Monday, April 03, 2006

a public thought on the emergent "secret"

Recently I was hanging out over some commonly-excusable American addictions (coffee and tea) with a local church planter whom I was hoping to glean some insights from. As a bit of context, I am pursuing the dream of a church plant in the near future and am highly interested in hearing some thoughts on the insides of what can make this movement the healthiest it can possibly be. We spoke about this and mused about that, eventually coming around to the topic of the "emerging church."

As we chatted about things, I started to share some of my conclusions about the big secret of that many in the church world are either unaware of or seem unable to articulate. I've been on this journey for several years of trying to "figure out" the postmodern mindset, hammer out the "new way to do vintage things," and discover how to reconstruct all that I have "deconstructed" about why the old way was bad and the new way was better.

(Feel free to pick apart all of that last paragraph. I no longer believe that way but just thought I'd confess... I hear it's part of the 12-step process)

In any event, I've been at the conferences where the presenters presented, attended the forums where the gurus debated with each other (and sometimes the audience), hung out over late night options where theology (or the theology of theology) was the topic, and read the books and articles many of you have as well. Behind it all, I have sensed a genuine passion from Emergents about the church and it's future, perhaps because it's exposed them to a bit of a rugged past.

That part I totally get.

What I couldn't figure out, though, was why so many people seem mad at Emergents. How could there be so much paranoia from the modern types who were afraid we were all going to become tolerant Oprah clones or change our last names to McClaren? Why is George Barna petrified that the new movement will be to cancel church as we know it and begin a whole new revolution of postmoderns hopping into the escape pods and ejecting from the mother ship? Why have candle sales gone up... even though "it's not about candles?"

As best as I can tell, the big "secret" is that the Emergent church isn't telling anyone the right way to do church. Granted, that really isn't a secret, but it seems like there are a group of people standing around waiting for the "miracle proclamation." They tried to be all about seekers, got a bit more purpose-driven along the way, and recently have had some thoughts about house churches and video venues. Now they're waiting for the next spoonfeeding of a model...

and the Emergents aren't giving it to them.

The big "secret" is that somewhere along the way a few Emergents got smart. At least, they became wise by realizing they were dumb... or ignorant... whatever. The point is they stopped saying that there was one right way to do church and started celebrating other forms of spiritual exploration. Likewise, they got off of the main stage platform and circled up some chairs to chat with people at a round table. Instead of being about small groups they decided to become about community; instead of being about Sunday School, they decided to be about spiritual formation; instead of being about multi-site venues, they decided to be about neighborhood investment; and so on.

In short, the emergent church isn't about models in as much as it is about values.

As a potential church planter, this is good news for me. Having come off of a 16 years in student ministry I have seen the need to be fluid in my approach to reaching students based on who they are and where I served. Why wouldn't the church at large be any different? If we were committed to internal values that were biblically breathed instead of external concepts that had copyright symbols next to them, perhaps we'd "get it" and the Church would invade the church.

What will it look like for the church to be less married to a model and be more interested in the character behind the looks?

I suppose that's the emerging secret, isn't it?

Have a comment?
Post it HERE.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

today is the day

Joshua and I have been chatting for quite a while about what it means to be a Christian. Up until now, he hasn't been ready and we've been cool with that, planting seeds here and there and letting the Holy Spirit do His thing.

Then there was today...

Scene One

Joshua and I hopped in the van to head to the library. I put on a CD that had a song with the word “heaven” in it.

Joshua: “What did they say about that heaven?”

Me: “There’s a door open to heaven to anyone who wants to come in.”

Joshua: “What’s heaven?”

Me: “Heaven is where Jesus is King and where he wants us to come be with him when we die.”

Joshua: “Oh… I never knew about that before.”

Me: “When we ask Jesus into our heart, he comes in and then lets us be with him in heaven one day.”

Joshua: “Wow!”

Me: “Is that something you want to do, buddy?”

Joshua: “What?”

Me: “Do you want to ask Jesus into your heart? Do you want to go to heaven one day?”

Joshua: “SURE!”

Me: (stopped the car, turning around to head back home) “Okay… let’s go tell mom and then we’ll pray together.”

Joshua: “Okay!”

Scene Two

Me: “Joshua has something he wants to tell you.”

Katie: “What?”

Me: “Tell Mommy.”

Joshua: “Tell mommy what?”

Me: “Tell her what you want to do.”

Joshua: “Um… I don’t remember.”

Me: “Remember about heaven?”

Joshua: “Oh, yeah! Mommy, I want to ask Jesus into my heart so that I can go to heaven!”

Katie: “You do?”

Joshua: “Yeah!”

Me: “Alright, let’s pray together… tell Jesus what you want to do.”

Joshua: (shy) “I don’t know what to say.”

Me: “Do you want me to help you?”

Joshua: “Um… yeah.”

Katie: “Maybe he’s not ready…”

Me: “Joshua, are you sure you want to do this?”

Joshua: “Yeah.”

Me: “Okay… Dear Jesus…”

Joshua: “Dear Jesus…”

Me: “Thank you for loving me…”

Joshua: “Thank you for loving me…”

Me: “Thank you for forgiving me…”

Joshua: “Thank you for forgiving me…”

Me: “Please come into me…”

Joshua: “Please come into me…”

Me: “And help me to let you be my God…”

Joshua: “And help me to let you be my God…”

Me: “Anything else, Mom?”

