Thursday, April 24, 2008

SAVED BY THE SECOND-TIER REJECTS: Why The Marginalized, The Minimized and the Screw-Ups May Save Us Yet

And if I may jump in.....(here is Alan's encapsulation of the everyone's input into the conversation thus far...)

Recession? You think so? Is anyone saying the great "D" word yet? Is that so far out of the question? Although it's apparently a flash-in-the-pan, "panic" response, the global quandary this week over food shortage, hoarding and escalating prices absolutely and unequivocally ought to call the Church even closer to a better-embodied life of sustainability. One which, as Jason Evans points out, must finally scuttle beyond theologizing and stop whiffing on the fumes of what could/should be and establish ourselves in even greater practical realities. And some are a heckuva lot further down the road than we are on this, I should say. But there's a move afoot, nonetheless.

I think what ultimately must be at stake here in the shadows between our evolving, theological vantage points is whether or not we are erecting calamity-proof structures which will allow the people and mission of God to thrive over-and-against the prevailing economic delusions of not only King George, but HIS predecessors, successors and their ilk the world over. Here, we may as well dispense with the faux, duplicitous notion of the two-party system, neither of which offer real ways out....only enslaving diversions and false solutions found deeper down the rabbit-hole. The kingdoms of this world are on the decline, in spite of the ascension of the ultra-elite to their fleeting states of power and wealth. We do believe another Kingdom is breaking in, do we not?

I have been mentoring a young church planter here in Oxford for well over a year now. Every week in our local independent coffee shop, we at least sit down for a few hours,
sharing life and conversation- looking at each other down our containers of Church Planter Ambrosia (large caramel latte with whipped cream, in my case). As you might imagine, we cover a few bases on a lot of developmental/leadership kinds of things he encounters in his journey as lead planter in a college church. They hold two large-group weekly worship gatherings as well as weekly community groups and have been exploring a communal living situation of their leaders for the last year with some interesting results and seem to be doing well in this context.

The planting paradigm he finds himself in was one I was entrenched in nine years ago. The equation is roughly similar: trained church planter+convention/state/local association agreement/funding+lots of promising talk= successful church plant that can be modeled back up the rungs through the local association, the state and, finally, the national convention levels...the great butter-up, lick-and-chew-you-up-then-spit-you-out syndrome (though not necessarily intentional).

Get it up and going, garner the attentions of the denominational supers and for the two-year time-period in which you're promised a salary of sorts from the denominational coffers, things can be titillating. Until churches promising support bail out on you. Until the association you were called through misplaces your housing support money and ultimately says you can go to another local association because "we can't afford" you. And now they find themselves- mainstreamed and moved-out- here in the land where intellectualism, Budweiser and bloated real estate are the triune gods of this section of Butler County. As more or less vagabonds and misfits staring down the opportunity toward these more organic structures but still unsure of how much to unhand the fading church paradigm, maybe their hands will be forced; maybe ours will be too.

Stripped of opulence, influence, prestige and status- the Church that flourishes has a certain destitution as its fuel. And this- toward unheard-of realms of the transformative power of God across the board. For if this is indeed the end-game we are mooring upon, then the coming darkness looms less forbidding, shouldered by the misfits on the margins.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Different Kind of Resurrection Dream

I still keep dreaming of Vega. I had my fourth dream about her and it was the most interactive, with a bit of a theological twist.

I'm sitting cross-legged on the ground with some other people I know, but I can't recall them now. It is dim and misty and Vega is around me/us....I can see her as well as sense her in my dream. At times, she comes by me to play and she's off again to absorb attention from someone else. I am conversing with who's there about why she's with us. You see, we all knew she had passed away, but between the joy of having her back and the mild surprise that she was alive again, I had an explanation.

As she came by me again to lay on her side and offer up a paw in my direction like she would do when I'd scruff her chest with my hand, I began to explain that she had been resurrected. Somehow, we had all been a part of it, I suppose in some instrumental way- either bringing it on or simply witnessing it. There was a stabbing comfort coming
from this dream but, as such, it is confined to my subconscious, not easily summoned (if at all) and dulled by any theological reality of the spiritual life (if any) of the domesticated canine.

And so, amidst the damning awareness that such grief pales in the comparative perspective of those who've lost, say, a husband or a wife or a brother or sister or daughter, I grovel in this diffuse perplexity of the existential destinies of "intelligent" animals created by and related to by their Creator. Why is the Scriptural witness so silent on this matter? Why are we allowed to bond so deeply with another creature for the end result to be existentially null and void? Why can't we know if the creatures for which we've been assigned a certain stewardship over will fall into our arms again in the celebrated newness of the New Heaven and New Earth? Couldn't they partake as well? If God can remember the way our atoms bonded, could he not remember the animals? Is there no return to that Garden in which all creatures cohabitated in pefection?

