Posts Tagged 'House Church'

“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.

On Scatology and Compost

No, not eschatology, though many folks consider than an equally excremental topic. Rather, yesterday’s post Organic Church: Full of Crap? elicited a lot of lively feedback (thanks all!). One friend in particular emailed me off-blog  and wondered if perhaps I was carrying the metaphor of church history/our personal experiences-as-compost a bit too far; couldn’t saying that the ‘crap’ is valuable justify abuse, manipulation, or normalizing sub-standard experiences? It’s a good question. Here’s what I replied:

Great question. And if I was brutally honest about my own ‘organic church experience’ over its 10-year period, on a scale from Euphoric to $#!tty, I’d probably say it’s somewhere in the middle – and that I’d rather not spiritualize my experience of the latter.

Far be it from me to make the compost metaphor whitewash the $#!t and justify manipulation and groupthink. Rather, I think that this image of spiritual life can stand – on a personal/local level as well as a macro/historical level – as an ecosystem metaphor for even the best of times and the healthiest of institutions/movements. ‘Cause when you think about it, most people don’t pile steaming excrement on their home compost heaps. That’s just fertilizer – and that’s helpful too, but somewhat different. No, the compost heap in my parents’ backyard garden gets a regular supply of egg shells, carrot peelings, old lettuce, and other bits of organic matter that were (and are, strictly speaking) life-giving – just not at that moment for my parents. They were yesterday’s meals – yesterday’s manna, if you will. By sewing into the compost heap, they hope to reap some life-giving food down the line a bit. Even a psychologically-healthy, well-adjusted group will have old manna to put on the compost heap for tomorrow’s nourishment.

You’re right, too, that we don’t worship the decay – the compost heap isn’t = the life of the Spirit. Rather, it’s the fertile ground where the Spirit can do her work.

Organic Church: Full of Crap?

The Web has had been a-buzz with some conversation about my native church milieu, ‘organic’ church – aka house church or simple church. Folks meeting in homes, rather decentralized, certainly de-clericalized. Senior Christianity Today editor Mark Galli wishes organic churchers well, but is concerned that we might burn out on our lofty ideals.

What I worry about is the coming crash of organic church. And after that, I worry about the energetic men and women at the forefront of the movement. Will they become embittered and abandon the church, and maybe their God?

Some folks think this is over-dramatic – including Neil Cole, who responded to Galli’s editorial here. (Update: Frank Viola has responded too.) But others, like my friend Neil Carter, were writing about the death of idealism in organic church before they even read Galli’s piece. Carter finds himself looking at organic church on the outside after 10 years as an insider: Far from breathing the rarified air of ‘changing the world’ (as Cole suggests organic churches do) or ‘revolutionizing the history and practice of the church’ (as the house church stream Carter & I share proclaims as one of its goals), Carter is now churching with that most ubiquitous (and some would say, boring) of tribes: Southern Baptists. Reflecting on this, Carter writes:

It’s funny how you can age ten years in the space of just one, while at other times you can go ten years and hardly age a year. It’s a variable process, it turns out. It’s all about what you learn — what you experience in the space of a year. Having said that, I feel I’ve aged more years than I know how to count just in the last 12 months.

Specifically, he recounts a major compromise with his ideals in allowing some professional pastor dude baptize his youngest daughter – even though he baptized his first two daughters himself as part of his former house church community, in a swimming pool. He quotes a coupla Michael Caine flicks – “Obsession is a young man’s game” and “Idealism is youth’s final luxury.” Neil’s only about five years older than me, but he’s musing, as Blink-182 did a decade ago, “I guess this is growing up.”

Or is it?

Do-it-yourself New Testament scholar Bill Heroman – whom I also shared a living room with, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – thinks the organic church movement is full of crap – in a good way. “The challenge,” he says, “is sustainability.”

Human systems last a long time mainly by suppressing the human element that challenges established traditions, but that same human element also provides authenticity and vitality. Thus, the best way to survive for a long time is to be nearly dead. Nature, naturally, sustains itself quite differently. The work God needs to do within a local body of believers will always be messy, but Institutional Christendom keeps peons & yokels from participating precisely because they make messes. The shift is: who says messes are bad? Antiseptic works well for hospitals and elementary schools, but not in gardens or forests. After all, crap makes good fertilizer, and God is a gardener.

God is a gardener, and we – our individual lives, collective lives, our history and our institutions – are compost. Just like the Holy Spirit, Sarayu, in The Shack: She is unoffended by our messiness and our chaos. Indeed, it is beautiful to her.

So thanks, Bill, for stealing my metaphor. :)

Even so – I understand and respect my friends like Neil Carter, who find themselves outside of these more ‘ideal-laden’ patterns of doing and being church – whether by necessity or shifting sensibilities. It’s an internal tug-of-war, sometimes. Even though I’m far more interested in liturgical and traditional elements (from the ‘compost’ of our history) than I once was, I’m as opposed to clericalism as I’ve ever been. Even so, I’m not at all opposed to leadership – even strong leadership – as some in the organic stream are. Leadership is, it helps, and not everyone is gifted at it. That said, any leadership modeling itself remotely on that of Jesus or even Paul will be continuously giving power away – “You feed them!” “Try this!” and not seeking its own self-preservation. Because while we’re not all ‘leaders,’ we are all priests.

