Emerging Church realization

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I’m reading through a book on the Emerging Church.

It’s not that I’m trying to explore some new reality. I instinctively, and unreflectively, fit within the values of this movement. Curiously, I’m realizing how my own training and experiences over the last fifteen years has placed me thoroughly within this context even without ever being part of a single emerging church community. Rather, having found myself instinctively fitting in with this movement I’m curious about the more established conversation these days and how I agree or disagree with the present dialogue.

If there’s a cause I might develop this curious training in a future post. The point of this present post is more of a historical realization.

Ray Anderson, in a comment on Ryan Bolger’s blog, notes some concern with the seeming de-emphasis on crucial aspects of theology. His thoughts should be noted and considered by any in this movement in order to quickly work through the important issues raised.

However, the difficulty with coming up with an emerging church theology is that this is not a movement primarily directed by theologians. Indeed, unlike just about any movement of most of Church history it is not driven by those with significant academic theological background or interest, though it does appropriate the thought of a number of very fine scholars, including latter day spiritual writers such as Dallas Willard and Brian McLaren.

It is a liturgically directed movement which begins where most theologies end, with a focus on ecclesiology. Rather than starting with foundations and moving into community activities which reflect these considerations, it begins with community activities which must then be assessed as to what they are saying about the other topics.

And what they are saying is profound, and indeed when developed should in fact point to a very thorough appropriation of the Holy Spirit, much more so than any church presently existent.

In this way the EC movement is a lot more akin to the Pentecostal movement, which had a very distinct theology, but has taken quite a while getting to describing it.

In my developing estimation the Emerging Church is distinctively non-Augustinian and thus seems to de-emphasize the usual categories of traditional Church theology. It doesn’t in essence but in emphasizing other aspects and our present responsibilities it drifts into a working semi-Pelagianism that seems to blend the thought of John Wesley and George Fox into a contemporary mix.

That’s why those who are entrenched in an older model of Church and very committed to more standard Christian theologies have trouble with the theological developments in the Emerging Church. Entirely different questions are being asked and answered, thus leading both sides to accuse the other of notable deficiency.

These aren’t necessarily new questions or answers, but are certainly found in the more obscure trails of Christian thought, making them seem quite new. What is new is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is always about something new and exciting, and worth watching.

Like I’ve said before, this ranks as among the most exciting times in the life of the Christian Church.

Red Shafted Northern Flicker

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Red Shafted Northern Flicker

Red Shafted Northern Flicker

Red Shafted Northern Flicker

A delivery

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Uh, the UPS man is here.

the UPS man

In fact, he’s a bit stuck.

the UPS man

The tow truck is on its way. Though I’m not sure what they’re going to do about it.

Two hours later a tow truck comes. This one doesn’t even try. The problem is the UPS truck has to be pulled back off the stump, and pulled back so it doesn’t tip all the way over. The problem with this problem is there’s no way to get behind the UPS truck. It’s blocking the driveway you see.

Night descends, and the truck is still sitting here.

the UPS man

Four and a half hours after getting stuck, another tow truck comes, and a more macho tow truck one cannot find. It has everything.

the UPS man

This driver stares awhile and comes up with a plan. My guess is the folks who drive these macho tow trucks are the elites in this sort of thing and very creative in their getting things back in order.

He decides to use the big boom wench to lift the front of the UPS truck off the ground, getting both rear wheels on the ground. When this is done the driver slowly puts the truck in reverse, moving an inch or so at a time while the tow truck operator lets the slightest bit of slack in the cable.

the UPS man

Takes about fifteen minutes. But, the UPS truck gets all four tires on the ground and gets facing down the driveway in a proper fashion. Soon after he’s off to home, the twenty deliveries he had left now rescheduled for another day.

“It was a dangerous thing to try,” the tow truck driver said afterwards. “I’ve seen the straps break, or come loose, then who knows what the truck would have done. Fortunately, it worked out for us.”

Ten Lessons

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“So, what are you learning, Patrick?” my hypothetical inquisitor asks.

“Good question,” I reply, feeling the vague lessons of life moving ponderously inwards but not quite always able to specify their nature or quality.

My mind was wandering this morning as I lay in bed, the covers pulled tightly, and more covers on top of those covers.

A junco was outside and the birdbath was frozen. Winter may be yet a month away, but the signs are strong it is already here. Winter is a time for thinking, and so I was thinking before I was fully awake, pondering the lessons of life, which once awake I converted into the metric system.

