Vocational Discernment Dinners

I am working with the families in my ministry to explore vocation and identity. Tonight, I went over to a family's house for dinner and then we sat in their living room as I laid out the theological foundation for our conversation and then we proceeded to talk about our lives. I listened as parents described their hopes, dreams, and disappointments of life and listened as their kids described their visions and fears regarding the future. We explored identity, life, and vocation through a theological framework that challenged the individualism and consumerism of our day while affirming the tradition and robust theological thought of past and present. I will post more about this framework in a few days.


Forgiveness and Bearing Burdens

I think it is a very difficult task for us to talk about "bearing one another's burdens" in the 21st century church for two reasons: 1) churches do not generally function in a way that allows for individuals to share their burdens; 2) in our individualist/private paradigm that most of us have in the USA, we do not want someone to come in and take our burdens unless invited to do so-- we have so many boundaries set up to prevent such close contact and vulnerability. Our churches do not seek to transform us from this; instead, they often cater to this individualist/private paradigm and structure programs and groups to allow for such an individualistic experience. How am I to bear the burdens of the anonymous person coming to worship on Sunday morning (even if I take the steps to introduce myself, etc.) when they and most people in the pews do not share their burdens nor take burdens from others? As well, how am I to bear the burdens of the highly involved, super-Christian when they have just as much of a private life as the anonymous pew sitter? Finally, I have noticed that my last two points revolve around people in a worship service, perhaps this is the problem in our thinking... I'm not sure, but there is much to explore here. [I posted a comment on a friend's blog that is very similar to this post-- http://www.languagepool.net/)


Church and Cosmology--2.0

Eric Chaisson is the author chapter 2: Our Cosmic Heritage. He is an astrophysicist at John Hopkins. He points out early in the chapter that many American Christians have an aversion to the term evolution. However, he notes that the term simply refers to developmental change.

Chaisson believes wholeheartedly in the scientific method-- even going as far to say that we can use the scientific method to answer the age old questions traditionally in the realm of theology (and later philosophy). This is his bias (and I would add faith system-- he alludes to this in his first paragraph). These questions include but are not limited to: who are we? where did we come from? how did everything around us originate? How does order emerge out of chaos? Why is there something rather than nothing?

Chaisson believes that the single greatest change taking place today is the human discovery in the last century that everything is composed of the same "material" or energy (electrons,etc.), including humanity. In this way, humanity is not distinguished at all from the rest of creation. Yet, even being indistinguished , we are the only creatures with the ability to manipulate life itself (for good or for destruction). "The physicist unleashes the forces of nature; the biolgist experiments with the structure of genes; the psychologist influences behavior with drugs. We are, in fact, forcing a change in the way things change" (page 23).

Because of these abilities (which are still in their infancy), we logically turn to the field of ethics. Humanity can bring life or bring death. The individual Adam of Genesis 3 is now the global Human with a similar choice-- A Tree of Good and Evil whose fruit bring's death or A Tree of Life whose fruit brings life and healing to all. However, the choice is not in a garden but in a globe. Humanity must see itself as a whole, as one group of people. Without such an outlook, we invariably relapse into the segregation and violence of nation-states, city-states, and the other various forms of human government over our history.

I, of course, would suggest a Jesus-oriented ethic for such a world. Indeed, the followers of Jesus were to create such communities (church bringing the kingdom of God); however, the historic Christian church has mostly entangled itself in the segregated politics and ethics of the nation-state.


The Church and Contemporary Cosmology-- Post 1.0

James Miller and Kenneth McCall served as the editors of the book The Church and Contemporary Cosmology and I will be exploring parts of this book in a series of posts.

The books takes up the task of creating a framework for exploring a theological cosmology. What is cosmology? According to the introduction it is "the broad world view which orients our culture." I would change this to "a particular culture." This particular book is written from a more liberal perspective, thus it is willing to take a seat at a table with evolutionary biology and modern philosophy. Nevertheless, it seemingly offers some very helpful insights into how theology can explore our world/reality. I am very excited to explore this book and the issues it raises.


