Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘truth’

Community within, Community Expressed

Sense8 is an original TV series streaming on Netflix, created by the Wachowskis, the two people behind the Matrix trilogy. Sense8, a play on the sensate, tells the story of eight strangers: Capheus, Sun, Nomi, Kala, Riley, Wolfgang, Lito and Will, each from a different culture and part of the world. As the story develops, all eight characters have visions and find strange connections to the others even though they are all worlds apart. They realize that they are all sensates, humans like anyone else except for the fact that they are linked with a mental and emotional connection, allowing them to sense and communicate with each other, as well as share their knowledge, language and skills. The eight sensates try to live their lives and figure out how and why this connection has happened and what it means.

Here are the eight sensate characters in the story:

sense8
Capheus,
a matatu driver in Nairobi, a passionate fan of movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme, and a son who is trying to earn money to buy AIDS medicine for his mother.

Sun Bak
, daughter of a powerful Seoul, Korea businessman and a star in the underground kickboxing world.

Nomi Marks,
a trans woman hacktivist and blogger living in San Francisco with her girlfriend Amanita. She was born Michael but changed her name to Nomi, which stands for “Know Me”.

Kala Dandekar
, a university-educated pharmacist and devout Hindu living in Mumbai, India. She is  engaged to marry a man she does not love.

Riley Blue,
an Icelandic DJ living in London.

Wolfgang Bogdanow,
a Berlin, Germany locksmith and safe-cracker who has unresolved issues with his late father and participates in organized crime.

Lito Rodriguez,
a gay, closeted actor from Bilbao, Spain living in Mexico City with his boyfriend Hernando.

And Will Gorski, a Chicago police officer haunted by an unsolved murder from his childhood.

In the story, the sensates represent the next step in human evolution. Their brains have subtly but powerfully changed so that they are able to connect with each other across long distances without being detected or listened to. They can have conversations in two places simultaneously, flipping back and forth between a rainy café in Germany and a sunny temple in India, while a character in Korea vapes with a character in Iceland. They seem to be physically in the same place as the others, having a face to face conversation. A common phrase for the sensates becomes:

“I am also a we.”

I wish to explore this idea of deep connection—how it is on the inside and then how it can be expressed on the outside. Have you ever felt a deep connection with someone you just recently met? How did it feel? What did that connection lead to? And, do you ever have the experience of feeling disconnected, even from people you have known nearly your whole life? See, connection is not about longevity; it’s not even about having things in common, looking the same, or sharing all the same perspectives. Connection, I argue, is an energy. It is an energy between people, between us, when we feel that we have been seen, heard, and valued as we are. Connection is that energy that fills us when we are not judged, when we are truly seen and valued.

I’ve mentioned this many times before, but it’s worth saying again. In this life, it is really important to pursue and nurture relationships/connections with people who value you, who see and hear you and accept you, as you are. That most likely means that you will have these types of strong connections with only a handful of other humans and that’s fine. Hey, the characters in Sense8 are only deeply connected to seven others. The energy of connection in our relationships is vital to our health.

The language and concept of connection is obvious in the Jesus of John’s Gospel. Jesus is portrayed in various I AM statements, and all of those identity statements lead us right back to the idea of connection. Jesus said I AM the vine and you are the branches. Straight up connection talk there. And now here in John 14 we find Jesus talking about dwelling places, though not your typical house or apartment. Jesus speaks here of a realm of dwelling beyond the brick and mortar. Dwelling in Abba God’s house is not heaven—it is the presence of God, and it goes both ways like a swinging door of connection. If God dwells in you, then you also dwell in God’s house. And vice versa. The place, the connection for all of us has already been prepared; it is simply up to us to embrace it.

And then the Jesus of John takes it one step further, or maybe in this case, Jesus humanizes it even more, because our good friend Thomas is still asking great questions. Thomas asks the how question and Jesus responds with love and care. How will you know the way to this connection? Well, I AM way, I AM truth, I AM life. No one comes to the light, to the connected Divine, to God, except through path, truth, and life. If you know your path, and truth, and life, then you will know the Divine. And from now on you do know, and you have seen.

