Monday, October 26, 2015

Why Your Pastor Should Be a Vampire

Halloween is just around the corner, which means it would be a great time for you to watch a marvelously entertaining recent vampire movie.

It's a comedy out of New Zealand entitled What We Do In the Shadows.

It's not technically horror, but a silly, surprisingly endearing comedy about a quartet of vampires living together in a shared house.  It's considerably bloodier and with two hundred and seventy five percent more death than most comedies, and I don't commend it for family movie night, but hey.  It is entirely worth a watch.

Among the many funny moments was a riff on a classic part of the vampire myth.  Unlike zombies, werewolves, and other monstrous critters, vampires can't get you unless you let them.  Meaning: they are constitutionally incapable of stepping over the threshold of your home unless you welcome them in.  If you say no, or just don't make the offer, they stay out.  They must stay out.

That vampire ethic resonated interestingly against one of my core principles as a pastor and follower of Jesus.

Because there are similiarities between myself and vampires.  I mean, what do I do?  What's my profession?  I roam the earth, trying to share the secret of eternal life that I received from the one who turned me.  I have an intense relationship with crosses, crucifixes, and holy water.  Once a month, I gather with others, and we hold this ceremony where we drink blood.

Admittedly, I neither catch on fire nor sparkle in the sun, but my pasty Celtic flesh does burn in the light of day, so that sort of counts.

The similarity goes deeper, because I share that peculiar vampire ethic about boundaries.

Because it matters to me that your response to faith is authentic, I won't kick down your door to give what I have to you.  If you don't invite me in, I'll stay out.

This confuses many Americans, who are used to quite the opposite.  The expectation, as of late, is that Christians are the ones who chase after you relentlessly, who come at you and come at you and come at you.  They pursue you, overwhelm you, and then eat your brains.

I'm not that kind of Christian.  Those folks are the zombie Christians.  There are hordes and hordes of them lately, I'll admit.  But they are nowhere near as cool, and tend to rot away to nothing in the heat of summer, or freeze solid when winter comes.

I need you to take the step of opening up before I share what I have been given.  I will encourage you, call out to you, and make the path as clear and as attractive as I can.  But I will not hunt you down, or kick in your door.

I just won't.  Because the form of eternal life we Jesus folk offer--one radically grounded in God's love and Christ's compassion--necessarily respects your boundaries, and honors your thresholds.  That's how love works.

You have to open up your door, and welcome it in.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Oak, The Reed, and the Multiverse

I spun out a favorite old wisdom story during the children's message a recent Sunday, Aesop's brilliant and pungent little tale about the mighty oak and the humble reed.  I'm fond of those ancient fables, beautiful and pagan and wise, and the way they sing in harmony with the wisdom and graces of Biblical teachings.  I also like, honestly, that this tradition records--or purports to record--the stories of an owned person.

Unlike so many of the faceless, powerless slaves of history, Aesop's name remains.

I also like those stories because, like all narratives, they hang in our memories.  As the Teacher knew, nothing clings to our souls like a good story, and the Sunday after I taught it, the kids still remembered when I asked.

This is not always true about my sermons.  Ahem.

The story of the oak and the reed is a tale of the illusory character of power, about how those who rely on their own pride and strength do so only until they meet a power greater than theirs.

Even the greatest tree falls before the storm.  Better to bend than break.

As I wove the tale out for the children, there was a harmony there that rose from the sermon most of them would not hear.  The reality parable in the sermon was the life of James Arthur Ray, a quantum-prosperity guru who rode The Oprah to great heights less than ten years ago, and whose hubris destroyed him.

What had struck me so strongly in reading Ray's best-selling book was the degree to which it harmonized with some of my own theology and cosmology.  There are parallel universes!  Quantum stuff is cool!  Engage with your best future selves!  Be aware of your co-creative power!  Don't abandon discipline and focus as you maximize the probability of your vision!

