Saturday, August 29, 2009

Three to a Bed

Pretty sexy stuff, ain't it? It may be the family of God, but hey, there's a lot of Jerry Springer stuff in the family album. Take Abraham, for instance, a top-shelf bronze-age bad-ass. A nomadic warlord, mightier than kings. And by Christian standards, he's a walking scandal.

The Father of the Faith for Jews, Muslims, and Christians is maried to his own sister, Sarah. Plus he's pimping her out whenever opportunity knocks. Not to mention, he's also hittin' it with the pretty young Egyptian maid, courtesy of...Sarah! I kid you not, Thanksgiving dinner at Abraham's tent was hot as the Fourth of July. Are you surprised to learn that the girls did not get along after a while?

And so it goes. The downstairs maid becomes the upstairs maid becomes the nurse maid. Meanwhile Sarah's discovering that her Cinderella has become the belle of the ball. That cute little teenager has that cute little baby on that cute little hip, and "By golly he looks like Papa." What's not to like? But if you're Sarah, you're seeeeething! Hagar has gone from baking the bread, to shaking the sheets, to rocking the cradle, to rocking the boat. How could she resist?

"A little smirk, a toss of the hair, a little tension in the air..."

Sarah couldn't sleep in the bed she'd made, but regret ≠ repentance. Regret doesn't make you righteous, it makes you worse. Her mistake, in the shapely form of Hagar, seemed to taunt her, and she grew increasingly abusive. Finally Sarah complained to Abraham who found himself caught in the terrible middle, between Ishmael the heir, and Sarah the jealous wife.

You really need to read the story in Genesis 16 & 21, but I'll try to sum it up: After a visit from an angel and a night of hot lovin', Senior-Citizen-Sarah conceived the child Isaac, according to God's promise. Ishmael mocked Isaac, just as his mother had mocked Sarah, so Sarah demanded Abraham throw them out on the street. Abraham agreed, but only after God promised him He would bless the single momma and her little boy. By God's hand, both sons prospered, and they fathered nations of eternal enemies.

So what's the point of this tale of la ménage à trois? Well, it has nothing whatever to do with sex, but everything to do with religion! With never a hint about sexual morality, St. Paul unwinds the allegory in Galatians 4. Let me boil it down all the way: Sarah/Isaac & Hagar/Ishmael represent the conflict between the life in the Spirit versus the slow death under the Law. Abraham fixed his "little problem". But you? You're still sleeping three to a bed!

Isn't it ironic? I mean, how you're pondering how Abraham could be such a sinner with all that nasty-nasty...and all the while you're under the covers with your back to the holy spirit, spooning with the law of sin and death.

You've been called to live by the spirit of God, the way of eternal life. But you are still clinging to a checklist of rules and social expectations, which is the death warrant of mortal flesh. If you live by the rule-book, you're just slow-rotting flesh; but if you're led by the spirit you're a child of God.

I do not care whether your rule book is stringent or loose, religious or secular, written or unwritten. And I do not care whether you keep it well, or keep it poorly. Those who live by a rule-book are not led by the spirit of God; they are not sons of God. They are sons of earth, and to the earth they shall return.

"You may eat from every tree in the garden, but you may not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."

God's first command still stands today. And that goes for you.

I suggest you put your robe on and read the whole story. Believe me, the Bible's version of this tale is better than mine.
Genesis 16-21 & St. Paul's two cents worth, Galatians 4 & 5.

Photo courtesy of Beta Male, voted the sexiest band in Indianapolis. Talented and decadent and creative. That's them in their daytime habitat, writing music!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Right Relationships of Brotherly Love

People fight. People argue. It's inevitable. Some people just don't get along, and some people just plain don't like each other. When it happens in the "family," what do we do about it?

It seems this issue gets overlooked in many church circles. We *know* what the "bad" sins are. Drugs. Felony offenses. And the sexual ones that involve naked body parts, obviously. But Christians seem to be notoriously bad communicators. We often gossip like it's our national pastime. And then if someone stabs us in the back, we hold stuff inside. Because we know that, at church, it's our job to smile and shake hands and look like everything is A-OK, lest we rock the Boat Of Christian Community.

Besides, if someone hurts us, there are plenty of other Christians out there. We can just mark that person off the list. Keep our kids away from his kids, honey, that's the bad seed.

The unChurch, though, desires to see something different. "Throwing our lives in together" means the good and the bad. It means transparency, vulnerability, and overcoming the isolation of suburban sprawl. Sharing the yucky stuff isn't too bad when it's our boss or our distant cousin that wrongs us. The rubber really meets the road, though, when it's another Christian brother or sister.

