Archive for the 'Justice' Category

Red Letter Christianity, Black Letter Epistle-anity, or Whole-Canon Spirituality?

Frank Viola pointed to Leonard Sweet’s Napkin Scribbles podcast awhile back, where Sweet explains why he won’t join Red Letter Christians or The Beatitudes Society. Frank asks what we think of Len’s reasons, which you can (and should, for the purposes of this post) listen to here. This is what I think.

I appreciate what Sweet’s saying here about the sometimes-seeming arbitrariness of exalting one portion of Scripture over & above others – for instance, many Reformed Christians seem to exalt the Old Testament to the exclusion of the New Testament altogether! But the flip-side of this observation is that we all do it – whether we acknowledge it or not, we all have our “canon within the canon” to which we afford pride of place. Sweet himself does this when he, after noting that “Red Letters” are themselves an outdated metaphor, then launches into how Paul seemed to care very little about the historical teachings of Jesus. I happen to agree with this assertion, but so what?

Using the “all Scripture is God-breathed” lens that he introduces as his hermeneutic, why should we care what Paul did or did not emphasize if we ought to be…I dunno what Sweet might call us…Whole-Canon Christians? The very existence of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels would make the teachings of Jesus important, regardless of whatever is or isn’t found in Paul. (And of course, conversely, it would make Paul’s perspectives and understandings important, regardless of what is or isn’t in the Gospels) In short: I like his avoiding the ditch that could characterize some contemporary social justice emphasizing Christians, but I’m not yet convinced that he wouldn’t steer us into the opposite ditch of reading the Epistles to the exclusion of the Gospels – the ditch that the worst excesses of Protestantism has been steering us in for 400 years.

Why do we vacillate from ditch to ditch? Let me offer a possible reason, speaking as a very young Gen-Xer (born in the last years that it’s acceptable to be an X-er, but I’m rather out of place as a Millennial) who has deep sympathies with the theologies that make my friends Sweet and Viola nervous: The reason why groups like The Beatitudes Society seem to be more focused on following Jesus rather than believing in Jesus is because we, generationally, have significant doubts about the kind of world has been left in the wake of “believing in Jesus.” Even if Jesus’ teaching is simply a re-assertion and universalizing of core Judaic values (or indeed, an ethical core at the center of all the great world religions), these are values that we feel the world is out of touch with, and desperately needs. If the Church had followed the Sermon on the Mount instead of  canon law reflecting Christendom-Empire values, would we see the massive devaluation of human, animal, and ecological life that runs rampant today?

For many in my generation, an over-emphasis of the metaphysics of Paul’s Epistles seems to have created a world where ‘spiritual’ salvation is divorced from practical change, where the state of one’s soul seems to have little bearing on the way we treat one another. Nowadays we distrust metaphysics in general – too much talk of God (even in church!) makes us nervous. A dear friend of mine recently asked me wistfully, “Couldn’t we love another another, serve one another, sing, eat together, even pray and meditate, without God? ‘God’ seems to have caused so much pain, and so many problems, in our lives.”

Focusing on the beatitudes, justice and morality of Jesus might indeed be lowest-common-denominator stuff compared to the semiotic actions, signs and wonders, symbol-laden death, vindicating resurrection, astonishing ascension, and (allegedly) transforming indwelling of Jesus the Christ, but for many bewildered Christians of the Red Letter ilk, starting over from square one with the Son of Man seems not only the sanest course of action, but the only viable alternative we have, facing conceptual-metaphysical burnout. Just give us something to do, please, and don’t tell us we have to believe anything.

And yet, having swam in such waters for the past 3-5 years, I have to confess that this perspective is bankrupt, damaging, and most certainly not sustainable. I do not say this as a judgmental outsider, but a sympathetic insider. I love me some deconstruction, some Caputo, Kearney, and Rollins; if given a desert island Bonhoeffer choice, I’ll take Letters and Papers from Prison with it’s death-row-conceived Religion-less Christianity over the bright-eyed idealism of The Cost of Discipleship any day. Give me divine mystery, holy opacity, the via negativa and apophatic mysticism. Revelation conceals as much as it reveals, and I think such a perspective is a healthy corrective of overly-positivist, modernist articulations of Christianity, where there’s a 1:1 correlation to what we imagine to be true and What Exists.

