Sales Pitch Reflections: Fidelity Pt. 4

I don't like false advertising. I don't like feeling like I've been "had." It's very violating.

Today I brought a speaker into the local chamber of commerce to give a presentation that sounded very practical, very applicable, to all of our businesses. She approached us initially, so I did some reference checks to make sure she was legit (a speaker, not a sales-pitch). Everything checked out...

But I vetted poorly. I won't get specific (for fear of a lawsuit or something, I guess) but the entire "workshop" was a sham: a long, hyped-up, thinly-veiled lead up to a final "big sell."

I thought I was more savvy, but we all got conned.

At the end: "If any of this sounds like what you're interested in, I'll be at that table for the next half hour to take your business cards and sign you up for our next class!" Sign you up for the real workshop. To get the real "inside scoop." The real "secret" to success.

Visa, or American Express?

A lot of us overpromise. Most of us underdeliver. I know I do. Sometimes we overpromise God though (or maybe we're actually underpromising, because what we're selling isn't the real deal to begin with). Does God really like being treated as a free-pass? Or a self-justification plan? Or as a Complete Idiots Guide to Life?

We do the same thing with the Bible. We make sleazy pitches about what's inside ("ANSWERS! INSTRUCTIONS!") when the truth is much more complicated. What do I find in Scripture? More questions. They're good questions. But they are questions.

In Chapter 3 of The Fidelity of Betrayal, Peter Rollins writes:

The idea of the "Word of God" becomes pale and anemic when reduced to the idea of a factual description of historical events. The words of the Bible, wonderful as they often are, must not be allowed to stand in for God's majestic Word, as if the words and phrases have been conferred with some sacred status and the phonetic patterns given divine power. Rather, the Word of God can be described as that dark core around which the words of the text find their orbit, the unspeakable Source within the text that cannot be reduced to the words themselves but that breathes life into them.

The claim that the Bible is the Word of God, whether true or not, makes sense only if it refers to the source of the gaps between the words; or more precisely, the source of the irreducible Gap within the words themselves. God's Word is thus testified to indirectly by the parallactical nature of the text itself, being communicated by the rich, weaving web of wounded words to the happening of a divine event. (pgs. 56-57)

Rollins says it far more eloquently than I, but here's the rub I get: the thing isn't the THING itself - the thing is pointing to the THING. And likely: when looking directly at the THING, it's no longer the thing, but again pointing on to something MORE THING. And that in turn points onward. Dancing around Rollins' "dark core."

Don't hand me a Bible and tell me it's God. It's only pointing toward God. A friend of mine from class said, last night, that quoting Scripture in the wrong context or the wrong spirit (with, perhaps, the wrong understanding or the wrong motivations?) renders it untrue. False advertising. Good call, Bo. When someone tells me, "Here is the thing" I'm going to run the other way, clinging tightly to my wallet.

Lent - Rejection or Accomodation? - Fidelity Pt. 3

The season of Lent has been upon us for a few days now, and I must confess I haven't opted to give anything up. It's hard for me to even be mentally prepared for Lent: although I attend a liturgical church now, I did not grow up in one. The idea of Lent remains foreign to me, though attractive in its symbolism: Christ in the desert. As we contemplate Jesus' temptation and spiritual preparation in the desert, so we are prepared to commemorate the Passion of Christ.

Having chosen a meat-free diet for a few months now, maybe I'm exempt... (?)

But maybe rejecting something - sacrifice - isn't the only path to illumination. In Chapter 2 of The Fidelity of Betrayal Rollins cites Peter's vision in Acts 10:

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, "Get up Peter. Kill and eat."

"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."

The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Rollins observes, "This vision fundamentally challenges what Peter holds to be the command of God and opens up a difficult dilemma: in order to obey the command of God he must disobey the command of God." (pg. 34)

As Christians, we love pious [public] sacrifices - especially if you grew up Pentecostal!

"Oh, I don't watch R-rated movies! I don't listen to secular music! I don't drink alcohol! I don't swear - ever! I don't believe in meditating. I don't smoke. I don't laugh at sex jokes." And so it goes.

So, is there anything you might spiritually benefit from, by adding to your life?

  • Watch a beautiful, Oscar-nominated, R-rated film - and be moved!
  • Listen to some gut-wrenchingly haunting secular music (I recommend Iron & Wine this week).
  • Have a glass of red wine.
  • Go take a yoga class and don't worry if you aren't focusing on Jesus the whole time.
  • Smoke a cigarette with a non-Christian friend and don't apologize or try to explain it away. See what happens...
  • Laugh at a joke about sex. Because sometimes, sex jokes are funny.

Maybe, in enjoying some "non-Kosher" activities, you WILL be giving something up for Lent: overly-self-conscious, subculturally-mandated pietism. Mmmm... that tastes delicious.

"Are You Saved?" - Fidelity of Betrayal Pt. 2

I had a man brag to me today: "When I talk to someone about faith, I don't ask them what denomination they are or what church they attend. I just ask them: are you SAVED? And THAT tells me everything I need to know..."

I didn't know how to respond (that's rare - I'm a loudmouth). How would YOU respond? Are YOU saved? What exactly does "saved" mean? Saved from hell? Saved from ignorance? Saved from ambiguity? Saved from death? Poverty? Disease? Unhappiness?

The word "saved" comes up a lot in Scripture - Old Testament and New - so I won't pretend there's no precedent. But in Luke 23 I read about Jesus' experience on the cross: "The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One."

