Tag Archives: church

Laughter and Community


I was really struck by something Martyn Percy, from Rippon College in Oxforshire, England said last week.  He made this statement in his lecture on Practical Theology:

“Humor has a role to play in the mood of a congregation.”

A simple statement but it had me deeply reflecting on the role humor and laughter has played in the past 10 years of Ordinary Community.  I can say honestly, it’s been one of our bedrock foundations.  Any time the people are gathered, there will be much laughter, even in the midst of suffering.  What a gift that is.  Laughter is so therapeutic and basic to our experience of being human.  Studies show that developmentally, children laugh far before they learn to speak.  The expression of joy is a part of our design, we were made to laugh.As well, laughter plays a huge role in the forming of deep and intimate community relationships.  Dr. Jeanne Segal, who has done extensive research on this came to these conclusions:

The social benefits of humor and laughterHumor and playful communication strengthen our relationships by triggering positive feelings and fostering emotional connection. When we laugh with one another, a positive bond is created. This bond acts as a strong buffer against stress, disagreements, and disappointment.Laughing with others is more powerful than laughing aloneShared laughter is one of the most effective tools for keeping relationships fresh and exciting. All emotional sharing builds strong and lasting relationship bonds, but sharing laughter and play adds joy, vitality, and resilience. And humor is a powerful and effective way to heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts. Laughter unites people during difficult times.

Joy defines us as the people of God.  Happiness is fleeting, it largely depends on our circumstances.  But joy is unmoving, it is rooted in the things that never change.  It is rooted in our commitment to one another and our security of living a life in a Kingdom that cannot be shaken.  We will suffer, of that you can be sure, but we never suffer alone . . . and in that there is joy.

10 He continued, “Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!” – Nehemiah 8:10 The Message


towards noise or meaning?


Sitting in St. Peter’s church  here in London in a Social Media bootcamp for people who care about the voice of the church and how it may be used as a relevant platform for that voice.  Dave Merwin has a brilliant mind and a heart for his world and shared his insights with us this morning.  Perhaps no other issue challenges to live out the postmodern ministry cliche of “ancient-future” more than this.  Is this what the church should be moving toward?  Or is this something the church should counter-cultrually transcend and go against?  I have a gut-feeling towards both.One of the statements from a gentleman giving a question from the audience said something like, “Jesus would not be personally branding himself if he were here today.”  While, I agree, Jesus was quite counter-cutural as well as unassuming in his recorded social interactions.  But I am also not sure that he didn’t engage in the kind of information clarification of his day.  In particular, the way he was very strategic and careful about the title the general populace referred to him as.  Was he the “one”?  Was he the “messiah”?  Was he the “revolutionary”?  Was he a “prophet”?  Was he coming to be “King of the Jews”?  Jesus care about how he was perceived, over and over again, unassuming as he was, he spoke into these perceptions and argued for his space to clarify.  He “branded” himself with the title “Son of man”.  He wanted to show that his power was to serve, not to dominate.  He wanted to communicate that he was a different kind of “Lord” than Caesar.  Others wanted to brand him with their perceptions, “friend of sinners”, “a new kind of teacher”, “blasphemer”, “greater than Moses”, “magician” etc.  In his interactions, I observe Jesus branding himself to bring clarity to his person and purpose.  His attempts were to brand himself for clarity and for purpose.The other side of social media is the manic nature of constant noise and exponential interactions.  It is quiet easy to ask the questions of humility, purpose, busyness, participation with the world’s rythymns, a panic pace, relationship with stuff over people, an inherent narcissism where the world is revolving around me and frankly just too much output where there is not quality, just quantity.  Earlier I tweeted a bit of this quote from Henri Nouwen:

“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure”

Should we be putting out more noise, or should we be teaching contemplation?  Should we participate with the stuff of busyness, or should we show an alternative way?  A way grounded in the experience of the communion with the Spirit of God in solitude and reflection, instead of noise and manic.  These are my questions.

No real answers, just asking the questions.  🙂



On Counting


So yesterday I got my yearly emailed questionaire from the denomination to report my yearly stats for Ordinary Community Church.  Part of it, I get, they mean well and there are a lot of stewardship issues at base camp that they are responsible for.  However, being a network of house churches we don’t fit any of the categories.  We haven’t added any worship attendance, we haven’t added new services, we don’t need more bulletin inserts and we don’t have a pulpit for others to come and fill.  We have set ourselves up in a way that those are not the things we count.I think fundamentally, that the things we count speak directly to the things we value. 

