CANA Initiative: An Initial Response

I was invited by my friends and fellow co-conspirators (Transform) of goodness Steve Knight and Holly Roach to a gathering called the CANA Initiative. The CANA Initiative is being framed as a ‘network of networks’ or a ‘meta-network’. A meta-network seeking to be a hub for collective action and collaboration. Stephanie Spellers, one of the initators holding the space, presented on the last day a promising initiating collaborative description or edited conversation starter for future collective action:

What is CANA?

A collective of Christian leaders, organizations and networks across the United States who collaborate to embody and act on a courageous, liberating and compassionate faith.

There were many individuals and networks present for this gathering. Many important conversations and issues raised by folks like Alexia Salvatierra, Lisa Sharon Harper, Peter Matthews and Brian McLaren around this question:

Who is not here for this initial gathering and conversation?

While there were many great people and networks present and issues raised (I hope to talk about that in a subsequent post) this became one of the dominant themes of the gathering for me. And a big takeaway that must be resolved if we are to truly represent a new Christian wineskin in the United States. In asking that question we were confronted by a deep and long history of white supremacy that has been in existence for several centuries. A white supremacy that has morphed in each generation (think: transatlantic slave trade, Jim Crow, the New Jim Crow, etc.). It is a history that must be worked through, processed, repented of, becoming more self-aware of and not simply dismissed as playing identity politics (a sign of privilege) or by saying I have a few non-white friends. You will know if Mista Charlie is present by who is in the room, who you are speaking on behalf of, and by what you are saying. Don’t be offended by that last statement. It is true.

There was tension in the room when it became apparent that this issue might get skipped again and not addressed in a meaningful way by all the stakeholders present Yet, we broached the issue. I sensed it was uncomfortable for many. You could feel it in the room. While there was a tension there was a very pronounced presence of the Holy Spirit in the room (When Lisa Sharon Harper testified about her work on immigration reform and the impact this issue is having on many of our immigrant sisters and brothers). We almost quenched the Spirit by moving too quickly from Lisa’s testimony. We persisted. I suspect that there is a good reason to be hopeful due to the enormous goodwill and sincerity that was present. However, the next stage will be crucial for this embryonic meta-network. We must attend and intend to how we carry this space from here on out. We can’t jump the track of American history ignoring the necessary deep ongoing work of racial repentance.

We also encountered our own exceptionalism by initially attempting to speak on behalf of the planet by saying we were wanting to be a global meta-network. A globe that was not present at the gathering. By the grace of God and the past spiritual-cultural work of many present we were quickly unblinded by our own global privilege by naming and lovingly owning our own location as the locus of our work: the United States of America.

We were reminded by our brother, Gareth Higgins, that many of us tend to hold the United States at a critical arms length (for often good and honorable reasons) rather than learn and practice a deep love for, be a redemptive presence within and be prophetic voice and witness to the United States. Basically, we must love our country as God loves it yet be prophetic to it as God is wanting more from it than war, inequality and our participating in and complicity with the destruction of the planet.

These are my initial thoughts of the CANA Initiative itself nowhere near an exhaustive commentary. I do want to give a shout out to my new friends Christy and Bryan Berghoef for their hospitality for letting a few of us stay with them in their home for the duration of the gathering. Beautiful folks doing beautiful kingdom of God work in Washington DC. Also, special thanks to the Washington National Cathedral for letting us convene in their space.

Thankful for the leadership of Stephanie Spellers, Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt in giving the rallying call for this much needed meta-network.

There were so many friends present and new friends made. Many great networks present bringing their full attention into the space. Forgive me for not mentioning you and the good work you are doing.

I asked this question during the gathering: what do I tell my friends back home when they ask “who showed up at the table?”

This will be my response: I believe the Spirit showed up in the midst of a well intentioned group of sincere and loving network of people answering a call to be present in the United States as a courageous, liberating, prophetic, justice-seeking and compassionate Christian social witness.

The next step will be crucial…

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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

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”

Readings

I have been reading and reflecting on a couple of things.

