According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Emergent Christianity - Relevancy22: Becoming an Emerging, or an Emergent, Christian


Dear friends,
Lord of the Harvest

On the last day of the year 2011 I would like to express gratitude for your support and a continuing prayer that Jesus be lifted up in our lives. This blog site is a story not only of mine own journey, but the journeys of so many others, seeking to lift Jesus up in their lives in as many ways as is humanly possible. May God bless you in your service and ministry as we proclaim the name of Jesus to all nations.

First, let me say that I am thankful for the wide spectrum of Christian fellowship that has been discovered in this journey. I have found many Christians who are as disquieted with the directions that modern day Christianity has strayed as I am. Who understand that postmodernism has brought with it a differing set of concerns, issues and topics that must be addressed. That by ignoring those concerns we do a disservice to the church at large and to our local fellowships specifically.

Secondly, in addressing a wide variety of Christian topics through this web blog I have found that God has been addressing as wide a spectrum of humanity as we could imagine in all its many lives and involvements. From scientists to liturgists. From philosophers to theologians. From humanitarians to Gospelers. From work-a-day worlds to high-level disciplines. From sports writers and columnists to poets and novelists. From disconnected communities of faith to global societies seeking greater positive communication with each other. God is providing a lens to Himself for all of humanity to see. That is being expressed in-and-through the many activities of man. And it has been exciting to behold the Spirit of God at work on so large a cosmic scale.

A Personal Story

For myself, my experience with Emergent Christianity took a long time to warm up to. About ten years altogether. At first I considered it a rouge Christian sect. Then a Gnostic sect dressed up in the postmodernism of Christian garments (for those new to this blog postmodernism wasn't the problem... gnosticism was). At times it felt overtly political and biased. Or as a new form of retrograde OT worship with its emphasis on Jewish customs, dress, calendar dates and diets. Or simply a revitalized Protestant liturgy providing a visual warmness to the stark barrenness of evangelic worship. But when any of these events occurred and ran their course God would do an amazing thing. He would always bring the discussion back to Jesus. Why? Because the people around me had their heart set on God. They were sincere. And wished to sincerely follow God wherever He would lead. And in their sincerity they veered off course from time to time. But God blessed them and moved them back into the truer Gospel of Jesus. One that could be discerned, and debated, and reasoned. They were learning to disengage and refocus back to the core of their beliefs. It was messy. It was not perfect. We had side discussions that tried to become core discussions. But eventually became seen for what they were. God was blessing this congregation of sincere followers and it was evident.

So then, Emergent Christianity's birth for me was by those who spoke it unclearly. Who were searching for this new postmodern day movement's core message. Its themes. Its character and distinctions. Who saw the parts but not the whole. Who had a limited grasp of interconnecting doctrinal subjects. Who viscerally reacted against a brand of Christianity they did not want but would only later learn to speak more fully. And in more positive terms to the brotherhood at large. In less scandalising terms of provocation. Who belatedly would emphasize community, growth, unity, wisdom and discernment. They were learning to be confident in God's love and peace rather than continuing to harshly judge the same folks who were harshly judging them. It took maturity to do this. It began with repentance. And a newer patience with people who reacted to the stings of Emergent Christianity's very different themes from their own evangelical or progressive themes. And mostly a patient trust in God's leading.

For this movement was as new to this congregation of emergents as it was for myself when it was first introduced. What we were witnessing was the birth of an unknown thing called Emergent Christianity. It was unformed and immature. It was in its stages of infancy. No one really had a clear idea of what it was. Just what it wasn't. Or didn't want to be. As an example of its many changeling forms let me speak to one of its earlier ideas....

As introduction, usually when observing something new its meaning for the Christian believer brings about a certain amount of wariness and concern, as we think critically about the teachings of a heretofore unemphasized, or unknown, perhaps popular, insight or teaching. There is at first a personal/public resistance that occurs. Along with some historic provisioning of support for - or against - the present Christian tradition or popular understanding of the Christian faith. Too, its newness might simply be a counterfeit truth arising from its proponents in an unbiblical direction. A direction that takes the focus off Jesus and puts it onto some other aspect of worship or intermix of religious dogma with pagan beliefs. Rather than being a positive, directional change in attitude, foundation or theme of Christian doctrine, it could also be a negative, misdirectional change that had lain dormant within, or beside, Christianity until now. For 2000 years Christians have reacted to cultural and historic events by adapting their faith to these type of events. To changes that may later become cultural tradition that would last century after century. Or that may last no longer than the lifetime of its proponents.

