Friday, September 7, 2012

stories from the street: go go dancers & street fights (almost) at church

last night at my street ministry was so crazy i just have to write about it. every week at broken hearts is different and i never quite know what to expect which certainly keeps things interesting. recently the adult bookstore down the street closed and the street has been quite a bit quieter of late. well, not last night.

the night started off fairly mellow and then a woman dressed as a go go dancer came up and joined us. she was on her way to her dancing gig at the local club but God seemed to have other plans for her evening. i'll call her samantha. now, how often do you have someone in a black pleather micro mini, black knee high boots and matching crop top that is quite provocative at your church gathering? not often i bet! most everyone took it in stride since hey we're on the street and we're in their turf and she was dressed for her gig after all. samantha was quite a funny woman and very talkative and lively.  the great thing about being a part of a group that is missional is that we don't wait for people to come to us in a church building who probably have no interest in "going to church" anyway. rather, we go to them. we hang out where they hang out and love on them and share christ with them and serve them.

a little later some of us went down the street to see who else wanted to come to our church gathering. each week we serve a meal and have a time for our leader antquan to preach the Word, and we invite those hanging out at the corner to join us. we don't have any chairs or anything we just sit on the curb in the parking lot or on the window sills at the laundromat that we meet in front of. a certain amount of activity and talking is expected, even during the sermon as we are meeting in a 7-11 parking lot after all. last night was one of the more interactive, and active, evenings though. about halfway into the sermon almost half of "the congregation" takes off and runs over to the sidewalk, including antquan our preacher! it seems a fight was about to break out and our friends from the street went over to defend their friend, and antquan of course went over to see if he could help prevent a fight. so, the rest of us are sort of on pause waiting for our preacher and much of our congregation to come back. i leaned over to holly, our urban missionary who regularly blogs about the street, and said "this is the craziest ministry" with a smile and we both laughed. fortunately, a fight did not break out and then everyone came back and the sermon resumed.

the congregation were interrupting antquan's sermon and interjecting their comments and questions and it was becoming rather interesting, distracting and entertaining even. our go go dancer, samantha, wasn't too receptive to the sermon and said she felt that people could for the most part live and do what they wanted if they tried to be good people. some of our friends from the street chimed in though and the next thing we know our friends are giving short testimonies of how God has helped them through their personal temptations and struggles. one person shared about God helping them get off crystal meth and how God has really been there since they've gotten out of jail. another guy, who is a strong believer, shared how he was concerned when he came out of a mental hospital years ago how he would do without his meds. well, he is just fine and i would have never known from the conversations we've had that he had any mental illness in the past. God has obviously healed him. after the sermon antquan said we'd have open mike night (we don't actually have a mike) and some of the guys got into discussing their various beliefs about God. i only caught a little of that but it was quite interesting to hear the various perspectives and it was great to see the guys engaged and discussing God.

at some point in the evening i had leaned over to samantha and asked her if she had anything she wanted me to include on our prayer list for her as she mentioned that she'd be moving the next day. i thought it might be a way for her to stay connected to us as she really did seem to enjoy hanging with us after all. she wasn't at all receptive to wanting prayer and even looked slightly annoyed i'd asked although i had sort of felt God wanted me to ask her. well, less than 5 minutes later she motions to me to lean in and asked me to pray for her son. she shared with me some difficult things happening in her life and hard decisions she had to make, and i assured her we would be praying for her and her situation. she commented to me that it was strange that she had met us the night before she was reluctantly planning to move far away. i don't know if we'll see samantha again but she certainly was a fun and lively woman and hopefully she got to experience a bit of God's light and love as we all hung out together.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

