Thursday, December 23, 2004

immersed in emerging

I’ve been thinking a lot about this last year and so in this season of last-year/new-year ponderings I wanted to take an audit of my encounters with the “emerging” brand-name-label-noun-verb. I’m inspired by Will’s musings about emerging as an attitude. I would like to think that of the many directions the EC might head, it must be into the heart of mission. That is, I believe a missional attitude will save the EC from some potential pitfalls (eg. Being/becoming – just a fad, a commodity, another exclusively Evangelical [white male?] sub-culture, a talk-fest for religious insiders).
(There's More)This past year Sherry and I have had the great pleasure of attending several Emergent events (May convention in Nashville, September forum in Atlanta, October Gathering in New Mexico). We have been given the opportunity to spend time with some of the people identified as important (leading) voices in the “emerging church friendship” in the United States. We were also very pleased to meet with a few Alt. Worship peeps from the UK. As a result, this Communality blog was born (thanks Jonny and Gareth for the encouragement).

Preceding this more deliberate involvement with Emergent-US, I participated in a Forge intensive in Melbourne, Australia (October ’03). Alongside these ‘live’ experiences I have been a blog-maniac, spending (too many?) hours trying to find the balance between information-overload and feeling like I just can’t read another post. I have read the bulk of the Zondervan/Emergent-YS catalog and have kept up with the recent press about emerging in CT and CC.

Finally, I have the unusual pleasure of serving as a missionary among a beautiful group of people committed to the missio dei alongside the marginalized in our city. Suffice to say, there is always plenty of day-to-day action to accompany the reflection.

“So what?” I hear you mutter….

Well, I am increasingly excited with the broad-based interest in re-imagining the church. The conversations in the books, articles, blogosphere, pubs, coffee shops, conventions, gathering, and (even) churches are energizing.

Here are some distilled hopes from this year’s experiences….

* This is a time for asking questions that require a renewed examination of ecclesial/theological/missional ideas and practices. The tiresome (and straw-[wo]man laden) debate over the relative/qualitative difference of this age over any age past seems to get us nowhere. The church has not always existed and it is my understanding that it will cease to exist when we enter into the fullness of the Kingdom, “on earth as it is in heaven.” It seems to me that the church is by definition a temporal agency and when it ceases to be born of mission, it ceases to be the church. It’s always time for an ecclesial revolution/reformation/re-imagining.

* I hope this friendship/movement will (continue to) be rooted in mission. I hope we discover that the EC has mission in its DNA. To this end, I am going to follow the lead of Alan Hirsch (from Forge) and call this collective of ideas-communities-individuals-attitudes the Emerging Missional Church. (Alan says all this much better than I just have in this newsletter). Language is important and perhaps this slight modification will more deliberately move the conversation in the ‘missional direction’.

“But what is mission?” I hear you ask. If it is everything, then it is nothing….right? This is the million $ question. In my view, it requires a collectively-lived-out response to the hope that all of creation is being reconciled to God. It will be bound by the twin commitments of community and place. (Wendell Berry beautifully describes community as "a placed people"…..see his essays on community, sex, and economy).

* I hope the EMC conversation elevates the value of contextualization. We can’t overstate the importance of self-theologizing missional communities. Mission (as service/proclamation) and theology (as poetic, rigorous, biblical imagination) will be so tightly wound together in the life of a collection of people we might someday wonder why people ever went away to seminary for ‘training.’

* I hope the EMC develops an explicit love for the world and for the ‘common good’. I would like to see the EMC incubate concerned-activism relating to the environment, politics, and social justice. Such activism would reflect an urgent awareness about the fact that there is continuity between “this world” and “the next world.” Enough talk of who’s in and who’s out of the discussion…a concern for the common good means 'it' is all for the all of us. The divisions drawn between “the churched” and “the unchurched” (or “the church” and “the world”) is dualistic in the worst ways and seems to me a misreading of scripture and culture. In this spirit we will better participate in the co-creation of the whole world, not just a “conversation/revolution in the church.”

* I hope this will lead us (as the people of God) to Reclaim the Margins (Rodney Stark's The rise of Christianityis a potent lesson in Kingom-marginality). We need to repopulate the edges of our culture, never assuming we can engage in the power-plays so often associated with being effective…YET we need to be ready to make a difference in every layer of our various contexts, from the street, down to places like the White House (upsidesown Kingdom!) I would be happy for others to worry about Reclaiming the Center.

Here ends my rant. I'm not suggesting these things aren't already happening, I'm just hoping they take the attention away from the (real or unfair) caricature of the EMC as just a subculture of Evangelicalism....with fancy-facial-hair.
We are excited about the coming year and hope we will have the grace to walk in the Jesus-ways of Justice, Love, Mercy, and Humility.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

No Suitable Title..............

