Power of Paradox:: Sacred or Secular

August 1, 2017

After my high school graduation we had a grad night party put on by the PTA. 

It was this huge ordeal with a yacht facade over the front of our gym and boarding passes to get inside. They auctioned off a car, had games galore and endless supplies of food and soda. It was an all-night affair and one of the highlights was when they brought up a hypnotist. 

Now, normally you don't even need to get me in some sort of altered state to get in front of my classmates and bark like a dog, but this time it definitely helped. It was a goofy kind of fun that we talked about many times afterward. 

I can still remembering recounting this experience with some Christian friends that summer and they weren't laughing. 

"You were hypnotized? You shouldn't have done that. You were letting another power or force take control of your body." 
"The devil."

This confused me. I didn't know that anti-grad-night-hypnotism was a thing. Not only was it a thing for these friends, but it was a violation of my faith. 

They were operating within a world where every behavior, piece of media you take in and thought process fell neatly into one of two categories. 

Sacred or secular.
Things were either of God or the devil.
Divine or disgusting. 

I explained that it was just a goofy joke and while more open to odd suggestions, I never felt out of control. 

"That's how it starts. How could you be so naive to assume that this wasn't dangerous Your thinking it was just a joke made it the perfect vehicle for Satan."

Harry Potter? Witchcraft and sorcery.
Red Starbucks Cups? Denial of the birth of Jesus. 
Fidget Spinners? Creates idle hands, WHICH ARE THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND.

Now, there are certainly things in our world that seem fun or safe enough and promote a lot of harm internally and externally. This isn't a conversation about calling all things good. This is a conversation about not trying to have correct labels but to simply experience where God is working, moving and calling us forward. It may not be in places we've previously labeled as sacred or secular. 


Power of Paradox:: A Third Way

July 27, 2017

My wife and I have two wiener dogs. Frank and Beanie. We got them soon after we were married and they've been significant parts of our family. 

They are a real pair of dachs. 

Thus concludes the greatest introduction to a sermon series I have written. All downhill from here, folks. 

A paradox is a statement that while appearing true and reasonable leads to a logically unacceptable conclusion. 

Here's an example that probably does a better job of explaining it than any definition. 

The following sentence is true.
The previous sentence is false. 

You get put on an endless loop of trying to make sense of these two ideas and end up nowhere.

Now, imagine that two large groups of people encountered these two sentences and decided that the problem was that they were linked together. When that happens they both can't be true so two very distinct and antagonistic groups of people were formed.

Team the Next Sentence is True and Team the Previous Sentence is False.

TNNSIT and TTPSIF were their acronyms, which they put on shirts and hats and bumper stickers. Very catchy when you think about it. 

They adopted mottos and mascots. "The Truth is Out There" and a blue whale (nicknamed the true whale) marked one side while "Don't Believe the Lie" and a unicorn marked the other. There were rallies and marches where they simultaneously celebrated how right they were in their belief and how wrong the other side was. 

It would be a lot of energy and devotion centered around a flawed premise. In the end unless you uncovered the absurdity at the root of the statements you'd never find anything true in sitting down and listening to hours of debate from either side. 

In our world there are a number of false premises and paradoxes that are traps we fall into. Jesus was very familiar with these as the religious leaders of his day tried to capture him in them to compromise his ministry.

Do we pay our taxes to the Romans and elevate their right to rule over us, or refuse to pay and incite violence and lawlessness? Do we let people walk away from being caught in acts of relationship destroying behavior or do we put them to death?

Jesus never took the bait and left us with a template to avoid these absurdities, which deal with the most serious issues of our day. 


Leroy Barber:: Letting God’s People Shine

July 17, 2017
This Sunday we are honored to have Leroy Barber join us at Cascade with a team of interns from The Voices Project. At Voices they are training, supporting and promoting leaders of color to shape and influence the culture. 

Some of you may wonder why we feel it is important to bring in a leader and organization that is all about creating, training and supporting leaders of color. What does this have to do with church? What does this have to do with the Bible? Shouldn't Sunday morning be dedicated to preaching God's word?

 The prayer that Jesus taught his followers features this brilliant line (found in Matthew 6), "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Later in a vision that John had on Patmos that became the book of Revelation, it says "After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb."

The vision John had is a picture of heaven and what is so stark about the vision is how different it is from our experience on earth. Most of us gravitate towards people who are very similar to us. We struggle to understand different cultures, socio-economic status and experiences than our own. We love to share that, "oh, you too!" moments with people because they tell us that there are connections there to be pursued. 

God who created all people is calling us to both receive and enjoy the comfort that comes from common stories and experiences, while also pushing to learn and experience stories very foreign to our own. This is how we build bridges to one another for the sake of the larger community of God that we've been created for. 

