Friday, December 29, 2006

Take the Best and Go!

I finished reading The Charismatic Century, by Jack Hayford (with S. David Moore, author of the very thorough The Shepherding Movement), and as requested by KSG, here's a few thoughts on the book.

I think a quote from the late John Wimber actually might serve as the thesis statement of this book: "Take the best and go!"
Hayford and Moore do an admirable job of tracing the history of North American Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third Wave movements in a very engaging and readable style. While acknowledging the charismatic-like movements that occurred independently in other countries -- at times pre-dating the Azusa Street Revival of 1906 -- the focus is largely on the roots and fruit of the Azusa event.
The good news for me is that, after reading their timelines and records of theological development, I didn't slap my forehead and rush to my Post-Charismatic manuscript to make changes! :)
Keeping the quote from Wimber in mind -- "Take the best and go" -- the book is helpful in tracing the history of early Pentecostalism, the Charismatic Renewal, and the Third Wave. While some controversies are acknowledged (the Oneness debate, the Shepherding Movement, the Latter Rain), it may appear as though Hayford and Moore are letting them "off the hook", so to speak, by not going into greater detail on some of the problematic teachings.

For example, William Branham is acknowledged as having developed some "erratic" teachings towards the end of his ministry, but that's about it. Branham is mostly viewed as a significant personality in the era of the healing evangelists; the only other healing evangelist who gets more than a passing mention is Oral Roberts.

As someone who has researched Branham in more depth, I was a little disappointed that he seemed to get a "get out of jail free" card, as a significant number of teachings from Branham are -- to be charitable -- highly questionable at best. 

Likewise, the Latter Rain movement from North Battleford, Canada gets a brief mention, but the teachings that led to its denunciation by other Pentecostals aren't even mentioned.

However, if we keep "take the best and go" as the lens for viewing this book, and recognize that the authors never intended nor claimed to be writing a theological critique or defense of various streams of thought, this book is both encouraging and helpful.

The authors end each major chapter with a short section on what "take the best and go" could look like. They highlight things like:
  • the strong emphasis on missions and missional living that characterized the early Pentecostals
  • the graciousness towards other denominations -- particularly as a result of the Charismatic Renewal of the 60's & 70's impacting the older mainline denominations
  • reminding us that -- whatever our reaction to things like healing evangelists and spurious "deliverance" ministries -- praying for the sick and demonized is a normal part of Christian life
  • rather than letting negative examples and experiences occlude our spiritual sight, to seek the Holy Spirit to give us a fresh look and understanding of how we pursue a  Spirit-empowered missional life
If it's a critique of charismatic theology and/or excesses that you're looking for, this isn't your book. However, if you'd like a good historical primer which highlights, well, the "highlights" and invites you to consider how you might "take the best and go", then I would recommend The Charismatic Century.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Truce

(NOTE: this is not an urban myth. It really happened in 1914, during the First World War)

The "Christmas truce" is a term used to describe the brief unofficial cessation of hostilities that occurred between German and British troops stationed on the Western Front of World War I during Christmas 1914. 

The truce began on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium, for Christmas. They began by placing candles on trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols, namely Stille Nacht (Silent Night). The British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols.

The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were calls for visits across the "No Man's Land" where small gifts were exchanged — whiskey, jam, cigars, and the like. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. 

The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Proper burials took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects. At one funeral in No Man's Land, soldiers from both sides gathered and read a passage from the 23rd Psalm:
"The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the path of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."
The truce spread to other areas of the lines, and there are many stories — some perhaps apocryphal — of football (soccer) matches between the opposing forces. The film Merry Christmas suggests that letters sent home from the war related that the score was 3-2 in favor of the Germans.

(source: Wikipedia -- Christmas Truce)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Para-Church As Church: Addendum

A few thoughts arising from questions or insights that were shared in the comments to the Parachurch as Church post a few days ago, that I thought I'd respond to with this addendum.

Kyle Martin pointed out:
...I guess what I'm thinking is that I agree with a lot of the sentiment, but I fail to see the longevity of the para-church as "church". It almost appears as church "for a time". But perhaps that's okay? But it might not be if when they get home there is no "para-church" for them to plug into. It kind of reminds me of the gap between those in youth groups who, when they graduate, don't connect with adult church.
I really resonate with the last bit of your comment, Kyle; I've noticed many times that former parachurch people have a difficult time re-integrating into church. Blame gets shifted both ways on that one; parachurch is uncharitably portrayed as a hot-house spiritual high that doesn't reflect "normal" life, or the church gets diss-ed as being so dead that totally-alive parachurch ministry only reveals the deadness of the church, etc. That kind of blame-game doesn't do anybody any good (imo).

I don't have a problem with the "season" idea of parachurch ministry; although perhaps we should note that it's not a 'season' for the staff of the parachurch. But even for those with short-term participation, it's their church for that season. And if it creates a greater hunger for authenticity, expectation of the work of the Spirit, and a desire for deep community with like-minded others -- even if that means that they're "ruined" for ordinary church -- I say, "bring it on!"

Chuck had this excellent input:
You didn't include the appointing of pastors, baptism or observing the Lord's Supper in your comparison between a church and a parachurch ministry... perhaps you could comment on the reasons why, and how that fits in with what you're arguing here.
Thanks for pointing out that side of it, Chuck. As Jamie Arpin-Ricci mentioned in the comments to the original post, there are a number of parachurch ministries that do practice baptism and celebrate the Eucharist together. Biblically, I can't find any reason why someone couldn't be baptized in a local pond by their Aunt Suzie and Uncle Jim-Bob, so I'd also extend that understanding to the parachurch's "right" to practice baptism as well.

Remembering the Lord's death, burial and resurrection isn't something that I find that the Scriptures prohibit happening outside of some sort of "official" meeting. Again, it can be (and is) observed in house churches, liturgical churches, seeker-sensitive churches, etc., so I can't see any reason that para-churches couldn't also.

"Appointing of pastors" is an interesting one. The first question that pops to mind is what makes a pastor "properly appointed"? I've been an ordained pastor (yes, I was "Reverend" Robbymac once upon a time), and I know that some denominations make a big deal of that in ways that make me, frankly, really uncomfortable (nay, weirded-out, freaked even). It was all about "the prestige of the pastoral position, and the reverence for those who had attained the office, etc., etc., etc".

I had a hard time reconciling that kind of pomposity with Christ-following, self-denying, cross-carrying servanthood. (Although I have friends who are all of those positive things, and who wear robes in their Reverend positions in their liturgical churches. More power to 'em!)

Like Jamie, I tend to see "pastor" as more about spiritual giftedness and function in a local gathering of the Body. Some with pastoral gifting get paid and are "clergy" according to Revenue Canada, and there's nothing wrong with that, of course, but I'm not comfortable with only paid clergy being seen as "real" pastors.

I've been a pastor for 21 years, and I got paid for it for seven (non-consecutive) years out of that time span. The rest of the time I've worked in detention centres, as an outreach counselor for a school district, a shipper-receiver in a factory, a graphic designer, a bass player in a Celtic Rock band, and most recently as a barista at St. Arbucks -- but I've never ceased pastoring.

All that to say, para-churches "appoint" pastors, but it probably looks a little different than a more traditionally-understood clergy position.

Thanks, Mike, for reminding us:
I think, as Christians in the post-western world, we ought to embrace various forms of expression and and worship; the para-churches are doing just that, living for Christ in a place that isn't all too friendly to an exclusive claim to deity.
Emerging Grace, thanks for the Barna stats. 2025 isn't really all that far off! And judging by the many conversations I've had in the analog world, as well as the blogosphere, we may be closer to Barna's projection right now.
"But by 2025, Barna writes, just one third will have their primary attachment in a traditional congregation, and a like number will be connected with alternative forms of church. He notes that these forms are still emerging, but already include house churches, informal worship gatherings, small/accountability groups, and service ministries and parachurch organizations."
I look forward hearing your input on these, as well. Thanks for helping to sharpen my thinking!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Crabby Detox

When I was but a wee lad, one of my dad's many job transfers took us to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was a beautiful place, although apparently Canucks talk funny, according to the locals. And while we lived there, we discovered that Southern hospitality in Chattanooga is alive and well.


We also learned various slang expressions, and folklore wisdom of the Southerners (although our immediate neighbours were an Italian family from New Yawk and had the accents to prove it), but I can't honestly remember if I first heard about crab-in-a-bucket behaviour while I was there or not.

It's a fairly well-known story that you can put one crab in a bucket, and it can easily escape. But if you put several crabs -- even a LOT of crabs -- within easy reach of the rim, they'll never get out. If a crab attempts to escape, the others simply reach up and pull them back down.

This picture reminds me of a potential trap to be found when people go through detoxing from church in a group setting. Sometimes, people who are in detox join an existing house or simple church, and find safety and healing. Also common is when "a whole whack of" people (another colloquilism apparently peculiar to Canada, or so friends in California tell me) who are ALL in detox start their own group. And that's where crab mentality can show up.


These groups start off as a place of safety and nurture, as people feel free to share their stories and be heard and understood by others who have been through the same thing (often from the same church). But as time goes on, when you'd expect to see at least some of the people starting to come back to life again, there instead seems to be a perpetual commitment to staying angry, bitter, and cynical.

As soon as one person starts to show signs of returning spiritual and emotional health, and ventures to share this with the group, they are immediately pulled back into the vortex of cynicism by their crabbishly-endowed group. It's REVENGE OF THE CRABS, with their patron saint Mordac the Preventer.

Sadly, I've seen some situations where those who were -- for lack of a better phrase -- "coming back to life" actually felt they had no other recourse but to leave the group behind, in order to escape the Crabbites. This tended to produce a second, albeit much milder and shorter-lived, period of detoxing from the disillusionment of what they'd originally hoped for in the home group.

I know I've made this plea here several times before, but please indulge me yet again:
We all talk about "journey" -- and even the original byline of this blog was "robbymac: an ecclesiastical anarchist's journey" -- but we need to respect where others are at in their journey as much as we'd like them to respect our journey. And that has to include allowing people to come to terms with how they will relate to the larger Body of Christ around them, without imposing some kind of uniformity enforced by cynicism.
Some people may stay in house churches for the rest of their lives. Others may return to a more "institutional" setting, perhaps even -- *GASP* -- the same church they left. Does that make them a "sell-out"? A quitter? No longer considered part of the Enlightened Remnant?

And finally, have you ever seen a happy crab? One capable of being extremely jaded and simultaneously Christ-like? If you have, please adjust your medication let me know.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Robby's 4 or 5 Theses

Has anyone else noticed that it's impossible to nail something to a blog?

Or even harder to nail something to a computer screen?

Has anyone learned this lesson through unfortunate and rueful happenstance?

I've never had much of a "commenting policy" here. Honestly, with the exception of the occasional troll shuffling by, it's never really been much of an issue. People here have generally been respectful, thoughtful, and I've always been grateful for that.

But, just for the record, here's a few "blogging theses" that I'd like to nail up for robbymac.org (these may sound eerily familiar to anyone who's ever been a part of any youth or young adult ministry I've been in):
  1. Nobody can be sent to hell for voicing their honest opinion.

    True, when in youth/young adult ministry, this meant that at times we had to patiently endure some questionable ideas as people worked out their salvation with fear and trembling
    (Philippians 2:12), but creating a "safe place" that was "safe" for everyone -- even those who belonged but did not yet believe -- was worth it. Same goes for this blog.

  2. We listened to you with respect, so (of course) you will listen to others with respect.

    Should be a no-brainer, but just so it's said: When iron sharpens iron, sparks sometimes fly
    (Proverbs 27:17). But there's a difference between spirited conversation and the typical troll-like behaviour of, well... trolls.

  3. Normally, in an "analog" situation involving youth and young adults, I'd say at this point: "One at a time, people, one at a time!" But blog visitors are so mature and respectful when it comes to taking turns, looking to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4), that it really isn't necessary here.

  4. No Squirrels!

    This related to a goofy & cheezy apocryphal story of a little boy who wanted to sound super-spiritual, a well-intentioned Sunday School teacher trying to get her class of kids to say "squirrel" but they thought the safest answer was "Jesus", because it was Sunday School, after all, but the joke was lame even when it was analog in the 1990's, which just shows how old I am, and the cheezy illustration is pretty much impossible to replicate digitally online, so maybe I'll just shut up and get to the point by saying:

    No plastic, super-spiritual-wanna-be, Sunday School-ish, Christianese-based, jargon-infested clap-trap. Please and thank-you.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Generational What?

Two comments, both from local teenagers, in the past couple of weeks:
1. (from a teenager in a charismatic church) "I was at a youth conference recently, and guess what? (insert sarcastic voice and posture here) We're THE Generation!"

2. (from a teenager in an evangelical church) "Can I ask you a question, Mr. Mac?" (Yes, he actually called me "Mr. Mac"...)

"Is your generation really disappointed with mine?"

This image shows my gut reaction to hearing #1. Yet this "we're the chosen generation" idea is still around, and I wonder what kind of bug repellent would be best for those who keep throwing gasoline on that particular fire.

The second question, honestly, took me completely by surprise. My immediate respone, at the time, was "No, not at all. Why do you ask?" His response indicated that this was the general feeling he gets from leaders in his evangelical world.

As someone who has always been passionate about youth and young adults (the emerging generations), the mental grid that I was using as I read Permission Granted (by Cooke & Goodale) was "how does this impact the emerging generations"? To be honest, this grid is probably the first thing that pops to my mind in just about any ministry setting you can imagine.

Cooke & Goodale differentiate between relational leaders -- who are "permission-giving" and seek to see people around them discover God's vision for their own lives -- as opposed to what they call "functional paradigm" leaders. The patron saint of functional-paradigm leaders is probably Mordac the Preventer.
Ultimately, I suspect both teenagers have leaders who are more akin to Mordac the Preventer.
One dismisses the emerging generations right off the bat, while the other promises (prophesies) great responsibility but ultimately will only "load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and... not lift one finger to help." (Luke 11:46)

Which is more sadistic? Outright dismissal, or dangling a carrot that you are never intended to reach?

If Cooke & Goodale are right, then what is needed is permission-giving relational leaders. Not leaders who berate or denigrate the emerging generations before they even get a chance to do anything. Nor leaders who hype them up with grandiose pronouncements, yet continue in a ministry paradigm which does nothing to equip or mentor the emerging generations.



An Aside to those in the Emerging Generations who have been Burnt and are currently Detoxing From Church

Nobody gets to a certain age  and suddenly wakes up one morning and decides, "As of this moment, I am going to be a crotchety, cantakerous, bitter old man/woman. You thought Mordac was bad? Well, my patron saint is going to be the Wicked Witch of the West!"

Embittered old people are just embittered younger people with more experience. The "detox" process (more poetically called "liminality" by some) takes time, yes, but don't set down roots in Camp Bitterness. Be careful that "no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many" (Hebrews 12:14).

Mordac the Preventer was probably a young idealist once upon a time, before the Great Church Split of '99. It's much easier to become Mordac-ified that we think. We don't want to wake up some morning and realize that we let some good years slip away due to bitterness and cynicism.

And we certainly don't need more Mordacs.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Holy Mañana

www.Despair.com

When I was but a wee lad, a common joke that my parents and their friends would use was the term "mañana", which I seem to recall was from a popular song in the days before Elvis. Basically, it's Spanish for "tomorrow", but the term as popularized by the song was really a comment on procrastination.
Never do today what you could put off until tomorrow.
Procrastination is a way of avoiding difficulty; a methodology that works hard at not working hard (on something important). For example, I don't like that I weigh more than I used to. I could do something about that. And I plan to. Really, I do. Trouble is, I've been "intending" to get around to more exercise for awhile now, and my weight isn't waiting for me.

Mañana. I'll get to it. Eventually. And suddenly my pants don't fit like they used to. So, instead of taking that as a signal to do something about my weight, I just quietly buy the next bigger size of Levi's, and keep "intending" to get on it later. Mañana.

A lot of ink and blogging has swirled around the high-profile crash-and-burn of certain Christian leaders south of the 49th recently. I wonder if part of the problem was possibly a "Holy Mañana" approach. "Yes, I've got a problem. And I really DO want to change and be more Christlike. Holiness is important; I fully intend to deal with this. Mañana."

And almost unnoticed, the years go by, the good intentions still there but unacted on, and then suddenly el baño ka-BOOM (the bathroom explodes). No more mañana.

Some people blame it on the cult of Christian celebrity. Others blame the mega-church model. Some blame charismatic theology; others, a perceived connected to the emerging church.

A certain Seattle-based pastoral-type has gotten himself into a big cauldron of boiling yak paste by somehow connecting the situation to Fat, Lazy Pastor's Wives. Basically, everyone co-opted a tragic situation to flog their own pet whipping post.

Personal holiness isn't something we can play mañana with. If there's anything to be redeemed from the sordid mess of just a week or two ago, it's a recognition that personal holiness is a "now" issue.
  • Unforgiveness towards CLB (Church Left Behind).
  • Bitterness towards leaders/people who have hurt us.
  • Pride that keeps us justifying ourselves at the expense of reconciliation and relationship.
  • Anger that expresses itself in unGodly ways.
  • Selfish ambition that is the worldly opposite of everything that should characterize the Body of Christ.
  • (Fill in the blank here....)
Joshua told the people, "Consecrate (purify) yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you." (Joshua 3:5) Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears,we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3, emphasis added)
Holy Mañana -- it just doesn't work that way.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Let me tell you a story...

Let me tell you about Wendy.

We met at Providence College; she was a freshman, and I was a sophomore. I came from the Big Smoke (or close enough not to matter for Westerners), and Wendy was from a cattle ranch on the outskirts of Pinaymootang First Nation, far enough north in Manitoba that Winnipeg seemed to be the "balmy south".

My family hails from Scotland; Wendy's is Russian Mennonite. And as this photo clearly documents, it was unquestionably the 80's.
Beauty & the Beast?

It wasn't exactly love-at-first-sight. Granted, many of the guys at our school noticed Wendy right away, because she is beautiful. And her personality was warm, outgoing, and she didn't have the "church lady" attitude that some of her contemporaries at Bible College tended towards. I found her to be a breath of fresh air.

But we weren't attracted to each other, at least not in a "prospective boyfriend/girlfriend" kind of way. We hung out with the same friends, went to a few concerts as a group, and sometimes the two of us went for coffee at Le Routier in nearby St. Pierre-Jolys. We discovered that we could talk for hours -- and often did at Le Routier -- and became great friends.

Ironically, I was out for coffee with a different Wendy one night, and she was asking the timeless questions about how to decide if a certain guy was "the right one" for her or not. She asked me at one point what I looked for in a girl, and when I told her a few things, she asked me if I'd ever met anyone like what I was looking for.

Apparently, that sent me off on a long, long tale of this amazing young woman at college named Wendy, and when I finally paused for breath, she simply stated, "Wow, she sounds incredible. Why don't you ask her out?"

It was one of those revelatory moments where your only reaction is to quote St. Homer of Simpson: "DOH!"

It still took me four days to get up enough nerve to actually ask her out (I really valued our friendship and didn't want to screw it up), and she said "yes", twenty-three years ago today. It's been an incredible journey ever since.

And twenty-three years later, Wendy and I still go out for coffee and talk for hours.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Near/Far: Second Iteration (subset one)

In the comments to the previous post, Near/Far: Second Iteration, vocalist/guitarist of the band Wayfarer, Ryan Chubb, asked some questions that sparked more thoughts on my behalf, and when I realized my answer to him was post-length in itself, I decided to make it an update to the original post. And now it's a post all on it's own.

Ryan asked:
"My question is how do we define these things? What is passion if many equate it as exuberance? How do we avoid forced-to-a-predetermined-conclusions without making it a complete existential free-for-all?"
I guess what sparked my choice of words (which are admittedly and deliberately provocative) were instances where I've witnessed it.

For one, visiting a prominent mega-church and observing that they have little golden "mood lights" above the congregation, which rise and fall in luminence in connection with the rise and fall of the music, and seem to be designed for the express purpose of causing a corresponding rise and fall in the "mood" of the congregation. I believe they typically call this a "worship experience".

At first, I would have simply called it beaucoup de fromage (extemely cheezy), but ultimately (as I saw more and more youth ministries and churches adopting the same methodology and language) it bothered me because it's contrived, not real, not from the heart, and definitely pre-packaged. In which case, I would more likely just call it what it is: "manipulation".

Second, in some (not all) worship gatherings of charismatic, pentecostal, third wave and -- yes, let's admit it -- YWAM people, I have oft-times observed somebody (whether a leader, worship leader, or well-intentioned young person with a "word") say something to the effect of: "If you're not dancing, you're not 'free'. If you love God, you must dance for Him (right now)." With the unstated condemnation that, up until that moment, God wasn't happy with our worship, and that if we don't dance right now, we don't truly love Jesus.

Usually followed by the band diving into "Undignified", so we can all repent appropriately of our substandard expression of worship. (I've played this song myself, to be honest, but I've never used it to manipulate people into "performing" in a certain way)

Let me be really, really, REALLY clear: I absolutely LOVE freedom in worship, but to me, "freedom" looks more like a creative diversity of worship expressions, not the uniformity of one posture dictated by the agenda of the few.

Just before the most recent occurrence of this mentality, I was thoroughly enjoying singing Redman's "Blessed be the Name of the Lord" (great lyrics to this one!), and all around me, people were singing, some kneeling, some dancing, some with hands in the air -- a wonderful picture of the Body being free to express different creative postures of worship in a corporate setting.

Then, of course, there was the "word" about dancing for Jesus, and the requisite playing of "Undignified", and suddenly the worship of Jesus felt highjacked by a human agenda. Let's face it: some people don't find dancing to be part of their repertoire of worship expression. They just aren't dancers, and by forcing this narrow expectation on them, their focus is taken AWAY from worshipping Jesus, and placed on whether or not they were performing according to an agenda.

Secondly, and even more serious, is that these kind of "dance or you don't love God" kind of statements actually misrepresent Jesus.

Can you imagine this scene playing out in the heavenlies?

Angels: "Jesus, look over there! We see a whole crowd of Christians, from many different countries, language groups, denominations, and generations, all joining together to worship You! Isn't it awesome?"

Jesus (totally losing it): "Oh no, not again! They're doing it ALL WRONG!!. Quick, Holy Spirit, goose somebody down there to tell them that they don't love Me unless they're dancing."

Manipulation in worship -- although I'll concede that there are times where it's actually unintentional -- is a trap that anyone involved in worship has to be aware of, and guard against.

So, Ryan, when I posed the original statement which provoked your very excellent questions, it was these kind of things in the back of my mind that prompted what I wrote.

But let's open up your questions to everyone. For the record again, here's what Ryan was asking:
"My question is how do we define these things? What is passion if many equate it as exuberance? How do we avoid forced-to-a-predetermined-conclusions without making it a complete existential free-for-all?"
Thoughts? Insights?

Update

Bill Kinnon has written a very good and thought-provoking article after being a part of this discussion here. Check out Bill's The Power of Music in Church.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Near/Far: Second Iteration

Re: Feminization of the Church

My first reaction when I came across this phrase, frankly, was that it seemed incredibly sexist. What makes the church feminized, and why is that seen as bad, a mistake, or substandard?


Sometimes, it sounds like we're being forced to look at worship and worship songs like the above picture. Why the forced dichotomy? Particularly such an over-stated forced/false dichotomy as masculine "versus" feminine worship?

The more I read what people seem concerned about, however, the more it sounds like people are actually reacting against pre-packaged, emotionally-manipulative, forced-to-a-predetermined-conclusion, passionless programs masquerading as worship.

And let's face it -- there are worship leaders and church leaders who appear skilled and deliberate with manipulation and pre-packaged "experiences" that are ultimately hollow and unsatisfying. And I'd be among the first to lead the charge out the door if that were the case.

But equating passion-less worship with being too "feminine" only creates confusion and unnecessary offence. It's not about some fictional "genderization" of worship and church, it's about passion, or the lack of it. Connection with the Divine, or the lack of it.

If intimacy with the Father is seen as too "feminine", or somehow substandard for the he-men of the 21st century, that says more about the men than it does about the worship or the church (and it's not a positive statement).

Two comments from the original Near/Far post that help to sum this up are from Molly
"I think it's not so much "feminization," because then we're basically saying that feminine is wimpy and weak... I think it's just that we've turned Christianity into white bread and twinkies. The gritty is taken out, the raw passion, the hungry searching."
and also this thought from Dave Taylor:
"If intimacy = feminized, which as one commenter said, seems to be used as a synonym for "weak," then we would have to discard many of the psalms and selected passages where the prophets bare their hearts to God in complaint or distress."

Just a quick perusal of the Psalms reveals a very intimate relationship between David and Yahweh; David was a soldier, a king, and a worship leader, whose masculinity was not in the least threatened by telling Yahweh of his love for Him (ie. Psalm 18:1-3, Psalm 23:6, Psalm 36:5-6, Psalm 103:8-12).

And the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, considered by the ancient Jews to be the centrepoint of Judaism, boldly proclaims:

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

When Jesus is questioned as to the heart of the Old Testament covenant, His reply, as recorded in Mark 12:28-31, tells us that the Shema is no less important now than it was then:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
Jesus not only reinforced the acceptability -- nay, the assumption -- that intimacy with the Father is important, He goes beyond the Shema to add humanity to the equation as well (another topic with huge implications).

Suffice it to say for now: worship that communicates and expresses a love for Jesus is not wimpy, feminized, or "an 80's thing". If the proliferation of sappy Jesus-is-my-boyfriend lyrics fail to adequately capture this biblical reality, the problem is with the songwriters and worship leaders who use these songs; maybe it's time we put songwriters' feet to the fire (so to speak) to come up with better ways of communicating.

I've got some thoughts on how being a "fatherless generation" has changed in meaning and expression recently, and how that might impact this topic; more on that later.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Near/Far

Recently, I've been running across comments and blog posts complaining about the "feminisation of the church", and not just from the Wild At Heart types.


