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Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Is It Scalable?

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

I have recently realized that the nonprofit – and to some extent the church – world of which I am a part is absolutely addicted to scale. It’s no longer enough to have a fantastic youth program in your neighborhood, but you have to be focused on replicating the program throughout the city. Once you’ve replicated throughout the city, you need to focus on national replication or, at the very least, delivering a model program that can be picked up by others in Boise and Bartlesville, Rolla and Rochester. Funders only seem to be interested in local programs that have national implications and any leader worth their salt has their sights set on increasing the scale of their cost-efficient, evidence-based, outcome-oriented programs that are scalable within a three to five-year window.

This emphasis on scale scares the shit out of me because I’ve never built an institution or served as a cog in a conveyor that distributed a program or practice throughout the country. Instead, I’ve found myself and, when lucky, new expressions of life and faith within small boutiques like Sinners & Saints, the Boston Emergent Cohort, The Gathering, and Beverly Bootstraps.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think these boutiques are inherently superior. The small things we do with great love can easily be derailed by one dysfunctional relationship or one foolish financial decision. Moreover, like most everyone else, I would love to see ten students with disabilities start their careers at a swoop than have to struggle with placements one at a time or report that ten fractured couples found reconciliation this quarter instead of one being set aright every couple of years. I also have a number of friends who have developed scalable programs over the past decade. I not only have an incredible amount of respect for these individuals and their achievements, but would also lay down in traffic for one or two of them (see DeFranza, Andrew).

Now, as I sit and wait with colleagues to hear if we are going to receive the resources required to take a violence prevention program we’ve developed to scale, I am literally white with fear.

Not receiving the resources will be soul crushing. I honestly fear that a rejection this time will inspire an ocean of tears.

However, receiving the resources will be terrifying. For the first time I’ll truly be an integral part of something that will touch not ten or twenty, but hundreds of lives in Greater Boston and, quite possibly, tens of thousands of lives throughout the country. How will the part-time employee with a preference for Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels deal with distributing the Righteous Brothers at a Virgin megastore?

I don’t know. But, with a lot of grace and a little luck, I’m going to find out. I’m beginning to suspect that I’m going to learn as much about myself through this process as I am about the development and distribution of a multi-level public health intervention.

For these reasons, as we impatiently await the foundation’s word and the innumerable consequences that flow from that word, I’m stumbling forward in fear and trembling.

Overheard

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Submitted by: Gentry

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

-Wendell Berry

HT: Bruce Herman

Shaped by the Easter Story

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2011 at 6:50 pm

 Submitted By: Gentry

“Long story short: we don’t get to make our lives up. We get to receive our lives as gifts. The story that says we should have no story except the story we chose when we had no story is a lie. To be human is to learn that we don’t get to make up our lives because we’re creatures. Christians are people who recognize that we have a Father whom we can thank for our existence. Christian discipleship is about learning to receive our lives as gifts without regret.” -Stanley Hauerwas, Living Gently in a Violent World, pg. 92-93.

Rob Bell’s Balls

In Uncategorized on April 17, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Submitted by: Slowfo

Bell’s got balls. I have to admit that I’m only 1/3 into Rob Bell’s new, controversial book “Love Wins” but already I have to give the guy a lot of credit for his courage. The beginning of the book is full of questions…legit questions that have wandered through my mind numerous times and that the Church needs to start talking about out-loud, not in hushed conversations outside her walls. With a 10,000+ attended church, a history of strong book sales, and regular speaking engagements at large conferences around the country, Bell puts it all at risk with this book. Some would say that he’s just catering to what the culture wants to hear, but the truth is that he’s jeopardized his entire ministry career (google Tulsa’s own Carlton Pearson as an example) with this writing. There is now a percentage of his congregation that is wondering whether they really should be following this guy anymore. The same can be said about faithful Christian readers and whether they will spend dollars to read his books going forward. Last, it will be fascinating to see which Christian conferences will still be interested in choosing Bell as one of their speakers. By inviting him, they will be seen as putting their stamp of approval on his message. Rob, you’re about to find out who your real friends are.

