This morning I stumbled across Billy Corgan’s “faith” blog (Twitter is a wonderful thing).

Being an artistic “child” of the 90s, I have a certain soft spot for Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins. They’re responsible for some amazing musical/emotional moments, some of which will always be hardwired into my soul.

It’s also been refreshing to watch, from a distance, Billy Corgan’s journey through faith and spirituality, which really seemed to break through with his brief project of 2002 – 2003, “Zwan“. Billy is just one of those interesting guys in rock and roll, equal parts pretense and honesty, brashness and vulnerability (not to mention he was a neighborhood “homey” from Wrigleyville). For all his faults, he wasn’t afraid to put his search out there for people to see, and that means a lot to me as a fellow “pilgrim” and musician.

So I was glad to find his blog. I make no claims to know exactly where Billy is, faith-wise. There certainly seems to be an acknowledge of the “One God” (and I assume Billy agrees his name is Yahweh), and occasionally Jesus gets thrown in for some extra good measure, but there’s also a lot of “everything else” in there as well: Native American/First People spirituality, some pan-Eastern approaches. It’s definitely a bit “Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink”.

At one point he says this: “Jesus Christ never said to build a church, so enough said about the God system. The real God machine is you. God made you to know to understand, to feel, to grow, to enjoy, to remember. He did not make you to grovel at the feet of another human… Man is lost.”

I had two immediate reactions. First, from a Christian worldview, Billy, you are so close! Yes, God made us to know and understand and feel and grow and enjoy and remember. A thousand times yes! I believe that God’s message to us (through Christ) is one of deep affirmation and love of who we are at our most basic level. It is an affirmation of our humanity (as part of redeemed creation).

But I have to push back (Billy, are you listening? Ha.) on his second point, specifically that Jesus Christ never said to build a church. Yes, in a sense Christ never said to  build a church, and if you read the gospels from an ahistorical, non-contextualized point of view, you can throw all kinds of things into Jesus’ mouth (a lot Christians are experts at this, by the way). Because, even though Jesus never said to build a church, the assumption throughout the entire bible–and the context that Jesus was speaking in–was that God would always have a people for himself to help bring about the redemption of the creation. Jesus never said to build a “church” (how about the definition of church as “Called-Out-Ones”) because, um, he was speaking to the original “church” (called the nation of Israel!).

Simply put, rejecting “church” is like rejecting Jesus. You can’t divorce one from the other. Now, the expression of “church” is another topic altogether, and much more fluid and creative. But unfortunately, Christianity can never, ever be reduced to a hyper-individualized, atomized faith experience. It’s simply another consumer product of the west, masked in a bunch of new age Eastern pop mysticism. You have to have others. You have to participate in the body. You have to be part of the “Called-Out-Ones.”


The Basics, Pt. 1

Was thinking this afternoon: what are the basics of Christianity, of discipleship, of apprenticeship to Jesus?

I’m sure everyone has their lists, so here’s mine:

  1. Allegiance to the risen Christ. Christ is king, to the exclusion of all other pretenders. The pretenders in the 1st and 2nd centuries were Herod and the Roman emperor(s). Christ’s lordship was revolutionary (though not political or militant) and subversive. As I’ve written before, today’s pretenders are our middle-class, consumer culture, and nationalism. Christ claims allegiance over all, and demands that we submit our decisions to his criteria or constitution.
  2. Service to the least of these. Best example would probably come from Matthew 25. Christ paints a pretty stark (maybe even bleak?) picture of who has served him, who has “seen him”. You can’t read the gospels (or the Psalms, or Isaiah, or the prophets) without understanding God’s and Christ’s pretty serious orientation towards the poor, the marginalized.
  3. Communal orientation. As one of my former pastors used to like to say, “If you are looking for a lone ranger religion, don’t look at Christianity. Community is not an option.” I was reading through Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, and over and over again he seems to be saying, “I am free to do just about anything, but if my freedom messes with a brother or sister’s conscience in any way, then I will stop it. I will look at others first, rather than assuming the primacy of my own opinions and desires.” Individualism is the currency of the west. Sometimes I’m not sure if we can even begin to understand what it means to be “the people of God.”
  4. One story of salvation. This is where I’d probably cause a bit of a stir, but I’m beginning to believe more and more that the “one plan of salvation” through Abraham accurately captures God’s plan of salvation. For now, I guess the implications are (1) Israel matters. You can’t read the Old Testament and just read it as a “preamble” to the New Testament. God’s plan was always to work salvation through Israel for the rest of the world, and Christ carried it to its fulfillment through his death on the cross. (btw, this isn’t new theology, just new to evangelicals) (2) Relatedly, I guess you have to take what God wants from his people, as revealed in the whole of scripture (check the prophets, especially). That’s what it means to be the people of God.
  5. Growth is a part of the power of the Spirit. Being a Christian means being a disciple, which means living under discipline. Which means engaging the timeless practices of God’s people. Check here and here for some ideas. It’s not negotiable.

What’s missing? A lot of “doctrine”, I suppose. Was wondering this morning (obviously, I lot of wondering today): How much doctrine is in the bible? I think for a long time people assumed that Paul (and even the gospel writers) were writing church doctrine out. I’m not so sure anymore. I think Paul was trying to keep his little “flocks” from drifting into either extreme errancy and immorality or drifting back into an exclusionary, ethnic-based “Jew-only” faith. I think he was improvising according to the needs that confronted him (based on his knowledge of God-through-Torah, his experience of Christ, and his awareness of the Spirit).

I’m assuming a lot of love. I’m assuming the sacraments. I’m assuming living under the authority of the bible, being a people of the book.

So there. More later.

The Liturgical Revolution

This is from a church here in Tallahassee; some friends of mine go here.

