Friday, July 27, 2007

My Links

This is my page of links. It's not complete but I will be adding more as they are visited or as you suggest some.
Browse away!

However please be warned that not all these sites promote orthodoxy and my listing them here does not mean endorsement. I am at times posting comments on these sites disagreeing with their views.

My Email

The Link of Links

Zoecarnate All the Christian sites you will ever want or need (except mine of course).


The Jesus Creed, my current favorite blog
Emergent Canada: facilitating missional conversations in Canada
The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch’s blog.
Poasis James Kingsley’s blog out of Victoria, B.C.
The Church and Postmodern Culture discussions of high-profile theorists in postmodern theory and contemporary theology as well as some book reviews
Chrisendom a post-doc student in Germany.
Aaron's Blog some guy named Aaron who does some good reviews and is a bit too scholarly but has some good posts
Experimental Theology a psychologist does theology - unorthodox and leans to universalism.
Pyromaniacs, a rather conservative Evangelical, strongly Calvinist blog site
Tall and Skinny Kiwi a blog by Andrew Jones - one of the blogging pioneers
Doable Evangelism, simplified approach to sharing your faith or What If Evangelism Meant Just Being Yourself?
Ordinary Attempts, a nice Christian take on Random Acts of Kindness
John Stackhouse's blog - He is an expert in Christian apologetics and teaches at Regent College.
A Peculiar Prophet William Willimon's blog - well known author and Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Confessions of a small church pastor a blog based on a book - but some good stuff


Epic Ministries
Thinker Labs an experiment in open source church.
Canadian Emerging Church Documentary by Joe Manafo
Allelon: cultivating the formation of missional church
THE OOZE tries to bring together an online community of emergent explorers.
Canadian Evangelical Christian Church, a Canadian fellowship (denomination?) of innovative churches.
The Anabaptist Network a well thought out collection of theological writings from an Anabaptist perspective
Yonge Street Mission working with the poor in downtown Toronto.
Sanctuary woks with hurting, alienated and marginalized people in the City of Toronto.
Light Patrol a ministry of Youth Unlimited (Youth for Christ) working with homeless street youth
International House of Prayer in Kansas City
Off the Map some great resources for simply living Christianly

Unique or Emerging Churches

The Stone Church where I used to work.
The Urban Bridge, a new church in Edmonton.
The Open House an emerging church in Vancouver led by Kyle Martin
Emergent a website to connect with emerging churches in Canada, based in Victoria and run by Simon Goff
The Place and emerging church in Victoria led by Randy Hein
The Gospel in Our Culture Network a network of Christian leaders exploring how to better relate the gospel to our culture.
The MovementGlobal City Church Planting out of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC

House Church Movement

Dawn Ministries the website for Discipling A Whole Nation - great church planting resources and articles
NTRF or New Testament Restoration Foundation – a house church movement an Ontario based house church network
Friday Fax a website edited by Wolfgang Simson publishing info on the house church movement and revivals around the world.
Wolfgang Simson's website.
The House Church Blog
Simple Church a house church blog in the UK
Praxis a site with tools for church planters encouraging the development of missional church plants

Spiritual Formation

Follow the Rabbi a look at New Testament teaching through the eyes of Ray Vander Laan, an expert in the Hebrew history of the NT.
eChapel an experiment in e-liturgy from Frank Emanuel, a vineyard church planter in Ottawa.


The Wittenburg Door the world’s pretty much only religious satire magazine
Dog Church Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua
vurch or Virtual Church – where you go if you slept in on Sunday morning.
Ship of Fools the magazine of Christian unrest.
Fire and Ice a site of Puritan sermons.
Bible Gateway a great site providing search access to every version of the Bible you can think of. I use it all the time.
The Alban Institute - this is more of a mainline church organization that has published a lot of books that I'm reading for my course, Some good articles (mainline perspective).
Ron Zook's Blog my DMin classmate's travel blog for his sabbatical trip to South America.
Fresh Expressions a website describing new expressions of church in England sponsored by the Church of England and the Methodist Church.
Lark News a Christian News site

Organizing My Links

OK! I've been trying to figure out a good way to list a bunch of websites of interest (to me and hopefully to some of you who read this) all in one place instead of through the pages of my blog as I run into them. (I could list them on the sidebar but that would start to get very long and unwieldy.) I actually don't use my "favorites" list all that often and when I want to go to a certain webpage, I usually go to a site that I know connects with the place I want to go. For example when I want to read Kirstyn's blog I go to my blog where there is a link to her blog.

Well that's what I want to do here on the blog - I am going to create a blog post that lists all of my interesting sites in one place - a blog post (which of course has it's own unique web address and I can link to it from the sidebar). Then whenever I want to find one of these sites I will click on the link at the side to connect to this post containing the list. I can also add to the list by editing the post anytime in the future.

Aside from creating a new website (or another page on a current website), I'm not sure there is another simple (and cheap) way of doing this on Blogger. Anyone else have suggestions?

So the next blog will be my first stab at a more comprehensive list than you can currently see on the sidebar. I will try to organize them into categories so that they are simpler to sort through. If anyone else has suggestions for a new category or a site that should be included into a category - please pass it on.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wandering Again

A great op ed piece by Sam Schulman in the Wall Street Journal on the lack of "charm" shown by modern atheists. Read it here. While you're at it you may want to check out another site on the emotionalism of atheism here.

