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A Community of Appreciative Inquiry

October 31, 2007

Thanks to John who’s been commenting at Jesus Manifesto and spurring the conversation. John has questions about the emerging church–but I didn’t agree to collaborate here to represent the emerging church, so I’ll just let my posts speak about that to which the Spirit is calling me.

John has quoted several prominent voices on his blog (which seems to be down now so I can’t post a link) in the so-called emerging church, and I told him I don’t have the context for those quotes, so I’m not going to venture a response to them.

But his comments and those quotes got me to thinking along these lines:

Besides being a journalist, I’m also a very part-time consultant with an organizational performance consortium. We did research on various leadership models two years ago, and I learned about the principle of Appreciative Inquiry.

“In AI the arduous task of intervention gives way to the speed of imagination and innovation; instead of negation, criticism, and spiraling diagnosis, there is discovery, dream, and design. AI seeks, fundamentally, to build a constructive union between a whole people and the massive entirety of what people talk about as past and present capacities: achievements, assets, unexplored potentials, innovations, strengths, elevated thoughts, opportunities, benchmarks, high point moments, lived values, traditions, strategic competencies, stories, expressions of wisdom, insights into the deeper corporate spirit or soul– and visions of valued and possible futures.”

A few years ago, I would have assumed Appreciative Inquiry is non-biblical. We’re supposed to start with what’s wrong, Sin and the Fall, and apply the principles of Penal Atonement through Christ’s work on the cross as the solution. A few verses of Scripture seem to reinforce the validity of this approach.

But the full sweep of Scripture, not least the continuing pattern of returning from Exile, the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and even Paul’s methods of evangelism, all start with what’s good about God’s creation and us, his creatures. And then, since we’ve all suffered and contributed to what’s gone wrong with God’s plan, we give the good news about how Jesus is reconciling and restoring us and his creation.

Of course, as forgiven people being transformed by Jesus, our appreciative inquiry has the redeemed wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We’re not taking one step forward and two steps back in our own strength, as the old cliche goes. We are conducting Redeemed Appreciative Inquiry.

So, I wonder if some of the concerns John and others have about the emerging church are due to misunderstanding the methods of redeemed appreciative inquiry. To build relationships and share the gospel in the context of community, we must start with what’s good and what we have in common before we share what God is doing to move forward in his purposes. Of course we don’t leave people there, struggling in their own strength. We introduce them to Wisdom fulfilled and engage them in a new way to be human in Jesus.

We could be called a Community of Appreciative Inquiry.

Shameless Promotion

October 31, 2007

When JesusManifesto.com was a one-person effort, I used to share personal things all the time…and engage in some gentle self-promotion. These days, this site has lots of different voices. I can’t plug things indiscriminately anymore. Nevertheless, I want to tell you about two things I’m involved with…things that support this sites goal to help folks follow Jesus in the American Empire…

submergent logo Submergent wants to re-baptize the Christian imagination. For two thousand years, we have drifted from our prophetic impulse. When Jesus began his movement 2000 years ago, he called his followers to a radical way of peace…a way of loving enemies…a way of embracing the outsider…a way of forgiveness and transformation and reconciliation.

All too often, however, we’ve turned Christianity into a way of reinforcing the status quo…a way of control…a way of self-righteousness. We’ve left the shadow of the Empire and seated ourselves on its throne.

The name “submergent” reflects the essence of two movements–one that is 500 years old and one that is only just emerging. These movements (the Anabaptist movement and the emerging church movement) both seek a way of faithfulness in the empire. They both yearn for a faith that reflects the vitally prophetic impulse that sparked Christianity 2000 years ago.

The Anabaptist movement began in the 16th century when Christians in Europe challenged the status quo with their ideas on discipleship. They embraced a third way in the Reformation…neither Catholic nor Protestant. Theirs was a way of peace. As an act of radical allegiance to Christ, they re-baptized adults (often by submersion).

We affirm the spirit of the early Anabaptists as we emerge into a new way of being and doing church. The emerging church is an exploration of what it means to be church in the 21st Century. It is a gentle revolt against the status quo.

Both Anabaptism and the emerging church traffic in subversion. We embrace a counter-cultural identity as we seek to be faithful to Jesus Christ in the shadow of the Empire. We are Submergent.

We are currently working on a gathering (probably in Los Angeles) for 2008. Visit www.submergent.org for more info. We also have a Facebook page.

christarchy Christarchy! is a monthly cohort for people who want to follow Jesus’ radical path. Call it a support group for the Jesus Revolution.

Jesus doesn’t simply call us to a set of beliefs, but a revolutionary, transformational way of living life. Jesus subverts expectations. He is a friend to wretches and whores and outcasts. He challenges the economic, political, social, and religious status quo. Christarchy! is a gathering for those who want to follow Jesus the subversive Servant-King.

We’ve been having these monthly meetings of Christarchy! for about 8 months. We are currently looking at adding a couple more Christarchy! groups in the Twin Cities. I’m also in conversation with a friend who wants to start a Christarchy! in Seattle. If you’re interested in doing something like this and would like to be a part of this growing network, let me know (mark [at] missio-dei.com). Visit www.christarchy.com for more information.

Civil Religion and Mainstream Christianity

October 30, 2007

In my last post, I shared my concerns about the impulse of a large section of mainstream Christianity to gain political power of American national government in order to return America to its status as a ‘Christian’ nation. The main reason for concern in the post was that, in my opinion, when Christians begin to think in those terms they reject their allegiance to their one true King and His kingdom, which is above all other kingdoms. If you really think about what is going on in those terms then you begin to see that it is a form of idolatry.

Since the last post was focused on the implications of turning from the King to human government, I wanted this post to focus on the consequences of this turning on the internal realities of the church’s teaching, life, and worship. First, it is important for me to define what I mean by civil religion. Civil religion simply describes the religious overtones and undertones of a secular society that bind the citizenry together within the religion of the state. This is often seen in the generic religious expressions of political leaders, the celebration of national holy days, and the veneration of national heroes (a good article introducing this can be found here).

With that definition established, we can now turn to the manifestations within the Christian community when it turns to the illusion of exercising political power within government. When Christianity connects itself with the state, the teaching of the community is affected. An example of this was seen by my wife (who doesn’t necessarily always agree with me on this issue) and I in a church worship service recently. The syncretism of civil religion with Christianity allows church leaders to make assertions about the teachings of Scripture that are frightening. In the service, the pastor and congregation stood to read a passage of Scripture aloud together. The passage happened to come from Romans 13. After reading the passage, the pastor commented that this meant that it is a Christian’s duty to always obey the state and never question what it does. As a student of history, this comment infuriated me because it was the same logic used by German churches in the 1930’s to accept Adolf Hitler and the rise of Naziism and all its horrors (I am not equating America with Nazi Germany so please do not misunderstand me).

Second, the consequences of interweaving the church with the state also manifest in the life of the church. Another example of this is coming to the surface where I live. The state is about to pass a law making it illegal for churches to help illegal immigrants by providing food, water, clothing, and/or shelter to help alleviate the needs of these human beings. The consequences of violation of this law will be the imprisonment of pastors, priests, and the Christian laity who choose to obey their King rather than the state. As a result of this the local Catholic archbishop has said that the church will not abide by this law because it is immoral and unjust. On the other hand, those within the Christian community that have so interwoven Christianity with America undoubtedly will submit to what the government decrees, because in their illusion of an American-Christian government, the state has authority over the church.

Third, this amalgamation of church and state impacts the worship of the community. Not only is worship offered to God but also to the state, its holy days, and its venerated heroes. Ironically, from my own experience, the state’s holy days and venerated heroes usually take precedence over the worship of the one true King within His own community. On this third point I would like to hear some examples from your own lives where you have witnessed this combination of civil religion and Christianity because it is perhaps the most easily recognizable.

Wrong place at the wrong time?

October 30, 2007

I had a fascinating adventure this morning. A girl from our church is in Teen Challenge, a year long faith-based treatment facility. She had a court date in Chaska at 8:30 this morning and needed a ride, so I left home at 5:30 to drive into the city to pick her up.

