11.30.2009

Shift

We must do the theological work of defining Kingdom power and purpose as seen in the Cross, and then move to a more practical, and more important purpose: attempting to call Church practitioners to account for our complicity in ‘better business practices’ that largely ignore the implications of the theology we espouse. While we have given some thought to the implications for individual lives, practitioners are often ignorant of the ecclesiological implications of kingdom theology, and specifically the Cross. The Cross reveals an approach to power and justice that threatens to shift our paradigm. We must allow this shift to happen, not just theologically, but also in terms of praxis.

11.29.2009

Practice Makes Theory

Church planting is a unique crucible for ecclesiology.

Heteropraxy

If you want to know what someone holds to be valuable, powerful, or true, you are better off watching them live than hearing them speak. The unfortunate truth is that our most carefully crafted statements of theology say less about our understanding of God than the simple everyday choices we make. In the area of Church praxis this is most unfortunate, because our practices communicate a theology that is far from orthodox.

11.28.2009

We are Haunted

In spite of all of the literature, conferences, and personal exhortations to ‘administrate your way to a mega-church;’ we cannot shake the nagging suspicion that God’s Church could actually be something revolutionary in its beauty and purity. All over the earth, in every denominational stream, there are those of us who have grown weary and wary of a Church that feeds on high-dollar advertizing, well-funded ministry teams, and the latest and greatest technologies. We are haunted by the suspicion that our notions of Church ‘success’ might actually be an idolatrous distraction from God’s true purposes.

11.24.2009

Leadership

I came across this comment on a blog a while back, and finally got around to posting it, (the title link is to the place I lifted it from), it seems to get at some important aspects of discerning calling, and the role of existing leadership in the training, and releasing of new leaders.

"Despite being late on this one, the last few comments intrigued me. In particular, I find out some of the comments on personal "calling" troubling.
For instance:"But at the end of the day, this is about a particular person's unique calling which always trumps whatever opinions or ideals that any of us could have."
And: "What about the trained, called and gifted women, who are never even considered for ordination simply because they're female?"
I don't find all ordination processes entirely biblical. But one thing that seems to be missing here is that so-called "callings" are supposed to be affirmed by current, qualified leaders. I don't get to, my heart and track-record unquestioned, get to say "I have a calling, therefore you have to give me authority over God's people". NO! Wolves still exist and the most likely wolves are those that claim a "calling" from God. Have you ever heard of a wolf that felt called to pick up after church? I doubt it. It's those that are "called" who prey. Therefore, it is the job of qualified leaders to affirm the calling for the good of both the "called", who may just end up crashing when they actually aren't called, and for the flock, who are vulnerable to poor leaders.
I don't usually get aggressive with my comments. But those who believe that "individual calling" always trumps current, qualified leadership on just word of one's so-called "calling" are quite likely either very ignorant sheep or very wolfish themselves...they certainly aren't shepherds."


Paul Dalach

11.22.2009

Labeling

I had an intriguing conversation with Amy and Nathan about labeling. It was at a neighborhood mixer. They were talking specifically about the labels we place on everyday items and how those labels can actually effect our perceptions of products, our choices of consumption, and so, whole economic patterns...

For example, what do you read on the labels of your foodstuffs? Probably just the price per quantity, right, maybe some of the health information. How does that effect what you choose to purchase? How much you are willing to pay? Etc.? What if there was no health information on any of our food labels, how would that effect purchasing decisions?

My new friends were talking specifically about environmental impact statements on everyday item labels, and how that might effect our purchasing habits. For example, if the carbon footprint of that item was placed on that label, (let's say in units of trees) how would that effect your purchase decisions? This gallon of milk costs $2.50 and .75 trees, that one costs $3.00 and .07 trees; which one would you choose to buy?

Or how about the percentage of the purchase price that would be recycled into the local economy?

...or the average wage of the person(s) who produced that item?

...etc.

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The basic idea is, that what we choose to put on the label effects how we see the product, and in turn effects our choices with respect to that product. In one sense, nothing has changed about the product itself by changing the label (those things were always true about the product, even though we may have been largely unaware of them), however, by making that reality public, by labeling it, we are potentially effecting change on a large scale.

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My mind immediately went to how we label in the world of Church and religion.

What goes on the label for most spiritual communities?

