Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Church Progress - Frustrations, Decisions, Excitement!

Well, I've done a lot of posts about emerging stuff, and art stuff, and personal stuff. So now I'm going to do a series of posts about our church plant, Communion of the Arts.

We started Sept. 15th, 2005 with a seven member core team. I dropped the term "start team" because I always had to explain what it meant, and I just found it easier to say core team.

We decided to spend our team meetings on Sunday afternoons praying, planning, and organizing all the things we would need to eventually start our Sunday morning worship gatherings in late February 2006. We also started a Thursday night meeting to draw in any others that might like to come along. We expressly stated that we would be putting most of our energy into the Sunday planning, and just let the Thursday thing be casual, and see where it goes.

Here is what has developed and evolved; Throughout the fall, our Thursdays would get a number of new people, but they would never come back, we were meeting at a space in the East Village, and it was a little big for our little group. Also, we were working hard on planning and organizing, and after a bit we started planning some fund raising.

I was very frustrated that none of the people would return a second time. We had like five weeks in a row where there were always new people, but not one returned. For a group that was planning on making relationship and community/communion it's focus (along with the arts) that was very super frustrating. I was not happy with that, and I was not happy with the big space we were meeting in because it didn't feel intimate. So, we decided to move to a smaller space in the building where I live in the Times Square area. It's essentially a living room, with a couch and some chairs, just like a home church or home fellowship group.

And then after that move, our meetings got even smaller, with no new people coming!! Oh boy, did I make a mistake to move?

At the same time, our other planning and organizing efforts were coming up often on the short end. Our hopes to do some fundraising were not going well, we realized that the process of applying for grants was going to be very labor heavy and we didn't have the experience, and it wasn't going to produce funds anytime quickly, so we decided to stop that until we had someone with more expertise to help us.

We decided we would produce a small brochure, and a booklet because we felt that some of our ideas and hopes for what we would be were not really widely understood, and if there were people out there who might vibe with us but couldn't because they didn't know what we were doing, the printed stuff would get the word out to them. But we didn't even have two nickels to rub together to pay for a printer or for a printing house, so we decided to do a small mailout to all of our friends and family to help us raise a quick $2000 to help cover those costs.

That went fairly well, we got it done and mailed out, and raised almost $2000. But the money came in slowly over a number of months, so rather than having a solid two grand, we had a trickle that was used for a number of things that came up as we were going along, and in addition I was having a hard time writing the booklet. I have felt that I needed to really put together some of the core ideas that God had been birthing in my heart over the last seven years, and especially in the last two, but it hadn't all come together in a way that was easy for me to express simply. So, I was spending a lot of time thinking and writing. I eventually made some breakthroughs in my understanding at the end of the year, and after writing close to a hundred pages, I had finally figured out how it all goes together. However, we were thinking of our booklet as being 5-10 pages. I finally realized that it would have to be at least 20. Now I have it all organized, and I'm in the process of reducing some seventy pages to twenty or so. I think I may even be able to get it down to ten, but I'm not sure yet.

So, back to the second half of the fall. The team was getting frustrated that not a lot of our plans were coming along well. I was struggling to produce the booklet. Fundraising had been okay, but not great. Thursdays were not going anywhere.

Our times of prayer were the one good thing. We were committed as a team to pray for an hour together every Sunday during our meeting. That is of course the one thing that has pulled us through - God on our behalf. God on behalf of his Kingdom.

The other frustrating thing was that I am not good at running planning meetings. I'm so relational and organic in my core, that we would waste too much time talking, and not get enough done, and with the overall lack of progress in ongoing plans, it was frustrating toward future planning.

Earlier in the fall, when we had talked for the first time about our budget, one of our folks who is such a classic detoxing emergent, who leans towards the house church movement with no money involved, became overwhelmed by the talk of money. To me it was very little talk about money, but to his sensitive institutionally-broken-heart, yearning to emerge from the mess evangelicalism had made in his world, it was a little too much. He stopped coming.

After a little break, he stared coming around here and there, but for all intents and purposes, he was off the core team. But we all loved him so much, and because he has still been coming to Thursdays mostly, we have kept him as a core team member at large. He is right alongside Steve and Josh of StupidChurchPeople, and I believe when he finishes detoxing he will emerge into an imaginitive leader in his Lord's Kingdom. In the meantime, he is a dear brother who's presence keeps me focused on the need to provide a new place, and to help others detox, and to avoid new follower's of Christ having to go through what he's gone through. It's not just ideas on blogs, it's real people with real spiritual anxiety and in some cases spiritual death that require us to emerge to something else. (As a personal note, I did my detoxing during the late nineties and early 00's, and it was deeply painful, and I didn't even know that something new could happen, so the rise of our arts group the Haven, was like my emerging. Then later my calling to start a church for artists kind of merged with the emerging conversation, and here I am).

Okay, so many details to add, let me get back on the main stream here. So, we were frustrated, Thursdays were not going well, and then three main ideas that came from the team, and that totally resonated with who we were came and pulled us back on track.

First, we were not having good Sunday meetings, and one of our team members is good at organizing meetings in a real creative and efficient way. He proposed this plan to me, for a five step process that would build our relationships, keep us creative, and get us more focused. I was thrilled, and totally in touch with my weakness, so he became the meeting guider.

