Iíve grown up in the Quaker denomination; I have a new appreciation for my tradition, but Iím wondering why our numbers are so small. Since Iíve been part of the yearly meeting, I havenít seen much church planting. Iíve been part of a church plant: a slow, never really thriving church plant, though I did learn and experience a good deal during that time. I can only name a very few church plants that have taken.
At the conference many people commented that our tradition has so much to offer other denominations – so why canít we get it out there?
Sitting in some meetings at the conference, I heard folks talking about church planting. I figured if anyone would be on the cutting edge, it would be these folks. What did I hear?
ìI canít seem to plant a church: the boards wonít free up money for me.î
ìHow am I supposed to plant a church when I have to go through so much bureaucratic tape?î
ìIím doing a church plant: they gave me money and dropped me off in an area that they think needs to be churched. But it doesnít seem to be working . . .î
My jaw almost dropped: if Emergent is supposed to be so ìpost-modern,î then why are folks planting churches the modern way? Why do you need a board to start a church? Why not go into an area, begin to meet people, see if they want to draw together into a gathering, and seek further assistance when itís needed? Boards should be somewhat like grant foundations: they usually offer money for a one-time thing – something that will help out an already existing and thriving group.
ìRevolutionaries will respond to the presence and principles of God whenever and wherever possible, without regard to historical or societal inhibitions. The standard that concerns Revolutionaries is simple: does the mechanism provide a way of advancing my faith, without compromising Scripture or any of the passions of a true believer?î – Revolution 67.
Resources I think will be important for next-gen church planting:
Simple Church – the blog of Harold Behr
Organic Church – “Our goal is to partner with anyone grappling with the how to’s of being and doing church in an increasingly post-modern and post-Christendom context.”
Steve Addison’s blog – World Changers: On movements for the renewal and expansion of the church.
Forge – Missional Training
CMA Resources – Church Multiplication Associates
I attended a gathering for folks heading up or wanting to start an Emergent Cohort. It took me a while to figure out what the heck they were talking about: is a cohort a worship gathering? The leadership of a worship gathering in the same area?
It turns out that a cohort is a gathering of folks interested in the emerging conversation. It can take place once a quarter, once a month, once a week (though the laterís a bit much). Someone volunteers to coordinate it: they arrange an area, a topic, a time, and get the info out (generally online). The gathering has a topic to look at, such as social justice, poverty, new monasticism, etc. – all through a postmodern lens: what does that look like for individuals? For the local area? For the world? Speakers can rotate through the group, or a speaker can be brought in: but the crux of it is that itís a conversation. Basically itís what we experienced at the conference, but on the local level: a safe place to ask questions and look at whatís going on theologically.
Emergent offers to put the cohort contact information on the website: they help coordinate efforts between cohorts and get info out to folks seeking to find a place to talk.
I had a chat with a person who was frustrated with the ETC: ìWhen folks think that this little conversation is going to change the world, thatís just wrong,î i.e. when we get stuck on the words and terminology and try to figure everything out rather than focus on encountering God (which can happen through conversation and all other realms of our lives), it doesnít work. But if we gather together expecting to be present with God, dialogue with God, and experience with God, then it all comes together.
Jason and I have thought about coordinating such a gathering: we somewhat experience that at Newberg Friends with our Emerging Adventure meetings (figuring out where Godís calling individuals of the church as well as the larger church gathering). But how great would it be to expand the experience: folks from other church gatherings/locations/ways of life. How wonderful would it be to provide a safe place to ask tough questions, to get past this ìthinned out versionî of Christianity that many of us exist in, to see what this whole Christian call of living is really about? Would anyone be interested?
I don’t know that we would fit in with Emergent’s definition of cohorts (I doubt I’m going to attract a whole lot of theologians or emerging leaders), but frankly, I’d like it to be a safe place for *anyone* to question and dialogue: keep it open to all – that seems more representative of the intent behind the gatherings.
Would you be interested in doing something similar? Let me know: even if you’re not in my local area, I think we can pool efforts/support/ideas and get something cool going.
Found out that a person already wrote the book I dreamed about: One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God
Free of Charge was written to shape Christianity to shape others. Our culture is graceless; we need resources.
Content versus form/relationships: we obsess about ìwhatî we believe; weíve forgotten to ask about the procedure. Weíve forgotten to ask how relationships function. What is the character of relationships spoken about in the Bible? We bracket content for a while; concentrate on values of interchange governed.
Eugene Peterson has said that we live in a pornographic society: everyone is objectified. We should step back and look at the larger picture: that a person is larger than the issue.
We live thinned out versions of the Christian faith – those are the ones that are most easily misused.
There is an art to giving – how one gives: it must be practiced. Give more than you expect to get; if you donít believe, how could you ever forgive, and why would you?
Traditions often have self-obsessed God: believe God wants all the glory – thatís why you give. It makes self-obsessed followers.
We donít believe the Gospel because of the church; we believe the Gospel, so we participate in the community of the church.
On Tuesday after our breakout sessions an announcement was made that women interested in the Emerging Women Leaders Initiative were going to meet: of course, my companions all whipped their heads towards me and said, ìYouíre gonna go, right?!!î See, theyíre the type that, even though they didnít have any reason to stay, theyíd hang out at Yale so that I could go connect with folks – theyíre the best. ðŸ™‚
We tried to gather in the large room, but noise levels scuttled us across the quadrangle to a room next to the Henri Nouwen Prayer Chapel (not very impressive – but still: cool). We sat in a large circle/square and shared our names and our involvement in church. ìHi, Iím . . . and Iím a pastor.î ìIím . . . and Iím getting my Ph.D from a divinity school.î ìIím . . . and Iím an ordained priest.î Over. And over. And over. Panic started to rise in my chest: I donít fit in here – Iím not qualified. I came up with a ìIím Aj, and I write material for and lead a small group focused on spiritual formationî – I didnít think saying ìI blog when Iím not taking my sixteen-month old to his daily Freddies/church/library outingî would wow them all that much.
No one was *truly* directing the meeting, but a few were lending facilitation. The grant for the website ran out; the website is broken; a grant has been given to Emergent to do a brand-spankiní new website which will have a specific section for women. What would we like to be on it? And thatís when I became incredibly uncomfortable.
The pain started to outpour: women started expressing how they have been put down or neglected or not supported or outright criticized for being in a pastoral role. Theyíd like to start a church, but they know the higher ups (mostly men) wonít give them the time of day. They have congregations of folks who feel like refugees from the traditional church, and they donít know how to build bridges when they feel the same. They wanted a safe place to come, talk, be in a supportive community – and an easy way to do that would be online.
All of a sudden the website and the whole initiative was starting to look completely different that I imagined: when the noise of Irish feet jigging madly in my head grew too loud, I finally had to speak.
ìUm, I just need to clarify something. I think Iím the only person in this room who hasnít or isnít attending Seminary, and frankly I donít plan to. I feel that I have a call to ministry, but itís not that at this time. It sounds like this website or initiative is geared towards women in Seminary, and I just wanted to clarify that. I guess Iíve been blessed because I was raised a Quaker, and the stuff youíre talking about (lack of support in call to leadership) is completely foreign to me: the first time I was treated like a girl was just a few years ago, and frankly I couldnít figure out what was going on. I have a lot of support, male and female, encouraging me to follow through with my own particular call.
See, because at home Iíve talked with women about this site, and they were so excited because they too donít plan on attending Seminary or necessarily leading up front. The traditional church doesnít always make it easy for women to lead, but the forms that Emergent latched onto does: itís more viable to help folks like stay-at-home moms to be able to minister with their daily lives. We imagined that the website would be a place to provide resources for alternative-styles of leading, not necessarily up front pastoral roles. My call is to be with my sixteen-month old son, and I donít think thatís wrong. But I would like to connect with folks who are doing things like I am.î
I almost cried – partly because I was tired and on non-drowsy drugs, but also because I tend to get weepy when Christ is poking at my spirit. I donít think anybody in the room knew who I was going in, but they did after that outburst. Folks were incredibly kind assuring me that they also want to see that sort of resource out on the web. They asked if Iíd be willing to work on that, to which I said yes – even though Iím busy, I have the blessing of knowing that there are these sorts of resources out there, and I want to share them with others.
My mother-in-law told me a story about the Come to the Water conference put on by the Wesleyan/Holiness Womenís Clergy. She said the first conference was basically an unintentional bawlfest: as they gathered together, women mourned and grieved the wounds that theyíve sustained from being in ministry – many because people doubt or criticize their call to lead. The conference was a safe place for them to share and grieve.
The next yearís conference was expected to be the same: folks packed tissue and were prepared to pour out their hearts. But it wasnít: people didnít really cry, but rather listened and conversed – the time was spent training and equipping. Why was it different? They were in a place of healing. The first conference helped them grieve and begin the process of healing so that they could continue to do their ministry.
When my dad picked me up, he asked his ìworthiness gaugingî question: I said the conference was good, and he asked, ìWere there any healings?î And I could honestly say, ìYes.î I think that Emergent women recognize the need for a safe place, a place to receive salve and prayer for their wounds. Then they can come to a place of equipping and strengthening. How exciting! Graham Cooke says our job isn’t to avoid wounds; it’s to get healed up faster.
I still donít know if I truly fit in – if Iím an Emergent woman leader. But I know Iím an emerging woman leader, and for me, I think thatís quite alright.
I attended a breakout session facilitated by Karen Ward, ìAbbessî of Church of the Apostles located in the Fremont district in Seattle (hey: Iíve been there! To Fremont – not so much to the church, sadly). It was hard to choose which breakout session to go to: I was looking for one that fit with evangelism (since thatís the Board that helped sponsor my trip so that I will do a workshop at Yearly Meeting), but none spoke directly to it – probably because evangelism should occur as a bi-product of listening to Christ rather than something we try and teach ourselves, eh? Karen is one of the few female voices I hear out in the emerging blogosphere, and she lives so close, so I wanted to connect with her. Plus, what Quaker wouldnít be drawn to monasticism?!! Seriously.
Karen was an ordained priest (Episcopal or Lutheran) in Chicago, trying to plant a church, but wasnít getting a good vibe from the higher-ups. She went to Seattle where her ache to create a church where non-churched friends could find the welcome/hospitality of God – a prodigal church – open space – a safe place to ask questions.
Karen believes that there is one Christian/catholic tradition rather than overlays of different practices/theologies. Basically, denominations have a certain attentiveness to different elements of Christianity. Each denomination is similar to an order in the Catholic church (Dominican, Franciscan, Quaker, Lutheran, etc.). Questions to ask would be ìhow do you go deeper into/become more attentive to the traditions of my order? What needs to be lifted up?î We donít necessarily need to look to new traditions: lift up the old/practiced. Rather than calling traditions ìnon-Christian,î they are simply ìnot part of this communityís tradition.î
Her gathering has forms that they follow: they look at the rhythm and intent of life. They seek a way of living more attentively. The gathering follows the yearly/seasonal calendar – it sets the rhythm for the church year. Holistic living: everything is worship.
Just like an abbey, they have different levels of belonging – from visitors to pilgrims (extended visitors) to monks (four men actually live in the building).
Their building has a steeple – something that calls the community to worship (noon day prayers, etc.).
They focus on being incarnational rather than missional: incarnational acknowledges that we are all being constantly converted by Christ, and out of that we invite others to participate (missional).
They are developing practices and a rule of life – this is more than a mission and/or vision statement: itís a covenant within the community. Itís a way to describe bonds within the community: not if, but how do you belong.
Exclusion is not an option: participants are agreeing to embrace a certain way of living. Lifestyle is a doctrinal statement: no ìlifestyle agreementî other than the greatest commandment – love God and love your neighbor. Because it is a lifestyle, there is no programmical courses – not because they are opposed to it, but rather because they are continuously talking about reflecting. They practice the embrace of God – itís not our welcome, but God welcoming us; therefore, there can be no exclusion (the parables of the wedding banquet and the prodigal son are very important to them).
They school themselves in the traditions of monasticism before they have created their rule – rules can vary from vague to very practical (this is when you put the gardening tools away and how to do it). They are working these rules into their own lifestyle. They try to exercise discipline within community: not hierarchical, but rather listening and discerning in community. Giving freedom for the Spirit to lead the community to Truth can be messy, but itís what weíre called to do.
