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Archive for November, 2011|Monthly archive page

Quick Reflections on Homebrewed Christianity’s Pete Rollins Podcast

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

If you’re intrigued by theology – even on a somewhat surface level like I am – I cannot recommend The Homebrewed Christianity Podcast highly enough. I particularly enjoyed the recent Theology Nerd Throwdown (TNT) that featured a lecture by Pete Rollins.

A few quick reflections on that lecture:

1. Throughout the lecture Pete emphasized the importance of identifying the idols – which may include our concept of God – that we venerate in hopes of finding meaning, fulfillment, and happiness. In one short bit, Pete mentioned that if you “want to know what your idols are, pay attention to what you critique” for your critique is likely fueled by your frustration that the object of your critique has not provided the happiness or meaning you desire.

As I’ve attended to Pete’s advice, I’ve realized that evangelicalism, particularly the Christian Church, Church of Christ tradition which has shaped me, is my most common target of critique. Although elements of my critique – which broadly trend along the lines of the excellent HuffPo article How to Shrink Your Church – are probably valid, my critique is almost certainly fueled by my bitterness about rejection I’ve experienced within my tradition as well as my inability to create sustainable, life giving, alternative Christian communities. At Pete’s suggestion, I’m starting to focus my energies on deconstructing my critique of evangelicalism, repenting of the way I’ve idolized more traditional pastoral practices, and trying to attend to the opportunities that sometimes arise in the context of desolation.

2. Listening to this lecture, in which Peter tries to reframe Christianity – including concepts such as original sin and atonement – for an indifferent public and Christians who are left cold or confused by current, prevalent conceptions of the faith, led me to realize that Peter’s deepest concern is for evangelism. Pete is not deconstructing out of bitterness nor trying to academically inch us towards agnosticism. Rather, he has been deeply transformed by Jesus – the one who divested himself of identity on the cross and was reconstituted* by resurrection – and he desperately wants us to reconnect our stories in a meaningful, existential way, with the Jesus story.

Pete’s focus on evangelism is made somewhat plain by his participation in the Ikon community in Northern Ireland and his promotion of the evangelism project, both of which are mentioned briefly in the lecture. Pete is not the only emergent thinker who is fueled by an interest in evangelism. I would argue that the primary emphasis behind much of Brian McLaren’s work – such as More Ready Than You Realize, A New Kind of Christian, and a New Kind of Christianity – is driven by his passion for honest, meaningful evangelism as well.

3. I was intrigued by Pete’s suggestion that Paul’s teaching that “in Christ there is no Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free” does not mean that our association with Christ gives us a super-identity that transcends these categories, but leads us to divest ourselves of identity as Christ did upon the cross. Pete argues that for many of us – excluding those who’ve identities have long been oppressed – church should not be a place where we go to be endowed with identity, but a place where we divest ourselves of identity, confess the impotence of our idols and (I think he’s suggesting) await the power of the resurrection.

Although I’m far from certain that I understand this latter emphasis in Pete’s teaching, I want to learn more about it and perhaps read the Insurrection.

If you haven’t listened to the lecture, I’d encourage you to do so. If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Now back to my regularly scheduled parenting.

* this is not the right word. tried surprised and transformed, but they didn’t work either. open to suggestions.

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On Killing a Darling and Being Surprised by New Life

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

Annie Dillard once said that one of the hardest parts of learning to write is having to “kill your darlings” by excising beloved words that just won’t work. In a similar vein, I’ve recently learned that Christians sometimes have to bury what appears to be most precious and anxiously wait to see what is resurrected.

For eight years I had the privilege of being a bi-vocational pastor in Boston. My days were occupied with a variety of tasks such as marketing Christian subculture for a major online bookseller or helping youth with disabilities start their careers. In the additional hours that were not focused on my family, I wrote sermons, participated in the emergent conversation, and struggled beside people as we tried to walk in the way of Jesus.

Over the past year my occupation and vocation have become more closely aligned. The energy behind this movement is IMPACT:Ability.

IMPACT:Ability is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported initiative that empowers people with disabilities and communities to prevent widespread abuse. In the two decades that have followed the Americans with Disabilities Act people with disabilities have made great strides towards full inclusion in the workforce, local neighborhoods, and many other spheres of society. However, in the midst of such positive movements, people with disabilities continue to experience disproportionate amounts of physical and sexual abuse.

According to the Massachusetts State Sexual Violence Prevention Team adults of all genders with disabilities are four to ten times more likely than their non-disabled peers to experience physical or sexual assault. Because of trauma related to past abuse or the fear of potential abuse, many youth and adults with disabilities chose to live and work in substantially separate environments rather than choosing to live, move, and find their being in the midst of community.

IMPACT:Ability provides individuals with the verbal and physical safety and self-defense skills they need to pursue lives of their own choosing. Since – as we’ve seen in the Penn State football scandal – organizational systems play a vital role in either preventing or perpetuating abuse, IMPACT:Ability has partnered with the largest disability focused state agency, the largest school district in Massachusetts, as well as our parent organization to develop initiatives focused on proactively preventing abuse and encouraging the promotion of healthy relationships.

