Thursday, December 14, 2006

Broken and Back

First new post in two months! For the few of you out there who follow my blog, I am back, sorry for the delay, it was inevitable.

You remember I had a hard summer, well I had an even harder fall. I am not some complainer, but God has seen fit to mold me some more in ways that are harder than anything I've gone through in decades. I am here, and my little church is here, and I am amazed that it survived. After a brutal summer where my little church seemed to be falling apart, I thought I was due a time of refreshment and blessing, instead I got the dial turned up. It made my summer feel like a caribbean cruise.

Basically I had a perfect storm of events all hit me and my church all at once and it left me literally homeless, broke, wandering around in a stupor for a month, completely ready to close the church, sad, lonely, cut off from desperately needed resources because I am an emergent leader by powers that be and just sitting there waiting for God to show up and teach me what I was supposed to learn, and re-direct me to where I was supposed to go. I don't want to be overly dramatic, but just so you understand why I couldn't post at all, I had a month where I was literally in a stupor. I was walking around like a zombie - the reality I was living was so far removed from anything I was prepared to understand that I didnt have anything to say or think or do but survive by looking for work to make money.

Now I've learned what he wanted me to learn, at least THE BIG THING. Cota is going forward by teaming with another church whose pastor has been a lifeline for me. Community is what I've always wanted, and it's through community that God has allowed me to resuscitate. I'm actually quite full of joy now as I look forward to many wonderful things that will come out of this new partnership.

Please pray that we will have wisdom in how to structure our relationship - something like a merge, or you could say, we will come alongside each other for some time, and later we will be launched again as our own church - something like that, it's still being worked out. But the key is that I will be doing it with more people than before, and that is wonderful.

The deep inner things God has done in me I'm not quite prepared to talk about in public, but I'm sure I will in the future. I do feel freed and glad to have gone through what I did in order to gain more of God and less of me - or a more "whole" me. Sorry to be vague on this, but it needs some time to settle.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Amahoro means peace. It is a word of Bantu origin used widely across Africa. It has special meaning in places like Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo, where violence and genocide have inflicted such pain and suffering. When people from various tribes embrace, shake hands or kiss, and say "amahoro," they are expressing a deep hope for a better future.

Amahoro my friends. This is a post I'm very passionate about and it has been simmering under the surface for some time while I was busy with so many church creation difficulties on the surface.

There are moments when things find their tipping point, the tip over and all this stuff flows out and starts a whole new reality.

Here is a prophetic statement that I have been feeling for some time - in terms of the emerging church "conversation" evolving from it's early conversation stage to its full blown movement stage - I feel that in a spiritual way and a body of Christ being prepared and ready kind of way - that this big meeting taking place in Uganda in May of 2007 will be one of the biggest, if not the actual moment when this thing tips over and just blows up in so many awesome ways into full fledged movement. You won't see it in April, but a year or two later when you look back, there will be evidence that this was the moment. End of prophetic statment.

What is this big meeting.? It is when disoriented westerners like us, trying to find our way forward in the aftermath of modernity, and stumbling into postmodernity and whatever that becomes, have a chance to get together with the folks at the center of God's movement on the earth - African church leaders.

As we are emerging from modernity, they are emerging from colonialism. Both of us are in this total space of emergence from the old and into the new. It is time now for us to meet, make friendships and fellowship with a sense that we have much to learn from one another. And probably we from the west will have the most to learn.

There's a lot of wonderful details about how it is going to be held - three segments, first a series of meetings together, then a time of travelling in smaller teams back to their home bases and churches and seeing their world, then a time together with just the westerners at the end to bring it all together and see what we're learning.

There are still openings for westerners, and they also need funds to help cover the expenses of the Africans. I have been longing to go to this since it was first announced a while ago. I want to be there when everyone is gathered at the table and the Lord brings down the hammer (which crashes through all the confusion and listlessness of transitional moments) and moves us to the next phase. Wow, what a historic moment.

Check it out

Friday, October 13, 2006

Cota goes Academic

This week we had a seminarian from Union Theological Seminary (The Seminary connected to Columbia University, and where Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught before returning to Germany to help the church oppose the Nazi's) visit with us. We discovered that we are now listed on Union's list of churches to visit for first year seminarians.

Here's how he described the listing....."a list of what our professors are calling "post-denominational" churches, the short description for Commuion of the Arts is "post-evangelical, with active artistic participation. Experimentally Eucharistic"
The class is called "Christianities in the City" and it is meant to introduce us to the diversity of Christianity through the unique perspective of the city, in particular New York."

Yes, I like that very much..."post-evangelical, with active artistic participation. Experimentally Eucharistic" Very spot on description of us.


When the seed bursts, the plant then suddenly spreads asunder. At that instant it feels that it is being dissolved, after lying so long narrowly folded in the seed. On the contrary it gains a new world.... Birth must seem to the new-born babe what death seems to us--the annihilation of all the conditions which had hitherto made life possible in the womb of its mother, but proved to be its emergence into a wider life.

Gustave Fechner
Life After Death (1836)

This was todays "daily asterisk" the daily email I enjoy from "culture is not optional" (cino)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Surfing For a Story and a Home

People inhabit stories – surfer, political type, artist, jock….

The Modern era had a few big stories that gave coherence to everyone, that everybody kind of bought into – for example, even though a surfer, you were also an American and listened to the same music as the politico and the jock. Fashion had the big look of the season, and you had it or didn’t.

But now in the post-modern era there are so many stories flying all around everywhere, that ultimately the confusion leads to nobody having a story. You can wear whatever you want, the music industry is segmented unbelievably – there are just so many channels to choose from, that you end up “story surfing” so much that you never really have one story to call home and come out of the streets and into.

This leads to weariness.

The church needs to be the place that people can go to experience a coherent story that gives meaning to their life and a place to rest from their weariness.

The community of the church needs to live out its story in two ways – in relational lifestyle – making and keeping promises to be there for one another over the long term. And in the liturgy; the liturgy is the place where we will literally create a habitable reality – a story which people can inhabit with coherence leading to rest.

Your life’s reality is the story you inhabit. The surfer dude spends ten years of his life wearing clothes, talking with a specific language and hanging out with others just like him. The story of “surfer dude” is the actual reality he lived.

The liturgy needs to be so artistically moving that it pulls us in and tells a story we can be inspired by - just as we are at a rock concert or football game.

The liturgy has to have the artistic depth to draw us in with desire every week. We have to want to keep coming back for more.

If we can tell a powerful story in the liturgy that creates a habitable world, and make it legitimate by the way we live our lives communally, by making promises to be there for one another and keeping them – then the church will be a welcome haven for the weary souls “surfing” through life without a story or warm bed to come home to.

– Most of the ideas here were inspired by Robert W. Jensen in his article, “How the World Lost its Story” published in First Things.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Cota Website Down

Sorry to report we've had some communication problems with our website and the email connected to it -

Our Sunday gathering is at 11am
Lamb's Theater
130 W 44th St.
(between 6th & 7th Ave.)
5th Floor

My email is
cell phone 917-553-6843

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"the words of your heart..."

We had this big Brian Mclaren meeting which you can read about in the early posts of this blog. When I got up to talk for a few minutes about our hopes for this new faith gathering, I blurted out something which I had thought about a number of times, but had never planned on saying in public quite so straighforwardly.

"I'm starting this church because I'm lonely and I don't have enough love in my life"

Everyone including myself was kind of stunned by those words.

But it turned out to be a really wonderful thing that made a lot of people listen, and feel something real was happening. My team remembers it like a moment frozen in history.

My motivation remains the same.

My "summer absent" community is now reconverging on NYC, and all I am looking forward to doing is to spending time with them, loving and being loved. We made a good start in the spring, but we have so far to go in discovering one another.

Bon Voyage, social isolation! And good riddance, don't let the door slam your a** on the way out!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Social Isolation Growing in U.S., Study Says

"Americans are far more socially isolated today than they were two decades ago, and a sharply growing number of people say they have no one in whom they can confide, according to a comprehensive new evaluation of the decline of social ties in the United States.

The comprehensive new study paints a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties -- once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits -- are shrinking or nonexistent. In bad times, far more people appear to suffer alone."

Wow, a friend brought this Washington Post article from June 23rd to my attention. This is a big part of what motivates me to build a community of people - to bring people together in deeply bonded relationships.

I'm constantly using the word, "fragmented" to describe our social reality, and this study proves what we already observe on our own.

