Tuesday, February 27, 2007

King of the Hill- Church!

thanks to sarcastic lutheran we now have some audio-visual for truly understanding what the emerging church is NOT!

Monday, February 26, 2007

size matters?

From my new blog friend over at Sarcastic Lutheran I got connected to one of these innovative signs...ooo, la, la. With the mega church craze and such celebrity greats as Joel Osteen representin' it can be hard for some not to get googly-eyes over potential greatness. A critique I heard recently with regard to the emerging church is that the numbers just don't justify 'going down that route.' While numbers can be telling they are not the only means of measurement. The difficulty the emerging church faces is that those within the modern church are using their own standards and imposing them on these ever evolving communities. I think that the emerging church can be helpful in many ways by providing a new lens through which we look at measurement, all of us, by offering up some new ideas that will help create stronger and healthier churches all 'round, modern and postmodern alike. I ran across this great article from Margaret Wheatley entitled "What Do We Measure and Why? Questions About the Uses of Measurement."

I'd love to hear any and all comments on this one!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

journey around the cross

We continue our wondering about sustainability this first Sunday in Lent. The community where I worship listened for God's word around the cross from these three responses of Jesus to the devil.

"One does not live by bread alone"
  • What does this mean to you?
  • In what ways will you begin living this?
"Worship the Lord your God and serve him only"
  • How is your worship life, inside and out?
  • How are you serving God?
"Do not put the Lord your God to the test"
  • How do you put God to the test?
  • What is God challenging in you?
I also wonder, how do these words from Jesus speak about sustainability? The first thing I notice is that Jesus warns us, right here in the temptation narrative (Year C, Luke 4:1-13), to be careful that our attention is not drawn merely to the physical, i.e. property or finances. If we begin talking about sustainability and taking it seriously let's begin the conversation wondering what it means to live by more than bread alone and trust that the things we need from day to day as individuals and communities in and of God will be provided by God.

Our attention is also called to our life of worship and service...the habits of our faith. I wonder how these point to the importance of sustenance and sustainability? Could it be that life ordered around worship and service is the way God's Spirit is sustained in our world?

And finally, aspiring for greatness is not the way of God. No duh? And yet all too quickly our conversation around being church, i.e. sustainability, reflects the achievement of greatness, even the 'cool' factor of greatness. We seek to define and thus reduce greatness by imposing measurements which distract us from what's of ultimate importance by asking, 'how many members do you have?', 'how many are you worshiping now?' and 'did you like our worship today?' What tests do we consistently fail because we are more concerned about how our marketing campaign is working rather than the time spent as community listening, loving and learning that the image of God is right in front of our faces, in the other,emerging?

Lord Jesus, expose within me the hidden aspects of you that need to die and that need to rise again. Amen.

Friday, February 23, 2007

an oozeletter: 'lighting matches in a light bulb world'

This is an article from the February 2007 issue of the Oozeletter by Spencer Burke. I think it definitely raises some curious questions as to context and how to approach others 'in light' of where we find ourselves today in our thinking and way of living, i.e. culture. The intro really captured me as I'm beginning the process of developing such a community here in Flagstaff, AZ and still have those within the modern church (not that there's anything wrong with that.) wondering 'now, why would you go and do that? hang out at coffee shops and bars? you've got to be kidding me?' Of course the answer, as Spencer describes it, is because that's where, at least some, of the social networks exist. I, for one, am interested in being the light of God in those places too.

The first portion of Burke's article reads as follows:
"When Jesus invited his followers to be 'the light of the world," what do you think went through the minds of the disciples? It only would have been natural for them to think in terms of the resources available in their day - spark, wood, oil, flame, and fire. But how much has changed since the first century? Even more radically, how much has changed in the last 150 years?

If Jesus were to pose the same invitation today, would we think of matches or altnernating current? Wood or filament? Oxygen or vacuum? Therein lies the tension.

