First a quick word on the temperature.  I’m freezing!!!  As only a So-Cal weather wimp can.  Outside this morning isn’t that cold actually, but last night’s temperature is still rattling my bones.  Brrrr….  This cold feeling reminds me of my first night of real chill in Nepal.  I took a shower in an outdoor stall at night.  Steam was pouring out of it, but I’m pretty sure that the water temp was cooler than my body’s.  Brrrr!!!!

Golly, but this isn’t about the weather.  Unless you consider the Church of England something you can take the temperature of.  Last Thursday my class took a field trip to hear the Church of England’s Bishop Graham Cray speak on “turning the ocean liner.”  (By ocean liner, he was referring to the Church of England)  I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about what is going in churches in England.  As is true here as well, the shape of church is shifting.  Have I compared the new expressions of church to charter schools yet?  Well churches seem to be popping up in new forms much like charter schools here in California- prolifically.  They are pioneering avenues of reform for often no longer adequate systems.  Anyway, what struck me as particularly lovely about the lecture, was that the bishops and leaders of the merry ol Church of England are advocating for and equipping these “fresh expressions” of church.  Sweet.  It is as if the state department of education is partnering with all the charter school upshots.  Reform is being advocated for from the top, and the those starting something new don’t have to slink around as if they are breaking the rules and rebelling against what came before.  The new expressions can learn in partnership with the wisdom of what has hundreds of years of history and experience.   (I think I discussed what the fresh expressions are looking like in the last blog, so I won’t go into here.)  Hooray for flexibility, imagination, and creativity!  Hooray for mentoring and aged wisdom and partnership!  I guess the temp of the Church of England may well be quite warm with life.  God bless them!

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A few thoughts from a lecture on emerging church expressions.  The case study we discussed was a report put together by the Church of England.  The lecture centered around cultural shifts and 12 church forms that are being employed and developed in the midst of this shift.

 

There seemed to be a paradox going on within the models expressed.  They were both extremely diverse and decidedly monocultural.  The church forms ranged from participatory artistic worship gatherings, to community organizing style groups in poor communities, to organic gatherings in pubs and cafés.  Each form of church seemed creative and at the same time very niche related.  Artists fellowship here, the young over there, and neo-beatniks over here.  How do we integrate the pub goers, the artists, the young , old, hip, impoverished, well-off, immigrant and local?  I love love love the varying expressions of people seeking Christ together, but I also sense a sort of segregating or isolating going on in these expressions.  The Body of Christ, as described in the New Testament, is made up of all sorts of people living out God’s love in unity.  Unity in diversity seems to be a part of the life-giving manner of how God made us to flourish.  We need to encourage this in our midst as we reinvent and innovate the functions and expressions of being the “church.”  How might be encourage that in the midst of all these new expressions?

 

And as a side note:

There seems to be an underlying assumption in these sorts of discussions that the religious culture of the U.S. will follow in the footsteps of Europe.  Is America’s religious temperature necessarily going to emulate Europe’s?  Might immigrants (thanks Hanciles), raucous American Evangelicalism, and myriad of variables be shaping the faith landscape of America in ways that look nothing like England or Europe?

Followers of Christ are told to be known by their love.  It seems that in many ways we are known by the messes we make in which God breaks through with redemption.  That is not the only story, but it is a loud one in the history of the church.  We must humbly call out for and receive mercy from birth to death.  It is hard to see what a mixed bag Christianity can be.  

We discussed the role of European empire expansion and the spread of the Gospel.  Though many explorers went out in the name of the Church, what they did was appalling.  The mass murdering, enslavement and stealing by professed believers is shocking and hard to wrestle with.  Cortez kills the Aztecs, takes their gold and conquers Mexico as a man of faith.  How does that work?  How did he justify treating other human beings in this fashion.  Than you have Friar Bartolome de las Casas that goes to Mexico to preach the Gospel to those that weren’t killed.  He opposes the enslavement of the indigenous people, (yay!) but makes some major mistakes on the road to figuring out that all enslavement is wrong.  To my contemporary eyes these look like such glaring wrongs.  What were these people even thinking for a minute?  Mass murder in the name of Jesus?  Importing Africans to be slaves in order to stem the use of local people as slaves?  Heartbreaking. 

What can we learn from these situations?  What terrible injustices are we blindly perpetrating or justifying in the name of the faith?  How are we being more influenced by earthly kingdom ethos than by the values of the Kingdom of Heaven?

