...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Internet fast

In an ironic twist of Providence, ever since things went sour with that small group of parents, the youth ministry has started to develop a lot of momentum. Several people and parents have kind of randomly come up to me and expressed their interest in helping at youth events - one of the goals I had for the new year. And I did an announcement in the main service last week since I was freed up from teaching one of the Sunday school classes, and have subsequently had 3 or 4 new kids come to class. When your talking about a group that averages around 20 or so, that's a significant jump. I think this is probably God's way of encouraging me after that rough spot. I really tried (though I frequently failed) to have a good, humble attitude about it, which I think went a long way to span the gap between me and those parents. But if nothing had come of it - if I had had to eat crow and saw no positive change, I probably would have become very discouraged and started looking for the exit. Now, though, I'm back to waiting in confusion.

On Sunday we talked about Luke 12:54-56, wherein Jesus criticizes the people for failing to "interpret this present time." From my point of view, the thing that most defines the "present time" of my kids is media in all its varied forms. Kids are never far from the constant blare of music, the drone of the TV, the internet, movies, etc. So we spent a long time analyzing what popular media says and is; not only the big messages, but the little ones that slip by unnoticed but not without effect. For instance, in Spiderman, the obvious message is "with great power comes great responsibility" but no one noticed the almost total absence of black people or that even while Mary Jane was working in a greasy diner, she still had perfect hair, makeup and an expensive trench-coat. So I challenged the kids to look for those messages, but also, in light of the 30 Hour Famine we're doing on Friday/Saturday, to fast from some media this week. Whatever thing they thought had too strong a hold on them or took too much of their time - for me, this is the internet. I love blogs and news sites and commentaries and tech sites and ministry sites and...the list goes on, as does the time I frequently waste surfing when I should be working. So this week, I am going to do my best to fast from the internet - only work-necessary stuff allowed, which means even this blog entry is wrong! If you see a really good article, though, or blog entry, please email the link to me so I can take a look at it next week (or the article itself, which I will print off and read in the evening - which isn't really violating my fast, is it?).

And please pray for my kids this weekend and the success of this event. And by success, I can only mean these kids hearing God whispering in their ears and taking hold of their hearts. On the fundraising side, we've already raised close to $1,000 for Worldvision's anti-hunger programs, which is many times more than I thought we would, so I already feel quite successful on that front. Though if anyone was interested in making a donation, just drop me an email. :)

Thank you for your prayers and I will "see" you all next week. God bless.


Unintentional iconoclasm?

Last Saturday I went to a one-day training conference at a church a couple of hours away. The church has grown considerably of late, and recently built a new campus. But rather than totally moving to the new facility, they are continuing to use the old building, having dedicated large part of it to the youth ministry. A fact, of which, I am not ashamed to say I am deeply envious! The old sanctuary is still in use for some of the smaller services, however, and is still lovingly maintained with its pews and hymn-books. Displayed prominently on the exterior of this building and at the head of the sanctuary, are three large crosses arranged in a pattern I had not seen before. One is, of course, higher than the others, but (as you look at it) the one on the left is nestled under the higher cross and somewhat overlapping it, while the third cross is somewhat separated from the other two off to the right. This pattern was repeated on the exterior of the new facility, which we drove by, and in other parts of the old. The architecture of the old facility was clearly "churchy", and the new had a more modern feel to it, but was still identifiable as a church.

Contrast this with my church. Except for the raised portion which houses the "auditorium", there is absolutely no identifiable feature that would distinguish it from a small office building or semi-industrial facility. This is beside my point somewhat, but the exterior is rather drab - metal siding with minimal accents and tan paint, and straight, angular lines. There are no crosses or identifying marks. Inside, one finds a rather utilitarian lobby & cafe, though it is not without its warmth. The church's logo is featured prominently on the wall opposite the front doors, but again, no crosses or other Christian marks. Enter into the "auditorium" and one finds a rather stark, rectangular room with a large stage and rows of padded chairs. While one may see the occassional cross put on stage during a specific sermon series or at the appropriate times of year, there are no permanent crosses or other adornments - the walls are completely bare year round.

The reason for this lack of Christian marks and symbolism is a pragmatic one. We are a seeker-sensitive church and it is believed that the unchurched find such symbols off-putting if not downright offensive. In order to be unoffensive, we have removed those things that would put up an unnecessary barrier to faith. We are not exactly iconoclasts in that we don't have any objections to the cross or other symbols per se, but it is clear that this is the effect. In essence, we have repudiated Christian symbols like the cross, which ironically, takes us a few (if unintentional) steps beyond the original iconoclasts. We are pragmatic iconophobes. In the manner of the iconodules of old, I am becoming aware of the larger theological implications of such iconoclasm and do not what I see.