Still – a human life and human faith cannot be nourished in the long term from wholly deconstructive faith paired with righteous activism. We’ll become burned-out husks, without an epistemological web of meaning to rest in. Further, the culture at large, while suspicious of metanarratives, craves a larger meaning-making story to situate ourselves in. It can’t be a contemporvant version of What’s Come Before, but needs to be a deeply-rooted yet wide-open faith, with the human and divine Christ at the center. And I stand by what I said in June – Sweet and Viola’s work is a crucial, needed, and important Evangelical contribution to the re-enchantment and re-faithing that must happen in the next 10 years if Christianity is to be transfigured.

It seems obvious that – given the very real ecological and humanitarian crises (as well as opportunities) that face us, things we need to act on immediately if we are to survive as a species and a culture – we all need each other. It doesn’t do to dismiss Red Letter Christians only to over-correct in a “Paul Only” Protestant throwback. We need a recovery of the mystical, the positional, and the activist dimensions of faith; we need a gospel that is Good News for the cosmos; we need Sweet and McLaren (and Boff, for that matter, not to mention the scores of unsung women theologians and leaders who truly make up half the sky); we need the same kind of risk-taking taken with early, transgressive works like Quantum Spirituality, and drawing on voices like Brian Swimme, Tim King, Ken Wilber, Cynthia BourgeaultMichael Dowd, the late Thomas Berry, and Bruce Sanguin. We might not agree with everything these folks are saying and doing, but they’re out there, interaction with the questions and crises that people are facing today, as well as addressing the perennial questions of humanity’s search for meaning. Since when is 100% agreement the prerequisite for operating in grace? At what point did we begin thinking that any of our factions could compass an infinite God? Is the idea of a generous orthodoxy so hopelessly early 2000s? As Tim King says, we all need to come together at the intersection of mystery and humility.

All hands on deck, ladies and gentlemen. Spaceship Earth is in for some rough turbulence in the decades ahead – materially, spiritually, kosmically. We need a coordinated effort, not a spitting contest between so-called orthodox, so-called heretics, and everything in between. We’ll need the wisdom of crowds, the nerve of leaders, and the collaboration of every domain of knowledge – as well as its transcendence. Are you with me?

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Big Agriculture Declares War on Food Safety, Small Farmers

This just crossed my desk from Food Democracy Now, a grassroots advocacy group promoting slow, local, regional, and sustainable food for everyone. Please read and take action.

Urgent: Big Ag is trying to kill food safety reform in the Senate today – Give farmers and our children a fighting chance.

Click here to call your Senators Now!

So far you’ve made over 7,000 calls to your Senators – Can they Hear US Now?

Are you committed to change?  Call your Senator to pass food safety legislation now.

This past week the action in the U.S. Senate has been fast and furious. In the past 48 hours more than 7,000 Food Democracy Now! members have made phone calls to their Senators asking them to include provisions in the Food Safety Modernization Act that protected family-scale farm operations from excessive regulations. You’re incredible.

Remarkably, as a result of your phone calls the Senate reached a deal on the Tester-Hagan Amendment yesterday morning. Now Big Ag has decided to throw a tantrum. Late yesterday afternoon a coalition of 20 produce groups sent a “letter” to Senate leadership urging the defeat of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Big Ag is claiming that these important farmer protection provisions are part of an “ideological war” and are doing everything they can behind the scenes to kill this important legislation.

But we can’t let them. There’s too much at stake. Every year more than 5,000 people die as a result of foodborne diseases and more than 76 million fall ill according to the Centers for Disease Control.

If you care about food safety and family farmers we’re asking you to make one more call to your Senators to make sure they understand how important passing this bill is to their constituents. We can’t let Big Ag lobbyists put petty politics over lives or farmer’s livelihoods.

Click below to tell your Senator to pass the Food Safety bill, tell them consumers and family farmer’s deserve to be protected, not Big Ag lobbyists!

http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/go/279?akid=231.53115.cbSYY3&t=7

Late Thursday evening the Senate voted 57 to 27 to move forward on the food safety bill, incredibly, some 16 Senators skipped this important vote. No wonder they call it a lame duck session! As you well know, to get this bill to pass a full vote, we’ll need 60 votes, so every vote counts. Make sure these Senator are there for the next important vote!

