Blogging from the New Conspirators (pt 3)

February 29, 2008

It is midnight in Seattle…which means that my body (which is still following Central Standard Time) thinks it is 2 am.

I’m too wiped out to write much (if you want a good summary, check out Jonathan Brink’s summary here).

I felt like the conference started out right. It was simple…and comfortable. The presenters and attendees are real people doing real ministry. This isn’t a razzle-dazzle conference.

I got to meet a lot of people that I’ve only ever been able to connect with over the internet (like Steve Lewis and Justin Baeder). And I’ve reconnected with friends like Mark Scandrette, Karen Ward, Jess Walter, Joel Shenk, and others. I’m sure I’ll make lots of new friends this week.

After the festivities ended, I walked about 10 blocks to join Karen Ward and my friend Jason Okrzynski (a fellow Minnesotan) for a couple beers at Uber–a pub near the conference location. They had my favorite beer on tap (Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale).

And so, its time for bed. I’m waking up early to walk with Eliacin to the conference location.

By the way, here’s a picture of me with Eliacin Rosario-Cruz. We are twins, separated at birth.

Blogging from the New Conspirators (pt 2)

February 28, 2008

I arrived in Seattle last night. Eliacin picked me up at the airport and we went straight to the Mustard Seed house where I had an awesome dinner (roast chicken with vegetables…and apple/berry cobbler for dessert).

After dinner, I hung out with Mark Pierson, Tom Balke, Eliacin and his wife Ricci and their two adorable kids.

This morning, I was drafted (along with all of the other guests from out of town) to help set up for the conference. I don’t think I’ve ever carried that many chairs in my life. The church that is hosting the conference (Bethany Community Church) looks like an awesome venue. They have a newly constructed sanctuary that still smells like wood.

I was more than happy to help with set up, but I was anticipating a quiet day of preparation for my workshops…but my new friend David Laird was here at 8am with a van that needed to be filled with stuff.

So, after a full morning of work, and a light lunch (the Mustard Seed House knows how to be hospitable…the food was simple, hearty, and good), I am know getting ready to put some finishing touches on tomorrow’s workshop. Tonight at 6pm, the presenters will have dinner together…and then things kick off at 7pm or so.

For those of you who can’t attend, but are interested, keep up on conference happenings at The New Conspirators discussion board on Pibb by going here: Pibb combines the best features of instant messenger, chat, email, and bulletin boards.

The Church and The Radicals: Match Made In Heaven?

February 27, 2008

Kester Brewin has recently asked the stimulating question, “What Are The Grand Challenges For Theology In The 21st Century?” Giants of the theological blogosphere have weighed in, including Brian McLaren, Peter Rollins, and Beck Garrison. Most of the responses center around the communication and development of theological concepts in a postmodern , post-Christian world. And while I think these are indeed “grand challenges” (specifically Rollins response about forming “concrete faith collectives” free from “foundationalism”), I would like to add my own challenge to the pile, specifically in light of the Jesus Manifesto and the development of the movement known as New Monasticism.

The Grand Challenge: Developing sustainable relationships between fringe movements such as New Monasticism, Christian Anarchy, various Emergent groups, etc… and the institutional Church in a way that is profitable for the Kingdom of God.

Movements on the fringe usually start in response to a negative found inside the mainstream. Just like the original monastics, many New Monastic communities have sprouted due to what is seen as a lack of faithfulness on the part of the institutional church. Once on the outside looking in, it is easy to stay there and form a language and ethos around the concerns for that particular community, forgetting the prophetic “calling out” that needs to take place if reform is ever going to be seen in the local Church. Many monastic movements throughout the ages have had that renewal and reformation in mind all along as they fled to the desert, built monasteries, and performed works of justice and mercy. I am in no way doubting that such renewal is needed in the institutional Church today. Fringe movements such as ChristArchy and New Monasticism perhaps have way more to say to the established Church than ever before.

