February 26, 2010

the radical center

In my post on Craig Groshel I mentioned my concern with his suggestion for an amicable separation. I understand where he is coming from, and have had similar thoughts myself, but right now I'm trying to commit to this idea of the "radical center" that Adam Hamilton mentions. Hamilton's analysis in Seeing Gray is great, and too long to post in full, but here's a taste of where he's at:
"Some in the political and social realm are speaking of a third way between the left and right as the 'radical center' that is able to hold together the best of the right and the left, and which forges something more powerful and true, and, in the case of faith, more authentically Christian, as a result.

"The radical center within the Christian faith embraces the evangelical gospel that proclaims that human beings are wounded by sin and are in need of saving, and that Jesus Christ is God's antidote to our human condition. And it embraces the social gospel that seeks to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and recognizes the Christian's responsibility for addressing the great problems of poverty, oppression, racism, the environment and war. The evangelical gospel without the social gospel is spiritual narcissism. The social gospel without the evangelical gospel remains afflicted by sin and holds, in the words of the Apostle Paul 'the the outward form of godliness but denying its power' (2 Timothy 3:5a). The radical center holds that the gospel is incomplete without both its evangelical and social witness."

You can find Hamilton's book here:
Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics

this week's roundup (feb. 26)

Andrew Jones has offered his 5 Tips For Attending a Baptist Church Without Embarrassing Yourself. Seems like they'd work pretty well for most UMC's too.

Over at bedeviant you can read Justin Wise's thoughts on What Starbucks Can Teach You About God. I think there is a lesson for the church in there as well, but I'd be nervous about drawing the analogy too far, because there are already too many people who treat "church" like a commodity and expect the pastor to know their needs and respond to their preferences before they can even articulate them. At the same time, it is important to remember that basic premise that everyone wanted to feel valued, remembered and recognized.

Lifehacker gives some thought to What Managers and Freelancers Can Learn From the Grateful Dead. For me the take-away is look for creative ways to empower the people, so that they will not just "buy in" but expand the base. Maybe there is a lesson for the church in there, too. (I also look forward to the day worship services are bootlegged... "Dude, have you heard this Pentecost service from 2005 - it is amazing, and the organ on 'O For a Thousand Tongues' will blow your mind!!" - yeah, I know it would never happen, but I still have to hold on to some sort of rock-star dreams).

Keeping with the "lay empowerment" theme, Seth Godin explains how is it much easier to teach compliance than initiative, and in my feed reader this morning just before the Godin article was this photo posted by Jonny Baker [via trying to follow | photo via ivan amezcua]

Jeremy Smith points to the issue of people who feel pressure to fake being a Christian to gain social acceptance in their community. As he puts it,
"I'm much less insulted by the fakers than I am by the Christians who don't express radical hospitality to other faiths/agnostics."

Seth Godin also has some interesting thoughts on the power of zealots. He makes the case that given a broad range of perspectives (on any issue), the real power of the zealot is to get the middle to broaden or redefine the "center." He writes:
"The people at either end have little hope of moving the masses all the way to their end of the argument. Instead, what they do is make it feel safer to change the boundaries, safer to recalibrate the compromise. Over time, as the edges feel more palatable, the masses are more likely to be willing to edge their way closer to one edge or another. Successful zealots don't argue to win. They argue to move the goalposts and to make it appear sane to do so."

The day I build the Treadmill Desk is the day I will destroy Jeremy Peters in the Virgin Healthmiles Program. (Meaning: it will never happen, but it's still a cool idea).

The new Leno promo, featuring the Beatles' "Get Back" has been re-edited by Team CoCo. I like this version (via Consumerist):

Conan also joined Twitter this week. In his first tweet, he reports:
"Today I interviewed a squirrel in my backyard and then threw to commercial. Somebody help me."

Finally, for this week's music selection, something that I'll admit is incredibly wrong, but you still need to hear:

February 22, 2010

Craig Groshel - Thoughts on the UMC (Updated)

Craig Groshel (of Lifechurch.tv) is doing a series of posts this week on some of his thoughts related to the United Methodist Church. I've followed a little of Craig's stuff in the past, but didn't realize he had UMC roots himself, and served as an associate pastor within the denomination, until his desire to lead a new church start led him to leave. The posts are here:

1. Financial Resources ("People are more likely to join a new mission rather than an old denomination.")
2. The Itinerant System
3. The Ordination Process
4. Apportionments
5. Cooperation & Mergers
6. A Liberal/Conservative Split

(I'll try to link the whole series as the week progresses).
So far I'm not completely onboard with his critique, but it is important that we continue to wrestle with the points he is trying to make.

Update: As I mentioned before, I think Craig makes some important points, but I also think he is missing some big things too.