Because of Emergent Christianity's relative newnessmistaughtmore personal, inside knowledge of God. His truths. And His teachings. And in the case of this fledgling movement that I found myself unsuspectingly in the middle of, I beheld a form of early Christian Gnosticism that claimed a freshness of insight that would revitalize personal worship. "All well and good!" I thought, until seeing that its adherents were claiming a level of secrecy or mystery about themselves (and of Jesus himself!) that the rest of us more common followers of Christ seemed unable to obtain for whatever reason. Apparently we weren't privy to a certain knowledge; or did not act in a certain way; or believed certain things. Largely it was an excluding form of faith and worship warmly performed by various mystical followers believing they had the inside track to God. It was a gnostic form of what these untrained laymen were claiming to be "Emergent Christianity." It threw me off at first and made me very wary of "Emergent Christianity." But later I was to discover that it was the teachers, not Emergent Christianity itself, that had gotten it wrong. In their fervency to discover God's mysteries and wonders these brethren had added a gnosis of understanding to the Gospel which the Gospel did not need nor require.

And so I waited. Patiently. Praying for God's leadership and discernment. Seeking illumination from the Holy Spirit to guide me in my thoughts and heart. Participating where possible. Listening. And interacting. Attempting to discern the many nuances that were being presented to me by a wide variety of people. It took time. Lots of it. About ten years before I could make a reasonable decision on how to interact with the material that I was being given and digesting.

The Start of a New Story

But at the last I finally decided on what the Emergent message was (or at least should be). And decided to become a self-proclaimed spokesperson for this movement to friends, family and any who would listen. I came to this decision in the spring of 2011 when listening to hasty Evangelical messages of judgment and condemnation made upon Rob Bell's book, Love Wins. God's love didn't seem to be winning at all, I thought. It was only serving to create hard-and-fast boundaries between Christian brothers and sisters. I was ashamed. And embarrassed for my faith. How could a book on God's Love so divide so many assemblies of believers as to shout out harsh sentiments that caused so many to scratch their head and wonder why?

And it was from those self-same speeches, sentiments and articles that a whole new world opened up to me of  mankind. I now better understood the Emergent Christian message. And better knew where I should go with it. The heated Christian rhetoric and dissension was moving me from a place of neutrality towards a discriminatory position that would actively seek to re-construct my historical faith in postmodernistic terms. It was a good place to be. It seemed like the first place where we had once begun with God at rebirth when all things were new and possible. I liked that place. And having turned to follow the Lord into this direction am glad that I have.

Now whether Emergent Christianity is a true movement or not, or just an attitude implanting itself into the various vicissitudes of the Christian culture I don’t know. At present, I take it as a general church movement. One that is without boundaries and owned by no denomination or movement. It is a movement unto its own that is widely supported by both local and global Christian writers, theologs, pastors, and fellowships, as each explores its meaning for the revitalization of their Christian faith.

Overall, I take the position that however God wishes to use it, it’s ok with me. It’s His to use or not use. We are but God's vessels that He uses to carry streams of living water to humanity. Its basic message is Jesus. Who He is and what He would look like if He were with us today. His message and ministry is given to His followers to proclaim. It is our task, then, to resemble Jesus. To speak God's love and grace. To disciple. To mentor as many as we are given in Christ Jesus.

Moreover, it is mine own journal of discovery birthed this past spring from the confusion and affliction of words I was hearing by evangelical Christians not understanding emergent Christian concerns. Nor making any attempt to understand it. They had deemed it a threat to their traditional faith as they made it out to be. And sought to protect its religious dogmas by pulpit, by word, by printing press, news article, and digital blog. I knew then what had to be said. And it needed to be said well.

The Postmodern Themes of Emergent Christianity

In my attempt to create an Emergent Christian web blog I have had the following criteria and goals:

First and foremost it must somehow capture in writing Emergent Christianity's structure, thought processes, and arguments. As much as possible this web blog has attempted to do just that by journalizing as many emergent articles and subjects as possible for future referential material.

Secondly, this blog will attempt to be open to new emergent discoveries. Especially when pertaining to postmodern discoveries. To be open to self-examination while reviewing past church traditions and historical interpretations of Scripture. To allow irenic debate and discussion. And examining all models of church, doctrine, worship, and ministry against the newer postmodern models as they arise.

It will not argue for one way or another. One style or another. But remain upon to a multitude of ways as can be adapted by followers of Jesus. Consequently there is no wrong way of apprehending Jesus to humanity. It is as wide as we are imaginative. There are no restrictions so long as God's love and grace are received and dispatched.

But it will also argue its idea of Emergent Christianity against other more conservative, or more radical, ideas of Emergent Christianity. Overall, it will seek to be faithful to Scripture without abandoning Scripture's relevancy or authority for the Church today. But it will not pretend to cling to church dogmas and traditions should those efforts not reflect the same singularity of purpose. It will be critical (in a positive sense) of those interfering humanistic structures as they are found and discovered.

Too, this blog was developed as “An Emergent Christian web journal for contemporary doctrinal expression and theology with web links to authors, speakers, institutions, and organizations.”

As such, the lowest common denominator I will use when writing is the expression of God's love demonstrably seen in service of people to one another. Who exampled Christ in their lives and considerations regardless of their faith distinctions.

It should also be partly academic, partly devotional. Academic to re-teach Christians their living faith. Devotional to keep us humble before God.

In it I intend to communicate what I know while exploring things I don’t know. It’s my own spiritual journal that I wish to share with both followers of Jesus and with those who don't know Jesus.

