Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Theological Death of an Alaskan Virtue

Though there is much that I don’t remember from my first year at Multnomah Bible College in Portland Oregon, there is one thing that stuck with me. We were sitting in philosophy class with professor Lubeck, talking about ways that people view the world and he made an observation. “Here in the Northwest, we are probably the most independent people on the planet… except possibly Alaskans.” To which I promptly agreed and responded with “Except definitely Alaskans.” Alaskans know what I’m talking about. There seems to be something about the “Last frontier” that attracts people who want to live independently. Not only that but the spread out, often rural, lifestyle seems to promote independence. To apply a little bit of generalization, it’s every Alaskan man’s dream to own his own snowplow, 4-wheeler and hunting gear so that he doesn’t need anyone else to help him live the way he wants to.
Ironically, it was in another of Lubeck’s classes in my last semester at Multnomah that this Alaskan cultural virtue of independence took a serious hit. The class was Advanced Bible Study Methods. One in which our method of learning was to dissect the book of Ephesians with a scalpel to the point where that frog that we dissected in my Jr. High science lab looked healthy by comparison. I ran across a problem in this process though. I found that dissecting Ephesians was remarkably similar to attempting to fillet a bucket of tar with a Swiss army knife. It has these annoying sticky themes that run all the way through it to the point that every time you take a slice at it in order to pull of a chunk, you glance away only to look back and find it inseparably interwoven to the pieces before and after it by an annoying theme like unity and togetherness. It was that unity that wouldn’t let me separate anything.

One of the first things Paul does is lay out the master plan:

 “…to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
And if that weren’t bad enough, he goes on to built and incredibly robust theology of the church saying things like,

“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for he church which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

And then give it even more significance by saying,

“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (2:21-22 emphasis mine)

And in case that were not enough, he goes on to say things like,

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (4:3-6 emphasis mine)

Are you getting the idea of oneness yet?

There’s also this annoying term “together” that is used 16 times in many different ways to show that everything we do as a church must be together.

But why, what is it that is so important about being one, being unified and using our gifts together? Well, in order to help us see this, Paul backs off and asks us to look at the church from a high orbit where we can see what Professor Tom Kopp recently called, “The forgotten middle.” Us westerner’s have an easy enough time believing in humanity and things made of mass, and we do ok at believing in God, but for some reason we like to ignore the spiritual realm in-between.  Paul, however, had no problem treating other spiritual beings as a reality and thus we read about the mystery of the Gospel that is now revealed.

“His intent was that now, thought the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (3:10-11)

Can you see as I have that the unity of the church is not just so we can all have warm fuzzys and a nice comfortable place to go on Sunday where people will like us? It seems that the church is more of a cosmic thing and her unity is how God has chosen to display his superior wisdom to the spiritual rulers and authorities that we can’t usually see. So we can talk about the social gospel and how we need to show the world God’s nature by our love for one another, but do we realize that in doing so, we are also displaying God’s wisdom and nature to the rest of creation that we may or may not even be aware of; something beyond the limitations of physics and mass.

It aught to be enough motivation that our neighbors all around us are thirsting for the living water and without unity our living water looks like just another mud puddle. But if that’s not enough, we aught to remember that as Christians we have been made a part of the Church, God’s plan to show the world, including the spiritual realm, his grace, mercy and love. If we do not stand firm and fight for the unity of the church against the spiritual forces that face us, (The armor passage in Eph 6) then we are doing a poor job indeed of reflecting the nature of God.
Thankfully, Grace is a part of that nature.

So here I am a white Alaskan to the core with the cultural value of independence ingrained deeper in my bones than their own marrow. Then this annoying guy named Paul starts telling me that in order to fulfill my ultimate purpose in life, it is not an option, but in fact it is required that I become as interdependent in the church as a catcher’s hand is with his eye while intercepting a 100mph fastball.

I am learning interdependence as I have been raising support for the past few months to go and serve in Port Alsworth at Tanalian Leadership Center. As I rely on my support team, I am able to go and they rely on me to carry out the work that they have committed to being a part of. It’s a humbling experience, knowing I can’t do it alone. Yet I something tells me that the money and prayer are only the start of a long list of areas that God wants to apply this lesson to. I will have much to learn as I integrate into the TLC staff team, Lake Clark Bible Church and the community as a whole.

