Super-van Returns

June 29, 2006

Amy and I got back yesterday from new staff training with InterVarsity. We’ve been gone for 10 days, so I haven’t blogged in a while.

I was cynical about the training–not looking forward to it at all. I was especially loathing the fund raising part. But I find myself glad that I went and even more happy to be a part of InterVarsity.

InterVarsity reflects a more british approach to evangelicalism–which I find much more appealing than American evangelicalism (IV started out of the UK, coming to America in the 1940s). It has had a proactive stance on justice and diversity since its begining, being much more prophetic and proactive than the larger Church for sure, though not as proactive as many within InterVarsity would have liked. All in all, I find that Missio Dei has a lot in common with InterVarsity, and our partnership on the West Bank to embody and proclaim the Gospel will be a good one.

The Missio Dei Campus Cooperative (that is what we are calling this joint venture) will begin to gather a “core” this fall. We won’t really get going on stuff towards the latter half of the coming school year. However, we are currently looking for volunteer staff (and/or PT staff) who care about the University of Minnesota West Bank Campus to help us imagine and plan for the coming year. Obviously, it would help if such folks wanted to be involved with Missio Dei as well, but that isn’t a requirement. If you are interested, or know of potentially interested folks, zap me an email: mark [at]

By the way, I saw Superman Returns a few days ago in Madison, Wisconsin (where the InterVarsity training took place). It was better that I expected. Brandon Routh did a good job pretending to be Christopher Reeves pretending to be Superman. Kate Bosworth, as has been pointed out repeatedly, sucked.

Praying with the Church: A Review

June 15, 2006

The other reviews in this Praying with the Church blog tour have done a good job of summarizing or stating the need for such a book. My review, therefore, will be more on how it can be useful for a community–mine in particular.

Missio Dei, my faith community, is a missional order. We root ourselves primarily in the monastic and anabaptistic traditions. Part of our challenge has been how to live within rhythms of prayer. I’ve always been attracted the contemplatives and mystics, but I am more action-oriented, and my little community tends to reflect that action-orientation. But it has become clear to us in recent months that we were in desperate need of a more structured approach to prayer. Since most in our community come from more generic, low-churchy, evangelical or pentecostal churches, we found ourselves ill-equipped to build such a structure.

Scot McKnight is not only an excellent apologeia for the use of the cannonical hours, but also an excellent resource for those who are already convinced but don’t know how to proceed. We fall into the latter category.

Pary One of the Praying with the Church focuses on Jesus and his rhythms of prayer. This is the part of the book that makes a case for practicing the cannonical hours. I think, overall, McKnight makes a good case. However, I could almost hear my charismatic friends’ disagreement as I read. I don’t think the book will convince many skeptics. However, it will strengthen the resolve of those who are interested, or perhaps tip the balance for the curious. It all comes down to how one interprets Jesus’ spirituality–and it is open for lots of interpretation.

While I can understand that folks may be intimidated by commitment of praying the cannonical hours and skeptical of the routine-ness of it all, I can think of few practices that mount such an effective resistance against the consumer impulse–to be isolated, autonomous, “choosers” whose choices only benefit the self. It was my frustration with consumerism and individualism that led me to things like the cannonical hours and the lectionary.
Part Two of Praying with the Church introduces four different approaches to cannonical hours: the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the Anglican, and Phillis Tickle’s The Divine Hours. These are four different approaches to “praying with the Church”–a helpful concept from McKnight that serves as a needed tonic for our rampant individualism. Praying the hours isn’t simply a structured “devotion time,” it is something we do with others–it is communal. Yes, most of the time one prays the hours, one is alone. But thousands and thousands of others are praying the same prayers somewhere in the rest of the world. When we take on a shared rhythm, we pray with the Church–which is the proper context for prayer.
I am not an expert in these areas, so I’m not sure how well he summarizes the different approaches. His summaries give an excellent primer and leave the door open for further exploration from the reader. And that exploration is started in chaper 11–the conclusion. Chapter 11 is my favorite, because it gives 9 suggestions for future development:

  1. We need realistic expectations (don’t try to jump into too much too quickly)
  2. We need to try (start simple and get help if you need it)
  3. We need space for silence (set aside a special place for silent prayer)
  4. We need variety and flexiblity (don’t stay in a rut if you find a particular prayer book getting repetitious–branch out)
  5. We need depth and breadth (don’t just dabble, give yourself a good, long, bath in a prayer book so that you can find the rhythm)
  6. We need to know what to say first (start with adoration and dedication)
  7. We need to use the Psalter (this should be the core of our prayer life)
  8. We need to recite the Lord’s Prayer and the Jesus Creed every day (I’m not convinced of this, but these two passages do express the hear of Jesus’ approach to prayer and worship)
  9. We need hymns and readings (again, I’m not convinced of this one–I prefer to stick with Scripture. However reading hymns and spiritual writings is a good practice, even if it isn’t a part of your prayer practice)

Currently, Missio Dei is developing its own breviary (prayer book). It will be simple, utilize Scripture, and emphasize missional passages. McKnight’s book is particularly helpful to us because it gives a broad overview of the purpose and function of the major prayer books so that we can know how to craft our own prayer book. And with his practical suggestions at the end, I think we’re off to a good start.

Why not just use an existing prayer book? Because theology and prayer are contextual–and we want our prayer book to reflect our theology and location. But we will draw heavily from these other prayer books so that we have a strong sense of our connection to the larger Body of Christ.

Special Offer From Paraclete Press (for the month of June only):

Purchase Scot McKnight’s Praying With The Church and McKnight’s best selling book The Jesus Creed and you will receive your copy of The Jesus Creed for free! Reference coupon code PRBLOG and call 1-800-451-5006 or order on-line. (when ordering on-line you must enter both books on the order)

West Bank Story

June 13, 2006

There is a play going on that highlights the awesomeness that is the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis. The play was recently featured in the Star Tribune. It is actually more about the West Bank itself than the production. After you read the article, ask yourself “why on earth is there only 2 churches and hardly any other Christian ministries on the West Bank?” Here’s the article in its entirety:

Mohamed Ali’s table stood at the far end of a West Bank vacant lot on a Saturday afternoon two weeks ago. He had been invited to set up a display and perhaps sell a few earrings, coffee mugs or hats at a community barbecue held on the site of Dania Hall, which for 114 years stood as a neighborhood rallying point. Business was slow so Ali had time to chat with a reporter about life in these parts for Somali immigrants; his friend, Abdikarim Isse, showed off an information guide he was publishing — the Somali Resource Directory.

Across the dusty lot, performers from Bedlam Theatre broke out with a song from the troupe’s new musical, “West Bank Story.” Bedlam helped organize this event as the final act in creating a show about the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. Was Ali aware of the show, which opens tonight at Mixed Blood Theatre? No, he said. He has studied Shakespeare, but political theater is not his thing.

The distance between Ali and Bedlam — sharing the same space but at arm’s length — aptly symbolized the company’s attempt to build bridges and use theater as a galvanizing event for Minneapolis’ funkiest neighborhood. The Somali community bears best wishes for Bedlam, but few have fully embraced the effort. And Bedlam’s grassroots artists — who have worked with Somali students and invited neighbors to creative workshops — have produced a musical that is still more reflective of their radically progressive and anarchist roots.

“Art is just not that big a deal for the Somalis,” said Rhonda Eastlund, director of the Brian Coyle Community Center, a major gathering spot. “They’re trying to figure out immigration, trying to figure out how to search out the neighborhood.”

For Bedlam’s part, “We want to know our neighbors well,” said John Francis Bueche, one of the company’s founders and the writer of this musical that has two primary goals. Artistically, it is intended as an interpretive painting of a specific place and time; socially, it provides an event where the neighborhood can gather to look at itself on stage — true community theater built of creativity and involvement.

“It feels like a source of pride for residents,” added Maren Ward, another founder, who conceived the piece. “Just performing it gives us a chance to make connections.”

The West Bank or Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is the most ethnically diverse zip code in the state of Minnesota and the most densely populated between Chicago and Los Angeles, said Eastlund. On its western border, along Interstate Hwy. 35W, it is defined by the towers of Riverside Plaza. Somalis comprise the majority population, with strong contingents of Oromo, Ethiopian, Eritrean and other East African immigrants, Southeast Asians, Hispanics, Koreans and Middle Easterners.

Moving eastward, the neighborhood turns to business and entertainment along Cedar and Riverside avenues, with the legacy of 1960s and ’70s activism in such places as the Hard Times Cafe, North Country Co-op and Freewheel Bike. Many of the radicals who stoked that fire still live in the area, in new co-op housing. The final element is institutional — the University of Minnesota, Fairview Health Services and Augsburg University, on the eastern edge.

“You get this feeling on the West Bank that you have these little groups and they have their niches,” said Marya Hart, who lived in the neighborhood for many years and is composing the music for “West Bank Story.”Cedar Avenue is this big valley down the middle. The towers are on one side, the redeveloped housing is on the other side. And the question is, are those two sides of the avenue really talking to each other?”

Diversity is all around them

Hart’s question is what helped drive Bedlam’s quest with “West Bank Story.” The troupe is acutely aware of its place. In fact, Dar-al Hijrah mosque owns the building where Bedlam operates its theater studio and basement bicycle-repair shop.

During an interview with Bueche and Ward, several Somali youngsters wheeled their bikes through Bedlam’s back doors and headed for the basement. The bike business represents perhaps their greatest outreach.

Ward had the idea to do a play based on West Bank history. Key to that concept was the desire to reach outside Bedlam’s community of anarchists, co-op members, do-it-yourselfers, the young active left and alternative lifestylers.

They took their good intentions to the mosque, where director Abdi Salaam Adam suggested they look for connections with the Volunteers of America’s Somali high school at Franklin and Cedar Avenues. Adam, who is also a liaison for Somalis in the St. Paul school system, said the mosque has a great relationship with its Bedlam tenants but made it clear in an interview that the mosque is not promoting “West Bank Story.” Theater can be a hot-button issue for many conservative Somalis.

“Acting is kind of frowned upon, not encouraged,” said Adam. “There is a lot negativity portrayed in movies these days.”

Bedlam discovered that sense of caution when Bueche and Ward worked with students at the school to create a small show — vignettes based on immigrant experiences and family lore — that was performed for classmates and friends last month. The audience loved the show and the actors had a great time. But afterward, one young performer said she didn’t anticipate being in “West Bank Story.” She enjoyed acting in the school, but getting up on the Mixed Blood stage would be “too public.”

The notion of young unmarried women mixing with men in a theater is frowned upon by some in the community. It wasn’t until two weeks ago, after an extensive effort with the Coyle Center and other neighborhood groups, that Bedlam was able to find two young Somali women to play roles in the musical.

“Full speed ahead,” Bueche said with a grin at the May 20 barbecue. “We just got it fully cast last night.”

A history of immigration, radicalism

Bedlam’s Julian McFaul explains his “West Bank Story” set design — a series of flats representing past eras — as layers of history that we need to claw through to get to the present. Actor Laurie Witkowski, who lived on the West Bank for 15 years, said much the same when she described “West Bank Story” as an attempt to show how generational stories repeat themselves in a neighborhood long defined by its immigrant communities — from Snoose Boulevard to Bohemian Flats, to “Little Mogadishu,” as Mohamed Ali described the thriving life of Riverside Plaza.

“It’s about cycles, comings and goings, crossroads, how the dialogue is similar from different periods,” Witkowski said.

And in the end, the musical hopes also to be prospective as well as retrospective. Which takes us back to that windy afternoon two weeks ago as Bedlam artists stretched out a large sheet on the site of Dania Hall. Ward explained that she and her cohorts were soliciting visions of the West Bank’s future from the barbecue crowd, which would then be painted on the sheet as the final backdrop for “West Bank Story.”

There was an eerie resonance to the scene, recalling words spoken by the distant ghost of a Judge Rand, who dedicated this place in 1886.

“Within [the] walls [of Dania Hall], the spirit of intelligence, unity, friendship and brotherly love will be taught, and I trust, and sincerely hope, not only among the Danish citizens of Minneapolis, but the Norwegians and Swedes as well.”

Rand’s plea brings a smile now as we cluck our tongues over how silly it must have been to distinguish among these groups. Yet in their time, the divisions were absolutely real and the question they raise today is whether historians 114 years hence will grin at the quaint anxieties of ethnic neighbors pleading for cooperation in 2006.

“Nothing’s the same and nothing’s changed,” writes Bueche in “West Bank Story.”It’s just rearranged.”


What: Conceived and directed by Maren Ward for Bedlam Theatre. Book and lyrics by John F. Bueche. Music by Marya Hart.

When: 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., Thu.; 2 p.m. Sun. Through June 25.

Where: Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. 4th St., Mpls.

Tickets: Pay what you think it’s worth opening weekend. $10-$15 thereafter. 612-338-6131.

False God #3: Choice

June 11, 2006

This God is Overlord to consumerism, and is at the heart of individualism. We Americans, perhaps more than anyone, worship the right to choose. This makes obedience to God, or even *gasp* the Church nearly impossible. Sure sure, most evangelicals center their theology around the choice to submit to God, but it is almost as though we keep one hand behind our back with fingers crossed as we do so, thus declaring: “I choose you, Lord. But I reserve the right to un-choose you. Is it any wonder that the American spirit prooves to be fertile soil for those forms of Christianity which affirm choice (evangelicalism, Methodism, pentecostalism, etc.)?

I’ve written alot about consumerism, so I won’t go into how consumerism is predicated upon the belief that individual choosers are sovereign purchasing agents. Consumerism is the commercialization of the chooser–freedom of choice on crack. If you want some good analysis on how modern consumer capitalism has roots in revivalism, I recommend you get Clapp’s the Consuming Passion and read the last chapter.

American spirituality is choice-based. We offer a vast array of spirituality tools and we encourage each individual to make their own lego castle made according to their own whims and tastes. Churches woo people into choosing them. We assume that no one really submits to theological traditions anymore and as a result we do church in ways that appeal to felt needs instead of giving people what we know they REALLY need, theologically speaking. We no longer think of our Christianity as an act of true submission, but an avenue towards spiritual expression and hapiness. But worship is always about submission. The fact that this paragraph may have made you feel a tiny bit anxious shows how deeply engrained our sense of choice truly is.

But we worship Choice–that shimmering God that never asks us to submit. And we tend to affirm those traditions which affirm choice, and castigate the ones that don’t. Damn those Catholics, who are so oppressive. Curse those Calvinists that don’t really believe in free will. Shame on those extremist churches that have high membership requirements. Whether you like Catholics or Calvinists is beside the point. We simply dislike those groups that deny the freedom to choose. We tend to think that the person who grew up in the faith is less of a Christian because they didn’t choose it for themselves. We tend to believe that sermons based upon the lectionary, prayers read from a book, or fasts during Lent are less meaningful because they are prescribed rather than optional.

Optional. That’s what it comes down to. When Choice is worshipped, the way of Jesus becomes a set of options. No wonder we see Jesus as the kindly inviter into an optional spirituality, rather than the Lord who challenges us to lay aside everything before we can really be a part of his Kingdom.


June 5, 2006

Saturday I became a “divine master” and received my M.Div. with a Christian Thought concentration. Today, I am doing a week long intensive (8am to 7pm, M-F) at St. Thomas in Faith-Based Organizational Management (their “Mini MBA). My liberation from education is short lived. I probably won’t post much this week, but you never know. It all depends upon whether or not there is wireless in my class and whether or not I feel inspired.

