Category Archives: Review

Ecclectic Reads and a Review

It’s the holidays, and my reading has consisted of things like Siblings Without Rivalry, Knitting for Peace, Cricket at the Manger (check out the stellar illustrations!), Hotel Dusk:  Room 215 (okay, so that’s not a book, but the game has enough words to make up a novel!) and The Genesis Trilogy.   Ecclectic, yes?  But then again, that seems to be the theme of the holidays (as we were going to Jason’s family’s friend’s house and Judah asked if we were going to spend the night there, and if not there, then where were we spending the night that night.  It might be a bit telling of our nomadic nature as of late).

Today I came across a review of a book that sounds like it’d spur some stellar discussion.  The book store is Hearts & Minds (HT Christine Sine), and the book is Peace to War.  I’m particularly interested since I just wrote a piece reflecting on our Yearly Meeting’s Query 10:  what will I say to my sons about war?  How do I live a lifestyle that is reflective and teaching about the way of peace?  How do I not?

The reviewer asked a question that peaked my interest:

Will the Mennonites, Brethren in Christ, evangelical Friends or other such groups lose their bearings as nonviolence is divorced from a full-orbed Biblical worldview? . . . As one reviewer on the back put it (from a Church of God seminary) “Here is a profoundly disturbing read for anyone concerned about faith formation across generations…the implications of this study are worth examining by all traditions asking ‘Will our children have faith?'”

Interesting thoughts as we move into a New Year (which I recently read isn’t so much celebrating a new year as much as marking the day that Christ was taken to the priests for circumcision.  Puts a new spin on the merrymaking, eh?).

The Year of Living Biblically

Last night my book group met to discuss A.J. Jacob’s The Year of Living Biblically:  One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.  I’ve heard him speak before and wondered where he was going to go with this:  would the outcome show his experience to be unreasonable, mocking something I hold dear, or would it reveal some sort of change in him, as I change with exposure to these Words?

I partially read the book with a jealous eye, wondering why I don’t write for a living like he does.  And then I read wondering what sort of Year Long Experiment I could embark upon, although I don’t think I’m up for writing the girl version of this book (bleck).  Things I took away:

  • How much he was bothered by lying.  And how much he lies (one of the book group folks mentioned how they were shocked at how much he lied.  My comment:  “Of course he lies:  he’s a writer” 🙂 ).  Just little lies, like telling his son that he didn’t have a certain type of food when really he just didn’t want to prepare it for his son.  How often do I say untruthes out of convience for me?  How relative is my truth to my comfort/laziness?
  • He interviewed quite a few “fundamentals/zealots/legalistic/orthodox” folks or sects – going to Jerry Folwell’s church, talking to Red Letter Christians, connecting with the Amish and Jehovah’s Witnesses and people who are searching for the Red Heifer so the rebuilding of the Temple can commence.  And through all of these interviews, the author seemed genuinely interested and respectful of the folks sharing their stories.  He didn’t come in with a lot of presuppositions or looking for folks to reaffirm his position:  he simply listened, took it in, reported how things resonated with him.  And people seemed to share honestly with him.  When I talk with others, I automatically critique/take apart their words, see what I think is right and wrong, and disgard or do not hold the other parts to be worthy.  It’s so disrespectful.  Christ, the ultimate judge, drew people in, not drawing lines of where they measured up.
  • The author came to the conclusion that this lifestyle could not be lived alone.  So why do I spend so much time reading Scripture by myself instead of in community?
  • Although it was really inconvenient, he said this lifestyle helped him live more intentionally, thinking about all the people it takes, all the actions it requires, all the effort and effect it created.  Perhaps if I lived in ways that were “inconvenient” I would more remember how “inconvenient” it was for Christ to suffer.

Just some things to think about . . .

Review: the Sacred echo

[Sidenote:  a number of folks have passed on the following information, one noting it was a bit ironic that it came out the same day as my last post:  “Like you said,  ‘I don’t want to deal with all of this.  Let’s just sweep it under the rug [counter] and move on.'”  Hmm . . . ]

A few years ago when I started off on my quest of “why don’t any of my friends go to church anymore?  I know they’re spiritual people; where did they go?” and it meshed with “heavens, how does one maintain sanity when one has a demanding newborn and I can’t get out of my townhouse because it’s naptime or feeding time or I can’t find a clean pair of pants?  Hurrah for the internet!”, I discovered blogging and the emerging church.  I crept around different places like delicious and technorati and bloglines to try and assess who was worth reading and what they were talking about in the first place.

One day I noticed that my name was mentioned on a site that I considered to be well-emersed in the current pioneering spiritual scene; the post was calling for recommendations of emerging women bloggers.  “Well, that’s odd,” I thought, not that my name was mentioned  because I *am* a girl (and honestly, I was totally flattered), but that there was a request for such a thing at all.  Aren’t there a lot of emerging women bloggers?  Aren’t they getting equal screen time?  Because sexism doesn’t seem to be a value of post-modernity. . . .

That may be true, but the female voice is still lacking, which I find really interesting considering that I find women to be online moreso than men, at least in the searching-for-info, shopping, social-networking areas.  At any rate, one day I was reading the list of speakers for some hip, emerging-type conference:  boy, boy, boy, boy, boy, boy, girl, boy, boy.  Wait, girl?!!  Who is this person?  Her name was Margaret Feinberg.  And she was a writer.  !!!!  Be still, my little womanly writer’s heart.  I immediately went to her website, subscribed to her blog, and pine over her description of adventures in Colorado and Alaska because deep down inside I wish I were that cool to romp around in the wilderness.

One day Margaret posted that her new book was coming out, and her publishers were sending copies to blog readers who would post a review.  And y’all know how I feel about reviewing books.  Oooh!  Oooh!  Me!  Me!  I requested a book.  Alas, too late:  the copies had already been given out (I recieved a personal email from Margaret letting me know:  hello!  Personal touch!).  But then, one day, walking to the mailbox, key in my slot, open the package door:  hurrah!  Book package for Aj:  rock on.

And it made it to my pile of “books to review” where it sat for what I thought wasn’t all that long but apparently her publishers did because I got a polite yet inquisitive, “Did you get the book?  Have you posted a review?” email.  Apparently they don’t function on Aj Time which is generally “wearing two-week contacts for six months is okay, and regular bathing for the children means throwing them in the tub before they’re going to be seen by the public, and did I tell you about the time that I drove around with unregistered car tags for about nine months because I kept forgetting to go into the DMV but my father-in-law would see my car and shake his head and comment that next time he’d be visiting me in jail?”  So thank you for the reminder that The World does not function on Aj Time (phew).

So, my review of the Sacred echo:  Hearing God’s Voice in Every Area of Your Life (I’m spelling it like this because this is how the title is printed on the book, all post-modern “we don’t have to follow capitalization rules” and such – rebel rebel).  Honestly, at first, I was a bit skeptical.  Having read some pretty heavy hitters lately, I’m finding myself looking at every book wanting it to be a major spiritually-formational revelation, and this did not strike me as that.  This book is about prayer:  would she as detailed as Richard Foster?  This book is about life as a post-modern:  would she be as hip at Rob Bell?   This book is about listening:  would she be as prophetic as Shane Claibourne?

No, because she is Margaret Feinberg, and she brought her self to these pages, in clear words with questions and ponderings and proddings and God-infused words of hope and love.  She shares stories, her stories, of folks that she prays for.  Through these journeys she questions, “Why *do* we pray?  Is it worth it?”  I know of a number of books that tackle such a topic, and I don’t know that she brings anything necessarily new, but she brings things that are *real*, that shed light on the picture, that model what a life spent listening to God looks like.

Instead of forcing her stories down the readers’ throats, giving an air of “this is how your life of prayer should look”, she acts more as a midwife, encouraging the reader with queries and thoughts that allow the reader to find these echoes in their personal lives.  When my name was added to the list of emerging women bloggers, the commenter stated that they didn’t even know I was a female until many posts down the road:  I took that as a compliment, that my words were relatable to either gender.  I somewhat feel the same about this book – the words speak truth and can be applied to folks from a range of experiences.

the Sacred echo:  do I listen for the repeated phrases and words of God in my life?  What is God saying?  How do I respond?  Thank you, Margaret, for being a voice that questions, for sharing when prayer is answered in the ways that we want and the ways that we don’t, for being transparent.  And thanks for the being a voice present in the boy-dominated world of the emerging church:  if you ever need a side-kick, feel free to let me know.  🙂

Review: Saving Women from the Church

A few moons ago (okay, shamefully, *many* moons ago) I received a package in the mail.  “Delightful!” I thought.  “I LOVE to receive packages in the mail.”  This can be confirmed by my husband’s amazement at collecting all the boxes of free samples I’ve requested online that seemingly arrive all at once when I leave town.  But this package did not contain a trial size of Kashi granola or another Shick Titanium razor, but rather a book.  A BOOK!  That I didn’t even request, but was sent to me to review!  And post about!  On my blog!  I did a little dance, but you never would have known that, because I failed to post a review:  somehow it got lost in books like “Your 4 Year Old:  Wild and Wonderful” and “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian”.

But the other day, while giving my free Swiffer dusting kit a whirl, I came across it:  my book!  I read it, and now I am ready to report.

Barclay Press has released a book written by Susan McLeod-Harrison titled Saving Women from the Church:  How Jesus Mends a Divide.  The title threw me for a bit as an image of a Monty Python Jesus crossed my mind, galloping on the ground while someone follows him clopping with coconuts.  Why?  I dunno:  probably a lack of adult interactions, or at least adult interactions that don’t involve the words “playdate”, “timeout”, or “exploding diaper”.

The book begins, “I began writing this book in my mid-twenties, as a single Christian woman trying to identify her place in the church” (1).   From there McLeod-Harrison shares her worship experience of a church hierarchy dominated by men which drove her to studying and reading and exploring and questioning if the church believes or is manifesting the equality of genders that is evidenced in Christ’s interactions.  She then moves on to tackle specific issues in each chapter by sharing a fictional (yet personal) story and a story from the Gospels.  The chapters conclude with questions for further reflection (personally or in a group setting) as well as an image/healing prayer experience.

I’m sad to admit that my first reaction to reading this book was one of apathy, “Ugh.  Another book on how women are oppressed.  Stop moping; let’s just get up off our butts and do something!”  I also felt a bit smug, “I come from a tradition that is above all of this women-oppression stuff.”  But really it was more, “I don’t want to deal with all of this.  Let’s just sweep it under the rug and move on.”  Except when that happens, wounds just “fester, fester, fester; rot, rot, rot” (as only Meg Ryan says in “French Kiss”).  The Spirit gave me a nice check, and I proceded to read with a bit more humilty.

This book would be an excellent read for a study group.  I could see some excellent discussion being had in an all-female or mixed-gender group; it could also prompt some times of confession and repentence or space for healing no matter what tradition was reading.  The questions posed are not threatening or accusing but rather prompting, similar to Quaker queries.  Again, I’m not really a fan of the title:  yes, the church can be oppressive, but Brother Yun talks about how he prayed for his oppressors, knowing that God allowed them to come into his live for a reason.  But I would not let that stop me from recommending the book.

{And no, the humor of me finding this book while I was dusting (i.e. being the “good little housewife” did not escape me, because if you will note when the book was released, well, it’d been a while since I’d engaged in that activity.]

Next Steps: Who to Do What Step With?

So I’ve shared some about the process of the group.  At least, I feel as though I did:  does it make sense to you?  What are you fuzzy about?  What would be helpful to hear more about?

During this process I read a great book called Permission Granted To Do Church Differently in the 21st Century.  It’s written by Gary Goodell, a person I know not a lot about, and Graham Cooke, a person who has become key in my spiritual journey.  Graham Cooke, originally from Great Britain so he’s got a *great* accent, leads a prophetic ministry centered in Vacaville, CA.  Dad introduced me to Graham in the form of videos and audio cassettes which I listened to while going for morning walks around my neighborhood.  He is one of the kindest, to the point, challenging, loving teachers I’ve ever heard.  So when I heard about this book, I knew I’d need to read it.

Section 1:  The authors talk about the “Third Day” church God’s told them that we’re moving into (there’s lot of references in the Bible about moving into something new on the third day).  Development of people and churches; Church as a living system – organic and organizational paradox (the church is a field – flexible and changing (this is the response to our cultural context) – and a building – rigid and unchanging (these are our values) – how do we hold to both?).

Section 2:  Third-Day Worship; God-centric Worship; the Worship Feast

Section 3:  Third-Day Meetings; Embracing the Unpredictable; What’s Really Sacred?

Section 4:  Transition (Oh, my, how people would be helped if they read this – to actually understand what we’re going through.  It doesn’t make it easier necessarily, but it’s nice to understand what is actually going on).

Section 5:  Third-Day Preaching

Section 6:  Third-Day Mission.