More on Orthodoxy this week.  My prof likes to use videos, so we get lots of visuals.  The video we watched Monday clearly had two presuppositions: Orthodoxy is the bizniz and the better the beard the better the man.  Whatever your opinion on Orthodoxy, you have got to admit they take the gold in the bearded Christian department.

Besides beards, I was struck by relationship that the Orthodox Church has had with Islam.  It has been a pretty rough relationship, but one that I thought perhaps the Western Christian church could learn some things from.  The West seems to be scrambling to figure out how to relate and the Orthodox Church has been in the mix with Islamic cultures continuously for centuries. 

My other thought was that the Orthodox Church has been one under persecution for years.  What might the Western Church learn from them and how might we better relate this part of the church?

That’s it for now.  I’ll try to get some beard visuals up for you all next time.

We opened class on Wednesday by praying the Jesus prayer.  It is this simple and poignant prayer from the Orthodox tradition.  The simplest form is “Jesus have mercy on me.”  I have prayed it in other classes and on contemplative prayer retreats.  My experience praying it has been a surprising blessing.  I don’t come from a tradition or experience that uses or esteems written prayers.  Praying it in class was quieting and sweet and help set my mind on what is good and true.

Praying it as a directed devotional time in class brought to mind the first time I prayed it spontaneously.  I had gotten to know a number of young hippies turned Orthodox monks, or at least they were in the neophyte stage of figuring out if they were going to become monks.  Anyways, I had been surfing and working on an organic farm with one such fellow who gave me the long version of the Jesus prayer on the back of an icon card.  I found it interesting and sort of kept it as a souvenir  from my contacts with the Orthodox tradition.  At the time I did not get the purpose or beauty of repetitive prayer.  However, months after receiving the card I was driving an old school bus to my home in San Francisco after just having gotten my bus driver’s license.  As I turned the bus down a narrow side street around the corner from my house, I heard a unnerving scraping sound.  I looked in the side view mirror to see a Mercedes sticking out beyond the rest of the parallel parked cars I had just braked past.  In a split second I concluded that I must have side swiped the Mercedes.  My response  was to start repeating over and over again “Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.  Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.  Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner…”

I don’t know why the Jesus prayer came to mind just then.  But dang was that the best response I’ve ever had to a near accident.  Oh, and there was mercy.  I hopped out and ran back to look at the Mercedes.  There were no marks on it.  There was a Jetta just ahead of it that had its side view mirror collapsed backwards as it was designed to do for just such an occasion.  I think that was perhaps the sound I heard as it hit the side of the bus.  Yes!

Praying and recollections of God’s busdriving mercies were a lovely way to head into studying the development of the Easter Orthodox Church.  More on that next week and hopefully some responses to lectures on monasticism.

While at UC Davis I took a class in Cultural Ecology.  We looked at the paradigms through which a handful of anthropologist studied the relationship of culture and ecology.  It was super interesting and the prof was fantastic.  But besides recalling that the first paradigm we studied was “Classificatory  Cultural Ecology” and that one anthropologist thought that cultural/religious food rules were based on resource scarcity (Marvin Harris),  I don’t remember many specifics.  What has stuck to to my intellectual ribs from that class was the manner in which the anthropologist’s perspective was shaped by their own current socio-political setting.  And so on to my current study of Church history.

As we hear lectures on the development of the Church,  I’m constantly aware of the setting from which we are studying it.  As we look at the development of hierarchy, exclusivity of the leadership and the disparity between clergy and laity, I see it as reflections of problems in the church today.  When we talk about the shared meals, care for the widows and needy, and communal/familial emphasis my heart kicks into longing mode.  These are ideals that float through the air among my contemporaries like so many cell phone signals.

I will refrain from writing about the U2 concert I went to last night.  But golly I should write about that experience.  Woo wee and shoosh.  Ok, I’ll give a wee preview.  It was like going to hear the praises and laments of the Psalms sung in the  most currently contexualized of ways.

