The Drama of Desire

This was a devotion written for Great Bridge United Methodist Church.  Over the next year the staff are reading Brian McLaren’s book We Make the Road by Walking together.  Throughout the year I will be posting devotionals and responses to book study.


“We humans have consistently chosen the wrong tree. Instead of intimidating and reflecting God as good image bears should do, we start competing with God, edging God out, playing god ourselves.” – Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking (pg. 15)

Adam and Eve did it. So did Cain and Abel. You could probably say Saul, David, Pilate, the entire Temple hierarchy, and Saul (before he was Paul) did it also. I would be willing to throw it out there that Presidential candidates, (both Republicans and Democrats), pastors, community leaders, and little league umpires are guilty too. I know on occasion, probably more than I should, I have done it too. It would be a safe bet to say you have done it too, although I learned early on in ministry not to make assumptions about anyone.


It’s not really a question of why we would want God’s power for ourselves. Right? Remember the 2003 blockbuster Bruce Almighty? Bruce was an average beat reporter in Buffalo and desperately wanted to beat out his competition to become lead anchor. Bruce was desperate. He refused to take responsibility for his actions, blamed everyone around him for his troubles, and even called out God, “I am not being a martyr. I’m a victim. God is a mean kid sitting on an anthill with a magnifying glass, and I’m the ant. He could fix my life in 5 minutes if he wanted to, but he’d rather burn off my feelers and watch me squirm!” Skip ahead a few scenes and Bruce finally meets God. God gives Bruce divine power (over Buffalo) for 1 week.

Long story short, Bruce could not handle the responsibility required to “rule over all” (Ephesians 4.6). And that is how God rules, divinely over anything and everything. That’s the hard part to remember right? When we think we are seizing control from God, taking control of our own lives and destiny, and blazing a path on our own we are just kidding ourselves right? We think we are working outside of where God can see us.  We think we are hiding like Adam and Eve thought. We throw ourselves behind a tree and think that as long as we operate in secret, outside of the sight of God that we will be alright. If God cannot see what we are doing, hear what we are saying, or witness the way we are screwing over our neighbor we are a-okie-dokie

But here’s the kicker, according to McLaren (and what does he know, he’s just a theologian, sought after speaker, and pastor) Jesus “modeled a different way of life.” That’s what Paul is getting at in chapter 2 of his letter to the church in Philippi – “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

When we follow the way that was modeled to us by Christ, and allow humility to be more present in our lives than competition or selfishness we are allowing our mindset to be focused in on not only the modeled life Christ left for us but also we are focused on living out that modeled life everyday. We consistently choose from the wrong tree because we are failing to live the life modeled to us by Christ. It’s not a secret or something that you need years and years of theological training to understand. Loving others as we love ourselves and selfless-sacrifice are on display in the first 30 pages of the New Testament. Start there.

The Church Responds (?) to Refugee Crisis

Yesterday I asked the question, “what is the churches response to violence, fear, and those in need when all 3 are presented at the same time?”  This was my way of lamenting and discerning how my responses were either appropriate, enough, or falling short.  I began searching the interwebs for examples of where the Church has lived up to the great commission and for examples where the Church has fallen short of our calling to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

s anderson“That’s why France is suffering… they are wicked in the sight of God.” – “Pastor” Steven Anderson

While poking around on the internet Tuesday I found the above gem.  “Pastor” (or ass-hat) Steven Anderson went on a 51 minute sermon rant about the recent terrorist attacks in France.  Anderson is famous infamous for hate-filled sermons.

In June 2015 he said, “I hope God touches Bruce Jenner’s heart like this. I hope God touches Bruce Jenner’s heart like this.” The entire time, Anderson is gesturing to his chest similar to the scene from Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom.  This is a prime example of how, in my opinion (which is based on my reading of scripture, experience of grace, and the tradition laid before me by mentors), the Church is failing to respond to violence, fear, and global poverty.

