Previous month:
March 2007
Next month:
May 2007

April 2007

An Open Door: Introducing Revelation

An Open Door: Introducing Revelation
Rev. 3:14-4:1
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
22 April 2007

One of the newest trends in television is the incredibly diverse cast. Lost and Grey’s Anatomy are supreme examples. On Lost one of the characters is even a torturer from the Iraqi army of Saddam Hussein. We seem to have finally gotten beyond simply having a token black person.

So, I have a question for you. Which television show of the 1960’s really pioneered the diverse cast? It’s also the first show to put an inter-racial kiss on American broadcast television. The answer is Star Trek.

Star Trek was on during a time of great tension between races and between men and women. It was also at the height of the Cold War. Yet this show had among its primary cast an African-American, an Asian-American, and a Russian. Though plenty of Star Trek episodes are wild space adventures battling strange alien monsters, many of the episodes also deal profoundly with issues of the day, including race. One reason Star Trek was able to get away with some of what it did was because it was set in the future as a science fiction adventure.

On the face of it, Star Trek told one kind of story. Yet if you examined it more closely, you could discover that it was telling a different kind of story.

Right after I accepted my first youth minister job, I was talking with the youth about what they wanted to study in our Wednesday night youth program. One of the kids called out “Revelation.” Well, I wasn’t really interested in teaching Revelation. Though I knew there were various ways to read the text, I still had ingrained within me the reading I was taught growing up, a literal, dispensational premillenialism.

In that view, Revelation was about the end of the world, and it was going to be here really soon. In that worldview, a study of the Book of Revelation meant trying to figure out who was the anti-Christ and how the Soviet Union and the United States fit into the scheme of things. Plus there was a always a villainous role for the Pope, the European Economic Community, and, depending on your politics, Ronald Reagan or Mikhail Gorbachev. That worldview produced the 1970 bestseller The Late Great Planet Earth which claimed that the meaning of the Book of Revelation was to be discovered in the Cold War. The end of the world would come when the Soviet Union invaded the Middle East. In 1988 there was a sensation when one guy published a book entitled 88 Reasons Why Jesus Will Return in 1988.

Throughout the history of the church, so many people have misunderstood Revelation. Some have reveled in the book, though they’ve misinterpreted it and used it to abuse and exclude and commit violence. Others have hated the book and rejected it outright. Even someone as esteemed as Martin Luther thought the book ought to be removed from the canon.

Needless to say, I wasn’t interested in teaching about Revelation to my youth. However, that year the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship picked Revelation for the annual Bible study, so I bought some commentaries and borrowed others from friends in order to research the book. What I discovered was that this was an amazing book and some of its passages became favourites of mine.

Why were my youth interested in study Revelation? Because it permeates their world. The Left Behind novels are wildly popular. Plus many films and tv shows talk about the end of the world with religious shadings.

For that study, I wanted to emphasize that we were dealing with visual imagery that conveyed non-literal meaning. So, each week of our study we constructed a banner and at the end of our study used those banners in worship. One of the youth designed the banners. What I discovered, when I met with her ahead of time, is that she didn’t share any of my programming.

Because the youth had not been fed the misunderstanding of the literal, dispensational premillenialist view, they didn’t need to first be deconstructed. They generally got this book right off the bat. For example, when I sat down with Genny Golden to talk about the banner design, I went into a speech about how these were symbolic images. Genny interrupted me and said she got that, that that was obvious to her.

What dawned on me in that minute is that the youth had grown up in such a visual and image driven society, that they were used to interpreting such images.

There are basically two ways we humans approach truth. One way is to use rational argument. The other is to tell stories. We humans are mythmaking. The word myth doesn’t mean falsehood; it means a story we tell in order to make sense of our world.

One of our favourite American myths is the Western. The basic formula is that a lone man enters the wild west and tames the land, defeats the Indians, Mexicans, or white villains, and then gets the woman. It is a myth about the power of a individual to tame the otherwise wild and uncontrollable forces of the world. These Westerns were an attempt to bring order and meaning to a chaotic world.

Though Westerns might be out of fashion, we keep telling this story, only now the setting is more likely to be outer space. But, then, we’ve always told this story. Isn’t it basically the story of Beowulf? In fact, there is a pretty clear line connecting Luke Skywalker, Ripley, and Neo to Gilgamesh, Achilles, and Krishna.

The Book of Revelation is a story told by a group of people to make sense of their world. It is written in a very specific genre of ancient literature. Revelation is written in a style called “apocalyptic.” The word “apocalyptic” simply translates “revelation.” The other name for this biblical book is the Apocalypse of John. Nowadays you hear people use the word apocalypse and they are really misusing it. Apocalypse does not mean a catastrophic, cataclysmic, or phantasmagoric end of the world. It simply means “revelation.”

