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Towards the Open Sourcing of Christianity

August 27, 2007

image In a recent post, I shared that I’d be distributing some of the works of Jacques Ellul.  This is illegal.  And, though I believe I am doing the right thing, I know that some folks might take issue with me

For a long time, I have advocated that Christians adopt an “open source” approach to using and sharing resources.  As it is, one must pay royalties to utilize many Scripture resources.  You often have to pay ridiculous rates for sermon illustrations and video clips.  Bible software is uber-expensive.  Is it right that if I write a book for the Church that the wealthy are more able to access it than the poor?  Is it right that only the relative affluent can afford Bible software? 

I understand how the “system” works.  But Christians should challenge the system.  We live within the consumer capitalist system of liberal democracy.  Does that mean that Christian information and resources should flow within the plumbing of that system?

As I see it, when a Christian writes a book that is supposed to benefit the church, it belongs to the church.  How one publishes that book, and how the income for the book is distributed matters.  Obviously, this isn’t a black/white issue.  It is a complex issue that Christian need to think about theologically. 

Three years ago, almost to the day, I wrote the following on this blog:

As it is, the best products (which are created by Christians in order to benefit the church), are only available to the wealthy. Poor people and poor churches can?t afford this stuff. The system is inherently geared to bless the wealthy. The system is based upon consumerism. I say creative Christians everywhere THROW OFF the shackles of consumerist industry and figure out a new system. Open source. Creative Commons. Distributism. Going Non-profit. All these approaches have merit. Let?s develop a new way of doing things, so that the software and books and training manuals, etc., can be made more available to ALL of the Body of Christ, so that we can be more effective in our mission.

Since I wrote this, more and more open-sourcing of information has happened in the Christian world.  But we must become increasingly creative in creating nexuses for sharing.  I would love to see a viable, solid, online bible software alternative…like a wiki where scholars write solid commentaries that can be upgraded whenever new scholarship comes up.  I would love to see nonprofits exist that can help give stipends to thinkers and innovators so that we can create alternatives to expensive resources.  Yes, this is a complex issue.  Yes, I am naive.  But I know that we can do better.  Open source Bible software.  More inexpensive Christian book publishing and distribution.  An open source version of something like Media Shout.  A cooperatively run Christian publisher that publishes with creative commons licensing.

  • What things to you think Christians ought to share?
  • What resources are already out there?
  • How can we help people learn about what is already ought there?
  • What would it take to make this naive dream a reality?

Promoting the Missio Dei Breviary

August 24, 2007

As some of you may know, I used to talk about getting the Missio Dei Breviary “formally” published. We’re realized that self-publishing is a better way to go. And we realized that having a web feed was also a good way to go. This allows us to dictate the costs for paper versions of the breviary, makes it WAY cheaper for us to give away copies for free, and the freedom to come up with specialized editions with greater ease. But before we start trying to produce a lot of copies of themissiodeibreviary breviary, we want to create some buzz. The bottom line for us is that folks will start praying the morning and evening prayers in a way that is deeply anchored in the Gospels. A secondary goal is for us to create a little side money for Missio Dei.

So, our strategy is to get a lot of people using our online breviary (which has a 28 day, repeating cycle RSS feed). And you can help get the word out by linking to it.

To help with that, I’ve created a nice sidebar logo (left). Just add it to your sidebar and then direct it to www.thebreviary.com. If you would like to simply cut and paste code into your sidebar or website, here is the code:

A Follow-up to "On Feeding the Poor…"

August 24, 2007

In an earlier post, I asked:

Is there any real difference between these ?rich? people (who feed food to the homeless once a month, don’t eat with them, and then go to a spendy bar afterwards) and those of us who do occasional stints with the poor or downtrodden only then to return to the safety of our middle-American lives?

The answer, in my mind, is “only in matter of degree.”  Qualitatively, it is the same sort of behavior.  Of course, it is better to feed the poor and then drink mimosas than it is to do nothing.

I agree with Ariah:

If you actually look at Jesus? life I think the example we see gives more evidence for avoiding ritzy dinners, eating in the parks and soup kitchens with the least of these, avoiding pious charity events and changing our lifestyle and attitudes so that we are amongst and in relationship with those we intend to ?serve.?

And Chris brings some good perspective:

…what makes anyone think the homeless would want to eat with you? Imagine having to make conversation with dozens of groups of people over the course of your evening meal in any given month. Would you enjoy that? I would find it hard to want to develop a relationship with any of the people I met, especially if I was only going to see him/her once a month. All that to say that I don?t really think sitting and eating the meal you?ve served a homeless person with him/her would tip the ethical scales one way or the other, and probably wouldn?t make too much difference to him/her.

