Posts Tagged ‘www.osawatomiepresbyterian.org’

Perhaps the most typical understanding of John Calvin is as a theologian who asserted that God plays favorites.   You know how playing favorites works….you love all your children but the one that acts the most like you gets important slack in tough situations.    You try to manage your workplace “by the book” but you can’t help watching over that hard-working employee that gives 110%.  Even within the habitual behavior of another human being we have “favorites” things they do that we like and things they do that we do not like and our response to them indicates the preference.

The most surface understanding of John Calvin’s doctrine of election is that God plays favorites with human beings who do not really know if they are God’s favorites or not.  And so, we have to hope….be on really good behavior and hope that we are “in”.   Don’t let me interrupt this idea of Calvin if it is in important to you.  On the other hand, if you are a person of the reformed tradition say….in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and you are interested in the integrity of your tradition, what I am pulling together in this blog may be of some interest to you.

The problem with many traditional theologians is that their ideas and assertions were written in a remarkably different time.  For John Calvin, science, as we know it, was emerging (there is even evidence that he modified his thinking in order to accommodate science) but science then was not what it is today.  There is a terrific need in the church to bring today’s scientific knowledge and its questions into conversation with our faith.  If we do not …. our faith will become increasingly disconnected from those things such as medicine and technology that otherwise enrich our lives.   Process theology strives to honor the emerging world in which we find ourselves and in which God is surely still The Creator.  But there is not much connection drawn between process theology and the work of John Calvin.  In fact, many in the process community might mistakenly understand Calvin to be rigid and anti-process.

I believe John Calvin’s depth of thought and theological insight works well with process theologies assertions.  Thus, Calvin has a great relevance for continual emergence of science that so intrigues us.  I want to keep this simple so let me share three points.  The first point will be about why we are tempted to play favorites at all.  The second point will be about understanding election at a deeper level than  favoritism.  The final point will be show how the doctrine of election when understood at this deeper level, mirrors what we can know about creation as disclosed in our faith tradition and in the emerging world of science around us.

1.  The reason we play favorites is because we have a hope that our life has purpose and meaning.  One of the ways that we substantiate our purpose and meaning is by seeing what we value in others.  When we see it, we reinforce it thus making it larger and more pronounced.  When we have reinforced in others what we value about ourselves, our lives seem to have a purpose beyond just our individualism.   Playing favorites is about hoping that we have a purpose in God’s providence.

2.  The richest part of the doctrine of election is this belief that God creates each human being with intention and purpose.  As Stacy Johnson puts it, “Before we were, God was; that God thought of us and called us into being ; that God knows us by name; and that God has chosen to give us a future and a hope.” (John Calvin: Reformer for the 21st Century, William Stacy Johnson)  For Calvin, it is our servant like responsiveness to our neighbor and thus to God (through the church) that gives us a sense of but not a certainty of election.

3.  If election means that God knows us and calls us forward into the future, we begin to understand that Calvin is a partner to process.  For election is  very much like process theology’s understanding of a responsive God who provides a cascade of possibilities to all creatures.  Process theology critiques Calvin’s original intent out of his old world view of right and wrong or our temptation toward favorites.  In the spirit of sociological and psychological research….even the discoveries of physics and process theology asks reformed thinkers to appreciate the intricacy of responses that emanate from a human being, animal or molecule  given their matrix of relationships and circumstances.  The idea that God does not give up on us no matter the limit of our response to God’s possibilities is at least the image of a loving human parent is definitely more congruent with our belief that God is living and creating still.

Playing favorites limits possibilities to the extent that we are trying to affirm and promote our own selves. God is surely not an image of us in our most limited or selfish moments.  Being elect is not about who is God’s favorite.  Being among the elect is about having the sense that we are known and purposeful and then embarking on a discovery of  our capacities for one another in the face of God’s possibilities which are generous and abundant.


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I live in fear of Charlie Brown‘s teacher.  I am either afraid as a pastor that I will sound like her to my congregation.  Or, alternately, I am afraid that she is all I might hear.

