Guest Post: Reflections from the “Christianity 21″ Conference

Guest Post: Reflections from the “Christianity 21″ Conference

Guest Blog Post: Today’s post comes from my good buddy Mathew Mitchell. Mathew and I went to Christianity 21 last week, a conference held in Phoenix, AZ that was designed to bring together 21 different voices across the spectrum of Christianity to speak in to where the church might be heading in the 21st century. We had an incredible time together, and were impacted in profound ways. So here are his insights/thoughts/takeaways from #C21PHX.

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Christianity 21: Up From The Ashes in Phoenix
Truth and Reconciliation

I had the pleasure of attending the JoPa hosted Christianity 21 event in Phoenix last week and it was nothing short of a mountain top experience for me.

I share these reflections as a first time attendee of this kind of Emergent conference, as a non blogging, non pastoral regular Joe who got tossed into church planting a year ago after a series of unexpected events.

My goal was to support my buddy and Sojourn Grace Collective pastor Colby who was selected to give a talk (his wife Kate couldn’t go and so I went in her stead) and to get a closer look at the progressive Christian personalities that have shaped much of my thinking and whom I have long followed from afar.

Wow.

I was essentially knocked on my rear from the word go and struggled to right myself for the remainder of our time there.

Admittedly I went a bit doe-eyed into it all, not entirely aware of the differences in theological position or relational dramas that were being played out.  But even as these aspects became clearer, the Love of God shined bright as if to say “I’m still here making things beautiful”.

I would describe the event as a time of Truth and Reconciliation – powerful Head and Heart examples of how God has, is and will continue to move in the world.

I note a few things here that touched me personally and have organized them as either items of the HEAD (things that are true, facts, data driven, cerebral) or HEART (reconciliatory, directly experienced, the palpable presence of God).

The HEART

Dieter Zander

Dieter Zander

The most stand out Heart moment for me was the Dieter Zander talk detailing a man’s journey from physically vibrant stage personality and musician to Trader Joe’s floor sweep and back room spoils sorter.  A debilitating stroke took almost all the mobility of his right hand and his ability to speak.  It reminded me of the phrase Ram Dass uses to describe his similar experience “I was stroked by God”.  One can feel such radiance and presence emanate from Zonder’s face in the midst of what remains such a challenging and wholly life altering circumstance.   His discovery of joy and God’s playfulness in all things as a result of this experience moved everyone to their feet.  What a testimony.

Glennon Doyle Melton

Glennon Doyle Melton

Glennon Doyle Melton is all Heart all the time…a genuine resurrected Christlike figure walking upright in our midst, open and vulnerable and in that way is courageous and warrior like.  She is a shining example of the transformative power of a spiritual identity and all you want to do is cheer when you see her.  Her personal story of bridging the gap of ideology with one of her more conservative readers was so appropriate for a group consciously attempting to include a wide range of thoughts on typically divisive issues.  She showed us how to sit in that tension and not “piss on the other guy’s fire” to quote Doug Paggitt.  She also fed us cookies made by the person in her story (Samantha) which was fantastic.

Richard Beck

Richard Beck

Another standout HEART talk from my time in Phoenix came from the Richard Beck.  He described hospitality as an act of both seeing and approaching and talked about his experience with a disabled person that attends his church.  He’s a big fan of the The Little Way of St. Therese.  You get the sense that Richard has really wrestled through the events that he is describing and is delivering us messages from the front lines of lived experience.  We got to know him and his wife Jana while we were there.  They are salt of the earth people with an easy affection and the world is a better place with each of them in it.

Other talks from Rob Bell on shame and wonder and Shauna Niequist regarding how to stop doing good things for the sake of connections that truly matter left lasting impressions.  A wrenching talk from Danny Cortez who told us about his son coming out and his efforts to keep his church reminded us of the work we have yet to do.

The HEAD

Christianity is up against some very real cultural issues that will require some innovative thinking if it hopes to remain a relevant resource for those in pain.

There were three talks that really stood out to me in this regard.

Mark Charles (whom Brian McLaren ceded his time to)

Mark Charles (whom Brian McLaren ceded his time to)

Brian McLaren whom many see as the father of the Emergent Church movement ceded his time to a man from a local Navaho reservation (Mark Charles @wirelesshoggan) who talked about institutional racism and steps the country could make to better deal with the pain of marginalized native peoples.  The gesture on the part of Brian was REALLY inspiring and Mark’s content was compelling.  I talked to him at length afterward.  He is planning a public national apology to all Native American people for December 2016 and hopes to get Obama and Pope Francis involved.  I’d love to see it happen.  Canada and Australia have made similar moves…it would be great to see the USA get real in this way.

