28 December 2009


...I haven't been myself, sometimes. I've been struggling, for the first time in a decade, with my bipolar disorder. So I've had a couple of bouts of being not quite myself. In fact, I've been an asshole, and hurt people I love.

I don't have much more to say about that, except that I'm truly sorry.

What I did want to say is: I'm ending this year feeling like me (if a rather subdued and humbled version of me), and with a real sense of hope for the new one that's beginning.

So happy New Year, everybody. God bless.

28 November 2009

iPhone Terzanelle

Giving in to only a little mild goading (I'm easy to goad), I went ahead and did a silly one. It's a JOKE, 'k?

iPhone Terzanelle

I think, in truth, that I shall never see
a pocket-filling block to rival this.
Could better friend than thou, o iPhone, be?

Except for fear of moisture, I would kiss
your clean-lined form, and know I’ll never own
a pocket-filling block to rival this.

Your screen so touchable, as smooth as bone,
Your compass...gyro...hidden deep within
your clean-lined form. And no, I’ll never own

A tiny fraction of your offered apps.
Some use your GPS, while others need
your compass...gyro...hidden deep within.

With you I never may miss tweet nor feed.
The people ‘round me...happy with their phone?

Some use your GPS, while others...need....

Apart from you, my most beloved one
I think, in truth, that I shall never see

People ‘round me happy with their phone.

Could better friend than thou, o iPhone, be?

image derived from Heart of flowers by zakwitnij (rights)

Common Terzanelle

So last year, for Christmas, I wrote a Sestina. I didn't post it electronically; it was mostly a dead-trees-only thing. If perchance you want a copy, though, I'll be happy to send you one.

This year, for Christmas, I wrote a Terzanelle. Same deal: mostly dead trees, but if you want to read it, let me know.

So I really dig these complex, sorta-mathematical poetry forms. They're like a coding project for me: give me a problem space, and a language with rules, and I write words that shape a possible (and hopefully elegant) solution to the problem. That may sound un-poetic to you, but I'm a code monkey, and to me, it's beauty.

So anywho, writing the Christmas Terzanelle was hella fun, even though it's kinda dark-yet-hopeful in my typical emerging-emo (Emo-mergent?) mode. So I decided, with a little encouragement from friends on Facebook, to try writing another one.

In case you're interested, the form of a Terzanelle is:

A B A’ / B’ C B / C’ D C / D’ E D / E’ F E / F’ A F A’

Anyway, here goes:

Common Terzanelle

We tripped in, two by two and one by one
wond’ring, could these strangers walk with me
together on this journey we’d begun?

We looked around with narrow eyes to see
the woman at the mic, the child and dad
wond’ring, could these strangers walk with me?

That girl seemed full of joy; that man, so sad –
their stories all such mysteries at first –
the woman at the mic, the child and dad.

We came with hope. We also came with thirst,
and slowly found rich nourishment within
their stories, all such mysteries at first.

We looked around, eyes wide, and saw our kin.
We gazed across the Table at our friends,
and slowly found rich nourishment within.

Through common means we found our common ends.
We tripped in, two by two and one by one.
We gazed across the Table at our friends,
together on this journey we’d begun.

What I want (social media consumption edition)

I'm just sort of thinking out loud here. Different forms of communication, right? Too freakin' many. Currently, I consume the following forms of electronic communication:

  • Phone calls (cell, Tina's cell [= home], work)
  • SMS messages
  • Email (Gmail, work)
  • IM (AIM, Gtalk, Facebook; maybe Yahoo, MSwhatever, ICQ if anybody else cared)
  • Facebook notifications
  • Twitter (DM's, @mentions)
  • LinkedIn notifications
  • Notifications from various Nings
  • Yammer (could change to Pull if volume increased)

  • RSS feeds
  • Facebook news feed
  • Twitter stream(s)
  • Non-Push activity on various other social nets, like LinkedIn and Nings

Then there are communications from myself - Calendar events, Evernote and reQall items, etc., - which could be lumped in above - but those aren't really my problem. Communication with other people is my problem.

So here's what I want:
  • For the Push items, I want to be alerted when they come in. I want alerts on both my laptop and my iPhone. I want each type of alert to sound different from the other kinds, and include a popup with some useful info and the ability to jump to the appropriate app for more info/response. I want to be able to easily turn off or snooze these alerts, and put them in silent mode.
  • For the Pull items, I don't want to be alerted when new ones come in, but it would be groovy if something (on both my desktop and iPhone) would count them up for me, and let me know how many are waiting for me at any given time, without me having to ask it to check.
  • For the Pull items, I would pay money - srsly - for something which would detect cross-posting and show me items only once, even if they were posted to both Twitter and FB, or both FB and RSS, f'rinstance. And, ideally, this would allow me to easily respond to a cross-posted item on the platform of my choosing (i.e., if it was posted on both Twitter and FB, I should be able to jump to either one to reply/comment).

That stuff would make me (a little) healthier, wealthier, and wiser when it comes to my info overload and Chronic Partial Attention syndrome, I think. I'm edging ever closer to it, by screwing around with a wide variety of notification apps, etc., for both platforms I use (PC and iPhone). But I'm still a ways away, especially on that third bullet on consolidating cross-posts. If y'all run across tools that make this stuff easier, let me know? Thanks!

image by Saumya Agarwal (rights)

03 November 2009

Some of where my head is at these days

So this past Sunday, the three of us from Common Table who went to Christianity21 (Amy, Mike, and I) did a worship service "inspired" by our 5ish days in Minneapolis. We described it as: "CT21: three 21st-century attempted-Jesus-followers will be given 21 minutes each to try to convey to y'all how this conference messed us up." And it was actually pretty raw, and (for me, anyway) moving.

Toward the end of my bit, I said something like, "I'm certain that in six months, my role with CT is going to be substantially different from what it is now." My friend Kate, who had stepped out at that point to take care of her little daughter Maddie, heard about what I said from her hubby, Matt. They were interpreting me as saying I was planning on stepping away from my role on the CT leadership team, and Kate e-mailed me to ask, "Whoa, what's up?" I replied to Kate with an email that was substantially the same as what follows. (I edited it somewhat for a more general audience.) I'm posting it here because Kate thought that others in the church might have similar questions, which sounded like a possibility to me too. And I suppose my friends who read this blog but aren't part of CT might be somewhat interested in where I'm at these days as well. So here we go!


So what I said was that I feel certain that in six months, my role with CT is going to be substantially different from what it is now. The reason for that is summed up in this cartoon, which I also put up on the screen at the end of my bit:

Basically, I came back from C21 with a new sense of conviction that this, more or less, is the gospel: It doesn't matter what you've done, or what has been done to you; you are loved. There is hope. God loves and accepts you. (There's much more that follows, of course - this love and this hope means that as we walk forward together after Jesus, freedom from the tyranny of both our sin and our pain is possible - not freedom from sin and pain, but from being enslaved by them. Just to say that I'm not oversimplifying and saying it's all about love and hope, and sin and pain are not important - but my new conviction is that "you are loved and accepted, no matter what" is the core of the gospel.)

