September 22, 2012


The world is God's desk. From there--here--he works, imagines, reigns. All creative types need such a place, a place where work and play collide, where imagination runs free, where the brain behind perspiring foreheads struggle to think, create, capture.

Perhaps it is our being like God, being in his image, that push some to make a world all their own. I once had such a world. I once had a desk.

Many are messy, some tidy. Some have piles of paper. Others have heaps water-falling into other heaps. Trinkets and doodads are scattered abroad, while favorite art pieces hang on a nail nearby on the wall. Or maybe there are windows, or just one, to bring in the ocean breeze, or city air. Hemingway, Lewis, Dickens, they all had their own version, their own complex ecosystem of books, files, memos, pens, pencils, notepads and typewriters.

I loved mine. It was waiting, opened by a previous owner, though undamaged, in the furniture section of a local Goodwill, one I occasionally stopped by at. I don't recall whether or not I went to Goodwill that day actually looking for a desk. But, a desk is what I got.

Arranged in a large rectangle box, I carried it back to my apartment. It was a drafting table and I would have to assemble it later. Normally, this desk was easily $150. I bought mine for $30.

Later that evening, after screwing in the legs, I slide it around the corner into my room. There wasn't much to it. It was all black with a long and wide flat piece for the top with sharp edges and corners and two pieces of rounded pole for the two legs. It was simple--truly pleasing for any minimalist. I straightened it up next to my window. In both apartments, it was by a window.

The top had a tilting mechanism so it slanted. It felt like it was falling toward me, like it wanted me to sit down at it, and read or write or draw.

Sometimes I would sit and lean my body into it, scrutinizing over some text, making a horizontal dent along my ribs from the desk's edge. I remember reading How (Not) to Speak of God and Is There a Meaning in This Text? at that desk. I remember, too, writing my online posts for my Genesis class while sitting there.

Unfortunately though, I abandoned it. I didn't think ahead. Two summers ago, I quit my job at a shoe shop and moved out of my (second) apartment with my roommate Max and relocated to Nevada City, California where we would work for the summer. Moving out was a frenzy and I hadn't secured a location to store my big items, a huge futon mattress and my desk. There was no room in our car and thus no chance to take it with us.

God only knows what happened to that desk. Maybe it landed in the garbage or perhaps a passerby snagged it on his walk back to his apartment. Hopefully, it's a station for someone else's endeavors.

Now, I have a new place I'm living, but what's the point without my desk. Being deskless is really just being homeless. It was more than some piece of furniture, some decor. It was the birthplace of creativity, the gateway to imagination, the collision of work and play. I abandoned my desk. Imagine if God had abandoned his.

September 20, 2012

A Philosopher's Prayer

I'm intrigued by this prayer. It was written by James Smith (I kind of like this guy if you haven't noticed). Being the philosophy scholar he is, he reads strange foreign texts and then attends obscure seminars to discuss complicated ontological matters, and the like, that only those gathered can understand--at least, this is how I imagine them.

He wrote the following words as the "Opening Prayer" at the Continental Philosophy Seminar back in Spring 2003:

"Lord God,
Creator of earth and matter,
You both dazzle and hide,
You call both light and shadow to be.
You dwell on mountaintops
And in the nooks and crevices of the mountainside.
You speak in both fire and whispers.

Your very material creation--
With all of its dirt and blood,
All of its smells and tastes,
Is a playground for thought.

And so we--graced, privileged, and called--play
At what must seem to you, sometimes, just games.
Is God to be found in the trace? we ask, almost serious.
Is the world the folding and unfolding of God's immanence? we     inquire.
As we try out our questions, surely you chuckle, Lord--
But I think that you chuckle because you like to play along--
That you are glorified in our play, even our serious academic     play.

Only you, Lord, God of a richly folded creation,
Could be found in a place like Deleuze or Badiou,
Could surprise us in the pleats of French philosophers,
Could whisper in the creases of continental ontology.

Lord Jesus, you "sunk yourself in matter" for our sakes,
That we might be pulled out of our flat absorption in     immanence--
To be the "charged" material image bearers of divine excess.
Help us, then, Lord, to be your disciples above all--
To discern what these texts mean for our discipleship,
For our being-in-the-world,
Our being-for-others,
And our being-before-you.

September 9, 2012

At Camp: Friendship, Innocence and a Moment's Peace

[The boys in this post were renamed and yes I know this is long]

Affray and dissension were inevitable. Trying to keep jr. high boys who are tremendously different in background, temperament and sense of humor, to name a few, from killing each other is a genuine task. When squabbling cropped up amongst my clan of boys I always second-guessed myself in how I was handling it and thought, "Gosh, how in the heck would someone else handle this? Should I let him say that? Am I being too lenient?" At the end of the week, though, all my boys went home with fully-attached limbs (at least to my knowledge) and intact egos, for better or worse.

