Meanderings . . .

While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it’s a lousy  one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get  you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night. – Daniel H. Pink, quoted by MINEmergent

God is not going to help you cut your grass. He’s going to help you cut His grass. He’ll give you the lawnmower and the fertilizer and teach you to take care of His grass, not yours. - John Schneider

Most people, particularly young people, have no knowledge that the purpose of their life is union with Divine Reality. They have been told that the purpose of life is to get a degree and make money and have kids and die. That’s the narrowed-down secular understanding of reality, which is de facto followed by many Christians. Most are no longer connected to the perennial philosophy, and just waste time fighting their own religion. This is not wisdom at all—it is low-level survival. We’re now living in a largely survival mode in our culture. No wonder so many of our kids turn to drugs, drink, and promiscuous sex, because there’s nothing else that’s very exciting or very true. - Richard Rohr, adapted from a non-published talk at a conference in Assisi, Italy, May 2012

I guess I tend to associate the gospel with humanity relative to how people are acting more like “kingdom people,” regardless of their religious affiliation or non-affiliation. It seems to me that Christ wasn’t so fixated on whether other people loved him or not (though this was certainly mentioned, but not so much as a prerequisite of acceptance into what he was about). I think Jesus identified with those who were simply what he was about himself (making his god’s world a better place), not so much, if at  all, dependent upon whether someone loved and devoted themselves to him. – Chris Hill

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means. – George Bernard Shaw

Why do we train ministers for 7 years, lay preachers for 2 years, but worship leaders…? Not at all (except, perhaps, as musicians). . . . Facilitating worship is not a musical job. It’s a theological job. . . . John van de Laar (from Twitter @Sacredise, www.sacredise.com)

Consumer society, by constantly making us aware of what we don’t have, instead of making us thankful for what we do have, has turned out to be the most efficient system yet devised for the manufacturing and distribution of unhappiness. -  Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. My father was a professor. My mother was an administrator. And so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help, who would often come from nearby rural villages. So the year I turned eight we got a new house boy. His name was Fide. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn’t finish my dinner my mother would say, “Finish your food! Don’t you know? People like Fide’s family have nothing.” So I felt enormous pity for Fide’s family.

Then one Saturday we went to his village to visit, and his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket made of dyed raffia that his brother had made. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.

Years later, I thought about this when I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my “tribal music,” and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. (Laughter) She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove.

What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals. – from Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story (TED Talk)

This world is enchanted
Lean closer to see it
This world is enchanted
Dare to breathe it in

O God. . .

Give us new eyes to see
Give us new skin to feel
Give us new lungs to breathe
The wonder underneath

Faith like a mustard seed
Holy naiveté
To swim in Your mystery
We need to be free
Free to breathe it in
Free to breathe it in
Born and born again

This world is transcendent
Lean closer to see it
This world is resplendent
Dare to breathe it in

Enchanted, by Aaron Niequist


Another Slippery Slope

Many people use the “slippery slope” argument when warning others about what they perceive to be the danger of a certain way of thinking or behaving.

When worship music took a turn toward contemporary styling back in the 60s and early 70s, I heard many pastors preach against “the devil’s music” (it was actually 20 years later in my church circle–that’s how behind the times we were). They claimed that this was the first step down a “slippery slope” that would lead to all sorts of sinful behaviour in churches including drugs, drunkenness and sex amongst the young people. (Obviously, such pastors weren’t aware what was already happening in their youth groups . . . but I digress.)

When the issue of women clergy began to be an issue (and some still believe it is), the slippery slope argument went something like this: “You permit a woman to be in the pulpit and women will get the idea that it’s OK to tell men what to do, they’ll start doing this at home, and the family will experience upheaval and possible disintegration.”

When the Emergent Movement started gaining momentum and receiving attention, preachers like John Piper (among a multitude of others) warned that those who accepted such a theological shift would find themselves on a “slippery slope” that would lead to ultimately denying the existence of God.

Which brings me to today.

The most prevalent argument in conservative circles today is that accepting homosexuality will inevitably lead to a breakdown of morals; legalising gay marriage will surely lead to the breakdown of the family unit. Some take it further and actually name the sins that will follow as we travel down this “slippery slope.”

Bruce Reyes-Chow has made a excellent point on the Patheos blog how that not promoting and legalising equality for LGBTQ people is also a slippery slope, as demonstrated by the recent exploits of now-infamous Pastor Charles L. Worley and his declaration that LGBTQ folk should be locked behind electric fences and kept there until they all die out.

. . . [I]t would be easy to dismiss him as some radical, fringe person that should be given little attention or thought. After all, no reasonable and faithful person would ever think these things, let alone say them.  My friend Eugene Cho, in his excellent post chastising Worley and others, says, “No matter where you stand on the issue of gay marriage, there are some boundaries of human decency that should never be crossed.”

