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.