Archive for Ponderings

Looking back before turning the page…

1483104_427050007395728_427193827_nI am guessing that when one is turning forty it is normal to look back and evaluate, how far one has come and what has prompted ones development thus far. In one sense I don’t think that my fortieth is any different from any other birthday, it simply is another step forward.

Still I look back at the spiritual and theological roller coaster I have been on the last couple of years (and I really mean the last couple of years, If I where to reach back further the list of people whom I could not have made it without would be endless) and realise that I would not be here if it was not for some significant voices speaking into my life. So today I would like to acknowledge some of the people that have influenced me or walked with me on this adventurous journey.

Hasse Kjellgren, Henrik Andersen and Vic Poke who believed in me and thought I would make a great Salvation Army Officer and made it possible for me and Hanna to go to William Booth College. All my tutors at college who inspired and challenged me but especially Gordon Cotterill, Brian Slinn and Stuart Watson.

I would not have made it through college if it wasn’t for the transformative message of N.T. Wright (Especially Jesus and the victory of God), Brueggemann (Prophetic imagination), Brian Mclaren (A new kind of Christian, the secret message of Jesus), Wayne Jacobsen (So you don’t want to go to church anymore) and John Eldredge (Wild at heart, Desire). Who all gave me a new way of understanding and reading scripture without loosing my Christian identity. I also wouldn’t have gotten very far without the friendship and support of Will Pearson, Dominic Eaton and Mark Anderson.

Once we arrived in Malmö we have been so lucky to have been encouraged and supported by Jonny Kleman, Mackan Andersson and again Vic Poke and Henrik Andersson while reading and talking to Timothy Kurek (The cross in the closet) and Jesper Svartvik (Bibeltolkningens bakgator).

As we moved to greater understanding and freedom we have had a great cloud of witnesses speaking into our lives and shaping our thinking and I cannot overstate their importance to my own journey among these heroes are: Richard Rohr (Adam’s return, Falling upwards, The Enneagram- A Christian perspective ), Tripp Fuller (Homebrewed Chriatianity), Jack Caputo (What would Jesus deconstruct, the weakness of god), Jim Palmer (Divine nobodies, Wide open spaces, Being Jesus in Nashville, Notes from (over) the edge), Peter Rollins (Insurrection, The idolatry of God, The divine magician), Kester Brewin (Mutiny, After magic), Jay Bakker (fall to grace, Faith and doubt), Marcus Borg (Putting away childish things), Bruce Epperly (Process theology – a guide for the perplexed, loosely Christian), Catherine Keller (On the mystery) and Doug Pagitt (A Christianity worth believing in, Preaching in the inventive age). Some of these greats have taken the time to speak with me (especially at Subverting the norm) and advised me on the way and others have simply done so by being pioneers and trailblazers.

During this whole Journey I am so grateful for the Pirate Church community and especially my Latvian friends, Arturs, Karina, Erika, Marika, Astrida Kozlovska, Anna Marta Sveisberga, Darta Seso and Liene Lazdina who, with their courage and love have pushed us forward along this road.

On our personal Journey I am deeply thankful for the writings of Christopher Ryan, Barbara Carellas, Kamala Devi, and Dossie Easton and the conversations with Linn, Alexandra, Catia, Sara, Charlotte and Alexander Rudenstam who have helped me navigate the more difficult parts of this Journey.

None of this would of course have happened if it wasn’t for our wonderful church and the community that has gathered around it, we have been greatly encouraged and motivated by all the courageous heroes that have been part of our lives the last four years. I hesitate to mention any for fear of leaving some out but I must, Tobias Viltonius, Tomas Hedlund, Erik Andersson, Christoff and Jack Lukkerz, Ulrika Anevska, Kajsa och Aron Tendler, Carmencita Gallardo and many many more.

Finally my greatest debt of thanks and my deepest admiration is still reserved for the beautiful warrior princess Hanna Olterman who have bravely walked this road with me and have been both critical and supportive when needed. I would never have dared to brave this wild and uncharted territory without you, thank you for still choosing to be in my life!