But Jesus didn't save himself. Jesus died for his enemies.

I'm not a big fan of Paul, but even Paul said in Romans 9:3, "For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers..."

Paul would have sacrificed his own salvation for others.

What if, at the heart of being "saved," was a willingness to give it up to save others? Maybe rejecting salvation is to truly BE saved - freed from the bondage of self-preservation. Finally more focused on OTHERS than self.

In Chapter 1 of The Fidelity of Betrayal, Rollins writes:

...there are a few who betray Christianity, not because they no longer believe in it, but because they believe in it so deeply, because they understand that unless the seed of our Christianity falls to the ground and dies it will remain a single seed, but if it is allowed to die it will produce many seeds.

With this in mind we may wonder whether the deepest cost entailed in embracing the radical message of Christ - that we lay down our life and pick up our cross and follow him - may not simply be the call to sacrifice our own life... but the call to sacrifice what we love more than our life... putting our religion to death so that a religion without religion can spring forth. (pgs 24-25)

I don't see salvation as a light switch - turned on or off with the quick flick of the wrist. Salvation is a process. And if Rollins is right, that process begins working backward as soon as it starts working forward: unpacking and unloading all that it initially puts on.

My guess is, with the gentleman I talked to earlier today, that my answer would have been the wrong answer: "everything he needed to know..."

The Fidelity of Betrayal - Reflection 1

Damn I wish I was as cool as Hugh Jackman... anyone watch the Oscars? Or Australia? Sheesh. Seriously... but I digress. Sorry.

I finished reading Peter Rollins' The Fidelity of Betrayal a few weeks ago, and have been meaning to do a series of posts highlighting some of his most moving passages for me. I just can't say enough good things about it!

I was just conversing with a new reader here at, 'Matthew' (hi Matt!), and observed that he's obviously a native to these sorts of emerging/pomo conversations. Some have said that of me, but it's not really personally true. It may be, of some Gen-X/30-somethings (like Rollins), but I had to radically (laboriously) work toward shifting my concrete worldview before I could begin speaking a different kind of fluid, deconstructionist, post-Evangelical language. Often, I still stutter.

What strikes me first in Fidelity is the same about Rollins: he weaves this deconstructionist, Post-Colonial treatise as a "native" postmodern.

Rollins' introduction is entitled: "What Would Judas Do?" (WWJD)

What would Jesus do when confronted with Christianity today? Would Jesus do what Judas did, and betray it? In saying this I am not hinting at the rather mundane insight that Jesus would betray the anemic, inauthentic, self-serving Churchianity that so often festers quietly under the banner of Christianity today. I am not asking whether Jesus would turn the tables on what passes as contemporary Christianity in favor of a more robust and radical version that may have once existed in an age long past. Rather, by asking whether Jesus would betray Christianity as Judas betrayed Christ, I am asking if Jesus would plot the downfall of Christianity in every form that it takes. Or rather, to be more precise, I am asking whether Christianity, in its most sublime and revolutionary state, always demands an act of betrayal from the Faithful. In short, is Christianity, at its most radical, always marked by a kiss, forever forsaking itself, eternally at war with its own manifestation?

Not just beautiful prose; dangerous, challenging words. I hope you'll buy the book, read along, comment as you're able, and help me engage this challenging, exciting text! Adele, I know you and Pete go way back - I look forward to hearing how this book has impacted you.

Podcast Interview at

I'm listening to a podcast interview that Adele Sakler and I had last weekend with the guys at It's kind of like having to watch old home videos - "ugh! Do I really sound that way?"

In the reality I've created for myself, I'm much more thoughtful and articulate. I enjoy Adele's portion immensely. Our interviewers, Chuck and Leighton, have great "radio voices."

Anyway, I think the discussion really exemplifies why it's so important to have these discussions in the first place: many of us are groomed to engage in debates rather than relationships. But factoids and theses rarely reveal our inward nature. Let's talk about how we think before we start talking about what we think about. Let's talk about what we love before we explain what we deduce.

BTW, I realize in listening, that a lot of the "dead air" has been [mercifully] edited out. The result is a much cleaner, quicker-moving podcast. The side-effect is that I probably sound a little more articulate than I actually was.

Lots of fun! Hope you listen. Click here for the podcast!


I have a confession: in Hawaii, I ate some meat. Not a lot, but a few meals. I was on vacation!

Ok, I'm a crappy activist...

So I got this in my inbox:

Dear Peter,
On September 5, 2000, PETA placed an indefinite moratorium on our McCruelty campaign when McDonald's agreed to require basic improvements in the way that its suppliers treat animals. Since then, PETA has tried to work with the company to make further improvements in the way that its chickens are slaughtered in the U.S.—but McDonald's has refused to do anything more to eliminate the worst abuses that chickens killed for its restaurants suffer.

All of McDonald's U.S. chicken suppliers use a system called "electrical immobilization" to kill birds, which involves dumping birds out of transport crates and hanging them upside-down in metal shackles—often resulting in broken bones, extreme bruising, and hemorrhaging. The birds then have their throats cut while they are still conscious and are often immersed in tanks of scalding-hot water while they are still alive and able to feel pain.

We are lifting our moratorium on the McCruelty campaign and need your help to persuade McDonald's to demand that its suppliers switch to a less cruel method of chicken slaughter called controlled-atmosphere killing, or CAK. Every published report on controlled-atmosphere killing systems to date—including a 2005 study by McDonald's—concludes that it is the least cruel form of poultry slaughter available. And some of McDonald's suppliers in Europe already use the system!

