Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Darkness: a Thin Place for My Soul

Today's SynchroBlog covers the subject of Darkness and Light as Motifs of Spirituality.

I like the darkness. I find it comforting. My eyes feel good in darkness.

I like fog at night. It speaks to my heart of shrouded mystery, and things yet to be discovered in the adventure of this life. Darkness is a Thin Place for me. A place where the presence of God seems nearer, and the unseen realm draws closer.

A simple reading of my Bible seems to set in place a specific motif of darkness and light. Light - good. Darkness - bad. This too is the cultural dynamic of these words, when placed in the context of spirituality. Many would call Christianity light, and Satanism dark, and therefore contextualize darkness as a bad thing.

So,what does this say about me that I like physical darkness, and am attracted to it? Am I a human version of a scary creature? a spider, a bat, or some kind of psychic vampire? Or could it be that the motifs of darkness and light in their identification with spirituality are not as simple as we at first surmise?

God separated darkness and light, and it was good. So the story of Creation tells us. The people of Israel saw the presence of the Lord hover over the mountain in thick darkness, and a voice spoke out of the cloud. It was a darkness which stood between the children of Israel and the Egyptians who pursued them across the Red Sea, and saved them from their oppressors.

In these three illustrations we discover that darkness is good, that the presence of the Lord is found in it, and that darkness can even be used to save.

Could it be that the typical motif of darkness as ignorance, and evil somehow blends seamlessly into the idea that darkness can be our salvation?

In darkness I look for mystery: like the God who hides in thick clouds of darkness on the mount, and booms with a voice speaking over my head with things too deep for me. In darkness I look for comfort as though I am hidden from the greedy eye of trouble by the shadow of His wings.

Strangely even difficult darkness has brought me salvation. In my troubles my eyes look up. In my confusion and ignorance I learn not to trust my own sensory perception, or mental acuity.

The darkness carries both the positive elements like the presence of the Lord, and it carries negative elements like confusion and trouble. Who am I to think that they do not somehow simultaneously live in this darkness together, and somehow swirl together in a storm of both violence and salvation? The worlds collide together in darkness, and I find myself in Thin Places where my soul is nourished.

SynchroBlog List for Dec. 10th: Darkness and Light as Motifs of Spirituality

Phil Wyman finds Darkness: a Thin Place for the Soul
Adam Gonnerman on being "In Darkness"
Lainie Petersen at Headspace
Jeff Goins is "Walking in the Light with Jesus"
Ellen Haroutunian finds Holy Darkness
Bethany Stedman thinks Light is Coming
Julie Clawson walks through Darkness and Light
Kathy Escobar will Take a Sliver Anyday
Susan Barnes at ...and here's a photo of one I made earlier
Joe Miller thinks you can Discover Light in Darkness
Beth Patterson talks about Advent: Awaiting the Ancient and the Ever New
Liz Dyer says What the Heck
Sally Coleman muses about Light into Darkness
Steve Hayes with the Lord of the Dark
Josh Jinno with Spiritual Motifs of Darkness and Light
KW Leslie contrasts Darkness versus blackness
Erin Word writes Fire and Sacrifice

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Jesus as the Archetype Shaman (Part 1)

Ascent to the heavens, descent to the underworld, an experience of death and resurrection, acting as a psychopomp to the lost souls of dead humans, story-teller, cultural icon and outcast, healer, exorcist...these are the works, and the personal experiences of a Shaman.

These are also the things which set Christ apart as unique in human history. These are things of which He is an exemplary model, and humanity's ideal for spiritual excellence and success. These elements are identified by religious historians as the signs, and activities of a Shaman. It is the contention of this post (and any following posts on the subject) that the Nazarene was the ideal of shamanic power and practice, and therefore The Archetypal Shaman.

This concept is not a new one. Others such as Peiter Craffert, and John Pilch have already done studies along these lines. Their ideas have been considered revolutionary by some, and heretical by others. Both Craffert and Pilch have appeared to have cast Jesus as the Galilean Shaman, at the expense of the orthodox Christian position of Messiah, and resurrected Lord of Heaven and Earth.

In contrast I understand Jesus to be the Savior of all humanity by means of His death and resurrection, and the unique Son of God. My position here in this post, and those that might follow is that Jesus carries many characteristics of the ideal Shaman, and exemplifies the power aspects, and ecstatic experiences of shamanism. In a shamanistic culture Jesus would have been viewed as the greatest of all Shamans, and both previous and subsequent Shamans would be a viewed as a diminishing of shamanic power, but coming from Jewish culture he was obviously held as the greatest of all prophets (and even more than that) to those who would follow Him.

By saying this I am not saying that all Christian ministers should become shamans, nor am I saying that Jesus saw Himself as a Shaman. This is a simple presentation suggesting only that the things Jesus did are things shamans all over the world have attempted to do throughout history, and that Christ is the exemplar of the experiences of the Shaman, and the goals which the Shaman seeks to accomplish. Deeper concepts, and further conclusions, which the reader may come to are their own surmisings, and not those which I am presenting here.

The Shaman is a type of medicine man who works for the community to bring healing, and prosperity. He battles evil spirits seeking to trouble humanity. Usually through ecstatic experiences of trances and soul travel the Shaman will discover healing remedies known only to God, or the gods. The Shaman may also lead the souls of those who have died to paradise through the same ecstatic soul journeys.

Eliade Mircea's landmark book "Shamanism" published in 1951, held this as a central theme: That the diminished powers of shamans were an oft repeated mythos across the continents and islands in which elements of shamanism could be found. Somewhere in the stories of ancient shamans there was an archetypal shaman whose powers far exceeded those of more recent history.

The degradation of power and also of an open and clean communication with the unseen realm of gods, goddesses and spirits is a repeated theme in the mythic stories in shamanistic cultures. This mirrors the story of the Fall in scripture. Once humanity walked in complete confidence before God - without shame, and in open and direct communication with Him. The hunt for a return to paradise underlies the story of our Christian scripture, and underlies the traditional stories of shamanism as well, and so the worlds of shamanism and Christianity meet at a common place.

"More than once we have discerned in the shamanic experience a "nostalgia for paradise" that suggests one of the oldest types of Christian mystical experience." wrote Eliade in the epilogue of the English edition of his book.

I am convinced Jesus answers the "nostalgia for paradise," and by doing so becomes the archetype of the Shaman.

More to come. Follow me as I follow Christ through the world of Shamanism. ;-)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Eventism, Contemporary Christianity, Festival Life as a Means of Evangelism, and My Dilemma

I have been concerned about the state of Evangelical Christianity as an event based establishment for most of the 24 years I have been a pastor. I have written extensively about "Relational Christianity", as I have typically called it for the last 20 years, as a model of church life preferable to event based Christianity.

My thinking is this: As evangelicals we have understood that church is not a building. Most of us were smart enough to figure out that the frailties, banalities, and fallenness of humanity made it impossible for a corporate structure such as a denomination to be a definitive expression of "The Church," but somehow we still seem to describe church as an event.

Rather than something we are, church has become something we go to, and something we do. It is and event on a Sunday morning, or a series of events. It has become Eventism.

I still believe that this is true for much of Evangelical, Charismatic, and Pentecostal Christianity. I still believe that this is less than ideal, and sometimes detrimental to church life.

Despite viewing Eventism as detrimental to a holistic relationship with God, I am beginning to consider a new way of doing things - a way of doing things, which comes dangerously close to the very way of church life I have disliked for so long.

Here is my dilemma: I am looking at the nature of our culture, and the manner in which people gather. I see people running from event to event, and finding their source of fun, recreation, and renewal. This looks reminiscently like the fashion of spiritual gatherings in the Old Testament. There is no mention of church gatherings on Sunday mornings, and even the Sabbath was not set aside for sermons and worship singing, but rather for rest. Instead of church the people gathered in festivals throughout the year, and these festivals became the source of connection to the greater community of the faithful, and the center of Israel's religious life. Now the New Testament has a different spiritual feel. The people gathered daily at the temple in the first few chapters of Acts, and the first day of the week soon became a standard time of gathering for the followers of Christ.

