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.



Simple political question
May 22, 2009, 9:18 am
Filed under: politics

Quick post here.  I haven’t paid a tremendous amount of attention to politics lately.  But I’ve heard enough to know there’s been some back and forth between President Obama, and former VP Dick Cheney.  I retain my usual ambivalence about nationalism and politics here, so I’m not going to take sides, but my question goes a little something like this:

If Cheney were so interested in continuing to speak out on issues, as he’s been doing, why didn’t he simply run for President? That would have given him lots and lots of airtime.  For him to be publicly contentious right now makes me think, “You had your turn.  You had the opportunity to try for another turn and didn’t take it.  So please, really, just go away.”



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.



Inerrancy and Alcohol
May 7, 2009, 11:01 am
Filed under: culture, denomination, theology

I’ve had some conversations lately – some of which have sparked anger in me (not toward my conversation partners, but toward institutions and power brokers in them).  I assure you, dear reader, that I am not angry as I write this – just musing here.  These conversations been around the topic of alcohol and denominations.  The thoughts these conversations have produced go a little something like this:

I work for a denomination that is conservative – very conservative.  The past couple decades have witnessed a “conservative resurgence” within the denomination, which has reacted to a perceived “liberal” shift by a small handful of denominational leaders, seminary professors, and others.  The conservatives “won,” and most of the “liberals” have been driven away.  What we have now is an almost universal insistence on conservative readings of the Bible, including a stand for inerrancy.  “We” say we believe the Bible word for word, and insist on staying pure in our reading of it.

Meanwhile, my denomination has a hard-core stance against the use of alcohol as a beverage.  Our major missions agency for North America bans anyone  who has had even one drink of alcohol in the previous 12 months from applying for missionary funding.  In fact, I have known at least one case in which a person’s denominational position was threatened because he merely condoned the use of alcohol.  Now, I know that mine isn’t the only denomination that has a no-alcohol policy for its employees, or preaches a no-alcohol message from its pulpits.

But I got to thinking – it seems that the denominations and churches most likely to ban alcohol are also the denominations and churches most likely to preach biblical inerrancy.  My question is, if we’re so insistent on the word for word truth of scripture, how are we supposed to deal with verses like Provers 31:6-7:

6 Give beer to those who are perishing,
wine to those who are in anguish;

7 let them drink and forget their poverty

and remember their misery no more.

Or, how are we supposed to understand Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:18-20:

18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”

How exactly does Jesus earn the reputation of being a “glutton and a drunkard” if alcohol is a banned substance?

Look, I understand that in many, many cases, it’s a good idea for pastors and denominational leaders and even everyday Christians to abstain from alcohol.  I work with college students, and I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to go out drinking with them.  But at what point does an absolute stand against it violate an absolute stand for inerrancy?  For this, and other reasons, Jesus himself, along with Paul, Timothy, and a number of other prominent figures in the “inerrant scripture” would be disqualified for service in several denominations.  Do we really even know what we mean when we say we’re into inerrancy?  Really?

Should we really be alarmed that Christian denominations are tanking right now? What we say we believe about scripture isn’t what we live out in our policies.  What we take the most pride in is often the stuff we are the most hypocritical about.

I’ll close with what I would hope to be a couple pretty obvious disclaimers:  First, as I mentioned, I’m not just taking my own denomination to task here – there are several others with similar stands.  Second, this blog and these words are 100% my own – I write only for myself, and don’t claim them for anyone but me, especially the denomination or the churches that are a part of it.

I would LOVE to hear some points of view on what an inerrantist position on these scipture passages would be.  Because I’ve got some depressed friends, and I’m thinking that faithfulness to scripture might require me to buy them a six pack or a bottle of Merlot.  Also, how much alcohol would you recommend I give someone in order that they would “remember their misery no more?”  That sounds like it might require a 12-pack.



Updates and Changes
May 3, 2009, 8:33 am
Filed under: denomination, friends, inter::mission, school, the purple door

At some point in the past couple of weeks, I passed the seven year mark since I started this blog.  As it turns out, I’m pretty sure that this post breaks my longest streak ever for time away from the blog.  I didn’t stop intentionally.  No good, spiritual, profound reason.  Life just got a bit intense for me, and eiter I didn’t have any words or the words I did have weren’t ready to be shared.

I’m writing this post from a hotel room, just outside of Portland, where I’ve spent the past couple of days.  It’s been a very good trip for me – I’ve gotten to celebrate the official part of my completion of a Doctor of Ministry program through George Fox Seminary.  I’ve spent time with the friends who I’ve worked with for the past few years, and the school faculty and staff, who have been so wonderful.  I can’t speak highly enough of my George Fox family – they are creative, energetic, and hopeful servants.  I look forward to a continuing friendship with them.

When I return to Seattle later today (after some bonus time seeing Ryan, Holly, and Pax Sharp), I’ll get back to work at The Purple Door, and my inter::mission students.  We’re about half-way through the Spring quarter at UW, so we’ll be bringing this school year to a close soon.  At that time, I’ll also be bringing my time of service (at least, in an official capacity) there to a close.  I mentioned a while back that my denomination has been going through a time of reorganization and transition.   I will not be a part of the new strategy.  This was a decision that was made for me by others, not by me.  It’s a long, long story, and one I’m not quite ready to get into here.  Basically, I’ll be wrapping up my employment at the end of June.  I’m thankful to say that the denom isn’t killing inter::mission, and I will be able to hand this dream off to the capable hands of a friend.

So what’s next?  That’s a fabulous question!  If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.  I really am about as wide open as I could be right now.  I’ll begin circulating my resume soon.

I’m out of time for this post, and I’m sure I’ll tease out some of what I’ve hit on here.  But for the sake of the readers of the blog (whoever is still left!), I wanted to at least get some general info out there on what’s been going on.

Peace, friends.



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.