Rabbi Joseph Edelheit

Rabbi Joseph Edelheit

Rabbi Joseph Edelheit gave us a Torah lesson full of passionate Hebrew and the suggestion that we Christians regain a sense of the deeply mysterious living God whose name cannot be represented in a word.  He dove into the “I am that I am” (ehyeh asher ehyeh) line from scripture and emphasized that God is that which God has yet to become.  He suggested that dialogue about what God is or has been isn’t as exciting as that which God has yet to become.  His talk was a great example of interfaith communication and a refreshing perspective for all Christ followers.  I really enjoyed his presence there.

Kristen Howerton

Kristen Howerton

Kristen Howerton gave a lesson on white privilege which was both brave and crucial.  Issues of sexuality and race continue to challenge churchgoers as folks increasingly ‘come out’ and integrate and in doing so form relationships which are the true catalyst for change.  However the language to describe how one might see and begin dismantling the real pain felt by marginalized people is still tough to frame.  As a blonde white lady and mommy to two black boys she is well placed to help guide her peers into a greater understanding of their unconscious bias.  I think she could be a pivotal voice for churches that long to move more actively to identify white privilege and deal with it.

The REST

Music from Heatherlyn, illustration from Paul Soupiset and theatrical performance from Ted & Company helped give the entire experience a creative tone that helped keep us engaged and entertained and aware of the fact that God is working through all of us always.

I would have enjoyed an inspiring voice directly from a member of the LGBT or Q community.  We talked around them more than anything and although I had great conversations with gay and lesbian conference participants, a voice from the stage was missing and this to me was an oversight. It was hard for me to embrace the passionate and poignant plea from Efrem regarding inclusion of our most impoverished knowing his stance on the issue but Jacqui Lewis rounded that conflict out for me. Discussion regarding the marginalization of sexual minorities by marginalized racial minorities is one for another day.

I had so much fun watching Colby nail his talk and build community with other like minded folk at the bleeding edge of Christianity.  I spoke with people being sued by their denomination for performing same sex unions and others on the verge of losing their churches for the same reason.  I was proud to represent a community where they would be celebrated for their acts of radical inclusion and was at the same time reminded that we have work to do.

However, I left feeling more invigorated than anything else, confident that we are on the right path and resolved to continue the beautiful struggle that is following Christ in a world that often seems to be walking in the opposite direction.

I look forward to remaining connected to those I encountered and showing the world that love wins…every time…with God’s help.

Colby and Mathew, enjoying the ride.

Colby and Mathew, enjoying the ride.

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(all photo cred, minus the epic selfie at the top, courtesy of Courtney Perry, the official C21 Photog.)

Reflections of a Worship Pastor: Part III

Reflections of a Worship Pastor

Part III: Good Enough?

My previous post in this series addressed my struggle with pride as it relates to leading worship. And so, perhaps fittingly or perhaps ironically, in this post I’d like to consider the issue of insecurity. The all-too common voice inside of us that thrives off destructive comments like “you’re not good enough,” or “why aren’t you better than this by now,” or “really? That’s who you are and that’s what you do?”

Masking Insecurity

I’ve heard it said that pride is hardly ever the real issue. It is usually merely a symptom of insecurity. We use pride as mask to cover our feelings of inadequacy. And this is true for me as well. Underneath my rather shallow issues of pride resides deeply rooted questions about myself: do I have value? Do I have worth? Am I any good at what I do? Do people really like me, and would they STILL like me if they really knew me?

And so to combat these fears and anxieties I put up facades that are designed to communicate self-confidence. I try to convince people I have it put together, that I know what I’m doing, that I’m not plagued by doubt and fear and shame and guilt. Or I hide behind what I do, and I pretend that what I “do” is the same as who I “am.” On Sundays I sure LOOK like I’m a spiritual person who has lots of good things to say, I sure LOOK like I’ve got it put together. And so I let you think that, because that’s better than you knowing the real me.

Ugly Purple Carpet

Confession: I love to watch shows on HGTV with my wife. One of the things I’ve learned from the likes of Carter Oosterhouse, David Bromstead and Vern Yip is that in older homes it’s not uncommon to rip out that ugly purple carpet only to find beautiful original hardwood flooring underneath. And the designer (as well as the homeowners) find themselves appalled at whoever thought it was a good idea to cover it up! However, on the flip side, it’s also true that sometimes they rip up that carpet and find mold, or termites, or even more of mess than they expected. And you almost wish they’d just lay back down the ugly purple carpet and walk away.

