Monday, July 30, 2007

Smashing Stereotypes

Last night, I visited a church in Rochester, Minnesota. Apart from the Mayo Clinic, Rochester is small town America. But, because of Mayo, it's also growing.

As is to be expected, the large and evangelical church, First Baptist, sold its plot in the city and moved to the "suburbs" of Rochester -- a host of new subdivisions, surely inhabited by well-heeled docs. There they built a state-of-the-art mega-church facility. They changed their name to Autumn Ridge Church. And you can find nary a word of their denominational affiliation on their website or in their literature.

This is the very kind of church that liberal Christians bewail. They're all Republicans, right? And they care only about saving souls. Or maybe they are involved in the Big Two social issues: ending abortion and a gay marriage ban.



Last weekend, they spent three days raising awareness about and mobilizing people to end the genocide in Dafur. They hosted (friend of Emergent Village) Celestin Musekura, the president and founder of African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) and survivor of the Rwandan genocide. He was on a panel discussion on Friday night and preached on Sunday. And he was there last night when the church screened The Devil Came on Horseback -- a new film about Darfur. And the worship center was packed.

There was nary a word about salvation. Only a call to get involved with stopping the genocide, writing congressional members, even joining a relief trip to Darfur early next year. I then spoke to the college group about the meaning of "the gospel" after viewing a film like that. They were a sharp and articulate bunch.

Honestly, it's encounters like that that keep me grounded in this truth: there is little truth in stereotypes. Had Marcus Borg been there last night, he wouldn't have been able to caricature evangelicals like I heard him do in May at the National Cathedral. The fact is, mega-church evangelicals are just as complex and paradoxical as inner-city Episcopalians. They all come by their beliefs and convictions honestly, and with integrity. Too often, it's their national spokespersons who fulfill the stereotypes.

(Now, the trick will be not caricaturing anyone in my forthcoming book on the emergent phenomenon. I'm sure I'll fall short. And I'm sure that the blogosphere will let me know where.)

P.S. Another friend of Emergent, Bob Pyne, recently joined the staff at ALARM.

P.P.S. I was in a carpool to 9th Grade Confirmation class with writer/producer/director of The Devil Came on Horseback, Annie Sundberg. We were also classmates at Dartmouth.

P.P.P.S. Celestin recently completed his Ph.D. at Dallas Seminary, and Miroslav Volf was one of his readers. Congrats, Celestin!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My Night with a Rock Star

Last Monday night, I spent the evening with Zach Lind, drummer in the band, Jimmy Eat World. They’re on a tour in advance of their next album, which is due out sometime in September. I showed up for their sound check, then I took him over to Solomon’s Porch and gave him a couple of books. We ate dinner at Chino Latino (curry shrimp with rice).

Most interesting about our conversation were the similarities and differences between the music industry (which he knows well) and the book publishing industry (which I know). For instance, bands choose their CD titles, while authors do not choose their book titles. On the other hand, I’ve known the release date for my book (February 1) for a year, and he still doesn’t know the release date for his CD (even though it’ll come out in less than two months).

One interesting stream of the conversation was over categories. I had read earlier in the day that his Jimmy Eat World is considered and “Emo-Core” band—that is, a cross between Emo and Hardcore. He said that label doesn’t really fit, but once a band gets categorized by the media and the retailers, there’s no getting out of it. The problem with this, of course, is when a music category (Zach mentioned “Ska”) goes out of fashion, all of the bands in that category are pretty much screwed.

Some of us are wondering about the future of “emerging church” or “emergent church,” especially as a book category. The former is now an official category among Christian bookstores (which means that you can find it above the bar code on the back of the book). For some of us authors, this category is helpful because it tells retailers where to stock, and how to sell, the book. But for more popular authors (Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, etc.), this category is probably too confining, and they’d just as soon be shelved with general Christian nonfiction.

After dinner, we went back to the Fine Line, where I stayed for the first four or five songs. Backstage, before the show, we had a couple beers and hung out with the band. The backstage vibe was very laid back. They had a great sense of camaraderie (after all, they’ve been a band for 13 years). It was a bit like the feeling I had running camp for many years. I could definitely see the allure of being a rock star.