And I've also come across other sources decrying what they consider the vomitous drivel of worship songs which they categorize as "Jesus is my boyfriend" types of songs. And I have to wonder: why all the sudden Christian male fear of intimacy with God?

After all, we're supposed to be enlightened 21st century dudes, aren't we? Not stuck in some wierd 1950's Leave It To Beaver kind of gender role assumptions? So what's the deal with saying that the church has been "feminized"?

What's the preferred, more balanced, man-friendly alternative -- worship services modelled after a wrestling match or perhaps a tractor pull, with the platform adorned with flannel-draped power tools, and where the pastor looks like Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor, or perhaps that icon of Canadian manliness, (insert genuflection here) Red Green?

Okay, I'm being just a wee bit sarcastic, but it DID strike me as odd this sudden sense of angst over the church being "feminized" (the decorating committee chose pastel colours again?). DANG, gotta get me some kind of sarcasm filter here...

I think the real issue behind this feminisation of the church and reaction to "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs -- which seems to include ANY song that speaks of loving Jesus (contrast with the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Mark 12:28-30) -- is the false dichotomy and pendulum swing between God's transcendance and imminence.

When songs like Arms Of Love by Craig Musseau, or Father I Want You To Hold Me by Brian Doerksen (to name just two of many) were written in the late 80's and early 90's, they were addressing a whole element missing from much of our worship: that God was approachable, intimate, a Comforter and a loving Father. The pendulum up till this point had been more focussed on God's transcendence: His holiness, His complete Other-ness, His attributes, and the need for reverential respect (fear) of the Lord. In many church circles, these songs of intimacy were perceived as an attack on God's sovereignty, or at the very least, the watering down of an understanding that God is HOLY.

And in some instances, there probably has been an over-correction, where God is now viewed as the Big Buddy in the Sky, or a feel-good hey-holiness-is-no-big-deal smilin' bobblehead, or even with the cavalier attitude of "Jesus is my homeboy". And perhaps we could start a contest in the comments to this post: "Syrupy Worship Songs That Send Me Into A Diabetic Coma". But this just represents the fringe element on the far side of the pendulum swing, which only serves to perpetuate the false dichotomy.

But perhaps the pendulum is swinging hard in the other direction; just as the anti-everything crowd gets their knickers in a knot about the irreverence towards God, so the emerging conversation has an element that seems to want to put God back in His unapproachable, unknowable, unlovable transcendent place.
Respect? Sure. Wonder? Okay. Mystery? Cool. Intimacy? Not at my tractor pull, buddy!
We need to learn to be comfortable in tension; radical middle people who can hold in one hand the idea that God is holy, righteous, soveriegn, just, and to be held in a deep reverential respect (fear of the Lord), and hold in the other hand the reality that, as Jesus told Philip, "if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father", and then look through, say, the Gospel According to St. John, and see just how Jesus modelled the heart of a Father who loves, cares for, blesses, and comforts His children. There is no biblical reason we should have to separate God's imminence and His transcendence; it's a false dichotomoy.
"For this is what the high and lofty One says -- He who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'" (Isaiah 57:15)
This post is getting long, so I'll stop here for now, but I think I'll be unpacking this one a bit more in the next couple of days.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Technorati Scorned (a drama in one act)

In one of the most creative geek-speak-meets-Humphrey-Bogart blog entries ever, Tall Skinny Kiwi Andrew Jones details the heartbreak of A Technorati Scorned.

Creativity -- ya gotta love it! Blog it again, Sam.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Are you in?

Long before George Clooney uttered these classic words in Oceans Eleven (apologies to those who prefer Sinatra's version from 1960), the concept of "are you in" was explored in a much more visceral, gut-wrenching way by some of the big names of the Old Testament. Daniel and Nehemiah are examples to us today in their willingness to be "in" with a bunch of people who kept screwing up their nation. You can see it in their prayers.