What does this look like, practically? These days I’m drawing inspiration from the 70-year-old Church of the Saviour cluster of churches in the D.C. area (read Inward Journey, Outward Journey by Elizabeth O’ Connor! Do it now!), as well as the 30-year-old St. Gregory of Nyssa congregation in San Francisco (do yourself a favor and pre-order Sara Miles’ new book Jesus Freak: Feeding/Healing/Raising the Dead). While these fellowships are older than the current ‘organic’ church nomenclature’s popular use – and they certainly have the trappings of Galli’s ‘smells and bells’ in significant ways – to me they embody composted communities; not experiments in puritan house-cleaning, but groups who are full-of-crap and they know it. It’s from this rich, loamy soil that they can sprout the Spirit’s life afresh in each generation.

Ministry without Hierarchy

Clericalism is a model of leadership that disempowers those who are led or served, and turns them into clients and dependents. This is opposed to ministry, in which one uses gifts and powers of leadership to empower others, to teach them, to draw out their capacities, so that one can enter into a relationship of mutuality. …

This understanding of ministry does not mean that there aren’t structures, or that certain people aren’t chosen to lead at times; it simply means that the mandate of leadership is to nurture the community into mutual ministry, rather than to disempower the community and make its people into dependents.

The attempt of basic Christian communities to overcome this clericalism is relevant to feminism because what disempowers women in ministry is clericalism, which is built on the patriarchal model of relationships. Women will always be disempowered in ministry as long as ministry is understood in terms of patriarchal clericalism.

The most critical focus for feminism in the church is precisely the liberation of the church itself from patriarchy. Women in the church cannot really rest with a clerical, patriarchal church. They must struggle to convert the church to an understanding of its mission, which will include the full promotion of the humanity of women. The church must come to recognize that patriarchy is fundamentally contrary to the gospel and that the liberation of humanity from patriarchy is in fact an intrinsic aspect of the mission of the church itself.

Rosemary Radford Ruether, via Sojourners

Where I’ve Been Online Post-Facebook…and Why

Soo…9 days without Facebook. What have I been doing with myself? Mowing the lawn, taking long walks outside, working on projects for work and school; I’ve also been revisiting the various social networks and micro-networks I’ve joined over the last several years…and I’ve joined a coupla more. Presented here, for my benefit and yours, are the places I’m connected to online – and why I’m on a particular network. This doesn’t count email discussion groups I’m part of; I suppose that’d be a whole ‘nother post!

General/Meta

Twitter – @zoecarnate

FriendFeed – FriendFeed is awesome; let’s hope Facebook buying them doesn’t screw it up.

LinkedIn – my business, my biz-nass.

LibraryThing – my library, cataloged. A super-fun social network for book geeks.

Myspace – because sometimes I’m nostalgic for 2003.

Plaxo – does anyone remember what Plaxo is for?

YouTube – my vids, vids, vids.

Futurist

ShapingTomorrow – a large global community; primarily devoted to environmental scanning and trend analysis

The New Futurists – a younger crop of futurists, centered primarily in the northeast United States.

Faith

TransFORM – there’s more than meets the eye here.

Christiarchy! – Christian anarchists and Anabaptists (is there a difference?)

Christian Mysticism & Contemplative Spirituality – what it says. Contemplate that.

Missional Tribe – this one had a strong start but I think WordPress infrastructure, while great for blogs, isn’t great for supporting social networks.

Recovering Evangelical – hee-hee.

Metro Atlanta Emergent Cohort – my once and future cohort.

The Hyphenateds:

Anglimergent – I’m not Episcopalian, but I’m inspired by ’em…especially St Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco.

Baptimergent – I’m not Baptist, but I used to be! And I’m inspired by New Community Church in Raleigh.

Cathlimergent – A brand new network started by my friend John Sylvest of ChristianNonduality

Emerging Leaders Network – aka Luthermergent. I’m not Lutheran, but…you see where this is going? Mad props to House For All in Denver.

The Common Root – formerly Submergent; an awesome group of Anabaptist-minded peeps.

QuakerQuaker – aka Convergent Friends.

House Church Homies

Simple Church

Organic Church Today

Healing Communities

Bleeding-Edge Creatives

Love Is Concrete – you can actually draw stuff in this network.

Wisefire – a great group of people.

iEvolve: Global Practice Community – Integral peeps.

Open or Closed Table Eucharist/Communion – WWJD?

Vaux EucharistThe sacred meal that Christians celebrate, variously called ‘Eucharist’ or ‘Communion’ or ‘Lord’s Supper’ – is both the centerpiece of most Christian worship worldwide, and one of the most painfully divisive rites we practice. My friend and Catholic Celtic contemplative (how much more alliteration can I pack into his descriptor – oh I know, his first name!) Carl McColman blogs about feeling this ambivalence firsthand in his post Communion and the Broken Body. What follows is a response to Carl, and the others who have interacted in the comments. I recommend you read Carl’s post before proceeding.

First off Carl, thank you for sharing this – I recall you and I discussing some of this the first time I came to the monastery with you and participated in the morning prayers and mass; the Christian community’s celebration of unity with God and each other is fragmented, broken much like Christ’s body on the altar, and this does indeed call for sadness.

But I also agree with Darrell and some of the other (you could call us ‘green meme’) commentators on this thread – that unlike other things the Church might mourn, such as the energy crisis or genocide in Darfur, this is a matter wholly of our own making and within our purview to change. In stages of grief, if grieving doesn’t lead to fresh beginnings and new action, the griever is stunted in her growth. So let’s move on.