But it is also a reference site. As such, when I blog on a subject I may go back and re-edit it until I feel I have it right as I think about it in later hindsight as an evolving discussion. Or as a series of discussions.

And because it is a reference site I will try to compact large topics into a single blog space. This may make for longer blogs - though I try to keep these within reason. For most readers anything beyond a couple of paragraphs will be too long. But there are better blog sites for this type of reader that I have listed as helps for daily input (see the Blogger Link List along the sidebar).

At times newer sidebars will be created to re-filter past topics with newly discovered topics that I've found in order to help streamline research efforts.

Jack awakening in the first and last
moments of LOST
Within the blog itself I try to provide direction. Not answers. And if answers, then baseline discussions that instill further exploration and discoveries. If you’re a LOSTIE (used of followers of the TV show LOST) you’ll know what I mean. The Christian faith seems to raise more questions than it provides answers. God is that large. And so is humanity.... But I firmly believe that the answers must come through us. We just need better questions.

Sometimes I must un-teach what Christians think they know. At other times I must better teach what we all assume that we think we know.

I use mine own words along with the words of others. Mostly, they are from emergent speakers and writers, theologs and preachers, as I can find them. They will be posted either without comment or with comment. But always with a correspondent link to the site or blog being reviewed. This is the journal side of this blog.

Generally I try to speak lucidly about the distinctions of the Emergent Christian faith with other faiths to the right or left of Emergent Christianity.

Because it is an emergent Christian journal of exploration it asks modernistic Christianity to lay down its own modernisms and to recover Christianity through postmodernistic discovery. This affects both language and the linguistic mechanisms behind that language to better help widen the scope of our conception of God. Of His Gospel. Of our place in this world. Consequently it may feel unfamiliar. Different. Odd.

It intends to be radical. To be provocative. To unsettle readers. To broaden the basis of contemporary discussion in a fast-paced world networking with dissimilar faiths and beliefs. I make no apology for this.

It requires deconstructing the Christian faith as much as reconstructing the faith (most think emergent Christianity is simply the first idea!). My gifts lie in the latter. Others the former. I try to include both.

Working towards a Christianity that works

It is asking for another way. One that untangles itself from the verbiage of Catholic and Protestant statements built-up over 2000 years of church ideologies. It is meant for recovering Calvinists and for Latinists both! It is meant as a help. A guide. A new line of thinking beyond our parochial understandings given to us by our parents. Our teachers. Or the hard lessons we have received from life's over-eager and broken hands.

The Global Themes of Emergent Christianity

It is a blog whose task must be global. That is missional to all religions and faiths of the world by declaring Jesus to all nations. To the philosophies of man. To his private theologies. And to his myopic belief structures.

It is one that tries to see beyond Western Civilization’s judgments upon the Gospel. To de-Westernize it. To de-Americanize it as much as is possible. But with an attitude of thanksgiving to the hosts of legacies given to this same task over the many centuries behind us. From these legacies we can and must improve!

To uncover and declare cultural and national missional outreaches through global perspectives, ministries, and writings, as they are performed and enacted.

To globalize doctrines that were not meant for exclusive cultural consumption. It is the right of the Gospel to do this. Emergent Christianity wishes to recognize that right and not limit the Gospel by our cultural, or personal, biases.

As such, Christianity needs to find ways to talk to Muslims, Hindus, and Oriental cultures. Jesus came to all humanity. Not simply our own American, Westernized, Christianized societies. He is not our own. Jesus belongs to all men everywhere. It must be so.

Offering streams of living water
to all nations
Globalizing the understanding of the Gospel by Emergent Christianity is a very necessary task. It is integral with the uplifting of Christianity in general. Evangelicalism has done a lot in this regard. But it has also delimited the Gospel by its own regional and popular dogmas. Emergent Christianity wishes to build upon these efforts and proclaim Jesus to the Nations beyond popular folklores and sentiments.

Emergent Christianity must allow for global input. And for global assimilation. But this does not mean that Christianity gives up its fundamentals of the faith when assimilating Christ to the Nations. It simply means that we do a better job of expanding the Gospel of Christ to the Nations. Of unhooking it from its many local, regional, and societal preferences and religiosities.

Some Concluding Thoughts

Additionally, this web blog is focused on contemporary theology. My academic background is in biblical theology but my concern is speaking the bible’s passages into contemporary thought and actions.

There are other blogs which can provide more extensive biblical dissertations than this one. But if a strict biblical section were to be added it would occur as a whole other sidebar that would run parallel to the one that is already present. And it would be labeled as "biblical theology” providing word and contextual studies; more focused biblical narrative/story development; and tying all these subject matters into the larger meta-narratives of the bible.

Consequently, other websites can provide biblical passage denouement and explanation. Mine is to take those sites’ discoveries and relate them back into the real world. As contemporary theologies. With an emergent focus.

The ancient Greek Titan Atlas
holding up the heavens before
St. Patricks Cathedral, NYC
This blog seeks to lend direction to the Emergent Christian faith. To provide a sense of continuity from modernistic Christianity to postmodernistic Christianity. To give followers of Christ a more relevant faith in sync with the world at large without losing its “saltiness.”

