Retired From Rating...

After six months as the online host for ChurchRater.com, I will be stepping down from this role.It's simply been too much: balancing work, seminary, preaching, blogging and efforts on my own book (reality: no efforts lately) has been a growth experience, but too much to juggle in a healthy way.

My wife thinks some of the screws are starting to come loose… I think she’s right!

I’m thankful to the Off The map Crew and to so many who regularly posted at ChurchRater.com and look forward to seeing where the site goes with the next blog host.Now, hopefully I can spend a little time at my own blogs...

read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.EssenceProject.blogspot.com...

Haggard's Fall...

No new news here, but I've reflected on Ted Haggard's recent "outing" elsewhere, and thought I'd post a synopsis of my thoughts.

My sadness is for the betrayal Ted’s wife and family must feel - the confusion and sorrow that comes with all of it. I’m sad that so many will be hurt by this - and that so many HAVE already been hurt. I’m sorry that the man Ted was intimate with saw such a murky, manipulative, predatorial portrayal of Christ.

I’m angry, too, at a religious culture that demands whitewashed tombs full of dead Evangelical bones - that we are not allowed to be transparent or confessional in today’s Christian Church. In fact, the higher up the heirarchy we climb, the less openness and transparency exists.

If I may be so bold: We ASK our leaders to do and be EXACTLY what Ted Haggard is.

A friend of mine - a gay man who grew up in a fundamentalist Christian setting and renounced religion in adulthood - e-mailed me on Monday…

Hi Peter,I have to tell you that I am positively giddy over this Ted Haggard thing. I have followed his demise with great glee! It is a GREAT time for the hypocrisy of those people to be on the front page! One of the pundits said Ted would probably be in rehab before today. Maybe he can hook up with Foley!

This has been like a way of releasing some of my pent-up anger.
Alan

Maybe not as gracious as some of us would like to see, but Alan has reason to feel some cultural catharsis. He’s experienced a lot wounds from the church, throughout his life. Now he’s seeing what has felt to him like an “Empire of Hate” begin to crumble from the inside - hypocritically living the very thing they fight against.

How do you feel about what’s happened? Angry? Indignant? Defense? Worried? Sad? Why?


read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

Am I doomed to the outside?

I was up at George Fox Seminary for my weekly Pastoral Counseling class and I started to think about the way I come across, how I communicate - how my sisters and brothers in Christ view me.

At the Seminary, I might be something of a novelty. Maybe "the cute little Emergent guy." I don't know, and I don't say it with any malice or discontent: I've made this bed...

I was talking to an acquaintance from a prior class - a big Texan, about my age, currently a youth pastor in Portland. He asked, "Commit any heresies lately?"

I replied, "I can't seem to avoid it these days." We laughed and headed for our respective classes.

But I got to obsessing over my particular calling and path in ministry. I wonder if there's a reason the Lord hasn't released me from my current employement (as much as I've prayed and kept my eyes open for paid ministry opportunties) and why he keeps blessing me professionally while clearly calling me to Seminary and ministry.


Yes, Paul was a tentmaker, and that's probably my lot in life because I can't imagine a church that would be comfortable having me on staff. More and more, however, I'm starting to worry if there are many churches that would put me into leadership (aside from my current one... well, maybe that's my answer) knowing how "rebellious" and "impertinent" I can be.

I love the church. I'll say it again: I LOVE THE CHURCH. I'm passionate about her. I know how silly it sounds to say, but I cry over the church - her sordid, sorry state. And even that sounds arrogant, as if I'm not sorry, sordid and spoiled, myself.

I don't know what my specific calling is. I think it sounds prideful to suggest I'm a "reformer," but maybe that's just a nice way of saying I'm a Devil's Advocate. It's scary. I worry that I'll find myself on "the outside" for much of my life if God continues to lead this way. And for an affirmation-craving people-pleaser, "the outside" is a terrifying place to remain.


read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

Bonhoeffer's "Life Together"

A friend and mentor of mine, Ted Gillette, pointed me to this excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together on Sunday morning. It shocked me when I first read it. I’ve since re-read it five or six times…


Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.
He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.

A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves this dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians which his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.

When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first the accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

I’ll admit wanting to take one line out of context and argue it if it stood alone: “God hates visionary dreaming.” I think this is harsh and not universally true. But I do think Bonhoeffer has a point within the framing of this community discussion.



Has anyone else bought into one-dimensional idealism? I have, often.

Has anyone rejected the dirty, messiness of genuine community in exchange for a fruitless vision?

Or do you find Bonhoeffer’s words sour or cynical?

Reformational Delusions?

Two pastors at the church I attended up until a few months ago were just fired (”asked to resign”) for no reason other than the Senior Pastor “felt God leading the church in a different direction.” He did not consult the Board of Elders, the general congregation, or the other pastors before making this decision.

One of the two pastors has been there more than 15 years; the other, 11 years tenure (with three children under the age of 7).

