I wonder how much cars cost the average church… parking lots, lost tithe dollars from church shoppers, upkeep of large grounds, cost of all those cars among laity, youth ministry buses…
Expect more links, quotes, thoughts, and miscellany in 2013 than 2012. Blogging is quite the discipline, and I hope to use it to publicly take notes on what I am thinking about rather than think of it as a microphone.
Walter Brueggemann, in the On Being Podcast
Chris Smith, whom I enjoyed the company of at last year’s Inhabit Conference, wrote a splendid article of how a megachurch took responsibility for the neighborhood it found itself gathering in.
I’m partway through this timely book myself, and am eager to see where Bartholomew takes it.
I’ve aimed to show how my favorite books this year contribute to the themes of place and church localism. Enjoy!
11) Widening the Circle: Experiments in Christian Discipleship, edited by Joanna Shenk // My friend has edited a wonderful little volume chronicling several Anabaptist communities across North America. Each time, they are striving to embody their tradition’s summons to a Jesus-centered faith, community-centered life, and reconciliation-centered work, and they usually are intentional communities of some sort or another. And in each one, they find they can’t really obey Jesus as fully as they’d like until they move close to one another, and seek that particular neighborhood’s shalom. Indeed for most of them they choose a blighted neighborhood as their primary arena for membership and mission, and as a context for the witness of their shared life to point to the Lord.
10) The Post-Carbon Reader, edited by Richard Heinberg and Daniel Lerch // An astonishingly brilliant collection of meditations on the many many factors converging this century that point toward relocalized and more austere ways of life. If their sense of the future is even half right, we’ve got a vastly more walkable future in store for us than most church strategists have written about. The future of the church, as my professor Len Sweet says, is going to be about the pedestrian instead of the parking lot.
9) Where Good Ideas Come From, by Steven Johnson // What drives innovation? The same things that drive evolution, says Johnson. And what are some vital components of that? Among other things, it involves “accidental” collisions with diversity and creative contention. This phenomenon of “bumping into” each other is at complete odds with the scheduled-events-only interactions most pastors facilitate for their laity. But it’s just what neighborhood life can open back up. Might automobility be restricting ecclesial innovation?
8) Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, by Alan Roxburgh // The missional movement is not one of planting savvier churches, but of joining God in his redemption of the world… and out of that participation letting our rhythms of church be formed. And, says Roxburgh, we cannot long speak of joining God without reference to particular places and neighborhoods and contexts. We cannot seek the shalom of the city apart from a particular city. We are, in other words, to tightly mirror the story of the incarnation. Roxburgh’s book is a refreshing challenge to much of the pop missional-in-a-box puckey out there. Encouraging as much as it was fiery.
7) Transportation Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil, by Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl // Continuing the trajectory charted in Post-Carbon Reader, these authors explain the nitty-gritty science of how we can best transition to a relocalized world. Chock full of great facts and graphs, I learned a lot about how we can optimize the grid, the moderate usefulness of electric cars, and how helpful mass transit will become in the years ahead. Once more, this book showed me that the future of all things will again be local. And that includes the church. Gilbert and Perl, I should add, must be commended for balancing their dark premonitions of the future with many reasons for hope that we’ll be able to land it relatively well. How, I wonder, will the church fare?
6) Thy Kingdom Connected, by Dwight J. Friesen // My faculty advisor and friend Dr Dwight has written a delightful book that, among other things, teases out what the implications of the Trinity are for how we live as the church. If ultimate reality is this interwoven three-in-one perichoretic (literally ‘circle-dancing’) Triune God, then our task as image-bearers is to faithfully reflect that into this fractured world. I loved how Dwight not only explores this at the level of particular churches and communities, but the importance of linking between churches. Leadership, Dwight contends, is about connective servanthood. And, I would add, that happens best from locally-rooted and diverse-in-expressions communities.
5) I is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How it Shapes the Way We See the World, by James Geary // Don’t be too quick to pit language up against embodiment, word against flesh, or doctrine from practice. The reality of language itself insists that the two are always interwoven. Echoing Lakoff and Johnson, Geary says that even our most abstract ideas are amalgamations of metaphors, which in turn are word-pictures. That is, near the root of all language is reference to the real, to particular things. Creating a chasm between our sentences and stuff is, then, lunacy. They mutually interpret each other whether we mean it or not. That being the case, we cannot long talk about practice without speaking of doctrine, and vice-versa. All language is imperative, interpretive, and embodied. And that means our language of God is probably most evident in our “real world” lives where we live and play and work more than it is on stage on Sunday morning.
