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Reflections from the Urbana Worship Team: It takes a community! (Part 2/2)

You can read part 1 here

In part 1 of these reflections from the Urbana worship team, I talked about how sensitivity and affirmation were huge takeaways from my experience on the team. Today, I wanted to share some harder lessons that surprisingly came up for me throughout our year of preparation for the Urbana Student Missions Conference. Warning, some vulnerable sharing ahead!

Lesson 3: The discipline of dealing with our junk

Two of the most significant experiences for the whole Urbana experience had very little to do with music, worship or missions, but my own personal junk. Continue reading

Reflections from the Urbana Worship Team: It takes a community! (Part 1/2)

me and audrey leading back b&W

Urbana was about many things: Responding to God’s great invitation, giving our lives to Jesus’ mission, studying the Word, exploring our vocations and passions and so much more.

But for the worship team, it was also about our journey as a community. In the year leading up to Urbana and at the conference itself, we experienced the transforming power of a missional community that will forever impact my perspective towards worship, mission and ministry. And as much as I loved the music and had an absolute blast on stage, the best moments for me came behind the scenes as God was transforming us within our community.

You may have experienced us by being at Urbana or listening to our CD or watching us online, but in this two-part series, I’d like to take you behind the scenes and share four lessons from within Urbana worship team experience. Because what God did was much bigger and deeper than great worship music. Even though that is pretty cool too. Continue reading

Honoring MLK (Part 2): A Robust Theology and Praxis of the Body of Christ

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In honor of MLK day, I wanted to spend some time this week blogging about his sermon, “Paul’s Letter to the American Church.” This has been a wonderful devotional exercise for me that has challenged me, inspired me and compelled me to prayer and lament. You can read part 1 here. Today I want to continue reflecting on another portion of his sermon regarding the Body of Christ.

Towards a Robust Theology and Praxis of the Body of Christ, Dr. King says:

The church is the Body of Christ. So when the church is true to its nature it knows neither division nor disunity. But I am disturbed about what you are doing to the Body of Christ. They tell me that in America you have within Protestantism more than two hundred and fifty six denominations. The tragedy is not so much that you have such a multiplicity of denominations, but that most of them are warring against each other with a claim to absolute truth. This narrow sectarianism is destroying the unity of the Body of Christ. You must come to see that God is neither a Baptist nor a Methodist; He is neither a Presbyterian nor a Episcopalian. God is bigger than all of our denominations. If you are to be true witnesses for Christ, you must come to see that America.

There is another thing that disturbs me to no end about the American church. You have a white church and you have a Negro church. You have allowed segregation to creep into the doors of the church. How can such a division exist in the true Body of Christ? You must face the tragic fact that when you stand at 11:00 on Sunday morning to sing “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name” and “Dear Lord and Father of all Mankind,” you stand in the most segregated hour of Christian America. They tell me that there is more integration in the entertaining world and other secular agencies than there is in the Christian church. How appalling that is.

ImageIt may seem obvious to note that Dr. King advocated for the end of segregation, appealing the dream where all people of all races could love and embrace one another in common humanity. Yet, it strikes me that Dr. King’s dream of a world where segregation no more seems rooted in a theology of the body of Christ, that the Church must be united in order to be true witnesses of Christ. As Dr. King composed these words, I’m sure John 17:22-23, must have crossed to his mind:

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Dr. King’s theology of the body of Christ informed his admonitions of the American church. How does our theology of the body of Christ inform our desire to more fully reflect God to the watching world? Do we even have a theology of the body of Christ? Continue reading

Honoring MLK: In pursuit of Moral Progress

ImageI wanted to blog some reflections on this day we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Day.

For the past 3 years, I’ve tried to take time every MLK day to devotionally listen to one of Dr. King’s sermons. Each year, it has been an incredibly life-giving and faith-enlarging experience (you can read my 2011 reflection on Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church in NYC). This year I listened to Dr. King’s sermon entitled “Paul’s Letter to the American Church” delivered to Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama on November 4, 1956. It was no exception. Dr. King imagines the epistle Apostle Paul would have written to the American church. Even his introduction to “the letter” is laced with golden prose:

May I hasten to say that if in presenting this letter the contents sound strangely Kingian instead of Paulinian, attribute it to my lack of complete objectivity rather than Paul’s lack of clarity. It is miraculous, indeed, that the Apostle Paul should be writing a letter to you and to me nearly 1900 years after his last letter appeared in the New Testament. How this is possible is something of an enigma wrapped in mystery. The important thing, however, is that I can imagine the Apostle Paul writing a letter to American Christians in 1956 A.D. And here is the letter as it stands before me.

You can listen/read the entire sermon here. I also think the privilege of getting to hear the power and passion of Dr. King the preacher is an incredible gift to the Church, so I hope you could spare 30 minutes towards this great end.

Today, I wanted to focus on Dr. King’s reference to the need for “Moral Progress” — a passage from an early portion of his speech:

“…America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood. So America, I would urge you to keep your moral advances abreast with your scientific advances.”

ImageTo modern ears, this phrase, “moral progress,” may strike us as indicative of the presumptuous battle cries of paternalistic, narrow-minded zealotry. To Christians, it may whiff of legalism, works-righteousness and all that is unhealthy and dysfunctional with “religion.” But hearing the phrase from the lips of Dr. King gives me pause.

I consider just how potent the passing of time can be in rendering shades of grey into black and white. On this side of history, all previous social movements possess a gloss of inevitability. Yet I don’t believe for a moment that the issues of Dr. King’s era were any more nuanced and complex than our own. To think that we would fare any better than our forbearers in confronting their social challenges betrays one as an amateur historian at best and a self-deluded ignoramus at worst (probably the latter). In ages past, courageous women and men were required to distinguish between good and evil and to fight for the right with their lives. This, I believe, is moral progress and what Dr. King calls forth.

What does it mean for a society to grow in moral progress?

Continue reading

Indecisiveness, passivity and assorted coping mechanisms of the self-deluded sea anenome

This is Part One of a series around David Benner’s The Gift of Being Yourself, a book I am reading with a number of my students. Since I am discussing the book anywhere from 5-6 times a week with different students, I figured I might as well document the fruit of some of my reflections and conversations.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” — Matthew 14:28

“There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.” — William James

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I am convinced Peter was an extrovert. I am convinced the distance between the birth of a thought in his brain and sound out of his mouth was the smallest nanometer of a nanometer. Perhaps I’m projecting a bit of myself onto the well-knowing story of Peter walking-ish on water depicted in Matthew 14. But how else could you explain the ridiculous utterances that came out of his terrified mouth in verse 28? It doesn’t seem to be very well thought-through on a number of levels.

First of all, he doesn’t recognize Jesus… so maybe you’d ask this ghost-like aqua man to come a little closer to get a better a look at his face. If you don’t trust him, why would you even ask him to invite you out onto the water? And secondly, what’s with the weird request for an invitation anyways? It would be like if you walked into a kitchen and the guy at the stove told you he was Gordon Ramsey, you wouldn’t reply to him, “If you really are Gordon Ramsey, invite me to cook a soufflé.” Continue reading

Tired, yet encouraged…

Gethsemane

The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.

Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.

The cricket has such splended fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.

Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did,

maybe the wind wound itself into a silver tree,
and didn’t move, maybe the lake far away,
where once he walked as on a blue pavement,
lay still and waited, wild awake.

Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be part of the story.

-Mary Oliver
from her collection of poems, “Thirst”