Posts Tagged 'emergent church'

Sunday Devotional: Matthew Fox, Cosmic Mass

So this one is sure to raise some ambivalence – but no one processing religion, faith, and spirituality in a post* world can afford to ignore Matthew Fox – tempestuous, flamboyant, inventive; priest, artist, liturgist and theologian. The defrocked Catholic-turned-Episcopal priest was (with the unlikely influence-pairing of Vineyard revitalizer John Wimber) responsible for inspiring what was arguably the first ever emerging/postmodern congregation in the mid-1980s – the brilliant, controversial, combustible Nine O’ Clock Service. Inspired by a Wimber prophecy at St. Thom‘s in Sheffield and nurtured by Fox’s Creation Spirituality amongst working-class rave culture, the NOS was a potpourri of influences and expression.

Even after it’s untimely demise, the UK’s ‘Planetary Mass’ idea – shades of Teilhard de Chardin‘s Mass on the World – re-caught the attention of Fox himself, who brought it back to the US as a ‘Techno-Cosmic Mass.’ To this day, there are many interested in applying the ideas of Original Blessing and Creation Spirituality to communal expressions, as well as many of more staidly orthodox persuasion interested in alternative worship expressions.

(Click to play video – it won’t embed. Grr…)

For a compendium alt.worship resources, go here. Also see Fox’s YouTube channel.

Brian & Spencer’s Excellent Adventure

I started reading Brian McLaren about eight years ago. I was drawn in by his probing, unconventional, and sometimes-controversial questions about Christian faith and practice – his, ours, everyone’s. Reading Brian morphed into friendship with Brian, and today I’d say he’s one of the top half-dozen living people who’ve had the greatest impact on my faith and life. I wasn’t alone in finding his work compelling: Many people worldwide were asking similar questions; the conversations and action that followed have created conversations and (arguably) movements. From The Church On The Other Side and his New Kind of Christian novel trilogy, to A Generous Orthodoxy and Everything Must Change, Brian has been on a journey to re-envision what it means to faithfully follow Jesus in the 21st century. For many of us in emerging, missional, and ‘progressive’ faith circles, Brian needs no introduction – and in some ways, that’s a problem, isn’t it? Presumed familiarity can sometimes breed narrative contempt, especially in our world of high-profile authors who basically rewrite the same book over and over again. But I can honestly say that, in light of Brian’s back-catalog, this book breaks some new ground and is written with fresh candor and synthesis. That’s why I’m so happy with this ten-minute video of Brian and Spencer Burke, driving around Santa Monica and discussing where they’re at with faith and life these days.  I hear a wiser, more no-nonsense McLaren who’s grown more comfortable in his own skin, more comfortable as a voice and statesman for a new generation of Christianity coming of age in the 21st century. What hear ye?

Brian isn’t finished questing and questioning. Whether you love his work or it makes you nervous, whether you’ve read his every book or have lost track with him these past few years, his latest offering is his most important and striking to date: A New Kind of Christianity. In it, Brian asks ten questions that attempt to integrate our inner lives with our outward actions, to align our beliefs with how we live in increasingly interconnected global community. Questions like

  • The Narrative Question: What Is the Overarching Storyline of the Bible?
  • The Authority Question: How Should the Bible Be Understood?
  • The God Question: Is God Violent?
  • The Jesus Question: Who is Jesus and Why is He Important?
  • The Gospel Question: What Is the Gospel?
  • The Church Question: What Do We Do About the Church?
  • The Sex Question: Can We Find a Way to Address Sexuality Without Fighting About It?
  • The Future Question: Can We Find a Better Way of View the Future?
  • The Pluralism Question: How Should Followers of Jesus Relate to People of Other Religions?
  • The What Do We Do Now Question: How Can We Translate Our Quest into Action?

We at TheOOZE are teaming up with Brian to bring these questions into your churches, coffee shops, pubs and living rooms. In addition to the Think:FWD episode here (go here for show notes BTW), we’re going to be launching an entire Brian McLaren channel devoted to exploring these questions starting in February. Stay tuned!

Want more links?

