Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gloria in excelsis Deo

Great rendition of Little Drummer Boy by Canadian, Sean Quigley

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cynics and Lovers

There's no escaping it. Part of having an emerging church conversation is to critique the status quo of "traditional" church and denominational doctrines. There are a few problems with this. Sometimes we get so bogged down in the critique that we have little energy left to imagine and practice the alternatives. And sometimes, to be frank, those invested in maintaining the status quo, often with the best of intentions, accuse us of "arrogance" (or worse) for assuming we know better.

It doesn't do much good to point to reformers in history who critiqued the status quo (Luther, MLK, Jesus, the prophets), because then you're accused of arrogantly comparing yourself to them. However, there is also no escaping the fact that without critique, nothing changes. Progress in the church, and human development in general, starts when someone questions the present state of affairs. Sometimes we all benefit when we all reexamine where we are.

In her book, The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle points out that we do all have a role, even if we disagree. Some model new expressions of church, and explore the contours of our faith outside of traditional structures and mind-sets. Some advocate for change within existing institutions. And some carry on and are content within the existing structures, and help keep the rest of us honest. All add value to the process of change.

Finally, there are those of us who can, with the best of motives, come across as arrogant cynics. Andrew Byers points us toward a great remedy. “Disgust with an institution is not the same as love for a community...Since disillusionment is illumination — the (often painful) dispersal of illusion — cynics have much to offer the church if they can do so in love and in the direction of hope and praise..."

When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees, when he wept over Jerusalem, he always did so from a posture of deep love for his community. As we sense our disillusionment, or contentment, and agitate for change or to preserve, I pray that I and all of us will always do so in the way of Jesus.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Teaching, Learning and the Emergent Church Conversation

At right, Steve Knight joins the conversation with friends from Broward Cohort at The Field Irish Pub & Eatery.

The Emerging Church movement is often referred to as a "conversation emphasize its decentralized nature, its vast range of standpoints, and its commitment to dialogue... Those in the movement do not engage in aggressive apologetics or confrontational evangelism in the traditional sense, preferring to encourage the freedom to discover truth through conversation and relationships with the Christian community."

I've been having, hosting and facilitating "emerging church conversations" for over three years now. I've had them one-on-one, in traditional church small groups and after meals in intentional emerging church discussion gatherings. It never fails - pick any topic about our faith journey, how we do church, what it means to live as a Christian in our world  - ask one question - and people will talk for hours. It's like they're starving to share and learn from one another, and from the Spirit speaking through each of them. Often, these are folks who have been used to Sunday School classroom lectures all their lives. Some are seminary graduates. All desire something more. To me, open, safe dialogue is part of what makes the emerging church conversation so powerful. I think one reason is not because it is so new and "postmodern" (although it is to so many Christians), but because it is a rediscovery of something that's so old.

Just as preaching seems to have gotten stuck in the rut of monologue, so has "teaching." Kim, who is a teacher, helped me to understand this recently. However, the ancient cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean also passed down to us other ways of teaching and learning. For example...

"The Socratic method is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas... One hallmark of Socratic questioning, [as used in law school] is that typically there is more than one 'correct' answer, and more often, no clear answer at all. The primary goal of the Socratic not to answer usually unanswerable questions, but to explore the contours of often difficult issues and to teach students the critical thinking skills they will need..."


"Chavruta, from the Aramaic for 'friendship' is a traditional Rabbinic approach to Talmudic study in which a pair [or group] of students independently learn, discuss, and debate a shared text... Unlike conventional classroom learning, in which a teacher lectures to the student and the student memorizes and repeats the information back in tests, chavruta learning challenges the student to analyze and explain the material,...and question and sharpen each other's ideas, often arriving at entirely new insights into the meaning of the text."

Isn't this so much of what disciplining was, and how Jesus taught? 

Learning though friendship. Interesting. Dr. Ruby Payne tells us, "Learning a language only occurs when there is significant relationship. That then leads to the next question: To what extent can a formal institution create significant relationships?" 
We lose a lot when we rely too heavily on "pulpit-to-pew," lecture style learning. Just as ancient Greek and Hebrew languages are valued in seminaries, ancient Greek and Hebrew styles of learning can help us "explore the contours of difficult issues" in community.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


At left, Billy Sunday

Two friends and I were having lunch yesterday and got talking about our "spiritual gifts." These are friends who are both Christians and good public speakers, and we got to talking about sermons. We started thinking about whether the 30-45 minute soliloquy as sermon is outliving its usefulness and effectiveness. It is outliving its appeal with many. And we got to talking about the purpose of the sermon. I won't get into all that, but from my own perspective, an important purpose of the sermon broadly should be to draw people closer to God, and to one another.

