My future and the Emergent Church

In spite of current ads and slogans, the world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible. This is good news for those of us intent on changing the world or creating a positive future. Rather than worry about critical mass, our work is to foster critical connections.  We don’t need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that lead to broad based change.–Margaret J Wheatley,  “Using Emergence to Take Social Innovations to Scale”

This next week I have the opportunity of participating in a conversation taking place regarding the future of Emergent Village, a central voice within the larger emerging church movement.  The quote above is part of the reading we were asked to do as we prepare for the intensive time together.  It’s encouraging because it invites people into relationship–and that’s what this upcoming time (and really the whole of the emerging movement) seems to be about.  I don’t know exactly what to expect, but I imagine there will be a deeper experience of the stories of God’s creative energy moving in and through people.  I hope that the relationships built during this time will begin to help create a ferment for meaning and hopeful engagements going forward, in many of our lives. 

I have to confess, in some ways Ifeel like an outsider to “the conversation”.  I’ve spent the last decade taking a “time out” from sexy culturally relevant “church”.  Instead I embraced a deconstructed “primitive church” model, filled with “flat leadership” and intentional proximity community.  It’s been a great ride, but it also makes me feel as if I’m playing catch up on “what’s going on”.  On the other hand, perhaps this last chapter in life might provide a context to share more deeply from.  I feel like, in some ways, many of the ideals being touted today, can come across as high intentioned theoretics.  But part of my life has been trying to “work those out” and take them to their logical conclusion. God, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. I feel like an 80 year old man sometimes.  At times I’m too exhausted to imagine “what next”.

Whatever these next steps are for me, they will be ones laced with a sense of being compelled forward.  They can’t be the next thing, or the cool thing, or what seems right…they must truly be a propelling ahead.

Certainly things are shifting, all over the world, I don’t think it can be seen any other way…People are exploring the lines of intersection between faith and culture, between content and container, between the things we thought were essential but were just applicable to an other time…Now, that’s an interesting dialog to be a part of.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Impossible Now–Part Four

This is the final installment of an introductory position paper I’m calling “The Impossible Now” or “Towards a Theology of the Impossible.”  There are three previous parts.  You can find them here, here, and here.  In this final installment I talk about “the religious question.”  Cheers!

…The im/possible is refusing, as it always does, to be pinned down and become a part of someone’s strategic planning. It will always retreat from our view, from our expectation, from our massaging of what is possible, and back into the realm of the unexpected and truly unimaginable….

The Event of the im/possible cannot be prepared for and at the same time cannot be depended on. These are horrible words to hear for strategic planning! How then do we live with such (non)knowledge? If authenticity, imagination and experiment are the tools that we shape the relative future with, what are the tools we use to embrace the wildcard future—the im/possible? What can we possibly do or say or prepare in reference to something that lies so completely out of our ability to do or say or prepare for? It is for this place, this absurd, unexpected, undeterminable place that a different set of internal reservoirs are needed. Religion, good religion, seeks to address this sort of question.

Having done all to encounter the present in a meaningful way, we are still often left with seemingly meaningless events that continually take us by surprise, disturbing our best laid plans. This realization is, at its highest, a religious experience. It doesn’t require belief in a Personal Origin, or First Cause. But it does require something of us. That much is certain. The “what” is actually rather well-known. The attributes I’m going to mention are in many ways universals. They’re what philosopher’s might call “un-deconstructables,” in that they are ideals—almost always un-fully-realized urges that keep us reaching toward them. The most famous of Jesus’ early followers, the apostle Paul, said it best, in my opinion, “…in the end, these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love.”

This simple three word formula provides the basis for the intersection between the im/possible and the real. Faith isn’t so much a mental adherence to theoretical propositions about the nature of truth, but rather living today in the light of the future as it should be. Faith sees the idealized Peaceful Tomorrow, the future where swords have been beaten into plowshares, and tanks made into tractors, and determines to live peaceably today, even while the world is filled with wars and rumors of wars. Faith is an active, aggressive leap forward toward the Good, the Just, and the Best in spite of evidence contrary. Faith is an investment in particularity and locality, refusing to be theoretical and (merely) universal. Faith is always personal, though hardly private.

