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theology

Cornell West vs. The White House

From the New York Times describing an exchange with Valerie Jarret and theologian Cornell West

Ms. Jarrett was similarly “livid,” one former White House official said, with members of the Congressional Black Caucus who accused the president of paying insufficient attention to the particular economic woes of blacks. When the writer and academic Cornel West joined in, calling Mr. Obama the “black mascot of Wall Street,” Ms. Jarrett’s response was “ruthless,” Dr. West said.

He recalled a phone call in which she dismissed his criticism as sour grapes for not receiving a ticket to the inauguration, and said he later heard from friends that she was putting out the word that “one, I was crazy, and two, I was un-American.”

“It was a matter of letting me know that I was, in her view, way out of line and that I needed to get in line,” he said in an interview. “I conveyed to her: ‘I’m not that kind of Negro. I’m a Jesus-loving black man who tells the truth, in the White House, in the crack house or in any other house.’ She got real quiet. It was clear that she was not used to being spoken to that way.”

Actually West said Barack Obama is a, “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats. And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it.”  While I don’t agree with what he said, I do appreciate someone who can tell off someone in power and then stand by it.

Walter Wink on Homosexuality in the Bible

For those of you who are frustrated already for my post on Saskatoon’s Gay Pride parade, here is a paper by theologian and Biblical scholar Walter Wink on homosexuality and the Bible.

The fact is that there is, behind the legal tenor of Scripture, an even deeper tenor, articulated by Israel out of the experience of the Exodus and brought to sublime embodiment in Jesus’ identification with harlots, tax collectors, the diseased and maimed and outcast and poor. It is that God sides with the powerless, God liberates the oppressed, God suffers with the suffering and groans toward the reconciliation of all things. In the light of that supernal compassion, whatever our position on gays, the gospel’s imperative to love, care for, and be identified with their sufferings is unmistakably clear.

Many of us have a powerful personal revulsion against homosexuality — a revulsion that goes far beyond reason to what almost seems to us an instinctual level. Homosexuality seems “unnatural” — and it would be for most of us. I myself have had to struggle against feelings of superiority and prejudice in regard to gays. Yet for some persons it appears to be the only natural form their sexuality takes. This feeling of revulsion or alienness, or simply of indifference, is no basis, however, for ethical decisions regarding our attitudes toward homosexuality. It seems to me that we simply need to acknowledge that for the majority of us who are heterosexual by nature this deep feeling amounts to nothing more than prejudice when applied to others. It has no sure biblical warrant, no ethical justification. It is just the way we feel about those who are different. And if we can acknowledge that profound prejudice, perhaps we can begin to allow others their preferences as well.

I want to close by quoting a paragraph from a 1977 address by C. Kilmer Myers, bishop of California, before the Episcopal House of Bishops:

The model for humanness is Jesus. I know many homosexuals who are radically human. To desert them would be a desertion, I believe, of our Master, Jesus Christ. And that I will not do no matter what the cost. I could not possibly return to my diocese and face them, these homosexual persons, many of whom look upon me as their father in God, their brother in Christ, their friend, were I to say to them, “You stand outside the hedge of the New Israel, you are rejected by God. Your love and care and tenderness, yes, your faltering, your reaching out, your tears, your search for love, your violent deaths mean nothing! You are damned! You have no place in the household of God. You are so despicable that there is no room for you in the priesthood or anywhere else.” There are voices in this country now raised proclaiming this total ostracism in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. What will be the nature of the response to this in the House of Bishops?

Now that this issue has become one that none of us can dodge, what will be the nature of our response?

The Gospel According to Your Own Best Interests

Two friends in Todd Littleton and Bill Kinnon take on THE Gospel Coalition.

First from Todd

What problematizes the Lifeway/SBC sponsorship and support is C.J Mahaney. Mahaney is also a co-founder of the event. Others have noted the curious timing of his re-instatement. The suggestion is that it came so he could participate in this event. An inside investigation into his admittedly poor leadership ethics did not prompt a change in leadership. For others this raises questions about an independent investigation report that may be released.