Then, we were talking about Thursdays and what to do, and someone on the team said, "why don't we take turns leading them" Boom! I knew that was right. My whole method has always been about raising up people and their gifts, and being more in the background myself, so we planned the calendar with each team member taking a turn leading.

Here's what had happened; Because the team was generally frustrated, and Thursdays were not that great because we had agreed to put most of our energy in Sundays, and the Thursdays were the poor stepchild, the team had kind of naturally lost energy to invite people - so nobody was coming. All of a sudden, when the team members were each going to lead a week, they had a renewed reason to invite their friends to come see "their week". At the same time, the Thursdays had new energy from all of their great creative ideas, and so even more people were coming. Then the great miracle...people started coming back a second time!

Third big decision. We had decided in November, that our Sunday start date was going to be Feb. 24th, but we were facing many frustrations about our planning, and it wasn't looking like it was going to be very fun over the next couple of months killing ourselves to arrive on February 24th and suddenly put up a meeting that had never existed from scratch. So much to plan, so much to imagine in the abstract.

So, when all of a sudden in December, our meetings were getting bigger and so much more exciting on Thursdays (10-15 people), with people returning, we had a sudden revelation one Sunday afternoon.

What were we doing killing ourselves to plan some meeting on Feb. 24th, that would suddenly spring up out of nothing, when we had this fun and exciting thing going on Thursdays now?? Two of the team members were like, "we are trying to be a relational centered church, and we are tending towards the organic, rather than the planned and executed business church model, so why do we have to be so stuck on a date in February. Why don't we just start on Sundays when we are ready"? Bingo, blammo, Booooiiiinnnnnggggggg!!!!!! It suddenly all became clear.
We were totally wrong to be focusing on Sundays. We had a great exciting thing happening on Thursdays that had come and scooped us up out of our frustrations and so encouraged us right when we needed it. We needed to let go of planning for a future Sunday, and focus on building what we were doing on Thursdays!

Once we saw it, it was just so clear, it was hard to imagine what we had been thinking one moment earlier.

So, these three decisions, imbued with prayer, had led us forward. We improved our Sunday meeting process, which led to creative thinking. We broadened the leadership structure and energy - instead of me leading Thursdays, we had everyone leading Thursdays. That success and the energy it brought, allowed us to see the light that we were focusing on the wrong thing, and to re-focus on building the Thursday night gathering.

So, when will we move to Sundays? The little formula I have come up with is that when we have enough liturgy in place, and we have around 30 people, we will move to Sundays.

So now, our Sunday afternoon team meeting, instead of being a frustrating, work heavy meeting of planning abstractly for a future meeting that has never existed, is now a joyous and creative meeting of building into the exciting things that are happening on Thursdays.

As some of you may know, our plan for this church all along has been that we will be a community of artists of faith that will be tasked with doing the heavy lifting of creating an entirely new worship liturgy for the body of Christ in the West.

If you think about it, the entire worship liturgy - all the words spoken, music played or sung, the physical design of the space - all of it is art. I do not think that we can emerge into whatever it is we will one day be, by dragging our 30 year old pop worship music, and 20 year old seeker sensitive mass media stuff with us. To emerge we must have an entirely new worship liturgy. The impulse to go back in time and "mine" vintage forms of liturgy is, I believe, a response to this reality; that we can't go forward with what we have, so we go back to find what we used to have. Here's the dilemma; what we used to have is not enough, and even much of it that can be used has to be slightly modified to be used, and that is an artistic process. (Not to mention that our entire culture needs a renaissance of artistic excellence and so we could help with that).

So, whether we create new stuff or mine old stuff, we need a serious amount of hard artistic work to be done. Artists all over the country will be involved in this, but because here in New York City we have this huge number of artists, and artistic resources, we believe we are called to play a leading role in this. We will kickstart it, and we will do a lot of the work, but we hope and expect that others will join in all over the place. And in fact, some of those others who want to join in, will end up moving here to New York City to join in because of the community and energy we have here.

So, one of our future processes is to have liturgy creating teams. A word team (all the words, prayers, creeds, etc.), a music team, a space team (visual, interior, architectural), a performance arts team (for integrating various forms like dance and drama). All these various things will be worked on and integrated into the public worship liturgy.

So, now that we as a team are focusing on Thursdays, what we have essentially become is the first liturgy creating team. We are still small, so we will do it all. Once we grow larger, we will begin to multiply out into the different teams.

So, what we do is to plan and create the Thursday meeting. To write a prayer we can all say out loud, to plan the music, to prepare a bible dialog of some sort, etc.

The first round or so of core team people taking turns leading Thursday, it was kind of all up to them, now that we have arrived at this new understanding, we will have a point person each week, but we are all working on it together.

Now, instead of being a home fellowship group in feel, we are going to start evolving into a worship gathering in feel, over the coming months. Once we have enough of that in place (and the music is the biggest challenge right now), and we have around 30 people or so coming weekly, we will move to Sundays (mornings or evenings will depend on what space we get).