It is wholistic. Intending to meld together the many separate discoveries of the Christian faith into one Theistic whole of ideologies and practicums.

It is imperfect. It is subjective. It is specific in its interests and focus. It is limited in its subject matter. It is limited by myself. And in my understanding. And by my spiritual gifts. And by my makeup as a person with specific interests, perspectives, and desires.

Because of these imperfections I have conjoined my thoughts and insights with other emergent blogger's thoughts and insights in hopes of providing a fuller space of ministry to a wider-range of audience and issues than I alone can hope to provide.

It also proves that there is a community of writers, thinkers, doers, and activists, who are likewise investigating these similar Emergent truths and themes with myself. That it is not a solo effort by an elite, mostly ignored,  movement of people charged with the oblique tasks of re-righting Christianity's ponderous oversights and neglects. But one showing a community of effort from many differing realms and avocation's. And hopefully one providing a wisdom of unity and accountability as it is being worked out. Studied. And put into action.

It is therefore my hope that in the telling of this new story of Christianity - an Emerging story - that some of its qualities and uniqueness may be better understood. Thank you for your support in these efforts and your willingness to consider new territory. And through it all may Jesus Christ be proclaimed as Lord and Saviour to all men everywhere. May God's peace and blessings follow you through the remainder of your days.

R.E. Slater
December 31,1 2011

http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/

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For further follow up please go to this next article that identifies everything that we have been talking about here. (It's short, by the way!) - Emerging Church, Version 2.0 



Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Not Letting Go of Your Vision When Failure Comes and Bitterness Fills Our Hearts

As always Pete hits the subject dead-on. The only answer is to accept defeat. Learn from failure. Reject bitterness. Accept reality. And trust God to bless the works of our hands, the prayers of our lips, the pureness of our heart's devotion to serving Jesus each and every day whether at home, work, ministry or the world-at-large. All things are of God. We are but clay in the Potter's hands. Vessels to be used in the ministration of God's grace. Whether ornate or banged up the vessel does not matter. It is God's Spirit that we pour out. And it is this self-same Spirit that will minister to us at the end of the day when dreams and hopes are shattered and we cease to dream or hope any longer.

R.E. Slater
December 28, 2011

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


The Revolutionary Potential of the Actually Existing Church

by Pete Rollins
posted December 9, 2011



I was recently reading Slavoj Zizek’s excellent essay “The Ambiguity of the Masochist Social Link” and was struck by his reflection on how symptoms can represent forgotten failures to act. I would like to reflect upon this in relation to what we see in so much of the actually existing church today.

In order to approach this subject let us begin by taking the example of a man who drinks to excess, neglects his children and mistreats his partner. What do these symptoms betray? All too often they are the direct manifestation of a previous (forgotten) failure to act. Let us flesh the example out by imagining that this individual once, as a young man, had dreams of being an artist, that he married a woman he deeply loved hoping that together they would travel the world and that he longed to create a culturally rich environment within which a child could grow. In this fictional example let us imagine that the first year of their marriage was difficult. That they had a child before they were ready, lacked resources to travel and had to get jobs they detested in order to make ends meet. At different times decisions could have been made, risks taken etc. that might have taken their lives in a better, more emancipatory, direction. But these were missed and now an unhealthy relationship exists, one full of pain, suffering, self-abuse and the abuse of others. The symptoms then testify to something missed, to past failures that now make themselves know in oppressive material actions.

The revolutionary move here involves the courage to bring to mind the failures to act that lie behind the present symptoms and repeat history: attempting to relive those moments, but this time without the failures to act. Of course, it may well be impossible (just as it may have been impossible in the first place; the point is that we often have to fail many times before we stand any chance of actually succeeding).

In the same way the violence and destructive behaviour that one sees in so much of the actually existing contemporary church should not be so quickly dismissed as evidence of a poison at the heart of Christianity itself, but rather can be approached as the sign of a revolutionary potential at the heart of Christianity which has been missed.

Often the people who engage in the most destructive and reprehensible behaviour are the ones who began with the biggest dreams of transformation. Behind the drunk at the local bar, or the cynical money-maker who would step over anyone to get ahead, there is often a story of some idealistic youth who believed that the broken world could be rendered wonderful with a little work. In such situations it is the failure to enact such a world, to be a part of its birth, that leads people to the darkest of places (while those without such Utopian ideas just potter along without the highs of success or the lows of failure).

When we see the church institution engaged in the most horrible of abuses we should rightly be sickened and want to see it implode. However some of us also see, in the very abuse itself, the hint of a failure to act, a failure to embrace some elusive liberating potential.

It is this that lies at the heart of the ‘pyro-theology’ I explore in Insurrection. There is no doubt that the book is critical of the actually existing church in its dominant form, but the wager is that the symptoms we see played out are not evidence of a rotten core at the heart of the Christ event, but rather hint at the failure to live into the radical, emancipatory space it opens up.

