Monday, May 30, 2005

Why I Want an Embracing Church

My family 1986. front row: Dad, Timothy, Mom, nephew KC, son Charlie, son Thomas. back Row: sister Marcia, niece Rena, daughter Kimberly, Laura, Me, sister-in-law Michelle, brother Keith. Missing brother Carl and nephew Shaun Posted by Hello

We introduced our Embracing Church course with personal reflections on why we were there. Here’s a version of my comments:

"My crisis of faith began when I was in graduate school studying Christian education. I was serving as a junior high minister at a large church in Nashville. This church was born out of a rather restrictive heritage, but had experienced a charismatic awakening several years earlier. They were now at the forefront of the charismatic movement. From my assessment they were beginning to become as restrictive about their charismatic experiences as they had been in the past with other issues.

But I’m in graduate school, studying theology and Bible at one of the country’s most progressive divinity schools. I didn’t agree with many of my professors’ biblical conclusions. But I tried to show my understanding of the issues while disagreeing with the conclusions.

While few of the issues were new to me, I hadn’t anticipated that the tension would affect me so profoundly. I hadn’t accounted for how my livelihood and my spiritual life depended on my making some sense of this church and this academic experience.

One reason I hadn’t anticipated the tension was that I was used to living with diversity. First, I’m African American. And as WEB DuBois put it, we Black Americans all live with twoness.

Second, I was nurtured in the Protestant Sunday Schools on military bases, where denomination meant close to nothing.

Third, I had lived for the longest time in my life in Hawaii, where the cultural salad bowl meant than everyone knew exactly who they were ethnically regardless of the mixes, we were proud of whatever we were, and we were continually learning to live together.

Which leads me to the other reason I am here. Nothing has grieved me in the Christian church as much as the lack of unity. I saw it most blatantly when I moved to Nashville 20 years ago and looked for a multiracial church. In this city of churches, multiracial congregations are still hard to find. And while the reasons for such are complicated, I still long for the reality of unity."

I didn’t mention the rest of the story evidenced by my family picture above. The pic’s almost a decade old. My dad has since left us. My kids, nephews and nieces are a lot bigger. And (depending on your accounting) we have added one, four or six grandchild(ren) to the picture.

Since the racial embracing is obvious, let me make clear that Laura and I did not marry to make a point. It was (and is) pure love, but it was a hard-fought decision, trying to anticipate possible problems for us and our children. In the end, hard-fought (not mushy) love won out. The hard-fighting hasn’t ended, though I think we’d both say it is mostly internal, along the lines of the theological tension mentioned above. The love of God and one another, and the shared mission to follow Jesus have sustained us.

Who I saw at Emergent 05

Baby Girl Becca and her mama, Jenni Posted by Hello

Funny how people want to know "Who was there?" when you go to these conventions. But at this event my strongest memories are ongoing conversations with nobody-you-would-probably-know. Still I'm not immune to star-gazing, so here's my rundown on actual connection with "stars."

Of course, I co-led the Embracing Church thing with Glandion Carney, Lillian Smith, Jay Voorhees, and Brian McLaren. I'll let you decide for yourself which ones are stars.

After our course, I was debriefing over coffee and tea in the hotel restaurant with Glandion (His Upper Room book on Job, which I edited is A Hard-Fought Hope). We're sitting there, and these two guys are staring in the window, waving frantically. Turns out it's Richard Foster of Renovare Ministries and his son Nathan. Glandion does some work with Renovare. They join us and talk about movies (mainly Kingdom of Heaven) and about Richard's crazy antics while producing serious Christian teaching videos through the years. It's family reminiscing for him and Nathan. I also commented on Richard's intro to his new Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible. I was inspired to order the Bible later.

I think it was Thursday when I walked to lunch by myself. I stepped into Provence, and walking in the other door were my friends Becca and Jenni (see above). They're stars in our lives (I'm Grandpa Tony to Becca). I opted for Subway instead of Provence and ended up running into Philip Yancey who had just spoken at the Natonal Pastors Convention where they gave out his new book, Rumors of Another World. The two of us walked two or three blocks back to the convention together. I don't remember exactly what we talked about. I was thinking about the report back to Laura who's a big Yancey-fan.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Trying to Love (Jesus and Laura) Well

TDadPete (Tony) and Laura in Florida 2004 Posted by Hello

I’ve said it before, but should probably repeat my words about me and Laura. I guess I hesitate to speak alone because I believe in community. And as a married guy, I’m fortunate to find sweet community with my wife. I know I’m fortunate. And it’s no false humility to say that I don’t deserve the patience and grace she has given to me. But if it’s all about deserving, she doesn’t deserve my grace either. Still Laura is easy to love. Not so easy to love well. Easy to love with, not easy to keep up with in love.

But my real point is: we want to follow Jesus. Yes, we too are caught up in the culture of the age. We probably watch way too much Law and Order, and spend too little time living truly to follow Jesus. But Jesus-following is never far from us. And we are not ashamed of Jesus' good news. We are simply unworthy of it. Thank God, we are not measured by our own merits.

Harp 46 at Emergent 05

I had every intention of returning to the IKON worship Wednesday night, but when I heard that Harp 46 (who I loved last year) were leading a jazznight/with spoken word type service with Brian McLaren, I had to check it out. Thank God! No one grooves like Harp 46! And at the risk of sounding racist, who’duvthunk a white girl on HARP and and a coupla Asian guys on percussion and bass could sound so funky? If it’s true that there'll be harp-playing in heaven, please, please, please let it be Harp 46!

Brian Mclaren's spoken word beat-poet opening was likewise suprisingly groove-y. From that opening he traced the Biblical story in various poetic segments. We interspersed his readings with community credal recitiations. You can find a version of Brian's creed on his site. We also followed Harp 46's inventive jazzbased arrangements of mostly familiar hymns.

Fact is this was what worship should be: so overwhelming in some way or another that it points to the worth of the Creator. These co-creators mixed sense with the sensory, intellect and emotion, teaching toward Christian formation. The teaching was healing as it drew us out of ourselves to meditate on the Creator, the creatures, the creation, and the story we find ourselves in.

Embracing Church Re-Loaded

Jay Voorhees has re-launched the Embracing Church site. The new version includes links to those of us who participated in the Critical Concerns Course at Emergent 05-Nashville. The site includes a link to Brian McLaren's provocative slides on how to discuss divisive (particulary homosexuality) issues.

Here's Jay's description of the Embracing Church site.

"For much of the history of the church we have attempted to ignore the richness of God's creation as we have banded together with folks just like us. Yet, no matter how much we try to see no difference, hear no difference, or speak no difference, we continue to exclude persons from the party.

This website is dedicated to the belief that God has created all, and welcomes all into God's midst."

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Presence of Absence

Back to the Emergent Convention. The candles at the IKON service were more than ambient. This was a Tenebrae Service (reminded me of Bach's "Christ lag in Todesbanden," and Palestrina's "Tenebrae Factae Sunt," both of which we sang in the choir at Willamette University). "Tenebrae" is Latin for "shadows," and our hosts explained that this service was a remembrance of Holy Saturday, that shadowy day between Jesus' Crucifixion and Resurrection. The symbol is of near-total darkness. The candles were all extinguished, save one. The white canvases were progressively painted fully black (during the service!) We were eventually invited to participate in the service by lighting and extinguishing our own matches, which we took home as icons.

Most meaningful to me was the poetic discription of God's presence in the absence. When I left that night, I was eager to get home to discuss the experience with Laura. I didn't get to that night, because she had more improtant issues on her mind. My need to wait made the eventual description to her that much more meaningful. You see, I was so eager to tell her about my experience that she was very present to me as I drove home anticipating the conversation. Likewise she was looking forward to me coming home to help with her more serious matters. I was present to her as she waited for me. When I actually got home, I was so focussed on what I wanted to say that I wasn't very poresent to her. So I was more present to her in my absence than I was in my physical presence. Sad, I know. But it is a way we might look at God's "absence" during Holy Saturday, not to mention all those other times we don't sense God's clear presence. Sometimes God is more present because of perceived absence. You know that Hebrews 12 passage that says "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Maybe it's the substance of things longed for, the presence of God's absence.

More About Parental Sins

Any parent worth their title feels that tinge of guilt whenever they correct a child for a transgression that they themselves struggle with. Should a father with an explosive temper never correct his son who displays the same malady? Is that father hypocritical to correct? Of course not, but we hope he will correct with the humility of a fellow struggler.

Perhaps at the end of Genesis 34, Jacob's babbling about his reputation and fear of retribution is actually a veiled admission of guilt that he has inadvertently trained his sons to react deceptively to any difficulty in their lives.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Sins of the Fathers

Dinah's dad, Jacob, makes a point to wait before reacting to the whole "violation" thing. Maybe it was that he didn't care. But maybe he cared enough to not want to react too quickly. Here's a man well versed in scheming, who eventually grew to bargain with God and then to actually be humble before God. Perhaps at this point he's humble enough to be silent before acting. Meanwhile his impulsive sons have learned well from their dad's conniving ways to get things done. So while Dinah's dad is slowly trying to act wisely, her brothers are conjuring up revenge. Poor Daddy Jacob/Israel. Just when you begin to learn a lesson, you realize that your children are following your past foolishness more ahan your current wisdom.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Is it Christian?

Night One of the Convention I missed all but the last words of Phillis Tickle’s first talk, but I made it to the IKON worship service held at Downtown Presbyterian. We walked into an ambiently dark room lit by candles and dim overhead lights. The sound of worshipful techno bathed the room. A DJ stood elevated front and center where you might expect a full choir. Also up front but on the floor were three white canvases. On the middle one was painted in black handwriting the words "Lord, If You exist, Come Among Us" (or somthing close to that) Also on the floor were two screens on which were projected scenes, perhaps from some movie of the life of Jesus. The scene faded and re-appeared. Sometimes in color, sometimes in black and white, often in negative.

After some time, a speaker introduced the IKON group and the service. I have to admit that to my North American ears, the accents of the speaker added to the mystery in the service. First the speaker clarified that IKON is not a church, that ehy are a collection of people coming togetehr to see what it might mean to follow Jesus. They hope to one day be a community and perhaps be willing to call tehmselves a church.

Then the story. A prominent Christian personality attended an IKON experience. Afterwards he was quite complimentary. He said that he enjoyed the service, but asked "Is it Christian?" The response? "Probably not, but we're trying to be."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Where's God?

My friend Jon points out the other glaring absence in Genesis 34. All this commotion going on and no-one even mentions God. Dinah's dad, Jacob, who's constantly bargaining with God, erecting stones as God-altars, and naming places for God (El- this and that), doesn't seem to consult or refer to God at all in this episode. What if he had?

A Roar for Dinah

Am I obsessing over the invisibility of Dinah? Perhaps. But I'm a dad (well, a stepdad), and I love my Little Girl, so I wonder why Jacob seems so detached from his one girl out of 12 kids. I get the cultural stuff, but culture isn't affection. Laura (my wife) wonders if Dinah is likewise rejected by her mother, Leah. I mean Leah's busy counting sons to make sure she wins the man-heir contest with her little sister, Rachel. She probably doesn't even see her daughter.

Hey Dinah needs a voice. She needs to roar. So I'm gonna try something. What if we begin to refer to everyone in this story by their relationship to Dinah. The players are Dinah's mother, father, brothers, half-brothers, "co-mothers" (what do you call the other mothers in a polygamist family?) , grandfather (Isaac), and grandmother(Rebekah), and uncle (Esau). Let's just see what happens when we let Dinah roar.

I remember when I first heard the episode that comes later in the story when Dinah’s brothers show up in Egypt years after attacking their half-brother, Joseph, and leaving him for dead. Joseph survives and has risen to the top of government. Dinah's brothers and half-brothers come to Egypt where Joseph recognizes them but they don’t know him. He sends them home to get their (his) father. As insurance, Joseph insists that one brother stay back. They choose Simeon one of Dinah full-blood brothers. When I first heard this story I felt for Simeon who got thrown in a dungeon waiting for his brothers to come back. He doesn't know that his captor is his own half-brother Joseph. What must it have felt like to wait, knowing that your brothers are rather unscrupulous anyway? Poor Simeon. But he did have memories of a moment when he and full-blooded brother Levi avenged the rape of their sister, Dinah.

The Embracing Church

We wanted our conversation on "The Embracing Church: A Spiritual Retreat on the Expansive Kingdom of God" to be bathed in worship. Lillian Smith made it so, beginning and ending each day with focus on God in community. The opening worship led us through Micah 6:1-8 from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament Beatitudes from Matthew 5. Here's our prayer response from 21st Century Africana Liturgy Resources: Worship Resources for January 30, 2005 — Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany" copyright © 2005 the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church, PO Box 340003, Nashville TN 37203-0003.

