Monday, October 12, 2009

I lost my book...

A couple weeks ago I picked up a copy of Don Miller's new book. As of Sunday I had read the first section, where Don begins telling the story of his life being made into a movie. I was enjoying the book quite a bit, and was looking forward to finishing it sometime within the next three years.

As of the writing of this post, I seem to have lost the book. Like any good investigator, I've collected the facts and attempted to retrace my steps.

The last time I remember actually reading the book was yesterday, Sunday. I took my weekly three loads of laundry, twenty quarters and a book to the washeteria next to my apartment complex. I washed. I read. I dried. I read. I folded. I came home, and my clean laundry is still in the basket on my bed, wrinkling away.

The last time I remember actually seeing the book was Sunday evening. It was a little after 4:00pm, and I had decided to leave for church a little early, stop by Starbucks for some coffee and a couple more chapters. I left my apartment, locked the door behind me, began toward my truck, realized I didn't have the book with me, went back for the book, repeated steps 1 thru 3, and made my way to Starbucks.

By the time I made it to Starbucks I decided I didn't have enough time to read so I went in for my coffee, sans book. I ordered my usual, went back outside and sat down next to a table that nearly collapsed when I sat my tall Americano on it. I'm sure I didn't have the book with me. It was just me, my coffee, the rickety table, and eventually the cute girl who pulled up, walked into Starbucks and hardly noticed me. I specifically remember wishing I had the book with me at that point, as I'm sure I would have been much more noticeable to the cute girl if I had the heir of intelligence and sophistication that a good book always brings. Instead, I probably looked a little silly taking a quick sip of extremely hot coffee, burning the tip of my tongue and trying to play it off by setting the coffee down too quickly on a table that nearly fell over again.

The 28 hours that passed between leaving Starbucks and initiating my current search for the book are laced with the mystery that weighs on me now. At about 9pm I decided the book is just what I needed to wind down and enjoy my evening. I took a look around the apartment in the usual spots- my desk, the couch, the kitchen bar, the floor, under the laundry basket on my bed, etc. and couldn't find it. I even checked inside the refrigerator...twice. You never know.

By this point, it was obvious to me that I had left the book in my truck the night before. Starbucks, church, Chipotle, Black Friar, The Goat...and then back home. Nowhere do I remember removing the book from my truck. It must be there.

After thoroughly checking the book. I did, however, make a few discoveries while rummaging through the cab- a blue tarp, an old gas cap, two frisbees, another book that I lost last week and the nalgene I lost a year ago. But no Don Miller book...

I get really frustrated when I lose things. It reminds me of how irresponsible I tend to be in general. Occasionally, I binge organize. This is my attempt to solve a lifetime of chaos in a single morning. It generally involves a pot of coffee and Keane blaring in the background. And it always makes me feel really good about myself, like I've accomplished a monumental feat, defeated an arch nemesis, set everything wrong with my world right again.

The problem with having everything in its proper place is that it's all so easily accessible. Within about 28 hours I manage to find enough of my possessions to have misplaced the majority of them once again. It's amazing how quickly things deteriorate. It's amazing I've survived 32 years.

I guess when it comes time for me to write my review of Don Miller's book I'll be sure and mention how I especially enjoyed the first few chapters. I'll go on about what I learned from the book- about how it opened my eyes to the deficiencies in my own life, to my inability to "get it together," and how, hopefully, it will be one that I'll have the chance to read again one day.

Postscript: Shortly after posting this blog, I found the book. While I managed earlier this evening to look UNDER the laundry basket on my bed, I failed to look INSIDE the laundry basket, under the layer of shirts and on top of the towels. This is where I found it. How it got there is any one's guess. The fog rolling in over the city of Dallas tonight is strangely reminiscent of what goes on inside my head most days.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter, I Doth Protest...

Jesus was a wanderer. Led by the Spirit, a man without a home. A nomad on the loose, not knowing where he was going. Yet, unlike me, he never lost his way. Though a vagabond, he was not aimless.

His journey took him to a garden. He was overcome with fear, a man like all the rest. He prayed for escape, for a different fate. Yet, unlike me, he never lost sight of his purpose. Though terrified, he was unmoved.

His good friend betrayed him there. He was the victim of greed, a man common in us all. Yet, unlike me, he never vowed revenge. Though snared, he was not bitter.

