Fiery words
pierced by a nail
to hold them
to the light.
Soon the world is
the maps of


Making microloans personal

The "Relentless Grace" blog has a great story about making microloans personal. This is exactly what I saw when we visited Uganda, where the Katosi Women Fishing and Development Association helped dozens of families start income producing activities through microloans to buy cattle and pigs to raise, bicycles to transport people and goods, and more. We make this personal through gifts to ELCA World Hunger which funnels international development funds through partners like Lutheran World Relief who work directly with the Katosi women.

I do have to say that it is cool, though, that he is a "partner" in such a business through funds transferred by PayPal! Talk about making it a smaller world.

Why Lutherans shouldn't be afraid of the emergent church

In "emergent conversations" I often find myself translating out of an evangelical world whose jargon and shared assumptions I'm not in on. And I think that some of the questions I get from Lutherans about the conversation indicate that similar theological ideas get lost in translation because we're not all using the same codewords. So here is a stab at bridging the langauge gap for people from my tradition. Note: I know there is no "emergent church," I am reflecting here on what I have experienced overall, not the thoughts of one leader, one community, or (God forbid!) an institution.
  • The emergent church can be grace-filled. Even communities planted out of fundamental traditions can embrace a generous orthodoxy focused on God's grace.
  • The emergent church has a very high doctrine of God – so high, in fact, that emergent practitioners embrace all parts of the community on the grounds that all of it is God's and no activity can eject God from it.
  • The emergent church is incarnational. It embraces the action of a missionary God, coming down to us, and seeks to reflect it by becoming incarnate in a community in a radical sense – being for, with, in and of the community, as Jesus is for, with, in and of us. This is truer to the doctrine of the incarnation than the "We're a sacred space. You come to us" approach of the traditional Christendom church.
  • The emergent church seeks to participate in God's Kingdom. One of the central theological images used in the emergent church is Jesus' assertion that "the Kingdom of God is among you." Emergents critique the American heresy of "personal salvation" only much as Luther critiqued the selling of indulgences.
  • The emergent church holds up the theology of the cross against the theology of glory of our current civil religion. As postmoderns engage their own brokenness, and that of the world they have been left, the idea that God's strength is manifest through weakness has resonance with their experience, and is a palatable alternative to the triumphalism that promotes cultural colonialism.
  • The emergent church embraces the priesthood of all believers, both in the sense of encouraging and blessing believers’ calling, work and gifts in their daily lives and in embracing the idea that all have something to say about the interpretation and proclamation of God's word and will in the community.
  • The emergent church sees all of us as saints and sinners. This is clearly played out in the rejection of the notion that any one person, tradition or culture has complete, exclusive access to God's truth, and in the humility with which emergents try to approach difficult issues such as politics, sexuality, etc. The movement takes seriously Bonhoeffer's observation that we are all in a similar position relative to God.
  • The emergent church sees Christians called to act in God's two kingdoms: here, not just in heaven. Emergents tend to see working for the environment and social justice as a response to God's call in Micah 6, as faith active in love.
  • The emergent church is contextual. Just as Luther reshaped the language, music and worship of the church so that it reflected the ordinary people rather than the elites, the emergent church is trying to live out the core of the Gospel in ways that make sense in the communities they are in.

Let me know what you think!

Error: Expectation mismatch

Feel like this warning dialog is popping up on your church display? Well, at least you've got options. I've misplaced the link to the original creator of this image, but it sums up what it feels like some days. If this is yours, comment so I can give you credit.

If you like this, you just might like these "tips from the peanut gallery" from Rachelle Mee-Chapman, too. (While you're there, check out the "postmodern itch on the nose.")

Just what we need!

The other morning as I drove my daughter to select chorus practice (singing at 6:55 a.m.? Not me!) NPR's "Marketplace" aired a piece based on some research out of MIT. Apparently a researcher found that doubling the frequency of attending worship services correlates with a 9.1% increase in household income. That leaves one just about even if they increase to a tithe! Somebody alert Joel Osteen!

