Posts Tagged 'Quaker'

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

Brian McLaren: ‘I enthusiastically affirm the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. I’m a wholehearted Trinitarian.’

I mentioned recently that Brian has taken all kinds of heat from certain corners of the blogosphere for putting fingers to keypad on A New Kind of Christianity. This trend, sadly, has continued, with Calvinist blogger Tim Challies ranting “It’s as if McLaren is screaming “I hate God!” at the top of his lungs” and then going into scary 1984 allusions, Dr Mike Wittmer finally comes clean in opining the Brian isn’t even a Christian (something sounding more and more like a compliment every day on the ‘Christian’ blogosphere), and Some Guy (I don’t mean to be rude, but in interacting with this fellow for about a month, I still have no idea who he is behind the pseudonym) feels that Lucifer is being cheated by Brian being called ‘a son of Lucifer.’

Ah, Christians. Can you feel the love? Beyond the acerbic words, the latest route of attack on A New Kind of Christianity seems to be: Who does Brian say that Jesus is?

Is his careful language regarding the Christ-like God who is a nonviolent Liberating King masking an evil liberal agenda? Is having certain friends in scholarly circles who don’t believe in Jesus’ literal resurrection tantamount to Brian denying the same? Can Brian, with a straight face, affirm historic consensus Christian understandings of Jesus’ ontological identity? Well apparently, yes he can. Indeed he’s taken the time to respond to critiques – from everything to ‘Brian’s shamelessly pimping himself and shutting down disagreement with his fundamentalism quiz’ to ‘Brian denies Jesus’ divinity’ – with a ton of grace and class. You should read these three posts in their entirety:

A New Kind of Christianity: response to Morrell and McKnight

A new Kind of Christianity: cont’d

A New Kind of Christianity: cont’d 2

Some money quotes:

My paraphrase of Seth Godin didn’t capture the real point he was trying to make very well at all, and Seth’s point itself could probably have been nuanced and adapted with good effect rather than passing it on as-is.

When I passed on the video clip, I was thinking of issues like these:
– When questions arose in Copernicus’s and Galileo’s time about the structure of the universe …
– When Foulke, Leidy, Owen, and others raised questions in the 19th century about fossils, dinosaurs, and the age of the earth …
– When Lamarcke, Wallace, and Darwin raised questions on the evolution of living organisms …

Most of us, myself included, would have reacted as many of our ancestors did: to reject and mock those who dared question what “everyone” already “knew” to be the case. Thank God for those whose curiosity was strong enough to ask, “What if?”

Certainly, as Scot says, almost anyone’s first response would be to ask how these ideas would sit with their faith community. Scientists would do the same thing as people of faith, I think: comparing what is proposed with what is already believed to be true among their peers. So probably the issue isn’t what one’s first thought is, as I (and Seth) suggested, but instead whether one stops there and refuses to give a new idea a second thought…. [Even] so – thanks to all who critiqued my little quiz. You were right, I was wrong, and I appreciate your good insights.

When Bill Kinnon quite pointedly asks, “Who do you say Jesus is, Brian?” Brian responds:

Who do I say Jesus is? In answering that question, I would go exactly to the passages you did: Peter’s confession of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi (I wrote about this at some length in EMC), Paul’s beautiful hymns in Colossians and Philippians, and John 14:9. So yes, I enthusiastically affirm the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. Yes, I’m a wholehearted Trinitarian.

…and, he agrees with his friend Tom over his friend Marcus on Jesus’ resurrection.

Finally, in speaking of an email he received from an appreciative college student, Brian says

I should add that when this writer is talking about “cheap shots in the blogosphere,” he shouldn’t be interpreted to be saying that there’s anything wrong with vigorous disagreement or critique. Vigorous but respectful disagreement has more in common with vigorous and respectful agreement than it does with cheap shots, I think. But having said that, I understand that it’s impossible to do anything about the cheap shots, so it’s probably not even worthwhile to complain about them. Better to just move forward and focus humbly and prayerfully on constructive disagreement and agreement, in pursuit of God’s truth and goodness.

