A Poetic-Practice Proposal For Presbymergent

 

At Presbymergent’s recent gathering of the Coordinating Group (Feb. 17—19, 2009) someone mentioned the book, Outliers; the Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell.   On my plane ride home (to Spokane, Washington), I spied the title in the Louisville airport, bought the text and began reading.   As you may know, the gist of the best-seller is that “success” has been misconstrued.   In fact, the journey toward a successful career or an acclaimed accomplishment has less to do with innate ability than we may have imagined.   And so, I take heart.   Connections, synergetic connections, among the participants of Presbymergent abound, and that, more than anything else, may be the key to our potential success in serving God.

 

And yet, allow me to offer this caveat.   In chapter seven of Outliers, Gladwell chronicles the failed communication between Avianca Flight 052 and the traffic control tower of Kennedy airport.  That excerpt too may be instructive for Presbymergent.   Here’s the gist of what took place in January of 1990:  the captain and first officer knew that their 707 was running low on fuel.   However, instead of transmitting the dire nature of their circumstance, the Columbian pilots deferred to those brash-speaking controllers on the ground.   Rather than emphatically demanding to land the plane immediately, their nonchalant description of the emergency—evidently pilots often say that they’re running low on fuel—led to a catastrophic crash into the estate of John McEnroe.    “Thank you very much” were the last words of the first officer as Flight 052 maintained its dutiful holding pattern.     

 

Now, here is the parallel that I would like to make with Presbymergent and the Presbyterian Church (USA):   Between those who Twitter and those who do not, communication breaks down.   Between those who regularly blog and those who do not, there is an intimidation factor that must be considered carefully as we move forward.  Without disavowing or disabusing people of their technology, I propose that we begin to practice a disciplined poetic style of interacting with one another.   I don’t mean that we discipline ourselves to speak in rhyme or even iambic pentameter, but that we carry on conversations based upon our contextual experience.   That is, let’s begin to say things and to hear things that break through the thickening skin of the Emergent Village subculture.   Let’s renounce the incessant tendency we may have to quote the ecclesial expert and let’s truly traffic in the lingo of the vulnerable and broken theo-babblers that we are.

 

One of the most compelling conversations that we had in Louisville took place at a pub on Thursday evening.   I was tired and ready to go home, but a woman from Judd’s church simply asked us to tell why we’re so passionate about serving God.   Each person then shared a vivid story of some loss, some trauma or some life-emergency, that precipitated and preceded the call of the Spirit.    My sense is that we need Presbymergent to function like Theology On Tap, and that everyone should have the chance to contribute a poetic and authentic verse.   If one verse is left out, or is conveniently ignored, or is not honored, Presbymergent will not become the dialogue we had hoped it could be.

 

Thank you very much…

 

Peace in Christ,

Scott Kinder-Pyle

scott@latahvalley.org

1.  O Lord, You Have Healed—Now What?

Josh is a small boy with a nervous tick.   His parents are recently divorced and his older sister has become pregnant out of wedlock.  All the issues in the family, however, seem to be conveniently focused on Josh, who stutters and twitches.   So the mother takes him to a church where they pray for his healing.   God heals him.   But that’s when the real trouble starts; after the nervous tick goes away, the boy becomes increasingly aware of his family’s dysfunction.  He grows up, and matures in a curious way.   Whenever anyone reminds him of how he used to be, with a cool and calm demeanor, he responds, “I’ve been healed.  Deal with it.”

 

Now, as we’re tracking today with Psalm 30, I’m intrigued with the gamut of emotions that are expressed for the sole purpose, it would seem, of compelling the community to deal with the healing in a single person’s life.  

“I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me…”

 

“My foes,” in effect, have to deal with that—and consequently they’ll have to deal with God.   And so, of course, do the “faithful ones,” who are mentioned in verse four.   In fact, the bulk of Psalm 30 does not aim at the individual’s wholeness.   Nor does it want to linger too long on personal fulfillment.   Instead, the whole range of feelings—from weeping to joy—from I shall never be moved to I was dismayed—from mourning to dancing—all of it serves the purpose of summoning us to praise.   Praise is how we must deal with it.