So, that's pretty good update of our fall. We are very excited right now, God is bringing some great people, and we are all just getting to know each other and become a community.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Four Jobs you've had in your life:

  1. Soda jerk
  2. Deck hand on hydrofoil boat at Sea World, San Diego
  3. Hearing aid dispenser
  4. Legal Secretary

Architects or architecture you like:

  1. Santiago Calatrava
  2. Frank Gehry
  3. Hate the fact that New York City is wimpy compared to Europe and even the Middle East.
  4. Rem Koolhaas

Four Movies you could watch over and over:

  1. I can’t watch any movie over and over, but because I can’t remember the details, after a year or so I can watch a movie again and be surprised by a lot of things.

Four all time favorite movies:

  1. The Swimmer (Burt Lancaster)
  2. Heat
  3. Boogie Nights/Magnolia (PT Anderson)
  4. Rudy

Four Places you have lived for around a decade:

  1. Michigan
  2. California
  3. Hawaii
  4. New York

Four of Your Favorite Foods:

  1. Meat
  2. Ice cream
  3. Pan sauce made from deglazing the pan after searing Meat, and then poured over the Meat
  4. France (to get meat with pan sauces)

Four reasons why France is the place you most want to go:

  1. Little farm/restaurants where they serve you what they make/raise (l’auberge)
  2. Sunflowers and Restaurants in the countryside
  3. wine and vineyards
  4. Meat with pan sauces

Would you prefer to live in the mountains or near the ocean?

  1. Ocean
  2. Coast
  3. Del Mar (by the sea)
  4. I’ve lived on islands nearly half my life

What is your favorite color:

  1. yellow light shining on green leaves
  2. how I can sing the same note but make it sound different by in”tone”ation
  3. Rainy days in NYC
  4. Gauguin

Who is your favorite artist by medium:

  1. Gauguin - colors
  2. Sting - sound waves
  3. Annie Dillard - word paintings
  4. Jean-George Vongerichten – arts and crafts that you eat

Four things you love about music:

  1. the physical sensation of sound waves pouring over my body
  2. the feeling you get when you first rub two chords against each other
  3. Seeing music - the shapes and colors I see when I close my eyes
  4. the way that my father and I shared music like others might have shared baseball, and how he taught me to understand it, and how I could watch him for hours playing the organ with both hands, both feet, both eyes and his heart pouring through his face.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Little Fat Girls

We are an arts community church. We want to create vibrant new artistic liturgies. We are in New York City where there are a lot of talented and vibrant artists.

It would not be hard to develop a culture of excellence where only an aesthetic of the highest quality would be allowed “on stage” in the public liturgy.

But I find the gospel’s focus on the poor and needy compelling me to think this through more carefully.

Because one of our core impetuses is to lead the church out of its misunderstanding of art which has caused it to live in an artistic desert, or to wallow in a bland dishonest non-humaness, it would be even more easy for us to trajectorize ourselves towards an aesthetic of excellence-at-any-cost.

How can we seek to journey towards a true understanding of how man uses art in society and in the public worship liturgy at an inspiring level, while simultaneously asking little fat girls to be in our dances?

First, read the poem below:

Liturgical Dance Notes

Balletic slim with gently nubile curves
And sweetly graced extensions of long limbs—
They sway, step, bend to syncopated hymns.
Their mothers beam. How well, they think, dance serves
God’s glory (and their own) in finer style
Than old processions jumbled full of tots,
White-veiled and bumptious, tasting nuns’ DO NOTs,
Surging off center down the middle aisle.

Lord, as You look on such eclectic prayer,
Such very now liturgic elegance
With its proponents all quite blind to where
It self-creates less happy circumstance,
Hold tight and tenderly within Your care
Little fat girls who won’t be asked to dance.

Mary Margaret Milbrath

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Award Winning Blog

Wow, I finally won an award!

Is there a monetary consideration??

...no?...I will estimate the encouragement value to be worth at least one month's pay...no, not as averaged from the day laborer's who come from other countries to do our lesser work, but from a factory worker in a Detroit auto plant!! (What my Grandpa did for 30 years).

Thanks Zeke!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Sheath Unveiled

I love my post yesterday (below) for its ability to straddle the line deliciously between “stupidity and pure genius” to quote a fine fellow (he seems to be a fellow, but would be thrilled to discover she’s not).

All last night and this morning I have been privately cracking myself up with the goofiness of the term I minted, “accidental colonial sheathing”.  So, it was with great joy that I found a comment today, “as for me and my house, we’re still scratching our heads” by Call Me Ishmael at that is not my blog – one of the funniest and creative blogs in our genre I’ve seen (so glad he found me so I could find him).  

I thought to myself last night, “this one is really going to have people wondering” (scratching their heads).  And then I read his current post, which though not referring to me directly had a great quote of what he probably experienced when he read my post:

…It’s the same feeling I get when visiting many postmodern theology web sites. On such occasions I don’t know if I’m living with the consequences of my own inability to digest huge libraries of information before I turned 30, or if I’m actually experiencing something I once read about called “the Dopeler effect” (not to be confused with the Doppler effect), which is “the tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.” But since I rarely feel qualified to distinguish between stupidity and pure genius…

Yes, it’s good to have your private fears of your own stupidity publicly confirmed!!

I actually thought about taking the post off, but now that this has become so funny, I think it is good for my general humility to leave it on.