Apocalyptic literature was a specific genre of ancient literature. It used highly symbolic language, often set within the context of a cosmic battle, in order to make sense of contemporary issues. In the bible the other examples of apocalyptic literature are found primarily in Daniel and Ezekiel, books that Revelation heavily draws from. There were also numerous Jewish and Christian apocalypses that did not make it into the canon.

Let me give you an example from the Book of Ezekiel. The people had been taken into exile to Babylon. Some of them had forcibly been dragged to Babylon in chains. Many had been killed or were forever separated from family. It was a time of deep anguish and reexamination for the Jewish people. Many wondered about God. For so long they had understood the Temple in Jerusalem as the home of God on earth. Many wondered if God was still God in Babylon or if they should now abandon their faith and worship the Babylon gods.

In the midst of this crisis of faith, Ezekiel received a vision:

As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside them, one for each of them. As for the appearance of the wheels, their construction was something like a wheel within a wheel. When they moved, they moved in any of the four directions. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. Over the heads of the four living creatures there was something like a dome. And over the dome over their heads there was something like a throne and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form. I saw something that looked like fire, and there was splendor all around. Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

Ezekiel’s vision makes sense when you understand its meaning. The people wondered whether God was with them in Babylon. What does Ezekiel say? Ezekiel tells them that the throne of God rides on wheels that can travel in all directions. The glory of the Lord has, in fact, come with them. Ezekiel simply used spectacular imagery to convey a theological truth. Just like with Star Trek, he used one type of story in order to tell a deeper story.

Though apocalyptic literature might be foreign to us, I think the principle is very familiar. We use various genre to tell stories that are really about deeper truths. For instance, I was a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I don’t think there has been a tv show that good since Buffy went off the air. Now, when people asked me about my enjoyment of Buffy, they often said, “But isn’t it a show about vampires?”

No, it was not a show about vampires. It was a show that used vampires to tell a story about a young woman growing up and coming to terms with the world – with friends and family, with love, with the issues and troubles and joys of life. I would challenge you to watch the episode entitled The Body. In that episode Buffy’s mother dies. I still think it is one of the single best written episodes of television that I’ve seen. I can speak with authority that that episode conveyed exactly what it is like when one loses a parent as a teenager. Its telling was far more real than that of the standard dramatic show.

Apocalyptic stories were usually told at times of great crisis. Usually huge global sorts of crisis, when it was difficult to rationally understand what was going on. In these moments a community might produce a story that saw their current struggle in terms of an on-going cosmic battle. They told a story in order to make sense of what was going on in the world. Ezekiel dealt with the horrific time of exile. Daniel was written as the people confronted the oppressive regime of the Seleucid emperor Antiochus Epiphanes IV, during a time when the major empires of the world raged in huge battles that caught poor little Palestine in a web of violence.

Post-9/11 we’ve had a difficult time making sense of the chaotic world in which we’ve found ourselves. Look at our television and see what stories we’ve told. Shows like 24 and Alias dealt with the world of terrorism and intelligence. Heroes holds out hope that a few gifted people will be able to save the world. Lost has been so popular because most of us do feel lost in a world that we don’t recognize. We want to know how we got here and how we can get home again. Movies like 28 Days Later, War of the Worlds, and Children of Men use fantastical and sci-fi elements in order to grapple with our contemporary fears and hopes. This week the Pulitzer Prize for fiction went to Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, an apocalyptic story set in the future after global destruction, which grapples with many of these issues of hope and despair. I use these contemporary examples so that we’ll realize that Revelation shouldn’t be all that foreign to us. The media, the formulas, the symbols may have changed, but we still have the same motivation to tell the same types of stories.

What was the context for the Book of Revelation? It was written probably at the end of the first century. It is credited to John. Though legend held this to be the apostle John, the text itself actually does not make this claim. Legend had it that John was the only one of the twelve to die of old age. However, he suffered torture (including being boiled in oil), exile, and imprisonment. In the midst of this suffering and oppression, he receives a vision.

The Christian community had experienced oppression from the Roman Empire. It is not clear that this was a concerted organized oppression or whether it just appeared in different times and places. We do have horrific stories about the violence that was perpetrated against some Christians. Part of the point seems to be that only some Christians experienced this violence. Some accommodated themselves to the Empire and were not punished. Others refused to accommodate and were punished.

This was during the high point of the Empire’s power. The Empire had brought stability and order to the Mediterranean world. They called it peace, but it was an enforced peace. The stability meant that trade was easier. This brought great economic prosperity to many people. However, economic injustices like burdensome debt resulting in slavery still existed. It was an enlightened, sophisticated, cosmopolitan time.
However, it required obedience and submission to one central power – the Empire, represented by the Emperor in Rome. Rome allowed much greater individual freedom than did many of the large empires that had preceded it. However, certain things could not be tolerated. Most importantly, there was no alternative sovereignty. Caesar was lord. Caesar was sovereign over politics, the military, the economy, and the religion. Occasionally this went to some emperor’s head, like when Caligula wanted everyone to worship him and installed statutes of himself in places of worship throughout the empire.

