Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Safe but Wrong Question

The "church" question is safe but wrong. In the culturized Christianity in which I find myself, the question posed to one another about our spiritual status and the practice of our faith in God centers on church attendance. It is safe for both the one posing the question and the one being questioned to inquire about what church one attends.

The question can be motivated by a well-intended concern for the spiritual welfare of someone. Behind the "large" church attendance question lies some not-so-subtle "small" questions: Is the one being questioned going to church? Are they going to the right kind of church? If the one being questioned fails to give the "right" answer, the questioner then seeks ways to get the wayward soul to attend THEIR church. And in this Christianized culture, each church-goer MUST believe that their church offers Truth to consumers in the best way (for them, at least) much like some car brands believe you are safer in their car without condemning other cars brands.

I wonder if the first believers asked each other what church (or "home group?)they attended? We know that the Corinthian community were a bit hung up on spiritual celebrities but since their "church" was the only one in town, they had no reason to use the church attendance question to assess someone's spiritual health. Their community had enough issues already.

I think it would be refreshing ( and perhaps somewhat uncomfortable) for fellow travelers on The Way to find a question that accurately and compassionately expresses both support and concern for mutual spiritual welfare. A question about church attendance simply asks a geographical and institutional question. It reflects nothing of one's participation in the culture of God. A question about one church attendance focuses on one's participation in the culture of institutionalized and consumer-oriented Christian practice.

I don't yet know what the "right" question is, but I do know what the "wrong one is no matter how safe it may be to be asked.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The State of My Faith Two Years After Leaving the Church

Today marks the two year anniversary of my "retirement" from American Christianity and institutionalized religion. While I may have left professional ministry, I did not leave the pursuit of authentic faith and believing in Jesus. Much to the confusion of friends, family and often myself, I have not been to a local church service since.

Sundays for me include sleeping in till 7:30, reading my favorite blogs, perhaps even blogging a bit myself reading the Bible and generally reflecting on life and God. I would call this a true Sabbath. This is effectively detoxing me of a virus that has so deeply affected me. I continue to ask questions and evaluate existing perspectives that I have grown up with by virtue of being an American and being a Christian in this culture. While it appears that some would see this process as a threat to healthy faith, I am finding it to deepen and strengthen it. I am embracing a descent into authenticity rather than the culturally influenced perspective (which I once believed and preached with noble but poorly founded intentions) of ascending to greater heights of faith and practice.

By leaving the "bubble", I am discovering the breadth of life that exists and the places of "ministry" where it seems that God is most active based on a better reading of Scripture.

I can't say where I'll be in another calendar year but I am resolved to rest in the process that has been initiated by God and continues to be affirmed by an inner witness of tha Spirit. Philippians 1:6 comes to mind. Instead of me working at the development of a closeness to God, I am traveling a precarious path that invites me to let go- to die to myself. This is not how I was raised or what I was taught so this isnquite challenging. But it is also liberating.

Based on my current life situation, I would attest that whom Jesus sets free is truly free and that truth in Jesus is liberating indeed.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

No Turning Back

As I continue my God-initiated journey toward the "promised land" that God has hinted at in Scripture and by the Spirit, I have made some discoveries in the wilderness.

First, the "wilderness" is a difficult place. People don't buy time shares in the "wilderness". Generally, it is a place to avoid because it presents challenges to our comfort zones. But the wilderness is a very biblical place to be when God is in charge.

In the wilderness, we have to decide if the journey is worth it. And the only way to value the journey is to value the One who leads us on the path. For the children of Israel- like us in so many ways- they consistently lost sight of their Wilderness Guide and focused on their comfort. Focusing on their comfort created confusion about the God they had so tangibly experienced during the Exodus.

Tangiblility. That's a problem for all of us- especially Americans. Like the Israelites, we need to accept a God who is intangible yet quite real. We need to embrace a God who remains mysterious yet reveals Himself in unmistakeable ways. Our poor memories of life in Egypt tend to trump a God of power and love who has taken us on for better or worse.

I'd like to believe that there were plenty of people in the Israeli camps that voiced their allegience to the God of their fathers. Perhaps they said something like this: "Yes, I remember how we ate in Egypt and how we could predict each day's activities. But I can also remember God's intervention. Having experienced God- even once- has changed my outlook and I can never go back. To do so would require me to deny not only God, but my very real experience with and because of God. No matter what today brings- or the many todays yet to come- I choose to follow this God who I can't figure out and I cannot define. I may never realize God's ultimate desire for me, but having encountered God (an experience that God initiates), I have something in my life that prohibits me from returning to the culture that kept me in bondage."

I think that the 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost may have felt the same way. They had experience Jesus and in spite of 10 days of confusion, anticipation, and probably not a little impatience, waited for something they had never experienced simply because the Jesus they knew had told them to do so. Instead of returning to their cultural and spiritual routines, they stuck it out until whatever was to happen happened. They had enough of a taste of something transcendent- yet very human and very real- that they knew they couldn't return to the life they once knew- a life they were probabaly quite comfortable with.

Paul is another example of someone who after encountering Jesus, had to chart a new path because he could never return to the Egyptian judaism that he knew so well. A new and more powerful Player had entered his existence and his life was redirected in that Way.

Similarly, I have been drawn toward the God of the universe by God's initiation. And in spite of the challenges, lonliness, confusion, and wonder, I realize not only can I not return to the land of Egypt (read: American Christianity), I don't think I want to. No matter what lies ahead, I choose the "us" that is God and me. I welcome others who share the same affinity to join me in the quest. Thankfully, there are others and in time we will share community.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Obscurity in the Midst of Celebrity

It's not hard to see who America worships: rock stars, movie stars, and popular personalities. We worship those who are bigger than (our) life. We aspire to some level of notoriety as evidenced by seeking any and every opportunity to be on TV. Note how people in a crowded TV shot can't wait to wave at the camera and "be seen"- even though it will amount to nothing in the long run.

As an aside, I am curiously amazed how grieving family members upon the tragic and untimely death of a loved one due to a shooting, car accident, or other random event, make themselves available to be interviewed by the local news media. It's great for the news station but doesn't it reveal a lack of true grief on the part of the family? I couldn't imagine being on TV talking so matter-of-factly about how my teenage son was shot by someone and how he was such a good boy within 24 hours (or less) of the event!

