What Happened to Wonder?

It’s a bit like playing a game of snap. Just as I was posting about how I crave a different church service, Tim Schraeder asks “What happened to wonder?“. Here he grapples with the same kinds of ideas. Just goes to show maybe I’m not crazy! He says:

There’s a tension that many churches are dealing with these days when it comes to their services and it’s the battle between right and left brained thinking, or emotion over intellect.

Churches, well the progressive, innovative, edgy ones, get production. Some churches feel like a rock show or Broadway, and while I’m a bit indifferent to their methods, I feel that in looking, sounding and feeling like the world we’ve lost a true sense of wonder.

Today our churches look and feel more like conference centers or coffee shops and instead of creating reverent, reflective space, they are cozy and casual. Gizmodo did an article about the STORY Conference which we hosted at Park a few months ago and said, “The Park Community Church in Chicago is a multi-story Christian center that more closely resembles a Starbucks than any cathedral—and in fact houses its own coffee shop.”

I’m not saying those things are bad, people obviously need to be in space that’s warm an inviting… but I guess I’m wrestling with if that’s the right way.

While I completely agree that the message is what matters most, the tension we live in is the fact that people hear messages on different wavelengths. Some can sit and listen to a 45 minute sermon and get it. Other people need to see a picture or hear a story, some need to hear a song. Some people need to be inspired by beauty while others simply need sacred space to reflect and remember. There’s multiple ways to hear the same message.

Today, flickering pixels are our stained glass and God has given us so many new ways to communicate His unchanging message… to do things that evoke our emotions and touch both our mind and our heart. To bring words to life through an image, a story, or a song.

I’m not saying we need to reproduce a jonsi concert, add more lights or more music, get bigger screens and better projectors… I just wholeheartedly believe we need to first be captured with the awe and wonder of who God is and let Him use the gifts He’s uniquely given to all of us to share the what we have seen …

When was the last time you left church in awe… not of the production, music, lights, or anything else… but truly left in awe of who God is and what He’s done?

Schraeder believes that the artist can help save the church. I agree that the arts should figure more prominently (their demise is a consequence of modernism) but disagree that they can (alone) save the church. I do however totally and wholeheartedly agree on where he’s going with it all. If I could go to a church service that I could dream up, it would be one which made me wonder – about God, life, relationships, heaven, earth, people, glory, mystery, faith, miracles, pain, suffering and redemption. I would have a space to reflect, pray, listen to Him and worship. I would not experience a show, a production, a lecture trying to explain or teach anything, desperate fundraising, coercion, pressure, alienation for not volunteering or humiliation.

Schraeder asks pointed questions, that really deserve answers from today’s contemporary modern church:

When was the last time you sat in wonder of God’s love and grace? When was the last time your heart was truly moved? Where is the sense of wonder?

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Wanna write a Christian bestseller?

#106 The Side HugMy cousin is a real thinker. He graduated an engineer, then became a patent attorney and never married, so not only can he think, he’s got the time and energy to do it. He’s basically a self-taught theologian. I really applaud thinkers. They get a bad trot in Christendom – written off as all talk, no action. But I think generating ideas is action and can certainly be a catalyst for action.

Anyway, cuz really has a message about the Father heart of God – which he says is the apostolic message that’s getting drowned out across modern western Christendom by speakers and authors talking about principles for the successful christian life – e.g. seven steps to a powerful prayer life, three easy stages to holiness, five ways to a horny God-honoring marriage. He wants us to come back to the Father heart of God but to do it, he needs to do some pretty solid and heavy exposition of Ephesians 1-3 and Romans 6-8 and everything else in the bible.

When I asked him who his audience is, he says the man on the street – average Joe Believer. But when he tells me what it’s going to take to support his position it sounds like the only people who would be able to digest this high-fibre, zero fat, low carb, extreme protein power bar of thought will be  scholars. I explained to him that there are a couple of issues with the rest of the audience.

Firstly, there is the dumbed-down audience that love reading the latest from TD Jakes and John Bevere on a certain topic usually outlining how to master a certain aspect of the Christian life (western christian mindset). Today’s Christians are saved by grace and then bust their boilers and give themselves nose bleeds working out their salvation by mastery i.e. applying “proven” principles to get results to be a successful, God-honoring believer (never mind that following Christ and the idea of “mystery” has fallen by the wayside). We might be saved by faith, but we definitely live by trying to figure it all out in individually wrapped bite-sized portions.