Katie: “Thank you, Jesus, for dying on the cross…”

Joshua: “Thank you, Jesus, for dying on the cross…”

Katie: “And for forgiving me…”

Joshua: “And for forgiving me…”

Katie: “In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

Joshua: “Amen.”

Katie: “Happy Birthday.”

Joshua: “Is it my birthday?”

Katie: “Kind of.”

Me: “Joshua, do you know what just happened?”

Joshua: “What?”

Me: “Let me show you from the Bible… (I read from Luke 15) The Bible says that everyone in heaven is throwing you a party right now! All of the angels and Jesus think this is the most super-duper, coolest, awesomest, greatest, sweetest, most incrediblish thing you could ever do… and we do, too!”

Joshua: “WOW!”

Me: “That means when we die someday, we really keep on living and will all be together in heaven.”

Joshua: “All of us?”

Me: “Mommy and Daddy are Christians, too. You are, too, now. Everyone except for Daniel, but one day he will, too.”

Joshua: “I don’t want him to be left all alone!”

Katie: “We don’t either.”

Me: “That’s why we need to tell him about Jesus and heaven… that’s why we need to tell everyone.”

Joshua: “Cool! Hey, watch this…” (bounces on bed)

Me: “You want to tell Grandma?”

Joshua: “Sure!”

Scene Three

(knock, knock)

Grandma: “Yes?”

Joshua: “It’s me… Joshua.”

Grandma: “Coming.”

Joshua: “Grandma – I asked Jesus into my heart!”

Grandma: “You did?”

Joshua: “Yeah! And I will go to heaven one day!”

Grandma: “Cool! Grandma will, too!”

Joshua: “Cool!”

Me: “You want to call Grandpa?”

Joshua: “Yeah!”

Grandma: “Okay, Grandma will call him.”

(fade to)

Joshua: (on the phone) “Grandpa, I asked Jesus into my heart…. Yeah, and I will go to heaven someday… uh. Huh…. Okay, love you, too!”

Me: “Cool!”

Joshua: “Who else can I call?”

(fade to Joshua calling everyone he knows)

Joshua: “Hi, it’s me Joshua. I have GREAT NEWS! I asked Jesus into my heart and I’m going to go to heaven! Are you going to go to heaven? Okay, bye!”

Me: “Hey… let’s dance.”

Joshua: “Okay!”

(fade out of a bunch of wiggling and dancing around)

Scene Four

Joshua and I went to the park shortly after he prayed. Turns out he was going to get one of his birthday gifts a bit earlier. We walked in the woods and had a man-to-man chat.

Me: Joshua, I want to tell you a story.

Joshua: “Okay, you can tell me the story while we walk.”

Me: “That’s a great idea. Do you remember the story about how God created the world and Adam and Eve?”

Joshua: “Yeah, and that bad snake who made them eat the fruit.”

Me: “Right. Before they ate that fruit, they made lots of good choices, right?”

Joshua: “Yeah.”

Me: “But then they made a real big, bad one, right?”

Joshua: “Yeah, and they had to leave the garden.”

Me: “Right. Ever since then we’ve been away from God. That’s why Jesus came… to help come into us so that we could be with God again.”

Joshua: “Wow. How did he do that?”

Me: “He became a person. Remember at Christmas time we remember about how Jesus was a baby?”

Joshua: “Yeah.”

Me: “Well, at Easter – which is pretty soon – we remember that Jesus also grew up and became a man. He did that so he could die on a cross for us.”

Joshua: “Oh.”

(Right then and there, I happened to notice the ice on the pathway had melted into the formation of a cross. No kidding, an actual cross right there on the sidewalk right at this point in the story.)

Me: “Look at that right there, Joshua.”

Joshua: “Wow.”

Me: “That’s like a cross, right? Jesus died on the cross for us, but do you know what happened after that?”

Joshua: “What?”

Me: “He came back!”

Joshua: “YES!!!!! ALRIGHT!!!!” (jumping around)

Me: “Because Jesus died and lived again, when our bodies die – when they break and don’t work anymore – we will live again, too, with God!”

Joshua: “Wow. Hey, Daddy – look at that thing.”

(Joshua pointed to a bridge of ice that crossed over from one side of a small river to the other. No kidding, a bridge right there at this point in the story. I looked at the sky and smiled.)

Me: “Do you see how far apart those two sides are? Look at how that ice is kind of a bridge from one side to the other.”

Joshua: “Yeah!”

Me: “That’s what Jesus did. Through the cross we have a bridge to get from one side to the other side where God is.”

Joshua: “Cool!”

(We kept walking and finally arrived to a special spot where the pathway ended – a grove cut into the trees)

Me: “Joshua, I want to have a special talk with you. Can you sit down and listen?”

Joshua: “Okay.”

Me: “Today you asked Jesus into your heart. And today you became a Christian.”

Joshua: “What’s a Christian?”

Me: “It means that you asked Jesus into your heart and started a new, special friendship with him. He’s your King, now. It means you belong to God and God belongs to you.”

Joshua: “Wow!”