I agree; the problem is, I haven’t seen much ‘vigorous disagreement’ unaccompanied by cheap shots (thankfully, there has been some commentary done in a very constructive and reconciling tone – it’s like a breath of fresh air). I really want to see some principled push-backs, as I think – this might come as a shock for anyone who might be reading me as a McLaren sycophant – ANKoC deserves a thorough-going critical discussion, and perhaps (gasp!) deconstruction. F’r instance:

Jack Caputo says ‘We deconstruct what we love.’ Brian’s taken the time to deconstruct conventional (and we’ve gotta be honest, patently harmful) constructions of systematic theology, ‘the fall,’ redemption, Jesus’ raison d’être, sexual discourse, eschatology, ecclesiology and more because he loves God, Jesus, and the Church – as well as the stranger, the outsider, and our fragile, in-peril political and ecological systems. So if we love Brian, and if we love conversations, let’s take him at his word when he says

The responses I offer are not intended as a smash in tennis, delivered forcefully with a lot of topspin, in an effort to win the game and create a loser. Rather, they are offered as a gentle serve or lob; their primary goal is to start the interplay, to get things rolling, to invite your reply. Remember, our goal is not debate and division yielding hate or a new state, but rather questioning that leads to conversation and friendship on the new quest.

If we agree with Brian, fine. Let’s agree with him where we can. But if we disagree with Brian, let’s do that too – with vigor, but thoroughly seasoned with grace. Because – as we all agree – there’s a lot at stake with how we live lives of faith, hope, and love in the 21st century.

With this in mind, this week marks the start of the Brian McLaren Channel on TheOOZE.tv, wherein Brian and Spencer Burke discuss each of the ten questions raised in the book. I hope that if you feel passionately about these questions (in whatever direction), you’ll take advantage of the sweepstakes we’re running right now – you can win a live, Skyped-in group discussion with Brian.

(Discussion questions here.)

Ah – and a couple of audio interactions with Brian & ANKoC:

State of Belief

Jay Bakker

On the McLaren Nay-sayers

Update: Read Brian’s own responses to these criticisms, as well as his affirmations of creedal orthodoxy & Trinitarian conviction.

It’s a new year; A New Kind of Christianity is out. I highly recommend it; it’s a fantastically thought-provoking book. Not everyone would agree, though – which is perfectly fine. Iron sharpening iron and all that. But it’s not just content-disagreement; it’s becoming increasingly fashionable to bash Brian McLaren these days. This has been the case for years actually in certain quarters, but in the last few months it’s become common for folks who might’be happily displayed a ‘Friend of Emergent’ badge on their blog a couple of years ago – folks for whom Emergent has become either too ‘establishment’ or (more common) too ‘liberal.’ I deliberately haven’t posted at all on the latest spate of ‘breaking up with emergent’ posts here because, frankly, they depress the hell out of me. But you can find a roundup of the points and counter-points here on my Delicious bookmarks. At the end of the day, I think some valid critiques have been raised, for sure, but the overall tenor of dismissal is rather debilitating, to be honest. I can’t summarize it any better than Brother Maynard has here:

The other notable point is a set of changes in what the emerging church is, how it’s defined, who’s a part of it, who still uses the term, and a plethora of other notes. Being the end of a decade, people are also tending to look farther back and farther ahead as well. On this topic, I’m saddened that within the emerging church, people who shared a pulpit at the beginning of the decade won’t share more than the time of day at the end of the decade. Though some of them will spend some time in criticism. You know who you are.

Thankfully I’ve never been through a divorce – as a child or a husband. But my parents did fight alot during one particularly painful season, and this feels identical to me. This isn’t like those big, national ‘pajamas media’ brawls writ large, some Perez Hilton vs. Matt Drudge kind’ve affair. This is like family fighting family, civil war type stuff. It saddens me, it sickens me, it raises my blood pressure and makes me go out and ROM.

So: Bringing this back to Brian. I suppose it’s inevitable that, when you’re deemed the ‘Papa’ of something as amorphous and volatile as the emergent movement, eventually your spiritual children are going to have daddy issues and take out their frustrations on dear ‘ol dad. On the other hand, some of the loudest friends-turned-critics seem to be older men of his own generation, so maybe ‘sibling rivalry’ would be closer to the truth. Nonetheless, I sense a growing sense of more-orthodox-than-thou former emergers who are reacting to what they’re deeming hyper-modernity and/or heresy and/or cheap marketing ploys.

Let’s go with this last one – Scot McKnight says that Brian’s two-question ‘Are You A Fundamentalist?’ quiz shuts down the conversation before it begins; Bill Kinnon says this quiz is fundamentalist of Brian himself, and – if jacket copy can believed – means that Brian’s setting himself up to be a deity.

