Saturday, July 30, 2005

Existential Crisis

Dear Friends

This is my first post to your venerable blog. It comes at a crazy time in my life. Marriage two weeks away, move to Chicago two days away, school starting soon and all that jazz. This post is the result of ruminations that have been going on in my mind for quite some time but have finally come to a head in the last few weeks.

Part One: "The Church"

Allow me to introduce myself and my topic all at the same time. I am a friend of Jake's (and now Paco, and Johnny, and Dusty too!) from seminary up at Garrett-Evan. I am not a Methodist but a part of the Nazarene church. I am on my way to being a pastor in the Nazarene church (like I could start anytime, preferrably after graduation). I also enjoy the academic side and so I have aspirations to write and possibly teach down the road. So in seminary I am in the "academic" program. But whenever anyone asks me specifically about it I tell them that I want my work (this includes paper I write for academic conferences and such) whatever it is to be for "the church."

I know from reading this site that there have been multiple conversations about the failure of "the church" and as Jake has begun to win victory in moving me away from the Catholic Church I am beginning to wonder if we can even use that term. Is "the church" to broad. What am I actually saying when I say I want my academic work to be for "the church?" Do I mean the church that I attend in the Ravenswood neigborhood of Chicago (more on that later), do I mean the church that got G.W. Bush elected again, do I have some ephemeral, mystical, global (imaginary?) body in mind? What do I mean? Those questions have been plaguing me of late. And I have to say "the church" as it stands now, the one with a history of violence, greed, hypocrisy and self-centeredness is not what I have in mind (I think). In other words, the church has screwed things up royally. Especially the church in America--the utter disregard for care of the earth, the gluttony for wealth and comfort (and we are mostly all in this boat), the propensity for rabid nationalism (on both sides of the political spectrum) and violence. On top of all this, the general body of the church of the Nazarene just elected two new leaders ( a group of old white men), and one was a woman but the other was a staunchly conservative, middle aged, rich, blonde, white man. What it comes down to is that I don't *want* to identify myself with this body. For me the body of Christ cannot (I hope) be this...but maybe it is. So for me, I realized that I cannot employ the use of "the church". It is just too unreal and doesn't for me re-present the body of Christ.

Part Two: "A Church"

A couple of weeks ago while conversing with a friend I said that I didn't think I could talk about "the church" anymore. In light of the newly elected General Superintendent of the Nazarene church, I no longer even wanted to use "the church" about the Nazarene church. I felt like it was a hopeless case (I know there are some problems with this but bear with me). I told my friend that I thought I could and should start talking about "a church" instead. Focusing on the local body of which I was a part. Doing my work for the life and work of the people and body that I see at least weekly and striving academically for the benefit of those people and their work in the community in Chicago. And I had no problem with this. There was a well structured outreach program run by the associate pastor that would teach kids and develop their skills in art, music, sports and technology. Giving these urban middleschoolers real options in the city, listening to them and becoming friends with them. When I could I went down and helped with the kids after school.

But now "a church", this church has closed its doors to these kids. Unsatisfied by the lack of apparent "results" with these kids (evidently going to Sunday School and showing up for Sunday morning church) and using the argument of "we pay missionaries to go minister to people 'out there', we need to start focusing on our own" the church has chosen to essentially force this associate to resign and end the outreach program within the next year. These actions to me again do not seem to identify with the actions of Christ. So I feel at a loss, not even now being able to speak of "a church."

Jake will want me to become Anabaptist, I have a propensity toward the episcopals, I don't want to leave my church (that is both "a church" and "the church [of the Nazarene]" but it is seeming like a lot of doors are closing on them right now. I think maybe starting a house church could be a way to go. This post is way too long, but I wonder if this raises any questions about the way we even talk about church. I won't spell them out, but this has been a depressing last few weeks...I will keep you updated. I think (maybe) that God still cares about church, but I also think we piss God off quite a bit.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Midwest Mindset Conference this fall!

Hey everyone, Paco and I are proud to announce the first ever Midwest Mindset conference to take place in Afghanistan at the end of September. Scheduled to appear and give lectures are both Paco and myself. The meetings will begin in Kabul with paper presentations taking place by some sweet river out in the villiage where we will eat berries and share ideas and love for creation. Who else wants to come? Anyone? How about sending me money? I will give you first dibs on package sending as well as credit in the official conference bulletin for cash. And I will bring back cheap prizes for you. that's right. prizes. alright, so MW '05 in Afghanistan. Let me know if you want to come.