The other important element of context to remember is that during this period the Jewish state in Palestine was destroyed. The Palestinian Jews had always lived uncomfortably under the Empire. Some accepted Roman rule, but many objected to it. There had been minor incidents, almost always suppressed quickly and mightily by the Roman imperial forces. Jesus was not the only messiah to be crucified by Rome.
In the sixties of the first century, the Jews had revolted. The insurrection was put down by the imperial forces, only to flair up again in the 130’s. At that point the Jews were scattered, their homeland destroyed. Jerusalem was razed and a new city was built upon its ruins. Temple worship was no more.

Sometime during this period of crisis in the Judaeo-Christian world when there were global, imperial forces beyond the people’s control, the Book of Revelation was written.

It was written by an oppressed minority who found hope in the claim that Jesus is Lord and that the oppressive forces of the Empire cannot stand before the glory of Jesus.

The vision begins with an appearance of Christ in radiant glory. Jesus has a message for the churches. There are, then, letters to seven churches in Asia Minor, current-day Turkey. These letters bless faithfulness and reproach lack of faith.

These letters are to specific churches, but they are also, clearly to the church itself, to all churches, because the themes are universal themes. Though the Book of Revelation was written for a specific time and place, its themes continue to be relevant for churches in all times and places.

The basic point addressed in the letters to the seven churches is faithfulness to the sovereignty of Jesus. Some followers have accommodated themselves to the Empire. The letters are particularly negative on those who have become economically comfortable, because the imperial economy was based upon oppression and violence. The letters call for people to be faithful to the way of Jesus, even if that faithfulness results in persecution and suffering.

Notice when the text says, “To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” One could read this at first and think that the message is that we are supposed to be warriors, fighting the forces of evil with weapons. But look again. It says we are conquer just as Jesus did. How did Jesus conquer? He lived a radical life that got him executed and God raised him from the dead. The way Jesus defeated the powers and principalities, the powers-that-be of this world, is that he confronted them, died, and was raised again. We conquer the same way, by imitating and participating in the life of Jesus. It is this text that brings us the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

In the midst of a time of religious persecution and imperial oppression, those listening to these words read must have wondered, “How can I be faithful in this difficult time?” or “How can I trust that my suffering will not be in vain?” These were real questions that plagued the early church. And I trust that these are questions that we have. How can we be faithful during this time of war? How can we follow Jesus’ inclusive example despite the prejudice of those around us? On this Earth Day, how can we be better stewards of the environment, when so much seems beyond our control? This week, how can we cope with the random violence on the Virginia Tech killings? How can we know that our live will not be lived in vain?
Jesus hears these questions. Jesus knows our anxieties and fears. And Jesus has an answer:

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
After this I, John, looked, and there in heave a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

And the rest of the book will answer these questions for us, calm our fears, and invite us to celebrate with joy and peace. I invite you to walk this journey with us the next five weeks as we continue our study of the book that opens the door to reveal God’s will for human history.

The Death of an Old Friend

Today I am "burying" a old friend. Reliable and good.

It is my portable cd player. My jam box.

This is the first cd player I ever purchased. I got it at Christmastime in December 1992, my freshman year of college. And that Christmas I used Christmas money to begin my cd collection. I can't completely remember what all was in that original purchase, but I know that Michael Jackson's Dangerous was one album.

This cd player stayed in my dorm room and college apartment. I carried it on romantic picnics by the lake. In my Shawnee house, it was my only real sound system (until I got a new computer in 99 that had a Bose system). In the mornings I'd listen to Jack and Ron while showering. It played lots of music for lots of parties.

Once I got my first real job and moved to Fville, it became my church cd player. I'd use it in my office or carry it around the building for different events and programs. It went on retreats and youth camps and mission trips. It has a big mark of white paint on one end that I think some youth put there.

In the winter of 2005 my car sound system got a short. So I started using my portable cd player for my car sound system until I could get the car fixed. But, before I could, I moved and had far less money and decided not to spend it on a car audio system. So I kept buying batteries to plug into the jam box. Over the two years I've spent enough on batteries to have fixed the sound system.

A couple of weeks ago the cd player quit working. The radio still works fine. But I need a cd player.

So, today I bought a new portable stereo. And, something I didn't know existed until last week, a converter that plugs into the cigarette lighter and has a normal outlet on the other side that I can plug in my power chord. I'm headed to Kansas City this week, and so am now outfitted for the trip.

But I'm a little sad, and my eyes have gotten moist to retire my great old Sony jam box that has lasted almost fifteen years through lots of wear and tear.