I digress.

I was part of professional church ministry for over 25 years. During that time, I sought to be relevant and- here it comes- entertaining. I created contemporary services designed to attract the masses and to be quite honest, make me look like a celebrity. Thankfully, I was only nominally successful because had I been as good at it as Willow Creek (the model I tried to reproduce in my context), I might not be where I am today: Out of professional church ministry.

The institutional church must be "relevant" to remain in business and its leaders have to appear bigger than the lives of those who sit in the pews. The church must employ the same strategies employed by celebrities in order to survive. Christendom must advertise itself (remember Jesus' brothers advising him about marketing himself?), compete with not only other churches, but every other thing someone might choose to do with their time, and then, produce a "show" that will make it impossible for the attendee to choose something else next Sunday. It is the pastor's job to be creative and entertaining enough to pull this off. (Don't let someone tell you this isn't true; I've been there and know that of which I speak!)

That's a lot of cultural pressure.

As I reflect over my years in that bubble, I often experience regret. I wished I could've been more aware of what I was doing and how much I tried to fit God's culture into my culture instead of exploring ways in which God could confront us with God's counter-culture.

I am on a journey of faith and discovery in which I hope to encounter the God of the Bible I have read all of my life. A God who transcends any and every culture to show the way of life for all of humanity. To do this apparently requires "repentance" on my part (new thinking patterns) that is inspired by God's Spirit and not the spirit of the age.

I am OBSCURE because it is counter-cultural. It is also trans-cultural. It allows God to be in charge without my attempts to be attractive and popular. I trust that the way God may reach people in America may have to be in some radically different ways.

This is difficult because I am a product of my culture. I have spent over half a century being groomed as not only an American, but as an American Christian. I welcome the process of detoxing the system that is so ingrained. I also am encouraged to see that others have similarly awakened to a bigger God than what the institutional church is able to produce and market.

The wilderness may not be transient place on my journey to God; it may be the place where God dwells. It may be that its in the storm where we find Jesus comfortably resting in a boat. Can our Americanized theology swallow this?

I hope I will continue to invest my currency in a set of values that are eternal and have been around a lot longer than I have.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Was Peter a "Better" Disciple Because He Walked on Water?

As I ponder the familiar story of Peter walking on the water, I wonder if we might be tempted to classify Peter as a "special" or even "super" disciple because he did something that not only wasn't done by any one else who was in his boat that night, but to my knowledge, hasn't been done since. By most measurements, that would put Peter in a category by himself.

And while that is true, I don't think it makes him a "better" disciple. It just gives him an experience with Jesus that was different than the others.

Peter challenged the "ghost" who claimed to be Jesus to prove He was who He said he was by inviting Peter to come to where He was: out of the "safety" of the boat and on to turbulent water. Jesus obliged and while any if not all of the occupants in the boat could've gotten out, only Peter did.

As it turned out, all of the disciples experienced Jesus that night and the cumulative result was worship. All of them received Jesus into the boat and all of them landed safely at their destination- with Jesus right by their side. Peter's experience was different but not better.

I wonder if my current experience could be compared to Peter's. I am drawn to an unconventional Jesus who to most is explained in the best terms they can muster when what they "see" doesn't fit their paradigm: "He's a ghost." I am willing to challenge the perceptions of my fellow boat occupants and request an experience with something (Someone) that doesn't make sense by earthly standards.

Jesus obliges our questions and interests. The waves are scary and the future is uncertain. Even with the weakness of my faith and the questions raised by the experience itself, Jesus is present.

I am no better than others who are comfortable in the boat and who still worship Jesus. I just am experiencing something different if not transcendent at Jesus' invitation. I hope my faith will allow me to courageously step out of the boat to be with a Jesus that other's are afraid to challenge.

Apparently, Jesus welcomes the challenge and invites followers to experience Him in ways that blow our minds.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Do We Honor God's Interests When We Pray for Rain?

I live in a dry area of the country and currently we are suffering from some extreme drought. Everyone is anxious and concerned as our municipalities are forced to place watering restrictions to preserve some of the water supply.

At this time (as in previous droughts), the only thing that appears to worry my neighbors is watering our yards. Yes, there is concern for farmers and their crops, but mostly I'd say we just don't want our lawns to die. But no one is missing their morning shower or dehydrating from lack of a drink.

Is this a concern in other drought-ridden countries? Or are there bigger fish to fry?

Two years ago we were going through the same thing. A local "celebrity" of sorts organized a prayer meeting in the center of town to pray for rain. Many people rallied for this event. And on the surface it appeared like a God-honoring thing for Christians to do.

Ironically (and comically), we had a 10 minute shower minutes before the prayer meeting. This was seen as a result of the prayer effort and the local paper highlighted this success on the front page of the next day's issue.  The community- and especially the Christians- lauded the power of prayer to bring rain.

This happened in June. No more rain came until October. Hmmmm.

At the time, I was leading a morning class at the church I served. I raised a few questions:
  • If the gathering of people to the city square to pray for rain succeeded (even if for only 10 minutes), why weren't there consistant prayer vigils following this? It seemed that the Christians lauded their unified effort but then once "success" was achieved, they didn't take what had happened seriously enough to be further inconvenienced by more gatherings. Really? If prayer on the square really did make it rain, then why weren't people there praying every day until the drought ended?
  • Since at the same time, other areas of the country were being drenched with rain, were our local prayer warriors muddying the waters (pardon the pun) by requesting God to give us rain while others elsewhere were probably asking for rain to end? It seems to me that weather patterns happen by God's creative design and we live in relationship with both nature and neighbors no matter what the weather brings. I'm guessing that if our concerns are to match those of God, they need to transcend weather forcasts.
  • What is really expected of the follower of Jesus when natural crises occur- in this case severe drought? A student in my class challenged my views by saying that she knew of a family who may lose their farm if it didn't rain soon. I challenged the class to consider that perhaps by praying for rain to save this family and their property, we are neglecting what would be a more biblical imperative which would be to care for them should they lose their farm. By praying for rain, are we not asking God to relieve us of what might be ours to do? The true response to a drought may not be to pray for rain, but to care for those who may be legitimately victimized by it- and I'm not talking about those of us whose lawns are less-than-lush.
  • If God was listening to a prayer meeting at the city square on behalf of unlimited watering and greener grass; and if he showed his favor by generating a 10 minute cloudburst; perhaps some prayer time should've been spent praying for something that really matters in God's design. Perhaps the power of a praying community should be directed toward poverty, injustice or human trafficking. If we've got God's ear, let's seize it for things that really matter worldwide!  When I asked the class if the similare (or any) excitement would be generated if the same "celebrity" called for a prayer meeting at the square for the purposes of eliminating human trafficking in the world, they had to admit that since the issues of slave trading and human trafficking wasn't front page material in our community, that people woudn't be as interested. AHEM! Isn't that the point??!!! Why aren't God's people more interested in the things that break God's heart than the things that narcissistic Americans think are important? Just a little thought (and prayer) would expose the motives of our self-interested prayer meetings.
I offer these thoughts today because once again, two years later, our local community is experiencing severe drought. Some concerned local believers have invited people on Facebook to a prayer meeting to ask God for rain.  I wonder if some folks in the flooded midwest would care to join us.

