Burning Letters in the Night

Glennon Doyle Melton, speaking at Christianity 21 in Phoenix

Glennon Doyle Melton, speaking at Christianity 21 in Phoenix

Coincidence?

Sometimes in life we are given two stark options, it seems. Either A) decide to accept an event as a wildly unlikely coincidence, or B) consider the possibility that something/one might actually be at work in, oh I don’t know, the unfolding of said events. Even as a Christian Pastor, it often times can take a lot to jar me out of A and in to B.

The following story did just that.

Two quick introductory remarks. First, the ethos of the church that my wife and I co-founded (Sojourn Grace Collective) has been shaped in no small way by author/blogger/warrior Glennon Doyle Melton. Her insistence on living life Brave (because we are children of God) and Kind (because, well, everyone else is a child of God, too) not only make up the wording of our weekly Benediction on Sunday mornings, but her general spirit of truth-telling, and people-loving, and grace-oozing inspires our community on the weekly. Second, the setting of this story was in Phoenix, AZ last week where Christianity 21 (C21) was held, a conference designed to bring together 21 voices from across the spectrum of Christianity to speak to where the church is heading (or ought head) in the 21st Century. Together with my buddy Mathew (who shared his C21 reflections on my blog Wednesday) we soaked up the goodness of the week, including of course a session by Glennon herself, our church God-mother (hope she doesn’t mind being called thus, ha!).

Now, on to the story.

Choosing the Path of Forgiveness

For the first three Sundays of 2015 I took our church on a journey through reflecting back on 2014 and looking forward to the new year. It began with a sermon called “Review,” where I had us journal out two lists: what we were Grateful for in ’14, and the hard things that happened that we wanted to be Mindful of in ’14. The next week was about “Resolve,” about identifying who we wanted to become and how to overcome the temptations to get off course. Finally we talked about “Release,” this invaluable revelation that the Greek word for “forgive” literally means “to send away, to set free, to release.” As an exercise I invited people to write down all the people who wounded us in 2014 and then, at the end, we paused in the service to write out a letter to that person and explain the ways in which they wounded us. But before setting us free to write, I pointed out that maybe the person that should be on all our lists is our own Self. There’s a good chance that we wounded our selves at some point last year. Then I referred to a recent post by Glennon where she wrote about retraining our brain to be more kind to our selves, and she offered this piece of advice:

anytime and every time we fall short of the ridiculous expectations we put on ourselves – we are going to say to our sweet, well-meaning selves: “Whatever. I’m fabulous anyway.

So I invited our people to, if they were going to write a letter to themselves, end it with those words from Glennon, “Whatever. I’m fabulous anyway.” To help symbolize the letting go of these people from the cages we lock them in, cages of some debt we think they owe us (aka, forgiveness), I put a box up by the communion table where we could all leave our letters behind, then move toward the Bread and the Wine and fill up the hole we just left in our hearts, the ones caused by letting someone go, with the best hole-filler I know of: the Grace of God.

After the service I announced to the church that Mathew and I were heading west to C21, and that my plan was take this box full of letters, this beautiful tangible sign of a faith-community choosing the path of forgiveness, with us to Phoenix. And while there we would be mindful for an opportunity, a moment, to dispose of the letters for good.

A Series of Fortunate Events

When the conference ended the first day, Mathew and I hopped in our rental car and started driving back to the hotel. (Now, I’m about to briefly recount a series of events that verges on tedious, but there’s a point. Hang in there.) Midway to the hotel I changed my mind on needing a jacket so we turned back around and drove up north a couple miles to a coffee shop where the conference was hosting an open mic night. After parking and briefly surveying the scene we decided it wasn’t something we were interested in, so back to the car we went. In the parking lot we spent several minutes perusing our phones looking for a possible movie to check out, but at 9:25 at night our options were limited. Giving up, we resigned to return to the hotel several miles away. En route I stopped for gas where, after filling up our car, this white SUV came stumbling towards the pumps. Out hops a man who laments that he almost made it, and proceeds to ask us to help him push his car around the parking lot to a pump. We do. We push. Then back in the car, continuing to the hotel. After parking in the back of the parking lot we head toward the side-door of the hotel, the easier more convenient entry point to our room. However, I make an abrupt turn and say, “let’s head around through the lobby, in case anyone from the conference is hanging out in the lobby” (a strange thing for this introvert to say). So we do, and lo and behold, there unpacking her stuff is Heatherlynn and her husband Jason! Heatherlynn was the musician who provided live music at C21, and Mathew and I enjoyed about 10 minutes worth of conversation in the lobby before turning to head to towards our room for the night.

As I swivel around I see the back of this tiny framed women, all dressed in her jammies and barefoot, at the counter trying to work out something with the hotel clerk. There was Glennon, by herself, who just happened to walk down to the lobby at the exact same moment that we were passing through.

Since I missed an opportunity to try and connect with her earlier in the day at the conference, I meandered over and smiled/waved at her. When she finished her phone call (with Sister, obvs) she warmly smiled (obvs, again) and her, Mathew and myself enjoyed a few minutes of conversation that included the conference, influence, Rob Bell, recovery, and hotel selfies.

Mathew, Glennon and I, in the Hotel Lobby.

Mathew, Glennon and I, in the Hotel Lobby.

Not wanting to prevent her from crashing for the night, I attempted to let her go, but not before sharing one last thing. I told her about the box of letters in our trunk. I told her about how much she has unknowingly shaped the values and culture of Sojourn. I told her about “Whatever. I’m fabulous anyway.” And, in true Glennon style, her eyes lit up, her smile shone, and she exuded an energy of gratitude and love.

I was relatively content at that point. I mean, come on, what a cool moment already! But Glennon, upon hearing of the existence of this box of letters, turns and says, “wait, you have them here? Now? Let’s go burn them! Right now, in the parking lot!”

When You Make Your Own Burning Bush

What happened next was a series of rapid brainstorming as we looked for garbage cans, metal buckets, and lighters. But our senses suggested we not burn anything inside the hotel. The clerk overheard us and offered us a box of matches and told us about an ash tray outside (I don’t think she fully understood what we were aiming to do, however. Thankfully). We walk outside and it wasn’t just an “ashtray,” it was a giant stone urn. Mathew picks up this 100 pound urn and the three of us walk to the back of the parking lot towards our car, 10:30 at night, one of us still jammied and barefoot. We set the urn down behind the car, hoping to avoid security cameras I guess, and pop the trunk to retrieve the box of letters.

