My new favorite job description: chauffeur
May 16, 2009, 6:09 pm
Filed under: conference, friends, San Diego, Seattle, social action

I got a chance to attend the first annual Pentecost Seattle event this morning.  Well, part of it, anyway.  It was a good, stimulating conversation on justice that included a very wide variety of Christians.  I had to leave early, though – I was tasked with playing chauffeur today.  Not a bad assignment, though.

Passenger #1 in my vehicle today: The Rev. Dr. Samuel McKinney.  He has been the most significant civil rights leader in the history of this city.  He marched with MLK in Washington D.C., Selma, and Montgomery, and hosted Dr. King in his church.  I was honored to spend some time with him.  He asked if we could stop at McDonald’s for a fish sandwich on the way to his house.  Heck yeah!  I’m a part of a denomination that has an extremely poor history when it comes to civil rights, and I took the opportunity to express my sorrow for that, and my appreciation for the sacrifices he has made.  He was more than gracious.

Passenger #2 in my vehicle today: my San Diego friend, Matt Casper.  He flew in today for some work with Off The Map, and I was the airport chauffeur.  Always a hoot.  I’m looking forward to some more laughs later tonight.

I like driving most of the time, but with company like I’ve had in my passenger seat today, I couldn’t go wrong.

An Irishman, a Puerto Rican, a Texan, and a Californian walk into a pub . . .
November 19, 2008, 11:36 am
Filed under: books, conference, emerging church, friends, Seattle, theology

Yesterday was a fun, thought-filled (thought-full?) day with friends.  Church of the Apostles hosted a couple of theology pub dialogues with Peter Rollins from Belfast, Ireland.  I got a shout this past weekend from Ryan Sharp, who was interested in coming up from Portland for it – he jumped on a train, and I picked him up from the station.  We grabbed a quick bite, went to the Fremont Abbey for the talk, then went out afterwards to the Greenlake Zoka with Eliacin for some de-brief chat.  So there you have it – an Irishman (Rollins), a Puerto Rican (Eliacin), a Texan (Ryan – though he’s not a proud Texan in the way most are), a Californian (moi), and a pub (well, sort of – they didn’t have any actual “pub fare” for the afternoon thing we went to).

1118081341 Pete Rollins is the author of How (Not) To Speak of God and The Fidelity of Betrayal.  He’s also one of the founders of the Ikon community in Belfast.  He’s also  PhD Postmodern Philosopher.  He’s also quite funny.  He also has the ability to speak at blazing speeds with that Irish accent of his.  The last three of those things often left my head spinning . . . and yet wanting more.  Oh, he also keeps himself on time by continuously referring to his cool pocket watch.

I’ve not gotten a chance to read The Fidelity of Betrayal yet, so I don’t know exactly how redundant his talk was to that book, but there were so many good sentences – things I’ll be chewing on for a while.  Here are a few gems to start.  I’ll probably come back sporadically and pop a few more on here.

- “It’s not about convincing your mind to believe given truth, it’s about convincing your ‘social self,’ where the real belief resides.”  In other words, the belief resides in the actions of the body, not in the head.

- “The real question is not whether or not God exists, but ‘What is God saying to me?'”

- “Your beloved doesn’t meet your needs.  Your beloved creates your need.  ‘I never needed you until you arrived, and then I realized that I’ve always needed you.'”

Jim & Casper Go To College
November 17, 2008, 11:48 am
Filed under: college ministry, conference, denomination, friends

In keeping with my “blogging a week after stuff happens” schedule, I wanted to mention the annual fall conference for the network of collegiate ministries I work with.  We had college students from all over Washington, Oregon, and Northern Idaho, descending on the nearly non-existent town of Antelope, Oregon.  Actually, it’s more accurate to say that you go to the nearly non-existent town of Antelope, Oregon, and then you go another 15 miles down dirt roads into the wilderness.  It’s way way out of the way . . . apparently it’s a perfect place for a cult compound, if you’re an Indian guru.  But it’s also a great place for a Young Life Retreat Center.

