The Weekly Town Crier

June 18, 2010 at 7:50 am

towncrier5Some weeks you have more to give than others.

R.I.P. Dennis Hopper.

R.I.P. Rue McClanahan.

Read about iPad sales topping 2 million.

Read Tim Stevens on the shrinking 40%.

Watch Brian McLaren on pluralism.

See a giant sink hole that reportedly swallowed a three-story building.

Read about Daniel Lanois being in intenstive care after a motorcycle accident.

Read as the New York Times argues that an ugly toll of technology is impatience and forgetfulness.

Watch Steve Timmis.

Read about the Polish law that allows for castration of pedophiles and men who commit incest.

Read as Lifeway finds that Millennials value family above all else.

Read about many pastors having trouble finding employment.

Hear Doug Burr explain his newest album “O Ye Devastator,” ‘track by track.’

Read as Ira Glass discusses “wrongness.”

Read as Jonathan Dodson offers 7 pieces of advice for young preachers.

Read as Darrin Patrick considers “Control Tweaks.”

Read about the Southwest Airlines employee who discovered a package full of human heads.

The Search For God Is Everywhere: Thoughts on Seeing Mumford and Sons

June 8, 2010 at 10:20 am

ahmgLast night we had the chance to go and see Mumford and Sons. Now, let’s be honest: when you go to see Mumford and Sons, you know what you’re going to get; bluegrass songs that begin slow and quiet and build to a crescendo. Maybe the alt-country version of Explosions in the Sky or Mogwai. Yet, even though there is a formula, the band does it exceedingly well. They are top-notch performers who seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves and who seemed a bit shocked that they were playing for a sellout crowd in Phoenix, Arizona of all places.

As a pastor who loves music and is fascinated by culture, I admit that I sometimes tend to overanalyze things. But, one of the things that struck me about the concert and Mumford and Sons’ content in general is its spiritual tone. Now, don’t read in to that comment. I’m not one of those guys who desperately desires my favorite bands to be Christian. I’m not saying that the band members or Christians, or that they’re not. I don’t know them, and I’ve not read any comments on the topic from any of them, so I just don’t know (and yes, to our readers with sensitive ears, they do have a song “Little Lion Man,” that you should probably avoid).

While there may be ambiguity about the bands personal beliefs, there is no doubt that they are wrestling with many themes addressed by the Gospel. They are somewhere in a search for God. It could be that they believe, or it could be that they were simply raised with a certain cultural literacy that includes many biblical metaphors and images. But it is certain that their lyrics are filled with biblical themes. Consider some of their lyrics:

Lines from “Sigh No More:”

Serve God love me and men
This is not the end
Live unbruised we are friends

Love that will not betray you,
dismay or enslave you,
It will set you free
Be more like the man
you were made to be.
There is a design,
An alignment to cry,
At my heart you see,
The beauty of love
as it was made to be

Lines from “Awake My Soul:”

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life

Awake my soul, awake my soul
Awake my soul
You were made to meet your maker
Awake my soul, awake my soul
Awake my soul
You were made to meet your maker
You were made to meet your maker

Lines from “White Blank Pages:”

And can you kneel before the king
And say I’m clean, I’m clean

Lines from “Roll Away Your Stone:”

It seems that all my bridges have been burned
But you say ‘That’s exactly how this grace thing works’
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with every start

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think
And yet it dominates the things I see

Lines from “The Cave:”

But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker’s hand

Lines from “After the Storm:”

And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

You get the point. It’s difficult to find one of their songs that somehow doesn’t wrestle with biblical themes. Sometimes positively, sometimes not, but it seems to pervade everything they do. Theirs is a spiritual world and they remind us that the line between “sacred” and “secular” is probably not as clean as we’d like to think. In fact, many of the people at the concert seemed to have a spiritual experience themselves. Many were closing their eyes and even raising their hands as they danced and sang along to every word. Why is it that we can get a group of people at a bar more excited about spiritual concepts than we can “at church?”

