“This is not group therapy! It is to continue democratic structures.” -Naomi Klien

Speaking to the protesters at the Occupy Wall Street site in Zuccotti Park.

Regardless of whether I agree with their politics or economics or anything, this is thrilling because it is democracy in action. One never really knows what changes are afoot or what kind of movement this may become until after the fact.

We are privileged in this country where this kind of thing can happen and not descend into the violence experienced in Iran or Syria or Tunisia or Egypt.

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We are rarely as in control as we would like to think.  It seems to me that we always attempt to persuade everyone else and fool ourselves – whether as individuals, groups, churches, assemblies, governments, dictators, et.el. – that we are the masters of our own destiny.  We put forth with much bravado our grand plans and schemes which we believe will secure our security, our affluence, our prestige, and our power.  Yet, nature and world events so often thwart our best laid plans.  Unexpected situations arise so quickly that we can’t respond soon enough, and if we finally do we generally respond with violence of word or deed.

The events these past couple of weeks in Tunisia and now in Egypt have the potential to change everything having to do with world affairs.  If the Arab world is to realize freedom, a measure of prosperity, human dignity, justice and the rule of law, even peace, well, all these things will have to be won by the people themselves – against their own oppressors whomever they may be.  The reality is that the U.S. has come to be seen not as the defenders of liberty, but the supporters of dictators and corruption.  The world is not rejecting the ideals of our Founding Fathers, but of the increasingly bankrupt nature of our culture.

The problem the U.S. faces, which we should have known before the little warrior (whether it was actually him or his adviser manipulators) sent off our troops to invade Iraq, is that we cannot impose something like freedom, democracy, the rule of law, or security unless the people themselves both buy into it and are the vanguard in seeing it through.  If the people believe they don’t have a stake in the whole affair, I don’t see how it will honestly work. 

True revolutionary movements are not planned, they happen.  We can plan for eventualities; we can even attempt to cause the “revolution,” but we are rarely as in control as we would like to think.  The fall of the Soviet empire, the shedding of dictators across the globe – the throwing off of oppression has to be the work of the local people.  We can aid the effort; and if we live up to the best of our ideals we will aid, not cause, the profoundly disruptive and often horribly violent events that are often necessary to throw off tyranny, but the aspirations of local peoples for freedom, dignity, the rule of law, and peace have to be precede and be the under-girding for the aid to actually help and not hinder.  

From an international affairs perspective, what is happening right now in the Middle East is striking.  We shall see whether it is the right time for the people to rise up and demand something better of their governments and their rulers.  Once again, for politically expedient reasons (which, sometimes, is justifiable) we have supported a more-brutal-than-not dictator.  The people are rising up against the corrupt dictator and his government.  We are, once again, on the wrong side because our concern is not for the freedom and dignity of the Egyptian people, but for our political interests in the area. 

The people know this, despite the billions we give to Egypt in foreign aid. Where that aid goes might be a wise question to ask, but only if we
really want to know the answers and if we might truly do something about
the problem. The people know this and so do not
see the U.S. as the defenders of freedom and dignity, but as the
supporters of their oppressors.

So, our embassy is attacked.  We wonder why.  We make the excuse in order to absolve us of any guilt in contributing to the oppressive regime that these are just enemies of the U.S., jealous of our prosperity, enemies of freedom-loving peoples everywhere, but the people in the streets want freedom and security and so they simply attack the symbol and the power behind the corrupt government that rules over them.  We bare the unintended consequences of our actions, our neglect, our profound hubris.

There is just the sense in me that we are on the cusp of significant
change in our political, social, and economic structures, world-wide. 
We like to think we have things under control, but suddenly everything
changes.  We are in such times and heading more deeply into a
fundamental shift.  I’m not sure where the shift will takes us, but it
has begun.  

To be given confidence

I am about finished with a very good book by the new author, Thomas Chatterton Williams, entitled, “Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture.”  For the past several years, I have bought an autobiography as one of my summer books.  This is that kind of book for this summer… Williams writing about his life, and I’m finishing it too quickly. 

In his acknowledgments, Williams quotes Truman Capote, “Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.”  A good statement, a good sentiment, a good thing to remember.

I hated when in school we were told to write about a favorite hero, and everyone seemed to jump right to it.  I couldn’t.  I never really had any heroes, and wondered whether something was wrong with me.

But what about those who gave me confidence?  If I am honest, and I have to ask myself if I am truly remembering correctly, I have encountered more that broke down my confidence than raised it up.  I really have had to be my own motivator for much of my life. 

The person that came to mind most quickly is Dr. Terry Kuhn.  He is retired now, but while at Kent State he was the Vice-Provost and Dean of the new academic unit in which I worked.  He was my boss.  There is much to admire in Dr. Kuhn.  He had enough confidence in me to allow me to branch into areas of interest and person development that never would have been possible, otherwise.  He allowed me to develop the whole technology department for our unit, when I was a student development specialist and hardly a technology guy.