For the most part I agree, most people who think homosexuality is a sin, probably do not think that LGBTQ people should be rounded up until they die off. And then I think back to some meetings/debates among those whom I would consider “thoughtful and faithful” communities in my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA). When it came to homosexuality, the slippery slope argument was always busted out, “homosexuality will lead to … [insert perceived sexual 'deviance'].” After an awkward moment of “Whoa, did he just say what I think he said?” most of us would simply dismiss these folks as fringe, after all, the slippery slope argument is unwinnable — and what does it matter anyway?

And then you hear people like Worley and others who do in fact verbalize what we know already happens, people take anti-LGBTQ thought, theology and rhetoric and walk down that slippery slope to the point of killing people who are gay. I am generally not a slippery slope kind of person, but in this case, I will borrow a page from some of my brothers and sisters in Christ who believe that the affirmation of of homosexuality, as choice or creation, will lead to the destruction of all that is good and holy and say this:

You can wrap your theological position in all the “speaking the truth in love” or “hate the sin, love the sinner” rhetoric you want, but if you hold the idea that affirming homosexuality will lead to the destruction of societal “norms” then you had better claim the other side: anti-homosexuality rhetoric will lead to the death of human beings because they are gay.

He continues:

. . . [T]hose of you who continue to give life and validation to anti-homosexuality thinking must know that you have been given the privilege of being thought of as reasonable and faithful. This protection has given you a false security that your words, no matter how diametrically different they may sound from Worley’s, do not lead to violence.

They do.

(Click here to read the rest of the post.)

I suppose the biggest problem I have with slippery slope arguments is that they tend to be mostly conjecture. We don’t really know where following a certain path will lead because we haven’t yet been down that path. All we have to go on is history.

Has contemporary music in church brought illegal drugs, booze and sex into the sanctuary?

Have women in leadership positions in our churches resulted in the breakdown of families?

Has the Emergent Church been the birthplace of increasing numbers of atheists?

Will granting equality to our LGBTQ family & friends bring about a rise in perversion and the destruction of the family unit?

Based on all information available–and the testimony of history–the answer is and must remain “NO.”

The Future of Christianity

Diana Butler-Bass has just posted on Huffington Post a post-Easter response to Andrew Sullivan’s Newsweek story “Forget the Church, Folow Jesus.” Rather than go into the details of what he said/she said, you can read it following the links on her post here.

Part of her article sketches out the difference between what used to be taken for granted as the definitive way of being a Christian. She takes three key words–believing, behaving, and belonging–and looks at the way these have been approached, and then at how they are now being seen by the new generation of Christians:

Religion always entails the “3B’s” of believing, behaving, and belonging. Over the centuries, Christianity has engaged the 3B’s in different ways, with different interrogators and emphases. For the last 300 years or so, the questions were asked as follows:

1) What do I believe? (What does my church say I should think about God?)
2) How should I behave? (What are the rules my church asks me to follow?)
3) Who am I? (What does it mean to be a faithful church member?)

But the questions have changed. Contemporary people care less about what to believe than how they might believe; less about rules for behavior than in what they should do with their lives; and less about church membership than in whose company they find themselves. The questions have become:

1) How do I believe? (How do I understand faith that seems to conflict with science and pluralism?)
2) What should I do? (How do my actions make a difference in the world?)
3) Whose am I? (How do my relationships shape my self-understanding?)

Do we need a Church to effectively be a Christian (or follower of Jesus)? No. But a healthy, vibrant–and open-minded–community will go miles to encourage the outcast, the displaced, the seeker, and even the religious to embrace a faith that is truly relevant and sensitive to today’s world and its needs. Perhaps our churches could benefit greatly by reframing their communities around the three new questions and, in turn, reap the rewards of spiritually alive and growing congregations.

Paradoxy

I am still reading the excellent book, Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them by Ken Howard. Being more disenfranchised with the whole disunity thing in the Church, I value Ken’s insights and commentary on this subject.

I have been guilty far too often of creating division rather than bringing unity, of drawing the line between two views rather than seeking common ground on which to unite.

Ken speaks about the paradigm of both conservatives and progressives and shows how, for both ‘sides’ of the Faith, problems arise.

. . . If the paradigm has become your reality, what do you do when the cracks become too noticeable to ignore? If you can’t abandon the dominant paradigm (or maybe even recognize that you are in one) in favor of a more complete and encompassing one, what are your choices? There seem to be three:

1. To the Ramparts! Rally around the purist position with increasing defensiveness and increasingly elaborate rationalizations.

2. Compromise and Adapt! Adopt compromises that soften the position or attempt to prop up confidence in it by means other than facts.