1. Just received a copy of The Teaching of the 12 by Tony Jones. This should be a great conversation partner with the missional community I am a part of, Mission House.

2. People of the Spirit by Graham Twelftree. An illuminating text on St Luke’s understanding of the church’s mission.

3. Gospel of Luke. Right now Mission House is in Ch. 4. We are learning that the gospel call us to continue what Jesus began ‘to teach and do.’

4. Hebrew Prophets. We are finishing up Elijah-Elisha now. I’m reading the prophets with a small community in Cooleemee, NC, New Harvest Ministry. Just as Elisha inherits the mantle of Elijah when he ascends we have inherited the mantle of Jesus after his Ascencion.

Advent Reflection: Salvation Came From The Cut

 

 A Postcolonial Advent Meditation 

The Jews of Jesus’ day were waiting for the coming Messiah.  Like the Jews of Jesus’ day we are waiting as well.  We are also remembering the coming of baby Jesus and the anticipation surrounding his advent.  Along with waiting we are asking for both a personal and communal advent.  During this season we are longing to be renewed and reminded of the old, old Story.  We ask God to trouble the stagnant waters of our souls. 

As we meditate on this story we may hear a call to participate in this Story: 

And Mary said:  
   “My soul glorifies the Lord  
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  
 for he has been mindful  
      of the humble state of his servant.  
   From now on all generations will call me blessed,  
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—  
      holy is his name.  
 His mercy extends to those who fear him,  
      from generation to generation.  
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;  
      he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.  
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones  
      but has lifted up the humble.  
 He has filled the hungry with good things  
      but has sent the rich away empty.  
 He has helped his servant Israel,  
      remembering to be merciful  
to Abraham and his descendants forever,  
      even as he said to our fathers.”
 

Mary gives expression to a hope shared by many Jews of her day: a deliverer will come to defeat and plunder the powerful while simultaneously lifting up the poor, the humble, and the tortured victims of Empire.  In my experience such a reading is not commonplace in our North American Churches. Usually the advent is rehearsed as a celebration of the mechanical fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. There will be many sentimental performances of the Nativity scene throughout the country this week.  There will be readings from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospels pointing out how Jesus ‘fulfilled’ prophecy.  There will be little mention of the very real historical situation of Mary and Joseph’s world.  A world ruled by the Roman Empire.  A world where 5% of the inhabitants owned 95% of the land and resources leaving the scraps to the other 95%.  Where the Romans reigned victoriously over its colonies.  The news of victory called the gospel. 

Are we being called to participate in the story laid out by Mary?   

In our meditation maybe we will remember that Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus were numbered among that 95%.  That these were folks who lived in the forgotten places of Empire.  In a word, baby Jesus was born in what would be a historical parallel to the ghetto.  It would take a book to lay out the development of ghetto life in connection to North America’s imperial reality. The story of Jesus’ birth tells us that Mary gave birth to him in a manger.  A manger was the last place a person would want to have a baby.  It would have been extremely unsanitary for a new born child.  We have heard this all before.  We get it.  Jesus was born of low estate.  What of today?  What are the parallels today?  If Jesus were to be born in our time and place locus imperiium where would he be?   

He would have been born in the cut 

What is the cut you may ask?  The cut is a space between houses in the projects (i.e. the ghetto).  It is a space where all kinds of inhumane illegal activities take place.  It is also a space where the homeless sleep.  A landscape of broken crack pipes, heroine needles, nihilism, despair, and many other domestic symptoms of Empire.  It is a space in the urban imagination, at least mine, where you are reminded that this is a forgotten place.  A place at the bottom.  But even in the midst of the bottom and despair resides hope and community.  It is not completely overtaken by nihilism and the many other leftovers of Empire.   

I believe Jesus would have been born in the cut.  The Word of God, God Incarnate, King of Kings, Lord of lords, Emmanuel would have been born in a space we drive by everyday in our gentrifying communities.  Those spaces we either know nothing about or care little for.   

Is this where your imagination takes you when you celebrate Advent?  If not, then I am afraid your imagination has been disciplined more by the story of Empire than that of the Advent. It is truly a subversive thought:  the salvation of the world came from the cut!