This may be strange way of conveying such a thing, but one of the greatest compliments I remember receiving came from Dr. Kuhn.  I asked him to write a letter of recommendation for me as a perspective student to The General Theological Seminary.  He wrote in the letter that he thought this turn in my life would result in a tremendous waste of talent, but he highly recommended me nevertheless.  There you go. 

Then, of course, there is my mother!

Most Recent Troubles

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, issued a statement in his Pentecost letter to the Communion requesting the resignations from certain inter-Anglican bodies, such as the ecumenical relations committees, of representatives of those Provinces who will not abide by the moratoria agreed upon within the bodies that currently govern the affairs of the Anglican Communion (the Instruments of Unity).  The moratoria consisted of no sanctioning of official liturgies for same-sex unions, no consecration of partnered gay bishops, and no more crossing of diocesan or provincial boundaries by those who vehemently oppose homosexuality and feel they must extend their own ecclesiastical authority into provinces not their own.

Of course, no one is happy.  The liberals in the Episcopal Church howl that Williams is making the Communion into another authoritarian Roman Catholic Church by a different name, with his aping the Pope’s authority.  The conservatives howl that Williams is a weak-willed man who will not be a decisive leader in these crisis times and who cannot do what is necessary to save the Christian faith within Anglicanism from the liberal heretics.  The man can’t win!

From the more liberal side, this from Bishop Marcus Andrus of the Diocese of California via his blog, Bishop Marc:

When an Empire and its exponents can no longer
exercise control by might, an option is to feint, double-talk, and manipulate. Such tactics have been in the fore with Archbishop Rowan since the confirmation of Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. The deployment of the Windsor Report and the manipulation of the Lambeth Conference, as cited above, are prime examples. The archbishop’s Pentecost letter is the most recent example.

In the Pentecost letter, it looks like he is disciplining errant provinces of the Communion, while only a little concentration shows that the underlying goal is to assert his power to be the disciplinarian. Archbishop Rowan is intent on a covenant with punitive measures built in.

IMHO, the belief that Williams is trying to be an authoritarian figure because his presumed “goal is to assert his power to be the disciplinarian” is absurd – not just absurd, but ludicrous!  If Williams has demonstrated anything over the past seven years, it is that he is not an authoritarian and will not come down with a hammer on those “others.”  Now, this is the problem. The Bishop Marc, I will presume, would have been fine if Williams came down with a hammer on the those bishops and provinces that acted in ways that Bishop Marc hated – like boarder crossings.

Continuing thoughts…

The influence our manner of life can have on and within the prevailing culture for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, for the sake of the beautiful, for the sake of freedom, for the sake of wisdom:  from where I am at present, I see two primary avenues for the Church to influence positively the prevailing culture in our current contexts, being primarily postmodern and post-Christian.  Since my efforts are being channeled through the creation of the Imago Dei Society and the Red Hook Project, a primary avenue is simple presence – presence among emerging generations so that we understand the new contexts in which the Church must dwell and within the arts because those people within the arts are the moving edges of the culture.

For the Imago Dei Society, our charism is to understand the contexts of the lives of emerging generations.  The best possible way to do so is to be present with those in that cohort.  My goal is the development of ways for re-establishing an enduring presence of the Anglican tradition of Christianity on our college and university campuses.  Focusing on witness and formation in a “pre-Constantinian” like society, we are working to establish live/learning intentional-communities of students that can provide for building strong relationships of fellowship and discipleship.  This also presents to us a means for learning “on the ground” the dynamics of the changing lives and understandings of younger people. 

Our presence on campuses where people of Faith in general, and Christians in particular, continue to be increasingly marginalized (and in some cases overtly objected to) provides a sane witness of the Life in Christ to the greater higher education community and provides support and encouragement for Christians wishing to live openly their Faith without apology.  Whether we like it or not, understanding it or not, accept it or not, university and college graduates will be the leaders of politics, business, science, and industry in the decades to come. To be a positive and forming influence on these holders of society’s future is vitally important in building social structures that work for a sane, compassionate, and good society.

The Red Hook Space (the outcome of the Red Hook Project) will be our presence within a neighborhood context that includes a large number of artists and creative types. Part of the charism of the Red Hook Space is to begin the process of rebuilding trust and conversation among communities of people that have great misgivings of Christians and of the Church, at least as an institution.  The artist community is at the forefront of the changes being realized within our emerging culture – artists of all types are the cultural movers and shakers. 

Being present with and engaged creatively in the arts within the Space helps us understand and be a part of the continually changing dynamics within the arts. This type of ministry helps us live into and live out a primary aspect of being created in the image of God – we are creators with God of that which instills beauty, hope, reconciliation, and inspiration for the good. Our goal is to create wonderful, world-class art in all forms that bring beauty to a culture that is often bereft of it, to be a witness in the positive influence of our Faith in the creative endeavor, and to be witnesses of the creative power endemic in the Christian life (or at least should be).

