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Brian's Blog

  • November 22, 2014

    Get schooled on Political Islam

    Here. Quotable:

    We must strip the phenomena of "political Islam" of the mystical aura shrouding them, which results from a tendency to equate them with "fundamentalism": a mass of angry irrational impulses wholly motivated by religious aspirations and incentives, and instead situate them within the conditions of their time and space. Only through historical socio political context can we hope to cure researchers, journalists and observers of the malady of oversimplification, generalization and reductionism that currently deforms the bulk of analyses of the subject.

    They must free themselves of their mystical outlook and of culturally essentialist interpretations of political parties with an Islamic background. In open democratic settings, these are likely to move closer towards the model of Christian democratic parties in Europe. Ennahdha party of Tunisia may, in fact, serve as a laboratory for the possible evolution of political Islam in this direction. The question is: when will "Western" journalists and experts rid themselves of their ideological biases and start to see reality as it is, with all its complexities, shades and nuances?
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  • November 21, 2014

  • Are you saying the entire Christian faith has been wrong?

    Quite often when I'm speaking to conservative Christian groups, whether the subject is evolution, the meaning of John 14:6, equality for women or LGBT people, the doctrine of inerrancy (papal or biblical), or related topics, people will say it is arrogant of me to suggest that the mainstream of the Christian church has been so wrong for so long.

    Certainly that could be the case. I wish I were a greater stranger to arrogance than I am.

    But to refuse to acknowledge the possibility that a tradition has been seriously, consistently, and tragically wrong can also reflect another kind of arrogance, as a recent speech by David Gushee makes clear.

    The unchristlike teaching of contempt for Jews has been discredited. No mainstream Christian leader that I know of teaches it anymore, at least not here in this country. The Bible didn’t change. What the Bible was understood to mean changed a great deal.

    The unchristlike teaching of contempt for LGBT people is, in my view, in the process of being discredited, of breaking down, even as we speak. Every year elements of it lose ground. I am now confident that Christianity is undergoing the same repudiation of an unchristlike body of tradition today, in regards to LGBT people, as happened 50 years ago in regards to antisemitism.

    So this is the point of my comparison—I am comparing two different unchristlike bodies of Christian teaching tradition, one of which has been discredited and abandoned, the other of which needs to be and is in the process of being discredited and abandoned. We must celebrate the progress being made in repudiating the teaching of contempt against that 1/20th of the human family who are LGBT. And we must finish the job as soon as we can.

    More here:

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  • November 20, 2014

    A Difficult but Necessary Conversation ...

    Voice A:

    And we must ask you, 'Why are you picking on Israel?' Why not criticise countries like Syria or North Korea where they treat their people with contempt and barbarity. Why aren't you criticising Hamas who want to wipe Israel off the map and murder all of its Jews - haven't you read their charter! Why aren't you condemning Islamic State and Boko Haram? Surely they deserve your wrath more than Israel does.
    Israel treats women with respect and complete equality, and you can live an openly gay life without fear. How many Middle East countries can say that?

    Why are you attempting to delegitimise the existence of the only Jewish state in the world? There are 20 Arab States by the way. We only have the one place that we can truly call home.

    You are forgetting that it takes 'two to tango' and there is no partner for peace on their side. Until they renounce terrorism how can we trust them? You must have seen the stabbings and car driver murders of the last few weeks? This is what Israel is up against every day.

    And we are utterly dismayed that you think to boycott Jews. Have you really forgotten the Holocaust so quickly? The Nazis started with boycotts too. And we all know where it ended.

    You may mean well but you really don't understand and your naivety fills us with horror.

    Voice B:

    You are right too that there are other states and other regimes that behave in far worse ways. But they do not claim to be democracies. They do not wish to be perceived as aligned politically, economically and culturally with Europe and North America. The world imposes sanctions and boycotts against North Korea. Our airforce is currently bombing Islamic State. When Russia backs Ukrainian separatists attempting to take over the Crimea, there is an international crisis.

    We are not comparing Israel with Islamic State or North Korea. Neither do we think Israel is to blame for all the problems that beset the Middle-East today. However, the Palestinians' long call for their rights to be recognised is clearly a powerful recruiting tool for Islamic State. And should we really make Boko Haram or President Assad the only benchmark for unacceptable behaviour?