Break free from the Sheath!!!!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Weigh Stations on the Interstate to Emergence

As I interact with many different people in real life and through their blogs, I have begun to notice some patterns.

Here is my observation of some of the weigh stations along the Interstate that feeds into the county of emergent (and I don’t mean the organization Emergent).  As Josh from Stupid Church People says, “Emerge we will. Without a title. Without a common voice, except love.”

First people begin to notice that they aren’t completely comfortable with the way things are being done in church, and by this I mean, not that they’re “know it alls” who think they know better, but that they begin to feel culturally distant from the activity (or culture) of their church.

Then they begin to feel somewhat hemmed in as the dominant and foreign church culture (which they don’t share) begins to notice their different-ness and tries to squeeze them to conform to its standards.

These two things lead them to the first weigh station:  Frustration

If you add aggressive, somewhat legalistic leadership to the frustration mix, who more aggressively try to conform them, you begin to get anger – or – if you add that nothing happens except they get really bored, then you get complacency.

Then they respond by venting their anger, and alienating themselves from that church, followed by leaving, or staying and quietly fuming.  

Or, if they respond by becoming complacent, you get a form of passively leaving the church, where they physically attend, but have checked out mentally and spiritually.

It’s interesting to note, that when we observe people of foreign cultures doing things we simply do not understand, often a first response is to think, “that seems stupid”.

If the person is shallow spiritually, these two states could go on for years.

But if the person has a sincere desire to know God and experience what it means to be in the body of Christ, they move to the next station on the path:  Detox  (thanks to SCP for giving me this word to clarify a meaning I was searching for).

Because church represents the place that God is supposed to be, people are not quick to want to question it or leave.  They don’t want to leave God, because that might cause them to go to hell.  So, for a person to get to this point where they begin to bleed out all the toxins, it takes some intense anguish.

You can detox actively or passively:  

Actively, means you leave the church and either find another one to hang out at for awhile without really getting involved, or stay out of church altogether.  Below I have assembled a loving tribute to the most beautifully honest and lyrical detox’er I have read, Josh at Stupid Church People.  I believe his writings will one day be used as an observation of a landmark moment in the new reformation of the church (I hope he enjoys the results).

Passively means you stay in church, but are relieved of any notions that the church knows what the hell it is doing.  You watch them go through the motions, and you contemplate what it all means.  You are not really that offended by the stupidity you see because you know it is an old remnant of a past culture still hanging on, and you have friends here that you enjoy socially, so you don’t leave, but you don’t expect any significant spiritual experiences.

For all the church leaders that are just getting into discovering the “emerging church movement”, and are trying to understand it, this area is I believe one of the most important for them – to see the utter pain of so many, and of their desperate need for detox from the poisons which cause the pain.  

Detoxing is a horrible and wonderful process where they begin to see that all the crap, the poison that had gotten into their system and made it hard to live the Christian life, and to love other Christians, was caused by a whole host of things that don’t have anything to do with God (its not his fault), and were mostly not their fault – though they might have been “enablers” who upheld things.

Most of these things are the result of bad theology leading to bad praxis – ie. stupid ideas about God leading to stupid ways of running churches.  Or, from chronic long-term cultural drift, where the institutionalized and unchanging church of a long past culture is now being foisted on a group of people that are no longer members of that culture because “x” number of years have gone by since it was first designed, and this is a whole new generation with a whole new way of living.  

When you force people of one culture to conform to the standards of another culture, you are the perpetrator of Colonialism.  Our world knows well that is very bad.  Many of our churches today are living in a form of Accidental Colonial Sheathing – where an unchanging theology and praxis from a past age, finds itself sheathed around and inhabited by a whole new people group that is foreign to its meanings.  (It’s good to know it was accidental).

When frustration and anger and aroused complacency detox enough to be free and clear and ready for new thinking and clear seeing then they can begin to actually notice the false sheathing that has been there hanging over their heads and all around them and is limiting their ability to breath and to function and to know God – now they have seen it, it won’t be long until they reach upward and try to remove it.

God is obscured by the sheathing.  You can’t know God well if you have no ability to really see and understand what he is like.  You also can’t really reach the world for God because all you will do if you reach them is to bring them into your sheathed and darkened place.

The reason that thoughtful people will not give one moment of serious attention to someone who says, “Hi, my name is Joe, and I’m an evangelical Christian” is because it is very obvious to them that the place Joe wants to take them is a closed and darkened place.  

There are still some people that can scare people into the cave by convincing them it is the only safe haven from which to avoid eternal torment.  But thankfully, they’re not that effective.

When we have an open and light and expansive place to bring people, they will be glad to go live there.

When the heroes that have recovered from detox, begin to arouse, and to come together and bond in commitment to find freedom, they gather their tools and they begin to try to remove the sheathing.  The first thing they discover is that it is some pretty strong material this Accidental Colonial Sheathing – those old guys knew how to make good stuff!  So, they must work hard to begin to tear through it, they chip and they scrape and they cut and they tear and eventually they make a hole from which they can Emerge.

I had to suppress writing, “Emerge!!!!” because I didn’t want to look too cheerleader like.

And so that is the third step, to emerge.  

