Moving On Over

February 16, 2009

I’m no longer blogging at this site.  I’ve moved to http://erikullestad.blogspot.com/

(For those who do the rss thing, here’s the new feed — http://feeds2.feedburner.com/blogspot/erikullestad)

Why move?

I’m tired of explaining the “godsnowhere” gimmick to people.  I need a break from WordPress, which is an awesome blog site (probably the best), but the features are limited if I don’t self-host my website (which costs money)…and requires a certain level of tech-savvy that I don’t have.

I’ll be doing the same kinds of things at the new site.  I would be much obliged if you’d join me over at KOINONIA.  Thanks…


Music Video Divina

February 3, 2009

Chris Scharen, my new favorite scholar / theologian, introduced a new term to us at the Extravaganza — music video divina.  (Similar to lectio divina.)  We used the U2 / Green Day video “The Saints Are Coming” as our focal point.

Some additional input on the intended meaning behind the video (from Wikipedia):

A music video for “The Saints Are Coming,” directed by Chris Milk, was released on video site YouTube on October 27, 2006. The music video shows the two bands playing at the Abbey Road Studio and at the Louisiana Superdome (though the footage from the live performance at the Superdome has been overdubbed with the studio version of the song), intermixed with news footage of the displacement of residents after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The second half of the video shows an alternate history in which George W. Bush redeployed troops and vehicles from Iraq to New Orleans to help victims of the hurricane, with the military personnel fulfilling the titular role of the “saints.” According to Chris Milk, this was done to “make a commentary on the Katrina disaster … from the standpoint of how things can and should be done in the future.”[4] The video ends with military support vehicles fading out as the camera pans to a sign that reads ‘Not as seen on TV’, alluding to the criticized response to Katrina while also parodying media deception on rescue coverage. The video had more than two million views on YouTube five days after its initial upload. Various critics, including some YouTube viewers have commented on the logistical impossibility of the hypothetical movement of certain pieces of military hardware from Iraq on such short notice as well as the actual functional capabilities of the aircraft digitally edited into the video.

Amazing.  Powerful.  Prophetic.


The Case for Not Being Emergent

January 14, 2009

http://luthermergent.org/2009/the-case-for-not-being-emergent/

I thought Evan Curry did a nice job addressing the pitfalls that come with defining “emergent”.  For those of you who don’t like to jump between two different articles, here’s what Evan had to say.

I remember a story about a famous punk rock star, who was walking down the street as he was being interviewed by a journalist. The journalist asked this individual, “What is punk rock?” The rocker, hearing the question, turned to a nearby trashcan, kicked it down, and said, “That’s punk rock!” Believing to now understand the punk rock scene, the journalist kicked down an adjacent trashcan. “That’s punk rock?” he said. The rock star smiled and replied, “No, that’s trendy.”

Part of my original attraction to the Emergent conversation was that I didn’t have to be defined by my theology. Specifically, I didn’t have to do theology in a systematic way. For instance, if I believed in Calvin’s doctrine on atonement, I didn’t have to be a “Calvinist” (whatever that is). Equally attractive was that I could believe in Arminian free will, and those who disagreed with me wouldn’t resent me but actually engage in conversation with me. Thus, I wasn’t defined by my theology, but I was defined by my humanity. I wasn’t seen as an “outsider” because I didn’t hold the exact same theology as those who disagreed with me. Instead, I was listened to and engaged with by others. I guess that means we were “in conversation.”

Our human (modern?) desire is to define each other. “He or she is a Democrat.” That feels good. It’s comfortable. We now “know” who/what they are all about. But the problem is that people are just messier than definitions. We don’t fit in boxes very easily no matter how hard we struggle to. I’m not a Calvinist, but neither is John Calvin. I’m not a mainliner, but neither is Walter Brueggemann. I’m not Anglican, but neither is N.T. Wright. We are not confined to our boxes, but we our defined by our humanity; or better yet, our new humanity. Part of becoming a follower of Jesus is shedding definitions, breaking out of boxes, and helping others do the same. We are under the umbrella of Christianity, but one person sharing it may be different (and is allowed to be) than another person sharing the same umbrella.

This being said, it has become slightly popular to now say, “I’m Emergent.” To which I respond, “What? Doesn’t that kick against everything that is ‘emergent’?” I do understand the purpose of definitions, but my fear is that if we define ourselves by “Emergent” we may exclude those who aren’t. Once we define ourselves as that, we reinforce the lumping of the individual into what other people call “Emergent.” For instance, someone says, “Evan is Emergent;” thus, he must agree with Brian McLaren when he says such and such, and Tony Jones when he says such and such, and Doug Pagitt when he says such and such. If one must be defined as “Emergent,” thenI’m not Emergent.

