Flights of Faith

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Are Your 2010 Projects?

I'm aiming for even more creativity in 2010! Anybody got some projects for the new year?

I'm gonna try and get some more writing out there. The blog, for sure. I'm also interested in rekindling my screenplay and short story writing. Also, I hope to write a few non-fiction projects. One guide to prayer for secularists and one book about my journey of faith in the university setting. May it be so.

Enjoy the run up to the new year, folks!

Friday, December 25, 2009

This Baby Is My Life: A Christmas Talk (Part Two)

So back to the offer: Christmas is not Christmas without us.

Mary provides a model for us here. She makes herself a servant of the Lord to birth Jesus and to make possible His Kingdom. I’m not saying God wouldn’t have found someone else if Mary had said no. But I’m saying LOOK! God chose someone! A human! To bring Jesus’ Kingdom into this world. Before Jesus had done anything, God wanted to involve all of humankind in this story of God’s Kingdom.

Joseph, the father of Jesus, went through this same thing. An angel visited him and told him about Mary.

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmauel, which means God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

A God who is with us? A God who is on our side. A God who we get to interact with? A God who, in these stories, at least, speaks to us through angels and dreams.

This is related to my concern about Christmas. Jesus can be made a distant figure pretty easily. He is perfect. He is always obedient to God. He can do miracles. So making Jesus a baby can seem pretty alienating. What can this baby do for my life?
Think about how different that question would be for someone like Mary or Joseph, the wisemen or the shepherd.

This baby is my life.

I bore him. I am called to take care of him. We saw his name in the stars and journeyed to find him. We were told of his arrival and came to see for ourselves.

These are stories of people who are involved. These are stories of people who had hope that this little baby could become something much more. They believed in the impossible.

So what is the whisper from God that we have been hearing. Do we have a project of impossibility that would usher in the hope found in baby Jesus? Have we partnered with God in a way that would bring about a Kingdom that will have no end? Are we involved?

Christmas is about Christ and it is about us too. It has to be about both otherwise God wouldn’t have sent Jesus to be the God with us.

Let us get involved in this Christmas mess, this Christmas gift, this Christ who loves us.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Involvement: A Christmas Talk (Part One)

Last year, I gave a Christmas talk on faith for a Christian fellowship. I posted it here. This year, someone asked me to speak for the Afro-American Cultural Center's Christmas talk. I thought I'd repost a version of it here. Here's part one. Merry Christmas!

There has always been something a bit peculiar about Christmas. Even as a kid, it felt weird that we gathered around a baby. We knew his name: Jesus. But what else do we know at this point?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Maybe it’s from Divinity school or just listening to several Christmas messages over time. Most Christmas sermons are about this simple fact: Christmas is not Christmas without Jesus. Usually, this is a message against consumerism, or a fuzzy non-specific holiday joy, or the busyness we find ourselves in and then we get hit with that scene – a long time ago. A manger with Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus. Three wisemen, shepherds, and angels. And baby Jesus in swaddling clothes. This image of Jesus then brings us back to the true reason for the season.

I agree with all of that. Jesus is the reason for the season. And in our society, that is always a helpful reminder. I just have a guess that maybe you’ve heard that too. So today, I want to suggest another fact.

Christmas is not Christmas without us.

Us, the humans gathered in this room. And even all of humanity from Jesus’ birth and before. Christmas is not Christmas without all of us.

On the surface, this might be a weird claim. No, Christmas is about Jesus. Baby Jesus is being called the Messiah, the Savior of the world. It’s obvious this baby is important.

And I guess that’s the question. Why is Jesus important?

There are so many things we might know about Jesus. Jesus is called the Messiah. Jesus is God’s son. Jesus is perfect.
But who has Jesus shown himself to be in our lives. Who do we trust him to be in our lives? I thought we could take a look at someone who didn’t know first – since that’s how the story starts.

