40 at 40: We are multiple

•August 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Do you notice how we are prone to say “A part of me feels this way, and a part of me feels that way”?

Do you have times when you feel at harmony with God, the world and yourself – something contemplative have called a “unitive” experience?  And do you have other times where you feel as if you’re divided within, stumbling over yourself, acting in discord with yourself?

Have you ever done something stupid and said, “I’m not sure who did that.  It wasn’t me.”

Postmodern psychology has speculated on the idea that we are multiple, manifesting in different selves for every occasion.  I’m more persuaded that we are one and many, unity and multiplicity, particle and wave – in the image of our Trinitarian God.  In fact, I think it makes a lot of sense out of the confusion, disunity, and disharmony we feel within (and experience in our communities).

If you are curious and want to read more, check out these older blog posts:

https://drchuckdegroat.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/a-heart-divided-against-itself-cannot-stand-the-parts-we-play/

https://drchuckdegroat.wordpress.com/2009/12/08/the-habits-of-prison-the-tug-towards-home/

https://drchuckdegroat.wordpress.com/2009/10/21/wilderness-emergence/

40 at 40: Women on TV that I fell in love with in the 70’s and 80’s

•August 12, 2010 • 2 Comments

This may be the most profound writing I’ve ever done.

I don’t often look at how many blog hits I get.  But the biggest hits I got recently were from the 40 at 40 post “Books I wish I would have written but others have written (much!) better.” That got me thinking…what might top that?

How about TV girls I loved in the 70’s and 80’s?  This is far more compelling than a bunch of Christian books, right?  Plus, all of you who are my age can relate to the times when you mentioned an old TV show, and 25 year old friends looked at you blankly.  And I run the risk of more feedback from some of you who think this is territory a “pastor” shouldn’t stray in to.

Either way, help me prove that this kind of blog will NOT receive more hits than ones that I have written about suffering, spiritual growth, mission, or other topics by NOT re-tweeting, re-posting, or commenting.  This will assure that the world is a safe and decent place, filled with reflective people.

But, here we go:

Let’s do this as a Top 5:

At # 5 – Suzanne Somers from Three’s Company – Chrissy is who the other guys talked about, so I had to chime in too.  But, she lacked depth and characterization, something a 7-year old ought to know.

#4 – Pam from The Greatest American HeroConnie Sellecca – From 1981 to 1983, William Katt played Ralph Hinkley, perhaps the worst superhero ever to attempt to save humanity.  Pam saved the show.

#3 – Wonder Woman. Played by Lynda Carter, this superhero convinced all 7 year old boys that there really was an Amazon colony of women on Paradise Island located somewhere near Bermuda.

#2 – Stacy from TJ Hooker – Played by Heather Locklear,  Stacy showed that even though she was the Captain’s daughter, she was also a great police officer.  My sister said that her hair was “feathered,” whatever that means.

#1- Athena from Battlestar Galactica – Yes, sci-fi nerds, there was another Battlestar Galactica back in the 70’s, our television version of Star Wars.  And between the ages of 8 and 10, I became a fan not only of Apollo and Commander Adama, but of the beautiful Athena, my first love.  I include her picture to conclude this very deep and meaningful post:

40 at 40: We live in the future

•August 11, 2010 • 1 Comment

My friend Dave says “we live in the future.” He should know. He helps create it.  And I’m most proud of his wise reflection about it.

I believe Dave.

I did an entire Ph.D. in Psychology virtually. If I needed a book, it was in my snail mailbox the next day, or in my email within minutes as an e-book. I had access to every journal and article I needed via the John Hopkins University database. I didn’t step foot in a library once. And I completed the degree in 3 years all because I didn’t need to go anywhere. It all came to me.

A professor in seminary back in the mid-90’s told us that there would be a day very soon when we, the pastors, would no longer be the experts. He told us that people would sit in our congregations armed with information never before available. This new phenomenon called the internet, he argued, would land in the hands of ordinary people (much like the Bible landed in the hands of ordinary people courtesy of Martin Luther)…and it would be in their hands even as they sat in the pews. They’d look up those big Greek and Hebrew words we were using, and perhaps even question our use of them because of their instant access to online dictionaries, lexicons, and more.