Ten lessons of life, to be more developed in future posts:
1. Becoming a servant in reality rather than in rhetoric.
2. Recognition and investment in those already in one’s life.
3. Respect for authority without dependence on authority
4. Ambitionless interaction
5. Patience
6. Doing things “in Christ” rather than “for Christ”
7. Finding the fluidity of the work of the Spirit rather than depending on static approaches.
8. Emptying and letting go
9. Emphasis on the eternal rather than the temporal
10. Freedom through restriction

So there you go, at least there you have the lessons I was able to codify on this chilly wintery morning.

Now for a cup of coffee, a lesson I learned a decade ago.

Happy Thanksgiving

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Happy Thanksgiving

some verses for the day

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Philippians 2:1-13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

I woke up this morning thinking about this passage. Generally the Christological hymn so-called is presented as a key passage of Paul’s understanding of Christ, or an example of an early Christian hymn which Paul utilized within his letter.

The surrounding verses, however, seem to make clear this passage isn’t primarily about Jesus. Like in much of Paul, his discussion about Jesus is really about us. He is not giving us a theological model of Christ’s reality, he is giving us a practical model of our intended reality, a reality most of us still don’t quite get.

We have made a leadership model the key part of the Church. From the super hierarchy of the Catholic Church to the less formal but no less insistent leadership by dynamic personality in the Evangelical Church. In all of this, in the basic model of pastor and priest, is the idea of being Christ, and in doing this representing God to the people. Church leaders regard raising themselves up as something to be grasped, and are eager to exploit those with the same intentions.

In careful consideration of this passage such terms as servant-leader have been developed, which implies, like the Pope’s Servant of the Servants of Christ, a leadership based on doing things for other people. However, servant-leader is not used in Scripture. The word is servant, without the rest.

Jesus lowered himself to be a servant. Likely at first, until he was thirty, serving others as a craftsman, serving his family in the expected role of the elder son. Indeed, as the verse tells us he did not command others to die for him, rather he died for us. He did all the dirty work.

In our culture of insistent ambition, however, it is anathema to relinquish leadership for the sake of service. We grasp, and we seek, and we cajole, and we court those above us while negating those who are “below” us, making this passage a rhetorical consideration rather imitating Jesus’ own worked out reality.

I consider this today because over the course of the last few years I’ve settled into being essentially a servant, investing in others, finding my own ambitions becoming washed away, letting go any sense of ambitious brown nosing in order to be pressed into the next levels of authority.

I have no authority whatsoever, no respect, no honorable place I can point to as symbolizing the fullness of my reality. I spent the first few years of this millenium grasping after equality with God, attempting to establish myself within a succesful ministry and finding only disillusionment through doing things right.

I can see this as God’s judgment, his wall which is a curse on my attempts towards contribution. Or I can read the Philippians verses, look about in my present circumstance and realize in my weakness and my folly and my shame I might just be closer to Christ than I have ever been before in my life.

It is God who is at work in you.

Thank God for Scriptures which point to the reality of such things when so often the bearers of Christ’s name strongly suggest otherwise. I feel the shame of the world. I also feel the work of God.

And that is something, indeed that might be everything, even if the path towards such is entirely different than everything I have been taught and shown over the many years of active Church ministry.

too difficult

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John 6:61ff.:

But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.”

For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

As long as we can answer the question “to whom can we go?” we are not in a position to leap fully into the river of faith. Those who walked away had other places in mind, other paths, other pursuits, other avenues of satisfaction. Those who stayed knew in their depths there was no other place to go, and so would follow Jesus even through death itself to arrive on the other side.

This teaching is very hard. Where will we go? Onwards or away?

Many disciples walked away. Peter did not, for he had already committed himself past the point of return. If he did not go forward he was nothing. If he did not have faith, he would no longer stand (Is. 7:9).

Jesus lets us make this choice, in this moment and in every moment. Only those who know there is no where else will find ease in the decision, if not always joy. The joy comes later if not sooner, and it is fuller than anything we can presently imagine. The trick is being willing to commit ourselves past the point of no return, letting go anything that binds, taking away the net, and burning the ships behind us.

