25 April 2010


At the beginning of the summer my brother-in-law asked me to put together a list of theology/religion books that I'd recommend. A little while ago I finally finished it narrowing them down. (Sorry it took so long Jonathan!) You can already find them in the sidebar under "READING LISTS" but I thought I'd post it here also.  I left out many books that I love and/or learned from but I wanted this to reflect the books that most helped me to reach and/or manage with my current theological state and our unique in their area. Who knows, in a few years this list may be very different. As I put it in the other posting these are "Formative works and hurdles in my spiritual journey and worldview"

The Prophetic Imagination / Walter Brueggemann
The Irresistible Revolution / Shane Claiborne  
Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography / John Dominic Crossan 
The God Delusion / Richard Dawkins
Misquoting Jesus / Bart Ehrman
Celebration of Discipline / Richard J Foster
The Upside-Down Kingdom / Donald B Kraybill
The Secret Message of Jesus / Brian D McLaren
Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger / Ron Sider
Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire / Brian J Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat
The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview / Brian J Walsh and J Richard Middleton
The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions / NT Wright and Marcus Borg
The Bible: New Revised Standard Version

21 April 2010



In response to a slew of recent articles and public pronouncements on the pending death of Emergent Christianity, Brian McLaren, a philosophical/spiritual/theological hero of mine, has weighed in on its history and future. You can find links to some of those articles in Brian's copied blog post below. If you are interested in background on the movement there is plenty opinion online from those within the movement and from those who demonize it from without. 

For many years I have been on a journey of faith knowing more certainly what I am no longer than what I am missing and moving towards. About five years ago after a particularly critical rant about the current state of Christianity, my friend Janelle said that I can't (or shouldn't) define myself by what I am not. She was right, never-mind that I needn't define myself completely by a faith or world-view label, but I needed to shed what I had formerly believed to see more clearly. To me, a wonderful place to do that is among friends. A good five years from that moment, if I had to label myself as part of a current movement or strain within Christianity it would be Emergent.

Of the recent criticisms of the movement, chief is the perceived turn from reevaluating evangelism to be more missional and relevant to culture toward deep theological questions. I think this is a natural progression as it has become apparent to many of us within the movement how the latter (theology) informs and dictates former (mission) and has in the past been to the detriment of what I believe is Jesus' Kingdom of God. However the movement has turned it has always been about conversation. You can never be sure where the conversation will lead and, in this case, I somehow trust my conversation partners. Some of us will be gathering in DC for the inaugural gathering of the TransForm network. Please join us if you are so inclined.

That's my brief summary of thoughts but Brian has much more to say. Read on.