An increasing number of Canadian churches that identify themselves as "Emerging" are starting to pop up. A list of these emerging ministries across Canada can be found here. No, we're not on it. However Thinker Labs is putting together a documentary film about Emerging Churches across Canada and they are traveling across the country and will be in Ontario in October. I hope I get a chance to see it. One of the people behind Thinker Labs is my buddy Joe Manafo (check out his link "The Story" in the list on the left side of the blog - or probably better is to check out his blog - because his website is just a picture).

And then there's just some weird stuff out there in the Christian blogosphere, like dog church, the Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua, an irreverent take on creating church in cyberspace, that exists just to be controversial, and is an interesting postmodern take on the church - and sometimes they're funny. Another virtual church (just click and pray) is vurch, a slightly more reverent approach to church on the web. Where do I find this stuff? Here's a page of links that I got from a Canadian church site.

Just information here - not necessarily endorsement.

Swarm Theory

Have you ever wondered how it is that a school of fish or a flock of pigeons can seemingly "turn on a dime?" or how ants seem to be able to almost instantly find sweet juice spilled on the sidewalk? The key is what is being called swarm intelligence or swarm theory.

Swarm Theory is the term used to describe the corporate intelligent behaviour of groups (swarms) of living things. Even though the individual member of a swarm may be unintelligent, the behaviour of the entire swarm is able to do things almost unimaginable and with a complexity and intelligence that is hard to fathom. It has been observed (and now extensively studied) in bees, ants, birds and fish and as a result, the concepts learned are being implemented in business, social science and in the military.

National Geographic online has an article on it here written by Peter Miller. Basically the premise is that a single ant or bee isn't smart, but their colonies are. The study of swarm intelligence is providing insights that can help humans manage complex systems, from truck routing to military robots, with very simple decisions and actions.

It is all based on simple and localized communication systems - one ant "communicates" with the ant next to it (usually through smell by touching antennae) and acts on the information it receives. The information is usually very simple, like "I have found food - follow my path to the food and get it." The action is equally simple: "Go get the food" or if there is no food found "Go find food."

There are a number of basic goals or values seemingly "hardwired" into the ants - like colony survival, knowledge about what food is best, ability (willingness) to do any job necessary, etc. Of course insects don't have those enduring human qualities like rebellion or laziness and thinking capacity which means it is much harder to apply this "organic" system of work to humans.

However the article suggests a number of applications, like supply/delivery routes, military robots, etc. I'm more interested in the how an organic system might be applied to church growth or discipleship or extending the Kingdom of God. What if we were all "hardwired" to the Holy Spirit (which we are) and could all listen to His instructions on a moment to moment basis (which we can) and then obeyed quickly (which we sometimes have a hard time doing)? We would have swarm theory in action accomplishing divine results. However, we tend not to trust such a system because we don't really trust other Christians to hear God without the infallible guidance of their pastor or denominational executive. I think that's how the church in China grew so quickly. I think that is how the early church grew so quickly.

I think this may just be how the church will again thrive in our post-Christendom world - by getting smaller, more nimble and responsive, and able to adapt to, and transform its context quickly and effectively.

Just thinking out loud - what do you think?

By the way - I picked up that link to National Geographic from Alan Hirsch's blog forgotten ways. And do read the article at National Geographic - it's five pages but worth the read.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

More Meanderings

A book refers to a website and I check it out. It connects to another interesting site and so I go there. A few hundred clicks later and I've found myself a half dozen very interesting sites. So in my wanderings and meanderings I thought I'd share the following ...

+ A cute little (clean) video about personal boundary issues with your computer.

+ This is not really new (from early July) but a number of papers reported on The Vatican’s latest statement on the church.
“The Vatican has described the Protestant and Orthodox faiths as “not proper Churches” in a document issued with the full authority of the Pope … The Orthodox church suffers from a wound because it does not recognise the primacy of the Pope. The wound is even more profound in Protestant denominations, and it is difficult to see how the title of ‘Church’ could possibly be attributed to them.”

Well, that’s going to make it a little harder to connect, isn't it? Check out the full story in the London Times.

+ I also thought this map of the distribution of the percentage of churchgoers in the United States was very interesting. The major concentration is in Utah (Mormon country), in Texas and Oklahoma, the Dakotas, southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. The correlation between this map and the “red” and “blue” states is also interesting. This story is also found in the Times.

+ Then the Times has a section on the richest people in the UK and title it (what else?) their Rich List. Interestingly enough, someone else has put together a list of people who are rich in other ways – in the giving of their time and money to help others. My buddy Shane Claibourne is listed as one of the nominees. This list is called The Richest People in America

+ In case you don't really know how to use a map - or at least a Google map - here are Fifty Things to Do With a Google Map.

+ And finally there is a little rant about the folly of the Facebook craze that kind of touches my heart. In part it says: “As facebook is the latest thing “everyone’s doing”, there’s bound to be hundreds of people you know who are also doing it. They become your facebook friends. But after that, any random encounter is treated by many as a reason to become “friends” online. The distinction between friend, acquaintance, and person you acknowledge with a cursory nod has become dangerously blurred.”