So further, I'm newly convicted that the work of the Church (big-C Church, not just ours) is to connect with people who need to hear that good news - people who have been beaten and broken by life ('cause life does that to all of us), and to somehow help them believe that that love and acceptance is real - demonstrating that God loves and accepts you by showing that we love and accept you. I think this is why the Church exists - this is participating in the redemptive work of God in Christ.

Now, I actually think we're really good at that at CT. This kind of redemption has happened to me in my life with CT, and I know I'm not the only one. But like every other church I've known, we are that guy in that cartoon standing in that church door. I am that guy. If someone happens to stumble into the back of Jammin' Java on a Sunday morning, in need of love and acceptance, there's a pretty good chance they'll find it. But that happens bloody rarely, and we (CT) don't do anything any more except Sunday services. We don't do service-worship projects, we don't do spiritual formation, we don't do parties. (Our friend Vinny recently started a mid-week thing which is beginning to push back on that, for which I'm grateful, but what I said has been pretty true of us for a while now.) I'm not saying this is someone else's fault. I own the fact that I'm part of what got us here. But the upshot is: almost every minute of the considerable time that I put into volunteering for CT is geared toward enabling us to put on Sunday services for us - we who are already safe and warm and on the inside.

(As an aside, reflection on this has given me some possible insight into how ministers at larger, "regular" churches can have job satisfaction, even though my observation is that the majority of folks in those churches are fairly "nominal", not really folks who are actively trying to follow Jesus. I think part of it is that in larger churches, crises that require pastoral care happen with enough frequency that the ministers know, beyond doubt, that they are doing meaningful work. And they're right. But that's just an aside.)

So anyway, my conviction is that I need to be more about the gospel (as I understand it) and the work of the Church (again, as I understand it) and less about putting in hours to make sure we have worship services - especially when it's possible to worship God in fulfilling ways in any number of churches in our area.

HOWEVER: I truly hope that it's less a matter of me stepping away from the leadership team, and more a matter of us, together, changing what we're doing so that this calling I'm feeling and my role with CT are not as incompatible as they feel right now. That said, of course I'm not going to impose my "vision" or whatever on everybody else. We'll just have to see what happens. I feel like this is something I need to do, personally (though I don't yet have much of an idea of what it will look like), and if I do have to pull away from leadership at CT (because CT is going in a different direction), then I will - but it wouldn't be my first choice.

So as Stav says, I came back from C21 with "a full head of steam" - and I've got lots more going on in my head right now - including the beginnings of ideas on how to free up some of what I'm currently doing, etc. I won't go into that stuff now, because I've already gone on way too long. But, more to come.

26 October 2009

TransFORM: Missional Community Formation

Check out this video: beautiful little snippets of stories of what God is doing in vibrant, struggling, little, weird-ass communities across the continent. (It's happening elsewhere too, but I'm pretty sure these folks all are in the US.)

Gives me chills. My friends are such tools!

Er...I mean, tools in the hand of God! God is using them in mighty ways. That's what I mean. :-)

Rock on, y'all!

Check it out. (Also, especially East Coast and ESPECIALLY DC-area-peeps: stay tuned for news of an event in the spring that'll be all about fostering these kinds of communities!)

OK, all right, check it out:

TransFORM: Missional Community Formation from TransFORM on Vimeo.

21 October 2009

Yay! Church politics.

My good friend Moff posted on teh Facebook about this story. Here's how it begins:

Vatican Bidding to Get Anglicans to Join Its Fold

Published: October 20, 2009

VATICAN CITY — In an extraordinary bid to lure traditionalist Anglicans en masse, the Vatican said Tuesday that it would make it easier for Anglicans uncomfortable with their church’s acceptance of female priests and openly gay bishops to join the Roman Catholic Church while retaining many of their traditions.

This has been the cause of much hand-wringing in Anglican circles, and in the press. My opinion (as expressed in a Facebook comment), while not particularly noteworthy, seemed wordy enough to merit reproduction on the blog. So here it is, FWIW:

Speaking as a (remarkably) piss-poor Anglican, I say: whatevs. Bottom line: moves like this will cause some people pain, with which I sympathize. It will cause other people to rejoice, with which I also sympathize. And when people are unhappy with what's going on in their corner of the Church, they will do one of three things: suffer on where they are, find a different portion of the Body which suits them better (a possibility which this move enables for some), or get fed up with the whole thing and leave. And through it all, the Church remains one (and many), holy (and embedded), catholic (and particular) and apostolic (and welcoming - occasionally).

So when stuff like this - or a schism or an ecumenical agreement - happens, I just try to pray with the horrified and rejoice with the rejoicing. The church will still be about individuals and communities and their relationships with God. These high-level structural changes are the equivalent of, say, urban planning. It certainly influences the kind of life that's lived by the individuals, families, and communities affected - but ultimately the life is lived by those communities and families, wherever they are.

Actually, the subversive in me is kind of excited by the prospect of lots more married Catholic priests. Harbinger of further change in the world's most inertial human organization?

(Note: credit belongs to LeRon Shults for the parenthetical counterpoints to the creedal marks of the Church - one/many, holy/embedded, etc.)

16 October 2009

Poverty (with cuss words)

Note: This blog post is almost identical to one that I just contributed to a local web site for young adults sponsored by a mainline church denomination. The difference is that this is the original version, with Lots of Strong Curse Words. This is how it originally came out. I cleaned it up for the YA website. I'm not going to link directly to the post on that website, because I do not believe that my potty mouth is helpful to their mission. However, if it amuses you to compare the two, feel free to contact me and I'll send you the link. Peace out.

Also, alls y'all beloved C21 peeps, this is all I've written about the conference so far (well, all that's longer than 140 characters), and because I've lazily used it for double-duty as described above, it's not exactly a worthy C21 recap. Just by way of apology. Y'all rock. Just sayin'.

Last weekend, I was privileged to participate in a conference in Minneapolis called Christianity21. The idea was this: 21 presenters were given 21 minutes each to share with us a bit of their vision for Christianity in the 21st century. And oh by the way, each of the presenters was female.

This was not a women's conference. Participants - and we were indeed participants, not just attendees - seemed to be split about 50/50 by gender. Nor was it a conference about "women's issues" in the Church. The visions shared by the presenters did expand the conversation into areas related to gender, incarnation, and sexuality which I have not seen explored before in a church conference. And the emotional depth of the content was unusually powerful - it packed a wallop from which I am still recovering. But the theological and practical issues explored were broad and deep and applicable to anyone and everyone attempting to follow Jesus in this time of unprecedented change.