It is easier for church leaders to rant from the pulpit about how those people deserved what they got because they were not living up to my (Anderson’s) twisted interpretation of scripture.  He goes on to explain that death and killing happens because of the music we listen to and the people we associate with.  Funny.  I remember reading somewhere, maybe in that Bible book, about a man who spent his ENTIRE ministry associating with the wrong people.  I recall a man calling a tax-collector to be a disciple.  I remember a man standing in front of a crowd, a crowd that was ready to stone a woman to death for committing adultery (the 2000 year ago equivalent of sexting/posting a crotch picture to snapchat/anything that you do on Tinder), and telling them that the person without sin should cast the first stone.

It is frustrating, mind-boggling, and down right despicable to say that the victims of violence deserved what they got.  Especially coming from someone who is suppose to be a representative of the one who gives us the example of how we are suppose to interact and engage with those whom society tells us are not worthy of our time, efforts, or worry.

I needed a pick-me-up after listening to scratching my ear drums out while Ass-Hat Anderson continued his hate-filled monologue.  Where have you seen pastors, churches, or faith communities responding in a positive manner towards the refugee crisis that continues to unfold in Syria, throughout the Middle East, and in Europe?

Refugees, Poverty, and Terrorism

As I was settling into my hotel room in Richmond Friday night I turned on the television to see the terror unfolding live in Paris.  Unpacking my running shoes and not too-short running shorts went to the back burner as the world watched the tragic events unfold. As anchors and experts tried to make sense of the unfolding chaos my social media streams were filled with petitions for prayer, calm, and solidarity with our oldest allies.  Facebook profile pictures quickly turned into Eiffel Towers and French flags.  Instagram became a platform where the world united in prayer.  The world came together to ensure that the people of France were undoubtedly aware that they were not alone in this tragedy.

On Sunday morning our church prayed for the people of France as I am sure most churches did.  The United Methodist Church issued statements.  The president of the World Council of UMC Bishops, Warren H. Brown, Jr., said the following:

“Let us be in prayer for Paris and the people of France. These events have impacted them in the way September 11, 2001, grieved the U.S. Also, please pray for communities around our world that will not make the news, but cringe under the threat of violence.”

Social media quickly reminded us that while France was hit in the gut in the most tragic of manners there are still communities around the world that we should be in prayer with and aligning ourselves beside.  These communities are in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and even in the United States.

The Middle East has been plagued by violence and terror for much of my life.  I do not really remember a time when our nation was not involved at one point or another in some form of military action in that region.  Refugees are pouring out of Syria with one of the last nations willing to take them in, France, closing their boarders

Africa is a continent that has been ravaged by civil war, famine, and outside exploitation.  Like the Middle East, I do not remember a time in my life when Africa was not in need of international assistance.  We are willing to adopt children on a monetary level but what about seeing to it that the infrastructure and systems need for longterm change are in place?

Asia is a continent that offers the world one of a kind cuisine.  It is also a continent that is constantly exploited for cheap electronics and dollar store trinkets manufacturing.  We all agree that sex-trafficking, slave labor, and poor environmental conditions need to be addressed but we need our latest iDevice and Banana Republic belts manufactured at the cheapest price possible.

I wrote a few weeks ago about a county in The United States, McDowell county West Virginia, that has been torn apart by an economic disaster which as led to a humanitarian crisis that most people only expect to see in Third World nations.  Those people, we often say, should just move or find a job.  Those people have become the butt of jokes and iconic stereotypes for most of our country.

What do we (the Church, Christians, Americans, individuals) do in the face of refugees, poverty, and terrorism?  Over the past weekend we have seen the best and worst in international support for France.  While some have rallied in prayerful support others are arguing that this is just another example of why we need every citizen armed with assault rifles.  While the POTUS stated that the US would begin accepting refugees from Syria, people who are literally fleeing for their lives, governors and political pundits began playing using these people as a political punching bag.  All of this is going on while most of the nation is unaware of the consequences associated with their newest tech device or  the desperate need in Appalachian America as winter is quickly approaching.

What are we to do a Christians in the face of these staggering situations?  What are we to do as a Church? 24 governors so far have stated they will not allow Syrian refugees to resettle in their states (they need to be re-educated on how federal law supersedes local law but that’s for someone else to do). It frightens me that governors of states are quickly allowing fear to paralyze them from doing what is right.  These governors are the same people (for the most part) who when it comes time for re-election will quickly be lining up pandering to local churches about how they are the candidate who will most uphold the “Christian values” that most voters claim influence their vote.

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What is the role of the church here?  What is the role of the church in addressing terrorist attacks, refugees & famine, human-trafficking, and poverty right under our noses?

Karl Barth on Prayer

The obvious and easy answer is prayer.  Praying for the people dealing with terror attacks, displaced by violence and lack of food, those who are held in sexual bondage, and the people we call neighbor.  But more than that this is another opportunity where the Church and local churches can stand up and be the light that we are called to be.  We can stand up without apology and say you are welcome here.

To the person who is hurt or afraid: “We will care for you.”

You who has been displaced and are unsure of where to go now: “We have room. You are welcome here.”

You who are hungry: “We have plenty, come and share.”

You who has been sold to the highest bidder and reduced to a piece of disposable property: “we love you and your Father loves you.”

To our neighbor who is in desperate need: “We will serve you.  We will help you. We love you.”


We have an obligation to treat these groups as more than political punching bags that we turn to when we are in need of a poll boost.  It is time that the Church and local church lives up to the standard set for us by the One who we claim the be disciples of.

“It’s sincerely hopeful and inspiring to see so many people in the U.S. vocalizing their willingness to step up and open…”

Posted by Jamie The Very Worst Missionary on Monday, November 16, 2015

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,o what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Finding Hope

I was reading an article on this morning how parts of West Virginia have become “ground zero or America’s alarming epidemic of opioid addiction.”   Desperately people are trying to fight this epidemic but often it is a losing battle.  Below is a response to the article.  It is my response, my cry to God, and my prayer.  My family is from West Virginia.  I went to school in West Virginia.  I met my wife in West Virginia. West Virginia is not a fly-over state, butt of a joke, or statistic to me.  The state, the people, and their story is part of who I am.  


WV State Welcome

Where is hope found?  The easy answer for me and for most “churchy-folk” is in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  We see hope in the way God took on human form and said that no longer would sin separate us from the divine.  It might seem weird to say that hope is found in Jesus’ death but it is there.  He turned to the man next to him, and in an act of mercy and grace offered the man forgiveness for a life of sin.  Even while facing is own death Jesus offered hope and forgiveness.  Then in His resurrection we see that when we take on Jesus’ life and death, that we too can share in His resurrection.  New life, an eternal life offered to us with no strings attached, with our creator where all of our sin, illness, and short-comings are no more.

Hope is something that when in the right situation can seem to be abundant.  It is easy of me to know that even on my worse day I can have hope that the days or even moments to come will be better than my last.  It’s easy for me to have hope that my son’s life will be better than mine.  It’s easy for me to read the Bible and see the story of hope because in my own life my good days have outnumbered the bad days.

My new acquaintance JR was eight years old when he first heard about Oxycontin, fifteen when he got his first opioid prescription and eighteen when his mom first sat him down and shot him up on his birthday.

“She said she did it because she knew I’d be doing it,” he said. “You know, she wanted to make sure I did it right.”

What happens when hope is lost?  It sounds impossible but there are places in the world where people have lost so much or have had their bad days outnumber the good days that hope is nowhere to be found. Places that come to mind for most of us are in the “third world”.  Places we might see on a children’s aid organization advertisement.  Images of babies with distended bellies and flies all around show us that hope is gone in parts of the world.

“But you give just $XX per month you can bring hope.”

These organizations do great work and it is through them that the Holy Spirit is at repairing broken hearts and building hope in communities that have been desperately in need.

But what about closer to home?  Last month I spent a week in Iaeger, WV.  This one of the poorest communities in the United States.  I met a mother who had just had her power and water turned off, and it was the end of the month which meant that her food stamps had run out for the month.  This meant that not only were her 3 children going to literally be cold and in the dark but that also they would now be hungry.  Thankfully there are people like Diane and the Little Sparrows Ministries who are working tirelessly to mend these conditions and bring hope to communities that seem to have been forgotten by their neighbors.

Photo Credit:

When there is a power vacuum what fills that void can often be the last thing that is needed in the situation.  In West Virginia the hole left by the lack of hope has been filled by addiction.  Prescription pain pills are quickly becoming not only an easy source of income but also a source of hop.

“You could take $1,500 down there,” JR said, “pay for your doctor’s appointment and all your prescriptions, hotel for a night, and you can come back up here and sell 180 thirties in less than a day for $5,400.”

Not only are you able to provide a source of income but you are also able to find a source to get high and leave the hopelessness you feel behind (at least for a brief period of time).

So where is the church in all of this?  When I was visiting Iaeger I noticed there were churches all over the place.  From downtown Iaeger to the hollers on the outskirts of town and into the mountains, every flavor of Christianity was present.  With churches every mile or so (I will do a better count when I am back in April) why is there such a large presence of hopelessness?  A feeling of “this is the life I inherited from my parents, and this is what I will pass onto my children.”

I think the church should be the presence and the Holy Spirit should be the power filling the vacuum in Iaeger, WV and the surrounding communities.  The local church has the opportunity to bring real hope, the hope found in Jesus Christ to these areas.  And with this hope comes a renewed spirit to overcome any circumstance or situation one is faced with.

I hope you will join me in praying for the people of Iaeger, WV and the surrounding areas.  I hope you will join me in praying for the local church there.  That the leaders of these churches be inspired by the Holy Spirit to move in their own communities and begin to battle opioid addictions and bring hope to people who feel like the world has forgotten about them.


I hope you will join me in praying for our congregation here in Chesapeake.  We want to strengthen our partnership with the Little Sparrows Ministries. We want to bring hope.  We want to the Holy Spirit to work in us, filling us with hope, that we might take that hope and share it.  We want to find hope, and in finding hope we want to share it.

Dying With Your Own Kind

It was a pretty good Thursday morning.  I went to a middle school prayer breakfast, submitted my application to graduate from WTS and my thesis proposal, and finally found my local NPR station here in Chesapeake.  Better yet, the local NPR station is not in the middle of a pledge drive so I was able to dive right into the latest episode of All Things Considered.

The episode was titled ‘Being With People Like You Offers Comfort Against Death’s Chill’.  The story starts out about a man who had the idea of building a retirement community in Florida marketed towards Indian-Americans who are nearing retirement age.  The idea is pitched and investors lined up and then the market collapse of 2008 happened.  The project stumbles for a while but then something no one expected to happened did happen: the community began to sellout at prices above what the market values were indicating at a fast rate.

How does a retirement community in a state where you can’t walk down the street without seeing one flourish in the midst of a nation real estate crisis?  Skip ahead now towards the end of the story (not really you should listen to it but for the purposes of writing this post I will).

“No matter who you are, you will experience a deep primal desire to withdraw.”

“Is it animal nature to get a little bit racist as death approaches?”

When death is on our minds we like or want to be around those who are most like us.  It might not be intentional but  nationalistic tendencies and racial lines become much more prevalent.  Why is this?  Is this our attempt to delay death?  Psychologists  think that we are diving into our own category, making us feel more significant and giving us the illusion that we are some how controlling something that we have no control over.

Does dying with our own kind translate into the church too?  Could the primal desire to be grouped with “our own kind” explain why it at times our faith communities are divided more so by age life stage groups?  Could this explain why tension between age groups in faith communities can seem to be more prevalent  than it should be?  Don’t read this as me saying that those who are on the downward side of their lives are “the problem” in the church or that their voices are unwanted.  But maybe we can see just for a minute how this could have an impact on our local faith communities.

“Don’t change that because it has always been like that” could be interpreted as, “please don’t change that because it gives me comfort or changing it will remind me that this community will be moving on when I am gone.”

“We have ALWAYS served coffee this way, why should be change it now!?” could be translated as, “this my closest friends and I always enjoyed this time together.  They’re no longer here and if it’s changed then their memory might be lessened.”

