29 February 2008


Warning: Smug snarkiness alert. I should probably put this disclaimer on most of my posts lately.

Beloved Employer raised my eyebrows with this review of the new, er, "charity" reality game show, Oprah's Big Give.

Who knew Ms. Winfrey was white? (HT: Bricklad)

God knows I'm white too, and I'm certain I fall into the same traps, but I am a fan of getting to know and listening to the folks one is trying to help. I hope I try to practice that.

Church property: let go with love

The Rev. George Clifford is my new hero. With amazing grace, gentleness, care, and (IMHO) prophetic weight, he lays out in detail exactly what I think about the current property disputes between the Episcopal Church and those congregations and dioceses that are currently leaving it for other branched of the Anglican Communion. It's brilliant. If this stuff interests you at all, please read it. An excerpt:

Quite simply, Christianity is about grace and love. For we who seek to follow Jesus, grace should take precedence over law. TEC operates through democratic processes. When a majority of a parish (or a diocese) votes to leave TEC, those who leave should recognize that the property belongs to TEC and, if they wish to have the property, offer to purchase it at fair market value. However, if those who wish to leave insist on keeping the property, grace demands that we accept that selfish decision rather than holding to the letter of the law. Although TEC may likely prevail in the courts, it will have further alienated the disaffected, turned its focus away from the gospel imperative, and wasted precious resources on an issue that is ultimately of little importance for God's business.

This choice may seem unfair to the minority who wish to remain with TEC but is gracious towards the larger number that decided to leave as well as to those whom God's love will touch because of TEC’s focus and resources invested in mission rather than legal actions. For example, the Diocese of Virginia has probably expended more than $1 million in lawsuits to retain the property of a number of parishes that recently voted to leave. The Diocese recently obtained a $2 million line of credit to further finance those suits. Although $30 million to $40 million of property is at stake, for those $3 million, and the countless hours of time the suits will require from bishops, priests, and laity, the Diocese of Virginia could fund several new missions to meet the needs of those who wish to remain and others. Successfully retaining large buildings for small congregations by winning the suits will burden those congregations with excessive overhead and probably instill a maintenance rather than missionary orientation.

Love between consenting adults does not seek to manipulate by using incentives or disincentives. Love wants what is best for the other, a choice that only the other can make. In human relationships, the unrequited lover who genuinely loves will sadly but freely permit his/her beloved to choose another. The same standard should apply to the community of God's people known as TEC.

This is in stark contrast to a recent statement by TEC Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, regarding congregations that leave TEC:

"In a sense it's related to the old ecclesiastical behavior toward child abuse [when priests looked the other way]. Bad behavior must be confronted."

I admire ++Katharine very much (honestly, I really do), and it take a lot to offend me, but this statement is manipulative bullshit, and it pisses me off very much. At the least, it betrays a deeply disturbing misplacement of priorities (which Rev. Clifford addresses much more gently and eloquently above than I usually do.) At worst, equating folks leaving a particular hierarchical authority structure for a different one within the Body of Christ (however unlovingly they choose to do so) with ecclesiastical child abuse cheapens the reality of the suffering countless children have experienced at the hands of church leaders. Get over yourself, and get over your institution's need to maintain and defend itself by controlling people, ++Katharine. Taking care of those who have been "left behind" when the congregations or other bodies they were a part of left TEC is a very important priority. Punishing those who left in order to maintain control is misguided and harmful to the gospel.

Which relates to the one statement in Rev. Clifford's excellent post which I would quibble with:

Individuals, parishes, and dioceses that choose to leave TEC further fracture the Church’s already badly broken unity. Departures spiritually weaken TEC, leaving us bereft of the unique gifts and contributions that those who depart bring to the Church. After all, people, not physical plants or financial funds, are the Church’s most important resource.

This is, of course, true - but I would stress that it's TEC that suffers from the bare fact of these departures, not the Church. The Church is still One, and does not become less so because some people have moved to a different community structure within the Body. The loss of love between Christians that results from these breakaways - that's what harms the unity of the Church. If the aim is to promote the unity of the Church, Christians should concentrate on preserving and encouraging love between them - not preserving and defending current institutional affiliations. Which is Rev. Clifford's whole point, of course. I've made this point

So thank you, Rev. Clifford, for speaking a vital message with infinitely more eloquence and grace that this rude armchair griper could ever hope to muster. It's a pity (and a tragedy for the mission of God in the US) that your gentle insider's eloquence will no doubt fall every bit as much on deaf ears as my rude outsider's bitching.