The underlying argument then is that we must repeat the church so that we might repeat the moment of where the failure to act happened and then act. The danger, and it is a danger of the most extreme form, is that we will simply repeat the failure to act and become as destructive and reactive as the Institution we attempt to overthrow (at best we achieve a little more than before and fail to act elsewhere – which can be seen to be taking place in the various moments of historical reformation). But I for one am still willing to take the risk. And if we fail? Well let us hope that those who come after us, our children, our students, our disciples, will not.


Post a Comment
  1. Daisha says:
    Excellent post. Thank you! Looking forward to the book.
    Dx
  2. Monicalyn says:
    Thanks for this important reminder. Too often, those of us who’ve been hurt by the church forget that others who are broken and hurting stumble towards that building and find love and hope inside.
  3. Very interesting. To what extent is it necessary to plumb the past for missed opportunities and necessities to act? My guess is that being aware of the possibility of the need to repair the past is a place to start, but that the main focus needs to be awareness of how we need to act today. A congregation can find the courage to act in a crisis, and it will be redemptive and life-giving. But yesterday’s courageous act brings us to today with its own challenge that calls us to a new act of courage.
  4. Lyle Taffs says:
    G’day Pete. We’ve all made bad choices mate. the amazing thing is that even in a dysfunctional church (and world) grace still works to break the cycle and helping us to avoid the’repetition compulsion’. Otherwise, in an existentialist sense, why bother to be a Christian? Idealism is often a polite word for ‘perfectionism’ which is well known as a pathology and as such eventually produces fruit after its kind. Hey! How do we “repeat church”? I also hope you don’t fail!! so find some worthy mentors to keep your feet on the ground mate. Great blog again Pete but what about a thoughtful dialogue with Peter Bannister? Cheers from ‘down under’.
  5. Jordan says:
    Try again, fail again, fail better.
  6. David Steenberg says:
    This reminds me of what I’ve heard you say about our self-fictions, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are despite the more authentic story written in our actions. The self-fictions become a way to gloss over the past failure(s) to act, a bridge, if you will, spanning the gap between what we could have been had we acted, and who we are because we didn’t. In that sense, the symptoms of the failure to act become the counter-melody to our self-fiction, and in that way can drive the movement of our life towards authenticity.
  7. James says:
    You have more hope than I, but keep doing what you’re doing.
  8. Margaret says:
    This and your next post I think are linked. On the one hand the church can get so bogged down in the everyday it doesn’t see the opportunity or act, sometimes people confuse Jesus with Father Christmas and expect the church to be there for them and them only, but also there are those who enter church looking for the “Thing” too. There are many who catch the fire of Jesus and come in looking for a world to conquer and rid of evil in his name, but either burn out because no one shares their view, or they gradually get sucked into the everyday and lose the vision they had. Their happiness is stolen too, and disillusion makes them happy/sad to see the church fail, but when it does succeed, their response can be skeptical/cautiously optimistic. Any opportunity to act is seen, but previous experience has left them cynical and unwilling to be bitten again, and always there is this love/hate attitude.
    “Pyro-theology” as I understand it is valuable in that it recognises weaknesses in the church, but also talks of constant renewing, changing and starting over when the junk has been burnt off. I dare say it, and other initiatives like it, will have something to do with the church limping its way further on into the 21st century. Let’s hope so.



Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Learning to Listen to God and to Unmask Ourselves

Just Sit There
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2011/12/just-sit-there/

by Pete Enns
posted December 14, 2011

If you’ve ever tried to be still, just still, you know how hard this is.

We long for noise, distractions–anything to spare us from admitting to ourselves that things are not as they should be: TV, books, music, other people, complaining, that non-stop, self-serving, chatterbox we call our “thoughts.”

Why is it so hard to be alone? Perhaps because we feel awkward in unfamiliar company.

Isn’t it true of human beings that no matter what we may do, the best of what we name ‘me’ seems to elude our understanding? Why is it that no matter what I do, and even at times do well, I am never satisfied? Why, when I am honest with myself, do I discover that I am always on a hunt, not even particularly knowing what I am hunting for” (Listen to the Desert, 3).

Just sit there. Without distractions. If you are feeling brave, even (try to) tell your mind to take a chill pill for 10 minutes. Just sit there. Alone.

It takes courage to move into unfamiliar territory.

It is no small act of courage to face squarely the fictions of your life and the troubling sense that something isn’t quite right about our life. Scapegoating, excuses, self-pity, are common disguises that shield us from deep-seated doubt. These fictions, these acceptable deceptions, are the way we distract ourselves from the nagging suspicion that at the bottom of what I call ‘me’ is something terribly disturbing” (LTTD, 5).

Isolation was a habit the desert fathers and mothers cultivated. They would sit in their cells, alone. They knew there was a valuable lesson to be learned there–alone with only themselves, without the distractions of the games we play with others and ourselves.

Alone, in your cell–whether actual or metaphorical–is where you learn what you need to know about who you are…who you really are. No gimmicks.