Guzzling Some Godka – Altered States & Permanent Traits of Spiritual Consciousness

GodkaIntegral musician, actor and all-around hilarious guy Stuart Davis has just filmed a short commercial hawking the latest in potable ancient-future altered states of (higher) consciousness – Godka, or psilocybin-infused vodka.

!!!

StuartAbsinthe what?

I wonder if he’s met our pals John Crowder and Benjamin Dunn – or John Scotland and Emerge Wales and Red Letters crew, for that matter?

Have you missed John since my interview with him last year? He’s YouTubing up a storm…here’s one of the latest, on ‘spiritual exercises’…

In a perfect world, John Crowder and Stuart Davis would get along like gangbusters. Stuart does for sex – on his bleeding-edge Sex, God, and Rock & Roll – what John does for drug culture. Crowder Baby Jesus Toke

If you missed it last year, here’s my six-parter looking at the Pentecostal/charismatic avant-garde, kicking off with Charismatic Chaos or (Holy) Spirited Deconstruction?

…and leading into a five-parter dialogue with Mr. John Crowder himself:

Part I Crowder Blue

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Good times.

What do you think of spirituality and altered states of consciousness? What I’m thinking these days is inspired by and summed up nicely in a piece entitled Mystical Experience or Unitive Seeing? by integral Christian contemplative Cynthia Bourgeault, in Richard Rohr‘s Radical Grace magazine. Money quote (though I could easily take the highlighter of my life and highest aspirations to the entire article):

The word “mystical” is almost always immediately coupled with the word “experience,” and a mystical experience becomes something that you have—or want to have, anyway. It becomes a sign of God’s special favor—a kind of spiritual “peak experience”—and circumstances promising to deliver that experience are eagerly sought after: from sacred chanting and Eucharistic devotion to Sufi whirling, solitude in the desert, or peyote. In the usual way of looking at things, it is an altered state of consciousness, ecstatic, something that takes you far beyond your usual self, a straight shot into divine consciousness.

What’s so bad about that?

Well, nothing, really. [Mike’s note: And I’d want to emphasize that I agree 100% – there’s nothing wrong with ecstasy and spiritual peak experiences! In fact, I could really use one right now…John, if you’re reading this, could you email me a toke of the Holy Ghost? I’d like Jesus on the mainline, please!] But from the point of view of real spiritual growth, it’s an immature state— a “state” rather than a “stage,” in the helpful language of Ken Wilber. A state is a place you go to; a stage is a place you come from: integrated and mature spiritual experience. It’s true that a mystical experience can indeed be a sneak preview of how the universe looks from the point of view of non-dual consciousness. And it’s true that this consciousness does indeed operate at a higher level of vibrational intensity, which at first can overwhelm our normal cognitve systems. But the point is not to squander this infusion of energy on bliss trips, but to learn to contain it within a quiet and spacious consciousness and allow it to permanently bring about a shift in our operating system, so that unitive (or non-dual) perception becomes our ordinary, and completely normal mode of perception.

Amen and amen. I’ll drink to that.

House Church: Ready for Prime Time? Pt. 2

Happy post-election day!

So a couple of weeks ago I posted concerning house churching, an ancient-future ecclesiological habit that just a decade ago seemed relegated to a listserv backwater*, but is now one of the forefronts of consciousness around the world today. In its North American flavor, the people who have done the most to make this a reality are Tony & Felicity Dale, Neil Cole, and Frank Viola. The latter has been especially visible in publishing and online milieus, and is likely most familiar to emerging church folk.

(*nothing against HCDL, the oldest and one of the best house church discussion lists. I am a member!)

Pagan Maelstrom

In July and again in September, Viola had some fascinating exchanges with noted New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III. First Ben reviewed Pagan Christianity (which I blog about in Coming out of the Pagan Christianity Closet):

Pagan Christianity Pt. 1
Pagan Christianity Pt. 2

Pagan Christianity Pt. 3

Pagan Christianity Pt. 4
Pagan Christianity Postlude

I can’t possibly summarize these posts – they’re so flippin’ long! – so you’ll have to read ’em if you want. But I will give you a coupla quotes. I think BW3 has a point when he said (in post 2):

While I understand the complaint about things done by rote, it all depends on the spirit in which such things are done. If they are simply done mindlessly, repeating words without thinking about what one is saying or without focusing on God—well that’s not a good thing. But frankly I’ve seen far too many people who find joy in the recitation of the liturgy, and meaning, and are drawn closer to God by doing so. And there is nothing unBiblical about ritual. Try reading the psalms for example, which as Ephes. 5 makes clear Christians recited and sang. Here’s an important point When one rules out pre-set liturgies and orders of worship, that in itself becomes a ritual by default if one does it over and over again that way.

