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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What does liturgy, the people's work, look like in the gestation period of an emerging church?

"They devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers." Acts 2:42

I've been pondering this question lately as we had our first gathering last evening. I find myself theologically over thinking everything, not that there's anything wrong with that, but when it comes to creating community, people aren't necessarily and initially interested in theory. They are interested in a meaningful encounter that is a lot more about belonging, the relationships and the heart than the head and the believing. Anyway, last evening was a decent start however it involved more explanation to the essence of this emerging 'thingy' than the actual 'being' of it. One of the participants even asked a great and exposing question, 'so, did we do it tonight? did we do 'emerging church?'

I replied, and hesitantly, "well, sort of, in the way we held common prayer." But I knew in many ways we hadn't because it was too formulaic, too 'figured out' as I presented a paper on what an emerging church is. We were poised and ready to engage and unfold ourselves through conversation, listening and sharing, and I ended up high jacking it all by talking too much with prefab constructs. eeeeesh! I won't get down too much as I did talk today with another participant who said it was helpful and I know he wasn't just being NICE.

Tonight, following our weekly campus ministry gathering, it dawned on me that, at least this evening, we did 'do it'. What we did was begin as we always do with a meal. The meal was made by students for students. After we put the tables away, we continued with a simple prayer and had some brief introductions since a new person happened to be in our midst. We debriefed on last week's great conversation with a community member sharing his life and faith previously in fundamentalism and then following it. Then we read and processed this week's powerful gospel lesson of the prodigal son. We spent a good period of time listening to each other and sharing insights and wondering together around the text. We ended with some simple common prayer around the celtic prayers from Iona as we did the week before. And then finally we shared announcements for the upcoming weeks.

The form I've just described is an expansive, and much more subtle and relaxed, form of our formal four-fold liturgical worship that we arrive at within the framework of scripture and the early church: Gather - Proclaim - Break - Send.

We gathered around fellowship and food being called together as friends and people of God. We had a long gathering time getting re-aquainted with each other and enjoying each other's presence.

We proclaimed God's word by creating space to wonder together through sharing and listening.

We experienced God's presence break into our midst through common prayer (we could certainly insert bread and wine here at another time) and in the breaking of bread over dinner, a helpful reminder of the sustenance that keeps creation going.

And we were sent on our way having been nourished in fellowship, the teaching of the apostles, community around breaking bread, albeit not the formal eucharist, but a meal of thanksgiving none the less and prayer.

I am beginning to wonder that this might be a good start for an initial form of liturgy for those who don't have any idea what we as church do or even who we are as church. I am beginning to think that this provides hospitable space for people to delve into the wonderful gift that is community in God, and that for now at least, is more than enough to embody a deeply incarnational encounter of Christ and the perichoretic God-between. It is quite simple really, and yet simultaneously, really quite profound.

Lord, help us to know that it is how you are holding us that matters more than how we are holding you, church and truth, amen.

Christological Ecclesiology not to be (dis)integrated

There have been numerous para-church organizations existing throughout the past decades which establish communities around a personal relationship with Jesus while isolating individuals from intentionally living as church communities. There is even a new book by Dan Kimball entitled "They Like Jesus but not the Church." While I haven't read this book and I am interested in hearing from those who have, one of my fears is that the emerging church is being confused as a movement toward a much more sophisticated version of a para-church system. If you've read this book please help me out and please tell me that Kimball is not promoting Jesus without the Church. I can understand the fact that people don't like church for various reasons some of which may include the idea that they don't like the institutional element of it, they don't like the idea of commitment beyond what they want to do, or perhaps they just don't like 'church' as they have experienced it. Regardless, the two go hand in hand, even as God's Spirit will work beyond them in cultivating God's work in the world.

I really believe that the best case scenario of emerging churches is not a glorified para-church organization, but a real, deep, authentic and incredibly incarnationally dressed expression of Christ living in and through Church for the world. I think that a lesser embodiment of church has been achieved through such methods and as such has created a wedge between the two, Church and Christ, perpetuating a mentality that Jesus can be known fully outside of a faith community. I'm not entirely convinced that that is true.

