Category Archives: Culture

Catalyst 2007 – Erwin McManus

“Solomon was wrong.”

  • It’s not a popular idea to deny the Teacher’s revered sayings, but it just won’t go away.
    • Eccl. 1:9-10 What has been will be again… there is nothing new under the sun.
    • An oft-quoted, a prevailing thought in the leadership frameworks in Christianity
  • We’ve rarely stopped to question what he said here, but we disagree with him in other places
    • Jesus said burden is light, but Solomon said it was heavy
    • Places in Ecclesiastes where we know Solomon was wrong. Not the best to build your worldview around a guy who says it’s all meaningless
    • When you’re having your worst day, don’t write to other people on how to live.
  • Solomon says it’s all a circle. What is coming is simply what has been in the past. Why is it that we’re so quick to embrace this?
    • It’s in our language. Worship band leader: “Let’s make history!” So, it’s ok for us Christians to make history (literally what has past). Or a magazine that says “Let’s change history!” …
    • But what would the typical Christian response be if Erwin says “Let’s change the future!”?
  • We don’t understand what our role in time is. We’re so careful not to infringe on God’s sovereign space, we sit apathetically by waiting to respond to it.
    • But Hitler’s and Stalin’s create history when we wont.
    • Maybe it’s time that we recognize that if only the most evil feel free to create the future, there’s something wrong with our understanding of our role in the future to come.
  • The way we’ve been taught is, “If it was evil, it was us, but if it was good, it was definitely God.”
    • But we weren’t created to live in neutral. If all our actions produce evil, then we should only sit by and react to stuff.
  • Isaiah 43:18-19 “Stop thinking about the past!” (contrast “Do not forget….”) “Now I’m doing a new thing, but will you even be aware of it?”
    • If only God had read Ecclesiastes, He would have got it right.
    • God: “Stop living in the past and get engaged in the future I want you to be a part of.”
  • We have to begin to rethink our relationship to history. We can’t change history, and to make history means that we’re doing something that really matters.
    • But to create the future means that we’re pursuing where God is going into the future.
  • Part of our dilemma is we’ve stopped being honest about the meaning of life.
    • We enter into relationship with Christ, God sets us free. Now we’re free in Jesus to create and do good works in him
  • When we’re only preaching to Christians, are we communicating at the deepest level of humanity?
    • Erwin: “When I sing Christian songs, I have a hard time with some of them, where I want them to be true.”
      • Never been a moment where God was really all I wanted. “God you are all I want, but I could really use a cappuccino.”
      • Exhale if Jesus is all you need … Nice, isn’t it? … Now feel free to inhale when you realize you need oxygen too.
    • Adam had a need for human companionship that he was previously unaware of. Adam’s naming all the animals, then God puts him to sleep to create Eve. Putting Adam through a learning experience. 2 gazelles, 2 gophers, 2 rabbits. “Get the theme here, Adam? No? Just go to sleep, I’ll fix it…”
      • God understood Adam’s need far more than Adam understood his own, and God had joy in meeting those needs.
      • All of creation is a testament to how much pleasure God finds in meeting our needs.
  • A man on TV with healing oil, selling oil that had cured lady’s dog from cancer.
    • What has gone wrong? Somebody has to be sincere. Somewhere. I have to believe that. Maybe the old lady that sent in her welfare check to buy the oil for her dog… maybe the dog is the only sincere one?
    • “Somewhere down the line someone figured out that Christians are incapable of discerning what is authentic and what is inauthentic.”
    • “How is it possible we’ve lost our capacity to connect to what it real?”
    • Every person without God who watches that show has to know that it is not real. But why do we fall for it?
  • At one point the memories I had became less trustworthy than the stories I had been told. I had disconnected myself from reality. My soul was sick. The human spirit cannot live in falsehood. We’re designed to live in truth. Our souls long for the real, the authentic.
  • What is the future of the church?
    • We’re in a great moment now, because for the first time in a long time we’re allowed to tell the truth. We didn’t mean to be disingenuous, but we were. Our Jesus stories don’t have to be dramatic.
    • Say you were 6, you had never robbed a bank. You tried, but you couldn’t drive so you couldn’t get there. You ate your vegetables. You didn’t even go bad there. You met Christ, some of you actually even love your parents. Then you came to faith, and somewhere later you came to a crisis of faith and you pushed away from Christ. And you came back to Jesus but you have to make your past sound dramatic.
      • But do you?
      • God just keeps putting the pieces back together and creating something beautiful.
      • Mosaic is a gathering of pieces that is put together by the hands of an artist. Something that is beautiful when it’s put together, especially when light shines through it.
    • Lot of ways of describing human history: Nations, empires. Art, dance. War, conquest. Anthropology. Sociology. Geopolitical. But through scripture, human history is a conflict between tragedy and beauty
    • God creates us among beauty and we bring tragedy into it. And history is all about God taking it all and creating something beautiful
    • Solomon may have had it most right when he said “time for everything” in chapter 3. God has made everything beautiful in its time he has also set eternity in the hearts of men.
    • There is nothing more powerful we can do as leaders than to call our people into engagement with the honest authentic narrative of God’s activity in our lives.
    • God is making everything beautiful in its time. He is the source of ultimate beauty. Is it possible for the source of all beauty to go unrecognized?
    • “I have trained myself to leave the worst for the best, and I have been nauseated by the overpowering strength of it.”
    • Is it possible for us to have trained ourselves to believe that to live an inhumane life is what it is to be human?
      • Is. 53. – The one who was most beautiful was the one who walked among us and we didn’t get it, he was seen as horrid to us.
      • John 1 – Real life, real humanity was walking among us. He was in the world, but we did not recognize it.
    • EM: “Was at a church that didn’t want me to be their pastor. They wanted me to be their speaker.”
      • “I’ve got enough neurosis, I don’t need the church stuff.”
      • What the world needs from us is not great sermons or brilliant messages. Ned them to take them to a place that they cannot go without us. Because we have been with God, and now we want to take them there.
        • We need less teachers, and more poets. Able to find the beauty in the most painful experiences we go through.
      • “God is making all things beautiful in your life. And if you’ll listen carefully and look with care you’ll see his fingerprint on everything you encounter.”

