by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I have no exit but smoke
A Holocaust, An Oblation
And become nothing,
One with the aether
Seduced! Seduced! Seduced!
I am seduced
MIROSLAV VOLF’S LATEST BOOK: FLOURISHING: WHY WE NEED RELIGION IN A GLOBALIZED WORLD AND SPIRITUALITY
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Scot McKnight tweeted that Miroslav Volf produced a new book about what it means to live the good life (Yale Univ. Press, Jan 11, 2016). I grabbed it up on Audible.com and began listening because I need to beef up my “social context” for my doctoral Thesis proposal (then I had to buy the print version too). In self-interest, I need to present ‘why does our culture need classic spiritual practices today?’ I ask the question if our culture is languishing – are we busy at no good thing? Are we spiritual with a small “s” rather than deeply connect to the transcendent GOD, intimate with the unknown One? I propose we need greater intimacy with God and the 4th century desert practices (paideia) and its culture, largely ignored by Evangelicals, is the effective means of deepening one’s intimacy with God.
Volf teaches at Yale University’s Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and offers a popular undergraduate seminar called “Life Worth Living.” See David Brooks‘ YaleNews‘ Feb 23, 2016 interview with Miroslav Volf.
Here is a tasty quote of Volf from the YaleNews David Brooks’ interview:
"The danger is that students become experts in means but remain amateurs in ends, immensely adept in accomplishing discrete tasks, but lost when it comes to the art of living."
In other words, anyone with an iPhone can look up a bio of Karl Marx and his Manifesto and also YouTube videos of kittens doing dangerous funny stunts – and have trouble understanding which is more important for living the good life.
I believe Volf accurately assesses what some of us “older” Christians sense but cannot put our finger on, regarding ‘why does social media, the media, technology, science, and consumerism seem to degrade the human soul?’ We tend to keep quiet because we all know that it is just old people resisting change. But Volf shows that it may be due to globalization’s dehumanizing effects. And I will say it now, Volf also believe globalization is not evil but a powerful pathway to the good life – IF we can tolerate the voice of faith and religion. Spirituality and its transforming force makes us adept as the art of living.
From a spirituality vantage point “the good life” or “a life worth living” one’s intimacy with God is paramount to the good life. Of course, any personal spirituality that is not beneficial for others is not Christian spirituality. Personal piety is not the end, but rather the means to transforming the world around us.
Our secular spirituality, which should be an oxymoron but isn’t, believes religion should take a backseat to western culture’s moral exclusivism, and political exclusivism. Volf argues that far from Christianity or Islam being intolerant, it is globalization that wins the intolerance award (Volf, Flourishing, 100). This intolerance looks as mundane as social media’s dogma – everyone MUST be immediately socially connected – and as sophisticated, mildly-ignoring western affluent consumerism’s pervasive pull to consume at the expense others, including the environment. (I added a bit of my own stuff here.) Globalization is the most intolerant impersonal force on the planet today. Globalization may as well be today’s de facto religion.
As the Volf-Brooks interview quote above reveals, globalization is not necessarily producing the good life on its own. But when coupled with a particular religious exclusivism and political pluralism the good life is possible according to Volf (Volf, Flourishing, 160).
Not only do I find Volf’s book helpful for understanding the climate and culture of globalization’s force upon spirituality, but I find it extremely helpful for making sense of tolerance of hot topics such as gay marriage and dealing with radicalized jihad, that is, ISIS.
Volf makes that case that religion, far from being the pariah of the planet, fomenting war and violence, it is the historic and promising way to the good life. But is not just any form of religious expression. It is a very nuanced expression of conservative “religious exclusivism.”
I am not done with the book. I am stuck on chapter four… listening, reading, listening, reading. I wish I had someone to discuss and further explicate Volf’s thought. In the meantime, Thesis proposing pushes me to expedience, and I will leverage Volf’s comments on the historic supremacy of transcendence over the mundane for my own work. Thank you Professor Volf (and Professor McKnight). Volf, I wish I would have had you for my own MDiv at Fuller, and McKnight, perhaps I can take a course with you at Northern (after my DMin).
And I will finish Professor Volf’s book because I am excited to see how it ends. If you’re up for the challenge you may wish to read Flourishing as well.
By Pastor Dan and Laurie Wilburn
What is Lent…?
The Lent season starts on Ash Wednesday (this year, February 10th). Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40 days Jesus spent praying and fasting in the desert. Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on your forehead as a sign of mourning and repentance to God (telling him we are sorry for the times we mess up and not being who he created us to be). Lent lasts for 40 days (some traditions say the six weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday – not counting Sundays, some say the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday which is the beginning of Holy Week). Either way, the 40 days commemorate Jesus’ time of prayer and fasting in the desert (see Luke 4: 1 – 13).
Lent is intended to be a time of fasting and/or practicing spiritual disciplines:
– To help us repent of our sins and of our lack of pursuit of God and his desires for us; and
– To reflect on Jesus – his life, his suffering, and his death and resurrection.
