Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dylan on a Wednesday

Last year I read Alex Ross' book, The Rest is Noise, a social history of recent Western culture told around music. I learned a lot, but would have appreciated the book even more had I more familiarity with classical music. Dylan appears late in the book, one of the few rockers to count as part of a cultural history.

Ross has a blog, and in a recent issue he has excerpts from an interview with Dylan and a brief review of Dylan's forthcoming cd (April 28 release date). My favorite part of the interview is when Dylan is quoted as saying:

"Some people preferred my first-period songs. Some, the second. Some, the Christian period. Some, the post-Columbian. Some, the Pre-Raphaelite. Some people prefer my songs from the nineties. I see that my audience now doesn’t particularly care what period the songs are from. They feel style and substance in a more visceral way and let it go at that."

Ross's description of the new cd sounds promising, essentially suggesting that if you liked the last three (I did very much), that you will like this one as well.


Here's the link for Ross' blog.

Monday, March 23, 2009

My Parents' 50th

I haven't posted this past week because I've been in Malibu. I know, tough work if you can get it. I'm here for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. Quite the occasion. People might be impressed with me until they meet my parents, and then they think I'm an underachiever. I had a big headstart and know it. I'm so grateful for their lives. They taught me what Christianity ought to look like.

Here's a little imovie we shared with them on this great occasion.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dylan on a Sunday

I was on a plane today reading about incommensurability. I know. I'm so lucky. At least I was sitting in first class. But the idea of incommensurability is related to paradigms in the thought of Thomas Kuhn. And the basic idea there is that its tough sometimes to find a middle term or set of terms that allows one realm of thought to be translated into another. It's a little like arguing who was the greatest basketball player of all time. The game has evolved in so many ways that you can't find a way to say with certainty whether Wilt Chamberlain was better than Shaquille O'Neal. There simply isn't a standard criteria. The realities are incommensurate.

I was sitting with a group of elders and ministers recently, and I despaired over our ability to find a common starting place of a discussion. Some in this church have experienced something of a paradigm shift which makes all their previous questions inconsequential. They simply cannot have a mediating conversation with their past, and those who represent that past.

It's like those pictures where you either see an ugly woman or a beautiful woman, but you can't see both at once. Same details, but a different way of viewing them.

So, I'm reading about all of this with my ipod going and the Dylan tune "Things Have Changed" comes on. The refrain is "I used to care, but things have changed." I know the feeling, things big and things small. Small: I used to follow the build up to March madness with a fevered passion. I may watch the final four, but I really don't care who is in today. Things have changed. And there are bigger things as well. The line that speaks to this for me in the song is "I've been trying to get as far away from myself as I can." I know that line. It reminds me of Paul Ricouer. But that's another post. Today, paradigm shifts and Dylan.

Lot of water under the bridge, Lot of other stuff too
Don't get up gentlemen, I'm only passing through

People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

I've been walking forty miles of bad road
If the bible is right, the world will explode
I've been trying to get as far away from myself as I can
Some things are too hot to touch
The human mind can only stand so much
You can't win with a losing hand

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ministry Maxim, whichever

The church is not your enemy.

Sounds too obvious, right? Fact is, I spent about the first four years of my ministry life in a life and death struggle with a congregation. They were my enemy. They were stiff-necked idol worshipers God had given me to save. I knew they were stiff-necked because they didn't seem to see how obviously brilliant my theology was. They met my brilliance with a collective yawn. Had to be their fault.

Now part of this was that I was young and wet behind the ears. I recently had a young minister tell me that he was leaving a church because they didn't give him enough control as the senior minister. He was like 25 years old. I'm glad no one gave me control when I was 25.

But some of this belongs to my early training for ministry. I'm reading Richard Bernstein's book, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis. Bernstein characterizes the discussion related to practice that predominated in the 20th century as the "application of science to technical tasks." He adds that this "degrades practical reason to technical control." This is how I was taught ministry. The science was the exegesis, the mastery of the text through scientific method. Ministry was simply the skill of strategic control whereby you implemented the facts you had discovered in your office.

I took preaching (my first preaching class) from a professor in the communications department. I took church counseling from a therapist. Ministry was just finding the right set of skills for implementing all theory decided beforehand apart from the congregation. They were at least my target, the place where I dumped my theory. And when they resisted my conclusions, they were my enemy.

The aha moment came for me in a discussion with a member whom I assumed was not involved in congregational life because of apathy. It was a simple formula for me. Low involvement means absence of care. This guy called me out. I will never forget it. "You think I'm not involved because I don't care. I'm not involved because I do care, passionately, and it breaks my heart to see where this thing is going. I'm not the enemy."

That day changed everything for me. I began to see the congregation less as a place to enact strategic solutions to theoretical problems. The congregation instead was a word, a wisdom, an economy of discourse, a life to be discerned (not decided beforehand). And God was in the congregation, not alone with me in my study. And some of my best partners in ministry have been the passionate people at the margins who care too deeply to invest much in trivial pursuits.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

U2 on a Sunday

I know I'm probably the last one in the blogosphere to comment on U2's new release. It takes me awhile with U2. They are so idosyncratic as a group that your ear takes awhile to make sense of what it is that you're listening to. My friend, Scott Hagley, thinks this is why their music sticks with you, doesn't end up in the pile of sings you used to listen to. I'll go with that.

