I’m not on Facebook, so I’m spared the worst, but we’re all aware that people get pretty vehement during election cycles. And this one seems to be more polarizing than most. Those of us who avoid social media are still bombarded with constant news and opinions from the variety of sources in our culture. I admit to having the regular habit of checking the top news sites, and I can’t remember the last time I really felt better after having done so.

There seems to be so little of the Gospel in any of it. The Gospel, Christian’s defining narrative of God who created, who made himself known, who became one of us to share good news, who was killed, buried, and raised to break the bonds of sin and death, who sent His Spirit to carry on his mission, who is making all things new and who will bring justice to the world. This story that Christians call their own is not the one that makes the front page.

We are living, instead, in the story of a country that takes sides, that demonizes the other, where each side claims the ability to save. We are living in a story where Christians join in the polarization and perhaps look down our noses at those who disagree. In short, we are living in a bad news story – bad news endlessly repeated through the marvel of modern communication. A marvel which runs on bad news with a hunger than cannot be consumed. And many of us feed on this story every day.

So how does a Christian be a Christian during an election cycle? I spoke recently with some friends who are fasting from media for a time. They report feeling more at peace, and their ignorance of today’s top stories has not kept them from living well. In fact, their ignorance may be helping them live well. One wonders, is the human heart really made to receive bad news on a daily basis? I think that each life has just about enough troubles of its own, rather than having to stack on the worries of the world on top.

Is this suggestion equivalent to sticking our heads in the sand and not confronting the issues of our day? Well, I suppose it depends. Are we walking in the community of our church? If so, are we loving and serving our community and confronting its challenges? Are we connected to our neighbors? Are we confronting the problems and challenges of our neighborhoods as they arise? Do we know what problems our neighbors are facing? Are we involved in the lives of our co-workers? Do we confront the issues they and our workplace face with love and wisdom? I could go on to speak of our cities and counties and states; but really, aren’t we already getting a little big for our britches? You see, it all depends on which issues we’re talking about.

What if, instead of having our heads out of the sand in regard to the bad news fed to us via CNN and Facebook, we took our heads out of the sand in regard to the lives of the people God has put us around? Perhaps there are enough problems to confront right in front us. Perhaps there is also life and joy in growing to know and love and serve the people around us.

Let me suggest a fast during these next two months. Why not limit our exposure to the bad news cycle wherever we come into contact with it? I’m not saying I won’t watch the next few Presidential debates, but I can avoid my daily check ins to the various news websites. In place of that, let’s commit to paying closer attention to our families, our neighbors, and our co-workers and schoolmates, and to the issues they are facing. Let’s raise our heads from our phones and have the courage to ask our neighbor how things are going. Let’s pray that God uses us as a conduit of His Good News story on their behalf.

I readily admit that there are valid reasons to be involved in macro-level issues, but I hope this stimulates some thought about what most grabs our emotional energy. So please add to the discussion and share your thoughts about living well during this season.

Lunch with a Black Pastor

Charles Kiser —  September 1, 2016 — 9 Comments

Every once in a while I become acutely aware that I am in sacred space. The ancient Celts called it “thin space” — where God’s world and our world come into contact and even merge.

My recent lunch meeting was one of those times.

I had the opportunity to share a meal with a friend who is a Black Christian pastor. I was most eager to talk with him about his perspective on recent events in our nation: the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castille, Black Lives Matter, and the shooting of five police officers in Dallas.

The truth is that I have long observed from the sidelines. I haven’t engaged the conversation because it hasn’t been urgent — because I haven’t been subjected to oppression. But it’s time to engage. I have so much to learn, so much to become aware of, so much growing to do.

The question that’s been rumbling deep in my soul the past couple months is: how do we — the church in Dallas, in all its diversity — enact the gospel of King Jesus?

Continue Reading…

THE Defining Story

Charles Kiser —  June 1, 2016 — 11 Comments

Last week I reflected on how we live out of defining stories that we constantly rehearse. These stories are based on experiences and are the basis of our beliefs about ourselves and the world. Our stories can be true, false, or probably in most cases, somewhere in between.

This week I want to share a fabulous quote from James K. A. Smith about the “narrative character of our faith” from the book Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?

The following excerpt articulates why we named our faith community Storyline, why instead of a “statement of faith” we share the story of God, why we use the lectionary to guide our worship gatherings, and how God’s story is the definitive story that shapes disciples of Jesus.

…Too many Christians have bought into the modernist valorization of scientific facts and end up reducing Christianity to just another collection of propositions. Our beliefs are encapsulated in “statements of faith” that simply catalog a collection of statements about God, Jesus, the Spirit, sin, redemption, and so on. Knowledge is reduced to biblical information that can be encapsulated and encoded….

