Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Samhain is Here!

It's the Celtic New Year - Samhain - Halloween! I will be busy, busy, busy in downtown Salem, MA today. If you want to find out more about what we are up to, I will keep periodic updates going at The Gathering Blog Site.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Get John Smulo to Off-the-Map

John and I are supposed to teach together at the Off-the-Map conference. Well word out is he needs help to get there. Wanna Help? Check out the help call, and see if you have a few bucks to help.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Beyond the Pall (Part 7): A Day with Dennis

It was October in Salem. It was now eight months since my friend the Witch had died. It was also the season when the occult trade took on a decidedly more noticeable place in the marketing strategies of our fair city. Our small city of 40,000 people hosts twelve or thirteen withcraft shops, and the windows were brimming with occult wares like toy stores stocked for the Christmas rush.

In the ninth October of ministry during Salem's month long Haunted Happenings events, we now had over a hundred volunteers. The members of our own small church, interns from a prophetic school of ministry, groups from other churches in the area, musicians, and people who travelled from as far away as California joined us to "do the stuff" in our wildly fun city during this season in which families visited to celebrate the costume season, and spiritual seekers came from distant lands to pursue an alternative spirituality.

I taught classes on understanding Neo-Paganism to people who visited to do evangelism in our unique gentle style. We held events specifically aimed at offering fun, yet significant experiences to visiting tourists. We served free hot cocoa on the streets, and provided seven days of live music on the city's largest outdoor stage which we paid for, and sponsored and ran.

During this unbelievably busy season Dennis joined us from rural mid-state New York, and stayed at our house for a week. We prayed together. We practiced the ancient art of scripture meditation called Lectio Divina. We wandered around town and visited some of the Witches I knew, and I taught Dennis what I had learned over the last 13 years of studying, and befriending Witches.

Dennis had come with expectations of discovering a new way to do evangelism after having felt ineffective over most of the course of his 23 years as a Christian. The year before he heard about our outreach in Salem, MA, and his heart had been stirred to visit us.

One afternoon Dennis and I were doing Dream Interpretation (pretending to be like Daniel of the Bible) at the church. As we were interpreting dreams, a man in a long black cape, and some convincing looking vampire fangs entered and patiently waited for us to conclude our session. Vlad was a gothic magician working in the city. He had visited our church once before, and he and I frequently spoke on the street. When we were done, Vlad asked if I could visit one of the local Witches, who had become quite frustrated, and was apparently in some state of frenzy that day.

"Pastor Phil, he respects you, and I am sure he will listen to you." Vlad said.

When we were free, Dennis and I made our way to try and help this professional Witch who was working his way toward burnout. I mentioned to Dennis that this had now become a fairly regular event, especially during the busy Halloween season. Dennis was processing this information, which even to myself was a bit bizarre, but to Dennis there was no mental file folder in which to place these strange facts.

Unfortunately, we could not reach this Witch in his shop on our little journey down the street. So we let it be known we were making a friendly call, and went on our way. As we left the store, we were met by another local Pagan shop owner who asked me if I would help bring some peace between some feuding business owners.

"Could you do a miracle?" He asked.

"Sure, what's going on?" I asked in return.

He told of the two business owners: one who ran a haunted house, and another who ran a Witch shop. They were at odds with one another over what he thought was fairly petty issues.

"It would be better for business for all of us if they could get along," he said.

I told him I would give it a try, and as we walked away Dennis laughed with wonder and said, "Two different Pagans have asked for your help and counsel for their friends in the last 20 minutes. This is incredible!"

Dennis spoke to our church on Sunday morning, and this event became one of the highwater marks of his week. The experience was weird and wonderful, and Dennis helped me remember once again for perhaps the thousandth time that my life has become weird and wonderful in the last few years.

Live Music, Free Hot Cocoa!

So, one more year we serve the streets of Salem during Haunted Happenings wth live music, and free hot cocoa. We are now doing seven days of both. The members of The Gathering are the most awesome servants of the Gracious Nazarene I know. Blessings on them all.

Why I Haven't Posted Much Lately...

If you check our church blog at The Gathering Blog you will find our recent events being updated with information on how ourr October outreach is going. That's where my attention has been this month.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Christians and the Pagans Meet for Samhain: October 24th SynchroBlog

Sacred spaces, and sacred times are not terribly important to me. One day is like any other, and one place like another. Some of you reading this will be appalled to hear that the Vatican is no more holy to me than a dumpster. Now this does not mean that I do not appreciate fine Cathedrals, or beautiful Abbeys and Chapels. Rather it means that I believe God can manifest His gracious presence anywhere He so chooses, and He is not impressed by places and times, but instead by humble human hearts.

Okay, so that's what I read in the Book of Isaiah, and I believe it to be so.

"Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool.
Where is the house that you will build Me?
And where is the place of My rest?
For all those things My hand has made,
And all those things exist,"
Says the Lord.
"But on this one will I look:
On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit,
And who trembles at My word."

Yet, human hearts often attach greater importance to one place, or time over another, and I believe that there is a God in this universe Who loves people so desperately that the Divine presence of love, grace, and power will appear to those who yearn for it. Sometimes that search for God in sacred times and spaces yields results not because God honors the place, but the yearning hearts which go there.

So it is that the Spirit of Truth appears on Halloween. People come to the evening of Samhain (pronounced Sow (like cow)-en) believing that the veil between the worlds just might be thinner on this night. They seek like they have not sought before, and perhaps - just perhaps the God of the universe peeks through the veil, and says hi.

Of course, all across my country Christians will hold prayer meetings, and some will fearfully ward off the evil spirits, which they perceive are forming in more organized cohorts than any other day of the year. Their superstitions concerning holy, and unholy times cause them to anticipate demons forming pacts of allegiance against the churches on this one day in the season. Meanwhile, the Witches and Pagans I know celebrate in hopes of touching the other world - that place of gods, goddesses, and spirits of the departed. It is not a place I choose to seek, but I wonder how different it is than my own desire to reach the Unseen God of the universe through His Son Jesus Christ - that is at least from a human level.

They want health. I want health. They want hope. I want hope. They want peace. I want peace. They want their needs fulfilled. So do I. From this simple human perspective we seek the same things. I seek them in Jesus, and I believe that He is the only way to the Father Who loves me. They seek these things through other names, and deities, and it may be that they experience divine goodness from Him they do not know, but Who loves them as much as He loves me.

I do not fear Halloween, but enjoy it. Before I was a Pastor it was simply another day. After I became a Pastor, Halloween became a day in which the veil between people became the thinnest. People were happy, and celebrated in costume. In costume they felt a little freer. They opened their doors to strangers and gave gifts, and knocked on my door and looked for gifts. They did things in family units, and they were open to things unseen. It became a day when the veil between us was thinner.

Now I live in a city where we have a whole month of Halloween. The veil between Christians and Pagans sometimes becomes thicker during this season, because Christians superstitiously fear this day, and the Pagans who celebrate it. I find that this month becomes thinner between myself and my Pagan friends. I am working to make this a time when the veil between the worlds becomes thinner, and they are working for the same thing. We may not agree on how it is done, or on Who we seek, but we do seek blessing together, and in this place we meet, and the veil between us gets thinner. Perhaps the veil to finding the Father will as well.

"Up rises awen from Samhain to Samhain. The spirit of deity rushes my soul like a storm.
-me ;-)

October 24th SynchroBlog

The October 24th SynchroBlog includes 26 people sharing their thoughts, their experiences, and their expertise on the subject of "A Christian Response to Halloween" (or at least something remotely connected to that idea.) Perhaps not all the writers are Christian, and that is actually even cooler. Please check out these offerings of love, and gore...uh, I mean lore.

The Christians and the Pagans Meet for Samhain at Phil Wyman's Square No More
Our Own Private Zombie: Death and the Spirit of Fear by Lainie Petersen
Julie Clawson at One Hand Clapping
John Morehead at John Morehead's Musings
Vampire Protection by Sonja Andrews
What's So Bad About Halloween? at Igneous Quill
H-A-double-L-O-double-U-double-E-N Erin Word
Halloween....why all the madness? by Reba Baskett
Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
KW Leslie at The Evening of Kent
Hallmark Halloween by John Smulo
Mike Bursell at Mike's Musings
Sam Norton at Elizaphanian
Removing Christendom from Halloween at On Earth as in Heaven
Vampires or Leeches: A conversation about making the Day of the Dead meaningful by David Fisher
Encountering hallow-tide creatively by Sally Coleman
Kay at Chaotic Spirit
Apples and Razorblades at Johnny Beloved
Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
Fall Festivals and Scary Masks at The Assembling of the Church
Why Christians don't like Zombies at Hollow Again
Peering through the negatives of mission Paul Walker
Sea Raven at Gaia Rising
Halloween: My experiences by Lew A
Timothy Victor at Tim Victor's Musings
Making Space for Halloween by Nic Paton

Friday, October 12, 2007

Belief and Being: The Scriptures as More Than Mere Fact

Seminaries and Bible Colleges have been teaching us pastors how to defend the historical view of scripture for quite some time. The need for this I am sure is great, especially in the face of the last century's liberal textual criticisms of scripture - particularly the Jesus Seminar.

Yet I can not help but wonder if we have often focused upon technical issues, and lost the heart of the matter at times. Stories of mythic proportions such as the parting of the Red Sea, floating axe heads, and prophets marrying prostitutes to model God's heart for his people carry far more power than being true events. They carry us to places in the spirit, which model life, and guide our intentions, and our dreams. They cause us to reach for the stars, and imagine things beyond our temporal existence with its urges for silly desires. Great stories help build dreams in great people.

