Archives For God

Here are the two best prayers I know:

“Help me, help me, help me”


“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

The Two Best Prayers

Why We Need Everyday Theology

Chris —  September 4, 2012

In the Middle Ages, Theology was named “Queen of the Sciences.”  It was a noble idea, that the study of God is the greatest of all studies.  The problem is, this puts theology on a pedestal far away from where we live our lives.

I think that this problem is painfully apparent in our modern life.  These days we’re convinced life can be boiled down to information to be quantified and experiences to be bought and sold.  That is, until we are stuck alone in a quiet room with our own thoughts, or tragedy shakes us from our futile busyness.


What if placing theology on a pedestal actually killed it?  Being a queen means no longer walking among the base.  Maybe the reason “men lead lives of quiet desperation” is that we can an find no depth, or purpose in our day to day.

Everyday Theology isn’t that different from what Jesus did when he strode through the streets of ancient Palestine.  He took God from heaven to earth.  A theology modeled after Jesus will take our ideas God and eternity and push them through the sieve of daily life.

My friend John Chandler has organized a get together of compadres from Ecclesia Network, Missio Alliance and a few “off the map” communities of Jesus people from around Texas.  Dr. Roger Olson, of Truett Theological Seminary and the Missio Alliance, will kick things off. He will be followed by 13 practitioners, from 13 different church communities, telling their stories of how theology shapes our activities and our thinking, not just on Sunday, but Monday through Saturday as well.

I’m thrilled that John’s going to let me help MC, and that we’re hosting at my home away from home Space12.

I hope you can join us.

Isolation is a term coined by the late Fuller Professor Robert Clinton.  It refers to an experience where a leader is removed from a number of things, such as their position of leadership, a sense of God’s presence, a knowledge of calling or direction.  Isolation can be chosen, like taking a sabbatical or returning to seminary.  It can also be forced on you, like a health problem, imprisonment or getting fired.  It can last for weeks, or for years.

My major Isolation experience began when my position on a staff at a megachurch in San Antonio ended.  I was out of work for over six months.  I was unable to find a suitable ministry position, and eventually ended up in retail.  I went from having a place of positional leadership and what seemed like a career track to being alone, with no sense of direction and very little hope.

In studying Isolation as part of the MAGL, I read something from Dr. Clinton that basically went like this:

“Don’t try to be finished with your Isolation until you’ve gotten everything out of it that God wants you to get out of it.”

This floored me, because for two years, I’ve been trying to be getting out Isolation.  Unable to find direction, I tried to dive further into spiritual practices.  When I felt adrift in depression, I sought to distract myself, and eventually got into counseling to “fix it.”  I’ve had to learn what it is to do ministry when it’s not my job.  Worst of all, my sense of failure and lack of direction left me unable to even answer the question “what do you want to do?”

But this comment about “getting everything out of Isolation” forced me to reevaluate why I was in such a hurry.  If the perfect opportunity fell in my lap tomorrow, would I know what to do with it?  Am I mature enough to keep from repeating the mistakes I’ve made in the past?  Am I even the kind of person who should be trusted with leadership?

For the first time in almost three years, I am beginning to sense some “movement.”  It may be that some new opportunities are on the horizon.  But what’s the rush?  Maybe I still have something to learn from Isolation.

Every once and awhile I hear people complaining about the lousy christian music that they were force fed when they were kids.  I smile and nod, but honestly I don’t really have any idea what they were talking about.  The tribe of churches I came from were skeptical of anything from other tribes, so we shunned the books, movies and music that was being peddled by evangelicalism.  We had our way of doing things, and much of our energy was spent justifying ourselves…to ourselves.  In other words, we were an echo chamber.

The danger of an echo chamber is that the only voice you hear is your own.  The inevitability of the political echo chamber began with cable TV and exploded with the internet.  Now, you can completely cater your media experience to consist only of things that you already agree with.  You’ve met people who only listen to radio, read blogs, and communicate with others who share their politics.  Some days, all I want is to hear a few jokes from John Stewart, a story from Ira Glass and an episode of Doctor Who.  The internet makes this customization not only possible, but normal.