There are at least two emphasis in local congregations.   One emphasis is on being well versed in the theological language of history that has been going on since the third century of our church’s life.  This emphasis prizes knowing about church fathers, the doctrine of the Trinity, Jesus Christ or the sacraments.  It informs us of the Reformation as Protestants set themselves apart from Catholics. This emphasis, alone, is a voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher in the church.   We drone on as some sort of distant authority to a classroom of individuals who want to know not about history but about immediacy.  Such historical and doctrinal knowledge leads local congregants to the conclusion that there are appropriate or correct Christian beliefs to which members may be obligated if they are to have integrity in the local congregation.   In the end, however, the correct belief is not really all that interesting.

A second kind of emphasis in a local congregation is one that is unabashedly personal.  This emphasis does not have a conversational knowledge of Martin Luther, John Calvin, the reformation or the real differences between denominations.  While congregants might sense that they should know these details….the details seem irrelevant when compared to the emphasis upon the intense and demanding life that they are living.   This emphasis demands to know how God is working in their individual/familial life.  Ironically, it is that emphasis that has brought them to the very church that has a profound sense of its historical duty and obligation.

I have a new fear…..that the church and its congregants sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher to one another. But maybe there is a translator for these two authorities in congregational life.

What is missing of course between immediacy of the self and history is a tool that integrates the two with integrity.   Between immediacy of self and history is the discipline of science.  There are timeless faith questions that are quick becoming stale and brittle.   Why if God is loving does my child suffer needlessly?  If God rewards the faithful, why is my life full of increasingly complex challenges?   If God has everything planned out for me what is the point of striving in my life?”   They become fragile questions because traditional answers to the questions have not included knowledge from our scientific world.  And yet, science has been a tool, now, for centuries chosen by human beings to enhance their lives.  Religion may have neglected this gift from God but process theology does not.

Process theology is nascent in its approach to or acceptance by local congregations because it is literally a theology that emerges only very lately, in the 20th century.   While taking tradition very seriously, process theology does not try to conserve a pristine or correct understanding of the faith.  Rather, within each of our distinct circumstances, this theology is a tool of assessment and integration so that the world, The Word and our selfhood move toward greater faithfulness.

Taking its foundation from the work of Alfred North Whitehead, mathematician and philosopher,  process theology integrates religion and science in all of its manifestations such as, biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, sociology, just to name a few.  It does this using distinct and challenging language, but it is not vague and monotonous like Charlie Brown’s teacher.  Rather, it is generously specific down to the detail of atom and electron.   But be warned, Charlie Brown could tune his teacher out….process theology demands that you tune in self, science, history.

Check out www.processandfaith.org 

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,., decision making

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When considering which church to go to, we often consider where our friends go.  It is not uncommon in a town, suburb or city, that there are certain churches that are hotspots of activity where folks attend because it is the popular thing to do (social proofing in Whitsitt’s chapter).  We trust our friends because they have listened to and understood us.   They have seen us at our best and our worst.  They have been patient with us as we have struggled to explain and discover who we are.   In my experience, friendship is a very effective gateway for people to examine various churches in which they might begin or restart a faith journey.  However most do not end up committed to a church because it is where their friends go.  Once a person actually commits to a church it is because they experience the church as a trusted friend where discovery of self and purpose is an ultimate value.

From an organizational perspective Whitsitt, in  chapter four of his book Open Source Church, addresses  decision-making from its outer recesses to its inner recesses within the organizational church.  He begins by imagining a risk-avoidant approach to the church as people begin to explore the organized church as hot spots or places of associations.  Then he takes us to the inner sanctum.   As if he were in any one of our board rooms, Whitsitt imagines exceedingly rational participation (cascades of decisions) that bore the most committed participants.  In the end, he suggests forfeiting both reliant and sequential decision-making.  Instead, he encourages an organic and rich decision-making process that allows individuals to discern a robust direction for community.    This decision-making process or method is well-known as the mutual invitation method.

  1. The subject is introduced in a way that everyone in the room has the ability to address it or discuss it.
  2. After the presentation another group member is invited to speak.
  3. That group member invites another….who invites another….who invites another until all have spoken.

