30 May 2008

TOE jam

(Parenthetical word to the wise: I definitely do not recommend doing an online image search using the term "toe". Most of the results are really gross, in a fascinating variety of yuckness.)

So P3T3 is in search of TOE's (Theories of Everything). He says (unless I misread him): physicists know they lack one, and are seeking one fervently; fundamentalists act as if they've got one, but don't; evangelicals sort of have one, yet leave key terms undefined (kinda wise, if you ask me); and emergentingishlicalian Christians ought to be seeking one to avoid divide-by-zero errors such as classic pitfalls surrounding hell, the exclusivity of salvation through Jesus, and the (excellent) question, "Does God hate brown people?"

Now, I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of TOE's (apart from the 10 fleshy ones that most of us have - this despite having just now seen about 100 disgusting online photos of said digits). They sort of strike me as the epitome of hubris. I'd much rather just admit I don't have that level of clue, and probably never will.

HOWEVER, I do recognize that it's impossible to do really authentic, quality, high-level, big-picture thinking without edging into the territory of TOE's - and that TOE's are, by definition, theories. (You know - "just" a theory - like evolution, or gravity.) This means that any TOE, no matter how comprehensive, is by definition provisional. I'm pretty sure that the physicists burning the midnight oil trying to reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics realize that their success (should they succeed) will one day seem rather limited and perhaps even naive, however useful it might be in its time, place, and conditions.

I think Physics learned that one long about the time time the last ivory-tower holdout said, "FINE. You win. There's no such thing as aether. Are you happy now?? Gorram kraut Einstein." - and then picked up his toys and went home.

(Religion, I fear, hasn't learned that lesson yet, by and large.)

So with that in mind (that this is provisional, limited, speculative, and in all likelihood simply full of crap), I'll take a stab at a vaguely TOE-like line of reasoning that has helped shape my thinking around some of Pete's emerging-church divide-by-zero errors. Here's what I think, based upon my personal "three-legged stool" of Scripture, community, and experience:

God is Love, and God is the Father of all creatures. God loves each and every creature - certainly including each and every human being ever born - to a degree that we can't grasp. Every human being: Pharoah, Judas, Nero Caesar, Hitler, Pol Pot - everybody.

I very strongly suspect that God never gives up on that love for any one of us. Admittedly, this suspicion is based largely on the third leg of my stool, "experience" - but also on my reading of the character of Jesus in the New Testament. My personal understanding of God and God's character makes it pretty much inconceivable to me that a God who is Love would ever give up that love for any child of God. Therefore, I disagree with those who interpret Scripture to say that one's eternal fate is sealed upon the moment of death: that doctrine, IMHO, places limits on God's love.

Does this make me a universalist? Maybe. Quite honestly, I don't really care one way or the other about that label. But though I don't admit the possibility of God giving up on any of us, I do admit the possibility of us giving up on God, and never repenting of that desertion for all eternity. Frankly, this seems unlikely to me, but I admit that it's possible. Just as I hesitate to place limits on God's love, it seems unwise to place limits on the extent to which we talking monkeys are capable of thrusting our heads up our asses.

So that's part of my personal TOE: I think that God is Love, and that God loves all God's creatures, and that God never, ever gives up on that love.

Which leads me another thought. I sort of feel like there's been a tendency, through the ages, of people within the Church equating "the Church" with "the set of people who are loved by God". This equation has sometimes been explicit, but often seems to be an unstated assumption. It seems implicit in the culture of consumer Christianity: churches must not expect much from churchgoers, because they must be places for everyone who has decided to say "yes" to God's love.

It's widely known that deciding to follow Jesus with one's whole life and be obedient to God's risky call is a different thing from simply deciding to give mental assent to God's loving reconciliation in Jesus Christ. But (the thinking seems to go), the Church consists of all those who love and are loved by God, whether they choose to try following in the dangerous footsteps of Jesus or not - and our churches, therefore, must be comfortable places for those who don't make that choice.

But what if the set of people who are loved by God is not the set of people called "the Church", but instead the one called "everybody"? Then what is the Church? My thought - and it's a rude one, I admit - is that "the Church" is actually the set of people who are earnestly trying to respond to Jesus' invitation, "Take up your cross and follow me." This set of people may have (and does have) a WIDE variety of interpretations of what that looks like - from the most fundamentalist to the most liberal, to mention just one possible "axis" of opinion.

But the reason I say this is a "rude thought" is that this implies (IMHO) that there are an awful lot of folks who are members of churches but who are not members of the Church, and probably never will be - because there's no expectation that "the Church" is anything other than "those who are loved by God and know it".

My suggestion is that God's love is for everyone - it's an enormous, immense, incredible gift of grace for every human being. But God has other gifts too. God's Son has a yoke that is good, and risky, and dangerous, and joyful, and surprising, and demanding, and maybe a little bit nuts. Not everybody wants that yoke - and that's OK! God doesn't love those who try to follow Jesus one iota more than those who don't. But following Jesus is an enormous gift, and when we confuse that gift with the gift of God's love, given freely to all, we do no one a service.