This morning that thought was nicely balanced by a blog post by Mike DeVries, who is a pastor in California. He addresses just that "instant success" theology, the idea -- often presented by well-meaning Christians -- that there are benefits from believing in God that can be measured in ways our world values. You know, we measure ways in which prayer promotes healing; we talk about "God giving back" when we give. Thinking of this, DeVries says: "I wonder. With all that is captured in the Scriptures – the emotion, the pain, the disappointment and frustration, how did we ever come to embrace this kind of image?"

Unfortunately, this theology of glory is neither new nor unusual. Martin Luther argued against it during the Reformation, claiming that the power of God revealed in the cross is so much more awesome, more beautiful, than the majesty and glory revealed elsewhere. And, for those of us who are otherwise perishing, it is the most beautiful thing in creation! Glory theology is especially prevalent in our civil religion, where God (allegedly) says "Go conquer and I will give you the victory."

DeVries reflects on the story of Jeremiah, how God inflames him with a message that, frankly, no one wants to hear. Jeremiah is mocked, shunned, threatened and, in Jeremiah 20:7, God let's him vent about it. Because "God knows. He always does." He finishes with the antithesis of the MIT research:
I think it is about time that we come clean with people. Following God does not always lead to the bigger and the better. Following God does not always to comfort and security. “Being in the center of God’s will or plan” is not always the safest place to be. In fact it might ask of you to have your life absorbed with a message that might destroy you. Being a follower means that we have embraced a larger story than our own, choosing to find ourselves in that larger story. It may mean that we never see the results of our efforts. It may mean that opposition and critique [even by those who claim to be speaking for God as well] might be our lot in life..

Hmmm. Not an additional 9.1% raise?

Well done. Read the entire post here.


Public Emergent events at PTS

As part of an Emergent conversation at Princeton Theological Seminary Nov. 2-4, there will be a couple of public events of interest.

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, Brian McLaren will give a public lecture on "The Emerging Church and Mainline Theological Education" at 3:45 p.m., preceded by a reception at 3 p.m. At 9:30 that night there will be a pub conversation with Emergent leaders and conference attendees.

On Thursday, Nov. 3, Jonny Baker (who started the alt.worship movement in the UK) and Karen Ward of Church of the Apostles will lead an alternative eucharist at 9 p.m. in the auditorium at Mackay Campus Center.

Learn more at the link.


The Shaping of Things to Come, pt. 1 again

Frost and Hirsch conclude their assement of "The Shape We're In" by noting that church planting is on the decline (In evangelical circles? They don't specify.) Hoped-for results have not come, they conclude, because churches have planted "carbon copies of the already beleagured, failed Christendom-style church. " (18)

The failures of this style of church is due to the stance it takes in its community, which they describe as "attractional, dualistic and hierarchical." Attractional means that the church plants itself in the midst of a community and "expects that people will come to it to meet God and find fellowship with others." It's not the attractiveness to the community that they criticize; the early church in Acts was attractive. But when the church assumes it holds a privileged place in society and assumes that people don't become part of it because they "don't like the product" rather than taking seriously their deeper questions about the church, it assumes an us-them stance with the community. "By anticipating that if they get their internal features" (parking, children's ministry, style of worship) "right, people will flock to the services, the church betrays its belief in attractionalism." (19)

The authors aim special criticism at the strategy of planning worship services for unseen publics. "We believe the development of indigneous, contextualized worship occurs in partnership with new believers from one's host community." (19)

The dualism of separating sacred from secular, church from world, is part of the fault for this attractional stance, they argue. When we talk of the world "out there" and differently value church service (especially professional church service) from work and ministry in daily life, it naturally follows that we will seek to attract people to the church culture and extract them from "normal" life. This is acute in the "Christian subculture" but affects the mainline, as well, as churches either seek people "like us" or try to make them "like us."

