Monday, December 18, 2006

Emerging Church Documentary

I came across this today on youtube. Some interesting sound bites. It is a promo for a documentary on the emerging church. He interviews a number of the big hitters. It is always worth noting when documentaries start to often marks the beginning of the end. Hopefully not in this case.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Missional Preaching

Jason Clark had a post 5 Tips for Preaching & Teaching in The Emerging Church. His 5th point was

5. Be Sacramental:
Lead people into interaction, conversation, participation, and connection to God, each other, and the world, not just your own ideas.

What caught my eye was the idea of being sacramental. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches were formed in primarily illiterate cultures. This affect the creation of liturgy in that most of the people did not have the ability or luxury to read or study the scriptures. This, in part, led to the standardizing of the liturgies. The protestant churches in America reacted against this seeing it as a way in which the church and state sought to control the populus. It was easy to throw out the baby with the bathwater in that context because the people were more literate and certainly knew the scriptures.
I wonder if in our missional contexts that there again a need for such a liturgical/sacramental aspect of our churches. Since many of those coming to ec's have less and less of a knowledge of the bible and its content there is a greater need to provide divergent streams for people to encounter and understand the gospel. Liturgical/sacramental elements help to provide these multiple streams. For those who are more visual in their approach to the world, icons become encounters with the gospel. For those who are more kinesthetic elements of movement help them internalize the experience of worship. For the auditory the hearing of the word, singing of songs in worship, recitation of liturgy does the same.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Unintended Consequences

I wear many hats: assistant pastor, adjunct professor, property manager, husband, father, etc, etc, etc. I have a hard time multi-tasking. I do it well for a while, but then my life gets too busy and complicated and it all seems to fall apart. Eventually I am able to pick up the pieces and take care of my core priorities. One of the tools that I use to keep all of this in motion is my cell phone. I've been an early adopter in many kinds of technology, but the cell phone has been one that I put off for a long time. I am coming up on the end of my first 2-year contract. One thing that has become apparent to me is the way that the convenience of being able to call anyone, from anywhere, at any time has changed the nature of the way that I related with others, especially on the phone. I've gotten into the habit of having short quippy conversations with people on the phone. They tend to be very practical. After one recent call I realized that I had called a friend, pumped him for the information that I needed and then hung up! I felt horrible afterwards and have made a commitment to no longer use my phone in that manner, but rather to connect with others and build them up. Sure, I will always need my cell phone to get information, but if that becomes the primary function of my call, then who will want to answer when they see me on Caller ID?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Food and Friendship

Thanksgiving is coming! It's my favorite holiday of the year. Every year we have a gaggle of people come to our home for Thanksgiving dinner and then even more show up for dessert. There are few things that I enjoy more in life than having a house filled with friends and good food. There is something indescribable that happens when we sit around the table and share food. There is an ancient middle eastern tradition that when a person is invited to another's home for dinner the first thing that is served is sweets. (I must be middle eastern at heart because I always want dessert before dinner:-) The subtext to this action is that if we share in sweet food then we will share in sweet conversation. I like this idea. In the bible so much seems to happen around food. It almost begins and ends with it. YHWH's command to Adam and Eve was that they could eat of anything in the garden except the one tree. It was improper eating that lead to the fall. In God's ability to redeem all things he takes that which lead to the fall and redeemed it as that around which the inauguration of heaven revolves around: the marriage feast of the lamb.
In Jesus' time table fellowship had been corrupted, it was a place of dividing people by class. Whether it be the clean/unclean divide: the elite v. sinners or the various classes in Israel's society or the Jew/Gentile divide table fellowship became a place of division. Jesus' approach was not to do away with it or even speak against, but rather he redeemed it through how he practiced it. He ate with everyone, the high and the lowly. In doing such a simple thing he challenged a core aspect of Israel's society. In this simple act he embodied the Kingdom. For it was Jesus who said that the first shall be the last and that the one who wants to be the leader must be the servant of all.
The unfortunate truth today is that Thanksgiving can be a time where the weakness of families come to the fore. Families that are divided throughout the year due to unresolved conflicts come together on Thanksgiving and then the fireworks start to fly. Instead of being a time of unifying families, Thanksgiving can be a time of reaffirming the divisions that lay within.
As we look forward to Thursday and the rest of the holiday season (yes, I am aware that even Walmart is again calling it the Christmas season) let us see how it is that we can redeem the act of these gatherings around food by the way that we practice them.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Community in Los Angeles

