10 years with Amy

June 22, 2007

IMAGE_031 Yesterday was our 10 year wedding anniversary.  Amy and I met at Camp Joy when we were 14 years old. I think I had a crush on her from the start.  It took her 2 years before she returned my affection.  We started dating when we were 16.  After 6 months, Amy broke up with me–at a winter retreat at Camp Joy. 

Five years later, we exchanged vows…at Camp Joy.

Yesterday, Amy took the greyhound to be with me on our anniversary.  We spent it at Camp Joy, where I served as the speaker of the week for the 14-17 year olds.  It was a great day.  I had a blast speaking at this place which holds so many memories.  Amy’s parents came out to camp, along with an anniversary cake and our new wedding album. 

I love Amy.  I’ve loved her since we were kids.  And I’ll love her when we’re old and wrinkly. Sometimes I shock myself when I realize that I married Amy Elliott.  I married this cute little smart girl that I’ve had a crush on for more than half of my life.  The same Amy Elliott that intimidated a shy, awkward, chubby 14 year old camper who was new to faith, and had only one friend in his universe. 

I always thought Amy was too good for me.  She had so many friends, had great parents, played piano, was valedictorian, and was in all of the smart-people clubs in school (yet still was pretty popular).  I was right.  She is too good for me.  But she’s never thought so.  She loves me. And I love her.  And I couldn’t be happier with anyone else.

Blogging Vacation…

June 13, 2007

Hey all. It will probably be 2 weeks before my next post.  Tomorrow, I head out of town for the Mennonite Central Plains Conference annual gathering.  I get back just in time to leave for rural Minnesota speak at Camp Joy–the Bible camp where I met Jesus, met Amy, and got married.  

I still have lots to blog about–sorry that I haven’t been able to crank out more posts lately.  I owe you a post about No Sweat Apparel, the next installation of my review of Soul Graffiti, and I want to continue my reflections on Pneumatology.  Ah…there is so little time.  It is hard to blog during the summer months.

Beware the Subtle Shade of Oligarchy

June 11, 2007

Today, Len at NextReformation quotes a 1999 article by Ginny Hunt (the article, in its entirety, can be found here):

Sociologists have discovered that in virtually all forms of social organizations, from friendship groups to nations, a small self-perpetuating group grabs most of the power. This tendency to concentrate power in the hands of a few persons is called the law of oligarchy. Through His various words and actions that we read in the Bible, Jesus condemns oligarchy in social, economic, political and religious spheres of life. Kraybill wrote, ?Designating Himself as a waiter and criticizing the scribes? drive for prestige touches the social area. ? His hard words about economic stratification where rich dominate the poor?The comment that His disciples should not be like the kings of the Gentiles who lord it over their subordinates strikes at oligarchy in the political sphere. Jesus? harsh words and acts against the oral law and the temple demonstrate His rejection of oligarchy in religious institutions.?

image The article proposes rejecting oligarchy for allelon-based ways of organizing (allelon being the Greek word for “one-another”). Here are five principles for allelon-based organizing, based upon Jesus’ way of handling power:

1) Power should be used to help others become powerful. This is the opposite of what usually happens. Power usually begets more power, but in the Kingdom of God, the citizens seek to use power to equalize power.

2) Power should be distributed as widely as possible among individuals and organizations. The law of oligarchy says that power usually concentrates in the hands of a few people. While there will always be varied degrees of power within human organizations, we ought to work to diffuse and decentralize power where possible.

3) Hierarchy in social governance should be reduced to a minimum. Kraybill uses the analogy of a ladder to demonstrate social hierarchies. He says the ladder should be flattened out. As that happens, coordination and cooperation replaces domination.

4) Authority for leadership should be freely given by the led. Leadership should not be imposed on a group nor self-appointed. Leadership naturally arises when it is freely given by the ones being led to the leader in response to the leader?s servant posture.

5) The Christian perspective looks down the ladder. The normal human tendency is to climb the ladder as quickly as possible, but the followers of Jesus work to serve the powerless at the bottom.

As I read the article, I couldn’t help but notice the irony that the organization called “Allelon” has been moving away from these sorts of principles (which were at the heart of Allelon in the beginning). Allelon used to be almost exclusively about fostering conversation. But over time, it has become about a particular ecclesiological/theological agenda (which I happen to affirm), has become centered around the personality of Alan Roxburgh, and has been trying to move into publishing. Does this sound familiar? It is the same trajectory that Emergent has been on. The New Monasticism has begun to move in the same direction as well.