We - the Church - have the job of being truth in an ever changing world. Yet the reality is often that the church has over romanticized matches, wood, and oxygen.

The invitation of Jesus is not to remain captive to things that held true in the past, but to transcend, to evolve, to discover new ways of embodying the things that held true in the past. I find it fascinating that when we mapped the human genome, it was called genius. When we explored the mechanics of quantum physics, it was a step forward. When we democratized communication through the internet, we called it revolutionary. Yet when we dream of a socially networked church, without walls or the one-hour event, it is perceived as the destructive of the Church." You can find the rest of this February article at Oozeletter.

A couple things come to mind as I read this article by Spencer. While he raises some fun and curious questions at least two things come to mind:

The first is a comment I posted after this article where I mentioned the following:

I wonder if the light isn't associated so much with matches that need to be struck, but rather the light that comes from a completely other source...the sun. And I wonder if that same light refracted/reflected many and various ways as thorugh a prism is the life of God. I may be red or green or blue. Can I choose what color I reflect to the world? Can I really even help what color I happen to be or is that already determined by the make-up of who I am in relationship to others within the prism? I wonder whether we are even initiators of the light but rather those who merely reflect it, albeit 'in a mirror dimly' and probably quite imperfectly, to a world that needs to know its own efforts aren't what sustain it.

The second comment that goes through my mind is in relationship to the ways our world changes and how then our particular human constructs will 'change' the way we talk of God. I find it a bit dangerous however when we begin using mechanical descriptions of God and God's work in our world that removes a sense of the natural order for things because we no longer are speaking about living, breathing human beings in relationships with the vast array of compexities that come along with that and instead substitute simplistic notions like 'matches' or 'wood'. I am one who believes the Spirit of God Jesus describes and was heard, or not as is the case quite often with his disciples, is the same one that we have access to in powerful ways through the ways we engage one another in real relationship that drives us ever deeper into what it really means to be human.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

ASH WEDNESDAY The Blog Community's Lenten Discipline: 'Sustainability' Wondering

I participated in two Ash Wednesday events this day...one at 12:30, an ecumenical affair with Roman Catholics, Methodists, UCC, Disciples, Lutherans and Episcopalians and the second one this evening. This evening our little community of campus ministry gathered for a meal followed by a short ash wednesday worship around prayers, confession, and the imposition of ashes...pretty short frankly but good.

A few posts back my new online blog friend 'Lutheran Zephyr' asked an important question around the idea of sustainability. I was curious if we could spend time over the next forty days together wondering about that same question as it relates to what God's word has to say through the pericope texts assigned for each week.

Today, Ash Wednesday, we hear texts calling for repentance, a turning inward to look at our own spirit lives asking God to reveal areas for conversion. We also mark each other with the sign of the cross, remembering whose we are and today even more emphatically that 'you are dust and to dust you shall return.'

I'm wondering what the relationship is between the claim that we are mortal and the idea of sustainability. Ironically, we ask questions of sustainability even as we boldly claim that we exist in vessels of temporarlity. What is God calling us to sustain this Lent in light of the fact that we are fading? In the text from Matthew are we not called to sustain life through attention to the poor and disenfrancised? Are we not called to sustain life through prayer and fasting? Is this the infrastructure for followers of Jesus? What about our financial well-being that will sustain us? Where is that?

So, maybe you could join me...actually I invite you to join me in wondering with me what sustainability actually is. Russ makes a good point commenting in the 'teaser' below that maybe sustainability is a stewardship issue. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

emerging senses

What does leadership look like within the emerging church? More than anything else the emerging leader is akin to a spiritual director. This of course does not mean that the spiritual director is the expert, rather what it speaks about is ability to wonder with others regarding the awareness of what the Spirit is up to and what the Spirit is calling us to do. The expert is actually the Spirit of God who is waiting to be called forth through each individual's awareness and action.