Democratic Senators that missed the vote included:

Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Arlen Specter (D-PA)  – both lame ducks.

John Kerry (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Jim Webb (D-VA) — no excuses.

Since the bill is being supported down fiercely partisan lines, we wanted to make sure that Food Democracy Now! members knew which Democratic Senators did not make this vote. If they had showed up, the vote would have been 63 to 27 — enough to get it to a full floor vote and passed into law.

If you live in their state make sure you call them again and tell them how important this bill is to protect children and family farmers.

http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/go/279?akid=231.53115.cbSYY3&t=9

Call All Republicans!  They are Scheming with Big to kill food safety reform.

On the Republican side of the aisle, support for the bill is weak, with only 4 Republican Senators voting for to proceed. As with everything in DC in these past few years, partisans would rather throw up roadblocks than do the people’s business.

It’s time to remind them who they work for. If you have a Republican Senator in your state, call them now.

In an odd show of weakness, 4 of the Republican sponsors of the bill either voted against cloture last night or skipped the vote.

Republican S.510 Sponsor who went AWOL on Food Safety Cloture Vote:

Judd Gregg (R-NH) lame duck Senator retiring – if you live in NH make sure that you call him and tell him to VOTE FOR the food safety bill and support consumer safety and family farmers.

Republican S.510 Sponsors who voted NO on Cloture Vote:

Richard Burr (R-NC) , Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA)

Remember, these are Senators who actually sponsored the bill, i.e. supported it until now, when the Tester amendment was added, the amendment that you called for, and then they started caving to industry pressure.

If you live in their state let them know you care about food safety, local foos and family farmers! Click below.

http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/go/279?akid=231.53115.cbSYY3&t=11

Special Treat Performance on Food Safety

And last, but not least, Food Democracy Now! wanted to let you know about Senator Tom Coburn M.D. (R-OK), the single biggest obstacle preventing the food safety bill from passing.

Yesterday on the Senate floor, Senator Coburn gave an unbelievable performance, rambling and misstating basic facts about foodborne illnesses in the U.S.

Not only is Coburn ignorant about food safety, but in his fierce partisan desire to kill this important bill — which will protect us from serious food safety outbreaks — he proves he doesn’t care about America’s 300 million citizens who urgently need this bill.

Instead, Coburn would rather stall progress for family farmers by demanding that the U.S. ban all earmark spending through 2013. As a result of Coburn’s unreasonable demands, what food experts Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser have called “the most important food safety bill in a generation”, it languishes on a pyre of self-righteous political grandstanding.

If you live in Oklahoma, please tell Senator Coburn to stop playing chicken with your children’s food.

Let Senator Coburn know that AMERICA needs food safety reform now. America’s citizens and our farmers deserve protection.

Word on the street in DC is that Senator Coburn tried to broker a deal with Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) on the food safety bill and take away important provisions like “mandatory reporting”.

Tell Senator Harkin to steal Coburn’s cookies and stand strong! Pass the food safety bill as is. No more compromise, no more wasted time.

Don’t let Big Ag and one angry man’s crusade stand in the way of this important legislation — Act Today — this could be our last best chance to achieve important food safety reforms.

Make a call today — don’t let America’s children wait to grow up before this opportunity comes up again.

http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/go/279?akid=231.53115.cbSYY3&t=13

As always, thanks for participating in food democracy,

– Dave, Lisa and The Food Democracy Now! Team

A Farmer’s Market in Heaven Where Everything Is Free and Everyone Is Welcome

Spencer Burke interviews Sara Miles about her work at the St. Gregory of Nyssa‘s Food Pantry and her new book Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing Raising the Dead. It’s an inspiring interview – check it out!

Losing My Religion

Last month I had the privilege of joining Callid Keefe-Perry, Jules Kennedy, and host Pastor Nar for the Losing My Religion podcast – outdoor edition!

We were at the beautiful campus of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC, at a truly singular event emceed by Steve Knight, communicant extraordinarine at Halogen: TransFORM – East Coast.

