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Im the sort of person who feels like you cant really describe yourself in an "about" section. The blog should give you a good idea.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

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We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. ‘We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like.’ …It is time to awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick.-

Richard Foster

Much has been made of the theft of the Americas from the native peoples (theft is a gross understatement, and nothing that follows is an attempt to debunk the wrong the Native Americans have suffered.) I had a history teacher who once pointed out that the Island of Manhattan was sold to Dutch colonists. The value of the sale was low (60 Gilders or so, of beads, fish hooks and other “trinkets”). Yet the tribe believed that they were getting an excellent deal. Why? They knew what these white men were apparently ignorant of: No one can own land. Land is not a possession to be bought or sold, it is on loan from the Great Spirit. So this native people was happy to accept free trinkets in an impossible exchange. Likely they believed the Dutch would learn the valuable lesson that “a fool and his money are soon parted.”

The vast majority of Americans have repented of the violence, economic and otherwise, done to “Indians” yet not of the folly of ownership. Significantly, the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence originally told us we are endowed with “the inalienable right(s)… Life Liberty and the pursuit of Property.” The lattermost was changed in order to reflect the discomfort of the author with the institution of slavery; yet ever since then, we have equated happiness with property. For every time you heard your grandmother say, “money can’t buy happiness, it can’t buy love” you heard a thousandfold “acquire this, it will make you happy.”

Some don’t see any problem with this and would happily say that “he who dies with the most toys wins.” Yet I do believe that this is psychotic. This sort of materialism represents such a severe mental emotional disorder that contact has indeed been lost with reality. Life is not evaluated the same way Wall Street is, the outcome is not determined like the X Games. He who has the most money, toys or adventures is not the winner. Life is not winnable. If it were, most of us should stop playing the game. Further, and perhaps most revealing of the Western-ness of this idea, those in the two-thirds world have a meaningless existence almost by definition.

My church has a tradition of beginning the year with prayer and fasting. These disciplines are growing less common in the world. I am sure there are many reasons for the decline i.e. they are difficult, they are strange, they are generally immaterial, rarely yielding tangible results etc. Yet they carry an old idea: silence and experience of poverty can often be the means through which the Divine reveals Itself.

“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is a sentiment both synonymous with and antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are equivalent, in that, the one who finds Jesus, finds all these things. Even those who die in Christ are better off than those alive without him. So, Life, in a sense, is not altogether important for the Christian. Liberty- indeed the only real liberty- is something that people who know Jesus will know. Yet Christians will find themselves commanded to do or avoid things that many are free to do. Finally, “happiness” tends to be synonymous with “stuff” and our culture certainly believes in the pursuit of happiness. In our time it may be strange to be a praying woman or worse yet a man of faith, but fasting is beyond comprehension. Fasting is a spiritual discipline; it is something we enter into that has no practical value. It will not make God answer your prayers any quicker. It will not make you a stronger or better Christian. In fact, if you enter into fasting in order to be more impressive, you have already failed, and should go no further (Lk 18:10-14). Perhaps worst of all, fasting will cost you something. Yet, when we temporarily abandon our pursuit of happiness, we are able to finally pursue Jesus. It may be impractical, it may leave you hungry, but chasing after the heart of the Lord is infinitely satisfying. May you pursue Jesus this year; He is already pursuing you!

**it should be noted that I was asked to write the final paragraph of this post for Living Streams Church

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1/1/13

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The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul- G.K. Chesterton

I was reading the preface of a book the other day which was unremarkable save t=for the post-script “Christopher Wright, Easter 2007.” It struck me that, unless he was lying, this theologian must have written his monograph on that day with great intention. As a Christian, I understand his choice of day and certainly the importance of it, yet his words would have been significant regardless of the day they were written. The concept of the “significant” days of the “year,” are an arbitrary convention in many ways; but they are useful, and help humans make sense of our world and allows us a sense of progress through time. In such a scientific, realistic, age what is it about holidays (Holy-days) that still grips us? Why do Western human beings get so excited with setting aside some moments as significant?