TransFORM East Coast Gathering

Last weekend, I attended the TransFORM Missional Community Formation Network‘s East Cost Gathering.  It was an “Emergent” gathering of people from all over the work, actually.  There were some great workshops with leaders doing really good work with all kinds of people, but primarily those on the margins of Christianity and the Church.

A whole lot of stuff went through my mind as they blogged and tweeted and tactilely related.  I simply wanted to observe, so I didn’t want to do any of that (although I did meet a couple great people on tactile level). There is still a lot I have to process, but one thing I realized is that I am really not within the American-Evangelical construct of the Church universal any longer.  Even though “Emergent,” whether the conversation or the movement, isn’t really of the politicized Evangelical church, the people still care a lot from their upbringings.  I am not there, any longer.

The median age was probably 35 – a definite GenX group.  So, what is happening among the Gen Y‘ers (29 and younger, as of 2010)?????  That is the question! 

Here is my concern – people are still jumping on the “movement” bandwagon without understanding the “conversation” that makes it all possible, and without understanding what gives life to the phenomenon.  The Episcopal House of Bishops last meeting had as a big part of its agenda the “Emergent Church,” including speakers like Brian McLaren, who I really respect.  Yet, just like many “emergent churches” have copied Charismatic worship forms (overhead projections, praise bands, praise choruses, etc.) or now have “liturgies,” but do not understand the sources behind those worship forms, or how Anglican/Episcopal churches have taken on Anglo-Catholic worship forms and yet without living into source behind the form – all fall flat if just aping the form – I fear that some kind of thing will happen with Anglican/Episcopal churches as they attempt to copy “Emergent Church” forms without understanding the source or power that gave launch to the whole thing – the willingness to be in true Conversation with the emerging culture and generations.

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A New Kind of Christianity

Recently, someone sent to me via e-mail a review of Brian McLaren‘s new book, “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith” (HarperOne).  The review is, Anthony B. Robinson is president of Congregational Leadership Northwest.

The reviewer talks about the pertinence of the book and McLaren’s thoughts for American Evangelicalism, though he says there may be less pertinence for mainline or progressive denominations/Christians.  He explains why in this paragraph:

But when the audience is, as I suspect it often will be, mainline or self-described progressive Christians, I’m less sure that McLaren’s message is the thing that’s needed. The tendency in mainline or progressive circles has long been to say that the problem is outdated, outmoded Christianity. The project has been to redo theology, revise language and creed, update imagery and practice, all with the idea that if we can just make Christianity fit into our present world, all will be well. In a fair number of churches this revisionist project has gone on for so long that there simply isn’t much left to revise–or to sustain the dwindling numbers of the faithful. Where this updating project has so long prevailed, a slightly altered version of Shakespeare’s line from Julius Caesar may be apt: the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our paradigms, it is in ourselves, that we are sinners.

This is, I think, one of the best descriptions of the plight of the mainline churches and progressive Christianity in general.

This is where something of a reforming nature must be said to “progressive” Christians in places like my own Church. The substance and core of the faith is Jesus Christ and our drawing close to Him. “A New Kind of Christianity” is really very old and is that which has endured for millennia within the living Tradition.  The reform of the progressive Church will rest in the recognition that to progress is to the returning.

Cry persecution (only gets you so far)

Here is a video I came across yesterday from Ruth Gledhill, the Religion correspondent for the Times Online (UK), commenting on the cries of persecution from certain British Christians.  Her comments are a bit surprising because over the last six years or so, she has been critical of a lot of liberal Christian stuff (which, frankly, I agreed with a lot of the time – though not all of the time).

Her comments ring true here in the U.S., too, among Christians of a certain kind.  The difference here in the U.S. is that this cohort is trying to gain power, take power, impose themselves within government and all of society. It is certainly their right to champion their opinions or causes, but not to attempt to impose them upon all.  In England, the Church of England is established, so the tactics of these people are different, but the goals remain the same.  One such goal is to impose their particular ideas and forms of Christianity upon all and demand that their interpretations be declared the only valid ones for all of the Christian faith, despite that these forms/ideas/ideologies of the faith are only recent, historically.

While  I am not a “liberal Christians” (I suspect her use of “liberal” is in a similar way that we describe our form of government as a “liberal” democracy, and not to convey a political or religious ideology), nor am I a fundamentalist – either liberal or conservative. Yet the way the neo-conservative, Religious Right, American-Evangelical groups and people are attempting to force their narrow view of things upon all of society simply isn’t going to work.  What ends up happening, and has happened, is that the Church and the cause of Christ are defamed. I think this is part of what Gledhill is getting at.