30 January 2008
Y'all are totally making my election year, and greatly elevating my opinion of registered members of the Grand Ol' Party (at least those in states that have held primaries/caucuses so far). Thank you, thank you, thank you for making the one GOP Presidential candidate whose election wouldn't completely horrify me the front-runner. Please, please, please keep it up. On the Democratic side, Obama is my horse, though I could certainly live with Clinton. But on the GOP side, if McCain's momentum continues, I'll be grateful to not be in the position of dreading November, since I'd feel like I could live with either outcome. I disagree with McCain on the vast majority of issues, and I think he's eroded his integrity a bit in recent years by toeing the party line for political reasons more than he used to, but overall I think he's a man of integrity and conviction and more of a leader than a politician. And I don't believe he's an idiot, a tool, a wacko, an evil-doer, or a kleptocrat. So, yay! Go GOP, and go McCain! (At least until the primaries are over.)
(On a personal note, this post marks my first month with 10 or more posts since September of 2006, which was a time when my life turned upside-down a bit. [OK, more than a bit.] I wonder if this means my life is turning rightside-up again? Naah - I'm pretty sure it just means I have too much time on my hands at the moment.) :-)
29 January 2008
OK, so I can't not post about this. :-) If perchance anybody who reads this blog from afar has ever wondered, "So what do they do at this little coffee-house church called Common Table?", my best advice is to come and visit and stay for at least a month, 'cause no single gathering is going to give you anything like a good answer to that question. My second-best advice is to come and visit at least once. My third-best (and last-ditch) advice is is to check out our (quite nifty, IMHO) web site. But while that will give you some idea of what we think about and how we relate to the wide, wild world, until recently there wasn't a whole lot there that would tell you what it's like when we gather for worship services and service-worship, our two most frequent forms of coming together IRL (in real life) to serve and love God, our neighbors, and each other.
But now, thanks mostly to the tireless creative genius of the mighty iPete, we have a rockin' blogcast site with elements to help you experience (a little bit, anyway) our current worship series, on "Space". So far, we've got posts on our first three worship services in the series: Physical Space (the [human] is in the space), Relational Space (the [healing] is in the space), and Temporal Space (the [funk] is in the space), plus one for this past Saturday's joyous service-worship, in which we made space in the lives of some friends of ours who are parents of young kids, giving them an afternoon to themselves while we transformed the inside of Jack and Pete's house into a (well-regulated) party zone for 11 kids, aged 7 months to 8 years.
There are also podcasts of the worship services, and if you keep on scrolling down, you'll find content from last year's Easter season series ("Blooms"). It's all good stuff, and although it's only a taste of our gatherings, a taste is far better than nothing, and I think it's pretty cool.
26 January 2008
Again, I hope anybody whom I've made feel unwelcome will forgive me and, if you're interested in what you've heard or read about the emerging church, will reach out and make contact. You should expect to feel welcomed - I fell down in that regard - but you should also expect to be challenged.
So my friend Helen (aka Gallycat, aka Helcat - the woman has more online personas than Pete) was at the Annual Council for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia today, and she posted the following request on her blog:
There were a whole bunch of clergy attending the emerging church discussion group and I think out of the people there I had the most experience in it. Mike, you're so much more well versed in it as a whole--would you be willing to post a comment with links that the clergy I then pointed to my blog could access for more understanding?As an aside - what's up with that? So there was an emerging church discussion group at Council, but nobody there who is doing church in an emerging church context? I'm glad it was a topic of interest, though, and I'm glad the subject was being approached in an open discussion format. For future reference, I have a lot of friends who would be happy to show up and talk with Episcopal clergyfolk (or layfolk) about emerging church stuff. I'll link to some of them below. Most of us wouldn't be looking for a speaking fee or anything - it's just a matter of being friendly and learning from each other, which are things that emerging church folk, generally speaking, dig - and most of us would prefer an open discussion / sharing / Q&A to being on either end of a lecture. We do have friends who make a lot of their living from speaking engagements - folks like Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt and Sally Morgenthaler - so if you'd like to import one of the big names, I'm certain they'd be pleased as punch to come and do that thing they do. But most of us local folks would just be interested in friendship and mutual sharing of our stories and challenges in the Church. Anyway....