Here here! I agree. With community intent and understanding, fellowships can worship in whatever way they choose. And as the alt.worship movement in the UK shows us (not to mention St. Gregory’s in San Francisco) it’s possibly to have open-source, participatory liturgy. ‘Liturgy’ after all is ‘the work of the people.’ My house church has personally benefited, at times, from utilizing Phyllis Tickle’s magisterial compilation The Divine Hours.

[ben_frank.jpg] Nonetheless! Dr. Ben loses me utterly when he says “And here we come to an important point- Christ is not the leader of the worship service.” Sorry, I guess I’m just too Quaker or Pentecostal or what have you, but a sense in which the Spirit is directly leading and guiding our activities together is just too precious to relinquish simply because we can (of course) trace some human agency in the process of God’s speaking in our midst.

Overall, Ben Witherington III’s review of Pagan is insightful in that it shows Christians of good will and historical awareness can disagree – it’s not as though there will ever be a cut-and-dried air-tight case for ‘organic’ church meetings based in homes. But I’ve gotta tell ya: Independent scholar Dr. Jon Zens does a devastatingly good (and irenic) job sparring with Dr. Ben’s posts right here. It’s well worth the read.

Reimagining the Dialogue

So they say controversy sells – it certainly does. While BW3’s posts are only the tip of the blogstorm in terms of online response to Pagan, I’ve noticed that Frank’s followup Reimagining Church has received comparatively little online traction. This is really a shame, as Reimagining is the crucial reconstructing to Pagan’s deconstructing, and as such is my favorite of the two. As I said in my inside-cover endorsement of the book:

Reimagining Church is a readable (and livable!) description of organic, New Testament–rooted church life for the twenty-first century. Avoiding the weeds of both wooden fundamentalism and unreflective overcontextualization, Frank Viola paints a winsome and attractive portrait of a gospel people, inhabited by the Holy Spirit with God in Christ as their energetic center. Frank helps us learn from the peculiar genius of Jesus and his earliest followers, planting seeds for authentic, deeply rooted life together.

Further, I’ve reviewed the book here for TheOOZE. But enough of what I think. While Reimagining hasn’t found as much of a blog traction as I would have liked, BW3 has been a faithful engager. Here’s his (even longer!) series on this one:

Reimagining Church Part One
Reimagining Church Part Two
Reimagining Church Part Three
Reimagining Church Part Four

On these Ben invited Frank to reply directly. So he did:

A Frank Response Part One
A Frank Response Part Two

Ben’s Epilogue

Frank’s Coda

(And Frank also edited his responses together in one handy-dandy PDF document, right here.)

Whew! Their exchange is friendly, and in Frank’s case fairly witty. Ben lets his guard down a little (especially in his Part Three), but in some ways makes Frank’s case for him. When BW3 talks about subordination in the Godhead, or how we might be ‘ontologically’ united with Christ but kinda not really, he comes across as…well, a cautious scholar to Frank’s animated prophet. Which I suppose is all well and good in the grand scheme of things, but makes me feel more clearly that Frank ‘wins’ this round if winning means venturing out and exploring fresh terrain.

There are some other posts in this latter mix that are worth reading:

Bill Heroman Part I II & III (I spent a good 4-5 years with Bill in a house church community)

Neil Carter: (Whom I also spent 4-5 slightly-different-but-overlapping years with in the same community.)

Reimagining Church
Reimagining the Trinity
Out on a Limb

With blogs, books, and – oh yes – more and more house churches being planted – it would seem that ‘house church’ has indeed reached prime time. My friends and my family continue to talk, with helpful interjections by scholar-teachers. We will all be the better for the exchange.