Today, for instance, is important. Perhaps because this is a year that some thought would never come. Indeed, for the more superstitious, the thirteenth year may carry ominous portents. Yet, in America, there were many New Year’s parties last night; with wine, laughter and good cheer. Folk chanted along with T.V. announcers as the great orb descended in New York. Yet were it not for the heathen astronomers’ desperate search for meaning in the heavens, we might have no sense of the change; no line in the sand of time.  We would be left only with the cycle of seasons, sensed easily in the changes of crops, daylight and weather.

Personally, the idea of New Years Day is delightful. I imagine that oak trees feel a sense of relief in winter – shaking off the old growth and having an arboreal sense of hope. Many of those I know have the same feeling. The doors have shut on the past for good or ill.  the troubles and failures of the previous year litter the earth of our lives and we look expectantly forward to buds of new growth. Yet despite all this, we are aware that the future likely holds the same difficulties as the past. What relief can the exchange of calendars really bring?

A friend of mine recently summed the attraction of New Years nicely “you may not be able to start over but you can have a new beginning.” This holiday carries the scent of fresh starts; our lives become a blank canvas, ready for new artistic choices. Resolutions are made with abandon, which the cynical are quick to mock. Yet wouldn’t it be wonderful to be given a new lease on life? Wouldn’t it be grand if it wasn’t just an arbitrary move by human beings but some jubilous divine act in which debts are canceled and the world is made new? Surely even the greatest cynic would admit to such hopes, if not perhaps to such a reality. It is my great hope and prayer that the world would, in fact, be in a better place this year; that you might experience a year of Jubliee and that the new year would be the beginning of Good News of great joy for all!

Luke Parker

New Years Day 2013

To them that would be prophets, preachers, teachers and evangelists…

Shaun The Sheep

This warning has been highly useful in all ages, and in the present day it is especially necessary. No plague is more destructive to the Church, than when wolves ravage under the garb of shepherds…. For if they who are called shepherds attempt to lead us away from Christ, we ought to flee from them, at the command of Christ, as we would flee from wolves or thieves- Calvin

John 10:1 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

There is a warning here both for sheep and those who would be shepherds. The sheep don’t (or shouldn’t) trust the voice of “the stranger” because it isn’t the voice of their master i.e. a strange voice. Wise sheep know that some voices will call them into death and have seen such siren calls effected upon their neighbors. Thus the voice of any but their master is highly suspect. So, I would expect that ministers who would like to become shepherds themselves should do their best to learn the voice of the Lord so well that they might imitate it (or rather that he might choose to speak through them). It would be presumptuous to assume that mere intellectual awareness, i.e. depth of knowledge of the word of God, or emotional awareness, depth of experience of the presence of God, should be synonymous with knowing the will of God. If God be God at all then perhaps it would be good to remember that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Rather the one who would be his messenger should stay close in his counsel, like the steward of a king. Only those in the circle of the King’s confidence will be entrusted with his message for his people.

Those modern day prophets who dare to speak for God carelessly put themselves and those who listen to them in grave peril. This does not really address the case of those like the Westboro baptists or other notable Christians who speak so boldly in the name of Christ about the wrath of God. Their words too will be evaluated, at some later point in history, by the God who does not take kindly to those who hinder people from knowing Jesus (Mt 18). The words of God are never careless or callous, rarely quick or pleasant. Indeed the Lord may speak to those whom He will but those who have the privilege should take care, lest through pride they fall into the easy trap of Haniniah (Jer 28) and others who speak instead the words of the Enemy and in so doing become his allies. Test the words of those who offer “a word from the Lord for you” or who would speak in the name of the Lord Jesus. Watch their actions, investigate their character; it is possible that they have entered the way strangers do (NRSV “another way,” GK alloxothen, NRSV “stranger”, GK allotrion).