The church I pastor is in the center of Salem, MA. 1 million people pass by our doors each year - most of them come in October during the Halloween based events. We have thousands who pass through our doors. They have a spiritual experience based upon a gracious attempt to relate to them caringly, and creatively, and then they head home to the various corners of the earth from which they came. We have crashed this festival Salem calls Haunted Happenings, and have created one of the best parties within the larger party in the whole city. This has allowed us to briefly pastor tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of people, even if only for a moment, over the last ten years.

I have wondered if we are in a new season lately. We have learned to crash the festival and create life changing experiences people want to be a part of. Could it be that it is time for us to create festivals, which people want to be a part of?

I have been part of a hundreds of Christian festivals over the 30 years of my following Jesus, but typically no one but church goers want to be a part of those festivals. Is it time for me to learn how to develop a festival, which the world wants to be a part of? Is it time to learn how to create the life-changing type of festivals like those of the feasts of Israel?

I think the answer is yes, and our location, and our mission as a church seem to say yes, but I tremble at the thought. Even as I tremble, I am attempting a couple festival type events as a means of pastoring the greater community of Salem (and beyond actually).

How this will contrast with, and perhaps create a struggle with my desire to break the habit of Eventism in the church is yet to be seen, but it is part of the adventure we are on at this time.

May God smile.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Logoing my Crazy New Ideas

I'm not much of a artist, and so anything I do is simple and silly at best, but here are my attempts to put my crazy ideas into logos:

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Phil's Latest Crazy Ideas - Mummers and Polar Bear Plunge for Wales

Okay, I'm at it again. I am creating weird ideas, and the ideas seem to have legs. Here's my first crazy idea: A Mummers' Festival in Downtown Salem. Yep that's right you read it correctly - a Mummers' Festival. No, not a Hummers' Festival. This is not about overly adrenalized SUVs or people who sing without opening their mouths. This is about Mummers.

Now to me an idea has legs when it starts running on its own. Well, that is happening right now with the Mummers' Festival. December 14th is the day, and it will happen in downtown Salem - cool thing is that it will take very little work for our church, be lots of fun, and benefit the downtown business community in Salem - which could use the blessing.

The Paper Bag Mummers" led by Lynn Noel will be a big part of making this happen.

My other project is called Dunkin' with David. It is an attempt to get 100 people to go into the frigid New England waters with on Saint David's Day, Sunday March 1st, 2009. This is all about getting some much deserved press for the nation of Wales, and their patron Saint - St. David.

Are you up for the plunge? Are you a celtophile who would like to start your neighborhood David Dunk?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Darkness and Light as Motifs of Spirituality: Next SynchroBlog

On Wednesday, December 10th the next SynchroBlog will be released. The subject is Darkness and Light as Motifs of Spirituality. This is a call to all interested spirituality bloggers. Most of us come from a Christian perspective, many (but certainly not all) from an Emergent perspective, but I want to make the call to any bloggers who write about spirituality to join us in this topic.

This SynchroBlog will officially make the beginning of the third year of SynchroBlogging, which began in December of '06.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Update on Halloween in Salem

I have finally got around to giving an update on our Halloween activities in Salem. Off course you have to remember that our Halloween is a month-long experience called Haunted Happenings. You can find the update here on our church blog.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Glossalalia and The Sacred Language of the Shaman: Christians as Pre-Mortem Psychopomps

Communication with the spirits beyond the curtain of our visible/audible/tangible world is a skill belonging to the most spiritual, and perhaps the most insane among us. Those who hear the voices of gods and goddesses, angels and demons, ancestors and ghosts have been revered, feared, and ridiculed through ages and cultures of human history.

These holy men and women appear to see and hear things the average person does not. Sometimes with the senses, sometimes beyond their senses they experience a tie to a realm invisible to human eyes, and inaudible to human ears.

What distinguished these holy people from the common public was not only having ears and eyes, which perceive things most people do not, but even their speech hearkened the unseen realm. These mystics of the other world spoke the language of the spirits, and their communication traveled in both directions. They heard the secrets of the heaven and hell, and somehow spoke the secrets in languages unknown to the uninitiated.

During the initiation of a Shaman, he/she often must learn a new language. It is a language of the spirits - sometimes a language of the earth's creatures. Especially common among the Northern Asian, and Arctic Shamans this secret language was also found among Shamans of Sumatra, Borneo, South America, North America, and Guiana.

The ability to communicate with spirits and animals set the Shaman apart from others, and gave evidence to the ecstatic, and supernatural component of his or her healing and blessing activities.

The Shaman is a psychopomp. Lost postmortem souls are supposed to be led by the Shaman to their place of rest. The fact that the shamans communicate with the unseen realm is evidence to the uninitiated that they truly walk in the unseen world - the place to which our souls travel after death, and therefore know the paths of death which the uninitiated are forced to someday travel alone.

I am a Pentecostal/Charismatic Christian, and I find that there is a connection to these shamanic languages within my own faith. I speak the languages of angels, and men - languages which I have not learned through education, but which have spontaneously flowed from my tongue in times of worship and prayer.

Could it be that Charismatic Christians have become secret speakers who like the shaman speak the languages of men and angels, and declare divine mysteries hidden in the dark recesses of human history?

The shaman was required to communicate in the secret language of the spirits, and as such it was evidence that he held special communication with the realm of the Spirit.

Could it be that the Pentecostal languages of men and angels are God's way of giving evidence to the mystical, other-worldly travels of the souls of His followers? Could it be that it is evidence to a dying world that there are people who have mapped the way to a place of peace beyond the grave? Is this a portion of what Paul meant when he said that, "tongues are sign to the unbeliever?"

If Moses had been the leader of a Siberian tribe, he might have cried out "Oh, that all the Lord's people were [shamans] and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!" (Numbers 11:29) But as a leader among the Hebrews he called for us to be "prophets."

God's heart is the same toward shamanic cultures as it is toward the culture of the prophets, and He as such is developing leaders after His own heart who speak the languages of heaven, and know how to communicate the messages of heaven here on earth

This newly paganized, urban western culture requires people who hear the voice of the Spirit. Although every person will be forced to travel the path of death alone, those who have discovered the mysteries of the unseen world are called to become the pre-mortem psychopomps to those who fear that day of death. We are called to map the way to eternal peace for the uninitiated soul. The ecstatic languages rising from my innermost being declare that I have walked on the winds of the Spirit, and know the paths of life and death.

This gift is not limited to a few initiates of a special class, but to the common follower of Christ, and as such it demands of us that we take on the role of the shaman, and map the way toward eternal peace.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Drum Circles, Witches, Children, Belly Dancers, and Drunks

Last night (Saturday, October 4th) we held a drum circle at church. Mamadou Diop the Senegalese drummer, guitar player, rocker, and band leader from Salem offered to help run the drum circle for us. Every drum circle needs a couple really serious drummers. Mamadou and his team are really serious drummers, so we were going to rock.

We put out flyers. We sent info to our mailing list. On the day of the event Carlos and I sat outside The Vault (the name of our church location), and beat some drums as advertisement for the upcoming drum circle. Little kids stopped with their parents and beat along on the bongos. A few people said they would be back, and a local Witch said she wanted to come and belly dance. We had billed the event as: "Bring your Drum, borrow a drum, learn to drum, come and dance, join the party." So of course, Belly Dancers were welcome too. This was an open event for anyone who wanted to join in.

At 5:45pm Mamadou and his troupe of drummers arrived. There were about eight of them, and then some of the gang from The Gathering arrived. I suggested we move the circle outside. It was a warm Fall evening, and we thought that it would be a good crowd gatherer. The tourist season is officially in full swing in Salem, and the crowds were here indeed. We set a half circle of chairs in the open square just outside the church doors and brought out the drums.

The drumming began, and the crowds started gathering. We had extra drums for people who wanted to join in. Three to six year old children sat down and banged out rhythms to Mamadou's African beats, which I was trying to keep up with.