Much to our delight, IMPACT:Ability has been incredibly well received by the community of individuals with disabilities as well as the organizations that support this population. I personally feel like this initiative is one of the greatest opportunities I will ever have to provide the resources people with disabilities need to navigate one of their greatest challenges, find their power both as individuals and as a community, and live more independent lives in our neighborhoods, cities and towns.

Because of IMPACT:Ability, I’ve decided to kill one of my darlings by stepping down from active pastoral ministry and leaving the preaching and presiding to others. I cannot say that this transition has been easy – I’m often writing sermons in my head or subliminating my passion for preaching by consuming copious amounts of stand-up comedy – but I can say that the story of Jesus and the active practice of the faith continues to shape me every day.

For instance, I cannot think of the unspeakable abuse experienced by young people like Cheyanne – a 14 year old who recently went on the Today show to talk about the abuse she experienced in a Special Education classroom where teachers chided her for her weight and condemned her as “dumb, dumb, dumb” – without considering it an affront to the Imago Dei. If, as Christians believe, we were all created in the image of God, then surely the physical abuse of people with disabilities is a direct strike upon that image, and verbal abuse is a way of drowning out what Henri Nouwen often called “the inner voice of love.”

In killing my darling by stepping out of the pulpit and burying my pastoral practice to focus on IMPACT:Ability, I have been surprised by new life. Although Triangle is not a faith-based organization and most of my deeply valued, incredibly gifted colleagues and collaborators are not Christians, I am confident that the work we are doing is well aligned with my understanding of humanity and my abiding belief that in the end all things – even people who have suffered abuse, the people who have perpetrated it, and the organizations that have accommodated it – will be made new.

Legoland Opened in Florida? Keep Me the Hell Away from There!

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

Yesterday, while surfing Boston.com and counting the hours until I could put Lydian down to sleep, I found out that Legoland had opened in Florida. Can you imagine? Life size figs. Rushmore inspired brickings of Einstein. Snapped together nods to Cinderella’s Castle and Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

Keep me the hell away from there.

As a child, there were few toys that amplified insecurities like Legos. My friend Shawn had an Apple II that he thought was amazing, but I could never find the damn channel wheel for. So he would sit and play some kind of text based wizard game while I provoked his overbearing mother. She made the no-no-no-no neighbor on Alf look like a portrait of sanity. Little wonder he graduated from Awana to knocking up his college freshman girlfriend.

Another kid in my class named Stephen wasn’t really my friend. In fact, I was forced to invite him to my birthdays so I really don’t understand why I spent an afternoon in his room. Nevertheless I did and this son of an IBMer showed me his toy called the Armatron. It was a small scale Robotic arm that could be manipulated with a joy stick and used to stack fake beakers and stuff. Stephen was able to use the clunky joystick to create towers and rotate blocks 90 degrees at a time. I barely knew my right from my left and didn’t have the motor control to manipulate a pencil, much less a cutting edge plastic implement from Radio Shack. Understandably I felt like throwing Armatron against a wall and never returned to Stephen’s house again.

But as emasculating as those toys were, Paul’s Legos were the worst. After we traded baseball cards and maybe played a game of Hardball on his Atari computer (don’t look up that title via Google btw), he’d run to the shelf beside his bed, grab a green plastic tote, and dump a thousand bricks on the teal shag carpet. For the next hour I would try in vain to create a respectable log cabin while Paul would create a fort that could survive Crossbows and Catapults. Ashamed of my execution I’d try to get Paul to go back to baseball cards, since I had an edge on him in that arena and could probably wheedle a 1980 Ozzie Smith for a 1986 Donruss Dale Murphy. But once Paul locked onto Legos he might as well have been Rain Man impersonating the dough man from This Old House. There was no going back. Unsurprisingly, Paul eventually was assigned a place beside Stephen in the don’t-play-with-bin.

I hate Legos. I hate that even if you follow the stupid instructions carefully – though don’t get me wrong, after the free for all in Paul’s room I am so thankful for that crutch – while snapping a door into place a rear wheel will invariably fall off or while applying index pressure to snap the rotor into place my thumb will snap off the landing skid.

So when Preston wants me to play Legos I usually flick through Tweetdeck instead. I don’t need to remember reading Microserfs and realizing that nerd girls gone gaga for Lego software were as unattainable for me as the very limited supply of girls that were pretty enough to consider and not too pious to steer clear (read it before I realized that, rightly framed, rebellion could feel like freedom for bible college girls). Likewise, when I can’t apply the right amount of pressure on a fire truck, I don’t want to think of my freshman roommate who, rightly, scoffed at my elevation to the honors program because as a history major I couldn’t handle a third of the calculations required of an engineer and could put off college algebra – which would almost certainly undo that distinction – until my junior year.

Much as Preston loves them, Legos snap old insecurities back into place. That’s why when I’m not hiding in the kitchen typing as fast as I possibly can and plying him with PBS kids, I persuade him to play Thomas instead.