So my first recommendation for any clergy (or others) seeking more understanding of the emerging church movement/conversation/whatever: please don't expect to find it on the other end of these links. Unless, that is, your next move after doing this research is to actually reach out to somebody (or bodies) in the movement and establish some kind of relationship with them. It could be in person (invite somebody to your church, or visit theirs, or invite them out for coffee or a pint), online (read a blog and comment, or send an email, or make some Facebook friends), but the first thing you need to know about the "emerging church" is that it's nothing more or less than a web of relationships. There is no unifying organizational structure, no unity of doctrine or practice or affiliation that binds this movement together. The thing that does unite us is relationships - friendships. I unhesitatingly guarantee that you will not begin to understand the emerging church unless you enter into that network of relationships, at least a little bit.
With that in mind, let me provide some links for those interested in connecting with the emerging church, with an emphasis on folks local to the Diocese of Virginia.
First, some of larger-scale networks/movements:
- Emergent Village is a nationwide network of "generative friendships" - the biggest and most formal network of the emerging church in the US. But to qualify "biggest and most formal" - I believe it has exactly one paid staff member (Tony Jones, the national coordinator), a tiny budget, and no formal structure, apart from a network of small cohorts across the country. It's a big, flat web of friends, and it the main thing it generates is new connections and friendships; but also conventions, theological conversations, gatherings, and many published books. A lot of people who are part of the EC movement are connected to EV, but a great many aren't - it's not compulsory or anything. ;-) Some prominent Episcopalians like Diana Butler Bass and Phyllis Tickle are very much involved with EV.
- Anglimergent is an online community of folks who are both Anglican and part of the emerging church conversation. You must check it out. It was created by Karen Ward, totally awesome abbess and vicar of Church of the Apostles, a totally awesome Episcopal and Lutheran church and neo-monastic community in Seattle. If you are an Episcopalian who is interested in the emerging church, and you don't know Karen, you need to correct that oversight immediately.
- The Ooze is mostly an online community/network, though it periodically manifests itself in the real world in the form of Soularize conferences. It was launched by Spencer Burke.
- Allelon is a partnership with some pretty amazing people at its core: check it out.
- Missional Church, aka Mission-Shaped Church, is a movement related to emerging church that focuses on the missio Dei or mission of God in the world as the defining purpose for the church. It's an outlook that can be embraced by traditional churches much more readily than "emerging church" can.
- "New Monasticism" is a movement of Christians living in intentional community. It's a cousin of the emerging church movement, with lots of overlap.
- Finally, Pete will kill me if I don't link you to this article on emergence, as a general phenomenon of which emerging church is a particular manifestation. It's indispensable for understanding the philosophical/scientific background for the phenomenon. The other major philosophical root of emerging church is the deconstructionist postmodern philosophy associated with such 20th-century giants as Jacques Derrida. If you're interested in interpreting that philosophy for the 21st-century church, I can recommend no-one more highly than Jack Caputo and Pete Rollins.
- The community I'm a part of, the Church of the Common Table, meets for worship three Sundays per month at Jammin' Java (a coffeehouse / music venue) in Vienna. The fourth weekend, instead of a worship service, we gather for "service-worship", in which the entire church is invited to participate in a project that aims to serve and bless folks from our wider community. We're non-denominational (or, alternately, trans- or omni-denominational), but we have Anglican DNA (we were founded by a former Episcopal priest who later left to return to the priesthood) and we use the BCP in worship.
- Convergence is an emerging church community with deep roots in music and arts, which gathers for worship in Alexandria.
- Church in Bethesda is an emerging congregation in...you guessed it. They're over the border in Maryland, of course, but you might want to check them out.
- Also in Maryland is the College Park Church Plant, pastored by our friend Jason Mack.
- The DC Area Community of Communities is a local network of neo-monastic group houses. Some of them, including Culpeper House (where some good friends of mine live) are in Virginia; others are in DC.
- The local-to-DC-and-NoVA manifestation of Emergent Village is the DC Emergent Cohort. We'd love for you to drop by one of our gatherings!
- Revolution is a community in Fredericksburg. My friend Scott Erwin is one of its leaders.
- This site collects three other Emergent cohorts for Virginia: one in the southeastern part of the state, one in central VA, and one in the southwest. I don't know many of the folks in those cohorts personally, but I don't doubt that they're genuine emerging church folk (whatever that means).
25 January 2008
There are a lot of these in my neighborhood. I see them when Tina and I walk the dog, and it makes me sad. We just moved here last year, and it hasn't happened to any of our neighbors that we've gotten to know - and by the time the sign goes up, it's too late to find out what's happened to the folks who used to be our neighbors. But I'm worried that not all of them are landing on their feet. A lot of our neighbors are recent immigrants who are struggling to make a life in this country. I'm sure it must have felt enormous to them to be able to buy a house - I know what it felt like for us, and we were born right here in the USA with silver spoons in our mouths. Too bad the companies loaning these folks their mortgages were greedy and unscrupulous, and now that huge sense of accomplishment, for at least some of our neighbors, has turned into a sense of loss and fear for the future. And everybody loses, as the economic ripple effect of this greed spreads outward from the folks who have lost their homes (and similar factors) to every sector of this interdependent world economy.
