Created by New Branch Films.
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.”
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?
As you can tell from my last couple posts, the darkness of the world has really been weighing on me this summer. Especially the carnage in Gaza. I can’t shake it. Most days I feel torn between two bad options: (1) lashing out in anger and blame, or (2) giving up and avoiding it all. Anger or avoidance. Adding to the conflict or burying my head in the sand. But thankfully, Jesus offers us a third way of constructively engaging reality, and it begins with prayer.
I know this in my head, but don’t alway practice what I think.
And so this coming Sunday, August 10th, we are having our one “summer Practice” gathering in the Willow chapel. 7-9pm. We will begin with an opening worship liturgy that anchors us in God and leads us to pray for our world. Together, we’ll lift up Israel/Palestine, the violence in Chicago, and a number of issues that break God’s heart…asking for peace, justice, and God’s will to be done on earth. Whether your heart is heavy or hope-filled (or a mix of both), let’s bring the fullness of who we are to these prayers, songs, and intercessions. Amen.
Following the opening liturgy, Father Michael Sparough will guide us through the Jesuit practice of The Prayer of Imagination. If you’ve never experienced Fr Michael or this practice before, prepare to go on a powerful journey with God. (Check out Fr Michael’s last visit to The Practice HERE). I’m so excited for our community to be lead by such a godly and gifted spiritual director.
Finally, as is our practice, we will end the night by gathering around the central practice of our faith: Holy Communion. Because our hope is Jesus Christ. We don’t trust in violence, power, or even politics to bring peace; we trust in the power and grace of Christ. We don’t trust in our own abilities to fix ourselves and become the people God made us to be; we trust in the power and grace of Christ. There are many things we can and must do, but our faith is in God alone. Hallelujah.
So please join us! The Willow Creek chapel. 7-9pm. Everyone is welcome.
Grace and Peace,
We’re all friends, right? If so, can I ask for a favor? Please take an hour this week or next and listen to this teaching from Brian Zahnd…
In light of Gaza, Ukraine, and so much of the unrest in the world, Zahnd digs deep into the question of How can we actually follow Jesus into peacemaking? Really? Not just hippy-dippy idealism. Not just angry activism. But how do we become the kinds of people who can tangibly love our enemies and choose The Way of Peace?
I don’t mean to overstate here, but learning this would change the world. Or at the very least… if I can learn this, it will change my entire life.
As a side note, Brian has spent a lot of time in Israel and Palestine, and spends quite a bit of time telling stories: being in a bunker with his friends in Gaza…in a rocket shelter with his friends in Sderot, Israel…and with many of his Jewish, Christian, and Muslim friends in the Holy Land. If you’re looking for a first-hand, both/and perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you may find this helpful.
Jesus said: “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Friends, many of us would call ourselves children of God, but if we’re very honest, we have not yet become peacemakers in the way of Christ. We Christians are often known primarily for the people/things we’re against. But there’s a more beautiful Way.
In my early 20s, I became a cynic. I gleefully excelled in the twisted art of poking holes and always finding the worst in things. (Oh what a joy I was to be around.) And after a couple years, I assumed that I must be a fundamentally pessimistic, negative person.
But over the last decade or so – through honest friendships, plenty of therapy, and God’s grace – the “thing beneath the thing” has been coming to light. As it turns out, I’m not a cynic at all. Not even a “glass is half empty” person. But instead…
I’m a hopeless optimist who doesn’t know how to deal with disappointment.
I can see the epic beauty of what’s possible, and this fills me with life, passion, and hope. There’s always a glorious new idea to chase around the upcoming corner. But when reality doesn’t live up to what’s in my head and heart, I am often crushed by the disappointment.
Are there any frustrated idealists out there? Raise your hand if you’ve been hiding under cynical armor. I see that hand. Me too.
To be honest, the last two weeks of global events have been overwhelming and depressing. Especially the devastation in Gaza. And even though I believe that every person on earth has been invited to join God in healing and restoring the world, lately I just want to give up. Things will NEVER be completely fixed, so why keep trying?
“What keeps us going is the possibility of proximate justice—of something rather than nothing—knowing ahead of time that it will never be everything on this side of the consummation. Francis Schaeffer called this the vision and hope of substantial healing, arguing that it was the antidote to the all-or-nothing syndrome that so afflicts us, whether in the most personal parts of life, as with marriage, or the most public, as with political engagement. I really hoped, I really tried, and it didn’t work—so I’m done. His words have been a great grace to me for a long time. A person can touch and feel something that is substantial; it is real, even if it is not everything—but it is not nothing, either.”
Are you as inflicted by “the all-or-nothing syndrome” as I am? Either my job is everything I’ve ever dreamed it can be…or I want to quit. Either my marriage is like the movies every second…or I want to bail. Either I am single-handedly bringing peace to the Middle East…or what’s the point of even trying. Right?
Please take a moment to soak in the challenging and healing words from Stephen Garber below. He has given his life to both gut-wrenching honesty AND relentless hope…or as he says “I do not know of any challenge that is more difficult than to really know the world, and still choose to love it.” We can’t give up. Honesty and hope. Leaning in with eyes and hearts wide open…
Please allow me to spend a moment in someone else’s shoes.
