Messy

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I recently made the decision to read the Bible cover to cover. There are a few reasons for this. 

1. I read a lot of Christian authors,  and I spend time with some really intelligent, well-read, well-educated, Christian people. As a result, I often feel a little out of my depth in conversations. So, what better way to keep up with these spiritual giants than to go ahead and just read the whole Bible, knowing full well that competition might  not be the best reason for engaging with this book (despite what you may have learned in Awana). 

2. I've never read the entire Bible, the book that nearly my entire faith and career is based upon. It seems like an accurate assumption for the people I work with and lead at church to make in believing that I have some working knowledge of the Bible, especially since I haven't been to seminary. Even self-taught chefs open restaurants, but not without reading a cookbook or a hundred. 

3. Two of the funerals I've attended in the last few years were filled with stories about how the deceased left behind a Bible that was well worn and filled with notes and what a great legacy that is to leave for their sons/daughters. I own several bibles, most of which are sitting in boxes with a bunch of other books I haven't read, but I've never been good about marking them up. I've highlighted some verses I like (mostly having to do with worship and singing), but nothing I can imagine the pastor at my funeral making note of, let alone anything that would give my kids any insight in to my spiritual life. So, I'm reading, underlining, making notes of things that don't make sense to me, things I find interesting or impactful, and so on. I still don't know if it will give anyone any insight as to the depth of my faith or my walk with Jesus, but at least those I leave behind will have a Bible with my handwriting in it...a monument to my spiritual immaturity and inability to understand why the book of Numbers exists. 

4. Over the years, a lot has shifted in the way I think about God and the Bible. So, I thought it would be a good idea to read the whole thing with new eyes and an open mind, trying to forget (or at least momentarily set aside) what I've been told I should believe and think about this book, and come at it with a fresh perspective and with a greater emphasis on context. 

Hopefully, I'll be able to write more about what I'm learning about myself and God and the Bible as I chip away at the pages. I just started at the end of April, so I'm right at the beginning of the Old Testament. As I write this, I just finished the book of Numbers, trying to just take it a chapter at a time.

In these first few books there are several things that have stuck out out to me as being odd or significant, but none more so than the utter messiness of the lives these people must have led. I'm not even talking about the spiritual mess they made of themselves. I didn't count, but I would guess there are over a dozen different kinds of sacrifices they needed to make to God, utilizing different kinds of animals, different preparations, instructions on what to do with different parts of the animals, what to do with the fluids, how to handle it all, and how to burn it. Then there are instructions on what to do with the ashes, sometimes mixing them with water for "cleansing." 

Throughout Exodus and Numbers, there are MILLIONS of Hebrew people roaming around the desert, complete with livestock. And, while I'm sure there are some things that have changed physiologically in humans between then and now, I know that one thing has remained as certain as death and taxes--everybody poops. Let's just say that if I was a nomad traveling the desert on the Sinai Penninsula during that time, I'd do everything I could to steer clear of wherever the Israelites camped. 

The sacrifices, however, are what struck me as creating the biggest mess. The human body contiains, on average, between 4 and 5.5 liters of blood. That's just over a gallon of blood. A bull, one of the most common animals mentioned needing to be sacrificed, contains about 39 liters, or 10.9 gallons, of blood. A lot of people carry around water bottles these days, so imagine 39 Nalgene bottles filled with cow blood. Now, imagine nearly 11 gallons of blood being poured out at the entrance to a huge tent in stifling heat of the desert. Now, imagine that happening over and over and over, sometimes several times a day. In Numbers 23, Balaam asks Balak to set up seven altars, to bring seven bulls AND seven rams, and they sacrifice all fourteen of these animals...three different times! That's a lot of blood. Not to mention the entrails, the skin, the fat. What a mess. 

The word "messy" has become somewhat fashionable for churches these days. People are invited to come as they are, mess and all, and they'll be welcomed with open arms. This is admirable, and I'm grateful that there are churches who are opening their doors and making a conscious effort to engage with everyone's mess. And, obviously this is a different kind of mess than the rather untidy practice of animal sacrifice. The messes we make of our lives these days are largely struggled with in private, behind closed doors or within closed hearts, easier to conceal than slitting the throat of an animal and burning its carcass on an altar in full public view.

But the spirit behind it all is the same. In some way, blood has been spilled. A mess has been made. We all have blood on our hands, either from wounds we've inflicted upon ourselves or others, or from trying to stop the bleeding from a wound that someone else has bestowed upon us. This brings a couple of questions to my mind:

1) Are you ready to see the messiness revealed in others?
2) Do you have a safe place to reveal your mess to the world? 

Putting the word "messy" in a mission statement is all well and good, but are we really ready when someone comes to us as individuals or into our faith communities who has sacrificed themselves on the altar of a lesser god—the altars of success or money or relationship or sex or work or whatever—and is standing at our front door, bleeding out? When that happens, messy is more than just a pithy catch phrase: it's an invitation to people who are really hurting and feel like they have no where else to go. What will you do when someone accepts this unintentional invitation? 

