Friday, November 30, 2007

From Elephants to Cats

The Elephant Revolution will continue as I get ready for A Cat Named Bruce, our Chirstmas Comedy at VCC. It will be fun (and probably very needed) to be on stage as an actor vs. a teacher. The two can seem very similar, but are really worlds apart. The best part of acting is that you don't have to be yourself. The best part of teaching is that you have to be yourself. Being able to live in both worlds for my whole life has been a fun ebb and flow.

We are developing a website this week for Bruce and I'll post it here when it is up and running. Show dates are Dec. 20, 21, 22 at VCC.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Good Times

We had a nice Thanksgiving with Deb's family and came home Friday just in time to do absolutely nothing. Generally, doing nothing is my favorite part of any holiday. Yesterday we hit the Home Depot and secured a Christmas Tree. It's a good looking humble six footer, though it has a bit of a lean forward and to the left. I'd say that there is a 22% chance we wake up to find it fallen in the middle of the living room before Christmas comes around.

I spoke at Eastside Christian Church this weekend and enjoyed my time there. We saw Bob and Joan Eisenbraun, some friends from Vegas who have settled here and go to the church there. Wendy and Susan Lewis, old friends of mine since I was a kid, also came over to hear me this morning. There has been a constant theme of reuniting with old friends since we moved here. It's fun in a surreal, out of body kind of way. Hard to explain.

My two week speaking "tour" continues next weekend. I'll be speaking up at The Vineyard Knox County in Mount Vernon, Ohio. I'm back up at VCC the following week teaching on the account of the Magi in Matthew. Throw in prep for the original Christmas comedy, A Cat Named Bruce, and I'll be a busy guy over the next three weeks.

Tis the Season, I guess.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sneak Peak

I wrote an article for the current Issue of Vine News. Here's a sneak peak for you loyal RP readers:

There had to be that moment. There’s always that moment.

When my first son was born the moment happened about twelve hours later. My wife slept in the hospital bed and I held him. That was the moment.

When a child comes into your world – invades your world – the child brings chaos. There’s nothing overly sentimental about childbirth itself: the contractions, the race to the hospital, the paperwork, the screaming (from the paperwork), the nurses, the doctors, the needles, the screaming (of the mother), the pushing, the yelling and, finally, the screaming (of a baby).

Then comes the crying, the testing, the cleaning, the relatives! It’s not a quiet day. It’s a loud day. A painful day. A wonderfully, chaotic, my-life-is-never-going-to-be-the-same kind of day.

But there is always that moment. The moment when dad takes a survey of the room and concludes that the chaos is over. (Well, new dads believe it’s over. Us veterans have learned that the chaos is just taking a nap.) That first simple moment when mom and baby are both resting gives dad a window to attempt to embrace all that just happened. That moment when the relatives and friends have come and gone, leaving in their wake a sea of flowers and teddy bears and Baby’s R Us gift cards.

That simple, quiet moment. The moment you realize that this baby changes everything, and that everything deserves to be changed for the sake of this baby. Simple. Profound. Real.

My second son was born two days before the attacks of 9-11. I woke up that morning thinking about my new baby. I turned on the TV and everything changed again. That day was horrible for a nation. Horrible for all of us in some terribly communal way. My moment came that night. For a few seconds that evening I was blessed to forget about the death, the carnage, the violence. I held in my arms a two-day old fresh start. A clean slate. A cosmic do-over called a baby. On the most hopeless of nights for my homeland, I held hope in my arms and watched him sleep. On a day of death, I held the hope of life.

Sometimes hope is simple. We all want hope. An election year is emerging, which means that by this time next year we will have had more than our fill of the constant promises of professional hope peddlers. People, mostly good intentioned people, promising us that their ideas, their experiences, their leadership can give our nation a new birth into a living hope.