So here we are, turning the page, walking around the corner, jumping of the ledge into the future and for all of you who like me seek the divine outside the box, for those of you who paint outside the lines, for those of you looking for a new way to be a Christian in a new strange world, I salute you!

Falling upwards

311017_10150345372419514_349434286_nI don’t know how it happened, but it did. Suddenly I was forty and the numbers on the cake do not lie. It is strange to wake up and realise that my body is forty even though on the inside I still feel like seventeen.

I have had a great week, last tuesday (my birthday) I was surprised by some of the people that are closest to me that had flown in just to be part of my celebration. I was surrounded by love, gentleness and warm embraces all week. I have spent the time in deep conversation, felt deep connection and have been overwhelmed by the love present in my life.

Now I feel the aching afterglow of true friends absent and I am slowly realising that of all the adventures, all the crazy things I have done in my life the one adventure worthwhile is the adventure of loving someone deeply, of daring to be vulnerable and allowing someone to see the real me and to allow myself to be embraced and loved for whom I really am. I sit and read the kind and gentle words written by my friends in the book that describe the loving friendships we have forged. I am awed by the love penned there.

As I turn this corner and walk into what is the next leg on the greatest adventure of my life, I feel truly grateful and humbled by all of you who make my life special, meaningful and adventurous. Thank you for being my friends. Thank you for showing me the face of god. Thank you for allowing me to be the best me that I can possibly be. Thank you!

The truth of the slippery slope

During the last couple of years many friends and people I do not yet know have told me to beware the slippery slope. They have in no uncertain terms let me know that if I start questioning the tradition bound given truths of the church that I would eventually loose my faith.

Today having wandered, slid, fallen, tumbled, run, surfed down this slippery slope I can say that it was all true.

Here are some of the things they told me about the slippery slope:
- You will loose your faith in the bible as absolute truth and authority
- You will loose your high view of Jesus
- You will loose your confidence in the church
- You will open your self up to the influence of other religions
- You will no longer be able to pray like you used to
- You will no longer be a christian

It is all true!

However what they didn’t tell me, and what I found was this:
- I have found a new and deeper love for the scriptures
- I have a new understanding of Jesus that is refreshing, renewing and transformative
- I have a newfound respect and love for authentic spiritual community
- I have found the light of truth and transformation in the most unlikely places
- I have found a new urgency, understanding and love for prayer
- I may no longer be a christian according certain criteria, but I have never followed Christ more closely.

on top of this I have also found:
- A sense of belonging and connectedness
- immense peace
- unparalleled freedom
- unconditional love
- scandalous grace
- deep joy

I have also found a love for myself and my neighbour I did not think possible. All in all, while the warnings of the slope have proven true the rewards have been literally out of this world!

Philosophy + Theology = True!

Dictionary Series - Philosophy: philosophyI was approached last week by a Soldier that was concerned about my reading and quoting philosophical works in my blogs and my sermons. He quoted the oft quoted:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12.2 NRSV)

Thus he bundled all philosophy together as human/worldly thinking as opposed to divine or divinely inspired thinking. It tickles me that I attended a Salvation Army – Ethics weekend last weekend where the main speaker: PhD James Reed said the absolute opposite. That many of the philosophers must have been divinely inspired in their search for truth and wisdom.

But if philosophy truly is what the name means, the love of wisdom, and if theology is words about god. Then it seems to me that Theology without philosophy is a dangerous enterprise. In my days within the church I have encountered good and bad theologies, wise and unwise theologies and it seems to me that the love of wisdom is a very good place to start the theological endeavour.

Listen to the scriptures exhort us towards philosophy:

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.

(Prov 2.1-5 The message)

It seems to me that if all truth belongs to god, then the search for truth, the search for wisdom will lead us godward in the end.

This is my voice

imagesRecently at “Subverting the norm II” I was challenged by Katherine Sara Moody who took the platform together with some heavy hitters in radical theology and opened up with “as a woman and a theologian I am still looking to find my voice”.

