Tuesday, October 31, 2006

[THO] Full Time Ministry

I am hoping this is a bit provocative. I've been studying the clergy laity split in the Roman Catholic church and I am more and more convinced that the concept of Full Time Ministry is really just a longing for contemporary evangelical clergy. Prior to Vatican II the clergy were seen almost exclusively as those who have pursued a less perfect way. They were a sub-species of Christian meant only to follow the leaders. But Vatican II challenges this notion, especially in Lumen Gentium and Guadium et Spes. People of God is recovered as an image of the whole Church, not just the laity and the clergy are restored to a servant role and charged with the promulgation of lay action.

In the Protestant/Evangelical world we haven't caught up.

Instead of codifying the offices, we've created two classes of Christians. Those who ministry full-time (whatever that means) and those who are bums in pews. Before you jump on me, I'm trying to make a point. Of course there are many evangelical and protestant groups who have addressed this, but usually what is addressed at a denominational level takes forever to make its way to the adherants. So if you have busted this myth, kudos. But so often I encounter this myth alive and well in the people who attend our churches. Also even though Vatican II has made great strides, it is nowhere near pervasive in Catholic thinking either.

What is wrong with full-time ministry?

Well it may seem hypocritical for me to talk about full-time ministry disparagingly. I've spent many of my own years as a Christian primarily and sometimes only working for the Church. There is a need for a strong sense of direction and cohesiveness in the Church which comes primarily through good leadership structures. That isn't where the problem lies. The problem is when leadership is no longer part of the congregation but something else, an ideal and even an idol.

I've seen lots of young people with aspirations for full-time ministry, as if this were the ultimate in glamour roles in the Church. I think for some it appears that way. Working for something eternal seems to have a great appeal for a lot of ministry hopefuls. Heck in some of our movements you even get to wear funky garb! But there are three big issues that must be addressed, bubbles to be burst so to speak.

1) Full-time Ministry is not a guarentee of the faithful

Just because you gave your heart to Jesus, no one owes you a full-time ministry position. This is not the pinnacle of your walk with Christ, in fact it might very well be your downfall. Paul said not many should aspire to be teachers - be careful what you ask for.

2) Full-time Ministry is not a second class of Christian

Jesus loves all of us, in fact if He has a preference it is for the least in our midst, not the most well endowed (ministerially speaking). It is foolish to think that once you've arrived at full-time ministry you have arrived in the Kingdom. If that is your destination then you can get there quicker by bringing a basin and towel with you everywhere and washing feet - that is a much higher calling than pastor or priest. Those who wish to be greatest among you... look it up Jesus is quite clear about this.

3) Full-time Ministers have the same struggles as the rest of us

I think a lot of people see ministry as a refuge from sin, especially habitual sin. Let me let you in on a secret - we all struggle with sin. If anyone tells you otherwise then you can bet they are lying. There is no magic refuge in ministry, in fact ministry can be so draining that at times those temptations become unbearable. I know I've been in ministry a lot of years and had my fair share of struggles. The same grace is available for all of God's people - even the full-time ministers, so there is no benefit here for those looking for that easy out.

Now that I've burst those bubbles. If you still feel God calling you to devote more of your life to ministry, awesome! Like I said there are definitely roles that need to be filled. But I hope we fill them with those who are truly called. Those who will humbly take their place amidst all of God's people and be the servants of God that Jesus intended.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

[LIF] Booktopia!

One of the bulk book stores is going out of business and selling a bag of books for $20! Well I filled a bag in the religion section, basically got all I wanted and a few I wouldn't otherwise have bought. Actually only a few were ones I would have bought there anyway, but they are all welcome additions to my library! Here is my haul:

  1. Gundry (Ed) - 5 Views on Sanctification - fun

  2. Vallee - Soundings In G. E. Lessing's Philosophy of Religion - dunno

  3. Taithe & Thornton (Eds) - Prophecy: The Power of Inspired Langauge in History - cool

  4. Hutson (Ed) - Religion and the New Republic - Noll is in there!

  5. Aquinas - Treatise on Law - fun

  6. Graham - Sacred Adventure: Beginning Theological Study - reader

  7. Zagano & Tilly (Eds) - Things New and Old - very cool!

  8. Allen - Love & Conflict - dunno

  9. Price - A Serious Way of Wondering - dunno

  10. Drane - Faith in a Changing Culture - dunno

  11. Ortberg - God is Closer than you Think - it was cheap

  12. Brown (Ed) - Christianity in the 21st Century - interesting

  13. Laiser - Toward an Old Testament Theology - coo

  14. Harpur - The Uncommon Touch - interesting

  15. Higgins - Heretic Blood: The Spiritual Geography of Thomas Merton - cool

I know, I should be working on my studies. But how can you pass a book buffet?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

[LIF] Inside Worship is back!

