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"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger

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Carrie Newcomer

The hope remains

One week has passed, and this sign is still in our yard.

welcomesign

Because it isn’t a campaign sign. It’s a confession of faith… an expression of hope.


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Review: “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?” by Brian McLaren

Three and a half years ago, I picked up A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren with the idea that I might find out what all the fuss surrounding the emerging church was about. Brian starts that book (in Chapter 0) by explaining why you might not want to read any further – all the objections you might raise. And indeed – I almost didn’t make it through Chapter 0 to get to the rest of the book, not because I had objections to his subject matter, but because I was getting impatient waiting for him to get around to it. But eventually he got the rest of the book underway, and I was glad to have persevered. His writing has been a great encouragement since then.

Fast forward to the Wild Goose Festival earlier this year in North Carolina… I had the chance to briefly share this story with Brian as I received an advanced copy of his latest book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? (Christian Identity in a Multifaith World). It turns out that connection between these two books is appropriate and quite a bit deeper than my little story of frustration.

In AGO, Brian suggests that there is more than one faithful way for Christians to think about orthodoxy. A better approach to orthodoxy (“right-belief”) might value orthopraxy (“right-practice”) and generous relationships among Christ’s followers. And in WDJMBMCR, Brian suggests the time has come for Christians to reconsider our concept of evangelism, of “preaching the gospel”. And we are overdue for a new approach to relating to people of other religions (and indeed – people of no religion).

This is a breath of fresh air. Brian succinctly describes what I’m sure many of us have been feeling. We have been presented with two approaches to faith: maintain a robust faith and an antagonistic stance toward “the other” (i.e. ultimately I must convert you), or effectively render our faith meaningless in order to respect the other. Against both of these alternatives, Brian proposes a “strong, benevolent” Christian identity.

As with previous books, Brian will be accused of throwing orthodox Christianity to the wind. But he devotes much of the book to showing how our orthodox beliefs (as well as our liturgy and mission) can be both strong and benevolent. His detractors will try to discredit this work, but he is very intentional about working within traditional Christianity. The only thing that isn’t traditional is his conclusion. And that’s sort of the point, I think.

Here’s what I like most about the book:

  • Brian’s succinct statement of our quandary. Either “we love them (or say that we do) in spite of their religious identity” or “we… say that we love them in spite of our own religious identity”.
  • The chapter on evangelism. Isn’t that where a lot of people get hung up?
  • The ideas for re-shaping the liturgy. We need worship to reflect our theology.
  • Brian’s devastating string of questions regarding penal substitutionary atonement. Interestingly, these questions are in one long footnote and not the main text.*
  • The definitive lesson on sharing the good news of Jesus… from a Hindu. (Curious? Read it for yourself!)

* Questions about penal substitutionary atonement are often questions about the nature of God – specifically, “Is God violent?” I began asking those questions a few years ago, and Brian asks a whole string of them here. It is high time to answer with a resounding, “No!” I believe that doing so will set off a chain reaction of many changes in Christianity… for the better.

Here’s what I don’t like:

  • I’m afraid Brian will be preaching to the choir. Folks like me will be glad for the contribution this book makes toward a conversation that is desperately needed. But I didn’t need any convincing, and Brian has a reputation that will chase off a lot of people who would benefit.
  • He writes too many books. Don’t get me wrong. I love them. But I haven’t even had time to read Naked Spirituality yet. Slow down, man!

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? comes out, not coincidentally, on September 11th. I recommend you read it. This is a conversation the Church needs to have.


Notes:

  1. If you haven’t read one of Brian’s books before, I’d also recommend A New Kind of Christianity.
  2. On Facebook today, Carrie Newcomer announced that she’ll be working with Brian in the spring. Her album Everything is Everywhere reflects her faith and the kind of Christianity that Brian is writing about.
Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? by Brian McLaren
Plotting harmony!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, y’all.


(Turn your volume up a bit for this one.)