Hope isn’t the spindly sickly stuff of fantasy; it’s longing contentment. Hope sees the possibility of renewal and resurrection where others see lifelessness or death. Hope believes in commonality, compassion and a desire for connection with the Other where fear informs us that only Strangers and Monsters await on the other side of the unknown.

And love…Love is the greatest of these. Even faith and hope must give way before love. What can be said of love? Those who have known both Love and God have said that God is Love. If God can be spoken of and said to be anything at all, God is spoken of as and said to be Love. The substance of the divine is bound up in love. Concrete love. Active love. Visible, tangible, touchable love. Love, which covers a multitude of sins. Love which walks the extra mile. Love which gives up the second coat. Love which willingly lays down its life for another, for the Other. Love, of whom we may sing a thousand songs.

Our deep need to account for the unaccounted for, forces us to build up, to work on, a different skill set entirely. The things that are simply cannot prepare us for the things that are not. For those sorts of im/possible occurrences we must draw on the deep fountains that lurk at the corner of our being, not quite yet realized, still in formation, and dependent on some previously unforeseen happening to unleash their potential in our lives. In some strange way, these too, carry the stamp of Artistry. Art, in all of its forms, somehow allows to us to look upon, and hint at, those things which we cannot view in a straightforward way. Artistry gives birth to the Encounter of im/possibility which we are able to meet with arms open, acting out of faith, hope, and love.

God, rid me of God

I’m on a journey.  Since having left the wild and wacky world of “primitive Christianity” (house church with a splash of new-monasticism and a strong sprinkling of fundamentalism) I have essentially been searching high and low for a place to hang my hat.  It is taking me across some interesting places.  Many of the posts I’ve thrown up in the last several months are themed towards this.  It isn’t exactly a worldview, but I am attempting to come to grips with both the content and implications of the places where I am.  In response to a recent comment I posted the following, and I think it’s a fitting description of where I am currently and what interests me:

The Project: Religion With/Out Religion

For the past while, I’ve been attempting to find some sort of working model for what Bonhoeffer called “religionless Christianity” and Derrida called “religion without religion”. Those seem, to me, to be very important concepts–and they resonate with me, they speak to me. Can God be the good news of the religionless without converting them to being religionFULL?  I would say, yes…and I’m trying to flesh out what that means. Part of what my war on certainty has affirmed is that almost everything requires a choice–a value decision. There really isn’t anything that is just “plain truth”, no matter how much science (or their kissing cousins fundamentalists) believe so. They are choosing the narratives that make sense to them. I believe this is Polkinghornes point from my last blog post of quotes(by the way–his charge was, i believe, more or less leveled at rationalists who come up with a utilitarian model of a clocklike universe…that lacks any sort of life, beauty, mystery, or wonder…).

The (Un)Wholly Other

I have also been meditating on the im/possiblity of God.  Or rather the impossible as God.  One way of thinking about this is that God is wholly other. In other words, we mostly fail to see God. Our intellect, our very ability to perceive God, is what is ill-equipped to witness God. Another way of thinking about this is that our imaged thoughts of God do not allow for God. This is why Meister Eckhardt cries out, “God, rid me of God!” Our concepts of God prevent us from experiencing God…often. However, God cannot be wholly other…else we would miss God altogether. There is, admittedly, an element that lies within our constructs causing an awareness. We are not totally oblivious to God.  There are aspects of the unknowable which, surprisingly, are  knowable. 

Here comes the first critical choice…on one hand you could say that the human species has evolved this collective consciousness of God…it cannot exist without having an Other to live with…This view seems to say that there is a God construct that our survival instinct depends on.  But that is a supposition, an interpretation, and hardly the only assumption to be drawn (I would also add it’s not even an assumption that bears out in our normal existence.) Far more common sense, frankly, is that the thing which we desire, and can sense (if not altogether perceive) is communicated by that which desires us (and wishes us to sense it). Just as hunger testifies to the dependence on and the existence of food, so too our own awareness to the wholy other speaks of the wholly other which is in relationship to us.   This to me, makes God, once more–loving, relational, and personal. God as being, or more than being, or less than being (I don’t know) is engaged in whispering and wooing.  Our awareness describes not constructs but communication.  I recognize that this is as a subjective choice, a value decision…but to me it paints a much more beautiful picture than the other subjective choice that opts for the other side of things.

Loving Love

Having said that, I’ve taken up the Augustinian question, that Caputo alliterates, “who do I love when I love my God?” And I’m trying to find a working articulation of what exactly I mean when I speak of God. Personally, I am coming to the Johannian (as in the epistle writer) view, that the first name of God, is love. That love, in all its forms, pure love is God. Love is something intangeble…always drawing us into action, but never quite resolving in that event…it requires more of us. God is that which we desire, but also that which desires us and pulls and propells us towards the event of love. Love in this case is so deeply intimate that to describe it impersonal, or unrelational, would be to demote it. Love requires such relating and such personhood.

If God is Love…Then Who Are We?

“If Love is the first name of God, then ‘of God’ is the name of those who love”. We’re always looking for who’s in and who’s out… To me, love, is the dividing line…always. This is why a secular person who’s life is for the other, is always a religious or God filled life. And a religious person who is only for themselves and what they consider right and wrong is not at all religious and God filled. The people of God are those who are lovers.

The (non)Spiritual Journey

The spiritual journey then is discovering that love…both in terms of our own sense of Belovedness and in terms of being a channel through which that love may flow.

So…these are the places I am coming to…I’m using, perhaps, overly vague language…and doing so because I deeply believe that the Christinese that we have so often used, no longer has place in this world. It has lost the right to speak. it has, to often, been complicit in evil for to speak of lofty good. It’s words are poison. This is the project I’m attempting to develop. I recognize that both cardinals and ordinary Christians alike may not be very happy about the direction its going. I suppose that’s the price I’ll have to pay for thinking about Christianity without Christianity.  But, I have to try…I can do no other.

God is Dead

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?–Friedrich Nietzsche

There is no Sovereign holding the “whole world in his hands.” There is no longer any kind and benevolent Maker to encourage us towards a prophetic imagination. The Prince of Peace could not survive the ravages of war and blood and dirt.  There is no one listening on the other side of our prayers. There are no answers that will come if we just wait a little longer; no yes, or no, or maybe to emerge in a few moments.  God’s provision is gone.  God’s goodness is not there.  There is no hopeful tomorrow to pine after. No messiah coming again, for he has already come and look what we have done to him.  God is dead.  God is dead. God is dead.

But we are living still.  How then shall we live on this Good Friday?  Shall we sink into less than who God created us to be? Will we, in the presence of God have become mature adults, and in the death of God shrink backwards into spiritually retarded children?  Or will commit our essence into His hands even as he has forsaken us? Must we now become what you made us to be–fully grown sons and daughters of God?

God. Thank you for dying.  Thank you for forsaking us. Thank you for keeping your part of the promise and allowing us to, at last, grow up.  Today, We celebrate your death.

The devil and a bit of truth

The devil and his friend were walking down the road when they noticed a passer by pick something up off the ground.  The friend wondered aloud as to what the person had found.  Satan replied that they had picked up a piece of Truth.  His friend was chagrin, “You can’t just let people go around finding Truth, can you?  I mean, what kind of world would this be….?” 

The devil laughed out loud and calmly reassured his friend, “Oh don’t worry, they’ll just turn it into a belief…I’ve seen this a million times before!”  Somehow Satan’s friend didn’t look convinced to which the devil addressed his final comment, “Just ask Jesus.  He’s came into the world and embodied Truth and look what happened to him…his disciples just ended up founding Christianity!”

Relieved, the friend mused, “Yeah, I guess you’re right…nothing to be worried about I suppose.”

The Impossible Now–Part Two

…There’s another kind of future, one we’re even less equipped to face….