I don't have any solutions to offer. Greed is here to stay, I expect. I guess I just pray that if there are things I can do to help, I won't miss them in my naval-gazing.
I don't know if anybody who reads this blog gives a crap about this, but I'm pretty excited. Season 2 of Jeremiah, J. Michael Straczynski's excellent post-apocolyptic drama series, has never been released on DVD - but it's available on iTunes and Netflix for your instant viewing pleasure! Awesome and awesome! Also: I spelled JMS's name right on the first try! Yay me! Yay Netflix! Yay Jeremiah, Kurdy, and the gang! Like, yay! :-)
16 January 2008
I am very fortunate to be married to Tina Driskell, who is the primary earthly (earthy?) joy of my life. She expertly does all of the following (in no particular order): throw clay pots (on a pottery wheel; rarely at my head); play the piano and Irish tin whistle; grow/forage for and preserve food; make jewelry from silver and semi-precious stones; write short fiction; carve and turn wood; identify plant life; card, dye, spin, and knit raw wool; and draw. She also has a Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology and an Associate's in Conservation of Natural Resources. Tina currently works as a Naturalist for Riverbend Park and some other parks in the area.
Tina and I have two kids, both furry. They are: Our cat Oyasama, and our dog Machig. Here are photos of Tina and me with the kids.
I'm a 1989 graduate of Sauquoit Valley High School and a 1994 graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology with a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science. I now work for USATODAY.com in McLean, Virginia, USA, where I do web development.
My favorite author is Neil Gaiman, and I like to read comic books and watch DVDs by such creators as Craig Thompson, Terry Moore, Joss Whedon, and J. Michael Straczynski when I'm not reading spiritual stuff. Musically, my tastes are fairly eclectic, ranging from Pink Floyd to Eddie from Ohio, Alison Krauss to The Ditty Bops, Tori Amos to George Harrison, Alanis Morissette to Ollabelle, Moxy Früvous to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Also, these guys kick hiney. I like every collection of theirs that I've heard.
I also like to do outdoorsy things like hike, backpack, and jog. But not as much as Tina does, and not as much as I should, which is why I'm fat.
15 January 2008
As a child, I was sort of brought up in the Episcopal (Anglican) Church, until I was confirmed at the age of 9, which pretty much marked the end of my family's association with church, apart from the occasional Easter appearance. (Which led me to believe that the priest at my local church only knew one story and only had one sermon.) I had a love-hate relationship with Christianity during my school years, as it seemed to me that everyone I knew who considered himself a Christian was either a) a fundamentalist wacko who was opposed to science, music, logic, and fun, or b) a lukewarm, nominal churchgoer whose faith only impacted their lives for an hour a week. I was always strongly drawn to religion and spirituality, but not to either one of those options.To be continued?
In college, I minored in "perspectives on religion", and took many classes on both Western and Eastern faiths. I began studying faiths on my own time, and collecting a large library of scriptures and other books from the world's faiths. In the mid-90's, I created one of the more comprehensive and well-regarded interfaith index web sites with links to hundreds of sites on world faiths. (It quickly folded under the weight of the impossibility of maintaining all those links - this was back in the day when the best web site on Zoroastrianism was probably not www.zoroastrian.org but something like www.whatsamada.edu/~hmn1566
/myzoroasterpage.html). Anyway, my point is just that I spent quite a bit of time through the 90's studying world religions, but always as an outsider. I had no religious faith or practice (though I was vaguely spiritual and vaguely theist, like many in the US these days).
In 1998, when I was 27, I discovered the hard way (only way) that I have bipolar disorder. As I was recovering from my first 9-month bout of severe depression, my shrink said to me something like, "It sounds like one of the habits you have that contributes to your unhappiness is a lack of mindfulness. You're always thinking about the past or the future, but you're never fully present in the moment." That rang true for me. Since I'd been studying world religions for years, I knew that the Buddhists knew all about mindfulness. So I sought out the local Buddhist communities. There were two in the phone book in Rochester, NY in 1999: a Zen center, and a Tibetan Buddhist center. The Tibetans were by far the more welcoming of the two, so to make a long story short, I soon found myself an insider in a religious community for the first time in my life, and I was a committed, practicing Tibetan Buddhist for the next three years. I received many empowerments and ordinations, and was a regular practitioner both at privately and in community.
