Monday, December 03, 2007

More Shooting in Spanish Harlem

Update: added the photo above, you can't quite see it in the darkness and low resolution, but on the top of that car on the left were three bullet holes. You can see the police car and the streets roped off, this is from the fire escape of our apartment.

I heard some bangs the other night, and thought they were just a cars exhaust backing up or something. A little later my roommate came running in to say that there was a shooting on the street right in front of the building next to mine. I looked out the window from our sixth floor walk-up (that's right) and on the roof of a car now surrounded by police tape, you could clearly see three holes - big holes.

I couldn't believe you could see it from that high up, but there they were. There must have been other bullet holes because we heard what sounded like 5-7 shots in rapid fire.

The weird thing is that they were on the roof, so in our CSI educated world of understanding trajectory, was the shooter in a building shooting down? Or was it a tall shooter on the street who pointed his gun down through the roof?

I've lived in NYC for eleven years now, and I've never seen crime like this.

So I'm experiencing living without a lot of things we take for granted where I come from, and now that includes personal safety.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Somerset Christian College first to hear TNL

I had a great time last night with my new friends at Somerset Christian College. They had a panel discussion on art and faith issues and invited me along with Matt Milliner (millinerd) and Michael Cuozzo to be on it.

I was able for the first time to present publicly my new powerpoint for "The New Love" (TNL) - the book I am writing. The other presenters really gave me some insights and the we had a great dialog with the class.

My friend Keelan Downton is a professor of Narrative Biblical Theology there - he seems really poised to do some great work in this new position. We met this summer when I went to the National Council of Churches conference as a representative of Emergent Village. Besides his mind and basic cool nature, the thing I love about Keelan is that he did his PhD in Theology in Belfast Ireland and lived with Pete Rollins and the IKON community - serious emergent cred.

I'm going to start posting on TNL soon - I have to figure out how to do it well without giving away to much, while gaining from dialog it creates. I'm also considering starting a new blog.

Another post soon on the shooting outside my building the other night - with photo!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Howdy Mark, I love what you said....

I just have to get in on the fun...(anything to get myself to blog)...

I'm a member of the wink revolution...a fun way to poke fundie mouth Mark Driscoll while maintaining kindness, and to document historically the point at which he made himself...uhhh.... - well, when all people do is wink humorously at what you've stated with passion, it says a lot....

If you're wondering why I chose this lovely picture for my wink, it's because even though I look like a Viking warrior on the outside, really I'm just a little girl inside:)

Friday, August 31, 2007

A New Kind of Christian Forms

I have always felt that an important part of the emerging church conversation/movement is about a new kind of church which rises from a union of post-evangelicals and post-mainliners and post-other-traditions. The idea is that we all in humility discover our own weaknesses and discard them, and in a spirit of joyful discovery we uncover the strengths of the other and wholly embrace them - along with embracing one another, and in the end you have a new kind of Christian far closer to what God has been leading his people towards. (and the "post" can be just very personal and not formal, ie. you don't have to leave an organization, some might prefer calling themselves progressive or emergent)

So for a few years now, I have been on what I call my "mission to get inside the head of mainliners", to understand what makes them tick. I've talked to Tony Jones about this numerous times, including last week when he was in NYC, and together we've made some good progress in thinking it through. The fact that the emergent movement appears to be around half and half evangelical and mainline is an awesome comment on the real possibility we have to become a new kind of Christian.

So here's a post about a very specific thing I've been coming to understand - how we have understood the concept of holiness so differently - and this time it's a theologian and a Rabbi which inspires me.

I have always thought of holiness as relating to my personal I choose to not sin in my personal actions and choose to walk with God in prayer and bible eating?...I could entirely judge my own level of holiness by my own individual reality...I know my own heart and thoughts when I am honest with myself, and I know when I am seeking God first, or when I choose to relegate God to the background and seek my own desires first. This entire transaction takes place between me and God individually.

Anecdotally, within our evangelical subculture, we talk about, "being on fire" and "walking in the spirit" and having a lifestyle of consistent "devotions" or "quiet times". We talk about going through seasons and we comfort our own agony at not doing well by imagining we are in a season where God is not as close for his own purposes of teaching us.

It's a huge subject and a core part of evangelical culture.

But here's what I'm discovering...there is an individuality about it which is unique to this time and place in history, and when seen in a certain light, increasingly troublesome. The main insight is the total individual focus to the exclusion of all others.

What I am learning about people of other traditions is that they have simply never experienced that perspective. For them holiness is not as much a personal thing as it is a set of realities that exist amongst a community of people.

When we read Jesus rebuking the Pharisees about their use of the law and the legalism they live in, we interpret that towards ourselves individually - I should try to understand legalism as a wrong way for me to live out my faith, and instead discover what Jesus was teaching and live out that fuller truth in my personal spiritual walk.

Recently I was challenged to imagine that maybe Jesus was rebuking them not for their "personal legalism" but for the way they were using the law to control the society economically to their own advantage. They, living in community with others, were using the religious codes they all ascribed to in order to assert power over others to their own economic advantage....Wow, that's a lot different than how they were reading the book of Leviticus in their quiet times! (this insight from Walter Brueggemann's book "Prophetic Imagination")

This transition from my own claustrophobic personal individual reality to the greater reality of the community I live in is one which entirely thrills me, because it holds promise for me that maybe I won't be so alone.

Here's another recent example of a similar insight from a blog written by a Rabbi who is involved in the New Sanctuary Movement along with me (though we've never met because of geography). It caught my attention because of the title, Calling us to "mission to get into the head" starts asking, "So what does this person imagine holiness to be"? Please Read:

Calling us to Holiness - By Rabbi Laurie Coskey

...In my tradition we call the central passage in the book of Leviticus the Holiness Code. Because if the scroll on which we have written in Hebrew the five books of Moses is unrolled and folded right in half, Leviticus 19 is right in the middle. The passage begins, You shall be holy because I the Lord your God am holy and then it tells us how to be holy including to love our neighbor as ourselves.

The holiness code instructs us explicitly and clearly about just treatment for immigrants. We learn: "When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens, you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt, I the Lord am your God.

Recently a group of clergy leaders were meeting with ICE officials to formally request that they put an end to the raids in San Diego County. (ICE is the old Border Patrol). In the course of the conversation, an ICE officer remarked that "only history could judge" whether a path toward legal residency for 12 million immigrants currently in the country would benefit our great nation. Rev. Scott Richardson the Dean of this Cathedral respectfully replied that "we would have to answer to a voice more demanding than that of history", that God would judge each of us and our nation based on how we treated the immigrants living among us. God expects us to be holy people. The Koran, The Old and New Testaments teach us to respect the spark of the divine in every person no matter on which side of the border that spark was lit. That is the holy path and that is how we will be judged by our Creator...

...Our mission is clear, to become holy people, vessels of God and recognize the spark of the divine. Today we call for humane, effective, comprehensive, immigration reform. AND we will continue that clarion call tomorrow and the next day, because our call to holiness doesn’t begin or end with a session of the congress.

May our stories remind us that justice is not yet fulfilled! May our stories move us to justice!

(To read more - please forgive the format, I'm on a Mac and I don't know how to hyperlink this -

So for her, holiness is an outward obedience within society, not an inward spiritual state of the heart. One could say the outward action reflects the inward state. I think James would like this very much. It is the huge difference in viewpoint that so grabs my attention and allows me to grow and be instructed if I can see more of the other and myself through it.

Her comments on God judging the nation are very insightful to an evangelical culture who's religious broadcasters built it by over and over and over (I swear this is all I heard during my youth in Southern California) warning of God's imminent judgement on our country if we didn't fall in line with a certain limited set of socio-political-religious views. But here is a socio-political-religious view that is totally different and that we have actually opposed in our bases of power (many religious republicans are very happy to deport the very immigrants that she is so passionate to protect). Our focus on the individual nature of our faith has allowed us to hand pick a few issues that we feel passionate about religiously, and to pursue them politically, while remaining unaware of other issues in society that haven't penetrated our eccleisial understanding.