When I pulled up to the building on Portland Ave. at around 6:45, it was still dark. My car would not exactly be described as ‘clean’…okay, even rodents find the clutter unbearable. So I was clearing off the front seat to make room for my friend, when suddenly the passenger door opened and a girl got in and sat down. My initial thought was, “That’s odd. I thought I would have to go inside and sign her out.”

Then I looked at the girl who was waiting expectantly beside me. It wasn’t the girl who I was supposed to pick up. It took me a moment to realize what was happening, but when I did, I was kind of at a loss for words. I managed to blurt out, “I think you’ve got the wrong car. I’m waiting for someone from Teen Challenge.” She graciously got out of the car and continued on her way.

After the fact, (I do much of my reflecting after the fact), I thought about the missed opportunity to bless this young woman. When I think about how Jesus might have responded to the situation, I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t have been to essentially tell her to get out of the car. Instead, he would have found a way to demonstrate love, justice, and the presence of the inbreaking kingdom of God into her world.

So I pose the question to you. Put yourself in that position: You are a young male pastor from the suburbs who suddenly finds himself in the city in the wee hours of the morning with a prostitute in his car. What do you do?

Whose Image?

October 29, 2007

Grace is ruining the image of the church.

(If you thought I was going to keep up with the nice kitchen metaphors in every post, sorry to disappoint you.)

Let me explain.

From where I sit, I see a church paralyzed by a faulty dichotomy between grace and “works.” I think we superimpose our post-Reformation definition of “works” on the “works of the flesh, ” a term Paul used specifically to describe the Law of Moses–which was a very prescribed set of behaviors designed to keep Israel pure and set apart. Paul wasn’t talking about the good works God “prepared for us before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 2.10).

I cringe every time I hear a pastor say serving and taking care of the poor leads to works-centered righteousness. As if any transformation in our lives that compels us to live differently beyond cleaning up our personal morality is adding to the gospel.

I see people being given part of the truth, but never enough to get them beyond a form of grace that reduces God’s purposes to the mere sanitizing of our personal self-image. It’s a belief that being justified in God’s sight is the end point of his eternal purposes, when in fact, it is his will to grow and transform us into his likeness, so his image is carried throughout the world. (Read Ephesians in the Source translation by Ann Nyland to get a fresh whiff of the Spirit on this theme [HT Suzanne McCarthy at Better Bibles Blog]).

I see people who know they’re saved by grace, but they don’t know what they’re saved for. They’re trying to lay down all their former false gods and icons, but all they’re given to worship is a tidied up image of themselves.

And what God wants to do through Jesus and the Spirit is to exchange all other images for his and let him capture our imagination, consume us with his vision and change us into his image.

How do we move forward in grace instead of remaining where it found us? I’m sure some of you have some wisdom to offer, and I would love to hear it.

Here’s my story in a nutshell: Jesus began to transform me when I began to pray from Mattnew 6, especially the Lord’s prayer, especially for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, and especially to seek his kingdom and trust him to supply my needs.

This was scary at first. I was so burdened to pray this way, I could no longer pray for my own needs and blessings or for my family.

After a few months, I realized there was nothing else I desired any longer but Jesus and to do his will in the ways I saw him calling people in the Gospels. And that’s when he began to move in my family, and to bring some people to faith I’d prayed for and reached out to for years. And that’s when he captured my imagination and my passion and gave me a vision for carrying his image out into the world as good news and justice and mercy and salvation for all of creation.

Of course there’s grace. And forgiveness of sins. But that’s just the beginning.

Jesus had to teach me to get my eyes off myself and move beyond the place where grace found me. And now I’m looking for others whose imagination has been captured by Jesus, to unite with them, to make Jesus “manifest” along with every individual who “contributes to bringing his body to a state of completeness” (Ephesians 1.23).

Relationship Restored

October 29, 2007

jesuswhite There has been a great deal of attention in recent years to the so-called “new perspective.” Basically, the movement has demonstrated that the Reformers read their battle with the Roman Church into the writings of Paul. While Paul was using certain legal categories to describe “salvation” to communities influenced by Greco-Roman thought, Luther and Calvin pushed these categories into increasingly abstract territory.

This is why the children of the Protestant Reformation tend to see sin and salvation in legal categories. Sin = breaking the laws of God. Salvation = restoring our right standing with God, our judge. Salvation is acquired by putting our faith in the One who takes our legal penalty. But putting our faith in this One, names Jesus, our sentence is passed along. And we, by exchange, receive the legal standing of Jesus.

In this view, what is the role of the Church? What becomes of ecclesiology? Well, the Church becomes that group of saved people that woos non-saved people into believing those things that result in this legal exchange (our sentence exchanged for the righteous legal status of Jesus). The church largely exists to communicate the message of salvation (defined in a legal way) from sin (which means a breaking of God’s law).

But what if we take the words SIN and SALVATION and take them out of legal categories and put them into relational ones? What if sin has more to do with broken relationships than it does with broken laws? Last week I heard the following definition for “sin:” sin is the destructive things I do out of my own pain.

I like this definition because it recognizes that sin flows naturally out of the human condition. We are broken, and as a result, we seek to bring relief to the pain of our own brokenness. And when, in our desire for relief, we cause pain or destruction in our relationships with others (or ourselves), we sin.

Salvation, then is the restoration of a broken relationship. Jesus doesn’t talk much about “salvation.” Paul doesn’t talk much about “kingdom.” I’m convinced that what Paul means when he describes ideas like “salvation” is the same think Jesus means when he describes the Kingdom. In both cases what he have is the healing presence of God–God’s peace–and this brings healing and peace to our relationships all around. It is Jubilee.

In this view, ecclesiology is an entirely different thing. The Church is that place where salvation is lived out–here and for all eternity. The church is an indispensable part of salvation. It is more than just a group of people that communicate a message. In a very real way, we ARE the message. We are a place where people experience God’s healing presence–his salvation–and the place where that salvation is worked out.

What Are We to Do?

October 27, 2007

I started this life being raised as an atheist. That doesn’t sound like much of an advantage, but it has its uses.

For one thing, I got to see the mercy of God firsthand–in that I might have remained an atheist, except that people I met and things that happened made that impossible.

Also I got to take a highly critical look at conventional Christianity,something I might have been afraid to do from a conventional upbringing.

That’s good? Yes, because traditional Christian ideas made God seem more scary than loving. I had to reject all that–-but then, finding God to be real after all, I needed to (very timidly) call Him on it. So now I can look out at a world that looks very scary indeed, and know that the reality behind it has the love and the power to save us all.

From a secular viewpoint, there really doesn’t seem to be much hope for humanity. Our rulers are getting meaner and crazier; the propaganda system is tightening its grip on people’s minds; the technology we’re addicted to is blatantly destroying the world we’d hoped would be there for our grand-children’s lives.

Seemingly we have two alternatives: denial or despair. (Which come to mean the same thing, because living with despair makes you numb, while denial implies a threat you don’t dare face.)

So far as we know God, despair is not an option. Neither do we need denial; we can build our hope on the true bedrock rather than clinging to whatever person, institution, idea or movement we might otherwise mistake for deliverance.

This is too good a gift to keep to ourselves; but how can we share it?

There’s a traditional way of spreading what purports to be “The Gospel.” Basically, preachers would put the fear of Hell into people, then sell them “Jesus” as fire insurance. This wasn’t an ideal introduction either to Jesus or to God. After some 2000 years of such preaching, our civilization has many people who know Christian language but not the reality behind it, many others simply left adrift.

In the Quaker tradition I’ve joined, this has been a concern from the very beginning. The Society of Friends started as a movement of people who’d experienced the presence of God. Whether they called this: “Christ”, “God,” “the Light”–-They weren’t going to settle for a mouthful of words. But all too soon we became merely another denomination with a more democratic flavor, some of our members intimate with God, but the bulk of us knowing Him only by hearsay.

And now, by and large, we’ve fallen hard down into the “post” modern world. Most of us worship NPR rather than the NRA, but as Brian Drayton (_On Living With a Concern for Gospel Ministry_) put it: “Friends as a group are as infected as most members of our society with a strong reliance on human reason and strength.” That is, we ask first what’s “reasonable” and likely to be “effective”, rather than asking first “What is God’s will for us?” And we aren’t, in my experience, even conscious of this, because most of us are unaware of any alternative. Correct me if I’m wrong–-but do you (or your own churches)–do otherwise?