Use your this Lent Guide as a way to lean in to this season and draw nearer to our God!
The General Plan for this season of Lent…
This season of Lent you can rally a group of friends or extended family every Sunday night to have a Lent discussion (like many of you did for Advent). However, it might also be a more Lent-like approach to have just your family to be together and reflect.
When people get together they often have snacks. Since Lent is often a time of giving up something, consider forgoing the special snack we encourage families to have during Advent and serve a “lent-like” snack. Maybe serve toasted Naan bread or make your own bread and just have water to drink.
We want to challenge Lakelanders to do four things during each week of Lent that we will then discuss in our family/friend groups each Sunday evening of Lent. It is a simple plan – appropriate for Lent…
1. STOP: Stop/disrupt your usual media usage
a. Adults: Stop your usual intake of news media, worldly voices (e.g., stop reading the newspaper, listening to the TV/Radio news, FB, etc)
b. Kids: Give up a tech game (e.g, Madden Mobile) or a most used social media outlet (Instagram, Twitter…)
2. START: Start listening to the voice of God in scripture.
a. Adults: Use your usual media time to read the Bible. Read (or listen to) a chapter of Luke each day. After 24 days… just keep reading the Bible.
b.Kids: Spend 5-10 minutes a day reading your Bible
3. GIVE: (Everyone) Work on how you can give something away to a stranger at least once a week. Be creative. Some ideas include:
a. Give someone a kind word. Tell someone (in person or in a note) their hair looks nice or they have a kind voice. Be sincere and specific.
b. Give of your time to serve someone. It can be as quick as taking someone’s grocery cart back in the store for them or more involved like serving at a soup kitchen.
c. Give of your resources – Pay for the groceries of the person in front of you or the fast food bill of someone in the drive through. Write a check to a charitable organization that has been on your heart. Hand someone who appears to be in need a $10 bill. What if someone compliments an article of clothing or jewelry? Have you ever considered giving it to them? Yikes!
4. RECEIVE: (Everyone) As an act of receiving what God has given us, ask each family member to write with a Sharpie on a sticky note (or have the parent write for their child) one thing for which they are grateful. Do this each night (Monday-Saturday). Place the sticky notes on a wall in your kitchen or living room, on your fridge or kitchen cabinets. Don’t remove your old ones, keep adding new sticky notes (with different things to be grateful for) each day. By the end of Lent you will have a house full of gratitude.
EACH SUNDAY of Lent (2/14, 2/21, 2/28, 3/6, 3/13, 3/20)
1. Gather around your sticky notes. Take a few moments to have each person read his or her notes for the week aloud. Then have each person pick their favorite and tell why they picked that particular thing for which to be grateful.
2. Discuss how you “gave” in the past week. Talk about how the receiving person reacted and how you felt.
3. Share as desired about your “stop” and “start” activities. How did it go? What did God say or do through these things?
4. If you have a story that would encourage others, post it for other Lakelanders (unless you stopped social media!) Hashtag #lccclent
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
“Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 1:20
‘Do not be afraid’ is the most repeated phrase in the Bible.
I while back I stated that we live in the most peaceful of times. I am not sure everyone agrees with me. I took my information from Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World 2.0 (2012). Zakaria writes, “It feels like a very dangerous world. But it isn’t. Your chances of dying as a consequence of organized violence of any kind are low and getting lower” (8). Zakaria cites the numbers that show major countries are not engaged in war. Big countries with big wars cause big loss of life. But it feels like we live in dangerous times because news is so immediate now. The internet with its cell phone cameras immediately bring all news to our big and small screens. The media companies have a large profit motive to get you to watch their feed. So they make everything outrageous.
Today The Economist presents what near past was like for terrorism. Here are the statistics. Deaths by terrorism in 2014 are up by 80% from 2013, to 32,685, “the biggest rise in 15 years” (The Economist Espresso, Dec. 28, 2015). Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria account for 78% of lives lost. Eleven additional countries experienced deaths of 500 of more, up from five countries in 2013. Islamic State and Boko Haram were responsible for 51% of all terrorist-related deaths according the The Economist’s sources. Pakistan and Nigeria are beginning to curb terrorism, and ISIS is losing ground.
If memory serves me, Al Qaeda was brought down by banking clerks locking up their funds, and by Muslim mothers who turned against the terrorists saying ‘you’re killing off all our children – I don’t believe in your cause.’ Terrorism self defeats. Also, terrorism only works if you are terrorized.
The Economist notes that rich countries in the West are afraid, but they should remember that between 2000 and 2014 only 2.6% of deaths from terrorism occurred in their countries. That includes 9/11. All of North America and most of Europe is relatively safe.
Even with the updated death-by-terrorism statistics we still live in the most peaceful time in human history, quoting Harvard professor Steven Pinker (Post… 9).
Crashing into all the hype-fear come the words of Paul: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1 Philippians 1:21). Paul’s big chapter on the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15, transcends all fear of death, because death is defeated in Christ. “Oh death where is your sting?” (v55).