That Mahaney admitted to behavior that would get most of us removed from the pastorate does not rise to the level where the SBC entity has an ethical position to preserve. Bill Kinnon is aghast at the developments – not Lifeway. Even a member of the SGM network is flummoxed. But, the sorts of practices Mahaney acknowledged were, and who knows if they remain, normal fair in the pragmatic antics pre- and post- CR in the SBC. It is very difficult the pot calling the kettle black. And, since Mohler defended Mahaney when the story broke it would be hard now, I guess, to suggest either Mahaney withdraw participation until the independent investigation is complete or that the SBC /Lifeway would rescind its support, sponsorship, and participation. But wait, what about Baptist autonomy. We do have our trump cards, even when ethics are in question.

The point is not about the “togetherness” of a group of Christians for the Gospel. I am for a much wider vision for “togethering” for the Gospel. I have no issue with Mahaney personally. I am as frail and prone to hubris as the next pastor. What interests me is the way decisions are framed. Lifeway rightly positions itself against abortion – it is an ethical position. But, so is leadership ethics. On the one hand we defend the “not yet born.” What about those lives littering the byways of this world suffering at the hands of powerful religious leaders? Are they less valuable? Surely Ed Stetzer has written something about the reasons there are “de-churched” people in our Country. Clergy abuse fits that bill.

Now from Bill Kinnon

This video of Mahaney with his three T4G co-founders made me sick to my stomach, when I viewed it this morning. These men should be ashamed of themselves. But they apparently don’t know what “shame” means… or “research” for that matter. When the CJ-Stepping-Down scandal first erupted last summer they chose to believe Mahaney over the hundreds hurt by his ministry. Isn’t that typical for the celebrity-driven church.

So back to Carson and Keller. Perhaps they can help me with my confusion; if a poor understanding of Trinitarian theology and the preaching of prosperity are cause for concern (and I don’t disagree that they are), should not one be concerned about a significant leader in your movement who uses blackmail to get his own way. (Trust me, there are many, many more reasons to question Mahaney’s fitness for church leadership, but this one will suffice for the moment.)

The fellows of TGC and T4G are more than willing to call out anyone they believe to be doing harm to their understanding of The Gospel.

Except, it would seem, if it’s one of their co-council members. (And I haven’t even mentioned a certain West Coast church leader, also on said council… well, not in this post, anyway.)

So you have a church leader engaged in large spread emotional abuse and blackmail and that is okay as long as he has the right friends and has enough influence and pull.  A pastor I know had huge integrity issues with money and how he dealt with people yet friends would tell me, “he has the gift of evangelism” or “the church keeps on growing”.   It happens all over yet of all of the places it should never happen is in the church.  The church is supposed to demand better yet it rarely does.  That is what saddens me.

Kinnon on things he is rather tired of

I don’t post a lot on theology and the church anymore but if you are wondering what I am thinking on any topic, head to Bill Kinnon’s blog.  Bill just posted on things he is rather tired of and he has posted what I have been thinking of but have been too disgusted to write about.

I just spent the last hour working on a post called Power, Authority and Control. And I just don’t have the energy to finish it. As you might imagine, it references the recent nonsense from John Piper on Christianity being masculine, more Mark Driscoll than I care to think about and the latest missive from 9Marks on church discipline — as if it’s a line from Hotel California, “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

The post references the upcoming T4G conference where the recently reinstated CJ Mahaney, he of blackmailing-his-church-cofounder-fame, will share the platform with men who will teach young males about the importance of exerting proper control of their sheep. If there was truth in advertising, or a at least Christian advertising, the conference would be called Men Together for the Patriarchal Gospel.

So here are some of the things that I’m tired of:

1) People who deny that they believe that patriarchy is a first-order issue, but then do everything in their power to make it such.

2) The people who insist that they have the answers for the church simply because of the size of their audience. Would they please spend some time in 20th century history. Assuming they are literate, that study should defeat the argument for them.

3) The supposedly Christian publishers who promote anything as long as they think there’s a market for it — I’m getting more convinced every day that I should only read Christian writings from authors who’d been dead for at least 40 years.

4) Celebrity-Driven Conferences that could fill almost every waking moment, if one were so inclined, but in the end have limited to no impact – other than on the bank accounts of attendees.

I like his fourth point because he is both right and I think church leaders actually use conferences as an escape from their own problems.   Like I have said before, I have never understood why one profession (which really isn’t that difficult) needs to go to so many conferences.