Me: “And so today you get to have a special present. I want to give it to you now, okay?”

(perking up) “What is it?”

(I pulled out a Bible – “Super Heroes Of The Bible” – and gave it to him)

Me: “Joshua, this is your very first Bible with all the important words – not just pictures and some words, but all of the words you will ever need to help you follow God.”

Joshua: “Wow!”

Me: “Look at me, buddy… (he looks up) There are no lies in this book. It is God’s truth, and because it is true it is like a sword you can use when the snake or dragon tries to lie to you.”

Joshua: “I never knew that before!”

Me: “This book is like a sword… which is why I have one more thing to give you.” (I reached over to the long box I had been carrying with us the whole time and pulled out a sword – a real, authentic heavy-duty sword – and showed it to Joshua. His eyes widened)

Joshua: “WOW! A real sword! A super-strong sword!” (he didn’t know whether to take it or not)
Me: “I want you to hold this sword with me…” (he holds it as I still hang on to it) “It’s heavy, isn’t it?”

Joshua: “Yeah.”

Me: “Joshua, do you remember how in the books we read about knights that someone who is already royalty or a knight is the one who helps another become one?”

Joshua: “Yeah.”

Me: “Jesus did that for us, and since I’m your dad and he has done that for me, I want to celebrate that you have asked Jesus into your heart. You’ve become a Christian, one of God’s knights… and so I dub thee… (putting the sword on either side of his head as he knelt) Joshua Myles, a Christian, and one of God’s knights.”

(huge smile)

Me: “Now, do you see your Bible? It’s like your sword… it’s full of all kinds of Bible muscles, and as you get to learn more about it and learn a new Bible muscle, we will write the number of that Bible muscle on this sword… as you get older, you will get stronger with your Bible muscles and stronger in your body muscles… and you will be able to use this sword in the way it was intended.”

Joshua: “Cool.”

Me: “Now stand up, and hold your swords…”

(with the Bible under his arm, he took the 42 inch metal sword and tried to hold it with both hands… he did okay, and occasionally would drop it)

Joshua: “Daddy, what is that black thing on the end?”

Me: “Let me show you… (taking the sword and taking off the protective edge covering) Look at what happens when we poke the sword into the wood.”

Joshua: “It makes little dots and breaks it.”

Me: “Right. That’s why you need to know that this is not a toy. Swords are very sharp on the end and usually very sharp on the sides. That’s why there is a handle. It keeps you from grabbing the sword in the wrong way and the top of the handle keeps your hand from sliding up. It’s like when we follow God’s rules… they are like boundaries or handles that keep us from cutting ourselves and getting hurt.”

Joshua: “Oh. Hey, can I make those dots?”

Me: “Only for a minute with Daddy, okay?” (we poked a bit at the wood)

Joshua: “Oh… hey, Daddy… can we go over there?” (pointing to where the wooden path ends and the raw leaves, dirt, thorns, and trees are)

Me: “You know, it’s not too safe over there. Are you sure you want to?”

Joshua: “Yeah, we will use our swords to help us… and you can hold my hand!”

Me: “Sounds like a great idea, buddy.”

(And then we did.)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

late night theology with Tony Jones

The continuing retrospective of adventures involving Tanner (a.k.a. Scott), Scrammy (a.k.a. Brian), God (a.k.a. I AM), and me (a.k.a. I AM not) during our NYWC weekend.

Late-Night Options:

After the General Session let out I booked up the third floor to grab a seat for the late-night option I'd been looking forward to the whole convention - "Late Night Theology Discussion" with Tony Jones.

Confession time: I had a bad first-time Tony Jones experience several conventions ago. It was at a late-night forum on the emerging church and he seemed rather, um... "bitey." So I did what any natural person would do... I didn't like him and felt good about it.

But then I realized I'm not a natural person... because of Jesus I'm a supernatural person (cue "hero" music). So I had to ask myself, "Am I so short-sighted that I'm going to let a one-time experience dictate my forever opinion of the guy?" So I went to another seminar of his the next year.

And I still didn't like him. Only... not as much as before.

OKAY! The guy's passion for the Gospel, the Church, and theology wore me down. I began to see that what I mistook for arrogance was really brokenness and passion for the Bride of Christ to "get it together." So over the years I've not only found my heart warming towards the guy but I think he's even gotten a bit "domesticated," too.

Anyway... Tony broke us out of the rows of chairs into a circle of interaction. Somehow I ended up sitting right next to him (which is no big deal - I'm somewhat past the "Christian celebrity" groupie stage... for the most part) and saved a seat for Brian (which... you should know... is not only a friend but is a recent graduate from my last church when I served as his youth pastor... now he's attending YS stuff with me... or maybe that's the other way around... either way, pretty cool). Then Tony talked about how this was going to be less of him talking and more about us interacting while he facilitated. To kick it off, he asked...

"So... what do you want to talk about?"

(awkward pause)

I had a topic, but I didn't want to take anything away from anyone else. So I gave it ten seconds... 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10.

    "I'll go," I said.

    "Alright," responded Tony.