My good friend Craig says it something like this:

Being the kind of creatures that we are, it is inevitable that we will 'rub each other wrong', maybe even pretty often, depending on the specific personalities involved. What is NOT inevitable is that any given pair of Christians will be committed enough to each other, and to loving each other even when it's hard, to do the 'relationship work' to preserve the 'brotherliness' of their relationship. It really has a lot of aspects in common with marriage; except that, in our culture, it's not a given anymore that people will do the hard work to preserve and strengthen their marriages, much less for something as 'abstract' as brotherhood in Christ.

I've read that it was fairly scandalous -- or at least quite weird -- that first-century Christians called each other brother and sister. It wasn't just a quaint thing to say. It was a new family, a new way of living. Living and loving together.

Learning to confront and communicate with each other in love is not an easy task. Most people don't LIKE confrontation. But without any confrontation, you just have... avoidance. It's way too easy in our current society to avoid each other. I imagine it was probably much harder to avoid ANYONE 2000 years ago. You didn't have people retreating behind the garage doors of the suburbs. Today, we have to proactively make an effort to love and keep those relationships healthy.

I don't want to go all "Dr. Phil" here, but it is mostly a matter of communication. Learning to confront in love. Learning to argue in love. Learning to live and love different personality types.

I think it's really a lost art, being able to confront each other and argue in love. You've got to have some trust in each other as a family to hash things out like that. It seems like the disciples were always arguing with each other, but Jesus and love were the common threads that held them together.

Right relationships of brotherly love. That's what the "community" aspect of the unChurch is all about.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The River Runs Backwards: The Gospel According to Joe

Everybody knows how the river flows. A thousand tiny streams converge into one mighty river, right? That's the way of the world, especially in the affairs of men. A thousand little peons wear t-shirts for one big mega musician, or a rock-star politician or a pin-up preacher.

But that's not God's way; God's river runs backward.

And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of [the city], and on either side of the river, there grew the tree of life, which bare twelve sorts of fruits, yielded every month. And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
[Revelation 22]

You may have recognized that the Tree of Life mentioned here in Revelation appeared first in Genesis, in the Garden of Eden. But did you also recognize the river? The river that watered Eden branched out and became the four great rivers of the Earth. Notice that here the river of Life does not aggregate and flow to God's throne, it flows from a single, wonderful point, and it winds or branches whereeveer it will. This God-river turns up in Ezekiel 47 in vivid detail, and we see the water coming from under the altar, and "swarms of living live wherever the river flows." Then, instead of blending in the saltwater of the sea, the sea turns fresh when they meet. Earth redeemed, a gallon at a time.

So what's that got to do with you? St. John captures Jesus at his quotable best in John 7:38:

If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believes on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." This he spoke of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive. [Jn 7:38]

Dude, do you see it? If we drink from the river, we're The Immortals. Mere mortals are like Adam, "living souls" who will die; But we, like Jesus, become "lifegiving spirits." Eternal springs of life.

Yeah. This river runs backwards.

[Joe B]

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

166 Hours: A Glimpse Inside unChurch Abbey

The gentle Monks of unChurch Abbey would like to invite you into our world. We like to say "Church can have 2 hours a week, the unChurch is about the other 166." That includes work-time, family-time, bed-time, and party-time.

Let me introduce unMonk Eric and unMonkie P.J. They do not write or speak, instead they sing rock and roll, and they rock babies to sleep in the name of God Almighty. Years ago they bought a house at the intersection of the suburbs and a trailer park. At times they've felt it was a big mistake to buy in this location, since sometimes "people problems" can spill over from the trailer park into their own fenced, green back yard. Until one day that asked "What if...?"

What if God put us here on purpose?

School starts this week. So P.J. says, "It sure is expensive buying school supplies for the kids. Heck, how do poor people DO it?" So she calls some friends and says "Let's party." They asked their more fortunate friends to help out their less fortunate neighbors. They set up lawn chairs, set out food, lit the grill, and sent invitations to the neighbors. Gardeners and nurses and VP's and cooks and programmers and teenagers. Then they set put the donated school supplies out, like "See? We got this extra stuff. Can you use it?"

As in heaven, so on the earth. That's what unChurch is all about. Eric & P.J. are gonna kill me for making a big deal about this, but it was too good an example to waste. The bible says "provoke each other to do good."

So, what if God put you where you're at? On purpose?

[Joe B]