3. Create a “Them”! Focus all of your attention on what seem to you to be the greater inconsistencies (and the “unlikeablilities”) of the other side.

Being a natural ‘right-seeker,’ I immediately say ‘Amen’ to all three as I see all of these positions alive and well in those who seem to enjoy harassing me with their version of truth.

But, looking deeper, I realise that I also, at times, defend my ‘more reasonable’ position by rallying support amongst my friends who embrace a similar paradigm to my own, compromise when around those on the ‘other side’ just to be seen to be acting with civility, or encouraging taking sides and fighting the other side with my weapon of choice: words.

As Doug Pagitt has said:

Our biggest challenges come when we assume that those who hold worldviews or values different than ours lack knowledge or values.

Too often I’ve mocked the beliefs of people unlike me (in time past when I had a more fundamentalist mindset, and now as more of a progressive Christian). What I have assumed is that they had to be uninformed, ignorant, or living in a cocoon to believe as they do. I’m beginning to see this is not so. They have simply started with a different framework for their thinking, a different bias. And in the light that we all have incomplete knowledge and limited ability to understand life’s mysteries, their worldview may be just as valid as mine.

If we are ever to live together in community–and I believe it is the only way to be true followers of Jesus–we must learn to accept (not just tolerate) one another fully, in spite of our disagreements. This doesn’t mean we won’t hold our convictions firmly, but when we do say or do something that flows from those convictions, we know we will be fully loved and fully accepted, regardless.

One of our staff members said something in morning prayer recently (sorry, I can’t recall who it was) that is relevant to this post. Essentially, they said that God chose us as a collective body, not merely as individuals. God chose that you would live in community with me–that is not either your or my choice. If God, who we claim is all-wise and all-knowing put us together in the same body, there must be a good reason for it. Rather than try to figure it all out, why don’t we just accept it and live together in harmony? Rather than fighting and arguing and stirring up each other to debate and discord, why don’t we simply clothe ourselves with love which, as the apostle writes, is the bond of perfection?

(Easy to say–damn hard to do!)

On that note, I realise I have much to learn, and I’m looking forward to what else I discover as I continue reading Paradoxy.

What is Church?

There are many definitions of “Church,” and I suspect this may be one of those words the interpretation of which has done much to divide Christendom over the millennia. In Evangelicalism, we are all too familiar with the idea that the church is not a building, but a community of God’s people. While this doesn’t really do much to define anything greater than a social club, it seems to suffice for many of us. And it worked for me until a short time ago when I came to the realisation that is is so much more–greater, deeper, and more transformational–than that.

Having been intensely (and critically, often cynically) looking into this idea of what Church is for the past 3-4 years, I came across this simple definition from Brian McLaren today in MINEmergent:

Church is a space in which the Spirit works to form Christlike people, and it is the space in which human beings, formed in Christlike love, cooperate with the Spirit and one another to express that love in word and deed, art and action.

Truth is, I’ve read that before, but never has it stuck with me as it has just now. A social club cannot meet this criteria. A sporting group can’t transform people in this way. This is the essence of what “Church” is all about. Anything beyond this is window-dressing, politics, tradition, or religiosity.

What Attracts Me to Emergent

Those who are familiar with Fields of Grace and who know me would know how I yearn for a more intentional, missional and incarnational Christianity, one that focuses on the dominion of God as revealed through Jesus, and one that is not held hostage to a black-and-white/us-and-them mindset.

In a nutshell, this is what draws me to Emergent. (I have capitalised the ‘e’ to distinguish the Emergent Movement in particular rather than the idea of ‘emergence.’)

While I possibly don’t see or understand everything about God, the Bible, and theology the same way you do, I have no reason to believe that the perspective I enjoy is in any substantial way different than any pre-enlightenment Christian. I give this type of Christian a historical place since it was the advent of the so-called enlightenment that brought to the world the gift that is modernism.

Modernism introduced that systematic approach that has been so beneficial to Science and Mathematics, yet so damaging to spirituality and faith. In trying to define God and the teachings of his inspired Book, the modernist has pigeonholed the Divine into human-sized pieces, bound in systematic theologies, apologetics, and volumes of Biblical reference.

The Emergent Movement, largely positioned within and beyond post-modern thought, frees theology from the confines of predetermined structures, church-dictated dogma and hardened conclusions, allowing for a more dynamic, free and interpretatively-diverse experience of God and his kingdom. Acceptance of all who want to join the conversation regardless of their faith or lack of faith is what I find most appealing–and Christ-like–in the Movement.

Scot McKnight has been a long time friend and critic of the Emergent Movement in the USA. He has written several articles about it and counts as his friends many within its loosely-defined cohorts. Paraphrasing his work, vanguardchurch.com has defined Emergent Christianity this way:

What is the Emerging Church? Praxis.