There were pentagram T-shirt wearing older women, little kids, teenagers, old hippie guys, and then the belly dancer arrived, and the crowds got bigger. The Witch belly dancer has angel wings tattooed on her back from her shoulders to her lower back. Then a drunk guy sat down next to me and had a hard time sitting up straight, but looked like he was having fun. After about 30 minutes the drunk guy said, "I dare you to get naked," through his crooked smile.

I said, "I don't think so."

Then he said, "Can I get you a beer?"

"Um, no thanks, I think I'll pass."

Then he meandered off only to return 15 minutes later with a six pack. Not a good move in downtown Salem, but the police didn't come around, and he seemed to keep in six pack in the canvas bag he carried. I think the drum circle kept his attention, and he forgot about his beer.

So the drums pounded out their rhythms in downtown Salem. The kids and parents joined in. The crowds stood around, and dropped dollar bills in a box Mamadou's people set out. People cheered. The belly dancer came in and out of the church with costume changes.

I live in a weird world. African drummers, little kids and their parents, old hippies, pentagram T-shirt wearing grandmothers, Witches in full garb, a Pagan Belly Dancer, and a drunk. This is who shows up when we throw a party at The Gathering. Acceptance is a messy, and beautiful thing methinks.

This church location we have is an experiment. It is an experiment in acceptance toward the whole community of Salem, and the strange characters who live here, and I guess "I is one." It is an experiment in trying to be an enhancement to the businesses downtown. It is an experiment in living out our Christianity in a post-modern, post-Christian world. I guess this is part of what the experiment looks like.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Peter Berger, Pentecostals and Neener, Neener, Neener...

I've been giving some lite (yes, spelled like a diet product) credence to the faith movement, and its mother - the massive Pentecostal movement for some time. Of course I am one, or was one, or am a post-pente kinda guy, or something like that. But, more specifically I have suggested to friends that the sociological benefits of the movement, and the sense of social concern are deeper within these movements than we realize.

So now I want to say in fine deep, proud words of theological self-justification, "Neener, neener, neener I told you so."

Peter Berger's sociological thumbs-up to the benefits of the Pentecostal movement, and even a note of reproof for those who look down upon them as "dupes and victims" are something I have been saying for awhile.

So, I've only blogged about it a couple times, but I've just got to say, "Neener, neener, neener...." So, here I am considering the power of the Pentecostal movement among the poor well over a year ago on my other Blog, and more recently on a post about social activism.

Maybe Peter can help get Emergents and Pentecostals to seriously talk. But, quite frankly, it's about more than talk when one deals with a highly experiential movement like Pentecostalism.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Response to Pagan Pride

I thought it would be nice to post a response to the Pagan Pride event. The letter below came by e-mail the day after I taught at Pagan Pride Day. As evidenced by the quality of writing, George Popham is an articulate man, and he was both funny, and challenging with his thoughts during the discussion times. He is finishing his doctoral work in religious anthropology. (I think that was the category of study - something religio-brainy like that.) So, here's George's thoughts:

Pastor Phil,

I just wanted to thank you again for the kind and thoughtful discussion you moderated at pagan pride yesterday. I was so impressed that you managed to neither soft pedal or market away the true differences of belief involved or make those differences excessively confrontational. Usually interfaith dialog between any of the, let's say, 'Abrahamic' faiths and other religions is either so diplomatic that it is dishonest about the true nature of their basic differences, or so focused on the differences that they appear as you aptly put it 'mean and judgmental' Somehow you managed to find a middle course between these extremes and I have seldom seen this done with such grace.

But but you also avoided two other mistakes (I believe) Christians commonly make in witnessing their faith. 1. You did not speak as if we non-christians had never heard this message before and 2. You did not speak to us non-christians as if we were in need of rescue. I know you likely believe we *are* in need of rescue, but that you were respectful enough to not explicitly condescend shows a good heartedness and sensitivity I am not used to encountering among evangelicals. This is important because this attitude conveys that you are aware that many non-christians are just as comfortable and assured of their beliefs as you are, and just as contented in their lives and full of spiritual hope as well. That is, we are as committed to our stuff as you are to yours. Too many Christians fail to recognize this and this tends to shut down discussion right from the start.

The sort of discussion we had yesterday is also encouraging in so far as the discourse between Christians and non-christians has become increasingly and dangerously polarized, toxic and political. That you have drawn such fire for even speaking with neo-pagans is yet another perplexing proof of it. It just seems so un-Christ-like to condemn you for ministering to neo-pagans, after all, that is exactly what Christ would have done. If there is to be any peace at all and if the political fiber of our Country and Constitution is to hold together we need to continually remind each other that whatever we may believe we are NOT enemies.

Christian Day was speaking with my wife after the discussion yesterday and told her how kind, generous and basically samaritan-like you and your people have been in the Salem community. And in this respect I think we have at least one common belief: argument and discussion is worthwhile and even fun, but it is far more important to persuade by one's example of loving kindness.

The whole thing made Debbie and I feel great. We've been talking about it quite a lot. We will likely never share your congregation's religious beliefs, but we hope you will consider us allies all the same.


George Popham and Debbie Fields Popham


George's words were encouraging, and of course I can think of them as allies in a common cause. What do you think?

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Christian Presenter at Pagan Pride?!

Yesterday was the Pagan Pride event in North Andover, MA. I had been invited to give a workshop at the event. Matt the Pirate, and his wife Mary the Goth Theologian, John the Master Dream Interpreter (though he denies it), and The Prof. Carlos Z. joined me for the event.

I hope to develop a team of Christians who can hang out at such events, and actually be good examples - instead of silly, judgmental, and icky. "Icky" is a theological term, you know.

We want to do things like Dream Interpretation, training in Neo-Pagan/Christian relationships, and simple friendship development to show that we can all live in this world together without fighting like cats. Of course, Neo-Pagans and the kind of Christians who like hanging out with me have something in common - we are like cats, herding us remains an impossibility.

Now the day previous I visited one of the stores of a Salem Witch who was one of the presenters at the festival as well. Teri said to me in passing, "Did Carole tell you about the one rule of the workshops? They need to be performed skyclad." Teri did not flinch a bit when saying this. Neither did I.

"That's cool." I replied.

So, the day of the event 5 of us drove out to North Andover from Salem at 7:30 in the morning. We arrived at the event early, and did so purposely. We put our hands to the work of setting up. Our plan was to make ourselves indispensable, which is really just another way of saying that we were going to be servants. We set up tents, we set up the Children's area, moved picnic benches, set up signs, and Matt the Pirate helped the blacksmith haul anvils and organize the smithy's area.

Once the vendors were set up, and the people began to arrive, we milled around. I greeted old friends from Salem, and made a few new friends. Matt the Pirate hung out with the Blacksmith; John, Mary, and Carlos got to know the festival, which is a mid-sized Pagan festival with live music, about 20-25 crafters, an early evening ritual, and a dozen workshops from morning to mid-afternoon.

My workshop was from 12:15 to 1:15. We ate pumpernickel bread and cheese, passed out flyers for the workshop, and joined the drum circle during the time between finishing set up, and the workshop.

The description of the workshop was this:

The Circle and The Cross Talk:  Re-visioning Pagan/Christian Relationships

Looking back to the Caesars, and to the Burning Times misconceptions and urban myths have had deadly results for both Pagans and Christians.  In our own times, though mild in comparison, Pagans have been on the receiving end of the religious persecution.  Some have chosen to remain in the broom closet, and others have faced the struggle head on - sometimes to bitter disappointment with family, friends, and work associates.  This workshop is designed as a deeper look into the worldview differences between Christian and Neo-Pagan thought with a focus upon deconstructing, and re-visioning some of the beliefs which cause the greatest pain.  Come learn to navigate this battlefield of philosophical tension. Topics of frustration to be covered include judgment, conversion, spiritual dissonance, and sexuality.