I missed Inside Worship, but now that it is back I restored the link to my article Towards a Post-Modern Liturgy. It makes a nice addition to the series on Worship I have been doing.

[LIF] Last Night was Awesome!

I showed up in Smiths Falls with a few of our Freedomites, it was a wonderful atmosphere. They had just bought a LCD projector and were projecting the acrobat files onto the wall for worship - interesting choice. I'm going have to give them a quick lesson in PowerPoint or convince them to buy Songbase or something. But it was fine, we had a quick break and then started up again. I taught on how our vision of God and of ourselves gets corrupted and keeps us from the intimacy that God desires with us. I talked about how this intimacy is a foundation for our relationship with God. And I did all this from Psalm 23! Yeah, God has a sense of humour. I finished up by talking about how worship was that place where we cultivated intimacy, and how the Eucharist is that ultimate moment in the worship where we take God, and all God has done on our behalf, into ourselves (despite the mechanics of this which are highly debated).

After my talk my friend Paul prepared to open the Eucharistic table, we had a gospel reading and then I led the song Sweetly Broken. After a spontaneous Psalm broke out and Paul opened the table while I played gently in the background (ouch my fingers hurt from that!). As folks were coming up I led out in a few worship songs as I felt led and really just spent that time worshipping God myself. We had a prayer time after and there was a really sweet presence of the Spirit in the room.

Thanks all who prayed. Now it is back to the paper grind!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

[LIF] Overload!

I am really daunted by this weekend. I've yet to actually type out my speaking notes for tomorrow night. I have a tonne of reading to do for next week (including an entire book for one class - Guiterez's We Drink From Our Own Wells). Parishoners are moving Sunday morning. I have lots of research for papers yet to do. It is just crazy. So if the posts seem to come slower, it is just because my head is stuck in a book somewhere.

Wrote my grace mid-term exam yesterday, I was the first one done which didn't really comfort me. I even re-read all my answers. I know I've promised a series on the Kingdom of God, it is coming. I just finished up the chapters of Ladd's The Gospel of the Kingdom that are relevant to eccelsiology. I'll take a boo at Derek Morphew's excellent book Breakthrough before starting to tackle my paper and my Kingdom posts should fall quite naturally out of that. Also I still have the last installment of my worship series to do - no worries I have not forgot. But developing a brief theology of worship is not something to do lightely. And I've not had the chunk of time required to really do it justice. I do have a draft on the go though so we'll see. Once I have a proper outline for my first paper I should be good to go on that front.

Finally got my courses for next term settled! Liberation Theology with Heather Eaton, Christology with Hengel, my last required English class, and Philosophical Hermeneutics. Should be a good mix.

Well pray for tomorrow night, I am really excited to go and speak. There are quite a few of our folks going as well and the ministry time should be very sweet. I'll definitely post on how the evening went.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

[LIF] Grace Paper

I wasn't that impressed with how the prof for my Eastern Studies course wants us to structure our papers, but hey it's his course. But I just got an email from Prof. Ken Melchin confirming my proposal for a wickedly awesome Grace paper, well it has potential anyway the rest is up to me.

I am going to talk about how modern day evangelicals have so bought into the personalist view of salvation that their view of grace is severely truncated. To show this I will put a number of modern evangelism models in dialogue with Jurgen Moltmann. This is going to be fun!

[THO] Sacrament of Ordination?

I really need to do some serious work on the Sacrament of Orders. Everything about hierarchy and orders gets my back up. I was against orders in the restructuring of the Vineyard in Canada (I sat on the Writing Task Force as one of two Ontario reps). Our thought was that we shouldn't assume someone will serve the same function when they move to another congregation, we want to take seriously the congregations recognition of gifts and calling. I'm sure this would sound quite alien to strongly hierarchical movements, but really it is rooted in our sense of functional leadership. This is a notion that a person will function in their role long before the congregation names that roll. So you don't get hired as the youth pastor, you fall into the roll and someone comes along and recognizes it.

The problem with our paradigm is that it isn't the norm for Christianity. Far from it actually. There is a long historical trend towards the elevation of the clergy which we have inherited. So for our paradign to work it takes a lot of deliberation and explaination. I think of it as a challenge. The challenge is to get the congregation to recognize that this is not the pastor's church, but it is their church and they have a roll in shaping what it looks like.

This sounds a bit more congregationalist than it actually is in practice. The Vineyard has a strong sense of pastoral leadership, especially in church planting. And indeed our issues have been with pastoral abuse not congregational abuse. So in a sense we do have some commonality with a hierarchical model - at least in terms of governance. But when this is working right the pastoral role is more invitational than bounds oriented. In fact at the core of our values is a center set sociological model (a great book on this is Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness by Jerry Cook). So the pastor is pointing towards a shared vision and literally shepherding the vision. Helping people know if and where they fit, always inviting them into more participation. As folks become more attuned to the vision they are invited into roles as their gifts/callings become apparent. And here is where we differ from most movements - these roles need not always be named as offices.

The philosophy of a sacrament of orders does two things that bother me. First it assumes a lifelong calling in a particular way. My own history of ministry has been one of falling into different roles in different settings: worship leader, assistant pastor, helper, prayer coordinator, team leader, participant, congregant, dish washer, chair set up specialist, bulletin maker, youth leader, youth pastor (a particularily bad one), co-leader of college and careers, guitarist, keyboardist, greeter, teacher, church planter. All of these were significant and unique, but the progression was not linear (hierarchical climbing) nor was it permanent. Just because I am a church planter right now does not mean that this is what I will always be. Because of the way that the sacrament of orders is structured you couldn't go back, you would always be the office you were last installed into, at least from that time forward. And we wondered at why it was so hard for the Roman Catholics to deal with their priests who couldn't keep their cassocks done up? When orders are supposed to ontologically change your nature then you have a problem when the Peter principle kicks in. Which is my second problem with the sacrament of orders. There must be a way back. I know at different times in my own walk I needed to step back from ministry to work on my own life. Sure you can do that within orders but when I read the third chapter of Lumen Gentium the standard for ordained ministry is so high that we are setting up the ordained for failure.

This is part of the problem with such strong separation of clergy and laity. The clergy are expected not only to perform all the functions of Church and Christian life. But God forbid they should fall. Yet the reality is that we are all likely to fall into sin - sorry if that is a shocker. Anyone who was a Pentecostal during the Jimmy Swagger days knows the pain of seeing your heroes fall. Before you think me callous, my heart goes out to the priests who have fallen into sin. My frustration is directed towards an unhealthy ecclesiology that keeps our leaders in bondage to ideals that are humanly unattainable. Sure there are shining examples, but if you think that those lives were easy you have bought into a myth. We are all in this together and that is why this is so troublesome - our best resource for dealing with our human frailty is real open and honest community. And the hierarchy doesn't promote that, it hinders that.

I love that if I'm having a hard time, fighting with Sharon or frustrated with parenting, I can show up at church and say 'I need prayer'. I love that I am one of them, not the one they all look to as a perfect example of Christian living. We point each other to the only real example of that: Jesus. I love that my congregation isn't scandalized but gathers around me and prays. I love that they feel they can do the same. That is beautiful ecclesiology. That is how we serve each other in love. To me that is Church.

Friday, October 20, 2006

[LIF] Book Find!

After the Anglican mass I decided to pop into the bookstore at school. Lo and behold sitting on the shelf in the most tempting fashion are two books I've really wanted for my library! Both by Teillhard de Chardin, The Phenomon of Man and the companion to that The Divine Milieu. Well I didn't have my wallet with me, travelled light to the service. So I took off to my locker debating the whole way. They were cheap, as far as books go that is: $17 and $16 dollars. So I buckled, grabbed my wallet and headed back. I also have this discount card that takes the average price of my last 10 purchases and gives me that as store credit, I was one book away from filling that up. Of course I don't just grab the two I want, but just below them is Alisdair McIntyre's After Virtue! Yup, the book Kenny told me I would like. All shrink wrapped and beautiful, like a siren calling me to the rocks. It was a tad more than the Chardin texts but that helped me with that dicount card. Turned out that from that dicount card, after buying After Virtue that is, I only had to pay for half of the Divine Milieu and Phenomon was free! Score!!!!!!

Unfortunately I spent much of yesterday reading After Virtue instead of doing my homework! Doh. I did manage to put together a working bibliography for my Ecclesiology paper though (thanks Peter), I also submitted a shift in my thinking for the Grace paper. What I would like to explore is how this inheritance of narrow personal grace/sin (Luther) has coloured the best (relational) and worst (fire insurance) of evangelical evangelism, with particular attention to how this contributes to our inability to respond to systemic/social sin/grace. Makes me wish I owned Church in the Power of the Spirit.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

[LIF] Upcoming Speaking Engagement

Now on the off chance any of you are in the Smiths Falls area Friday after next, I'm speaking at a night of worship and ministry. Should be a rich time, my buddy Paul and I will be preparing a Eucharistic celebration as part of the ministry time. If you can't be there, keep me in prayer. I was chatting with my friend Tracy about this today, in the midst of academics it is important to still hold the tension of relational parish life.