This is such a time for the church to reform aspects of itself that lead away from community forming, and to do the opposite. For example, a few leaders holding all the spiritual responsibility and running programs just kills the opportunity for gifted folks to use their spiritual gifts to serve and bless others and build relationships.

Sitting next to someone mutually experiencing a performance or program is not the same as engaging with the person side by side in a project together that gets you both involved serving others and allows you to build the bonds of working side by side. But we just deny that over and over again when we invite people to attend a service, and they sit there and watch it, and go home just as fragmented as they arrived.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Blessed Relief

Thanks to all who have prayed for me during this "brutal" time as in the post below. I am glad to announce that the Lord has brought me out of that and shown me that I was going through a 40 day time in the desert - from late June through all of July.

In the midst of it, I had a few oasis of respite, and I was about to write a new post a number of times, but then I was right back into the desert before I could get to the post. Then I was glad I hadn't posted because it would have been...I'm I'm not...wait, I'm better...crap, I still am going through this....

But finally after some good time out of it, the Lord showed me that it was over. I look forward to some more posts on what I learned, but I thought I would get this up here for now.

Thanks for your many prayers and encouragements.

As I told some of my people now and previously - the blessing of a pastor that walks beside you as a fellow journeyer is that he is real, and your friend, and treats you with respect like an equal, and really teaches you the way to walk with Christ. The way through suffering to blessing...but the downside is that you don't get the "role model" to give you a false sense of hope that someday you also could live in a trouble free world and be a super Christian with no problems or struggles and only enjoy increasing prosperity of heart and pocketbook.

The first is real and really equips you for life, the second only sets you up for disappointment and creates community where upward mobility in leadership is sought after for the social benefits and perceived spiritual benefits. And when it is discovered that neither exist, fakeness is created so that all who have become leaders can at least pretend that they got all that they wanted so those below will still look up to them at least and they will have that benefit. The fakeness is perpetuated from one disillusioned generation to the next, until reform comes.

The main thing God has been doing in my heart during this time is centering me. Helping me to become truly and fully just me before him. When I am simply myself, it helps me to seek simply him, and to have a simple faith in the simple him. Fortunately the simple Him is the huge loving God of the universe that he is, who wants to lavish love on all who come to him and to make them right and through them to make the world right.

Awesome to walk through pain and suffering and find God.

Monday, July 10, 2006


This blog is supposed to be about the journey of starting a church within the NYC art community, but it also goes into general emerging stuff also. This post is very much about our journey.

We are on a bumpy part of the road, rather than a boat in a storm, we are a sailboat in the doldrums. No wind, really hot.

70% of our congregation is gone for the whole summer - and when you have 20 people and only 5 are left, it's quite hard to hold a meeting. After two and a half years of struggling and battling, with amazing miracles and signs of growth, to suddenly hit this wall of nothingness has been brutal. The only word is brutal.

To make it worse, the building that I live in, and that the church meets in has just been sold and we need to vacate by Sept. 1st. Finding space in NYC is very difficult, and with human and other resources so low this summer, it adds it right into the brutal category.

I'm going to God for my strength, but I have been quite depressed for two weeks now. So, there you have the journey...brutal and depressed. If anyone in the future ever gives me any grief about taking a salary or having too much power in the churches decisions, I am going to just remember this brutal, hot, dry doldrums and ignore them completely. They weren't here.

I'm not despairing, but I am depressed. I know God is with me, but it's still brutal.

By the way, I knew this was coming, I just didn't think it would be this bad. The other ministry I used to be a part of here with NYC artists, would just take the whole summer off because of this same thing. I'm hoping next year we have 50 people going into the summer, so then we can carry on with 20...that would be fine.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Cohort Table

We had our first NYC Emergent Village Cohort gathering last week. It was a great group of people, and as we expect here in NYC white males were in the minority!!

Brian McLaren is often asked whether EC is just a conversation, or a movement. He says that he does not want to see it become a movement until all the parties are at the table - that we need to hear from the leaders of the churches in postcolonial countries and from more groups other than white suburban evangelical males in the US.

Well, here in NYC we are urban, we are from pentecostal, mainline and evangelical churches (hoping for some Catholic's soon), we are decidedly multi-ethnic and of both genders, we are even multi-national - we are all here.

I've heard people say it's important to invite others to the table...that is true for those in the institutional center...the ones with power....but for us on the fringes, we have to build our own table.

So, we're all here in NYC, and we are going to build the table together and sit at it. No one's inviting anyone to this table, we're building it together like the Amish. It's a barn raising.

So, come meet your Amish neighbors once a month at the Cohort if you live in NYC. You may need a barn one day.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The DaChristy Code

What is the secret that links these three men together, and the conspiracy that through them is controlling a major portion of the emergent churches that are being planted in major U.S. cities?

New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis…These three emergent church pastors barely know one another, yet a single influence has surreptiously worked among them to keep them all on a similar path of personal warmth and kindness to strangers.

What clues can be found in this photograph (look closely)…something about Christ….about loving Christ…NO! Wait!...Not Christ – that’s too obvious….Christy…Yes!...loving Christy!!!

But what is the connection between Christ and Christmas and this purported Christy figure???

Hmmm...Merry…a commonly used word around Christmas time…it’s coming together…if I could just understand the connection between the word Merry and this Christy figure…???

Wait, I’m looking at it backwards! If I just take the words….and change their positions…Merry….Christy…now…Christy…Merry…That’s it! Christy Merry!!!

That is what I see buried in the photograph…They are all connected to and love Christy...see, it says We Love Christy, who is one and the same with this Christy Merry!

Mystery solved…one woman, named Christy Merry helped plant each of these emergent churches. That’s right, she lived in Minneapolis and planted Bluer, pastored by John Musick (in the middle), then she moved to Los Angeles and planted Kairos with JR Woodward (on the right side), and then she moved to New York City and planted Communion of the Arts (Cota) with Jeff Kursonis (on the left).

Wow, one woman is really at the center of this whole emerging church conspiracy, she single handedly helped plant three of the most well known emergent churches in the USA. Her name is Christy Merry, and we all thank her for her warmth, and hard work, and especially for her gift of gathering people in, especially, “the other”, the stranger.

We Love You Christy, see, our shirts say so.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Crack

I just read a long series of comments following this post, the main thrust of which was trying to understand the emerging church movement in light of a whole series of criteria, all of them current or modern ways of thinking, and trying to make sense of emergent within those modes of thinking. I was overwhelmed by a sense that they would never get it if they didn’t realize that they couldn’t analyze it from a modern perspective. Such a perspective rigidity would fundamentally lead to misunderstanding…here is my comment:

I really enjoyed reading all your comments, what a wise and charitable group you are.

The one biggest feeling that emerges within me after reading all these is that indeed there is a difficulty in trying to explain or in trying to understand what the emerging church movement is.

I think it is because it is something billowing up from the innards of a wide and diverse group of people that have for the first time been freed from thinking in only a modern milieu, that through the crack that this little postmodernity thing has ripped open in the massive backside of modernity, a new perspective has been achieved; actually for the first time in a really long time, a totally new perspective has been found. It is the one afforded to those who look out the crack.

Some people are peeping out that crack and things are billowing up within them. They are trying to describe it, but even they themselves do not really understand what it is they are seeing, they only know they are drawn to it forcefully, and that they have a new ability to think and feel things they never imagined.

Others are looking at them and what they are saying, and sometimes without also sharing that view out the crack, are unable to process their comments because they simply are not experiencing this totally new perspective offered.

Many are now climbing up to the crack, to take a look, others are just too busy with their good lives and responsibilities to have the time to take a look. Not to say they wouldn't if they had a few minutes respite from their responsibilities.

Truly this crack has afforded a totally original view, a perspective that cannot be understood from prior categories.

I'm trying to actually climb out of the crack and get to the other side (emerge). Many will prefer to stay where they are, and that is fine, and many will be very curious and get up there and peer out the crack and talk to the others who are doing so and who are feeling something billowing up within them. There's a big feeling component to it, you can't necessarily understand it all now, it's more that you have to feel it.

I totally understand the consternation this kind of language might bring to some, and I just smile humbly to myself as I pitch my axe head a few feet higher and continue to climb. I am going to figure out how I have become more socially liberal and yet more deeply pious at the same time. I am going to find out why I am becoming more concerned about loving people in general than I am about converting them.