Prayer Response
Give us, O Lord, an eye for injustice — for it is only when are able to recognize injustice and feel its awful sting that we will be moved to make things right.

Give us, O Lord, a tender heart — sometimes we are too hardhearted to recognize when we have been uncaring, unfeeling, or unkind.

Grant us, O Lord, the ability to view life from the dust — all our lives we have been taught to make others proud, to be proud of ourselves, to hold our heads high, all the while missing the virtues of being poor in spirit.

Teach us, dear Lord, to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with you. Amen.
Based on Micah 6:8

Each of us then introduced ourselves and told why we were there. We invited participants to do the same in small groups. A few reported back. My favorite: "When I heard 'The Embracing Church,' I was intrigued because, although I'm a youth minister, I have to go outside the church to feel embraced. I'm in a recovery group and that's where I feel embrace."

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Dinah Who?

Of course, that whole slaughter for Dinah's sake is ironic since there is no hint of Dinah's feelings or presence in the chapter. It's about her, but she isn't present. Her brothers and father posture and scheme with her boyfriend/rapist's father and brothers, but true to the form of her life, Dinah is invisible. Back in Chapter 32, after her dad, Jacob, wrestles the angel/man/God, we're told that he (Jacob) took his wives, maidservants, and eleven sons on his journey. What about baby girl Dinah? Some versions say "eleven children" instead of "eleven sons," but that won't work 'cause Jacob has TWELVE children. Poor Dinah. Always invisible, but still able to cause a war.

Shechem's in the kitchen with Dinah

Got in trouble in Sunday morning Bible study this week. I guess I have some sympathy for (not true identification with) Shechem, whom we meet quite unpleasantly in Genesis 34. Right off the bat we hear that he violates Dinah. Depending on your Bible version, the forcefulnes of this violation is ambiguous. And in all versions the confusion intensifies immediately when we're told that Shechem loved Dinah and spoke tenderly to her. I suggested in class that perhaps the violation was against Dinah's family (father and brothers), since he didn't ASK PERMISSION before having his way with her. Perhaps this was consensual but considered a "statutory" vilolation. Glad I raised the question, I think it caused my fellow class members to see this story in more alive ways. But I'm probably wrong. More accurately, I think Shechem did force himself on Dinah (the most accurate word-for-word translations seem to suggest so. But, my sympathy for Shechem (as long as he lives) remains. I think that after the violent act, he experienced an immediate change of heart. he turns out to be a sweet guy who would do anything (including spending money, speaking tenderly, and well... agreeing to painful surgery) to gain the woman he desires. Yeah, he eventually pays with his life (not to mention the lives of his kinsmen). Am I that passionate about anything?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Emergent 05

So, about the Emergent Convention. Lots to say. Mostly conversation. My week began co-leading the Critical Concerns Course on "The Embracing Church." I WAS there, although I guess I kept a low enough profile not to be mentioned in most reports of the event. Still I was glad to be a part of that exploration of "How open should we be?" Or as my firend Cass put it "Who is the wrecking ball to an embracing Christian community?" Who is excluded?

Susie Albert Miller gives us a mention at Sojourn Stories. For comprehensive notes on the course, see Gavin Richardson's blog. (but don't expect to see any evidence of my presence there!). To be fair, my co-leaders: Glandion Carney, Jay Voorhees, Lillian Smith, and Brian McLaren had more content responsibility. I focussed on process. All in all I was pleased with the worshipful, gracious tone of the conversation.

Grandpa and Damon Posted by Hello

Grandpa Tdad and Damon Posted by Hello

Damon's second party, first birthday Posted by Hello

Beginning to Roar

Hey. This is all new for me. Went to the Emergent Church Convention in Nashville last week. You Emergents inspired me to get blogging. So here goes.

Purr and Roar. Well, it's all about lions. Mostly the image of lions more than their actual substance, but I hope to unleash with some substance here and there.

For now, I'm posting pictures of me with my grandson, just to get started. Stories, musings, probings, questions, and massive opinions to come. Grace and Peace.