Keep Singing!

I know I've been MIA, here's the latest and some of what is brewing in me... We're preparing our house and family life for our second kid, due September 28. I'm cultivating the early years of Neighbors Abbey's work in SW Atlanta and the emerging church planting that is a part of it.  Joshua Case and I have been teaming up on some Church as Art emerging worship coaching projects for this fall. I'm still working with the Village Counsel of Emergent Village as we live into our being a Village green. And I'm in the middle of curating worship for Clayfire, writing a chapter for an upcoming festschrift by Ryan Bolger about hyphenated emerging projects, curating music for City Church Eastside, and writing my first full length book for Paraclete Press about the intersection the Aesthetics and God's Mission. This book (provisionally titled, "Getting Drawn In") is about the creative nature of God's mission, and our own awakening to God's calling as we step into creative and intentional lives. In researching all this I came across an old book of poems called The Singer by Calvin Miller referred or given to me by my friend Ty Saltsgiver in the 90s. In it I found this chapter XII entitled"In hell there is no music—an agonizing night that never ends as songless as a shattered violin":

"Sing the Hillside Song" they cried. There were so many of them. He wasn't even sure he could be heard above the din of all their voices. He walked among them and looked them over. In his mind he knew that the Father's Spirit wanted each of them to learn his song.

Someone in the sprawling crowd stood and handed him a lyre. "Sing for us please Singer—the Hillside Song!"

"Yes, yes," they called, "the Hillside Song"

He looked down at the lyre and held it close. He turned each thumb-set till the string knew how to sound, then he began:

"Blessed are the musical," he said, "for their's shall be never-ending song."

"Blessed are those who know the difference between their loving and their lusting, for they shall be pure in heart and understand the reason."

"Blessed are those who die for reasons that are real, for they themselves are real."

"Blessed are all those who yet can sing when all the theater is empty annd the orchestra is gone."

"Blessed is the man who stands before the cruelest king and only fears his God."

"Blessed is the mighty king who sits behind the weakest man and thinks of all their similarities."

"Earthmaker is love. He has send his only Troubadour to close the Canyon of the Damned."

Then they broke his song and cried one with one voice, "Tell us Singer, have you any hope for us? can we be saved?"

"You may if you will sing Earth- makers's Song!"

"Is there another way to cheat the Canyon of the Damned?"

"None but the Song!"

The beauty of Miller's language here, to me, is that there is a song that wants to be played. There is a way out of loneliness and despair, that comes with willfully listening to the song within...  And that you can't short cut that listening pathway with some kind of formula or group membership.  We have to keep listening, and singing.

Hermeneutics

My friend Josh Case asked me to write what I think about "Hermeneutics" for this age

My operating hermeneutic is to encounter texts through communal practices that break our guessing machines and place us in postures of listening.”- me

Here are the four cats who've blown up this idea for me:

  1. Daniel Pink suggests that we are in a conceptual age where pattern recognition, play, story, and empathy are the new sought after leadership skills.  He admonished us to cultivate "high touch" "high concept" aptitudes. I think that churches can be overflowing with these skills if they trade out old “stand and deliver” practices for real life rehearsals, practices, drills, postures, that ask us to interpret with these emerging skills.
  2. Walter Bruggemann writes in Text Under negotiation:

"Our task is not to construct a full alternative world, but rather to fund-to provide the pieces, materials, and resources out of which a new world (from origin to completion) can be imagined. The place of liturgy and proclamation is "a place where people come to receive new materials, or old materials freshly voiced, which will fund, feed, nurture, nourish, legitimate, and authorize a counter imagination of the world."

3. And Jonny Baker writes:

“The goal of ritualilization is the creation of a ritualized agent, an actor with a form of ritual mastery, who embodies flexible sets of cultural schemes and can deploy them effectively in multiple situations so as to restructure those situations in practical ways”

These three thoughts make me want, not to write better sermons, but rather, to create ritualizing situations that feed fund and nourish a person’s participation in the new creation…  Such a church places textual authority ahead of herself, in the “yet to be determined” space of a promised future. Churches that design themselves for something shorter-sited than that have become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy– clanging cymbals, lost symbols, siloed on hills or under bushels. Leslie Newbigin wrote,

“The congregation is the hermeneutic of the gospel.”

I think he nailed it.  And since first reading that I’ve found this to be true in encouraging and discouraging ways:

  1. A congregation’s method (its polis) is the “news” it spreads: Have you ever tried to explain Google or Wordpress without referencing internet or open sourcing…  These companies organize differently because the world in which they live acts differently.  When we believe that gospel is physical and relational, in a “conceptual age,” in its affect and its MO, then we too start to organize differently.  Recently a good friend came to a worship gathering of Neighbors Abbey and she was not allowed to be a spectator, not allowed to “church shop.” She was placed in a position of reflecting through prayer and discussion.  This moved her in an incredible way.  Moved her past what she expected for a church visit.  This was the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ penetrating her defenses for the first time in years.  A speech, no matter how well prepared, would have never made it past her guard.
  2. A congregation’s way of being with its neighbors determines the most about its being “good or bad news” to its neighboring host culture.  An innercity church in determined that building a large elder-care complex would be best for their ministry to the poor and best for their community.  They did not, however, listen for the community’s desires.  They came into community meetings demanding to be heard, and demanding quick action.  This posture hurt their ability to show/share/be gospel with their neighbors.  It’s unfortunate, but they were the hermeneutic of the gospel- few, if any, voiced arguments against “what” this church proclaimed, or how this community views scripture or revelation.  Their actions speak loudest at alienating themselves from the good news that is breaking into their neighborhood.
  3. A congregation that engages its local issues makes room, again, in people’s imaginations for the possibility of a God that has something good in store for the world. Recently at a party a person pointed to a local church leader and said, “he’ll makes you believe there is a God.”  Now this leader is not an apologist. As best we could tell, he’s never tried to convince her or others “about” anything.  Instead this Jesus follower lives real life with the others in the community.  This person is not a “seeker” for the church leader to attract. This person is already receptive and listening for the revelation of God, ears ready for goodnews.  It just takes people being that good news around her. The Post-Denominational Willow-Burberry hermeneutic is not a faith statement or a preaching style, it is the the courage to practice in real time, out there.

