Announcing Drawn In

I'm thrilled to announce the release of my upcoming spiritual & creative leaders book, Drawn In.  Its designed for artists, activist, and Jesus followers looking for ways beyond the Right-Brain drain and culture wars of modern Christianity. I walk readers through emerging design thought and ancient practices using biblical and pop culture imagery. While utilizing design models its more poetic than didactic in its approach. It is my most exciting work yet toward expressing my passion that beauty and creativity can draw both the church and artists into deeper collaboration with God and God's kingdom!

Here's what folks are saying:

DI_front_cover

“...A book that combines the passion of the Wild Goose Festival and the creative insights of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, with a dash of “new monastic” spirituality and a pinch of Brueggemannian theological sensibility... Great exercises. Excellent for small group discussion.”

– David O. Taylor, editor of For the Beauty of the Church

“This fresh vision of God and ourselves draws us (rather than drives us) into a new way of being. Drawn In will introduce many to a gifted writer, reflective artist, and practical theologian sure to contribute much to the life of the church for decades to come.”

– Brian D. McLaren, author of New Kind of Christian

“This is one of the finest books on art, creativity, and the nature of God to date. It is no less than a manifesto: a call to co-create life at the grandest and most humble of scales. To make and remake the world with passionate and tangible love. Stunning, from start to finish.”

– Sally Morgenthaler, author or Worship Evangelism

“Troy Bronsink is deeply rooted in a seriousness about Gospel faith. He explores the recognition that faith cannot be held in the familiar categories of concept, proposition, rule or cliché, but is always moving toward new possibilities.”

– Walter Brueggemann, author of Prophetic Imagination

You can "look inside" it at Amazon, Paraclete Press, and soon it will be available on the redesign of my website.  Thanks everyone who helped bring this book to life!!!

Block/Brueggemann on Like-mindedness

Neighborhoods, churches, business ventures need not be homogeneous groups of people—in fact, when they are they will necessarily be exclusive. They can also be places where gifts and calling are brought to bear.

Read More

structure verses interaction, is this a fair dichotomy?

For year I've been having conversations with friend, blogging-preacher-mom MaryAnn McKibben Dana, about worship. We were in seminary together and led many an alternative approach to preaching and liturgy.  But now she is serving in a traditional context. Recently I asked her to hit me up with a question or two for this blog.

 She writes:

My question comes from serving a traditional congregation that has a lot of potential. I have introduced all sorts of things with them, basic stuff like prayer walls, talkbacks in worship, and the like. Thankfully, I have never experienced resistance to any of these funky things. But... I sense that they put up with this so long as I don't do it too often. I'd rather the interactive stuff be more of the norm, not that there's not structure, but it's a skeleton, not an exoskeleton, that limits our growth.
So I wonder what tips you have for congregations that are open to change, but are coming from a very traditional place (I keep using that word). This is a church that until 5 years ago did the Apostles' Creed EVERY Sunday. In other words, we're starting from scratch. What's the beginners' course for interactive, creative worship design?

I totally get where you're coming from, MaryAnn.  Just this Sunday I was curating sung prayer for a young adventurous church plant that loves alternative shaped music but still didn't know what to do when the wrong bulletins were printed.  And later that evening I attended a casual Episcopalian service where the attendees wanted to read their prayers, hear the gospel lesson, share communion, and be out in 45 minutes.  Neither of these congregations are ready for or interested in weekly open sourced interactive stations.  They might each agree that change is necessary to attract new comers, but that doesn't mean their worship incorporates change any more than your traditional Presbyterian church.  Among many ways of approaching this, I find a key starting point is developing an understanding of worship that engages the participant as a learner, facing new questions.  Does worship incorporate opportunity to encounter unsolved problems, or does your congregation expect worship leaders to solve all the problems before they arrive?  This is not the fault of structure but the fault of congregational expectations (or pastoral expectations, or both).  A great Phish concert, Jazz show, or improve theater will tell you that they plan meticulously, and yet they know that open spaces for serendipity are essential to the actual art happening.  In fact, high levels of interaction usually require structure.Most of us already do this in preaching, we set up a story or metaphor that places the listener in an aesthetic posture of "re-thinking" their presumed categories.  In their clever book on marketing, Made to Stick, brothers Chip and Dan Heath call this "breaking the guessing machine."  One of the challenges in organized worship gatherings, however, is that people grow accustomed to the guessing machine and find comfort in knowing, resting in the familiar.  See if the rhetorical tools you use to engage the listener can be applied to other worship introductions, and to teaching and observation about the shape of worship. When you can break people's guessing machines when it comes to sharing a cup or pulling out your their wallets for an offering, then you're on your way.

I've spent the last 6 months closely reading Edwin Friedman's A Failure of Nerve in which he describes countless stories of the European explorers of the fifteenth and sixteen centuries.  Though their maps were incorrect, the sense of adventure in these explorers led them down mistaken path after mistaken path.  In fact, over that the hundred year period of extensive exploration, generations of European lived with incorrect maps based on false connections between the continents and major bodies of water  until they finally all synched up into a concrete picture of reality.  The break through into new ways of seeing and knowing our world had been forbidden by imagined bounds like geocentricism and the equatorial myth, and even after those myths were gone, it took 100+ years to rebuild what would become the current image of this planet.  He writes:

"The great lesson here for all imaginatively gridlocked systems is that the acceptance and even cherishing of uncertainty is critical to keeping the human mind from voyaging into the delusion of omniscience.  The willingness to encounter serendipity is the best antidote we have for the arrogance of thinking we know.  Exposing oneself to chance is often the only way to provide the kind of mind-jarring experience of novelty that can make us realize that what we thought was reality was only a miror of our minds.  Related here is the neccessity of preserving ambiguity in artistic expression since, if the viewer's imagination is to flower, it is importaint not to solve the problem in advance." (Failure of Nerve p46)

 

I think the church is in an imaginatively gridlocked system.  When worship leaders (pastors, musicians, lay or clergy)  have to prove their omniscience to a congregation then its a tail tell sign that the congregation has begun to form worship and the one they worship in their own image. Worship, like therapy, is about generalization.  While I don't think therapy is always a good metaphor for worship, in this case it works—the couple that uses "I statements" with enough frequency in therapy eventually uses them at home in higher stress situatations.  Similarly, in worship, our minds and imaginations inhabit a story and a practice such that we then recognize that story in the wider world.  So I'd argue that worship without questions or "room for serendipity" actually misshapes the congregants. Congregants need their "imagination to flower" in worship so that they can find God in the unsolved problems they face in life.

