main cow pic

04.08.16

If I could share one message…

Filed under: God's movement,The Practice — 11:22 am
Aaron speaking

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at The Practice and launch us into “Stories of Resurrection: Cultivating Eyes to See & Join God’s Redemption Everywhere.”  And in many ways, this was my attempt to tell the Big Story of God’s work in the world…or as I joked in the beginning, to tell the story of Genesis 1 to April 2016 in fifteen minutes!

While preparing and sharing this message, I realized again WHY I am still a Christian–and am so grateful to be. It is such good news!
God is actively redeeming and healing the world, and invites every one of us–in the way of Christ–to partner with this good work. Amen. If you missed the message on Sunday night, I’m thrilled to share it again here…

Listen to “Practicing Resurrection” by Aaron Niequist (15 min)

A few excerpts…

There is a great river flowing throughout human history toward full life, blessing, and the flourishing of all things. We saw this at the very beginning of creation when God invited Adam and Eve into vibrant participation with God in the ongoing creation of the world. Basically, God was saying “Will you partner with me for the sake the of the world?” Unfortunately, they said no and chose to carve their own path.

But God didn’t give up. And all throughout the human story, we see God tapping people on the shoulder to say “Will you partner with me for the sake of the world? Would you allow yourself to get swept up in my great river of healing, blessing, and restoring all things?”

Jesus spent his entire ministry illustrating—with life and teachings—what it means to partner with God for the sake of the world.  Or as NT theologian NT Wright explains:

“The whole point of what Jesus was up to was that he was doing, close up, in the present, what he was promising long-term, in the future.  And what he was promising for that future, and doing in that present, was not saving souls for a disembodied eternity but rescuing people from he corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of creation which is God’s ultimate purpose—and so they could thus become colleagues and partners in that larger project.” (NT Wright, Surprised by Hope)

The religious system in Jesus’ day had hardened the Story of God into a set of beliefs and a list of rules to be administered and enforced. Instead of being “blessed to be a blessing”, they tried to build an institution around their privilege. Instead of get swept up in the great river of God’s redemption of all things, the religious leaders tried to build a dam that would keep all the water of blessing inside, and all the unclean people outside.

But Jesus constantly worked against religion’s dam-building project by breaking the rules and inviting outsiders in, over and over and over. Jesus showed us the kind of world that God is looking to co-create with us: one of forgiveness rather than vengeance, giving rather than hoarding, setting free rather than dominating, inviting in rather than keeping out, sacrifice rather than power, justice rather than immoral inequity, truth rather than spin, mercy rather than rules…

No wonder the religious leaders and the national leaders conspired together to kill him.

But not even death could stop him. And in view of resurrection, the Apostle Paul invites us to respond in two ways: Gratitude and Joining in. (1 Corinthians 15)  Seeing what God has done, shouting hallelujah, and then joining what God continues to do.

Easter is not only celebrating that resurrection happened in the past, but it’s also about discovering the ways that resurrection continues to happens.

So the question we want to wrestle with this month is “What does resurrection look like in an actual life?” Monday through Sunday. Or, in terms of the big story, “How do I tangibly partner with God for the sake of the world in my everyday life?”

01.04.16

Retreat & Conversation for Pastors, Priests, and Worship Leaders

Retreat

Retreat

Hello pastor, priest, and worship leader friends…

If you are exploring the intersection of ancient practices with the modern world, please join us.
If you desire to live unforced rhythms of Grace and invite your church to do the same, please join us.
If you often feel alone on this journey and long to meet others asking similar questions, please join us.

On February 14-16, The Practice Team, Fr Michael Sparough SJ, and Jonathan Martin are hosting a small retreat & conversation for pastors, priests, and worship leaders who don’t just want to exhaust themselves building church programs, but who deeply desire to learn how to align their lives and communities with the eternal, redemptive rhythms of God. We’ll practice together (guided masterfully in a half day retreat by Fr Michael Sparough SJ), engage meaningful conversation (lead by The Practice Team), gather around the communion table (pastored by Jonathan Martin), and spend all of Tuesday morning dreaming about how to tangibly invite our church communities into these unforced rhythms of Grace.

The Story, Details, and Registration

Finally, if you need any more motivation, Chicago is BEAUTIFUL in February. (That is a lie.)

Grace and peace to you all,
Aaron

07.20.15

Horseshoe Theory and a Shared Fundamentalism

Filed under: God's movement — 7:24 pm
Horseshoe Theory

Horseshoe Theory

Last week I heard about the “Horseshoe Theory”. Compelled by the term, I went to the source of all truth, Wikipedia (ha), and found this simple but provocative idea: the far right and the far left are actually quite similar. Or said another way, fundamentalism is alive and well in both conservative and liberal circles.

