Archives For September 2005

Ouch, My Brain Hurts

September 18, 2005 — Leave a comment

Jn 14:23-26; Ro. 12:1-2
Olivet Covenant Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA
© Andy Campbell, 9/18/2005

I was meeting with a couple of the students I work with and we were talking about the beginning of this new school year. I asked them how classes were going, how the workload was. One student responded, “My brain hurts already!” Boy do I know that feeling. It was not that long ago when I was cramming for exams or burning the midnight oil to get a paper finished. I would walk away from those times feeling numb inside my skull. My brain hurt.

That’s a paradox about schooling. We go to increase our knowledge, and sometimes along the way we get overloaded. Once overloaded it’s difficult to recall that information or make it stick. How many of you forgot an entire year’s worth of math once you’d taken the final exam? Yet, we are supposed to learn those things so that we are transformed – a lasting change.

Then there are those of us who have difficulty learning from traditional lecture methods. I just can’t sit still for that long. I was always doodling in my books or on my notes. I had to give my hands something to do. My teachers never liked that much. I saw classmates of mine become discouraged because they had difficulty learning the way teachers taught. Their grades were sub-par because of it. Many of them developed a very negative attitude towards school.

I went to church with some of those classmates. We were in Sunday school together. They loathed that hour. It was enough that we had to suffer at the hands of domineering instructors Monday through Friday, but Sundays as well? Wasn’t that supposed to be a day of rest? So, their response was to let their eyes glaze over as their thoughts drifted to football or girls. More than once they’d mutter under their breath something about not being able to wait until they were old enough to not have to go to Sunday school.

No doubt their experiences in the Monday to Friday school colored their opinion of Sunday school. So why have it? If we are overloading our brains already with school or work, why devote yet another hour of our week to cramming in more information? Well, it’s not really supposed to be like that.

Paul, in our second scripture reading of the day, urges us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. That’s a pretty familiar verse, so let’s look at it a little more closely. Paul isn’t saying that we need to transform ourselves, rather we need to be transformed. The word he uses is for “transform” where we get our word “metamorphosis” from. He uses the same word when he writes the Corinthians and tells them every day we are being transformed into the image of the Lord. So, where’s the transformation coming from?

Have you ever noticed how quiet it gets in a Sunday school class when a question with a really obvious answer is asked? Like, “Who was it that said, ‘I am the Bread of Life’?” Everyone’s thinking “Jesus” but nobody says anything. There was this little boy sitting in a Sunday school class and his teacher asked him what was grey, had a bushy tail, lived in trees, and ate acorns. He scratched his head and said, “I know the answer’s gotta be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.” The answer to our question is like that. It’s a Sunday school answer. The transformation is coming from the Holy Spirit. How do we know? Jesus told us so. Before his crucifixion Jesus told his disciples that when he had gone away, the Holy Spirit would come, sent by the Father, to teach and remind them of everything he’d told them. Teach and remind. Earlier he’d told his follower to have confidence whenever they had to appear before leaders or authorities on account of their faith. The Holy Spirit would teach them the things to say.

So, the actual transformation of our minds comes not through our own strength but through the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. Phew! But that’s not all. We’re not completely absolved from participation in this act. Paul says that our part is to renew, or renovate, our minds. It is that renovation that the Holy Spirit is going to use as a catalyst for our transformation. How do we do that?

I’ve found two ways that work in conjunction with each other to renovate our minds. Through scripture and in community. Our dear friend Paul wrote his protégé, Timothy and told him, in this oft quoted verse, that all Scripture is useful for teaching, training in righteousness, so that the man of God can be equipped for every good work. Sounds like Paul in encouraging any of us who desire to be transformed, equipped, for God’s work need to become thoroughly acquainted with God’s Word.

“I do that,” you say, “every morning when I read my Bible or my copy of Our Daily Bread. Surely that’s enough.” If this were a game show instead of a sermon, you would have just heard a loud buzzer go off. Wrong! It is on the right track, but not enough. You do need to read the Scripture privately as an act of devotion to our Lord. However, Jesus told us in the Great Commission, the mandate for the Church, that we are to teach others what He has taught us. You can’t do that in your private quiet time.

The early church understood this. In the second chapter of Acts Luke writes that they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and fellowship. Paul told Timothy that until he could visit him again, he should concentrate on public reading of Scripture and on teaching. From the very beginning, when God made Eve, there has been a communal aspect to life. We need each other. We learn from each other. If we are going to renew our minds, we benefit from doing this in the company of others.

