Drawn In Release

Its out TODAY!  Check out Amazon or Paraclete Press  to get a copy (it will be out on Kindle later in the month.  If you're in Cincy or want me to mail you a signed copy shoot me at note at troy (at) ChurchAsArt (dot) com.

Here are a few excerpts:

God was so enthralled with a life of loving connectedness that God loved into existence a world with the same potential. Like a painter setting out with an end in mind, God imagines and engineers a world continually unfolding as an expression of God’s own original love. It’s almost as if God were standing at the future, lovingly drawing creation forward. 

Each time God’s Spirit shows up, she is hovering over the unexplored potential. God does not rush the process.  From the very beginning of time as scripture depicts it, we see the Spirit of God, as a patient artist, okay with the “unfinished” potential in the story. God is at home with things as they unfold.

As God’s creative project unfolds, each session’s work seems to speak to God as well about the next day’s work. The kind of listening we are talking about is not the same as acknowledging noise or words. This is at the core of what it means to be an artist: perceiving. The potter, the poet, and the person who prays each have to read between such lines. They have to listen through to what is felt at the core.  Jesus used a quote about this from Isaiah in defense of his use of parables. Some, he said “ seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand” (Mat 13:13 NRSV). 

Art is like life in this way: the raw ingredients, the various materials and mediums that you intentionally engage with affect the art you make... Focusing on process alone would be like describing a painter without talking about the choices in pigment and canvas, without asking about the use of perspective, color, or tone, and with no attention to the place or day and age in which she painted. Its like an actor reading a script cold, no background story, no research, no setting, posture, accent or pathos. Attention to process it enriched by when we pay as much attention to the ingredients.

This is a book for the driven in us all, those activists, creatives, and passionate Jesus people who can develop creative block when we avoid risk or rest.

 

I'm excited for the many pieces yet to come.  Jonathan Stegall, Travis Eckmark and Jason Orme have been working on an updated troybronsink.com website that should roll out soon.  The folks in Cincy meeting weekly for a book creative group are helping develop group materials, and some plans for a video trailer and possibly more are underway.

I'm curently setting tour dates for 2013, to speak as well as share music.  If interested please shoot me a note about that as well.

Thanks!

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!!!

Songs To Pray By CD Release show

Thanks to the 60+ folks who came out to the show at Kavarna on Friday night!  Mondo Davis opened up for us and was terrific.  We had fun reinterpreting songs from the album! Justin learned/adapted various lead guitar lines written by Dan Ra, Jack Jirack, David Drexler, Mike Sink and even some flute lines.  Larry sat in for Will on Drums (which also means that Derek on bass slid to fit Larry's interpretations). And then Stacey and Derek figured out how to sing BGVs written by Kerstin, Sasha, Annie, David, Eric and others.

The kickstarters have been sent their special downloads and the CDs were sorted and boxed by Marybeth Bellinger and Stephanie Shackelford, hitting mailboxes tomorrow!  So now we can begin unveiling Songs To Pray By for public consumption.  Anyone can stream or purchase the entire album at troybronsink.bandcamp.com or by clicking music in the above menu.

Keep posted because next month we'll roll out a new entire site www.troybronsink.com and facebook page that will include Church as Art, prayby, details on my upcoming book Drawn In, a place to see my art/curation portfolio, and a place for you to interact with all the work. Music, lyrics, song sheets, and books will be available on the site too.

Thank you everyone for your help on making Songs To Pray By possible!

Kickstart Songs to Pray By

 

So as not to bury the lead: I'm raising some money, $10 for great music... come on, give it a try. :) Here's some background info:

When Neighbors Abbey began we decided it should be a part time job.  And so my other job was as a contract worship curator for City Church Eastside with my friend Scott Armstrong, who I had gotten to know through the Emergent Cohort.  While it remains part time, it has grown into a very life-giving collaboration! It started out while they were meeting in the community room at StudioPlex in Old Fourth Ward and 30-50 folks would gather.  I played on my own or with a bassist or mandolinist (is that a word?).  Eventually more musicians joined the ranks—folks who had been playing in indie bands around town.  When we moved into Stove Works facility (still in O4W) the large boomy warehouse space affected the songs and we found our voice with more ambient/explosion/radio-head-ish tones.

All along I've been asking churches to consider moving past the false choice of "traditional or contemporary" into culturally specific aesthetics (or in the words of my friend Doug Pagitt- moving from for to as).  But this venture with City Church has stretched further than I would have imagined into its own distinctive sound.  We still cover familiar songs but we reframe them to fit our voice.  For example we'll sing Come Thou Fount of Every Blessings, with a 5/4 interlude like Sigur Ros or Come Thou Long Expected Jesus with the heavy tambour and pedal tones of In Rainbows. We've also written some songs together with monthly jam sessions (using some tricks I learned along the way from Todd Fadell).