What really disturbs me–as I look around for ways to free myself from our insane secular world–is that I keep futilely hoping to find that within some organization. It’s like this: Some organized group might provide a niche where I could live more the way I think God intends. And if God were to lead me toward that kind of opportunity, I should certainly follow. But so far as I’m looking to that–rather than to God–for my protection, I’m missing it!

GIVE US A KING

October 27, 2007

Since this is my first official post at Jesus Manifesto, I feel the need to explain my approach to writing about the issues concerning Christianity and the church that are ‘near and dear’ to me. I will always attempt to ground my thoughts in Holy Scripture first and foremost (even if I do not directly quote chapter and verse), and secondly upon Christian orthodoxy as seen in the Christian tradition that encompasses the last two millennia. Nevertheless, my theology is still a work in progress and probably will always remain such. With that being said, I am always open to being shown areas in my theology that are incorrect, weak, or on target. I do not shy away from discussion, as long as it is conducted in a Christian manner. So without further ado . . .

I am growing increasingly concerned with the mentality among certain groups within the Christian community that equate Christianity with political power and the illusion of a Christian nation based on such power. This concern does not rise out of Christian participation in the political process of American society, but comes from the implications of a desire for power to rule over people in the name of ‘taking America back for God.’ I think this rather large group of the Christian community has fallen into the same basic error that we see Israel make in Scripture.

This error is seen many times in Scripture, but perhaps one of the best examples is found in 1 Samuel 8:1-9. In the text, Samuel has served as high priest and judge for the nation for most of his life. Nevertheless, the end of his time as leader of the people approached, so he appointed his sons to take his place. However, the people of God did not want his sons to lead them and so they asked Samuel to “Give us a king to lead us” (8:6). Of course, Samuel was personally offended by this, but he sought God’s counsel about the people’s request. God’s response leads us to the point I am trying to make about the danger of Christians seeking ruling power. God responded to Samuel about the people’s request by saying, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (8:7).

Now fast forward to the New Testament. Jesus, the King above all kings, comes into the world. He performs mighty signs and miracles and preaches the message of His kingdom. From this message a new nation is born, it is called the church, and it is made up of the disciples of Jesus who are citizens of His kingdom.

Now return to 21st century America, and you see a large portion of the Christian community saying, as Israel did, “now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (8:5). In this quest for political authority to impose Christian ‘values’ on a pagan society, Christians have implicitly rejected their true King and His ethic of kingdom life in order to have a Christian nation “such as other nations have.” As long as this mentality dominates the church it is very difficult for the Christian community to truly follow Jesus in the empire.

***

James McMahon is a 31 year old husband and father who became a Christian at the age of 22. Over the last nine years he has received his B.A. in Religious Education, as well as his Master of Divinity, all the while making himself available for service within the Lord’s community. He is currently working on a Ph. D. in Theology with a probable emphasis on pre-Constantinian Christianity, Anabaptist theology, and/or Christian Ethics (with special focus on Bonhoeffer or Yoder). After completing doctoral work, he hopes to become a professor and author.

Redistribution and the Rich Young Man

October 26, 2007

So, as a very recent college grad, a graduate student, and being very newly wed, I for one know about living on a budget. It’s funny, I remember as kid being taught that there were certain things that you are supposed to do with money. There were a few things that were essential. First there was tithing: you have to give God %10 off the top. Gross or net? Well, the answer to that always involved the question: What kind of blessing do you want back, gross or net? The next big thing was paying your bills. After this came savings/investing. I can recall conferences which my dad took me to, at which I was pressed to start investing early in order to be a millionaire by age…whatever.

All this to say, my wife and I have recently been thinking very carefully about what we believe we are meant to do with money. How do we live like Jesus in an empire that tells us consumption, capitalism, and gain are most important?

What do I do with those early teachings about money? For one, I think ten percent is as good a place as any to start. But I don’t think any arbitrary marker is all that essential to what Jesus wants from us.