 

Here are some tricks to try that don't require unscrewing your pews or painting faces.  And even when they don't go as planned they'll serve their purpose in rewiring folks to make room for serendipity:

  1. Try using a visual image in worship and asking questions about it that you don't already have answers to.
  2. Allow lectio divina to open some space for the "sermon" to crawl into unknown spaces, and then playfully say, "I wonder where that could lead you the rest of the week?"
  3. Regularly confess publicly when you don't know what you're doing
  4. Meet with some of your leadership (such as a worship committee) and identify various places in your worship gatherings (in the usual liturgy) that you can on some unexpected week, either break a guessing machine, or leave open space for serendipity.
  5. Then slowly introduce creative practices (such as those found in The Art of Curating Worship or Sacred Space ) for one element of worship, during session meetings, bible studies, sunday school, etc.
  6. Invoke responsibility: Always note that people are freely invited to opt in, to join the adventure, but that they can also opt into silent contemplation if they would prefer that over one of the exercises.

Let me know if any of these tips work or what other tips you might have.

Clayfire... failed pot?

So, what is Clayfire, and why would anyone care if its gone (here's the closing announcement)  ?

Their tagline, "reshaping worship together" sums up what I think they/we were after.  But they also needed to figure out how the reshapers or users of "pre-shaped" worship were going to access the designs... and in the world of Planning Center Online and various denominational worship resource companies, Clayfire never figured out how to break into the industry.

About two years ago at Christianity21 event in Minneapolis I met Linda Parriot and got reacquainted with Sally Morganthaler, they were beginning a project around worship that would combine resourcing churches as well as catalyzing artists who design worship and art experiences. The project would be both an affiliate of Augsburg Fortress Press' new imprint, Sparkhouse, and a sort of online resource store.

I joined up with the team as they were commissioning original content for the online resources.  Sally and a few others moved on around the same time because they were more committed to the catalyzing and collaboration than to an online resource site. I enjoyed working on a fresh collection called "God's Grand Work of Art" with friends like Tim Omara, Aaron Strumple, Todd Fadel, Josey Stone, Margaret Ellsworth and my brother, designer Jonathan Bronsink.  The collection was one of dozens designed by artist who not only lead worship music, paint, or preach, but who design worship as formational practice of missional life.  Influenced by the work of Mark Pierson, Clayfire coined this practice as "curation."

Then last summer I met up with Jodi-Renee Adams, Eric Heron and Lilly Lewin to plan a worship gathering at the Wild Goose Festival.  Eric had been leading a blog discussion on this for quite some time, and many of us had worked together before. But working at the goose was a chance to welcome other artists into the conversation and introduce this line of worship design thinking to pastors and missional leaders. Here's a picture of an experience curated that included the use of yarn passed between participants as a symbol of shared  prayers.

Then, this fall I had the chance to work with Mark, Jodi, Shawna Bowman (in the pic above) and ephemeral artist and Methodist campus minister, Ted Hatten. We co-facilitated a seminar in Chicago called The Art of Curating Worship (after Mark's book by the same name). In that space I really grew to trust the vision and focus of the Clayfire organization.  While they did need to make the business start up work (and the actual online subscription program had to roll back to beta because of so many quirks) they had carefully connected the success of the business and the online resources to the re-imagining of worship.  Not enough could be said about the courage to try that!

So, this Monday, when I learned that Clayfire would be unplugged I was sad but not surprised.  It was at once a struggling business venture and a burgeoning group of theologically nuanced creatives who could (and still might) reshape the practices of church.  For sure, these theological-artist and others were doing this before Clayfire, but nevertheless this was a rallying point and I met great people because of it.

In the art of throwing pottery, the potter often discovers that the clay just doesn't want to become what she had in mind.  If, in the middle she forces it one way or another the entire vessel collapses and throws slag and bits of unfired clay over the potter, the wheel, and the room. Sometimes potters luck out and an unexpected work of art emerges.  And then sometimes the pot seems to be done but it just doesn't feel right... it ends up sold at a discount because it never fits...  Sometimes its not until they are fired in the kiln that pots fail, because the slip and scoring weren't strong enough for the handle to hold or because the glaze bled.

So the question is what do we make of Clayfire? A failed business idea, or an early iteration in a host of ways forward in congregational formation and worship arts?  I'm sure that there remains more to be seen from the world of worship curation and I hope that Clayfire's legacy will play a significant role in whats to come.

What do you hope for the future of worship shaping, and what organizations, groups or networks have you found most supportive of this kind of work?

Inventing Intentionally Transformational Emerging Worship

Check out this online course we will be teaching through the Center for Progressive Renewal.  This course is open for anyone to register. Course is postponed until January,  shoot Troy or Josh an email if you have interest in the shape of the curriculum or other workshops we lead.

Inventing Intentionally Transformational Emerging Worship, a five-week course led by Troy Bronsink, an artist and pastor seeking the way of Jesus, and blogger, podcaster and activist Joshua Case, is designed to help you look at worship from a new perspective and to set the foundations for change. Not all healthy worship gatherings are organized as “emerging churches,” but the emerging design values of intention, transformation and participation are shared across the board. This course in designing worship keeps those values in mind. Whether you are starting a church or a new service, or you are ready to build these missional values into traditional worship gatherings, this course is for you. Students will utilize skills from community organizing and design thinking to articulate their congregation’s hermeneutic and mission, and then design a four-week worship series in teams comprised of other students or artists in their congregation. Weekly written reflections will be based on assigned readings from ecclesiology, aesthetics, liturgical theology and contemplation. To model transformational worship, the course will be structured as a journey of spiritual formation for all participants. Like a mini-study leave, space will be created for participants to re-imagine/deconstruct/construct congregational and personal worship. In other words, it will be an interactive prayer.

The course begins Tuesday, November 16 at 7 p.m. EASTERN time with a conference call for all participants. Tuition is $249. For more information, please contact Rev. Gregg Carlson, CPR’s Director of Online Learning at gregg@progressiverenewal.org.

