Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Flavors of Forgiveness

Forgiveness, at first glance, may appear to be a one-size-fits all proposition. But I don't believe it is. In essence, For me, it helps to identify three types or "flavors" of forgiveness. All of these come down a considered decision to release a debtor from their debt or an offender from their offense. And yet, all three have unique features as well.

The Flavor of Generosity:

Generosity is "garden variety" forgiveness. I believe the scripture calls us to live a characteristically generous lifestyle of forgiveness towards those who have offended us without malice. If our "brother" (not enemy) sins against us 70 times 7 in a day - we are to generously forgive them. The scriptures lead us to this posture of generosity by reminding us of how we ourselves are regularly and repeatedly forgiven by our generous God. In light of our receiving so much generous kindness, we can afford to be generous in our forgiveness of those who do not seek us harm. "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13).

The Flavor of Obedient Forgiveness

This type of forgiveness may be offered to friend OR foe. Someone may have intentionally or unintentionally done us some harm or disservice. We are called to offer them forgiveness because God simply commands us to do so. It is not as much a matter of generosity as it is of obedience to God's expressed will. Therefore, I forgive because I am commanded to do so - not because I "feel like it" or have sympathy for the offender or from any other core motive that originates with some sort of personal cost/benefit analysis. I choose to let the offense go and release the offender to God because I am told I must. Emotional reverberations will go up and down in the aftermath, but the forgiveness I am offering does not proceed from a feeling or an emotion. Rather, it is a decision and it results in appropriate actions.

The Flavor of Radical Forgiveness

There is a flavor of what we might call "aggressive" forgiveness. We see it in the Apostle Paul's admonition to not be overcome by evil but to "overcome evil with good". Radical, aggressive forgiveness opens room for God's justice as well as His mercy. Instead of giving us permission to take vengeance or to understandably dish out evil in return for the evil we have suffered, it offers our coat to the man who has just taken our cloak as a way of getting in God's "last word" on the subject or the incident. It does not bend to the pull of expressed darkness. Instead, it shines the brighter light -- one that points directly to God as both its source and its destination. "Father, forgive (the men who humiliate, torture and destroy me), for they do not know what they are doing". Think of Paul and Barnabas with the Philippian jailor. Think of Corrie ten Boom and the Nazis. Think of Immaculee' Ilibagiza and the fellow Rwandans who murdered her family and who would also have murdered her. Radical forgiveness is fueled by the inextinguishable flame of goodness, mercy and strength that burns in the heart of God.

Discerning different kinds of forgiveness enables us to better handle the implications of the different kinds of offenses we experience. It also better equips us to make decisions in regards to how we will treat those who have harmed or offended us. So whether from a posture of generosity, obedience or even spiritual warfare, forgiveness offered through the grace of Christ always gives God the last word in a matter and glorifies Him as the source of boundless mercy and saving grace.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My Not-So-Private Idaho

Back from the rugged beauty of Idaho. Spent ten days in the center of the State, just outside of Challis (two hours drive from the Idaho Falls airport, if that helps you locate it in your mind, and it probably won't).

Snow capped mountains. Gurgling creek. Rocky escarpment close by, panoramic vistas from the higher places or the larger valleys. Mostly perfect weather with a touch of snow, rain, low slung clouds - but wait - here comes more sun with high clouds floating by on a soft breeze. Mmmmm...

Don't think I've really been back to Idaho since my adolescence when I went two years to Sun Valley to train at ice skating camp. Yes, I tried my hand at figure skating, thanks to an influential Phoenix neighbor. He went on to Ice Capades. I gave up by age 14. Still, I have skating to thank for some of my favorite memories of that era as Idaho was a world away from the arid summers in the Arizona desert.

