Headlines from First Thoughts

Monday, November 29, 2010

"We've never done it that way before" would not make a good jingle for the mall merchants. #Advent blog:

The calendar from late November to mid-December usually answers one question for most East Tennesseans: "What did we do last year?" If you look at your calendar today, it's probably very similar to the one last year. Even if you did nothing last year, and the same this year, you've carried on a tradition.

But Isaiah asks us to think differently even about tradition. He knew even as a Jerusalem priest, tradition, annual feasts, celebrations, and especially the tradition of apathy were not nearly enough to get people ready for change and hope. In most cases, traditions just blind people further. Religious types tend to repeat traditions and keep the status quo for fear of losing what they know and for upsetting those they perceive have always liked it this way. "We've never done it that way before" would not make a good jingle for the mall merchants or a song on the all-Christmas music station.

Isaiah knew, and we know, that in order for Advent work, God must do something that we've never seen before. And we must respond in a way that we've never tried. Yesterday, we learned from Isaiah 2:1-5, in order to climb the mountain of the Lord, we'll need to check our weapons at security never to pick them up again.

When the light shined out of the cave of Bethlehem, down the mountain of the Lord, and drew people unto himself, God was asking for us not only to shed our political weapons of war but also our religious weapons of tradition. From Isaiah's perspective, the only traditions worth doing this month are the ones that cause us to shed our baggage and help us climb the mountain of the Lord with the things God really needs from us.

Like mountain climbers, we need people we can trust, whom we can tie onto as we climb the mountain. When we reach the summit, we'll need to offer the only gift that God wants-- our lives.

Perhaps you've never tried this, but Jesus' mother Mary could teach you a song or two about that. And in order for this to work, we're going to need some group to try.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Climb the mountain for #Advent10 @fbcknox @summitchallenge @robertdickie Blog:

Long before there were carols, Black Friday, nativity sets, and greenery, prophets saw a picture of a new way of living. In Isaiah 2:1-5, the picture included a large mountain that nations could stream to, settle cases before the Divine Judge, and return home to plow their land in peace.

He was not the first to depict a world at peace. Our modern attempts from UN millennium development goals, NATO "peacekeeping" operations, judgments issued from the World Court at the Hague, or peace treaties signed at Camp David came from ideas, real and imagined. They only plunge us further, however, into blindness toward the one Light that could save us. Every human attempt to solve the nations' problems becomes an exercise in the blind leading the blind deeper into the abyss because they leave out the one thing that Isaiah included. It was the sense that the one thing that could save us is not us. We are being called by the Creator to a place not of our own design but of God's. The only thing that could possible save the world is not a thing at all, but rather a Light from God given to the world.

Isaiah reminds us of our condition and our hope. We are people "walking in darkness," and God has shined this light from a mountain. We are so far removed from the source, however, the light appears to be one of just many stars in a galaxy of options in our world. What the world needs, and the nations need, more than anything else is a group so committed to the Light, they are willing to begin the climb up the mountain.

In modern climbing up the highest elevations such as Kilimanjaro, Rainier, and Everest, the last ascent begins around 1:00 a.m. The ascent and return to camp can take 13-18 hours. Storms roll in around 2:00 p.m. A mountain climber at the summit would be a human lightning rod with all of his attached metal. So the climbers carry only what they need, begin the ascent at night, and hope for the light of the moon and stars to guide them. Sometimes they rope together to help one another. The person in the lead will take the first steps, anchor into the mountain, turn around, and shine a headlight back so that the team can see where they are walking and listen for directions from the leader as they climb.

Our journey of Advent is a climbing expedition toward the summit of God's mountain. Unlike the kinds of trips we normally take during this season, we will need to pack differently. We don't need presents, decorations, lights, and ornaments to go "over the river and through the woods." We need to pack only what we need and take people we can tie onto for the last ascent to the summit.

On the climb, the only traditions that can help us are the traditions that train us to move toward the light, not leave us safely blinded in the past. We don't need to repeat what we did last year during this season for the sake of carrying on the past. Even the religious crowd of Isaiah's day (and Jesus') had plenty of things they did the previous year. We can't expect our possessions, traditions, people, occupations, and things to be the same when we're finished with this journey. If we move toward the light, life as we know it will never be the same.

Thankfully we have some examples of the way this really works. Magi saw the star and moved toward it. Joseph changed his plans when an angel spoke to him in a dream. And we have a rising star to guide us. So let's not wait any longer. Let's climb the mountain.

(Many thanks to Robert Dickie and the 7 Summit Challenge team for their beautiful pictures of the last part of their climb on Kilimanjaro.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Come to the light of a rising Star during #Advent 10 @fbcknox Blog:

Advent makes the rather shocking announcement that, this year, things will be different. That somehow, some way, before Christmas arrives, we will be ready for what Immanuel is going to do, to be with us. This of course is not how we schedule it. We would just prefer for Jesus to come to us while we repeat what we did last year. That is why we decorate, to make room in our homes for him to come. That is why we wrap presents, to give gifts to him when he comes. That is why we sing, so that when Jesus shows up again, he will appreciate our music. Hardly.

Unfortunately, the calendar, seasons, and annual celebrations more often than not inoculate our senses. Between the bowl games, Christmas letters, final exams, and travel, we assumed we could go through all this along with everything else and be ready for the divine presents to be left on December 25th. But that's now how Christmas works, and that's why we need Advent.