To me this is huge. But one more step on the journey remains - how will others gain from the evangelical focus on the inward - surely a part of the story...For me to really get where I'm going, I need others to gain from me and change, just as I am gaining from them and changing, then we will together walk towards an understandable and liveable balance...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Welcome to Harlem

So I was going to look at an apartment in Harlem and when I got a block away, suddently cop cars were everywhere, sirens blaring - un undercover taxi police car had it's light blazing in the windshield and screeched around a corner going the wrong way down a one way street to get to the scene faster - and two guys on the corner go, "Man, that was fast, there was a shooting like just two minutes ago and half the precinct is here already!" Then ambulances, and I get on my cell phone to call the apartment I'm going to to see if they think I can still walk down the block, then an ambulance pulls right up to me, "Hey, did you call 911"?..."no"..."okay someone on this corner did"...then they told me someone had been shot...on the street I was going to.

So, I went and saw the apartment and took it. Welcome to the new neighborhood!

Here's the funny thing...this is so stereotypical of what people would expect of Harlem, yet most New Yorkers reading this post would be surprised, because this doesn't happen as much as it used to. New York is still the safest large city in America...but of all the city, this is still an area where there is crime because the people here are poor and don't have hope for a better life.

In a way a white guy moving here so he can learn more about racial reconciliation and practice social justice by simply living amongst the oppressed and listening is a bit of a paradox, because at the same time there is a lot of resentment about gentrification - all the white people moving into the neighborhood because the rent is cheap - and displacing families in the process. So it's not like I'm going to be greeted with joy by the neighbors...the tension between the races divided is hard to relax, it comes from both sides and is complicated by many confusions and mixed messages and inabilities to see and hear the other. I'm going to live here and work with a local church plant here (non-white leadership and almost totally non-white members) just trying to learn and listen. Maybe some listening will help to better hear and see the other.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Excerpts from an email about new liturgy

SA (not South Africa) was amazing. Buenos Aires is more of a European city and I liked it very much. It was just great to get away for a longer time from NYC and be in a totally different environment. Plus all the pastors I met and befriended was wonderful.

As for your question on new liturgy...that's really the nut to be cracked. I don't think we are going to figure it out very soon. Before we started our faith community I had it all mapped out and thought it was going to be awesome, but either things didn't work, or I didn't have the people to really do them as I imagined. Then other things did work but I didn't want to go in that direction. I am now very humble and non-opinionated about what an emerging church should be.

I think the best thing is to let it bubble up organically from the people you have and the journey you're all taking as a community. I think we need to have a sense that God is doing something new in our midst, experience a sense of liberation and joy in what he is doing and then create new liturgies or modify old ones out of that bubbling over of joy, or deep sense of lament. Of course what makes it emergent is that the pastor is creating an environment where creativity can happen. Many people involved and clear and easy paths for new ideas to be tried in the gathering.

Every congregation may have a different sense of what God is doing in their midst - but then here is the difficult part...actually experiencing something that God is doing new...I'm not sure I know what that is exactly. How is it that the Spirit is breaking out in our midst in a fresh way that we can celebrate?

Is there something new, or is it just the good news that we've always had? I think the very nature of EC is that the good old gospel we've understood doesn't seem to be that good of news to so many people. It has produced what we have and caused everyone to get depressed and leave the church. It hasn't answered the deep questions and yearnings of so many and hasn't made a discernable difference within communities. So obviously the limits of our understanding of the good news are no longer tenable in this day (thus EC attempts to understand it anew with new theology). ie, we can't keep slogging along with our limited understanding and must discover whole realms of the gospel that we never knew before.

I kind of feel like the underlying theology of EC has not developed enough to support an organic bubbling up of liturgy above it - we don't quite know what the good news in our day is. And I'm wondering if the first steps forward while we wait for the theology to form are to be reaching out to those who are different from us and building relationships across broken bridges - because maybe the Lord won't show us until we stop being disobedient little un-unified brats.

My understanding of theology has turned totally towards the relational. God is trying to create communities of love that change the society around them. How can we really understand the gospel of loving communities that heal, when we are an un-unified church? The world will reject our message because it's obvious that we don't practice at home what we preach to them.

I have all sorts of ideas about the church - you know ecclesiological/praxis things about the design of the space, the flow of the gathering, etc., etc., but I don't know how those are communicated to the congregation as something to be joyful about. Maybe they are being imposed artificially upon the group?

So what is a church planter to do in the meantime? Reach out to those that are different than you and experience the healing of God's church in the big way - and then rejoice about it. Then simultaneously in the smaller local way find the deep yearning needs of your people and together ask God to heal you and then rejoice about it. (and make sure you have some creative people on hand who can encapsulate that rejoicing in liturgical forms for ongoing use).

Eras Are Within God's Sovereignty

Here's a thought. Imagine how significant, how pervasive a historical era and it's mindset are - in the modern era, whatever the mindset was, it penetrated every aspect of life - it was the air we breathed and affected everything.

Now, with what we generally believe about the sovereignty of God over the earth and all hummankind - that he has a plan for history and is unfolding it in his way and his timing; can we imagine that modernity happened outside of God's will? Of course not. So the question is, what was the wisdom and purpose of God in bringing all the forces to bear that shaped the era we call modernity?

And then of course, why is it that God has moved on from that era and started a new era? What are God's purposes in this yet to be named era? How should the church respond to what God is doing, and how can we be his wise and purposeful agent in the midst of it?

ie: pomo isn't just some new thing to be tolerated or fought against or toyingly fascinated by - it is the work of God for his as yet undiscovered purposes on this earth. I would like to join with a whole bunch of other people from every walk of life to discover together those purposes from a loving God who will answer those who seek.


How are communities in our day forming? We have much to think of and learn from what is happening around us if we truly want to imagine a way forward.

Look at the LGBTQ community...lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning). They are united in one sense and different in others.

You can imagine the voices..."we're lesbian not just gay...we're not happy, we're queer...queer sounds too queer...I like everyone and don't want to be limited to one camp:)...c'mon let's all just be gay".............

So a diverse yet unified community has found a way to live together while maintaining distinctions. The name LGBTQ may be a harbinger of things to come. Maybe we'll be Methodist-baptist-postmoderns, MBP's.....

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Speaking to Congress in Washington DC

I'm back in NYC, so my work with the New Sanctuary Movement continues. Yesterday we packed a bus full of families, organizers and clergy and drove to Washington DC.

We had a press conference on the steps of the Supreme Court and visited the offices of congresspeople and senators to let them hear in person the stories of these families facing the deportation of a husband and father (they're almost always men). I don't know how much we influenced and changed minds, but all the folks we talked to were very moved to see a family and realize our government was going to destroy that family by sending it's father away.

I missed most of the press conference because I had to run off to an appointment with Senator Charles Schumers office. We talked to an aide, but last month we had an appointment in person with Senator Hillary Clinton (which I missed because I was in Argentina).

After the heart rendering failure of the comprehensive immigration bill, we are hoping to get some smaller ones passed - HR1176 - the Citizen Childs Protection Act is a bill introduced by Congressman Serrano that allows judges to have a discretion they do not currently have to consider that the individual facing deportation has a family with children who are US citizens. Why should US citizen children not have the right to not have their parent deported? The best line I have heard that sums up my passion for this cause is - "family unity is a human right".

Of course, our God made the family and it is at the center of his heart - God has a son. Jesus has a Father. Jesus is our brother. The church is a family. Honor your parents. Love your wife. We must protect these vulnerable families before we hear Christ say to us on that day - "You didn't protect me from deportation and you allowed my family to break apart"...and we'll say, "but Lord, when didn't we protect you from deportation and allow your family to break apart?".....

Everyone at the Table - Events in Argentina

So before I left for Argentina, I contacted some emergent friends to see if anyone had any contacts down there so I could meet a few pastors and try to get a pulse of what was happening down there with the church. Maybe find a good place to worship while there.

So I end up with this contact who is excited about emergent and knows everyone in the church in Argentina and is so excited I'm there and just goes crazy calling everyone and arranging get togethers with me. It was absolutely amazing. It ended up becoming a working vacation - but what lovely work.

In particular, my new lifelong friend Flavio and I spent a ton of time together along with his wife and the beautiful young people of his church - Salta de Alegria (jump for joy). I havn't felt so loved and warmly received in many years. They took me to my first tango and I really fell for it (and them).

Towards the end of my trip after meeting this wide range of people and observing this tremendous hunger for something new in the church, something happened. A momentum from them all hearing about each other meeting with me and combined with some tips from my own experience of coordinating the network of emergent cohorts here in the US, and there was birthed a new progressive network for Argentina. Wow, what a privelge to be right there and see it happen.

