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You’re (probably) wrong about suicide

This weekend marks one of the saddest of my life: saying goodbye to a dear friend who took his own life after many years of battling depression and anxiety disorders. Suicide raises a lot of questions, not least of which is, what could I have done? But the questions really don’t end there…What was going through his mind? How do we think and talk about this? Is taking one’s life the height of selfishness? Should would or can we be angry? What does God think of all this? Is suicide the unforgivable sin? I discovered that most of the answers I’ve heard in the past were wrong. Grievously wrong.

By grace, I happened upon a book a couple week’s ago by a theologian I had read for a seminary course last fall. I immediately recognized the name, Kathryn Greene-McCreight, but had no idea that she has battled bipolar disorder for much of her adult life (it began in seminary after an experience with postpartum depression!). I knew her as a brilliant theologian and eloquent writer, but was completely unaware of the years of unthinkable anguish, medications, hospitalizations, electro-convulsive shock therapies and thoughts of suicide. I’m sad to say I was not aware that such things could co-exist with such brilliance and faithfulness in the life of a pastor and theologian.

Losing the battle of the bands

I recently launched this blog, hoping to engage my congregation and whomever else is interested in conversation related to my grad school work (it seemed a shame to let it all stay stuck on my computer).

But to be honest, I’m a reluctant blogger. How to do this without becoming a shameless self-promoter is my sticking point—and choosing a blog name didn’t help that at all.

So I went with a lyric penned by one of my favorites, Matt Berninger of the The National. I figured that “crux of me” was innocuous enough not to be overly pretentious. Besides, I’m told by the 20-ish crowd in my church that The National is an irrelevant dad-band. After two hours in a dungeon-esque Detroit Masonic Temple Theatre seeing them live last October, I think the kids are probably right. At one point, my wife complained, “this place is like 75% middle age dudes.” No sense denying it, the Temple smelled like a YMCA locker room Monday mid-morning. But something about Berninger’s brooding mid-life crooning always calls to me…even through the fog and gloom of too many over-heated middle-aged bodies.

Have a listen to the bit that pulled me in. But fair warning, if you’re between the ages of 37 and 45 you might get a little weepy, or so I’m told:

“Demons”
I get this sudden sinking feeling / Of a man about to fly
Never kept me up before / Now I’ve been awake for days …
Now there is no running from it / It’s become the crux of me
I wish that I could rise above it / But I stay down with my demons. 

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The Last Temptation of Mine

Ok, this is a little sad. Maybe a little pathetic. But Cherith Nordling asked us to make a non-prose piece of art that represented our understanding of our “fully embodied self” for a class on Trinitarian theology. And this is what I came up with…a digitally retouched photo of a New Orleans street musician that caught my eye. I saw this guy across the street in the French Quarter (next to a great Royal St gallery, for those of you that share my love for the Big Easy). From the moment I snapped the photo, I knew something about it was familiar, but it was the impending deadline of a grad school assignment that helped me figure out what it was.

Here’s my “artist’s” description (yes, the scare quotes are me admitting I’m no artist.)

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF MINE
Photograph with digital alterations
2017
Something caught my eye about this New Orleans street musician from the second I saw him, and yet only recently have I come to understand why. The incongruity of angel wings and tattered garments on a hungry performer in a borrowed doorway may have been intended to amuse or confuse, but for me it represents much of my embodied existence.

Epiphany through Pentecost is Taking Shape

Who knew? This is my first year preaching through the lectionary and it is blowing my mind. The grouping of passages is richer and deeper and more brilliant than I could ever develop on my own and I’m discovering new connections just opening the page to them.

This spring is shaping up to be an exciting ride along the surprisingly subversive way of Jesus at the Vineyard GR. You can follow along here.

If you’re looking for a great way to keep up with the lectionary readings, check out bookofcommonprayer.net…its great on a mobile device. So great, we’ve baked it into our Vineyard GR mobile app for iOS and Android devices.

The Mid-Life Crisis of Christ

On this first week of Epiphany we explored just how truly human Jesus was and is. Contrary to the imagination of many modern Christians, the Jesus known by the apostles was like us in every way except sin—physiologically AND psychologically. Looking at the gospel lectionary passage, Mark 1:1-13, we looedk with wonder at Jesus’ baptism—a true identity crisis—that propelled him into a new career that you’d have to believe to truly see.

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PAPER: The Occasion and Crisis of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans

The following is a project based on the study of Romans 12-16 under Scot McKnight. Over three years, we are “reading Romans backward” with Scot, and in this first attempt, I discovered that the occasion and impetus for Paul’s greatest work—indeed the most important Christian theology ever written—was what we today call racism. Prejudice plus power at work exluding Gentiles from Jews was the greatest personal conflict, theological crisis, and existential threat faced in the first century church. And so perhaps it is today, in 2017, in Trump’s America.