At 12:05 we made our way to the workshop location. The previous workshop on Greek deities was ending, and we waited for the group to gather. About 20 people arrived, and after the welcome I introduced myself and the rest of the gang.

Strangely, no one was skyclad. Teri had lied to me, and Bev my wife was happier for it.

I gave my credentials for teaching the workshop - I call it Pagan street Cred - I've been excommunicated from a denomination for making friends with Pagans. That's pretty darn good Street Cred.

The workshop looked something like this:

I taught for between 7 and 10 minutes on 4 different subjects, and between each subject I had the class break up into three groups. John the Dream Master led one group, Matt the Pirate led the second group, and Mary the Goth Theologian and The Prof. Carlos Z. led the third group.

My goal was to teach about those four basic Christian doctrines listed above, and what caused these particular doctrines to be divisive points between Christians and Pagans. My particular focus was to highlight imbalances in the approaches and theology of many Christians, which caused their behavior and attitudes to be negative and hurtful.

I taught first about Hell and Judgment, and shared the fact that this doctrine ought to be a great equalizing doctrine in evangelical circles, because the belief is that all people are destined for Hell or deserving of it. Instead many Christians are proud of some unique heavenly status they think they have, and instead of finding commonality with struggling humanity they become judgmental.

Then the three groups discussed the point and how they felt about Hell and Judgment. There was laughing, and there was serious dialogue, and there was a mixed combination of joy to be talking about these things openly in a mixed religious group, and concern about the treatment many of the Pagans had received from Christians they knew and loved.

Then we discussed Conversion. I told them I was going to be giving them the inside scoop. Something many Christians did not realize, or if they did they somehow lost sight of it in the midst of their zeal. The point was this: No human can convert you. Conversion only occurs as an interaction between deity and a human.

Then our Christian group leaders had to rotate clockwise to change groups. For some reason they couldn't quite figure out clockwise initially - evidence that they are not Pagans and don't normally work in circles. Good thing I did not ask them to rotate deosil. Once they figured it out, the discussion on conversion appeared to be more personal, and filled with stories of pressure Pagans received from Christians.

Thirdly, I taught about Spiritual Dissonance, which is my redefinition of the subject Spiritual Warfare. When I mentioned Spiritual Warfare the group groaned, and understood the ramifications of the term. So we talked about the devil scares of the 1980's through people like Mike Warnke, and Bob Larson. Then we looked for a more balanced view of the subject from a Christian perspective. My hope was to arm Pagans with sound views of Christianity in order to help them counteract bizarre unloving behavior from wacky Christians.

The group rotated deosil once again, and began to discuss this subject. Of course the problem of evil arose in the groups, and this became a point of discussion.

Last of all we talked about the hottest subject of all - sex. I had the group shout a victory shout because we were going to talk about sex, and they did so raucously. I pointed out that the practice of heterosexual, monogamous, wait till marriage sexuality was actually a ritual lifestyle being lived out by Christians who believe that the Church is a Bride to the Son of God, and that our full realization of this union will occur in the second coming. Now we are engaged as it were to Him. Most Christians don't understand that this ritual lifestyle is a choice of beautiful ritual, and not a harsh law. Because they do not understand this they sound harsh when they discuss this issue.

Once again the Christians turned deosil in the circle, and arrived back in the original group they had led. Then they talked sex with Pagans. This was a hot and wild subject. One group was very serious, another group was light but philosophical, and the third was a bawdy group from Salem (I should have known!) in which The Poor Prof. Carlos Z. was being hit on by my friend a gay Pagan and Mary the Goth Theologian was trying to keep a straight face.

The group ended after this, and we all had a good time. I met someone from the COG who was excited about the workshop, and thought it would be good have in a COG setting as well. That would be pretty cool actually, and I would love to do that someday perhaps.

I talked with a number of new friends, and they all appreciated the open discussion combined with the attempts to bring peace between the worlds.

Later that day I talked with Teri. She had mentioned the skyclad joke, and the fact that when she mentioned it to Carole, Carole asked, "What did he do?" Teri replied to Carole, "He worked me, and simply said, 'That's cool.'" Yep, I did work her. I'm not easily surprised, and I've been to enough public Pagan events to know this was not going to be a skyclad event.

Well, it still seems strange to me, but I was able to talk about Hell, Conversion, Spiritual Warfare, and Biblical Sexuality at a Pagan Festival and people loved it. All I can ask myself is, "What the heck have Christians been doing wrong for so long that this has not been able to happen?" Then again I have to remind myself that I have been excommunicated from a middle of the road Pentecostal denomination for doing such things. So, I guess I already know the answer to that question.

Pics to come soon. Although I forgot to get the camera out for the workshop. Sheesh, I always do that.

This post is part of the interfaith synchroblog on interfaith dialogue.

List of participants

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Speaking at Pagan Pride this Weekend

This coming Sunday, September 21st I will be teaching a workshop at the Pagan Pride event at The Harold Parker State Forest in North Andover, MA (sorry, that's Massachusetts, USA for other state/country people).

Subject:  The Circle and Cross Talk:  Re-visioning Pagan/Christian Relationships
Location:  Harold Parker State Forest, North Andover, MA
Time:  12:15 - 1:15

Here is a link to the event
Here is the link to the Workshop descriptions  (you will find mine toward the bottom of the list)  
Here is the link to directions to the location

and here is the description without going to the link:

The Circle and The Cross Talk: Re-visioning Pagan/Christian Relationships, Pastor Phil Wyman

       Looking back to the Caesars and to the Burning Times, misconceptions and urban myths have had deadly results for both Pagans and Christians. In our own times, though mild in comparison, Pagans have been on the receiving end of the religious persecution. Some have chosen to remain in the broom closet, and others have faced the struggle head-on, sometimes to bitter disappointment with family, friends and work associates. This workshop is designed as a deeper look into the worldview differences between Christian and Neo-Pagan thought, with a focus upon deconstructing and re-visioning some of the beliefs which cause the greatest pain. Come learn to navigate this battlefield of philosophical tension. Topics of frustration to be covered include judgment, conversion, spiritual dissonance and sexuality.

I am honored to be openly accepted, and allowed to offer my limited scope of wisdom in this event, which celebrates a spirituality different than my own, yet among a group of people I have come to love so deeply.  If you are planning on being at Pagan Pride, I would love to have you join me for the workshop in Area 2 - in the woods at The Harold Parker State Forest in North Andover, MA.

There are some of you who have expressed interest in coming to the event, and commuting together.  I will be arriving at the event at 8am, and doing some set up work with the organizers.  If you would like to join me, let me know.  I will need to leave Salem by 7:20am.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Is Maturity Really What I Want?

If maturity looks like the Protestant work ethic, or making sensible decisions I am not sure that I want it - at least not all the time. If maturity looks like caring about the bottom line, or making sure that I take care of myself first I am not sure that I want it - certainly not all the time. If maturity looks less like uninhibited freedom, and more like a fundamentalist version of self-control I am not sure that I want it.

One of my heroes of the faith, Harald Bredesen who died a little less than two years ago showed me a way to maturity, which was free from the trappings of getting old without getting graceful. Child-likeness was his greatest attribute, and he had stood before kings, Presidents, and famously rich people with his messages of grace and God's power.

Spiritual maturity may have some portion of the elements listed above, but it certainly does not look like the list of those characteristics which often seem to be the definition of maturity in our culture. I find myself wondering then what attributes I can add to my life to discover maturity, and which ones I can deem non-essential to real spiritual maturity.

One thing I do know: it is not what I think it is, and it is not what others sometimes wish to impose upon me.

What might you add to the list of important ingredients of spiritual maturity?

