The Wild Goose pt. 2

I came last minute to the Wild Goose festival as a consumer of the events, I had no dog in the fight and so it’s only right that I tip my hat to what was a pretty well organized festival with a sense of purpose.  I can’t imagine the months of work to pull it off so as a consumer of the product, let me say thanks for the hospitality.

First the areas of good fun and learning:

  1. Shared community – you don’t get this at a typical evangelical or denominational conference.  This was a given, we camped together, ate together and endured heat and incredible bug bites together.  It was obvious that community was a high value for the large majority of the participants and they practice it regularly.  Seemingly all space was shared.  You ate meals with new friends and started swapping stories quite naturally.  It was downright unamerican, in all the right ways.
  2. The food vendors – this is a big thanks for those of us who didn’t want to lug in the extra gear for camp cooking.  In particular, the Ostrich burger and the Indian cuisine was fantastic.  As well, $1 bottled water kept me hydrated in the heat without the price hike many music festivals do, much appreciated.
  3. The best talk that I heard was by Christine Sine on Garden Spirituality with God.  That the nature of God is revealed in the Garden.  Her closing point was that in the garden, there are no failures.  Anything that doesn’t work becomes compost for the next planting.  Failure is compost and compost is God’s black-gold, what a brilliant metaphor.  She made her points out  of a reflection of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 1-3.  And I kid you not, while discussing the Genesis account, a black snake crawled out from under a woman and began meandering it’s way up the tree next to where Christine was speaking.  You couldn’t ask for a better Garden serpent analogy, I almost wanted to accuse her of the set-up.  (photo below)
  4. 2011-06-24_09-48-17_200
  5. Over the Rhine – Cincinnati’s finest, Karin and Linford were right in their element at the evening mainstage.  Their underproduced and genuine character just oozed like butter from the stage.  All the while behind them in the distance you could see a heat lightning storm as a backdrop.  It was an added bonus to meet up with them at a Starbucks in the middle of nowhere West Virginia on our way back to the Nati to relax and swap stories of the weekend’s event.  Longtime friends of Rains, I had the right tavel companion.  I don’t own enough of their music, this is shameful as a Cincinnatian and needs to be rectified.

Now my concerns:

The irony of ironies is that for the first time in at least a decade, I found myself in at least a publicized Christian event where I was perhaps the most conservative in attendance.  This was at least a head-shaker for me. 