4) Personal Knowledge, by Michael Polanyi // Geary’s book leads itself quite charmingly into one of the more important books of epistemology out there, this masterpiece by chemist-philosopher Michael Polanyi. Striking to me is his argument that not all knowledge is something you can get out of a textbook or Wikipedia article or tweet. It’s something you have to live into. Yes, I know: relational knowledge like how one loves their spouse is proof positive of this. But Polanyi applies something like that to ALL knowing, insisting that musical and scientific knowledge has this deeply tacit dimension that a professor or instructor can never communicate. Applied to church: much knowledge can never be taught from pulpits, prepackaged Bible studies, tweets, over coffee, published in a book, or dispensed at a conference. Nope. It can only be lived into. Our embodied explorations of God’s truth and mercy in our neighborhoods together can provide a rich sense of knowing that nothing else can compare to. Locality and place provide a way forward from modernity’s arrogant “timeless” epistemologies and postmodernism’s overreaction to that arrogance. It affirms truth and the real through our embodied exploration of it. The revolution will be locally lived, not globally broadcast.
3) The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society, by Murray Jardine // My friend Paul Sparks, the beloved Apostle of Place up in Tacoma, ranks this as one of the most important books he’s ever read. Well, I won’t quite put it up that high, but it’s definitely getting number 3 on this year’s list! Carrying some of Polanyi’s arguments forward, Jardine argues that only face-to-face relationships can catalyze Christianity to help save modernity from it’s own vagaries. Place-making, real-world relationships, and rootedness are keys to Jardine’s remedies for this zany world. Brilliant in its scope and kind of absurdly rewarding to see all of his arguments come together in the book’s final act. The breadth of Jardine’s knowledge applied in these pages is staggering. Perhaps Christians can test his applications by embodying them in the years to come.
2) The Long Descent, by John Michael Greer // This is another peak oil book. I’ve read many of them over the years, but this was the first one that helped me not only learn more and have smarter arguments, but helped me process it all in a healthy, generative way. Which isn’t to say Greer is a real ball of sunshine and cheeky optimism about the future — far from it! But Greer is insistent that the re-localizing of society will not be half as apocalyptic as is usually imagined, and that one of the worst strategies imaginable for responding to this long deindustrializing ahead of us is survivalism. Instead, he seems to favor communal efforts to help transition society out of this Age of Excess and into an Age of Restraint. I’m entirely thankful for Greer’s charitable-but-steely engagement of horrifically uncomfortable topics.
1) The End of Evangelicalism? Towards a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology, by David Fitch // I don’t know how much I learned reading this book. I knew evangelicalism is in decline in North America, that they’re often unhealthily obsessive about the Bible’s inerrancy, making quick conversions, and restoring a Christian America. But Fitch’s application of continental philosopher Zizek’s works to these oddities turned many many lights on each one. Essentially, Fitch argues that evangelicalism’s belligerently defensive posture and tendency to root its identity in its various ideologies will dissolve the movement. A way forward, however, is to escape being the church-of-ideology. This involves rooting its identity in Jesus Christ, and that means stopping culture wars, re-center on living out church-as-a-people in the way of Jesus in particular neighborhoods. In fact, Fitch is explicit several times in the book about the importance of locality and place as components of his proposed way forward. I dearly enjoyed this book.
How does this re-narrate 20th-century American church history?
The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us.
The journey back to the neighborhood, of integrating obedience to Jesus with *all* of our lives, invariably surfaces entirely mundane things. Who will do the chores? Why don’t I want to share my money or time with neighbors? Why can I follow Jesus on big campaigns and movements, but keep Him out of the discussion when it comes to those damned dirty dishes you didn’t do? This meeting of the glorious in the mundane is crucial to returning to local life, and is what the LA Times did a great job covering.
That promise concerned human persons who could lead detached, unrooted lives of endless choice and no commitment. It was glamorized around the virtues of mobility and anonymity that seemed so full of promise for freedom and self-actualization. But it has failed. … It is now clear that a sense of place is a human hunger that urban promise has not met. … It is rootlessness and not meaninglessness that characterizes the current crisis. There are no meanings apart from roots.
Walter Brueggemann, The Land