IV West Bank Brochure

April 30, 2007

As part of my new fundraising push with InterVarsity, I’ve designed a brochure that I’ll take with me whenever I preach or present. Part of my difficulty is that the approach I’m taking to ministry is a bit confusing to some folks (”what is is that you guys DO?”). When I tell people about Missio Dei and then explain that I also work with InterVarsity, they see them as two seperate, unrelated, things. And when I hand them the pre-printed materials of InterVarsity, their assumptions are confirmed. So, in order to get at that, I’m printing my own brochures that not only explain a bit about InterVarsity, but also describe what ministry will look like for IV West Bank. If you’re interested, here is a low quality pdf of the brochure.

Good Stuff From Ryan Bolger

April 28, 2007

Good basic overview of the missional church, the emerging church, and where they overlap.

Anarchist Love Train…update

April 28, 2007

A while back I mentioned that we want to have a sort of “mobile soup kitchen.” I talked to my good friend Dave (who is a chef, caterer, and welder) about different options. Basically, he said the cheapest way to build our own sort of food trailer would be to bolt down a set of portable propane burners on a trailer, along with other equipment (coolers, storage, and counter space). Using this method, we could heat up a couple giant pots of some sort of stew or soup and serve lots of people. To build this and get all the equipment needed would be 1000 bucks.

Another option would be to get something like a hot dog stand on a trailer. These basically come equipped with a propane grill (which I think we could turn into a griddle if needed) a water sink (for washing hands and utensils) and some heating trays. This would be best used for preparing things on the spot…but would be best for cooking smaller batches repeatedly (unlike the previous approach which would involve cooking it all in advance and then keeping it heated as we go around). I actually prefer this approach, because less food will be wasted and there is less chance of food going bad since you’d cook it in batches. And with a sink, we’d be able to wash our hands regularly. The down side is that this set up (for a used food cart) would probably run around 2200 bucks.

This is an economic stretch for Missio Dei, but we’ll find a way to make it work. The reason I share this with y’all is because I think it is a great idea that others should copy. Make food, go to the places with lots of people (especially homeless folks) and start giving food away to whoever want some. Maybe you could bring musicians or performers with and set up a mini fair or show while people line up for food. Make it fun. Feed people. Meet people. Soup kitchen done missionally.

Free Copy of Soul Graffiti!

April 27, 2007

Mark Scandrette is offering a free copy of his amazing new book “Soul Graffiti” for the first 10 bloggers who email him.  Go here for more information.

Here’s my quick review:

If one were to take the mind of Dallas Willard, the tongue of a beat poet, and the heart of a Franciscan brother, put them in a blender, and pour them into a book, you might end up with Soul Graffiti. Soul Graffiti is a poetic, prophetic, call to follow the radical Way of Jesus. Mark Scandrette rips off the scab of encrusted, safe, sentimental American Christianity and invites the reader into the provocative, fresh, improvisational riff of discipleship with Christ. The book is a call to imagine the Way of Christ for the Post-Christian West.

You should definitely consider getting this book.  Mark is one of the more creative, interesting, unique thinkers out there…and his approach to following Jesus is drunk on whimsical joy.  The dude inspires me…he is quickly becoming one of my favorite people in the world.  Buy the book.  I’m 3/4 of my way through and hope to review it formally soon. (Oh, btw…this book is of the variety that is best read aloud.  It has a very poetic vibe)

The Subversive Spirit 1

April 27, 2007

My problem with most pop evangelical pneumatology (of the Protestant sort) is that it relegates the Spirit into a odd sort of secret decoder ring. Once, in the legendary past, the Sprit got to help write Scriptures. But soon the Spirit worked “its” self out of a job. With the important stuff written down in a special book (the Bible), the only real job left is to help the individual Bible reader to understand the Bible. The Spirit becomes like Grandma, looking over your shoulder as you look through family albums, explaining things as you flip through page after page.

Some evangelicals also give the Spirit the added job of helping individuals understand that he or she is a sinner and to help said sinner find his or her way to Jesus.