We had the pleasure of being joined at this conference by my friends Jim Henderson and Matt Casper, co-authors of the book Jim & Casper Go To Church.  If you haven’t heard about it, here’s the gross over-simplification: a former pastor (Jim) and an atheist (Casper) become friends, and attend a bunch of the best known churches in USAmerica, along with a few you’d never hear of if they didn’t write about them.  Given my denominational affiliation, we knew it was a bit of a risk to bring them in, but one that was well worth it.  We believe that it’s more important now than ever before to understand the nature of the Church, especially if we’re going to get better at fulfilling our calling.  Jim and Casper were there to help us understand how and what we communicate to people who we would consider “outsiders” when it comes to church.

There were four sessions – each of which included about a 20-30 talk time by Jim and Casper, and close to an hour of Q & A.  There were a TON of questions, and some really good dialogue.  Now, I know Jim and Matt, and I’ve been able to see them do their thing a few times, so much of this was familiar to me.  But Matt also shared from some writing that he’s been doing recently.  In particular, he talked about having recently attended a big pastors conference, which had all the current rock star preachers there.  His review of that event was not that hot.  He made what I think to be a profound summary, though – he said something like this: “I went to this big thing to see the people that are supposedly the best at what they do, and basically what I got there was exactly what I had been expecting.  How to build a bigger church, a flashier church, a more recognizable brand.  But when I read the founder of your movement, the thing that sticks out the most to me was that he always did the unexpected – they expected him to fight, and he gave up; they expected him to play along with the religious system, and told them they were wrong, etc.  If you’re trying so hard to be like the person who did the unexpected all the time, why do I always get exactly what I expect out of you?”

That was one of multiple gems from the lips of someone who likes Jesus a lot, but doesn’t believe he’s God.

Jim also provided some helpful moments that several of the students mentioned to me later.  During one of the Q & A times, a student asked a question that had a few of our Christian code words in there – something about “hearing the call of God.”  Before letting Matt attempt an answer, he stopped, and said, “So Matt, when you hear that, it’s not about actually hearing an audible voice from God, it’s more like an inner sense of direction.  Does that make sense?”  That little moment of Jim having to translate for Matt demonstrated in real time for the students how much we use insider language, and the difficulty we can create for ourselves and others when talking about faith.

Jim and Matt, of course, both have a great sense of humor, and it was fun to hang out with them between sessions.  The students knew that this wasn’t a typical sort of “spiritual high” retreat, and that they were being asked to submit themselves to some discomfort, but they responded really well to it.  It was a good time, and hopefully one that will help the students more readily understand and engage their friends who don’t share their faith.

Still on the fence re: The Born Again Church Tour?
September 23, 2008, 9:15 pm
Filed under: conference, Seattle

I just got the following word from the good folks at Off The Map:

Want to come to Off The Maps Born Again Church Tour in Seattle on October 10-11th ?

Waited too long to buy a ticket?

No worries!

Since you’ve been to other Off The Map Events we’re guessing you’d really like to come.

Now you can!

Here’s a special offer just for you.

Buy one Get one free – (good until this Sunday at midnight)

Buy one full price ticket for $99 and you will receive a second ticket for free/nada/zip/zero.

Hey split the cost with your friend and you pay only $49.50 each.

What a deal!

Buy your ticket(s) here

Offer expires this Sunday at Midnight

Pass the link around – Let your friends in on the deal – Take advantage of us.

That’s a crazy good deal . . . you might just want to jump on it.

Born Again Church Tour
September 5, 2008, 11:03 am
Filed under: conference, friends, Seattle

  I’m already looking forward to Off The Map‘s annual foray into creative disruption – this year, they’re doing the Born Again Church Tour.  It’ll be in multiple cities this year, but the Seattle dates are October 10-11.  As usual, they’ve got some outstanding speakers lined up, and it’s always entertaining.  If you’re anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, you should make an effort to be there.

Of course, I could rave on and on about the great speakers, but the truth is, if this year is like every other year, I won’t even hear most of them.  Naw.  I always end up talking in the hallways with so many people that I don’t make it in to the sessions.  I’ve heard they’re great, though.

I’ll be there, and I’ll be bringing some co-workers, students, and colleagues.  More good stuff to come . . .

Tech Geek Robert Scoble on Church Planting (accidentally)
July 26, 2008, 2:32 pm
Filed under: books, conference, culture, denomination, innovation, technology

Even though I’m significantly out of my element, I often stumble through blog posts by Robert Scoble, who is a self-admitted “tech geek.”  He’s always got a strong opinion on what’s going on in the high tech world – some people like him, some don’t.  Though he’s seems to be a much nicer guy, you might think of him as the Chris Matthews of tech.

