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.