Friday, June 25, 2010

The Gospel of Jack

One of my favorite singer-songwriters is Jack Johnson. He has some chill acoustic guitar and occasionally adds some ukulele. He did the soundtrack for Curious George, so he is one of my kids' favorites as well. The lyrics he writes are pretty good too. I hear he owns a home in Ashland, Oregon, which is were I went to college, so that makes him even cooler.

I am reading Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis and came across an interesting section titled "True." Bell quotes Arthur Holmes who said "All truth is God's truth," and then adds,
"So as a Christian, I am free to claim the good, the true, the holy, wherever and whenever I find it. I live with the understanding that truth is bigger than any religion and the world is God's and everything in it."
We have the tendency to toss out truth because it didn't come from a "Christian" source. But if we truly believe the above quote, that all truth is God's truth, then truth can come from anywhere. It can even come from the lyrics of a "secular" song.

Bell goes on to explain that the Apostle Paul affirms this when he quotes Cretan prophets (Titus 1:12-13) and Greek poets (Acts 17:28). "Now to be able to quote these prophets and poets, Paul obviously had to read them. And study them. And analyze them. And I'm sure he came across all kinds of things in their writings that he didn't agree with. So he sifts and sorts and separates the light from the dark and then claims and quotes the parts that are true."

Now there are many things that are labeled "Christian" and are not true. For example regarding war, Henry T. Blackaby, a leading evangelical said in 2005, "those who oppose the war to liberate Iraq need to read God's Word. There is no question that the current war to liberate Iraq is a 'just' war – according to biblical standards." Chuck Colson was quoted in Christianity Today as saying, "out of love of neighbor, then, Christians can and should support a preemptive strike." There are plenty of these out there, so you can search on your own for quotes from evangelical leaders about their support of war, any war, which to me, equates to blind patriotism. The Christian Post wrote an article in February of 2008 about how most evangelical leaders still support the the war in Iraq.

Jack Johnson may not believe in God or Jesus, or anything spiritual, I don't know him personally, but the lyrics to the below song are closer to the heart of Jesus than any of the above quotes from evangelical leaders.
But who needs to see what we've done?
Who needs please when we've got guns?
Who needs keys when we've got clubs?
Who needs peace when we've gone above
But beyond where we should have gone?
Beyond where we should have gone
We went beyond where we should have gone
Beyond where we should have gone
So, . . . I claim it as truth. We've gone beyond where we should have gone.

"Sleep Through The Static"
(click on the above title to hear the song.
There is also a video from NPR of Johnson singing the song here.)

Trouble travels fast
When you're specially designed for crash testing
Or wearing wool sunglasses in the afternoon
Come on and tell us what you're trying to prove

Because it's a battle when you dabble in war
You store it up, unleash it, then you piece it together
Whether the storm drain running rampant just stamp it
And send it to somebody who's pretending to care

Just cash in your blanks for little toy tanks
Learn how to use them, then abuse them and choose them
Over conversations relationships are overrated
"I hated everyone" said the sun

And so I will cook all your books
You're too good looking and mistooken
You could watch it instead
From the comfort of your burning beds
...Or you can sleep through the static

Who needs sleep when we've got love?
Who needs keys when we've got clubs?
Who needs please when we've got guns?
Who needs peace when we've gone above
But beyond where we should have gone?
We went beyond where we should have gone

Stuck between channels my thoughts all quit
I thought about them too much, allowed them to touch
The feelings that rained down on the plains all dried and cracked
Waiting for things that never came

Shock and awful thing to make somebody think
That they have to choose pushing for peace supporting the troops
And either you're weak or you'll use brute force-feed the truth
The truth is we say not as we do

We say anytime, anywhere, just show your teeth and strike the fear
Of god wears camouflage, cries at night and drives a dodge
Pick up the beat and stop hogging the feast
That's no way to treat an enemy

Well mighty mighty appetite
We just eat 'em up and keep on driving
Freedom can be freezing take a picture from the pretty side
Mind your manners wave your banners
What a wonderful world that this angle can see

But who needs to see what we've done?
Who needs please when we've got guns?
Who needs keys when we've got clubs?
Who needs peace when we've gone above
But beyond where we should have gone?
Beyond where we should have gone
We went beyond where we should have gone
Beyond where we should have gone

Saturday, June 19, 2010

An Economy of Enough

As I read more and more of the stories about Jesus I am struck by the intentionality of Christ. Everything He did, everything he said, everyone he spent time with, ate with and talked with was intentional at that very time -- there was a truth to be learned not necessarily by His words, but by what He was doing, right then. I am reading Brian D. McLaren's Everything Must Change and he points out a couple of these occasions. The most striking is when Jesus feeds the multitudes (many call it Jesus feeds the 5,000, however, the five thousand refers to the men in the crowd. It is possibly more accurate to estimate that Jesus actually fed upwards of 15-20 thousand.)

Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”

But Jesus said, “You feed them.”