Truthfully, the kind of event I’m envisioning can’t be prepared for. We cannot even begin to imagine or plan ahead for this kind of future—the wildcard future. It’s always out of nowhere. Nobody sees it coming. As post-structuralist philosopher Jaques Derrida said, it is the im/possible—the impossible that becomes possible by colliding with our immediate reality. The im/possible is truly unimaginable. And of course, the unimaginable happens all the time. We hear it in the sobs of the newly widowed, “I never thought anything like this could happen.” We observe it on the shocked faces of political pundits as outsider-unaccounted-for’s win primaries and then even presidential races. We feel it from time… to time…to time. In fact we encounter the im/possible so often in life that it’s a surprise that we’re surprised. Of course the examples I’ve used are basic, even bottom of the barrel; they’re somehow incredible familiar events. Truthfully, the reason why they’re familiar to us at all, why we relate to sentiment of the grieving widow or the shocked commentator is because we expect the unexpected. Culturally, we’ve built them in to our routine. Think about emergency rooms. What a strange place. It’s an institution built entirely on the premise that we will be taken off guard. Emergency rooms are a societal contingency plan. They’re an admission of our own lack of control. But even this apprehendible-unanticipatible is not the im/possible I speak of – not really. What I mean is an event outside of the built-in contingency plans; circumstances that overturn the apple cart altogether.

It’s difficult to get concrete with that term, “the im/possible.” Partially this is true because as soon as the unexplained and the unexpected enter our universe, we begin to explain and expect it. The impossible becomes…possible. That’s why I notate it with a little slash separating the word, because it is simultaneously possible and impossible.  Take a Biblical example, something outlandish – the crossing of the Red Sea for instance. In the book of Exodus, as their Egyptian taskmasters and previous owners are in hot pursuit, the children of Israel get stuck between a rock and a hard place. The armies of Egypt are behind them, and a body of seemingly un-crossable water is ahead. What happens next is remarkable. The im/possible occurs. There’s a divine intervention. The wave’s part and dry land appears. The ex-slaves pass through the clearing just in time and the story ends with pursuant horse and rider being swept away by the collapsing wall of water. Miraculous. My point isn’t the “fact” of the event; whether it happened that way or not. Actually my point is the absurdity of it all. These things don’t happen every day. It couldn’t have been expected or anticipated. And while the cries of the desperate would have certainly bordered on polite requests for rescue, no one could have imagined that the Sea itself would have been parted. Within the context of story itself it is a brilliant example of the impossible intersecting reality. What’s more is that the event is not only unexpected but is also unexplainable, at least within the text. The author of Exodus doesn’t attempt to give detailed scientific or historical precedent for the event but allows it to remain teetering on the edge of chaotic disturbance.

Several years ago the History Channel aired a series called “Mysteries of The Bible.” It featured various scholars, historians, archeologists and other experts in the field, each of whom took their best shot at rationalizing a handful of biblical stories such as the one above. I’ll never forget the slough of explanations for the crossing of the Red Sea. There were several of them. One focused on wind power and hurricane strength to clear water, rather instantaneously, from sea floors. Another proposed a case of mistaken identities; the body of water mentioned in the book of Exodus couldn’t have rationally been such a huge expanse as the Red Sea we know of, so it must have been a smaller one, such as the Sea of Reeds. The Sea of Reeds, being rather shallow, could have conceivably dried, in due season, in one place or another, allowing for a mass exodus such as the one described in the Bible. On and on the explaining went, until any logical person watching the show would have been sufficiently convinced that the real crossing of the Red Sea was slightly (or vastly) different than presented in the Biblical rendition, but was therefore entirely possible, conceivable, and explainable. In other words, the im/possible just became possible. As soon as the unimaginable future enters into our reality we immediately reconstruct our thinking to account for it. We rationalize how we could have been prepared (had we only thought far enough ahead or enough outside the box). As this happens an event ceases to be impossible and starts to acclimate into our version of reality. Experts figure out the science behind the magic. Historians matriculate the timeline of crucial events. Theologians and philosophers craft carefully articulated statements of description and prescription. Going back to a previous example, we build Emergency Rooms.

The Truth Shop

There’s a story that I’ve become fond of recently:

A man was wandering through the famous Portobello Street in London taking in all the bizarre shops and sights when, hardly believing his eyes, he saw a sign over a door front that read: “Truth Shop“.  Needless to say he decided it was best to investigate. 

The saleswoman was extremely polite. She asked what type of truth the man would like to purchase, partial or whole?  The man didn’t think twice about the choice.  No more defenses. No more rationalizations or justifications. No more deceptions.  Only the plain, unadulterated, and absolute truth.  She waived the man to the other side of the store. 