a round-up of posts: why christians are leaving the (institutional) church

there has been a lot of talk lately about why christians are leaving the church--the institutional church (IC) that is. sometimes people leave for good reasons and God has led them out for something new or a time of rest and recovery from unhealthy experiences and sometimes people leave for not so good reasons. i'm sure for some it is likely a bit of both. personally, i don't think there are any one size fits all answers as to how followers of jesus should gather. some may be called to stay in the IC and some are called out of it to a different iteration such as a house church, a missional group and/or various and sundry smaller gatherings. i think the important thing is to follow God's leading with much discernment and prayer whatever form the gathering(s) takes. at the very least i do think it is good for the church at large to hear in people's own words why they are leaving. here are some recent posts on the subject:

barna has has some recent updates:

then, over on rachel held evans very active blog (no, i don't agree with everything she says) she discussed both 15 reasons why i left the church and 15 reasons why i returned to the church and she has a guest blogpost from kim van brunt: leaving church, finding faith: why we didn't stay for the kids. there is some interesting dialog in the comments on that last post with a fair amount of pushback. some of the questions asked in the comments are 'what is church?' and 'what constitutes a church gathering?' definitely good things to ponder. hint: we don't go to church--we are the church.

this blog's joe who as an artist became very frustrated with other christians denigrating emotion, especially concerning the arts, and decided to, as he termed it, "leave christianity" shares some great thoughts in emotion's bad rap.

it is in this last, older blogpost that i've heard about the book, the critical journey: stages in the life of faith that should be landing in my mailbox tomorrow. i really like what i've read on this blog, theocentric, and richard vincent has some thought provoking comments in his post stages of faith: a map for the journey:

In his book, Exit Interviews, William D. Hendricks demonstrates that most of the dechurched (those who formerly attended or even served in a local church but have since left church-life altogether) have not lost faith in God. They have lost faith in the church. They have "grown disillusioned with the church and other institutions of Christianity" and have "lost the energy and enthusiasm they once had for programs of spiritual development." Consequently, they "are now looking elsewhere to meet their deepest spiritual needs" (Exit Interview, 11).

The dechurched leave primarily because they are disillusioned with the church. They claim it is not "spiritual" enough - that it is stunting their growth.

Perhaps we should take their criticism seriously. Maybe the dechurched have exposed a very real weak spot in many evangelical churches - a stunted model of spiritual formation that leaves little room for questions, doubts, and rediscovery. Could it be that the stunted growth of the evangelical church comes from a stunted model of spiritual formation?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

stories from the street: no fat christians allowed

i didn't know what to write about from this week on the street as so many different things were happening which is great. then, as i was just reading the blogpost of a longtime street ministry worker in the south, wendy mccaig's no goats allowed! about what i would call "fat christians", it hit me. one of the things that i am just loving to see is when our friends on the street step into our little community and participate and start using their gifts. a few weeks ago i and one of the guys on our team had the privilege to pray for a young guy who i'll call jed. jed had lost his job and eventually ended up on the streets and was prostituting just to earn some money to exist. it was obvious he didn't even want to be prostituting. as we listened to his story it was evident to me he is a very hardworking guy and has a lot of passion and drive. when we prayed for him at one point he decided he wanted to talk to God himself. his prayer was so heartfelt and honest and it was when he prayed himself that i felt the presence of the holy spirit.

the following week i saw him and he ended up joining a group of us that were prayer walking that evening. i had prayed for jed earlier that evening that God would bless him with work and that with his talents and drive he wouldn't just desire to make a bunch of money but also give back. well, when jed started praying on the street i realized i didn't have to worry about him becoming a fat christian who just receives and receives without serving or giving back. he blew me away with his prayer that as God was helping him and he had seen God show up in amazing ways that week that He would bless others on the street who were also struggling just like him. jed has an amazing, generous heart. he obviously knows God and is really desiring to follow Him.

this week something similar happened with another of the young guys i'll call steve. a little background on steve and his wife who i'll call sherrie. steve and sherrie are also homeless and steve recently got out of jail. i don't know too much of steve's story but he is just on fire for God. our intrepid leader at broken hearts, antquan, has been asking steve to share and pray more and more at the gathering the last few weeks. steve is another guy who is really working to follow God and is laying a great spiritual foundation in his and his wife's life.