    "Well... this kind of comes out of my own time with God. In Genesis 3 we read about the fall of Adam and Eve. The serpent deceived Eve, and so she decided to take a bite. Then Adam is encouraged by Eve to eat, and he does. After that the Bible says that 'then the eyes of both of them were opened' and we know the rest of the story from there. Here's my question, though... the consequence isn't mentioned until after Adam eats. So... what happened - or what didn't happen - after Eve ate? Anything?"

    "Ah... interesting," smiled Tony. Wiping his hands together, he said, "This opens up a whole bunch of issues... so, what's your thought? You probably have one, right?"

    "Actually, I don't... my buddies and I were talking about it on the ride here and I'd love to get some input."

    "Okay... any thoughts? This has a lot of implications."

And from there we spent a whole lot of time listening to different thoughts while Tony commented on how we were thinking. By the way - this was the greatest observation I stole away from this - the WAY a person thinks about theology is more important than WHAT they think. The whole idea that the way we approach the Scriptures is how we draw truths for life.

Here were some of the thoughts on the topic (in white) by the rest of the men and women in the room, followed by Tony Jones' insights on theology (in blue) after each was said. A few of my thoughts are in yellow.

  • "I always saw this passage as an opportunity for redemption. How Adam and Eve blow it and then God redeems them."
    • "So what we need to realize is that there is a LITERAL way to read Scripture. Good."
  • "I guess I read this story more as a picture of who we are... 'what is us' versus 'what was'"
    • "Okay... so you're more on the EXISTENTIAL side. Great... who else?"
  • "Just as another layer... could Adam - being pure and innocent - have sacrificed himself for the woman like Jesus later did for all of us? And does any of this have anything to bear on the importance of woman as a topic?"
    • "Hmm... this is the MASONOGISTIC issue - is man more important than the woman? I'd like to hear from a woman in the room on this, by the way."
  • "As we get into this there comes up certain understandings of the Atonement that we have to keep in mind..."
    • "Hang on a second - you're starting to bring up PAST BIBLICAL THEOLOGY. That's fine... but you need to realize what you're doing."
  • "What about the simple question of whether the biblical writers intended for us to focus on God speaking to Adam? Adam was not deceived... Adam knowingly took of the apple."
    • "Did you catch what you just did? You are bringing EXTRA BIBLICAL LANGUAGE into your thought. Keep an eye on that... and I'm still waiting to hear from a woman."
  • "God didn't intend for them to do this... Eve chose her own way and Adam did the same thing."
    • "Now we're talking about FREEWILL versus PREDESTINATION... I wonder what a CALVINIST would say to that statement. Do we have a woman yet? What do you think?" (points to a woman)
  • The woman answered: "I think the topic is interesting. To me this passage is about creation and God's plan for us. I like to think that He had a plan from the very beginning."
  • Some else countered: "To me this is all about original sin."
    • "Okay, first of all the doctrine of original sin came from Augustine and he lived from 354-430 A.D. When people talk about this they talk about how kids are inclined to sin and make a conscious choice to willfully sin against God when they do something self-centered. THAT'S INSANE! There comes a time when common sense trumps 'St. Augustine.'"
  • "I want to make the point that there are two separate issues that people often confuse. There's total depravity and original sin. Total depravity deals more how messed up people are and how there is nothing within me without God's intervention that can turn towards Him on my own - original sin is more about how we're all tainted by the wrong doing of Adam and Eve."
    • "So... is it your experience as a Christian that there is nothing within you that can turn to Jesus?"
  • "When we were first created we were 'inherently good' until Adam & Eve's sin. A hallmark in theology is that we're tainted with Adam and Eve's sin. Now, I have kids... and I don't want to interpret it that way."
  • "In Romans, though, it talks about how we're messed up because of one man and saved through Jesus - another."
    • "Okay... let's pretend Romans isn't in the Bible. Get rid of it... rip it out for a year. What does that do to your theology? I think we need to stop interpreting things through the lens of Paul... we rely on Paul way too much as the lens to interpret Jesus. Maybe we need to reverse it and go back and reinterpret Paul through the lens of Jesus."
  • "I have kids, too, and I don't want to overlook the selfishness of my two-year old."
    • "Developmentally human beings have no ability to consider others when they're young. It's like dogs... you can't train a dog to stop, look, and listen before they cross the street. (someone brought up a seeing eye dog as an example) Even a seeing eye dog is trained to look for cues... not to think on his own. So this whole idea of kids choosing sin is something we need to rethink... so many cultures see it differently than we do. The way sin is understood in Eastern Orthodox Christianity is that it's a disease we're all born with - a chronic one we live with and manage. "
  • "We just have to look at what Paul says..."
    • "Okay, hang on... first of all why would you use a word like 'just' to try to describe something theological like this? The word 'just" has no place in our vocabulary. It's like from that movie Neverland where Johnny Depp's character is playing with some kids and imagines the dog is like a bear... and the skeptical kid says, 'It's just a dog' and he says, 'Just - what a candle snuffing word.' The word 'just' demeans the whole concept of what we're trying to do here. And as a side note, I'm tired of us praying with the word 'just' all the time... 'Dear God, we just thank you for being here and just want to tell You how much we just need you to do this thing just for us.' Come on people.

