I was down in Mexico a few years ago for a gathering of peers who are leading faith communities around the world. It was a rich time of conversation, encouragement, and visioning.
Walking through a local Mexican neighborhood between sessions, something struck me. While those of us in the Minority World (often called the 1st or Western World) are thinking and talking about our theology, most of the folks in the Majority World (often called the 3rd World) have no choice but to simply live into their theology. Talking about our theology, faith, and practice in lecture halls, church buildings, and conference rooms is a luxury that the vast majority of Jesus followers in the world have no opportunity to participate in.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is reality. And those of us with this luxury better own up to it, because it is easy for us in the West to think we have a corner on the market of theology, which we then project (whether consciously or subconsciously) onto the rest of the world. But who's to say theology built in academia is any more valid than theology build in the realities of everyday life?
Beyond the realm of churches, religious blogs, and bible colleges, nobody really cares about theology. What does matter is the way you treat other people.
Within Christendom, we’re often taught the exact opposite: that doctrines, traditions, theologies, and distinct beliefs are the only things that do matter. It’s what separates churches, denominations, theologians, and those who are “saved” and “unsaved.”
Historically, Christians have been tempted to categorize the Bible into numerous sets of beliefs that are either inspired or heretical, good or bad, right or wrong — with no room for doubt or questioning or uncertainty.
It’s easy to get caught up in theorizing about God, but within our everyday lives reality is what matters most to the people around us. Theorizing only becomes important once it becomes relevant and practical and applicable to our lives.
When I'm sick, and you bring me a meal, I don't care whether you're a Calvinist or Arminian
I’m asked pretty often what I see for the future of organized religion, and Christianity in the West in particular. Given the fact that I am in the process of completing a book called “ postChristian ,” some people make assumptions that I am convinced it’s all going away.
Granted, Christianity has experienced precipitous decline, and the drop-off likely is far from done. Before we see any leveling-off within the institutional church, there will be many more church closures, consolidation of shrinking denominations, and an increasing number of people called to, and already working in, ministry who supplement their income with some non-ministerial side vocation.
So what do we, who still operate within the system of a declining religion, do about our situation? Some of this has little or nothing to do with anything the church has done or can do. Our increasingly distributed, decentralized, and accelerated culture has forced churches out of the center of American social life. Also, changing cultural norms have made it much more socially acceptable not to go to church.
I’ve long suggested that many of the folks filling the pews during the so-called heyday of the Church some 40 to 60 years ago were there under some duress. They went because of community pressure to do so, because their spouses made them, or because it was a great place to do business networking. But honestly, were we any better off as a faith to have our buildings full if the folks who were there didn’t really want to be there?
I wasn’t really expecting painful things to happen to me.
I knew that pain was a part of life, but — thanks in part to a peculiar blend of “God-has-a-plan” Southern roots, a suburban “Midwestern nice” upbringing, and a higher education in New England stoicism — I managed to skate by for quite some time without having to experience it.
After a handful of traumas in the last five years, things look different now. Trauma upends everything we took for granted, including things we didn’t know we took for granted. And many of these realities I wish I’d known when I first encountered them. So, while the work of life and healing continues, here are ten things I’ve learned about trauma along the way.
Last Thursday, as I carefully navigated my way home from work on the slippery streets of a few Chicago suburbs, I was listening to a talk radio program. The host reminded his listeners that he broadcasts from sunny Arizona, and then he said, “I know that many of you have had large amounts of snowfall. I recommend that you sit back and enjoy the beauty of the snow.”
At which point I yelled some expletives about what he could do with his recommendation and promptly changed the station.
It’s been a brutal winter. Indeed, we’ve already had “large amounts of snowfall.” Yesterday in Chiberea (that’s an amalgamation of Chicago and Siberia, for those keeping score), the high was negative 13 and today the high will be positive 3. Yay for staying positive, Chicago.
Staying positive about the weather is becoming more difficult. The snow, while pretty, will be here from late November to early March. It. Gets. OId. And schools have been canceled for two days in a row. Listen, I love my kids, but they’ve been stuck inside for the past five days. We are all experiencing cabin fever.
But there’s one thing about Chicago winters that I can appreciate. The relentless snow and the extreme cold provide an opportunity to build a sense of community. Neighbors suffer through this weather together. We check in on one another to make sure people are surviving and staying warm. And, of course, we create a sense of community by uniting against the weather. The snow and the cold become our common enemy. Or, as René Girard’s mimetic theory puts it, the weather has become our scapegoat.
In a secularized society obsessed with consumerism, entertainment, and modernization, Christianity is often portrayed as being old-fashioned, irrelevant, and useless, but it still serves some very valuable and profound purposes. Here’s why Americans still need it:
This morning at breakfast, I was reading an article in the newspaper about how the Affordable Care Act is negatively affecting some individuals — especially those who buy their own insurance, rather than receiving it through an employer. The article was interesting, but what struck me the most was the way the problem was framed. Rather than approaching the story from a public policy angle, the article mainly focused on the reaction of consumers of health-care goods and services. The crux of the article was whether some individuals should be required to buy a product they might not want or need so that other individuals could have affordable access to health-care products they need desperately but might not be able to afford under the old regime.
