Saturday, March 22, 2014

Two Freds and the Nones

The largest affiliation among 20-somethings today is no affiliation at all. The
term nones has been used to group these folks who are choosing "none of the above." The number one reason that this group names for their choice of non-affiliation is that the church is judgmental and the primary place they see that judgmentalism in action is in the opposition to homosexuality. 

This week saw the passing of the personification of this hateful practice, Fred Phelps. For more than two decades, he spewed vile vitriol against his homosexual neighbors. Although his practice was to protest high-profile funerals in hopes of drawing attention, I saw only a few comments on my Facebook feed calling to protest his funeral. For the most part, people agreed that it was tempting to make signs that say "God Hates Fred," but in the end it would be wrong to lower ourselves to his level. Remarkably, the more common sentiment I saw was a call to prayer for and forgiveness of Fred Phelps. Among my clergy colleagues, if they expressed an opinion at all, it was this one. There was an ironic sadness in watching what judgmentalism there was coming from some who rejected church for that very reason while simultaneously watching the church practice true love of enemy.

It caused me to wonder what it would take to get the nones to see that there is a good portion of the church that preaches love of neighbor, even the gay ones, and is regularly trying to live out that love. I wondered if there might be a partial answer buried in the another irony. The day of Fred Phelps' death was the birthday of a very different Fred, Fred Rogers. This Fred was better known to the world as Mister Rogers, the man who consistently taught a couple of generations about loving our neighbors. What fewer people know is that this second Fred was the Reverend Mr. Rogers. Not only did the Presbyterian church ordain him, the ministry that they ordained him to was Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Yes, the church was wise enough to bless the work of teaching children how to be kind and gentle, while not needing to package it in religious terms or contain it within church walls. The church continues to hold that wisdom today, and also continues not to make a big deal about. Perhaps that is the problem, far too much attention is far too quickly given to a hate-mongering Fred who labels his sinfulness the work of the church, while a saintly Fred is rarely understood to be the face of the church being loving in the world.



I believe that God is so much larger than any ideas we can use to try to define and contain the divine. I do believe that closest thing to a complete definition of God is in the simple statement, "God is love." That truth leaves no place for Fred Phelps' claims that God hates. God hates no one. God does not even hate Fred Phelps. God's love for him, now that he has died may be seen in judgment. If so, then I picture that judgment scene this way:

As Fred Phelps approaches the gates of judgment, he sees Saint Peter, who tells him to enter a room where he will be judged. He opens the door and seated at a table on which sits a birthday cake is Fred Rogers. Mister Rogers says, "Hello neighbor, I've been waiting for you. Will you come sit with me for a while? I'd like to talk."

"Are you serious? Why would you want to talk with me? I picketed at your funeral for heaven's sake!"

"Well, I doubt that it was for heaven's sake, but I still want to talk. Please, sit down and have a piece of my cake, it's very delicious."

Then as Fred Phelps sits down with Fred Rogers they begin what will be a very long conversation about the terrible things that he did in his earthly existence. The horror of facing those terrible truths must be a hell as awful as any Dante could imagine. I can't guess how long it will take, but then time is irrelevant in eternity. What I can guess is the outcome...forgiveness.

Why does Fred Phelps deserve forgiveness? He doesn't. No one ever deserves forgiveness, it is always the gift of the one doing the forgiving. In this case the forgiveness comes from the one who is love itself, God. If there is anything that God hates it is sin, not the sinner, and I'm not even sure that there is room at all for hate inside perfect love. I pray that Fred Phelps has now learned the truth that God loves everyone, a truth he can only learn by learning first the truth that God loves Fred Phelps.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Promoting the Darkwood Brew message

 If Darkwood Brew can move into the top 25 on this list by Sunday, more people will be exposed to the message we are trying to spread.  Simply clicking on the arrow in the lower left corner below the DWB logo will "vote up" the blog.  Thank you very much.

See full list on Listly

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Recalculating

A wonderful part of my spiritual journey over the past few years has been my increasing involvement with Darkwood Brew and in particular the ability to engage with the sharp mind of Eric Elnes.  He has helped me both to find a label that fit where I am on the journey (post-Liberal) and also to challenge it.  In an interview by Christian Piatt, Eric suggests that labels describing where we have been are insufficient to describe where we are.  He has been consistently using an Exodus metaphor of tribes of refugees in the wilderness to describe the Convergence that is happening.  If you aren't familiar with what he's been saying read the the blog at Sojourner's first then come back.  I'll wait.