Please write to McDonald's today and demand that it phase in the exclusive use of controlled-atmosphere killing of chickens by requiring that its suppliers switch to this method over time. You can also help by cross-posting this e-mail message and forwarding it to others who are interested in standing up for animals.

Thank you for your continued support and for all that you do for animals!

Tracy Reiman
Executive Vice President,

All of this: not okay. Please click on the "write to McDonald's" link. I'm still as convicted as ever about the inhumane factory-treatment of animals. No, I won't always be "sinless" in my protest. C'mon, have you ever eaten perfect prime rib?

But I'm committed to changing my lifestyle. Maybe it's more of a process than a point in time... like salvation?! So I won't beat myself up over the little ups and downs.

Now where's that stir-fried tempeh I've got in the fridge?
On Sunday, right after returning from vacation, my friend Adele and I joined a couple of atheists from for a discussion about religion, belief, doubt, science - all sorts of subjects. It was a lot of fun - Chuck and Leighton are really nice guys. They'll be posting the discussion online, probably later this week...

But I had a sneaking suspicion during the podcast, that I am not as articulate as I sometimes-think. OR, maybe more specifically: I'm more of a heretic, casually, than my writing suggests. OR, alternatively, I should do better preparation before I talk about such weighty issues as the nature and power of God.

The truth is I tend to talk about faith either with very close friends who understand my faith journey, or with atheists and agnostics whose judgment I don't fear (because their judgment rarely comes).

Putting those sorts of conversations into the public eye (ear) in all their gritty, unprepared (unedited) rawness suddenly seems daunting.

Moreover, I do a lot of public speaking in my professional and academic life. I regularly emcee local events and present in meetings, classrooms, even churches... I realize, now, how vastly removed that sort of speaking is from the terrifying vacuum of an open Skype line and a tough question like: "if you aren't certain about the omnipotence of God, then how do you explain Scripture about humankind being formed in God's image?" Stuff like that.

But I guess when it comes down to it, I would rather be talking about these things openly - giving other folks permission to ask questions and discuss beliefs they're embarrassed or unsure of. So if you read this blog regularly and think I'm a heretic, the podcast won't change your mind. If you like some of what I say, but I make you nervous - well, be patient with me. If you love me and fear for my salvation... give me time. I'm working all this out. So's Adele. So are you. We're all in it together, and God is very big: big enough to forgive my ignorance and impiety - maybe even big enough to forgive my certainty...

More immediately - I hope I get more opportunity to practice webcasting/podcasting. It's not easy to get used to.

The 'Mile High Club': does this count?

So on my flight to O'ahu, weekend before last, I didn't have the good fortune of sitting next to my wife. Instead, I was seated next to (let me try not to sound judgmental or shallow) an 'odd' looking individual.

I had a funny feeling as I sat down next to him and offered a "hi, how'ya doing?" Little response. He was about 35 years old, wrapped in his flight blanket with a large laptop computer on his lap. He vigorously banged the keys. He also kept smacking his own face, which shocked me the first time. I turned over to see what he was doing. No acknowledgement to me - he just kept typing.

I tried to be polite, and intentionally avoided looking at the laptop's screen. At first.

After about five minutes of continued keyboard banging and face-smacking (felt weirder by the minute!) I finally happened to glance over at the computer screen.

Hello! A big hairy penis!

That's right. The dude was on a sex-chat while looking at naked men. Now, I can honestly say I would have been equally shocked, female or male genitalia. One simply doesn't expect this sort of imagery on Hawaiian Air.

I almost didn't believe I'd actually seen what I actually saw - so I waited a moment, sort of deliberating my next move...

That's when the little oddling started thrusting under his blanket.


I felt very angry for having my "personal space" infringed on. All sorts of righteous indignation started frothing up inside. I aggressively leaned in toward my neighbor with my eyes wide for intimidation (every once in awhile I muster a little over-the-top performance-machismo). He looked up and gave a pathetic, "what?"

Like: what? I'm not masturbating in this seat next to you on a plane to Hawaii.

I got up and told the flight attendants (who were horrified), and took a different seat next to a sweet woman - a dairy farmer's wife. The flight felt much more wholesome after that.

But I've got to thinking since the flight (since calming down): do I really have a right to be so outraged? Do I have any stones to throw?

The only difference between me and Masturbating-Flight-Oddling is that he sees no need to hide his sin. Or doesn't have the capacity for subtlety.

I keep my hedonism secret. I trade my socially-inappropriate sins for more culturally acceptable ones.

John 8
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a dude caught masturbating on an airplane. They made him stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this oddling was caught in the act of playing with himself on a plane. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such creeps. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at him." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the guy still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked him, "Man, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

I'm not going to try to defend this weirdo who played with himself and looked at porn on an airplane. It still creeps me out to think about. But I think I was wrong to be as outraged as I was, initially. I got pretty puffed up there, on the plane...

Recalibrating Church: Pt. 5

Recalibrating Church: Part 5

Dr. Leonard Sweet

Len’s was the final presentation for the day. He approached the podium at about 5:30pm. His is a booming voice: “How many PKs are out there? How many Pastor’s Kids? Well I’m a PK. My mother was ordained in the Pilgrim Holiness Church. It merged with the Wesleyan Methodists to form the Wesleyan Church. My father was a ‘liberal’ – he was a Free Methodist.” Laughter and applause.  He knows how to read an audience.