But can the Church, the very thing many of these movements seek to wake up, offer anything to the fringe? Or is the Church so screwed up that it needs to be left behind in favor of house communities and new monasteries?

Focusing particularly on New Monasticism, the number of people who point out that “New Monasticism isn’t ‘monastic’ at all” grows every day. The critique is often centered around the desert monks who traveled alone and spent most of their lives in solitude, like St. Antony. It is then usually pointed out that the derivative of the word “monk” comes from the same word meaning “solitary.” Aha! There it is! New Monastics aren’t monastic at all—they don’t even live alone. Now we can dismiss this fad of youngsters stirring up trouble! St. Antony is only one example of a monastic, what is known as “anchorite” monasticism. Oddly enough, historians are quick to note that many of these hermits came to believe that it was their power to decide the ordination of bishops and official church teachings. After all, they represented “the pure Church,” a temptation for all fringe movements. In the fifth century, some monks even rioted and sought to use force in imposing their believed orthodoxy on others. Pride and power crept in to the movement that originally sought to reform the church in those very vices. Perhaps their solitary situation only heightened their sense of resentment towards the mainstream?

What many overlook is that there are other examples of the monastic movement throughout history, which are in my opinion more congenial to both the human psyche and the Church at large. A third century monk by the name of Pachomius started what became known as “cenobitic” monasticism—the communal life. The daily life of these monks included work, devotion, service, and prayer. There was a hierarchy of sorts with each community having an administrator, an aide, and a superior over the entire community. The goal of such structuring was not to promote top-down power, but to bring authority when needed and to keep order. But no one saw themselves as a priest. In fact, like the anchorite monks, these men high tailed it away from ecclesiastical office. But this created a problem, for only one ordained by the Church as a priest could serve communion. So Pachomius and his monks would travel to the nearby church on Saturdays and a priest would visit the monastery on Sundays. It was a mutually benefiting relationship. The Church stayed close enough to hear the prophetic words of the monastic community, and the monks stayed close enough to partake of the Church’s rich liturgy and worship.

Carrying this line of thought further, Christian historian Justo L. Gonzalez writes that the wide spread influence of early monasticism was not primarily through the monastery itself, but through a “number of bishops and scholars who saw the value of the monastic witness for the daily life of the church Thus, although in its earliest time Egyptian monasticism had existed apart and even in opposition to the hierarchy, eventually its greatest impact was made through some of the members of that hierarchy.” (The Story of Christianity, Vol. I, p. 147). Some of the greatest leaders of the institutional church, including Athanasius, Jerome, the Cappadocian Fathers, and Gregory the Great were all influenced by monasticism and carried the monastic ideals into their mainstream offices. What was once “fringe” became “mainstream,” and in no way did this dilute it or make monasticism a lesser force. It carried its message beyond its own walls into the sphere it needed to be heard. After all, this was the goal of early monasticism—renewal.

Despite popular fringe sentiment, it is not all the Church’s fault. The Church distrusts these “new radicals,” not because they see every Shane Claiborne as a heretic (although, there are the few out there like this), but because they feel left out and looked down upon. Many of these fringe communities are self-contained and feel they are at the point where they don’t “need” the institutional Church. In fact, many of these groups may even relish the fact that they are a self-supported community that flies in the face of mainstream Christianity. In the midst of their prophetic call, they’ve become what they despised. Many of these communities run away from the label “church” as if it was a plague (Missio Dei being an exception). They want to perform the same functions the Church was initially instituted for, but they don’t want the baggage of the term. In other places, the communities fill a completely different void in the community than the institutional church, and yet they trick themselves into thinking they “do it all”—when in reality—they have the office of “prophet” locked down, but are leaving the “priest” and “king” behind. Staying within a day’s journey (metaphorically speaking) of a local church would be one way these other offices can be fulfilled.

So what do you think? What should the partnership between the 21st century local church and fringe movements such as New Monasticism look like?

What can the church offer the fringe?