Why is it that all the people who don't have Facebook (me included) don't like it? I wonder if there are any out there who do have it but don't like it?

Wondering about Anabaptists

I’m working through some personal theology. Our church is part of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) even though we would be very non-traditional and quite unique among the PAOC churches in Canada. Although I have a very strong sense of the power and sovereignty of God I think I am fairly firmly planted in the Anabaptist tradition (as most Pentecostals would be – at least if they gave it some thought. I realize that I have heard very little conversation or teaching offered up in my 30-year history within the PAOC that actually clearly describes this area of distinctiveness.) So, I’ve been trying to settle in on where I really am. Although I think theology is somewhat flexible and I tend to resist firm “Statements of Faith” (because Jesus didn’t come preaching statements of faith, he came telling parables and inviting us into relationship with him and his Father) I would still consider myself an orthodox Evangelical. But as I’ve been reading some material on the Reformation, Pietism and the emerging church movements, I feel quite a bit of affinity with the Anabaptists. The following paragraphs were quoted from a small brochure on Anabaptism that can be found here.

The Anabaptist movement had its genesis as the radical wing of the Protestant Reformation. It began in Zurich in 1525 when a small group of men and women gathered to baptize one another. This group and those that followed them became known as Anabaptists because they believed that Christians must choose baptism as consenting adults rather than as infants. The concept of believer's baptism was rejected by more moderate reformers who still believed in the Christendom model in which baptism of infants served as entry into both the church and the state. The Anabaptists were hunted down and persecuted by both the Catholic and Protestant authorities for their baptism of adults as well as their rejection of the sword, swearing oaths and their focus on evangelism.

The Anabaptists were convinced that the church was ‘fallen’ and beyond mere reform. A thorough restoration of New Testament Christianity was necessary. This would require the church to be free from state control and from ecclesiastical traditions. Anabaptists urged separation of church and society rather than the confusion of these two that had characterized Europe since the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine early in the fourth century. They asserted that for over a thousand years the church had been in error, not only in certain doctrines, but on the fundamental issue of its identity and its relationship with society.

The Reformers feared that Anabaptists were reverting to salvation by works, because of their stress on repentance and the importance of discipleship. The Anabaptists feared that the Reformers were preaching ‘cheap grace’ and accused them of failing to address moral issues and tolerating unchristian behaviour in their churches. Balthasar Hubmaier insisted: ‘We must not be merely mouth-Christians, we must live our faith.’ The Anabaptists gave a much larger role in practice to the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer, and they emphasized that Jesus was to be followed as well as trusted, obeyed as well as relied upon. He was not only Saviour but Captain, Leader and Lord.

One Anabaptist, asked under interrogation what Anabaptist meetings were like, explained: ‘They have no special gathering places. When there is peace and unity and when none of those who have been baptized are scattered they come together wherever the people are. When they have come together they teach one another the divine Word and one asks the other: how do you understand this saying? Thus there is among them a diligent living according to the divine Word.’

Anabaptists rejected the Reformers interpretation of evangelism whereby people were coerced to come to church and participate based on the parish model (i.e. everyone who lived in a certain district was a Christian and belonged to the church and must be convinced to live a good life and coerced to come to church). Instead, they embarked on a spontaneous and explosive missionary enterprise to evangelize Europe. They traveled widely, preached in homes and fields, baptized converts and planted churches. Some, such as George Blaurock, even interrupted state church services! Such evangelism, which ignored national and parish boundaries, by untrained men and women (such as Margaret Hellwart, who had to be repeatedly chained to her kitchen floor to stop her evangelizing.) The Reformers relied on pastors; Anabaptists sent out apostles and evangelists.

Anabaptist Network Core Convictions
In light of our understanding of the Anabaptist tradition and of the contemporary challenges Christians face today in western culture, the Anabaptist Network (found on this website) has developed a statement of convictions and commitments, which are listed below. This has seven sections and (in typical Anabaptist style) is subject to revision as our understanding of Jesus and his kingdom grows:

1. Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith andlifestyle, for our understanding of church and our engagement with society. We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him.

2. Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible, and to the community of faithas the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.

3. Western culture is slowly emerging from the Christendom era when church and state jointly presided over a society in which almost all were assumed to be Christian. Whatever its positive contributions on values and institutions, Christendom seriously distorted the gospel, marginalised Jesus and has left the churches ill-equipped for mission in a post-Christendom culture. As we reflect on this, we are committed to learning from the experience and perspectives of movements such as Anabaptism that rejected standard Christendom assumptions and pursued alternative ways of thinking and behaving.

4. The frequent association of the church with status, wealth and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness. We are committed to vulnerability and to exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless and persecuted, aware that such discipleship may attract opposition, resulting in suffering and sometimes ultimately martyrdom.

5. Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability and multivoiced worship. As we eat together, sharing bread and wine, we sustain hope as we seek God’s kingdom together. We are committed to nurturing and developing such churches, in which young and old are valued, leadership is consultative, roles are related to gifts rather than gender and baptism is for believers.

6. Spirituality and economics are inter-connected. In an individualist and consumerist culture and in a world where economic injustice is rife, we are committed to finding ways of living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation and working for justice.

7. Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding non-violent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society and between nations.

Much of this stuff is what I have been thinking through in my DMin coursework and in our process of developing a house church. Who knew that these thoughts have been written down for hundreds of years and give some guidelines for how to proceed after the end of the world as we know it.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Kirstyns's Back

Just a short announcement really ... My daughter arrived home from Germany this afternoon. She had such a great time and was blogging about it at her blog site Breaking Free From Routine. I think she has grown up a bit more because of her trip. Dad's are allowed to be proud of their kids.

Tammy Faye Heads Home

Evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker-Messner's Battle with Cancer is Over at 65
After not hearing her name or thinking about her for years she was mentioned at a meeting I was at Thursday evening and she was on Larry King Live Thursday evening and passed away Friday morning. I can't say I ever really enjoyed the PTL Club, but my parents watched it and many people loved the show. I was talking with my neighbour yesterday and he said he saw Tammy Faye on Larry King and that his Jewish mother used to watch the show all the time.

"Our family is deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Tammy Faye. She lived her life like the song she sang, 'If Life Hands You a Lemon, Make Lemonade.'" -Jim Bakker (Kansas City, Missouri)—Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, the former televangelist and Christian singer died Friday morning of inoperable cancer."

The full story is here.

Heritage Villiage (the former site of The PTL Club - or Praise the Lord Club) is now owned by a number of Christian organizations who are operating a number of ministries from that site. Morningstar Ministries, a Christian conference centre and a 24 hour prayer ministry all host their ministries there.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Search to Belong IV

As we continue to look at Joseph Meyer's book, "The Search to Belong" we see him describing the various spaces in which people make connections. Although he goes through all four spaces in two different ways in two different chapters, I thought I would collate the information and organize it according to the space described. So we continue with the second category ...

Social Space
This is the space where we connect with one another at a social level – sharing the “snapshots” of who we are. There is great need for people to connect socially – it creates a profound sense of belonging – even if the conversations are primarily “small talk.” Sometimes we denigrate social belonging as superficial and surmise that nothing significant takes place in social relationships.. Take away social relationships and our community (and even our personal) conversations become flat.

Social belonging is important for three reasons:
1. It provides space for neighbourly relationships. A neighbour is someone you know well enough to ask for small favours (borrow lawnmower, pick up mail, etc.). We meet briefly while “doing other things.” These relationships bring to a neighbourhood safety, comfort and connectedness.
2. This social space provides a safe selection space for us to decide with whom we would like to grow a “deeper” relationship and provide information to help others decide if they want to connect with us.
3. These interactions allow us to display a reality we create of who we are. We tell stories about what we do (about work and marriage and children) and how we got there. This creates the “snapshot.” This interaction is in many ways self-defining – it is an opportunity for us to explain who we are and how we see ourselves.
Sharing an authentic definition of who you are helps make significant social connections. Your definition of who you are helps you and helps the other person to connect, thus nurturing and the experience of belonging for both.

People who have a healthy sense of social belonging have the following competencies (meaning they have an understanding of certain ways to behave and an ability to conform in these ways). Another way of saying it is that people who are not able to grasp these social conventions are not always able to develop comfortable relationships in social settings. So Meyer suggest that the key social belonging competencies are:

+ They can formulate an authentic (and consistent) “snapshot” of who they are and what it may be like to have a relationship with them in personal (or more intimate) space. This “self” matches both who they are and who they are becoming with the surrounding social setting.
+ They can detect when others are presenting an authentic snapshot of themselves.
+ They have developed the ability to help others create their own snapshots by creating a social environment that both permits and promotes healthy self-promotion.
+ They are comfortable with spontaneous and sometimes short interactions.
+ They have harmony between defensive and offensive practices.
+ They are tactful.
+ They have the ability to plan and/or organize purposely engineered social games.
They are able to keep pleasant visual contact with others in social space. Eye contact comes through short glances – long enough not to be rude but brief enough not to stare.
+ They can maintain a “working consensus” with those sharing the social space (i.e. they get along).
+ They are comfortable with physical contact that has little or no meaning.
+ They have developed a skill for “sorting” others into appropriate spaces and can move relationships to those spaces (i.e. more intimate or less intimate) with a natural ease.
+ They have developed the social graces of a neighbour.

My response: These “competencies” seem a bit contrived at first glance, but are helpful for defining (or maybe describing) how people act in certain circumstances. Not everyone acts this way all the time but there is a “knowing” that each of us have when someone is behaving “funny” – it just doesn’t feel right and we can’t always explain why. Some people always want to move into personal conversations (like me) while others don’t want to engage at all. Johnny Carson was always uncomfortable in social group settings (like parties) because he was used to being in front of a crowd (where he was in control). Interacting with a few individuals meant he couldn’t control the questions or necessarily steer the conversation.

When I worked with street youth, there were many instances of inappropriate social interaction. Street youth interrupted sermons at church, stood too close, interrupted conversations, and every touch had too much meaning. One of the main focuses when working with these youth was to teach them social skills so they could interact better with society – a crucial skill for every employee. Parents have significant influence in teaching their children appropriate social interaction skills.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Yesterday I was able to go up to Muskoka Baptist Conference grounds to visit a friend from Stone Church days. It really is a pleasure to see someone move forward and exceed both your expectations and your own abilities.

