[Must Read] Steve Knight, Missional Shift and Patheos

My good friend and missional linchpin Steve Knight has created and will be curating a new blog, Missional Shift. It will be a part of the Progressive Christian Channel on Patheos, an internet portal that provides entry into several conversations in a variety of spiritual/religious traditions. 

I”m excited about Steve’s new project. I’ve known Steve for several years and have been inspired by his passion for the missional church conversation-movement. I believe he has surpassed Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule of mastery as it relates to the missional church. I look forward to reading insights, interviews, prototyping, and I’m sure all manner of missional miscellany at Missional Shift.

If you are curious about the missional church and movement you will want to put this at the top of the list as a reference and vital guide.

Read!

Future Letter To The Last One

This is a fictional letter written to a Christian in the distant future. It was inspired by the book project Letters to a Future Church that is hosted by IVP-Likewise books and Patheos. Please check out some of the great letters composed by thoughtful voices in North American Christianity. Here’s my contribution:

Future Letter to the Last One

Dear Rosa Watkins,

I hope all is well with you. I’ve been wanting to write to you for a while. I’ve been waiting for all the media flurry to subside. I can’t imagine how you emotionally survived the overwhelming attention of being the last professing Christian on our dear planet. I was amazed by the coverage and numerous documentaries of your own spiritual journey and how this ancient faith sustained you to its very end. Are you saddened or thrilled to be the last one? I cannot imagine the emotions you are experiencing as you remain the last disciple of a religious tradition that has existed for several centuries.

I’ve had the coveted opportunity of pouring over global archives on the Christian faith. It appeared to be, and I’d add remains to be through you, a resilient faith for centuries. It had its up and down moments. Seasons of complicity with political and social oppression and exclusion. Missed opportunities to be welcoming to all only to give in to harmful and violent human tendencies. In spite of those less than glorious moments in history it still gave witness to a profound counter-instinctual social and political witness of love in a dying world that was plagued by political, social and religious instability. Your faith survived what many call the Circling. When we all nearly brought our small fragile planet to the brink of political and ecological oblivion.

I came across a sermon written by your now deceased pastor, Reverend Josiah Lee, that talked about the completion of what your tradition called the Great Commission. While you have the distinction of being the last Christian, he, of course, has the honor of being celebrated as the last Christian pastor. He said, in his last recorded sermon, that all the nations now follow the teachings of the revered Jesus. I felt a chill down my back when I read the ancient teachings of this person and considered how it has become a vital part of our global socio-political DNA.

Because of this profound Christian witness the global-state we are both privileged to be a part of can not imagine a world where every human being is not given loving dignity by all for all. We cannot imagine a world where a disproportionate number of people live in poverty. In spite of your beloved Christian tradition’s aiding and abetting global injustices until the end of the Circling, the end of the 21st century, something happened.

Your tradition died and rose again in the beginnings of the 21st century to become a global leader to help facilitate what we now see and hear in this present global moment of peace. A world with no war. Where small provinces peacefully collaborate with larger provinces. A global space where we no longer kill each other for a god, a political belief or a natural boundary.

It seems as though Christianity has died and in its ashes the nations were healed. I thank you for your witness to that kind of faith. However, I am saddened by your being the last Christian. But I guess, as you said in a recent press conference, we do not need the Christian faith any longer. You said that Christianity has finally made its calling and election sure. That it has prayed and bled heaven onto the earth for its perpetual healing.

Blessed Memories,

Anthony

When Skies Preach

Immensity
been here before you
will be here after you
distant yet seen
consistent and unchanging
here for all to see
will you shine like me
say amen to the words we sing
words that have inspired countless bards and holy schemes

when skies preach
the cosmic choir sings

when skies preach
angels spit fire into our souls

when skies preach
nations bow before the Great

say amen to atmospheric prose
the kind that leaves you weeping
in the midst of helpful foes

when skies preach
they say:

O’ ye lil soul.
Satisfied with pusillanimity
Look at me

We are great
and still shine for others to see

Music That Discipled Me This Year: 2011 Recap

I love music. I love it so much that even in preparing a sermon I almost always have a collection of songs from different artists that becomes an anthem or sermon soundtrack for the week.  In 2011 I’ve been listening to a wide array of artists and musical genres. I just wanted to list a couple of artists, songs, and albums that I have seen God in or just straight-up inspired me to be more than I have been.

1. Adele

This sister has a voice that just reaches down into your soul. If you’ve ever had a broken heart  or fallin’ in love Adele’s music takes you back and forward from brokeness to discovering love to healing. She paints a beautiful picture with her voice and lyrics. Deeply soulful. Her latest album ’21’ is a masterpiece of blue-eyed soul. I remember I’d go weeks with this album on repeat listening to nothing else.  The chorus at the end of the song ‘One and Only’ has got to be one of those classic verses in soul music. “Nobody’s perfect. I know it ain’t easy. Giving up your heart.”

2. Christian Hip-Hop (Lecrae and Sho Baraka)

I have to be honest. Until this year I’ve never seriously listened to Christian Hip-Hop. Lecrae and Sho Baraka have made me a believer. These brother’s gospel artistry is truly incarnational. They bring with them testimonies, the rhythm of the streets, crazy flo, soulful beats, and a powerful redemptive message.

3. Holy Minimalism

Estonian composer Arvo Part, composer Henryk Gorecki and post-rock band Mono represent symbiotic sub-genres of classical and rock music. Holy minimalism requires a deep attentiveness and listening ear for the sacred.  They reminded me this past year that God is literally everywhere. Even in the most mundane/everyday aspects of life.

Particular songs and album: Arvo Part’s song  “Lord’s Prayer”, Henryk Gorecki’s “Gorecki: Symphony No. 3, Mono’s “Hymn To The Immortal Wind”.

4. Frederic Chopin‘s Piano Concerto No. 2 Op. 21 in F Minor

Creative genius is a phrase that comes to mind when I think of Chopin.  But this particular piece deeply inspires me. There are three movements in this specific piece that cause me to take a journey inward and outward. Hard to put in words.

5. Consumed by Jesus Culture

Its been a while since I’ve listened to this kind of praise music. But I find something very raw and beautiful with many of the songs on this album. In particular,  the voice of Kim Walker-Smith. She’s a very gifted worship leader. Two songs from this album have been a part of my own moments of adoration before God: Holy and Light of Your Face.

6. Lasers by Lupe Fiasco

Lupe (Wasalu Muhammad Jaco) is my favorite rapper and hip-hop artist. Lupe gives me hope to a genre that was declared by poet Nasir Jones (Nas) as dead. Lupe is one of the few luminaries in rap that anchor the genre in a morass of crass materialism, misogyny, violence, self-hatred, and racism. Every song on this album is worth a listening. Lupe has also taught me how to further respect the cultural and religious ‘other’. Lupe is a Muslim. His stunning and creative lyrics that unveil the systemic corruption in the American empire and gives global examples of hope further reveals the common grace of the Creator.

Books that Discipled Me This Year: Recap of 2011

2011 has been a very full year for me. I haven’t blogged much. Mostly due to the fact my week is pretty full. But I have read alot this year. Re-leearned alot. Questioned alot. All in all. I have to say that 2011 was a landmark and formative year for me personally. I know that normally we will begin to see alot of list for 2011 in the coming weeks. Top books, movies, moments, songs, etc.. I thought I’d come up with my own list: books the discipled me in 2011. Here it goes:

1. Mark as Story by David Rhoads

This book brought it home to me the understanding of the gospels as narrative or story. Dr. Rhoads gives a very informative and engaging tour of the gospel of Mark as a formative narrative for the early Christian communities. I read this book as a way to supplement my own personal readings of the Gospel of Mark. Coupled with my own personal pracitices of lectio divina, conversation with friends, and this book; my understanding of the relationship of being discipled and learning how to indwell the narrative of Jesus’s story has ‘torn the heavens’ (Mark 1) of my imagination. 

2. Preaching the Gospel Matthew by  Stanley Saunders

In my home church, New Harvest Ministries, I’ve been teaching a Wednesday night bible study series on the gospel of Matthew. This has supplemented my own personal practice of cycling through the gospels once a year. Dr. Saunders book has reminded me the importance of re-preaching the gospel to myself from time to time. Many Christians think they ‘know’ the gospel. Reading this book reinforces the importance of the age-old practice of re-gospeling one’s own self. The gospel is never completely nailed down by us humans. Its more like the gospel gets us rather than us getting the gospel.

3. The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight

I started this book late in the year. Like last month. In three weeks I’m now on my third reading of it. I even bought the audiobook on audible. What can I say about Scot McKnight’s latest book? Man…its a possible gamechanger. Especially here in the bible belt where I do missional work. As I’m writing this I’m just realizing that 2011 was a year of the Gospel for me. Scot’s book is an excellent biblical study into the term ‘gospel’ used in the New Testament. Christians generally recognize that they disagree on a whole range of issues political, social, cultural, some theological, etc.. But the gospel, we believe, is something we have nailed down. “No!”, says McKnight. McKnight takes to task the many assumptions we see in Evangelical-ish circles regarding the ‘gospel’. What I’ve had to learn and re-learn: you cannot separate mission and discipleship from the story of Israel and Jesus. Jesus’s and Israel’s story gives shape and impetus for mission. Another way of saying this: gospel is catalyst to mission.

4. Launching Missional Communities by Mike Breen and Alex Absalom

I’ve recently embarked upon a journey with friends in my community. We have started a network of missional communities called CityHub. Breen’s and Absalom’s book has been a major conversation partner as we’ve navigated the waters of missional community formation. What I’ve learned from this: wisdom and patience I hope. Forming missional community is alot different than traditional forms of church planting. This is slow-church. It requires great patience and wisdom to learn the rhythms of one’s community, develop friendships with neighbors, listen to the cry of the community, etc.. And forming community in response and challenge to this reality is no easy thing.

5. The Abundant Community by John McKnight and Peter Block

This book is an invitation and a challenge to step outside the box as it relates to community-building. Block’s and McKnight’s wisdom has helped me learn alot as it relates to journeying with my friends as we dream of ways to love and live in our community for the goodness of God. As a disciple I’ve learned this powerful truth: the wisdom for the mission is always in the room.

6. Political Revelation by Walter Mosley

Combining the 12-steps of AA and stimulating political writing Mr. Mosley reminded me that another world is possible. As a disciple of Jesus I live from another place. A place not determined by the political and social configurations that privilege the elite. A place called ‘kingdom’. Mosley’s book is an apocalyptic 12-steps to learn how to live with another kind of imagination (one that is less addicted to current political arrangements) than the one offered in our current social and economic environment.

7.

3.

A Review-Reflection on Brian McLaren’s new book Naked Spirituality: A Life With God In 12 Simple Words


I am currently reading Brian McLaren’s latest book Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words. I’ve had three weeks to read it finding myself reading only a couple of chapters so far. I am encouraged by the direction that Brian has taken with this recent work. I’ve noticed a progression with Brian’s writings. There is this continual theme of deconstructing/reconstructing Christian faith. If you’ve been tracking his writings over the years you’ll notice the progression from deconstruction to reconstruction.

However, as you’ll see with Brian, it’s not enough to deconstruct our faith (Deconstructionist Jacques Derrida does say that deconstruction is justice). Deconstruction, it seems, is a necessary step towards a healthy vital spirituality. Deconstruction alerts us to the idolatrous beliefs and practices we stake our lives on even at the expense of others, our own souls, and the rest of creation. Without deconstruction or what I like to describe as calling-down-fire-from-heaven-to-burn-up-my conceptual idols is necessary to be able to name, discern, and learn to live in a more just direction than unjust living. But once fire has come down from heaven and I’ve landed on something more just and confident I can begin the journey of reconstruction. I can breath again. And Brian’s book begins this journey. I wish I had this book 10 years ago. I had to settle for St. John of the Cross at the time. But once one has deconstructed the next question is this: now what? What does life with God look now that Jesus is no longer, for me, a white Republican or a Genie in a Bottle, a human pyschological projection?

In this book Brian is talking about something simple: our life with God. It’s not enough to deconstruct our cherished beliefs and practices. We must reimagine our life with God in the wake of deconstruction. How do I tend to the fire of God in my soul without reverting to individualism or engaging the world without the flame of Pentecost? I believe Brian is accomplishing this in this latest book.

In the beginning of the book Brian shares with us his own journey through spiritual experience and experiences. He sets the narrative of his own spiritual journey within the larger context of tectonic shifts in spiritual, religious, and cultural beliefs and practices taking place in our time. This section is very dense. Oftentimes too much bio with too much cultural exegesis. Of course, if you are unfamiliar with Brian’s writings these portions are necessary. However, I suspect he is setting us up with a thick personal and social narrative that will have payoff in later chapters.

Next up…Chapter 1 “Spiritual Experiences and Spiritual Experience”

Mobilizing an Army of Love

communities of practice
For the past couple of years I have had a conversation in my head between what it means to being/becoming a church-on-mission and the work of Etienne Wenger.

Wenger’s work has been a source of exhilaration and creativity as I’ve reflected on my own gospel-work in the city of Salisbury, NC. Many of the kingdom values I’ve embraced in my own work I find in his writings and reflections on communities of practice.

I discovered his work years ago but never wrote about it in the public domain. As a part of my New Years Revolution of blogging more I thought it appropriate to share my reflections on Wenger’s timely work on community-building. Especially, in this season of my own life as my wife (Toni) and I are in the beginning stages of forming community with friends, Mission House Gathering.

My own desire is to be a part of a community that pays attention to the redemptive activity of God in the neighborhood and the pain of the city. A community that says with St. John of the Cross, “Where there is no love, put love — and you will find love.”

In short, I’ve found in Wenger a fellow-traveler as we continue to discern and think through what it means to mobilize an army of love that gives witness to the kingdom of God in our own city.

Dr. Wenger published a short article that summarizes his seven principles for cultivating communities of practice. In this blogpost I want to begin a conversation with his work, my own reflections, and the work of other missional-thinkers.

Principle #1 Design for Evolution

“Because communities of practice are organic, designing them is more a matter of shepherding their evolution than creating them from scratch.”- Wenger

“My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you”- apostle Paul, Galatians 4:19

A common theme I hear in Wenger’s work and the writings and practice of missional communities is that of designing and cultivating organic community. Wenger draws upon the language of shepherding. In the above Second Testament passage the apostle Paul uses the image of childbirth to describe his leadership role among the Galatian Christians. Both images are non-controlling images. The shepherd guides the sheep to a desired location. The mother in travail gives birth to new life. Both are organic images of coming alongside and giving shape to conditions where life emerges.

By evolution, I understand Wenger to say that life emerges organically. And so it is with a community of the kingdom. The Spirit is at work energizing, distributing gifts, and forming the character of Christ in that particular community.

This quick reflection raises other questions for me:

What does it look like to form and cultivate life-giving, organic, missional community in my own city?

What kind of leaders do we need to give space for optimal workings of the Spirit in our community and neighborhood?

What portions of the Bible’s narrative/story can give shape to this kind of understanding of organic leadership and community?

Next…principle #2 Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives.

If I could pray to Saint Martin…

I wonder what my prayers would look like if an Evangelical Protestant like myself was allowed to pray to canonized saints.

I wonder what my prayers would look like if they were addressing slain prophet Martin Luther King Jr..

What would we talk about?

Of course…good Pentecostal that I am I would expect two-way communication. I would expect a response from the person I am addressing.

But if I could pray to St. Martin what would the conversation be like?

Although I do not believe in praying to saints (no disrespect to my Catholic brothers and sisters) I wonder what a prayer session with St. Martin would be like.

Can you imagine that?

What will he say to me?

Sunday Opening Petition:

St. Martin,

Patron Saint of earth-shattering justice, peace, and love what do you think about all those monuments, streets, boulevards, parades, and highways named in your honor? How would you like to be honored?

How do we preach and give witness to the gospel today?

How should we Dream today?

St. Martin,

Patron Saint of earth-shattering justice, peace, and love what do you think about all those monuments, streets, boulevards, parades, and highways named in your honor? How would you like to be honored?

I offer this petition to you while reflecting on one of the seven woes given by Jesus to the Pharisees in the way they venerated the prophets of Israel’s past:

Matthew 23:29-32:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

St. Martin I can not help but possess a bitter/sweetness in the way our society venerates you as a Civil Rights leader and prophet. It is sweet in that venerating you is a sort of invasion of the pantheon and panopticon whiteness that continues to pervade our culture. I see the foisting of your name, some of your words, some of your ideas, and symbols as an interruption of our regularly scheduled cultural broadcast. Your entering into the pantheon of American heros is an apocalyptic event that uncovers that powerful performance called race. The recognition of your presence by many seems to suggest that the ‘other’ is beginning to break through the tyrannical same-ness of Euro-centrism and white supremacy. It also says that a level of goodness has progressed in our society.