Announcing Church As Art Consulting

Imagine Worship that Changes People Into People Who Change the World

For seven years Church as Art has worked with mainline and emergent congregations to get pastors, lay leaders, and artists onto the same page as they design worship and other church programming.  Designed at first by Rev. Troy Bronsink to bring the emergent-missional conversation to midsized Presbyterian congregations, Church as Art's collaborative process has grown to include small congregations, non-denominational groups, and middle-governing bodies. Now Joshua Case (of The Nick and Josh Podcast) joins Bronsink to bring depth of insight and experience in the fields of outreach project management, social media, non-violent communication, student ministries, and emergence from within the Episcopalian tradition.

Worship Design Webinar:  What is Emerging Worship?

July 27 @ 7PM (EST) hosted the by Center For Progressive Renewal.  Sign up here.

Emerging worship engages communities in the art of everyday life. Whether you are asked to start an alternative worship service, are exploring complimentary elements to deepen your existing worship offerings, or starting worship for a new church plant, you need to start with "How does worship connect to what we believe about church?" Of course, you also need on-ramp methods to get started right away: tips for how to find and train musicians, artists and poets; how to design the time and place; and maybe even some survival strategies for addressing the resistance you may encounter from within your congregation. We'll hit those, too. "Emerging Worship," led by Troy  and Joshua is about communities anticipating the dreams of God together by playfully sharing and trading narratives and rituals as prayer.

About Troy

Troy Bronsink is an artist and a pastor seeking the way of Jesus. He and his wife and daughter, live in the Capitol View area of inner-city Atlanta, he is the Abbot of Neighbor’s Abbey, an holistic monastic community. Their family has been passionate about community development, education, and creativity for years. In integrating these Troy has become a contributor in the emerging church conversation. He is a singer-songwriter with 15 years of experience ranging from youth ministery to worship director to senior pastor, and in both the mainline and para-church field. Troy has an MDiv from of Columbia Theological Seminary, is an ordained Presbyterian minister, serving on the Greater Atlanta Presbytery’s Emerging Church Committee, founder of the Atlanta Emergent Cohort,  and board member of Emergent Village. He is a contributing author to the 2007 Baker Emersion release, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, and author of the forthcoming 2011 Paraclete Press book, Getting Drawn In.

About Josh

Joshua Case is a blogger, podcaster, and activist. Josh and his wife live in Decatur, Georgia where he is in his final year of study at the Candler School of Theology. Josh is an Episcopalian, co-facilitator of the Atlanta Emergent cohort, and has blogged and podcasted on matters related to Christianity in the emerging culture for over 10 years. Before moving to Atlanta, Joshua worked for six years in Geneva Switzerland where he served as the executive director for an international, interfaith youth work and ministry organization.

Village emerging

This weekend I had the incredible privilege of joining 23 old and brand new friends to discern "What Emergent Village has been, who we were becoming, and how we are to cultivate this new form." For back ground about the event you can visit the blog announcement at Emergent Village, and a list of participants here. For the first night we discussed our stories and where we saw our lives meaningful for the dreams/reign/kingdom of God. Then we went into deeper exercise of sharing, dreaming, praying, and listening. Its difficult to report on how this evolved, we shared in small groups, we shared in the whole large group, but from the get-go we really worked like one organism, learning to let go of our group-identity-hangups (It makes one re-imagine Paul's language of the body of Christ, that's for sure)

HUMILITY OF THE WHOLE

For years what has "worked" about Emergent Village has been the pairing of winsome new or newly synthesized ideas with the irenic theological humility of our earliest and most visible idea person, Brian McLaren. Basically Brian's affect has been: you can't slam the door on someone so willing to share his story without requiring you to "buy in" to his ideas. This weekend we moved into an organism with this characteristic. Our group of 24 was given the reigns to "hold" or "control" the future of Emergent Village. We then went through the process of listening to our own ideas, listening to other's ideas, and then letting go of our individual dreams, the dreams of other friends we interviewed leading up the event. We followed that seed in Jesus' parable and let the vision fall into the ground and die. At that place of chaos/surrender/disorienation/loss we began to experience freedom/release/inspiration/reimagination and a sense of the "whole." We began to listen for what God was teaching us. We looked around and it felt heavy/real/unreal all at once. We took off our shoes because we knew it was holy ground. We worshipped. The next morning we went through the difficult place of articulating, with one voice, what we believed we heard to be our visions/shape. When we came out of the other side we struggled to speak out of the same unity from which we had perceived our new call the night before. We left with a sense of "what" we were becoming, and we also left refreshed having already begun to become someone different. There will be a lot more fleshing out of the new "what." And trust me, clearer communication about how folks can stay involved and buy in even deeper to the four values of the Emergent Village. Below are a few additional incites/values that turned up...

INSTRUMENTS and SUBMISSION

It is rare, if ever, that folks in groups like this want to agree to a "polity" or "external method." We're wired existentially to "intuit" or feel our way through a decision. The entire weekend was built around an exercise called the "Theory U," a process of surrendering our individual blind spots in order to perceive in the same way we hope things will emerge. And while seven of us agreed to choose this method, only one of us came with know-how, only one of us had already seen it work in a group like ours. So it was a huge act of faith for the very diverse group of 23 to entrust ourselves to the process. On the other hand, this was a huge "Hail Mary." The primary visionaries of Emergent Village had given it over to us to decide the Village's future, and with no desire to return to the days of a "leader initiated vision", we had to "dig in" to this kind of holistic process. Even the board of directors had resigned or submitted plans to resign when this was complete, and they appointed Tim Hartman as interim chairman of the board as he was instrumental in pulling this weekend together. We all paid for our way there and spend most of the Villages remaining budget on the discounted rate that Church of the Savior asked of us for the use of their building. We had no other forseable option. We had to go for broke. Which meant, we had to let go, pray, watch, listen, and basically trust the whole group and God's hand to sync up. We had to submit for this moment...

My theology proffesor, Shirley Guthrie, liked to describe the interrelationship of the Trinity as a "dance of mutual submission" and leading into this weekend I saw the many Emergent Villagers and stakeholders open ourselves to this ancient dance.