Personally, are we ready to put our own mess on display and fall into the gracious arms of our communities? Are our communities and relationships safe enough for that? Sadly, many of us have found that they aren't. We opened ourselves up and had salt poured in our wounds in the form of Christian cliches and out-of-context Bible verses. We admitted our weakness and our doubt and were cast out as unclean. Our mess was too much, and we've been wandering in the desert looking for an altar or a god that will accept our sacrifice. Or we learned to hide it better, found a way to present a sacrifice that isn't as bloody. Throughout the Old Testament, God inflicts serious punishment on those who bring an incomplete or displeasing sacrifice. And, while the system of animal sacrifice is no longer in place or needed, while that system of punishment and reward is over, there is a sense of emptiness that develops in us when we hide our hurts and failures, when we can't let ourselves be fully known and embraced by God and our communities. 

Being known in our messiness is scary business. Knowing others in their messiness is, frankly, messy. But it's an important part of living in community...real, authentic, messy community.

Word: Maqom

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WORD: Maqom: A standing place,
Original Word: מָקוֹם, Noun Masculine
Transliteration: maqom
Phonetic Spelling: (maw-kome')

I have been reading this book about the history of space for what feels like forever. It's called the "The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace" by Margret Wertheim. It's taken me so long because I read it at night before I go to bed (when I'm not watching TV.) I think some people even have TVs in their bedrooms; we'd never defile our room like that of course. No, I like my self-righteousness with headphones and a 9-inch screen 10 inches from my face... It's the same thing... I've saved myself a little more space.

Anyway, the book. 

It's about the history of space in art and technology. Art during the middle ages reflected the ideas and cultures of the time just like they do today. Back then, the artwork was predominately two-dimensional and depicted a limited number of scenes from the Bible. However, things started to get a little heated when math got involved, and artists began rendering images in a three-dimensional space (WHOA! I know right?!). Yes, the Church excommunicated people and threatened their lives for this! Why? Well, when you depict things in a three-dimensional space you, by consequence, impose a perspective on the subject of the artwork. The artist shows the subject from their point of view. This was a problem because the only point of view worthy of art to display in the sacred spaces of cathedrals was "God's" which is to say The Church. By nature, a point of view is limited, mortal, not divine. It is a perspective of reality, not reality in its totality.

This is why I love the word Maqom.

I know... I lost you there right? What does this have to do with an obscure Jewish word for a physical place? 

Well, this word "maqom" gets used in the Talmud (Ancient Jewish book of ceremonial law), not just about a physical space but sometimes as a reference for God. There was a belief that the omnipresent, boundless, timeless Divine Reality could, at the same time, be the incarnational, limited, bound-in-space-time presence. The limitless and limited at the same time... As if God could actually be more Human.

Humans are limited, time-bound, fragile and take up space. The assertion that God would take on this limitation and share our perspective, our point of view is just as dangerous as it was when artists in the middle ages proposed the idea. However, this is the truth that breaks the whole thing open. God is with us and IS us in time and space... God in our limitations, God in our weakness, God in our strength.

Space is so mysterious. It is the most dominant stuff of the universe. Most of our atoms are space. The cosmos is almost entirely dark matter. Dark matter is space. So very little fills the universe that is not space.

I like to think sometimes that space is just another way of saying God. That which is in and around and through everything. The intangible and human as well. Flesh and blood.

What new things will we learn about God and space when we consider what God looks like in the smallest reaches of cyberspace? Is there room for a soul in there? Could it even fit in the 10 inches from my face as I lay in my bed?

No Darkness Can Remain.

March 30th was the first time TCA was able to produce the same event at two locations simultaneously! Thanks to you our growing team of partners and collaborators, the work of TCA is continuing to expand to create new spaces for an alternative community of people looking to engage with the reality of Jesus and his kingdom. The Image above capture the people at New Denver and Belong interacting with ten stations inspired by the ancient practice of Via Delarosa (The Way of Suffering), a practice of walking through the moments of Jesus journey to crucifixion. Participants used their smartphones or one of the provided tablets to listen to audio guides that walked them through questions and devotional thoughts as they went through the installations. (you can still hear the audio-guide if you missed the event, just THIS LINK will take you to the event page.) The audio guide featured an incredible soundtrack composed for the event by local musician Danny Burton. We highly recommend following his work now so that when he blows up you can have the honor of being one of the people who saw it coming!

 Over 200 people attended the events and It would not have been possible without Norton Herbst at New Denver Church and Justin Bullis from Belong. Their generous spirit and faith in us to produce this event in their buildings without having ever seen something like this done before was truly special and we're profoundly grateful. Also a huge thank you goes out to Kevin Cochran for donating his time, skill and equipment to these events, He was a lifesaver in so many ways! 

