Friday, May 25, 2007

rocks and stones cry out

i once heard darlene zschech talk about luke 19.40, wherein jesus tells some passersby that if his disciples keep quiet about his claim to divine authority that the 'rocks and stones will cry out'

meaning that the rocks will begin to praise god
if we don't

i've heard that interpretation before
but darlene gave it a cool twist

she cited songs like audioslave's "show me how to live"
and dishwalla's "counting blue cars"

and films like "the matrix"
or "the fountain"

as examples of rocks and stones crying out

it was just a cool spin
on how revelatory the art of the unfound
can truly be

thinking, speaking, writing

it seems like this is all i do.




and, somedays, it's a little trippy to get my head around

i mean
for the first 10 years of ministry
i understood my role as much more of a pastor/shepherd
i did a lot of mentoring
i worked hard to develop strong relationships with my "people" [whom i never thought of - and still don't - as "people", they're just my friends]

and i understood pastoring primarily in terms of relationships

to be honest,
i still understand it that way
but my life just isn't that way anymore

these days

it's just more thinking

it's just more speaking

it's just more writing

i think ad naseum
i read everything i can get my hands on
i've done 15 magazine subscriptions
i read a complete non-fiction book every 3-4 days
i read a lot of fiction
and all of my reading just barely keeps me fueled enough
barely keeps up my ammunition
to keep thinking

thinking about how the church needs to etymologize for the present world
not to mention the future world [which is it's own category of thought]

thinking about how to better communicate the full gospel to our world
via live experiences and via the web/podcasts/utube, etc...

thinking about key doctrines
particularly soteriology, hamartiology, pneumatatology
and how they jive in this new world in new ways
ways we may never have fully appreciated before

thinking about dissipative ecclesial structures
and modular methods for leading a growing church

not to mention
personal development thoughts
family thoughts [my fav]
god thoughts
or backyard dreams/plans

and after i've begun thinking
i find myself with a shortage of time before i have to speak

i mean
a lot of my life is about talking

and not just preaching/teaching

i mean,
i end up talking for most of my work days
it's good talk
it's fun/work talk

but some days
i actually pray

please don't make me talk anymore today"


and then i've got to synthesize
my thoughts
with my teachings
with my reflections
and my conversations
with the collaborations and contributions of friends and critics
so that i can write it all down for someone to make sense of later.

[and, no - in my mind, blogging doesn't count as writing. so, please don't imagine me sitting in my office logged on to blogspot for any more than a furious 5 min. at a time]

in addition to our teaching atlases

we're spinning out
what will be
about a 200 page "booklet"
on the core doctrines of the christian faith

and a 100 page "booklet"
on a new modular ecclesiology
that will completely reengineer the way our church works

and i'm very excited about completing both writing assignments

so i can play on our new trampoline
with my fantastic son
my beautiful 1yr. daughter
and the everlasting love of my life
who i duper into marrying me 9 years ago

ok...time to go.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

the sins of pentecost & the sins of evangelicalism: an overview

ironically, there is no written definition for sin in the bible.

there are lexical studies on the greek [hamartia] and hebrew [chata', chet, etc...] words
and there are descriptions about what the effects of sin are
but there's no space in scripture that says "sin means ______"

so i've been looking for such a definition that is true to scripture, and makes sense for real life

and i've grown fond of defining sin as 'the breaking of relationship.'

it works spiritually because our sin separates us from god - and that, really, is why sin is "bad"...because we're no longer connected to our creator

it works practically because our sins against one another separate us from one another. when we lie or cheat or say hurtful things, they alienate us and dehumanize both the victim and the oppressor

but one of the reasons i've tried to better understand sin
is because of the things we do to one another
that the bible never truly addresses
but that feel so wrong

so, so wrong

and i'm not sure what else to call these things except 'sin'

after a little hamartiological digging
i'm fairly convinced that that is exactly what they are

let me give you an example

i grew up pentecostal
and, i've come to understand, pentecostals as a larger cross-section of christendom
have their own sin-set

[to be fair, i am addressing the worst of pentecost here, not the norm]

their sin-set includes things like

- spiritual manipulation, wherein someone uses language that makes it sound like the holy spirit wants someone else to obey the person speaking. for example, this may be use in awful instances, like "the lord told me that you are quenching the holy spirit" or, "god wants you to know that he is unhappy with your waywardness and your ear-piercings." to be fair, some of the "spiritual perspective" may - at times - even be valid [certainly, if we claim to believe the new testament, we must also claim to believe that god still speaks to people today], so my sin-label doesn't apply to the practice so much as it applies to the manipulative intent behind the exercise of that practice.

