by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
What are you reading these days? Christians should be the smartest most educated people on the planet. We must because we are missional – we are called to change the planet, to bring peace, generosity, sacrifice, reconciliation, understanding, and love. We are called to prepare all people’s of the earth for the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth. If prepared properly each person on the planet will exclaim, “This is what I dreamed about my entire life… peace, wholeness, success, fulfillment, and flourishing.” Books help transform the mind. Reading broadens our vision. Books give us knowledge, and reflection makes us wise.
The book I have begun to write is about the biblical exodus journey as metaphor of the human journey. (1st) Everyone begins in a comfortable slavery in Egypt. (2nd) We escape through a Red Sea, a baptism of sorts, and find ourselves not at home or in the Promised Land but in a desert wilderness, lost, angry, complaining, confused, and stuck. (3rd) If we persevere and rediscover God, then we arrive at the East bank of the Jordan river waiting to crossover into a land where we must “wait for rain from heaven” (Deuteronomy 11:11).
Not only is this three stage journey the journey of everyone’s life, but this is how we mature in prayer. Everyone prays. Atheists pray. Regardless of whether or not a person believes in God or not has nothing to do with the (ontological) reality of God and their relationship or belief that a relationship with God is impossible or a moot point. In Egypt the Hebrews had only a distant myth of YHWH (the Lord). In the desert they complained about God and attempted to renounce God. They didn’t really talk directly with God – they argued with Moses, the blamed God through Moses. The Hebrews found themselves in a strange place, a wilderness where they desired God and yet rejected God, and where God desired the Hebrews, but rejected them. Read Numbers chapter 11, aptly named, because the Hebrew people were bankrupt! Finally, through crisis they learn to wait for rain from heaven. All of us must eventually grow silent and wait. Silence is the first language of heaven. And we have to learn this language if we want to be citizens of heaven now and in the future.
My book is for Lakelanders. It is for those who are willing to reflect on this Egypt- Desert-Promised Land journey. The book is a description of the traditional spirituality of the early Christians as prescriptive for us today. Categorically the book is located in the “Christian Spirituality” section at the bookstore – if there are any bookstores left. It will take me a year or more to accomplish this book, and I will have to see if any publisher will pick it up. Doesn’t matter really. We will use it as the basis for our contemplative retreating at Lakeland. Lakeland has a discipleship pathway called Milestones, and this book is the curriculum for the “Inward Journey” Milestone.
All the sirs or madams can read my book, it took me years to write, won’t you have a look?
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I wasn’t expecting this tour while on sabbatical. I arrived Sunday evening in Pasadena for a Doctorate of Ministry audit course. I like to take weeklong intensive graduate courses in theology, ministry, leadership, spirituality – just about anything. It forces me to hear God differently, helps me get out of my own head. I think this is what conferences, workshops, and courses are supposed to do for us. I love to go to Pasadena, Fuller Theological Seminary, where I earned my Masters and studied to become an ordained minister. It was there I was called to start a church. It was at Fuller that the rest of my life was set, unbeknownst to me 27 years ago.
Like I said, I wasn’t expecting what happened to me. I checked in to the Fuller Guest Center and then jumped in the rental car and made a beeline to In-N-Out Burger. As I sat outside with my #1 Double Double, the sun was setting over the Pacific and the California sun was glowing through the palm trees, I thought, “Hey I gotta drive up to Midlothian Street and see where Laurie and I used to live. In 1990 we rented a two-room pool shack behind a mansion up the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains. It is a very upper crust neighborhood.
As I drove up San Gabriel Avenue, which I had done hundreds of times back in the early 90s I was overwhelmed with a single feeling. It was the feeling of innocence. I was thirty years old. I quit my job in marketing, and became a student again. I am not a great student, so the whole grad school thing was very scary. But I felt called by God to full-time ministry. I was advised by my Overland Park pastor to go earn my Master of Divinity for in-depth Bible study, Hebrew, Greek, theology, history, and pastoral ministry. So I went to Fuller. At the time life was at its full potential. Everything was open to me. I wasn’t a pastor. No church. Let it be said, I was outright cocky. I thought I knew better than all those other church leaders. It showed too. In the middle of class the professor pointed to my friend John and I said, “…and especially you two young turks!”