Even though I tried to talk them out of using the word emergent, they really like the word and so decided to call themselves "emergente". They will begin to meet together like a cohort and will network with other groups like Red del Camino, another South American group associated with emergent village, but which no one there I talked to had ever heard of.

More evidence that something is happening worldwide in God's church. A new reformation is slowly springing up and God is connecting it in order to make it complete. Amahoro in Africa this May was another bellwether event that says to me - everyone is coming to the table, and when we're all there, we can hear where God wants us to go.


I am back in NYC after a month and a half of travels - a full month in Buenos Aires! They pronounce it something like "bwo-nus eye-eee-des"

What a place. It's like the europe of South America. Heavy on the Italian and looks like Paris at times.

A group of friends talked about going there a number of years ago and it didn't work out but left me always wanting to go there, so when I realized my schedule and housing situation were aligning perfectly to allow me some free time I pulled the trip together quite quickly.

The vacation part of the trip worked perfectly, I found myself in a place far away from New York City and with a world of new sights and sounds and tastes to experience - and there was no rush, I had plenty of time.

Of course, taste was a big highlight. They are known for two things - their many cows and all the beef they provide and their lovely red wine - Malbec. That doesn't get much closer to the center of my culinary inner motivations so I was at home. The only thing missing - sauces. They're not French.

Their two most ubiquitous foods are pizza and empanadas. They are everywhere. Honestly, I don't know how they can not get sick of seeing them everywhere. But they are good. The pizza is different from ours and I like it better. Empanadas are getting a foothold here, but we have much to learn from them, for example making the bread thinner so it's not so doughy. Here is where we could quickly take them over. They only have like five types of empanadas. If someone here were to learn how to make empanadas right, and then to go crazy with all kinds of flavors, we could one up them. Our dollar is doing so bad against other countries, we must find some new place to dominate!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

New Sanctuary Movement Launches

After two months of hard work, we finally launched the New Sanctuary Movement yesterday at a huge press conference at St. Paul's near Columbus Circle. It was pretty amazing. Rising up and taking a stand in society, for churches to proclaim that they are stepping right into the middle of the immigration debate and the actual environment of raids and deportations the government has created - and to insert ourselves physically between the government and the people we love and are determined to protect. We proclaim the churches of this nation as a place of sanctuary for those pursued by a system run amok.

If you know of anyone in fear of deportation, please connect me with them. If you would like for your church to consider joining us and becoming a Sanctuary Church, please write me (

Personally the experience yesterday was unique in my life. As I said before we did a few small press conferences recently, so that gave me some good preparation - but this thing was crazy.

Cameras and reporters everywhere - and they didn't stay still, they were moving all around getting all different angles. I was one of six speakers - the others far more experienced at this and pretty big religious leaders in New York City. So I did my best to be the emergent voice and to call evangelical churches into the fray.

I think some of my friends didn't kind of believe me when I talked about this being a major national press conference - here's a partial list of who covered it:

Associated Press

New York Times

ABC News

CBS News



Catholic News Service

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly/ Jim Lehrer Newshour

Fox News Channel Live


Sing Tao Daily

Fox News Channel--Weekend Live

Tucker Carlson Live

BBC World News Service

Religion News Service

Chicago Tribune

CNN Radio Network


Fox News

USA Today

So just turn on the TV or open a newspaper and you can read all about it.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Response to the Many Student Comments

Ok, so I'm not going to be the guru of fashion activism at the King's college...Maybe I can start a movement to get NYU students to dress better?

And I've blown out the idea that emergents are weak-knee'd hippies - having blasted a respected cultural leader like your President in public and blogosphere.

So, campus dress codes - a perenial source of complaint and dissent amongst student populations since Christianity invented higher education no longer arouse a peep of passion? OK. Sounds like the administration might be putting something in the food when that many students love the dress code, I don't know, just a little weird at most.

So let me be honest - I already knew TKC students support the dress code. I did think I might find one or two out there that might agree on that point, but I knew the majority were happy with it - how? they've told me that in person. I've been to TKC probably seven times over the last number of years, going back pretty close to when it started. I've sat in lectures held by TKC at the Lamb's theater. I've studied in the library, I've eaten food there. I've known many students in church circles.

And it would be important to note three things before I launch into this long and substantive reply - I'm not attacking the school or the school body - as my post started by saying I've come to know and love a number of TKC students. And secondly, it is well accepted that college Presidents are public figures. When public figures say things in public, it is quite within normality to take them to task in public arenas like blogs. This is not a "broken relationship" between brothers that needs forgiveness and reconciliation.

The third thing to note; do you remember at the beginning of the gulf war when George Clooney spoke out so passionately against the war, and he was on the verge of being blacklisted as mainstream America bristled at his "un-patriotism". Now he is hailed as a man of true courage and patriotism because he spoke his mind against the grain. I have chosen to speak out forcefully about things which I will explain more in this post - you can disagree with me, but when we speak critically about important things an institution is manifesting, it's not that we hate the institution or the people in it, we want it to be it's best by pointing to it's current manifestations - often manifestations have an underlying cause that can use some fixing. Often speaking out against an institutions current manifestations is prompted by wanting it to return to it's founding aspirations. So just think of me as George Clooney.

What is probably my fault in lack of communication skill, is that the article/post was only slightly about the dress code (yes, I do have an ounce of interest in the dress code, but that's about it, and I think I said too much about it confusing things) the article is about the conversation I had with the President of King's College and how he denigrated a large swath of people I am intimately connected to (and that's why I noticed it, whereas no one else then or now seems to have noticed or cared about that denigration - aren't some of you PK's and felt like he dissed your dad?). And it was about how I recognize that he was able to do that in a public forum because he is a part of a culture that affirms that and sees nothing wrong with it (a notable manifestation). Not one single comment here from the students seems to have any problem with the things he said about those groups of people, a very interesting comment (manifestation).

I wrote the post knowing it would stir up some trouble because I am trying to get under the hood of that particular culture and check its manifestations - thus helping it return it to it's original aspirations (God's love manifest in community).

I am all about being free to believe whatever you want to believe. But what I think is important to know, is what you believe in the context of other possible beliefs, and to make a wise, reasoned, prayerful choice to continue in that belief culture and stream knowing where it fits on the spectrum (or what side of the mountain its flowing down).

The flow of beliefs and money in a stream are what create institutions in our society. The Jews in America have a tremendous number of cultural institutions that are well funded and that promote their beliefs (awesome!). The Buddhists have a so so number of such institutions. the Democratic and Republican political parties have their stream of beliefs and money. The media institutions have their streams, the art world has it's streams (more like creeks for most of them), political activists of all stripes have their streams. (and the mention of money in this context is not negative, of course these streams need money, but just noting the stream of money is helpful in identifying the stream and its goals).

One of the most important things is to know what stream you are in and really decide if that is the stream you want to be in. Many people find themselves standing in a stream and they don't really know how they got there or why or what it is.

Fundamentalism, the thing that is currently scaring the pants off most of the world's population, is the belief that your stream is the only stream and that's it. No discussion, get in the stream or you're going to die - either by God allowing you to die spiritually and go to hell, or by God commanding me to kill you. Whether he takes you or I take you, you're going to die if you don't get in this stream (I'm not saying TKC is fundamentalist, but be patient as I build here).

Here's why I do what I do; The church in America is shrinking. There are less Christians today than there were yesterday. Tomorrow there will be less also.

Two groups of people are the one's whose presence is missing from the church and thus it is shrinking - the first group are longtime Christians who find themselves increasingly disenchanted with many levels locally and nationally of Christian culture and are literally streaming out the doors of the church - in order to preserve their faith (not to leave the faith). This phenomenon is well documented by George Barna's book Revolution and by many people's anecdotal evidence all across America and the blogosphere.

And the second group is an entire generation of young Americans sometimes refered to as the post-Christian generation. They grew up with baby boomer type parents who were often atheist (at least functionally) and so didn't expose their kids to religion. They grew up in this transition from modernity to post-modernity (or whatever you want to call "that which comes after modernity"). They are curiously very different from their non-religious parents - they are very spiritual or open to spirituality. Some say it only took one generation of atheist parents to drive the next generation to spiritual belief. But, even though they are very open spiritually, they are also completely turned off by what they see of American Christianity. Interestingly, they are very open to and curious about Jesus - they sense a good vibe about him, but what they see of American Christianity nudges or pushes them away.