I also expect to learn from the students who I am supposed to be teaching since native culture as a general rule is much more founded on community values and interdependence. While I’m at it, perhaps I should learn a bit about “the forgotten middle” In fact, why don’t I just re-define what it means to be Alaskan based on some of the cultural values that existed in my beautiful state long before us white people even got here. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Pane of Suffering

The body of God, hung on a cross
Nail pierced arms, blood stained feet

It’s a terrible and beautiful suffering
Redeeming forever the souls of men

Through this bloodstained pane of suffering
We see the glory of God in love
The author of all that is, Himself
Who came to die, to reconcile
He could not let his image fall
Down an endless spiral of sin and death
So down to flesh he came to die
To suffer the punishment we should take

He conquered death and returned to the father
But his body remains on earth to live

Breathed to life by his very own spirit
His hands now reach, his arms extend
To reach a world that hates his name
A world of brokenness sin and pain

Should we be surprised when the hand is pierced?
Or recoil from pain at the sight of the spear?
Or invite a view of God on a cross
Through a broken pane of suffering?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Oriented North

Life makes more sense when it’s oriented north. Even sinks that face south are confusing to me. Suddenly hot water comes from the east knob and cold from the west. Everything is backwards and confusing.
Every time I look at a map I feel the same way, it’s like playing mental twister trying to figure out what the heck is going on. But then when I get it spun around so that north on the map is north in the world, everything suddenly makes sense. East things are east, west things are west and north things are north.
My life here in Oregon is not so different. Bible college; the education, the experience, the people, none of it really makes sense till I spin it around and point it north.
I’ve never been called anywhere but Alaska. While many of my Alaskan friends are anxious to get out of Alaska, to travel the world to see and experience the world, I still have the same mindset as when I turned 16. My Grandma traditionally takes her grandchildren on a trip when they turn 16. I could have asked to go anywhere in the world! What did I want to see? Southeast Alaska, one part of the state that I love that I had not seen yet.
If you would have asked me in 2007 when I completed my Surveying education, what I wanted to do if I grew up I would have told you that I wanted to live and work in Alaska (rather broad don’t you think); in 2008, full time ministry in Alaska; In 2009, Ministry for the church in Alaska; In 2010, Ministry for the church in Alaska with the possibility of serving the native community; and now in 2011, I have a call to serve in Port Alsworth Alaska in a new ministry known as Tanalian Leadership Center. It is a ministry, centered around building up Native leaders to serve in their own communities and churches…

It’s amazing what happens when you walk with God, not knowing where he’s taking you but following one step at a time.

I am especially amazed that he has provided me with this opportunity when I consider the three primary loves in my life. (not counting individual people because that’s a whole different category)
1.     Jesus Christ: The one who has redeemed me from a pointless self centered life and called me to participate as a character in his epic plan of redemption, the greatest story of all time. There is nothing and no one I love more that Him.
2.     His church: His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all, the physical manifestation of his presence in this world. She is broken and hurting from living in this world, but she bears the image of her creator and He is making her beautiful. I would / will give my life to be a part of that.
3.     Alaska: My home, the last frontier, the vast and untamed land that will try to kill you. That land where a man can still be swallowed up by the wilderness and reminded of just how small he really is. The land that carries in its heart the people that I love.

I have never fit in Portland and I don’t suspect I ever will. As Josh Turner would say, “I live in the city but don’t fit in.” I can love the people here, but I don’t feel very useful. The majority of my skills and experience are completely irrelevant in this environment. I feel a little like a polar bear in Hawaii.

Needless to say, it would be easy for someone like me to get confused and disoriented in a place like this when suddenly I have be south when everything in my life has pointed north. Thankfully God’s compass is still working and he knows where he’s going.