This Sunday is vital to doing church. This is living out our understanding of what it is to know and love God and know and love all people created in God's image. We see a bit of God's bigger picture when leaders of color are allowed to exercise their God-given gifts on earth as they will be in heaven. 


Absolution:: Reconciliation

July 10, 2017

Have you ever hung out with a couple who is dating or engaged and they say, "We haven't even had our first fight yet!"


You know who else hasn't had their first fight yet? Strangers. 

The reality of relationships is that we will hurt one another. We will have disagreements and fights. It's certainly not the goal of relationships, but if you reveal enough of yourself and learn enough about another person there will be pain and conflict.

Sometimes it's the result of trying to create space emotionally. We say or do hurtful things and we know which things to say or do because of how well we know each other.
Sometimes we respond  to the examples we grew up with from our own family. We fight or nag when we should have a conversation because that's what we saw modeled. 
Sometimes we take out frustrations from work or other relationships out on those who are closest to us. We feel stuck in other spaces and we take out aggression on the ones we love the most. 

If we constantly move on from relationships when there has been pain or conflict we will end up in a world of strangers. While we shouldn't always reconcile because of abuse, we benefit greatly from dealing with the pain and finding a path forward in our relationships.


Absolution:: Time to Let Go

July 6, 2017

When I was growing up and was too sick to go to school there were two things I could count on. Bob Barker on The Price is Right and Judge Wapner on The People's Court. 
I loved watching people come into court with all their receipts, pictures, bills and assorted papers stuffed in a manila folder. They had their ill-fitting dress clothes on and looked like they woke up that morning sweating. They were nervous and primarily preoccupied with one question. 

Will Wapner see this thing the way I do? 

Nobody arrives at the People's Court positive that they are wrong. Everyone is sure that they are on the right side of this case and the only question is if their "rightness" will be confirmed by the honorable Wapner. 

Now, imagine you are on the People's Court (and if you've actually been on this show we need to talk immediately). You put on your best pleated khakis or power blouse and walk into the courtroom prepared and ready. You have documents that support your case and documents to support those documents. You have pictures of the incident, eye witness accounts and character witnesses. Your best friend's-cousin's-aunt is a judge and she says you'll win this case no problem. 

But when you show up to the People's Court no one is there. No defendant, no bailiff, no cameras and no Wapner. 

You're prepared, you're sure you're in the right but nobody is there to hear the case. 

This scene is similar to a lot of our experiences with forgiveness. We're confident we're on the right side of things, but no one is there to be declared guilty and pay damages. Often times we keep showing up to this empty courtroom day after day ready to receive justice and move on with our lives, but no one else is showing up.

We can withhold forgiveness because we feel like it invalidates our rock-solid case or because we're waiting for the person who harmed us to show up and receive their guilty sentence. Forgiveness is the power to lay down the manila envelope and stop showing up to the court house not because we are guilty or wrong, but because it's keeping us from moving forward. We forgive and make peace with the past because of the freedom it offers. 

This perspective is about understanding forgiveness as freedom. We come to understand that we can both be justified in our pain and we can also move forward. One doesn't negate the other.


Absolution:: Be Hurt, Be Angry and Mourn

June 27, 2017

One of my greatest pet peeves is going back and doing something that I thought was already done. 

Have you ever been ankle-deep in Zørblaüt parts from Ikea with your Allen wrench when you realize you have a piece from step 2 upside down? That's my description of hell. 

When I get lost driving around (this happens A LOT) I refuse to just take a U-turn and head back to my mistake. It feels like failure. I would much rather keep winding around (adding 5 minutes to my travel) so I never have to officially admit defeat. 

Once I was on a mission trip and we were moving a pile of firewood . We were just about done when the director came out and told us that we were close, but he actually wanted it 5 feet from where we had placed it all. Never have I wanted a pillow to scream into so badly. 

Progress feels marked by starting new things, because we've successfully navigated past waters. Going back into our past feels regressive. We can feel like it negates the progress in so many areas of our life. 

But here's why that's not true. Life isn't linear. We don't move from one station to the next with all our neatly completed projects in the rearview mirror. There are lots of things in your past that you weren't equipped to face in the moment. Sometimes survival meant moving ahead because dealing with the insanity of the moment would have been debilitating.

Progress is going back to those places and using new tools to understand and heal.


Absolution:: Forgiveness

June 19, 2017

My youngest son's favorite song in the entire world is Bach's Suite No. 2 in B minor

...is a sentence I wish I could type. It's actually "Sorry" by Justin Bieber. 

"I know you know that I made those mistakes maybe once or twice
By once or twice I mean maybe a couple a hundred times"

My little boy sings these breathtakingly profound lyrics with abandon. 

"Is it too late now to say sorry?"