Sadly, in the last two years no one (Christian or otherwise) has invited others for a prayer meeting at the town square to seek God's passion for the matters that, according to the Bible, affect it the most.

I expect that "believers" will turn out for tonight's prayer meeting. Maybe I should post an invitation for a prayer meeting next week for less "glamourous" but more biblical issues like world hunger, pandemic disease and international peace. I wonder if the same "believers" would come.

I wonder if anyone would come.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bible Push Back: Matthew 15:1-9

In this passage we read of the Pharisees' criticism of Jesus' disciples for not washing their hands before eating bread and Jesus' forceful response. As a Bible-bred evangelical, I have read this over my lifetime with some self-righteous satisfaction that as a current follower of Jesus, I would never put "tradition" ahead of obedience. It has always been easy to criticize "traditionalism", especially as someone who spent 13 years developing and leading a "contemporary" service for a traditional, main line congregation.

As I would read this though, I would fail to expand its application to "traditions" that I might not have thought were "traditional" by the measure Jesus might have been using. Is it possible that if Jesus were addressing the issue today, the examples he may give might make some of us non-traditionalists uncomfortable?

The "tradition" that the disciples had failed to honor was not part of the law of Moses but had developed over time as a well-intended strategy to honor God. In fact, it might be argued that the habit of hand-washing was an "above and beyond" measure to show extreme allegiance to the God of Moses. It would make sense for the guardians of spiritual health in Jesus' time (the Pharisees) to call out the allegedly God-honoring followers of Jesus (his disciples) on this matter of a widely accepted spiritual discipline of that time.

Jesus response was to them yet another attack on what they had painstakingly developed over hundreds of years of honoring the religion of Abraham and Moses- a religion at least theoretically centered on the God who Jesus claimed to be his Father. Jesus wasn't confronting blatant sin or overt rebellion against the Torah; Jesus was calling out something that had become so ingrained in their religious activity, that it had usurped the simplicity of the kind of activity that would mark those who claimed to be God's people. Hand washing had become equal to if not greater than honoring human dignity.

Could we possibly make an application from this passage to the perspective Americanized Christians carry about attending church?

I wonder what Jesus would say to those today who have made attending an institutional church service equal to or more important than honoring others with dignity and love. "Jesus, your followers aren't members of or attending a church in town. Why?"

Perhaps we have made something- attendance at a consumer-driven church service- greater in importance than Jesus did. Perhaps the way we live our values as people who share God's spiritual DNA should be highlighted more than how many times we attend church or which church we currently attend. Wouldn't Jesus challenge those who "draw near with their mouth and honor with the lips but whose hearts are far from him" to a purer and simpler life- a life that he exemplified?

Yes, followers should congregate and learn from one another. But like the Pharisees in this story who were challenged to regain God's true perspective, we may need to rethink (repent?) how we are functioning in our "churches" and why we think that what we do in those churches is so critically important to how we live as Jesus' followers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Embracing Our Moment in History

In Matthew 13:17, we have Jesus saying that there have been many good people and religious leaders that lived with the hope of experiencing Messiah but their lives expired before it occurred. This could also be said of the Children of Israel that lived in Egypt for 450 years. Many people live and die over four-plus centuries. And yet, they hoped for something that must've been talked about regularly in meetings and around dinner tables: Being people of a God that had revealed Himself to their father Abraham and being entitled to a land they could call their own.

America has only been in existence for only half the amount of time that the Israelites were in Egypt and we have come to expect that all things should happen within our lifetime. The stream of God's activity flows through humanity and people are welcome to participate with God in the unfolding of history at the time in which they live. We can pray, hope, live and love to the fullest of our capacity- but we may not realize all that we might like to have.

TV preachers that claim God is sending revival, prophets that claim the rapture will be here soon, and pastors that expect their congregations to achieve Americanized goals are all the product of a culture that wants what it wants now. Fast food and drive through windows are reflections of our need to have things as quickly as possible. And being good Westerners, we expect something of a spectacular nature. We want a spiritual experience with bells and whistles.

Not even Elijah got that. He was taken to his knees by a still, small voice when he might've been impressed with the fire and earthquake.

Perhaps seeing the grand scope and eternal quality of our majestic God will allow us to embrace our moments of life in Jesus. Hope is a quality that should define us but entitlement is a value of a narcissistic culture. God's "culture" is defined by His will and glory, not ours.

Did I mention that patience is also part of the Spirit's DNA?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Does Jesus' Body Look Like He Hoped it Would?

Are we living Jesus' dream?
Do our churches look like the Body Jesus hoped he'd have after 2000 years?
Is the institutional American church operating as Jesus intends?

My current answer to these probing questions is "NO". What we do in our American Churches is American stuff.. We compete for a consumer-driven audience by marketing our music, our preacher, and our programs so that our attendance will allow us to meet the budget and if possible, change a few lives. (If a life is changed every now and then we can justify all the marketing we do.)

I know of which I speak. I grew up the son of a Baptist/Charismatic/Evangelical preacher, attending church 4 times a week. I sensed God calling me into professional ministry when I was 18 and proceeded to not only get a theological/ecclesiological education but I landed jobs in 6 churches across 4 states over 25 years. I was a "biblical", "seeker-sensitive", "traditional", and "contemporary" full-service minister. I always sought to bring the reality of Jesus into the congregation that paid me. I put up with politics, senior pastors, and institutionalized people because I believed that being present was better than being absent.