on emergent

The emergent conversation has been profoundly important in my life. It created (and creates) safe space for me to engage with questions that I've needed to engage with (the kinds of questions addressed in my latest book). It introduced me to Christians who have become dear and lifelong friends and learning partners. For me, the emergent conversation has been a life-giving, faith-enriching thing.
So I have read with some interest a number of recent analyses of where the conversation is and where it's going. I offered some of my own perspectives in a recent Relevant Magazine interview.
In my view, reports of the conversation's demise are greatly exaggerated. In some cases, they represent wishful thinking; in other cases, a limited frame of reference. From my perspective, Chapter 1 of the conversation may be ending, but there are many new and even better episodes to come. Or better put, what we call "the emergent conversation" may in fact be chapter 3 or 7 or 123 of a much longer storyline. That larger story is nowhere close to being over, and in fact, I don't think its most important work has even begun.
The real future, as I see it, isn't an intramural conversation among Evangelicals (as many think), or even among Western Christians (as others think), but rather an expanding conversation among progressive evangelicals, missional mainline Protestants, progressive Catholics, and postcolonial Christians from around the world. Its future may or may not still use words like emergent, emerging, etc., but the cat is out of the bag. Deep questions are being raised, and when that happens, you can take two predictions to the bank, one of them being that you can't get the questions back in the bag, and the second being that some people will try.
The latter will say, "I was OK when we were talking about making church more up-to-date, culturally relevant, and successful (i.e. large), but when we start asking deeper questions - about theology and justice, for example - I'm checking out." Now I've never been against making the church more up-to-date, culturally relevant, and effective, as beset as that project is with dangers, toils, and snares. (The obvious alternative - keeping the church out-of-date and culturally irrelevant and ineffective - has its problems too.) But I've repeatedly laid my cards on the table (for example, in EMC and NKoCy): I don't think the problems in the Christian religion are cosmetic. I think we have some deep issues to deal with - issues of theology, justice, narrative, and identity.
Lisa Sharon Harper gets it right in her recent open letter. She responds to important conversations being raised around Soong-Chan Rah's recent book and Sojo piece.
Some folks won't go there, but others of us, for conscience sake, have to grapple with the issue of Christendom and colonialism - and the inherent white-european-male-privilege with which Christendom has been historically and theologically complicit.
As Lisa explains, the Christians who have opened this discussion have been largely non-white and non-male. Sooner or later, white folks like me - especially the white males like me who have held the vast majority of the power in the Christian religion in all its main forms - have to decide if we are willing to become peers with our non-white non-male sisters and brothers. We have to decide - not just if we will give "them" a place at "our" table, but if we will go join "them" at "their" table - perhaps someday together forming new tables where "us" and "them" disappear into a larger "us."
Are we who have had the majority of power willing to learn to see the world from the perspective of the sub-altern (or marginal, non-privileged)? Are we willing - not simply to bring "the other" into our field of hegemony and homogeneity, enhancing our "diversity" (which can too easily simply be another form of colonization) - but to enter into the space created by those who have suffered under our hegemony and homogeneity? Are we willing to see margins as horizons?
Here's how I expressed the issue in the last chapter ofNKoCy:
As we’ve seen, the term Christianity (like its cousin orthodoxy) has too often camouflaged something quite foreign to Christ and his message, something that is more the problem than the solution: a fusion of Greek philosophy and Roman power, alloyed or adorned with elements drawn from the Bible, which is interpreted and applied in ways that often betray Jesus’ life and teaching. Its defenders have unofficially mandated that when people try to modify that Greco-Roman orthodoxy, they must wear an adjective that brands them as aberrant, like a scarlet “A” sewn on their soul. For example, when theologians read the Bible through the lens of the Exodus narrative, they are called “liberation theologians,” but their counterparts who read it through the Greco-Roman narrative are never labeled “domination theologians” or “colonization theologians.” Similarly, we have “black theology” and “feminist theology,” but Greco-Roman orthodoxy is never called “white theology” or “male theology.” Having become utterly normative for most of us, it’s just “theology.” (p. 256)
I then acknowledge that even my book's clumsy modifier "a new kind of" can simply be a way of letting those in power tolerate diversity without addressing the deeper issues of violence, racism, colonialism, sexism, and imperialism that lie unacknowledged or hide undetected within hallowed words like Christianity, Evangelical, Mainline, Catholic, Orthodox, and so on.
So, thank God for Lisa Sharon HarperSoong-Chan Rah,Tony JonesGabriel Salguero, and others who have waded into this profoundly and painfully important subject. The process is awkward and messy at times, but as my friendRandy Woodley says in The Justice Project, the key issue is to stay at the table when you're hurt and offended and misunderstood and made uncomfortable.
May we all - especially those of us who are white and/or male - come and stay at the table, pause to listen before we react, take a deep breath to expand before we contract, and prayerfully remain open before we shut down. Because now, I'd say, is when the emergent conversation (whatever it's called) could get more interesting and important than ever.
On a happy note, just as I was reading through this important thread of conversation, I received the announcement of this November's emergent village theological conversation. The topic and speakers - as well as the makeup of the emergent village council - bring joy to my heart, and speak to a hopeful future. We all live in the creative tension of progress made and a long way yet to go.

[Edited and revised: April 22, 2010]

16 April 2010

QUOTE OF NOTE: Ray Adkins on divine revelation

This gem came from one of many Facebook discussions based on a blog post by Shawn Anthony over at LoFitribe.com . Cheers to all the participants and most of all to my friend and conversational sparring buddy Ray.

"I guess the answer I've found is that you don't need a single word of the Bible for divine revelation. The ancient word of God is riddled in mystery and cryptography. The cold truth of the matter is that the word of God is not confined to some book, it's everywhere. I've found God and Jesus without it, and the more I look, the easier it is to find the Word here and now then it is to attempt to decipher works that are thousands of years old. From what I've read and heard, maybe that was Jesus' true message: 'Your religion sucks. You've bound yourselves by its rules, and you can't see what's right because of it.' The world's not evenly divided into right or wrong, so how can such a timeworn set of rules stay relevant in a changing world?"

 - Raymond Adkins

Edit: You can read more from Ray at 

14 April 2010

What is wrong with "ma'am"?

I think of myself as a somewhat sensitive guy. In fact I have been told that I am by my wife, at least occasionally, and some of my coworkers. What does sensitive mean in this case? I gather that it boils down to me being able to listen to others, empathize with their point of view even if it is not my own, and proceed accordingly in conversation.

That said, with all the progress that has been made in women's rights, gender understanding, and corrected language, why is a younger woman, say under 40, being called "ma'am" a problem? Why does it make them feel old, less vital, or even desired or does it even? I overheard an exchange today at a bank concerning this where a late twenty-something woman teller laughed off and playfully scolded a younger twenty-something man (whom she referred to as a "boy") after he called her "ma''am" in a respectful tone. In the over ten years I've worked in retail, I've encountered this issue many times.

As far as I can tell, "ma'am", when said reasonably, is the female counterpart for "sir". When I am helping a customer, especially when I don't know their name, I refer to them as one or the other depending on their gender. If I am speaking to an authority figure I also use one or the other.

It has been suggested to me that "miss" is more appropriate for a younger woman who is not married. How can I be sure they aren't married? Is there such a designation for a man who is not married what I would call him? Should I be calling a man just "mister" whether they are married or not instead of "sir"?

I am curious about the diversity of views on this issue and its background. Care to share?

VIDEO: The Story of Bottled Water

The Story of Bottled Water is brought to you by the fine folks at The Story of Stuff Project. A lot to think about here. As a start to following through, I recommend the SIGG water bottle. Thoughts?

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