Then there’s the loud and constant professional hope peddlers who come around every four minutes vs. every four years. They live in your radio, your TV, and your computer. They litter the highway with billboards and plaster the Sunday newspaper. They are everywhere. Nothing says hope like a Big Mac, or a plasma TV, or a LEGO Adventure Set that can build a working, to scale, Space Shuttle. The peddlers want us to know that we can buy hope. They also want us to know that if we simply can’t afford hope this year, we can apply for the HopeCard Plus and pay off our hope with a 21% APR. We can purchase a new birth into a living hope…can’t we?

No. We can’t. That’s why there is education. So we can learn to be hopeful. Another class. Another book. Another degree. That ought to do it, right?

Strike three. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. The more you learn the more you see that nothing we know can give us new birth or living hope.

Alas, nothing we do can give us real hope.

That’s why we need a baby.

When terrorists ram into the foundations of our life, we need a baby.
When politicians can’t fix things, we need a baby.
When we have bought and mortgaged ourselves into hopelessness, we need a baby.
When we learn that there is no earthy hope, we need a baby.

Not just any baby. We need a heavenly baby. We need a baby from Heaven to save our earthly problems. We need Christmas. Not the “Christmas” that these hope peddlers push down our throats. That Christmas isn’t real. We need the Christmas that admits we are hopeless. The Christmas that admits we need a new birth because we’ve destroyed the lives that emerged from our first birth. We need a Christmas that gives us living hope. Living hope only comes from life – the life of a baby – a heavenly baby. The God Baby.

This year at The Vineyard we are determined to find that baby. We will be seeking him like ancient Magi. We will be running to him like stunned shepherds. But mostly, we will be admiring him. Treasuring him like his mother did. Holding him like Joseph did.

We will seek the baby until we find Him, or perhaps, we will seek Him until He finds us. When we find Him, we will not rest until we find that moment. That moment when the chaos dies and peace slips in the back door. That moment when the world falls asleep long enough to still our hearts. And as we reach for the baby, in that moment, we will see that it is not we who hold the baby, but the baby who holds us. It is not the baby who is weak. It is not the baby who needs. It’s me.

I am the one who needs to be born (again) – I need a new birth into a living hope.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope…” I Peter 1:3 (NIV)

This Christmas we will find a baby who gives birth to hope. Join us every weekend in December as we learn to worship this baby for saving our lives. Also, join us on the evenings of December 20, 21, 22 for the VCC original Christmas production, “A Cat Named Bruce” as we all journey from the chaos of Christmas to the simplicity of love’s advent.

This Christmas holds that moment. Don’t miss it.

My "babies" today (above).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Eastside, yo.

My friend Jonathan Wolfgang lives here in CIncinnati. We were in Las Vegas together, but he moved here a few years back to be the pastor of a church called Eastside Christian Church. We would often teach for each other in Vegas, and it appears to be a continuing trend. I'll be teaching this weekend over there if any of you eastsiders want to come hang out.

Before that there is turkey to be eaten and football to be watched. We'll be heading to Indiana to have Thanksgiving with Deb's family for the first time ever. That's happy news, but it will also be our first T-giving apart from our Las Vegas family in 13 years. That was quite a run.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Teach. Learn.

I spent the day reading and writing. That's what Fridays are supposed to be in my world. When your job is largely teaching, learning becomes an even more crucial activity. I've taken rather seriously the Pauline mandate to Timothy:

"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."

I would like to think that I have always been faithful to these words. I really have no right on my own to assume they apply directly to me, but I have felt as though they probably do since I was a kid. There have been seasons of my life that these words were easier or harder to contextualize. "Preaching the Word" (proclaiming Jesus?) is easier to figure out in a church (house church, mega church, recovery church, whatever) than it is, for instance, working in a Las Vegas comedy show, auditioning for a Mentos commmercial or interacting with Hollywood producers. I should confess that there were times when I probably did not "preach the word" in the latter examples. Sometimes because of fear, but normally because I had no real idea as to how to do it. I'd like to think that I was always "prepared" to teach though.