I have not attended a church service for almost 2 years. With God's apparent blessing, I was left professional ministry. Being outside of the "bubble" has only increased my concern about the state of the Body of Christ in America. I cannot explain it by conventional means, but I am experiencing God at least as much if not more than when I was sitting in a church service.

I can't attend a church because it would be wrong for me to make life difficult for an existing pastor. It is not my place to join a congregation and then question the motives and strategies of the institution. It's not fair to the leadership or the people. And in good conscience, I couldn't help but call out the church for being less than Jesus must want.

One thing that could change the landscape would be to make it illegal to attend any American church and raze every one of them to the ground. Arrest and kill anyone who claims allegiance to Jesus. Once it is no longer part of cultural acceptability, true "worship" (read: how one lives for Jesus, not just how one sings for him on Sunday) would rise. Gatherings would have to be redefined and guess what, Jesus would have to be in charge.

Yes, I think we need a new starting place in America. We need a revolution that begins and ends with the Alpha and Omega, Jesus himself. Unfortunately, we don't have to do that as long as the culture is as it is and the institutional church continues to align itself along the same path.

When will I go to "church" again? Who says i am not already attending when I engage with others on the same trajectory over a cup of coffee? Who says I'm not doing "church" when I seek justice for orphans? Am I able to "worship" when I pour out my thoughts in a blog and trust Jesus to lead others to read it?

Alone or with others, one thing I do is count all things as loss for the excellency of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of the current institutional American church and count it as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

Some people are satisfied in catching many sea bass; some of us are willing to wait for a marlin. If the current practice of church in America is what Jesus wants, then I am sorely disappointed. The Bible offers a grander vision and a more passionate experience.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Waiting and Wondering in a Wilderness

As I disappear from the institutional church landscape, I think about Paul and imagine the situation he found himself in shortly after his encounter with Jesus:

You have encountered the living Jesus in person. You have been so moved by the encounter that you redirect your aggressive passion. You put yourself out there to courageously tell anyone who will listen (especially the religious community in which you were carefully indoctrinated) that you know Jesus to be alive and all that you thought you were against was true after all. You no longer seek out the followers of what you thought was a misguided Messiah-figure to have them arrested and probably killed. You are now one of them and you are eager to bring your obvious gift of leadership and your keen intellect to bear on this new discovery. You can capitalize on your celebrity since you were a rising star among your people and the Christians will celebrate your conversion. Your aspirations to be a High Priest in the way of Moses has been shifted to being a prominent spokesman for the way of Jesus.You are the poster-child of the new movement.

Within days, your outspoken declarations that Jesus is alive find you in the cross hairs of the same group that killed the One who you know as a result of a direct encounter to be alive. You have riled up the same group whose clothes you guarded as they threw rocks at another follower of Someone you were certain was not only a threat to your theology, but was indeed dead.

As your reputation as a mover and shaker shifts from the arena of Judaism to the arena of Christianity, you are taken out of the limelight and shipped back to your hometown. For reasons that must be unbelievably perplexing and no doubt enormously confusing, you are no longer in the center of a perfect storm of evangelistic activity - a place where you could make a difference- but back in a place you had left years earlier to pursue a God-oriented dream.

Not only would you wonder as to why you are learning to make tents in Tarsus instead of using your abilities as a thinker and orator to debate for the Truth in Jerusalem, your family and friends also wonder why you have quit on your dream. After all, you had been educated among the best, preparing to carry the torch of a religion that is centuries old and was the religion of the one true God. How would you answer their questions? What would you say to Gamaliel, the one who had invested himself in you to allow you every opportunity to succeed as a priest?

As inquisitive as the community is, it doesn't compare to the questions you have in your own mind:
  • "Did I really see Jesus?"
  • "Why am I marooned outside of the center of activity where I can do some good?"
  • "How long will this last"?
  • "How will I know when I am to do something else?"
  • "Isn't time being lost as I sit here doing nothing to bring Jesus' vision for me to pass"?
Perhaps the biggest question is wondering what Jesus meant when he said you would be a witness to kings, and Gentiles and you would turn them from darkness to light. It is hard to make sense of such a grand vision while you piece together more tent parts.

I feel Paul's confusion. But I suspect that Paul wasn't completely out of the woods in his wilderness. Like others before him (Joseph in prison, Moses in Midian, Elijah by the brook, and yes, Jesus between birth and baptism), this was part of not uncommon strategy in which the human in question learns not only who they are but also who God is.

From the biblical record, Paul was in Tarsus for what appears to be at least a decade. A DECADE! By American standards, ten years is a lifetime! And even worse, Paul didn't know he would be there a decade. Nothing indicates that he could anticipate a certain length of time to be in this situation any more than Joseph could know that he would only have to endure the Egyptian prison cell for a mere two years before being remembered. Paul had to live each day with faith in the Jesus that had confronted him (not the other way around) and trust that Jesus knew what he was doing.

While Paul was a rising star in Judaism he was large and in charge. In the long decade he spent in Tarsus, not only he, but the embryonic Christian community in Jerusalem had to be broken of depending on Paul (or anyone other than Jesus) to do what was theirs to do as Jesus' followers. Paul had to realize that God wasn't lucky to have enlisted him with his celebrity and ability to carry the torch of leadership for all of Christianity. Rather, Paul was fortunate to be a servant of the One who was the real Leader of a movement in which the human community shared the load of love for the world. No one person other than the Master himself was meant to be the star.

So Paul waited, wondered and worked. He no doubt learned to relate to a very real Jesus while he did a very real job. He prayed as he patched and he loved his neighbors. He disappeared into God's heart.

During this period Paul allowed himself to be purged of a virus that had worked itself so deeply into the culture that the culture couldn't see the very God they thought they knew when He stared them in the face. Paul no doubt discovered a peace in letting Jesus call the shots not only for his own personal destiny but for that of the entire world. If Paul were to stay in Tarsus for 50 years, Paul knew that it was up to Jesus to determine how and when the vision he gave Paul would be implemented.

How unlike the American way. We are quick to add our expertise and energy to help God out. Paul learned to wait while he wondered.