      And then back to Paul - evangelical Christians are in love with Paul and not Jesus. We've become Paulophilics and don't even realize we're reading Romans through a contemporary lens. Like the PENAL SUBSTITUTIONARY THEORY OF THE ATONEMENT - this whole idea that one thing can balance out something else like a transaction - it comes from a guy named Anselm and was developed during the same time the Magna Carta was. The whole concept that someone screwed up so someone must pay for it... laws are very important in our society - we're very litigious and we assume that there's an economy of sin, too... only the rest of the world doesn't see the Bible like we do.

      You've probably used the illustration in your youth group of the person who stands before a judge who sentences him to die, then the judge comes down and says, "No! Wait! Let me die for him instead!" First of all, that could never happen in our society so it's a bad illustration... like the other one about the guy who operates a set of train tracks and has to switch the tracks before a train comes by and crashes... only his lever doesn't work so he sends his son down to fix it... and after he does the train comes crashing over the son and no one on the train realizes it... and when I was a kid I used to hear this story and how the people on the train were gambling and drinking and having sex and laughing... it's ridiculous!"
  • "So what I'm hearing from you is that this whole dilemma of law-versus-grace versus-justice is a new idea?"
    • "The Old Testament didn't see this as transactional but as symbolic. When the Day of Atonement came around and everyone would lay their sins on the scapegoat... that wasn't about a transaction but it was about their relationship with the God of Israel and His relationship with them. Were God's hands tied or weren't they?"
  • "If we look at the Old Testament as merely symbolic, though, the cross loses its power. It's not just prepatory to the cross... like when the two guys touched the Ark of the Covenant that contained God's presence and died on the spot... or how Aaron was the only one allowed in the most Holy Place."
    • "It may be problematic when you say that God's presence literally dwelled in the Ark. Okay... one last comment from someone on this and then let's move on to a new topic."
  • "I'd like to throw out this idea again from Romans... if I can... that maybe Adam was like Jesus because he chose to sin. We're told that he who was a pattern of the One to come... Jesus chooses to enter our sin in order for us to not be alone but instead to redeem us back to Him... maybe Adam was choosing to join Eve because within him was the same kind of desire to not leave someone alone in their sin."

    • "Alright - new topic."
  • "I want to know why YS is so focused on passion. What does passion hold such an important priority in its operative theology and these conferences."
    • "The book Soul Searching by Christian Smith is worth picking up on the topic of passion as it relates to the spiritual lives of American teens. There's this whole thing on how neurological research shows a 50% drop in brain activity around age 12... meaning it takes that much more stimulation to get an adrenaline rush... it's biologically natural for them to seek stimulation... that's why you don't find a lof of 50 year olds joining cults or gangs... teens do."
  • "Is there maybe a cultural loss due to the Enlightenment? Are we so cerebral now that we feel like we have to swing back and compensate?"
  • "All I know is that so many teens I work with struggle with apathy... it's hard to get them excited. And so if I get excited then sometimes they get excited."
  • "I think when it comes to passion we need to ask why we think we need it. Should you have passion just to have passion? I want to be a part of a revolution and that gets me passionate. You should have a reason to look forward to getting up in the morning... I really think that passion comes from purity. If you can get through to people that Scripture is what it is - that God Himself is who He is - and get into the purity of it... it will be contagious on it's own."
  • "Yes... but sometimes we get tired. I think we forget about the Old Testament sometimes and how they operated as a culture... thinking communally."
  • "Youth ministry is so emotionally driven, though, that we instead need to be equipped to help them see that passion is not about emotion but is about living it."
    • "Alright, we need to end this so I get the last word... I have found in the last five years that youth ministry is becoming more theological and I love that. It's a good sign that we would all be willing to meet late and night for something like this. It's a noble endeavor that you want to give them something to grab on to... so let me just encourage you in that. And hey - theology is play... so have fun."

    I love Tony's last thought... theology does need to be fun. When we start ripping each other's ideas up I think we miss out on a cool side of God. Like I mentioned at the start - I could have easily written off TJ from a couple of misperceptions on my part... is that true in your life of someone? And if so... what are you missing out on because of it?

    Join the conversation

    with your own comments


    Monday, October 10, 2005

    the legend of veronica

    So what's up with the "Don't call me Veronica" blog name?

    Short and simple, it's not my name.

    Here's the longer answer, though...

    It started out as a legend, actually. I used to share crazy stories from my life with teens whenever we'd go on a road trip together. We'd call these "legends" (i.e. the "Legend of White Castle") and only those on the trip knew the legend shared. However, the students could then "trade" the legend with others (for any legends they had missed out on). One particular legend that the kids were begging me to share was the "legend of Veronica."

    The truth was, though, that this all came about from a phrase I started saying for no reason other than to be clever. I'd sign my emails with my name, then "Don't call me Veronica." Maybe this was a concept inspired by watching too much David Letterman, but I imagined hounding people with questions while all the while calling them Veronica. It would be my hope that at some point they would simply say, "Don't call me Veronica." (Unless, of course, that person was actually named Veronica - in which case I'd just be a loon).

    After leaving that church, I went on to another and did a lesson where that happened - I called three students up on stage for a "game" where I did nothing but call them Veronica. For this lesson I had made up a couple of t-shirts that read "Don't Call Me Veronica," which then took off as a set of shrts for the student ministry (after all, what teen wouldn't want to wear a shirt that makes no sense?) For unless your name is Veronica, this is a perfect shirt for everyone to wear.