Here is the list of fellow synchroBloggers on the subject of Spiritual Maturity:

Phil Wyman asks Is Maturity Really What I Want?
Lainie Petersen at Headspace with "Watching Daddy Die"
Kathy Escobar at The Carnival in My Head with "what's inside the bunny?"
John Smulo at JohnSmulo.com
Erin Word at Decompressing Faith with "Long-Wearing Nail Polish and Other Stories"
Beth Patterson at The Virtual Teahouse with "the future is ours to see: crumbling like a mountain"
Bryan Riley at Charis Shalom is Still Complaining
Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church with "Maturity and Education"
KW Leslie at The Evening of Kent
Bethany Stedman at Coffee Klatch with Moving Towards True Being: The Long Process of Maturity
Adam Gonnerman at Igneous Quill with "Old Enough to Follow Christ?"
Joe Miller at More Than Cake with "Intentional Relationships for Maturity"
Jonathan Brink at JonathanBrink.com with "I Won't Sin"
Susan Barnes at A Booklook with "Growing Up"
Tracy Simmons at The Best Parts with "Knowing Him Who is From the Beginning"
Joseph Speranzella at A Tic in the Mind's Eye with "Spiritual Maturity And The Examination of Conscience"
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules with "What I Wish The Church Knew About Spiritual Maturity"
Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations with "post-enlightenment Christians in an unenlightened South Africa"
Steve Hayes at Khanya with "Adult Content"
Ryan Peter at Ryan Peter Blogs and Stuff with "The Foundation For Ministry and Leading"
Sound and Silence considers Inclusion and Maturity
Lew A at The Pursuit talks about Maturity and Preaching
Kai Schraml tells us about Mature Virtue

Thursday, September 04, 2008

My six favorite words in this election: "...and you will know their names..."

I am listening to John McCain at the Republican National Convention. Darn he can speak. I am almost ready to give him another point on the basis of the quote above. In what is a pretty rippin' speech by McCain, he mentioned that he would veto pork barrel spending bills coming across his desk as President, and concerning the politicians who try load the pork on the bill he said, "and you will know their names."

Now that rocks! If a President does that, I will seriously be impressed by the power of the leadership.

Now the speech is keeping it's momentum, as McCain talks about cutting taxes, but does not have quite the impact as those six little words, which are my favorite so far in this election.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Next SynchroBlog - Sept 17th - on Maturity

The next posting for our SynchroBlog event will be September 17th, and the subject is Maturity.

September 17th SynchroBlog - Discussing Maturity in the Light of our

Interested? You can find out more about SynchroBlogs, and how to become part of this innovative group of Christian SynchroBloggers here.

As the Politics Continue

Sarah Palin's unmarried 17 year old daughter is having a baby. Barrack Obama even says that the issue is "off limits," and a private family matter.

What do you think about either of these points?

Sunday, August 31, 2008


If we are scoring action over rhetoric as a determining factor of who should be President. I think that we can safely call it McCain 1, Obama 0. The Republican National Convention has been effectively suspended (except for legally necessary requirements) to respond to potentially impending natural disaster. Of course, this will not be looked at as an honestly good sign of leadership by all people, but I for one am impressed. Have you ever put together even a small conference or convention? I have. Suspension or cancellation is a huge task, and only a last resort. To do this for a political party's largest convention, and largest commercial event in a four year period is amazing.

Still not sold on a candidate, but I have to say right now it is McCain 1, Obama 0 in my play card.

But of course I am a lifelong Republican so it doesn't mean that much to those who read this. As someone who really wants to write in Ben Stein, it means a lot to me to say this.

Friday, August 29, 2008

My Thoughts on McCain and Obama - "Cymru am Byth!"

The last two days have been big days in American politics, and so I thought that I would respond with my thoughts on the biggest events - Obama's acceptance speech, and McCain's Vice Presidential choice.

Obama's speech:

I am not smitten by Obama as so many people seem to be, but I do think that he is a great public speaker. As I mentioned in a previous post McCain appeared far more congenial, comfortable, well spoken, and knowledgeable in the interview session with Rick Warren than Obama did, and this completely surprised me. Even the BBC noted this.

Yet when it came to Obama's acceptance speech I expected Obama to hit it out of the park, and wow everyone. I personally was disappointed. I felt as though I was watching politics as usual. Let me explain what I mean by this.

Once the typical thank yous and acknowledgments were passed on, Obama's speech began with about 5 minutes of Bush bashing, followed by about 10 minutes of making the point that McCain is out of touch with the needs of the nation. Later in the speech he had a great rousing preacher's parlay where he talked about taking the higher ground of political discourse and not getting into bashing, but by that time I was already put off by the previous bashing which had occurred.

Bush bashing is an easy way to get a cheer in a speech these days. It is the equivalent a comedian reaching for a laugh by pulling out the four letter words simply to get the audience response. It was disappointing to hear Obama go that direction, and not take the higher ground. I have mentioned in another post that I personally feel the need to understand the positions,and beliefs of others, and that by doing so it is our only hope of rising to that higher ground Obama was speaking of.

When Obama began to talk about McCain being out of touch with political reality I felt that I was hearing the same old liberal last resort argument I have heard for the last 25 years. Liberals have their go to last resort argument, and Conservatives have their last resort arguments. These arguments typically go like this: Liberals find a way to say that Conservatives are either dumb, or out of touch with changes in society, and the second point is simply a way to restate the first. Conservatives typically call Liberals immoral or corrupt. When all else fails call someone stupid or immoral to win the argument. This is how Obama's points about McCain came across to me.

Obama did have a great ending to his speech, and his points about taking the higher ground would have been fantastic if I felt he was practicing what he preached. His section on the things he would do as President were more of the same old politics as well I thought. Some of the ideas were actually from McCain's book - the points on becoming free from dependency to foreign oil, and other points were expensive ideas followed with promises of tax cuts.

I was so disappointed that I decided I wanted to move out of the US, get some farm land in Wales, and spend my life working for Welsh independence. My response to his speech was basically "Cymru am byth!" instead of hope for America. I was not feeling good about things here at home.

This is not to say that I am writing Obama off. I rather feel that there is no real hope of serious change at the moment, and this is not to say that I am correct. The pressure to fall into politics as usual has got to be severe in the position of making an acceptance speech. One's supporters want to hear a little political fisticuffs, and they got it. I was not quite sure Obama looked all that comfortable speaking in that manner, and this at least gives me a wink of hope.

McCain's VP Choice:

Sarah Palin was a complete surprise to everyone, but I have to say, she can rip it up as a speaker.

Watching her speak (follow the above link to watch her in action) I kept my eyes on McCain. I am not sure that she is his choice. Of course, he often looks uncomfortable, but I felt as though I was watching him wonder if this was a good choice. Yet, without a doubt, McCain stole much of Obama's thunder following the acceptance speech. Hockey Mom/Youngest Person on the Ticket/Gun Toting/Beauty Queen Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin will probably steal some hearts, and drag the moral conservatives, and some women McCain's way. Sarah Palin could be a breathe of fresh air, but the verdict is still out.

"Cymru am byth" still is running through my mind right now. I need to get rich and be able to afford that farm in Wales to feel like I have a political issue to get excited about right now.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

In North Carolina and Not Blogging

Hi Friends,

I am in Asheville with my son Elijah and his wife Rhonda. So the Blog world of Phil is quiet. What I have done is work on their home, go white water rafting on the French Broad River, eat, and I did listen to McCain and Obama talk to Rick Warren. It did give me a different view of the two men.

Up to this point I have not been a fan of either candidate, and am still leaning toward writing Ben Stein in for President, but this did make me think about these other guys running.

After seeing the two in action, and not being a fan of either candidate I think that if I was an Obama fan I would have been disappointed. I have seen him perform far better, and he did not come across as comfortable, nor as a decisive leader. His communication skills which are formidable were weaker than usual in this forum.

I would have been excited if I was a McCain fan. He spoke more eloquently, and less stilted. He was decisive in his answers, and showed some serious knowledge of both foreign and home affairs. He did come across as doing a stump speech a little too often by addressing the crowd as opposed to addressing Pastor Warren, and this would clearly be a put off for some people, but he also came across as far more personal and friendly than he does on most settings.

All in all I appreciated this look into the men running for President.