From Habit to Habit

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

This week Kellie, an old friend, and I watched “What the Bleep?” a dramatized documentary that features Marlee Matlin and supposedly focuses on quantum physics. I’m generally intrigued by popular accounts of quantum physics since it has altered our perception of the world and undermined much of the positivist, mechanistic conceptions of the universe that informed the theology and worldview of my youth. I’m also generally impressed by people who can count.

I’m not recommending an uncritical viewing of “What the Bleep?” since, as Kellie discovered, it clearly has an agenda that was influenced by a woman who impersonates the poodle owning heiress from Best in Show and believes that she is the medium of a 35,000 year old Warrior Princess named Ramtha. Moreover, the most significant Christian influenced speaker is a former Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse. However, the movies inclusion of Masaru Emoto’s Messages from Water Experiments brought to mind a sermon that slightly altered the shape of my life.

Emoto has done some, according to the Wi-ki-pid-iah, apparently pseudoscientific research into how water crystals can be effected by different expressions of human consciousness. Emoto claims that speaking blessings, praying, or focusing gratitude on water samples produces water crystals that are far more beautiful than water that has not been blessed. He uses high-speed cameras to capture photos of the most beautiful blessed water crystals and also has a fairly questionable side business of selling blessed water online.

Four or five years ago John Harding – a longtime friend of The Gathering and a minister at a The Bridge Church – preached about the importance of “being a blessing” during the Halloween season in Salem. If memory serves, John used God’s commission to Abraham as a primary text, but he also spent a good portion of the talk focusing on Emoto’s Messages from Water experiments. At the time, I thought the water crystal talk was a little suspect. Now, after watching the Messages from Water transform Marlee Matlin character from a tangle of self-hatred into a woman whose self-blessings are so potent they empower her to draw twisted ivy hearts all over herself with a cosmetics pen, I’m still suspicious.

However, John’s reminder that embodied, incarnational, risky blessing is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition, has changed my life. During Halloween anyway.

Each year I look forward to donning a costume shop bought but quite authentic Franciscan habit and wandering the streets of Salem to give a free blessing to people. Sometimes the free blessing is a cup of fair trade hot chocolate, sometimes a spoken word or prayer, and many times an unspoken benediction or a smile.

This quite literal practice of being a blessing has become such a central part of my Christian year that I am considering taking this robe – or another I want to construct out of wornout khaki pants – on the road to the Wild Goose Festival this year. I’ve heard that everyone should bring something to that party and I figure blessings will be more than welcome.

This week, in the midst of my Wild Goose dreams, I realized again how quickly I set aside the posture of blessing in order to swing the gauntlet (great, often forgotten arcade game by the way) of strife and frustration. Sadly, this switch often takes far less time than it takes me to pull on or pull off that October robe.

I want that to change. I need that to change.

May God give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, the heart inclined, and the hands eager to bless the people I love, loathe, live, work, treasure, and tolerate on a daily basis. Although I contend with him mightily, God has indeed blessed me and called me to be a blessing. I hope to more faithfully fulfill that commission today and in the days to come.

Beyond the Fearless Moral Inventory

In Uncategorized on November 5, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

I would either be the world’s best alcoholic anonymous or the worst. I don’t know.

I do know that I am conducting a fearless moral inventory damn near every day. I don’t miss my adolescence or early 20s in general. You can only play fetal position depression and raging hormones treated by airport girls for laughs for so long.

However, I do miss being oblivious of my brokenness. Although the guilty weight produced by a drunken binge or a clothes on romp with your friend’s sister seemed heavy at the time, its density is nothing compared to a legacy of todd van poppel potential or relationships that go more wrong every time you try to do right.

Fuck high school. Internal ostracism kills far more quickly than social alienation.

Lately my self-condemnation has developed such a punch that I verbally respond to each attack. For years my acute groans only occurred in private. My self-control has now eroded to the point that my family and, increasingly, my colleagues here a wincing “ugh” or a swallowed expletive on an almost daily basis.

I am increasingly realizing that this guilt is the reason I am so desperate for Jesus. When I look at the cross I am reminded how utterly worthy I am of condemnation and an ugly conclusion. Unlike Jesus, in my case neither Pilate nor power obsessed religious leaders (whom we could re-cast a million times over with the Christian characters we have today) would need to lose sleep. My conscience could indict and close the case within a minute. Fortunately, in my better moments, I look at the cross of Christ and realize that it can carry my weight. Then I pray for the faith to continue believing that victory over entropy is more than an existential dream.

Although I hate to admit it though, most of the time the image of the cross doesn’t really connect. It’s the Eucharist that kills me. Whether a nine year old at Christview Christian Church, a seventeen year old cult survivor astonished by the Eucharist at a distance, or the 34 year old holding a squirming kid as the medicine of God is mashed with my pestle and the wine (or welches) slides down, I am overcome.
It is this feast that keeps the hope alive that God’s grace is weightier than my guilt. The food of God for the people of God almost always inspires hope that my epitaph will not be a sharp groan, but a new name, a white stone, and a perpetual spring where the sun has never shone.

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