I'm hoping to find some clue as to why these things are billowing up within me like when I sense within myself a total dedication to God’s Kingdom and the drawing of others into it, yet I feel more and more like a universalist because of Jesus. How does my great belief in Jesus the Word, the Word is God exist at the same time that I am losing my inerrant view of scripture and replacing it with a sense of wonder at its humanness; and a feeling that that very humanness and its inherent mistakes and missteps causes me to believe even more in a God who's so interested in me a human, that he not only became a human but spoke forth his Word through human frailty.

How is it that I’m becoming far more interested in my humanness and in the greater community of humans I live with the more I try to walk in the Spirit? How did I, a lover of Keith Green and imbiber of his anti-Catholic views become so fascinated with liturgy and Eucharist and Pope JPII and the complete sense that I have no more need to protest?

I’m not sure I totally understand how a Southern California Republican lover of Reagan like me become a sojourner of the new religious left; partly it’s because I wanted to be in solidarity with my New York City community and because post 9/11 the word fundamentalist viscerally scares me, but I still don’t totally understand how this happened to me.

I'm definitely a new kind of Christian and all my old kind of Christian’s friends’ attempts to understand these changes in me all seem to lack any awareness of, or sense of, my totally new and original perspective out the crack. Somehow looking out the crack has changed me.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A New Coordinating Group Emerges

I just returned from the Emergent Coordinating Group meeting in Minneapolis. It was such an amazing gathering of likeminded people of faith set on reforming our tired and broken church so that God's Kingdom can be on earth as it is in heaven. I just watched the movie, The Patriot, at the end of the war, surrounded, Cornwallis realizes that these farmers and commoners had defeated the British Crown, he says, "Everything will change, everything has changed". He realized that right there on that day, the balance of things had been fundamentally altered. It would take a while to be played out and understood, but that this new thing was replacing the old thing.

Some might not like the "tired and broken" language, but I don't think we would need such passionate progressiveness if the church were anything less. A church that is hemorrhaging like ours where, for example, the people of my community utterly despise it, is a church that is is not vibrant, but tired, and not whole, but broken. I cannot apologize for such language (and I stand in pretty good company when the Prophets and Jesus describe the state of Israel or the church), I can only reform with all of God's strength that he pours through me. (don't worry, I don't take myself too seriously, and I do kind of laugh at my hotheadedness, but oh well, what would the world or the arts be without passion?). Things are set in motion, the church will be different from what it was...but how different it will be, and whether it will be actually better, are still to be decided

Now on to some of my reflections of the gathering: One of the people I was looking forward to meeting was Jaime Arpin-Ricci, a fellow YWAM'er and great writer and understander of emergent. So there he was in the driveway of Doug Pagitt's house, when we returned from the weekend at Tony Jones cabin. We had just dropped Tony off at home, and I drove Jaime over to Solomon's Porch in Tony's van. We had a wonderful time chatting as we attempted to get around Lake Harriet which got in the way of our direct route. So we went around it, and when I felt I had gone far enough I tried to carry on towards the Porch, but discovered that I had driven all the way around the lake and was back where we started! Awesome, more time to talk to Jaime! For an excellent overview of the meetings, read the two posts on Jaime's blog, and subscribe to it, it's a good one.

I went early to enjoy the Summer Institute that Solomon's Porch had the week before. I hoped to connect to some great Emergent's and Porcher's, and I was not disappointed. I have never met such a wonderful, warm, hospitable group of people. I really wanted to move there and live among them. Thanks to Matt Henry and Cory Carlson for their hosting of me in their home, and to Luke Hillstead and the wonderful art group that gave me a wonderful evening at the Walker Art Museum. I will never forget the cathedral bells ringing across the street and captured in the bowl of a field where we stood behind the museum...the sound was mezmerizing.

Then my poor tired weary two and a half years of church planting bones were treated to a weekend on the lake at Tony Jones family cabin. What a great group of guys that went up there and just talked and talked and ate and drank and cruised the lake in the pontoon boat. Mark Scandrette is now one of my buddies and hero's. What a man.

What a journey from when I called Tony last year to see if he or Brian McLaren could come speak at our summer TALK About Church preliminary meetings, and he said, "Well, Brian's sitting here in the car next to me"...and they were driving home from the Emergent Coordinating Group meeting that they had held in the cabin. One year later, and I'm at the cabin. Wow, what a thrill and significant part of the history of our young COTA.

I went to this meeting determined to find a role and carry some of the weight of the work of coordinating this conversation, and being ready to hear and sense when the Lord would transition it to a full blown movment. I sense that transition will take place at different times in different places, and that it will be soon. I did accept a new responsibility within Emergent Village that I will discuss later after I actually begin to do it, and that will coincide with the launch of the new EV website.

Wisely, one of the big decisions was to fully embrace the name Emergent Village instead of just "emergent". It has been so confusing to explain emergent (the organization) is different from the emerging church, and sometimes churches or individuals or the whole thing are described as emergent. So now it will be simpler to just say Emergent Village when refering to the organization.

Thanks to everyone who came and touched my heart, and gave me hope for a future whole and vibrant church where NYC artists and other regions post-Christians can look to the church as the place where they can come to find Jesus. Where the church will be an innovator in the arts and true community will introduce real love to many for the first time.

Friday, June 02, 2006

My First Wedding and Big Announcement

Well, that's it, I'm a marrying man.

I had a wonderful time this weekend presiding at the nuptials of a wonderful young couple that comes from a couple of wonderful families. In particular, I was adopted by the Bride's family. I spent the weekend with them and they treated me with such love and hospitality that I'm probably good for another year of singleness.

I was refered to this lovefest by a person I respect very much and was able to get to know a lot of people that he has known for years, including sitting next to one of his mentors at the reception. The result is that I feel closer to him and was glad to have his trust in refering me and to be able to perform the wedding that he couldn't.

Interestingly, the first half of the wedding was a Hindu ceremony, which was very earthy with sprinkinling of spices and lots of flowers and fruit. The whole thing takes place up front with the couple, and their parents at times, and has little interaction with the audience. I would like to see how some of the growing theology of our forgotten humanity could express itself in Christian ceremonies that could be less about talking and assenting to facts and more about physical earthiness and touch and movement. We are seeing this in our liturgies, it will be interesting to see it in our marriage ceremonies.

Here's the big announcement...I was asked a few weeks ago to join Emergents Coordinating Group, and I'm going next week to the yearly gathering. I was shocked and deeply touched and amazingly encouraged to be asked. Emergent is my people, and so I am thrilled to be able to join hands and help do the work of coordinating this amazing and fruitful conversation.

Also, the NYC Emergent Cohort has its first meeting on June 23rd here in Manhattan. We already have a good group of people from all over the map on the list and expect quite a time together. Email me to be on the list, or comment below and I'll get it.

I feel like a rock band that is struggling locally, but is huge in Belgium. My little church is entering a tough summer lull, but so many exciting emergent things are happening. I'm always emailing people from all over the globe. I have meetings with amazing people that either live here or are passing through NYC...the friendship and the conversation is very warm and stimulating (unfortunately, my poor team members don't get to experience this side of things and are quite discouraged with the summer lull, see post below).

So, we are full with the good and the deeply challenging. Lord be with us, help us.

The Agony of NYC Summers

Arrrgggghhhhh. After nine hard months of church planting, the summer comes and 2/3rds of our people are uprooted, leaving our plant very shaky.

Of my eight core team members, only two are here. Another one will be here some this summer, and the other not sure. Four key people gone for the whole freakin' summer. Arrrggghhhh.

This is what happens when you have very cool artists - they do cool things in the summer.

Dear Lord, send help and some new people to carry the load for the hot summer in the city, and encourage my remaining few who see little results for all their hard work.

I am not as discouraged because I see so many amazing things happening behind the scenes, and I see awesome growth and community in the fall...but they don't have the benefit of my perspective, from where I stand. I hurt for them.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Fourth Sunday & A Wedding

We had our fourth Sunday this week. It was the first time I was really able to relax.

Because we have the problem of a bunch of our key people starting to be out of town for the summer, we have had to pull back a bit and be a little more low key. We had started with a bang, and that was kind of necessary, but now we are simplifying. For me that makes it more enjoyable - more intimate, more relaxed. We are still fairly small so it makes sense to pull the circle in tighter and be more intimate.

