Posts Tagged ‘prophetic imagination’

Starting to hit back at the numbness

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Over the next month, I want to look squarely at numbness, a key theme in our upcoming series “Prophetic Imagination.”  This morning I read of Bobby Petrino’s firing.  Petrino was the head football coach of Arkansas, a position that made him the highest paid employee in the state, bringing in over $3,000,000.00  a year.

What caused the firing?  A motorcycle accident.  Petrino crashed his motorcycle.  What he initially hid was that he was traveling with a passenger at the time, his 25 year old mistress whom the 51 years old coach had placed on the Arkansas payroll.  It also came to light he had recently “gifted” her $20,000.00.  The athletic director director, in the press conference announcing the firing, noted, “Coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members of the athletic staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident.”

There are numerous layers of numbness here.  There is a numbness obviously on the part of Petrino.  There likewise is a numbness in a culture that willingly supports multi-million dollar contracts for college coaches and in turn deifies them in their success.  Of course one could say that the investment returns handsomely for institutions.  And it certainly does – if a team has a winning record (the majority of Division I football programs loose money).  And important to note, that those dollars generated by a winning program do not by in large support students but support the overall athletic program.

The above is not to disparage athletics.  I LOVE sports.  I played on and captained both football and lacrosse teams in my youth as well as coached football, lacrosse, and swimming during my tenure as a teacher.  Those years were not without success.  I know athletics teach lessons but I know we overstate the lessons they teach.

I never have been able to sit with the concept that “Sports teach life.”  If that was the case those who mastered athletics would master life.  That is not the case.  Look at Petrino or Warren Sapp.  Their inability to master life appears just the same as any “Joe Bag-Of-Donuts.”     I don’t delight in their downfall.  My hope is what we see in their mistakes might just offer a slight nudge that whispers, “Isn’t this crazy?”


How do we join in ministry?

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Joining in ministry and “going to church” are not necessarily the same.  Joining in ministry is a deep form of practiced, lived faith, one shared by clergy and laity. As such, it raises the “bar” so to speak.  And as I write, I have to smile, because I think a certain part of us – admittedly buried deep – wants that bar raised!

Ministry, if it is to take on the import intended, needs to cast aside the often meaningless shlock that passes for a life of faith.  It is, in a word, “More.”  As Emanuel Swedenborg noted, “the essential divine worship in heaven does not consist in going to church regularly and listening to sermons but of a life of love, thoughtfulness, and faith in keeping with doctrine.  Sermons in church serve only as means of instruction in terms of how to live…. All the doctrines that govern preaching focus on life as their end, not of faith apart from life.” (Heaven and Hell, pp. 199, 201)  A pretty strong argument for relevance, for a call to the “More”!  Sunday worship then informs and inspires ministry; worship as a supporting means to an end but not the whole game.

I love the words of  Walter Brueggemann in this regard.  He spoke to four key elements of prophetic ministry.  Read these words and hear them as spoken to you about your “ministry.”

  1. The task  of prophetic ministry is to evoke an alternative community that knows it is about different things in different ways.
  2. The practice of prophetic ministry is not some special things two days a week.  Rather it is done with, in, and under all the acts of ministry – as much in counseling as in preaching, as much in liturgy as in education.
  3. Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate the numbness in order to face the body of death in which we are caught.
  4. Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate the despair so that new new features can be believed in and embraced by us.

Ministry then is about a dismantling and an energizing, in grieving a loss as well as living in a hope.  It pierces numbness and despair, calling us to imagine a future of the Kingdom on earth and heaven and then forward that imagination into the very living of our lives.  Now there is a real call.  This is not about pressing ministry into set political agendas. Christ was way beyond that, preferring the “Third Way” to easy political divides.  It is about raising the bar.  About “More.”

“Falser Words Were Never Spoken”

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Brian Morton wrote an exceptionally strong OpEd piece in the New York Times recently.  What he pointed out was our penchant for taking quotes of the great thinkers and turning them into saccharine “feel good” slogans.  He noted …

Thoreau, Gandhi, Mandela — it’s easy to see why their words and ideas have been massaged into gauzy slogans. They were inspirational figures, dreamers of beautiful dreams. But what goes missing in the slogans is that they were also sober, steely men. Each of them knew that thoroughgoing change, whether personal or social, involves humility and sacrifice, and that the effort to change oneself or the world always exacts a price.

But ours is an era in which it’s believed that we can reinvent ourselves whenever we choose. So we recast the wisdom of the great thinkers in the shape of our illusions. Shorn of their complexities, their politics, their grasp of the sheer arduousness of change, they stand before us now. They are shiny from their makeovers, they are fabulous and gorgeous, and they want us to know that we can have it all.

This line of thought has been much on my mind as of late.  We exist culturally within an environment that appears to offer the mirage we can have it all, and that we can have it all with no cost.  We can have what we can imagine.  What we miss however is one critical and embarrassingly overlooked word – discipline.  Imagination meshed with discipline moves us forward.  Imagination without discipline is meaningless fantasy.

I think of Jesus’ words in the same way that Morton notes the words of other great thinkers.  How many times am I prone to use His words as gauzy slogans vs. words with heft and meaning, calling and sacrifice?  In tending towards the former I use them more that way than I comfortably admit.  And a Christian faith without words of import rapidly becomes the simple syrup Morton writes of.

And yet when I go into the words of Jesus, when I truly find the gifted grace to preach them, people get it.  They get it!  We all want more somehow – more meaning, more call, more purpose, more sacrifice.  The discipline.

Seek First the Kingdom of God

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Ministers are trained to go out into life with a “pocket full of answers.”  Easy to hold that as the job of clergy.  What one comes to however is a realization that we seek relationship far more than we seek answers.   The questions then gain precedence.  Life becomes about curiosity – going out into life with a “pocket of full of questions.”

In that journey, we travel together.  The line disappears between “expert” and “novice”, “teacher” and “student.”  There is no monopoly on answers.  What is left is openness to the questions that inform and open our lives.  There is a movement into the sacred mystery, into paradox, into wonder, into oneness.

That is the Christian journey.  Emanuel Swedenborg, who shared that prophetic imagination, penned the words from the Bible “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…” as he began the task of authoring the books that would form the theology of the New Church.  Seek.  Seek. Seek – one of Jesus’ consistent messsages.  The kingdom of God is all around us though we may remain asleep to it.  Maybe that is why often the experience of God is written of as an ecstatic experience having far more in common with the rising sun than a fixed point of reference.