Everyone "let go" in some way or another. Folks with so much to lose, like Brain McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt (and dozens of other high profile leaders who jump started and were then identified as part-and-parcel of this ten year old movement) had courage to give it away. Folks with so much to lose (yeah I'm repeating myself) friends like Rick Bennett, Wendy Eason, Dan Ra, Lisa Domkie, Ryan Sharp, or [put your name here if the Emergent Village has been your home], also had to live with letting go of their love for this family, its ideals, and the sense of belonging that comes with sharing language, art, rituals, meals, and pilgrimages. Folks at this gathering had so much to lose too. It could have dribbled into a power grab, either for people like me who had been around for years, or those new to the table. And we have to note that there was no "perfect mix" of diversity- no people over 55 were present, no openly gay or lesbian people were there, no 2/3rds world citizens, no eastern orthodox, no nurses, no public elected officials... BUT the minority voices who were there also chose to let go of what could have been theirs. None of nine women and two African Americans and the Latino and the Puerto Rican brothers grabbed for "their turn" at power center having only just arrived. It was clearly a Pentecostal act of the spirit that we all were delivered from that temptation! And that strength of personal character, and the huge sacrifice that everyone was making resulted in a "collective" surrendering, a kind of submission. And once we had settled into the place of surrender something happened...

THE HEAVY

The word for glory used by the Hebrews is akin to the word for "heavy." The heaviness of Yahweh landed on Mount Sinai to speak to Moses. The heaviness of Yahweh rolled through Ezekiel's vision of the moving worshippers of God. When that gift was given to us something deep happened for Emergent Village. I think (and here I'm taking editorial liberties) we found our collective voice of "Worship." I need to take a little rabbit trail here to make my point...

I am a novice in the healing arts of Tai Chi and Qugong. But I did it for a while at a church and now and then I run over to the YMCA to join a community in these ancient stretching, breathing, attending practices. Something happens in these disciplines to the connection between my body and my imagination and my spirit. They become more integrated. After a hard Tai Chi work out, when I put my right hand in front of my chest facing the earth and my left below it facing the sky and imagine I'm holding a ball, I begin to feel heat/energy/life between my fingers... The martial artist calls this energy "Chi." And sometimes you can push that energy between each other, you can feel something physical and yet not-concrete happening in the room. When we had surrendered Emergent Village, as we stood in a circle, I felt that energy in the middle of us all, but larger and teaming with greater life. Inside the hallowed out circle that once held our individual ideas and the dreams/ambitions of Emergent's founders had come the Presence of energy/life/wholeness. And we realized that God was near. It felt heavy. And our hands formed around that largeness as if our individual chi/lives had been consumed by Life Eternal. Now, no one else was thinking of Tai Chi but slowly folks hands came out of their pockets, off of their hips, or uncrossed. Some of our hands opened like the liturgist standing at the Lords Table reaching out in invitation, who says "the Lord be with you." And some of our hands raised like the abbot and preacher who sends a benediction to a congregation only we were blessing and being blessed by God. In that moment I (re)discovered worship in front of the glory/heavy of God. We were hushed, like the sound when snow falls. We were humbled like standing in front of Mt Rainer on that rare clear Summer day, or looking over the Grand Canyon, or hearing someone you've wronged say, ‘I know, I forgive you.' We were free like a mass of college graduates throwing their mortar boards into the sky or someone receiving the news that the tumor is benign or the news that grandma's long fight against dementia had ended.

It was thin space.

We were silent.

Michael Toy suggested we take off our shoes. We sang a song of praise...

From the COLLECTIVE IMAGINATION to COLLECTIVE IMAGINEERING

That night we shared dinner together and dribbled to our homes and hotel rooms. It felt like the night after Jesus had breathed on his disciples in the upper room- all we had were our shared experience to verify his words of peace, and his commission. No pentecost, just peace... The next morning we met on the roof again for worship (you can see Paul Soupiset's panoramic picture here), and we listened to reading from Henri Nouwen, from the Divine Hours, from Elizabeth O'Connor and we sang. We looked out at the horizon and remembered the line from Psalm 91- "I set my eyes to the hill, where does our help come from? Our help comes from the one making heaven and earth." And we realized that God's Spirit would be faithful to send heaven's will to us in order that it be accomplished here with earth as well.

The next three hours were difficult, we were resisting overpowering one another, and yet resistant to checking out of the process. We moved into groups around themes of Art, the Way, Justice, Integration, Social Media, and Theology. And we were frustrated at the possible silos that could result. Until we recognized that the "Integration group" was the village's primary role. We began to discover that Emergent Village was changing from a tribe committed to the "brand identity of Emergent" into a village that seeks to integrate the practices of Art, Theology, Way, Justice, and Social Media. Emergent Village then is moveing from emphasizing "emergent" toward emphasizing "village." And then we realized that the other emerging communities that we love were seeing this as well: groups like Origins, and Presbymergent, sites like the Ooze, and the efforts of groups like Love is Concrete, and Calvin Institute for Christian Worship were all sensing the same thing- the need to integrate. And that Emergent could bring our unique combination of these various passions together for the god of the world. Emergent Village, then, has a task ahead of us to consider how everyone/network/family/context in the Village can cooperatively resource and draw upon kingdom Imagineering. In otherwords, what we make is not for a subset of churches but for the good of the world by all sorts of church/para-church participants. The tasks and functions are still being clarified- so if this is not making sense, be patient. And of course the transition into this season of Emergent Village's life will not be complete until more and more join in refining its articulation and new practices- so jump in!

On Saturday, when we were tired and discouraged at the "hairball" emergent had become, I winged an "on the spot song" that has hung with me since then. And I think it sums up the next chapter... its not perfect and its in progress but here's what it says:

What's born in me, does not belong to me it does not belong to you it belongs to the world

What's born in you does not just belong to you does not just belong to me it belongs to the world.

Come spirit come help us see New Creation Remake us all, set us free from ourselves cause what belongs to me what belongs to you is being born for the world.

another great summary is on Sarah Notton's Facebook notes

You can't stay inside our church...