Fear is the opposite of Faith. To buy into the “prophets of fear” (read “profits of fear”), is a denial of Jesus’ victory over the grave. Christians shall not be afraid: He has risen! To countermand the hype-fear you must immerse yourself in the scriptures. There you will find people afraid (otherwise that phrase would not be necessary), but they either cave in to the fear and do not trust God, or they trust God and change the course of history for their people. Esther, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel… the list of Bible people who trusted God rather than hype-fear and even real fear of death.
Let us enter the new year with a biblical “meta-narrative” (big story of meaning), instead of the media’s hype. As Dallas Willard once wrote, summarizing Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter six, “…our universe is a perfectly safe place for us to be” (The Divine Conspiracy, 66). Consider the sparrows, they do not worry and yet the Father feeds them. How much more valuable are you to the Father than little birds?
If you are a Christian living in Nigeria you are not safe. If you are a Christian living in Syria you are not safe – no one is safe there. But American Christians: you are so very safe. Act like it. Pray for your brothers and sisters who are truly not safe. And here’s my real call to action: if you still feel unsafe then you need to go spend time alone with God. Quiet time, retreat time, solitude and silence produce compassionate action-oriented Christians. But Christians who listen to political pundits do not have the mind of Christ.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I suggested the church bake bread for the third week of Advent, the JOY week because food brings such joy.
But many failed to bake bread. If you wanted bread for Sunday dinner or even for 7:00pm for an Advent candlelighting, then you really need to get the bread going by halftime, noon Chiefs game. Personally, I fell asleep when I got home from church and when I woke up it was past halftime. I scrambled in between plays to make bread (luckily the Chiefs played poor and had lots of penalties – so more time). I got the first loaf of focaccia out of the oven at 5:53pm. Others were not so lucky. One person failed to get their bread to rise – ever. Another bailed out and just did PopnFresh crescent rolls. Another baked bread but it came out well after 7pm. Many others just said ‘no way.’ They must have baked bread before and knew better. Still others produced great loaves of bread and everyone ate them with delight.
Baking bread takes a lot of time. That’s why it is a spiritual discipline. For centuries humans have baked bread. It is a constant human life-rhythm. Jesus said he is the bread of life (Jn 6:35). The Lord’s Table (communion) uses bread and drink as symbol and presence of Jesus’ presence in our lives. Jesus is as real and present as daily food, which we enjoy several times throughout the day.
To fail to bake bread may very well be your best symbol of your spiritual life: You just don’t have time to bake bread.
You just don’t have time to be Jesus; no time to pray, no time to listen for the Spirit’s voice. So in some respect failure to bake bread is a spiritual practice: is tells you something about your soul’s condition – not good. Those of us who are “soul doctors” call this the “via negativa,” the negative way. It is a discipline of absence, that is, the absence of us! We just fail to show up for God. We attempt to bake the bread of our soul quickly, or go to church or listen to a podcast and get some “store-bought bread.”
But the spiritual life does not work that way. It takes time. Prayer must rise. The Spirit’s yeast must be allowed to activate. This is why I switched out my model and method of discipleship to a retreat format. On retreat you are “forced” to spend time with God, whether you want to or not. The long hours, the long “divine waste of time” walking, sitting, doodling, journaling, reading, staring at tombstones and stained glass, trudging through snow or blazing fields gives time for your soul to rise up to the Father.
It is okay if you failed to bake bread for Advent. But pay attention to the via negativa: the big obvious lesson is staring you in the face: you don’t have time. You’re too busy to make humanity’s most basic meal: bread. And you don’t have time for your soul to rise up, bake under the fire of the Spirit, and be consumed and provide sustenance for others. Just what are you offering others if you are not close to Jesus? Are you offering to others Ho-Hos and Twinkles? Junk food? Is it food only fit for idols, the idols of “hurry” and “go-go-go?” Or is it food fit for God?
Here’s your via negativa spiritual lesson: what kind of food are you producing these days? And would anyone enjoy it?
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
One of my lesser stated goals for our church is for the church to be smart, educated, and intelligent.
Given the general attitude that evangelicals are stupid and dogmatic, the church today has an uphill battle affecting culture. This is the church’s failure, not the media. The media reports on a hateful church (“God hates homosexuals,” etc.) and the public generalizes. We can’t do much about evangelical’s unpopular image. I not sure public opinion should drive the church’s agenda, even with Jesus’ words, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).
By “smart church” I mean a church that knows the Bible – its history, doctrine, tradition over time, and the Bible’s use for life and mission. Smart church knows the fuller breadth of the entire church’s history. We know something about the first church, the monastic age, the Orthodox era, the western Catholic time, the Reformation, and the American experience of the 19th and 20th centuries. Smart church means each full participant in the church reads at least one spiritual book a year (or listens to a book).
By smart church I mean a church that limits its viewing and listening of national news media, to keep from being driven by fear and entitlement rather than the words of Jesus.