Wonderful and beautiful language, but of course I have to mention [albeit briefly] that this beautiful part of John’s Gospel can also be negative trigger for some. Why? Because sadly some make it a habit of taking words from the Gospels attributed to Jesus and turning them into clobber texts, exclusive religious dogma, or even opportunities to say to some people they don’t like that they are doomed and that God doesn’t love them. Rather than spend more time on those who use this as a clobber text, I prefer to focus on what the text actually says within its context, also considering the audience it was written to. Keep in mind that John’s Gospel is the most inclusive Gospel writing, apart from the Gospel of Timothy, probably. John is a text written for a mixed group of people. It’s meant to open up the message of Jesus to a wider audience. It verges on universality sometimes. It’s often ambiguously symbolic and even combines different religious traditions. But John’s Gospel is not exclusive. Jesus’ I AM statements, each one of them, are meant to invite and include more human beings. Many rooms in Abba’s house, remember?

So this oft-quoted phrase about way, truth, and life is not a claim that Christianity [which didn’t exist at the time, by the way] is the one true faith and that Jesus is the only way to God. It doesn’t say that. The word only just isn’t there. What IS there is a kind and loving invitation to be connected in a deep and powerful way. Be connected to Jesus/God/the Divine/the Light, however you wish to call it, but be connected to this way, truth, and life, which is the power greater than all of us that connects us across genders, orientations, cultures, languages religions, countries, and differences. This connection is love and compassion—practicing that in our everyday lives. Seeing and hearing people as they are. Accepting them. Seeking and nurturing this connective energy gives us purpose and meaning in life. What do you think?

 

Spirit-Connected Truth-Living

John 16:12-15   Inclusive Bible

I have much more to tell you, but you can’t bear to hear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all truth. She won’t speak on her own initiative; rather, she’ll speak only what she hears, and she’ll announce to you things that are to come. In doing this, the Spirit will give glory to me, for she will take what is mine and reveal it to you. Everything that Abba God has belongs to me. That is why I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and reveal it to you.

connectTrying something new. Each week I would like for you to engage with me in what many refer to as conversational preaching or dialogical preaching. The general idea of such a practice is that the message comes from not just one person [i.e. me or any other preacher] but instead is a message formed in community. This will be a work in progress, but I am excited to see what will happen! There are a couple of people engaged in such work that I have gleaned wisdom from. First, Bruce Reyes-Chow, a minister in the PC USA and a consultant for the Center for Progressive Renewal, an author and speaker, or as he says: ⅕ Pastor and Chaplain, ⅕ Preacher and Speaker, ⅕ Consultant and Coach, ⅕ Blogger and Author, and ⅖ Stay at Home Dad.

Bruce recently gave a presentation for the Festival of Homiletics about conversational preaching. In his presentation, he affirms the possibilities of such a community-based sermon style, leading to such things as: healthy hospitality, creative space use, integrated worship. He states:

Conversational preaching pokes at our willingness and ability to graciously engage with others about issues of faith.

In this type of sermon, we can model disagreement, engage in faith re/formation, and expand our ecclesiology, i.e. our connection to the wider church and beyond. The dialogical sermon also helps individuals in the community of faith increase knowledge about the Bible and theology, develop broader perspectives, and to embody emotional and spiritual intelligence. Conversational preaching allows the community to approach and embrace common truths and bounds and promotes the health of community.

Doug Pagitt is the founder of Solomon’s Porch, a holistic missional Christian community in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is also one of the founders of Emergent Village, a social network of Christians around the world. Pagitt is an author, professional speaker, and consultant for churches, denominations, and businesses on issues of postmodern culture, social systems, and Christianity. He recently was interviewed by the United Church of Christ and you can find that article here.

Pagitt actively engages in dialogical preaching and Solomon’s Porch is a faith community that knows nothing else. They work together to craft the message each week. In essence, here is how it works:

The speaker says something that causes another person to think something she hadn’t thought before. In response she says something that causes a third person to make a comment he wouldn’t normally have made without the benefit of a second person’s statement. In turn the speaker thinks something he/she wouldn’t have thought without hearing the comments made by the other two. So now everyone ends up in a place they couldn’t have come to without the input they received from each other. In a real way the conversation has progressed.[1]

Sermons belong to the people—not the preacher.

So that is what we will do. Here is the format we will start with. As I said before, it will be a work in progress, and I hope that via your feedback and participation, we can agree upon a way to do this that works well. On this blog, you can comment, of course. I also encourage you to email me if you wish to engage in further dialogue.