The next five minutes were had-to-be-there magical as we lit at first just one letter on fire, intending to just make a photo-op of it to send back to our church. Glennon and I, together burning a letter of forgiveness. But you guys, this ashtray/urn was so big, it begged us to keep going. To feed it. To be the place of final release for so many people’s wounds.

So one by one we dropped these letters, these incredible gestures of people choosing the posture of forgiveness, these beautiful symbols of people believing that releasing people from cages of resentment and bitterness is truly the path to peace, these letters of people relaxing toward themselves and accepting their own fabulousness… now being consumed by flame, in a hotel ash tray, in the back parking lot, alongside Glennon Doyle Melton, after a chance-meeting-in-the-lobby that was remarkably preceded by a series of fortunate events.

Coincidence? Sure, I suppose that’s one way to receive the events that night. It just seems, oh I don’t know, ungrateful to receive it that way. Like being the recipient of this incredible birthday present from a close friend who knows you better than you know yourself, and you think, “wow, they got so lucky that they just happened to pick out the exact thing that I love!”

Instead, even though it rubs up against my unstable (and at times uncertain) Metaphysics, I choose to receive the events that night as a gift. I choose to receive it with a posture of gratitude and humility that maybe, just maybe, there are forces and energies at work in this world that might actually be interested in unlocking spontaneous moments of beauty right in front of our eyes.

And if we would just be mindful about being mindful, if we would have eyes to see and ears to hear, if we would be open to the possibility that this Energy is always moving and ever seeking to break in to this world in surprising and life-giving ways, then perhaps we might just find ourselves in a back parking lot burning things with some pretty incredible people.

I only wish I, too, was barefoot like Glennon.
Because the ground that night was holy.

Glennon, I just want to say on behalf of our community at Sojourn Grace Collective, thank you. Thank you for being you, for being fearless, for being inspiring, and for being present. Thank you for taking a few moments with Mathew and me in the lobby, and even more thank you for being awesome and crazy enough to go burn stuff with us. That was easily one of the highlights for me of the whole conference.

Carry on, Warrior.

Sincerely,
the Brave and Kind in San Diego.

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(UPDATE: Glennon, in all her awesomeness, ALSO wrote up a post about this story. She takes it in a differently beautiful direction. And how cool is it to be mentioned, along with our church, on her blog?!)

The Narrow (But Not So Straight) Way

Last week I took part in the Christianity 21 conference in Phoenix, AZ. One of the values of the conference was to allow attendees (like myself) the opportunity to share an idea or story with the group. So, in addition to the 21 main presenters they brought in, they also set aside two chunks of time for what they call 7-21 Talks.

I submitted a proposal for a 7-21 talk several months ago and was excited to learn that I’d been selected to present. Then reality sunk in: these suckers are hard!

Here’s the deal… you curate 21 images that are set to automatically advance every 20 seconds. You start when the first image goes live, and you’re done when the slideshow goes blank. And that’s seven minutes total. #pressure

A number of different ideas came to mind for my talk, but I landed on sharing my experience of getting fired from two churches in two years, and how that was the catalyst for Kate and me to start Sojourn Grace Collective.

I apologize in advance, the audio quality is not great. So I’ll include my script for the talk below, in case it helps.

Thank you to Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, and Sarah Cunningham for putting this event together and giving me the chance to share my story.

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(not exactly the transcript, but here are my notes/script from the talk)

The Narrow (but not so Straight) Way

My five year old son, Jae, is obsessed with Legos. His two older brothers are diligent in building according to the instructions, but Jae is a Master Builder who creates these elaborate ships, things that only he can see in his mind.
He constantly teaches me the value of rebuilding. The initial horror that comes when his younger brother, Huck, destroys what he has built is quickly replaced with a fierce excitement at how he might rebuild it. And of course, the reality is, the ships he builds are always better the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th times around

Being born and raised in Oregon, my wife and I were oblivious to what life in a conservative state was really like. So In 2007, with only two of our boys at the time, when moved here to Arizona, where I joined the staff of a small but growing church as the Worship and Arts Pastor, we were in for a serious awakening.
It didn’t take long before we were confronted with the reality that our own personal theological trajectory was going to take us further and further away from the place where the church I worked at was conservatively rooted. Although I managed to dance fairly well for five years, and leaned in heavily to the areas where there was theological agreement, the distance between us grew with every Brian Mclaren Book and Richard Beck Blog I read.

In september of 2011 President Obama signed the Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and that evening I shared an article on my Facebook page with these five words: “Glad this day finally came.” Completely naive to the storm this would unleash upon me from the conservative crowd in our church
Three days later I was brought in to an emergency board meeting to “deal with my situation.” I was forced to give an account for my theological beliefs regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage. TO tell 8 men in a room things that I hadn’t yet disclosed to even my own family.
Speaking from my convictions, and from the place I believed Christ had brought me to on my journey, i gave an honest and open answer. Stating that I no longer believed the Bible condemned those born with same-sex attraction. I came out of the theological closet. As a result, three days later I was fired.

6 months later, Providence connected me with a church in San Diego where I found new life, and a resonance with this peculiar expression of Christianity that I longed for, that I knew was what I was called to, but that I didn’t know existed. A church that was progressively bent in some significant ways, and yet the bend was still towards Jesus.
And so for 18 months myself, Kate, and our now four boys found new life in America’s Finest City, meeting some of America’s Finest people. My Lego ship was being rebuilt, with far more colors and nuance and beauty.
But alas, the dream shattered quickly as I soon discovered some fairly significant differences between the church’s attitude and beliefs and mine own. In particular, differences about what it means to be a pastor, what it looks like to be a leader, and the unique call to shepherd the least and the lost.
And this paradigm incompatibility put me once again on the outside, so much so that for the second time in as many years I was brought in to a room full of elders and told, “you are no longer wanted here as a pastor.”

With the pieces of what had just been a newly built Lego ship now filling my uncertain hands I wondered if this was a sign that perhaps I had missed my calling altogether. Or, maybe, the sign itself WAS the calling. Out of the wreckage of these two devastating experiences my wife and I turned to each other and discovered that perhaps NOW was the time to launch a church, a dream which we’d been ruminating on for years.
And so In March of last year a group of about 15 of us started what we would eventually call Sojourn Grace Collective, a church that we call Uniquely Christian but not exclusively.
A church mixed with races, creeds, orientations, and ages. A church led equally by men and women, gay and straight. Where we value things like shared leadership, expressing our fears and doubts, and walking with people through mess that can be life.
At Sojourn we do our best to chase after the way of Jesus, orienting ourselves around God’s Kingdom, and learn to love and respect ourselves as fellow sons and daughters of the Creator.
We met in our house for 3 months before outgrowing our living room, and now we meet in an a grade school with about 70 adults and 20 kids on sunday mornings, and almost all of us have wounds from the church that we help heal together.