These two groups of people, the Barna Revolution Christians leaving church to preserve their faith, and the post-Christian generation together represent the first time in the history of America that so many people are "missing" from the church that the church is shrinking. There are parts of the church that are growing but they cannot keep up with the parts that are shrinking. Evangelicalism is shrinking but more slowly than Mainstream protestants or Catholics. Mainstreamers in particular are porch diving. But evangelical Christianity is shrinking.

That's not a small thing. The Kingdom of God was made to grow. So, of course the big question is, "What's causing the shrinkage?" And then, How can we fix it?

I believe, and so do a good number of others (who flow in different streams than TKC) that evangelical Christianity has become so power hungry after a few decades of growing power and political triumph, that there has been a subtle drift away from the gospel of Jesus, to a gospel of political power or whatever else it might be (of course all in the name of Jesus). When Jesus was on earth, he spent a lot of time prophetically calling out the religious political power holders. The prophets did that also in the OT.

If America is the most powerful nation on earth, and the President of America is the most powerful man in America - when the National Association of Evangelicals has weekly conference calls with the President, and are known to be his power base - then I don't think it's too far fetched to imagine a bunch of people that close to the greatest human power on earth could have been tempted to drift by that power.

Now, back to streams. The Kings College is decidedly, and inarguably in a very clearly known stream of money and influence and belief that is at the very heart of evangelical politic and power pursuit (if you wonder about this, follow the money, it will show you who's in the stream). I'm sure most of you know that. The question is did you know that a lot of Christians have a problem with that? Did you know the church was shrinking? Do you think the church is in need of reform?

If you knew a Christian who left the church because he was really bummed out by it, would that motivate you to wonder about you and your "church stream's" role in that loss of your brother?

Do you know that your generation is the most lost in the history of America?

Is that a crisis?

There are by far less Christians amongst your generation than any other before it. If that is true, does it give rise to questioning the status quo of the church?

Are people who do question the status quo of well known public church institutions and their leaders - in this state of crisis - being mean?

Wouldn't having this knowledge and not passionately questioning the status quo power holders (the ones who caused it and can affect change) amount to a betrayal?

If we have a whole new set of issues with our current shrinking church, compared to the excitedly ascendant church of President Oakes college student days 35 years ago, would that lead us to consider the need for new thinking?

The ascendant nature of the last twenty years of evangelical growth, has left those still hot on that exciting warpath unaware of other things that are happening - runners in a race don't notice the fungus on the trees. When you are trying to build political power and influence, you don't talk much about shrinkage or want to notice that it's there. It's too negative.

Maybe you don't know that the main job of college Presidents is to raise money. That is true of both secular and Christian private colleges. Colleges are essential and need talented fundraisers, of course. Fundraising is essentially selling. I was in sales for years. Sales is a good thing. College Presidents have to sell a vision to donors, a vision of how their money is going to change the world through the fine young students produced. That's the job of college Presidents and it is good and needed. The cost of your tuition is directly tied to how good of a salesman J. Stanley Oakes is, and so you should hope he is good - the more he raises, the lower your tuition. I'm sure he is awesome and I'm sure he's personally saving your parents a ton of money. I loved my years in sales.

But here's the thing about salesmen - they don't notice anything negative. You can't sell negative. You can't be negative. You have to drum up a vision of awesome exciting beauty and emotionally communicate that to your audience - and it's truly a grand sight to behold it done well.

But the thing is that when your ship is sinking - you don't need a salesman to motivate you with a grand vision of your destination, you need an engineer with a keen eye for the reality of the negative situation and a mechanic who can execute repairs on the hole. That's what prophets are known for - calling out negative things that are sinking the ship. We need many, many prophets, all the time, it's no big deal to be a prophet or prophetic.

The reason you guys all love J. Stanley so much (as I would if I were in your shoes) is because he is a grand communicator of an exciting vision - and I am not being cheeky when I say that is totally awesome - super awesome.

But here's the thing. We are in a time of crisis. When I say the church is shrinking, that's the same as the ship is sinking. How long can the American church shrink, before it is sunk? Do you want to be Europe? The ship sunk in Europe.

Imagine if the post-Christian generation never gets turned on to Christianity - the seriousness of that is sobering. Time for that logic class - how long will it take the older Christians to die off naturally, and for the new rising post-Christian generations to populate the country with nothing but post-Christians? If that happens the ship has sunk, we are Europe. It could really happen, it is happening now - the only way to stop it is to reach your generation, or the next one for Christ. This is a total and serious crisis.

This is a time for the church to be deeply quiet and introspective about where we have gone wrong. It is not the time to be running ahead. How can you run ahead when you don't know where to go? How can the church be shrinking/sinking, and we not understand that everything we are doing right now has to stop, be considered, and then reformed?

The stuff we are doing right now, is the stuff that leaders and theologians and pastors over the last 30 years slowly thought up and slowly implemented. What you are doing and studying at TKC is stuff that was thought up twenty years ago - that's how institutions work.

So, this is a time not for salesman to pump us up, but for prophets to lead us towards humble self introspection leading to prayers of repentance and asking God to show us where we went wrong and to move in a new direction that he shows us. Anything else is to be partying on the sinking ship.

So back to college Presidents - I doubt J. Stanley Oaks or most of his main ideological and financial partners that stand in the same stream together even know the church is shrinking (because their type doesn't tend to notice that). They are smart, talented, quite impressive people who are running ahead with all their might. I am sincerely and tremendously impressed with many of their accomplishments - they are all smarter and harder working than me.

But I believe they have drifted off the path, and that maybe a meek guy or two speaking out prophetically can help them to see that people are leaving the church in large numbers, and not coming to the church for the first time in large numbers because of the culture they have created over the last 35 years or so (unwittingly). They need to see the ship is sinking and pull back on the throttle (all their plans and ideas).

I don't doubt their sincere early motivations. I was one of them and watched them build this whole thing. I gave Pat Robertson money when I was a high school student in the seventies. I thought he was awesome. If it was 1983 and I was a college student at TKC, I would probably worship J. Stanley Oakes.

But it's 2007 and good and reasonable people in our general culture don't want the evangelical power elite to take over control of the world. They aren't against them because they don't believe in God, or "get" the cause of righteousness, they just don't want someone taking over society and telling them how to live. No one anywhere likes power grabs. This is the core of the drift that lead us to hit the iceberg. Okay, the ship is sinking J. Stanley and buddies - stop the power grab. Okay, I understand you didn't know, but now you do, so stop scaring people and start listening to them.

When you think differently from those all around you, sometimes we call that a blind spot. As a student when you think you are just trying to get a good education and do well in business for the gospel's sake, yet a chorus of voices all around you are proclaiming they perceive your college and whole stream of leadership around it as someone making a power grab - and you are scaring them and you are not listening to them - then it's time to listen to them - and if you are the college President, then you need someone to point out your blind spot. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time when I noticed J. Stanley saying things that I know scare people and make them run from the church. Love for those people makes me want to ask J. Stanley to stop saying those things. Shhhhh, you're scaring the children.

Jesus came to suffer and serve - to build community from the bottom up, not the top down. We need to learn to live in a complex pluralistic society where we make Christ attractive to others because they see the love we have in our midst, not by taking control of the great institutions of power. Christ has never dwelled near earthly power. He has all power, and he expresses it on earth by giving power away, by dying, by letting go - that is our Orthodox example. Christ is always counter-intuitive. We build his Kingdom by drawing people towards loving communities of faith, not by controlling the power in culture and shaping it how we want.

You must understand the chorus of voices who are saying you are scaring them by seeing this in light of 9/11. On that sad September day the world changed, and one of the big things that changed is that a lot of people that used to never be scared got scared. I know TKC is not fundamentalist - but people in the culture don't understand the difference between evangelical and fundamentalist - they are the same to them. I even know mainstream protestants who can't really tell them apart. The rise of super scary fundamentalist Islamic terror has created a deep change in how people in our culture understand people of faith. People are scared of people who do things because God told them to. If you don't understand this one important point you will flounder much in your work for God in todays world. Ascendant evangelical power grabbing has become deeply tied to the fear people legitimately have in their heart towards people doing what God told them to do.