Good stuff, eh?  One chapter really struck me:  Groups of Tens, Groups of Fifties, and Groups of Hundreds.  “It is not that we just need more than one meeting.  In fact, it doesn’t matter how many meetings you have in a week or a month.  What is important is to see the potential of different sizes of meetings that create different atmospheres or venues, and thus produce different outcomes or results” (109).  We have different sized meetings at NFC, but I don’t think we know why we do, nor do I think we always have placed the correct desired outcomes on those meetings.

The first group is groups of ten.  “These smaller groups are home-based, intergenerational meetings, where we share our lives on a regular basis, make our needs know to each other, and bear each other’s burdens.”  This seems to happen with small groups and Listening Life groups and some Sunday School classes.  “These groups are not cell groups, or even home groups; they are real churches – complete and autonomous churches.  They have leaders; the often receive offerings for missions, the poor, the needy.  They evangelize the lost, baptize converts, dedicate babies, marry the wed and bury the dead, and obviously celebrate the sacrament of communion.  These small groups are not just extensions of the ‘mother ship’ local community church that has a central campus around which all life swirls.  They are the Church” (111).  He then goes on to talk about the theological importance of having The Meal together.  “The local church does not do small groups; the local church is a small group where everyone participates” (117).

Groups of Fifties:  “This is the group where everyone worships” (117).  “These groups are not meant to replace the whole body, but rather make possible a type of meeting in which all ages, including children, can participate” (118).  There has been a concern voiced about what to do with the kids during our six-week fast:  people are concerned for their spiritual welfare if they aren’t in Sunday School.  I’m a bit concerned for their spiritual welfare if they don’t know how or get to have an opportunity to contribute to the larger body!  “This meeting is based upon the full priesthood of all believers with mutual edification and mutual up-building for the purpose of personal strengthening” (118).  And Goodall notes that this is not the entire body, but a gathering of several smaller churches or simple churches in a larger setting (even a home, a park, a backyard).

Groups of Hundreds:  “This is the group where everyone listens and learns.”  The point of these groups is for the larger body or network of churches to consider direction.  They are generally led by teams, not an individual, embodying fivefold ministry.

The other week my husband was getting poked by God to consider the point and purpose and elements of worship.  He was questioning the focus on the sermon:  is that very worshipful?   We do need to be taught, but perhaps we have been putting the wrong function on the different group sizes.  It’s like putting a wrong car part in a car engine:  I will probably be frustrated when it does work well, but can the part change to meet my expectations?   Not so much.  When we try to wed worship and teaching, the focus is divided.  When we aren’t being church in small group ways, we’re probably not prepared to worship:  we have to play catch up in worship to get to that worshipful place.  When we try to get our individual needs met in the large group, people will fall through the cracks:  people can’t be held accountable very well in groups of hundreds.

So, as we think about where we are stepping next and who we are stepping with, perhaps we need to make sure the “parts” are serving their intended function, otherwise we’re going to get stuck on the side of the road, and I don’t think Click and Clack will be able to gufaw our way out of this one.

Here I am to Worship

Again, crossposting a review for my Seminary class.  Thought it could stand some good ol’ Friendly input. 

When “Professor” Clark alluded to the fact that some of us were going off-roading with our elective reading choices, I think a bright flashing neon sign lit up above my head.  🙂 

After reading about liturgy and fighting commodification through liturgy, I thought it would be beneficial to explore the core elements of worship and its manifestations within differing traditions.  For the past few weeks I’ve been sitting with Evelyn Underhill’s book “Worship”.  I say that I’ve been sitting with it because, at least for this sleep-deprived reader, it’s not a quick read.  Underhill’s most known work “Mysticism” explores the wider topic of communion/experience/”yadah” with God; this follow-up looks at some more practical ways individuals and groups experience this.  Divided into two parts, the book first details the purpose and the elements of worship and then explores these principles and values in specific denominational expressions. 

“Worship is here considered in its deepest sense, as the response of man to the Eternal; and when we look at the many degrees and forms of this response, and the graded character of human religion, its slow ascent from primitive levels and tendency to carry with it the relics of the past, we need not be surprised that even within the Christian family there is much diversity in the expressive worship which is yet directed towards a single revelation of the Divine” (xxi).  This statement contains elements of the sentiment of Luke Bretherton’s picture of Deep Church drawing from the same well of tradition as well as Andrew Walker’s thoughts on Deep Church and paradosis:  “What is new about this retrieval is that it is a quest for something old, and its modus operandi is not a technique, but a turning back (epistrophe)” (50). 

While looking at the fundamental characteristics of worship, Underhill often details the extremes manifesting from the response to Reality (most often comparing the Anglican church and the Quaker meetings) sharing the strengths and weaknesses of each expression.  For example:  “Habit tends to routine and spiritual red-tape; the vice of the institutionalist.  Attention is apt to care for nothing but the experience of the moment and ignor the need of a stable practice, independent of personal fluctuations; the vice of the individualist.  Habit is a ritualist.  Attention is a pietist.  But it is the beautiful combination of order and spontaneity, docility and freedom, living humbly – and therefore fully and freely – within the agreed pattern of the cultus and not in defiance of it, which is the mark of genuine spiritual maturity and indeed the fine flower of a worshipping life” (22).  This almost reminded me of the characteristics of the modern (ritualist) and post-modern (pietist) movements.  As she moves on to describe early Christian worship, she notes that the earliest form of Charismatic expression was taken on by Hellenistic Christians who moved away from the Jewish models (180).  This seems similar to the modern/postmodern movement as well where the postmodern group is trying to follow a new expression of worship that seems so dissimilar to the previous standard.

Underhill gives some details not only about current worship, but the history of worship starting with the Hebrews and moving to the early church and the denominational splits.  Interestingly she noted in Jewish life that “it was surrounded by a number of small ritual observances; which can easily be dismissed as formal or superstitious, but were really directed – like the small external pieties of the ‘good Catholic’ – to the sanctifying of all the common events of everyday life, by a constant and humble remembrance of the claims of the Eternal God and His Law” (156).  Sounds a little bit like Bretherton’s “mundane holiness” to me where “in our day Christian disciplines and practices must act as antidotes to the attempt to shape our personhood through consumerism, technology, and the myriads to Pasnopticanlike institutions of the corporation state” (244). 

I spent more time looking at Underhill’s evaluation of Quaker/Free Churches than the other denominations because this is the tradition I come from.  I have been a bit disheartened reading “Consuming Religion” with Miller’s thesis that liturgy fights commodification of religion.  One of the main characteristics of the Friends is the lack of symbol/ritual/liturgy of the high church.  In the preface to George Fox’s “Journal”, William Penn notes, “The bent and stress of their ministry was conversion to God, regeneration and holiness, not schemes of doctrines and verbal creeds or new forms of worship, but a leaving off in religion the superfluous and reducing the ceremonious and formal part, and pressing earnestly the substantial, the necessary and profitable part, as all upon a serious reflection must and do acknowledge.”  After hearing this most of my life, it’s easy for me to assume that Quakers are anti-ligurgy.  Miller quotes Terrance Tilley:  “The significance or meaning of the doctrine of the Real Presence can be paraphrased or summarized theologically, but it cannot be fully understood except when it is connected with the ritual practices of the community that holds the doctrine” (202).  Tilley was speaking of the Eucharist, but his reference to the “Real Presence” seems to mesh with some of Underhill’s thoughts:  “It points past all signs and symbols to the Invisible Holy, trusts the immanent presence with men of the Invisible Holy, and perpetually reminds us of the awe and humility, the pause, the hush, the deliberate break with succession, with which man should approach the great experience of communion with teh living God:  ‘not hurrying into the exercise of these things, so soon as teh bell rings, as other Christians do'” (237).  Perhaps there’s more liturgy involved than I had previously thought, but it simply looks different.  But what does that look like today within the differing branches of Quakerism with some being evangelical and some not, some being programmed and some not? 

I’m uncertain as to what to do with this book.  It seems very black and white, all or nothing.  Underhill describes strengths and weaknesses, but it’s either the best of the strengths or the worst of the weaknesses – not a lot of inbetween or what happens with the introduction of shallow bricolage.  It reminds me of the difference between analyzing something in the lab under ideal conditions versus using it in the real world with unknown variables.  Her explanations of symbols and sacraments were incredibly helpful (they are a means of God sharing Truth with us).  I greatly appreciated the pointing out of similarities of truth and purpose and principles within the traditions:  she detailed the similarities without making them the “same” – showing the beauty of each characteristic or expression, like a family portrait.  Perhaps as I chat with others we can take some time to gaze deeper at our latest family pictures – the good and the bad, the modern and the postmodern, the institutional and the emerging, and see the beauty of each grandparent and parent and child and wait in anticipation of the generations to come.