He posted an interesting entry today on what he calls “The Silicon Valley VC Disease.”  He mentions some current thinking by venture capitalists when it comes to funding startups that make applications for trendy, potentially flavor-of-the-month things like the iPhone and Facebook.

What is the disease? That you must make bucketloads of money (or at least have a shot at doing that) in the first two years of business.

If you have a plan to make just a reasonable amount of money, or if it will take decades to make a big amount of money, don’t come to Silicon Valley.

What interested me in this post was how true his statements are of church planting in North America.  The difference being, if you were to swap “venture capital funding” for “denominational church plant funding,” and “money” for “church attendees.”  For example, let’s rework the above quote (with apologies to Scoble):

What is the disease?  That you must [have boatloads of people in your church] (or at least have a shot at doing that) in the first two years [after the church launches].

If you have a plan to just have a reasonable number of relationships, or if it will take decades to make a big [church], don’t try planting a church.

I remember Hugh Halter saying something pretty close to this recently (I don’t recall if it was at a conference I attended, or if it’s in his excellent book, The Tangible Kingdom).  His point was that it often takes the first couple of years for a church planter to develop enough core friendships of depth in order to even think about going public, but by then the denominational (and often, other partner)  funding has dried up, and the church planter is in a scramble for what to do.  As an added bonus, the church planter is made to feel like a slacker/failure/loser for not having “succeeded” according to a standard he/she didn’t even create.

This is yet another example of Christendom-mentality church mirroring big business in our culture in some pretty unhealthy ways.

Am I off base on this?  Let me know what you think.

Letting others speak for me
April 17, 2008, 2:04 pm
Filed under: blogging, conference, culture, friends, podcasts

O.k., I’ve been meaning to give some more commentary on Tuesday’s activities around the Seeds of Compassion event.  Apparently I’ve waited long enough for others to have written thorough and helpful commentary . . . so in the interest of avoiding redundancy, if you’re interested in finding out more about the Prayer Breakfast with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I would invite you to read more from Helen, Randy, or Rose.  Their reflections are very representative of my own, so I’m happy to endorse their thoughts.

You’ll also notice in reading their recaps, that they make much broader reference to the evening event, which was held at Vineyard church in Shoreline.  I talked about Sunil Sardar . . . but there were a few other folks on the bill – Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, the aforementioned Rose, Todd Hunter, and a storyteller named Andrew Himes. 

Rose interviewed Rob, the recap of which has generated a lively conversation over on Eugene Cho’s blog.  Rose gave her take there, as well as on her own blog.

And now Rose has linked to some podcasts of the evening thing, should you be interested.  They’re available on the Vineyard website.

The Wacky Emerging Church: Reason #2.76

This post is part of a continuing series. You may want to read my list of disclaimers and intro remarks here, if you haven’t done so already.

Reason #2.76: The other white meat

Sad, but true, folks. White dudes with money are still pretty much in control. If you took a poll of emerging church folks, of who the ten most influential people in this whole scene are, you’d certainly end up with a very homogenous list. Yes, we have a few prominent people that we can point to as good examples, but I think we all know that it’s not enough. As a white dude with money, I have to face my own little identity crisis here – who am I to call attention to this? All I can do is try my best to keep this issue on the table, and work to change my own practical approaches to this.

For all our talk about new forms of theology, praxis, and leadership, and all our talk about God’s concern for the marginalized, we still have to look at the raw data: who’s getting the publishing deals, who’s keynoting at the big conferences, who’s getting celebrated on the blogs, who’s showing up to the conversations.

I’ll say that there seems to have been some good progress in the number of women that are gaining a voice. Cool. But what about non-white, non-Eurocentric cultures? Not only are we rarely seeking connections and bringing these folks into the public discourse here in the West, we’re almost completely ignorant of things taking place outside of our Western culture.

Why is that? Really? Is it that we just haven’t taken the time to learn about groups like Amohoro in Africa, or La Red Del Camino in Latin America, or Emergent Malaysia? Or is it even worse than simply accidental ignorance of what God is doing in the world?

