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
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:
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Poetry and Prayers,
The Christmas story
Cookies and Cocoa
(click here for fliers to print and hand out)
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.
|'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.
Or mail a check to
Neighbors Abbey c/o Presbytery of Greater Atlanta 1024 Ponce de Leon Ave Atlanta, GA 30306-4216
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.
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.
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!
My friends and I used to sing in college at Liberty, "They will know we are Christians by the fishes on our cars." Whether we're blue fish in red states or red fish in blue states, may we be known by our love..
I appreciated this post by my friend and fellow Atlatan, Will Hinton:
I pray that tomorrow Christians will not be known for their "righteous indignation" or for their apocalyptic pronouncements. I pray that Christians will be known for their love. Love for our neighbors. Love for our enemies. And love for our elected national leaders."
and I also appreciate this perspective on voting in the interest of the "other" by my friend from Concord, NC, Anthony Smith :
Voting, as it is oftentimes seen by historically marginalized groups, is a precious gift. It is not seen, within the language game of the prophetic black church, as a form of violence. That voting is seen as means of violence can only come from Christians who don’t know what it is like to be without the gift. This is why the loudest voices for political disengagement on Gospel grounds tend to be of lighter hue. It is another form of advantage to eschew voting. I profoundly agree with Christians engaging in anti-imperial practices or pro-kingdom activities that give sign to another world in our midst.
This is bound to be an encouraging or demoralizing day for our minority brothers and sisters. May we Anglos find the courage to understand what this might mean for so many who are in this with us! So sing it with me,
"They will know we are Christians by our
participation in the new creation,
by our participation in the new creation,
by our participation in the new creation."
Okay, I'll grant you that its not the catchiest rendition...
Four strangers sat on our couch. They were joined by six other neighbors whom I already knew. "Five to thirty is the federal minimum and maximum sentence," we heard as we all sat in my living room last night to listen to Stank's attorney tell us what he was looking at, time wise, and what how we could help. It was Monday night, Eve had just started her second week of Kindergarten and wanted to show everyone her homework. It was clearly a pause in each of our days.
There is, we discover late and often, an arresting quality about your word to us. We do not want to be arrested or even pause, for our days are planned out…
Minister to us in our cowardice and timidity. Set us to be as bold as you are true, to meet the authorities who resist and arrest . . . our ancient mothers, our old convictions, powerful ordaining communities and last, even, city hall.
(from “We do not want to be arrested” by Walter Bruggemann, Awed to Heaven Rooted to Earth)
Stank is in his early fifties, and except for his balding head and pachy beard you'd think he was late twenties. Dark black, chiseled muscular physique, and tattooed by the sun that follows him every day as he works odd jobs for cash. And a contagious grin- always smelling like the cheap Black-and-Mild cigar that he is almost always smoking. He helped me build my deck, effortlessly lifting by him himself the 14 foot long 2 X 8 that I needed help lifting.
Stank has lived with his mom and nephews in this neighborhood for over 30 years. He is annoying, at times, with his inconvenient knocks on the door looking for a quick job or errand he could run for a few bucks. And then impossible to find when you do need help. But he’s also the very guy you want watching your house. The guy who can give you the scoop on trouble in the neighborhood.
‘Turns out he got close enough to the trouble a little while back that he is facing 5-30 years. Drugs and drug related burglaries and assaults are a problem in our neighborhood. And so the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and the Atlanta Police Department (APD) and the District Attorney’s Office got together to build a plan. GBI and APD investigators would set up a series of drug purchases and deals, record them on tape, and build up cases on the dealers and users in our neighborhood. This covert operation would help them get to the real kingpins bringing the drugs in, catch the kids before they are caught in cycles of using, and clean up the streets of those habitual users who are nearly always the thieves and perpetrators of domestic abuse and assault. One officer told me that the whole thing is like a season of The Wire. The cases were built for as long as four months and then near memorial day they were all brought to a grand jury and bench warrants were issued for over 100 of our neighbors. The APD set up a road block a few weekends around memorial day and they would grab the suspects, over 70 of them we know for sure.
This detective work and police enforcement was met by a second judicial process designed by the DA’s office called Project Turnaround. The DA’s office appointed a community prosecutor to each of the police zones involved and that prosecutor gave the men (its all ‘men’ that we know of) under 25 an option of a year long rehab program and expungement of their record. And those who did not choose this deal or any born before 1983 would be recomend for the maximum sentence and banishment for the neighborhood.
Banishment, totally medieval, huh? It has been used in limitted courses in Georgia, and though it simply shuffles our problems on to another place and another neighborhood’s problems over to ours, it does have some benefits in the case of repeat offenders like house robers and drug dealers. But the community prosecutor is asking for banishment with every defendant over 25, including Stank.
And then add to all that what the court system in Fulton County has set up called the “non-complex” system. With all non-violent arrests the defendant is scheduled to go through hearning, arraignments, pleas, or go to trial in under 9 weeks from the arrest. Well this system has gotten bottle necked with the influx of the pick ups done by APD and GBI. This bottle-neck has also been worsened by the decision to eliminate 16 attorney positions in the PD’s office. So Stank and those picked up with him do not stand a chance, if they are over 25.
Stank got in trouble when he was supposedly doing work for a neighbor a few streets down (the 10 of us in my house were among Stank’s many landscaping/odd jobs clients). This client of his allegedly asked Stank if he knew where to get him $30 of cocaine. As the story goes, Stank obliged, took the man’s money, and returned with $30 of cocaine. They supposedly have it all on tape and are charging him with possession and selling cocaine. Now depending on the tapes and other court details this may be exposed as some sort of entrapment, but the short of it is that Stank may have a chance becasue we found him a good defense attourney.
So this is the background of what was going on in our house last night, learning about the justice system, learning about authorities, and saying to our neighbors, brown and beige, young and old, that we belong together with Stank in this issue. We had to determine that, though the District Attorney’s office and the federal justice system does not have good local ways for us to advocate for Stank, and though his age excludes him from access to any type of social support, we would be his representatives and we would be his suport. Some of his elders were able to nod and look him in the eye as one neighbor said, “We want to help you Stank, but you have to lean into this and stay away from that stuff.”
But, overall, it was a huge act of imagination- to collectively risk being for a neighbor who was being mistreated by the authorities. To join in Jesus’ Isaiah-inspired vocation “to proclaim freedom to the captive, and release to the prisoners.”
Because of the readings of Wendell Berry that I have been doing I was reminded of the importaince of such intentionallity. Many in our neighborhood might not have know about this. You might not have know about this. And instead of learning about the unfair systems we would receive them blindly. The resurrection of the crucified lamb reversed this. It placed the authorities in check. This kind of neighborliness requires the risk and hope and forgiveness and imagination of communities. These kind of practices keep your head from opening into a future-less passive window.
Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay. Want more of everything ready-made. Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die. And you will have a window in your head. Not even your future will be a mystery any more. Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer. When they want you to buy something they will call you. When they want you to die for profit they will let you know…
So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it. Denounce the government and embrace the flag. Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands. Give your approval to all you cannot understand. Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed…
As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it. Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go. Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.
Wendell Berry, Manifesto: Mad Farmer Liberation Front
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.