Tuesday, February 22, 2005

It's Good To Be the King

I don't know about you, but I have been losing sleep at night worried! I have been biting my nails and pulling out my hair over the outcome of the Prince of Wales' relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles! I am glad that the media is finally getting past their tasteless obsession with the Michael Jackson trial and moving on to news that really affects our lives and the future of nations!

Okay seriously, I do not think I could ever summon a quantum of the anxiety that the network morning show hosts seem to display. (With the exception of Lester Holt whom I watched about a week ago. Mr. Holt couldn't have appeared less interested. I applaud you, sir!) Why is it that we in America give such attention to the British royals? What about King Harald of Norway or the Grand Dukes of Luxembourg? We just do not hear enough about them. Surely we who are so concerned with equal time ought to be giving a little attention to these other nobles. There is no reason to limit our "royal watching" to Europe either; King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand has been king since 1946. Furthermore, he was born in the United States so we certainly have something in common with His Majesty.

Perhaps I should give this royal affair greater attention. Even if it does not directly influence our culture it certainly seems to reflect it. Also, there are also some rather intricate and puzzling little problems that can set one's mind to pondering for quite some time. For instance, if Charles' marriage is not completely legitimate according to the teaching of the Church of England (because, as I am told, Camilla is divorced) then how can Charles become the Supreme Governor of the Church of England (which, as I am told, is sort of a perk that goes with being king)? It is good to be the king, but it certainly does create headaches for all of us commoners, eh wot?

I suppose I should attempt to decipher the spiritual and cultural implications of this most newsworthy development coming out of Buckingham Palace. However, I think these two images and their rather coincidental juxtaposition on the MSNBC website speak volumes:

First, there was this rather typical scene of the Duke and soon-to-be-Duchess of Cornwall which served as a banner to the article titled Now You Ask Me? . . . .

Then, just next to that image, was a most serendipitous image that served as a link to an article about the Supreme Governor of another prominent religious organisation. . . .

Probably the best comment I have heard on the whole matter.

Friday, February 18, 2005

You're Fired!

I finally realized what it is that bothers me about NBC's The Apprentice. No, it's not the fact that it is yet another tedious reality show. As far as reality shows go, this one isn't that bad. At least no one on the show is eating squid livers or puree of grubworm. No, it's not the fact that Donald Trump and his staff seem to think his combover is inconspicuous. No, it's not the faded-with-use catch phrase "You're Fired!" Yet, that does come close to what I see as the real problem.

The problem with The Apprentice is that there is no "mentor." Trump nor his subordinates act as mentors; they function more like judges and executioners. Every episode promises an even better (which means more vicious) firing than the previous week. Once the contest of the week is over Trump makes the grim promise that someone on the losing team will get fired. I guess that is supposed to keep us from "touching that dial during these commercial messages." Of course The Apprentice is a television show and it goes for ratings. The big shark attack on every episode is the firing; everything leading up to that is nothing but fins circling in the water.

Nevertheless, an apprentice is one who learns from a master. The term seems more at home in the workshop or the studio than the corporate boardroom. Through observation, trial and effort, and mentoring a real apprentice follows a true master's habits and imitates his or her skills until the apprentice becomes a journeyman (notice the language of wayfaring and growth) and eventually a master of the craft in his or her own right. In NBC's "Trump-ed up" court of law there is only one rule to be obeyed - Don't get fired! The only real reason the contestants (notice the language of survival and conflict) are motivated to excellence is to avoid elimination. I am not convinced that this incentive generates authentic excellence.

Since Mark Burnett and Donald Trump are probably faithful readers of this blog I suppose I should acknowledge to them that I have from the start realized that they could call me on a technical foul. Yes, I know that the contestants on The Apprentice are competing for the chance to be the next apprentice to Trump. However, this makes my point; we really do not witness the mentoring of the new apprentice. All we get to see is the process of elimination; the choosing of the apprentice is the final episode. If we are really going to see "business interactions and challenges that frequently occur in real-world settings" (that's right off the show's webpage, folks) then I suggest that Burnett produce a show that shows one of the two previous "Apprentices" working away on his or her project and learning the craft from the Donald. Great suggestion, eh? I want royalties! I can hear their reply now, "You're Fired!"

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Filing System

Twelve days without a new entry! That's unacceptable. A friend recently wrote me to request that I just put something out there. He's right! This is no way to run a blog. I promise to do better. Michael Chabon said that there are three keys to being a good writer: luck, talent, and discipline. The last key is the only one you can control. So, I proceed on now with greater discipline. . .