The density of the human plight in this loss is that we can "know" of our eventual reuniting on the other side of the veil. I will see my Granny again. Papaw will be there, and so on. My love was no less of a love and my stewardship no less faithful in the care I gave Vega. Yet I cannot rest on the assurances of well-wishers who stretch the contextual foundations of the Scriptures that seem to allude to the "salvation" of the animals (in that they partake in the resurrection or the New Heaven and the New Earth). And I cannot stomach the disheartening naysayers who won't fathom of the possibility to begin with. And I am finally discontent with just not knowing.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cathy nudged me this usual....and about the time we're both about to rouse from our sleep. But I had been jostled awake, peering at the clock through bleary eyes when I determined to snooze some more. It was 5:36 a.m. But Cathy was speaking through my ear plugs.

"Did you feel that?!? The dresser with the TV on it was rattling!"

I tried to dismiss it, having not "heard" it, but aware now that I wasn't sleeping well up to that point it seemed. She had mentioned that either we needed T.A.P.S. to do an investigation or something else had happened. I opted to go downstairs to the USGS site and confirm what I excitedly suspected- we had indeed gone through an earthquake originating from near West Salem, Illinois that measured 5.2 on the Richter scale.

We are 289 miles from the epicenter and my report submitted to the USGS was the first from Oxford. There were 32 reports submitted in all from our zip code (as of midnight, 4-19-08). So HAH! In all, Oxfordians felt an average intensity of about III on a maximum of VII for this event. There were at least 4 more aftershocks during the day today. One was over 4 on the Richter scale.

All I can say is that was doggone-freekin-biskit-kind-of-luscious.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Trudging Ahead....

Had a superb conversation with the Jaylord last night for about 3 hours over pizza. In addition to a swell running partner, I have an even sweller feller to journey with in this life up here. We connected on some important issues regarding the present and future of Veritas. Just judging by our conversation, I am wholly heartened by what's ahead. And especially the opportunity for those foolish enough to remain and help facilitate some more Kingdom things together.

I'm fully enthralled with who is still with us. I know (and am coming to know) their giftings, abilities. We've journeyed this far together, we have a history and His name and authority and that's fuel enough for me.

Who knows what it'll look like....the thing is, we (our community) know in the most fundamental sense what it is that grounds us (disiciplined simplicity, organicity, an embedded, authentic presence of Christ before our neighbors). That much will be our foundation. There will be a move toward more embodiment in addition to verbalizing what this will look like. Just talking about it isn't enough. We are still about the need to meet together, to strengthen each other but we need to be more about empowering one another to serve to where we go back and have the bulk of our lives.

I know some in our community are wondering about what's ahead. Some have bailed out on us. Some have misinterpreted a perceived inaction, silence (or whatever) as wishy-washiness, a vacuum in leadership, laxity...I don't know what. Some may have seen it as a chance to jump ship. In any case, some perspectives may be currently misconstrued. Suffice it to say where that is the case, things are not as they appear. They are potentially better than they appear. The question is who wants to persevere, in light of the hits we've been taking (not to mention those we've invited). But more on that later.

I just know- for my part- I'm ready to put out my ecclesial bat signal. God knows it's been cloudy enough of late, so it should have something to visibly reflect off least to those half-willing to look up again with us.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

I am supposing that I need to say something of import, something that might enthrall or ensure readership. I don't mind speaking to things that impart life, if what I speak of does just that. Admittedly, much of what I have to say right now centers heavily on loss, some large, some small and some sliding on both sides of the greasy continuum. Collectively, the weight is intrusive.

Yet another person has sought communal pastures other than the one into which we've invested ourselves. While not so totally unexpected, I simply don't agree with it for several reasons that are sensible I suppose mainly in my own context and perspective. I do feel slighted, but I must ultimately attend to that on my own. I bear no ill will or sour feelings toward anyone. I'm just not that way. It's just when I'm at a loss for a reasonable understanding for relational withdrawals, I mull over the bits and pieces, mostly the scraps found in hand when the dust settles. Moving on now...

I'm still grieving over the loss of Vega. I can't help it. Now that I'm working morning shifts (6am-130pm), I am the first one home to wallow in an empty house that had this creature for the previous 12 years....every day, she was there to greet someone....whoever it come through these doors.

I've had three dreams about her and I'll wake up crying (or think I am). I am taken aback at the kind of introspection the grief has offered me and I've been surprised at all the other similar grieving circumstances I've had that get lassoed into the situation. But I parse these feelings and contexts to their rightful place and I still find I need to be grieving sometimes. Over this dog, nonetheless.

And, yes, I've lost close people in my life. But the affinity afforded me with the care of this creature, over whom I was graced with the "alpha" status, has set me into an emotional process much different in many ways and threaded with varying degrees of theological complexity, offering a simultaneous fix of comfort and cold.

I guess a picture tells most of that to which I cannot adequately speak. This picture was the very last time Vega would enter our house from the backyard, where we would let her go to relieve herself. The meager deck stairs in her stage of dysplasia were phenomenal hurdles in that time. There was a fresh snow the day before and her paw prints were left right up against the bottom stair leading to the deck. The night following her death, there was a light snow. I remembered on my bus route that day that I could still find her paw print if I'd search carefully enough, in spite of the snow. I began to be angry that it HAD snowed, because, when you grieve, you search for tendrils of physical connections to the one you loved in such close proximity to their passing. So I got home, went to my knees outside to where I thought the prints were and gently dusted away the top layer of snow in hopes of finding the last remaining physical proof of her final journey into the home she dearly loved.