After my wife and I moved to the Washington, DC area, I remained a committed practitioner for a couple of years, but I never really found a community that I was fully a part of, as I had in Rochester. I don't actually have the disciple to sustain a healthy meditative practice for that long without community support, so eventually, in early 2002, I woke up one morning and realized that I was no longer a practicing Buddhist, because it had been months since I'd actually practiced Buddhism. In my understanding, Buddhism is fundamentally a set of practices, not a faith or belief system - so if I wasn't practicing, I really couldn't fool myself that I was a Buddhist. I spent the rest of that year sort of sadly missing something that I'd felt I was missing for most of my life, but briefly found.
My wife and I spent Christmas 2002 with her grandparents, who lived in a small town in southwestern Arizona where most of the residents were either retirees, or folks who used to work at the mine before it closed down, and were now (many of them) struggling. We were to spent Christmas day itself at they Southern Baptist church - a prospect I was dreading. But it actually changed my life. The people of that church brought in a fest of potluck food, and opened that church hall to the entire town. There was no price of admission - folks were expected neither to pay money nor to listen to a sermon or evangelistic sales pitch. There was just love and hospitality and sharing. These were people whose faith clearly made a big difference in their lives, but who didn't seem to feel compelled to be jerks about it. I flew home from Arizona thinking, "Maybe I should give Christianity another shot after all."
When I returned home, I Googled for an Episcopal church in my area, and attended one the next Sunday. To make another long story short, I became more and more involved in Christian discipleship and ministry, and by the time I renewed my baptismal vows on Pentecost of 2003, I was a believer in Christ and a follower of Jesus. I'm still a part of that Episcopal community, though today I spend most of my energy with a smaller nondenominational "emerging" church community full of people I love dearly.
14 January 2008
Also, given than we're a bunch of churchy types, we'll probably have some faith-related discussions. Or, maybe we'll discuss television. Or, the best of both worlds: interfaith dynamics on The Office (evangelicalism, Hinduism, narcissism...). It's all good. (The conversation, that is. And at least the narcissism is entertaining! Anyway....)
To review the rulez: for MESH purposes, you're considered a 'young adult' if you're old enough to drink a margarita and young enough not to disapprove. And, for the record, if you're under 21, come on out anyway - we'll just have to get you something else to drink.
13 January 2008
Most commonly, ecumenism is used in its narrow meaning, referring to greater co-operation among different Christian groups or denominations. For some however, it may also refer to the idea of unity: that there should be a single Christian Church. In its broadest sense, the unity may refer to worldwide religious unity; here the vision advocates a greater shared spirituality across Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths. Mostly however, the term refers to the narrow sense, that of greater co-operation among Christian groups without aiming for unity.You can read the rest of that article if you want more background. So, generally speaking, this movement refers to the efforts of various Christian denominations to forge agreements of official partnership and cooperation, or (in rarer cases) organizational unity. A remarkable example of this movement is the full communion agreement between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Episcopal Church in the USA (ECUSA, now more properly acronymified as TEC, for "The Episcopal Church"). These major agreements are usually the result of years of discussion and negotiation between the leadership of the church bodies, and frequently involve controversial compromise. For example, as part of the ELCA/TEC agreement, ELCA Lutheran pastors can now be ordained only by bishops. This change didn't sit well with some Lutherans, to put it mildly.
Major organizations working to promote ecumenical cooperation and agreements include the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, Churches Uniting in Christ, and Christian Churches Together. This is far from a Protestant-only phenomenon; the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox are working on this, and many Protestant denominations are working with those two ancient bodies as well.
At the same time various church bodies are inching contentiously toward organizational unity, an opposite force seems continually to be at work within Christendom: organizational schism. Thus, where five years ago the Episcopal Church was the only official Anglican church body in the USA, now we also have the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA) and Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), which include formerly Episcopalian bodies which have broken away and are now under the oversight of overseas bishops. Similarly, it seems like just about every major Protestant denomination in the US has at least two organizational incarnations which have severed unity with each other over differences in doctrine and/or practice: The Lutherans have ELCA and LCMS; the Presbyterians: PCUSA and PCA; the Baptists have the SBC and the ABC (who themselves just schismed) and others, and the Stone-Campbell folks...well, read this. (There's a cautionary tale for the emerging church if ever there was one.) The Methodists in America are doing pretty well at the moment, unity-wise, but my Methodist friends are worried.
