Sunday, April 29, 2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Beyond the Pall (Part 2): Standing Between the Worlds

The funeral passed for my friend the Witch. The weeks following were filled with strange conversations, and changing relationships.

I sat down with small groups of Witches gathered together over the common love of their friend. I hugged more Witches on some days than whole mega-churches will in their entire existence. I saw the Witchcraft community struggling with the issue of respecting the dead. There were some who had seen my friend as a threat, and were taking their shots at him now that he was dead.

"Do you think he is in Hell?" I was asked this question by more than one person. His Pentecostal mother cried each time we talked over the phone. Even a Pagan asked me that fearful Hell question. Believing that the mercy of God is greater than we can imagine, knowing that the thief on the cross made a last-second dive for home plate, and slid in under the tag, I replied that God is the judge of all things beyond the grave, and I know that He loved our friend more than any of us ever could.

He was buried 75 miles away from Salem, and many people in the Witchcraft community could not attend. On Friday the 13th, a memorial service was arranged in Salem. This was the first notable Witch to die since the Neo-Pagan revival had made its way to our little New England burg in the early 70's.

The organizers of the memorial service needed a sound system. Our church had one. We offered it. So Jesus provided the sound system for the memorial of a famous Witch. I was asked to speak, and wondered how that might be received by a room full of Pagans.

Friday the 13th arrived. Jeff, our assistant pastor took the sound system down to the Old Town Hall. I arrived later, and helped set it up. Our close friend who was leading the service sang out a chorus from the musical "Wicked,"

"And Goodness knows
The Wicked's lives are lonely
Goodness knows
The Wicked die alone
It just shows when you're Wicked
You're left only
On your own

Yes, Goodness knows
The Wicked's lives are lonely
Goodness knows
The Wicked cry alone
Nothing grows for the Wicked
They reap only
What they've sown"

"Do you think this song is okay? Should I sing that last phrase, 'They reap only what they've sown?'" Our friend the Witch asked us.

I responded with a slightly twisted, but obvious smirk, "Of course you should sing it. It is from the Bible after all."

"But do you think it's too much? Because I think I like it."

"I am sure it will be fine."

Our singing friend was the main speaker. He was nervous. He asked for advice about his "sermon." We all laughed that he called it a sermon. Jeff and I remarked to one another how pastoral he appeared. He may not have looked like a Christian pastor, but he was caring for people in his unique Neo-Pagan way.

Later that evening we arrived for the memorial. The room was filled with people strange and common. Black is the color of choice for these events, but this was blacker than usual. Some were dressed in ceremonial robes, some in street clothes, and some in wild neo-medieval black leather garb. People gathered in small clans, and the room was abuzz with whispers, greetings between distant friends being reacquainted, quiet laughter, and tears.

I made my way around the room meeting new people, and saying hi to recent acquaintances and old friends. I counted four Christians in the room of somewhat over 100: three from our church, and a Quaker.

After a time of mingling, people were called to their seats. The memorial was decidedly witchy. A small table of occult implements sat front and center. The elements of earth, air, fire and water were called upon, and the spirits of the north, east, south, and west were invoked. I was reminded of a once popular Christian worship song which called to the directions of the compass. I thought to myself that the same Pentecostal churches which enjoyed the song would be the least comfortable of all Christians in this strange setting.

The group of four Witches running the service began to introduce the people who were asked to speak. They would simply say, "and now we will hear from John." I was last in the order.

People shared poetry, stories of their friendship, and writings from the Book of Shadows which was written by the deceased. This Book of Shadows held poems of joy, and sorrow, of doubt, and struggle, moments of calling out to God for help in this troubled world, and honest descriptions of being broken and human.

The Quaker man stepped up. He began, "An Atheist, a Witch, and a Quaker went to Transylvania." The room roared at this joke introduction. He held well over 100 people enraptured with his hilarious stories of their real travels together.

My singing friend approached the mic to introduce me, but he said more than, "and now we will hear from Phil." He called the Witches in the room to remember a time some 15 years previous when the Pagan and the Evangelical Christian communities were aggressively antagonistic to one another, and remarked that those days were past. Then he credited me for the transformation, and openly called the Witches in Salem to follow my example. I rubbed my eyes, and doubted that our little church was as influential as he suggested. He spoke my name. I stood and walked to the platform to the sound of applause.