What can the fringe offer the church?

mike.jpgAuthor Bio:: Michael Cline considers himself a freelance pastor and and over-employed learner who currently attends Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. When not snuggling with his wife, he’s blogging here.

* thumbnail from the front page borrowed from Jesus Radicals.

Blogging from the New Conspirators (pt 1)

February 27, 2008

Well…technically I’m still on my way to the conference. My plan is to check in every day and blog about my experience of Seattle and the New Conspirator’s Conference…

I’m sitting outside of Starbucks utilizing $4.95/hr wireless access. So far, my journey to the conference has already been adventuresome. Our fellow community members Josh and Carmen Ellens are expecting their second child. And last night Carmen started going into labor (it is nice to know that our soon-to-emerge son will have a friend roughly the same age).

Amy and I were set to watch their first child, Mateo. And so, last night we kept getting phone updates letting us know whether or not “early labor” had shifted into “active labor” enough for us to come over and watch their son. The call came in around 6:30 am. Just enough time for Amy to drop me off at the light rail station (to go to the airport) and rush off to help our expecting friends.

So, while I am on my way to Seattle, my dear friends are having a baby. I feel like a “fish” for bailing on them to go to my little conference thing. I’m sure Amy will do just fine watching Mateo for a couple days, but still.

Here I sit, sipping a Starbucks Honey Latte (which means that I am contributing financially to the Starbucks Coffee Empire), waiting for my flight to Boise, Idaho. I’ll be in Boise for 5 hours waiting for my final flight to Seattle, where Eliacin Rosario Cruz will pick me up and take me to the Mustard Seed House community dinner.

Book Review: Jesus for President (initial thoughts)

February 26, 2008

Yesterday, I received Jesus for President (written by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw…and designed by Holly and Ryan Sharp) in the mail. A lot of the themes of the book reflect my own convictions. In fact, they reflect my convictions enough to deflate me a little. This book has huge overlap with my own book project. I mean, at first blush a book contrasting the Kingdom of God and the American Dream called “the Jesus Manifesto” written by a largely obscure neo-monastic radical isn’t really different from a book contrasting the Kingdom of God and the American Dream called “Jesus for President” written by a well-known neo-monastic radical and a lesser-known neo-monastic radical. From what I’ve read, there are certainly differences. And there is always room for publishing books that are somewhat similar to other books (like the myriad books published on the emerging church–on a surface level, folks might think that the latest from Tom Sine, Doug Pagitt, and Tony Jones are all the same, but they’re not).

Personal anxieties and insecurities aside, I’ve got to say I’m liking the book. I’ve only read the first two sections, but so far, here are my initial observations:

  1. The book doesn’t set out to offer us anything new. Instead, it takes ideas from folks like Richard Horsley, NT Wright, John Howard Yoder, etc. and offers a simple, compelling introduction to radical Christianity with anarcho-flavors.
  2. The best part of the book, far and away, is the design. Without the design, the book would be worthwhile and successful. But with the design the book is stunning and is likely to be hugely successful. Ryan and Holly Sharp (of Cobalt Season fame) who design the book should get their names on the cover, rather than at the back of the book. The design seriously makes all the difference.
  3. My guess is that the end of the book is where all the magic is. A quick peek reveals taht the end of the book contains examples and suggestions and applications of the earlier content. We’ll see.

For the next couple of months, the Christarchy group at Bethel University will be going through the book, so I’ve decided to give the book a different sort of review. Instead of reading each section and giving my own personal feedback, I will review each of the four sections of the book based upon the thoughts generated from the Bethel group. Consider this a road-test approach to a book review.

And so, in coming weeks, we’ll be delving into the four sections of the book. Here’s when you can expect the next installments of the review:

  • March 12: Section 1 (before there were kings and presidents)
  • April 9: Section 2 (a new kind of commander-in-chief)
  • April 23: Section 3 (when the empire got baptized)
  • May 7: Section 4 (a peculiar party)

Continued Emergence: 3 predictions, 3 Exhortations and 3 Signs of Hope

February 26, 2008

time.jpgEditor’s Note: This was originally published on The Next Wave in their special 10th Anniversary Edition. Yes, I know I’m breaking my own rule not to republish articles, but since readers of the Next Wave rarely leave feedback, I wanted to republish it here.

Our universe is billions of years old. Humanity is tens of thousands of years old. The Pentateuch was written a few thousand years ago. Christianity is a mere two thousand years old. Compared to the full measure of time, Christian history isn’t even a speedbump on the cosmic timeline. But those of us who follow Jesus Christ believe that speedbump to be of profound importance. In fact, the 30 years that comprise the earthly life of Christ are the most important years in all of human history—certainly more important than the following 1,978 years that follow.

The 1,978 years that follow the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, have filled with thousands of Christian movements—from Franciscan spirituality to the Crusades, from Methodism to Mormonism. Most of the movements in Church history remain obscure and irrelevant. Few left a lasting impact; and whether their impact has been helpful or harmful is open to debate.

In the 10 years that the Next-Wave has been online, we’ve seen the emerging church movement come of age. What began a decade ago as an agitated stirring has become a bona fide movement—though it is more accurate to say “movements.” The ecclesiological shifts of the past decade hardly fall under one umbrella.

Ten years ago, few Christians had ever heard of Brian McLaren or Rob Bell or Tony Jones or Doug Pagitt. The kindred missional movement was still primarily academic. But Christian leaders around the world (primarily in North America, the UK, and Australia) began to wonder if there was something wrong in Christendom. In fact, many began to wonder if were moving past Christendom, just like our brothers and sisters in Europe had done. At roughly the same time, people began to ask serious questions about the way we were doing church, the nature of truth, and about the Gospel.

In the United States, we mistakenly interpreted this questioning as a symptom of “Generation X.” But it didn’t take long for some to realize that it was much more than a generational issue; a shift was happening.

This shift didn’t start with the writings of one person or in the conspiracies of a few…it was the natural (or supernatural) emergence of a new thing. It was a shift whose time has come. Shift happens.

In the past ten years, we’ve seen a few pockets of the movement gain prominence. In the United States, groups like Emergent Village or Allelon have come to the forefront in movement. And this has perhaps encouraged some to believe that the emerging/missional movements are more monolithic than they are.

And I’m convinced that, in the next few years, we will see the diverse expressions of the emerging church/missional movement(s) come into their own.

Three Predictions

In the next few years, we’ll see growing diversity in the emerging church. It is something that many of us have been actively pursuing, and I believe we’re beginning to see the fruit of that pursuit. In this vein, here are three predictions for the near future of the movement(s):

  1. Emergent Village will get competition. Maybe the word “competition” isn’t right, but groups similar to Emergent Village will not only “emerge” but gain increasing attention. Already, there are emerging groups that emphasize a fresh take on a particular tradition like Anglimergent, Submergent, Presbymergent etc. In the future, we’ll see a growth in regional and ethnic expressions.
  2. New Monasticism will grow, and become increasingly controversial. The New Monasticism is the intense little sister of the emerging church movement. For most Christians, the new monasticism has flown under the radar. Currently, it has few spokespeople, though it continues to attract people across the country. The controversy among evangelicals will be comparable to the controversy in the early years of the Catholic Worker Movement.
  3. After a brief period of calm, the “New Fundamentalism” will gain new traction. In the near future, sites like Pyromaniacs and Christian Research Net will lose readership. Fewer people will pay attention to critiques from people like D.A. Carson and John MacArthur. After all, the fundamentalists have come out against movements before, but eventually become sidelined. This happened with neo-evangelicalism in the early 1900s and the charismatic movement.

However, after a brief cease-fire, controversy will become stronger than ever. Why? Because it is just a matter of time before an active gay or lesbian pastor draws controversy in emerging church circles, and I guarantee that a significant number of emerging church leaders will stand in support of that pastor. When that happens, controversy will erupt.

Three Exhortations

Ok, I’ve done the “predictive” part of the prophet’s job description. Now I’d like to do the exhortative part. Here are some words of caution/encouragement for those of us involved in the emerging/missional movement(s):

  1. Engage Pentecostalism. The developing world is the future of Christianity. For the most part, the dominant expression of Christianity in the developing world is Pentecostalism. Few things seem to scare educated white yuppies (of which there is a glut in the emerging church) like Pentecostalism. We need to give Pneumatology serious thought. And we need to figure out how to support and submit to the growing number of brothers and sisters moving into our neighborhoods.
  2. Nurture Diversity. We’ve come a long way in this area, but we need to do more. We need to encourage our sisters to take on roles of leadership. We must seek the wisdom of other cultures. We’ve talked about this a lot. But now we need to make sacrifices to move forward.

    Five years ago, I had a conversation with Ed Stetzer about church planting. He said that it is best to start a church homogeneously and then seek diversity after you’ve become established. Although most of us resist this sort of thinking, we affirm it with our actions.

  3. Resist Consumerism. Consumerism casts a large shadow in the American Empire. Consumer culture disciples us into the sort of people who put too much importance in our own autonomy. It shapes us into the sorts of people who will gather in a local bar and drop 25 bucks a piece as we discuss the need for change in the Church. Let’s face it—there is a reason that people often dismiss emerging Christians as affluent urban hipsters with IPods.

Three Signs of Hope

If you notice a hint of frustration in my writing, let me assure you: I have hope in greater measure. I’m happy to be a part of the great-but-all-too-messy thing that the Spirit of God is doing in our world today. It is a good time to be following Jesus Christ. God has raised up a generation of leaders who love the Church enough to call her into a better way. In this spirit, I offer three encouraging trends that I pray will continue and deepen:

  1. The New Monasticism is playing an important role in the emerging conversation. The New Monasticism is growing and becoming increasingly diverse. Old School Monasticism was never monolithic, so why should we expect homogeneity with the New Monasticism? Older groups are deepening in their practices. New groups are emerging with creativity and passion. I believe the New Monasticism helps remind us all—especially those of us in the emerging church—what our faith is all about.
  2. Regional expressions are becoming more important. I’ve shared my concerns about the centralizing of the movement before. I’m pleased that the emerging/missional church has shifted away from centralization towards regionalization. There are a number of reasons for this (the lack of a large Emergent Convention, the growth of Emergent Cohorts, the growing number of competent leaders throughout the country, the growth in diversity of the movement). This is a very good trend—I hope and pray that it continues.
  3. Fewer denominations are ignoring the emerging church. Sure, a lot of their attention is of the help-us-learn-how-to-be-hip-so-that-we-don’t-lose-our-young-people variety. Much of it, however, is thoughtful engagement of the sorts of ideas that the emerging church has been grappling with for the past ten years. And as they learn from the emerging church, our movement is losing some of its anti-denominational edge. I am hopeful that meaningful cross-pollination is possible.

The future belongs to God. We only have the present, and the lessons of the past. Several emerging church blogs are born every day. New books are getting published detailing how the emerging church helps us walk in the Way of Jesus or explaining why it is a first step on the road to hell. As critics line up to take shots at the emerging church and its most visible leaders, it is easy to get distracted with controversy. Even in emerging circles, there is conflict over words and ideas that, though sometimes helpful, often distract us from the important things. All of the controversy and noise will pass away. Will we be remembered as a movement that passionately embraced the way of Jesus?

The Church as a Community of Justice: A Reflection on Isaiah 58

February 25, 2008

Isaiah 58:6-8

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

For me, the striking thing about Isaiah 58 (and a similar passage, Micah 6) is that they are written to a specific people in a specific time and place. I point out the specificity of these passages not to dismiss their message as irrelevant to the Church today, but rather as a key to understanding how they apply to us. My tendency in reading these passages (and I know this applies to others as well) is to read the call to action (Is. 58:6-7) as an inspiration for getting engaged in the struggle against the largest global injustices of our age (hunger, poverty, AIDS, slavery, etc.). While I do believe that such struggles are important, I don’t believe that they are primarily what the prophets are addressing in these passages. I am particularly wary of this sort of large-scale interpretation of these passages in an election year, when the political parties co-opt the Church into believing that a vote for their candidate is a valuable expression of one’s desire for justice.