2.  Authentic Emotions Matter To God

You see, I don’t mean to sound strident, but the question that we ask today has some awkward repercussions.  Think about it.   We often talk about how we must respond in faith to bad things or to sad things.   But, how are we to re-adjust our lives once we’ve experienced healing in the midst of a community, healing which we ascribe to God?   Is it like being cured by a specialist?   We might never see that guy again.   Is it like being tuned up by a mechanic?   Well only if we intend to keep the car forever.   My point is that once God has reached into a human heart, we are bound to him by the authenticity of our emotional life.  

 

Authentic emotions matter to God, and based upon what we’ve read in Luke 17, I willing to say that they matter even more than the institutional ties that some want to maintain at all costs: 

“When he saw them, (Jesus) said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’  And as they went they were made clean.”

 

The priests, you see, have to authenticate that the contagious skin condition has been completely healed.  Upon healing, those who were formerly considered unclean may apply to become fully re-integrated participants in the synagogue.   Such healthy people would be indistinguishable among their peers.  If you and I were there, we might not even detect so much as a pimple.   And yet, there’s a problem in that if you’re a physically healed Samaritan, you probably can’t go to the priest.   The priest wouldn’t want to come near you, let alone authenticate that you’ve been healed by God.

3.  How To Run The Gamut

So what do you do?   What do we do when there’s been healing, and yet that healing is a profound reminder that not everything in the world’s been healed?     My suggestion is that we run the gamut—that we embrace the permission that we have to express what God has done for us and what we believe he is yet to do for the entire world.    Run the gamut.   “Christian emotions,” writes Robert C. Roberts, “will be ones that are based on a Christian passion.”   That passion includes

“hungering and thirsting for righteousness, the yearning for eternal happiness, the longing for fellowship with God,  the desire for his kingdom” (Spiritual Emotions, p. 31).  

 

In other words, don’t be in a hurry to get back to that emotional even keel.   Don’t imagine for one minute that you’ve been healed of an addiction or an obsession for the sole purpose of getting back to normal.   If the healing comes from God—that’s not normal.   Feel it.  Let it summon you.  Let it summon others.  

 

Once, in a hospital room, on opposing sides of a pulled curtain, I stumbled upon two differing perspectives.   In the bed closest to the door an elderly woman slept.   I did not disturb her, but went to bed #2, where Mary told me that she needed some of that God Stuff.   She wore a brown wig and make-up and smelled of a perfume overdose—and all this struck me as odd, since her heart condition was not good.   Moreover, as I listened to her review her life story, it was filled with complaints, complaints about each of her husbands and her ungrateful children.  

Anyway, we prayed finally for that God Stuff, and I thought that all the talk might have roused the other patient in the room.  So I approached her and with the touch of my hand, this woman, even older than Mary, opened her cloudy eyes.   She spoke with an accent that I couldn’t recognize:  

“Oh, a beautiful, beautiful place we have beside Jesus… Oh, Oh, Oh… but we have to follow in his footsteps.”

 

“Amen,” I replied.  

 

“In his footsteps,” she fired back, “all the way to the cross.”

 

Well, I’ll tell you now, I still feel summoned.

 

4.  We’re Much More Than Percentages

And what about you?   Someone recently asked me if he needed to worry.  He had just had a glance at our numbers.   For example, when it comes to the operating budget, we’re down.   When it comes to the Capital Campaign to pay for the seven acres of property, we’re behind.   When it comes to selling off the additional eight acres that we cannot afford, no buyer on the market has come forward.   Let’s face it.  At this point, Latah Valley is one gaping hole.   But ask yourselves this question:  What would it mean if God pulled us out of that pit?   Would it mean better numbers and a bigger percentage of the pie?   Or would it mean that God has summoned us here and now to do something greater than ourselves?  

“To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication: 

 

‘What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit?  Will the dust praise you?  Will it tell of your faithfulness?” (Psalm 30:8—9).

 

 

5.  Latah Valley’s Target Population:  Foreigners!

This is the way that I pray sometimes about the ministry and mission of Latah Valley.   But I’d like to emphasize where this fully healed community of God is going.   We are not headed for a balanced budget.   We are not destined for a parking lot that’s full of well adjusted families.   We are bound to the foreigners, to the thankful Samaritans who are already lying prostrate at the feet of Jesus.   Our church community intends to scoop them up and to carry them, or perhaps to ask them to carry us.  