I've heard all the great music of my young adulthood on this thing. There are so many sweet memories.
Dancing to Dancing Queen with Kara & Shelly. Listening to Nightswimming with Toni. Andrew bringing his new music finds for us to listen to. Two Zaireka parties. Cleaning my dorm room while listening to Michael Jackson. Driving through Kansas City with Nathan listening to Bright Eyes. Blasting the Fugees at my church office. Playing Summer Turns to High at my first year of SWBYCA in my senior c-group and listening to them discuss. Listening to Mary J. Blige in Helena, Arkansas. And, most importantly probably, listening to the River of Dreams album the day I rejected my conservative religious upbringing and its interpretation of the Bible and fully embraced postmodernism, an event somewhat precipitated by Matt Cox coming out.

I've thought about keeping the old machine and retiring it to some shelf in the closet to take out and look at now and then. I like the way its buttons feels (particularly the casette pause button); they are so familiar to me. I like the slash of white pant on the side. I like the scratches and smudges.

Oh well. Here goes. I'm going to take it out to the trash can now. Goodbye old friend.

Community Summit: Exceeding Expectations

One of my dreams has been for the Oklahoma City LGBT community to do a better job of networking, communicating, and working together. Yesterday was the first annual LGBT Summit. Over forty organizations were represented. Around 140 people attended.

The meeting was held at the downtown public library in their stunning conference facility that was perfect for the event.

There were sessions on the role of religious insitutions, youth issues and senior issues, running for office and lobbying your legislator, transgender issues, activism & advocacy, getting your organization better organized, etc. We had a number of elected officials participate and presenters came from as far as Tennessee & Wyoming. I met a number of leaders in our statewide effort that i hadn't yet met.

At lunch I almost cried with joy because here were all these people in the same room together, working together. It was a wonderful event.

What Does the Resurrection Mean for Us?

What Does the Resurrection Mean for Us?
I Cor. 15:19-26; John 20:1-18
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
Easter Sunday
8 April 2007

This week Christa Woods’ niece Desiree and nephew Nathan came to live with her. Christa rearranged her house, collected supplies, clothing, and toys, and prepared for a new adventure. This new chapter of her life came upon her unexpectedly.

Christa has reached out to her church family because she realized that she can’t do this alone. It does, in fact, take a village to raise a child. You see, this isn’t just a new phase in Christa’s life. It is a new phase in our life as a congregation. Because it isn’t just Christa’s responsibility to care for these kids, it is our responsibility to help, assist, and equip her in her new role. In the radical community that is the church, when something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.

Just like Mary in the garden, we in the church now see things differently. The resurrection is this dramatic turning point that allows us to see the way God sees. And one thing we come to understand is how we are connected to each other.

This Lent we explored a series of key questions about the Christian faith, covering topics like sin, violence, suffering, forgiveness, and repentance. I opened the series with the topic, “What does the cross mean for us?” Today we come to the question, “What does the Resurrection mean for us?”

Here we get to the crux of Christian belief. We proclaim that Christ is alive. It is a strange claim, since Jesus of Nazareth died on that cross 2000 years ago. However, the early church proclaimed that they experienced the risen Christ and the church today continues to proclaim that it experiences Christ alive, filling us with power, hope, and glory.

John Irving is among North America’s leading novelists. One of Irving’s wonderful books is A Prayer for Owen Meany. In this novel the character John Wheelwright explores the nature of his own faith and the role played in it by his best friend Owen Meany. I’ve always been drawn to the following excerpt:

I find that Holy Week is draining; no matter how many times I have lived through his crucifixion, my anxiety about his resurrection is undiminished – I am terrified that, this year, it won’t happen; that, that year, it didn’t. Anyone can be sentimental about the Nativity; any fool can feel like a Christian at Christmas. But Easter is the main event; if you don’t believe in the resurrection, you’re not a believer.
"If you don’t believe in Easter,” Owen Meany said, “Don’t kid yourself – don’t call yourself a Christian.”

There is an important sense in which John Irving has it right. Our Christian faith calls for us to believe an absurdity, something ridiculous. We are called upon to believe that someone rose again, that death is neither final nor absolute. And in that sheer absurdity, we are to find hope, faith, and joy. This is the same gospel that absurdly proclaims, “love your enemy” or that there can be “peace on earth.” The same gospel that says “the first shall be last” and “blessed are those that mourn.” This comes from the God who brought us the platypus and the giraffe and the rolly-polly. Listen to the song of a bird. In the struggle to survive and propagate the next generation, birds in their short, limited lives find time to sing with incredible rapture. That’s absurd.

Jesus Christ lived a radical life of compassion, inclusion, grace, and peace that confronted the powers-that-be about the political, economic, and religious conditions of his day. Because of his troublemaking, he was put to death. With the resurrection, God vindicates the life of Jesus. This is our assurance that the universe bends toward justice and peace. The resurrection is our sign that Jesus’ way, truth, and life are the way, truth, and life that lead to God.