Friday, July 22, 2005

This is what I was a part of last night...

While not particularly fitting in the recent "HC/U meeting grounds for existential/theological distress" posts, I thought you would all like to hear a bit about my evening last night. Fellow MMer Dusty was visiting and we went to check out the Sox vs. Sox match up going on on the South side. On the ride home, we were just about out of the underground portion of the red line train when the train stopped suddenly, the power went down, and we were told there was an incident on the tracks and things would be shut down for a bit. According to the Tribune, it is unclear if my train hit a dead body or a live one, but either way, there was a body on the tracks, and our driver was out with her flashlight investigating the incident etc. while we all waited inside the train. Since we were in the front car we had a little insight into what was going on, but I still thought that maybe there was a bomb threat or something shutting down the system because there'd been a few of those lately. Anyway, after 30 minutes or so they escorted all of us out this sweet secret escape hatch and through these stairs and out into the middle of nowhere west side chicago which was especially funny because this police officer told us to "follow those police officers" up a block and shuttle would be set up or something but as we walked we all realized there was no police officers to follow, and we took a cab home. God bless the CTA!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Rose by any other name...

Hey guys, This has been a hot, hot time for the Midwest Mindset. I love the people that have been posting. Paco, I miss you. I appreciate your insights and feel that I have refreshed and maybe gotten away from cynicism long enough to say amen. thanks for sharing that. Jonny and Adam, also, great posts...And yes, Jake, Sufjan may be the best thing to happen to music since Hoi Polloi..

However, What I want to ask about is something that Adam posted about in the comments about Jonny's big post. It also relates to my completion and Jake's review of McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy...What are we if we aren't Evangelicals and what good (or bad) does this title do for us as a community and, ultimately, the cause of Christ? Amos, Victoria, Joey, et al...I want some input...


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Camp Buffalo

The best summer of my young life was with the Boy Scouts at Camp Buffalo (near Indiana Beach) between my Sophomore and Junior years. Did lots of cool things there that made my heart go wild: one match fires, mountain biking, rock climbing, and built an "ewok" villiage using these amazingly complex knots and 'lashings'. My formal role was that of chaplain... When hired I thought I was getting a cool summer job where I'd get to work on my preaching/teaching skills. I could apply the knowledge I just gained in the spring from Jones' "Youth Ministry" and Sanders' "Systematic II" classes. What I ended up getting was a good lesson on inter-religious dialogue, religious pluralism, and a glimpse of being a military chaplain.

When I was hired I clarified with the Scout Master that I was a Christian, and I would be able to "preach Christ." He confirmed this. However, not more than a week in, this swiftly changed, and I would not be allowed to mention Jesus during the Vespers service except within ancedotes without particular Christian value. So each week I struggled to craft Vesper services that spoke to boys of all faiths. I also offered a Wednesday Bible study for the Christians. And along the way got into some great conversations with Fundamentalist Christians, Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews, and Atheists. Going into that summer I was a proud "Soldier of Christ," but coming out I was humbled- I wanted something more poetic here but no other word can describe it better. This was a big moment that helps me identify with Jonny's post.

All this is to say that religious dialogue is tough stuff, and being a chaplain isn't easy. At times I felt my silence on Christ was a betrayal of my faith.

Today, "Christendom" is still alive in my heart at times, so unfortunately I can relate a bit (only a bit- I mean I was just a Boy Scout Chaplain) to the following articles.

Cardinal George (ArchBishop of Chicago)
Air Force Chaplains

Friday, July 08, 2005

Too little, Too late

This will be far too sporadic, short, unthoughtout, and logically flawed, but I don't have internet access in my village and I think i have some kind of intestinal worm or bacteria. This also is far to late as it is in response to jonny's post several weeks ago, but I don't really care.

This is about the discussions we like to have about "the failure of the church."

First I would like to contradict everything that follows and say "yes, of course your right, Jonny, the church has failed and failed huge and most everything in life I hate is its fault."

