Monday, December 3, 2007

Daily Advent Devotionals

I'm setting up a link to my friend tamie's blog, our local home brew of daily reflections through the season of Advent. Enjoy the light emerging through the darkness, for that is our hope and life. For more info on advent click here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Church in the Round

I invite you all to check out a new blog that I hope will allow some space for those of us interested in being church together, in a new kinda way, here in Flagstaff. The blog is called 'church in the round'. I hope that this can become for us the place where an ongoing discussion and creative expression demonstrates what it means for us to be church in a way where power is shared and God's hospitality is freely offered...for all.

I invite you to check in from time to time to see how this little emerging thing unfolds here in flagstaff for a few of us who will be sharing in the church planting business. it's another experiment that i came up with and we'll see how it all works out.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

speaking up for the poor

Last night I attended a community meeting around establishing a new shelter for homeless in Flagstaff. The meeting became emotionally charged with words that summed up to mean 'not in my neighborhood'. Check out the local write up here.

I had to respond, at least my little part for speaking on behalf of the poor, helping to raise the voice that not only do we help the poor, but they help us to become more human through the way we see them as real human beings, a stretch for many. I was pretty frustrated with their comments and short sighted vision for helping those without as you can tell. Either way, here's my letter to the editor:

"As a concerned citizen for the homeless and as a clergy frequently assisting such individuals myself, I was looking forward to a hopeful conversation around a community yearning to help the poor. What I found was a sad expression of community social interest more concerned about self-preservation than hope-filled community engagement. I can’t say I’m completely surprised, but I do believe we have to stop demonizing people and believe that if our communities are as strong as we say they are we can use that strength to perpetuate goodness rather than to allow ourselves to be controlled by fear. We will never get anywhere in our journey to become more human if we can't understand that how we treat the poor is a statement for how we really think about ourselves. I came to the meeting with my children in hopes of allowing them to see what a community caring for others might look like. Unfortunately, I was not able to shine the light bright for them for this kind of witness. No doubt, fear is driving this. It is interesting to me that many are afraid for how the ‘bad’ people coming to the neighborhood while simultaneously registered sex offenders exist right down the street (I looked online!). Do we really think the Flagstaff shelter wants more negative activity engaging the neighborhood? Until we can make a home inside ourselves for the homeless, identify with their radical brokenness, I wonder who the homeless really are in this town?"

What difference does it make? Well, I guess I'm more interested in being faithful to what it means to live in the way of Jesus, this of course, means sharing the values of God with a community who may or may not listen.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


The following quote comes from Roberta Bondi in an article through Christain Century, Nov. 2, 2004. I was reading this morning in preparation for today's sermon (i know, leave me along about sermon prep).

These words remind me that was is of ultimate importance for an authentic spiritual community, the communities the emerging world is trying to facilitate, is more concerned with embodiment than intellectual pursuit or elitism seeking to justify its existence. I especially appreciate the last sentence below from Bondi.

"While I had continued to read and be profoundly moved and strengthened by the early monastic abbas and ammas, I was happy where I was, teaching Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac to small classes of students. I didn’t want to leave. But the imagined voices of my early monastic teachers wouldn’t leave me alone. "You have a choice," I heard them saying. "You can continue teaching Semitic languages which you enjoy, or you can act on what you know -- that we have saved your life over the years, and we can save the lives of others as well if you chose to teach them about us."

What could it look like for a community of forgiveness and hope to embody the very existence it seeks to understand and describe? At what point does embodiment shift to become more important than philosophical constructs or argumentation? I truly believe the emerging community, in its seeking authentic expressions of life through faith, at its heart desires to be a community embodying this truth in its own fractured and fumbling way. It is not a claim of truth by what it says, but by how truth itself becomes embedded in its very ethos; reflecting fruits of this very truth, of love, peace, patience, kindness, etc.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

sacramental meanderings

Check out my friend tamie's blog. She does some great imagining around sacrament, sacramental life/eucharist and its place in and through church communities. If, as many are saying that all of life is worship, than how is this exploration different? Perhaps, this is the tangible connection and reminder we all need over and over again that both shapes our identity and purpose; one that is deeply connected to the divine in and through all of life.

One of the essential leanings through this eucharistic theology/ecclesiology directly references God's own presence as lived out in and for the world. The challenging part of this perhaps is the polarity of connecting what goes on inside the gathered community, as church, and what that means for the scattered community, again as church. Embracing this seemingly ambiguous reality is the key that this notion is attempting to either bridge, breakdown or critique. There is a simultaneity in its gathering/scattering ethos that, for some reason, we so quickly want to compartmentalize or segregate out from the world instead of connecting it to the world as a means for receiving/extending The Life that is offered to us, individually and collectivelly, and lived through us, individually and collectively.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

rant: what the hell is this emerging community doing?

I'm sick and tired of assumptions that think the emerging community is a relativistic, 'anything goes' cocktail of a little 'my friend Jesus' here and a little 'whatever you want' there, with a couple candles, icons and a cup of joe thrown in to make everyone feel cozy and warm and somewhat spiritual (but not too much for fear of stepping on toes). The emerging church is not a free for all exchange of ideas for the sake of 'i'm ok, you're ok', with no serious engagement for who God is, what God is up to and how God wants us to get on board with it all.

What it seems to me, both from my own experience and my fumbling attempts, is that the emerging churches are enacting a radical notion of living out the tension between a missional congregation in relationship to its context. This, of course for some, seems to create an ambiguous relationship that appears to allow everything. The emerging church radically and authentically seeks to wonder and live out what it means to be church, not just talk about it. The essence of this answer is best arrived at in relationship to the very God who brings it all into existence: the trinity, a holy community engaging in 'mutual interpenetration.' That is, through Jesus God is known in time and the Spirit, Jesus continued ministry of (not about) God is made manifest through communities willing to listen and engage and ponder and serve.

I found this great quote from Scott Frederickson who wrote a paper that was presented at Luther Seminary's first annual missional church conference in 2005. In this thesis entitled "The Missional Congregation in Context" he is talking about this tension around congregation and context. He mentions 'coinciding' as it refers to the trinitarian undrestanding of God coinciding as three persons, persons as it relates not the independent identity of each, but rather, the interdepedent identity, the importance of each 'person' as it is defined in relationship to and through the other. This 'otherness' is key! He says:

"The God of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit, has created and redeemed this coinciding. The very incarnation of God into the Son and the resurrection of the Son to God is the way Christainity claims the context. This means that a missional congregation and its context are related. The missional congregation claims the reality of the context (the Incarnation) while not being subsumed wholly beneath it, in order to show the context of a deeper reality (the Resurrection), namely, that God is constantly at work in the world."

I love this idea for how context/culture is redeemed as God's presence in and around the incarnated Christ (Holding). I love that we can be free to engage alongside and with our culture and context without "being subsumed wholly beneath it." (Hospitality/Humility) I love the idea that we could challenge and interject hope that God hasn't given up on the world and that God can be trusted. I love the idea of sharing a new vibrancy for what God is doing in the world and how it is available for all.

What is difficult, I think, for people to understand about the emerging communities is this differentiation between the essence of church and the serious engagement with and alongside of culture.

This is not the end of the conversation of course. This is only one slice of pie, or whatever taste this might leave with you. Hopefully, it's something nourishing and somewhat tasty and doesn't just taste like shit, although a few of you out there might think so. The emerging community seeks to embody this challenging notion of missional community contextualized. It certainly is a venture that leaves many wondering 'why has everything become so watered down'. On the other hand of course it has energized others to re-engage an environment, context/culture, that has dismissed us for dissing them, trusting profoundly that both, working on each other, are necessary for God's continuing emerging work in and for the world.

Friday, October 26, 2007

what is worship?

I got this great email from my friend Ryan and wanted to pass it along. These are helpful thoughts that further an understanding of church, and the worship life of church, that is more driven by the way individuals and communities embody the message that they so desperately seek to articulate and embrace. These words are at the heart of an emergent expression of church and the way it seeks to order its life through worship, and faith active in love. Enjoy!

"The conversation continues. I was just thumbing through "Love and
Living" by Thomas Merton and came across the following on page 181...