By smart church I mean a church that knows its context: “What do we do well?” “What is the mind of Christ for our time?” I always like to find the right question to ask. And a perennial question must be “What time is it?”
What time is it in your life? Is it time to sit at the feet of Jesus or is it time to start a new rule of life? Is it time to be still and know God more deeply, or is it time to activate? Is it time to “re-pour” the Bible into your mind and heart? Or is it time to pour out?
What time is it? This question and my illustration of it must be qualified with what I call the trap of “exceptionalism.” Exceptionalism is the mentality that says, “When soccer season is over we will eat dinner together.” “I will revive my relationship with Jesus when I go on retreat next month.” “I will read a book after the summer ends.” Be careful of exceptionalism: “change happens only when it is the right conditions.” …And when are conditions right? Never!
I believe it is time for the church to be smart. This is not a small statement. It is a large statement about the condition of the church and our mission. Just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer sought a smart church when Hitler was rising to power, (and we currently don’t have anything that dire) we too need to be striving after a smarter faith, a smarter spirituality, and a smarter church experience.
Why a smarter church? It isn’t for church growth. It isn’t for popularity. It is for faithfulness. Smart church is all about knowing Jesus. If we grow deeper roots we will know how to most effectively engage the culture around us.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I just picked up a book on Sabbath that has a chapter on mindfulness (Sabbath, Wayne Muller, 2000). Mindfulness, along with a bevy of other hot buzzy topics (narcissism, EMDR, trauma, psychodynamic, acedia…) is current. Laurie and I looked at attending a continuing education class at Standford and one of the courses offered was Mindfulness. My counselor referred me to a book on trauma and one of the healing therapies is Mindfulness. Christians are calling for mindfulness toward God. It is a way of being attentive to God, a listening posture.
If you look up mindful on Wikipedia it will show that secular mindfulness has its basis in Buddhism, or at least borrows concepts from Buddhism. It sounds like a sub-part of Buddhist meditation. Some evangelical Christians are immediately put off by anything that suggests Buddhism, lumping it in with New Age self help. This is a good thing to be aware of. Any type of spirituality that makes the individual the center and end of attention isn’t Christian.
Christian spirituality is ultimately about others, because we are the embodied Gospel. Anthony the Great, (3rd/4th c) the father of the Egyptian desert fathers who lived the hermit ascetic life, did not believe his spirituality was simply about personal piety. After the first 20 years in the desert he went back in to the city and was “fully present” to others. Anthony dealt with his demons (inner and outer) and came forth a whole person. I suppose one could say he was “mindful.”
In my opinion, Mindful has a bit of a thin ring to it. That’s not a slam. But I think Christian meditation and contemplation are much richer and deeper, and have strong biblical precedent than how I understand secular mindfulness. Meditation and contemplation are biblical. How many times does a biblical figure have to go into the wilderness desert to hear God and sort out their calling and their garbage before evangelicals embrace “a lifestyle rhythm of quiet time?” Moses at the burning bush, Joshua takes off his shoes, David’s heart for God is formed alone in the hillsides with his sheep – and later in trouble, he flees again to the wilderness; Elijah flees to his cave and hears the still small voice, and Jesus is commissioned after the desert temptation – which the Spirit led him there! Call it what you want, but meditation and contemplation are spiritual disciplines necessary for transformation. I don’t know why evangelicals keep on thinking “that if I just take in some more information I will be transformed.” Information informs. Prayer forms and shapes the soul into Christlikeness.
Christians are expected to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12). Transformation is normal and expected. Discipleship requires spiritual disciplines and practices and habits that shape us and return us to our true self created by God and then disfigured by selfish sin, which must be washed away by the blood of Christ. The cross of Jesus is our via, our way. It is a cruciform descent into submission. If the discipline of mindfulness does this, then good. If it is just self-help, then not so good, or at least it just isn’t Christian. The cross is our symbol of atonement. But atonement is not just abstract propositional truth necessary to keep your fanny out of hell. It is a life.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with secular meditation. I feel neutral about it just like I do about lots of secular things, money, entertainment, politics – all things that can be Christian or not. Often meditation and money are both used for selfishness or evil. Not good. But meditation and mindfulness are not magic or inherently evil. They can be Christian. Just because Muslims pray and believe the Creator forgives sin doesn’t mean as a Christian I now have to renounce prayer and atonement just because it is used by another faith.
We pick and choose. Be open. Be spiritually generous. I would rather be generous and sort through spiritual practices rather than fearful of mindfulness or meditation and how it might corrupt the soul and miss out on spiritual transformation.
We know how to pick and choose correctly. Halloween wasn’t a Christian holiday but Christians made it so. It’s the “eve of the hallowed ones” – November 1st, the day we remember the great cloud of witnesses going before us and praying for us (Hebrews 12). We chose a secular/pagan holiday and made it holy. Do the same with mindfulness.
