28 December 2006

New RSS (Atom) feed

Hey all, if you happen to subscribe to my blog's feed (in Bloglines or the like), it has come to my attention (thanks, StaplerDude!) that my feed's URL changed when I upgraded to the new Google/Blogger thingy. If you were subscribed to my FeedBurner feed (http://feeds.feedburner.com/RudeArmchairTheology), you should automagically get the new feed. If you were subscribed to my unBurned Blogger feed (http://mcroghan.blogspot.com/atom.xml), you might not be seeing updates. So, if you want to subscribe, please switch over to the FeedBurner feed, and I'll try to make sure it always points at the right thing.

Thanks!

23 December 2006

5 things YOU didn't know about me

Well, my friend the LightLady tagged me with a meme (ow!), so here y'all go. Five things almost nobody knows about me:

1) When I was six or so, my cousin chucked a plastic toy block at my head and knocked the corner off my left front tooth. We tried to repair it a couple of times when I was a kid, and the fake bit fell off both times, so I gave up.

2) I love to travel, but I've never set foot a different continent than the one I was born on. I've been to both Canada and Mexico a few times each.

3) I'm quite literally a bastard - my mom never married my biological father. However, my dad (who adopted me when I was five) and my biological father are both 100% Irish, so I'm 50% Irish no matter how you slice it. Which is why I try very hard not to hear my new nickname ("Mick") as an ethnic slur. ;-)

4) Tina and I have known each other since we started going to the same school in the 8th grade. However, we didn't start dating until we were freshmen in college.

5) I have a phobia about driving over suspension bridges. It's a really bad idea for me to atempt to do that. Freaks me out big time.

So, there you go. BrickDude, GoldenGirl, StaplerGuy, PassageChick, and BoredSeminarian: tag, you're it.

09 December 2006

Just read this

This story is from Webb Kline, via Rick "Bartimaeus" Meigs. Do me a favor - read it, and, if you feel like it, tell me what you think. I don't want to prejudice you by commenting on it at all myself.

A waitress, who was really moved by both the concert and our mission presentation at the bar, spent a long time talking with my wife and me. She is in her mid 20’s, I’d say, and she knows she has made some bad decisions with her life. Looking for help from God to get her act together, she began attending her mother’s church until the pastor told her that she wasn’t welcome unless she left her live-in boyfriend and stopped living in sin.

She told me that she really didn’t want to live with him, knew it was wrong and that it was also a bad example for her son. But, she said that she saw no way that she could make ends meet for the two of them without his help. She is trying to better herself and is taking classes at the local university in addition to waitressing. She thought that she could go to church where she could learn how to find a relationship with God and learn how to follow him and hopefully find a way out of her situation, but instead she was now both bitter and distraught over what happened with the preacher incident.

But, what we are doing in building this mission to the Ukrainian kids really got her attention and showed her a side to faith she hadn’t experienced in her mom’s church. Immediately, she wanted to help in any way she could. She told us she felt like she could jump on a plane with us and head for Ukraine were it not for her son. I explained that he could go too, as it would be good experience for him, although a bit young. We organize short term family mission trips, where the families temporarily adopt kids from the orphanage to stay with them and interact with them while they are there. It helps the orphans immensely and is life-changing for the entire family.

Anyway, I explained the unconditional love, grace and forgiveness of Jesus to the waitress and she began fighting back the tears. You could see the burden lifted as she began to grasp the idea of a God who would accept her at face value. She is looking forward to talking more with us.

But, here is what I see, and this is the kind of thing I experience all the time in evangelism:

1. This girl didn’t need anyone to tell here what was wrong with her; she already knew.

2. What she needed to know was that if she waited until she ‘got it right’ that she would never measure up, and that God just wanted her to give her heart to him despite how messed up her life was.

3. What she went to church to find, she was refused because some judgmental goof ball was unwilling to extend the same kind of grace to her that God extended to him when he got saved. I run in to this ALL the time and it is one of the biggest reasons, I believe, that people find religion offensive.

4. If this girl becomes involved with us in our mission, whether here or in Ukraine doesn’t really matter, her focus will change from inward to outward. She will grow more concerned with meeting the needs of others and will find true fulfillment in that, just as we all do. In the process, the sins that hold her captive will begin to diminish their hold on her because she now finds something much more worthwhile to live for.

We don’t spend a lot of time in discipleship training because we find that if we believe in someone, they begin to believe in themselves and they begin making the changes necessary in their lives as the Holy Spirit convicts. In the end, we have true missional disciples, not proud self-righteous Bible scholars who may appear religious but have little or no compassion or passion for those who are perishing. Of course, we believe this is true discipleship as well as the kind of obedience which pleases God.

All we really need to do is to go into all the world and live out the Gospel in their midst and God will take care of the rest.

I will say this: I think Webb's got it right, pretty much. You?

03 December 2006

Community (Part 2)

I have a feeling that this is going to be a long series, because I'm literally learning more about authentic Christian community every day lately. But for now, I'm not going to blog about recent stuff I'm learning, because first I need to chew on it some.

Instead, for now, I'm taking it an another direction - but one I didn't anticipate when I began writing the first post. It's also not a line of reflection with which I'm entirely comfortable, because it may make others uncomfortable, or even angry. But that's not until the next post. :-) For now, I'm just going to answer the question I ended with last time:

[I]s it an Acts-like Christian community if you just spend all your time with your fellow disciples? What about inviting, welcoming, and making room for the stranger, the unknown neighbor, the person in need? Is that important too?

Um...yes. It's pretty much the essence of the gospel, in my opinion. There's nothing more important for a Christian community than to do this. Without a primary emphasis on these missional relationships with the "other", there is, in my opinion, no Christian community. That was an easy one. Next question?

Next question is harder. I'm claiming that two key activities of a healthy Christian community are a) spending time with fellow Jesus-followers in your community, building mutual understanding, trust, and love, encouraging each other toward maturity, etc., and b) spending time with those currently outside the community, especially those in need, blessing and serving them. Those aren't in priority order; in my opinion, both are essential, and neither ought to be compromised. So my next, potentially uncomfortable question is this: what do the committed disciples in most churches actually spend their time doing?

29 November 2006

Laziness

Hey folks, remember that series I was doing, where I attempted to summarize the book The Continuing Conversion of the Church? No? I suspected as much. I don't think I'm going to bother finishing that series, because I'm not convinced that I'm rendering anyone a service that outweighs the work involved. I suspect one or two of you were interested in that series, but I think I was managing to do a poor enough job of making those summaries readable that it wasn't really of benefit. However, if even one person comments on this post that they'd like me to finish that series, I'll happily do so. (Really! I remain a big fan of the book.) I'm just not of a mood to spend time on anything that doesn't serve someone, that's all.

Peace!

26 November 2006

Wisdom from your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man

I guess if there's anything I could say...anything that would mean anything...it would be...
Use sunscreen. Don't smoke. Eat your vegetables. Protect your friends.
And savor it. Savor it all. The good times and the bad. Because even with the bad times, people love you, and you're alive.

And being alive...is amazing.

- Peter Parker (actually former Jesus People leader and current sci-fi/comics writer J. Michael Straczynski), giving advice to his 16-year-old former self, in The Amazing Spider-Man #536
I kind of liked that. My friend John Bozeman and I have discussed JMS's former faith and how his journey has affected his fiction. As a big fan of his work (Babylon 5 is his most well-known TV project), I find those topics fascinating. There's definitely a wise and true and spiritual message in much of his fiction, but is it missing something? Who am I to judge? Interesting to ponder, though.

24 November 2006

Next DC Cohort meeting: 11 December

I've been a little distracted of late (see below), so I failed to advertise the November meeting of the DC Emergent Cohort (which was a big event with big names and a whole lot of people - and an opportunity for some great conversations). Anyway, this is from Sara on the official DC Cohort blog:


Hi all! Our next gathering will be at the Harp and Fiddle in Bethesda on December 11 at 7 pm. They have a sweet little back room that has served us well and may become our regular space. Come on out for a little Advent cheer and conversation. I am working on a speaker, but if anyone has a burning topic they would like to discuss drop me an e-mail.

Other tentative dates to put on your calenders are January 15, February 12 and March 12. We will meet from 7 pm - 9 pm each time.