In this way of thinking (which I know is a overly-simplified caricature), the Spirit seems like a sort of glorified carrier-pigeon. The Spirit helped deliver the Scriptures to humanity from God…and helps deliver “interpretations” of Scripture to individuals from God as well. The Spirit also helps deliver the message that we’re sinful. We can also assume that the Spirit can not only deliver messages FROM God (but only if if we have the special book with us), but also, from time to time, deliver our prayers TO God.

Charismatics and Pentecostals don’t improve upon this that much, it seems to me. They basically agree with everything I’ve written, but instead of making the Spirit a sort of decoder ring or a carrier pigeon, they add batteries and make the Spirit an ELECTRICAL decoder ring or add fire and make the Spirit a FLAMING carrier pigeon. This explains why charismatics seem so fond of saying that we need to “plug into” the power of the Holy Spirit. Basically, the Spirit is not only able to deliver special messages, but magical powers as well.

And while most Christians scarcely think about the Holy Spirit….feeling rather comfortable in their knowledge that the Spirit is kept safely in its gilded cage, the joke is on them. In reality, the Spirit is dangerous–always at work subverting our expectations, upsetting our realities, and tearing open new possibilities. The Spirit isn’t a tame bird. The Spirit is a wild bird. And she won’t be held in a cage.

This weekend, I hope to begin to tell the Spirit’s story…at least an overview. We the Church need to embrace the Presence of the Spirit in our midst…and be transformed by her wild nature. If we do so, we will be able to speak with the voice of Prophecy, to see with eyes of Faith, and to attack the Powers with the Sword of the Spirit. More this weekend.

NOTE: My beloved wife has reminded me that I have a bad habit of setting up strawmen when writing posts like this.  In other words, before I launch into a post or series setting forth my own particular take on something, I often set up the “conventional” view in a ridiculous manner that few would agree with.  I can’t think of a single evangelical or Pentecostal that really would agree with my characterizations in this post.   Nevertheless, I hope my exaggerated picture of the typical approach of evangelicals and Pentecostals has the glow of truth…like most good satire or jabbing hyperbole.  End disclaimer.

May 17 :: Twin Cities Emergent Cohort :: Tradition in the Emerging Church

April 26, 2007

On May 17th the cohort will have the pleasure of dialogging with Dr. Chris Armstrong, professor of church history at Bethel Seminary. Dr. Armstrong will be joining us to discuss the role of Tradition in the Emerging Church.

Formerly the editor of Christian History magazine, a publication of Christianity Today International, he is a member of several professional associations related to church history. He has a PhD from Duke University Divinity School.

In related news, there is now a Twin Cities Emergent Cohort group on Facebook. If you have Facebook, go here to join. If you don’t you should sign up…it is an amazing website that allows you to stay connected with friends, family, and colleagues.

The Retribution of God

April 26, 2007

Apparently, more controversy is being kicked up over a recent book by Steve Chalke. In his book The Lost Message of Jesus, Chalke rejects the traditional evangelical view of the penal substitutionary view of the Atonement–the idea that the thing we are most “saved from” on the Cross is the retributive, punitive, wrath of God.

The book is basically a popular-level retooling of N.T. Wright’s work. Both Wright and Chalke draw the most fire, it seems, from conservative Reformed evangelicals (whose understanding of the Gospel is tied directly to the penal subsitutionary view of the Atonement). The issue for many is this:

If Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins, and the reason my sins are such a big deal is that they warrent death and wrath. In the end, the Big Consequence for my sins is Hell–which is the eternal pouring out of God’s hot wrath. I need the Cross to save me from God’s hot wrath. Any attempt to diminish or deny this view is an assault on the very Gospel itself!

Want to know what I think? I think the penal substitutionary view of the Atonement as it currently is articulated by conservative evangelicals is a profound distortion of the Biblical telling. Basically, evangelicals tend to have a bad habit of reading things through bad lenses. When you read the Old Testament and the Gospels through Paul, who you read through the lense of Luther or Calvin, who you read through the lense of American Evangelicalism, who you read through the lense of individualism, you’re going to see things off kilter.

Is the Atonement punitive? Yes. Is there a substitution? Most certainly. Does Jesus receive God’s wrath on the Cross? In a manner of speaking, but not in the way one might think. Is this the primary or even a central way of understanding what happens on the Cross? I don’t believe so.

