Archive for February, 2010

Having fun with the Mennonites

I’m in Prince Albert, a stones throw away from Randall’s old church.  The Lutheran’s are hosting the Mennonite Church Saskatchewan’s annual conference.  It has been fun but P.A. just isn’t the same without Randall.

These Mennonites like to laugh a lot.  I’ve met a few old friends and been spending lots of time catching up.  Author Allan Kreider led a great session this afternoon. 

It has been fun chatting it up.

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Forget the podium, own the rink

That is all.

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I don’t think I agree with McLaren but…

I haven’t read A New Kind of Christianity but I’m guessing I might find myself among his critics.  I can see where people are concerned but I’m not sure why some people seem to be taking his adventuresome theology so personally.  I found my first post where I started to sense personal disconnect with Brian McLaren.  7 years ago McLaren was floating ideas like progress being the fall of human kind and the bible being one story or perhaps a library of stories we find ourselves in. 

We all have our stories.  While driving home from work with a friend we reflected on a meeting we were in together.  In this meeting we shared some sober thoughts about the church.  My friend is more traditional than I am but I connect with his desire to return to substance.  At the heart of things I think we have very similar values.  As he shared he talked about how we all reflect our stories. In such meetings I try very hard not to come across as the “house church” guy even when other people in room echo thoughts I had years ago.  Undoubtedly my opinions are shaped by my larger story and I don’t know how much I can step outside that.

Brian McLaren’s life story is different from mine.  I didn’t grow up surrounded by the peculiar brand of fundamentalism found in the United States.  Nor have I endured the kinds of unfair criticism that he has.  Undoubtedly it has a polarizing impact.  If I were hounded by a tangibly angry group of people with a particular idealogy it would make it that much harder for me to hear what they say.  McLaren’s educational background is in English, not theology.  Is it a stretch to see how he might see the bible as a library of stories?  McLaren reflects his story just as well reflect ours.

In dialogue McLaren exudes an irenic conciliatory tone.  This seems inconsistent with his penchant for planting improvised explosive theological devices (ietd) and then expressing concern about how the way people react leaves little room for dialogue.  I think some people overreact though.  I’ve created an entire website dedicated to refuting the claims of one author who teaches a particularly obnoxious theology and I never engaged in some of the tactics some bloggers have used against McLaren.

McLaren is just a man that writes books.  Books that put forth ideals and positions that colour outside the lines of the traditional interpretations of orthodox Christianity.  He has been doing this for a long time.  It isn’t hard to see the trajectory here.  Why are people so much more upset now than before? In this latest book he poked his finger in the eye of the religious establishment.  That, even more than bad theology, seems to get people upset with him.  Frank Viola did the same thing and received the same reaction. 

I believe McLaren is overreacting to the absurdities and excesses of American evangelical life.  In doing so he has swung away from an understanding of God that has empowered and enabled me to have a life giving relationship with God.  If I ever do read his book it will be with a discerning eye but I imagine I would find good things to reflect on.  In the past McLaren’s critique has been worthwhile. 

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The Starfish and the Spider

I’m reading this great little book on decentralized networks and principles.  It is probably the best book on house church networking even though it isn’t about church anything.

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Does this sound familiar?

Evangelical denominations are facing problems.  There is a dearth of new leaders, young adults are disconnected from the church, membership is in slow decline, biblical and theological illiteracy is rampant, ministries are pulling back.  How does one address this?  The average church member cares very little about their denomination and many couldn’t tell you why one is different from another.  Many church leaders view the folks in head office as the cheerleaders for one vapid fad after another.  There is passive animosity between academics, denominational staff, church and other ministry leaders.  The small churches are in tension with the big churches.  The denomination is frustrated with the big churches who feel they don’t need anyone.  Church leadership is fragmented.

All these leaders are in the same boat that is sinking just a little bit each year.  The small churches close down and the refugees hide the decline of their bigger and healthier cousins.  Periodically denominational ministries consolidate boards and programs due to budget constraints.  Boards and committees that used to be full of capable people become desperate just to find warm bodies to full chairs.  What used to be a coherent movement is now fragmented and disconnected.

Some are attentive to the big picture.  Many of those who raising the alarm are in ministries that feel the decline more sharply than others.   Even among these folks it is easy to ignore the big problems.  It is so much easier to focus on the immediate local concern than it is to face the bigger issues.  Huge problems are paralyzing.  What can one lone ministry do to a fix problems that require in-depth cooperation from the disparate communities and leaders that make up an increasingly fragmented denomination?  That mountain looks just a little to big to climb.

It is easy to find people to talk about it.  Lots of people have opinions and pet theories.  It is much harder to find any group that will risk substantive change.

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The case for publishing a full RSS feed

Back in the days I used to publish a partial RSS feed.  That meant those people using RSS readers would only see a teaser of my post and would have to click through to see the whole post.  Some argue that they don’t want their content divorced from their blog design, and I understand that.  However that extra click is really starting become annoying as I read blogs on devices other than my main computer, or when I’m not connected on high speed.  I love reading blogs on my smartphone, but if I have to click through to view the whole post in the browser I generally won’t.  Over The Air connections are much slower than highspeed, even on 3G networks.  Smaller screens make it much more difficult to read in a browser.  Nowadays I think everyone should consider going to a full feed unless you are trying to make money through ads.  If you don’t publish a full feed you are creating unnecessary barriers to your content.

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According to Amazon Saskatoon is the most romantic in Canada

Check it out.  Apparently it is based on book and dvd sales.  I wonder which city would buy the most self-help books?  Regina…nah probably Winnipeg.

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Jim Pankiw embarrasses himself

Check out this video if you have the stomach for it.

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Warmly received by the Mennonite Church

I don’t talk much about the house church network on my blog but this day I’m happy to report good news.  Last fall I was at a church planting conference in Calgary.  I got to meet some very cool people from all kinds of organizations and denominations.  I really enjoyed meeting Jared Siebert from the Free Methodist church.  I heard lots about him from Jordon Cooper back in the day.  From what I could tell the Free Methodists have definitely been the boldest in attempting different expressions of church.  These guys were the only ones I connected to that had any clue of how to bridge a house church network in to their organization.

The house church network were never fully adopted by the Mennonite Brethren.  As time grew on it became apparent to us that we weren’t a good fit.  There is a bigger story than that but it is probably best left for another time, perhaps like my memoirs.  In the end the whole process wasn’t easy for me.

The group I connected with the best was the Mennonite Church.  I was invited to sit in with them and Stuart Murray at the conference.  It felt like family.  It felt like coming home after going away for a long time.  Subsequent meetings with their people only reinforced that feeling.  I hope things with these folks work out.  I’ll be at their annual conference this February.  I’m really looking forward to hanging out with the peoples.

I got to talk to people from a handful of denominations, and they all have pretty decent folks.  As I had discussions with people it just affirmed my comfort with anabaptism.  I kind of wish the Mennonites were a little more in tune with their anabaptist roots.   Honestly I wish more denominations were a little more in touch with their roots.  There is great wealth in our church traditions that we’ve cast aside with our preoccupation of the next successful organizational approach.

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