    I still wear mine all around town and on trips whenever I can. It's a great conversation tool and (believe it or not) can even be used to lead people to the Lord. Picture this...

    • Kenny RogersWhen the average person asks you, "Why can't I call you Veronica?" you can respond back with the intelligent answer, "Because it's not my name. My name is Kenny." (Unless, of course, your name isn't Kenny, because then you'd insert whatever your name really is).
    • At this point, most people would give you an odd look and would be ready to walk away. This is your chance to ask, "Have you ever had someone put a label on you that wasn't true?" Most people would respond with a "Yes," a nod, or at the very least a mild grunt. You'd then continue with, "So have I. And even though these labels aren't true and we know they aren't true, so often we just accept them without claiming out loud who we really are instead. Kenny RogersIn this case, my name isn't Veronica and so I want everyone to know what my name really is. It's Kenny." (Unless, again, Kenny isn't your real name. To which we've already covered such madness in the prior paragraph).
    • By now the person you were speaking with would begin to see you weren't a crazed loon at all, but rather a genius. After all, who wouldn't appreciate such a conversational banter?
    • Here's where the kicker comes in, though. You'd then say, "In the same way, people sometimes put labels on God that aren't true, simply because they're trying to box Him in to being something He isn't. I kind of think it's important for God to define who He is, and He did that in the Bible and through Jesus Christ. Whether or not we like it, that's who He is. And so instead of us labeling Him incorrectly, I just wanted you to know I'm willing to stand up for who He really is and the awesome things He has to offer your life."
    • You could go several directions from here: You could ask them about the labels that people put on God to suit their own needs. You cold even ask the person if he/she would like prayer for a need in his/her life related to people placing incorrect labels on him/her. Of course, you could always just wish them well and tell them to remember that your name isn't Veronica... it's Kenny. (Unless, of course, Kenny still isn't your name. Which by now, shouldn't it be Kenny? After all... it really rolls off the tongue better than Buford. And we've already established this pattern of conversation around the name Kenny, so why not? Unless, of course, your name isn't Kenny and never will be Kenny. To which I'd have to ask what you have against Kenny, anyway? He's a good guy... sure, it's odd that he has a chain of chicken establishments and was single-handedly responsible for country music becoming pop music during the 8-track era, but overall he's a real good apple. So give Kenny a break already? And don't call me Veronica.)

    So to recap...

    • My name isn't Veronica, so don't call me Veronica. I am who I am and I will not accept false labels but will speak up if you say I am who I am not.
    • God's name isn't anything other than what the I AM defines... so in this case, I am not but I know I AM and will proclaim the truth of His identity in a world who likes to call Him, well... "Veronica."

    Thanks for reading, Kenny.

      "What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!" (2 Cor. 5:17, NLT)

    Have a thought or comment

    on how this has revolutionized your life?

    Post it HERE.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    postmodern breakfast food

    I had the blessing of spending some time at Zondervan this morning with around 200 others to hear Brian McClaren and Rob Bell share some thoughts. The following is a bit of a loose transcript, and I'd like to stress that the only real "quotes" are in quotes (hmm... how clever of me). The hosts from Zondervan welcomed everyone, read from a Psalm, and then asked questions that the guys responded to.

    There are some great nuggets in here... I'd love to hear what stands out to you.

    Regarding living the “Jesus way of life” in today’s world…

    Paraphrases from Rob: I think that central to the church is the need for every generation to ask, “What does it look like for us to be church here and now?" We’ve been handed this thing… what does the Kingdom of God look like to explode in this place?

    Paraphrases from Brian: I have this quote in the back of the book by G.K. Chesterton…
      How can we keep the artist discontented with his pictures while preventing him from being vitally discontented with his art? How can we make a man always dissatisfied with his work, yet always keep working? How can we make sure that the portrait painter will throw the portrait out the window instead of taking the natural and more human course of throwing the sitter out of [the] window?
    And then I speak about the tension of always being discontented with our portraits of orthodoxy, never (out of frustration) throw the Subject of our portrait out the window. Many times we have this picture of Jesus in our brain and we start to paint it, but then we get frustrated and we’re tempted to throw Jesus out the window.

    Rob: (adding) “Which brings up an interesting point that every fresh and original thought you think you have – somebody smarter a long time ago in Europe said it.”

    Regarding how Brian hopes pastors will respond to his book…

    Paraphrases from Brian: I sense everywhere I go – and not just among young followers of Christ, but even from older followers – that our past has been divided. I’m hoping someone says, “This is what I’ve been thinking, too.” If we want unity, it’s not about just emphasizing our common ground… it’s also about emphasizing our differences and seeing them as gifts we get to bring to one another. I want to be post-Protestant… we spent so much time building distinctives in order to define who we weren’t… that made us feel better than others, which leads to pride, which then takes us away from grace.

    Regarding a thought from Rob’s book on freeing Jesus from the religion that’s been built around Him…

    Paraphrases from Rob: “I think that in many ways what bonds us the resurrected Christ.” I’ve been so surprised during the times I’ve had a chance to lead pastors in communion how many of them have never taken bread and the cup outside of their traditions.

