Friday, January 29, 2010

Starbucks and Liturgy


James A. Smith sketches the major thrusts of post-modern thought and the subsequent implications for the church in his book, "Who's Afraid of Post-Modernism?" At the closing of the third chapter he includes an analogy between the church and Starbucks by Quinn Fox. Fox says:

At busy times an orderly (if slow) procession of the faithful crowd toward the counter: An order may be something like "I'd like a grande, non-fat, triple shot, 2 pump peppermint latte with extra whip cream." The money changer loudly relays the request. And one should not worry if the strangeness of the terms causes a stumble. The temple assistant mediates these early morning "sighs that are too deep for words" by translating them into flawless coffee Italian. The Barista (it even sounds a little like "priest") who feverishly prepares coffee drinks behind the espresso bar repeats the petition verbatim, as if by uttering the words s/he speaks them into being. At the more relational franchises, the customer's name will be attached to the order. When the brew is ready, complete in all of its uniqueness, the Barista chants the request once again, just to indicate that the unction is complete."


Starbuck's culture and language is an interesting and revealing case study for looking at a societies willingness to learn a language. Most people do not resent the fact that they are forced to use unknown language when ordering at Starbucks: rather, they submit themselves to learn the language because it is the language of a particularly appealing culture: dating, relaxation, relationships, discussion, escape, etc.

For many years I served as a worship leader in a variety of contexts. There were normative elements to the liturgy (gathering, song, offering, preaching, sending), but within the traditions that I was a part of, there also existed a great deal of openness and artistry. The danger and the temptation was always to make these "liturgical elements" appealing. Evangelism seemed to always be (consciously or subconsciously) a motivating factor for the design of the service. You need not look far to discover a massive number of churches (or churches with massive amounts of people) whose philosophy of worship is to make the service comfortable, relative, inviting, approachable, etc.

This mentality of trading in our story of the God-of-Israel-climatically-revealed-and-incarnated-in-Jesus-the-Messiah, in order to make it comfortable and accessible, actually faces its death of being the story of redemption, from death to new life. May we not "sell" or cheapen the story that we proclaim to more user-friendly/consumeristic/individualistic "experiences." May we be bold in using the language of the God revealed in Scripture, yet humble enough to live as if it is actually our story.

Starbucks and Liturgy


James A. Smith sketches the major thrusts of post-modern thought and the subsequent implications for the church in his book, "Who's Afraid of Post-Modernism?" At the closing of the third chapter he includes an analogy between the church and Starbucks by Quinn Fox. Fox says:
At busy times an orderly (if slow) procession of the faithful crowd toward the counter: An order may be something like "I'd like a grande, non-fat, triple shot, 2 pump peppermint latte with extra whip cream." The money changer loudly relays the request. And one should not worry if the strangeness of the terms causes a stumble. The temple assistant mediates these early morning "sighs that are too deep for words" by translating them into flawless coffee Italian. The Barista (it even sounds a little like "priest") who feverishly prepares coffee drinks behind the espresso bar repeats the petition verbatim, as if by uttering the words s/he speaks them into being. At the more relational franchises, the customer's name will be attached to the order. When the brew is ready, complete in all of its uniqueness, the Barista chants the request once again, just to indicate that the unction is complete."


Starbuck's culture and language is an interesting and revealing case study for looking at a societies willingness to learn a language. Most people do not resent the fact that they are forced to use unknown language when ordering at Starbucks: rather, they submit themselves to learn the language because it is the language of a particularly appealing culture: dating, relaxation, relationships, discussion, escape, etc.


For many years I served as a worship leader in a variety of contexts. There were normative elements to the liturgy (gathering, song, offering, preaching, sending), but within the traditions that I was a part of, there also existed a great deal of openness and artistry. The danger and the temptation was always to make these "liturgical elements" appealing. Evangelism seemed to always be (consciously or subconsciously) a motivating factor for the design of the service. You need not look far to discover a massive number of churches (or churches with massive amounts of people) whose philosophy of worship is to make the service comfortable, relative, inviting, approachable, etc.