The resurrection tells us that “life will find a way.” That existence is not merely necessity. It is not merely birth, growth, decay, and death. The resurrection reminds us that we don’t merely struggle to survive, but that we can absurdly hope for joy and peace and mercy and justice and love and beauty and life. It’s like God dancing and chanting “I can overcome all things and you can overcome them with me!”

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” And because of that, we can proclaim, “O death, where is thy sting?” Sure lots of anxiety surrounds Good Friday. And I don’t mean just the church holiday but also the Good Friday’s in our own lives. But as Christians we rejoice that Easter comes a few days later. And together we shout “Alleluia!” “He is risen!”

As Paul writes in I Cor. 15, Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate sign of hope that the powers have been defeated. Christ destroys every ruler and every authority and power, including death. As Paul makes clear, we live in an in-between time. God’s power, which destroys the powers-that-be, is set loose in history. We have not yet experienced their final defeat, but we look forward to that time and live as if it were already fulfilled. This is the power of hope. As theologian Walter Wink writes, “The politics of hope envisages its future and then acts as if that future is now irresistible, thus helping to create the reality for which it longs.”

Last fall I participated in the filming of a new documentary entitled The Buckle: Gays in the Bible Belt. This church was also filmed for the movie. The first teaser trailer was released this week and even in those few seconds you hear the powerful testimonies of average Oklahomans as they struggle and celebrate. I think a project like this is evidence of a politics of hope. Even participating in a project like this helps to create the future that we long for.

We absurdly believe that the world can change. And the reason we believe that is because God has defeated death. If death can be defeated then the problems of this world surely can be overcome!
What we Christians long for is a new social order based upon the way of God. A new structuring of the powers of this world as they work for the good of all instead of working out of self-interest. This new social order is embodied in the church, who has a mission to bring the way of God into the world.

The resurrection is also a sign of a new creation. Whereas the goodness and the beauty of creation have been spoiled by violence and evil, the resurrection signifies that God will recreate this fallen, perishable world into an imperishable manifestation of God’s power and glory.

This isn’t just a spiritual renewal, an awakening of new insight. It is a new physical creation, occurring in human history. Repeatedly the New Testament insists that the resurrection is in the body. Our actual physical existence is recreated.

Robert Goss, in his queer commentary on the Gospel of John writes that the “resurrection is a continuation of creation” that “ends the entombment of bodies.” The resurrection means liberation and freedom for our bodily existence. This is a powerful message for those of us whose bodies are oppressed, including women, laborers, the disabled, gays and lesbians, and transgender people. God has promised us that our bodies will be transformed by God’s own glory!

The new creation that the resurrection is a sign of also means that our lives will be transformed. Once we have seen the risen Lord, like Mary Magdalene, we are never the same again. We have a new vision. We now look at the world with the eyes of hope. And the eyes of hope give us power and courage that we wouldn’t have without hope. With this new vision we can go into the world, proclaiming the way of God, despite the obstacles of violence, suffering, sin, and evil.

The church has a ceremony of initiation that symbolizes taking on that new vision – the ceremony is called “baptism.” The sacrament of baptism, which we just enacted, is a remembering sign of the church that connects us with the life of Jesus. To be baptized, to join the church, is to make oneself a part of the group of people working to bring God’s way to fulfillment. In baptism we pledge our lives to be part of God’s radical new community. This is our new creation.

Baptism is also the point where we claim Christ’s story as our own story. Our personal story becomes connected with Christ’s and Christ’s church. Our identity is now shaped by who Jesus is. Also, what we say and do embodies Jesus for the rest of the world. Christ is in us, and we are in Christ.

So, it is significant that we baptize on Easter Sunday. It is a sign that Christ is alive, working in each of us and in our community to bring about transformation of lives.

In the Gospel we are told that Mary Magdalene went and told the others all the things that Jesus had said to her. Mary is the apostle of the resurrection, the first one to preach the central tenet of Christian faith. Mary is a model for us. We too are to share that we have seen the Lord. Our lives are to bear witness that Christ is alive, that there is hope for the world.

In August 2002, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band put out their award winning album The Rising. Time magazine wrote the following about the album:

On The Rising, his first album of new material in seven years, Springsteen is again writing about work, hope and American life as it is lived this very moment. The Rising is about Sept. 11, and it is the first significant piece of pop art to respond to the events of that day. Many of the songs are written from the perspective of working people whose lives and fates intersected with those hijacked planes. The songs are sad, but the sadness is almost always matched with optimism, promises of redemption and calls to spiritual arms. There is more rising on The Rising than in a month of church.

September 11 was a collective Good Friday for all of us. A day of darkness, pain, and horror. How interesting that the first major work of pop culture to deal with that day would focus not on the Good Friday aspect, but on the theme of rising. Springsteen looked at that dark day with Easter eyes.

In the song “Into the Fire,” he praises the heroic emergency responders who entered the World Trade Center to save people:

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me,
then you disappeared into dust
Up the stairs, into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May you hope give us hope
May your love bring us love.

