SpiritFarmer


What if we started over?

Last week, in an effort to fool myself into thinking that I’m a tech geek (even though I know zero coding languages, don’t know most of the fancy acronyms, and don’t use the tools I have access to very elegantly), I watched the 80 minute video from Google’s I/O Conference, in which they rolled out their latest brainchild, Wave.  The video demonstrates some pretty cool stuff that will be game changing – like integrating e-mail, instant messaging, blogging, Twitter, wikis, collaborative projects, and entertainment.  If you’d like, you can watch it here.

The video stimulated a lot of questions and thoughts in me, particularly about the implications of these technologies, and how they will be used (both well and poorly) by Christians.  But the statement from the video I keep going back to actually happens very early on (at about 5:00 or so).  The lead developer, who is doing the demonstration, is introducing the mentality behind Wave, and says something like this (very paraphrased):

E-mail is by far the most popular form of communication on the internet today.  That’s very interesting, because e-mail is more than four decades old.  With some relatively minor changes, it still functions in much the same way it always has.  But we decided to ask the question, “What if we were to invent e-mail from scratch today?”

In other words, they want to reimagine communication with today’s tools, rather than continually tweaking yesterday’s templates all the time.  The answers they came up with are very cool – at multiple points in the demonstration, the developers in the audience get all giddy and cheer wildly.  Congratulations Google.  I’ll leave it to others to determine whether they truly reinvented e-mail or not.  Whatever the case, they did succeed in integrating today’s tools and rules, and they certainly got a buzz going among a very important constituency.

I think the reason their question of inventing e-mail from scratch stuck out to me is that it’s very similar to a phrase I’ve heard more times than I could count from pastors and church planters – “What would we get if we just stripped down all of our Christian traditions, and went back to the way the early church did things?”  Tons of books and articles have been written, and a lot of “new” models have been offered up.  But I’m left wondering whether that question doesn’t miss the point a bit.  The fact is, Google didn’t go back 40 years and try to rebuild stuff as though nothing had changed.  No, they used the current technologies available to them to try to accomplish some breakthroughs in electronic communication.

When “we” go back to reinvent church, we go back to Acts and Paul’s epistles to try to distill the simplest expressions of what the first century sisters and brothers did.  We try to rebuild church in very simple forms again, with as few changes as possible to the original systems.  We don’t take our contexts into account nearly enough – for example, we don’t consider that Rome’s big technology was its system of roads, whereas our superhighways are virtual and global and information driven.

I’d like to suggest that this way of approaching things is broken for at least two reasons: First, as we can see from the cranky tones of some of Paul’s writing, the early church wasn’t exactly getting it right all the time.  So when we try so hard to emulate the early church, we’re pursing a broken system.  This may be one of the consequences of letting the inerrancy mentality control so much of our attention – “If it’s in the Bible, it’s got to be literally true, and therefore, should be replicated as closely as possible.”  But if that’s what we’re doing, the very best we can hope for is to build a form of church that gives people the opportunity to be greedy, gossipy, sexually immoral, and power hungry.  (Hmmmm, if that’s our standard of measure, maybe we’ve gotten closer to the first century church than we had thought!)

Second, we’re not being honest about what we’re trying to do.  We’re not even trying very hard to go all the way back.  We take a vast amount of theological, historical, and cultural baggage with us when we look back.  Even people who read authors like N.T. Wright in order to understand the first century Palestinian context stop too short.  When I hear people saying they want to do church the way the early church did it, they don’t really mean they intend to strip down their evangelical systematic theology, their Western wealth and (white) power, their Protestant Reformation, their Christendom power, their Augustinian conceptions . . . they just want the pragmatics of meeting in peoples’ houses and sharing possessions and giving money away to those in need.  The idealism is commendable in some ways, but it’s mostly just that – idealism, and an artificial idealism at that.*

I would like to suggest that if we really want to get back to basics in the way we embody the bride of Christ, we do so more honestly.  When Pentecost took place, and the church was both born and unleashed in a series of radical events, they were creating something truly new, without a template.  They had a religious memory and heritage, which they honored in many ways, but they also knew the rules had changed.  We, too, have a religious memory and heritage – some of which can rightly be honored.  But if we’re going to do/be church the way they did it back then, we’ve got to be creative enough and courageous enough to know when to break the rules of our day, and take some risks.  In our fear of abandoning “orthodoxy,” I think the vast majority of us lack the courage to break those rules.  We’re so beholden to our denominations, our subculture, our seminaries, and (once again) our power that we chicken out.