26In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." 29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
34"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" 35The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37For nothing is impossible with God." 38"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38)

So, Mary knows nothing about Jesus. She didn’t know anything before this angel came and spoke to her. And what does she know afterwards? Well, Jesus is in her womb. I guess that is some personal information. He is the Son of the Most High. Ok, that sounds good too. Give him the throne of his father David? Ok, confusing for Mary. But she might have caught on that this meant this baby will have a Kingdom like the example of David. And this Kingdom will never end. Whoa. Intense stuff.

To be continued...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Tyranny of Guilt and the Possibility of Sincere Choices

I recently read an account of a Christian turned atheist. The dude actually was a pastor. One of his reasons for atheism seemed to be that the Christian message promoted guilt. Actually, he might not have realized that. Rather, someone asked him in a blog discussion if that might have been a critical part of his decision to declare resignation from the faith. He agreed.

Some of the "criteria" for a "Christian life" included loving strangers, giving to the poor, fleeing from sexual immorality, worshipping God, and forgiving others. This is all biblical and pretty central stuff. It's not like going to Bingo with the elderly among the church was a thing on his list (though that sounds like a fruitful endeavor!). Does he have a point? How can we, mere humans, ever live up to God's standard?

Again, this question seems to be a trap the Pharisees and Sadducees would set up for Jesus. "Live up to" sounds...lonely. It's like we'd only get to talk to God once we're perfect. Live with God's standard...that sounds like a whole different ball game. Indeed, I think it is.

I think our discussion of choice from a week or two ago helps us here. By the way, Ivy picked up on that note with this insightful post . If you are a God who demonstrates mercy (a compassion that is prone to be demonstrated to the undeserved) and also a God of justice (a zealous passion for what was made good in the beginning), then how would you interact with beings who do not live up to your standards. A just way, I think, would be through recognizing sincere choices, not necessarily concrete results.

A God of justice doesn't seem likely to reward deliberate bad behavior but if the same God was given a glimpse of a doorway for the right choice to be made, then this would be an opportunity for this God to also show compassion.

I think this is very helpful for us, especially in our world of need today. God cares for the poor. Do you?

Instead of feeling guilty that we are not Mother Theresa, I think we have an offer to turn our hearts to the poor through honesty and sincere choices. Will we choose to give to the poor when we see them or think intentionally about a wiser strategy? Are our career trajectories headed towards the masses, not an ivory tower? And are we not trying to trick God with "fakeout" choices, but are we actually handing our lives over to this God of justice and mercy?

Personally, choices are the only reason I have any sort of confidence in my walk with God. Who knows if I'm doing enough for the poor? Who knows if I'm forgiving others as fast as I should be? Who knows if I'm loving enough? I sure don't. Yet, I am confident in my walk with God because I try to regularly make choices that show God "I'm in." Most of these choices are not actions; rather, they are simple prayers. "I choose you today, Jesus. Please use me." I need to show him that I'm up for what he might have for me. I want to give him permission to make my day an adventure or a mystery or a time of rest. I never know exactly what I'm gonna get.*

That's why this cliche sounding thing about a relationship with Jesus stuff actually matters. God as an ethical system works...kinda. But, as humans, we're still gonna think this God sucks when we want to hoard our money for good stuff, love the strangers we like already not the ones we don't, and do whatever we want with our bodies. We have to actually believe God is good for any of this stuff to be enjoyable (and maybe truthfully, for any of this stuff to happen on a regular basis). And I think we should be enjoying God, others, and life.

So...three questions.

If you trust that God is good, what, if anything, is holding you back from the enjoyment of life?
If you don't trust God's goodness, what would God need to do to woo you to that perspective?
Are you someone or do you have friends that you suspect don't follow Jesus for similar reasons as fear of guilt and what do you think about this suggestion of mercy and grace understood through sincere choices, small or large?