Len told a story about growing up with a mom who always managed to know what was going on: “My mother knew when we were up to something. My brothers and I would take blood oaths not to tell her, but she’d find out. I finally had to say: ‘you know what?’ Mom is ALWAYS gonna know when we’re up to something…”

“Well let me tell you: God’s up to something. Huge!  The question for all of us here is: do we know Jesus WELL ENOUGH to KNOW what God’s up to?”

Len pointed out: the FIRST problem the disciples had when Jesus was resurrected was - what? “They didn’t recognize him!”

Len told the story of Joshua Bell, a concert violinist who decided to play in a Washington subway to see how many folks passing by on the way to work would recognize genuine beauty. Only 3 people stopped to pay attention to that beauty.

“Joshua Bell is Jesus,” Len said...  "Jesus is beauty."   Are we paying attention?

Len talked about connecting with a "Google culture"…

“I don’t think generational analysis works anymore. I was born a Guttenberg person… in 1973 the cell phone was invented… 50% of the world has cell phones now… I don’t talk about postmodern anymore. I don’t talk about emerging anymore. I talk about pre-Google and post-Google… This is the fastest diffusion of technology in the history of the planet. When you buy a cell phone, you’re buying a relationship. That’s why the cell phone is free. And If you DON’T think you’re in a relationship, try canceling your plan!”

85% of all cell phones now have internet access.

Len’s acronym “EPIC” interacts with this culture. He started its usage with the book Postmodern Pilgrims, and now The Gospel According to Starbucks is the most recent iteration.

    : : :   E   P   I   C   : : :


“But EPIC is just an interface,” Sweet clarifies. “And God’s not up to an interface. It’s just: ‘do you want to do ministry in 2009?’ Ask your church: ‘What year is it here?’ The problem is, the EPIC interface is morally neutral. The devil is an evangelist, and wants to do ministry in 2009… and I don’t see EPIC working anymore in 2030. The culture will have shifted again… NEXT it will be ‘HIGH TOUCH.’”  A brief description of emerging technologies that stimulate/simulate actual touch experience.

Len explained that “we have literally two brains – they aren’t one.” A Guttenberg world stimulates and facilitates Left-Brain thinking. A Google world is a step to the Right-Brain. Can we function in a Right-Brain world?

Here’s the core of Len’s presentation: “The BIGGEST thing God is doing is DEFRAGGING THE CHURCH, putting it through a virus scan, rebooting us into the ORIGINAL Operating System of the Christian faith… In other words: ‘You gotta use the interface that connects with that operating system.’ The problem is we’ve been stuck in a bad ‘Default OS.’”

Len’s new focal acronym for getting the church through this process:

 : : : MRI : : :  Missional, Relational, Incarnational

  -  Helping the church to move from Attractional to MISSIONAL
  -  Propositional to RELATIONAL
  -  From Colonial to INCARNARTIONAL

“Jesus’ first word is ‘come,’ but we come to GO! … 2/3 of the word God is Go!”

The Way - Missional
The Truth - Relational
The Life - Incarnational

“We still think in terms of a ‘mission trip.’ All of life should be a mission trip!
You have a ministry to the Body, but you have a ministry IN the WORLD!”

“The thing that’s hardest to get – JDD. Jesus Deficit Disorder. We’ve made Christianity EVERYTHING BUT Jesus! When they said, ‘Jesus is Lord’ they didn’t mean ‘Jesus is my core value.’ Close your eyes and answer: what is truth? If what came into your mind is a proposition, then you’re more Muslim than Christian. Christian is the wackiest religion, because truth is a person! … This is returning the church to what should have been its first love to begin with.”

Len's presentation began to wind down with this story:

“When I was in Wittenburg, I could not find a single Lutheran Church. They’re all gone. Christianity is dying in the West… A lot of what we think is healthy – there’s something else going on. It’ll be called the Wal-Mart-ization of the Christian church. What happened to mom-and-pop stores when Wal-Mart came to town? What happens to small, local churches when a Mega Church moves in?”

I'd like to reflect again on "Jesus Deficit Disorder."  It's the core-argument of Alan Hirsch's book Re-Jesus.  We have to rediscover our first love.  We have to re-approach our Founder (no, not Paul the Apostle).  We have to learn who Jesus is, all over again, and what our Church could look like if we paid attention to the Person of Truth.

If we can do that, then it won't matter what culture we're in - what shifts are taking place around us - because we won't be "loyal" to a paradigm.  We'll be loyal to a personality who IS.

There's more "defragging" to do.  And it's going to hurt more than it has.  We're just getting started (I think)...

Recalibrating Church: Pt. 4

Sorry it's taken me so long to post again.  I'm on vacation and it's hard to focus!   ;)

I can tell by some of the comments here that some of my comments - particularly about one of the presenters - touched some nerves.  It's very difficult in Christianity to critique someone's view or theology or approach without rubbing some very raw emotions.  Especially when it's in a format like this: cold text written by a guy most of you probably don't know (me) and who probably appears a little too self-assured.  I apologize if that's the vibe I've given you.  As I said in a recent comment, I've seen enough of the church's own little "celebrity culture" to be a little bit jaded about how we talk about approaches to ministry.  This is an industry.  Just like some folks think Seth Godin is a quack in business/leadership circles.   And we need to be able to talk about Christianity honestly for God's sake - literally.  If we can't - if we let politeness overwhelm honesty and transparency - then we're sunk.  And maybe in many ways, we already are.  Which is why we need to recalibrate in the first place.  But we can keep chatting about this, so for now I digress...

