Noble purpose

“And what if it was true that the Sisterhood no longer heard the music of life?” (p. 342)
“Without noble purpose we are nothing.” (p. 344)
Quotes from “Heretics of Dune,” part of the Dune series by Frank Herbert.
What is the Church? What is the noble purpose presented to the Church? Has the Church lost its ability to pursue the noble purpose? Does it no longer understand what resonates within the hearts and desires and pain of the world? Does the Church no longer hear the music of life?
Again and again, when we so entangle ourselves within the systems of the world, mistakenly thinking that they are the conveyors of the noble purpose, the justifications for the noble purpose, or the reasons to continue in the noble purpose, we have already lost, already failed.
It is first the discovery of the One behind the noble purpose, and in so discovering firstly we will understand true and not contrived justifications of, reasons for, and ways to convey the noble purpose that prove that we have not lost the ability to hear the music of life.
There is no real solace in thinking that our purpose rests in purely temporal form or purpose. The Cure of Souls is the first priority. All else, while vitally important to the noble path, are secondary. The second cannot occur without the first, and the first cannot be fully realized without the second. We try and try and try to reorder the process differently according to our own design born of limited understanding, but in the end we get no where. The noble purpose is clouded and diminished, stripped of its power, and we are left deaf.

Authentic service

I’ve heard from time-to-time that much of the “social justice” work done and the “social services” given by “White folks” to the “needy” (who in these instances generally mean Hispanics and African-Americans) are nothing much more than attempts at expunging their “liberal White guilt” and in the end accomplish not so much the “empowerment” of these groups but actually contribute to continued “dependence” on these “good White folks.” The “good White folks” feel all good about themselves because they’ve helped the “poor people who cannot do it for themselves due to so much institutionalized injustice and oppression” (which does exist!, but perhaps not as the imaginations of those suffering from liberal White guilt conjure up).
As I’ve heard, what these “good White people” do is not so much enable poor or disadvantaged people to fish, but just give them fish so that the downtrodden people have to continue being dependent on and accept the “good White people’s” pity. This kind of thing, this way of “helping the poor and disadvantaged,” smacks too much of paternalism and “liberal White hubris!”
Is there truth in this kind of accusation? Well, that is debated, but when “good White people” suffering from “liberal White guilt” need ways to alleviate their guilt feelings and find ways to make themselves feel good about themselves, it isn’t beyond the pale that even subconsciously there are devised methods of keeping the status quo as it is in order to continue to provide relief for “liberal White guilt” for those who suffer from it.
I really don’t know, but I wonder! I have seen such things in action, particularly in Academia. I do think there is legitimacy in the idea, whether or not a majority of “Liberals White people” act out in this way is up for debate.
But, the question arises – What is authentic service, or Good Works, from an enduring Christian understanding? The following is quote out of the book I’m reading entitled, Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry, by Mark Yaconelli. The particular chapter, thus the quote, is actually by Frank Rogers, Jr. as he details the real-life experience of the Youth and their sponsors from Lake Chelan Lutheran Church. They were on a youth ministry trip to Nicaragua.

Their first three days in the Nicaraguan capital only solidified their concern for the poor. They saw firsthand the insidious web of social structures, bureaucratic process, and cultural prejudice that conspired to bar the peasants form access to universities, opportunities in the business world, or voice in the government. By the youth were bused to the countryside for three days of living with peasants in their homes, their indignation was high and their sympathy deep as they burned to made a difference.
When they pulled into one struggling settlement, the teens were horrified to see a group of women, some pregnant, some elderly, hacking through hardened soil in the day’s heat to dig trenches alongside withering coffee plants. Moved by their plight, the teens swarmed over and insisted that they relieve the women and dig the trenches themselves. The women, surprised at the youthful zeal of the Norte Americanos, stepped aside. Some of the teens were athletes strengthened by modern regimens of weight training, most were amply well-nourished on North American abundance; all were bolstered by the nobility of their Christian convictions and the invigorating rush when taking care of those in need. Within an hour they were ready to pass out. Exhausted by the labor and beaten down by the heat, they guzzled draughts of water, then napped in the afternoon shade. The peasant women smiled as they refilled the teen’s buckets. They they retrieved their tools, and dug throughout the rest of the day.
Their discussion that evening reflected upon the paternalism that permeates U.S. attitudes toward the poor, particularly within the church. A conversion of thinking took place among the teens. Their notions of poor and wealthy, service and empowerment, were turned upside down. They saw how taking care of another, however well intentioned, can mask arrogance and reinforce dependency. For the rest of the trip, the young people allowed themselves to be served by the vibrant Nicaraguan people, sharing in the wealth of the Nicaraguans’ culture and sense of community, their dreams for a better world, and their hopes fueled by festive faith and active organizing. The teems no longer tried to rescue the peasants. They simply asked how they might become their allies. They were learning about authentic action – action spurred by visions of justice and mutuality, chastened by the shadows that motivate us all, and energized by a commitment to birth power, not dependency. By maintaining hearts that were attentive, open, and vulnerable to the Nicaraguan people and their situation, the youth of Lake Chaelan gained a new awareness of both the struggles of the poor and their own privilege.” [Yoconelli & Rogers, pp. 175-176]