Sitting in their cell was no cowardly removal from the bad old nasty world. They were not shrinking from the world. They were brave enough to face themselves, and knew that the demands of daily life worked non-stop to keep them in a dream-existence of their own making.

Neither is this narcissistic self-absorption. That is what happens when we look inward a few millimeters, allowing our false selves to remain unchecked. Leave that to Oprah and Dr. Phil. God will not guide you there.

What the desert dwellers were after was a clear, unburdened, honest view into themselves. And this takes guts.

Do not many of us lack the courage to look into ourselves and name what we see for what it is? Would we not rather look at others and name their shortcomings?

How many truly know themselves with brutal, God-like, honesty?

Learning to be alone a little more can be a beginning to seeing past the masks we wear, not only to posture for others, but for ourselves–because we do not want to see what is there.

And so much of our private and public posturing happens in church.

Maybe God calls us inward from time to time. At the end of the day–both literally and metaphorical of death–our true selves cannot be propped up by others or our false selves.

If we accustomedly flee our loneliness and the lessons it has to teach us, hiding behind the excitement around us and in social company, then we will greet [this] advice with a goodly portion of dread. If, on the other hand, we are weary of the shallow trivialities of the social order and afflicted by the inane discourse of most human communication, then you will likely feel relief at the advice….Whichever way we react, we do not enter the cell alone” (LTTD, 8)

[This post is based on chapter one of Listen to the Desert, Gregory Mayers: "Your Cell Will Teach You."]

* * * *  * * * * * * * * *

MY OBSERVATIONS

As in all of life one needs a balance. Some of us are too busy to take the advice given here but should. Some of us are too lonely having already lived solitary lives for too many days that actually need the company of men and women to talk to and to listen. Life needs a balance and only you can judge this fact. Busy people talk all the time about their need for times of quiet meditation but never seem to find the courage to do this. Lonely people have already found themselves in the ever present silence of their meditation that daily urges their need for community that never seems to come their way. Some have been unmasked by God from early on. While others have refused God's unmasking. We each know the truth of our needs and the actions that we must take. Somehow. Somewhere. Sometime.

Moreover, inasmuch as we tend to lie to ourselves (1 John 1.8), and would lie to God about ourselves (1 John 1.10), it is good practice to seek both inward truth as much as to test that truth in the company of others. The masks that we wear can be disturbingly unclear if left to our own judgments based upon personal shame and guilt. Sometimes it takes the company of people to help us hold up a truer version of ourselves than what we would allow our very selves to wear. At other times it takes separation from the ones that love us (or from those who may not love us in their toxic selves) to allow us to reflect on God's version or direction for us.

The disconcerting truth is, we are made in God's image. That image is both personal and requires fellowship. God is not alone. He exists in the company of a fellowship. A Tri-une fellowship of three, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each reflects the other as much as the other reflects the Three. This reflection holds an image of each in the eye of the Other. They understand themselves through the other's input. But they also hold a true version of Themselves within their own image. It is a refined reflection of Who they are in Themselves as much as in their own Fellowship. They are inseparable. They are forever bonded together in infinite community, personal sharing and unselfish reflection.

And without getting too ontological here concerning the infinite mysteries of the Godhead it must be said that our own image  - the one that God created of Himself in us - is first and foremost found in God Himself... and that image is never alone. It exists in the company of a Divine Fellowship. And while it is good advice to seek God in the aloneness of time and activity, it is also very good practice to listen to God through the fellowship of true men and women who have removed their false masks of self. Who know how to love others. Who are not toxic to the idea of God's plan in our lives.

For the sociology of man's self-discovery requires the input of others. We better understand ourselves through our actions and judgments in the community of men and women whom God has placed into our lives - be they believer or unbeliever. We test out our theories of ourselves, our judgments of ourselves, in the company of others, to determine whether we have been able to lay down those false versions of ourselves for a better version of God acting through us. It requires that God de-construct, or unconstruct, our guilts and our shame, and reconstruct our truer personhood and image of Himself through us. It is both a solitary task and a community task. And it is best helped along with others having experienced similar journeys of self-reflection and death.

I say death because the Christian journey is one that requires our old selves to die, to be placed away from ourselves. The selfish wants and needs. The unkind acts of unlove. The unceasing tongue that continually harms and injures those around us. The old man of sin must die. It has to die if Christ is to live in us. For the Spirit of God requires the key to every room of our lives. First to the door of our hearts. Then to the doors of the main room. Then to all the little separate rooms and chests and cupboards that we have locked away from His repair and renovation. The old must be burned up. Consumed by the Spirit of God. It must fully die if we are to fully live as new men and women in Christ Jesus our Savior and Lord.

To do this we must both draw away and draw back - to draw away from the old communities of friends and family to find ourselves in God. And to allow God to draw us back into new communities of friends and family to re-apply the discovery of our newly re-constructed selves. To test its validity and discover whether true or not. To test the spirits as it were - whether of man or of God. Whether this truth we have found is God's truth or simply another lie that we have told ourselves and have allowed to lead us again through the false gospel of lies and deceits applied to us by false teachers and would-be shepherds. Be they people, books, TV programs, or some kind of church or fellowship. Each-and-all must be tested to find if they are truely sent from God for we are easily misled. For some of us this may require several renditions or trials of exploration until we find ourselves in God. Stay strong during this time. Do not give up. Seek good advice and in time your efforts will be rewarded.

