Category Archives: culture

sabrina’s quest, part 1

Here, in the South (now, I realize Virginia is only the tip of the iceberg; I have not experienced the deep South), there is an air of nationalism that makes me nervous.  There seems to be an expectation that if you love God, you will be unwavering in your patriotism, and always vote Republican.  This expectation is one of the reasons that I’ve been avoiding Baptist churches, since they always seem to be the most nationalistic. (I could go off on a rabbit trail here, but I choose not to.  If you want to know what I mean about nationalism, ask me in a different forum.)

So, if I’m avoiding Baptist churches, what’s left?

In the past, I’ve been a part of the EFCA, and IFCA (admittedly, my church was fairly progressive for the IFCA).  I write the IFCA off, because, you know, it’s the South.  What happens when one combines fundamentalism and the Southern spirit?  I don’t really want to know.  No offense.

I look up the EFCA, and find a church that is several miles away.  It seems to be a fairly conservative, run of the mill, evangelical church.  No problem, right?

Introduce Sabrina’s Problem.  Or, if you will, Sabrina’s Quest.

I’ve been finding over the past several years that typical evangelical churches leave me wanting for something more (yes, the church I grew up with).  You’ve got your worship teams + slides for music, your once-a-month communion, the focal point of the service, which is the sermon.  There’s usually no good visual art, lending itself to worship.  Add to the fact that seminary has ruined my ability to politely sit in church and take everything in without analysis; this means I examine everything. (Not that I never examined anything before, but seminary just gave me more ammo.) In summary, a typical evangelical service does nothing for my spiritual personality, unless the sermon feeds my mind & soul.

I’ve been slowly discovering that my mind & soul need to connect with something more meaningful than praise songs and a sermon and communion once a month.  I need substance and beauty that I can see AND hear.  I need some kind of connection with a tradition.  (Last year, I was blessed to have the opportunity to plan a Sunday communion service for my beloved IFCA church in which I may have threw some for a loop, but I am not counting on that opportunity again anytime soon.)

Well, there are a couple United Methodist churches down the street.  Okay.  Over all, pretty watery for Sabrina.  Watery sermon, bland music, although the sanctuary was gorgeous.

There’s also an Episcopal church down the street.  Not my first choice, for a number of reasons, but I want to see if highly structured liturgy feeds me, and if the beauty of the old church lends to worship.  There’s beautiful, historic liturgy.  An okay sermon that did little for me.  Hymns accompanied by organ and choir.  A gorgeous place of worship.  A focus on communion.  But…something seemed missing to my evangelical self.  There’s a prayer for the dead that I don’t understand, an overall sense of dullness amongst the parishioners, and I already mentioned the sermon.

I think I can do better, so I look up the ACNA, find Church of the Good Shepherd, and write the pastor, asking for a ride on Sunday.  I received a very gracious response, and when I finally made it on Sunday, everything clicked.  A beautiful chapel, scripture saturated & historic liturgy, a good sermon, animated worship, focus on communion.  Boom.

But Sabrina…Anglican?

Maybe.  Look for part two sometime next week.

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on apathy and action

I like Seattle.  It is home to some of my favorite coffee shops, favorite bookstores, favorite ice cream, favorite scenery, favorite buildings, favorite people, favorite chocolate, favorite weather, among other things.

In this city, I can usually share about my faith in a nonchalant manner, and receive neither an overtly negative nor positive response.  This usually results because someone, (who sits, or stands across or beside me as we wait for some function/event, or stand in line, or share a coffee shop table, or wait for the bus) in doing their small talk duties, will ask about my background.  After I respond, they nod and say, oh, that’s nice! and perhaps inquire with a benign, follow-up question or two.

I spoke with a woman the other night.  A very intelligent, congenial, beautiful, older woman.  I remember her green eyes and dyed red hair, but  I don’t know even know her name.  She sat next to me and began to talk animatedly, as we anticipated the introduction of an admired philosopher, underneath the starry ceiling of a temple.

