Category Archives: Culture

Quotation of the Week

“When Jesus opens the table to all, the table begins to tell a new story. But it is a story unlike the story of his contemporaries. The observant person’s table story: You can eat with me if you are clean. If you are unclean, take a bath and come back tomorrow evening. Jesus’ table story: clean or unclean, you can eat with me, and I will make you clean. Instead of his table requiring purity, his table creates purity. Jesus chooses the table to be a place of grace. When the table becomes a place of grace, it begins to act. What does it do? It heals, it envisions, and it hopes…

The table of Jesus talks by envisioning a new society, a society of grace, of inclusion, of restoration, and of transformation. We need to ask what, at the physical level, our churches are saying.”

From “The Jesus Creed”, by Scot McKnight (pp.36, 39)

What do you mean?

I made an amusing discovery this past week. Mercy is generally a very good talker. She knows a lot of words and her pronunciation is great (except for blanket which is “biktet”, “bagdhad”, or “biltlek”, or some composite of the three). However, there have been two words that she uses with great frequency that have remained a mystery to us: “thank you” is “meeeenaaaak” and “spoon” is “muuuuuunsch”.

A couple of days ago I was reading the perennial classic, “Goodnight Moon”, to her and we came to the page that reads: “And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush” and as I looked at the picture I realized that what you see is a bowl with a very large spoon in it. Suddenly it made sense why Mercy just may believe that the proper word for “very large spoon” is mush.

This past week we had a congregational visioning meeting for our church. It was one of those meetings where we reflect together about the past, accomplishments and disappointments, as well as what we have learned and hope for our future together. There was a fair amount of emotion in the room at various points, and during one such moment, a dear individual grew quite passionate and said, “Maybe we need a new theology of neighboring.”

It was one of those O.J. Simpson verdict moments where half the room nodded vigorously in agreement while the rest looked on in confusion. I can imagine some people puzzling: “a theology of neighboring? What is that?????”

Now any self-respecting Southern California Intervarsity graduate knows exactly what that term, taken from the writing of Bob Lupton, means, as does someone like myself who owns all of Lupton’s books. Any first or second generation Latino, however, would not have a clue how a word they thought was a noun is suddenly working like a verb.

Language is so potent. And it can be so divisive. And sometimes the best you can guess is that “mush” simply must mean “spoon.”

Because we live in L.A.

I guess that everyone who lives here has their big star-sighting story to tell. Doug and I laugh because we NEVER see anyone famous and there are very few people we would actually be interested in seeing. But having Jack Bauer walk up to you while you are playing with your daughter at Manhattan Beach and strike up a conversation–now that is something.

Let the little children come

Mercy picked up her pink guitar today and started singing. It was impressive not because of the volume (though I must say the girl’s got some lungs), nor her little performer’s stance, nor the dramatic facial expressions she was making which could have landed her a spot on Idol for sure. What grabbed me were her “lyrics”. As she sang, a not-so-simple word continued emerging: “alleluia”. Over and over again, her little mouth formed that word as she strummed her guitar with passion.

You might think we must be a really holy household to have our eighteen-month-old daughter singing her “alleluias” already; but I have to confess that there are a lot of other words she hears with much greater frequency. At first I thought, well, she hears her daddy planning worship every week, or she must have picked that up in church, but she spends most Sundays in the nursery (as do I lately) and Doug rarely practices through the worship set until after she is in bed. Was it the four weeks of intensive Hebrew I got through while she was in utero???

We have had a little bit of drama in our household the past few weeks over our decision to have our son, Aaron, baptized. In our multi-cultural church context, the issue of infant baptism is a hot one and our Latino pastor is more than aware of the potential cost of celebrating this as part of our church life. Mercy was baptized almost a year ago and our pastor got a lot of flak–one new family even left the church.