An Evangelical Christian Pastor being applauded by a room full of Witches; my little world was weird, but it exponentially increased in peculiarity that moment.

"These are the thinnest of times, when the veil between the world we live in and the heavens becomes transparent...." I hailed back to the early Christian Celts and their theology of Thin Places - times and locations where heaven and earth meet as I described the experience we all have during the loss of loved ones. But I wondered who really stood at this uncomfortable junction between the worlds. Was it those who lost their friend? or was it I who had made these new friends in a world so unlike my own?

A Question Following the Article in Relevant Magazine Online

The following letter was sent with a touch of concern. It was sent by e-mail after the writer read the article "Beyond the Pall", which was published in Relevant Magazine. The concerns listed in the article are not uncommon for people who are reading about someone who is actively making friends with the Neo-Pagan community, and sharing the love of Christ. I asked if I could respond to the e-mail openly on my blog, and he said yes. The writer will remain anonymous, because I offered to post it that way, and it was accepted on those terms.

The questioning e-mail will be in italics, and my response in plain text.

hi pastor phil,

my name is P... and i just finished reading your article on relevant magazine's website. i also looked at some of the stuff you wrote on your blog, but not much.

first, to begin, i just want to let you know that i am not writing this email out of judgement or contempt or anything, and i really really hope that i don't appear that way. really, i just want to share my thoughts and hear yours, nothing more.

i've just been really confused by what you wrote about. i understand your point, about how self-seeking pastors and corrupt leaders of super duper churches are not men of God (I also read what you wrote about redefining "heresy," and i would agree to an extent.) I'm just a bit confused cause the article does seem to lean another way also... that the practicing Satanist, was, well, respected by God.

Again, I do not want to be on the offensive or anything, I just want to understand your view better (not to make judgements, but just for my own understanding). I completely agree with you about your criticism of the really selfish and corrupt church leaders who everybody naively admires, yet, the article also offers praise to the Satanist.

This is what I have been struggling with in my personal search for truth. And this has been very troubling for me: the overwhelming message of love of Jesus vs. the nature of God. I mean, yes, Jesus said lots of things about loving people nomatter what, yet, he was also surprisingly ascerbic when dealing with the devil and evil. I mean, the first and greatest commandment is to love God, and I'm just very confused as to how a "selfish" God would honor a man who practiced voodoo and followed Satan.

The point of the article was not to say that one person was respected by God, and another disrespected, but rather to show the strange contrast from our human perspective. A dark individual who was respected by other people for the help he offered them was contrasted with a supposedly good man who has a growing evil reputation for hurting those around him. I simply ended the article with a question asking what God, Who sees into the heart, might see which we do not.

The same man who died was far more complex than could be described by the short story. I had known him for many years. We sat up late at night and discussed Heaven and Hell, we saw The Passion together, his story of being abused by Christian churches was outlined by a letter in this post. I have heard him describe himself as someone who loved Jesus, and disliked Christianity.

I understand the concern you have about God respecting, or honoring someone who lives in disobedience to Him, but I suppose I might look at the issue from a different angle than you are seeing it. I do not think that God respects one person over any other person, for the simple fact that all of us are messed-up, broken individuals.

Now I am not quite sure what you mean by a "selfish God," but it seems to me that the God I serve would give His Son for those who had rejected Him. It also seems that He loves that person as much as He loves anyone else. I would expect that He would want me to do the same. This would be the fulfillment of the command at the end of Matthew 5, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you...."

I see the anger of Jesus focused on hypocritical religious leaders. Do you think perhaps that He might feel the same way today? I tend to think so, and the reason I believe this is because our lack of compassion and understanding gives creedance to people's biases against Christianity. They see Jesus as loving toward the sinner, the sick, and the broken; and angry toward the hypocrites who thought that they could define righteousness by their own terms. I sometimes wonder if perhaps the non-Christian world understands the anger of God better than the Christian world does. They are mad at hypocrites, and accepting of sinners. Whereas we often are mad at sinners, and accepting of hypocrites.

By the way, it may be of interest for you to know that LeVeyan Satanism is most often a form of atheistic hedonism, and Satan is viewed as a personification of self, or the natural forces of the universe, and not as a literal being to be worshiped.