I find this sad.  I’m a full believer in a classic “liberal arts” education. I believe that, even if I don’t like it, having an understanding of algebra, art history and biology will make us better human beings.  It breaks my heart to meet someone who doesn’t know what Tale of Two Cities or a quadratic equation is.

When it comes to theology, an echo chamber isn’t just sad, it’s dangerous. A key tennant of the Christian faith, which the western church struggles to articulate, is that everything we believe is rooted in mystery.  We believe in a God-Man and a wind-like Spirit and a living lifestyle rooted in a future we have yet to see.  Everything we do is rooted in mystery.  This is not to say that there are not key, identifiable marks of orthodoxy.  But the fact is there’s a lot we can’t know, and a lot of room to disagree.

Theological echo chambers allow you to create systematic theologies and take them to logical yet dangerous theological and practical extremes.  This creates Reformers  more calvinistic than Calvin, Wesleyans who become universalists and Anabaptist that withdraw to farms where no one can bother them.  Practically, this creates religious arrogance.  The tradition I come from (like many) is often mocked for assuming everyone else is going to hell.  There might be some truth to that.

I believe in humbly seeking to hear from a multiplicity of voices.  This means more than being open to hearing the arguments of the people that you disagree with.  It means finding approaching life with a learning posture, assuming that even those that there are thing you can respect and emulate in everyone. And while you may come away believing what you always have, you’ll know better than ever why you believe it.

Here’s how I practice this:  I attend seminary with people who have some elements of theology I disagree with.  I work with a parachurch organization that trains leaders from a diversity of denominations.  I listen to podcasts from Tim Keller (reformed/presbyterian) and Bruxy Cavey (anabaptist/wesleyan), Catalyst (seeker sensitive/event driven) and Iconocast (Christian anarchist).  Don’t get me wrong, I have my favorites and I definitely have my opinions.  But I’m better off because I learn to love and respect others.

Have you broken out of the echo chamber?  Why or Why not?

Life is Good.

Chris —  October 3, 2011

Life is Good.

It’s true that life is tough. And when you realize that it’s tough, it gets a little better. It’s hard not to get lost in the darkness. Suffering is immediate rich and important in a way that our small daily joys pale against.

Which is why it is essential to remember that life is good.

As I was leaving the Emmanuel Orphanage in Delhi, Lakshmi, a six year old girl with piercing blue eyes clung to me and cried “Uncle, Uncle!” She, and all those around hre had been abandoned and persecuted their entire young lives, but they still knew how to love deeply, in a way I struggle to remember. Life is good.

I know a guy who begrudgingly gave the keys of his car to a single mom he barely knew for two weeks. They are good friends now.  Life is good.

A friend of mine has often thought that he could ever get a “good girl.” He felt like the only ones interested had different values and would treat him poorly. Then he met a girl, and has been attached to her at the hip ever since. Seeing them together is life seeing something that was always meant to be. Life is good.

Another friend of mine went to a foreign country to work with an NGO. His work was interupted when his teammates were captured, and he had to spend to next few months there negotiating their release.  As heartwrenching as that was, he also sees it as the most important thing he has ever done. He took a furlough to recover, and is returning calmer, closer to God, and more excited about discipleship than ever. Life is good.

I get depressed sometimes. This summer was one of those. In the midst of that, I got a small, unexpected gift that helped shake me out of my myopic viewpoint. Life is good.

The scriptures teach when God created the world he called it good. When he created man, he called man really good. Then, sin wrecked all of that. Twisted and misshapen, like a fun house or a computer photobooth. But when we look behind the brokenness, we get to see that there is a heart wrenching beauty to it all.

The scriptures teach that this is not the way it was meant to be. Life is meant to be good. God has restored, is restoring and eventually will restore in full.

In time, the heartwrench will be over, and all we will see is that Life is Good.