If there is anything else we will not embrace the Everything else. Because, unlike the seeker sensitive message, the teaching of Jesus is too difficult to pursue otherwise.

sacred space

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Wise words from Sacred Space this week:

When we call Christ the King, we have to unthink the trappings of royalty, and picture him as Pilate saw him when he asked: Are you a king? He was rejected, in pain, deserted by his followers. He had known fear; he had sweated blood and called on God three times, using the self-same words: Let this chalice pass from me. Yet Pilate was in awe. Jesus was unafraid now, ready to drain the bitter chalice, but himself untouched by bitterness. Here was a man who could command the loyalty not so much of the successful and popular, as of the great mass of humankind who also pray daily that God spare them the bitter chalice. If he is a king, it is not as the overclothed icon of Byzantine art, but as the naked, crucified one.

Wise words for us to follow not just admire, we who have formed our churches to court the loyalty of the succesful and popular, thinking that if we command their influence we will reach out into the world. Yet Christ became less. He courted those who had nothing else, raising up those who were not considered worthy, teaching those who were left behind by society. He did not look to the world’s opinion for himself or to measure others.

And it was this approach which healed the lepers, freed those captured, and brought back to life those who were dead.

It is a worthwhile consideration to determine how we assert ourselves in this world, whose influence we seek and whose we dismiss. And when we do this, we should measure ourselves against Christ, and adjust our lives accordingly. Though, doing such may be painful and difficult.

“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (John 6:60ff.)

early America

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Interesting tidbit from this month’s Smithsonian. In the Wampanoag confederation, who the early Pilgrims encountered when they arrived on these shores, there was a position called a pniese. These men were chosen to become a kind of counselor-bodyguard to the Sachem, the equivalent of a chief.

According to the author Charles Mann, “To master the art of ignoring pain, prospective pniese had to subject themselves to such experiences as running barelegged through brambles. And they fasted often to learn self-discipline.” They then spent their winter in the woods, and performed a few more tests of their worthiness.

Interesting. I’m well on my way it seems. Now all I have to do is find a community of pre-Revolution Wampanoags.

a hike

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Yesterday I decided I would get out and explore some of the more obscure trails in these parts. I found a likely spot on my gps map called Pinnacle Peaks, which rises about a 1000 feet in a short amount of space.

No problem, I said. I like to hike and don’t mind the wee challenge of having to climb up boulders. It was noisy in these parts so I thought I would find peace in the middle of the forest, sitting on a rock which seemed to beckon me. I expected to get there and have a good long sit, a good long read, and a good long consideration of various things, such trifles as who I am and what I am doing with myself. You see, I’m getting to be a fair bit weary of losing friends when they give up on me finally, or at least effectively.

So, the middle of the forest on a tall rock seemed to be the spot for me. Pinnacle Peaks

There didn’t seem to be a major trail up to there, so I made an approximation and plotted out the best track, finding the minimum altitude gain which would get me to the top. I thought it a good plan.

I drove down the road a bit and couldn’t quite find the place I was supposed to park. I did see the peak in front of me, so I turned around and drove a 1/4 mile back to where a small parking lot for another trail was located.

No worries, I thought I would just hike over a bit and get back to where I wanted to go.

I could see my destination, I’m fairly adventurous, so the clearly defined paths don’t constrain me.

I started out and began walking down a small wash, which was nicely surrounded by manzanitas and other bushes, with the occasional oak and pine tree as well. That these were occasional surprised me a bit for even though this was 4800 feet, oddly enough it was a different sort of terrain, being decidely chaparral rather than forest.

The wash began to be grown over a bit, so I walked out and followed a trail of some sort, weaving in and out of the wash as it rose upwards. Every once in a while I would have to make a decision about the easier course, occasionally pushing through some overgrown branches, or stepping over a boulder. No problem at all, I knew where I wanted to go, and while it may not be the typical going, I was fine and eager to have a challenge.

The occasionally pushing through some branches became a regular pushing through, pushing with my hands or just walking through this brush letting my legs break through the barrier.

Did I mention I was wearing shorts? Did I mention chaparral brush is not made up of airy spring flowers. Chaparral is tough land and it makes for tough plants.

No problem, it was only over the rise a bit, so I kept going, eager to get to the top of the hill and have a better look around. Pinnacle Peak hike

Down the hill I went, stepping cautiously and increasingly finding my path blocked. Not sort of blocked, entirely blocked, a wall of thick and sharp plants overgrown together for yards and yards all around. No worries, I’ll step back a bit and try another path.