Here's the Kickstarter promo video with some samples of band rehearsals (the whole thing was recorded from my iPhone4).

 

This project is an opportunity to demonstrate diverse theological collaboration, to create fresh expressions of church, make quality indie music, and to bridge the emerging community of the church with her fore-parents.  I'd love to hear what you think of the project as it unfolds and (of course) would love your help in making it happen through Kickstarter before March 18.  We need to raise all $5,000 or we don't get any of it.

Thanks for helping spread the word!

How Music works in Worship?

Recently my friend Bruce Reyes-Chow suggested I blog “How does music touch your soul?” He left it pretty broad so I’ll have some fun with this.  I’m going to unpack the use of music in worship and take it from a systems approach rather than a “everyone should sing because the bible includes songs and faith traditions invite people to sing” approach.  Not that I care to disprove the later, just that the former is more interesting to me.

Here are three thoughts on music/soul/worship:

  1. Beauty saves us
  2. When we sing we vibrate together
  3. Our selves are all we have

So First of all, how does beauty save us?  I know I’ll get some push back on this but before you do I want you to think of times that a favorite movie, a song, a concert, a painting, an elaborate meal, or the sun’s setting took your breath away.  Narrow it down to one example.  Can you recreate that moment?  Think of the time of day, the season of the year, those who were with you, the smells, the colors, the sounds. What comes to mind?  In what ways did your encounter with beauty take your breath away, reorient you, bring you in touch with or help you overcome your fears or anxieties?  Did you or those with you try to describe it in the moment, or just let it ring true?  If you did give it words, did they measure up to the experience?

Elaine Scarry describes beauty as (among many things) a “quickening” encounter, “it is as though one has suddenly been washed up onto a merciful beach: all unease, aggression, indifference suddenly drop back behind one, like a surf that has for a moment lost its capacity to harm.”(On Beauty and Being Just, pg25).  Instead of the mind successfully searching for precedents or names it is too filled with the present, “It is the very way the beautiful thing fills the mind and breaks all frames that gives the ‘never before in the history of the world’ feeling” (OBBJ, 23). Like Isaiah’s response to five chapters of wonder and glory, all of the mind is full and we respond, “Woe is me!” (Is 5.5).  Like the woman healed of hemorrhages who told Jesus her whole story, all our reservations are freed up (Mk 5.33).  Like the audience of new perceivers at the Church’s first Pentecost, when “Awe came upon everyone” because of signs and wonders, old “frames” are broken and new structures are suddenly created for living in the way of Christ (Ac 2.42-47).

I’m not arguing to replace the “Word made flesh, crucified and risen” notion of salvation.  I’m simply suggesting that we see more deeply how God’s accomplishes salvation in the way that beauty does, by drawing us into the new, awakening us to creation’s oldest song.

So music, uniquely pulls us into a place of appreciation, of awe, of love, of health.

 

Second, when we sing we are moving in a unified field. Music (and most notably music that we can feel coming from our own diaphragm sending air though our busy little larynx) is the travelling of waves.  Like we’re learning from quantum physics and theories like string theory, at the subatomic level all material things share properties.  We are less separate than we suppose.  Concerts of people singing together share a harmonic space. And when a bass drum is beating it is obvious, we’re shaken together as one material field through which the rhythm can travel.  Like a rock falling in the pond makes ripples, the music is the rock and the congregation is the pond.

Augustine is credited with saying that “when we sing we pray twice.”  Who knows all that he meant by that.  But in conventional circles, Christians site this quote to emphasize that the whole self—the whole body joins in the prayer.  Similarly to Yoga and other healing arts, song is something that involves more than the recitation of words or the intellectual concept.

When I coach bands and vocalists in leading worship I ask them to imagine an open tuned guitar and an oscillating fan blowing over the strings until they ring in harmony.  The musician’s job, and the leader of corporate prayer, is to bring the members of the gathering into harmony with each other, to ring together.  Like the spirit of God hovering over the waters, musicians have the responsibility to prepare space, to listen, to watch, and then to stir the winds.

 

Third, our material selves are all we have.  My friend Pete Rollins articulates this as well as any when he says “Christianity is nothing less than a material faith i.e. a mode of being that transforms ones material actuality”.  The longer I make music and work with people in community organizing capacities I am coming to believe that the so called “spiritual” world is not somewhere “out there”, but is instead known through the everyday, the here and now, the stuff of life.  Walter Brueggemann has written a prayer in which he invites us to be “rooted to earth, and awed by heaven.”  By this I think he’s pointing to the deeply integrated Hebrew tradition in which the God of the heavens is in our midst.