This church of 2,000+ congregants has seemed unhealthy, unstable, and disconcerting for a few years now. In fact, I could not go to a service without hearing grumblings of disatisfaction or even disgust with the leadership. Clearly, all was not well.

For all my ranting and raving about the state of the Church in America, I’m a people-pleaser at heart. I don’t like disagreements and I don’t like telling anyone what they don’t want to hear. But with the dismissal of two healthy, prolific pastors who were loved in their vibrant ministries I couldn’t keep silent. “God taking the church in a different direction” wasn’t enough explanation for me.

I’m open to pushback here: I don’t know that my actions were the “right” ones to take, but I felt that inaction would be a greater sin…

I e-mailed the 9 pastors and 2 staff members, warning them that I believed “one man was dictating the mind and will of God without quantifiable accountability to an empowered, balanced board of elders, much less directly to the larger body of congregants who are intimately and spiritually affected by his whims or mandates.”

I said, “I think the Body of Christ can do better than this.”

The responses from several of the [remaining] pastors ranged from vehement disagreement with me (the Senior Pastor carefully pasted in the CC line so he could see their defense) to a sort of dejected, “I respect your opinion - you should sit down with Pastor and talk it out.” The Senior Pastor himself said I was sowing seeds of dissention and division. Another pastor said I was being immature.

And that “immature” comment is the one I resent most, because it seems to imply that any disagreement with the church heirarchy would be due to a lack of maturity or wisdom. In fact, three of the pastors used their Senior Pastor’s 22-year tenure at this church as “proof” that he was annointed by God. Is church tenure always because of spiritual truth and faithfulness?

I don’t know. Maybe I am being immature. I could probably admit, in part, to an attempt to “sow seeds of dissention.” I want to start a revolution here!

I talked with Leonard Sweet today, and he reminded me:
Every “leader” needs a Nathan. But the “speaking the truth in love” is a perilous spiritual enterprise… often Nathans have to take Jesus’ Sacrament of Failure - to shake the dust off of one’s feet and go to the next house.

But that’s a bitter pill to swallow.

Could I have handled this better?


read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

Continued Interview with Brian McLaren...

I've been horrible at keeping up with regularly posting Q&A excerpts from my now-months-old interview with Brian McLaren. But I shall press on!

Question:
"Brian, is ecclesiology, the way we're doing church usurping our First Love - Jesus Christ?"

Answer:
Your question suggests, I think, a concern that some people are paying too much attention to ecclesiology and church pragmatics, and I certainly agree.

I think that a lot of us are tired of talking about the church so much, church techniques, church success strategies, how big are you, what's your growth rate, what's your budget, how many parking spaces do you have, blah, blah, blah.

There's a place for this kind of counting and technical idea sharing, no doubt, but as your question suggests, it can become almost idolatrous. And so can talk about candles or coffee or digital images, or whatever. I recently heard someone talk about the difference between saying "the church has a mission" and "the mission has a church" – I think that question points the issues up quite well. We might say, "The Trinity has a mission which has a church," and we'd be getting a healthy balance, putting God in the subject position. So of course there's a place for talking about the church, but as your question suggests, it can easily become preoccupying.

There are so many things that can distract us from our first love – and one of them is the church becoming preoccupied with itself. So this is a danger for everybody. That's why I'm so encouraged by the increasing emphasis I sense wherever I go on getting back to the deep practices of devotion to Christ, so that we keep Christ at the center of everything.

I share your concern when anything threatens the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, and the essential importance of sincere devotion to him.


read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

The Passion of Mel Gibson...

I wasn't sure which blog to post this on. Here at Emerging or at my other blog, WorldSpeak, but since I just posted some thoughts on Lance Bass (who recently came out of the closet) I decided to spread the pop-mania wealth. Forgive me if it seems trite, but I expect there are some lessons to be learned in observing how the media and the church deal with Mel Gibson's recent arrest.

If you've been living under a rock, Gibson was pulled over Friday for speeding. A Breathalyzer test showed that his blood-alcohol content was 0.12. According to the deputy who arrested him (who happens to be Jewish), Gibson launched into a profanity-laced tirade, hurling anti-Semitic and sexist statements at authorities. In particular, saying something to the effect of: "Jews are behind everything that's wrong in the world today."

So much for Jesus.

But I'm curious. After Gibson has so-recently been made Evangelical America's "Patron Saint" for the blockbuster film about Christ, how will the church react? How will Christians respond? Particularly protestant/evangelical Christians?

My hunch is that it will be easier for Christians to look the other way and avoid having to "claim him" as another fallen brother because, afterall, Gibson is Catholic... Nevermind how we embraced him when his film filled our pews.

No, we may have to claim Falwell and Robertson (and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker) but Gibson is Catholic. We've protested them since the 16th Century.

Of course, Falwell, Robertson and the Bakkers are all Baptist and I'm not Baptist. My conscience is clean.