I am the coordinator for the Twin Cities Emergent Cohort. I’m no longer the outsider decrying the “system.” I’m an insider now. I value Emergent and the relationships tied into my involvement with Emergent. I love what we’re trying to accomplish. And I don’t believe that the reason for this is that intentional.  I don’t believe that the shift towards oligarchy has been premeditated, intentional, or desired.  But it is what has happened, subtly. So, I’m conflicted.  However, I have two major critiques.  I offer them as a loving insider, not as a raging outsider:

  1. These groups have moved from decentralized networks that foster conversation to conversation brokers to oligarchical institutions (though, to be fair, institutions that strongly value dialogue, process, and sharing).
  2. Such groups play too much into the consumer mindset–fostering brand identity, celebrity spokespersons, and publishing deals.

Emergent (and Allelon) are both moving away from the empowerment of the many (through conversational events) to an oligarchical orientation. They actively seek the respect of strong institutions like seminaries, denominations, and the like. And they seek to have a strong voice in North American Christianity through publishing deals. These things aren’t “evil” per se. But it is deceptive and sneaky to say that Emergent Village is simply a conversation. It is an institution. That’s not so bad, except that the strong gravity of institutions like Emergent Village and Allelon has exerted a centralizing force on the emerging and missional movements. In other words, instead of organic, decentralized conversations, conversations are happening in the orbits of groups like Emergent and Allelon. Let’s all be honest about the fact that this has happened instead of pretending that nothing has happened.

Such groups have played into the consumer mindset. Both have become brands with clearly identifiable (celebrity) spokespersons. And it is those celebrity voices that shape the “conversation.” In other words, we have an oligarchy. I’ve gotten into a spat or two with Tony Jones about this phenomenon within Emergent. When I first started griping about it, I wasn’t friends with Tony. Now I am. And it makes it all the more difficult to criticize the centralizing effects of Emergent. For the most part, I really enjoy my involvement with Emergent. I enjoy the friendships and the events. But I’m still as uncomfortable as ever with the way in which the conversation orbits around a handful of people.

So, now when I critique Emergent, I’m critiquing myself too. I get that. I’m no longer interested in merely lobbing stones. Instead, I want to make some general suggestions:

  1. Those of us who are active participants in Emergent (or Allelon) should be honest about what our organizations are and not “spin” things to make them sound better.
  2. We should recognize that we’re at a point where such organizations are beginning to dis-empower, as well as empower, folks in the broader emerging/missional church movement.
  3. We should all be willing to speak to the newly forming power structures within our movements. Have candid conversations with those folks whose voices have become dominant in the conversation.
  4. We must kill the Buddha.
  5. Believe it or not, there are ways of fostering conversation, holding events, and accomplishing great things that don’t center around particular personalities, or strengthen particular organizations. When you plan your next event, try to think through whether or not you’re contributing to the centralizing impulse. This is something I’m thinking through as I plan the Justice of Jesus Conference for the spring. It would be too easy to invite particular celebrity voices. And while more folks will show up if I invite celebrities to speak, it can communicate the message that these folks are at a higher level of Christianity or are more important. I need to have solid speakers who have earned the message they’ll share, but who will still be seen as mere mortals. It is a delicate, fragile dance–but one worth dancing.

Most of this is as much our fault as it is the fault of those “inside” the oligarchy.  When I planted Missio Dei, my desire was to foster decentralization.  But my own understanding of how I should lead made it hard to be decentralized.  Even more challenging, though, was that everyone in Missio Dei looked to me to lead them in a way that undermined decentralization.  In other words, the shift towards oligarchism has come because we wanted it.  We want people like Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren and Alan Roxburgh and Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove etc. to come and define “Emerging Church” and “Missional” and “New Monasticism” for us–because that is easier than us having to figure it our for ourselves.  And so, we invite them to come tell us how it is, instead of inviting them to come chat with us. And so, we end up with Oligarchy by will of the people.

My goal here isn’t to promote the destruction of these groups. I’m not about that. But neither do I think status-quo is an option. How do we constructively promote a retreat from the centralizing impulses while, at the same time, a continued fostering of conversation and networking? What do you think?

The Dark Side of Google?

June 10, 2007

imageRecently I posted on the amazing new feature of Google Maps: Google Street View.  Google techs drove through a handful of major cities, collecting images for their mapping database.  Unfortunately, the cameras have picked up images that might be considered embarrassing (check out this pic of a guy checking out some lady in the mission district of San Francisco) or incriminating (some dude outside of a strip club).  In a recent Slate article, Google Streets was jokingly referred to as Google Spy. 