The mutual invitation method is known for its ability to build trust in organizations and families.  And a need to trust was the reason we approached the church in the first place.   It is a great example of the  way that the organized church both does its business and allows friends to become family.  The mutual invitation method will ask a lot of leaders because it is not result driven.  Rather it produces clues or  road map for traveling through the great adventure of Christian faith.   I think people STAY committed to church because it remains and adventure and discovery of a living God who knows all about mutual invitation.

Thanks Landon for the reminder,  sometimes forgetting what we know can impede an open source church.

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The second chapter of Open Source Church is WIKI-WONDERFUL.    Just a brilliant chapter on the way that Wikipedia is set up to receive editors with very broad parameters and we as a church should be so structured.  Whitsitt rightly warns that people are not arriving to church to be plugged into a preexisting mechanism.

However, I have found in Osawatomie that even if that is not what people want it is what they expect.  It seems that what exists just before the open source church is a sort of Gordian Knot.   Somehow for one to even entertain visiting a church they are anticipating a structure and wanting a road map to determine if this church is the right place or not.   In this way even a church that is open source “ready” for visitors (like an untied rope)  can get tempted to over structure and provide…..the beginning of the knot.   What The Open Source Church requires is really a dual track of attention.  Open source must be a concept understood by church members AND by approaching people themselves.

In order to imagine how open source might be imagined by those who are approaching us I would appeal to the work of J. Rufus Fears and his Teaching Company  lectures on “the Wisdom of History”.   In those lectures he  makes the argument freedom is not something that most people want for themselves.  One cannot simply cut through what has the church in a knot and expect greater interest.  This is because, Fears says, freedom requires a tremendous amount of  commitment if one is to live well with it.   He argues that what the majority of our world population might prefer is to put themselves under the care of a powerful person with whom they can imagine the greatest possibility.  We see that in this country as people align themselves with political parties and vote a straight party ticket.    The open source church is founded on freedom.  And yet, if Whitsitt’s concept will receive the caution of Fears, it will have to address the question, “Do people really want more freedom?”  If they might, the next question belongs to the existing congregation.  “How much one-on-one time is the church willing to give to each visitor?”

They say that for children to become participating and discerning adult, they need a great deal of one on one time with a parent in the first years of life.  We have found this to be true of people who are in their infancy in the church.   This personal time getting to know individuals must be done appropriately and with integrity and if it is done well, it allows people to feel known and supported enough to begin making suggestions and editing the church.   In Osawatomie we would say that one-on-one time inspires people to love freedom and editing ownership of the church.  Open congregation + interested visitor ≠open source church.  Open congregation + deep discovery of interested visitor = open source church of editors.

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A little dexterity is helpful in working with ...

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At First Presbyterian of Osawatomie we have begun a small group program.  I am a part of one small group that is learning to knit.  Knitting is not easy because it involves just one strand of yarn and a complex series of wraps, tugs and dips to move that yarn into a weave that is plush and warm.   Knitting is not only a discipline of crafters, it is the discipline of theology itself.  For if a certain theological suggestion is to be valid, it must ultimately be practical and a tool for God’s people.

Whitsitt’s last chapter of The Open Source Church,  knits in the concept of the open source church back into the practical tasks of  congregational leadership.  I appreciated the chapters specificity suggesting that leaders should at least and essentially be proclaimers, facilitators and mentors for the congregations they serve.  While it is not my privilege to add a category or even a chapter to the book, I do believe any open source church will also need to be  a place where leaders model a multi-disciplinary approach to scripture and theology.   In a way,  modeling the multi-disciplinary could be easily subsumed into any of Landon’s three fundamental leadership tasks.   But in other ways, it needs to be considered a more fundamental knitting exercise for the leader that will affect proclamation, mentoring and facilitating.