Excuse me? Are we talking about the same man here? Let’s see if we can find another way to narrate this – one more in line with Philippians 4:8 and 1 Corinthians 13 – you know, believing all things, hoping all things, focusing on what’s pure, righteous, of good report, et cetera.

Brian, for all his lack of formal theological education, is a deep thinker and natural teacher. He reads and travels widely, combining the insights of theology, spirituality, sociology, anthropology, futures work, and the like – synthesizing it in a way that some still find too wordy, but is nonetheless light-years easier to read than his primary source material. Beyond being a bright guy, he’s an empathetic soul – he listens deeply to folks in Africa and Latin America and the Middle East who don’t have a voice, as well as marginalized people within our own borders (LGBT folks, Muslims, etc…). He often speaks for them to religious and political power. The religious power structures in particular don’t like it because while the name of Jesus is upon his lips, they’ve convinced he’s getting Jesus’ Gospel wrong. And so the mud-slinging begins.

I am not saying, as some have recently suggested, that anyone who disagrees with Brian about the aforementioned areas of theology, spirituality, politics, etc., is automatically a mud-slinger; what I am saying is a sizable number of critics are indeed engaging in mud-slinging behavior. Brian has for years endured the worst kinds of insults – to his face and in print, even directed toward his own family, because he dare question the status quo. And being an empathetic man, he takes critiques seriously, even as he’s consistently death with such withering slander with Christ-like character (as Frank Viola notes). I am not linking the recent blog-critiques with the following extreme examples, but imagine for a moment that someone – indeed many someones – are calling you these things:

A true son of Lucifer

A Satanic author

A f*cking idiot

…and I’m deliberately leaving some of the worst ones out.

Now, imagine you’ve been hearing people say stuff like that to you for years, and you have a new book coming out where you’ll be speaking plainer than ever, shooting straight from the hip, real John 16:25 type stuff. And so you want to give your potential readers a fair warning: If you don’t approach theology and spirituality with a certain playfulness, a certain curiosity, a certain winsomeness – then my newest book might not be for you!

I think that’s fair enough. It need not be read as trying to shut down conversation, bur rather that the conversation itself is wising up, maturing. Perhaps some of us emergers, in our late 1990s youth, said “We can change the world through conversation! Come one, come all!” And that worked for us, for a few years. But starting around early 2005 or so, folks who weren’t conversing with curiosity, open-endedness, et al, began strong-arming themselves in and crying “Fire!” And emergentno.com and other sites were born, making decrying such conversations a full-time gig. From my vantage point, Brian is now doing what many wish Obama would do: Grow a pair and say “You know, my message isn’t for everybody. I’ve been very diplomatic for years, but that hasn’t gotten me very far with those who continue to loathe me and my message. So now I’m going to speak plainly to those who like these kinds of conversations, which can still be all kinds of people. Except for those who, by general disposition, are inclined to (yes) ask “Is it acceptable to my religious/ideological community or belief system?” before they ask “Is it possibly true, valuable, and worth exploring?”

Folks who fit into the first category should have their wishes to remain fundamentalists respected. And we need to realize there are siblings in Christ who proudly self-identify as fundamentalists. God bless them and their understandings of Christ’s work in the world – I mean this sincerely.

Brians’ quiz – which I think he meant tongue-in-cheek, by the way – is only a fair warning, doubly fair when including the context of Seth Godin’s short film on fundamentalism (which Scot sadly omitted from his initial posting on the quiz – intentionally or not). And if I understand how this all unfolded correctly, Brian’s idea for the quiz was suggested by Mike Todd’s posting on Seth’s fundamentalism clip, where Mike poses the million-dollar question:

When it comes to matters of faith, do we embrace questions in order to grow and learn, or do we first screen them through our rigid, existing lens in order to eliminate the ones that don’t fit our concrete, bounded structure?

This question is not meant to piss on orthodoxy(ies), or the wisdom of our spiritual forbears. But it’s about remaining open to the Light and leading of the Holy Spirit’s forward-pull into our future, which many of us see as the fullness of New Covenant living in God’s ecology. We can’t pass through this gate of insight without our curiosity and winsomeness intact and functioning healthily.

I understand the critique that Brian is generous to all orthodoxies but the one he comes from – evangelicalism and fundamentalist Christianity. He’s naturally the most trepidations of what he himself has lived through, and he’s naturally the most gracious and hopeful toward those forms of Christian faith that he’s discovered in his later years as a friendly outsider. Thus, Brian’s Christology, soteriology, hermeneutics, modes of discipleship, etc., might seem foreign to (or even hostile to) evangelicalism (or, some might imagine, a complete dismemberment of Christianity itself) – but in reality there are few original components to Brian’s new vision of Christian faith – which is why Brian himself is highly ambivalent to calling this ‘new’ at all.