Submission to physical abuse?

I know many of you are John Piper fan boys but this is appalling. Piper is telling women to "submit" to abuse for a season and then go to the church. Really? What about an abuse shelter? What about pressing criminal charges? What about leaving him? Abuse can never be tolerated.

Piper talks about abuse being sin and the answer is in the church.  Of course it is sin but violence against women and children (and anyone) is illegal and the answer is first to get the women to safety and then the courts.  Yes the church is a part of the solution as it can be in any restorative process but there are laws in this land that say that no one needs to tolerate physical violence and abuse, not even for a “season” as Piper suggests.

The idea that this needs to be done in the context of the church and community is wrong.  If I hit Wendy or abuse my kids, I have crossed a line that as a society we say that we won’t tolerate, it’s why there are laws that prohibit family violence.  The actions of the abuser have taken the consequences out of the realm and authority of the church and into the realm of the police and judges.  This isn’t an issue of submission, this is a criminal issue now.

I have no idea why some of you believe in the submissive crap that guys like Piper keep preaching. I have listened on the phone to women being beaten by husbands and parents while they were trying to protect their children and have listened to friends tell me they thought they were going to die from the abuse they were enduring.  No one should ever deal with that ever. People knew that they were being abused (and yes they were in the church) and didn’t take a stand because they women were submissive.

That "doctrine" drives me crazy. It’s based on bad theology and a bad translation of the Hebrew.

Being Jesus in Nashville

My friend Jim Palmer likes to color outside the lines of modern evangelicalism and to make a long story short, his last book was controversial enough that his publisher tossed him which for me, makes me want this book to be published.  He is publishing it independently and needs your help.

I set out to disentangle Jesus from the religious machinery of Christianity and discovered a profound and unexpected answer to the question, "What would Jesus do?" I devoted more than a year of my life to live as Jesus and learned that Jesus was special not because he was more divine than the rest of us, but because he was courageously more human than most. Unfortunately that message didn’t go over well with my publisher.

I don’t know if this book is theological sound or not but many books in the history of Christian theology were seen as heretical when they came out.  Even if Jim is wrong, it adds something to the conversation of praxis and how Jesus would live today.

I’ll embed the video.  I hope it’s okay but I can’t hear it.  This ear thing really sucks.

Playing the Percentages

Theologian David Fitch has a good post on the debate about Rob Bell’s new book

I blame Rob Bell for this inflammatory mess (along with his publisher) because of the excessive bating and provoking all in an obvious attempt to attract attention to his book. This is no way to pastor I say. This is no way to lead. (but it does sell books).  On the other hand, to be even handed, I blame people on the Neo-Reformed side as well, people like Kevin DeYoung. Sorry Kevin, I know you mean well but when you do a 20 page review that largely argues out of an incredibly narrow view of orthodoxy with little to no appreciation for history before the 1920′s,  it comes off as defensive and parochial. For both sides, the tactics reveal a lack of a place to engage this issue productively for the furtherance of the Kingdom beyond our own personal enclaves (or ambitions). And yet discussing this issue is essential in order to be shaped for a posture for Mission that has been lacking amongst the traditional evangelicals, the church I am part of and remain committed to.

I have been kind of intrigued by the entire debate… not so much that I will read the book or any of the debate but the nature of the debate in itself.  Let me explain.  Theological debates never used to be like this.  They were much more private events, often done through letters, in person, or in small circulation academic journals.  Book sales were small.  I am going out on a limb and say that Rob Bell will probably outsell Barth’s Commentary on Romans in a couple of months.  What used to be a private and contemplative debate has been sped up tremendously through blogs, Twitter, and competing book deals and the resulting conference speaking gigs.  All of this is driven by Christian publishing companies that are either shareholder held or are owned by News Corp, famous for taking sides and then profiting from the division.