There's a lot I could say about the remarkable people I met, learned from, and was changed by during those three or four days in Minnesota, but given limited space I'm just going to focus on one change in myself since last weekend: I'm having a crisis of faith.

During that weekend, many of us - presenters and participants alike - told parts of our stories to one another. Some of those stories were told in front of a room full of hundreds of people. Others in intimate groups of two or three.

And during that weekend, I guess I heard one too many stories of people - achingly beautiful, powerful, radiant people - who had been shat upon by the universe. There's no other way to put it. These people, many of whom I'm blessed to call my friends, have been fucked over by life in ways that make my heart break. Some because of their gender. Some because of their sexuality. Some because of their ethnicity. Some due to "bad luck" or misplaced trust or simply being born into a terrible situation. And without exception, these people had somehow lived through this to become loving, giving, whole and healthy human beings. Not that they aren't fucked up - we all are. But somehow they'd lived - really lived - through that. And that survival was invariably bound up with the experience of being loved...and somehow believing that that love was real.

Of course I know and love lots of people with stories like that. But for some reason, last weekend pushed me over a precipice, and forced me to look at my life.

I am someone who pours a considerable amount of time and energy into volunteer work, most of it church-related. And the vast bulk of that time and energy, I'm forced to admit, is focused on "us" - we who are already warm and safe and on the inside. If my work is outward-directed, it's usually merely meant to meet folks' material needs - not to demonstrate the scandalous message that's at the heart of the gospel: you are loved. It doesn't matter what came before. You are loved.

This got me thinking about the beatitudes. The Gospels record two different lists of "blesseds" from Jesus: one in Luke 6, where Jesus says "blessed are the poor"; the other in Matthew 5, where Jesus says, "blessed are the poor in spirit". For years, I've assumed that old Matthew had merely embellished the more accurate memory recorded in Luke. Surely Jesus was really talking about the literal poor, and "poor in spirit" is just, well, spiritualizing Jesus' more earthy message.

But since last weekend, I've been thinking: maybe both versions really are what Jesus meant. Maybe "the poor in spirit" are the same as "those who've been shat upon by the universe." Maybe that's what makes you poor in spirit. Unless it leaves you irreversably broken.

Of course, "the poor" are a prime example of "the shat upon", but "the shat upon" is a larger category than "the poor". I feel like sometimes we churchy types beat ourselves up because we are so bad at connecting with "the poor", and end up paralyzed into inaction. And I certainly don't want to avoid opportunities for solidarity with people who are poor. But right now I'm meditating on the meaning of the Matthew version of that beatitude and thinking that there are many, many folks who have been fucked over by the universe. Not all of them are "poor". And for all the volunteer hours I put in - for all my effort to put my privilege as a straight, white, American male to good use - almost none of those hours are spent connecting with folks in ways that demonstrate this truth: no matter what has gone before, we are loved.

That needs to change.

(And it's true: the "we", the "us", the people who are, for the most part, safe and warm and on the inside - we also are, have been, will be shat upon by the universe. And how much more should that truth drive us to find and love others just like us?)

I'm not sure where I'm going to go from here, but I know one thing: wherever it is, the people who accompany me on this journey will be the Church. Not necessarily any particular church institution or denomination. Not necessarily people who would even affiliate with a church. This loving, reconciling work is done all the time by folks of any faith and of no faith.

But after last weekend, this is something I know in a deep place: this is the work of the Church. To connect with folks whom the universe has treated like shit, and somehow help them see the gospel, the good news. "You are loved; you are embraced." Sometimes the Church gets busy with other work. Sometimes the Church is even the institution doing the shitting. But in every one of my friends' stories last weekend, the people who showed them this gospel - who somehow enabled them to believe that they are loved - these people were the Church. And this is the work of the Church.

And please, please help us, God. There is so much work to be done.

image by Stitch (rights)

29 September 2009

On crusty vanilla sludge, and varieties of snark

I was talking with a friend the other day, and my friend was trying to feel out the "shape", I guess, of the "emerging church" movement - and of our church, the Common Table, in specific. Some of his questions had to do with whether certain expressions of Christian tradition, including such practices as structured Bible study, free and unstructured prayer, and praise and worship music, would be welcome within it.

These practices, of course, are staples of much of the wider Church, and particularly the evangelical Protestant traditions which are, ironically, the early wellspring of the "emerging church" in North America. And while practices like these are the meat and potatoes of many "emerging" churches today, they've become fairly uncommon and non-central in our church. We're more likely to have a freewheeling discussion that brings in a wide range of scriptural allusions than we are to sit down and concentrate carefully on a particular Bible passage. We're more likely to pray using an Anglican liturgy or contemplative silence than we are to begin freely speaking our prayers for each other or the world. And we're more likely to use Taize chant, electronica, or secular pop music in a worship service than we are to sing praise and worship tunes.

And, honestly, we often have gatherings that don't explicitly include one or more of these elements (scripture, prayer, music). (Well, we almost always have Eucharist when we worship, and all three of those elements are pretty much always included in that, but I mean in addition to Communion.) It's up to the people planning the gathering - if including one of those elements would seem "tacked on", we don't do it. So it's easy to see why my friend had questions.

But there's more going on, I think. I've heard from more than a few friends in our church lately that they've been (this is my term) "self-censoring" - being careful not to speak up about things that they feel - even feel strongly about - because they're worried about how others in the church would receive it. Now, for a church consisting mostly of young, well-educated, fairly privileged white people, we're actually pretty diverse in some ways. We come from a wide variety of traditions within the Church, and - here's the key - our relationships with our church backgrounds vary widely as well. Some of us are on pretty good terms with our past in the Church - and others, not so much.

So what happens (I think) is that some people perceive themselves as "too orthodox" - thinking that if they're completely open about, say, their high view of scripture or of the efficacy of prayer, they'll offend other folks who are dealing with a painful past featuring abusive forms of those views. Other folks worry that they're "too heretical", and self-censor for reasons that are, fundamentally, similar - to avoid offending their more traditional friends, or making them uncomfortable.

Now, to some extent, of course, this is all entirely good and loving and appropriate. Of course it's a very good thing that everyone is concerned not to make their friends and fellow Commoners uncomfortable. But my sense is that there's a danger here: the danger of boiling ourselves down into a featureless lump of vanilla sludge. My worry is that people will self-censor so much that the church we're left with will not be a true reflection of who we are, in all our glorious, multi-faceted, dissonant diversity - but a beige-colored least-common-denominator ethos which reflects only that which everybody thought would be inoffensive enough to express. My image is like the old metaphor for the USA as a land of immigrants: the "Great American Melting Pot". In recent decades, people have said, "no, this country should be more like a salad - not boiled down to a molten homogeneity but tossed together in all of its colorful multiplicity". I agree - for the country and for our church.

