August 18, 2018

Weekend Listening: Turnstile - Generator

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Hardcore is one of those genres where most bands stick to a predictable pattern. Every once in a while a band comes along and redefines the genre. Baltimore's Turnstile released Time and Space earlier this year, their fourth release. Honestly, I don't think there's been this ground shifting of a record in hardcore since Refused's The Shape of Punk to Come back in 1998. I could have picked nearly any track off of Time and Space but here's "Generator."



Thanks for the tip, Dan So.

August 17, 2018

Cricket Matches, Texas and Culture Crossing

Did you know that the largest cricket complex in America is being built just outside of Houston?

Texas lives up to all the stereotypes about it and, yet, it is much more than the trite assumptions made of the state and its people. The nations largest cricket complex is a perfect example. If you were to imagine the type of American who was clueless about a sport called “cricket” and would assume you were talking about a chirping bug ... well, let's be honest, its easy to imagine that person being from Texas.

Nevertheless, there are enough cricket players in Texas to warrant building a massive facility for the sport to continue growing. The “biggest in the country” schtick is quite Texan, of course, but these cricket fields outside of Houston point out something else: Texas is much more than the clich├ęs.

Sociologist Dr. Stephen Klineberg at Rice University is fond of saying that as Houston goes, so goes the nation. This is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect a Texan to say but he may be right. The creative innovations that are generated when a diverse group of people come together is a thing!

Houston is now the fourth largest city in the nation and increasingly diverse (though, not as diverse as some have toted). Lean regulations on development allow the city’s growth and influence to spread across the region. This has contributed to the creation of a place that is primed for innovation. Chef David Chang put it this way in an episode of his show Ugly Delicious, "I hate the weather. I hate the way it looks but the city of Houston is sort of perfectly set for people to take a chance on the new.”

A large cricket field, in and of itself may not seem that innovative. It's not the field itself that is innovative but the possibilities something like this permits. It's the potential hybridity that is exciting; the result of various perspectives, expressions and cultural backgrounds coming together and creating something new. As missiologist Steve Taylor writes, "We need ways to escape binary worlds and to name the fluid patterns of migration and cultural exchange which have always categorised human identity. This is what make notions of hybridity so generative." Imagine what strangeness might happen when Texas sports fandom and the sport of cricket come together!!

I'm not a sports fan but when I consider the leaps cross-cultural processes have brought to music, I get super excited. It brings to mind musical groups like Nortec Collective, A Tribe Called Red, The Kominas or even Bad Brains. All of these artists, while certainly not mainstream bridged a gap for the further creative expression of others by fusing genres that seemed previously to others an implausible mix. Innovation always paves the way for others, for the rest of us.

When hybridity is considered in the realm of religion, we see all too well in the history of the Church the results of our inability to engage in the cross cultural process in generative ways. Religious colonialism. In contrast to such violence, hybridity embodies the process of seeing the gospel taking root in a particular culture, contextualized. George G. Hunter III demonstrates this approach in is book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism. Explaining the hybridity that St. Patrick innovated when working in Ireland and resisted Rome's colonizing methodology, Hunter notes that a visitor from Rome at the time would have noted "a new kind of church, one which broke the Roman imperial mould and was both catholic and barbarian."

Diversity and difference is not to be feared. It is always an opportunity for something new. Progress.

For further reading: The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History by Andrew F. Walls


Photo: NYPL (this photo was not taken in Texas)

August 15, 2018

Authority and Influence

I'm currently discerning with the Church whether I am called to be a priest. This isn't breaking news–I've shared this in my newsletter, and on my Instagram story more than anywhere else. In our tradition, the priest and lay leadership (what we call a vestry) of the congregation one is a member of, have to affirm that an individual is called to be a priest before their process moves forward to discerning with a diocese (a regional organization of congregations and leadership). Because I spend so many Sundays in various churches due to my job, I'm not in our church on Sunday mornings. Therefore, I don't actually know a lot of the vestry members in our church very well, which is a fairly large church. This last weekend, my wife and I were invited to attend a casual gathering with the vestry so that we could get to know each other a little better before they decide what to do with me.

