Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

In Uncategorized on November 28, 2009 at 1:41 am


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.

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2009 at 6:43 pm

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.

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2009 at 2:00 pm

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*

In Uncategorized on November 22, 2009 at 7:29 pm


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.

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Join the North Shore Emergent Cohort

Hi All,

The North Shore Emergent Cohort is having our first meeting on Tuesday, December 1st at The Vault (217 Essex Street) in Salem. Please mark the date on your calendar and plan to join us around 7 pm.

Since this is our first meeting, we are going to start by sharing snippets of our own stories and discussing our hopes & intentions for this conversation.

Then we are going to discuss Patrol Magazine’s provocative editorial on the potential death of evangelicalism. Please take the time to read this short article – – before the meeting.

Although the cohort has facilitators, the shape and the content of the emergent conversation is determined by the people who choose to attend. Thus, we will all be poorer without your presence and hope you can make plans to join us.

Much Love,

Cyndi Bauer, Jesse Browning and Jeff Gentry

If you have questions about the cohort or would just like to shout, email Jeff at

In Uncategorized on November 17, 2009 at 2:19 am

know thyself (you muddled son of a bitch)

i don’t know how to write about this, but i’ll try.

oftentimes my life feels like a screen that is stretched between apparent opposites. for instance, i am a contrarian by nature. as most of you know i am a passionate fan of a storied midwestern team, but i take great pride in being much meaner than my compatriots. however, while i will immediately move towards the margins in almost any social grouping i am also a fiercely loyal to those i both love and live to contradict. this is the reason i have remained faithful to the christian churches, churches of christ (ccoc) and sought my ordination in this tradition, even though i’ve never been a recognized leader of a ccoc church and have serious doubts whether that will change, or whether i even want that to change, in the future.

in my more charitable moments, i suspect that the lives of others are displayed on similar screens and i long to view those projections through a much softer lens. unfortunately those moments are few and far between. something to pray about, i suppose.

In Uncategorized on November 14, 2009 at 2:07 pm

being graceful about the switch

if you hang around me at all, it won’t be long before you hear me talk about the importance of subversion and being a virus to the system. i think the reversals that Jesus talks about – the poor inheriting the kingdom, the last being first, the Messiah coming for the sick instead of the healthy – point towards the holy, hidden heart of the gospel

because of this belief one would think that i would be gracious when my short sighted expectations are upset or when i am confronted with an annoying experience of injustice in a rather ordinary situation. unfortunately, that is far from the case.

when i listened to last week’s sublime bait and switch episode of this american life, i was blindsided by my own lack of grace. act one, “neighborhood watch,” features a story of an unsuspecting suburban couple who repeatedly report an abandoned car to the local police and are repeatedly rebuffed by the boys in blue. when, persuaded by signs of struggle within the car, they finally dig into the glove box and trunk in an attempt to identify the owner, they are immediately arrested by the same police who ignored their earlier appeals. i don’t want to kill the story altogether, but it turns out that the car was bait and the couple was immediately caught on the line.

as the story unfolds, i was overwhelmed by the graciousness of the couple as they were treated like criminals, forced to hire lawyers and compelled to cop to something they did not do. at no point did they refer to the police as farm animals, fully exercise their first amendment rights or, shortly after the belated resolution of these matters, personally call the police to taunt and insult them. i’m not proud to admit this, but these are the type of things i have done in the past and will be tempted to do in the future.

when i subvert others intentions or attempt to change the system, i am stunned when they refuse to respond in a gracious or at least an “adult” manner. yet, when i am the subject of such reversals, i am an insufferable twit. this fundamental hypocrisy blights my character and calls me to repentance.

if we were all at soybean bible college, i would say that this episode will really “preach.” i’ve heard the message and will try to go forth and live out the graciousness that i expect from others.

one final note, the second act includes an interview with jim henderson, who runs the doable evangelism site and is a friend of the gathering. it also has an interesting aside about how evangelicals have sometimes used the expectation of sex and other questionable bait to finagle an audience for the gospel.