Then one day without notice or expectation, Barnabas shows up and invites Paul back into the game- a game that in God's design, Paul had never left. The Paul that accompanied Barnabas to Antioch was not the celebrity that had disappeared into obscurity over a decade earlier. Paul was a human being who knew his place and instead of leading a charge for a new understanding of faith, he would follow the Leader as direction and opportunity were given by Him.

I find great encouragement in Paul's story. I humbly accept my place in Tarsus, doing real work while loving those around me. I trust Jesus to do what he wants when he wants while those around me ask questions for which I don't have answers. Like Paul, I know in whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until that Day. 

And that's all that matters.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Living the Dream

When I was in professional ministry, I used to envy those who weren't. I would publicly declare to the congregation that graciously listened to my sermons that they are in a better position to live God's dream and represent God's culture as normal, everyday people that I can as a professional minister. I would tell them that they were encountering people every day outside of the church's four walls that needed the love of God that they could represent. The people they daily encounter in their unique frames of reference would probably never hear one of my sermons. I believed that true followers of Jesus not only would let their lights shine, but would actually want their lights to shine. Professing Christians could actually do not only what I preached to do, but what I myself dreamed of doing.

Over the years, I discovered that most American Christians would rather come to the church to fulfill their obligation as "disciples" rather than to reach their unique worlds. The excitement and anticipation of being among the great unwashed seemed to elude the weekly pew-sitter. They didn't seem to grasp that they possessed the kind of evangelistic opportunities that professional ministers miss out on. They might hear the knocks that opporutunity was making on their door but they refused to open it and let it in.
As a minister, I sought ways to be "in the world" and outside of my institutional bubble but even when that occurred, it was hard to shake the label I wore as a minister. After all, I was doing what I should, right? I wanted to be a "regular" follower of Jesus who loved others because it reflected who I was, not what I did. I dreamed about what I thought all followers of Jesus dreamed about and that was to be in the world as salt and light, mixing among others who would only know me as a person, not a minister. I wanted to simply be Jesus' ambassador without the usual agenda to either get someone to my church or to "save" them. I wanted to do what Jesus said to do: Love God and love others, leaving the results to God.

While I certainly hoped that as a minister I was loving God and others, all too often as a paid professional I found myself trying to keep the institution that hired me solvent and hopefully inspired.

Was this what God had called me to 30 years ago? Or was my calling different than my profession? No one ever told me these two things might be different. I seized my calling and did with it what I was supposed to do with it: Get a ministerial education and then get a job in a church. I followed that conventional path for 25 years and during that time, I was always envying the non-professionals who had the best opportunity possible to be "missionaries".

I may finally be realizing that the calling I received from God in 1976 was perhaps to share the love of God to my world- whether in or out of the institutional church. After leaving professional ministry almost two years ago, I am now in the world being a "normal" follower of Jesus. I get to wake up everyday and wonder how I'll be able to love and influence others without a "sermon". How might the life of Jesus in me splash over on to the "others" that are uniquely in my life at any moment?

I make far less money and have less time for golf but I feel fulfilled like never before. I am living not just my dream, but possibly God's as well.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Choosing to be Left Behind: Betraying the "Rapture"

Can I opt out of the "rapture"?

What part of Jesus' life and message teaches escapism over servanthood? I remember something he said about salt and light. How can I flavor my world if I'm not present? How can I offer light if it is under a heavenly bushel? Can a true follower of Jesus really want to escape rather than serve?

I grew up as a pretribulation/premillenialist in the "rapture" generation: the 70's. On New Year's Eve 1969, my dad preached that we wouldn't see New Year's Eve 1979 because of the immenency of the rapture. We stocked dried food in the basement in the event we might have to endure part of the tribulation before being whisked away by our gracious Savior. Hmmmm.

TheRapture it the theological (not as "biblical" as some might think!) doctrine(?) that Jesus will return to rescue true believers from the onslaught of chaos and mayhem which we in the evangelical community termed the Great Tribulation. I remember living in fear of missing the rapture. I feared that my most recent bad thought, a failure to read my Bible that day, or generally be neglectful would cause the rapture's lightening to flash from the east to the west and I'd be left to face unparalleled suffering at worst or martyrdom at best.

As I have matured in my faith over the years, I began to question the validity of this eschatological interpretation of the Bible. I was amazed to learn in college that there could be at least 5 different eschatological possibilities and all of them could find biblical support! What?

The mustard seed of real faith founded on the message of God grows into a mature tree- something far different in appearance and function than the seed that spawned it. If our involvement in the culture of God is likened to this by Jesus, than our understanding of the present and future world should also evolve into an accurate reflection of God's likeness and interests- like the moon accurately reflects the sun's powerful light.

That's why I want to betray what I have been taught about the Rapture and opt out. As I think about this, I wonder why every believer in Jesus and citizen of God's transcendent culture wouldn't want to do the same? What good is it for the world that God loved so much that he gave it His Son  if those who bear the Son's image are no longer present to love it like God does? We don't have to look far in the Scripture or in ourselves to know that God doesn't seek to hate and destroy but to love and give life. The Rapture so defined ushers in destruction for those left behind while those who allegedly have practiced the correct spiritual magic enjoy the blissfullness of God's presence- perhaps and presumably around some grand heavenly dinner table with the Lamb. Can you imagine? Throwing back new wine with other escapees lauding the glories of God's love by allowing the raptured to know nothing of the horrors other God-loved humans are suffering back on poor planet Earth! This doesn't sound like the God I know and love- or the God who knows and loves me.

I betray this eschatalogical escapism! I find it ungodly and selfish- two distinctly counter-intuitive qualitites in God's culture. If the rapture is true, then I'd like to give my place to someone else and choose to stay behind, not so I can "enjoy" earthly living some more, but so that I can love others in God's name- others who will no doubt need to be loved like God has loved me. Isn't that message more powerful to those who will be left behind? Have those who qualified to miss the Rapture through ignorance or rebellion created a new category that is outside of God's love?

Nothing in the Bible reveals God as one who abandons. Quite to the contrary, God is incarnational- both in the world spatially and in humans individually. If I want to love God and others (the two things that Jesus said defined the best qualities that humans can demonstrate), then I would want to remain incarnational as well. It's natural to the DNA I possess by new birth. I choose to love the unloved (abandoned?) rather than being raptured and saving my own skin.

If the rapture is true, then theoretically I'll die as a martyr. I still prefer martydom (greek "testifying") at the hands of those who are loved yet abandoned to escaping with the "saints" not because I relish the possibility of a torturous death, but because my faith demands it.