Stay to tuned to TCA in the coming months as wer continue to find space

 

Word:  Photosynthesis

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Photo (light) + Synthesis (the combination of compounds)

Here is the Dictionary definition: The complex process by which carbon dioxide, water, and certain organic salts are converted into carbohydrates by green plants, algae, and certain bacteria, using energy from the sun and chlorophyll.

In summary, what this means is when you take water, dead or decaying material (read the blog on "shit," that's what this is) and mix them with light and time, it produces energy. Energy produces growth. Growth produces fruit.

The process of photosynthesis ( like all the other laws in our world) is spiritual... it is also natural.
All you have to do is add the dead or decaying life to water and light. There is nothing you have to force to happen. In fact, while gardening, have you ever tried to force a tomato to grow? That’s the best and quickest way to kill a tomato.
No, all you have control over are the ingredients. Simply bring them together in the appropriate balance, give them time and results will come. 

This is also the model of growth; the rhythm of growth Jesus invites us into. Allow the water and light of the spirit to mix with our death and decaying life. Jut let them mix! Don’t try and make your selfishness less selfish, or your pride less obstinate or your fear less scary. That would be a sin! By "sin" I mean withholding our dead material to the process of growth. 

I think the apostle John said it like this in Revelation 22:11 "Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right, and let the holy person continue to be holy.” 12 (God) “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."

It's not that you shouldn't want to stop doing all that stuff, but the growth comes when you simply expose it to the work of the Spirit.

This month, as you live your life, I hope you can bring your shit into the light, let the spirit touch it and give it time. In doing this simple, difficult and humble act, you allow new growth to take root in you and in time you spread the seeds of redemption to lives around you.

Most of all I want to remind you to be patient and give yourself time. The one who started a good work in you will finish it.

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

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Asking for help is hard. As a white, American male, asking for help is damn near impossible. Whether it’s programmed in my DNA or a learned behavior, there is a stream of rugged individualism that runs deep in my spirit. I love the idea of community, of having a group of friends and family I can rely on when I need help, but what I’m really hoping for is to never really need help. I can do it myself, I can handle it on my own, I can fix whatever the problem is—the answer is just a Google search away, a five-minute YouTube tutorial and I’m good to go.

If there is one thing I shy away from more than asking for help it’s talking about money. I’ve been getting paid to lead worship for two decades, and I still never know how to ask for what I believe is an appropriate honorarium for my services. Much to the chagrin of some of my friends and family, who feel I’m worth far more than I believe I’m worth, I’ve been happy to simply take what I’m offered. After all, if I’m doing “the Lord’s work,” I want to make sure I’m helping those I serve be good stewards of their budget and the resources they’ve been entrusted with. 

But if I’m honest, that’s just a smoke screen, an excuse to keep myself from having to have uncomfortable conversations about money. It also keeps me from having to give myself any more credit than I think I deserve—if I throw out a number that’s too high, what will “they” think of me? Aim too high and I’m egotistical, aim too low (and for too long), and I won’t be able to help feed my family or pay my mortgage. So, the default has become to just not talk about it and let the chips fall where they may.

So, when Paul and I first started talking about the possibility of me joining Torn Curtain, it became clear that I would be dragged kicking and screaming out of my comfort zone in order to raise personal financial support. I would have to not only ask for help, but I would be asking for help by way of asking for money. I was even going to have to ask for help to learn how to ask for money. It was one thing to step out in faith by leaving my full-time job at a fast-growing church. It’s another thing entirely to trust God in two areas that have been remarkably difficult to deal with my whole life. 

Humbled by the opportunity and encouraged by several friends who have done this before, I put together a support letter (which some of you have received). And what I found as I wrote it is how passionate I am about the things that we’re going to be doing, the mission we’re trying to accomplish of reaching out to the spiritually homeless, creating and engaging in authentic Spiritual practices, and encouraging the Church to become places of refuge again. Slowly, it began to dawn on me—ultimately, I’m not trying to get you to support me. I want you to be just as passionate about the vision of TCA as Paul and I are. I don’t just need you to help me buy groceries and pay my mortgage. I’m asking you to help me create content that will open eyes and change minds. I’m asking you to join me in something that is bigger than me, or Paul, or Torn Curtain Arts. We’re asking you to partner with us as we run after a God-given vision. 

And so, the fear of asking for help, for prayer, for partnership, for money, is slowly melting away. Each conversation gets a little bit easier, each “ask” becomes a little more clear, each opportunity to talk about TCA and the work we’ll be doing becomes a little more exciting and infectious. So, I ask without hesitation: If you’re not already, we would love for you to partner with us and support us financially because we believe that what we’re doing is important, God-honoring work. You can give right here on our website—www.torncurtainarts.org/donate. We would love to do this with you.