On fear, confusion, and excitement
August 29, 2006, 8:09 am
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Yesterday began a new process for me. One I’m sure will be discussed more than it should be on this blog. I won’t go into it right now. I’ll just reflect on the raw emotions of my day . . .

– Introversion. I stood in a room of people I should want to be bonding with . . . and I just slipped out. Sometimes, I just stand in a corner and wait for someone to approach me, sometimes I strike up a conversation myself, and sometimes, like yesterday, I just duck out undetected. Now, I’ve never been the bubbly outgoing life-of-the-party type guy, but I usually hold my own. Not yesterday. Just felt awkward and a little lonely. No “poor me” feelings, just didn’t feel comfortable.

– Excitement. Yep, this new thing is gonna be good and envigorating and energizing.

– Fear. I felt scared for the first time in a while. “Crap,” I thought, “I just might have gotten in over my head on this one. I wonder if I’m up to this.”

– Confusion. I would describe that, but, well, I’m confused.

I’ll add to this list soon, I’m sure. For now, I’m getting annoyed at the 15-person sales meeting that just started in the coffee shop I’m in. I was here first, dangit!! Oh well.


August 21, 2006, 6:16 am
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O.k., so in a post last week, I mentioned that it might be helpful for Emergent, or the emerging church to have more of the “conservative” voices out, front and center in this conversation in order to demonstrate that it’s not just a new version of “liberal theology.”  I said that I find those categories unhelpful and troubling.

I believe that categories are suspicious for a few reasons.  First, especially these days, they’re very often terribly inaccurate.  There are a good lot of people that would look back over the past few years of this blog and slap a “liberal” label on me, and probably the same number of people that would slap a “conservative” label on me.  Who gets to decide who’s right?  Add to this the complicating factor that much of what looks to some like “liberal” is actually extreme conservatism.  Example?  How ’bout ecclesiology.  Many in the emerging church scene (another category that I admit to overusing, which is also unhelpful and trobling) are accused of hating the church.  All the critiques, all the cage rattling.  Well, what if all the critiques were not in fact demonstrating a hatred of the church, but a deep deep love for the church?  A strong, prophetic love often comes out sounding critical . . . and yes, at times, tinged with some anger.  Read your Old Testament prophetic books if you’re looking for some biblical references here.  Sometimes what looks like a liberal view of the church just means that the person holding that view has a deeper conviction of what the church was meant to be, and isn’t afraid to call it out.

Another reason categories are suspicious is that they’re too often used to marginalize.  If we disagree with someone, we can push them off into that mental frame of “those people.”  We can broadbrush them and quit listening to them if we can label them.  It’s lazy and unloving.

Categorizing and marginalizing people is far too often about control.  If I can name you and put you into my own little mental box, I gain power over you.  I’m the one who decides whether your words and deeds are important.  I’m the one who decides whether you’re worth paying attention to.

With all that said, I’m obligated to admit that I am a categorizer.  I have as many labels for people as most.  I’ve tried at times to work on this, starting first with just recognizing it.  The process of “working on this” isn’t some elaborate deconstruction of my thinking, though.  That would be too easy – too intellectual.  Instead, I need to operate from a center of love.  Just love people.  If my thoughts are consumed with selflessly wanting their best, I’ll not be so concerned with controlling them or tattooing some label on their forehead.

I heard a statement a while back that resonates here: “There are only two kinds of people in the world.  Those who categorize others, and those who don’t.”  The latter group is small indeed.

Back home (again)
August 17, 2006, 11:09 am
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After my trip to New Mexico and back (via TX, CO, UT, ID, and OR), I stayed home all of two days, then had to split again for some denom meetings in Vancouver, WA, just on the other side of the mighty Columbia River from Portland, OR.  The meetings were . . . well . . . I’ll hold my tongue there.  One afternoon and evening were spent in downtown Portland, though, which was very cool.  We actually had a meeting at Stumptown Coffee – which, in the coffee world, is an elite haven of true bliss.  I’m already looking forward to going back.

Now, I’m just happy to be home for a spell.  Last night I spent the 4th night out of the last 14 in my own bed.

Time to catch up on e-mail, unfinished projects, and planning for the coming school year at UW.  I also get to start in on a bunch of new books, thanks to my friend, Bill Bean.

Hopefully I’ll be able to gather some thought, reflections, and future oriented vision together for some more consistent posting.