He’s drawing from the deep and ancient wisdom of East Orthodox churches, Quakers and Anabaptists, mainline and liberation theologies, Catholic spirituality and more. He’s not drinking from these wells indiscriminately; what is new and original is his fresh synthesis of what he (and many of us) see as the best and most fruit-bearing dimensions of each, as we pray, worship, read Scripture and act together as learning communities. This doesn’t mean that everyone who reads ‘the story’ differently is a reverse-heretic in some new emergent papacy, but it does mean that increasing faith-diversification is undeniably the future. Will new ‘c’atholic churches be able to contain the diversity that’s already present in the Body of Christ, which will only continue to flourish as we grow toward the 22nd century? I hope so – we need all hands on deck to answer the call of the ‘Great Work’ of our time – to be Trees of Life for the healing of hatred, violence, and shattered lives and eco-systems. I know that our ‘Gospel’ is important and worth debating over – but please, let’s all sides do this in a respectful manner, not ad hominem, and expect the best of each other’s sincerity, lives, and theologies.

I hope that Brian never becomes impervious to his critics. I hope that he’s able to strain through the metric tons of crapola being dumped his way right now to pick out an occasional pearl, like  Yeah, I suppose that fundamentalism quiz could have been interpreted as polarizing, or I need to have more patience with brothers and sisters who still find much life in the institutions and beliefs that I, for reasons of my own, have moved beyond. I pray that the some of the hurtful words being directed toward a guy who’s already had a ton of hurtful words thrown his way don’t forever isolate him from hearing genuine loving disagreement.

But to my mind, while Brian is not above critique in his theology or actions, at the end of the day I see a man sincerely following Jesus – like Jesus, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. And like Jesus, having Hosannas shouted his way on Sunday, and being crucified on Friday. Jesus ‘descended into hell,’ according to the ancient creed. Like the much-more-recent Facebook group states, I’d rather be in hell with Brian than strumming harps with the bulk of his staunchest nay-sayers.

May all of us – missional and emergent, evangelical and mainline, Catholic and Pentecostal, gay and straight, deconstructionist and Radically Orthodox – fling ourselves upon the Throne of Grace and mercies of the Father, Son, and Spirit, one God, who alone saves and restores.

Amen?

*****

And in the midst of this liminal opportunity for growth in grace and mutual forbearance in this matters where so many obviously disagree, I look forward to reading and reviewing A New Kind of Christianity with the whole community of faith. Beyond the posts you’ll find amply linked to above, here are a few that I’ve found helpful:

Going to Hell with McLaren…or at least to renew an institution. Which is worse? – Dave Wainscott

A New Kind of Christianity Intro by Matt Nightingale

Book Review: A New Kind of Christianity by Bill Nieporte

A New Kind of Christianity by Pam Hoegweide

A New Kind of Blogging My Notes on A New Kind of Christianity by Dan Rustad

Questions…

Brian McLaren on the Overarching Storyline of the Bible

Porpoise Diving Life interview by Bill Dahl

Explore the Spirit interview with Brian

and finally: You will find a variety of reviews, of all persuasions, on the ViralBloggers.com post for A New Kind of Christianity.

Church History in Four Minutes & Quaker Dance Party

It isn’t perfect, but it’s fun: This church produced the video below; the story is told here and here. HT: Liturgy NZ

And I discovered video below via Martin Kelley‘s Convergent Friends Ning network (Ning networks are awesome!); Jon Watts is a spoken word artist and multipreneur; his music reminds me of Eminem or maybe Aesop Rock, except that he’s a Quaker rapping about the Inner Light illuminating the world’s darkness. He’s also created a wicked-cool George Fox Friend Speaks My Mind t-shirt that could totally go head-to-head with the John Calvin Is My Homeboy shirt – if only he’d make it in sizes that men with more girth could wear. Anyway, this video is fun; many Christians will balk at its chorus line, but I think it’s great for continuing discussion about the tension Dallas Willard names in The Divine Conspiracy between traditional and progressive Christians, the former of whom worship Jesus for what he does, the latter of whom follow him for the example he sets. Taken as a koan, imagine this song as singing one half of this ‘battle rap’ and live into the tension. 🙂

Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ – Truth In Labeling

https://i1.wp.com/www.jorieken.nl/Marypages/JesusPrayer.jpgSo my friend Frank Viola writes this blog post titled ‘My Problem With Mental Filters,’ and before you know it I’ve written nearly a 1,000-word response before I find out the comments are closed. Alas. Fortunately (thanks to Firefox) my comment was not lost in comment-abyss, so now it’s transmorgifyin’ before thine very eyes into its very own blog-post-a-looza!