Hey, thanks for coming back.  

Part of my experience at the Wild Goose Festival this year was telling my story and hearing others tell their stories about where they've been and how they got into this wilderness where we are converging.  That caused me to develop a modified version of the Exodus metaphor for Convergence that goes something like this:

There were a number of tribes in bondage in the land of exile.  Among them were those called Evangelical and those called Liberal.  The sad truth was that the bondage was self-inflicted.  When some of the Evangelicals realized this, they left for the Promised Land knowing that that would mean a long trek across the wilderness.  These post-Evangelicals were most severely criticized by that part of their tribe that stayed behind.  Those who stayed behind believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the only way to be truly free was to remain shackled to beliefs about the way to read scripture and judgments about sexuality even if that came at the cost of limiting their response to God's call to do justice.  They made sure that the post-Evangelicals knew it and that they would pay a price for their bold push to new understandings.  Thus while some paid the price of lost jobs and status to seek the Promised Land, others remained locked within closets of silence though they knew the path they were called to walk.

Similarly some Liberals longed for the passion of knowing God and understood that God's Spirit is like a wild goose: untamed and unpredictable, yet calling us to leaps of faith.  They remembered that there was a baby in the bath water that was thrown out when the tribe chose to stop looking to the scriptures for inspiration and quit leaving room for mystery.  The price post-Liberals paid in leaving their tribe behind was disdain and pity from those who clung to the crumbling institutions for their salvation.

As these two tribes have begun to meet and exchange the gifts of what each has brought along that the other lacked, they are also discovering that they have not been alone in the wilderness.  There are also those Charismatic free spirits who have always been open to the wild, unpredictable movement of the Spirit.  There are also those who always understood that structures like liturgy and doctrine are more spacious than rigid thus always have room for mystery.  The fact is that there have always been desert dwellers who are now welcoming the self-freed refugees from the former tribes.  Some found the wilderness not because they rejected or were rejected by religious institutions but because their life journeys, either through painful events or intentional exploration brought them here.

And now, regardless of prior path, a new tribe of Wild Goose Christians is forming with the understanding that they will best find the Promised Land together.  Of course, these wanderers are those who appreciate that the journey is the destination.  They also understand that they make the path by walking it.  In this new Exodus they hear the voice of Jesus teaching them that God dwells not simply among them, but in them.  There will be no flame nor pillar to lead them.  God will not be dwelling in a Tabernacle that the people will carry, God is dwelling in the people. Therefore they must look within and to each other to find direction.

In this new Exodus there is a gentle computer-generated voice speaking from a built-in GPS unit.  As the tribe moves along the way this voice confirms the path and when they are lost it simply says "recalculating."  As with all GPS units, there is no judgment.  The voice doesn't scold or correct, it simply recalculates.  There are many paths to the Promised Land and there is also much room to wander, so recalculating is more the rule than the exception.

And those who have chosen to remain in bondage also hear the voice of the GPS constantly repeating "recalculating" though they alternately ignore and explain it away.  One of the challenges for the Wild Goose Tribe is to find ways to help the ones left behind in bondage to free themselves.  

We can't promise them soft landings for it is likely that they don't exist, this is a wilderness we are in after all. But even though we are not yet in the Promised Land (and if we are to learn from history, odds are that we won't be the generation that gets there) we do know that the wilderness is better than the bondage.  Thus we have an obligation to speak truth to power and call out to Pharaoh to let our people go.  Or more accurately, we need to speak the truth in love to our tribal kinfolk that they are their own Pharaoh's and they should break the shackles and join us in the wilderness.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Our New Testament Best

©2013 Scott Griessel/Creatista
My Wild Goose journey began last year at the festival where I spent most of my time quite intentionally seeking encounters with Evangelical and Charismatic Christians in order to begin the healing of my past where I had rejected my connection to each of those streams of Christianity. The experience was powerful and transformative. It was also the point I started my personal journey into Convergence Christianity since it was there that I “met” Eric Elnes, Scott Griessel and Dinah Gomez of Darkwood Brew three dimensionally (they having been two-dimensional acquaintances previously). It has been liberating tojump into the flow of the wild spirit of God moving among people moving beyond labels. My deepening involvement in Darkwood Brew (including a sabbatical trip to Omaha to peek behind the curtain) has helped to frame that exploration and at this year's Wild Goose Festival opened avenues for conversation.