The salesman on that side of the store pointed to the price tag.  “The going rate of absolute truth is very high sir,” he said.  “Well, what is it?”  the man asked, determined to get the whole truth no matter what the cost.  “Your certainty sir. Your certainty.” 

And so the man went away sad. The cost of Truth was to great.  He needed to hold on to the security of his certainties more than he needed the truth he sought.

Much Ado about nothing…

Truth is a slippery thing these days. 

Let’s take science for instance.  Say you wanted to observe and reasonably understand with a level of predictability the collision of two air molecules.  Air molecules are fairly simply, they’re relatively uncomplicated; the event of the collision will occur within a fourteen millionth of a second which means there’s shouldn’t be a mass of data spread out across time.  It looks straightforward enough.  The only problem is that in order to observe and predict this single collision taking place in a fourteen millionth of a second scientists tell us that we would need to take into account an electron (the smallest particle of matter) on the other side of the known universe (as far from HERE as you can go)!  All of this to say that detailed behavior is absolutely unpredictable without absolutely universal understanding.  To neglect even a single electron is to radically misinterpret the information. 

The rather backwards admission that we don’t have universal understanding on any given subject confronts the assertion that we have a leg to stand on with even the smallest of claims.  If I can’t know everything (which seems rather strange to say out loud but DOES form a basic assumption in Western science, philosophy, and certainly religion) then can I really know anything? 

I can feel the fundamental hackles rising. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing the reality of Reality here…I’m just sniffing around on the subject of our ability to know it.  Not long ago I might have agreed with that to a point but then countered something along the lines of God’s ability to overwhelm our natural inabilities.  What is impossible with man (Absolute understanding) is possible with God.  And because God wishes people to know him he is perfectly willing to break all the laws of quantum physics in order to serve up a detailed knowledge of Godself to us.  Well, that’s how the logic goes–perhaps. 

That argument is believable up to a point.  But it starts to break when we think about our relationship with the toute autres–the wholly Other.  If something is completely outside of the constructs of what we have known or understood it will quite simply pass over us.  If something that was purely unknown to us entered our space we wouldn’t even recognize it.  Our senses wouldn’t have categories for it. Our sight would fail us. The wholly Other would be lost on is, like the ships of the Spaniards on the early South American tribes–invisible. 

This means that when a “new” idea bursts like a flash of lightening from heaven onto us–it’s rarely new.  In some way, no matter how brilliantly or orginally conceived, revelation–especially the revelation of the wholly Other–is dependent on what we’ve already known or understood.  Perhaps another way of saying all this more to the point is that even something like revelation is dependent on our existing categories and concepts.  It’s still perilously linked into us, our dispositions, affinities and affirmations.  That makes it, in my finite mind, still suspect.  If everything that I process or that proceeds through me is stamped with my interpretations and since I do not have “universal understanding” I’m still in the same boat of not knowing anything about…anything…for certain at least…

So where does this leave us? 

If I can’t gage anything with certainty or absolutism am I doomed to a purposeless Nihilistic existence?  Isn’t it exactly as my friend Kevin said, “the trouble with stripping away one’s core belief structure is it can leave you spinning free into an abyss of endless possibility. no right or wrong, no up or down, and no real direction at all. you’re faced with the realization that there may actually be no greater purpose to this life“? 

This is what the exestentialists called “the anguish of freedom”.  Perplexity. Despondency.  Hopelessness.  All these are feelings that flow into this place where nothing seems absolute–where absolute reason has fled out the door and we’re left with no solid ground to stand on–save only sinking sand.  Where is our Rock to build upon?  Faced with a plurality of reality is there any Real to set up shop at? 

Camping out is what True believers are always apt to do.  Jesus, “the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life”, has to gently remind willful Peter to come down off the mountain, to not set up booths on the Mountain of Transfiguration, and to keep step as Truth moved on.  Moses is allowed to see God but only his rear–where God has just previously been.  The Name of God (YHWH) is less than a name and more of a Divine kiss off, roughly translated as “Never You Mind”…”I am that I am.” An earlier patriarch, Abraham, isn’t even given that much. The name he affirms God with is simply rendered as “Most High God”…or the god above the other ones.  For Abraham, while there were certainly other god’s, this one–this Most High God–was the one for him.  And there’s the jumping off point for me.