Monday, October 16, 2006

[LIF] Preparing to Write

It is starting to get really busy. I have a good start on the last installment of the Worship series, but it might be a while. Expect a few more of these 'sanity' blog posts. Posts that help me get my ideas organized a bit.

I have three decent papers this semester and this is what I am researching/writing about, if you have book/article suggestions please let me know.

Ecclesiology = for this I am going to look at how the Kingdom Theology of the Vineyard affects its ecclesiology. So I'm reading and re-reading Ladds Gospel of the Kingdom, Dodd's Parables of the Kingdom, Fuellenbach's Church: Community for the Kingdom, Ventor's Doing Church, Carol Wimber's The Way it Was, Quest for the Radical Middle (Jackson) and watching a number of Wimber Videos I have. Oh and Breakthrough (Morphew).

Grace = this one isn't set in stone but I was thinking of looking at the nominalists influence on Luther's concept of grace. I have no texts identified yet for this one.

Eastern Theology = The only way I'm going to enjoy this is to do something I at least like about Eastern Christianity. So I'm going to examine their sacramental theology, specifically the Eucharist. I have Schmemann, Ware, Alfeyev, Mikloshazy and access to lots of Patristic writings (will likely ask for some direction there so I don't have to read everything). I need to narrow this topic thought, I figured I'd read Schmemann's For the Life of the World and figure it out from there. I'll have to use Zizuolas in the library, late night study here we come (groan).

Looks like I have my work cut out for me.

Friday, October 13, 2006

[THO] Much To Write About Nothing

We did Rahner yesterday in Grace, actually the first half of the class was on Rahner's teacher, Martin Heidegger. I couldn't remember if I had actually read any yet, I have a Basic Writings and a standalone copy of "The Question Concerning Technology" on my shelf. I know I carried a print out of "What is Metaphysics" around one semester. It is usually wishful thinking that I will get time to read outside of material directly tied to my courses. The class was so fun that I decided to re-read "What is Metaphysics" which is also conveniently in my reader. I'm almost done this short piece, and it is hilarious. I believe the prof, Ken Melchin, used the term INSANE. The whole article is about nothing. Not that it isn't about anything, no specifically it is about nothing.

The whole class had me reflecting again on this turn towards the subject that I discussed a week or so ago. Heidegger is an important turning point in thinking, his thought influences much of our own yet I bet, other than those studying theology and philosophy, his name is not that well known. He is the one who tried to capture what it is that we are experiencing when we are experiencing and even the why we would be inclined towards experience at all. This is that turn to the subject that flew in the face of object focused scholasticism. The article I'm reading is Heidegger having a lot of fun with these kinds of a priori questions. (At least I imagine this was fun, then maybe I too am just a little INSANE as well.)

I updated the blog a bit, added and sorted links (deleted a few too). Also added a spiffy text of the day in Greek at the bottom. If you don't use it you lose it - I'm two years from being able to take the advanced Greek class (for some reason they decided to make it a grad class???) and that is one I definitely want to take because two semesters of Greek is just enough to make you dangerous.

Back to nothing!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

[THO] Worship VIII

Worship Pedigree
OK I freely admit it – I am a worshipaholic! I can't get enough of it. I love high liturgy, low liturgy, what is mistakenly called no liturgy, I like almost all of it. There are only three types of worship that don't get me going, low participation worship (special songs, choirs, etc.), thematic worship (usually when everything is meant to serve the teaching) and forced participation worship (hype worship). Other than that I am most comfortable in the midst of worship with my hands held up and my voice raised in song. I love it.

The last message we looked at why we worship. As a worship leader it is important to understand what happens when worship is good. But some of that understanding comes from our own experiences of worship, what I call the worship pedigree. Each of us has one, so in exploring my own I’m hoping to point out a few key lessons, a few highlights and even a few letdowns. So here is my story of worship.

Early Worship Experiences
I became a Christian in the midst of a Pentecostal youth rally. The music was loud and all about surrender. My conversion was a clash of cultures and an encounter with the powerful presence of God. I could not deny it; I could only get on my face before the God I encountered. I came out of a place where I thought I knew something; I was into a lot of spiritual things and felt like I could take on anything. But when I encountered the love of God it completely disarmed me. It was so profound that I would often lose myself in worship, as it seemed to me the only adequate respond to this love.