I betray the theology of the Rapture so I can better represent the God I beleve to be true.

The reality of the Rapture should change nothing about how a follower of Jesus lives and loves. In fact, I find myself with a new sense of freedom from both a bad theology and the people who espouse it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cartoon Christianity

Now that I spend some of my Sunday mornings reading the comic strips, I've come to discover that what I am seeing on the color-filled pages is similar to what has become of the institutional church's weekly show: It has been reduced to over-simplification and designed to sell.

The artful nature of a quality comic strip has had by necessity and demand to disappear. Artists like Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes") have left the industry because of the contraints that the newspaper industry placed on his artistic expression. He had to fit his drawings into well-defined boxes so that the newspaper could package its product for a highly competitive market. No longer was a comic strip appreciated for its artistic drawings combined with witty dialogue; it was reduced to unimaginative drawings that lack both variety and creativity in hopes that no one would notice. And they don't.

The consumer (de)volved along with the newspapers to the point that the readers no longer realize what they are missing. Cartoonists were quick to give the newspaper what the consumer wanted because they needed a job. If Bill Watterson wanted to take his convictions (and incredible talent) and leave, there would be someone else who was more than eager to take his place (without questioning his reasons, apparently) and offer what the market called for: A set number of well-defined boxes with essentially the same "picture" in each with bubble-filled dialogue that may or may not be funny.

Does anyone else notice the pictures anymore? And wasn't it the pictures that create the comic strip appeal in the first place? The dialogue used to be secondary to the attractive and colorful quality of the cartoon.

The institutional church "show" is no longer driven by "art" (read: sound ecclesiology and theology) but by the cultural market. The job of institutional church leadership has (de)volved from well-intended and God-directed ministry of God's transcendent culture (read: "Kingdom") to a weekly demand to put butts in the seats. Slick presentations, creative media-driven messages, and rock-concert-like music define the consumer-oriented ingredients to complete today's church-service recipe. And yet, with all of this in place, there is no assurance that the consumer will be either satisfied or willing to read the same "comic strip" next week.

I identify with Bill Watterson. My calling from God should not be forced into a square box of an industry's making. Like Jesus, I hope to represent the culture of God and to do so, I no longer depend on the income of the profession for which I was trained and in which I served for 25 years. I will no prostitute God's gifts for filthy lucre.

I thank God (and Bill Watterson) for allowing me the grace to evaluate who I am and what I do for God's glory. Sadly, I don't see enough of my professional peers doing the same thing. Even more grieving is the apparent fact that the weekly pew-sitting consumer doesn't recognize the difference.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Poor Jerusalem and Corinth: If they had only had our resources

For a follower of Jesus like myself who has served in the institutional church "Show" for over 25 years, this time of year produces both joy and grief. Joy because thanks to Jesus' current status, my daily existence is radically altered- and in a good way! Grief because of how the culture has reduced Jesus' resurrection to another golden calf in the post-Christian wilderness. We think we are doing the right thing but an honest look at how we do it might reveal that we, like the religious culture of Jesus' time, are failing to accurately represent Jesus' life to ourselves and to the world.

Few strategies represent this misguidance more than the mass marketing of Holy Week. The competition between local churches to attract the great unwashed in our society to attend (and presumably join) our congregation (read: club) is intense- and expensive! The stress that a senior pastor and his staff experience each Lenten season to design, produce and distribute a glossier and more creative mailer is as I remember it, exhausting. The church spends time, money and energy in the hopes that by generating an attractive advertising campaign, God will be able to pull "unchurched" (and really, how many in our culture qualify as "unchurched"?) in to their Show on Palm Sunday and Easter. Well-intended as this effort may be, I'm afraid it produces enormous piles of recyclable goods and fails to yield the human numbers a church hopes for to their flock.

Poor Jerusalem. If only they had the business savvy, creative brilliance, technological hardware, and financial resources they might have been able to do so much more than they did. Relying on the direct human to other human contact between people who were filled with the Holy Spirit (read: Love of God and others), they apparently only managed to attract thousands to their early models of ministry. If only they had the kind of postal service we have today through which a church can invest a large amount of money to send a professional produced flyer indiscreminately to every house within a reasonable radius of the meeting place, they might have produced a better return. Perhaps hundreds- or even a dozen!

During my tenure in professional ministry, I knew of know congregation to whom the Lord added thousands as a result of either the advanced publicity or the production of the Easter Show.

Poor Corinth. Had they known that competition between congregations was something that the Lord considered "healthy" (no matter what Paul would say about it), and if they had been operating with the resources and mindset the contemporaray church enjoys, they might've been able to let the ungodly heathen select which Show to attend on Easter based on the success of a slickly produced mailer that may have stood out among the crowd of church mailers they received that week.  The Church of Apollos would no doubt highlight the creative and compelling sermon that Apollos might deliver. The Church of Peter might be more servant-centered and choose to attract the church consumer by focusing on the strength of their outreach programs. Paul's church would be teaching-centered, perhaps calling attention to their affinity-based small groups ministry.

If only today's church would wake up to the fact that the people who attend their congregation on Palm and Easter Sundays are probably the people who already attend throughout the year. They just all show up on Easter so we think we have "new" people.

The last place I would be on Easter is a church. If I were interested in what they were "selling" by their mass marketing "evangelism", I would choose to go the Sunday AFTER Easter and see who really attends and how "exciting" their hyped-up services actually are.

I would probably go to the golf course on Easter since all the "Christians" would be in church and the course would be wide open.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

When do I Preach Now that I'm not a "Preacher"?

After 25 years as an ordained minister, serving 6 churches during that time in a variety of staff postions, I was given my walking papers by God. He let me leave. I was both relieved and scared. Immersion into Jesus' discipleship ring led me to a calling to be immersed into the ring of institutional Christianity. I learned that much like a circus, the institutional church attempts to "wow" and "amaze" with it's own three rings: Worship, Fellowship, and Preaching.

Ah, preaching. The driving force behind all that is "evangelical". I have discovered that my calling, my devotions, my profession had been totally affected by my next sermon series if not my next sermon. I read the Bible watching for clever and dare I say "relevant" texts to deliver in hopes that it would not only change the lives of the listeners but would at the very least motivate their return to my service next week.

