Friday, November 27, 2009


the art of pastoring by david hansen is the first book that introduced me to the narrative shape of the pastoral life. in one of the many passages that i have read and re-read pastor hansen talks about a moment in his early ministry when he took a moment to reflect on his predecessor's books, which were left behind when the latter man resigned both his charge and the pastoral life.

since a large portion of the shelf was filled with church growth manuals, hansen wryly observes that christian covers of "how to win friends and influence people" were not enough to sustain this man's calling. the author then goes on to remind young pastors that only a serious, sustained reflections on scripture, rigorous engagement with theology and clearly defined christian practices can sustain a pastor throughout a journey on which, as uncle freddy reminds us, "we will witness many horrible things and many beautiful things too."

maybe i've just been hanging around too many budding theologians lately, but, after six years of relative indifference, i've felt a strong pull back to the rigorous reading of biblical and theological texts. although there are elements of my pastoral life that i will not be able to determine, i am going to try my damndest not to follow in the foosteps of pastor hansen's predecessor by drowning in a sea of pop theology and gimmicky ecclesiology.

in light of my lackluster resolve, i'm hesitant to even talk about this. but i think that a return to rigorous reading is as important for my community as it is for me and i will need the accountability of the young theologians who read this to hold my monkey ass feet to the fire.

to those who want to hold me accountable: since i don't really know where to start with this new initiative i am going to start with nt wright's new testament and the people of God. i have a flicker of interest in christian origins and that seems as good a place as any.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

everything in its place

since i am preaching about the spiritual discipline of worship this sunday, i spent part of my (blessedly free!) morning reading richard foster's thoughts on worship in celebration of discipline. early on in the chapter he reminds us that worship is a context in which we await the kol YHWH - the voice of God - to speak to us.

for some reason, that image of the community waiting to hear the voice of God really unsettled me. in that moment, i realized that my preaching is more likely to focus on the real and apparent paradoxes that arise in the life of faith than it is to inspire the body to listen and respond to the revelation of God.

after some reflection and conversation, it seems to me that preaching should be focused on inviting the presence of God and attending to his revelation and direction. the people that i worship with probably do not need to identify one more paradox on sunday morning nor do they likely need to be re-immersed in the conflict/resolution pattern that characterizes so much of daily life.

i repent of the times i have ignorantly tuned people into one more tension instead of turning with them towards the rushing water emanating from sinai.

of course, i'm not suggesting that we refuse to wrestle complexity or start ignoring the nagging dark. for me the emergent cohort is a perfect context in which to consider such matters and, moving forward, i'm going to try to keep these conversations in their proper place.
i can't wait until i work for a real newspaper

season 5 of the wire wasn't my favorite either, but in the midst of all their bitching and complaining the reporters clearly stated one of the show's compelling themes: "i can wait until i work for a real newspaper."

mentally flick back through the seasons and you can hear the characters sharing the same sentiment about the police department, stevedore union, city government and public schools.

quickly review the conversations you've had with moi and you'll recall the same theme. if you met me eight years ago, i would have said "i can't wait until i work for a real church." if you touched base three years ago i would eagerly awaited the moment when i would 'work for a real fairy selling gift company.'"

last night, when i was talking about this theme with my Friends' friends callid and kristina, callid pointed out that "at the heart of your denunciation of the existing fairly selling gift company is the hope that there is a real fairy selling gift company that is worth pursuing."

though it probably sounds simple, callid's assertion that my brand of cynicism is trace evidence of the hope that will not let me go really touched me at that time and this morning still brings tears to my eyes.

on a number of occasions over the past couple of years several people have asked me why i am still a part emergent and what role the conversation plays in my ministry and personal mission.

the answer to their question is wrapped in conversations with friends like callid and kristina, who i never would have met, much less served beside, without emergent.

*spoiler alert*

Sunday, November 22, 2009


this month's issue of the atlantic has two intriguing articles on conservative christianity. the first is megan mcardle's entertaining account of becoming a dave ramsey disciple.

in the second article hanna rosin asks did christianity cause the crash? rosin's article specifically focuses on the influence that prosperity gospel churches have had upon first generation latino immigrants. her narrative points out that the largest concentration of new "prosperity gospel churches were build along the Sun Belt...all areas that were hard hit by the mortgage crisis." she goes on to note that "40 percent of all loans going to Latinos nationwide were subprime loans" and, perhaps more egregiously, "Latinos and African Americans were 28 percent and 37 percent more likely, respectively, to receive a higher-rate subprime loan than whites." based on those statistics alone, it is not surprising that "'hyper-segregated' urban communities were the worst off" when it came to home foreclosure crisis.

rosin's research is respectable and her portraits of the prosperity preachers - some of whom acted like absolute wolves throughout the crisis by taking cash kickbacks from mortgage officers for parishoner referrals or cutting out the middle man becoming bi-vocational a mortgage officer themselves - and their often earnest, God fearing parishoners were compelling. however, by the article's own note, only "50 of the largest 260 churches in the U.S." proclaim the prosperity gospel and i find it difficult to believe that these churches had an equal or greater influence on the crisis than the standard evangelical mega-churches which are often filled with aspirational middle-class congregants, conducted in highly leveraged buildings and hesitant to question our culture's economic mores.

i have no doubt that prosperity churches helped inflate the housing bubble, converted the few into nouveau riche and given false hope to many more. however, the evangelical church - of which i am a part" accounts for a far larger segment of our society (by some accounts 33 to 35% of the total population) and, i suspect, deserves a much larger portion of the blame for the economic downfall.