How might we do this? Well, if Catholics want to appeal to tradition and authority, and Protestants want to appeal to conscience and Scripture, maybe we can all agree to hold these in abeyance while taking a moment to appeal to Jesus. (Ack – I realize upon typing this that it can sound awfully one-sidedly Protestant, even Pietist. Bear with me a moment…)

If I may be so presumptuous, I think Jesus agrees with your growing realization that there are legitimate boundaries to the community of faith – that there are mysteries to be stewarded, and hard roads to walk, and that while hospitality is a crucial part of our vocation as apprentices to him, there are also places where the general public simply won’t go – and this is fine. Inclusive green meme progressives like us struggle with this a bit, but Jesus deliberately thinned out the crowds from time to time – speaking in enigmatic parables, ratcheting up Moses’ law a thousand-fold to show the heart of God’s reign, and ultimately inviting followers to a challenging third way path between Roman hegemony and reactive Jewish intransigence. In this way Jesus brought a ‘sword,’ and families were divided over what to do about him and his message. So Jesus is exclusive, yes?

And I hardly need to argue in this esteemed audience that Jesus is inclusive, too. Maybe cranky and reluctant at times, but reaching out to Samaritan women and Roman centurions and – most significantly – to lowest-caste Jewish folks of his day that polite society and religious elites wouldn’t countenance. Jesus seems to genuinely enjoy the company of the outcast and ne’er-do-well.

And Jesus gave us a meal – sometimes somber, sometimes joyous, in re-membrance of him, embodying Christ for the sake of each other and the world. And the question we post-Christendom, postmodern friends of God in the way of Jesus are asking ourselves is,

How then shall we eat?

And with whom?

Recognizing that there are initiation rituals and boundary rituals in any religious group, we could then ask the question what are our boundary rituals, and what are our initiation rituals? And is Eucharist the former or the latter? I know that official Roman Catholic polity – and that of many other communions – say that Eucharist is the former, it’s a boundary ritual reinforcing membership in Christ’s Body.

Byzantine/Anglo-Catholic liturgist Richard Fabian makes a brief-but-compelling case for reversing the well-tread order of Baptism and Eucharist in his essay First the Table, Then the Font. I’m not going to reiterate his arguments here, but it’s well worth the read. Summarizing him from my point of view, I have to ask the question “How did Jesus eat with others in his earthly life? Were they initiation meals, or boundary-maintenance?” I have to conclude that, overwhelmingly, in his eating Jesus is precisely at his most inclusive. This is when he dines with terrorists and sex workers and tax collectors, whilst the religious authorities of his day were disgusted.

“But oh,” contemporary religious authorities might object, “his final meal this side of the grave – the one where I told his followers to keep eating in remembrance of him – that was just with his inner circle.” Granted, but let me ask you this: If Jesus was asking his followers to eat in his manner to celebrate his presence among them, would they be drawing solely on this one ‘final’ meal, or the collective memory of their years shared together? To put it another way: If the Church wants to insist on a closed, bounded-set meal based on one night of our Lord’s life, shouldn’t it work equally vigorously to celebrate the scandalously inclusive, no-strings-attached manner of eating our Redeemer practiced during the vast majority of his public ministry?

Religious thinking is so bass-ackward sometimes. We’re afraid of ourselves, and afraid of the ‘outside world.’ We think of boundaries as something that we need to institute and enforce, externally, while gratuitous inclusion is something that will result in our loss of distinction and identity. Jesus seemed to reverse this pattern, finding his identity in complete open-handed invitational inclusion at the site of the shared meal, with boundary naturally arising in his call to follow him. It’s good branding, really – being salt and light both attracts and repels different people, or even the same people at different times – even ourselves at different stages of life’s journey.

With this said, I realize that – both practically and intentionally speaking – Eucharistic celebration is primarily for the edification of committed apprentices of Jesus; it is not ‘evangelistic’ per se in its design. Even so, it is invitational when practiced in the way of Jesus. We needn’t be concerned that abject heathens are going to keep beating down our doors to participate in a ritual that they disrespect and that holds no meaning to them – it just ain’t happening, folks. On the other hand, atheists, agnostics, sinners and ne’er-do-wells might just be curious enough to participate alongside us – to see if they can belong before believing, to see if they can ‘taste and see that the Lord is good.’ I long to see creative, prophetic acts of public worship, like my friend Lucas Land proposes in Eucharist as Eat-In. If we unshackle Jesus from our exclusionary practices, the transforming love of God can spill into the streets and the ‘profane’ lives or ordinary people – through our supposed ‘means of grace’ that we keep shut up.

That’s what happened to another friend, Sara Miles, who stumbled into Fabian’s congregation over a decade ago. I loathe to think of where Sara, her city, and even her congregation would be had she not been allowed to encounter Jesus at a no-strings-attached Communion table in her neighborhood. I shudder to think of how Jesus is being shuttered up in buildings across this world – what we’re missing out on by not making liturgy the work of the people, for the people.