Worship Pastor
I left my hometown and eventually landed in Ottawa working with a street church. We had a wonderful worship leader named Angela Justa, and we would worship in song for at least an hour at a time in service (usually twice a service). We often met throughout the weeks in our apartments and homes to worship and prepare for street evangelism. In those days I picked up some basic guitar and loved the freedom of being able to worship on my own. Then I was transferred to Mississauga to be the youth and worship pastor for a Foursquare church plant. Those simple Pentecostal songs (and a few Vineyard tunes I picked up along the way) flowed out of me as I learned the art of congregational worship leading. Those were good days, but they were not to last long.

Weight of the World
Soon my world came crashing down on me. Frankly I was released into ministry too early in my Christian walk. I came to the church plant with a strong sense of personal agenda and add to that a growing discomfort with the Pentecostal philosophy of ministry. Needless to say that ministry experience ended badly for me, I was removed from ministry and left wondering what had happened. But in the midst of that time of trial, God drew near. To be honest I was really screwed up. I struggled a lot with old habits, but still God kept coming near. I often would turn to God in worship, just my guitar and I. For me it was then that I learned how to pour out my whole being in worship. I learned how to flee to God when nothing else in life made any sense.

The Vineyard
I discovered the Vineyard not long after that; well it is more complicated than that. I knew of the Vineyard and was convinced it was a cult. So when in the midst of my crash trusted friends kept recommending a Vineyard kingship, I was sceptical to say the least. Not far from the basement I rented there met a little kinship, part of the famous Airport church (pre-Toronto Blessing days). It was the first time corporate worship named my pain and let me sing a real song to God. Despite my misgivings those folks embraced me and began restoring me to health. It helped that I also discovered Kevin Prosch in those days, another refuge in the storm. No matter what else was going wrong in my life I always had worship to come back to. And the thing about the Vineyard, there people who led worship really had something precious. It wasn't about hyping up the crowd nor was it about trying to make something happen. It was worship because that is just what we do; worship for the sake of worship. It happened to be artsy, but not overly complicated. It was emotive but not manipulative. It was honest.

Back to Ottawa
Though my experience of the Vineyard was profound, it was also short lived. I found an excuse to get away from Mississauga, my friends Andy and Angela were planting again in Ottawa so I came back. I did lead worship for them for a very short while, but I was far too broken to really jump back into a ministry role. I started busking and doing handyman work for the Yellow Lady (long story) to pay the bills, I lived pretty frugally in those days. I connected with Ottawa Youth Alive, a praise and worship ministry in the city and ended up at a Baptist church. That Baptist church was a wonderful place for me. I ended up going back to school, completed my high school and started college. I also began doing a lot more worship stuff, in fact I was one of the guitarists for the big national Convention Baptist gathering here in Ottawa, I forget what year but we had Campolo speaking to the youth. Towards the end of my time there I served as a lay minister and recorded a demo tape of my own songs - Frank in Session. Personally I learned a lot about just worshipping. What I loved about Pentecostal spirituality was that space they made for God to show up in powerful ways, especially in their prayer meetings. The only thing that got close to that outside of the Pentecostal movements was worship in song. At least, that is, until I discovered sacramental worship.

Not long after this I met my wife Sharon. We left the Baptist church for complicated reasons (not bad, just complicated) and hooked up with the Vineyard that was just starting up in Ottawa. That was quite amazing and this was when the Toronto Blessing renewal was in full swing, probably the worst thing to happen to the Ottawa Vineyard. We went there in the midst of all this chaos and eventually some immature people pissed my wife off to the point she wanted nothing to do with the Vineyard ever again. I was crushed. I loved the Vineyard, heck I was having a lot of fun with the renewal stuff too as desperately I needed to reconnect with my charismatic side. But Sharon had a better vantage than I that the way this church was a lot of people were going to get hurt. So much as it pained me we left and went to a wonderful local Wesleyan church, we also got married around that time.

I'm going to skip a bit here; basically those years were more about maturing in our relationship than in our worship. But we did lead a listening group at Sunnyside Wesleyan that was really quite cool. But those days were more of holding the ground liturgically.

Coming Home
God brought us back to the Vineyard about three years after we had left. Unfortunately the church, which had sprung up quickly in the renewal, never really established a strong foundation. Too many people who had come out were more interested in their spiritual fix than in really seeing a church planted, at least not the church that the pastoral couple had come to plant. Our friends who pastored that church were simply spent. We came in and asked them to train us up to plant a Vineyard. A few years later we planted Freedom and this is where God began stretching me in worship again.