In his book Ancient-Future Evangelism: Making Your Church a Faith Forming Community Robert Webber shares that "faith is formed in the church and through its worship." He also says that we need to be creating congregations that grow disciples a venture which is not to be reduced by mere individualism. How then can congregations, as a body, do this? Webber quotes one of the goals of the International Consultation on Discipleship that met in 1999 and included 450 church leaders from 54 countries and 90 varying denominations saying "we will not water down the cost of discipleship in order to increase the number of converts. We acknowledge that part of making disicples is teaching people to obey everything Jesus commanded."

This is what Webber addresses as he proposes that churches rediscover the ancient catechumenate process. For sure, this as process, takes time and will not deliver the kind of numbers as quickly as some are interested in generating. At the same time, it does re-integrate the process of evangelism and discipleship, faith formation, back into the congregational/church context instead of parsing it out from church by merely teaching Jesus and his fabuously moralistc principles. The emerging church seeks to embody Webber's notion profoundly through a new kind of church living the way of Jesus in the world.

Jesus makes the news!

I didn't realize that Jesus and Scooter Libby had so much in common. That is, until Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report helped me to make the connections.

Check it out "Jesus Libby".

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Lent 3: Sustaining Hope

Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down." Luke 13:6-9

Borrowing Brian Stoffregen's notes from on this week's text he quotes a helpful piece by Jeremias in The Parables of Jesus: "The first three years of a fig-tree's growth were allowed to elapse before it's fruit became clean (Lev. 19:23) , hence six years had already passed since it was planted. It is thus hopelessly barren. ... A fig-tree absorbs a specially large amount of nourishment and hence deprives the surrounding vines of their needed sustenance. ... manuring a vineyard is not mentioned in any passage of the OT; moreover, as a matter of duty, the undemanding fig-tree does not need such care. Hence the gardener proposes to do something unusual, to take the last possible measures." (pp. 170-171).

I realize that some wondering around sustainability creates, perhaps, more of an imposed move on the text rather than what the text may be speaking from within. However, parables are great for expanding the imagination and never really provide just one "correct and true" answer. I'm initially struck by Jeremias' quote given the possible age of the tree before it is considered legitimately ready to cut down. I understand that one of the points strongly refers to limited time to repent, turn things around, however, there is still time. I would especially like to wonder about the time prior to the warning of only one more year. Would we be willing to allow emerging communities six years, taking up space and resources, before we determined whether they should be elimated or not?

Jesus is speaking to an agrarian culture and uses such metaphors to speak of God's kingdom. I also like to think that the organic parables helps to illustrate God's slow maturation process, through natural means; rather than through industrialized notions of factories that mass produce, and if they aren't produced fast enough, with enough effeciency, should be uprooted. In the end, and tonight where I find myself in a zombie-like state, I thank God and find great hope that God allows more time for fruit than we would ever deem appropriate or welcome.

Lord Jesus, give to us the wisdom of what needs to turn around in us, the courage to receive manure as necessary for growth to produce fruits beyond ourselves for the sake of the world. amen.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Emerging Infrastructure

In a previous post 'an emerging child of God' I highlighted what I believe is a central text, Luke 2, grounding the missional nature of emerging communities. The emerging church is often referred to as an ancient/future community and I believe that it is here where both ancient and future ideas can be developed.

The beginning lies here in verse 42 "And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival." My own emphasis here locates the emerging tendencies within this word 'as usual' which literally translates as ethos. The translation from Greek suggests custom, habit and practice (TDNT). In other words, Jesus' own life, as a Jew, was shaped around a particular communal ethos/habitual way of life in faith.

Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk co-author "The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church To Reach a Changing World." In chapter 8 of their book 'cultivating people for a missional future' they identify three key traits of missional communities including daily hours, hospitality and learning communities. Once I read this and with varying experiences among emerging churches in mind I had to heartily agree. When our attention is called to these three traits we can easily see them as well in the Luke 2 text.