His enemies apprehended him. He was treated unjustly, a man of good taken to be evil. Yet, unlike me, he did not defend himself. Though misunderstood, he did not lose confidence in his identity.

His accusers beat him, mocked him. He was degraded and humiliated, a man who deserved much more. Yet, unlike me, his spirit was not fractured. Though mortified, he was not ashamed.

His killers laid his cross upon his back. He was weak and feeble, a man whose body gave way to its limits. Yet, unlike me, he picked himself up and continued. Though wearied, he was not willing to give up.

His followers abandoned him. His people executed him. His closest companion denied him. The world gave up on him. He was the hope of all mankind, a man like no other. A man unlike me.

Today is Easter Sunday. Today is the day we are supposed to celebrate the rest of the story. Today is the day that his grave lay open, empty…
His God resurrected Him. He was brought back to life, seen by many before ascending to the heavens. He is said to be exalted to the highest place, seated at the right hand of God…more unlike me than ever. Though glorified, he now seems so distant, so ethereal, so imaginary.

As we experience this Holy Week, the common story tells us that we are supposed to identify with the weakness of Jesus as he journeyed to the cross. We are supposed to experience his fear, his betrayal and humility, even his death. We are told that the highest virtue is to imitate Christ, which usually translates into “do as he did.” This week, however, I find myself focusing more on the strength of Jesus, wanting to emulate those things which he didn’t do.

Jesus was a man like the world has never known. The Gospels are full of stories, of human stories, of Jesus the man. And what a man he was. He showed us what it means to be human. He showed us the potential that each of us has to center ourselves upon God, to hold steady in the midst of chaos, to live confidently and courageously in a frightening world, to be generous in a world of greed, to love in a world of hate, to stand tall in a world that pushes us down. He didn’t lose himself, his sense of purpose. He didn’t hold grudges. He didn’t let shame get the best of him. He didn’t give up. He set his face to what was most important and didn’t look back. This is the Jesus I’ve come to love this Holy Week.

But, again, today is Easter. And whatever hope we may have that his resurrection means he is with us again in the way we had so come to love quickly fades as he begins the mysterious acts of walking through walls, disappearing before our eyes and finally floating away into the clouds. Suddenly, the Jesus who seemed so present to us, who seemed so real, so tangible, has vaporized and vanished into the air.

Growing up, Easter always meant one thing to me. Jesus is alive! And because he is alive, we know he is divine. Our sins were forgiven because of his death, so his resurrection always seemed a little anti-climatic. But, as far as being raised from the dead goes, as far as proof of his divinity, I suppose it was comforting for God to offer us some “proof” that Jesus wasn’t a lunatic. And so, I always joined the refrain, “He is risen…He is risen, indeed,” with a sense of shared accomplishment with Jesus, with a sense of excitement and amazement. He is, indeed, seated at the right hand of God. He is exalted in Heaven. He is up there, or out there, or somewhere…and I’ll get to be there one day, too…and, for now, though I can’t see him, or touch him, or hold a conversation with him I can…umm, well, I can sing songs to him, or worship him, or…pray in his name…or if I’m really dialed in I can “feel” him inside of me…

Truth is, I’m beginning to think I liked Jesus better when he was a man. I liked the flesh and bones Jesus (without the disappearing acts). I liked the limits he had. I liked the weakness, the frailty…the real stuff of humanity and the way he overcame the struggles that are common to you and me every day. I liked the Jesus that gave us a palpable sense of who we are able to be here and now. I’m really disinterested in this version of Jesus who can only promise me some glorified sense of existence after I die.

And I know what some of you are thinking at this point…the Holy Spirit, right??? Of course, the Holy Spirit! I haven’t forgotten about the Holy Spirit, the helper supposedly sent back to fill in for Jesus on earth while he sits on his throne for the last 2000 years…argh! I kind of want to pull my hair out. Are you feeling this with me? Everything that frustrates me about Jesus’ resurrection, the pseudo-corporeality thing, is completely exaggerated in the Holy Spirit…who we’ve never seen, never touched, never talked to, never known anything substantial about, and yet we're supposed to believe that He, or it, or whatever is real and is here and is helpful.