But now, I don’t feel so “young turk.” Maybe your average church-goers don’t know it but ministry can suck the life out of pastors. I thought I’d get better and better at dealing with people, managing my anger, becoming more patient… and perhaps many pastors do get better at managing human nature. All the books I’ve read on ministry however say otherwise. Burnout happens with great predictability in ministry. That evening driving though my old neighborhood I could viscerally sense innocence. In that moment I could have “essenced” innocence, like some essential therapeutic oil. Man, the money I could make selling “essence of innocence” to pastors, doctors, nurses, EMTs, therapists, teachers – any professional Helpers.
I’ve never said it before, but over the years I have felt like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Frodo Baggins at the end of the tale: Frodo saved the Shire, but not for him. Like fictional Frodo, I’ve been to hell and back… I know too much. I have seen too many crises, too much pain, heartbreak, and grief. I’ve seen joy and celebration and life defining moments in people’s lives, weddings, birthdays, births, baptisms, confessions, and funerals – yes, funerals, which are often times greater than all the other life moments. As Dostoevsky’s innocent Prince Mishkin phrased it, “Beauty will save the world” but beauty comes in all shades of joy and sadness like music, some of our most meaningful songs are melancholic ballads, like Don Mclean’s American Pie, or even Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt – or even Jesus’ very real nine inch nails. The cross of Jesus was the real tragic beauty that saved the world, Alleluia.
For a brief moment I returned to innocence. But I knew I could not hold on to innocence forever. Too much dwelling on the past is a dangerous pitfall. The desert fathers of the 4th century Egyptian Christian monastic spirituality warned against monks spending too much time with “memories.” From the Greek it’s called “logismoi,” the mind ruminating too long on the past, and becoming stuck in woulda, shoulda, coulda. All “shoulds” are the voice of someone else. “Wants” are our own voice of real desires. Less “shoulds” and more “wants.” I don’t want to get stuck longing for a past age of innocence. We’ve all seen a person or a family attempt to hang on to a deceased loved one too long. They get stuck.
Life brings unbidden scars. Our scars are how we define our life. Scars of cumulative. We gather them to together and they tell the tale of our lives. But we have to live in “the sacrament of the present moment” as Jean-Pierre de Caussade said. Every moment is gathered up to make a life. And if we are spiritually healthy enough we can make sense of it all. We are like Jacob’s young son Joseph, who told his brothers who didn’t like him and sold him into slavery as a boy, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good…” (Genesis 50:20).
Still, I believe it is necessary to make a journey, return like a pilgrim into your own past, to attempt to make sense of it all. Locations really help. So, go visit your hometown, visit your grandparents gravestones, drive to your childhood home, look through a family photo album with your kids. Gather and release. Beauty will save the world. My life it beautiful. Your life is beautiful. All of it.
SABBATICAL JOURNEY #3: MY RETURN TO LAKELAND THROUGH FIVE TOURS #3: LUTHER, CALVIN REFORMATION REVISITED
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
…a gigantic blood sucking worm… insatiable corn weevil… devours piles of fruit surrounded by many fellow gluttons, who first suck out our blood and then consume our flesh, and now seek to grind our bones and devour all that is left of us,
the Germany reformer Ulrich von Hutten wrote in 1520, attacking the papacy, the Roman Catholic Church (187). Those Reformers were not kind in any shape or form toward the Roman church. I’ve been reading Eric Metaxas’ latest biography called Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World. I think the title is a bit much, but then again Metaxas is a bit much. Metaxas biographed William Wilberforce in Amazing Grace of the film fame, and Metaxas authored a popular biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Metaxas is the celebrity biographer right now (just Google YouTube him – you’ll see Oprah written all over him). Metaxas appears to be a darling of the conservative Christian – so I like him. But since I look at such things as a scholar and a Reformed pastor, Metaxas is a bit much for me. I mean, I wouldn’t say Martin Luther singlehandedly changed the world. There were plenty of other Reformers before, during, and after Luther who did a lot to bring about the Protestant Reformation. Heck, the advent of the printing press alone made Luther a celebrity! Okay, enough – here’s how I took this Reformed theology tour during sabbatical.
I knew Laurie and I would be traveling to the epicenter of Catholicism, the Vatican. I knew I’d be inundated with all things Catholic. So I must have subconsciously sought out something to counterbalance this trip to the Vatican with some of my own roots, Calvinism. I bought and read (and listened to) Metaxas’ Luther. Sure enough, we arrived at St. Peter’s Basilica and it – is – spectacular. It’s bucket list phenom – an item for everyone in the world to visit. Why even attempt to describe it? Just go. But I tell you now: you will ask the most immediate glaring question: “Who the heck paid for all this?” The answer comes back ‘all of Europe in the early 1500s.’ Pope Leo X had Dominican friar Johannes Tetzel out pounding the pavement all over Germany (Luther’s home state) selling indulgences, who famously preached
As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from purgatory springs!