I think what we have now, is that here and there are some people that have torn through and are emerging, but there are still so many others that are stuck within the sheathing.  

All the different emergents are of course separated by vast geographical distances, but they have a special radio transmission system where they can communicate to each other.  To find it you turn the dial until you reach station, WBLOG (in the east) or KBLOG (in the west).

The important work is to create new tools in order to build new vehicles with which we can really break through and allow many to emerge and then resettle in the new place.  Once you get out of that dark, limited place, the bright shining reality of God’s ways begins to make everything expand.

It was hard to see or really enjoy art in the old dark place – the colors just don’t come out in the dim light.  But in the open air, under blue skies, the colors explode and bring joy to all.

Eventually you will have vibrant churches that are culturally conversant and form the truths of God in ways that really make sense to the people in their culture – that allow contemporary Christians to love one another and God well, and then cause a church that is full of love for one another to draw those who are yet to find Christ, because they will know we are his disciples, the place where he can be found, by our love for one another.

Then all we have to do is wait until a distant generation has to repeat this process in 70 years.

And now, for anyone interested to know why this is all happening…a primer on why something new must emerge by a collage of quotes from Josh of SPC:  

“My church detox has begun. I left church for the last time yesterday. Or at least the last time for a while. I am going to go through a 12-step program…

…People have wondered why I have chosen to leave the church instead of trying to change it. Well, change it from the inside. Here is my answer, I have tried and failed. My small voice cannot break the system of the church. I have tried to speak up…nothing….

…I woke very late this Sunday morning. I haven’t been able to do that for years. It was awesome…

…Wow. I can breathe…I am detoxing…

…I am starting to feel alive…

Insanity. I think I am going crazy. I feel like the world around me is upset that I have left to spend some time away from the church. I am made to feel like I am wrong. Family, friends, old co-workers, stupid church people, etc…Life away from the church has been a little weird. I wake up on Sundays and think I am supposed to be somewhere. Like I am missing out on something. Then later on in the day I feel free. Seriously, I feel like I can take deeper breathes…

Detoxing from church has not meant cleansing myself from people. I am detoxing from the system…The system changes people. I have seen it happen right in front of my eyes. It has ruined good volunteers with paychecks. It has stripped people of their energy for Christ's sake. It has demanded the ridiculous...

…as long as I am not living in the fog…I am fine right where I am. Free from a system and trapped in Christ's love…

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Arts place in the Economy of Cultural Life

Some great insights about art leadership (critics/historians) from Roger Kimball:

"...In my view, it often happens that the most a critic can do is to remove the clutter impeding the direct enjoyment of art. True, that clutter sometimes includes the debris of ignorance or insensitivity, and in this respect art critics and art historians can provide useful guideposts that make it easier to see the work for what it is. But at bottom, their function is a humble one: to clear away the underbrush that obscures the first-hand apprehension of works of art.

Of course, this modest task has an ambitious corollary motive: namely, to help restore art to its proper place in the economy of cultural life: as a source of aesthetic delectation and spiritual refreshment. "....


aes·thet·ic or es·thet·ic adj.
  1. Relating to the philosophy or theories of aesthetics.

  2. Of or concerning the appreciation of beauty or good taste: the aesthetic faculties.

  3. Characterized by a heightened sensitivity to beauty.

  4. Artistic: The play was an aesthetic success.

  5. Informal. Conforming to accepted notions of good taste.
n : (philosophy) a philosophical theory as to what is beautiful; "he despised the esthetic of minimalism"

de·lec·ta·tion n. (Jeff says "how delectable!")
  1. Delight.

  2. Enjoyment; pleasure.
n 1: a feeling of extreme pleasure or satisfaction; "his delight to see her was obvious to all" [syn: delight] 2: act of receiving pleasure from something [syn: enjoyment]

Lets explore the synonym of delectation - “enjoyment”

en·joy·ment n.
  1. The act or state of enjoying.

  2. Use or possession of something beneficial or pleasurable.

  3. Something that gives pleasure: Classical music was her chief enjoyment.

  4. Law. The exercise of a right.
Function: noun: personal benefit, use, or possession (as of rights or property) ; widows and widowers were relegated to lifetime enjoyment of the marital estates —W. M. McGovern, Junior et al.&;; specifically : the receipt of the fruits or profits of property see also RIGHT OF USE, USUFRUCT

Interesting, this idea of a right. The fruit of owning something, is that you have the right to enjoy it. The pleasure it generates belongs to you. God has done this for us with art, he gives it to us to enjoy, as he did the earth [look that up in Genesis].

In the same way, we give pleasure to others through art. We give them the gift of enjoyment of the particular aesthetic delectation they receive from it. Mmmmm, that was so delectable...soooo delicious!

Imagine all the pleasures of heaven...and... the beauty (whew)...Our God is a lover of aesthetic delectation, and he gives it to us as a gift. Art, food, wine, countryside, human laughter, love, thrilling movies, books....all these things are delectable, and it is the joy of our Father's heart to see us receiving and "enjoying" his gifts.

And then that finds its health and balance in communion. We will enjoy, but we must also flower in our life by making sure others enjoy even more than we do. Living for others, and delighting in their enjoyments is the highest of all aesthetic delectation because it allows you to commune with God - to be like him and understand his ways...and to look, God and you, at each other and wink because you both know the secret...loving others.