Blessings!!

Sara

22 November 2006

Let me tell you about my fall...

That's a slightly ambiguous blog post title. Fall from grace? Well...maybe there was an aspect of that. Fall from innocence? Yeah, definitely some of that too. But mostly I felt like maybe it was time to fill you in - if you are one of the handful of readers of my blog who don't know me personally - about what's been going on with me this autumn. You may have noticed that I haven't been blogging much. You might have wondered why. Here's where I try to tell a really abbreviated version of that story, for those who might be interested. If you want more detail, you can e-mail me to ask for it, but there's some sensitive stuff involved, so I make no promises. But here are the facts of the story.

In mid-September, my dear friends lost their son.

Some events surrounding little Will's funeral crystallized for me a realization that I had been coming to for a while: there seem to be some deep-level conflicts between the reality of ministry in an Episcopal Church setting on the one hand, and my heart-deep understanding of the gospel and Christian discipleship - as I seem to be called to live these things - on the other.

As a result of this realization, I went from being a very active member of the Episcopal Church (and a specific Episcopal church, whose people I continue to love dearly) to being "agnostic" about whether or not I'm an Episcopalian. My good friend Fr. Rick helped me see that I don't have to come down hard on "membership" or lack thereof. So I don't. But practically speaking, I went from being very active and busy in that setting to having relatively few connections with the life of my Episcopal church. Thank God, and thank my wonderful friends: my relationships with my dear friends at that church remain loving, without exception.

This whole series of events was pretty traumatic for me, to be honest. Among other things, I lost twelve pounds in two weeks due to stress and non-intentional fasting.

So, I found myself going from being an active member of two churches to just one, more or less.

Just a few days after Will's funeral, one of the social workers at FACETS (where Tina used to work) e-mailed Deanna, one of the leaders of my little church, with an urgent need: a mom with two daughters, age 8 and 13, were facing homelessness that very day if they couldn't find a place to stay for about a month, until they got their Section 8 housing.

Some of the issues that led to my parting of ways with the Episcopal Church had to do with the radical hospitality that I believe is near the heart of the gospel. And my wife, whose heart is much closer to God's than mine is, just naturally opens herself and gives, without needing any trumped-up theological justification. And, though our house is quite small, we had a spare room. So we said yes.

To make a very long story short, this family got the key to their new place a few days ago - into the ninth week of their stay with us. For a variety of reasons, the stress level associated with this living arrangement built steadily, and was nearly unbearable by the end. We had actually decided, for the good of all involved, to stop sleeping in our own house, and had been house-sitting for some friends who were out of town (and to whom we are deeply grateful). The last night before they got their key, nobody slept in our house except our pets, so concerned were we all to avoid an emotionally unhealthy encounter.

So, in the end, our fumbling attempt at hospitality was a success in that we bridged this family from their previous (precipitously ended) living arrangement to their Section 8 housing. And we definitely learned a lot that will make us much smarter the next time we do something like this - and about our own naivete and inexperience, and the limits of our strength and tolerance and emotional endurance. My own emotional state is still healing. I'm praying to wake up tomorrow with a little less irrational anxiety clutching my chest - especially since the situation that had been prompting that anxiety is now in the past.

Most of that sounds really heavy - and to be frank, much if it was. These last couple of months have been one of the heaviest periods of my life. But please understand: none of this has really dented my faith. In fact, my faith - along with my family, and my incredible, caring, supportive friends in two church communities - have helped me to get through this time much more "whole" than was the case in previous, similarly heavy periods of my life. And even now, when my heart is still healing, I'm really not having trouble seeing the hand of God in all of this. All of it. Even though many of the workings of that hand remain a mystery to me. And (regarding that mystery), I wouldn't want it any other way. Which is not to say it isn't hard sometimes.

So here's the bright core of a heavy story. At the same time all of this has been going on, a realization has been slowly dawning on me. This is it: my wildest dreams, and my fondest dreams, seem to have an amazing amount in common with the dreams and the life of my little church, the Common Table. And as the people of this church, my dear friends, have supported and cared for Tina and me through this fall (and, to a much smaller degree, we've been able to support and care for them) - and as I've seen my church-phobic wife become an integral part of this church community - I've realized that my love for these people is stronger than anything else in my life, except my love for Tina.

I've realized that, in being a part of this community of disciples of Jesus, I'm doing what I've always wanted to do, being what I've always wanted to be, and doing it alongside my wife, which is something I'd sort of stopped dreaming of. This sense of call I've been trying to discern for nearly the past four years - I can't conceive of a better place to live it out than here, among these people. So, on this Thanksgiving day (OK, it ended about an hour ago) following this extremely challenging autumn, I am more deeply and thoroughly thankful to our loving God than I have ever been in my life. (And if I'm not, then I bloody well should be.)

Thank you, God, and please help me to become a better servant. And thank you - so much - for surrounding me with such an incredible community of people to grow, learn, and serve together with. Amen.

UPDATE: I made one tiny edit above. If you're clever enough to spot it (which seems unlikely), please note that it was late when I wrote this, and I really, truly meant to phrase that sentence differently in the first place - I was surprised to go back and read it and see that I really had written it that way. No, I'm not going to tell you, but suffice it to say that, in math, some operators are definitely not commutative, so it behooves one to point them in the right direction. :-)

09 November 2006

The tragedy of divorce and the protection of marriage

Just a quick note regarding the sad passing of the anti-marriage amendment to the VA constitution this week.

"Marriage," in my opinion, has become an unfortunate casualty of our society's state of denial regarding the death of Christendom in North America. Church and state (or church and civil society) have gone through a divorce. There were irreconcilable differences. Like any divorce, it's had tragic consequences, but it's probably for the best. But we don't want to admit it.

We need to decide who gets custody of the term "marriage" - religion, or secular government - and stop pretending that the faith community's blessing of a union and the government's legal recognition of a union have anything to do with each other any more. In my opinion, faith communities should be able to bless any union they choose (and refrain from blessing any union they choose), and we should call that "marriage" (because in truth, God had the concept first). Government should cease and desist having anything to do with anything called "marriage", and should sanction civil unions, with the full benefits currently conveyed by the legal concept of "marriage", between any two consenting adults. Continuing to conflate the two concepts, which were only really related before the death of Christendom, just confuses these issues and leads to tragedies like the anti-marriage amendment we just passed in the Old Dominion.

Except that many of us *want* to confuse the issues. Because we're in denial. We hope and pray that Mom and Dad - church and civil society - will get back together - that it's really only a trial seperation.

Sorry, but I don't think so. Some relationships don't last forever. And we can't "protect marriage" by pretending that the Christendom divorce didn't happen - or by amending our constitutions to try to *prevent* loving, committed unions, instead of working on ways to encourage, strengthen, and preserve them.

05 November 2006

Community (Part 1?)

OK, I'm going to try to ease back into this "regular blogging" thing. I think a key to doing it successfully right now might be for me to attempt something of which I'm seldom capable: brevity. :-)

So, this may or may not be the first of a series of brief - yet original - posts on something on which I've been reflecting a great deal: community. Specifically, Christian community - like "early chapters of Acts"-style Christian community. Note: one aspect of "brevity" is that although I've been reading some great blogs and books (especially the Good Book) on this subject, I'm probably not going to take the time to reference them. Sorry. Busy. Maybe later.

So here's my first brief thought: I think for that kind of community to form, you've got to spend some significant amount of time with the fellow disciples in your community. An hour or two on Sunday mornings doesn't cut it. That plus a committee meeting - to conduct business alone - once every several weeks doesn't cut it. How are we going to get to know our brothers and sisters well enough to form an Acts-like community on that kind of basis? How are we going to form that kind of trust, or open ourselves to that kind of vulnerability? How are we going to have the kinds of conversations that allow us to figure out not just how much we're getting done, but if we're even doing the things God is calling us to do?

I think my next brief thought will be a sort of antidote to this one: is it an Acts-like Christian community if you just spend all your time with your fellow disciples? What about inviting, welcoming, and making room for the stranger, the unknown neighbor, the person in need? Is that important too? Hmm....

