Monthly Archives: May 2010

Stewardship of the Articulating Truss

There was this amazing articulating truss…filled with lights, and then on command, the motion controllers would change if from a horizontal beam of stage lights to this incredible beautiful cross. An amazing piece of art made of winches, super genie lifts, and a likely, nearly a literal ton of aluminum.

My friend Brent thought such was overkill city and a waste of God’s money. He thought the art, while incredible cool just didnt warrant the expense… and no doubt this was a spendy piece of stage gear. Then again, Brent was no fan of pipe organs either. He used to say, in 2000 years archeologists will dig up our cities and think we worshiped gods of pipes! They would find these buildings which appeared to be worship type facilities everywhere, and then inside would be this pipe god. Then again, Brent was more than a bit of a character.

I’ve often thought back to those days… two young idealists, how we saw what the church was, and how we thought it should be. Over the years, I’ve sort of changed my tune a bit. On the one hand, if its an issue of providing food, shelter, or clothing to the least of these, or spending money on art, I’ll always defer to the least of these.

Otoh, God granted amazing skills of art, design, music, graphics, drama, etc to His people, and for us to simple hide them away as they are deemed too expensive, and not worth pursuing for God’s purposes just doesnt seem right either. It would be a poor use of ones talents, to only utilize such in the realm of the secular. I often think of the wise men bringing expensive gifts to Jesus in very humble surroundings. I think of the expensive perfume that Mary brought to Jesus. Most certainly such was not seen as wasteful in their eyes, but rather a way of bringing glory to God.

As such, my current tune is along the lines… does it bring God glory, or does it detract and focus more on the artist. Ultimately, I guess thats become my default thinking on a lot of art type stewardship issues over the years, bearing in mind any immediate needs should come first.

The question then becomes… what happened to the big massive Christian productions? Where did the genie lifts, the pyro, the automation and such go? Its rare to see such displays of stage art anymore. Even in my day, our base overhead just for transport was $1000/day, throw in a equipment rental, plus upkeep, a couple semi’s, a large crew, and the dollar figures really skyrocket. The end result pretty much means, that apart from the logistics issues (ie if you fly your truss at 40 feet in the air, a small church is out of the question) but with a multithousand dollar overhead charge to cover every night, either A, you have a big underwriter to cover said costs, or B, your music and merch sales cover the cost, or C, ticket prices/donations cover the cost. Pretty much for B and C, the only way it works out ok is that the audience must be substantial. Being B has really crashed due to the massive changes in the music world (piracy, plus singles, rather than whole albums) C ends up being the predominant method of providing operating cash flow, and even that only works for huge names if one has a high overhead cost.

Beyond the stage art thing… even the costs of carrying a live band anymore are often prohibitive. In addition, a 1-5 man singing group can fit in a lot more places, then a full band, even if its just a drummer, bass, keyboard, and a couple guitarists. As a result, tracks tend to predominate among many… which I must admit, I generally find a turn off.

That was, until last night… I attended the youth mass (I know, at 45 I’m way too old, and no, it wasnt too loud) and after which was a concert put on by Christian Crossings, a local southeast MN band. It was super cool that the mass had just under ~100 or so folks, but not so cool that so many of the youngsters left after mass. They missed something amazing.

I’ve played large venues, and small ones, and the small ones by far are the hardest. Yes, it would be the same message of Christ, and yes, we were still gung ho for Jesus… but I must admit a certain lacking when crowds were under 50. Then again, I was a young guy back then.

Anyhow, these guys from Christian Crossings were amazing. They didnt have an articulating truss, nor lights, nor even a massive sound system. They didnt have a live band, nor massive choreography, nor a huge crowd, but they had the message of Jesus, they had the Holy Spirit, and while one not to get any too excited anymore, the atmosphere was electric. It was especially cool, that most of their songs were theologically on the mark, rather than the typical lame theology of so many contemporary tunes. They connected with the kids, the adults, and yep, even me, the old codger. In fact, I’d say I’d prefer that type of engagement even over the beautiful art of motion/light control of years gone by. Sure I miss the stage art of old… but if there is a choice of one or the other, I’d go with something like saturday, over the most massive shows of old.

Which brings me back to the stage art, the articulating truss, and stewardship. I dont think such has necessarily ended. Most certainly art very much belongs in the Christian community, as it has throughout the centuries. The question more so becomes, how best to approach stuff from a stewardship point of view. In a lot of ways, with todays materials and technologies, despite drastically lower operating budgets, stage art indeed may come back. I think its more so a question of when, rather than a question of if. No doubt, it will be smaller and more portable, ie the days of semi trucks full of stage gear are over for the most part. Size on the other hand, is not the issue, as much as it is service to God, and giving Him the glory.