I mean, paul and other new testament writers also say a lot about Satan and pagans and they are definitely not supportive. I don't think I'm sayiing that you were "supportive" of Satanists, but it seems as if you are saying that the Satanist priest was a better man than the selfish pastor. Like, yes, the pastor is hypocritical and everything, but again, I just don't see how God would tolerate honoring a Satanist. The Old Testament is all about how God hates evil and the drastic measures that he goes to. There are many really serious passages in the New Testament about those that reject Christ and follow Satan. I just feel like, in a sense, you are saying that it's ok.

The New Testament writers did say a lot about Pagans. In fact, all the Gentile world was Pagan. Paul became "as a Jew" when with the Jews, and "as without the law" when he was with those who were without the law (i.e. Pagans). What the New Testament has to say about Pagans is found in Paul's advice on eating meat offered to idols, and the celebrating of holydays. Otherwise, it was a fact of life that Christians were sitting down with good old fashioned Pagans at meals, and even during Pagan celebrations, because that was the way of life in the Roman Empire.

or maybe there is a really fine line between showing unconditional love to whomever seeks it and actually approving of an alternate world view?

Now this I think highlights the difference in how we think. I do not believe that there is a fine line between showing unconditional love, and approving of an alternate worldview. I must love unconditionally, and I must desire truth fully. It is not either/or. When I love unconditionally, I do not assume that every moment requires that I rebuke someone for their sin. I do not think that loving unconditionally allows me to disrespect anyone, and for heaven's sake not after they have died! The post written by another Christian friend of my Witch friend who died, outlines the unbelievable abuse which many Pagans have received at the hands of the church. I will not be another abuser, but I choose to be an outreached hand of love to a group of people who are often feared, and miosunderstood by the church.

What many people do not realize is that while they sit on the sidelines critiquing my relationships with the Pagan community, I have shared the love of Jesus, and the beliefs of Christendom thousands of times to a people group which most Christians will never do anything more than rebuke - and that's only if they are exceptionally bold.

thanks in advance for your response, i've sent way too many emails that have not been responded too.

- P...

You're welcome. I am hoping that there will be a growing number of people who overcome their fear of those in the occult, and just learn to treat them with the same respect which we give to every other person.

gwyn dy fyd,

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Letter from a Witch's Friend

The following letter was written by a friend of my friend Shawn, who died last month. It speaks for itself, and says something about the problems Christians sometimes create through judgmentalism, and fear of being defiled by "the unbelieving," and those who do not live up to our lifestyle expectations.


You don't know me and I have never been to your church. I knew Shawn Poirier since we were teenagers and I remember his zeal for church. I used to sleep over his house and we would pray all night. I remember earnestly studying the Bible with him, going on retreats, worshiping together in church.

I also remember the way church people judged Shawn and his family, spread lies about him, talked behind his back and accused him of things that were not true. I remember walking into a church with Shawn and watching as the minister stopped his sermon and then announced that "a spirit of homosexuality" had just walked into the room. Shawn was crushed. I remember watching him try again and again to find community, acceptance and love in church....all to no avail. The church really poured on the fire after he became a witch but I made it a point to publicly give him a hug and tell him that he would always be my friend. This would freak out my family but I felt that it was important that Shawn know that not every church person was judging him. I attended Shawn's wake but had to leave early. I was sad not to see church people there, but I tried to brush off my feelings. Imagine my shock when that Sunday I heard a pastor publicly preach that Shawn was in hell and standing naked before an angry god. This was coming from one of the churches that had hurt Shawn. I was furious and distraught. I watched Shawn get publicly rebuked in life...I was not about to watch it happen in death, when his family was in pain. I made sure to write a letter to the pastor right then and there and I handed it to him and told him to read it before he preached his next sermon. (It was at Christian (name of church)... in New Bedford at the first of what are 3 morning services)

I wrote to Christian Day expressing my deep hurt that Shawn had died, my anger that Shawn's name was being mentioned publicly and requesting his family's decision as to how I should handle this. In my mind a public response was necessary. But Christian Day....showing incredible tolerance, grace and maturity suggested that I let it roll off of me and not let it take up my energy. He gave me the link to your church and told me shortly how you were of great assistance during this time. I wanted to therefore send you a note of thanks, that a pastor, instead of judging actually stood up and was a blessing during this time.