Lastly, we each have been created with a personality that does not change with time. This is the real us that we need to find. To discover. But our character can and will change over time. Those character defects that we have imbibed early on to survive or to exist can and must change and adapt. Liars can become truth tellers. Gossips can become silent and learn to hold their thoughts and their tongues. Trouble makers can cease from troubling the affairs of others and seek restitution in the lives of those they would destroy. We can change before God's grace with God's help.

For our characters must change if His grace is real. They must be un-defected. Or, per-fected in God if His image will truly take hold of our lives. For there is no variableness in God's character. He is light and in Him darkness does not dwell. We are to be light bearers no longer submitted to darkness as unthinking, unfeeling creatures or brute beasts. We bear God's image. It is an image of light. It requires the work of the Spirit to which we must give every key. Submit every urge. Yield every thought. Bow to every willful act. It is God's task to unmask us. And that He will do. It may hurt. But it will never destroy.

R.E. Slater
December 27, 2011



Honesty in the Journey (or On the Raising of Young Heretics)


by Peter Enns
posted December 20, 2011

Nearly twenty years ago, my oldest was six years old. One of our bedtime routines was a brief Bible reading.

One evening we found ourselves in the Garden of Eden story—Adam and Eve, a piece of fruit, and a snake with vocal chords.

As I read, my son kept sighing, as if impatient with my reading. Being the only Old Testament expert in the room, I ignored him and kept going.

But he kept sighing.

He even had the audacity to interrupt me.

“Daddy, snakes can’t talk.”

The woman said to the serpent, “we may eat fruit from the tr….”

“Daddy. Snakes. Can’t. Talk.”

With a sense of foreboding, I stopped reading and asked him, pray, to continue his remonstration. For the next few minutes I listened to a six year old deconstruct his faith, which amounted to the following:

Two naked people, magic fruit from a magic tree, and a talking animal. C’mon. This is obviously a story, not too different from the cartoons I watch or the other books you read to me, none of which you expect me to accept as reality. So, it seems to me that the Bible is a story, which gets me dangerously close to thinking that maybe God is a story, too. Hence—follow me here, Dad—I’m not sure why I should really believe God is real, which is to say, please stop reading, and can I have a glass of water?

My six year old was having a faith crisis.

Well that’s just perfect. I can see the headlines now: “Controversial Old Testament professor raises heretic son” (trial footage at 11:00).

My first instinct was fear: “Shhhhhh! Keep your voice down! He may hear you.” But, in one of those moments that for me constitutes sure proof of God’s existence, my mouth was kept from saying what my brain was telling it.

I tried a different approach: “You don’t really believe in God anymore? O.K., well, tell him.”

Let’s not talk about the problem, just tell God. Be honest with him.

My son wasn’t expecting that. He looked at me like I had spiders crawling out of my nostrils. He also looked a bit relieved.

Over the years, I have been thankful to God that I didn’t correct my son’s theology, for that would have been utterly stupid. Had I shamed him or coerced him into saying the right thing (so I would feel better about my parenting skills), I would have been responsible for creating another religious drone, another one who, at a young age, was already learning to play the religion game.

I would have taught my son a crippling lesson, that faith in God requires him to be dishonest with God and with himself.

I am proud of that little six-year-old, who trusted himself enough not to play games. And I am thankful that I, by a flickering moment of God’s grace, didn’t blink (too much).

Life in Christendom can sometimes feel like a show. We can be quite concerned to put on appearances—even though the Gospel humbles the proud and unmasks the hypocrite. Dishonesty cheapens the Gospel as yet another commodity to be controlled and manipulated for personal gain. It ceases being that which gives us our true identities to that which is manipulated, along with everything else, to hold on to our false selves.

We construct many reasons for maintaining a posture of dishonesty. For many, the failure to utter before God where we really are and what we are real think reflects a lifetime of corrupt spiritual teaching: "God went through a lot of effort to save you, so the least you can do is have your act together so as not to disappoint him."

In a perverse twist, “holding on to the Gospel” becomes a motivation to hold on to self-deception.

I have learned that God, for our own sake, does not let that condition continue indefinitely.

This post is adapted from my recently published commentary on Ecclesiastes (Eerdmans, 2011).




Barna 2011 Survey - Pimary Reasons Young Adults Leave the Church


Barna Survey on Young Adults Leaving the Church

by Peter Enns
posted December 23, 2011

Have you seen the 2011 Barna survey on American Christianity? Below are the six primary reasons why young adults leave the church.

With Christmas upon us, I may have to hold off on making some comments (though I have highlighted some things that struck me). All of these reasons resonate with me on some level as I have interacted with college students over the years. The question is, how should these issues be addressed?