Alongside of these three ancient practices, that are held and adapted in new and innovative ways within emerging churches, I will draw on Margaret Wheatley's work "Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World." Drawing on biology, complexity/chaos theory and quantum physics she explores such issues as relationships as the necessity of life, chaos and change as the only remedy to transformation, participation and cooperation are essential to survival in this interconnected world, and that order is natural, but not available through traditional methods of control (minimally paraphrased from the back cover of the book).

As an aside: this book is simply amazing and in my opinion is a must leadership type-manual for understanding the organic leadership style within emerging/post-modern communities.

In chapter 8 of her book 'change: the capacity of life' she says:

"My colleagues and I focus on helping a system develop greater self-knowledge in three critical areas. People need to be connected to the fundamental identity of the organization or community. Who are we? What do we aspire to become? How shall we be together? And people need to be connected to new information. What else do we need to know? Where is this new information to be found? And people need to reach past traditional boundaries and develop relationships with people anywhere in the system. Who else needs to be here to do this work with us? As a system inquires into these three domains of identity, information and relationships, it becomes more self aware." p. 146

It dawned on me through the reading of this particular chapter that the three 'domains' referenced by Wheatley are similar in nature and meaning to the three keys mentioned within The Missional Leader. As a result I have begun to see these habits as interconnecting with each other in profound ways.

Daily Hours ('Keeping Time' as I will call it) = Identity
Hospitality = Relationships
Learning Communities = New Information

Over the next several weeks I will begin unpacking each of these as I have come to understand them as framing emerging churches and post-modern communities.

still ruminating...

As some of you know, and many of you will come to realize, I spend a lot of time thinking and thinking about things that either haven't resolved themselves in me or others, at least from how I'd choose to communicate it and be assured that I've been heard. Here are a couple summary thoughts before moving on tomorrow night to wonder what God's word has in store for us about more 'sustainability' conversation.

1. I'm not convinced or certain if a new emerging community can really ever sustain itself in the ways the modern church describes, i.e. salaries, property, etc. I really don't know, but at the same time I am willing to see if that may be the case or if alternatives may be able to be reached and thought through.

2. The reason for the last post has me wondering if something isn't lost by the mother-ship, big church, not providing support for such experimental communities like this where it isn't merely about what we're doing locally and independently, but even more so about what we're doing collectively. The interdependence that arises suggests that both parties within the relationship have something to contribute to the relationship beyond start-up and maintenance costs. My hope is that the big church can realize this and learn not to put smaller, experimental efforts under the same measurements of success controls but perhaps can look at them in a completely different category as fulfilling a completely different, yet important, role within a broader understanding of partnership from within the church.

3. ok, that's it, that's all.

4. let's move on...

Lord God, help us to know when to listen and how to hear, help us know when to speak and how to share, may your voice be from within just as much from without and may we learn the balance between them. amen.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

What exactly does infrastructure sustain?

NPR did a broadcast on Tuesday at 11 a.m. highlighting social critic and author William Vollman's work about 'Poor People.' He went around the world asking the question 'why are you poor?' I caught several minutes of the program and was particularly intrigued by one of his comments. He mentioned in reference to America that "our infrastructure has become so strong we have stopped talking to each other."

This haunted me as we continue to talk about sustainability especially as it relates to infrastructure. What good is infrastructure if it only isolates people from one another creating an independent way of life? Do we really want to be speaking about sustaining the self? Does this phrase expose more about us than Gospel? Could there be another way of speaking, such as "Life-sustaining", that integrates the profoundly relational realities of independence and interdependence?

I witness these "self-sustaining" expressions most clearly in large communities of faith that are celebrated for becoming abundantly "self-sufficient." And yet at the same time their infrastructure has become so strong that they make their own choices as to who is in and who is out, what standard/rule is the most appropriate guideline for The Church, whether they will continue to participate in a bigger, more ambiguous expression of church or play in their own sandbox according to their own rules as usually defined and directed by their own leadership.

It is not a coincidence then that I drink from this cup on a regular basis attempting to both understand and develop 'the true Jesus church' in a community that is faithful to following Jesus while witnessing churches who isolate themselves from everyone else because of their superior morals, scriptural clarity and infrastructure that touts mass production.