Like the story above, punk rock isn’t something you are or do, but it’s an “ideal” or a “mindset.” Similarly, Emergent must not be something one is, but rather it must remain a mindset since there are certain Emergent ideals (e.g., missional living). So, if one who follows those ideals is “Emergent,” then I am Emergent. 

Emergent is a working definition (a work in-progress per se). It must refrain from attempting to be fully defined…because it can’t be. It is not defined, rather Emergent is defining and re-defining; and it should remain this way.

Maybe we could say, “If you say you’re Emergent, you aren’t”? You can’t be Emergent. Emergent is a conversation. It cannot be ultimately defined. You can live Emergent. You can embody Emergent, but you are not definitively Emergent. You are a human, a new creation, one created in the image of God.

My prayer is that term “Emergent” will soon phase out and that the ideals of Emergent will become what it simply means to be “Christian” (which I think already does mean so).

Postmoderns are OK with paradox so – I am not Emergent. I cannot be defined. I am messier than that. But I am Emergent. I hold those ideals. I have that mindset. I believe in the missional call of Christ. I believe in conversation. I believe in unity.

Part of being Emergent (I believe) is that you simultaneously aren’t. You are part of something bigger than yourself, but you cannot be defined. You are part of a movement that needs no definition. It has ideals, but it can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t be fully defined.

So, I guess I’m not Emergent because I am.

 

My inner-Lutheran craves more structure (oops…I said the “s-word”!) with the Emergent conversation.  I’m familiar and comfortable with church councils, constitutions, synods, by-laws, task forces of 60% lay and 40% clergy.  I still find value in these entities, despite their inherent flaws.  Perhaps an Emergent purpose statement, or some guiding principles, would make me feel more at ease.  Maybe a leadership board that helps to shape Emergent identity.  (Even the heralded Emergent book of 2008 – “The Great Emergence” by Phyllis Tickle – refuses to slap a definition on the Emergent movement / conversation / thing.)

I believe it’s entirely possible that such structure is both unnecessary and counter-productive to all that is Emergent.  It  just requires this young Lutheran to embrace a little more ambiguity than what my orthodoxy has allowed up to this point.


Can’t We All Just Get Along?

December 30, 2008

I’ve been putting off writing an article for about 3 months.  The working title is “The New Ecumenism”, which will outline how I think the emerging church conversation can cultivate a real ecumenical environment for a new generation of Christians.  I hope to get around to writing it at some point.  

In the meantime, here’s an interesting article, written by Jonathan Brink, that touches on this very topic.

If anything stood out in Tickle’s book, it was this: The Protestant movement chose divorce instead of reconciliation. We just could not find a way to agree to disagree without separating. And we’re reaping the costs now.

 

What would it look like to participate in a movement that said, “No more,” to the idea of divorce? What would it look like to work through the issues in a way that allowed us to agree to disagree? What would it look like to expand the use of Scripture as just one of the many ways God speaks to us, and include the Holy Spirit, our community, and creation as part of this process? What would it look like to have a generative conversation that allowed a Catholic, an Anglican, a Protestant, and a Greek Orthodox to sit in the same room with a Bible and discover what brings us together, this amazing person named Jesus, as opposed to what separates us?

I can’t change what happened in the church’s past, but I can participate in creating a new story for our children. I can choose to love my neighbor even when we disagree. I can sit with my brothers and sisters and participate in a faith expression that rises above the traditional labels; one that finds the best in each in a way that reveals love.

And that is why I have hope.

Though Brink and I disagree with the subtleties of the post-Reformation understanding of sola scriptura, I like what he has to say about the Protestant propensity to divide rather than unite…and how 21st century Christians are working to change that tendency.


The Great Emergence – Chapter 1

December 13, 2008

I like baseball.  I’m not particularly good at playing the game, nor do I spend a lot of my time watching regular season games.  I do, however, enjoy reading box scores, analysis, and commentary about our national pastime.  Even though “chicks dig the long ball“, I’ve always been mesmerized with art of pitching.  Growing up and collecting baseball cards in the late 1980s, you would usually see two different pitchers – a starter and a closer.  Assuming everything went according to plan, the starter would pitch 7-8 innings, and the closer would take care of the last 1-2.  It was an inexact science, but it worked more times than not.  Dave Stewart goes 7 innings, Dennis Eckersley wraps up the last 2.  Done and done.

Within the last decade-ish, however, a new pitching phenomenon has occurred.  It is not uncommon these days to see at least 3 pitchers in a game, and often 4 or 5.  Starters are on strict pitch-counts (usually no more than 100 pitches) to preserve their arm throughout the rigors of pitching once a week.  Closers rarely see more than one inning of work.  The new demand is for “set up men”.  Managers use these guys to bridge the gap between the starter and the closer.  Set-up pitchers may throw 5 pitches or 5 innings.  These guys are all about situational pitching.  They have become increasingly valuable to teams throughout the season; but some baseball purists think set-up men are unnecessary and overrated. 