This mentality of trading in our story of the God-of-Israel-climatically-revealed-and-incarnated-in-Jesus-the-Messiah, in order to make it comfortable and accessible, actually faces its death of being the story of redemption, from death to new life. May we not "sell" or cheapen the story that we proclaim to more user-friendly/consumeristic/individualistic "experiences." May we be bold in using the language of the God revealed in Scripture, yet humble enough to live as if it is actually our story.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

There are a number of reasons why suburban culture is unappealing to Jamie and I, but one has stood out above the rest recently: there seem to be few public places where we gather together as neighbors. We live within ten feet of families on either side of our "property," yet rarely do we exchange even the common formalities of a polite greeting. Our property is our property and our time is our time. It is much simpler to work a 7-5 job, go home, close the garage door, grab a bite to eat, turn on the TV, and go to bed, than it is to engage a neighbor in a formational conversation where we actually act neighborly. But nor have we been able to find a local coffee shop or pub where the people of this neighborhood congregate regularly.

One of the primary critiques of the attractional church is its inability to proclaim that God is already working in neighborhoods to make all things new. Instead, many of these attractional churches form "missions" committees and programs and then pray that God bless them in their mission. The missional perspective proclaims that God is the God of mission and that we are called to be formed as people-in-community to join with the God of mission. But how can we know how God is already at work in the process of re-creation when we have not taken the time to understand the local culture?

This post is the result of a realization that I do not know the culture of the neighborhood in which I live, and nor have I given myself to become a part of it. The challenge of the suburbs is not only this isolation and perception of "rights," but the fluidity that people show in setting roots and forming lasting relationships. And

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Baptism - Missing the Point

The practice of Christian baptism has for a long time been a topic of internal and external controversy for me. I was baptized as an infant and raised in a Lutheran church until high school. The debate between whether we should baptize infants or adults was completely unknown to me until 2001, when my family then switched to an Evangelical Free Church. It was then that I heard the teaching that baptism was for adults who had professed belief in a personal savior. Those “believers” then came before the church, told the story of their conversion, and were immersed in a pool of water.



Both of these churches set the others’ practice on the heretical end of the orthopraxy. Adult baptizers are seen by infant baptizing churches as purely focused on the individual through an ordinance that has no significance in itself; only on what the believer in their “believer’s baptism” makes of it. Infant baptizers are seen by “believer’s baptizers” as missing the point of real belief. They get caught up in a work or in a false belief that somehow this act will bring salvation for life, without any real belief.



Both of these stances seem to miss the passing from old life into new life signified by dying to self and rising to new life in community under the reign of Christ. Both sides use the silver bullet of the Reformation, sola scriptura, to make their defense not only understandable or rational, but absolute. One must be right, and one must be wrong. Defenses are built around stories of individuals such as Philip (Acts 8) who are baptized immediately upon belief as adults or households like Lydia’s (Acts 16) who must have included children in the baptism. The life giving and life transforming participation of the individual and community in death and resurrection are then lost to the debate, each side acting as antagonist over-and-against the other.



Many people have asked me where I stand on baptism. What they usually really mean has nothing to do with the holistic transformation of people through the event and the discipleship leading up to the event, but the process itself. What I see as very clear, from either perspective, is that Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God as here-and-now means that we are released from living under the dominion and control of sin and evil. Our freedom in this kingdom is not an “indulge your every desire,” but a freedom to actually have that desire reshaped towards God’s mission in the world. When we are baptized, or when we stand as sponsors for children who are baptized, we acknowledge that our lives (plural) are lived in this new and ultimate reign of God in the world.



May we become people who are willing to humbly speak with one another, across the spectrum of belief, as we submit ourselves to God’s presence, his manifestation, and His mission in this world.

Baptism - Missing the Point

The practice of Christian baptism has for a long time been a topic of internal and external controversy for me. I was baptized as an infant and raised in a Lutheran church until high school. The debate between whether we should baptize infants or adults was completely unknown to me until 2001, when my family then switched to an Evangelical Free Church. It was then that I heard the teaching that baptism was for adults who had professed belief in a personal savior. Those “believers” then came before the church, told the story of their conversion, and were immersed in a pool of water.


Both of these churches set the others’ practice on the heretical end of the orthopraxy. Adult baptizers are seen by infant baptizing churches as purely focused on the individual through an ordinance that has no significance in itself; only on what the believer in their “believer’s baptism” makes of it. Infant baptizers are seen by “believer’s baptizers” as missing the point of real belief. They get caught up in a work or in a false belief that somehow this act will bring salvation for life, without any real belief.


Both of these stances seem to miss the passing from old life into new life signified by dying to self and rising to new life in community under the reign of Christ. Both sides use the silver bullet of the Reformation, sola scriptura, to make their defense not only understandable or rational, but absolute. One must be right, and one must be wrong. Defenses are built around stories of individuals such as Philip (Acts 8) who are baptized immediately upon belief as adults or households like Lydia’s (Acts 16) who must have included children in the baptism. The life giving and life transforming participation of the individual and community in death and resurrection are then lost to the debate, each side acting as antagonist over-and-against the other.