She began with chit-chat topics, and eventually got to the infamous “what do you do.”

Most people do not expect from the likes of me the kind of answer I give them.  MDiv student, yadayada, books, etc.  Oh, what will you do with that? they ask.  Be a nun?  (Okay, actually, that’s not fair.  I’ve only gotten that response a couple times.  But still.)

Instead, this woman was very attentive and wide-eyed as I explained my aspirations, and she was full of encouraging words as she proceeded to  relate to me how her parents had been missionaries in Japan for over 40 years, but she and her late husband were not particularly “religious.”  She remarked that in her life observations, it did not seem to matter what kind of “faith” someone claimed to have; no matter what their religious alliance is, that faith has been rendered null and void unless that person’s life reflected change.  Claiming a faith means nothing unless others can see what tangible difference it makes in your life.

Quite an accurate and interesting observation, from someone who claims no faith.   I thought she was just repeating James, you know.  But the manner and content of her communication did not relay such knowledge.  She was earnest with that statement, and she hit the nail on the head.

Then I got to thinking…perhaps…this is WHY it’s so easy to be open with one’s faith around here.  Nobody cares, because it’s mostly just talk. So, who gives a fig about what you believe?  It’s fine to be “spiritual” anyway you like….right, ’cause everybody knows you won’t truly act on it.  Laziness and apathy.  Apathy and dishonesty.  Hypocrisy.  Ouch.  In the end, apathy becomes our greatest enemy.

Something is very wrong with that picture, people.  Especially if you claim to know, love, and follow Jesus, yes?  Do others see that?

…yes?  How do you know?

…no?  Well, what in the world are you going to do about it?

I hope you act prayerfully.  If you don’t want to act, I suggest you have a good, long conversation with God about why.

And let’s keep this kind of stagnate-producing-apathy at bay.

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I’m Sorry cards

Working a retail job one Saturday afternoon, I helped a woman move her walker from her car to inside the store.

After I pointed her to the greeting cards, and set the walker down so she could sit in it while perusing the cards, she asked me if there were any “I’m sorry cards.”

“Uhm, I don’t think so, but I’ll look.”  I knew I had never seen any inside this store.

Bible bookstore.  Wouldn’t this place carry I’m Sorry cards?  (You’d think.)

After my search come up dry, the woman began to tell me that she had come looking specifically for an I’m Sorry card, and proceeded to tell me why.  As she opted for the Thank You cards and enlisted my help in finding just the right one, she got further into her story, and began to weep tears of regret (2 Corinthians 7 came to mind, particularly verse 10).  Unsure of what to do or say, I ran (well, not literally, but almost) to a tissue box, took it, returned to the woman and offered her the box.  She took quite a few tissues, as is to be expected.

An older woman, just out of surgery from the VA hospital, in search of an I’m Sorry card. Coming up dry.  Crying her eyes out.  She was really sorry, and didn’t have the right card.  I was beginning to feel sorry, myself.

Pondering this situation much later, I wondered if the lack of I’m Sorry cards  pointed to a much larger problem in Christendom. (At this point, this is where you may want to stop reading if you do not wish to unravel different thoughts and attempt tying them together.  I am quite capable of making my own head hurt, along with yours.) Perhaps we have lost the art of saying “I’m sorry” and truly meaning it.  Maybe we have treated “repentance” too flippantly for the sake of keeping on a serene holy mask that would fool anyone, letting pride sit on our hearts, slowly eating away, just like a lazy worm.

After doing a preliminary search for Apology cards, I discovered that they are quite difficult to locate and obtain, although they do exist.  Then a random piece of trivia came to me, a piece that I had probably read in one of hundreds (thousands?) of books I’ve flipped through (the problem with working with books year after year is that one can arbitrarily come up with little pieces of information, and have little recollection of how that information got into one’s brain).  The piece of information in my brain said something like:  constantly saying “I’m sorry”  reflects a low image of oneself.  Call it “low self-esteem” (self-esteem would be a whole ‘nother blog post, so I’ll avoid becoming side-tracked).