I can't thank you enough. You don't know me but I wanted to tell you that I appreciated your response after Shawn's death and I know that God is pleased. May God enlarge your voice so that others can hear the words of Jesus instead of the taunts of the Pharisees.


Steven Thorne"

Like Stephen I wanted to fully publish the name of the church, but for the sake of exhibiting God's grace I have not. Stephen, thank you for having been a long time friend of my friend.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Interview with John Smulo

John Smulo is going to be joining us for the conference God for People Who Hate Church in a couple weeks. He will join me on a discussion panel as we talk with some local Neo-Pagans to discuss what they believe, and practice, and how they have been treated by Christians. There are not too many people as likeminded, and understanding toward developing relationships with the Neo-Pagan community as John. I can really track with this guy, and have been pleasantly surprised by his progressive, and intelligent thinking. I had you consider sending some support to JJ the Smu a few days back. If you like what you see, go here to support John Smulo. John also runs a site called Missional Apologetics.

So I asked John if he would do a quickie interview for me. Here it is:

PHIL: Give us a sense of your background in ministry. You've spent time in Australia, you've pastored, taught in Bible College, and worked with New Religious groups. Describe some of these experiences for us.

JOHN: I’ve taught at Morling College in Sydney, Australia. I was also the Founding Director of the School of Apologetics at the Centre For Evangelism and Global Mission at Morling College. I miss this a lot. I found it a supporting environment to explore creative evangelistic and apologetic approaches. I’m currently teaching at Capitol Bible College in Sacramento, California. It’s a very different environment compared to Morling, but I’m enjoying it and it’s a privilege to be able to teach.

I’ve been a pastor in Australia and the US. This has been a source of joy and pain for me. I’ve increasingly transitioned from traditional churches and pastoral ministry to more of a emerging missional church context. I’m currently at the initial stages of planting a church.

My work with new religious movements has especially focused on Pagans and Satanists, which are quite different from each other. This has involved the blessing of making a number of friends in both communities, and the opportunity to be involved in speaking at events such as Pagans in the Pub. I’ve also focused my writing in these areas, and sought to develop missional apologetic approaches that interact with Satanism and Paganism.

PHIL: Have you had any experience with severe misunderstanding, rejection, or mild persecution in your dealings with New Religious Movements, such as Neo-Pagans and Satanists?

JOHN: I’ve not only experienced severe misunderstanding, rejection and persecution from fellow Christians because of my friendships and involvement with Pagans and Satanists, I still continue to. The ironic thing is that overall I’ve experienced far more support, and very little criticism, from Pagans and Satanists. Some have even been kind enough to put up portions of my work on their websites. At times, they’ve done this even when its somewhat critical. I think that we’re able to have open and productive conversations when there’s mutual respect.

PHIL: What are your current hopes for evangelical Christianity in its relationship to New Religious Movements, and how do you see yourself helping make these changes come to pass?

JOHN: My hopes are somewhat low for evangelical Christianity in its relationship to New Religious Movements, and only mildly optimistic for those who associate with the emerging church. We have to overcome a significant part of church history that has been antagonistic to people of other faiths. We also have to overcome largely negative apologetic methodologies that typically create barriers instead of bridges. What I am optimistic about, however, is the fact that each of us can make a difference in this regard by loving people like Jesus did, using our ears more than our mouth, and seeing people through God’s eyes rather than our stereotypes.

As for how I see myself helping to make positive changes come to pass, I think that the best I can do is work with like-minded people such as yourself for change, while continuing to build healthy relationships with people of other faiths.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Christian Sexuality (Part 7) Homosexuality, Patriarchal Images, and the Order of Creation

Perhaps no subject carries such political, and emotional power in discussions of spirituality as the issue of homosexuality. In discussions between liberal and conservative church traditions, between evangelical Christians and those who are non-religious and politically astute, between traditional Republicans and Democrats this issue rises to a head of frustration and anger. There appears no way to pour this brew without it foaming over. For one side the issue is one of acceptance and personal freedom, and for the other the subject is rooted in an orthodox Biblical interpretation and moral codes of God. These issues are non-negotiable for both sides, and the discussion agitates the participants.