You should probably read Frank’s original post first. The upshot: “Mental Filters. They are frustrating. We all have them. Yet we’re unconscious of them.  It makes communication between Christians about spiritual things almost impossible.” Then Frank goes into how little folks understand him when he describes the kinds of ‘organic church’ gatherings that he helps cultivate & experience. So here’s my reply…

Quite true – we all have filters, and they can either help or hinder communication. In fact, I think a wise man once wrote an article called ‘Rethinking Our Theological Conversation Styles.’

That said, did Paul (a comment-er, not the Apostle raised up in some kinda seance or something – what, you think Frank has illicit consultation with dead?? Are you crazy??) really miss the point when he suggests that you, too, have filters? Sure, he pastors what looks like a big church & you’re advocating something quite different which you feel is better…but isn’t that the (your) point? Surely you’re not claiming to have ‘un-filtered’ yourself. Though I suppose you might be claiming, by grace & revelation, to be able to at least temporarily transcend human filtration when lifted into the glorious atmosphere of heaven-come-to-earth that is an organic church gathering.

If so, I’m with Joshua Tucker – please, blog (or podcast) what ‘sharing Christ’ might mean devoid of cliches. Now I know you blogging isn’t going to compare to a live, collective experience of the depths and riches of Christ coming out of many people’s mouths – you’re just the blog-meister here and that’s going to be inherently limited. But it might create, as you say, the hunger to move forward into a real, live experience. Otherwise these allusions without example are just gonna get caught in our filters!

This probably wont’ surprise you, but I take slight issue with something you framed at the beginning of this post. You said that when you tell someone about “the glorious, every member, open participatory, Christ-centered meeting that is under the headship of Jesus by the Holy Spirit,” that people think you’re talking about “…a Quaker meeting…a Plymouth Brethren styled gathering…[or]…old-school charismatic “body ministry” meetings in a home…But none of those kinds of meetings are anything like what I’m speaking about. None can compare…”

Do you think that anything like might be hyperbole? I’ve participated in some of these off-this-planet gatherings you speak of, and I’d say they’re something like the best of Quaker or charismatic body ministry meetings (I’ve been in both of these too) – though I’d probably agree with you that they’re nothing like, say, a megachurch service. 🙂 But let’s give credit where credit is due: Don’t you think that Quakers, or the Brethren, or any number of other such reforming/purifying groups had ideals – and even experiences – like what you’re describing, at the very least in their early days? I don’t think you intend it, but what you’re saying could sound like “Never since the first century has such tangible Christ-centered glory be seen, but now we’re recovering it in our day…” https://i2.wp.com/www.temple.edu/history/UZ/urwin/images/QuakerMeeting_002.jpg

I think the attempt has been made before. And sometimes, successfully.

With that said (sheesh, I didn’t mean to write a feature-length response to your blog! Just goes to show how provocative you are, Frankie), I’m wondering if the “All riches of Christ, all the time” paradigm is sustainable. I don’t wonder this because it seems theoretically unsustainable, but because it’s been un-sustainable in my church’s direct experience. As you know, I was part of a fellowship for many years that had precisely this goal – “all Jesus, all the time.” If you dared bring up theological questions, your aunt Matilda, personal experiences with God, and the like, you were seen as interrupting the very rich flow of the infinite treasures of the Father’s eternal purpose revealed in the Son before time & space.

With a teeny bit of hindsight, I can see two main difficulties with such an approach:

1.) I don’t think we can run with all pistons firing, all the time. Our ‘car’ will flood. Even Paul’s magnificent letters come down to earth and address real people with real problems and a diversity of experiences. Now I totally agree with you, so much of the Church today focuses exclusively on the pieces of the New Testament that focus on behavior and ignore the evocative poetry of a cosmos existing by, through, and within God’s loving embrace via Christ – it’s a real shame. But the minority movements that attempt to correct this by completely inverting the focus do a disservice to the Body. Because…

2.) Not only is it impossible to always be in ‘self-less proclamation mode’ about the glories of Christ, it isn’t actually Christ-like. That is to say, it isn’t particularly loving to encourage members to squelch their spiritual questions or practical needs, nor does it do justice to Christ’s Incarnation, Emmanuel: God. With us. Perhaps Christianity today on a whole is narcissistically focused on the “With us” part of the equation, turning the Gospel into self-help. But attempting to focus on “God” to the exclusion of “With us” does violence to the revelation Jesus brings – that God’s Kingdom has come very, very near, and no detail of our lives is left out.