So what do we do with this?  Do we just accept that the church has become (for some) a place where they can gather with like minded people to die? No, I don’t think that’s the case but I do think there is a bit of truth to that.  Maybe this means that for those of us who are advocating for change in churches where change often comes with drawn out committee meetings and hurt feelings, we should be aware that some of the things we are advocating to be changed are actually meaningful to others.  While we don’t see the big deal about changing how coffee is served or the order of a worship service for some those changes are challenging the very things that provide comfort in a time of uncertainty and fear of the unknown.

Why Keep it a Secret – Healing the Leper

Every Sunday I meet with a group of high school seniors to study the Bible.  It seems pretty simple on the surface but the purpose of our time together is to explore Jesus’ ministry and to determine how His ministry is relevant for a young adult preparing to go off to college.

We have all seen the memes and movies about college professors slapping down their Christian students.  There is a popular misconception that most college campuses are hostile towards their Christian students.  While I do not believe this to be the case, I do think it is my responsibility to prepare our students with the ability to articulate their faith to those who may not hold the same values or beliefs in addition to being able to articulate their faith beyond Sunday School stories and illustrated Bibles.

One of the toughest tasks for me is to anticipate the questions students will ask.  The “why” questions can jump all over the place and for the most part I can anticipate them pretty well.  But then there are the times when “I really don’t know, I’ll have to get back to you on that one” is the only answer I have.  And that answer, “I don’t know”, is in my opinion more responsible than making something up that is total BS.

Over the coming months I am going to post up our “why” questions that I’m unsure of and try to find an answer for everyone.


Mark 1.40-45 is a healing story focusing around a socially outcast character: the leper.  Lepers during this time were ritually impure and thus not welcome in Jewish society.  They lived on the margins and were often on the outskirts of town.  According to Leviticus 13 & 14 there are two major stipulations surrounding lepers:

  1. their impurity was contagious, and
  2. only a priest could cleanse them.

As we worked through this scene last Sunday, someone asked as we were almost out the door (I almost made it!) why did Jesus tell the man to keep his healing a secret?  Why did Jesus tell the man not to tell anyone but instead tell the priest that Jesus had made the man clean?

It’s a great question.  We often hear that we need to shout our faith from the mountain tops.  Our faith is like a light that we should not keep hidden under a bushel (see Matthew 5.16).    So why then is Jesus telling this man to keep his mouth shut?  Why keep it a secret?

To answer this question we must first understand the context in which Jesus was working.  Jesus was not teaching in churches or performing healings among faithful believers.  He was more often than not working with those on the margins of Jewish society which means that he would have been working in direct “competition” (similar to how some churches today see working with one another) with the Jewish priestly class.  Jewish priests during this time oversaw and ensured that the community followed the purity codes as laid out in Leviticus 13 & 14.  The priests were responsible for ensuring people were ritually clean before entering the Temple.

leperJesus’ act of cleansing in this story is a direct challenge to not only priestly authority but also to the community hierarchy established by the Temple.  Jesus cleansing this man is telling the former leper, the priests, along with the entire community that no longer would those who were being kept outside the community remain on the outside.

In verse 44 Jesus says, “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”  Rather than confronting those who were keeping this man on the fringes of society by being a witness against him the man goes public.

So there’s my response.  Jesus wanted the healed man to confront those who had kept him on the margins of society.  A warning shot that God was doing some serious work and that this work was going to turn the entire hierarchy of the world on its head.

Now I have another question for you all, what then can we take from this?  Do we proclaim to the world when the marginalized are “healed” or do we confront those who kept them on the margins?

Kim Davis, Ashley Madison – Where Do We Go Now?

kim davis

Over the past few weeks the internet has been all a buzz with leaked Ashley Madison usernames and credit card numbers from thousands of unfaithful husbands and wives, and the news that bigotry and intolerance the name of Jesus is alive and well in the Bible-belt.  It has indeed been a busy week on the internet.

madison pastorIt has been speculated that 400 pastors would be forced to at the very least consider resigning in the weeks after their emails and/or credit cards were found to be associated with user profiles on a website used to facilitate extramarital affairs.  This scandal (for lack of a better term) gained even more ground when it was discovered that Josh Duggar, moral compass for the Family Research Council, and Christian vlogger Sam Radar were publicly outed as being among those who had been receiving services from Ashley Madison.

Fast forward to this week when the internet blew up once again as circuit court clerk and born again Christian Kim Davis took up the mantle of “Biblical Marriage” in an effort to deny same-sex couples the right to be married. This legal battle had been put to bed by the Supreme Court in June and while churches can choose who is and who is not allowed to be married by it’s clergy, the role of court clerk does receive that same discretion.

So there it is.  Again in a matter of weeks, 2 examples of Christians standing up for Jesus against what appears to be just another step in the liberal downfall of America.  Again, in the national media, examples that Christians who preach that they are the moral compass of family values have crashed and burned, and Christians who think that same-sex marriage will be the downfall of society all the while seeing no problem with a third or fourth marriage are representing ALL Christians in a national light.

For better or worse this is the face of Christianity in America.  And in all honesty it makes me tired, depressed, and exhausted.  I serve a church where I am told weekly that people would love to see more “young people” in the church.  Often my response is “me too” or “let’s brainstorm how we can make this happen”.  But more and more as I am seeing these news stories in my social media feeds I am realizing more and more that the churches well-known PR problem is bigger than we thought.

Kim Davis, Josh Duggar, Sam Radar and the 400 Ashley Madison pastors maybe well meaning disciples of Jesus Christ.  They may have done great work in the name of Christ in the past.  The problem is that when their bad PR makes it on the evening news, a middle schooler’s Facebook feed, or into my inbox all that good work goes down the drain.

I am frustrated and exhausted explaining to people that illusive millennials that churches seem unable to attract are not interested in a church where scandal and bigotry are the national headline.  And while you maybe shaking your finger at me right now saying, “marriage is between 1 man and 1 woman” you’re entitled to that but remember that for the overwhelming majority of young people you are trying to bring to your church that assertion is not their belief.

If you think all of this negative national attention does not effect you or your local church, I’d love to hear how you plan on engaging a demographic that sees the issue of same-sex marriage and unfaithful moral crusaders as a deal  breaker when even considering returning to the church.


Late Night Thoughts

Maybe it is because there has been a lot of change in my life over the past few months or maybe it is because I am drinking too much church coffee, but for the past few weeks I have not been able to fall asleep.  I find my mind begin to race with all the things that still need to be done from the day.  Things like returning emails to people from church or that pile of crap on my desk that I have been avoiding.

In an effort to clear my mind and hopefully get some sleep I think it is time to work through some of these thoughts.  Not all of them are worth the effort (like the dishes still in the sink or the yard that is a few days past needing to be mowed) and those are not the things I am thinking about at 10, 11, 0r 12 o’clock.

Around this time of the year families are making their last minute school year preparations.  Students are purchasing new notebooks, shoes, clothes, and backpacks.  Parents are eagerly awaiting the return of some normalcy to their daily routines.  This is a stressful time of the year.  And for the church similar things are occurring.  Sunday school curriculum are being prepared, events and trips are being planned, and a new year in the life of the church (but it isn’t really the Church New Year) is about the be underway.

All of these preparations lead to concerns that maybe we are not quite ready.  Do our kids have the right school supplies?  Were those $250- shoes too much for our family budget?  Do the church staff really know what they are doing?

This last question leads to emails and coffee time discussions.

“Does the new youth guy really know what our kids need?”

“We really need more “young” people in our church.”

“I wish those kids would stop running around!”

“You want me to lead Sunday School? I don’t think I can do that.  You see I’ve been in my Sunday School class for quite some time now and couldn’t possibly consider leaving now.”

“Ugh, we got out of worship late again! Why can’t that preacher keep the service to 1 hour?! He is always over by 5 minutes”

These conversations are what I’ve been thinking about lately.  And I do not think that its because I of my lack of equipping for youth ministry.  I know what I lack and where, and I pray that the Holy Spirit does some work in those areas for me.

What I worried about is that more often that not, it seems that churches want to have a congregation FULL of teenagers and young adults but do not want to make room for them.  For example, we want to a have a vibrant and full children and youth Sunday School program but the majority of youth and children’s pastors are scrambling this week to fill vacancies for groups that will begin meeting in 2 weeks.  And is it really a bad thing to encourage children to have fun going to church?  Aside from the beach, church is Camden’s favorite place to go.  We encourage him to have fun there.  Which again, makes me scratch my head as to why you wouldn’t want children enjoying church.

What I am worried about is when it comes to a worship service going late, is that really such a bad thing? And when we complain about this openly and loudly what are we saying to those around us (possibly visitors and teenagers)? Are we saying that we love church only when it fits into our schedule? Or that we could only imagine devoting exactly 1 hour a week (unless we get out early because that’s even better than getting out on time) to worshiping God?  How does that then translate into what a teenager is hearing?
These are the questions and conversations that are keeping me up at night.  And I know that some of this is me over analyzing small potatoes and making small things into big things.  But at the very least, I need to figure these things out so I can get some rest.

Removing the Gospel From Our Preaching

I subscribe to many blogs but read few.  Sometimes when an post title catches my eye or doesn’t get burried in my email inbox I’ll take a read.  There are two blogs I read regularly: Jason’s Tamed Cynic blog and Tony Jones’ Theoblogy.  These two gentlemen have been very influential in my theological development.  I take their theologian and book recommendations seriously.  

Yesterday Tony posted about a college chaplain, Dr. Randy Beckum, at MidAmerica Nazarene University, who was demoted because of something he said during his weekly chapel sermon.  If demotion due to something while preaching was the overwhelming church norm, Jason would be in BIG trouble.  The gist of the sermon was that there is a serious problem between America’s fixation of guns and war, and our inability to identify heros.  I am not suggesting that our military members are not heros, because they are.  They stand up for those who are oppressed around the world, and for me, that is a heroic act.  But somehow we (a nation) have become obsessed with war and guns.  This obsession has slowly made its way into the church too.  And this obsession runs dangerously close to be in direct conflict with the proclaimation made by Christians that Jesus is Lord over everything.

Last year I wrote a post for Jason’s blog while he was vacationing and if you missed it you can read it here.  I want us (the American Church) to realize that our loyalties lay with God over anything and everything.

photo credit: ATL Malcontent

photo credit: ATL Malcontent

Our American-Christian identity has begun to focus more on the American part, to the point that the American-Christian identity has little in common with the Jesus that put the Christ in Christian.  All too often the gun rights fight is equated as a God given right to bear arms, and while owning guns for sport or self-defense in my opinion is not a bad thing (especially after watching The Walking Dead), I find it hard to imagine Jesus packing an AR15 or Glock 9mm as he entered into Jerusalem on the back of a colt. After all, remember that it was that parade into Jerusalem where Jesus called out the political and religious establishment to the point that the nationalism he was challenging killed him.

What I find really interesting from Tony’s post is the school at which Dr. Beckum serves. MidAmerica Nazarene University’s mission and vision statements are as follows:
“A transformative university that nurtures Christlike community, pursues academic excellence, and cultivates a passion to serve.” And, “to impact the world for Jesus Christ through servant leaders recognized for their excellence, integrity, and spiritual vitality.”
Based on MidAmerica’s mission and vision statements, one would assume that the University would align itself with Christ’s leadership and be willing to put creed before country, which is what ALL Christian’s do when they take their bapstimal vows.  Instead here is how MidAmerican’s mission and vision statemens should read:
america-jesus-4“A transformative university that nurtures Christlike community, pursues academic excellence, and cultivates a passion to serve.” And, “to impact the world for Jesus Christ through servant leaders recognized for their excellence, integrity, and spiritual vitality unless it irritates, pisses off, or twists the panties of generous alumni donors.”
This is an issue that will continue to plague (American) chuches and Christian universities as along as we continue to combine the cross and the flag.  Patriotism is a wonderful thing.  I am blessed to live in a country where I have the freedom to write this post without fear of men in black suits breaking down my door and taking me away.  But, I am worried if we are getting close to the point where lyrics like, “Lift high the cross” will be replaced with “Lift high the flag”.