There’s a story of a man named Bartimeaus who’s blindness kept him a perpetual beggar. One day fortune brought Jesus, the Son of David, past his usual corner. “Have Mercy on me,” cried old Blind Bart. But the followers of Jesus believed Bartimeaus was not fit for an audience with the King. They restricted access to the Savior.
Yet Jesus could hear the old man’s cries, in spite of the wall his followers had built. Do you know what Jesus did next? Do you remember? He didn’t GO to Bartimeaus, which would have been easy enough. He didn’t heal Bartimeaus from afar, which also he likely could have managed.
No, he turned to the very people who had just restricted access for the blind man, and he commanded them to bring Bartimaeus to him. Here’s the thing, I believe God is right now inviting those of us who have either built the walls ourselves, or have stood by and allowed the walls to be built, walls that have restricted people access to Jesus, I wonder if God, like Jesus, is commanding we be the ones to tear those walls down. I guess that’s part of why we started Sojourn Grace.
And though it hasn’t yet been a full year, I can already assure you that the Lego Ship that is my life is the most beautiful and wonderful version yet. Maybe there’s something TO this whole rebuilding thing…. otherwise known as Resurrection… after all.

Guest Post: Reflections from the “Christianity 21″ Conference

Guest Post: Reflections from the “Christianity 21″ Conference

Guest Blog Post: Today’s post comes from my good buddy Mathew Mitchell. Mathew and I went to Christianity 21 last week, a conference held in Phoenix, AZ that was designed to bring together 21 different voices across the spectrum of Christianity to speak in to where the church might be heading in the 21st century. We had an incredible time together, and were impacted in profound ways. So here are his insights/thoughts/takeaways from #C21PHX.

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Christianity 21: Up From The Ashes in Phoenix
Truth and Reconciliation

I had the pleasure of attending the JoPa hosted Christianity 21 event in Phoenix last week and it was nothing short of a mountain top experience for me.

I share these reflections as a first time attendee of this kind of Emergent conference, as a non blogging, non pastoral regular Joe who got tossed into church planting a year ago after a series of unexpected events.

My goal was to support my buddy and Sojourn Grace Collective pastor Colby who was selected to give a talk (his wife Kate couldn’t go and so I went in her stead) and to get a closer look at the progressive Christian personalities that have shaped much of my thinking and whom I have long followed from afar.

Wow.

I was essentially knocked on my rear from the word go and struggled to right myself for the remainder of our time there.

Admittedly I went a bit doe-eyed into it all, not entirely aware of the differences in theological position or relational dramas that were being played out.  But even as these aspects became clearer, the Love of God shined bright as if to say “I’m still here making things beautiful”.

I would describe the event as a time of Truth and Reconciliation – powerful Head and Heart examples of how God has, is and will continue to move in the world.

I note a few things here that touched me personally and have organized them as either items of the HEAD (things that are true, facts, data driven, cerebral) or HEART (reconciliatory, directly experienced, the palpable presence of God).

The HEART

Dieter Zander

Dieter Zander

The most stand out Heart moment for me was the Dieter Zander talk detailing a man’s journey from physically vibrant stage personality and musician to Trader Joe’s floor sweep and back room spoils sorter.  A debilitating stroke took almost all the mobility of his right hand and his ability to speak.  It reminded me of the phrase Ram Dass uses to describe his similar experience “I was stroked by God”.  One can feel such radiance and presence emanate from Zonder’s face in the midst of what remains such a challenging and wholly life altering circumstance.   His discovery of joy and God’s playfulness in all things as a result of this experience moved everyone to their feet.  What a testimony.

Glennon Doyle Melton

Glennon Doyle Melton

Glennon Doyle Melton is all Heart all the time…a genuine resurrected Christlike figure walking upright in our midst, open and vulnerable and in that way is courageous and warrior like.  She is a shining example of the transformative power of a spiritual identity and all you want to do is cheer when you see her.  Her personal story of bridging the gap of ideology with one of her more conservative readers was so appropriate for a group consciously attempting to include a wide range of thoughts on typically divisive issues.  She showed us how to sit in that tension and not “piss on the other guy’s fire” to quote Doug Paggitt.  She also fed us cookies made by the person in her story (Samantha) which was fantastic.

Richard Beck

Richard Beck

Another standout HEART talk from my time in Phoenix came from the Richard Beck.  He described hospitality as an act of both seeing and approaching and talked about his experience with a disabled person that attends his church.  He’s a big fan of the The Little Way of St. Therese.  You get the sense that Richard has really wrestled through the events that he is describing and is delivering us messages from the front lines of lived experience.  We got to know him and his wife Jana while we were there.  They are salt of the earth people with an easy affection and the world is a better place with each of them in it.

Other talks from Rob Bell on shame and wonder and Shauna Niequist regarding how to stop doing good things for the sake of connections that truly matter left lasting impressions.  A wrenching talk from Danny Cortez who told us about his son coming out and his efforts to keep his church reminded us of the work we have yet to do.

The HEAD

Christianity is up against some very real cultural issues that will require some innovative thinking if it hopes to remain a relevant resource for those in pain.

There were three talks that really stood out to me in this regard.

Mark Charles (whom Brian McLaren ceded his time to)

Mark Charles (whom Brian McLaren ceded his time to)

Brian McLaren whom many see as the father of the Emergent Church movement ceded his time to a man from a local Navaho reservation (Mark Charles @wirelesshoggan) who talked about institutional racism and steps the country could make to better deal with the pain of marginalized native peoples.  The gesture on the part of Brian was REALLY inspiring and Mark’s content was compelling.  I talked to him at length afterward.  He is planning a public national apology to all Native American people for December 2016 and hopes to get Obama and Pope Francis involved.  I’d love to see it happen.  Canada and Australia have made similar moves…it would be great to see the USA get real in this way.