"The West has lived under the sign of will, the love of power, action,
and domination. Hence, Western Christianity has often been associated with a spiritual will-to-power and an instinct for organization and authority. This has taken good forms, in devotion to works of education, healing the sick, building schools, order and organization in religion itself. But even the good side of activism has tended toward an overemphasis on will, on action, on conquest, on 'getting things done,' and this in turn has resulted in a sort of religious restlessness, pragmatism, and the worship of visible results. There is another essential aspect of Christianity: the interior, the silent, the contemplative, in which hidden wisdom is more important than practical organizational science, and in which love replaces the will to get visible results."

The idea of "worshiping visible results" grabbed my attention. We discussed this before in regards to doing church a new way. Having visible results as top priority makes church into self-worship, right? Then self-worship deafens us to hearing God.

The new way puts the focus back on God. The less time spent looking for visible results, means more time available for listening."

Thanks again Ryan for these insightful thoughts.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

holy communion?

On Saturday night I was invited by my friend Dahamane (to the right of me) to their end-of-Ramadan feast. It's always a joy to learn from and talk with my Muslim friends around great food, a cultural invitation, that I don't often get to engage in. I'm in the company of newfound friends from Yemen, Cameroon, Mali, Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. It was one of those special evenings where, as you sit and listen, you feel...well, holy, a 'set apart' time, to cross the boundaries of cultures and religions for the sake of acknowledging that we are, all of us, held by God, that God has come all too close to us, united us in him in a strange way we may never completely understand.

So...for all intents and purposes we could go around and articulate, through our various doctrines, how we have come to hold God and realize that there may be some differences, but the reality is we are created in God's image for the sake of reflecting his love and life to the world. Was this meal holy communion? It certainly was a 'set apart' event, a communion feast, a meal where the alien outsider (me) was invited to the table. Not in the same way theologically that many have come to speak of...or is it? This meal was not consecrated in the name of Christ by whose very death the fear of death has been vanquished forever and in whose resurrection presence we celebrate until he comes again (whatever that means). Could we say that Christ was present? Could we say that the Christ who died to reconcile people one to another was present incarnationally embodying that very belief in the way we shared a meal with one another? Would it be true that this is the very kind of community that Jesus came to constitute through his very death on and resurrection from the cross? The very hope into which God's future is unfolding?

For me, the evening was an expression of my new, favorite phrase I've come to enjoy from my new mentor Miroslav Volf: this night was an experience of the "anticipated eschatological community of God."

Monday, October 15, 2007

casual update

hello everyone. needless to say, life has been very crazy. i was looking forward to a slower schedule when the summer came to an end, being the primary parent and having no other responsibilities than the pursuit of my dmin at luther and starting this emerging church. as it turns out, an opportunity came to help out a struggling local congregation here in flag as the interim pastor, part-time, 30 hours a week. so, that's the story. now i've got the craziest schedule when my wife kacey has been called full time as pastor for lutheran campus ministry and me, the part-time everything role.

it's good work helping out a church, one of those traditional types, helping to ground them in the missional church stuff, really helping me personally to bulk up on some of my own leadership skills and biblical/theological reflections in an adult community once again. it certainly is a breath of fresh air for me.

so that's it. i'll start blogging more when my 20-30 page paper is done for's our missional ecclesiology paper; great stuff, this is precisely why i joined the program, for the rich theological engagement and the practical integration of it all. so keep me in your prayers as i continue with this venture.

also, i got sick and tired of waiting to start this emerging community. SOOOOO, this last thursday we met for the first time with seven of us in attendance. it was good conversation, great probing questions from legitimately suspicious folks (we have a lot to repent for in this church that segregates and delineates in too many exclusive ways creating an idol out of every newtonian segment of church). this is what gives me excitement and passion for doing the things that i'm doing. the interim is fine, but this is great! the challenge. the 'out there' aspect of our faith, alongside of those who believe, those who don't, those who question, those who are cynical and those who just want something real.

i'm going this friday to the episcopal convention down in phx as i've been invited to do a workshop on emerging churches. i look forward to it and hope they don't kick me out! i figured out what my handout will consist of...two images, that for me, encompass this missional church expression known as emergent church. one an icon, rublev's icon of the communal nature of God and the other which has become an icon to me, Kissing the Face of God, the window through which reflects God's embrace of all humanity. nothing else, no fancy powerpoints (thx tamie!), just me, Christ's church created, reflected, and brewed in me. a shot or two i suppose, of God's brew filtered through me with the grounds of emergent friends like karen, tamie, chris, richard, mike, morgan, bob, ryan and cecilia and so many more. Thank you God for this perichoretic community!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Where's Waldo?

Locating oneself amid the world of assumptions, expectations and longings to connect is quite an adventurous, and often confusing and complex tale. For me, the last few weeks have been a good sabbath rest of tending the primary relationships of life, immersing myself with companions along the way who are equally concerned with meaningful existence and how to extend and envelop others in it as well as the experience of bumping up against what many refer to as the modern day ecclesiastical empire.

A two week vacation with the kids and family camping down the oregon coast beginning in Astoria and ending in Newport Beach. One of the most beautiful coastlines along the west that one can ever experience. It sure is healing to breathe in the clean, crisp, salty ocean air and rich fertile greenery that is offered in this stretch of land. With visits to museums, beaches, aquariums, historic bridges and lighthouses, even breweries, i.e. Rogue in Newport Beach, our trip offered great time away with newly shared experiences that will enrich our family life for years to come.

My seminary experience was fine. It's always great to be with those who give you encouragement for the journey engaging around meaningful conversation. I was fortunate as well to have met a couple emergents including one of the pastors at House of Mercy, and share some beer one warm mid-west evening with Ryan Torma at Spirit Garage. Thanks for the time and insight Ryan.

Most recently some interesting developments with the elca national church and concerning the grant we applied for for this new emerging church. I should not have been suprised to learn that the national church has some reservations about this new venture here in Flagstaff and turned down the grant. However, I have been told that it is not dead and that they are interested in learning more about it by sending out some 3 individuals (someone from Chicago, some other leader who has supposedly been doing this emerging stuff and someone else, pretty vague at this point) to have conversation with us to better articulate, all for their own needs, and devise a better system for measurement to ease their concern for investing. Interestingly, after sharing this with one of our emerging companions he said, 'isn't measurement kind of anti-emergent idea?' This is exactly the friggin problem that we have. I am not averse to measurement, but I do have my own reservations as to the old ways we've measured, especially around an externally imposed understanding for success that is much more conducive for a growing suburban territory that is supposedly a universal way for effective congregational development, as if the 'butts in a pew' methodology is the only marker of faithfulness. I know a lot of people who are in church every Sunday who still just don't get it! This is why, as I mentioned back a few months ago, Margaret Wheatley has some wonderful and helpful ways for bridging us into the future. Her article on measurement suggests much more of a feedback based system which can lead to a more effective and comprehensive way of "justifying" one's existence and the broad reach/influence that it is accomplishing.

I'm not really sure how Jesus, or his disciples, ever managed without such a system in place!

The first few hours following this news I was hit pretty hard, but words of encouragement kept coming from both inside and outside that this is exactly what the present church is in need of. We are a part of a reforming, rather than 'reformed', church and we need to, all of us I suppose, learn to learn and be open to one another. I'm not particularly worried as I once was however. At least in my situation, I'm pretty fortunate that my wife is carrying the burden of our financial stability and can branch off and follow the dream of what God is up to in the community of Flagstaff as well as inside of me. Following Derek's first day of VBS I asked him what they did. He said we talked about Abraham. "Daddy", he said, "God asked Abraham to leave his country, with his whole family." Out of the mouths of babes really!

God is asking me to leave a country that many of us have become familiar and comfortable with for the sake of exploring new lands for how God's promises and life are unfolding. I guess it shouldn't come as any surprise that the battling over territory in the middle East is exactly the kind of struggles that will continue to manifest themselves in the life of church. But, at least, I'm still of the opinion, perhaps naive, that the best is desired and that further opportunities will be sought for and found. Not, of course, without its continued frustrations and heated debates. But there is definitely a strong need for everyone in the system to be reforming even as much as those from the mother ship even suppose that we're the ones who perhaps just don't get it.