The number of rear-ends in chairs

The size of the facility

The technological 'wow' factor

How would changing the 'label' effect how we thought about church? What if we found a way to get justice issues, or personal holiness, or cultural diversity, on the label? What if we found a way to get equipping lay-leaders into ministry, or planting new churches, or helping people discover calling, on the label? Not only would that effect the 'purchase' decisions people make (how do I decide which church to commit to), but it would probably begin to have serious effects on a system-wide level. Changing the way churches define themselves, and changing the whole system we have built that equips churches to increase attendance, buildings, and budget, as a sign of 'success.'

May it happen soon, Lord!

11.17.2009

Eucharist and Justice

This theology of the Eucharist, which I am offering to you today, or sketching out with you today, therefore is extremely closely conjoined with a holistic view of mission. Of the mission of God in the world, which is of course all about the challenge to you and you and you and you to repent, to believe, to accept Jesus, to know him for yourself, to rejoice in His salvation, in and through your whole being. But also simultaneously and for the same reasons, the challenge for you to become agents of new creation, where there is hunger, where there is poverty, where there is injustice, where there is danger anywhere in the world.

And, as I said before, this is because God's work in the world is never merely pragmatic. It isn't just we can organize a program to go and do this. If you think you can do God's work like that read the lives of people like Wilberforce and think again. You can't. You need prayer, you need the sacraments, you need that patient faithfulness, because we are not wrestling against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and the world rulers of this present darkness.

Read some of the great Christian biographies and see how they did it. Read about Desmond Tutu. Who would have thought forty years ago that at the start of the 21st century there would be a black archbishop of Cape Town chairing a commission for truth and reconciliation listening to white thugs and black thugs confess their sin? Who would have thought that? But God had other ideas, because that black archbishop used to spend three or four hours on his knees every morning, day after day and week after week, and get other to do the same, and was living the life of the sacramental life of the church and claiming the victory of Jesus over the principalities and powers.

You can't do it by just a little bit more politicizing, social techniques. You can only do it through being energized in the sacramental and prayerful life of the church, whatever the "it" is that you have to do.

-NT Wright

11.08.2009

Christian Storytellers Pt VIII

There is a scene in the film A Time to Kill where the lawyer tells the story of the young African-American rape victim. It was her rape, torture, and humiliation that motivated her father to kill the two Caucasian men who committed the act. As he tells the story to the all-white jury he ends with a picture of the young girl brutalized, and then instructs the jury, "now imagine she is white." This elicits gasps from the jury and the entire chamber full of people...

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Art is able to speak to people in one world, about realities in another world. Art speaks in the language people know, but invites them into a world beyond. It is this very thing that is so perplexing and compelling about the parables of Jesus. He invites his listeners into a story that they are familiar with, but it drops them into another world! A world where our enemies are the good guys; where moral people are on the wrong side of God; where rich people are the truly needy ones; and where honest, hardworking, and resentful older brothers are revealed to be just as self seeking as prodigal younger brothers...

...but of course, the real deal is not telling the story, it is living in the Story!

It is entirely possible to tell a story, without it being the controlling narrative of your life, and with this story, that would be a bummer...

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If the call of the Christian artist is to tell the story in the language of the world, then the call of the Christian, is to live the story in this world. To know the plot, to understand our role, our relationship to the plot and the other characters, and ultimately, to take our cues from the playwright!

We are supposed to be living parables, not by our own creativity and voice, (perhaps, not even directly aware of it) but because we are connected to the One who tells the story best...

11.07.2009

Safety and Agitation

One of the questions I often grapple with as a pastor and as a professor is, how do people change? How do they grow? Particularly when I teach a course on discipleship, this question seems to emerge repeatedly. My theory on spiritual growth is that growth does not occur without the combination of two factors: the creation of a safe place coupled with the introduction of discomfort. Having just one of the two factors is not sufficient for growth. If you only create a safe place, you can become too comfortable and feel no need to change and grow. If you only have the presence of discomfort, you generate too much stress to allow for growth. Both a safe place and discomfort must exist to move towards growth. My book is an attempt to introduce a bit of discomfort to the overly comfortable culture of American evangelicalism.

Professor Soong-Chan Rah

11.05.2009

Courage

Click on the title link to read a story of a friend of mine...

(This is EJ's mother, for those of you who met him on the youth trip)

Paul tells us that God works all thing for our benefit. This woman understands that when Paul says 'all things' he means 'even cancer.'

May we have courage like hers.

Best of Both (Hopefully)

11.04.2009

Christian Storytellers Pt VII

...and so the call goes forth!

The world (and the Church) is in dire need of Christian storytellers. Women and men who will tell the story not merely accurately, but compellingly, beautifully, with skill and power. Exciting the imagination, stirring the emotions, challenging the intellect, and directing the will; the creation of culture must not be left in the hands of those who listen (willfully or ignorantly) to other stories...