The Mutual Ministry of Forgiveness

The mutual ministry of believers is that of spreading forgiveness. The true repentence that needs to occur is that of our reaction to sin and perfection. The goal is not to stop sinning but to forgive in the face of the greatest offense. This requires a complete transformation of thinking. The accountability that we need to look for and set in place in the church is when one in our midst is forgiven s/he must go and find another to forgive, rather than trying to police sin, we allow sin to become public. In this way, we take the sins of others, the sins of the world, on ourselves as if they are our own. In this way, they are crucified and we are resurrected aknew.

Notes on Vocational Theology

What is theology? How do we recove a truly biblical basis for the theological enterprise, especially in the world? The idea of clergy and laity is a negative theological dichotomy. In Scripture, the term clergy (kleros) is used of the whole people of God. "A theology of the whole people of God must encompass not only the life of God's people gathered, the ekklesia, but he church dispersed in the world, the diaspora, in marketplace, government, professional offices, schools and homes" (page 8, The Other Six Days by R. Paul Stevens). A true ecclesiology will "encompass earhly realities and expounds the menial, the trivial, and the necessary: washing, cleaning, maintaining the fabric fo this world, play, games, art, leisure, vocation, work, ministry, mission and grappling with the principalities and powers. It must help us understand and experience sexuality, family and friendship. It must show us the place of sabbath and sleep" (page 8).

Francis of Assisi: "Humankind has as much knowledge as it has executed." Theology must also be emotional. Indigenous people must practice theology on the go, in lived reality, in the "fresh dirt" of our worldly existence. Although these theologies run the risk of being incomplete, inadequate, and even heretical, they are the best way of doing theology. It is hermeneutics at its best.

Bottom-up theology, on-the-spur-of-the-moment theology, is the theology of the people and as such represents true discourse and study of God, for the discovery of God takes place in his creation, the world, rather than in the classroom of concrete and stone and abstract thinking created by humans as found in the university. This is not to demean the theological journey of the academy, for it is necessary to find an orderly way of creating the bounds of theology. However, this is always the secondary step.

The primary arena of ministry and theology is not the in-house service of the church, rather it is the marketplace-- the place where goods, services, and information are exchanged. How can the church equip people for full-time ministry in the world? Why do we not ordain and commission "the laity" in their daily lives?

The Reformation failed in reforming ecclesiology. Instead, it was much more concerned with soteriology. The priesthood of all believers was interpreted according to its effect on individual salvation. As such, the structures of Protestatism borrowed its models from Rome and the growing world of the middle-class business. Because of this, we have never learned how to do wide-spread theological education in the congregation-- true theology that is lived in the marketplace. One must conclude from the way churches do not engage the people in their daily work that the church has no interest in this and that faith is a privatised sacred system that takes place in a walled building with religious symbols.

The concept of the individual Christian is a false one. No such concept exists in Scripture. In the Bible, the smallest component of the church is the church. The ministry of the church is mutual, to one another.


Appreciative Inquiry

I love appreciative inquiry. Some of you may be asking, "what is appreciative inquiry?" It is the act of exploring/discovering the best in ourselves and the world around us usually through a questioning process that affirms past and present potentials and successes. The goal of appreciative inquiry is to find those things that bring life into the systems we interact with.

Even in the worst situations, something good is occurring and should be identified. This does not mean that we ignore the negative or sugar-coat it. Rather by identifying the good, we can leverage the positive in order to create a foundation for change. What we focus on creates our reality. If we are focusing on the negative, then we will continue to reinforce the negative. However, if we choose to focus on the positive, we will continually reinforce the positive over time.

Appreciative inquiry primarily relies on questions because the act of asking a question begins the change process. Questioning often requires a naming/describing process to occur. Finally, a person or system can move confidently into the future when they are able to carry the best parts of their past with them.

I have been exploring appreciative inquiry for a few years now. The Associate Pastor at my church and I have used it in many situations with very positive results. I am now using it as I explore faith and calling with families in my youth ministry. I will keep you updated on this progress. More on appreciative inquiry in the future.