Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Fifth of Worms (Exiles 4)

Today's daily serving of wormage (chock full of natural flavour, taste, and eighteen hundred essential vitamins and nutrients in a savoury sauce) comes courtesy of chapter eight of Frost's sagacious tome, Exiles.

Chapter eight is entitled "Working for the Host Empire", and explores how missional Christians should view their workplace or career. While this isn't news to many of us, Frost does an excellent job of sorting through the old false dichotomy of the "sacred versus secular" dualistic, Plato-inspired worldview, particularly focusing on our conceptualization of our work.

As usual, Frost stimulated the grey matter between my ears (which on CSI sometimes looks a bit like worms -- coincidence?), and I wanted to add my two cents to a thought that Frost presents:
"We routinely refer to people 'receiving the call' to Christian service, whether to church leadership or the mission field... We can easily think of a friend enetering church-ordained ministry as following God, but rarely do we speak of a decision to become a computer programmer or a nurse or a filmmaker or an accountant as similarly following God's calling in our lives." (Exiles, page 185)
First, on a personal note, I felt a definite sense of "calling" when I was seventeen -- however vague and undefined at the time -- to make myself available to God for "whatever". Our church's pastor had given an invitation at the end of a sermon, and while I had no real concept of what exactly I would or could be doing, I felt a resonance within me (otherwise known as the prompting of the Spirit) to respond. It was not a dramatic moment, but significant nonetheless.

The second time I felt a "call", I was nineteen, and was feeling somewhat at a loss when I looked at the seemingly impossible task of impacting my many non-Christian friends for the sake of the Gospel. At that time, at a party of all places, I felt God speak (not audibly, but very profoundly) to my heart that I was in over my head, and needed more training. I quit the Radio, Television & Journalism school that I was enrolled in, worked to earn some coinage, and headed off to Providence College the next year.

My point in delving into ancient history is that my sense of "call" didn't start with a conceptualization of full-time, vocational ministry. It was simply a response to God to make myself available for His use, in whatever form that might take. The more specific "call" to Bible college and later being a pastor came later. The "call" to missions came later still; the fulfillment of that call even later. It was, as is usually true of those who follow the wind of the Spirit (John 3:8), a journey.

Frost makes some excellent points in chapter eight about how many churches have succumbed to a dualistic, sacred/secular divide, and that this has resulted in the average working Joe and Josephine feeling like there is no God-given "call" on their lives in the vocational sense.

I'd like to suggest another reason why many working people don't experience a sense of God's calling in their chosen profession:
Namely, it was their chosen profession. They didn't think to -- and nobody encouraged them to -- ask God for His input about their vocation.
I have friends who, back in the day, actually avoided praying about their career choice, out of a mis-placed fear that if they let God have His say, they'd end up doing something they absolutely hated in a location that gave them hives just thinking about.

If people start off with the expectation that everything they are and have is God's, then praying for His leading into their future would be a pretty normal thing. Or as my dear friend Nico-Dirk once remarked during our DTS: "What's all this talk about 'giving up' ourselves to God? If you're a Christian, God already owns your entire a**!"

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Graphic Depiction of Ecclesial Alarmism

Pictorial representation of classic heresy-hunting response to anything that doesn't fit their narrow grid error.
Inevitable degeneration of well-intentioned attempts at dialogue with said heresy-hunters eventually looks like this.
We should all simply choose to be "wise as serpents and gentle as doves" (Matthew 10:16), like a bunny with a pancake on its head...
...and move along.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Jamie's Can O' Worms

My esteemed friend and fellow YWAM'er Jamie Arpin-Ricci has posted a very vulnerable and insightful entry at his blog: Sexuality, Healing & the Need for Community.
Jamie and his wife Kim have been friends to Wendy & I ever since they first landed in Winnipeg to pioneer YWAM Winnipeg, including their "third place" initiative: a used book store called The Dusty Cover [closed after several years in operation].

Jamie's story of his own struggles with same-sex attraction is well-articulated, as is his honest grappling with what the Scriptures say about homosexuality. Jamie pretty neatly sums up my own thoughts on the topic, but because he's writing from the inside, so to speak, I give his words more weight than any I might proffer.

A thankful HT (hat tip) to you, Jamie, for your vulnerability, courage, and insightful thoughts.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Third Degree Worms (Exiles 3)

We now continue with the Series of Worms, not to be confused with the Diet of Worms. I'm happily reading my way through Michael Frost's most excellent Exiles, but let me add a clarification that the Series of Worms is not written in reaction to Frost's book; it's more like espresso for the brain: provoking me to think. So, the Worms have been inspired by Frost, which is a sign of a good, thought-provoking, well-written book.

Okay, the obvious, blatant, not-even-thinly-disguised marketing of Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture will end now, except to say: GET THIS BOOK.

Frost spends part of chapter six on the place of the old monastic "rules" in creating missional communitas; the Rule of St. Benedict is one example among many. There are many examples in the emerging/missional church of groups who are attempting to arrange their community/communitas around some aspect of monastic order.

The "rule" is a commonly agreed-upon set of practices, values, and commitments. As Frost is quick to point out, each community that embraces this approach to communitas does so in creative, unique ways; there is no -- neither should there be -- one-size-fits-all, draconian and monolithic "my way or the highway" kind of attitude.

The function of "re-monking the church" -- a phrase Frost borrows from Stuart Murray's Post-Christendom -- is to have a standard that serves both as (pardon the term) a "vision/mission statement" that everyone who is part of the community agrees to when they identify with the community, and also as a more objective grid which serves as a reference when the group asks the necessary questions about whether or not they are accomplishing the purpose(s) that they claim to support.

The positives that immediately jump out at me would include:
  • the objectivity of the rule helps the "ownership" of the vision to reside in the community, rather than in a select few or in just one person

  • a clearly understood commitment to the rule can help people right from the get-go, because they know what they're "signing up for" when they choose to identify with the community

  • when life gets complicated -- as it inevitably does -- the rule provides both a foundational support and way of calling people back to the simplicity of the rule; grounding people in healthy dynamic from which to puzzle out the complications of life with imperfect people living imperfectly with other imperfect people in an imperfect world
But having done some research in recent years on the Shepherding Movement, which started as an attempt at discipleship and accountability but quickly degenerated into a system of control and spiritual abuse that wreaked havoc on literally thousands and thousands of Christians, I see some parallels that need to be thought carefully through, lest we see a similar train wreck.

Here's some sociological similarities that I've observed about the milieu that gave us the first Shepherding Movement, and the present ethos we find ourselves in (these are only slightly updated from my post Shepherding Movement: TNG? from 2005):
Then: Many anti-establishment hippies become followers of Jesus through the Jesus Movement, but hold a real distrust of "the man" (authority)
Now: Emerging generations are committed to being followers of Jesus, but have developed a suspicion and distrust of hierarchical, CEO-style leadership (authority)
Then: A genuine hunger for relationships; Christian communes with little or no connection to established churches/ministries spring up 
Now: A genuine hunger for relationships; destructured house groups/simple churches/monastic communitas with little or no connection to established churches/ministries spring up
Then: Cultural changes (the aftermath of Vietnam, Watergate, and the 60's in general) creates anxiety in many, resulting in a felt need for stability and some level of certainty
Now: Cultural changes (post-modern cultural transition, "fatherless generation") creates anxiety and restlessness for many, resulting in a felt need for relational stability and some level of certainty
Then: Sincere, older believers seek to minister and disciple these "outside the box" followers of Jesus (books, cassettes, conferences, personal mentoring)
Now: Sincere, older believers seek to minister and disciple (spiritual formation) these "churchless faith" followers of Jesus (books, blogs, websites, cohorts, monastic orders/rules)
Then: The question of accountability and authority becomes problematic; the teaching on "covering" and "being under authority" (based largely on Watchman Nee's writings) is given prominence
Now: The question of accountability and authority continues to be problematic; despite the collapse of the Shepherding Movement, the concepts of "covering" and "under authority" have not gone away, and the potential of monastic rules to become rigid and censorious
Then: While not originally intended, hierarchical power structures eventually develop to safeguard conformity to accepted standards

Now: While not originally planned, community power -- with the spoken or implied threat of "shunning" -- develops to safeguard conformity to accepted standards, rules, or commitments.

I'm not suggesting by any means that this re-discovering of monastic rules is obligated historically to become another version of the Shepherding Movement, but if we naively assume it couldn't happen, I would suggest that we need to step back and think it through a little more carefully. What Frost is suggesting, and what numerous faith communities are already experimenting with, is GOOD; but it's not without the potential for disaster. So how 'bout it? What would y'all suggest as ways to pursue communitas, perhaps with a monastic-inspired order/rule, yet avoid the trap of manipulative coercion to conform?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Kan van Wormen (Exiles 2)

The title is Dutch for "can of worms"; this should make Nico-Dirk Van Loo a happy Dutchman. For the record, I'm in favour of wrestling with the wrigglers.
The first Can O' Worms was based on the binary opposition of "being the church" and following "vision". The second kan van wormen, which will only partially answer Jamie's musings (this may become a Series of Worms), is the erasure of the artificial dichotomy of "church" and "para-church".

Church is often defined, in general, as having four main purposes: worship, teaching, fellowship, evangelism (some would call this more generally "outreach", which might include issues of justice and the poor). Most of us with any history in the church, will recognize that in reality, we proclaim four but practice three -- evangelism is left out, with the exception of the occasional conference or "field trip" into "the real world".

Missions groups such as YWAM, of which we are a part, do all four. In this (admittedly broad-brushed) observation, you could easily suggest that the para-church is actually more "the church" than the institutional churches who have all-too-often looked down their noses at para-church organizations. For example, the Vineyard movement, which Wendy & I were a part of for years, often finds itself partnering with YWAM due to mamy shared values and practices, yet John Wimber (founder of the Vineyard) was actually not really in favour of para-church ministries at all, feeling that they sucked away the best leaders from existing churches.

In Exiles, Frost had a couple of interesting observations about liminality and communitas:
"Those who have emerged from a liminal state are able to bring a challenge to normal society about the meandering ordinariness of life... As people undergo liminality and communitas in whatever forms, they should be able to return to normal, structured church society and engage in this important dialectic." (page 112)
As someone who has been involved in youth and young adult ministry since the days of the original Miami Vice, I have lost track of the number of times where returning YWAM'ers were frustrated beyond belief with the church's disinterest and dismissal of their liminal experiences.

This often resulted in these recent YWAM'ers turning around and heading back into YWAM again. And in turn, this has contributed to the continuing perception that para-church organizations are "stealing" people from churches.

The counter argument has usually been something to the effect of, "Well, if the church was doing what it was supposed to be doing, the para-church wouldn't be necessary". I'm not sure I agree with this statement, although in my early pastoral years, I know I said to more than a few people myself.

I think several things are going to have to change in the next few years:
  1. Churches will have to start listening more carefully and strategically to the liminal fringe. While there have been churches that have been affected by groups like YWAM to the extent that they now run their own short-term projects, they are still a minority at this time.

  2. The line between church and para-church needs to be erased. Para-church is not important only if the church is failing at its mission -- para-church (liminal ministries) are part of the church and must be embraced and allowed to impact the rest of the church.

  3. What if, instead of wracking their brains for more programs to "attract" people, churches invested themselves in liminal, short-term communitas, and let the people who are "attracted" be motivated by service, rather than by "felt needs"?
Don't step on the worms.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Patron Saint: Dr. Johnny Fever

Here's a lite note for a Friday evening -- how to make robbymac a very happy camper. It's simply, really. Just discover, as I did earlier today, that they're finally going to release the funniest television sitcom ever made on DVD: WKRP In Cincinnati.
One of the disc jockeys, Dr. Johnny Fever, was somewhat of an inspiration/alter ego for me. I once enrolled in a Radio, Television & Journalism major at college, and I think (in retrospect) that the good Doctor might have had a hand in that.

This is a brief clip from the pilot episode. Perhaps those of you who know me will understand why Johnny Fever caught my imagination. Aside from the tinted shades that everyone was wearing back in the day.

But even beyond what is one of funniest scenes for a pilot episode, I see Dr. Fever as an interesting metaphor for dreamers who have gotten burnt, and how a bit of encouragement goes a long way to rekindle Johnny's subversive influence. Cool thought for us over-40 types who occasionally relate to Johnny's protest: "I think you should find somebody else -- about fifteen years younger."

There's no metaphoric meaning to this clip, but it's got what is arguably WKRP's single most-quoted punch-line: "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."

We now return to our regularly scheduled weekend diversions.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Can O' Worms (Exiles 1)

This post was inspired in part by Jamie Arpin-Ricci, and also from my reading of Michael Frost's Exiles, which I HIGHLY recommend. I'm only half-way through it, and it's encouraged, challenged, frustrated, and caused me to put it down repeatedly to think about implications and possibilities. Books that accomplish this are gems. Get this book.

Frost talks about communitas early in the book, which he describes as a community that has a goal beyond itself -- in order words, it's not community for community's sake, but rather community gathered around a common vision.

Frost couples this with the concept of liminality -- a radical middle state where faith, uncertainty, and experimentation are embraced and explored. It's not unlike "chaos theory":
"Complex systems tend to locate themselves at a place we call 'the edge of chaos'. We imagine the edge of chaos as a place where there is enough innovation to keep a living system vibrant, and enough stability to keep it from collapsing into anarchy.

"It is a zone of conflict and upheaval, where the old and the new are constantly at war.

"Finding the balance point must be delicate -- if a living system drifts too close, it risks falling over into incoherence and dissolution; but if the system moves too far away from the edge, it becomes rigid, frozen, totalitarian. Both conditions lead to extinction.

"Too much change is as destructive as too little. Only at the edge of chaos can complex systems flourish." (Michael Crichton, The Lost World)
Where Frost's comments open a can o' worms, which is making me think long and hard (I did mention that this was a journey, eh?), is where the concept of communitas intersects with liminality. Let me explain:

Many people who are currently in a season of detoxing from church are reacting against a one-vision, get-with-the-program-or-find-a-new-church mentality. A phrase that many have adopted was the cryptic observation: "We had to stop attending church to learn how to be the church." This has been an important step in the detox process.

And now here comes Frost, suggesting that community that exists only for the sake of community (just "being") is self-centred and narcissistic. Communitas is a deep community, but it's based around a common goal or vision. The can o' worms is the edge of chaos between genuine community which does not revolve around peoples' "performance", and yet is still intentional about the advancing Kingdom.

See what I mean? This book is making me ponder. What do y'all think? Is communitas just another example of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss"? Or is just "being" the church only a leg of the journey, and not the destination?

(I'll get to Jamie's challenge and liminality in the next can o' worms.)