In their book, Emerging Churches, Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger outline 9 factors that are evident in the lives of emerging churches that they studied through America and the UK. They point out three core values/practices of emerging churches. The other 6 factors are an outgrowth of these three core values. The three core values are 1) Identifying with the life of Jesus 2) Communual Living and 3) removing the secular/sacred divide. I've been thinking about how this works in Los Angeles, where I live. LA is a highly transitory area and is highly spreadout. LA is up to 50 miles long at its longest point. It is difficult to tell when you enter or leave the city proper, unlike midwest or east coast cities. If Gibbs and Bolger are correct in their analysis of the three core values, and I believe they are, then I wonder how this will work itself out in LA. The transitory nature of LA coupled with the vast sprawl that we live in make the communal lifestyle that is described by many of the EC's seems impossible or at least very unlikely. I asked Ryan Bolger about this today (I am taking a class with him right now) and he said that there were very few EC's in LA, partly because of this. There is Tribe LA, as he pointed out, but they are in a more localized community in LA. I do believe that the pomo's do value community, but the kind of community manefested in EC's requires something that does not often occur in LA: people being involved in the communities where they actually live. The church I attend, while a medium sized church, draws people from as far west as Encino to as far east as Pomona, a distance of over 50 miles! This is not uncommon in LA where many people communute many miles to mega churches. When I've talked with friends, they say that the value of community is high, but the ability to make it happen is very limited. Instead, people tend to find community in their work or gym or other local activities. If the church is going to have an affect in local communities, then participants in those communites of faith must start to engage their immediate neighborhoods.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Who, then, can be saved?

This was the question that the disciples asked Jesus when the person that they thought was already being blessed by God (the rich young man) turned away from Jesus' call. Jesus turned their paradigm of salvation upside down. It was not enough to say that since the man was being materially blessed that he was therefor righteous and therefor being blessed by God. A friend recently told me that many years ago Winkie Pratney made the comment that he foresaw a day when people would have to be educated before they could be saved. I sharply disagreed with this assessment. I am more in line with the thinking of Donald McGavran that a person should not have to leave their culture in order to become a follow of Jesus, i.e. get saved.
In the emerging church conversation the question of "What is the good news" is talked about a lot. The context often revolves around the question of the uniqueness of each church to live out the mission of God in the context in which they find themselves. This is a bit of a shock to evangelicalism as the concept of salvation is atonement based. Salvation, primarily, means forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven. But, when we look at the context of Jesus the idea of salvation had more to do with deliverance from political oppression, from the demonic realm, and of sickness and disease. They already had a means to achieve forgiveness of sins and there debate as to the existence of life after death. Thus, the EC question is a valid one and one that each community of faith must wrestle with. How much do we thrust the atonement to the forefront of proclaiming the good news? If we are living in an increasingly post-Christendom world, then the concept of being sinners and needed salvation from our sin nature would first have to be taught before a person could be saved. But, is that was salvation really is? Yes, Jesus did forgive sins and ultimately his death provided means by which sin was forgiven once and for all, but Jesus' call was not "Come and get your sins forgiven" instead it was "Come and follow me". This begs the question about the meaning of "repent" and if we are to discuss it we must start to peel away our cultural understanding of that word (more on that another time). For this post I'll simply say that when Jesus told people to repent he was calling them to a complete change in life and what they thought it meant to live as the people of God. Consequently we don't see Jesus giving the 1st century version of an altar call for people to confess their sins. He was calling them to follow him and thus to live the true meaning of the Kingdom of God.
Who can be saved? When is a person saved? These are questions that we must understand in our own setting and let our conclusions shape our communities of faith and how we live out the meaning of the Kingdom in our unique contexts.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The False Dichotomy of Religion vs. Relationship