In contrast, the message of these passages seems to be a call for a just people, a community that embodies justice in its daily life in the place and time that it finds itself. It is important to note that the audience is a community, not an individual. It is, I believe, our good-ol’-American individualism that leads us to jump to interpretations like the one I have described above. Given the assumption that I am an isolated individual, what can I do to stand for justice? Well, I could vote for this candidate or that one, or give money (or even time) to this service group or that one. This tendency to interpret these passages individually stands in contrast to the warning in the text itself to “[desist] from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word” (Is. 58:13). Perhaps we jump too quickly into the “doing justice” parts of these passages and miss the prophet’s point that the sabbath fast to which we are called begins with self-denial, a setting aside of our own agendas, desires and even our own convenience. We cannot ultimately live justly with our brothers and sisters if we cannot prefer them and their needs over ourselves. And, of course, the words of Isaiah serve as preparation for the way of Jesus, which also began in self-denial. If, however, the primary audience of these passages is a specific community and not individuals, what is the meaning of the prophets’ message for that community. First and foremost, I believe that the call is to be a community shaped and characterized by just living. Are there hungry people in our church communities? Are there homeless ones? Are there people enslaved by drugs or debt or workaholism, etc.? As we struggle to be a people marked by justice, we inevitably will come into conflict with the injustices of our local environment. Although it is perhaps easiest to see the injustices of an urban neighborhood, injustices abound in any locale. The planned environment of suburbia that inhibits community, isolates people and requires frequent gasoline consumption is the origin of a host of injustices. In rural places, the rape of the land by big businesses (coal mining in Appalachia, agribusiness in farming areas) reaps both poverty and a host of environmental injustices.

The German theologian Gerhard Lohfink often refers to the Church as a “contrast society,” and I think this language is useful for understanding the prophets’ call to justice in these passages. As we strive to live justly together, we demonstrate that another way is possible, a way that stands in stark contrast to the pattern of the world (Rom. 12:2). The tendency of individualistic interpretations of these calls to justice is that we often are trapped into pursuing good and just ends through the world’s channels. What then typically happens if we are persistent enough to follow these paths for some significant amount of time, is that we begin to make compromises and our ends get more and more watered down until they are swallowed up by our pursuit of the means. Let me be clear, I am not advocating isolation for the church, but rather that church communities engage the powers of the world as communities and not individuals. Furthermore, our engagement can and should be formed by the shared life of the community in which we are seeking to live justly together. I see more hope of discernment and resistance in this way than in that of individualism. It is interesting that the language of bearing witness that Paul uses throughout Ephesians 3-4 is that of the church bearing witness to the powers, not individuals.

Frankly, being a community of justice is hard; it demands that we know our brothers and sisters and daily give of ourselves to make sure that they are taken care of; the closeness of life together brings out the worst of our brokenness, which we would much rather keep hidden away (Thanks be to God that “where sin abounds, grace abounds even more”!). But despite the difficulties, this is the way in which we have been called to follow: to live justly with each other, with our neighbors and to watch the justice of Christ flow outward from our communities into our states, our nations and the uttermost parts of the earth.

Lord, have mercy upon us, may we heed your call to live justly together and may your justice flow through us and heal our fallen and rebellious world!

Author Bio:: Chris Smith is editor of Doulos Christou Press and a member of the Englewood Christian Church community in Indianapolis.

This week: The New Conspirators

February 25, 2008

msa-08-blog.jpgI’ll do my best, but this could be a lean week for content on JM. On Wednesday, I fly to Seattle to be a part of the New Conspirators “Festival of the Imagination.” My goal is to post daily about the conference while I’m there. If you have some articles sitting around that you wanted to submit, now would be a good time to do so–I probably won’t be writing much myself this week.

