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Grace (Eventually) May 24, 2010


Reading an Anne Lamott book is like chatting with an old friend. I mean a real friend. Someone you can be truly open and honest with, not having to engage in religious pretense.
I’ve read a lot over the past 10 years that has offered me a new, broader, better and, I believe, more “Christlike” approach to life. I, of course, know there is always more to learn, but I thought my values, my beliefs, and my theology had been challenged, changed and stretched about as far as they could go.
I was wrong.

There are many good stories and insights in “Grace (Eventually),” but there were a couple of chapters that really invited me to address even more of my preconceived ideologies. I won’t go into what those chapters involved. I’d rather you read the book, and see what challenges you.

Anne is amazingly open about her life. She’s not the type you could threaten with the skeletons in her closet. She has plenty of skeletons, mind you. They’re just not buried away behind the coats and jackets. Instead, we read of a real person in the real world, living out real faith in Christ; worts and all. Just like the people in the Bible.  I know, first hand, the freedom in bringing all your skeletons into the sunlight. Like Anne, I have more than my share of them, but no one can use them against me if I don’t try to hide them.

She speaks of her alcoholism.  She talks of her “binge or diet” issues. Her continual battle with jealousy.
Her temper many times gets the best of her.
Some would say she needs to be “set free.” But freedom, in that sense, isn’t an event. It’s a life walk.

She reveals, often, the joys and struggles of single parenthood, and a number of stories involve her son, Sam.

There’s a story of her having to deal with a carpet sales person. He is less that honest. Less than honorable.
The end of the story isn’t what you might expect, but there is a good lesson for all to learn.

There is so much packed into these pages. So many other life-lessons. There is delicious humor, almost cover to cover. Yet, I found some of the “heaviest” reading I’ve ever encountered. Lessons about dealing with death, working through pain, and, yes, victory in life. Not the kind of “victory” we were taught back in the 70’s. No, this is a much deeper victory. The victory of learning to live through one’s own selfishness and baggage. Of learning that it’s “not all about you.” This is the victory of grace. The music of grace.
Grace for others, and even grace for yourself.
— df.

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Buy the book HERE.

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“She observes her world with honed humor-and without a whiff of deceit or concealment. … This is a Christian even an atheist could still respect in the morning.” – The Seattle Times

What makes Lamott’s writing powerful isn’t her unconventional faith. Rather, it’s the profound message about God’s grace and redemption often lurking underneath all the…brutal honesty.” -Chicago Sun-Times

“Lamott’s self-deprecating stories are refreshingly frank and endearingly fun.” -Washington Post

“There’s no one quite like Anne Lamott. … She manages to suggest that she’s your ally, the funny best friend who knows instinctively that you’ve had these troubles, too. And perhaps that’s why readers continue to find something fresh in everything she has to say.” – LA Times

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Some Quotes From “Grace (Eventually)”

“We chewed gum together and listened to the classical station:  instant church.”

“I don’t hate anyone right now, not even George W. Bush…I learned how to unhate Bush the only way people ever really learn things—by doing. It’s a terrible system. If I were God, I would have provided a much easier way—an Idiot’s Guide, or a spiritual ATM, or maybe some kind of compromise.”

“It is hard to remember that you are a cherished spiritual being when you’re burping up apple fritters and Cheetos.”

“My secular father’s only strong spiritual directive: Don’t be an asshole, and make sure everybody eats.”

“You can get the monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town”


Buy the book HERE.

“Joy is the best makeup.  Joy, and good lighting.”

“Sometimes I act just as juvenile as I ever did, but as I get older, I do it for shorter periods of time. I find my way back to the path sooner, where there is always one last resort: get a glass of water and call a friend.”

“I have to believe that Jesus prefers honesty to anything else.”

“In truth, everyone is loved and chosen, even Dick Cheney, even Saddam Hussein…God loves them because God loves.”