Throughout the album, the lyrics refocus attention from the darkness to the hope of a new future based upon the sacrifices of those who gave their lives that day. The album prays that we can come together despite our differences, forge a union of fellowship and love, and together work to create new life. Repeatedly it implores us to “rise up” or “come on up for the rising.”

Asked about the spirituality of the music, Springsteen claimed that a spiritual revival was necessary and that it had to be a communal experience. He said, “I think that fits in with the concept of our band as a group of witnesses. That’s one of our functions. We’re here to testify to what we have seen.”

What struck me when I read those statements in a Time magazine article almost five years ago is that it speaks so directly to what is the mission of the Christian church.

After 9/11, Bruce Springsteen spent a lot of time with the families of those who had lost loved ones. Because of his experiences, he saw the event through a different light. He was able to see hope and possibility. So he bore witness to his vision, sharing it with others.

The Christian church has seen something other than just the Good Fridays of this world. We’ve experienced Easter Sunday. We see the world as a place of hope and possibility. We are the eternal beginners. And just like Mary at the tomb, we must bear witness of what we have seen.

A Bible column, written by a real believer

At we received a reader comment stating “You should have a bible column that is written by a real believer.” As a regular columnist, I assume this was, at least partially, directed at me. Read my response here. An excerpt:

So, the reader response was about the Bible specifically. Maybe some of you are curious about what a progressive, openly gay, Christian minister does think about his tradition’s scriptures. Just last week while speaking on a panel before a human sexuality class at OU I got the question, “Does your church believe other books, since the Bible says being gay is wrong?” Clearly there are questions around the Bible that I’ve never addressed in this column. Here goes. From my perspective. . . . [Read More]

Top Singles of the Aughts

After Charlie and Molly's rehearsal dinner (held at a great Jewish deli) some of us went to Amoeba Records. On the way home we started a conversation about the greatest singles of the aughts that continued the rest of the weekend. I waited for Charlie to blog about this, but also wanted to talk about it here too. We came up with the following list:

Crazy -- Gnarls Barkley
Seven Nation Army -- The White Stripes
Float On -- Modest Mouse (that's what got the conversation going)
Work It -- Missy Elliot
Yellow -- Coldplay

And we debated between Boulevard of Broken Dreams and American Idiot by Green Day. Charlie said we settled on the former, though I'm holding out for the latter.

It seemed that our criteria were that the song be wildly and broadly (that was important) popular, getting lots of play. It helped if it appeared in movies, tv shows, or commercials. Best if the song could be recognized even by people who aren't serious music fans. Of course, it also needed to be good.

The debate over the Green Day singles occurred because we acknowledge American Idiot as the first major album by a popular band to deal openly and directly with the war culture of America post-9/11 & Iraq. Though Boulevard might have played more broadly and be more recognizable, does American Idiot's role in that critique boost it above Boulevard? I think yes.

We discussed various other singles, but always rejected them for one reason or another.

Your thoughts?

Benedict cites Marx and attacks Western capitalism

An article on the Pope's new book:

The Pope's 400-page book, entitled Jesus of Nazareth, is to be published on April 16, his 80th birthday. Yesterday the newspaper Corriere della Sera, which is owned by the book's publishers, Rizzoli, presented a lengthy extract. It includes Benedict's thoughts on the parable of the Good Samaritan, who went to the aid of a traveller shunned by other passers-by after he had been stripped and beaten by robbers. While many commentators accuse the rich nations of not acting like the Samaritan, the Pope goes a big step further and compares them to the thieves.
"If we apply [the story] to the dimensions of globalised society we see how the peoples of Africa, who have been plundered and sacked, see us from close-up," he wrote. "Our style of life [and] the history in which we are involved has stripped them and continues to strip them."
The Pope wrote that the damage was not just material. "We have wounded them spiritually too," he said. "Instead of giving them God - and thereby welcoming in from their traditions all that is precious and great - we have brought them the cynicism of a world without God in which only power and profit count." . . . [Read More]

What Does Repentance Mean for Us?

What Does Repentance Mean for Us?
Philippians 2:1-11
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
1 April 2007

Last year after Bob Kremer had his amputation, he and Ron asked if the church could build a wheelchair ramp at their home. So we made plans. One Friday Michael Bratcher and I met Beth and Patty at Home Depot to pick out the lumber. Michael was dressed in his usual Kenneth Cole dress clothes but was a trooper trying to help.

The next day Beth, David Disbrow, Patty, and myself got together at Bob and Ron’s and worked on the ramp. At one point I saw Pete Keltch drive by and thought maybe he’d be stopping to help, but he kept on driving. Later he said he just happened to be in the neighborhood on a different errand and didn’t know we were there nor see us. I’ve always been a little skeptical.