Paul came to Stone Church when I was on staff there in the late eighties or early nineties, dissatisfied with his fast-paced but destructive lifestyle and hungry for a change. God met him and I had the opportunity to coach him and encourage him a bit. However it was he who spurred us all on with his passion for prayer and commitment to the things of God. He was a pastor's kid who had drifted away so there was some residual stuff that remained in his heart and head because he grew up "sleeping on the pews."

I know it was a long process but the growth in his life was steady and the results amazing - and the time seems to have flown by. He dealt with the issues in his life, he went to seminary for his Master's degree and then on for his PhD in New Testament and now he is teaching at Azusa Pacific University - astounding me with his growth over the years and with many of the insights he has in Christian leadership. He and his wife (Cahleen) have also been involved in foster parenting and have recently adopted two children (a brother, Jonathan, and sister, Emily). Although the challenges of fostering and adoption are great, they make great parents.

The reason for the post is that although we only see each other a few times a decade, I still feel connected to him. I still would go two or three hours out of my way to connect with him and I still find that when we meet it is like iron sharpening iron. The challenge to many of us in our fast-paced, travel anywhere on earth, lose touch with friends, kind of world, is to reconnect when we can and enjoy the reconnection. These friends with whom we infrequently connect actually bring perspective into our lives. They remind us of our history and of the things we used to love to do. They teach us that we influence one another and that influence is significant and long lasting.

Because of our meeting I have resolved to send some more emails and to continue going out of my way to connect whenever possible.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Some Wanderings

I’ve been wandering around the blogoshpere again recently and have found a couple of sites compelling enough to make note of them …

Mark Van Steenwyk in Minneapolis has planted missio dei, a new monastic church, and asks What Would Jesus Wear?

Alan Hirsch (who has written The Forgotten Ways) provides a working definition of the Missional Church.

I thought this was a neat name for a group. Someone has redeemed and made full use of the concept of oxymoron.

A very interesting website about spiritual formation called Metamorphia with some great articles that I have enjoyed and wish I had written because they captured a number of my recent ponderings. If quoted a sample portion of an article by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun to give you a taste.

“Wanting to work with and watch Jesus is where transformation begins. Willpower and discipline alone can never fix your soul. Striving, pushing and trying harder will not recover your life. Unforced rhythms of grace depend on something more than self-mastery and self-effort. The simple truth is that wanting to keep company with Jesus has a staying power that “shoulds” and “oughts” seldom have. Jesus wants us to recognize that hidden in our desperations and desires is an appetite for the Lord and Giver of life. In fact, he says, “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat” (Matthew 5:6 The Message).

The very first thing Jesus asked his soon to be disciples was, “What do you want?” (John 1:37). Over and over again he asked about desires:
• “What is it you want?” (Matthew 20:21)
• “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32; Mark 10:36, 51)
• “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)

Jesus knew you wouldn’t get well if you didn’t want the responsibility that came with wellness. He also knew that the mother of James and John was clueless about the meaning of her request to have her sons be power brokers in Jesus’ kingdom (Matthew 20:21). So he pressed her to consider what her desire might mean. Jesus never attempts to shut down people’s longings; nor does he ask people to transcend their longings as some religions do. He knew human desire to be an incurable black hole of opportunity.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Search to Belong III

As we continue to look at Joseph Meyer's book, "The Search to Belong" we see him describing the various spaces in which people make connections. Although he goes through all four spaces in two different ways in two different chapters, I thought I would collate the information and organize it according to the space described. So we start with ...
Public Space
This is where we make connections with strangers and acquaintances (like the grocery store, the gym, ball games, etc.) and where we might recognize someone but not necessarily ever know their full name, where they live and may never meet them outside of that context. These relationships give a sense of belonging in a neighbourhood or community without which we would feel like a stranger or out of place. We should not be surprised that mere acquaintances (site specific and episodic relationships) can hold significance in one’s heart and mind.

Public belonging happens when we connect through outside influences (not shared personal information). It isn’t about connecting person to person; it is about sharing a common experience (like being a fan of a sports team, shopping at the same store, taking the same bus to work, etc.). In fact if these people were to exchange personal information, they by definition move to a different space in one another's life (social space). There is a difference between a public belonger and a stranger. The stranger is not and does not feel connected. Once a stranger connects he becomes a belonger.

Public belongers are not “on the fringe” – they are committed and participate – but on their own terms. It is not necessarily true that they need to be closer to be committed. We need to validate that there is public belonging that is important to people and find ways to affirm their participation. Much of Jesus’ ministry was connecting to people in public space – the Centurion, the rich young ruler, blind Bartimaeus. Too often we treat these as casual relationships and devalue their importance to life. In fact public belonging is a space where we need numerous significant relationships in order to experience a sense of healthy belonging and community. We need to develop more connections in this space than in any of the other three. True community can be experienced in public space – it is not mere togetherness; it is connectedness. It is in many ways family.

