suspect that during a depression sermon series on topics such as "how to make friends at work" and "extreme money makeover" would wilt on the side of the road. in addition, the content of your best life now would probably have to be significantly revised. but, i'll leave further discussion of how the church might respond to the comments section.

maybe these musings should be written off as the apocalyptic anxieties of a third generation okie. but maybe considering such questions will help us better understand who we are as individuals and communities as well as what changes we might need to make in order to persevere through the tough economic, political, spiritual and relational times that are bound to come.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


recently viewed and recommended

last saturday night a group of us gathered to gorge on sausage and cabbage, one of pix's finest dishes, and watch the lives of others, a german film that was awarded the best foreign film oscar in 2007.

the narrative arc of the lives of others focuses on a well respected german state security agent who helps incite and subsequently conducts extensive surveillance on a celebrated east german playwright in hopes of exposing the artist's disloyalty and securing the affections of the artist's girl.

however, as the agent sits in the attic above the artist's apartment, constantly listening to the artists' conversations and carefully preparing his reports, he slowly begins to empathize with his subjects and ultimately identifies with them to such a degree that his loyalties are severely tested.

the lives of others is a magnificent film which will undoubtedly mean many things to many people. however, as i watched this film i could not help but think of it as a parable that emphasizes the significance of careful listening and warns the viewer of the unexpected consequences that arise from truly identifying with the other.

i often wish that i had better listening skills and found it easier to empathize with others. however, after watching the film, i have to wonder whether i am capable and willing to face the manifold consequences that result from such careful listening.

Monday, November 05, 2007


yesterday i had the opportunity to speak on 1 corinthians 1:26ff at the gathering. on saturday i did a fair amount of research on 1st corinthians and, as a result, felt that i had a pretty solid understanding of the text. however, when i tried to give shape and structure to my message early sunday morning, i felt the text slipping through my fingers like so many grains of sand. on account of these conflicting experiences, when i stood up before the gathering on sunday, i felt simultaneously slathered in unction and rhetorically retarded. i knew i had something to say, but i had no clue how i was going to say it.

for this reason, i carefully preempted my preaching with a disclaimer that sounded something like this:

"for so long i have wanted to be able to preach a sermon that resounds like peter in acts 2. a part of me would love to stand before you and pronounce something similar to peter's punch line: 'God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ!' however, instead of peter's bold propositions, i usually find myself sharing with you only the most provisional thoughts, ideas that emanate from wrestling with questions far more often than they spring forth from certainty. so i hope you don't mind me standing before you today and giving you a glimpse of the way i have wrestled with this text and how, in the end, this text has served as a sort of theological lens through which i have tried to interpret the experiences i had in the streets of salem this halloween."

i have little doubt that my characterization of my sermon as a provisional musing has derived from cadences of home: preaching among exiles, a remarkable little book by walter brueggemann that i've recently been reading. in one of the chapters of the book brueggemann makes a case for testimony as a fitting form for contemporary preaching. such testimony, brueggemann suggests should: render Yahweh as credible by linking our renderings to "real life circumstance;" speak about Yahweh as an "accepted, assumed, embraced Character who belongs invariably and without question in the middle of the narrative;" and suggest that Yahweh is so indispensable that "if one omits Yahweh from the tale, the tale collapses into nonsense."* brueggemann believes that this fragile, contextual proclamation makes far more sense in our cultural context than propositional preaching which, by its very form, suggests not only the existence of absolutes but also a shared, empirical epistemology through which, presumably, a community can observe defined phenomena and arrive at a singular conclusion.

undoubtedly many in the biblical preaching/big idea camp that i was reared in would warn that brueggemann's homiletic - if we can even speak of his musings as such - is so full of holes that it would immediately capsize an evangel into the pluralistic, postmodern seas. however, as i read it, brueggemann's homiletic gives me hope that even paper mache sermons such as mine might occasionally catch the winds of the spirit and be directed towards safe, if unsuspecting, harbors.

in the hours since i stood before the gathering, i've realized that my life is just as provisional as the sermon i just preached. although i usually live as though the unexamined life is the only one worth living, in rare moments like these i am by turns grateful for and terrified of the life of self(ish)less service, provisional sermons and reticent, if resplendent, relationship that lies before me.

yet tomorrow, heart-full and spiritually stunted, i plan on putting this paper mache back out to sea. by God's grace, i'll raise the sails and she'll blow where He wills.**

* Ibid, Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, pg. 43.
** no, you know that's not what i mean. get your head out of the gutter. wait, i didn't mean that head and that, oh forget it. so it is written.