The winners write the history…

March 7th, 2012 by James Mills

Today I was reading an article about my old church. It was talking about their move to their new, larger facilities. It was your typical “feel good” story and I have to confess that I have mixed emotions about this.

Of course, I am very happy that the group of people that stayed are finally getting what they want. And I am extremely happy that the place that was my church home for many wonderful years will soon be occupied by a new group of people striving to be faithful in their own way.

On the other hand I continue to be puzzled by the craving that so many church people have for “bigger.” I know how that story gets narrated over and over. And even though I have heard it a thousand times,  it still surprises me to hear it. As I think about the church being a body, I find it difficult to celebrate so much church growth talk as it reminds me of Manuel Uribe.

But I think the must frustrating part reading the article was the quote about the time of transition from the old leadership team that I was a part of to the present leadership team. According to the article, at the time of the transition the church had dwindled to 60-70 members who were considering selling the building. As one who was part of some of the conversations that were taking place at that time, I don’t recall things the same way. In fact, I am sure if I were to tell the story of the transition it would be completely different than the way the current group narrates their own history.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: regardless of all the many good things that people will say about the change that took place in that congregation, more was lost than gained when it comes to the ecclesiastical landscape of my hometown. There was something that was taken away that has yet to be reclaimed in this area. I suppose that doesn’t really matter when the winners write the history. For whatever its worth, a handful of us losers will still keep looking for it.

 

 

Categories: Ecclesial Dreaming...

57 channels…

March 5th, 2012 by James Mills

I am a big fan of Scooter McGavin’s blog and particularly his posts about currently popular TV shows, 57 Channels and Only this is on: scooterksu.blogspot.com/2012/03/57-channels-and-only-this-is-on-3412.html

At our home we are not huge television watchers. Of course, there are some shows I really like (Justified) but in reality the only thing I really like to watch is NFL football. So every year as the football season comes to an  end, we suspend our paid TV service on live with what ever we can get over the air antenna. With the power of the worlds best DVR (www.mythtv.org/) and the convenience of Schedules Direct (www.schedulesdirect.org/) we can watch our shows, commercial free when ever we want to. And I am always amazed at the quality of the over the air HD signal.

I also like that the end of the football season tails into the Lenten season and a bit of a slower, more reflective time. We find that in giving up paid TV for 6 months, more is gained than lost.

This year I have also been fortunate enough to pick up Chris Seay’s recent book, A Place at the Table (www.chrisseay.net/ecclesia/book/place-table-2012). This book has been extremely challenging for me for several reasons. Perhaps the primary one is that for the past few months I have been really struggling to keep a healthy appreciation and attitude about my present employment. There have been recent changes there that have made my work less enjoyable than it has been in the past. But as I read through Seay’s book I cannot help but be overwhelmed with how fortunate I am and how thankless I have been. I have been really challenged to find more ways to express my gratitude for the numerous ways that God has been good to me. Taking some time away from the distractions of TV and investing more energy in other areas is going to be a welcome change for me.

Over the next several weeks/months I want to start investing in some relationships that have been neglected for too long and maybe explore some new ones. I am sensing a healthy dose of hope and I think some good things are going to come out of this season.

Categories: Everything Else...

Lost miracles…

February 14th, 2012 by James Mills

I have blogged numerous times about the connections I see between ecclesial dreaming and open source. Many others have written about this much better than I could. It seems popular in some of the virtual and real communities I network with to talk about these things. But there is an interesting thing that I notice when I move from an observer to a participant in these conversations. It seems to me that most people who want to talk about open source have never participated in an open source project as anything more than a consumer. And I think this is even more the case when one talks about open source technology projects.

In my day job, I work with a lot of open source technology and I have had the opportunity to contribute in some of these open source projects in different levels. In some cases, I am like the vast majority of people who simply use and consume open source projects because they are free (as in free beer). In other cases, I participate in the projects by understanding that the communities underneath them are free (as in free speech). I have contributed my share of bug reports, offered documentation, offer support in user groups for some of my favorite projects and participate in local user groups. I use open source software about 60% of the time at work and more than 90% in personal use. For me, these open source projects have become a big part of my interactions with my work and my personal life.

