Invitation to a New School

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Here is my Sermon from this morning the Text is Matthew 11:25-30. I hope some of you will enjoy my thoughts and words. If you don’t that is okay- just stop listening. If you have questions or would like to talk I would love to converse with you. However, please know that it is easier for me to converse in person or on the phone than it is in this format. However, I will do my best.

PEACE

Matthew 11:

25-26 Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.”

27 Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

 

Joy to the World: or the Eucharist

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Finished reading, Matthew Levering. “Sacrifice and Community: Jewish Offering and Christian Eucharist” today. In this book Levering, a professor of Theology at University of Dayton, places in relation the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham alongside the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ.

At one moving point in the text Levering, an Aquinas scholar, exegetes John 15:9-17

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” Jn 15:9-17 NRSV

Levering drawing from Aquinas shows that Christ is not only the model of ethical practice but becomes in this the model of love itself. Humans, Aquinas argues, are essentially self-serving, I focused creatures. The very nature of being human is ultimately rooted in the will to survive. However, in Christ the will to survive is supplanted by the life rooted not in the self but in the FATHER. Christ, himself human, is first and foremost tempted with the will to survive (MAKE BREAD FROM STONE). Self-survival, self-well-being, self-health is our first idolatry. The care for the self as the primary sense of human action is fundamentally a witness to our broken-ness from the community of faith. The desire to care for the self as the primary unit is ultimately and completely what it means to be fallen. However, in Christ, our model for life, we find that we are not to abide in ourselves but we are to abide in him as he abides in the Father. That is to say, as Christ sacrifices his humanity to the love of all humanity– via the love of the Father, so we are called to abide in Christ’s love and sacrifice ourselves to the love of his body for all creation. Evangelism/ mission in this light is not simply one aspect of the Christian life but it is the Christian life and the true worship of the creator.

Herein, is the mystery of the Eucharistic practice for the body of Christ. In abiding in his sacrifice (for the love of all creation) we take on his charity to us (which his electing of us for salvation) and through us (which is calling us to bear salvation to all creation) thus we become Christ charity (sacrifice) to all creation.

To bear Christ to creation is to pronounce to the creation what God’s goodness does for the creation. Unlike the traditional neo-baptist or american-evangelical theological condemnation of creation because it lack Christ– to bear Christ joy in us and through us in the Eucharist for creation is to announce God’s good news of hope and salvation within our beings as we live in love with creation, particularly as Aquinas would want me to say, the rational creatures. (What we bind on earth shall be bound in heaven what we loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.) Our abiding in Christ gives us the hope that our love of what Christ love by abiding in the Father will come to pass- the redemption of all things.

Here the ontological reality of Christ’s body in the church become most real. By sharing in Christ condition– the casual love of God for all creation– which overflows both in the creation and in the creation to come. The Trinity, the entirety of God’s being present among us, and extending beyond us, is engaged in a joyous celebration of life. As Thomas Aquinas writes,

{Now love is the cause of joy, for everyone takes joy in what he loves. But God loves himself and creatures, especially rational creatures, to whom he grants an infinite good. So Christ rejoices in two things from all eternity; first in his own good and that of the Father: “I was delighted everyday playing before him (Prov 8:30) ; secondly, he delights in the good of the rational creature, “delighting in the sons of men” (Prov 8:31) that is, in the fact that I am shared in by the children of men. He rejoices in these things from eternity; “As the bride-groom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” Isaiah 62:5}

Here we find that in our abiding in Christ as Christ abides in the Father, Christ has joy in us just as the Father has joy in Christ. The manifestation of that joy is not special privilege wherein we relax in our condition as saved but it is special duty wherein we bear God’s joy in us to all creation. Being the product of Christ joy calls us to an embodied sacrificial life that is re-present-ed at the Eucharistic table wherein Christ is sacrificed as the joy of the Father as we are sent out into all creation to be his sacrificial body. JOY UPON JOY!

Or as the carol goes

breadJoy to the World, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

These Three Are Essential

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I have spent the last 24 hours listening and reading peoples reflections on Nelson Mandela. I remember the years before his release. I remember with deep clarity watching and learning about apartheid as a University student in the early eighties. I watched movies, read books and spent time in endless lectures learning about the oppression and injustice of some many in our world. Steven Biko became someone I deeply admired for his willingness to suffer. Nelson Mandela in those days was still imprisoned, silenced. I remember the night a collection of my friends gather around the television in my apartment in 1986 to watch a documentary that mentioned Mandela.

I remember with joy his release from prison. I remember his first visit to United States, his lectures and teaching in both Atlanta and Washington, DC that I attended. I remember reading his book in 1994 and watching the 1996 movie with students at the Wesley Foundation.

However, probably the thing that has stuck with me the deepest has little to do with my experiences of learning about him or hearing from him. What what I believe for me has the deepest meaning was the ability to realize that at the heart of a politically rooted humanity was a radical need to reframe an understanding of power and oppression. Mandela embodied a christological understanding of reframing the options available to us and giving us a third way to think about the outcomes.