the first night i met steve and sherrie he told us that they were out on the street to see if they could drum up some customers for sherrie's hairstyling business. steve mentioned that if they had a car they could go to where others are and get more customers. immediately i thought i heard the word "van" go through my mind and i knew that it wasn't something i'd ever think of on my own. i mentioned that a van would be cool for them to have and steve enthusiastically agreed and that is when he told me they were homeless. i thought how a van would in fact be perfect so until they got an apartment they could sleep in it too. he readily agreed. during that following week as i prayed for a van for them i also looked online to see if there were any places one could get a car for free. while i found some great ministries that do donate cars they were all on the other side of the country. i mentioned this to steve and sherrie when i saw them next and that i'd continue to pray for a van for them as i felt that it was what God wanted to provide for them. they seemed really grateful and i'm still praying for that van for them. they are a lot of fun as a couple and a great camaraderie is forming with them and everyone on our team.

so, this week steve shared that he felt like we are his church family. at the end of the teaching time antquan called our team to the front and i figured he was going to have us up there to pray but instead he said steve wanted to pray over us and bless us. wow. i wasn't expecting that and felt very blessed by his prayer. a real faith community is forming out there as we all share our lives and serve one another. freely you have received; freely give. matt 10:8

Friday, March 2, 2012

stories from the street

tongayi, gemma & justine striking a pose at the laundromat

sooo, i'm no longer part of the mainstream (aka institutional) church since God told me i'd being doing something a little different and am now part of a street ministry. i so didn't see that coming but i thought i'd share some of the stories since i joined this crazy and cool group of people who go out late at night every week to the streets of hollywood to minister to the folks out there.

the group is broken hearts ministry and my team goes out every thurs. from 11pm until about 2am to minister to whoever is out on the streets at that hour: prostitutes, addicts & alcoholics, homeless, runaways, etc. i just started going out with them in mid-january and each week has been an adventure. each week God does something cool so i wanted to remember what happens and share his handiwork on the streets.

last night, after we prayed shivering in the cold in front of the laundromat we headed out in teams of three to say hi to our friends on the street, make new ones and invite them to our midnight church gathering in the parking lot. church in the 7-11 parking lot. gotta love it. one of the things we do is serve free pizza, drinks and dessert and all are welcome even if they just want to come for a bite and then leave before the message. this is relational evangelism and sometimes it takes time to build trust with the people out there. what's that old saying? people don't care what you know until they know that you care. anyway, i was with tongayi and gemma who are in the photo above. the international crew--i love it! tongayi is from zimbabwe and gemma is from ireland. missionaries to the US they are even if they came for other reasons. :)

so, we headed over to the corner of santa monica and highland and had some interesting chats along the way with the people we ran into. while tongayi and i talked with a young male ballet dancer gemma was chatting with a man in a wheelchair. i'll call the man in the wheelchair kyle. kyle had been severely injured when a drunk driver hit him on his bicycle. we did see he could walk a few steps but obviously was still in need of the wheelchair to get around. he also looked blind in one eye. kyle seemed like a sweet man and when i had caught eyes with him earlier he gave me a very kind smile. at one point gemma said she thought we were to pray that God would heal his leg. so, all three of us were praying for him and talking to him hearing more of his story. we do a lot of listening to people's stories out there on the street. kyle had recently had his suitcase with $3000, among other things, stolen from him and he was naturally rather upset about this. so, as we are praying for healing a random guy comes up and says he wants to give kyle some money and hands him a $20 bill. sweet. kyle seemed very touched by this. a few minutes later another random guy stops by just to encourage us and say he thought it was great that we as a group were out there doing what we do and he felt like God wanted him to come over and tell us that. he had stopped by just to say that and then went on his way home to get out of the cold.