By multi-disciplinary I mean a consistent integration (in pulpit,  classroom and idle conversation) of all the major disciplines of hard and soft sciences, local and global politics, literature and the arts into conversation with scripture.  If our people are really to arrive at church and appropriately use the church to realize God‘s call upon their lives, then that surely begins by allowing the world from which they come to be fully present in the classrooms and sanctuaries of our churches.   There has been, for too long, a battle in our sanctuaries and Sunday School rooms.  It is  a battle that we seemingly wage alone, arguing that the church is the ultimate authority.  Though the world is full of discoveries that rival focused attention to our authority, we pretend that we just need to talk louder about our ancient authority and that will be sufficient.

I think about it a bit differently.   Using the knitting metaphor, all the various disciplines of the world are like the individual fibers within the strand of yarn itself.  And it is the job of congregational leaders to allow the god-given yarn its full integrity.  We must refrain from pretending that our fiber is the only important one.   Folks we are not being invited to a battle as much as we are being invited to knit a bundle of fibers into a warmth that can move our people fully into their present moment.  This means that our task is to be constant learners outside of our own field of discipline in order to pay homage to our God that is fully in the present and is the source of all that is creative and novel. So we don’t try to discount or strip the fibers or disciplines of psychology, sociology, algebra, physics, astronomy, literature etc. from the congregational conversation.   Such integrated attention assures our people at the deepest level that God is present here and now and not lingering in just the past or future.

Lest you think that I am demoting the fiber of religion let me say that what I am suggesting is intended to be most respectful of Jesus’ life and ministry as well. Jesus, after all, made significant responses to the various disciplines of his day.  Politics, family structure, morality, laws of tradition, economics, ethics, religion etc.   I worry that our Christian community is becoming increasingly rigid and focusing more on the record of Jesus in scripture rather than the knitting method of Jesus’ living and loving, part of which is recorded for us and, thus, we hold sacred.  In order to cultivate an open source church leaders must model how it is that one takes the various disciplines of thought as examples of a living and revelatory God.    Examples of a living God then allow us to live non-anxiously into the method of Jesus in new and creative ways in the world.

It is surely a rich part of our Christian tradition that much of how we move forward comes from overt and focused instruction.  Whitsitt recommends just that encouraging open source leaders to be intentional  proclaimers, facilitators and mentors.   However, overt instruction can be exhausting.  I want to suggest that for the sake of the system, the instruction can continue in some gentler ways as well.  Fred Craddock,  in his timeless work as one without authority, reminds us that because communication has grown increasingly complex, overt instruction (like preaching)  must be co-mingled with method in order to communicate fully.  There must be subtle but no less intentional opportunities to “observe” or “overhear” what it means to be an open source congregation. In my experience, an open source church must partly exemplify its values by being open to the world as a source.  

By taking in the current events, trends and discoveries of its world as conversation partners with the gospel,   the open source church practices  relevant meaning from various professional disciplines.  We allow the world to observe us doing this.  This communicates subtly, but powerfully,  the truth, that each individual Christian per their personal relationship with God is also an expert knitter who has a contribution to make to the Kingdom.   The stakes are high!  After yarn that does not get knit….begins to unravel.

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Personal Jesus

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I have a confession.  When I am feeling my best….Norman Greenbaum’s one hit wonder, Spirit in the Sky  and Depeche Mode’s song Personal Jesus  really do it for me.   It’s not that I don’t love the hymns on Sunday morning, it’s just that I am the product of a certain time and place and these rhythms and words make sense for me as I spend my life striving to understand the personality and ministry of Jesus.   But I might not want you to know this….because I won’t know what you think.  Perhaps the lyrics or beat are not respectful enough….perhaps I don’t know enough about where these songs have been or what they have inspired and my love of them is thus uninformed.    I care about what you think….partly because there are so many thoughts about Jesus.

We live in a highly competitive Christian environment.  This is ironic because by any town’s count, there are more than enough good folks for any church.  However, increasingly in the Christian community, we spend time trying to determine who has the accurate, most biblically based understanding of Jesus and thus the church.  Jesus is morphed from an open armed saint to a suspicious vice grip.

In his book, Open Source Church, Landon Whitsitt makes a strong case that Jesus’ fundamental agenda was one of freedom for each human being.  The way that I understand Whitsitt’s suggestion is that Jesus’ call upon individual lives moves each of us forward to our greatest potential and possibility.  It follows that if individuals are called to their best selves….society is emboldened with love, compassion and courage for the individuals within it.  Individuals of all sorts.  So, society becomes a refined place, practiced at living beyond itself into the will of the Creator.