What can and should we learn from this? When I think about Good Works for the Red Hook Project and the Imago Dei Society, it is authentic ministry coming from a Christian perspective – not fueled by “Americanisms” but as much removed from our American enculturation as possible. How are our Good Works to come out of the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of Man?

Where is this leading…

The state of the country and Christianity in the U.S. To where is all this leading?
From Daily News Briefing:
Ministry says some members have quit praying for Obama

COTTSDALE, AZ – A national ministry that organizes prayer for the president says it’s hearing from members who have quit praying for President Barack Obama…
His letter says the ministry has been “hit hard because some of our members are deeply distraught with our country’s leaders.” Otto writes that members “tell us that they are discouraged, disappointed, and some have admitted they have stopped praying for the president and our nation.”
Otto says prayer is needed more than ever with issues like the healthcare vote dividing Americans, and with the nation’s leaders casting aside what he calls “biblical principles.”

I’ve said before that so much of the anger we are seeing coming out of the Town Hall meetings held by Democrats around the country however many months ago, the Tea Party protests, and the healthcare coverage controversies stem from the politicized Religious Right losing this last national election. Then, of course, the Republican operatives (really the Neo-Con’s) exploit all of this for their advantage. Winning power is the only thing that matters, regardless of what it does to the country or society overall and regardless of whether it leads us to such division that the common good is no longer possible.
The rank-and-file Religious Right voters (Values Voters, American-Evangelicals of the neo-conservative kind, etc.) have been told over and over again that God is on their side and that there is no way that God would let His country (the divinely established U.S.A.) fall into the hands of “anti-Christians.” Just pray really hard, protest, write letters, give lots of money “to our organization” (Focus on the Family, American Family Association, Institute for Religion & Democracy, etc.), and “we can keep the godless, liberal, secular humanists from destroying our country!” “God is on our side, and we will win because He deems it so.” These kinds of statements come out of the various organizations all the time.
So, after the near hysterical rhetoric used by these groups in their attempt at fear-mongering in order to motivate their people to vote during the 2008 election, they lost! For so many of the Christians, suddenly the promises from their leaders that God would not let them down if they just did these things where no more. “How could this happen – isn’t God all powerful?” “Didn’t we pray, like we were supposed to?” “How could God let Satan win?” There developed a crisis of faith, a terrible feeling of being let down, a utter feeling of being marginalized, of being lied to, of no longer feeling empowered and special because God is on their side, etc.
The politicized Religious Right and their promises made to the Fundamentalist/American-Evangelical world didn’t live up to expectations, and now the rank-and-file are disillusioned and angry. And, of course, in the disappointment and anger the manipulative forces seeking power will try to exploit all this for their own advantage – they are charlatans. Again, the feelings or beliefs that “God is on our side” and “we know we love God so much and are so devout” leads them to an inability to consider that they just might have been wrong. They could be compelled to even more extreme reactions and actions.
In many ways, this mirrors the “conservative,” or perhaps “fundamentalist” would be a better word, world of Islam (and even Judaism). The Islamist terrorists are reacting out of desperation because all that they have been taught about what should happen concerning the devout followers of Islam is not the reality in the world. Allah is all great and Allah’s followers are the ones who should always win, have power, have wealth, etc., and not the infidels, particularly in the grossly immoral West. Yet, the Muslim countries, particularly Arab & Persian countries, are not at all “winning.” The bitterness, the jealousy, the anger, the disgust, the feelings of impotency, the poverty, the corruption, all of it that people are feeling lead them to extreme actions. So, they feel that they have to take matters into their own hands and do for Allah what Allah doesn’t seem to be doing for them, which often comes down to providing for their prosperity and authority and power in the world – the utter defeat of the infidels and the ascendancy of Islam in all parts of the life around the world. The disillusionment is terrible.
I think that for a significant group of Christianists in this country, they are headed down a similar trajectory that extremist Islamists have traveled. The exploitative forces may well come to believe that they can will win if chaos reigns, that instability is to their advantage, and that they will be able to attain power or money by exploiting the hell out of people’s sense of disillusionment. I think it would not take much of a push for a more radical faction to rise up among the neo-conservative, politicized Religious Right, in the name of defending a Godly America, to become violent.

