April 30, 2011

Book Review: Fall to Grace by Jay Bakker

 For the past couple years I've been attentive to Jay Bakker's ministry - following his twitter feed and subscribing to the Revolution NYC podcast. I have yet to watch the One Punk Under God, but it's been on my list for a while. What I have seen and heard from Jay, I've found to be pretty interesting, and so I was excited to have the chance to review his latest book Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self & Society.

 A couple weeks ago, just as I was a couple chapters into the book, I mentioned that this might be my favorite book of 2011, and that still holds true. What Jay has done is crafted a fantastic, brief, and easy to understand work of practical theology, unpacking the implications of grace.

 Jay draws from his own life, recounting some of the hardships that he faced as a child, with the scandals that turned the Bakker name into front-page news and fodder for late night comedians, while Jay was only eleven, to battles with dyslexia and alcoholism. As he notes, the faith he had during his teen years only served as a "cold comfort" rooted in a form of evangelical legalism with little personal understanding of grace. Attempts to "get right with God" always seemed to fall short. After hitting rock bottom the insight of friends and a careful study of Scripture, especially the Pauline epistles, led him to a place where Jay finally understood that, "Paul's message wasn't about guilt and punishment. It was about acceptance; it was about forgiveness; and it applied to me!" (pg. 17).

 This book is rooted in Jay's personal story, but it is far from a personal memoir. Jay goes on to unpack Paul's writings on law and grace, drawing primarily from Galatians, but using the other epistles as well for reference points. As someone who tends to focus on the Gospels and the book of James instead of Paul's writings because of the ways they have been used (and occasionally abused), I really appreciated Jay's analysis and will go back to these texts with a fresh look. Overall, the book spoke to me deeply about how God's claim on us is greater than all our attempts (sometimes subtle, sometimes not) to "earn" God's favor. Jay speaks to a wide-spread (if not universal) doubt Christians often wrestle with around acceptance and genuine forgiveness, and does it with excellence.

 Jay speaks to how, when we truly grasp the concept of grace we will change (and be challenged) as individuals and as a community. Near the end of the book he provides a specific argument to how the idea of grace applies to those in the gay and lesbian community. If you are already familiar with the standard interpretations around inclusion, you won't find anything new here. Given that Jay's book will reach an audience unfamiliar with those interpretations, some will be challenged by this section. Even if you disagree with Jay over this issue, I'd encourage you to listen to Jay's point of view.

 This book attempts to take on some big theological issues in an easy to understand way. Jay's story speaks to me personally, and I sure it will for others as well. I'd certainly recommend it to others.

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book as part of Ooze Viral Bloggers for review. Just getting the book for free didn't influence my opinion).

April 26, 2011

this week's round-up (april 26)

Adam Hamilton on The Logic of Hell.

Donald Miller on Two Words That Kill Passion and the follow-up, Moving From "Ought To" to "Want To". The "ought to" idea/problem has been on my mind this past week. As I've been reading though Jay Bakker's book Fall to Grace he writes of how the idea of "works" can be abused to create a secondary legalism that is counter to the Christian concept of grace. In the book, he writes:
     "The trouble is, if everything you do comes back to your own cosmic scorecard, you're not really caring about others. Your selflessness ends up being self-obsessed. You are all that you think about. Where's the generosity in that?
     "When you try to earn your salvation through works, you judge your neighbor by the same harsh standard that you use to judge yourself. Instead of being encouraged by other people's good deeds and generosity, you fall into a pointless competition, trying to do a little better and be a little more virtuous than your neighbor. You are keeping up with the Jameses.
     "To avoid this trap, we have to find a motivation that lies outside the law and works. We have to find a source of inspiration beyond obligation or pride. We find it in the freedom of grace. But free isn't easy..."
From the Art of Non-Conformity blog - Whose Side are You On - thoughts on Ani DiFranco and the virtue of forging your own path, even when it is risky.

This video made the rounds this past weekend, but worth checking out if you haven't seen it (or taking another look, if you have).

A Portrait of Christ from Jeremy Cowart on Vimeo.

Roger Olson on Whatever Became of the Cross. Interesting reflection - growing up in a mainline church I don't remember hearing much about the cross, and later years grew weary of the violent imagery it conveyed, especially when it is presented it ways that almost seem to glorify the violence. The whole "washed in the blood" imagery has never been part of my vocabulary, but in recently I've been more and more convinced that we do need to fully acknowledge and by humbled by the cross - you can't get to Easter Sunday without walking through Good Friday. There is a middle way between completely ignoring the cross and becoming so obsessed that sometimes you forget Jesus even lived, and the church certainly needs to be present somewhere in that middle ground.

On a similar Good Friday theme, be sure and check out Walter Bruggerman's reflection, Praying in the Abyss.

Also from Sojourners: Ayn Rand, Manicheanism and Christianity. I was reading another article about Ayn Rand a couple weeks ago and struck by how her philosophy is so antithetical to Christianity and wondered about this apparent disconnect in the minds of those who try to commit to both. Love the sentence at the end:
"If the choice is Jesus or Rand, I choose Jesus."

Jeremy Smith on All Doubt in a Day - I'm preaching the lectionary this week, also looking at the story of Thomas, and some of Jeremy's thoughts might find their way into this week's message.

