A Jesus Manifesto fails to answer "How?"

So after reading the new Jesus Manifesto by Len Sweet and Frank Viola, I find myself in agreement with almost all of what they propose. Yes, Jesus is alpha and omega, beginning and end, and Christianity has lost sight of the centrality of Jesus, all things that presume to replace Christ or supercede Christ are pretenders, etc. I get that. I agree with that.

And I really liked the part where they say that Christians don't follow a book, they follow a Person. I actually felt a shiver of excitement when I read that. Without degrading or belittling the Bible, they put it in its rightful place, the rightful place of all things, under Jesus.

Julie Clawson makes some very good points in her blog about justice, and I agree that this manifesto seems to belittle the role of justice, and of faith communities that see justice as central to their relationship with Christ. One of her points is that while the manifesto claims that Jesus cannot be separated from his teachings, it also seems to claim (somewhat falsely) that some christians are doing just that.

The point of the manifesto seems to be that christianity is in some ways failing to give Christ his proper place, that we as Christ followers are supplanting Christ with lesser things. And they specifically point to justice. But in making this point, the manifesto fails to give any advice on how to put Christ first, other than warning against putting other things first. And while this is a good and always timely warning, it lacks any positive exhortation. It does not tell us HOW.

How do followers of Christ make Jesus central? How do we make him Lord? One might argue that he is those things apart from us and what we think or do. But that is not the point of the manifesto. The point of the manifesto is that we must avoid putting other things over Christ. But I don't believe that Jesus magically becomes our Lord once all other lords have been set aside. He does not become central merely by filling a vacuum. There must be concrete ways that we MAKE him our Lord.

I believe that love, and more specifically a justice that flows from love, is the answer to this question of "How?" This is the action that makes Jesus our Lord. The greatest commandment is to love God, and the way to love God is to love others. That is why the second greatest commandment is "like" the first, because loving others is like loving God. Before Jesus died he gave us a "new" commandment: to love one another. And he says if we love him we will obey his commandments. In the parables of the Sheep and Goats and of the Good Samaritan Jesus drives home the key idea that love for others is what it means to love God. He even suggests that failing to give justice to the poor will lead to separation from God. Whatever we do, we do to him. Whatever we don't do, we don't do to him. This is perhaps the most important aspect of relationship, not what we think of others, but how we relate to them. What we think or believe about God is far less important than our relationship with him. And our relationship is dependent on how we treat him. And Jesus teaches that how we treat him is synonymous with how we treat others. The sermon on the mount is full of teaching on how we are to live with and love others. Paul teaches that love is even greater than our faith. James, in a different way, teaches the same thing, that faith without works is dead. And in all of these examples this idea of love and works is directly tied to poverty and justice for the poor. Over and over again it is taught. It is inescapable.

So it seems to me that any manifesto of Jesus MUST attempt to tell us how we are to make Christ central. And any answer to this question that leaves out justice is flawed. So not only does the Sweet/Viola manifesto fail to tell us the answer, it actually admonishes us to give less place to the answer.

But other than that it's great. :-)

Ken Bussell
Sent via BlackBerry

Organizing Music Charts

One of the features I like most about having music files on my computer is the ability to sort them by their id3 tags. Using iTunes (or most any mp3 player), I can sort my music by genre, artist name, song title, album title, year, and many other categories. Everybody who listens to music in some sort of digital format takes this kind of powerful sorting and searching capability for granted.

But I want this same kind of tagging functionality for ALL of my digital files, especially Microsoft Office files like Word documents and Excel spreadsheets.

As a music pastor I create all of my own music charts in Microsoft Word. I transcribe the music myself, transpose it into a variety of keys, save the Word documents with file names like "Name of Song - Key.doc" and save them in a folder called "Charts". The problem is that Finder (or Explorer on a PC) is very limited with regard to sorting and searching. I can organize the files into folders, and give them long complicated file names with lots of information, and I can search within the contents of the files for keywords like "Love" or "Mission", but I would prefer a way to "tag" them like I do my mp3 files. I would love to be able to sort my Word docs by Artist, Genre, and more.

I would especially like a way to add custom tags. I would create a tag category called "Theme" that would support a list of keywords (comma separated?) like Easter, Christmas, Sacrifice, Mission, Kingdom, etc. Then I could tag each file with a variety of theme keywords whether that word is actually in the lyrics of the song or not. From a planning perspective, this would greatly facilitate my ability to select songs based on their themes without having to rely so much on my memory.

I guess there are probably many types of workaround ideas using the properties of the file to add keywords and such, or creating long file names and duplicating files across a variety of folders, but I think this would become an organizational nightmare. Does anyone know of an app that does this? I would really like a browser window that has all my tag categories as column headings (like iTunes) so I can just click a column heading and sort by that tag (like Theme or Genre). And a Boolean search function to find all the files that match set of criteria, like all songs with a tempo between 100 and 120, or all songs in the key of G with an alto lead.

I could imagine some sort of meta data appended to a file that might look like this:


Having this information embedded in a Word doc would make my planning time so much more efficient. I imagine the ability to add custom tags like this would be useful in a wide range of situations. It would be much more powerful than simple keywords. Is anyone aware of such an app?

The Complete Library of Christian Worship

I have been aware of these books for several years now, but I have just recently begun to tackle them in depth. They are a collection of essays edited by Robert E. Webber in seven volumes (eight separate books), which are as follow:

Vol. I: The Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship
Vol. II: Twenty Centuries of Christian Worship
Vol. III: The Renewal of Sunday Worship
Vol. IV: Music & the Arts in Worship (Book A and B)
Vol. V: The Services of the Christian Year
Vol. VI: The Sacred Actions of Worship
Vol. VII: The Ministries of Christian Worship

Volume I begins by outlining the Old and New Testament vocabulary regarding worship. This is of course a great way to begin, as it comprehensively covers the language used in the Bible to describe and prescribe worship. An important point gets made early on in comparing the wealth of Old Testament writing regarding worship to the relative absence of such writing in the New Testament. While the Old Testament is full of songs, poems, gatherings, rituals, feasts and festivals, the New Testament has comparatively little that matches the scope of the OT. This is perhaps a result of the context in which the NT was written, where there were few chances for Christians to carry on large-scale public worship gatherings. Instead, the New Testament writers used the worship vocabulary of the OT in their interpretation Christ.

For example, in the New Testament Christ is referred to as the Passover Lamb. In the OT this was not a sin offering, but was originally the meal that the Israelites ate to signify their deliverance from the Angel of Death. The blood of the passover lamb marked the people of God for their protection from the judgment that was coming upon Egypt. In the same way, we as Christians eat the body of Christ, our passover lamb, when we share in the Lord's Supper in communion. And it is His blood that marks us as His people and delivers us from death.

Volume I also notes that in the OT it was not a male lamb that was offered for sin, but usually a ram, bull, or goat. Jesus is never likened to these animals in the New Testament. He is always referred to as the Lamb. When John the Baptists calls Jesus "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world", what must he have meant, if not as a sin offering? Jesus takes away sin "through his victory over sin, in the utter obedience of His death on the cross... He takes away sin not only by his offering of himself, but by his victory and dominion over evil as the 'great King' who delivers his covenant people from their enemies. He takes away sin through the power of his life, dwelling as God himself in the midst of his people, the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:1-8)."

I found this clarification refreshing. In fact there is an entire section of the second chapter devoted to atonement theory which handles the topic very generously. I find the emphasis of the atonement to be much more about Jesus' life than about his death. Good Friday is not the most important day in the Christian calendar. Easter is. I think there are certain atonement theories that get this backward. And I think we sometimes get it backward in our worship as well.

Chris Tomlin has a great song out now titled "I Will Rise". I like it because the lyrics give great emphasis to the resurrection. Not only to Christ's resurrection, but to our future resurrection at His return. No thoughts of dying and going to heaven to be found in this one. I wonder if he was inspired by N.T. Wright's book "Surprised By Hope"? Here is a sample of the lyrics:

Jesus has overcome. And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won. He is risen from the dead

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles' wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise. I will rise

And I hear the voice of many angels sing, "Worthy is the Lamb"
And I hear the cry of every longing heart, "Worthy is the Lamb"

OK, back to the book. The early chapters go on to cover Jesus as the Light and Glory of God, very familiar terms in OT worship, as well as interpretations of Christ through OT worship language of covenant and sabbath. It also discusses the worship of Christ at his birth and during his ministry, Jesus' worship of the Father, prayer, communion, and more. I am really looking forward to finding more inspiration for my worship songwriting. I have been in a rut lately, falling back on the same themes over and over. It's easy to get lazy and "go with what you know". I will post more insights as I get deeper into the collection. Hopefully there will be some new songs to post as well.

Strange Realization About Coffee

I had a strange realization a while back about coffee. I was sitting in Starbucks looking around at the decor, the artistic black and white photography of coffee beans... the milieu of stainless steel and ceramic cups and mugs, some for home, some for travel, some large, some small... the machines for sale, the grinders, the coffee makers, the espresso makers... the varieties of beans and roasts for sale, Ethiopian, Colombian, et al....

And then it suddenly hit me. "I am in a head shop."

Is it just me, or is the subculture and paraphernalia surrounding coffee very similar to that surrounding marijuana? While it has been a very long time since I have smoked marijuana, I remember all sorts of varieties and strains with international and domestic origins, different flavors, growing practices, and potencies, with brand names like skunk, hydroponic, G13, purple hair, and the like. It seems very similar to the variety of beans and roasters you find in the coffee industry. And I remember all the pipes and bongs at the head shops, glass and ceramic, brass one-hitters, water filtered, vaporizers, etc. It seems very similar to all the mugs and cups and machines you can buy at Starbucks. I remember walking into head shops and smelling the incense burning, being reminded of the smell of marijuana, and I find the experience of walking into a Starbucks and smelling the coffee somewhat reminiscent of that. The coffee related art on the walls at Starbucks doesn't seem all that different from tie-dyed marijuana leaf posters. And head shops were selling music long before Starbucks had that bright idea.

Of course, these similarities should not have surprised me. In both cases we have plants that are grown and consumed for their mood altering properties. Marijuana is much more potent in this regard, and hence much more controversial. I would certainly not attempt to equate them on that level. But when one visits Amsterdam and wants to smoke marijuana, where do they go? To the coffee shop. And does anyone dispute the physically addictive nature of coffee?

I knew a guy once whose nickname was "Coffee". He drank coffee all day every day. When he was broke, which was much of the time, he panhandled to get "coffee money". He got severe headaches and became very irritable when he didn't have any. You knew what he wanted when you saw him coming. He carried a coffee mug with him wherever he went. He never washed it. He claimed that the brown resinous buildup on the inside of his mug actually enhanced the flavor. I suspect when he was out of coffee he may have scraped off the brown gunk and added hot water to get a quick fix. I never understood how addictive coffee could be until I met a man who took it as his name.

Now don't get me wrong. I like coffee just fine. I'm not trying to say that coffee is a terrible drug, and that Starbucks is the dopeman. Lots of people drink coffee, and it actually has a positive effect on their life. It's great in social settings, it helps people start their day, to wake up, to stay focused and alert. And it can be quite comforting on a cold day to cuddle around a warm mug. I don't have a problem with it. I can quit anytime I want.

Ken Bussell
Sent via BlackBerry