More than once, comments akin to "This discernment process is different" were made by those in attendance. As we drove home that night, Brooke and I were pondering on these comments. Why does this seem untypical to others? The answer to this question may be as simple as the fact that I've been in some form of Christian leadership for 20 years. But let's reflect on that for a moment. Why is that significant?

I don't actually think that the length of time is what matters but the fact that I have experience does matter. At a young age, I started trying to create space for Christian community for people without an interest in traditional churches. I didn't have a title. I wasn't ordained. I simply had a desire to influence the people and culture around me for Christ's kingdom.

There is a difference between authority and influence. Too many are convinced that positional authority is required to have an influence. Granted, because I am a white, cisgender, male it is easier in our culture for me but I don't think this takes away from this truism. You do not require positional authority in order to make an influence. Get out there, be an influencer and you will find yourself prepared for positional authority.

When we try to have an influence, from wherever we sit or stand, we gain experience. That may be running a campaign, leading a new community, building an app ... whatever! Through doing this we get experience that cannot be gained by sitting in classrooms to gain titles. Possibly more important, you learn to understand who you are on a deeper level. Your own sense of what your strengths and weaknesses are become clearer.

I may or may not be called to be priest. This is yet to be discerned completely. Yet, when I come to the table to meet with those discerning with me, I am clear what kind of priest I have the capacity to be. I know where I will be strong and where I will be weak ... there is a strange sense of confidence and humility wrapped up in your own self-awareness when you've stepped up and tried and through doing so gained experience.

If you have convinced yourself that you need a certain kind of authority to have the influence you desire, you're likely unprepared for that authority. Specifically, if you are discerning a call to Christian leadership of some kind the first thing you should do–in my opinion, is to go plant a missional community. You will learn more about yourself and who God has called you to be than anything else might show you. Whatever field you are in, go influence things for good and let authority worry about itself!


Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

August 13, 2018

My Latest Newsletter Went Out

My newsletter just went out again. You missed it this time. But you can subscribe here and get it next time it goes out. It's where I share the stuff I am working on; news about my podcast, what I'm doing at work, music I'm listening to, books I'm reading, etc. All in one place. In your inbox.

I hope you subscribe!

August 12, 2018

Zombies, gods and bread for the world

A sermon on the 12th Sunday after Pentecost | John 6:35, 41-51

"Never judge a book by its cover." You've heard this phrase.

It’s an idiom typically used to remind us not to judge other people by appearances. Doesn't usually have anything to do with books. Nonetheless, this is a truth we all know; that we shouldn't evaluate others merely by how they present themselves. I confess, I’ve certainly been this shallow, judging others on appearance. I'm sure you're better about this than I am.

As the gospel writer reflects back on his experiences with Jesus, he tells about how this same thing happened to our Savior. As Jesus attempts to explain who he is to Israel–and indeed the world, he’s cut short by those within earshot. "Isn’t this just Joseph’s kid? Who does he think he is?!" All they could see was a poor, country boy, the son of day laborer–and word on the street was that Joseph wasn't even is real dad, some saint that Mary was! What right did he have to say he was anything more?

This image hearkens back to the calling of the disciples: What good thing could come out of Nazareth? (Nazareth being akin to one of those small, seemingly insignificant towns off the side of the highway you'd miss if you blinked)

Judging him by his appearance, class, and family they could not see who Jesus truly was. Yet, they weren't hung up on his appearances alone. His words were insolent!

In this section of John's Gospel, Jesus speaks a great deal about food. Bread in particular. Just when you're starting to get hungry for grandma's home baked bread, Jesus starts alluding to his flesh being the bread everyone needs to nosh on! Ew! To our modern ears this rings more of zombies than anything else, right? But for those listening in first century Palestine, the undead did not rise up within their imagination.