This conversation is like a small tasty morsel of the feast that was this ‘conference.’ I use air quotes because, truth be told, I didn’t attend too many of the actual sessions; raging ADD aside, there were just so many people I’ve known for years online, whom I was able to meet in-person for the first time. It was like a “family reunion in heaven” – people whom you’re simultaneously meeting for the first time, but whom you’ve also known forever. (I also had a great time with my Atlanta and Cobb Emergent Cohort peeps, and even a lovely Augusta representative – getting to see them is too long and far-between!) It was a rag-tag conglomeration of emergents and outlaw preachers and missionals and mainliners and meditators and Wild Goosers and Big Tent-makers and organics, all coming from every denomination (or lack thereof) under the sun – lots o’ variety in God’s great big family.

This event was very well-timed for me, personally. I’m at something of a crossroads, both vocationally (great developments, some of which I’ve already shared, as well as some scary-awesome challenges!) and health-wise (I really will get to posting about this in the near-term future); during large swaths of TransFORM I felt quite literally like I was going nuts. And yet the warmth and unconditional presence of the TransFORM folks carried with them the distinct aroma of Jesus. There was a palpable sense of Christ and his Kingdom throughout the weekend, on display in the kindness and dizzying diversity of those present – women and men; black, white, Latino and Asian; Quaker and Wesleyan, Pentecostal and Catholic, Baptist and Reformed.

TransFORM: The Event is but a subset of TransFORM: the Network – a collection of church-planting and pneumatic-community enthusiasts who color outside the lines. If this is you, you should connect with us. As I like to say, there’s more than meets the eye with TransFORM. (Cue groans)

Okay, without further ado, here is the free-flowing conversation, with gentle provocateur Pastor Nar at the helm!

And a little namesake R.E.M. – why not?

Finally – and most significantly – a TransFORM blog-post roundup (If I’m missing some – and I probably am – please put ’em in the comments section below; I’ll list ’em up here):

Adam Moore

Anthony Smith

Brandon Mouser

Callid Keefe-Perry

Chris Rosebrough (note: Chris, from Pirate Christian Radio & Fighting for the Faith, is not a fan. He’s more of a loyal critic, and drove all the way out from Indiana for the main purpose of critiquing. But we love him anyway!)

Darren Rowse (yes, the accliamed ProBlogger was with us via video link from Australia!)

Doug Pagitt

Drew Tatusko

Hugh Hollowell

Jonathan Brink

Joy Lynn- Schroeder

Julie Kennedy

Kathy Escobar

Liz Dyer

Lori Wilson – Part I and Part II (a very thorough recap of the actual sessions!)

Marcus Gibbs

Pete Rollins

Phil Wyman

Shawn Anthony

Sivin Kit (joining us via video from Malaysia!)

– Trans4m in the Twitterverse

“I Don’t Want to be Part of Any Jesus Revolution Without a Perichoretic Dance” – Why We Need Both Jesus Manifestoes

Frank Viola and Len Sweet’s book  Jesus Manifesto remains in the Amazon Top Ten today, and my interview with them yesterday has stirred a lot of interesting conversation. Among conversation partners is my friend Jeff Straka, who airs some honest thoughts and frustrations that inspire me to say something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time. Jeff wonders:

While Brian McLaren has endorsed both these authors’ books in the past, his name is glaringly (to me, anyway) missing from the list on this new book. Nor did I find any endorsements from other names considered more solidly in the emergent movement (and not just in “conversation” with). Am I reading too much into this or is this shaping into a “spy vs. spy” manifesto?

Also, are the subtitle words “the supremacy and sovereignty of Jesus” a helpful choice of words as they seem to imply then that other religions are flat-out wrong or false (ala Franklin Graham)?

Well Jeff, we know that Brian rarely eats or sleeps, but even he cannot endorse everything. 🙂

But seriously. I think there is a difference between divergent views and hostility. F’r instance, it was apparent that Mike Wittmer didn’t merely have differences with Brian’s presentation in A New Kind of Christianity; he was pretty hostile toward Brian, both theologically and personally.

I’m almost certain that this isn’t the case here. While there are doubtless differences between Len and Brian (as the Sweet piece you cite demonstrates), I see them as iron-sharpening-iron differences and not iron-jabbing-your-opponents-eyes-out differences. Both Len and Brian have been accused of various grevious heresies by the self-appointed watchdog ministries; I doubt Len wishes to inflict that pain on anyone else, even if he disagrees with them theologically.