Most impressive to me is that Rob Bell, with his public proclamation against the traditional view of hell, has succumbed to what I believe is the Church’s greatest temptation: universalism or some form thereof.  What I mean is that if there is a “sin” that could possibly be the loftiest of sins to indulge in, surely this is it. “Love Wins” tells me that Bell has run across too many broken, non-Christian people that he deeply cares about that he has begun to wonder: If I love them this much and God loves them even more than I do, how can He send them to burn in hell in eternal, conscious torment based on this short life we live and our choices that are so heavily influenced by personal context? The issue is too complex to cover in a short blog entry so I encourage you to run to the bookstore or your local library, read the book for yourself and develop your own conclusions.

With all of the media coverage about Bell’s viewpoints, my real question is not: Why does this “universalist” Rob Bell have to stir up so much controversy for the Church? But instead, I wonder why it’s so controversial to begin with. Why is it so uncommon for Christians to see so much value in people that believers are tempted to jump onto the Universalism bandwagon? Right or wrong, universalism should be a serious debate in the Church. Followers of Jesus should have such a love for humanity that they are desperate to find new ways to connect people with our loving God – even if that means that at times we are tempted to question or act outside of our traditional views. If we’re serious about the core of Jesus’ message – to love our God with all that we have and love our neighbors as yourselves – then trying to connect our loving God and the love we have for the world should be a regular habit. Kudos to you Rob Bell for having the balls to make this debate public and giving the Church a swift kick to the testes to think through how much love we really have for the world (alright, since the Church is the Bride of Christ, the testicular reference doesn’t really jive, but you know what I mean).

Out of the Darkroom, Into the Light

In Uncategorized on April 12, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Submitted By: Kevin Smith Clark

Jn 3:20 – “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

These words haunt me every time i hear about this sort of thing (“the silent epidemic”).  I also know of too many pastors who have taken the bait of sin and destroyed themselves and countless others because of a lack of self-control.  A guy I knew in this area, a man I respected, ate meals with, worshiped and prayed with, is in jail because of his involvement with a high school girl.  When this stuff happens, I’m reminded of the words one of my co-workers shared with me some four years ago: “We’re all three bad decisions away from being that guy.”

That’s why I think the one of the main issues is the eevangelical church (and perhaps even the ehvangelicals) has lost (or ignored) the biblical call to confession.  We don’t confess anything anymore.  We’re too afraid to say, “i’m struggling with lust” or “i’m emotionally involved with another person” because it will dash our “appearance,” tarnish our records.  And on the flipside, when we hear confession we think, “Ewwww, that’s gross. That’s not right…I sure am glad I’m not like him” (cf. Luke 18:9-14).  It would be like finding out Barry Bonds used steroids ;)…which is precisely the point.  We’re all tarnished.  Some churches are just better at hiding their urinalysis.  Some haven’t been caught in perjury.

I firmly believe that a revival of confession is the catalyst to a stronger evangelical church.  The power of confession is it takes power from the Enemy and exposes it to the light of Christ.

Back in the 90s, we used to have these devices called film cameras.  And the film had to be developed in “dark rooms”…and exposure to light would ruin the development process.  I try to think of Sin in any situation (and especially the ones my brother Jeff mentioned) as needing that deep, dark place to develop, and confession becomes that light that intervenes and exposes that sin from developing.

I heard Leonard Sweet say, “Church is the place people go to pretend they’re normal.”  That’s why we’re in this mess…we’re pretending.  I hope twenty years from now, he’ll say, “Church is the place where people expose the darkness of their sin to the light of Christ.”

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 Jn 1:9

the silent epidemic: sexual abuse & assault in evangelicalism

In Uncategorized on April 10, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

on friday night abc’s 20/20 featured an expose on sexual and physical abuse within independent fundamentalist baptist (ifb) churches. my friend crystal, who i worshipped with at manchester christian church in the early aughts and at home church in the middle aughts, grew up attending the church in concord, new  where the first heinous allegations of abuse took place, so i watched the show with great interest.

the show spoke about how, in two hierarchy obsessed, masochistically patriarchal ifb churches, high school aged women were raped by older men. the women were then blamed for the sex crimes, in one case forced to repent in front of the entire congregation, and commanded to “forgive” their male perpetrators. the perpetrators were then allowed to remain in fellowship with the church and maintain close associations with the congregation’s youth, while the victims were isolated and left to live in shame.