So what do you think?  Am I wrong that most of us haven’t tried very hard to go all the way back?  Am I unfair in my assessments?  This post if fairly off the cuff (though it’s taken me quite a long time to write it).  Please tell me if you disagree – I’d like to tease out my own thinking on this some more, so I’m not looking for a fight.

*I’ve not read Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity, but from what I understand, he deals with a lot of the stuff that’s been layered onto “church” over the years.  I also understand that he’s squarely on the idealistic side.  If I’m wrong on this, please let me know – I just felt the need to note that I’m not trying to either plagiarize him or take cheap shots at him.

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Dissertate this! pt. 3
April 1, 2009, 12:27 pm
Filed under: Christendom, culture, dissertation, Global South, globalization, missiology

O.k., so I’ve mentioned the fact that there are major movements of growth in Christianity around the world – well, except for the Western world, where Christianity is in a bit of decline lately.  I’ve mentioned that these movements are taking place at a time in which globalization is changing everything.  One interesting thing to note as a backdrop to these discussions is the fact that globalization and Christianity have gone hand in hand for hundreds of years by now.

Back in pre-Reformation Christianity, when the Church of Christendom ruled the day, explorers set sail to find new trade routes and new lands in which to trade.  They typically went with the blessing (and/or military backing) of their homeland.  When they encountered new people groups, they developed “trade partnerships” with swords and spears in hand.  They colonized these places and subdued them through physical force and intimidation.  Another of the tools of empire used to subdue people was the Christian religion.  Conversions took place at high levels, and the religious systems of Christianity were brought in.

So, as these trade routes and colonies got the ball of globalization rolling at a new level, Christianity spread.  The way I’ve described things here paints a fairly negative, cynical picture of things, but this spread of Christianity certainly wasn’t all bad.  While many conversions took place at the wrong end of a weapon, many genuine conversions took place as well.  Further, most of the missionaries that came to the new lands, did so with good motives – to help people, to serve them, to bring spiritual awakening.  True, they also brought their own culturally-bound notions of “civilization” and “development” and “orthodoxy,” but they can’t easily be broadbrushed solely as tools of empire.  I believe that God used globalization and many sacrificial servants to spread the story and mission of Jesus throughout the world.  Christianity has brought many many benefits to the places it has been carried.  It hasn’t been done perfectly, for certain . . . but we’ve gotten a whole bunch of things wrong in the “homelands” of Christianity as well.

Missionary movements have blessed the Church – and not just the Church in the missionary destinations, either.  They blessed the Church “back home” as well, through telling stories, through calling people to humility, generosity, and openness.  They’ve told the story of Jesus being received more fully and gratefully by the “foreign pagans” than by the innoculated pew-sitters in the home of Christianity.  They’ve noticed things about “our” culture that fall short of full gospel embodiment – things they had to step out of our culture for a while in order to notice for themselves.  Two such giants that come to mind are Lesslie Newbigin and Roland Allen.  These guys have written prophetically and need to be more widely read.

Next time, maybe I’ll talk a little bit about some of their observations and begin moving toward a scriptural backdrop that I developed.



Dissertate This! pt. 2

Here’s my second post taking a trip through the dissertation that kept me busy over the past few years.  In my previous post, I talked about the rapid spread of Christianity in the global South and East, even at the same time as there has been a noted downturn in Christian practice here in the Western world.  While asking questions about what “we” in the West can learn from our sisters and brothers in other contexts, I thought it was also important to address one of the essential realities of our time – globalization.  <PAUSE: I just got THE biggest guilty pleasure inserting that link for globalization – the link is to Wikipedia.  Citing Wikipedia as a source in academia is a major no-no, so I had to do it here for kicks>

Thomas Friedman brought the topic of globalization to the masses in his book The World is Flat, talking about how technology and commerce have brought everyone in the world closer together than they ever have been before.  An obvious example of this is the call centers in India that process many of our customer service phone calls in the U.S., but it goes much farther than that.  Friedman does a good job at helping people connect the dollars they spend with the people who produced the products being purchased.