Hm.  If this is how people think, no WONDER Apology cards are hard to find.

Although, that piece of information is quite legitimate in some aspects.  I could see situations in which that would be very applicable, to which I will leave to your imagination.  But flip the coin.  Wouldn’t that also be indicative of pride?  Apologizing more than necessary to avoid punishment?   Saying three little words to sweep it all under the rug and say, All gone now.  Done.  No worries.

“I am sorry.”  Those three words have certainly depreciated.

As people in general, it would be nice if more could truly say, “I’m sorry.”

But take it back to the Bible bookstore.  How many books would you find on, say,  conflict resolution, community life, repentance, reconciliation?  Not many.  How many books would you find on Becoming a Better Version of oneself?  Too many.  As followers of Christ, we have to learn to live with each other, not just one person (myself, yourself).  That means having to say, “I’m sorry” and not just saying it.  None of us is better than the other, and none of us are above screwing up.  We need to show others what “I’m sorry” means.  (Check out 2 Corinthians and Philippians, just to name a couple of resources on living as family in the kingdom.)

P.S. Just so we’re clear, I am far from having this whole thing down.

P.P.S. I think apology cards are only the beginning, but they need to be more easily found.

P.P.P.S I am not surprised that apology cards were nowhere to be found in that store, and difficult to be found anywhere else.  After all, [insert dry tone here] according to Joel Osteen, aren’t you supposed to be Activating Your Faith and Achieving Your Dreams?  Come, now.  Who has time for I’m Sorry cards?  Think positive.

P.P.P.P.S.  Forgiveness deserves a separate blog post, too.


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vast dichotomy

I wonder a lot.  This is just another pondering, and hopefully not too controversial for the lover of peace that I am, coming up with blog ideas when I am supposed to be studying. 🙂  Oh, and this is also slightly related to Nate’s recent blog entry here.

Question to ponder…do you think that those who claim Christianity and shun the “secular” (meaning, anything not related to the church, whether it be media [films, music, books, art, etc.], culture, events, people, customs, etc.), staying inside the “sacred” bubble, are partly to blame for the increasingly “post-Christian” America?  And if so, what can be done to remedy that?

To use a not-so-great-but-sufficient illustration, say people never left a Christian bookstore, like Dightman’s, because it’s supposed to be a safe, relatively moral bubble for everyone.  They stayed because everything in the outside world is dirty and scary.  One brave soul ventures into the outside world, and is utterly shocked to find the rampant ungodliness, wondering how it became that way.  Shocked as shocked can be, she flees back to the Bubble where it is warm and safe, and warns everyone inside not to go outside, otherwise they’ll become dirty and scared (and maybe even scarred).

This may be my cynical self coming out again (slightly 🙂 ), but I think about stuff nonetheless, and I don’t know that I’ve come up with a solid answer yet.

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ah, yes.

the green, the grey, partly cloudy days, slow drivers, great food, wonderful music, yummy coffee, intriguing art, free spirits, lovely rain, gobs of studying, beautiful books, old friends…yeah, I’m back in the Pacific Northwest, friends!

Until I get settled into the new groove, there will not be a whole lot of blogging goin’ on.

Catch you then!

just do it

Friend, if you are waiting for God to tell you what to do with your life, chances are you’ll be waiting for a long time.  If you’re idle and waiting for God to break the silence, well…all I can say is, the book of Proverbs will convict you about that, and you are probably (obviously) missing out on many present opportunities.

I am not saying that God will never tell you what to do.  God is more creative than every single human being’s imagination put together.  He just might.  I am just saying it is not the normal thing.

If you tell me that God “called you” to this profession/occupation, I am going to ask you what you mean by that.  If you say God placed a burden on your heart, okay, fine.  God places a “burden on your heart” for many things.  But many believe in the notion that everyone has a calling, and God will tell them what it is, and how to fulfill it. (By the way, I wrote a little book review dealing with the subject of calling and vocation here, so I will try not to repeat what I wrote already.)