So, you should go to The Kings College and you should study your heart out about business and economics and philosophy and just get super smart and equipped - but we as a church need to take a different approach to how we implement our hopes to change the world. We need to be so freakin' sensitive to the real fears people have of people who want to change the world for God. It's super real and a failure on our part to deal with this reality will fundamentally affect our chance to save one of the upcoming generations and stop the ship from sinking.

This is where we drifted - we started trying to just be present in culture (because we had been missing and that was totally off), but somewhere along the way we got sidetracked. Folks like J. Stanley Oakes have spent their lives fundraising, networking and thinking about how to take power. That's what he told me personally that night, and that's what is obvious to any cultural observer who sees where TKC fits on the spectrum of streams of belief and money. And that's the stuff that scares people bad. You can't lead people to Christ when you are scaring them.

When he said I should just listen to him and accept his judgement because he's been doing it for 35 years - that was a manifestation of him running along this stream for so long, that he doesn't even know the ship is sinking - because that is the kind of statement that says I know what God is telling me to do so don't question it - and that is what scares people today, and also is what just kills the post-Christian generation in terms of not being open to dialog (the whole central political power metanarrative thing) and keeps them far away (I'm sure if he knew that he would never say it - but fundraising is the main job of college President's and it is quite tiring).

When he denigrated all those people that are different from him, that was him saying, "I'm so sure I know what to do with the power when I get it, that I don't really need others input - and I can't even really respect them given they dress poorly, in fact they dress like homeless people, uh, what do you call them...oh yeah, bums" - that's a clear indicator of how power has caused him to drift and put him square in the sights of the need for a prophetic calling out. Telling the powerful and power-hungry that they are arrogant accounts for significant portions of the prophets and the gospels. I'm sorry that your guy got busted, but he said it. And when the ship is sinking and a college President says that - he needs to be rebuked, the stakes are too great.

And maybe the first time you read the post you didn't know of the crisis and that the ship is sinking, and so you just thought I was a jerk...but now that you know your President was partying on the deck of the sinking ship, I hope you'll be more kind to the messenger who went out and asked him to stop.

This is not to say that just going to TKC is an indictment - the church needs to be reformed, not destroyed. J. Stanley Oakes is going to have a huge mansion in heaven - getting caught asleep at the wheel is not that terrible - but it does require some response. If we suddenly wake up and discover that we drifted towards power grabbing and lost our servant based prophetic power to draw people to Christ - then we repent and return to our first love. A lot of us are just now waking up to this drift. I'm no different.

Drift is hard to notice at first. But a whole ton of people are waking up to this drift and they are noticing there are no 18-35 year olds in church(*) and they have a lot of long time Christian friends that don't go to church anymore, and they notice a lot of the society being really annoyed by American Christianity for good reasons and they begin to realize how power corrupts and causes drift. And they notice that the most powerful and wealthy country on earth has been controlled by a political party that is not only known as the political party of the church, but also the political party of the wealthy, and they wonder how Jesus got on the side of the power elite?

Evangelicals are famous for not being strong on social justice, and for being very strong on creating wealth and protecting that wealth through the party of wealth, the Republican party. People notice that and it turns them off. (Once again, just trying to notice manifestations that lead us back to original aspirations - not anti-Republican)

If you're cool being in that stream. Awesome, you'll hear no problems from me (unless you say something really mean and stupid in public - then I might have to call you out).

But do you know the church is shrinking?

Even if you don't notice the church shrinking, or believe me that it is, at least look into it and the fact that a lot of people are talking about these things and so there might be something to it.

And do you know the particular stream of evangelicalism that you and TKC are in? (and how many perceive that stream as the one leaning on the steering wheel while we drifted into the iceberg that punctured the hole in the hull?) Seriously, are you aware that people are scared and that they have coined words like "wingnut factory" to describe TKC - you really have to know that in order to realize the crisis.

I'm not being mean to J. Stanely or TKC, I'm calling you to stop running ahead with a 35 year old plan and start being quiet and listening to the chorus of voices all around you in the culture who are helpful in helping us to see our blind spots - sensitive to the realities of our post 9/11 world and the state of fear out there. And then to be in a mood of quiet attentiveness to God about things like repentance, confession and lots of prayer about the future he is leading us towards.

(*don't be fooled by the amazing growth of megachurches - for every successful megachurch of 5000 people, there are hundreds of other churches that have closed or shrunk that represented 7000 people...5000 moved over to the megachurch and the other 2000 left the church. A net loss of 2000.)

I want to add something about the comment about not being afraid of being excellent and being successful in business and government - of course those are good things. A big part of my life is helping artists of faith be the best they can be in the secular art world, that's my main gig. What has happened is that the church has lost its prophetic call because though we were going in the right direction - to be present at all levels of society, including the high levels, which we had been absent from - we did so while remaining separtist and critical of society in a real ugly and unattractive way.

Ever heard of the culture wars? that's a bunch of Christians not going to see some movie or not buying Palmolive products because their corporate symbol looked weird. We need to be present emotionally, artistically and actually (not in our subculture) before we can be a good member of society who happens to have some strong business gifts and rises to a high level.

When you are a separtist group and you want to take over the world and tell everyone else what to do that is the problem, and that is exactly, exactly, exactly how they view us.

There's nothing wrong with being gifted and doing well politically or in business or in any sphere - but you have to do it if you are a Christian (especially today) from a place that shows people you care about them and are there for their benefit - a true servant. When we don't listen to the voices in the world telling us they are afraid of our grabs for power for a lot of good reasons - we doom ourselves to not being in a place to "ascend as a true servant". If we don't listen to the sound of all the feet walking out of the church by the culture we've created, we won't be able to serve well (if we didn't know so many feet were walking out, were we listening?).

People have a right not to want a separtist group to control them. I wouldn't want Hare Krishna's to take over the government and make me wear their clothes and haircut. Even though we think we "aren't that guy" - we must listen to the world around us who really, really, really do believe we are that guy - and they're scared of us because we have shown some awesome power in political elections. (which brings up the whole point that evangelicalism has really become the dominant political church of our state - we're not really that up and coming anymore, we're already there - note NAE conference calls with the President).

So there is this very long story of how we have to be a present part of the world physically, socially, artistically, emotionally in order to gain the privilege of their trust so we can be leaders in all levels of society - including the high ones of business and government as trusted servants.

This gets into my whole life as a pastor of artists and a voice calling the church to be a part of the art world and culture in general. If you aren't around when the gang is having fun, and then you show up and just want to get your way on the group project, no one will like you. It's like the weird neighbor who never joins others for casual talk out in their yards, the only time you see them is when they are mad at some kid for riding on their lawn - if the only time you see us is when we are denigrating culture and we're not being a part of that culture - if we spend inordinate amounts of time building a whole subculture with our own music and film and books and colleges and then suddenly want to show up and control everything, don't you see how scary that looks to them? We are the weird neighbor.

If you hang out and know everyone in the neighborhood and volunteer to help clean up the playground and generally be present, then no one blinks when you also decide to run for the school board.

This is why though the dress code is not the biggest thing, it is still a part of our lack of "being a part of" physically and emotionally. In your college years, you should be a college student. The vast majority of people who will be filling all the positions of power and influence that TKC students also want to go to are just enjoying being college kids right now and wearing whatever clothes they feel like. I want you to be present among them. Staying separate and preparing for your assault on power by practicing dress up for four years is part of the problem (though a minor one).

You are more responsible for reaching your own generation than you are for the businesspeople in the Empire State Building - there's plenty of older Christian businessmen reaching out to them and because yours is the most lost generation in the history of America - there is just mathematically less people your age reaching out to people your age than there are forty year olds reaching forty year olds. We always have a natural affinity for the people our own age who grew up watching the same TV shows and in your case understand why Myspace exists (which for example, I at age 43 don't understand at all).

Are you exhausted reading this, I don't blame you. I know I am tired of hearing myself think. I'm just a guy doing my best to hear the Lord and live my life and not be afraid to do the tough job. I hope you'll be patient with me if you disagree - if I'm totally wrong and there is no crisis and the church is right on track, I'm sure President Oakes will survive my words and forgive me and I hope you will too. Maybe you'll read some of the earlier posts on my blog where you'll see I'm all about talking about relational love ad nauseum. Many blessings.