So I think that's how I, personally, do-si-do around P3T3's divide-by-zero.

Hell? Maybe - if we can be stubborn enough in our hatred to outlast God's love - which means holding onto it until the end of time.

Exclusivity? No way, if you're talking about the love of God - but yes, obviously, if you're talking about following Jesus. It's a matter of obvious fact that not everybody tries to follow Jesus - not every human, and not every churchgoer - and that may be because they're not aware of the option. (Though many people who have never heard of Jesus - or who have heard of him, but have been put off by Christians or their doctrines - choose to live much more like him than I do!)

God hating brown people? Well, I sure as hell hope not. I admit I'm still a little weirded out that the enormous gift of following in the way of Jesus is something that needed to spread by word of mouth from a single point in time and geography.

But that's the undeniable pattern of history, and of every historical gift from God - including so many that have come to us at times and in places where brown people live. It's weird, when you think about it - but peculiar distribution of gifts is a lesser matter, I guess, than excluding some of God's children from the very love of God.

And that's as far as my TOE's have carried me today.

Photo: "Big Toe goes to Dharamsala" by Qaanaaq (rights)

23 May 2008

Wooo-hooo! Toward a more balanced life

So I get to start my Memorial Day weekend on a high note. A long-standing dream of mine (OK, "long" means maybe two or three years, but still) has finally come to fruition: this will be my last Friday at the day job until further notice. (The actual arrangement will be a little more flexible than that, truth be told.) I have the official letter in hand: starting next week, my hours are dropping from "full time" (which to USA TODAY means 37.5 hours per week, or five 7.5-hour days - but which in practice for a salaried position means "whatever it takes") to 30 hours per week (or, typically, four days in the office). My bosses are being much more insistent than I am about ensuring that when I make this change, the company keeps its side of the bargain, and that they don't want me monitoring work email, working extra hours, etc., beyond my 30.

Speaking as someone who is trying to make my life work as a "tentmaker" (i.e., giving quite a bit of volunteer time to the little "emerging" church I'm a part of - in addition to other ministry and missional activities - while drawing income from a secular job), I have to say I'm over the moon.

I've worked full-time constantly since college, and I'm (hopefully) not whining about that - of course most people in this world have to work way more hours for way more years than me to make ends meet. But I found myself in the uber-blessed position of feeling strongly that I need that time more than I need that income, and of having an employer, a spouse, and other key relationships that are willing and able to enable that tradeoff.

And in the interest of transparency, I ought to admit that it wasn't a trivial thing for Tina and me to figure out how to take the primary breadwinner's salary and cut it by 20%, or to decide that this was a good thing to do. But we did it!

I don't intend to use the one day in seven that I'm getting back in my life to do more "church" work - I sorta feel like I tend to do plenty of that already. Instead, I have two initial goals and a meta-goal. The two initial goals are:

1) To be a more equal partner in my marriage. Since I work what typically ends up being the equivalent of a full-time day job plus a part-time volunteer church job, Tina ends up doing way more than her fair share of the housework, etc., even though she works full-time (plus) too.

2) To get some more "sabbath" time in my life. Certainly Sundays are a sacred day for me, and worshipful, but I'm often so busy (with good, hopefully God-given work) that I don't get much time in my life for reading, writing, contemplative prayer, podcast-listening - all that good stuff that's helpful for formation and a healthy relationship with God and with the inside of my own head. I'm hoping to get some of that back.

The meta-goal is to teach myself how to uni-task. I have multi-tasker's disease, really bad. I need to learn how to vacuum, and just vacuum. Or read a book (for more than 20 minutes before I fall asleep at night) and just read. Maybe with some awareness of God, and of what a gift it is to be able to do these things. Brother Lawrence, help me out here.

Beyond that, I think I may pick up the guitar again. And we'll see what happens down the road.

But for now, I'm rejoicing in this gift. Yeee-haw!

P.S., Deep gratitude to my dear friends Dee and Pete, who helped me to realize that this was even a possibility, and to my kickass employer and particularly to my bosses (Erik and Steve) and my team there (Raul, Jeff, and Alon) for making this possible. And especially to Tina, who is amazing beyond words. And I'll shut up now, 'cause I sound like I just won a freakin' Oscar. :-D

photo "part time" by ubiquity_zh (rights)

20 May 2008

Clay Shirky on the brokenness of one-way content flow

This brief (16-minute) presentation (by Clay Shirky at the Web 2.0 Expo SF 2008) is must-viewing. If you're bored (and you shouldn't be), at least fast-forward to the 11-minute mark and watch the last 5 minutes.

Choice quote (at 11:35): "'I could do that too!' - this is something people in the media world don't understand." Just strike out "media" and substitute "church", and it's equally true. Another quote at 14:45: "Here's what 4-year-olds know: a screen that ships without a mouse ships broken." Watch it, and think about the implications.

HT: Len Hjalmarson.