The Abbey has been reading from Luke as a group for several months now. We have just now gotten to chapter 6, the readers-digest version of the Sermon on the Mount. And we were challenged by the vision of a community in our neighborhood who might forgive every enemy, not charge interest on loans, and when someone steels from us- we would give them more in return. It shaped us. We want to be those people and yet we're scared of trusting the "other" that much. We know we can't afford to be that open, that under-secured, that loose handed about our safety and possessions. When we faced that fear we also realized that, somehow (and I know this feels far fetched) being known and beloved by Jesus has shaped some yoda-like people of faith to live in such a way: open, under-secured, and loose handed. We risked wondering if personal transformation might bring this kind of living (I know, but I told you it seemed far fetched). Anyway, when I mentioned this to my friend David, last night, he said I should read the intro to Eugen Peterson's translation of Luke. It made me laugh at the coincidence of choosing this gospel book to read first as a group. We at the Abbey have been outsiders to church and religion so long that we are very reluctant to start any kind of church that would put others on the outside.  We resist talking about personal transformation (knee-jerk-ed-ly so, perhaps) because we want transformation to be not about us, but for the good of everyone around us.  Peterson's intro hits this spot on...

Most of us, most of the ttime, feel left out––misfits.  We don't belong.  Others seem to be so confident, so sure of themselves, "insiders" who know the ropes, old hands in a club from which we are excluded.

One of the ways we have of responding to this is to form our own club, or join one that will have us.  Here is as least one place where er are "in" and the others "out."  The clubs range from inflormal to formal in gatherigs that are variously political, social, cultural, and economic.  But the one thins they have in common is the principle of exclusion. Identity or worth is achieved by excluding all but the chosen. The terrible price we pay for keeping all those other people out so that we can savor the sweetness of being insiders is a reduction of reality, a shrinkage of life.

Nowhere is this price more terrible thn when it is paid in the cause of religion.  But religion has a long history of doing just that, of reducing the huge mysteries of God to the respectability of club rules, of shrinking the vast human communty to a "membership."  But with God there are no outsiders.

Luke is a most vigorous champion of the outsider.  An outsider himself, the only Gentile in an all-Jewish case of New Testament writers, he shows how Jesus includes those who typically were treated as outsiders by he religious establishment of the day: women, common laborers (sheep herders), the racially different (Samaritans), the poor.  He will not countenance religion as a club.  As Luke tells the story, all of use who have found ourselves on the outside looking in on life with no hope of gaining entrance (and who of us hasn't felt it?) now find the doors wide open, found in the and welcomed by God in Jesus.

I hope that Neighbors Abbey keeps its doors so open that no one can stay "inside" while others are "outside."  And while I do hope that we transform as group (me being the first in need of transformation- fo sho) I pray that we never become more a part of our group than a part of the neighborhood we hope to see transformed!

Neighbors Abbey

In August 2008 a group of us met on the back porch and decided to create a church that would serve the good of our neighborhoods of Southwest Atlanta. Now we meet for meals, to help our neighbors, to pray, to discuss scripture, to design public performance art projects, and many other things. Should you join us in any of these capacities you will affect how we us step with courage into God's dreams in Jesus for enlivening our city.

You can click on the following links to learn more about our beginning, our name, or our funding needs.

Our budget for 2009 is $52,000. We have been given a $25,000 matching fund challenge grant. Every dollar you give will be doubled by this matching grant. We already have $14,000 in outside pledges, other gifts, and offerings from Abbey participants. We still need $13,000. If you feel connected to this dream and want to entrust us with some of your money to invest in this entrepreneurial act of faith click here for details on how to give secure donations. All funds are tax deductible with accounting oversight by the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.

Our official website is in process. This temporary page was set up to provide more information about the Abbey's vision and fiscal responsibly.

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I dare ya: claim your position as the next Emergent Village National Coordinator!

So, a few weeks ago I was with Naomi Schwenke, Wendy Eason, Mike Stavlund, Micheal Toy, and Laci Scott when we learned that Tony Jones would no longer be the National Coordinator of Emergent Village... I remembered back 3 years earlier hearing that Tony would become the coordinator a few months after hanging with him in Decatur for Brueggemann and the Bible. At that point the buzz from Darrell Guder and others was that we were on the way to becoming a denomination.

Before long, the press finally had someone to "goto" besides Brian to address the question "what is emergent?," and not much later the culture despisers had someone to "blame" for the slippery slope into "postmodern relativism." Then the postmodern bloggers began to blame Tony for being part of an oligarchy. And then people got frustrated at a survey asking, again, for permission to become what we dream the emergent village could be writing "Tony, when will we get the results of the survey?"

So it seems right that we need to be stripped of a "goto" person, someone to deflect responsibility upon, and someone to blame fo the whole mess. Truth be told, we are the mess, and the solution.

So I am taking responsibility. My friend Josh Case and I decided we ought to profess that Emergent could be (and is) Coordinated by any of us.

Sure this is tongue-in-cheek. We need people starting things (like the regional gatherings that have risen up, the podcasts and blogs, the churches, the community organizing, the magazine ideas... people do do stuff around here!) instead of learning to expect EV to start things. This is what we say every month at the Atlanta Cohort, "Emergent belongs to you.  Whatever you bring to the table, mixed with our four practices/values, and that equals emergent.  No more.  No less.  So lets figure out what we want to make of it..."  But why did we get so hung up with needing a coordinator anyway? Tony was (is) great (hats off to you dude!), but why do we need the "figure head?"

If, in fact, the Spirit sends gifts from a promised future to participate in the possibilities of Jesus' kingdom, then we can operate without a named figure head, right? The "Gifts of the Spirit" are open source, they are not given to chairmen/women, elected officials, or transfered through ordination like the fair lady giving boy Arthur the permission to remove the sword from the stone.

EV was becoming what Brafman ad Beckstrom call a "spider organism" that liked having a leader to blame, defer to, or upon which we could place our hopes. But the leadership that Tony and others take are best understood as "a catalysts, a person who initiates a circle and then fades away into the background."

A catalyst is like the architect of a house: he's essential to the long-term structural integrity, but he doesn't move in. In fact, when the catalyst stays around too long and becomes absorbed in his creation, the whole structure becomes more centralized." (Starfish and Spider, pg94)

I congratulate Tony and the Board on this decision, and congratulate the Villagers who expressed this option in the vote. I even wonder if a Board of Directors, and operating as a 501c3 or a LLC or an CSA, or any official entity for that matter, will ever fully serve to facilitate an open-sourced architecture. And as we evolve into a more centralized or increasingly decentralized conversation I think this is a chance for participants of the village, no matter what neighborhood you're in, to lean into agency. Leaning into this is taking the risk of using our gifts:

“When we deny our gifts, we blaspheme against the Holy Spirit whose action is to call forth gifts... And that same Spirit gives us the responsibility of investing [our gifts] with him in the continuing creation of the world. Our gifts are the signs of our commissioning, the conveyors of our human-divine love, the receptacles of our own transforming, creative power” (Elizabeth O’Connor).

