Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Monday, October 19, 2009

In Memory of Dr. James C. Logan

Dr. James C. Logan was for many years a fixture at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Jim died on Saturday night, October 17. He was 77 years old.

Jim was a gifted teacher, theologian, and scholar. He was generous with his time and energy, especially on behalf of his students. He served as the first E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Wesley. The evangelism chair is now named for him.

Jim was the teacher who introduced me to John and Charles Wesley in a way that changed my life and the trajectory of my career. He made me, and many of my classmates, proud to be Methodists. I am saddened by news of his death.

Eternal God, you have shared with us the life of James Logan.
Before he was ours, he is yours.
For all that James has given us to make us what we are,
for that of him which lives and grows in each of us,
and for his life that in your love will never end,
we give you thanks.
As now we offer James back into your arms,
comfort us in our lonliness,
strengthen us in our weakness,
and give us courage to face the future unafraid.
Draw those of us who remain in this life closer to one another,
make us faithful to serve one another,
and give us to know that peace and joy which is eternal life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Discipleship is Like Riding a Bicycle

This past September I rode my bike in the FedEx ‘Rock-n-Roll’ MS 150 Bike Ride. 430 people rode 74 miles from Graceland in Memphis to Tunica, Mississippi on Saturday. On Sunday morning we rode 76 miles back to Graceland. It was a great event that raised over $410,000 to fight and treat Multiple Sclerosis.

My goal for the Sunday ride was to simply finish. As we set out in the morning I rode alone, trying to maintain a stead speed at around 15 miles per hour. After about ten miles a paceline of about 20 men and women passed me. Near the end of the line one of the guys asked, “Do you want to jump in here?” I said, “Yeah! Thanks.” With that I shifted into a bigger gear and took my place in line.

Riding with that paceline enabled me to increase my speed from 15 mph to 22 mph with relatively little effort. We rode as a group for about 25 miles and broke up when we came to “the wall,” the one big hill climb of the day.

A paceline is a small group of riders riding in single file. They try to stay as close as possible to each other. Each rider tries to keep his or her front wheel inches from the rear wheel of the rider in front of him or her. Each rider takes turns in the lead. Riding this way reduces wind resistance and saves as much as 15% in energy output. A small group of riders in a paceline will go faster with less effort than riding individually.

Riding in a group also means that each rider must communicate clearly with the group. The leader must tell the riders behind him or her when he or she is slowing down by shouting, “Slowing” before applying his or her brakes. The rider behind repeats the warning so that everyone knows what is about to happen. This is done to prevent any rider from touching the slowing rear wheel of the rider in from of him or her with his or her front wheel and causing a both riders to fall.

Paceline riders also warn one another about hazards such as potholes, gravel on the road, railroad tracks, and approaching automobiles. This is done to protect one another from harm and to preserve the integrity of the paceline.

As I reflected on my experience I realized riding in a paceline is a lot like discipleship. The journey of discipleship is best taken with others. It can be done alone, but not very well, and with great difficulty. This is why the congregation promises to surround each member with a community of love and forgiveness.

Christians who travel the journey of discipleship together listen to and watch out for each other. They warn one another about hazards and dangers along the way. They offer encouragement and watch over one another in love. Disciples share a common destination (the reign of God) and do all in their power to help one another get there. Riding in a paceline can teach us a lot about discipleship.

Friday, October 09, 2009

U2 - Evangelists of the Reign of God

I experienced U2 live for the first time on Tuesday night (October 6) with my 15 year old son, Noah. We made the four hour drive from Nashville to Atlanta, arriving at the Georgia Dome about an hour before show time. We had floor tickets so we took up positions very near the outer catwalk of the immense “Space station” stage designed for the 360 Tour. There was a festive spirit in the crowd. Some of which was fueled by the ubiquitous beer vendors.

U2 took the stage after an impressive set by their opening band, the British trio, Muse. Larry Mullen, Jr. walked onto the stage, took his seat behind his drum kit and began to play a driving solo. He was soon joined by Adam Clayton’s bass and the Edge on guitar. Last on the stage was Bono. He walked to his microphone like a boxer ready for a fight. As soon as he grabbed the mike the band broke into an impressive performance of “Breath” from their latest record, “No Line on the Horizon.” This was followed by “Get On Your Boots” and the classics “Mysterious Ways,” “Beautiful Day,” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Bono concluded “Beautiful Day” with a stanza of the Lennon & McCartney “Blackbird.”