Fundamentalism is a strict literalism applied to certain beliefs that seeks to maintain clear in-group and out-group distinctions. Fundamentalists often believe that they are 100% right while those who disagree with them are 100% wrong. They are the good guys protecting The Truth from the bad guys.

Fundamentalists have the gift of certainty.

And when you’re always certain, you don’t listen.
And if you don’t listen, you can never learn.
And if you can never learn, you are unable to be a part of the solution. Even if you’re technically right. Fr Ron Rolheiser makes the brilliant observation that “throughout history, many movements based in truth failed because the energy powering them was ugly.” Wow.

Which helps explain why the extreme tolerance folks can often sound really intolerant. And the extreme religious liberty folks can often trample on other people’s liberties. Whether conservative or liberal, we are all capable of letting a beautiful truth harden into an ugly ideology.

(If you had to name one way that you can most easily fall into fundamentalism, what would it be? A political viewpoint? A religious theology? A cultural issue?)

So friends, may we hold onto our beliefs passionately, courageously, and humbly. May we keep listening and learning, even as we diligently pursue the truth. Be brave! Be bold! But never stop seeing “the other” as a deeply loved brother or sister who might be holding part of the solution.

The world is buckling underneath the weight of toxic fundamentalism from the left and right. But we can help bring healing through a more excellent way

“And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

(1 Corinthians 12-13)

06.29.15

Welcoming everyone to the table

Filed under: Discipleship,God's movement,The Practice — 10:34 am

Like many of you, I’ve been increasingly brokenhearted by the pockets of Christianity that seek to expel anyone they don’t agree with. There are times to strongly disagree–and even part ways–but the impulse to expel the other doesn’t feel much like the Jesus we are trying to follow. (It feels much more like the religious leaders who tried to expel him.)

Our little community has been trying to put Christ’s teachings into practice and live out the grace and inclusion that he extended at nearly every turn. But what does this mean? And when does it devolve from radical grace into mushy, unthinking tolerance?

This spring, my friend and incredible Pentecostal preacher Jonathan Martin came to The Practice. His message “All Are Welcome at The Table” passionately appealed that our Eucharist table should be modeled after Jesus’ table of fellowship–which included and invited everyone. And the following communion liturgy threw the doors wide open to anyone and everyone who wants to come to the table. It was a very beautiful night.

The Table

The Table

This generated a ton of conversation from people of many perspectives. Some wondered if we were watering down the high calling of the table. Some were thrilled to discover such openness in a church. Some loved the impulse but wondered if we were overlooking important theological foundations. These were very, very interesting and helpful conversations.  And although we haven’t fully landed or fleshed it all out, here are three things we know…

•Inclusion is the not the goal.
•Being formed into Christlikeness
for the sake of the world is the goal.
•And everyone’s invited.

There is something very moving (to me) about these three statements, in this order. The invitation of Christ is not simply to be tolerated as we are, but to be swept into God’s ongoing work of Redemption. The invitation of Christ is not to become the arbiters of who’s in and who’s out, but to be swept into God’s ongoing work of Redemption. It’s a high calling that requires nothing less than dying to ourselves and being reborn as a new Creation in the name and way of Jesus. And everyone is invited.

How does this resonate with you? Thoughts? Reflections?

 

04.15.15

Why Everyone Should go to Praxis

Filed under: church,God's movement,The Practice — 8:33 am
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Last year, my absolute favorite event of the year was The Praxis Conference.  Along with getting stretched (by learning from brilliant voices) and inspired (by meeting some fascinating people), those three days in Tulsa were deeply moving. Here’s why:  They showed me that I wasn’t alone.  In fact, I met people from all over the country and world who were asking and struggling with similar questions.  I can’t begin to tell you how moving and healing it was.

In exactly a month, Praxis is meeting again in Houston, and you should join us.  If you’re interested in the intersection of liturgy and the contemporary church, you should join us.  If you believe that the future of Christianity must be ecumenical rather than ghettoed, you should join us.  If you are an Evangelical and believe our tradition is wonderful but a bit too thin, you should join us.  If you love the music of The Brilliance, you should join us.

I can’t wait to attend and learn as much as possible.  And I’m really looking forward to participating. (Father Michael and I get to partner in a couple of sessions.)  Take a moment to look through the “What is Praxis?” page and check out the themes and speakers.  They are packing a ton of goodness into two days.

See you there?

11.27.14

Practicing Gratitude

Filed under: God's movement,quotes,The Practice — 7:09 am

A couple weeks ago, I got to share with The Practice why GRATITUDE may be the center of the center of following Christ.  In honor of Thanksgiving, here are those thoughts…

To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us.
And He has given us everything.  
Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.  Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.  For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience.  And that is what makes all the difference.”  (Thomas Merton)

Jesus Christ is inviting every one of us into life to the full.  And Gratitude is the very center
of this kind of life.  Why?  Because God’s Love and Goodness is at the very center of Reality,
and Gratitude helps align us to what is most true.