Emergence Christianity in a Post Modern World


As I prepare to finish my time at Wesley Theological Seminary I am exploring the ECM’s role within the larger Church.  Last week I looked at what defining characteristics could be applied to the ECM and over the coming weeks I am going to give a brief timeline of the beginnings of the ECM, and examine the ECM in practice.  My findings are but a small sketch of the overall ECM in the United States.  These findings should not be considered final because the ECM is still in it’s infancy when considered within the history of Christianity.  This week I want to examine how the ECM is influenced by a post-modern view of the world.

A Post-Modern View

The ‘post-modern’ view of the world is one that, according to John Caputo, pays attention to all narratives and acknowledges that all narratives matter. It is in these narratives that an organization or community finds it’s direction. This view of the world, allows for many views of the world, as many views as their are people. Knowledge and not authority is power, and the desire to objectify our reality is abandoned. It is through this view that Emergence Church has taken shape.
Stanley Grenz lists “contours of the post-modern Gospel”. The first is, ‘post-individualistic’. The community is the priority. God exists within the community, and the church no long exists within the community and has not become the community. Second, the soul and body are united, as well as mind and matter. People within the community are a unified whole, rather than a collection of individuals. Finally, the accumulation of knowledge is not the ultimate goal for the community. The purpose of life is attainment of wisdom, specifically ‘biblical wisdom’. Doctrines show a community how to live life but ultimately the goal is not to simply create ‘just doctrines’.

Flat Is Flat

So then, what is the result of ‘post-modern’ Christianity? How does this world-view change or affect the mission of the ECM? A major, if not the most significant effects on the ECM of the ‘post-modern’ view is the flat nature of church leadership structures. Flat meaning the community itself leads and makes decisions rather than the top-down method that is favored by many institutionalized churches. This is where the ‘priesthood of all believers’, one of the hallmarks of Luther’s theses that has yet to be embraced by many institutionalized protestant traditions.
A flat structure of leadership and organization results in a cultural shift from what the modern era has presented. This shift gives us a bottom-up, or grassroots, way in which ideas are cultivated and presented. The result is a cultural shift within organizations. The dissemination of information and ideas shifts. Within this style of leadership pastors and other community leaders must push back against their own insecurities and begin to listen. They must listen the members of the community and those outside of their community, so that all parties involved will be able to learn and grow with one another. When the time is appropriate a leader may use the skills they have when, and only when, it is their turn to do so.

Crowdsourcing is a way in which ECM leadership can gain information and information can be received. As much as we like to think, we are not experts on all matters that we must be involved in. Members within ECM communities utilize the wisdom of crowds in the ‘post-modern’ worldview. This is where open source information along with seeking out experts within the community can be to the advantage of leadership as well as the community. The knowledge or education a pastor has is not a trump card. The pastor, in this model, is not the ‘smartest’ person in the room. Google, YouTube, and internet has given free and instant access to anything and everything that has ever been taught or studied. Everyone within the community has access to this information and is encouraged to use it.
Social-Media-IconsSocial media has been a power player in the movement towards the crowd sourcing of information. Social media has resulted in an increasingly connected world. A world that is as connected as we are today allows for the spread of information to happen almost fast than the news or data can be created. An example of this occurred in Virginia during the earthquakes that struck the central region of the commonwealth. The news of the earthquake travelled north to the Washington, D.C metropolitan region quicker than the earthquake could travel in the same direction.

Brief Post-Modern Critique

A problem that arises in this ‘post-modern’ view is that because of our over connectedness and the theories surrounding crowdsourcing, it can be difficult for Christians to wrestle with the fact that we know more about our surroundings and the world in which we live, but that even with all of this information we will never know everything there is to know about God. In the ‘post-modern’ view of the world, Christians are called to be lifelong learners. As lifelong learners, we acknowledge that we do not know everything and we continually seek information and to learn more. Phyllis Tickle says that Christianity is not a math problem, with a right or wrong answer. Christians in this view then ground their beliefs in Jesus’ character and nature, then move to apply what they have learned in a more broad sense knowing that every subject or question will not be answered or addressed.