I’m excited about this event, which gathers a diverse batch of presenters to address an important set of issues with a focus on praxis. It is, in my estimation, what every good Christian conference should be. I’m also excited to hang out with friends and make new friends. It is going to be amazing. I only wish my wife could be there with me. :(

As excited as I am, I’m also nervous. Speaking/presenting usually makes me a little nervous. But in this case my nervousness is enhanced by the quality of the other presenters. While few of the other presenters are “super-stars,” they are all heavy-weights to me. And being in their company makes me feel a little like a light-weight. I know I’m just being silly.

So, these are the workshops I’ll be leading:

Creating Support Groups For Jesus Radicals - Mark will share from his story about how he and his compatriots at Missio Dei in Minneapolis, MN are involved in simple and sustainable lifestyles, practice hospitality, care for the poor and support for one another as they seek to follow the radical Jesus. (They don’t mention it here, but the main thrust of this will be on how I am developing “Christarchy” as a means of helping regular people explore ways of following the radical praxis of Jesus. This session was birthed out of a conversation with Tom Sine where he lamented that New Monastic communities tend to neglect church planting/reproduction/multiplication. I agree. This hinges largely upon whether one understands these communities to be groups that supplement the church or churches in their own right. My hope is that Christarchy can be a simple, viral approach to radical Christianity–easily reproducible groups that could quite possibly spawn all sorts of communities–house churches, new monastic communities, etc.)

Embodying the Gospel in the Global Empire - This workshop will invite you to explore counter-cultural ways to authentically embody a Jesus, mustard seed faith in the global culture of consumption, extravagance and waste. (Consumerism is gnawing away our soul. Our consumption fuels injustice, all the while our own faith becomes commodfied and disposable. We must embody a radical counter-ethic in the midst of our global consumer empire.)

For more information about the conference, go here.

To read about the speakers and their sessions, go here.

Zizek, Obama and the Emerging Church

February 23, 2008

I had made the editorial decision to avoid political articles for a month or so…but David Fitch wrote a great article today that has already stirred up some important feedback. Here’s some of the juicy stuff from his article:

…In essence, we listen to all the new political speeches and new political options given the electorate and we know nothing will really change. Yet we participate in it anyway, because in essence subconsciously this is what we really want: we wish to protect our own specific pieces of the economic social pie yet feel good about doing it (there’s the classic Freudian split in the subjective consciousness). Political ideology serves a cynical function now, giving us a Big Other to participate in, making us feel better about ourselves (morally), all the while we hope for keeping the status quo in place protecting our own personal pieces of the pie.

And here’s more Fitchy goodness:

When it comes to Christians of my evangelical tradition, I would suggest this “ideological cynicism” could work another way. We participate in National politics, its political ideologies of a more just society, even though we deeply suspect the corporate national machine insures nothing will change. We do this because it is much harder to think of the church itself as a legitimate social political force for God’s justice in the world. It is simply a lot less work to support Barak Obama for president than it is to lead our churches into being living communities of righteousness, justice and God’s Mission in the world.

And still more…

I know some expect me to get on the Obama bandwagon, especially those who know of my criticisms of the current president. Yet I continue to want to press for the church to be the primary political instrument of true justice in the world. The church must be FIRST as initiator for social justice, from which we can then push for governmental cooperation. I have always been concerned about the marginal status given the church as the foundational center for justice in society by my various spokesmen/women/friends of the Emerging Church (I hope to review Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change in this light). I know many fear fundamentalist sectarianism. I fear the democratic capitalist Symbolic Order (ala Foucault) shall subsume us all. More and more however, people like Jim Wallis are seeing the insights of a tempered vision of what is possible in national politics (see The Great Awakening). More and more, people are understanding a new possibility for a Hauerwas radical politics (see for example Mark Van Steenwyk here and here). SO GO AHEAD AND BY ALL MEANS VOTE FOR OBAMA, but do not allow false ideology to sap our energy or distract us from the task of being God’s people, his embodied Kingdom in submission to His Lordship, birthing forth His justice amidst the world that was made possible in His death and resurrection until He comes.

