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The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight

The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight

From time to time I’m fortunate to receive advanced reader copies of books from publishers.  In the fall I received a copy of The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight (you can find his excellent blog here: http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/)a professor at North Park University in suburban Chicago.  I was very happy to find it in my mailbox at the office because I had recently heard a podcast on Emergent Village where Scot had told the story that gives the book its name.  I’ll let you read the story for yourself…it’s WAY worth it!

This book is a joy, it provides a thoughtful yet accessible means of understanding how Christians have read Holy Scripture through the ages.  McKnight unpacks the practices of tradition, literary and historical criticism and helps a broad audience understand how these practices have changed over the course of the centuries.  He does so by giving excellent foundational explanations supported by real experiences in his many years as a teacher of undergraduates and liberally shares his own life experience as a passionate reader of the Bible and seeker after the Truth is offers.

Though McKnight self-identifies as an evangelical christian he doesn’t allow himself or his views about the nature of scripture and its application in the real lives of faith communities to be co-opted by the stereotype of fundamentalist evangelicalism. In fact, at one point early in the book he identifies his church preferences by the hybrid name he gives himself, that of Willowpalian, a play on his affinity for the worship, program and fellowship of a place like Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek Community Church and a fondness for our Book of Common Prayer. He, himself is one of the Blue Parakeets in a group of folks in the Emerging Church  from across the theological spectrum who I find incredibly interesting and exciting as how the work of the Gospel is happening in a 21st century, postmodern, postchristian world (though he wouldn’t care for those last two labels).

After laying the foundations mentioned above, he puts the tools to work examining what Scripture says about the role of women in pastoral leadership in the Church today.  Once again, the mixture of personal recollection, intellectual understanding and pastoral insight are helpful in understanding how dynamic the church’s and believers relationships have been with the Bible down through the ages.

Long story short, if you are interested in a thoughtful, serious, inclusive, orthodox and faithful way of understanding of how we read the Bible can shape the lives of faith in individuals and communities I recomment you pick up a copy of McKnight’s book.  You can buy it from Amazon at this link http://tinyurl.com/8mlbtd

If you read it and like it, drop me a line or leave a comment here!

Blessings on your journey of faith and may Blue Parakeets brighten your relationship with the Bible.

I have to say that it’s taken me less than a week to become weary of the ‘conversation’ between the two major presidential party candidates.  What disheartens me is the shrill character of what passes for dialogue on the real and pressing problems of the world we live in today.  I don’t see a conversation, I feel like I’m witnessing a collective monologue where people and groups of people don’t talk to one another but rather at or past one another.

I’m enough of a pramatist to know that this isn’t likely to change soon.  What I will say is that the labels, whether they be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ take on a perjorative tone.  I find this remarkable since these are not nouns, but adjectives.  Maybe that’s for another time.

Today’s Boston Globe has an interesting interview with author Peter Korzen about how church moral teaching, in his case Catholic moral teaching, can inform dialogue in the public square in a meaningful and faithful way.  He has recently co-authored A Nation for All: How the Catholic Vision of the Common Good Can Save America from the Politics of Division with Alexia Kelley and talks about the book and its premise in the interview.

For me the most interesting challenge in the arena of partisan politics today is how communities of faith, made up of people with differing views, can contribute in a meaningful way to the process.  I would hope that we are still willing to claim a voice in the public square that is not demeaning, shrill or condescending.  One of my mentors told his students often, “The highest compliment you can pay anyone is to take them seriously.”  What would happen if supporters of major political candidates would take the other side ‘seriously’ and allow that people of good will can disagree agreeably?  I’d love to see how that might play out.

I guess for small communities, like the one I serve, we can do that by asking honest questions of people that we disagree with and have a conversation of understanding before we try and ‘convert’ them to our particular worldview.  We can share the experiences that bring us to certain places, but we cannot expect others to treat them as if they were their own and ‘better’ experiences.  That doesn’t take ‘the other’ seriously and involves a certain arrogance and hubris unbecoming of the followers of Jesus who, in the words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5

Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.(Philippians 2)

Korzen and Kelley appeal to a great ideal that might help us to shift the conversation to the center from the poles, namely that we seek the common good above being right (or left for that matter).  I may be a hopeless optimist, but it won’t ever happen if we don’t try by our life and example as people of faith to make it so.

The all too short New England summer is fleeing quickly from experience into memory.  It simply is, it’s neither good nor bad.  It, like most everything else in life has its upside as well as its drawbacks.  The change of the seasons is as God created things.

It has been said that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% of how you deal with it.  I think there’s a great deal of wisdom in that view.