Mandela understood that politics that takes humanity seriously has to look at power and oppression through the lens of truth, reconciliation and forgiveness. Politics, governance or authority unable to reframe becomes stagnate and addicted to control- as he states, “I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of what I thought, because of my conscience.”

To be serious about any healthy sense of the human identity requires that we drop the pretension of self pain, self-justice, self-righteousness as the single most significant fact of history and address the reality that other stories narrate our story.

Our story does not exist in the vacuum of history but is wrapped up in the story of the other so deeply that we cannot simply break ourselves out of that history. To be healthy we must come to terms with that history by telling truth, offering forgiveness and seeking means of reconciling broken-ness. 

Nothing short of these three has anything to do with health. Truth short of forgiveness is not healthy community. Truth and forgiveness short of reconciliation is not healthy community. The only genuinely healthy community available to the human being requires– TRUTH, FORGIVENESS AND RECONCILIATION. Short of those three we are not healthy!

Architectonics

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041I have become very interested recently in the use of language and how language opens up and closes down creative understandings of leadership.

For example, I am deeply fascinated with the term “architectonics” as it relates to the creative process and and the process of developing that which is naturally pleasing to the senses.

I have been writing today a short article entitled– “Communities of Action or The Architectonics of Faithfulness: Leadership, Community and the Development of Environments of Action.” In this article I am arguing that communities of action are not shaped by information, they are not shaped by organizational systems. Communities of action are shaped by creative processes that are naturally pleasing and encouraging to associate alongside. Communities of Action rooted in the architectonics of faithfulness are communities that work to shape their lives around practices that reflect the creative nature of human beings.

Art, dance, prayer, meditation, cooking, feasting, singing etc. are essential to understand how communities of action learn to express justice, compassion and devotion. The linear mode of speech, often embodied in the homiletical practices of most churches to the reduction of all other corporate expression, entrust the justice, compassion and devotion of a given community to the 2 dimensional world of speech.

For communities to most fully embrace the various gifts of their body for justice, compassion and devotion it is going to require the liberation of human expression within the gathered community.

Building Great Externally Focused Communities

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I finished reading The Web of Inclusion: Architecture for Building Great Organizations” by Sally Helgesen tonight.  Again, I have been drawn to how secular/ business structures often understand and describe (most often by accident) the difficulty of ecclesial structures with far more clarity and precision than those attempting to think within the churches ecclesial order.

Sally Helgesen in this book helps with understanding the tension between power structures and goal oriented (what I will call missional) structures.  Helgesen suggest that any healthy organization that attempts to find their guidance from within their internal power structure will fail because they will loose sight of their missional structure.  The Web of Inclusion requires external means of finding power and order.

Healthy organizations have a mission/ goal to produce specific outcomes and those outcomes are the essential essence of that organization.  The internal structure of an organization must be constantly held in tension with the external mission.  If the internal structure undermines the external mission it is the internal structure that must be jettisoned.   Addiction to the internal structure like addiction to food, alcohol, drugs etc. will undo and undermine the external mission.

Therefore, if we use the shorter catechism as the definition of our primary goal and understand that the Churches primary job is to produce individuals who understand and practice that the single purpose of humanity is the praise and worship of God than how we focus on the praise and worship of God in relationship to the larger audience is where we will find our guidance.

The tools to focus on our primary purpose are nothing more than tools. Our social political structure wherein we govern our mission is not primary but at best “duodenary” (which literally translates twelfth but here means way down the line of importance.)

When the tools of governance become a primary, secondary or even tertiary we are in danger of shifting ourselves away from our mission to worship God to our desire to uphold our structures of power and governance. The problem with power structured organizations is their goal is movable based upon the needs of those in power to maintain the systems of order in relationship to their underwriting governance of power.

It is at this point that Sally Helgesen is of most help when she opens up the window that healthy organizational structures always look external from this themselves to find their energy and power. That is to say, “outside alliances are more important than internal organization.”

Following Margaret Wheatley’s excellent work on revolutionary leadership entitled, “Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World.” Wheatley demonstrates and Helgesen develops an understanding that healthy organizations forget about mass (internal order) and focus on connectivity (external order) with a fundamental view toward their mission.  We are not self-defined but we are defined primarily by what we are called to serve.

The power of Apple Computers is not to be found in the CEO or in Board Positions.  The power of Apple Computers is found in the unlimited pockets globally who are connected by their use and participation in the product.  In the same way the ecclesial power of the church is not found in it bishops, elders and deacons– the ecclesial power of the church is not even found in those who sit in her pews– the ecclesial power of the church must be found in the hands and feet of those that the church is called to embody Christ among.  In essence our power is not derived internally, our power is derived by being known as the embodiment of Christ in our communities.

Put simply, both Helgesen and Wheatley call all their readers to understand that a new more healthy leadership model is rooted in a externally focused leadership, obsessed with their mission not their internal organizational power structures. Those in leadership must fundamentally attempt to connect themselves outside of themselves. If we are going to be healthy we must abandon altogether the internally derived systems of power.  This should have significant implication for how we elect leaders, support leaders, reward leaders and define what leadership actually means.