It also makes it easier to plan and run. It gives me a chance to get used to things, sense the flow, and then in the fall when everyone is back, and following the seasonal flow of NYC - that the fall is the big exciting time of everything starting for the new year, we will ramp up again and do more stuff.

Also, an exciting development for me - I am going to officiate my first wedding! I was contacted through friends of a friend, and following a series of get togethers with the family and the couple, I am going to perform their wedding in late May. I'm really enjoying the process of figuring out how they want to do it and stepping into this area of being a pastor.

Minister's have a cultural role in our society, and it's interesting and enjoyable to me to begin to take the mantle of that role. Of course, I am doing everything else in the church crazy new and progressive, in terms of the role of the pastor, so its fun to kind of realize, "oh, yeah, there are just straightforward areas where I don't have to be so progressive, where I can just be a minister, and do what minister's are supposed to do".

Monday, May 01, 2006

Wonderful Weekend of Authors

So, now we have three Sunday gatherings under our belt and we're feeling a little better about everything in terms of logistics.

This Sunday we had a wonderful time with our special guests Becky Garrison and Paul Thorson and his family.

Becky and Paul got hooked up by their Christian publisher's while Paul is here in NYC to do many things and amongst them help launch his first book, Painting in the Dark, which comes out on Tuesday. Becky is one of the few NYC emergents I have met, but we both can see that there are soon to be many more (more on that later). She has been writing for the Wittenburg Door for many years, and her new book, Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church : Eyewitness Accounts of How American Churches are Hijacking Jesus, Bagging the Beatitudes, and Worshipping the Almighty Dollar, just came out.

Paul came and shared with us at Cota, both his music and the great things God has been teaching him about how we all are made for glory - but we don't know whether to believe it when we sense it or repent of it. Instead we often end up pursuing our own diminished form of glory by working hard to build and maintain our reputation. His book goes into great detail how to understand all this, and how to walk with God and embrace your weakness so God can fill you with his strength, and his glory.

When he first talked to me about this a couple days earlier, I thought of the ubiquitous scene across generations and cultures of a young child shooting baskets, and while he is dribbling and setting to shoot, he is simultaneously mimicking a sports announcer who is describing the play by play of the child's own actions..."he fakes left...turns...plants...he shoots!...he scores!...(sound of crowd cheering). What the innocent child is doing is recreating a moment of glory. It's about the feeling of glory the athlete has when his amazing performance causes thousands to vocalize their thrill. They are giving glory to the athlete, and amazingly, it is glory well deserved.

The athlete overcame great obstacles to acheive the goal, and he glows with the sense of a job well done. We were made for that. We were made to be the most amazing humans. We were made to bring out all the fulness of love and giving and service and creativity that God intended humans to have, against all the obstacles of this evil world that wants to stop us. God loves when we live in that ever expanding way, that he knows is only possible when the human lives as he was intended to - full of God's Spirit - flowing and operating out of that spiritual strength within his body, and overcoming all the outer and inner forces that try to stop that flow.

The whole Christian life, the process of maturing, is the process of learning how to get that flow. It has been arranged by God a certain way, and all the characters of the bible culminating in Jesus show us through their lives how it comes about.

Paul has a church in Kiev, Ukraine that is primarily full of artists like Cota. So, if I can talk him into it, (which means I pray really hard and get the Holy Spirit to command him to do it, because I know he'll obey), maybe we will be sister churches of artists.

I also got a chance to hook Paul up with Tony Jones who was in town briefly.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Our First Sunday Gathering! Awesome! Whew!

This blog was started to record the journey of starting a new kind of church for the NYC artistic community (which includes anyone who loves the arts - many non-artists), and to be a place for discussion of Art & Faith issues.

Well, we have reached a major milestone - our first full Sunday worship gathering.

Just to let you know, we didn't choose Sunday morning for traditional reasons - we were desiring to find the best time, whether on Saturday, Sunday or Friday, to have a weekend gathering with a full worship liturgy. It turns out after talking to a lot of people and doing a poll, for our demographic - people in the NYC artistic community, that Sunday morning is the one time that everyone is available. Many have shows on Sat. night, rehearsals on Sat. afternoon, and either shows or dates on Friday night.

So for me, this has been a two and a half year journey, for the team a nine month or so journey, and there is a great sense of joy, excitement and relief.

We were humming along on Thursdays, slowly adding elements and refining others, and in December we had abandoned our previous plan to start Sundays on a pre-set date, and go instead in a more organic way - when we were ready and the Lord led us, we would go to Sundays.

So, it was only 3-4 weeks ago that it all lined up and we prayerfully decided to move to Sundays. It has been a whirlwind to do it so quickly, but that suited us well.

We had a weekend retreat the weekend before to pray and plan, and there we came up with a final amazing actual layout of the gathering. Then the whole week leading up we had a number of meetings and work times to prepare - I was exhausted by Saturday night, but amazingly peaceful and rested on the Easter morning of the gathering.

Everything went so well, and we were all amazed at how all these disparate parts came together, and how our giftings melded so well, and out of all that came this beautiful space and worshipful gathering. I've written a description of the gathering below.

One thing I want to highlight in this blog for others church planting or considering it. Prayer has been the key for us, our modus operandi. We never talk and discuss ideas and plans without having prayed first. We want to be in that post-prayer, spirit led, state of mind when we discuss and make decisions about something as important as the body of Christ and how it gathers to worship.

We truly believe that Jesus leads the church, and so we would never presume to think we know what to do without hearing from Him first. After we pray, we trust that he will lead us and we get crazy creative.

It has been so thrilling for me to watch my dream come true - to have artists create an entirely original worship liturgy. The team that God has gathered to do this have just an amazing set of gifts to envision and execute wildly creative original ideas.

So now we look forward to growing and developing as a body of Christ - to love one another as God has loved us, and to draw people to God's love.

Here's a description of our inaugural Sunday worship gathering:
As for our first Sunday gathering, wow, what an amazing day it was. We transformed this room we have here in the Lamb's theater - ceiling drapes billowing out in all directions. Japanese rice paper lamps, many candles.

In the beginning, we had everyone outside, and the team stood in a circle around the chairs, which were in an oval circle, and we hummed a tune of greeting while the people came in and each received a flower, and then joined with our simple hum to continue greeting the rest coming in, all accompanied by jembe drum and guitar.

After everyone was in and we had transformed the humming to singing words to the same melody, and after a brief welcome and opening prayer, we had the jembe play while an original poem written for the service was proclaimed. When the poem was halfway through an amazing young dancer came out and danced sometimes following and sometimes leading the jembe, this culminated in an exciting flourish of sound and movement that really must have thrilled the heart of our Lord.

Then we took our first small steps towards congregational harmony and taught everyone some simple harmonies that undergirded a solo sung melody, and this will be developed with increasing complexity over time.

Then one of the members of our congregation that has been blossoming before everyone's eyes over recent months, shared her testimony of dramatic and brutal sexual and ritual abuse as a child, and then presented to us a beautiful sculpture of a tree with leaves made out of little origami's that represented her journey from horror to the Lord's sweet and ongoing redemption of her heart and mind. It will be a permanent part of our worship space.

As we were all deeply moved by her story, and the beauty of the sculpture, we followed that by a moment of silent prayer and reflection. And out of that silence came the piercingly beautiful soprano voice of an opera singer, joined soon by a tenor singing a gorgeous duet in Hebrew.

Then some more worship singing by the congregation (with congregational harmony) and a short talk on our hopes for Communion of the Arts which flowed naturally into remembering our Lord with the sacrament of communion. For this we had three stations set up, and we gathered around them like a family meal and all greeted one another. After reading the scripture, we each in our time took some of the bread dipped it in the wine and ate.

Then another song in harmony, and for the scripture text, an actor dramatically spoke the text from memory.

Then I came to give a brief overview of the scripture text, before going to our small groups to spend time getting to know one another, and teach one another the scripture.

At the end we all came back for the artShare - a chance to experience the art of someone we know whether Christian or not, and some announcements and closing prayer.

Thank you all for your prayers, it was a wonderful time and we are looking forward to it's ongoing development and to growing closer as a community.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Wall Street Journal encourages us!

Thanks for the encouragement Lord! (and to the reporter from the WSJ!)

Details of our first Sunday gathering on Easter in the post below.

(click on the picture to make it bigger)

It's an article on a church in Pittsburgh that uses drama as their liturgy, so the reporter wanted to talk to others doing a similar thing. If you can't read it, it says "In New York, the Communion of the Arts hopes artists will flock to its first Sunday service on Easter in Times Square". That's it, but it was on the front page!