God is known, tasted, heard, in this world via material things of this world.  At the neurological level, everything ranging from the secret vision of a word from the Lord, to reading a paragraph of scripture, to appreciating a sunrise involves chemicals and electrical impulses travelling through your brain.  ‘Not to mention physical eardrums or retinas.  Just this morning on Morning Edition, I heard an interview with a neuroscientist whose research concluded that “music has some kind of privileged access to the motor system.” Songs uniquely utilize the senses and material world.  And like a familiar smell brings back an old memory, a song is capable of releasing endorphins and serotonins triggering inspiration, grief, or anger, or all these simultaneously.

Since music incorporates the material world, it befits congregations who seek to engage, bless, and transform the material world at their doorsteps.  And the breadth of musical tone, genres, and palates your congregation uses, the wider the range of applicability in the missional lives of the congregants.

When Bruce asked me about music and soul, the thought came to mind, “music is a window into soulfulness.”  Like the exiled Hebrews who loathed singing the wrong song in the wrong place, music has the unique ability to expose dissonance in any a context.  When bands play popular covers at bars that don’t sound like soul-felt words or tones, it leaves the experience wanting.  All to often worship music, seeking to “reach out,” to “be relevant” or to “validate” an underrepresented population group can do the same.  I think this has to do with the misunderstanding of the physical and somatic connections made with music.

 

With many of my African American friends, after a great concert someone leaves saying they just "had church."  I think this is due to the deep connections our bodies make between song and participation in worshiping God.

So, what do you think?  When have you "had church"?  And what are some of the best and worst uses of music you’ve seen in faith communities?

 

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.

Exercises Worship Design Thinking

Here are some of the exercises in worship design thinking we discussed in our webinar tonight with the folk at NCLI. Seek and Show: 1. In a large group, make an inventory of the songs, prayers, symbols, artifacts, postures, spaces you’ve used for worship. 2. Then go on a scavenger hunt looking for new songs, postures, places, artwork, stories, tools to use in worship. 3. How would you describe the dreams of God? Break your group into teams of three to draw the gospel story like a movie story board. 4. Now take the list of traditional and emerging items and use them to tell the gospel story

Ignatian Design: 1. Using lectio-divina and/or Ignatian prayer, have participants engage the text with imagination. 2. Have them list images that come to mind 3. Then give those images to set designers, painters, and poets to build a series or liturgical season.

For more info, make sure to email us for questions.

Josh

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.

Def: Actualization Space

I just got off the phone with Sally Morganthaler learning a ton about the journey from her book Worship Evangelism (a book critiquing the performance based worship of seeker churches in the 80s) through leadership coaching, and back again to worship as the ritualized space of mission.  While talking we coined a phrase "actualization space."  And I thought I'd throw it out there. Here's the idea: Its defining worship as the intersection combination of living deliberately and designing creative environments.

Deliberation involves encountering an "other" as something to learn from or admire, say for example the difference between seeing a picture in an advertisement and seeing painting above a mantle or in a museam.  When the picture is placed in an intentional space the viewer often makes a choice to lean in, to figure it out, to enter it.  Art has made its way back into advertising space in ways that cloud this, but imagine the quailtative difference between having eyes to see something with intent, and just glancing past something.  This is how art "puts you in play."  It works the same way with music, think of the difference between Muzak working to "numb" the buyer and Radio Head's "Fake Plastic Trees" written to awaken the listener.

Now, our lives are meant to be read in the same way.  If you develop ears to hear who you are and who others are around you, you lean in, you give qualitative value to the person's place in the world.  Actualization is simply about making an idea real. "Personal Actualization" in some sense, is the process of "listening to your life speak" (to borrow from Parker Palmer) and then acting on it.    And so to go back to our art analogy, a painting in a museum may cultivate desire, compassion, rage, all sorts of things.  And when you feel those things the art is "working" on you (to borrow an idea from Nicholas Woltersdorff).

Now, imagine that creation is designed with an appetite for re-creation, that we all "long for the revelation of God's dreams as enacted by people who know and join those dreams" (my very rough paraphrase of Romans 8).  Then the responsibility of the church, of those looking toward the coming of God with all our resources, is to create environments for people to "wake up." To create venues where not only art is hung, concerts are performed, or theater is displayed, but where people are listened to, and persons enact their calling.  Church is not space to memorize something "about" following God, in so much as it is a place to learn how to follow Jesus by being with others (when two are three are gathered in my name...).

So then the question that worship seeks to answer, is "is there a plausibility structure in which the kingdom of God is real?" This is not to say that the only or best place for God's dreams to be made reality is in a church or in a worship gathering.  But it just might redefine the way Jesus followers approach those things...