But there's still that pesky notion of The Body of Christ...
(as in BODY, not
bodies)

The hard thing for me to admit is that if I believe in this Body of Christ, then the Mel Gibsons and Tammy Fayes of the world are not just my annoying, embarrassing neighbors, but they are my brothers and sisters.

How can we handle such a dysfunctional family?

I guess that's what this blog, this "emerging culture" and this Christian life are all about.

Good morning, America...

This morning on Good Morning America, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins were interviewed about the strife in Lebanon, Israel and the Middle East in general, and asked to comment about how the current situations connected with their own religious worldview.

LaHaye did most of the talking, assuring us that the day of judgment is upon us and that through Jesus Christ we can be saved.

Jenkins seemed to try to "soften" his partner's words, elaborating: "This is what we believe is true. And not everyone will agree with us, and that's ok. We love them and accept their opinion."

Indecent Exposure...

I've been preaching at a little community church (they call it a "SoulCafe") for the last few weeks - filling in for a pastor friend.

Last Sunday, I was preaching about "The Church on the Other Side" and how God's people need to be free of fear.

I hadn't gotten very far into my discussion when a woman in back blurted out: "I have a story about fear!"

I nodded to her to continue.

"Well," she began, "this was back in the 60s, in California. I was kidnapped. But I chose not to be afraid of this man, because I KNEW that if I played the scared victim card, I was going to die that day. So this man took me back to his hotel room and told me to lay down. I asked him: do I have a choice. He said: you have the choice to die..."

At this point everyone in the room is sweating a little, wondering (a) what is going to happen next and (b) what the hell is happening to this church service. But it gets better...

She continues, "I decided, Dear Lord, I'm not going to lose my life for a piece of ass!" I'm not kidding here, she really said all this, "I'd been with men before when I didn't want to, and this was gonna be no different - I told myself. So he had me - twice - and then asked why I tried to argue with him about it. I said, Oh, I'm so sorry, but my husband died years ago and I haven't been with a man since then, which was a lie, cause I'd been with men since then. But I didn't show that man I was afraid, and I survived that night because of it. And when I got home I called the police and they showed me mugshots and he was a serial killer who had been killing prostititutes that summer."

I tried to pick up my message after that, but it was tough. Everyone in that room had sweaty palms and was feeling a mix of shock and awe at this woman's story.

One of the men leaned to his 13-year-old son and said loud enough for everyone to hear: "See Matt, this is the real world here."

I was proud to be amidst a group of people so willing to face the grittiness of the real world without feining "offense." Sure, we were all a little wide-eyed, but there are plenty of churches I've been in where the ushers would have escorted her out mid-story for her language and graphic imagery.

God bless the church that is UNAFRAID of reality. "Wise as serpents, harmlessa as doves." (Matt 10:26)



read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

I am the new host of ChurchRater.com

I am really excited that Jim Henderson of Off The Map recently asked me to join OTM as the online director of one of his websites: ChurchRater.com!

The site itself is a blog of sorts with a very heavy emphasis on discussion surrounding the "rating" of churches. It sounds a little offensive, but it's truly lighthearted and even self-depricating in tone.

A name like ChurchRater could be used for a number of different purposes. Here is what I envision ChurchRater becoming: A dynamic, thinktank sort of environment, where any thinkers, pastors or various kinds of leaders and teachers can come together and dialogue about the Church...


  • how the church functions
  • how it perceives itself
  • how it is perceived externally
  • what Christians see in it
  • what non-Christians see in it
  • what is good/bad/ugly/hilarious

I don't want to steal any thunder or come across as a hack, but ChurchMarketingSucks.com is a great example of a weblog format being used to sharpen, develop and brainstorm in progressive and beneficial ways.

If that site (CMS) is all about marketing and advertising, ChurchRater is about the Body of Christ itself (for better AND for worse). It's about everything from ecclesiology (how we do church) to pneumatology (how the spirit works) and everything in between.

...Then we rate ourselves and each other!


How do you feel about this approach? How can we make it better? How can I get people to take time to fill out a rating survey? I'm open to suggestions.

Am I really coming across this way?

I could use a little advice. I received an e-mail today and am not quite sure what to make of it. Any thoughts?

These are some excerpts...

================================

“A dedicated youth worker, a post-Evangelical, postmodern, ex-fundamentalist, emergent Christian.”

Was this a parody of you? Do you really believe that? Why not add gay basher, intellectual midget, and pompous youth who “knows it all,” to your list?

I honestly could not tell if your blog was a joke, or if you were for real. Please don’t take offense to my comments to add to your bio. I took no offense to your suggestions that the world is flat and that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.
...
Seminary schools should be educating thinkers, not robots, who don’t really believe “that the reason the world is flat is because the Bible says it. Just like it say [sic] dancing is evil, Jesus drank grape juice, and God hates people who struggle with particular sins...