Many people have asked me where I stand on baptism. What they usually really mean has nothing to do with the holistic transformation of people through the event and the discipleship leading up to the event, but the process itself. What I see as very clear, from either perspective, is that Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God as here-and-now means that we are released from living under the dominion and control of sin and evil. Our freedom in this kingdom is not an “indulge your every desire,” but a freedom to actually have that desire reshaped towards God’s mission in the world. When we are baptized, or when we stand as sponsors for children who are baptized, we acknowledge that our lives (plural) are lived in this new and ultimate reign of God in the world.



May we become people who are willing to humbly speak with one another, across the spectrum of belief, as we submit ourselves to God’s presence, his manifestation, and His mission in this world.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Beginning of a Quarter - New Testament Theology

For some, the beginning of a new academic quarter marks the completion of free time devoted to blogging and other extra-curricular activities. As has been the pattern in my own life, my ability to be "blog-disciplined" follows the contour of the calendar: school is in session and so is my desire to blog.

My final winter quarter at Northern Seminary began this evening with a course titled, "New Testament Theology." The goal of the class is to trace the discipline of biblical theology in it's historical progression, but also to become people devoted to faithfully speaking and interpreting the canonical writings. This evening we focused on the historical "paradigms" of interpretation through the navigation of positivist-empiricism, neo-orthodoxy, historical-critical methods, existentialism, and finally the new phenomena of post-modernism.

We are clearly concerned, as Protestants, with the authority given to the canon of Scripture. It is the revealed word of God that not only informs the community of information, but opens itself up for participation. The texts are not only read, but offer to "read" the reader themselves. We approach these texts not as neutral or distant observers seeking objective truth, but as humans who experience and participate in the very narrative of God-Incarnate in the here and now. Scripture and the story of God simply cannot be the object that stands above revelation.

For Christians, it is the belief that God is not a distant-Deistic divinity, but rather a near and caring, yet sovereign and righteous Father. The way we speak about God revealed in Scripture is not simply through rationalistic and provable hypothesis, but rather in living out the scriptural testimony in the here and now. The rational picking-and-choosing of Scripture to prove our desired convictions falls subservient to the manifestation of Jesus Christ at Epiphany in the world.

These are obviously very large issues, and at times seem to be very troublesome philosophies to delve into, especially in a span of ten weeks of intense academic study. The goal is for honesty in our speaking about the Bible and its role in shaping our communities of faithful witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray that over these weeks I learn to speak more clearly and honestly about the way we submit ourselves to the revelation of God in Scripture.

Beginning of a Quarter - New Testament Theology

For some, the beginning of a new academic quarter marks the completion of free time devoted to blogging and other extra-curricular activities. As has been the pattern in my own life, my ability to be "blog-disciplined" follows the contour of the calendar: school is in session and so is my desire to blog.
My final winter quarter at Northern Seminary began this evening with a course titled, "New Testament Theology." The goal of the class is to trace the discipline of biblical theology in it's historical progression, but also to become people devoted to faithfully speaking and interpreting the canonical writings. This evening we focused on the historical "paradigms" of interpretation through the navigation of positivist-empiricism, neo-orthodoxy, historical-critical methods, existentialism, and finally the new phenomena of post-modernism.
We are clearly concerned, as Protestants, with the authority given to the canon of Scripture. It is the revealed word of God that not only informs the community of information, but opens itself up for participation. The texts are not only read, but offer to "read" the reader themselves. We approach these texts not as neutral or distant observers seeking objective truth, but as humans who experience and participate in the very narrative of God-Incarnate in the here and now. Scripture and the story of God simply cannot be the object that stands above revelation.
For Christians, it is the belief that God is not a distant-Deistic divinity, but rather a near and caring, yet sovereign and righteous Father. The way we speak about God revealed in Scripture is not simply through rationalistic and provable hypothesis, but rather in living out the scriptural testimony in the here and now. The rational picking-and-choosing of Scripture to prove our desired convictions falls subservient to the manifestation of Jesus Christ at Epiphany in the world.
These are obviously very large issues, and at times seem to be very troublesome philosophies to delve into, especially in a span of ten weeks of intense academic study. The goal is for honesty in our speaking about the Bible and its role in shaping our communities of faithful witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray that over these weeks I learn to speak more clearly and honestly about the way we submit ourselves to the revelation of God in Scripture.

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