In the end, I think the issue is this: how are you living your life? What are the regular rhythms? The way of Christ isn’t supposed to be an American “life as usual” punctuated with the occasional saintly event (like going to church, serving in a soup kitchen, etc.) The call to follow Christ is the call for radical departure.  It is a new way of living…one that touches everything.  It is the way of continual hospitality and compassion.  It is life for and among the “least of these.” It is a life of spiritual rhythms and flowing justice.  Justice can’t be planned in your blackberry.  It can’t be penciled in your day planner.  Nor is worship an event. 

Chris’ question is valid: let’s say that these dudes sit with the poor when they eat and then omit the mimosas? It is still only a monthly event.  The rest of the time they are probably living the American Dream.  To follow Christ is to wake up from the American Dream and open our eyes to the Kingdom of God.

Breviary Poll

August 23, 2007

Earlier, I posted about the launch of www.thebreviary.com.  I have a poll running on the sidebar there.  I eagerly desire responses to the poll.  Please help get the word out about the breviary site.  The poll will help me gauge interest in the breviary.  We are going to self-publish both a paperback and hardcover version (probably around $12 and $18 respectively).  Profits will go to support the hospitality ministries of Missio Dei.  We currently self-publish copies for ourselves–but in order to sell them we’d need to clean up some things and change the Bible translation we use (to avoid copyright infringement).

Oh…by the way…if you subscribe to the feed, you’ll get a prayer every morning and evening that will show up in your RSS reader.  The rationale for the online version of the breviary is that those of us who live part of our lives online will appreciate a reminder to engage in morning and evening spiritual rhythms.  There are other feeds of other books of prayer, but the Missio Dei Breviary is a bit simpler, shorter, and reflects an Anabaptist vibe.

New Resources

August 23, 2007

A couple new resources for y’all:

THE DOWNLOADABLE ELLUL

The family of Jacques Ellul has asked JesusRadicals.com to remove pdfs of his writings from their website. This is ironic, since Jacques himself would have certainly approved. These works were out of print. Because of this, I’m making these pdfs available from my site (see the “fodder for the fire” section in my blogroll. You can access his writings here.

THE MISSIO DEI BREVIARY

Well, I’ve begun to post morning and evening prayers from the Missio Dei Breviary. I hope to have them all up within the week. The prayers follow a morning and evening 28 day cycle. Please add it to your feed. There will be a link to buy paperback versions soon: www.thebreviary.com. The prayers on the site are the “general” version. Missio Dei’s breviary makes specific references to the West Bank. The version on www.thebreviary.com makes general references that should fit most contexts. Please get the word out. I’ve put a lot of time and care into this project. I did the work for our community, but want it to bless others. It is more accessible than the Divine Hours, is a bit simpler, and reflects certain theological convictions that I believe are important.

Feeding the Poor and Drinking Mimosas

August 21, 2007

Today, my feed picked up a fascinating installation of Dear Cary on Salon.com.  Cary Tennis is an advice columnist.  Here’s a snippet of what someone wrote to Cary:

A few months back, I joined a church group that goes to a homeless shelter once a month to prepare breakfast for about 200 street people…

…My problem is that after we finish serving and cleaning up, no one eats at the shelter or even really associates with the clientele. It apparently is a tradition that once the kitchen is cleaned up, the whole crew walks several blocks from the downtown shelter to a very nice hotel, where we pay $30 a person for a fancy brunch buffet. The price goes up if one orders mimosas and Bloody Marys, and most people do.

Read the rest here (take the time to read through Cary’s ponderous response if you can).  I covet your response.  Did you like Cary’s Response?  Is there any real difference between these “rich” people and those of us who do occasional stints with the poor or downtrodden only then to return to the safety of our middle-American lives?

I’ll weigh in on this a little later…

On Adoption and Having a Baby

August 20, 2007

image Amy and I celebrated our 10th anniversary in June. For much of these ten years, we’ve been trying to have a child (or at least not trying to avoid a pregnancy). Yet, a baby has not come.

But it hasn’t bothered us much at all. You see, we are big advocates of the idea that adoption should be the default assumption of every Christian couple. In other words, the question shouldn’t be “should we adopt?” but “is there any reason why we shouldn’t adopt?” With so many orphans and “unwanted” children in the world, we the Church should be adopting. This is the sort of “church growth that God desires.

With this assumption, Amy and I had decided to adopt children first, and then have doctors help us determine what has prevented us from conceiving. We wanted to be able to adopt out of gladness, rather than out of a sense that we had no other choice.

