30 April 2006

Distributed church

Bill at faithcommons.org posted a comment on Andrew's post, which I posted on just before, and it just struck me:

As unix networking geek, church as a distributed, object oriented, networked, multi threaded, perhaps grid organism, makes perfectly good sense. The next question is: how to facilitate connections and connectivity?

In the late 1980s and early 90s networking PCs was not a done deal. Although servers (resources) were already long connected, few people could imagine the benefits of sharing a networked printer, file storage or even email. Until there was a critical mass of nodes on the network, growth was difficult. Yet I'm convinced that the connectivity we enjoy today over the Internet is as much a product of demand as it is of available technology. That is, civilization wanted distributed connectivity and so used available technology to build what was needed, and that drove more technological development.

Distributed church will struggle through a similar uphill run.

I'm going to begin looking at connecting folks in the Dallas/Fort Worth Texas area. There are many support networks already. Understanding them, bringing them around to thinking of themselves as church, and then connecting with individuals is one approach that comes to mind.

Any ideas?
Well, yes, Bill, actually ... I'll be in touch with you eventually, as your comment is just an amazing thing, for many reasons... but I'm posting about it here because, while not a Unix geek myself, my best and dearest friend is a Unix alpha and internet savant, and I know just enough about dot prompt programming myself to make me a very poor disciple of the B-, um, Micro- you know who.

And I absolutely see what you see about the "distributed" church model, and I'm serenely convinced it will happen. Fits and starts, progress and otherwise, but ultimately, it will happen. It is, already.

New term: "dechurched"

In my wanderings today, I found myself at faithcommons, by linking to a comment bill made on another blog. Among his very good and thoughtful posts is this one: Who Will Speak Out For the Dechurched? He writes,
Jesus walked Palestine bringing a message of hope and deliverance to those left out of established religion. He went to them. Yes he called for repentance. But repentance is not defined as prostrating oneself to man-made theology. Repentance means to take a new direction. To turn around. To go a new way. That new way included giving up oneself for a new life transcendent. It requires me to give up my wants and desires for the love of God and others. I can not have my way, in this new life. No, I must conform to God's will. And God wills that all people return to him.

But few will find the way to him while those with the message of hope are fighting over theological turf. Few will see the Christ in the efforts of those who would sacrifice the good name of a brother or sister to protect their fiefdom. And many are those who will abandon the institutional church in disappointment, disillusionment, dismay and disgust. These are the dechurched.


This is the way that Mary Tuomi Hammond defines unchurched. (sic) (I think he means to write dechurched there.)

The word dechurched is hardly adequate in describing the variety of individuals in question. Any term that utilizes "church" as its root can easily be misunderstood due to the myriad of popular conceptions and definitions applied to it. Does the word dechurched include those who simply neglect to make time for public worship or those who drift away from Christianity out of disinterest and distraction? Does the term primarily refer to individuals who have left mainstream denominations due to serious concerns? Can one be considered dechurched by virtue of simply attending a church and leaving it, regardless of whether that person ever made a genuine commitment to a life of Christian discipleship?

With these very valid questions in mind, I wish to clarify my use of the word dechurched for the purposes of this book. I use this term to describe those who have lost a faith that they once valued or have left a body of believers with whom they were once deeply engaged. I limit my exploration further by focusing on those who have felt damaged and alienated amid this process. I cannot judge the authenticity or a person's prior experience with the Christian faith; I can only listen to the pain and disappointment, the questioning and confusion, the anger and even rage that the stories of the dechurched often embody.
With the risk of sounding melodramatic, I must say that the last sentence above affects me deeply; it breaks my heart. And that's why my own anger and even rage sometimes bubble over when I read the attacks of one professing Christian against another. These dechurched are the collateral damage of these battles for power. They, and those attacked, are the ones who suffer when church leaders fight among themselves and when they abuse their positions and pompous titles.

But who will stand and speak out for the unchurched and dechurched? Who will go beyond theological and denominational squabbles and continue the job that Jesus began? Who will lay aside their pride, put their trust in God rather than doctrine and dogma, and humble themselves for the good of others? And who will give up their human notions of worthiness and give up their pride for the unworthy? Who?
Reading his post is comforting even as it's convicting, because now I know I'm not the only one.

The changing freshness of faith

Niall McKay at So What writes: --
I am liberal enough that I cannot bring myself to believe that God's 'default' approach to creation is the agony of all that exists in it. I try my hardest... but I can't. There is nothing about Jesus that would back up this theology. Heck, he even has mercy on the evil spirit of a strong man (but not, perhaps, the poor porkers). The kind of God Jesus introduces us to is holy and just and powerful but also (and far more importantly) gracious and forgiving and ultimately loving. So I part company with my hardnut conservative friends when it comes to the hellish fate of all who avoid intellectual assent to a five step dogma.

I've been getting to that conclusion myself, especially over the past year and a half.

This young man is a chaplain at Newcastle University in NSW Australia.

Read it all.

Believers who do not belong

Andrew the Tall Skinny Kiwi has written a post called Adventures in Hybridity in which he observes:

... In my annual "Postmodern Church Time Capsule" for 2001, I listed churchless believers as one of the significant trends. ...
the fact for many western, post-christian countries is that about half or more than half of the believers DO NOT attend a church service on Sunday. As these people find new ways to connect to each other and share spiritual gifts, a new form of complex church is arising that is more complex than "emerging church" [as presented to us by MSM] We cannot therefore talk in binaries. ...