Headed home soon - perhaps a bit too soon - like tomorrow. Bev is concerned because after we had to put one of our greyhounds (Forrest) to sleep a little over a week ago, our other greyhound is at home keeping people awake at night. She has started howling when people are not around, and Bev is feeling quite bad for her. Holly and Forrest had been together as greyhound friends for at least 7 years of their post racing lives.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What is a SynchroBlog?

I have been arranging these things called SynchroBlogs for about a year and a half now. It's kind of a stupid name, which I came up with to define the experience, and during the Olympic season it sounds like two guys trying to dive together in unison, or a group of ladies doing ballet while floating in a pool with nose plugs on, but a SynchroBlog is neither of those things. One may need to wear nose plugs while reading the compendium of thoughts provided by the wildly divergent list of stinkers - uhm I mean thinkers, because we are bound to challenge your sensibilities, and perhaps even bend your sense of orthodoxy.

Our SynchroBlog is formed around a predominently Christian group of bloggers who like the idea of changing (or at least provoking) our little corner of the world. So, we all write about the same general subject, and release our thoughts on the same day. Thus it is a Synchronized Blogging event - a SynchroBlog.

Are you interested in being a SynchroBlogger? If so you can go to our SynchroBlog list server, and sign up to get updates mailed to you, and join the discussions of upcoming SynchroBlog Events. So, what are you waiting for? Join the provokers!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Theology of Poverty and our Personal Biases: A SynchroBlog

Poverty is the subject of this month's SynchroBlog, and as such I thought I would look broadly at the subject from a perspective of personal biases held both theologically, and personally by Christians I have known.

Dallas Willard identifies a bias against those who are rich as a growing phenomenon in Christianity, and in his book "The Spirit of the Disciplines" sees it as problematic to our faith. Upon first reading this book nearly 20 years ago, while living among many people of a Word of Faith persuasion I wondered whether this observation made any sense in our media and personality obsessed culture, and have come to see his observation as valid and astute over these years. In America it is often true that those in poverty are regarded as victims, and those with wealth are seen as oppressors without consideration of specifics.

It is true that the Lord identified with those in poverty, and so the Apostle Paul wrote, "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich." Through this model of sacrificial identification, and giving groups like the Franciscans were born, and people have followed vows of poverty in various seasons throughout church history. In this manner poverty is viewed as a means of attaining the riches of heaven. By putting off the attachments to this world the discipline of poverty leads one to high places in Christ.

Twentieth century schools of thought have adapted Capitalism and Faith, which in itself may not be inherently wrong if indeed Christianity is simultaneously a subversive and transcendent system, but the resultant theologies have been embraced by some, and decried as heresies by others. Within Pentecostalism the faith movement attaches prosperity to faith in God, and poverty to a lack of faith, or more radically to the problem of sin.

For a large cross section of the church encompassing Orthodoxy, Anabaptists and growing segments of evangelicalism social action is being seen as one of the main efforts of the Gospel. Poverty is treated almost as an inherent evil to be driven out by the work of the church.

From a wholly different perspective Christianity views poverty as a spiritual issue, and bypasses the definitions given by culture, and bounded by money and the ownership of physical property. So John writes, "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich...."

Could it be that whatever school of thought we have adopted as our own has potentially played into our own spiritual poverty? Could it be that our own satisfaction in our biases about other people, and why they suffer or prosper has caused us to be those who are in need and poor when we think that we are rich? Is there still a gold we need to buy, which can not be found in the treasuries of earth? And could it be that the buying of this gold is the only thing which might make us effective solutions to the problem of poverty on earth?

Poverty SynchroBlog - Tomorrow, Wednesday August 13th

Below is the list of contributors to this month's SynchroBlog. The subject is poverty and the people contributing so far are:

Sonja Andrews: Fully Known and Fully Loved
Phil Wyman at Phil Wyman's Square No More
Adam Gonnerman: Echoes of Judas
Cobus van Wyngaard: Luke: The Gospel for the Rich
Lainie Petersen at Headspace
Steve Hayes: Holy Poverty
Jonathan Brink: Spiritual Poverty
Dan Stone at The Tense Before
Jeremiah: Blessed are the poor... churches...
Alan Knox: Boasting in Humiliation
Miss Eagle: Poverty and the Hospitable Heart
Jimmie: Feeding the Poor
KW Leslie: There’s poverty, and then there’s me without cash.
Joe Speranzella: Peace and Prosperity

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Politics of God continued

Last night a group of us met at The Old Spot. It was Pub Theology Night, and at point of discussion was the topic of yesterday's SynchroBlog - The Politics of God.

We bantered about McCain and Obama, and whether it was a sin to vote Democrat, or a sin to vote Republican. You can see it had its heated moments. We talked the Middle East - Israel and Palestine, and that was more heated than the Elephant and Donkey, but all still friendly enough.

I love getting wildly disparate people together, and letting them get to know and understand one another. So, we get fundy fanatics, atheists, Witches, Emergenty people, and next-door neighbors.

After bantering about politics in general I brought the discussion around to the question of hearing what God's political agenda was for oneself - not what it was for anybody else. We talked about expectations God might have during the current political season in the US.

The answers varied from: God expects me to vote Republican (yes, in Massachusetts!), to God wants me to vote Democrat, to God wants me to work toward peace (the most popular answer last night - is this born of current world tension?), to God wants me to consider the oppressed and poor in my decisions.

My answer was God wants me to understand the other - to consider the positions of those whose political philosophies are radically different than my own, and even search for imago dei within their choices, and motivations. Like the rest of my life, I am entertaining an anthropological missiology in my political interactions, because the politics of God are a politic of grace and understanding, and therefore that is what He wants from me.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Talking Points of Presumption

Politics and religion are the two great taboos of polite discussion. In the USA, as we inch toward voting for the Presidency political discussion becomes the regularly broken taboo. Heated opinions are tossed about on every street corner where people congregate, and restaurants become places to rest and rant.

Over the years I have been intrigued by the fact that every person living is an authority on religion. As a pastor for the last 23 years I have deep experience in understanding the Bible, studying the issues of religion and human interaction with things Divine. Yet, almost daily I meet people who believe their experience and understanding on these issues far exceed my own. Many of these people seldom deal with the issue of religion until it is time to fervently debate their own position. I typically smile during these encounters, considering that fervency is a better sign than nonchalance.

Politicians must have similar feelings when sitting at the table with the multitudes of political armchair quarterbacks. (Sorry for the decidedly American reference here - you'd have to watch American football.) These politicians have spent decades behind the scenes of this dance we call politics in which the balance of power among people, and the development of the laws of our lands is determined. They have seen the delicate maneuvers taking place. They have walked through the dilemmas, and felt the pressure of the "damned if we do, damned if we don't" scenarios. They have seen the dark underbelly of corruption, and the innocent idealism of those seeking the public good.

It seems to me that those of us who sit outside the halls of power easily describe our political opinions with the naivety typically reserved for idealistic teenage years.

We appear to know the hearts of the politicians we judge, and call them out as being (pick a popular epithet here) stupid, dishonest, corrupt, naive, morally bankrupt, indebted to special interests, or whatever host of other things we find reprehensible.

It is the common attack of the left upon the right in America to call out the opposition as stupid. It is the common attack of the right upon the left to call the opposition morally bankrupt. I find these talking points to be shallow arguments meant to win without significantly intelligent persuasion.

Quite frankly it sounds stupid to call a man who has risen to the pinnacle of world political power "stupid." The inanity of such a comment can not be understated. To call a person morally bankrupt or corrupt without having all the evidence on the table, and clear before us is in itself a corruption of the very principles of justice and mercy upon which Americans pride themselves as standing for.

The politics of presumption flow from the lips of those who call themselves spiritual as freely as polluted water, and so in this season of political change we are being called to a new kind of politic - the politics of grace.

I hope I have stepped on your toes. In a democratic union like the USA (not designed as a pure democracy by the way, but that is another topic) responsibility lies in the hands of every person - every voter. In a land of free speech our speech is of critical value, and if we follow the corrupt and stupid talking points, which frequently make the sound bites of daily news, we shall be responsible for our nation's rising stupidity and corruption. So I leave this thought with the words of someone older and wiser.