N.T. Wright says “A sense of astonished gratitude is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience.”
Fr Ronald Rolheiser writes ”Sanctity has to do with gratitude. To be a saint is to be fueled by gratitude,
nothing more and nothing less.”

Meister Eckhart famously taught “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

Gratitude aligns us with what is most true in the universe:  the Love and Abundance of God.

 

And together, we watched this devastatingly beautiful short film about Ed’s Story.  May it encourage and inspire you today.  Happy Thanksgiving, friends.


Ed’s Story, Gratitude from Baas Creative on Vimeo.

10.16.14

A Conversation about Creativity, The Beatles, and Creating Art During my Crisis of Faith

Filed under: creativity,God's movement,music — 9:09 am

My friend and filmmaker Kurt Larson recently invited me onto his Bad Headshots podcast.  We had a fascinating conversation about the creative process, growing up in the Midwest, and even making art during my own crisis of faith.  (He tricked me into going to some deep places! Ha.)  I think the world of Kurt, and am really honored to be a part of this.  Please give it a listen and let me know what you think!

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Bad Headshots Podcast:  Musician Aaron Niequist

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Bad Headshots Podcast

Bad Headshots Podcast

 

08.29.14

Robin Williams and The Liturgy

Filed under: God's movement,music,worship — 10:32 am
It's not your fault (1)

It’s not your fault

The death of Robin Williams has really messed with me.  It’s just so profoundly sad and heartbreaking.  But while re-watching many of his interviews and movies, one scene keeps playing in my mind, reminding me of the power of slowly repeating the Truth in love.  Remember the famous “It’s not your fault” scene from Good Will Hunting?  (Watch it here)

This brilliant scene is profound at a number of levels, but lately it’s been reminding me that we all need to hear the Truth more than once.  Slowly, firmly, and with great compassion.  Over and over.  Reality takes time to seep through our defenses and distractions, and we can’t always hear the beauty of Grace when she first begins whispering.

So as a worship leader, this raises a number of questions…

(1) If most of us need to hear the gentle truth repeated over and over, why do I spend so much time pursing innovation in worship and creative ways to reimagine our liturgy? Why are we so quick to add video content, moving lights, and production value to keep things fresh?

(2) If God often speaks in an easily missed, gentle whisper, why are many of my worship sets so loud? It’s pretty hard to hear a whisper at 110 dbs.

(3) Am I more afraid that people will be bored, or more afraid that I will add to the distraction?

(4) Do my worship liturgies create space for people to hear God whispering over and over, or do I give people one more entertaining opportunity to miss God’s voice?

(5) At the core, is my faith in God or in my ability to lead people to God?

These are easy questions to ask and impossible questions to perfectly answer.  But we need to wrestle with them.  I certainly do!

Which is why the Liturgy continues to capture and mess with me.  We gather together to tell the Big Story…over and over, over and over, over and over…until it finally begins to sink in.  Slowly and deeply.  And in these holy moments, the beautiful Truth God has been graciously whispering to us since the beginning of eternity sneaks past our defenses and into the cracks of our aching hearts.  Hallelujah.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

May we all learn to have ears to hear what God keeps whispering.

08.20.14

Cutting away everything but the essence

Filed under: church,God's movement — 1:31 pm
old church

church

My friend Rob used to say that the mark of a great sermon is how much content you leave on the cutting room floor.  So he’d learn as much as possible…and then spend the rest of the week cutting away everything but the very essence of the idea.  Out of this deep knowledge and complexity, he was able to make things profoundly simple and focused.

I wonder if it’s time for the church to do the same thing.

Over the last couple decades, the modern church as become really complicated: programs, services, classes, coffee shops, gymnasiums, and everything in between. It’s all great stuff, of course, but the sheer quantity can overwhelm and make it difficult to distinguish the essence from the extras.

One of my friends recently confessed “I’m not exactly sure why I go to church these days. Mostly out of guilt, I guess.” He went on to explain…

“I can build a case for really ‘high church’ (taking the holy sacraments) and a great case for really ‘low church’ (praying/sharing in a living room), but I can’t figure out why we need all the stuff in between. And my church is ONLY the stuff in between.”

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What do you think? Does this resonate with you? What would it look like to trim the church down to its essence? What would we lose…and what could we gain?

07.10.14

Jesus picking and choosing from the Bible

Filed under: God's movement — 9:52 am

It seems to me that the most important question we can ask right now is “What is the bible?”

Most of the current debates in Christianity appear to have this question at their root. We’re rarely talking about the issue. Most of the debates center around disagreements with how to read and apply the bible.