Rabbi Joseph Edelheit

Rabbi Joseph Edelheit

Rabbi Joseph Edelheit gave us a Torah lesson full of passionate Hebrew and the suggestion that we Christians regain a sense of the deeply mysterious living God whose name cannot be represented in a word.  He dove into the “I am that I am” (ehyeh asher ehyeh) line from scripture and emphasized that God is that which God has yet to become.  He suggested that dialogue about what God is or has been isn’t as exciting as that which God has yet to become.  His talk was a great example of interfaith communication and a refreshing perspective for all Christ followers.  I really enjoyed his presence there.

Kristen Howerton

Kristen Howerton

Kristen Howerton gave a lesson on white privilege which was both brave and crucial.  Issues of sexuality and race continue to challenge churchgoers as folks increasingly ‘come out’ and integrate and in doing so form relationships which are the true catalyst for change.  However the language to describe how one might see and begin dismantling the real pain felt by marginalized people is still tough to frame.  As a blonde white lady and mommy to two black boys she is well placed to help guide her peers into a greater understanding of their unconscious bias.  I think she could be a pivotal voice for churches that long to move more actively to identify white privilege and deal with it.

The REST

Music from Heatherlyn, illustration from Paul Soupiset and theatrical performance from Ted & Company helped give the entire experience a creative tone that helped keep us engaged and entertained and aware of the fact that God is working through all of us always.

I would have enjoyed an inspiring voice directly from a member of the LGBT or Q community.  We talked around them more than anything and although I had great conversations with gay and lesbian conference participants, a voice from the stage was missing and this to me was an oversight. It was hard for me to embrace the passionate and poignant plea from Efrem regarding inclusion of our most impoverished knowing his stance on the issue but Jacqui Lewis rounded that conflict out for me. Discussion regarding the marginalization of sexual minorities by marginalized racial minorities is one for another day.

I had so much fun watching Colby nail his talk and build community with other like minded folk at the bleeding edge of Christianity.  I spoke with people being sued by their denomination for performing same sex unions and others on the verge of losing their churches for the same reason.  I was proud to represent a community where they would be celebrated for their acts of radical inclusion and was at the same time reminded that we have work to do.

However, I left feeling more invigorated than anything else, confident that we are on the right path and resolved to continue the beautiful struggle that is following Christ in a world that often seems to be walking in the opposite direction.

I look forward to remaining connected to those I encountered and showing the world that love wins…every time…with God’s help.

Colby and Mathew, enjoying the ride.

Colby and Mathew, enjoying the ride.

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(all photo cred, minus the epic selfie at the top, courtesy of Courtney Perry, the official C21 Photog.)

Four Values in My Preaching Methodology: The Early Years

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Prior to March of this year I preached an average of four times a year in my last seven years of full-time ministry. As a Worship Pastor these past 10 years, it was always a gift to get to lay my guitar down for a Sunday and lean in to my gifts as a communicator using a different method, and soon I began to itch for a season when I could do it more frequently.

Then in March, my wife and I (and a handful of beautiful people) started a new church in San Diego called Sojourn Grace Collective and my primary responsibility was to be the Teaching Pastor. Thrilled at my new position, these past seven months have been quite the journey of learning how to write and prepare a sermon every. single. week. (Of course, it’s not REALLY every week, it’s about 3 times a month.. but still, you get my drift). Here I am, a guy who had given maybe 30 sermons EVER, getting ready to be a full time Teaching Pastor. It feels a bit like, “hey, you coached Little League right? Here, manage the Giants in the World Series.”

Okay… a bit dramatic… moving on…

It has, and continues to be, a real learning curve. For those of you that do this, or have done this before, then perhaps you can remember when you first started out, and the challenge (and thrill!) of churning something out week in and week out.

I love it.
Like, really love it.

And it’s hard.
Like, really hard.

I’d like to think I’m starting to find a groove. And perhaps I am. But this past week I sat down with a book I hadn’t picked up in a while called Deep Church by Jim Belcher. It’s five years old, and some of the references are dated already, but in short it’s a book where Jim tries to imagine a Third Way of doing church that goes beyond the Traditional model and the Emerging model. My hope was to read his chapter on Preaching and take some intentional time to work on developing the craft of sermon writing and delivering. I was hoping for some new insight and some fresh takes on preaching, but what I found was actually refreshingly surprising.

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I remember taking a Homiletics class in College. Homiletics is the “art of preaching.” And I remember having a blast because not only did I learn some wonderful techniques from the esteemed Dr Trull, but I also got to deliver one of my first ever sermons to my peers. It was from Habakkuk 2:4 (“the just shall live by faith”) and I recall taking a rather unconventional approach to the sermon. Sort of half-acted out, half-exegeted. My classmates ended up loving it (more so than my professor, ha!) and voted me “Preacher of the Year” when the semester ended. It was one of my favorite moments in college.

Even though, after graduating, I went in to the field of Worship & Arts, I never lost my love for preaching. Always believing that a time would come when I would get to preach and teach in a church full time.

Finally, that time has come.
And while I still have some of the residue of my homiletics class hanging around (such as the concept of the “Big Idea”), I more or less have developed a preaching style in the same way my wife cooks: intuitively, experimentally, and through trial and error.

My wife doesn’t use recipes to cook. She finds an assortment of ingredients, has a general idea of what she wants the end product to be, and then feels her way towards that goal. Likely leaning on some things she observed from watching her mom and grandma cook, maybe remembering a Rachel Ray episode here or there, and possibly holding in mind a recent picture she saw on Pinterest as to what it “could” look like.

I kind of feel like my approach to preaching has a similar methodology.

Since graduating college I haven’t read one book on preaching. But I have listened to countless sermons and absorbed what resonated with me, what I loved, and what I wanted to emulate. My three largest influences would be:

  • Rob Bell (the master of words, the poet of theology, and the make-the-biblical-world-relevant guy),
  • Jonathan Martin (the from-the-heart, follow the spirit guy), and
  • Greg Boyd (the deep thinking,  theology-can-be-fun guy).
  • Oh, and I’ll add one more, Shane Hipps (the Turn guy… that’ll make sense in a minute).

(Ironically, three of those four guys are no longer preaching regularly. So I’m currently in the market for some good preachers. Preferably some women. Let me know who your favs are!)

Then, with these guys as my guide, I’ve sort of felt my way through the best way to try and communicate each week the “Thing” that I really want people to leave with. Creativity has always been one of my strong suits, and so when I have the creative energy I love to think outside the box and outside the “lecture.” Be it with props, or movie clips, or guided discussion. But all that is normal preaching stuff, right?

