28 March 2007

A view from the parish...

My friends who are pastors are rarely one-trick ponies (and I am sorry if I gave the impression that I thought they were), they spread themselves thin in calling on those in hospitals, attending committees, I mean commissions, I mean ministry teams inside and outside the 4 walls of the church, ministerial associations, coaching soccer teams, working with contractors and repairmen, fund raising, mowing the lawns, etc. while praying, counseling, preaching, serving, their "flock," if I can still use that word.

Since I started writing these last few blogs, I have been hearing from people who are in agreement with some of the ideas, many through emails and the comment box, but some also have been inviting me to lunch and meetings where some of the ideas have been happening (I had nothing to do with them). One pastor told me that his church began a service to the Southeast Asian community who surround the church, hired two commissioned lay leaders from the SE Asian community to lead it and that once a month the two bodies gather together for the Eucharist. Those from the SE Asian community are a part of committees of the church and bring a delightful voice to the direction of the church. The pastors, some ordained and some not, are teaching the elders how to listen to the voice of God and to the voice of those in the parish for the direction of the facility and program. The elders begin to use their disciplines that they are educated, and practice through their vocations, to facilitate the mission programs. Afterschool programs are not "evangelistic" but demonstrate the love of Jesus through tutoring, basketball in the parking lot, and other areas that give them access into the youth groups and children's program.

In some community, the church building is the place community activities take place. Soup kitchen and open pantries are a regular occurrence, AA meetings, Boy and Girl Scouts, MOPS, MADD, Young Republicans, etc use the facility and grounds for their organizations. (Just kidding about the young republicans.)

But let me ask a question, if someone was sitting in their kitchen, looking out their window at the cars and people driving in and leaving our parking lots, activities on the front lawn, etc., would they feel like they could be a part of the church. Is there something there that gives them access into the Kingdom of God. Do we plant ourselves into the life of the parish or do we continue to relocate to accommodate the housing market trends of our congregation?

And those of us who are attending and are not paid to be there, do we give our abilities to the place and people surrounding the place where we worship? It cannot be left up to the "staff" but to the Body of Christ.

As the song says, "Let what we do in here fill the streets out there... let us dance for You..." What a great picture after worship a dance in the parish.

26 March 2007

Revolutionary education... A REWRITE

Hebrews 5:1-4
For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.

I think we are in agreement that the church is having a hard time meeting the needs of the culture that incorporates the parish. The church is not the center of activity in the parish in most cities anymore. People leave their 'hood to travel maybe 15 minutes or more to go to "church." The church is not a part of the parish anymore it is more like a Sears where we go to it, it rarely involves itself in those who don't shop there. It has to attract people to its doors instead of opening its door to the 'hood. This may be the inherit problem.

What expectations do we have of our priests (pastors) today? How do we equip them? (Quick note: this is not about the pastors but the institutional thinking.) When I read the passage in Hebrew 5 it brought to mind that the priest is chosen out of the people, to offer sacrifices for people's incorporated sin, and to beseech on their behalf for God to save them. It is more than just to be saved from eternal damnation but to save them from that which damns them now.

I started thinking about how do we train people today to be our priests. It needs to be more than just liturgical organizing but community organizing, parish planning and advocacy. In some parishes, a friend told me, that the biggest thing needed is getting rid of the trash, garbage, and infestation of rodents and pests. Is that a theology issue? Yes, and a public health issue. Along side the preacher, can we begin to hire associates who are able to "clean up" the neighborhood and provide for the needs of the people. The Priest who deals with the Garbage of Sin? What if we hire those who are in the discipline to guide us and be priest in these areas. Is the priest only a liturgical position or can there be priest in parish development. Can we only give the gospel and not be concerned about hygene? We who are antiAbortion are we not also proLife? Can we hate the sin enough that we will work to clean up its affects on the sinner and the neighborhood. Can the church begin to hire those who help with the effect of sin as well as the defining of sin. There is a grace to that.