There is always going to be different ideas in the church.  I have some reservations with Brian McLaren’s theology that we have talked privately over (not sure who is right on that… been thinking about it for ten years) and even with David Fitch, I still am trying to figure out his theology of social justice and how to work on it in my context.  Hopefully in the next decade I can put to words my issues with it but it needs some more thinking about but my theological reservations don’t need to be tweeted, blurted, and raced out.  At the same time, I need to present my ideas in the expectation that some of them are going to be offensive to others.  I am a Methodist.  I am quite confident that my theology is correct but some of my beliefs stand in contrast to my own denomination even let alone others yet I don’t feel the need to refute and inflame others all of the time.  I have my questions about Brian McLaren’s theology, David Fitch’s social gospel and CFL allegiances (I think but check back in 2018), Darryl Dash’s theological worldview (he’s Baptist, same could be said for Santosh Ninan and Kyle Martin), Len Hjalmarson (Anabaptist),  Randall Friesen (moved to Alberta and cheered for Brett Favre), or anyone that I know that doesn’t subscribe to a liberal Free Methodist worldview that I do yet i think we have managed to have better discussions than what we saw over this latest dust up.  We are always going to have things that divide us (the Hamilton Tiger Cats?  Really?!) but can’t we have these discussions without cutting each other off and using the terms heretic.  Good grief, Tillich and Barth continued on their correspondence despite seeing the world in very different ways (with evidence that Tillich and a pantheist.

I wonder when we are going to realize that speed isn’t always vital or even desirable in theological debates.  The rush to be first or provocative may appease your masters at News Corp, Google, and Amazon but is it adding anything to the church.  I don’t think it is.  I think what we gained in speed was lost in perspective, contemplation, and depth of dialogue. 

iPhone app allows users to go to confession

iPhone app allows users to go to confession The best part is that it costs $1.99 at the app store.

Described as "the perfect aid for every penitent", it offers users tips and guidelines to help them with the sacrament.

Now senior church officials in both the UK and US have given it their seal of approval, in what is thought to be a first.

The app takes users through the sacrament – in which Catholics admit their wrongdoings – and allows them to keep track of their sins.

It also allows them to examine their conscience based on personalised factors such as age, sex and marital status – but it is not intended to replace traditional confession entirely.

This isn’t their first digital effort

Two years later created a Facebook application that lets users send virtual postcards featuring the pontiff.

Before you mock it, when I went to Bishop James Mahoney High School in Saskatoon, we had a similar checklist to speed up the confession process (as a Methodist, I just judged others silently) so it’s not like this is a new idea.  Of course we still had a priest to administer the sacrament.

Where have all the denominations gone?

In the Wall Street Journal

Are we witnessing the death of America’s Christian denominations? Studies conducted by secular and Christian organizations indicate that we are. Fewer and fewer American Christians, especially Protestants, strongly identify with a particular religious communion—Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc. According to the Baylor Survey on Religion, nondenominational churches now represent the second largest group of Protestant churches in America, and they are also the fastest growing.

More and more Christians choose a church not on the basis of its denomination, but on the basis of more practical matters. Is the nursery easy to find? Do I like the music? Are there support groups for those grappling with addiction?

It’s not all bad news for denominations

Where hymnody once came from the spontaneity of slave spirituals or camp meetings, worship songs are increasingly now focus-grouped by executives in Nashville. The evangelical "Veggie Tales" cartoons—animated Bible stories featuring talking cucumbers and tomatoes—probably shape more children in their view of scripture than any denominational catechism does these days. A church that requires immersion baptism before taking communion, as most Baptist traditions do, will likely get indignant complaints from evangelical visitors who feel like they’ve been denied service at a restaurant.

But there are some signs of a growing church-focused evangelicalism. Many young evangelicals may be poised to reconsider denominational doctrine, if for no other reason than they are showing signs of fatigue with typical evangelical consumerism.

For example, artists such as Keith and Kristen Getty and Sojourn Music are reaching a new generation with music written for and performed by local congregations. Yes, prosperity preacher Joyce Meyer sells her book "Eat the Cookie, Buy the Shoes," which encourages Christians to "lighten up" by eating cookies and buying shoes (seriously). But, at the same time, Alabama preacher David Platt is igniting thousands of young people with his book "Radical," which calls Christians to rescue their faith by lowering their standard of living and giving their time and money to Church-based charities.

via

Karl Barth in 1962 Time Magazine

The article is here

Barth has been variously damned as a heretic, a narrow-minded Biblicist, and an atheist in disguise—and praised as the most creative Protestant theologian since John Calvin.

The thinking that is behind the Tea Party

Fascinating interview with former G.O.P. Representative Bob Inglis (who lost a primary run off to a tea party candidate) in the 2010 mid-term election.