27 October 2006

Items of interest

I haven't managed to find the time or creativity to blog lately, even though there's been a lot going on in my head and heart that I would normally work through by spewing some words into the blogosphere. This remains the status quo, so instead of posting my own thoughts, I'll direct you to a couple of guys I admire who are thinking and blogging about some of the same things that have been rattling around in my skull lately.

I'm a big fan of Bob Carlton. Never met him, but his blog is chock full of really good stuff, both theological and mundane. I've been reading him for several months, but I don't think I've ever seen Bob quite this cynical before. I've had some cynical days over the past couple of months, but I think Bob beats me hands down. That being the case, I'm not saying Bob speaks for me - more that the fact that someone as cool as Bob has been driven to such deep, dark feelings about our Anglican tribe is itself a cause for something like mourning.

I'm also a big fan of Steve Pankey, whom I do know personally. He's reflecting about rules (in a church context), today. I've been thinking about that too. He doesn't really come to any peace with the subject, but in his analysis, he talks about why God may have given us "rules". This is good theology, IMHO, and to me it begs the question: in the case of any particular rule or set of rules - did God give them to us? Or did we give them to ourselves? And if the latter - is it really a gift? Or a shackle? Is the process of building any human institution inevitably a process of forging the "right" kind of shackles?

Hmm. There's me getting cynical. But not as cynical as Bob. :-)

13 October 2006

DC Emergent Cohort meeting, Monday 16 October

Please attend to this important notice, lifted verbatim from my friend Steve's blog:

we finally got word on the location for the october meeting of the dc emergent cohort. it'll be held at, gulp, wesley tholeogical seminary. You are invited to join them for dinner in their refectory from 5:30 'til 6:30 ($7.50) or just show up at the Kresge Building and follow signs for the 7 PM discussion with Diana Butler Bass on her new book, Christianity for the Rest of Us.

I'd recommend you come, it'll be good even though its at Wesley.

That parting comment is due to Steve's being part of a rival gang, known as Virginia Theological Seminary. Perhaps if you come, you will see Wesley and VTS folks dancing and snapping and wielding jackknives, just like in West Side Story. ;-)

Thanks, Steve, for the words I stole. "Don't shade your eyes - plagiarize!" :-D

UPDATE: A comment from Steve reminded me that urban hoods (and, presumably, rumbling urban seminarians) use switchblades, not jackknives. (And to add to my self-doubt, does that word really have two k's in it? Probably not.) Sorry. I'm a redneck. We use jack[k?]nives, and don't care whether we can spell them.

My wife, however, uses carefully balanced throwing blades. She has a "to hit" bonus of +3 against goblins and their ilk. :-)

09 October 2006

Missional

Sometimes, folks have asked me what "missional" means. Other times (I'm sure), they've heard me use the word and wondered what in blazes I was talking about.

Here's what it means.

Thanks, Bartimaeus.

07 October 2006

Life

At some point, I really need to blog about what's going on in my life. Much of it is really quite interesting, and I'm sort of in the mood lately to blog about "life" instead of "theology". (Although, to be honest, I'm trying pretty hard to sort out some thorny pseudo-theological issues right now too - like "what does the word 'church' mean to me?") But anyway, although my life is somewhat interesting lately, that same life seems to leave me little time to write about it - especially in light of the fact that so much interesting stuff has been going on, it's hard to know where to start. Hmm. A paradox.

There - aren't you glad you came to my blog today? After all that silence, a post that says nothing. It's positively Seinfeldian. Tina hates Seinfeld. She wouldn't approve.

29 September 2006

Missional / Emerging / Emergent

Hi folks. I'm back, if only for a brief post. Sorry I've been away.

Here's what I wanted to mention: If, when you hear any or all of the terms "missional", "emerging", or "emergent" (in relation to the church), you react in some way (personal identification, curiosity, aversion, whatever) - and especially if your thinking goes like "well, I might be X, but I'm pretty sure I'm not Y, and I'm not sure I like Y very much, to be honest..." then please take a look at what Jamie is saying on this subject here and here.

That's all.

Peace,
Mike

16 September 2006

In Loving Memory of William Addison Stavlund

Details on Sunday and Monday's services in honor and memory of Will and in love of his parents, Mike and Stacy, and his sister Ella, can be found on the Common Table web site.

Among those details is an invitation to offer a poem, a prayer, a piece of visual art or some other offering for the Stavlunds during this time.

May we all be encircled in the love and comfort of God.

13 September 2006

Grief

I've been having trouble writing about this. Schuyler has begun to aggregate what others have shared, so I'll direct you to their words. I'm also having a hard time praying. I keep on falling into prayer - especially prayer for Stacy, Mike, and Ella - but there are no words, and there's no peace in the silence. So, I fall back to faith - faith that the love of God, channelled through a community of people who care deeply and powerfully for them, will in some way comfort a grieving mom, dad, and twin sister. Will, in your short time with us, you taught us so many lessons of courage, strength, tenderness, and love. Mike, Stacy, and Ella, we love you.

O God, whose beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them: Give us grace to entrust Will to your never- failing care and love, and bring us all to your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Most merciful God, whose wisdom is beyond our understanding: Deal graciously with Stacy, Mike, and Ella in their grief. Surround them with you love, that they may not be overwhelmed by their loss, but have confidence in your goodness, and strength to meet the days to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

09 September 2006

The Archbishop of Canterbury and "the gay issue"

I'm not quite sure what to make of this:

Gays must change, says archbishop - from Telegraph.co.uk

Everyone - the reporter, and interviewed folks on both sides of the issue - seem to be assuming that the Archbishop's remarks represent a fairly radical reversal of his previous views on the more progressive side of these issues. More of Dr. Williams' comments can be found here (HT: Will). I felt like I was searching in vain for a quote that made that supposed reversal crystal clear. He was making several nuanced distinctions, and to be honest, I was frustrated: is this theological sophistication, or political double-speak? What's the difference?

I guess, in the end, I came away thinking that, the "higher up" you get in a large church institution, the more impossible it is to distinguish between spiritual discernment and political reality. I have a very high degree of respect for Rowan Williams, and I am definitely not accusing him of being a cynical political animal. In fact, his words that I've linked to here, like all I've read from Williams, are those of a powefully intelligent, deeply faithful, and fundamentally compassionate man. But despite that, his job is an intrinsically political one. As is the job of anybody in a position of leadership/authority in a church institution of sufficient size. I think that's just reality.

And I find myself wondering: is it worth it? Are our Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Pastors, etc. happy? Better question: are they able to joyfully discern the calling and sending of the Spirit, and serve God and God's people, in the face of the unavoidably political nature of their jobs? Are these institutional structures worthwhile? Do they bless the world and the church more than they sap our energy, our passion, and our strength?

C'mon, folks. I need help here. Somebody please reassure me that large institutional church structures bless the world, and we wouldn't be better off with loose networks of small congregations and house churches, joining/networking together to do things like large-scale and international mission/service/aid work. Anybody? My e-mail address is at the top of the blog if you don't want to comment.

01 September 2006

Upcoming events

I wanted to remind y'all about a couple of upcoming events, to which everyone who reads this blog is most assuredly invited. (Though I recognize that if you live in Boston or Pretoria, you're unlikely to justify the plane ticket. Especially with the threat of poisonous snakes, and all.)

  1. Thursday, 7 September (evening): The first meeting of "mesh, a new, inclusive, faith discussion community". Please check out the mesh blog for more info, and send an e-mail to meshcoordinators@yahoogroups.com to join the e-mail group and get directions.
  2. Monday, 18 September, 7 PM: The Washington, DC Emergent Cohort will welcome both Don Dayton, author of Discovering an Evangelical Heritage, and Tony Jones, national coordinator for Emergent Village. Wow! It'll be at Guapos restaurant in Tenleytown; check out the DC Cohort blog for more info.

If you miss these, you'll be kicking yourself. Again and again. It will hurt. And where's the fun in that? :-)

29 August 2006

Sacramental vs. missional?