The more ubiquitous these technologies become, and the more they are connected with one company (like Google), the more unsettling they become.  I’m not a conspiracy theorist (someday I’ll post about why I LOATHE conspiracy theories).  I use Google all the time with joy.  But if they wanted to use all the info they have on each of us for nefarious ends, then we’d all be screwed. Seriously.  Think of how many times you’ve had usernames and passwords of various websites sent to you via your gmail account. 

Mr. Google has his hands in everything…and if he were to turn evil, he could not only read my emails, he could read my Google docs and Google spreadsheets.  He could analyze what blogs and newsfeeds I read the most.  He could figure out my search histories if he wanted to. And, soon, he will even have pictures of my house.

Why hasn’t there been a movie about some super tech company trying to take over?

Gardening Revelation: Ground Ivy

June 8, 2007

glechoma.JPGSo, we’re slowly trying to convert our lawn into an urban garden.  We are growing vegetables for our hospitality meals. And one of our biggest gardening and lawn care foes has been our massive amount of Ground Ivy (most commonly called “creeping charlie,” its Latin name is glechoma hederacea).  My wife hates the stuff.  But I kinda like it; it looks cool and doesn’t require mowing.

Well, I just did some research on ground ivy.  And amazingly enough–ground ivy isn’t the simple “weed” that we had suspected.  This humble little invader has a story:

While often thought of as a weed because of its propensity for spreading, Glechoma has culinary and medicinal uses which were the cause of its being imported to America by early European settlers. The fresh herb can be rinsed and steeped in hot water to create an herbal tea which is rich in vitamin C. The essential oil of the plant has many potent medicinal properties; the plant has been used for centuries as a general tonic for colds and coughs and to relieve congestion of the mucous membranes. The plant has been demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory properties. It has also been claimed to increase excretion of lead in the urine. (from wikipedia)

Other sources claim that glechoma is great in salads, stimulates the appetite, has mild sedative effects and is useful for gastritis and indigestion.

Even more amazing, it was one of the primary plants used to clarify beers before hops was introduced.  Hence it is also known by the names alehoof and tunhoof.  It not only made beers clearer, but also added flavor.  In fact, I am chewing on ground ivy right now–it tastes a bit minty.

And so, instead of trying to kill it, we’re going to begin harvesting our abundance of ground ivy.  We’ll wash it, dry it, and use it for tea.

Fair Trade Wednesday: The Phone Call

June 6, 2007

We live in a complicated world; many Christians agree with the basic idea that they should buy justly and live simply, but few change their lifestyles in response. Why not? Because they don’t know where to begin. They are like the fat guy that never exercises and continues to eat poorly because the change required for a healthy life is out of his immediate reach. He doesn’t realize that it all begins with drinking water instead of Mountain Dew and walking to the post office 5 blocks away instead of driving.

image The best place to begin is with the simple things: food and clothing. There are all sorts of local grocery stores that sell fair trade goods. But fair trade clothing is hard to find locally. I should know. A while back I vowed never to buy clothing again unless I got it at a thrift store or it was fair trade. Since I’m a big guy, finding things at the Thrift store is difficult. Eventually, I found a store online where I can buy shirts for a good price–shirts that are Fair Trade, made with organic cotton, and are made in Bethlehem with Palestinian workers even though the company is run by a Jew. This company, No Sweat Apparel, is not only trying to sell clothing ethically, but also to pursue peace in the Middle East. They’ve been featured on al Jazeera, The Jewish Advocate, Sojourners, the Boston Globe, and the New York Times.

And so, I bought a couple shirts and added a link on my blog, and became a part of their affiliates program. A few hours later I got an email from some guy at the company:

Thanks so much for signing up, Mark. Very interesting blog you have there. I’d like the benefit of your advice & possibly assistance. As you may know, we’re doing some interesting work in Bethlehem right now. Here’s al Jazeera’s segment on the subject…

We’re getting just as strong from outlets like the Jewish Advocate. Evidently we’ve found a rare piece of common ground in the Holy Land, on Virgin Mary Street, as chance would have it. I’d like to engage the Christian blogshpere in this ground breaking project & I suspect you may know how best to do that. Can we discuss? If so, what’s a good # & time to call?

I gave him a time to call and watched the video. As I watched the video and looked at the web site, I realized that the guy who emailed me was the owner of the company, Adam Neiman.

Later that week, we chatted on the phone…Adam told me about his family and his company. He was curious about my ministry and surprised to hear about an “emerging” movement of Christians that cared about this sort of stuff that we’re birthed largely out of the evangelical movement. And we schemed about how I could help him get the word out about their company. He suggested that I begin by blogging about No Sweat weekly–to let my fellow emerging bloggers know about his company and what they stand for. In an email conversation, Adam wrote:

…[tracking] this pilgrim’s progress might be interesting. Report an unfolding story in a way traditional media can’t. What we’re engaged in is such an odd blend of the material & the spiritual, right in the very heart of the maelstrom. But it’s also a very common sense, straightforward proposition that doesn’t require any faith at all to support.