It has been my experience that great pastors, teachers, leaders and lay people in the Church are marked by humility. In fact, they tend to be better reflections than most of the voice I see and hear in scripture. We live in a time where pastors occasionally attain a measure of notoriety; this is a troubling side effect of the Cult-of-Personality that exists in American church culture. This is what Jesus is talking about in John 10. Those who pay attention to it will find that they listen with ever greater frequency to the Good Shepherd rather than the thieves and wolves which are unfortunately allowed a measure of freedom for the time being. Beware those whose claim is fame and who are not themselves claimed by Jesus. Run screaming from any who offer another, easier, way into the sheepfold, theirs’ is the smile of the wolf. Above all, get to know the voice of the Good Shepherd, He is calling out in order to call you into life.

Reflections on The Lord of the Rings

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“Well” said Pippin “I have known of him all my short life as you may say; and lately I have traveled far with him. But there is much to read in that book and I cannot claim to have seen more than a page or two. Yet perhaps I know him as we’ll as any but a few.”- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of The King, 760.

I am often known as a Christian, and am frequently believed to be someone who knows a great deal about Jesus. The above is a far more accurate depiction of our relationship. Knowing about Jesus is difficult, and getting to know Jesus is even more so. Yet it has been my experience that the difficult things are often the most worthwhile. The Lord of the Rings is a story about characters who are passionate about doing such things.

The trilogy contains delightful stories. They capture the imagination quickly, and yet, the depth of the world Tolkien created is large enough for adults to explore. J.R.R. Tolkien employs subtle Christian allegory through the books, which adds a depth of symbolism and metaphor which extends outside the book and into the real world of religion and philosophy. The author has something to say about the way the world works, as well as the nature of good and evil.

I read an article (*) this week that didn’t care for Tolkien’s work, or others like it ( the author, cited Beowulf among them). The crux of the disagreement: the definition of heroism. The blogger- a well spoken linguist- took exception to the idea that heroes are violent or destructive. She implied that this was barbaric and unenlightened and quoted Brian Andreas, “Anyone can slay a dragon …but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.”

First, I must say, I agree with the principle of the quote. Heroes are indeed those who display courage and character, regardless of their flaws. Heroes are not solely to be judged on their destructive prowess. The reality of postmodern filmmaking and storytelling is such that heroes are often murky characters. When this combines with Hollywood’s desire to sell tickets through explosions and chase scenes, we are often left rooting for a character who is, in great measure, a villain.

Yet earlier definitions of “hero” were a corollary not due to the fact that he destroys, but rather, because of the character of what he destroys. Watering down the definition of “hero” to “a nice and loving person” robs us of a valuable word, rendering it meaningless. True, the postmodern reader may disagree with the idea that a person or thing may be wholly evil; yet because we have moved beyond modernism hopefully many would agree that Evil exists (i.e. the dragon in the above quote, **). This brings me to the substance of my contention: not just anyone can slay a dragon!

It takes a hero to destroy evil. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes (Tolkien makes this clear) but not everyone is a hero. Many quail in the face of evil, some corroborate with it, and some are indifferent and hope to remain neutral in the battle between the two sides. Evil cannot destroy evil. It may seek to do so from evil intention but in so doing, evil has grown and not diminished. There is a strength of character required for a hero. True they may be flawed, but their aim must be good, or else they may become a villain. Indeed, “the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

In The Lord of the Rings there is a character named Aragorn, the king who returns in the third book. He is an excellent example of a hero; he loves the world, does not glory in violence, yet neither does he shrink from the task of defense of the weak and destruction of evil. Those who travel with him become more like him, they are encouraged by his presence and begin to imitate his apparent lack of concern for his own well-being. This is what I appreciate about Jesus – those who follow Him well, become more like Him. The New Testament depicts Jesus as a hero. He is someone who consistently and successfully combats evil. People often think His heroism lies in the fact that He was a great lover of the world, which is true but it is not enough for me. This would not make Him a hero, only a very nice man. At the end of the story He is Jesus, The Lord, The Christ, The Dragon-Slayer, the Ultimate Hero.