Here's the thing: my sense is that a lot of what's being held back isn't mean or outside the bounds of love, respect, or civility - it's just authentic, deeply held longings or opinions that people worry won't be welcomed by others in our community. And further: because our community is such a collection of refugees - because so many of us have been burned by our church backgrounds and are pushing back against those backgrounds - our sludgy center tends to be shifted rather more toward the heretical side of the spectrum.

This has two effects:
  1. It's possible for us to be boiling ourselves down to vanilla sludge, yet still have an "edge" - i.e., still be pushing ourselves with edgy ideas and practices. And we are like that. But I worry that our "edge" may be nothing more than the crust on our vanilla sludge - a crusty, edgy, fairly heretical sludge, but still a sludge - still the result of permitting only those ideas that we think won't offend our friends.
  2. Because, at least in our church, the more heretical peeps tend to be a bit louder and more forceful than the more orthodox folk, the latter folk can feel a bit drowned out, and even more prone to self-censorship.
Hence, again, my friend's questions: are these practices welcome in our church? And my answer is this: Since these practices are deeply valued and longed for by a goodly portion of our church family, they had better be welcome. In my understanding, the whole point of an "emerging church" is that who we are (as a community) emerges - as freely, organically, and authentically as possible - from who we are (as the individual eikons of God who make up this community). If we're failing at that in significant ways, then we are, in significant ways, impoverished as a community. That's what I think.

So what to do? Honestly, I don't know. I don't think there's a simple answer. We're beginning to talk more openly about these issues, which I think is good. And I think we're making progress.

I do have one suggestion on this subject, and ironically, it involves advocating a different kind of self-censorship in order to help prevent the kind I've described above. It also involves a reflection on the several varieties of snark.

Now, first of all: in "emerging" church circles in general, and in our church in particular, snark is generally considered an acceptable form of discourse - not outside the cultural bounds of civility. There's humorous and ironic sarcasm, and then there's being mean. We're generally pretty good at keeping our snark out of "mean" territory, but we are a snide, snide bunch of puppies.

But here's what occurred to me recently: there's a common form of snark (or even of non-sarcastic discourse) which is usually not intended to be mean, but which can very easily have the effect of making some people feel marginalized and hurt. I call it the "Can I get an amen??" statement. It's the sort of statement that, usually implicitly, assumes that everyone else in the room (or online chat room) - needless to say! - agrees with you. An example: recently a participant in our church's online Unauthorized Theology Pub made some well-intentioned yet snarky comments about some Republican behavior, and they came through in that "Can I get an amen??" sort of manner. He had good reason to assume that he was in an environment consisting mostly of political progressives. But one of our other members, courteously and courageously, piped up, "You know, I'm a Republican." The original poster was quick to apologize and balance his statement, and all was well, I think.

My point, though, is this: I'm pretty sure that 95% of the time, in a situation like that, the lone dissenter (or the person who feels like a lone dissenter even though they might be one of many) will choose to simply keep quiet, though they may feel marginalized and hurt. I'm pretty sure that this kind of statement - the kind that implicitly assumes a particular ethos and that everyone present agrees with it - is one of the things that drives people to censor themselves, and drives us all toward vanilla sludge apocalypse.

So I'm proposing another kind of self-limiting speech. Perhaps we can police ourselves for "Can I get an amen??" statements in contexts where it's possible that there are folks present who would not be able, in good conscience, to grant us that amen - and who might instead remain quiet, excluded by our well-meaning yet less-universal-than-we-thought sentiments...and missing their chance to help us avert the coming of the sludge.

It's a fine point I'm making: I'm hoping we'll be more bold in coming out and sharing what's on our hearts, despite that this might make someone uncomfortable. Yet I'm also proposing that we be more careful in avoiding the assumption that our sentiments - particularly snarky sentiments - are shared by all. It takes sensitivity, but I think it's a sweet spot worth trying to achieve - and there's some symmetry to it, if you think about it. From one side, it looks like this: Even though you know not everyone will agree, please say it anyway. From the other side, it looks like: Please say it, but please don't presume everyone will agree.

Loving God, please help us to to know when to shut our mouths, and to know when to open our mouths. Please give us our words, Lord, and save us from sludge, though it be of our own making. Amen.

image by Christaface (rights)

11 September 2009


In Phyllis' Tickle's The Great Emergence, Phyllis identifies the death of Sola Scriptura - that great rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation - as one of the major factors ushering in what she calls "the Great Emergence" in the Western Church.

"What's this about death?" you might ask. "Sola Scriptura is alive and well - just ask the folks I grew up with." (And, obviously, some readers of this blog are probably committed to it as well - no problem! Phyllis and I are talking about a wider cultural/ecclesial trend which is far from universal.) But Phyllis notes the parade of cultural changes - from the abolition of slavery to women's rights to the acceptance of divorce to civil rights to gay rights, and more - which have been resisted using Sola Scriptura as a primary weapon ("The Bible is clear!") - and those resistance attempts have, on the wide cultural stage, ultimately and decisively failed. (Some - if not all - of those battles are, of course, still raging, but it's clear where Western culture is going.)

The combined weight of these has led to most of the Church either explicitly abandoning Sola Scriptura, implicitly abandoning it among the seminaries and clergy while letting the pew-warmers go on thinking it's the church's teaching, or ending up in rather indefensible paradox-positions on the issue (such as divorced-and-remarried pastors and bishops stridently condemning acceptance of gay leaders). There are, of course, plenty of fundamentalist holdouts for whom all of these issues (with the probable exception of slavery) are still non-issues and forever decided in the traditional manner - but even the vast bulk of the conservative evangelical churches bend a little on, say, racial equality, or divorce, or women speaking in church - despite the fact that it used to seem that "The Bible is clear!"

Anyway...Phyllis says that probably the biggest question for the Western Church in the Great Emergence is this: "Where, now, is the authority?" Before the Great Reformation, in Western Europe, it was clearly in the tradition and hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Before the Great Emergence, in Protestant churches, it was (supposedly) Sola Scriptura. But where now?

Good question. But I've been thinking about a corollary question. If Scripture is no longer to be considered our Sole Authority, what is the Bible's appropriate role in our lives, our faith, our communities, our worship gatherings? Of course, this is hardly a new question. Eastern Orthodox folk and Roman Catholics never signed on to Sola Scriptura, and have ancient answers to how they approach Scripture in these contexts. Same for many Protestant traditions, such as Quakers. Anglicans have had the three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason for centuries, and Methodists added the fourth leg of Experience long ago as well. And as my friend Ben detailed to me recently, it's never been as simple as Sola Scriptura for Lutherans either, despite the fact that Uncle Martin is credited with the phrase.