The stage, which looks like a giant space ship, gives the band the ability to get close to the audience. It offers excellent sight lines and a catwalk that extends out into the audience. Several times during the show all the band members walked around the catwalk and interacted with their fans. Even Larry Mullen was liberated from the drum kit during the performance of a re-mix version of “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.” He walked around playing a handheld drum. I also noticed that the drum kit platform rotated to allow Mullen to occasionally see the fans behind him. Bono, of course, used the entire stage. He was everywhere; running, jumping, singing. At one point he pulled a woman out of the crowd and danced with her.

U2’s set list that covered most of their recording career. They closed the main set with Bono talking about the importance of non-violent resistance to oppression, acknowledging the people of Iran protesting a stolen election. The stage was enveloped in green light while images of the recent struggle in Iran were projected on the huge video display above the band as they played “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.”

Bono then acknowledged that Atlanta was the home town of one of the greatest leaders of non-violent resistance, The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. In honor of Dr. King, he sang MLK (from the “Unforgettable Fire” album). Finally, an appeal was made for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese leader who has been under house arrest for over five years. Bono sang “Walk On” while about 50 people walked onto the catwalk holding a mask of Aung San Suu Kyi in front of their faces. This marked the end of the main set.

Immediately before the band came onto the stage for the first encore, an image of Bishop Desmond Tutu’s smiling face appeared on the 360º video screen. He told us that we are all “One” in our common humanity. We are responsible for one another. Tutu joyfully told the crowd of the thousands of lives that have been saved in Africa with the advent of HIV/AIDS drugs and mosquito nets. Many of those children who are alive today will become doctors and scientists and leaders who will solve many of the world’s big problems. Tutu told us that anything is possible when we all work together as “One.” Then the band returned to the stage and played “One,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

U2 played two three-song encores. It was a great show. Noah and I had a wonderful time. It was worth all the effort to get there.

As I reflect upon what happened that night, as I look at the set list, and Bono’s appeals for non-violence and inviting his fans to participate in non-violent resistance of oppression, saving lives and helping to prevent disease, it dawned on me that we had been part of an evangelistic event. Certainly, on the surface the evening was a very good rock concert. But when you look below the surface through the words of the songs, the talk of non-violence and an invitation to participate in the work of saving lives, ending war, and resisting oppression I realized that U2 is a powerful evangelist for the reign of God.

U2’s songs tell stories about faith, doubt, hope, suffering and love. They sing about the world as it is and the world as it will be. At several points in the show Bono segued from one of his songs into a gospel song (I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - Stand By Me & Sunday Bloody Sunday - People Get Ready). Near the end of the show, following his performance of “One,” he sang the great gospel hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Many in the crowd joined him. The entire concert was a powerful presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ: the good news of the coming reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. It concluded with an invitation to participate in the work of preparing this planet for the coming reign of God.

Bono tells us that the kingdom of God is breaking out all around us. We can see it if we have eyes to see and hear it if we have ears to listen. It is in the Iranian people protesting a corrupt authoritarian government through non-violent demonstrations. It is in the gentle witness of Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest in Myanmar for the crime of winning an election. It is in the work of countless people distributing life-saving drugs to fight HIV/AIDS and mosquito nets preventing Malaria in Africa.

U2 is proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. They don’t sing love songs about Jesus. While it is clear in the words of many of the songs that Bono has a deeply personal and intimate relationship with Christ, he doesn’t sing about accepting Jesus as a personal savior. On the contrary, his songs are more genuine evangelism because they tell stories that emerge from the gospel Jesus himself preached and lived, the reign of God. The relationship with Jesus comes when people respond to the good news and participate in the way of Jesus, which is the way of self-giving love. People will meet Jesus when they open themselves to their neighbor, especially the neighbor who is poor or sick or oppressed or mourning.

Jesus was the evangelist of the kingdom of God. The kingdom broke out everywhere he went: people were healed, sight was restored, the oppressed were set free, and the dead were raised. Jesus’ life is love incarnate; loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. This love is the good news at the heart of U2’s music and their live performances. It is the character of God and of God’s kingdom.

If evangelism is proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ so that it is good news to those who hear it, and inviting people to participate in Christ work of preparing this planet for the coming reign of God, then U2 is an evangelist.

U2 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA
October 6, 2009

Main Set:
Get On Your Boots
Mysterious Ways
Beautiful Day - Blackbird
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - Stand By Me
Stuck In A Moment
No Line On The Horizon
Until the End of the World
The Unforgettable Fire
City of Blinding Lights
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight (remix)
Sunday Bloody Sunday - People Get Ready
Walk On

Amazing Grace
Where the Streets Have No Name
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender