Sunday, February 26, 2006

specialization and diversity: mega vs. 'mergent

In our church we try not to specialize. At least, we try not to specialize like the mega-church model. We have multiple people speak on various Sunday mornings, not just "paid staff." We have many people play instruments and lead small groups. Set up and tear down every Sunday is done by multiple people. We don't really have "specialized" teams for this or that.

The reason for this lack of specialization is because we don't have the core value of "excellence." That's not to say we don't want to do everything we do the best that we can. But that is more like having the value of "do the best you can with what you've got." Our Sunday mornings aren’t perfectly smooth and our link groups are often a mess. That is because we value "multiplication." We are trying to lose our jobs and turn them over to other, often less experienced, people so that we can grow. Organic growth happens through multiplication. The mega-church has people who are "professionals" at every station who know exactly what to do. They are specialized in their functioning within the community. Our church is trying to develop "generalists": people with a wide array of experiences and a core ability to love and lead people well.

So we could say that the emergent community doesn't specialize like the mega-church. But it seems that we specialize on a communal level. Whereas in the mega-church there is a preaching pastor, lead pastor, mission pastor, youth pastor, pastor to the pastors, security pastor, cleaning pastor, counseling pastor and the like, we don't specify that kind of individual specialization within our community. But our community itself is a, sort of, “specialized community.” Emergent churches are becoming more and more "relevant" to their local areas. Our expression of the local church reflects niches of subcultures within our larger culture. We are less "national" and more "tribal" if you will.

So maybe the mega-church has the advantage here in terms of diversity. While they specialize individually in their roles within the community, they draw in a wide array of people. Their large community of 5000 or more people are diversified. Diversity is something the emergent church desires. And yet we are designed in a way, specifically as small church plants, not to be "diverse." In a sense, our paradigm is working against itself. We are creating space for a more inclusive community and yet our close, missional, pseudo-Celtic, communities are bound to be more homogeneous by nature.

While emergent churches may draw in some diversity in terms of different kinds of middle-class white folks from differing Christian traditions, we are largely monochromatic. But even if the black community as a whole were to find themselves in the midst of the emergent conversation, they too would probably establish homogeneous communities. Part of being emergent means being relevant to the culture. If you are black, then your first thoughts are probably toward your own sub-culture. Your church would attract people like yourself, those to whom you are trying to be relevant.

This is what I mean when I say that the emergent church has “communal specialization” rather than “individual specialization.” While individuals operate practically as generalists within the community, the community itself becomes specialized for a particular pocket of people. Diversity in the mega-church looks like blacks, whites, Asians, and Hispanics all singing and working together in one huge, loosely connected community. Diversity in the 'mergent church might look like middle-class church plants loosely networking with city church plants, Asian church plants, and predominantly black church plants in their general geographical area. I guess the question is whether we are ok with this kind of diversity being what it is to have diversity in the emergent church.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

subtle prejudice

If you haven't seen the movie "Crash" then tonight go to Blockbuster and rent it. Its worth it. It is a challenging tale of multiple lives in LA dealing with the reality of racism. So what of racism these days? Is it still around? Do we still feel it?

I thought a little bit about this as I flew down to Houston on a plane filled primarily with black people. I am going to use the term black instead of African-America because it is more correct. Some of those on the plane were sure to have decendents from Jamaica and other parts of the globe other than Africa. Also, most of the black people on the plane probably see themselves more as American than "African-American."

So there I am, a white person, with a few other white, Asian and Middle Eastern folks on the plane. I wonder if racism isn't more prevelant towards folks of Arab decent when we are all on planes together. We white folks have been taught our whole lives not to be racist. Or at least, don't show racism even if you feel it. I don't think blacks have been taught the same thing. It was pretty funny watching some of them stare with suspision at the Arab people that came on the plane. I wonder if that is how blacks were treated back in the 50's. I wonder if the blacks who were eyeing up the Arab dude even knew what they were doing.

But I am sure racism is alive and well in all forms. Prejudice has no barriers. Blacks are prejudiced towards whites and assume that all whites are racist and prudish. Whites are racist toward blacks and wish that "they" wouldn't move into the neighborhood. Media, after all, tells us that most criminals today are black males. And how about the Asians and the Arabs. Asians are all smart and good at math. They all will be doctors one day. And Arabs, of course, are all somehow connected to terrorists. But we don't believe that do we? That is too obvious. Prejudice doesn't like the light. It prefers the dark. And prejudice this obvious gets too much exposure. No, I think our real prejudices are barried deep. They are in the caverns of our minds just waiting to come out.

I will just speak for myself. My prejudices don't care about color. I am not sure racism is really the problem these days. But classism seems to grow stronger every day. If we are honest with ourselves, we would rather sit next to someone on a plane who is of the same socio-economic status and education level than someone who is not. Black, asian, white, arab, really doesn't matter, as long as they seem to be educated, articulate, dressed in middle-upper class clothes, and seem to have a nice job. If I can talk to you about what college you went to and can chat about your degree, we will probably be ok with each other. If we can share stories about our homes and our cars then I don't have a problem with you. As middle class America, we share values and concerns about our families and possessions. I promise not to prejudge you.

But if instead of nice casual clothes you wear hip-hop gear and gold everywhere, prejudice will rear its ugly head. If you speak with an accent that reveals your immigration or if your grammer is so poor that its clear that you aren't educated, our conversation will be stifled. If you smell as though you don't wear deodorant or appear to be "kin" to the slack-jawed yokel from the Simpsons, we probably won't get along.

As a follower of Christ, I will fight all of these tendencies. But the reality is that they are there. Your skin color doesn't bother me. I rather like diversity in that form. Its the fact that you aren't like me that bothers me so much. I wish that simple solutions like "realizing that they are like you" would work. But the truth is that we all aren't like each other. In fact, people can be very different in a variety of ways. Pretending that "we are all really the same" is just a falsehood that tries to put a bandaid on the gaping wound of prejudice.

No, the healing must go deeper. We must learn to love those who are not like us, all the while realizing that they will never be "like us." Where we all find common ground is in our humanity. And maybe that is enough to start from. Maybe we can learn to love the humanity in another because God loves them. Maybe we can see that person through the eyes of God rather than just through our fallen lenses. I hope so. Until then, we will all wrestle with the half-truths that feed our minds and give birth to the subtle prejudices within.

Friday, February 17, 2006

proverbs 26:11

A cool day and a quiet house. Quiet as long as you don't listen. A ticking clock keeps time for the skipping record in the other room. The cadence would keep you up if you were trying to sleep. But no one is home. Just the dog. The house has a rhythm all its own. No one is there to hear it repeat itself. Accept the dog. But the dog has a dance of his own.

Time is the DJ and music is made. But the dog's dance is on the inside. Not like a junior high kid in the corner of the gym. More like Mexican that just doesn't sit right in your stomach. That is the kind of dance that was moving to the music of the house. The kibbles and bits were having a house party and the cops were just about to kick everyone out.

From the other room you can't tell what is happening to the inside of the dog. But it usually goes like this...the mouth begins to drip with the preparatory salivation. The dog rises to his four legs and stands at attention. Licking and slopping, his tongue tries to catch the dripping slobber. Then in perfect syncopation with the skipping record, convulsions overwhelm his lower torso. He then gears up for the impending conglomeration of foamy stomach acids with the one part kibble and two part bits. As his stomach muscles involuntarily and repetitiously clench together, his neck elongates to make room in his widening throat. The internal gastrointestinal dance now has outward expression in this awkward cleansing ritual. The convulsions reach their climax as the jaw opens and the semi-digested, feed-grade beef and chicken by-product flows out onto the kitchen floor.

As the vomit collects in a partially liquefied pool, the last pieces of expulsion hang on snot-like strings from the corners of the dog's mouth. The dog's tongue separates these cling-ons and he licks his lips as if he has just finished a slab of prime rib. Not feeling so great at this point, the dog hangs his head, droops his ears and waddles to the carpeted floor of the living room. The small puddle of vomit slowly spreads to the edge of the kitchen table and then stops. If one were to watch the dog closely at this point, it would seem that his eyes were apologetically following the movement of this watery pile. But that is not actually the case.

The hunter is still hunting and the prey is not yet dead. Maybe it’s the hypnotizing rhythms of the house. Or maybe it’s the instinct deep within. Whatever the motivation, the action is the same. The dog rises again to reclaim what is his. He tip-toes over to the kitchen and once again stares down his former food. It can't be the smell that stirs his hunger. It certainly isn't the visual appeal. Maybe he isn't hungry at all. But something from within that pile of puke calls out to him. How can he longingly gaze at the oozing mush? It’s as if what once dwelt in his body was his. He possessed it and he wants it back regardless of its condition. So he does again what got him there in the first place.

The dog lowers his head, then his snout, and finally his tongue to the floor. What would cause the rest of us to lose our lunch brings empty satisfaction for the dog. Rooting and scooping the pulpy mound, he doesn't leave any evidence of the crime. Even the foamy, liquid side dish doesn't escape his attention. Return he must and return he did to do the unthinkable. Only the second act could upstage the first in its vulgarity. And the clock still ticks and the record keeps skipping.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

weakness in emergent church

Its so amazing to be apart of the church planting that is happening now in the U.S. It’s so challenging to be apart of the emergent church conversation. We are so blessed to be able to learn from our conservative evangelical roots and expand our understanding of church, faith and community. The emergent church has so many strengths its hard to know where to begin. But just to name a few about the church of which I am a part, we seem to be great at loving the outsider, creating community, starting discussion, being teachable, allowing change, being missional and allowing disagreement. These are just a few.

Yet if we are honest with ourselves, we have glaring weaknesses. One such weakness, it seems, is knowledge, specifically, theological knowledge. I am sure there are plenty of scholars in and among the emergent church. Most of our favorite authors and inspirational leaders have such a knowledgeable background. But what about our average church goer? Do we have room to teach in the midst of our dialog? Do we have room to educate in the midst of our communities?

Most of us have rightly expelled the "classroom" setting from our church communities. Unlike the mega-church model, we don't have Christianity 101's and 203's. We don't have lectures or instructors (in the traditional sense of the word.) What we have are small groups. What we have are facilitators of discussion. What we have are amazing relationships and close knit groups of truth seekers. And certainly there is learning, the best kind of learning, happening there. We gain wisdom from each other. We gain humility. We gain perspective. We give of ourselves and get something better in return.

While wisdom is often more important than knowledge, I hope we will not throw the baby out with the bathwater. It seems that we are looking more and more like the fluid, communal, familial first century church. And as we move towards healing the wounds of the modern church, we open ourselves up to new threats. It makes sense that if we look more "first century", then we are likely to open ourselves up to the same threats they faced. One of the greatest threats, which councils spent the following 400 years dealing with, was false teaching.

We desire that people would belong before they believe. And this is how it should be. But when they believe, do they know what they are believing. I am not talking about teaching specific doctrine of particular denominations. I am not advocating for quibbling over divisive issues. I am speaking of Nicea. I am referencing Chalcedon. Does our community know the historical foundations of our faith? Do we know what it is that Christians have always agreed on for the last 1500 years? Do we know of the early heretical threats to the core of the gospel? Do we know the form in which they take today?