One gift of experiencing a second Wild Goose Festival is the hindsight to see how the Wild Goose spirit has been alive in my journey between festivals. One prime example is seeing my friend Kimberly Knight bravely encounter a theological foe in Billy Humphrey and come away with a personal encounter that didn't change either one's position but left both of them genuinely loving the other. The day before I left for this year's festival I received my copy of the new Daniel Amos CD that includes a song with the lyrics, “Could take an eye for an eye, drown in a big blood bath; That fast (Crash!) and baby, we’re a sad aftermath, but we thought better of it. Our love had mercy on us. We got dressed in our New Testament best and thought better of it.” Looking forward to seeing Kimberly and the author of those words, Terry Scott Taylor, I set off for North Carolina expecting to meet lots of folks dressed up in their New Testament best.

I met Kimberly just as she was arriving with a group of folks who had traveled with her from Atlanta. When I commended (OK, shilled) the Darkwood Brew DVD on homosexuality and the Bible I had the odd experience of having push back from her friends fearing I was part of a group who might use the Bible to bash. They clearly didn't see that I was dressed in my New Testament best and forgot the over-the-top warm greeting Kimberly and I had exchanged (they can be forgiven for not knowing that I was the officiant at Kimberly and LeAnn's wedding in Second Life). By the time I had this encounter I was already well into my experience of this year's festival, which had a different tone to it for me. I was a wandering ambassador for Darkwood Brew in particular and Convergence Christianity in general. This year, as I encountered post-Evangelicals I was enthusiastically sharing the story of my journey from Evangelical-attacking-Liberals to Liberal-attacking-Evangelicals to post-Liberal-big-tent-joyful-Convergent-Christian. As much as this was a counterpoint to the healing that began a year before, it was also a good news gift I was able to offer to those who cared to listen.

Thankfully, many did care to listen, and that's saying something since my come on was an infomercial-worthy pitch for a punch card for coffee at the Darkwood Brew tent (complete with a “but wait, there's more!”). Even though I sold a good number of the cards, I was a pretty big failure as a salesman since after I sealed the deal I would launch into marvelous conversations with my new found friends. There was not one of these conversations that was negative, a fact that filled me with great hope for the future of the church. Sadly, not everyone got the memo, as evidenced by the attack piece written by the Institute on Religion & Democracy in the American Spectator. It reminded me that there is a price to be paid when exploring changes or possibly leaving one's tradition. It gave me a deeper respect for those coming to the Wild Goose from the right, knowing that it may be costing them something. 

Will, Brandan & Troy
 One of my happiest encounters this year was tracking down (don't believe them when they call it stalking) Brandan Robertson, Troy Medlin and Will Eastham of the Revangelical Podcast and Blog. Not only were they having fun and fun to be with, they seemed to appreciate hearing my long-winded telling of my personal journey (even though I offered to get off my soap box multiple times) receiving it as a gift. I know that they face the possibility of not being able to continue the paths to ministry they have begun because of their challenging of doctrine, yet they continue to be filled with hope and bear it with a smile. Their faith is contagious, their return gift to me and to all the people of God.

Terry Scott Taylor
Throughout the festival, my Darkwood Brew shirt gave me the confidence to feel qualified to approach speakers and leaders (my problem, not theirs, as the festival is truly a great equalizer). Still, I committed one act of unadulterated fanboy stalking. I brought my copy of that Daniel Amos CD I had just received as well as the liner notes from my 1981 Alarma! cassette (Google it youngins) for Terry Scott Taylor to sign. When I saw him arrive prior to the Lost Dogs performance I didn't let the semi-secluded “green room” stop me from sitting next to him for a 20 minute talk about his career. Listening again to his music that I had listened to in college, I realized that he had been preaching a message of God as love instead of God as judge during his entire career. Songs like I Love You #19 and Hit Them (I hit them too hard. I did it with a book. He had to take another look when I hit them with love) were swimming upstream against the Christian Music message of the time. Talking with Terry I learned that he faced opposition from the Evangelical mega-church establishment of the 80's when he resisted being simply a tool for evangelism (he was kind enough not to call it proselytizing) instead choosing to be an artist giving his best for God. That conversation helped me to realize that the seeds of my current belief system were planted way back then as part of his musical witness.