 

Praise God for the foreigners who help us to feel grateful.   They are out there.   We are out there.   God help us to find one another.

 

Amen.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WOUNDS TO LIVE BY

February 9, 2009

42-169734821.   Who Are The Brokenhearted?

In the elegy for Eleanor Rigby, performed by the Beatles, “all the lonely people” take center-stage.   “All the lonely people,” of course, is a reference to what many so-called experts have observed over the years, and that is, that in spite of or because of our inevitable progress in technology, human beings have become increasingly more isolated and detached from one another.   Long before Eleanor Rigby, in fact, Ralph Waldo Emerson withdrew to a quiet, pristine pond where now condominiums encroach, and he wrote:  “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”   But, you see, if we really want to understand desperation and if we really want to contemplate a cure for “all the lonely people,” my suggestion this morning is that we savor Psalm 147:

“(Yahweh) heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.”

 

Now, if there were ever an awesome scripture passage to memorize, or to carve in stone, or to mount on a wall, or to simply believe in—verse three of Psalm 147 would be a good one.   And yet, it begs an important question—doesn’t it?  For example, the Beatles’ question goes like so:   “All the lonely people—Where do they all belong?  And the point seems to be that if we could just come up with a place, a place for lonely people to go on a Friday night, a place for them to be sequestered away from the socially connected, that might allow the rest of us to get on with our happy lives.  On the other hand, Emerson tells us that desperation is a hidden epidemic that may afflict the majority of people in the world—in which case we may want to ask them to speak up, to tell us where it hurts.   But what if it’s not that easy?  

 

 

 

2.   What Are Their Wounds?

And so, here is the question that Psalm 147 invites us and even begs us to ask:  Who are the brokenhearted?   In other words, who are those who have so invested in a particular person and then been devastated when that person fails to deliver on certain promises, or fails to satisfy certain needs?   Who are those who have committed to a cause and then discovered all too late that the cause is morally bankrupt?   Who are those who have simply made plans—plans to do important, worthy projects—and then seen those projects and those plans torn to pieces?   These are the people who once thought of themselves as giving their whole hearts, but then eventually discovered that the heart they hoped to give actually crumbled in their calloused hands.

 

Well, inspired by Psalm 147 and informed by the story that Jesus tells in Luke 10, I’d like to name the wounds of those brokenhearted people more specifically.   Here are their wounds:

·        They are the wounds of the Good Samaritan, who is the guy who has been ostracized and ridiculed;

·        They are the wounds of the beaten religious traveler; that is the one who has been to the temple in Jerusalem, but who is robbed and left for dead on his way home.

·        They are the wounds of the innkeeper, the one in the story who has to tend to the traveler’s wounds at three in the morning, the one who had tried to mind his own business, but couldn’t.

 

boy-on-route-661

3.  For God’s Sake Be Moved

You see, Jesus has a fascinating thing to say about these wounds.  He says, in so many words, that every wound has a story that goes along with it.   Every wound represents a collision of worlds.   The Good Samaritan has a world in which he is on the outside looking in.   The traveler from Jerusalem to Jericho has a world in which he is on the inside looking out.   The innkeeper has a world in which he neither looks in, nor looks out.   He’s simply oblivious.  And yet, in Luke 10 those worlds crash into one another when we hear that the Good Samaritan has been “moved.”   The Good Samaritan actually lets himself feel something whereas the Levite and the priest press on with their on agendas.  

 

What does the Good Samaritan know that the others don’t know?   My contention is he knows that God himself is moved.   God himself is moved to heal the brokenhearted and to bind up their wounds—and this is no pity party.   This is the honest truth of who we are and who we are called to be.   Think about it.   God heals.   God binds up the wounds.   And so, if we’d like to know God, look around at the wounds that he’s moved to heal.

 

Douglas John Hall describes this saintly woman in his church who advised him to visit an alcoholic young man in the hospital.   He did go and visit the man, who turned out to be “a bundle of nerves and apologies.”  When the parishioner then asked her pastor how it went, he told her that he was moved; that the patient just wanted to be loved.  “But why can’t he change?” came the calloused reply?  Why can’t he change? (p. 84).     