So…before I get carried away…let me conclude. And, honestly I don’t think I can conclude as much as I can just stop. I really have no conclusion, no clever way to wrap this up. This is the end of the story for me. I’m not the least bit convinced that I’ve made a valid point; so, I suppose I have no way of drawing everything together with some type of answer. Perhaps you can relate to some of this. Perhaps it will help us both to know we’re not alone in our frustrations. Perhaps it will help us through this Easter holiday so that Monday morning we can get back to the real business of following our hero- Jesus, the man.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

RE: the coming evangelical collapse (facebook thread)

The following is a reply to a thread begun on Facebook, regarding an article entitled, "The Coming Evangelical Collapse."

"...wholeheartedly bound to the culture and relativism."

I strongly disagree with this description. Emergent doesn't bind itself to culture- it recognizes the diversity and fluidity of culture and recognizes that a genuine expression of the kingdom of God in the world has always been, and will always be, filtered through the lens of one's culture. This has been the case all the way back to Jesus himself. Any honest study of the gospel accounts will yield a recognition of this fact. Jesus' entire ministry was inundated with parable and metaphor- borrowing images and ideas that were prominently first century Jewish- in order to explain realities that transcend the culture. The entire history of the church is the same story- the story of God's people expressing the kingdom of God in ways that make sense in the context of their time and place in history. Presently, the church is as multifaceted and diverse as the world itself. Even within the more narrow category of Evangelical, a church in urban America does not (and should not) look the same as a church in a remote hill tribe of Northern India. The way they frame the story of Jesus and its continuation through them will be categorically different. Its not a choice to deviate from a standard. it’s a reality of the world that we must contend with.

This brings us to the point of relativism. Emergent does not bind itself to relativism. We consider ourselves the people of God, just as Evangelicals. We consider our story to be built upon the Scriptures, just as Evangelicals. We recognize the centrality of Jesus to our story and our lives and seek to carry his legacy to the world, just as Evangelicals. We recognize the value of our history and employ ancient prayers, creeds and hymns into our worship, just as Evangelicals. We practice the Lord’s Supper as a remembrance of the body and blood of Jesus, just as Evangelicals.

There is, of course, a great degree of diversity among those who consider themselves Emergent, and many view the lack of coherency as a negative. What I’ve described above is a summary of what I have discovered to be the core of Emergent as I have personally experienced. Many people point fingers at specific churches or specific men/women within Emergent with whom they find “serious” fault, and then they assume that anyone associated with Emergent must be as “off base” as that individual or church. But the real beauty of Emergent is, in fact, its diversity. The fact that we are not bound to any individual, any church, any council, any statement of doctrine. Perhaps this could be viewed as theological relativism, but I prefer to see it as a unique opportunity for each of us, individually and collectively, to form our own theological identity without being told what we can or cannot believe in order to be “in the club.” The result, as I’ve observed, is a community of some of the most spiritually healthy people I’ve ever known or interacted with.

You say, “The world and we sometimes fail to recognize that evangelicalism was not simply a movement or a transitory form of the church it was the church.” Really? I have to ask in return, What is this Evangelicalism are you referring to? Acts 2? 3rd or 4th century? The desert fathers of the Dark Ages? The Inquisitors or Crusaders? Reformation? Mennonite? Baptist? Anabaptist? Reformed Baptist? Methodist? Presbyterian? Lutheran? Pentecostal? On and on and on…

You say, “The church is never meant to emulate or conform the greater culture but rather to transform the culture to the message of Jesus.” Again, Jesus himself borrowed incessantly from first century Jewish culture in order to speak back into that culture in a way that made sense to them, in order to formulate a relevant vision of the kingdom of God breaking into the world. We continue that legacy, communicating the good news of God’s kingdom to people, not as annals from the dusty books of history, but as a living, breathing, ongoing story of hope and redemption to a world in desperate need.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Unlit Candles of Advent

This is naturally a difficult time of year for me. The onset of winter. Shorter days, longer nights. The season of Advent- waiting for the promise of God to be birthed into the world, into my life. It's easy to feel the darkness and cold setting into my soul. Easy to feel that the light of the world is but a dim flicker in an all too distant future.

This is the first year I’ve been part of a Christian community who actually observes Advent in any way. The season of Advent is meant to draw us toward hope, anticipation and promise. For four weeks we center ourselves around the promises of God. Promises of the birth of our Savior. The light of the world. The true light that gives light to every man (John 1:9, NIV).