She made me reflect, and I think I have been reflecting on, what is my voice, ever since I came back. Apart from realising (once again) that as a cisgendered white male in the clergy I am always going to speak from a position of power and privilege, no matter how much I deconstruct this and show how unprivileged I have been as I grew up. I also realised as I invited all these fantastic theologians to read my blogs that I did so with a certain trepidation. The old fear: “what if they find out that I am a fake”, quickly reared it's ugly head.

It's not that I am ashamed of what I write/have written, I'm not. It is the fact that I do not write with an academic voice like for example Christena Cleveland or with the philosophical depth of Peter Rollins. I write like, well like me.

This is where it hit's me, I am no academic. Don't get me wrong, I love academia, I want to read books that make my brain hurt as I strain to encompass the grand idea, philosophy or theology in them. But I do not write with an academic voice, and I never will.

In my writing, I am first and foremost a poet, sometimes a pastor and often a preacher. I am a pirate and at my best I manage to marry this to being a good parent.

This is my voice, I write not for the academics admiration or to enter into an academic conversation. Sometimes I am philosophical but, I tend not to delve to deep and often lack the philosophical discipline to truly enter into the philosophical dialogue. No, I reach up and pluck ripe fruits from the top of the tree and try my best to serve a nice fruit cocktail for my friends down here on the ground. I am not an academic, or a philosopher, I am a preacher/poet with my feet planted firmly on the ground looking for a theopoetic that will part the veil and allow me to, if only for a moment, experience the divine.

This is my voice.

 

Oh My Ego!

I am sittning at the Salvation Army leadership conference in Örebro, listening to Tommy Hellsten talking about finding your true self and how the ego must be crucified, taken apart, gotten rid of.

I think of Eddie Izzard that stated last night during his “Force Majeure” show that he had an overgrown ego, he tells an anecdote where he is riding in a taxi back from watching a show at Wembley stadium, the cabbie asks: Will you be going back to Wembley and Eddie thinks the cabbie is referring to his career rather than a return trip in the cab he's currently riding and embarrassing hilarity ensues. (This entire paragraph is just another example of what this post is about #namedropping)

In a moment of clarity I see how often I allow my ego to take center stage. How I make something unrelated about me and about my story. Especially looking back at my latest trip to “Subvert the norm II”, how often did I insert myself in a conversation, making it about me when it may have been something else entirely (and much more interesting) from the beginning. It seems terribly habitual, in every scene from the script of my life, I fall back into this pre-adolescent mode. See me, hear me acknowledge me.

Granted, the reason I went on this trip was to figure out what to do with my life, my calling, my ministry. Even so I break into the ongoing conversation with my story, when maybe listening to the others story might have been what would allow me to be confronted with a subversive story that may free me of my troublesome contemplations.

Henri Nouwen speaks of the wounded healer, but as my beloved mentor and friend Brian Slinn taught us in our understanding people class: your wound is where you find compassion and empathy for the other, but you do not have to bring it out and show it. In other words, our woundedness and the vulnerability we can develop out of it is what teaches us compassion, empathy and gives us the inner strength and integrity to help the other but we do not need to bleed on them.

My only solace and prayer is that someone else may have encountered my story and my journey and been transformed by being confronted with the other, however misplaced my motivations may have been.

I do hope that I will get better at spotting when this happens and say: Oh my ego! Time to shut up! Until that day I give you, my friends permission to speak for me, just tell me to shut it.

 

Life is my religion

There where two trees in the garden. There was the tree that the first eikons (reflections of god) was told not to touch, you know the one with the “apple”. But there was also another tree the tree of life, it is interesting to note that god never told the adama (earthling) and his  ezer kenegdo (lifesaver) not to eat from the tree of life.

Whatever we take from this ancient tale of first things (and I believe that we can learn volumes from these tales if we dare to listen to the message instead of the words) maybe we can take this:

Life is what god offers not knowledge. Knowledge when allowed to settle forms preconceived ideas, prejudice and the illusion that we know. Life puts knowledge on it’s head. Life throws us a curveball and forces us to rethink, to reexamine, to repent.

Jesus does not come with knowledge or with commandments, Jesus offers life and life in it’s fullness, life in abundance. Jesus offers aionos zoe (eternal life). Jesus even states “I am the life”.