I think most teachers, educators, preachers, etc. spend too much time preparing their next teaching and not enough time preparing the teacher. In a spiritual context, this preparation could mainfest as prayer or meditation. It also must manifest as learning. The best teachers are compulsive teachers who were first compulsive learners. The best teachers are able to prepare for an assigment, but are also able to teach at the drop of a hat. Jesus seems to be that sort of Rabbi. So does Paul. I could be way off, but I see Paul coming into a room and just being ready to improvise, to interact, to discern the room, to preach the word. I love that Paul can teach at a synagouge and quote the Torah and within the hour be teaching in the streets of Athens quoting "their own poets." That's a teacher. Same message. Different words.

In the spirit of learning, I spent this afternoon at Caribou Coffee with GK Chesterton, Stanley Hauerwas and my new ESV Bible. The four of us had a good time, but Chesterton (below) stole the show. I'm reading his book The Everlasting Man (1925). HIs masterpiece, Orthodoxy, sincerely changed my life. I have to fight through 80 years of history and cross the Atlantic ocean to get to him, so I know that I can't always fully undersand him. I'll give him this, though. He's smart - and funny. Those are two things that I have (not so) secretly aspired to be my whole life. (Yes, this could be in itself a major problem for me, but we all have to admit these things from time to time.) I feel like the amateur thinker and hack comic that I am when I read him. I'm hoping a small measure of his GKishness rubs off as I finish the text.

This seems like a good time to announce that I have officially applied for grauduate work at the University of Dayton. I'll hear if I have been accepted in the coming weeks. The plan is to take the long road - a class or two each semester. Several professors there have studied under some of my influencers and I'm looking forward to wandering back into academia after a dozen years away. Part of why I haven't pursued more formal education is that I never felt ready to settle on a major. It seems like looking back I was running from a theology degree the whole time, so I'm just going to go for it.

So, here's to learning and to the sober reality that we can never think our way out of our problem. Here's to the grace to be allowed to know in part until we know fully and are fully known.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What is that?

It happened today as I was driving to work. Something fell from the sky. A white particle.

Snow. It's been a decade and a half or so since I have had to deal with snow.

Also, it gets cold here. I was really cold today. People form here say that it wasn't cold today, but they have been brainwashed by the cold agenda. Winter's coming.

Good thing my wife makes good soup.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Greg and Phil

Greg Hubbard and Phil Webster are more than friends. They were (and still are) close parters with me as I have attempted to flesh out Jesus and the Gospel in my life. We spent a few years together in Las Vegas reading too many books and asking too many questions. Others joined us in the effort, but it was the three of us who gravitated as much to "learning" the Kingdom as "experiencing" it. We had friends like Jim, Jeremy, Ernie and Doug who pushed us toward both Spirit power and relational love - or else the three of us may have thought our way out of heaven.

They have both chimed in on the issue of God's economy and I couldn't help but to see a theme in their thinking. As with all other things, it does come back to grace and our own inability to do much of anything apart from God's favor. Here are some quotes to think about:

"The difficulty with all of Jesus' teachings in the gospels is that we can't live up to them. They lead us to utter dependance on God's love to help us in our utter inadequacy. Still, I applaud any effort to teach it for what it really is. I think we all should strive to live up to it. It will only help us experience the Kingdom in a more complete way. But we should also know we'll be safe with God when we fail, because even if we improve, we will fail to live up to these radical standards. That's not a cop out position or an excuse not to try -- that's just reality." -Greg Hubbard (below with Tori)


"You mentioned, being overwhelmed by [God's economy.] I think that is the most appropriate response. If I were preaching on this, I think this would be what I would go for (granted, this is pretty much the only thing I'm going for right now)-getting people overwhelmed by this stuff. It's simply too big for us. It is damning. It is not a simple, "Here's what you can do tomorrow to live biblically;" it is message that damns us (especially as Americans, but probably also everybody who is not destitute). Hence, it is also an opportunity to preach grace. God's economy is gratuitous and we are called to participate in this freedom of God. We cannot muster the energy to act graciously, to live in accordance to a "biblical vision of economy" (or, if we do, it will be full of pride.) The only way we can begin to really participate in God's economy is to first realize that God has forgiven us all. Participation in God's economy is first a response to being incorporated into God's economy. God acts first, not us. I'm rambling now. Anyway, the point is is that this stuff must overwhelm." -Phil Webster (below in Florence)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

New Videos!