Now, don't get me wrong. I have been enriched by sermons in my lifetime. I estimate that I have probably listened to sermons, on Sunday mornings alone, for about 1,365 hours (roughly two straight months if that's all you did and did not sleep or eat). I particularly like sermons by Rob Bell and Tony Campolo.  However, when it comes down to things I've heard that have drawn me closer to God and others, there's not a lot I remember from church sermons.

That led our lunch club to consider "preaching" as a flexible and adaptable aspect of communication. Much more of what I have learned about growing closer to God and others has been in conversations with friends, from books, from blogs, in brief to-the-point presentations which then led to dialogue, and of course, from living examples.

In other words, Christians with the "gift of preaching" have so many ways to do it these days. Jesus didn't have the internet, but if you look at his life as recorded in the Gospels, and how he communicated and impacted the lives of those around him, he certainly was not limited to the monologue.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Deus Caritas Est

In this conversation, I’ve come to be known by friends as the guy who’s into all that “God is love” stuff. Guilty. It’s one of the few times I enjoy being a Biblical literalist by pointing to I John 4:16, which says, “God is love.”

I have friends (who I love) who are atheists and agnostics. Sometimes, when I say “God is love” to them it leads to a great conversation about free will and human suffering. I don’t have all the answers, but a lot of times I bring up how God's people, the church, often seem to be underachievers when it comes to alleviating human loneliness and suffering. We have free will to be an agent for God in this regard, or not.

I have friends (who I love) who are Christians. Some have seminary training. Sometimes when I say “God is love” to them, it leads to great conversations, where we ponder God’s nature. What else is God other than love? What about God’s “righteousness” and “holiness?” What about God’s wrath? A lot of times I bring up Jesus’ prayer in John’s gospel, about how the world will know God sent him because of the love and oneness, not only of the disciples, but of “…those who will believe in me through their message…” I mention how Paul explains in Romans that “…whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” And I recall Jesus’ reply when tested by an expert in the law on the greatest commandment. He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” It couldn’t be plainer.

My favorite button/sticker, adopted by Mission Year , reads, “Love God. Love People. Nothing else matters.” Jesus guides us through the philosophical questions and theological debates. By following Jesus’ simple commands and example, by allowing Him, through community, to pour his love into and then out of us, atheists, agnostics, Christians, the world itself will be better off …and will know who sent him.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

September 09 Meeting

[Note: While we have met every month from 09 until present, meeting summaries like this one are no longer being written and posted. Thank you for your patience.]
“I don't want knowledge, I want certainty” - David Bowie, from the song Law, on his album Earthling.

Ten of us gathered at Laura’s Cuban Restaurant on September 1st to share a meal and continue our conversation about emerging and missional church and what it means to us. We discussed excerpts from Scot McKnight’s book, A Community Called Atonement focusing on Pentecost and the Holy Spirit in our lives.

We looked at Act 2:17 & 18, Jeremiah 31:33 and McKnight’s comments, “The covenant Israel had broken was being renewed by the gift of the Spirit, who was written into the very heart of the believer. This time, unlike the experience of the older covenant, the covenant would be unbreakable, internal, and democratic. This new covenant issues in the forgiveness of sins and peace for all people…The essence of new covenant thinking is the conviction that the Spirit of God was at work in a new and powerful way – restoring the covenant, renewing people, and recreating the community of faith.”

For Robin M., “internal” meant we now have the law of God in us instead of external to us, and it is God himself who is explaining it to us. The religious leaders of the day got caught up in externals, in laws, and missed the bigger point.

We talked about how God works in the midst of brokenness and seeming chaos. Melissa has seen how the Spirit has restored and healed people, within groups and families.

We explored how the Spirit “recreates the community of faith.” Deb talked about how God works through our weaknesses, “The more cracks in your pot, the more light for others. Cracked pots water the flowers.” Simone spoke of how she has learned valuable lessons from her relationships with others. Robin M. put it this way, “We can’t have true holiness in relation to God until we bump up against others in community. Then it all comes into play.” Kennedy spoke of the how being vulnerable and bearing one’s soul to another can be freeing and humbling. Michelle added that church can also be a dangerous place to open up and share. And Kimberly commented that others with you in community can challenge the way you think.

Simone asked why it seemed like the church, especially through centuries of European culture, seemed to make so many mistakes instead of really bringing God’s Kingdom to earth. Melissa recalled that we’re imperfect and don’t always follow the Spirit. Michelle added that God doesn’t force us to do the right thing. Steve W. and Robin M. mentioned about how the church is growing exponentially in other parts of the world and how there are constant acts of loving others happening all the time that just don’t get the press. Michelle added that we are each responsible to make a difference, and for Kimberly that meant treating others like we want to be treated.