As a result the emerging leader will need to increase in gifted areas that include among other things and amazingly enough, listening, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching. An emerging leader will be able to engage and invite others into this similar way so that the community becomes a discerning community.

One of the best books I've read recently, that in my opinion gets at the leadership quality for the emergents is Leadership and The New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World by Margaret Wheatley. From the vantage point of the modern church the emerging church will appear to be in complete disarray and utter chaos. Discovering order in a chaotic world is also to discover order in the church that happens to find itself a part of that same chaotic world. This is in no way an explicitly 'religious' book on leadership. Rather Wheatley is an expert on complexity theory, the new science, and quantum physics. Her explanations for how systems emerge organically and how leaders can partner with existing patterns within the natural order are wonderfully refreshing and encouraging.

"Let anyone who has ears to hear listen!"..."To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that 'they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand, so that they may not turn and be forgiven...Do you understand?" Mark 4:9-13

sustainability teaser

1. what exactly are we really be called to sustain?
2. is Jesus' 'ultimate concern' for sustainability the same as ours?

let us wonder together...

Monday, February 19, 2007

an emerging child of god, whose name, curiously, is Jesus

This text more than any other describes what the emerging communities are up to...and as it turns out, this is the only text in all of scripture that pictures jesus emerging in his faith as a child, apart of course from the childhood story in the gospel of thomas which for some reason isn't officially recognized because taking another life, esp. as a child, isn't considered the most christ-like. Go figure.

Luke 2:41-52
"Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father's house? But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

beyond sexy church

The emerging church is more than mere aesthetic. Recently a friend was telling me that he is sick and tired of getting conference information in the mail with the picture of the presenter on the material. The picture of course usually entails a rather attractive individual, who looks like he (usually a man pictured as the expert) could've been the quarterback for the highschool football team, overly excited and sometimes with his trophy wife by his side.

Perhaps I'm being a bit cynical, but the presenter appears to be overtly the center of this new and innovative expression of church that needs to be 'sold'. Of course such conferences wouldn't have an audience if they didn't show up. ya know, it's not too unlike the dynamic bewteen celebs and paparazzi, 'who's really to blame?', the stars or the fans who follow them.

This is what I call the sexy church...the overly appealing, dripping with lust 'you need it now church!' A market driven reality treating Jesus as a commodity to be packaged, sold and assimilated...and now, on into eternity!

I can understand those who, at first look, see the emerging church and determine that it's the newest sex appeal craze of church out there. But for all the artistic aesthetic that accompanies it, the emerging church is not about being a sexy church, that lures people in because of it's mere outward appearance. The sustainability in this kind of church won't happen without substance and authentic engagement with the holy that is connected deeply to something beyond ourselves. And finally, at it's best, the expression of the emerging church wants to honor the contributions of all at the table, insiders/outsiders, confessors and non-confessors, believing that all come with something to teach and to learn.

establishing the order of st. 'somethin-or-other'

What is the emerging church asking for? It is not asking to be the new superpower expression of being church. Although, I often feel that is the perception within the modern church. It is merely asking to celebrate the diverse ways in which God uses communities to shape God's word and ways. It is asking to be a 'somethin-or-other' religious order that is blessed by the 'mother-ship' church as an alternative expression of what it means to be church. The emerging church honors the connection to the past and the richness that has been passed on as 'grandparents' of faith. The emerging church in no way desires to make a break from the past but rather seeks to profoundly embrace it.

The order of St. Francis, begun in the 1200's, started as the result of a religious establishment that was inadequately able to meet the demands of the day including quickly growing,
overpopulated cities. The order recognized a need for pastoral care and preaching (what I would call an incarnational approach to preaching...the living word) that reached into the populace, walking alongside of them instead of assuming that they would come to them.

The Roman Catholics do a great job of realizing these differing sister communities and allow that diversity to co-exist trusting that God is using them in different ways to bring 'good news', (eu-angelion:gk.) awareness to a variety of people. The missional church of the future, of which the emerging church is one subset, will allow for this variety and actually celebrate and invite it by creating a number of sister community expressions....more diversity/ambiguity existing simultaneously is the answer.