For a while Luke M. has been asking me to weigh in more heavily on the Atonement. I’m hardly a scholar on the subject. And I’m not sure I can give the issue the thought and time it deserves. But within the next week, Luke, I promise to give my brief understanding of what the Atonement is about, along with some reading suggestions for further study.

How I would plant a church in the suburbs…

April 25, 2007

Recently, I had an opportunity to talk with folks at Life on the Vine about new monasticism, being missional, and all sorts of other interesting ecclesial topics. They were interested in the sorts of things we do at Missio Dei.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to apply our lessons to Life on the Vine, because they are suburban while we are urban. It is harder, in my mind, to do “*incarnational” or “missional” ministry in the burbs.
Why? Because the suburbs don’t have central meeting places like city neighborhoods. Because suburban church goers don’t live in proximity the way urban dwellers often do. Because injustice and poverty and pain and brokenness are hard to find in the burbs. There are all sorts of reasons why it is hard to live missionally in Generica.

Suburbs tend to be inherently fractured places. In other words, people live separately from one another…disconnected. These days the only common suburban connecting points are malls and school districts. And since most people don’t go to malls to foster community and parents are decreasingly involved in the lives of their kids, these don’t serve as connecting points for the larger suburban community.

And suburbs are designed to hide problems. Suburban homes are usually vinyl sided, but have fake brick fronts so that the houses look better than they actually are. Often, the unsavory parts of the area (like trailer parks) are not easily accessible from major roads or are blocked from street view by hedges or fences. Suburban design has tended towards sheltering homeowners…to give the appearance of tranquility.
My time with Life on the Vine got me to thinking…How would I plant a church in the burbs? To be honest, I’m not really invested in this question. My thoughts aren’t particularly thought through–nor are they particularly realistic. But here’s my best guess about how I would personally go about it. Below are 7 things I would do, each followed by a brief rationale:

  1. Amy and I (and hopefully some of our friends) would move into a trailer park, or perhaps some large apartment complex. Most suburban churches seem to assume that affluence is the suburban norm. This is increasingly NOT the case. When suburban churches begin to realize this reality–that there are marginalized or poor people around them–they begin to experience guilt. At this point they either dismiss their guilt by saying something like : “if those folks want to come to our church, they are welcome…but we’re not going to go out of our way to reach out to them” or they grapple with their guilt by honestly reflecting: “we’ve built our church upon upward mobility…how can we struggle to reach out to those that aren’t like us?” The way to bypass all of that guilt is to go to the most marginal places in the suburbs and start church there. It seems like the approach Jesus would take. And it makes issues like proximity less of an issue.
  2. Before starting a church service or small groups or house churches of any sort, we’d practice hospitality with our neighbors. This is a challenge, but one that isn’t insurmountable. If you live in a trailer community or in an apartment, it is easy to pass out fliers for events like a BBQ (if you are in a trailer community) or a floor party (if you live in an apartment complex). If you make it a monthly routine to have a sort of party or potluck, hand out fliers, and make it a point to go to the dozen or so neighbors that live closest to you, folks will come. Maybe not a lot, but at least EVERYONE will know who you are. From there, you can begin to invite the individuals, couples, or families you’ve met over for a more intimate dinner.
  3. Meanwhile, as we are making new friends, the “core” would be thinking about what sorts of shared practices and gatherings make sense. And if we’ve been able to make some honest new friendships, we should definitely get input on that from our neighbors.
  4. From there, we’d invite some of our new friends to do a study with us, or to start a small group gathering of some sort. Depending upon the size of the core and the size of the apartment or trailer home, it may be necessary to have multiple groups.
  5. All the while we’d try to have an open community meal every week where people can receive hospitality. By this point, many needs will have surfaced…opportunities to serve should abound.
  6. At this point, I might consider having a larger weekly gathering. This all depends entirely upon the size of the group, the strength of our community’s identity, the regularity of our shared spiritual practices, and the availability and price of potential meeting places. If, for example, there is a community center (or school or library meeting room) nearby that is available for a relatively low fee, we might start meeting there. Some apartment buildings and trailer communities have larger gathering areas available (which would be even better). The shape and nature of the gathering would be up to the discernment of the group.
  7. At this point, assuming for sake of argument that there are 25 to 30 people that are regular participants in ministry, we’d begin to think of ways of making our church more “public.” At this point, we’d figure out ways to invite or connect to the larger suburban community. Perhaps we’d plant another group at another apartment complex or trailer community and then gather together as a big group once a week. Maybe we’d do a mailer inviting all the residents of our suburb to join us for worship at the trailer park pavilion.