I recently came across a church website that had two interesting items in their forums section. One as a thread that the leaders had posted entitled “Relationship vs. Religion” which is the classic Evangelical saw denouncing first the Pharisees and then anyone who has an over structured church life. I understand the point that Jesus came to restore humanity’s relationship God and that he often railed against the religious leaders of his day because they honored traditional religious practice over God’s desire. On the other hand, this misses the point of having a body. It seems to state that what we do and how we live are not as important as the fact that we are in relationship with God, presumably through things that we do…

The second item in the forum was a post about a series the church is doing on spiritual disciples. Now, if Christianity is about relationship and not religion and the spiritual disciples (prayer, meditation, solitude, simplicity, fasting, worship, service, etc.) are actions and practices, then I see a conflict. Many of us X-ers and millennials are drawn to practices of the historical church as outline in the spiritual disciples. I have come to believe that, as Doug Pagitt aptly puts, “We have to live a certain way to live a certain way.” In other words we have to order and structure our lives around practices that make our relationship with God actual and not simply something that we feel. God gave the Israelites many practices that to our contemporary mind can seem illogical. When we look at the requirements for Yom Kippur (the annual Day of Atonement) it can seem quite daunting. What are we to make of this? The New Testament puts it this way: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Col 3:17.) When God gave the Israelites the laws to live by he was telling them that everything that they do matters to him and is to be an act of worship. For us today, it is important in how we order our lives and what practices we live out. If we seek to live out the life of Jesus in our context we must begin to ask ourselves how we are structuring our lives.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I no longer call you slaves

The concept of community is huge in the emerging church discussions. People are called to live in authentic relationships with one another. I believe that this is, in part, due to the way that Gen-Xers were devastated by divorce and how so many of us were latch-key kids. There is certain a basic desire of the human heart to have community, it is part of the imago dei, but in our generation this desire is heightened. We see Jesus building a community of twelve disciples with a special bond with three of them and we desire the same. I wonder if the desire that we have goes beyond community and the generic use of "relationship" and is really pointing to friendship. As Jesus was preparing his disciples for his eventual death he made many bold statements that were out of step with his culture (John 15). One of them is that he change the nature of the relationship between himself and his disciples from slaves/servants/disciples to friends. In a sense he calls them equals! What we are truly in need of are friends. I like what Doug Pagitt said recently on his podcast. He talked about how he doesn't need an accountability group to make sure he keeps his commitments, but rather needs friends with whom he can live out this life of Jesus. Billy Calderwood has a recent post concerning who a pastor confess to, which is a continuation of another post on the same subject. I think that the answer to that question for all us, pastors and non-pastors alike, is to have friendships. We don't need official church confessors, we need deep open friendships where others can see into our lives and speak prophetically. In a sense, authentic friendships form the basis for the exercise of the spiritual gifts, but that is a bit beyond the scope of this post.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Random Thoughts on a Post from Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight had a simple post on a recent experience of a chapel talk he gave at John Brown University. A couple of comments stirred me:

"Every college has a history and a culture. JBU’s culture is undergoing change. "
Here he was referring to the challenges of entering into a Christian college's chapel service when the reality is that the students are mostly forced to be there. That coupled with the unique challenge of trying to bring a message that he developed outside of this matrix can leave one feeling uneasy. This will always be true, but is mitigated by if you know that it is the Father who has called you into this and to speak what you have been given.