(Thanks to Millinerd for his post that got me going on this. If you're interested in Art & Faith Issues, his blog is a must read. Get to know him now before he becomes the premier thinker in this field.)

The joy of being post-protestant and post-evangelical

Just one more wonderful reason why it's soooooooo good to be post-evangelical, and post-protestant....

Wheaton fires a professor who converts to Catholicism.
WHEATON, Ill. -- Wheaton College was delighted to have assistant professor Joshua Hochschild teach students about medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas, one of Roman Catholicism's foremost thinkers.

But when the popular teacher converted to Catholicism, the prestigious evangelical college reacted differently. It fired him.

Wheaton, like many evangelical colleges, requires full-time faculty members to be Protestants and sign a statement of belief in "biblical doctrine that is consonant with evangelical Christianity." In a letter notifying Mr. Hochschild of the college's decision, Wheaton's president said his "personal desire" to retain "a gifted brother in Christ" was outweighed by his duty to employ "faculty who embody the institution's evangelical Protestant convictions.""...

For many of us, the protest is over!!! Let peace bring unity! Jesus is happy when his children get along!!!! I like making Jesus happy!

More quotes from the article:
....In a 2004 book titled "Conceiving the Christian College," Mr. Litfin[Wheaton's President] argued that hiring Catholics would start Wheaton down a slippery slope. Wouldn't having Catholic faculty, he asked rhetorically, "lead to a gradual sacrificing of Wheaton's distinctives?"

...President Litfin's office is across the street from the Billy Graham Center, named for the famed preacher and Wheaton alumnus who has sought to reconcile Protestants and Catholics. The president says he has also been "a part of this rapprochement." But, he maintains, the core doctrinal issues separating Protestants and Catholics "have by no means gone away."...

...Meanwhile, Wheaton hasn't replaced Mr. Hochschild. One obstacle: Most scholars of medieval philosophy are Catholics.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A Great Emergent Conversation

Here's a comment I received on a comment I made at this wonderful blog called StupidChurchPeople which is two blogs in one by Steve and Josh. To give you the context, even though I loved these guys blogs, I thought that they had come down a little hard on my good friend Tony Jones, and so I wanted to bring some balance. I really see both sides of this situation where some people think the emerging church is moving too fast towards becoming a movement with organization and money, instead of just an organic conversation.
The request:
Jeff, could you post your comment from the SCP site to your blog? I would love to link to it an comment on it from my blog, as I think it speaks powerfully into our own little conversation amongst our group. I cannot compliment you more on the patience, insight, and seasoned wisdom with which you approached this potentially volatile topic. There are many of us who are readers and commenters on the SCP site who were uncomfortable with how Tony was handled, but it's left me with a desire to know more about Emergent.

Thanks Jeff for a fantastic little piece.



My original comment re-published:

Hey, a dual mega-comment on both of your blogs, and this is to the blogs in general, not this post only:

I spent this morning reading your blogs, and I really love them. I love the detox. I love the courage of going against all the forces that are present in the social/religious gathering of humans in your locale that call themselves evangelicals. It really cannot be said enough how brave you are, and how kind you are for sharing your journey with others.

I have been through as much crap as anybody with church during my many years of involvement in every level of church from youth worker, to elder, to janitor. I've done everything except get a paycheck (even janitorial was volunteer). I spent ten years in a parachurch mission organization and supported myself and even got a ministry degree.

I'm from Southern California, but eventually I moved to NYC to become an artist. I've lived here a decade now, and had the interesting experience of seeing how different east coast culture and Christianity is from west coast.

After years of being an artist, I got involved with a group of artists of faith that met weekly to encourage one another as we pursued our careers in the challenging NYC "secular" artistic community. No one planned it or expected it, but this group started growing and eventually became 300 people every week. Through that experience I ended up deciding to plant a church that would take many of the things we learned and allow us to go deeper than a parachurch meeting. So, now that is my new life, church planting pastor. I never wanted to be a pastor, but that's how things have turned out.

At some point in my/our journey here as artists in the midst of the "secular" NYC arts community and all the kind of new and original thinking we were accidentally creating by being in the "belly of the beast" in a way that was totally mystifying to our evangelical friends back home, I ran into the emergent conversation, and realized that a lot of its ideas were parallel to ours. It seemed like God was speaking forth something that although we were coming from different places, the core was the same.

That all came into my life around the same time I began planning the new church plant, and so it enabled me to think through a lot of different things which really helped me. Here in NYC "the emerging church conversation" was not really on the radar screen yet, and so I had never met another actual human being who was "emergent", or knew about it.

So, one day I was sitting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, reading a book published by emergent (on small groups), and a guy sat next to me. I had been praying because I was going through some very difficult financial struggles, and other struggles with various decisions I had to make regarding the church plant.

When I looked up from praying, the guy next to me who had sat there while I was praying, looked at me and said, "Hi, do you like that book"? It took me aback a bit, because who would know anything about some book on small groups? So, I said, "Yeah, I just started it, but why"? He said, "well, I'm on the board of the organization that published it". I was shocked, I blurted out, "You're with Emergent"?? "Yeah", he said, "I'm Tony Jones".... (read the story here)

Well, we had an awesome conversation for an hour or so, and that has led to a continuing friendship. At the time I didn't actually know his name, but I had heard of one of his books.