Please don’t misunderstand me, dear readers-other-than-Frank: Frank has something on his heart that really is substantially different than what many of you have experienced. By all means, you should get a copy of From Eternity to Here in a couple of weeks – it unveils a panoramic portrait of this uber-rich big-picture heartbeat of God that animates Frank’s life & vocation. I’ve spent the last decade of my life pursuing a collective pursuit of God with friends of God meeting in living rooms across the country, because we’ve been captured by just this vision. And it’s real – it’s not a sham. But! Precisely because of my similar passion, I want truth-in-labeling. I’m wary of this vision being over-sold and under-delivered. The next expression of church I end up in will probably be a good deal more…modest, and will emphasize her continuities with the rest of the beautiful, messed-up Christian family more than her discontinuities.

Okay, I’ve said enough here. Overcoming filters, experiencing more of our birthright in Christ – great conversation-starter, Frank!

To Vote or Not to Vote? An Election Links Roundup

So I haven’t really posted much about electoral politics this season. (Deep inhale.) I tend to agree with Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw of Jesus For President and Ordinary Radicals notoriety that “It’s not what you do at the ballot box on November 4 that matters, but what you do with your life on November 3 and November 5 that really counts.” I started thinking this way after 9/11. I was radicalized, really, once I saw how quickly common grief over terrorist atrocities transmuted into virulent nationalism and war-drum beating. Before I knew it, I signed the Kingdom Now 95 Theses and began looking into Anabaptist and Quaker traditions of nonviolence and even anarchism. [A technical aside – how do you all feel about the Snap Previews feature? In general I like it but I don’t like how whenever I link to my main site, zoecarnate.com, it always shows the top of the page – I actually link to specific sub-sections, say, nonviolence and anarchism sections just now. Of course, this owes more to the ghetto-fabulous design of my site than Snap’s deficiencies…] I considered my friend Andy’s advice not to vote, seeing it as an act of violence against people and idolatry of the State against God (consider vote is the same root as votive, as in votive candle – or devotion. Casting the ballot as an act of worship) . But in 2004 I just couldn’t stand by – I had to vote (Andy help me).

But maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad about voting. After all, respectable anarchists like Noam Chomsky vote, sometimes. And I have a difficult time getting all Hauerwasian when listening to people like Anthony Smith, aka the Postmodern Negro, share why it’s awfully convenient (and white) to eschew voting for an ideological high ground.

Sooo I’m voting. And I’m voting for Obama. This isn’t even controversial in some quarters, as Obama’s appeal to younger Christians such as myself is pretty well-documented. Nonetheless, even Don Miller catches heat for this from some quarters, as have I. (Not that I’m equating myself with Mr. Miller) Mostly on abortion. I get that. I hope that my friends – from far-left anarchists to center-right Republicans and Libertarians – can forgive me for making what they might see as a grievous mistake.

An Email

I hope my old college buddy, whom I’ll refer to here as Billy Bob, in particular can forgive me. He just emailed me the other day after we saw each other at a frolicking-on-the-hillside reunion my alma mater has every year. Billy Bob writes:

Hey Mike,

Perhaps I’m just itching for a debate, I don’t know. But I recently ran across this letter from Huntley Brown, a black man, on why HE isn’t supporting Obama.
So help me understand… why do you support him? What is it about this man that rallies support from Christians like yourself?
Billy Bob*
*Not actual name
Now by “Christians like yourself” I don’t know if BB means “otherwise upstanding exemplars of faith and practice” or “scum-sucking, devil-worshipping, soulless maggots.” I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Here’s some of what I replied:
Thanks for asking, Billy Bob! I guess I should say first off that I am disappointed by Obama‘s stance on abortion. Really and truly. I wish he were ‘consistently pro-life‘ like me – that is, like a growing number of followers of Jesus, being against abortion, war in all forms, and the death penalty, and for life in all its forms. And I’m not particularly jazzed up about national politics in general. I lean toward anarchism really, so any trip to the ballot box is with some ambivalence. That said, I’m a rather independent voter, certainly not a party-line kinda guy, whether that party has elephants or donkeys in it. I was raised Republican, voted for Libertarian Harry Browne in 2000 (after considering Nader), and Democrat Kerry in 2004.
So why Obama? I’m a firm believer in not restating things that others have said so much better, so I’m gonna direct you now to my friend Brian McLaren. Brian’s taken a lot of heat for being so darn particular in his national election endorsement this year, but I trust his integrity in this decision. He felt like he soft-pedaled things a bit in the 2004 election, and as a result the full range of values people of faith care about weren’t really represented at the ballot box. (Not just ’cause of Brian – but, y’know, him and others like him). So he’s done this great, concise job of talking about the reasons for his support of an Obama presidency.
When it comes down to it, when I’m choosing to participate in national electoral politics, I’m pretty much a pragmatist. Do I believe Obama is the Messiah? No, but I like the guy, and I think he will be good for the this land’s imagination, this land’s psyche. Untold damage has been done to American self-perception and perception abroad. Obama-the-Man can’t possibly undo all that damage, but Obama-the-Idea can certainly inspire others to do so. I think a heightened personal ethic and community sensibility would prevail in an Obama administration, and I think he’ll be a particularly good role model for children – especially minority children. Again, I hold this in tension – I believe citizenship in God’s Kingdom utterly supersedes national boundaries – to me, nations and boundaries don’t exist. But insofar as we’re in the process of being healing balm for the nations, we are in a state of becoming – as individual nations, as a global people. We need to avail ourselves of every peaceful tool in our toolshed to be the change we need – and this year, I feel voting for Obama is one of those tools.
There ya go. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Check out these links, and write me back sometime.

Hogs and Quiches,

Mike

Since penning this email, I’ve come across Tim Keel’s very excellent thoughts in his post Election 2008: Some Perspective.

Pro-Life, from Womb to Tomb?

As I’ve reflected on the myriad of ‘values’ commitments I have, the trifecta of life, ecology, and economy keep coming into play – and really, the latter two are different ways of saying ‘life’ – life for our poor, our ecosystems, our sick, our children, and our great-great-grandchildren. Here are some significant blog posts that have helped me think and pray my way through the challenges of being for all life in an election year.

A Plea to Pro-Life Voters – Lively Dust

Pro-Life and Pro-Obama – Will Samson

Pro-life, Womb to Tomb – Sensual Jesus

Frank Schaeffer: Pro-Life and Pro-Obama – Huffington Post

‘I’m Catholic, staunchly anti-abortion, and support Obama – National Catholic Reporter

Obama, Abortion, and Friendship – Faith Dance

Where I Stand Today on Abortion – Steve Knight

…and of course there’s the Pro Life, Pro Obama website itself – which strikes me as a bit too politically schmaltzy for my tastes, but it has some helpful resources nonetheless.

Must-Reads in an Election Year or Any Year

The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder

click to enlarge

We the Purple by Marcia Ford

Torture and Eucharist by William Cavanaugh

https://i1.wp.com/www.ratzingerfanclub.com/liberalism/torture_eucharist.jpg

Anything here

Emergent Church: Denomination or Common Grammar?

So my friend and former fellow communard, Johnny T commented on yesterday’s Why We’re Not Emergent post:

I dunno man…“Emergent” seems like just another denomination to me. As a group, they have their own “common” (more so than not)way at talking about and looking at things…just like everyone else…and like any denomintaion, they fall into the same traps that they make for themselves. (Just like individuals who place too much importance on why they are different)

While I agree, Johnny, that we all have traps we lay for ourselves (no matter what labels we share or shun), I’m not sure if it’s automatically a bad thing when lots of people (in this case, friends and followers of Jesus) begin thinking similar thoughts and taking similar actions and conversing amongst themselves. And I think the emerging conversation is actually more analogous to the charismatic movement in the 60’s-80’s than a denomination per se. The charismatic movement, interpreted by most participants as a move of the Holy Spirit, by and large touched people in whatever churches they were in. Whereas the early Pentecostal revivals made people leave their established churches (mainly because the ‘mother churches’ ostracized them, but no doubt too because the newly spiritually-gifted and enthused were likely quite fanatical in cases), the charismatic movement renewed already-existing churches for the most part. And a couple of denominations were also founded, like the Vineyard. But many stayed Catholic, Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, etc…

Similarly today, most of us see ’emergent’ as the life emerging on the spiritual trees we’re already on–the fresh life budding on Lutheran, Anabaptist, Presbyterian, Quaker, Anglican, house church, etc… trees. The outermost rung of the bark, as it were. Check this directory out to see what I mean. And it’s not just an insular kind of “We’re sticking to our tree” kind of thing. For me, one of the most beautiful and helpful things about the emerging conversation has been its function as a common ‘grammar’ if you will, a way of speaking that’s allowed me to respectfully dialogue with Christians from across the traditions spectrum–and it’s even taught me how to share and converse with people who (gasp!) aren’t even Christians. It’s an open table where nobody’s trying to convert, which was rare in all of the heavily denominated churches where I grew up, where everyone thought they had a corner market on “Truth.”