If I could take a bit of connected rabbit trail….

…let’s talk about love. I fell in love with my wife NOT out of fate…not because I thought that was my destiny…  not because she was the ONLY woman in the world…  In other words, I didn’t hedge my bets.    With love you really can’t be certain.  There aren’t absolutes.  You could wish there were.  You could wish that suffering or death or rejection or betrayal were not elements in love. And what one of us chooses love anticipating rejection or betrayal?  In fact while we don’t have any Certain Assurance or Absolute Reason for choosing our loves we do probably have good reasons… We look at the beauty standing in front of us and say to ourselves, “This One may not be the only one, may not even be the eternal one, but they are the one for me in this moment here and now.”  This is the choice of Love. 

That’s how I see Abraham’s name for God, “Most High God” relating.  It’s a statement of Love.  He’s not discounting the reality of the other gods.  He’s well aware that there are other games in town–but this One–this is the Most high…above all the others…towering over them…the others don’t hold a candle to Most high God. 

In the end this is how we navigate the world. 

Outwardly we approach the Loving Unknown with a degree of artistry. We encounter life with experiment, imagination and authenticity.  We engage the relative future (the future that is related to the present decisions that we make) with the knowledge that we have choice and responsiblity.  Who we are is detirmined (in this case) by the actions we have and will undertake. Make today count. Try. Dare. Risk. 

There are also though encounters of the “Im/possible”.  The unexplained and unprepared for, which then enters our reality and overturns our applecarts.  We couldn’t have even conceived of such an event and it exceeds all of our natural reserves.  It, by its very nature, subverts the paradigms we operated within.  The tables get turned over and the money changers of our ordered way of doing things are reversed.  How do we approach those events?  With the inward resolve of what one ancient philosopher called “the things that remain: faith, hope and love (with the greatest being love)”.  That is how we embrace the wild card future…faith, hope and love…

That’s how we then live…we live with certainty, certainly knowing our uncertain state. 

If in the end our reasons, our certainties, and our absolutes are eroded to deconstructables floating on the refuse heap we are left with the need for far more FAITH than we ever imagined.  If things, including science and philosophy and religion, are all interpretations that we can’t ever be completely sure of or imagine that we have the irrefutable answer to, then we have to take one step at a time walking down a darkened hall. 



if our final judgment must be that the Western form of Christianity, too, was only a preliminary stage to a complete absence of religion, what kind of situation emerges for us, for the church? How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless as well? Are there religionless Christians? If religion is only a garment of Christianity–and even this garment has looked very different at different times–then what is a religionless Christianity?

The questions to be answered would surely be: What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we speak of God–without religion, i.e., without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even “speak” as we used to) in a “secular” way about God? In what way are we “religionless-secular” Christians, in what way are we those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favored, but rather as belonging wholly to the world? In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world. But what does that mean? What is the place of worship and prayer in a religionless situation?

I love Bonhoeffer’s line of thinking here. I join his voice in asking what a religionless Christianity might look like. Although, I can’t help but think that asking the question is easier than living in the situation as we have it…a religionful Christianity.   Is it possible that we picture ouraselves as having “evolved” when it comes to this kind of question? That somehow we’re standing on new and uncharted grounds of cyncisim, critical deconstruction, and dis/belief? If we are under that illusion, I think that we might be forgetting that Isaac, the child of promise in the Abrahamic Covenant, means “Laughter”, and comes about, as a visible reminder of the founder of “the faithful’s” disbelief.  And, that Paul, certainly the founder of much of the cult of Christianity called, “the message about the cross” foolishness to Gentiles and a Stumbling block to Jews. In fact to at least one very notable Christian thinker, the gospel is the Paradox–“the unthinkable event of God the infinite, eternal One who became one of us.

Maybe the reality is far more perplexing than we care to imagine…To quote another passage of Bonhoeffer:

Who stands fast? Only the person whose final standard is not their Reason, their principles, their conscience, their freedom, or their virture, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegience to God–the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question of God…where are these responsible people?”