"When the church starts to be the church it will constantly be adventuring out into places where there are no tried and tested ways. If the church in our day has few prophetic voices to sound above the noises of the street, perhaps in large part it is because the pioneering spirit has become foreign to it. It shows little willingness to explore new ways. Where it does it has often been called an experiment. We would say that the church of Christ is never an experiment, but wherever that church is true to its mission it will be experimenting, pioneering, blazing new paths, seeking how to speak the reconciling Word of God to its own age.” (O'Connor)

So, pull the sword out of your stone! Blaze a trail. Start your own Emergent neighborhood-inside-the-village. Your the people you've been waiting for. Get some "Mojo," as Mark Scandrett likes to call it. Elect yourself.

I dare ya, claim your position as the next Emergent Village National Coordinator!

the emotional point of signs

So my professor, Darrell Guder, would talk about the church as a community like John the Baptist (the guy in red with the old text, who appears posthumously in this painting), pointing to Jesus.

My new friend, Pete Rollins talks about “communities as Ikons,” living acting dramatizations of the story of God.

So when I saw this post by Daniel Pink about Emotionally intellegent signs I thought, hmm,

“The idea,” says The Globe, “is that seeing a child’s handwriting and drawing will make parents relate to the sign in a way they never would have with an impersonal version.

I wonder what our other pre-fabed IKONS (churches with stated orders of worship, prefabbed worship songs, sterile modern corridors, franchises, or inanimate sanctuaries and buildings) communicate emotionally?  What might it look like if our “pointing” were appealed to emotional intelligence…

Gen x, Culture wars and the hyphenated movements

I read an incredible article today on the culture wars between "knowledge management" (km) and "social media" (sm) and I'm seeing signs of it everywhere. Venkatesh G. Rao writes a killer article, , Social Media vs. Knowledge Management: A Generational War

arguing that gen-xers (those born between 68 and 79) are choosing between ideological promotion (Boomers who invented km) and creative exploration (mellinials inventing sm).

This weekend in Atlanta will be the catalyst conference, run by Gen-Xers who are looking to get the baby boomer principles of the seeker church into the hands of open source, new media Millennials. There will also be a smaller conference of Progressive Christian Cooperative, geared, in part, at getting the wisdom and momentum of the Baby Boomer liberals to cooperate socially while maintaining their ideological distinctives. I'm going to be at both conferences for a bit because, as a good Xer, I like to synthesize these complex differences. But I'm struck that neither of these are yet led by Mellinnials and that they may not need to exist for Mellinnials... unless the church convences them of their need for it, and then they quit being Mellinialls. Let me say this a different way: Gen-x driven faith groups who are partnering with Boomer Knowledge Management underwriters face a challenge in that they will work to un-Melliniallize the Mellinials. Both Catalyst and PCC face the hard challenge of building a future market share by pulling folks out of incarnational living.

Let me add to that my own gen-x home in "the hyphens" that is the presby-mergent affiliation I have within Emergent Village. It seems that with the help of Phyllis Tickel's Great Emergence, that groups like sub-mergent, presby-mergent, and anglo-mergent will meet up to discuss our similarities. It could be that we discover that we are trying to please Knowledge Management Religious Culture while exploring the benefits of social media. Hm.

To explore my point I'll lift two quotes from Rao's article:

"The Boomers liked the idea of world views, and tried to frame both what they were for, as well as what they were against (think Star Wars) in monolithic ways. Mental models of the world that a single person could get. James Michener’s The Drifters represents one articulation of such a world view. Here’s the thing: Millenials fundamentally cannot think this way because of the deeply collaborative nature of their cultural DNA. They seem happy understanding and working with their piece of the puzzle, trusting that the larger body politic will be manifesting and working according to a reasonable understanding of the world. Gen X, in this sense, manages a curious compromise. We like world-views, but as anti-visionaries, we don’t like to just make them up arbitrarily (and definitely not in the form of a novel or the lyrics to a song). Our world view is a pragmatic one that accommodates complexity by trying to make it a very rich, data-driven one. Wikipedia (founded by Gen X’ers, Jimmy Wales, b. 1966, and Larry Sanger, b. 1968) is a classic Gen X-led attempt to understand the world. It has none of the incomprehensible complexity of Facebook-as-implicit-model-of-the-world, but neither does it have the doctrinaire vacuity of typical Boomer manifestos that try to dictate how the world should be, with no real attempt to figure out how it is."

"The tragedy of Gen X is that we will not be remembered as a big-idea generation. We will likely be remembered, via a footnote (much like the Silents), as the generation which made the fateful decision to trust the creativity of the generation following it over the values of the generation that came before."

In the recent epic contemplating the death of emergent, I am struck by the need to ask if it follows the values of x,y,or z. I have a hunch, thought, that the future of emergent is not in selecting who's values it carries forward but that future of emergent and so many church experiments is the creative way of learning and discovering meaning in what lies ahead.

the best incompleteness of love

This weekend I am hosting up marriage covenants between two friends of Kelley and mine. Its at a vineyard in Dahlonega, GA. It should be a blast. So, Kelley and I have been married ten years as of June. And each time I do a wedding it is a chance to remember how much it meant for our friends to participate (grooms men, bride's maids, Ty Saltzgiver- my Young Life trainer who married us, Ryan Long- the singer-songwriters who played for nothing but a hotel room). The premarital counseling, service design, and the prep for whatever homily I offer- they all give me a chance to revisit the compelling thoughts of love shared by everyone in God's World.

I was struck this time around by Paul's choice to place the theme of "incompleteness" inside his ode to love in 1 Corinthians 13. Peterson's paraphrase puts it this way:

We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled…

We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing God directly just as God knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.