As we ponder this question, several things come to mind. There’s a homeless woman who stands outside my workplace selling newspapers that an organization donates. If I’m going to buy a paper, why wouldn’t I give my dollar to her? I felt deeply convicted to sponsor a child through a national network several years ago. I am certainly not going to neglect caring for him, but how have I allowed my automated monthly withdrawals to replace my actual compassion for any of the poor I see around me each day?

See, I don’t think it’s as simple as “giving to God.” Instead, I think Jesus calls us to think carefully about how we spend our money. Even choosing not to pursue a lot of income I am, by default of living where I do, in the highest twenty percent of wealth in the world. I have some debt only because I have the privilege of an undergraduate and graduate level education.

So what do I do when I am the rich young man that Jesus encounters? Should I seek some way of straddling the empire and riding it as a vehicle to make money that I could give to the poor? I look at beautiful endeavors like the Grameen Bank, and I am thrilled by the way things can change. Yet, if we simply continue perpetuating a system of greed in order to allow the poor to rise into the middle class, we will continue to inflict the same plague of consumerism, waste, greed, and disequilibrium upon our societies and our planet.

Or is money not even the real issue? maybe money is merely a means of building a thicker barrier between myself and the single mom next door. Maybe my possessions are only a complex distraction that keep me too busy to be hospitable. Maybe my social status is just a construct that keeps me afraid of seeing the image of God reflected in the eyes of the guy who needs a buck fifty to ride the bus.

So where do we begin?

For starters, I know where to buy my next newspaper. We’re getting an extra booklet of bus tickets to give away, and I’m writing a letter to re-humanize a little boy in India who has for too long merely been an entry in an online bank statement.

I’ve noticed, I treat Jesus so differently when s/he has skin on.

Peace,

Daniel

***

Daniel Tidwell currently doesn’t have an author bio…for now, he remains shrouded in mystery.

Food and Empire

October 26, 2007

I’m a journalist, and sometimes I draft my best pieces in my head while engaged in physical work. Usually the process adds to my sense of contentment and satisfaction. But recently, while preparing a birthday meal for my daughter, I kept rehashing a feature that had already gone to press.

It was a story about three of my local legislators who’d spent a month restricting their food budget to the amount allotted to a family of four for Food Assistance (formerly called Food Stamps).

The legislators all said they had to cut back on fresh, healthy food and purchase more cheap, processed food than usual to make their food dollars stretch to the end of the month.

That’s right. They said they resorted to buying bags of chips and ramen noodles when the food dollars started to run low.The more I thought about it, the more steamed I got. And the meal I was preparing made the whole issue stand out in stark relief. How had my fresh ingredients and slow cooking techniques become luxuries only the middle and upper class can afford?

I often hear Christians say comparing global capitalism to Empire is taking things too far. But, I ask you, borrowing a line from Jesus– whose image is on the packages of the food offering cheap, filling empty calories? In contrast, whose image is on the fresh, simple, humble, wholesome foods I buy locally?

Corporations stamp their icons all over the processed stuff—made as cheaply as possible to protect profit margins for stockholders. The hand of God who’s imprinted us with his image is all that’s visible on the fresh food.

Not by accident, but by the Spirit, I believe, I got a phone call today from a young man in my community who’s working on his PhD in rural sociology. He leads the local Slow Foods Convivium and has done substantial research on the economy of fast versus slow food.

He told me there’s more to the issue than cash flow. Cooking from scratch with fresh, healthy foods requires access to the foods—transportation is one concern—as well as time to prepare them and knowledge of how to do it.

Where I live, people struggling at the margins of poverty work long hours for low wages and may not have the time, energy or skills to make healthy meals consistently.

What, then, is the challenge for the Body of Christ? How can we make fresh, whole food affordable, accessible and feasible for people struggling at life’s most basic levels?

Food is such an incarnational issue. I believe how we deal with it reveals a lot about our understanding of God’s purposes for human relationships and creation.

I don’t know the answers, but I do know it won’t be a “top down” solution and it’s not up to those legislators I mentioned. To start looking for answers, I’m joining my local Slow Foods Convivium, which includes participation in a “Farmers to Folks” buying coop. I’m also involved with two agencies that work with low-income people using participatory methods instead of just handing out money. I’ll be praying for wisdom in how to tie it all together and I’ll keep you posted along the way.

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