Frost and Hirsch quote Lutheran William Diehl's book "Christianity and Real Life," in which he laments that over 30 years his church has had very little interest in accounting for his "on the job" ministry, in examining the ethical decisions he faces, or in providing skills or support in this ministry. "I must conclude that my church really doesn't have the least interest whether or how I minister in my daily work," Diehl concludes. This dualism creates a "credibility gap" between the church and the world that would-be believers have difficulty crossing. (20)

The church also suffers from an over-focus on hierarchy, seen in formal, "episcopal" structures as well as in the local layers of senior pastors, associate pastors, youth pastors, etc. that proliferate in the evangelical, free-church world. "For how much longer can the church ignore Paul's radical dissolution of the traditional distinctions between priest and laity, between officials and ordinary members, between holy men and common people?" they ask. (21)

The antidote to these excesses, they argue, is a church that is "incarnational, messianic and apostolic." (30) The future church "will look vastly varied in its many different contexts," they acknowledge. But there will be common themes:

"It will place a high value on communal life, more open leadership structures, and the contribution of all the people of God. It will be radical in its attempts to embrace biblical mandates for the life of locally based faith communities ... We believe the missional church will be adventurous, playful and surprising." (22)

The missional model they propose will create churches that embed in a community, living with the indigenous people to create "proximity spaces," places where Christians and not-yet-Christians can share the journey together. Missional churches will also partner with communities in existing efforts to meet community needs in shared projects, where Christians and not-yet-Christians can work toward meaningful goals together. There may also be "commercial enterprises" such as coffeehouses, cafes, bookstores, etc. that bring "intrinsic value" to communities that don't see themselves as needing another church. Out of these projects will emerge "indigenous worshipping communities."

"The Shaping of Things to Come" is a challenging book, as it forces the reader to stretch the comfortable conceptions of church and take a hard look at the disconnects between church and culture. Their assessment of the shape we're in is gloomy is you're married to the Christendom view of the attractional church. That Christendom died in the late 20th Century seems hard to refute; the increasing frustration and listlessness in the church is evidence of that. In ELCA circles locally, some churches are holding their own or growing slightly in areas that are seeing significant population increases (and in some cases they're shrinking). That means that people are saying "No, thanks" to our services and programs.

Frost and Hirsch's preferrence for new church plants and structures is plainly stated. The implications of their work for existing denominational churches isn't clear, and would be easy to ignore because they are so challenging.

What would it look for an existing church to stop trying to attract people into the church with religious goods and services and instead focus on sending its people and resources out into the community, to be with unbelievers? Would volunteers step up for altar guild and committees (much less church council) if their on-the-job, in-the-home or at-school ministries were affirmed and given the attention that Luther afforded them? Will Christendom-trained clergy and lay leaders steeped in the distinctions between the ordained and the rest of us be able to equip, value and empower apostles, prophets and evangelists equally with the now-central roles of pastor and teacher?

There is another way of looking at this. Existing churches have people resources, community contacts and (sometimes) fiscal resources that new plants don't. Simply tweaking delivery systems won't accomplish anything. But if these churches and their faithful leaders can accept that a missionary God calls them to be both structured for and passionate about being incarnate in the community, mission can happen. It won't be easy, and there will be a cost for leaders and parishoners alike. But the vision of missional, connected churches laid out by Frost and Hirsch could make the cost worth it.


Please, no more worship "for them"?

Author/pastor Ryan Bolger on worship services and spirituality. He discourages a colleage from starting a service to be "relevant" to the "never-churched," advising instead focusing on connecting with those outside the church in their world -- a "go and dwell" type of service to the community.
A focus on the church service as connecting point perpetuates the idea that following Jesus is about going to church. ... A focus on the service as connecting point perpetuates the sacred/secular split of modernity. When the bulk of the community's energy goes to maintaining a church service, it implies that the church service is more holy, more important, more worthy of our time than the everyday practice of our spirituality.
I think this is true if the service is the connecting point in lieu of more substantive connection with the community. Simply having a "relevant" service is more of the same "attractional" outreach -- it still requires someone to come out of their cultural group and into the church culture. But, if a church is going to "go and dwell" in the community, it needs worship that will welcome and honor the person without a church culture tradition, if they are moved through contact with Christians to experience the church. Ryan offers some thoughts on how to do that:

The worship service is no longer an evangelistic service for outsiders but a space to practice heaven for a period of time, facilitating the offering of the community life to God in worship. If a guest of the community finds God in the service, all the better, but this is not the focus.