So when I hear people talk about open source church, there are certain things I expect to see in the communities they are a part of. I expect to see structures and venues that make it possible for any one who chooses to contribute to do so. But most times I find just the opposite. I was involved with one community that started out very open. There was an online forum that any one could join and start participating in discussions. I met a lot of incredible thinkers and dreamers in this space that I still speak with today. But as time went on, the community began to be locked down and only some voices were allowed. This community would still claim to be based on open source ideals but their practices present evidence against them.

When I think about all of this I am reminded of one of my favorite stories from the Gospels — John 2:1-11. It is unfortunate that we read this story in its edited, final form and lose some of the dynamic of how I imagine the narrative played out. For me, the miraculous part of the story is not that water was changed to wine but that the only people who knew were the servants. The narrative indicates that at the time of the event, the important people at the party simply report that they have been given good wine.  I would guess that the closer you were to the head table, the less aware you were that anything out of the ordinary happened, other than the fact that the best wine was saved for last. But the story tells us the servants knew. I imagine that as the story was being handed down from the servants to their friends and families it hovered around the fringe of the larger church community. When it was eventually recorded in the Gospel I like to imagine that someone who was at the original wedding hears the story in the final form and is surprised at the servants version.

I can tell you from my own personal experience at my last church that this kind of miracle happens often in churches across the country. And just like the water-to-wine miracle, not too many people notice. So much time, energy, money and all the other resources go into the Sunday morning service and what takes place on the main stage that it truly becomes a center of attention. People write books and argue about who can participate in the highly visible tasks of leading worship (which most the time means participating in the music), preaching or presiding over the sacraments. In many church communities, a small minority of those gathered get to participate in these coveted roles. Meanwhile, some one is working like crazy to try and recruit enough volunteers to staff nurseries and children’s Sunday school classes. There are always openings in these positions and no matter what size the church, it is often difficult to find people to commit to these roles. I remember people telling me that they did not like volunteering for these tasks because they missed out on what was going on in the center ring of the ecclesial circus. Everyone it seems wants to be consuming the good wine while few care to know where it came from.

But those who have volunteered to spend mornings with the kids know that miraculous things happen there often. But what is truly amazing is that we still fight about who is qualified to be ordained, offer the sacraments or preach. We create structures that make it harder to get the prime spots close to the head table where the good wine is. And no matter how difficult we make it, there will always be people lining up to get those good seats before they are all gone. But there is always room in the servant quarters. We can wake up every day and choose to become servants and few people will resist us or stand in our way. But most of us –myself included–will choose to join in with the majority clawing our way to the top. I wonder how many miracles we are missing out on?

Anyway, I would encourage everyone to find an open source project that relates to something they like and not just be a consumer but find ways to participate. Here is a short article about how to get started:

www.linuxuser.co.uk/opinion/how-can-the-layman-get-involved-with-free-software/

And here are some projects that you might find worth participating in:

fedoraproject.org/

www.mythtv.org/

www.gimp.org/

www.libreoffice.org/

creativecommons.org/

 

If wishes were unicorns…

February 8th, 2012 by James Mills

During my year of blogging abstinence I missed out on rambling about several things that caught my attention. The most recent example was a viral video that was making the rounds a while ago. It seemed that every corner of the blogosphere I follow in my rss feeds was offering some wonderful commentary on this. And I am not exaggerating. There really was some outstanding commentary.

But from my vantage point, it seemed like most people were missing the subtle point of the video and arguing against a perceived message that, in my opinion, the video was not attempting to make. It got to the point where it seemed to me that people were using the popularity of the video to wax eloquently about their own agendas. There was not real connection between the great thoughts of bloggers and the content of the video.

Now I am the first to admit that I normally see things differently than the rest of the world and that my observations are typically in the minority opinion. I’m not too proud to acknowledge that my perception(s) may be flawed. But I could not help but think that in arguing against the video many people were actually proving the point.

I was reminded of all of this today while reading a short, entertaining article called, Could the Death Star Destroy a Planet (goo.gl/HzLyu). The post was brief but it was the comments that really captured my attention. Particularly this exchange:

seminary fiction

Now I am not intending to bash seminary. In fact, I wish I could go and I am quite envious of those who have had the privilege. But I will say this. The longer I have been away from church and the farther I fall behind the ecclesial wagon I do think that being inside warps ones perspective a certain way.