    We are not picking on Israel unfairly. What is unfair is how much Israel is allowed to get away with.We hear plenty of stern words of rebuke from America, Britain and the EU but never see any real political or economic pressure. We would love to see Israelis and Palestinians sitting down to negotiate. You are right 'it takes two to tango' but we would ask you to consider which side is refusing to dance.

    … We want to work with our Jewish neighbours and our Muslim neighbours to bring a just and peaceful solution to all the people of Israel and Palestine. They deserve nothing less. Together we should be emboldening the leadership of each of our communities to speak out against injustice in the name of the traditions that we each claim to honour.

    Read the whole dialogue here.

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  • November 19, 2014

    Q & R: Research "emergent church"

    Here's the Q:

    I am a pastor in an evangelical church…. I love what has been happening in the emergent church and often feel like I am hiding in the evangelical world as I have experienced persecution for my searching heart and questioning the status quo of evangelicalism for some time.

    Anyways, the reason for my contacting you, is that I am writing a theological research paper on the theology of the Emergent Church. I was wondering if you could suggest some theological/scholarly texts that would aid me in the writing of this paper, both sources that would affirm and challenge the theology of the Emergent Church.

    Thanking you in advance for any authors or titles you can suggest.

    Here's the R:
    I'd begin with two sources:
    The Great Emergence
    The New Christians

    Then I'd follow their bibliographies, footnotes, and Amazon.com links … you'll find plenty. There are also a number of interesting theses and dissertations being written. It's a fascinating subject, and I don't even think the real revolution has yet begun.

    You might be interested in my post of a few days ago offering my perspective on what's developing in the US.

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  • November 18, 2014

    Q & R: Membership

    Here's the Q:

    I am the pastor of a little church which is really struggling with the issues of church membership. We are recognizing more and more the aversion many people have to church membership. Most of us understand that aversion, having experienced spiritual abuse of one form or another, and therefore, we try to be supportive and compassionate and resist the temptation to be “heavy handed.” But after three weeks and two congregational meetings which almost were rendered ineffective because of the lack of a quorum … we also realize that, sometimes, we need to define a “corporate body.”

    I know that consensus is a way to go … and in fact, we were forced to do something vaguely anti-Roberts’ Rules in order to change the bylaws just so that we could make some decisions. It was fine; nobody died. But I also know that there is something to be said for constitutions, bylaws, policies etc … if for no other reason than to establish general principles and practices so that there is some notion of consistency and identity. We have members who attend other places but cannot transfer their membership because there is nothing to transfer their membership to. We have people who refuse membership but may as well be members for the amount of time and energy they afford to us. We also have members who dare not darken the doors for all the damage that they have done … people who have decided to hold on to their membership literally until this person or that person is gone or deceased so that they might regain power and control (yeah, no kidding). We don’t want to be exclusive here (allowing a handful of people to make decisions for everyone) … nor classist (ie; base everything on what people give) … and I as the pastor would like to be able to acknowledge the hundreds of people we include in our little community through our mission and outreach.

    I am searching for a new way to organize membership – maybe a broader, inclusive category of “disciples” and then a corporate distinction of “members”? Shall we do away with the corporate body idea completely? Sigh. The more I think about this, the more my head hurts. Brian, is there anyone or anything out there that can help me think about this in a fresh new way?

    Here's the R:
    Important questions!
    Here are a few observations, but your post deserves a much more careful and lengthy response at some point, by me or by others.

    First, I think we need to distinguish between ministry and mission on the one hand, and governance on the other. Boards and votes and bylaws, in my view, are matters of governance. Governance is terribly important, but most people today seem to be saying something like this: "I'm trusting you leaders to work out governance in ways that are ethical, transparent, and accountable. Invite us to be involved, but don't burden us. We would rather be involved with ministry and mission."

    Second, those words "ethical, transparent, and accountable" matter. If a smaller number of people are involved in governance, they need to seek input through transparent channels and communicate what they're up to.

    Third, we need to pay attention to self-organizing trends, like DIY, Sharing Economy, and Crowdsourcing. I think governance will be more and more about creating and preserving safe and productive space in which people "play" freely. That means less control, more encouragement, along with some simple guidelines to keep the space sustainable, free, and fruitful.