She didn't quote any of the other great things I said during our interview - but that's probably for the better knowing how they will skip over the 95% of good things you said and quote the one stupid thing (although with me that might be more like 75%/25%).

Monday, April 10, 2006

Easter Sunday!

Many other cultures call it Resurrection Sunday, and it is definitely a time of new beginnings - like all of mankind being redeemed - each of us being given a new start.

For us this is the time where we go from being a home group plus, to becoming a full fledged church on Sunday mornings.

For me it is quite amazing to see this thing after 2 1/2 years fully blossom. The more amazing thing to me is to see how it is the blossoming of so many people that are the actual petals of the larger blossom.

It's like one of those pictures, that when you get closer you see it is made up of so many smaller snapshots of people and the computer has arranged it according to the various hues and the light and dark parts, so that when you pull back it is a big beautiful picture.

We are going to have dance and sculpture and dramatic readings and baptism and communion and a beautiful space and a chance to teach one another the scripture.

Our dream has always been that we will draw artists and those that love the arts in and bring them together to create an entirely original and beautiful public worship liturgy - and that is exactly what is happening.

I was just interviewed this morning by the Wall Street Journal for an article they are doing on a church in Pittsburgh that is using drama in their worship service - so that is a great thing for the future of this movement towards the arts within the church, and maybe if we are mentioned in the article we will be heard about by some who may have been desiring a fresh new way of being with God.

Please come, you are welcome.

Here's the details:

Easter Sunday, April 16th

The Lamb's Theatre
130 W. 44th St. (between 6th & 7th Aves.)
New York City
Right in Times Square

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Paul Bunyan, Modern-Day... [attractability]... Symbol

"It's a sign of the times," Mr. Martin said. "People are into beards right now."
- NY Times

My hair is shorter than this now, but the NY Times has finally given me the acclaim I deserve as bearded trendsetter. Finally the world understands.

Paul Bunyan, Modern-Day... [attractability]... Symbol

Excerpts from the article:

...At hipster hangouts and within fashion circles, the bearded revolution that began with raffishly trimmed whiskers a year or more ago (...right when I grew mine...) has evolved into full-fledged Benjamin Harrisons. At New York Fashion Week last month at least a half-dozen designers turned up with furry faces.

...Men both straight and gay, it appears, want to feel rough and manly.

(...a good description of my aesthetic...)

...And with their fully furry chins ...the editor in chief and the style director of Cargo magazine, the metrosexual manifesto, seem now to be endorsing a lumberjack ideal

(...what I've always preached...)

...'Where did you get that beard? Is that beard from Dolce & Gabbana?' "

(...of course mine's Versace...)

... "I met my current girlfriend a week after I started growing my beard...

(...obviously a misquote as a full beard takes a bit longer to acheive it's full attractability...)

..."It's like a security blanket on my face,"...

(...not that I don't have enough confidence on my own...)

..."I'm kind of into guys with beards today"...said Lola..."the pretty-boy look can only last for so long."

(...thank you for finding a woman named Lola to quote...)

the link to the article (yes, it's actually true)

If this is your first visit, it get's a lot more spiritual below.

Monday, March 20, 2006


When you are dismissed, you go away

Two mobsters:
“Hey, things with Joey ‘aint workin’ out”
“Whattya wanna do?”
“Joey should go away”

Interesting, the meaning of “go away” means murder, and in scripture the idea of hating someone is the same as murdering them.

In each case we simply wish the person did not exist anymore.

We do this all the time in our lives in the most casual way without realizing it – we dismiss people from our life, from our presence because we do not like them.

We want community.

But in the midst of our gatherings we constantly commit murder – we dismiss and send away. You cannot build community with multiple murders in your midst.

Just look at the words

To negate
set aside

Ughhhh, such ugly words, they make me sad inside.

To love is to do the opposite, and to love well means to be vigilant to your own heart to see when you have so casually not loved.

Did you judge someone by their appearance and dismiss them?

Did you say no to the possibility of someone being promoted or accepted into a position and then after that, felt awkward around them and so avoided them?

Did you judge someone by their “inappropriateness” in a social situation, and decide you only allow yourself to be in the presence of those with advanced levels of social intelligence?

The life of faith, the life of love, is one in which we are vigilant over our behavior in these kind of scenario's to see and notice when we are dismissing others. Then to examine our hearts to see why we did it, and then to repent and ask God for the power to change, and then to work hard with his grace to permanently change such behavior. To associate with the lowly means those that you judge as below you.

That is the personal level, then there's the organizational level where power amplifies the effects. The use of power to dismiss within organizations is doubly evil because it allows you to make your dismissal more than private, but public. It causes it to be followed by others who follow you as their leader.

The way I have most often seen this take place in church or parachurch organizations, is when someone has been considered for a leadership position and then for whatever reason rejected, and often the “rejecters” feel kind of bad and so they tend to ignore the person after that. That persons presence makes them feel guilty or something, or maybe they just didn’t like the person to begin with, and so that person is not as welcomed and supported as others might be.

Often the negative effects of dismissing someone are not so much things you do against them, but rather things that you don’t do for them that you would have otherwise.

Whenever someone approaches any organization of any kind, church or secular, they need relationships within that organization that will open doors for them and usher them forward. The problem that the dismissed person has is that now doors that would have been opened for them had they been accepted, are not opened.

Once you “set them aside” they can be effectively shut down for life within that organization. That is power.

When you have the power to open doors for someone, or to close the door on them and set them aside, it is the way of Christ that you use that power very carefully and with the fear of God.

Do you know the person? Do you love them?

Are you really sure they couldn’t be accepted and helped along?

Is there something else you can steer them toward so they will be accepted rather than rejected?

If you reject them, make sure you follow that with an unusually high level of love and acceptance, and set them up to be accepted by others, and find a way to build into their life until they are ready to be accepted for that or another position.

Our church policy:
#1: Never make a decision about someone’s life who you do not know and love.
#2: We say yes. If you are a leader that has to make decisions about accepting people into new leadership positions, you almost always say yes. In the super rare case have to say no to accepting someone into a leadership position, you are automatically given the responsibility to mentor them until they can be accepted. Saying no actually requires more work, so we are more likely to say yes.

Now let’s look at the lovely words:

to accept

You can love poorly or you can love well.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Enjoying the disadvantage of not Politicking

Politics – it starts as children when we tell Mommy things that we knowingly exclude from Daddy, so that we can get our way.

Politicking within a group is the covert building of support towards something you want in order to gain advantage over opponents, so that they don’t have time to build equal support. You politic so that you can win, whether by vote or organic popular approval or by influencing a decision maker. When you do this, it is essentially not loving to those you oppose because it does not put their highest as your goal. It places you above others, and above the entire community, and is therefore what I call all things that are destructive to healthy community – sin.

The Broadside – Even a dirty mobster like Tony Soprano, understands the concept of politicking, and the need to mitigate it within groups because of its harmfulness. In a recent episode of the Soprano’s, he had a secret meeting with someone, and after it concluded successfully, he informed them that his next call would be to a particular person who was affected, so that they would not find out at the last minute and be broadsided [update: actually he said blindsided, but I like broadsided better of the two synonyms].

Building a personal agenda-driven political coalition within a group creates exclusion and rejection of those you don’t include. Not telling someone the full truth about an issue you are pursuing, but going behind their back covertly and building a political coalition of those with the same view as yours is deeply destructive to the group because right at its core, at its very heart you have rampant self absorption driving a wedge through the group for the benefit of the wedge drivers against the trumped, the surprised, the ambushed, the broadsided, the rejected.

Christ has shown us a better way. The first of his ways is that he always puts the highest of the other as his greatest goal. The second is how this connects to unity – the putting of the overall group’s union and wholeness and integrity over the individual desires of members.

When an individual member of a group feels a desire to see change within the group for some reason that might benefit him or others, they should pray and ask Jesus if this is a good thing to pursue – it very well may be. In fact one of the reasons it is easy to not notice the temptation of politicking pulling you in, is that it often happens in the pursuit of a very good thing. But when a good thing at a smaller level creates disunity at a bigger level, it becomes a bad thing.

The goal is to get the good small thing, while maintaining the good big thing.