The courage, of course, comes from recognizing where our identity truly lies...it is not in our common held beliefs, whatever form they might find themselves...polities, creeds, or liturgies, but rather in our common way of being held by the one that underlies them all. Anxiety arises when we seek to control and multiply ourselves creating others in our own image. It is in God's image we are created, and that image can be as diverse as the number of colors in a prism...the same light refracted/reflected in a variety of ways.

a kind and validating word from a friend

"I don't trust you because of your groovy theology--even though it is freeing and beautiful and truth--i trust you because you listen to me and are a person who tries to live with integrity and fidelity; and because you admit your faults; and because you construct elaborate bedtime stories for your children. know what I mean, jellybean? Tamie"

Saturday, February 17, 2007

yes, but does it work?

The emerging church can't be placed within a modern framework of imposed measurements, no matter how hard you try. This is not another program that needs to be adopted to fulfill the factory, success quota.

It is not about 'working' for predetermined outcomes, as if the end result were the most important thing. Within the emerging culture the process and journey is more important than the destination. In actuality as Peter Rollins says, the journey is the destination. And even more, it is the emphasis on the essence of being on the journey.

To ask the question or even feel the sentiment in conversation within the emerging church is to blatantly say, "I really just don't get it."

'submergent' hilarity...

Praise God for the gift of baptism (click and enjoy) and the joy that comes with it!

my newest emerging mentor...

Peter Rollins in his newly published book, How (Not) to Speak of God, provides the most poigniant expressions for the emerging conversation that exists today. His community in Belfast, Ireland also provides some amazing practices that move this expression beyond mere theory...in particular check out 'coordinates', 'last supper' and 'evangelism project' www.ikon.org.uk.

Here are a few quotes from his introduction:

"That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking."

"I picture the emerging community as a significant part of a wider religious movement which rejects both absolutism and relativism as idolatrous positions which hide their human origins in the modern myth of pure reason. Instead of following the Greek-influenced idea of orthodoxy as right belief, these chapters show that the emerging community is helping us to rediscover the more Hebraic and mystical notion of the orthodox Christian as one who believes in the right way--that is, believing in a loving, sacrificial and Christlike manner. The reversal from 'right belief' to 'believing in the right way' is in no way a move from some binary opposite of the first (for the opposite of right belief is simply wrong belief); rather, it is a way of transcending the binary altogether. Thus orthodoxy is no longer (mis)understood as a term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing things about the world."

"I recently heard a well-known speaker say that if faith does not cost us something, then it is nothing. Only much later could I respond: if faith does not cost us everything, it is nothing."

an emerging companion

This will be the first of many companions along the journey. I run into these 'emerging companions' quite regularly, or perhaps, because I'm attentive as one, I'm able to hear them more clearly. As it turns out, they're actually all over the place, confessors and non-confessors alike. As Peter Rolins says, God is not anonymous. God is hyper-nonymous!

My wife, who's working with a particular congregation, sent this email on to me from an older women in this rural community. Don't tell me that 'emerging' sensibilities are related to age or location...I don't believe that they are, they are transcending age, because at the heart of this conversation is a substantive move rather than merely an aesthetic one. The email...