Scot McKnight has a very thought-provoking post this morning which, among other things, highlights a difference he has with the sacramental traditions within the Body of Christ (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, etc.):

I have one big beef with all of the major, high church liturgical traditions. That is, they tend to make “church” about going to church on Sunday morning in order to let the “magic” (as one of my Roman Catholic friends calls it) happen. That is, because they are sacramental (and I’m not), they tend to see the major thing the church does is provide mass, communion, whatever you want to call it. This is a mistake — and my sacramental friends will disagree with me. I see the functional model at work in such churches to be “attractional.” People come to church, not solely, but primarily for the communion service.

I believe “church” is about gathering in fellowship and worship and instruction but the focus of church is about being empowered to a missional life in the community — in evangelism and service. This has been the emphasis of the evangelical movement for a long, long time and that is where my heart is.

The test for a church, in my judgment, is its zeal for what the followers of Jesus are supposed to be doing: evangelizing, worshiping, praying, learning theology, serving, being compassionate, etc.. In other words, are its ministries holistic? Do they believe in the whole gospel? Do they practice the whole gospel?

Wow. Here’s one of Scot's sacramental friends not necessarily disagreeing with him. To be perfectly honest, I’d never thought this issue through clearly before, but practically and generally speaking, I can’t say he's wrong. I don’t think “sacramental” and “missional” are opposed in principle, and I can think of plenty of examples of Christian communities that are both - from missional movements within Roman Catholicism to “emerging” churches rooted in sacramental traditions (like Seattle’s Church of the Apostles and my own Common Table) to churches with thoroughly low-church evangelical roots that have placed a renewed emphasis on the sacraments (like Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis). But in practice, I think you’re right about the attractional emphasis of established sacramental traditions. Is it really harder for (say) ECUSA folks to grasp the missional mindset than for (say) PCUSA folks, due to this issue? And even in the "both/and" communities I know, can the sacramental focus in some way be a hindrance to missional transformation?

I still feel pretty certain that it's possible for a community to be both joyously sacramental and passionately missional - but I suspect that such a community needs to be constantly vigilant that they don't slip into a wholly attractional "if we keep dispensin' the magic, they will come" mode. Could this happen within a generation, in a community that walked a tough path of missional transformation just a few years before? It seems plausible to me.

Much to think about. Thanks, Scot!

23 August 2006

Changing minds, changing hearts, changing the world

Yes! The presence of the invincible Danger Mouse over there can mean only one thing: this, at long last, is the post about DANGER. :-)

OK, all right, let me get one thing perfectly clear: what I'm not doing. I'm not trying to sound the alarm of "heresy!" or "revisionism!" or "satanic influence!" or anything like that. What I want to talk about is a question of emphasis - of the relative importance of various things that are all fundamentally good. Please keep that in mind.

Another disclaimer: I'm going to be making a lot of gross generalizations and oversimplifications for rhetorical purposes. I know I'm doing it. I think I need to do it to say what I want to say with anything approaching an economy of words. Despite that, please rest assured that I know reality is far more complex than I make it out to be.

Right: That'll do for the preliminaries. Here begins the post proper.

It seems an odd thing to say about the world's most notoriously conservative institutions, but I believe that religions are fundamentally about change. One of the interesting ways in which they differ is in the types of change they emphasize. For the purposes of my argument, I'm going to lump the types of change into three broad categories:
  • Changing minds. I mean this in the sense of "Change Your Mind Day" - spiritual practices aimed at transforming the individual for the better. More spiritual, more compassionate, more attuned to the divine, less angry, less greedy, etc. Meditation, contemplative prayer, rosary, labyrinth, fasting and other ascetic practices, attending teachings, reading books, etc.
  • Changing hearts. I mean this in the sense of "conversion". Evangelism. Proselytizing. Whatever. Inviting more people to commit to the faith. (It's worth noting that even faiths that don't emphasize conversion are concerned, to some extent, with changing the hearts of the next generation of their own current believers.)
  • Changing the world. You know, "love your neighbor as yourself". Caring for the creation/environment. Working for peace and justice. Making the world a better place.
To continue with my broad generalizations, I'm going to claim that different world faiths place differing emphasis on these types of change. For example, Buddhism is all about "changing minds", with a secondary emphasis on "changing hearts", and very little tradition of "changing the world" (at least in the here and now - the quest for enlightenment is, ultimately, meant to transform the universe, but probably not in this lifetime). Hinduism has incredibly rich traditions for "changing minds" but has not been primarily concerned with "changing hearts" or "changing the world" (though this itself has changed somewhat since Gandhi).

In general, the "Western" or Abrahamic faiths - Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and their children - have been more concerned with "changing the world" and have been described as "historical" faiths, in contrast with the "Eastern" faiths, which tend to see history as cyclical. Judaism's emphasis has been on "changing the world" - a chosen people called to be a blessing to the nations. Islam has emphasized both changing the world and changing hearts. Both Judaism and Islam have rich "changing minds" traditions (Kabbalah and Sufism, among other strains within those faiths), but these are not the dominant voices within the two religions.

And what of Christianity? I would submit that any careful study of the Biblical tradition, the life and teachings of Jesus, the early church, and church tradition would lead one to the conclusion that the Christian faith has a dual emphasis: changing hearts (the Great Commission) and changing the world (the Great Commandment). There is a strong, incredibly important tradition of rich, beautiful practices for "changing minds" - from Jesus' solitude in the desert through the Desert Mothers and Fathers to Benedict, Juliana of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Juan de la Cruz, Ignatius, Brother Lawrence, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, etc., etc. (I don't claim to have those saints in historical order.) :-) These traditions are incredibly rich, vital, good, and necessary. I need to practice them much more than I do. But.

But..."changing minds" was not Jesus' main concern. It is not the main concern of the New Testament. So here's where I finally get to the part about "danger". The danger is one of emphasis - of priority among good things - but in my opinion it's real. Here it is: the liberal mainline churches and emerging churches need to be careful that they don't end up creating a version of the Christian faith that's "all about practice" - all about inward spiritual exercises aimed at "changing your mind". Spiritual practices are very much in vogue in both mainline and emerging circles. Here are a few examples.

This is good. It's wonderful that we're rediscovering these traditions. We need to keep exploring them. But "practice" is not the only thing, and if the Christian faith is to remain true to Jesus, I don't believe it's the main thing, either. There is also "changing hearts", and there is also "changing the world". Though Jesus was indisputably an Asian, Christianity is not an Eastern faith, and I think he would have us live as he did - recharging in solitude and prayer, and then getting our hineys back out there to participate in God's mission: changing the world and the human hearts within it. So, while we're reconnecting with our rich traditions of spiritual practice - while we're becoming intentionally practicing congregations - let's not forget that the purpose of these practices is to enable us to be ambassadors of the kingdom of God, participating in God's mission in the world.

That's all. No heretics or demons for Danger Mouse to fight. Sorry. :-)

HT: Israel, for getting me thinking about contemplative/Eastern practices and their relation to the Christian faith.

RSS reader reviews

Sorry Stavlund - one more post that's not about - ooooh - church DANGER! ;-)

So my first RSS reader was the one that came in Google's Desktop Sidebar, which calls RSS feeds "web clips" and, sadly, doesn't work very well. (Or at least didn't at the time, and it was bad enough that I'm not inclined to try it again.) It was one of those products with lots of ambition but poor execution - it tried to add feeds automagically for you based on your browsing habits (which was neat, if perhaps a bit Google-standard-creepy), but it made it absolutely impossible to manage a list of feeds across multiple computers. Also, it missed updates - alot.

So I dumped it in favor of a Firefox plugin called Wizz RSS Reader. This was better - the feature set was all I could ask for - but since it did all its work within Firefox on the local computer, it tended to make both the browser and the slow computers I run it on v-e-r-y v-e-r-y s-l-o-w. It might be OK if you watch fewer feeds than I do (72, currently), but for me, it was untenable.