*I anticipate (and have) questions. "But what about that poor person? Don't they need something right now?" How can this system of...grace and mercy work?" To me, this is THE question of all time. We'll get to it soon.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fear and the Church

I am doing a lot of thinking as of late. It's really challenging stuff.

As of last year (and maybe before that), one of my big faith questions dealt with how to deal with Jesus' interactions with the Pharisees and the Sadducees given that our context almost always involves religious teachers who state belief and agreement with Jesus.

It's easy to make a flat statement about the way Pharisees believed in God as opposed to an exciting, dynamic, in-the-flesh Jesus.

On the other hand, it's a lot harder for me to separate the way one interacts around faith when they might sing the same worship songs I do using the name of the one I desire to be the King of my life. How can we be so different?

Yet, I feel this is a serious issue.

Let's look at three different issues: fear, signs and wonders, and sinners. We'll tackle fear today.

The Bible has a clear ethic surrounding fear. Fear God alone, nothing else. My take on this is that by being real beings (real time actors in the universe) our fear of something activates it as a real force as well. Our act of fear ascribes a personal reality to whatever we fear. This, as we've seen throughout history, can become viral (i.e. fear black people because they are evil). By fearing God alone, we let real beings exist as God made them. This is an existence filled with infinite possibility and bent towards faith, hope, and love.

However, a routine check of many churches will demonstrate that they encourage fear of the other, explicitly or implicitly. Most recently, this has taken the form of Muslims, homosexuals, socialists, and atheists.

So, let's go down the list and offer a worst case scenario from the perspective of those who fear the people in these groups.

M -> there is an Islamic state and folks either convert or are subject to Islamic rule
H -> something like everyone becomes gay or people are persecuted for having views in opposition to "pro-gay" perspectives
S -> government controls the world government
A -> rampant atheism will spread

These are all fears eventually based in the self. A fear that one will have to change against one's will. A fear many share with different elements of Christianity (perhaps, a reason why God seems to allow choice. If we were forced into believing, we'd probably hate God, rebel against God's ways, or end up distorting who God really is....Uh Oh)

If one only feared God, then these selfish fears would have no resonance. And if one believed God is good and actively blesses people, then one would not only be unafraid, but would also be positively involved, in my eyes. In fact, it seems that if someone did find anything disagreeable about our four fear targets, then they would engage these people and ways of thinking, being, feeling, or believing in a creative and charitable way while holding to their concerns, not consumed by their fears.

Wouldn't that change everything?

There's a whole lot of room for discussion here. I'll get to the other two scenarios, signs and wonders and sinners, soon.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Us, The Misfits

I'm currently doing some marathon studying for 'Transitional Moments in Western Christian History.'

From a study guide section on why Christians were problems to the Roman Empire:

"Problems with Christians:
--Worshiped man (Jesus) who was political criminal, had been put to death by Roman governor (worldly powers that be)
--Always talking about death and end of time. Revelation identifies Rome as Babylon and prophesied its ruin
--Loyalty to the state was doubtful
--Secret rites"

Are we still problems?

Monday, December 14, 2009


The lightsaber struck the wall gently, and she laughed quickly. I pulled the blue blade back and then let the furious swings fly. Swoosh. Swoosh. I didn't just stay in place. I ran. I jumped. All across the room. And she watched, smiling. She gave birth to me three years after the Star Wars Saga ended (or so, we thought). I wonder if she ever envisioned this scene. She is my mother. It is a time I remember of her delighting in me. She exuded joy as she watched me. Maybe, it was because I was happy. Maybe, it was because I was healthy. Maybe, it's because I was hers even when doctors told her that possibility was a lie.

Lies. The root of unbelief and the death of faith. She is too unlovable. He is never going to change. They are worth less than us. This God is no good. He does not love us. I am ugly, a failure, too broken for anyone to fix. Lies.

Isn't that how it all started? Maybe, this God was lying to us. Maybe, the apple is better than this garden overrun with security and comfort. Let's take, eat, and let it show us.

