Theology

Retrospect, Haiku, and The Unfolding Year

retrospect_web_slider1 As we ended 2014, we spent time in Retrospect, considering three questions:

(1) What were the experiences God used to shape me in 2014? (2) What would I have done differently? (3) How did I get to join God and others in ushering in the world God's making?

January 4 was a beautiful chance to hear some of these stories and to journey together towards the future God's invited us into. As we continue to move forward into 2015, I encourage you to use the time you spent in Retrospect to shape the unfolding year. What steps of faithfulness can you take this year that wouldn't be possible if it weren't for the events of 2014? What new thing might God be inviting you into as the year moves forward?

As I've continued to consider these questions, I was struck by some poetic interactions fellow Open Door'er Stan Hasegawa shared with me on the themes of Retrospect. With his permission, I'm sharing them here as an invitation for you to dig deeper into your Retrospect and next steps forward into 2015!

Retrospect as Re-spect:

To seek: Look again for God – Prospect, introspect, Inspect, retrospect.

Retrospect as Honor:

Give weight to God – Examine how we’ve neighbored, worked, played. Live now closer still.

Retrospect as Theology:

Think thoughts after God – What did he, where we’ve lived, worked, played? What does he now?

What is the Gospel Message?

In response to this question, some would define the "Gospel" as “The life of Jesus being lived out in community among others" while others would offer a paragraph description of the redemptive work of God made real in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. According to the Scriptures the "Gospel" (the greatest news) is the fusion of both.  That is, the Gospel makes sense when it is simultaneously lived and narrated.

In Romans 1:16-17, Paul cues us to the reality that, in Christ, we are Gospel-formed and forming people.  Therefore, it is paramount that we know the Gospel, believe the Gospel, allow ourselves to be formed by the Gospel, and demonstrate the Gospel with our lives.

In this post, I will offer specifics on the narrated Gospel message with the hope that it is helpful in creating clear and shared language for us.

The Gospel narrated is a 2-sided coin.  Throughout the Scriptures, we can read the Gospel against the grain (thematic) and with the grain (narrative).

Thematically, God is holy and just; Sin is universal and terminal; Jesus is the universal substitute who wore the penalty of our sin; and Faith (rather than works) is what makes us children of God. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Colossians 1:27-29; 2:6-7; Philippians 2:12-13; 1 Peter 1:3-5)

The Thematic Gospel:  Through the work of Jesus and the power of His Spirit, God accepts us in our unacceptable-ness, empowers us, and is changing us.  Because of God's work, we have been saved from slavery to sin, are being saved from the power of sin, and will be saved from the presence of sin.

The Gospel Narrative begins with Creation where God is the Author and Main Character; continues through the Fall where the community of humanity rebelled and broke the relationship between themselves and God; Redemption where God took the initiative to reconcile the broken relationship; and Restoration which was consummated in Christ who, in turn, has chosen us to tangibly participate as His Body in ongoing restoration. (Ephesians 1; 2:10; 2:14-22; 2 Corinthians 5:15-21; Revelation 21)

The Narrative Gospel:  God sent His Son to redeem the world and to create a new humanity.  All is being made new by God through His Church who participates with Him in His restorative mission.

In answering the question, "What is the Gospel Message?" our response can and must capture both the Gospel's Power (Thematic) and Purpose (Narrative): 

We have been saved by God's redemptive work for God's restorative work.

Meaning(s) of Baptism

Three things demand clarity before we look into the meaning(s) of baptism. 1. With The Open Door Community, there is plenty of room for diversity in theology and practice.

2.  However, one issue of clarity seems pertinent: Baptism does not save.  Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) that expresses itself in repentance and confession of Jesus as LORD (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9).  Participating or not participating in the ritual does not impact a person’s eternity.  Therefore, while we enthusiastically encourage baptism, we refer to the practice as a non-essential.

3.  In so doing, we affirm the sentiment of Reformer Rupertus Meldinius who once said, "In the essentials we need unity, in the non-essentials we need freedom; but in all things we need love."

Now, to explore the meaning(s) of baptism.

Consider Jesus' baptism.  In order to identify with the community that He had come to redeem (all of humanity through Israel) Jesus experienced John the Baptizer's water baptism of repentance.  Immediately following that moment, Mark exposes the fusion of the three Persons of the Trinity.  The Spirit descended on the Son as the voice of the Father sounded.  Jesus' baptism served as the anointing and inauguration of His ministry.

We could say that we pattern our baptisms after Jesus' baptism and, to some degree, we do.  However, there was something far more significant and far more symbolic going on at Jesus' baptism that serves as the pattern for our own: it pointed to the climax of His work: His death and resurrection.

Jesus' baptism pointed to the defining moment through which all things would be made new.