      An overwhelming but not explicitly stated message in Christianity is that you can’t be human because it will bring the whole movement down. But the movement really started when God stepped down into flesh and was human.



Go read this article about tattoos and youth culture.

Overall, author Paul Robertson ends on a positive note:

Next time you see a young person with a tattoo, why not ask them to share the story behind it? You might be amazed at what you hear… and be better off for it.

Now back to the beginning. There were a couple fundamentalist red flags that went up as I was reading it the first time.

Every generation has had a mark that distinguished it from previous cohorts. […] So what is left to make this generation unique when they are looked back on by history? They will be the generation remembered for creating the most personal form of media there is-a permanent story painted on young bodies.

What? Creating? I can’t believe he just said that. Popularizing? Maybe. Creating? C’mon…

And the abundance of tattooing will be this generation’s primary distinguishing characteristic? No doubt it’s on the rise, but is it the defining trend among today’s youth? I sense that what’s going on is that Robertson knows that it’s vital for the older generation to meet the youth where they’re at, and that’s why he recommends trying to engage the stories behind the tattoos. But he has a little bit of reactionary thought that creeps through. The author writes the article with the tone of one who has come (is coming) around, as one who maybe wasn’t quite so tattoo-tolerant in the past. So it would make sense, and it’s forgivable, that a little bit of that reactionist past pokes through.

Another quote:

Many of today’s youth will look back on this decade and remember it, not with fondness, but hesitation as they recall their struggles to simply survive. They will remember words such as divorce, separation, fatherlessness, abandonment, abuse and blended families. In many ways they are a generation who lost their most special place in that thing called family.

“Struggles to simply survive” … makes high school sound almost post-apocalyptic. It’s true that the family unit has diminished in value, and that such a change no doubt affects the quality of life for today’s youth. But is it a survival situation? I don’t know. Again, did maybe a little overstatement sneak in? Continue reading

Hell Houses

Recently I got a letter from a neighboring church, inviting me to send people their way for a special “Outreach” they’re doing. When things get sent to only me, I can ignore them pretty easily. However, this invitation letter was also forwarded to our Children’s Director and our church’s Outreach & Fellowship Committee. Since I have some objections to the program the letter describes, I decided it would be wise to go on record with the committee about my thoughts.