And so, for the past couple of years, we’ve been looking into adoption. We decided a while ago that we’d try to adopt a sibling set out of the Hennepin County foster system. The only problem with adopting out of the foster system is that you need to qualify for foster care. For a number of reasons, we’ve been unable to do so. There are certain housing and income requirements that we’ve been unable to meet. And so, our dream of adoption has been put on hold…for a little while.

But a strange thing happened a couple months ago. Amy is pregnant! She’s due on March 31. Please pray for the health of my wife and emerging child.

In the Strib again

August 18, 2007

For some reason, Missio Dei intrigues the Star Tribune.  We’re in the faith and values section for the third time now…the first time in an article about the emerging church and house churches…the second time as a feature about New Monasticism, and now in an article about small churches.  Check out the main article here, and the additional blurb about Missio Dei here.  Not all the details about us are correct, but it is close enough. ;)

I’m not sure what it is about Missio Dei that draws attention from the Star Tribune.  We’re a small struggling church that gets little attention from mainstream church.  And it isn’t as though folks are beating down our doors to visit.  The first two times the paper wrote about us made us feel special.  But now we’re just confused.  I’d gladly trade this publicity for just one solid member who wants to serve the West Bank.  But such folks are rare.  Perhaps if we were a seeker church, this sort of free publicity would benefit Missio Dei.  But we’re not that sort of church.  In the end, this stuff doesn’t help us in our goal to incarnate Christ to our neighborhood.

Mennonites on the Road

August 16, 2007

Check out this article from the Franconia Mennonite Conference by Sheldon Good.  It tells a bit about the road trip that he, and some other young Mennonites made to Missio Dei this summer.  It is a great article that well-captures Missio Dei.

Some personal rambling as I prepare for the Black Hills

August 10, 2007

I spent most of the day yesterday with Mark Scandrette and his family.  Mark is the author of Soul Graffiti.  Mark shared at the Emergent Cohort meeting yesterday afternoon and did a poetry reading in my home yesterday evening.  During the cohort, he said something to the effect of: “You know, after I moved to San Francisco to plant a church, and the church plant ‘failed,’ I realized that I had nothing left to lose.  And so, we figured, ‘what the hell…let’s try to live like Jesus.’”

Yep.  That pretty much sums up my life these past few years.  I find myself reflecting over the past, and anticipating the future, as I prepare for a week-long trip to South Dakota. 

Tomorrow morning, at 5am, I embark on a drive to the Black Hills.  Sunday, InterVarsity students from across Minnesota and the Dakotas will also embark.  Our destination: Camp Judson.  We’ll spend a week together imagining what God might do on our campuses.  When I get back, I’ll have less than two weeks to get everything ready for the official launch of InterVarsity West Bank.  I’m excited.  Things are coming together.  I feel God’s presence in my preparations.  The West Bank will never be the same!

In the past three years, I’ve forged a path for ministry that some people find upsetting, some find odd, and some find merely unimpressive.  I planted a church that has shifted and experimented…and has embraced expressions and ideas that make some of my friends cringe.  And I’ve spun about like a juggling dervish…I’ve juggled church life, home life, campus ministry, speaking gigs, seminary, and writing.  Someone told me recently: “You seem to be doing some great things, but you don’t seem to be very focused.” 

Everything I’ve done in the past few years has been driven by two primary impulses…my apostolic and prophetic impulses.  Apostolically, I’ve been stubbornly tilling the hard-packed soil of the West Bank of Minneapolis.  As Amy and I danced repeatedly to the brink of financial ruin and exhaustion, I’ve continued to lead Missio Dei into a deeper embrace of the West Bank, as I also sought to pioneer a new campus ministry with InterVarsity on the West Bank.  Planting a church is hard.  Planting a campus ministry is hard.  Doing both at the same time without pay is just kinda stupid.  But, I’d like to think, it is the sort of stupidity that makes God chuckle in affirmation.

But while I do what I do for the West Bank, I also do it for the church at large.  I grieve over the state of North American Christianity.  I long for a more faithful expression.  I do what I do, in part, to remind the church of who she is.  We live in the shadow of the Empire.  And we need to raise our prophetic voices and say to the Church: “Come out…come out of Babylon!”

And so, as I pack my bags and embark on this next leg of my journey, I have mixed feelings.  I feel like God has brought me to this place.  But I also feel a sense of sadness.  Every step has been a struggle.  I’ve felt misunderstood by lots of my oldest friends.  And I’ve felt a bit unsupported.  Meanwhile, I’ve been getting really nifty invitations to be a part of lofty things.   It is a bit disorienting, and a bit disheartening.  But I will continue to juggle my apostolic and prophetic impulses. 

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