We're starting a brand new message series this week called "Absolution" that's all about forgiveness and it's complexity. We collectively tout the significance and importance of forgiveness, but it is an almost impossible task many times. How do we move from anger, sadness and resentment to forgiveness when what's happened to us is so deeply painful? Abandonment, malice, sabotage and downright cruelty aren't the kinds of experiences that easily lead to forgiveness. 

Sadly, the church has been a voice that's pushed people back into abusive situations in the name of forgiveness. The directive to forgive has been more significant than the people who have been wounded and we've taken the beautiful gift of grace and made it a burden. 

Forgiveness is a grace to receive and to share, and the hope is that as a community we can explore this complex topic in powerful ways.


Philemon:: But What Now?

June 12, 2017

Every revolution becomes an institution. 

Whatever institution that  seems stuck in an old way of being, was once the height of innovation and progress. 

The railroad system revolutionized travel and the movement of goods. 
The landline telephone expedited communication at an alarming rate. 
Blockbuster Video was THE place to rent or own Biodome.

Christian history is littered with prophets and revolutionaries that are now statues and saints. When something that shakes and rattles people to their very core becomes normal and known, it's time to get back to the oddness of it all. 

This week we're going to be looking at Philemon, but not as a book in the Bible that's about forgiving one slave and welcoming him home. Instead we're going to see how it causes us to study familiar structures and let the good news of Jesus transform them. 

We have both a rich history to celebrate and a revolutionary work to get on with. 


Philemon:: Honor and Shame

June 7, 2017

**Disclaimer** We lost the first half of this message via technical difficulties!

We are rapidly coming up to the last day of classes for our students. It's a joyous day for everyone involved. Teachers and students alike can smell the sweet, sweet freedom on the other side a few more days, hours and minutes. Everyone is ready to be done and we barely need to hold on until homework, grading and testing are all in the rearview mirror.

My last day of my freshman history class was not my finest moment. Our teacher, Mrs Coslett, was more excited than we were for this final day. Her ability to hide her disdain for us was hanging on by a thread. She had made our class a batch of homemade cookies that we were 95% sure hadn't been poisoned, and was clearly an attempt at having something other than words in our mouths. As she was walking down the aisle handing out her baked peace offerings I had a thought about these particular cookies.
They looked funny to me. They were unusually shaped. 

Now, people have thoughts all the time. As we get older we usually become better at separating the thoughts that should be articulated from the thoughts forever and ever stay just thoughts. As a freshman in high school my ability to filter thoughts off the brain to mouth pathway was marginal at best. 

"They look funny."

These are words that I said out loud when I was 18 minutes away from the sweet release of summer and 18 seconds away from having a free, probably non-poisoned cookie headed towards Belly-Town. 

"What did you just say?"

Mrs Coslett was getting along in age but her hearing was exceptional, and her ability to decipher the male freshman mumble was unparalleled. 

Now, this was my opportunity to say something different than what I had actually said. I could re-interpret those sounds and avoid a world of pain for everyone involved. Let's take a quick look at just some of my options.

"I feel funny" - Strong candidate. Take a trip to the nurse for feigned sickness and not a Mrs Coslett hand-sized abrasion to the face. 

"They look sunny" - Your cookies make me reflect upon light and beauty and the sustaining force of our planet. This takes us from disaster to happiness and joy. Best choice, in retrospect. 

"Shea took money" - The old switcheroo. Blame another student for thievery instead of taking account for your words. If I had lived in Ireland where children are named Shea instead of Escalon, California where no human was ever named Shea, this would be a very strong option to consider. 

What did the freshman version of myself do instead? I double-downed, obviously. 

"They look funny. Not bad, just not like you see in the store. Kinda weird shaped."

This made sense to me. Lean all the way into your thought process and describe this labor of time, money and kindness as looking not like a cookie. What's the worst that could happen in the face of honest assessment of cookie norms? 

I can remember hearing the cookies slam against the back wall and break into dessert shrapnel.
I remember hearing something to the effect of "an ungrateful generation who will be the end of humanity as we know it."
I remember the deafening silence as Mrs Coslett stormed back to her desk and didn't say another word until the bell rang. 

I was totally and completely shamed in that class. My commentary on the treats had cost most of us a chance at cookies and all of us a chance at a harmonious end to class. My actions had impacted everyone in that class and it wasn't in a positive way. 

This week Harriet Congdon will be taking us through the book of Philemon through the lens of an honor/shame society. While all of us have experienced shame, the United States isn't a honor/shame society. Understanding how these kinds of societies function can open up the Bible and can help us better interpret and deal with the shame we experience. 


Philemon::Context, Context, Context

May 28, 2017

One of my favorite quotes (I heard it from Ben Witherington III, but it may have originated elsewhere) is; "A text without a context is a pretext for making it say whatever you want."


That is sooooo good. We do a deep dive in this message of the cultural and historical context of the letter to Philemon because without it we are powerless to contextualize to our present day. We need to dive deep into back then so we can make these words sink deep into today.