From my personal position as an evangelical Christian, I find myself trapped between the two sides. I am a staunch advocate of personal freedom, and a believer in the great acceptance found in the Gospel, and the Person of Jesus Christ. I am not willing to surrender a inch of precious ground on these issues. Yet, I also believe in a conservative orthodox reading of the scripture. I want the Bible to say what it says, and I believe that what it says is applicable to me today. I believe that the moral codes outlined in the text of scripture apply to me as a follower of Christ, and in my stumbling ways do my best to keep its injunctions. For me this is true in the subject of sexuality as much as any other topic.

Being trapped between the worldviews I have sought for a position which honors and respects all people, and yet holds to my ancient traditions rooted in the writings of the prophets and apostles.

This is my struggling conclusion on the subject of homosexuality in the larger context of human sexuality as it is rooted in the Christian understanding of the character of God, and story of redemption. My understanding concerning this sexual lifestyle are rooted in my faith in Jesus, my trust in the Bible as God's word, and my desire to live out my own sexuality as a ritual behavior before my God. It is my belief that my sexual choices are a life ritual which model the character of my God, and the story of His redemptive work among human beings. I do not expect those who do not follow the way of Christ to live according to this ritual pattern. Yet, daily I come across people who naturally live in accordance with this Biblical ritual pattern, and it causes me to wonder if they intrinsically follow by instinct something I have come to discover through worship.

What I Find in the Bible Concerning Divine Masculine and Feminine:

The Biblical record of God gives us a primarily masculine image. The reference to God in familial relationship to humanity is that of Father. The reference to Jesus is that of His Son, and as the Bridegroom to His Church. These relational images are distinctly masculine, and our interaction with God is couched in these terms.

There are feminine-divine moments which appear upon the historical/biblical scene. The Spirit of God hovers upon the face of the waters in a sort of birthing picture of creation. At the forming of humanity both male and female represent the image of God - "in the image of God created He them" as the KJV says it. Reference is given to being protected "under [the] wings" like that of a mothering hen. Yet, these examples of feminine care coming from God appear to be the exception in the Biblical expression of God's relational interaction with humanity, and not the rule.

The Divine feminine may be the exception in the Biblical narrative in respect to describing the character of God in famial relationship to humanity, but the fact that humanity in both its male and female parts is described as fulfilling the imago dei has caused me to earnestly seek a fulfillment of the feminine divine in the scriptures.

I find this fulfillment in the Bride who at the end of times is united intimately with the Son. This I view as the fulfillment of the divine-feminine. The Church of the faithful lovers of Christ becomes united as one with Him in the day of the fulfillment of all things, and in that moment the divine feminine finds its place of completion.

What Christian Sexuality Says About the Divine Masculine and Feminine

The discovery of imago dei in its fullness will not be found in a man alone (except the man Jesus, Who uniquely walked as the "Fullness of the Godhead"), instead it is the combination of man and woman together which fulfills the beauty of imago dei. When God created man and woman in His image, He established the vision of the divine in them equally, and when a man and a woman become one, the image presented to the world is potentially a fuller picture of divinity than when either are alone. So my living in a heterosexual relationship models the character and glory of God.

My practice of heterosexuality is a ritual lifestyle mirroring the order of creation in which God placed the fulness of His image in both man and woman. Living in Biblical Sexual Mores is my way of following the God I serve, and making a prophetic lifestyle declaration of His character. My relationship with my wife is a picture of the coming together of the divine masculine and the divine feminine. We are more like God than either of us are independently.

Christian Sexuality and the Story of Redemption

The ritual model I live does not stop in its liturgical proclamation with revealing the character of God, but I believe my sexual choice reveals a lesson about the story of human redemption as well.

The intimate relationship of a man and a woman prophetically reveal this story of God's search for a lover found in Jeremiah 3, and other similar passages of covenantal love. In Ephesians 5 Paul speaks of marriage as a mystery which unveils the relationship of Christ and the Church.

My convenantal relationship with my wife becomes a picture of the very mystery of the Gospel. God's search for a lover, and the eschatalogical fulfillment of intimacy discovered in the Wedding Supper of the Lamb are seen in my relationship with my wife. As the Lord Jesus seeks a bride without spot or wrinkle, a faithful heterosexual marriage models the mystical relationship between Jesus and His Bride.