The dumbed-down audience want to read “safe” authors who are recommended by their pastor or someone else “safe”. Author’s must be able to demonstrate their personal success (i.e. mastery) by leading a large church, loving a happy family (all smiles), speaking at big conferences, owning two large houses, traveling to over 40 countries, writing best seller books translated into 93 languages, having 80,000 twitter followers, with a ministry on TV broadcast to the said 40 countries and soon into outer space (don’t laugh about the outer space, I personally know a pastor who is trying to broadcast their worship and music into outer space).

Cuz, I said sagely, we all know you write to this audience to make money – a necessary evil, but then you pour this money into your “vision” so the ends justify the means.

The other audience he could try is the non-churched Christians, post moderns and emergents. The issue with these guys is that they don’t want to look at the bible as a text to be sliced and diced and analysed. The bible isn’t seen as a constitution or wiki on the Christian life. It’s seen as a true, earthy, primal story made up of many stories about many people, the central character being Christ. The overarching story is about God and people. So if the bible is a narrative, your writing might want to be…. a narrative! And it better be released for Kindle as well.

I explain that modernism takes a technical, analytical, systematic view of the bible producing works like “systematic theology” but emergents don’t want to analyse, they want to synthesise. They don’t want technical, they want organic. They don’t want more information, they want relationship. They don’t necessarily want more knowledge of good and evil, they want life, community, worship and they want this in a social justice, eco-friendly, sustainable and all-inclusive package…. don’t even think of using the word “exposition”.

If you write to these guys, you might want to invest in some pop culture (Erwin McManus has his own clothing line and Rob Bell should definitely have his own line of spectacle frames) or maybe you could practice writing stories. Christian fiction is the new non-fiction! Just look at the success of The Shack. After all, everyone loves a good story don’t they?

I went to church today and my brain went to work…..

I always find it good brain fodder when I go to church these days. First up, they’re an indicator for how well I’m improving. I can tell by how I feel while deciding. If I feel dread, anxiety, or sadness, I know I’m still recovering. Today it didn’t feel too bad lying in bed at 07:30 wondering if I should get up and take the kids to church. In the end, it was either that, or I was going to have to find something else to do with them or they’d climb the walls.

Secondly, I can monitor my feelings while I’m there. Today didn’t feel too bad. Ideally, I would have loved to have crept out during the last song, but it’s too hard with three kids, because I have to go find them first, rather than have them find me afterwards. Besides, I do like to say hi to friends although probably not all at once after the service.

I felt ok today. I wasn’t anxious enough to consider having a beer before going, and I didn’t take my friendly weed either (see last post). I just took everything slowly and deliberately – mindfully I think is the correct buzz word going around.

The highlight was the multimedia church news for me. Strange I know, but this was an area I loved because media was an outlet for creativity. The low point was the sermon. My replacement is doing a series on grace and using a chair to demonstrate that we have to balance all aspects of grace or we become unbalanced. But I thought grace was totally unbalanced!

Anyway, he explained that the first leg of the chair, was grace toward us (saving grace), the second leg was grace in us (changing grace), and the third leg was grace through us (God wants us to do stuff) which is where the sermon majored. He explained that 22,000 kids will die in the next 24 hours from preventable disease but then said we can’t do a whole lot about that, but we can all do something in a 25 mile radius of this church.

For me, the message got pretty heavy. The atmosphere by the end was really gloomy and quiet. I think the pastor realized that because he asked the band to come up and “play something nice”, and tacked on at the end after the closing prayer something to the effect that it would still be OK to enjoy lunch today. Phew!

The take home was that we should all do something, because God’s grace is in us. But your honor, I object. First, the people know all this already (as my wife said “you used to preach this stuff” – gotta love pastor’s wife’s) . The reason they’re not doing stuff, isn’t because they lack information. Secondly, if people had been transformed by grace, you wouldn’t need to tell them to do something, they’d be unstoppable.

My key thought out of all of this, is that pastor’s believe that they need to teach and rightly so (Paul charged Timothy to do it). Unfortunately we live in a culture with a modern Greek teaching style which consists largely of disseminating analytical information in the form of a lecture. This is a really important thought. Analysis focuses on breaking stuff down to understand it, and then the modern style is to just announce the findings to a group of people, who should listen, understand, learn and remember it. The problem with all of this, is that it is totally antithetical to what Christianity is all about. Teaching today, simply wasn’t anything like the teaching that the New Testament was suggesting.

My experience of Christianity is that it is first and foremost a faith. We are called to walk by faith, not by understanding, yet all our teaching is in an effort to understand! Secondly, I have found God to shroud himself more than he reveals himself, and there is more mystery than mastery going on everywhere I’ve looked. Paul says we look through a glass darkly and I concur. Yet everything pastors do in their sermons is to try and clarify stuff, inform the masses, make it easier to understand and do, and God just doesn’t seem to play the game.