Who knows how it will all work out. I'm a more than a little suspicious for the strings that come along with funding and am not quite sure if this is exactly what we should be ready and open to receive as yet at this point. So from my perspective with a potential upcoming consultation we'll be interviewing them with as much consideration and critique as they desire to check us out.

We're bridge builders! McClaren described this in some article somewhere, and I completely agree. To what, I'm not completely sure. Perhaps to a more diverse perspective of being and doing church that is as shaped by the dreamers and grassroots movers as it is encouraged and even welcomed by those at the supposed "top" of the ecclesiastical food chain.

The story continues to unfold for sure exposing our our own assumptions and expectations as we dream and bump up against one another. My only prayer is that I don't become too cynical, and that my cynicism is upheld by hope instead. For after all this is not my venture or yours or theirs, but God's! For me, that's a word of hope.

Monday, July 16, 2007

D. Min. Week at Luther Seminary!

This is the week I'm in class at Luther Seminary for my d. min. program in congregational mission and leadership here in St. Paul, MN. Two weeks each year we get together for our on-site cohort work with several other students, one week in July and another in January. We're immersed in a theological whirlwind of missional church imagination. We're wondering around multiple thoughts, from Western to Eastern perspectives of Trinitarian theology and everything in between; and how various theological ecclesiological assumptions inform our way for being/doing church.

A couple simple, initial and yet profound nuggets...

"A missional church discerns God's activity in the world and gets on board with what God is already doing."

"Getting people into church is not the end of God's mission, for the horizon of God's kingdom is beyond the church and into God's world."

We enter into prayer each morning with the seminary community at Chapel of the Cross and enjoy the beautiful artistic expressions scattered throughout the seminary landscape.

House of Mercy, St. Paul MN

On Sunday evening I worshiped with another emerging community here in the St. Paul area. House of Mercy is of the American Baptist tribe and are immersed in the downtown area of St. Paul. The worship was wonderful emergent form with words that didn't connect the dots for you, meaningful liturgical acts of our common work as God's people, proclaiming the promises of God through the indigenous kids 'art camp' (their version of vbs) and of course the Holy Eucharist. Needless to say, it's always difficult to describe these worship experiences. It was helpful to have some further conversation with Russell, one of their pastors 11 years, following worship.

One of the most beautiful parts of the liturgy was a dedication. The parents were invited forward. A piece was read on servanthood and reference made to John 13, Jesus washing of the disciples feet. The parents were then invited to was the little feet of their newborn baby as a promise to be servant to their girl. The father cradled here with her feet dangling over his forearms while the mom gently poured water from this pitcher over her feet. They were dried, prayers and community commitments were exhanged. Absolutely beautiful!

Peter Rollins on the 'emerging' of Church

This helpful and direct quote comes from Peter's website coordinates regarding what the 'emerging' of church is all about. It is in reference to his understanding as it relates to the community he serves, ikon. Emerging is one of five coordinates available to read at their website.

"Flowing naturally from the previous statements Ikon does not view itself as having reached some final destination/destiny but rather as being on a journey toward that which forever transcends us. As a result of this we understand ourselves in a continual state of kinetic movement and fluidity. As such we would prefer to call ourselves a community becoming Christian rather than a community of Christians, for if a Christian is someone who selflessly follows Christ and radiates divine love in a broken world then we are profoundly aware that there is much of our being that lies in darkness, still needing to be evangelised. The term ‘emerging’ should not then be thought of as a provisional one that will some day be replaced with the word ‘emerged’, for we embrace the idea that re-reading, critiquing, constructing and deconstructing are all processes which remain vital for our spiritual development. By recognising ourselves as pilgrims and sojourners we endeavour to regularly meditate upon the direction of the movement and be open to the divine call that would draw us down paths we have not yet discovered. As such there is an implicit ambiguity and openness built into the heart of our structure."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Who's neighbor to me?

Luke 10:25-37

All too quickly we want to ask the question who's our neighbor. We want to figure out what/who God wants us to touch all too quickly before realizing the depth of our own being touched by a Presence which engages with us in a way that is much more akin to the relationship between a Jew and a Samaritan. What is that relationship? Well, the people of Samaria were half breeds, considered such by those superior religious and righteous Jews, who themselves were part of the true Abraham-Isaac-Jacob tribe. What good could an outsider, like a "Sammy", do to provide for a godly Jew that such a Jew didn't already have? Well for, conscientiousness, true companionship, a demonstration of true humanity.

Perhaps through good intentioned interests we do want to know who we can be of service to in this world. We do, many of us, want to know who our neighbor is and, at least on a good day, when we're feeling good about helping others, help out. This good Sam story seems to pry into the depths of the Complete Other, foreign to our own sense of welcome, coming to save us along the ditch, this good Sam being God, who is 'moved to pity' by our own helpless condition and sets us up with good health care and assurance of another day. So what do you think? Will that traveler, perhaps it was a Jew but the text doesn't explicitly say so, be willing to reach out one day and help someone else? Will this experience in anyway change his heart, 'move him with pity', when he comes across another traveler similar to himself.

I wonder...looking into our own reflections and the ways we're broken and have been received through compassion by others, embraced and accepted fully by God for who we are, will that cause us to be more compassionate too? Or will we resort back to the ways of the priest and Levite? Something in me, that good 'ol cynic I guess, feels that the secondary question wants to replace the first, that is, 'who is my neighbor?' The first however, "who's been neighbor to me?", seems to be suggesting that the alien Presence, completely different than myself, God if you will, has come and welcomed me just as I am in order to show me that I am something of worth, significance, even as those around me pass me by along the way. I'm wondering today about motivation. I'm curious about what 'moves one with pity'.
Perhaps as human beings it is by taking the time to peer into the reflect pool of the inner self realizing that in our darkness, emptiness, and isolation we're not alone. There is One who cares deeply and picks us up. And again, perhaps it is through this realization, that in our own fragile nature, Someone has taken an interest in us, maybe then we will learn to take an interest in those who are not really too different from us after all.

So as this week moves along I'll be attentive not merely to the neighbors I run across on my journeys, but also, be wondering what neighbors God is sending my way, to soften and re-sensitize me to my true humanity.

Could it be that the good Samaritan, in it's multiplicity of incarnations, is present in the emerging church, those of us half breeds, who are in relationship to the mother-ship church? Could this radical other reality be an expression of an emerging body bringing restoration and healing to another who is dying? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Is protestant mission an oxymoron?

The emerging church, or the church emergent for that matter, is undergoing a lot of criticism and critique in so far as it is seeking to do/be church in radically new ways that, at least for those familiar with church in their own traditional form, appear unfamiliar. But what about roots, those things that are at once hidden beneath our very feet and which continually nourish and sustain our very existence, that contribute to the current story in which we find ourselves? In particular I'm wondering about my own protestant roots. From all indications I'm beginning to question whether Lutherans can even claim to have a missional approach to church that is not merely reduced or elevated to a system of beliefs. Our very historical origins suggest that we are speaking to an existing "faithful" and "insider" crowd, justifying our particular ways, albeit rich and truthful about who God is, without any concern for those that the Kingdom of God is seeking to include.

A couple things get me thinking and wondering. These words from David Bosch, a South African Dutch Reformed missiologist in his monumental work on the history of mission over the past 2000 years, who speaks about 'Lutheran Orthodoxy and Mission':

"...the Protestant descriptions concentrated on the correctness of teaching the sacraments. Each confession understood the church in terms of what it believed its own adherents possessed and the others lacked, so Catholics prided themselves in the unity and visibility of their church, Protestants in their doctrinal impeccability. The Protestant preoccupation with right doctrine soon meant that every group which seceded from the main body had to validate its action by maintaining that it alone, and none of the others, adhered strictly to the "right preaching of the gospel". The Reformational descriptions of the church thus ended up accentuating differences rather than similarities. Christians were taught to look divisively at other Christians. Eventually Lutherans divided from Lutheranss, Reformed separated from Reformed, each group justifying its action by appealing to the marks of the true church, especially correcting preaching."

"In all these instances the church was defined in terms of what happens inside its four walls, not in terms of its calling in the world. The verbs used in the Augustana (this references article VII on the church in the Augsburg Confessions of 1530) are all in the passive voice: the church is a place where the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly. It is a place where something is done, not a living organism doing something."

