Archives For October 2011
A few days ago I posted the following on Facebook:
I’m post-emergent.And I’m not even totally sure what I mean by that. But I know part of it is that I feel that the emergent church is waning in its influence and helpfulness. Something else is starting to bubble up. It owes a debt to the emergent folks, for sure. But it’s not emergent–anymore. Anyone else feel that way? If so, we should talk and try to put language to what we’re starting to feel…
A pretty rich discussion in the comments thread has ensued. The post is public, viewable by anyone. And all you need to be able to chime in is a Facebook account. So, jump over there and see what all the fuss is about. You might even want to be bold enough to throw in your two cents:
I'm not picky about much. I think most people who know me would say I'm pretty easy to get along with (maybe too easy, at times). But like everyone, I have my idiosyncrasies. Particularly when it comes to hats and shoes.
I was checking out Fuller Seminary’s “Seminary of the Future” website to see what new content they’d posted and if there had been anymore discussion in the thread I was participating in, when I noticed a familiar face in the sidebar.
Clad in a red Oxford shirt with his trendy glasses sat Krish Kandiah, brilliant author, blogger, and all around fun Brit. I met Krish in Kenya in September. He joined the GML cohort as we interacted with evangelical leaders in Nairobi.
Anyway, watch this brief video of Krish talking about churches and church planting:
What do you think about the notion that what we need is not more, new churches, but renewal and reformation in the ones that exist? Is the “hard work of changing churches with a consumer mindset” the driving force behind “missional” church planting?
I think he’s partly correct. Sometimes it is just easier to “start from scratch.” We can’t escape the consumer mindset in our broader culture, but perhaps we can shape churches into environments that counter it. And often the amount of energy required to change directions is exponentially greater than the energy required to start something new.
I think of it like a flywheel. Imagine a gasoline powered lawnmower that has a pull-cord. When the engine is dead, you grab that cord and you yank hard, often several times, to get the flywheel turning. Then the engine kicks to life and a relatively small amount of gasoline and spark will keep it turning.
Now, imagine that you want to take that running engine and reverse the direction that flywheel is spinning. How much energy is it going to take to counteract the momentum? And how much to get it moving in the opposite direction? It’s no wonder that the more attractive route is the one where the engine is not yet running.
When there are visionaries who decide to stay within their church or denominational context to work for renewal and reformation, they often end up squeezed out of roles of influence. It happened to me recently. I was working in a context with which I had some basic ecclesiological disagreements, but which was full of people who genuinely love God. I knew before I arrived in that consumer-minded organization that I was going to have to deal with those friction points.
Ultimately the friction created sparks and I was released from my role, telling me that I wasn’t a “good fit” for the organization. The disagreements were over the role of marketing and consumerism, of excitement and attraction. Now I’m working in a non-church context. Someone just asked me two days ago whether or not I’d ever plant a church. I still don’t know.
Part of the tension is that I agree with Krish. Church plants are a dime a dozen. More than a few are filled with disillusioned church leaders who were either released (like me) or got fed up and decided to “take their ball and go home.” Both of those places of ressentiment are unhealthy reasons to plant a church. And I’m not convinced that right now I could plant a church without ressentiment.
But what do you think? When should a church be planted? When should a leader try and stay to work for renewal and reformation?
The past few weeks, my doctoral cohort has been studying the use of visual ethnography as a qualitative research method. This was in preparation for work on a project that utilizes photo elicitation interviews to explore our different ministry contexts. Photo elicitation is, most basically, the use of photographs in conducting a research interview (see Douglas Harper’s “Talking about pictures: a case for photo elicitation” in Visual Studies Journal, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2002). The method falls within the larger field of visual ethnography, which looks at images and symbols as cultural texts and “sites of cultural production,” to use Sara Pink’s language (Doing Visual Ethnography, 1).
But more specifically, the kind of photo elicitation we were asked to engage in is more appropriately termed photo self-elicitation. Instead of producing or selecting photographs around which to conduct research interviews, we solicited submissions from people within our ministry context and asked them to submit to us photos that represent some aspect of our respective ministry contexts. Now, if you know me or have been following this blog for the past few months, you know that my ministry context has changed dramatically since I began this doctoral program a year ago. I no longer work for the mega-church that previously employed me. I’m now part of the support staff for George Fox Evangelical Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry programs. Yup, the same place where I’m working on my own doctorate.
Ok. I’m at a crossroads, of sorts. And I need your help.
Today my seven-year-old daughter and I spent some time Occupying Portland. Why? Because protesting is as democratic as voting. In 2008, she joined me in the voting booth. In 2011, she joined me in the streets.
As we meandered through the tent village in Chapman park, I asked her what she thought about the community there. She looked around for a minute, then turned to me and said, “It’s like how the strands of a polar bear’s fur work together to keep it warm.”
Several things struck me about the occupiers. First, everyone we met was incredibly warm and friendly. We were offered food on multiple occassions. People engaged me, and my daughter, in conversation. And the occupiers were profusely thankful for the police. Over and over they thanked the officers around the perimeter of the camp. And the officers smiled back and engaged in light banter.
