Thursday, January 31, 2008

Unbeliever turned Episcopal turned Orthodox Christian speaking in Iowa City

This was passed along to us by our friend in the Kansas City satellite office of the Eastern Iowa Emergent Cohort, Nancy Weikal (thanks, Nancy!):

Frederica Mathewes-Green will be speaking on Thursday, Feb. 7 and Friday, Feb. 8 at the University of Iowa. At 7 p.m. Feb. 7, in the Illinois Room of the UI’s Iowa Memorial Union, she will tell her own story of becoming an Eastern Orthodox Christian in a talk titled "Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey into the Mystery of Orthodox Christianity.” She will detail her journey from unbeliever, to a dabbler in eastern religions, to the Episcopal Church and finally to the Orthodox Church. This event is co-sponsored by the UI Orthodox Christian Fellowship and St. Raphael Orthodox Church.

At 1:30 p.m. Feb. 8, she will be speaking at the Gerber Lounge of the UI English-Philosophy Building on "Freelance Writing as a Career” and then at 7:30 p.m. at the Shambaugh Auditorium of the UI Main Library in a talk titled "Faith, Film and False Assumptions: Christians and the Transformation of Culture." These events are sponsored by Geneva Campus Ministry and the UI Communications Department.

All talks are free and open to the public.

Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author and regular columnist for the multifaith web magazine who also writes movie reviews for National Review Online and Christianity Today Movies. Among her books are “Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy” (HarperCollins, 1997) and “The Illumined Heart: The Ancient Christian Path of Transformation” (Paraclete, 2001). She and her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, live in Baltimore, where he is pastor and she is "Khouria" ("Mother") of the church they founded, Holy Cross Orthodox Church. More information at

[Side note: You can read Mathewes-Green's review of the film "What Would Jesus Buy?" here. The film just finished its run today at the University of Iowa's Bijou Theater. Unfortunately, I missed it and hope to catch it when it comes out on DVD.]

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

looking forward to our meeting

I'm looking forward to our meeting tomorrow night. (I'm writing this late on Tuesday night) I'm hoping to meet some new friends at the meeting that want to join the conversation. You can get directions and more information at the earlier post about the meeting.

I will not have read the entire book (Everything Must Change, by Brian McLaren) that we plan to discuss. But, I am making my way through it. I wanted to comment on chapter 6. McLaren talked about two sides of a Postmodern coin. One side is informed by the over confident (that's us in the global north or West), the other is informed by those who have been dominated and colonized by the over confident. (I think you know who that is). The former focuses on epistomology. The latter focuses on equitable use of power. McLaren believes both are important. I do too.

You see, I have been implementing postmodern principles for over 16 years now in my work as a professional therapist. I pretty much scraped traditional psychology near the time I started practicing. I got turned on to "post-structural" and "narrative" metaphores for helping people solve their personal and relational problems. I have never looked back. Over the years religious types have sometimes looked at me like I have three heads. They are much more comfortable with "modern" approaches to counseling and therapy. The kind that use systematic methodologies that try to cure people's "issues".

It has been a breath of fresh air to read Brian McLaren. I think he must know some of what I am talking about here. Other "emergent" types may not be able to see the use of post-modern thinking in counseling and therapy arenas yet. Especially, "Christian counseling" (I never liked that term, but I digress).

Anyway, there are these two sides of the coin in my post-modern therapy philosophy world. I tend to lean toward the "epistomology" side. But, I do like the work of those investigating the uses of power too.

I say all that to say, we are living in a different world, where different language and "framing stories", as McLaren puts it, are required to make a difference in the world. And that is why you are reading this blog and considering coming to our meeting tomorrow night, and even maybe just joining this conversation.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Brian Mclaren interviewed on the Sierra Club Pocast

Brian McLaren was interviewed on the Sierra Club Podcast. Some conservatives might think he has gone off the deep end connecting with "liberal groups" like this, but actually he is one of the few who call themselves evangelicals that is bridging a conversation with others and serving as a true ambassador of Christ about important topics we followers of Christ should be addressing. His interview starts about 15:40 into the podcast.

Eastern Iowa Peacemakers Conference

I'll be honest, I don't know much about this conference -- just read about it in today's Iowa City Press Citizen -- but one event during the weeklong conference caught my eye, a Nonviolent Atonement Seminar. It takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29 at First Mennonite Church, 405 Myrtle Ave., in Iowa City. Cost is $20, which includes a light lunch. Here's the description. "Explore new trends in understanding the death of Jesus from a peace perspective. Speakers include J. Denny Weaver (author of The Non-Violent Atonement Willard Swartley (author of Convenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics) and Michael Hardin (editor of Stricken By God? Non-Violent Identification and the Victory of Christ)."