Monasteries are self-supporting; therefore, they are looking to do something to be self-sustaining in a way that reflects their community (which happens to be a community of artists, so theyíve got some crazy artistic plans happening).
The idea of living such an intentional life greatly excited me: I know of many peers who ache for such a life. I wonder how it could be lived out in the suburbs . . .
Miroslav Volf is an incredibly brilliant man: one of the things that lends me to believe that, other than his written works, is that he *takes time to think before he answers questions*. Basically he was invited to a conference where he was put on the hot seat for three days – a barrage of questions thrown from any angle. To handle that is one thing; to handle it after having been interrogated in the former Yugoslavia as a young person is another; to handle it with wisdom, grace, and humility is a manifestation of God’s fingerprints in your life.
But of course, when words are written and edited, they can be taken out of context.
We were on the topic of our anemic version of Christianity today and how lousy we are at embracing God, and Volf made a comment. I have it written down (summarized) as:
Many atheists are closer to God than theists ñ angry with God. Taking God seriously through rebellion of God.
The Yale Daily News has chronicled it in their paper as:
ìI think that often atheists are closer to God than any theists, than any Christians,” Volf said. “It’s taking God seriously to rebel against God.”
When this was read outloud to the professor, he rolled his eyes and laughed and said something along the lines of ìI don’t think I *said* that.î
Despite the difference in quotations (one a little more sensational than the other), I have to give credence to his thoughts.
Do you ever have it where themes in life seem to come at you from all angles? The same ideas fly into your vision repeatedly, making you wonder if you truly do live in the Matrix? My book group is reading The Emperor of Ocean Park: basically itís a well-written John Grisham book. I started and finished the book on the trip. In the middle of it is this totally random, redeeming priest character whoís the only person to speak life and light into the book (itís a bit of a downer). But in the middle of his speech, he says:
ìYou know, a very great thinker named Martin Buber once wrote that there are no atheists, because the atheist has to struggle with God every day. Maybe that is why Scripture tells us, ëThe fool has said in his heart there is no Godî (347).
ìThis was back in the fifties, of course, a time when philosophers, even atheist philosophers, were expected to know their Bible. After all, the Bible has been by far the most influential book in Western history, praise God, probably in the history of the whole world. Well, how can anybody pretend to understand or to explain that world without understanding the book that built it? But when you come to know the Bible, you come to know God. So the atheist who has truly tried to understand the world will already be closer to God than many Christians, because he will know Godís word. The Lord creates many paths to his house, and he will, in the fullness of time, gather in even many of those who believe that they do not believe; for, in struggling with God, they are halfway to belief alreadyî (348).
Then I remembered back in high school, telling someone about my group of friends: ìI hang out with Quakers and atheists.î Which was true. I wonder if we enjoyed each othersí company so much because we recognized and respected that same struggle with God, whether or not we chose to acknowledge it.
While looking at the Emergent story in the Yale Daily News, I came across this top story:
This restaurant is where many folks from the conference had great food, beverages, and conversation after the Tuesday sessions. Looks like we shut the place down!
- There needs to be an involvement of personal will in forgiveness. How does one get the will to embrace? Through small community, family, liturgy, church life, correct reading of Scripture.
- We have an idea that we can possess Truth; but Truth is active in humility. Faith is made possible by being in Godís hand – cool. It pointing to something larger that myself: itís not about us!
- Certainty versus confidence in speaking: not to mention commentaries, but to point to the story and the power of the story. What position do we take versus how do we negotiate? (Re: homosexuality) How can people talk and continue to learn? Double vision: open up our own space and inhabit other space at the same time.
- Weíre not to be imitators of God in all respects and regards; rather, we are to follow the risen Christ.
- Weíre lousy embracers of God. We donít believe what we say we believe. Many atheists are closer to God than theists – they are in an angry struggle with God, and struggling involves closeness. They are taking God seriously through rebellion with God.
- The key to a life well-lived is a relationship with God, but mainly itís His relationship to us. God is closer to us that we can be to ourselves – thatís the nature of being a creature. We have half-sentimental/half-domestic relationship with God. The Jewish seem to do it much better than we do – have a healthy awareness of Godís true nature.