So, for me the jury is still out on the musical achievement. But again I feel myself comfortable in the horizon of their lyrical world. This cd is more shot through with specific biblical or theological allusions. You don't have to wonder whether or not there are biblical or theological overtones. They are right on the surface. This is a mixed bag for me because I think explicit references in a pop format can trivialize both the reference and the pop format. On the plus side, its not hard for me to find my bearings.

The faith on display here is no easy belief. The world is dark and God is not an obvious certainty gleaned from the facts on the ground. This is a grainy place to make out a clear picture. This does not, however, keep these songs from some beautiful pictures. Love that heals. Forgiveness where forgiveness is not. Magnificence. Joy and celebration. It is simultaneously realisitc and hopeful. Where else could joy spring from?

And there are moments of conversion. Life and faith are not all settled at once. This thing is hills and valleys. And the atm, the gaze of a stranger, and other ordinary places are also at the edge of the known universe. Every moment bears a transcendent possibility. I like that.

And I like that its all sensual, that sometimes you can't tell if they're singing about God or a woman.

So, today its a day with U2. Did I tell you that I met The Edge? He was at a Starbucks in Malibu a few years ago. We walked out at the same time (I timed it perfectly). I held the door for him, and he said...wait for it...wait for it..."thank you." So, then we're walking toward our cars and I'm trying to think of something to say without sounding like an idiot. So, finally the words tumbled out of my mouth, "Hey, thanks for what you do." He smiled at me and said, wait for it... "thanks, have a great day."

I am thankful for what they do.

From "Magnificent"

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

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
The Magnificant.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

God, World, Church

This story is becoming increasingly familiar to me. A church spends a lot of time focusing on its identity. It does this primarily in relation to certain beliefs or ideas. These get shaped into a mission or vision statement, perhaps even a strategic plan if the church is really aggressive. The idea is that if identity can be established before hand, then action will follow. Great theory. It seldom works.

It seldom works for a lot of reasons. The biggest of these reasons, and perhaps the source of all the rest, is that identity discovery is a complex matter requiring more than just self-reflection. We don't know who we are fully before we act. And we don't know who we are fully apart from our life with others.

When we think of identity as something we settle before mission, then the world ends up being only the place where we deliver the things that have already been decided. The world becomes an extension of our project, a target of our good intentions, a passive recipient of a benevolent patron. Often, we define our identities over/against the world, and when we offer them our already determined lives we find them less than impressed. We are often irrelevant to their lives.

The great thing about the missional church movement from my perspective is that is insists that the church only understands its life as a church in mission, as a church in relation to others. Some who write about the missional church still want to define the church's identity before engagement with the world. They talk about the church's essence as something that comes before mission. The church is and then the church does.

But if our identity is truly an identity in God's mission, then we cannot know who we are, not completely, apart from a real life engagement with God's world. We discover who we are in relation to others.

This view of mission makes more sense in relation to a particular view of God. If God is just a set of enduring characteristics, an essence, or enduring substance that is unchangeable or unaddressable, then there is no need to consider the other in terms of our identity or mission. This, however, is not the biblical view of God.

In our last post, we noted that the Cappadocians (you remember them, Basil, his brother Gregory of Nyssa and his other brother Gregory Nanzianzus, well only the first was his actual brother) held together the three persons of the Trinity as one by defining personhood in relation to otherness. We find our personhood only in relation, in this case God as Father, Son, and Spirit. The Cappadocians, however, still wanted to protect the Father from the otherness of the world. God is known primarily only in the inner relations of Father, Son, and Spirit, and the world participates in God only through the Son. The otherness of the world tells us nothing of who God is as a person.

Recent theologians, however, have taken the Cappadocians view of personhood and tied it to the biblical narrative in a way that brings the world back into view. We don't know who God is as Father, Son, and Spirit, apart from a fallen, suffering world. God's identity as Father, Son, and Spirit is only fully revealed in the concrete circumstances of the world, and in particular in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We know God as Father, Son, and Spirit only through God's suffering participation in, with, and for the world. Our identity, as well as God's, cannot be defined in essential categories, but only in suffering participation with the world.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Little Spoon on a Sunday

Some days are a mystery, they don't present themselves readily. There is no rhyme or reason. Other days begin with a song in your head, a line that follows another, and the day tumbles open. Of course, this only makes sense if you think the art of living is finding the right soundtrack, which is pretty close to my view. Music provides enough depth and texture to say what needs to be said and a few things that can't be said in ordinary discourse. It bears mystery, and with a bass beat.

So, today the song was given to me, and a few others fell close on its heels. It's going to be a good day.

The Delicate Place--Spoon. I love this song. It gets at the terror of knowing yourself through another--a wonderful thing in the right hands. It's the delicate place. Amazing beat.

House of Cards--Radiohead. Atmospheric. Haunting. But you could dance to it. Well, if you could dance.

Weight of the World--Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. "It's the weight of the world, I know, as I struggle to be...whole. It's the weight of the world, I know, as you were mine, and we will find..." A really intriguing band with lots of lyrical and musical range.

She Said, She Said--Black Keys. OK, you get the idea. It's a little bit of a darker day, but not without optimism. So, a Beatles cover with plenty of distortion. Again, if you could dance...