"The Reformation had come to its conclusion with the establishment of state churches, and of systems of pure doctrine and conventionalized Christian conduct. The church of pure doctrine was, however, a church without mission, and its theology more scholastic than apostolic." (Bosch, Transforming Mission 248-249)

Is there any missional component to the Lutheran DNA other than a fantastically sophisticated construct of God? I, in no way, want to down play the importance of a balanced approach of head and heart faith, of faith seeking understanding. But I do want to radically critique the same system that is seeking to critique this radical form of missional church known as the emerging church. I suppose there will be some of us who will get defensive regarding our tradition and do doctrinal and historical acrobatics to justify both our own existence but even more that we are a missional church.

Again, don't get me wrong, I appreciate the correction and centrality placed back on God's activity in the world as free gift, a theology of the cross, a vocational emphasis on the life of a Christian and the paradoxical freedom that comes with it.

However, it seems to me that one of the best ways we can approach a deep missional perspective as Lutherans is by "confessing" or "agreeing" that we fall short of a complete and comprehensive ecclesiology and that we are not the ultimate end of what the true Jesus Church is all about. This post (beyond)denominational approach doesn't seek to negate our own identity, but views and lives it in conjunction with other amazingly faithful perspectives. Contextualizing ourselves and integrating the greatness of what we have to offer Christianity, humbly and hospitably, while at the same time embracing the greatness of other deeply profound traditions is key to a healthy future. When we can learn to do this, without an nervous breakdown, I think we will begin growing more fully into what the true Jesus Church is all about.

Why wonder around these things? Well for one, it's a personal struggle to reconcile my own tradition with what I'm working out in this new emerging paradigm. Secondly, if we are to be an ancient/future church or even a church in a postmodern culture, we need to take seriously and critically engage in the family album of the past just as many of us seek to pave a new and faithful way into the future.

I found it quite interesting to read about a couple other thoughts in Bosch's final summary of his book Transforming Mission that are more generally wondering about Christian mission.

"Speaking at a consultation in Kuala Lumpur in February, 1971, Emerito Nacpil depicts mission as 'a symbol of the universality of Western imperialism among the rising generations of the Third World'. In the missionary, the people of Asia do not see the face of the suffering Christ but a benevolent monster. So he concludes, 'The present structure of modern mission is dead. And the first thing we ought to do is to eulogize it and then bury it.' Mission appears to be the greatest enemy of the gospel. Indeed, the most missionary service a missionary under the present system can do today to Asia is to go home!"

and another thought...

"We may have been fairly good at orthodoxy, at "faith", but we have been poor in respect to orthopraxis, of love....there have been countless councils on right believing; yet no council has even been called to work out the implications of the greatest commandment - to love one another. One may therefore, with some justification, ask whether there has ever been a time when the church had the "right" to do mission work." (Bosch, 519)

Saturday, July 7, 2007

COTA Contextualized

Click the above title to check out a recent video I got permission from Karen to post on youtube that Church of the Apostles put together. I found it to be a helpful and well done synopsis and inspirational vision of what God is up to through COTA. It is a great perspective of a missional church radically contextualizing itself around an integrated and multivalent ethos of neo-monasticism, a cultural celebration and embrace of community arts, and ancient-future forms of worship.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Will the true Jesus church please stand up!

The reality is, if we are really honest (but since we're sinners i guess the paradox is we can't be all that honest, anyway) there isn't just one ecclesiology by which we go about being/doing church. But are we even aware of the fact that there are major assumptions underlying the way we are and do church? Most within church don't even realize that there is more than one way of doing it. We know/realize there are different denominations, but not the meaning behind deep ecclesiological underpinnings for what we are then up to on the surface.

If we are honest, church is much more multivalent in its approach than the Western church wants to admit or celebrate. I've been thinking a lot about differing ecclesiologies (ways we live out or understand what it means to be church) such as Trinitarian ecclesiology, missoinal ecclesiology, liturgical ecclesiology, sacramental ecclesiology, Celtic ecclesiology, doctrinal ecclesiology and even incarnational ecclesiology. WHEW!!! To add to the complexity, each of these are viewed differently whether you're speaking with someone in the Western or Eastern church. Many churches embody each of these understandings at certain points along their journey as congregation.

Will the true Jesus church please just stand up! In short perhaps what the emerging church is helping to demonstrate is the expansive nature of church and the ways in which it can be embodied, its beautiful diversity, over against rock solid traditional means of being church that have existed and been passed down mindlessly without any thought as to why we're doing what we've been doing only to allow a modernistic tool such as measurement to let us know we must be off track because our numbers are slipping. Ah, that's not really fair, we have been thinking about this, but we tend to keep it locked up in the place where knowledge really lives and needs to be, the academic realms of the seminaries.

Recently I've been thinking about one of the great distinctions that the emerging church is really confronting head on, not only by talking about it, but living it. What I'm talking about is the distinction between doctrinal or propositional church versus incarnational or relational church. The Western church, and the mainlines heavily included, have operated out of an enlightement/Modernistic church driven by epistomological (knowledge is most important) concerns. And so what this looks like is that we have confirmation classes to inform our young about the baptism into which they were baptized by suggesting that what is most important is memorizing our catechisms and having knowlege "about" God rather than a living, breathing relationship with God. What would it look like, by the way, to just have a confirmation class and their parents discover what church was by doing it, rather than merely talking about it, DO IT. "Ok everyone, your assignment for the next 2 years is to learn how to be church! Now what should we do?" A big request I know.

What I call 'fake emerging' are those communities who are really driving a doctrinal/propositional approach but manipulate others relationally, either aggressively so or REAL nice, for the sake of only pouncing on them later to get to their real point of making the pitch, "now here's what you really need to believe about God. Do you believe it? Pray with me. Now you're a real follower! Congrats!"

What's going on in emerging communities is an emphasis and freedom within relationships, gathered around particular habits of Christian faith, to discover individually and corporately, who God is, what God is up to and what God is calling us to do. Through an incarnational ecclesiology relationships are central rather than doctrine. We are more concerned with how we are treating, living with and loving one another rather than what we actually believe (doctrine) about God. Or that the doctrine becomes so as it is lived not merely confessed. Or even more, that it is through a relational process that beliefs about God emerge. Belonging precedes believing. This is a little of what I think Peter Rollins is up to when he talks about orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy in his book How (Not) to Speak of God.

The emerging church understands that people come to trust and are drawn into God, not by telling people what to believe and then expecting them to become the very essence their propositional faith suggests ("you need to believe x, y or z and by the way, I'm ABSOLUTELY right about all this so just believe it"). NO!!! Rather, through relationships engaging freely and openly around the promises of God that for us as Church come through time shared in dialogue with the ancient practices of faith which include worship, scripture, prayer, service to the poor, oppressed and marginalized and the ways we reflect and use the resources God has given us. Of course, each of these habits come with incredible baggage because even as I share what they are each one of us has preconceived notions about how to define them.

The approach I'm celebrating and learning to live into is no different than Jesus' words to love God and love neighbor. Great! Now what, how do we do that? How do we embody that...and together? For me, this incarnational, Trinitarian ecclesiology fits, I don't know about you.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

EmMersion Pictures

Click on the above title which links to my pictures from my EmMersion experience and check out my some of my pictures on my flickr account. Love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

emerging, incarnational, trinitarian, sacramental, ancient-future worship

I’ve been thinking about worship a lot lately. A week ago Thursday I worshiped alongside of this community, Church of the Beloved in Edmonds, WA a church plant from COTA. Emerging worship can be an interesting beast to navigate for those just learning it's own particular ethos. With the sophisticated images configured, projected and displayed, at least sophisticated for those not familiar with "how to do it", and the amazingly gifted song leaders with voices that could sell, and well, to a relaxed atmosphere of couches and coffee. This veneer can appear to be "the holy grail" we've all been searching for, but in reality and beneath it all, is a profoundly thoughtful, incarnational, sacramental and trinitarian expression of integrated cultures, sacred and secular if you will, that is all reflected through this particular worshiping community. One could easily go away thinking and believing that anything less than cool graphics, hip art, with fantastic lead vocals, in a relaxed environment is the essence of emerging worship. I can understand that, but there's really so much more going on.