OK, enough bashing. Want to know my thoughts on an alternative? It’s a bit post-modern, so if you have a modern brain, it’s not going to make much sense. If I had my time over again (relax, I’m not living in the past), I would ask more questions. I would help people ask good questions. I would ignite people’s wonderment. I would be a trail guide and rather than try and sit them in a room and lecture them about the trail, I’d take them out there and point at all the amazing sights and sounds and smells. I would appeal to their ability to dream. I would try my very best to involve them in a three way conversation between me, and them and the One who knows everything.

In this scenario, I don’t need to be the font of all knowledge. I don’t need to lecture. I don’t need to analyze, theologize, sermonize, or criticize. I just need to be a catalyst for a relationship, a guide for the adventure, your friend and a friend of The Friend.

Brian McLaren – Are you a heretic?

I love Brian McLaren. After my burnout, someone bought me a copy of A New Kind of Christian, and it was just what I needed. I’d started to rethink what I had inherited in terms of my paradigms and philosophy. I needed new ways for tough times, and McLaren offered me some new ways to think. It’s all fairly controversial stuff for conservative evangelicals, but adventure is part of my ethos, and what’s an adventure without dabbling in a little danger?

He was recently interviewed by Scott McKnight to try and clarify Brian’s position on key issues that has led some to brand him a heretic. Here’s the video and my response to it.

I totally get what McLaren is saying in this video. Instead of answering some of the the questions in a yes/no fashion, he’s trying to say that the question itself arises out of a mindset or paradigm that is asking the wrong questions.

He’s taking umbrage with the philosophy behind the question, which is the very thing he’s trying to change. I love it! He’s turning the heat up on the paradigm that asks the question. He knows the other paradigm as well as his new paradigm, so he’s fluent in both. It would be easier to answer the question, but not as useful. The conversation would be so much better if the questioner was also fluent in both.

If McLaren answered yes/no, that would enable dogmatic Christians to definitively write him off as wrong, never to listen to him again rendering his role in the kingdom as a thinker, provocateur, trail blazing, paradigm pioneer ineffective. There’s something greater than knowing right from wrong (the promise of satan in genesis) – McLaren wants people to think! But most Christians don’t want to. As he says, they just want to first know if an author is right, then they’ll listen or read their book.

I love his analogy to listening to music. I don’t give a toss what an artist believes in or if a musician is right, I’ll listen to his music if it sounds good and I’ll buy it and enjoy it.

Finally, I love his thoughtfulness and tone. He’s not antagonistic or defensive, he embodies what he advocates – that conversations about what we believe , rather than defending what we believe is the answer to being able to engage all people in meaningful dialogue and relationship, rather than having Christians bang on from one side of a very high, self-erected  wall at “non-christians” on the other, who either aren’t really listening or worse, listening and hitting back.

Recovering

I’ve turned the corner.

I thought not to write on it for a few weeks to see if recovery would regress but it hasn’t.

One day (literally) I woke up and my feelings of grief were gone. They just went. I remember talking to a pastor’s wife down south who had suffered with depression for years. She said that one day it just lifted – just like that. I always had her story in the back of my mind and wondered if one day, that would happen to me. I wasn’t banking on it though… after all, her “one day” came after years of suffering terribly.

I put it down to a meeting I had with my psych. As we discussed what had happened to me church-wise and my dreams and vision for what church could be like, she suggested that my dream would have never come about had I stayed. We live in a region of 30,000 in a semi rural conservative anglo culture where people still grow their own potatoes in their yards and make tomato relish. It would never have been fair on the church if I had continued to pursue my creative, innovative, Gen X, postmodern community ideals of the New Testament church in the 21st century. Something had to give. She believes I still may see my dream, but it just won’t be here and now. After thinking about that for a couple of days, I realised she was right. And when that realization happened, grief departed.

It sounds like magic. It definitely feels like magic. Whatever it is, I’m so grateful. Cognitive Behavioral Therapists, would put it down to the effectiveness of CBT. I’m not a huge fan, but it is an effective treatment for depression.

Anyway, for last three weeks or so, I haven’t had any feelings of grief, sadness or hurt. I feel quite calm really. I still have major misgivings at the way I was excluded from the church I sowed my life into for fifteen years and gave so much blood, sweat and tears, but that’s a separate issue – certainly not a clinical one.

And I’ve started a new job, which I’ll tell you about soon. The only thing I’m wary of, is the possibility of life returning to the way it was pre-depression. That might sound strange, but I never wanted to get back to the way things were. I always wanted to be transformed by my experience, not just to get over it. More on that another day.