I have written a fair amount on #s 3 and 6–the latter in blog posts and the former in blog posts and my upcoming book, The Evolution of Adam, where I try to address this very problem.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.

A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse:

  • One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience)
  • Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%)
  • “My church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%)


Reason #2 – Teens’ and twenty-somethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.

A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church.

  • One-third said “church is boring” (31%)
  • One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%)
  • Or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%)
  • Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).


Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.

One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%).

  • Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%).
  • Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%).
  • And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.”
  • Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.


Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.

With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church’s expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”


Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences.
  • Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and,
  • An identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.”
  • One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).


Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%), and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience (18%).



Monday, December 26, 2011

Charley Honey - Remarkable Stories of the Christmas Season




Published: Saturday, December 24, 2011, 6:47 AM
Updated: Saturday, December 24, 2011, 12:51 PM


A remarkable man passed away three weeks ago, though you probably didn’t mark his passing. His name was Fred Ritsema. Mr. Ritsema was not a newsmaker. But he once told me a Christmas story that was, of the many I have heard over the years, the most remarkable.

He returned home from World War II on a Friday. The following Monday, he stuck out his thumb on Chicago Drive SW to hitchhike to Australia, where he’d met Edna May Shute at a dance. Nearly three months of trains, trucks and steamers later, he showed up at her doorstep on Christmas Eve 1945. They married and came back to Grand Rapids, where they lived a good, non-newsmaking life.

christmasornaments.JPGJesus, Heavenly Father, bring us together in heaven once more, unending,” read his final prayer in his obituary.

Now that’s what I call true love, the kind that inspires songs crooned over an old radio while Mom and Dad dance around the living room. Ardent, devoted, sacrificial love. A Christmas kind of love.

My dad’s story

Different story, different man, same kind of love: Christmas Eve, early 1950s. My folks have just made the two-hour drive from Toledo to my grandparents’ house in Detroit. Hugs and kisses, kids wide-eyed, taking in the old-fashioned tree and dishes of candy. Secretly, my folks unpack our gifts.

Uh-oh, no BB gun. My brother Mike’s biggest present, missing in action. I don’t know if it was a Red Ryder, but it definitely could put your eye out. That Christmas, Mike wanted it more than anything in the world.

So, after we kids are tucked in, Dad gets in the car, drives back to Toledo, gets the gun, drives back to Detroit. Early Christmas morning, Mike gleefully opens his gift. Dad manages a bleary-eyed smile.

[Insert here your favorite family story of Christmas craziness. Crazy distances traversed, church pageants gone awry, 2 a.m. runs to Meijer for batteries. All because families love each other, and because Christians love this certain baby who showed up in a box of straw.]

Mary’s story

The latter event had been preceded by a long trek to Bethlehem, a pretty crazy hike for a pregnant teenager. But Mary had been assured by an angel, so Scripture says: Fear not, God favors you, and nothing’s impossible with God. OK then, says Mary. Whatever you say, angel.

Her ready acceptance of this rather spooky news set the pattern for all crazy Christmases to come. The unexpected happens, things change, the world turns upside down. And the angels say, fear not.

My family’s loss

Christmas changed in a big way for my family this year, back in July. That’s when my mother, a rather boisterous angel in her own right, left this life. But that was just the beginning.

Seven weeks later, Dad’s legs went out from under him. Spinal stenosis had finally caught up, choking off his walking nerves. Still deep in grief and in no particular mood to battle, he went under the knife.

This is when God and his angels really went to work — just as they had in Mom’s heart surgery 10 years before — through the skilled hands and caring hearts of physicians and caregivers.

The surgery went off without a hitch, the doc coolly clearing backbone from nerve while we kids sweated bullets. Then followed three weeks of rehab at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, where small miracles were performed on Dad’s 89-year-old body, and six weeks at Clark on Keller Lake, a United Methodist assisted-living facility where the caring staff and autumn leaves healed his spirit.

The angels throughout this stretch were way too many to fit on the head of a pin or in a newspaper column. At Mary Free Bed, therapists cheerfully pushed him onto his feet with help from a really cool walker, doctors expertly guided his recovery, nurses shamelessly babied him, a psychologist listened to his broken heart and social workers held his hand every painful step of the way. One particular social worker close to my heart brought him yogurt and his morning paper.

At Clark, caring nurses and aides attended to his every need, cooks prepared delicious meals, friendly residents chatted with him about their respective journeys into walkers and wheelchairs. Meanwhile, back home, neighbors watched the house and watered the plants to prepare for his return.

Dad came home in early November, driven by my brother who wouldn’t touch a BB gun now if you paid him. He stayed with Dad for a month, I stayed for a week, and now my sister is home for several months. Mom’s special chair is empty, but her spirit still dances through the house.

Dad has accepted her passing bravely though sorrowfully. Nothing can ever be the same, and this sure isn’t the Christmas we expected. But it is Christmas nevertheless, and we will celebrate it in a new way.

And all these angels in the wings whisper, “Fear not.”
 
 


Email Charles Honey: honeycharlesm@gmail.com