I was surprised not to see something on your blog that suggested that God wishes us to prosper so that we can kill the evildoers of the tri-axis of evil.
...
Perhaps you could start on a journey out of Maui that is inclusive rather than “preaching” you alone possess the innate spark of divinity as you dive through the waves? Sorry to write to you what you may perceive as being hate mail, but it is truly meant in compassion.
...
Open your heart and mind to God, as you understand him through the Man Jesus, and maybe listen a bit before you pontificate so much. The Man Jesus professed radical inclusion, so I guess maybe his inclusive nature and my constructive criticism may do you some good...Maybe you can rejuvenate institutionalized religion in your lifetime? Or maybe you can help to destroy it? The choice is yours, young man.

My Trip to Maui: A Parable...

I dug up this old post from the last time I was in Hawaii - thought you might enjoy...

ORIGINALLY POSTED 06/24/06

I flew to Hawaii last weekend to perform a wedding for an old college friend and his new bride on a beautiful beach in Maui.

They paid for all my expenses, and the wedding itself was a wonderful experience, but the short stay before the wedding was frustrating and even depressing. I was surrounded by the misery of luxury and found it desperately difficult to enjoy myself.

Here's a parable I wrote...



Christianity is like a three-tiered swimming pool at the Ritz-Carlton in Maui.

Christianity is surrounded by eight-story buildings, room service and valet parking.

The people crowd around Christianity’s man-made pools of chlorinated blue water while sipping expensive cocktails.

As everyone tans in cushioned lawn chairs, the almost-unseen ocean laps gently at the sandy shore, less than half a mile away. The ocean water is clean and blue and warm to the touch. It caresses a few lonely swimmers who prefer its living, lapping waves to the severe luxury above.

I ask my companions if they will walk to the shore with me, but they refuse to abandon such posh comfort with convenient views of bikini-clad socialites.

I walk alone to the beach, and the warm wind fills my ears and nostrils. I jump into the swelling tide and dive my head deep beneath an approaching wave. There is sand beneath me, salt dripping in my mouth, and a sharp shell lances my foot...But this is real. This is a living, life-giving ecology.

The Kingdom of God is like a hidden, forgotten beach in the South Pacific Ocean. It is easily forgotten amidst tourist attractions, five-star hotels and infinite amenities. It waits for us to leave the comfort we create and enter a new kind of dangerous comfort – a fresh, vital, living, breathing swim through waters that stretch past the horizon.

Selectively Fundamentalist...

I just posted a different political cartoon on my other blog. As I said there: forgive me. I'm truly not "anti-Republican." And I'm really tired of politics. The "Right" is just getting the brunt of my ire these days because they are the most overtly manipulative of Christian values. If this was the 1960s or 70s, I'd be going after the Left for their selling out to a completely Social Gospel, synonymous with the Democratic Party's political platform.

But I digress...

Shane Claiborne writes in The Irresistible Revolution about "selective fundamentalists" who pick and choose what to be fundamentalist about.

He contrasts this with a wealthy German businessman he met in India, who sold everything he owned and went to live and work with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. THAT's the kind of fundamentalist I pray to be...

...but God help me: my apartment is comfy and my car is an `05.


Brian McLaren will be in Seattle Today & Tomorrow

...if you happen to be up there. I can't make it, but my friend Jim Henderson (www.Off-The-Map.org) is trying to get the word out.


June 12 - Monday 7:00 PM
Elliot Bay Bookstore Presents Brian McLaren @ Seattle First Baptist Church http://www.elliottbaybook.com/events/jun06/mclaren.jsp
FREE

June 13- Tuesday 9:30- 11:30 AM
A Little Off The Map with Brian McLaren @ Vineyard Community Church
http://vineyard-cc.org/
$20 per person at the door

  • Details per Nov 3-4 OTM Conference with George Barna and McLaren –will be announced at this gathering - www.Off-The-Map.org for more info...

Continued Interview with Brian McLaren...

I apologize for "falling off the face" somewhat.

I was recently honored to have Len Sweet invite me to be a Charter Contributor on his still-in-the-works open source online preaching resource: www.wikiletics.com (get it? wiki homiletics!)

I've posted one rather messy attempt at an adaptable sermon there and plan on releasing another one soon. In the meantime, the Relevant Magazine article continues to develop, redevelop, and reshape itself entirely. By the time it's finished, it will look very little like the article I intended - but maybe that's ok. My prayer is only that God be glorified and the Kingdom be blessed in some small way by the continuing dialogue.

Here's more of my interview with Brian...


  • Are Emergent affiliates getting too focused on politics? One example (and no offense intended by any means) is your arrest with Jim Wallis for the legislation protest... first clarifying that we (Len Sweet and I) realize you yourself are not the embodiment of Emergent.

Again, I can't answer your question without asking some questions about what you're getting at.

If you're saying that Christian faith is not or should not be political, I'd say it depends on what you meanby "political." If you mean "partisan," then I'd fully agree. We shouldn't let Christian faith be domesticated by a political party, left or right or whatever. But that is exactly what has happened, and that's one reason why I and others are speaking out.