The Wild Goose of the Holy Spirit has been honking in the distance for a long time. I'm so happy to now be among the many who have been chasing the call. Won't you put on your New Testament best and join us?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Wild Goose in the Clouds


Traveling through Virginia on my way to Hot Springs, North Carolina for the Wild Goose Festival the landscape was alternately marked by remembrances of war and crosses. Nearly every one of the early exits pointed to the site of some Civil War battlefield. The ones that didn't included the homes of war generals and the national D-Day Memorial. Then there was the museum dedicated to the history of the army with assault helicopters and tanks littering the lawn along the highway. The numerous crosses along the way that ranged from actual size to mammoth provided a counterpoint that was surprisingly not comforting. Instead of the clearly intended message of God's victory, I instead couldn't help thinking about the victim of that extremely cruel implement of torture and the humans who used it to kill Jesus. My perspective was influenced by the fact that it was August 6, the anniversary of the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The words of one of the crew of the Enola Gay later recorded in his diary echoed in my soul as I rolled down Interstate 81, “My God, what have we done?”

At my destination, the weather was overcast, but that didn't prevent identifying an unseen Canada Goose as it honked its way across the sky over my head. That got me thinking about the way that the Holy Spirit, like a wild goose, shows up unseen but clearly present, clearly moving, clearly calling us on even through the clouds. If I continued to focus on the harm we humans are capable of and the potential for inflicting suffering that we possess then I will remain too heavy to fly to the places God is calling me. The Wild Goose Festival is a gathering of a tribe that in many ways doesn't know it even is a tribe yet. I know that my time here will be filled with inspiration that many presenters have come to impart as well as reconnecting with some of the people I have previously met on this journey. It will also be a time when I can share the joys and struggles of my story as an invitation to others to glean from it anything that is useful to them. And though I cannot say what the encounters or who the people will be that will become revelations to me of the presence of the Wild Goose, I am equally sure that that will happen. That is the manner in which faith assures us of God's presence in the world. If we are to be Christ's body in the world today we must expect that God is to be found in the other and that we each are a vital, integral part, so be better be fully who God made each of us to be.

So that also means that the good folks of the Commonwealth of Virginia who still study war or who plant huge crosses in their fields are part of this broken body of Christ that we need to re-member. The Wild Goose Festival is just a start. This glorious feeling we get in knowing the blessing of coming together despite our past differences and even coming to celebrate the diversity of opposites members that make for a complete body is the fuel needed to complete the work set before us by our wild and loving God. May we be those people we know we can be and be the builders of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. May we some day behold that fully alive, resurrected body of Christ animate by the love we share and show and be able to transform the lament of “my God, what have we done?” into the celebration, “our God, look what we have done!”

Friday, June 07, 2013

Living Convergence

I saw another casting of this breath-taking 13 foot sculpture today in downtown Omaha, Nebraska at the summer arts festival. I had a wonderful conversation with the artist, Lorri Acott, about origami cranes, LGBT rights, the Adam and Eve story, how artists serve society in a way similar to pastors and the power of love to transform the world.  Not bad for a random conversation with a stranger.  It was everything I want church to be: connectional, transformative, inspirational and convergent.  It was church beyond walls.

I'm into my second day of a sabbatical visit to Omaha, where I will be hanging out and helping out at Darkwood Brew. I'm honored and excited to get a chance to be present in the flesh at this wonderful ministry that I've been a virtual part of for a long time now. In fact, this Sunday I will be on the other side of the camera with a few minutes to talk about what I'm looking for on this sabbatical and they may even let me read the Pneuma Divina passage.  If you haven't checked out Darkwood Brew yet all I can do is invite you to this place where ancient mystical practice meets modern interactive web technology, world class jazz and you never know what might happen.  If you have checked it out then you will know the truth of that description. The reason you don't know what will happen is because despite the large amount of behind the scenes work that goes into it (more of which I will be seeing in the coming days) things will always go in the direction that the ever-welcome "wild goose" of God's Holy Spirit wants them to go.  When the Spirit blows in connection, transformation, inspiration and convergence happen.