So I guess, after all that weighty preface, all I'm really wondering is: what is the role of the Bible in your life, faith, community, etc.? Does it look like Sola Scriptura? Or like the Anglican, Methodist, or Lutheran model? Or would you articulate it differently?

For me, the basis of my faith is Jesus, and my major witnesses to Jesus are Scripture, Community, and Experience. Scripture is my my main primary source for Jesus, and for me the Canon is made holy by its 2000 years of veneration by the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church (and, for the Hebrew Bible, going back much further among the people of Israel).

Therefore, the Bible is of great importance to my faith and life - but it's not at the center. Jesus is at the center, surrounded (in my mental map) by the witnesses to him in Scripture, in the lives of my friends, in the lives of Jesus-followers through history, and in my own life. Scripture is important to me, and carries with it authority (probably roughly equal to the authority of my dearest and wisest spiritual friends, or of my most profound personal experiences of faith) but it's not inerrant, it's not infallible, it's usually not literally historical. It doesn't need to occupy a central place - every single day - in my personal spiritual practice, my idea of worship, or my idea of the shaping of Christian community. It's appropriate that it be central a lot of the time, but it doesn't need to be all the time. (On the other hand, the Jesus whom I know from the Bible should be central, all the time - and there are probably few better ways to encourage this than to constantly return to Scripture.)

Anyway, that's what I think. What do you think?

image by Wonderlane (rights)

20 August 2009

Two-pronged enmity

Reflecting on a the horns of a dilemma, or something. Two syndromes:

1) The good is the enemy of the great:

Person A: "You know what? It would take a lot of focus and effort and teamwork, but we could go for this Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal!"

Person B: "Really? But why...? These small, hairless, inoffensive occupations that we're currently busy with are getting us by just fine."

2) The great is the enemy of the good:

Person A: "Hey! Look at this cool thing I accomplished!"

Person B: "What?? Why did you waste time doing that? We TOTALLY could have accomplished a MIND-BENDINGLY AWESOME version of that!!!!!"

Person A: "Oh. But, we weren't. And we haven't. And I did this. And it's pretty cool."

[Six months later....]

Person A: "Hmm. Glad I didn't wait around for B's MIND-BENDINGLY AWESOME version, or we'd still have nuttin' at all...."

I wonder:

It seems to me that good and great are both pretty nifty. And initiative trumps nay-saying almost every time. So can't we all just get along? (Probably not.)

image by Tony the Misfit (rights)

13 August 2009

Armchair Lifehacker, Tip #2: Use Outlook like Gmail

So I had intended to make this "Armchair Lifehacker" thing a bit of a series, but then I forgot about it. Oh well, here's #2.

Perhaps, like me, you have no choice but to use Outlook for your work email communication. And perhaps, like me, you've been using Gmail for too long to go back to those old, clunky, self-defeating ways of filing and finding your email messages, like folder hierarchies.

So here's what I do: In Outlook, apart from the built-in ones (Inbox, Sent Mail, etc.), I have exactly one folder. I call it "Archive". (Yes, this is a bit confusing, becuase Outlook has its own, very different idea of "archive". So you might want to call it something else. "All Mail" would be a very Gmail-like choice.)

I practice, more or less, "Inbox Zero". I've been doing it for years, since long before it had a well-known name. So when I'm done with an email, I simply move it to my Archive folder, just like Gmail. Actually, before I do that, I might tag it with one or more Categories, which can be used in Outlook much like Labels in Gmail.

Then, when I want to find something, I never grope around in folders. Instead, I either look for it by Category (Outlook makes it easy to create Search Folders for Categories), or I use Google Desktop Search to find it instantly by typing in search terms. (I'm pretty sure that Windows Live Search, or whatever it's called, would suffice for this as well, but I've been using Google Desktop since long before MS came out with that, and haven't seen reason to switch. The built-in Outlook search capability is not useful, as anyone who's attempted to use it will attest.)

So anyway, that's my tip. Working this way makes me happy, and efficient. Possibly you'd like it too. Possibly not.

Now if only I had a way of getting the thing to properly thread conversations....

image by justingaynor (rights)

30 July 2009

For the record

I figured I should do at least one blog post in July. Twitter is indeed seductive: you can satisfy your need for ego-stroking broadcast of your brilliant thoughts, yet you've only got to come up with 140 characters.

But anyway - as of today:

  • I'm 38 years old. I can no longer say, with the peasant from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "I'm 37! I'm not old!" I'm 38. I'm old.
  • That said, I'm running 5Ks pretty routinely these days, and have lost over 25 pounds since the first of the year. So yay!
  • My wife is awesome. This is not new, but it is notable.
  • Our 19-year-old kitty, Krishna, who's been with us about half our lives, may die today. We'll miss her terribly when she goes.
  • For those who were interested in my "little hopeful project", we've made contact. Not much so far, and maybe not ever. But the strand of connection exists, and I'm happy about that.
  • I'm deeply grateful for my friends and family. It never ceases to amaze me how blessed I am. It should humble me way more than it does.
  • On my day job, I'm trying to push the idea that we need to take risks and have Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (aka BHAGs; HT: Mike for the terminology, Dee for the concept) if we're going to survive and not just slide into oblivion along with a lot of other newspapers. Wish me luck.
  • I think we maybe need a BHAG or two at church, too.

There you go. State of the Croghan. Peace!

image by ccontill (rights)

19 June 2009

The emerging mainline: too big for your boxes

So the other day I had a 30-minute Skype conversation with the Sarcastic Lutheran herself, Nadia Bolz-Weber. She would probably be surprised to learn that it sort of rocked my world, or at least my mental map of the "emerging church" and mainline denominations, and the various ways in which they might fit together. I've been reflecting on a whole bunch of things since Nadia and I talked, but one of them is this: the "emerging mainline" is one seriously diverse landscape (in a good way!). I think there's a tendency among "emerging" types - among post-evengelicals but also among post-liberal mainliners like myself - to try to oversymplify and stereotype that landscape. We should stop. It's not that simple.

And I'm not even talking about the diversity of denominational traditions. Of course, that's hugely significant too: there's a big difference between a Roman Catholic and a member of the United Church of Christ in how they'll tend to approach all manner of questions of doctrine, structure, and practice, no matter how "emerging" they both are. That's huge, but I'm talking about something else that's harder to define - something like the "angle" at which folks are entering the emerging conversation. In talking about this, I hasten to clarify: this is too big for my boxes, fo sho. The categories I mention below are arbitrary, probably somewhat patronizing, and far from mutually exclusive. They're based on my perceptions of folks I've talked with, and little more. I'm just trying to mentally process this a little, and I'm doing it in public on my blog, because that's what the kids are doing these days. Feel free to rip me a new one if I get it offensively wrong. That's how the blogosphere rolls, don'tcha know.