So what's my point in taking you on this whirlwind tour of organizational unity efforts and organizational schisms within the Body of Christ? Well, first of all, let me say that the former certainly make me happier than the latter. I'm sure not going to claim that working to set aside dividing differences between church bodies and create formal agreements of cooperation and partnership is a bad thing. Just as schisms aren't all bad (they can, potentially, allow warring factions to stop being consumed by the internal battles and get on with the mission of God), ecumenical agreements aren't all good (ask, for example, the pissed-off Lutherans from a couple of paragraphs ago) - but in general, I'm not opposed to high-level church leaders spending their time working toward organizational unity. I can think of better things for them to be worried about, but I can think of worse ones, too. So, y'all be about that, bishops and whatnot. Maybe it'll keep you out of trouble.
But, my real point is directed toward you rank-and-file priests and ministers (by which I mean every single follower of Jesus, in case you didn't click through those links just now). If you're listening, folks, here's what I think about ecumenism:
The ecumenical movement is a fine thing, but for the love of God and God's mission, don't wait for it. Don't sit around like a spectator at a sporting event waiting to find out who will win in the end: the forces of unity ("Score! The Episcopalians and Movians have forged an agreement!") or the forces of schism ("Touchdown! Conservative Methodists break away from UMC!"). This game is gonna be going on for an awful damn long time, and quite frankly, IMHO, it fundamentally doesn't matter. The Body of Christ is already one.
Let me say that again: the Body of Christ is already one.
Among the breathtakingly beautiful "farewell speeches" of Jesus recorded in John's Gospel (words given to his disciples on the eve of his arrest and crucifixion) exists this passionate prayer of our Lord (John 17:20-26):
20 "My prayer is not for them [Jesus' current disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 "Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."
You may disagree with me, but my personal, deeply-held conviction is that when Jesus prayed this prayer, he wasn't praying that some human institutional bodies in the third millennium would manage to forge agreements of organizational partnership at a rate faster than those same institutions were schisming. Verses 25-26 above, as well as my beloved John 13:34-35, explicitly tie our Lord's vision of unity to the mission of God, and make this loving unity the hallmark and fundamental characteristic of the Church. It's not optional, and it's not something we can undo. We can (and do) act like we're not one Church, but I'm pretty deeply convinced that we are one Church: one holy catholic and apostolic Church, as the Nicene creed puts it.
The unity for which Jesus prayed, in my opinion, has JACK to do with organizational/hierarchical/institutional unity. It has everything to do with loving one another - despite, or better yet celebrating our differences.
So please, please, please don't wait for organizational leaders to negotiate an agreement between church bodies before you start actively loving and working with your sisters and brother in Christ, regardless of organizational/denominational affiliation. We are one Church, and we really just need to start acting like it. Make friends across denominational and organizational boundaries, and where those friendships begin to bear missional fruit, go with it unhesitatingly. (We should be making friendships as well with people of other faiths and of no faith, and celebrating the fruit of those friendships as well - but as I said, within the Body of Christ I believe this is fundamental to our identity as a Church.) Worship together, serve the poor together, break bread together, theologize together, heal together, create art together, study Scripture together, grow together, goof around together, learn and teach together, and preach the good news together - celebrating the fact that you do all these things in different ways. Don't wait for your leaders to declare "full communion" - we are one Church. Let's love one another - as Jesus prayed - that the world may know God's love in Jesus, and Christ's love in us. Amen, and amen!
06 January 2008
“We are also making an outrageous proposal: that the church in its contemporary, institutional form has neither a biblical nor a historical right to exist.”
“In short, this book demonstrates beyond dispute that those who have left the fold of institutional Christianity to become part of an organic church have a historical right to exist.”
I think there's a really, really big difference between statements of the first form and those of the second. In particular, on those occasions when I attempt to lay down my self-righteous smack on issues related to church leadership, polity, structure, etc., etc., I hope I always mean to make statements of the latter "Y is [also] valid" form - though without the whole "beyond dispute" hubris - as opposed to the former "X is invalid" form. I do feel that certain aspects of our contemporary institutional church that are almost universal - including many of the ones examined by Viola and Barna - probably ought to become (by contrast) almost nonexistent in the postmodern world, because I think in more and more contexts they will do more harm than good. But I think context is everything, and I think that things like (for example) church buildings, clergy, sermons, seminaries, hierarchies, etc. have been and still are appropriate in many contexts - but probably never should have been as universal as they became. And, I suspect the contexts in which they do more good than harm are becoming more and more scarce.
But anyway, my main point is that I hope I avoid making statements like "X has no right to exist" when I really mean to say "Y, though different from X (and despite the near-universal assumption of the need for X) does have a right to exist, can work, etc." If you catch me doing the former, please smack me down. Srsly.