I’m aware of the many difficulties with this approach (mostly financial). And the church would probably take a lot of time to foster and stay small. But the idea of a suburban missional movement that begins among trailer and apartment dwellers (which are my roots by the way) seems to have all the right sort of appeal for me.

*The way I use the word “incarnational” doesn’t simply mean “relevant.” Incarnation conjures up images not only of embrace, but of subversion.  In the incarnation we not only see the Divine embracing humanity, but also of the Divine upsetting the status quo of what it means to be Jewish and human.  And so, to do “incarnational” ministry in the burbs doesn’t mean that one should embrace affluence.  If Jesus is our example, we too must go to the poor and marginalized first…ESPECIALLY in the seemingly affluent suburbs. 

Unsustainability: A Lament

April 23, 2007

As Amy and I drove back from Chicago, after spending time with David Fitch and his family (who are great, by the way) Life on the Vine, and up/rooted, we were feeling good. We were confident in our calling and things felt right with the world. Sure, there have been struggles. But most are behind us. Our neo monastic experiment to live out the radical Jesus life in the margins has been difficult, but things are beginning to look up. Missio Dei is getting stronger and going deeper. We have new opportunities all the time to do some really amazing ministry. And people are being transformed. Things with InterVarsity are good…my fundraising efforts aren’t paying off as well as I’d hoped, but I enjoy InterVarsity, get opportunity to impact students lives all the time, and recently received a chapter planting grant. Speaking gigs are becoming more frequent, and I’m working on a book that has lots of potential. On top of all of that, I’m exploring new ways of empowering people to follow the radical path of Jesus through Chirstarchy! Things are getting better.

Or so I thought. This morning, the roller coaster plunged. The price of our mortgage–which we can’t afford as it is–has increased. Unforeseen bills and expenses have arived. And we find ourselves closer to the brink than ever before. Our personal financial situation is on the brink. And for all the signs of promise, things haven’t changed on the home front. One moment, you’re optimistic. The next, you’re in despair. My heart is overwhelmed. I don’t know how much longer I can take this roller-coaster ride. It is unsustainable.

Often, when I share these sorts of laments with fellow church leader types, they commiserate and say “welcome to church planting.” Screw that. I’m tired of having my lamentation stolen from me. I’ve done church planting before…and what Amy and I have gone through in the past year isn’t the same.

Our grief is amplified by the recognition that it doesn’t have to be this way. This morning, I’m plagued by the recognition–and the temptation–that it still isn’t too late to scrap everything and do church in the urban-hipster, gather-the-upwardly-mobile-urbanites, let’s-draw-a-crowd-of-cultural-creative-savvy-people, sort of way. That isn’t to say that such an approach is EASY. It is just EASIER. And I have no doubt in my mind that I could pull that sort of thing off…if only. If only my heart were in it.

Being faced with poverty (Amy and I have been operating at about 1400 a month or less for over 9 months) is made all the crueler knowing that we have taken this path with full recognition that this could happen. But in my pride, I think, I denied that it WOULD happen. I assumed that my skill and grit would kick in and, once again, I would pull it off. I would have thought that my fundraising with InterVarsity would be much better. But I miscalculate. I miscalculated just how “fringe” our activities seemed to folks. I miscalculated how many people I thought would love to share in our ministry on the West Bank. I miscalculated my own ability to raise support. I was arrogant.

And so I lament. I lament this situation. But, in spite of it all, I don’t think I would have done it any other way. Even still, Amy and I embrace our calling. We love the West Bank. We love the University of Minnesota. We love Missio Dei. We love the possibility of the impossible breaking through–the God of Redemption sweeping in at the final act. Deus Ex Machina.