“God sent Jesus to join the human experience, which means to make a lot of mistakes. Jesus didn’t arrive here knowing how to walk. He had fingers and toes, confusion, sexual feelings, crazy human internal processes. He had the same prejudices as the rest of his tribe: he had to learn that the Canaanite woman was a person. He had to suffer the hardships and tedium and setbacks of being a regular person. If he hadn’t the incarnation would mean nothing.”

“Never give the devil a ride.  Because if he likes the ride, pretty soon he’ll want to drive.”

“Every moment you are freely given the opportunity to see through a different pair of glasses.”

“There [are] also the “pro-life” matters of capital punishment and the war in Iraq, poverty, and HIV.”

“Sober people taught me that a willingness to help clean up the mess we’ve made is a crucial part of adult living; that our scary, selfish, damaging behavior litters the planet.”

“You want to know how big God’s love is?  The answer is:  It’s very big.  It’s bigger than you’re comfortable with.”

“And I realized once again that we’re punished not for our hatred, for not forgiving people, but by it.”

“If you have an idea after ten p.m., it is probably not a good idea.

“I prayed, the great Helping Prayer, which goes: “Helphelphelphelp.  Helphelphelphelp.”

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Buy the book HERE.

 

Everything Is Spiritual November 13, 2009

“In the Hebrew language, there is no word for “spiritual.”  If you would have said to Jesus, “Jesus, how is your spiritual life?”  He would have said “What?”  To label part of your life as “spiritual” and part as “not spiritual” is foreign to the world of scripture, and to the worldview of Jesus.”
– Rob Bell
This stuff is absolutely amazing!
You won’t want to miss this presentation.
Buy it HERE AT LIFEWALK STORE.
(If you can’t afford it, let me know, and I’ll buy or loan you a copy.)
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Some reviews:

Michael J. Cauller says:
Who would have thought that a lecture on Creation stories and Quantum Physics would be so instrumental in conveying the truth of a holistic perspective of spirituality?  I’d say that Nooma is like a piece of candy and this is like a steak dinner.  Brilliant stuff.  Excellent revelation as one would expect.

Christopher Bernard says:
Rob Bell has received a great deal of criticism in his career for a variety of reasons. Some might have some merit, but most come out a desire for him to be something he is not. He is not a world class Biblical Scholar; he is not the greatest theological mind; he is not a person that will champion conservative ideologies, nor liberal. If you desire any of these things from this man, do not buy his work for you will be disappointed.
But if you are looking for a thoughtful person engaging with faith, culture, and life, then you might have found someone that will really speak to you in a refreshing confession of Christian faith.
Rob Bell is a pastor with a heart for humanity. He is a person that desires to unite, rather than divide. He is a person who recognizes the burden of our society and addresses them in faithful ways and “Everything Is Spiritual” is a wonderful testimony of God at work within Humanity.
I was blessed to watch this. And I trust that those who have ears to hear will come away from this experience moved in profound ways.

Buy it HERE AT LIFEWALK STORE.

Here’s John Sexton’s review of live presentation of “Everything Is Spiritual” at The Glass House:

The Glass House is a small concert venue in a little artists’ colony section of downtown Pomona. It’s surrounded by vintage clothing boutiques and used record stores. Usually it’s host to punk bands, but on this Wednesday night a somewhat different crowd had turned out to see a young pastor from Michigan named Rob Bell.

Our Ticketmaster tickets ($10) read “Door: 7PM Show: 8PM.” My two friends and I arrived a bit after seven and found the place already packed. Nearly 350 people sat on folding chairs facing a corner stage. The stage was black except for a huge whiteboard about four feet tall running the length of the stage, perhaps 16 feet. A few white lights were shining on it, making it appear to glow slightly.

As 8PM approached someone came on stage to ask us to turn off our cell phones and to let us know that tonight’s performance was being filmed. A few minutes later the mood music that had been playing in the background became louder, adding to the concert-like atmosphere of the show. Finally, Rob Bell stepped on stage dressed all in black. He uncapped his marker dramatically and we were off…
He began with a ten minute discussion of Genesis chapter one, treating it as Hebrew poetry. He paused once to emphasize his underlying principle of interpretation, i.e. “the Bible is not a science text book.” If there were young earth creationists in the room, they decided not to throw vegetables at that moment.