Lies are doorways. Delight is an open field. It's the green space we run through or the urban jungle that is our castle. It is the place that stretches before us - that we make home as we journey in its midst.

What can undo the lies? What if we delight in our Creator since it seems creators delight in what they have created? This does not require much effort or even movement. We just settle, we still ourselves, and we rest in the thought, the belief, the knowledge - whatever our stretch lets us reach - that God loves us. We delight in the ways we've seen the power of His resurrected Son help our lives - big or small. We dance or we sing or we draw like someone is watching. Our Creator. A Creator who delights in us. We smile knowing that our Creator remembers what it's like to dance and sing and draw through His Son.

So, Spirit come and be our creativity for small acts of wonder. Spirit come and be our confidence that their is a Loving Creator out there who knows us intimately and who has actually been revealed to us throughout our lives. Spirit come and delight in us as we delight in your activity.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Jesus, Elevate Your Loved Ones

Jesus, elevate your loved ones.
Be with your daughters, sons.
Keep us from the death that awaits
when we take the sin’s bait.

The stones, the stones they dropped that day,
Your love, it found a way.
So, between rocks and a hard place,
You always bring your grace

Give us life, O Lord, and freedom.
Let us draw in the sand.
Creative acts bring Your Kingdom.
The power of Your hand.

There’s no condemnation in you;
The water well’s too deep.
Let us tell the story anew,
God’s love is ours to keep.

Source Text: John 8:1-11

© Joshua Williams 2009

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Struggle and Power of Choice

"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities" - Albus Dumbledore

I was struck by this quote after reading it a few years back. Are choices more powerful than our abilities, I mused. In the end, I concluded that it had to be that way. We can be blessed with abilities or stumble upon them but choices are products of our character - of who we choose to be in this world.

Unfortunately, choices are the very thing our generation of twentysomethings has not mastered. In fact, our ability to maintain uncomitted enslaves us. How does this play itself out? We constantly value freedom over choices that bring about any sort of limitations. This can be seen in the transient nature of picking songs on iPods to amplify our world constantly or keeping options open for summer internships instead of investing and sacrificially in one project. We also see this play out in friendships. Whose friendship will yield returns? Economic metaphors are everywhere in these decisions.

I've even felt it explode into the scene of faith. Why commit to a certain path when you can choose what to follow yourself? At first, this sounds egalatarian and even freeing. What's more powerful than using our free will to construct and orient a way of life? The only problem is rampant choices breed a lack of discipline. In the lens of faith, we can quickly create a God that looks exactly like us as opposed to a God who loves us, yet convicts us of wrongdoing. A God who challenges us, but transforms us for the better. Through picking some of anything, we become people who follow nothing except our own confused desires.

In the tradition of Christianity, Jesus is someone who tremendously respects choice. "Follow me," he says to the disciples. "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water," he says to a woman at a well. Jesus constantly empowers us to choose but also doesn't wait around for our answer.

Part of my struggle of late has been my decision of choosing community as a way of life. It's one thing to commit to a God who loves you, saves you, and redeems your whole life. This is especially true if you "taste and see" that Jesus' offer is actually working out for you life (something that has little negative consequences for your life at first). It's another to commit to people in service and in love knowing that each act of sincere love draws us deeper and deeper into caring for one another - a process that can be interrupted anytime by sin, betrayal, illness, and death. Honestly, I don't mean to present a bleak picture. It's just the nature of our lives.

Love is celebratory for sure. But choosing to love is always in the context of a broken world under serious threat. I had a moment of remembrance today. It was a memory from sophomore year or junior year of college. I felt alone in my faith among people, but fully with Christ. That independence was freeing, but I think it was somewhat deceptive.

Community is stronger. Its mystery energizes our collective faith. And it releases a different sort of testimony not just of one, but of many. Honestly, it does hurt. But it is the right choice.

God, please help all of our communities to be strong, loving, and to have You at the center. In Jesus' name, Amen.