It was the middle of a tough primary contest, and Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) had convened a small meeting with donors who had contributed thousands of dollars to his previous campaigns. But this year, as Inglis faced a challenge from tea party-backed Republican candidates claiming Inglis wasn’t sufficiently conservative, these donors hadn’t ponied up. Inglis’ task: Get them back on the team. "They were upset with me," Inglis recalls. "They are all Glenn Beck watchers." About 90 minutes into the meeting, as he remembers it, "They say, ‘Bob, what don’t you get? Barack Obama is a socialist, communist Marxist who wants to destroy the American economy so he can take over as dictator. Health care is part of that. And he wants to open up the Mexican border and turn [the US] into a Muslim nation.’" Inglis didn’t know how to respond.

It was a tough primary campaign according to Inglis

During his primary campaign, Inglis repeatedly encountered enraged conservatives whom he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—satisfy. Shortly before the runoff primary election, Inglis met with about a dozen tea party activists at the modest ranch-style home of one of them. Here’s what took place:

I sat down, and they said on the back of your Social Security card, there’s a number. That number indicates the bank that bought you when you were born based on a projection of your life’s earnings, and you are collateral. We are all collateral for the banks. I have this look like, "What the heck are you talking about?" I’m trying to hide that look and look clueless. I figured clueless was better than argumentative. So they said, "You don’t know this?! You are a member of Congress, and you don’t know this?!" And I said, "Please forgive me. I’m just ignorant of these things." And then of course, it turned into something about the Federal Reserve and the Bilderbergers and all that stuff. And now you have the feeling of anti-Semitism here coming in, mixing in. Wow.

Later, Inglis mentioned this meeting to another House member: "He said, ‘You mean you sat there for more than 10 minutes?’ I said, ‘Well, I had to. We were between primary and runoff.’ I had a two-week runoff. Oh my goodness. How do you…" Inglis trails off, shaking his head.

What drives the Tea Party?

When he returned to the House in 2005, Inglis, though still a conservative, was more focused on policy solutions than ideological battle. After Obama entered the White House, Inglis worked up a piece of campaign literature—in the form of a cardboard coaster that flipped open—that noted that Republicans should collaborate (not compromise) with Democrats to produce workable policies. "America’s looking for solutions, not wedges," it read. He met with almost every member of the House Republican caucus to make his pitch: "What we needed to be is the adults who say absolutely we will work with [the new president]."

Instead, he remarks, his party turned toward demagoguery. Inglis lists the examples: falsely claiming Obama’s health care overhaul included "death panels," raising questions about Obama’s birthplace, calling the president a socialist, and maintaining that the Community Reinvestment Act was a major factor of the financial meltdown. "CRA," Inglis says, "has been around for decades. How could it suddenly create this problem? You see how that has other things worked into it?" Racism? "Yes," Inglis says.

As an example of both the GOP pandering to right-wing voters and conservative talk show hosts undercutting sensible policymaking, Inglis points to climate change. Fossil fuels, he notes, get a free ride because they’re "negative externalities"—that is, pollution and the effects of climate change—"are not recognized" in the market. Sitting in front of a wall-sized poster touting clean technology centers in South Carolina, Inglis says that conservatives "should be the ones screaming. This is a conservative concept: accountability. This is biblical law: you cannot do on your property what harms your neighbor’s property." Which is why he supports placing a price on carbon—and forcing polluters to cover it.

Asked why conservatives and Republicans have demonized the issue of climate change and clean energy, Inglis replies, "I wish I knew; then maybe I wouldn’t have lost my election." He points out that some conservatives believe that any issue affecting the Earth is "the province of God and will not be affected by human activity. If you talk about the challenge of sustainability of the Earth’s systems, it’s an affront to that theological view."

I remember reading a study on why people voted the way they did in 1999.  It was the most messed up thing I had ever seen.  It literally made sense.  They voted against Gore because of the amount of rain they did or didn’t get that year.  They voted for Bush because of things that he or any other federal politician had nothing to do with.  It wasn’t just some hick in West Virginia either, it was hundreds of thousands of votes on these bizarre issues.  Sadly reading stories of racism and anti-Semitism doesn’t surprise me.  What a mess for Barack Obama and moderate Republicans to deal with.