  • Ressentiment‘ was thick and heavy in the air.  Ressentiment is a term that originates with Nietzsche from the French word where we get the English root of resentment.  But it is more than that.  James Hunter in To Change the World says: “Ressentiment is grounded in a narrative of injury or, at least, perceived injury; a strong belief that one has been or is being wronged.  The root of this is the sense of entitlement a group holds.” (p. 107)  and further: “The sense of injury is the key.  Over time, the perceived injustice becomes central to the person’s and the group’s identity . . . Cultivating the fear of further injury becomes a strategy for generating solidarity within the group and mobilizing the group to action.”  (p. 107-108)  I am deeply guilty of this same kind of victim narrative that is a part of emotional and spiritual deconstruction, but you can’t land there long-term.  At some point you have to quite literally get over it and lead on.  What do you want to create?  If the emerging church is going to be something productive moving forward, something creative and beautiful, it will need to be defined by what it is for not by what it is against.  Rebellion is easy, creative production quite another.  When Frank Schaeffer makes the statement:  ‘screw St. Paul’ and the crowd erupts in applause based upon it’s perceived injury from the New Testament author, that is heavy ressentiment.  Some of it is just human reaction, we all do it to some extent.  However, building on it for momentum to organize your movement would be a fatal flaw.  Christian anarchy isn’t new, it’s self-serving and it doesn’t work if lasting change is what you are attempting.
  • The suggestion to embrace and pursue other forms of spirituality in order to better understand your own faith is susceptible to a kind of idol worship.  It was suggested that faiths, like languages, can be understood more clearly by the learning of second.  That my pursuit of “fil in the blank” spirituality would help me understand Christ following that much more.  Inherent in this premise is that Christ is not sufficient, that he is one of many moral teachers in the buffet of religious leaders.  If I have found the superiority and sufficiency of Christ, as the author of Hebrews alludes to, why would I run back to something else?
  • Love the focus on social justice, poverty and the plight of the orhans and helpless.  Can’t get enough of that in any Christian movement whether it be left, right or indifferent.  But how is it different from the religious right being in bed with the Republican party when I am sent emails and youtube videos pre-election of Obama that real Christians put their hope in the democratic candidate?  Where was the critique of the Obama administration for its lack of delivery?  Why the focus on political parties at all?  Is there room for being a-political in terms of party affiliations and power centers while working towards the justice issues of the poor?
  • Is there room for any form of objective truths, or is everything to be deconstructed within the postmodern hermeneutic?  Are we smarter than the Apostles?  Have we evolved past the creeds of tradition?  Must everything change? Can we not trust the findings and writings of the 2,000 years of church history?  Doubts were celebrated and announced during the Festival, what I didn’t hear was anything objectively held to as true, with the exception of “acceptance”.  Deconstructing church models for cultural relevance or missional praxis is negotiable, is there any part of Chrisitan theology that is not to be deconstructed?
  • Bart Campolo is someone I can relate to in being from Philly and now living in Cincinnati.  I respect his keen mind and witty disposition.  The theological liberalism that he dispersed was a bit shocking to me, I must admitt.  Due to an experience with a woman horribly scarred from a gang-rape, he no longer “felt what he believed”.  Postmodernism deconstructs truths to personal experience where truth is matter of individual perception.  If God could not or would not save that woman from that experience of unspeakable suffering, can I decide what about him I want to believe?  He stated that after this experience the “Bible lost its unchallenged authority” for him.  God did not need to kill Jesus to forgive our sins, in fact Jesus is not who he claimed to be.  Jesus is just a man, just a teacher.  Bart continues his Christian affiliation in terms of its the tradition from which he came from to embrace his new spirituality where universalism is the only intelligent conclusion. These are not small tweaks to historic Christianity, they are the whole deal.
  • Where is the source of authority for which we (the church) submit to keep us in bounds into the movement of God’s restoration of his creation?  I still hold to Wesley’s quadrilateral of at least a balance of Scripture, tradition, rational thinking and experience.   Take away Scripture and tradition and you are left with a kind of spiritual humanism.  Is this the hope for the coming generations?  Is this why Israel left Egypt?  Is this why the martyrs died?  So that when it all came down to it I could deconstruct truth to my personal preference and experience?   It makes no sense to me and I have no need for it.  I find it a hollow construct and one that has already been played out in history and found wanting.
  • I make it no secret that I’m interested in a kind of reformation of American evangelicalism, and have been working towards that end for years and have found incredible beauty even in the midst of suffering.  I am not at all interested in a pursuit of a new spirituality in which we become untethered from the authority of Scripture and deny the ancient creeds announcing Jesus as Lord.  Postmodern humanism does not end in hope, it ends in a kind of empty and chaotic nihilism.  It is not hopeful and constructive, ultimately it is destructive and dangerous.

I think Fight Club illustrated the end game of deconstructed postmodernity best in it’s final scene:

 

So I walked away from the Wild Goose festival ironically with a renewed comittment to theological conservatism (high view of Christ and high view of the Scriptures) and with a sense of intentionally not wanting an association with anything in emerging church circles that wasn’t similar.  I feel I’m somewhat parting company with a tribe I’ve long resonated with, but do so no longer.  I do wish them peace for their spiritual searchings but it’s a search I won’t be pursuing alongside.  The areas that I feel strong about are not for me to project on others, but to embrace about my own calling and get about the business of doing it.

I go public with my sentiments if only to be a form of constructive and hopefully gracious enough critique to be heard.  Hope to see you all at the Resurrection.

The Wild Goose pt. 1

This is part one, to a two part reflection on the Wild Goose Festival.  I ask the reader for grace as this is just my emerging church story.

There was a lot of energy in the early 2000’s to try and organize these new energies and conversations into central places and relational attachments.  Allelon was one of those attempts. I believe in 2003 was the first gathering in Eagle, Idaho of like-minded thinkers and doers to try and bring some definiton to these ecclesiastical experiences.  The central figure who had offered the invitation to many of us was Todd Hunter, through his connections as the former head of the Vineyard churches and then as a spiritual father to many of us in this time. I do not have a roster for those whom gathered for this initial event but it was an international contingent and I remember being shocked in our like thinking.  It was at this event that I met Jason Clark for the first time, someone who has become deeply influential to me as a spiritual brother, friend and doctorate mentor for my present ecclesiastical study.  The following year this was followed by another gathering in Idaho with Dallas Willard speaking to us in a retreat-like setting about theology and the Kingdom (pictured above).  We lived communally, ate together and had countless hours of deep conversation under the stars together in this gathering.  There was great opportunity to use these relationships to help encourage others with like struggles, but that would not come to fruition.  This wasn’t a time to centralize these bands, tribes and seekers, it was a time for continued diaspora.  We were to go back to our contexts in the local and figure it out and work it out in praxis.

Many communities did not survive this time.  I personally entered into a time of deep loss. . .