Perhaps the surprising, disillusioning, and embarrassing element of faith is that it is so damned disruptive to our normative way of doing business–of living life.  This is clearly the case when we stop asking the question with words and start “living the answer.”

At any rate, I think this is a pretty neccesary conversation to have today.

My Favorite Reading from 2008

Ten books this year that I found worthwhile and inspirational…

While I do not agree with all the conclusions that the various authors come to (if they come to one at all), I was challenged by each of their perspectives and offerings.

These books were both prescriptive towards a new reality in my life, and descriptive of existing realties.  Some of them were read multiple times–others only once. Some from last year made it onto the list–mainly because they continued to have a deepening or enjoyable effect in my life. And some that I just finished are here as well (maybe they’ll go on next years list too).

I hope you Enjoy and have a chance to check them out in the coming months:


This is an incredible collection of spiritual and mystical poems.  They are from another faith tradition, but don’t let that scare you off, besides inspiring greater understanding we also find that there are many things we share in common.  Hafiz articulates a God who is found in every laugh and tear.  The poetry extends beyond cognitive thought and hints at things that are beyond our ability to grasp…they turn us towards the Divine.




Rollins gives, perhaps rather strangely, a lot of people hope.  I know so many who find themselves on the fringe–on the outskirts of belief or faith–but Rollins invites them to move beyond the mundane questions about God’s existence but to actually give God birth in our lives. He asks us to allow the miracle of God to be our own transformed lives.  At the same time Rollins puts forward a basic thought: faithfulness to God will always look like unfaithfulness to religious form.  This will be hard for many within their tradition to swallow–but those already outside, it seems to connect. I loved it.  


I read Kester Brewins book last year, in fact it was the last book I read in 2007.  I feel as if I have lived it in 2008.  This book is one of my all time favorites.  It is written like poetry or a prayer escaping the lips of a hopeful yet hurting child.  There is a sense of wonder in these pages that invites the reader to wait on God, to discover the new thing God is doing and to dig ones hands into the grimy, often dirty, work of living towards a shared community as followers of Jesus.  Really this is a brilliant work.  I can’t say enough about it and even recently demanded that a friend and co-pioneer here in Portland read it.  I wish I could force every church planter, visionary, and co-worker to do so as well.  


I met Carl McColman this summer and had no clue who he was outside of a mutual friend’s recommendation. After our dinner together I realized that I wanted to spend copious amounts of time with this brother in Christ.  His history is rich and varied. His path of conversion is one of the most intriguing I’ve ever heard. And his generosity of spirit is intoxicating without being purely a free for all.  More than anything though, he brings all of this to a book he wrote over a decade ago.  This is a book for all spiritual seekers. It helps to articulate a path that neither negates nor excludes faith traditions, but rather affirms and invites people to recognize our great need for honest exploration of that which is beyond the here and now.  I have Christian and non-Christian friends alike I would love to loan this book to, provided I get it back. ;)


Reading this book while flying 30,000 feet above the ground was a dizzying experience. I finished it between the round-trip flights to a speaking engagement in the midwest. It left me breathless.  First, it is a good mystery, or rather three of them. 1) the disappearance of God in the Hebrew Bible 2) The Madness of Niechze 3) The connection of Cabbala and the Big Bang.  For any student of Scripture who has ever noticed the peculiar problem of “the disappearance of God” between Genesis and Daniel, this is a must read.  I was always troubled by the overt involvement of God in human affairs up front, only to be completely absent (not even mentioned) in the book Esther.  Why?  This is one of the questions Friedman seeks to answer.  He also delves into a completely bizarre connection between Nietchze and Doestoevsky…in the end the man who proclaimed God was dead actually believed himself to have become God.  And then finally the last section explores what Medieval Jewish mystics seemed to know about the beginning and ending of the universe that scientists are just now catching up with.  All in all this book was riveting. I ended up have a quasi-spiritual experience akin to being slain in the Spirit but in the middle of the Denver airport. Incredibly powerful–and bizarre.  Still, an incredibly challenging and altering book about unexpected subjects from an unlikely source.   