So let me get back to my experience reading Belcher’s “Deep Church.”

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Jim was looking for a preaching approach that moved beyond Traditional Preaching, aka “bounded-set preaching” (evidenced by things like: three points and poem; you suck, try harder; and lecture style answer-giving), and that moved beyond what he identified as Emerging Preaching, aka “relational-set preaching” (based off of Doug Pagitt’s work and evidenced by things like: dialogical presentations, elevating the community over tradition and the Bible, and not giving people answers or creating any sort of boundaries). Where Jim landed, after dissecting the pros and cons of the two previous approaches, was on what he called “center-set preaching.”

Here are few hallmarks of centered-set preaching.

The Indicative and the Imperative – One of the downfalls of bounded-set preaching is that it can create an up and down roller coaster of commitment, failure, depression, followed by re-commitment, more failure, more depression… rinse and repeat. The “you suck, try harder” mentality. In centered-set preaching (using Jim’s terminology) you always begin with justification and then move toward sanctification. In other words, “the indicative indicates who we are in Christ through his saving grace. The imperative of the gospel impels or empowers us to obey God’s commands as an act of gratitude for the new life that we have” (pg 154). Without this proper movement we can leave people thinking that either they’ve got it figured out (yay! you’re righteous! you didn’t sin this week!), or they’re miserable cretins (no! you fool! you’ve sinned and separated yourself from God!)

The Homiletical Drama – Traditional preaching style tends to be deductive. In that, it makes three points and then sets out prove those points using logical arguments, illustrations, and application. But Jim points out how this takes the drama out of the sermon. It’s like revealing the climax before seeing a movie. “Once you know the conclusion, all the tension, the myriad twists and turns, and the surprising reversal of fortune are missed” (pg 155). Instead, what if we saw our sermons as a dramatic unfolding like many of the narratives we find in the Scriptures?

The Aha Moment – When you’ve established the problem, and are working towards the solution (using the narrative/dramatic form) then you are able to bring the congregation along with you until you’re ready for the “aha moment.” This is the point where everything is leading up to, and where you pivot on the ridiculous love and grace and mercy of Jesus.

Jim sums up Centered-set preaching as thus:

“Like relational-set preaching it is inductive–setting up the problem, asking the questions, analyzing the situation and then moving to the solution together. But then it lays out the solution’s ramifications in a deductive manner, similar to bounded-set preaching. The big difference is that unlike bounded and relational set preaching, centered-set preaching always includes a linchpin, the aha moment, the life-changing, transforming power of God’s surprising grace through Jesus – his kingdom, his gospel, his salvation and the new life he brings.” (pg 156)

Finally, in what might be my favorite point, Belcher says that centered-set preaching focuses on the gospel and not on boundaries. In other words, the preaching begins from the radical place of Good News (Jesus, gospel, acceptance by God… that’s the Center) and then works out from there. It doesn’t exhaust itself with creating boundaries and emphasizing the “minor” elements (or the non-essentials) of Christianity, creating an us/them dynamic. Nor does it wander around in a void of questions and non-answers, never finding a grounding in what is true, good, and noble.

When I read this yesterday I was struck with this thought: hmmm… that pretty much describes my approach to preaching.

So instead of finding new inspiration or fresh challenges for honing my craft, I found language to articulate what I have sort of pieced together over the years (and, more specifically, over the past several months). For instance, here are Four Values that I hold in my preaching:

  1. When I preach, my starting point is our identity in Jesus. I want to make sure people know to begin with the wonderful and beautiful reality that they are a child of the King. (side note: I recognize that not all my readers share my theology here, and nor, for that matter, would Jim Belcher. But I think the principle still remains). I begin with the Good News that YOU are in the favor of God. So then, in response to that, we can live out the freedom of the Kingdom and be people of grace and forgiveness and peace and love. But ultimately, how you live isn’t going to impact your identity in Jesus. Grace… it’s weird like that.
  2. When I preach, I consider the elements of a Story. The setting, the conflict, the climax, and the denouement. Then I order my flow accordingly. In other words, I’m always building towards SOMETHING. I might drop a few observations here and there, grab some low hanging fruit on the way. But I am inviting the congregation to go along with me on a dramatic narrative, attempting to create tension along the way. If I tell them everything I going to tell them up front, they’re more likely to check out half way through. But if they are hanging in there with me, waiting for some sort of resolution, then they’re more likely to track with me and hopefully find it more interesting and engaging along the way. A lot of times I will actually draw out, on paper, a narrative arc. And I’ll put in the elements of a story, and build my sermon accordingly. Here’s a picture of what my sermon last week looked like (it’s a pretty good example of my general preaching style, if you’re interested here’s the link).
  3. narrative arc of a sermonWhen I preach, I look for the Turn. This is where Shane Hipps has influenced me in a big way. Once I’ve reached the climax of the story, what is the pivot moment? Sometimes it is saying, “you’ve heard it said like this… but what if instead it goes like THIS!” (That sounds familiar… who spoke like that?). The Turn is that moment when people get rewarded for hanging in there with me for the previous 30-40 minutes. It could be reimagining an old theological assumption, it could be a fresh interpretation of a familiar passage, it could be a new word about an old idea. It could be the one big Thing I’ve been building a case for the whole time.
  4. Finally, when I preach, I keep it open-handed. Meaning, I’m okay if you disagree with me, and I’m sure as heck not going to make you feel like you’re somehow less than me if you DO think differently. While I might stand firm on some convictions, I humbly acknowledge that these are MY convictions, and your story might have taken you some place else. One of my favorite pieces of feedback recently went something like this, “your sermon was SO Jesus-y… but I still loved it and it spoke to me!” This person doesn’t share the same Christology as me, and yet I believe that my open-handed approach to preaching allowed her to still hear and receive a fresh word of Grace from God even though she wasn’t tracking with me on all the Jesus-stuff.

I’m only seven months in to this Preacher gig. That’s why I sub-titled this post “The Early Years.” Because I’m sure my preaching style and methods will evolve and transform over the years to come. But I believe these four values that I’ve intuitively created, and have picked up through inspiration from others, will establish a solid footing for me as I grow in my craft. And trust me, I have a lot of room to grow.

I’ll close here with a special word of THANKS to my family at Sojourn Grace Collective for being such a kind, attentive, affirming, and encouraging group of people week in and week out. Thank you for letting me preach every Sunday, and for coming back the next week. Thank you for being patient with me as a I grow. Thank you to the Ministry Team and the Elder Board for understanding that so much of my time each week is consumed with sermon prep… I’m sure I’ll get quicker at as time goes on! You all are lovely people. Lovely.

