Faith and Art

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly recently produced a news piece telling the story of artist Tobi Khan.  Kahn is an artist creating spiritual art addressing end of life emotions, deep spiritual desires, and filling a longing for sacred space.  He points to the Hebrew word “avodah” for his inspiration; the word meaning a single act bringing both work and worship together.

At NorthHaven Church, artist Don Schooler has empowered us to use art as a means by which to inspire and challenge our faith.  For example, this past Sunday, as I preached about the scribes bringing a woman before Jesus who had been caught in adultery (John 8), we had individuals walk to the front of the church placing a piece of paper with a confession written on it into a glass container, then covering it with a rock.  After each participant placed their rock inside the glass container, Don would pour another layer of colored sand over it demonstrating God’s grace is sufficient for all our sins.  It was a beautiful moment in the service that enhanced the message greatly.

Spiritual art has always been an enlightening practice for me.  Now, I cannot draw to save my life and my wife tells me I am the only person she has ever met that cannot paint a wall.  In addition, I cannot play an instrument and my voice sounds as though I were singing from a deep hole in the ground.  However, I choose art because of the practice of interpreting its meaning.  The beauty of any good art allows me the ability to lose myself inside the piece, creating a narrative begging for interpretation.  I love the stories created through interaction with art: stories that make me laugh, cry, and rage.  They are stories that stir the soul.

Tobi Khan and Don Schooler are artists that bring the “avodah” to life for us.  They bring the work of our faith journey into the sacredness of worshipping our Lord.  This week, find a museum, find a church, find a park where art can take you on a sacred journey through a narrative waiting for your presence.  That journey just might inspire you to do something great.

Pope Francis and Inclusivity

Pope Francis stirred the waters this week off the shores of Copacabana Beach, Brazil, declaring, “Who I am to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?  You can’t marginalize these people.”  Soon after those words left the pontiff’s mouth, a firestorm of debate erupted.

Did Pope Francis demonstrate a change in the Catholic church’s position on homosexuals? Or, was the pontiff just demonstrating his pastoral love for sinners?  There has been much stated and debated about Pope Francis’ words regarding homosexuals, but let’s for just a moment focus on the overarching element to his message, “You can’t marginalize these people.”

Regardless of the issue, marginalization has been a technique adopted by the church historically to bring division and destruction to others.  Whether a person is a homosexual, an immigrant, or an individual of deep conviction opposite our own, what good comes from marginalizing them on the fringes of the debate, the church, or the community?  Absolutely none.

Our first reaction to challenging issues like these is to often lash out with judgmental tones, concrete statements, and harsh rhetoric.  Pope Francis simply reminded the Christian world, we are not called – using the words of Jesus – “to condemn the world.”  We are simply called to love others as we ourselves would want to be loved.

Therefore, drawing from that simple conclusion reveals one of two things about us Christians: (1) We ignore the words of Christ or (2) we don’t love ourselves very much.  First, Christians have mastered the art of talking about Jesus with little regard to following what he actually said and did.  We are more concerned with what a person believes about Jesus (or more so about some cultural/political issue of the day) rather than how one mimics his life.  Without implementation of belief, belief alone is a shallow pond to wade.

Second, if the truth be known, we really don’t love ourselves all that much.  Yes, I know, we are called the most selfish generation to ever walk the earth, but that selfishness surfaces from a deep chasm of fear.  We fear rejection because of our imperfections, thus we marginalize others so we won’t be.  If only we could see ourselves as God sees us, then we might be able to see the world through his eyes as well.

The most shocking truth from Pope Francis’ remarks were not about homosexuals, but about our inability to include others in our lives.  That inability to be hospitable and inclusive says more about us than it does about anyone else.  Yes, we know we are called to love others, but we will do so at arms length, even pushing them to the fringes.  My prayer is simple, may we all find the spirit of inclusivity in order to love the world as we have been taught.

The Middle Way

There is a growing conversation talking place among Christians.  The conversation is more complex than I have time for in this blog post, but it essentially revolves around the question of how someone’s beliefs are connected to their behaviors and actions. What makes it even more interesting is that it is being asked within reports of a decline and rise of certain segments of the Christian faith.