 “19-21“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”

If  I was to play devil’s advocate with our western church culture, I would ask, what is different about the things that we count that isn’t different about the way western businesses or corporations count?  And maybe a more specific question is, should it be different?  Should our organizations for spiritual formation have different measures than those designed for financial profit?  I’m not naive, I know that blind idealism is not all there is and I don’t see a lot wrong with being intentional, organized and well-planned.  But if we are not aware and careful, the things we count will be the tail that wags the dog.  Money, power, prestige, status, popularity and relevancy are not the keystones in the Kingdom of God, in fact we are warned vehemently to deny ourselves to the point that our hearts don’t long for such things because they are of this world and not the heavenly one.  What we count speaks to what we value and what we care about. Do we care about Christ or do we care about numeric productivity most?  This is just a question I wonder about.Perhaps other questions could be:  In what ways has your community addressed those who are hungry?  Explain how this year your community tried to dispel loneliness from your city/town?  Describe how your community is less consumeristic this year than last?  Describe how your community loves each other and their neighbor as themself?  How many people in suffering has your community walked with this year?  What dreams grew some feet this year because your community walks in hope?  Describe how your teens/kids are showing the fruit of the Kingdom of God in their lives? What we count says who we are and who we belong to.  Let’s be different. peace,Marshall

Churches Gone Wild


Churches Gone Wild   This is a New York Times opinon piece by By G. JEFFREY MacDONALD brings up some really telling points about the relationship between church and its consumer culture.  It has had major consequences to the health of spiritual leadership both for vocational leaders and volunteer leaders the programs have depended on.  I think the writer here brings to light some really valid points, while at the same time is just describing a generalization, I suspect this is not the case everywhere.  The temptation for the Pastor in consumer America is to “make things happen”.  Be relevant, execute the measureables, increase productivity, expand territory, manage the assets, be politically savy, make cunning decisions and most stressful of all:  entertain the congregation.  These are qualifications more of CEO’s in an aggressive business model than they are of those with shepherding hearts and a desire to communicate values that are “not of this world”.  In our thirst to be relevant, did we lose our soul?  In our chase to increase production, did we  adopt the American coporate business model and walk away from what our spiritual ancestors displayed for us?  There is a temptation to be busy over being quiet.  To be funny over being prophetic.  To be powerful over being merciful.  To be persuasive over being a listener.  To be liked over being a leader.  My personal story is that I’ve lived this theme out.  I spent 12 years in vocational ministry before I realized through complete burnout that I had developed an addiction to success over being a pastor.  I was still executing all the work of ministry on the outside, but something internally was off.  I had lost my spiritual identity in my search to be relevant and powerful.  My story is not alone.  If I’ve met one with a similar story, I’ve met hundreds.  Broken hearted, talented folk who got lost in the machine of the modern American Church and its thirst for productivity and programs.  To be busy trumped the caring for one’s own heart, leaving behind a wake of broken leaders.  Some never recover.  God was gracious to me, gave me a 3 year sabbatical in seminary that re-defined what ministry in the Kingdom was to me and set me off on a whole new course.  I decided to fire myself and become a  bi-vocational pastor to my community.  One that would not be paid by those I was charged to lead and shepherd.  I”m not saying its “the” ideal for ministry, in fact in a lot of ways it is very, very hard.  But I think I’m converted for life to this model.  Particularly in a culture of an economic downturn and the fears that go with it, our house church community has no overhead, no debt and no bills that have to be met.  We are able to give away 100% of our tithing income to needs that promote the values of the Kingdom we care most about.  Single moms, repairing marriages, mercy giving, addressing poverty etc.   This is not the only model, I am quite sure many good leaders out there have figured out ways through the landmines of the relationship between church and consumerism, but this has been my story and the way God led me.  My advice to anyone out there stuck in the struggle of these issues is 1) Buy and read Henri Nouwen, “In the Name of Jesus:  Reflections on Christian Leadership”  2) Take some solitude time to retreat and pray and rest  3) re-read Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”  4) Discuss what you’ve read and heard in solitude with someone who cares about the real you, and not your persona.  I’m not a doctor, but this is my prescription. peace, Marshall

To Change the World


An interview with James Davison Hunter for his book:  To Change the World has really captured my attention today.