In the current competitive environment, we are all tempted to keep our own personal Jesus to ourselves, lest someone put that personal meaning down.   We read our bible, pray and sometimes talk about God only in the boundaries of our home or safest company.  Sometimes the situation is even more private.  That means we only ever think about and imagine God for ourselves….God never makes it into conversation.

The open source church is a place where your own personal Jesus is not a competitor with mine.  Rather your own personal jesus informs my own personal jesus.   They live alongside each other and work together.  In the open source church, you are not afraid to talk about and ask questions of and to your jesus.  You are not afraid to inquire and challenge mine.  In fact, you come to an open source church because you can’t wait to come and talk out loud.  There is a freedom and an interest in doing so. My personal jesus grows as does yours.  They grow like our children in the care of a community.  They grow toward the Jesus of scripture.

First Presbyterian of Osawatomie respects the original source code of scripture from which the story of Jesus emerges.  But it also respects the unique way that Jesus’ rhythm has hit your life and perhaps even rocks your life out!    I have heard that Personal Jesus  was inspired by Priscilla Presley.  It was recorded a number of different ways by Depeche Mode themselves.   Then it was picked up by at least a few others…. Johnny Cash, Marilyn Manson, Jamelia, Hillary Duff.   Quite a variety!   ……But then the Personal Jesus has been picked up by so many more!    The open source church is not afraid of the way individuals receive God’s source code and make it their own with an intent to share it.

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I have heard it more than once!  “Why don’t people dress up to come to church anymore?”  “Where are the suits, dresses….”….some even ask where the hats have gone!    I have said it more than once, “The dressing for church is not so much in clothes as it is in the way a person dresses their mind with an  interest and need for the church.”  The church is morphing from an institution of proper respect to an institution of curiosity and adventure.

Landon Whitsitt asserts in Open Source Church that people “don’t just want to be part of a machine”. Rather people, when they come to church, they want an open source experience.  An open source church experience draws upon the foundation of the  open source software industry.  This industry is committed that the instructions for software are open for anyone to see and edit.   There are licensing regulations for what makes a software open source (Whitsitt, with wit,  sites 10 and calls them the 10 commandments of open source).  But after the 10 point criterion is met, the source code really is received, changed and enhanced by individuals who are using the initial source code for more specific purposes.

Like software consumers, good church folks want do be able to use the foundations of a church home to do the things that  “…they need to do in order to make the church work for them”.   In First Presbyterian Church of Osawatomie Kansas, we know what that means.  There has been an important shift in mindset of leaders and congregants in Osawatomie over the years.  Gently but surely the people and leadership of Osawatomie have come to understand that First Presbyterian church does not belong to them.    While we have responsibility for the church, fundamentally the church belongs to God.  What this means is that we listen very carefully to what our congregants (not just our formal members say).     As we attune our listening, we are intent to pick up their clues.  The understanding is this…. that their clues tell us something about how God might be calling us forward as individuals and then as a community.    The purpose of visitors is not to fill our pews or pay our bills but to propel us a little further than we can imagine in our adventurous pursuit of God and the gospel.

Our visitors and newbies are our informants and in that way they become essential to us long before they decide to formally join the church.    You don’t have to prove yourself to participate or lead at First Presbyterian Osawatomie….you just have to be ready to be a part of a church that is ready to be available to anyone.  There is no inside group of privilege or power.  There are no unnecessary hoops that are not related to how we will share space.   Those of us that might be imagined to hold power are scrambling all the time to pull clues together like stepping-stones into the future.

Our prayer is that not that we would be right or proper.  Our prayer is that we would be interesting enough for a Hovering Holy Spirit who might allow us the opportunity to feel like we are God’s open source code and church to the world.   The recognition that people are dressed with an interest in the gospel, a hope to be decision makers in activity, and the providers of clues for the kingdom is the perfect outfit for church!


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