Don’t worry, this isn’t an announcement that we’re quitting. But it is a cry of lament. Things have been bad before. And I’ve griped a number of times on this blog. But, for the first time in my life, I’m worried that my house will be foreclosed. I’m worried about where Amy and I will be in 2 months. I’m worried that I’ll fall over the edge. I’m worried that there is a chance that all that we’ve been working towards might crumble. So, while ministry looks good, our own financial struggles jeopardize it all. And that feels horrible.

How long, O Lord?

UPDATE: After chatting with a good friend, I’ve decided that I need to explore a couple options: 1) I need to refinance my house. We are simply unable to break even if we sell right now. 2) I need to beg my InterVarsity boss to increase the financial flow. If he isn’t able to do that, I need to discuss pulling back from IV for a while and get a part time job. The problem is that my current time commitments to InterVarsity make it almost impossible to get a part time job. So I need either more money from IV or I need to cut back on my commitments to IV and get a part time job. 3) I need to cut back on speaking and writing and meeting with various folks and focus most of my energy on fundraising. That means that I have to 4) rethink how I do fundraising and try an approach that will actually work for me.

Thoughts from the Emergent Philosophical Conversation

April 22, 2007

I heartily enjoyed being in Philadelphia for the Emergent Philosophical Conversation.  I met a lot of great people and had oodles of deep dialogue with folks from all over the country.

To be honest, I expected the conversation to stay in the clouds.  After all, when one imagines a gathering of emerging leaders talking for a couple days with two of the premier English-speaking continental philosophers, one doesn’t immediately suspect that practical implications would flow like honey. But my expectations, praise God, were thwarted.

regarding deconstruction:

  • Deconstruction isn’t supposed to be destructive…it is supposed to be liberating.  Whe we deconstruct the world around us–including our faith–we are peeling back the hardened layers of encrusted “truth” to find the living truth.
  • Deconstruction isn’t about discarding the truth–it is a hermeneutic of the truth…setting truth free from encrusted static truth.
  • Deconstruction has always been at work…to keep Christ and God from becoming “fixed.”
  • Jesus deconstructs even HIMSELF, so that he remains alive. He says: “You can’t hold onto me. You can not enshrine me.” When we absolutize Jesus, we encrust him. De-crusting Jesus. Jesus is all about de-crusting.
  • God, who is always just out of grasp, is the one who makes the impossible possible.  We long and hope for God and get into trouble when we stop longing and hoping and, instead, build a construct in the likeness of God and call it “God.” Entire churches center themsevles on the worship of this “God.”

implications for ministry:

  • We must always rethink our theological and institutional structures as we re-approach truth in our desire to serve truth.  Indestructable truth can’t be stapled down…it is always allusive.  It is always slightly out of grasp.  As God can be pursued, but never grasped, so too is truth ungraspable.  When we attempt to hold onto truth tightly and codify it, it is no longer truth.  Truth is dynamic, not static.  And so we must deconstruct in order to pursue truth.
  • A church must not try to survive. Deconstruction applied ecclesially is the church “spending” itself on the Kingdom–it pours out its life and dynamism on the “impossible.” It doesn’t secure itself, safeguarding its own life as it builds up. It must lay down its life with the hope that, in pushing the limits of the possible, the God who makes the impossible possible will break forth the power of resurrection.  When churches make survival a priority, they are by nature becoming encrusted.
  • We must resist the urge to crush ambiguity.  The high ponit of my time in Philly wasn’t the main sessions, however.  It was the breakout session with Mark Scandrette.  A small group of us met to talk about how we can live out deconstruction as we embrace a “Gospel of Surprise” as we live ambiguious lives.  The conversation took an interesting turn as several of us shared about the pain of losing someone we love, and the seeming failure of the church to meet us in that sense of pain and ambiguity.  Christian friends often tell us things will be ok or proceed to tell us about the times when THEY TOO lost someone they loved.  But what we needed is room to lament.  We needed to experience the depth of ambiguity and deconstruction, which provides an opportunity to meet God.  God shows up in the margins, in the edges, and in the surprising places.  When we are confronted with death, being told that everything is “fine” or being given a theological explanation (it was their time to go) keeps us from experiencing the imbreaking of truth and life.  It crushes ambiguity, and this gives us a static idol of life and truth, rather than an encounter with reality.

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