I’d like your input here. when I started No Sweat I wanted to preach way beyond the the secular, anti-corporate choir that was the sweatshop movement. With our organics from Bethlehem we can. And the emerging church seems like a perfect fit for what we do. Do you want to discuss further or do you want to start right in & we can discuss as we go? …for total transparency, we might even use the contents of this exchange as a starting place in a blog w/ a short preface. It’s where our conversation began, after all.

And so my blogging journey begins. My goal is to share the story of this one company–No Sweat–as I explore the Fair Trade movement. There are lots of good companies out there, but by focusing on the story of one company, I hope to demystify the movement, and help folks understand the industry.

Evangelicals to take on homelessness

June 6, 2007

I just received the following from an un-named source. It is almost certainly satirical, but it would be nice to imagine that it is true, wouldn’t it?

Evangelicals to take on homelessness

Mega churches in Minnesota could soon double as shelters, group says.

By Janice Potterman, Independent Ecumenical Press Association

MINNEAPOLIS - A network of large Christian churches in Minnesota’s Twin Cities has announced a multi-point plan to fight homelessness. The announcement of the “Twin Cities Open Door Campaign” comes in response to what leaders are calling a “crisis of conscience” and contains many bold measures, most notably, plans to make church building spaces available to overnight guests that will be bussed to and from city centers.

“There are thousands on the street in this town and we’ve got these big, beautiful buildings just sitting here most nights,” said Leith Anderson, Pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie. Anderson, who also heads the National Association of Evangelicals, acknowledged skepticism, “Oh, we know people will think this is a joke, but we’re quite serious. We hope we can provide a brand new model of how something like this might work for churches in other cities where shelters are overcrowded.”

Among the dozens of large and predominantly suburban congregations joining Wooddale are Grace Church (also in Eden Prairie), Eaglebrook Church, Church of the Open Door and Bethlehem Baptist.

“We’re in a unique situation because we’re already right [downtown Minneapolis],” said John Piper, Bethlehem’s pastor. “So, we plan to just open our doors, literally.” Bethlehem will also take busloads of people to their new campus in Mounds View, a Minneapolis suburb.

Keith Meyer, Executive Pastor at Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, offered a glimpse of how a typical night might work once the plan is implemented. “Right around five or six in the evening we’ll all send buses and vans to pick up people from three or four central locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. We’ll make as many trips as we have to and once they’re all out here, we’ll have showers, a hot meal and even personal and career counseling services available.”

Piper echoed Meyer’s enthusiasm, “We want to be comprehensive with this and we need to learn from and work with the shelters that have been doing this work for years. They’re the real pros, but they’re overcrowded and we’ve all got enough space to help.”

Participating churches and their members aren’t free from worry, though. Grace Church, for example, has been petitioned by a large group of its members who feel they weren’t consulted about a decision that will affect them.

“We’re here many times during the week and we’ve got young kids coming here, too,” said Ron Davidson, who has been a part of the large Eden Prairie congregation for three years and is concerned about possible risks. “I mean, you want to be a Good Samaritan, but there’s a line where it’s going beyond just helping people to being taken advantage of.”

Dave Gibson, Pastor of Missions and Outreach at Grace, understands the fears, “Oh, of course it’s scary. We won’t know much about the folks we’re welcoming into our spaces. We don’t know whether or not they believe in God or what sort of behavior they’ll demonstrate when they’re here. All we know is that they are hungry and they could use a good night’s rest. As long as we’ve got this building and the means to get them here, I think it’s our Christian responsibility to share the gifts we’ve been given, even if that means dealing with some necessary risk. We’re going into this with our eyes and hearts open.”

Anderson thinks his congregation is ready. “We’ve been talking for years about what it means to follow Jesus and live out the gospel. This is where the rubber will meet the road for us as a church. Are we serious about living for others, or are we serious about doing religion and staying safe?”

Anderson’s leadership of the Open Door Campaign has irked some of his colleagues at the NAE. A board member who asked to remain unnamed said, “One pastor making a rogue decision for his church and their budget is one thing, but this sort of coordinated plan without much consultation and debate is just plain reckless. Leith doesn’t just speak for his church or a few Minnesota churches. He’s supposed to be the voice for all Evangelicals. I wish he’d reconsider.”

Anderson again acknowledged critics of the plan, “As I said, there are those who probably hope we’re joking here. Is it reckless? Sure. It could cost us everything, I’ll admit that. But until our society is able to get at the root of poverty, we can’t keep calling ourselves followers of Jesus and then shut our doors to those in need.”