The interactive technology of Darkwood Brew encourages connectivity between participants, but on a larger scale, there is also a call to connectivity as a means of addressing the ills that surround us due to disconnection.  In a recent series about caring for creation, the lack of connection with the creation of which we are a part by God's design was a point regularly made.  And surely if we are ever to see a healing peace in the world, true shalom, then we need to keep connecting with people who see the world differently than ourselves and that happens regularly through the guests who are interviewed on the show.  The topics addressed on Darkwood Brew are not for the timid, they are edgy (perhaps pushy better captures it) with an intent to transform.  The current series is a great example with guest Frank Shaeffer channeling the cranky prophet Amos and the art of the uncomfortable truth.  In an always inspirational act, each episode ends with a call to a shared meal at the table, an act of holy communion adapted to realities of the type of gathering that interactive technology allows.  Put all that in a big bowl, stir and you have Convergence.

Convergence is not a goal as much as it is a movement.  As a birdwatcher, I know what it means to observe in order to draw a conclusion that leads to a positive identification.  Sometimes the identification is not all that sure and sometimes that is because it is a species not seen before.  Convergence is a new species, making it hard to identify, but the observant (those with eyes to see and ears to hear) are noticing its appearance.  And many are welcoming it.  Convergence is also not simply an ideal to be admired.  I am convinced that is something to be lived.  Convergence is a lifestyle.  It is finding connection with the other, bringing to the connection the inspiration of the holy that each channels and expecting transformation.  It is incarnational, for it is enfleshing through your own living that spirit that gives us all life.  Once you accept the fact that the magnitude and the power of God's Spirit is beyond anything that any of us can grasp, then you are at a point to let go of the limiting thoughts that bind and separate and begin living Convergence.  You may find the transformation (or even the prospect of it) too uncomfortable to desire.  As the motto of Darkwood Brew goes, you may not like it.  But then again, it may be a cure to the dis-ease rampant in the church and society and it might fill you with inspired hope.  You might just like it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Green Tea Party

On this past week's episode of Darkwood Brew, Frank Shaeffer stumbled over his words a bit during his spot on rant about the Culture Wars and created the fictional Green Tea Party.  A number of us in the chat room picked up on it and got to considering the possibility.  I am registered to vote in Massachusetts with the political designation of Green Rainbow Party, so I am both already a part of half of this fictional party and sadly aware of the limitations of merger names.  When the Green Party and Rainbow Coalition chose to merge in Massachusetts they ultimately chose the unfortunate name of Green Rainbow.  Even on Saint Patrick's Day in Southie, I defy you to find a green rainbow.  On the other hand, Green Tea Party has a nice ring to it and hints of the sort of open minded coalition building that is so desperately needed in our nation today.

As a political and social progressive, I am often about as far left as one can get on many issues.  Interestingly, the far right of Libertarianism at times comes to hold very similar positions, albeit for very different reasons.  Pat Buchanon opposed NAFTA, not for the labor rights and environmental reasons that I did, but does that mean that we couldn't work together on the issue?  Ron Paul is no pacifist, but he and I agree that our troops should not be involved in foreign wars.  Could we not envision political solutions to complicated issues that involve such strange bedfellows as those who would be in a Green Tea Party?

It is so frustrating to find opposition based solely on political affiliation not position.  I had heard (sorry I can't find a citation at the moment) about a study that showed that conservatives would be willing to buy energy saving products if marketed to save money but not if they would save the environment.  This is just one issue that clearly has lots of room for both sides to be happy if they can accomplish the same things for different reasons.

It is even possible to find similar agreement on hotly contested moral issues.  Pro-choice advocates  would not be upset by a reduction of abortions by means of more adoptions, so why should pro-lifers oppose a move to increase funding for foster care and adoption services?  Sadly, bills in Congress designed to do just that have been defeated along staunch partisan lines.  This sort of thing only goes to prove that this issue is designed to be used as a wedge to serve partisan politics not truly advancing the professed cause.

Can we start moving in the direction of convergence?  It is my great hope that the church can lead the way for the culture this time.  I've blogged previously on what I see happening in the church where post-Evangelicals and post-Liberals are finding each other and common ground.  Since the Culture Wars started due to church influences, perhaps the truce can start here as well.  Surely I'm not the only Culture Hawk who has become a Culture Dove!