This should have made last week's round-up but got missed: Becca Clark offers some important thoughts on personal safety in the practice of ministry. While a gender dynamic might be part of the equation, I know I have also been in situations when an unsafe person has been in my office and I've calculated an "escape plan" in my head (although never to the point that Becca experienced). In my current setting, I'm limited to a single entrance/exit with limited room to maneuver, a distance away from my administrative assistant (who, as I think about it, also has limited space and no secondary exit), and we don't currently have an emergency plan in place. Something for all churches to seriously think about and make efforts to correct.

Michael Hyatt talks about his idea capture and organization process using a blend of traditional paper and electronic. On the computer he uses Evernote which I've had on my computer and mobile devices for a while, but never really used. I might have to give his system (or some variation of it) a try.

Advertising & Detroit:
“I love Detroit, the people here, the spirit, the nearness of despair, the nearness of spectacular success. It is the American crossroads,” he tweets, adding in another: “Along with my hometown of Oakland, I am now convinced that Detroit is the most soulful city in our country.”
New music from Steve Earle out this week (I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive). Here's an oldie but goodie from his back-catalog.

April 21, 2011

Mandatum Novum

I'm sure I've posted this before, but here's a meditation on Maundy Thursday I wrote a few years ago.

Mandatum Novum

A New Command
To love and to serve
Of course isn’t so new
We’ve heard it before
Preachers and prophets proclaimed it
Telling us it was God’s Word, God’s will
To love, to serve
We’ve heard it before –
In one way or another
In the Commandments carried down the mountain by Moses
In the words of Micah, “Seek justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God”
In Isaiah’s invitation, “To loose the chains of injustice… and set the oppressed free”
We’ve heard it before
But never really understood it, never really lived it

It’s a new command
That isn’t so new
Only revealed in a new way
When the Master acts as the servant
When the King takes on the cross
When the great reversal is revealed
            And peacemakers prosper
            And the humble inherit
            And the persecuted find a place in the kingdom of God
When mercy, not might, reigns supreme
And in death, new life is revealed

This is the moment
The new command takes new root
Shattering our assumptions
Opening our ears
Transforming our lives
A new command
Given to us
By the One who lived it
            By the One who loves us so much
                        Anything is made possible

Even we – with hardened hearts
            Even we – ready to employ every excuse
                        Even we – are loved
Even we – are called to live like he did
Loving and serving
So that all may know
Of the grace
            Of the greatness
                        Of the glory
Of our God.

April 18, 2011

this week's round-up (april 18)

Again a couple weeks overdue... I keep promising myself I'll get back onto a regular weekly update schedule for these things soon. Here's what has caught my attention over the last couple of weeks:

Donald Miller has a suggestion for Creating a Personal Life Plan I haven't downloaded the e-book he recommends yet, but it looks like it could be interesting.

Seth Godin: The Worst Voice of the Brand Is the Brand - a reminder that our worst experiences usually shape our larger perceptions. Certainly applicable to the church.

Laurie Haller, a District Superintendent in the West Michigan Conference offers a few thoughts on Love Wins.

Dan Dick has a couple powerful and convicting posts about the United Methodist Church: Three Little Words, Dead, or in Exile and a MUST READ Souled Out. He hits hard with these words:
"We perpetually use an anti-gospel of death, decay and decline to manipulate people instead of casting a positive vision to motivate.  We proclaim to the world that we are shrinking, diminishing, poorly funded, rife with conflict — all excellent messages to attract new members.  We do try to counter such witness with some TV spots and webcast videos and some marketing spin, but that’s just slapping a coat of make-up.  Many young people see The United Methodist Church as an old maiden aunt who dresses and paints herself up like a teenager — embarrassing at best, pathetic at worst."
 Yet there is hope that we can clarify our vision, mature in our discipleship and relationships with each other and be the church Christ calls us to be.

In a very similar vein, a friend, Steve McCoy, writes how Win or Lose, Butler is Relevant. Are We?

Last week there was a Call to Action web-conference for the UMC. I somehow missed the advance notice announcement about it, and was on vacation anyway, but some of the feedback that emerged has been interesting to examine. Jeremy Smith looks at the Twitter wordcloud related to the online discussion. Jay Voorhees shares some of his thoughts as well as addressing metrics that matter. Rob Rynders suggests that Cats and Cereal might be the solution (not really). The conference has been archived and can be viewed here; I haven't seen it yet, but it certainly got people talking.

Roger Olson with some additional thoughts on universalism.

Brian Dodd on 12 Warning Signs of Unhealthy Leadership.

The Love Radically blog personally wrestles with the question of a person's weight being grounds for being denied (or deferred) ordination.

Music this week from tUnE-yArDs - I've heard this track a few times on the radio and found the use of the looping vocals to be really interesting, the video (as well as the song) is a little strange, but in my opinion enjoyable.

April 12, 2011

On denominations

 I'm currently reading Jay Bakker's book Fall to Grace, a full review should be coming in the next couple weeks, but I wanted to share these couple paragraphs this morning:
"The point is that we believers can splinter into all the denominations we want. We can pore over Scripture, finding little issues and phrases (or even differing interpretations of the same phrase) to divide us. We can each claim that our little group is the one with a true comprehension of God's Word. We can segregate society and close our hearts because of these superficial differences. Or we can begin to patch up these fault lines and fractures we're created in the church and try to see past our differing interpretations of Scripture to recognize one another as children of the same God.
 "Yes, we can debate our faith - even argue. But in the end, we need to recognize that we're all members of the same big family. Faith in Christ can be the tie that brings and binds us together, even when everything else threatens to pull us apart."