First, pray (and let me say that when I say pray, I mean a very kind of thoughtful spiritual formation prayer that is the whole person thinking, reading scripture and other good books, talking to others and praying specifically to God – the whole person with all faculties reaching outside of itself and asking God to speak through these multiple formats). By first asking Jesus if this is a good thing to pursue, this will automatically erase many of the problems because so often the Holy Spirit is very clear to show you that you are pursuing something for the wrong reasons, and you choose to obediently give it up.

But when the Lord encourages you that this could be a good thing for the group, then your next step is to pray and ask for wisdom on timing – when do you begin to propose this idea to others? Maybe there are obvious issues that could be overcome just by waiting for a period of time.

Then after sensing that it is right, and the timing is good, then pray and think about how to begin sharing it with others. Here is the moment when most temptations to politic arise. Our selfish desire to get our way, combined with our basic social intelligence easily sees the lines as they lay out – we see who would be the best to talk to and who would be the worst to talk to.

The key is to put the good of others first, and the good of the entire group first.

If this is an issue that doesn’t so much affect the whole group as it does a particular individual in the group, then they are the first person you should talk to. This is the essence of the broadside – you talk to others, and then after raising support, you talk to them, and hit them with not only your personality but with the extra bulk of others adding weight and velocity to your purpose. They are hit right on the side and shocked by the force of the blow.

The broadside is not loving. (Nor the Soprano blindside)

Love them by going to them first while it is still just a little thought in your one head, that you individually share with them, and that you let them know it is just a little thought in your head and carries no more weight than that. They will be able to hear the idea as a personal word from you that carries your heart and gives it to them. Normal human relationship can ensue.

What if they don’t agree and reject your idea?

Then you have to once again resist the temptation to politic and give it some time to settle in. Maybe it will percolate in their mind a bit, and they will change their mind, or come to you with a modified version that works even better. Also God can speak to them and change their mind. Much of loving others well has to do with trusting God to lead others, and not exerting your own energy to influence selfishly or manipulate.

If the idea you have affects the entire group, rather than just individuals within it, and the group has a leadership structure, then you should definitely go to the person within the group that has been tasked with the responsibility to receive such ideas from members of the group. It may not be the head leader; there may be some chain of command, where ideas flow up through the levels of the leadership structure.

Or if it is a more organic group with no clear leader, then simply mention it to everyone at once at the same time in a meeting, where they are all hearing it simultaneously. If there are no meetings, than just begin to tell it to others or small groups of others until you’ve told everyone with a firm watch on your own hearts desire to politic.

It may be that rather than affecting an individual, it affects a certain wing of the group – go to them first. Or you may know an individual who you know won’t support it, even though it doesn’t affect them, so you go to them first so that you are forcing yourself to avoid politicking.

This becomes much more complex when you apply it to business and governmental organizations, where politics may be a good and planned part of the culture, but even there you have to separate between where politics is good and where it is bad – for example, it may be good for Senators to politick amongst themselves concerning bills awaiting vote, but it may not be good for staff members of a single Senator to politic within their office.

The risk of avoiding politicking is that others may not be so loving, and will immediately commence politicking themselves. You will have “shown your hand” too soon, and put yourself at a disadvantage – but that disadvantage that you now enjoy, is the fellowship of deep communion with the one who put himself at the ultimate disadvantage.

The healing of the world is only possible when many put themselves at the disadvantage of loving others above themselves. You may endure many small sufferings when you choose to pick up your cross and die for others, but you will win in the end when Jesus returns and finds you standing at your post doing his work and living out his radical “others focus” on earth.

Monday, February 27, 2006

More on My Gay Position

The original post below is getting a little long, so I will continue it here. Please read the original post below in order to get the main idea I've presented.

I am so excited by all the comments which allow me to continue refining and developing my understanding.

A fundamental concept of my approach is that change is needed. There are a lot of well meaning Christians that in their heart would love to see all humans know the love of Jesus, but are unfortunately ignorant of how deeply entrenched cultural norms have left certain people excluded.

If you are under, say, 50 years old, you can still have the interesting experience of hanging out with your older relatives, and hearing them say things that are so blatantly racist as to be almost humorous in how it points out the depth of their ignorance of how far we have come as a people called Americans. You still love them, but you don't accept their view of the world.

Think of your life as a devout Christian, and all the personal struggles you have to live out your faith, to avoid temptations to sin, and to find the time to pray and actually walk in faith alongside God. Now just imagine a hundred years ago, some Christian going through all those same struggles, similarly hoping to be faithful to Jesus who they know has saved them, and who they desire to serve with their whole heart as they read their bible and try to find the time to pray, etc. And that Christian one hundred years ago, happens to own amongst their possessions, some humans that were recently exported from Africa.

They had just as real a faith as you have. Yet they owned Colin Powell's great, great, great grandfather. They hoped that their children would be good and get good grades and that their community would be warm and peaceful, and yet they owned Miles Davis great, great grandmother. They owned humans. They inspected their teeth like cattle in order to be good stewards of the money God had given them so they could invest wisely in a healthy slave - as you spend hours making sure you're buying the best washing machine.

Rosa Parks was 42 when she refused to give up her seat, and the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement only just recently passed. I am only 42 years old myself, and I was born in 1963 before most of the big events of the Civil Rights movement happened. We are just now barely emerging from our institutionally racist past, and have a long way to go to be free from our still culturally racist present.

With all that in mind, knowing that fellow Christians we will be with in heaven one day only recently owned humans, it must force us to our knees to say, "Lord! What areas of our culture are we abominably ignorant of our own superiority??"

"Where do we fail to see that a fellow Christian has been treated as less than a fellow Christian?"

Or a fellow human as less than a fellow human.

It's amazing to me that the people who were treated as less than human by their Christian owners, themselves became Christian - and whose Christian faith has been one of the most remarkable cultural phenomenon's of our Country's history!!!!????!!!!

What if homosexual Christian's one day are the most vibrant and amazing Christian's in America, and you look back and remember when you thought they couldn't even be Christians??? (or at least your actions and words represented that, although you wouldn't say that).

We must be vigilant to see who we are. There were a bunch of vigilant slave owning Christians a hundred years ago, and they became the abolitionists that lead to change.

Here is a good observation of how we don't understand ourselves, and how our views really manifest themselves:

When Brian McLaren was on the Larry King show with a bunch of evangelical leaders because he like them had been named by Time Magazine as among the 25 most influential evangelicals in America, Larry asked them about their views on homosexuality. Some of the other evangelical leaders spouted the party line about their views, and a caller came on and reflected to them how they are viewed as very hateful people by the gay community - they all looked so wounded, and said things like, "We don't hate gay people!", "We love gay people, we want gay people to know that Jesus loves them and died for them!", and so on.

It was so informing to see how sincere they were - how deeply they believed that they truly were loving to gay people - and then how soberly the callers reflected back to them how deeply hated they in fact were, by a very large group of people who has no ability to see anything of Jesus in them because all they feel from them is hate.

Imagine being a gay person, trying to live your life, trying to pursue happiness as an American, and you observe society changing. You observe a lot of corners of the American landscape being open and accepting of you in a way they never were before. You see young Americans changing in their views and being very supportive of you and your community. You see various streams of progressiveness changing the very feeling of how you experience your day to day life.

You used to go out and about, and in the vast majority of daily contexts you would be mistreated and maligned for your gayness, and in most of those areas you found it wisest to just hide that part of yourself. You had to live daily with the dichotomy of having to hide a huge part of your very person in order to avoid being mistreated by people who were hateful towards homosexuals.

But now things have been changing, and you get to experience a greater freedom from that restrictive duality - you get to be yourself in many more daily contexts. Wow, what a real and significant change this has been in your life. You can really understand what it has meant to be a black person in America and experience a similar change.

Yet, of all the groups and contexts where you see change - it is from the Christians that you feel a huge resistance. And because the Christians hold a lot of political power, it is their excercise of that power against you that you feel the most institutional sting. In talking to Christian people you are confused when you hear them say that they love you and want you to know Jesus, because you feel more love from high school kids that lobbied to have their gay and lesbian club allowed on campus, than you do by the Christians who lobby against you every chance they get.

So, then you turn on Larry King and hear these idiotic sounding people proclaim how much they love you, when you know they are the cultural leaders of the one group in your daily landscape that continues to hold you back from total freedom and acceptance.

So, we must search our heart and see how we are in fact blocking gay people from finding Jesus.

If Jesus were here, and they surveyed their landscape - Jesus would be the one they felt the most loved and accepted by.