So anyway, these are my major fuzzy categories of "approach vector" to the emerging conversation that I perceive among mainline friends and acquaintences:

1) Explorers. Folks who have heard of the emerging church conversation, maybe read a book or two by Brian McL or someone, and are intrigued and working on finding out what it might mean to them. They're 100% within their tribe, and perhaps haven't explored enough yet to identify any areas of dissonance between the way they're doing church and the emerging ways of thought/practice/etc. that they're exploring. (For the purpose of this discussion, I'll take it as a given that such dissonances exist, or else there would be no such thing as the "emerging mainline". It would just be the mainline.) I think folks in this camp will inevitably end up in one of the other boxes, or else deciding that just "mainline" - not "emerging mainline" - is fine with them. But there will probably be folks who forever remain "admirers" of the conversation: reading and chatting with folks, maybe making minor tweaks to how they do church from time to time, being a little bit of "emerging" seasoning in their mostly "conventional" church stew - and also providing a needed "traditional" anchor for their wilder EC compadres. As is the case with all of these categories, this, in my opinion, is a good and joyful thing. I deeply hope that the EC makes folks like this feel 100% welcome, always.

2) Loyal deserters. Folks like me, who self-identify with one (or more?) of the denominational tribes, have no intention of "leaving" it, have many friends within it, and who join with the tribe for worship, discipleship, mission, etc. all the time. But for all that, we've thought deeply about the ways in which "emerging culture" and "the way most mainline churches do church" rub up against each other in unhelpful ways, and pretty much sided 100% with "emerging" sensibilities in attempting to resolve those dissonances. Not-so-incidentally, it's about 7000 times easier for lay people to choose this route than it is for clergy.

3) Strugglers. Folks who are 100% within their tribes, and who are very (often painfully) aware of the areas of dissonance between their tribe's way of doing things and the way they feel called to do church. Possibly, they wrestle with these issues on a daily basis. They have thought deeply about this stuff, they love their tribe, and they often don't know where to go from here. I think it's a deep and important calling of those of us in categories 2, 4, 5, or 6 - as well as folks entering the emerging church convo from other parts of the Church - evangelicals, charismatics, etc. - to come alongside folks like this and help them find their way into one of the other categories (despite the fact that I look at this struggle as something good and holy and necessary). And a real challenge: loyal deserters like me must rejoice if folks end up doing God's work in a thoroughly within-the tribe context. Tribal or theological loyalists: rejoice if folks end up doing God's work outside the tribe.

4) Creatives. Folks who have found outside-the-box ways of remaining firmly connected to tribe while shaping a life, calling, and community which is very different from the denomination's traditional models. I think of several Presbymergent friends: Troy Bronsink and Tom Livengood in Atlanta, and Karen Sloan in Pittburgh, for example. All three are PCUSA pastors, and this fact is key to their callings and the shape of their lives and the communities they serve, yet those communities are very different from traditional PCUSA congregations, in their approach to almost everything (as far as I can tell): structure, practice, roles, philosophy, etc. Maintaining this tension is hugely challenging for these folks, but I greatly admire their creativity and willingness to sacrifice to live in the liminal space to which God seems to be calling them. (And my sense with a lot of folks like this is that their guiding light is more like "finding a way forward from where I am to where God is calling me" than a rock-solid commitment to tribe or theology, which is why I differentiate them from the last two categories, but I'm probably full of crap on all counts.)

5) Tribal Loyalists. These are folks who are deeply and thoroughly committed to their tribe(s), as an organization of people within a tradition. They believe in their denominations, they are deeply grateful for the gifts that flow to them and their communities from those organizations/traditions (and I am not talking about money, or pension funds - not primarily, anyway). They feel deeply called to give back to their tribe, from the inside. Often, these folks are tireless reformers, working within their denominational systems to help folks see the value of new ways of doing church and to cultivate official structures that nurture, as opposed to discourage, emerging ways of being and doing church. They see this, rightly, as a gift to their denomination. I admire them greatly. A well-known example of this kind of critter might be Karen Ward in Seattle.

6) Theological Stalwarts. This is where Nadia rocked my world. Call me naive, but somehow I did not know that there were folks who are thoroughly part of the emerging church conversation (ground-breakingly so), and whose loyalty to some of the ways their tribe "does church" is based on a heartfelt, deeply-thought-out, nuanced and well-founded commitment to some of the major theological distinctives of their tribal tradition. Honestly, I feel like a bit of an idiot. My impression of most mainline friends, "emerging" or not - especially clergy - is that their tribal loyalty was mostly exactly that: it's about fidelity to a tribe, a people, an organization. They took vows, they committed, and with that they got a package. They may not dig everything in that package, but in faithfulness, they will claim it as theirs. But Nadia really digs her tribe's theology - in a deep and thoroughly supported way. Her commitment to principles like the Lutheran idea of "proclamation" seems as firm as the commitment of any Calvinist I know to TULIP, or the like. I have in the past been guilty of saying things like, "Yeah, the problem with us mainline liberals is that we don't believe our own bullshit. We do things in certain ways because that's just the way they're done. There was originally a theological rational for these things, but we don't own those foundations anymore. Now, it's just rules." But Nadia - Nadia believes her own bullshit. And she's not wrong. She's thought well and deeply about these things. And (now I belatedly realize) she's clearly not the only one.

So once again, these categories are arbitrary, largely useless (except, perhaps, as a thought processing exercise), and anything but mutually exclusive. I am not saying that Karen Ward isn't theologically committed to her tribe(s), nor am I saying that Nadia isn't relationally committed to hers. Nor am I suggesting that either of them has been anything short of breathtakingly creative in the way they've crafted their lives and communities. And obviously, all of us struggle constantly with these tensions.

But anyway, here's my main point (if I have one): the emerging church conversation has been incredibly enriched, IMHO, as more and more mainline voices have entered it. We would do well not to oversimplify the picture of what those voices represent. We are not all people who "don't get it". We are not all people who will never work outside our tribes - but some of us will remain thoroughly committed forever, and our reasons for tribal loyalty are myriad, and good. We are not all people who don't believe our own bullshit. Some of us do believe our bullshit, and are uniquely equipped to bring the real, substantial gifts inherent in that bullshit to the wider conversation - or at least to those who have ears to hear. So...let's listen up.

Photo by gnackgnackgnack (rights)

17 June 2009

A Nuanced Conversation -or- The Emerging Church, AD 2009

This is what I think we are often trying to say to each other:

"I believe in doing things in the following way.

