Archives For November 2011


UPDATE: You can find the transcript for the chat here:

This Saturday, December 3rd, at 1pm, PST I am hosting a live chat on beer brewing and spirituality. What has one to do with the other? That’s what we’re going to explore. In order to have as many people participate as possible, we’re going to use a simple, browser-based text chatting tool called Campfire. Here’s a link to the room:

Why am I doing this in the first place? Well, I’m working on a doctorate for which I am exploring the construction of metaphors for abstract spiritual concepts in a postmodern, consumer culture. One metaphor I want to explore is the process of brewing beer as an interpretive lens through which one might consider the claims of Christian spirituality.

More broadly, though, I am a homebrewer myself. I’m intrigued that monks have brewed fine beer for a long, long time. I think there must be something in the simplicity of the process, the magic of transforming the ingredients, and the duration one must wait to see it completed, that makes the brewing enterprise work so well with rhythmic monastic life. What can that teach us today?

Who should attend? Anyone, really. The more voices, the better. If you have a general interest in creative ways to conceive of spirituality, join in. If you like beer, join in. If you brew, join in. Even if none of those things describe you, join in! And if you can’t join in, help spread the word. Share this post through your different networks. You may know someone who would make a great addition to this conversation. Thanks! See you online Saturday…

EDIT (12.1.2011): I should note that this event will not be a presentation of material or an online lecture. Rather, it is an open forum for YOU to explore whether or not there might be anything to be learned from correlating beer brewing with spirituality. I will share some of my thoughts, but am interested in hearing what you have to say.

For the past couple of years, the holidays have sent me into an uncomfortable examination of consumerism. My consumerism. Your consumerism. Our consumerism. This over-attention to “stuff-ness” starts with a bang on Black Friday and then backbuilds through Advent before exploding all over itself on Christmas morning. 

Each year brings some new stomach-turning twist. The advertisements are darker and darker–like the department store commercial that turns misfit shopping behavior into a cutesy musical number,

or the electronic goods chain who is running a series of “game on Santa” spots

and the behavior of the consumer follows suit. People pepper-spray their way through crowds of shoppers to get the best deal. They mob one another for discount waffle irons. 

A.J. Swoboda, in a message he gave at Theophilus Church on Sunday, Nov. 27, observed that “Black Friday has become our culture’s new Good Friday.” That’s a problem. And it is infecting our churches. Consumerism is alive and well in our faith communities and more often than not it, not the gospel, is in the driver’s seat.

In an email last weekend, prompted by my post on Jim Collins’ Good to Great, my father remarked, 

Church members want a pastor with charisma who energizes them rather than a pastor who teaches the word so the Holy Spirit can change their life. They want music with melodies pleasing to them rather than words which praise God. They see themselves as stockholders and the deacons as the board of directors which means everyone is accountable to the member and the church’s role to bring them an ROI – a return on THEIR investment.

I think he’s right on. We are good consumers and we expect our churches to provide a steady diet of things for our consumption. Tim Suttle wrote a wonderful piece for the Huffington Post in which he describes the “one-two punch” of consumerism as sentimentality and pragmatism. More and more, churches are looking to feel-good Sundays and corporate growth strategies to increase their bottom line–which is usually butts in the seats and dollars in the plates. And that makes me sad. 

But I am still hopeful. One of the reverberations from the market crash 2007-2008 is a growing distrust for large, faceless corporate organizations. In October 2011, around 650,000 people abandoned big banks for smaller, local credit unions. The Occupy Wall Street movement is one example of people expressing their feelings about large corporations. The rise of Etsy and the recent invention of “Small Business Saturday” are others. It is hard to know, and be known by, an organization. I think that people are moving progressively toward valuing that which is small and simple, over large and complex. 

That will necessarily impact how we “do” church. I think that the bell is tolling for megachurches. They’re not too big to fail, and many will. But what will step in to gather together those displaced by the collapse of these huge faith “communities?” Smaller churches, sure, but it won’t be enough to just be smaller.

Instead, we still have to deal with the way that consumerism shapes our desires and expectations. The gospel isn’t a product, the pastor isn’t a CEO, the elders are not a Board of Directors, and the congregants are not the customers. Christ is the head of the church. The gospel is his mission. We are his workforce.

For leaders, this means a radical shift in how we view ourselves and our roles within the church. Gilbert Fairholm’s Perspectives on Leadership, a seminal and important work on the difference between leadership and management, is helpful here. He takes the reader through past paradigms (which he calls “virtual environments”) of understanding the role and task of leadership–Leadership as Management, Leadership as Excellence, Values Leadership, and Trust Leadership–before offering his proposal: Spritual Leadership. 