This trip to Challis was to join a team of care providers for the twelfth Vineyard-sponsored "Pastors Sabbath Retreat". The idea is to bring together a limited number of pastoral couples for some deep care, refocusing, refreshment and personal ministry of several kinds in order to strengthen their grip on God, each other, their ongoing well-being, and their higher callings. It was a five-star delight to be a part of the team that provided everything from healing prayer, personal counseling, fun, worship, excellent teaching, an invitation into several kinds of spiritual disciplines and more. The retreat leader mentioned that he took a look at what eight other denominations were doing to provide care of this kind to their pastors. The answer: "not much". Seeing the value this kind of experience delivers to pastors first hand, I felt both privileged to be a part of the care team and a little sad for those in ministry who have never had (or taken) the opportunity to sabbath and invest in their own hearts, lives, marriages and well-being.

Coming back, I feel the satisfaction of having made my contribution as a team member and the blessing of sensing my own skills in providing care go up a couple notches. For example, over the course of the time I was there I taught a session on forgiveness, provided pastoral counseling for individuals and couples, led a couple private deep healing prayer sessions, helped with a hundred little tasks, and generally focused on helping the participants feel very loved and cared for. Doing these things in a place of exceptional beauty and peacefulness was, well, a slice of heaven.

Now, back in the OC buzz, I pray that something of the Kingdom of God that was so beautifully in evidence in Challis will come within me here. Thanks, God. Thanks, Vineyard. Thanks, Idaho...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Money, Miracles and a Man Named Marjoe

An Actual photo of Marjoe, Child Preacher

In 1971, Marjoe Gortner, the child-preacher now turned man, had had enough -- not just of the Pentecostal preaching circuit that he had learned how to "work" since he was four years old, but of himself as a skilled religious fraud. So, in an odd twist, instead of slinking away quietly into the night, Marjoe decided to tell on himself in living color. The result is "Marjoe", a documentary film that you can now find posted in ten parts for free on Youtube. And let me say -- having just watched through the whole thing -- it's worth the price! (Couldn't resist. Actually it's worth a great deal more).

Several themes pervade the Marjoe story. All of them are troubling, but all have a payoff to them, too. But the most predominant theme of all is exploitation.

As a child, Marjoe (name is a combo of "Mary" and "Joseph") is himself exploited by his preacher parents. The opening film clips of the child Marjoe gesticulating as he delivers a well-rehearsed rock 'em-sock 'em sermon are both dazzling and disturbing. According to the grown up Marjoe, he was endlessly coached by his mother who bullied him to the point of abuse -- cleverly using pillows and water so as not to leave marks or bruises on the miniature evangelist in the making. Her considerable investment pays off with notoriety, invitations, and financial reward. That's right: the church, smelling the power to attract a crowd with novelty, takes little Marjoe at face value and exploits him in their own sort of way. "Come and see." "Come and hear" -- and don't forget to bring your wallet!

For a long time, everyone was benefiting from this charade, it seems, except Marjoe. At one point in the film, the grown up Marjoe estimates that $3 million passed through the family over the course of his childhood and early youth though he claims not to have a penny to show for it (one wonders about the accuracy of these figures, but the point stands nonetheless). Watching all this, I found myself wishing for more insight into how the grown up Marjoe - 28 years old at the time of the filming -- felt about his parents now that he was an adult. Unfortunately, the filmmakers offer little to go on here.

However, a revealing scene at a tent revival does stand out. In it, Marjoe is introduced by his father who smoothly offers the mythology of his son's childhood call from God as a tee-up for Marjoe to take the microphone and deliver his message.

Just prior to this introduction, the cameras were trained on Marjoe and his Dad seated next to one another on the platform while music was playing. Marjoe looked uncomfortable and there was no warmth or connection between them. However, once his Dad is given the microphone and begins to spin his tale, Marjoe comes alive - clapping and smiling as the old, old story gets trotted out again. Later, during an interview portion of the film, Marjoe confesses that, despite their history together, his Dad remained a stranger to him -- someone with whom he was unable to have a significant conversation. Ah, the wages of sin...