So, back to my childhood friends dreaming their way through Sunday school. Was it their fault that they zoned out? Was it the fault of the teachers for failing to engage the students? Probably both. Later in life one of these friends would confide in me that for years of regular church attendance, he’d felt spiritually dead inside. I can’t help but wonder if a mind renovation and metamorphosis might have solved that.

What does all this mean to you? Today we kick off our fall class offerings. These are opportunities to begin a transformation. In community with a small group of people, you will have the opportunity to absorb Scripture and tarry along with each other as God affects change in you as individuals and in us as a church. So that no one can feign ignorance, I want to go over with you the things that are being offered, when they are being offered, and what you might expect from each of these groups.

First, Dayton Castleman is offering an inductive Bible study on the Book of Mark. Inductive study is taking the text and examining it in context to get a fuller understanding of what the text is saying. You can expect a deep and thought provoking exploration of Mark’s Gospel, punctuated by “ah-ha!” moments. The class will take place on Sunday mornings, before the worship service, at 8:30 in the lounge. It promises to be a great way to start your day and prepare you for worship.

Second, Bruce will again be teaching the adult Sunday school class that meets immediately following coffee hour. He will be taking a look at the Book of Proverbs and other Wisdom literature, which will be a great way to begin renovating your minds.

On Tuesday evenings, here at the church, Syd and Brenda Blandford will be leading a group that will be reading through and discussing the book Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. This book has had wide acclaim for it’s ability to help people see that God has created them for a specific purpose and knowing ones purpose gives life new meaning. This is a group for seasoned Christians or those who are checking out the faith.

Also on Tuesday evenings, Linda will be leading a group that takes a look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The group will be taking a look at a videotaped series by Dr. Dale Bruner. If you want a fresh, in-depth look at this familiar passage out of Matthew, this is the group for you. Dr. Bruner will not only educate you as to the text, but will also set it in it’s cultural context – the original languages, specifics of the culture that bear on understanding the text.

On Wednesday evenings from 6 until 8, at the Campbell’s house, a group will be studying Scripture passages according to the practice of Lection Divinia, or “Divine Reading”. It is a centuries old practice that engages the Scripture as living and active and invites the participants to let God speak to them personally and directly through the Scriptures. It will be a good complement to the inductive Bible study class.

I think you can see that there are several opportunities for each one of you to consider. It is quite possible to be involved in more than one of these groups, provided they are not meeting at the same time. I would encourage you all to be involved in at least one. All of these groups promise to be a place where you can form some great friendships and deepen relationships with the people you already know.

In the year that I have been serving at this church, I have observed that some of the things we do best, just like the church in acts, are fellowship and breaking bread together. However, we need to do better at the teaching, or more specifically, being taught, part. We call the time immediately following our service on Sunday mornings “coffee hour”. Let’s keep it to an hour so that we can respect the time of those who desire to be involved in one of the Sunday school classes.

With that, I encourage you to let the Spirit prompt you as to which group you need to be involved with this fall. And with the Holy Spirit doing the work of metamorphosis, your brains won’t hurt!

i’m concerned about a trend i see happening in the emegent church. i’m all about the goals of emergent. but i think that, in one area at least, the pendulum has swung too far.

reaching out to those who have been scorned by the church is one of the things that emergent does best. this is in stark contrast to the “turn or burn” type of scare tactic that used to pass for evangelism. sharing, and living, a gospel of love has attracted many people to emergent who used to dismiss church or downright loathe it. right on. i’m down. but… what about sin? i mean, it’s still out there. we tend to talk of ourselves as “broken people” and that God desires nothing more than to mend us.

that makes us feel good, because it is true, but it also can serve as a dismissal for sin in our lives. as a result, there are emergent churches whose members, even leadership, is involved in habitual sin. i’ll illustrate: there is a church here that is doing the emergent thing really well. they like to celebrate life as a community. lately, though, that has been manifesting itself in parties at which a lot of alcohol is consumed, by the members and by the leadership.

now, i may disagree with you on the alcohol thing. i may say that i’m cool with it in moderation, and you may say that it’s not good altogether. there’s room for that. however, we can both agree that drunkeness, especially if it’s habitual, is gonna always be wrong. why? because it has the propensity to cause harm to oneself or others, for starters. but that’s a different post.

at one party, so i’m told, there were some leaders of this particular church gettin their drink on. one of the guys there, not a church member or Christ follower, mentioned how these girls that lived on his hall in his dorm were fine. one of the drunk leaders then proceeded to give him advice on how to get laid. no, really… i’m not making this up.