Children's Vigil

On Saturday I gathered with many others at the Federal Plaza downtown to stand vigil with the families and children who have had a parent detained and deported. Families are being torn apart as our broken immigration policy causes people who have American citizen children and spouse's, who may even have a green card - a registered, documented resident in this country - in the case of one of the speakers - an American veteran of the gulf war - And they will take them and deport them and let the family fend for itself. Children come home from school and discover no one's home, the parents are gone.

You can't help but look at these children and hear their stories and know that this is wrong.

This is my first post on a big new part of my life - a public advocate for the voiceless and oppressed. I'm the only white evangelical type around at the multiple meetings I've been to over the last month - the rest are the folks who have always been there. I hope my presence there is a sign of a new movement by many who are people of faith, but who realize that we have been running so hard after power - the evangelical impulse to control the government and force this nation to be Christian - that we have forgotten Christ's role as an advocate for the weak and oppresed. The rise of the new religious left - people of faith leaving the religious right and it's power and money focus, and moving towards the left and it's focus on social justice and advocacy - is going to be one of the biggest new streams of change in this coming election. I predict the new religious left will be the new soccer mom's.

All the prophets were essentially advocates for the oppressed, speaking out against the oppresor. The scriptures are clear over and over about welcoming the stranger and the foreigner (more on that in another post).

Christianity is not about taking over the centers of power, it's about creating goodness and justice and fairness in society by serving, by associating with the lowly and the poor.

In a short time, I am going to be a part of a simultaneous nationwide launching of a new movement to protect the oppressed. It's been a very exciting month for me with numerous conference calls and organizing activities as we prepare New York, LA and Chicago along with 20 other cities to proclaim our intents and actions - I have to be purposefully vague because we have a press embargo until we launch.

I've already been involved in two press conferences that we planned not only for the issue itself, but also to be some practice in front of the cameras for the big one that's coming. I'm so grateful for these practice one's because I've really learned a lot. It's pretty funny, I've never even been to a press conference. And to be honest, it's kind of a giddy exciting feeling to know that you are being taken seriously and they are going to broadcast what you say.

I feel like I understand what has driven evangelical leadership towards their grasp for power - it is a heady experience to be listened to and to have influence - but from this I take a strong lesson - to remember that my voice is to be used to advocate for the poor and needy and afflicted - not to take over the power centers. Always from the bottom up, not from the top down.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

College President insults homeless people, artists, ministers, NYU students, companies with a casual dress code, and equates power execs with God

or, A Revealing Metanarrative Dispatched From the Elite

Over the last few years, I've come to know and love a good number of students from King's college here in Manhattan. After an unrelated event we all attended, I ended up with an audience of the President of King's college, J. Stanley Oakes along with a number of students. In what began as an innocent but earnest plea on my part to get the President to consider changing their strict dress code which has young Manhattan college students wearing suit and tie to school, and really should have ended amicably, grew to something that became so much more as the following public display escalated to my amazement and aroused emotion. Here's what the president of King's college said:

That artists, creative types and NYU students, "dress like bums". And that "they" can dress however they want but he's going to teach his students to play successfully in the game of power and politics.

Concerning my boldness to address the issue - that ministers "usually know a lot about what's inside the church, but not about the real world outside".

After claiming that they were trying to prepare students for the reality of the business world, which was countered by the assertion that a lot of the business world itself has gone to a more relaxed dress code, he replied, "Most of them still wear suits, at least the ones I respect".
(Wow, even the corporate casual world is unsafe, well, at least, unrespected - I guess all those high tech millionaires don't know as much as an educator)

When asked, "Why can't students just wear normal cultural clothes to school, and then dress up when they have a business appointment"? He said that important businessmen and recruiters come to the college to find talent, and when that was countered with, "Yeah, but why can't they just wear a suit when they have an appointment with that businessman"?

Okay...get ready...he replied,

"Sometimes they come unannounced like Jesus".........

....whaaa..(head shake so that cheeks flap like on tv show)..haaaaa?.....

I think someone who has a high position in the administration of King's college and has the word "President" on his office door is a little beholden to the business elite, and the normal regular elite too. Some people he likes to scoff at, others he likes to compare to our high and mighty coming King.

People speak from their heart. He has his entire student body fetching water for the man who might show up unannounced like a thief in the night. Meanwhile they have to walk around like Mormon missionaries in front of all the other cool kids in NYC.

(the social contract has agreed that it is culturally and ethically acceptable to make fun of Mormon missionaries).

But what really got me the most, what really offended me to the point that I was roused to reply strongly (I told him he was arrogant...about three times:), was this little tip toe down the lane called ignorance-of-the-postmodern-mindset-of-an-entire-generation...(and concerning why I should just accept his position and not question it so passionately)...

..."I've found over the years that when someone has been doing something for 35 years it usually means they know what they are doing and you might want to listen to them"...

...Wow, I'm just smiling now remembering the status quo is correct. those in power do know what's right. Don't question and innovate and be progressive. 35 years of the old way of doing things is more important than new cultural trends and realities. The Metanarrative is true, just accept it 'cause it came from someone who's been doing it for 35 years.

35 years ago many countries were still under their colonial masters. 35 years ago America had its own colonial ambitions in Southeast Asia. 35 years ago our country was still digesting the meaning of the recently passed civil rights legislation and was embroiled in race riots and anti-war protests. AND 35 years ago an evangelicalism that was just beginning it's ascent to power was silent on racism, silent on colonialism, absent from the arts and media. The AIDS crisis was only a decade away then, and the church is barely just now showing up to help. Not to mention evangelical silence and complicity then and now with IMF/World Bank, "So you just got freed from the shackles of colonialism, hey no problem, have we got a deal for you...." And let's not even talk about the environment.

The kind of thinking that was writing the theology and ecclesiology of 35 years ago in that world, is not the kind of theology and ecclesiology we need going forward to this new world that is in such a state of epochal transition that no one even understands it yet. A world that can only be titled, "post" to the modernism that came before it. We need fresh thinking.

If this was just some guy I had a casual conversation with in private, I would keep my horror to myself. But this was a public conversation with the public leader of an institution of higher learning - this is the guy training the young students that we will need in the coming years to lead us into the unknown postmodern era looming ahead of us. This is a man deeply out of touch with the reality of the world around him, and forcing an entire student body to live in his private version of unreality - which causes them to be ill equipped and unprepared to reach their peers all around them with the gospel of peace because they look like some kind of weird religious types to their cool Manhattan cohorts. Basic missiology, cultural context needed here.

Students of King's College - rise up and change the system - if you can't force a college in 2007 to change their dress code, how will you end poverty, abolish the modern slave trade and repair the broken ethics of our corporate culture?

We all know what context means. We all know you can dress casual and cool most of the time, but when you have a big job interview, you wear a suit. Maybe after you get the job, they'll let you wear something more comfortable - maybe they won't. In America's public and private institutions of government, law and some of the commerce you still have to wear a suit, but in the media, civil society, education, the rest of commerce, high tech, science, the arts, and the church, you get to dress from business casual, to casual and cool, to really cool. That's the future, and you'd be better off spending four years learning how to dress in the real world of NYC - in all of its changing contexts - than in an outfit anyone back home could have shown you. We need fresh, culturally conversant thinking.

This wasn't a conversation about clothing or institutional dress codes, this was a conversation about what kind of thinking we want and need our leaders to have. Fresh, progressive, culturally conversant, culturally contextual, local, communal, humble and non-elitist, refusing of power centered metanarratives, relational, kind.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Mass Email I Sent Out Today

Communion of the Arts renamed
Four weeks of Art&Love
Hello friends,

Thank you for following our progress since our birth less than a year ago. After a long road and much learning, Cota is experiencing a rebirth on Sunday March 18th as Communion. The most significant addition is our awesome new musical worship leader Isaac Wardell. We've been dreaming for a person like Isaac to walk into the life of this church for some time. He brings a wonderful palette of creative arrangements and a broad network of musicians.
Every Sunday at 11am we'll call to worship with lovely unamplified song and thoughtful prayers.

We'll gather in small groups for communion and prayers for one another.

We'll learn scripture by, "teaching one another" in dialog as lead and guided by the pastor and a team who prepared together the Wednesday night before - come join this team and be immersed in scripture while serving the entire congregation.

Finally, we'll move from speaking our love towards God and spend time speaking to one another and enjoying deep relational communion over Indian food!

We have moved from the Lamb's Theater to a new space at 42nd and 9th Ave.