Hell is eternal and many are living in it right now. Do we work to stop the abuse of a woman by their husband, while still preaching on the sin of divorce? I had a friend, whose husband was abusive. I got a call one night when he was drunk and pounding outside the door because she locked him out. He was now threatening her and the kids if she didn't let him in. She called me and I called the cops on my way over there. When I arrive he turned his anger on me and threatened to kill me. (Oh, by the way, he was in the praise band with me.) Her parents were pastors and tried to counsel her in keeping this quiet, the shame of divorce was greater than the shame of being beat up. This is not meant to be against marriage but advocating for wisdom and maybe Sanctuary. A place of protection and care.

I think we need to think about hiring people who are trained in Social Work to help the poor in our parishes navigate the system of Relief more effectively. Just as a preacher should be trained in understanding the scriptures and properly articulate it so the simple amongst us can understand and live in it.

Instead of relying on one person who is trained in a single discipline we should be thinking of hiring more who can organize, train, and execute programs in the parishes to make revolutionary changes that are needed today.

24 March 2007

Revolutionary eyes...

John 9:1-3
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

This verse got under my skin a few years back before it started to wrinkle. What a paradigm shift for the disciples. What a paradigm shift for this disciple. The "works of God" manifested in a visually impaired person. Nothing against people who are blind, but we "normal" people are usually the ones who are holders of the manifestation. Charismatic leaders with whiten teeth, blue eyes, flowing hair, golfcourse-tanned skin, great booming voice with a slight accent,... you know, those guys. But a handicapped person? Oh I know God is going to make the person "normal" because that is where God is good. Making people normal.

And of course, Jesus healed the guy. But what about when He doesn't heal the guy? What about when He doesn't heal me? What about when He doesn't take that which I struggle with out of my life? I start rationalizing the heck out of it. Judgement creeps in. Doubt or worse theology - God doesn't heal any more... Did that with the apostles but when they died... NO HEALING FOR YOU! (Please read like your the Soup Nazi.) Or we begin a MEology - I must be such a sinner or failure or God doesn't like me...

Is it only the display of the work of God when I am healed, or is it also in the struggle? I beginning to believe His work in us is mighty in our infirmities and our "unnormalness." When I read the "Blessed are they... " in The Sermon and read them together I begin to hear Jesus speaking about the Kingdom and who is a part of it. "Duh, Tony. Of course. Welcome to the carwash." But wait. I don't think I believed that until just recently. Of course I heard that we need to mourn, we need to be poor in spirit... but did I realize that those who do those things are welcome in the Kingdom. Is there a place for them in my life? Do they have value? It is hard to be around someone who is mourning or grieving. I don't know what to say or do.

Do we believe that people with disabilities are part of the Kingdom? Do we give them access into our lives?

And of course we would say, Of course!

Then why did it take so long for the Americans with Disabilities Act to become law. Did it just happen that people became disabled in 1990 and we needed a law to tell us to do something about it? The sad thing is that many churches, Churches, CHURCHES, (no matter how you spell it) still do not have proper accessibility. Are the bathrooms accessible? Is the choir loft accessible? Is the podium? Do we make room for them in our buildings because we care or because of the law affects the building code? The ADA doesn't have jurisdiction over our hearts in providing access for them there. The Kingdom needs to invade our hearts as well as our building codes.

I am reading about a man named Clarence Jordan, who lived in the early part of last century and believed what the Bible said to be true and started living his life according to it. It said neither Jew nor Greek,... so he didn't consider color to be a separating issue when it comes to friends or who he dined with or work with. This was in the 1940s and segregation was not limited to just the secular society, it stained all aspects of the culture. He was first threatened and harassed by the KKK, then he was threaten and kicked out by the church.

"Well, Tony, we are passed that. This isn't the 1900s." We have passed civil rights, ADA of 1990, Megan's Law, etc. We are more enlightened." I am not. I don't see the person as clearly as I see the disability or color. I

I don't join a parish church, I drive 7 miles to a denominational church, for I don't know why. I leave the parish and go to the comfortable.