I’m sorry, Carl – I got into the very argument that you didn’t want to have. And I’m going to ratchet it up slightly here – I don’t think that Darrell was being overly unkind or by describing the closed-handed exclusivity of certain Eucharist practices as ‘demonic.’ This needn’t be seen in an overly polemic way, but rather in the spirit of the apostle Paul, when he wrote a church to say he was giving one of its members “over to the devil.” This wasn’t a curse, but a naming of things as they really are in hopes of full repentance and restoration. I can’t – and won’t – stand in judgment of denominations that fence the table from all who don’t have confessional unity with them. But I do sniff the smell of fear and sulphur around such behavior at an institutional level, at what Walter Wink would call “the Powers” (demonic again. 🙂 ) And I do pray that such power will be broken – for Christ’s sake, and the sake of the world.

If anyone wants to do some theological heavy-lifting on the matter, I’d recommend (in addition to Fabian’s essay above) Come to the Table by Anglican priest Jamie Howison – the full book is available here. Also Making A Meal of It: Rethinking the Lord’s Supper by United Methodist minister and theologian Ben Witherington III. And to be fair to another perspective (thanks Carl for pointing these resources out), Episcopal priest and Thomas W. Phillips Chair in Religious Studies professor at Bethany College in West Virginia Jim Farwell has staked a lot on a generous-but-boundary-keeping stance on limiting Communion to the baptized. His essay Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus: On the Practice of  ‘Open Communion,’ as well as its rejoinder by Kathryn Tanner can be found on the Anglican Theological Review website here. (Interestingly, for me anyway, I took a class with Farwell nearly a decade ago on Eastern Religion with a focus on Zen and interreligious dialogue at Berry. It’s a small Body of Christ…)

It’s also worth noting that, in true house church fashion, I think that the Eucharist is best celebrated as a full meal – why redact God’s feast into a notional meal only? But that’s a subject for a whole ‘nother post…

Is White Conservative America Afraid of Barack Obama?

Racist Obama Sign 1This is a blog post I hoped I’d never had to write. It’s a post about ACORN, Van Jones, Barack Obama, and culture of fear that is festering in our nation during an age of Glenn Beck. Those very ‘key words’ I just used will practically guarantee healthy post views and a long search-engine life for this post, but that doesn’t make me happy. Because I know that many of my friends – and probably even family members – will become a little more agitated with me, a little more distant as time wears on and views clash.

Where is the kid who was scored as the single most conservative member of his AP European History class in high school? Where’s the student that accompanied an elder of his PCA church to John Birch Society meetings? Where the guy who voted for Harry Browne in the 2000 elections?

Buried in the rubble of 9/11. Come of age in a Bush administration era. Watching the dream of Hope being crushed by fear-mongering word-of-mouth media marketers, and their circles of influence. And as a fellow nu-media marketing jockey, I’m pissed. This post isn’t going to score me any points with some of my ‘Christian’ friends, or certain corners of CBA publishing…or with my radical Anabaptist/anarchist I’m-too-cool-to-vote friends either, for that matter. Screw it.

Here goes…what follows is taken from my recent Facebook wall almost verbatim, but it’s mostly my side of the conversation, summarizing certain comment-ers, when appropriate.

First I post The GOP’s Blame-ACORN Game article from The Nation, showing how ACORN community organizers have long been against the predatory lending practices of the Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae types (who names these cabals, anyway? Sallie, Freddie, Fannie…it’s like Dick and Jane books on crack). What follows is some basically insightful back-and-forth commentary from folks of different points of view. But then someone says “The punchline is the same – the GOP has no stomach for Acorn, IAF, and other (Alinsky-style, people-powered) community organizing groups.” Racist Obama Sign 2

I think he’s right about the GOPs intolerance for rabble-rousing, truly populist movements. But I also agree with outrage expressed by many (on all sides of the aisle) about the human trafficking stuff – the Left (and all of us really – the Right too when it comes to gun-toting tea partyers and town hallers) need to realize that The People are messy – they can’t be boiled down an intrinsic, bucolic good. The People have issues, as do The Elite. God help us all…

That said, I continue to be 100% in support of community organizing, with the understanding that people need transformation and development as well as the lower functions on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. A conservative friend of mine chimes in and says,

I like to think of myself as a gun-toting, tea partying, town haller!

And I say “Well there you go. And many progressives fear you, fair or not. Just like I’d say many conservatives fear power-to-the-people educated urban poor. Two sides of the same coin, really.”

Someone sounded off on this, saying that s/he found it incredulous that anyone could find value in community organizing organizations like ACORN.

Well, as someone else commented, “My spouse is a Realtor and has seen ACORN offer legitimate and much needed help to low income people. They have provided an important service.” Many other grateful low-income families would agree.  Another friend of mine – who I’m guessing is fairly conservative-leaning politically – conceded that “ACORN is…a good organization with a worthy purpose and great success, but is now being brought down by the actions of a few corrupt, high-profile individuals who were put in positions of power that the should not have occupied.” Probably true. But the overriding concern here is that of media literacy: If the first you’re hearing of ACORN is from ticked-off media pundits blasting it, you’re probably not getting the full story. (And yes, I agree this means balancing my lefty news sources with your fascist ones! Tee-hee.)

Racist Obama Sign 3Then someone brought up this 1999 New York Times story about President Clinton lowering the financial ceiling for eligible home-buyers. What do we make of this? My thinking is that one could construe the desire to make lending easier for poorer families a decade ago as being borne out of a genuine desire to help more low-income folks get into homes – just as one could see the GOP moves toward massive de-regulation as an idealistic move in keeping with conservative principles of minimal government.