I am interested in a community that seeks to be "Life-sustaining" according to an infrastructure grounded in a Christian ethos of keeping time, hospitality, and learning while at the same staying engaged and connected to communities beyond ourselves.

What do poor people have to teach us? Do they exist to live a narcissistic spirituality more interested in how we feel and seeing the poor as a problem and project to be overcome rather than as human beings to engage and love? Do the poor only exist for us to make them self-sustaining like ourselves improving their quality of life? Perhaps as we wonder about ourselves as church we can admit when participating in God's radical, social reorientation, that we are no longer the center, bringing good news on the white horse to a world in need of salvation, when at once we are just as in need of conversion as those we seek to convert or at least 'assist.'

I appreciate a recent email from a friend who played around with some of my words from my last sentence in 'sustaining realities' expressing much more clearly and eloquently that "church is created by God allowing us to be held and to hold each other as we live independent and interdependent lives, looking for meaning in the most obscure places and finding it in our relationships with each other." Now this is a community that I would love and be proud to participate in as followers of Jesus!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

personal sharing...

Down below I've started a new category entitled "Personal Papers/Resources". Currently I've just created and attached a couple pdf files. Just wanted to share and get some feedback on them.
  • Developing a Theology of the Spirit - This was our last assignment for class (my DMin. work at Luther Sem in congregational mission and leadership with Craig Van Gelder). We were asked to develop a theology of the Spirit in conversation with two books, God the Spirit by a Catholic theologian Welker and Leadership for the Common Good:Tackling Public Problems in a Shared-Power World by Crosby/Bryson. So obviously I had to draw on them in writing this paper.
  • An Emerging Proposal - This proposal was give to my synod council a couple weeks ago. The bishop of our grand canyon synod asked me to put something together to help them get a sense of the emerging church...this is what I came up with.
Again, love to get your ideas, comments.

Monday, March 5, 2007

finally, church for the (dis)organized!

Just over a week ago I wrote a proposal for a new emerging community that was submitted to the synod council. I was proud and greatly appreciative for their openness and desire for experimenting with new church communities. Along the way it was mentioned that I should put together a three year plan...a modern paradigm and question being imposed on a different kind of community. I don't know what the Spirit's going to be doing in three years, one year, a month, one week or even tomorrow for that matter. What I do know is that there is some excitement and energy around some ideas I've shared with those who desire to belong to a new kind of church. It's hard to know really what will become of it because of the organic nature of those who will be gathered. Hopefully we will become some aspect of the 'work of the people' embodied in an ethos of faith. The specifics are difficult to determine as the Spirit works through people who are engaging in habits of faith, many hopefully for the first time, and yet who, over time, will mature with each other, the Spirit, and in their more fully engaged participation in the broader community. This lends a particular uncertainty to the future...which in some ways is scary and in many ways helpless which, of course, forces a leaning further into God.

Listen to this scenario of a gathering from the ikon community that Peter Rollins is grooming. The quote comes from his CD jacket describing a typical gathering.

"Picture the pint glass sitting half empty. Picture a dingy bar in Belfast. Picture the tables filling with people. Drink and conversation are flowing. A DJ nods to the mellow beats he is spinning. A screen displays a confusing street scene. A slim figure walks to the microphone. He goes to speak but is interrupted by late arrivals banging through the door. He waits. He surfs the chaos and uncertainty. Then he speaks, quietly, welcoming everyone to Ikon. Everyone: Believers, unbelievers, doubters, searchers, heretics and holy. The barman nods in understanding at the mention of God. This is the Menagerie Bar after all. Music kicks in. A scene from Pulp Fiction hits the screen. The fruit machine bleeps and burps along to the liturgy that is spoken. A drunken heckler shouts for more music and less God. Someone sings about the felt absence of God, which confuses the heckler. A poem is offered into the crowd. Red wine is poured into an ornate glass long after it is full. A red stain grows on the white table cloth. Images of excess or abundance? Of foolishness or heaven? Welcome to the soundtrack of Ikon."