There is a lot more in the article…and I’ve got to say that I’m tracking with him on this stuff. We see a rising Christian Left that is likely to fall into all the same traps of the Christian Right. And in the midst of this shift among Evangelicals, is the Church learning to be the Church? Maybe my hope in the Church as the primary location for Christian political action is misplaced? After all, Tony Jones, in his reasonable response to David’s article writes:

David and Mark: You accuse any of us who have hope that a US president might actually be an ally in overcoming the disparities in society of being blinded by our love for him. But I wonder: Is your ecclesiophila blinding you to the fact that the church has rarely been the counter-cultural force that you want it to be? I hope you’ll see in my book, David, that I think the church’s role in society is unique and important, but I’m also a realist that it’s always going to be just as screwed up as it is now. The church is great. I love it. But it’s just not the end-all-be-all. We also have to be engaged in society in myriad other ways: jobs, politics, hospitals, volunteerism, athletics, etc. All sphere’s are God’s.

This is dialog is what blogging is all about! Here we have two men that I know and respect–both very thoughtful people–pinpointing a clear area of disagreement. I am clearly with David on this stuff, but I appreciate Tony’s perspective.

I could say more here, but I will instead chime in on the conversation over there, and I encourage you to jump into the fray! And, if you want to add more fuel to the fire, check out the conversation brewing over an email Tony recently posted on his blog.

Help Me Write a Christarchy Primer

February 22, 2008

Ok, here’s the deal: I’m working on a simple “organizer’s manual” for Christarchy. The idea is to write a quick introduction explaining Christarchy, give ideas for forming a group, and then include 12 short sections with idea for each meeting. Each of these 12 sections will highlight a theme for living a life in radical allegiance to Jesus Christ.

Why 12? Besides being a beautiful number, it is also the number of months in a year, and I would love for a fledgling group to have a year’s worth of help (if they meet monthly). And of course, many groups will do their own thing. I’m simply looking for a way to assist groups that wouldn’t normally organize due to anxiety over the immortal question: “What should we do?”

Each section will include a basic overview of the theme, an encounter with Christ in the gospels, possible discussion questions, and potential steps for action.

Here is what I’ve come up with so far (with some of my thoughts in parenthesis). What would you add? What would you subtract? Help a brother out!

  1. THE JESUS MANIFESTO (an intro to the way of Jesus)
  2. INTO THE MARGINS (the idea of this is to talk about how Jesus gave up power, and built a movement in the fringe)
  3. SUBVERSIVE SPIRITUALITY: ENGAGING THE IMAGINATION OF GOD (this is a lofty section title…what I’m getting at here is the idea that Jesus wasn’t simply wanting his disciples to act differently, but to imagine differently…if Christarchy is just about ethics without first inviting disciples into a new way of seeing, then we’re doing a disservice)
  4. THE ECONOMICS OF JESUS (practicing jubilee)
  5. AROUND THE TABLE (practicing hospitality)
  6. SIMPLICITY (birds have nests…)
  7. RESISTANCE (resisting the Principalities and Powers of our Global Empire)
  8. PEACEMAKING POST-911 (addressing love of enemy both home and abroad)
  9. ALLELON in a CULTURE OF ONE (there is a tendency for radicals to embrace individualism…the whole DIY ethic can easily become one of self-sufficiency at the expense of interdependence)
  10. SUSTAINING THE EARTH (was Jesus an environmentalist?)
  11. CAMPAIGNING FOR JESUS (a life of witness)
  12. STEPPING INTO THE WIND (the role of discernment in the way of Jesus)

My goal is to have a good chunk of this thought out before the New Conspirator’s conference next week. I’ll be leading a session on the Christarchy stuff there (as well as a session on Embodying the Gospel in the Global Empire).

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