 

 

Pros and Cons of the Bible: Part IV

This is the final post in my four-part series that tries to honestly engage with some of the angst that some people (myself included) feel when they read their Bibles. The goal here was to perhaps say, put words and language to, those feelings of frustration, bewilderment, and curiosity that can rise to the surface when we try and interact with this thousands-year-old collection of writings.

In case you missed the first part where I explain the premise, I’m using a Pro/Con framework (ala Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show) to provide a jumping off point for the discussion.

In case you need to catch up,

Part I
PRO: The Bible is Inspired by God
CON: It has armed people throughout history to do some really atrocious things in the “name of God.”

PRO: The Bible was written by Humans
CON: It’s culture and context isn’t always understood or appreciated

Part II
PRO: The Bible reflects ways in which humanity has sought after, heard from, wandered from, and engaged with their Creator
CON: Those interactions all occurred a long, long time ago, and can be quite violent and disturbing

Part III
PRO: The Bible is diverse collection of different types of letters, poems, and books that all move with a singular narrative.
CON: It has been used as a legal constitution to statically determine what is “right” and what is “wrong.”

PRO: The Bible is the unique Book for Christianity and functions as its voice of authority.
CON: It has been seen as the ONLY source of truth, wisdom, and beauty, and its “authority” has been misunderstood and abused.

Many of you found it refreshing to have someone else echo things that you’ve always felt. While others have been a bit flummoxed that I’d say there are “Cons” to the Bible.

I acknowledge that none of these posts are exhaustive treatments of the issues I address. In fact, this post will be even briefer in its treatment of the final two Pros/Cons. But feel free to sound off in the comment section if you want to engage in any of them further.

Now, on to Part IV…

– – – – – – – – –

PRO: The Bible reveals to us the life, teachings, and person of Jesus, as well as the movement that began in his name.
CON: It has wrongly been used as the Word of God, to replace or trump Jesus, and the church has forgot her roots.

This, for me, is one of the strongest most compelling reasons why I still return to the Bible over and over again. For it is the unique and primary revealer as to the person of Jesus Christ. And it is Jesus that I follow, Jesus that I trust, Jesus that I give my life to.

And be it not for the Bible, I’d really struggle to know about Jesus, and to know how to best follow him.

However, the Church historically at times has err’d on the side of elevating the Bible as the “Word of God,” instead of acknowledging that Jesus is the “Word of God.”

And when you read the teachings of Jesus and get a picture for what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like.. and you read about the New Testament church and how they functioned… it can often times be very curious how some of our Western/American/Protestant/Evangelical churches have gotten where they have.

It seems (to me, anyway) that according to the Word of God (remember, that means Jesus) some of our current church practices just seem really counter-Kingdom.

I get confused by the Prosperity Gosepl.
I get confused by churches of tens of thousands of people.
I get confused by churches who exclude people from the Table.
I get confused by churches run/led only by men.
I get confused by churches that get mixed up in politics.
I get confused by flashy lights, fog machines, theater seating, rock-concert-vibe.

And so many times they point to something in the Bible as their support, or to justify something… but I want to say, “no, look at the person of JESUS!”

Like we talked about in Part II, if we are not viewing ALL of Scripture through the lens of Jesus, then we are doing it wrong.

PROThe Bible has a profound ability to still speak to us, challenge, encourage, and inspire us today.
CONIt is hard to interpret and can be wildly misunderstood and misused.

For the majority of the Church’s life the lay Christian did not have a Bible. In a world now where you can get a teen Bible, a women’s Bible, a man’s Bible, children’s Bible, a Bible app, a Bible for this or for that, for this AND that… I even came across the Forever Bible this week (you’ve been warned), it seems completely foreign to us to consider Christianity apart from having a Bible to read.

But Christianity operated for 1600 years with only the highly educated having the access or ability to read the Bible, and only the religious leaders having copies. People were, more or less, beholden to whatever was taught to them on Sundays. They did not have the ability to study the Scriptures for themselves.

You could argue there’s an upside and a downside to that, I suppose.
And I say that because nowadays everybody has a Bible, everyone has access to resources online (dictionaries, encyclopedias, commentaries, Greek/Hebrew translations, etc), so therefore everyone is an expert.

Except they aren’t.

Furthermore, within the western/protestant/evangelical strain specifically, the idea of the “plain meaning” of the text has been elevated far beyond what is probably helpful. The idea being that you can simply open up to any passage, read it, and the best meaning is the plainest and simplest one.

Yet that just simply isn’t the case.

As we’ve discussed previously, if you don’t have a grasp on the context, the culture, the author, the audience, and the general narrative thrust of the Bible, there’s a really good chance you’re going to be headed in a poor direction interpretation-wise.

So yes, the Bible is (as the Hebrews writer said) living and active and powerful, and I’m fully convinced that the Spirt of God works profoundly through the words and the stories found therein, but it just isn’t always that simple.

Which honestly can be a bit of bummer.
I know people who have just been turned off completely at the sheer weight of the realization that they couldn’t every really fully understand what the Bible was all about. They felt totally unequipped and unable to make sense of it.

And I resonate with that. Truly, I do.
I’m someone who studies it and teaches it for a living and I can still feel like that!

One of the practices of reading the Bible I’ve found to be really helpful in light of all this is called Lectio Divina. It is essentially a way to Pray the Scriptures. To just sit with a text, meditate on it, pray it. The goal is not to figure it out, dissect it, interpret it.

It’s something, therefore, that anyone can do as a way to approach the Bible and be fed by the unlimited inspiration and beauty found therein.

So if you’re someone who has been turned off or discouraged from reading the Bible because you just feel totally insufficient to really “get” it, then I invite you to try it out.

Okay friends, that is it.
Thus concludes my four part series featuring seven PROS/CONS of reading the Bible.

Thanks for reading along.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section!

 

 

Pros and Cons of the Bible: Part III

After leaning in to the inspired nature of the Bible, the human composition of it, and the difficulties with some of the pictures we get of God in the OT, we now move our series in to two more PRO/CONS.

PRO: The Bible is diverse collection of different types of letters, poems, and books that all move with a singular narrative.
CON: It has been used as a legal constitution to statically determine what is “right” and what is “wrong.”

There are 66 books in the Bible, and even just a cursory glance reveals that it truly is a library of different genres, different styles.