But I wonder what we mean when we say the church has failed. I have two problems with statements of these sorts. The first is that despite our attempts to reject pragmatic and capitalist mindsets we still freely fall into their traps. In a post where we write that capitialism/mcworld might not be all its cracked up to be, we speak from behind its own muzzle. How are we able to do things like measure the success of the church? Will the church not have failed if there wasn't aids in africa, does the church count as a success if rwanda, sudan, DRC, cambodia, you name it, doesn't happen or at least Christian do something about it? Did mother tereasa, dorthy day, martyered central american priests, nameless christian in nameless godforsaken war/poverty zone really do anything which can be measured? Does it matter if they did? Did Jesus do anything other than walk around, feed some guys, hug some lepers, and get killed? Couldn't Jesus have been a lot more effective? The problem is that our lives as Christians are to be lived in such a manner that the success of them cannot be measured. This is why people hate pacifism. In a capitalistic paradigm it almost always looks like a failure. Failure can always be measured (well almost, and perhaps a lot of failure isn't as much failure as it seems), but how can Christian success be measured? Surely we wouldn't suggest in souls saved, mouths fed, small one room concrete houses built? If christian success can be measured in these terms then, is it a failure to care for the mentally handicapped? To love and hold the hand of a person that may never "change" (as in stop being mentally handicapped) or "accomplish great tasks" for thier whole life is in these terms a collasal waste of time and failure, is it not?

Secondly, I also feel like our cynicism misses the beauty of this. Of course the church has failed. The whole story of the church is one of beautiful terrible failure. People trying so hard or not trying so hard that they end up with collasal failure. I thought that our shared love of life, grace, the bible, and Magnolia, would remind us of this. We all well know that all the bible hot shots, were for the most part terrible failures trying to serve god, but instead killing, destroying, and ruining everything. Maybe I have the rich white luxury of saying this, but I think that in a way its beautiful. This is the story of the church, human kind, myself, trying poorly, failing badly, drinking a big tall glass of grace.

This said, I'm not saying I'm glad Christians colonized Africa, and yes I think the church should be doing more, that christians are complacent, trapped in materialism, nihilism, racism, capitalism, socialism, whatever else ism you want to throw around. But to speak of the failure of the church ignores the fact that this may not be something we can really know, nor something we can do anything about. What we can do is something with what we know or think we know. And maybe to do that invovles speaking to the glaring errors of the past. Or maybe it just means living truthfully together in such a manner that we can truly love our neighbor as ourselves. Living truthfully doesn't mean that we aren't going to completely stop lying, beating our wives, bombing nameless humans of other races for corporate gain. It means we are going to try, it means we are trying. And trying means failing as well as succeeding. And that's were grace comes in. And grace, as we all know is the most beautiful nectar of berry flavored dreams.

But you knew all that.

As a side note for those of you fools who don't think being late is a virtue, my brother normally commutes to London on one of the buses that was bombed and would have been on it at the time of the bombing but he was late that day and so took a different bus. So next time I am late remember that one day it will probably save my life. and not yours

Also I apologize for not having much time to post here on the site. I love you humans and I love you stongly.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

What are you Thinking!?!?

The good Lord has sent his/her/it's powerful spirit upon us and graced us all with the incarnation of the pure form of music. I am writing to do nothing other then use whatever sort of influence and mental power I have over your lives to emplore you to immediately access, purchase, and repeatedly listen to the new Sufjan Stevens album, Illinois. For those of you who haven't heard, Sufjan Stevens is the greatest artist of our time. He has undertaken a project of magnificent scope, writing a CD about every state in the USA. Now, I'm not a patriot, but Sufjan covers everything about these states that are wonderful and great. I can't even describe to you the joy and mystery of life you are missing by not having all of his CDs, however, you can rightly start making things better in the world today by getting this CD. I know we talk alot about rejecting materialism, not buying into the wal-mart mindset, but Sufjan makes everything in the world better and you can buy this wonderful new CD at most major stores like Best-Buy and Borders, or even I-tunes (so i hear)! So, you can, theoretically, have your cake and eat it too, that's right, listening to this new CD makes it possible for you to participate in the most confusing idiom of all time! It will both speak to and help resolve whatever existential crisis you and jonny are having. it has cured my mind of all ill-will and mental illness. I am now drug free. I stake my musical/philosophical/spiritual/physical reputation on this record. You will not be dissapointed. Spread the word! Let's make this a best seller! Celebrate my state! Celebrate my state of mind! Celebrate Illinois! Fight terror! Buy this CD today! Join the army! rejoice! rejoice! rejoice!