At one point, he pantomimed Adam naming the animals God brought before him. When Adam named one “cat” God’s reaction was “Hey, I didn’t make that.” It was one of the lighter moments in the message. Rob then made this aside: “Someone out there with a blog, please don’t write that I hate cats. There’ll be demonstrators at the next show.” So while it was extremely tempting to title this post “Rob Bell Hates Cats”, I resisted.

The second and longest part of Rob’s talk was, in fact, about science. From quarks and strings to the vast universe itself, he covered an enormous amount of ground. I have a background in this material, so I listened with an awareness not only of where he was going, but also where he might have gone. The impression I had was of watching some agile person cross a river by leaping from stone to stone. At times he would slow his progress to draw out a tricky point, such as quantum entanglement or the stellar habitable zone. At other times he would skip lightly over issues too complex to engage in an abbreviated way, such as the differing interpretations of quantum theory. But always it seemed to me he dealt accurately and fairly with the material. It was an outstanding 20-25 minute summary of modern physics. It was a setup for a point he would make later.

Next, he turned to the issue of perspective. Using Flatland characters, he discussed how God’s interaction with our world may be difficult to understand in everyday language. This is where the “emergent view” of all things theological came across most strongly. Is God Calvinist or Armenian? Rob suggests there may be a way for him to be both.

I recognize that answers like this will never satisfy those who’ve invested any energy in either of the alternatives. And I probably enjoy a good theological argument as much as the next person. Still, I found Bell’s appeal to lay down our theological arms quite winning. There are simply some issues where the Bible stands in tension with itself. Perhaps this too is inspired and should be respected. At times I get the sense that the seminary-denominational complex has an institutional investment in keeping the arguments going. In any case, this was probably my favorite section of the talk.

Having loaded his plate with literally “everything”, Rob now had the unenviable task of summing it up neatly. If his conclusion wasn’t fully successful it’s worth pointing out that few pastors would even have the courage to try.

And there was a theme that came through, a single thread on which all the beads of science and theology were strung. We live in a very big world and yet its one in which our perspective has the ability to shift our understanding of everything. Is the universe an accident or a work of design? The truth is it could be either. Is theology confusing because it’s imperfect or because our language is insufficient? Again, it could be either.

Is anything spiritual or is nothing?  Rob suggests that as Christians we must choose everything. It’s this perspective that changes what we see. We move forward through life with the anticipation — the faith — that God is not absent, that he may indeed be hiding in plain sight.

I don’t know if Rob Bell has read Roy Clouser’s The Myth of Religious Neutrality, but he certainly seems to have adopted Clouser’s ideas on the religious control of theory-making. In any case, Rob’s presentation of it is a lot of fun. If there’s one person I’d like to have a chance to have a long talk with at some point, he has to be near the top of the list.

Buy it HERE AT LIFEWALK STORE.

 

Smoking, Sex, and Dung: A Look At Grace May 27, 2009

smoke1

Jane walks into her older brother John’s bedroom without knocking. His head is up against the window screen, as smoke is rolling from his lips. “I’m telling!” shouts Jane. John is frantic. He briefly tries threatening his little sister, but quickly realizes that’s not working. Second step; begging and bribery. Finally he elicits a promise. “Ok,” Jane says. “I promise I won’t say anything to mom and dad.”

Within five minutes, mom and dad are in John’s room screaming at him, with Jane watching from the doorway. “You lied to me!” John yells at Jane. In a very snotty tone, Jane replies, “I said I wouldn’t SAY anything. I never said I wouldn’t write them a note!  So there; I didn’t lie!”

Did Jane lie?

Troy is a church leader. He gives counsel. He counsels one woman not to let her husband live under the same roof while they prepare for a divorce. Troy has had repeated sexual activity with people other than his wife.  Because this activity doesn’t actually include intercourse, he boldly proclaims to his wife that he has never been unfaithful, or had sex with anyone else.