If they asked him, "Jesus, what do you think about my having sex with my gay partner?" I'm not sure what Jesus would answer, but importantly, I know that I do not know. And so my position, my plan, my strategy is that I need to do whatever I can do to make sure that gay people will let me open the door to the room that Jesus is in so they can ask him that question.

Right now, gay people will not allow us to open that door.

Jesus is in that room!!!!

Jesus is so wanting to talk to anyone who will go in that room and talk to him. But we are blocking gay people from going in that room.

I for one will block no more.




Okay, I can just hear those struggling with the issue that I also struggled with for some time - but what about same sex intercourse being an act, and the "gay community" just being a bunch of people that do that act, rather than with race where you are definitely born that race?

Once again, you have to listen to people.

If you spend any amount of time talking to gay people, or reading what they have written, you will very quickly have no more questions about the nature or nurture question. Gays will all tell you that at a very young age they just felt an attraction to the same sex, and that was it. They made no choice, they didn't even know what sex was, just like heterosexuals when they were young, and then one day, they started getting those feelings - surprise! Just like everyone else.

The only reason you would have to doubt this almost universally attested to story is if you had an agenda against the gay community. Hating gays is always a good reason for not believing them.

Aha! - but though they didn't have a choice of the feeling, they did have a choice to act on it!

Just like you had a choice to act on being an adulterer, or an internet porn user, or a lyer or whatever things you struggle with - and no one is hating you and blocking you from receiving certain benefits socially because you are a fornicator. The point is to not single out one group.

We all need Jesus in every area of our life.

Heterosexual sex that produces children needs spiritual guidance to be healthy. All human behavior needs spiritual input to be whole.

Whether same sex intercourse is a sin or is not a sin is not my question, but how can I get all people to go into the room with Jesus and let him love them?

Consider how Jesus treats you regarding your sin, as seen in your life and in stories of how he treated people in the bible.

When "outed" sinners like prostitutes and adulterers came to him, he didn't pounce on their sin, but showed them compassion and reached out to them to love them.

Who did he pounce on? The religionists that were judging everyone and condemning them.

How has he treated you in your life?

There have been areas of my life that it took years for me to understand were sinful or deeply unhelpful to my life and my place in community. But during all the years that I was blind to it, Jesus still loved me and allowed me to be his child. I wouldn't have been able to receive others input or rebuke about it because I didn't see it. I was spiritually fruitful at the same time I had those things in my life.

On the other hand, there were years that I thought certain things were wrong, that I later discovered were not wrong. I have also discovered how many areas of life that the context of the community and the individual mind and heart of the person and their background determine a lot about what is good and community building and what is bad and community destroying.

The slave owners did a very evil thing by literally stealing other humans rights to their own dignity and personhood - yet Jesus allowed them to be his children because he knew they just couldn't see that yet, and when they died he accepted them into heaven by the same way he will accept you and I - by his Son's great sacrifice for us.

The very core of the kind of ugliness that causes people to become religionists of the ilk that God the Father rebuked over and over in the Old Testament, and that Jesus rebuked over and over in the New Testament is this form of self-righteousness where you think that you have it figured out and you condemn others whose actions you judge to be sinful.

The fact is that we all survive by grace and mercy. We don't know how to live, and we have to ask God to give us strength to live, and if we are particularly spiritual, we will ask God to show us how to change areas of our lives that we don't even see.

My gay position is that because this is all true, and because we have been so willing to cut ourselves plenty of slack in many areas, but with the gay community we have only pounced on them and judged and rejected them, and done so many things that appear to them to be hateful - so that in their special case we have to go out of our way to not speak against them, to not act against them, and to do whatever we can to heal their woundedness, so that instead of viewing the church as a bunch of religionists always looking to reject them, they view the church as the place where Jesus lives, and the place they go to get the love and acceptance that Jesus gives.

Here's an inverse way of saying the golden rule, or the greatest commandment:

Cut others as least as much slack as you cut yourself.

How dare we receive all the love and acceptance Christ gives us, and not give it to others.


Monday, February 20, 2006

My Gay Position (with updates)

Recently a friend emailed me and asked me if I thought they should go see Brokeback Mountain, they wanted to but also had questions about if they should because it might be supporting something they don’t believe in.

As a new pastor in New York City, I have been thinking and praying for some time of how I will handle this incredibly important and controversial area of human community.

Here is what I have arrived at right now (and I look forward to developing it through your comments); that there has been so much hurt and pain perpetrated on the gay community by the church, that we should do whatever we can to limit that and then heal that, so we can make Jesus beautiful to humans he died for that happen to be homosexual or who don’t identify themselves as homosexual or a member of the gay community but, as they might say, struggle with homosexual feelings.

How that plays out is a long unwritten story that we will have to figure out as we go.

But my basic, I hope progressive, stance is that the church is guilty of hurting people and thereby blocking people from Jesus, and so we must make up for that special sin by going out of our way with special "policies" whenever issues come up that are connected to the particular groups we have hurt. So, that means doing whatever we can to change our language and approach and relation to the gay community, by putting healing as the top priority in that relation, with an emphasis on our wrongdoing, before even considering their doing.

For example, if someone asked me as a pastor, a public leader, what is my "position on homosexuality"? I would answer that question in a different way than if they asked me what my position on stealing was. Why? Because the church has not perpetrated hatred in particular on burglars.

Burglars pretty much feel open to go to church if they have questions about their lifestyle. When they come to my church, I can tell them, "Stealing is wrong because it hurts others, and estranges you from the God who loves the ones you hurt. Stealing someone’s things is by definition unloving towards them. Being loving towards others is God’s ultimate priority and providing a loving place for you to learn how to do that is one of the major purposes of the church".

But because the church has perpetrated hate in particular upon homosexuals, and I know as a result they are not open to go to church if they have questions about their lifestyle, I have to take special steps to make up for that. I have to heal the wounds that the church has inflicted before I can expect to have a voice with the wounded – because one of the major purposes of the church is to be a loving place that teaches us how to be loving.

So, here is my special step to make up for the hatred inflicted, to bring healing, and to mitigate my possibility of blocking a person from seeing Jesus:

Question: Pastor Jeff, what is your position on homosexuality?

Answer: I am far more concerned about the fifty people in my congregation who have a problem with internet porn, than I am about the five who may have questions about homosexuality.

Question: Yeah, great, but what about homosexuality, is it wrong?

Answer: Human sexuality is a huge area that we all deal with. I'm sure that when a married man sleeps with a married woman who is not his wife that those two families are going to be deeply affected by that wrong expression of human sexuality.

I am sure that the hours many men spend wasting their lives on internet porn are keeping them from developing their sexuality in a community building way, and that the industry they support which takes economically disadvantaged women and employs them by broadcasting their naked image worldwide is soul and community destroying.

As a pastor, it is my strong desire to bring personal spiritual vitality to people, and to mitigate community destroying actions. Human sexuality is at the heart of our communities, and the gospel of Jesus attempts to get all of us to love one another and build a healthy community where we are all cared for and loved. My role is to point people to Jesus, and when they learn how to pray and experience his presence in their lives, and to receive power from him to make loving others well their highest priority, I believe they will learn how to live with and live out their strong sexual desires in ways that build up their families and communities, and to exercise self control when needed.

If a person comes to me and asks me about their personal sexual desires, frustrations and struggles, my basic stance is to understand that the human heart is a deep mystery, and that I cannot possibly understand the fullness of who they are and what they've been through in a relatively short period of time during a pastoral counseling session, so I do my best to point them to Jesus who made them, loves them, redeemed them, and wants to spend the rest of their life teaching them how to live in this community of humans here on earth.

If I portray that I know what “acceptable behavior” is, and they simply follow what I say, I am sure that they will live a diminished life. But if I can get them to engage Jesus, I can be sure they will live an expanded life.

Things might be different in terms of me being more directly explicit about my own particular understanding of how God wants us to live out our human sexuality if they come and join in communion with me over a long period of time, where I will have an opportunity to communicate much about God to them not through intellectual concepts but through living alongside them in life, and by allowing them to see how I follow Jesus day to day. But that kind of communication only happens in real time over many years and cannot be reduced to words in an article on a particular topic.

Question: So pastor Jeff, it seems like you are trying to skirt the gay issue, you are avoiding the question.