For the past few months I have been fortunate enough to be involved in some ongoing discussions about church with some very wonderful friends in a denominational structure. As one who comes from the non-denominational tradition, this exposure to the inner workings has been enlightening. And it confirms once again that when I look at the world, I see something different than most people. It reminds me of something I read a long time ago from MacIntyre about belief in fictions. ((see the observations of one of MacIntyre’s books in previous posts here, here and here . ))

I will write more about the work this denominational group is doing and some of the wonderful people involved in the near future. But for now, I just want to say that we don’t have the luxury of dealing with the world the way we want it to be. We have to deal with it the way it is. And sometimes that means that discussions on Death Stars and ecclesial dreaming might have to be put on the back burner while we get our feet planted back in the world were things get very complex and very messy and there is no easy way to categorize it all and put things in nice little compartments.

Categories: Ecclesial Dreaming...

One down, two to go…

February 6th, 2012 by James Mills

Show me the money We transitioned from 2011 into 2012 with some lingering, unexpected car problems. It has not been fun. Having teen drivers in the house creates certain challenges. First, you are excited that the oldest finally has a license so that he can run errands and get from point A to point B without having one of the parents taxi him around. After a while you get used to the independence– not the independence of the teen driver but the independence from the teen driver. And then the second driver comes along, with different school, work and social schedules.

In the name of convenience, the goal is to get cheap, reliable transportation for the boys to get to school, work etc. The problem is that it is a very fine line between cheap and reliable. So for the past several months we have been juggling schedules, scraping together nickels and working to get cars repaired. Tonight, I finally finished one of them. Now I only have two more to go.

I used to like working on cars. It is something that I am not very good at but I know enough to get the job done. In the past, this was something I would do with my older brother and it was always a good time just hanging out and spending time together. Now, he is out of state and every time I dive in to a car repair project I discover that I don’t have the right tools and soon the job that should have taken a couple hours leaves me without a car for a week or more.  Then I start running out of time just as I learn that the tool I need or the additional part is just a little out of my price range. Soon the whole job snowballs out of control.

So I always find a bit of satisfaction when I get a job done. Even if it means laying in a cold garage trying to get that one last bolt that always proves to be so uncooperative. In any case, it is a feeling of satisfaction and it frees up some of my time again to get back to things that I now prefer to wrenching on cars. So maybe in my next post I can get back to some ecclesial dreaming.

Categories: Everything Else...

Deja Vu…

February 1st, 2012 by James Mills

Well, a year off from blogging and the world just keeps on spinning. Color me surprised. love hate

I put things on hold here so that I could focus on some other things for a while and most the time I didn’t miss it at all. But I must confess that at times it was much harder than I thought. As an introvert and internal processor, I always found this space a comfortable place to think through things and get them outside my own head for a while. For the past year I have found other outlets and intentionally tried to let this space rest for a while.

Certainly there were several things that cropped up over the past 12 months that almost pulled me back here to comment. Some of those things I thought I would list and tackle when I came back to this place. But there are so many intelligent people in the blogosphere I stalk that say things better than I can even dream that my own contributions didn’t seem so terribly important. But there has been some things I have noticed that delude me into thinking that I still have some things that just may be worth scribbling here. Of course, that’s jumping a bit ahead. For now, just a brief update to get caught up.

They say the more things change the more they stay the same and I suppose there’s a lot of truth to that. I certainly have changed. But some of the themes remain the same. I’m still fighting the good fight against Meniere’s Syndrome. Still driving cars that keep me spending almost as much time fixing them as driving them. Still trying to figure out if I like my day job or not, and what to do about it.

But I also embraced some new things. This past year I read more fiction than I have in the past 10 years combined and discovered new authors and characters that captured my imagination. I went on a short fishing trip and visited trout streams in Colorado that I had never been to before.

Perhaps most importantly, I have tried to get a better understanding of my introversion and how it effects everything in my world. And I have started trying to ease back into a church community.  And through it all I have kept on ecclesial dreaming and reminding myself that the impossible is possible.