A wheel chair ramp is not the easiest thing to construct, because you have to grade it just right. The other problem was that it needed to curve. Which made for tricky construction. At times Beth, David, and I probably looked more like a comedy act than a construction crew.

But we got it done. It wasn’t elegant, but it was done. And Bob and Ron were so excited when they brought him home and he could get easily into the house.

This is a simple little story, but it illustrates church, I think. It illustrates one aspect of what it means to participate in the way of God as revealed in Jesus.

Last week for the membership class I read a passage from Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon that quite accurately describes what I think the church is.

In Jesus we meet not a presentation of basic ideas about God, world, and humanity, but an invitation to join up, to become part of a movement, a people. . . . Christianity is an invitation to be part of an alien people who make a difference because they see something that cannot otherwise be seen without Christ. Right living is more the challenge than right thinking. The challenge is not the intellectual one but the political one – the creation of a new people who have aligned themselves with the seismic shift that has occurred in the world since Christ.

Lent, as a season, is focused on preparation for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is a time of reflection and confession. During this season we are to take a good look at ourselves as individuals and as a people and see how we fall short of God’s will and take the steps to move in the direction that God would have us move. This Lent in our worship we’ve asked questions about sin, evil, and violence as part of this time of preparation. Today our question is “what does repentance mean for us?” How do we complete this season of reflection and preparation?
o repent means to join in this great adventure story – to become part of this people. It means to see things in a new light. It means we trust in God.

We’ve talked a lot this season about nonviolence and peacemaking. But how can we have the courage to live this way when the path of violence is easier and seems more effective? We can live peacefully because we trust that God is in control.

We can only trust God as sovereign, when we realize that we are not. We must realize that we are sinners -- that we participate in evil and suffering and violence. We are caught up in the structures of sin that imprison this world. But we are not alone. All of creation is fallen. All creation, all persons stand equally in need of the grace of God. God’s sovereign grace frees us from guilt and anxiety and liberates us to join in God’s work of making creation more like God – an ecstatic fellowship of love.

Sometimes it is difficult to acknowledge God’s sovereignty. We wonder why bad things happen. Sometimes the suffering and evil of this world make us cry out in pain and anger wondering where God is.

The answer is that God is there in the midst of suffering and evil, working with us to change the world. How do I know this? Because I have seen it in Jesus Christ and his followers.

When someone asks me, “What is God like?” I point to Jesus. If someone asks me the question, “Does God exist?” I change the question by pointing to Jesus and saying, “If God exists, then that’s what God is like.”
Jesus, the Christ, is the revelation of God to humankind. Jesus incarnates divinity and humanity. Jesus shows us what it means to be fully human. And Jesus shows us what it means to be divine.

And the way of God revealed in Jesus feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, heals the sick, visits those in prison, cares for widows and orphans, values the mentally ill, forgives the sinner, includes the outcast, treats women as worthy, receives children, confronts the powers-that-be, and dies on the cross. Jesus reveals that the way of God is the way of extravagant grace, radical inclusion, and relentless compassion. The way of God is deeply involved in the suffering of this world, creating change, transforming lives, and bringing joy.

We see that here all the time. Last week as I listened to those taking the new members class, they shared stories of pain and anxiety as they struggled with their identity and their spirituality. Then they tell stories of joy and healing as they encountered God in this place.

This is a place filled with humour. Just hang around and you’ll hear lots of jokes and funny stories. We share an intimacy that allows us to be real with each other.

Jesus not only reveals the transforming way of God, but Jesus called on others to follow. And so from those first few who heard him preach in Galilee until those of us around the world gathered for worship today, people have joined in, participating in and imitating the way of God revealed in Jesus. This movement is the church.

Today’s Philippians passage is my favourite passage of scripture. I have preached it and taught it numerous times, but each time it can be approached from a different direction. Today I approach it as a text that tells us how the church participates in Christ. Just as Jesus was about transformation, so are we.
How do we live into the way of God? How do we continue to incarnate God in this world? How do we participate in the life of Jesus? By creating community. The most important and radical thing we do is create genuine community. Just as God is an ecstatic fellowship, so ought we to be.

We can help to bring about more justice and peace and liberate people from the power of sin when we work together at forming a community that is the Body of Christ. How do we do that? Paul’s pretty clear in this passage. It involves things like encouragement, sharing, compassion, sympathy, joy, unity, love, accord, humility, looking out for each other more than ourselves, avoiding selfish ambition and conceit. In other words, having the same mind as Christ Jesus.

Barbara Brown Taylor, the retired Episcopal priest, writes that churches today so often forget that their task is transformation of people into a community. Instead, churches tend to one of two extremes. Some churches beat people over the head with guilt and shame about individual actions. I had a friend who when she became pregnant as a teenager she was brought before her church and faced public rebuke. Some of you may have encountered varying degrees of this.

The other extreme completely overlooks the need for people to be transformed by becoming something like a clinic. Sick people come and receive palliative care, but there is no emphasis on change, growth, or transformation.