And the best of the three is love

Ten years ago I didn't know half of what I know about love now. Because love requires locating ourselves in the unknown. It requires mystery and unfinished-ness. People are naturally relational- we understand ourselves in relationship to others and our contexts, and have a consciousness about that relationship. Love requires us to leave that consciousness open for edits. We leave ourselves vulnerable, accessible. Love edits our memories (forgiveness) and our dreams for the future (hope).

Love of God, and our beloved-ness as children of God... does a similar thing. True knowledge of God-is-love-ness requires receptiveness, and it "softens" us. True participation in this Love-of-God-ness casts out fear (memories) and makes all things new (future).

So asking having strong enough 'faith' to be featured on CBN, or being the greatest political orator of our time, or making poverty history... without love is nothing, gets us no further along, and starts to sound like a creaky gate or a bent cymbal.

Everyday Liturgy interview about city, emergence, and Wendel Berry

I was interviewed by Thomas Turner of Everyday Liturgy, an quarterly journal, about the impact of Wendell Berry on my work as a pastor, community organizer, and artist. I can't believe he used as much of the interview as he did. I'm by no means a literurature critic or expert on Berry. Thanks Thomas for the chance to share my story!

The interview is entitled: The Art of Being in Atlanta

This issue includes other book reviews, several more articles about Berry and great reflection for folks looking to see the beautiful and divine in the everyday. And the previous isue includes interviews with Brian McLaren and a beautiful artful piece by Paul Soupiset.

Connecting...

So, Tom Livengood and folks at The Living Room took the initiative to help people connect to their neighbor in Atlanta. They started by listing agencies they knew of in the atlanta area on a google map. Trey Tucker with Roov.com designed artwork for a re:connect page. And then one of the TLR peeps, Amy Anderson, built this site to facilitate the google map and to introduce folks to Roov.com. "Thank you, Tom, Trey, Amy and others."

www.re-connect.us

The Re:CONNECT weekend was an invention of Nate Ledbetter, Melvine Bray, and Leroy Barber and myself. We wanted folks in Atlanta to meet other people doing justice and to learn about justice/social community work. The weekend rocked! We had a panel discussion on Friday night and the panelists included (I'll add more as I have their blogs):

Rusty Prichard : Evangelical Environmental Network

Mark Anthony: Pastor, Jesus for Justice

Carlos: Mentoring and Public Speaking

Daniel Hombrich: INnocence Atlanta

Nate Ledbetter: Charis Housing

Deborah: Mothers and children

Chris Capehard: ROOV.com

They described their work and they answered questions including:

  1. How do others’ passions contribute to the reach and focus of your ministry?
  2. How do you meet Jesus in doing your work?
  3. What has your work taught you about engaging civil government?
  4. How do local neighbors and the contexts of individual neighborhoods play a roll in the kind of ministry you do?
  5. How do church congregations help or hinder the work you feel called to?

J4P crowds

jay and scott

shane’s stump speach, complete with the revolutionary’s bullhorn

The next night we had Shane Claiborn, Chris Haw, and Scott and Jay from The Psalters come and perform "Jesus for President." It was an unbelievable synthesis of narative theology, liberation theology, political imagination, and John Howard Yoder with some deep country Tennessee thrown in. I felt like I was simultaniously at a Tom Wait's show, a Toni Morrison poetry reading, Walter Bruggemann seminary class, and post modern theatre. My friends Ryan and Holly Sharp also known as the Cobalt Season, were the artists behind the book design and the multimedia support- they nailed it!

The whole weekend was a huge success. The AJC wrote about it, we had folks from Auburn and Columbia, SC. And we had a huge crew of volunteers from the Atlanta Emergent Cohort, Marietta Presbyterian Church, and Mission Year.

If you're from the ATL go to Re-CONNECT.us and keep the movement going!

Montreat

So, I'm excited to be speaking at a few events at Montreat, NC over the next year. In July of 08 I'll be presenting with Karen Sloan on Emerging Church at the Church Unbound Conference.

And in June 8-11 of 2009 I'll be a keynote at the Alt7 event, as well as presenting there with Adam Walker Cleaveland.

troy2_2.jpg

I look forward to meeting many of you along the way!

Manifesto of Hope

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I haven't posted about this yet, but I am excited to have been included with 24 folks, all better at this than me, enlisted to describe the emergent conversation. The book, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, was released April of this year, but I'm just now finding the time to blog about it.  My chapter, "The Art of Emergence: Being God's Handiwork" is a synthesis of the theories of missiology, creative systems, and anthropology.  I had a lot of fun with it.

I've you've had the chance to read it, I'd love to know what it did in you.  If you haven't you can click on the "Search inside" link on Amazon and search art, and start reading on Pg 60.  But You'll have to buy or barrow it to get the whole deal ;)

Ordaining Mary

I saw this entry today from a journal of mine, dated July 24, a day after my ordination.  Now, that word "ordination" brings a great deal of baggage with it, I know.  So, let me drop this quote for you first:

Nothing ontological changed.  I still perspire and regret and fear and hate to shave.  I’ve been reverend according to the traditional language of the church reforming for almost 20 hours now and I think the same thoughts and like the same things.  But yesterday during my ordination service some things new were planted and some old soil was given rest.

I’m sitting in a warehouse loft with large pieces of fine art and pop found art on the walls.  My friend Fred has spent several years on a painting he entitles the Call of St. Mathew,  it sits on the floor here in the lofts where I've managed a coffee shop.  Soon it will be brought back to him, I'm still not buying art like I hope to be one day.  Soon, the other art work will be picked up my the friends who donated it for the extended Eucharist that we celebrated here, turn tables, wine, cigars, bread left over from the worship gathering... all picked up, nothing really changed about this warehouse or the building we met in for prayer and charges.

I'm sitting here reflecting on the fact that we never really transform either. We keep being us.  After marriage.  After childbirth.  After divorse. After baptism.  After ordination.  But the names, and definitions and the dictionary change as we go.  New creation doesn't leave behind only an ex-creation.  What is born again does die like a seed, but it is not oblitherated like an atom split leaving only afterlife.... 

I was blessed yesterday, by old and new friends, playful mentors, and deep galvanic tradition. But that blessing is all around us.   In the beauty of the party, in the green of the summer fescue, in the pavers of the sidewalk and the lead paint of the old warehouse.  Blessing is waiting, everything is being anointed.  What is changed in the ordaining is our eyes, our ears, our imagination.