Prayer of Nehemiah:
Then I said: "O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses." (Nehemiah 1:5-7, emphasis added)
Prayer of Daniel
I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land." (Daniel 9:4-6, emphasis added)
These two guys have a number of things in common, which makes their prayers all the more intriguing:
  1. Both were in captivity in foreign countries
  2. They were both men of prayer
  3. Neither one of them was directly at fault for the present state of affairs
    • Daniel was one of the "guys in the white hats", whose devotion to God was unquestionable (remember the vegetable diet and the lions' den?)
    • Nehemiah wasn't even born when the exile happened; he was born into slavery
  4. And most significantly, although they weren't the cause of the problem, they assumed a posture of identification with the rest of their people and with the plight of their people.
It strikes me, after reading these two prayers, that both Nehemiah and Daniel have hit upon something of great spiritual importance that we need to consider in our journey to recapture what it means to be the Church, in partnership as a missio ecclesia with God the Spirit in His missio dei of the advancing Kingdom of God. Simply put, I don't think we have the authority to proclaim that the "institutional" church isn't "us". The more I look at the whole topic of detoxing from church, the more I'm getting uneasy with the idea that we can just write off a large segment of the church. What if identifying with the church at large -- mega, seeker, purpose, charismatic, fundamentalist -- is part of God's missio ecclesia?

Is there a spiritual component to choosing to identify with the church at large, which we will miss out on if we don't (or refuse to) make that choice?

What if the freedom to choose to identify with the church (including our own CLB) is an indication of a returning spiritual health for those going through the season of detox?

Thoughts?

Sunday, October 8, 2006

First Day In Church

I've mentioned here before that St. Larry of Norman is my radical-middle patron saint. My very first Larry Norman album was Street Level, which opens, not with a song, but a long poem being recited by Larry (with a Cockney accent) during a concert in Hollywood.

Someone in California emailed me yesterday, asking about the words to that poem, entitled "First Day In Church". I don't have the words written down anywhere, nor could we find them online. However, I sat down and did a stream-of-consciousness writing from memory, and I think I've got it (mostly) right. At any rate, it's a window into my earliest influences as a new Christian.


First Day In Church

(Best read with a Cockney accent, or at least your best attempt at one)

The first time that I went to church was on a Sunday morning
And from what I'd heard, I figured I'd spend me whole time yawning
At 18 years of age or so, I thought I knew it all
Me hair was long, me jeans were tight
I loved a knife and buckle fight
Provided mates stood left and right
And those we fought were small

But me mates and me, we'd never been, so off to church we filed
We marched inside, about three abreast
Straight down the middle aisle
Some of us were smokin' cigs; Ron was sucking candies
We sat in what they call a "pew"
Then looked around to see just who'd come inside
Let me tell you, everyone dressed like dandies

And the row behind was full of dames
You shoulda seen their looks!
And one old dear, she gives me a smile
And offers me some books
Tah! We open 'em, pass 'em around
You shoulda seen the words, all set out like poetry is
And the words put us in a tizz
And Sam says through his lemon fizz
"These books is fer the birds"

"Shhhh! Tsk tsk tsk tsk!"
One old lady says
And the whole place buzzed
And Sam turns around and says
"Oh do hush up, you make more noise than us"
We looked around the building then
It really was revealing
Sam says, "Hey mates, I get the score
"There ain't no carpets on the floor
"Look at the rafters; they're so poor they can't afford a ceiling
"Can't afford electric either; using candles everywhere
"Colored windows like me granny's, at the bottom of the stair..."
"Shut your face," I says to Sam, "I'm be listening"
So was Ron

And from the left, without a noise
Came a line of little boys
And Sam says, in a puzzled voice, "Coo, they've all got nighties on"
Then came men, in robes and banners
"Look at that one, must be queer
"And they dare condemn us for the way we choose our gear?"
And then there's the minister, who's job's to preach
The Minister Whats-his-name
Those real long prayers, and what he preaches
Sounds just about the same

I came to church to listen -- close
But I can't understand their chatter
It's like "mumble, mumble, shifting sinking sands"
And words like judgment or reprimand
Well, me and me mates can't understand talk quite like that
I'm used to talking with me mates
With words that has a meaning

If people like that sort of stuff...
Well, let them, that's okay
But let me tell you what I feel
I feel we need someone who'll deal in words and thoughts
And things that's real -- I'd listen to what he'd say
Me mum once said,
"Son, Jesus came to help young men like you"
But Jesus came so long ago, Mum, and I don't think it's true

But is there anyone here, right now, who can explain to me
Is Christ a myth? A madman's whim?
Some say Christ can cure our sin
Is there a way to contact Him?
Or will I die not knowing how?

Listen, I only came to church to see if they could offer hope
But everything that happened there was way outside my scope
Like afterwards, outside, was a beggar on the grass
He held out his hand, and people'd smile, then they'd pass
I'm sure he reached for something real
For something more than cash

He begged them for a little cheer
And they all pretended not to hear
I get the message,
Loud and clear:

Church is middle-class.