There are History books, books of Wisdom and Poetry, there are prophetic books, there are apocalyptic books, there are letters and gospels.

Each book or letter was written or compiled by a human or humans, and their unique personality and make-up are evident in each writing.

Yet within such a broad range of diversity of literature spread out over a long period of time there exists a general thrust, or a story, a narrative, being told within and throughout Scripture that for years I was completely ignorant to.

I’d always thought, and been taught, to see the Bible as basically a FLAT document. Everything is equal in weight. It’s like a cookbook: you just open it up anywhere, and take out something, and run with it.

But the reality is that Bible tells a story. And the story builds and moves and climaxes in Jesus.

So everything has to be viewed through the lens of Jesus.

Moreover, if we lose the fact that the Bible is a Story then a lot of it isn’t going to make sense, while other parts of it will be misapplied and misused.

Like yesterday’s post emphasized, the picture we get of God the Creator in the OT is not the final word about who God is. Rather, those are like the early chapters of a book where the depth and nuance and layers of a character are slowly revealed as the story progresses.

It isn’t until you get to Jesus that you see, as the writer of Hebrews said, the “full image of God, the exact representation of God” found in Jesus.

And also, in Jesus, we see the climax of the story being told throughout the Old Testament. The story of a God who creates and wants to connect with and be in relationship with that creation. Yet the creation is unable or unwilling or uninterested in such a relationship, and so we see God at work in calling out Abraham and choosing to enter in to a unique relationship with what would eventually be the nation of Israel. The goal, of course, is to bless Israel to be a blessing to the rest of the world. Israel was tasked with being God’s light and love to the world.

However, as things go, that story didn’t really work out too well. Israel got a bit self absorbed at times and just downright rebellious at others. They got off mission more often than not. But God, being slow to anger, never gave up on them or the Mission.

Eventually the story was moving towards God doing something new in creation, and so Jesus came to be and do for the world what Israel was supposed to be and do for the world. And at last, through his life, teachings, healings, death and especially resurrection, we experience the climactic moment of God’s redemptive story.

The rest of the NT then is how that story then gets played out (i.e. the implementation of the Kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurated).

Point being: there is a Narrative in the Bible. And knowing that Narrative is important. But knowing how the Bible carries along that Narrative is even more important.

Here’s why.

What can happen is that instead of seeing the Bible as Library of books that is moving towards (and then flowing from) Jesus, we can come to the Bible as though it were a Legal Constitution. (Thanks to Brian McLaren for the helpful language here).

There’s a tendency to see the Bible as a text book that we come to for answers. 

Have you ever heard it said “the Bible has an answer for all of life’s questions.”

No it doesn’t!

That’s ludicrous!

Find me a verse on Fracking. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
And what does the Bible say about Energy Consumption?
Should I be a vegan or not?
Stem cell research?
Cloning?

And the list goes on…

If we insist that the Bible is a Text Book of answers, instead of the unraveling story of how God has sought about redeeming and renewing Creation, we will continually be frustrated that Bible doesn’t do what we need it to do.

The early chapters of text book carry equal value, weight, and authoritative thrust as later chapters do.

But in a story?

The establishing of the setting, the introduction of the characters, and the development of conflict are all fulfilled and completed and rounded out by the resolution and the denouement.

So the way I see it, the PRO to reading the Bible is that it tells the beautiful redemptive (and still redeeming) work of God in and through Creation. But the CON can be when we approach it as something other than what it is designed to be or do.

It’s like saying, “well my microwave heats things up and cooks my popcorn… so I’ll just stick this cookie dough in here and cook it for 30 minutes… I’m sure I’ll get cookies when I’m done!”

PRO: The Bible is the unique Book for Christianity and functions as its voice of authority.
CON: It has been seen as the ONLY source of truth, wisdom, and beauty, and its “authority” has been misunderstood and abused.

This one might ruffle some feathers, so let me unpack it just a bit (even though admittedly it deserves a much fuller treatment).

Traditionally, this phrase, “the Authority of Scripture,” has been used as a way to empower those who say, “look, here, the Bible says it, which means God says it, so that settles it.”

In turn, the Bible has been used to support slavery, to oppress women, to condemn those born with same-sex attraction, to kill jews, etc etc…

All with this attitude of, “hey, what do you want from me, it says right here in the bible, and the Bible is authoritative! So even if I wanted to invite blacks, or women, or gays, or Jews to the table… I’m handcuffed by the Bible!!”

But NT Wright goes to great length to explain how this is NOT what The Authority of Scripture means.

All authority rests in God, first and foremost.

So the Bible merely functions as a conduit to convey the “authority” present in God. That’s an important distinction.

But more than that, the way this actually works out (to go back to the point of Scripture having a narrative arc to it) is that the Bible is authoritative in so far as it gives us the Story of God and invites us to be people who keep on writing it.

Nt Wright describes the “authority of Scripture” like this:

The shorthand phrase “the authority of Scripture,” when unpacked, offers a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community.”

In other words, the “authority of scripture” is put into operation by the church going in to the world on behalf of the gospel announcing the good news that God has defeated the powers of evil and begun a work of new creation in Jesus Christ.

The Bible gives us a story, and we take that story and continue to live it out, recognizing that the story found in the Bible is authoritative in that it gives us our mission to be people of the Kingdom of God. It gives us the shape of the Mission. We can’t start carving new paths in the story if they betray the integrity of the narrative already played out and given to us.

So the Scriptures are unique for Christianity. They give us our Mission. They give us insight into God, especially as revealed by Jesus. And they function is the authoritative text for our faith journey.

And yet…

Sadly, much of Christianity has refused to acknowledge that other faith traditions and other religions have also had experiences with their Creator.

All truth is God’s truth, and so we shouldn’t be surprised to find truth in other sacred literature or other sacred stories.

This is why at our church, Sojourn Grace Collective, we have this saying,

Uniquely Christian, but not Exclusively

In other words, we find something uniquely compelling and powerful and inviting about Jesus and about the story of God found in the Bible, but we don’t want to pretend that we have the corner on the market.

Even as you read the stories found in Scripture you are forced to acknowledge that “our” characters are constantly interacting with “other” characters who have already experienced connectivity with their Creator!

God did not (and does not) ONLY speak to, engage with, pursue, love, communicate with, inspire, empower and lead Israelites (before Jesus) or Christians (post Jesus).

I feel silly even having to type that sentence out because it feels so absurd. Yet that can be the default place many of us start from.