An essential key to developing community is the maturing of our competencies for growing significant committed public belonging. Public belonging occurs when people connect through an outside influence. People who have a healthy sense of public belonging possess the following competencies (meaning an understanding of ways of behaviour and an ability to conform in these ways):
+ public belongers are able to share a common experience, team and/or personality without being compelled to pull these relationships “closer”
+ they practice social conformity – they abide by socially accepted rules and practices for public life
+ they develop the skills to welcome strangers as belongers
+ they participate significantly in one-time, episodic and site specific ways
+ they find appropriate visual focus – this visual focus does not convey a social, personal or intimate “touch” (for example: eye contact for more than a glance communicates a desire to be in a space other than public).
+ they develop a sense of humour – this humour offers a degree of detachment.
+ they have developed a peresence that conveys that they are comfortable in public space and that they mean no harm to those around them
+ they are comfortable with little or no physical contact

My response to this description is that these public belonging behaviours are in many ways culturally bound (North American) and will probably vary (and may be more or less enforced) from one culture to another. Some people would call these "competencies "social skills." Many people don't like functioning in this "public" or more distant way and constantly "invade your space" or cross these public boundaries. Street people often have no sense of relating as public belongers and well get into your face to ask for money or favours and often make others on a bus or on the street feel uncomfortable. "Needy" people often cross these behavioural boundaries and make functioning in a small group difficult.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Search to Belong II

Chapter Two: The Longing to Belong
In my continued reading of Joseph Meyer's book "The Search to Belong," I am finding some interesting concepts. Some of this thinking is off the beaten path and goes against some of the conventional small group thinking found in the church world. The first chapter talked about operating in four spaces: the public, the social, the personal, and the intimate. These are helpful categories to help us understand that we have a number of different ways to relate to people - and that is actually very healthy.
In Chapter Two he asks: "What does it mean to belong?" and gives the following description: It happens when you identify with another entity – even without the other party’s knowledge or sharing of the experience. He then tells the story about a childhood classmate who came to consider Joe (the author) as his best friend. That experience has happened to most of us, where someone we don't consider close, considers us their best friend or most significant influence.
He asks “How did this happen without my knowledge?” This friend did not need Joe’s permission to belong to Joe in a significant way. There are those (sometimes people who have never visited the church) who truly feel they belong to our congregations who have not asked permission to do so (not according to our rules but by their rules).
In the discontinuity and fragmentation of society, people crave connections and will go beyond normal social propriety to find it. As Christians we must find language to help people see, hear and feel welcome.
The value of this little chapter was the story he told of his childhood friend - it normalized the experience that I have often had where people have chosen to belong to me even though I had never felt that I belonged to them. I think this is often true in the helping fields (church, social work, counselling, etc.).

The Warehouse Mission

Yesterday afternoon, Jared (my son) and I went downtown and attended a service at the Warehouse Mission (part of the Salvation Army). About 60 people squeezed into a small second floor room not much larger than my living room and laughed and prayed and worshipped God with the abandonment that only those who have lost everything can display. The crowd was mostly older (ie 40+) street people. Street people means people who are not necessarily homeless but live most of their lives identified with some aspects of the street culture, often accessing services that assist the poor and homeless (food banks, meal programs, support services, drop-ins, employment training, I.D. access, etc.).

It was a good afternoon. The Warehouse Mission is run by Ron and Linda Farr - both Lieutenants in the Salvation Army. (you can check out an article about them written in here.) There is also a personal connection here - Linda used to be my secretary and office manager (then kitchen manager and street youth worker) when I worked at Evergreen. They have been good friends for many years (even though I don't see them much these days). Ron and Linda started this ministry by just going around talking to the people who were hanging out on the street in the St. Jamestown (Parliament and Wellesley) area of downtown Toronto. They are doing a great job.

The service itself was the right blend of down home warmth, country music, Salvation Army culture, and lots of laughter. Ron and Linda have made the Gospel real to these people and have incarnated Jesus in a way that perfectly fits this context. It's worth a visit and worthy of your support.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Power of Blessing

My DMin classmate Ron Zook's thesis is about "Blessed to be a Blessing." I liked his stuff so much that I used some of it as the theme for this morning's service. He presents a good theological summary of blessing and I thought I would include it here. It's good work. By the way he is in South America right now learning Spanish while on a short Sabbatical and he is blogging his experiences here. Thanks Ron for blessing me with this work! Be blessed in South America!

Blessing is life giving. To be blessed is to receive life and to bless is to give life. Blessing is intentionally choosing life – receiving life from God and helping others find life in God. God has created us to be blessed and to be a blessing. When we walk in the way of God’s extravagant blessing, we will experience extravagant life – a life that gives life to others.

God desires to extravagantly bless us and to make us a people of extravagant blessing. Spiritual renewal and growth occur as we become a people of joyful blessing. We encounter the blessing of God when the Spirit of God brings to life the Word of God in our lives. It is out of this heart and mind encounter with God that we experience extravagant life and give life to others.

A. Blessing is God’s Intent from the Beginning
Blessing was God’s intent right from the beginning of creation. God created man and woman in his own image and then God blessed them. Blessing were the very first words God spoke to Adam and Eve. God’s words of blessing were life giving. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."" Genesis 1:27-28

B. Blessing and Cursing – Life and Death
God loves life. God created us for life. A blessing is anything that gives life. The opposite of a blessing is a curse. A curse is anything that takes away life or robs one of life. God repeatedly makes it clear that his purpose and desire is to bless his people by giving them life. But when his people disobey, they suffer the effects of God’s curse. When Adam and Eve yielded to the serpent’s temptations and disobeyed God, God cursed the serpent.