The dilemma was presented as a story of tension between healthier consumers and less healthy consumers fighting to get the best deal for their health-care dollars. But could there be another way of thinking about health care, and about our society as a whole? Is there a framework that would allow us to consider these questions in a way that assumed connection, caring, and community between individuals, rather than the zero-sum competition of the market?
I love October. As a teacher, it was that time of year where rhythms were becoming established and the seeds of learning were beginning to sprout. In ministry, it is the time where I find myself riding the waves of my student’s school schedules in an effort to connect and converse. In either case, education, shapes not on the schedule of my life but the purpose.
As I breathe in the crisp autumn breeze, it reminds me to consider the larger partnership between the educators and the church. When we, as ministers and church leaders, consider what role education plays in the life of the church, we have to consider the active part of the church in the education of not only the church community, but its larger context.
Education, in the public context, is a constant topic of political struggle and strife. Education, in the ecclesial context, in its best is in-depth Bible study and at its worst is education by osmosis and observation. What is the call or consideration of the church to the topic of education? What role does the church have in the education of the community?
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people within mainline Christian churches note that, though they don’t embrace all of the theological positions of their evangelical sisters and brothers, they are impressed by their aptitude for organizing and affecting change on a large scale. At the same time, I see thousands converge at festivals like the Wild Goose festival in North Carolina, feeling both fed by the invigorating sense of community, but also frustrated to be leaving with the still unanswered question:
What do we do now?
The CANA Initiative, which is a joint collaboration of Brian McLaren, Stephanie Spellers, and Doug Pagitt, seeks to help answer that nagging question. Cana seeks to be the connective tissue that helps hold together communities of faith that share common priorities in addressing the pressing socioeconomic issues of our time.
From their website, “The CANA Initiative brings together innovative leaders from all streams of the faith to collaborate in the development of new ways of being Christian ... new ways of doing theology and living biblically, new understandings and practices of mission, new kinds of faith communities, new approaches to worship and spiritual formation, new integrations and conversations and convergences and dreams.”
Following is an audio interview I conducted with these three key voices in the CANA conversation. We talked about why CANA is needed now, more than ever, and what sort of transformation they hope to affect within the greater Christian body.
Pope Francis’ comments last week on everything from gays to abortion (less talk, more mercy), the hierarchy (be pastors, not bureaucrats), and religious faith (doubt is part of belief) continue to reverberate through the church and the media.
Here are five broader insights that this wide-ranging interview revealed about Francis — and why they will be keys to reading his pontificate, and perhaps the future of Catholicism.
Last night, my wife Janny and I had the honor of sharing a table with a gathering of local Muslims for an Iftar meal. It is currently Ramadan, which means the Muslim community around the globe fasts everyday day from sunrise to sunset. No food. No water. No tobacco. No sex. Each night they have a celebration feast to break their daily fast called the Iftar meal. It is sacred, joyous, and a time to sit with those they love to worship the One they love, Allah (which is simply the Arabic translation of God).
It was into that sacred gathering that they expanded the table and pulled up a seat for us and a few other Christian and political leaders throughout San Diego. Their hope was simply to create space in their daily practice for their neighbors to experience life with them. They were both acknowledging city leaders who have been proactive in creating an environment of dignity and mutual relationship, and creating a space for new/renewed understanding of one another. Acknowledging our core faith differences, they made clear that it should in no way detract from our ability to share a common vision for the good of our city. We are neighbors who live, work, and play on the same streets with a common desire to see deep, charitable relationships, sustainable economy, and mutual understanding and a celebration of diversity.
As I often say, as followers of Jesus, we have no choice but to move toward relationships with those who are marginalized, dehumanized, and in need of love. We don’t compromise our faith by hanging out with people we may or may not agree with. No, in fact, we reflect the very best of our faith.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Has it not been told you from the foundations of the earth? You shall have a song and gladness of heart.
Or something like that.
I have been talking to a friend lately about the nature of achievement. We have been talking about money and art and what it means to care for oneself and the concept that human beings deserve to be happy. Or, more accurately, deserve to get what they want. Being happy and getting what you want are not always the same thing. Of course, you knew that already.
Before we had kids, we loved to travel, had worldview stretching experiences, and were all together creative in how we lived the lives we had been given. For us, having the right kind of experiences meant far more than have the right kind of house, car or, other possession that could be associated with “success.” As we reflect on our development individually and as a couple in the context of marriage, it is clear that these experiences (and resulting relationships) have shaped us more significantly than any classroom or lecture series. It has been the classroom of real life relationships that have formed us into global citizens who follow a Jesus with a global reign.
And then we had kids …