My Expectations of Those Not Following the Christian Way

Since I follow the way of Christ in a heterosexual ritual lifestyle as a model of my own faith in God, I do not expect that those who do not follow my Jesus to follow my path. Yet, I believe that those who come to understand the character of God and His plan of redemption will find an empowering lifestyle ritual in Biblical sexuality. As strange as it may be to say that a limitation on human behavior has the potential for power, and beauty, I do believe that it is so for me and my faith in Christ.

One Day of Blog Silence in Honor of Virginia Tech on 4-30-07

One Day Blog Silence

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Send some love to JJ the Smu

There is a travelling blog-fest of love going out for our buddy John Smulo. Salemites - you will meet him during the conference. JJ the Smu, as I like to call him, has been going through some transitions in ministry and life. He could use a little practical love, in the support category. This is a guy I really believe in, and so I am sending you to a support page set up to lend the Smu a hand.

Go there through this link at Blind Beggar

Saturday, April 14, 2007

5 Blogs to Make you Think (Tagged by Sally at Eternal Echoes

Sally at Eternal Echoes is a prolific blogger. In fact, I am in awe of her prolificicity (a brand new word which you will not find in your unabridged monster dictionary). She was tagged to name 5 blogs that make you think. Being a thought provoking blog-lady herself, she was awarded the coveted prize of the Thinking Blogger Award.

Well, Sally named Square No More as a Blog that makes you think, and specifically targeted my post about a Witch-friend's funeral. I am deeply honored to have a Blog Goddess like Sally name this site. Thanks Sally. So now I must go on to name 5 Blogs that make me think. Not being as well traveled in Blogland as someone like Sally, this is going to be tough for me, but here we go. Drum roll please....

And the winners are:

Zachary Forrest y Salazar blogs over at Johnny Beloved
Agent B in Abilene Texas does the Agent B Files
Webb Kline at Stumbling into the Kingdom
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian
Johnny Baker has a cool thing he's been doing called worship tricks. Sometimes fun, sometimes funny, sometimes usable always thought provoking.

So, if you are tagged by this, here is the next thing for you to do: Tag five others, or experience THIS! Okay maybe not, but that's how these things continue eternally, by gentle encouragements of curses from God. That's why we all tithe, and show up on Sunday mornings, right? (The wry smirk of one who has just been to the dentist, and still has half a face of novocaine emerges.)

The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative gold version if silver doesn't fit your blog).

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

SynchroBlog: Fishing for Trouble

This post is in honor of David Fisher who posts at Be the Revolution. He got booted from a ministry position at his church for hanging out with we SynchroBloggers. Our March post was about alternate consciousness, and February was about Love. Somewhere between the two SynchroBlogs a person in his church found his links to something one of the SynchroBloggers said, and decided to call the leadership. This led to a gentle, but obviously still hurtful parting of the ways.

I asked David if I could post on this a few weeks back. He said yes, and this seemed like the perfect time. So here ya' go David!

Now David had already had a few difficulties because he had attempted to reach out lovingly to the Gay and Lesbian community without the typical scripture bombing, and he made a few comments on an old blog challenging church hierarchy, and promoting women in leadership. These had not been positively received, so he laid low.

Suddenly he was discovered sneaking about in the Land of Blog again, but Heavens to Betsy! he was writing with the devilish SynchroBloggers! He had made some comments about the ineffectiveness of the Evangelical Church, and even worse one of those other SynchroBlogs referenced something about a feminine perspective of deity, and perhaps another about strange alternate consciousness experiences. Now these were not David's words, but he had links to these SynchroBloggers, and that was the end of the end.

When we consider challenging the status quo of Christianity are we fishing for trouble? Or is it the good and righteous thing to challenge status quo in these quickly changing days?

I think David Fisher is fishing for men, and has found a little trouble, because he went deep. If we bottom fish we might come up with fish, or we might come up with old boots. David got the boot, but I expect he'll be finding lots of fish soon.