- misuse of scripture, by which i refer to the often hilarious instances of proof-texting for which pentecostals are lampooned. for example, citing 1 cor.6.19-20 [re: your body is the temple of the holy spirit] as "proof" against anything and everything they don't want you to do because it's not proper. so, that text then is somehow supposed to mean that we shouldn't drink anything, wear certain kinds of clothing, get any kind of tattoo or body piercing, and refrain from all extreme sports because our bodies are "temples." now, again, to be fair - there may be real wisdom in cautioning people against some of these practices - but that text is not about any of those things and we should be very wary of mis-applying it. that text is about sexual immorality. in fact, in most versions of the bible vv.12-20 are even labelled "sexual immorality", so i get puzzled as to why we think they're about something else.

- sense of superiority, this refers to the idea that pentecostals commonly hold wherein they see themselves as special, above and beyond other christians, because they experience the power of the holy spirit in a richness and a depth that no one else seems to either [a] want, or [b] care about.

to be totally transparent, they may even be right - but the sin is the fact that they allow that special quality to separate them from the rest of christendom, and - at worst - they begin to associate anyone without such an "experience of god" to the camp[s] of either backslider, heretic, or catholic.

* * * * * * *

since moving to michigan
i've become aware of a funny difference between pentecostals and the rest of evangelicalism

a difference i was certainly not prepared for

the sins of evangelicalism
are different than the sins of pentecost

pentecostals break relationship
because of their deep convictions about experiencing the holy spirit

evangelicals break relationship
because of their deep convictions about the truth of scripture

and i,
thought their sins would be the same

i thought i'd still be fighting the mis-application of proof texts

i thought i'd still be slowly, patiently, trying to reason someone out of calling fire and judgement upon the worship leader for not flowing with the spirit

i was not prepared at all for the following sins of evangelicalism

- apologetical pugilism, wherein i mean that evangelicals love to fight about every single point of doctrine [either major or minor, central or peripheral] and are willing to hate one another over varying interpretations of scripture. to be honest, i'm still reeling from this with disbelief - in pentecostal circles, this is the very reason why we never associated with outsider/broader evangelicalism. every week, i teach the bible to a degree of depth that i rarely hear advocated. i study hard, check all my sources, re-check the underlying theological premises of my statements and assertions; and, if i'm ever wrong, i try and publicly make it right. but the amount of smarmy, overconfident, critical [not to mention WRONG] feedback that i get about this-or-that minor doctrinal issue still baffles me. i'm just never sure how to react - i mean, how do you respond to the 18 year old bible college know-it-all who has only ever read one theologian and that guy happened to be his dad/professor? i always find myself torn between polite dismissal of their ignorance, and the carnal desire to unleash the full bore of my mental acumen and theological study on someone who could never withstand the heat of my self-righteousness.

it's the reason i disabled posts on my blog

i just couldn't continue to hear from people whose theology was incomplete at best
but who felt the freedom to question mine with an air of disdain and superiority

it was making me too angry

and i'm in ministry to connect people with jesus christ
not to defend myself against know-it-alls and dissenters

- practical gnosticism is the other big evangelical sin i've come up against since moving to michigan. we're really quick to make divisions between the life of the mind and the life of the spirit, between right thinking and right relationship - and we always seem to prioritize the brain at the expense of the heart. where apologetical pugilism deals with the aggression of "rightness", my concern with practical gnosticism lies with the dismissal of the interior life. we just don't pay near enough attention to what god is speaking to us [sometimes it seems like no one even believes he is], or to becoming more malleable to his will in each moment. of all the evils i've looked at, this one makes me the most sad.

* * * * * *

this post - i realize - is pretty overbearing. in fact, i probably should have put some kind of disclaimer on the top warning everyone of my grouchiness.

but let me close with a couple of short things

1. i wrestle with my own sin, so when i point out the broad-stroke sins of two movements i'm not trying to get even or be vindictive. i'm trying to help others who've struggled with the effects of these sins get some perspective on what to watch out for.

2. westwinds, where i presently serve, has been a wonderful mix of the BEST of both pentecost and evangelicalism. i have always been pleasantly surprised by the low amount of garbage i've personally had to deal with here, even with the messy circumstances that existed upon my arrival.