So again, I've been thinking a lot about worship lately. This primary function of being church is deeply personal for each of us and with those personal convictions come strong opinions around what is most important and necessary for a TRUE worship experience. In a book entitled “Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America” there was an interesting reflection that I thought I’d pass along as we wonder together and live into the centrality and commitment we have as church to our worship life.

A woman "who, after attending worship and disliking the sermon, asked her visiting friend, “Now tell me, what did you get out of that worship service?” The woman was taken aback when the friend replied, “That’s not a question I ask myself. I ask myself, ‘Did this community of God’s people worship God today?” It never occurs to many people to define worship in terms other than meeting individual needs, or to put God rather than personal satisfaction at the center of worship. This situation is the result not just of people’s individual perversity, but of the pervasiveness of the power of individualism that tries to determine not only the answers but also the way one shapes the question.” (MC, p. 112)

What missional activity are we up to during worship? What missional work is God doing as we, being church, gather from Sunday to Sunday? These are the heart of the questions that worship in emerging communities are exploring and experimenting around. How we answer, live and embody this and questions like it, speak volumes about where we are at in our, collective and individual, journey with God and what God is trying to communicate through us. How we answer this question has profound and far reaching implications for our very practice of worship.

Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord...with your heart as well as with your head, and your feet as well as with your mind. Thanks be to God!

Monday, June 25, 2007

I've Quit Going to Church!

Alright, at first this may seem a bit rash, but yeah, there's good reasons for this. Many of these good reasons are just tied into some of my own issues, of which I have many, even some of which I'm even aware of. This issue of which I speak is one of my greatest pet peaves. And so, I'm coming out to the world to say I'm no longer going to be going to church. This way of speaking about church conjurs up in me notions of location, destination, accomplishment and perhaps one less thing "to do" on my long, ongoing lists.

The concept "going to church" is even something I'm trying to engage with my children around, beautiful and formative little souls that they are, even as they are only six and four. "We don't go to church Derek, WE ARE THE CHURCH! Damn it! Come on, can't you get this stuff?" Perhaps a bit harsh, maybe a more gentle approach would be helpful. But seriously this goes on deep down inside of me, this little voice cries out, WE DON'T GO TO CHURCH! One of the functions of being church is to worship and so we worship with the gathering of God's called and sent ones. But even then, do we really "go" to worship or do we rather attend worship with deeper implications for whose "attending" to whom?

And so on some other level too I'm wondering what and how our language forms the ways in which we understand who we are as Christ's Church. What difference would it make if we began referring to ourselves and our function as church differently? Would it mean anything? Would we be dismissed, or perhaps, heard differently by those with whom we speak? How much of what we say, in our language, is even for others, or does it also and even more have something significant to say about our own formation? I'm inclined toward the later on this one while still allowing others to engage in and around us as we are faithful to who we are, as Church.

I mean come on, do we really want to say we 'go to church' when at the same time in and similar ways we 'go for a run', 'go to the grocery store', 'go to a baseball game' or even 'go to the bathroom'? Is this form of "going" implicitly getting in the way or constipating anything God's Spirit is wanting to birth within and through us?

Who knows really, maybe it doesn't make a difference how we speak about these things. Maybe I won't bother after a while trying to swim upstream against the linguistic currents. Maybe I won't be able to shape even my own children in an ecclesiastical language that is more constistent with identity than organization or function. All I do know is that going to church for me feels like I'm reducing and limiting the scope of who we are as church and what God is doing in and through us/me, for the sake of the world. So for now, I've quit going to church...although I'm seriously thinking of staying faithful to my calling that came through church to the way of being church with a community that is the body of Christ with particular habits God's Spirit uses to create and sustain faith that reconciles and propels forward and beyond itself into a world in need of hope and light.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Commodified Christ

Never knew Jesus cost so much! Hanging out with Karen yesterday and doing an errand to a local Roman Catholic supply store to buy some wine for worship I couldn't help myself but to snap this photo. You've got to be kidding me! The image, at least for me, is pretty telling regarding how we as church are miscommunicating the nature of who we are as well as the ways we've adopted American values of marketing and selling Jesus to the world. If this doesn't create cynicism for being church and living in Jesus I don't what does.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Moot Community and the More than Right Rev. Ian Mobsby

No doubt one of the true gifts of my time here in Seattle was getting to know and learn from Ian Mobsby, an Anglican priest of the Church of England. Around three years ago he began an emerging community called Moot in Westminster, London UK. If you want to know what 'moot' means look it up, that's the point of the name. On Monday morning, EARLY, we (aaron kennedy, ian mobsby, karen ward and I) headed down to Portland, OR for our first and most important stop of the day at Stumptown Coffee Roasters, as you can tell it helped us to wake up! We traveled down for the second to the last of 18 lecture presentations Ian did throughout US cities regarding his recent Masters in Theology (more like our American D. Min. programs however) about the emerging church. The title of the book is Emerging and Fresh Expressions of Church (link to it down below at "Emergent Books" and get one, you'll have to order it from their community as it was self published through Moot).

His presentation at Trinity Cathedral in Portland was an explication around Rublev's icon as the locus to emerging mission and ministry. The communal trinitarian expression gets at the heart of the emerging church conversation and movement in and through culture. There are numerous and great articles on Moot's website as well where you can go to explore more about what this thingy is all about. You can access them by clicking on moot:greyspace.

I greatly appreciated our time together, new friendships and the opportunity to learn alongside the ways in which church is unfolding in fresh ways in the Church of England. Thanks Ian and Aaron! Had a great time with you guys!

I discovered my blog's namesake yesterday on one of my excursions around the city of Seattle, it caught my interest and opened up my imagination for the ways my life in service to God is an unfolding adventure. The shop with which I'm engaging is the world, the location and stage of God's mission and movings. What a blessing and gift to wander around it and be attentive to the ways in which God's Spirit is making God known and trying to just get on board.

zen church

This morning on my run around Greenlake I was intrigued by an asian gentlmen in deep meditation, legs crossed and hands pressed, right alongside and in the midst of pedestrian traffic. It was touching to witness, but even more so when I came around the 2 mile lake and saw him a second time, STILL there and very content and peaceful. I thought to myself for an instant, I'd like to go over when he's done and ask him to teach me what he was doing. But then I thought again, that question says more about my Western linear thinking and probing than his Eastern methods of practice. In reality his response would be to invite me into his way of meditating, inviting me to watch him and imitate him. And in so doing I would learn for myself along the way through experience and reflection as I was beginning to put into practice what I was observing. He would have put it back into my court to learn for myself, to hear, see, taste and feel for myself.

This is the life of a monastic. This is the life of a way that cannot in any way be reduced to formulas, 5 minute descriptions and/or a powerpoint program that, when completed, one completely understands. The only REAL thing one can understand from these approaches is an epistemoloigcal framework without the innards and true substance that comes with embodying spirit through community and the practices that shape and knit together such communities.

As one whose own spirit is inclined toward the contemplative this kind of intentional community, around a vow of life, is both attractive and intriguing. Zen church, or a monastic expression of church is no more than an Eastern expression of communal life that revolves around a particular ethos/habit of faith that allow God's Spirit to penetrate in and through, to bring transformation and awareness of God's life lived for me and beyond me.

thinking outside the what?

What a great work of genius. Certainly God's people are more creatively innovative than a bunch of fleas, wouldn't you think?

My time here in seattle with the communities of COTA, Freemont, and COTB, Edmonds, has been a time to rise above and beyond the lid recognizing that not merely is it we ourselves who are stretching the boundaries of thought and action, but rather are participating alongside of a God who is already at work in such ways, in ways we have been constraining, controling and commodifying.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

cota worship and other thoughts

Worship is at 5 p.m. every Saturday evening. COTA is gifted with wonderful musicians who understand the liturgy and incorpate the ancient elements of it in fresh, creative and innovative ways. There were around 70 people in attendance many of whom were in their 20's. Although getting to know them last night I have learned that most of them are disenfranchized Christians in the sense that they no longer were able to find a home within the conservative/fundamentalist churches from which they were raised. Last night hanging out at a pub one of them mentioned that there really aren't too many unchurched who are participating. However, following the worship I meet a young 20 something guy who did not grow up in any faith tradition and was open to exploring. He was invited by a friend who is a member at COTA.