i kept an eye on the independent fundamental baptist cult survivors facebook page throughout the program and i was a little surprised by one thread of the conversations. namely, as many christians expressed their concern and support for the ifb victims, their comments appeared to indicate a belief that this type of abuse was limited to ifb or similar fundamentalist churches. if that assumption is correct, the commenters could not be further from the truth.

the fact is evangelical protestant churches of every stripe have been stained by sexual abuse. sadly, my experience suggests that most evangelical churches and organizations are just  as quick to cover up this abuse as their ifb cousins.

find that assertion questionable? let me briefly outline my experiences with sexual abusers in the church.

when i attended bible camp in third grade, we had a popular, funny counselor in our dorms. after the second night of our three night camp, the counselor disappeared. none of the leaders were willing to talk about why this man who slept in the immediate proximity of 30 boys was removed from camp, but one of my fellow campers said that the counselor, “tried to touch him.” i do not know if a sexual assault actually occurred, and i am almost certain that our parents and the local police were not notified of these allegations.

as a freshman in a parochial high school, i had a j.v. baseball coach who was winsome, compassionate and absolutely beloved by the student body. he also had a beautiful wife and was a respected deacon in a southern baptist church. one night, after giving me a ride home after a basketball game and right in front of my home, the coach grabbed the back of my pants, pulled out my boxers and said, “i see you’re a boxer man.” if memory serves, i told him to “get his fucking hands off of me,” but that retort may be a memory colored by bravado. nevertheless, i said something and he never touched me again. unfortunately, he did touch 6 or 7 other students and, as a result, is currently serving over 70 years in prison.

i can’t speak in great detail about another incident at my home church because i do not want to cause additional pain. however, i can say that a young man in authority broke sexual boundaries with a middle school girl and a pregnancy resulted. although the young man faced severe ecclesial condemnation following the incident, the authorities were never consulted or involved. this incident hit very close to home.

another young man that i went to bible college with who sang the praises of joshua harris and bragged about not kissing a girl until he was married, was convicted shortly after graduation for getting his high school youth group involved in a fantasy sex ring.

on another occasion during bible college, i was notified that a youth minister of a nearby church who i had greatly respected as a teen, was forced to resign for having sex with one of the underage girls in his youth group. when i spoke with an elder of my home church about the incident, he notified that it was horrible that the minister committed the offense, but you couldn’t blame him alone since the underage girl was sexually aggressive and “threw herself” at the minister.

a respected administrator at my seminary left to become the president of an evangelical college in north carolina. shortly after accepting his new post, he was forced to resign due to allegations concerning improper relations with an underage youth that were conducted via computer.

that’s just my experience. sadly my experience suggests that the sexual abuse featured in the 20/20 story is far from unique. whether in christian church, church of christ congregations, respected evangelical seminaries, or other educational institutions staffed or led by conservative christians, sexual abuse is common.

unfortunately, in many instances, these organizations that are so quick to quote 1 peter 2:13-14 – “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors” – refuse to notify authorities of instances of sexual abuse or rape. as a result, the individuals involved often have clean records and a virtual license to go forth and offend elsewhere. moreover, when abuse is spoken of, it is almost universally spoken of in reference to the abusers, usually male pastors or other church leaders, and the victims are rarely mentioned. it is common to hear about ministers who have fallen into sexual sin or been unfaithful to their wives, but one rarely hears concern for their victims or concern that earlier and/or additional perpetration might have occurred.

in most instances, the church and organizations seem more interested in protecting their reputation and avoiding shame than ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice and victims receive adequate support and treatment.

as a christian, i believe that perpetrators can turn from their sexual sin and eventually experience healing. i believe that victims can identify their trauma, move towards healing, and in some miraculous instances, even forgive their perpetrators. i believe that light is more powerful than darkness – even the profound darkness of sexual assault and abuse – and i believe that Christ can make all things – even repentant perpetrators who abused their authority to victimize innocent people – new.

however, until the church is willing to clearly identify that abuse is a problem, consistently teach the members of the church about healthy sexuality, prioritize the care of victims over reputation of their churches/organizations, and refuse to shield abusers from the profound legal and social consequences that result from their sin, we will continue to have a silent epidemic of sexual abuse and assault raging within the body of Christ.

the ifb is not alone. there is an epidemic of sexual abuse raging within our congregations, denominations, colleges, and seminaries that has to be addressed. i am going to do my best to advocate, educate, work and pray for the health and relationships within christian communities. i hope that you will join me on the journey.

just when i think i’m out, ehvangelicalism* pulls me back in!