Here is a quote:

“In contrast to these paradigms, the desire for faithful presence in the world calls on the entire laity, in all vocations—ordinary and extraordinary, “common” and rarefied—to enact the shalom of God in the world.  Christians need to abandon talk about “redeeming the culture,” “advancing the kingdom,” and “changing the world.” Such talk carries too much weight, implying conquest and domination. If there is a possibility for human flourishing in our world, it does not begin when we win the culture wars but when God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, reaching every sphere of social life. When faithful presence existed in church history, it manifested itself in the creation of hospitals and the flourishing of art, the best scholarship, the most profound and world-changing kind of service and care—again, not only for the household of faith but for everyone. Faithful presence isn’t new; it’s just something we need to recover.”

 This speaks directly to the kind of reflection and thinking that led me on a path of planting Ordinary Community some 10 years ago now and is continuing to sharpen our mission and presence as a people.  I need to unpack all of this a lot more in my own mind and heart, but it rings so true with my reflections for a decade.  The thirst for new, to be exciting, to be relevant, to be popular, to be politically powerful etc. etc., are not the ideas of the Kingdom of God, they are the dressings of American consumer culture in 2010 A.D. To be a people set apart, to live within our culture but to incarnate the Christ of the Kingdom in that place, that is my pursuit.  We don’t do this perfectly, but it is the intention of our hearts as a people.  Ordinary Community, let’s never stop asking the questions of what it means to be Church in our culture, in our context and in our time.peace,Marshall

Pick a fight


“I’m going to pick a fight”  – from the movie Braveheart

Steven:  Fine speech. Now what do we do?William Wallace: Just be yourselves.Hamish: Where are you going?William Wallace: I’m going to pick a fight.Hamish: Well, we didn’t get dressed up for nothing.

 Tonight’s topic for class is in direct contrast to last week’s topic on suffering and the problem of evil.  Tonight’s topic is, “now what”?  So the world is full of pain, suffering and hate.   The waves crashing on our shore are both systemic and personified evil.  So what, what is our response?  Should we give up?  Should we shut the windows and lock the doors?  Should we lie on the canvas and wait to be counted out?  Perhaps we should do what the Christian bookstore new release titles tell us, hunker down and wait for Jesus to come back.  Dream of escapism and waith for glory in the by and by.  I mean its all just too hard, right?  Sit in fear and tremble in a dark corner?   . . . this is rubbish

John 20:1, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdelene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.”

What do we do?  We frickin’ get up.  We get up off the canvas.  We rise to the darkness of the early morning.  If our enemy is riding out to meet us, then we give him the pleasure of our company.  Why?  Not because of us, but because of the One we follow is the Resurrection.  When things are hard, when times are dark, we have a nasty habit of RISING again! I encourage you to pick a fight.  Pick a fight with the cause that is written on your soul.  Whatever it is, whoever you are, for the sake of Christ, pick a fight.  Love and Hope is our rebellion.  Scream it into the places that seem lost, rage against the systems that are dehumanizing, resist the tyranny of inequality.   I’m choosing to get up today, I’m choosing to pick a fight.peace,marshall

I babbled on about things far beyond me

Job 42:1-6 (The Message)
I Babbled On About Things Far Beyond Me

 1-6 Job answered God: “I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything.   Nothing and no one can upset your plans.You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water,   ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me,   made small talk about wonders way over my head.You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking.   Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’I admit I once lived by rumors of you;   now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears!I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!   I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”

 I find this a great reflection on this first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday.  The saying goes, “a wise man says there is a God, and I’m not him.”  Knowing your place in the cosmos is both a humbling realization as well as a taste of true freedom.  To know that ultimately we are not in control is both scary and exhilirating.  I’m a type A personality, I like to be in control, making things happen and getting stuff done.  But what also comes with that is the delusion that everything and everybody is your responsibility.  That kind of thinking is folly and recipe for personal disaster.  I had a graduate school professor who said with this kind of thinking, “you are a train wreck waiting to happen”.  I’ve learend he was right. So on this Ash Wednesday, recognize your limits and surrender that sense of control.  Ask yourself this question:  Did you bring yourself into being?  If not, then stop taking yourself so seriously and relax a bit.  It’s not about you.  The question is, if you let go, are the arms of the One who will hold you sufficient?  That is the question of faith.  And today, by faith, I’m letting go.peace,Marshall

New Ink


This is my new ink, thanks to Jeremiah and Mother’s tattoo.Elpida is the modern Greek word for the New Testament idea of hope.  This word has carried a lot of meaning for me for a long time.  I got it etched in initially about 5 years ago, and Jeremiah touched it up to match the rest of the design here.Resurgam is Latin for “I will rise again”.  The monks of old used to have this put on their tombstone facing east towards Jerusalem and where they believed the 2nd coming to happen.