See Red Hook #2

A second photo of the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Pray for wisdom, discernment, and vision for God’s work in our neighborhood.
Red Hook is a real mix of environments – public housing, hipster lofts, new condos, boarded up buildings, light industry, warehouses, art galleries & good restaurants, and a working port. These are two photographs of the port.

Red Hook #1

I’m going to start posting my photos of the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. I love that place and am developing new ministries for the area. The photography may not be particularly all that compelling and I’m certainly not satisfied with a lot of it (I’m just getting back into photography after a long absence), but I like doing it.
This is a photo of a couple women working in a nursery. This was their last day before they flew back to the West Coast for school.

Other than Constantinian Christianity

I keep saying that in the coming decades our society will look far more pre-Constantinian than post. Actually, among emerging generations, particularly Millennials (those 29 years and younger) this is already the case for all practical purposes. Even though among Millennials there is not a call for persecution, their negative attitudes and perceptions of American Christianity and the institutional Church (even if justified in many ways) causes a culture predisposition against Christianity and the Church.
From this article entitled, “Fighting Words: the politics of the creeds,” by Philip Jenkins in this month’s issue of Christian Century (my first issue), I might more accurately say “other than Constantinian Christianity” rather than “pre-Constantinian.”

“That story [history of persecution and growth of Churches in Egypt, Syria, etc., during the early Patristic period] tells us a great deal about the nature of Christian loyalties in the centuries after the Roman Empire’s conversion. If your emperor or king was formally Christian, then self-preservation alone dictated following his lead, so that we need not think that church members actually had any high degree of knowledge or belief in the new faith. But if the church was itself in deadly opposition to the state and faced actual persecution, then people had no vested interest whatever in belonging to it – quite contrary. Why risk your life by Hobo Jake [Archbishop Jacobus Baradaeus]? Through most of the Middle East and for long centuries after Constantine’s time, then, people followed these dissident churches for exactly the same reasons that their ancestors would have adhered to the beliefs of the earliest Christian communities. They followed because they thought they would obtain healing in this world and salvation in the next; because they wanted signs and wonders; and because the ascetic lives of church leaders gave these figures a potent aura of holiness and charisma. Ordinary Christians followed not because they were told, but because they believed.”
(Philip Jenkins, The Christian Century, March 23, 2010, p.24)

As we continue into Post-Christendom, people will be drawn to Christ and the Church because of what they witness in the lives of those who claim Christ – in their strengths and weaknesses, in their honesty and integrity. We become the imago Dei for those we encounter in our everyday lives.

missio Dei

I came across this quote attributed to Rowan Williams, ABC, and wanted to use it for the Imago Dei and Red Hook efforts.
I googled the quote to try to find the original source for a citation. It seems from an address given by The Rt. Revd. Dr. Steven J.L. Croft, Bishop of Sheffield, that Williams was not the originator of the quote. So, in the larger context of the address, Croft was speaking of missionary theologians who spent most all of their ministries in mission contexts and who later reflected on their experiences and wrote down those reflections. Croft mentions a few that to him have had a great impact on Anglican mission ideas. It seems the quote came from , The Rev. John Taylor. Here is the quote in its small context:

John Taylor was a CMS missionary to Africa and former head of the Church Missionary Society. His books, particularly the Go Between God are a clear articulation of a theology for mission which have influenced a generation of theologicans, bishops and practitioners in the United Kingdom. It is John Taylor who first articulated the wonderful phrase which is now widely quoted in Anglican documents on mission:
“Mission is about finding out what God is doing and joining in”.
One of the key elements in the cluster of ideas around missio Dei is that the Trinity is already at work in the world outside the church. God continues to reach out, to call, to love those he has created. We therefore go, as the Apostles went to Philippi so long ago, confident that we will find those who are seeking.
I hope I have said enough in this section to convince you that the movement to develop fresh expressions of church by the Church of England has deep roots both in the recovery of a sense of the missio Dei in world theology; in biblical studies and in our recent practice and exploration. It is the logical and practical outworking of shifts in our theological perspective which go back now a generation. It is not the mindless pursuit of the trendy or of consumer Christianity.