Cut from the Dive Team

Well, Tina's and my first attempt at (sub)urban gleaning (which is also known by some other names with fewer high-fallutin' Biblical connotations) can only be described with one word: FAIL.

This is a practice which is becoming increasingly popular among the scruffy, remarkably shameless "screw alls y'all principalities and powers of consumer cultural captivity" Christian circles that our friends and we run in. (Well, as you'll see, Tina and I don't exactly run - it's more like stumbling along behind, just within sight of the pack. But anyway.) The idea is that we rescue perfectly good, unwanted food from its landfill destiny, thereby creating space in our food budgets, which in turn enables us to spend more money and time loving God and neighbor. That's the theory, anyway.

Well, despite expert coaching from our wise and experienced mentor, things didn't exactly go as planned. Our first target - the dumpsters behind a certain crunchy-granola-type grocery store - didn't seem to have much to offer upon brief inspection, and we didn't have time for more than that, what with being gently chased away by store employees.

So we went back to our mentor's house and returned in his car, because we could see that the dumpsters behind the bread-oriented restaurant next door were overflowing. Despite parking around the corner and stealthily sneaking up on said dumpsters, I returned to mentor's car with: two bags of actual garbage. No yummy, not-quite-day-old bread straight off the shelves for us - just trashed, used paper coffee cups and food plates. All the bags looked the same, and I was scared of getting yelled at again, so I grabbed two and ran. Yay me! Good thing it's garbage night.

We spun around behind two or three other such locations on the way back, looking for easy gleaning, but no luck.

If you're coming to our house on Sunday for the post-church Lenten meal, though, do not fear - we have ample fare from previous runs by our mentor and other experienced divers, so you'll not be deprived of your chance to eat genuine gleaned castoffs of the bankrupt consumer culture. Mmm-mmm. Them's fine eatin'. :-D

26 February 2008

More on new wine and leadership

I was going to wrap more words around this, because this post BLEW...ME...AWAY, but I'm not finding the time, so I'm just gonna link to it. Len Hjalmarson's post (quoting Eddie Gibbs) on "The Evolution of Hierarchy" crystallizes beautifully (for me, anyway) a lot of the thoughts I've been having on the postmodern shift in church leadership. If you read this blog at least in part because you think I sometimes have sometimes have something interesting to say on church leadership, please, please read Len's post. It's magnificent.

An excerpt:

There is paradigmatic shift occurring. Hierarchy limits options because it limits connectivity, and we live in an connected world. Information that has to flow from the top down through rigidly defined chains has limited effect. Information that is randomly distributed and readily available creates collaboration. These more open structures are by nature empowering and generate change that works from the bottom up as well as from the top down. And change and transformation and inclusion are implicit in body life.

Boundaries in traditional settings are used to determine who is in and who is out. In new communities boundaries are not protective walls but are porous and become meeting places. In living systems boundaries are where information is exchanged and new relationships take form. Boundaries .. edges.. are the places of emergence and the frontier for engagement.

Also very interesting: Tracy Simmons' post (quoting David Fitzpatrick) on plural leadership. Awesome.

24 February 2008

Famous friends

Two of my good friends were quoted in the Post within the last four days. Susan even got her picture run (in a nice article about preparing for your own demise). The pictures in the other article were all of Mike's much larger aluminum doppalganger, who, sadly, has been relocated to a glorified shopping mall (or so I heard).

It's good to have famous friends. Makes name-dropping easier.

Good on ya's, ya feckin' glory hounds! ;-)

23 February 2008

New wine - rethinking church leadership

I was excited to hear about this "Anglimergent" gathering. It sounds like it was a good meeting - though it also sounds like 18 people got together and delivered speeches to each other (Phyllis Tickle did her "Great Emergence" talk which I've heard a lot about and would love to actually hear some day, and Fred Burnham did a talk on network theory, etc.), which seems slightly bizarre from an emergent point of view - but not so strange from an Anglican point of view, so there you are. :-) And it seems like they also had informal multi-voice conversations in between, which (I'm guessing) made up the bulk of their time together.