                    

4.  Use Oil, Wine Or Whatever Heals

Now, the reason Douglas John Hall’s book, God and Human Suffering, includes this snippet is to illustrate the vast difference between God’s intention to heal and our pseudo religious tendency to fix.   Fixing people is not the same as offering them God’s healing—and this is especially true when we consider the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.   Jesus never in his life fixed a person.  He never in his life fixed Israel’s local government.   He never in his life fixed the Roman Empire.  He probably fixed a table.  Before the age of thirty, he probably patched a few of his neighbors’ roofs.   But never in his life, in his death or in his resurrection did Jesus fix a person or a community as if they were things.   

 

Jesus heals the brokenhearted and he performs this healing in a fashion very similar to that of the Good Samaritan.   That is, he uses oil.  He uses wine.  Or he uses whatever happens to be on hand.    But he uses what he uses to symbolize how God heals in places outside the temple in Jerusalem.   God heals when we try to go home, but can’t seem to make it…  

 

5.  Latah Valley Keeps Up With The Wounded

 

Now, I’ve been wondering about the kind of wounds that we receive as well as the kind of wounds that we inflict upon others—all in the name of getting home!   The pursuit of home, in fact, is tantamount to the pursuit of the American dream.   

For many decades now people like us have competed with our neighbors.   We’ve sought to keep up with the Jones family—to maintain that finely manicured lawn, to install that Jacuzzi and more, always more, anything for the enhancement  of the all-important home.   And yet, what about the wounds that we conceal within those cloistered enclaves?   What about all the pains and hurts that we’ve hidden under the cover of a thirty-year mortgage and three car garage?   

 

My sense is that these strange economic times are about to expose more than bad money management on the part of some.   My sense is that the wounds of our neighbors will soon be front and center.   And when that great unveiling takes place, I would like to push Latah Valley Presbyterian Church right in the middle of it all. 

 

Latah Valley will keep up with the wounds.   We will keep up with the local expressions of heart-ache and heart break because, after all, that’s where we’ll find God—the same God who in Psalm 147:3 heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.   Amen.

1.   We Cannot Fake The Fear of The Lord

 

When Franklin Roosevelt says, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,”  he’s clearly not talking about The Fear of the Lord.  When Maria, in The Sound of Music, advises the Von Trappe children to face their fears, she clearly doesn’t want them to replace The Fear of the Lord with “girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes.”  As a phrase, and as a phenomenon, The Fear of the Lord is out of bounds.  Compared to the fears we may have about the economy, or about a terrorist attack—there is no comparison.  Compared to any of the phobias which may be cured by Julie Andrews—there is no comparison.   The Fear of the Lord is… is what?  

 

Well, by way of an answer, let me recommend the final book of The Chronicles of Narnia series.   In The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis describes what happens when a clever ape, named Shift, convinces a gullible donkey to impersonate someone.   The person that Puzzle will pretend to be is none other than Aslan, the Great Lion—a mythic Christ-figure whom the residents of Narnia revere.   And here’s where The Fear of the Lord comes into play.   When the ape says, “You will pretend to be Aslan, and I’ll tell you what to say,” the donkey engages like this:

“No, no, no…  Don’t say such dreadful things.  It would be wrong, Shift.  I may not be very clever but I know that much.  What would become of us if the real Aslan turned up?”

 

“I expect he’d be very pleased,” said Shift.  “Probably he sent us the lion-skin on purpose, so that we could set things right…”

 

At that moment there came a great thunderclap… (p. 14).

2.  Wisdom Trumps Intelligence

You see, the first thing we need to know about The Fear of the Lord is that there’s no faking it.   That’s the first thing.  And by faking it I mean that we substitute our yearning for God’s Presence with our own petty fear tactics.   In other words, we actually use up valuable brain cells in trying to make people afraid of God.   We actually try to instill the fear—not because God is God—but because if they fear our version of God that’s tantamount to fearing us.

 

Once, just for fun, I literally picked up this girl that I knew and carried her about a block through the streets of State College, Pennsylvania.   It was just for fun.  The girl herself laughed hysterically and I eventually put her down on her own two feet—when all of a sudden this really intense street preacher came out of no where and put his finger in my chest.   He said, “You will burn in fire and brimstone.”   Now why did he do that?   If he were trying to persuade me to believe in God, I don’t think it was a very wise way to go about it.    In fact, for the average twenty-first century all-American male or female, a statement like that might have the opposite effect.   So, allow me to offer a different perspective. 