In Part 1 on Financial Resources, he is really talking about the "Rethink Church" media campaign, and while I agree completely with his point that "People are more likely to join a new mission rather than an old institution" I think he missed out on the fact that the whole point of Rethink is to focus on mission. My problem with the campaign is that it seems to be selling something that isn't present in a lot of UM congregations.

In Part 2, he does name some real problems with the itinerant system. He doesn't consider the "other side" that itinerancy represents an inherent check to congregations developing a "cult of personality" around a pastoral leader, and allows a sharing of gifts that he hints at in Part 5, but I confess that the basic critique he offers is valid.

In Part 3 on the Ordination Process, again there isn't much to take issue with. Our process is long, complicated, and can be discouraging. It doesn't always filter out those with poor gifts for ministry and can exclude those with amazing gifts. A better process is needed, but I can't begin to pretend what that "better process" might begin to look like.

Part 4 on Apportionments was a little disappointing to me, especially based on the fact that someone who served for a period of time as a UM pastor is unable to really articulate "where the apportionments go." Unfortunately "apportionments" are a very easy target - much like "taxes" - it's easy to be indignant about how WE could do more if we could keep OUR money, until they realize what the money does. Just like no taxes = no schools, libraries, police, or roads; no apportionments = no (or far fewer) seminaries, leadership development, or global mission programs, etc. It also ignores the fact that OUR money is never OURS in the first place it is God's first and foremost, and if we were really concerned about giving in the UMC and having enough money to fund local ministry let's get serious about tithing instead of the 2-3% that the average Methodist gives.

Groshel's take on cooperation and mergers in Part 5 again had some really good points to it. As someone who was involved in a conversation about potentially merging two congregations one major obstacle we have to address is our idolatry around buildings - for far too many people "church" is "bricks and mortar," those emotional attachments are normal and understandable, but they are also slowly killing us. Because of the of our connectional system I think the UM church has the potential to be in a very powerful place if we got serious about developing a "ministry commons" where resources (including buildings, staff, programs, etc.) could be better shared; but again we have the obstacle of territorial-ism by clergy who are threatened by the idea of working together in collaboration. Groshel's lifechurch.tv model of church is a very interesting one, and I really appreciate the commitment he has made to making resources easily and freely available. We would be better served moving in the direction he is pointing.

In Part 6 he argues the the church might be better served if the church divided. He contends that, "While the UMC prides itself in being open, many of my evangelical peers don’t believe that their conference is very open to them... If liberal leaders won’t support evangelicals, the denomination would be wise to allow them a way to gracefully exit." Maybe there is a regional difference, or I'm biased because of my own perspective, but I don't see "liberals" dominating the church - it seems to me that we are pretty equally divided and there is plenty of give and take on both sides. (I also would take issue of the distinction between "liberal" vs. "evangelical" - liberals can be evangelical too, assuming evangelical holds its core meaning of sharing and proclaiming the Good News). But to me the bigger point is that we are better together! I need my conservative sisters and brothers to challenge me on matters of personal holiness and I need my liberal sisters and brothers on matters of social holiness; uniting the two is what we are about as United Methodists. And make no mistake finding that balance is messy, complex, frustrating, and there are times when it would be so much easier to quit and go play in the sandbox with people who think exactly like you do, but I don't believe that is God's way. God's incarnate love revealed in Jesus took him to the very people who didn't like him, didn't agree with him; instead of retreating maybe we need to be more committed to going to the cross for each other so that God's love could be fully understood. For me the last couple pages of Adam Hamilton's book Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White really nails it, when he talks about the church of the "radical center" (unfortunately it's too long to quote), but our strength is faithfully serving God in the middle ground, and we need both sides for that to happen.

Thanks again to Craig for raising these important issues.

February 19, 2010

this week's roundup (feb. 19)

The "other side" of The Blind Side. On Twitter and Facebook, I've mentioned my friend Marcus Zumwalt before - he (and his family) really lives out that Christian call to radical hospitality. Check out his latest post about the film and how in those exceptional, heart-warming stories, we sometimes forget about the difficult reality of dreams that don't come to fruition.

Matthew Paul Turner has an interesting article about an interview he once had with Amy Grant, in which he was forced by CCM to get her to apologize for her divorce. Fascinating look at a certain subset of Christian culture, and a subtle condemnation of the CCM industry in general.

I tend to be a sucker for cover songs as well as music by the Talking Heads, so this week's installment at Covered in Folk is especially entertained to me. Recommend tracks Bell X1's take on Heaven, Robin Danar (ft. Jim Bianco) doing Life During Wartime, and Bruce Lash's Psycho Killer. (And as much I loved the idea of 6 different versions of This Must be the Place, I realized I'm too invested in the original to give the covers a fair listen).