"Christian colleges face one question all the time: How to be like the scribe who brings out both the old and the new for a culture that is always changing?"
- For the emerging movement I found this to be a stimulating statement. It give a biblical backing to the desire to both be connected to the ancient traditions and to be forging new ground! We must alway realize that we are connected to the historical church while at the same time we are seeking to faithfully follow Jesus in the present moment.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Thursday Reflection Week 2

Another stimulating day looking at how Marxism has had a great effect on the understanding of culture. My understanding of Marx is very limited. I’ve read about him, but never his works. As I understand Marx he was still dealing with a pre-modern worldview that saw a limited amount of resources in the world. Thus, the masses would arise and overthrow their oppressors because they were not getting a fair share of the pie. He failed to see that resources, particularly wealth, were not limited in the fashion he felt. The masses did not rise against their so-called oppressors because the size of the pie continued to increase as did the amount of it they were receiving. Marx followed in a tradition as old as the world: whenever there is a large cultural shift some will rise up, bemoan the changes, and point to how the past was a better time.

This goes back to the children of Israel wandering the desert and complaining to Moses that while they were beaten, enslaved, and starved back in Egypt at least it was predictable. Ecclesiasties 7:10 reminds us that longing for the good old days does not come from a place of wisdom. Returning to the past is not only impossible, but foolish as we.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tuesday Reflection Week 2

I really enjoyed Tuesday's class. The small group time was fruitful. It was good to hear from others and start to build some community in the class. I do believe that I learn best through hearing stories. Dialoging with my group on Claiborne's book was intriguing. It is nice to be in conversation with others who are struggling with what it means to be a Christ follower in various context and with the challenges laid out by Clarborne. The introductory lectures raise a lot of questions for me as I have not studied sociology at all. It did seem heavy on the UK side, but perhaps that is where the discussions first got started. I am hopeful that the lectures will address the American setting as well. This discussion on how the concepts of high and low culture evolved was helpful to me. One aspect that stood out to me was that the fears that arose after the dawn of the industrial revolution see to occur any time there is a cultural shift. That is true of our day and the so-called culture wars. The idealism of the 50's "Father Knows Best" of the right and the ideals of 60's by the left fall in line with this. The right longs for their ideal of the 50's when they feel things were still idyllic in America. The current cultural upheaval that we are experiences has sent the right back to a time when they felt that America had reached an ideal. The fact of the matter is that the 50's were not an idyllic time at all. The ideal is only a fantasy. The same is true of the baby boomers' idealized view of the 60's. PBS is currently running a series called "The Decade that Shaped a Generation" dealing with the 60's. It seems that many continue to view themselves as 20-somethings long after they have left their 2nd decade of life. There is an idealization of the time when they felt that their whole was ahead of them. The baby boomers do this with the 60's. I wonder if the Gen X'ers will do this with the 80's. I've run into so many boomers who love to pull out their Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young CD's and sit back and let their eyes gloss over. They seem transported back to a time when they felt that their lives had meaning. I wonder if the X'ers will sit back in 20 years listening to Gun's-n-Roses lamenting the passing of the days when music was real. Dan Kimball recently had a blog entry about this wonder if there will ever be a band like the Clash again. This has been a long way of saying that the looking back towards an idealized life goes back at least as far as the Israelites wandering in the desert longing for the ideal times of being slaves in Egypt. They feel that they have no control over their lives and so they long for a time when their felt there was some regularity, predictability, and control; even if that meant returning to slavery.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Tuesday Reflection for Week 1

Tuesday's class was very stimulating for me. Being somewhat new to the emergent conversation I am excited at engaging the material and other students in the class and see what is created. It's been 6 years since I graduated with my MDiv, so getting back into graduate work is going to be a bit of a challenge, but I am excited.

The questions that Newbingin raises concerning theologizing about western culture helped to put into words something that I've thought about quite a bit over the years. As my wife and I seek to share the good news of Jesus with our neighbors we have been asking these kinds questions. We are asking what the good news is to our neighbors in a post-christendom, postmodern setting. I've always felt disconnected with the traditional modes of evangelism, e.g. 4 spiritual laws. To reverse the quote from Ryan's book, I've felt like I was asking people to a gay bar when I invited people to church. But when the question of exegeting the culture and the lives of those whom I am in realtionship with who do not yet know Jesus I see the issue of evangelism in an entirely different light, one filled with hope.