so, for those of us that do want to emphasize the love of God expressed through our love for others, how do we balance that with calling sin sin? see, it is an expression of love to call someone on their sin. i’m really focusing in on habitual sin here, committed by Christ followers, not so much sin in the general sense… the human condition, etc. if i see a brother or sister repeatedly engaging in activity that is going to cause them harm, or cause harm to others (and all sin leads to one or the other) my compassion should motivate me to break my silence and call them on it.

hopefully, i can do so in a way that tells the person that the motivation is love, not judgment. but how do you do that when those engaged in these types of sin are the ones leading a church? who will they hear it from?

questions… always questions

September 7, 2005 — 2 Comments

just wanted to share an entry from my journal I wrote today:

i feel like i’m searching for something. an expression of faith, perhaps? recently, i’ve made inquiries into joining both the anglican and orthodox clergies. something is very attractive about those forms of worship – liturgical, unchanged – that something is being replicated, piecemeal, in the emerging church. but in that context it feels somewhat disingenious. it’s taking the forms, but none of the oversight.

but i must admit, it is the pull of those forms that compels my inquiry. is that right? should how faith is expressed by a catalyst for change? is it simply enough to be dissatisfied with consumeristic western protestantism and, so, return to older forms? shouldn’t there be some compelling theological argument or stance that initiates such a move?

and if i did make that switch and pursue the life of, say, an orthodox priest, would i find satisfaction there, or would the same discontent creep back in, leaving me wanting?

is it a question of my own preference (selfish) or of faithfulness (selfless)? or is the longing a manifestation of some other deficiency? would more regular times of quiet or bible study fill the gap?

where do i go to find the answers to these questions? each sect/denomination of the church believes itself to be the most faithful. and is it about how i feel or how God feels? should this be a test of perseverence? of reform? do i just need more sleep?

more dreaming…

September 6, 2005 — Leave a comment

so, this weekend after the conversation about lucid dreaming i had one of those God-initiated co-inky-dinks. i was flipping through the channels and landed on ifc. an animated film caught my eye. see, several of the students i work with are either animation or film majors. i’m always trying to find new stuff to watch so i can participate in their conversation! anyway, i’m watching this animation and it becomes obvious that the animation is a dream sequence. the whole film is a dream. the premise of the film (which i later learned is called waking life, written and directed by richard linklater) is that the main character is dreaming that he is dreaming that he is dreaming that he is dreaming, etc. each time he wakes up, he wakes up only to find himself still dreaming. there is a lot of talk about lucid dreaming and what you can and can’t do while lucid dreaming (control the lights… did you know that? if you flip a lightswitch in a dream it will have no effect?). just thought it somehow providential that i should see this flick after having the conversation i’d had. wonder what God’s up to now…

dreaming lucidly

September 2, 2005 — 3 Comments

coffee this morning with another student. we got caught up on the summer, exchanging summaries of books we’d read. he read a rather interesting book on “lucid dreaming”. that is the kind of dreaming where you realize, inside the dream, that you’re dreaming. i have those a couple times a month. it’s usually in some dream that is frightening. i realize that it’s just a dream and then it’s not scary anymore.

anyway, the author of the book, posits that in a state of lucid dreaming, you can do anything you imagine. the application of this, he says, can range from curing stage fright to unlocking your hidden potential and discovering who you really are. now, i don’t doubt that some of this is true. i’d be willing to accept that through lucid dreaming, one could change one’s behavior. however, the question that is not asked in the book, from what i understand, is should we.

the bible is full of people receiving messages from God through dreams. it would seem to me that trying to control your dreams would hamper your ability to receive those visions from God. not that you’d be trumping God’s omnipotence, rather you wouldn’t be listening. it’s akin to those who pray a laundry list of things to God and end their prayers without taking time to be still and let God speak. it’s not that he’s not talking, it’s that they are not listening. could it be similar with dreams?

retelling stories

September 1, 2005 — 1 Comment

i just had a conversation with a student about storytelling. he’s a film/animation major and is trying to come up with the story for his next project. anyway, we got onto the topic of storytelling and retelling stories. there are so many stories out there that could use to be retold. not the least of which are biblical stories. as i reflected on that i realized that it is precisely this retelling of the biblical stories that is at the center of the pomo/emerging church movement.

i think of the way jesus used story. the parables are a great example, of course. but also, he understood his own life in the context of the metanarrative (oooooooh can i call myself pomo if i believe there’s a metanarrative?). Isn’t that what we’re all trying to understand as well? what part of the story are we to play? will our story be worth retelling?

what stories would you like to see retold?

who am i? who are u?

September 1, 2005 — Leave a comment

thanks to my friend michele for turning me to this quiz… so who are u?