    Isn’t this about the resurrection? Is Christ put on display or not? Often in our churches all the great things about Christ become defined as, “So, are you with us on the next building campaign or not?”

    Regarding some thoughts on putting Jesus back in the center…

    Paraphrases from Rob: As a leader, something needs to happen inside of us first. Ask yourself: “Do I have more wonder and awe than when I first started? Have I been moved to innocence? Am I more passionate about the Christ who saved me today than years ago when it happened? Do I have the backbone to let the Kingdom of God happen in me?” We often try to move people to a place of “shalom” that isn’t the dominant reality in our lives.

    Regarding making disciples “for the sake of the world”…

    Paraphrases from Brian: I think Dallas Willard and Richard Foster have done an incredible job of bringing back to our attention that “converts and disciples are not the same thing.” Making disciples is not accidental but the main focus of our work. Maybe it’s time to ask your board of elders, “How can my job be adjusted in the next several years so that my primary job is to model Jesus Christ instead of lead a religious organization?”

    So when we speak of making disciples “for the sake of the world” we are speaking of the reality that the church is not to keep to itself or live in isolation. The church exists so the world may know God's love and mercy. I love the phrase I heard that “our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo.” We say that, but are surprised when someone acts like a jerk to us.

    One of the terrible con’s of the religious right is the focus on the sins other people do that we don’t (as if to legitimize ours). It’s unfortunate, but often if you want to find some judgmental people, go to church. Ironically, I think you will find much less of that in the gay community, for instance.

    There’s this dominant idea in many churches that one day we will all leave the earth. You can justify the theology of evacuation with the Bible… you can justify a lot of stupid things with the Bible, for that matter… “I know it sounds crazy to say that God actually loves the world… that God so loved the world… I know it’s radical to say that God loves birds and flowers… but I heard it from Someone that I trust.”

    Regarding the emphasis on why knowing our identity now is so important…

    Paraphrases from Rob: There’s an interesting insight from the book of Ephesians… the first couple of chapters contain no commands. It doesn’t tell you to do anything, but instead it tells you who you are. Then a few chapters in there is this gearshift as if to say, “Now that you know who you are here’s what to do…”

    “People have intuitively rejected shame-based theologies.” Somehow they know it’s not right. “I’ve met people who for them found becoming a Christian loaded them down with stuff…” Jesus critiqued this, saying, “You load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”

    Paraphrases from Brian: I know this woman who is a single mom of three kids, each from a different dad. She came to Christ some time ago, and just recently told me, “When I became a follower of Christ I wanted to get myself into the church as much I could.” After a work trip Egypt this summer, she reached a turning point and said, “God wants me to get out there and make a difference.”

    Regarding how the church uses the Bible in a changing world…

    NOTE - the host quoted Brian’s book: “It's no surprise then that biblical Christians have thrived when we've used the Bible with the goal of becoming good people who, because we follow Jesus, do good works in God's good world. And we have languished and wandered when we have used the Bible as a weapon to threaten others, as a tool to intimidate others and prove them wrong, as a shortcut to being know-it-alls.”

    Paraphrases from Brian: “We need to read it more… out loud.” We were just talking last night about how sometimes people take the Bible out of context through nice little devotionals. Jokingly, we said how you could argue that the Bible is the disorganized, raw version of “Our Daily Bread.” We need to “read it to try to get the big narrative flow… to realize the story hasn’t ended yet and we are still a part of it.”

    The best Bible study I’ve ever been a part of was when we read the Pentateuch together. We would take the three or so chapters and read them out loud together in unison. We wouldn’t stop for comments – just read. There was something about it that was rather special. Then we’d say, “Okay, what do you want to talk about?” I always used to read my Bible in “suitable chunks for preaching,” looking for the next angle or my points I would share. But there was something about this study… like when we read from Numbers how people spoke against Moses and then God struck them down (which I think, by the way, is a great verse for pastors). Then later when you read that Moses struck the rock in anger and God prevents him from entering into the Promised Land… you get something out of that maybe you would have missed.

    Paraphrases from Rob: I would take issue with the question, I think. I don’t know that we’re supposed to “use the Bible.” I think the better question is “How do we get caught up in what the Bible is caught up in?” I’m working on a campaign against thinking of the Bible as an “owner’s manual” – you only take an owner’s manual out when the toaster breaks. I want to know “where is our story in that story?” What’s the movement? Where is what God is doing here happening to us?

    I love the idea that “we affirm everything the Bible affirms” - that’s it’s useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in all righteousness. Some people have a particular buzzword they are looking for you to say about the Bible or theology and when you don’t say it they get angry. Many will say that in everything the point is the Bible – the point isn’t the Bible – the point is the resurrected Christ. The Bible can become something we get our hands around and start to use to draw lines because we serve a God with an unpronounceable name and a mysterious personality.

    Regarding how they respond to critics who don’t agree with their thoughts…

    Paraphrases from Brian: You can be doing everything right and hear all the criticism. You need to ask yourself, “How can I come through this and become better – not bitter? Become sweeter – not sour?” I love a prayer I discovered some time ago called “A Prayer For My Enemies.” It helps me to see critics as God’s gift to keep my ego from inflating. Sometimes critics are just carnal friends in disguise. I’ve read the prayer everyday.