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  • November 17, 2014

    More on the emergent conversation

    I was asked recently for my view of what's happening in the emergent/emergence conversation in North America. Here's a very short overview, from my perspective.

    The conversation continues to grow, not by creating a new slice of the pie, but by seasoning nearly all sectors of the pie. Even where the word "emergent" is not used, ideas from emergence leaders are being considered and adopted, leading to new experimentation and openness.

    Influence in the Roman Catholic world is still relatively small, but growing numbers of Catholic scholars and leaders are listening, reading, and engaging, from lay people to (yes) the Vatican. Catholic influence on the emergence community continues to be strong, especially through the spiritual practices of the monastic and contemplative traditions.

    Much of the Mainline Protestant world has opened its arms wide to the emergent conversation, from bishops to parachurch organizations to denominational leaders to local pastors to grass-roots activists. A few years down the road, I think Mainline engagement will become even more overt and significant, but already most Mainline Protestant denominations are experimenting with creative new approaches to church planting and worship/liturgy renewal. Key next steps may include the creation of a national, trans-denominational campus ministry, collaborative and transdenominational church planting and "branding," new approaches to theological and ministry education, and the development of a new genre of progressive Christian worship music.

    The Evangelical community has, by and large, decided to double down against LGBT inclusion and equality, and because many emergence leaders see equality as a natural and unavoidable expression of the gospel, their voices have been marginalized by prominent gatekeepers. But beneath the surface, influence continues to expand, especially among young Evangelicals and those uncomfortable with the marriage between American Evangelicalism and the Religious Right. Along with LGBT equality, surprising numbers of Evangelicals are quietly but consistently moving towards greater concern for the full equality for women, the environment, racial and interfaith reconciliation, the elimination of torture, peacemaking, poverty reduction, and related issues. And theologically, they are eager to engage with questions that have been suppressed - including rethinking penal substitutionary atonement theory, biblical inerrancy and interpretation, and the violence of God. For practical reasons, it will often be best, in the short run at least, for these conversations to happen without association with the term "emergence."

    I am pleased to see how the center of gravity for emergence continues to be among reflective practitioners … not among theorists divorced from the local church, and not among pragmatists uninterested in theology, but among people who see theology and praxis as inextricably connected. With that center, there is room for a wide range of people - from those exploring the outer reaches of process theology and radical theology, to those concentrating on urban farming and community/parish missionality.

    As the first wave of emergence leaders move through their forties and fifties, it's exciting to see a new wave of 20-something and 30-something emergence leaders arise. They are coming of age when emergence thinking is not some radical fringe phenomenon, but rather an option and resource that is a natural part of the Christian landscape. They are fiercely committed to expanding the racial and gender diversity of the conversation, to emphasizing the skills of community organizing and movement building, and to making room for Catholics, Mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, and others to work together for the common good.

    My hope is that in the US and globally, the emergence conversation will continue in its current path - a both/and approach of collaborating with existing institutions while at the same time creating new spaces and structures when necessary to nurture and support what is trying to be born in and among us.

    I am pleased to see that a set of shared, long-term commitments is coalescing - along the lines of those expressed in the Mesa Document.

    ❖ We believe in Jesus and the good news of the reign, commonwealth, or ecosystem of God, and we seek for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven by focusing on love - love for God and neighbor, for outsider and enemy.
    ❖ We seek to know, serve, and join the poor in the struggle for justice and freedom ... through advocacy, relationships, and action.
    ❖ We seek to honor, interpret, and apply the Bible in fresh and healing ways, aware of the damaging ways the Bible has been used in the past.
    ❖ We seek to reconnect with the earth, understand the harm human beings are doing to it, and discover more responsible, regenerative ways of life in it.
    ❖ We seek the common good, locally and globally, through churches of many diverse forms, contexts, and traditions, and we imagine fresh ways for churches to form Christlike people and join God in the healing of the world.
    ❖ We build inclusive partnerships across gaps between the powerful and vulnerable - including disparities based on wealth, gender, race and ethnic identity, education, religion, sexuality, age, politics, and physical ability.
    ❖ We engage conflict at all levels of human society with the creative and nonviolent wisdom of peacemaking.
    ❖ We propose new ways of encountering the other in today’s pluralistic world and we collaborate with other religious and secular groups in alliances for the common good.
    ❖ We host safe space for constructive theological conversation, seeking to root our practice in theological reflection and seeking to express our reflection in practical action.
    ❖ We value the arts for their unique role in nurturing, challenging, and transforming our humanity.
    ❖ We emphasize spiritual and relational practices to strengthen our inner life with God and our relationships with one another.