Coming in Some Subsequent Post (I cannot guarantee you when): The Future of ‘House Church’ – Where It’s Going (at least for me). In the meantime, enjoy the first chapter of Reimagining Church.

House Church: Ready for Prime Time? Frank Viola says ‘Yes!’

A decade ago, nearly to the month, I took my first plunge into the wild and untamed world of house churching – or, as it’s increasingly called today, ‘organic church.’ It took me over a year to fully trade in my sanctuary for a living room, but I was quite happy to leave doctrinal turf wars, membership classes, and monologue-style sermons behind. 10 years later, I’m more ambivalent. I still don’t miss theological in-fighting, bounded-set ‘in and out’ religion, and unreflective bible screeds, but I see a lot more that I appreciate and embrace across the ecclesiological spectrum. That said, I remain quite committed to organic church community as my community of practice – but specificity, for me, no longer equals exclusivity.

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That Was Then

10 years ago whenever I’d bring up ideas about open, participatory gatherings, clergy-less church, and taking the direct leadership of God in local fellowships seriously, people looked at me like I had a third eye growing out of my spleen, which was somehow visible through my T-shirt. Maybe it was just the small Southern town I grew up in, or perhaps the Baptist (Southern), Pentecostal (A/G), and Presbyterian (PCA) denominations I participated in just didn’t want to hear that the ordinary friend of Jesus has spiritual competency and drive. Me and the Quakers both, eh?

Friends & Family

2-3 years into my house church journey, I discovered the ‘emerging church conversation‘ before it was ever called that. (Back then it was postmodern Christianity, baby! Stranger Things Magazine, Next Wave, and The Ooze were the places to be. But then, I suppose the latter two still are, with some notable newcomers.) Finally, I thought. Some other Christians I could talk about this stuff with. And I was right. Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Anabaptist or anarchist, in the pomo xian conversation I found friends – which was just as important as finding family in house churching a few years prior. Family is vital for obvious reasons, but friends are crucial when you need to get out of the house and get some fresh air, you know? The problem was, I didn’t know how to introduce my friends to my family; my family’s great but they’re a little quirky, sometimes prone to navel-gazing and/or fundamentalist tendencies, what with the ‘let’s return to the first century church’ and all. And my friends are awesome but sometimes a bit pretentious, like they just pulled an all-nighter with a Thesaurus or something to impress their soy-latte drinking peers. So for the last 7 years or so, I’ve had Family and I’ve had Friends, but seldom the twain did meet.

Frankly Speaking

Enter my ‘family friend’ Frank Viola. I started reading Frank right at the beginning of my house church journey in 1998, my freshman year in college. He was and is one of the most prolific pens in house churchdom (though his relationship with ‘house church’ is as nuanced as Brian McLaren’s is with ’emergent church’). One year later, he crashed on a pallet beside me and three other guys on my parents living room floor! Our church was hosting a men’s conference in ’99 and I got to meet The Man Himself. He was younger and more Italian than I anticipated. And so it began.

Around 2005 Frank discovered what dawned on me in 2001; that these ’emerging church’ folks were valuable friends and conversation partners in discovering the life, meaning and mission of Jesus’ followers in the 21st century. He asked me what he should be reading more of, and who he should be talking to. I introduced him to some friends, and gave him some contacts with the e-zines. After digesting more of ‘the conversation,’ Frank penned an article that went viral, Will the Emerging Church Fully Emerge? Andrew Jones and many others weighed in. My own thoughts were ‘Finally! My friends and family having a first conversation.’ It was perhaps a bit too guns-a-blazin’ for an initial conversation, for my tastes, but at least Frank put all his cards on the table. (And Frank’d probably call me a sissy.) It’s been fun watching folks’ responses to ‘organic church’ praxis evolve over the years, from initial wariness to active engagement.

This Is Now

So these days Pagan Christianity? and Reimagining Church hold their own in faith-based best-seller lists alongside other house church-oriented books (that you may or may not have heard of) like The Shack. Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk himself, thinks that emerging church practitioners should take Frank and his ecclesiology seriously. RTS prof Steve Brown is pleasantly surprised by house church ideas. And Relevant’s newly-launched Neue Ministry discovers that house church folks really can care about the poor.

If you’re a house churcher or emerging churcher (or baffled onlooker), what do you think of this confluence of HC and EC?