- Inclusive substitution theory statement: metaphysically in Christ – died on Cross with him [I donít really remember if I wrote this down right. I probably was staring at the intricate web of microphones hanging from the ceiling or was momentarily mesmerized when Volf said that statement – I think I might have a small crush – shh: donít tell.]
- We need to be willing to expose ourselves when asking questions of others.
Spirituality is at the root of good theology. We must engage in certain academic and spiritual practices. Guarding the spiritual core is very important.
- When we embrace one ìother,î we may exclude a different ìotherî (or itís perceived that way).
- With the triumph of the Religious Right, Jesus is now forcibly raised to the rank of the Romans & Pharisees – those doing the punishing, dispensing suffering.
I took some notes while at the Emergent Theological Conversation, partly because I wanted to remember what was said, partly out of habit, and partly because my companions had brought their laptops and were furiously typing and I didnít want to look like the unprepared ding dong.
These may make sense; they may not: my mind is generally focused on grocery lists and MOPS publications and blog entries, not hefty theological pontifications. You can find those out there in the blogosphere: this is simply an interpretation of stuff thatís relevant to my world (or at least the stuff I had the faintest inkling that I might know a little bit of what they were talking about).
- Volfís father was a pastor. People in his country knew what ìpriestsî were, but not pastors. He had to spend a great deal of time, awkwardly and in rather belittling situations, explaining himself. It reminds me of having to explain ìQuakerî to folks in Idaho in grade school, as well as trying to explain/justify Dadís job, especially in emerging ìnon-structure orientedî circles. Nothing to the degree that Volf had to – but still: the feelings are there.
- He was a rare professing Christian: most others were closet Christians (not a safe environment to be professing). Similar to going to YouthQuake where I felt embarrassed a bit to say that I was a ìChrist-centeredî Quaker: it brought up all sorts of negative images and baggage for non-Christ-centered Quakers: ìwhy would you want to be *that*?î
- Volf went to compulsory military service at the age of 27 so that he could continue to return to his country. He went as a pacifist.
- Christians should be practicing/living/flowing out of a grounded, practical theology. We should offer a *way to live* in the world, not to be removed from living in the world. Instead, we tend to offer ìa thinned out version in the bookstore today.î Theology should involved consistent thinking: pieces falling or sliding together in all areas of thought and life.
- Thereís something good about the incompatibility and inconsistency of the Scriptures. Itís like shoving too much stuff in a suitcase so that things are hanging out the side: you can still take the items around with you that you need, but it doesnít all fit or look pretty. We should not make Scripture say what we want it to say.
- We need to stop this incessant moralizing of the Scriptures that often happens while preaching or sharing the Word. We listen to a message, and we feel worse about ourselves: this is a betrayal of what is at the heart of the Gospel. The church is over socializing/psychologizing the Scriptures.
- Church should be organized around God rather than around what we think we should be doing: God should be at the center.
- If Volf could recommend one theologian to read, it would be Augustine.
- Am I trusting the power of the story of the Gospel, or am I accommodating by trying to explain away the unexplainable/hard/non-fitting stuff? If I donít trust the power of the story, I wonít stick with it to see things that arenít apparent immediately. We need to redeem the story: to let it shine for what it is.
- We need to *discern* how we live in the world today (rather than live intentionally unintentional). Look through cultural lenses – at others, ourselves.
- In what places can boundaries be good things, especially in a culture such as ours that has power issues?
- Volf believes we can theologize in all spheres of life: everything can/should be filtered through a lens of theology, because that points us back to God who is the Creator of it all.
- Miroslav Volf keeps mentioning the word ìreconciliationî – itís a word thatís been haunting my mind as of late. How am I called to play a role in reconciliation? What would that look like in my daily life – the simple rather than the larger ìreconciliation between warring nationsî?
- To be effective, we need to act as a social body – ecclessially [side note: I think that was my favorite word to hear him say :)]. Religious and nonreligious voices on equal footing. There should not be a separation of church and state, but neutrality. Christian language and values have influenced our culture, but now thatís coming undone, and people are at a loss of what to do or how to act as a social body.