As a cabin leader, you become pretty good, say, during mealtimes, at deterring astringent speech, being ever watchful of the easily-heated emotions of some of the boys. Some had short fuses. James' epistle talks of tongues being like fire. How is it that the short wick of some lad seemingly-attracts the blazing words of another? A spitfire. I, too, had to be careful not to add any flame of my own, since by day three laziness and scant patience can overwhelm.

Coteries, and other anti-shaloming, characterized my group dynamics from day one, up until late Friday night, the night before camp ended, the night God broke in. I want to tell the tale of a phenomena that took place on that Friday, something that I'll probably, hopefully, never forget, evidence, for me, that God had truly moved and worked among my jr. high boys.

If you've been keeping up with my other camp stories, you know of the absurd trouble I had with some campers. Some cabin leaders went for team spirit, decking their cabins, faces and anything else they could find with appropriate colors and team symbols. Or maybe they went for funny or cool so campers would like them. Ya... I didn't really do any of those things, at least with true cabin-leader zeal. All I was trying to do was keep my campers hidden, that I might "sneak" them under the radar of the directors and other overseers, so I didn't get in trouble for their cruel behavior, as if I had somehow turned them into little beasts. Ok, I did more than this, but I'm trying to paint a picture here. You get the idea.

So, Friday. I wish it hadn't taken all the way till Friday for my kids to get stirred up by God. But, alas, it did. Friday is better than not at all though.

My friend and fellow intern Ellen could tell you, I was baffled. Friday night session was specifically carved out to be a time to "commission" the kids to go out into their world, since it would be happening whether they wanted it to or not the next morning. It was going to be a night of praying that they would be bold and true and diligent, all those "commissioning" characteristics. But my kids, my crazy boys, made it something else indeed.

All the other sessions, Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night (including all the day break-outs), with their hip songs and funny sermons, did absolutely nothing, as far as transformation, spiritual-seriousness and overall God-awareness was concerned. But their heart's soil mustn't have been rock-hard because something finally broke, allowing the Holy Spirit to fall just as the tears would from their eyes. I think God was slowing spinning seeds.

During that final ministry time I watched as some of my kids, the spiritually-acute ones, responded to the commissioning calls. They went forward. Awesome. I wasn't surprised. But then I watched as the "immovables," the rebels, got up and shuffled across the floor as they made their way up front. I concentrated on them, wanting to make sure they weren't goofing off or distracting. To the contrary, they got prayer. I watched, like an animal researcher taking in some profound and rare mystery, something beautiful, something abnormal. Tears fell. Hugs, no! Grasps exchanged. Grace received. Reconciliation offered. (these short sentences are the sub total of a colossal moment and, obviously, reveal my literary inability to capture the magnitude of that hour properly) Wow... I was blown away.

I would of had to answer "No.." No, I didn't see it (Isa 43:19). It seemed God had used the commissioning hour for unprecedented things. He does what he wants doesn't he? "I will be who I will be," he proclaimed to Moses all the years ago. He hasn't changed much.

My previous expectations floundered with reality.

More could be said, so much more, but I want to end with the most memorable part of that camp for me, after the commissioning night finished, in that in-between time after cabin time but before bed. For the camp as a whole, the night ended in a tangled fray, something not relevant here nor appropriate. What's important here is that three boys from my cabin who, up until that moment and for all I knew, hated each other, became friends. I couldn't tell you how it happened. It was truly batty.

A hundred yards from the cabin there was a massive--and I mean massive--tire swing. The three of them and I, after the others went inside the cabin, walked there. And what did we do? you ask.

We played...

We simply played.

Jordan climbed on top of the tire, sat down, straddled it and hugged the pole. He was terrified. It was funny. Marcus wiggled his way into the hallowed inside. His body bowed as he snuggly laid flat. And Bo hung about the thing, dangling then whipping his limbs wildly to scare Jordan. I started to push them, in that tire, attached to that huge pole connected to the moon, it seemed, that swung back and forth and back and forth. They started counting each time I pushed. Bo said, "Push us seventy times!" "Psh, your dreamin'," I thought.

For the first time all week, there was Friendship. Innocence. Peace. (now read those words again, slower) Those good things seemed tangible, like the Kingdom had actually come. I paused, listening for the trumpet, yet nothing, which reassured me that God answers Jesus' prayer still today in small and beautifully penetrating doses: "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Mat 6). God's Kingdom can be here now. And it was, then.

But, it pissed me off that I hadn't seen these kids like this before, as they should be, as kids, playing and goofing off, with no external worries, without the cussing and showing off, bullying and crude jokes, over-bearing adult supervising and other sabotagers. Kids grow up so damn fast in our world, where parents are stuck in adolescence and children act like adults. I want kids to be kids, stripped of peer and parental pressure and the broken circumstance. I want them to play. I want them to laugh that innocent laugh and I want them to grow up doing the same.

