January 28, 2009
January 19, 2009
As we move toward a momentous Inauguration of the 44th President of the USA who will give his speech in front of a building built by slaves, may we look back and remember Martin Luther King Jr. and the many other prophets, activists, and truth-tellers who made this day possible, the Inauguration of an African American to the highest office in our country.
Today is a day not to celebrate the holiness of MLK or Barack Obama, but the effect that a normal man with temptations, trials, and imperfections can have on a nation. May we remember that these men reflect the people who have elected them, listened to them, and who these men have been the voice for. As we look back, let us look forward and see that there is still work to be done, reconciliation to be made, forgiveness to be given, and justice to be poured out. Thank you Martin Luther King Jr, Barack Obama, and the many others who've been given hope and who have given hope.
January 16, 2009
David Fitch, who has constantly been a helpful voice in this EMC conversation, recently wrote a good post on this issue referencing to Zizek's "decaffeinated belief:"
Zizek argues that when we say “I enjoy my religion” this implies that I don’t take it TOO seriously. For we really don’t want to take it too seriously (this is what the fundamentalists do according to Zizek). We keep it at a distance so to appear to be a Christian with all of it comforts and accoutrements yet not requiring any great disruption to a comfortable way of life. This distance, between the subject and the Symbolic Order, is what allows the subject’s Christianity (or religion) to be subsumed by the existing order.The existing order that controls Western culture is the power of the spectacle produced by consumer culture. We commodify everything including our faith. Sunday becomes about receiving religious goods. Pastors are recognizing this growing trend and
…agree that a growing number of worshipers are talking or sitting through the congregational singing writing notes during the special music, showing up 10-15 minutes late, not worried about interrupting anything or anyone. One pastor shared that a congregant stopped attending worship opting to stay home and worship with a church on television. When asked about this, the congregant responded, “Why does it matter where I watch the service?” Another pastor commented that people treat everything in the service as if it were a movie preview and it is not until the feature presentation (the sermon) that people really start paying attention. Or in other churches with a more contemporary style of worship a pastor stated, “Once the ‘concert’ is over, they just settle in waiting for a sermon.”Most church plants are in the business of Christian reconfiguration, they steal Christians from churches in the area instead of leading people to faith (and this is NOT an overstatement). My growing concern for the "emerging church" is that it preys on the sensabilities of its consumer culture, thus utilizing culture uncritically or being used by culture.
The power of consumer culture and the commodification of everything is that religious seekers can take objects, beliefs, and pieces of traditions and lift them out of their context to be used in whatever way they like. They can have their cake and eat it too, because they simply cut off the baggage from where those traditions arose.
In some respects, I believe this weakens the ability of emerging churches to form people for Kingdom work, because the main tool for combatting commodification is immersion in a religious community who emphasizes its deep religious tradition (baggage and all) for the formation of disciples. I know this is a generalization, but emerging churches are heavily influences by the culture of consumerism because they tend to be planted by those on the cutting edge of consumer culture.
Of course, I've excluded from this conversation "seeker churches," who attract people to church Sunday mornings by having a great rock show and a funny preacher (because I'm sympathetic to EMC). Sunday morning should be about formation:
Deep traditions like lectio divina, intentional community, monastic practices, authenticity, and vulnerability are all very important, but so are the communities, traditions, and histories they have grown up in. Much of the EMC conversation is reactionary and deconstructive (which is fine, I understand), but there is something unhealthy about simply cutting ties with communities of faith that tend to have baggage because they've been around for 50, 100, or 150 years. Of course, this critique works in the inverse. Communities with baggage need to be listening to churches who are concerned about doing and being church differently.
I think this is a mistake. For the missional church communities require a regular practice for the shaping and forming of a people into the Life with God, the Mission of God. Missional people do not grow on trees. If then we would see people formed into the Missio Dei we must order our worship so as to be encountered by the living God. We must learn how to preach not as information but as proclamation and invite people into the Mission. The real presence at the Table must be the center of our gathering, our lives and our community. If we would see people formed into the Missio Dei, our gatherings must take on liturgical shape, a way of inviting people into the prayers, confessions and affirmations of the alive relationship we have with the living God of Mission. We must learn how to listen, interpret Scripture for what God is doing among us and in the world, hear God and then respond to God. This should be the character of our Sunday morning gatherings.
This kind of gathering should be both easier and harder to plan than any kind of programming approach we have hitherto been used to. It should be simpler and less focused on excellence of performance. It should not cost near as much in time, resourses and planning. It should be able to be done in a living room with three to thirty people or in a larger sanctuary with 200. Yet this kind of gathering takes more discernment of the Spirit, theological wisdom, historical sensitivity than we have been used to in the protestant church of our evangelical past (we haven’t paid attention to theology of worship in evangelical church). This way can lead us out of the wilderness of decaffeinated worship.
My main concern though, is that churches critically engage culture so that contextualization is healthy (meaning the gospel doesn't get subsumed or overpowered by the culture). Our culture is a product of late capitalism, consumerism, and commodification; so we need traditions and narratives that will equip us to live counterculturally. We need Sunday mornings baggage and all to be unenjoyable, uncomfortable, and formative.
If you've made it this far, you might also be interested in Fitch's conversation over the epistemology of missiology and ecclesiology.
January 14, 2009
Faith is undergirded, strengthened, and even produced by action. We tend to believe in what we experience, trust what we know. Because we are humans with bodies, our minds and hearts tend to line up when we act out in faith according to our actions.