What does the eschewal of the cross (and other Christian symbols) say about us and what will it lead to? We are, after all, not talking about actual icons - images of people or God - to which there are some understandable objections if not placed within a correct theological understanding. No, we are talking about the primary and ancient symbol of our faith, the instrument of our salvation and the salvation of the world. If this symbol, above all others, is too offensive to display in our houses of worship, what else will we find similarly offensive and remove? Looking at the cross, and the messages bound up in it - sin, death, salvation, heaven & hell, judgment & grace - what do we lose by its removal? Clearly, sin, death, judgment and hell are not easy, comfortable topics and we are not wont to preach on them because they are offensive. Whether the symbol was removed first and then the preaching, or vice versa, it matters little - the offensive, challenging focus of the Cross of Christ is gone. Similarly, any understanding of salvation, heaven & grace that is absent a grasp of the offensive poles is incomplete and the truth of them is lost. We lose much in taking down our crosses - perhaps too much. Can we preach the message of the Cross if we don't have one? And what is the message of the Cross without one?



Yes, I have successfully created a gmail account - many thanks to Doug for the invite. It was a bit odd, though. I imported my contacts from my (very) old hotmail account and had to delete more than half of them because we've lost contact. It was something of a sad reminder that things change and people move on.


Parents meeting & links

Last night I had the first meeting of the newly formed Parents Leadership Team - one of the "recommendations" from the recent fallout caused by some other parents. It went well and I think it was a good initial step in building a bridge, which in all honesty I have not really focused on thus far. I haven't intentionally left the parents out, I've just been focusing on the kids. They had some good ideas & suggestions which should be pretty easy to implement. I realized too that I have not been anywhere near strident enough in getting the youth ministry on the larger church's agenda. There should be some easy ways to make things more prominent. One thing I didn't like - one of the parents said they would really like me to go into the schools on a regular basis and have lunch with kids in the group. This, for a variety of reasons, is not very high on my list and I have studiously avoided doing so. But now I've been called out on it, so next week begins "school visits." Oh well - it will fill up my time card, anyways.

And a couple of Touchstone links I found interesting:

Ash Wednesday
Ministry to the Competent



* North Korea admits to having nukes, and rejects calls to come back to the multi-party talks. I, for one, am not at all surprised. Had Iraq been an easy military victory followed by a quick and relatively quiet turnover to a new government, things would be very different. But as it stands now, Iran and North Korea know they have a limited window of a few years while we are stuck in Iraq to pursue a nuclear deterrent. I hope and pray the Bush administration will find a way to bring North Korea back to the table, but I remain doubtful - I don't think anyone in our leadership structure for the past 15 years has had a sufficient understanding of the crazies in charge over there.

* I saw on the Today show this morning a man - with his wife and 11 children - who has for the last 2 years been actively seeking to be sent to Iraq. He wasn't already in the military, mind you, and was actually rejected by the active-duty Army because of the number of children he has (no on-base housing could meet their needs). He managed to find a way into the Reserves, all so he could be sent to Iraq. While I respect his desire to serve his country, I still think he needs a swift kick in the butt. As you were; he needs multiple kicks to the posterior.

* And a few links I have found interesting over the last week or two, some of which I would write a post about if I had time:

Pontificator responds to a snarky critique

Minor Clergy tackles political idolatry and the GI Joe hostage crisis

Doug presents a lengthy but well-written letter on the Theotokos. (I admit I haven't read all of it, yet. I did say "lengthy", didn't I?)

Steve holds forth several posts on liturgy & technology, the 2 most interesting to me are here and here. I certainly don't agree with all that Steve says, but he has some good thoughts.

Aaron at Radical Congruency talks about people leaving the church for various reasons. I have a hard time with some of what he says - should the departure of a person who disagrees with the church's theology really be a spur to questioning and possibly reshaping that belief?

And finally, Clifton has been on a roll lately - go check out the last few weeks for some good stuff. And thankfully his daughter is doing much better after some tense moments with RSV. Praise God!

Ugh - I need a vacation.

Just as the wife and I were getting over the lingering colds we caught a few weeks ago at the jr high winter retreat, she gets nailed with a bad case of bronchitis that could have tipped into pneumonia (thanks to her asthma) and I get a real bad head cold. Since she works with babies, she has had to take the whole week off from work and I ended up staying home sick for a couple of days. And I came to the somewhat obvious conclusion that we need a vacation. We've only taken a few days off since we've been here - almost a year now - and most of those have been spent with family. I think I may be starting to burn out a little bit. Anyone have any cheap but fun & relaxing vacation ideas?