Check out my other Synchroblogger friends at the links below:

David Fisher - Be the Revolution
Mike Bursell - Mike's Musings
Restoring Our View of Humanity at Eternal Echoes
Persecuting the Marginalized at
The Ends Justify the Means at Calacirian
Billy Calderwood - Billy Calderwood
Seeking First Righteousness at Tim Abbott
Jamie Swann - More Than Stone
Persecution and Martyrdom at Handmaid Leah
"Don't squash the counter-revolutionary/the plank in my own eye" at Jeremiah
The Martyrs of Epinga at Notes from the Underground
Terrorism in Christianity at The Rivera Blog
Persecution or Poor Elocution? at "Hello," said Jenelle

SynchroBlog on Persecution and Suffering for Righteousness

April 12th (Tomorrow!) is our next SynchroBlog, and there is a group of at least 13 who are all Blogging on the same topic of Persecution/Suffering for Righteousness. Look for this list, and my posting to go up later tonight!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Quickie Interview with Tony Jones

God for People Who Hate Church is coming up May 4-6. Tony Jones will be one of the voices here at the event, so I asked Tony a few questions. Here are the questions, and here are Tony's answers. Of course, since he's coming to Salem, I thought I'd senstize him with a question of a Witchy nature.

Phil Wyman: I've read numerous critiques about the evangelistic effectiveness of the Emergent Conversation. Critics have suggested that Emergent is either redefining, or perhaps even doing away with the Great Commission. What's up with Emergent and evangelism? or perhaps better put, what's up with Tony Jones and his ideas about the Great Commission?

Tony Jones: Well, I'm all about making disciples, and it seem to me that was Jesus' concern, too. And that is a way of life that Jesus called people into, not simply saying a prayer, led by a guy on TV. I've even baptized some folks in my day! What I do reject is arguments about "effectiveness" of evangelization and discipleship, since that's a modern value that has been superimposed on the gospel. The gospel is not effective, it's scandalous.

Phil Wyman: Here at The Gathering in Salem, Massachusetts, we are concerned with the reputation which "church" has developed in the eyes of those who stand on the outside looking in. We are also concerned about those who have been abused by the wrong practices of churches in the recent past. Do you have suggestions for bridging this divide of offenses?

Tony Jones: I think we're accountable to God for our local incarnation of the church. You are responsible for The Gathering, I'm responsible for Solomon's Porch. Just because someone gets E Coli at a Taco Bell in California doesn't mean that you never ea[r] at a Taco Bell again (although I question the sanity of people who eat there!) -- so folks shouldn't hold it against The Gathering because other idiots have ruined other churches. People who disparage your church because of the failings of others.

Phil Wyman: You just sat down in a cafe for a bite. Someone plunks themselves down next to you. You look up and see a large man in a black cape, with an oversized silver pentacle hanging around his neck. In striking up a conversation he numerates a long list of the evils of Christendom both recent, and historical. He finishes his diatribe, and looks at you. How do you respond?

Tony Jones: I guess I ask him where is the perfect religion and how can I join? Religion is our fallible, human attempt to articulate who God is and how we relate to God. Often, we suck at that, to be sure. But Christianity is also full of earnest saints who've done great good in God's name. I'll put our saints up against our sinners anyday.

Interested in being there May 4-6, and seeing Tony in person? Check out more about the seminar at the website for the The Gathering.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Beyond the Pall

I stood outside the doors waiting with seven other men. We were all dressed in black. The mood was somber, but then, it almost always is. Especially when death knocks earlier than expected.

The doors broke open. The coffin emerged, and we took our positions. My friend in front of me had to throw his long black cape over his shoulder, and reposition his tall pointed hat upon his head. The amulets, and trinkets bounced off the patchwork of his cape. Behind me a tall young man in a tight black T-shirt emblazoned with occultic imagery, and a black leather coat took his place. As we made our way down the steps to the hearse, I had to kick aside the flowing cape which filled the steps in front of me. I in my black pin-striped suit, and deep grey wool overcoat was one of two conservatively dressed men appointed to carry the casket. The six Witches, and Neo-Pagans were dressed in their regalia, and the one other conservatively dressed man was young. He wore a sharp black suit, a crisp black shirt and black tie, with one small round lapel pin - the symbol of the First Church of Satan.

What had brought me to this moment is the stuff fables are made of. The newspaper had announced this funeral with the words, "Witches Mourn Their King." I was a simple Christian Pastor, and somehow I felt at home.

We made our way to the back of the hearse, and together pushed the casket upon the rollers. Then together we watched the doors close.