Context matters. Depending on the occasion, the simple announcement “we’re having a baby” might be met with instant ecstasy or certain panic. This truism might go without saying in the realm of everyday life, but such is not true in the world of Biblical scholarship. For far too long Paul’s letter to the Romans has been read as a timeless theological treatise, a book of abstract doctrine that could have easily been addressed to Americans, Romans, or Asians—the context mattered little. In recent years, the consensus around many Pauline doctrines has been shaken, from justification to salvation to engagement in politics. (Responses have varied from ecstasy to panic.) In the following overview, we will explore how reading Romans 12 through 16 for context illuminates a world so colorful and complex that it demands a re-examination of the entire letter.

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PAPER: With Unveiled Faces: Perceiving our Lives as a Reflection of the Triune God

The following is a long-form paper from a class with Dr. Cherith Fee-Nordling in which we explored the vast implications of a orthodox Trinitarian theology and embrace of the true humanity of Jesus. I’m really not sure if I was fully a Christian before working through this…perhaps I was saved by grace…but until now I haven’t really understood how magnificent a story we tell.


Is theology inherently absurd? Since time immemorial humanity has sought to know its creator, to construct a ladder from experienced reality to that which is beyond, and yet our best attempts at ladder-building in the modern age—aided by the tools of rational inquiry and superstructures of critical thought—appear scarcely more effective than those of primitive ages.

Such is the suspicion of this would-be New Testament scholar. Despite my best efforts I find I am no closer to mastering divinity than the children in my church, and perhaps less so. Feigned humility this is not, for as I consider the forms God takes in my imagination, I spy a God that appears only vaguely Christian. Try as I might to affirm the thought “God is love”, the God I pray to is always alone: ever-observing yet solitary, ever-watchful yet silent, until his creatures come calling.

The Lord is (Not) My Carnival Operator

Far and away the most significant passage of the Bible for me over the last several years has been Psalm 23, the well-known song of David that begins “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.” Particularly the bit about “he guides my steps along the paths for his name’s sake.” For most of my life, I haven’t carried around that picture of God. If I’m honest, my view of God was less like a shepherd was more like a carnival game operator.
Growing up around charismatics, I grew up hearing people saying things like “God gave me a prophetic word…God spoke to me this week…God gave me a vision.” The problem was, I never really won that game. I never got any guidance from God. Oh, I always got excited thinking I might win something; I could walk around the carnival and see that other people with their giant stuffed animal trophies, but somehow I always walked away empty-handed. I would try and try to play the game, but somehow I always left with empty pockets and a sad, gnawing envy. Not that I didn’t want to win: every time the carnival came to town, every time I saw all the lights and music I thought maybe this is my big day, maybe today I’m gonna win.

Does Your Kingdom Look Like Jesus’ Kingdom?

The following is excerpted from a 2017 sermon on the Kingdom of God at the Vineyard Grand Rapids, offered here without citations. Admittedly, in trying to introduce ancient cultural phenomena to a church audience of varied interest levels, the categories are necessarily over-simplified, caricatures of complex cultural cultural movements. Still, my hope is that they help us consider how little has changed from the 1st century until today.


 

At the time of Jesus, the 1st century, social/political viewpoints were as varied as they are today. Within ear shot of Jesus’ proclamation to Israel, we know of at least six types of people.

Before we begin, I want to ask you not to judge them too harshly, because Israel had had a pretty rough go. Oppressive government, politicians who promised one thing and done another, economic recessions/depressions, poverty, unemployment, threats from foreign powers, eventual invasion and desecration of their nation, and exile. By the time of Jesus, they are back in land but now they’re occupied by the foreign Roman superpower. The nation has descended into an ethnocentric, nationalist cauldron of fears and angers and hopes. They are a hopelessly divided society, divided by racial hostility with the Samaritans and Gentiles and united only by the belief that “God is on our side.”

These cultural groups representsix different visions for a world made right, six different visions of the kingdom of God.

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PAPER: Recapturing the Worship Treasures Hidden In Our Field

The following long-form paper was written for a class with David Fitch on “The Mission-Shaped Church.” This project was the beginning of having my eyes opened to the blind spots in my own worship tradition, the central place of historic liturgy in the life of the church, the possibility of blending of Eucharistic and charismatic worship. We’ve been working this out in practice over the last year at my local church, and if you’re interested in specifics, head on over here.

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How was worship this week? Was it good for you? Was it inspiring? Such questions are a familiar rubric for many Christians in the modern western world. Clergy may lament the consumerist nature of these evaluations (particularly when coming from dissatisfied congregants), but the same pastors are all too guilty of imposing customer-satisfaction evaluations on worship leaders, Sunday services, even themselves. Which begs the question: is worship supposed to be ‘good?’ And if so, how might we measure it? These are settled questions for many, not least in the worship recording industry, a phenomenon which my own worship tradition helped foment, and yet it was this very question that gave rise to my worship tradition, the Vineyard Church.