A lot more videos are up now at www.tacklingtheelephant.com.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

St. Luke: Elephant Tackler

Preparing for this week is as overwhelming as last week. Jesus was a social and economic revolutionary. Reducing his radical economic message to thirty minutes is daunting. I am half tempted to pull an Andy Kaufman and simply read the entire book of Luke this weekend and sit down. I'll do stuff like that when I am really old and people think I'm senile. Until then I have some measure of sanity to project.

My first thought was to read Matthew 6, the middle chapter of the sermon on the mount. It's all in there - sharing, giving, warnings against pride and religiosity, warnings against scarcity thinking (worry), commands to forive debts, asking for daily bread, loving enemimes, God is Father, Kingdom has come, Revolution has begun! One chapter - all in there.

Then there is Luke. If you read Luke 6, Matthew 6 comes off as a soft sell. Luke is even more extreme. None of this "poor in Spirit" stuff, just "blessed are the poor because they have the Kingdom." No "hunger and thirst for justice," just straight up, "blessed are the hungry because thier meal ticket has come to earth." Half the "beatitudes" are replaced with woes. "Woe to the rich, they already got all they need." "Woe to the full-bellied gluttons...they are gonna starve in hell." "Woe to the happy, they're about to get sad." Things like "forgive your debts" are replaced with (my paraphrase), "find somebody who needs money and give them a loan...then forgive the debt." Crazy. Goofy. Jesus would fail Econ 101 in every community college in America.

Luke just reeks of economic language. It's in every chapter and usually quite blatent. Only Luke remembers Zaccheus. He gives us our "rich young ruler" and tells us point blank that the problem with the Pharisees is that they love money. (Just one verse after he tells us Jesus went around telling people to choose a god - Yhwh or money. It's one or the other. You can't marry Yhwh and whore out to money.

Luke saves the story of Jesus cleansiing the temple for the end of his telling. (John leads off with it.) Luke's showing us that it is Jesus' economic convictions...his stubborn belief in Isaiah 61 and Jubilee, that lead to his death. He goes from the Messiah and Savior of Isaiah 61 to become the (anti) hero of Isaiah 53. Turns out Messiah was the Suffering Servant all along.

So...I think this blog has only made matters worse for me. It has only added to my thoughts. I had better bury myself back into the text and pray that I crawl out with enough in my hands to convince others to take a look for themselves.

If you haven't yet, click below and join the elephant revolution. Everybody's doing it....

Sunday, November 04, 2007

It's gonna be all about elephants for a while...

60 Minutes did a story about elephant poachers tonight. It's more of a complicated thing than you might think. The zoo keeper who let me into the elephant cage to shoot this video had this to say about it:

"Imagine that your kids were starving to death because you didn't have any money, but if you could hunt and kill one elephant you could feed your kids on the money from the tusks. I understand why they do it even though I wish they wouldn't." I thought this was a very empathetic statement from the guy who has been taking care of the elephants at a major zoo for over twenty years. Tonight on 60 Minutes they interviewed some guys in Africa who were caught after they killed 14 elephants. They pretty much said that they were poor and did it to get money for their families. They had no idea what people did with the tusks after they sold them. I'm against killing endangered elephants to make jewelry (or for most any other reason), but it says something about impoverished men who will literally go and tackle a live elephant to feed the ones they love. Like I said, it's complicated.

When we set out to teach our church on generosity I had no idea how much I would learn about elephants. I've also learned a lot about God as an economic God. Normally Dave Workman posts some thoughts on his blog after the weekend services and I've tried to do the same here when I teach. I had the unique opportunity for this particular message to write three essays exploring some issue related to the topic at hand. You can find them at www.tacklingtheelephant.com. If you are interesed in reading them, just click the direct links below:

Why Tithing?
Debt Forgiveness as Kingdom Proclamation
Redeeming Gleaning

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Tackling The Elephant Website



Now you can learn all about what we are doing with Tackling The Elephant at www.tacklingtheelephant.com