With a new plant we needed worship leaders. We had a good core of leaders who were passionate about worship. Our policy was we'd let anyone do anything as long as they were ready to have feedback (it still is BTW). Those were great days and I learned a lot. That is where I really fell in love with the Vineyard three crescendo liturgy. But there was another stretch to come.

I also began studying at St. Paul University, a pontifical university. And there I began to understand more of what it meant to worship as a church. The more that I saw the sacramental side of worship; the more convinced I was that we evangelicals were missing something precious. Through a course in Celtic Christian Spirituality I became aware of the power of imagination. Through a course in liturgy I began to hunger for the way that sacraments fed the imagination. I was hooked and started to do little experiments with our congregation. Little things at first, but it grew. And other people were getting excited too. It was like finding a gem that had been lost on the path years ago; we fell in love with our emerging Eucharistic side.

Why I Love Worship
There is something so profound about worship. Worship makes a space for the encounter of God. For me I love to worship, I was just with my new friend Dan in the amphitheatre at school - two guitars, two voices and a whole lot of lost in worship. For me it is life imparting. Whether it is a song or prayer, the psalms or an act. Something about worship reorients my heart and opens my eyes to God's presence. It makes moments sacred. And that is why I am a worshipaholic.

The way I feel about worship, there is no real final destiny, just worship that gets better and better. I am convinced that those who long for worship will be led into the resources for worship. Sometimes from surprising places too. My story of worship is far from complete.  

Next I want to finish up with a reflection on the theology of worship.

Monday, October 09, 2006

[THO] New Series on the Kingdom of God

I want to jot down some thoughts for my next series. Don't worry, I'm still working on the Worship series. But over and over this semester I am confronted with the theology of the Kingdom. So I want to deal with some of the key areas that are coming up.

Kingdom I - How shall we talk of the Kingdom of God

  • What are some of the problems with talking about the Kingdom of God as a contemporary Christian. How can we overcome some of the various problemmatic conclusions people make about the Kingdom langauge. I especially want to deal with the language of inbreaking. I'm likely doing a whole paper on this for my Ecclesiology course so this will be a good starting point for me.

  • Kingdom II - Kingdom Ecclesiology
  • I really need to explore the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the Church.

  • Kingdom III - Kingdom Ecology
  • Shane found resources in Pentecostal Pneumatology to address the ecological crisis, I think there are resources in Vineyard Kingdom theology to let us do the same.

  • Kingdom IV - Kingdom Ministry
  • Ok let's put this all together. When we talk about the Kingdom of God we are talking about a theology that undergirds everything we do as a Kingdom people. That is what I want to explore here.

  • Kingdom V - How shall we talk of the Kingdom of God
  • I think this is worth revisiting. In light of everything we explore I want to come back to our foundational problem - how we talk about the Kingdom of God. I have some suspicions* but I want to provide a space to sum up the discoveries.

  • If you have ideas that might get me thinking in any of these directions, please throw them my way.

    *Just to let you in on my biggest suspicion. I think the the language Kingdom of God will be better expressed as the Reign of God both in terms of faithfully representing the greek and avoiding some of the problems that evoking the language of Kingdom presents.

    [THO] Comblin Rocks!

    For an Ecclesiology course I am taking we read a couple of chapters from José Comblin's People of God (Orbis, 2004). What an awesome book! We are studying Lumen Gentium (Vatican II) and as with other Vatican II documents it is a good start but doesn't go far enough. Comblin details how Ratzinger and others undermined the metaphor for People of God from the obvious focus in Lumen Gentium. He also talks about why it is such a critical image for talking about the Church. Lumen Gentium takes some really radical leaps towards inclusivity and People of God gives a framework for understanding these leaps. Comblin might be pressing his point, but it would be far better to err on the side of inclusivity than on the side of exclusivity. The idea of Church as Communion is taken up as an alternative to People of God, both ideas are needed, but favouring Church as Communion says loud and clear this is an exclusive experience. To be fair there is also an emphasis of Body of Christ also given favour in recent Roman thought, but this emphasis is also on the exclusive end. That tension between exclusivity and inclusivity is something precious that we need to hold on to. The exclusive formulations tend to favour the outdated hierarchical structures and close down possible ecumenical dialogue - exactly the opposite spirit of mother church in Lumen Gentium. The inclusive formulations throw wide the possibilities and seek common ground from which helpful dialogue can spring. Yes we should hold on to our distinctives, but being grounded in who we are does not need to be used to destroy who others are. People of God is an important concept from Lumen Gentium, and indeed for the church in this moment of history. Kudos to Comblin for making sure we don't forget this!