Leaders say the plan will be rolled out slowly over the next few months, but expect to be operating at full capacity by January 2008.

“We’ve gotta buy more buses and vans and of course thousands of storable cots, but we’re already working on that,” Piper said. “The real goal is that, once it gets cold next winter, our neighbors will be off the streets at night and into any number of our large, heated, comfortable buildings.”

Anderson, who became visibly emotional, added, “I can think of nothing more holy than making this happen by Christmas. We’re not going to have another Christmas where there’s no room in the inn. We want to be there, welcoming the Christ in each and every person that walks off those buses and through our doors.”

Why should I care about Fair Trade?

June 5, 2007

imageTomorrow, I’ll post the first of a series of weekly posts. I’ve entered into a relationship with No Sweat Apparel, and have agreed to post weekly about the company and my journey with them. But before I embark upon this series of weekly posts, I want to explain why I have committed the time and energy to promote their company. After all, that might like an odd thing for a Christian Anarchist to do.

Anyone who has been reading my blog for more than a week knows that I have set myself against the soul-numbing effects of commodification and consumerism. Consumerism presents Christians with a double-whammy:

  1. the lens of consumerism has turned faith into a commodity turning Christianity into a product and Jesus into a brand symbol.
  2. the consumer capitalist system has abstracted our commodities in such a way that we don’t realize how our spending habits not only foster, but also codify, systemic injustice.

And so, Jesus has become packaged and our spending habits have implicated us in crimes against the “least of these.” In either case, our commitment to Christ has become subordinated to something else.

The solution to point number 1 above, as Vincent Miller points out in his book Consuming Religion, is for the church to live out an embodied Christ-centered ethic. The solution to point number 2 is for us to change our relationship with our money–and to subordinate our spending habits to Christ. In both cases, we need to be just in our spending, and live out our faith in such a way that our possessions serve the Kingdom and promote justice.

We need to stop spending money on crap–for the sake of our own souls–and spend money on things that matter. And those products should come from companies that pay their workers a living wage. It is pretty simple. I think the only reason many conservative Christians resist the Fair Trade movement is because they think it is a liberal cause–and reject it simply because it is liberal. But there are NO GOOD REASONS why Christians shouldn’t embrace the fair trade movement.

Divine Hours Pocket Edition

June 5, 2007

Well, I’ve labored for the past 6 months or so for the past 6 months I’ve been putting my feelers out to find interest for a breviary. The response has been either “not interested” or “you’re not a big enough celebrity” or “that sounds cool–we’ve got the same idea, you should jump on board with what WE’RE doing.”

I’m not very sure that there is a big market for breviaries among emerging folks. But if there is, the need is likely to be met by the newly published Pocket Edition of the Divine Hours.

I’ve gotten nibbles, but few bites. And as I struggle in obscurity to find sustainability for my community and our campus ministry, I don’t want to waste my time with dead ends.

It is hard to have great ideas, but to not be able see them come to light because I lack a big enough platform. I know that many of you are in the same boat. And it is an awkward boat to live in. It makes me worry about whether or not the Jesus Manifesto book will find a readership. And this worrying is constipating my writing.

I’m a guy who just wants to be able to give his life to ministry in his neighborhood, and occasionally be able to speak to a wider audience about the things that are important to me. But to do that our community needs to find a sustainable balance. In my gut, I feel that writing is a way for me to move towards that, but it has been a struggle.

So, I’m asking for your serious input: is it worthwhile for me to keep pursuing this book of prayer project (which is basically a book of prayer with a supplemental spiritual exercises and missional practices section)?

Also, I’d like to hear about your experiences. Are you a part of a small church or ministry that does great work, but struggles with sustainability? How do you sustain yourselves in ministry?

Man Shot Outside of Palmers

June 4, 2007

DSC03109 A man was shot in the early hours of the morning today in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood:

A beef over an alleged robbery lead to the shooting death Sunday night of a man outside a Minneapolis bar, police said.

The victim and another man starting arguing at Palmer’s Bar at 500 Cedar Av. S. in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. The victim accused the man of robbing him, which the man denied, police said. They were going to fight outside the bar, but for some reason the man changed his mind.

The victim then got into his car and drove in front of the bar. The man he had been arguing with fired several shots into the car, police said. The victim stumbled out of his car and died.

imageTonight Missio Dei will be having a simple candlelight vigil near where this man died. It is an awkward things to do, but this sort of violence happens in plain view in the middle of the neighborhood, witness for peace should also happen in plain view in the middle of the neighborhood.

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