Local sponsors of the conference, which runs tomorrow through Feb. 3, are Faith United Church of Christ, First Christian Church (Disciples), First Mennonite Church, New Song Episcopal Church, St. Thomas More Catholic Church, Soul Friends Ministry, Trinity Episopal Church and Zion Lutheran Church.

You can find a full schedule for the week by downloading a Word document here.

You can kinda find more information on the organization offering the conference -- Preaching Peace -- here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What kind of church would you belong to?

Larry Vaughan, one of my favorite bloggers, just posted his answers to the question: What kind of church would you belong to? It’s a good question, an excellent question, and it’s terribly relevant to the emergent conversation.

To my mind Larry’s an ideal person to answer this question. He was a pastor for 17 years. Did the whole church scene: associate pastor, worship pastor, youth pastor, senior pastor, education pastor. Even has a degree from a Christian university. But church-going burned him out, ate his lunch, broke him down, whatever metaphor works for you. Gave it all up eight years ago and hasn’t belonged to a church for five years. Says he feels healthier than he’s ever felt before. I’m guessing he’s not alone.

Today Larry counsels emotionally and psychologically broken people, tries to keep them safe from themselves and keep them from harming others. Tries to treat them with dignity, to build them up, show them what self-respect looks like, even when they’re kicking him, screaming at him, making colorful remarks about his lineage. You’ve gotta wonder if he’s doing more now to serve the Kingdom of God than he ever did in his 17 years of pastoring.

In any case, read his list below. Or read the whole essay (recommended) here. Then let’s discuss – what kind of church would YOU attend if you could start from scratch?

I hope to put a list up of my own soon.

Here’s Larry’s take:

1. I would belong to a church that didn’t own any property. Well, they could own property but it would only contain either a massive garden or a softball field that didn’t allow church leagues to play on it.

2. I would belong to a church that gave 100% of my offering to projects selected by the leadership to improve the quality of life for lower stratum individuals. Operating expenses (such as salaries and rent) would be paid directly by ministry partners.

3. I would belong to a church that did not hijack the work of the Holy Spirit. By that I mean I believe in the power of God, and the power of God to draw people to Him. What is right for me is likely wrong for my neighbor and vice versa. Entire denominations have been built on the premise that what is right for me is right for you.

4. I would belong to a church that did not count the number of people in attendance.

5. I would belong to a church that existed primarily for those who were not a part of it.

6. I would belong to a church that understood Love as a verb.

7. I would belong to a church that viewed obesity and gossip as more heinous than alcohol or the lottery.

8. I would belong to a church that promoted the quiet practice of spiritual disciplines. Key word: Quiet.

9. I would belong to a church that fully integrated Galatians 3:28 into its theology. How many church arguments would be dead in the water if we understood and accepted the abolishment of racial, social, and gender distinctions? About all of them.

10. I would belong to a church that would expressly forbid Icthus symbols on member’s cars. I guess it would be OK if we brought them back in the event that Christian worship were outlawed and the penalty for ignoring the law was death.

11. I would belong to a church that valued authenticity before purity. It has been my experience that the church has gotten this backwards, creating an environment that encourages you and I to do everything we can to hide all that is wrong with us.

12. I would belong to a church that understood the carnality of humanity. All humanity.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What Would Jesus Buy?

The "Shopocalypse" is coming to Iowa City Friday, when the University of Iowa's Bijou Theater will begin a six-day run of What Would Jesus Buy?, the new "docu-comedy" by producer Morgan Spurlock (of "Super Size Me" fame). The film follows "Rev. Billy" and his "Church of Stop Shopping" on their crusade against American consumerism. The reverend is actually performance artist Bill Talen dressed in a white suit, with bleached hair and the flamboyant mannerisms of a televangelist or used car salesman (take your pick).

Here's a synopsis of the movie:

Bill Talen (aka Reverend Billy) was a lost idealist who hitchhiked to New York City only to find that Times Square was becoming a mall. Spurred on by the loss of his neighborhood and inspired by the sidewalk preachers around him, Bill bought a collar to match his white caterer's jacket, bleached his hair and became the Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping. Since 1999, Reverend Billy has gone from being a lone preacher with a portable pulpit preaching on subways, to the leader of a congregation and a movement whose numbers are well into the thousands. Through retail interventions, corporate exorcisms, and some good old-fashioned preaching, Reverend Billy reminds us that we have lost the true meaning of Christmas. What Would Jesus Buy? is a journey into the heart of America – from exorcising the demons at the Wal-Mart headquarters to taking over the center stage at the Mall of America and then ultimately heading to the Promised Land … Disneyland.

In advance of the screening, Iowa Public Radio's "The Exchange" will feature an interview with Rev. Billy from 10 to 11 a.m. Friday (hear it locally on WSUI 910 AM). Admission to Bijou is $5. For showtimes and more information go here or call 319-335-3258. Go here for more about the movie.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Emergent group to meet Jan. 30, discuss 'Everything Must Change'

Please join the Eastern Iowa Cohort of Emergent Village at its next meeting 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30 at House of Aromas coffeehouse, 119 2nd St. in Coralville, where we'll discuss Brian McLaren's new book, "Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis and a Revolution of Hope." Click here for a map and gallery of photos showing the location.

In the meantime, Brian's Website has some resources to help people put into action some of the ideas he proposes in his book. Here's a PDF to a discussion guide that will eventually be on a page where visitors can swap ideas and stories about their own efforts. I encourage you to print off a copy and bring it to the meeting -- it's loaded with some great, practical ideas for living out the Gospel of Jesus!

Those who haven't read the book are still welcome to participate in a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love the world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. For more information, call Stephen in Iowa City at 319-621-5263 or Lon in Cedar Rapids at 319-393-6796.

Friday, January 4, 2008

2008 and the collapse of the Emerging Church

There's an interesting discussion thread on the main Emergent Village Web site (posted in part and linked to below) in response to a prediction by Kester Brewin, author of the book "Signs of Emergence: A Vision for Church That Is Always Organic/Networked/Decentralized/Bottom-Up/Communal/Flexible/Always Evolving," that 2008 will see the collapse of the "emerging church" as a popular project. Says Kester:
It’s just a hunch, but I sense that some of the key players are less and less willing to work with that particular language. I think that, whereas a few years ago people were excited by the prospect, people are getting used to/bored/fed up with ‘emerging church’ as a concept, and will thus leave it behind. Not that I think that that means ‘game over’ for all that people like Emergent stand for — far from it actually — but I think people may increasingly assimilate those ideas into their practice without taking the name. (I think for some time this has been foreseen in the collapse in usefulness of the term ‘emerging church’, which is so tired as a phrase it has begun to mean nothing.)
As new as I am to the Emergent discussion, Kester's comments strike a chord. I, too, find the term "emergent" wearing a bit thin. And I wonder if, by holding this converation largely outside of our respective churches, we aren't missing an opportunity to engage our faith in a rich, meaningful way within our churches.

Like many people, I sought out conversation partners via the emergent movement because I'm dissatisfied with my church's seeming disinterest in challenging its members to radically live out the faith in Jesus that we profess. I want and need to be held accountable for my life -- not just for my behavior in the pews, but for the way I reflect Christ in my home as a father and parent, at my workplace as a supervisor, in the voting booth as a citizen, walking past the homeless, how I earn and spend my money, who I invite into my home and show hospitality, what food and entertainment I consume. And I strongly believe that should be the role of the church, both lowercase and capital "C." My hope was, and is, that together we in the emergent discussion can prepare, instruct and encourage one another to go back to our churches and enact our vision for Christ's body. When all the coffee is drunk, all the talking is done, all our hopes and fears are laid out on the table, all our wounds licked and healed, in the end we have to be the kinds of church we're all hungering for, to show our fellow congregants what a truly dynamic, engaged, biblical kind of faith life can look like.

For all its many qualities, and despite Kester's mistaken (I believe) reference to the "emerging church," this wonderful conversation is not a church. In some cases it's inspired people to form new churches, but really it's a means to an end. It's a communal effort to examine the Gospel with fresh eyes and to develop a vision for Christian living and mission that binds up inextricably personal salvation with social and political and economic justice. It recognizes the Kingdom of God is a present reality today and demands our participation, that God's kingdom is not simply a place where pious people aspire to spend their eternal rest.

Unless we put this emerging vision into action in our own lives, in our own churches, the emergent conversation will amount to a flash that generated considerable heat and yet failed to shine any light.