Rather, gods did.

In the Roman world of the first century, everyone was religious. There were a number of religions–or possibly more appropriately tribal spiritualities–and even more gods. It was a regular practice to offer a burned sacrifice–meat or grains, for example–to your god. It would not have been uncommon for you, and those with you, to consume a portion of whatever had been offered in sacrifice. The belief, then, was that the essence of that god was within that sacrifice and when eaten was now within you.

When Jesus says, "Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread [...] is my flesh.” They didn't think "Zombies!" Instead, the would have thought, "Heresy!"

Jesus was telling his hearers that if they were to partake in his life, they were partaking in the very life of God. That was madness! He was a nobody from nowhere. Who did he think he was!?

Well, for one? God.

Judging this book by its cover ensured that they completely missed the point.

As I mentioned from the top, Jesus speaks a lot of bread here. This is not the first, nor is it the last time, that Jesus will refer to himself as a source of nourishment. He did the same when talking with a woman at a well in Samaria. In that interaction, he refers to himself as the source of living water. He will refer to himself again as bread, and wine as well, at his last meal with his closest friends in an upper room.

Here lies a distinction. After eating a meal with foods recently sacrificed to gods, your belly would have been filled with god-ness for only so long. Jesus refers here to a sustenance that is everlasting. He conveys to those that would here him that through Jesus a different kind of life is accessible.

We draw from passages such as this one, an understanding of what the Eucharist is intended to mean for those of us who call ourselves Christian. It would be convenient to surmise that Jesus is merely referring here to a spiritual state. Yet, it seems important to point out that John's Gospel does not end with a re-telling of the Lord's Supper. Rather, the writer of John's Gospel seemed to think it important for us to recall that partaking in Jesus' essence means partaking in his way of living. It does not merely connect us to his atoning work on the cross. Not simply to his death but his life as well. In responding to God's good news, by entering into the way of Christ, we accept Jesus' life as our model. Partaking in this communion service or saying a certain prayer does not discharge us from following in his steps. We receive nourishment in order to live. This Table is not the finish line. It's the starting line.

"Okay, Jason, I'm tracking with you," you might say, "but what's 'eternal' about living like this Jesus character?"

Consider the Sermon on the Mount. What gives life again and again?

Coveting what is not ours or learning to practice contentment? Vengeance or learning to love your enemy? Hoarding wealth or giving to those in need? Judging others or practicing humility?

We don't know what it is to live in the way of the Jesus only because we are too proud to attempt it. It is more convenient to live a temporal life that benefits me, myself and I.

Now, none of us are perfect. Like the poet W.H. Auden wrote, all of us attempt to love our crooked neighbor with our crooked heart. As we try to in our feeble ability to live into Jesus' way, take assurance that we are drawn into this way of life not by our own effort but by God's. In the passage read this morning Jesus says, "No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me [...]" The word "drawn" that Jesus uses here was a fishing term. When I take my kids fishing, we place a lure on a hook and cast out our lines. In order to catch the fish, the fish has to make an effort to bite the lure. In Jesus' era, a fisherman would cast out a net, draw it in and the fish would be caught up within in it. The effort is not the fish's. It is all the fishermen's. Could this be an analog to the covenant made between God and Abraham, in which God carries the responsibility of both parties?

We know we will come up short; we will trip over ourselves, failing to offer ourselves as bread to the world. In these moments, be reminded that this is the miracle. Don't judge your own book by its cover! Even in our flawed efforts to nourish the world as Jesus has nourished us, God shows up and uses these broken moments, failed attempts and flubbed opportunities to transform this world.

Our lives do not culminate at the Eucharist feast. It is here that they begin. At the dismissal, our journey into living as Jesus begins. If God can choose to break into our world through the life of a Nobody from nowhere, then he will certainly use our crooked hearts to love our crooked neighbors.

Amen.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash