From San Francisco

February 27, 2007

I was hoping to keep blogging in my travels, but I’ve been too distracted with new experiences to write.  My time in San Francisco has been incredible.  I’ve been staying with Church of the Sojourners in San Francisco for about a week.  They’re located in the Mission District.  Not only have I been able to connect with the fine people at Church of the Sojourners, I’ve also spend a good deal of time with Mark Scandrette and his friends at Seven.  I even connected with the local chapter of InnerCHANGE.  Each of these groups are making serious attempts at embodying the monastic (yet missional) impulse in one of the most beautiful, unique, creative, and broken cities in the world.

I want to plug two books…the first is How to Become a Saint: A Beginners Guide by Jack Bernard.  Jack, who passed away a few years back was one of the founders of Church of the Sojourners.  This is a great read for those interested in the unheroic–yet profound–way of loving like Jesus in community.

The other books is Mark Scanrette’s new book: Soul Graffiti. Here’s a description of the book (if it is anything like Mark, it should be a mind-tingling explosion of creative subversion):

Soul Graffiti explores the message of Jesus as an invitation to embrace life as a sacred journey— learning to collaborate with our Maker’s intentions to bring healing and greater wholeness to our world. Through stories and reflections, Soul Graffiti addresses the questions, “What was the essential message of Jesus and how can we inhabit that message as a way of life?”  What if everything matters? Soul Graffiti, is an invitation to explore the life and teachings of Jesus as a pattern for pursuing a spiritual path that is fueled by compassion, creativity, community and connection.

Papal Wisdom on Nonviolence

February 19, 2007

While I don’t ever see myself becoming a Catholic, I have deep respect for the Pope.  Not only is his love for Christ obvious, but so is his devotion to the Way of Christ.  These words come from his sermon yesterday (emphasis mine):

…Why does Jesus ask us to love our very enemies, that is, ask a love that exceeds human capacities? What is certain is that Christ’s proposal is realistic, because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and that this situation cannot be overcome without positing more love, more kindness. This “more” comes from God: It is his mercy that has become flesh in Jesus and that alone can redress the balance of the world from evil to good, beginning from that small and decisive “world” which is man’s heart.

This page of the Gospel is rightly considered the “magna carta” of Christian nonviolence; it does not consist in surrendering to evil — as claims a false interpretation of “turn the other cheek” (Luke 6:29) — but in responding to evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21), and thus breaking the chain of injustice.

It is thus understood that nonviolence, for Christians, is not mere tactical behavior but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is convinced of God’s love and power, who is not afraid to confront evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Loving the enemy is the nucleus of the “Christian revolution,” a revolution not based on strategies of economic, political or media power. The revolution of love, a love that does not base itself definitively in human resources, but in the gift of God, that is obtained only and unreservedly in his merciful goodness. Herein lies the novelty of the Gospel, which changes the world without making noise.

I agree with the Pope here, that our nonviolent response to violence isn’t mere strategy or tactics, but the way of defeating injustice with love.  Amen.

links worthy of your perusal

February 19, 2007

Tomorrow, I’m heading out of town for a few days of staff training with InterVarsity.  My week will involve reading The Starfish and the Spider (if it is good, I’ll review it) with my supervisor and leading a Bible study on 2 Cor. 4-6 for the other new staff.  I’ll be back for a day later this week, and then will head out to San Francisco for a week with Church of the Sojourners.  I hope to post at least a couple times while I’m on the road…I want to continue with my series on Christian Anarchism. 

In the meantime, here are some links worthy of your perusal:

Is America too Damn Religious? Listen to NPR’s audio of the 3 on 3 debate…it should make you wonder: “what ought our Christian witness look like in America?” I pray that Christianity-as-civil-religion is on its way out for good.

Open-Souce = Communism? Apparently, leftist dictators love Linux. Cuba (like Venezuela) is trying to break free from the use of Microsoft and going open source. 

More and more religious films are popping up all the time.  A new movied called Amazing Grace is coming to theatres later this month.  The movie follows the story of Wilberforce’s abolition movement in the UK.  The movie looks ok…

Brother Maynard offers six categories of post-charismatics.  If you resonated with my recent post on being charismatic, you should check it out. Here are the six categories:

    1. Post-charismatic cessationists (folks who are so wounded by their charismatic experience that they reject charismata all together)
    2. Former charismatics (those who reject their charismatic past, though aren’t willing to say that the charismata have ceased)
    3. Functional cessationists (still open to the charismata, but don’t really pursue the charismata anymore)
    4. Detoxing Post-Charisatics (those that set the charismata and the charismatic culture aside for a season in order to find healing, but intend to remain chastened charismatics)
    5. (classic) post-charismatics (those who have rejected some of their past but still have big struggles with what their faith should look like)
    6. Realized post-charismatics (those who are relatively comfortable in what they’ve rejected and what they’ve embraced from their charismatic past–they’ve chucked the bad and embraced the good)

I’d put myself at 5.7.

tooth woes

February 17, 2007

A big chunk of my tooth broke off on the way home from a wedding tonight.   Now the “chewy” center of one of my molars is exposed.  I’m currently uninsured and broke, and am heading out of town on Tuesday.  Anyone know of a free or cheap dental clinic in Minneapolis? 

On Being Charismatic

February 16, 2007

I’m a charismatic.  At least I think I am.  When I first came into the Faith (at 14) I attended a charismatic church (it was an Evangelical Free Church with a charismatic Mennonite pastor…it shouldn’t have been a surprise that a church split would happen a few years later).

I loved my church experience.  But late in my teens, things went sour.  The church began to split, my family life sucked (I was the youngest of 6, but the primary care-giver to my dying mother), and I was beging to have theological differences with my church (they didn’t appreciate my bookish-ness).

Through the years, I’ve tenaciously maintained a charismatic identity.  I may, one day, give up on calling myself an “evangelical,” but I would never reject my “charismatic” label.  Why not?  Because I fundamentally agree with charismatics: all of the supernatural gifts seen in the first century are still available to us today and should be practiced.  I am perhaps charismatic-lite in that I don’t believe that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a seperate even from salvation, though it can be a seperate experience.

Although I claim to be a charismatic…I am painfully aware that many charismatics won’t claim me in return.  Mostly, I think, this is because I am too intellectual, no longer talk like a cultural charismatic, and I do indeed challenge some conventual charismatic understandings. 

I’ll give you an example: spiritual gifts (charismata).  I’m troubled by the ways in which charismatics tend to depersonalize the Holy Spirit as a sort of force that one can “plug into.” And I’m concerned by the ways that many charismatics tend to treat charismata as special mystical abilities that have been granted to them by the Holy Spirit.  This is how you can take something that was supposed to foster unity and inter-dependence into a tool for one-upsmanship, power over others, and spiritual abuse.

And so, here are seven statements on charismata…if you are a charimstic or have charismatic leanings, I’d love to hear where you agree or disagree:

  1. “Charismata” are spirit-given ministries—expressions of the presence of the Spirit—rather than spiritual “gifts” or “talents.” Charismata aren’t “hidden talents”, they are ways the Spirit manifests among us. Charismata aren’t not latent special abilities (in Romans 12, the charismata mentioned are the result of fruits of the Spirit, and are evidence of the empowering presence of the Spirit).  In other words, you don’t “have” a “spiritual gift,” you “manifesto” or “make known” the Spirit’s presence, which is itself a gift to the community by God the Father. 
  2. Charismata are congregational, not personal. They are given primarily to serve the Body, not primarily for self-fulfillment. Through these manifestations of the Spirit, the Church-at-large and the local congregation are equipped to function as worshiping, discipling, community-building, witnessing, serving, and ministering family of faith.
  3. None of the “gifts lists” are complete. These “lists” are representative to show the diversity of the possible ways the Spirit manifests through the congregation.  This means that we can’t simply scan the lists and figure out which ones we “have.” Instead, these “lists” are contextual.  We shouldn’t let these passages of Scripture constrain us.  Instead, they should help us learn about the nature and diversity of the different manifestations of the Spirit-in-our-midst.
  4. We need to be careful with gifts-tests. How then, do we answer the question: “what is my spiritual ministry?” Not by tests.  The question shouldn’t be “what is my gift” it should be “how can the Spirit minister through me?” The Spirit is ministering through you whenever you are walking in obedience to the calling and passion the Spirit has been leading you into. The Spirit is ministering through you whenever you minister out of the maturity that the Spirit has cultivated. Because of this, I downplay “spiritual gifts” inventories. They are only helpful if they help us realize inner passions and things that the Spirit has been urging us towards. Being obedient to the Spirit’s leading is way more important than having the right label for your “gift.”
  5. A central point of 1 Cor 12 is that we shouldn’t emphasize some spiritual gifts and devalue others.  We need to value all the ways the Spirit manifests through one another, for it is the Spirit’s way of bringing unity and directing the church. This makes the need for communal discernment very important.
  6. The Spirit leads and empowers through the many, not the few. In other words, the Spirit can speak to the Body through anyone at any time.  The Spirit doesn’t just speak through “clergy.” Some folks aren’t “more anointed” than other–at least not in the way we think.  Charismatics, because of their theology, should be MORE egalitarian, not less.  Nevetheless, they often betray Scriptures by elevating the “anointed” over the laity.  The charismata passages point to shared decision making and shared ownership of ministry.  This is even true of the “five-fold” ministry passage in Ephesians 4.  Why do we assume that these are “offices” of leadership?
  7. Every time we gather together, charismata should be (and probably are) expressed.  Christ is present by his Spirit.  Christ leads his church through his Spirit.  And the Spirit makes the will and presence known in our midst through one another.  Therefore, every time we are gathered, the Spirit is with us, moving in, around, and thorugh us to shape us into the image of the Son. 


Resisting Abstraction

February 9, 2007

I read an amazing quote this week. It is one of those things that you read that becomes a splinter; as time goes on, the splinter works its way deeper and demands your full attention. I want to share a part of that quote with you (which I found on Michael J. Iafrate’s blog), and then share why I find it so amazingly profound:

…Preachers and teachers know very well that they do not make enemies when they lament the suffering in the world and demand greater justice in general. People want to be seen as favoring justice. It is only when preachers and teachers name the plague that people get angry. In North America and Europe, academic theology tended to shy away from such outright political judgments because they transcend the discipline. Instead, it advocated love, justice, and peace in general terms, sometimes so general that they could be used by speech writers for the government intent on defending its policies. Calls for justice and peace cannot be used in this ideological way when they name the social evil. If Archbishop Oscar Romero had not named the plague, if he had only demanded greater peace and justice in general, he would not have been shot…

Gregory Baum, “The Creed That Liberates,” Horizons 13, No. 1 (Spring 1986)

Our lives are so damned abstracted. Churches everywhere talk about the BIG ideas–loving mercy, pursuing justice, expressing love, being missional, etc. Preachers love big ideas…but we fall into the individualism trap and leave the particulars up to the individual. And so you can end up with churches that talk about justice and love and peace all the time yet are unloving dens of conflict and backbiting.

We desperately need to resist abstraction and speak with clarity. The “big” vision may sound better, but we need to cut through the fine-sounding rhetoric and clearly name the ills around us as we clearly respond to those ills.

Here’s an example…I recently visited a congregation that has a member in a nursing home. The man is lonely and needs his brothers and sisters from church to visit him. In the two times I’ve visited this church, someone has said very clearly from the pulpit that the man is lonely and is sad that few have visited him. Instead of simply espousing the ideals of love and community, they have clearly named the problem–a lack of compassion for the brother–and called the congregation to a specific act of love–visiting the brother.

Stop what you’re doing right now and think about the things that you have done DIRECTLY that address those things that are most important to you. In other words, stop and think about the ways in which you have demonstrated the love of Christ, shown mercy, pursued justice, challenged evil, expressed kindness or generosity, etc. in the past week.

While you’re thinking…think about some churches you know (maybe even your own church). How much of what that church proclaims involves naming actual issues (instead of staying abstract) and how much of what that church does actually addresses the problems? The church needs to move beyond the grandiose symbolic speech found in most sermons to more direct, prophetic, speech. And we, the people of God, need to spend less time living in abstraction and more time doing specific deeds that demonstrate what it is we say we believe.

Obviously we all have work to do on this front. My point here isn’t to make anyone feel guilty. Instead, my hope is that we’ll begin to look at the ways we live and the ways we “do” church and move from abstraction into a lived-in faith. So much of what churches do involve abstracted communication and lots of indirect actions (mostly educational). Some churches trust entirely on the ability of liturgy, a homily, and voter turn-out to bring about “change.” Beloved, let us cut through the abstraction and begin to live the sort of change we long for. Let us make time to live life in such a way that we love tangibly, seek justice tangibly, and name the evils that surround us. Yes, there is room for abstraction (I am a novice theologian, after all), but lets get our priorities straight.

Next week I’ll start “naming the plague”…I’ll try to tie it into my commentary on Rev 13…

House for Rent

February 8, 2007

My wife and I were hoping to sell our house and move onto the West Bank (for the sake of our ministry there through Missio Dei). Due to the market, however, we wouldn’t even break if we sold our house now. And so, we want to rent our house for a season with future hopes of either selling or utilizing it for ministry. We aren’t looking to profit from renters. Our mortgage is about $1550 a month and we’re asking for $1600 plus utilities. We simply want someone to live in it for a year (or perhaps more) until we’re able to sell or use it with our ministry in a way that makes sense (basically, we need to have a couple hospitality houses on the West Bank before we are interested in having a third outside of the neighborhood—even though our current house is only a little over a mile away).

 Please help us get the word out! Iif you or someone you know is interested in our house, let me know…here’s the info:

For Rent: 6 Bed, 2 Bath South Minneapolis House

Available April 1. Just south of Lake Street and east of Hiawatha.  6 bedrooms—4 with walk-in closets, 2 bath, large kitchen, 2 stall garage, small living room upstairs, very large living room downstairs. Central Air, newer furnace, original hardwood in half of the house, $1,600 + utilities/mo. Perfect for a group of students, for a ministry house, for a couple families that want to live together, or for a large extended family. Contact Mark Van Steenwyk at 612.961.6444 or

February 15: Twin Cities Emergent Cohort

February 7, 2007

The Twin Cities Emergent Cohort is coming up next Thursday (February 15th). This month, I’m leading the discussion. I’ll be talking about “Emerging in a Consumer Age.” Here’s the basic idea:

Christianity has been commodified—it has been boiled down and packaged for mass consumption. And though the emerging church continually offers critiques of the superficiality of the modern church with its slick “seeker-sensitive” gatherings, its polished presentation, and its marketing of the Gospel, it is difficult to avoid catering to religious consumers ourselves. After all, the cliché of the emerging church (sometimes deserved) is that we have simply re-packaged that old-time religion so that it is more palatable for a new generation of discerning consumers. Do we simply offer a savory buffet of ecclesial images and sounds—often lifted out of their liturgical and traditional contexts—to a waiting market that longs for the feeling of religious authenticity without all the nasty requirements that are usually a part of the package? Have we become pastors of pastiche, marketers of mysterium tremendum? Join the conversation as we struggle to emerge in our consumer age.

The Twin Cities Emergent Cohort meets at 12 noon on the third Thursday of each month at the Acadia Cafe. The Acadia is located at the corner of Nicollet and Franklin in south Minneapolis and offers a great selection of coffee drinks, tap beers, and lunch-ish foodstuffs. Even if you have NO IDEA what “Emergent” is, you are welcome to join us!

To End All Wars…a quick thought about Church and State

February 7, 2007

My recent posts about “church and state” have been pretty heady. I realize that many of my readers have sort of opted-out of the discussion because of such headiness. But I believe our theological understanding of the Church and how it relates to State and Society are incredibly important for discerning how we engage in ministry in the long haul. I’ll be continuing down this heady path for a little while longer, so bear with me. I’ll try to post other stuff of a more “practical” nature as well.

For those of you who haven’t had the time or desire to wade through my theological treatment of Romans 13, I wanted to make my main point in a different, perhaps more accessible way:

My point is well made by the movie To End All Wars. In the movie, allied soldiers are held in a Japanese prison camp. Some of the prisoners, fueled by their Christian convictions, refuse to rebel against their enemy captors. Instead, they turn the other cheek, and show forgiveness and love to their captors. This is essentially how we, as Christians, ought to respond to every government.

Yes, I know…there is a big difference between submitting to one’s own government and submitting to an “enemy government.” However, as Christians, we don’t offer allegiance to one nation or another. Our allegiance is to Christ and our relationship to the State (whether it is America or Japan or Iraq) is one of patient love for our enemy. This is, I believe, the point made in Romans 13. Any thoughts or questions?

Later this week, I’m going to take a quick look at Rev. 13 and then I’ll offer several posts on practical implications.

nonviolence is at the heart of the Gospel

February 6, 2007

Thanks to Graham who recently shared this link on his blog. Here’s a snippet:

I suggest that these verses [Matthew 5:21-48] exhibit the core of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection which most distinguish him among all the world’s religions. The Buddha perhaps comes closest. But even he allows violence in defense against one’s enemies. In the last century, the Hindu Mahatma Gandhi (one to whom Martin Luther King, Jr. explicitly traveled to study in 1959) held the Sermon on the Mount in the highest esteem when interpreting his own Hindu scriptures to reveal a God who is “perfect” with respect to loving nonviolence.

But is this teaching in the Sermon on the Mount the core of Jesus’ faith and teaching? The ultimate test must be the focus of the Gospels themselves, namely, Jesus’ act of going to the cross. Jesus came not primarily as a didactic teacher of principles to live by, but as a prophet who came to incarnate God’s Word through faith and action. When considering fundamental issues such as a nonviolent response to violence in light of the New Testament, the Cross itself is the center. For the Cross of Jesus Christ is essentially God’s nonviolent response to human violence. Richard Hays, in his essay on “Violence in Defense of Justice,” sums this up well:

“When the New Testament canon is read through the focal lens of the cross, Jesus’ death moves to the center of attention in any reflection about ethics. The texts cannot simply be scoured for principles (the imperative of justice) or prooftexts (”I have not come to bring peace but a sword”); rather, all such principles and texts must be interpreted in light of the story of the cross. The meaning of dikaiosyne (”justice”) is transfigured in light of the one Just One who exemplifies it: Christ has become our dikaiosyne (1 Cor. 1:30). When we hear Jesus’ saying that he has come to bring not peace but a sword, we can hear it only within the story of a Messiah who refuses the defense of the sword and dies at the hands of a pagan state that bears the power of the sword. The whole New Testament comes rightly into focus only within this story.”

The more I read the Bible through the lense of Jesus’ ministry and death (and resurrection), the more it “clicks” for me. I’m convinced that many of our false readings of the Bible (in particular Paul) have come out of a desire to justify ourselves. For example, the way in which Romans 13 is interpreted apart from Paul’s clear references to Jesus’ teachings regarding love of enemy is astounding. What was supposed to be an exhortation for the church in Rome to submit to the government out of love for the enemy has become the basis for the Church’s understanding of the State as the legitimate wielder of violence and, therefore, the basis for our own use of violence in complicity with the State. In other words, we have created exactly the scenario in which it is ok to kill our enemies in a passage where Paul calls upon Jesus’ teaching to challenge us to love our enemies.

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