My life is different, because I read about Paul's message on Mars Hill, and considered Jeremiah the weeping prophet holding out in Jerusalem until the end. Barnabas' faithfulness to keep training Mark after Paul refused to take him on a mission journey guides my soul, as does Jesus' defense of sinners in the face of legalistic religion.

These are more than true stories to me. They carry the power of myth. They call my soul to greater things. Could this be what people need more than they need a way to defend the faith against the rising tide of textual criticism, and excessively liberal theology. Could it be that people need the the scriptures to live, before those same words can live in them?

I am not suggesting we give up the fight for defending the veracity of the Bible, but I am suggesting we find ways to make the stories live in our hearts.

How Noble is the Nobel? Gore Scores Big.

As expected, Al Gore gets the nobel for his work on global warming education, and ... er, movies. Some people are not at all impressed. Others are totally excited and already casting their presidential votes before he makes a move to run.

So the right says the nobel committee is wrong, but what do you think? Is the nobel prize about more than accurate science, true peace, and honorable hard work to improve the world? or does it have a politcal agenda? Some think it does.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bush, the Dalai Lama, and the Congressional Medal of Honor

So, here is the President of the U.S. meeting with the Dalai Lama. He might get some heat over the meeting. China doesn't like it, because the Dalai Lama is the "leader of a separatist state" - Tibet. This will be the first public meeting with the Dalai Lama by any U.S. President. So, the Prez gets in trouble for meeting with leaders of other religions.

Do you think the congressional medal is deserved? Do you think the "Christian President" is doing the right thing, and sending the right message?

Personally. I like it. What about you?

Next Synchroblog - Wednesday, October 24th

The upcoming topic for the next SynchroBlog is "A Christian Response to Halloween." Want to join the conversation, and the pontification? Let us know.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

One of 100 - In John Crawford's Book

I received a book in the mail today. It came to me free because I wrote a few pages of the book.

John Crawford compiled a book of 100 Pastor's profiles from around the US, and including a few other countries. The Pastors were categorized by denomination, or in some cases non-denomination. Due to our unique relationship with that denominational issue, we were categorized toward the end of the book under "Special Interest Part 1." I suppose that's an accurate gauge of our situation.

The way the book worked was like this: He wrote and asked if Pastors would like to participate. Those in the book responded affirmatively. Then he sent some specific questions, and we replied. Our replies and his questions are in the book.

On Sunday evening the 21st, John Crawford will be at The Gathering to tell us more about the book, and the publishing industry, and of course to sell books.

Hey come on down - Sunday the 20th at 6pm at The Gathering.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Belief and Being: Myth Transforming Life

I was in Junior High, and I read Tolkien for the first time. First, I read the Hobbit - in one sitting, on a Saturday while camping at the beach in Carlsbad, CA. Then the Lord of the Rings quickly followed. One character who took up a mere single chapter of the trilogy expanded to mythic proportions for me. I identified with the colorfully dressed, singing, dancing, carefree character who seemed to be dropped parenthetically into the middle of the book. When the ring twirled around his finger, he did not disappear like others, but even more powerful to the story, he did not care for the ring, and did not want to keep it. In fact, he knew that he would care so little for it, that eventually he would lose it, and that would be bad for the rest of the world, which balanced on the precipice of power struggles circling around this ring of power.

I wanted to be like Tom Bombadil. I wanted to leap carefree through a world of struggle and war, and have no consideration for the petty battles of men and their enemies.

Within the next few years I read Evangeline Walton's Tetralogy of the Mabinogion, and found myself identifying with the faithful and courageous Pwyll, who although taking on the form of another King for a whole year, and being told that everything in the Kingdom was his for that time, refused to sleep with the King's beautiful wife. The steadfast integrity and faithfulness of Pwyll captured my heart, and became a part of my own heart's desires. I also read of the warrior who laughed in battle, and as a freshman in High School thought that this was an attribute I wanted to make my own - to laugh in the face of war.

To greater and lesser degrees these things were part of my own personality, which I chose to embrace early. They were engrained more deeply, or perhaps awakened by myth. Myths as these carry power to transform. Stories larger than life activate my heart to dream large, and romantically engage with the dragons and monsters which war against my soul.

I wonder how actively we find the stories, and the history of scripture capturing our hearts like these myths captured mine while I was young? I have found myself dreaming in Biblical proportions, even like I dreamt in mythic proportions as a youth. In doing so perhaps I have captured the sense of the magic of myth, and applied it to the scripture. There is a reason we use the term "Biblical Proportions." The Bible stories like myth are larger than life. Those larger than life stories call me to something greater, and somehow seem to carry me along with some magic power of life transformation.