For the Life of the World

Only a brief post today - I am trying to finish up my lesson for Sunday morning, focusing on Luke 10 & 11. All I can say is that those kids are lucky I only have them for an hour; I'm really getting on a roll and have to very intentionally trim what I want to say. I pray that God softens their hearts and that I am faithfully teaching what he wants them to hear.

Anyways, I was reading some of Fr. Schmemann's "For the Life of the World" yesterday, and his words whispered to my soul, breathing hope into my current struggles.

"...to enter into that joy [of the Lord], so as to be a witness to it in the world, is indeed the very calling of the Church, its essential leitourgia, the sacrament by which it 'becomes what it is.'"

I hunger to enter into that joy, for the fullness of worship! There is a deep emptiness in me that can only be filled by it. I am sick to death of shallow, man-centered worship. Worship that is more concerned with being comfortable and inoffensive, than it is coming into the presence of God with joy, thanksgiving and praise.

"We are already far beyond the categories of common worship and prayer. The purpose of this 'coming together' is not simply to add a religious dimension to the natural community, to make it 'better' - more responsible, more Christian. The purpose is to fulfill the Church, and that means to make present the One in whom all things are at their end, and all things are at their beginning...The early Christians realized that in order to become the temple of the Holy Spirit they must ascend to heaven where Christ has ascended...In church today, we so often find we meet only the same old world, not Christ and His Kingdom. We do not realize that we never get anywhere because we never leave any place behind us."


Consensus II

So I leave things with the glaring statement that there can be no consensus between the paradigms of the Church Fathers and the Reformation. I was blessed with some time on Monday to sit at Border's for a few hours and do some studying-up on the Reformation (obviously not an in-depth exploration, but enough to confirm my thesis, I believe). What I found, though, was quite ironic. Though Luther & Calvin both affirmed the need for the individual believer to ground their personalized faith in the Bible and to search its depths for themselves with no churchly mediator, both men supported hierarchical, centralized churches (if only locally) with ties to the state or government. And both were willing to use the government to enforce (their) orthodoxy. According to Bruce Shelley in Church History in Plain Language, "The Reformers were as eager as the Catholics to suppress nonconformity." (pg 302) In a debate with John Eck in Leipzig, Luther said "Neither the church nor the pope can establish articles of faith. These must come from Scripture." Luther plainly taught "...that common people have a right to search the Bible for themselves..." and yet was more than willing to allow a church of his choosing to establish those very articles and doctrines. (pg 248) From this, I think we can see that even the Reformers themselves did not fully believe in their own doctrine about the individual's authority and ability to read Scripture, or at least thought the doctrine needed to be tempered by a strong ecclesial presence. Regardless, one of the prime legacies of the Reformation is the insistence on private judgment and being directed by personal conscience. How does this square with Patristic thought?

Quite simply; it doesn't. Reading through even the earliest Fathers (those from the 1st and 2nd centuries), it is evident that being a good follower of Christ was closely linked to being a good follower of the church's leaders. From Clement's First Epistle to the Corinthians, we are told "...ye did all things...being obedient to those who had the rule over you, and giving all fitting honour to the presbyters among you." (ch 1) But this is not just a case of submission for the sake of peace or honoring those older in the faith. From this passage, it is clear that Clement sees a special, God-appointed role for the bishop:

"The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefor was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders...with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe." (ch 17)

We can see, then, the clear line of succession starting with God the Father, moving through Jesus to the Apostles and from the Apostles to the bishops they appointed. But this, in and of itself, does not tell us exactly what authority the bishops have. Clearly the Apostles were subject to Christ and the bishops to the Apostles. Drawing this out, we (as "those who should afterwards believe") are to be subject to the bishops (or his representatives). Us to the bishops, the bishops to the Apostles, the Apostles to Christ and Christ to the Father; a very orderly progression. And what of those who would not be subject to the bishops? From Clement again:

"Ye therefore, who laid the foundation of this sedition, submit yourselves to the presbyters, and receive correction so as to repent, bending the knees of your hearts. Learn to be subject, laying aside the proud and arrogant self-confidence of your tongue. For it is better for you that ye should occupy a humble but honourable place in the flock of Christ, than that, being highly exalted, ye should be cast out from the hope of His people." (ch 57, emphasis added)

Clement clearly believes that refusing to be in fellowship with and subjection to the bishop (through his presbyters) is to be removed from the "flock of Christ." In his mind, the visible church is, in fact, the Church - the Body of Christ - and she is constituted by her line of succession through the bishop to the Apostles to Christ. Breaking that chain is to break from the body.