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    [THO] Eastern Thinking is Frustrating

    OK so I am digging into my second text for this Foundations in Eastern Theology course, the first one was a horrible book called Sweeter than Honey. But this next one is the same sort of crap. It is odd because I read lots of stuff I disagree with and it doesn't affect me like this. I was reading a synopsis of Rahner's idea of the Anonymous Christian, something that I am not really connecting with but I love reading and thinking through his ideas. But when I get to the Orthodox text I just find myself getting madder and madder? Then it hit me what the difference was. Rahner expects you to approach his work critically. There is no assumption that he has it right and you have to agree with him. But in the Orthodox books I've read so far disagreeing is not an option. I had this same problem with Mikloshazy's Benedicamus Domino! which was the first assigned text I refused to finish. I am just not interested in someone telling me that I've got it all wrong. I would love someone to show me the problems in my thinking, I am totally down with that, but there is just an arrogance in this stuff that I cannot stand at all. Anyway, I still have hopes for Schmemann, if anyone knows of a good, humble Orthodox theologian that I should read then let me know. I would hate to just have a negative opinion of Eastern theology.

    [THO] Worship VII

    Why do we worship?

    The obvious place to start with this question, at least for me, is that we worship in response to God’s revealed goodness. Because God is worthy to be worshipped – we worship. That might be a great place to start theologically, but my intention in this post is more to give a sense of how worship functions within a congregational setting. These are important to understand if we are concerned with improving the quality of our congregational worship.

    I would like to break this down into psychological, sociological and spiritual effects, but as we will soon see that is a bit tangled up. It is hard to separate the psychological benefits from the spiritual and the sociological benefits; the psychological benefits seem to fall directly out of these other categories. So we’ll explore the benefits of worship from the psychological vantage and identify how each benefit is also sociological and/or spiritual. Just to make this clear, psychological benefits are those that affect the person, hopefully in a positive way. The sociological benefits are those that affect the dynamics of the group or congregation. And the spiritual benefits belong to the category of transcendence, in other words they affect the participants faith. One might add that a worship session can be an effective cardio programme, but that really depends on the degree of physical movement within the liturgy. I am not convinced that movement is a prerequisite to good worship, even though I do admit I love to dance in worship (at the back and not wearing tights).

    Untangling the Benefits
    When we talk about what worship does for the participant, it orients them towards a horizon of hope (spiritual and sociological). It makes us aware that God can and does step into our lives. It reminds us that God is intimately involved with every aspect of our existence, and that alone is enough to give us hope. Another way of seeing this is that worship makes space for encounter with the divine. This is why we see spontaneous healings happen in the midst of the singing. It is also why sometimes folks are overcome by the presence of God. Why in the midst of the sacramental acts people find profound meaning. Those are all great things when they happen, but they are not our focus or reason for worshipping. But they are definitely a benefit to both the worshipper and the congregation.

    Worship lets us feel like we belong (sociological). Good worship, I should hasten to add. Some worship is exclusive in nature when it should be invitational. God is revealed as the one who opened his arms to the world, for us to turn around and close those arms does an injustice to the revelation of the Christian God. So when we worship in the community, we identify that community as our own. It also joins us to the whole Church that worships God, because this is what we all do.

    Worship also models unity in a healthy way (sociological). In a good worship setting there is a variety of responses to God. A common liturgy unites us, but our responses are our own. Some lift their hands, some sing boldly, some meditate in quietness, some dance, some cry, some laugh, some kneel, some prostrate themselves, some contemplate, some pray, some vocalize, some... well you get the picture. Healthy worship invites the congregants to respond to God individually and corporately. It is quite amazing when this is functioning well. There is a sense of freedom and safety that envelops you when you worship in a healthy environment. There is an invitation to let down your guard and be yourself. That is a gift, one we should always foster. For the sceptics I want to hasten that I’ve experienced this in a high Anglican liturgy and I’ve felt the lack of it in a lively Pentecostal liturgy. This needs to be fostered, it should never be assumed.

    Worship also orders our priorities (spiritual and sociological). Life can get pretty complicated and we can easily lose sight of a healthy rhythm of living. Worship presents a framework of priorities that we can find deep comfort in. That order is God, community and self. When we put God first we are really acknowledging our dependence on God. This is so important when all our cultural myths revolve around the individual. It is no wonder we see so much frustration in the Western world, we live well beyond our means (and I am not just referring to how we live financially). But worship turns our focus on God who meets us in our place of need. Secondly worship places us into the context of the community. We worship together not to make a bigger noise, but because we are in this together. We are joined together as family and learn in worship how to live as that family. We not only need God, but we need each other. So in worship we serve each other sacramentally as a sign of our life together as a sacrament of the Kingdom. And finally worship doesn’t lose the importance of self; it just places self in the proper perspective. Worship is nothing without the worshipper.