If our mayor one day announced that half of my house now belonged to my neighbor, and forced my family to live in the other half while the new family spread out in what used to be my bathroom, bedroom, and study…I would be very angry. And if this new family invited their relatives to move in also, taking more and more rooms, forcing me into the basement, my anger would only increase. And if I took this injustice to the US Supreme Court, only to have them rule in favor of my neighbor and move my family into our garage while my neighbor’s family took over my entire house and changed the locks, I would despair. And unfortunately, if I’m completely honest, this despair might even turn to violence.
The violence would NOT be justified, of course. It never ever is. But I must admit that if I were pushed into a corner long enough, I just might throw a punch. Or fire a rocket.
But let me also step into my neighbor’s shoes.
After being viciously mistreated in our last neighborhood, if the mayor gave my family legal right to half of a house in a safe neighborhood, in a neighborhood where our family tree began and where we once lived long ago, I would gratefully accept. Even if it already had a family in it. And in my thankfulness for a safe home and fear of ever going back to the abuse of the old neighborhood, I would most certainly invite my loved ones to enjoy the security of this new home. Even if it already had a family in it. And if the other family got angry and violent and threatened my kids, you better believe I would fight back. Every dad has the duty to protect his family.
The violence would NOT be justified, of course. It never ever is. But I must admit that if my family was threatened long enough, I just might throw a punch. Or drop bombs from fighter jets.
I’m learning that this conflict cannot be reduced to “good guys vs bad guys”.
One of my heroes (Christian peace activist Sami Awad) explained to us that this conflict is NOT simply Israeli vs Palestinian or Jew vs Muslim…but it’s ultimately a conflict between those who want peace and those who don’t. There are wonderful, peaceful men and women on both sides (I’ve met many of them), and dangerous saboteurs on both sides (which we see on the news all the time).
And so, personally, I’m not trying to decide which nation is 100% right so I can 100% support them AGAINST the other nation. It’s just not that simple. But in the name of Jesus, I want to find and support the peace-makers on every side. These are really dark days, but we can’t give up.
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…
For the last five years, I’ve had the privilege of leading worship, singing, and creating art with Sharon Irving. She is sincerely one of the most talented people I know…a pure artist who never stops imagining and exploring and pushing.
If you’ve been around Willow, you know her well.
Whether singing, rapping, writing songs, or doing spoken word, Sharon brings a prophetic power and possibility to everything she touches.
And she is recording her debut album!
Like most independent artists, she needs our help to make this happen. So let’s join her! Might you be willing to help support her Kickstarter Campaign? Even 5 or 10 bucks? Or more? Here is the link to all the info and a way to give…
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!
To all those who are part of The Practice – either physically or virtually: Over the last couple months, we’ve begun re-arranging our lives to put Jesus’ words into practice. If you’re like me, it’s been three steps forward and two steps back, but God keeps carrying us on. Amen. We’re finding that the Christian life is not about perfect performance…but learning to get swept up in the unforced rhythms of Grace. And THAT is some good news!
But we can’t do it alone. We need a tribe. We need fellow Practitioners to walk with us, carry us, and be God’s hands and feet. And they need us too.
So in June, let’s dive into Community. We get to learn from three brilliant mentors about God’s gift of community, and then practice the tools to lean into it. June will be a highly practical, practice-oriented month.
Our prayer is that every one of us will take a step into Community by the end of June. Would you join us in this prayer: “God, who can I walk with in this next season? Please help me find my tribe.”
It’s hard to walk around Willow and NOT bump into someone who has been deeply impacted by Sybil Towner. For the last 20 years, Sybil has been a relentlessly redemptive force for good and beauty in the souls of so many people around here. (More) On June 8th, she will lay out a vision and practice for HOW we can hear from God on behalf of each other. Her “3 Way Listening” framework is profoundly helpful for becoming a healthy community, and we will practice it together.
About two hundred years ago, Bill Hybels sat in the class of Dr Bilezikian. This revolutionary vision and passion for the local church launched Bill and a few friends to flesh it out into Willow Creek. (More) On June 15th, we’ve asked Dr B to go back to the beginning and give us a foundational theology of community – followed by a time of Q&A. This is like getting to ask Obi Wan to teach about the force. Such an honor to have him with us!
We can’t overstate how influential Mindy has been on The Practice. Her wisdom, teaching, and spirit has lead our community in many ways, and anchored us in the “unforced rhythms of Grace”. (More) On June 22nd, Mindy will teach from her book STIR, and lead us in practices for each of the three stages of spiritual growth. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work! Check out this description of STIR to learn more…
If you haven’t joined us yet, please do!
Grace and peace,
Next week, I’m excited to share a big update about The Practice. By God’s grace, some things have really come together over the last three weeks and we’re getting ready to explore our first shared “rule of life”. Two reasons I’m writing this today…
First, if you want to catch up on the last three weeks of The Practice, we’re making the teachings available for free download. (I’ve really wrestled with this because lecture is such a small part of our experience; I don’t want to reduce The Practice to a set of spoken ideas.) However, since we’re building our next season on the last three weeks, we want everyone to have the same foundation! So please dig in…
And all the practices for these weeks are at practicetribe.com/blog.
Second, if you live anywhere near us, this Sunday is a big gathering. Please join us! We’ll reflect on where God has brought us, engage a couple practices that align us with His Kingdom, and share a vision for the future. God willing, much of the next three months will spring from this Sunday. Even if you’ve never been to a Practice, this could be a great introduction. (Especially if you listen to a teaching or two above!)
As always, we gather in the Willow chapel from 7-9pm on Sunday nights. You’re always welcome to practice with us.
Grace and Peace,
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.
“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