17 May 2008

Good stuff on the day job: a new USATODAY.com

I don't tend to blog much about my day job, but I have to say that I think the redesign we launched this morning for USATODAY.com looks right spiffy. And it's faster, and more convenient, and puts more of the info that folks seem to want in front of their eyeballs. I can claim very, very little credit for this, but I am proud to be part of a crack team of designers, editors, programmers, and business folks who do fine work and have a good time doing it.

Check it, y'all.

P.S., it's also an awesome place to work, from a values/culture/flexibility point of view. Join us! ;-)

15 May 2008

08 May 2008

Len on tentmaking and paid ministry

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Len Hjalmarson rocks. And another thing: I'm so glad he's Canadian. Why? Because my friend Tim keeps reminding me that he thinks my strong preference for non-hierarchical forms of leadership and organization is more an expression of American individualism than it is of identification with the postmodern cultural shift. But when Tim says this, I can point toward Len and say, "But Tim, what of Len? Len's not American. He's Canadian."


(Actually, a lot of the most interesting folks that I'm aware of who are thinking about and practicing new forms of ecclesial leadership and organization seem to be from Canada. So there.)

Anyway, today Len posted an excellent blog post on paid church work and "tentmaking" (the practice, named after the livelihood of St. Paul, of doing the work of God while earning one's income from some secular source). If you do God's work - whether you get paid for it or not - I encourage you to read it, think about it, and maybe even pray about it. It's good.

UPDATE: Len just posted a follow-up. It's also excellent. Give it a read!

05 May 2008

Caption contest

The winner will receive, well, I dunno, prolly several dozen LOLz from amused readers of this blog. Here's the photo:

I would certainly accept Biblical chapter and verse references as captions, but Matthew 4:18-20 and John 21:4-6 are already taken. However, feel free to (mis)quote from those passages, or any others, at will.

Ready...steady...go! :-D

HT: My day job pal Ed, who supplied the Buddy Christ, the little plastic fish, the gorgeous beach photo from his native Cape Cod, the camera that took this shot - heck, everything but the blog. I am merely a conduit for Ed's genius.

01 May 2008

Day job cubicle upgrades

I neglected to take a "before" pic, but the sofa is new.

Stole it from Marketing.

One day in "The Lead"

There's a very cool Episcopal media website called "Episcopal Cafe". I subscribe to several RSS feeds from the Cafe, and they're frequently good food for good thought - and not just for those of us afflicted with affectionate interest in the latest gossip and goings-on within my particular institutional church tribe. The Cafe is cool. (A good friend of mine is an editor, BTW.)

One of the major feeds on the Cafe is called The Lead. As you might guess, it's the main "news" feed. (I put "news" in quotes not to mock the term, but merely to emphasize that this particular feed is meant to be "newsy" news, whereas other feeds on the site might comment on news items but are more opinion-, spirituality-, and/or art-driven. Got it?) That said, the items in The Lead often come with quite a bit of editorial spin. Not a bad thing, just worth noting. Nothing wrong with having a point of view.

So anyway, as I read the news items coming in to the Lead feed yesterday, April 30th, I have to say my level of disgust was, well, great enough to write a disgusted blog post about it. (Note: my head-shaking was at the news itself, not at the way it was reported.) Here are some headlines; click through if you want the gory details.

Williams won't allow Robinson to function as priest in England

Presiding Bishop writes to the House of Bishops [about the deposition of bishops leaving TEC]

Iker: Steering committee is "a self-selected vigilante group"

Two views of the future of the Church of England

United Methodist Church adopts full communion proposal with ELCA

Not guilty by reason of nonexistence

Here are stories - story after story - about people trying to maintain control (and/or jockey for more of that control) over other people within the Body of Christ. Who can function as a priest (I thought we were all priests??) or a bishop here or there? Who has the authority to steer or oversee whom? Who is permitted to act in "full communion" with whom within the Body? Who is permitted to bless which relationships, and how? Most importantly, who is on control of whom - given the power and authority to determine all these things for others, whether they like it or not?

These are stories about Episcopalians and Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians and Lutherans, and I hope you'll forgive me for reading them all as being largely about two things: control, and politics (which is merely the outworking of control). I love the Church very much - I really do - but I have to admit that I'm at a loss as to why in any way the Church is improved by adding these kinds of politics to it. This is why I'm a big believer in strong networks of free, intentionally diverse congregations - networked to help each other and serve the world, but with no-one trying to maintain control and uniformity among them.

Admittedly, interspersed among these political stories, on that same day, were some joyous tales of the Church being the Church, and blessing the world as Jesus meant it to do:

Tornado relief fund established

Episcopal artists as they see themselves

Grace in Allentown PA

These stories warm my heart and make me thank God for God's Church in this world. But these are all things that could also be accomplished by diverse congregations working together in strong networks in partnership with the mission of God. Without the need for all the freaking politics of control.

I'm just saying.

Denominational friends, if there's major stuff I'm missing here about the blessings that these Constantinian hierarchies carry with them that we would miss without them, please enlighten me.