Marjoe makes no bones about taking the viewer by the hand and leading them into the wacky world of this particular Christian subculture. Along the way, he explains to the film crew -- and to us by extension -- what they will encounter. This is the most discordant portion of the documentary -- the part you can feel his split the most for we know darn well that, like Superman, he will change costumes and disappear into his evangelist alter-ego without missing a beat. Here then, Marjoe the exploited becomes Marjoe the exploiter of others and there's no mistaking his skills at doing so. It is truly stomach turning to watch him do his thing knowing all along that he is little more than a performer in a role of his own invention. Meanwhile, the people come as they are - to Jesus, and to Marjoe the Faker - never knowing the difference.

At one point Marjoe tells the camera that, despite his internal conflicts, it has been too hard to just walk away from the craft he has spent a lifetime perfecting -- the craft, that is, of delivering a pretty good religious show, whipping the folks up into a tongue-speaking, swooning, jerking frenzy "in the NAAAMMMEEE of JEEEEZZZUUSSS!", and collecting the cash before everyone heads home from the "revival".

You might think with all this unsavoriness, that Marjoe, the pastors who host him and the folks who come on out to hear this so-called Man of God all come off as unsympathetic baboons. But one has no reason to doubt the sincerity of the faithful even if they too are players who deliver on cue just as reliably as do the preachers. The Academy Award this documentary won in 1971 should not just go to Marjoe and the filmmakers, but to the people in the meetings. Let's face it: without them, there would be nothing for Marjoe the Magician to play off of and, therefore, no story to tell.

The most uncomfortable thing for me as I watched the "Marjoe" movie was my personal familiarity with so much of what I saw on the screen. I know those testimonies. I know those turns-of-a-phrase ("He was hung up for my hang ups", etc.). I know many of the songs and sounds, the babbling of tongue-speakers (I myself am one) and the ecstasy of those who go down in a swoon "under the power of God".

The thing that makes Marjoe's counterfeiting so compelling and revolting at the same time is that I have seen both the "real thing" and religious manipulation up close and personal. I wonder, for example, what interest Marjoe would have had in going with our small team to China where were sneaked in to meetings of underground believers who came at great personal risk so as to receive our teaching and ministry. We paid our way. We gave ourselves without qualification or financial reward hour after hour to people who couldn't get enough of anything we had to offer them. Marjoe's sideshow may have looked somewhat like these meetings in some ways but I can assure you he has no clue of what it is to gladly spend yourself on others for the sake of God's Kingdom and that is too, too bad.

In the end, the Marjoe movie both offends and enlightens. It is a technicolor warning about fraud as well as an unforgettable window into a particular strand of religious hocus-pocus. However, it is also a reminder that the human heart fervently cries for that which is transcendent, empowering and spiritually alive and, therefore, will sometimes partake of whatever promises to deliver.

And what happened to Marjoe after this movie was made all those years ago? Well, it seems that he succeeded in making his break from his life as a B-grade evangelist only to become a bit actor in B-grade movies and whatever else he could find to do. It also seems that he has been behind some successful celebrity golf tournament fundraisers of some sort that appear to have raised funds for worthy charity causes. If that's so, then, well, "Praise the Lord!"

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"Failure of Nerve", Take One

My pastor friend, Steve Wright, turned me on to "Failure of Nerve - Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix" by Edwin Friedman and I must say that it has been a long time since I have come across reading that seemed this essential. Mind you, I am not terribly far into the thing, but already it is opening up a powerful new set of insights into leadership, relationships, imagination and, yes, "nerve". I knew I was on to something when I had been reading and underlining things for at least an hour only to realize I was still in the Introduction!

Here is a quote from the book that will give you a bit of a window into the late author's thinking when he defines an ideal leader as:

"someone who has clarity about his or her life goals, and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about. I mean someone who can be separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence. I mean someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing."

If this sounds like our current President (someone who can "take stands at the risk of displeasing"), don't get the wrong idea. Friedman's leader does not lead people boldly into dependency and dis-empowerment(like our current President seems to be bent on doing), but into imaginative new ways of seeing challenges, solving problems and grappling with reality.