As well as Zach’s music and blog, you can check out the podcast that he co-hosts with Shane Hipps. It’s some top-notch stuff.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I've Blogged about the Pope

Over at the God's Politics Blog.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Listen Up

A couple links:

Shane Hipps, whose "Third Way Faith" podcast is subscription only (though I highly recommend it) on Wired Parish, you can now read his blog and hear clips of the podcast here. He's got a few interviews with me there...

And you can now listen to the archived audio of my time on the Albert Mohler Radio Show here. (So, Ken Silva, how did I do?)

Friday, July 13, 2007

On Al Mohler's Radio Show Today

Based on my rejected Wheaton paper, made available here, I've been asked on the Al Mohler Radio Show today (with guest host Russell Moore). I'll be on from 5:17 - 5:40 PM EDT. You can listen here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Currently Reading, Part II

War is hell. It’s a euphemism, I know, but it also happens to be true. And, unlike so many previous generations, those of us who were born in the 1960s have no idea what it’s like. The closest I ever came to war was a couple of rumors of the draft that floated around my high school in 1986. Each time, the rumor was linked to some U.S. military operation, and each time it lasted about an hour before some teacher told us how ridiculous it was.

The next fall, during my freshman year in college, I took an incredible seminar called, “The Iliad and Memories of War.” It was taught by an extravagant Classics professor, James Tatum, and he later wrote a book, The Mourner's Song: War and Remembrance from the Iliad to Vietnam, on the topic.

In the seminar, we started with The Iliad of Homer, then read a book per week for eleven weeks on war. They included Xenophon's Anabasis: Book 1-4, The Red Badge of Courage, and Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War. Ever since that seminar, I’ve been fascinated by war memoirs, particularly because I don’t want to forget that war is hell, even though I’ll never fight in a war. In fact, I think it’s tragic that my generation doesn’t know first-hand just how hellish war is.

So, in light of the current war—which I experience primarily via Jon Stewart and Frontline—I’ve begun to read back through the corpus of that freshman seminar. First up is Dispatches by Michael Herr, considered possibly the finest Vietnam memoir (though I’d nominate Tim O’Brien for that). Herr was a reporter for Esquire; he saw the war first-hand, and he describes with unparalleled reality and grit. Here’s an example from his chapter on the Tet Offensive, titled, “Hell Sucks”:
One morning there was a fire at the prison camp across the road from the compound. We saw the black smoke rising over the barbed wire that topped the camp wall and heard automatic weapons’ fire. The prison was full of captured NVA and Viet Cong or Viet Cong suspects, the guards said that they’d started the fire to cover an escape. The ARVN and a few Americans were shooting blindly into the flames, and the bodies were burning where they fell. Civilian dead lay out on the sidewalks only a block from the compound, and the park by the river was littered with dead. It was cold and the sun never came out once, but the rain did things to the corpses that were worse in their way than anything the sun could have done. It was on one of those days that I realized that the only corpse I couldn’t bear to look at would be the one I would never have to see.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Hmm... The title bar doesn't work on Blogger this morning. I'm off to ICRS, the den of thieves for Christian publishers and retailers. From there (Atlanta), I fly to La Guardia for a couple days of church consulting.

We had a great 4th, with our annual tradition of marching in the Edina Parade (this year with the Cub Scouts), then the Sousa band and fireworks at the city park later that night. My bro was in town from Oregon, so we hung out with their family for the rest of the week.

Almost 700 persons have downloaded my address from Wheaton, and there's some really good commentary. I think I'll submit it to a theological journal, reworked with many of your suggestions. Kind of an "open source" essay. Also, some of this material will be in my forthcoming book.

If you read it, please remember that those are my speaking notes, untouched since I presented it. It's not by any means ready for publication -- or even for peer review. In fact, this is part of my frustration with Wheaton: they never saw a copy of the paper and never requested one. They went simply on their memory of what I presented -- and anyone who has been to an academic conference knows that only sections of papers are actually presented in the oral session. The paper is usually redacted on-the-fly to make it fit in the allotted time.

But, like I say there have been some great suggestions -- particularly about how I could have ended the presentation more strongly. So, if/when I rework it, I will have a better conclusion.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Sermon

I preached at the church of my dear friend, Shane Hipps, a few weeks back. Here's the sermon.