Here are the steps I will start out with:

  1. Induction : considering the context of the story/scripture passage and the community and those present in that community
  2. Discussion: there will always be Q & A with those present [in this case, online]
  3. Interviews and Sharing: at various points, invite people to share a story that relates to the topic. [guest writers and bloggers]
  4. Collaboration: At the end of each message, I’ll give the teaser for next week and invite you to make comments during the week via email, social media, etc.
  5. Note-taking/Research: at certain points we will encourage people to research certain things or to take notes.
  6. Evaluation: we will briefly sum up and evaluate the message.

So let’s get started. Today’s topic, like last week, is indeed the Spirit. We are looking at John’s Gospel and what is often called Jesus of Nazareth’s “farewell discourse” because he is about to leave his friends, the disciples. The context is of course that the disciples are scared, doubtful, and a bit confused. Jesus responds by speaking comfort to them, promising that even when he is gone that they will not be alone. The Spirit is the word parakletos in Greek, now called the Spirit of Truth. This Spirit will lead the disciples. The parakletos is an extension of Jesus Christ. As the disciples had been encouraged to follow Jesus on “the way” now they will be led on “the way” by the Spirit. Of course, Jesus is referred to as “way” and “truth” and “life.”

In other words, the disciples will not be abandoned, even though they think they will be. They are left in good hands. The Spirit will hear and then speak to them. This Spirit will point to a way forward, something beyond the limited and often imbalanced existence. This Spirit is present in all times and places.

Considering that background, my first thought is about the current state of the faith community I serve called the UCC in Warminster. In various conversations I’ve had with many people, I know that some are fearful of being abandoned, i.e. because we are still in the transition of looking for a new space and because we are in the process of re-organization, and because of money. Some are fearful that the congregation won’t make it and that they will be left without a faith community. They care about UCCW and want it to thrive and grow. So they are fearful and anxious. It isn’t change that they are worried about, it is loss. They don’t want to lose this congregation.

I hear this loud and clear, and often I share many of these feelings and thoughts. Of course, I admit to being in a different position than they are, because as pastor of the congregation, this is not only my faith community but also my job—my livelihood. So the anxiety or fear, quite frankly, is both about the congregation [not wanting to lose the community], but also the anxiety of losing a job and the uncertainty of that financial situation.

And yet, for some reason, the fear and anxiety I feel, though very real, does not take over my excitement and enjoyment as part of this community. If you were to ask me why I keep doing this, in spite of the challenges, I would say it’s because I am still having fun doing it, that I find joy in the little things and that I am still very hopeful about today and tomorrow. For me, this is the spirit at work in me. I can be honest about my feelings of anxiousness and even fear, and that leads me to balance and wholeness. The spirit comforts me with honest feelings and for me that is truth.

So let me ask you. What questions do you have? What does this spark? Question time.

Okay, now here is the teaser for next week:
What is faith to you? Can faith lead to healing? If so, how?

So what did we learn? How did it go? How can we improve?
Thanks for participating!

[1] Pagitt, Doug.  Preaching Re-imagined: The Role of the Sermon in Communities of Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Asking Good Questions

John 14:1-14

Kids are great at asking questions. It’s true, and this constant inquiry helps children make sense of the world and also helps them figure out how to navigate the things happening all around them.

Studies show that when we are four or five years old, we ask the most questions. As we get older, we ask less and less questions.

I was thinking about this and it’s true—teachers, bosses, authority figures [even clergy]—do not really encourage us to ask more questions.

They want answers.

This is too bad, of course. Because as we get older, we are really just older kids. And questions can help us explore, be creative and innovative, and like the four-year-old, questions can help us to make sense of this crazy world and even navigate all the issues that come up.

To start asking questions again, we need to look around us and see the world with curious, observant eyes. We need to think like a child and actually find imagination and curiosity [even about things we think we already know]. And we’ve got to leave behind the attitude about “why” questions. “Why” questions may seem naïve or too childish. Why do we drink water out of glasses? Why do we refrigerate food? Why is the sky up and the ground down? Why am I breathing right now? Why, why, why?

But the why questions go deep and surpass conventional thinking and reach for opportunities that seem impossible and far away.

Why?

Okay, so I’ll admit that the why questions can get monotonous and the four-year-old can keep asking why as if she’s in a samsara circle, but you are the one suffering. Stop asking why!!!!!!