(Freely downloadable on Carrie’s website)



Five for Friday… Secular songs that relate to faith

So here’s the deal… I used to listen to CCM music* all the time. Between my first and second years in college, I had a pretty profound, faith-changing experience. As a result, I became more passionate about Jesus, and also more conservative. I got rid of much of my “worldly” music, and listened almost exclusively to CCM: Petra, Steven Curtis Chapman, Rich Mullins**, Susan Ashton… you get the idea. Over time, I’ve remained passionate about Jesus, but I began to find much of the “acceptable” Christian music to be theologically shallow and musically thin. I stopped listening to Christian radio, because of the hit and miss quality of the songs. And I started noticing when the so-called “secular” music world produced songs that related to my faith.

* “CCM”, if you don’t know the acronym, is Contemporary Christian Music. So technically, I should say “CCM” and not “CCM music”. Glad we got that out of the way.

** I still like Rich Mullins, but he’s the exception rather than the rule. And unfortunately, the world lost a good person a few years ago when he died.

And that brings us to today’s “Five for Friday”. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to something that Bono wrote and said to Ordinary Spouse, “Why can’t the ‘Christian musicians’ write songs like this?” So today, I’ve chosen five secular songs that reflect or challenge my faith.

There’s a catch. I could choose music by U2 or Carrie Newcomer – musicians that clearly don’t draw distinctions between faith and life – but that would be too easy. So these five come from others. Enjoy!


1) The Heart of the Matter by Don Henley

The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I’d figured out
I have to learn again

I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter
But everything changes and my friends seem to scatter
But I think it’s about… forgiveness…

Yep – forgiveness. Reconciliation. That’s basically what Jesus came to teach us: how to be reconciled to God and to each other.


2) Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie

Song lyrics don’t get any more powerful or challenging than this:

Love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night…


3) Jubilee by Mary Chapin Carpenter

A song about receiving grace (in the language of the Old Testament).


4) Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins

Every time I hear this, I think Matthew 25.


5) One of Us by Joan Osborne

The scandal of the incarnation:

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus
trying to make his way home.


Here we are all in one place…

I got to go to a Carrie Newcomer concert last night! It was awesome.

The trip was really a spur-of-the-moment decision (almost). I was on-call for work, but the concert was free and was as close as Carrie would be performing for a long time. So I decided to go, even though I had to go alone.

Here are a few photos from the evening:


Today, I was thinking about writing a few blog entries reflecting on the intersection of music and theology in my life. Such a series would necessarily include a number of Carrie’s songs. I don’t know if I’ll get around to adding more songs, but I thought I could at least throw out a short reflection on the song that she did as an encore last night. This is at the very core of what I believe.

Betty’s Diner by Carrie Newcomer

This song is about the mish-mash of souls that pass through a joint known as Betty’s Diner. It reminds me of one of the places I might have seen when I lived on Long Island. Miranda is the waitress at the diner, and she knows how to feed the body and soul at the same time. She sees people dreaming of the future, mourning the death of a spouse, fighting addiction, falling in love… basically, the stuff of life.

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
When you come in from the cold
Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She’s heard it all so she don’t mind

Every time I hear this song, I think that it might be a picture of what Church should look like. There is so much wrapped up in those words: love, community, and becoming the body of Christ to one another. I think that I like it, because it reminds me of my creed:

I believe in love, lived in the context of community.

Maybe it really is just that simple: could I pour you another cup of coffee?

 

Names

You saw to my center,
Past every imposter,
And you whispered my True Name.

– “My True Name” by Carrie Newcomer


My name is ‘Derek’. It’s possible that this is a bit of a revelation for some readers – I’ve been a bit cautious with personal information on this blog. Likewise, I really hadn’t alluded to this blog from within my Facebook account. But I decided a few weeks ago to begin doing away with my split personality. One of my friends even wished me a “Happy Internet Persona Integration Day!”