I could offer many excuses for my lack of discipline in writing. Ultimately it all goes back to last week when I decided to channel my energy and discipline toward a project that I have put off for quite some time - unpacking my boxes of files. When I moved to Fort Smith in 2003 I packed my entire office into 12" x 12" x 12" white boxes. I loaded these into a forty year old U-Haul trailer (no, I didn't get the one with the alien from New Mexico painted on the side) and hitched it to my 1990 Oldsmobile. I made the 12 hour drive and unloaded this jam-packed trailer into my new office. At first, I unpacked the most important boxes, but one pile of boxes remained unmanaged for over a year in a corner of my office. These were the dozen or so boxes containing my file folders that needed to be unpacked, reorganized, and put away into new filing cabinets.

I have been putting the project aside because I knew that I could not just finish it in a few hours. These files have been with me for over fifteen years. I cannot simply unpack them without combing through them to find treasures from the past. This is exactly what happened. Sometimes I spent thirty minutes reading through a single file folder and reflecting on the journey that started at that moment and brought me to this moment. I readily confess that this is not an efficient use of time, nor does it meet with the principle of having a filing system which is to organize information. That's not why I keep a filing system. My filing system is more like a storehouse of memories or a scrapbook.

I dug up some goodies too! I rediscovered the old science-fiction story from Omni magazine that I copied at the ACU library on the night I just couldn't study Hebrew verbs any longer. I found the copy of the 19th century report on the rediscovery of King Robert the Bruce's grave in Dunfermline Abbey. This report was given to me by the curator of the Abbey during my second trip to Scotland. (It is an interesting story that I may share some time - and just wait until you hear where they finally buried the King!) There were other files that brought back less thrilling memories. These files contain documents that map the stories of difficult times, tragedies, and mistakes in the lives of people I have met along the way. I read through each of these compelled to pray for the people - wherever they may be now.

I was not distracted only by the renewal of memories. I was also preoccupied by the need to expand my categories. Many of the old file holders bear the same labels I affixed to them fifteen years ago. In my recent inventory and reorganization I was confronted by the inadequacy of these categories. I had to develop new ways of naming and recalling the documentary detritus of my vocational voyages. So forgive me for being engrossed in my personal inventory project last week. The new appreciation for old experiences and the expansion of my categories was hard work, but I think I am the better for it. At least my office is less cluttered.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Reflection on John 20:19-23

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Have you ever just wanted to lock the door? Have you ever wanted to just disappear into a locked house and insulate yourself and your family from the world? I cannot say I have ever been the target of religious persecution nor have I been on the run from the authorities. My situation isn’t that close to the apostles’ situation. But I have felt like retreating into my own safe environment and containing my family therein. I do not mean a spiritual retreat or a getaway from the stress and grind of the work week. No, I mean a bona fide hermitage from the world. And yes, though I am reluctant to admit this, there may be just a bit of fear fueling that feeling because the world can be a scary and dangerous place.

The fear and danger come in a wild mix of varieties. There’s the schoolyard bully who threatens you when you are young. And even though he no longer scares you when you are grown you fear what he and his ilk may do to your children. There’s the reckless, inconsiderate speed demon that races down your street to avoid a stop light. He or she gives no thought to the life that may be stopped in its tracks because they cannot be bothered to stop. There’s the drug dealer in the neighborhood who may be inviting more evil and terror into the community. There’s the disgruntled supervisor who can take your career away without breaking a sweat. There’s the other person targeting your spouse with attention. This predator seeks to devour your home and heart. There’s the unforgiving, heartless, faceless super-conglomerated corporation that will ruin your credit and force you into financial bondage for 151 years because you failed to easily understand their microprinted "legalese." There are those who are offended by your well-intentioned and heartfelt efforts to praise your creator in the simple worship of everyday living. You mean them no harm but they launch a pre-emptive strike and make it clear that they will incarcerate you in a category so constrictive that it will define you before all others. It is a fearsome and perilous world out there. Gather the children together. Bring your family together. Gather them in! Lock the door! Everybody huddle together on the big couch and let’s turn on some soft music and read a book. It’s not so bad. It’s safe in here. Let's check the lock one more time.

Because of the resurrection, Jesus has a mysterious ability to move past locks. Not simply the chains, hooks, and latches of the front door. He can also move across the padlocks and deadbolts of our minds and hearts. When Jesus appears among us in our hovel of safety he may find the air stuffy and stale with anxiety, distress, and regret. So he brings the fresh air of the Holy Spirit which enables us to breathe in peace. Real peace and not the cheap imitation manufactured by our urge for self-preservation.

Jesus' departure from the sanctuary and peace of oneness with the Father must have been in some way like our trial of leaving the zone of safety behind our locks whether they are physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental. Jesus could not have been sent into an place less friendly. The risen Jesus sends his disciples into a world that may be only slightly friendlier and only a little less perilous. The toxic atmosphere of the curse still pollutes the air of this world, but the fresh wind of the spirit is blowing some of it away.