Tomorrow (or thereabouts), I bring some attention to two of the most significant recent diaologues between house church folks and high church/liturgical folks – two segments of the church that I have enormous respect for.

Watch the Church Basement Road Show – Complete!

In late July my friend Micah and I went out to the Raleigh stop of the Church Basement Road Show at New Community Church, featuring Mark Scandrette, Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt. I wish I had blogged about it then, but I didn’t. But the saints at Disciples Fellowship in Birmingham have made their stop available in its entirety! I think everyone should watch this unconventional, fun, Christ-centered evening – especially some friends of mine who weren’t able to see it in person. 🙂

Church Basement Roadshow from Steve Knight on Vimeo. (Does anyone know how to embed Vimeo videos in WordPress? I’ve tried this a gazillion times and nada. Lemme know in the comments…)

When you’re done watching this, mosey over to Rethink Christianity, this great new site Jossey-Bass set up for readers and participants wrestling with the questions brought up by the Roadshow and its presenters.

Why Not Women? (Or, Why’s It Always Gotta Be White Guys?)

So a new configuration of Calvinist communicators has once again emerged, this one called The Gospel Coalition. As I looked at the sea of the half-dozen or so bigwig figureheads, I couldn’t help but think of all the other high-profile groups out there – Ligonier, Together For the Gospel, New Attitude, Desiring God, 9Marks etc etc etc, and how they’re all male and they’re virtually all white. So, through no fault of GC in particular, I wrote them a Comment today. I guess since I’m re-posting it here, this makes it an ‘open letter’ of sorts. Please know that I don’t think this is a uniquely Reformed malady, and this isn’t a swipe at their overall theology per se. (Though it is a swipe at their gendered practices – when it comes to women having full voice in the church I’m an egalitarian, as is fairly well-known) It’s just a plea for these folks to put more of their leading ladies up-front, in ways that are in accordance with their own theopraxis. I hope this starts some fruitful (and playful-yet-respectful) conversation.

Oh by the way, here’s GC spokes(ahem)man John Piper has to say to women in one of their officially-produced videos. It’s entitled What messsage do you have for women in the church?

Okay, and here’s my ‘open comment’ –

I know I’m picking on you, in particular, when I could be picking on scores of similar ministries – so my apologies in advance. But could you PLEASE have some women as figureheads and teachers on some of these?

I KNOW you all are into CBMW, and don’t think women should teach men. But this is the Internet – and there are lots of women on the Internet. So even within your theology/praxis, you should have some by-women, for-women teaching available, yes? I mean, you say women can teach women, right? So please – prove it!

Of course, I realize you might have some fear that a *man* might watch some of these videos, and inadvertently put themselves under a woman’s authority…but this should be the man’s sin to worry about and not yours or the teachers, right?

I apologize too for some of the snark…I really am being mostly serious here…it’s just hard for me to take much that groups like yours say with the exclusive white-male figurehead thing going on…

Thank you for listening.

Sincerely,

Mike Morrell

If they reply, I’ll post that here as well.

Update: Wow – I’ve never received so much feedback so quickly after posting. Keep your reflections coming! Of course, I have the feeling we’ll have someone(s) raining on our egalitarian parade soon; just probabilities. And that’s perfectly fine – let’s just keep it gracious.

And it’s also worth saying that I didn’t start this post to debate egalitarian vs. ‘complimentarian’ per se – though it’s something I feel very strongly about and one of the (very) few issues that make practical fellowship impossible for me – that is, being in a church gathering where women are effectively silenced. (Of course, it’s much easier to detect such a policy in my native habitat of house churches – in most more institutional churches, virtually everyone is silenced, irrespective of gender!) BUT, what I’m asking The Gospel Coalition is not to revisit their theology and men and women’s participation in spirituality/church/life (which they will not do anytime soon), but to consider featuring women in a more prominent role as teachers within their own parameters – that is, teaching fellow women, and (I guess) children – and making these resources as available online as the white menfolk. If you agree with me – be you a white male Reformed complimentarian or a hippie-dippie emergent transgender egalitarian – would you please tell them so too?


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  • Friend of Emergent Village

    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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