So, that's my story of how I became connected to the actual group emergent, and now I gladly have the "friend of emergent" logo thing on my blog.

Here, finally is my actual comment. I think I have an insight as to why you guys and some of your friends are not totally happy with Tony and some of his friends (and I would consider all of you my friends).

In the same way there is some intrinsic thing within people that make some automatically lean towards being liberal politically, and some toward being conservative politically - there is just some thing which makes some people go, "oh, I see humans suffering poverty...let's gather resources to help them through the government", and others go, "oh, I see humans suffering poverty...let's gather resources from all of our business profits, and let's ask the government to get off our backs so that we can flourish naturally and help them and ourselves". Both are trying to do good, but just have an opposite way of going about it.

I think what is happening is, both you and emergent see the "poverty" of the church, and you simply are responding with different instincts on how to help it.

I think you will both equally discover some amazing ways to help it.

However, I would say that you guys are a little more angry and unwilling to be open than "emergent the organization" folks. I can guarantee that everyone at emergent likes what you guys are saying, that you represent an awesome voice of discontent with the state of things that will lead to change. They dream of guys like you existing in enough numbers that will actually cause the church to change. (However, they don't like getting "yelled" at in nasty ways because they are human and have emotions).

But even with that being said, they and I know that your anger is necessary. If people don't get angry, nothing is going to happen.

I hope you don't mind me saying this, but, your anger is to me a very beautiful thing. It is like angry art - if you can get into the head and heart of the artist, it can be deeply transforming. It is a beautiful moment when you share their humanity, and you emotionally connect to their anger, and as a result you change for the better, you see how some of your stupid actions have hurt others and made them angry and in seeing it you reform that part of your heart a little. That's why I am an artist.

To more define the different approaches of you and emergent, here is what I see: A desire to see change organically grow through individuals and resist organizing vs. a desire to gather resources of intellect through writing books and blogs and organizing somewhat which requires finance.

Here's what I would like you to consider regarding the core inner motivations which might separate you.

I think one of the most powerful events which affected the trajectory of American evangelicalism from both inside and outside the church, which hasn't really been spoken about too much lately is this: The rise and fall of the Televangelists.

The developing medium of television bore amazing promise in the early years - kind of how the internet is now. This amazing new medium that could get inside of everyone's home. What if we could preach the gospel over it??? Wow, we could reach right into everyone's home that wouldn't even grace the entrance of a church and tell them about Jesus!!! And so with as much enthusiasm as a thousand bloggers, they went after it. Starting in the late sixties, and blossoming throughout the seventies and getting established in the eighties, they grew and prospered - evangelists through the medium of television.

But it was expensive! And because it wasn't a business model with advertising revenue to run on, they had to use the same power they were using to communicate spiritual messages, to communicate that they needed funding. And it was powerful, and they did raise tons of money.

What all started so wonderfully as a progressive new way to evangelize, eventually led to so much money being generated, that one after another you had these guys fall prey to the temptation of greed for even more money.

What happened was really a watershed experience in both the general American culture and the evangelical church simultaneously. The downfall of some of the big names within a relatively short time produced enormous press coverage, and tremendous embarassment, and confusion, and anger over being duped.

Suddenly you could see right through what this had become, it had become a big money making operation, and it disgusted everybody within and without the church.

I don't think it can be overstated how enormously influential this was to the church and her place in American society. It caused probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions to lose their faith, and it caused probably as many more to abort their potential interest in this Christianity thing. There are still many people scarred from it.

There are still millions of people who equate evangelical Christianity with smooth talking televangelists who are actually charlatans after your money.

I think one of the huge fallout, aftermath things of this, is this attitude and mindset that now to be authentic and real, you have to not be in it for the money.

There are many other aspects of the increasing institutionalism of American Evangelicalism which appeared to be about money and power that have left people today with a desire for something new that is fresh and organic and devoid of any money or power. We equate "authentic" with "no cash involved".

I think this is the classic, throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

It doesn't have to be "authentic" or "cash". It can be authentic and cash together.

It is not money that the bible spends tons of time talking about, it is our love of money, it is our hearts response to money.

New ways for the church to go forward can have money involved if we learn where we went wrong with money and how to do it right. That doesn't mean that in seventy years our forebears won't evolve into institutionalism and once again abuse money.

We can't help the fact that the cycle of the "fresh new thing" that eventually becomes "institutionalized and corrupt old thing" keeps happening. It seems that is the history of mankind. What matters is that we realize that we just need to keep having the "fresh new thing".

Thank Goodness, that when the great-great-great grandkids who hold the licensing rights to "Stupid Church People", (that "money printing" religious powerhouse of publishing/seminars/votive candle holders), who have totally lost touch with the founders vision and have become money loving slobs, thank goodness that they will finally be made irrelevant by a new fresh wind of real faith in some new movement, by a bunch of losers who were out on the fringes, but who dreamed in God of a new wind of his Kingdom.

Maturity is being able to hold the thing that is the gift of God, and enjoy it without letting it master you.