Recalibrating Church: Continued... 

I’ll say up front that I was really impressed with Alan’s portion of the Recalibrating event. I’ve read his blog, but haven’t read his books or heard him speak. He seemed to carry himself with a humility and focus that was captivating from the moment he began speaking.

Alan opened with a comment that “Re-Founding the Church” was a more radical way of looking at the task-at-hand than reformation. He explained that we – as Christians - have to recover or rediscover the “way of the founder.” The way of Jesus. This does not mean digging for the “right theology,” but rather focusing intently on the person of Jesus and allowing the results of that focus to manifest in the church and the world.

“When one recalibrates something, one resets the algorithm, resets the system – reboots the computer,” he said. “I don’t wear collars... I have a short little neck: some Jewish-hobbitty thing… But when I do wear a collar, I usually mess it up. I have to unbutton it, rebutton it, straighten it out…” so we must unbutton, straighten out, and rebutton the church. So to speak.

On Post-Christendom: “We’re here for the first time. We haven’t been here before.” Not in Pre-Modernity, not in Modernity. “But we have an idea of church that is shaped by the Christendom model… God has used it… It’s not totally bankrupt, but it’s not going to take us into the 21st century.”

Hirsch continued, “Behind that, the more important issue is getting back to the person of Jesus Christ. The centrality of Christ… It is Christology – the phenomenon of Jesus – that determines our missiology in the world. Out of our missiology – our purpose and function in the world – is how the world performs in the world. The church is a historical entity – an entity made up of human beings… It must ALWAYS express itself in cultural terms.”

Keep in mind I wasn’t typing every word. Some of these notes are fragmented. I humbly ask your forgiveness...

Hirsch said, “I like the term ‘Gospel Planting’ instead of ‘Church Planting’ because when we say ‘church,’ we THINK we know what each other means. If you plant a gospel (seed vs. pot) then the church grows up around it. You can’t plant a MOVEMENT with an institutional church. You plant it with the Gospel seed.”

I really liked that. The image of planting a seed vs. a potted plant. Maybe we aren’t patient enough to wait for a seed to sprout, so we just dig out a piece of our existing plant and transport it elsewhere…

Re-Jesus is my new book… it’s about taking us back to our FOUNDER. I can’t think of one thing more important for the church than to rediscover the utter centrality of Jesus.”

Love it.

“It is CHRISTOLOGY that lies at the heart of how the church needs to change in the world. How else are we going to know we are Christian unless we line ourselves up against Jesus. How else are we going to know? By what other means?”

Hirsch outlined five critical things that result from Jesus’ centrality. I caught three of them (no PowerPoint; oh how co-dependent I am on aged software for my learning!). There may be #’s 4 and 5 in here and I just didn’t catch them as headings…

1. Jesus defines our understanding of God.

If your conception of God is radically false, then the more devout you are, the worse it would be for you. It is better that you be an atheist. It is God who reveals himself primarily through Jesus. If we want to understand God, we look at Jesus. We only understand the Trinity through the 2nd Person of the Godhead, Jesus. It’s not so much that Jesus is Godlike. The more radical truth is that God is Christlike. “If you have seen me, then you have seen the father.”

It’s critical that we “Re-Jesus” the church. The Gospels must become our primary texts again. We in the Reformed tradition have looked at Paul for far too long. Paul would be appalled at it! Any substitute, replacing Jesus, distorts the fundamentals. If we take Jesus out of the equation, then we lose our reference point. If we’re going to be healthy Christians, then we have to both engage the Incarnation, we need to return to the narratives of Jesus as what life is meant to be lived like. Mostly we hear Jesus in Sunday school. We use Jesus to turn our kids into nice middle class citizens. But Jesus undermines all of that – the real Jesus.

2. Ecclesiology must get its agenda by Jesus. 
Christianity minus Christ equals religion. I’ve come to serve the church in America. I deeply love the American people.

But I’ve got to tell you there’s a lot of religion in America – some hard core stuff going down! And it depresses people.

There’s that book: “unChristian.” unChristian? That is the WORST insult that can be hurled at the church!

I’m a Jew. My people have suffered far more under Christians than under Muslims. By putting Jesus back into the church, we recover what it meant to be Christian in the first place.

3. Jesus sends and defines our mission. 
He’s the commissioner. Not only is Jesus the sending God, but he’s also a darn good missionary. I’ve worked with freaks my whole ministry – people on the fringes of society. Prostitutes. I know them – in the non-Biblical sense. Here’s the thing: they love Jesus. They couldn’t get enough of Jesus. But they don’t like evangelicals. I know, it’s a shock. But What is it? We’re not Christlike. If we were, we would do the things Jesus did. We lay into sexual issues, but Jesus says more about pride and greed and self righteousness than anything else. He doesn’t even talk about homosexuality. We should at LEAST put our issues into Jesus’ perspective.

All of the women I worked with (prostitutes) were drug addicts. As a control freak, my job was to go fix them up and tell them what to do. The more of them that came into my life, there more I was getting more tired. God said, “It’s not your job to do all that. Do what a priest does.” So what does a priest do? He mediates between God and people. So: “Sally, here’s Jesus, Jesus, here’s Sally…” and then I step out of the way. Jesus is able to change people in ways we cannot. When I try to play the Holy Spirit, I do a really bad job. We can trust the spirit – God is good at what he does. It’s not my business to run their lives. It’s very liberating!