So now, here I am finishing my degree in Bible / Theology and Pastoral Ministries and Tanalian Leadership Center needs a guy who is single, has Bible education and a heart for discipleship. Preferably with vocational skills outside of ministry and experience living and working in Alaska, especially among natives. Hm, Check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check.

Life does make more sense oriented north. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Who says Numbers is boring?

The mob is coming closer. They shake their fists and shout in an indiscernible roar of anger. Moses and Aaron stand alone in front of the tabernacle calling upon every ounce of their strength to stand their ground in the face of the angry throngs approaching them. They know that their only hope now is YHWH himself so, although their instincts told them otherwise, they fell on their faces before the tent of meeting begging God to stave off the impending disaster.
Among the shouts that were now drawing nearer they could just distinguish some of the accusations that were being hurled at them.
“You killed Korah!”
“Our son’s blood is on your heads!”
Moses and Aaron knew the truth of the matter, Korah and his son’s had rebelled and God swallowed them up in the earth to make an example of them. Now, what was supposed to put a fear of God in the hosts of Israel had only stirred them up to a more massive rebellion. The situation seemed beyond hope.
Now both Moses and Aaron could feel the sickening feeling in their stomachs as they sensed the wrath of God building in the tent behind them. Finally, it could no longer be contained and Moses looked up to see a wave of people falling dead. It started at the back of the mob and began rolling toward them, bodies falling like so many dominoes in a gust of wind.
Moses yelled at Aaron,
“Quick! Get the fire and the incense from the tabernacle and run out and make atonement for the people before YHWH slays them all!”
Aaron hurried to do as he was instructed and Moses watched as the wave of falling people and the lone figure bearing only a smoking censor rushed together toward the inevitable collision.
As Aaron pushed through the angry and now confused throngs, fear surged through his veins as he realized that he was rushing to make atonement for an undeserving and wicked people without an ounce of blood to shed on their behalf. He knew the law. The blood of an innocent must be shed for the sin of the people. And he wondered as he ran if it would be his own blood this time in the absence of a sheep or goat. But there was no time for second guessing now, his people were falling by the thousands and he must stop it no matter the cost. 
Finally the wave and the priest met and the wave stopped like a swell against the cliffs. The remaining people drew back from those who had fallen and there stood one man in the gap between 14,700 corpses and the remnant of the congregation who were now silenced in fear.
Having stopped the plague, Aaron slowly walked back to where Moses was standing and wondered to himself, “What kind of lamb could possibly be sacrificed take away the sin of these people and still allow his life to be spared?”

Based on Numbers 16:41-50.
Some interpretive liberties were taken, but I hope that you will not find it too far from the truth. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Deed to a Church

So apparently this one is a work in progress. I had a different picture of a church to go with it, but this time down the highway I found the church that I really wanted for the picture. It had been bugging me all summer because on the way north we blew by it and I knew I wanted a picture but we didn't stop. This time I got it. So here's the latest manifestation of the poem that probably has the most effect on me out of my whole collection. 

I am blown away by God's forbearance and mercy.
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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Beauty in Treachery

“The Fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”
Something we’ve all heard but none of us really likes if we think about it too much. It kinda throws a monkey wrench in our loving, peaceful God picture. How is there room for our Psalm 23 God in this? Oh wait… What’s that line in Psalm 23?
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Aww, that’s nice, how do they comfort you?
Well, I know that one swing of the staff can crush the skill of an attacking wolf.
And I know that the rod is used to break the legs of wayward lambs so they will have to be carried for a time and learn to follow their shepherd. I suppose that’s a strange sort of comfort. A little scary too I have to admit.

One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen is also one of the most dangerous. Alaskans often warn visitors, as they head out to experience the state, by saying,

“Be careful, this state is trying to kill you.”

But there is one particular area that will do it very quickly. The Alaska Range is a stretch of mountains over 500 miles long and nearly a hundred miles wide, which spans across the heart of Alaska and contains the tallest mountain in North America at 20,320ft. The craggy and near eternally snow covered peaks jut upward out of millions of tons of Ice. Glaciers that never melt, but as fast as they grow, they creep down toward the valleys giving birth to frigid torrents that tumble and fall down the steep slopes and cliffs to the valley below to join the river in its long journey to escape the mountains.
As I fly over the range, soaking in its breathtaking grandeur, I always ponder what would happen if the engines in this little plane suddenly quit…
If somehow we managed to dodge the rocky peaks on the way down and put the plane on a glacial slope, then managed to avoid the deep crevasses that offer a gaping invitation to the heart of the glacier, then the adventure would begin. We’re still a hundred miles from nowhere, perched on the frigid, barren mountainside.