Friedman is a pretty big proponent of globalization and the benefits it brings.  The rise of a middle class in China and India are often cited as the up-side to all of this.   However, there’s another side of the story.  Globalization also brings about some pretty dark things that we don’t often hear about.  The global economy is operated on the strength of a large number of transnational corporations – note that I didn’t say “international” or even “multi-national.”  Transnational corporations are multi-national, but they are frequently able to avoid being overly-identified with any single nation of origin, for the purpose of not complicating trade treaties.  Some are so big and economically powerful that they are “bigger” than many countries in the developing world.  This means that if a small, struggling nation has some natural resources that one of these corporations wants, the company has a major advantage when it comes to negotiations.  The country desperately needs the money and jobs the company will provide, so they give in to extremely low pay, poor worker conditions, environmental devastation, etc., all with very little retribution if the corporation violates any of its terms of agreement.

Tons of books are written on the complexities of globalization, so trust me, there’s no way I’m going to do justice to it here.  But there are some dynamics to living in a globalized world that are positive and some are negative.  Being concerned with Christian movements, my concern is to accept the reality of our situation – globalization isn’t going to go away, and the Church is in a position to utilize the positive aspects of it, and speak and act boldly to blunt the negative impacts wherever we are able.

I’m not sure what I’ll get into next time, but I’ll probably start by framing things up from a church-historical point of view.  One quick note for those who commented on my previous dissertation postings – I am will to make a .pdf of my dissertation available by request, but I have some last minute minor edits to clean up this week before it goes off for printing and binding.  Once I’ve got that final version locked down, I’ll put it out.



A milestone passed
March 17, 2009, 6:20 am
Filed under: blogging, globalization, missiology, school

Yesterday morning I was able to successfully defend my doctoral dissertation, and I have now officially completed the Doctor of Ministry degree through George Fox Seminary.  It’s a bittersweet kind of day for me – I’m certainly glad to have this thing done, and have the opportunity to breathe a little and bring a bit of harmony back into my schedule and life, but it also marks the close of a process that I’ve definitely enjoyed.

In part because of my busy-ness with school reading and writing, the frequency of my blog posting has dropped over the past couple of years.  I’ve also not posted very heavily on the areas of my dissertation research.  Maybe it’s just that I’ve been writing so much in academic forms about the research that I haven’t been highly motivated to do more of it here.  At any rate, I am now prepared to reveal the title of my  dissertation to you.  Ready?  How’s this sound?:

GLOBAL CHRISTIAN SHIFTS AND MISSIONAL CHURCH MOVEMENTS:
LINKING THE POSTCOLONIAL GLOBAL SOUTH WITH THE POSTMODERN WEST

I’ve defnitely learned a lot, and am planning now to begin sharing some of that here.  Globalization is changing our world, and has brought some exciting changes to the Church.  There are some rough and uncertain days ahead, but also some things that I am very hopeful about.  I’ll share some of that as well.

For today, though, I just want to say thanks to my family and friends for all the encouragement and love that I have received.  It’s not been easy, but the support I’ve felt from others has carried me along.



Global Missional Leadership

I had the pleasure of enjoying a couple of hours at the SeaTac airport this morning with Jason Clark, who had a layover between his flights from Portland to LAX (I know, the route doesn’t make sense, but since those flights made our little meetup possible, I’m not complaining).  Jason is a pastor from London, and a point-person in the Emergent UK conversation.  He’s also a graduate of the George Fox Seminary program that I’m set to finish up (tomorrow morning!!!).