Don't let a preacher fool you. Performance pressure is real. A preacher must peform for God (we all believe this was the highest standard), for the congregation (for it is ultimately the preaching that will determine their committment to the church), and for ourselves (how do we feel about it?). When I was released from that treadmill, I discovered not only a personal faith but also a new expression of "preaching".

After my first year outside of the institution, I visited my dad who has been a professional preacher my entire life. He apparently struggles with my decision and probably wonders if I am outside of God's will which if so, allows my dad to throw even me under his bus of judgementalism. He asked me if I thought I would preach again. My guarded answer at that moment was to declare that my life was going pretty well and I wasn't in any hurry to go back to that professional lifestyle.

Dad stated that he had taken a year to do something else but realized that he really needed to be a preacher. Apart from how arrogant that statement can appear, I believe my dad is sincere and probably just can't get his head around God's multi-faceted activity, let alone a more accurate definition of God's Kingdom. He is a preacher and his life is centered on that activity. He may actually love preaching more that the people to whom he preaches. I hope he doesn't love it more than the God he preaches about....

I digress.

I have lived with a very real sense of God's "calling" me to full-time (read: being hired by a church) ministry since I was 18 years old. I was never really intersted in the preaching event and pursued educational avenues that prepared more for supportive staff positions than that of one that demanded the weekly sermon. As time passed, however, I realized I could talk publicly and found the discovery of insights, the manufacturing of sermon and its ultimate delivery to be something that I could and should do. So I did.

Until I was released by God to this new journey. So the question that rattles around in my brain is "Where Do I Preach now that I'm not a professional preacher?" This has always been at the heart of my conventional understanding and interpretation of God's "real" calling. And this was regularly reinforced by my upbringing both in the church and in the home. If I am not employed at some local institution pumping out the three-point alliterated sermon each Sunday (and maybe on Wednesdays, depending on the particular denominational flavor one is employed by), am I still being faithful to a real calling? Do callings change? Does God retire a called person after having served enough time (ex., Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus, etc.)?

My answer to this at this point in my life goes something like this: I "preach" (read: proclaim) Jesus now when I am:
  • in the home of a poor family encouraging them in their relationship with a troubled teen
  • helping a broken teenager see their life from a different point of view that hopefully motivates them to make better choices and gives them hope in spite of the hand that has been dealt them
  • laughing with a community a friends at my workout class
  • telling my story to a work associate who wonders what I did for most of my life
  • am advising others to do what's right and good even if the warm fuzzies they are looking for may be absent
I may actually be "preaching" when I blog.

God is graciously leading me in deeper and more satisfactory understandings of how to live as a citizen of His culture (read: Kingdom). Perhaps Jesus' intention for those who would be like him to be proclaimers of God's culture more in the streets than in the pulpits. Perhaps the results that matter are not based on the number of people in the pews. Perhaps the best "altar call" response is the smile or hope that has been lodged in the life of someone who may never darken the door of a church building.

And perhaps for the sake of their spiritual health they shouldn't.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dying to Self in Exile

I've been thinking about my "exile" from institutional church. There are so many layers to this "thought" but I'll just spend some time reflecting on one- for now.

Biblical examples of the exilic experience with whom I find myself identifying include Joseph (OT), Moses, John the Baptist and Paul. Each of these found themselves "exiled" from the mainstream arena. They were in situations that placed severe restrictions on their self-perceived ability to make a difference in their world. And they either couldn't or wouldn't change it themselves. Their self-promotion had to die.

For Joseph, for doing the right thing he was placed in an Egyptian prison. For receiving a dream (he didn't make it up) from God (supposedly) he lived in obscurity. He did what he thought would be right. He shared his dream to others who were not receptive to either the dream or him. He worked hard in the situations he found himself in trying to find an escape but even when he was successful in those settings, he couldn't fulfill the dreams by his own power. It wasn't until God prompted the memory of the baker (two years after the incident he remembered) that Joseph had his moment of God-ordained destiny. In other words, someone had to come for Joseph at the right time (God's time?) to free Joseph from his exile.

For Moses, who thought he was doing the right thing in God's eyes by using his unique position as an "Egyptian" to defend his fellow Jews, a 40 year exile in Midian was arranged by God. No doubt Moses had plenty of questions and had to die to himself before God would be God (and not Moses). Even after the burning bush (and wouldn't we all wish for that!) he had to wait for someone to come get him. Aaron was God's instrument of retrieval for Moses.  

John the Baptist was the son of a priest so his future was secure. But instead of finding him doing the priestly duties clothed in priestly garb, we find him in the wilderness dressed like a nomad. Did he have a publicist? Did he create a blog and post his "ministry" on facebook? Yet all of the people WENT OUT to him in the wilderness. They came to him. I can only assume that in God's timing and in God's way people became aware and without any self-promotion on John's part, he did what God arranged for him to do until his time was over- a fact that it seems John found difficult to accept.

Paul may be the best example. Here is the Christian wunderkind, the bad boy that gets saved, a celebrity in the fold! All of the Christian world is rejoicing because the Christian-killer is now one of us. His rising star in Judaism has been converted to one that now promotes Jesus as Messiah! I'm sure that not only did the community of faith feel lucky to have this personality in their corner, but perhaps Paul himself felt that they and God were lucky to have him, too!

So it's off to exile in Tarsus! What? The elders sent him to obscurity in his home town just when it appeared that his presence was really creating "revival". He ended up in Tarsus for 10-12 years. This must've been so difficult at first. How could he have encountered Jesus, been told he was going to influence Jews and Gentiles, and suffer for the Name- and be in Tarsus? He was no longer on the Pharisaic dole and was earning a living making tents. Didn't both the Christian community and the Judaistic leaders wonder what had become of him? Why had he disappeared? Paul wondered how he was going to fulill the words of Jesus while doing NOTHING in Tarsus.

Yet it doesn't appear that he did anything to change it. Both he and those who had expectations for him had to die to those expectations and let God be in charge. Paul had to die to his celebrity and his intelligence so that Jesus would be large and in charge. So he waited. He didn't know when or if he would have a "ministry". He didn't have an alarm on his cell phone indicating when Barnabas would come looking for him or if anyone cared he was gone. But one day, out of the blue, Barnabas shows up to free Paul from the necessary exile in which he found himself.
I assume that each of these men had to "let go and let God". Each of them no doubt came to a point where they knew and accepted that God was in charge of any "ministry" they might have. It was not up to them to promote or market their "call". It was up to God to prepare AND PLACE them in His time. And it always was in the hands of others to free them from exile.