So yesterday I got fed up with that one too and went in search of something better. Here are the incredibly unscientific results of my auditions for "Croghan's Next Top Newsreader":

  • Pluck. Grade: F. I had high hopes for this one. I've heard good stuff about the company, and they had a Firefox plugin that seemed similar to the one I'd been using, while fixing its major problem (by being more server-based). I set it up, and was digging it, but after an hour, I noticed that it had decided that absolutely everything I subscribed to was new and unread. I "read" each feed individually (the only way to change the status to "read"), and an hour later, absolutely every feed was "unread" again. I went to their support site, and it said that this was a known issue that their engineers were aware of, but there was no fix at this time. I wrote them a perturbed e-mail in which I likened that to Microsoft saying, "We know that IE7 doesn't actually allow you to browse web sites. Our engineers are aware of the problem, but we have no fix at this time. We hope you enjoy the product anyway." I tried their web-based client, but as far as I can tell it makes no attempt to keep track of "read" vs. "unread" at all. I didn't try their IE plugin (I rarely use IE), but, you know, what all this comes down to is: F. Drop the "Pl", replace it with an "S", folks - thanks for playing.
  • Rojo. Grade: D. Hmm. Looks like it might be cool. Register. O-kay - it seems to think that if I want an RSS reader, I must also want a contacts manager. What-evah. Import my feeds. 18 of 72 feeds failed to import. Why? No explanation. Other readers seem to like those feeds. I like those feeds. What's wrong with those feeds? Bah.
  • NewsGator. Grade: B. OK, now we're talking. Registration is easy, all my feeds import, everything's managed on the server, everything I want to customize seems to be customizable, and - bottom line - it works. It tells me when there are new posts in my feeds, and lets me read them with a minimum of bother. When I move to another computer, it remembers everything. Good job, guys. You would have been the winner, except that (like Darth Vader) I am forgiving, and I decided to give the final contender another try, even though their servers were down when I first tried playing with them last night. And the Oscar goes to:
  • Bloglines. Grade: A! Overall, the experience is very, very similar to NewsGator. I was using them side by side in two Firefox tabs, and one thing became very apparent: Bloglines is a lot faster than NewsGator. That's a big win. Then, I noticed that Bloglines has a little notifier program for your Windows system tray. I installed it, and it works. Bloglines, you have found the way to my heart. I heart Bloglines. At least after using them for half a day. They'll probably do something to piss me off eventually, but for now, let us enjoy sweet summer love while it lasts. :-)
So, this has been another public service sort of post, though obviously your mileage may vary. What do you use? Is there anything I didn't try that you would recommend? I know, I'm barely back home after all night parking at Inspiration Point with my new squeeze, but I got a cheatin' heart. :-)

20 August 2006

The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am

OK, one more silly post before I get all serious. Here's a motivational (or is it demotivational?) poster I made on this cool site:


I feel inspired now. Do you feel inspired? :-D

19 August 2006

Do what I say, and you'll live

Well, I know I said my next post would be pointing out what I perceive as a danger zone for the liberal mainline and emerging churches. I said that, but, well, it didn't work out that way. Sorry. S#!+ happens. Or, to put it a different way,

SNAKES ON A PLANE!


Saw it this afternoon! OK, if you were looking forward to this movie based on the buzz, and this wasn't at least 187% the movie you were expecting, then dude, you just weren't paying attention. It was every slithering inch the collossally, spectacularly, self-consciously awful flick I hoped it would be. It rocked. I loved it.

What's that? You were looking forward to it based on the buzz, but you haven't seen it yet? Get thee to a theater! This movie needs your box office mojo.

What's that? You weren't looking forward to it? Well then, for the love of all things holy, don't even think about seeing this movie! Did you miss the part about it being utterly terrible? If the very idea of Samuel L. Jackson in a movie called Snakes on a Plane doesn't give you the giggles, you will not like this movie. Refer to the title of this post.

But if you can't wait to see SJ kick some ophidian ass, then don't! Go see it now.

So: sorry if this is not the post you were looking for. But I did promise danger. And what could possibly be more dangerous than

&$@&%# SNAKES ON A &@#%!$% PLANE ?!?!?!?! ?? !! ? !

Myth Conceptions

I was working on my spiritual autobiography for EFM Year 3 this evening, and I realized something interesting. Presently, I know (and count among my friends) a good many folks who are both

a) people of Christian faith who are serious about that faith, and for whom being a disciple of Jesus is a central, defining part of their identity that makes a big difference in their everyday life, and

b) people who are, generally speaking, at least as politically and theologically liberal/progressive as I am, and frequently more so.

So what? So this: for the vast majority of my life, I was utterly convinced that such critters did not exist. I would have told you that it's pretty much a logical impossibility, and that folks like that were a myth. If you were the kind of Christian for whom the faith really mattered and really changed your life, you were a fundamental evangelical, or at least a conservative one. If you were a "liberal Christian", the emphasis was on the "liberal," and the "Christian" was something you did for an hour a week for old times' sake. In my memory, these assumptions were confirmed over and over by repeated experience from my childhood until just a few years ago. (There were a few people, such as my grandfather, certain notable historical figures like MLK, and some Catholics I knew, whose witness dented that mental picture - but not enough to let me see how Christian discipleship could be something I could embrace.)

I can think of at least three possible explanations for this dissonance between past and present:

1) I've changed.
2) The world has changed.
3) Many of my assumptions about people of faith - despite being supported by long experience - were, to a large extent, misconceptions.

It seems pretty clear to me that all three of these things are true. But regarding #3, I wonder: if it was so easy for me to be mistaken about this, I'm probably not unique, right? I'm willing to bet that a lot of folks grow up with those same misconceptions. I think part of the reason is that progressive Christians have so overreacted to negative forms of evangelism that they (we) have often built our cities in deep valleys, and hidden our light under a bushel basket (Matthew 5:14-16).

That, or I'm just exceptionally dense. This is a distinct possibility, but the younger generations - especially the more progressive among them - don't exactly seem to be beating down the church doors....

By the way, I have great hope that both the Episcopal Church (if it can rise out of its current sexuality-issues morass and also remain rooted in authentic Christian tradition) and the "emerging church" (if it can find a positive identity and grow beyond defining itself by what it reacts against) will be on the vanguard of working to dispell this type of misconception in the coming years. In many ways, they already are, as are other segments of the Body of Christ (not all of which are led by Jim Wallis). But lest you think I'm all about congratulating those movements that I happen to be a part of - the next time I post, it will (probably) be to point out what I think is a danger zone for both liberal mainline churches and emerging ones. So, if you like danger, stay tuned.

15 August 2006

Crazy Zeke's Book of X-treme Prophecy

My daily Bible study guide is taking me through the Book of Ezekiel. I've read it before, but never both a) straight through and b) somewhat carefully. Man, that dude was hard core. And, in all likelihood, mentally ill. It gives a certified crazy like me (bipolar disorder, treated by daily Lithium pills) hope that God can use us not just in spite of our weakness, but through it.

14 August 2006

What does "HT" mean?

UPDATE: Hey all! This post has been by far the biggest traffic-getter for my silly little blog for the last three years, because I answered a question that many were asking yet no-one at the time was answering, and that got me big love on the Google search results for variations on that question.

Well, I'm not really blogging for the sake of the traffic, and I made the original post in the spirit of public service. It's in that same spirit that I make the following recommendation, which I've adopted myself of late:

Please don't use "HT:". It's needless, useless insider jargon.

Instead, use "via". As in "via Susan". Not "HT: Susan". Even (especially?) on Twitter. It's the same number of characters, yet people are much more likely to understand WTF it means. (That said, "RT" has a different meaning on Twitter, which is officially recognized by both Twitter-related software and the vast majority of tweeters. "RT" probably needs to stay. But I invite you to join me in kicking "HT:" to the curb.)

This has been another public service announcement on RudeTheology.com.