Thus, when we experience baptism, rather than participating in the baptism of Jesus, we participate in His death, resurrection, and reign.  Baptism, therefore, is a symbolic declaration that:

  • Christ died my death: I am united with Him in His death.
  • Christ is alive: I am united with Him in His life.
  • Christ reigns today: I am united with Him in the work of the Kingdom.
  • I am fully immersed in the life of Christ.
  • I do not save myself.  I am saved through the work of Christ.
  • I belong to God as His beloved.  He is my home.  He is my hope.
  • I choose to go and live out the life of Christ in community with others.

But wait!

Fully functioning, cognitive adults who have been captivated by the Story of God made tangible in the Person of Jesus might be able to symbolically declare this with their baptism, but what about infants?

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, we see children included in the Covenant Rituals exchanged between God and humanity.  In each Covenant, God's interaction was usually with an adult representative but the covenant love of God always reached children before they were even aware.

In Mark 10, we watch the intentional inclusion of children continue in the life of Jesus.  As His disciples tried to restrict inclusion to adults, Jesus, who didn't seem to mind whether a child understood or not, accepted and blessed them.

In Acts 2, Peter gives voice to the new thing that God has done and is doing among a community of people who understood that with a new thing came new initiation rituals.  When they inquired of Peter what that should do, his answer included an initiation ritual: repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit, you and your children!  The baptism of children is implied five times throughout Acts in household baptisms, however, repeatedly throughout the New Testament, baptism, regardless of the timing of it, meant nothing if one's life did not demonstrate the truth of what that baptism represented.

Thus, when we experience an infant baptism, rather than declaring the salvation of the little one, we declare that:

  • God is the initiator in salvation.
  • God's covenant is complete prior to any response.
  • God's redemptive activity is focused on the entire community of humanity and reaches us before we can even understand it.
  • Before we recognize it, God is working to incorporate us into community with Him and others.
  • Even the sweetest, most innocent newborn is in desperate need of God's grace.
  • We rest on the on God's Promise to be that child's God.
  • We commit ourselves to stewarding that child in God's Way.

To sum it up:

The center of attention in baptism is not on who is baptized nor who baptizes. Neither is the focus on when or how.  Rather, the center of attention in baptism is on the Triune God: baptism is an expression of our union with the Father and Son through the Spirit.

For the adult: Baptism is a unique, whole-person, experiential way of participating in and narrating the redemptive Story of God.  In the ritual, we experience God's most extravagant moment of love in an other kind of way.

For the infant and family: Baptism is crying out to God to make good on His promise to apply His redemptive work to their child.

Open Door's Approach to Baptism:

We are not interested in making religious practices essential that don't appear to be essential in the Scriptures; however, whether you're an infant, you've been following Jesus for a lifetime, or are brand new to following Him, we do encourage baptism simply because its a beautiful participation in the Story of God.

Origin of Baptism

In Mark's Gospel, we discover the New Testament’s first mention of baptism.  There, we find John the Baptizer in the wilderness baptizing people who were a part of the Covenant Community (Hebrews), most of whom had been physically marked with the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant (circumcision) and had considered themselves as the “in-with-God” people. Jesus, both the Covenant-giver and member of the Covenant Community, approached John to be baptized.  Once baptized, Mark wrote that the heavens were opened, the Spirit descended, and the Father’s voice sounded: “You are My beloved Son.  With You I am well pleased!”  Holy Spirit empowerment, clarity in identity and affirmation in value are offered Jesus before His ministry even began.

Before Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptizer referred to Jesus as the One who will baptize with Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11).  After Jesus’ baptism, we learn that He never baptized anyone with water but that His disciples did (John 4:2), and that part of our vocation as followers of Jesus is to disciple-make by baptizing and teaching (Matthew 28).  The New Testament continues with frequent mention of the practice of baptism.

 Baptism seems to be a central practice of the Jesus Community but what is its origin?

 In the beginning…

Our Story begins with the Creator speaking existence into being.  The poetry of Genesis 1 portrays the Artisan God inviting creation to rise up from the depths.  New Life emerged thru water on the prompting of the Creator.

In the home of a desperate Hebrew slave…

Our Story continues with the surprisingly reproductive Covenant Community enslaved in the brick kilns of Egypt.  The Pharaoh enacted genocide through the drowning of any newborn Hebrew boy.  One mother would not let anyone else throw her beloved son into the Nile…eventually, though, she had to do it herself.  She placed her baby boy in a basket and placed him in the waters of the Nile, only to be rescued by the Dictator’s own daughter.  Rescue came thru water.

In between walls of water…

The boy, named Moses, grew up and was invited by God to participate in the liberation of the Covenant Community from Egypt.  Their route to freedom seemed to dead-end at the Red Sea.  However, God parted the Red Sea and they walked through the water to their freedom.  Freedom came thru water.