Fairholm asserts that we want–we need–leaders who are aware of the spiritual implications of their role and the work in which we are engaged. He discusses problems with applying spiritual leadership in a business context, namely that it can lead to a perception of the leader as lacking professionalism, it interferes with the ambition to succeed, and it forces a leader to deal with her shortcomings. But these obstacles are not nearly so great in a church leadership context.

When it comes to spiritual leadership, church leaders can take the lead, so to speak, on creating models and best practices. Let the businesses and corporations learn from us, for a change! People are still searching for meaning in their lives. More and more they are waking up to the reality that consuming the latest retail goods doesn’t satisfy their appetites. We have an opportunity to offer a wonderful counter to the buy-consume-buy cultural norm. But to do that, we have to imagine faith communities that engage in a counter-rhythm. I think that small, spiritually-led communities are key. What do you think? 

I just finished Jim Collins’ Good to Great and the subsequent monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors

I’ve been around enough contemporary churches to know that many of their leaders are drunk on business leadership books. Collins is near the top of their list. And though he doesn’t talk much about his religious beliefs, he’s a perennial speaker at Christian leadership conferences like Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit and Northpoint’s Catalyst. This follows a general trend of churches looking to the private sector for models and advice on how to run their organizations.

I’ve written before about my own fascination with leadership texts. Collins does not disappoint. From a leadership standpoint, he has some of the best applied research out there. But just how far does it apply? That’s where a lot of my frustrations begin: the misappropriation of business principles into churches. 

Hear me loud and clear, I’m not saying that such principles can’t be applied in the governance of a church, I question whether or not they should be applied. I’ve no doubt that if a church were to conceive of itself as a bus with a well-reasoned hedgehog at the helm, it would see the kinds of flywheel revolutions Collins describes. Like I said, it’s good stuff.

Here Be Monsters…

November 17, 2011 — 5 Comments

My youngest daughter freaked out tonight because she thought she heard a monster in her closet. Thinking quickly, I pulled out my iPhone and opened the Voice memos app, telling her that it was a Monster Detection app. If the needle moved into the red, that would be a clear sign of a monster. Together we checked out her whole room while the app recorded our findings. Thankfully, no monsters.

Eyes to See? I Doubt It…

November 16, 2011 — 3 Comments

Have you ever been reading a novel and you come to a passage that is riveting? It seems like the protagonist is on the verge of connecting the dots, having the breakthrough that the reader had only a few pages before. Your eyes dart over the pages and you turn them with authority, compelling the narrative forward to see if the heroine will have that “A-HA!” moment. I have an experience like that when I read the eighth chapter of Mark’s Gospel. 

The passage opens with Jesus teaching to another large, hungry crowd. Just a couple chapters before, Mark recorded Jesus feeding 5,000 people. In both stories, the people become hungry and Jesus miraculously multiplies loaves of bread and fish, producing enough to feed everyone present, plus some leftovers for the disciples. In the chapter eight instance, the crowd is 4,000 and the number of leftover baskets of food is 7 instead of 12. 

After everyone was full, Jesus got into a boat with his disciples and went to Dalmanutha (scholars aren’t sure exactly where this is, but some guess it is close to Magada or Magdala). The Pharisees there wanted him to perform a sign so they could test to see if he was all he was cracked up to be. I can imagine Jesus rolling his eyes and sighing. I mean, he’d just miraculously fed a huge crowd of people on only a few loaves and a couple fish. Again. He gives them no “sign” and just gets back in the boat. As the reader, we feel like the insiders at this point, like his disciples. We’ve witnessed the miracles that the Pharisees demand to see. We’re feeling pretty good about this Jesus guy. Continue Reading…

Dear Worship Leader,

Thank you for your work. Each week you spend countless hours honing your voice and your instrument to lead us in turning our hearts and our minds toward God. You stand before us and raise your voice, and we follow suit.

It must be difficult, in this celebrity culture, to resist the temptation to make worship a performance. As a uniquely talented individual, we honor you by placing you in front of us. That could easily go to your head, and we thank you for fighting that hard fight and taking on a role of submission.

But we need something more from you. 