- - -

I love it.  I've often written about "jumping the gun" on the Holy Spirit.  Getting ahead of God's own work.  Assuming I know better than God what someone needs to hear, and when.

I'll be picking up Re-Jesus very soon.  Gotta read Phyllis Tickle's Great Emergence first though.  Will let you know how it is...


Recalibrating Church: Part 3...

Recalibrating Church: Continued...


Dr. MaryKate Morse approached the podium on crutches. She starts, “I had planned on doing an interpretive dance, but I can’t.” Good line. She later contends that Len Sweet has volunteered to take her place as the featured dancer. He looks horrified...

Morse begins talking about her book Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence, introducing it as a recalibration of the concept of power. She uses the example of kids playing in a sandbox to begin: “no matter how much fun all of the kids are having, some other kid comes in and takes it on themselves to smash what everyone has been building. Why does that happen? How does that happen in the church? I think it has to do with Power.”

She continues, “the problem is, we have a hard time getting along with each other. We can talk about theory and think about things, but we need to get our heads around power. Make this organic community a place where it really can thrive!”

Dr. Morse discusses some myths about power:
Leadership is embodied in a person whose words and behaviors influence others…

I was at this board meeting, and there were all these leaders from other churches and denominations... 16 people there… We worked two hours on this local community problem… We got to a conclusion on how to approach the problem, got up to break, and just then another pastor showed up. He said, “I’m so sorry I’m late!”

“And everyone was sort of ‘buzzed’ about him being there. He said, ‘Well catch me up, what have you talked about?” So they caught him up. And he said, ‘Well, I wouldn’t have done it that way.’ Suddenly the whole group shifted and went his way. All of the resolve went away! Everything we’d talked about! Why would one person come in last minute and shift everything?”

Morse went on: “When everyone finally took a break, I decided to ask him, ‘did you see what just happened here?’ No. He didn’t see. ‘Well, we already had a decision and then you came in and you changed it.’ I asked, ‘How do you manage that in your soul?’ He didn’t answer that. Leadership isn’t a thing that someone brings in. It’s an energy. Everyone in that room disregarded the group’s experience and work, and turned on a dime toward that leader. The group was part of the power process by allowing it. Mesmerized. They decided what he thought was more important than anything else. We get trapped in this thinking."

"Power is a corrupting thing," Morse said. "Jesus Christ came, embodied in the flesh, and he was powerful. People gave power to him. Power is neither good nor bad – it’s the ability to cause or prevent change. You have to have power in order to influence. There is stewardship with the use of power. That stewardship belongs to the group – to prevent the abuse of power."

"Luke 7: Jesus, Simon and the sinner woman. Jesus receives the woman’s love. In that experience Jesus allows her access to his space – his power. And it becomes redemptive. "

"There’s plenty of power – enough to go around."

"We think we somehow DESERVE our 'share' of power. We have an unlimited goods economy in our culture: there’s “enough” of everything. And we’re suffering from this perverted notion. We use power to consume.In Biblical times, there was a LIMITED Goods culture. There WASN’T enough to go around. It was the responsibility of those with more to share and make sure those with less were provided for. Hospitality was normative. This is the same notion we should bring to power. We should cultivate and understand how to use power. The group should talk about it because the group constituted it. But we have to think of it in terms of hosting others. We can have a “sandbox experience” – if you have power, make sure everyone gets to play and have fun.”

Very nice presentation. Dr. Morse was spot on.

Q&A from Audience:

My friend Jim Henderson ( was there in the audience. He got up and said: "Leadership is an activity, not a role. Please comment. Also, please comment on why men don’t understand power."

Morse answered: "Men are naturally given power because they take up more space. They’re larger, stronger, more comfortable socially. In our culture we tend to give men more access to influence." She also made a funny comment about the panel she was a part of. She asked, "Who grabs our attention first, as we enter the room? Len Sweet! He's tall. He's got a deep booming voice. He's impressive looking!" And she was right - Len WAS the most striking and "impressive" of the group.

I asked how men can defer or redirect power back to women without appearing patronizing or even re-affirming my own masculine power.

She said to ask individual women how I (we, men) can share power and give more authority back to them.

Recalibrating Church: Part 2...

Recalibrating Church: Continued...

You'll have to forgive me. For those of you who were actually at this event, you'll notice that my notes are quite abridged - shorthand. See, I have a hard time turning my brain off to blindly note-take. I'd be an awful reporter.


Frank opened: “I want to admit that I don’t have the foggiest idea of what ‘Recalibrating Church’” means… so I shan’t use it.” Big audience laughs.

“I want to be very clear about this: George Barna wrote every word of Pagan Christianity. I put my name on it so that it would sell.” More laughs.

“I’m honored to be here – I have no idea why I was invited. I was asked to talk about my book, Reimagining Church. This is the constructive sequel to Pagan Christianity. Pagan Christianity deconstructs, and Reimagining Church reconstructs. It took me 20 years to write this book, because I tested it… This is not armchair theology… In 1988 I left the institutional church. I gave it up for Lent.” Cue audience laughter. “And I was thrown into what I would call a spontaneous burst of body-life…”

“And brothers and sisters, I beheld Camelot! I beheld Zion! For one bright and shining moment, I saw her – the Bride of Jesus Christ! Free of condemnation, free of guilt, free of the stench of human made ritual! And it WRECKED me!! If you have never seen the Body of Christ living according to her natural instincts, then quite frankly you have not fully experienced her, as a Christian.”