"Hi, I started reading the sample constitution. My copy of our const. starts on page three, so I have nothing with which to compare this first stuff. Why do we have to swear so neatly to the Nicene Creed or any other creed? They are words, as are the scriptures. Fortunately the scriptures contain lots of stories of people's experiences in relation to God, so it can sort of be called the Word of God, but I'd prefer if just Jesus got this title. Concepts limit and divide, whereas Reality is limitless and whole. Words are the donkey we may ride to get to the house, but going inside requires participation and relationship. It is personal. Then there's the document regarding becoming a licensed lay leader. Besides being judged informed enough, Lutheran enough, you can have your license yanked and no reason needs to be given. The bishop is surely a nice guy, but that may not always be true. Why was this totally arbitrary power given to the top leader? This surely opens the door for abuse of power. Surely there were idiots there the day that small paragraph was okayed. Now that I've ranted and raved, I'll stop. I think it would be good for the whole blinkin' church to consider if we want to accept that we believe the Apostle's Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Athanaisian Creed and the unaltered Augsburg Confession! Can't we just get away from the theistic views and medieval expressions? This is the 21st Century and we have quantum physics and the general theory of relativity and even some attempts at a unified law of matter. We cannot use words to describe God. We can only say what God is not! God is a mystery and we intuit sometimes, the presence, the goodness, the wholeness, the generosity and grace that God extends to us all. Didn't Paul say Christ was the first of many brothers? Then his message was probably, "I am God's child and so are you. What I do you will do. You, too are a spirit as well as a physical body. Reality, awareness, wonder of wonders. If we soak in this, how full we will become. I am afraid the bishop would yank my license as clergy generally don't like it when lay people have these ideas. I'm not at all sure I should try for this. Glum! Ruth"

An excerpt from the email my wife Kacey sent back to Ruth:
"Ruth, I cannot tell you how refreshing it was to read your email. I remain Lutheran not because of our polity, but because of our theology and for me the church provides an ordered skin for me to be called and possibly ordained. But the modern leanings of the church, "right" doctrine, "right" belief or power given to a few--does not pulse through my veins. At times I rebel and hope to help the church transform from the inside out...to shift from focusing on "belief" as mental assent, to a living, holistic trust in a living, hospitable Jesus who loves, lives and cares for all creation. I agree Jesus does deserve the title."

A final follow-up response from Ruth:

"Wow! Thanks, Kacey, you just did me a world of good. I thought I was probably sunk now. I haven't always said what I thought, but one cannot sit in church for 50 years and retranslate everything so it's acceptable to your experience and not finally say...shoot, I'm just going to say what I think. I know that it isn't going to jeopardize my relationship with Jesus or the Father, the Great Mystery who I believe loves us fiercely. Tell David if anything I say can help anything or anybody in or out of the church, take it and use it. See you tomorrow. love you, Ruth"

What is a church plant exactly?

The newtonian aspects of modernity believed that everything isolated down to its component parts would ultimately reach the essence of the subject. This mentality has plagued the modern church by seeing the church as an assembly line where we would just attach various aspects of our faith onto people in hopes that in the end they would turn out as 'model' disciples of Jesus. Think about how many cars come off the factory plant each day. Pumpin 'em out to get our quota fulfilled and ultimatley to prove that then we are successful because look at our output. Fine and dandy if the people we are living with are inanimate objects. But as it turns out...not so much.

The image for the true church plant is much more organic in nature. We are much more like the natural order and as such we tend more carefully and attentively to those in our midst, watering and caring much differently for them. They can't in any way grow faster if we pull on them.

Perhaps this is an obvious assumption, but I'm not convinced we operate more like nurseries than car factories.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

what do you see?

"What's the emerging church? How about the submerging church? What's so different about this movement from what happened in the 'candles and coffee' church? I'm not hearing anything new."

Because of my own inclination toward this expression of being church I'm asked frequently to bring clarity, and perhaps even justification (at least that's how I feel it), to something that is experienced by many as elusive and merely a fad that, with time, will just die out. The feeling I continue to be left with in every attempt to describe this movement is mere inadequacy. Trying to bring clarity to a movement/conversation that is as fluid and sticky as honey is challenging and despairing. Challenging because I desperately want others to understand the significance of something that has touched me deeply. Despairing because I often feel misunderstood and dismissed.