For many years, I said, "I'm not political." But during those years, other people filled the words "Christianity," "Evangelical," and even "Jesus" with a lot of political freight in my country, and in much of the world, and that freight misrepresents my sincere understanding of each of those words.

So, if enough of us sit back and do nothing, the Religious Right defines our faith in the public sphere. For a person as deeply committed to evangelism as I am, that's unacceptable. So, a number of us would completely agree - that the gospel is not political, if by that you mean partisan. But it is political in the sense of being public and prophetic; it speaks truth to all parties, affirming them in some ways and challenging them in others.

I should also add that there are probably some people in the emergent conversation who don't understand or like what I've been doing or saying. But I think we try to respect each other, and ask questions, just as you're doing. I was politically uninvolved for most of my Christian life, and it's only in the last 5 years or so that I've felt called by the Holy Spirit and motivated by the Scriptures to study and learn and speak out more about things like politics and especially economics.

So I don't expect most people to immediately share what is for me a recent priority, unless they feel similarly led by the Lord. Since the Religious Right is so powerful, anybody who doesn't submit to it is typically labeled and marginalized as a leftist, liberal, Democrat… but that's just a trick.

I've examined my own political beliefs, and I can assure you, I don't believe God's interests are well served by either party in its current form. I hope I can have a prophetic voice that will confront and encourage any party, and that whatever party I join or vote for, I'll remain in the world but not of it. In other words, I'll be engaged, but not dominated or domesticated. A better definition of political, in my mind, is "how human beings organize themselves arrange and arrange their public affairs." In that sense, the gospel has so much to say about politics, because how we organize and arrange our public affairs matters to God. If we're silent on these issues, we're being unfaithful, since it is required of us to walk humbly with God, and to love kindness, and to do justice.

And again, if we only speak out within the constraints of a single political party, then we're being partisan, which is another form of unfaithfulness. But if we try as followers of Christ to address how we see our nation organizing itself and arranging its public affairs – in terms of justice and kindness, from a posture ofwalking humbly with God - then I think we're doing something productive and required. That's why I was honored to participate in a peaceful act of civil disobedience in December. It was a way of exercising free speech – a tradition in our country – about how our government was planning to arrange and organize financially. We were arranging our budget in ways that would make the lives of a small percentage of very rich people much easier, and would make the lives of many poor people quite a bit worse. And we were doing so during a time of war and skyrocketing deficits.

As a person of prayer, I felt that the Holy Spirit wouldn't let me opt out of expressing my opinion about this.

Earlier last year, I had similarly felt the Holy Spirit pushing me to get involved publicly on behalf of the people of Darfur, Sudan. I couldn't understand why our government was standing idly by while so many people were being killed in Darfur, and Congo, and other places. In both cases, I wasn't speaking out as a conservative or liberal, a Republican or Democrat, a mainliner or evangelical, but simply as a follower of Christ who was trying to be faithful to how I felt the Holy Spirit was guiding me, in harmony with the message of Scripture, and as an expression of my best understanding of Christ's call to seek justice.

The problems we face are going to call for unprecedented convergence and cooperation. When you think about the rise of unaccountable multinational corporations, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the possibility of a new "hot" war, global warming and ecological destruction, HIV/Aids, and so on … neither liberals nor conservatives have a chance of addressing these issues alone. The people of God and good will in each party in each nation must come together for us to have a chance to avoid some pretty terrifying disaster scenarios.

If the issue is my association with Jim Wallis, I would be quick tosay that we're good friends, and I was honored to take a short ride in a paddy wagon with him. I have lots of friends, people I genuinely like and enjoy and learn from, some of whom don't especially like my other friends. So I have friends who are very conservative politically, and they don't understand or approve of some of my other friends like Jim Wallis, or Tony and Peggy Campolo, or Shane Clayborne, or whomever. But I'm glad I have friends across the political spectrum – and the religious spectrum too, because I learn alot from all of them, and I feel a special calling to be a bridge – to try to understand people and relationally connect them if I possibly can. Otherwise, life is a lot more boring and we learn a lot less.

I hope that the emergent conversation will be a safe place for these kinds of boundary-crossing friendships. A lot of us have felt the Christian community being dominated by a monologue that responds defensively or aggressively when questions or divergent opinions are raised. There seems to be a preoccupation with boundary maintenance so that diversity of opinion is punished severely by verbal banishment. The last thing we need is a similarly domineering Religious Left.

None of my friends – least of all, I can assure you, Jim Wallis – is interested in that. What we need is respectful dialogue, both in the church, and in our nation. I think Jim models that beautifully, actually. He's constantly meeting with Religious Right leaders for respectful dialogue. He respects and agrees with their Evangelical faith, but he wants to expand the range of their moral concerns.

Interview with Brian McLaren


In working on an article with Len Sweet for Relevant Magazine I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Brian McLaren. Over the next few days I will post pieces of our Q&A.

To begin with...