I can make Mindfulness Christian. It is easy. It is now ‘being Mindful to God,’ Mindful to the voice of Spirit, listening prayer, solitude and silence. Elijah was mindful. Christ was mindful. We should be mindful.
I am currently working on a doctorate at Northern Seminary (Chicago) on the 4th century desert hermeneutic (application of scripture) as it applies to the suburban evangelical church.
The Economist today asked if Pope Francis is liberal.
I’ve watched this media exercise for thirty years since John Paul II. Here’s how it goes: the media judges the Pope according to their assumed secular moral preconceptions. Is the Pope fulfilling our moral expectations: abortion, gay marriage, divorce – these are mentioned.
Then things take a curious turn for Americans. The Economist is actually asking, “Is the Pope liberal theologically, doctrinally, and ethically?” Americans start to scratch their heads at this point because we don’t conceive of liberal and conservative in theological terms. We think “Hilary Clinton’s politics or Donald Trump’s politics?”
The Economist declares Francis is NOT liberal because he hasn’t fulfilled their mandate. Francis has not changed any Catholic moral positions. He is, however, kind and compassionate toward outcasts, outliers, and offenders.
American Christians exhibit a very strange convoluted understanding of conservative vs liberal. Octogenarian American civil rights advocate Dr. John Perkins of Christian Community Development Association (www.ccda.org) said, “When I talked about Jesus they called me a Christian. But when I wanted to help the poor they called me liberal.”
I think most evangelical Christians believe Francis is liberal because he wants to help refugees and immigrants, even though he is very conservative theologically. Things have come to a pretty pass when conservative Christians cannot distinguish between what is liberal and conservative. We need a larger vocabulary and more consciousness.
When the media (and I really like The Economist by the way) asks ‘is the Pope liberal?’ it is like they are asking ‘do you beat your wife before you start drinking or after?’ The question is loaded. They assume the Pope is only responsible to culture’s morality and ethics and not Jesus Christ. There is a time and place for the church to listen to culture. Indeed, the Catholic Church has erred huge on not listening to the voice of those sexually abused by priest. They should have caught it on their own. Fail.
But the universal church does not have a culture, ethic or Bible that teaches or even suggests it normative to abuse others, or ignore the voiceless, or think “saving souls” is more important than “feeding the poor” (Matthew 7:22-24 – ‘…I never knew you’). On the contrary, compassion and sacrifice are our values, morals, and ethic. Jesus dies on the cross for all. This cruciform love IS the gospel (note Philippians 2:5-11 – ‘he emptied himself’).
Our morals are not determined by the media or any other secular moralism. Christians are free from fear of immigrants, refugees, human identity issues, economics, and politics. We are free in Christ. We too can take up our cross and die to self and others. This is our history. Heroes may conquer kingdoms and rights, but Saints die for the sake of others, and usually at the hands of power. (Yes, I’m still on my Hero v Saint kick).
With respect to this cruciform love is the Pope liberal or conservative? I won’t say because I think the question is loaded wrong by culture’s definition of the terms. But I would say Pope Francis is lavish with compassion. He is not afraid. And neither should we be afraid.
Rather, I want to ask a different question: “Is Pope Francis on his way to being a Hero or a Saint?” Talk amongst yourselves.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Last Fall 2014 I began an experiment in using more liturgical prayers during the adult Sunday morning worship services. In the Spring of 2015 we began an experiment of celebrating the Lord’s Table every Sunday. These are gathered prayers, writing out on the projector screens, used most often with an antiphonal back and forth spoken out loud format, such as the “kyrie eleison” (Leader) “Lord have mercy” (congregants) “Christ have mercy” (Leader) “Lord have mercy.”
Lakeland has focused on several key prayers:
1) The Lord’s Prayer (Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”
2) Confession, which has taken on a few simple forms;
3) Absolution follows Confession;
4) Prayers of the People, which is intercession on behalf of others and ourselves, prayers like “O Lord, comfort those who mourn and are sad and grieve…”
5) Call to the Table, which includes the “words of institution:” “On the night Jesus was betrayed, he took the loaf of bread…” and includes these simple words:
Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again.
Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us!
Therefore let us keep the feast! Alleluia!
The gifts of God for the people of God.
Each day may Jesus Christ be as real to us as this food and drink!
6) Then we usually end with a blessing or Benediction. We like the Celtic Daily Prayer Book blessing, which ends with “…May He bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.” This blessing ends with everyone making the sign of the cross as they say “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Lakeland is an Evangelical church, who typically do not use written prayers. We like spontaneous prayers… “Oh Lord, we praise your name Jesus, we love you and worship you. Help us to honor you and live according to your Word…” things like that (I just made that up). Evangelical churches have two marks: a) they are Bible focused as the primary authority for faith and practical living; and b) they believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be preached, or put more simply, Evangelicals believe the faith should be shared with those outside the faith. Lakeland totally agrees with Evangelicalism.