More on all that later.

 

Vocation…

February 1st, 2011 by James Mills

As I read through Richard B. Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, I can’t help but think about lost opportunities.

A few days ago I sat around at table with two of my best friends from my old church. I had many memories, both good and bad, as we shared our lives over food and beverages together. These two men helped form my faith and shape my life. While the last few years of my involvement with that former church were some of the best days of my life, they are not remembered as kindly by at least one of these friends. For him, it was a much more painful experience. As it came to an end, what was probably a sense of relief for him, is remembered as a significant loss for me. And in ways too numerous to count, I still have not recovered from that chapter coming to a close. And as I look forward to what lies ahead and weigh some choices about what direction I want to take over the next few years, I must confess that I am a bit of a loss. While I am not sure what I would really like to do when I grow up, I am fairly confident of one thing. You can take the boy out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the boy.

I do not know how deeply my life will intersect with a local community of faith in the days ahead. But as I look back at the last couple of years with my last church, I cannot help but think these about these quotes from Hays’ book. I think if the people who made up that community would have embraced these thoughts things would have been a lot different. I will offer a more reflective review of Hays in a future post but for now I want to share these quotes to plant some seeds.

“Despite the time-honored Christian claim that Scripture is the foundation of the church’s faith and practice, appeals to Scripture are suspect for at least two reasons: the Bible itself contains diverse points of view, and diverse interpretive methods can yield diverse readings of any given text.”

“The church is to find its identity and vocation by recognizing its role within the cosmic drama of God’s reconciliation of the world to himself.”

“This eschatalogical transformation of the community explains Paul’s extraordinary affirmation that the purpose of God’s reconciling work in Christ is ‘that we might become the righteousness of God.’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). He does not say ‘that we might know about the righteousness of God,’ nor ‘that we might believe in the righteousness of God,’ nor even ‘that we might receive the righteousness of God.’ Instead, the church is to become the righteousness of God: where the church embodies in its life together the world-reconciling love of Jesus Christ, the new creation is manifest. The church incarnates the righteousness of God.”

If you can’t stand the heat…

January 31st, 2011 by James Mills

The past two weeks have been some of the longest I have had in really long time. There are many reasons for this but they all roll together into the fact that the world is thick and complex. I have been struggling privately and with a few close friends with some weighty things going on in my world. And in the process I have been keenly aware of various conversations that flow through my rss feeds or various individuals and organizations I follow in the crazy world wide web where it seems that everyone has a much better handle on life than I do. It appears that no matter what the subject, everyone is an expert. There were stories that related to science and every author or commenter seemed to know all the facts. People were so surprised that there are poor individuals out there who are not current and knowledgeable about the fine points of contemporary scientific theory. Poor ignoramuses! There were theological conversations where all parties were confident that they had a firm grasp on all the relevant information and shocked that everyone can’t grasp the “simple truths” of debates that I thought were still interminable. And yet I find myself completely unable to get a handle on even the simplest things of my own life.

Now, I wonder if I am really that out of touch as much as I feel at the moment, or if everyone else is overly confident in their ability to understand to such a deep level on such a wide variety of topics. I would guess the truth lies somewhere in the middle. As I think through this and how it relates to my own corner of the world I find myself wondering how it is possible to stay informed on all the complexities of life in such a way that I can feel like I am living faithfully? Maybe such a feeling would only be an illusion, but at this point I would be willing to settle for that.

Is it possible to know that every time I buy a product the money I spend is not going to support some company that doesn’t line up with my own sense of what is right and wrong in the world? Can I be at peace if one of my children chooses a profession that goes against my own beliefs? Or, perhaps even more importantly, can I be at peace if I choose such a profession?

In any case, I am done losing sleep over it for the moment. In the big picture of things I don’t think my own small choices will bring the gears of the universe grinding to a halt. I am not sure if the decisions I am making are good or bad, but I do know that for reasons maybe only I will understand they are choices that keep me liking the man in the mirror. For now, that is more than enough.

Now, where did I put that book…

Categories: Everything Else...

Eyes to see…

January 17th, 2011 by James Mills

Next in the queue, thanks to my great friend Scott, I am getting working through Richard B. Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament.