1936913_121907189248_2990700_n

Mayhem, Allelon and the blog world began to form a tribe of communities and friendships for me that have become fictive family.  God was clearly moving in the midwest, we formed a great relational connection with like-faith communities in Cincinnati, Columbus, Oxford, Indianapolis, Lexington, St. Louis, Michigan and then extended to places like San Diego, South Florida, Idaho and then Vermont.  We kept meeting as often as we could to just encourage each other, dialogue, pray, worship, teach . . . spurring each other on.   Locally: Rains, myself, Glenn Johnson and Chad Canipe formed what we called “Fight Club”.   We tried to meet weekly for just mutual encouragement, theological ponderings and to pray for one another.  These meeetings quite literally became the air I breathed, they were central to my calling and my nourishment.  We all worked jobs that kept us from being part of conferences, events and the larger discussion of Emerging Church, we were just trying to figure it out in our local contexts.  Out of these regional relationships as well I formed a deep friendship with Mark Palmer (pictured above) and the Landing Place kids.  I took this photo of Mark while we were backpacking in the UK on Cuthbert Island in Northumbria off the north coast of England.  We stayed at Northumbria Community, the home of Celtic Daily Prayer, something Palmer, myself and many of our friends found incredibly helpful and spiritually nurturing.

Why were we there?  I invited Palmer to come with me to teach in the Ukraine on an invitation I had received to train pastors but more specifically, the younger urban generations that were meeting in small apartment communities.  On the way home we planned some UK backpacking because Palmer needed an adventure for healing.  His wife Jennifer had just died of stomach cancer at the age of 26 that year, leaving behind Mark, their toddler son, Micah and a hurting community of LP kids.  This was a blow to us as a larger community that was hard to comprehend.  We prayed, we fasted, we asked, we longed for healing.  Within a few short months, she weakened and passed before our eyes.  It didn’t make sense.  A couple weeks after Jennifer’s passing was the gathering in Idaho with Dallas Willard.  I will never forget being on the patio at night under the stars when Palmer cornered Dallas in his raw pain and with Rains and I at his flanks, said, “Dallas, you said in your books about being absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, what the hell do you mean by that?”  Willard, the seasoned pastor that he is, walked us through a Kingdom theology of grief that I am so thankful for.  Without it, I may have never weathered the storm that was yet to come.

Palmer re-married to Amy the year after we returned from the UK.  She was an incredible blessing and gift to him, Micah and the LP community.  Their wedding that Fall helped all of our healing through our questions.  In January of 2005, I got a call from Palmer that felt like a shotgun blast through my chest, he had just been diagnosed with aggressive colon cancer.  To top it off, his insurance coverage would not cover it whilst he was still buried in bills from Jennifer’s treatments.  2005 through 2006 are a bit of a blur to me.  I became singularly focused on one task, the complete healing of my friend Palmer.  I believed the gospels, I believed the stories, I followed the Spirit in prophetic imagination, I longed for a resurrection within his cells.  We fasted, we prayed, we raised money, we worshipped our God, we worked really really hard . . . Palmer detoriated.  But he wasn’t alone.

On December 22, 2005, early in the mroning I received a phone call that my 18 month old niece, Kate, and a part of my house church community had stopped breathing in the middle of the night due to a rare strand of pneumonia.  I rushed to the hospital with one prayer in mind, a resurrection.  I layed hands on Kate, still in Becky’s arms (my sister in law) and wanted to raise her but the Spirit said no.  Such deep, deep loss for our community.  Kate is ever a central part to the story of Ordinary Community, never forgotten.

March 5, 2006, my “Fight Club” friend/brother, Chad Canipe was admitted into the hospital with pneumonia symptoms.  The prognosis got worse, his lungs were hemmoraging and he fell into a coma.  He had an auto-immune disease that was not known.  We fasted, we longed, we prayed, we asked, we worked so very hard . . . on March 10 my brother Chad Canipe passed to Kingdom fullness.  Standing over his dead body, my hand on his head, with my brothers Kevin Rains/Mike Bishop/Eric Keck, in that hospital room, we said goodbye to our friend.  I asked Chad to help us yet, help us to know how to pray, help us know how to move on, help us in his new perspective.  Mike said it best in his book “What is Church?“, we weren’t just smoking cigars anymore, we were at war.

On this same day as we began to make plans for Chad’s wake, I received a call from Amy Palmer, Mark was readmitted into the hospital where they found the tumors were overwhelming.  Here is my blog excerpt from the next day:

Saturday, March 11, 2006

To Columbus, and to War

By divine appointment, we have a Regional Gathering of Missional Community folk who have been journeying together for the past 4 years or so. People representing communities of faith in Oxford, Vermont, Florida, San Diego, Indianapolis, Lexington, Norwood, West Chester, Pleasant Ridge and anywhere else I can’t remember. We had a planned gathering, and now we are all here to mourn and to grieve with and for the Canipe family. Last night we shared a meal and shared hours of community time, just as Chad would tell us to.