Evangelical churches like free worship, that is, worship that is heartfelt and vibrant, emotive, and free. Unwittingly it does tend to be more individualistic. “I just want to praise, I just want to love you…” are typical Evangelical words. Gathered “us” words are common as well. But I do not think most Evangelicals notice whether or not they sing “me songs” or “we songs.” They should, they must, because to privatize or individualize worship – well, it isn’t church.
What is Church: A Theological Explanation
Paul speaks of “the one cup” in 1 Corinthians chapter 10. Paul says we (not just “you”) share the cup of blessing that is the blood of Christ; the bread we share is sharing in the body of Christ. One bread, one body. One cup, one blood, one blessing.
The case for gathered prayer – spontaneous or written ahead of time – is very strong and irrefutable. Gathered prayer has the Lord’s Table at its core of the worship event. Paul continues teaching and reprimanding the Corinthian church because they made distinctions among themselves. 1 Cor. 11:20-21
“When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What!” (v23).
The first church combined a real dinner with the symbols of the one loaf and one cup as Jesus had done. But some richer folk did not eat with or help the less well-off folk. It is likely you had not only rich and poor, but slave and slave-owner – both Christians (see Philemon). Ephesians chapter four (4) is the most powerful of all the “oneness” passages of Paul and the first church, when Paul says “…make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). He continues
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said,
“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.”
I believe Paul’s arrangement of “us” first then “each of us” (you) is significant. “We” comes before “you.” This is lost to Evangelicals. Evangelicalism is distinctly American. Therefore Evangelicalism like Americanism defaults to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” in which happiness was and is meant to mean “property” and self-governance (no British King George III!).
It is difficult for Americans to submit to one another. It is difficult for Americans to understand the “we-ness” of the one loaf and one cup. They tend to unwittingly think of the Lord’s Table as a sign of private salvation. American Evangelical Christians think the church is there to support private Christians in private faith. How can this be? How can the body of Christ be thought of as individual? 1 Corinthians chapter 12 says that we are incomplete if we think we do not need each other: “Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many” (v14). Evangelcals like us tend to think Paul is only speaking about serving and furthering the gospel. But we miss the obvious point: there is a body, a singular body already in existence. You don’t join the Body – you ARE the body of Christ. There is no choice.
In Acts chapter five (5) is the story of a husband and wife, Ananias and Sapphira, who lied to the Holy Spirit, thus the one body, the community of believers. They lied about selling an entire piece of land and giving all the proceeds to the church and poor. They died on the spot because they violated the community. Ananias and Sapphira committed a deadly deed: they thought of themselves first.
Evangelicals often times do not understand the purpose or deep identity of the church. What is the church? It is the body of Christ. It is the bride of Christ (see the Revelation of John, chapters 18:23, 19:7, 21:9, 22:17 for references to the church as the Bride of Christ). We are conjoined to Jesus.
Evangeicals think being a Christian is a faith proclamation. That is of course true. But when you look for the expression of that faith it is is one thing: Worship. We are to glorify God and enjoy God forever.
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Using liturgical prayers during adult worship at Lakeland has been rather “meh.” No one has spoken out against it, no one has spoken out for it. I suspect it feels (and feels is the correct word) rather boring or flaccid or stiff. Why? I think it is because it is difficult to pray together the same words and not have it seem boring. Evangelicals sometimes think these written prayers are “vain repetitions” that Jesus warned about in Matthew 6:7
“…when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”
But consider this observation: I think most spontaneous prayers are far from original or even convincingly meaningful:
“O Lord, I just really want to tell you that I need you, and you are wonderful. O Jesus can you help me with (fill in the blank)? I/We thank you for all our food and our home and all these wonderful blessings. And we just really want to just really tell you we really just love you…”
I think repetitious uncreative words, these prayers are vain and meaningless repetitions! Lord, save us from the “jes-really” prayers! “O Lord, I jes really…” Better to recite the Psalms. Better to prayer the Lord’s Prayer. At least then we honor God, give thanks for our daily food and health, confess, acknowledge forgiveness, forgive others, ask for help spotting temptation, and declare the power, glory, kingdom belong to God – not us. Please: stop trying to be original! It isn’t working.
Not only does the Lord’s Prayer cover more ground in prayer, Jesus says that this is the way to pray when you pray. It isn’t a suggestion. Likewise, the Lord’s Table is not an option. Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 11 assumes that the Lord’s supper is occurring whenever they come together (v.20 for a specific reference).
I find it curious that Evangelicals resist gathered prayers and weekly communion. We certainly believe in worship. We believe in being expressive and emotional. We like some surprises in worship. But at the same time most Evangelical worship services have a “liturgy” – and its a poor one: There is the opening song, the welcome/announcement, and an extemporaneous prayer, the worship songs, perhaps a story or a video, and then a long talk. Or as my Anglican friend bluntly phrased it, “Oh so that church is a ‘sing-a-bunch-of-songs-hear-a-long-talk’ church.” His point: where is the confession? where is the intercession? where do we remember the grieving, the deceased, celebration of life?, the Lord’s Table, and the Lord’s Prayer?