(Hang on, now I need to make a new post: WTF does WTF mean??) ;-)

~~~~~~

I actually know what it means, and use it, but I just had a conversation with a friend which echoed my own experience when I started seeing "HT: SoAndSo" on blogs. While I could tell it was an acknowledgement of a source, I couldn't figure out what the H and the T stood for, and Google, at the time, was little help. It's a little better now, but I'm making this post for this reason: maybe next time somebody Googles "What does HT mean?", they'll get this post and their question will be answered.

So, for the record, HT stands for "Hat Tip", as in "A tip of the hat to Susan for pointing me in the direction of...."

Now you know.

This has been a public service announcement on RudeTheology.com.

13 August 2006

Three difficult things

There was a time when I actually wrote things for this blog - original things that, while perhaps not often insightful, were at least creative - and to be honest I miss that time. This is not going to be a return to those halcyon days. I need sleep more than I need to be creative right now.

Anyway, my thought for the day is this: I think there are three difficult things that a disciple of Jesus is called to do. I am of the opinion that these are things that all of Jesus's followers are called to do, but in saying that I'm aware that I'm making a universal statement and, lacking omniscience, am on shaky ground. Therefore, I invite your disagreement. Here are the three things:

1) Recognize that every baptized Christian is called to participate in the mission of the loving God in the world - the upshot of which is: "Oh, crap - that means me!" This is difficult because it goes against the grain of much of mainstream Christian culture. Isn't the point of faith to a) make sure I get to heaven when I die, or b) make sure that my needs for spiritual goods and services in this life are met, or c) both of the above?

Please don't misunderstand me, by the way: I'm quite explicitly saying that this mission of God we're supposed to discern our roles within is the mission of God in the world, not in the church. Some of us are called to vocations where we carry out this mission in the world through the church, and many others are called to missional roles in family, secular community, industry, education, government, etc. (Actually, for most of us it's "several of the above".)

2) Discern the shape of the role to which God is calling me in God's mission in the world. In my opinion, this is the hardest part. It involves: a) Discerning how God has made me - my talents, Spiritual gifts, personality, passions, etc. b) Discerning where God is at work around me, and where a hurting world needs love, leadership, healing, teaching, etc. And finally, c) matching up (a) and (b) through lots of prayer, community, and careful discernment of where the Spirit is calling me to go - and distinguishing the Spirit from all the other spirits (aka principalities and powers) that compete for our minds and hearts. And committing to keep on doing this, for the rest of our lives - because the Spirit ain't going to stop blowing just because we'd like to think we've now got our lives all figured out. This is hard on so many levels - it requires a great deal of openness, perseverence, and careful attention. Discerning spirits is a huge challenge - we all want to hear what we want to hear.

3) Actually go ahead, in faith, and act on that discernment. This is difficult because, though Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light - in practice, that's not always the case. Sometimes following Jesus faithfully requires very great sacrifice indeed - as it did for the first disciples, and for a great many Christians throughout history, including Jonathan Myrick Daniels, whose feast day begins in a half hour (HT: Susan). Even for those of us who won't be called to martydom, discipleship - really following where the Spirit leads us - can demand a great price. So what, was Jesus lying about the "easy yoke" thing? Or is it the case that, if you truly get to know Jesus, following where he leads isn't so hard after all, despite the cost? Hmm. I aim to find out.

So: here I go again, with one of my neat, carefully engineered constructs. Any child of the Enlightentment would be proud - I've got it all figured out: Christian discipleship in three easy steps. I should write a book, go on the lecture circuit - this could be the next Prayer of Jabez. I know that there are two problems when I do something like this: 1) I'm making simplistic, universal claims and am probably full of crap, and 2) most of my friends will be much less likely to engage a setup like this in which I'm forcing you to disagree with me (as opposed to a more open-ended question).

Despite all that, I'm forging ahead. :-) So: what do you think of all that? Is it true? Sorta true? True for some people, but not for others? If it is a somewhat accurate picture of what Christian discipleship is supposed to be like, do you think our churches act as if that were the case? If not, why not? Are there things on which our churches ought to be concentrating more than they do, to equip disciples for that kind of journey? Not-so-coincidentally, I think there are three analogous "difficult things" that all Christian congregations are called to do, as well....

OK, time for bed. Peace out.

10 August 2006

Scot McKnight on Emerging Evangelism

Scot McKnight has a post about another book I may need to add to my "to read" queue. An interesting quote:

"Our teachers and mentors in the evangelism adventure are now African and Asian and Latin American peoples."

And several "big points":

1. Evangelism is collaboration with what God is doing by listening to God, praying to God, and working with the Spirit.

2. God is raising up witnessing communities more than witnessing individuals. Belonging comes before believing — yep, he uses that old line because it is true.

3. Developing friendship through conversation is what it is all about instead of downloading information and content about the gospel. The current generation, we’ve been told over and over because it is true, does not trust the church; it will trust credible people. Become a friend. Do what you love with nonchurched folks.

4. Tell a story of God’s power and gospel realities. Stories are containers big enough to tell truth. Logic isn’t as effective as it once was. Connect your story to the stories of others.

5. Talk about a Jesus who is outside the box. Jettison the cliche Jesus. He’s more like Warhead candy than tofu [I know the latter, not the former]. He confronted religious elitism, consumerism.

6. The gospel is good news for the here and now and not just the there and then. The gospel is spiritual and physical, individual and communal, personal and social, human and cosmic, people and nations. It is good news for all of this.

7. It is an invitation to a wedding and marriage. He means it is a journey rather than an event. Inviting me to a wedding is not a good idea; too long, too formal, too much hub-bub. But, he’s got a good chp here. If salvation is union with Christ, then a wedding is a good image for what we are invited to because it leads to a marriage.

I think this is all good stuff. But don't just read about it here - pop over to Scot's blog, where (as always) the comments discussion is top notch.

09 August 2006

Eddie Izzard - Religion

Eddie Izzard does a comic rant about Christian (especially Anglican) religion. It's pretty funny, especially if you're an Anglican with a sense of humor (or know any Anglicans and enjoy laughing at them). :-)

HT: Gallycat

01 August 2006

mesh: a new, inclusive, faith discussion community

So, stop me if you've heard this one:

A priest, a deacon, and a lay person walk into a coffee house....

Actually, it's no joke. :-) Last week, the Rev. Will Scott, the Rev. Susan Daughtry Fawcett, and yours truly got together at Jammin' Java in Vienna, VA to have lunch and hatch a plot. Here's what came out of it:

mesh: a new, inclusive, faith discussion community

We are Christians in our 20s and 30s scattered around Northern Virginia eager for discussions on matters of faith. The word "mesh" means to mix, entangle, share, harmonize --- we hope to do all those things in conversation with peers from in and outside the church, across faith traditions, with different views, insights, beliefs and practices. Join us for the first "mesh" discussion on September 7. We will be discussing Christopher Moore's novel Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal a funny and inspiring imaginative look at the life of Jesus. On October 5 we will discuss Shane Claiborne's provocative spiritual autobiography Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical.

To get directions or ask questions email meshcoordinators@yahoogroups.com

(There's more info on the mesh blog, and whatever the above says about our demographics, you are more than welcome to join us. If you think you might want to, please e-mail us at the above address. I'm really excited about this! Come mesh with us!)

30 July 2006

Happy blogiversary to me

I really should have noted this at the beginning of the month, but oh well - it's still July. This month marks my one-year anniversary of "serious" blogging. As you can tell from the "Archives" links to the left, this blog goes back to May of 2003, but before July 2005 I was very sporadic and lazy about it. In fact, I didn't post at all the previous month, June of 2005. That was typical. But one year ago this month, I decided to make blogging an intentional practice, and try to blog at least once a week. Since then, it's become a springboard for online community like I never would have dreamed. Blogging, and reading and commenting on others' blogs, connects me with close "real world" friends I see weekly as well as with with folks I've never met in person who live as far away as Canada, South Africa, and Malaysia. It's cool, boys and girls!

So, happy blogiversary to me. It's also my birthday (for a few more minutes). It was a good, full day - typical of my days of late. Ministry, worship, fellowship, serving the local community, feeding pets, paying bills, doing laundry, learning about the trials and travails of mutant superheros. My life is good. Tomorrow I have to go to the job I get paid to do, which will be less good, but still nothing to complain about. Thanks, God. I don't deserve it.

27 July 2006

What about the information?