In Uncategorized on November 14, 2009 at 1:16 am

rehashing halloween

so i’m way behind on the halloween rehash and i’m disinclined to write at the moment that i have had to bribe myself with the king of kong in order to push this puppy out. so please forgive my errors, failure to praise everyone and any other unintentional offense.

first, it was a remarkable halloween season. on the first saturday i served (10/16) i had my requisite, “oh God, i really don’t want to do this!” moment, but thanks to the steady presence of rennie and old practice, i quickly got in groove and enjoyed the season thoroughly.

for the first time, this year a number of our friends and family invested in our efforts. dozens of our friends partnered with us to raise $800 so that we could match equal exchange’s gift and make our hot cocoa slave free. that was excellent (and expect the ask will be repeated next year so that we can take our cups down the bio-degradable route)! my own family and close friends donated $1100 in operating support to our little adventure. those dollars came in quite handy during a year when The Gathering has found it difficult to keep our heads above water, much less purchase supplies for the outreach. we were seriously humbled by the generosity of our friends and family. thank you for honoring God by setting us free to serve!

we also had a wonderful, diverse group of friends serve beside us throughout the season. for the first time in six years of serving at haunted happenings several friends from our christian churches, churches of Christ tradition came out to serve beside us. i hope that tim and the sojourn crew as well as jessica from manchester know that their presence meant the world to me. deep down in the part that i don’t like to talk about at parties, i think i wrestle with rejection issues, so the distance that has developed between me and the ccoc has often pained me. so the presence of these friends was nothing short of sacramental.

jessie and libby browning and the good folks from their home church in beverly monked up on halloween and spent six hours in the street laying hands on and blessing people they had never met. i didn’t have the courage to do anything more than serve hot cocoa during my first experience in 2003, so i was amazed by their boldness! i am also thankful to my hetero-life partner james for reprising his rector* role and accompanying this group for the first couple of hours. james, you are the only one i want wearing my habit.

on hallows eve and halloween the incomparable anita coco and her not for sale crew offered people an opportunity to experience “death by chocolate” for a second year. this was the second year to host this event, we had over 300 guests attend and many, many more folks than last year were interested in discussing fair trade and acting upon what they had learned. extra props to the guy whose name i’m forgetting who made the kickin‘ sign for this event. it really made a difference.

did i mention how amazing carrie erwin was throughout the whole halloween season? i had no idea how she would take to it, but within minutes of starting she was barking at guests in the street, anchoring the cocoa booth, dancing with strangers dressed as gasoline. seriously, she was amazing.

paul, joyce, jeff c and other first time volunteers were amazing as well. did i mention how impressed i was with carrie erwin?

ben corey, the independent baptist from maine carved an unexpected niche by becoming the master of the Jesus deck and a spot on dream interpreter as well. i wasn’t sure how much time he could commit, but he consistently under-promised and over-delivered and we were all so blessed by his presence.

joe riffe, who i think is mortified by the picture above, led a prayer room for us, stepped out of his comfort zone to bless strangers and talk to reporters and provided some of the vital, Spirit-filled energy we needed to make it through the last two days of the season. thankful for him.

my remarkable Friends’ friends callid (like “salad) and kristina worked beside us on the big day. kristina works for an organic farmers cooperative in upstate new york so she was a perfect facilitator for death by chocolate. callid has treasures of past experience that i was unaware of – such as performing street magic – so he was a wizard on the streets. for instance, callid composed my favorite bark of the season: “come to death by chocolate. a terrifying experience that will completely change your life! or not.” there were a number of small moments, such as kristina’s discussion of the almost paramilitary training that activists from the civil rights movement had to go through in order to be assigned to a lunch counter, that i treasure from their visit. they also left us with a bottle of amazing upstate new york wine. please come back soon.

this season i realized, much like i have been realizing at work lately, that my days as a non-stop, hands-on street minister or service deliverer are on the wane and i am being led into more of an administrative role. this transition is bitter-sweet for me – right now it’s much more of the former than the latter – since i have grown to love laying hands on strangers**, helping young adults find jobs, finding the perfect h1 n1 pitch that simultaneously repel and attract people to our cocoa booth. however, it is clear that my role is more about training and deploying than about being front line all the time. a friend named tim hawkins recently quoted another friend who said that discipleship, or training up people in the way they should go, is 99% encouragement. if that is the case, and i suspect it is, and administration has any part to play in discipleship, and i think it does, then i have a lot of growing to do.

i could go on, by explaining in great detail what an honor it is to serve beside pastor phil wyman or outlining the many, many unexpected lessons i have learned from my benediction laden brethren from the bridge church and streams ministries, but that is enough for now.

i hope that gives you a little taste of what the season was like. now that we’re a couple of weeks beyond it and i’ve had a chance to rest, i cannot think about october without cribbing little preston: “again, daddy. again!”

* you thought i was going to say rectal, didn’t you? admit it.
** that doesn’t sound quite right.

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2009 at 9:07 pm

slightly off-center veterans day salute!

ht: bunny suicides; clint eastwood; ryan chandler

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2009 at 5:26 pm


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