As someone who takes the Holy Scriptures incredibly seriously but worries that we’ve made them into something they were never meant to be, I am desperate to find a deeper, more nuanced, more historic, more truthful, more beautiful understanding of what the scriptures actually are. Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible is a wonderful place to start. And today, let’s look at Fr Richard Rohr‘s perspective on how Jesus approached the bible. This is wonderful…and uncomfortable…and stretching…and so beautiful…

What Jesus Says about God

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jesus teaches about the God he knows. He offers a kind of “soul language” that makes sense to as many people as possible. Many of the citations he uses are from extra-biblical sources, aphorisms, legends, and stories. He takes wisdom from wherever it comes. When he does quote scripture, the only Hebrew Scriptures that he quotes are those that move toward mercy and justice and inclusivity. There are scriptures that present God as punitive, imperialistic, or exclusionary, but Jesus never quotes them in his teaching. In fact, he speaks against them.

The longest single citation of Jesus according to the Gospels is in Luke 4. He went into the synagogue and unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and “found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down” (Luke 4:17-20). Wait a minute! Jesus stopped reading before he finished the text! Isaiah 61:2 actually says: “to proclaim a day of vengeance from our God.” Jesus skips the last line because he isn’t here to announce vengeance. He has a completely different message, and thus critiques his own scriptures. This is quite telling.

Jesus creates stories to communicate that God is good, faithful, and merciful (i.e. the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the Publican and the Pharisee). Jesus exemplifies biblical faith, which is not trust in ideas; it’s trust in a person—God, his Father, whom he trusts so much he calls him Abba, Daddy, Papa. Jesus knows that God is always with him and in a caring way.

Jesus was not changing the Father’s mind about us; he was changing our mind about God—and thus about one another. If God and Jesus are not hateful, violent, punitive, torturing, or vindictive, then our excuse for the same is forever taken away from us. Maybe we do not really want such a God?

Adapted from Hierarchy of Truths: Jesus’ Use of Scripture
(CDMP3 download

06.17.14

So what is the bible…really?

Filed under: books,God's movement — 10:14 pm
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I finished Adam Hamilton’s book “Making Sense of the Bible” today, and I think it might be the most important book of the year.  The church needs it so badly.  Here’s why…

In 2004, we were a part of Mars Hill’s transition to allow women full participation in leadership. It was an explosive, divisive, tumultuous season.  And I remember the moment that it hit me: “Wait a second…this isn’t about women or the church or leadership or the issue.  This is about the bible.  What do we make of this holy book and how do we let it direct our lives?” And I wonder if the same could be said about other divisive issues like immigration, abortion, and homosexuality.  These issues are critically important, but the “issue beneath the issue” is the bible.

Thankfully, Adam Hamilton (pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City) has boldly and lovingly invited us to wrestle with this.  What is the bible?  Where did it come from?  What do we do with the contradictions?  Can we take it seriously but not literally?  What does it mean for the bible to be inspired?  How can we allow the bible to be everything God intends for it to be, but not more?  

These are really important questions.

To hear more, check out this short interview.  Hamilton shares the basic idea and heart behind the book.

You won’t agree with everything, and I don’t agree with every one of his conclusions, but the questions he raises are critical for every one of us who takes the scriptures seriously.

Let me know what you think!
Aaron

05.11.14

God Our Mother (part 3)

05.10.14

God Our Mother (part 2)

Filed under: God's movement,music — 6:59 am
God Our Mother

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Our friends from The Liturgists just released an incredible EP called “God Our Mother”.

I love every part of it.

The music is beautiful, the performances are incredible, the theology is expansive (moving us beyond our overly-masculine view of God), and above all, the reading was written and performed by the cutest girl in the world.

Highly recommended…

“God Our Mother” by The Liturgists

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05.09.14

God Our Mother (part 1)

Filed under: God's movement,quotes — 8:46 am

“Sara Ruddick in her book Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace speaks of the attentive love of a mother.  In summary, Ruddick says mothers are characterized by attentive love.  They have to keep watching this new life; they have to keep listening and adjusting to the needs of the child.  It is necessary to recognize a new agenda with the growth of the child.  If the mother cannot transform herself into attentive love, she quite simply cannot be a mother.  She has to learn early on that life is about change, not about theological absolutes.  All growth is about changing and adjusting to what is needed at this moment by this child.  The mother cannot run to abstract truths.  She has to deal with this child, these tears, and this present moment with this child.

The feminine face of God is helping us see God as Mother God.  Then we will be able to love and trust God in the maternal AND masculine forms.  Who would not love back such an attentively loving God?”

Fr Richard Rohr,  On Transformation: Collected Talks, Volume 1

 

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