Ezekiel 47:1 The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side.3 As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. 4 He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. 5 He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross. 6 He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea.  When it empties into the Sea,  the water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Great Sea. 11 But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. 12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”

This passage is my metaphor of what church is to be on earth.  More accurately, this is what I think Jesus meant when he said:  “may your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”.  The church is the people of God, those whose hearts belong to him and desire to be continually transformed into his image.  It is not a place, an event, a belief, a feeling . . . it is a people.  You can make a free choice to jump in this river and become a part of the movement of this people.  The power of the Kingdom of God is present on earth.  It’s very spirit is flowing from the temple into our world, first brought with the birth of the Christ in Bethlehem.  Since then, the Kingdom is accessible through the source, which is Jesus.  Through our mystical union with Christ, we are carried into life change.  Transformation of ourself and transformation of everything we touch and choose to do good in.  We are the trees planted on the sides of this river and since we are connected to the source (the river flowing from the temple), we teem with life and everything we touch teems with life.  The spirit of the Kingdom of God is infectious, and we are carriers.  We carry the virus of the hope and resurrection life of the Christ who is within us.  We are participating in the eternal Kingdom of God both now and the world not yet.  This river is our center, as long as we stay connected and nourished in it (John 15) then we will renact the Kingdom of God on earth.  If we choose to do our own thing, we find ourselves lost.Frankly, when I read the Scriptures for myself, I do not resonate with the “gospel” I grew up hearing.  One that was about a cognitive belief in historical information about Jesus who died for me thousands of years ago.  And to be a good christian boy, just try my hardest to not make him mad.  The whole point was to go to heaven some day and “being good” in the meantime was kind of like extra-credti work if you felt like doing it.  Understanding more clearly the Kingdom of God, I have a relational connection to Christ.  When I remain in the stream of this river, I am full of life and power.  My life has meaning and context now.  I am participating in the ongoing creation of a new heaven and a new earth that Christ is returning to unveil.  I don’t think we’re supposed to be “good, safe, little girls and boys” as Christians.  I think we’re supposed to be a part of the conspiracy, the rebellion, the resistance.  This world and the enemies of God are active upon their destruction, who are the people that embody a rebellion to its cause?  Here is where we live as the Church.  We oppose wars, hatred, evil, loneliness, fear, isolation, suffering, hunger, poverty, abuse etc. etc.  In a world of destructive voices we exist to SCREAM a bit louder.  In a world of death, we ARE the people of the Resurrection.  In a world of fear, we offer Hope and a home.So, in short, this is my mantra for what I believe the Church is all about.  Hope and life is our rebellion, and it’s a beautiful rebellion.Stop and notice the Kingdom around you today,marshall

Brian McLaren is not the anti-christ

Start here  (Mike Morrell does a good job of summing up the explosive issue here)