* (a disclaimer) I must apologize, I didn’t take down the blog’s information, and thus I cannot cite the blogger and allow her rebuttal. Further, I must apologize for a lack of familiarity with the work of Brian Andreas, my issue with the quote comes from the way it was used and thus not with this author.

** Thus a good person who destroys a dragon, regardless of the ease of the task, would, to some degree, be a hero by virtue of the fact that she has destroyed something evil. There are indeed potential holes in this line of thinking; a thorough examination of which would exceed this post. However, the thrust of my above argument is not normative ethical behavior, rather the simple proposition: the defeat of Evil accomplishes the purposes of Good.

Peace on Earth

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Matt. 2:18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

This is a week of Peace. That is perhaps surprising news in light of recent events: armed gunmen in a Connecticut elementary school or the recent Israeli Hamas conflict. Yet in the season of Advent this week is one marked by the topic of peace. This is the week we remember that God is quite interested in overhauling the world geopolitical order; restoring justice for those who often find themselves at the mercy of the powerful and violent.There is a line in a new song by the artist JJ Heller that is echoing in my mind as I write this “sometimes life doesn’t make any sense, it’s full of war and pain and accidents. We’re singing I don’t know…I don’t know what you’re doing. But I know who you are.”

Looking around the world today I confess I see no easy fix. For instance there was an article in the New Yorker advocating for more stringent gun control laws in the wake of the tragedy in Connecticut. This struck me as ludicrously naive; the gunman intentionally went to an elementary school with the intent of killing people. There is no rational explanation for his attack, these children could not have slighted him, there is no misunderstood vengeance at work. His actions were in a word, Evil- naked and unprovoked. No amount of legislation could have halted so sinister a plan. Gun control laws are indeed valuable and may prevent some rash violence- this shooting does not fit that characterization. If there were no guns on the face of the earth this person would have found some way to slaughter children. You may be sure that actions like this imply “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth.”

There is an old story about the birth of Jesus that seems pertinent to today’s events. It comes from the end of the second chapter of Matthew, commonly referred to as “the slaughter of the innocents.” It is a morbid story about how the local king (Herod) felt threatened by rumors of a new king in Bethlehem and decided to kill all boys under the age of two as a preventative measure. Such violence in the world and in scripture often troubles me. I struggle to understand why God does not show up in such moments, terrible and grand and flashing with fire and lighting to the defense of innocents.

Yet I am reminded of the fact that the story of Jesus birth includes such a story for a reason. God does not stand far off from humans in the midst of their violence. He does not wait at a distance for us to get our act together, for the end of rape, infanticide, our general callousness toward each other etc. True in the gospels we don’t read that God acted supernaturally from distance to end suffering. Instead he walks right into the midst of our suffering. He trusts a poor Jewish couple with his Son at a time that it wasn’t safe to be a child in Palestine. He isn’t squeamish about our tendency toward destruction but instead becomes one of us that he might show us the way out. This is why his birth was announced with news (and a prayer) of “peace on earth and goodwill toward all people.” God is drawing the world toward himself in Jesus, drawing the world toward peace. The pull is as imperceptible as the tides but no less real. Thus it is not with an awareness of the apparent irony that I say, with complete sincerity, “this is a week of peace” and at the same time “deliver us O Lord from such evil men, and bring peace to the families of those who grieve!”