C. God’s Covenant with Abraham - I will bless you… and you will be a blessing
Rather than destroying his people, God established a new covenant with his people through Abraham – a covenant that is saturated with blessing and life. "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
“I will bless you… and you will be a blessing” is a theme throughout scripture – God blesses his people to make them a blessing. From the overflow of the blessings we receive, we bless others.
In Psalm 1, God gives a picture of what blessing and life looks like – Blessed is the man… He is like a tree planted by streams of water which yield fruit in season. A tree that is not dying; but a tree that is full of life, drinking deeply from streams of water and yielding fruit.

D. Blessing is Choosing Life
Blessing is a choice, choosing life over death, righteousness over evil, blessing over destruction. Those who choose the way of righteousness and blessing in Psalm 1 are promised wholeness and everlasting life. They will be like a tree full of fruit and whose leaves never wither. Those who choose wickedness and evil will be like chaff the wind blows away.
In Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Moses brings people to the edge of the Promised Land and confronts them to choose between life and death.
"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him."
Blessing is freely offered to us as a gift, but we must accept it and receive it. The way of blessing leads to joy and life, the way of cursing leads to destruction and death.

E. Jesus Gives Life
In the New Testament, the word of the Lord has become a person and in that person was life. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men." The blessing and life given to Abraham now comes to all of us through this real person Jesus.
He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of Spirit. (Gal. 3:14)
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. (John 11:26)
Jesus also confronts the people with a choice between life and death. Jesus makes it clear that his purpose is to bless, to give life, and to give it to the full. But Satan, the thief’s purpose is to steal, kill and destroy life.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10 Jesus laments and warns, cajoles and threatens, beseeches and tells stories, all with the intent of breaking hard hearts who will not hear or believe so they will choose life over death.

F. Blessing is Favor with God.
For Mary, the mother of Jesus, God’s blessing was favor – “You have found favor with God!” God’s blessing was a state of being for Mary, a way of living each day knowing that God looked upon her with favor. Blessing is God casting his gaze upon her with favor and grace. Blessing is being on the receiving end of God’s favor rather than God’s curse.

G. Beatitudes – The Way of Life and Blessing
The beatitudes show us the way of life found in the way of Jesus. Sin is losing your way and destroys life. The beatitudes help us find our way and gives life. In the New Testament, the Christians described themselves as those “who belonged to the Way”. They instructed one another in the “Way of God”. Jesus was the pioneer of their faith, who went ahead of them, pointing out the way of life for them to follow. Jesus is both the way and a way of life. By following Jesus, we find our way and also a way of life.

The beatitudes describe the way of life in the kingdom of God. It is a way that confronts the logic of the mind. The beatitudes lead us to an encounter with God by speaking directly to the heart and the soul. The beatitudes often seem like contradictions, and yet they remain true forever. They are a way of mystery and love. The way only makes sense if you understand the self-sacrificing love of Christ. It is through Christ’s example of love that it is possible to find wealth in poverty, joy in sorrow, glory in meekness, wholeness in righteousness, justice in mercy, clarity in purity of heart, equality in peacemaking, and victory in persecution.
Beatitudes are the incarnation of Christ – God with us. They are how God chooses to be with us and grace us with His divine favor. They assure us that in the face of sorrow, hunger and thirst, and even persecution, that we are capable of following the way of compassion and peace. We become able to love others as we are loved by God.

The beatitudes are eight keys that unlock the way of life. They paint a picture of a community of people loved into the freedom of God rather than being tormented by oppressive imperatives. Beatitudes are all about inner transformation of the heart and spiritual formation. They call us to a way of being that is opposite of what the world expects. Rather than dominating others to find life, we are to be gentle and full of mercy. Instead of running away from suffering, we are to welcome persecution for holiness’ sake. Instead of amassing possessions, true life comes from being poor in spirit.

The beatitudes in a nutshell are a choice! They call us to choose our attitudes and actions, and then act upon that choice with others, and finally, to go forth telling what we have seen and heard. Beatitudes teach us positive attitudes that bring healing and life in contrast to negative attitudes that destroy life and bring sickness and death.

H. God’s Dream for His People
God’s dream for his people is that we become full of life – like a tree of blessing planted by streams of water bearing fruit in season. This is God’s dream for us! This is God’s dream for every family and person in our community. It’s up to each person to receive it or reject it. And if we choose to receive it, it will joyfully overflow to others around us. Blessing thus becomes a powerful act of evangelism and outreach. Blessing also builds up the church.

God’s blessing is the gift of unconditional love and approval. Each of us is created with a God-given need to feel blessed—to be loved and accepted for who we are, regardless of what we have done or failed to do. In many homes, the blessing is withheld and family members suffer for the rest of their lives. Many seek to fill the void with busy activities, career, wealth, possessions, and other distractions. Others spend a lifetime striving for acceptance and blessing.

When family members feel the security of acceptance and blessing, their present and future relationships will be impacted forever. The church is the central means by which God wants to pass on the blessing to each family today. A father's or mother’s blessing can give a child the inspiration, reassurance and confidence to live life to its fullest potential. Nothing is more rewarding to the giver and the receiver than the amazing, affirming results of a blessing.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Search to Belong

I've been reading through the book The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community and Small Groups by Joseph R Meyers. I thought I would review a few chapters here on the blog to give you a sense of the book and to help me create some good review notes for my studies as well. Scott McKnight does this all the time with a number of books over at Jesus Creed.