I ended up pushing those boys seventy times, and if it would of made that moment last forever, I would of never stopped. No way.

September 6, 2012

A Pentecostal Worldview

Relocating my books from the garage to my new room in my parent's house, and freeing them from their dank cardboard prison, enabled me to “visit” some old reads, a truly delightful experience. I unloaded them, ninety-three in all (plus two that don't belong to me), onto the shelves made for clothes in my closet. Books, obviously, are of higher significance than clothes. If I could wear them, I suppose I would.

One of the books I immediately set aside to peruse was Thinking in Tongues. My last post was a result of that perusing. Though, the more I scanned and read and reminisced, the more I wanted to share. There are many scrumptious layers to it so I concluded I would expand. Plus, when was the last time someone, and an academic at that, spruced up some neat thoughts on being pentecostal (could you not tell by the title?)? Exactly my point. So let us take advantage.

Last time (click here to read or simply read the preceding post) I put up the aspects to a pentecostal worldview as articulated by James Smith, professor, philosopher and author. Worldview, though, is a word thrown around a lot, is it not? What is it exactly?

“By referring to this as a worldview," Smith points out, "I don't mean to suggest that this is a system of doctrine (as the terms has sometimes been used); rather a worldview is a passional orientation that governs how one sees, inhabits, and engages the world.”

Hm, please continue.

With the help of James Olthuis' definition, “A worldview (or vision of life) is a framework or set of fundamental beliefs through which we view the world and our calling and future in it,” James expounds the “several elements of this account of worldview:

1. It is a framework of fundamental beliefs: a worldview provides the grid or framework through which we 'make sense' of our world-—the 'set of hinges' on which our thinking and doing turn.

2. It is a framework of fundamental beliefs: as fundamental, we could say that these beliefs are pretheoretical. They are often not beliefs that we consciously, rationally reflect upon. They are the 'control beliefs' that operate subterraneously. Thus, I would suggest that we think about a worldview operating at the level of imagination, not thinking.

3. It is a framework of fundamental beliefs: as 'ultimate beliefs,' worldviews are fundamentally religious in character, shaping the root commitments of individuals and ocmmunities. It is in this sense that Abraham Kuyper can describe all of life as religious in some fundamental sense, even for the naturalist atheist.

4. It provides a view of the world: as such, worldviews are comprehensive, giving us an account of how the big picture hangs together. In this way, they help us make sense of the totality of our experience, not just our 'religious' experience.

5. A worldview tells us something about our calling: how we understand our world then determines how we understand our roles in it. By determining our calling, worldviews shape our identity by constituting the telos of our being-in-the-world. It defines what matters.”

Professor Smith is a sport, painting for us a clear picture, drawing needed distinctions and pulling us in to gaze upon his lucid, scholarly flare. So there you have it folks, a pentecostal worldview.

September 2, 2012

What's a Pentecostal Anyway?

I would imagine, as it does for me, the word 'pentecostal' triggers a host of imagery, probably weird and, possibly, embarrassing. Recently I heard someone ask, "Can we just be pentecostal for a minute...?," using this question as motivation for praying voluminously, subtly reducing 'pentecostal' to charismatic dazzle.

Those of us born and brought into the Pentecostal tradition should know (or venture to know) what makes and doesn't make one pentecostal.

In the brilliantly titled Thinking in Tongues, Christian philosopher and author James Smith (visit his blog, Fors Clavigera, here) articulates what he understands as the five core aspects to a pentecostal worldview. Taken from the first chapter, and as for venturing goes, this may be a solid place to start.

The five bits to Smith's pentecostal worldview:

"1. A position of radical openness to God, and in particular, God doing something differently or new. In terms adopted from continental discourse, we might describe this as a fundamental openness to alterity or otherness. More traditionally, we might simply describe it as an openness to the continuing (and sometimes surprising) operations of the Spirit in church and world, particularly the continued ministry of the Spirit, including continuing revelation, prophecy, and the centrality of charismatic giftings in the ecclesial community.

2. An 'enchanted' theology of creation and culture that perceives the material creation as 'charged' with the presence of the Spirit, but also with other spirits (including demons and 'principalities and powers'), with entailed expectations regarding both miracles and spiritual warfare.

3. A nondualistic affirmation of embodiment and materiality expressed in an emphasis on physical healing (and perhaps also in gospels of 'prosperity').

4. Because of an emphasis on the role of experience, and in contrast to rationalistic evangelical theology, Pentecostal theology is rooted in an affective, narrative epistemology.

5. An eschatological orientation to mission and justice, both expressed in terms of empowerment, with a certain 'preferential option for the marginalized.'"

If this sparked something in you, pick up the book, as he expands each in detail. Or get ahold of me since I like sharing.