….But isn’t it curious that God’s revelation to humanity is given not as a collection of propositions or facts but rather within a narrative–a grand, sweeping story from Genesis to Revelation? Is there not a sense in which we’ve forgotten that God’s primary vehicle for revelation is a story unfolded within the biblical canon?

….Why is narrative important, and how does it differ from propositional knowledge? First, narrative is a more fully orbed means of communication (and hence revelation), activating the imagination and involving the whole person in a concrete world where God’s story unfolds. Second, Christian faith–unlike almost any other world religion (with the exception of Judaism)–is not a religion simply of ideas that have been collected. The faith is inextricably linked to the events and story of God’s redemptive action in the world….The notion of reducing Christian faith to four spiritual laws signals a deep capitulation to scientific knowledge….

.…Crucial for our discipleship and formation is being able to write ourselves into the story of God’s redeeming action in the world–being able to find our role in the play, our character in the story. To do that, we need to know the story, and that story should be communicated when we gather as the people of God, that is, in worship.

In your experience, what are effective ways of locating ourselves within God’s story?

It’s true.

Fred Liggin calls them “authorizing narratives.” James Bryan Smith calls them “false/true narratives.” We might also call them “defining stories.”

We are storied creatures. We live out of interpreted experiences and memories. These stories impact our behavior and our growth.

If we want to change or grow — in any aspect of our lives — we must address our defining stories. Because all stories are not created equal. Some are false and distorted, either causing us to see ourselves as less than we are or more than we are. Humility is simply living out of accurate stories about ourselves.

Some would say we need to address our beliefs, and that beliefs influence our behavior. This is true, but it doesn’t go deep enough. Stories are deeper than beliefs. They emerge out of life experiences that mark us indelibly. We don’t think and act out of propositions (beliefs), but fundamentally out of defining stories. 

Ever watch the Biggest Loser reality show? Notice how much time they spend digging for such defining stories? Most of the time the participants are not consciously aware of them; but they are there, influencing their decisions to overeat and remain sedentary. And when they are finally realized, it is often with many tears and deep impact.

I’m on a physical health journey myself and have attempted to explore my defining stories in this area. As I paid attention I was amazed at how many stories I tell myself – mostly when I make bad decisions. Stories like “This is just genetic. I’ll always be overweight.” As with the most powerful false narratives, there is always an element of truth in them. That’s what makes them so deceiving. But it is a false narrative nonetheless. The true narrative is that God is making all things new, including my physical body. If God can raise Jesus from the dead then surely he can empower me to arrive at a healthier place physically.

One of the Holy Spirit’s gifts to us is to bring these stories into our awareness. That is 90% of the work, and God will do the heavy lifting if we’ll let him. “The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord that sheds light on one’s inmost being ” (Proverbs 20:27).

What area of your life are you working on right now? What defining stories are you telling yourself that hinder/help your progress? 

noun: jargon; plural noun: jargons
  1. special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.

Bad news and good news: Christian jargon is inevitable. Language is a fundamental component of culture, and so the culture of any faith community will be defined by its language.

That’s bad news because some religious jargon is worthless and vapid. It makes Christians look ridiculous, like the video above. And it makes outsiders feel like they are all the more outside, because they can’t understand what’s being said.

The good news is that language is a major asset in spiritual formation. Language opens up new vistas of imagination for us about how to follow Jesus. Mike Breen’s Building a Discipling Culture is a great example of such formative language.

Further, outsiders aren’t always as resistant to learning new language as we might assume.

Think about Starbucks. Their language isn’t user-friendly at all. Who knew what Venti was before Starbucks? But people are open to it because they want to be invited to enter a different world — the world of the Italian cafe.

Quinn Fox suggests that the church “might learn about corporate worship language from the language of coffee. Starbucks realizes, it seems, that a distinctive menu that people need to learn is not a bad thing.

So we shouldn’t try to avoid language (because we can’t), but rather think intentionally about the jargon we use. Two questions that might help us:

  1. Is our language helpful? Does it give us a lens for seeing the world and ourselves as followers of Jesus, or is it empty and meaningless?
  2. Are we hospitable with our language? What makes jargon jargon is that it’s difficult to understand. When we use different language in our worship gatherings and conversations, are we sensitive to who is hearing it? Do we explain what it means to outsiders and invite them into our world?

Maybe you’re wondering if Christians should only use Bible words to talk about Bible things. Trouble is, the first Christians didn’t even do that. They created new language to describe what they were experiencing that drew from the broader cultural warehouse. For example, the word church (ecclesia) wasn’t a “Christian” word until Christians decided to borrow it from their broader culture; it was a political word to describe a political assembly. Do you see the imagination that word opened up for the early Christians? They saw themselves as a political movement — God’s kingdom moving into the world over against the kingdoms of the world.

Please leave a comment! What are the challenges to being purposeful in our use of language?