However, none of this is over. Palmer went into the hospital as well yesterday morning with pain. It turns out that there are more tumors causing him extreme pain in and near his bowels. They started a new round of chemo in the morning and it couples with a severe drug with side effects. Palmer was unable to come down and be with us last night, he’s quite sick. So, unless he makes an incredible recovery overnight, we are going to him today. The community is mobile and not boxed in to times and places, we go where the Spirit tells us to. Chemo is no longer able to heal Palmer, only trying to manage the tumors. It is God who heals.

This morning, I am quite numb with the tragedies. But. War lives in my body. It carries me on. We go to Columbus to meet our enemy head on. We are not intimidated and we don’t know fear. We are His people and He is the source of all life. Just one touch and the news of Palmer’s resurrection will ring across the earth. So God, we ride out and meet the one who opposes your Kingdom on earth. We go to Columbus, and we go to War.

Wherever you are, whoever you are . . . you can War with us too. Its time for a Resurrection.

peace,

In Columbus, some of my brothers helped the LP kids in 64 King ave. process and make sense of so much suffering for such an earnest and faithful community, none of it made sense.  I leaned over the body of my friend in his bedroom with Eric Keck and Kevin Rains and we went deep into the Spirit.  With the tongues of heaven, the groans of our heart, we prayed . . . I have felt the heat of healing in my hands in the past and I was convinced it would yet again manifest in the power of the Spirit for the tumors to go back to the hell they came from.  The manifestation didn’t happen, the healing was not to be, our prayers turned to mourning.  10 days after the loss of Chad, we lost Palmer.  I still never believed he would die, I refused to see his sickness with my physical eyes, but only with spiritual eyes and what God could and would do.  He didn’t.  On March 27, 2006, as I drove to Columbus to help make plans for Palmer’s funeral, I prayed a simple prayer, “God, you broke my heart.”.  Jennifer, Kate, Chad and Mark . . . all gone.  None of them resurrected in the way I hoped for, the loss was devastating. I fell into a period of darkness and hung onto faith and community with desperation.  We would never be the same.

This is the story of my tribe.  This is our Emerging Church story.  We were tempted to disband, we were tempted to lose hope.  The stench of death, loss and despair was palatable.  The Enemy whispered into my ear the taunts of failure, I labored through countless dark nights of the soul in a kind of isolation.  God allowed it, perhaps even willed it, who’s to know anymore.

And I would have given over to darkness with the exception of one thing, I follow the Resurrector of which there is only one.  In trouble, in suffering, even in death, I swear singular allegiance to the King and his name is Jesus.  I yield to some of Palmer’s last words from his blog:

“And when it seems that hopefulness is the least appropriate response in this situation, let it rise up even more. Whisper your hope when you lie down at night; scream your hope when you wake in the morning. Live your hope as if it is the one and only thing that sustains you in this ravaged world. You will not be disappointed.” – Mark Palmer

And so this morning I awake with the fellowship of the saints all around me who have gone before me.  The beauty of Kate in my heart, the faithfulness of Chad on my mind, the hope of Mark and Jennifer in my soul.  In the mystery of the Kingdom, they yet pray for me and cheer me on.  I’m not dying, I’m living.  The One I follow is the singular source of life and death has lost it’s sting.

Elpida

This is my tribe, my tribe is ELPIDA (greek word for hope).  A loose collection of Chrisitan communities that are rooted together in the same soil.  The soil is the ancient Scriptures as a source of authority, the soil is the river of the Spirit that flows directly from the throne in the Temple (see Ezekiel 47) of which every tree (community) that is planted in this river teems with life and the fruit of its branches are for the healing of the nations.  There is not another river, there is not another source, there is not another hope nor another way.  The Kingdom of God as revealed in the Scriptures is the center, all else is a distraction.  There is only one way to live, be sustained and offer truth to our world and it is the way of God’s Kingdom as revealed and fulfilled in Jesus.  Out of this hope we long for the restoration of all things, a new heaven and a new earth with the returned Christ.  This is Resurgam, we shall RISE AGAIN!

And so it is in this context, in my Emerging Church story, that I reflect on the liberal theology of the Wild Goose festival and it makes no sense to me.  But to be fair to the organizers, speakers and participants, I will post a follow-up blog with specifics for I seek only peace with fellow warriors.  However, for ELPIDA, hope and life is our rebellion in the spirit of Christ.  Anything less, anything short will be shown for what it is and be found wanting.  We are yet at war and our King is still handing out orders.  We have lost friends in this war, it has to be more than self-indulgent festivals.  I will partner with any who reflect that banner, but there is Truth in that banner.  To deny truth is to dabble at the table of the Enemy and it’s a stream we will not go down.  We swear singular allegiance to the King and will partner will all who do.