Thursday, June 24, 2010

Aircraft Carrier Turn?

Sometimes when I quote writers, it results in some directing their frustration right at me. "I'm just the messenger" and I'm just passing on insightful thoughts that resonate with my passion.

Perhaps a recent quote I saw on FB from an author "friend" - attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer - is appropriate to pass on? "All truth passes through 3 stages. 1. It is ridiculed. 2. It is violently opposed. 3. It is accepted as being self-evident."

Several quotes from Leonard Sweet's 1999 book *SoulTsumani" in chapter 7 ("Get Dechurched") are none other than suggestions to readers - especially those involved with church leadership. Written 11 years ago and considering the lingering MO of the organized church, I'm prompted to assess out loud: "Ain't gonna happen anytime soon." I hope I am soon proven mistaken. If it does happen, it will be like the proverbial aircraft carrier turning.

These are paragraphs I have highlighted in the chapter that convey the essence of Sweet's challenges. I really believe that the dependency to cling to an increasingly ineffective paradigm is stunting the vital growth of God's Kingdom in this fragmented culture we live in. One of the problems that causes an overwhelming reluctancy (as I have observed) is the anger and frustration of those who draw resources from the the platform/pew format. Frankly, I believe there is a fear to "let go and let God."
Step out! And then look around and you may find a few who are indeed following "whole-heartedly."

One criticism I have heard from those involved in "professional" ministry is that the insights shared by the more intense Christ-Following authors, are not to be given heavy consideration since they are not equal in potency as God's revealed Word. Would it be fair for me to reverse such logic and tell one that oracle presentation should bear the same scrutiny?

Whether I receive insight from a book or a delivered message does not matter. It is still proclamation by those gifted to probe God's truth and present it in ways that instill ecclesiastical obedience.

I hope these quotations are beneficial to those who read and motivational to seek out the challenge of fulfilling Christ's commission in today's fluid culture.

One of our greatest killers is the notion that what we don't know isn't worth anything. One of our greatest challenges is how to come to terms with what we don't know and the too many things we know that aren't true. Because the church has failed to be both a learning organism and an unlearning organism, our intellectual capital is steadily depreciating. (p. 146)

Before there can be a Postmodern Reformation, however, there must first be a Postmodern Deformation. Structural deformation leads to spiritual formation, which leads to ecclesial reformation. (p. 147)

What irony that in the midst of a spiritual heat wave in the culture, in the church it's a deep freeze. Establishment religion now looks back nostalgically at a wonderful past and looks forward anxiously at a frightening future. The problem is even deeper than the statistics of 25 years of mainstream membership loss reveal. (p. 149)

The default assumption of the modern church was a material theology that said "Got a problem, get a program." For the church to minister in postmodern culture, it must dematerialize its thinking. (p. 152)

Prayer moves things in another world, an unseen world - a world more read, more powerful, and more lasting that this one. (p. 152)

Every organism must learn how to devolve - to "let go at the top," to lose control, to cell out, to reverse oneself and become less optimal, less efficient, less fit, less ordered and organized. (p. 152)

...decentralization is the push of power downward from the center to the margins, from vertical to horizontal. from "command-and-control" organizations to "cultivate and coordinate" empowered organisms. (p.153) [JS: This is one dynamic that creates fear for those dependent on the former - as I have personally observed].

Deconversion will take place through ther development of "a folk apologetic" (George Hunter's phrase) - a folk theology that is built on narratives, not concepts or categories. People are not prone to move away from one home unless they see a good alternative available. A "folk apologetic" is not a "for-all-time" wywtematic theology but a "for-now" peity that is built on "as-they-should-be" beliefs.(p. 155)

In this Digital Age, the monolithic mass markets of the mid- and high-modern era have broken up and diversified. We have gone in my lifetime from a mass market to a micromarket to new mass customized market. [JS: My example - Just Budweiser worked until Fat Tire came along. Now Aneheiser Busch is marketing Amber Bock] (p. 158)

The key to ministry in this next reformation is intellectual capital in general, and innovation and creativity in particular. In the new world one thing is certain: What works today won't work tomorrow...The need to prepare for ongoing adaptive change makes innovation and creativity the key survival skills in navigating the chaotic world of the 21st century. How embarrassing that the institution that worships the Creator is so often bankrupt of creativity! (p. 159)

Lose Focus. If you try to see it, you'll never see it. You first must loosen up and let things get cloudy. Deconstruct your world. Give up preconceived notions of how to do ministry...Deconstruct you old way of seeing and hearing and doing. Give up preconceived notions of how to do ministry. "Fuzzy" is good. (p. 160)

Be a "middle-of-the-roader," and you will get run over by both sets of oncoming traffic. (p. 161)

The essence of complexity is the ability to look at many things at once to think more than one thought at a time, to abandon old fixations and make new connections, following you intuitions and trusting the Spirit. (163)

But in the same way the G.P. in medicine became extinct, only to come back as a speciality in Family Medicine, so the church must give up congregational, mass thinking and learn to niche the "generals" it took for granted...
One of the great challenges for the church, therefore, is to niche multigenerational worship. mulitgenerational missions, multigenerational education. (p. 164)

How small a niche? In a culture that has shifted from mass to micro cultures, you can't establish too small a niche...
This is a culture that revels in quality coffee; There were 200 coffee houses in the US in 1989, almost 10,000 just 10 years later (p. 165) [JS: Keep in mind that this was written in 1999. I'm certain that the number is far beyond the one printed.]

Demassification and decentralization are polarizing churches over such things as abortion, homosexuality, economics, lifestyles, and the allocation of resources between the young and the old. Church warfare in the postmodern era is less over theological issues than social and stylistic issues. Each side boasts a politically correct and theologically correct position.
We need churches and leaders willing to take experimental antibiotics against the "them" versus "us" virus that is plaguing society. We need communities of faith and faith leaders who will not discover an Enlightenment-style via media between the competing pro-choice/pro-life ideologies, for example, but will pioneer a modus vivendi through irreconcilable and intractable forms of belief that cannot be harmonized or balanced, only bridged. (p. 166)

In fact, part of the problem with too much "contemporary worship" is that there is insufficient complexity rich enough to express the involution of Christian doctrine.
Postmodern ministry is the parting of the commonplace to reveal the complex.
The wonder of Jesus is not either-or. The wonder of Jesus is and/also. He was the most complex person who ever lived, which enabled him to live the most simple life that's ever been lived. (p. 167)

Can the church help people slow down, even shut down? Can the church help people "simplify" their lives?
You can find it in the grassroots campaigns to "simplify government" and "simplify preaching" (both of which often confuse complexity with verbosity). (p. 169)

The simple life of faith can be lived only by passing through immense complexities. Simplicity is not the starting point, but the ending point.
Faith is not simple. Faith can only become simple.
Christianity is the first religion that was not temple based.
To determine to what degree your church is tample based, look at your budget and figure out what percentage of your money is spent on maintaining you temple.
Nor was Christianity priest based. The decentralization of ministry in the glocal church means a decentralization of leadership and responsibility. (p. 170) [JS: I'm wondering why Sweet did not ask the question again in regards to budget as it related to the "priest."]

The dedifferentiating phenomenon is breaking down the walls between highbrow and lowbrow, between public and private, performer and audience...
Dedifferentiation is blurring the delineations between the sacred and profane, the worldly and the godly, church and state, politics and entertainment, the serious and the trivial, the quality and the tabloid, the real and the imaginary - all boundary-defined categories that are legacies of the past.
It (postmodernism) plunders and parodies with abandon until "nothing is inappropriate, excorporated; the exclusive is included, distinctions and categories dissolved into coequal fragments. (p. 171)

In a boundary world, life is predictable, controllable, familiar, and well-delineated. In a border world, life is ill-defined, diffuse, anxiety-ridden, riddled with uncertainty - and often violent. Jesus ministered on the borders; he dissolved and crossed boundaries.
Postmodern leaders need not be afraid of fuzzy ministry or mixed ministry, Fuzzy is good, as "fuzzy logic" has now instructed us...In a culture of mix masters, leadership requires paradox making, the ability to put things together in odd, original ways. (p. 172)

You want your church to be beautiful? Give people the power. Let them choose. The church for too long has lived by the one-size-fits all "Panty Hose Principle." It is time to move to "the Platinum Rule." It's a gift to us from Jesus. (p. 173)

Every generation has different cultural experiences, knowledge bases, and aesthetic sensibilities. Each generation operates in a different linguistic, satorial, and myth system from the preceding generations. In religious terms this means that every generation must be reached for Christ differently. (p. 175)

Jesus was masterfully adaptable and flexible - yet all the while the central core of his message remained unchanged. Jesus communicated a gospel that was always the same and always changing. He sent us out into the world instructing us what to do. He never told us how to do it. The what remains the same. The how is always changing. (p. 176)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Patriot Prince?

This post requires a prefaced disclaimer. Let there be no misunderstanding that I consider myself blessed to have been born in this country. But I count myself as a Follower of Christ first and would be willing to renounce my "citizenship" in the US before I would ever renounce my allegiance to God's Messiah.

In the early 90s, punk rock group Bad Religion released the song "American Jesus." Although, I do not totally align with the political mind-set of the group, I can clearly understand the frustration they communicate through the lyrics of the song.
I don't need to be a global citizen,
'Cause I'm blessed by nationality,
I'm a member of a growing populace,
We enforce our popularity
There are things that seem to pull us under and
There are things that drag us down,
But there's a power and a vital presence
That's lurking all around

We've got the American Jesus
See him on the interstate,
We've got the American Jesus
He helped build the president's estate

I feel sorry for the earth's population
'Cause so few live in the U.S.A,
At least the foreigners can copy our morality,
They can visit but they cannot stay,
Only precious few can garner our prosperity,
It makes us walk with renewed confidence,
We've got a place to go when we die
And the architect resides right here

We've got the American Jesus
Bolstering national faith
We've got the American Jesus
Overwhelming millions every day

He's the farmers' barren fields, (In God)
He's the force the army wields, (We trust)
He's the expression on the faces of the starving millions, (Because he's one of us)
The power of the man. (Break down)
He's the fuel that drives the Klan, (Cave in)
He's the motive and the conscience of the murderer (He can redeem your sin)
He's the preacher on TV, (Strong heart)
He's the false sincerity, (Clear mind)
He's the form letter that's written by the big computer, (And infinitely kind)
He's the nuclear bombs, (You lose)
He's the kids with no moms (We win)
And I'm fearful that he's inside ME (He is our champion)

We've got the American Jesus
See him on the interstate
We've got the American Jesus
Exercising his authority
We've got the American Jesus
Bolstering National faith
We've got the American Jesus
Overwhelming millions every day

One nation under God(x10)
Many of the American expression of Christian faith will convey a concern about the "watering down" of the principles and message of God. These are often the very same folks who think 2 Chronicles 7:14 directly applies to the United States of America. In case you don't recall the verse(which is actually the middle of a sentence), it goes like this:
"if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
"Land" is interpreted to mean a sovereign nation - particularly The United States of America - by many of those who are concerned about the "watering down" of God's principles.

The context of the entire chapter has to do with the existence of the temple and the monarchy in Israel - neither of which remain today.

One may be tempted to say that this fact buttresses the point. Think before you are tempted to make such a correlation. It was the faithfulness and love of God alone that maintained his chosen people to the point of God's own entering into the realm of humanity (through Jesus Christ) without a temple and a king. The United States of America is a byproduct of the grace and freedom ushered into the realm of humanity - far, far down the line of the historical infection of the good news. There are no reference points or distinguishable borders that hinder the spread (e.g. Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius, Lydia...) which brings about pure freedom to all who believe.

If I look for a particular city on Google maps, I have many reference points to use. The major points are the distinguishable borders established by states. When I happen to fly across the country, I often look down to see if I can identify the major US metropolitan areas. The only reference point I have may be a river or a mountain range (the very ones that ran and stood alone for many millennia). I can hardly determine where Colorado ends and Kansas begins. No one has painted distinguishable lines (yet).

Each time I have this experience of looking down upon the vital resource of the earth, I imagine God looking down and not seeing the distinguishable limitations that plague us. Yet we hold high the banner of "freedom" in our nation.

What is ultimate freedom? Is it not the breakdown of limitations and distinctions? Isn't that what Paul taught in Galatians 3:21-29?
"Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
So what makes many "Americans" equate citizenry in the nation on equal par with following Christ? Does God's Anointed wear an American flag lapel pin? How can one treat the stars and stripes with such a lofty reverence when it represents such a large distinguishable sovereign state? We are the most free nation on the face of the earth, but we are far from being the humblest. Do we realize that it really wasn't that long ago that we crashed the borders here and now are fortifying them? We broke undocumented laws to establish and vote on ones that we like.

Many fear the breakdown of our nation due to the loss of morality. Its demise is undeniable and the lack of discipline and pure standards distresses me. But we suffer the same self righteousness of the Pharisees as we conveniently look to the darkness of others and utter pronouncements rather than look within ourselves and see the same chaos that nailed Christ to the tree.

What does God see in America that he didn't see with Babylon or Rome or any powerful nation that has ever existed? God sees that same darkness and chaos that prompted him to be born into our midst (God so loved the world) and defeat the destiny that he himself traveled and defeated for our ultimate freedom.

The call of 2 Chronicles 7 is universal. "Land" comes from a Hebrew word that can also be translated as "world." That's the place where we all live; the one God looks down upon and sees no distinguishable markings.
The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.  ~ 1 Timothy 1:14-16