One novel way Friedman illustrates his point-of-view is by recounting the explorations of the spate of European explorers and map makers including Columbus, Drake, Vespucci, Cabot, Magellan and others. I must say that I never could have imagined there was so much to be learned about the human condition by placing these various journeys and personalities into the context of their times, but when you do so -- wow, so much to be learned!

Friedman wants us to see that the obstacles and limitations of their day were not only physical and geographical, but psychological and emotional. After all, the widely accepted notion that the world ended at the Equator could not be challenged by satellite photos or Google Earth. The various and sundry attempts to properly describe what REALLY lay "out there" required raw courage and conviction that often required the explorers to disregard prevailing views of reality.

The roles of anxiety, resistance and even sabotage (hint: Friedman says sabotage is a normative factor that the best leaders learn how to recognize and factor into their decision-making) are also explored by the author. There is so much in "Failure of Nerve" that I know I will be re-reading it many times over.

As a follower of Christ and a leader of others, Friedman's work causes me to appreciate the life of Jesus and His profound wisdom, influence and steady focus all the more. The brave, bold, centered and unyielding commitment of the Son of God pop out against the background of Friedman's points about leaders and leadership (he was, by the way, a Rabbi - among other things). I can't recommend this book enough and will be sharing more as I go.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Lonnie Frisbee Film Maker Interviewed

I just found this very good interview with Dave DiSabatino about the time he was first releasing his documentary on Lonnie Frisbee (see If you are interested in the subject, I suggest taking a few minutes to read through it. He has since made a documentary on Larry Norman that I have not yet seen.

I also found some stuff online about Chris Brain and the phenomenon of the "9 o'clock Service" in Sheffield, England that definitely broke new missional ground in the 1980's. Robin and I were there ministering with John Wimber's team right when the NOS was just ramping up and I remember meeting Chris who, like Lonnie, had a way of drawing young people but who also (apparently) had personal problems that would undermine his long-term influence.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Set Your Pastor Free

So, here's an idea... Let's start a movement in the churches across America. We'll call it "Set Your Pastor Free". Here's how to start -

If you are any kind of an active member of your church, get some other folks from the congregation together and schedule a visit with your pastor. Now, be aware of this going in: he's going to be on guard. Groups of people from the church don't make appointments with their pastor unless they're going to dress him down, set him straight or otherwise add to his anxiety.

Nevertheless, once you sit down with him, smile very nicely and say: "Pastor, you have been leading our congregation heartily for some time now. You put a lot of effort into building us up, teaching us, caring for us and praying for us and we know that, given all that energy, we should be pretty strong and equipped by now. So take the week off, pastor. "Heck" (and make sure and say "heck" and not the other word...), "take the month off. Take your spouse on a vacation. Do some good reading. Go for a swim, play golf, hang out with some of your heroes -- whatever you want. We'll run the church while you're away..."

Now, at this point your Pastor is going to be:

a. Suspicious of your real agenda
b. In tears
c. Laughing
d. Speechless (and looking a little confused)
e. All of the above

One thing is for sure: You definitely have his or her attention by now. So, continue as follows:

"We're serious pastor. We've decided to set you free. Don't worry about your paycheck or much of anything else. We're ready to start acting on all the stuff you've been telling us for years about being the Body of Christ, gifted for ministry, and all that. So, we'll preach. We'll teach. We'll start spending more time and resources on really connecting with the community and exalting Christ in worship and devotion. And, if anyone calls for you, we'll just tell them that you're "away from your desk" for awhile and take a message."

"Seriously, pastor -- we're ready to do the ministry you've been training us for in your sermons, counseling, prayers and care. We're ready to be mature and actually take on the lion's share of the church. So, go ahead, relax. Read a magazine. Go to a movie. We'll call you if we need anything."

Are you and the people from your church ready to set that appointment right after Easter? If so, bring smelling salts. You're likely to need them.

I dare you.