Worship as spiritual discipline, as practice of the presence of God. We could do worse.

Emerging Church A-Z

Another A-Z list (there seem to be a number of them floating around the Internet) for the emerging church, this one from Steve Taylor. This would have been in the book "The Out of Bounds Church?" but was eliminated in the editing process, and now is included at the emergingchurch.info "Beginners Guide to the Emerging Church."

Unlocking doors

A link to an intersting vision of church and community.

Focusing on the sizzle

As this image shows, it's easy to get caught up in the emerging church "sizzle" and loose track of the steak. Of course, that's really only true if you just try to glom some candles and mystery onto what you're already doing, without actually trying to engage and understand the postmodern people God has placed you in the midst of. Perhaps they actually like candles, stations or even Dan Kimball books. :)

This post has a funny tongue in cheek list of ways to get ECPs (emergent church points), reproduced here:


Modern v. Emergent

This writer has an interesting take on the differences between "modern" "traditional" and "emergent" church and culture.


Target marketing?

From "A is for Abductive: The Language of the Emerging Church," by Len Sweet, Brian McLaren and Jerry Haselmeyer:
Forget "find your target audience." Instead, find your postmodern neighbor -- everybody, anywhere, anytime who needs Jesus.


Suburbia: Good soil?

It's true that most emergent/missional church experiements are in urban environments -- both in "hip" communities and among the poor. In this post an Australian church planter comments on the tensions inherent in ministering in suburbia. There is a resonance between what he describes and my suburban environment, and though I am in an existing church the challenges to incarnating the Gospel are the same. He writes:
When people believe that they have ‘almost made it’ and just a little more will see things right, the gospel message of self denial and cross carrying is pretty unattractive.
This message is made even more difficult to communicate in our current political climate, where we are also doing just a few more things to implement God's will and set the world right. The theology of the cross seems un-American these days (which is a good thing).
Of course middle Australians want their kids to have good values and to grow up ‘nice’ so we could look to snare them that way… but… I just don’t see Jesus or Paul functioning like that. Can you really imagine Jesus runing a kid’s ministry to ‘get the parents’? as I sometimes hear suggested. You have to admit it doesn’t sound much like him does it?!
Interesting take on this theory. I know parents, some in church, who definitely want their kids to learn "values" and to be protected from evils in the world. In Christendom the church provided this service, inoculating children from bad things while drawing their parents into membership (if they're lucky). Suburbia may have more people looking for the Christendom church than other, more marginalized parts of society; I don't know. But that analysis assumes the spirit of the previous quote; that things are generally good and can get better if we do a little more (keep our kids out of trouble, etc.). Personally, I hope my kids are prepared for this world, not conformed to it, but not sheltered from it, either.

I like the writer's thought because Jesus and Paul were not into getting members into pews, they were training disciples. Jesus would be out in the world with the parents, talking to them where they are, rather than trying to get to them through their kids.


Another sign of the times

Driving to the office this morning I passed by a good-sized mainline church (that shall remain nameless) with a temporary sign announcing that this coming Sunday, Oct. 16, would be "Laity Sunday" at all three services. Now I have now idea what they mean by that, and there was no explanation on the church website. But it is an interesting thought to play with. Does this mean that 51 Sunday's a year it's "Clergy Sunday"? Another great example of a sign that means nothing -- probably less -- to the thousands of drivers passing by...