3. i'm really trying to train myself to be aware of my own propensity for judgement...and i'll probably spend a lot of time repenting/reflecting for being so abrupt on this post. maybe, though, it will also serve as a trigger for me to ask myself whether or not i display the perils of either movement in greater relief than their merits.

too much?

too early?

well, long-windedness certainly counts as a member of the teaching pastor sin-set, so i guess that's to be expected :)

Thursday, May 17, 2007


i've been working for months now on something new for westwinds

to be fair, i've not been working alone on this
jvo and randy have been heavily involved
as have most of our staff [and elders], in one form or another

and so have many of my friends from other countries, places, and backgrounds

as well as the numerous authors [like capra, myers, foster, weston, senge, merton] and thinkers [sweet, dad, richardson], and artists [warhol, yorke, and anyone who's ever been featured in communication arts]

which is all very cool

because - here at the middle-end - i feel like we truly have something significant to offer our church.

coming this september, we'll be unloading a truly open-source, self-emerging, missional ecclesiology that will allow each person who participates to learn/grow/exhcange/experience/think/believe/love/care/know god & our world in new ways.

and i'm really looking forwards to that

it may be the one great contribution we're able to offer our church

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


i recently read an article in fast company magazine about how big brands are fighting hard to "stay true" their ethos/identity.

it seems that companies like starbucks and hagen daas are finding it increasingly difficult to be unique in a world so full of imitators.

the article, of course, reminds me of all the funny conversations we have in the emerging church about authenticity - and i thought i might take a few lines here to delineate the dangers of that kind of orientation

one may be that we're not truly honest about things that are wrong - using, instead, authenticity as a kind of insulation against recognizing our sinfulness. for example, many times i've heard people say brutally horrible things to one another under the guise of "just being authentic and/or transparent", as if our truthfulness to ourselves should somehow excuse our willful harm to another.

another danger of the way we conceptualize authenticity is the way in which we seem to decry everything that anyone else has ever done [as per our frequent criticisms of mega churches and/or successful churches]. we become so caught up in our own brand [which, if we're honest, is still mostly defined by our reactions against the brand of our precedents] that anything that looks/smells like success must somehow be "inauthentic" because we didn't think/dream of it first. this, i think is a very hard truth for us to reconcile with because so many of us have been hurt by the ecclesial machine of american christianity; but, we must repent of this alienation and recognize that much we identify as "authentic" is truly only pride and resentment.

my final notice of our use of authenticity, though, bears the title of this post - 'fauxthenticity' - wherein we participate in the worst kind of fakery by claiming to be authentic with one another but still not really caring about each other. in this scenario, we observe people who are highly familiarized with the concept of "authenticity" and have - ironically - become desensitized to it; so, we use the concept as a frame and a justification for our words and deeds, but have actually stopped engaging the spirit of god and the people around us. we've become fake.

in fact, much of what we [in the emerging/progressional/experimental/lab church] do feels increasingly fake.

we have our own pet publishers
our own conferences
our own blogosphere

and there feels like less and less room for outside influence to penetrate our world

perhaps we've spent so much time defending ourselves against fundamentalists and self-relfecting apologists that we've stopped innovating?

perhaps, in our sincere efforts to be more than just a brand, we've lost the essence of what made us special?

there seems little enough published about interdisciplinary mediums
less about innovations in ministry perspectives/forums/models/rubrics [and, yes, i know model can often be counterfeit measures of spiritual effectiveness, but models are neither wholly good nor wholly bad and criticizing a system/structure/model for being flawed in-and-of-itself ultimately produces the great dual fruits of uselessness and superiority]

to all this i suggest we add to our working vocabulary words like truth and rightness [with all french literary deconstructionist tendencies invoked, nonetheless] and, more importantly, that we add verve, enthusiasm, creative capital, and passion back into our repetoire.

we've become staid academics and rote defenders of an orthopraxy we're no longer reinventing.

sorry for the rant

i'm just being authentic :)

Friday, May 04, 2007

the pop of king

stephen king is anathema to most christians.

but he's still a brilliant writer and a wiseman.

take, for example, his weekly column 'the pop of king' attached to the hindquarters of entertainment weekly. there, king regularly exposes the b.s. of celebreality and asks us to evaluate our own inconsistencies and flights of useless fantasy.

(dare i say it?)
like a prophet.

take the following article, for example, about celeb rehab. herein, king rips on the facade of public penitance perpetuating rock star spectacle - a theme, i might add, that ought to be more prevalent in our churches.

NO NO EASY ROAD, by Stephen King

After reading an article in The New York Times about the various cushy rehabilitation facilities where celebrities dry out, I got curious about just how many ''celebs'' we were talking about. So I cued up my current favorite song, which just happens to be Amy Winehouse's ''Rehab,'' and made a list. The song's only 3:33, but I had a pretty good roster before it was done: Eddie Van Halen, Jesse Metcalfe, Marc Jacobs, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Keith Urban, Mel Gibson, Robbie Williams, Courtney Love, Kate Moss, and Colin Farrell. I don't doubt there are many more.