   

Advent Reflection: Deviants, Vigilantes and Empire

 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.” Matthew 2: 16-18

“The new cultural and institutional systems of Empire support a monopolization of resources by the ruling elites, whose lives become concerned in competing with one another for the top positions in the dominance hierarchy. Because power struggles are continuous and often treacherous, relationships commonly feature a substantial element of distrust, fear, and duplicity. Fear is Empire’s friend, as it creates a psychological need for certainty, control, and structured relationships that motivates acquiescence by those below.” – David Korten, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community

Thought:  When the present/established order is challenged it recourses to violence, coercion, and labeling to squelch the alternative voice, perspective and practice.  In the context of North American Christianity establishment forms of Christianity are adept at using fear (e.g. believing such and such will lead you down the slippery slope to relativism and hell) and using the word heretic.  A survival function of establishment Christianity is to label serious challenges or what is perceived to be a threat as ‘heresy’.  This is a quick way, it is thought, to disregard a troublesome expression of Christian faith.  History teaches us that establishment Christianity is normally blinded by its own epistemological and moral totalitarianism.  It cannot see its own crumbling from the inside-out.  As it dies on the heap of its own rigidly structured world it sends out assasins to eliminate the threat to its existence.  It sends out what New Testament scholar Bruce Malina calls vigilantes: Vigilantism is establishment violence against a person or persons successfully labeled as deviant by some moral entrepreneur in the community for the purpose of maintaining prevailing values…The object of vigilantism is to eliminate deviant behavior. –  The Social Gospel of Jesus (p.57)

Thought: Apparently, Jesus was not a part of the establishment.  According to the establishment of Jesus’ day he was a heretic and a theological deviant.  

Reflection:  While many Christians feel compelled to maintain the center I find it interesting that Jesus worked primarily in the periphery.  The coming of baby Jesus was not received with joy by those in the establishment…by those that held the power to name what was and what was not orthodox.  Herod and Company’s orthdoxy was driven by fear and a particular kind of certainty that did not have room for the deviance of Jesus and his rag-tag group of disciples.  Jesus’ deviance was perceived to be a grave threat.  So much so that Herod had every little boy killed in Jesus’ town.  He shot wide of the mark hoping to squelch and kill the deviance.  This Advent season has me asking myself: will I be a vigilante…or a deviant? 

Happenings

Scot McKnight recently spoke at the Westminster Theological Seminary Student Association Conference An Eternal Word in an ‘Emerging World’? His talk, entitled “What is the Emerging Church?”, is available in its entirety in PDF format for download here.

Recently gave a talk with my good friend Rod Garvin @ Davidson College in Davidson, NC on October 26th.  Titled: Living in a White World.  In it we discuss part of our faith testimony; how we became “racially conscious”; the way in which black music has captured the African-American experience; and the on-going challenges of being black in today’s society.  Listen here.

Last week.  Got a chance to see Brian McLaren deliver a sermon @ Wake Forest University.  Briefly dialogued with Brian afterwards.  Talked about some of the exciting things happening globally in the church.   

I will be contributing to the Church and Postmodern Culture Series Site

Join the conversation.  I’ll be engaging James K. A. Smith‘s recent book, “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Focault to Church.”  Specifically, I’ll be contributing a mini-essay titled “The Panopticon of Ecclesial Whiteness: Taking Foucault to a Church Divided.”

Here’s a snippet:

Ignoring white-ness as norm and its disciplinary power within the church frustrates Christians seeking racial-ethnic reconciliation or harmony. Granted, much work has been done in the area, and much of it is to be commended, but it is clear that white-ness remains in the church even as race-ism and the assertion of white privilege operates more subtly.  However, Foucault illumines for us that ignoring race as a disciplinary power blinds us to the realities that continue to hinder the church from moving beyond our racial impasse.  We can look at our discursive practices in our respective churches and see how we, consciously and unconsciously, give credence to the universal code of beauty that is presumed to be white.

I hope to see some of my blogfriends there engaging the text.  Pax. 

 

 

 

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