Credit and Debit Atonement

Credit and Debit atonement seems to run rampant in todays Christianity and as the author indicates, it also permeates many devotional texts. I found the following an excellent rebuke of such, and have copied some individual paragraphs.

To many Christians, and especially to those who only know the faith from a fair distance, it looks as if the cross is to be understood as part of a mechanism of injured and restored right. It is the form, so it seems, in which the infinitely offended righteousness of God was propitiated again by means of an infinite expiation. It thus appears to people as the expression of an attitude which insists on a precise balance between debit and credit; at the same time one gets the feeling that this balance is based on a fiction. One gives first secretly with the left hand what one takes back again ceremonially with the right. The `infinite expiation’ on which God seems to insist thus moves into a doubly sinister light. Many devotional texts actually force one to think that Christian faith in the cross visualizes a God whose unrelenting righteousness demanded a human sacrifice, the sacrifice of his own Son, sinister wrath makes the message of love incredible.

I’ve heard that last sentence time and time again from unbelievers… and they ask, how could a loving God be so evil?

The author continues…

This picture is as false as it is widespread. In the Bible the cross does not appear as part of a mechanism of injured right; on the contrary, in the Bible the cross is quite the reverse: it is the expression of the radical nature of the love which gives itself completely, of the process in which one is what one does, and does what one is; it is the expression of a life that is completely being for others. To anyone who looks more closely, the scriptural theology of the cross represents a real revolution as compared with the notions of expiation and redemption entertained by non-Christian religions…

It is not man who goes to God with a compensatory gift, but God who comes to man, in order to give to him. He restores disturbed right on the initiative of his own power to love, by making unjust man just again, the dead living again, through his own creative mercy. His righteousness to grace; it is active righteousness, which sets crooked man right, that is, bends him straight, makes him right. Here we stand before the twist which Christianity put into the history of religion. The New Testament does not say that men conciliate God, as we really ought to expect, since after all it is they who have failed, not God. It says on the contrary that `God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor. 5, 19)…

Accordingly, in the New Testament the cross appears primarily as a movement from above to below. It does not stand there as the work of expiation which mankind offers to the wrathful God, but as the expression of that foolish love of God’s which gives itself away to the point of humiliation in order thus to save man; it is his approach to us, not the other way about…

Excerpts from Introduction to Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI, page 281

Unity in Christ via the Pew

In todays Gospel lesson*, we hear of Jesus prayer for unity… and for many within the body of Christ, they blow it off as unobtainium. I pretty much agree, it is unobtainium… but I vehemiently disagree when it comes to blowing it off. I fully believe, if unity wasnt important, Jesus would not have prayed such. I also believe, to cash it in, and not even work towards such, is as Father Keefe said on Saturday when it comes to our failures… “I choose to do it my own way, not Jesus way”.

Some have suggested unity is possible by viewing different churches as different parts of the body, which sort of makes sense to a point. On the other hand, we dont have feet telling hands they are of no use, nor are no good, nor do we sweep the hand under the carpet, so it sort of looks like a foot might be under there. Nor, do we run around with 50 some odd hands, and 300 feet… Maybe I’m being a bit too literal on the different parts of the body model, but the allure of sweeping parts under the carpet, or likewise bashing different parts is yet another form of doing it my way, rather than Jesus way.

By the same token, there are others who try and tweak things… and go, well maybe we can be united in our zeal for Christ, but not necessarily our beliefs. The thing is, likely such a stance is pretty much obtainable, but the question then becomes, is it really a legitimate stance to take?

The concept of being united with one another, just as Jesus and the Father is, puts the bar incredibly high. Next add in the fact that there are practices within different churches that one or more of the other churches in the body of Christ will find to be anathema.

Can they be united in their zeal for Christ? Absolutely. Can they be united in loving God, and loving their neighbor? Sort of, most certainly they can be united in loving God, and in service to ones neighbors… but can they really have a 3am in the morning theological phone call and still love the dude on the other end of the phone if their beliefs are so different? Or on the flip side, perhaps they can just agree with the dude on the other end of the phone at 3am to end it quickly so as to ignore the differences completely? Ultimately such a stance seems similar to the above groups, I’m doing it my way, rather than Jesus way.

Ultimately I think just as Bob Yerhot stated, the leg work of unity occurs on the local level. There has to be a level of love and respect despite the differences, and that is more likely to occur in the pew (even a virtual one), in a real neighbor to neighbor relationship, than say in an ivory tower, or in theological chairs.

*Ascension Sunday John 17:20-26 (Year C)

Is the fear of Enabling a way for us to Feel Better about Blowing off Jesus

Should our fear of enabling allow us to blow off Jesus with a clear conscience? Most certainly, some of the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the clothingless, the sick, and those in prison are in the state they are in because someone, or groups of folks made it possible for such state(s) to occur, and continue to occur.