Usually, for me, my pride is like that ugly purple carpet. I put it there because I’m convinced it’s better than what was already there. Of course, even the worst-minded designer can see my ugly purple carpet for what it is: ugly. But I’m convinced, should I rip that away, what’s left underneath is even uglier… all my issues of insecurity, doubt and fear. I’m convinced I’m not good enough, I have too many faults and issues, and that I’ve masterfully convinced people all these years that I’m a reasonably decent person (when I know fair well that I’m not).

Marble, or Gold, or Something Else

What God is trying his divine hardest to teach me, though, is that underneath the ugly purple carpet, and underneath the termite-ridden molded flooring, is a foundation of the purest most beautiful marble flooring, laid long before I was born. Or perhaps, if you don’t like marble floors, imagine them gold (like the streets of the New Earth will be). If you don’t like gold, at this point I don’t care… you get the metaphor.

God is wanting me to begin to believe that what I think is at my core (insecurity, fear, etc) is NOT really at my core. That is NOT who I REALLY am. Those are things I have put there, those are things I have allowed the enemy to put there, to cover up the beautiful reality laying underneath: that I am a child of God. That I have been adopted in to God’s family, and stand in harmonious beauty alongside God’s other Son, Jesus.

Greatest Commandment

When asked, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Matt 22:34-40). But then he did this radically awesome thing, he said “the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Woah. Backup. So you’re saying that loving our neighbors like we love ourselves is “like” loving God? So much so, that you say it’s the second greatest thing we do as humans? And in order for us to love our neighbors like we love ourselves, doesn’t that imply that we, well, love OURSELVES?

There’s so much that can be said here, but I’ll defer my thoughts to the thoughts of one whom I have the utmost respect for.  In “Naked Spirituality,” Brian McLaren shares a story about how he was out for a jog, listening to a sermon, and the preacher quoted Abraham Lincoln: “I desire to so conduct the affairs of this administration that if, at the end… I have lost every friend on earth, I shall have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me.” And then Brian says this,

As I heard those words, it was as if the Spirit took them and pierced me to the core with them. Out of the deepest part of me, I felt a sob erupt. I had to stop running for a few minutes and found myself hunched over in the middle of the trail, feeling that in some mysterious way God was speaking to me and it was a matter of life and death that I listen. And the message that came to me was the realization that, deep down inside of me, I had an enemy, not a friend.
If a friend made a mistake, I would tell him it was okay, that nobody’s perfect. But when I made a mistake, I would constantly beat myself up and mercilessly take myself to task. If a friend was working too hard, I would tell him to relax, to take a day off and go fishing or play a round of golf. But down inside me was a cruel taskmaster who was never satisfied. If a friend had some weaknesses, I would be gracious and compassionate. But not so with myself. And so that day I felt the Spirit using a quote from Abraham Lincoln to tell me that if I was going to last, I actually needed to follow Jesus’ words about loving others as myself, which required me to first be a friend to myself.

Being Friends with Myself

I love this perspective. I love contrasting how I would act or think or talk towards a friend versus how I typically act, think or talk to myself. And Brian is right, usually it’s radically different. And in God’s eyes, that’s not cool. That’s not God’s intention for me… or for you.

And so when I naturally have doubts about myself, wondering if I’m any good or have any value, wondering if I deserve this awesome job I have or the amazing family I have, and when I’m struggling to believe that people might actually like the real me, I will now try and think of what I would tell my best friend: Dude, you’re crazy. Of COURSE you have value! You are amazing, gifted, talented, and they are lucky to have you just as much as you’re lucky to have them. I like you, the REAL you, and I can list off so many people who like you too that your head will spin. You are not only an incredible person, but you are a child of the King, and that means everything! Pull your head out of where you’ve buried it, hold it high, and believe in yourself as much as I believe in you!

Something tells me I’d struggle less with insecurity if I became friends with myself.

Jesus in Revelation

Typical understanding of Jesus in Revelation

I’ve been reading Brian McLaren’s newest book, “A New Kind of Christianity,” and I was very moved and encouraged by some of his thoughts on Jesus in relation to how he is portrayed in the book of Revelation.

I’d love to give you the full context and background of his thoughts, but I’ll just let you buy the book and read it for yourself. But I DO want to share this bit with you because I found it brilliant and challenging.

