Archives For October 2011

Seismic events reshape and reform landscapes. 

My wife and I have been processing through some anger lately around some seismic shifts we’ve experienced this year that have reshaped and reformed our family and spiritual landscapes. This morning, as we waited for our girls to emerge from their Sunday School classes, we talked about how we’ve each been dealing with anger. 

“I don’t know,” she said, “I guess I tend to minimize it and push it down so I don’t have to deal with it.”

“Yeah, that’s what they call ‘repression,’” I replied. “The problem with that is that at some point, it finds its way back out. And usually in a big way.”

I went on to liken anger management to a volcano. There are two types that are in stark contrast: those that erupt almost continuously and those that lie dormant and then waken suddenly. An example of the former is Kīlauea, on the island of Hawai’i. It is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, though relatively non-violent in its eruptions. It vents its energy all the time, letting off plumes of steam and rivulets of lava. Continue Reading…

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:

Hats and Shoes, I’m Picky.

October 28, 2011 — 1 Comment
Cap

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.

My wife purchases a lot of my apparel. She's got a good eye and my "style" is pretty ordinary. I have almost no opinion about the clothes I wear. Except when it comes to hats and shoes. Then I get very specific about what I like and what I don't. 

Last year for Christmas or my birthday (I can't remember which–the two are only 6 days apart) my wife and girls got me two hats, similar to the ivy cap pictured here. I love caps like that. My favorite is a houndstooth cap in cream and chocolate that I had for years before misplacing it just a couple months ago. 

The two caps they gave me are great, but I knew as soon as I put them on that they just weren't going to work for me. I can't even explain why, but they just weren't. That's a sticky situation to be in, am I right? Someone gives you a gift that is thoughtful and you realize that, despite their intentions the gift just won't be utilized. Ah, well. I have a wonderful, gracious family. A few mild alterations made one of the hats work. The other makes a nice decoration for a hat rack. 

I have similar hang ups about shoes. Now, please don't confuse my pickiness for taste. I'm quite sure that I'm not up to speed on what shoes (or hats) are "in" this season. But for me, that's immaterial. I know what I like. But why shoes and hats? Why not the rest of my clothes? 

I think that it is reflective of a major theme in my life: the interweaving of knowledge and action. The importance of both the head and the feet. 

It's not enough to know a lot of stuff or even to know the "right" stuff (as if that is even possible). There's a fancy word for that: orthodoxy. It means "right thinking" or "right knowledge." In some Christian traditions, orthodoxy is the fence around who is "in" and who is "out." For them, faith is predicated upon right belief. Nor is it enough to just "do the right thing." On the other end of the spectrum from orthodoxy is orthopraxy or "right practice." The idea there is that our beliefs are predicated upon what we do. Neither orthodoxy nor orthopraxy alone is sufficient.

I think you have to have some of both. On the one hand, you must know what it is you believe, and have some ability to articulate why you believe the way you do. On the other hand you must show evidence of those beliefs by how you spend your time and your money. I love my hats but am getting pickier about my shoes. What about you? Hats or 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. 

I also ran with Krish and we shared some special moments as Kenyan marathoner and Olympic hopeful, Gladys, led us through some post-run stretching. Special moments… 

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.

Continue Reading…

What do YOU want?

October 19, 2011 — 2 Comments

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Ok. I’m at a crossroads, of sorts. And I need your help.

I started this blog just about a year ago, primarily for posts that I create as part of my Doctor of Ministry program. I have a certain “voice” in those posts that, if I am honest, is probably way to academic for people not already in academic circles. As a result, there just aren’t that many people that read or interact with the content that I post. Most of the traffic is from my D.Min. colleagues. 
But I think I have some pretty good stuff to say! Recently, I’ve been posting a bit more on non-doctorate related things. Here’s what I need from you. If you’re reading this post in October of 2011, it’s likely because you saw my plea on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ asking you to come over here and give me some feedback. So, in the comments below, tell me what YOU would like to see more of in this space.
I will continue to wax eloquently on all things theological, and you will probably continue to wade through those posts. But what kind of discussions would you jump into? Issues related to spirituality and culture? Beer? Tattoos? My kids? Current events? Take a look around the site and let me know what you like and what you don’t. This is an opportunity for you to shape this space. And let me tell you, I think that with your help, this space could blow up. In a really good way. 
So, throw it out there… what are the things you want me to engage, the things that you’d jump into with me?

Reflections from OccupyPDX

October 16, 2011 — 5 Comments

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… 

The Numbness is Fading

October 15, 2011 — Leave a comment

Occupy-wall-street-protest-sig

 

“The prophet does not scold or reprimand … the proper idiom for the prophet in cutting through the royal numbness and denial is the language of grief, the rhetoric that engages the community in mourning for a funeral they do not want to admit. It is indeed their own funeral” (Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, p. 46, emphasis in the original). 

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.

Our country claims to be the land of opportunity, a place where anyone with enough determination and gumption can take hold of the American dream. Yet few of us are fooled into thinking that is actually true. It helps if you have a college degree. And a master’s degree. And to be white. And male. If you had some combination of those attributes, then your chances of laying grasp on that American dream were pretty good. Until recently.

Now, saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, college grads are clutching their diplomas and looking around for jobs that will help them make enough money to make payments on their student loans (and credit cards, and car, and mortgage). And the jobs aren’t there. The corporations they thought would hire them, won’t. The banks they want capital from aren’t lending. The government they borrowed the money for school from wants it back. And those three institutions seem to be doing fine. Their leaders are that 1% that control a majority of the world’s wealth. And that just doesn’t seem right.

So people start venting about it to one another. And somewhere along the way, they take those private conversations into the public. The feeling that things aren’t as they ought to be begins to resonate and reverberate. More and more people gather in public squares and parks to vocalize the frustration they’re feeling and demand that things change. Their targets are the very institutions in which they’d placed their hope of attaining their piece of the pie–corporations for jobs, banks for capital, the government to make sure the other two played fair.

And that’s the root of the problem: mislaid hope. This is where it gets messy. I agree that things aren’t as they ought to be. Haven’t been for a long time. There is an unsettled longing deep in our souls that we’ve been trying to placate with our consumerism. But now that we can’t consume like we used to, now that we don’t have the ability to earn and spend like we used to, that unsettled feeling is welling up into a great roar. 

I think that Walter Brueggemann is helpful here. In The Prophetic Imagination he writes about the sharp contrasts between the Israelite community that Moses established by leading them out from under oppression and the Israelite community under Solomon, which was marked by affluence and satiation. This leads to what he calls a “royal numbness.” In times where affluence and satiation fail to work any longer, times like we are experiencing right now, followers of Christ are called to have “prophetic imagination,” which Brueggemann says has three parts (p. 45): 
  1. To offer symbols that are adequate to confront the horror and massiveness of the experience that evokes numbness and denial.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
Are we willing to take on the uncomfortable role of prophet? What is needed within the Occupy protests are voices that will bring new metaphors that speak to both “deathliness” as well as to a future hope. And that is a tricky, delicate task:

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 

Future of Seminary?

October 7, 2011 — 1 Comment

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).

The first discussion point, “The Ecosystem of Theological Education,” looks at the changes in the institutional, relational, and media systems that are impacting the shape and relevance of theological education. I posted comments directly on the discussion, but they were cut off and my subsequent continuation was rendered above instead of below part 1. So… I thought I’d repost my thoughts here, as they can stand on their own: Continue Reading…

Researching Through Seeing

October 7, 2011 — 4 Comments

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…