And so the best way to begin speaking about the emerging conversation, church within a post(beyond)modern culture, is by asking 'what do you see?' It is a movement that asks for engagement rather than description. Using all of one's senses to uncover, discover, recover the presence of the holy in our midst. The mere question, 'what is the emerging church?', sets itself up for failure because a response in such a form as the question demands and expects is a descriptive and theorhetical one.

These images speak to me about the difficulty of getting at something that is beyond description and moves more into experiential 'knowing.' I suppose a similar understanding could accompany our responses in terms of someone outside (I'm not comfortable anymore with this kind of language as in the beyond-modern culture insider/outsider, sacred/secular distinctions are not made as much of a deal, but for the sake of conversation will use it) the church/faith/God who asks us what it means to have a relationship with God. Will any of our descriptions really be adaquate? Are we just saying then, in egotistical and arrogant fashion, that you just don't understand right now but someday you will?

There is something inherently beautiful and ugly in describing beyond our sensibilities. Language, of course, seeks to point beyond itself and, 'in a mirror dimly', expresses blurred realities from a particular perspective...mine, that may or may not be shared by you.

So the question remains, what is this thing and how do we describe it? What do you see? Can we agree on what we see in the ink blot? Is the mirage of this movement lost by the time you actually arrive, if arriving is the destination? What about the picture of me with my wife and child? Can any words shared with you on the phone, via email, or on paper likely give you a sense of who we are...the totality of all that we are? I'm guessing you'd answer like me and say no. You get to know us by living with us, laughing and disagreeing with us, day in day out. Then the question becomes, for how long? How long do you live with me/us to know us fully? Could it ever even happen?

This is the blessing/curse of the emerging church. But beyond it, I think this is the blessing/curse of being church in general and being in God/Jesus. There are hints and seasonings of who we are, but at what point do we really say...now I fully understand?

a personal testimony: an introduction to the emerging church conversation

My first exposure to the emerging conversation came in 2001 when I had an initial contact with Karen Ward, Church of the Apostles in Seattle. I was going to attend a conference where she was a speaker and later found out that the event was cancelled. Karen told me of another event, of a different sort, which was scheduled in Boston, MA. So in the fall of '01 I went to Soularize, a conference put on by TheOoze.com. This was an amazing event that thrust me into the ethos of emerging life.

It was mentioned at the conference that 'the best dialogue that happens happens in the hallways. We are bringing the hallways into the heart of the conference itself but having absolutely no agenda other than what people want to talk about.' Among other things I also remember Spencer Burke, planter of theooze online community (read the history) at sharing that he heard God calling him to move from being an 'ad-minister' to a 'sub-minister.' Downsizing with such concerns as administration, property and financing became a massive interest for the sake of re-orienting time to relationships and reflection of God, church, and life in society.

There were around 50 or so other people present from varying denoms. The free flow of our time together in Boston was, at first, extremely unsettling to me. I often found myself criticizing the lack of time management and effeciency for getting things done, 'this conference is sooooooo dis-organzied'I would say to myself. I must say however that in the midst of my critical discent I was wooed by the ooze-booze-cruise...a boat tour around the harbor of Boston, MA for one of our evenings.

It wasn't until after the conference that the idea began to settle deep within me that not only was this a powerful conference, it was a powerful expression of being church. It was more concerned about relationships and the way we spent time in conversation with one another around significant issues (Jesus, church, faith, life) that were a very meaningful part of who we were...(what a concept?). Eventually I was turned on by the appearance of a lack of organization for the sake of real re-organization. The question became 'what was being re-organized?' For me it was the entire attitude of what it means to be church. An attitude that is grounded first in the way we spend time with one another, talking, listening, being, living, eating, praying, worshipping, wondering...what would appear to be a normal, non-anxious and non-forced life in and around Jesus Christ. A community gathered together for the mere joy of being with one another...an amazingly incarnational conference without agenda...the agenda, of course, was discovered in the process of being together, but having to ditch the anxiety of actually 'getting something done.'

This is what began to attract me to a new tone of being church, leading church and loving church.