Waiting and wondering in exile.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Seeking Attention

When I know my dog's food bowl is empty, I fill it. The question is, "how do I know when it's empty?"

Since my dog doesn't have the ability to fill the bowl himself, he relies on the most available- and attentive- human to meet his need for nourishment. That would be either me or my wife. I discovered that he attracts our attention differently because we each have a different kind of relationship with him.

My wife loves cats- especially the two that occupy our bedroom. She feigns displeasure for my dog but deep down she cares for him too. She just doesn't like to admit it- similar to the posture I assume with her cats. That being said, my dog attracts her differently than he does me. When his bowl is empty, he must get my wife's attention in demonstrable and discernable ways. He will slide his empty food dish around the floor insuring that it makes noises otherwise my wife may not notice that it's empty.

I, on the other hand, am more consistently conscious of both my dog's presence and his needs. I am sensitive to the fact that he is actually emptying his bowl and anticipate its soon-to-be emptiness. There are times when I may miss the consumption of the last morsel but am quickly made aware when the dog may quietly stare at me or allow the ball that accompanies his dinner to drop from his mouth and bounce around the bowl.

The dog must do more to get my wife's attention than he does to get mine. Is there a metaphor here that shows us something about how we relate to God? Could it be that each of us learns by experience what "works" to get God's attention? God isn't different like my wife and are; that's not my point. My point is that we are different and we learn good and not so good ways to try and get God's attention. Sometimes we have to ignore or discipline our dog because his attention-seeking ways are distracting or simply unacceptable. We often experience the same response (or lack of) when we try to push conventionally unhealthy buttons thinking it will endear God to our narcissisum. ("name it and claim it" just for an example.)

It is comforting to consider, though, that God may be so fathomless that he knows how to relate to each of us and to allow our connection with him to develop through time and experience.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Scraping away the Barncle of "Worship"

Worship. Perhpas the most attractive and trendy church-word in circulation. It is the focus of church marketing and professional aspirations. It hasn't always been like this. When I was in college 30 years ago, the trendy area of institutional church-life (barnacle?) was Christian Education. It was the church staff position that was hired first after the pastor. People were into "education" and Sunday School was all the rage.

Not anymore. Where it used to be that the first building project a church would embark on was an education annex, it is now the "worship center". The church staff position in the greatest demand is "worship leader". The talk among church consumers is comparing worship environments- the best band, the light and stage, and of course, the presence of God that is felt when they "worship".

And yet, the Bible never defines "worship" as the 20 to 30 minute musical experience that is a key ingredient to the weekly church service. Paul defined worship in Romans 12:1-2 as sacrificial living. He never included soft lights that accompany slow music with relevant words and an acoustic guitar.

Worship is breathing. Worship is acting. Worship is loving (God and others). Worship is working. Worship is eating chips. Worship is exercising. Worship is.......LIFE. Life as a follower of Jesus isn't segmented by periods of time on the Sunday morning clock. Life in Jesus is just that- LIFE, everything! This would include time spent in the buildings we call "churches".

But, please, let's stop elevating music time on Sundays (re: worship) to a place that limits what it is. Let's explore life in Jesus and let our songs and gatherings reflect transformation in our expressions.

It may be hard to admit (and Whelks no doubt are uncomforatble on barnacles) but our church music time is simply reflecting if not competing with the music culture of our time. Flashy and enegetic events driven my celebrities in whom the audience can vicariously identify are what people pay for at rock concerts. The church simply offers the same thing hoping for some monetary response when the offering plates are past.

All of this hoopla has become synonymous with "the presence of the Lord". I can't tell you how many times I've heard (and perhaps said) "the Lord was so powerfully present in the worship today". Really? How do we know? Is it because we felt warm spiritual fuzzies or perhaps we even cried?

God no doubt is merciful to our need for such tangible witnesses. Unfortunately, we who limit God in such ways may be missing dimensions of truth simply because the reality of God's presence may transcend my limited expectations and definitions.

But we are hard pressed to find a collection of people who would be willing to take the courageous and risky position to be independent of the institutional accoutrements and "experience" God on His terms and not ours.

Imagine: "worship" that is not domesticated in a live band....hmmmm.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

In the beginning....

It's quite possible I was birthed in the pew of a Baptist church. Not really, but I have been a part of the Church World since my emergence from my mother's womb. Already, I have used as word that in itself inspires controversy: "emergence". More on that as time goes by.

It is enough to begin this unpredictable wilderness journey by documenting the fact that I have been immersed in the world of Christendom for all of my life. I know the "Church" from the inside as both an attendee and a professional. I will recount that journey on this blog and express my discoveries and challenges in this written format. I write for and to God, not for readership and popularity (another aspect of my rehabilitation).

My Heavenly Father has admitted me into a spiritual rehab unit; it's His fault I am on this journey and I can't express my gratitude enought.  I am a recovering evangelical on a path of rediscovering who God is, what the Bible represents, and what it means to be part of the "church". Whew! The journey is fraught with obstacles and challenges. I am in detox. And it feels lonely at times. I wouldn't trade it for anything- at this time.

The boat of my life has accumulated barnacles. More than I can count, I'm afraid. I discovered that over my life these barnacles have become accepted as part of my boat's structure- a common problem I presume. The journey that God has drawn me into (spiritual rehab?) is showing me that the barnacles are NOT part of the original boat's structure and identifying them as barnacles is in itself part of the process of rehabilitation. I'm hoping to uncover what the boat of faith really looks like.

The barnacles must be challenges and removed if possible. The only thing that appears to be a barnacle's nemesis is a whelk. So metaphorically speaking, my life has brought me to a point where I am identifying the "barnacles", fishing for "whelks", and allowing the whelks to bore away at the barnacles that have accumulated on my boat.

The "whelks" include Scripture, friends, books, time, courage- to name only few. The "barnacles" include (but are in no way limited to) the Ecclesiology, "Bibliolatry", Soteriology, Theology, Eschatology, and perhaps other "ologies" that would bore You if I were to keep listing them.

I hope this pleases You.