The Annunciation

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This is a work by a young Leonardo Da Vinci and his master Andrea Del Verrocchio. “The Annunciation” as it is often called is the moment when Mary learns from an angel that she is going to conceive and give birth to Jesus.  This all happens despite the fact that Mary is a virgin.  Now, whatever your opinions on the virgin birth or the existence of angels, you’d have to admit that this would be incredible news; This is an emotion which the understated title “Annunciation” does not adequately capture.  Many artists throughout time have depicted this moment, and because they tend to be religious, they often obscure the surprise, dismay and fear that I expect Mary would have experienced.  Often the Annunciation shows a regal, calm Mary treating the angel (Gabriel) very much like a common household servant.  So many of them (at least in my humble and uninformed opinion) don’t seem to take the reality of the situation into account.  This painting is better than most.  Since Verrocchio painted the majority of the scene with lead paint and Da Vinci painted the angel the angel is literally of a different substance than the rest of the painting (under x-ray the angel disappears).  The visitor to this heavy reality is lighter and brings otherworldly but nonetheless real news.  Mary and Gabriel are about on the same plane, though the angel is bowing to Mary, the superiority of her position is slight.  In other words, she functions more like a real person and less like someone used to dealing with angels.  The angel seems in earnest to share the news but there is significant distance between the figures.  The desk between them is another obstacle which further implies that this news may not be the most welcome, and certainly unexpected.  Yet despite all this she seems willing to listen.  Often in the world we live in news about God working in the world is disconcerting.  Hearing such news frequently puts people at a distance from the messenger yet there is something about the message that seems to keep people listening.  Mary was the sort of person who was willing to listen to what God is up to in the world and participated in it.  This is why many sects of Christianity hold her in such high esteem.

A New Sort of Birth

Lo! In the silent night
A child to God is born
And all is brought again
That ‘ere was lost or lorn

Could but thy soul O man
Become a silent night!
God would be born in thee
And set all things aright

It may surprise you to learn that the Church has seasons. There is a rhythm to worship and spiritual growth in the Old Testament; certain days of the year were marked by feasting and others by times of repentance. These often correspond- rather poetically- to the actual seasons of nature- i.e. the changing of the leaves in Autumn, the slumber of trees in Winter, the explosive growth and new birth of Spring, and the joy of harvest in Summer were connected to the feasts of Tabernacles, day of Atonement, Passover, and Pentecost etc. The juxtaposition between the original sense of the season and the current manifestation in Western culture has gotten me thinking.
To say “the nature of the Christmas Season is different than its roots” would be an incredible understatement. To put it bluntly, there is no meaningful day of religious observance that advocates mass acquisition and consumerism. The marks of the season have become simply holiday drinks at Starbucks and a deluge of marketing. Please do not misunderstand me, I am not expounding on the old evangelical adage “we need to put the Christ back in Christmas.” Others have taken up that cause and I have little to add to the matter. I have nothing against the giving of gifts to family and friends and businesses indeed need to make a living but I think it is interesting to consider the beginning of the season.
Historically speaking the phrase “Christmas Season” refers to “Advent,” something of which many have only vague knowledge, if any at all. The word Advent literally means “arriving” and the arrival in question is that of Jesus at Christmas. It began with the Gauls in Spain in the 5th century or so as a way of helping new converts to Christianity prepare for baptism on the day of Epiphany. The season lasted about 40 days and was marked not by acquisition but by fasting, spiritual growth and a deep seeking after repentance.
Advent then is individual and corporate preparation of Christians for the coming of Christ. This of course refers to the symbolic coming of Jesus at Christmas so long ago; but also the very real belief in a return of Christ at some point in the future. Since this return could happen at any moment, Advent becomes a reminder for us that we need to become a people *prepared* for the coming of The Lord.
To paraphrase Meister Eckhart (13 century) “what good is the Advent of Christ at Christmas if He doesn’t Advent in me?” That is what the season of Christmas is for, to prepare our hearts for a new birth. Jesus was born into miserable surroundings so long ago, something that seems appropriate when I consider that I need him to be born in me. The first Advent was such a momentous, remarkable world changing event that we would miss its significance without a season of preparation before hand. It also reminds us that the next advent will be even more so and thus we must call out to one another “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
None of this is to say that we should be somber during the Christmas time, just aware. Christmas should indeed be marked by great Joy and the giving of gifts, since Joy himself has come as a great Gift to the world. It often intrigues me that some of my neighbors, who would disdain much of the content of scripture, would celebrate such an overtly Christian holiday. Perhaps there is some subtle trick in reality that causes even those who don’t particularly care for Jesus to enjoy celebrating his arrival on the scene of human history. May the community of people who celebrates the coming of Christ continue to grow! May we see the birth of something new this Christmas!