Of course, one could also see both of these with a jaundiced eye – Clinton’s move to help Sallie & Freddie share-holders and GOP moves to further line all of their pockets with de-regulated flow. We have choices in how we interpret the motives of others – and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Ah, but polemics never stay in the middle, do they? Some people jumped on board hurling epithets like

“Not all poor people deserve to be able to own a home because they are too irresponsible.”

“In this country, if you are poor there’s a good chance it is because you’re too lazy to work.”

“The actual number of people who are poor for some reason other than it being their own fault is very low.”

“These people need to learn some personal responsibility.”

…and other insults. (I’ve got one question for ya’s: Ever read any Barbara Ehrenreich??)

Soo, then I launch into some heated words of my own – like poor people just don’t deserve a break, eh? Only those who earn favor (or are born into favored conditions) should get opportunities – the rest are ‘lazy’? I guess the Gospel we espouse and the Jesus we worship doesn’t apply so much to the real world, huh? Racist Obama Sign 4

Look, I’m pro personal responsibility. I’m a small business owner who comes from a low-middle class (or high lower-class) family background and all that jazz. Who knows – maybe what I’ve done is that gravity-defying feat of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps! And I’m not naive: In being friends with homeless people for a couple of years now, I know that some have the aptitude to get off the streets and some just don’t – they’ve been acculturated into the streets. But does that mean we de-friend, and give up? The way these things about the poor are said, I’m sorry – it sounds like un-loving, callous disregard. When an organization is trying to lift people up by bringing a community together – I just don’t see how anyone can be categorically against that. I’ve long supported Christians (and others) involved in community organizing, and will continue to do so. Long live the CCDA!

And when I say “I just don’t see how anyone can be categorically against that” – I’m not trying to set up a rosy, pollyanna-ish caricature of ACORN or any other group. I think we’ve established that community organizers are people just like everyone else, and subject to the same foibles as the rest of us. I’m not nearly as convinced about ACORN’s voter fraud as I am that Bush stole the 2000 election via Florida and 2004‘s via Ohio, but I am sickened that anyone – poor or rich, liberal or conservative, black or white – would have hypothetically helped a pimp set up a brothel slavery ring for underage girls. This bears a thorough-going investigation and house-cleaning. But this isn’t where you’re coming from at all – you seem to be saying that community organizers are by definition lazy-enablers. I know too many organizers to know that this is simply not the case.

What’s particularly painful for me is the broken fellowship and lost friendships that are hemorrhaging over all these issues. I think about how politically lock-step I would have been with all of this political-rhetorical haze even 10 years ago, with my Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal/charismatic, and house church sisters and brothers. Though the differences between these sects are many, politically their conservative/Evangelical variants are virtually indistinguishable. (There are many in all of these streams who are politically heterogeneous, but they often suffer in silence as their viewpoints are ridiculed – either from the pulpit or around the living room.) I guess I’m coming from such a different place these days. I’ve said (repeatedly) that ACORN itself should be held accountable for anything that’s substantiated that it’s done, but this needn’t tar all community organizing organizations with the same brush – nor should it stain the reputation of the vast majority of ACORN workers. I think the reason why Beck, et. al’s, hysteria is so ‘believable’ to many is white fear, plain and simple.

(Van Jones Let’s not get started on the Van Jones lynching! I’ve been a fan of Jones for years – we were even wanting to book him for a Christian festival I help organize (there’s that word again!), Soularize, but we couldn’t host it this year due to funding. No honest reading of his excellent book, The Green Collar Economy, could possibly support the claim that Jones is a communist – he’s quite capitalistic, but not in a naive way that gives big business carte blanche do do what they want without factoring in social and ecological costs. If you’re willing to consider another take on Jones, there are other perspectives. And for a clear-headed, factual refutation of Glenn Beck’s deliberate ratings-and-power-inducing spin job, you must read this article and this one.)

But what do I mean by ‘white fear’? I mean what Jimmy Carter meant when he said

“I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man,” Carter said. “I live in the South, and I’ve seen the South come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that share the South’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans.”

Carter continued, “And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.”

Racist Obama Sign 7I think that many of my fellow caucasian peeps are afraid of nonwhite people in power. Whether that’s the distributed power of communities organizing for better conditions, Latino workers’ unions, or a person of color occupying the highest office in the land – it’s terrifying many conservative whites.

Some balked at this assertion- was I calling them the dreaded ‘R-word’ – racist?

Not necessarily. I don’t know most people well enough to make such an assertion. I tend to believe that most people aren’t overt racists – not consciously, anyway. And that’s not a back-handed slam: I’ve been in a relationship with a black woman (now married) for over 12 years. Until I was dating her for a couple of years, I had no idea how unconsciously racist I was in so many tiny but cumulatively world-shaping ways.

But let me ask you something: Where were all the spontaneous white/conservative uprisings from 2008-2008. GW Bush, to use an epithet presently applied to Carter, was a complete idiot politically. And yet he surrounded himself with people (like Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld) who weren’t idiots at all – they were ideologues in service to a neoconservative agenda exemplified by the Project for a New American Century, which has as its stated aim to extend a new American imperialism over the entire planet. (Not very conservative if you ask me – hence the ‘neo’ I guess). So we get into a little war that ends the lives of over 100,000 women, children, men and soldiers, and costs $3 TRILLION dollars – money we didn’t and don’t have. Based on half-@$$ed ‘intelligence.’ Let me ask you this: Why was it only the hippie peacenik liberals who marched against the war efforts in 2002-2003? Where were the tea-baggers, and town-hallers then? Heck, where were they when Bush himself, in the waning days of his presidency, authorized the first bailouts?