External connectivity, relatedness is the only model of governance that will survive the revolutionary transitions that are unwittingly undermining old style social political system. Internal leadership power will always kills an organization in this new social political world. Without intimate knowledge of external connectivity to the missional focus the community is dead.

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A classic example of this can clearly be seen in the complete failure of the social political structure of Washington, DC to make sense of the American landscape. As long as our political leaders (and I would suggest ecclesial leaders) continue to fight and struggle for internal governance over the missional substance political parties (and I would suggest denomination based ideology) will be the last vestiges of the of the museum that is quickly become Western social/ political theory.

 

The Seven Words

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washington monumentI am asked regularly by students and others what is the basis of helping and encouraging people to support both physically and financially our ministry here at Oklahoma State University Wesley Foundation.

In the past few years I have began to understand and uncover that people support projects and ministries for seven basic reasons.

1) Discovery-
Star Trek began with the line, “to go where no man has gone before.” People have always wanted the opportunity to discovery new horizons. To great lengths people will take risk and offer significant resources to find those new frontiers of knowledge and experience.

2) Encouragement–
It is often said that “Success breeds success.” In no place is this more true than it is when asking people to give of themselves or their resources for the well being of an idea, an organization or an institution. People find encouragement is sharing when they see encouragement embodied.

3) Relief–
People’s hearts are moved by the reality of the human condition. People want to be involved in offering others the opportunity to sense justice, goodness and hope.

4) Preservation–
Ideals and places have a life of their own. There are some places that when one enters they know that they have arrived on meaningful ground. When a citizen of the United States looks up at the Washington Monument they know that they are connected. Keeping those connections moves people to share.

5) Nourishment–
You are what you eat! This is a very famous statement but at no point is it more true than when asking people to share of their lives. Eating being a metaphor of what we take into our bodies and allow to effect our thoughts, minds, wills and passions.

6) Creation–
At the root of human existence is the desire to know that we are joined together in a great cloud of hope with others on this floating rock. People will give greatly to under-gird this connection. People will work tirelessly to uplift an understanding that give hope. At the root of creation is the idea that people participate in making the future.

7) Remembrance–
I will never forget my father telling me, “don’t forget where you come from.” Essential to the human identity is the reality that we are bound together by our various remembrances and experiences within life. People will go to great ends to ensure the resurrection of their name for decades to come. Parents, grandparents and others have their names emboldened on the sides of buildings so that their is a basic resurrection of the minds remembrance.

These seven words, which I borrow from Brian O’Connel (President of the Independent Sector) reflect for us how it is that people are able to give of themselves and their resources for others.

Therefore, I am not necessarily raising money or support as much as I am attempting to connect the right person with the right opportunity at the right time in the right way to meet the right goals.

Sacred Moments of Healthy Leadership

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Healthy leadership relies on sacred moments.  Don’t be mistaken I am not necessarily talking about religious experiences of religious moments.  I am talking about sacred moments.  Moments wherein the leader finds ways to renew themselves and find the strength of vision and hope that gives the entire team an ability to reflect, plan, act and evaluate.

Today was one of those moments.  I spent the largest part of the day seated on the saddle of my road bike.  I left Stillwater, with a former student Jesse Reed Cruce, at 10:15 am.  We set our goal to ride approximately 80 miles to the small Oklahoma town of Pawhuska.  To get to Pawhuska however, would require that we venture through several other small Oklahoma towns.

At each point I encountered not only people but also art, history and identity.  In the seat saddle of a bicycle you have the opportunity to take into your field of vision the uniqueness and beauty of given moments of time and history.  Today, as I rode the distance from Pawnee, Oklahoma to Ralston, Oklahoma I recognized a unique rural art form called creation, life, farming, hope etc. . . that has marked this land for the past century.  Leadership in this land must be connected to the artwork of creation itself.  To be a healthy leader, in Oklahoma it does not suffice to understand management systems and organizational structures.  Please understand these practices are not bad and are in fact necessary for accountability but they are not the stuff of leadership.  Leadership requires intimate connection with the life of the people.  You cannot be a leader divorced from the heart peoples experience.

In the church today we have become addicted to forms of leadership that suggest repetition of that which has already failed. Offering more services, different styles of worship etc. . . . to people who are overwhelming uninterested in our services in the first place and unwilling to worship an abstracted theological construct will not woo them to come to our facilities or our various events.

Several years ago when I worked in a diagnostic center– at a major University hospital, and at a small private hospital– I learned something about what it means to look at a condition and break down the illnesses of that situation.  Frequently we learned that the illnesses that the individual had where deeply rooted in the illnesses of those who attempted to say that the patient was ill.  This lesson has become important to me in ministry.  If I am to understand mission, the first place of missional work is within the walls of the church to help them understand that their ministry is often insignificant to the condition of those they think they want to reach.

Ministry that doesn’t start with a diagnostics of the community both internal and external to the church is not ministry in the light of Christ but it is ministry in service to institutional survival.  One of the things that I have learned most clearly in the last 18 years working with young people is that our fear of death as a denomination, as an American society, has done nothing but insure that we are going to die.