Doug and I are clearly in the minority in our congregation, even among the Anglos, and so many of our peers here don’t at all understand our position on this. As a lifelong (and current) member of the Evangelical Covenant church, I never thought I would be in a place where I had to explain myself so many times over, or fight for a theological freedom I have grown to assume. It is not her baptism that saves her; only Christ can do that. That is true at nine months, nine years, or ninety years of age! And like Israel she will be saved not because she is strong or mighty or good or beautiful, not because of her righteousness or faithfulness, but simply because God, in his goodness and grace, chooses her.

I guess this morning watching a little girl strum a pink guitar, it all seemed so very simple. God’s grace in my little girl’s life is pure gift, as it is for all of us. And part of God’s grace to her is the provision of parents, Godparents, and a church family who are committed to helping her learn the language of worship, in word and in deed. I do not believe that she understands the meaning of her song yet. But it is my job, and the church’s job, to help her do just that.

cartoon houses

A friend of mine has owned a home here in our community for many years. Recently, she and her husband painted their exterior in rich earth tones and enhanced their landscaping. When you drive by, you immediately notice how nice their home looks. This past month, their neighbor also decided to beautify his home. He worked for weeks on a complete makeover of the exterior. And then came the paint…

Neon orange and lime green are the best I can do to describe the colors–the house is vibrant, electric, and probably glows at night. In the words of my friend’s husband, “It looks like a cartoon house! “ And he’s right. If you drive down the street this is certainly the one house you will not miss!

I heard last week that my friend who lives next to this house had said: “I just don’t want to leave the house anymore, because when I come back home I have to see it.”

I was thinking about how this feels a lot like what Bonhoeffer calls, “Life Together.” There are people who are like that house: bright, bold, foreign—ultimately, different than us. But we like OUR color scheme; OUR style; OUR way of looking at the world. And sometimes people’s colors can clash so badly with our own carefully chosen palette that we choose to stay inside so as not to be reminded that they exist.

Maybe this is why so many housing developments have restrictions and a carefully chosen menu of what colors homeowners can choose from. Maybe this is why so many people are attracted to living in those kinds of places–and abandoning those where you can’t legislate your neighbor’s taste. Maybe this is why churches struggle so hard to bring together people of different cultural backgrounds; or why they don’t.

Yoda and the Passover

Dick Staub has written a new book, Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters, that explores the question of how my generation has (or in most cases, has not) been mentored by those who have gone before us. He uses the clever comparison of Jedi in desperate need of Yodas who will instruct and guide and enflesh what it is we hope for in our Christian lives.

Sunday night I attended a Seder dinner with my husband and the messianic Jewish congregation he helps lead music for at a synagogue in Beverly Hills. The irony of the evening was that I should have been home studying for my Hebrew exam on Monday morning, but instead I spent the night participating in something very beautiful and strange.

The Seder dinner celebrates Passover: the occasion in the history of the Jewish people where God brought judgment upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians for enslaving the Hebrews, and “passed over” the homes of the Jews in his slaughter of the firstborns, both children and animals, throughout all the land. It is this gruesome event that causes Pharaoh to finally release the Jews and “let them go”: following the Passover, the people of Israel are slaves in Egypt no more.

As I was reminded frequently throughout the Seder meal, celebrating Passover is about celebrating redemption: redemption from bondage and slavery, and extinction. For Messianic Jews, this dinner also celebrates the life and death of Yeshua, the messiah, who shared this very same meal with his disciples hours before his passion began.

So what does this have to do with Staub’s book?

It is said that the Passover is celebrated for the sake of the children, that they would hear the stories of their people. At the beginning of the Seder, there is a ritual where the youngest child asks four questions:

“On all other nights we eat either leavened or unleavened bread. Why on this night do we eat only unleavened bread?

On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables. Why on this night do we eat only bitter herbs?

On all other nights we don’t dip even once. Why on this night do we dip twice?

On all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining. Why on this night do we recline?”

As a gathered people on Sunday evening we read, together, the answers to these four questions. And over the course of the evening we read, sang, and listened to the stories of a people who were once enslaved and who are now redeemed. And through eating and dipping and washing and hiding, we answered, as a body: “why is this night different from all other nights?”