Praying with the Church blog tour

June 3, 2006

I will be part of an 11-day blog tour of Scot McKnight’s Praying with the Church by Paraclete Press. I’ll be posting my review on June 15th. Here’s the line-up:

June 5th:
June 6th:
June 7th:
June 8th:
June 9th:
June 12th:
June 13th:
June 14th:
June 15th: (that’s me)
June 16th:

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Special Offer for the month of June only:

Purchase Scot McKnight’s Praying with the Church and McKnight’s best selling book The Jesus Creed and you will receive your copy of The Jesus Creed for free! Reference coupon code PRBLOG and call 1-800-451-5006 or order on-line. (when ordering on-line you must enter both books on the order)

Re:Envisioning the Church, a review

June 2, 2006

Last night my friend Joel Nelson and I finished our spring quarter course at Bethel Seminary–Re:Envisioning the Church: An Adventure in Applied Ecclesiology. We proposed the course in the fall, and at that time it felt like a long-shot. After all, I was still a student, and though I feel like I’m being faithful in my ministy context, few would call us a success-story. But my desire to have a course at the seminary where students could actually do constructive ecclesiology washed away my feelings of inadequacy and propriety. The course was accepted and we had plenty of students register, thus securing it for spring 2006.

This has been my favorite seminary experience. I didn’t feel like the teacher…and the students didn’t feel like students. It felt as though we had gone through a 3 month adventure with one another. My friends and I struggled through important issues, voiced our frustrations with the Church in America, hoped with one another as we each began to re-envision the church within our own contexts.

And we each came from different contexts. Our group was disproportionately diverse. Urban, suburban and rural. Black, white, and asian. Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, charismatic, Lutheran, and others. Men, women and (for one evening anyway) a child. We all came together and sharpened one another. It was what seminary is supposed to be.

I actually experienced the gratitude of some of these friends of mine. Some said it was the most important class they’ve had at seminary. Others said that it was the most practical. Others remarked that it should be part of the core-curriculum. One said that he sees everything in a completely new way. Others said nothing. There are a few students that I wonder to myself if they really appreciated the class, but the overwhelming sense was that this class meant something. We finished the class at 9:45pm last night, but I didn’t leave until nearly 11:00pm. I stayed to talk with various students. Some of us hugged. It was more like the end of a week of camp than it was the end of a seminary class. I was moved. It was good.

False God #2: Comfort and Personal Happiness

June 1, 2006

Yesterday I talked about how we place our desire for an end to suffering above our worship of God. Today, I want to talk briefly about a more common false God in America: the two-headed God known as “comfort and happiness.”

One of the things that we Americans have inherited from our enlightenment fathers and mothers is a strong sense of individualism (I’ll talk about individualism more at a future date). This can be seen in our constitution, which secures teh right of the individual–the good of the many can never limit the good of the one. And each individual is free to pursue their own good as best as they see fit (within certain limits, of course).

This sort of thinking is largely beneficial. However, this easily translates into a subordination of all social constructs or groups to the best interests of the individual. This is what consumerism basically is–the individual becomes not only protected, but sovereign–and is free to exercise his/her will in ways that maximize their own comfort and hapiness. All groups and social constructs become subordinated to individual’s desire for comfort and hapiness.

And it is in this way that the church becomes a vehicle for personal self-care, self-healing, and self-enlightenment. Church helps the individual to connect with God–and for what purpose? To promote comfort and happiness. Therapeutic Theism is the offspring of the marriage between religion and individualism. Modern spirituality may seem more healthy than traditional religion, but at least “religion” understood that we all must submit to something greater than ourselves in order to find meaning. Spirituality is a fluid, personalized thing–personalized like the desktop on our computers or the settings on our cell phones. Spirituality today is the subordination of God to something we believe to be a higher good–our own hapiness. This can be seen in literature like the Prayer of Jabez, the Purpose-Driven Life, and anything (and everything) that flows forth from the mouth of Joel Olsteen.