About a third of the way through. More to come.

Categories: Books...

Human faces…

January 17th, 2011 by James Mills

I began the year reading Thom Stark’s interesting book, The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It). This book also has a companion website at www.humanfacesofgod.com that has ongoing discussions, responses from the author and complete indexes. I highly recommend the book and it is certainly worthy of purchase but if you don’t have budget for books at least check out the website.

Book Cover

As you can guess from the subtitle, this book is a critique of the doctrine of Inerrancy. Towards this end, Stark makes his case in ten easy-to-read chapters that show the many problems with the doctrine as defined in the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy. With such an easy target, Stark more than delivers in showing that “Ineranntist don’t exist.” Unfortunately, if you are already on Stark’s side of this argument there is not much more to gain from this book. I was disappointed by this because I found Stark to be a great read. His voice and tone is a lot like Ehrman which makes this book extremely accessible to a wide audience.

No doubt, Stark’s focus is on the wide audience who embrace the doctrine of inerrancy and he spends most of the 242 pages of taking these defenders of inerrancy to task. It is not until you get to the final chapter that Stark softens his tone slightly and finally offers his suggestions for how to read these scriptures, which he concedes are “deeply problematic.” Unfortunately, Stark does not spend enough time in this final chapter. But since that was not the intent of the book, it is a minor complaint.

What I find to be the most disturbing revelation is found in the opening paragraph of the forward, written by John J. Collins. Echoing one of my favorite excerpts, Collins claims:

Conservative Christians often affirm that the bible is historically accurate, internally consistent, and morally edifying. Anyone who has had a good introductory course on the Bible at college level knows that this is not necessarily any of the above. (emphasis mine.)

It is a discouraging claim that a basic introductory college class can reveal more about our sacred texts than most people learn in years of church attendance. How is it possible that so many people in congregations can readily believe so wholeheartedly in the Chicago Statement when the teaching pastors of their churches should certainly be aware of the countering claims? ((I make similar observations of one of Ehrman’s books in this other post. ))

In the end, it is Stark’s narrow focus on the target of inerrancy as presented by the Chicago Statement that diminishes the value of the book. Stark claims early on that the Bible is a reflection of “diverse texts and traditions” and, quoting Collins, acknowledges that the Bible is a “collection of writings that is marked by lively internal debate, and a remarkable spirit of self-criticism.” But when critiquing alternative readings from theologians like John Howard Yoder, N. T. Wright, or Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Stark’s focus on simply disproving inerrancy does not take into account all the subtle complexities of these alternative readings. And these are people who would probably not embrace the Chicago Statement so using them as dialog partners in a debate about inerrancy seems to miss the mark. Even in some instances when commenting against the inerrantist, Christopher J. H. Wright, Stark seems to not allow for the some of the complexities of Wright’s argument that may be able to stand without the attachment to inerrancy.

For me, I would have preferred that Stark made his case against inerrancy with less ink and invested more time in a fuller treatment of some of the secondary goals he lays out in the preface:

  1. allowing the Bible to speak for itself within our congregations.
  2. highlighting the many ways to be Christian, some of them much more ancient and developed (than inerrancy).
  3. displaying some of the ways critical scholarship can be used in service of the church.
  4. make biblical scholarship relevant to those who have had the good fortune of not getting caught up in academics.

In the end, I find that Stark does a great job of arguing against inerrancy but wish he would have presented a fuller treatment of reading the problematic texts. His brief presentation if the final chapter is great but it would have been even better if he would have treated his own reading methods as critically as he did the ineranntists. Had he interacted with Wright, Yoder, and others in the value of the the plural voice and multifaceted traditions of Christianity in the spirit of “self-criticism” when laying out his own voice and suggestions for reading these texts, this book would have been much better. Ironically, my criticism is relatively minor precisely because so many people do in fact embrace the Chicago Statement’s version of inerrancy even with all the evidence against it. In light of that, Stark’s book is indeed a valuable contribution. It is too bad that in this debate, Stark’s contribution will most likely end up like Elhanan– victorious over a larger opponent but overlooked and edited out of the discussion by the people who most need to hear it.

Categories: Books...
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