Answer: The church has perpetrated a special focus on the issue of homosexuality in a way that it has not on other issues like…
or internet porn usage
or being consumed by the need to own products
or thriving on political rhetoric that helps you
but obscures you from seeing how it harms others,

…and so I am trying to bring healing to the humans that have been the victims of that particular form of branding and exclusion by asking why are we so focused on bashing gays, when we don't even care that all the adulterers in our midst are causing much more damage to our society?

When I see people carrying signs that say, “God hates faggots”, after I get over the emotional trauma of seeing such hate perpetrated in the name of God, my next question is, why don’t they ever bother carrying a sign that says…

“God hates countries that have 5% of the population, but consume 20% of its resources”
“God hates fathers that destroy their families by sleeping with other families mothers”
“God hates photographers that photograph poor naked women and sell those photos on the internet, and the people who buy them”
“God hates humans who make skin color a basis for hating other humans”
“God hates when rich comfortable people build political parties that protect their wealth and don’t care for the poor and then brand that party with the imprimatur of religion by making religious freedom one of its secondary focuses”
“God hates more than anything else when people use religion, when they use his name to treat people in a way that they would not want to be treated”

I’m ranging my focus towards multiple issues to make a point that when you allow the one group that is doing more damage to get off scot free, and instead you focus on the smaller less important group, it brings up a simple question - what is your agenda and why?

The answer, I think, is the simple human tendency to hate and exclude others who are different. Adulterers blend in well; homosexuals stand out more and make us uncomfortable just like Jews and Blacks have when they have been in the minority throughout history, and have been excluded.

That sin of hate by the people of God is far greater than any other sin in the world bar none, and the only way stop it in its tracks is for me to take special steps to speak out more on the big important sins, and to give a break to the formerly excluded group by not speaking out about them at all.

(theological note: the bible makes clear that hating someone is the same as murdering them, and so how different, from a biblical perspective, is hating an entire group like homosexuals, from genocide? The bible also makes clear that any sin perpetrated by religious leaders upon others is the kind of sin that makes God the most pissed off - actually pissed off is to light, it makes God angry at his core, when his agenda of loving others sacrificially is co-opted to exclude and hate. If you are a person that feels offended by the “Anger of God” in the bible, I can assure you that you haven’t read it well because in almost all cases that anger is directed at religious people for perpetrating sin or injustice in his name – and because of this undeniable truth religious people must always keep themselves under suspicion, and the non-religious should rejoice that they often actually "get it" better than the religious).

So, to begin the process of healing the wounds that were caused by the church exerting hate and exclusion upon the gay community, I choose to simply stop using all language, which in discussing the topic of human sexuality of same sex intercourse, could be interpreted as exclusionary by the just sensitivities of people that have felt excluded and hated.

It is similar to how we have learned to stop using the word, “Them”, when referring to people of other races because of how it makes a separation.

There are differences between white and black people, both culturally (food, music, humorous banter) and physically (skin color), and someday when racism is gone we will be able to talk more naturally about those neutral differences, just as we do now about regional differences – the differences between Minnesotans and Iowans don’t raise issues or feelings of hate and exclusion and so we are comfortable discussing and joking about them. But for now, we should avoid that kind of talk between races because the exclusion it causes still stings with reverberations of hatred.

Maybe in ten or twenty years, having enjoyed the release from the glaring focus of all the lights on them, people who have questions about how their sexual lifestyle affects them and the community they live in, will feel that the church is a good place to go for answers, because at the church they will expect to find Jesus.

[update: the first commenter brings up an embarassingly real problem with discussing this part of human community - that I compare homosexuals to burglars. I'm not sure how to get around that because I'm talking to a group of people that think far worse of homosexuals, and so if I just compared homosexuality to say, horticulture, then I could never make my point, because no one hates horticulturists, and neutral non-moral issues can't be used to compare with moral ones.

The one big assumption I make that some people will disagree with is that human sexuality is a moral thing because of how it's practice has huge implications on community. Bad horticulture doesn't destroy community, but when 10,000 teens in a city have sex, and a few hundred of them get pregnant, that deeply affects community. When the father of one family sleeps with the mother of another family, and it leads to divorce, that has tremendous ripples not only in the lives of those families but in their community. To imagine that same sex intercourse is free from moral implication is to believe that man is an island. No man is an island.

When a gay partner in a committed monogamous relationship sleeps with another person outside of that relationship, that has moral implications, and affects the community surrounding them.

Even though that is true, most single adults do not think that their choice to go out to a bar and find someone to have sex with has any affect on the community - but here is where I have no problem offending, by saying, that to believe that is foolish.

The important point to note about this, my newly published "Gay Position" (I hope you appreciate the playfulness of the title), is that I do not say that homosexuality is a sin, or is not a sin. That is why it is new and progressive and will be difficult for huge sections of the Christian church to accept. When they protest, and say, how can you say it is possible that it is not a sin???!!! My answer is to go back and read this post again, and let it explain to you why - because we must go out of our way with this group that we have particularly sinned against to bring healing.

And when pressed behind the scenes to actually say what I think of the act of same sex intercourse, I will say what I am saying in this blog - that I won't say for the above reasons, and if you really want to know what I secretly in my heart of hearts believe, you will have to walk beside me for many years and see how I follow Jesus, and how he teaches me to love others.

If you are gay and don't like being compared to a burglar, all I can say is that trying to get, for example, a bunch of white supremacists to consider that maybe black people aren't that bad, might require one to crawl in some of their muck.

And please do notice that I compare the religionists that have oppressed you to genocide-ists.

And let me also, in a spirit of humility, say that I have committed genocide in my heart on more than one occasion. And it is my great hope that Jesus save me from myself, just as I hope he does for all humans. I am always suspicious of how I wield my religious faith.]

[update #2] Go to new post above - More on My Gay Position.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Common Man's Commentary

I had a wonderful time up at Yale last week.

I had never been on the campus of an Ivy League University until I became emergent, and now I've been to Princeton and Yale (not bad for a fringe group).

One of the great things about going to hear a major Theologian is that it really encourages you about your place in the scheme of things.

I couldn't understand about 1/3 or maybe 1/2 of what he said. The other portion I loved and learned a lot from.

It shows me for sure I was never meant to be a formal scholarly theologian.

But I love the fact that there are many different types of Theologians.

When I was in college getting my BA in Christian Ministry at University of the Nations, the university started by the missionary organization, Youth With a Mission (YWAM), I did my biblical studies portion in their very unique and progressive style.

Myself and 24 other dear souls spent nine months together on a remote and beautiful portion of the Big Island of Hawaii, studying the bible 6-10 hours a day, using a method called inductive bible study. Using a set of tools that we had learned we read through each book five times, each time applying a different tool to the text - observing what was there, coming up with an outline of the entire book, asking what the text meant, why did the author say something, what did the original readers probably think he meant, etc., etc.

And so for nine of the most exhausting and amazing and spiritual months of my life, we trudged chapter by chapter, book by book through the entire bible - all 66 books. Besides studying all day every day, we had three class lecture/dialogs a week for three hours each. So we were able to be lead by others who had gone before and could help us in tough patches, along with be able to express and dialog and debate and get out of our heads and hearts all that was going in during the individual study.

Needless to say, we all bonded deeply as people who are enduring a difficult journey together do. And as time went on we could see the tendencies and gifting each brought to the text.

Towards the end of our time, one of my fellow classmates made me a little gift and made a comment about it to the class as he presented it to me - he had drawn a little book, and on the cover wrote, "The Common Man's Commentary by Jeff Kursonis"

What he had noticed and appreciated about me, was that no matter how abstract or intellectual or esoteric the dialog could become, I was always summarizing it or trying to guide it to a practical place that everyday Christians could use for their spiritual sustenance.

I eventually became an artist in NYC and spent years thinking about how artists could practically live out their spiritual lives and thrive artistically in this tough city.

So, I am a theologian. A practiotioner rather than scholar. Life, writers and theologians and prayer are my source materials as opposed to the original languages and other scholarly sources used by the professional scholars in the academy.

And I hope there are many other theologians out there in my church who through their sources think about God and his ways, and help me by practically applying what they have learned through the following communication formats: visiting someone in the group who is sick, buying me a sweet encouraging little present, cleaning up after the meeting, giving financially, starting a social justice ministry from our group, running an errand on my behalf, telling me they think I'm good looking, explaining the new covenant to me, and telling me why God does some things he does.

I still can't believe I survived that school back in 1987-88.

It's lovely just to remember it.