The committee moderators replied promptly after, echoing agreement with my basic reasons. Well, that was fun, but it was also too easy. So I’m offering my thoughts here at the blog to generate more discussion. Without further ado, the letter: Continue reading

Exclusion of Hope & Emergence of Amazement

While on vacation, I actually finished the Walter Bruggeman book that I’ve been into for the past couple months (The Prophetic Imagination). Like I mentioned before, it’s can be pretty dense at times due to Bruggeman’s deep deep scholarship. Now that I’m all the way through it, I’ve noticed that the first half is the really heady part, and the second half is a lot more informal, even to the extent of being peppered with colloquialisms.

In Chapter 4, “Prophetic Energizing and the Emergence of Amazement” Bruggeman’s overarching idea for the chapter is that it’s

the task of prophetic imagination and ministry to bring people to engage the promise of newness that is at work in our history with God.

I found myself making a ton of margin notes as I read through, and so I thought those notes would make for a strong post here at the blog. I really hate seeing people quoted out of context, so I’ll throw in as big a chunk of Bruggie’s text as necessary, and then include the stuff I wrote in the margins.

In a section about how the royal consciousness excludes hope, Bruggeman asserts:

In concrete terms, technological, agricultural, and other social advances are impeded in aristocratic monarchies because the taxes, tithes, tribute, tolls, rents, and confiscations drain all the peasants’ resources and rationale for creativity; only the technology of warfare advances at a more rapid pace because that contributes to the expansion and control of the king and his entourage.

This may indeed be true for aristocratic monarchies. But how does this statement apply to my duty to bring prophetic energizing to my surrounding culture? How does this apply to the royal consciousness of my day, the MTV-driven, O.C.-addicted, celebreality-informed, consumerism-ensnared culture that surrounds me and the students I work with? Almost inarguably, that’s where the hope and newness from God most desperately needs to indwell.

I’m gonna break these Prophetic Imagination notes into multiple posts. So look for the next one soon.

Bruggeman revisited

First, w00t for Windows Live Writer. I’m typing this entry from seat 37B on Delta flight 1601 from Albuquerque to Atlanta. And what I see is exactly what the post will look like when uploaded to WordPress (hopefully later this evening). 

On that note, we’ll have to see what kind of chore it is to get wireless access on Purdue’s campus. I emailed them a few days ago, and they said my “department” needed to request guest logon passes for the network. No idea on what my department is… (Yay for red tape. Just like I never left the office). I really hope they do have something set up though. Lots of caring adults give up a week of work and/or vacation time to come be with all these sr. high students. It’d be nice if we got some accommodation to be able to stay in touch with the office or just be able to check our email in general. Life doesn’t just say,”Oh, you’re volunteering your time. How nice. I think I’ll just stop and wait for you to return! Doesn’t that sound like a neat plan?” You know what I mean…

Continuing to read through Bruggeman’s Prophetic Imagination. In a future post, I should describe the connections he made between Solomon’s regime and our current cultural situation, because it totally made sense to me. But I’m getting into a part of the book where I don’t see much resonance with our current situation. In this particular section, Bruggie is discussing grief. How the royal consciousness doesn’t want to acknowledge grief, doesn’t want to promote grieving, because this particular act it points to something not quite being right, points to a lack of order, points to the death of something, whether an idea or virtue or person or whatever. Grief reminds us that the dominant powers and structures don’t have it all under control.

I agree with Bruggeman in his assessment of our age as one of numbness. And a very legitimate part of the task of God’s messengers should be to bring us back in touch with a full spectrum of honest emotions in response to experiencing God’s reality. Bruggeman’s suggests Jeremiah as the “clearest model for prophetic imagination and ministry. He is a paradigm for those who address the numb and dying posture…” Ok, I get that. I guess where I lose Bruggeman is where he identifies Jeremiah as such because of the prophet’s response to Judah’s death.

Looking at my own context… Is the death of Christendom that came with the dawn of postmodernism the same as Israel’s demise? I keep coming back to the thought that as would-be prophetic voices, we should bring to public expression our “dread of endings,” the things that force us to confront our mortality as the created. Jeremiah’s actions are indeed good, but I have a hard time relating to or being inspired to prophetic ministry by drawing a connection between his and my contexts.