The Associated Baptist Press recently reported on a Public Religion Research Institute survey examining the intersection of economics, politics, and faith.  While there is a decline in conservative ranks, there has been an upswing within progressive Christianity.  However, the largest gain is seen within moderate churches, where both moderate conservatives and moderate progressives attend.

The conversation begins within this context.  Conservatives, often times, concentrate on doctrine with their implementation mainly applied to individualistic moral issues.  Progressives, on the other hand, tend to think more socially attempting to connect their understanding of Scripture to a social moral applied within community.  Both approaches to being “Christian” are well meaning and have their place in the church, but it’s the moderate segment I want to write about today.

There appears to be two types of moderates emerging.  First, there is the type of moderate who attempts to live in both the conservative and progressive worlds.  Depending on which group they find themselves, they tend to allow their surroundings to influence their thinking and its implementation.  In addition, these moderates are seen, fairly or unfairly, as void of passion, stuck in the middle between analysis and almost doing something.  They are biblical and well-meaning, but tend to stop short in their conviction and/or its application.

Second, there is a type of moderate that stands for the emerging middle way.  Practicing faith in the middle is not a compromise between conservative and progressive views.  Neither is the middle way a failed attempt to chose between the other two.  On the contrary, the middle way is a middle path between the other roads.  The middle seeks to form their theological foundation upon the individual liberty of interpreting Scripture; analyzed and applied within the social context of community.  In other words, the middle way is a path for both personal and social faith.  The middle way is not a blend of conservative and social theology, but an emerging way to understanding the Bible and applying its truths within personal and social issues.

While some still remain skeptical of the middle way, I am hopeful that a new generation leads the future in connecting personal belief with social practice.  The gridlock found within the old paradigm of “conservative versus progressive” has grown extremely weary and unacceptably stale.  The middle way is not an easy road to travel, but rooted in biblical understanding and eyes wide open to the nuances of this world, the middle way can forge a path for Christianity to thrive in the future.

Jesus once said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14, NASB).  The middle way is a narrow road, but one that just might save our witness in the world.

Ecological Stewards

This morning I awoke to flashes of lightening, deep rolling thunder, and rain hitting my window.  As I lay in bed contemplating whether to check the weather on television, I thought to myself this is nothing but a mild summer thunderstorm rolling through the city.  However, after this last spring in Oklahoma I could not get out of bed fast enough to check the radar.  Living in Oklahoma and being a little bit of a weather junky, there is one thing I have grown confident in lately, the weather seems to be changing.

After getting out of bed and heading to work, I turned on my computer and read an article by NorthHaven’s very own Dr. Bruce Prescott about our moral obligation to address climate change.  Hummm….it seems God wants me to write something this morning.  And now I just found out that longtime Oklahoma City meteorologist Gary England will be retiring at the end of August.  OK, God, I get it.  I will post something.

Here is an exert from Dr. Prescott’s article at

The scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change is clear and unequivocal…..We have an obligation to God, to our children and our grandchildren, to all humanity and to the biodiversity of life on this planet to take immediate action to stop contributing to climate change…..Each one of us has a responsibility to do whatever we can do to reduce our own greenhouse gas footprint. Do whatever you can to stop contributing to climate change. Make this a burning issue when you are in the voting booth to elect leaders. The future of life on this planet depends on it.

Dr. Prescott challenges people of faith to take climate change seriously, especially given the reality we are stewards of God’s creation.  How we treat the world often offers evidence to the kind of theology we believe and practice.  There are some Christians who believe we are to rule over the world, as suggested in Genesis 26.  The Hebrew word used in this passage is radah, which means to rule over or to have dominion.  However, to rule over or to have dominion should never mean to rape.