Four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. Each week we light a new candle, representing the onset of the dawn of a new era in the history of God and his people. As the illumination intensifies, so should our awareness of the deliverance that is to come through the promised child of God.

This week at Journey the second of the four candles was lit. As I reflect upon the image of the candles, I can’t help but remember the two that remained unlit. I don’t take much pride in being the “glass half empty” guy, but I do feel that some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life have come at times when I’ve examined the other side of the equation, when I’ve allowed paradox to play its role in my life and considered that the God of spring and summer is also the God of fall and winter, that the God who rules over life is also the God who rules over death.

In reflecting upon the antagonistic darkness of the Advent season, I’ve come to realize that for my entire life I’ve been celebrating Christmas wrongly. Traditionally, Christmas has represented nothing more to me than an anniversary of the birth of Christ. As such, it has signified a single event in the history of mankind. It has pointed me back in time, roughly two thousand years, to the village of Bethlehem, the manger, the single day in history when Jesus was born. Yet with a new focus on Advent as a season, rather than Christmas as a day, I am learning to view the promise of the birth of Jesus in a fresh way.

The celebration of Christmas as a single day of the year representing a single day in our past history suggests to me that the story of the light of God coming into the world is over. The chapter is written. The plot has built, the climax has occurred and we are left to simply revel in the resolution. Yet, hardly a day goes by when I don’t feel enormously void of resolution. Say what we may about the birth of a Savior, the darkness of the world remains at odds with the light. Evil remains. Despair still haunts me. Spring and summer inevitably run their course. Colors fade. Leaves drop to the ground. Fall and winter cannot be held back. Apart from one day prior to the celebration of the birth of hope, one or more candles always remain cold, unlit.

The wisdom of God’s people in all ages reminds us that life is marked by constant intervals of light and darkness, hope and despair, life and death. Next spring we will celebrate the death of the one whose birth we now anticipate, followed quickly by the celebration of his resurrection. Time will forge ahead, and before any of us are ready the Advent candles will be set before us once again. Darkness will prevail. Slowly, one by one, the flames of promise will illumine us as we await the fullness of the light. Once again the glow of one, then two and three, will cast shadows about us. And finally, as with every year, the day will arrive. The birth of Jesus will be remembered. The light of the world will drive away the darkness once again.

This year’s celebration of Advent is teaching me that the story of God’s people isn’t linear, that Christmas is more than simply a commemoration of static historical fact, that the narrative of God casting light over darkness is spoken over His people time and time again. The nativity of Jesus is with us continuously.

Wherever there is evil, let us overcome with good. Wherever there is despair, let us offer hope. Wherever there is pain, let us bring comfort. Where violence, peace. Where wrongdoing, justice. Where hate, love. In so doing, we will accomplish the reward of Advent, the light of the world dissipating the darkness that threatens to engulf us, our attention no longer diverted by unlit candles.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Day After...

Dear President Elect Barak Obama,

Yesterday morning I voted for John McCain. In regards to the election, I find myself now on the "losing" side. But today the election is over, and it's time to move ahead with grace, humility and dignity.

My sincerest congratulations to you, Mr. Obama. You've accomplished a monumental feat in American history, and you've done so in the most honorable way imaginable. America spoke her mind yesterday with resounding support, and I can't help but feel a sense of victory along with you. However our votes were cast yesterday, we can all wake up today feeling proud of you, proud of what you've achieved, proud of our country, proud of our freedom, proud of our fellow citizens who you, rightly, attributed this victory to.

I am a perfect case study in political tension. Traditionally conservative, I have felt the sting of disappointment in the Republican party over the last eight years. I, like many Republicans, hope that the next few years will see a reconstruction of our party and the emergence of new leadership to restore dignity to conservative ideals. Yet, as disillusioned as I've become by the waywardness of my party, I found myself unable to cross the line in order to vote for you. I want so badly to believe the best for my party, despite their recent failures.

In a similar way, Mr. Obama, I want to believe the best for you and for the Democratic party. And, in a similar way, I find it difficult. I, like the majority of our citizens, desire change. I hope the best for us all. Yet, I fear that a Democratically controlled White House and Congress will move our country in directions that I am not entirely comfortable with. I fear that the federal government will overstep legislative boundaries and that state and local governments will not be given the legislative autonomy that is their Constitutional right. These fears resulted in a "default" vote from me, a vote for the Republican candidate.