Do I believe the words in Galations 3, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." and make them a part of living out the Kingdom in my life?

Lord, open my eyes to see as you see so that your work would be displayed in my life...

18 March 2007

Sitting under a citrus tree with a friend...

Last Friday I visited The Dakota House in Fresno to talk with my friend Jamie Barker the Executive Director. I got the tour as well as the love.

I heard stories of redemption and promise as Jamie shared some of her life with me out in the back yard in the garden, under a citrus tree. We were continually interrupted by the kids but it wasn't interrupted in the nuisance kind of interruption. It was an interruption that brings healing instead of agitation. Kiki and Keanu and a couple of beautiful young girls would come out to sit and listen or to show Jamie what they received today for their heart work (a combination of cleaning up and getting along with the other kids). I don't know how long I was there, I lost track of time. It was like waking up from a good afternoon nap only the dream was real.

I like Jamie. I am honored to have gotten to sit in the midst of God's grace and beauty with the sound of hope and the smell of heaven re-hydrating my soul.

12 March 2007

Why not a revolution...

The house next door is for sale. The neighbors put a sign in front to indicate what is going on. It said, "For Sale." No one asked the owners shouldn't they give this house another try. No one asked, what about the tradition of them living in the house, the neighborhood, this county. No one. No one said the sign is too stark and had communist overtones in the colors: red, black and white. No, people started bidding.

I am not calling for a revolution, I think we are smack-dab in the middle of it. I just want to put the sign out front. It is not about the American church, it is about being Jesus. This is not revival, it is code blue and it needs to be resurrection. I don't think we are to start up a revolution, it has been going on since Christ was born, crucified, and resurrected.

The life we live must be thought as revolutionary and not mainstream. Even in a "christian society" we must think this way. There is a difference between the values of the Kingdom and a life of faith. There aren't any holes in the hands of values. This Kingdom life is lived with holes in our hands, for we are crucified with Christ.

Jesus entered into a religious society as well as a society under dominance by the Romans. Both groups were suspicious of Jesus. Both groups plotted. Throw in a new group, the Subversives. They didn't plot they hoped that Jesus was one of them. A new subversive. The Iscariot thought he was the new Reformer, the latest of the Maccabees. Jesus identified the poor, outcast, sick and others who fit into the proletariat of the times, as those having a place in the new Kingdom. The time was ripe for an overthrow. People were tired, the poor increasing, taxes were too much and getting worse, gas prices were at $3.00 or more.

As Jesus enters the city, people were shouting out Hail Messiah, those in power tell him to quiet your people. He said, "I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!" The revolution is more than people, it involves nature. The people are fickle, a week later they are shouting out, "Give us Barrabus!" When people found out it wasn't about the overthrow, they left, they left big. Judas pushed, Jesus died.

Our prayer, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in heaven..." is a radical cry. Just start asking for The Will in your life and live it for a week. It is not a prayer for God to make The Will happen, it is ours to live according to The Will. That is FAITH, radical faith. Whole in the hand faith.

Jesus' revolution happens in the heart and knees which will have impact in the marketplace and the streets, bedrooms and boardrooms, pulpits and preschools, hospitals and concerts halls.

When Jesus tells us to repent, turn or revolve in a new direction. Align yourself with the direction of the Kingdom. When we are not aligned with the Kingdom, there needs a revolution, a revolving.

Am I starting to make sense?

More to come...

Revolutionary faith...

This is third in a continuation of previous blogs. I don't know how many more there is to come.

This idea of asking Jesus for what He wanted to do in those with Mid Demonic Syndrome (MDS) began to permeate into other areas of my walk. Instead of telling people what I thought they should do, we asked Jesus. And He told 'em.

My confidence shifted, it wasn't about me, but Him. Faith began. People started thinking I was bright and very spiritual, but really I was submissive and a Johnny One-Note. What is Jesus telling us to do. Then we should do it. That is the smartest thing I could think of.