Pardon Me: I’m Busy Being Consumed by Jesus

A while back I responded to a blog post saying that I’d love a copy of a soon-to-be-released book, stating I’d review it on my blog.  Well, a few months, one kid, and a lot of sleepless nights later, I’ve finished the book.  What motivated me besides the fact that I said I’d do it?  I got to read it for my class.  It always helps to multitask.  😀  Here’s my submission for class:

Consuming Jesus:  Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church by Paul Louis Metzger

Paul Louis Metzger, a professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary, tackles the topic of evangelism, church, consumerism, race, and class in his book “Consuming Jesus:  Beyond Race and Class in a Consumer Culture”.  He believes that consumerism has commodified evangelism; this sort of Christianity has had horrible effects, particularly in causing division in matters of race and class.  Noting the truth in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement that “the Sunday hour is the most segregated time during the American week”, Metzgar explores how churches have become clubs or cliques of like-minded and like-looking folks:  “The consumer-driven church culture fosters homogeneity and upward mobility, not the transforming harmony and downward mobility of the triune God that is realized in the cross and resurrection” (10).  The correct exalting and practice of our Ark of the Covenant (Scripture and the Lord’s Supper) combats the consumeristic practices that have invaded the church.   Metzger calls the church to look back at the atoning and reconciling work of Christ for the whole of humanity; as we are consumed by Christ, we see and enact His vision for the world. 

I appreciated Metzger’s method towards exploring this topic.  He laid an excellent foundation, exploring the roots of fundamentalism and the actions/words of a few folks that have snowballed into the divisions of the church that we have today.  “The fundamentalist reconfiguration of the church from a retreating fortress to a political battle camp to a homogeneous unit is a faulty order that plays into this consumer cultural vision of social relations” (33).  It made me cringe to think of some of my personal reactions, for example, when thinking about schooling my child:  as of late, hearing so many “horror stories”, I want to keep him “safe” at home.  But Metzger points out that “While Christian parents must guard against spiritual bravado and sacrificing their children to Molech for the ministry, they must also guard against the perverse spirit of hiding their children from God and sheltering them from the world, by keeping them locked up in the Christian ghetto” (100).  My, how those thoughts have seeped into my perception about church:  “Oh, I won’t ask them to come to my church – they wouldn’t like it.”  “Wouldn’t they be more comfortable with a church population that’s more their age/race/social class/type of personality?”

It took me a bit to get through (probably due to sleep deprivation and constant requests for “Boos Coos, Mama!” (Blue’s Clues)), but Metzger’s chapter on “Reordering the Cosmic Powers” struck me, mostly because I haven’t spent a great deal thinking so deeply about the impact of what happened before the foundations of time and what the implications were for Christ’s death on the Cross.  Apparently my view is fairly simplistic:  Christ took on *my* sins so I can be in relationship with him (nice and consumeristic – me me me!).  Metzger used the Narnia image of the White Witch, Aslan, and the Deeper Magic that brought him back to life.  It’s left me wondering:  in how many areas do believers/the church believe that they are still under the Old Law – the Law that was administered by the fallen angels?  Do we ever really take time to discern that?

Metzger feels that the divisions that exist in the church today can be countered by replacing the importance of Scripture and the Lord’s Supper.  Instead of using Scripture as an expository teaching tool, picking it to pieces, he explores the transformative nature of the metanarrative of Scripture, particularly as it has worked in African American churches – giving them a story that mirrors their own and a hope to look for.  In regards to the Lord’s Supper, he notes that the nature of the original practice was different because it “crossed ethnic, economic, and social lines in the ancient church” (123) and through this the church is not only reconciled to its own members but also to other churches.  Then they are called to proclaim this union and communion to the world through words and actions – redistribution of goods (137).  [This relates to previous readings:  It mirrored the sentiment that all churches draw from the same well of tradition:  Scripture, history of Christian belief and practice, and systematic theology and prayer (Murray xv), but more pointedly examined racial and class divisions – beyond denominational differences.  As Miller stated (195), Metzger agrees that the practices need to have meaning rather than be a tool or rote action.]

