Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Idolatry of Form, Worship of Norm: Ignorance, Fear & St. Dogbert Wisdom

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I never planned to be an idolater when I grew up.
And I never became one full-blown until I became a pastor.
Full and explicit confession; I like form too much.
By default we tend to focus on …and thus inevitably worship …forms instead of norms.
Without (literally) divine intervention we wind up unintentionally at (if not autobahnning our way on purpose) our destination:
idolatry of form.
Not our destiny:
the norm, normal and normative Great Commissional lifequest.
“It’s good for us to be here, Lord.”
Uh, oh. Sounds good and spiritual. After all, it is technically a prayer.
And often it would be an appropriate response.
But in this case, it is death.
The well-meaning (?) saint who uttered it was well off the mark.
In fact, he only said it out of his personal ignorance; and the corporate systemic fear of the group/church he was hanging with.
(That's a fascinating assessment of why he misspoke. So hold on to it for a few minutes; it may indeed be the only reason believers ever misspeak and land off the mark,;and thus an incredibly handy hermeneutic for self-diagnosis).
Personal ignorance.
Corporate fear.
At least that’s the twofold interpretation of Peter’s “It’s good for us to be here, Lord.” quote/prayer/idolatry of form in Mark 9:6:
"He said this because he (as an individual) did not know what to say; and because they (as a group) were so frightened."
But Jesus seems to show up on Mounts of Transfiguration only to commission-kick us into the demon-infested valleys.
For the next verse (14) and vista after the mountaintop experience was just that.
Pete and the diciples were to apply what they had seen and heard on the glorious mountaintop in the "real world" marketplace. To backtrack and look back would be not only "idolatry of the form" but "to shrink back into destruction" (Hebrews 10:26).

Not to mention missing the fun and form of ministry that awaits any that "tear the curtain down and bring the Altar to the ground." (lyric to the 77s classic bombblast: "What was in That Letter?")
God is on the move, out task is to move with the movement.
But I'd rather stay "in church" (a "place" Jesus never commanded us to go), and "build three shrines: one for Jesus, one for Elijah..."

More often than not, Jesus is subversively moving us into the valley to give away life; to heal demonized kids;
to be missional in the marketplace and not (just on) the Mountain.
But wait, is there no place to just be "in worship?"..as the Scripture says to “Be still and Know that I am the Lord."?

Of course....but in that contract and context of that Quietist comamnd is the activist second half of that same sentence (Isaiah 46:10)...“so that My Name will be evangelized in all the earth."
The only reason God takes us to mountains of glory is to "glorify" the valley.
The real glory, which we seem to want, is not "in the church," but in the world:
"The whole earth (not 'church') is full of his glory."
We can take the mountain and prayer closet with us, you know. They are portable.
Monastic and missional go well together; indeed they are the rhythm we must listen for and live out. "Our monastery is our backpacks," a nu-monastic nun once told me.

But we prefer (not surprisingly) our personal ignorance. We defer to (surprisingly) our coroprate fear. It's familiar, comfortable...and besides we might get to see Jesus light up again!
Context is everything.
If Jesus does light up, its only becausde he and we are the light of the world.
He never claimed to be the light of the church.
"Joy to the church, the Lord has come...."
In fact, only worship is missional.
Or conversely, as John Piper suggests, “Mission exists because worship doesn’t.”
So back to the norm (being greatly-commissional); there’s a reason it's designed to be...well, normative.
But Form (wanting "worship" "church" or "revival" to look or last a certain way more than we want to follow Jesus into ministry in the valley), when it becomes normative and (literally) "formative" actually prevents us from worshipping the Capital N "Norm" (God).…
Hey I hear the heresy hunters already “He’s starting a cult; actually suggesting we worship a god named Norm!"

Personal ignorance.
Corporate fear.
This inevitable entanglement of personal and corporate issues is a microsm for the wisdom of great individual people or churches meshed with the wisdom of the connection to the Wider Body. Microcosm needs macrocosm and macrocosm bleeds microscosm.
Both Steve Taylors speak articulately and artfully to the dilemma. The singer/songwriter/producer S.T. has lyrically lamented about the "Meltdown at Madame Toussaud's' and that "This Disco Used to Be a Cute Cathedral."
"Yet when churches opt for oneness with the universal church, then the majority voice wins. Nothing can change. Unique identities are at risk of being lost. Rarely do innovations or minority reports float to the surface.
This is a problem in the emerging church. A Dilbert cartoon says it well. Dogburt recommends 'forming a separate group to pursue disruptions.' This suggests that separation is needed for innovation to occur...the dream of Dogburt is immense: 'a glorious place, fully funded, amazing ambience, brilliant people, free from democracy!'..
..The emerging church meets in a number of ways..(but)...it's time to get missionary"
-Steve Taylor, "The Out of Bounds Church," pp. 7-8, 10)
We can and must wrestle with loaded and leaded questions about individual vs. group.
Though there is a great book about "The Wisdom of Crowds," there is another equally prophetic book about the evil of Groupthink. Basically, there is great wisdom in a group..IF that group is the Body. If it's not, it's a "committee of buzzards." (the actual official term for a group of buzzards....whuch immediately exegetes the phrase "church committee").
Committees are buzzards...they steal, kill and destroy. They worship Form. But the Glorious Group called the Body is more like a buunch of rhinos, and should be the norm:
Rhinos moving together at full speed are known as a crash. Even when they’re just hanging around enjoying the watershed, they’re called a crash because of their potential. You’ve got to love that. I think that’s what we’re supposed to be. That’s what happens when we become barbarians and shake free of domestication and civility. The church becomes a crash. We become an unstoppable force. We don’t have to pretend we know the future. Who cares that we can see only thirty feet ahead? Whatever’s at thirty-one feet needs to care that we’re coming and better get out of the way.