It seems to me that there are couple things going on here that are very helpful and beneficial for the church and yet there are also shared challenges very similar to what I see all churches struggling with too. Some helpful things include providing a space where those on the margins of faith and Christianity can stay connected through the openess to question and wonder and at the same time to grow in deep and meaningful ways through rich and ancient practices of faith. It is clear from many with whom I spoke that the ancient practice of liturgy holds an engaging sense of meaningful encounter with God, especially the eucharist.

So simultaneously to providing space for those who are interested in these alternative and yet faithful ways of being church and followers of Jesus there is also the role of shaping a new attitude within the broader culture of what it means to be Christian. That is, the mission of the church is functioning as redefining in positive ways who the church can be for and with the community as an extension and expression of God to the world. The role of course is very important and is a lifelong and continual process that they as many churches will be faced with.

Finally, the challenge is this, where are all those who are unchurched and why are they not coming to participate? My personal answer to this question has to do with the fact that conversion is a process that happens over the course of years and decades. The reality I think is that COTA is still, even after only 4 years, establishing themselves by earning the right to be heard by those who have dismissed the church and in no way view it as a viable option for growing in knowledge of God or engaging in a committed community intentionally around Jesus Christ. These are the challenges that all of us are faced with as we commit ourselves to living the way of Jesus even as we ourselves are caught up in the promises and warnings of God too.

here we go...

Yesterday was the biggest day of the year in the neighborhood of Freemont, WA as they celebrated solstice with a parade, a sustainability fair and the Freemont fair market. All of which I was immersed into this first day of the experience. I was recruited to help out as evey apostle and monastic does around here, they are all workers contributing to the general welfare and promotion of the church community. We got up early to help set up a tea tent, one among many tents, at the sustainability fair that was sponsored by the Freemont Art Council. Karen, a member of this art council (another leadership strength in being connected to and involved in community power players in town) volunteered to host the tea tent having managed a tea bar for a year and for their first store front property here at church of the apostles, more fondly referred to around here as COTA. Even more importantly she was able to do so under the COTA name, great presence and publicity!

COTA is lcated in Freemont, a 20,000 person neighborhood right outside of the Seattle area, and is considered the least churched population in the nation. There are only two churches in this neighborhood Freemont Baptist and COTA. I'm told by some cota members that the baptist church is a dying church that is not adapting in any way to the surrounding neighborhood. Cota houses itself in a property that was formerly a Lutheran Church. They are currently in the process of purchasing this property that they inhabit and are using it for the Freemont Abbey, a neighborhood art center and separate non-profit entity started by Karen. The arts here include audio, visual, literary and culinary. The Freemont Abbey has an executive director who oversees all the events that happen within the center including booking groups and artists, as well as the marketing communications that go along with it. Church of the Apostles then can say that they only meet at the Abbey even as they become a cultural attraction of engaging community around the arts.

So why exactly would I come all this way to learn about the emerging church and get up early in the morning to help set up a tea tent, and hang out the neighborhood's biggest cultural gathering of the year?

This really all leads into an important conversation and consideration about what an emerging church exactly is. Karen shared, during our tea set up what she called the three pillars of the emerging church that include a churches engagement around culture, theology and leadership. This first pillar is quite important especially in those communities that are suspicious, and for good reason, of Christians. There is a great need to recontextualize who we are over against horrible stereotypes that tend to create negative images for who we really want to be as God's people. The following picutre taking at the entrance of the Freemont Market explains what many people believe about who we are.

So in light of this, how ought we to missionally convey an alternative way of being church that is embedded in a deeply theological understanding? First is the idea of how we engage and immerse ourselves as God's people within culture not by demonizing it but allowing ourselves to be in it without judgment, and in many ways in fact, celebrate along with it. Because God has redeemed all of culture and is continuing to redeem it, including ourselves, drawing it to Godself through Jesus Christ for the sake of reconciliation in God AND for the sake of our neighbors in need, we need to be radically open to the ways in which we engage with it. We can affirm the goodness of and shared experience in culture and the common humanity that is shared within it. God is working in and through others creatively to establish the joy of community engagement that brings with it new life. It is alongside of this incarnational recognition that we stand and participate in culture without judgment. This is an important conversation we need to be having within church that, in many ways, the emerging communities are taking the lead on.

Friday, June 15, 2007

transitions, training and tastings

Well, here we a new space soon to become place, at least for me. This new space not defined merely or simply geographically but spiritually, emotionally, pastorally and even familially. Kacey, my wife, was ordained Sunday June 3rd after 8 long years of preparation for a call that had been deep seeded in her for years! Thank God! She has been ordained to serve Lutheran Campus Ministry full time as pastor. For me, I transition into some new roles, one of the biggest, as primary parent. This last week was pure gift to be with our children Derek and Grace! Here's my dear Grace poolside, what a beauty, huh?! I know, I've heard it before, she looks a lot like her mother, that's where all the beauty comes from! Amazingly enough I was also able, as newly installed domestic manager, to clean the house, to the surprise of some I'm sure, I am able to do these things.

The other transition, professionally, is being demoted, in some way, to learn what it means to pastor on the streets, in and through culture, living, being, breathing and tasting life and church in fresh ways. And so I find myself in Seattle with Karen Ward at COTA for twelve days. After a great lunch with my dear friend and colleague Laurie I headed off to the Abbey to set up my space. The openness and willingness to engage in the Spirit's work in and through others at the Freeont abbey is something I anticipate as a cross culture experience...many things will be new and many will not. On the way we realize, I suppose, differences but even more and profoundly so, similarities.

Keep me in your thoughts and prayers as this journey begins. We're never really alone, that's the promise. If we can actually believe that life can be lived so much more fully and non-anxiously. Peace friends.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

more than information but "in-forming"

On Friday June 1 from 9:30 to 2:30 I shared in conversation through the invitation of the Episcopal Bishop of Arizona Kirk Smith. I joined 11 other priests in a conversation in and around the emerging church. I thought the discussion went well as we all wondered together what this is about, what God is up to here and what God might be calling us to do. I've got to say, the more and more I'm involved in trying to describe what this thingy is all about the best I can do is to speak about it as a relationship that needs to be engaged in rather than merely and/or only understood. The heart of the emerging conversation is what happens and is happening to those gathered in and through the engagement. Unfortunately we have cornered ourselves to some degree within the life of Western church with an epistomological emphasis that wants to comprehend and compartmentalize everything completely. The 'understanding' for emergents happens by engaging the things of the Holy, ('imago dei=relationships') through conversation, prayer, listening to God and each other, reading and reflection around Scripture and frankly, just living out the way of Jesus...TOGETHER.

I think the challenge comes when we are so results, rather than process, oriented. Living the way of Jesus among different contexts and cultures needs to be given the freedom to organically and incarnationally emerge. The epistomological persuasion of the Western church in some ways has already predetermined what that will look like. This is, for me, why my first principle of the emerging church "holding-being held" is so important. This paradigm shift actually lived out helps us to hold Truth, God, Scripture, etc., much more gently, carefully and even playfully while yielding to the more theologically profound faith of being held by God who is shaping and molding us as his people, in his image, in and through us for the sake of the world.

The bishop asked us at the end of our time together 'what emerged for you today?' It was clear to me that this engagement was an invitation to new relationship with new voices creating space and becoming place where God's people could learn and be hospitable to one another. I am encouraged and hopeful by what God's Spirit is doing down here in the Southwest. There appears to be an openness to trying "new things" even as this emergent thingy isn't as new as we would like to think. Where do go from here? What happens next? Well I hope conversation continues because its not simply the new information generated from new voices around the table that merely makes us SMARTER, its rather the power in relationship this is being 'formed-in' each of us through our listening and sharing. And it is there that the Trinity is made known and comes alive, by how God is forming me through community engagement.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

some lightness for the journey...

sorry i haven't posted in a while. there's a lot of stuff going on as i wrap up life as pastor for campus ministry, help to coordinate our synod assembly as this is the 100 year anniversary for Lutheran campus ministry and we're hosting, getting grants for this new emerging church, completing my dmin papers and reading, saying good-bye to students for the summer, it goes on. i'm sure i'm not the only one, but whew!

anyway, here's some great viewing pleasure to add to your day. i got them from an emerging friend of mine here in town.