These are staples of my own thinking about the nature of being, and our place in the cosmos.  And here they were, being pitched out by someone who achieved wild success, followed by equally catastrophic failure.

What struck me, throughout the book, was the confidence of it.  Ray's confidence in his own power was utter and complete.  His confidence in our ability to direct all of the energies of the universe towards our material desires, just as complete.  Just buy the book, follow the instructions, and badda boom, badda bing, all the wealth you want thanks to the Law of Attraction or some such quantum hoo-hah folderol.

That confident self-assurance, I suppose, is the difference between he and I.

Because if the Creator of a linear, single-narrative spacetime is intimidating, the Creator of an infinitely complex, churning, radiant multiverse is rather more so.  My awareness of the multiversality of God's manifold providence only makes me feel very, very much more tiny and mortal.  It has deepened, not lessened, that fear of God that is at the heart of wisdom.

Having read Aesop's old story, it sounded against that churning vastness, that great roaring deep of Being Itself, suddenly felt like little more than the whirlwind out of which the I AM THAT I AM speaks.  Or the storm that roars, against which even the Oak of the mightiest ego cannot stand.

If you stand in encounter with that impossibly vast power, imagining that you in your miniscule way can control it--or you in your ego can withstand it--is absurd.

Better to dance with it, to bend and twirl in the energies around us, than to lie to ourselves about controlling the storm.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Buying and Selling American

We recently bought a new van, a replacement for our trusty but rusty old van.  It's used, of course.

It's a 2012 Honda Odyssey, and I'm proud to own another American car.

What?  Honda?  An American car?  

Sure it is.

The Odyssey is made in America, by American workers.  It's right there on the label.  Our "new" van was manufactured in the United States of America, in a factory in Alabama.  It provides jobs to Americans.  Not American CEOs.  Not Madison Avenue marketers.  But the American workers who build it in the heartland of the United States, and the American folks who truck it from the factory to the showroom, and the American folks who sell it and maintain it.

Not only that, the Odyssey is made from parts that are made in America.  At 75% of total parts content domestically sourced, it's as materially American as a Corvette.

But that's not the only thing that makes it American, not in the way that matters to me.

At the height of American greatness, what buying an American product meant was that the transaction supported others who were living as you lived.  That car was made by workers who were your peers.  You may, in fact, have made it yourself.  The wealth of American industry supported the culture from which it came, as egalitarian as the principles that founded the nation.

That is no longer the case.  So much "American" product relies on the labor of those who cannot live an American life.  They aren't at liberty to pursue happiness, unless by "happiness" you mean endless, hopeless labor.  Their fundamental, Creator-given rights have been conveniently, profitably alienated by the new globalized aristocracy.

Products that violate our national principles cannot be considered American.

So in this age of globalization, buying American requires some forethought.  General Motors is a global concern.  Ford is a global concern.  Chrysler is Fiat-Chrysler.

If I buy a Chevy Spark that was manufactured in Korea, is that "buying American?"  If I buy a Ford Fiesta that was assembled in Germany, is that "buying American?"  If I buy a Jeep Renegade that was designed and built in Italy, is that "buying American?"  I don't think so.

Ultimately, buying into that American principle is not just about place.

In buying our Honda, I'm supporting a company that puts money primarily into an excellent product, and into their workers.  I am not pouring money into their C-suite.

The CEO of Honda made $1.5 million a year the year our new van was manufactured.  That's a lot, a fortune.

The CEO of Fiat-Chrysler in the same year pulled in $16 million.  The CEO of Ford, $23.9 million.  The CEO of General Motors?  A paltry $9 million, which was still six times as much as the Honda exec.  And sure, Honda's a smaller company than those global titans.

But it makes a quality product, well designed and executed, and somehow manages to do all of this whilst not feeding the beast of oligarchic/aristocratic CEO culture.  What makes for a good product has dang-all to do with CEO salaries.  It has to do with competent and honest engineers, a product-first mindset, and fairly paid workers.

Because America at her heart is not, and has never been, about serving the needs of the powerful.