Marketing Jesus

I am not recommending mass-advertising campaigns, such as the "Jesus: All About Life" campaign run by ministries across Australia recently. This seems like an effort to re-convince the faithful that they're still living in Christendom rather than an authentic attempt to communicate with people outside the church. But this post, from an interesting site called churchmarketingsucks.com, is useful because it gives honest feedback from a non-Christian marketing professional who put together the campaign. The marketer, Angus Kinnard, offers this persepctive:
"I've had lots of clients wanting to update their image," says the Melbourne strategy director of FutureBrand. "But I don't think I've ever come across one that has quite as many problems as the church."

The campaign focused on Jesus because market research revealed that "The church was seen as the problem, not the solution."

But of course, that might be Australia, but it couldn't be true in the US. Right?


Spirit, breathe

alt.worship leader Jonny Baker quotes this prayer invoking the Holy Spirit, that's worth a read:


maker of chaos
resister of order

she who takes on the world -


wreak havoc in complacency
upturn smugness and self satisfaction
defy authorities that deflate
challenge all powers that squeeze the hope out of your people
and your church

and breathe life back into a world gasping.

breathe, spirit.


Updated prayer of St. Francis

Bob Hyatt of Evergreen in Portland posts an update of the Prayer of St. Francis that he received from a friend in the Church of England:

Lord, use us to make Your point in the world.
Wherever there is hate, let us bring love;
Wherever someone has been hurt, use us to heal;
Where someone doubts, let us show You;
Where people have given up, use us to bring hope;
Where there is darkness, shine through us;
Wherever there is sadness, use us God, as an agent of joy.

The Shaping of Things to Come, pt. 1

I'm digging into a seminal text on the "missional church," Frost and Hirsch's "The Shaping of Things to Come." I'm just getting into it, and I'll record some notes here as I go.

Frost and Hirsch write from Australia, which is in but not of the world of the UK and the US. Their analysis of the western church is fair but unflinching. They clearly have a bias toward new and innovative expressions of the church.

Chapter 1, "Evolution or Revolution?" skewers the Christendom approach to church, which they say is "fundamentally distorted," missionally speaking. In Christendom, the Church sees itself as a central institution of society focused on concrete expressions -- its distinctive buildings and clergy -- rather than being missionally incarnated in and with communities. The authors argue that this long-lived phase of the church's life ended in the late 20th century, though various parts of the church remain addicted to this worldview.

At the same time, the "postmodern yearnings" of the last 10 years have moved from a small subculture to much of the culture, Frost and Hirsch say.
...the advent of postmodernism has raised within the West many expectations for an experiential, activist form of religious, mystical experience. The Christian church has not met these expectations... The contemporary traditional church is increasingly seen as the least likely option for those seeking an artistic, politically subversive, activist community of mystical faith. (6)
To address this gap, experimental, radical mission outposts have arisen that share three key traits:
  1. They are incarnational, rather than attractional in their ecclesiology; i.e., they embed themselves in a particular community rather than trying to attract people out of a community into the congregation.
  2. They are messianic, rather than dualistic, in spirituality; as Christ did, they see the world and God's kingdom as holistic and integrated, rather than divided into sacred and profane.
  3. They have a flattened, apostolic leadership structure rather than the Christendom hierarchy; gifts of evangelists, apostles and prophets are recognized alongside pastors and teachers. (12)
Frost and Hirsch answer the title question by noting that the early Church was revolutionary, and calling the contemporary Church to adopt that stance as a missionary community rather than an institution. They observe that the 1700-year history of the Christendom Church show that it simply has not worked, and propose that the future of the Church lies in planting innovative expressions instead of tweaking the current formula.

It may be overstating the case to say that only radically different churches can thrive in postmodern culture, but the implication that our religious systems, such as the ELCA, need to "get over" (their term) Christendom and find expressions that can engage postmodern generations is right on. Insistance on sentimental attachment to what worked in Christendom and being stuck in a worldview that says people will naturally seek the Church is like purchasing a ticket on the train to complete irrelevance.

Speaking of the theology of glory...