“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”

“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”

They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”

Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred.

Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed from those loaves!

(Mark 6:34-44 NLT)

It is easy to look at this (and other) miracles attributed to Jesus and take them at face value. It is a story about Jesus and his divine power, as well as a deep compassion and love for people. All of that is true, but as usually is the case with Jesus, there is more than meets the eye (or the ears) to this story. When the disciples realize that it is getting late they ask Jesus to send the people away so they can buy something to eat. McLaren points out that "Jesus' reply contradicts both the words 'buy' and 'they/themselves.' Instead of 'they/themselves,' he says 'you,' and instead of 'buy' he says 'give.'"

So many times we can't imagine that what we already have is enough. I'm not talking about some divine thinking about the power of God and if we can only believe in His power we can move mountains. Although that is exactly what Jesus ends up doing in this story, and it is a truth that I haven't quite grasped yet. I'm talking about something much less supernatural. In response to the disciples' request to "send the crowds away to buy something to eat," Jesus says: "You feed them." The disciples' response was probably something like this: "Seriously Jesus? There are possibly 15,000 people here. How?" Jesus tells them simply to "go and see" how much they already have. McLaren goes on, "[Jesus] wants them to count what they already have, because what they already have counts, and is, in fact, enough through God's gracious provision."

Jesus is intentionally contradicting our version of economy and provision and calling us to a radically different economy -- an economy of enough. As in this story, in God's economy of enough the people "ate and were satisfied" (v. 42). In this economy Jesus asks instead for "you" to "give" from what you already have. This is true religion (James 1:27). Finally, and most importantly, Jesus "taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven," gives thanks to God (v. 41). This economy is based on gratitude of the Creator, neighborly sharing and reducing our consumption. When we do this, we will all have baskets of bread and fish to spare (v. 43).

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Last week a friend of mine died. He was out all Saturday night drinking with his friends and flipped his truck on a lonely stretch of highway Sunday morning. The truck ended up upside-down in a small creek alongside the road. He died before anybody found the crash. Cody was a student of mine and a wrestler for two years before he transferred to another school. He was a senior this year, and would have graduated last week. Cody was a bright kid, even though he didn't always show it. He was a talented wrestler and a very good athlete. He had an enormous amount of fight, he wrestled 119 pounds but I remember him taking on our heavyweight (without much success - like I said - he was bright, but didn't always show it). He was the kind of kid that could drive you crazy, but could always make you laugh. I hadn't seen him for a year or so, but when I found out about the crash I felt a void somewhere. I miss him.

Avery saw me looking at a news article about Cody's death. He asked me why the truck was wrecked. I wasn't sure how to respond but I told him that a wrestler of mine had died in that truck. There was a long silent pause and then Avery said, "That's sad. Why'd that happen?" There was a longer pause. I simply told him, "I don't know."

Why does this sort of thing happen? Most atheists will point to death and suffering in the world as one of the major justifications for there being no God. It sure makes it tough to believe in a God that would allow this sort of thing. But didn't Jesus, God's son, walk through this life just like we are? Death was common in Jesus' day. Herod had all Jewish boys under two years of age killed. Roman soldiers practiced genocide on the local populations. Medicine was still rudimentary, death in childbirth and young children was common. I'm pretty sure Jesus experienced the pain of losing a loved one. Beyond all of that, Jesus himself die one of the most horrific deaths known to man, proving that he understood.

He is the resurrection and the life.

I don't think we can ever fully understand why God allows this sort of thing - nor should we. I'm heading to the funeral tomorrow and I don't really know what to say to some of his good friends - students of mine. Maybe I don't need to say anything. I have been touched by the lyrics in this song since I bought the album a few months back. Although it doesn't give us any answers, I believe it might be the only answer.

(you can click on the title and open it up in Windows Media Player, then come back to this page to read the lyrics below)
Resurrection by Andy Gullahorn

My good friend Paul was lying in the back seat of a station wagon headed to New Mexico.

Somewhere in the middle of the night the driver fell asleep and hit the wall beside the road.

My friend went through the window like a bullet through the glass, dead before he ever hit the ground.

(Chorus) Oh I believe, though it's hard sometimes, you are the resurrection and the life.

Jodi is a queen reigning throne upon a couch but the last few years have numbered days.

Cause the virus in her body and the cancer in her brain are buyin' up the real estate.

And the medicine they give her trades nightmares for her dreams and memories too tragic to describe.

(Chorus) Oh I believe, though it's hard sometimes, you are the resurrection and the life.

I know the words of life to come are true, but sometimes they feel like salt upon the wound.

When I'm asking in these moments "Where are you?". . . where are you?

Sometimes it's like Lazareth you come to roll the stone away and watch him walk back out alive.

Sometimes it's like my good friend Paul, breathless on the interstate, mother weeping at his side.

Either way it's something I will never understand, but I trust enough to take you at your word.

So I believe, though it's hard sometimes, you are the resurrection and the life.