Advent is a liminal season, a thin place between the time when we say "Jesus has come," and "Jesus will come again." Most of our carols, traditions, and celebrations reinforce the assumption that if we wait and urge "Emmanuel to Come," He will just break through what we normally do this time of year. But prophets, Mary, Joseph, and Magi, saw things differently and responded differently. Instead of sitting back, they moved.

It seems like it was just yesterday, nine months ago really, that there was a rather shocking announcement to a girl barely old enough to date let alone be married. She was having a baby. Her husband had doubts. But all of this sort of fit the way things worked in his family-- surprise announcements to women and men who least expected to be instruments of God's grace. In case that was not surprising enough, their preachers missed the prediction. Magicians followed a rising star to be some of the first to find the King. Mary and Joseph relocated, some babies died. As Matthew remembered it, the whole episode gave "new beginnings" a whole new meaning for families and changed the "powers that be" in another political family.

We don't need Advent to tell us that something is not right with the world. We have the endless cycle of breaking news to do that. We don't need Advent to give us a countdown clock to Christmas. Your local retailer knew that right after Halloween. We do need Advent so we will come differently, as the Magi did, "to bow down and worship him." We need this month so that we will relocate our lives as Mary and Joseph did as willing instruments to the divine summons of grace.

The good news for us is that we get a do-over. We get another chance to come before God arrives, as Albert Delp suggests, to put things back where God placed them. To help us, we have a few voices and some music. Isaiah invites us to check our weapons at security, leave behind the bags we never needed in the first place, and move toward the mountain of Zion. On just an ordinary day of work, John the Baptist challenges the "powers that be" as well as the people whom we empowered to come down to the river. The children dancing in the marketplace invite us to let go of ourselves and spontaneously burst with joy, frivolity, and dancing. The magi tell us that even the stars can lead you home if you know Whom you're looking for.

Before you untangle another light, pose for another Christmas picture, purchase another fruitcake, or send another card, watch the prophets, angels, Magi, and a rising star. This time, Come.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2 Homeless women stay @fbcknox in February & have a home by Spring. @knoxtyp Blog:

First Baptist partners with Family Promise of Knoxville to provide shelter to homeless families for one week each quarter. Connie (top left) and Kim (bottom left) stayed with us on the Mezzanine in February and now live in an apartment. First Baptist gives through the budget to support Family Promise. Our volunteers fed these guests and spent the night with them. The resources you have given through the budget and your volunteer hours have made a huge impact on their lives. Here's a report from Connie on how they are doing now:

“Thank you Family Promise for giving Kimberly and I an environment where we could just breathe, a place that was and still is full of support and patience.
Kimberly and I received so much support and caring from each of our host churches and their volunteers, sometimes it was very overwhelming. I didn’t think it was possible for people who didn’t know us could care so very much.

"During our stay, we met wonderful people we will never forget. It was exciting to see who our host family for the night would be. Who would have thought Kim and I would meet a man who designed the lens for the Hubble Telescope, or someone from Scotland?

"The overall experience was a positive one. The room Kim and I had felt like home. The little gifts meant a lot to Kimberly, especially the monogrammed pillow case from one church and the pj’s with hearts all over from another. We cherish the memories.

"I now have my own apartment full of furnishings that someone gave to Family Promise. When I sit at the kitchen table and have morning coffee I look around and say to myself, 'I am Home. Kim and I are Home!' Thank you everyone!"

Connie and Kimberly

Monday, November 15, 2010

Thank you from Sabrina Ravanell, a face @fbcknox

Sammi (Sabrina) Thank-you-monial from First Baptist Church, Knoxville on Vimeo.

Sammi came to First Baptist Church with her family when they were active with the deaf congregation. Sammi got involved with the youth group at First Baptist and connected with others in the church. When it was time for Sammi to move on to college, the church surrounded her to provide support to help her succeed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thriving in Babylon: Essays in Honor of Chip Conyers @williamshiell chapter: "Share in the Joy"

From Wipf and Stock's website:
This delightfully multifaceted volume, comprised of thoughtful essays by an esteemed array of cultural critics, probes the intersection of Christian faith and culture to honor the memory of A. J. "Chip" Conyers, a remarkably ecumenical Christian scholar and cultural "warrior" whose premature death in 2004 cut short a remarkable career in teaching and writing. As those who knew him can attest, Conyers lived his life at the intersection of Christian theology and cultural concern with a singular blend of astuteness, gracefulness, and Christian conviction.

This festschrift, as esteemed theologian and Conyers's mentor J├╝rgen Moltmann indicates in the foreword, is intended to mirror Conyers's own commitment to incisive cultural criticism and theological faithfulness in the mold of the "great tradition." This is no small achievement even for so venerable a cast of scholars as the contributors to this volume, as Conyers crossed interdisciplinary boundaries—in a day of escalating hyper-specialization—with the greatest of ease. He was comfortable discussing contemporary church life or the christological controversy of the patristic era, Heideggerian hermeneutics or human dignity and the imago Dei, faith and the Enlightenment or the fatherhood of God, Catholic "substance" or Protestant reform.

Yet Conyers always did this through the lens of historic Christian orthodoxy. Though he was a most incisive student of culture, in a most refreshing way he steered clear of being co-opted by the currents of culture. Neither retreating into pious devotionalism nor opting for the theologically unreflective activism that has become so chic in our post-consensus climate, he embodied a theological perspective that blends responsible cultural engagement with eschatological hope.

The reader is sure to encounter the same blend in this festschrift, and to come away both challenged and edified toward fulfilling the message and hope of Conyers' life and work: to faithfully thrive in Babylon.

Pre-Order your Copy.

Wipf and Stock Publishers

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