Dear Friends in Christ:

The sedentary lifestyle is on its last legs.  Or on its last couch, so to speak! 

More and more people are toning up their abdominal muscles and working up a sweat.  You see them, early in the morning, with their flickering wind-breakers, jogging in the mist.   You hear them talking about a challenging mountain bike trail at Starbucks.   You smell them after a particularly strenuous regiment of exercise in the line at the Post Office.   Not as many middle-aged folks are content to lounge around like they used to.   And I suppose all that activity is good news that we might celebrate.

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Even so, it’s important to note that physical fitness itself can become an all-consuming obsession…

Brian Pronger, in his book Body Fascism — The Culture and Science of Physical Fitness, says an obsession with physical exercise may lead to a physically and mentally unhealthy society. Fitness adherents, who become fixated on attaining the ideal body, may start believing in a consumer mentality “that erroneously promises those with a taut, fat-free and youthful body numerous sexual, psychological and social rewards.”

The body was once considered “a vessel of infinite mystery and awe,” Pronger notes. “Now it’s nothing more than a commodity. Our bodies have been stolen from us and replaced with this narrow, stylized consumer image. Modern life is about dominating and abusing nature and now we’re doing the same thing to our bodies.”

As per Psalm 130:5–6, Latah Valley’s remedy to this consumer view of the body–and its attendant hyper-activity–is nothing more than WATCHING & WAITING.   Think of it.  Rather than feeling guilty for sitting on a stump and contemplating your life–celebrate the time.  Rather than hurrying through that grocery check-out (so that you might run that extra marathon before going to bed)–why not contemplate the people’s faces?   Why not listen for that “still, small voice,” or that “sheer sound of silence” that comes after the day’s catastrophes (1 Kings 19:12).

Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk of the 1960’s, once described a fascinating experience in the middle of bustling city.  He wrote in Conjectures of A Guilty Bystander, (p. 140-141):

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of “separation from the world” that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion …. [W]e are in the same world as everybody else, the world of the bomb, the world of race hatred, the world of technology, the world of mass media, big business, revolution, and all the rest … This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud …. To think that for sixteen or seventeen years I have been taking seriously this pure illusion that is implicit in so much of our monastic thinking …. I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Yes, in nine days, we will invite people to come and be still for a while.  We will ask these otherwise active pedestrians if they have ever wanted off the tread-mill of a crazed commercialism.   And on Sunday, December 9, at 10 am, we will proclaim how they are “walking around shining like the sun,” and they never knew it. 

Peace,

Scott Kinder-Pyle

PS–Remember Sunday’s Trial Run Worship begins at 10 am, but it would be great to have lots of folks at Moran Prairie Elementary at 9 am.  Start watching and waiting; the next few weeks are a good time to hone your skills.

   

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Fumbled Snap Ends Playoff Run

November 25, 2007

Yesterday, the undefeated Ferris High School Saxons lost their first game of the season.   They lost, as the snowflakes fell at Joe Albi Stadium, to the Bothell High School football team by the score of 14 to 7…  And here’s the agonizing part of the story:  starting from their own 24 yard line, Ferris drove the ball down field.  Quarterback Jeff Minnerly connected on passes to Jared Kartstetter, Shawn Stockton and others during a furious series of 20 acrobatic plays.   A pass interference call in the end-zone gave the home team from Spokane’s South Hill four potential attempts to break into the promised land and to at least tie the score with 17 seconds to go.   But, with the chill in the air and the adrenaline rush of the moment and almost 4,000 screaming fans, the center snapped the ball and Minnerly simply couldn’t hold on…  Brutal.

My son Ian plays on the Junior Varsity and had to witness the bitter loss on the sidelines.   He’s been great about learning the protocal of Division 4A athletics and has hopes doing good things on the Defensive Line next year.   Regarding this year’s anti-climax, however, I asked him  whether or not Coach Sharkey addressed the team.   And he said that he probably would later.   I hope so.   I hope that Coach Sharkey and all coaches don’t miss the chance to re-frame, to narrate and otherwise re-text what can be devastating blow to a teenager’s psyche.

I know, I know, I know…    Vince Lombardi probably has some great lines about winning, or about playing hard, or about leaving it all on the field.   Somewhere there’s got to be a volume of great quotes of which coaches might avail themselves and assuage the pain of a losing effort.   All in due time.  