Fire, it is the gift of God for heating your home and cooking your children's food or it can burn your house down or your neighbors.

Sex, it is the gift of God for procreation and pleasure within marriage, or it can be used for porn and community destroying adultery and teen pregnancy and STD's.

Money, it feeds the poor, feeds your family, builds a church or it can strip a man of his soul in pursuit of it, and be used to control others and to assemble an army to attack your neighbors country.

Beer, it tastes good, creates a pleasant social atmosphere, relaxes a man after a hard day's work or it can grab you turn you into a person who releases all their other responsibilities in order to have it, who leaves reality and its bitter pain to live in a drugged state of denial.

I would like to be someone who has fire, sex, money and beer in my life. I would hate to live without them just because I was afraid they might take control over me, and be denied the precious gift they are to me.

We all know the church is in a bad state. The fact that it is shrinking means that people are losing their faith, and new people are not finding the loveliness of Jesus.

Anyone who really cares must respond to this crisis...we must find some new way to go forward.

I believe that gathering people together requires some organization. When our little organic, no- planning-whatsover group of artists suddenly grew to 300 people in a year and a half - I learned firsthand that you need to organize some things. It serves the people that are coming and are hungry to have some organizing.

Some of that organizing requires money to pay for things. If our heart is right, just as we have a freedom now to drink beer like we didn't used to, and just as we have the freedom now to say some swear words like we didn't used to, so we have the freedom to take some money and use it for good things. We can use it wisely and maturely. We can probably resist it controlling us for a good 40-50 years or so. Then we'll get old, and some younger punks will fall in love with the money and screw everything up. But then some other young punks will vomit out their anger over that and reform things again.

Humans will always gather and as their gathering grows they will begin to organize. It is the way that God knew it would be, and he gave us good teaching to help us do it well.

The church has always had house churches and big churches at the same time. By big church I mean over twenty people where you meet in a building that you have to pay for, rather than a home.

You guys are still detoxing, taking some time away from church to get free from it so you can clear your head and start thinking of new ways to do things. Who knows what new ways you will come up with?

But if you gather with some other people, I guarantee whether someone is paying the mortgage on the house you are gathering in, or whether you decide to band together as a community and share the cost of renting a space, someone had to build the walls and roof, and that real estate has value, and someone pays for it.

So, if you want to be truly organic - with no money involved, make sure you meet outside. And I hope you're in a warm climate, so that you can keep meeting outside year round. It would be a little hard to do that here on the east coast.

Or, you can open up and realize that as the body of Christ you have the ability to use money wisely and to allow everyone's gifting to flow and you can have some money and can organize - just make sure you do it all completely differently than in the past, and totally suiting the culture of your locale, and you will be able to create a place where healthy spiritual community - communion, can prosper and glorify God.

Don't be scared by money and organization. Overcome their power by faith, and use them for good. Try to see how Tony and emergent are a little more along on their journey in that regard, and are able to maturely use money to do the vital work they are doing.

Not everyone reads blogs, some people still read books, and they need money to be published. Some people can't afford a computer, but they can afford a book.

Some people might be trying to do or say or even think some new things, and they are up against some big pressures from they're church culture, and they've tried to have a voice, but it has been ignored, and they are near the breaking point, and they could really use a big gathering with other "emerging" types to be encouraged and inspired, and to build relationships. They don't really have many others nearby them, and so they go to an emergent conference, and it really helps them on so many levels. That conference requires money.

There are 370 people out there with amazing new ideas for the church to move forward, and it would be helpful if someone would step up and try to bring some organization and focus to a structure of some kind that could gather those different ideas and allow them to cross collateralize and synergize and build community and relationships and really end up creating some amazing new stuff that is far more than the separate 370 people all by themselves. That's what emergent is, and it takes some money.

Just like our little arts group took off and became a center of activity, and we had to do some organizing, so emergent started as a little organic thing, and who knew that it would take off and become a center of activity and eventually need some organizing. Maybe you'll be so lucky that whatever you eventually end up doing would take off and eventually need some organizing, and maybe even a little money.

I hope you appreciate some of my thinking. I know I really loved reading your blogs and have a great enthusiasm for what lies ahead of you. I think you are right where you need to be and I know Jesus is walking right alongside you taking you where he wants you to go.

Love, Jeff

Sunday, January 01, 2006

An attempt to appear younger by blogging in the self revelatory way of the real blogging community

Here is a picture that really says who I am.

I'm just a little guy peering out from among the plumeria's.

Plumeria flowers grow on trees in Hawaii. I spent most of my twenties there. They grow year round.

Before I went to Hawaii, when I was nineteen years old, someone told me how it was amazing because you could actually just smell the scent of flowers in the air there.

So, when I first got off the plane in the airport, where a few of us were greeted by a lovely young woman who was friends with one of my fellow travellers, and we finally got outside of the airport and were putting our baggage in the car - suddenly I smelled it. I could smell the scent of flowers in the air!!!

Later as we drove along, I realized it was because the lovely young woman had a lei on, and I was smelling the plumeria's around her neck.

But even so, even later I came to realize, that it is still true that you can smell flowers in the air from time to time, whether because you are near a gathering of plumeria trees, or because someone is wearing a lei, which they so often are.