On the other hand… some is not all, but even more so… Jesus didnt put qualifiers on things. Jesus never said, listen to me preach the prosperity Gospel for 90 minutes, and I’ll get you some food. Jesus never said, sin no more, and then I will heal you, when mentioned, it was always the reverse.

Even the obnoxious dude in todays lectionary, when asked if he wanted to be healed, blows off Jesus… but Jesus healed him anyhow. And then to show thanks, repays Jesus by ratting him out to the Pharisees. Beyond todays reading, its interesting to note that Jesus does come down on him… “stop sinning, or worse may befall you!” where upon the healed dude goes and rats out Jesus yet one more time.

The words of Jesus in Matthew 25 are especially hard to hear.

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I dont see that Jesus gives us any qualifiers to let us off the hook being we didnt want to enable the least of these…

On the other hand… pop psychology is full of the anti-enabling message… tough love, conditional love, clean up, get sober, and we will help, etc. Popular approaches to the Gospel of suburbia include take a step, even a small one, and we will help at best… to get your ducks in a row 100% and then we can finally start to talk at worst. Neither is well supported via scripture, but both can bring much comfort to the anti-enabling crowd. Twisting 2 Thes 3:10 to apply to all, even those outside the local church is an exceedingly major stretch. In fact… a counter culture movement seems to be the supported norm when one looks across the entire Bible, much more so than the western Gospel of suburbia.

1 Tim 6:6-12,17-19

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.
8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.
10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.
19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

So as I read this, I wonder… am I being attracted to the allure of a counter culture movement, being content with food and clothing alone, and this colors my thinking… or am I really trying to be true to the words of scripture.

Or is my thinking being colored by my own greed… I dont want to give it to some who would spurn Christ, and turn him over to the pharisees? Egads, if I dont give it all away, I could help build a hospital and a church in the Congo. I could go on a missions trip, I could help the youth… or I could even try to help the fixed income folks who were injured when AF shut down their pension plan… I could buy some books, or take some courses from Wartburg, and in the process blow off Jesus right in front of me?

Or if I had just food and clothing, would I be content with that? Would I find I really needed to pray about getting a 2010 BMW status symbol (a blessing from God in re:Psalm 5:12), or a rusty 1977 Ford LTD for very modest transportation instead (a outlawpreachers twitter discussion from last night).

Obviously there is a stewardship issue we do need to consider here as well… but there is a major gap between being a good steward (likely for most, not giving 100% away except food and clothing) of what we are given, vs completely blowing off Jesus by not giving even a few bucks, or 15 minutes of time to the least of these when they appear. Anti-enabling may sound good, and most certainly aligns with our Western greed nature, but by far, it does not mesh with the words Christ gave to us.

6th Sunday of Easter, May 9, 2010

Engineers, MBAs, Managers, and the Church

In the engineering profession, its not uncommon for engineers to have an intense technical focus… often times to the exclusion of nearly everything else. A coder friend of mine once said the length of his lawn was proportional to the technical challenge of the problem at hand. In addition, career progression, and for some, financial rewards are seen as afterthoughts, even if personally detrimental.

Some coders have poured thousands of unpaid late night hours into an open source project with few, if any hopes of financial return, all the while holding down a day job just to keep the lights on. They had a fire in the gut for what they were doing… to me, such sort of parallels Paul his tentmaking, and his zeal for the Gospel.

To an engineer, marketing MBA’s who are juggling to “get ahead promotion wise” or managers singularly focused on quarterly financial bonuses are often looked at like they are on another planet.

Within church/ministry organizations… there are many parallels to the business sector of marketing MBAs and managers… even volunteers want to “get ahead”. Jockeying for this or that, whether it be position or finances is common. Paul made a comment on Faith in Communities blog that I thought nailed it.

I have seen adjuticatories that reek of the worst of corporate culture (yes, the hint of sulphur), where “managing up” (sucking up to and manipulating bosses) supersedes “managing down” (taking care of the areas and people you are supposed to be taking care of), where image and politics are everything. In the business world serving one’s own career advancement takes priority over the servanthood of Christ

It seems a misplaced fire in the gut type deal… No doubt, human nature plays a role in this, ie pride, self preservation, greed, etc, but I think environment also plays a role. How many youngsters with fire in the gut for Christ, end up being hit with a firehose? How many pastors get so swamped with distractions and pulling here and there they nearly lose sight of the goal? How many coders and engineers are so focused technically, that Christian servanthood becomes nearly a lost cause? When was the last time, there was a real danger of a Eutychus type fellow taking a header out the window?