And yet, it seems to me that leaders are prepared when they suffer loss just as they are ready to celebrate and boast when they overcome all the odds and achieve victory.   Yes, more often than not, these stories of overcoming are most often told and re-told as encouragement for those who experience set-backs.   But could there be a way of re-living or rehearsing a terrible event in the past–a muffed snap, a clumsy word, a spewing of gossip, a breach of trust, a failed relationship or a violent betrayal–and NOT have that event haunt us for the rest of our days?  Could there be a way?  Might there be a way?

If there is, then timing is everything. 

Leaders must be geared up to tell stories–not only stories that culminate in victory and mission accomplished, but stories that include failure, folly and all manner of foreboding behavior.   Think, for example, about the prophet Nathan’s conversation with King David in Second Samual 12…  “You are the man,” he says in verse seven.   You are part and parcel of this tale of shame and tragedy.   You are not only an anointed king and mighty warrior.  You are not only ruddy and handsome.  You are not only brave and courageous.   You are not only a man after God’s own heart.  You are a sinner…   Leaders have to be prepared to say things like that, and also, of course, to hear things like that said to them.

I pray that Jeff Minnerly doesn’t feel too badly for too long about the bad snap and the fumble on the one yard-line.  I hope that he doesn’t blame anyone else…  I hope that he gets to play and to perform well in college.   But mostly, I hope and I pray that he hears the words of a humble story that includes disappointment and redemption.   And there’s a funny thing about the story of redemption in the Bible.  Contrary to the rhetoric in the Sports Section, no one can actually “redeem oneself.”  Redeeming oneself is actually a misunderstanding of the word and the story in which it is first used.  Redemption actually comes from someone who has never worn a pair of shoulder pads, someone who has never donned a shiny helmet…  He did, however, take on a nice wooden cross.  

Last week, following the Emergent Mainline Dialogue, I finally had the chance to review my mail–that is the slower, non-electrical correspondence sent via the United States Postal System to the current office and future site of Latah Valley, 202 East Meadowlane Road….   Anyway, among the bills, invoices and assorted advertisements, there came a legal-size letter from someone who identified himself as Joe Freethinker.   My intuitive sense told me that this was not the name that appeared on the gentleman’s Social Security card–and yes, the PO Box “666,” scribbled as the return address, seemed to confirm my theory about an antagonistic pseudonym.  

Leaving that antagonism aside, Joe’s message consisted of a variety of atheistic materials (he called them reverse proselytizing) as well as  a collection of quotations from famous persons who claim, essentially, that no rational individual would believe in God or participate in the life a local congregation.   He also took the time to cut up the Latah Valley postcard, which had been sent to him (in addition to  the 19,999 other households within his zip code).   Suffice to say, I don’t know much about Joe, nor what in his background or in his personal make-up would inspire him to send such a vitriolic epistle.   What I do know, however, is that Joe’s thinking may not be as free as he would like it to be.

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First, for Joe’s thinking to be entirely and unequivocally free, Joe would have to be totally aware of every unconscious influence upon his life.  The fact that human beings do harbor ideas, feelings and worldviews that are largely unexamined cannot be disputed.   Sigmund Freud, I would hasten to add, would admit to as much.  Dreams, chaotic circumstances–not to mention the residue of the Enlightenment–affect what we assume to be freely conceived or utterly random thoughts.  

Second, for Joe’s thinking to be entirely and unequivocally free, Joe would have to be an autonomous, and even somewhat transcendent, individual.  He would have to be a person who is capable of rising above the fray and capable of seeing how he is not enslaved in any way.   Does Joe have this innate capacity?   Inasmuch as Joe has a physical address, he does not.  He may provide the postal service with a  false indication of where he resides (PO Box 666), but he still finds himself embedded in a gene pool and enmeshed in a conversation which he did not choose.

Third, for Joe’s thinking to be entirely and unequivocally free, Joe would have to tolerate the possibility of God, even if he remains adamant about rejecting the biblical images of Creator, Redeemer and Spirit.   As a free thinker, Joe would not be threatened, and would willingly admit that the existence of God is at least possible, given that our cerebral cortext has limits.   God may exist, therefore, beyond the purview of the human intellect and we would have no way of knowing for certain.   If Joe were free he might acquiesce to at least that.  Albert Einstein did as much.   