"But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."

Check the post below for links to the other SynchroBloggers joining this discussion.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Politics of God - July 22nd SynchroBlog

Look to Tuesday, July 22nd for the next SynchroBlog on the subject of The Politics of God. Are you wondering what is meant by that? Well, the bloggers who will be joining the topic this month will define it for you. The list of contributing bloggers will be posted in the next couple days.

Do you want in on the SynchroBlog? Leave a comment with your name and URL, we'll add you to the list.

Here is the list of those intending to contribute so far:

Phil Wyman rants about The Talking Points of Presumption
Lainie Petersen considers Questioning the Citizen Diety
Jonathan Brink enters The Political Fray
Adam Gonnerman explains The Living Christ's Present Reign
Sonja Andrews Won't Get Fooled Again
Mike Bursell at Mike's Musings
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes
Steve Hayes on God's Politics
Matthew Stone at Matt Stone Journeys in Between
Steve Hollinghurst at On Earth as in Heaven
KW Leslie tells us about God's Politics
Julie Clawson at One Hand Clapping
Dan Stone at The Tense Before
Alan Knox asks Is God Red, Blue, or Purple?
Beth Patterson writes about Learners inheriting the earth: the politics of God
Erin Word discusses Hanging Chad Theology

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My Three Day Story

I placed a post on our church blog following my experiences over three recent days. These were not three typical days, but then there really are not typical days in Salem. (I am convinced there really are no typical days anywhere, but that's another story.) So to stop from blathering on here's the link to that story.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Green of Being Green Considered Once Again

Our roommate Evan Hansen e-mailed me this link to one of the You Tube TED series of speakers after reading about my skepticism about Global Warming, which is combined with my interest in ecology. This is a nice 17 minute ditty by Economist Bjorn Lomborg.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Defining Missional: a SynchroBlog

The above poster comes from http://teampyro.blogspot.com/ Obviously they are not defining missional today. ;-)

Today a large number of bloggers including some significant thinkers who spend the their days considering missional issues are releasing posts defining "Missional." Perhaps this SynchroBlog will provide an historical moment in defining this wee movement of ecclesiastical types who call themselves missional. Perhaps we will simply flap our lips in the wind of God's Spirit as it blows by. I'm hoping for something closer to the former. So I have entered the fray of missional definers, and have saddled up alongside people who think about this stuff far more than I do.

Yet, I think that I do bring some pedigree to the table of thought, and offer my expertise in relational development and evangelical networking with new religious movements (especially Neo-Pagans) as part of the art of missionality.

I am not typically fond of dealing with semantics, except as a means of defining the terms of a specific dialogue. I perhaps am even a little more uncomfortable finely outlining the edges of a word barely squeaking into my 2001 version of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary as though it was an afterthought - listed as an adjective of "mission." Words important to the integrity of a language interest me. Words newly created, or suddenly adapted to define developing movements are less interesting to me, because they are still simply pop terms. (Now, I know the word has been around since the late 19th century - at least, but that is still new as far as the life span of a language is concerned.) See Tall Skinny Kiwi's discovery of the 1883 usage of the word

Yet I will attempt the daunting task of defining a newly developing, and unsettled term simply because it is something considered by many people to be descriptive of the behaviors of our own fellowship in Salem, MA.

I would like to consider being missional as an art as I define the term. As a science, I believe it would lose its power, and its definition altogether. Missional behavior is based upon redemptive interaction with people. Dealing with the fickle human character is certainly more of an art, than a science.

If being missional somehow evades exact definition as it continues being bantered about by those of us who use the term, it may actually be finding its mark more frequently, and remain a living word than if the term becomes solidified like concrete, or codified like a law.

Yet there are distinct values which must remain intact if the word will not end up wallowing in a mire of pop usage, flowing smugly off the lips of people who are anything but missional.

So, here are my feeble attempts to do something I am not quite comfortable doing - defining a pop theological term.


As a newly popular term describing the activities of the Christian church the word "missional" is in need of defining if it will accurately describe any movement, or activity of the Church. Perhaps this broad group of people, many whom I write with regularly on the SynchroBlog list I help lead, can by sheer force of the number of words being published online create a solid reference point for anchoring the word missional in the ecclesiological psyche. (As a small historical, but insignificant sidenote, I am the originator of the silly term "SynchroBlog")

Missional is a relatively new word, finding its first published reference in 1893 (see note on Tall Skinny Kiwi above.) In my dictionary it finds itself relegated to a mere afterthought as an adjective of the word "mission." Yet "mission" has a far broader definition that we attach to the concept of missional today. Missional does not relate to military campaigns, or the ruins of former Spanish churches on the coast of California.

The popularity of the word has been driven by the Emergent movement, and appears to be particularly popular as a personal descriptor by those who are considered to be a part of what Scott McKnight calls the Praxis Oriented Stream of Emergent in his Five Streams of the Emerging Church.

I will leave origins of the term to others who study this stuff. Discussions of its misuse will be left to others as well. I have a few thoughts which particularly resonate with me. So others will be left to the task of doing things like connecting Newbigin, and Hartenstein to the term.


At the heart of missional behavior is something I hold dear: a radical anthropological missiology.

The "glory of God" is considered by many theologians, pastors, and lay people to be the prime focus of authentic human behavior. I agree. This includes the preaching of the Gospel, and any manner of sharing our faith. Yet, I believe that focusing upon the "glory of God" in our Gospel preaching has too often incapacitated the Gospel, and left it stagnant in a world of flowing change. For the sake of glorifying God churches and church leaders have remained unbending in the culture of their denominational styles, and been unwilling to take the time to understand the culture, and the individuals surrounding them. Our vocabulary has often remained stagnant while our language has been changing in the culture around us, and our attitudes have been witness to the fact that we are part of the status quo - or so it appears to people.

Yet Christ came to serve others, and we are called to do the same. The heart of the Gospel itself is anthropocentric. The good news is about Christ, but it is for people. It is designed to relieve suffering, create healthy family structures for the abandoned, give definition of life to the lost, and bring joy to those who mourn. Christ is the reason the Gospel exists, but people are the target of its mission to bless. God's eye is upon people with a heart for blessing. This is the missio dei. People are at the center of God's heart in the Gospel, and those who will be missional must place people deep in their hearts as well, and so we are called to serve, and to study others. My heart must remain Christocentric in its worship, but the missio dei calling me to service focuses upon the fact that I am a bondservant to others.

Without becoming students of others missional behavior lapses into mere proclamation, and loses the very heart of its purpose to bless, to serve and to care.

I do not believe a person can be missional without understanding others. On an English translation site of the French website philosophie-spiritualite.com there is a wonderful outline of the common mistakes made in the process of dialogue, which cause misunderstanding or establish a less than beneficial interaction.

"Talking to somebody is not just trying to make oneself understood. Dialogue can walk astray and off the path leading to an understanding of others. 1) One may slip into mere information; in this case only the person talking understands what is being said. Exchange never takes place, yet this is required for dialogue. To have a dialogue it is not enough to find a willing listener with the patience to put up with your talking, but to whom you yourself will not be listening. 2) There can also be a misunderstanding when two people don’t attribute the same meaning to the same words, so that each one of them speaks at different levels. The common ground is then missing. 3) Dialogue can degenerate into mere chatting. Chatting appears to be a dialogue, but the people talking are not present in what they say: the content of their speech is as insignificant as it is repetitive. Speech does not aim at the other person’s understanding it; it is only there to substitute for a real presence and above all to avoid silence. A dialogue is only useful to understand others if it makes possible an intimate exchange with them. 4) A dialogue can degenerate to polemics when one wants the exchange of a dialogue, while refusing to make any effort to understand the other person’s position. Each person then sticks to his position and instead of exchanging ideas one struggles to uphold this or that conviction. Polemics replaces the confrontation of points of view by the opposition of individuals. We see this when spokesmen fire off all their weaponry to criticise a viewpoint, then retreat into muteness, and pay no attention to the objection of their adversary. 5) Dialogue also self-destroys in lying. As soon as lying makes its way into the dialogue, speech loses its true purpose. There can be no comprehension without truthfulness and without a genuine intention to have a dialogue. Have can we understand one another if we are not sincere?" (from lesson 12)

Missional behavior demands seeking to understand the perspective, the feelings, the thoughts of others, and learning to present the good works of God, and the preaching of the Gospel in a manner identifying with the needs, the concerns, and the pains of those we serve.