Reading my first Walter Bruggeman book , I’ve come across a great quote that fits the questioning spirit of this blog. Well, the ideally questioning spirit. Sometimes I notice that posts end on a note bearing more resemblance to an answer than a question. Anyway, without further ado, this snippet from The Prophetic Imagination:

The alternative consciousness to be nurtured, on one hand, serves to criticize in dismantling the dominant consciousness. … On the other hand, that alternative consciousness to be nurtured serves to energize persons and communities by its promise of another time and situation toward which the community of faith may move. …

In thinking this way, the key word is alternative and every prophetic minister and prophetic community must engage in a struggle with that notion. Thus, alternative to what? In what ways alternative? How radically alternative? Finally, is there a thinkable alternative that will avoid domestication? And, quite concretely, how does one present and act out alternatives in a community of faith which on the whole does not understand that there are any alternatives or is not prepared to embrace such if they come along?

The Prophetic Imagination, page 4

Could come up with quite a few posts’ worth of musings here, I suppose.

  • How can I carry out my work –ultimately a work of reconciling– in a fashion alternative to the dominant culture in need of said reconciling?
  • What aspects of the dominant culture beg an alternative? Are some aspects more than others urgently lacking an alternative?
  • Are the unhealthy aspects of the local dominant culture different than those of the overall (national? hemispherical?) dominant culture?
  • Within the local dominant culture, what is different for the students directly under my care, or for their age group?
  • Are the local or the larger aspects more important to promptly address? Are they addressed in the same way?
  • Can I offer alternatives piecemeal? Or must I require blanket acceptance on the part of members of the dominant culture?
  • Can piecemeal acceptance of the alternative grow into full acceptance? Is such a progression scriptural? Practical? Tolerable?
  • Does my alternative approach change with dominant culture? Or are there things about my approach that will forever be inherently alternative?

Thesis 9

A long time ago Matt and I started a joint-blogging project (March 31 was the launch… wow). It was a discussion of a 9-part article, “Learning to Read the Bible Again.” We devoted a post to each of the theses in the article, and tried to pull in some outside voices with whom to compare notes. Well I’ve finally reached the end of the project, Matt finished Thesis 9 a while back. Anyway, it’s high time I jot some of my own thoughts down on the last thesis. Without further ado…

9. We live in the tension between the “already” and the “not yet” of the kingdom of God; consequently, scripture calls the church to ongoing discernment, to continually fresh re-readings of the text in light of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in the world.

Because the narrative of scripture is open to a future that God will give, and because our vision is limited by creaturely finitude and distorted by sinfulness, we lack the perspective of the finished drama as we seek to live faithfully in the present. Yet we trust that the story is moving to a final consummation in which God will overcome death and wipe away every tear from our eyes. Knowing that we do not see ourselves and our world from God’s point of view, we are grateful for the gifts of scripture and community and for the possibilities of mutual correction in love that they offer. We are also grateful for scripture’s promise that the Spirit of God will lead us into truth, which gives us hope that our speech and practice might yet be a faithful witness to the righteous and merciful God who is made known to us in Jesus Christ.

If the story has not yet reached its conclusion, does this have implications for understanding the relationship between scripture’s identification of God and the claims made by other religious traditions? How are our fresh rereadings to be distinguished from interpretations of scripture that purport to separate the “kernel” of the gospel from the “husk” of cultural accretions? To what standards of accountability are we called in order to keep our rereadings faithful to the God of Jesus Christ?

I chuckle when I imagine the disciples eagerly asking, naively and expectantly asking, “So, like, next week… that’s when you’re gonna restore the Kingdom… right, Rabbi?” (Acts 1:6) But we do the same thing, don’t we? We just leave it up to God to bring the Kingdom here, and we’re pretty sure it’ll be any day now. Hope is great, but by no means should it devolve into lazy expectancy. And that’s why it’s so important to begin the discussion of our last thesis with the “tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ of the kingdom of God.” Like millions of believers who have preceded us, we still have a lot of work to do. Roll up your sleeves, open your Bible, and share with your brothers and sisters what you find.

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