The Times article suggests that, in spite of Ms. Winehouse's defensiveness (which those in recovery bluntly call ''denial''), rehab has become a kind of hood ornament for famous folks who like to get high. And why not? The rooms are private, tasteful, and in some places include beds with 600-thread-count sheets. There are pools and gyms, the grounds are peaceful, you can get naturally high with a massage. Of course the price is also high, but you can afford it if you're a movie star. And golly, you might even get a movie out of the experience, or at least a book (Rummies, for instance, by the late Peter Benchley).

So what's to No No No about?

Judging by my experience, quite a lot —but of course, I went through rehab 20 years ago, before rehab was cool. At that time, recovering alkies called finding oneself in such a situation being in a jackpot. The word, I assure you, was used ironically.

And no star-time for me. The place where they took away my keys, sharp objects, and credit cards upon admission wasn't Promises or even the Betty Ford Center, but a place called Brookside, in scenic Nashua, New Hampshire (not). In her song, Ms. Winehouse says she doesn't want to be jugged for 70 days. Maybe they keep 'em that long in California, but at Brookside it was 28. I don't know what the thread count of the sheets was, but some of them had some mighty interesting stains on them.

My first roommate was cool. The second, a suspended transport driver with a maniacal grin, tried to smuggle in roughly 50 airline nips by burying them at the bottom of his suitcase. Staff removed them over his loud protestations that someone had confiscated his personal property. The guy across the hall had spent the previous five years designing weapons guidance systems while ingesting coke eight-balls (so relax, you Enemies of Freedom). He agreed to go for treatment when his girlfriend discovered that the smell of freebase was not mildew on the bathroom shower curtain, as he had been assuring her.

Our bathrooms were done in that classic style known as ''Early YMCA.'' The showerheads didn't move; the temperature setting was Eternal Lukewarm. There was a horrid tiny smoking room that filled up with roughly 50 people during free periods. This was at the height of the summer, and the air conditioner wheezed a gruesome sludge comprising water, nicotine, and exhausted coolant. It probably could have been freebased, and I'm sure some of the inmates thought of it.

Rehab didn't sober me up. The well-known recovery program founded by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith managed that trick (at least for today). Yet it was Brookside that introduced me to the program, and it was Brookside where I first heard a counselor who looked like a Hell's Angel say, ''I got tired of being in jackpots, that's all. I finally just got tired.''

Plain or fancy, I doubt if Mel and Britney and Lindsay really wanted to go to rehab, in spite of the new cachet; I imagine they went yelling, No No No. The demands of loved ones that you change your whole way of living is never comfortable to contemplate. Six-hundred-thread-count sheets probably aren't much consolation.

The great thing about Brookside, with its lukewarm showers and nicotine-poisoned air conditioner, was that it took away all the props I had depended on to keep killing myself. It also took away the idea that because I'd been born with a little talent and parlayed it into a fair amount of cash, I was different somehow.

Most sobering up — almost any recovering-drunk-on-the-street will tell you this — starts with a merciless ego-stripping. You've got to find out you're no better than anyone else drowning in booze or lost in a cocaine snowstorm. I remember, near the end of my stay, that a gas station manager who'd ''graduated'' came back to speak. I asked him the question that gnawed at me: How do you fill the hours knowing that when 5 o'clock comes, you still can't get high?

''Steve,'' he said, ''I don't even think about it. I'm so busy there aren't enough hours in the day now.''

And about those amenities. New York Times reporter Ruth La Ferla, in her piece on substance-abuse resorts, quotes Chris Prentiss (the cofounder of Passages Malibu) as saying, ''After all, Britney Spears isn't going to stay in a shack.'' Maybe she should. Maybe it would be better. After all, look at Anna Nicole Smith. She's staying in a box these days.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

the eyes of morgoth

i've just begun reading "the children of hurin", which is a tolkien narrative reprinted by christopher tolkien and taken from his father's notes.

the book takes place about 6500yrs. before the lord of the rings
and tells of a family cursed by morgoth

[morgoth was sauron's master
whom many believe to be the figure of lucifer in the supra-allegory
into which lotr is placed]

in the introduction, we're told that morgoth curses hurin
by giving him his eyes

hurin only ever sees the world through the eyes of morgoth

we might do well to think of this as a curse that abides today

if we're honest
many of us continue to suffer under such a curse
seeing our entire reality
through the eyes of corruption and malice

the great struggle of christian spirituality may, in fact, be to break this curse

to swap out the eyes of morgoth

for the light of christ

i realize that relating christianity to the writings of jrr tolkien is almost passe
but i also feel like the curse of seeing a distorted reality
is perhaps the most prevalent curse
within the church
within the world

and within our hearts

may we all have an experience like paul on the road to tarsus
and see the world truly