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,


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!)