Be warned Emergent Church! We have found ways to avoid the pitfalls of the modern church. Yet, we are heading headlong into rampant false doctrine and false teaching if we don't also take with us the best that the modern church had to offer. The teaching we grew up on helped to shape who we are now. This sound teaching must continue. Not in classrooms or bible studies, but over coffee. Not in lecture halls but in small groups and one-on-one. But if we settle for open-ended conversation without ever teaching, if we settle for relativism when it comes to Nicene faith, if we choose simplistic faith instead of simple faith, then we will reap the consequences. If teaching doesn't thrive in the emergent culture, our ignorant spiritual offspring will inherit a weakened church led astray by the warmed-over false teaching of old.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

politics and murder

Just the thought....

...of Hamas organizing and centralizing their power in Palestine in order to send bombers to their death and Jewish children to their grave....of continued violence in the Middle East just because the leader of Hamas won't recognize Israel as a nation-state....of our own families threatened by nuclear holocaust because a prideful, power hungry, S.O.B. in Iran won't listen to the U.N.....of 9/11....of North Korean leaders continuing their pompous tirade.....

makes me seriously desire murder.

I just can't help but think that a highly trained sniper with a high-powered riffle set loose on the terrorist leaders of the world would change the world for the better. Just a few idiot leaders of the world seem to be instigating much of the strife and tension in the world. They are a threat to life itself. Why can't we just kill them? Why can't we just put a bullet between their eyes?

It seems so simple. I want to be protected from harm, so my natural reaction is to want to stop those who might harm the people I love. Knowing that political manipulation generally won't work on the terrorists of the world, I am left with murder as a great option.

And just when I think I have it all figured out, I realize that I am honestly contemplating the benefit of murder. I am seriously, not just hypothetically, considering the benefits of killing someone in cold blood. My anger and frustration has gotten the best of me and has led me down the road of destruction.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Matthew 5.21-22

I am mistaken to think a simple bullet will solve the root of the problems in our world. I am also mistaken to think that my sinful nature has been "civilized" to the point of removing murderous thoughts from my mind. It hasn't. I am reminded that I too am capable of murder. God's grace towards a murderer is God's grace towards me.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

wounded healers

Henry Nouwen brought to light the truth of what we see in Isaiah 53 and what we see in the final pages of the gospels. Jesus was the "wounded healer." It was by his wounds that we are healed. Its a powerful truth. I began this week to wonder what implications this may have for the church. If indeed we are the "Body of Christ," how do we see this truth apply to us.

As the body of Christ we are his hands and feet. Throught the Holy Spirit, we are the remaining humanity of Christ in the world. As he acts in history, God works and moves through the Church. Not that he doesn't act and move in other ways and through other means, but the Church is his favorite tool. To use some cheesy sports analogies: we are his go to golf club, his favorite wooden bat, his best basketball shoe. Now switching to medicine: we are his scalpel (although dull and rusty sometimes).

So if Jesus was the wounded healer, does that mean we are now called to take up that cross too? Maybe it isn't our style and relevance so much. Maybe it isn't our big budgets, cool furniture, or multi-media. Maybe it isn't our prayer stations, lit candles, post-modern decorating and corduroy pants. Icing is nice, but I am more of a cake man myself. So where is the cake amongst all this powdered sugar? In our wounds.

We are a church full of wounded people. Some abused in various ways. Some rejected. Some self-defeating. Others infested with selfishness. All wounded, either by ourselves or by others. And so we seek the healing balm of Jesus. By his wounds we are healed. But then what? Are healed wounds able to become wounded healers? I would say that our wounds can heal others whether they are still bleeding or just scars.

Jesus' wounds healed. They killed him first, but they were healed in the end as he rose from the dead. He never did get rid of those scars. Thomas needed them to be there. Maybe that is why he kept them around. Maybe that is why our wounds tend to stay around too. Sometimes they stay around fresh and other times they just stay around as scars, but they are there. And maybe God needs them there. Maybe for us to become healers, we need them to be there too.

On his throne God says to the church, "By His wounds, you are healed." What if God was also saying to the world about the church, "By their wounds, you will be healed."