Yep, the Catholic church financed all that splendid art, church, and living by selling indulgences to German peasants who thought they could get their dead relatives out of limbo with money. But because of Luther Germany wasn’t buying it. People could see through it.
Here’s a fun indulgences tale… A nobleman goes to Tetzel and asks if it is feasible to buy an indulgence for a future sin. Focused only on the nobleman’s money, Tetzel says sure. So the nobleman buys the indulgence for a future sin. That night Tetzel makes his way to the next town but he’s waylaid and robbed. The robber is the nobleman. He explains, “This is the future sin I bought the indulgence for.”
Still, at that time Europe believed in the supreme power of the church to say who goes to hell and who doesn’t. The church and government were one. We just don’t get this today. Also, we don’t understand the late Medieval worldview. At that time people lived in a thoroughly enchanted world. All spirits, good and bad, were very real to them. The physical world was not so real to them. I know that sounds impossible, so you will just have to pull this mental trick on yourself to get it: just imagine that the material world is the spiritual world, and the spiritual world is the material world.Can you do this? It’s difficult. For them it was easy – spiritual was far more secure than the material world. Why? Life was hard. Life expectancy was short. The Plague showed up regularly every couple of years. And remember, nobody believed in germs until about 1885!!! The spirit world seemed more real than this flimsy thin brief material world.
Anyway, indulgences worked well until Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenburg church door. The Theses condemned indulgences and said they were not scriptural. But, nobody had a Bible. Nobody read the Bible. Pope Leo X didn’t read the Bible (he just bought the papacy). Luther did because he was doctor of the church, a professor, a good Augustinian monk. And he was super bright. Luther’s Theses opened up criticism of the Catholic church. The Reformation asked questions: (a) what has ultimate authority? Pope or Bible? (b) how does someone get to heaven? Indulgences/works or grace from God? (c) do people need intermediaries between God and them or not? (priests) (d) What’s a sacrament? Magic or symbol?
As I mentioned yesterday, you can see the beginning here of the autonomous private individual.Salvation now could be “personal.” An individual can vote! A commoner can be elected to office. Anyone can preach. Common folk can handle the sacraments – bread and wine. People can now read for themselves. Everyone gets an education. People are judged by their peers. Science, technology, and education are the new means to a glorious future (“material” heaven).
I hang out with Benedictine monks. They are Catholic too. Lakeland has (ex??)Catholics. I like Catholics. I don’t see any of the abuses of Luther’s time with the Catholics I know. Still, I won’t become Catholic. I just don’t own the culture. While I like the “sacramental imagination” that the Americans crave so much (…and why do you like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter books/films?), it is actually that whiff of rigidity I am suspect of. Of course Protestantism has legalism too, and I don’t like that either.
Legalism doesn’t care what the Creed or the doctrinal statement says. Every Catholic I’ve met believes in salvation by grace alone. God saves us, we don’t work our way to heaven. And the Protestant legalists say the same exact thing. But then they have their “boundary markers.” You have to use the King James version of the Bible; cussing bad, PG-13 film is wrong, political parties are either good or bad, you’re either pro-military or pacifist… tattoos, kind of car you drive, homeschool, private or public school… you get the picture. No wonder legalists have to reduce salvation down to an isolated, hypothetical, theological, biblical belief statement. If salvation is only a mental construct, then that allows you have all kinds of legalistic, moralistic boundary markers, which are the REAL “who’s in and who’s out” signs of salvation. And just to throw secularists under a bus too, these days the politically correct ethos has a moral code you have to subscribe to or – you’re just not “loving.” Intolerance of intolerance is still stiff moralism.
The Reformation freed the church from crushing abuses, legalism, and a works-righteousness that was so dominate in the 16th century. Why does human nature like to return to this black and white legalism? It feels safe and it’s easy to understand. It tells adherents who’s a friend and who’s an enemy (tribalism). Also, rule-based faith allows the Christian to stay in control. Moralists don’t need a relationship with God. They have rules! As Dallas Willard phrased it, “We’ve become vampire Christians. We just want Jesus’ blood.” Because then we can create whatever other hoops to jump through that we want. Rules or cheap grace – they are both void of a divine relationship. This kills the Christian faith. And I think that is a lot of where American evangelicalism is at these days. I return to Lakeland keen on challenging this.