Do emerging church critics have a point?
August 15, 2006, 7:15 am
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So, at the conference I attended in New Mexico last week, some silly and uninformed remarks were made from the main stage about the “Emergent Church” (a term which, I believe, hints at a lack of understanding to start with).  No big shocking surprise that people in my denom would be freaked out and feel threatened by what’s going on.  Frankly, it fits the pattern – make some inflamatory cheap shot at something you don’t understand . . . and if you’ve got a few “amens” coming from the congregation, you’ve done your job.

Anyway, the typical things were said about the emerging church movement.  “Blah, blah, blah Brian McLaren, blah, blah, blah, Donald Miller, blah, blah, blah, liberal wackos, blah, blah, blah, run for the hills, dig a hole in the ground, and hide out until Jesus comes back.”

When I returned from my trip, and made a pathetic attempt at catching up on some of my blog reading, I noticed a few posts floating around the blogosphere about Spencer Burke’s new book, A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity.  Looks interesting – I’ve met Spencer a few times, and been in round table dialogue type situations with him.  He’s a very cool, gracious, witty, creative, and fun guy.  Oh yeah, he’s also thoughtful and insightful.  Buuuuuut, apparently his book (I haven’t read word one of it, mind you) is on the “liberal” side. 

I’ll just say here that I find terms like “conservative” and “liberal” and at times, even “orthodox” to be really problematic.  The categories tend to be arbitrary and overly contextual. 

However, on the heels of hearing what I heard last week, seeing Spencer’s book out there got me to thinking.  While I’ve definitely been around this emerging church thing quite long enough by now to have met a ton of people who would line up more theologically “conservatively” than Burke, McLaren, Pagitt, Jones (Tony, not Andrew), et al, it does seem a little bit peculiar to me that a relative few of the most prominent voices within this small pond represent the more conservative side of theology.  Mark Driscoll definitely qualifies there, as does Scot McKnight (it’s particularly unfortunate, though, that even the conservative Driscoll finds ways of offending people through his abrasive “humor”).  There are others out there, I know.  But it does seem to me that when thinking about the emerging church rock stars, they line up in that direction.  Maybe that’s just the nature of the movement.  And maybe that’s a really good thing.

The problem it presents, though, is that when the critics – almost all of whom represent a very conservative theological position – pop up and gripe about the emerging church, they point at the most prominent spokespeople, and say, “You see, they’re all a bunch of liberals!!”  For the most part, the critics can be put in their place easily enough.  But I do have to wonder why the movement in general, and the actual organization of Emergent, in particular, has more theologically “liberal” voices at the forefront.  Given that one of their apparent goals is to promote conversations, etc. (through publishing contracts?), it seems they would be wise to elevate some counter-balancing theological voices within their conversation to places of prominence, just to trip up the critics a bit, and give tangible evidence that the “conservative” voices do exist. 

I’m not completely sure that makes sense . . . and I’m not completely sure that if I come back and read this post next week I’ll agree with it.  These were just some thoughts.  I think it’s coming from a place in me that’s tired of having to listen to pseudo-wannabe-experts blowing a bunch of hot air and saying untrue things.  Obviously, that’s going to continue for a long time to come.  But it might be nice to remove some of the more petty and most visible points of accusation.

Feel free to push back on this if you think I’ve got this wrong.  Again, I may come back and push back myself.

You decide the title of this post . . .
August 12, 2006, 4:53 pm
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Nine days ago I left the state of Washington for an extensive adventure. I got back home yesterday afternoon. I couldn’t think of a single title that would capture the whole experience, so you can choose from the following possibilities:
a) Planes, buses, and automobiles
b) Oh well, whatever, nevermind
c) On the road again
d) I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain

The story goes a little something like this. I was scheduled to attend a collegiate event for my denomination, just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico – Glorieta to be exact. O.k., fine, just book a plane ticket to Albequerque, right? Well, not so fast. Turns out, there’s a church near Dallas, TX that has been wanting to donate a van to a new church start here in Seattle . . . except they didn’t know how to get the van from there to here. Sooooooo, I became the designated driver. Last Thursday, Michelle drove me to a bus transfer station to jump on the bus to the airport. Interestingly, I met a lady on the bus who was on her way to Fuller Seminary to present a lecture on spiritual care aspects of medical missions efforts. Very cool. Once at the airport, I flew to Dallas, was picked up by a kind gentleman who took me to the van, and I hit the road. I stayed the night in Amarillo, then drove to Glorieta on Friday. I was there primarily to do some recruiting for inter::mission, but I was really stoked to be able to hang out with my counterparts from around the Northwest. We work together in the same network, but don’t get to see each other that often. That was fun.