Churches should minister to people in need. But that doesn’t mean that the church is all about meeting your “needs.” Church is much more about what you give to it, what you put into it, than it is about what you get out of it. Of course there are times in our lives when we all need to draw more from the community than we can put into it. I want to be frank about something here. When I hear that someone has quit coming to church because they think the church has failed them in some way, one of my first impulses is to wonder why that person has misunderstood church – how have we failed to convey what church is really about. If a person feels that something is an important thing that the church should be doing and feel that it isn’t being done, then if they are a member of the body, they should jump in and be active at making that thing happen. I repeat, church is much more about what you put into it than it is about what you get out of it.

I hope church blesses people. I hope church ministers to people’s needs. But the way church really blesses people in the long run is that it invites them to live in a community of transformation. And living in such a community is not easy. It means sometimes you don’t get your way. Sometimes your expectations are not met. Sometimes you might get hurt. That’s part of it. Change and transformation are not easy. I repeatedly call the church an adventure journey. Well journeys that are adventurous are distinguished from journeys that are boring because the adventurous ones involve danger, risk, and often more downs than they do ups.

To illustrate, I want to repeat a story that I’ve shared with you before, but it has been awhile. It was an experience of mine while on a trip with some members of our college group at Royal Lane. It’s also a story that illustrates church. Listen to this story and pick out how it corresponds to the adventure journey that is the church.

In August 2004 Anna Lou Brown, Lindsey Washington, Barrett Wooten, and I went hiking along the southernmost miles of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. We started in the late afternoon our first day and climbed Preacher’s Rock, where we had a spectacular view of the mountains of north Georgia. The hike the next day took us along a lovely bit of trail called Lisp Gap that was gentle and easy. You could see distances through the woods and hear birds singing. But in those first two days we made three mistakes in using the guide book, either our own mistakes of interpretation or mistakes in the guidebook’s instructions. The worst of these mistakes occurred the second night when we walked uphill for over a mile only to discover that we had missed the campsite and had to turn back around. So, the next day when we had to retrace our steps over that same ground we were less than energetic. But once we had moved past that part of the trail, our spirits lifted.

The third day was the hottest and we couldn’t find as much water as the other days. Lindsey and Barrett both ran out of water at one point, but we did find some at the top of the next hill. That third night we stayed in a gorgeous spot, Long Creek Falls. It looked like something out of a movie set – tall pine trees, rhododendron trees, a bed of pine needles, an incredible, cascading falls, soft moss, clear, cold water, all with the sun breaking through just above. You could only get to this beautiful spot by hiking into it.
But then it rained all that night. And the tent Barrett and I were in leaked. There was water standing at my feet and a leak just over my head and I kept trying to scrunch down to stay between the two and it didn’t work.

The next day we were soaked and miserable starting out, but had a good day of hiking. We reached the summit at Mt. Springer and the official starting place of the trail. We hiked on to the next shelter. That was our coldest night. We were, fortunately, in a shelter and used some dirty old blankets that some other folk had left to create a wind block. We all crawled into our sleeping bags early and layered ourselves with clothes. We huddled as closely as we could.

The final day of the hike we were all tired and looking forward to a good meal and a warm shower. It was the loveliest day of the hike. We passed through fields of black-eyed susans where you could see flowers in every direction as far as the eye could see. Anna Lou and I kept stopping to marvel at the amazing engineering and architecture of the spider webs. As we all climbed to the top of this one hill we reached a spot where the fog was lifting and the sun was just breaking through the clouds and the tree tops and the light looked like “God-light” that you see in Christian calendars. Each of us talked later about how when we reached that spot we had felt compelled to pray.

The hike ended by Barrett getting way out ahead of us and getting lost and hurt, but we found him, got cleaned up, and headed for our hotel and a good meal.

Upon completing the hike I was thrilled with a sense of accomplishment. I didn’t know if I’d be able to do it, or how I would do on the trip, never having done anything like it before. And the strange thing with a trip like this is that most individual moments of the hike are not that enjoyable. Most individual moments are pretty miserable as your pack is heavy, your feet are tired, your muscles are sore. But the funny thing is that the totality of the moments is quite enjoyable.

To repent is to join in a journey like that. The church isn’t a hammer beating us up or a clinic that indulges our sickness. It is a difficult, but joyful, journey of transformation. Barbara Brown Taylor describes it this way:

The church exists so that God has a community in which to save people from meaninglessness, by reminding them who they are and what they are for. The church exists so that God has a place to point people toward a purpose as big as their capabilities, and to help them identify all the ways they flee from that high call. The church exists so that people have a community in which they may confess their sin – their own turning away from life, whatever form that destructiveness may take for them – as well as a community that will support them to turn back again. The church exists so that people have a place where they may repent of their fear, their hardness of heart, their isolation and loss of vision, and where – having repented – they may be restored to fullness of life.