But on to my  lecture response.  Last Thursdays’s class focused on the story and practices of the Church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.  It was great!  We covered a bit of the impact that Constantine had on the Church.  It is wild to think that this movement, that perhaps had around 6 million members in its community before Constantine, had 60 million after Constantine formally  endorsed it as the state religion of choice.  I tend to see that as negative thing.  My Dad was reading a book that seemed to study all the negatives that came to the faith from becoming a state faith.  I think that part of this is that I’m soaked in the perspective of my time and place, so I look at Constantine as the rise of the nominal and the corruption of power.  A system of faith that’s focus is on being in reconciled relationship with the one true Creator God can never be merely a step towards social status, or a means for gaining political favor, or simply a shallow acquiescence to the latest ruler’s whim.  

But, I can imagine that Christians at the time were stoked, some of them anyway, that they did not need to fear death and persecution from their neighbors or the  Empire for their faith.  I bet some rejoiced that their was state funding to erect gathering places of worship in God’s honor.  I bet many people sighed in relief that they could worship God  without fear.   

P.S. I thought it was very interesting that exorcism was a common part of baptism for a period there in the 2nd century.

A quick comment on pedagogy.   I’m enjoying how Bolger draws the class in by discussion but also by repetition.  He has us going over the material in a variety of ways that I think place the information deeper in us as well as give us the opportunity to interact with a variety of perspectives on what we are hearing.   (I think my sentences are just getting longer and more convoluted the more time I’m in grad school.)  It is good to get to engage and respond to the class by blogging, but we also review sections by discussing them in small groups.  This is what my Jewish studies prof would have called “hevruta.”   I’m enjoying the process.

Warning: If church leadership structures or models of the church don’t interest you.  Read no further.

As for what stuck out to me this last class, the winner is “leadership forms of the 1st century church.”  I was especially struck by the idea that there was not a dominant structure and that roles as deacons, elders and bishops didn’t really solidify until the 2nd century.  Why did I find administrative structures so fascinating?  Well, I liked the idea that forms melded to their cultural contexts to a certain degree.  I also liked the idea that leadership was more familial and less hierarchical.  That appeals to me.  It also interested me as I have observed the leadership structures of younger and older church traditions.  Non-denominational churches are more like the 1st century church in their kind of loose and figuring it out mode.  Older denominations are more akin to 2nd century church and beyond who have tightened up and regularized their systems.  Non-denominational world can be pretty fluid and flexible when it comes to leadership structures.  This seems to make it both open to healthy adaptation and change as well as open to making more mistakes.  Older denominations seem to be rather inflexible at times, but they have great accountability built in and may be less prone to making immature mistakes.

Francis Chan.  I just read a brief article on this fellow- for fun, not for class.  He is a pastor here in So Cal that apparently is working on putting into practice the things we have been discussing in my class.  Chan is a pastor of a “mega-church” that desires to move towards a more small group “priesthood of all believers” sort expression of church.  In the article, as with the class, we are necessarily talking about church models (house churches, neighborhood churches, megachurches, emergent churches…) but it is not so much the form that matters as what sort of function it fosters.  I’m struck by the diversity of expressions of the early church.  I feel like I’m getting a front seat to that same diverse expression today.  Our discussion in class and the article on Chan get me excited for what new/old expressions lay ahead and more so excited for what this may enliven in the church.

It’s raining!!!  Hooray!  “Fall is here, school is in,  ring the bells…!”

I went to a dear girl’s wedding this past weekend in my home country in the Northern reaches of woods and waves and mountains.  I stopped for the first time at a roadside burl carving gift shop as I returned back out of  the land of tall trees.  It took traveling with out-of-towners to get me to stop  and experience a local attraction that I’ve looked at from  a passing car my whole life.  And it was in being away with old friends and people who I’ve know my whole life to fully realize how very very attached I am to  the one  who I left behind in my new home in the south.  Awwwww…

In class, when I returned, we discussed thet sort of church Jesus  initiated.  What  kind of community did Jesus establish?  What  a great question.  What did Jesus teach and practice regarding leadership, sacraments, community building, worship, and mission? Why did Jesus gather community around Him?  I loved getting to discuss the answers to these questions.  I’ve been hearing and reading the Bible my whole life, and it is so great to discuss what Jesus was up to from what feels like a new lens of questions.  I’m enjoying the new vistas.  These sort of questions and discussion make me think of when I googled images of the path I trekked in the Himalayas.  The paths I walked and villages I stayed in suddenly felt struck me as new acquaintances and more familiar at the same time.  Fresh air and more at home at the same time.  In class, I’m loving the sense of first meeting what I’ve known so long, and the aged fulfillment in what is newly discovered.