  • "Brian, is Emergent truly a postmodern Christian reflection, or is it becoming a replay of the 1960s Mainline Churches? (candles, acoustic guitars, dialogue, etc...)"


Peter, a couple of things strike me about your question. First, you may be assuming that Emergent is more of a defined thing than it really is. We've tried to accurately describe ourselves as a growing friendship engaging in what we hope will be constructive conversation. Part of that conversation is about what it means to be followers of Jesus in our emerging "postal" context – postmodern, post-Enlightenment, post-christendom, post-colonial, and so on.

These days, I hear us talking less about the word "postmodern" and more about things like spiritual formation, mission, church planting, justice, preaching, theology, and leadership – which feels like progress to me. In otherwords: instead of talking almost exclusively about the changing context, we're talking about what we're supposed to be about in this changing context. That's not to say we don't need to keep talking about context, but every conversation has its natural unfolding.

I don't think any of us have ever felt that the point is to be"postmodern." I think we'd all agree the point is to be faithful to God, and trying to understand the times is an important part of faithfulness and mission.

S
o, speaking for myself, I've never wanted to be a postmodern reflection. I've wanted to be a reflection of God's grace in whatever contexts I find myself: modern, postmodern, whatever. Sadly I've been caricatured, as have a number of my friends like Len Sweet or Doug Pagit or Stanley Grenz, as if I believed postmodernism itself was the Good News, which is ridiculous.

I also sense in your question an assumption that the 1960's Mainline churches represent a terrible disaster story that we should diligently avoid. We should be sure we're talking about the same thing when we bring up 1960's Mainline churches. For example, I'd be proud to have been part of the 1960's Mainline story that sided with Dr. King on behalf of his vision of the "beloved community" and against segregation. Personally, I would much rather have been on the side of those who helped bring the war in Vietnam to an end instead of those who tried to prolong it. But I wouldn't want to be part of the Mainline story that endorsed the"God is dead" movement; that was preoccupied with its own internal institutional bureaucracy, or that seemed to lose its sense of identity and message and mission in the rush of political engagement - that sifted the rich recipe of the gospel through the colander ofEnlightenment assumptions, or that substituted voter registration for prayer and evangelism - each of which had something to do with several ensuing decades of decline in numbers and vitality.

I actually think there are several ways to tell the story of Mainline decline, andEvangelicals like to tell one of them, Mainliners another, but probably nobody is telling the more interesting ones. I should add that for a lot of the people I'm around, the 1960's are what the 1940's or 1930's are for me – a decade or two before I was born, in 1956. What was formative for me is ancient history for a lot of the people around me. Many of my younger friends have no memory of the modernist-fundamentalist debates, for example. Their whole conscious life has been lived in the era of the uncontested dominance of the Religious Right. For them, worrying about Mainline liberalism is like worrying about the Viet Cong. That's part of a battle that's long gone.

Of course, we need to realize that a resurgence of old ideologies is always possible – especially if the factors that contributed to their original growth aren't addressed. That would mean that unless poverty is addressed, Marxism always has a chance of resurging, or that unless religious obscurantism is addressed, liberalism has a chance of reviving.

That's why a lot of the people I'm around are concerned about another disaster story –the story of how Evangelicalism from the 1980's to the present became more or less synonymous with the Religious Right, so that the word "Evangelical" itself became known as the religion of aggressive neoconservatives in the Republican Party. In one sense, this could be seen as a real success story. Evangelicals came to such a place of power that they can claim to own the White House, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court. They're poised to enforce their agenda in a number of state governments along with the federal government, not to mention the rest of the world. In addition, they have huge influence in the media – both secular and religious.

But many of us feel that they have gained power at a terrible cost, and those Evangelicals who agree haven't been bold enough to speak up. So, nobody wants to repeat the 1960's Mainline trajectory of decline, but we aren't terribly excited about aiding and abetting the trajectory of the Religious Right either – actively or through our silence and complicity. And that's an understatement.

So that's why so many of us are, at some personal risk, pursuing a third option, instructed we hope by the strengths and weaknesses of both our mainline and Evangelical brothers and sisters in the last half-century.

The Bathwater is Dirty...

We are often so afraid of throwing out the baby, that we don't realize the baby is sick... getting a rash FROM the bathwater. Or maybe getting frostbite because the water cooled off several hours (or centuries) ago.

Or maybe we accidentally used Selsun Blue instead of Baby Shampoo in the water, so it's burning Baby's skin. Or what if Baby's skin is simply getting all prune-like, and it's time to dry off?

Wow, what if it's not even a baby anymore. What if we've been trying to bathe a toddler in a baby tub, and the toddler doesn't even fit. He's still dirty because there isn't enough water to cover him. The water is black sewage because Toddler was just running through the drainage ditch in the backyard.

...or what if we drowned the baby? What if we were so worried about keeping the baby in the water that we didn't notice his little head went under?

Maybe we were talking on the phone.

All this to say: don't we trust God to lead us forward?