Mr. Obama, you have gracefully endured a barrage of offensive accusations over the course of your campaign. You've been called names that need not be repeated here, that I wish would never be repeated anywhere. Yet, reality is, I woke up this morning to hear many of the same old refrains coming from a segment of religiously conservative Americans who I've spent a great deal of effort to ideologically separate myself from in the past few years. Though religious conservatism will always be a significant part of my individual identity, I want to make it clear to you, Mr. Obama, that those who engage in fear mongering or name calling, those who have chosen to exaggerate their rhetorical quips of despair, do not speak on my behalf.

Last night you spoke directly to those of us who chose not to vote for you. You reminded us that you will be our President, and I offer you the reminder that we will be citizens of the country that you lead. We will not always agree. I will continue to exercise my freedom of expression. I will continue to engage democracy, to play my part in shaping the future of our country with you.

With that, I offer you the fullness of respect that you deserve- not simply as the holder of the highest office in our country, but as my fellow man endowed by God with life and dignity, with freedom and responsibility, with hopes and dreams, and with all of the faculties of conscience and reason which will guide our decision making in the months and years ahead.


Matt Hartley

Friday, October 31, 2008

America, you will be disappointed

Just 8 days ago, I posted a blog titled, "If they're popular, they're probably not sound." Joe Biden's address at a fundraiser was the centerpiece of the article.

The point of what I wrote there was that many Americans have seemingly been duped into believing that Barak Obama, if elected President, will actually be able to deliver on most or all of his campaign promises. I don't believe he will be able, mostly because so many of his promises have been veiled in such carefully crafted language that is intended to mislead the average voter, promises that are so well polished rhetorically that the average voter has a highly exaggerated vision of who Obama is and what he will accomplish as President.

This isn't a huge surprise. It's not a conspiracy theory that I'm proposing. I don't believe Obama is hiding his secret religious identity or his ties to terrorists from Americans. I just believe that he, like most politicians, has pulled the wool over our eyes regarding how effective he can be in carrying out his policy promises.

My suspicions are continuing to be confirmed by Senator Obama himself...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Evangelicals not alone as "single issue" voters...

i read a blog recommended to me recently in which the author lamented the Christian community's tendency to vote based on "single issues" such as abortion or homosexual are my thoughts after reading the blog:

it seems that the author is selling many Evangelicals short by beckoning back to the assumption that Evangelicals alone are "one issue" voters...i am voting for John McCain next Tuesday; and, i admit, my vote is more a vote AGAINST Barak Obama than it is a vote FOR John McCain...but my opposition to Obama has little to nothing to do with his stance on abortion or homosexual union

and, for the record, Obama has created an entire campaign strategy out of "single issues," as is the case with most political campaigns including McCain's...early in his campaign, all we seemed to hear from Obama was "I will bring the troops home!" this was a single issue that many Americans were passionate about, and it contributed, no doubt, to his early popularity.

now it's the economy- specifically, tax benefits for the middle class, a promise that resonates with many as a singularly important issue in the campaign.

or perhaps we can bring up the constant refrain of Obama equating McCain with President Bush, playing on the fears of the American people that the next four years could be as bad as the last eight...yet another single issue that tugs at the heart strings of many people...

the fact is the majority of American voters, Republican and Democrat, are "single issue" voters in the sense that there are one or two of the candidate's priorities that voters deem most important to them...and their ballot is ultimately cast based upon the narrow assumption they hold that their issue of choice will be dealt with sufficiently by the candidate they choose...candidates know this to be the case and form their entire campaign strategies around this fact...go back and listen again to the debates this election year and be reminded of how many times both candidates avoided the questions being asked in order to give the same stump speech over and over again, covering the single issues that they believe are going to convince Americans to take their side in this election...

honestly, i'm getting a little tired of hearing the refrain of "single issue voters" applied only to Evangelicals, as if they are the only segment of our population unaware of the myriad of other campaign issues and casting their votes accordingly...reality is, the majority of voters heading to the booths this year could probably not elaborate the reasons for their choice beyond one or two single issues that they have decided are important...