Um, here’s something from my closet of secrets: God hasn’t told me what to do with my life.   Am I a weirdo because I haven’t (supposedly) found my calling?  Is something wrong with me, or, dare I ask, should I even call myself a Christian?

Answers: no, no, and yes.

No doubt, there are many scriptural accounts of people being “called” by God to do great things.  What I mean by that is, God actually spoke to them with a real live voice, be it in a dream, or in a vision, or, just in a conversation.  What I then ask is, what about all the people who were contemporaries of those aforementioned, but not mentioned in the Bible?  They seem to be greater in number than those to whom God gave special revelation/s.  Surely there are many godly people not mentioned, and we will never know if God spoke to them in a dramatic way, or even in a not-so-dramatic way.  The tendency is to zero in on those portrayed in scripture and say, “Oh, look!  God told Abraham where to go.  He totally floored Paul when He spoke to him on the road to Damascus, and also guided him through dreams and visions!  And look at Jeremiah; God told him his occupation [not a very glamorous one, I dare say]!  That means God will speak to me through rainbows and tell me what to do, because it’s normal!”

Newsflash:  that is not the norm.  Chances are very good that you’ll never be an Abraham, Paul, Jeremiah, or [throw in someone to whom God spoke in the Bible].

So, my advice to you if you are trying to decide which way to go and what to do: carefully weigh your options with prayer and wise counsel, read Proverbs, and DO IT if wisdom says “yes.”  God may or may not speak to you, but He is sure to place you where He sees fit, for your good, and for His glory.  Just don’t sit around.

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culture is not evil

Last night I read a very thoughtful summary of the need for contextualization, and think it would behoove you to read it, as well.

Here’s the blog link: Soli Deo Gloria

If you could comment on Andrew’s blog, that would be swell, but you could also share your thoughts here, too, if you’d rather.  🙂

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people, please…

I usually don’t make strong political statements, because I dislike stirring up debate.   Even so, this is not considered a “strong political statement”, but I needed to get some stuff off my chest.  And this is not directed at anyone in particular, so please do not feel that I am targeting you.

People, please…

Are right-wing, conservative, Republican politics really the gospel?  I’ve yet to see someone effectively evangelized or converted by the forcing of right-wing politics down their throat, especially when the arguments are primarily ad hominem.

Change begins on the inside, and works its way out.  The reverse is not true.

Also, please do not think that just because I am a “Christian”, it means I am a Republican, or should be a Republican.  I do not wish to adopt political parties mindlessly, simply because it is the trend amongst those with beliefs similar to mine.  I do not think that the GOP is the elect political party.

Okay, the end (I hope).

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(Some words that come to mind…

hip.  artsy.  social justice/gospel.  organic.  indie music.  missional.  grassroots.  relationship.  velvet elvis. community.  tony jones.  hippie.  candles.  theology.  dialogical sermons.  art.  food & good wine.  shaping of things to come.  lots of meals together. mars hill.    intentional community.  context.  yuppie.  tradition.  non-traditional.  questions, lots of them.  alan hirsch.  exploration. emergent village.  brian mclaren.  culture.  blue like jazz.  experience.  green.  intellectual.  creative.  sensory.  dialogue.  rob bell.  mark driscoll.   generous orthodoxy.

…when I think “emerging”  or “emergent” church)

Many people simply classify the emerging (or emergent) church as those who were unhappy with their previous traditional churches, gathering around to complain about the state of the more fundamental church.  It sure seems that way many times, and many times that is true, but sometimes it is not.  Some genuinely want to contextualize (speaking the language of the immediate context/culture)  the gospel to reach those otherwise not reached by the good news, while still upholding scriptural truths (this would be more descriptive of the emerging church), while some want to go beyond that and become more inclusive of the different denominations/sects of Christianity (including Orthodoxy and Catholicism – this would be more descriptive of the “emergent” church).  From now on in this post, I will use “emerging” and “emergent” differently, in accordance with those descriptions.