I have often thought of art as a valid, but peripheral concern to the purpose of the Church. I have in recent years been chastened. The arts are indispensable.

In a very real sense the arts are the medium for telling the story at the meta-cultural level.

The call of the Christian storyteller is neither superficial sentimentality, nor is it raw self expression; rather it is something more closely approaching prophecy. To return to the grey room and the glorious spring of our previous post; much of Christian art is essentially describing the spring flowers; secular art describes the colorless gloom; some Christians in an attempt to avoid painting daisies collapse into the secular pursuit of painting grey windows in grey rooms...

The call of the Christian storyteller is neither to describe the flowers outside the window, nor to describe the shadows inside the window; the call of the Christian storyteller is to break the window!

We must tell the story of the Spring within the world of the room.

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In drama and dance, in narrative and screenplay, in music and lyric, in clay and in paint, in philosophical treatise and in political speech, we need to tell the story. Not in a polemical or proselytizing manner, but in a provocative and intriguing tone. We are not convincing, but rather inviting; we are not fighting, but rather dancing; we are not conquering, but rather wooing...

Thought Provoking

The Prosperity Gospel from The Global Conversation on Vimeo.



Click on the title link for an article by the theologian interviewed in the video...

11.03.2009

Christian Storytellers Pt VI

So we have introduced the framing story as a concept, as well as compared several false stories to the story...

...so what?

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Christian Art often falls into one of two categories. Kitsch or a not-so-subtle attempt to avoid kitsch...

Neither rises to either originality or, more importantly, the grand legacy and calling of the christian artist...

Much of Christian art is kitsch, a candle-holder that spells Jesus, or a painting of an idyllic Church building. This is simply an unreflective sentimentality about superficial aspects of our faith that are pawed at through the use of some artistic medium, but there is not much depth or power behind it. There are many Christians who decry such stuff. They create art that is as far from this as possible, and in so doing end up falling into the stories of the world. Art simply becomes an excuse for self-expression. A way of sharing personal experiences, thoughts, or feelings...

Again, neither approach rises to the calling of Christ on the author, sculptor, playwright, musician, or painter.

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We live in a room with a single window. The glass is stained and tainted with soot and grime, impossible to get clean; only distorted glimpses of the outside world can be caught with strained eyes. The grey window colors everything behind it with smokey haze.

Outside the spring is dancing and singing! Delightful colors and sounds, new life, budding flowers and gurgling waters...

The sounds are faintly available to life inside the room, but impossible to see, and so easily dismissed as fantasy.

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I cannot find the quote, but remember once reading a paragraph or two by C.S. Lewis wherein he describes the common Christian experience. We arrive at a worship service, hear the story told in scripture and the creeds for an hour, and then march back out into a world for an entire week, (the world in which we work, play, live, eat, and sleep) in which that story is not so often directly denied, but is routinely ignored. Other stories are told, and in fact, in order to successfully work, play, live, eat, and sleep in that world, we must often act is if those other stories are the true ones... and it is the storytellers who are the combatants in this particular confrontation. This is not a war of ideas and truths, but a war of propaganda. The winner will not be the one who tells convincing truths, but rather the one who paints compelling pictures, the one who tells exciting stories...

In our culture we no longer call them storytellers. Instead we call them artists, musicians, professors, even politicians; playwrights and directors, songwriters and sculptors, philosophers and social critics; advertising executives and tech-company CEO's...

...these are the culture creators, the women and men who tell the stories we live in and live by. And they are largely successful in telling stories so loudly, creatively, and compellingly, that we believe them. Even as Christians who know the truth, we believe the false stories...

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We Christians get to hear sermons about life outside the grey room. We are told, sometimes with wondrous flourish, about the Spring that is erupting outside the window

...we are told for an hour a week.

The rest of the week we live in the room, surrounded by those who tell a different story. "The room is all that there is; the many shades of grey, the taste of ash, the smell of soot, is all that is real."

God help me, I am a sinner

How do we grow in Christ-likeness? What does it look like? I will give you a couple of verses here just as illustrations of where such growth comes out. "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves."1 Now just think of the effects of that, and of what it would be like to learn it to the point where doing it is easy—where it was not a strain but was an expression of who you really are—easy for you habitually to see others as better than yourself. Further on in that same chapter: "Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world."2 That’s basic Christian life from Paul’s point of view. That’s a life that wins the world and provides a model of life under God. That’s a life that has to explain its source to an inquiring public, because it stands out and is so different. That’s the New Testament vision. We’re talking about taking I Corinthians 13 and saying yes that’s for me. I will do that. I will let love dwell in me to the extent that, because love dwells in me, I suffer long and am kind. Love also does not envy, does not puff itself up, does not exalt itself, and so on. That would become my natural character. But in the Evangelical gospel preached today there is no natural connection between what is preached as the gospel among Evangelicals and the Christ-likeness described in these verses.