I’ve heard it said that one of the reasons that the emerging church conversation is so dominated by those in the white middle class is that people in minority and poorer segments of our society don’t relate to the kinds of questions being asked, and so much of the talk is just irrelevant to where they live. While I think there’s validity to that, I think it probably indicates a continuing attitude of colonialism/paternalism. Yes, many of us in the emerging church want racial reconciliation, and we want to defend the causes of the poor, and serve them. But in so doing, are we listening to what they have to teach us about God, and how they’ve learned to follow Jesus? Do we set aside our overpriced educations and impressive libraries long enough to sit at the feet of those who God favors? Do we make the same old broken assumptions that “if they’re poor, they must not be smart?” Do we really believe that spiritual gifts of wisdom and teaching and discernment are limited to those of means?

How many emerging church people do you know that, when they became dissatisfied with the church culture they grew up in, decided to go join a church pastored by someone of a different cultural background? How many emerging church planters do you know that, when they decided to start their church in an urban poor environment, took the time to sit and learn from the pastors of the existing churches in that neighborhood? I actually do know a couple of people that did so, but they’re the exception by far.

I can’t overstate the importance of this issue, friends. It’s just not good enough for us to continue talking as though we’re enlightened, and not really racist or sexist or classist ourselves, unless we’re actively working to bring about change. Talk isn’t cheap here – it’s costing us dearly.

Thank you for your attention. That is all. Comment at will.

Weekend wrap-up

Well, I’m sitting here, finally at a place to unwind a little after the past few days.  They were good, good days, to be sure, but definitely full, and thought-full, and tiring.

The conference was very good.  In some ways, it was a lot like many events I’ve been to over the past eight or nine years – lots of people there, re-thinking church and culture and mission.  There are always a lot of newbies at these events, which can be both exciting and boring at the same time – boring because it seems like I have the same conversations with people over and over about questions being asked, new thoughts being explored, yada yada, but exciting because more and more people are waking up to the broken state of things in Western Christendom thinking, and seeing the Christian religion for what it has become.   I definitely liked that it was more praxis-oriented than idea-oriented.  The ideas and theology and theories are valuable, but most of the presenters here are those who are just walking stuff out in real time.

As usual, the best part of the conference was meeting new people, re-connecting with old friends, and hanging out in the halls.  By the way, Jonathan Brink did a much better job than I did of blogging the conference, so check him out – this was my first shot at trying to live-blog one of these things, and it’s harder than it sounds . . . sorry I wasn’t very good at it.

Our concert at The Purple Door with The Cobalt Season, Mark Scandrette, and Adam Klein was super fun.  They gave us a preview of the new record that’s set to drop on April 18, as well as a good mix from previous and current recorded work.  Johnson, one of our team members at The Purple Door, provided them with a wall of newspaper pages as a background for their projected images.  I absolutely loved seeing people I value and respect so much being able to give voice to their art.  We had a good sized crowd there – kind of a perfect number to fill the room up nice and cozy, without being too jammed up.   Some new friends from the conference came over, as did some friends from the U-District and the rest of Seattle.  We definitely had a good time . . . helped in no small part by the presence of some killer baked goods, courtesy of our very own Lindsay and Ronnie . . . they went down well with the Stumptown espresso shots we were pulling.   Oh yeah, and the whole crowd sang the happy birthday song to me.  Many well-wishers, for whom I’m grateful.

I have a life, rich with relationships – a terrific wife (who Mark Scandrette couldn’t stop raving about – “She’s a completely new person from the last time I saw her!”), a loving and supportive family back in San Diego, friends to share ministry with at The Purple Door, friends to share my cultural context in Seattle with, friends from around the country and world.  It makes getting older worth while.  All of these relationships are a gift from the Creator to me, that locate me within a reality of love and beauty.

Blogging the New Conspirators, part 7
March 1, 2008, 11:44 am
Filed under: conference, globalization, social action

I’m in a workship session on: “Social Entrepeneurship: Using Business to Advance God’s Kingdom”

- Not tons of new information – a lot of the companies that are out there (i.e. Pura Vida coffee, Ben & Jerry’s, Grameen Bank) are well known. However, it’s been a really good group discussion, dispelling a lot of the idealistic tendencies of social business ideas. Many good-hearted efforts are made without sustainable business sense, which leads to failure.

- It’s really important to marry good business sense with compassion and justice.

- We need to be more realistic with the problems we’re trying to address. Scaling a business sometimes means taking some of your “profits” that you want to give away, and putting them back into the business so that you can take things to higher levels.


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