Ruling over has a deep responsibility for care and stewardship.  In the second creation narrative of Genesis (2:4-25), we witness the Creator placing man into a garden with the instructions of “cultivating” and keeping” it (2:15).  The Hebrew word translated to cultivate is abad, which literally means to work or to serve.  These two accounts and words compliment each other as humans are called to cultivate and care for the world as its ruler and steward.  We are not given the right to do with it what we want, raping and pilfering its resources for our gain without any regard to consequences.  The earth, like us, was created by God.  Therefore, it too is a living organism.

As I listen to the rain drift away this morning, I am thankful today’s storms were nothing more than a nice rain with a noisy entrance.  However, the weather is changing globally.  As I have recalled before, you can ask all the scientists and meteorologists in the world, but I will always return to that Kenyan farmer looking out over his field.

Looking out over the dust collecting on his crops, taking an occasional glance towards the sky, he told me, “Pastor, the weather is changing.  The rainy seasons that have watered our lands for generations are no longer.  The weather has changed.”  For my Kenyan farmer friend, I hope to do what I can to help apply an ecological justice to this world for which I am called to be its steward.

Royal Baby

What’s the big deal?  Seriously, babies are born every day, what makes this one so special?  Prince William and Dutchess Kate seem like great people and all, but why is the world so caught up in the drama of the English monarchs?  As one of my sons indicated last night as we watched the ongoing news coverage, “Dad, I thought we had a revolution so we didn’t have to pay attention to all of this royalty stuff?”  Good question.

However, we must face facts.  The British monarchs are still fascinating to us because their historical DNA lives in our bones.  Yea, we “broke away” from the Empire a few hundred years ago, but they still remain a close cousin we like to hang out with during reunions, we vacation with every now and again, and we most assuredly want them around if we get into a fight.

Therefore, the reason we are so captivated by English royal babies being born is we recognize they are part of our past and future.  Like this baby boy’s father, grandfather, and grandmother, they have come to symbolize something to the world.  While there may only remain two superpowers in the world these days, it was the English Empire that last governed a large expanse of the world.  Granted, they symbolize a dark past for a large part of the world, but with this baby the monarchs can also symbolize a hopeful future.

Now, I am no student of modern day English monarchs, but there seems to be something evolving with the crown.  The current queen and her son represent an old crown, fading with tradition and tarnished by hierarchal dogma.   However, with William and now his son, we see a new monarch emerging.  The crown has changed and we have one person to thank for this new and fresh movement, the late Princess Diana.  Diana was real, genuine, and authentic.  She was a humble soul willing to walk beside the least of these in the world in hopes of bringing a better life for them.  She shaped her sons, William and Harry, and the crown into becoming more human and less royal.

Thus, this baby born yesterday has her blood flowing through him.  He has Kate’s lineage too, commoners like the rest of England and the world.  For the first time, we have a royal baby who possesses the potential to be a future king for all the people.  With his father’s and mother’s influence, he just may be the transitional monarch the world could respect.  There is a lot of hope for this young boy, a hope that just might bring smiles to the world. Well, he already has done that I know.

Lazy Summer Sundays

Yesterday was just about perfect.  First, my family and I went to church. We experienced a wonderful service and great fellowship with good friends.  Afterwards, instead of fighting the crowds and dropping more money than we should on food we decided to go home for lunch.  It was nothing fancy, just sandwiches and a few chips.  When lunch was complete, some of the Randalls took their Sunday afternoon naps while another Randall braved the heat to mow the yard (Can you hear the resentment in my voice?).

I know what you’re thinking, nothing too special so far, but what followed made the day for me.  Dripping with sweat and on the brink of heat exhaustion, I decided to take a dip in the pool.  As soon as my fingertips hit the water the other Randalls started waking from their afternoon hibernation.  One by one they all came out ready to enjoy some summertime sun and water with good ole’ dad.  We made up a pool game this weekend that was a lot like baseball but with some special rules for the pool.  We played and laughed until the sun began to peak behind the rooftops.  Then, the boys went inside while Missy and I sat out back on the patio and visited.  It was the perfect ending to an almost perfect day (still a little ticked at the whole nap thing).

There is nothing greater than lazy Sunday afternoons in the summer.  What did you and your family do?