Secondly, there was a fairly diverse group of people there. It was largely reflective of the racial demographic of Portland, and the age was spread on a bell curve from the very young (lots of kiddos around) to the very old. In addition to those who were had pitched their tents and were occupying the park around the clock, were a quite a number of “commuters” like my daughter and me.
Finally, the signs were telling. The vast majority of signage referred to the hope for a better future, than an indictment of the current climate. Messages of peace, love, and generosity were the order of the day. That was surprising, as many of the signage I’d seen on the news were of the “I am the 99%” ilk.
We met some great people. We talked with Rio, a 53-year-old man who was playing guitar and stopped so we could swap tattoo stories. We had a great conversation with a young man named Danny. He held a sign that read, “Free Therapy. I listen.” Danny is 20 and from Astoria, OR. He came down a couple days ago because he wanted to feel a part of something bigger. What he found was a lot of people who needed an ear to listen. So he made his sign and sits on a bench near the middle of Chapman Square, waiting for “clients.” Lucy from the Peanuts couldn’t do it better.
I asked Danny if there were any common themes that came up as he listened. He told me that there really aren’t. Everyone seems to have their own issues. What holds them in common is that they don’t have anyone to talk to about them.
In my last post, I talked about the need for prophets among the protestors; those who would give a new vocabulary with new metaphors to the grief that is welling up. My visit reinforced this all the more. Our country needs to lament. And it needs prophets to lead them in their wails. In the end, I asked Sydney to reflect on the experience. What was it that she took away from it?“Sometimes, when people feel like they don’t matter and things just aren’t fair, they need to get together. Then, maybe they can feel important and like someone will listen to them.”
Out of the mouth of babes…
I have to admit, the Occupy movements have me torn. I’ve never protested anything or marched anywhere. I’m not opposed to either forms of expression, but have not felt moved to join in any. Rarely do they result in the kind of systematic changes they call for. Often, they fade into distant memory. But there’s something I just can’t shake about Occupy.
- To offer symbols that are adequate to confront the horror and massiveness of the experience that evokes numbness and denial.
- To bring to public expression those very fears and terrors that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we do not know what they are.
- To speak metaphorically but concretely about the real deathliness that hovers over us and gnaws within us, and to speak neither rage nor with cheap grace, but with the candor born of anger and passion.
Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate the numbness in order to face the body of death in which we are caught. Clearly, the numbness sometimes evokes from us rage and anger, but the numbness is more likely to be penetrated by grief and lament. Death, and that is our state, does not require indignation as much as it requires anguish and sharing in the pain. The public sharing of pain is one way to let the reality sink in and let the death go. … Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate despair so that new futures can be embraced by us. There is a yearning for energy in a world grown weary: ‘The world has lost its youth, and the times begin to grow old’ (2 Esd 14:10). And we do know that the only act that energizes is a word, a gesture, an act that believes in our future and affirms it to us disinterestedly. In a society that knows about initiative and self-actualization and countless other things, the capacity to lament the death of the old world is nearly lost. In a society strong on self-congratulation, the capacity to receive in doxology the new world being given is nearly lost. Grief and praise are new ways of prophetic criticism and energy, which can be more intentional even in our age. (117)
The numbness is fading, friends. People are desperately seeking a vocabulary with which to describe their discontent, their longing. We need to be the ones to give that to them. But we can’t do that from the sidelines. Today people will gather in over 950 cities around the world to wrestle with their growing conviction that things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. People who are hurting and searching for a sense of justice and fairness. Where will the prophets be? Where will YOU be?Note: After I this post went live, I went down to OccupyPDX with my daughter. That follow up post can be found here: http://www.thecrookedmouth.com/reflections-from-occupypdx
Today Fuller Theological Seminary launched future.fuller.edu – a site that is to act as a place of discussion for for the future shape of theological education. It comes on the heels of a “report” they undertook via interviews with different focus groups of people over the course of 2010 (though perhaps calling the results the “Seminary of the Future” is a bit of a stretch. From the looks of the make up of the focus groups, they were largely people directly connected to Fuller. So, “Fuller of the Future” may be more apt).
We’ve just started a mini-unit on visual ethnography in my doctoral coursework. I’ve got to say, it’s fascinating stuff. Ethnography is the study of people and culture. Visual ethnography is the study of people and culture through the collection, examination, and curation of images. The book we are discussing this week is Doing Visual Ethnography by Sarah Pink. In it she argues for a “reflexive” approach to visual ethnography as a research method within the social sciences (p. 5). In contrast to the expected researcher-subject objective distance, Pink leans into the post-modern philosophical turn which acknowledges the inherent subjectivity within any research method. So instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, she argues that ethnographers in general, and those using visual methods in particular, ought to recognize from the outset that they “are members of societies in which photography and video are already practised and understood in particular ways” (39). Continue Reading…