I might be into fulfilled covenant eschatology, but I still don’t see how Jesus’ prayer in John 17 has been realized with any kind of tangible fullness. “That we all be one” has been my heart’s longing for 15 years now, ever since I first found that passage as a teenager. On its best days (when we aren’t spending all of our energy trying to defend ourselves to a tiny-but-vocal group of online critics that we have zero actual relationship with), the emerging conversation is a stunning example of grassroots ecumenicism and unity-building in our shared living amidst God’s kingdom. And of course on its worst, we can be as prideful, cantankerous, quarrelsome and unhelpful as anyone else out there.

Here is Josh Brown’s take on whether emergent faith is ‘becoming another denomination.’ His whole series on this is worth reading–see

1 – An Introduction, 2 – A White Man’s World, 4- A Public Service Announcement on Friendship, 5 – We Hate Scripture

6 – The Bastard Child of Evangelicalism

Anyway, here’s the thing: I consider myself an emerging contributor and an emerging beneficiary. I think that the emerging conversation (and Emergent Village in particular) often get an undeserved bad rap among those for whom the conversation is not helpful. But all the same–unlike Michael Vick–I don’t feel like I have any particular dogs in any particular fights. I can let all this go tomorrow; it’d be sad, but my guess is it’ll eventually happen–whether next year or in 10 years. Addiction to permanence is not my goal. Like I said yesterday, “I’ve been on a journey in, through, and toward a Christ-transformed reality before I began naming it in this way, and will likely be if and when this way of articulating things ceases to be helpful. But right now, that I do find it helpful.”

Our Composting God: Making Meaning of the Mess

My ever-thoughtful wife has written a post comparing house church practice with Communism. I suggest you read it, then come back to my comment here below…

Well, wife-o-mine, a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was pretty tough to implement–it had never been done before! For years, Marxist thinkers and revolutionaries had fine-tuned their critique of capitalism, and it was largely quite valid. I think had they spent as much energy articulating what they were for, the transition from Russian czardom to a distributed system could have worked better and with less bloodshed.

Hmm…

As you no doubt know, I think that many of the critiques that we house-churchers have against more institutionally-driven expressions of Church are grounded in some solid intuition and research. And I also think that some of our positive visions of what a more egalitarian, ‘organic’ way of being under the guidance of the Spirit (or headship of Christ, as you put it) have beauty and merit too. BUT I’m thinking that maybe evolution is a better metaphor for what we’re seeking to embody than revolution. Lasting change tends to be gradual, and only then punctuated by a time of cataclysmic upheaval. We’ve been riding the wave of upheaval for awhile, but it might well be that greater humility toward established expressions are called for.

These days, instead of anticipating a remnant ‘torch of the testimony,’ I see Church History (and indeed, all history) as compost. At one point something was alive (and probably still is alive, in some manifestation), but then it died. After this, it begins to decompose-it might even stink a good deal. But that decomposing stew releases very helpful nutrients back into the soil–indeed, the soil itself is the product of eons of compost.

So even us ‘organic churches’ are planted in the soil of rich compost, of all that’s come before. We don’t need to eat from the Tree of Judgment, and determine what was good, bad, and ugly in the beliefs and actions of our forbears. Quaker, Anabaptist, Catholic, Pentecostal, Orthodox–and yes, even house church…it’s all our compost. It’s all our soil. And we have one big God–disclosed in Christ–who transcends and includes all of this, helping us discern what was most good, true and beautiful about these past (and continuing) expressions, to celebrate and wisely use today. And of course, we have our sacred text, contemporary context, and Holy Spirit subtext to help us weave new meanings and trajectories for today and tomorrow.

God is at work, fermenting God’s good creation. Let’s compost church today!

Recommended Reading:

The Seeker’s Way by Dave Fleming

Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster

A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren


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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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