The modern church will experience the "church-beyond" as incredibly (dis)organized. The walls coming down from the constraints of the bricks and mortar type-church will become a metaphor for even greater walls 'come a tumblin' down.' This church in it's fluidity becomes aware of God's Spirit floating in and over against culture, holding together those as agents for change, those opposed to it and many in need of it. The (dis)organized church causes us to listen, and use our senses, differently. The experience can be compared to the 4'33'' piano work of avant-garde composer John Cage who shifts the performance from the instrument on stage to the instruments in and among the audience members. The audience ceases to exist as all become masterfully a part of the grand performance! The modern church, all the while, will more than likely experience such a liturgy as a (dis)integration and amputation from The Body rather than a re-formation of and re-connection to it.

(dis) - pref.
1. Not:
2. Absence of, opposite of
3. Undo; do the opposite of
4. Deprive of; remove

organ< [origin: bef. 1000; ME musical instrument, pipe organ, organ of the body, tool (organum mechanical device, instrument) organon implement, tool, bodily organ, musical instrument, akin to ergon work]

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Lent 2: Sustaining Realities

This afternoon I went to support my local coffee house Late for the of my many coffee 'homes' in Flag. I bumped into an alum of the campus ministry I serve at Northern Az U. We sat down and I had a chance to learn of Craig's future dreams. Having spent 2 years in Nicaragua for the Peace Corps he's pretty excited to get involved in sustainable living projects. He's contemplating graduate school but just wants to get some experience in a job he loves. The conversation was of particular interest as he continued to talk about sustainability within developing communities and the environment. (I think our understanding of sustainability needs to follow these kinds of conversations!!!) He mentioned sustainability as deeply related to a sense of interconnectedness. Those within his rural community of Nicaragua knew each other so well that they knew their lives depended on one another. There was a profound understanding of community relationships which sustain each other...integrated lives that are rich and complex. He mentioned that those communities had interactions with each on numerous social and economic levels which in turn helped them to realize their mutual need for and reliance on each other.

In today's Gospel lesson we hear these words from Jesus of God's longing: "How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"

I wonder about the importance of sustainability as it relates to God's longings to hold us, all of us...the complexity of ourselves in our burdens and isolation and the collective "us" as community in God. Perhaps sustainability is in our efforts at connecting into the lives of those in our various communities beyond ourselves rather than isolating ourselves from them and "expecting people to come to us."

I have been intentionally avoiding the sustainability question from the point of view of financing because I believe it is not the primary concern. I do not believe that the legitimacy of a ministry can be reduced to whether or not it can sustain itself economically. I am serving campus ministry and we will always rely on those outside of ourselves for the support to continue bringing God's good news to those on campus. Is this an important ministry of the ELCA? Do we want to have a presence on over 100 campus' nationwide?

There is also another expression of our church up here in Northern, AZ; Rock Point mission on a nearby reservation. This Lutheran mission reaches out to many who struggle with severe poverty, abuse and neglect. At what point should we question their legitimacy as an expression of church because they aren't able to sustain themselves? At what point does distributive justice enter into the picture? At what point is the concern not 'what are you doing in isolation from me', but 'what are you doing that is very much connected to what I am doing' and even more importantly, 'to who I am as a child of God?'

I'm afraid that the sustainability question many are wrestling with is one more interested in institutionalized self preservation that loses sight of an interconnected and integrated reality much beyond ourselves and the community life God is calling us to live. I will try my best, in a future emerging community that I will be initiating soon, to get people to share resources appropriately to sustain leadership. The reality is, the Church of Jesus is sustained not by paying salaries for ordained leaders who keep an institutionalized construct of Church afloat... although that is the mirage we are believing. Church is sustained only by God holding us and speaking words of longing for us to be gathered together even as we continue to be scattered in a variety of ways, living individually and isolated ministries that want to hang on for dear life.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

more church signs...

A friend decided to play around with these signs and came up with a couple of his own. Perhaps it'll make a little more sense given the fact that he's a recovering conservative fundamentalist...if you don't mind me saying so ryan. Thanks for sharing your creatively sarcastic juices with us.

another good youtube video...

If you liked the previous one, check this out "What Happened to the Modern Church?"