while i don't know what God did for kyle's health as we prayed i did have something interesting happen when i later got home. i had forgotten to read my devotional that morning and so i decided to read it before i drifted off to sleep. well, part of the day's passage was acts 3:1-10 where the apostles peter and john are walking to the temple and they come upon a crippled man. when the crippled man asks them for money peter tells him, "silver or gold i do not have but what i have i give you. in the name of jesus christ of nazareth, walk" (vs. 6). as you probably know the man in the story stood up, walked and was healed. we didn't ask kyle to get up and walk around to see if he was better (maybe we should have!) but i know God was working as i could feel his healing presence. it was our pleasure to pray for healing for kyle and i'm hoping we see him again to find out if he's better and to continue praying for him in person as sometimes healing is a process. i love that he was also given some money by a stranger that i'm sure really blessed him. we don't always get to find out exactly what God does to bless people when we pray, and sometimes the results don't even come until later, but as the three of us walked back to the laundromat for pizza, the message and more prayer we felt a sense of joy knowing that God's kingdom was coming on a cold night in the streets of hollywood.

Monday, August 29, 2011

progressive, liberal, emergent, post-liberal--what are the differences between them?

with the recent flurry of conversation in the emerging church i thought it was time i learned a bit more about the various movements coming out of the liberal stream since they are overlapping the emerging stream. mostly what i remember from my liberal childhood church was that it was a snoozefest. sorry, but it's true. anyway, since i was so not paying attention in sunday school, and likely you weren't either ;),

here's a rundown:

first, i started off with progressive is not liberal since the leading voices in the ec initially seemed to have gone in that direction. ht: theoblogy

then, i came across this interesting essay post-modern progressives, or liberalism ain't what it used to be by diana butler bass

i followed diana's link to will the real progressive christians please stand up? the author talks about 4 phases of christian history in america that have led to current differences in progressive christianity today. i really like what he says was happening with evangelicals in the 1800s:

The first [phase] is the evangelical movement of the middle third of the 19th century. Christians in this movement rejected the mainline church’s indifference to injustice: they considered freeing slaves, opposing the extremes of great wealth and poverty, and advocating the equality of men and women to be part of what it means for an individual to follow Christ.

i'm not sure why evangelicals later so obviously lost their focus on justice but hey what they were doing back then is great.

then come the liberals:

The second phase, after the Civil War (when evangelicalism became inward and apolitical), is the rise of liberal Christianity. The liberals affirmed the social commitment and hope for radical social change that evangelicalism had abandoned, but they also insisted that Christian faith must be rational and consistent with the data of social and physical sciences, however much these may challenge traditional beliefs.

thirdly, the neo-orthodox:

The third phase, after World War I (when liberalism lost its hope and much of its creativity), is neo-orthodoxy. The neo-orthodox called for a return to the central message of the Bible—interpreted in light of modern knowledge, not dogmatic superstition. And one crucial element of that message, they said, is that God’s ways are not our ways, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. In other words, we cannot equate our views, including especially our theologies, with God’s point of view.

and lastly, the liberation theologies which sound pretty groovy to me:

The fourth phase influencing progressive Christianity today is a series of creative theological movements that began after World War II (when neo-orthodoxy lost its grip on American Christianity—isn’t it interesting how wars change theological thinking!). This series culminated in the variety of perspectives today called “liberation theology.” Whether in its Latin American, feminist, African American, or other manifestations, liberation Christianity holds that sin is social (structural) as well as individual, and that salvation promises wholeness for all dimensions of life—political and economic as well as personal and spiritual—in history as well as beyond it.

the author then goes on to talk about two types of progressives today: purists and accommodators. at this point your head is hopefully not spinning too much trying to keep everybody straight.

now, we move on to an excellent article by phyllis tickle: progressive vs. emergence christianity: from where i sit i really like phyllis' take on this and highly recommend this read so you don't even get any spoilers.