- But - what I really mean is: doing things in this way is working well for me in my context.

(- Or - possibly I'm just speculating, aka talking out my ass. But that's another matter.)

- Further - I recognize that what works well for me in my context might not work well for you in yours.

- And - I further recognize that the things I'm even trying in my context are largely conditioned by my preferences, convictions, and assumptions.

- That said - I really think that some of these things may actually be better in general - i.e., even in your context - than what you're currently doing. (I could be wrong.)

- What I'm saying is - I recognize that my claims are deeply conditioned my my context, as well as my preferences, convictions, and assumptions. But so are yours. And that's why each of our insights might have value to the other - beyond the subjective, beyond the particularly contextual. (Although they will certainly be useless to you unless they are adapted and embraced by the people and the context that you call home)."

This is what I think we too often hear:

"You're wrong."

I don't lay the blame for that at the feet of the listener, either. Too often, what we're saying boils down to: "you're wrong". Because it's almost like shorthand...you know what I mean? Because all that nuance is hard, and it's exhausting.

The one thing the Emerging Church is going to need more than anything else in the next few years, IMHO? Huge, heaping piles of grace. Big, steaming servings of John 13:34-35. Lush buffet-style banquets of love for one another.

Loving God, open our hearts.

(P.S., Nadia, if you're reading this, this is not meant to be a reflection of our conversation, but rather the result of further reflection on some of the things we talked about.)

Photo of Juan Muñoz's sculpture "Last Conversation Piece" by kimberlyfaye (rights)

26 May 2009

Julienning my inner couch potato FTW

Active lifestyle update for the past 7 days:

Wednesday: Ran 5K before work
Thursday: Ran 5K before work
Friday: Afternoon of kayaking on the Potomac
Saturday: Hiked Little Devil's Stairs (7+ miles) (gorgeous!!)
Sunday: Climbed Old Rag (8+ miles) (wicked fun and challenging boulder scrambles)
Monday: On the sixth day, Croghan rested
Tuesday: Ran 5K after work

This may not seem very impressive to you, or perhaps it sounds like bragging. But to me, the fat kid with bad eyesight who always got picked last for every team in gym class and who (barring a little occasional hiking, biking, and skiing) never did much of anything remotely athletic until about five years ago - I've come a long way, baby. A frakking hard-fought, slogging-but-ultimately-rewarding long way. So maybe I am bragging. So what? Brag brag brag. I feel good.

This past week is also the week I've officially lost 20 pounds since January 1st. And falling!

Our next (that is, second ever) "official" 5K race is this one on 6 June:

A Day at the Races Cross Country 5K

If you'll be in the area and want to join Tina and me, y'all come!

Image by euqus (rights)

15 May 2009

Stuff the Church could toss

Almost a month ago, I made a long-ass comment on my friend Jan's blog, and I haven't thought much about it since. But then, today, out of the blue, someone ran across Jan's post and my comment, and emailed me about it, which led me to re-read it and think, "Heck, that's a lot of words...I might as well put them on my own blog too." So: Yeah, I wrote some words about "what the Church could toss". Let me show you them:

OK, Jan, I can't resist. But I would definitely go with your wisdom: this is contextual. I'll only list a couple things that I think should *always* be tossed from every church context (despite the fact that they are present in almost *every* church context), and then a bunch more that tend to be assumed to be necessary for nearly every church context, but are, really, truly, in my not-so-humble opinion, needed in fewer and fewer contexts.

List 1: Toss 'em, always:

Power struggles. If there is a power struggle in the church, at least one party *must* find a way to redefine the game in the vein of Philippians 2. My fellow Anglicans in Northern Virginia (and elsewhere) are doing a stellar job right now of demonstrating FAIL in this regard.

Nominalism. All churches need to find ways to stop selling snake oil. Showing up for two hours a week and chipping in for the offering is *not* the same thing as following Jesus. Following Jesus is *way* better. Why are we offering folks watered-down Dr. Pepper when we have the the most real medicine there is? Preaching about the difference doesn't solve the problem. How do we stop making nominalism a viable option? (BTW, this doesn't mean that we all don't need times when we don't serve, but are just served - but there is a big difference between a Jesus-follower going through a desert time, and a nominal Christian. Our churches are full of nominal Christians who will never pick up their cross and follow Jesus, as long as "show up and consume" is a viable option.)

List 1.5: On the bubble. (I've yet to hear a convincing case for why this is good in any context, but I'm not sure about it):

Large congregations (i.e., ones that start to approach 100 people). I mean congregations that are trying to be an interdependent community of disciples, not church institutions that are explicitly there only to provide services for any and all (eg., cathedrals). There are major drawbacks to large congregations (anonymity, nominalism, loss of community, need for depersonalized programs) which are not, as far as I can tell, mitigated by other advantages. (Nor are they solved by the magic bullet of "small groups.") In other words, I know of many things that small church communities can do better than large churches, but I don't currently know of anything that large churches can do better than a network of small churches - except make leaders feel important.

List 2: Toss 'em, contextually. (They aren't always useful, but have been useful in the past, still are in many contexts today, and will continue to be so in the future.)

"Educated" clergy. (Gosh, everybody's educated one way or another.)

The role of "pastor".

Any sort of clergy-laity distinction at all.

Most other prescribed church roles.

Hierarchical leadership (one person ultimately in charge of the organization - plural leadership among a team of equals *works*).

Full-time paid staff.

Paid staff.

Formal programs of every kind - "the church" does not need to provide programs for "the people" - the people *are* the church!

Church buildings.

Most other church assets.

Anything at all that's there due to a sense of entitlement, "it's always been that way", or an assumption that it's necessary. If folks want to keep doing something, then they should certainly keep doing it. *We* are the church, so there should be no sense of "the church providing this for us" - if it's needed, or wanted, then you (whoever feels the call) are the church - provide it!

But, you know, I can be a bit radical when it comes to this stuff. ;-)

image by Leo Reynolds (rights)

13 May 2009

Armchair Lifehacker, Tip #1: Inspirational passwords

Set your password to an acronym of the words of a favorite song, poem, prayer, or Bible verse. Mix up the case (upper/lower) a bit, and substitute some numbers or special characters to improve security. Benefits:

  • You end up with a very high-quality, hard-to-guess password.
  • Every time you type it, you're reminded of your song, poem, prayer, or scripture passage. It can even prompt you to brief prayer, in a very Brother Lawrence sort of way.

Example: Take the first verse of the well-loved Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want

This becomes:


Mix in a couple special characters:


Voila - a fairly high-security, relatively easy to remember password...which also reminds you, every time you log in, that God's got your back.

Is good, no?

Image by Max (Tj) (rights)

21 April 2009

Remembering my Dad

My Dad, Tom Croghan, passed away one year ago today.