But it is bitter as well. In the gospel story I mentioned earlier the prophets were venerated post-mortem by those interested in maintaining the status-quo. Jesus suggests that the prophets would have been killed by those same prophet-venerating Pharisees had they lived in their time. I see the way we honor you in this same light. There is a certain image of you that has been created by those at the center of things that has become quite comfortable. It is the Dreaming King they love. But what of the King that wanted to turn over the moneychanger’s tables of American political-economy? The King that mourned our cultural habits of thingification and crass materialism? The King that railed against a nation, in madness, in its use of violence towards others? The King that opposed the war in Vietnam and making the connections between imperialism, poverty, and racism? That King. Have we honored you faithfully?

(St. Martin responds)

Brother Anthony I can see that you have zeal for social justice. I too shared that zeal. It would culminate in my message about that Beloved Community. It would get me killed at a young age whereby I would miss out on the raising and growing up of my children and growing old with my precious wife. I know this zeal more than you know. It is like that old prophet once said, “its like fire shutup in my bones.” It is the drunkeness that comes from having tasted the goodness, mercy, and justice of God. That community that is but not yet. What Jesus referred to as the kingdom of God.

As I recall I never claimed myself to be a prophet. I just did the work of one. If you were to do a brief survey of the Hebrew prophets it was the ‘dabar’ of God (word of the Lord) of the prophet that made one a prophet. The prophet is a messenger sent by God to deliver a ‘word’. So the question is never really about are we honoring the prophet. The question is this: are we honoring the ‘word’ the prophet proclaimed before God and the people. I don’t really care if people honor ‘me’ perse. I care about whether or not people honor the ‘word’ that cost me my life. A word that played a part in bringing about the liberation of millions of people. A ‘word’ that would inspire other movements of social change in my day.

My question to you brother Anthony and those listening in on your prayer session is this:

When they build those monuments, those street signs, special News reports, when McDonalds has a special meal deal in my honor, when the Postal Service creates a special stamp in honor of me….are they honoring the ‘word’ I was sent to deliver? If not, then I’d have to say that to the extent that they do not honor the word of the Lord I proclaimed then they do not honor me. For my life was given as a love offering to the world because of that ‘word’.

(me)

But Martin. What was that word of the Lord that was like fire shutup in your bones? What was the word that would cause you to proclaim in your last sermon, “I am not fearing any man…I am here to do God’s will.” What is that word of the Lord that may be partially honored today in our culture? If we are not honoring the total word you preached, then what are we honoring when we say we honor you?

(Martin Responds)

I think we need to pray more on this brother Anthony. For the hour is late and you have a family to attend to. We’ll continue this prayer session tomorrow. However, I will give you a brief answer to reflect on before our next session. Forgive me for answering a question with a question: have mountains been made low and valleys raised? To extent that we do not incarnate that word is the extent to which I am not honored nor the word of the Lord that I was sent to proclaim. We’ll continue tomorrow. Shalom

St. Martin,

How do we preach and give witness to the gospel today?

(Martin)

Good question brother Anthony. A simple but complex answer would be needed. But since this is a prayer session I am hoping there are those out there joing in that will have ears to hear. The preaching of the gospel and giving witness are essentially the same powerful performance. As we all learned in Sunday School: the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

It is the power of God to deliver slaves from Egypt and it is the power of God to deliver a first century Palestinian peasant from the political-economic death grip of the Roman Empire.

To preach the gospel faithfully in our generation we must recapture the radical subversive message of the Nazarene and his disciples.

The gospel is the proclamation that the kingdom of God has come, is come, and will come. It is here but not yet. Our preaching of the gospel must re-focus on the here without neglecting the not yet. For it is the not yet that informs our here. I’d suggest that Christians in the West revisit the Hebrew prophets and move beyond the individualizing and gnostic tendencies when they think gospel.

When the gospel is preached the oppressed are liberated…not just in their ‘hearts’ but in their body-politic.

Anything less is to deny the resurrection of the Son of God and the pouring out of the Holy Ghost!

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