It made no sense at the time.  But the future is now, Dave says.

Christians living in the past will likely react how many reacted when Luther galvanized the use of the printing press for the Gospel.  Change never comes without a fight.  But, the reality is that traditional ways of learning and living are dying.  The newspapers cannot give us information fast enough.  Seminaries cannot train pastors quick enough.  And phones…well, who wants a phone that merely allows you to hear another person when you can see them.  Intimacy, after all, is conveyed powerfully through eye contact.

But what technology cannot bestow to us is wisdom.  Wise practice is what changes people and civilizations.  And even wise practice is elusive.  Luther didn’t know that putting the Bible in the hands of the people might create deep division and biblical malpractice unlike anything the church had seen previously.  Wisdom, it seems, is not something instantly delivered.

The church, if it chooses, can live in the future.  Here’s a question for you and me to answer:  What will distinguish wise practice from malpractice?  Maybe I’ll see if Dave has some ideas…

40 at 40: Blue Jeans.

•August 10, 2010 • 5 Comments

I got confronted the other day.  At 40, my jeans are irrelevant, or outdated, or embarrassing, or something…but whatever I wore on Sunday made a couple of mid-twenties co-workers laugh.

(Commence mid-life crisis)

Now, mind you – my jeans fit well.  They feel comfortable.  But they were apparently too light and too loose. The sale rack at Old Navy might not work for me anymore.

I can remember back in the 80’s when I got my first pair of stonewashed jeans.  Stonewashed.  It was a phenomenon.  We didn’t have the internet to research this extraordinary phenomenon of stonewashing.  Where did they come from?  Maybe a group of manly men hiked down into the Grand Canyon with plain jeans in hand, and baptized them in the raging Colorado River?  Jeans born-again = stonewashed.

We’d take our stonewashed jeans, and (if we were really cool) cuff them.  It took me a while to find a rare image of cuffed jeans on the internet.  I promise, this is not me:

The 1990’s are a blur.  I was married.  Perhaps the need to impress dissipated.  And I got tired of paying what the Gap and American Eagle required.  Turns out, Old Navy was invented – the poor man’s Gap of the 1990’s.

Since then, it’s become purely pragmatic.  Sara is shopping in Target, and I browse the men’s section.  I buy a pair of comfortable jeans.  I also discovered Marshall’s, Nordstrom Rack, and other affordable options.

So, it all came to a head on Monday.  “Chuck, what’s up with those jeans you were wearing on Sunday?”

(Crap, I’m 40.)

“Hey, we’ll take you shopping.”

So, I look around to find my tightest, darkest jeans today (which are apparently what is in…right now).  I walk into work today proudly and greet my friends, showing my nice-fitting ‘darker’ jeans.

“Dude, you need more dye.”  What?

So, my boys are taking me shopping next week.  And we’re not going to Target or Marshall’s.

40 at 40 will update you on the results…

Don’t send missionaries. Invite them!

•August 9, 2010 • 4 Comments

“We are forced to do something that the Western churches have never had to do since the days of their own birth – to discover the form and substance of a missionary church in terms that are valid in a world that has rejected the power and influence of the Western nations.  Missions will no longer work along the stream of expanding Western power.  They have to learn to go against the stream.” Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret


It’s hard to believe that it was twenty years ago when I was sitting in Prof. Mike Goheen’s living room studying the works of Rene Padilla, David Bosch, and Lesslie Newbigin.  We were studying in Sioux Center, Ia., where mowing your lawn on a Sunday might land you in jail.  And Prof. Goheen (who would go on to complete a dissertation on Newbigin) would say, “If Newbigin were here, he’d tell us that this town needs a missionary encounter!”

Returning from India to the West, Newbigin saw with new eyes the profound secularization of so-called “Christian” culture.  If you’ve ever been to the Third World and returned to the United States, you may know the feeling.  Suddenly, it becomes a bit unbearable to hear “God Bless the USA!” playing on the radio as you shop for a pair of $100 jeans, which replace the pair you bought just a week prior that were ruined when you spilled your Double Tall Sugar-Free Vanilla Soy Latte on them.  You get the picture.  Newbigin did too.  And he believed that missionaries needed to be sent to the West, a culture blinded by power and prosperity.