1. Great tips on how to parent your children in the faith
2. door to door atheists
3. the submissive jesus prayer
4. the atheist delusion

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

a perichoretic lifestyle

What does it mean to live in and around the life of God? Are we really bringing truth to the world? Or are we just caught up in the truth that embraces us, dwelling in time and space, that reflects through us? Rather than some watered down and vague description of an ultimate existence, what place does the trinitarian God play in unfolding an understanding of God's life in this world in conjunction with mine and yours? The inter-play of these, yielding one to another, exposes and presents for me, the picture of God whose very relational existence, speaks of a movement much more intimately involved in all of life than we could ever imagine or even hoped could exist. The circle dance of God's existence is a lifestyle I'm wondering about...what does it look like? What does it mean for me, those I encounter and the event going on between us? What does it mean then to be 'sent' (missio) in this God's name? Am I really 'sent' from a place of static existence or am I centrifugally propelled from a pre-existing presence/momentum breathing through me? In what ways can Rublev's icon of the Holy Trinity become a window through which we wonder about and engage in Gods' mysterious and holy communion with humanity and all creation?

This emerging journey has led me into a lifestyle that is more interested and intrigued with listening and learning than talking and teaching. If I have become the expert, woe is me! If I can be so arrogant as to try to communicate the mind of God, woe is me! If I become the sole voice, echoing my own misunderstood assumptions and perceptions of truth, which have more to say about me and my own myopic and biased environments that have shaped me, woe is me!

This listening and learning is, for me, being grafted into a partnership within God's Spirit revealed through discernment in the lens of a guy named Jesus, the words, people and circumstances that testify to him and the people of my own learning community. This 'learning community' of which I speak includes what some may refer to as 'insiders' and most especially 'outsiders' (I personally don't prefer such designation for those who like the reduce the church to this most simplest form of complexity, the binary, and who can all too often and conveniently include themselves among such elite places).

God's perichoretic movements take place around those who are beyond my familiar and comfortable life, those who engage my imagination of God's presence in and through them, helping me to develop a broader experience of God's voice and activity. Who is this circle for me that God is using? It is my Greek Orthodox friend Father Nicholas as I bump into him while picking up my children as he also waits for his or who, over coffee, teaches me the riches of an Eastern tradition that is in many instances and at once neglected/dismissed and simultaneously deeply rich and profound. It is through other parents who share a similar place in life as we, with our children, can gather with them to journey in the blessing and challenge of raising kids. It is through conversations with and among those who deeply care about the choices we as humans make around our relationships and the environment and their ability and concern to create sustainable and healing structures and lifestyles for healthier ways of relating. It is through voices searching to articulate the thoughts and movements of God on both mystical and practical levels. It is through conversations around philosophical constructs that challenge and deconstruct frameworks by which I've thought were solid foundations of truth and meaning, church and God.

There is freedom in this dance...for the joy of dancing comes (even as this pilgrim with two left feet can resist the dance) in the fluid movement, the give and take, the dynamic God-between, which involves me in ways beyond myself. Getting 'caught up', to use the apocalyptic language of John's Revelation, I am listening and learning what it means to not so much become a holding tank for God's Spirit, as a broken and porous vessel through whom God's breezes blow. For in many ways and often, I hear this wind's sound, but don't always know from where it comes.

Use me, O Lord, as an instrument of your love, as one through whom you breathe to create sounds of silence and movements of Spirit.

Sunday, April 8, 2007


I wonder this day about the gift we know as hope. I've been pondering the notion that good Friday is more akin to a 'glass is half empty' kind of perspective than an Easter as a 'glass half full'. I guess one of the challenges that I'm often faced with is trying to use limited words and images to describe a profound and unlimited reality...God and hope. As we are so entrenched in our world and constantly aware of the deep brokenness that exists in and around everywhere we turn, how is it that we can speak of hope? Is hope some empty wish that helps us, for at least a moment, to escape the sober reality of today?

Recently I read an interesting twist on the notion of hope suggesting that life is not meant to be lived as constant happiness but confident sadness. I like this. I like this idea that hope is realistic by allowing the glass to remain half empty, void, but suggesting that it's not the totality of all that exists in the glass, perhaps even beyond the glass. It seems to me that the promise of Easter lies in the idea of looking at life, in all its brokenness, and still seeing it as worthy to be cared for, sustained, loved, held. What if the reality of hope was more about a place of knowingly being held by God than an attempt to hold on to God in all our sophisticated theological notions of God?

Jesus breaking free from the tomb maybe gives us a glimpse into the idea that nothing keeps God bound up, nothing ultimately keeps God held down. Perhaps the hope of Easter is not even my hope to begin with, as if it only belongs to me like my car or house or computer. That Jesus comes back again maybe speaks to the sense that humanity is never left behind and that in many ways, like a friend we never expected to see again, who shows up and around, we are brought to a place, a new place, of understanding, of being known and loved and held for the pure worth of who God says that we are, not for what we can achieve, but primarily because of who we are for God. Perhaps the hope of which we speak about in Easter is not really ours to begin with, but truly and deeply God's. It is God's Easter hope. Perhaps it is God's hope that we at times get glimpses to see, experience and sometimes even to know. And perhaps, it is enough to say that God's hope for humanity and all creation exists because God chooses to come back to us, to live with us and through us, and to hold us along our way. Maybe God's hope is embodied rather than described.

Dear Jesus, I'm not sure I understand this 'hope' thing, but I'm really trying. I'm beginning to get a sense that maybe you do and that somehow I'm supposed to be a part of it. Help me not so much to hold on to hope, as to learn to be grasped by it, in whatever way that may look, feel and be experienced in and through my life. Amen.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Good Friday

"Although many people suffer from physical and mental disabilities, and although there is a great amount of economic poverty, homelessness, and lack of basic human needs, the suffering of which I am most aware on a day-to-day basis is the suffering of the broken heart. Again and again, I see the immense pain of broken relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, lovers, friends, and colleagues. In the Western world, the suffering that seems to be the most painful is that of feeling rejected, ignored, despised and left alone. In my own community, with many severely handicapped men and women, the greatest source of suffering is not the handicap itself, but the accompanying feelings of being useless, worthless, unappreciated, and unloved. It is much easier to accept the inability to speak, walk, or feed oneself than it is to accept the inability to be of special value to another person. We human beings can suffer immense deprivations with great steadfastness, but when we sense that we no longer have anything to offer to anyone, we quickly lose our grip on life." Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen

A night of darkness, emptiness, loneliness, death. That this night, in any way, is referenced as 'good' seems masochistic and down right barbaric. With theist theologies of substitutionary atonement, grotesque images from Mel Gibson's Passion supposedly lending greater credibility and purpose to his death just because it is more brutal, it is clear that we are driven to make meaning out of meaninglessness. What if the cross is just that, meaningless? What would that do to our entire theology of 'dying for a purpose'? What if there is no purpose? What if our attempts at arriving at a purpose say more about us than God?

'Oh, you mean, to die for the sins of the world? But doesn't God already do that before Jesus comes on the scene? Don't we hear about God's gift of forgiveness in Psalm 51, Jeremiah 31 and continual words from the prophets that what is acceptable to God is not sacrifices, but a contrite heart?'

Still, tonight I ponder and share in the emptiness of death with all those meaningless deaths out there for which there is no answer, for which there is no neat and tidy resolution to the dissonance of existence within this world. What of the hundreds of thousands of children dying this night of starvation and disease? What of the innocent joy-filled families whose lives are forever shattered by a bomb entering their living room? What of the over 600 young girls from Juarez, Mexico who never make it home to be reunited with loved ones and who only turn up brutally murdered and raped? Is there an answer for them? I suppose in each of these cases we could just demonize the perpetrators or justify their ends through our fancy intellectualized constructs like 'teleological ethics'. But in the end, it really is without meaning, that is, a meaning that really never satisfies, justifies or comforts.