The most promising thing in Steve Knight's summary (linked above), from my perspective, was that they were discussing Burnham's ideas on network theory and "alternative polity structures", because IMHO polity (i.e., church leadership structure) is far and away Anglicanism's (and the mainline in general's) hugest, most immovable obstacle to "emergence". "Sure, we can deconstruct and be experimental when it comes to worship, discipleship, mission, etc. But hierarchical authority and prescribed clergy roles shall never be compromised!"

This somewhat dovetails with the other thing I saw this week on the Emergent Village blog that hugely interested me (actually cross-posted from the Emerging Women blog) - Kathy Escobar's excellent post on church leadership and co-pastoring.

As I said in a comment on Kathy's blog, I would go even further and suggest that the role of “pastor” as currently constructed - solo or shared - has taken a single leadership-oriented spiritual gift among many (four others are listed in Ephesians 4:11, and still more are mentioned elsewhere in scripture) and blown it up into a role where certain Jesus-followers are expected to be professional leaders, possessed of all leadership-oriented gifts, and in the lead role in almost any endeavor a Christian community undertakes - while everybody else is expected to defer to them.

I’m convinced that all of us are spiritually gifted, and all of us have gifts and passions that might enable us to lead, equip, inspire, teach, serve, and/or pastorally care for others, given the right context and the lack of an expectation that it’s somebody else’s job. Or maybe it’s just the community that I’m a part of - where just about everybody ends up in a “leadership” role at one time or another, whether it’s coordinating or creating a Sunday morning worship service, a “service-worship” project blessing our wider communities, a party, a retreat, a pastoral care effort, a technology innovation, an art project, or whatever.

But it’s arguable that I’m just quibbling over semantics - any human enterprise that’s going to move in anything other than a random fashion probably needs somebody(ies) designated to coordinate and facilitate that movement, and Christian communities are no exception. The small community/church I’m a part of tends to shy away from the term “pastor” but has a leadership team of three, and we’ve worked this way since our founding pastor left in 2002, about a year after the church began.

I love working in community this way, for all the reasons Kathy mentions and more. But I also tend to agree with some of the speculation in comments on her blog about community size - we’ve often suggested that if our community ever began to approach 100 core members, we’d probably split into two closely connected communities. Quite honestly, I’m not sure that I think communities above a size where anonymity becomes possible are a very good idea, nor can I think of very good reasons why we’d need them - if the strong peer networks of communities that are beginning to form (and which, perhaps, Fred Burnham was hinting about at the Anglimergent gathering) continue picking up steam. But that’s another topic! :-)

Thankful and hopeful

For anybody who saw my last blog post about my Dad's brain tumor, but hasn't been following our new family blog for updates on his progress, I wanted to do a quick update.

Tina and I are back home in Northern Virginia after spending about a week in Charlotte with Dad and Mom, my brother Sean and his fiancee Anna, our Aunt Joan, and (for part of the week) our Uncle Edd and Aunt Linda. Tuesday and much of Wednesday were spent at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, where our expectation was that Dad would be undergoing brain surgery to try to remove as much of the tumor as possible. The risks of this surgery were scary: Dad might lose his ability to speak, or large chunks of memory, or mobility, etc. Literally just before the surgery (during pre-op), we found out that the plan had changed: Dad's surgery was to be just a biopsy, followed by a program of radiation and low-impact (i.e., low-side-effect) chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. The steroids he's been on for two weeks have been pretty effective in treating the relatively minor symptoms he's experiencing now, so we have a lot of hope that the radiation/chemo program will be even more effective in fighting this thing. Dad was home again Wednesday afternoon, full of energy and appetite. :-)

So mostly we're coming away from this long, difficult week with a deep sense of relief and gratitude that Dad didn't suffer any of the major risks of the originally-planned surgery, and we're settling in for the long haul both hopeful and thankful, as hard as the road ahead is bound to be. Many, many thanks for your ongoing prayers, dear friends.

10 February 2008

Praying for my Dad and my family

Hi folks,

I just spammed a whole bunch of friends with an email about this, but if you read my blog and might pray for my family right now, we'd be grateful for your prayers. We found out on Wednesday that my Dad has what his doc described as a "really big" brain tumor. The whole family (Dad and Mom, my brother Sean and his fiancee Anna, and Tina and I) have spent the weekend together - it's been a good weekend with lots of laughs and Croghanesque good food! - and tomorrow at 12:15 we're all going to Dad's first appointment with a neurologist who seems to be the very best in North Carolina for this kind of thing. We're hoping to come back from tomorrow's appointment with some idea of a treatment plan, but we don't know for sure what we'll learn. In any case, I wanted to share the URL for a blog I set up, where my Mom (and/or any of us) will post updates on Dad's progress. When we know more, it'll be on the blog!