I’m starting to get a hunch: this guy is really cocky. Ok, I recognize it from personal experience.

He continues: “Most denominations teach that the church is a living organism, not an institution. That is pious rhetoric. My question: if the church of Jesus Christ is really a living organism, than what does she really look like? I’m not talking about House Churches. I am monumentally unimpressed with House Churches. Meeting in a home doesn’t mean a lot. I’m speaking of the organic expression of the church. When God’s people are following their natural instincts, and the DNA of the church is operating.”


Then he actually makes a good point that isn’t about himself and his own blustery experience: “God did not create, in order to save, human beings.” Meaning, God didn’t create us just to SAVE us. We weren’t created to be subsequently damned, so that a very few of those created could then be “rescued.”

Viola continues: “That mindset, that the church is a soul-winning organism for God, is in the bloodstream of every Christian on the planet. But that’s not God’s eternal purpose. That’s not his grand mission.”

So what exactly IS God’s eternal purpose? And what is the secret of the perfect church that is as rare and exciting as Frank’s testimony describes? Well… Frank didn’t exactly get to that. At least, I didn’t hear it. And if he did get to it, I must have been too annoyed to listen. Which is a problem. Maybe my problem – but maybe his.

My gut says Frank didn’t really share anything that will radically transform the church in America, no matter how loud he yells or how grandiose his claims.


Dan Kimball points out the centrality of “saving” to Jesus’ mission: “But Jesus said follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Frank: “But I’m saying that’s not the final end. Most Christianity today is fueled by guilt, religious duty, and condemnation.”

Len Sweet jumps in: “In the last 20 years, there’s been a whole critique of the winning of souls. So there’s something of a straw man that I want to be careful of… Do you think the Christians of the apostolic age were any less creepy than we are today? We have this notion that the apostolic age is the Golden Age and that we have to get back there. These were some creepy Christians, man!”

I’ve blogged plenty of times about the modern church’s OBSESSION with “getting back to the 1st Century Church” rather than moving into the future, so I appreciated Len’s comment.

Frank said: “The difference is, some wild-eyed fanatic named Paul of Tarsus would come into town and bring people together and bring them to Jesus Christ and show them how to follow the Lord. In 3 to 4 months he would get out of there, not elect a clergy or elect elders, he’d come back two years later and they’re still meeting together. They had problems, but they stayed together. What did he preach that, in the face of persecution, kept them meeting together for years?”

Frank’s explanation of his “ideal, organic church” sounds like a bunch of early morning Bible studies that magically make the church better than all of the failed evangelical churches. He says this isn’t “armchair theology,” but I’ve seen all his claims struggle, fail and sometimes succeed – in practice. No magic formula.

Frank loudly proclaims, “We need to take Sunday morning service out to the barn and shoot it!” with not-too-little satisfaction.

Look, I don't want to sound like I've got a vendetta against Frank Viola. Maybe I sound really judgmental here. But let me tell you: everyone I spoke with after the event had similar reactions. The audience responses were similar, too. I've never read or listened to Viola before - only read OF him - so I had no pre-existing vendetta.

In retrospect, I have a hunch Frank felt a little "outclassed" in this group of thinkers and leaders. It's no small thing to sit between Leonard Sweet and Alan Hirsch. I think he may have been feeling self-conscious, which may have led him to overplay his hand. That said, I still think we all got a pretty good glimpse of what Viola's internal track sounds like, and I can't say I'm impressed.

More notes coming... Recalibrating: Pt. 3

Recalibrating the Church: Recap Pt. 1

As I said, George Fox unfortunately did not have wireless internet in the Bauman Auditorium where the Recalibrating conference too place yesterday. It's ok GFS, I still love you for the free ticket to get in!!

I took notes, so here's the first section of them...

Pictured left to right: Lance Ford (, Dr. MaryKate Morse (, Dr. Leonard Sweet (, Frank Viola (, Alan Hirsch ( and Dan Kimball (

Damn. I can’t get connected to the wireless internet here at GFU’s Newberg Campus. Thick brick walls I guess. Sorry for all the blog-promises I made to live-post…

Dan Kimball opened with a series of images: funny, culturally embarrassing examples of Christians. “Christians are creepy” was a quotation he worked off of. He used a lot of imagery – culturally outdated archetypes. Why we’re so creepy (and we are, it’s true). He talked about the motivation for his recent book, They Like Jesus But Not The Church, particularly Gandhi’s quotation – “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Dan got a lot of laughs for the social awkward images of evangelicals with picket signs, wearing tights, embarrassing themselves. Something occurs to me: we’re laughing at them, but are they all that different from the rest of the evangelicals here? If they were better dressed or culturally hipper, would we have any problem? The inherent issues Kimball seems to point to are superficial. He isn’t dealing with core issues with our beliefs, our theology, our Christian identity? Is our advertising the only problem?!

Post-presentation discussion:

Dr. Mary Kate asked: “Dan, one of the problems is that I think some Christians actually are creepy. How do we help people get past that?”

Great question! She recognizes the issue isn’t only skin deep. But is the real question: “help people get past that”? Shouldn’t we – instead – be grooming Christians to be loving, versus creepy?!

Dan answers: “If people can admit that they’re broken people, then their attitude is different, and the creepiness disappears. But when you create a culture in your church…”

I missed the rest of what he said after that, I think because he just said that when people admit they’re broken and come to Jesus, “their creepiness disappears.”