What first drew me into the emerging church was the whole “missional” aspect.  I liked the idea that the church body spent intentionally spent time within the community to reach the people of the community, and were constantly donating their time, effort, finances, and talent to reach the needy (spiritually, physically, emotionally needy), essentially “doing missions” locally, as well as internationally.  This was in contrast to a church I had attended for most of my life (at the time), which was constantly seeking to draw people into the church, instead of being the hands and feet of Christ to those outside the church.

Another thing that drew me in was the appreciation for the arts.  I had grown tired of people in the church settling for mediocre sound and visuals, just because it had a “Christian” label.  And not only that, but this emerging church had its own artists and musicians who shared their work with everyone else in the body.

Of course, I liked the candles and the ambiance on Sunday mornings, the emphasis on sharing meals together and all that.  Always a plus in my book.  Plus, I enjoyed hanging around people who asked questions, were not afraid of drinking a bit of wine or beer, and generally looked cool.  Perhaps not the best of motives, but let’s call it icing on the cake, shall we?

Emerging churches are basically known for the above, whilst, for the most part, remaining pretty orthodox in doctrine (Reformed, Baptist).  Mars Hill Church, founded by Mark Driscoll, is doctrinally sound while still remaining culturally relevant in its immediate context (to a point…see my thoughts toward the end).  There are even churches that fall in the “in between” category of emerging/emergent.  Pastor Mark has a nifty little video to help explain it better than I can.

The emergent churches are similar, but their doctrine is more liberal, they are more “post-modern” in feel, have a loathing for anything systematic, and they tend to be more pluralistic and extremely integrative.  Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy would help you understand that a little better (you may come away from that book more confused…ha!).  The long subtitle reads: Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentliast/calvinist + anabaptist/anglican + methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished Christian. Mark Driscoll used to be part of The Emergent Village (McLaren is one of the founders, I believe, or even the main founder), but then later chose not to associate himself with them, as they begun to stray away from essential foundational doctrine (such as the inspiration of scripture, and the sovereignty of God).

Just for the record, I see nothing wrong with diminishing the number of labels people tend to use, and I think that’s one of McLaren’s main goals.  He probably wouldn’t advocate the usage of the emergent/emerging labels.  But once you get to the nitty gritty of essential doctrinal differences, it’s simply impossible to combine them all and have a happy, universal church faithful to scripture.  It’s dangerous to think that Baptists can be Catholics, too.  Mark Driscoll used to be part of The Emergent Village (McLaren is one of the founders, I believe, or even the main founder), but then later chose not to associate himself with them, as they begun to stray away from essential foundational doctrine (such as the inspiration of scripture, and the sovereignty of God).

So, some closing thoughts.  I don’t thing anything is wrong with contextualization in general.  I’m all for the missional and contextual and the community aspects of the emerging church, but it’s often too easy overemphasize contextualization and use it as an excuse to participate in cultural activities that would be contrary to scripture, or as an excuse not to pursue holiness.  Discernment is always in order, yes?  It’s also interesting that the word “missional” has just recently (within the past ten years or so) become a buzzword among the Christian circle.  Shouldn’t all Christians strive to be “missional”?  And what about the community thing?  Shouldn’t all believers seek community?  We are family, after all.

There you go, curious friends.  That’s my take on the ol’ trend.  I’m by no means an expert, so feel free to add your thoughts if you think mine incomplete, and please watch Pastor Mark’s video on the different streams of the emerging church – it’s quite helpful and concise.

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When I’m feeling a bit down, sometimes I can cheer up by watching films in which the protagonist is much worse straits than I am.

Here are two women I have determined NEVER to be:  Bridget Jones (Bridget Jones’ Diary), and Nora Wilder (Broken English).  Depressed, narcotic, and desperate.  And lame.  Why didn’t Nora go to Paris on a wild adventure with that French dude while she had the chance?

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