Third post in one day! But as you can tell, I'm basically in "advertising other folks' good stuff" mode, as opposed to providing much of anything original. There's lots going on right now with me, some of which I even get paid to do. :-) Some time soon I'll engage in actual creative thought.

Anyway, The Blind Beggar pointed me at an excellent, if hasty, post that's thinking through the changing value of an "information"-based gospel. Check it out. I think this is part of the answer to a question I've been asked: How is being "missional" different from what the evangelical churches have been doing all along (vis-a-vis "evangelism")?

A parable of Light and Mystery

Jamie Arpin-Ricci, ever a source of worthwhile reflections, has posted a very lovely parable on his blog, (e)mergent Voyageurs. I think you might enjoy reading it. It's the sort of thing that I could see being turned into a short dramatic play, and even used in a worship context or as a discussion-starter. Then again, you may think that it's unduly critical of tall men in robes. :-) Anyway, I think it's cool.

"The Story We Find Ourselves In" Conference

I lifted this verbatim from the blog of my friends at the DC Emergent Cohort. I didn't think they'd mind. I've already registered for the conference described below. I expect to worship God, make friends, and learn a lot. If you can make the time, join us!


Conference: The Story We Find Ourselves In

Curious about the emerging church, where we came from and where we are going?
Explore the exciting heritage of Protestantism in America with us in September.

Speakers include: Brian McLaren, Estrelda Alexander, Scott Kisker, Diana Butler Bass, Doug Strong, Tim Keel, Don Dayton and Ron White.

September 18-21, 2006 at Cedar Ridge Community Church
Highlights include a Love feast, a Camp Meeting in a historic outdoor tabernacle, and Emerging Worship featuring Harp 46
Rates, Registration and Conference information available at http://www.wesleysem.edu/mci/story/default.asp
Register Now!
Questions? Contact Sara Sheppard at ssheppard@wesleyseminary.edu

26 July 2006

Faith without foundations

I ran across an interesting column for The Weekly Standard on the CBS News web site. (This seems slightly odd to me - what do CBS and TWS have to do with each other? - but the news business makes strange bedfellows, I suppose.) In the piece, Jim rakes both liberal denominations and (more briefly) the Emerging Church over the coals for, in his words, "substitut[ing] sentiments for facts, passions for authority, and subjectivity for reason." In many ways, it's the same old rant that both liberal mainliners and emerging folk have been hearing for years, but at the same time - you know, maybe he does have a point. Maybe his critique outlines a potential danger zone as opposed to a present reality (I would say that this is largely the case for the Emerging Church, but perhaps less so for the liberal mainline denominations), but in either case it's probably a critique we need to listen to and pray about, even if it seems like we've heard it all before. (I say this as a card-carrying member - so to speak - of both types of "foundationless" faith communities.)

Anyway, if you're interested, give it a read and let me know if you think he's got anything to say to us.

Video for Alan Roxburgh's new book, The Sky is Falling


Here we go with a first for the RAT blog (never noticed the acronym before?): video! I've entered the YouTube era. This is sort of an ad for the new book by Alan Roxburgh, published by Allelon and called The Sky is Falling: Leaders Lost in Transition. I've heard Alan speak and read some of his writings, and though this particular book falls into the "I own it, but it still hasn't made it to the front of my reading queue" category, he is definitely one of the foremost hearts, brains, and voices in equipping missional Christian leaders. So, check it out: video on my blog! And if you've wondered whether the sky is falling on the church world you once knew, I suspect you'd find this book insightful.

25 July 2006

The jig is up

Whew - this is sort of a relief, actually. We can all dispense with the act. Fast Company is on to us. And they have some advice for dealing with reality of the situation, too. It's worth a read. (HT: Bob Carlton at The Corner.)

20 July 2006

Video B-aaaaargh-ainville

Aaagh! I have to get this song out of my head. Perhaps by transcribing the lyrics here, I can cast it into the blogosphere and out of my brain, like Jesus with the Gerasene piggies. (Mark 5:1-20)

(In case you haven't figured it out yet, this is going to be an unusually silly post. But I really do need to get this song out of my head before my lovely wife duct tapes my mouth shut.)

This song may take you back (as it does me) to a bygone era, known as the late 20th century. An era when movies were viewed on a form of magnetic tape that needed to be rewound. An era when something called a "smoking section" could be found in some reputable - yes, reputable! - establishments. An era before TiVo.

So here we go.

"Video Bargainville" by Moxy Früvous

I have a college pal who
says we can pay one price for two
Just ask for "Roger"
At Video Bargainville....

We can take a trip down to the corner
It's not too far
'Specially in the car
There's a friendly store
With nice decor
And lots of posters on the door

Once past the counter and the newsstand
With a free bag of popcorn in your hand
Now you're ready for the world
No, not the band
But a fine selection in video...
Land

Don't be too confused
By the little reviews
On the back of the box
Just pick up the boxes
All the boxes you can use

It's the hippity-hoppinest videos in the land
Maybe something foreign
Maybe something panned
Maybe something formerly banned

Perhaps it's something you can watch with friends
Or something that inevitably lends
Itself to shapely curves and bends
Of exploited women and their friends

Maybe it's New York, New York
With Liza Minelli and Mickey Rourke
No, that's not right - it was Robert DeNiro
Everyone's favorite video...
Hero

I have a college pal who
says we can pay one price for two
Just ask for "Roger"
At Video Bargainville....

So contrary to the desperate sign
Most patrons always "Please rewind!"
And the clerks don't mind
They're very kind
The only stickler has resigned

There's a courteous smoking section in the back
Behind the bulging exercise video rack
And if you're tired you can hit the sack
With the trendy new Ben Hur disco...double...pack.

I have a college pal who
says we can pay one price for two
Just ask for "Roger"
At Video Bargainville....

Once we had a friend
Was too extravagant
Was not a Bargainville fan
Pissed off the video man!

Soon you'll be able to program your own TV
So we ask you to heed this final plea
Before it's all gone, you should rent more
And enjoy video bargains...
Galore!

I have a college pal who
says we can pay one price for two
Just ask for "Roger"
At Video Bargainville....

I have a college pal who
says we can pay one price for two
Just ask for "Roger"
At Video Bargainville....

So, before that bygone era done gone by, did you heed the Frü-lads' final plea? Did you? Well, I hope so, 'cause it's too flippin' late now, innit? We now return you to your digitally pre-recorded entertainment.

15 July 2006

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

Hey, you know that book I've been raving about, by the late English missionary and bishop Lesslie Newbigin, called The Gospel in a Pluralist Society? Well, Prof. Scot McKnight (on whose blog you can always find good things) tipped me off to the fact that Drew Moser over at Rural Praxis has begun a series on the book. It looks like it'll be kind of like the series I'm doing on The Continuing Conversion of the Church, only far more skillful - whereas I'm only managing a dense summary of the book, Drew seems to be achieving a readable commentary.

If you're interested in a lot of the issues facing the Christian church in a 21st century, pluralistic, postmodern society - including issues of truth (absolute? relative? culturally conditioned?), the particularity of Jesus, mission, interfaith relations, engaging the cultures, etc. - then you really ought to read this book. If you don't have time to read the book - or don't want to do it on my say-so - then you should check out Drew's series.

13 July 2006

The Continuing Conversion of the Church (5)

Oooo-kay - I admit that the delay between installments of this series is getting a bit ridiculous. When it's done, I'll do a summary post with links to each chapter.

Chapter Five of CCotC, entitled "The Challenge of Reductionism", begins like this:

The risk of translatability is that sinful humans are its agents. The witnesses are always very ambiguous saints. They (we) never divorce themselves from the desire to bring this powerful and radical gospel under control. That means that in the process of translation, complex forms of reduction also take place.

What does Guder mean by "reduction" and "reductionism", and what consequences does this have for followers of Jesus and their attempts to participate in God's mission?

  • The nature of the church's mission mandate is to be, do, and say Christ's witness. "This ministry of witness is carried out by frail and forgiven humans, whom God chooses, forms into missional communities, and sends." The church, made up of these frail, forgiven humans, "reduces the gospel as it translates it in its witness." This reduction is "as unavoidable as [that which] occurs in the translating of texts from one language to another." Reduction occurs in the translation of the Bible, and even in the translation of God's revelation into human language and culture by the Biblical authors themselves. However, Christians "need not fear that the witness is thus rendered irrelevant, or that relativism reigns."
  • "When such reductions, which inevitably occur, are made absolute and then defended as normative truth, then we confront the problem [that Guder calls] 'reductionism.'" Guder's "thesis is that our particular Western reductionisms are the greatest challenge that the North Atlantic churches face when they seek to develop a theology of evangelistic ministry." "The reductionism we struggle with is related to our attempts to reduce the gospel, to bring it under control, to render it intellectually respectable, or to make it serve another agenda than God's purposes. Therefore, we cannot move contructively towards the formulation of a theology of evangelistic ministry without addressing...this reductionism.... To be faithful witnesses, we...must also be penitent witnesses, receiving the gift of conversion from God's Spirit."