Metzger did not delve as deeply into the consumeristic nature of churches, or perhaps his foundational information on commodification wasn’t as detailed, although he certainly footnoted excellent resources.  Miller’s book [Consuming Religion}, with its Roman Catholic audience, did not seem to have as much of a feel or expectation that folks flit from church to church as much as Metzger’s evanglical audience, so I appreciated Metzger’s challenge:  “Rather than quickly leaving our consumer-oriented, homogeneous churches – thus becoming a connoisseur Christian ourselves – we should do everything we can, working patiently and lovingly to become transforming agents, helping our own churches transform themselves from the inside out” (66).  [Again, referencing previous reading:  This does not totally mesh with Murray’s take on Post-Christendom’s tendency to be sojourners rather than settlers (19), but does with the emerging church’s glocal characteristics (Bretherton 32).  ]

Metzger picks a bit on the megachurches, particularly Saddleback and Willow Creek.  I understand his concerns, but I’ve also heard some turnings in their outreach, particularly incorporating those who are of other races and classes, and I wonder if part of their effectiveness is due to their size and resources (which Metzger seems to feel is due to having a consumer-driven church). 

As I look at my worship gathering, I must admit that Metzgar’s book wrecked me in some places – in a good way – but still:  ouch.  I’m reminded of a quote by Shane Claiborne:  “
“People are poor not just because of their sins; they are poor because of our sins (and people are rich because of our sins). On the wall of New Jerusalem (a facility made up of people recovering from addictions) is a sign that reads, “We cannot fully recover until we help the society that made us sick recover””.  Again, I’m challenged by the idea of corporate confession and turning:  how will we ever begin restitution and reconciliation without naming the past?  And how, in a tradition that doesn’t practice the typical liturgical Eucharist, are we called to be reminded of the barriers that Christ’s redeeming work destroyed? 

Gettin’ Jiggy with “It’s a Dance”

I like books. I like books on interesting topics – cooking, parenting, ecclesiology (as opposed to my dad who has books on chaos theory, chess strategy, and the penguin history of the world, and yes: he’s read them all). And I *really* like books on interesting topics that I get for free, so it was a banner day when I opened up my mailbox to find a copy of “It’s a Dance: Moving with the Holy Spirit” by Patrick Oden.

“It’s a Dance” takes a look at the daily life workings of the Holy Spirit through fictional discussions of a newspaper reporter and an a-typical faith community functioning out of a pub. Luke, a jaded journalist, interviews Nate, the “pastor/bartender,” about his nontraditional approach to church. As Nate gives the background of the community, as well as introducing Luke to various members, the discussion weaves functionality with spirituality, exploring the form their faith expressions take as well as the inner workings of God, the Son, and the Spirit that’s been sent to believers.

The book hits a lot of “buzz word” topics floating around the blogosphere and beyond:

  • What does it mean to be missional?
  • What does it mean to be incarnational?
  • What does it mean to welcome the stranger?
  • How and why do we worship creatively?
  • Is there a boundary between the sacred and the secular?

But due to the conversational nature of the writing the book never takes on a “textbook” feel. As the characters share their lives and experiences, they also share the reasonings and theology behind their actions. Considering much of the “emerging church conversation” is supposed to be, you know, a *conversation*, this book seems to be an appropriate way to convey the thoughts, ideas, and inner leadings of this current movement.

I greatly enjoyed the emphasis on the movings of the Holy Spirit. The evangelical movement (at least certain streams) seems comfortable with dicussions about God and Jesus, but the Holy Spirit seems a little . . . impish: something we don’t really see that seems a little tricky. And while the emerging conversation has discussed a great deal of the implications of being missional/incarnational, not a lot of emphasis has been given to the promptings which move folks to live that out: that of the Spirit. Instead of getting into a lot of eccesiological/eschatological/insert another word that they use in Seminary that makes lay people go “enh?” stuff, Oden uses the characters to share and show how the Spirit is inclined to move and act in the day-to-day. Practical. Tangible. Helpful.

My only minor complaints, totally coming from my snobby writing/lit background:

  • I had a hard time differentiating between speakers (their voices sounded very similar).
  • I could use more plot/action, which I know wasn’t the point, but if it’s going to be fictional, a little more movement has got to happen to keep mothers-of-fourth-month-old-yowlers alert.
  • Nobody talks that eloquently. Correction: I’m jealous because I can’t articulate my faith and theology that well (ah, blessed sleep deprivation: I’m lucky if I can remember what name goes with which creature I’m currently ministering to).

It’s a Dance” is hitting the streets November 1st. I suggest you take it out for a spin on the dance floor: it likes the night life; it likes to boogie.