"Actualization spac,"  is an environment in which we lean into the possibility that all of life has meaning, and increasingly so as God comes near.

Thanks Sally for a thought provoking conversation!

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

GENERATE magazine

I'm excited to be collaborating with Paul Soupiset, Tim Snyder, and Makeesha Fisher, among others, on this long awaited project. I will be editor of visual and performing arts.

HERE'S THE SCOOP...

GENERATE Magazine has been an open, collaborative project in the works for more than six years now. And after many casual conversations — and the 2009 convening of an editorial team — we are ready and eager to involve you, the larger community, in helping realize this dream with us.

The seeds for GENERATE Magazine were sown sitting around a fountain in San Diego in 2004 — a few writers, poets, artists and designers explored and dreamed about launching a print publication that would embody the ethos and tell the stories of the growing, generative conversation that some have called the emerging church conversation.

Again at the 2007 Emergent Gathering, another planning group was convened to discuss logistics, bring some leadership to the dream, and get things rolling. GENERATE Magazine is the fruit of many months of their planning.

VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS?

Art provides resistance and lift to what the Spirit of New Creation is generating. The beauty that artisans fashion, sing, and perform can testify to what is possible and evoke imagination for what is yet to come. We are drawn to paintings and songs that put us "in play." GENERATE aims to fashion a synthesis of such works of art, and to celebrate the lives of their creators, in order to put our readers in play as well.

WHY GENERATE?

GENERATE exists as a forum to retell the stories of the grassroots communities and individuals who are finding emergent and alternative means to follow God in the Way of Jesus. We hope to create an artifact of this historical conversation. These stories will be transmitted through narrative, works of visual art, documented performances, verse, fiction, non-fiction, essays, and interviews.

We/you are the conversation; our art, our lives, our hopes and failures all meet up with God’s approaching dreams for creation. We converse and in doing so spread the news that we are not alone — that joy is found in our generative friendship.

GENERATE Magazine is a grassroots-organized, independent publication affiliated as a friend of Emergent Village, but not affiliated with any publishing house. We are currently exploring ways to distribute GENERATE Magazine via the Emergent Village Cohorts and wider friendships. More on that in the days to come.

Advent and families...

So here we are, the first week of advent.  Last year, with the help of two other families, we started a ritual of reading advent scriptures (passages that announce the coming of God's dreams) with our kids.  Here's the kit to getting started, and here's the blog that tracked our month.  I'll post more later. I hope this gets your wheals turning!

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.

make something...

So, Why is it that we always think of Pentecost as a glorified church service where everyone consumed a big 'excellent' program? One thing that I'm convinced of after growing up in the church and following Jesus into the World, is that we need better metaphors for what we dream of and what we remember. The story of Pentecost makes my point. How often have you imagined Pentecost (the first Christian experience of it recorded in Acts 2) as a picture of how your church service should be? How often have we assumed that they were building a church service for themselves, or for God, for that matter? Is it possible that Pentecost was more public? More of a cultural phenomena? Something mixing everything up to put everyone back in play instead of commodifying them to build an organization or institution? Imagine the chaos that ensued when, this sect of Jews following 'Yashua' (Jesus, literally the same name as Joshua, meaning Saving One), waited the designated 50 days after Passover and were then interrupted by synchronicity of multiple language, sharing, and neighboring. 'All because the Spirit inspired them. Pentecost was not planned, programmed, or strategic on the part of the community of Jesus... Pentecost is the name we place on the happening that occurred amidst a Jewish holiday of Shavuot- marking the giving of the Torah (10 commandments and the rest of Jewish Law) to Moses, and book-ending the two main harvests of their early agrarian culture (barley after Passover and wheat 50 days later). Pentecost interrupted that community with new Laws and new cycles. And the Spirit of Jesus accomplished this interruption by re-introducing a multi-culturallism (that was already around them, but had grown flat and unacknowledged) and agnecy (shared responsibility in making, crafting, doing, speaking). It put everyone, across their differences, in play.

Kelley showed me this video last week, about Amy Krouse and the community she was joined by, and I was blown away. The DIY/indie craft world is filled with innovators who "make stuff." And this story of Amy is what i imagine the feeling of Pentecost being as opposed to "the greatest church service ever" which is how I traditionally grew up imagining Pentecost. It's a great metaphor to replace the flattened idea of church. Every one was "in play" at the church's first Pentecost. People were around because of their media-socio-cultural practices (Jewish pilgrimages were made to Jerusalem 50 days after passover). They were a heterogeneous mix, not the same subculture. And a new "thing" emerged. The Jesus story became a story of a people at Pentecost- it was a "beckoning of the lovely."