The entire address of Bishop Croft can be found in his address to the General Synod of the Church in Norway; 18th November, 2009; entitled:
The Mission of the Triune God Shaping Congregations Today Working towards a Mission-shaped Church
The Rt. Revd. Dr. Steven J.L. Croft, Bishop of Sheffield
Here is the HTML version (don’t know if it will work in all browsers):
The PDF for download came be found here:

Tablet computing

Notion Ink’s “Adam” tablet computer. A real competitor to Apple’s iPad. I may even be drawn to it if Apple doesn’t add such things as a camera or external port options.

A report of a speech by a Google’s European boss John Herlihy forecasting the future of information/computing devices, as reported on

Google believes that in three years or so desktops will give way to mobile as the primary screen from which most people will consume information and entertainment. That’s according to Google Europe boss John Herlihy who said that smart phones enhance Google’s mission to make information universal.
Speaking at the Digital Landscapes conference at UCD, Herlihy said that the cloud-computing opportunity will make sure that every mobile device will be capable of doing rapid-scale applications.
“In three years time, desktops will be irrelevant. In Japan, most research is done today on smart phones, not PCs,” Herlihy told a baffled audience, echoing comments by Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the recent GSM Association Mobile World Congress 2010 that everything the company will do going forward will be via a mobile lens, centring on the cloud, computing and connectivity.

Doctrine, the need for…

Marks makes some good points about the “feeling” focus of Christianity that has prevailed for a while now, and within my experience has culminated in the crisis of the Faith we are now experiencing in this country.

“…This is a Christianity of self-experience.
“In this sense, Western Christians are children of Friedrich Schleiermacher, the 19th-century Enlightenment thinker who built his theological system on the foundation of spiritual experience… A theology grounded in experience ultimately fades into soft moralism, humanism, or, in the unique case of American Christianity, a civic religion wherein God and country are easily confused…
“At the heart of Schleiermacher’s work lay an important quest: to understand how to be faithful in a particular context. Schleiermacher and his progeny wanted much to be relevant Christians. The problem is where he started.
“Schleiermacher thought that the essence of Christianity was its spiritual impulse, not its doctrine, which seemed to cause most of the problems…
“Schleiermacher began with internal experiences of God and built theology around those experiences, reconfiguring doctrine as needed. He assumed that by starting with ourselves and our desires, we would glimpse a purer vision of God and perhaps a more relevant church. But how did the project fare?
“With some 200 years of hindsight, we see that the ramifications were immense…
“In this trajectory, Jesus becomes a sage who, among others, came to tell us about our potential and awaken our religious sensibilities… Church becomes a kind of group therapy we attend to be told we are all right, to share in the piety of Jesus’ example. There is much positive here, the question remains whether God matters as the agent of changed lives. In the final analysis, core Christian beliefs, even those about Jesus, have to feel authentic or they are discarded…
“The emphasis on spiritual experience put us, not God, in the driver’s seat.
“As far as we remain the children of Schleiermacher, we either unconsciously or actively transform Christianity into something that, while seemingly relevant, is bereft of spiritual vigor.
“…this theological method inverts Schleiermacher’s. We do not start with ‘my spirituality’ and then identify core beliefs. Instead, we begin with core beliefs – those discovered by the church as it has intellectually wrestled with the truth of Scripture in the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit. These beliefs, which come from outside myself, correct and shape my spiritual experience.
“For the past 200 years, many parts of Western Christianity have labored as Schleiermacher’s Children. The mainline traditions have hoped to achieve relevance. The evangelical and free-church traditions have hoped to read the Bible unadulterated and alone. Both traditions, however, have made our feelings – which are, be definition, slippery and transitory – primary. Mainliners have eschewed theology for fear that it imposes another’s context and assumptions, while evangelicals have eschewed theology because it might compete with the pristine Bible or become a rigid boundary. Both traditions forget that theology is a kind of memory that allows us to hear God’s Word by clarifying our experiences.”
[Marks, Darren C. (March 2010). “The Mind Under Grace: Why theology is an essential nutrient for spiritual growth.” Christianity Today, 24-26.]