The conference was kind of hit and miss for me. Some very good content at times, some so-so content at times, and unfortunately some poor and even some downright offensive content at times. I did get to meet and spend time talking to some very cool campus ministers and missionaries from Mexico and Canada. Overall, I think part of the big reason I stayed sane was that I spent a good lot of time reading N.T. Wright’s “Jesus and the Victory of God.” Finally finished that sucker . . . dang, that’s some good stuff.

The event ended on Wednesday night, and early Thursday morning I jumped back in the donated van, and began the long drive home to Seattle. My route covered New Mexico, a little bit of Colorado, practically the whole state of Utah, then Idaho, Oregon, and my own fair Evergreen State. I did the entire trip with the radio off – which I thought would be really hard, but actually wasn’t. It was a good time of prayer, thinking, and listening.

O.k., now for a brief explanation of the potential post titles:
a) Planes, buses, and automobiles: the aforementioned modes of travel incorporated in the trip.
b) Oh well, whatever, nevermind: an obvious reference to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” . . . OR my reaction to Southern cultured mainstream Christian blah. Let’s just say that I got my fill of that stuff.
c) On the road again: o.k. that one’s self-explanatory.
d) I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain: another musical reference, this time to James Taylor. While driving, I went through a good bit heavy rain. But while going across Idaho, there were random wild fires – one of which had flames several feet high, right up to the road. Hot stuff.

I’ll post some pictures of my drive home later. I’ll probably throw down on some thoughts about the week as well. Now I just need to recover and catch up on some e-mail. Peace friends.

Gnosticism from the other side
August 6, 2006, 12:10 pm
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A few weeks ago I poked at the emerging church a little bit by calling us out for Gnostic attitudes, in thinking that we’re the enlightened ones who were able to figure out all the errors of the Constantinian, institutionalized church, and get things back on track. By the way, Charlie put the posts about all that in the July edition of Next-Wave.

Anyway, I just want to clarify that while Gnostic attitudes may be there in the emerging church, I believe they’re far more prevalent in the modernistic church still operating under the notions of Christendom. This morning I heard a perfect example. A missionary (who to be clear, has admirably given over 35 years of his life to minister to the poor and outcast) made reference to a phrase I’ve heard about conversion for my whole life – “We need more people to share their faith and bring others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.” Wow – that’s a line that almost slipped by me undetected because I’ve heard it so much. But for whatever reason, I caught it this time – is that what we’re really after? Exactly what is saving about a knowledge of Jesus? I kinda thought it had to do with holistically following Jesus, not merely intellectual assent to the identity of a brilliant revolutionary. I know some bright and moral and pleasant atheists that know a heckuva lot about Jesus. Obviously, the reference is to a more spiritual knowledge of Jesus – but isn’t even that a Gnostic kind of thing? It’s subtle, but seems to be pervasive.

O.k., so nothing profound here – just another in a long line of observations of how easy it is to miss the point.

Slow posting
August 2, 2006, 7:30 am
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I’ve been off the grid for a few days around here. Mainly, I’ve been cranking on getting the new version of our inter::mission website launched. Sooooo painful for a non-developer like me. But just shy of midnight last night everything fell into place. It ain’t impressive, but the train wreck of a site it replaces makes it look much better. It’ll do.

I got to hang out with John Chandler over coffee yesterday. Fun stuff – it was a helpful, refreshing break.

Today I’m getting my hair cut. O.k., so that’s a mundane detail of life that ought not be blogged, right? Well, the significance is that it’s my first cut in nearly a year. I’ve experimented with growing it out. It just never quite got to the point I was hoping for, and Michelle, well, she’s never really been into the idea of me growing it out. She keeps trying to remind me that even though I hang out with twenty-somethings all the time, I’m not one myself any more. I don’t know how short I’m cutting it – I’m pretty much gonna tell my stylist that she’s got a blank canvas and she can do whatever she wants . . . except I’ve got a big scary scar on the back of my dome, so shaving it down to nothing isn’t really in play.

Time to get on with the day. My posting here may be very light over the next couple weeks . . . I’ll have to report on stuff after the fact.