St. Peter’s is (in my opinion) doing a great job of reaching folks in their 20s and 30s. As an evangelical, I daresay it’s even shocking. My evangelical “programming” has told me for virtually ten years that folks want loud music and entertaining gatherings full of contemporary markers (U2 songs and “Lost” references, anybody?).

Anglicanism says otherwise. It says that a lot of (at least white) people my age and younger want gatherings that are marked by:

  • a sense of history
  • mystery
  • peace
  • discipline
  • structure

What a mind-blowing thought! My only questions circle around the way that humble traditions and “outfits” have grown up over the years to become more and more ornate and (I daresay) expensive. Why the exaltation of Roman culture? For all the pull that Anglicanism, history and tradition has on me, I feel challenged by the apparent “freezing” of church culture in a particular time period.

What would a historical, yet traditional, church look like? How could you infuse tradition with appropriate current cultural items? How could you transform the “everyday” items in our lives into meaningful symbols of the shared values of our faith?

Beyond “Authenticity”

Recently, I was reading a favorite author/theologian of mine (I’m very sorry I can’t remember who it was, but if it comes to mind I’ll post it). He was discussing “sermon preparation”, and he wrote something to the effect of, “I’ll struggle through the texts and commentaries so that my congregation won’t have to.”

That really set things into perspective for me, and I was thinking about it again this morning.

A lot of the time, we enjoy the image of the Pastor as the-same-as-you person. An approachable man or woman that you can talk to and share your life with. And that’s valid; completely.

But sometimes, I wonder if we neglect the other, deeper parts of our calling, if we over-emphasize “buddy pastor” (in the same way like to hang out with “buddy Christ?).

Perhaps it’s our job to wrestle with the “deep things” — actually, if we believe it, the “deepest things” — and to find some understanding and method to this world, to our God. Authenticity is important, but I need more than authenticity when I go to a doctor. I want someone who can understand my body and give me an explanation for what’s wrong and develop a plan for me on how to get better. I want more than a friend…

… Therefore, I don’t feel ashamed about including the words theopany, justification, and sanctification in my coffee shop conversation this morning.

Where is my city?

In a book I’m reading right now, the author lists six markers of a “city”.

  1. public spaces
  2. mixed-use zoning
  3. local economy
  4. beauty and quality in the built environment
  5. critical mass
  6. presence of strangers

I’m somewhat incredulous as to how the capital of Florida can not have — what would be reasonable? — four of these markers? Where are the mixed-use zones? Where is beauty and quality in the built environment?

More thoughtfully, though, could a church actually help bring these things about? Could a community bring these things into fruition?

Convince Me

I feel like I’m on the verge of becoming a “grumpy old man” (well, let’s face it, I already am one), but I feel like I am watching the Church continue to dabble in error.

I have yet to be convinced in any form or fashion that the “multi-site” movement in the church is profitable in the long run.

Descending quickly to the bottom line, and unflinchingly showing my cards, I’ll declare that any movement to restrain the growth and development of the incarnational church is suspicious to me. Any object or paradigm that comes between the God’s children in need and the pastors who are to shepherd them is problematic, and the reason that the multi-site approach is nefarious is that — at least in part — it is predicated on the idea that the “church” exists in one community, while the “sheep” in another community.

How can this be good?

“But there are pastors who would be located in that community.” Okay, that’s good. What will they be doing? This is where the debate gets really murky, because in some cases they appear to be shepherds who take care of people, in others they will teach.

If they will teach, why not just declare the “site” a plant, and be done with it? Allow it to grow up with its own ethos, its own roots and style, its own giftedness.

Why not allow it to be free?

If the teaching will be “on screen”, then that brings a whole host of other questions. While employing the tools of culture to reach folks, “screen teaching” seems to unnecessarily cater to “passive learning” that some theologians and cultural commentators find so troubling.

In my opinion, it returns me to a similar thought I had a year ago: this is reflective of the church’s priorities. What does it say about us? Does it say we are interested in developing creative leaders and teachers, in allowing the Church to grow and flourish in localized and individual expressions? Or does it say that we are interested in control, in technology over gifts, in haste over patience.

Couldn’t the long-term health of the church be served as well by waiting another 12 – 18 months to develop the right leader for a localized, incarnational expression of the church, rather than pressing play on a DVD or a web stream?

A “Non-Update”

Haven’t posted here in a while; I’ve been processing through so many things.

By nature, I like revolution over evolution. My idea of change is an abrupt rupture. “Break it or leave it.”

I also function in three-year seasons. Any intelligent person could see it in my resume. I get restless, and I want to try something new. It’s a function of a few things, I think:

  1. My restless nature
  2. My hunger for new things
  3. My pleasure in bringing sustainable order to chaos
  4. My resistance to deep community

So I’ve been here for 3 years, and the urge is simmering, boiling and rising. I look around me, and see both evolutionary and revolutionary change. The consequences for this now are so much larger, as I have kids who are rooted and grounded, with friends of their own, but I am also a child of Abraham, following a God who calls us to leave our homes and follow him.

As far as I can see, I have one of three paths in front of me (always leave room for more, though, YHWH likes to surprise):

  • Stay and grow through this job, go deeper into community, and enjoy watching my children grow up;
  • Cut the cord and step into a more challenging leadership role (that I am simultaneously confident in and terrified of); OR
  • Cut the cord, trade in my ministry toys, and go play somewhere else.

I have been in vocational ministry for 10 years. Essentially, I have been doing the same job, though largely through passion and choice. Still, the same job?

Isn’t it time to grow? Time to stretch muscle and sinew? I’m wrestle with the fact that maybe my malaise in life has been a result of not aspiring high enough, not risking enough, rather than too much. After all, I’m not aspiring to anything that people haven’t told me before that I was capable of.

One thing is for sure; something is coming; always is…