So how do I make sense, myself, of my grandfather living all those years as a Jew, whose father Albert Stern, sent him away when he was 18 years of age with a special book, within which was inscribed, "To our dear son Alfred, as a keep sake. Use this prayer book to remind you of us. Stay a faithful Jew and be a good human being! Berleburg, on the day before your exodus. 5 February, 1939, your dear parents."

What am I to do with this? To hell with all your explanations and justifications! Emptiness and darkness is all there is and seems to be. While he never saw his parents or his sister again, and it was reported they were killed in the camps, he did meet up with his aunt and uncle years later who would sponsor he, his wife Grace and my mother Freda (Frieda) into America in the early 50's. And so I often think back on his life at this time of year, and wonder about his thoughts on death and life. I was never old enough to engage with him in any serious way before he died, but in some way, I actually do find some semblance of hope in the meaninglessness of death, because it is there, where one is alone, in the loud silence, that perhaps we, or maybe just I, am comforted by the idea, that I'm really not as alone as I'd like to believe that I am. There is one, a powerful, holy and humble One, who is willing 'to be' in the isolation of the fullness of humanity.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Holy Thursday

This Holy/Maundy Thursday the church mirrors the Jewish celebration of a rich history of remembrance. Through the pasach/passover, Exodus 12, one recalls the promises of a God who, through a meal, assures a people by promising them an end to their oppression and slavery. The meal, a common-unity, provides sustenance of life, holding on and being held, into a future that what God says will happen, does.

This same meal Jesus celebrated some 1,200 years later. Through a guy who wrote a book to some community of faith around 90 a.d., whose name happened to be John, we hear that Jesus, while sharing this passover meal, mandates (hence the word 'maundy') his disciples to a new of being in the world. What is that mandate? It is to love. Simple enough, huh? But what makes his mandate particularly interesting is the notion that he ties with it "a new commandment I give to you."

What do you mean Jesus? A new commandment? This isn't a new commandment, it's actually a reiterated commandment from Leviticus (an older book that lays out the laws of the Israelite people). What exactly makes it new?

Jesus speaks about loving as I have loved you. Jesus demonstrates this later in the story by washing his disciple's feet, an action typically done upon entry into a home by either oneself or the slave of the household. It was never done by the host! And so this night, I wonder what it means that Jesus' mandate is new in so far as it means that, initially, we don't learn to love, but rather learn to be loved. I'm often curious, which is easier, to love or be loved? My conclusion has been that what is easier is to love, in some sense, because it is on our own, albeit fractured, terms. While being loved creates an even more vulnerable position of having to be at the other's disposal and loved in the way that the other desires. The question still lingers in me...

Perhaps this night, a night that is Holy ('set apart') Thursday, we reflect together on these words..."a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you."

Lord Jesus, help me to learn the depths of what it means to be loved by you, that someday, I might be able to reflect and extend some semblance of that love to others with generosity, without judgment, freely and joyously. Amen.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

A Sunday of Palms

Luke 19:28-40 Who's sustaining whom? What does Jesus choose to sustain him into his final week? The cheering of the crowds waving palms? No! He chooses a measley donkey. What good is a donkey? What president, in their good mind, flaunts their great power by driving around in a pinto rather than a limo? The donkey is the key animal that carries Messiah's to their destination communicating their humble leadership. The donkey points beyond itself of course to the one it supports...the one whose very life speaks about being sustained by such humble means.

What does it look like for a community of faith to be sustained through humble resources? What changes would begin to take place in the life of church if the privileged infrastructure were more identified with servant, rather than corporate or capitalist, leadership? My guess is that a lot would change and with that change, frankly, a lot of people would be pissed off, kicked off their high horse. The ways in which pastors pastor would change. The ways in which people in communities of faith engaged as church would change. How resources were chosen to be used and distributed would change. The hierarchies of institutional church would change.

So what change is it that precisely occurs? I suppose there are numerous others more articulate than myself who could provide some semblance of an adequate answer to this question. But where I am tonight, I wonder if this occurrence speaks of a new kind of economics, a kingdom of God economics. Now I realize we can't subscribe to a high and lofty ideal since we remain in the world and value those things in the world as created and used by God. We do celebrate the fact that 'earthly elements' play a significant role in God's salvation efforts, for after all, even a donkey is chosen, in some way, sacramentally. In the end perhaps, sustainability comes by realizing that our integral role, the waving of our palms, our fleeting and enthusiastic efforts, our misguided motivations, are deeply and profoundly replaced by another who's palms are waved, not for his own sake, but for the sake of those who suffer.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Check out these articles...

I found this article, 'What is a missional community?', from a newly formed community in California. The article itself is a helpful primer on some distinctions between churches with a mission and the missional church. The emerging church can be understood to be a particular subset of the broader theological concept of missional church. Check out more about this missional community. There are certainly some emerging reverberations within this new kind of church. A second article on the same site by Brian McClaren helps to define some Emerging Values.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Lent 5: Sustaining Reflections

This fifth week of lent, John 12:1-8, we get two perspectives of what it means to follow Jesus. The first picture comes from Mary who, in response to tremendous gratefulness for her brother Lazarus' resuscitation by Jesus, baths expensive perfume on Jesus' feet. The cost of the perfume is considerably high, nearly a year's salary, given 1 denarii could cost a day's salary. This abundant and overly gracious shower of love is a sign of both her appreciation for Jesus' work, reviving her brother, and a look ahead to Jesus own walk toward the cross and ultimate burial.

Our good ol' friend Judas however snaps, and 'righteously' calls for better use of the money for the sake of the poor. Besides the textual comment suggesting that Judas' intentions are never quite right, what about his concern? Why is it not better to use the money for service to the poor? Should we not assist and sustain the resources of those 'without' by sharing the wealth?

This has been one of my many questions I've been curious about this week. Jesus commends Mary for her deed because, while the poor are always with you, "you do not always have me." Firstly, attending to the person of Jesus, the presence of God incarnate, is preferred over mere charity to the poor. I'm wondering this night how the center out of which we live and are sustained is driven first and foremost through the way we attend and listen at the feet of the holy one. Secondly, giving money to the poor isn't necessarily a long term solution although for many privileged ones such thinking is what we'd like to believe. Perhaps attending to the feet of Jesus, who is on his way through the most grueling week of his life, is to say, 'we take time to be present with those who suffer in this world.' What if sustainability is more concerned with the journey through something than the end product? Mary's life is sustained by her willingness to 'be' in Jesus presence not to suppose how things could get fixed or achieved. Mary's choice of extravagance will not be admired by many because it is pure foolishness in so many and various ways. And yet, it is her attentiveness to finding peace in and with one who suffers greatly, where her sustenance lies.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lent 4: Self Sustaining...a sin?

location at writing: iglesia luterana cristo rey, el paso, tx

In preparation for the prodigal son text I was reading Mark Allen Powell's work around social location. It is a paper that describes interpretive moves around one's particular social outlook. Leaving out a great deal of detail for the sake of getting to the point, one particular culture identified the sin of the younger brother as leaving home and thinking that he could become self sufficient. Needless to say, I was taken by the idea. It was when he 'came to himself' that he decided to return home. The younger son is re-membered by returning home, only to find that a parent is more happy to have and hold, than he ever realizes is possible. Why could this be? Perhaps in recognizing, 'knowing again', that his only place is in the presence of the father where the father can hold him and sustain him. What does this say to those who advocate for self sustaining communities? Are those who become so self sustaining that they isolate themselves from everyone else, even the father, engaging in sin?

In conversation yesterday with pastor Rose Mary, here at Cristo Rey, she told me that we need to rethink the way we do mission and ministry with and for those on the fringes. Their mission here is not self sustaining but is supported by national and synodical efforts as well as countless grants with a budget around $200,000. Today, they celebrate closing on new property that will continue to be a space for grace, justice and peace. We've heard and will hear stories this week of those disenfranchized by the border immigration issues, real people's lives torn apart and struggling along. This place of peace is a mission of the true Jesus church but it cannot go on on its own, by itself. I am in agreement with pastor Rose Mary, mission is about the collective 'us' and our work together in God's name. May we seek and be open to new ways of being church that doesn't seek as a primary goal some economic achievement but some Spirit faithfulness returning back to God, being drawn back to God, through the ways we partner with each other.