Julie Clawson has some great thoughts on Lent - short version - it's not about denial, it about opening yourself up to God's transforming power. I think she's right on the money. Jonny Baker also points to some useful helps for Ash Wednesday (and into Lent) as well. I'm still in the process of exploring the 40 Days of Yes by CMS which he recommends, and the Ash Wednesday prayer by Christine Sine, is very powerful (and more than a little convicting). Baker also put up another "worship trick" this week and I'm totally drawn in by the idea - using filtered glasses to show differing theological insights (you'll have to read the post the understand), but if really creative worship is your thing check it out.

Jay Voorhees picks up on a small controversy in the British Methodist Church by some comments by David Gamble, seemingly taken out of context to suggest he is proposing folding the British Methodist Church into the Church of England. As Jay points out, Gamble's real point - how we need to put the mission before the institution - is an important one, of which we need to continually remind ourselves.

Another food hack via Lifehacker - grow your own onions.

February 12, 2010

Book Review: Thy Kingdom Connected

As part of The Ooze Viral Bloggers, I recently had the chance to read Thy Kingdom Connected by Dwight J. Friesen. Dwight in an associate professor of practical theology at Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle, and the founding pastor of Quest: A Christ-Commons in Bellevue, Washington, and it is clear both these experiences inform his writing.

Thy Kingdom Connected looks at the role social networks play within the life of the church. Rather than looking at the specifics of networking tools like Facebook and Twitter, Friesen, insightfully examines the "big picture" of Scale Free Networks and how they are applicable to the life of the church. Drawing upon theology, biology, and sociology, Friesen makes the case that we need to rethink our conception of the congregation and the missional implications that ensue from understanding our fundamental interconnectedness.

Theologically, Friesen asserts, the Christian conception of God is inherently relational. He writes, "...only Christianity has a vision of God who exists in relationship before time - a God whose 'being,' as Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas says, is 'in communion'; a God who moves relationally toward creation, now away from it; a God who is personally and actively involved in human affairs, not just setting things in motion. And we don't just stop there; we believe that God created all that is out of love and for relationship, and we understand the very mission of God, as seen through the capacious narrative of revealed Scripture, to be the reconciliation of all things relationally unto God" (pg. 56).

And when we begin to consider that we each have importance and a place in this relational/networked kingdom that God has created, the missional implications become apparent, as Friesen notes, "As we begin to understand our interconnectedness, we begin to take on a shared mission: the mission of kingdom connectors is to actively participate in the ending of suffering of all kinds. Kingdom connecters know that when one person suffers, we all suffer, and that to bless one has untold ripple effects" (pg. 70).

Using this idea of a networked kingdom, the local church becomes a resource center with the goal of developing relationships. Friesen notes that each church should maintain its unique identity (traditional, contemporary, house, small group etc.), but the larger goal should be about connecting people with God and with each other, so that the people might be equipped to serve Christ in the world. As he says, "The church exists in relationship, by relationship, and for relationship. We exist to connect people with God, one another, and with creation in continuity with the capacious narrative of Scripture. Sometimes this means connecting people with a narrative so big and so beautiful that their lives find new meaning, redemption and hope. Sometimes it might mean connecting with others whom you personally wouldn't choose to connect with. Sometimes this may even mean helping people who are a vital part of your church connect to a different faith community or ministry even at great cost to your own ministry. And we can do this because every local Christ-Commons understands it is dynamically linked together in God's connective kingdom. The church doesn't exist simply to propagate the church, rather the local church exists as a local expression of the reality of God's networked kingdom" (pg. 109).

In a networked system traditional hierarchies no longer work, authority isn't derived through position or power but in the ability to connect. Using Google as an example, Frissen argues that the role of connective leadership is to help people connect and build meaningful relationships, building bridges and revealing God's reconciling work. Leaders in the church are "network ecologists" who help foster the life of the community.

Overall, Frisesen's book is a great read. It's deep - I found myself wanting to put it down after reading through each two or three chapters just to process everything he presents, and at the end of each chapter he presents some great questions for reflection and discussion, but it never felt overwhelming. The one (minor) difficulty I had was that it felt, at times, a little too "theoretical" to me, there were points where I wished he would have pointed to examples or provided a specific picture of what his vision of what church or pastoral leadership looks like in the networked kingdom. But it is largely written in such a way (especially with the questions) that the reader can fill in those gaps on their own.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Thy Kingdom Connected to review through Ooze Viral Bloggers. I will also receive a small percentage of proceeds if you click and purchase the book through the Amazon Associates link.

this week's roundup (feb. 12)

Jon Stewart on the O'Reilly Factor here. Absolutely brilliant. As much as I enjoy the more comedic stuff he does, I love it when he just straight up challenges people in a honest, reasonable way.

Thinking about a DMin? I've actually kicked around the idea for a couple years now, but haven't made any serious movement towards it. Chuck Warnock offers 5 questions to consider here. (Should the time ever come when I get a DMin, I will fully expect everyone from then on to simply call me "The Doctor."