Kennedy talked about how Christianity keeps reverting back to hierarchies, power relationships and conditional love. It’s easier in many ways to be told what to do. On the other hand, following the Spirit internally can be tougher, but is the way that really heals. It’s the Spirit who inspires us to live in true community instead of the camouflage of religiosity. Robin M. added that the church adopted the idea from the Roman Empire that all you have to do is grow numerically, but that’s not real growth. At the same time, denominations are too busy arguing about theology and miss the point. Also, there are different expectations too often for “paid” and “un-paid” Christians (i.e. clergy and lay people) and our focus is too often about on what happens on Sunday morning, but we are all Christians in community seven days a week.

Kathy said that people often feel the loneliest at church. They don’t fit in or people are not being real. There are superficial handshakes but people are too busy with church programs to deal with people’s needs. John added that healing many times needs to start with oneself.

We concluded that conversion most often happens through relationships and that “Christianity is caught and not taught.” Kennedy said that for the Spirit to work through us in relationship, we need to not approach others with an agenda, “to put another notch in our Bible,” but just for who they are. Deb ended with a Holy Spirit prayer.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

August 09 Meeting

"... the preeminent social model that defined the Christian church was the strong-group Mediterranean family. God was the Father of the community. Christians were brothers and sisters. The group came first over the aspirations and desires of the individual. Family values -- ranging from intense emotional attachment to the sharing of material goods to uncompromising family loyalty -- determined the relational ethos of Christian behavior"

Eleven of us gathered at Laura’s Cuban restaurant on August 4 to share a meal and continue our conversation about emerging and missional church and what it means to us.

First, Anthony told his story about how he became interested in the emerging church and how he joined us at our table. Anthony is a professional musician, a multi-instrumentalist, and wants his music to bring healing, or at least to help people to forget their troubles for a while. Anthony graduated from college in the late 90s and worked as a school teacher until 2005. He became a Christian in 1980 and has been involved in church in some form since 1981. His experience with church too often has been about churches being hung up on collections, and manipulation by clergy. He saw some of this “behind the scenes” while traveling with an “evangelist/prophet.” He is also disappointed with how Jesus has been portrayed to the world, in ways that don’t center on loving God with all our heart, soul and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And he sees an absence of meaningful discussion about what the scriptures really mean about “loving…ourselves,” in a godly way.

Anthony yearns for truth and fears that too many Christians, often as taught by institutional churches, stay in the foyer of God’s house and don’t fully enter in to God’s healing, intimacy, nourishment and passion. He says that we can see Jesus’ passion when he overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple. And we can see that church is not just a building, which it too often mistaken for. In all of this, we can see that something’s not quite right. On the other hand, Anthony, who is a New York Italian, takes a lesson from Southern European families as an image of the Kingdom of God. He is inspired by Revelation 3:20 where Jesus invites us to have supper with him. And that this is a form of intimacy which God and we crave. Anthony says, “We’re always asking God to do stuff for us, but He is lonely.” Jesus came to restore what was lost in the garden, intimacy with God and with one another, as deep as the passion between a man and woman. God’s all about relationship and too often we go through the motions and forget the passion.

Finally, Anthony is concerned that a lot of us are Christians because “we’re afraid of going to Hell.” And because of fear-based religion, we wind up sometimes missing the life here and now that God calls us to in Acts 2:42-47 to care for one another’s needs out of love.

John agreed that there is too much emphasis in the church on money and that this reflects the same over-emphasis in American culture. Steve. F. added this phrase for how we keep score: “nickels and noses and Bibles brought.” And Kathy said you have to have money if you need to maintain a building and pay for “stuff.” Ann said we have to remember the foundation we’re built on, which for her is Jesus, and that there is a danger of us becoming a bitching club. And she asked what are we? Tom talked about the struggles of important Christian movements and the importance of being willing to re-think church. Because of what Anthony shared, he wants to be his friend. He wants to meet Jesus, not a pastor on a movie screen. Robin M. said that we are not “a church” per se, but when we gather we are church. He agreed that it is important to re-think what it means to follow Christ, and he asked how the conversations over the past year have impacted us?

Michelle said that feels free to be herself and follow the Spirit without worrying about what preachers or co-congregants will think. She is tired of church politics and wants to be about the business of doing God’s work. And she now enjoys going to different gatherings. Steve F. came to meet people and make friends, and he has. One of the most important take-aways has been not having to focus on “who is in and who is out,” but that where we are headed is more important. Revelation often occurs over a long period of time. Jim said that he feels that he has been “emerging” for the last 15 years, that the most important aspect is making disciples, and that he has found that missing from this group. Deb said she felt the Holy Spirit drew her to the group. And what she has found are people who work with the homeless and are missional in other ways. She finds that the people here live what others talk about. She shared about her prison ministry and how “organic” church there impacts lives. We ended by sharing stories about how God has acted in our lives in miraculous ways, and there was some working out of our understanding of the source of that miraculous power since Pentecost.