It was here I saw the bottom of the hill, and noted a very clear trail in front of me which led exactly where I wanted to go. If I could just make it down the hill I would be fine. Another trail led me closer, then completely filled in so I couldn’t take another step.

Pinnacle Peak hikeAh, there was a small dry creek bed a little way to the left. I’ll go over there and take it down. I slowly made my way over, and crashed through some thick plants only to find more thick plants, another push, and yet more.

All along there was just enough bare patches of earth to make me think if I just pushed more I could get through onto at least a partial trail. It was a deception. There was no trial.

I walked twenty feet in this creek bed and came across plants grown ten feet high all around me. There was no pushing through anymore. I turned around, and crashed back up.

When I got back to the top I tried to find another path. There wasn’t one. The chaparral brush was now so thick in front of me I could only go sideways, trying new patches of dirt with no success.
destination
But there was the trail down below me. There was the destination in front of me.

I realized there was no way from where I was to where I wanted to be. I turned around to find another route farther back. I went to the top of this hill and looked around. I decided to go back down about the direction I came up and try to make my way around the other side of the hill.

No success.

Not only did I not see any trail forward, now I the brush seemed to have closed the trail back. However I came up was hidden, and I was utterly trapped by thick chaparral brush.

I looked at the sun to see how much daylight I had left. It was about 2, and I got to worry a little bit I wasn’t going to get out before the sun went down.

I took cautious steps in many directions, going up, going down, going left, going right, going forward only to retrace my steps to find a way out. Which offered me a chilling challenge indeed.

I decided not to make for another route, but to try to make my way back to where I started, to get back to the trail I left very early on.

Only I couldn’t go that direction either. I realized I was now trapped in the brush. My pushing onward had made things worse. My legs were now fairly scratched up and getting more scratched with each step.

I realized I was entirely stuck, and thought of how embarrasing a mountain rescue team would be, and thought of how I would go about spending the night amidst the shrubbery. I thought I wanted neither, and realized the only way out was to let go any thought of trails.

So, what before seemed a wall, I stepped over and through, deciding to reach about where I had come up, in order to find my way back down. I put my head down and pushed through tall branches, losing my hat, scratching my arms. My legs now were bleeding in many spots, but if I cared about my legs I wouldn’t get home.

I stepped on plants if I couldn’t step through them, and completely lost any thought of my skin’s welfare.

Eventually I made it back to where I saw my own footprints in soft mud and knew the way would get easier from here. There were a couple more spots of pushing, and a few more scratches to be had, but no more walls of thick chaparral shrubs to insist I stay while I insisting I keep going.

At the main trail I thought of walking back up the easier route, then looked down at my legs and realized now that the travail was over I was beginning to feel a bit of pain.

Two hours after I started, and less than a mile of forward progress I decided it was time for home.

I’ll try the real trail another day soon. After the liberal use of neosporin helps my cuts begin to heal.

I note this all because it was a curious adventure for me. I’m used to going off trail in the forest, or the desert, or most anywhere. I’ve never been in a place where I was became trapped in harsh plants, which taught me most effectively not to test their patience. cuts
hiking through brush
It was my fault I know. I shouldn’t have dared the brush. I shouldn’t have pressed forward in what was increasingly causing no end of harm, only because I felt my pride pushing me to do what I started. Because I left the trail I got to the point where I couldn’t go forward anymore, and the way back was bitter and harsh.

It was an adventure, and it gave me a new experience. I know that neck of woods a little better and know now there are sometimes when I can leave the trail, and sometimes when I cannot.

Oddly enough I found a fair bit of lessons in this experience, and found myself thinking of a close friend who has done much the same thing in her life. I made it back and I hope she will as well.

I also wonder if this is a lesson which points towards my own life in the present. I feel there is no way back, and yet the way forward seems filled with brush. I cannot tell which way will give way eventually to pushing and slogging. I know, however, the way forward in my present seems more potent than a rock to sit on. I feel this is not only a place to find peace, it is my grail ahead of me, a numinous quest which demands I press on, even through the overgrown brush.

No it doesn’t feel like an example for me. Unless the example is I would be better off sticking to a trail to begin with rather than forcing my own way upon things. This soul drawn destination won’t let me turn around.

So there you go. Now I need to put some more neosporin on my legs. They’re beginning to sting again.