How architecture relates to how we do church has been a source of fascination for me for quite a while. This week I came upon this article which is a interview with Mel McGowan about how sacred space needs to foster both horizontal and vertical relationships (ie with others and with God).

Andy Alexis-Baker has a post on "Goshen College: Hurting the Church Bit by Bit" which looks a the recent decision by the college to begin singing the National Anthem at sporting events, after a 114 year history of not singing it in accordance with their Mennonite roots. The primary reason for the change? Public pressure from the press and about 300 people in the community. I can't come close to holding a self-righteous view on this one, I'll admit that in the face of pressure and conflict the temptation to compromise comes too quickly for me; but the article does raise some interesting questions about the compromises we are tempted to make, especially when that relate to issues central to our identity and core values.

I also got sucked into the discussion/controversy surrounding Ed Young and Fellowship Church. Over at Church Marketing Sucks they posted a piece looking at the issue in a general sense of how congregations should respond when they are the target of a media investigation. As I looked deeper into the issue what caught my attention the most was:
*First, how my own envy clouded by perspective of the issue. It was very easy to develop this self-righteous attitude about Ed's seeming "excess" (salary, size of parsonage, access to a private jet) and how that money could be better used for mission, without considering the very real issue that even I, too, could be sacrificing more.
*Second, the issue of transparency. Granted I can't even begin to get my head around the size and scope of Fellowship Church, but the fact that things like a church budget (which includes pastor's salaries) isn't readily available to everyone, is outside my whole concept of church administration. If it were out there in the open, there might be more little nit-picking, but my guess is it wouldn't develop into the issue that it has become.
*Third, the issue of administration and governance. In this video Ed "sets the record straight" with his congregation, but what jumped out at me is that the members of the governing board of the church who speak on his behalf are OTHER CLERGY from DIFFERENT CHURCHES. Again, this is a difference in polity and ecclesiastical understanding, but I can't really comprehend the governing board not being members of the congregation (although I think I could rationally understand the counter-case of having "outsiders" for a balanced perspective).
I don't know the whole situation and don't really have any interest in the specifics, but the issues it raises are interesting.

A couple gems from Lifehacker this week - Re-Create a Fancy Steakhouse Dinner at Home on the Cheap and Learn to Snag Stuff with a Whip. Of the two, there's only one I'm likely to ever try, but I'll let you guess which one that might be.

I'm not sure I fully get Google Buzz yet (or why it would get me to switch away from Twitter), but I have added it to my Google account. Information about Buzz can be found here and here.

Finally finished Malcolm Gladwell's book What the Dog Saw which I though was really good; I've also just read Thy Kingdom Connected by Dwight Friesen which I should be posting a review of soon.

I heard this on the radio yesterday driving into work, and it was stuck in my head the rest of the day, so I'll share it with you. Classic Squeeze:

February 6, 2010

this week's roundup

Pastor/author Chris Seay has a video blog on LOST:

Keeping on the LOST theme there are a couple great posts I stumbled upon - "What Churches Can Learn From LOST" Part 1 and Part 2. The bottom line: How do we take creative risks to produce something so thoroughly engaging that it keeps people coming back for more and carrying the important questions with them throughout the week?

Mike Slaughter wrote on "The Church and Partisan Politics" here.
In it he says:
Too many allow their political ideology to determine their theology rather than a careful study of biblical theology informing their politic. This partisan spirit of disdain and exclusion prevents many outsiders from experiencing the resurrected Christ and drives seekers from the church. Jesus pointed out a critical deficiency in the biblical interpretation of the religious leaders of his day that continues to threaten the church today: “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human tradition” (Mark 7:8). Each of us brings a blend of political ideology, personal prejudice and folk religion together and then mix in some biblical truth to form a personalized system of life doctrines. We must repent of our worldly ways of thinking and seek the mind of Christ. A commitment to follow Jesus is a commitment to a higher politic that places one’s allegiance above party platform.
I appreciate his acknowledgement that we each, in our own way are guilty of this; it's an important confession that both sides of the church need to make.

For the past year (maybe more) I've really enjoyed Mike Todd's insight into issues of faith and culture. He recently traveled to Israel & Palestine and has started to unpack what he experienced there. Check out his first post in the series addressing how stereotypes can be broken down just by taking the time in getting to know the people.

Another highlight from Seth Godin here, on "What's expected vs. what's amazing." Mike Todd's blog also pointed me to this video by Nic Askew featuring Godin talking about curiosity vs. fundamentalism:

'curiosity' from Nic Askew on Vimeo.

Jonny Baker offers another "Worship Trick" here. I know putting something like that together is a lot harder than it looks, but it would be really cool to incorporate something like that into worship.

Finally, some Midnight Oil for your listening pleasure:

(and if you've ever seen me dance, you'll know right away that Peter Garrett is my inspiration).