 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…”

 

This, finally, is how we can discern the authentic fear of the Lord.   It has to do with wisdom, and wisdom trumps intelligence every day of the week and twice on Sundays.   Writes Jurgen Moltmann,

“The fear of God can beget wisdom which lends human beings power over their own power.   We do not have to do everything we are able to do” (Experiences In Theology).

3.  Praise God Beside Yourself 

Now, as we explore Psalm 111, what’s most appealing is the promise that “wisdom” begins.  But pay attention:  Wisdom only begins to develop as the individual person gives thanks to God for specific acts that God has performed over long periods of time and which are remembered by a entire community of faith.

 

W.H. Auden once sat outside, playing cards, with some friends from college.  Each of the people, lounging on the lawn, happened to be extremely intelligent.  In fact, they each would go on to do some extraordinary things with their lives.   Still, what impressed the poet is this overwhelming experience of awe.   He genuinely loved these people, loved them without wanting anything from them, loved them without ignoring their faults.   And so, without feeling smitten by anyone in particular, he describes this giddy sensation of being beside himself—a perspective that he shares with the apostle Paul:

“Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences.   We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.  For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God.”

 

Think about the “we” and the “us” in this passage.   What strikes me about those pronouns is the effect they might have on the individual reader.   We are “beside ourselves.”   I do not withdraw within myself to find secret wisdom there that I might share with you if I happen to be in the mood.   But wisdom from God begins to flow and to grow as both you and I get out of our own way.  

4.  Serve Others In Your Right Mind

 

Jim Wallis writes about a homeless man who wandered into one of his classrooms at Harvard’s Kennedy School.  For weeks this ragamuffin man sat quietly and listened carefully to the discussion:

“Matthew always carried around a large cardboard box, which he would carefully set down next to him.  Exactly what was in that box?   After the last class, Matthew came with several of us to a Call to Renewal meeting…  Afterward, as we were in the refectory for refreshments, I looked over and saw that Matthew had opened his box and placed the contents on one of the tables.  People gathered around to view a beautifully crafted model of a church made from white cardboard.   All along the outer walls of the steepled church were the words of the prophets and the sayings of Jesus, beautifully written in Matthew’s own hand—almost like calligraphy.  Over the front door, Christ’s words appeared, ‘Come to me, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’  Right beneath the words was a door, closed shut with a little padlock.  The message was clear” (God’s Politics, p. 357).

 

You see, if that’s the perception of the church, where does the world go for wisdom?   Where does Spokane go for wisdom?   The other day I noticed a purple colored bus make the turn onto 29th, and on the broad side of it, etched in yellow letters, were these giant words:  “Did You Used To Go To Church?”   I appreciate the public nature of that question and understand the reasons a congregation or a denomination might want to know the answer.   But, unfortunately, I think the premise of the survey is misguided. 

 

Consider, for example, the church that gathered in ancient Corinth.  The people of Corinth did not go to church.  Nor did they quit going to church.  The church actually went out to the people, not because they wanted to increase their numbers per se, but because they lived off of the wisdom that came with the conversation.   “For the love of Christ urges us on,” says Paul.  Get out of your own way.

5.  Latah Valley Is A Synapse Connection

 

As I reviewed all the references to the fear of the Lord that are connected to wisdom one of the things that jumped out of the various passages is the importance of transmission.   For instance, Psalm 19:9 declares, “the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever,”  but that “forever” has to be transmitted from congregation to congregation, from place to place, over time.  Likewise, Psalm 34:11 says, “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”   You see, what’s critical is, not that each person find out his or her individual inner truth, but that we encounter it as generations live and die and live again. 

 

Anyway, while I prayed through this notion, I stumbled upon the scientific study of the synapse connection, and I’d like you to bear with me on this.   A synapse connection is like a pathway between cells in the human brain; and as we’re born into the world, guess what helps in the development of those synapse connections!   That’s right—love, affection and the tender touch of another human being.   Late in life, of course, as we near death, we will likewise recall events based upon the health and vitality of those synapse connections.  

 

So, imagine the world in which we live and die and live again.  The eternal mind of God is that we reach people with the love of Christ Jesus.   And if that’s the case, then it’s as if Latah Valley itself is a new synapse connection.  Can you feel the heat?   Amen.