The Emerging Movement is a summons or an invitation for the Church to live like followers of Jesus in everything they say, do, and think. The Emerging Movement seeks to model that in its emphasis on relationships as the core of the work of God in the world today. One of the reasons so many are frustrated with the Emerging Movement’s definition is found here: it is a movement concerned with praxis and not simply theology. If the older fashion was to define others by their theology, the Emerging Movement wants to be defined by its behavior. This is a dramatic challenge to the Church.

What is the Emerging Church? Protest.

First, it protests too much tom-fakery in traditional churches.
Second, it denounces the divisions in the Church.
Third, it sees cock-sure certainty as a cancer.
Fourth, it refuses to separate action from articulation. If the older evangelical generation found doctrinal statements the chief way of setting up boundaries, the Emerging Movement wants to see one’s articulation expressed by one’s action.
Fifth, it wants individualism absorbed into incorporation: that is, the Emerging Movement encourages personal redemption but solo-Christianity is not what Jesus wants. He wants to form communities of faith not individual Christians.
Sixth, the Emerging Movement’s mindset is against marketing the gospel.
Seventh, the Emerging Movement despises the idea that Church is what takes place on Sunday Morning…the work of the Church is what occurs during the week as the local community of faith performs the gospel.
Eighth, the Emerging Movement rejects the hierarchy and pyramid structure of many churches. Authority is in God — Father, Son, Spirit — and not in the pastor or the elders or the board of deacons.
Ninth, the social gospel cannot be separated from the spiritual gospel. The Emerging Movement combines the Liberal social gospel with the Evangelical spiritual gospel and comes up with something that is neither Liberal nor Evangelical.
Tenth, the Emerging Movement wants to be Worldly. Not in the Johannine sense or in the Pauline sense, but in the Kingdom sense: it knows that God is working to restore the entire creation into an expression of his glory and so it summons everyone to participate in the grant work of God to restore and redeem.

(If you want to read more about this from McKnight’s own blog (Jesus Creed), click here.)

There are many other characteristics of Emergent Christians, but I find there is not a one-size-fits-all definition. Because of the diversity it embraces, emerging/emergent Christians come in all shapes, sizes, styles, and religious conviction. One person may embrace 4 or 5 of these somehow-determined traits, and still consider themselves an emerging Christian.

The overiding attitude is in fact one of setting aside what was and looking for ways to engage and be engaged with one another in meaningful, kingdom- and God-centered conversations, together with all the questions, doubts, rethinking and change that this entails. It’s definitely a challenge. Anything that requires personal change is. But I find a great sense of togetherness on the journey with like minded friends–both in my local area and online. It has been such a rewarding journey so far, full of surprises, conflict, interesting conversations, and deeply spiritual moments that take my breath away.

And that’s what I find most irresistible about Emergent.

 

Inventive Church

Ok. Two posts in one day. I know. But it’s worth it.

I’m reading Emergent’s latest blog posts and Mike Stavlund wrote a needed post entitled “Inventive Church.”

Here’s a taste:

Doug Pagitt’s recent book Church in the Inventive Age is not a clarion call for change. Rather, it assumes that change is normative, and that innovation is in fact a way of life. Moreover, it contends that younger generations are trending away from resistance to change, and are in factembracing it. That there is a shift from the ‘information age’ toward something that is more about discovery, creativity, and collaboration. What Doug terms the ‘inventive age’ is one where churches need to decide how they will relate to this shift in culture—will they get on the change train, or will they stay put? Pagitt is remarkably charitable to those who would choose the latter, arguing that they provide an essential function in a changing world, too. And while I might quibble with Pagitt as he argues that such shifts are largely demographic—rather than, as my friend Deanna Doan has put it, ‘psychographic’—I understand that more younger people will experience this psychographic shift, so it’s actually both. Fair enough.

It’s a short book that means to make its points succinctly, with money quotes like this one:

“The ability to teach and preach and lead is taking a backseat to the pastor’s capacity to create and facilitate open-source faith experiences for the people of the church.” (p. 33)

I wholeheartedly agree with this call for leaders who stop parroting the party line and repeating conventional wisdom, and who choose instead to open the door to let in the heat and cold, the light and darkness, the hope and doubt. And to, in equal measure, let that same stuff go out the same door and into the larger world. (Read it all here.)

I am not into change for change’s sake, nor am I into change as a marketing ploy or a ‘kick-start’ to re-energise or re-focus congregations. Like Mike and Doug, I believe people, organisations, things naturally change. These changes need to be encouraged, recognised and celebrated. In churches, especially, these changes can result in great movements of God in the community.

Lest this evolve into a rant, I’ll leave it here. Read the blog. Get the book. Open your heart to the flexibility and adaptability that will bring God’s change to your world.