He (Brian) is addressing one of his critics who accused him of recasting Jesus as a “limp-wrist hippie, with a lot of product in his hair who drank decaf and made pity Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes.”

Brian’s critic countered with the following characterization of who HE thinks Jesus is:

“In Revelation, Jesus is a prize-fighter with a tatoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”

To which I say, “Why the Face?!?!” (Don’t get that reference? Check it out here…)

But, moving on.. Brian then quotes the Revelation passage the above critic was referring to, 19:11-16

11I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.12His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on himthat no one knows but he himself.13He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.14The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen,white and clean.15Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.16On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Brian then goes on to offer a different way to understand this passage. You’ll have to get the book for that… But I would like to share then his thoughts about how contradictory it would be to view Jesus in Revelation as his critic above does (and many others, even if it’s not so crude and outright) in light of who Jesus was and what he said during his earthly ministry. It’s fairly long, but worth the read…

To repeat, Revelation is not portraying Jesus returning to earth in the future, having repented of his naive gospel ways and having converted to Casesar’s “realistic” Greco-Roman methods instead. He hasn’t gotten discouraged about Caesar seeming to get the upper hand after his resurrection and on that basis concluded that it’s best to live by the sword after all (Matt. 26:52). Jesus hasn’t abandoned the way of peace (Luke 19:42) and concluded the way of Pilate is better, mandating that his disciples should fight after all (John 18:36). He hasn’t had second thoughts about all that talk about forgiveness (Matt 18:21-22) and concluded that on the 78th offense (or 491st, depending on interpretation), you should pull out your sword and hack off your offender’s head rather than turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39).

He hasn’t given up on that “love your enemies” stuff (Matt 5:44) and judged it naive and foolish after all (1 Cor 1:25), concluding instead that God’s strength is made manifest not in weakess but in crushing domination (2 Cor 12:9). He hasn’t had a change of heart, concluding that the weapons he needs are physical after all (2 Cor 10:3-4) or that the enemies of the kingdom are flesh and blood after all (Eph 6:12), which would mean that the way to glory isn’t actually by dying on the cross (Phil 2:8,9), but rather by nailing others on it.

He hasn’t sold the humble donkey (Luke 19:30-35) on eBay and purchased chariots, warhorses, tanks, land mines, and B-1s instead (Zech. 9:9-10). He hasn’t climbed back to the top of the temple and decided he made a mistake the first time (Matt 4:1-10), or concluded that from now on he’d be smarter to follow Peter’s Greco-Roman “human” strategies (Matt 16:23). He hasn’t decided that the message of the cross is a little too foolish after all (1 Cor 1:18) or that Christ killing his foes is way more exciting than that lame, absurd “hippie” gospel of “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

He hasn’t decided that my loyal critic was right, that nobody can be expected to worship a king they can beat up (Matt 27:27). He hasn’t decided that a tattoo down his leg would look a whole lot toughter and macho than scars in his hands, feet, and side (John 20:27). He hasn’t decided to defect to the Greco-Roman narrative, since the majority of people who claim adherence to the religion that bears his name seem to frame their lives by it rather than by his good news of the kingdom of God.

Revelation celebrates not the love of power, but the power of love. It denies, with all due audacity, that God’s anointed liberator is the Divine Terminator, threatening revenge for all who refuse to honor him, growling “I’ll be back!” It asserts, instead, that God’s anointed liberator is the one we beat up, who promises mercy to those who strike him, whispering, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The suffering, serving one who bled on a cross–not the one with a commitment to make others suffer and bleed–is the King of kings and Lord of lords. In response to the crucified one’s name–not Caesar’s or any other violent human’s–every knee will gladly bow.

You may or may not agree with all the points above, but hopefully the big picture is something worth considering. If we DO anticipate Jesus returning to destroy and crush people, then we must wrestle with how that can line up with all that he did and taught. Will he, in the end, change his mind about the way of peace, mercy, forgiveness and grace?

New Brian McLaren Book is Almost Out

Just four days left until Brian McLaren’s newest book, “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith” is released!

McLaren’s work (especially A New Kind of Christian, Generous Orthodoxy, and The Secret Message of Jesus) has been monumental to me in sifting through what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I’m indebted to his work and passion for seeing the Dream of God (aka, His Kingdom) be accomplished on earth as it is in Heaven.

I’m also grateful he got a new artist to design his cover… His last few have left much to be desired…

For more info on Brian, you can check out his blog here.