    Worship informs our mission as a Church (sociological and spiritual). The liturgy makes it clear that we are not a bless-me club. The liturgy orients us towards the world; it gives us the resources to be Christ’s body in the world. Some people think it just gives us resources to get through life, but this is part of the operative evangelical myth (something I am going to blog on soon).  This myth takes Jesus’ gospel formulation “The Kingdom of God has come” and twists it into “Where are you going to spend eternity?” That is worth unpacking because it has been quite destructive historically. Worship is not giving you a fuel up so you can make it to the next worship session. No worship is a picture of God stepping into the world that empowers our own lives for living. Worship gives us life so that we can be life in the world. We gain peace so we can bring peace. We a filled with love so we can love. We are comforted so that we can comfort others. We are empowered so we can bring a powerful message of word and deed to others. We are healed so we can heal others. We are given hope so we can give hope to others. This is our mission. Good worship doesn’t lose sight of this.

    I am sure there are other benefits to worship. I think there is enough here to chew on for a while. Next I’m going to share my history of worship, some of the highlights of my life as a worshipping Christian. I actually wrote that one already, but I want to tweak it still. As always I look forward to your comments.

    Thursday, October 05, 2006

    [FUN] Not That Geeky.

    I am 32% Geek.
    Geek? Yes, but at least I got social skills.
    You probably work in computers, or a history deptartment at a college. You never really fit in with the "normal" crowd. But you have friends, and this is a good thing.

    Saw this at Scott Paeth's blog, there was a time when I would have scored much higher.

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    [THO] Turn to the Subject

    Professor Eaton did this amazing thing at the break. A student in my class was having trouble with separating her own experience of 'redemption' with a wider context of thought about redemption - specifically what does it mean to think about redemption in relation to the natural world? I've seen this discussion of experience before, but forgot how profound it was. It is something that I've learned to do, but never really thought about how to verbalize. So here is my attempt to put it in simple terms. But the credit for this must go to Heather Eaton; I'm paraphrasing here.

    When we have an experience, that experience consists of two parts. The actual experience of which we are the object. A good example for the evangelicals is the born-again experience, but we could use any transformative or horizon shifting experience here. On the left is the person who has the experience, on the right is a box which represents the context and langauge in which the experience happened. When we have an experience we often don't think about the context in which that experience occured.

    The reality is that both the subject and the object are intimately entwined in the experience. You have an experience in the midst of a context, complete with a language to wrap around that experience. The experience becomes indistinguishable from the language and context in which it occurs. So when you talk to a born-again Christian about their conversion they use a context specific language to talk about it. What is also interesting is that often they refuse to equate similar experiences in other traditions simply on the basis of dissimilar language.

    What we need to do is learn how to separate the experience from the context without invalidating the experience. This is hard for people who have invested a lot into their contextual language. That is quite understandable, anyone who has had a life transforming experience knows the joy of wanting others to have the same experience. But we can easily do violence to other valid experiences simply because the language is different. It is important to understand that the language of the context is the problem here, not the experience itself. So by pulling the two apart we even get a clearer understanding of what that experience really did shift within us. And when we put them back together we gain a new ability, that of being able to speak carefully about our experiences. What I mean by carefully is not hiding the experience, rather not feeling that we need to define our experience in narrow and often exclusive language.

    When I first encountered this, about six years ago, I described it as surgically removing my faith, examining it and then re-inserting it into my being. At first this can be very painful, we become afraid that if we lose the langauge of an experience we might lose the experience. But having engaged in this for a number of years now I can see that it is really essential. In fact it realizing this is almost like another conversion experience. It makes us what Professor Eaton calls "ecumenically elastic". We are profoundly rooted in our real experiences, but we develop a fluidity to which we can begin to speak of them and even affirm them when we see religious experience in a completely different context.

    Monday, October 02, 2006

    Sunday, October 01, 2006

    [LIF] Joe's Back!

    I just got an amazing email from Joe. I think things are going to work out. I still wish it wasn't on MySpace! But I do have a groovy pic over there of me playing keys, back when I actually had some hair! But I am glad that I didn't lose a friend over this.

    I've half written the next installment of my worship series. Hope to get that up early this week.