It's Advent and my imagination wanders to Mary.  And then to all the crazy theological gymnastics (artfully, no less) that were created to insure that what is pure is pure.  to insure that what is holy is holy... But whether the Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant theologians have this right or not it can't have unfolded that way to her.  To Mary blessing must have been an interruption of the mundane, a new set of eyes concerning her "state."  Advent, waiting for hope to be born, must have something to do with these new pair of eyes.  Yesterday,I read It Gives Me Hope, a poem by Cheryl linked from Johnny Baker:

it gives me hope

It gives me hope to believe that Mary did not always want to be pregnant.
Not at first. Not really.

It gives me hope to believe that Mary’s ‘yes’
was not always wholehearted.
That even though her body embraced this promise -
every cell of it -
her mind simply couldn’t.

It gives me hope to believe that maybe those first days or weeks
were coloured with despair and confusion
hopelessness and fear
too sharp and raw and private to ever be told.

It gives me hope to believe that one day
Mary woke
disconcerted
not quite knowing herself without the familiar feeling of dread

and found herself
instead
inexplicably bathed
in irrational
incomprehensible
delight.

And so, the mundane life, all that is disconcerting, the terror and regret, every cell in me is ordained, like it was in Mary.  A life spoken into and an utterance received.  Mary's apophatic practice of having ears to hear...

Hear the blessing
when its time, respect the yes in you (wholehearted and otherwise),
and consider what is ordained

The title of my journal was crops rotating, and i never finished it. 

But, I think this is the waiting.  As i think about it, now, six months later, I realize that our crops are being rotated as we name, as the dictionary changes, as we are "inexplicably bathed in irrational incomprehensable delight." 

 

 

Thoughts on transitional institutions

My friend Ken, is in a place a lot like me, in Washington State.  He wrote this great email to me recently and I want to post it and respond:

Other than installation [recent formalization of relationship with congregation] things are going well.  Our membership is down from 76 when i started to 57 now.  We used to have a 6 elder session but now only have 5 because so few people are willing or able to serve.  A forty year member just left the church over what he considered to be apostate moves of the GA.  And someone just drove do-nuts on our side lawn of the church in an attempt to spray mud on the church.  they did a pretty good job.  i tried to see it as a Pollock type art work but our grounds guy didn't see it quite that way.  as i said, things are going well cause i try not to pay too much attention to numbers. 

we are in the midst of trying to hire a part time youth worker.  I've been more involved in some community organizing and our group is trying to move towards starting a community newspaper.  also, i just finished a retreat where rick ufford-chase led about 20 ministers in our presbytery through some good discussions.  he really is an impressive guy and his passion really provides some hope for a denomination that is sorely lacking for passion over anything not related to relationships with too many y or x chromosomes.  our presbytery is coming up on a big vote in regards to a response to the GA's actions and I'm not excited about it.  however, i was asked to give a few minute speal on why I'm Presbyterian after the vote to try to offer some hope in the midst of the struggle.  I'm thinking about starting my testimony with Maryanne's quote, "our system is the worst one out there accept for all the other ones."  what do you think about that?  I've found that quote oddly comforting until i saw how the Amish responded to the tragedy inflicted upon them.  man, i would love for my kids and our people to respond with the same forgiveness of that community and the same boldness as that little girl who offered her life in an attempt to save the other girls.  now that is a community that realizes what it means to really belong, body and soul, in life and death not to themselves but to Jesus Christ. 

Seek first the kingdom.  Not a self-righteous way of seeking but an integrated way of loving more than the church as a reason to stay “in” it.  I think you could do much with this in response to the PUP. 

Like you, I'm sure, I’m so tired of church renewal language or neo-(fill in the blank) or post-(fill in the blank).  Already, 8 weeks into designate pastorate, I am struck at what we all want the denomination or brand-institution to pour into that blank for us.  We want it to leave something behind for us, to guarantee for us, to deliver us from, to give us...  Who in the 2/3rds world has such a “right” to church?  Where in the bumbling emergence of the early church were they shown a self-preserving institution/faith-statement.  I think that "our system is the worst one out there accept for all the other ones" does get at this but fails to really answer, why any of these?

I’m struck by a helpful metaphor from (surprise surprise) art... It came to me when we were were starting an emergent cohort here in ATL, a friendship/conversation-based ecumenical theological discussions (except evangelicals come too). 

We realized it is like a guild, a place for artists to practice and hone their trades and, at times, to share resources out of a love for what the trade becomes- for the beauty of it all.  This is not to say music can be separated from the musician or that the only reason people write and perform is to deposit a disembodied “song” into space.  No, musicians like singing, we like writing, and we love what we make.

The reforming guild of the connectional church: Any connection of practicing congregations would benefit from a similar appreciation of (1)what we are (co)creating- the beauty of the kingdom of God, and (2)some common agreement of practices/disciplines/concepts that contribute to the generation of such beauty- shaping and being shaped.  What beauty do we seek?  How do we shape our sacramental life by the gospel narrative to becoming embracing people and, visa-versa, how is knowledge of the gospel narrative inter-penetrated by our sacramental life lived in this not-yet-fully embracing world.

Metaphors like this make space for disagreement, concessions, and preservation but organize all these virtues around an eschatological hope, they root the reason for church in something bigger than our own self-security and assuredness.  This PC(USA) might be just as good as any other game in town but only insofar as it can equip the sent community to go. 

Here's a quick sports analogy (I'm weaker at these, I admit): Rallying under "our team can ball too" is not the same as "lets take the game seriously enough to value this team and make much out of it."  This breaks down, of course, when you realize that our definitions for "game" have hardened since our team's heights in the 1600s and the 1950s.  But that does not mean that simply forming a new team or forever downloading new skins or pod-casts until you have your very own self-serving definitions of teams and games frees you from the real task of relearning the game week after week, generation after generation.

Here's the test for Presbyterianism, and the jury is still out for me.  Can this institution of Presbyterianism –or Presbyterianism at all– function in a semipermeable way.  Can definitions of the church's participation in the kingdom of God mature or are they necessarily law?  Do they serve, forever, as only a tutor and prisoner (Galatians)?  If so, then we need to reform- with gratitude, beyond our parents' best efforts, into another yet-to-be-reformed definition of the team... For the sake of the game  For the good of God's creation redeemed in Christ.