So let me echo the words of my friend Jim Palmer: Life is my religion. I seek life with all my heart, all my soul and all my mind.

or in the words of Henry David Thoreau:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

First love

An unnamed ancient eastern mystic have penned that you “…should always stay at the beginning”. The beginning of a new relationship is sweet and filled with endorphin induced bliss. Equally when we first meet/fall in love with Jesus we are equally blissed out. All our attention is on this new found love, we breathe it, dream it, dwell on it, obsess about it, we are totally and one hundred percent present in it and because of our wholeheartedness we are mindful of it.

It has been suggested that one of the reasons for this passion is our unknowing, the endless possibilities of this new found love and the promise of an equally blissful tomorrow. Someone said “ignorance is bliss” and in this case it may very well be true, our curiosity and passion drives us to find out everything about this mysterious being we have encountered, this other.

Then something happens, the love travels from the heart to the head. We go from unknowing to knowing. The known becomes familiar and “familiarity breeds contempt”. Our thirst becomes sated and now we think that we know the other and with that we freeze the other in an image of our making. We simply stop the clock and act towards the other with our finished pre-conceived idea of who they are and what they are thinking often based on past experience.

The problem is that the minute we stop the clock, the minute we freeze something living it dies. Life is change and everything alive changes by the second, hour, day.

I think this is why the sacred text tells us that gods grace (undeserved gift) is NEW every morning, it is not an old recycled grace but a new vibrant living grace. I think this is why Paul exhorts us to “be renewed by the transformation of your mind”. I think it is why the bibles use of the word bara in genesis 1.1 is not a done deal not a finished thing but rather “when god began creating the heavens and the earth”, that is something ongoing still unfolding. Because anything that has stopped changing, transforming has stopped because of death. Or as Adavaitananda said in his lecture this weekend: “If you want a safe/unchanging relationship, go look in the graveyard”.

Life is change, and alive people change all the time, if we are to keep the passion and the first love in our relationship we have to realise that the other is not the same person today as yesterday, and if we cannot accept that god constantly changes (because a real relationship implies two bodies that relate, influence each other) then at least we must recognize that god as the infinite other can never be fully known and thus at least from our limited experience must be perceived as ever changing as god revels more and more of godself to us.

The idea of the static god, static person, static marriage or the static relationship is an idea that is so poisonous that it will kill whatever relation it is applied to.

If we want to “stay at the beginning” we must embrace the idea of unknowing and thus allow for constant transformation, constant change, constant adventure. This will keep us guessing, keep us humble and at the same time keep us alive.

 

 

Taking the G out of the kingdom ….

I was listening to a Homebrewed Christianity – Theology Nerd Throwdown (TNT) when I was struck with this beautiful idea.

It was Tripp Fuller who said (Not the exact quote, though these are his words)

If you take the G out of Kingdom you get kindom with no cock and no crown.

The kindom of God, the extended interdependent family of god not ruled by a Patriarch or King but by a loving nurturing parent who is genderless or rather transgendered (as I have written before, not trans as in going from one tend to the next but as in more than both the one and the other).

We are invited, not as loyal subjects and subordinates, but as family members and co-creators. We are invited into the perichoresis the divine dance of interdependence and mutual, loving submission.

 

Wrestling with god.

My good friend Mackan Andersson came by today for a chat and a coffee. He brought me this beautiful one page of a 16th century vulgate bible with a woodcut of Jacob wrestling with god. Reminded him of me he said …

And yes that is what it feels like, wrestling with god. Yet I am unsure, I don’t think I am wrestling with god. I am wrestling with the Goliath that is church and organised religion. I am wrestling with the Leviathan of preconceived ideas and ideologies, the raging dragon of systematic theology, but I am not wrestling with the god self.

It is a consoling thought that I still can feel the lure of the divine calling me, luring me forward into new and ever more intricate dance moves in this perichoresis. No not a wrestling match, an intimate tango, that may sometimes look antagonistic but it is instead a suggestive, breathtaking swirling dance. The fighting or wrestling is reserved for the constructs of man. Theology, Church, Culture and Society or as Paul put it the powers and principalities.

 

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