What if the way forward for evangelical Christians was to set aside all the stuff the Reformation worked so hard for?
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I return to Lakeland the first week of December. During Sabbatical I went through five “tours.” Here they are in short chronological order: 1 Politics 2 Fallen Empires 3 Calvinism 4 Pasadena 5 Writer. I will just handle one per blog entry. Here’s the first one.
First (1), I took a political journey in my soul. I remodeled my home office after 22 years, and while I did the carpentry work I thought about politics. It is so easy to be washed over and rolled in the political surf these days. Everyone’s tired of it, and yet can’t stop thinking about it. The liberal/conservative divide has widened as measured by a recent Pew Research article. This is nothing new to anyone. But here’s a sabbatical journey thought of mine: I am not convinced both sides want to FORCE the other side to believe like them as much as both sides want to be one united nation. Deep within the American idea is that we want to be ONE. And we are upset with each other and ourselves because we can’t seem to be ONE. We may say we value the right to free speech and that we may “fight for your right to say it” (Thomas Paine), but human nature wants the tribe to be unified. And we are upset because our divide is greater these days.
Here is what you may not know about me: Jesus ruined my conservative core values. (“You’re conservative?”) Lakelanders, if you want to discuss it with me then let’s get together. I’ve preached it and taught this over the years. I’ve gotten in trouble from both of you, conservative and liberal political adherents. Blame Jesus, here’s my primary change in my conservative core (and by conservative I really do not mean politics; I mean worldview). I no longer believer in the primacy of the autonomous private individual. Sounds fancy, huh? This means I don’t think salvation, church, heaven, politics, family, marriage, money, property, and morals are private matters. Help me out with a bit of ad hoc research if you can: Tweet me a bumpersticker that includes CHURCH in its list of values. I see plenty of “God-Family-Fishing,” “God-Family-Guns,” “Faith-Family-Friends,” “Jesus-Family-My Dog…” bumperstickers. But I have yet to find one that includes Church.
I have heard it over the decades, and I do not know who first stated it, but the conservative mind considers the individual primary; and the liberal mind considers the group primary. Both MINDS shaped the founders of America. Jefferson and Adams were well-versed in the opposing philosophical views of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which BOTH heavily influenced the shaping of America. Google them.
Anyway, my political tour did not change my mind, but just amplified what Jesus taught me: Matthew 4:4 “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” As a conservative I thought it was all about the individual – me and my bread, my salvation, my money, my kids, my house, my car… We even read the words of Jesus as though it was written to private single individuals. Everything I see in scripture is about the community, the church, the communion of saints. Here’s the ONENESS deal-sealer from Paul:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 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. – Ephesians 4
One everybody. Not you. Not me. Us. You ain’t no autonomous private individual Christian!Thomas Merton said, “No man goes to heaven all by himself.” Can you buy into that? The Lord’s Table is a single loaf and single cup shared by an entire community of believers, gathered under the Faith Creed of the church. I used to think church was optional. Then decades ago I read about the man who won his US Supreme Court case, deciding that he was a church all until himself (he didn’t want to work on Sundays, so he sued his employer on the grounds that he is a church of one – he didn’t go to church however). Maybe I began to change my mind way back then.
But I really began to change my opinion after I started Lakeland and people just left the church, like they had decided it wasn’t right for them. Either I ticked them off, or I didn’t grab their attention, or I didn’t care enough – any of a dozen perceived failures on my part or someone else at Lakeland. I began to ask, “Well if anyone can just leave whenever they feel like it, then what’s the point of Church?” Bumperstickers tell all. Church doesn’t make the short list – and it sure won’t make it on a liberal automobile’s bumper as well. But this “private faith/private church” thing goes all the way back 500 years to the Reformation and the Renaissance. And I will explain that on “tour #2, Fallen Empires.”
To wrap this up, take this quiz. The quiz question is this: “What parts of life does Jesus have say-so over?”
Money? Family? Gun ownership? How I vote? Faith? Prayer? Sex? Food? Tattoos? Household possessions (sofas, style of car/truck, shoes, lawnmower, haircare…)? eating out? charitable giving? cell phone conversation? Comments-I-choose-to-respond-to-blogs?
Now, same quiz but simply change the Question to “What parts of life does Church have say-so over?” That’s your bumpersticker.