    Paraphrases from Rob: When you receive criticism, you have to remember that you’ve thought through and digested your ideas and let them loose in your community after a long process. What happens if you try to engage a person if you’ve had several voices and authors speaking into you that they haven’t? We try to invite people into the journey with us by pointing them to the resources we’ve had the blessing of being a part of. Then after they read them, if they still disagree with you, well… then I don’t know what you do.

    Regarding the concept of bringing the Kingdom of heaven to earth…

    Paraphrases from Rob: A lot of people in the church see life as trying to get somewhere else. But when you read the Torah and Jesus’ teachings we see more written about bringing the Kingdom to earth. “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done,” and so on. The concept of the afterlife was a new concept… bringing the Kingdom is about doing the kinds of things Jesus talks about – where there is suffering, you do something about it.

    I don’t know if any of your congregations have heard of this thing called “financial debt?” We have so much of that in our area that we are trying to raise up counselors to help people become financially free… the issue of AIDS will impact the church in major ways in that it’s consuming Africa and on its way through Asia. “A Christian is someone who resists the marriage of hell on earth and asks, ‘How can I bring heaven to earth?’”

    Regarding what it means to not be hostile towards others who are different…

    Paraphrases from Brian: I was on a ferry and looking for someone to share a cab with to the airport once we docked. This wasn’t motivated by anything spiritual… I was just being cheap. I met a man who agreed, and asked, “So, what do you do for a living?” I said, “Actually, I’m a pastor.” (I don’t know what I always say “actually” when I answer that question.) He said, “Oh, I’m a Jew. I was watching some of your TV shows last night. Why do you let them do that?” He went on to share that he grew up in Iowa and his family was the only Jewish one in the community. “I have a bad taste in my mouth about Christians,” he said. “They either ignore you or tell you that you’re going to burn in hell.”

    We’ve created an environment where the only way Christians can relate to others is to tell them “You’re going to burn in hell.” Think about that.

    “As a follower of Jesus I am called to love my neighbor.” I don’t like it when people who are trying to market something try to be my friend to advance their quota… or when people have a list they go down until they find something they disagree with about my life so that they can correct me. I don’t like that, and I would guess you don’t either. Guess what? Neither does the world.

    I tell people, “Look for the religiously, socially, ethnically, sexually ‘different’ person.” Look for that “different” person around you, and go towards them. Enter their world with acceptance and love and help them to get to know Christianity through that. If you are white, you have all the things that go along with “white privilege” – but you also have “white responsibility.” Bottom line – “if you are a Christian, you move towards the ‘others’ you come into contact with.”

    Regarding what they appreciate about each other…

    Paraphrases from Rob: “I’ll go first! Brian is kind to the very end. When you are smart there are often a lot of ‘other things’ that go with that, but Brian is kind… flesh and blood kind.”

    He also knows the importance of history… I was in South Africa and heard that Brian had been there. He took the Dutch people through their own theological history… many who had ancestors responsible for apartheid… and it melted them.

    I’ve been in Brian’s house and I’ve seen him have dinner with his family… he loves having dinner with his family! I think that’s what makes his voice so powerful. It’s most important to live this out with the people you see everyday and who know you best. “That, to me, is more important than anything he says or writes.”

    Paraphrases from Brian: “He’s just wild and he has found a way to not get domesticated by the church and ministry. I imagine that’s not easy… there’s this wildness that gets beaten out of us in the ministry… of course, the creativity Rob has would be scary were it not so in the yoke of Jesus Christ… his legacy... the impact of his church... is going to be so significant.”

    I don’t know if this is still the case, but I went to his web site when it first started and couldn’t find his name anywhere. I wondered if I had the right church or not. That’s the kind of community that is. In fact, when I visited I asked several staff, “How many are in this church?” They all responded, “Well, we have around 400 committed to the community.” In a world where pastors like to over inflate their numbers, I like this idea better.

    The host thanked both men, then asked Brian to close the time in prayer.

    Everyone went home with a nice goodie bag filled with A Generous Orthodoxy, Velvet Elvis, The Leadership Secrets Of Billy Graham, a full TNIV Bible, No Perfect People Allowed (audio), The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, and a cool parchment style bag with a book on archeological Bible studies. This was worth the free price of admission... not to mention the apple I took with me.

    Besides that?

    My takeaway is that these are real guys with a real passion for Jesus Christ and His Church. It's so easy when something is in print to shred it with critique and look for a new way to make yourself feel better about what you already think (and always will). Or... we can choose to grow and stretch.

    Just last week at a birthday party I heard an old grandpa guy say, "I was invited to hear a presentation about the 'emerging church' and I think I might go. I don't get it, but maybe there's something I can learn from it." Wow - there's hope!

    What if we did this on both sides of the theological, generational, or some other "" fence? What if instead of looking for a way to neglect our roots we opened our ears to echoes of the past? What if rather than backing someone with a revolutionary voice into the corner we took the time to hear his or her heart?

    By the way - that is my spin. These guys aren't just rebels fighting against something - they are revolutionaries striving for something.

    So what do you take away from all of this?

    Post your comments HERE.

    Thursday, September 01, 2005


    My actual blog is HERE...

    this is just a spot for my leftovers (i.e. when a post is too big).