OUCH! Written off as “negative”

I had one of those “OUCH” moments today. I was engaged with the state president of our movement who had come up with a mission statement he’s contemplating making into a bumper sticker. The conversation went to and fro for a while and was all good, then he played the “you’re negative” card, which I’m not. I just have a different perspective than I used to. It got me thinking. The moment we play the “negative” card, the conversation is attenuated and begins to contract. It is a value judgment that enables us to write the other person off and dismiss their ideas with one sweeping statement. As the person labeled negative, you can either defend yourself (thus sounding defensive), persevere (even when you’re not being listened to), or shut down – which I did.

I think it’s really important to scrapheap pastors that you pick your moments and pick your people carefully if you want to share your new-found perspectives and ideas gleaned from life on the scrapheap. If they’re not ready to contemplate that there could be a better way, you’re just wasting your breath, and it’s just too easy for them to write you off as bitter, twisted and negative.

Here’s some of the conversation:

Derwent
loving others as we have been loved and teaching every1 to do the same. (What Would Jesus Twitter)

Jack
can u teach ppl to love or is it a case of only being able to give away what you’ve received?

Derwent
Has to start with revelation of Gods love for us hence loving as we have been loved but then again I’m sure people can love even if they haven’t experienced love before. What do you think?

Jack

nah psychologists suggest that ppl who haven’t experienced attachment have significantly reduced ability to empathise and experience compassion. U can’t give what u aint got no matter how long someone preaches at u.

Melissa
Is that going to be our banner or something because it is very good. I can see that one in print everywhere!!

Derwent
Yep it’s our vision / mission statement. Heather suggested we get it done up as a bumper sticker 🙂 I like the idea!

Jack
u don’t think it sounds presumptuous to “teach” everyone? when it comes to adult education, the best anyone can do is facilitate someone else’s learning… which is why Jesus used parables…. it was to take people on a learning journey….

Derwent
Jesus’ great commision finishes with and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you – hence our statement. As you and I have discussed Jack, the command that Jesus was talking about was love others as I have loved you. Everything is encapsulated in that one command. Profoundly. Simple and simply profound.

Jack
yeah but he didn’t mean our concept of “teach”. Our concept is greek and modern. It’s rote learning. Someone talks, we listen. Jesus was talking about a rabbinical style. “I do, you watch, we walk and talk” etc.

So if you’re using language for a contemporary audience, it’s not going to mean to them what Jesus meant. We live in a postmodern world… where “Teachers” don’t hold any authority and there’s no power in information anymore. We live in an information world! People don’t want to listen, but they’re more than happy to observe and have a conversation….

Plus, we could probably learn just as much from “them” as we have to “teach”…. see how arrogant the concept of “us” “teaching” “them” is? That’s how it comes across anyway….

Melissa
Bumper stickers would be great! When we did hampers this year gone Brett had the idea to get reusable bags printed up for church instead of the supermarket ones. I think that slogan would be great on them….might be worth looking into for next chrissy!

Derwent
But that’s always going to be the problem with words John, the way people interpret them. We can sit around debating them till the cows come home or simply go ahead and demonstrate them. It’s been common knowledge since I was at uni 20 yrs ago that people learn best by doing so when I use the term teach it involves instruction, modelling, … practicing and internalising. Try not to see everything in the negative because you miss so much when you do. It’s not arrogance when Jesus commands us to do something and it’s not arrogance when we repeat it to others especially when the command is to love others as we have been loved.

Adventures in Missing the Point.

I’m just rocking the boat I know, but I really liked this book title. I’ve read one of Brian McLaren’s books (A new kind of Christian) and am ordering the rest of that trilogy. This looks a great read.

Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel

There is a stirring among churchgoers. Many are looking at how the Christian faith is being played out, wondering if somehow we’re missing the point. What if there is more to our faith than just getting our souls into heaven? What if there is a power in the gospel that’s been kept under lock and key because of our culture-controlled church? If we placed our beliefs and their origins under the microscope, what would we see?

If you’re brave enough to take an honest look at the issues facing the culture–controlled church—and the issues in your own life—read on. Do you ever look at how the Christian faith is being lived out in the new millennium and wonder if we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing? That we still haven’t quite “gotten it”? That we’ve missed the point regarding many important issues?

Join Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo on an adventure—one that’s about uncovering and naming faulty conclusions and assumptions about the Christian faith. The authors take turns addressing how we’ve missed the point on crucial topics such as: salvation, the Bible, being postmodern, worship, homosexuality, truth, and many more.

We’ve gotten really positive response on this book, especially from people in “the Christian subculture” who feel it kicks some doors down and opens some windows for needed fresh air.

Get a pdf of one of the chapters on salvation here: Missing the Point: Salvation