Nowhere, that’s where.

Racist Obama Sign 5Barack Obama has been president for less than nine months. He inherited, by any sane estimate, a $#!tload of problems from the previous decade. And yet right out of the gates folks are foaming at the mouth to bring him and his associates (and any perceived associates) down, and for what? Trying to fix the economic situation (my conservative friends and I agree on this – I don’t think Wall Street should be bailed out. I’m with this economist David Korten. But tell that to Big Business, the ultimate expression of Late Capitalism – they’re sure as hell not complaining), and trying to provide affordable and effective health insurance to everyone? I can understand political disagreement (and intelligent dissent), but bringing weapons to town halls, holding up signs with Obama’s face and horrible racist screeds?

I’ll ask again: Where was all this anger, vitriol, hysteria and fear these past 8 years? Why is (yes, I’ll name it) conservative, white America literally up in arms now when it was pacified as a contented mewling lamb during the Bush years? Why was W tolerable, even laudable, whilst O is Obaminable?

I’m helping raise an interracial family in a multiethnic neighborhood, so it doesn’t please me to ‘play the race card.’ It doesn’t make me happy to consider the possibility that this current state of affairs is fueled by racial fears and tensions, because to acknowledge such a potential pits neighbor against neighbor in my community – the ideas involved pit my little girl’s own blended genetics against herself. I don’t toss ‘white fear’ out there lightly. Racist Obama Sign 6

But let’s compare the previous eight years with the past nine months, shall we? Did each administration…

  • Take polarizing stances on social issues? Check.
  • Increase the size and power of the Federal government? Check.
  • Earmark lots of money for an initiative unpopular with a sizeable chunk of America? Check.

So: What’s the difference between GWB & BHO that has made these very different spiritual climates to live in? I have to say, the color of our Leader-in-Chief’s skin – with all the historical, cultural, and power-related pain this entails – is the most glaring difference.

This reality isn’t up for debate in my mind when I look at the barely-contained rage of so many indignant whites. My question is: What are people of faith, hope, and love to do given this reality? Are friends and followers of Jesus – and people of goodwill everywhere – going to turn a blind eye to this steadily-creeping phenomenon, much like Europe did toward Jewish people in the 1920s and 30s? Or are we going to confront this head-on, name it with love but resolve, and seek to diffuse these tensions by polemic-free debate that focuses on policy and not identity politics, and that throws parties rather than keeping locked up behind barred doors and picket fences? Me and my house, we choose the latter – God help us.

Devotion, Ethics, & the Tree of Life

treeoflifeiiIn a few days I’ll be speaking at the Transmillennial 2009 conference in Little Rock. I’ll be sharing on The Incredible, Edible God: You Are What You Eat. (or, How Faith & Food go together like Peas & Carrots) – Love feasts! Home gardening! Farmers’ markets! The Tree of Life! What on heaven & earth do all these things have in common? Join Mike Morrell in an interactive conversation on spirituality, hospitality,  culinary pleasure and the coming deep economy.

The Tree of Life has always fascinated me – as a symbol, and icon, a pointer to a deeper reality of divine fellowship and a new way to live. When I heard that Frank Viola was doing a mega-blog-circuit for his latest (and quite possibly greatest) From Eternity to Here today, I just had to ask him about his take on the Tree of Life, which he discusses in Chapter 19, God’s Building Site.

Here’s the interview:

1.) Can you give us a practical example of what it might mean for an individual or fellowship to partake of Christ? Is this a way of describing all spiritual activity a person or church does (ie, worship, prayer, thanksgiving), or do you mean something more particular?

Worship through song, prayer, and any other “spiritual disciplines” or activities can certainly be the vehicle through which a person partakes of Christ. However, an individual can do all of those things without partaking of Him. So it depends on whether or not their inner being is engaged and they are connecting with the Lord through it. For example, in Ephesians 5, Paul exhorts the Asian believers to be filled with the Spirit by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Now, one can sing a song and their heart (mind, will, emotions, and conscience) not be engaged at all. In such cases, there will be no “filling.” Or they can sing the same song and be turning to Christ and receiving from the Lord’s Spirit through it, i.e., eating and drinking of His life. It’s the same with reading Scripture. One can read the Scripture in such a way wherein there’s no spiritual transaction at all. Or they can read it as a means of spiritual communion with the living Christ. That said, I think of various spiritual activities simply as utensils. But those utensils are designed to carry food into one’s body. It’s possible to put an empty fork or spoon into one’s mouth. We wouldn’t call that eating.

2.) You outline the superiority of living by eating from the Tree of Life rather than the Tree of Knowledge; you rightly point out that, biblically speaking, the Tree of Knowledge contains knowledge of good as well as knowledge of evil and that the only one who is innate Goodness is the Father. Can you share with us an example of an individual or fellowship who was partaking of the Tree of Life in a way that might have appeared ‘evil’ in the short term but was later vindicated as the highest Good (or Life) in the long-term? I’d love to hear a story from history or your personal experience.