So, if you are struggling to believe maybe the question should be, what are you obeying? If your struggling to believe in a God of justice and love, maybe it's because your life reflects something else. As we move closer to the Lenten season, maybe this is the time to begin asking yourself what it is that God is calling you to give up or to give in to. Instead of worrying about believing first, maybe we should act first and let our hearts and minds catch up with reality.
January 12, 2009
Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 58-59.
The disciple is dragged out of the relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus), from a life which is observable and calculable(is in in fact quite incalculable), out of the realm of the finite (which is in truth the infinite) into the realm of infinite possibilities (which is the one liberating reality).
January 10, 2009
What I've finished in the last month or so:
I've enjoyed digging deeper into theology with this German martyr, saint, prophet, and servant. Bonhoeffer's ethics would make many modern and conservative thinker uneasy simply because ethics are based in reality/experience. Therefore, we must struggle to know what to do according to our experience founded in Christ. I appreciate his unswerving allegiance to God and his drive to find concrete ways of acting in our secular world.
Hirsch and Frost are two creative thinkers who are fruitfully engaging the church and the changes in our culture. Their first book written together, The Shaping of Things to Come really served to shape the questions and direction my education in seminary would take. But I found this book rather simple and boring, I didn't read the last few chapters. I felt like they strained to connect their points with real examples. I'm sure this book will serve others in their journey, but it wasn't helpful for me.
Here is a wonderfully researched and edited volume coming out of Duke Divinity School. Unlike so many books on evangelism that deal with 10 steps or ways to intrude on the conversation, Chilcote and Warner have meticulously placed evangelism within the broader missio Dei. This work contains articles from Bosch, Newbigin, Hauerwas, Guder, Brueggemann, Ron Sider, Dana Robert, and many others dealing with several facets of this important theological issue.
Over Christmas break, to lighten things up, I picked up this little gem. Lest Innocent Blood tells a beautiful holocaust story (ironic?) of a little pacifist village in Southern France during German occupation led by protestant pastor, Andre Trocme that saved thousands of lives. I found myself fascinated by Andre, especially passionate marraige to Magda his agnostic wife. Everyone should read this book who has an inkling of interests in WWII and the Holocaust.
Recently read books:
Johnson's solution to our economic plight as Christians is to not seek a single perfect system, but to remain travelers or pilgrims in this world. With that in mind she takes the history of volunteer beggars through the development of economic thought and change from the 15th Century to modern times. This history is revealing to why we treat beggars the way we do and how economic thought and culture affects the church.
Cavanaugh is quickly becoming one of favorite author/theologians on matters concerning economics, faith, and the state. In this short volume he takes the readers through fallacies that exist within a consumer culture, like the idea of freedom in trade or detachment. Throughout the book Cavanaugh drops short hints or helpful suggestions for action for Christians in a consumer culture other than to feel bad for being a consumer.
I was impressed enough with the previous title, that I thought I'd try another book by Cavanaugh, and I wasn't disappointed. In this work, the author tackles the issue of political philosophy and how the state's narrative runs against the narrative of the gospel. Again, this book focuses on the power and fallacies of globalization. Cavanaugh focuses especially on the Eucharist and the church as means for working within these issues.
I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did since Van Til seems to believe that beliefs predicate actions. What I did find helpful in this look is how the capital market according to Adam Smith does not leave room or make the market accessible for some, the truly poor. His final few chapters are an interesting look at how equality without flat redistribution of wealth can occur (not meaning no redistribution).
Here's some books I'm in the middle of:
This rather dense look at how consumer culture affects faith by Georgetown theologian Vincent J. Miller is becoming one of my favorite reads. I thought I'd be able to pass through this book quicker, but I've found myself reading and rereading parts to get the concepts in my head. This book has also helped me understand a few other books I'm reading on postmodern philosophy and our culture.
Guy Debord is an interesting philosopher who takes his ques from Marx as well as Henri Lefebvre. I've posted a quote from Debord a few days ago. This book is an interesting look at how our culture affects us and how we as humans have moved from as "being to having," to now "having to appearing." Thus, our needs and reality become false based upon what we see, the spectacle produced by media and film.
Where so many people thought the Matrix movies were based somehow strangely on the gospels, the real inspiration comes from this french postmodern philosopher. Basically we live in a false reality, created by false desires because all that matters in assuaging the consumers desire for more.
And finally here's some works I'm either referencing, beginning, or hope to pick up in the near future:
January 7, 2009
-Guy Debord, The Society of Spectactle
For Debord our reality is shaped by what we see and primarily we see media and the culture produced by late capitalism. For Marx humans went from "being to having" with the rise of the market economy and alienation of productivity. For Debord humans have moved from "having to appearing."
Our world is upside down because humans who at their core are creators and find meaning in capability, are reduced to passive recieptients of the spectactle. Television, movies, and media become societies way of giving meaning, solidarity, and the illusion that we participate in the world (video games like fishing, golfing, etc come to mind). Alienation prevails, humans relate to one another by sitting solitarily in their homes watching the same movies, news, or sports events which become the fabric of society.
Thus, truth is really false. Reality is a creation of the spectactle.
The church who wishes to Incarnate the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, must realize that it's truth will present itself as false. When we try and allow the culture of media and television to shape how we pronounce our truth then we've already lost our voice in the meaningless array of consumption.
Seeing reality for what it truly is is a difficult, yet human necessity. Living into the Kingdom of God means living out of the false reality of media. Solidarity is not the culture of media, but relationships, advocacy, and dependency.