Though doubtlessly punctuated by many profound and uplifting moments, I think it is safe to say that the last month has been a difficult time for many people within our community. We've continued to see God miraculously open doors for us to walk through together, but we've also experienced a lot of heartbreak and loss, and have suffered within our very bodies the pain and anguish of loving people who are difficult to love or who don't love us. And we've also had to go to very frightening places within ourselves or hand in hand with others in our efforts to express an authentic and lasting climate of compassion. And these are things that have only multiplied my awe for the people that God has assembled in this time and place, and named Communality. So, I would simply like to say thanks to every saint who puts an eye to this page, but even more importantly puts flesh and blood upon the gospel. You are an amazing group of people whose love for Jesus becomes more apparent by the day, and only shines the brighter for the doubts, questions, struggles, and turmoils that you regularly bring upon yourselves in your efforts to love. (there's more)

I've been reading the Psalms a lot lately, particularly the Psalms that tradition ascribes to David as he was fleeing for his life from Saul. And one verse from Psalm 39 (as translated in the New Living Version) really struck a chord within me as I was reflecting on the struggle to love against all odds. It says:

"Hear my prayer, O Lord! Listen to my cries for help! Don't ignore my tears. For I am your guest-a traveler passing through, as my ancestors were before me."

I am the "guest" of God as I journey through this life? What an amazing thought it is to imagine ourselves as God's guests! And what I took from David's bold petition to God to literally be his host in this life, is a sense of how profoundly important it is to be grateful for life no matter what the circumstances may be. The psalms that David penned during this period could never be described as unduly rosy or naivelly optimistic, but nonetheless speak with incredible power to the goodness and faithfulness of God and how it ultimately transcends every hardship. But without an attitude of gratefullness to God for giving us life, it seems impossible for us to see the bigger picture. And for us the bigger picture is the resurrection of our Lord. It's the reality that Jesus is here in our midst through the power of his Holy Spirit. He's not awaiting resurrection, even though in many ways I still act like I'm awaiting resurrection! The scriptures say that just as Jesus was raised, we also will be raised. And that is something in which I take great comfort and security, because it means that I don't have to wait until heaven to make a difference in the hell that I so often see here and now. I don't have to be passive toward the evil that I see in the world, and I don't have to let it overwhelm me when it so often encroaches. We are living by a new reality, and that reality is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And although it doesn't mean that things are going to be perfect here and now, it does mean that perfection exists and that we will one day share it with our Lord. And this belief is something that we've got to carry with us every day as we seek to wage peace in a world torn by war, by all of the things that we so regularly see.

David admonishes us to not spend too much time fretting over the evil that men and women do. Instead, he points us to the hesed, the loving faithfulness of the God who hosts us in this life. And if we give him the chance, he longs to prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies (within and without, real and imagined) and anoint our heads with oil...........

At any rate, so ends my reflection, or at least my attempt to offer some measure of hope or encouragement from the stirrings of the Holy Spirit within me........and my thanks to all of you for helping to host me in this life (and in the new life that Maria and I are going to be entering)! May we all have faith to demand along with David that God be our host in this life.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Mary Cassatt, the Child's Bath, 1893

A synchronicity of thoughts and images: the reading from Luke about Mary, Elizabeth and maternity, children & mothers at High Street, Billy & Maria's news. Lastly, something about Ya'el (especially with her mother) particularly reminds me of this painting.Posted by Hello

Saturday, December 11, 2004

new citizens

Today I experienced the honor of witnessing the swearing in of naturalized citizens at the U.S. Courthouse downtown. Some friends from Bosnia stood with 48 others to pledge allegiance and swear to an oath to become U.S. citizens. To my surprise, it was a moving event. People from Vietnam, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Venezuela, Lebanon, and more likely places such as China and Mexico were present. I was impressed by the remarkable diversity gathered in a small city like Lexington.
(There's More)

Addressing the group of citizens-to-be were a group of women from several Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) chapters, and all but one must have been over the age of 75. I listened closely to what they said because one, I thought it odd to have this particular group present in a court room setting, and two, I could qualify by my own family lineage to belong to such an organization. They greeted the newcomers kindly. From them I heard phrases such as - “the greatest nation in the world,” “prosperity and the pursuit of happiness,” “bright future,” “the promise of your children as American citizens,” and “honor and privilege.” One woman even invited them to participate in the Christmas season and she finished with “God bless you and God bless America” (which unfortunately lacked religious sensibility - at least a quarter of them were Muslim, including my friends). The residing judge went on to present a brief speech that focused on “evildoers” and the United States’ commitment to national security. The language was full of national pride and a certain brand of morality that reflected a fixed black and white worldview.