Even though we're young, we've gotten quite a lot of attention nationally from people who are interested in progressive communities of faith, we kind of feel like one of those bands that is huge in Belgium but not as much locally. Our dream is to create a new kind of church that has a real chance to reach the post-Christian generation (who are basically absent from church in America).

Interestingly, Union Theological Seminary here in NYC (where Bonhoeffer taught while in the US) included us on a list of congregations that students were to visit and report on, and they listed us as "Eucharistically experimental". I took great delight in that description. The essence of our "experiment" is - how can a weekly gathering for "church/liturgy/worship" create bonds of love between a group of people that are strong enough to change their lives and the community they live in?

So even though we dropped the word "Art" from our name, we're by no means losing our comittment to exploring it's role in society and communities of faith, and so for the next four weeks join us for Art&Love, a special series looking at art in society and asking how and if it plays a role in creating community...while in parallel, asking how love exists in community...These two streams will help us explore the idea that, what if art is actually a creation of God as a medium of communal love - ie. a way that a large and diverse group of people, "know one another"...Does art mitigate loneliness?...What is it about art that makes it communal? And how do people of faith serve the greater good by embracing art as the medium God created it to be?

We feel that if we start by embracing art in its fullness in our liturgy, then we will be on the way towards understanding it in society (and thus serving society as the body of Christ). But we need you to help us get there, so if you are longing for a fuller experience of relationship in your community of faith and a deep and lovely liturgy - this communion is what we are longing for and believe is the essence of God's dream for the world.

Jeff Kursonis
Pastor, Communion NYC


Sundays at 11:00am
at the office of our friends at Origins Church
581 9th Ave #3B (corner of 42nd St. and 9th Ave.)
Above the papaya dog.
Enter the door on 9th Ave right next to the papaya dog.
buzz number 3B...(if any problem call 917-553-6843)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Cohort gathers Monday with LLC

It's Cohort time again in NYC. This time we're gathering with our Latino Leadership Members (LLC) and they are guiding our dialog and helping us to see how they are emerging. David Ramos the founder of the LLC is also a leader at the Cohort.

The NYC Emergent Village Cohort blog is here.

I'm really excited about this months gathering - when we talk about everyone being at the table, this is it really happening. The LLC is a group of young progressive Latin leaders who have been meeting for 5 or more years - they were emergent before most of us heard that word.

If you live near NYC, let me tell you why you might come to this month's gathering if a general interest in their unique outlook isn't enough; The Latin population of America is soaring, we've all noticed their increased political presence and power, you may have heard the very interesting social comment that salsa replaced ketchup as the biggest selling condiment in this country a few years back. If you have a church, it is very likely that you will have young Latin members. You will learn insights about how to best serve them and love them by joining our dialog this Monday night. This is real important stuff.

For me, beyond ministering to people in my congregation, I just want to know the story of a people. They got some huge history and stories that will change my life if I'm listening. One thing I'm passionate about is killing and closing down the social divides in this country, whether they are ethnic, economic or religious (or the tall people/short people thing). This month's cohort is going to be one very important step in the dream of God for healing the world.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Year of the Pig

Starting today is Chinese New Year's. And what an awesome animal this year - the pig. You already hear westerner's chiming in with pork related comments, eat a lot of bacon this year. I wonder if the Chinese would find that strange that we think of eating pork first. Kind of like Europeans are aghast when they discover we eat pumpkin pie as a sweet dessert. To them it's like squash to us and they only eat it savory. Can you imagine squash pie?

Although I'm sticking with pig, some of the chinese calendars describe it as boar - but what can I say, that's sounds tougher and less appetizing and cute than a pig. Also a little dangerous. Maybe their whole view is of a tough wild boar, while we are thinking of a cute little pink thing with a smile and curly tail.

On the other hand if you are an American Born Chinese (ABC), and you are born in the year of the pig, I wonder how that works...I think most westerners wouldn't want to be connected to a pig as much as to say, an eagle or a lion. That's me the lion - Leo.

The Tahitians love chickens far more than eagles. I personally, twenty four years ago on a two month missionary journey through French Polynesia, saw an audience of Tahitians get visibly upset with the American evangelist who flew in for a few days, and gave his sermon saying they should be strong and fly high as an eagle, not live low, clucking around as a silly, filthy little them the chicken is the great friend of man who gives them eggs and meat and squawks lovingly around the compound, where the eagle is the menacing evil thing flying above hoping to come down and kill their beloved chicken. It was really funny, this guy started to realize he was totally losing the audience, but kept right on going. Afterwards they complained to us strongly.

Ahhh, cultural differences and animals.

ps. one of my favorite fun things to do in an international crowd is to have everybody give the sound in their language of various common animals. It's so funny to hear how they culturally represent, like the "ruff" of a dog, or the "cock-a-doodle-doo" of a rooster. Great fun.


Wow, check it Out! The Chinese see the pig like us, cute and pink (well red) and curly tail - not a mean ole boar! Just better dressed.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Learning can be fun - watch this and understand the web

Here is an awesome youtube that explains the future of the web with XML and Web 2.0 and how we are all creating the web of the future in real time as our choices combine to create online communal reality. It has so many implications and was done by a doctoral student. (and is my blog's premier youtube post!)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Sexuality in Communion

So here's the issue: How do we give wise and sensitive pastoral leadership concerning many areas of sexuality in an age of new openness to gayness and other aspects of human sexuality in general and being careful not to prescribe to people how to live, but have them discover from their own faith in Christ how to live. (Knowing that people don't really learn from our prescriptions but by Christ working within them).

So just reading these few paragraphs below from the description of a workshop at a faith conference inspired the idea, that just as we have better biblical interpretation by “reading in communion” (don't even link to this unless you want to read a long post about my ideas of reading in communion as inspired by Stephen Fowl), so we learn how to live sexually as faithful followers of Christ by learning, “sexuality in communion”.

The idea is that the pastor talks openly about sexuality and encourages other leaders to do so, and generally inspires an atmosphere of trust within the community so that people feel if they have questions or struggles that they can go to others, not necessarily "pastoral counseling" only, and that others will specifically be able to share their experiences and wisdom, along with the group overall kind of “vibing a way of life sexually”…The idea is that not only do you have a healthy way to learn how to live in the future and address wounds from dysfunctional sexual experiences of the past, but just the fact that you have a healthy communion in your midst where people are finding love, itself just answers so many inner heart issues that lead to sexual longing that is often acted upon dysfunctionally, because people that are experiencing love, are not going to go, “looking for love in all the wrong places”.

Here's the description of a workshop I saw that inspired me:

All faith-based communities are called to address the sexuality needs of their congregants. Every clergy person counsels parishioners who are struggling with sexual issues. Every faith community knows that the sacred gift of sexuality can be abused or exploited: congregants experience domestic violence, adolescent pregnancy, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, homophobia, sexism, and other ways that people's sexuality has been broken. Many denominations have recognized the importance of sexuality education for teenagers and some have made a commitment to lifelong sexuality education, from kindergarten through the elderly years.

A "sexually healthy faith community" is committed to fostering spiritual, sexual, and emotional health among the congregation and providing a safe environment where sexuality issues are addressed with respect, mutuality, and openness. A sexually healthy faith community promotes the integration of sexuality and spirituality in worship, preaching, pastoral care, youth and adult religious education, and social action programs in the community. It makes a commitment to a sexual ethic that is not based on a double standard and understands that dealing with sexuality is an issue of spiritual wholeness. By addressing sexuality openly and holistically within the faith community, it models that sexuality and spirituality are inextricably connected. This workshop will help participants assess themselves as a sexually healthy religious professional, assess their faith community, and develop concrete strategies for improving the sexual health of their congregation.

(I chose not to credit it for my own reasons, I will upon request).

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Confessions of a Slowed Down Emergent

So God, because he loves me and doesn't want me to have to labor along with all the character deficits that hold me back, decided to crush me and his little church he put me in charge of, in order to resurrect us in a much more capable and streamlined version. He's good this way, and I am thrilled that he trusts me to suffer so much in his name. I kind of think that's a big part of Christian maturity - God knowing he can crush you and you won't run away but will allow him to refashion you. Multiple crushings and refashionings are what take horrifically self centered people and turn them into others centered instruments in the Master's hand. (by the way, though I wrote this to be somewhat cheeky, the word "crush" is very biblical - Israel and all the great bible characters got it a lot).