Sunday night, I sat in a room filled with Yodas. Sunday night I ate and drank with young and old who gather on this night with the express purpose of shaping the next generation. Sunday night I shared a meal with a people who would probably not understand the need for Dick Staub’s book. Sunday night I shared life with a community that regularly speaks to what Staub describes as the hunger “to discover your true destiny and your place in the cosmic story.” For my Jewish sisters and brothers, faith has never been something that one has to go out and get a hold of by oneself. Faith does not exist apart from ones family; one’s people. Faith is always something corporate: or as my husband likes to say, for our Jewish friends, “belonging” comes before “believing.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but in my church people get annoyed if they are not spoon-fed their worship experience by people up front. I don’t mean to be critical, but in the name of being “welcoming” and “sensitive” to visitors, there is a dangerous trend toward making the Sunday morning service a fun “experience”; something that can be “enjoyed” as a spectator, with actual participation and responsibility left at a minimum. The long hours and high level of participation that the Seder supper demanded would, in the language of my church, be “inaccessible”, “uncomfortable”, and a “turn-off.”

I wonder what it must be like for the children on the night of the Seder. As they look around they see their parents, elders and friends practicing a strange, inaccessible ritual with flat bread, parsley dipped in salt water, and hard boiled eggs:inaccessible, that is, unless one knows the story. As I sat there and shared in these rituals I thought of my own little girl. What in her life and experience in our home and in our church will teach her about who she is and who her people are? How will she learn the story of salvation as something bigger than a private romance between her and Jesus?

Maybe what Staub’s “Jedi Christians” need are not more conferences, seminaries, books and workshops. Maybe what we need is not another new, more “fashionable” way of doing church. Maybe what we need are not more opportunities to be “performed” to. Maybe what we need are simply more places where we gather to encourage our children to ask questions; where we eat and dip and wash and hide; where we, together, retell and reenact our story.

The gospel according to Los Angeles

During a recent lecture in my Early Church History class, our professor was discussing Epicurus and his understanding of reality. According to Epicurus, life happens when a bunch of atoms bump into each other and stick together, and eventually become a complex enough clump to somehow produce life. Death is inevitable, and when it happens, the atoms return to their original source: life is therefore a very temporary experience.

Those who followed Epicirus believed in maximizing their pleasure and happiness at all times, and finding every way to make their present life as long and as happy as it could be.

Maximizing happiness and extending life: it sounds a lot like what life looks like here in L.A. From zany health trends to expensive dieticians, spas, and of course surgical procedures, Angelinos are all about making life look as good and last as long as possible.

But something doesn’t match up. My professor also discussed how, according to Epicurus, anxiety is the enemy of the pleasurable life! He would argue against going into politics, for example, because it is too anxiety-producing.

So here’s what I find intriguing in all of this: everywhere I turn, I see people scrambling after happiness. I see people terrified of death and going to extremes to prevent it! I see pleasure placed on private alters everywhere and worshiped faithfully. Yet if you were to ask me what other word could best describe the families and individuals I know, I think it would have to be anxiety. I have too many peers on too many medications; I know too many teenagers who cut, starve, or wish to die; I see too many desperately controlling people whose lives are held hostage to every kind of fear. And these are just my Christian friends…

I heard a sermon recently that reminded us that we are all yoked to something: our egos, our addictions, our stuff. I wonder if it isn’t that, for many of us, we have we chosen to yoke ourselves to happiness or pleasure or longevity. And in doing so, we have found that we have chosen our Self as our ultimate yokefellow; and that is where the anxiety comes from. For when we grow weary, our yokefellow does too. When we desperately need the strength of another to help shoulder our load, we are left with the limits of our own endurance. When we simply want to turn and see that we have a companion in our labor, we instead find our own haggard face staring back.

What does the promise of an easy yoke and a light burden look like today-and are we brave enough to proclaim it?