Is Troy lying to his wife?  [FYI, I know “Troy”. I’ve changed his name to protect the guilty.]

Have you ever heard a Christian use a phrase like “But I didn’t actually lie?” Have you ever used a phrase like that?
It’s OK to be as dishonest and deceitful as you want, as long as your words are technically correct.
This is what someone is saying every time they say “I didn’t ACTUALLY lie.” [And most, if not all, people lie. Just call it what it is, and don’t be a hypocrite!]

Most of my life, I’ve heard Christians say, “If you preach too much grace, people will use that as an excuse to do bad things.” It has been my experience, repeatedly, that the more frequent danger is using the law as an excuse to do bad things. (. I believe this was also the experience of Jesus.)

In Matthew, he spoke to the religious people, saying,

“You’re hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands? … What ridiculous hairsplitting!”….
Matt. 23:16-22 The Message.

One of the hallmarks of religious legalism is a literal adherence to words.

Here’s more of what Jesus had to say:

“Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, but when it comes to things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it…Do you have any idea how silly you look, …nitpicking over commas and semicolons?…on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Matt. 23:23a, 28 NET & The Message

Hypocrisy is the heart of Phariseeism…..

Phariseeism is birthed out of religious legalism. Phariseeism is the scum, covering the dung-heap of religious legalism. It is truly a stench, and it is diametrically opposed to grace.

We read of being called to a “new kingdom”. This has been so misapplied, it’s not even funny. It has been used to control everything from the way we dress, to the music we listen to. When in fact, the new kingdom is actually a new mind-set; a changed heart.
In this life.
Here.
Now.
It’s a kingdom where equality, justice and compassion reign.
Religion truly is the way of the world. It’s “word-for-word legal system” exists to compare, compete, and control.

This is why religious people love rules. They can follow a list, instead of concerning themselves with inequality, social injustice and environmental rape. A list makes comparing oneself to others a whole lot easier. It also makes it easier to think we have God “over a barrel.” “I didn’t actually lie, so…”

“So” what?

“So, see, I didn’t do anything wrong!”

Yes.
You did.

A few years ago, I wrote an article about using a phrase like “At least I don’t…”
That is another favorite phrase of the pharisee. Again, this is aided by maintaining a strict list of dos and don’ts, so we can keep a number system of how much better we are than someone else.

So is there no escape from religious legalism? What hope do we have against being a pharisee? (You already know the answer.)

Grace. That scary, wonderful, mystical gift from God. A gift so awesome, so powerful, we almost always feel a need to “play it down”; to somehow, soften it’s blow.  If we don’t maintain a strict set of laws, our friends will certainly fall into error!

I’ve heard many sermons about trying harder.
“No, we can’t keep all the law, buy we should do our best, and trust God for the rest.”
Wrong!

When James says “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it,” that’s not a call to try harder to keep all the law. You’ll still stumble, and be guilty of all of it! Rather than a call to try harder, it is a statement that shows the futility of living legalistically.

Grace.
It is ONLY grace that keeps us. It is by grace we have been “saved*,” and continue being saved.   Now we can finally give up the religion of sin-management.
[* “Saved,” not from any eternal damnation which doesn’t exist in the 1st place, but saved from our own selfishness.]

On a personal level, yes, I still have many struggles in my life; not the least of which is a lack of tolerance for religious people (“Love the religious person, hate the religion,” right?)….

As I have been coming out of right-wing evangelical fundamentalism, my “religious activity” has all but ceased.  But, I believe, my focus on what are truly the “things of God” is more intense than ever.

Grace, grace, grace, and more grace. We can NEVER overemphasize grace. The Jesus we read of in the Bible boiled everything down to this: Love God, and love people. I’m seeing a worldwide move away from religion, and towards God. Though the institution will surely hate it, I believe nothing will stop it.

 

–David Foreman

 

 
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