I’m not sure if I can think of a case in my own life where something I did was considered “evil” in the eyes of others, yet I felt it was the Lord. Perhaps writing the book Pagan Christianity falls into that category 😉

Nonetheless, I can think of many cases where a certain action wasn’t understood or thought to have been wrong by others and the Lord’s vindication came later. (At the same time, I can think of times where I completely mistook what the Lord was putting on my heart and interpreted it wrong. Or where I expected Him to do something, and He didn’t.)

I’ll just share one case that comes close to what you’re asking. Once an individual came into our fellowship. For purposes of clarity, we’ll call this person “Pat.” Pat was frustrated because they felt I wasn’t spending enough time with them. Pat then began to sow seeds of discord between myself and a friend of mine. It got so bad that Pat and my friend visited me unannounced and began to rebuke me for all sorts of vague things that Pat had “sensed.” I didn’t say a word. The silence was deafening. I was then rebuked for being silent and not responding to the charges. In a private conversation with my friend sometime afterwards, my friend pressed me about what I really thought of Pat. Feeling forced to give an answer, I said that Pat was not being honest with us about who they were. I perceived that Pat came into our lives under false pretenses and was sowing seeds of discord. My friend defended Pat and asked for concrete evidence. I had none. I just perceived it, and I was certain enough to say it. Not long afterwards, it came out to everyone that Pat had lied about who they were and where they had come from. The story shocked everyone who knew Pat because the details weren’t pretty at all. As soon as we all found out, Pat disappeared.

As to your specific question about something appearing “evil,” some would offer Bonheoffer’s decision to support the plot to kill Hitler as a case in point. Bonheoffer felt it was God who led him to do this, even though he was seriously conflicted over God’s will in doing it.

So there you have it! What do you think, dear readers?

Mine is just one of 50+ blogs asking Frank questions and reviewing his CBA-bestselling From Eternity to Here today. Find out more about the book & join the Facebook group here; see a full list of the blogging participants after the jump.

PS: Do you Twitter? Let’s follow each other! I’m @zoecarnate

Continue reading ‘Devotion, Ethics, & the Tree of Life’

The Future of This Blog: Where ‘Confessions’ Are Going

VulnerabilityHappy Monday! Thus begins my more intensive season of blogging on the fourfold themes of True Confessions, Whole-Health Journey, Book Revue & Freebies, and The Future. Today I want to preview a little bit of where Confessions will be going.

Childhood.

Yep, I plan to begin at the beginning, from my days as a precocious homeschooled geek; my formative years of Baptist and Pentecostal spiritual upbringing and my wonderful-yet-madcap family life. And the beginning of my love affair with comic books.

Teen Years

My transition from being homeschooled to public high school, and my transition from the Assemblies of God to PCA Presbyterianism was a time of identity-searching, metamorphosis, insecurity, childhood bad habits blossoming, my love of polemics, church power plays, and the beginnings of my self-identified sense of being a compiler, peace-maker, and spiritual synthesizer. Oh yes – and the first time my being ‘in love’ isn’t unrequited.

College Years

My immersion into small-town private liberal arts college with all its peculiarities; the discovery, in the same year, of both ‘house church’ and the Internet’s vast potential; the first rays of individuation; college romance (or the lack thereof); and the full genesis of my pathologies.

Early Adulthood

Bookstore retail! Epistemological doubt! Panic attacks! Marriage and madness! And the continuing development of my own, personal Jesus.

Approaching 30

Married with child, quixotic businessman, beautiful and failed attempts at community life, and my continuing descent into insanity. (Sense a theme here..?)

So in general, I plan to sketch my life – at times overviewing, at other times detailing (with Actual Written Artifacts from these different eras), my days – looking at some broad themes of humor, spiritual exuberance, and love; as well as the shadow-side of specific (and at first relatively minor) phobias mutating into full-blown anxiety issues, along with how I’ve dealt with them (or not). Laying myself out there like this – and how my spirituality, theology, and community praxis have transmorgified throughout this process – who no doubt open me up to a lot of criticism from drive-by third-party observers, heresy-hunters, and armchair psychologists. I am prepared for this. On the other hand, I am even more prepared for (and wide open to) the experiences and ideas of the vast majority of my readers, who have proven to be nothing less than kind, generous and surprisingly insightful over the years.

The journey will begin tomorrow, with a very contemporary conversation among three very different friends.

Denominations & Ordination: A Crock of Baloney?

Priest Collars 1Tony Jones has been shocking the ministerial and denominational blogosphere this week by suggesting that our contemporary denominational ordination systems are sinful and obstruct the flow of the Spirit’s activity in our time.

His entire series on this is worth reading:

Let’s Ordain Adam

Reconsider Ordination. Now.

Reconsider Ordination. Now. (Continued)

My (Anti-) Ordination Sermon

Ordination: Housekeeping

Is There Ordination in the Didache?