All this contemporary talk of a “Christian nation” would likely aggravate Newbigin, who believed profoundly that Christians more interested in preserving power looked like the Temple High-Priest than the Suffering Servant.  Newbigin once wrote, “The real triumphs of the gospel have not been won when the church is strong in a worldly sense; they have been won when the church is faithful in the midst of weakness, contempt, and rejection.”  While we’re busy figuring out how to save ‘pagan’ civilizations elsewhere, Newbigin believed that the people who needed the Gospel most were…

…you and me.  With our Big Mac’s, Big Churches, and Big Military.  Ouch.  I’m convicted.

This “big idea” has had a profound impact on me over the years – Don’t send missionaries – invite them.  Invite them from places where they have nothing else to depend on but Jesus, and ask them how to live and love and serve.  Invite them to teach you…the one who is supposed to have all of the knowledge and power that the world knows (in an iPhone!).  Invite them to tell you about Jesus, and how he shows up among them.  Just invite them.

I’m curious…how does “big idea” sit with you?

40 at 40: Books I wish I would have written, but others have written (much!) better

•August 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Have you ever come upon a book that reads like something you wish you would have penned?  There is something incredible about that great moment of resonating in a deep way with an author.  And then, as you read, it dawns on you how glad you are that God is in charge, and that the book was written by someone else (as it becomes extraordinarily obvious that a book of this quality and depth required an author who was much more wise!).  Just a few of those for me include:

Eric Johnson’s Foundations of Soul Careperhaps the best introduction, to date, of the complicated relationship between psychology and theology through the years.

James KA Smith’s Desiring the Kingdomthe first in the series of Smith’s “cultural liturgies” series, with a view of human beings as homo liturgicus, creatures who are not merely shaped by ideas but by desire.

Robert Webber’s The Divine Embrace – the late Bob Webber’s wonderful journey through the narrative of Christian spirituality throughout the centuries, which (as Webber does so well) identifies the extremes and paves a beautiful middle way.

M. Craig Barnes The Pastor as Minor Poeta short book that casts a vision for a pastoral life of poetic depth and imagination, challenging ministers to see the subtexts in the complicated lives of parishioners (as well as their own lives).

Iain Matthew’s The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the CrossI’ve been hooked on the writings of the 16th century Carmelite mystic John of the Cross since studying abroad in the 90’s.  Matthew’s work treats St. John topically, and puts words to the spiritual valleys and mountains we all experience.  A work of psychology and spirituality.

Happy reading.

I more optimistic at 40 than I’ve been before…

•August 7, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I don’t usually like optimists.  I especially dislike a certain brand of Christian optimists.  You know these people. They reframe every negative with a positive.  They’ve arrived and you haven’t.  They have the car, the beautiful spouse, and the ear-to-ear smile to prove it.  And Jesus has given it all to them…

In college, I was a philosophy major.  In my sophomore year, the movie Dead Poet’s Society had many of us sneaking out late at night with flashlights and poetry, ready to lament the disappointments of love, authority, capitalism, religion, and more.  Me and my Bono-loving friends who were the good boys in church youth group left our posts at Joshua Tree to follow Bono and the band into the ‘Zoo’ of the complicated 1990’s. My cynicism and pessimism embraced the zeitgeist of that decade.

I went to seminary not so much to be a pastor as to find faith again.  God found me again in the summer of 1997 while I was studying in England.  I started reading Tom Wright.  And I discovered the mystics.  Both would help put my faith back together again.

St. John of the Cross taught me that there was a dark night of the soul, but that the purpose of the night was to prepare us for the dawn.  In St. John’s poetic and mystic Christian reflections, I found an honest expression of life’s frontier edges and shadow moments that made faith more believable.  In the great New Testament scholar Tom Wright, I found the expression of faith in narrative.  Wright told a Story, and it was a Story that was compelling.  I wanted to participate in it.  Ironically, St. John and Bishop Wright were both telling the Story, albeit in unique ways, of a night followed by a dawn, a death followed by a Resurrection.

I lived a majority of my Christian life stuck at Good Friday.  The optimism comes because Easter light has broken through.  In this decade, my hope is to live more and more into this Resurrection life.