Other

I am not sure where I first started following Kester Brewin’s writings.  Probably I found some of his stuff on Vaux’s old site and I assume that I heard of his book from either Jonny Baker or Steve Collins’ blog but I ordered The Complex Christ when it came out in England, paid a fortune to have it shipped across the pond and then paid of 18% of Canada’s national debt in import fees.  To this day, it is the most expensive book that I have ever purchased.  It was worth every cent and I paid for it and lead to a fundamental rethinking of my theology and my understanding of the urban context (it was about that time that several of you started to hate what I posted here).

Others for the Kindle by Kester BrewinThe other day on Twitter I was waiting for my Kindle to finally arrive when I asked what book I should order.  Kester came up with and instead of ordering it, I went online to see if Other was available in Canada yet.  It isn’t here in paper form yet but it is available on Kindle and it quickly earned the honour of being the first book I ordered for my Kindle (and hooray, no import fees).

The book hit home for me this week as the debate exploded over political rhetoric in the United States after the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside of a Safeway.  Whether or not you agree that themes of violence in political rhetoric contributed to the murders or not, I think all of us agree there is something wrong with how we see people we don’t agree with in this world.  Whether that divide is Christian-atheist, moderate-fundamentalist, liberal-conservative, Israeli-Palestinian, black-white, or whether or not we like Kenny G, we tend to dismiss and deride the opinions of those who we disagree with.  I don’t know if has gotten worse but I suspect it has.  Years ago I used to be a regular viewer of Capital Gang which had the Democrats and Republicans around a table disagreeing.  Not only was the dialogue cordial but they actually seemed to enjoy being around each other.  Now the Republicans are at Fox News and the Democrats are on MSNBC.  Not only are they no longer sitting around the table but they are at competing networks.  There isn’t even an attempt to engage or dialog with each other.

For a wide variety of reasons this has changed how we see and interact with each other and Other tries to address that by looking at the Great Commandment, to love the other.  While that seems obvious, Brewin addresses the situations where Christianity and the church have largely failed to see God’s creation in other people.  As he puts it, what kind of selves do we need to be in order to live in harmony with others?

For me, it’s the biggest question that I wrestle with every day at work and the hardest discussion that we have with staff.  In a context of violence, drugs, and anger, how we deal with the other is a definition of how we see them but also ourselves.  Once the U.S./Canadian edition hits the shelves, I plan to purchase a bunch for our staff because it’s something that we all need to wrestle with everyday… or at least it’s something that I need to do to remind myself to reset myself and look for God in other people every day.

In a time in my life when I am working hard at getting rid of over 1000 books from my library, I am glad I added this one to my Kindle and look forward to always having a paper version on my shelf.

Losing My Religion

A lot of you have asked why I have stopped posting about items of faith and Christianity here and the reason is pretty complex.  First of all after reading around 5 books a week for 15 years or so, I no longer have the time or the desire to read that much.  Much of that reading was theological or about church life and what has been said on the topic for me has been said.  I still get probably 100 books a year to review and most of them are just rehashing what has been said and said and said again.  On the occasional time when I can force myself to enter into Scott’s Parable, I see the same book, just written by different authors.  I know I am taking some shots at some friends here but it seems like a lot more reflection and a lot less publishing may help everyone.

It goes for me as well, if I don’t have anything to say, I am not going to log in and write anything.  To paraphrase a good friend of mine who used to joke, “If you want a better sermon, get Max Lucado to write better books”, so in other words, if you want a better blog, write better stuff for me to link to.

The more serious reason is that I struggle with the distance between neighborhood/community and the church.  I have read and heard pastors say that they need to vision cast (what a geeky and churchy phrase) or sell their church on the idea that they need to be a part of their community.  This is a phrase I have heard for years but I never realized how strange it was that the church had stopped being part of the community.  Now of course with more and more churches wanting more real estate, they are literally moving outside of their cities and towns so they can create more programs that compete with and pull people away from the communities they are apart of.  The fact that we have to “vision cast”, sell, manipulate, or coerce our congregations to be part of the community, in fact, we had to come up with new church growth terminology to describe what should be our natural reaction as human beings… (I’m missional, your missional, we are all missional) that is our responsibility to make our local communities a better place for everyone to live in. 

Years ago I listened to a series of podcasts by Todd Hunter and Dallas Willard in which Hunter talked about one of the metrics his church used was how far people were travelling to get to his church without realizing the impact it had on local communities.  While that may represent one extreme of the equation, it was quite similar to what we experience as a family in finding a church in Saskatoon.   There is a pull to be a part of the church community, which church leaders tend of think of as a true or at least superior community which puts us in tension with my commitments to other things that are going on in my geographic community.  While I agree there is a need for involvement in the church, our local communities the need is often just as pressing.  So I have kids clubs that interfere with Mark taking karate, small groups that only work for people who work 8-5 (and definitely not for those who like Wendy and I who are work from 7:00 a.m. when I go to work to 10:45 p.m. when Wendy walks in the door from work).   I have prostitutes on my street, a brothel on my block, guys grinding drugs across from the local elementary school, the Terror Squad working out a local restaurant and bar and I keep hearing that my number one priority needs to be a small group in a church.

I follow some pastors and church leaders on Twitter and I realized it’s a giant irrelevant echo chamber where the tweets and retweets reinforce what they believe.  I haven’t lost my faith in Christianity, I am just in doubt that the church is an accurate representation of what it represents anymore.  I was in a room of pastors earlier this year and they were still talking about media in worship, ancient future song writing, and all sorts of peripheral things about church life with great interest and not one of them mentioned life in their community.  A friend of mine sent me a sermon the other day on YouTube to check out as it would cure what ailed my soul.  The stage looked like it was stolen from David Letterman and I am pretty sure it was meant to be a copy and after watching the sermon, I realized that he was speaking in the same style that Vince does while pitching Slap Chops.  Sadly not only did I used to speak like that in public but so do so many other pastors I know.  I realized while watching this that the church had become a parody of itself.  The Emperor has no clothes.

I realized that I no longer see most churches any differently than Kiwanas or another service club but this one has higher fixed costs.  Are all churches like this?  I don’t think so.  One of the great experiences I have had in life was spending a bit of time with Dave Blondel and the Third Space.   Both Wendy and I have said that we would be quite comfortable attending a church lead by my friends, Scott Williams, Randall Friesen, Pernell Goodyear, Kim Reid or Darryl Dash but those kinds of churches and those kinds of pastors aren’t that easy to find.  The problem for me is when I see the kind of church that is engaged in creative ways in it’s community, it’s awfully hard to go back.  When I was down in Maple Creek, I did some pastoral work with people.  We literally put on some orange Salvation Army vests, went from flood ravaged house to flood ravaged house and chatted with flood victims.  Everyone in that community knew the Salvation Army Corps officers, Captain Ed and Charlotte.  Every last person.  When he was in Saskatoon, he was everywhere in the community as well.  If he can do it, so can other churches and their leaders.  If Wendy, myself, my staff, and a bunch of volunteers can work amongst Saskatoon’s poorest, so can everyone.  What we do isn’t brain surgery (umm, except for my staff, you are all brilliant… underpaid but brilliant) but a compassionate response to the community around us.   Instead I find churches that are isolated and focused on themselves.  Too many times over the last couple of years to hear a sermon on parenting, the need for leadership, church growth or again, church growth.  Did I mention I hear a lot of sermons on the need for church growth.  Sadly I am not alone.  A good friend of mine recently left his long time church and said, “I’ve learned all I need to learn from the pulpit on the need for church growth”.  It’s like the church has lot’s it’s reason for existence and is just looking at how to keep paying the bills.  Yet sadly in a lot of communities, the need for the church and it’s redemptive message has never been greater.