I like creativity. In high school I lettered in theater. I play guitar, write poetry, and produce visual arts in ink, acrylic, and watercolor. I like Rachmaninov, Debussy, Beethoven, Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, blue grass and bebop jazz. It is difficult however combine spontaneous creative worship with the power of ritual and symbol and liturgy.
Liturgical prayers gain power through repetition, not spontaneity; practiced prayer is more powerful and transformative than off-the-cuff “heartfelt” prayers. The goal is to create a stable platform for communion with God.
The Hebrews had seven different special days: Passover, Pentecost, 9th of Ab, Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth) Dedication, (Chanukah) and Lots or Purim. These special days and the daily prayers and sacrifices, and weekly rhythms of Sabbath created an identity as one people – it told them who they were. These rituals mediated their relationship with God and each other… forgiveness, the Law, and the cycles of life and death with the agrarian cycles of harvest and sowing. All of creation was worship, and therefore needed ritual and symbol to recognize, celebrate, and identify God in all of life.
Americans do the same thing. We sing the national anthem, salute the flag, have color guards, remember those who faced the enemies of the state on our behalf, watch military flyovers at football games, and wear the red white and blue. It is a curiosity therefore, that those same Americans who are Christian will take off their ball cap at a professional sports event for a nation’s flag and anthem, and then go to church and refuse to mark themselves with the cross of Jesus, bend a knee in confession, and raise a hand in praise of the One who lives for all eternity, never considering that flags and nations are extremely temporary compared to the eternity they hope to spend in the presence of the Creator.
Better yet, read The Revelation of John, chapter five, and you will find all of heaven and on earth (this is NOT in the future mind you, but a vision of NOW), singing “worthy is the Lamb…” and more praise, and fantastic creatures falling down and worshiping God. And this goes on ad infinitum, without end. As Dr. Dallas Willard put it ‘I’m not too sure why you’d want to spend all of eternity worshiping God when you’re not interested in spending even a few minutes a day with him now.’
Additionally, remember we will all spend eternity with each other, your brothers and sisters in Christ, for all ages, all churches, all races, and most definitely those whom you may consider at this moment “enemies.” At this point we should consider well Jesus’ admonition ‘depart from me, I never knew you.’
Worship is more than practice for heaven. It is participation in heaven’s worship “on earth as in heaven.”
When we prayer the Lord’s Prayer and celebrate the Lord’s Table they are not dead rituals but the very things the people of God love. Only through repetition will we move past the learning stage and into the worship stage. Worship is not supposed to be buzzy. Worship is supposed to be practiced, each moment of the day, and at frequently as possible, practiced together. In this fashion, you (the individual) will not falter in your daily (personal) worship. Case in point: how many treadmills and BowFlexes now sit idle in basements? But the health clubs are vibrant, booming places of sweaty training.
I want to continue to have written gathered liturgical prayers. Liturgy is from the Greek and it means “the work of the people” (leitourgia). This is our work of worship – and it must be done together at the same time, in our most important setting, the adult Sunday morning worship time and space. To do otherwise is to think Revelation’s heavenly scene is a secondary sideshow instead of the throne of God.
Now, that all said, we have much work to do to make these worship elements meaningful and powerful. I plan to write them out in print so you can read them and carry them, learn them. Pastor Garrett Lahey thinks we should create more specialized times and spaces for even greater prayers. Give this experiement in prayer and worship some time and space. Help us. Suggest things. No one is criticizing it. And no one is all excited about either. I get it. I’m there too. But I cannot quit. I cannot go back to privatized buzzy worship and prayer. It is not biblical and it is not the church. So let’s aggressively move forward.Let us run this race set before us, eyes on the prize of Jesus.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I know many of you like Richard Rohr, O.S.F. I certainly do too. I took a doctoral class with him; I’ve traveled out to Albuquerque to sit under his tutelage. I have listened to his podcasts and I have read at least eight of his books. I quote him all the time.
Still, as one of the Benedictine brothers at Conception Abbey stated, “When Richard is on, he is really on. And when he’s off, he’s way off.” So here’s a little comment on Rohr’s recent blog touting the merits of French Jesuit philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). de Chardin seems to maintain a strong popularity among critically thinking Christians because de Chardin sought to synthesize Christianity and evolution back during the height of Modernism. Everyone seems to want to figure out how to make evolution and Christian thought work together. de Chardin made it work. Rohr states that de Chardin presents an evolution of consciousness (Rohr’s constant theme for the past decade or more).
de Chardin was brilliant (a scientist and mystic) and influenced an entire generation of Christians (Rohr’s generation and the one prior to him – 1950s) by speaking of “the Christ-Omega,” where Jesus inaugurates the ascent of humanity in an ever upward evolutionary process ending in a “perfection” of human consciousness. In the very long run for de Chardin humanity will be “in God,” as Christ was in the Father (John 17).