I'm deeply, deeply grateful to have been raised in the love and wisdom and care and example of this remarkable, constantly generous, selflessly powerful man.

Here's what I said about him last year.

Thank you, Dad. I love you and miss you.

01 April 2009

CellAlert.org is off to Berkeley!

Hey, remember my friend from a few posts ago, with the non-profit that was competing for a grant? Well, he wanted to say thanks! Here's Israel:

We made it to the top 10! http://www.netsquared.org/hrc-ucb/topten -- Thanks
for your support! Now off to Berkeley to compete for $15,000 and to
inspire world changers and be inspired!


26 March 2009

The Remerging Church

Jeromy Johnson, in a short, beautiful essay, captures precisely what's in my heart for the Church as we emerge together. Here's an excerpt:

A remerging of the willing. This is how I believe history will define this time.

A remerging of those who don’t want to put aside their differences for unity’s sake, but want unity to be found in recognizing and embracing the beauty in all of our differences. (Paul’s description of the Body comes to mind for me here).

A remerging of those who realize they don’t need to seek permission from the “top” to unite and walk together in love, but now see that Jesus already gave them permission to unite and then prayed that they would.

A remerging of those who choose reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness over entrenchment, division, fear, and anger.

A remerging of those who choose to toss aside the rules and theologies that divide, and choose to embrace the healing freedom that really does exist in Christ.

Amen, and amen, and amen. Read the whole thing, I beg you.



My friend's non-profit could use your vote

Hey all,

My friend Israel's non-profit (Cell Alert) and some others are trying to win a non-profit challenge. It's a good cause (actually, several good causes), so if you wouldn't mind going and voting, here's how:

1) Go here and register: http://www.netsquared.org/hrc-ucb/vote

2) Then click "Vote in the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center Mobile Challenge" here: http://www.netsquared.org/user

3) Then vote for these 3 projects



4) Then click "View/Cast Ballot" (below your selected challengers in the upper right hand corner)

5) Then click "Submit Ballot"

Does that make sense?

Israel Kloss

Founder, Cell Alert



P.S. Would you mind passing on this URL (http://cellalert.org/node/104) to your friends and family so they can vote for us too?

25 March 2009

We ain't entitled to jack

I'm not sure this is a theological insight. It's sort of a personal conviction. I've referred to it before, but I just feel like stating it, as clearly as I can. Here's what I think.

We - you and I, any human beings - are not entitled. We are not entitled to anything.

Anything, that is, except God's love, to whatever extent we can manage to receive it. But that's it. Really. That's it. Nothing else.

So, for example: your health? Not entitled. Your loved ones? Not entitled. Your natural gifts, talents, intelligence, sanity? Not entitled. Your job, your house, your money, your stuff? Not entitled to a lick of it. (But I've worked for those - they're mine! Sorry, no.) Human rights? Not entitled. Food, water, shelter? Nope. Freedom from oppression, imprisonment, war, torture? Uh-uh. Your next breath? Sorry, no guarantees.

There is nothing built into this universe that entitles us to anything within it. Anything. If we attain, or retain, any of these things, it is completely, 100% a free and amazing gift through the grace of God. If we lose these things, it's merely the natural end of a good thing (and as "they" are fond of saying, all good things must end.)

The nihilists are right. The universe is devoid of meaning and purpose - unless we make those. And the only way way to make those is by entering into loving relationship with God and each other. When we don't get good things, or we lose good things, it's not the universe's fault, and it's not God's fault. Neither God nor the universe entitled us to those things.

Those losses may, in fact, be our fault, but this is not about "we suck, we're totally depraved, original sin", and BS like that. That kind of thinking assumes that entitlement is a reality - it's just one that we don't deserve because we SUCK so much. That's crap thinking. Entitlement is a lie. We don't miss out on entitlement because we don't deserve it - we miss out on it because entitlement doesn't exist.

When we look at life this way, we realize that EVERY. SINGLE. GIFT we have is not ours to keep, because we deserve it - but only ours through grace, to share through grace. We give and share and love freely, sacrificially, joyfully, and with abandon - like God does. (I suck at looking at life this way.)

When we don't look at life this way, we sin. When we feel entitled to something (or someone), we fear losing it, or we fear not getting it in the first place. When we fear, we respond in anger, or in greed, or in numb avoidance. And we sin. (I'm much better at this kind of behavior.)

That's what I think about entitlement. And life. And I honestly think that if I could remember and practice it more, I would be more of a blessing to the people with whom I share this world.

image "ENTITLEMENT" by ChrisB in SEA (rights)

24 March 2009

Dancing in the light

Since I don't seem to be blogging here much lately, I figured I might as well mention that I posted something on my church's shared Lenten blog (and, in the process, point you toward the good stuff on that blog from sundry Common Table folk).

For context: we decided to "give up church as we know it" this Lent (through Easter, and who knows what happens after that?) and spend the season with another church community with whom we're becoming friends, New Hope Fellowship. (New Hope is a community made up mostly of folks who are homeless and recently homeless.) We're trying to be alert for ways in which we can serve and help out at New Hope, but mostly we're just hoping to be present, listen, and make friends.

In many core ways, New Hope is a lot like us; for example, in the ways they think about, talk about, and practice community, leadership, worship design, shared responsibility and action, etc. (It's crystal clear to me that they are an emerging church by any useful definition of the term, though I guarantee that almost nobody there has ever cracked a book by Brian McLaren, Pete Rollins, or Tony Jones.) In other ways, though, there are differences: they're much more charismatic or pentecostal in their worship and language, for instance, and much more comfortable with language that sounds like certainty with regard to God's will for us. Since many Commoners are what you might call "post-"charismatic, and even more of us like to think we're "post-certainty", sometimes this language can make us uncomfortable. So we started this shared blog, in part, to help up work through those feelings so they don't get in the way of our friendships. More on the shared blog can be found on the first post, here.

But anyway, yesterday I posted about my experience worshiping at New Hope Sunday morning. It was full of images of light, and relationship, and dance. So, it you want, check it out (and stay to check out the other posts too).

image "Light Dancing" by diveofficer (rights)

09 March 2009

Americans fleeing religion in droves

Here's the current cover story on a certain well-known newspaper:

Most religious groups in USA have lost ground, survey finds

This is not exactly a surprise.

One thought I had, which I enjoyed having because it made me feel OK: "emerging churches" are criticized (and I myself worry about this) for not having many converts - for being made up mostly of people who have departed more traditional church environments and are trying to save their own faith. But in an atmosphere like this, I sorta feel like helping folks to not leave the Church is, well, something. For real.

(But I still think we collectively miss opportunities to engage - for mutual benefit - with folks outside our comfy and safe and "thank God we're not where we used to be" church cocoons.)