    Again, this overview is from my perspective, which is limited but based on a lot of travel, correspondence, and relationships. I'll be interested to see where others would add, subtract, or differ.

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  • November 16, 2014

  • November 15, 2014

    Thoughts on Poverty ...

    from David Peck, here:

    Elizabeth Babcock in Rethinking Poverty writes, “In recent years, scientists have discovered that the stresses of poverty often overwhelm the critical-thinking skills that people need to chart and follow a pathway out of their condition.” That’s everywhere.What do you think?

    The Phnom Penh Post also quoted a Credit Suisse report that said that while Global Wealth had increased by 263 trillion dollars in 2013, and yet disparity had swelled in "developing" economies. Not a big surprise really. So where was the massive surge? 34.7 percent of the growth occurred in North America. Europe accounted for 32.4 percent.

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  • November 14, 2014

  • November 13, 2014

    Preparing for Christmas ...

    It's just over 40 days away, and Christine Sine offers beautiful wisdom in preparing for the season. Be sure to read her post and follow the links she provides.

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  • November 12, 2014

    Congratulations, Rachel (Held Evans)!

    Rachel - I'm always glad to be mentioned in the same breath with you, as in this note:

    Thank you, you make my job so much easier. I lead a small house group and this year we are using your book, 'We make the Road by Walking'. We all came to your talk in Bristol last night and have come away even more inspired.

    Last year we studied Rachael's 'Year of Biblical Womanhood' which was a real success for our group. Previous to this, we had struggled to find material that really worked for us as group. Rachael's book inspired, intrigued and engaged. As the year was drawing to a close the pressure was on to find some new material that would work as well for us. Rachael had reviewed your book on he blog and sang its praises so I thought it was worth a go.

    The book has blown us away and we are only on Chapter 10! THe group are engaged and inspired and when we meet the first this everyone says is 'I love this book'.

    So thank you for making my life easier, and I like the rest of the group Love the book.

    It's fun to see that you're in the same league with Madonna, Bono, and Cher … your first name identifies you! I don't know if you can sing … but you sure can write. Thanks for all you do, Rachel!

    (And thanks to our shared readers from Bristol who came and said hi last week!)

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  • November 11, 2014

    Ireland trip/retreat - a few spaces left

    I just heard from Gareth Higgins that there are a few spaces left for the Ireland trip we'll be leading June 15-23. Folks who have registered should be hearing back from Gareth in the next week or so … and folks who wish to register shouldn't delay. Information here:

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  • November 10, 2014

    Q & R: Journaling?

    Here's the Q:

    I've been recently devouring your book A Generous Orthodoxy. It's opened up my mind to many things. One question: what do you think about "spiritual journaling"? Do you keep a spiritual journal/diary (or any kind of journal)?

    Here's the R:
    I'm so glad you're enjoying AGO.
    About journaling - yes! I was introduced to journaling when I was about 18. It has been one of the most important spiritual disciplines of my life. I wrote prayers, reflections on Scripture, poetry, etc. in personal journals for decades. In recent years, the more I've made a living as a writer, the less fruitful journaling has been for me (for reasons that are easy to imagine), which has prompted me to explore other forms of prayer that aren't as connected to writing (body prayer, contemplative prayer, "simple word prayer" as I described in Naked Spirituality). But even so, I still keep a journal, but just use it less frequently, and I highly, highly, highly recommend it for everyone.

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  • November 5, 2014

    Emergent, liberalism, diversity ...

    "Just when you thought emergent was dead, scholars are showing that it’s very much alive and kicking." - More here ...

    Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2014/10/24/study-shows-emergent-is-not-as-liberal-as-you-thought/#ixzz3HTZw9aAx

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