So: Does JM say some different things than ANKoC?

Yes.

Is it possible to enjoy both books?

Yes, I think so, though natural predispositions being what they are, readers might naturally gravitate toward one perspective or the other.

Here’s the fascinating thing, as an aside: Brian in ANKoC and Richard Rohr in The Naked Now (which I’m presently reading) both write out of a conviction that Jesus has become in the hearts and minds of Christians too remote and too ‘divine’ to be of any earthly good, or connection with his followers today. Rohr specifically indicts contemporary Christians of the heresy of gnosticism, saying that while Nicea (or was it Chalcedon? I always forget…) technically settled the matter of Jesus being fully human and fully divine, “most Christians are very good theists who just happened to name their god Jesus.” By contrast, Rohr calls for a robust incarnational ethic, where we disavow a remote ‘theism’ as such and affirm a ‘down and in’ God who is located precisely right here, in our midst. Brian and Rohr both hope that people will stop merely worshiping Jesus and start listening to and following his teachings.

Sweet and Viola, by contrast, are observing an opposite trend: People following the human Jesus, but neglecting the exalted Christ. They wish to reclaim the grandiose language of the Epistles, which speaks of a Christ who fills all-in-all. This is different than a John Piper or Franklin Graham approach of brow-beating the planet earth with a jingoistic Christ, in my opinion.

To begin with, ‘supremacy’ is used in a mystical sense, inspired by T. Austin Sparks. And the divinity of Jesus championed by V&S isparticipatory divinity: We have become partakers of the divine nature through Christ. It’s a perichoretic divinity: The expansion of the dynamic life of the Trinity into communities where this Trinitarian life is made welcome, and thus radiating into the earth. (See Viola’s From Eternity to Here and Sweet’s So Beautiful.) To be honest with you, not counting Rohr, I miss this kind of unbridled mystical-devotional dimension in much of the emerging church. I too agree that everything must change and I don’t share Len’s antipathy with liberation theology (I don’t see how anyone can read Leonardo Boff or James Cone or Gustavo Gutierrez, or know the story and plight of the Base Ecclessial Communities in Latin America, and dismiss liberation theology as simply re-hashed Marxisim), but I will paraphrase anarchist Emma Goldman here: “I don’t want to be part of any Jesus revolution without a perichoretic dance.”

I want to see an emerging conversation that makes room for neo-liberationists and neo-pietists, Jesus Manifesto and Jesus Manifesto. We need neo-pietists in the Conversation to remind us just how revolutionary Paul was, and the Epistles are – that participatory divinity linked to the monotheistic God was truly a new phenomenon in the first century, and can be just as much so today. We need the neo-pietists to remind us of a good, strong, Lutheran-esque Gospel of God’s gratuitous grace and favor toward us, and how we can’t be the ‘hands and feet of Jesus’ unless we’re connected to the authority and animating energies of Christ our Head.

And so: I hope that in the next year, emergents and missionals, organics and liturgicals, conservatives and progressives, can stop writing each other off. If I have to stop calling it the ’emerging’ conversation in order to help missional and neo-pietist folk feel more welcome at the table, I will. Because I think that’s what Jesus – the whole, living Christ – wants.

Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate

Matt Soerens, co-author of Welcoming the Stranger, sounds off on the slow death of civility in our culture and how Jesus-followers can recover transforming dialogue that leads to new alternatives in law and compassion in the immigration debate. Discussion questions are here.

Alexie Torres-Fleming: Joyous Justice in the Heart of the City

Alexie Torres-Fleming of Youth Ministries for Justice and Peace, featured on Think:FWD. Show notes here.


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    My Writings: Varied and Sundry Pieces Online

    Illumination and Darkness: An Anne Rice Feature from Burnside Writer's Collective
    Shadows & Light: An Anne Rice Interview in MP3 format from Relevant Magazine
    God's Ultimate Passion: A Trinity of Frank Viola interview on Next Wave: Part I, Part II, Part III
    Review: Furious Pursuit by Tim King, from The Ooze
    Church Planting Chat from Next-Wave
    Review: Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola, from Next-Wave

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