Chapter One: The Myths of Belonging
The title of the book tells us that the book is about the search to “belong.” It is not necessarily a how-to book on small groups. In that way (although definitely a Christian book) it is actually more sociological than theological.
Community is a complex creature.
He starts the chapter by telling about his own (negative) small group experienced in a very organized and institutional small group ministry, with planned icebreakers, a preformatted covenant and published small group material. The group made him angry because "This group was expecting more from me than I wanted to deliver and this group was trying to deliver to me more than I wanted." He then goes on to describe the false assumptions people have about belonging.

6 Myths of Belonging
1. More time = more belonging
- time has little to do with belonging
- belonging is often the result of spontaneous connections
- sometimes two people (or a group) just don't click
2. More commitment = more belonging
- When we search to belong we aren’t really looking for commitment. We simply want to connect.
- To experience healthy community we need significant relationships – significant is not the same as close or committed
3. More purpose = more belonging
- Looks at Tom Peters "In Search of Excellence" and the focus on “teams” and purpose statements
- The assumption is that people who strive together toward a common goal connect closely to one another.
- This can happen (and in my experience it often happens) but not necessarily
4. More personality = more belonging
- The more extroverted the more you connect with people and deeper relationships result – not really true
- Extroverts often contribute more in small groups but introverts tend to connect more deeply with people
5. More proximity = more belonging
- Close proximity gives more opportunity for connectedness but it doesn't always translate into belonging
- just look at neighbours – sometimes good relationships develop and sometimes not.
- Proximity is also not about geography – especially with technology (texting, instant messaging, internet, facebook, blogging, etc.)
- it is more about connecting over shared interests even though you are 1000 miles away
6. Small groups = more belonging
- Small groups deliver only one or two ways of connecting to others
- For many people it is not sufficient or does not scratch where they itch
- Typically only 30% of congregation will participate in a small group

"Belong before you believe" has become a current concept within emerging movement. It means that people often want a sense of belonging to people of a group before they will accept everything it stands for. Do I like these people? Do I get along with them? Do I feel accepted. Only after those questions are answered do people actually begin to incorporate the belief system of the group. This has strong implications for how we do church.
In what ways does the concept of “belonging” play a central role in our lives?
How do we communicate belonging? And how should we?
Can we allow people to belong before they fully understand what they are getting themselves into?

Edward T. Hall coined the term "proxemics" for the interrelated observations and theories of man’s use of space. He describes Four Spaces used to develop personalities, culture and communication.
a. public space (12 feet +)
b. social space (4-12 feet)
c. personal space (18” to 4 feet)
d. intimate space (0-18”)

Belonging is multidimentional – people belong to us on different levels
Space is not just real estate – we employ specific spaces to communicate belonging

The value of this chapter to me is that in many ways we have deified small groups as the be all and end all of good community. Meyer points out that many people don't connect with the typical church constructed, contrived small group system and have different ways of feeling connected.

Need a Business Card?

As someone who makes their own business cards (black and white) I was almost inspired to go out and get some professionally designed when I saw this collection of artistic business cards. Check it out here.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

More Athiests at Church

Remember a few posts back when I reviewed the book "Jim and Casper Go To Church?" Well, a guy named Drew Marshall, who has a radio program on the Oakville based Christian radio station Joy 1250, has done something similar - but for Canada. He hired two non-Christians (not necessarily athiests) to attend five churches in the Greater Toronto Area (the GTA) - TACF, The Meeting House, Sanctuary, Orangeville Baptist (Drew's home church) and another church still to be determined. The set up a blog to share their impressions.

The two people they chose are young, intelligent and articulate and do a good job of reviewing the churches they visit. They don't always agree with each other (which is good) and they have some probing insights (which is also good). The blog has a place to comment (like most blogs) which allow people to ask some follow-up questions (which is very good). They ask some insightful questions and provide an intelligent critique of some of the "churchisms" that many Christians take for granted. It is always refreshing to get a different perspective - even if it is sometimes a critical one.

However, my criticism is similar to my review of Jim and Casper Go to Church - they don't really get the God or the faith piece. And for non-Christians they also have very many "Christian" stereotypes that they are working through which is understandable. People get most of their information about Christianity from TV and other second hand sources or rely on childhood memories about what they thought they learned or heard. Even though Christianity might be rejected it is still very hard for almost everyone in the West to have a non-biased view of the Church. My other criticism is that they are way too serious about all this. They don't understand the playfulness of God or the fact that nobody who does church or goes to church really gets everything right - not even some of the time.

It is some very interesting reading (but don't buy the book). I thought their love for the Sanctuary (my friend Greg Paul's Church/Ministry in downtown Toronto) was interesting given that it really is more like a "mission" (like Evergreen) that started a church and quite different than your typical suburban church. I like it better too! Their take on TACF was so very Western and Christendomish. I wonder how they would have responded to George Whitefield's preaching? I hope the fifth church is a West Indian or African Canadian church.

You can check out their blog and make comments or ask questions here. Please do.