I recently read a book by a man named Alan Roxburgh called, The Sky is Falling!?! Leaders Lost in Transition. It is about, among other things, the nature of transition that the Church in the modern world finds itself in.  We can lament the passing away of a predominantly Christian culture in our world, but at the end of the day that passing away is a change.  A change that we cannot undo, but a change with which we must deal with all the imagination, prayer, obedience and creativity at our disposal if we are to continue doing the Mission of God here in Worcester.

Mr. Roxburgh says that change is inevitable and what we do with it, the 90% of faith is in how we respond.  He calls the response transition.  He says that transition is what we do in the face of change.  He says change happens to us, we can’t stop it, but what we can do is manage our response as we transition from one reality to another.

It’s in what we do that we begin to walk upon the kind of Holy Ground that Moses experienced when he heard God in a burning bush.  Change for the people of Israel was on the horizon.  They were a threat to the Egyptians and the Egyptians were acting out of fear to oppress God’s people.  God took this change and called a people into one of the great transitions in all of human history, the Exodus.

That 40 year pilgrimage continues to serve as an example to God’s people about how we can depend upon God to move us from one circumstance should we have the courage, wisdom and faith to depend on Him regardless of what change comes our way.

One of the common phrases in the our current culture is, “it’s all good!”  Well we know that it’s not all good.  That being said the Apostle Paul in the Romans says, “we know that all things work together for those who love God.” (Romans 8:28).  What Paul is reminding the Romans and us of is that God’s love, power, compassion and guidance can bring good from almost any change if we trust him to help us make transitions.

Whatever change befalls us, I pray that God will lead us through Holy Transition more deeply in relationship to Him and a deeper commitment to His Mission for the world.

This text from Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 39:11 concluded the Hebrew Scripture reading for the Feast of Bernard of Clairvaux, celebrated today throughout Christendom.

If he lives long, he will leave a name greater than a thousand, and if he goes to rest, it is enough for him.

Bernard is in many ways one of the fathers of modern monasticism. Born to privilege he abandoned it all in order to spend his considerable gifts in the passionate pursuit of establishing truly Christian communities. Though few of us today in full-time pastoral ministry are setting out to establish monasteries we are engaged in very similar endeavor to that of Bernard.

Bernard’s passion (often at the expense of sleep and other frivolous activities) for building the Kingdom through the establishment of praying communities ought to be what the leader of every congregation would do well to imitate. Bernard sensed that the traditions of Jesus and The Way were threatened by an increasingly hostile or at least indifferent secular reality. If we’re honest with ourselves, we live in a similar age, asking for the same kind of compulsive, passionate and thorough proclamation by the Gospel by communities of praying, serving, studying and compassionate followers of Jesus.

We may, none of us, live long enough or cast as long a shadow as Bernard to remembered more than a thousand, but should we spend even a few days chasing as passionately  the life of discipleship for ourselves and those whom we pastor as did Brother Bernard—that will be enough.

Thanks be to God for Bernard.

‘Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ (Philippians 4:8-13)

The Apostle Paul writes these words near the end of his letter to a fledgling church in Philippi struggling along with Paul in the challenges he faced as he was imprisoned and uncertain about his future. It seems to me that we might do well to put a bookmark at this passage as we face the uncertain future of a challenging world. I particularly draw your attention to verses 12 & 13:

‘I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’

Given the current state of affairs in the economy (especially at the grocery store, the gas station and when the oil delivery comes), it might be wise to pray that we can become as Paul in knowing the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry. What Paul is calling the Philippians (and be extension us) to is being mindful of the ground of our being (as theologian Paul Tillich would put it), which is God alone. At the very core of our being as humans created in the image and likeness of God is an insatiable yearning to connection, relationship, even union with God. We were created to reflect the confidence, glory, compassion and love of the God of all that was, is and is to come.

I guess I’d summarize one of our challenges like this: It has been said that tough times don’t last but tough people do. I would like to make an appeal to a different understanding. One that comes from a place of deep faith and confidence in God’s good wishes for us and for the whole world. I want to suggest that Paul’s appeal to the Philippians might be best summarized that tough times don’t last simply because God is. So then I see the challenge as not giving into the temptation to despair by remembering, to the core of our beings, that whatever tough times we endure, we do so with the God of all the universe at our side and in our corner. Maybe Julian of Norwich said it best, “All will be well and in all manner of things, all will be well.” She recognizes that it is not at present well in the eyes of God but that the promise is that the completion and perfection of the creation is a promise, not merely a dream. I believe that is what leads Paul to boldly proclaim is ability to ‘do all things through him who strengthens me’ (v. 13).

Here’s to strength for your journey, my journey and our journey. I trust that sooner or later, we’ll all learn to deal .

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