lastly, i had asked nate in another post whether there is a difference between post-liberal and progressive and he is going to kindly write up a post over at the christian humanist blog. it's up: postliberal and progressive: a primer from a postliberal english professor

it turns out those home boys have also been discussing these terms (evangelical, progressive, emergent and liberal) on their podcasts. i haven't listened to it but here ya go: theology nerd throwdown: hauerwas and the evangelicals

postmodernism is dead?

andrew sent me a link to this recent article postmodernism is dead and asked me what i thought. while i hardly feel qualified to comment one thing did jump out at me. the author says postmodernism will be succeeded by an age of authenticism:

If we tune in carefully, we can detect this growing desire for authenticity all around us. ... A culture of care is advertised and celebrated and cherished. Values are important once more: the values that the artist puts into the making of an object as well as the values that the consumer takes out of the object. And all of these striven-for values are separate to the naked commercial value.

another blogger, that quotes an article by alan kirby who also said postmodernism is dead in a 2006 article in philosophy now, says:

We've moved into a new phase of society. One that emphasizes participation in culture and society and and technology and politics. If it weren't such a mouthful, I'd suggest we call it participatism.

and the wikipedia entry on post-postmodernism (supposedly there is such a thing lol) says:

a common positive theme of current attempts to define post-postmodernism is that faith, trust, dialogue, performance and sincerity can work to transcend postmodern irony.

after reading these articles my thought was that these quotes in particular sound much like what those of us in the emerging conversation have been saying for awhile now. so no, i don't think postmodernism is dead--it's only getting started although it may end up being called something else--but what we may be seeing is more of how the emerging conversation has already been responding in the midst of it with authenticity, dialogue, participation etc. i admit i'm not sure about irony; we probably employ irony as well. i see the fact that others outside the emerging conversation are responding to postmodernism in a similar fashion as a hopeful thing.

what do you think? is postmodernism dead? or is it just out of the gate? is what we are seeing a response in the midst of it or the next big thing?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

a critique of the emerging one of it's own

it's been eons since there has been a post on this blog but there is some good discussion going on over at roger olson's blog about the emerging church. the first in the series is: the emergent church movement challenged by a participant (brandon morgan). excellent critique. here's a nugget from brandon:

Why do post-liberals (e.g. The Ekklesia Project) look so different from liberals yet nothing like evangelicals, while post-evangelical Emergents look alot like liberals?

maybe they actually look like post-liberals? i'm not sure, but as i understand it the emerging conversation was originally a postmodern critique of modern forms of church (evangelicalism/fundamentalism and liberalism). for the ec to revert to a modern form of church rather than retain its postmodern stance is why i believe many have jettisoned the conversation.

here are more posts on the ec from roger:

re: brandon morgan's guest post and emergent christianity this is a good post discussing how both conservative and liberal forms of church are rooted in modernism and we need to get past modernism, and the cultural divide, if we have any hope of reaching emerging generations situated in postmodernity.

brandon morgan's response brandon responds to his critics and there is a brief discussion in this post about the following comment by tony jones:

“We’ve taken a pastiche approach to church and theology — we take a little bit from here and a little bit from there. The benefit of that is a great deal more freedom than many leaders in the church feel. The other side of that coin, however, is that we inevitably disappoint anyone who comes from a particular camp, because we’re never really enough of anything.”

i think my question about this pastiche approach to church and theology is how are one's theological decisions being made? what is the determining factor for accepting or rejecting the theologies in the various traditions? i don't have a problem with the pastiche approach completely but am more wondering what the hermeneutic is.

is the emerging church movement a real movement? roger asks and many of us would answer yes, but the emerging church is better known as a "conversation". we in the emerging conversation have not started a new church because really there is only one church. we are a movement within the larger christian church. (unfortunately, the term "emerging church" caught on and i admit i get sloppy and use it too for simplicity's sake.)