The opening pages of “The Great Emergence” are like a set-up pitcher.

 

Phyllis Tickle spends a substantial amount of time giving historical and contextual explanations for Christian trends in the past 2000 years.  I sense that the preface, introduction to Part I, and chapter 1 are all laying the groundwork for something more.  I hope the subsequent chapters launch me (and other readers) into a compelling case for why the Emerging Church conversation is, indeed, the next “great” thing.  I have every confidence that it will…but I’m a bit like a baseball purist watching set-up pitchers.  

The main thrust of the first 31 pages is that Christianity has a big shake-up every 500 years.  Jesus…Fall of Rome (Gregory the Great)…The Great Schism…The Great Reformation…  It’s certainly an interesting observation, but I’m not yet convinced that we are necessarily living in the next “Great” thing.  If anything, this claim typifies the rush to judgment that is prevalent in the 21st century.  I don’t know how many events in the last few months have been dubbed one of the “greatest of all time”.  The greatest speech…the greatest economic downturn…the greatest athlete…the greatest game…the greatest charitable donation.  Have we lost all objectivity in our rush to validate our myopic perception that we’re living in a pretty awesome time?  

(Case in point, The Dark Knight has been in the Top 5 of the IMDB.com Best Movies of All-Time list…but it didn’t even receive a Golden Globe nominee for Best Picture.  Over 312,000 movie fans have decided that it’s the greatest movie they’ve ever seen, so it must be among the greatest ever.)

Last spring I visited with a leader of the Unification Church in Minneapolis.  He, too, talked about the 500 year trends in Judeo-Christian events; only his assertion was that the 500 year “great” thing happened a few decades ago with the coming of Sun Myung Moon.  While I tend to give more credence to Ms. Tickle’s observations, I am not convinced that the Great Emergence is the next semi-millennial event any more than I am convinced that Moon is the second coming of Jesus.  The former seems more likely than the later, but I require more persuasion.

I’m looking forward to future chapters, just as long as I don’t have to watch many more set-up pitchers.


The Great Emergence

December 10, 2008

It seems that several members of the Emerging Church community are falling in love with Phyllis Tickle’s new book, “The Great Emergence”.  Since I am intrigued by the Emerging Church conversation – and because I’m still a little bummed that I didn’t make it to the event in Memphis last week – I figured it’s time to read the book.  

The Great Emergence

 

My goal is, starting tomorrow, to read a chapter each day for the next week.  As a way of channeling my thoughts, I will attempt post some of my reflections about each chapter in this space.  You’re welcome to come along for the ride.  You can order it online.  I bought my copy at Borders in West Des Moines.  My guess is that most bookstores will have it in stock.


Confirmation Conversation

December 1, 2008

I had a good chat with Angie and Megan today.  Both gals are excellent youth ministers here in the Des Moines area.  We get together once a week to talk about specific aspects of ministry.  It’s a little experiment we stole from a local school district called a Professional Learning Community.  Basically it’s a peer-led mini continuing education experience.  The discussions are enriching; and they are most beneficial when we disagree.  Such was the case today.

The topic was Confirmation Ministry, something that exists in almost every Lutheran church.  The “end result” of CM is for teens (usually in 8th or 9th grade) to make public proclamation of their faith in the Triune God, usually by reciting the Apostle’s Creed.  During the Affirmation of Baptism service, young people (along with the support of parents, baptismal sponsors, and the entire congregation) also make the following promises:  

 

  • To live among God’s faithful people
  • To hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper
  • To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed
  • To serve all people, following the example of Jesus
  • To strive for justice and peace in all the earth

 

Considering the daunting nature of these promises, most Lutheran churches provide an extensive educational curriculum that helps young people grow in knowledge and faith in the years leading up to the Affirmation.  Common aspects of CM curriculum include weekly class time taught by a pastor or lay leader, service projects, taking notes in worship, writing faith statements, and the memorization of scripture and/or sections of Luther’s Small Catechism.  Some churches will write their own curriculum.  However, because most congregations have such similar approaches to CM, many Lutheran churches will purchase materials from Faith Inkubators or Here We Stand and tweak the resources to fit to their particular environment.   

The educational theory is good.  The pedagogy is solid.  The practice, in many ways, is also helpful.  (Full disclosure – I wrote a bunch of the material for Here We Stand.)  But, somewhere along the way, we managed to screw it up.