So perhaps good questions move from why to what if and how?

This is what Warren Berger argues in his book, A More Beautiful Question: the Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.

questionsberger

Berger writes that questioners can move forward on almost any problem or challenge by first trying to understand it [why is this a problem?]

Then, they imagine possible solutions [what if I approached the problem this way, or that way?] And finally, the questioner can try to figure out practical ways to turn the “what if” ideas into realities [how might I actually begin to make this happen?]

But it’s not about easy answers. Being thoughtful and productive in our questioning takes effort, time, lots of thought, and of course—experimenting, making mistakes, learning.[1]

I am convinced that the more we ask questions, the better we live.

Each time when we feel stuck in life, we have an opportunity to ask a question:

Why am I stuck?

It may sound superficial and be a “duh” kind of question, but ask it anyway.

And then:

What if…

This is when we imagine not being stuck. What does that look like and feel like?

And finally:

How can I make this happen?

The “this” is the imagined thing that can lift us out of our feeling stuck.

So we have to ask questions—even about things we think we know well.

And John 14 is a passage many people think they know well.

Before you say: But I don’t know this John 14 well at all! What does it say?

John 14 says this:

I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.

Right. Any questions?

Sounds like a definitive answer, does it not?
Jesus is telling us [and the whole, wide world] that he is the one and that no one can find God except through him.

Here is the main argument for imperialistic Christianity in one sentence.
Here is the dominant religion throwing its weight around.

But I have a question.

If Jesus was giving an answer here, who asked a question?

Aha!

Thomas, question-asker-extraordinaire.

The John text actually reads: Jesus said to him.

To Thomas.

Thomas had heard Jesus’ pretty speech about going to the Father and preparing a house there so do not be troubled and blah, blah, blah, and I’ll prepare a nice studio apt. for you guys to hang out in and just believe it, okay?

But Thomas, like an inquisitive four-year-old, asks the where question that the other disciples were not willing to ask:

Jesus, where are you going?

At this point, are the other disciples looking around, dumbfounded, feeling embarrassed about Thomas’ stupid question?

WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!

Man, Thomas, wake up! Of course, Jesus is going…
Well, right. Where WAS Jesus going?

Uh, good question, Thomas.

These stories in the Gospels were written after Jesus died, so the author of course knew what was going to happen. Betrayal, arrest, death, burial, resurrection appearance.

But Thomas didn’t know, of course.
So the question was valid and it was wonderful.

Where are you going?

Give me a map, Jesus, because I want to go, too.
Or punch in the directions on my GPS.
Or Whatsapp me when you get there and take a pic of the place so I can find it.

Where are you going?

But Thomas’ next question is even better.

How can we know the way?

He is rewarded with a deep and impactful answer.

Just like when he said I am the good shepherd, Jesus answered Thomas by saying: I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Thomas, to answer your question, the where is not concrete.

It’s a way and not a destination.
It’s a truth and not an easy, comfortable solution.
It’s a life and not a fear-filled existence.

And you won’t find your way, truth, and life by looking at a map.
Just follow me there.

There’s a real connection here to the Hebrew Scriptures—specifically the book of Deuteronomy 1:33, which says: “the Lord goes before you on the way to choose a place.” Thomas and the disciples knew all about the story of Moses and the Israelites journeying to the Promised Land. This following Jesus thing was about the journey itself, and not really about the destination.

But meanwhile, another disciple, Phillip, opens his mouth, but does not ask a question. He says: Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.

Not really interested in following the way, seeking the truth, and living the life, are you, Phillip?
You see, Phillip could have learned from Thomas, as all of us should.

Ask a question, no matter how stupid or naïve or childish it sounds.

Ask a question!

So look—life is tough. It really is. There are situations that seem hopeless. There are problems that seem insurmountable. There are moments when we just want to give up.

So ask why questions. Ask like a child.

Then move to the what if.

Then, move to the how.

And expect deep, insightful, and challenging answers. Don’t expect cookie-cutter solutions and easy fixes. Expect creativity and innovation. Expect change. And expect a journey, a way, a path that leads to truths and a path that leads to life.

Friends, don’t stop asking questions.

 

 

[1] Berger, Warren, A More Beautiful Question, Bloomsbury, NY, 2014.

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