Oddly, however, I find a strange sort of comfort as I soar over the wild and unforgiving terrain. Because, if rocks cry out, then these mountains scream the name of my God.

“I lift my eyes up, unto the mountains. Where does my help come from?
My help comes from YHWH who made the heavens and the earth.”

If the creator of all this is my refuge and strength, then what do I have to fear?

In the words of C.S. Lewis,

"He is not a tame lion."

Standing on Trimble Glacier looking up at the Alaska Range

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Parable of Time

There once was a father who had two sons and a daughter. One Christmas he decided to give them all a gift. When Christmas morning came, the children all ran downstairs excited to open their gifts. As they tore into the packages, each of them pulled out their very own chunk of time.
The gifts, however, all had different amounts of time in them so it wasn’t long before the children were fighting and complaining about how unfair it all was. The father just shushed them all and quietly explained that they shouldn't be concerned because when the time ran out, then he would give them the real gift that he’d been waiting all his life to give them. This pleased the children and soon the ones with the least amount of time were bragging and the others were jealous. The father then shushed them all again and explained that it was not so much about how much time they had, but about how well they spent it that mattered.
The next morning each of the children got up and began using their time. The first child thought to himself, “I don’t have much time to spare, I’d better start getting everything I can in the time I’ve got so it doesn’t go to waste.” And so he did. before long he had a big mansion all to himself and a very nice sports car.
The second son saw how the first had spent his time and thought to himself, “how foolish! I’m going to use my time for something far more important than myself. Dad will be proud!” And so he began to go out and give away all of his time to others. Soon everyone knew him as the man who gives away time. He was very well loved by everyone and they gave him many awards for his generosity.
As all this was happening, the daughter, who’s name was Sophia, watched how her two brothers used their time and thought to herself, “hm… those are good ways to use time, but I wonder what dad really meant when he told us that we should spend our time well?” And so she took her time and every day should give some of it to her father. They would spend their time together laughing, talking and even weeping over the two brothers that they barely knew. Over time, they learned to love each other as fathers and daughters should. After spending this time with her father, she began to understand what it meant to use her time well and so she would go out and spend the rest of her day in a way that made him smile.  

Although this parable has nothing to do with my family,
I thought this picture illustrated the relationship well.
My Dad is a great example of someone who spends quality time with his children.

I wrote this parable while sitting out in the woods enjoying the gift of time that was graciously and thoughtfully given to me by several of my good friends Laura and Rob. I had thought that I was giving that evening to Laura, but she was sneaky and seeing what I needed, gave it right back to me and literally told me to "get lost" :) As I sat out there enjoying the time, I realized that I was becoming like the sons in this parable toward God. I was using all my time up either for myself or giving it away. As I thought about it, this parable came to mind and I began to realize just how much I had missed those times with God. 
Also on this trip, I had the time and opportunity to do some artistic photography which you can see the results of here. https://picasaweb.google.com/Kroto1/TheGiftOfTime#
Hope you enjoyed it and I hope that you will make the time to get to know your God before someone has to force it on you. :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

They Say Time Flies

They say time flies;
I wonder what they mean?

Does it fly like a water droplet birthed at the precipice of the falls only to plunge faster and faster till it meets its immanent end? 

Sometimes it feels like it.

Does time fly like a sparrow flitting from bush to tree,
that I can only follow and hope to see?

If that’s the case, a bird in the hand would be nice.

Does time fly like a jet through the atmosphere,
 just taking it’s load from there to here?

I think I’d rather miss that flight.

Or does time fly like an eagle soaring on the breeze,
Stopping to rest in the tops of great trees?...

I’ve always wanted to fly.