For a few centuries, at least, hermeneutics questions have allowed people to stand on their shoulders and argue “about” revelation.  I say, lets spend a few centuries joining creation as humble incarnation people, open and listening together for God’s revelation.

Neighbors Christmas

Help Neighbors Abbey  celebrate the

Hope, Peace, Love & Joy

of this Christmas season.

Every one is invited and welcome.

The Perkerson Park Recreation Center

770 Deckner Avenue SW, Atlanta, GA 30310

Sunday, December 13, 2009

From 6:00pm to 7:00pm

Come meet neighbors, and friends, new and old.

Christmas Carols

Poetry and Prayers,

The Christmas story

Cookies and Cocoa

(click here for fliers to print and hand out)

Church Target Practice

Neighbors aren't targets, or are they? Many churches have "started" or "grown" in the past 30 years by carefully studying marketers and doing demographic research determining their "target." And yet targeting is a pretty scary notion in our neck of the 'hood.

In Georgia, it is estimated that 200-300 children are targeted for sexual exploitation a month, and our neighborhood includes two of the city's primary hot-spots. 66% of the houses in our zip code were in foreclosure before the crash because elderly homeowners were targeted by mortgage fraud schemes. Some wayward kids in our area who have learned how to hotwire GM cars are targeting GM and Chryslers to break into. And then one of our neighbors, a friend of our family and our lawn-guy, was entrapped in a GBI drug sting, because of he was "such an easy target."

Last week members of the Georgia House of Representatives heard a bill (HB 582) that would amend the current law to exempt minors paid for sex from being targeted by prosecutors as adults. As Georgia law currently stands, a girl or boy who is pimped out to a "customer" (aka a "John") by their drug dealer is the easiest target for law enforcement. They are afraid, they will not seek legal counsel, and they are cheap to prosecute. The customers, men driving past our house to pick up girls in cars with plates from places miles away like Cobb or Gwinnett county, are difficult to prosecute. Its easiest to "target supply", even while demand increases. Pimps are deft at hiding behind legal loop holes. The typical pimp befriends a runaway and builds a romance that introduces hard drugs to the child. Within a few months that kid is "owned" by their addiction, and the dealer can then bring her or him to a brothel or street where they can earn money for drugs.

One of the participants in Neighbors Abbey, Anne Chance, has taken leadership in a citywide coalition called StreetGRACE built to organize churches to combat this cycle of enslavement. She has invented a prayer practice called "C U @ 2" (look it up on facebook) where members around the world stop, wherever they are, at 2pm to pray about this issue. Last Tuesday, when the Georgia House of Reps was hosting a hearing on HB 582, she organized a prayer vigil in our neighborhood. Now a notion of "Prayer Vigil" is not the best "marketing" for those of us hoping to "attract" people to Neighbors Abbey. But this was not your everyday vigil. This was a chance for folks to bring the tension of our everyday urban activist experience into a quiet, reflective place of transformation.

There was ambient music. Stations were set up to guide prayer. There was a projector in one corner juxtaposing images of the city with the beatitudes. There were candles and bibles and prayer books. There was a station for body prayer, where attendees were guided through a series of postures that would "embody" our hope for courage for the victims, advocates and law enforcement. There was a map where pray-ers would place a sticker indicating where they lived and note "who is my neighbor" by reflecting on the story of the Good Samaritan and their proximity to the struggle of these children and advocates addressing this struggle. And there was a station for the contemplative person to choose five beads representing five distinct groups to remember in prayer (this is the CU@2 prayer): the victims, the coalition of advocates, the perpetrators, law enforcement, and our immediate neighborhood. Stringing these five beads next to each other to make a bracelet I've taken that prayer with me, and I am struck that God is targeting all of these groups- seeking all of us, weaving us together, and sending healing, hope and renewal for any and all.

So I guess Neighbors Abbey does have a target. We want to join God's dreams of healing and restoration for all; and week-to-week we are targeted again by God's love, and our own dreams are re-formed toward God's larger purpose in Jesus Christ.

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'Thank you to the churches, individuals, and foundatoins who are helping get this off the ground by joining us in this effort to join God's mission in the city!

We are at $47,125 in gifts, grants and pledges for our annual budget of $55,500. That only leaves $8,375 for the remainder of our fiscal year ending in October.

Click here to make a tax deductable donation via Pay Pal to the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, note "Neighbors Abbey." Or email troy@neighborsabbey.org for more details.

Or mail a check to

Neighbors Abbey c/o Presbytery of Greater Atlanta 1024 Ponce de Leon Ave Atlanta, GA 30306-4216

Thankyou!

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!