There is a power in the subjectivity which attends the empathetic individual following the missio dei. It is something we might call a subjective imagination. Our experiences have given us a sense of dread or a sense of liberation, a sense of mourning or a sense of child-like joy, a peace or a deep seated anxiety; and these feelings which we have experienced can be imagined to belong to another. The things we have felt, and feared can be superimposed upon the framework of our thinking about other people, and we can see them as fellow sufferers on this life journey, or we can coldly consider their actions in the light of a set of legal standards.

This subjective imagination allows us to empathize with others, and thereby live incarnationally. As Jesus, Who lived in our shoes, and experienced our woes became the perfect High Priest understanding our every struggle, so we too can express the love of God through identifying with the sorrows, the temptations, and the struggles of others.

Missional activity is less than missional without this subjective imagination, which imposes compassion upon others in their difficulties. Whether we are dealing with cultures or individuals, we are called by the missio dei to serve people in their suffering.


The Gospel of Christ transcends human culture and thought. It is not stuck in the 19th century, nor is it married to post-modernity. It is good news to the conservative and the liberal, the socialist and the capitalist, the cultural Christian and the new Pagan, the fundamentalist and the anarchist. It was not limited by the fact that Matthew was a Tax Collector, and Judas (not Iscariot) was a radical anti-establishment zealot. They were brought together by the Gospel. It was not limited in them, and it is not subject to human foibles now.

Similarly, the Kingdom of God critiques each and every human culture. Republicans and Democrats in America are evenly critiqued by the upside-down nature of God's Kingdom. Those who have the freedom to drink, and those who are teetotalers are equally challenged to walk in love toward others. The devout and the apathetic find themselves both corrected by the voice of God, and this is the manner of the Kingdom.

Missional followers of Christ will walk between worlds at odds with one another. Missional followers become peacemakers between extremes, and evidence that they are the sons of God. We will dance in the combat zone between the warring factions of our society, and live like fools for Christ's sake. Our battles are not the battles of this world, and at what time we are called to take up a cause, that cause is still subordinate to the missio dei gently hovering over us.

Just as it is not constrained by culture, missional activity is not constrained by church facilities. In American church culture church buildings have often become a bane to evangelistic activity in the life of the local church. Focusing our attention upon buildings we have omitted the command to "Go and preach the Gospel."

Yet just as buildings are not needed to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom, The Gospel is not constrained by the use of a building. Churches are creating Going Experiences with creative use of buildings, and others are creating Going Experiences through creative methods of stepping outside a building. Just as the missio dei transcends the cultures of our world, it also transcends the use of buildings - it can be accomplished within or without the building,

Denominations, specific and non-essential details of theology, styles of worship, liturgical practices, social programs, styles of communication, and ecclesiastical structures are not constraining factors for the missio dei. At one moment they may become a hindrance, yet at another moment they may become a tool for the Gospel.

Understanding this cultural transcendence of the Gospel is necessary for those who will live a missional life.

These are my quickly gathered thoughts to the question, "What is Missional?" I certainly have not presented anything authoritative. These are simply the conjectures of someone who has spent the last 10 years breaking down walls of communication, which have been erected between Neo-Pagans and Evangelical Christians, and my observations about being missional are based upon just a couple (among many) things which have been necessary in my own experience.

Please check out some of the other 49 writers on the following list. I am sure you will be blessed.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Missional SynchroBlog on Monday

Rick Meigs of the "Friends of Missional," and "Blind Beggar" fame has called for a SynchroBlog on the subject "What is Missional?" So I've decided to enter the fray, and post my thoughts. There are 50 bloggers on the list, making this a daunting task to read through.

As you scroll down the list, which is in alphabetical order by first name, you will find a significant number of heavy hitters in the emergent, and missional discussion. Of course, I have taken my own name and placed it at the top. If you are on this list, and you are copying the link list from me I encourage you to take your own name, place it at the top, and then provide the direct link to your post, rather than a generic link to your site.

So join us on Monday, June 23rd, 2008 for the "What is Missional?" SynchroBlog. Here's the gang who will be posting on that day:

Phil Wyman
Alan Hirsch
Alan Knox
Andrew Jones
Barb Peters
Bill Kinnon
Brad Brisco
Brad Grinnen
Brad Sargent
Brother Maynard
Bryan Riley
Chad Brooks
Chris Wignall
Cobus Van Wyngaard
Dave DeVries
David Best
David Fitch
David Wierzbicki
Doug Jones
Duncan McFadzean
Erika Haub
Jamie Arpin-Ricci
Jeff McQuilkin
John Smulo
Jonathan Brink
JR Rozko
Kathy Escobar
Len Hjalmarson
Makeesha Fisher
Malcolm Lanham
Mark Berry
Mark Petersen
Mark Priddy
Michael Crane
Michael Stewart
Nick Loyd
Patrick Oden
Peggy Brown
Richard Pool
Rick Meigs
Rob Robinson
Ron Cole
Scott Marshall
Sonja Andrews
Stephen Shields
Steve Hayes
Tim Thompson
Thom Turner

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Is it All About the Green?: A Skeptics call to Environmental Action

This is part of this month's Synchroblog about Green Spirituality.

I have an uncomfortable alliance with Green Christianity. On the one hand I do not believe that we are doing enough, on the other hand I do not really believe the threatening science of global warming.

I believe it is humanity's necessary task to care for the earth, and in these current days we need to leave it in better shape that we found it for our children's sake.

Yet, I tend to feel that the current threatening dialogue of global warming falls into being all about the green, and I don't mean leaves, and grass. I can not help but wonder if 10 years down the line we will have made millionaires out of people on the forefront of the global warming crisis, and will rethink the science to move on to another crisis, which will once again consume our personal finances in the name of caring.

I can say these things. We drive a Prius. We recycle plastic, paper, glass and aluminum. We have a composter in the yard. I have water barrels adorning the back of my house. Our church sponsored the speakers for Salem's Living Green and Renewable Energy Fair and hope to do so again next year.

For myself as well, I suppose that conservation is greatly about the green, and I do mean money green. If it can be cheaper, and help the environment I like it - thus I am ambivalent about my wife's choice of the Prius, and prefer my old diesels, but I am afraid that the current trends in ecologically friendly resources are all about making expensive things, which make the rich richer, the mid-classes who can afford to go green poorer, and the poor will have the last bit of green sucked from them.

I hope I am wrong, but let's look back at this post in ten years, and we'll see.

I will recycle. I will drive a Prius. I will make compost, and finish setting up those water barrels in the backyard. More will follow. I think that I might make biodiesel and cut my heating fuel with 20% biodiesel. I might want to build a wind generated power plant for the house from local hardware store parts. (Notice how I avoided saying mentioning the orange guys.)

I may not be alone in this thinking. Even among those who are fully convinced that global warming is coming.

Well, that is my heretical thinking on the subject. But even if I am a skeptic no one can accuse me of not doing anything about the problem. One way or another I suppose it will end up being all about the green. I hope I can help keep some green in the pockets of the poor, as well as on the earth as we move through the coming years of threatening science.

Wanna read about the scientists who reject the current global warming mania? Check out The Deniers. I haven't read the book yet, but I followed many of the articles which eventually came together to develop the book, and it is significantly impressive enough to consider methinks.

But don't let skepticism about global warming make you inconsiderate about the earth you have been called to care for.