The Bible, to me, is a wonderful, beautiful, powerful, engaging, captivating, inspired, uniquely God-breathed piece of art. But I don’t believe that means it is the sole place where one can find truth, beauty, or evidence of God.

Pros and Cons of the Bible: Part II

Yesterday I kicked off this little series on the Bible which aims to lean in to some of the angst that is often felt by people (Christians, mainly?) who really want to engage the Scriptures on a level that goes beyond just a surface acceptance of the Text.

Stylized like this Jimmy Fallon bit, in this post I offer the third PRO/CON of Reading the Bible.

PRO: The Bible reflects ways in which humanity has sought after, heard from, wandered from, and engaged with their Creator
CON: Those interactions all occurred a long, long time ago, and can be quite violent and disturbing.

Angry Zeus-like-God

Even though our 21st century is worlds apart from the ones we find in the Bible, the essence of what it means to be human hasn’t changed all that much. The Bible is full of stories of how humanity has sought to connect with their Creator, and who doesn’t find their own stories reflected in these stories?

For instance, have you ever felt like the people you trusted most in life (say, your family) all ganged up on you, and treated you like dirt? Made you feel like an outcast?

If so, you can relate to Jacob in the book of Genesis, who’s brothers sold him in to slavery because they didn’t like him and were jealous of him.

Have you ever made a horrible mistake and betrayed a close friend, and wondered if they’d ever forgive you again?

If so, you can relate to Peter, who denied he even knew Jesus. Only to then have Jesus come to him later and affirm his love for him, forgive him, and restore their relationship.

I could go on and on… stories of heart break, stories of betrayal, stories of questioning and doubting God, stories of triumph and overcoming…
Stories of God never giving up on us. A God who is compassionate, and merciful, and slow to anger.

These stories are the stories of humanity whether it happened 3000 years ago or happened last week.

But still, that being said, it can be kind of weird, when you stop and think about it, that we orient ourselves around and follow things that were documnted in a book written so long ago.

It raises a really good question: Honestly, what does this dusty ancient book have to do with me here today?

I was sitting at Modern Times, a bar here in North Park, writing this. And I was surrounded by a wall made entirely out of floppy disks. You remember those? Little square disks of color that held 1.44 megabytes of data? I think I fit my entire Freshman year of college on ONE of those disks.

Then you look over and their bar is made out ofold  VHS tapes.

Floppy disks and VHS tapes. Ancient, ancient techonology… of like 20 years ago!! But now completely irrelevant and useless to us.

Ours is a culture that thrives on the Next-Best-Thing.
We all know this to be true.
What is the newest and latest model?

So to consider, then, giving ourselves to a book written two to three thousand years ago can seem at best naive, and at worse irresponsible.

I think It’s easy to read some of these Bible stories and think “what in the world does that have to do with me today?” Not only that, but they seem so barbaric, and primitive, and violent… because, well, they are!

It’s tempting at times to want to dismiss the Bible because of the atrocities that we read in stories like those found in the OT.

But one of the things I’ve had to reconcile with is this: if God truly desired to interact with, engage with, and be in relationship with Creation, with humanity, then what choice was there but to do so with.. well.. humans?

in other words, God didn’t really have a choice in the matter when it came to WHO to work with, and HOW to work with them.

The world of the OT was barbaric and violent and filled with warfare.

It’s kind of like parenting: if you, as a parent, have any hope whatsoever to raise a mature 20 year old who is full of compassion and love and respect, well then you HAVE to start with a winy, needy, violent, selfish, disobedient child!

And consider this: God’s blessing on people, like the Israelites (who engaged in some rather bloody warfare and went through their own seasons of oppressing people) is not a blanket acceptance of all their actions.

I was reminded of this concept recently when someone on FB said something to the effect of, “well, if you voted for Politician X a couple years ago, and you still support them today, then that means you have to be in full support of all the things they have done while in office!”

And I pushed back by saying that I, as a parent to my children, will always hold them in my blessing. I will always support them. But of course that doesn’t mean that I therefore must always (or WILL always) support or be in favor of everything they DO!

So to believe that God chose Israel as a nation that God would then bless uniquely so that they could be a blessing to the rest of the world does NOT mean that God therefore blessed or approved of everything they did as a nation, or of everything some of the characters in those stories themselves did.

A couple more thoughts.

Keep in mind… God was working with the raw materials of humanity thousands of years ago. And so we should expect then, when reading the Bible and reading these stories, we should expect to see that type of world reflected.

But we should also expect to see a God who is about the business of trying to help humanity towards greater love, and peace and unity and wholeness.

When we read, for example, a story in the OT where we are told that God commanded the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites, we must ensure that we also pay attention to details like God also telling them that once they subdued their enemies that Israel was then to treat their neighbors and others with respect and hospitality.

I also wonder if a lot of what we see in the OT, the stories of God seeming to be a violent or war-like God, are examples of a sort of Divine Accommodation.

In other words, picture this:

If I’m God, I personally might object violently to violence, for I am a merciful, compassionate, forgiving God.

But I ALSO am 100% committed to this project called Creation.
Committed to the restoration and reconciliation of all things.

But in order to do that, I have to make some accommodations of my inherent values and principles in order to effectively engage with humanity.

Just overriding your free will isn’t an option. Love has to be completely free otherwise it isn’t love.

So I make some accommodations… but I don’t just stay there, in that place, nor do I leave you there.

I accommodate and then I invite and compel humanity towards transformation. Towards growth. Towards maturation and evolution and greater wholeness and equality and love and peace.

Eventually it becomes evident that I can only do so much going about it like this. So I choose to visit my creation, showing up as someone just like them, so that I can actually physically show them who I am and what I’m like.

And you guys, this is so important, and I feel like I say it all the time… but the God we are introduced to in the OT is NOT the final , not the last, not the best, not the most accurate picture of who God is and what God is like.

That is found in Jesus.

The Bible is not a flat document.
Everything is not weighted equally.

If the scriptures are not read through the lens of the person of Jesus then we are doing it wrong.

Okay… my point for this Con is this: yes, there is a lot in the Bible that is disturbing and confusing, and at times it can portray a really cruel and violent God. But those are incomplete and inadequate pictures of God. We HAVE to look at Jesus or we will constantly be led astray.

And to dismiss the Bible because of those sorts of stories is, in my mind, to not fully understand or appreciate what the world was like back then and what God was (and indeed still is) attempting to do with Creation.