We met to conspire about a brand new program that Jason is developing with George Fox – a Doctor of Ministry in Global Missional Leadership.  It is geared toward reflective theological practice within a global context.  There are a number of things that excite me about this new program.  First, it isn’t “global” in name only – in addition to the course content and readings, there are three face-to-face learning experiences, which will take place in locations in Africa, Europe, and Asia.  These will be held in partnerships with seminaries in these locations.  That is great, because we need increasing global interaction with theologians and practitioners in order to learn from each other.  Second, it is both theologically and practically oriented – often practitioners get so caught up in the day-to-day behaviors of ministry that they aren’t theologically focused; and often theologians get so caught up in the academics that they fail to express their work in practical ways.  Third, it is integrative and open source – an online learning community is already being developed, which can be utilized by GML students, and non-students alike (go check it out, and jump on board!).  Seminary education is in need of change, and this represents a significant step toward accessibility and cultural contextualization.

It looks like I’m going to have an opportunity to work with this program, which is a big deal to me.  The topic of my dissertation (which I’ll begin blogging very soon)  is a very good fit, and it represents a good “next step” for me, now that I’m done with my own school program.  I’m defnitely looking forward to seeing how things develop.



Movie Review: Slumdog (Untouchable) Millionaire
March 2, 2009, 8:26 am
Filed under: culture, globalization, India, media, travel

Note: This isn’t really a movie review per-se.  It’s more of a reflection from a guy who doesn’t watch many movies, and is, therefore, unqualified for such a task.

This weekend I followed the masses and went to a theater to watch the recent Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.  I had heard from a wide variety of people how good the movie was.  I had heard a couple of radio interviews with the director as well.  The fact that the film told the story of extreme poverty in India, which I was able to witness first-hand last summer, was all the motivation I needed to see it.

The movie was as good as advertised.  It tells a compelling story of survival, love, and faithfulness.  It does so while giving a glimpse of the complex changes taking place in India – the extreme disparity between the super-wealthy and the slums.  The framing device – a television quiz show – actually hides one of the remarkable truths about the economic rise of India in the past decade.  What I mean by this is that while it is extraordinary that a “slumdog” would become unimaginably wealthy via the game show, it is really quite impressive that this same character would have had the opportunity to get a job fetching chai in a call center.

My main response to the film, though, is that I’m very disappointed that in all of the hoopla, in all of the critical praise, in all of the attention this has brought to the issue of global poverty, there’s a word I’ve literally not heard mentioned until I Googled it this morning: caste.  When I did so, I found an excellent article (written prior to the Academy Awards) that deals squarely with the truth that’s left unmentioned by the film.  The destructiveness of the caste system is in full view, but it is explained away as exploitive organized crime, religious extremism, or the birth pains of a new economy.  The truth is, caste is hugely responsible for India’s poverty – a massive majority of the poor are Dalits, or “Untouchables.”  This is the system that locks people into lives of digging through trash heaps, living in houses made of mud, begging.

I don’t want to be cranky – I’m glad the film has brought attention to the issues being widely discussed.  If you haven’t seen it yet, I definitely encourage you to do so.  It just would have been nice if it told a little bit of the rest of the story.  Go read that article, as well as the lengthy discussion in the comments section – it’ll give you a better glimpse of what’s really going on.



A new day
November 5, 2008, 8:02 am
Filed under: culture, globalization, politics, social action

During the election season, I posted a few times about my ambivalence toward this  year’s presidential election, stating repeatedly that in all the hype and emotion regarding the changes ahead, we as followers of Jesus must not forget where our highest allegiance lies.  And while that is still firmly in my mind, I feel the need to congratulate USAmerica for making a really important step last night.  The truth is, Jesus can’t be president, so someone else has to be.  As I watched the reaction to Obama’s victory on TV last night, I was pleased.  This historic time for us brings up the pain of our national sins, but does so in a way that demonstrates a spirit of redemption.  Our standing in the world just shot up – for the right kinds of reasons.

Economic disparity will persist, the terrorists will continue to hate “us,” and transnational corporations will still hold the reigns of power.  We need to keep in mind that nearly half of the people in this nation did not vote for Obama.  And frankly, I hope that on January 21, all the Christians who did so enthusiastically endorsed Obama, will be ready to hold him to his campaign promises, call him to even higher standards, and protest with righteous indignation if he gets caught up in petty political partisanship that fails to address real issues of justice.  But that part comes later.

For now, we can celebrate.  We do so with a view toward the Kingdom that is yet to come in all its fullness, and we pray for a vision and reality of earth as it is in heaven.  But we can hold our heads high.