Which takes us back to my conversation with Angie and Megan…

One of the big struggles for people like us, who really care about helping young people grow in faith, is the “rite of passage” nature that CM has taken in most Lutheran churches.  Instead of being something that kids and parents choose to do, it’s something they do “because everyone else is doing it”; regardless of whether or not they have a desire to make public profession of their faith and assumer greater responsibility in the Christian life of faith.  The current format of CM assumes that all kids start at the same place on their faith journey…and, even worse, that all kids arrive at the same “I BELIEVE” moment at the same time.  

This all seems a bit disingenuous to me.  

Every year there are hundreds of young people who had no desire to go through the Rite of Affirmation of Baptism at the end of Confirmation instruction.  Typically, they were allowed (forced?) to go through it for one of two reasons: 

 

  1. “You’ve done all the work, you might as well reap the benefits”
  2. Family members have already planned to attend, and will be disappointed if you don’t “get confirmed”

 

Neither one of these have anything to do with the 5 promises listed above, let alone a public pronouncement of faith…and yet churches all over the world continue to enable this mindset by not calling the motives into question.  Some would argue, as someone did today, that we need to practice grace and demonstrate that we as a church are accepting of all people, regardless of their failures or shortcomings.  All people should be welcomed into the Body of Christ.  It doesn’t matter if they attended class regularly, completed their worship notes, or even believe in God.  

To this I say “bullcrap”.

Grace applies to salvation, and is something that should be practiced in our encounters with all people.  It also doesn’t apply in a situation where the church is supporting people who make the choice to affirm their Baptism.  Grace is showing compassion on a child who didn’t memorize Luther’s explanation of the 3rd Article of the Creed.  It’s not allowing a disinterested, uncommitted young person to make a mockery of Confirmation Ministry and then show up on Affirmation Sunday because Granny wants to see the kid in a white robe.

Puke. 

Confirmation is the closest thing we Lutherans come to making a “decision for Jesus” or choosing to “accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior”.  The Affirmation of Baptism is a joyous celebration in which someone take the promises that were made on their behalf when they were a baby and claims them as their own.  It’s serious business…something the church shouldn’t take lightly.  Allowing any and all 9th graders in the church to go through the entire process, regardless of authenticity, invalidates the efforts of those who are taking it seriously.  

Taking this approach to the Rite of Affirmation of Baptism also strengthens the argument that Lutherans are a wishy-washy denomination – one that is willing to take anyone and everyone who shows interest and refuse to bog them down with making real commitments.  This is moment where our faithful devotion to the grace of God is cheapened and reduced to nothing more than empty words on a page.  What are we teaching our young people about being members of the Body of Christ?  “We know that you have no desire to be here and that you don’t intend to fulfill the promises you’re making.  We’re happy to be partners with you in this deception, in the hopes that you’ll come back some day.”

Here’s the truth — they’re not coming back…either because they were never interested in the first place and then never will be or, even worse, they realize one day that they want to start attending church, but they don’t return to their “home church” because they don’t want to be affiliated with such a dishonest organization.  

That’s my biggest fear.  Every day I see young people craving purpose and meaning in their communities.  They want to be part of something that matters.  They desire accountability and real connectivity.  They want to be challenged to grow in faith, to realize their gifts and discover how to use them to the glory of God.  They understand, better than their parents, that church isn’t all things to all people.  They want to know that the church stands for something; even if that means they don’t get to wear the white robe.  

I believe there is room in our grace-orientation for all of these things.  We just need to have the courage to stand firm in who we are as a community of faith and, most importantly, walk with the young people and families who are not interested in Confirmation and bring them into the conversation.  I do not advocate abandoning those who don’t want to do Confirmation.  If anything, these households require even more of the church’s effort and energy.  

I also think churches should remove any affiliation with age-specific Affirmations of Baptism.  Furthermore, people should be able to affirm their Baptism whenever they feel it’s necessary.  The Christian life is filled with moments of doubt and moments of faith; times of “I Believe” and times of “I Don’t”.  We need to remove the notion that the one and only acceptable time to proclaim your faith is around the time you get your driver’s license.

I’m cooking up a proposal that incorporates some of those ideas.  It wouldn’t work at my church, but might work for someone else out there.  It’s something that utilizes the Here We Stand stuff, but could be used without it.  Look for it by the end of the month.

 

In closing, Confirmation is a topic that has been very close to my heart ever since I was 14.  Perhaps at another time in this space, I will share my Confirmation Ministry experience, and how it continues to shape me as a child of God and as a youth minister.  I really appreciated the insights and perspective that Angie and Megan offered today.  In the meantime, I welcome your comments and questions on anything I’ve written.  Let’s keep the Confirmation Conversation going!!!

 


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