I felt proud to be a part of a country that opens its doors and receives people from all over the world. In part, I was hopeful for the opportunities and possibilities I trust they will have as American citizens. But more importantly, I thought about being a Christian and the chance to welcome people from across the globe. I thought about the difference between the power and vision of people belonging to a civilization of such strength and wealth and that of the kingdom of God. Then I was reminded of these words of Jean Vanier from his book, “Becoming Human” –

“Civilization is, at least in part, about pretending that things are better than they are. We all want to be in a happy place, where everyone is nice and good and can fend for themselves. We shun our weaknesses and the weaknesses of others. We refuse to listen to the cry of the needy. How easy it is to fall into the illusion of a beautiful world when we have lost trust in our capacity to make of our broken world a place that can become more beautiful.”
As I was recognizing my nationality (good or bad) and all that this nation has to offer, I sensed more deeply the call of hope and the whisper of faith in another vision. As a citizen of the kingdom of God sitting in that courtroom, I encountered a gentle reminder from the Spirit of God’s upside down economy and redemptive work of wholeness – shalom – which brings together broken and fragmented parts and makes something new. And this new reality of grace coming in our midst outstrips any potential of a new nationality or any prospect of “making it” socially or economically. Simply and unexpectedly, I left with a much-needed, regenerated passion for mission and a reminder of the power of God’s kingdom above all things.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

brian mclaren

some of us had the pleasure of meeting with brian a couple of weeks ago when he was visiting Asbury Seminary. we were limited to just a few hours together, not nearly long enought to get to the 'nitty gritty' - but it was a rich blessing and we hope to keep talking about how our community can serve the wider emergent conversation. anyway, along with the feature aticle in the recent Christian Century is this interview/review. whether you were able to join us or not, it's a great primer on where brian sees the emerging church headed.

Monday, December 06, 2004

St. Nicholas Day, emerging, and waiting.

I know i have been blogging a lot today but i couldn't resist making a note of this fantastic post from Will about the real Santa.

Also, for those interested, a good article about the emerging church can be found here.

And one last thing....Sherry and I read this article by Henri Nouwin last week as part of a collection of Advent writings. It taught us a lot about what it means to wait with hope.


world on fire

This video by Sarah Mclachlan is popping up on lots of blogs. Sherry and I just watched it and we're undone by the images and the song...did someone say the stones were crying out?

see here for the lyrics.

Human Rights Day

Something for us to support at the UK campus.

A celebration of Human Rights Day.

Here's The Universal Declaration of Human Rights for a refresher about what we celebrate.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

more politics

Todd noticed this guest opinion piece in our local paper yesterday. I really liked it and felt like it asked some good questions about “Christian ethics” and the person of Jesus. On the same page, just above this article was this cartoon. It took my breath away. It is a disturbing image (in the prophetic sense) but a good match for the article.

Where are all those comments?…I was under the impression we were community of people passionate about Jesus and Politics ;)

Saturday, December 04, 2004

retreat and thanksgiving pictures

The Saturday breakfast team and some fire gazing.

Our art project and Isaac running free in the woods.

(There are more pictures...)

Thanksgiving at the Third St household

Friday, December 03, 2004

Politics and God’s people

On Tuesday about 12 people gathered at the Leffel’s place for a Communality round-table conversation about Politics. It was a wide-ranging conversation that attempted to identify some hot-button issues and bring questions about ‘the ways of Jesus’ to bear on our life together in the United States in 2004.(There's More)Here’s what the e-invite said….

We wanted to let you know about a group of us who are gathering to discuss our faith with respect to social, political and economic issues of the day. After the election and the remarkable division in our nation and the church, some have voiced a desire to turn to Scripture together to study the prophets and especially the teachings of Jesus in order to better understand what it means to be a Christian in the United States. Of course this is not compulsory and yet it certainly isn't exclusive. All are welcome. Some of us are tired and weary and don't wish to talk about current issues at the moment. Some of us are eager for a conversation that engages with Scripture and the issues of our world…

Here’s my attempt at summarizing some of the things we felt good about affirming in our community:

1) We recognize the particular concern God’s people must have for “the least of these”. In this spirit, we recognize the “social margins” are an important space for us to live out the whole gospel.
2) There is continuity between this world and the world to come. Therefore, what happens in the Town Hall, the Local Council, the State Government, all the way to the White House matters to the people of God. In fact, all of creation is our concern if this is the case….it’s not “all gonna burn…”
3) Our involvement should not be for the sake of getting ‘our man’ (or woman) into power. We must always apply a Kingdom-critique to people and systems in and of power. So we will celebrate holiness (in the ways of Jesus) and denounce corruption and sin.
4) We are determined not to take ourselves too seriously. Much of the ‘heat’ of the political tension in the Christian community and American society in general is directly related to our inability to love one another and avoid honoring ideology above people. We want to be people of humble-conviction.
5) We hope to challenge individualism with interdependence (sometimes called ‘community’). The theological teaching about the Trinity creates a social/relational image that can inspire a politics rooted in setting aside our own needs for the sake of others (other-centered).
6) We are ultimately optimistic about our world and the way we can organize our human existence together because God is at work and we are being Holy-Spirited into a present and future that is SHALOM.

To those of you who were there…how does this equate with what you experienced? Did I forget/misrepresent anything?
To those of you who couldn’t make it….how does this look to you? Positives, negatives, general comments and hopes.

We hope to have some more of these round-table gatherings in the new year.

One other thing I would add to this….i think Doug Pagitt is onto something when he suggests we must learn to embody a Prophetic presence in the world. I think this might be the best biblical image for us to be political people…but it must include a collective dimension to being prophetic - not (just?) the individual fist-shaker. This fits with the "collective charisma" we talked about at the retreat. Read this post to get a better glimpse of this image. I’m going to look into this and write some more soon…
Peace on Earth.