In his Oct. 6 address on the "war on terror," President Bush was careful to separate the "evil but not insane" actions of terrorists from Islam, while suggesting that terrorist acts were fomented by radical religious leaders. According to a transcript on the White House website, he then said:
The time has come for all responsible Islamic leaders to join in denouncing an ideology that exploits Islam for political ends, and defiles a noble faith.
Perhaps the president should perceive the plank in our own eye. It might be time, as well, for responsible Chrisian leaders to denounce the hijacking of our faith for equally political ends. Bush 43 would do well to heed the advice of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who said that rather that claim that God is on our side, as Bush does, we should "pray that we are on God's side."

Such reasonable-sounding pronouncements really draw upon questionable theology. Take this example from the president's August speech on Iraq:
I understand freedom is not America's gift to the world; freedom is an Almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world.
Talk of "freedom" is comfortable -- to Americans -- and vaguely biblical. But what part of the freedom we are peddling in Iraq -- "constitutional democracy" tilted to US interests, a market economic philosophy, and a remaking of the shape of the Middle East -- would be familiar, or even conceivable, to the biblical writers of either testament?

Reflecting on the theology of the cross

The Generous Orthodoxy Conference in DC was quite inspiring and re-energizing. I had a lot of work to dig back into, so I don't have time for much reflection. One interaction, though, I want to share.

At our local Lutheran emergent discussions we've had questions about the theology behind the movement. Speakers at the GO conference referenced Luther and Bonhoeffer several times. We were pleased when Jason Clark, a Vineyard pastor from the UK, noted that one of his most important theological epiphanies was discovering Luther's theologia crucis, or theology of the cross.

In a forum on power and relating to the powerless, Jason noted that Luther's insight -- that God is truly known not in God's power and glory but in the vulnerability of Christ on the cross -- is a much needed antedote to the triumphalism seen in many parts of the Church, and in our political structures as well. He said that this theological insight proved helpful in ministering to people whose world is not going well -- which, really, includes all of us. Jason said that theologian Douglas John Hall introduced him to the theologia crucis. In a 2004 article in The Lutheran, Hall wrote that Luther's "difference" is lost to many Christians, including some Lutherans; "Luther's fame has obscured his reality," he wrote. Hall went on to say:
Luther wanted his theology to be (and it usually was) a theology of the cross. There's a temptation to the theology of glory in all of us, even Luther. But he at least knew that it's a matter of temptation, and many Christians, apparently, do not.
Luther argued against "the kind of belief that imagines itself the only true belief," Hall said:
The theology of the cross, on the other hand, can't shut its eyes to all the things that are wrong with the world-and with ourselves, our human selves, our Christian selves. It doesn't accentuate the negative, as its critics sometimes claim. But it does want to acknowledge the presence and reality of that which negates and threatens life. Death and doubt and the demonic are still with us, and Luther never tired of talking about them and struggling with them. Any faith that depends on denying all that darkness isn't faith at all in the biblical sense of the term: It's credulity, repression and self-deception.
In a time when radical identification with God's power, blessing and approval fuel both sides of the war on terror and triumphalism threatens our economy and environment, as well, Luther's theology of the cross is a much-needed reality check. Jason told me after the forum that he had not run across Luther's theology of the cross at all in his seminary education. Fortunately, later reading introduced him to this key Lutheran contribution to emergent theology.

Brian McLaren says that Luther was the person who brought the Church and its theology into the modern age. Luther's awareness of God's identification with the powerless, his grasp of our paradoxical status as saints and sinners, and his awareness that we must act in the real kingdom of the world as well as God's kingdom of heaven, indicate that he can lead us into the postmodern age, as well.


Becoming Saints

Found in an excerpt from Jon M. Sweeney's The Lure of Saints:
There is a tradition in Judaism that if you are about to plant a tree and you hear that the Messiah has come, you should go ahead and plant your tree before you go out to meet him. The point of the teaching is this: the people of God bring about the kingdom of God. Do what you do to bring about the kingdom. In that is your sainthood.

Ancient-Future Daily Prayer

A time of prayer and meditation right at your computer screen...