The minutes before the casket arrived at the door, and came into our hands were surreal as any I've experienced. It was surreal that I was there. It was perhaps more surreal that I was comfortable. We stood and made small talk. The younger men looked out of sorts, as though this was a part of life yet unknown - some rite of passage only now being experienced - except for the young Satanist. He was calm, in control, and appeared familiar with the deeper moments of life. It was he who was considerate enough to suggest that we all greet, and learn each others' names. During those same moments, a close friend of the deceased, a large man with a severe limp adorned in a long black cape stood at the bottom of the stairs, and said ceremoniously to we eight pall-bearers, "Carry my friend with honor." He repeated himself with conviction, and touch of sorrow, perhaps wishing he were healthy enough to play his part in the moment, "Carry my friend with honor."

Between the wake the night before, and this day of the gravesite service hundreds of people had come. Some traveled from as a far as Canada to honor my deceased friend the High Priest of his little circle of a Salem variety of Witchcraft.

The services were decidedly witchy, filled with some of the pomp of Wiccan ceremony, and some of the drama of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts, with cauldron, and blade, and broom, and skull.

For the two days of services I sat with my dead friend's mother. She, like myself, was a Pentecostal Christian. She grieved, and worried over the death of her son, and felt uncomfortable with the witchiness of the ceremonies, though she had seen it dozens of times by now. When it came to the conclusion of the gravesite service each person was given the opportunity to honor the deceased by taking a memory of his life, and ritually casting a pinch of salt upon the casket. She asked me if it was okay with God to do this. I leaned over and whispered to her, "I think God would like you to remember that you have been the salt of the earth in your son's life. Of course, it's okay." She cried, and limply tossed her grains of salt upon the gray metal box.

Few funerals in America have the output of emotion I experienced over these two days. People openly cried, and wailed, and expressed words of appreciation. This man barely 40 years of age had gathered this strange troupe together in his death, and I watched people from all walks of life: Christians, Witches, Atheists, and Satanists speak of their respect for him. There were many people who had been touched by his life, and felt that his help had been instrumental in their lives. One Christian spoke of her return to Christianity from Witchcraft, and stated that he had been instrumental in helping her find her way back to Jesus. This was the surrealism: Many people mourned him though he was a Witch, a Voodoo Practitioner, and even joined the ranks of Anton LaVey's Organization in his last years of life. To most people he lived beyond the pall. Yet to some he offered words of wisdom, and hope.

I consider the life of this strange man who died, and contrast it with a man who yet lives.

The man who yet lives is a Christian pastor I once served alongside. He says all the right things, and appears at cursory glance to be the model of citizenship. His dress is impeccable. His actions are sharp, and decisive. His ministry is successful by all appearances, but a deeper look reveals a dark underbelly of corruption. Subtle lies, clever manipulation, and political savvy are his trademark. He rules his little kingdom with an iron fist, and crushes those who refuse to labor under his heavy-handed control. Good pastors have been lost, churches have been dismantled, and reputations have been ruined under his guidance.

I wonder which life is more tiresome to the gracious Nazarene I serve. Which life is wearisomely beyond the pall?

I was strangely, but deeply honored to be asked to be a pall-bearer for my friend the Witch. Somehow I am ashamed to know the man who yet lives, and declares to serve my Jesus, and it makes me wonder what it is that only God can see beyond the pall-bearing.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Pint and a Fag?

Okay, here's my quote of the month: "A pint and a fag have gone hand-in-hand for generations."

See this story for the smoking ban which just went to effect in Wales.

Well, it's happening once again. I remember when they banned smoking in public places in California. Years later I would visit Massachusetts, and marvel that restaurants and bars would be veritable dens of tobacco clouds. Shortly after we moved to Massachusetts the full ban on smoking in public places followed us. Now when I visit the UK, I will find the same smoke free environment I enjoy here in the states.

I tend to hack when I am in the presence of smokers, but I am not particularly happy about the movement to ban smoking in public places. I am thankful when fewer people smoke, and health increases. I perhaps would be happier if the ingredients in cigarettes were monitored by the health industry, but there just seems to be something wrong with this kind of governmental Big Brother activity to me. Am I wrong here?

i ddarllen y stori yn Gymraeg (to read the story in Welsh)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Great Post on Confession

Since abuse by leadership is a topic of central concern to myself, I just had to point out this great post by Shah.