Into the Promsied Land…

After a 40-year wilderness wander, Moses’ predecessor, Joshua, led the Covenant Community to the brink of the Promised Land.  All they had to do was cross the Jordan River and they would be there.  Again, God parted the waters and they walked through to receive God’s Promise.  God’s Promise came thru water.

In our Story, new life, rescue, freedom, and God’s Promises all came thru water.

Back to Mark 1…

John the Baptizer came to prepare the way for the One who would make all things new by bringing rescue and freedom to the community of humanity as the very embodiment of God’s Promise.  Thus, borrowing from his own Story, the ritual that John the Baptizer chose to prepare the people involved bringing them thru water.

The baptism of repentance that John offered the Covenant Community, therefore, required a radical act of individual commitment to belong to God's Community.

Why so radical?

Because those being baptized (the already-circumcised, in-with-God people) had to admit that being born a Jew guaranteed them nothing.  Because they had to acknowledge that what counted was not who their parents were, but whom they lived for.  Because in order to be baptized by John, they had to renounce their dependency on ethnic Jewishness and rely wholly on the mercy of God.

Collage :: Behind the Scenes

Collage was an Open Door Community Learning Forum from Fall, 2011 where we engaged with the Artisan Creator by tapping into our artisan capabilities.  In this post, you can view the Collages and read descriptions by the artists behind each creation.  Every Collage contains various elements that are unique to Walnut Creek, CA. "Rejected" by Rebecca Olson

Creating art, at times, can be extremely overwhelming. I have a difficult time letting go and putting my judgment aside. While creating my collage I went through a similar battle until I saw a growing pile of scrap pieces of paper lying on the table (essentially all the cut out pieces that were no longer needed). I instantly saw a theme and decided to create something out of all the things my other collagers had rejected.

Aaron Pascucci

Approaching the collage experience, I was initially a bit hesitant.  Work, family, and worry were consuming my life.  If I didn't have the time to read a simple article before our first meeting, how would I find the time to devote to creating a simple collage?  The events surrounding our museum trip further confirmed my thoughts. While I had planned all week to make it to this group event I failed to make it, due to the other events consuming my life. Reluctantly, I showed up to the work day. With abandon and no real foresight, I began cutting trying to put something together as to not embarrass myself.  Our time ended and I felt no closer to a decent product than when I started.  The next Friday, with only a few hours to work at my apartment without kid, wife or looming work, I gathered my materials and began to finish.

Our general mission was to take things we came into contact with in our everyday lives and create a collage.  I find that more than I would like, my travels are more electronic than physical: from the digital newspaper I read at work, to the images that cloud my mind, to the photos I re-visit when I'm sad.

The piece I created is a collection of the most prevalent images in my daily digital travels.  The newspaper happened to be the 10th anniversary paper from the 9/11 event, I have thought often about the two women pictured since meeting them in Africa. I was the first white person they had seen and I wonder and hope that I left them with a positive impression.  The rhinos are an animal I wish to emulate: strong yet peaceful and oftentimes sedentary. The damask print comes from images of current home design.  I based the style of the piece on the work of Shepard Fairy, a prominent artist who keeps coming into my digital path. The spray paint stencil is an emulation of the graffiti culture image created by Trent Reznor, a leading pioneer in industrial music whose music I often listen to while writing lesson plans.

In the end, I found that although I felt incredibly overwhelmed by my life, I did have the time to devote to creating a unique piece of culture.  While at first it seemed more like forced work, I was glad that I was forced to try new artistic techniques that I have wanted to try for years and in some manner deal with the images that consume my mind.

Darrell Olson:

I initially found the phrase "Restor/e" and thought it would be interesting to discover/create a collage which told the story of restoration.  However, as the pictures and phrases started to come together I found that the story taking place was less about restoration and more about an eternal warning of life choices.  The focal point of the story seemed to start with the image of an "Eve" or "wicked witch" character and then flowed into the dry bones surrounding her to the tropical images to her right.  It was kind of funny (actually sad) that I had a harder time finding images of redemption/restoration then I did of decay.  Once I finished the piece I realized that most of the other artists had focused in on color, textures and organic material within their piece whereas I had focused more on storytelling.  Perhaps I had missed out on a deeper level of artistic expression, but at the same time I realized that my background as an actor is in narrative storytelling, thus I shouldn't be surprised to find myself drawn to creating a story within collage instead of focusing in on an image.

Annie Nelson:

As an English teacher and a member of modern-day society, I feel overwhelmed by meaningless words.  Angry political rhetoric, sentimental religious fluff, whining students, inconsiderate cellphone jabberers...I drown in thoughtless language.  I long to live boldly, brightly, strongly.  But the words rise up and drown  life's vibrancy in black and white. (The contrast between my experience and Christ-the-Word does not escape me, but didn't inform my creation.)