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

in preparation for the upcoming leadboston program day, which will focus on immigration, i had to visit boston’s south end to explore the themes of immigration and integration in that community. the day was supposed to start with a phone conference with the director of programs for agencia alpha, an immigrant focused service agency started by leon de juda, one of the leading latino congregations in the city.  the phone conference was cancelled due to an impending grant deadline on their end – a completely understandable reason! – so we rescheduled for monday and i clicked through the south end’s city data page instead.

later in the afternoon i had scheduled a meeting with brian corcoran, an old home church friend, who now works in applied research at the emmanuel gospel center, which is located in the heart of the south end. i have been somewhat aware and connected to the egc for years. i knew that through partners such as ralph kee, they had a hand in hundreds of boston church plants – including many led by immigrants or new citizens – over the past 40 years. i knew that through starlight ministries, they were involved in outreach to boston’s homeless and house insecure population. i knew that they were the kind of mission center that simultaneously nurtured the leaders and formation of initiatives against human traffiking while also, somewhat absurdly, encouraging church planters to attend evangecube trainings (for my perspective on the evangecube watch this). however, i had never met doug or judy hall, gordon-conwell grads who were longtime directors of the egc, and i hadn’t really thought about their mission for years.

fortunately, after i entered the wrong door and navigated my way through what i think was an AA meeting and into the rather spartan egc offices, i had the privilege of sitting down next to judy hall. after establishing our points of connection – rick bennett and city on a hill, amirah, & a shared passion for youth violence work – judy’s husband doug came over and joined the conversation.

doug showed me a paper that was recently published in a johns hopkins university publication about egc’s youth violence systems project and about his passion for applying systems thinking to the development and health of local communities and the church. he breezily referred to his background in counseling and he and judy spoke briefly about their decades of working and living beside innumerable individuals with mental health challenges in the south end. they asked me about my work at triangle and were genuinely interested in the applications innovative community rehabilitation work for people with disabilities would have for their community. we talked briefly about points of overlap between triangle’s impact violence prevention training and their work with youth as well as amirah’s growing work with women and girls who have been traffiked.

after twenty minutes of discussion with the halls, brian corcoran and i had a cup of coffee at a starbucks on tremont street – not far from the jorge hernandez cultural center where city on a hill gathered for worship not so terribly long ago. we talked about the corcoran’s experience living in the diverse community that is the south end, where little league teams include the children of hedge fund managers and generally uninvolved – except when it comes to baseball – puerto rican fathers. we spoke about our hope for the city, the health of local churches, the growth of our families, and our own challenges to contextualize the faith that has been given to us in the new england context.

although i like to think of myself as broadly ehvangelical in the bebbington sense – i.e., i hold scripture in the highest regard, believe in the importance of individual transformation, try to center my life around God’s mission, and long to be formed all the more by prayer – eeevangelicals’ penchant for focusing on the minor theological debates instead of the infinitely expanding mission of God (see bell, rob and hell, existence of), reflexive embrace of extremely conservative politics, and often ongoing commitment to patriarchal systems, has often tempted me to toss the label and related commitments aside.

but when i meet warmly ehvangelical people like the halls and brian corcoran, i am reminded of the faithful, beatitude shaped, sacrificial lives that the best of my ehvangelical bretheren have committed themselves and continue to live. on friday i was reminded of the best of my christian tradition and i now have a renewed longing to live up and into the faith that they have proclaimed and embodied so well.

in the end, i’m an ehvangelical. you can’t wash that off and, in my better moments, i don’t want to. thanks be to God for the gracious reminder he gave me this week.

* in gentry speak, eeevangelicalism is the reflexively conservative, christian subculture obsessed, inerrancy constricted, michael w. smith listening, megachurch adoring, altar call committed contingent of my tradition that i have a hard time connecting with. ehvangelicalism is the Christ focused, culturally integrated, clapham shaped, mostly urban, globalized contingent that i snobbily consider my own. these categories provide a divisively judgmental short hand whereby i can identify my preferred position within m larger tradition.

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