A Remnant

A lightly edited version of a my Tweetstorm from earlier today:

1000% this:

“They contended that white evangelical churches and organizations had for decades supported a political agenda that deemed unborn lives more sacred than living black lives.”

The emerging church tried to find a third way to stay in existing churches while rejecting those churches’ old wineskins. It didn’t work. I would totally follow evangelicals younger than me who leave evangelicalism to form something new outside of it, where justice isn’t a bad word. This movement should absolutely be led by people of color. I would actually submit that white Christians should stop pastoring churches for a couple generations, at least. White people need to learn to stop being in power in this country to wean ourselves off of our feelings (conscious or otherwise) of supremacy.

Trump’s election, in hindsight, was 100% predictable. Most white people can’t abide being led by someone not of their race (and if they are male, their gender). We fought a civil war and a civil rights movement but white people never repented!

There are certain “political” things pastors need to say. Black lives matter. Regardless of how you voted in 2016, supporting Trump now is wrong. The church needs to side with immigrants and refugees. LGBT people are also created in the image of God. If 80% of the church leaves, so be it. But a church that ignores injustice is no church at all.

Lost Mandate

Newt Gingrich is warning us that if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up in an atheist (or) Islamist country by the time his grandchildren (or, to be personal, my children, since they are about the same age) grow up. Now, not to be snarky here (ok, maybe a little), but I’ve never exactly viewed Newt as the Righteous Leader of the Church. But out of charity, I will give him the benefit of the doubt here.

That being said, my question to the Church (not to Newt) is this: what great things has Christendom done for the world which makes an atheist (I will set aside Islamist as that has exactly 0% chance of happening, despite tea party imaginings otherwise) future something to fear?

Is it the fact that we have turned the faith of the one who stated that how we treat the “least of these who are members of my family” reflected our relationship with himself into one solely focused on getting people into heaven and to hell with how they live on earth?

Or perhaps it’s the fact that we have turned the Gospel into a get rich quick scheme. Or a therapeutic treatment to allow us to live our Best Life Now? Or perhaps even that we’ve turned it into just another consumer good to be purchased by its adherents?

And don’t forget the fact that we have allowed his name to be known more for the people we hate and the stridency of our rhetoric than for the love of a God who would live with us and die on the cross to complete his plan for the forgiveness of every last person ever born.

To be perfectly honest, the church in the era of Christendom has lost its mandate to lead. In many ways, I welcome a future run by just about anyone OTHER than us, so that we, as a church, can stop worrying about how we’re going to prevent someone else from screwing things up (in a different way from how we’ve done it), and can focus once again on how we can be a witness to a screwed up world (there’s a better word for that, also featured in a Dead Milkmen song if you want to Google it, but I will refrain from using it out of respect for those who are already offended by my post). A witness of love, justice, compassion, and hope. Not of fear, anger, and uncertainty.

A Vision for the Future

What’s that scripture about “without vision the people perish?”

That’s pretty much how I have felt the past several months – like I am perishing. There’s been a war going on inside myself between the easy path – just go with the evangelical flow and live the typical American Christian lifestyle, which with three young kids is – trust me – very tempting, and the deeper path I believe God has revealed to me over the course of the past couple of years through any number of his servants who are already walking down that path.

But instead of choosing one vision or the other, I have been basically adrift – unwilling to “settle” for the easier path, but afraid that the deeper path is too difficult for a family to pursue. So I’ve been stuck in neutral, and in-and-out of depression because of it.

This is, of course, compounded by the fact that no-one – not my wife, not my church, not my pastor – no-one – is really thinking about the same kinds of things I am right now. It makes no sense to them. Why would I want to go to an Episcopal church on occasion? Why do I find the communion administered at my church lacking? Why would I choose to recite rote prayers at regular intervals? What’s with all of the candles and the sign of the cross? And am I crazy to suggest that perhaps we should be trying to find a way to live in community with other followers of Christ?

Perhaps I am crazy, but it doesn’t help that I’m the only one with this particular brand of craziness in my church.

And yet online I’ve found so many other fellow travelers. Through teachers such as Richard Rohr and Brian McLaren I’ve learned a great deal about the wealth that exists in the broader church, outside of the parochial confines of evangelicalism which largely rejected tradition in the 20th century. Which, of course, helps me feel a little more sane.