Our Western, American culture is shaped by individualism and consumerism. Unfortunately, we don’t leave those things at the door when we enter the worship space. We bring them in with us. Our default position is to bend things to our advantage, to make all things serviceable to our desires. Daily we are bombarded by enticements to buy and consume things that promise to enrich our lives. When we come together for worship, too often we are guilty of judging its efficacy by how it makes us feel that day. We consume worship each week instead of being consumed by worship.

The American Dream idolizes the rugged, self-made individual. Daily we try to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and climb another rung further up whichever ladder we’re on. We look out for number one, casting ourselves as the lead players. The plot services our hopes, our dreams.

So when we enter into a time of worship in the company of others, we are primed to exclude everyone else from that experience. We close our eyes as we sing and we shut out those around us, making the gathered worship time an individual experience. But that is the last thing we need. We need to be thrust into a community who worships together. And you can help.

When you choose the songs we sing together, take some artistic license. Whether it is David Crowder or Charles Wesley, or any other songwriter in between, change all the first person pronouns from singular to plural. It really is a small thing, something you can do almost on the fly. And it won’t even mess with most rhyming schemes or rhythms. 

It will do wonders for our worship, though. Each phrase that we utter will work to knit us together as a community. You will lead us in coming before the throne of God together, offering our praises, laments, supplications, and pleas together. Try it now. Take whichever song you’re rehearsing and replace all the “I’s,” “me’s,” and “my’s” with “we’s,” “us’s,” and “our’s.” 

And if you are writing songs for us to sing together, have us in mind. Pen the lyrics on our behalf. Resist the temptation to write a love song to Jesus, reflective of only your personal experience. Instead, be empowered and sent by us to compose for our community.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. We appreciate you. We need your talent and your leadership. The rest of our days are filled with opportunities for us focus on ourselves. Help make that hour we’re together different. Lead us into community and then root us there. Turn us to Christ as one and break us out of ourselves.

-The Worshippers

Today we joined a couple dozen folks from Theophilus Church to rake leaves and clean up trash at Grover Cleveland High School in Portland, OR. We spent five hours raking wet leaves, scooping them into bins, and emptying those bins into trucks. And we did all this with our two daughters, 6 and 7 years old.

They were amazing. Sydney, our oldest daughter, grabbed a rake and jumped right in. She absolutely loved making neat piles. That totally fits with her personality. What was astonishing is that she also picked up a lot of those piles and put them into bins and buckets. She is a child who hates being dirty. With one pair of gloves that she had to share with her sister, I am still bewildered that she thrust her hands into the muck without batting an eye.

Rylee quickly tired of raking, but she found her place as a toter of buckets. Whenever we’d fill up one of the plastic containers, she’d muscle it off the ground and carry it over to the truck. One of the guys there would take it, empty it, and hand it back to her. Then she’d run in her little rain boots back to the pile we were working on. 

The girls took breaks to play games of hide-and-seek and to splash around in puddles on the sidewalk. Overall, however, they worked. And they knew why they were working. We were joining our church community to pitch in and serve our neighbors. No one from the school was there. The parents who come for conferences with the teacher next week won’t know that our girls circled that building with giggles and smiles and grubby hands.

As we drove home I found myself hoping that the memories we created today will mean something. By serving as a family, I hope our girls will be able to recall this experience, and others like it, as times when we put our bodies where our beliefs are. That we live our faith in dirty, unextraordinary ways.

Do You See What I See?

November 13, 2011 — 1 Comment

Last week I read William Dyrness’s Visual Faith. I found it to be an engaging and compelling case for recapturing visual forms of art as expressive modes of communal worship. But then, that’s nothing new to me. I only wish I’d had this book at my disposal seven or eight years ago. 

From 2004-2007 I was a campus minister to students at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. A large part of my work was helping to bridge the gap between the church and the arts. Dyrness unpacks the formation of this gap in the first couple chapters of the book, tracing art and the church from the first few centuries through the middle ages, Reformation, and into the early twenty-first century.  Continue Reading…

Last week my family and I visited Theophilus, a church in Southeast Portland. I’m getting to know their pastor, AJ Swoboda, as we see each other in the halls of the seminary where I work and he adjunct teaches. 

He led us in a beautiful, authentic, vulnerable reflection on prayer. As he explained our default posture toward prayer he remarked, “Prayer in scripture is not a footnote, it’s the whole text. Our lives are a footnote to prayer.” 

I was struck by the notion that “our lives are a footnote to prayer.” That is not the case with my life. I pray little these days. My expectations that anything will be changed because of my prayers are at an all-time low. Hence why I have not prayed much. Continue Reading…