Recently converted author Anne Rice said in an interview recently, "We're too afraid that the devil is winning. He's not winning! WE'RE winning, and we have to start living like it."

Throw out the bathwater! The Holy Spirit (in my humble opinion) will ensure that the baby (the Body of Christ... for Christ's sake!) will survive.

Is Jesus SO fragile?

An Episcopal Ecumenical Exhortation...

Oh that we might have unity...
Peter

You are Christians,
then your Lord is one and the same with Jesus
on the throne of His glory,
with Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament,
with Jesus received into your hearts in communion,
with Jesus who is mystically with you as you pray and with Jesus enshrined in the hearts and bodies of His brothers and sisters up and down the world.

Now go into the highways and hedges,
and look for Jesus in the ragged and naked,
in the oppressed and sweated,
in those who have lost hope,
and in those who are struggling to make good.

Look for Jesus in them;
and when you find Him,
gird yourselves with His towel of fellowship,
and wash His feet in the person of His brethren.

Frank Weston
- late Episcopal Bishop of Zanzibar

More Random Quotations from Len...

There’s a reason why you’re so tired.

There’s a reason why your people are fighting.

There’s a reason why they’re at each other’s throats, fighting worship wars and other conflicts.

There’s a reason why I’m the last person still in ministry out of my entire ordination class.

There’s a reason why people are pining for simpler times.

There’s a reason why Thomas Kincaid is the largest selling artist. There’s a reason why Country Music is the biggest music industry. People are trying to escape to simpler times, but they can't run away from one of the biggest cultural shifts in world history.

Churches and seminaries are trying to prepare leaders in calm waters, but we are preparing for the perfect storm of societal shakedown.

THE PERFECT STORM:
We are in the FIRST perfect storm for Christianity. We have never had three weather patterns that have come together, all at the same time. These three patterns are...

  • Postmodernity –> but this is just a transitional period, ending 2030 at the latest. After that, we’ll have something entirely different with a new name.
  • Post-Christendom (increasingly anti-Christian) –> we are entering a world that is more often unfamiliar with Christianity than jaded by it.
  • Post-Cold (war) ~ Post-Round (earth... now it's flat) ~ Post-Human (cyborgs) –> The world we're entering is expanding so rapidly that we find it easier defining ourselves by what we're after, what we're not, and what we've moved on from. We are in a flat world where superpower standoffs like the U.S.S.R. and America are things of the past. And we are all increasingly surviving by unnatural means, from prosthetics to prescription drugs... as artificial intelligence approaches and someday rivals the computing power of the human brain, we will face a strikingly new set of challenges.

...And yet in relatively recent years, we’re still killing people because they have scientific views.

Perhaps most importantly, taking hold of the future means taking extreme measures for the sake of Christ.

A move to the center is a move away from Jesus...
“Balance” by its very nature is anti-Jesus.

Len Sweet at George Fox Seminary

Pooping Myself A Little... in more ways than one

On my way to Portland for a weekend with Dr. Sweet at George Fox Seminary, I pooped myself. Just a little bit. One of my friends calls it "sharting"...

I'd like to say that I was so excited to meet Futurist/Evangelist/Writer/Professor/Postmodernist Sweet that I just couldn't control my bowels. Unfortunately, it wasn't so glamorous. The reality is, I drank too much coffee on an empty stomach and what I thought was gas wasn't, so for an hour as I drove to the Beaverton Campus I had to sit awkwardly, shifting cheek-to-cheek, to avoid serious damage.

But the real excitement was after I arrived at school, "composed" myself, and went into class.

I could spend hours writing about the things Dr. Sweet taught on, and in subsequent postings I will go over more and more of what we discussed. However, if you'll scroll down to my "No More Bridges to the Past" post, you'll find it very in-line with the kind of thinking Sweet revels in.

A few nuggets from Dr. Sweet (remember these are one-liners and I am not giving context right now)...


  • Christianity today is more Muslim than Christian...
  • A church that establishes itself as a "safe" place is already spiritually dead. The Christian life must remain dangerous and uncomfortable...
  • Christians in America are more Modern than they are Christian, and so Christians in America spend more time defending Modernism than they do, Christianity...
  • Christianity is not a Western religion...
  • Pulpit preaching is a dead method for postmoderns...
  • We must stop trying to "save" the church...

In all fairness, I will try to elaborate later. Don't poop yourself as you read these.

Blessings.

Bono's Sermon

I just read this transcript off of Sojourners. It gave me goosebumps. It's very long, so here are some snippets. Go to www.Sojo.net for more...

Bono's Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast
If you're wondering what I'm doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It's certainly not because I'm a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I'm here because I've got a messianic complex.

It's odd, having a rock star here - but maybe it's odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was...well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

For me, at least, religion got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land...and in this country, seeing God's second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash...in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment...

Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick - my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world's poorest people. They had the audacity to renew the Lord's call - and were joined by Pope John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic's point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.