The other thing is that while I hate the overuse of the concept of “a dark night of the soul”, it has been an extremely lonely time spiritually for me.  God was extremely distant and I don’t really have a lot of people to talk to about this stuff.  The praxis of my spiritual life was solid but there was no connection.  After exhausting my traditional options, I sought out a Roman Catholic spiritual advisor who I spent a lot of time talking with.  He was the one who said, “It’s not a dark night of the soul, it’s a wounded soul that I was dealing with.”  A co-worker once said to me, “We aren’t normal.  We are so desensitized by what we see sometimes, we aren’t bothered by what should bother us.”  I thought about it a lot and realized that my job had changed me deeply and for the worse and I wasn’t equipped for what that has done to me.  As an INTJ, I am already an underdeveloped feeler which at times makes it hard to fully understand what I am feeling.  Looking at life from a rather cold and analytical mind has it’s advantages but it always makes it hard to look at life when the problem isn’t a rational one and as any of the staff that I work with will say, rational behavior can often be in short supply with what we see some days.  Toss in that the amount of violence and death we have seen this summer, it has taken a toll.  It seems like every murder and suspicious death in the city has been connected to someone I know and it’s hard.  The first thing I am doing in the morning is dealing with another one.  Jaded or not, it has had an impact and those add up a little bit.

As my spiritual advisor and I have talked, I shared that when God reveals himself to me, often I feel He was disappointed in me.  I have long that was my biases, insecurities, and self worth issues coming out.  I have come to seriously wonder if maybe God was quite disappointed in me and the reason for the silence, or just lack of disappointment is that maybe He isn’t anymore.

My evangelical friends don’t really get what I see.  It actually upsets many of them when I tell them what I am seeing.  I was talking to one friend about the fact that there are 600 known prostitutes in the city (of course they move from city to city to city) and he was totally freaked out.  Our conversation ended with, “I am glad our church isn’t on the west side, I couldn’t deal with this".  Yet I talk with some of them all of the time.  They are working tonight two blocks down from where I am writing this.  Addicted to drugs, sexual abuse survivors, acquired brain injuries.   They aren’t abstract numbers but real girls with real stories and real families but the church ignores it.  They also ignore the fact that many of their congregants are the ones that are paying these girls to get them off.  While my faith seems as strong as always, I am no longer interested in a religion that is disconnected from the community it is a part of. 

I know there are reasons for that, Lyle Schaller will tell us that the idea of the neighborhood church died with the rise of the car and cheap fuel but at the same time when I hear that people are living in over crowded slum suites because of sky high rents, there are 600 known prostitutes in the city and the vast majority of them are being trafficked, gangs are taking an toll on our kids, and some local elementary schools have had to cut back to 30 minute lunch breaks to stop elementary school girls from working the street on lunch breaks… doesn’t this call people to do something other than giving away some free clothes and serve soup once in a while?  If young grade seven and eight girls losing their virginity to STD carrying john’s doesn’t call us to drastic action, what will?

Over fifteen years ago, columnist Paul Jackson wrote in The Star Phoenix that the church had abandoned it’s role of social services provider – taking care of widows and orphans – to the government during the 1960s and 70s.  As the economies in North America struggled to pay for their new obligations, Jackson felt the church needed to step up again.  It hasn’t happened yet.  In fact most trends show churches walking more and more away from those difficult tasks and instead continuing to move to younger and younger suburban neighborhoods and therefore away from the problems.  It may be great church growth doctrine but what about the neighborhood and that you left behind.  The east side of Saskatoon has twice as many churches per person than then west side does.  Guess which side of the city has the higher concentration of wealth and guess which side has the core neighborhoods in it.  I’ll let you figure it out.

Other by Kester Brewin

Other by Kester BrewinKester Brewin released his latest book Other.  It’s only available in the U.K. right now but if you want to pay the Canadian government a lot of fees, you can get it shipped here (I paid more in taxes and fees for The Complex Christ than I did for the book but it was worth it).

I am pretty excited about this book because The Complex Christ forced me to rethink much of how I saw the world, looked at history, and read the Scriptures.  While Brewin writes theology, his writing extends my thinking beyond where it has gone before.  I rate him up with Thomas Homer-Dixon, Jared Diamond, Malcolm Gladwell, and Steven Johnson as people that have helped constantly reinvent my world view.  I can’t wait until my copy gets here (the fees alone should erase Canada’s deficit).

Jesus Manifesto

Jesus Manifesto Thomas Nelson is releasing a new book called Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. This book will be on special discount from Amazon.com on June 1st, the date of the release.

I got to know Frank Viola a little bit at Soularize in the Bahamas and I have long enjoyed and appreciated his writings since Spencer Burke started to go on and on about his writings almost a decade ago.  Of course over the years Leonard Sweet has influenced and formed my spiritual praxis as much as any theologian.