I am suggesting that the new hybrid of church for millions of Jesus followers is a complex aggregation of many occasions and meetings and meals and projects and happenings. It is a modular fashion of living out church in community but it is not a pure singular model. It does not resemble the inherited model but neither does it resemble what most people think of when they say "emerging church". It is a hybrid of both that can only be viewed correctly with this in mind.
I'm certainly one of the number. I have a full, active devotional life, nourished by community, taught by good pastors, and yet, for many reasons, I do not venture into any of the local churches. Besides my paid employment, my nattering here on occasion has been of value to my readers... it is one of my spiritual gifts to write the way I do. Do you think there would be a place for me in a local church? Of course not! I do not fall easily into any particular variety of Christian church today. I've studied most mainline denominations, and have some knowledge of those which are, um, a bit smaller (I am thinking of the Two Seed In the Spirit Predestinarian Baptists; while I do not subscribe to the distinctives of their confession, I just can't let go of that marvelous name!). But what brings me back to Jesus is Jesus, his words, his work, his presence in my heart and life and soul. I accept John 6 and all its implications; I will cheerfully and charitably go to the mat with anyone who wishes to debate the outrageous things Jesus said about himself in those passages. That belief led me to the Roman Catholic church in my youth. I learned a tremendous amount as I discovered its truth and history and teaching, but that was long before I actually joined it. The whole long sad saga of what transpired has been documented in previous posts. So, today, I love Benedict XVI and admire him beyond all words, and think he is God's gift to the world ... but I will not put myself in the spiritual care of the man he has permitted to preside over some of the most shameful behaviour ...

[deep cleansing breaths.]

In my immediate family, I share the Christian infusion of thought and learning and music and goodness from Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Roman Catholics and Christian Scientists, all devout, all thinkers, and all cooperating to make a family. Perhaps it is this mélange of faith expressions which has led to the emerging church phenomenon. Whatever it is, it is wonderful for me, because it has saved me from bitterness and loss and isolation, giving me instead a vibrant experience of knowing Jesus, learning and interacting with others who know and love him too.

In a way, it astonishes me that Andrew is writing about what I'd perceived in myself for some time... and, in another way, it doesn't. The Holy Spirit is weaving us Christians, who've been separated from one another, back together again.

29 April 2006

The contemplative Protestant?

Let me put this another way. Despite the best efforts of cell phones, iPods, BlackBerries, and twenty-four-hour broadband internet access to stamp out all possibility of the contemplative, people still long to stand transfixed before an image of power and beauty, to watch a sunlit mountain range emerge from the rainclouds or to sit quietly in prayer. Behind these contemporary hungers lie, I believe, deep reasons why we Protestants ought to allow the contemplative back into our spirituality—to unlock our churches to our affective lives.

from an article by William Dyrness in Image, Issue #49, Spring 2006.

Read the whole thing.

The gift of silence

At Communio Sanctorum, Wyman Richardson recounts an unexpected type of midday service, one made of silence instead of sound.

It leaves me with mixed feelings.

As a pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic, I knew what silence was for. I have spent many, many hours in a quiet church, praying, opening my mind and soul to God. Churches were for prayer, in those days. Now, they are "environments" for "worship experience."

There is nothing wrong with a "worship experience," but the Holy Spirit knows that silence is what brings people face to face with God. If He is not welcome in the Roman Catholic church, He will work elsewhere.

In the article, Richardson quotes from T.S. Eliot:
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? ...
...and closes with:
Find the quiet places. Seek them. Run to them. And then sit and wait. Listen and hear what the Spirit is saying. The silence is a harrowing and a beautiful place.

Read it all.

A "journaling" Bible

It's the ESV in a format which allows lots of writing in the margins. Check it out.

08 April 2006

Blessed into wholeness of life

Lorna commented on my post about the way I felt led to celebrate Lent this year.

Lorna's in the right line of work. Her blessings are effective.

She wrote:
Be so blessed today. May His love surround you, and his gentle joy for life bubble up, like the warmth in a jaccuzi. You are His precious daughter - and the only rule He gives is that You allow Him to love you to life.
The way she phrased that - "allow Him to love you to life" - struck me at the time, because it was a different way to phrase it... a bit uncanny, because it's felt like God has wanted me to quit fighting Him over the good things He wants to give me. You're being silly, Father; You know I'm a sinner! Now, go away and give [this latest blessing] to someone else. I don't deserve it. I know better than You what I ought to have.

My goal during Lent was to repent of saying that in various ways to my dear Abba, and allow Him to treat me the way He wanted, without my editorializing and interfering.

In my post, I related how my fears prevented me from allowing myself to respond to my dear friend when he confessed his love for me thirty-some-odd years ago, and how, some months later, he was gone. The afternoon he left, I watched him go, and said to myself, "There goes my life. I am watching my life walk away from me."

"[T]he only rule He gives is that You allow Him to love you to life."

My life has been restored.

It's a long story. I will spare you for now. But every step and turn I - we - take leads to more peace. I've not felt so rested, whole and right since ... well, since we were dating, decades ago.

We have issues to resolve, things to do, ... none of this can happen quickly. There is much to learn, much to do, and lots of transitions to be made, some as yet unknown.

None of it matters. It will get done, or not, however God decides. We look into each other's eyes, and what we see there is all we need to know.

I've not had time to read others' blogs with any regularity. For that, I'm sorry. Your companionship, your interest, your comments, your prayers and your blessings have helped me so much. Without you, I might not have been able to understand that I really can live a whole life. Thank you.

When I look back where I was, I see how far I've come, even though, on the way, each step seemed an infinitesimal gain, and I felt I had to rest for an entire day, or maybe a week, after taking it. God has blessed those tiny, exhausting steps. Like the loaves and fishes, they have become full of days and distance from the self-limited place of life where I was before.

More later, God willing.