BRIAN MCLAREN IS NOT THE ANTI-CHRIST.  There, I said it.  Phew, glad I got that off my chest.  In fact, I may even go as far as to say that my experiences with Brian have revealed a Christ-like character (GASP to my fundie friends).  There, it’s out now, I’m out of the closet.  I think Brian is 1) just a guy  (not  lucifer’s son)  2) a good thinker (though I don’t agree with everything) and 3) most importantly someone I consider a friend  (he’s the shrimp in the left back corner of this photo behind my sasquatch-like friends at Mayhem in Cincinnati 2003)A few years ago, the last time I talked with Brian, we were on a panel discussion together with George Barna and a few other leaders in Seattle at an Off the Map Conference.   (Notice that while I am sitting next to him, I am not punching him in the face as some suggest is the right etiquette.  Most notably this guy). Brian has just released a new book, “A New Kind of Christianity” .  I have not read it, I may not, I haven’t read any of Brian’s books in about 5 years or so.  Not because I deeply disagree, I just have got the jist of who he is and what he is suggesting.  There are parts of it, the stuff I read 10 years ago or so that was absolutely lightning in a bottle for me.  Liberating, provoking, dangerous and full of life.  I loved it and read a lot of it while shaking my head in affirmation.  At some point I got the jist and moved to other authors and other viewpoints.I am not a card-carrying member of Emergent.  That’s another post altogether of why I’m not but in general, many of them I count as friends and would break bread with them regardless of where we put our emphasis in.  Me and my friends, we’re mostly practitioners, trying to work it all out in community and in context, we’re not thinkers first.  We spend our time doing and surviving, we don’t have time nor funds for conferences and think-tank sessions.  But I certainly don’t debunk those who do or can, the emerging church is not any one thing, idea or set of people, that’s for sure.I probably agree with about 50% of what McLaren has been suggesting/teaching of late, of what I’ve read, and that’s cool.  I mean, how much do we have to agree on to be friends or brothers?  How many of you like everything your biological brothers have to say?  But the character slander out there of a guy is not exactly intelligent dialogue, let alone representative of the Christ you claim to be defending. Here’s the bottom line to me.  I met Brian and worked with him on some projects at a time in my life when I was considering giving up completely on the Church and my voice in it.  I was vulnerable, broken, abandoned by my fundie church background, persecuted by my christian brothers because I was thinking differently and more creative about how to do church in the future.  I was seeking something more communal, more connected to the historic christian roots and something honest.  When I had no spiritual fathers, Brian came alongside me and believed in the gifts that were within me.  He spoke words of affirmation that have carried me to this day.  He used his platform to speak grace into my life.  He was a blessing and a fountain of living water in a desert period of my life.  Since then, I have sought to be that sort of influence to others.  I fully admit, for believing in me when no one else did, I am fiercely loyal to Brian McLaren.  I don’t agree with all his ideas/thinking, but I deeply believe in Brian the person and Brian the brother in Christ. I guess my point is, stop with the immature character assasination and maturely deal with the issues/ideas.  The anti-christ may be the one in the mirror.peace,marshall

Money and the American church pt. 2

So I’ve been having a discussion with my younger half-brother who is in a decision making place of whether to seek ordination in his denomination for his future vocation at the end of his bachelors degree or to try and figure a way to do the ministry that is on his heart differently.  In any system, there are pros and cons and in something as deeply personal as our spirituality, its hard to apply the same business principles to that we would in franchising a business.  This  has me reflecting on these issues again. There is a long history of questions and issues with professional ministry vs. a self-supporting model.  In the New Testament you have the apostle Paul both tent-making and seeking financial support from believers.  With this, I don’t think its a moral or theological issue (many would argue me on that point).  The reason I fired myself from professional ministry was a cultural issue and a sense of self-awareness.  Although I was professionaly prepared for ministry in the American church (undergrad. and graduate degree) and had all the experience needed, it was a matter of calling and the time I live in.  1) a problem of trust – the American church has lost major trust with the people, both in and outside its walls.  Stories of scandals and impropriety is the word on the street and the people I want to be in conversation with have a major issue with money and the church.  So if I’m not taking a paycheck, then at least that communication barrier is out of the way. 2) exchange of goods and services – spiritual accountability is an intimate and at times rough ground to cover.  How honest can I be with people I’m caring for if I rely upon their giving to feed my children?  Let’s not spiritualize this, its a human response.  3) the drive to be productive – American ministry, as I was trained in, is deeply intertwined with the American corporate business model where productivity and busyness is king.  You focus on the things that bring a return to the organization.  This is incredibly confusing when the Kingdom of God as expressed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is a “bottom-up” model and our church is designed as a “top-down”  hierarchy model.  One of those has to give.  What’s my point in all this?  I grieve for a church that has forgotten who we are.  We are not rooted in our ancient stories (the Scriptures) handed down to us from those who have gone before us.  Instead we’ve exchanged it for a model to be exciting, enticing, obsessively productive and relevant to the world around us.  Are we selling people a “feel good” pill or are we offering the kind of water that doesn’t make you thirsty anymore?  I believe, our hope is in living in our story, one rooted in the truth of the mind of our Creator.  If the recession doesn’t go away, if the american economy struggles for a decade, what will the questions of the church be?  Will will be grieving our senses of entitlement to buildings and vocations or will we be ready to care for people and show them a simpler and more wholistic way to live?  Will our message be hope and life?   That’s what I wonder about.  

I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.  That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love.  The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed  us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.  – Henri Nouwen  In the Name of Jesus peace, Chris