We need to move together as God’s people, a barbarian tribe, and become the human version of the rhino crash. The future is uncertain, but we need to move toward it with confidence. There’s a future to be created, a humanity to be liberated. We need to stop wasting our time and stop being afraid of what we cannot see and do not know. We need to move forward full force because of what we do know.
(Erwin McManus)
Community crashes us into mission. Mountains are missional. Form leads to Norm.
Yet as the church, we are obviosuly still afraid (personally) and ignorant (corprately) to even enter the real world.
But the joke's on us; we have already entered it…when we were born. Being born again did not at all yank us out of it.
“In the world, but not of it...but not out of it yet either," as Leonard Sweet translates.
Personal ignorance and corporate fear attempt to keep us holed up in the hotel and holy huddle. Jesus loves us so much he prefers we live in hell.
At least hell on earth.
So his will (and mountain) be done on earth/hell as it is in mountain/heaven.
It is tough to untwist the Greek grammar of Mark's spin on Peter's problem. Was it a twofold problem (personal ignorance AND corporate fear)? Is it personal ignorance LEADING TO corporate fear? Or corporate fear leading to personal ignorance.
The only truly biblical answer is yes.
We need to bomb both chicken and egg without worrying about which came first.
It's all a vicous circle/cycle and feedback loop.

Peter should have simply declared himself sick of the spin cycle and jumped off;
landing square on the street; in the real world; marketplaced.
A pastor friend of mine lives in a city where he feels the "official" citywide pastors prayer meeting has become ingrown "good old boys club"; even evidencing telltale signs of the dreaded disease of koinonitis.
Now how could anyone complain that pastor from across the city actually get together and pray? That in itelf is thrilling (as I know, it happens in our city, thank God!).
But that in itself is Form and Death.
The Good Samritan was recruited because the clergyman was late to the pastors prayer meeting. God, as Bono has suggested, will use anyone who raises their hand to volunteer.
“Thank you; God, that this prayer meeting shows the city that we are unified" is apparently a commom prayer at the meeting. Sounds good and spiritual. And often would be the good news. But my friend fears it is...
...Personal ignorance and corporate fear.
For this reason, my friend is about to suggest the group "de-mountain" and "de-form" the meeting by moving it down the street to a coffee shop in a needy neighborhood.
He is afraid that suggestion will cost him his spot on the board.
But since he tells me another common prayer at the meeting is "Dear God, send revival to our city; and start with our pulpits and sermons, and take it to the streets"..
..and since, with all due respect, that order is exactly backwards..
I am afraid I would vote with him for the new form.
The alterntive is to be still and know that the old form is god.

Wolfgang Simson is usually right:
"Our only problem is doing the new in the power of the old.”
Leonard Sweet is usually right on:

"It could be for the first time in history, God is more active in the world than the church."

I ams o proud of our sister church in Oakdale, California.

They were brave enough to shut down an old form that had become formless: The longstanding (Six years...doesn't that make it an annual event till Jesus returns?) men's retreat.

I am sure some church members though the glory had departed.

Actually they are correct:

The glory has departed, just as it is supposed to. We are not meant to live on the mountain and retreat. We are called to live first and foremost in the one place scripture promises teh glory cloud is thickest: The whole earth.

That makes it an advance toward the Norm; not a retreat to the form.

As Reggie McNeal (and I) often have to say:

"Don't hear what i'm not saying."

I am not saying cancel all "worship events" in "sacred buildings."

I am not saying all men's retreats should self-destruct.

Actually, I am close to saying both. But the real point at this point is:

The norm and form of church in the era we live in should be far more much more missional, "worldly" and marketplaced.

And I've been to the top.

For one, to the top of the Andes. For one of the most glorious mountaintop (to the tune of 17,000 feet) prayer meetings I ever experienced (Read all about it here).
I've been to the Brownsville Revival, the Toronto Blessing.
Thank God those two "movements' have wisely morphed, downsized and caught new and missional forms.
The only alternative is to build three monuments and let the world go to hell.
I have lived in Wilmore, home of the famous 1970 Asbury Revival.
In Wilmore, some well-meaning folks pray...to this day:
"Lord, do it again, just like you did in 1970!"
It'll be great of he does; yet I believe I can actually promise he won't.
Form (wineskins...see this)..need constant renewing.
I've been to Azusa Street.

There's nothing there but a marker.
And that’s not a bad thing.
It’s in the street..
"When the forms of an old wineskin are dying, " Graham Cooke often says, "the new forms are created by those who are not afraid to be insecure."
Give me the holy insecurity of being dropped into the demon-possessed valley and challenge to do greater works than Jesus ever did. That trumps the "glory" of maintaining (beyond its expiration date) the glory of any mountaintop appearance of Jesus.
But I say this out of personal ignorance and corporate fear.
So I need a few more minutes on the mountain before I move out into mission.
But I won't succumb to that satanic temptation.
Jesus is waiting to meet me in the "new" form and norm.
"...so the disciple descended the Mount of Transfiguration...and immediately found...a demonized child"

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