Peter is finally bold enough to leave the locked house if only to go fishing (John 21). But he still needs a little more time breathing the pure air of the Holy Spirit to help him think clearly and realize that he has chores to do before he goes fishin'. Namely, he needs to feed his master’s sheep. Working in the sheep pasture sounds rather peaceful, but it can be dangerous work. There are predators out there. Even though the day will come that Peter will be "lead somewhere he doesn’t want to go," he isn’t going to be troubled by it because he has peace knowing that the Lord has already sent him out of the ersatz safety of his own making and gave him the real peace and serenity of the Spirit.

Christ’s peace and the Holy Spirit. These are the mysterious keys for unlocking the anxiety and fear that compels us to gather up our loved ones and lock out the world. I admit that I am not familiar with their mechanics and I am not deft in their usage. They are gifts of the risen Lord and I am happy to let the Lord keep these keys in his pockets as I enjoy the privilege of coolly following him through the barriers and barbed wire of this angry world. But the other keys on the key chain, the ones that lock and unlock forgiveness, are keys that Jesus wants me to carry. He makes it clear that we have to take responsibility for using them. I can use either key and he won’t interfere. I can unlock the chain bolt of guilt, shame, bitterness, and remorse; or I can lock it down tightly and retain sin. It’s a good strong lock too. I can bind it on all those bullies and villains who want to ruin me and mine. But I am not the only one who has copies of these keys. Some of you have that same set of keys and you may be binding them on me. The cleverness of these unforgiving dead bolts is that I think I have locked myself in a safe room away from you but you think you’ve locked me away where you do not have to deal with me. We had better use these keys wisely.

Written Without Ink

Welcome to "Written Without Ink." For our first entry, let's talk about the reason we are all here. No, not in the philosophical or theological sense - I simply mean the purpose of the blog (such a trendy word). Why am I writing this? Why are you reading it?

The reason I am writing this is becuase there is no room in the bulletin. Let me explain this: I am blessed to be a part of a wonderful ministry team at the West-Ark Church of Christ. All of us bring our unique talents and experience to the team. David Chadwell has served as preacher, teacher, writer, and all-around servant for over eight years. He is still here. My role is to be a preacher, teacher, writer, and all-around servant too. Sound redundant? It would be if David and I were automatons following a mathematically detailed program. Thankfully we are not, and God has given each of us our own way of participating in his mission in the world. I know that it defies the typical model of a "senior pastor" leading a single congregation, but this is God's work and he creates his own models.

Early in my work here David and I would try to discern just who should be doing what in our individual roles. (I often commented that we were "off the map" because we aren't following the typical model of southern American churches in the last fifty years. Yet, I believe we are following God's model for kingdom relationships). That sort of reflection is good for us, for the church, and for the community we serve because not only have we focused on our own talents but we have paid attention to how we compliment each other. That spirit of teamwork has, I hope, spilled over into all the relationships of our ministry teams.

Anyway, let's return to the bulletin comment. David writes the front page of our church bulletin. It's always a good read. Even though he has graciously offered many times to give me the front page I have to admit that I don't feel right taking it. David's a good writer. It is part of his calling to write. (See it for yourself http://www.davidchadwell.com/) Of course, there are other pages in the bulletin and I certainly don't have to have the front page (I ain't no Pulitzer writer!), but pages two through four are taken up with good material also. Our youth and family minister, Brad Pistole, has a columnn there and from time to time our new campus minister, John Priester, includes news about the Lions for Christ. (You can find out more about all of these at the West-Ark website, http://www.westarkchurchofchrist.org/indexf.html) No one should be deprived of these in the weekly bulletin. Though the printed bulletin only has four pages, the webpage has no such limitations. Since we are and have been using our website so well for communication, I decided to move my literary real estate to cyberspace rather than the printed page.

Of course there are other reasons I am writing this blog (still a trendy word), and it is not simply because I can set my own deadline. I have felt the need to do this for quite some time. That interest has only increased since my sermons have been published on the church website. Yesterday I received a most interesting call responding to one of my sermons that confirmed the value of this communication forum. Maybe I will share that with you sometime.

Another reason I am writing this blog (trendy, eh?) is suggested by the title of this journal (this word is not so trendy). "Written Without Ink" is not simply a reference to the fact that this article has not been printed on a risograph or offset press. The title is inspired by 2 Corinthians 3:3 . . .
"You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."

This journal is an extension of my ministry - not just to the West-Ark family but my ministry to the world God loves. It is intimidating for me to consider that I am a letter from Christ. If I take that seriously, and I do, then I want to open the envelope so you can read the message. My hope is that when you read this blog, you will read the story written by God in his excellent prose even though he is writting it on a rough chunk of brown paper bag like me. My other hope is that in reading this journal you will consider the message that Christ is writing on the tablet of your heart.

Which leads to the reason you are here - reading this blog I mean. Maybe you are a friend, a family member, part of the West-Ark family, or just a wayfaring cyber-stranger, a believer in Christ or one who doubts. All are welcomed to read. I will write it, you can read it, and perhaps you will write back, but we will all reflect on the reason we are here - and this time I mean it in the philosophical and theological sense!