Thanks for your love, caring, support, and prayers.

Peace, love,
Mike and Tina and our family

07 February 2008

Rowan Williams on the Emerging Church

I like ++Rowan a lot, and I think his observations on strengths and weaknesses in emerging church contexts (the first video below) are spot-on. And it seems that the Church of England is doing some very cool things with its "Fresh Expressions" initiative (which Archbishop Williams speaks about in the second video below).

Note to the Episcopal Church: Wake up! Pay attention! Get a clue! This is infinitely more important than fighting schism! TEC will be much healthier and stronger in a decade or two if it includes, blesses, and supports younger and postmodern people, than it will if it succeeds in preventing folks who want to leave from leaving but misses the boat on "fresh expressions" of church. Among other things, folks who are leaving for AMiA and CANA are not leaving the Church (!!), and we are still all part of the same Body. If we continue to ignore folks who want to serve God and neighbor - and who would do so - would become followers of Jesus - in an emerging way of being church but would not do so in a traditional Anglican context - we are falling down on the Great Commission and seriously failing in a core matter of obedience to our Lord. Srsly.

Anyway, here's the Archbishop (HT: Emergent Village Weblog):

06 February 2008

Rendering unto Caesar

Who knew VA was an open primary state? (Probably everybody but me.) For some reason, I've always assumed that I had to be registered as a member of one of the major parties to vote in that party's primary in Virginia. Au contraire. So as far as I can tell, this means that registering for a particular party in VA constitutes giving up freedom to vote in the primary of my choice (i.e., whichever contest has me more concerned about the outcome), with no advantage to balance that loss. Therefore, I intend to change my registration to "independent" right away. Thankfully, this doesn't make a difference for next Tuesday's VA primary, because the race that I would choose to vote in is the one for the party with which I'm registered. But next time, I'll be free to vote however I choose.

I also need to give credit to Tony Jones for getting me thinking about this issue. He goes so far as to argue that affiliating with a particular party is equivalent to giving to Caesar way more than is Caesar's, and getting "in bed" with Caesar in a way that Jesus wouldn't - and that states that require one to affiliate in order to vote in primaries are being anti-Christian in that regard. So yay for the Commonwealth for not being anti-Christian. (But for the record, I'm not doing this just because I'm a part of a 10-point Jonesist emerging church.) ;-)

UPDATE: Huh, turns out I'm even dumber than I thought I was. There is simply no question about party affiliation on the Viriginia voter registration form. I just assumed my affiliation carried over somehow from New York and Maryland, which both have closed primaries. But no! Apparently I'm already independent, 'cause Virginia just doesn't give a crap about this. Yay, Virginia!

05 February 2008

Super / Fat / Shrove Tuesday

Quite a Tuesday, isn't it?

Re: teh Super: My hope is not in Caesar, but government is what it is, and I'd rather have someone hopeful and inspiring and relatively authentic in the top US Caesar job than the other kind. So alls y'all Super Tuesday voters: vote Obama! (Or, if you're voting on the GOP side, vote McCain!)

Re: teh Fat: No parties planned, though it is one of those days when it's kinda exciting to work for a major media company, so maybe things will get a bit fat around here as we wait for the results to roll in.

Re: teh Shrove: I likes me some pancakes. Probably won't have any, though. Lent begins tomorrow, and I have reason to believe it's going to be a time of trial for my family and me. My Dad is suddenly and inexplicably and alarmingly ill, with symptoms that indicate something brain- and/or nervous-system-related. If you pray, and you don't mind putting in a good word for my Dad and Mom and my family, I'd be grateful.

Peace, friends.

03 February 2008


It's been said that the Church is meant to be a foretaste of the kingdom of God.

In a manner that I imagine to be vaguely analogous, today is like a foretaste of spring in Northern Virginia.

Sadly, I'm afraid that the Church is rarely so lovely.

Thankfully, God doesn't depend on the Church to create loveliness.

I'm going back outside.


P.S., Our worship gathering this morning, indoors though it was, was quite lovely, though. Didn't want to imply otherwise. :-)