N.T. Wright critiques de Chardin as representing the “myth of progress” school of thought. The myth of progress thought is what I anecdotally call “the Star Trek myth:” that someday humanity will gradually “evolve” into a peaceful, diverse, all-accepting, all embracing, ‘star-people’ – no war, no conflict, no needy among them, no compulsions. We will zoom around the galaxy in a cool ship enjoying the explorer’s life, gently correcting evil-doers, awakening them to our “uberman” consciousness, and bring peace and happiness to all.
de Chardin was necessarily a pantheist because “God” needs to be within this world, that is, part of the essence of all things, and all things have a “god-consciousness.” (Simplistically, Pantheism believes God is equal to creation, or God is creation and vice a versa.) By the way, as a mystic myself I am not opposed to conveying some notion of consciousness to all creation like Paul suggests in Romans 8:22 (all creation groans in pain waiting to be redeemed…) But orthodox Christianity keeps the Creator separate from the created – or as I like to put it, ‘I never think Monet’s Water Lilies is actually Claude Monet’.
Wright’s critique of de Chardin asks the question, “What about evil?” How is evil dealt with? de Chardin and the myth of progress school has no answer. As Wright states, “What kind of God would build the eventual kingdom of heaven on the bones of Auschwitz?” Evolutionary optimism cannot deal with nor explain evil notes Wright. Sad news like Michael Brown’s death/Ferguson are shrugged off as minor bumps on the road to a beautiful future – some day. But Brown’s death cannot be reconciled within the myth of progress. de Chardin has nothing to say to Brown’s family.
The myth of progress is the water we swim in within Modernist secularism. Wright states that the news media and politicians assume de Chardin’s progress myth all the time, case in point, when the news seems perturbed by the latest mass shooting, as though to say ‘we should all be over this sort of thing by now people!’ The myth of progress believes that education, technology, and science will bring about a golden age, a human-produced “heaven.”
Check your own beliefs: When you read about one of the many conflicts in the Middle East or in Africa or some other “less educated” class of people in the world, do you think ‘well, if they just knew what I know, if they just could learn to read, or embrace some technology that would solve their economic woes… they’d see the light and stop killing each other.’ If you answer this way then you’ve been indoctrinated in the myth of progress school.
In the Christian worldview, grace and love, redemption and resurrection will not only usher in the kingdom of God, but answer evil, bringing justice to Auschwitz, natural disasters, trauma, and war. The proper Christian worldview does not believe the world “will burn,” but rather be transformed by the power and presence of God. It will be the same earth and heaven but new. See 2 Peter 3:11-13 where far from the earth and heavens being vaporized and gone, there is a new “righteous” creation home. It is not some cartoon heaven with clouds and harps, or even some Eldorado with literal gold streets, but a purified god-filled place we call heaven. I believe we will recognize it. Like all good theology there is continuity and discontinuity: something the same, and yet something different. But this is not a gentle upgrading like evolutionary optimism conjures in the myth of progress school. But rather it is “like the pangs of child birth,” sudden and revolutionary (see Matthew 24:8; 1 Peter 1:3; see especially all of 1 Cor. 15 with Paul’s multiple metaphors for what the resurrected life and world will be: first fruits, a king subduing enemies, the death and life of seed, Adam and the new Adam).
This is where Wright and I part company with the 19th century dispensationalist ‘rapture cult’ who believe redemption means destruction instead of real redemption, that is, “to turn something in and make it new and whole again” – not gone. For more on this topic we must get acquainted with Neo-Platonism and the pervasive influence of dualistic thinking, which has effectively split the Christian life from the world, leaving Christians to save disembodied souls to a disembodied heaven, while the creation of God is ignored.
From a spiritual and mystical point of view Rohr is excellent on this topic of non-dual thinking. But Wright is better from a philosophical and theological point of view, which is the arena of de Chardin.
Modernism, dualism, and de Chardin’s evolutionary optimism fail to factor in redemption and resurrection states Wright. I always find it curious that popular culture thinks of evolution and its rough adaptation to social evolution mean that “we all gradually get better,” where evolution may mean a disease erases the human race, or on a social level the Islamic State somehow really does take over the world, killing off most, creating slaves, sex slaves, erasing history, thieving, and torturing their way to crushing power. Evolution doesn’t mean everything turns out better – it can go real bad!
I have now spent the last decade attempting to introduce good Christians to a more authentic understanding of resurrection. I don’t really think I’ve been that successful. People still think in polar terms: they think either the dualistic Neo-Platonic rapture is the world’s end; or they think de Chardin’s evolutionary optimism (the myth of progress) is how the world will end up. I think Wright is more true to the biblical message.
I will continue to embrace much of Rohr’s thought – but not all. I suggest we not conflate non-dual thinking with de Chardin’s adaptive Christ-Omega evolution. When Christ returns we will all live long and prosper. Until then we take the journey of the Saint (not the Hero), and love and bring justice, stand against sin, and journey with the voiceless and eschew power.