'Jubilee' - why 'Jubilee'? What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lord's favor? I'd always read the scriptures, even the obscure stuff. There it was in Leviticus (25:35)... 'If your brother becomes poor,' the scriptures say, 'and cannot maintain himself...you shall maintain him.... You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.'

It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, he's met with the rabbis, impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he's a clever guy, this Jesus, but he hasn't done much...yet. He hasn't spoken in public before... When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,' he says, 'because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.' And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord's favour, the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18).

America gives less than 1% now. We're asking for an extra 1% to change the world. to transform millions of lives - but not just that and I say this to the military men now - to transform the way that they see us. 1% is national security, enlightened economic self-interest, and a better, safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, 1% is the best bargain around.

These goals - clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty - these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a globalised world.

To give 1% more is right. It's smart. And it's blessed. There is a continent - Africa - being consumed by flames. I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did - or did not to - to put the fire out in Africa.

History, like God, is watching what we do.

Post-Christendom's Opportunity - And Sorrow...

Being Sued for Jesus...

By MARTA FALCONI
Associated Press

VITERBO, Italy - An Italian judge heard arguments Friday on whether a small-town parish priest should stand trial for asserting that Jesus Christ existed.

The priest's atheist accuser, Luigi Cascioli, says the Roman Catholic Church has been deceiving people for 2,000 years with a fable that Christ existed, and that the Rev. Enrico Righi violated two Italian laws by reasserting the claim.

Lawyers for Righi and Cascioli, old schoolmates, made their
arguments in a brief, closed-door hearing before Judge Gaetano Mautone in Viterbo, north of Rome. They said they expected the judge to decide quickly.

Cascioli filed a criminal complaint in 2002 after Righi wrote in a parish bulletin that Jesus did indeed exist, and that he was born of a couple named Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth.

Cascioli claims that Righi's assertion constituted two crimes under Italian law: so-called "abuse of popular belief," in which someone fraudulently deceives people; and "impersonation," in which someone gains by attributing a false name to a person.


Part of me weeps for the faithful who are barraged for speaking truth. Part of me aches for the knowledge of Christ that has been lost from our cultural vernacular...

But I must confess I hold this sorrow in juxtaposition with deep excitement at what occurences like this mean for the future... not for Christendom (the outward manifestation of a politically and theologically infused power structure that has permeated and shaped the Western World for over a thousand years) but for Christianity... perhaps a New Kind of Movement (forgive me Brian) could emerge.

I'm reading Stuart Murray's book, Post Christendom for a class at George Fox Seminary. Leonard Sweet is our gracious professor for the semester and the reading he's subjecting us to is truly invigorating.

Remember, no matter how bad things get for the "ESTABLISHED CHURCH," God is doing something real and active in this world, and it may look like nothing we've seen before.

Sue away! You cannot suppress a living Holy Spirit!

X Fest Comes to the Northwest...

A visitor to my blog recently asked if I would be willing to post some information on a Christian rock concert he's promoting. I said, "of course," so here's the information...


I must confess that I continually struggle with the place Christian music has in my life and what sentiment I hold for it. While I grew up with artists like Keith Green and Michael Card, I find the industry of Christian music to be often-frightening. Commercialism rules out and we look like the money-making-machines of American consumer culture that we often are.

Furthermore, I don't like the implication "secular vs. Christian" entertainment makes, which ghettoizes Christian-run industries and implies moral superiority. It also leads to a rejection of a lot of wonderful, prolific, vibrant art that is not tagged with a "Christian-friendly" sticker.

On the other hand, as with a concert like X Fest, or with my passionate friends in Falling Up, or with other great bands like Caedmon's Call and Jars of Clay, there is a place for them, we need them, and I'm thankful for them. I just hope we learn balance. I also wish we could understand that Christian concerts are rarely effective evangelism anymore. I've been to plenty, and I don't see any new converts... I do see a lot of "re-dedications."

Like an inspiring sermon, Christian music can teach us and move us to action.

Yoga Sensibilities...

My wife (I love saying that) has been going to yoga classes for almost a year now, and she's become quite a natural.

There is a meditative prayer they invoke at each class, and Jen finally asked her instructor for a translation of the words. They struck us both as incredibly beautiful; such sweet words make me long for a liturgical tradition - one with depth and history my own pentecostal ecclesiology does not demonstrate...


May the Divine protect us while we are together
May all obstacles be removed which stand in the way
of our understanding the truth that all is One:
and that there is no division or separation between us.
May we grasp this understanding with full comprehension
and without doubt so that all misunderstanding is dissolved within us.

May we not cherish hatred, anger or displeasure.
May our hearts be full of love.
May perfect friendship reign between us.

May the space around us be free of fear.
May the East and the West, North and South, be free of fear.
May the earth be free of fear.
May the past and the future be free of fear,
May the human race unite in one fearless friendship.*
Peace. Peace. Peace.

Heavenly God, bless us with the spirit of these words, I pray.
Amen.
-------------------------
*updated additional lines

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