Nevertheless, I’m going to leave it at that for now – just ‘Derek’. I suppose, however, that some of my other “names” are over on the right sidebar. Husband. Dad. Et cetera, et cetera. And this brings us to the inspiration for this particular blog: a song by Carrie Newcomer entitled “My True Name” (from the album of the same title). In her song, Carrie equates someone’s name with the deepest truth about who that person is. Each of us – to varying degrees – has a variety of names attached to us. You might say that we wear them as a type of clothing. Some of these names we choose for ourselves. Some of them are placed on us by others. Maybe the clothing fits. Or maybe we’re really trying to squeeze into someone else’s clothing. But, says Carrie, “there is a name that is the essence and combination of all I am. Whenever that name is known or spoken, it is the finest of gifts.”

Carrie ends her song with these lines…

And if you see me standing on the banks of Lake Griffy
Throwing white bits of paper to the wind
I’m just throwing the shards of all my calling cards,
And I’m speaking My True Name

I think that’s lovely, partly because I recognize part of my “true name” in those lines. I’d begin to re-write it like this: “If you see me sittin’ quiet beside some Jacob’s Creek tributary /  throwing rocks into the stream…” My favorite places are part of my true name. Other parts of it include the color blue, tapioca pudding, my family and community, my moods, love, compassion, anger, humility, pride, and impatience. Some parts of my name I don’t speak to you. Some parts, I don’t speak to myself. Ultimately, as Richard Rohr indicates in The Naked Now, there is only One who truly knows my name. My name is “God’s image of [me], which includes and loves both the good and the bad”. I must learn to listen for my name.


It turns out that Carrie talks about names on her most recent album, as well. But this time around, she’s talking about the name of God…

I do not know its name though it’s ever entwining, but I believe it must look like an old man shining…

I do not know its name no matter how I try, but I think it must taste like peaches eaten by the roadside…

I do not know its name, elusive and subtle, but I believe it must sound like that man singing in the shuttle…

I do not know its name, swimmer or watcher, but I believe that there is always something moving beneath the water…

“I Do Not Know Its Name” by Carrie Newcomer

If these lyrics aren’t quite clear, consider these lines that she offers from the opening of the Tao Te Ching (translated): “The Tao that can be expressed is not the Everlasting Tao… The Name that can be named is not the Everlasting Name.” In other words, the god that you are able to describe is not the true God.

During Advent this year, I’ve had some related thoughts. Some of our names for God likely include Omnipotent or Omniscient or Omnipresent. But if I confess that my best understanding of God comes from observing the life of Jesus, then I may need to rethink how I understand those names. After all, what does it mean to claim that a newborn baby is omnipotent? What does it mean for an omniscient God to ask, “Who touched me?” And what does it mean when someone says to the omnipresent God, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died”? (Luke 2, Mark 5, or John 11)

To be clear, I’m not saying that I don’t believe God to be omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. I think that I do believe that. Then again, those are terms that I use to describe God (not God’s own self-description), and maybe they just aren’t applicable. It’s like I’m asking, “What’s two plus two?” and then coming up with the answer, “Red.” My answers just don’t make sense with my questions.

For example, consider the scene in the garden, just before Jesus is arrested. He rebukes his disciples for trying to defend him by saying, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26) The obvious answer is, “Of course, you could!” He is Jesus, after all. But think again. What would happen if he did appeal for legions of angels? Wouldn’t he then be acting in a way that was opposed to his Father’s will and was antithetical to who he claimed to be? So he could ask, and yet he won’t. In fact, in some sense he couldn’t.


To my understanding, Jewish people do not speak (or even write) the name of God. It is a way of showing reverence, of keeping the commandment to not use God’s name in vain. I would like to affirm that deep respect. And with great humility, I would suggest that Advent invites us to take the risk of learning God’s name and even trying to speak it. As last week’s lectionary reading indicated, one of God’s names is ‘Emmanuel’. God is with us. God wants to be known and says, “Come follow me.” Learn my name. Never mind that you probably won’t succeed. Follow and learn anyway.

At the very least, you may discover your own true name.

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