So rather than just perish, I figured it might be a good idea to try to construct a vision for what this “deeper path” might look like in my and my family’s life. To start, I wanted to lay out what it might look like in the 5-10 year time horizon. So here are my dreams:

In five to ten years, I would like to be living in the same neighborhood with a number of other families and others who are committed to a common rule of life – centered around a spiritual rhythm, engagement in the missio Dei in our neighborhood, and the pro-active embrace of Christian community for both those inside and outside of our community.

I would like to together start non-profit businesses which could act as “third spaces” for our community and the neighborhood in which we live. Instead of making people come to church, we would have the church come to them – both through these businesses and of course through our interactions with our neighbors.

I strongly desire to have my children see a faith that is active in the world – loving the poor, caring for the hurting, passionately coming to God in prayer, contemplation, and worship. A faith that welcomes all to the table, and that while seeking actively to understand the truth, is humble enough to accept those who may have different understandings without judgement, condemnation, or a need to be “right.”

Now, I can’t see a path to there at this point. I don’t know anyone else who shares this vision. I can’t imagine myself having the time to pursue this and still have any semblance of a family life. And, to be honest, I’ve had Christian community blow up in my face so many times in the past that I have a hard time believing something like this is even possible.

But for the coming year, I would like to start small.

Try to find a way for my family to serve the poor at least once a month.

Consistently pray at least the morning and evening office every day.

Find time at least once a week to sit in silence before God.

Have an extended time with God at least once a month.

Find a way to start sharing the spiritual disciplines I am learning with my wife and kids, and anyone who will listen, to be perfectly honest.

Perhaps if I just start small, then next year God will give me some more steps to take. And maybe that 5-10 year vision will have a chance of coming true after all?

Spiritual Practices in Missional Community

One of the most exciting aspects of the post-evangelical journey I have just begun is the opening of my faith to spiritual practices from parts of the Church far removed from my evangelical home base. The fact is, for the first sixteen years of my life as a follower of Jesus, my arsenal of spiritual practices was limited to two:

  1. bible study
  2. prayer

While I certainly still value those two practices, I have become aware of and come to appreciate a number of other practices which have helped me draw nearer to God. In the past year or so I have added the following practices to my tool chest:

  • contemplative prayer
  • praying the daily office
  • taize
  • candles as a means of focusing worship
  • the sign of the cross
  • meditative walks
  • recognizing God’s presense in the mundane
  • liturgy

Each of these spiritual practices has helped me draw nearer to the mystery of Christ and grow in my relationship with the triune God. As a father of three, I only wish I had the discipline to practice them more in the midst of my busy, frequently tired lifestyle.

I believe that a good missional community provides a framework for its members to pursue spiritual practices both individually and in community, drawing from the two thousand year tradition of the Church in all of its flavors – evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and so on. These spiritual practices provide the foundation for growth in Christ which allows the community to bring the church to the world.

The ‘Missional’ in Missional Community

In my previous post, I mentioned that one of the four goals of missional community was “living a missional lifestyle to befriend, love, and care for a specific group of people.”

Let me unpack that.

When I was in college, the word we used to describe what I now believe is being called “missional” was “incarnational.” In other words, Jesus incarnated – became flesh – and lived with us. He experienced all that humanity had to offer while at the same time remaining fully divine. And then he sent us out to do the same for the world around us (without the divine part).

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, the church lost track of the concept of the incarnation – the idea that Jesus and his followers should take the kingdom of God with them to a hurting world around them – and instead chose to create an alternative society which left the world. The redemption of the world was replaced by the concept of eternal fire insurance, where a faithful remnant would hold fast and try to pull as many people from the burning world as possible before it was consumed. I believe that, by and large, this is where the American church stands today.

We see the consequences of this choice all around us. Rather than seeking to reach out to people with values different from ours in love, we wage a culture war against them to “protect our children” from them. Rather than spending our resources on behalf of the poor, we build larger buildings and fancier ministries for those who are like us. And rather than taking the church into the neighborhood with the object of recruiting new citizens for the kingdom of God, we poach the already-believers as the overall membership of the church sags.

Let me step back a minute before this starts to sound like a polemic. I believe that the church in America is trying to do the best it can with what it has been given. But I also believe that God is doing something new in our midst – he is crafting new wineskins for each of us so that we can join him in the next phase of his story. It’s never comfortable to take on new wineskins, but the alternative is no wine at all, and who wants that, really?

I believe the “new wine” that Christ has for us today is a re-orientation of our “mission” away from the provision of fire insurance to a dying world. Instead, God is calling us to work along side of him and amongst the people he loves to bring redemption into a hurting world.

God has given each of us a community of people – believers and others at various places on the path – to whom we are to model the incarnational love of God. Remember, Jesus’ call was not MERELY for us to preach the Gospel to all nations, but to make disciples of them as well. Discipleship can begin far before the “moment of decision” and certainly does not end when someone prays the sinner’s prayer.

To be continued…

Missional Community

As God has led me in a new direction – post-evangelical, missional, and emerging – the reality of the disconnect between our lives as Christians in 21st century America and the lives I see modeled by Jesus, the disciples, and the early church has become ever more jarring. This is not to say that I have adopted a view which states that it is impossible to find and follow Christ as a “normal American Christian.” I am certain that God is present in the American church as He is present in His Church around the world.

But I think there’s more. We’re satisfied with the small glimpse of the kingdom of God which we allow ourselves when God wants us to experience much more of the fullness of His kingdom (remaining well aware that there is still more fullness to come when He brings about the new heaven and the new earth down the road).

So it is with this tension in mind that I am beginning to think seriously about what it might look like for myself, my family, and my friends to seek the greater presence of the Kingdom in our lives. And at least at this point, the idea I am toying with is something I am calling “missional community” (apologies to others who may have elaborated on this idea before or in better/different ways).

In my vision of “missional community,” a number of families and a number of singles would move into a neighborhood together with several goals in mind:

  • Living a missional lifestyle to befriend, love, and care for a specific group of people.
  • Pursuing community on a daily basis with others both inside and outside of the community.
  • Living common spiritual practices together to increase the depth of the members’ faith.
  • Giving sacrificially to ensure that other community members can remain in community regardless of difficult economic circumstances and that the needy outside of the community can be blessed.

I’m not quite sure that I would go as far as to call this type of community a “missional order” or a “New Monastic” one, but certainly it draws from that movement.

I’m sure I will have more to say on this topic over time, but this is just a beginning of the thought process for me. In the end, whether it comes into being is mostly a factor of whether it is God or myself who has set these thoughts in motion.

The Inverted Kingdom

Michael Spencer, talking about many examples of small, unglamorous ministries to the poor:

One day, they will be a big thing. On that day when Jesus comes to reveal his Kingdom, there won’t be any way to miss these ministries and the people who keep them going. He’ll make sure of that.

The one for whom there was no room in the inn, the one from forgotten Nazareth, the one with the unwed mother, the one whose infant skin was covered with straw and rags in a stable, the one who had no place to lay his head, the one who was the poor, the cold, the naked and the imprisoned. He will remember those ministries. I assure you.

You might consider dropping in on one of those ministries sometime. They do have one thing many big churches don’t have.

Or, to be more precise, they do have someone many big churches don’t have. And he’s not generated on a big screen or via special effects.

He’s the one I hope we’re all looking for. He’s not so hard to find, even if, in this world, he’s no big thing. Just think like Jesus, and you’ll find the way.

I can think of no better way to participate in the season of Advent than to reflect on the truth contained in these words and then act on them. Of course, Jesus said exactly as much when he stated “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” But sometimes it takes someone smacking me upside the head with a big stick of truth to really make it clear.

I need to make some changes in my life. I need to help my family make those changes as well. I need to help my church make those changes. This is not an issue of our eternal destination (although depending on one’s reading of Matthew 25, it might be). This is an issue of letting the love of Christ flow through me to a group of people he has a special concern for: the poor.

The incarnate Christ laid in a manger, helpless, homeless, and poor, in order to create a people who would live out the Jubilee lifestyle that God desired his people to live all along. But instead of being a Jubilee people, content with what we have and filled with compassion for the poor and the lost, we have become just another cog in the consumerist machine which has overtaken the world.

Unfortunately, too often I’ve chosen consumerism’s way. But it’s a dead end. I want Jesus’ way.

Help me, Lord!