  • The history of reductionism begins very early in the Christian story. "First, the early church reduced its understanding of its own calling and allowed itself to become one more religion in the multiplicity of religions present in the first century," becoming "preoccupied with what distinguished it from others." "Second, this fundamental reduction was linked with the church's transition from a movement to an institution." Third, "growing antipathy between Christians and Jews...resulted in a pervasive reductionism of the gospel with regard to our rootedness in Israel and the Old Covenant, and the importance of the Jewishness of Jesus and the early church." "In very subtle ways, salvation became more and more focused upon the individual, and...the person's life after death."
  • Guder recounts in detail a "spectrum of reductions" associated with the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine and the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Empire. These include: 1) a shift "from the event character of the gospel to the formulation of a defined faith system"; 2) a redefinition of eschatology from an anticipation of a future coming of the kingdom on earth to a conviction that the work of Christ on earth was complete in the establishment of the church, as "the future tense of God's kingdom came to be understood as the eternity that awaited the Christian after death"; and 3) a movement away from "the Biblical understanding of calling to witness and mission" and toward "the struggle to gain and keep salvation." The church began to make it its business to control, mediate, and manage this salvation on behalf of individual Christians.
  • With the Reformation and the dawn of the "modern" age - with its centrality of scientific rationalism - many of these reductionisms remained unquestioned. In the Reformers' emphasis on our dependence upon God's grace, the central question remained that of "personal salvation, how one became sure of it, what one did about it, and how the church related to" it. "The 'individualization' and 'ecclesiasticization' of salvation...was not fundamentally questioned." "[T]he context of Christendom remained as the guarantor and protector of Christianity as the dominant religious force in society," and mission was not a major emphasis of the Reformers. With the Enlightenment stress on the "autonomy of human reason", the emphasis on the salvation of the individual only intensified. "Contemporary approaches to evangelism, with their emphasis upon method, program, results, and measurement, are a further consequence of the victory of Enlightenment thinking, even in those parts of the church which disavow Enlightened theology."

So where are we today?

Now...the church that is to proclaim the gospel appears to have become unsure of itself and incapable of persuasive witness. There are many reasons that so many Christians and Christian groups have become skeptical about evangelism, but high among them is the inability to formulate a gospel that can break through the individualization and privitization of religion. Moralistic reductions ("we are going to bring about God's kingdom on earth") have little credibility after one century of Christian social activism with minimal results.... Those groups that practice aggressive evangelism are, upon closer examination, also proclaiming a very reductionist gospel. While they claim to be opposing the secularizing and diluting tendencies of modern humanistic skepticism, they too often define the gospel in terms of happiness and evangelize for success, counting upon their mastery of method to produce results.

It sounds like we've got ourselves in a bit of a mess, and Guder's next chapter explores further "The Reduction of Salvation and Mission" and the consequences of this mess for our missional calling. But don't worry; after that he moves on to "Implications" and the beginning of a way forward for the Church. More to come....

Confidence

Bam, bam, bam with the spice weasel! (Don't ask.) If it weren't after midnight, it would be a three-post day. Ah well.

So, a parting shot (for now) from the most esteemed Lesslie Newbigin. It's from the final paragraph of his Gospel in a Pluralist Society:

It may well be that for some decades, while churches grow rapidly in other parts of the world, Christians in Europe [or certain denominations in the U.S.?] may continue to be a small and even shrinking minority. If this should be so, it must be seen as an example of that pruning which is promised to the Church in order that it may bear more fruit (John 15:1ff). When that happens it is painful. But Jesus assures us, "My Father is the gardener." He knows what he is doing, and we can trust him. Such experience is a summons to self-searching, to repentance, and to fresh commitment. It is not an occasion for anxiety. God is faithful, and he will complete what he has begun.

So once again, thank you, Bishop Newbigin. Let's have confidence in the gospel and confidence in God. Let's do our best, as individuals, small groups, congregations, seminaries, parachurch organizations, judicatories, denominations - whatever shape the Body of Christ is taking in us - to discern our vocation in God's mission and to live out that calling in faithfulness to the triune God for the good of the world. But I think there's something we should not do. We should not attempt to enact some pantomime of missional faithfulness out of anxiety - because we're afraid that the institutional structures that support us will shrink and crumble. And we shouldn't encourage others to do that either. Missional faithfulness is not an imperative for the Episcopal Church (for example) because we're shrinking numerically. Missional faithfulness is an imperative for the Episcopal Church because we are followers of Jesus - of the one who did not falter in his own mission though it led him to the Cross, and who made it crystal clear that to follow him is to walk that same path of courageous, limitless love.

Let's look at this from a different perspective. I almost titled this post "fear-based evangelism". I dare you to show me a liberal mainline Christian who thinks evangelism based on eliciting fear of hell is an acceptable practice. But is it any more faithful to the gospel to suddenly get the "evangelism" bug because of a different kind of fear - fear not for your neighbor's eternal security, but for your own security in this life, whether that security takes the form of material support from an endangered religious institution, or the less tangible support of familiar liturgy and comfortable ecclesial structure?

That's why I grumble about programs like the "20/20 Vision" initiative in the Episcopal Church, with its goal to double average Sunday attendance in Episcopal churches by the year 2020. We do need to do the things that are being associated with that Vision - good, creative ideas for blessing the world and inviting and forming new disciples - but we need to do them because Jesus did them, and commanded us to do them - not because we're shrinking and we fear that we must do something to reverse the current numerical trend. If we attempt to do the right things for the wrong reasons - out of fear, instead of out of confidence in the gospel and its Author, then I'm afraid our efforts don't stand an ice cube's chance in that place we liberal mainliners don't like to talk about. Confidence in the gospel is the only thing that will make these efforts succeed; acting out of fear will make us smell like frauds and weasels.

Maybe God will use anxiety about numbers as the opportunity to work in the heart of some folks and continue the work of conversion. I don't know. I certainly don't want to try to place limits on God. But I just feel that we would do better to shut up about numbers and redirect all our efforts to fanning people's passion for the work of the kingdom - loving neighbors, blessing the world, radically welcoming all to the table. God may work in our hearts through fear, but I know God works in our hearts through love. That's something, I think, in which we can have confidence.

12 July 2006

Jesus Christ, survey star

Wow, I'm just a bloggin' machine these past few days. Maybe it'll make up for the drought that preceded it....

My man Bowie Snodgrass, of the Episcopal Church's Office of Communication, has tipped me off that there's a new survey on the EpiscopalChurch.org web site, and the topic is none other than our Lord himself. I don't think it's meant to be for Episcopalians only, so why not fill it out? Go on, BrickMensch, you're on a survey kick - and I promise there are no questions about the Christus Victor theory of atonement. ;-)

Anyway, if you're interested in at least checking it out, here's the survey.

UPDATE: Bowie Snodgrass has graciously informed me that she is not, in fact, a man - mine or anyone else's. Oops. Sorry, Bowie! Making assumptions is dumb.

Postevangelism

Thanks to J. Derek Harbin, priest at Church of the Beloved in Charlotte, NC, for this quote from Karen Ward, the church planter for Church of the Apostles in Seattle, Washington. (That's Karen on the right.) Derek says, "Believing that the word 'evangelism' is forever colored by the negative cultural images associated with it, she encourages her church community to live as postevangelists." Here's Karen:

I no longer believe in evangelism. To be postevangelism is to live our lives in Christ without a strategy but with the compassion and the servant posture of Jesus Christ. We do not do evangelism or have a mission. The Holy Spirit is the evangelist, and the mission belongs to God. What we do is simply live our lives publicly as a community in the way of Jesus Christ, and when people inquire as to why we live this way, we share with them an account of the hope within us. We are to love one another, and that creates its own attraction.

What do y'all think of that? I think it's spot-on, but to my mainline (and emerging?) friends who may be reluctant to ever be overt about their faith, I would draw attention to the phrases "live our lives publicly as a community in the way of Jesus Christ" and "when people inquire...we share with them an account of the hope within us." We still need to be witnesses of the gospel, even if we are "postevangelism."