I was a teacher of Graphic Arts and Design at a vocational high school magnet in Fresno and was asked to come up to Calvin Crest to be a speaker for a high school camp in the middle of summer. I would ask Jesus each day what He wanted to speak about that night. Sometimes it was an almost audible message, and other something in my scripture reading would touch my heart and I knew that was the way to go. One day, I just heard wait. All day I waited, and on my way up I saw a picture instead of a verbal message. It was an embellished story of Stephen, the martyr.

I was praying for some of the staff and went around the room and just prayed for what I heard to pray for. Sometimes it was right on sometimes it was the breakfast sausage talking. But I was obedient. I prayed for a young woman who had a cut on her tummy and it wasn't healing so we asked Jesus what we should do and he told me to have her put her hand on her wound and I was to touch her elbow and pray for healing. Nothing happened right then and she left. But in 10 minutes some of us are still hanging out in the room when the door bursts open and the young woman comes running in the room and lifts up her shirt and says look it is all healed. We asked her to put down her shirt, her healing was causing me to stumble.

The team coordinator asked if I would come back and just pray for the staff. We came back a few weeks later and then the following summer. It was that summer that I was asked to apply for the program director's job. I didn't think I stood a chance and neither did Rick and the others on the committee. But they kept asking Jesus what they should do and my name kept getting back on the list. I ended up getting the job. I was told I had to join the local presbyterian church. I freaked out. I didn't think I could do that. Become a Presbyterian?!?!?!!!?!

I went to tell Christel the news, she was packing to go on a vacation. She said she knew that I was suppose to do this back in 1976. "Let's pray about it while we are apart and when we get back let's compare what Jesus tells us." She is a wise woman, I am a bumbling fool. While apart we both heard, "Didn't I provide you with jobs in Fresno, friends in Fresno, a church in Fresno, a position as an elder in Fresno... don't you think that I will provide for you in Oakhurst?" Along with that was a strange peace. ...I could do that.

I did that...

Story ended, now I can begin to explain.

Unrequited love...

I desire a relationship with my cat.

Now back to the revolution...

10 March 2007

Setting up the Revolution...

This is a continuation of the previous post.


My first year, I would sit for hours and read the Gospels and The Acts of the Apostles and would ask a lot of questions about what this all was about. The love, power, forgiveness of Christ and then the power of the Holy Spirit in the believer. Where was that in the church today? A new friend said, "Oh Tony, we love being around you with all of this excitement but you will soon mellow out like the rest of us."

Mellow out?! I GOT SAVED! I asked about the power in the believer and another new friend said, "That doesn't happen any more." I asked "when did it stop?" thinking I missed it by a couple of years back when Crosby, Stills, and Nash broke up. And they went on to tell that it ended back with the disciples. I asked, "well... didn't Jesus say to go out and make disciples... ?" Oh Tony, you don't understand, the apostles were the last ones with that power." "Really?" I said. "I left a commune to join this?" When I started reading about missionaries in Cambodia and Philippines doing some of the same things as the apostles, no one could explain that, except, "They're missionaries..."

Mellowing out is when we start to comfort out and figure out. A lose of faith and a change of lean. We begin to lean on our own understanding. We still believe but it becomes based on our understanding, our bookwork, our legwork and not as much on the Spirit's work. Leaning is where we put our weight. And it is hard to put your full weight on two platforms and not pull a groin. My friends who go off to seminary, sometimes, rarely, a few,... quit relying on their faith and begin to lean on their understanding. They become ordained based on proficiencies passed instead of faith manifested. We form a commission of people to go out and select the best pastor based on proficiencies rather than manifestation of the work of the Spirit. Can they preach or does the Spirit speak through them. The lean is important.

I soon found myself trying to fit into the christian culture. Bought jewelry, bumperstickers, records, posters, and clich├ęs. I started saying "praise the Lord" and praying that I wouldn't "backslide." I needed to be a part of something that gave me an identity. Faith was replaced by identity. That didn't last long, it is hard to maintain an identity in a shifting culture. Who is in today, is tomorrow's joke. Try playing a DC Talk song today in an emergent worship extravaganza experience.

I then got "filled with the Spirit" and changed churches. The people seemed to be deeply seeking The Way instead of being the way. I got to know people who GOT SAVED and were still excited. People who didn't rely on the organization to provide program, these men and women started ministries on their own. The church seemed to bless and encourage instead of control and commodify. I got involved with some people who would pray for people with spiritual issues. People who wanted prayer. And we would pray for them. I didn't know how to pray. I didn't know that I had authority over spirits. I just thought I could ask God to bless them, whatever that means. That time taught me a lot and changed my Way again.

At first it was about my power, then as Jesus revealed His heart it was about His Truth and His Life. We would begin to ask Him and wait for Him to reveal, instead of us just casting the demon out. Jesus would reveal the truth about the spiritual issue which was more than just getting rid of it but revealing the place given by the person, permission for it to have power. A holistic approach spiritual, physical, psychological, and familial healings need to happen not just spiritual. Jesus cares about all of that. More than just a technique, but a Way.

We started listening for His Way to deal with the demonic. If the spirits were subject to His Way shouldn't I be subject as well? So it became about listening and obedience.

The revolution continues...

08 March 2007

A change...

I have been engaging in my faith since Beth broke up with me back in 1973. I got involved with a pharmaceutical practice of my own which one day led me to a park and to ask a canine, "Why should I go on living?" As I was sitting on top of a swing set in Davis, CA the canine simply told me, "Believe in God." (no my dyslexia did not confuse this!)

As I was walking home I stopped by a yard sale, saw and picked up a copy of Francis Schaeffer's "The God Who Is There." I thought this was an incredible find and it backed up what the dog was telling me. I had never heard of Schaefer, I had never met the dog before and who would have thought that InterVarsity has a house in Davis and sells their books via a yard sale. The guy sitting behind the book table at the yard sale told me I made a great choice. I reached in my pocket and could only find a dollar and twenty seven cents, a roach clip, and a lot of lint which didn't add up to the asking price of the book. The guy looked into my eyes and saw that I was searching (and extremely dilated) and told me that was enough, "Enjoy. Come back after you read it and we will talk." I continued my trip on home. The next day I woke up, sat in my room, on my waterbed, and tried to read this book that i found stuffed in the pocket of my jeans.
"The Christian is to resist the spirit of the world. But when we say this, we must understand that the worldspirit does not always take the same form. So the Christian must resist the spirit of the world in the form it takes in his own generation. If he does not do this, he is not resisting the spirit of the world at all."
(Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, Ch. 1)
I had no idea what that meant. I was not a Christian. I went to Sunday School until I started doing drugs. But Mrs. Anderson and Becky Ray never told us about "the spirit of the world" - only the books of the Bible, stories of the Bible, and to stop throwing paper wads at Debbie.

It took another year before I came to the point where I needed to change my life and believe in God. I didn't just believe in God, I began to live a different life. A life of resistance. As I read the scriptures it was more about living in the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE of Jesus, than not taking drugs or not throwing paper at Debbie. It was different.

The revolution began. It had nothing to do with rebellion, I tried that, it had to do with Way. And reading the Sermon on the Mount (The Sermon), I began to understand the Way. It was different. More than a change of paradigm, it was a change of heart... a heart attack. Drastic, life changing, eye changing...

Last year I had another "heart attack" not the kind that sends you to the hospital, but the kind that sends you to the grave. I had to die to myself and to a way that I had been living the last ten years or so. I began to live according to the way of christianity instead of WAY of Christ. I had forgotten The Sermon and started following the institution. Keeping people from hell instead of leading them to the WAY.

Well The Revolution continues...

04 March 2007

Or maybe you would prefer some of these...

And some think my design could be offensive...

More thoughts from the Revolution...

You don't have to teach people how to be human. You have to teach them how to stop being inhuman.
Eldridge Cleaver

03 March 2007

Can I ask you a question?

I have been thinking about this summer's theme and I am working around "Revolution." I am thinking about this for the staff shirts.

I need to know if this is too close to the edge. Give me some feedback...