I have some thoughts on this as you might imagine. Here’s a lightly-edited version of what I commented on Tony’s blog during the series…

Thanks for having the guts to have this conversation, Tony. As I think you know, for the past decade I’ve been part of a stream of house churches where we emphatically believe (and on our better days practice) ‘the priesthood of every believer.’ This means that we all have the dignity, worth, responsibility and empowerment to be ministers of reconciliation, demonstrating God’s shalom here on terra firma. It also means, practically speaking, that we’re all expected to share in our gatherings, at least occasionally and hopefully more. Not like a bacchanalian Pentecostal service gone awry (though that can be fun too), but like preparing something or being open to share – you know, a psalm, hymn, a spiritual song; or perhaps a teaching, prophecy, or exhortation. : )

That said, for the past two or three years, I’ve been increasingly influenced by mainline and Catholic spirituality – liturgy, mystical theology, and commitments to justice in particular. And, like these churches would be quick to tell you, you can’t just cherry-pick the ‘spirituality’ and theology you like from them while discounting the ecclesiology it’s been shaped by and comes wrapped in. So, I haven’t. Though I remain opposed to an ordained caste of Christians that stands over and above the mere ‘laity’ (yep, I’m also an egalitarian when it comes to gender issues and I think the mutual-subordination model of the Trinity articulated by the Cappadocian mothers & fathers, and by the author of The Shack, makes good sense), I respect the coherence & elegance of the liturgy and the priesthood that’s evolved to support it.

Here’s where an ’emergence’ orientation has personally helped me, Tony: A decade ago, I would have had to keep on embracing house churching and slam mainline & Catholic spirituality; alternately, I could have ‘converted’ to (say) the Episcopal Church and recanted my house church ‘heresy.’ Now, I can transcend & include. I can embrace a both/and perspective on this.

My both/and happens to be what you all practice at Solomon’s Porch. I first encountered the idea from a friend of mine (I’ll protect his identity) who’s a progressive catholic type who’s flirted with the idea of being ordained as a priest in the Celtic Catholic Church, an independent Catholic church in the ‘ol apostolic succession. If he pursued this path, he told me, he’d pursue becoming a bishop. Once a bishop, he’d have the official authority to ordain anyone he wished – thus, he’d ordain any baptized Christian who understood the glory and duty of being a priest on earth.

I like this approach. I think that one way mainline churches can infuse new life into them would be take this subversive and experimental approach – perhaps with a few test dioceses at first, since I’m sure it would be scary. But take the Episcopalians for instance, who wish to be the best of Catholics meet Protestants. Why not take the pomp & circumstance (what Bono called the ‘glam rock of the church’) of formal priesthood and make it available even to the plebs? I know institutions rarely undertake prophetic acts, but it seems like a Jesus thing to do. And way sexier than what we dour-faced house churchers do, poo-poohing the whole ordination ‘thang.’ Priest Collars 2

This need not be overly disruptive to the highest ideals of ordination. It could draw from the best of the 2nd-5th century cathecumen process, where becoming baptized happened after much study, prayer, and service, carrying with it great weight and dignity. Make the ordinations gift-specific if need be, and certainly be clear that ordination doesn’t mean you’ll be making a full-time living or drawing a full-time paycheck from this vocation. For an era, I imagine there will still be full-time priests in this setting, but perhaps their role could evolve to being coordinators of church full of priests. After awhile, inspiration or necessity might give birth to an all-volunteer driven church, volunteers who nonetheless are completely serious about their great & glorious vocation.

[After sharing this, there were some other comments. Here’s my response…]

Thank you for your thoughts & experience sharing, Rev. Joey.

“If everyone is “set apart,” for ministry then no one is set apart.”

Well, isn’t church ‘eclessia,’ that is called-out ones? It seems that everyone is set apart for something.

“I don’t think that Tony’s comments point us to “no ordinations.”

Me neither.

“But I also have a hard time reconciling ordaining everyone to be the leader.”

Hmm. I suppose if everyone tried to be the leader at the same time, in the same space, and in the same way, one might have confusion like there was in Corinth circa century one. But if we see a diversity of ways leadership can function and is manifested, I think it makes sense to refer to a church of leaders (which isn’t the same thing as saying a church of pastors or church of elders – though I would also assume that both of these can and perhaps should be plural in a healthy gathering; ie, more than one).

Wow. Let me just say it feels weird discussing church polity like this in an ’emerging’ context. It brings me back to house church vs. conservative Calvinist debates I was having on email listservs 11 years ago! In that spirit, I’ll close with a quotation from Holy Writ:

“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 2:15-16, echoing Exodus 19:6, “You will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.’ These are the words you must speak to the Israelites.”)

These texts in their context might not mean everything I want ’em to mean, but they’ve gotta mean something.

[Someone then told Tony that if he’s decrying a corrupt denominational system paying minister, then he needs to stop writing books for a corrupt publishing industry. Naturally, I took great umbrage. 🙂  Here’s my reply…]

The difference between regularly-paid ministry/denominational apparati and Christian publishing is significant: If Tony’s a compelling writer, people will buy his books and in effect choose to be ministered unto by him on a per-book basis. Any monetary compensation he receives from this is per book sold, unless he & the publisher negotiate an advance royalty – which still isn’t the same as a salary with benefits. A paid denominational minister, on the other hand, can and often does coast for years on mediocre material at best, continuing to draw salary and benefits. Even when local congregations oust the so-so minister, they can go from church to church and build a career out of it. I’m not suggesting that most have this outlook; I am suggesting, though, that publishing is way more merit-based than most bureaucratic ministry. Two mediocre books and you’re finished in publishing – if that. Bureaucratic ministry procedures hurt the ‘clergy’ as well as the ‘laity;’ the whoredom of Christian publishing produces Christian best-sellers, which are their own form of calumny. But that’s another conversation…

And I’ll admit, people had some great pushback to my publishing-as-meritocracy comment. The posts are well-worth reading.

Thanks again, Tony, for these provocations!


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