The Anabaptists have slowly, quietly, been tending to the treasury of actually taking Jesus seriously for hundreds of years now.  My wife is Mennonite as well as some of my best friends.  Though it has become, in many aspects, largely cultural–devoid of the original prophetic voice calling for radical apprenticeship to Jesus via the Sermon on the Mount, there are those who would reclaim that voice. Lee Camp is one of them.  He wrote this book as a more popularized and updated version of John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus”.  This book is at once accessibly written and extrutiatingly demanding.  Still, while inviting us to take Jesus far more seriously than we probably ever have–Camp also asks us NOT to take OURSELVES so seriously.  This is a message we need to hear more than ever.  (AND, if the book weren’t already worth it, I would pay the $15 just for the Appendix’, full of Mennonite/Anabaptist creeds, and spiritual practices to be utilized personally and communally).  


For anyone who enjoyed Frost or Hirsch’s past offerings, “Exiles” or “The Shape of Things to Come”, you are going to LOVE this book.  ReJESUS is prophetic, calling us to discover, as they say it in their subtitle, “a WILD messiah for a missional church”.  Jesus, to these authors, is a flesh and blood figure who offered hope for his world and in Spirit offers hope for ours today as well.  The book is a critique of laissez faire market place Christianity, while at the same time, affirming the biblical rendering of the person of Jesus.  Once again they beautifully express the need for the church to engage the Mission of God on this earth and to discover the radical claims of Jesus for the present moment.  It is faith renewing.  It was for me.  


Fact is perhaps best described by fiction.  Eons ago, back when Gen X still was mostly unnamed and we didn’t know who we were turning out to be, Douglas Coupland was elucidating the sense of isolation and desperate spiritual desire that the first generation without God was living with. The book is really a collection of short stories each focussing on different characters and situations. Still, a single thread runs through this small volume, hopelessness inspiring hope.  I recommend it because it describes the people I’ve met and am meeting.  People who are tired of running. People who are searching without realizing it.  It’s entertaining but its much bigger than that.  It’s descriptive.


The National (a band) sings about being “half awake in a fake empire”.  Chuck Klosterman is such a person.  He sees the connectedness of everything–from “Saved by the Bell” to internet porn to Frosted Flakes.  This book will make you believe that the “merchants of cool” (the shady marketeers who are engineering a culture of consumers who will buy their products) are real…and have been so for a very long time.  It will also make you realize the peculiar pit fall of being postmodern–something that Klosterman continually addresses and critiques.  In the final essay which happens to be on the topic of the once wildly popular “Left Behind” series in evangelical Christianity, he says why he admires fundamentalists. I found his reason interesting: “They’re probably the only people openly fighting against America’s insipid Oprah Culture–the pervasive belief system that insists everyone’s perspective is valid and that no one can be judged.”  Because, while he freely admits he’s a product of the mind numbing culture strewn between 1975-2005, Klosterman sees that there MUST BE MORE than pluralistic pliability–there are absolutes…even if we’ve been absolutely confused about them.  Very funny book. Very entertaining and insightful into the culture at large.


The subtitle of this book defines for me something that has been, and continues to be, an arduous and at times perilous journey: reconnecting your spirit without disconnecting your mind.  To embrace mystical spirituality that affirms the Bigness of God, the unknowability of God–who can only be known in the breaking point of Spirit and Body, while at the same time exploring actively the mental ramifications of knowing ABOUT God in my mind–this is the challenge that Alan Jones, dean of Grace Cathedral in SF, seeks to do.  He’s well qualified to do it too.  His church in San Francisco has been trying to find a “third way” between spiritual fundamentalism and secular post-modernism for years.  To his critics he is just another heir to the ooey-gooey hippies but to those who are being radically healed of pessimism  and spiritual lack Alan Jones is on to something (in the same way that Jesus was ;)).  This book ministered to me.  It wouldn’t have 2 years ago. It may not in the next year. But where I am today–it helped me reaffirm my commitment to life in the Way of Jesus, to His followers and indeed to all of humanity, and to moving in Spirit and Truth.  People who find themselves disappointed or wounded, on their way out or maybe even on their way in, will love this book.  People wanting to understand those of us who I’ve just described should probably give it a read too.  This year, this book is really the one about a Christianity worth believing–Hope-filled, Open-armed, Alive-and-well Faith for the Left Out, Left Behind, and Let Down in us All.


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