In the midst of my being crushed, I was looking for some form of hope and the idea of merging my half dead little church with my buddies super exciting and growing church provided a bit of that. His willingness to engage in a process of attempting that was so kind and encouraging. On a human level, he's the hero of this story, so encouraging me in the midst of being broke, homeless, church falling apart, abandoned by others, etc.

But in the end I began to realize that this was a hope I was holding onto just to have some hope and not really the future direction of things. So I had to walk through a process of being refashioned by the Lord, and bit by bit my internal character refashioning's began to bring more light to the future vision of our little church. In the middle of the crush, I just had not one ounce of spirit within me to imagine carrying on the church again. But now, miraculously by the presence of the Lord breathing in new life, I can see the way forward and have begun to excitedly work on the re-launching of Cota under the new name Communion (more on that below).

I briefly considered closing Cota and going to school, which has many attractions, but in the end, I really don't want to leave NYC and start new somewhere else. And thought I'm a thinker, I'm also an artist and doer so I think I would be frustrated in an academic setting without being able to do what I'm thinking.

One of the great things is I've been given such clarity to see and understand the many mistakes I made. A better way forward seems so clear to me now.

One thing that will give you some context is that I was just rabidly emerging (imagine white foam coming out of my mouth) - I just couldn't throw out everything that existed fast enough and replace it all with something totally new (and of course unproven). So I ran ahead like a maniac and hardly anyone had any idea what I was doing.

I will confess, in my heart, I felt many well known emergent pastors who I know personally and are my friends and who are emerging at what I would describe as a much more slow and steady pace were basically what I labeled privately in my little prideful heart, "Wimps"; afraid to take bold measures, or maybe just to unimaginative. I am ashamed of that, and it is part of my confession. I hope it didn't come across to them. I now see them as wise and capable, succeeding where I failed. The big take away here is that we must emerge at a pace which our congregations can fathom.

In addition, I think if I had been better financed (my fault) I probably would have had more success in some areas - it wasn't just the rabid speed of progressiveness that was an issue. Also, having a larger percentage of new followers of Christ who don't have as many pre-conceived notions can help in this. But there were other problems within me that limited that. The idea is that it's complex, and no one area is alone at fault, but they are connected - if you have money to do certain things maybe you can go faster, if you don't have the ability to draw unchurched people and your reality is a gathering of mostly those with church experience and thus pre-conceived expectations, that affects your speed.

So here are my confessions of what I did wrong and a better way forward:

You must have worship music: it may sound stupid, but I was so determined not to have contemp/pop worship music that I was willing to have nothing until we could create something original - the idea that the pressure of longing for it would spur us on to create. I still love the idealism of that method, but bottom line, people want to worship to music. Evolve it rather than have nothing until you get what you want.

Don't be afraid to fund raise: being afraid of fund raising is like being a teenager who enjoys the car and the house and the phone, but has no clue that responsible parents are going to work everyday to pay for it all. Don't spiritualize it like I did and pray that God would send someone with a fund raising gift to the team. Take responsibility and do it even though you don't like it. In many ways a pastor is like a parent in that he does some of the hard work for the family that nobody else wants to.

Don't have just artists: Tim Keller gets the last laugh on this one. He's said this before in general publicly and directed towards me (read the comments) and I kind of half agreed - I never wanted only artists, rather a large percentage of artists - but I felt (wrongly) we could overcome some of the deficiencies he pointed out.

If you look at the NYC arts community, it has a whole host of other people in it besides the artists. You have arts administrators, producers, techies, craftspeople, agents, bankers, lawyers, administrative assistants, web design, librarians, fund raising departments, equipment makers, supply retailers, prop/carpentry, venue managers and workers, etc., etc. There are so many that support the artist and they are needed just as equally within the church to do liturgical art. Plus, just the natural idea that congregations should be balanced. Huge mistake, lesson learned.

One insightful aspect of this mistake that I think could be helpful for others is in understanding how a good motivation can lead to a wrong idea. The wonderful motivation in my heart to have a church for artists is because in the recent history of the evangelical church, artists have been the little rejectable step child - unchampioned, dismissed, overlooked, misunderstood, etc. etc. - and so to have a church that would understand them and champion them is an amazing thing, and the church at large would be blessed by the contributions of their coming of age. All so very true, but a church just for artists is not workable, so we must do all these good things in balanced congregations. You can have a balanced church that is also super about the arts, but you will have to work hard, as I am about to, to make sure that it is balanced.

One of the other aspects of this is travel and out-of-town work. That has been the bane of my existence. We had all artists, and all artists who got out of town work at the same time. Please God send me a few people that have stable, in town, non-travelling jobs.

This is also a major reason why I will be changing the name of the church from Communion of the Arts, to just Communion. I always struggled to find ways to say, "We don't want just artists", but the name made that hard. The other problem is that when you say "Communion of the arts" at regular speed, no one understands what you are saying. They reply..."Community of artists"? They never, ever get the word communion. So I find myself saying, "commun-ION of the arts", which is stupid. Also because the name is long, we always reverted to calling it Cota, which a lot of people were kind of fond of, but what does Cota mean? Of course people confused that with Coda - the musical term. Cota means nothing, it doesn't communicate anything to anyone. Karen Ward at Church of the Apostles (Cota), you get to be the only Cota again:)

But Communion is my favorite word. It is, I think, the essence of the church, of God's dream for the world. If you say it by itself, people hear it. It has both a sense of community and spirituality. Anyone who reads knows the general American culture is abuzz with the word community, it's everywhere. For me it's the biggest cultural marker of postmodernity. So, Communion takes this culturally understood and favorable word, and adds spirituality to it. Communion is spiritual community.

I really do hate to lose the word Art, but I think it is for the greater good. We will still be focusing on artists and on creating an original worship liturgy, but I think our reputation will communicate that we are about artists, and we don't need it in the name.

The church hasn't emerged yet: People don't even know anything about emergent. Essentially everyone who is really involved in "the emerging church phenomenon" today are, "Progressive ecclesiological nerds" - and there's a few of us in every city. The word nerd is a word for a small group of people that have a unique specialized knowledge that the greater world doesn't know or care about. I believe someday it will spill over, or break open, and then all of us in it now will be like Silicon Valley Nerds of the Eighties. It's pretty cool to have been one of the nerds who had a commodore computer and now is a billionaire. That'll be us someday, but for now we're still just buying parts at Radio Shack and using wood to make the case.

This reality causes me to feel somewhat annoyed when I hear people talking about emergent as some old hat thing that they are getting bored of already. Dude, so you're bored with your 1984 commodore motherboard which isn't that different from last years model? Guess what, you're going to be blown away by the concept of a 100 megabyte hard drive in a few years. And guess what, that's nothing. Soon, the computer industry will blow up in ways you can't even possibly dream of right now.

Try to go back in time and explain to this fellow about Gigahertz speed processors and Gigabytes of memory on little postage stamp size cards. Try to explain to him back in 1984 how the internet will dawn in ten years, and radically change commmerce and culture in twenty years. Just as he couldn't possibly imagine it, so the ways the church is going to emerge in ten years from now and twenty years from now are unimaginable to us (except for Brian "Jobs" Mclaren and Tony "Wozniak" Jones).

The point - this emergent thing is way super early. This is just the beginning.

Two things. Because people don't know much about emergent - but the ones that do are spread all over and from different backgrounds showing that God's spirit is inspiring similar thoughts and longings in his people all over, and because people that haven't heard of it are very quick to understand and feel excited by the prospect when they hear of it - this makes me think that we are near a "tipping point" where it will spill over into a much greater general sense of understanding, and this will bring many people and all their energy and gifts to bear upon creating this new expression of God's body, the church.

But because we are not there yet, we have to evolve our worship gatherings towards it, not just expect people to understand and accept all sorts of changes that they haven't been prepared for.

This was the biggest mistake of Cota - we ran forward far to fast and way to far. People just didn't understand what we were doing, and all the stuff they were used to wasn't there, so they were kind of left with not much. Then in our need to try to adjust and make it more understandable, we were constantly changing everything so much that it just added to the confusion.

I was determined with one stroke to revolutionize the church and it didn't work. Now I'm more about slowly and steadily evolving things. This is my confession. I can't wait to see how it all comes about.