Really? When people admit they’re broken, they stop being creepy? On their own? Their creepy Christian culture goes away? Wait! Don’t they admit they’re broken as they approach Christianity? Isn’t that when the creepiness starts?!

Alan Hirsch just said: “As the church in the west declines significantly, including America, my concern is that if we persist in the same models in the way of doing church, then we persist in the same failures. We’re using the same kind of thinking that created the problem in the first place. What do you mean by recalibration vs. innovation?”

Good question Mr. Hirsch. I wish I’d been listening to the lead up, but I was ranting about creepiness...

Dan answers: “I don’t want to be innovative for the sake of being innovative. How are you serving your specific church? Your specific group of people? We live in a culture of change – I’m all for organ music if it reached people for Christ!”

Good point. The cultural accoutrements are just that: accoutrements.

And we’re moving on to Frank Viola next...

Recalibrating Concepts of Church...

I let you all down. I didn't blog live. I've made promises for the last week but couldn't follow through.

I attended the Recalibrating Concepts of Church conference at George Fox University today. I had been asked to attend and blog about the event. Unfortunately, the thick brick walls don't allow wireless to soak through into the auditorium, and Len Sweet was using the only hard-line in the building!

Ah well. I took a lot of notes. And I'm WAY too tired to edit them, format them, and make them pretty. So you'll have to wait a bit - forgive me.

I had a fantastic time! Got to connect with Len (it had been awhile) and had dinner with Jim Henderson ( Very good time - lots of good conversation.

At the presentation itself, Alan Hirsch was by far the highlight of the event for me. I had not heard him speak before, and he was energizing, to say the least. Len was fantastic too. Will have more comments and details shortly. Thanks for hanging in there...


"You Might Be Wrong" - Peanuts Theology

I got this strip from a theology group through my church. Thought you might enjoy...

Yeah, it occurs to me every day. I like to call it theological humility. You might call it obsessive existentialism. Or insecurity. But I haven't felt the urge to make any picket signs lately, so I prefer this track...

Upcoming Atheist Dialogue: irreligiosophy!

My friend Adele and I have been invited to dialogue with a couple of fun-loving-atheist-fellows from Leighton (pictured here) and Chuck are two ex-Mormons, now atheists, doing a series of entertaining podcasts about atheism, faith, reason, doubt, pop culture, politics, you name it....

I'll let you know when we're actually scheduled for the podcast. It'll probably be several weeks. Sounds like a lot of fun though. Check out some of their past podcasts to get a feel for their "banter."

If you haven't met my friend Adele:

Adele Sakler currently resides in Richmond, Virginia with her wife, Katryna, and their two dogs, Mushu and Lady. She blogs as Existential Punk at and is the creator and site administrator of Queermergent at She is currently going through long-term treatment for Chronic Lyme Disease, other tick-borne diseases, and heavy metal toxicity. Adele has been a Christ-follower for 20 years and an “out” queer woman for two and-a-half years. Her involvement with the emerging church and Emergent Village ( has filled the better part of 10 years.

- - -

I've only just begun to experiment with podcasting, so I'm looking forward to getting a feel for the "ropes."

When in Doubt, Bet on Friendship

I'm starting to experience chronic déjà vu concerning discussions about emerging faith, postmodernity, and inevitably - yes - homosexuality. I feel like a broken record...

I was in a small group discussion a few nights ago. We were discussing Christianity's interaction with the broader culture.

"How do we navigate relationships with non-Christians?"

Hmmm... I continue to be amazed that this question still needs asking. Aren't things like love and kindness obvious answers? Just as in any other relationships?

One group member (a guy I really respect, by the way) shared that he felt conflicted over a work relationship with a homosexual man. "I like him, I'm kind to him, I treat him fairly, but I can't get beyond feeling like I am condoning his lifestyle by not saying anything."

I asked, "Is it always our jobs, as Christians, to identify what we think is wrong?"

"Not necessarily," he said, "but if I don't say what I believe, then maybe I'm being deceptive about my faith."

In a way, I sort of admired his desire to be authentic. But there are more than enough Christians who have made their personal positions on the issue quite clear. What if he allowed himself to be one of the few who didn't need to make a point of it? I asked if he'd feel that compulsion with a friend who was divorced for any reason beyond marital unfaithfulness. He answered "yes," which surprised me. I don't tend to presume an understanding of someone else's marital decisions.

And I obviously have more left-leaning opinions on this subject matter, but I'm not particularly interested in creating a defined theological position for myself. I'm more interested in how Christians treat other folks, not what they ideologically think. I don't want the Christian church to split over homosexuality or abortion or inerrency or Coke or Pepsi. The fact is, relationships change everything, and I believe the church could radically grow and evolve if Christians took time to make friends with the outside world - with people they might disagree with. Even with other churches.

I also don't feel like "taking sides" because each direction I might go, I would effectively "shut down" the other side, and lose their trust. Hard to speak prophetically when everyone is wearing earplugs. I've said many times that I have friends on each extreme of this issue (among other issues) and love them, respect them, and pray for them, equally. I don't believe I have a right or - more specifically - a call to "convert" them to a side. It took me long enough to get "de-converted.' This ambiguity has helped me open up to a lot more new friendships.

But as for asserting a judgment or an opinion about someone else's lifestyle or sin? Well, did they ask you for your opinion? Did they wound you, personally? Or do they just appreciate you as a human being? Because that's what they are.

When in doubt, bet on friendship.

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