Bands like Mumford and Sons remind us that God’s fingerprints are everywhere, even if we don’t always acknowledge them. The search for God is not an isolated one and many don’t even realize what they’re looking for. They may be Christians. They may not be. But Mumford and Sons remind of what great art often does: there is something beyond ourselves. Deep down we all know it. Deep down, we all long for it. And sometimes, we connect at the least expected times.

Harry Potter, LOST, Community and Communitas

June 1, 2010 at 7:37 am

harry-potter2There’s a common thread in many of the great stories. It’s not just great story-telling, it’s not just great characters or even necessarily a good plot. In the best of stories, there’s often a deep-seated bond between characters that intensifies through the stories ups and downs.

We see this in the Harry Potter series as Harry, Ron and Hermione limp through their battle with he who shall not be named. We also see this in LOST, when Jack, Kate, Hurley and the others struggle to understand, not just the island, but their own purposes. What we see in these great stories is not just community but communitas.

If you’ve ever talked with solders who served in battle together, they’ll tell you how close they continue to feel with the soldiers with whom they served; a sense of brotherhood. They have a deep bond with people they had previously not known. A bond that lasts over years and circumstances.

Communitas is community, but it is more, it is a deeper level, a deeper bond, usually developed when individuals undergo some deep trial, some test, trouble, danger or trying circumstance. As Alan Hirsch points out, communitas is often brought about, when, people, together, experience liminality together.

Liminality is a psychological state brought about when people undergo severe stress together, they are brought to the brink. One’s sense of individuality often diminishes and melds into a hyper-sense of community, or, more precisely, communitas.

I have been in the experience of some sort of evangelicalism for the better part of my entire life. I grew up in, what at the time, was a large church, I went to a “Christian” university, worked for a “Christian” company, went to seminary, served as a volunteer youth leader, youth pastor, pastor and church planter. During those many years, I’ve experienced varying levels of community; some has been deep, some shallow, some real, some fake, some downright non-existent. My wife and I went to one church for almost eight months where no one talked to us. No one. Eight months.

Some of the deepest relationships I have are with fellow Believers. But I sometimes find myself wondering if there’s not more. I’ve experienced community, even what I would say is real community, deeper community than what many have experienced. But I’m not sure I’ve really experienced communitas and I sometimes wonder why.

I’ve come to think that at least part of the reason many believers experience community but not communitas is because we understand that the the life of the believer is to, by its very nature, involve others, but we’re not involved in anything that ever really brings us to the end of ourselves. We live lives of comfort, which breeds complacency, so the best we ever get is community. And, yes, while we all long for community, I wonder if it’s really as deep as we as believers should be going.

I’ve met believers in other countries; Muslim parts of Africa and China, even deep parts of Mexico and thsoe believers seem to have communitas while American believers only go so far as community. Why? These foreign (to us) believers experience trial, hardship and sometimes even persecution. By necessity, they live on mission in the face of hardship. It seems that some sense of opposition is necessary for community to turn into communitas.

But I also wonder if it’s not just the fact that American believers don’t face opposition but that we don’t actually live together on mission. What if we really lived as though we were, in our own contexts, missionaries on a mission? What if we understood ourselves to live in “enemy territory”? What if we understood the local church to be an outpost of eternity in time? What if we lived together in community on mission? Would that be enough to deepen our relationships to biblical levels?

But is there also something perhaps more subtle than not facing persecution and not living on mission together? I read the various “one another” passages in Scripture, I see that we are to bear one anothers’ burdens, restoring one another from sin (Galatians 6:1-2), we are to display our allegiance to Jesus through our love for one another (John 13:35), we’re to outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10), forgiving one another (Ephesians 4:32). Perhaps part of the reason we don’t experience communitas is because we’re not really involved in the lives of other believers. Not only are we not living together in mission, we’re not even facing life’s “everyday trials” together. We don’t go through much of anything together, do we?

Have you experienced real Christian community? Have you experienced more? Have you moved beyond community to communitas? Why or why not?