So, I want to take this opportunity to thank Joe for his letter, even if he had been compelled to mail it to Latah Valley by a force or a powerful entity beyond his imagination.   Joe’s thoughts may never be entirely free.   And yet, Joe himself has been made uniquely for a purpose.   My humble contention is that Joe has a place, a perspective and a voice given by the Sovereign Lord of the Universe, and that before the foundation of the world, God thought about a relationship with Joe.  Moreover, I contend that God still ponders this relationship freely.

Post… DIALOGUE

November 11, 2007

An Emergent Mainline Dialogue took place on the campus of Whitworth University (Nov. 9 & 10).   Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Karen Ward and John Franke paid the Spokane region a visit, and the impact of their conversation among us couldn’t be more weighty.  

The weightiness has nothing to do with their celebrity status in the realm of cutting-edge Christian ministry.   On the contrary, it has everything to do with providing space–creative space.   What I heard is that every generation of believers in Christ Jesus has the opportunity, the privilege and the mandate to contribute a particular verse to the poem which God is writing.  What I heard is that our words (humility…hospitality…) need to match our character and practice.

The event is now over.   We have conversed about postmodernism, epistomology, the nature of the gospel, the dynamics of institutions, including churches…  And at the end of the day we have been left where we started.  

The real theology happens on the ground, in the local context, among the people and social circumstances that only we, who live here, can hope to comprehend.  

Jesus of Nazareth continues to be the compelling person and the story that provides the substance of our most meanfulful communication.   Now, the difference is that you have a seat at the table.   You, whoever you are.   You, whether you believe or not.  You, whether you are certain about your doctrinal stance or not.  You, whether you’ve been raised in the church or not.  You, whatever your age, income level or ethnicity.  You, the other.   It’s time for us to talk.

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John Franke, Scott Kinder-Pyle, Karen Sloan, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt

Tourists In Ephesus

November 1, 2007

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A good friend of Latah Valley just sent me some pictures that she had taken while on a trip through Turkey.   I appreciated the images of ancient columns and scattered pieces of marble.  I stared at the long concourse which runs through the remnant of Ephesis, where the apostle Paul had traveled and taught so long ago.   It’s amazing that we are still able to visit such destinations and to imagine the exact places where provocative emissaries once drew a hostile, yet curious crowd…  and where the busy merchants and aristocrats of Asia Minor once heard the stories about Jesus which we still hear today…  and where churches sprang into being without the aid of a public relations program or mass marketing techniques…  And yet…

And yet, in one of the pictures of Ephesus, which I had been given, there stood a smattering of tourists–assorted men and women in casual, loose-fitting outfits, bearing cameras, binoculars and hand-bags.   Perhaps, if I would have been able to accompany my friend, I would have also swaggered among them.  I too would have looked for a convenient restroom amid the rubble.  I too would have gawked and gazed at the ionic architecture and the rocky landscape.   So that admission may soften what I am about to express:   TOURISTS TARNISH THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS!   And, again, I mean that in the most sympathetic way.   I can see no way around tourism, and no reason why we should give up visiting all manner of memorials and museums.   But when it comes to understanding the significance of the apostle Paul and his witness to Jesus Christ, NO TOURISTS ARE PERMITTED.

By its very nature the Christian faith compels us, not simply to observe history or to claim some objective perspective from which to view it.   Instead, like the apostle, we immerse ourselves in the flow of events, hoping through the Spirit of Christ, that some decision, some word or some effort will point to the Coming Reign of Justice and Peace.   Moreover, God intends us to interpret and to act as if the most ordinary places (your backyard, your office, your sports arena, your coffee shop) may become “Ephesus” for future generations.   

Consider this.   Among the residents of Latah Valley and the surrounding region of Spokane there may exist the likes of “the seven sons” of Sceva (Acts 19:14), or perhaps Demetrius, the silversmith (v. 24)…   Likewise, as the gospel is truly proclaimed and as our new congregation grows, there may be “no little disturbance… concerning the Way” (v. 23).   The trick, in our circumstances, is not to jump ahead of ourselves.   We will, of course, look back one day at what God has accomplished through the years.   We will marvel at the potential tourist attractions which now seem like so much banality.   But now is not the time for tourists.  Now is not the time to watch ministry happen from a safe distance.   Now is the time for Latah Valley apostles to make a definite mark, to risk life and reputation, and then to dream about what this public demonstration of the kingdom, so easily dismissed, will mean in the future.