Dallas Willard

11.02.2009

Christian Storytellers Pt V

Jesus's lives out an essentially subversive narrative. He does not push His own agenda on us, but rather subjects himself to the false stories, the destructive behaviors, and the ignorant actors... He offers another story, not by telling the story, but by living it out in such a way that the other stories are shown to be imposters.

He is the actor who arrives onstage and brings a massive course correction to the plotline of the existing play, not in terms of interrupting the play and going over the acts and lines with the actors, but rather from within the story itself, by responding from a place within the world of the play, yet motivated by the realities outside of the play...

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He does not tell the Roman story of progress, nor go the way of the Sadducees who attempt to 'go along to get along' with the Romans. Nor does He tell the various Jewish counter stories of revolutionary aggression, purifying contempt, or retreating isolation. He confronts evil, but recognizes evil in both Roman and Jew. He stands against evil, but not by condemning and shaming people. He spurns evil, but not by retreating from it. He engages the brokenness of the world with love, not violence.

He offers a way of 'being in the world, but not of the world,' a way of confrontation without condemnation, a way of collaboration without collusion, a way of engaging without endorsing, a way of combating without aggression. Jesus clearly shows up the powers of the world for what they are, pretenders.

He does this by living in God's story, even though He is doing so in a world that has largely ignored that story...

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Jesus is the summing up of all of God's hope for mankind, both in terms of Adam (made of dirt and filled with the breath of God, the unique connecting point between God and His Universe; designed to reflect the glory of the Creator into the creation) and in terms of Abram (called from the ranks of sin-stained humanity for the purpose of incarnating God's plan of redemption, the unique connection between the future hope of God's promise and the present reality of brokenness; designed to live out that hope as a light to the dark world). His work, and very person, are the perfect fulfillment of God's original intent for humanity (hence the title 'Son of Man'), and simultaneously the very image and power of the Godhead (hence the title 'Son of God'). His death on the cross is both the suffering of all the brokenness and rebellion of humanity and the victory of God over that brokenness; His resurrection is the foretaste of the fulfilled promises for humanity, and the in-breaking of God's future kingdom into the present.

Jesus is the climax of God's story, the point at which the end of the story crashes into the beginning.

Jesus is also the subversion of the world system; the point at which the alternative power-stories are shown up for frauds and parodies...

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And so we see that Christianity is certainly a meta-narrative all it's own; but it is both controlling narrative and subversive deconstruction of all existing narratives...

11.01.2009

Christian Storytellers Pt IV

So now we come to another story...

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Some would say, "Christianity is it's own meta-narrative; it is a framing-story all its own."

...and on the face of it, perhaps, and after we define some terms, it is; but it isn't so simple as "this is the story of the Christians." We have already alluded to the fact that different people have told the Christian story in many different ways, some in an attempt to tell it faithfully, others in a deliberate bid for control, and still others out of ignorance to God's authorship, design, direction, and action...

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From the outset the story of God, is precisely that, a story about His activity and creativity. We tend to tell stories about a reactionary God, we are the primary actors, He the responder. (If we will just X, then He will Y)

The unfolding narrative of scripture says it quite differently... "in the beginning God..." "...and then God spoke..." "...and God said to Abram..."

It is a story of a God who creates, a God who calls, a God who initiates and invents, a God who imbues and inhabits.

This is a story that we are offered a participatory role in, but it is not our story!

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However, the very role that we are offered, the chance we were/are given to shape the unfolding story, to 'put our fingerprints on the world' as it were, is God's risk. He risked love, created something other than Himself, and gave Himself to it in communion. In a sense, God became vulnerable to our choice...

...and we chose poorly. We choose poorly still.

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And so the story continues. The actors on the stage are ignoring the cues of the director, rewriting the lines of the playwright, and abusing the props made by the set director...

Many an author I know would simply pull the play! Fire the actors and find new ones!

God takes another approach. He begins to interact with the actors on their own terms. Within the scope of the story they have hijacked, He makes promises to a man and his descendants, He begins to act decisively on behalf of that people, He teaches and shapes them, He speaks to them of a future hope, of new creation, of redeemed lives, of holy purpose...

And then He writes Himself into the story.